Charles Dickens.

The life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby online

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alrously set to, for the mere pleasure of buffeting ; and in one
respect indeed this comparison would hold good : for, as the
adventurous pair of the Fives' Court will afterwards send
round a hat and trust to the bounty of the lookers-on for the
means of regaling themselves, so Mr. Godfrey Nickleby and
his partner, the honey-moon being: over, looked wistfully out
into the world, relying in no considerable degree upon chance

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for the improvement of their means. Mr. Nickleby's income,
at the period of his marriage, fluctuated between sixty and
eighty pounds per annum.

There are people enough in the world, Heaven knows ! and
even in London (where Mr. Nickleby dwelt in those days) but
few complaints prevail of the population being scanty. It is
extraordinary how long a man may look among the crowd
without discovering the face of a friend, but- it is no less true.
Mr. Nickleby looked, arid looked, till his eyes became sore as
his heart, but no friend appeared ; and, when growing tired of
the search, he turned his eyes homeward, he saw very little
there, to relieve his weary vision. A painter who had gazed
too long upon some glaring color, refreshes his dazzled sight
by looking upon a-darker and more sombre tint ; but evejytlyng
that met Mr. Nickleby's gaze wore so dark and gloomy a hue,
that he would have been beyond description refreshed by the
very reverse of the contrast.

At length, after five years, when Mrs. Nickleby had pre-
sented her husband with a couple of sons, and that embar-
rassed gentleman, impressed with the necessity of making
some provision for his family, was seriously revolving in his
mind a little commercial speculation of insuring his life next
quarter day, and then falling from the top of the Monument
by accident, there came, one morning, by the general post, a
black-bordered letter to inform him how his uncle, Mr. Ralph
Nickleby was dead, and had left him the bulk of his little
property, amounting in all to five thousand pounds sterling.

As the deceased had taken no further notice of his nephew
in his lifetime, than sending to his eldest boy (who had been
christened after him, on desperate speculation) a silver spoon
in a morocco case, which, as he had not too much to eat with
it, seemed a kind of satire upon his having been born without
that useful article of plate in his mouth, Mr. Godfrey Nickleby
could, at first, scarcely believe the tidings thus conveyed to
him. On examination, however, they turned out to be strictly
correct. The amiable old gentleman, it seemed, had intended
to leave the whole to the Royal Humane Society, and had in-
deed executed a will to that effect ; but the Institution, having
been unfortunate enough, a few months before, to save the life
of a poor relation to whom he paid a weekly allowance of three
shillings and sixpence, he had in a fit of very natural exasper-
ation, revoked the bequest in a codicil, and left it all to Mr.
Godfrey Nickleby ; with a special mention of his indignation,

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not only against the society for saving the poor relation's life,
but against the poor relation also, for allowing himself to be

With a portion of this property Mr. Godfrey Nickleby
purchased a small farm, near Dawlish in Devonshire, whither
he retired with his wife and two children, to live upon the
best interest he could get for the rest of the money, and the
little produce he could raise from his land. The two pros-
pered so well together that, when he died, some fifteen years
after this period, and some five after his wife, he was enabled to
leave, to his eldest son, Ralph, three thousand pounds in cash,
and to his youngest son, Nicholas, one thousand and the farm,
which was as small a landed estate as one would desire to

These two brothers had been brought up together in a school
at Exeter ; and being accustomed to go home once a week,
had often heard from their mother's lips, long accounts of their
father's sufferings in his days of poverty, and of their deceased
uncle's importance in his days of affluence: which recitals
produced a very different impression on the two : for, while
the younger was of a timid and retiring disposition, gleaned
from thence nothing but forewarnings to shun the great world
and attach himself to the quiet routine of country life, Ralph,
the elder, deduced from the often-repeated tale the two great
morals that riches are the only true source of happiness and
power, and that it is lawful and just to compass their acquisi-
tion by all means short of felony. "And," reasoned Ralph
with himself, "jf no good came of my uncle's money when he
was alive, a great deal of good came of it after he was dead,
inasmuch as my father has got it now, and is saving it up for
me, which is a highly virtuous purpose ; and, going back to the
old gentleman, good did come to him too, for he had the
pleasure of thinking of it all his life long, and of being envied
and courted by all his family besides." And Ralph always
wound up these mental soliloquies by arriving at the conclu-
sion, that there was nothing like money.

