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The life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby online

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time found, their owners went away, after a vast deal of
shaking of hands, and many remarks how they had never
spent such a delightful evening, and how they marvelled to
find it so late, expecting to have heard that it was half-past
ten at the very latest, and how they wished that Mr. and Mrs.
Ken wigs had a wedding-day once a week, and how they
wondered by what hidden agency Mrs. Ken wigs could
possibly have managed so well ; and a great deal more of the
same kind. To all of which flattering expressions, Mr. and
Mrs. Kenwigs replied, by thanking every lady and gentleman,
seriatim, for the favor of their company, and hoping they
might have enjoyed themselves only half as well as they said-
they had.

As to Nicholas, quite unconscious of the impression he
had produced, he had long since fallen asleep, leaving Mr.
Newman Noggs and Smike to empty the spirit bottle between
them ; and this office they performed with such extreme good



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^8 NICHOLAS NICKLEB Y.

will, that Newman was equally at a loss to determine whether
he himself was quite sober, and whether he had ever seen
any gentleman so heavily, drowsily, and completely intoxi-
cated, as his new acquaintance.



CHAPTER XVI.



NICHOLAS SEEKS TO EMPLOY HIMSELF IN A NEW CAPACITY,
AND BEING UNSUCCESSFUL, ACCEPTS AN ENGAGEMENT AS
TUTOR IN A PRIVATE FAMILY.

The first care of Nicholas, next morning, was, to look
after some room in which, until better times dawned upon
him, he could contrive to exist, without trenching upon the
hospitality of Newman Noggs, who would have slept upon the
stairs with pleasure, so that his young friend was accom-
modated.

The vacant apartment to which the bill in the parlor
window bore reference, appeared, on inquiry, to be a small
back room on the second floor, reclaimed from the leads, and
overlooking a soot-bespeckled prospect of tiles and chimney-
pots. For the letting of this portion of the house from week
to week, on reasonable terms, the parlor lodger was em-
powered to treat; he being deputed by the landlord to
dispose of the rooms as they became vacant, and to keep a
sharp look-out that the lodgers didn't run away. As a means
of securing the punctual discharge of which last service he
was permitted to live rent-free, lest he should, at any time be
tempted to run away himself.

Of this chamber, Nicholas became the tenant ; and having
hired a few common articles of furniture from a neighboring
broker, and paid the first week's hire in advance, out of a
small fund raised by the conversion of some spare clothes into
ready money, he sat himself down to ruminate upon his
prospects, which, like the prospect outside his window, were
sufficiently confined and dingy. As they by no means
improved on better acquaintance, and as familiarity breeds
contempt, he resolved to banish them from his thoughts by
dint of hard walking. So, taking up his hat, and leaving poor



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NICHOLAS NICKLEB Y. 189

Smike to arrange and re-arrange the room, with as much
delight as if it had been the costliest palace, he betook him-
self to the streets, and mingled with the crowd which thronged
them.

Although a man may lose a sense of his own importance
when he is a mere unit among a busy throng, all utterly
regardless of him, it by no means follows that he can dis-
possess himself, with equal facility, of a very strong sense of
the importance and magnitude of his cares. The unhappy
state of his own affairs was the one idea which occupied the
brain of Nicholas, walk as fast as he would ; and when he
tried to dislodge it by speculating on the situation and pros-
pects of the people who surrounded him, he caught himself,
in a few seconds, contrasting their condition with his own,
and gliding almost imperceptibly back into his old train of
thought again.

Occupied in these reflections, as he was making his way
along one of the great public thoroughfares of London, he
chanced to raise his eyes to a blue board, whereon was
inscribed, in characters of gold, "General Agency Office ; for
places and situations of all kinds inquire within." It was a
shop-front, fitted up with a gauze blind and an inner door ;
and in the window hung a long and tempting array of written
placards, announcing vacant places of every grade, from a
secretary's to a footboy , s. M

Nicholas halted, instinctively, before this temple of
promise, and ran his eye over the capital-text openings in life
which were so profusely displayed. When he had completed
his survey he walked on a little way, and then back, and then
on again ; at length, after pausing irresolutely several times
before the door of the General Agency Office, he made up his
mind, and stepped in.

He found himself in a little floor-clothed room, with a high
desk railed off in one corner, behind which sat a lean youth
with cunning eyes and « protruding chin, whose performances
in capital-text darkened the window. He had a thick ledger
lying open before him, and with the fingers of his right hand
inserted between the leaves, and his eyes fixed on a very fat
old lady in a mob-cap— evidently the proprietress of the
establishment — who was airing herself at the fire, seemed to
be only waiting her directions to refer to some entries con-
tained within its rusty clasps.