Not confining himself to theory, or permitting his faculties
to rust, even at that early age, in mere abstract speculations,
this promising lad commenced usurer on a limited scale at
school ; putting out at good interest a small capital of slate-
pencil and marbles, and gradually extending his operations
until they aspired to the copper coinage of this realm, in which
he speculated to considerable advantage. Nor did he trouble

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his borrowers with abstract calculations of figures, or refer-
ences to ready-reckoners ; his simple rule of interest being all
comprised in the one golden sentence, " two-pence for every
half-penny," which greatly simplified the accounts, and which
as a familiar precept, more easily acquired and retained in the
memory than any known rule of arithmetic, cannot be too
strongly recommended to the notice of capitalists, both large
and small, and more especially of money-brokers and bill-dis-
counters. Indeed, to do these gentlemen justice many of them
are to this Hay in the frequent habit of adopting it, with emi-
nent success.

In like manner did young Ralph Nickleby avoid all those
minute and intricate calculations of odd days, which nobody
who has worked sums in simple interest can fail to have found
most embarrassing, by establishing the one general rule that
all sums of principal and interest should be paid on pocket-
money day,* that is to say, on Saturday : and that whether a
loan were contracted on the Monday, or on the Friday, the
amount of interest should be, in both cases, the same. In-
deed he argued, and with great show of reason, that it ought
to be rather more for one day than for five, inasmuch as the
borrower might in the former case be very fairly presumed to
be in great extremity, otherwise he would not borrow at all
with such odds against him. The fact is interesting, as illus-
trating the secret connection and sympathy which always ex- '
ists between great minds. Though Master Ralph Nickleby
was not at that time aware of it, the class of gentlemen before
alluded to, proceed on just the same principle in all their

From what we have said of this young gentleman, and the
natural admiration the reader will immediately conceive of his
character, it may perhaps be inferred that he is to be the hero
of the work which we shall presently begin. To set this point
at rest, for once and for ever, we hasten to undeceive them,
and stride to its commencement.

On the death of his father, Ralph Nickleby, who had been
some time before placed in a mercantile house in London, ap-
plied himself passionately to his old pursuit of money-getting,
in which he speedily became so buried and absorbed, that he
quite forgot his brother for many years ; and if, at times, a rec-
ollection of his old playfellow broke upon him through the haze
in which he lived — for gold conjures up a mist about a man
more destructive of all his old senses and. lulling to his feelings

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than the fumes of charcoal — it brought along with it a com-
panion thought, that if they were intimate he would want to
borrow money of him. So Mr. Ralph Nickleby shrugged his
shoulders and said things were better as they were.

As for Nicholas, he lived a single man on the patrimonial
estate until he grew tired of living alone, and then he took to
wife the daughter of a neighboring gentleman with a dower
of one thousand pounds. This good lady bore him two chil-
dren, a son and a daughter, and when the son was about nine-
teen, and £ he daughter fourteen, as near as we can guess — im-
partial records of young ladies' ages being, before the passing
of the new act, nowhere preserved in the registries of this
country — Mr. Nickleby looked about him for the means of re-
pairing his capital, now sadly reduced by this increase in his
family, and the expenses of their education.

" Speculate with it," said Mrs. Nickleby.

" Spec — u — late, my dear ? " said Mr. Nickleby, as though
in doubt.

" Why not ? " asked Mrs. Nickleby.

" Because, my dear, if we should lose it," rejoined Mr.
Nickleby, who was a slow and time-taking speaker, " if we
should lose it, we shall no longer be able to live, my dear."

" Fiddle," said Mrs. Nickleby.

" I am not altogether sure of that, my dear," said Mr.

" There's Nicholas," pursued the lady, " quite a young
man — it's time he was doing something for himself ; and Kate
too, poor girl, without a penny in the world. Think of your
brother ! Would he be what he is, if he hadn't speculated ? "

" That's true," replied Mr. Nickleby. " Very good, my
dear. Yes. I will speculate, my dear."

Speculation is a round game ; the players see little or
nothing of their cards at first starting ; gains may be great —
and so may losses. The run of luck went against Mr. Nickle-
by. A mania prevailed, a bubble burst, four stockbrokers
took villa residences at Florence, four hundred nobodies
were ruined, and among them Mr. Nickleby.