As there was a board outside, which acquainted the public



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I9 o NICHOLAS NIOKLEB Y.

that servants-of-all-work were perpetually in waiting to be hired
from ten till four, Nicholas knew at once that some half-dozen
strong young women, each with pattens and an umbrella, who
were sitting upon a form in one corner, were in attendance
for that purpose, especially as the poor things looked anxious
and weary. He was not quite so certain of the callings and
stations of two smart young ladies who were in conversation
with the fat lady before the 4 fire, until — having sat himself
down in a corner, and remarked that he would wait until the
other customers had been served — the fat lady resumed the
dialogue which his entrance had interrupted.

"Cook, Tom," said the fat lady, still airing herself as
aforesaid.

" Cook," said Tom, turning over some leaves of the ledger.
"Well!"

" Read out an easy place or two," said the fat lady.

" Pick out very light ones, if you please, young man,"
interposed a genteel female, in shepherd's-plaid boots, who
appeared to be the client.

"'Mrs. Marker/" said Tom, reading, " 4 Russell Place,
Russell Square ; offers eighteen guineas ; tea and sugar found.
Two in family, and see very little company. Five servants
kept. No man. No followers.' "

"" Oh Lor ! " tittered the client. " Thai won't do. Read
another, young man, will you ? "

" * Mrs. Wrymug,' " said Tom, " ' Pleasant Place, Fins-
tmry. Wages, twelve guineas. No tea, no sugar. Serious
family ' "

" Ah ! you needn't mind reading that," interrupted the
client.

"' Three serious footmen,' " said Tom, impressively.

" Three ? did you say ? " asked the client in an altered
tone.

" Three serious footmen," replied Tom. " ' Cook, housemaid
and nursemaid ; each female servant required to join the Little
Bethel Congregation three times every Sunday — with a serious
footman. If the cook is more serious than the footman, she will
be expected to improve the footman ; if the footman is more
serious than the cook, he will be expected to improve the
cook.' "

"I'll take the address of that place," said the client; " I
don't know but what it mightn't suit me pretty well."

" Here's another," remarked Tom, turning over the



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191



leaves ; " ' Family of Mr. Gallanbile, M. P. Fifteen guineas,
tea and sugar, and servants allowed to see male cousins, if
godly. Note. Cold dinner in the kitchen on the Sabbath,
Mr. Gallanbile being devoted to the Observance question.
No victuals whatever, cooked on the Lord's day, with the ex-
ception of dinner for Mr. and Mrs. Gallanbile, which, being a
work of piety and necessity, is exempted. Mr. Gallanbile
dines late on the day of rest, in order to prevent the sinful-
ness of the cook's dressing herself. 1 "

" I don't think that'll answer as well as the other," said
the client, after a littie whispering with her friend. " 111 take
the other direction, if you please, young man. I can but
come back again, if it don't do."

Tom made out the address, as requested, and the genteel
client, having satisfied the fat lady with a small fee, mean-
while, went away, accompanied by her friend.

As Nicholas opened his mouth, to request the young man
to turn to letter S, and let him know what secretaryships
remained undisposed of, there came into the office an appli-
cant, in whose favor he immediately retired, and whose ap-
pearance both surprised and interested him.

This was a young lady who could be scarcely eighteen, of
very slight and delicate figure, but exquisitely shaped, who,
walking timidly up to the desk, made an inquiry, in a very
low Xouz of voice, relative to some situation as governess, or
companion to a lady. She raised her veil, for an instant,
while she preferred the inquiry, and disclosed a countenance
of most uncommon beauty, though shaded by a cloud of sad-
ness, which, in one so young, was doubly remarkable. Hav-
ing received a card of reference to some person on the books,
she made the usual acknowledgment, and glided away.

She was neatly but very quietly attired ; so much so,
indeed, that it seemed as though her dress, if it had been
worn by one who imparted fewer graces of her own to it,
might have looked poor and shabby. Her attendant — for
she had one — was a red-faced, round-eyed, slovenly girl, who,
from a certain roughness about the bare arms that peeped
from under her draggled shawl, and the half-washed-out
traces of smut and blacklead which tattoed her countenance,
was clearly of a kin with the servants-of-all-work on the form ;
between whom and herself there had passed various grins and
glances, indicative of the freemasonry of the craft.

This girl followed her mistress ; and, before Nicholas had



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192



NICHOLAS NICKLEBY.



recovered from the first effects of his surprise and admiration,
the young lady was gone. It is not a matter of such complete
and utter improbability as some sober people may think, that
he would have followed them out, had he not been restrained
by what passed between the fat lady and her bookkeeper.

" When is she coming again, Tom ? " asked the fat lady.

" To-morrow morning," replied Tom, mending his pen.

" Where have you sent her to ? " asked the fat lady.

" Mrs. Clark's," replied Tom.

" She'll have a nice life of it, if she goes there," observed
the fat lady, faking a pinch of snuff from a tin box.

Tom made no other reply than thrusting his tongue into
his cheek, and pointing the feather of his pen towards Nicho-
las — reminders which elicited from the fat lady an inquiry, of
" Now, sir, what can we do for you / "

Nicholas briefly replied, that he wanted to know whether
there was any such post to be had, as secretary or amanuen-
sis to a gentleman.

" Any such ! " rejoined the mistress ; " a dozen such.
An't there, Tom ? "

" /should think so," answered that young gentleman ; and
as he said it, he winked towards Nicholas, with a degree of
familiarity which he, no doubt, intended for a rather flattering
compliment, but with which Nicholas was most ungratefully
digusted.

Upon reference to the book, it appeared that the dozen
secretaryships had dwindled down to one. Mr. Gregsbury,
the great member of Parliament, of Manchester Buildings,
Westminster, wanted a young man, to keep his papers and
correspondence in order ; and Nicholas was exactly the sort
of young man that Mr. Gregsbury wanted.

" I don't know what the terms are, as he said he'd settle
them himself with the party," observed the fat lady ; " but
they must be pretty good ones, because he's a member of
parliament."

Inexperienced as he was, Nicholas did not feel quite as-
sured of the force of this reasoning, or the justice of this
conclusion ; but without troubling himself to question it, he
took down the address, and resolved to wait upon Mr. Gregs-
bury, without delay.

" I don't know what the number is," said Tom ; " but Man-
chester Buildings isn't a large place ; and if the worst comes
to the worst, it won't take you very long to knock at all the



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NICHOLAS NICKLEBY.



*93



doors on both sides of the way till you find him but I say,
what a good-looking gal that was, wasn't she ? "

" What girl ? " demanded Nicholas, sternly.

" Oh yes. I know — what gal, eh ? " whispered Tom, shut-
ting one eye, and cocking his chin in the air. " You didn't
see her, you didn't — I say, don't you wish you was me, when
she comes to-morrow morning ? "

Nicholas looked at the ugly clerk, as if he had a mind to
reward his admiration of the young lady by beating* the ledger
about his ears, but he refrained, and strode haughtily out of
the office ; setting at defiance, in his indignation, those
ancient laws of chivalry, which not only made it proper and
lawful for all good knights to hear the praise of the ladies to
whom they were devoted, but rendered it incumbent upon
them to roam about the world, and knock at head all such
matter-of-fact and unpoetical characters, as declined to exalt,
above all the earth, damsels whom they had never chanced to
look upon or hear of — as if that were any excuse !

Thinking no longer of his own misfortunes, but wondering
what could be those of the beautiful girl he had seen, Nicho-
las, with many wrong turns, and many inquiries, and almost
as many misdirections, bent his steps towards the place
whither he had been directed.

Within the precincts of the ancient city of Westminster,
and within half a quarter of a mile of its ancient sanctuary, is
a narrow and dirty region, the sanctuary of the smaller mem-
bers of Parliament in modern days. It is all comprised in
one street of gloomy lodging-houses, from whose windows, in
vacation-time, there frown' long melancholy rows of bills,
which say, as plainly as did the countenances of their occupi-
ers, ranged on ministerial and opposition benches in the ses-
sion which slumbers with its fathers. " To Let," " To Let"
In busier periods of the year these bills disappear, and the
houses swarm with legislators. There are legislators in the
parlors, in the first floor, in the second, in the third, in the
garrets ; the small apartments reek with the breath of deputa-
tions and delegates. In damp weather, the place is rendered
close, by the steams of moist acts of Parliament and frowsy
petitions ; general postmen grow faint as they entered its
infected limits, and shabby figures in quest of franks, flit rest-
lessly to and fro like the troubled ghosts of Complete Letter-
writers departed. This is Manchester Buildings ; and here,
at all hours of the night, may be heard the rattling of latch-
. *3