" The very house I live in," sighed the poor gentleman,
" may be taken from me to-morrow. Not an article of my old
furniture, but will be sold to strangers ! "

The last reflection hurt him so much, that he took at once
to his bed ; apparently resolved to keep that, at all events.

" Cheer up, sir ! " said the apothecary.

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"You musn't let yourself be cast down, sir," said the

" Such things happen every day," remarked the lawyer.

" And it is very sinful to rebel against them," whispered
the clergyman.

"And what no man with a family ought to do," added the

Mr. Nickleby shook his head, and motioning them all out
of the room, embraced his wife and children, and having
pressed them by turns to his languidly beating heart, sunk
exhausted on his pillow. They were concerned to find that
his reason went astray after this ; for he babbled, for a long
time, about the generosity and goodness of his brother, and
the merry old time when they were at school together. This
fit of wandering past, he solemnly commended them to One
who never deserted the widow or her fatherless children, and,
smiling gently on them, turned upon his face and observed
that he thought he could fall asleep.



Mr. Ralph Nickleby was not, strictly speakjng, what you
would call a merchant, neither was he a banker, nor an attor-
ney, nor a special pleader, nor a notary. He was certainly
not a tradesman, and still less could he lay any claim to the
title of a professional gentleman ; for it would have been im-
possible to mention any recognized profession to which he be-
longed. Nevertheless, as he lived in a spacious house in
Golden Square, which, in addition to a brass plate upon the
street-door, had another brass plate two sizes and a half small-
er upon the left hand door-post, surmounting a brass model
of an infant's fist grasping a fragment of a skewer, and dis-
playing the word " Office," it was clear that Mr. Ralph Nickle-
by did, or pretended to do, business of some kind ; and the
fact, if it required any further circumstantial evidence, was

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abundantly demonstrated, by the diurnal attendance, between
the hours of half-past nine and five, of a sallow-faced man in
rusty brown, who sat upon an uncommonly hard stool in a spe-
cies of butler's pantry at the end of the passage, and always
had a pen behind his ear when he answered the bell.

Although a few members of the graver professions live
about the Golden Square, it is not exactly in anybody's way
to or from anywhere. It is one of the squares that have been ;
a quarter of the town that has gone down in the world, and
taking to letting lodgings. Many of its first and second floors
are let, furnished,to single gentlemen ; and it takes boarders be-
sides. It is a great resort of foreigners. The dark-complex-
ioned men who wear large rings, and heavy watch-guards, and
bushy whiskers, and who congregate under the Opera Colon-
nade, and about the box-office in the season, between four and
five in the afternoon, when they give away the orders, — all
live in Golden Square, or within a street of it. Two or three
violins and a wind instrument from the Opera band reside
within its precincts. Its boarding-houses are musical, and
the notes of pianos and harps float in the evening time round
the head of the mournful statue, the guardian genius of a little
wilderness of shrubs, in the centre of the square. On a sum-
mer's night, windows are thrown open, and groups of swarthy,
mustachioed men are seen by the passer-by, lounging at the
casements, and smoking fearfully. Sounds of gruff voices
practising vocal music invade the evening's silence ; and the
fumes of choice tobacco scent the air. There, snuff and
cigars, and German pipes and flutes, and violins and violon-
cellos, divide the supremacy between them. It is the region
of song*and smoke. Street bands are on their mettle in
Golden Square ; and itinerant glee-singers quaver involuntarily
as they raise their voices within its boundaries.

This would not seem a spot very well adapted to the trans-
action of business ; but Mr. Ralph Nickleby had lived there,
notwithstanding, for many years, and uttered no complaint on
that score. He knew nobody round about, and nobody knew
him, although he enjoyed the reputation of being immensely
rich. The tradesmen held that he was a sort of lawyer, and the
other neighbors opined that he was a kind of general agent ;
both of which guesses were as correct and definite as guesses
abouUother people's affairs usually are, or need to be.

Mr. Ralph Nickleby sat in his private office one morn-
ing, ready dressed to walk abroad. He wore a bottle-green .