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1 94 NICHOLAS NICKLEB K.

keys in their respective keyholes : with now and then — when
a gust of wind sweeping across the water which washes the
Buildings' feet, impels the sound towards its entrance — the
weak, shrill voice of some young meml^r practising to-mor-
row's speech. All the livelong day, there is a grinding of
organs and clashing and clanging of little boxes of music ;
for Manchester Buildings is an eel-pot, which has no outlet
but its awkward mouth — a case-bottle which has no thorough-
fare, and a short and narrow neck — and in this respect it
may be typical of the fate of some few among its more adven-
turous residents, who, after wriggling themselves into Parlia-
ment by violent efforts and contortions, find that it, too, is no
thoroughfare for them ; that, like Manchester Buildings, it
leads to nothing beyond itself ; and that they are fain at last
to back out, no wiser, no richer, not one whit more famous,
than they went in.

Into Manchester Buildings Nicholas turned, with the ad-
dress of the great Mr. Gregsbury in his hand. As there was
a stream of people pouring into a shabby house not far from
the entrance, he waited until they had made their way in, and
then making up to the servant, ventured to inquire if he knew
where Mr. Gregsbury lived.

The servant was a very pale, shabby boy, who looked as
if he had slept underground from his infancy, as very likely
he had. " Mr. Gregsbury ? " said he ; " Mr. Gregsbury
lodges here. It's all right. Come in I "

Nicholas thought he might as well get in while he could,
so in he walked ; and he had no sooner done so, than the boy
shut the door, and made off.

This was odd enough ; but what was more embarrassing
was, that all along the passage, and all along the narrow stairs,
blocking up the window, and making the dark entry darker
still, was a confused crowd of persons with great importance
depicted in their looks ; who were, to all appearance, waiting
in silent expectation of some coming event. From time to
time, one man would whisper his neighbor, or a little group
would whisper together, and then the whisperers would nod
fiercely to each other, or give their heads a relentless shake,
as if they were bent upon doing something very desperate, and
were determined not to be put off, whatever happened.

As a few minutes elapsed without anything occurring to
explain this phenomenon, and as he felt his own position a
peculiarly uncomfortable one, Nicholas was on the point of



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NICHOLAS NICKLEBY.



*95



seeking some information from the man next him, when a
sudden move was visible on the stairs, and a voice was heard
to cry, " Now, gentlemen, have the goodness to walk up 1 "

So far from walking up, the gentlemen on the stairs began
to walk down with great alacrity, and to entreat, with extraor-
dinary politeness, that the gentlemen nearest the street
would go first ; the gentlemen nearest the street retorted, with
equal courtesy, that they couldn't think of such a thing on any
account ; but they did it, without thinking of it, inasmuch as
the other gentlemen pressing some half-dozen (among whom
was Nicholas) forward, and closing up behind, pushed them,
not merely up the stairs, but into the very sitting-room of Mr.
Gregsbury, which they were thus compelled to enter with most
unseemly precipitation, and without the means of retreat ; the
press behind them, more than filling the apartment.

" Gentlemen," said Mr. Gregsbury, " you are welcome*
I am rejoiced to see you."

For a gentleman who was rejoiced to see a body of visi-
tors, Mr. Gregsbury looked as uncomfortable as might be ;
but perhaps this was occasioned by senatorial gravity, and a
statesmanlike habit of keeping his feelings under control. He
was a tough, burly, thick-headed gentleman, with a loud voice,
a pompous manner, a tolerable command of sentences with
no meaning in them, and, in short, every requisite for a very
good member indeed.

" Now, gentlemen," said Mr. Gregsbury, tossing a great
bundle of papers into a wicker basket at his feet, and throw-
ing himself back in his chair with his arms over the elbows,
a you are dissatisfied with my conduct, I see by the news-
papers."

" Yes, Mr. Gregsbury, we are," said a plump old gentle-
man in a violent heat, bursting out of the throng, and plant-
ing himself in the front.

" Do my eyes deceive me," said Mr. Gregsbury, looking
towards the speaker, " or is that my old friend Pugstyles ? "

"lam that man, and no other, sir," replied the plump old
gentleman.

"Give me your hand, my worthy friend," said Mr. Gregs-
bury. " Pugstyles, my dear friend, I am very sorry to see you
here."

" I am very sorry to be here, sir," said Mr. Pugstyles ;
" but your conduct, Mr. Gregsbury, has rendered this deputa-
tion from your constituents, imperatively necessary."



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I9 6 NICHOLAS NICKLEBy.

" My conduct, Pugstyles," said Mr. Gregsbury, looking
round upon the deputation. with gracious magnanimity — "My
conduct has been, and ever will be, regulated by a sincere
regard for the true and real interests of this great and happy
country. Whether I look at home, or abroad ; whether I be-
hold the peaceful industrious communities of our island home :
her rivers covered with steamboats, her roads with locomo-
tives, her streets with cabs, her skies with balloons of a power
and magnitude hitherto unknown in the history of aeronautics
in this or any other nation — I say, whether 1 look merely at
home, or, stretching my eyes farther, contemplate the bound-
less prospect of conquest and possession — achieved by British
perseverance and British valor — which is outspread before
me, I clasp my hands, and turning my eyes to the broad ex-
panse above my head, exclaim, 'Thank Heaven, I am a
Briton ! ' "

The time had been, when this burst of enthusiasm would
have been cheered to the very echo \ but now, the deputation
received it with chilling coldness. The general impression
seemed to be, that as an explanation of Mr. Gregsbury's po-
litical conduct, it did not enter quite enough into detail ; and
one gentleman in the rear did not scruple to remark aloud,
that, for his purpose, it savored rather too much of a " gam-
mon " tendency.

" The meaning of that term — gammon," said Mr. Gregs-
bury, " is unknown to me. If it means that I grow a little too
fervid, or perhaps even hyperbolical, in extolling my native
land, I admit the full justice of the remark. I am proud of this
free and happy country. My form dilates, my eye glistens,
my breast heaves, my heart swells, my bosom burns, when I
call to mind her greatness and her glory."

" We wish, sir," remarked Mr. Pugstyles, calmly, " to ask
you a few questions."

" If you please, gentlemen ; my time is yours — and my
country's — and my country's — " said Mr. Gregsbury.

This permission being conceded, Mr. Pugstyles put on his
spectacles, and referred to a written paper which he drew
from his pocket ; whereupon nearly every other member of
the deputation pulled a written paper from his pocket, to
check Mr. Pugstyles off, as he read the questions.

This done, Mr. Pugstyles proceeded to business. "

" Question number one. — Whether, sir, you did not give a
a voluntary pledge previous to your election, that in event of



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NICHOLAS NICKLEB Y. 197

your being returned, you would immediately put down the
practice of coughing and groaning in the House of Commons ?
And whether you did not submit to be coughed and groaned
down in the very first debate of the session, and have since
made no effort to effect a reform in this respect ? Whether
you did not also pledge yourself to astonish the government,
and make them shrink in their shoes ? And whether you
have astonished them, and made them shrink in their shoes,
or not ? "

" Go on to the next one, my dear Pugstyles," said Mr.
Gregsbury.

" Have you any explanation to offer with reference to that
question, sir ? " asked Mr.' Pugstyles.

" Certainly not," said Mr. Gregsbury.

The members of the deputation looked fiercely at each
other, and afterwards at the member. " Dear Pugstyles "
having taken a very long stare at Mr. Gregsbury over the tops
of his spectacles, resumed his list of inquiries.

" Question number two. — Whether, sir, you did not like*
wise give a voluntary pledge that you would support your cbl-
league on every occasion ; and whether you did not, the night
before last, desert him and vote upon the other side, because
the wife of a leader on that other side had invited Mrs. Gregs-
bury to an evening party ? "

"Go on," said Mr. Gregsbury

" Nothing to say on that, either, sir ? " asked the spokes*
man.

" Nothing whatever," replied Mr. Gregsbury. The depu-
tation, who had only seen him at canvassing or election time,
were struck dumb by his coolness. He didn't appear like the
same man ; then he was all milk and honey ; now he was all
starch and vinegar. But men are so different at different
times !

" Question number three — and last — " said Mr. Pugstyles,
emphatically. "Whether, sir, you did not state upon the
hustings, that it was your firm and determined intention to
oppose everything proposed ; to divide the house upon every
question, to move for returns on every subject, to place a mo-
tion on the books every day, and, in short, in your own mem-
orable words, to play the very devil with everything and
everybody?" With this comprehensive inquiry, Mr. Pug-
styles folded up his list of questions, as did all his backers.

Mr. Gregsbury reflected, blew his nose, threw himself fur-



Online LibraryCharles DickensThe life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby → online text (page 19 of 79)