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spencer over a blue coat ; a white waistcoat, gray mixture pan-
taloons, and Wellington boots drawn over them. The corner
of a small-plaited shirt-frill struggled out, as if insisting to
show itself, from between his chin and the top button of his
spencer ; and the latter garment was not made low enough to
conceal a long gold watch-chain, composed of a series of plain
rings, which had its beginning at the handle of a gold repeater
in Mr. Nickleby's pocket, and its termination in two little
keys : one belonging to the watch itself and the other to some
patent padlock. He wore a sprinkling of powder upon his
head, as if to make himself look benevolent ; and if that were
'his purpose, he would perhaps have done better to powder
his countenance also, for there was something in its very
wrinkles, and in his cold restless eye, which seemed to tell of
cunning that would announce itself in spite- of him. How-
ever this might be, there he was ; and he was all alone,
neither the powder, nor the wrinkles, nor the eyes, had the
smallest effect, good or bad, upon anybody just then, and are
consequently no business of ours just now.

Mr. Nickleby closed an account-book which lay on his
desk, and, throwing himself back in his chair, gazed with an
air of abstraction through the dirty window. Some London
houses have a melancholy little plot of ground behind them,
usually fenced in by four high whitewashed walls, and frowned
upon by stacks of chimneys : in which there withers on, from
year to year, a crippled tree, that makes a show of putting
forth a few leaves late in autumn when other trees shed theirs,
and, drooping in the effort, lingers on, all crackled and smoke-
dried, till the following season, when it repeats the same pro-
cess, and perhaps if the weather be particularly geflial, even
tempts some rheumatic sparrow to chirrup in its branches.
People sometimes call these dark yards " gardens ; " it is not
supposed that they were ever planted, but rather that they are
pieces of unreclaimed land, with the withered vegetation of
the original brick-field. No man thinks of walking in this
desolate place, or of turning it to any account. A few ham-
pers, half-a-dozen broken bottles, and such-like rubbish, may
be thrown there, when the tenant first moves in, but nothing
more ; and there they remain until he goes away again : the
damp straw taking just as long to moulder as it thinks proper :
and mingling with the scanty box, and stunted everhrowns,
and broken flower-pots, that are scattered mournfully about —
' a prey to " blacks " and dirt.

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It was into a place of this kind that Mr. Ralph Nickleby
gazed, as he sat with his hands in his pockets looking out at
window. He had fixed his eyes upon a distorted fir-tree,
planted by some former tenant in a tub that had once been
green, and left there, years before, to rot away piecemeal.
There was nothing very inviting in the object, but Mr. Nickle-
by was wrapt in a brown study, and sat contemplating it with
far greater attention than, in a more conscious mood, he would
have deigned to bestow upon the rarest exotic. At length,
his eyes wandered to a little dirty window on the left, through
which the face of the clerk was dimly visible ; that worthy
chancing to look up, he beckoned him to attend.

In obedience to this summons the clerk got off the high
stool (to which he had communicated a high polish by count- *
less gettings off and on), and presented himself in Mr. Nickle-
by's room. He was a tall man of middle-age, with two goggle-
eyes, whereof one was a fixture, a rubicund nose, a cadaver-
ous face, and a suit of clothes (if the term be allowable when
they suited him not at all) much the worse for wear, very much
too small, and placed upon such a short allowance of buttons
that it was marvellous how he contrived to keep them on.

" Was that half-past twelve, Noggs ? " said Mr. Nickleby,
in a sharp and grating voice.

" Not more than five-and-twenty minutes by the — " Noggs
was going to add public-house clock, but recollecting himself,
substituted " regular time."

" My watch has stopped," said Mr. Nickleby : " I don't
know from what cause."

" Not wound up," said Noggs.

" Yes it is," said Mr. Nickleby.

" Over-wound then," rejoined Noggs.

"That can't very well be," observed Mr. Nickleby.

** Must be," said Noggs.

" Well ! " said Mr. Nickleby, putting the repeater back in
his pocket ; " perhaps it is."

Noggs gave a peculiar grunt, as was his custom at the end
of all disputes with his master, to imply that he (Noggs) tri-
umphed ; and (as he rarely spoke to anybody unless some-
body spoke to him) fell into a grim silence, and rubbed his
hands slowly over each other : cracking the joints of his fin-
gers, and squeezing them into all possible distortions. The
incessant performance of this routine on every occasion, and
the communication of a fixed and rigid look to his unaffected


eye, so as to make it uniform with the other, and to render it
impossible for anybody to determine where or at what he was
looking, were two among the numerous peculiarities of Mr.
Noggs, which struck an inexperienced observer at first sight.

" I am going to the London Tavern this morning, " said
Mr. Nickleby.

" Public meeting? " inquired Noggs.

Mr. Nickleby nodded. " I expect a letter from the solici-
tor respecting that mortgage of Ruddle's. If it comes at all,
it will be here by the two o'clock delivery. I shall leave the
city by that time and walk to Charing-Cross on the left-hand
side of the way ; if there are any letters, come and meet me ;
and bring them with you."

Noggs nodded ; and as he nodded, there came a ring at
the office bell. The master looked up from his papers, and
the clerk calmly remained in a stationary position.

" The bell " said Noggs, as though in explanation. " At
home ? "


" To anybody ? "

" Yes."

"To the tax-gatherer?"

"No! Let him call again."

Noggs gave vent to his usual grunt, as much as to say
" I thought so ! " and, the ring being repeated, went to the
door, whence he presently returned, ushering in, by the name
of Mr. Bonney, a pale gentleman in a violent hurry, who,
with his hair standing up in great disorder all over his head,
and a very narrow white cravat tied loosely round his throat,
looked as if he had been knocked up in the night and had
not dressed himself since.

" My dear Nickleby," said the gentleman, taking off a
white hat which was so full of papers that it would scarcely
stick upon his head, " there's not a moment to lose ; I have
a cab at the door. Sir Matthew Pupker takes the chair, and
three members of Parliament are positively coming. I have
seen two of them safely out of bed. The third, who was at
Crockford's all night, has just gone home to put a clean shirt
on, and take a bottle or two of soda water, and will certainly
be with us, in time to address the meeting. He is a little
excited by last night, but never mind that ; he always speaks
the stronger for it."

" It seems to promise pretty well," said Mr. Ralph Nick-

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leby, whose deliberate manner was strongly opposed to the
vivacity of the other man of business.

44 Pretty well ! " echoed Mr. Bonney. " It's the finest idea
that was ever started. 4 United Metropolitan Improved Hot
Muffin and Crumpet Baking and Punctual Delivery Company.
Capital, five millions in five hundred thousand shares of ten
pounds each.' Why the very name will get the shares up to a
premium in ten days."

44 And when they are at a premium," said Mr. Ralph
Nickleby, smiling.

44 When they are, you knew what to do with them as well
as any man alive, and how to back quietly out at the right
time," said Mr. Bonney, slapping the capitalist familiarly on
the shoulder. 44 By the bye, what a very remarkable man
that clerk of yours is."

44 Yes, poor devil ! " replied Ralph, drawing on his gloves.
44 Though Newman Noggs kept his horses and hounds once."

44 Ay, ay ? " said the other carelessly.

44 Yes," . continued Ralph, 44 and not many years ago
either ; but he squandered his money, invested it anyhow,
borrowed at interest, and in short made first a thorough fool
of himself, and then a beggar. He took to drinking, and had
a touch of paralysis, and then came here to borrow a pound,
as in his better days I had — "

;4 Done business with him," said Mr. Bonney with a mean-
ing look.

44 Just so," replied Ralph ; 44 1 couldn't lend it, you know."

44 Oh, of course not."

44 But as I wanted a clerk just then, to open the door and
so forth, I took him out of charity, and he has remained
with me ever since. He is a little mad, I think," said Mr.
Nickleby, calling up a charitable look, 44 but he is useful
enough, poor creature — useful enough."

The kind-hearted gentleman omitted to add that Newman
Noggs, being utterly destitute, served him for rather less than
the usual wages of a boy of thirteen ; and likewise failed
to mention in his hasty chronicle, that his eccentric tacitur-
nity rendered him an especially valuable person in a place
where much business was done, of which it was desirable no
mention should be made out of doors. The other gentleman
was plainly impatient to be gone, however, and as they hur-
ried into the hackney cabriolet immediately afterwards, per-
haps Mr. Nickleby forgot to mention circumstances so unim-

Online LibraryCharles DickensThe life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby → online text (page 2 of 79)