Charles Dickens.

The life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby online

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ther back in his chair, came forward again, leaning his elbows
on the table, made a triangle with his two thumbs and his two
forefingers, and tapping his nose with the apex thereof, re-
plied (smiling as he said it), " I deny everything."

At this unexpected answer, a hoarse murmur arose from
the deputation ; and the same gentleman who had expressed
an opinion relative to the gammoning nature of the introduc-
tory speech, again made a monosyllabic demonstration, by
growling out " Resign ! " Which growl being taken up by
his fellows, swelled into a very earnest and general remon-

"lam requested, sir, to express a hope," said Mr. Pug-
styles, with a distant bow, " that on receiving a requisition to
that effect from a great majority of your constituents, you will
not object at once to resign your seat in favor of some candi-
date whom they think they can better trust"

To this, Mr. Gregsbury read the following reply, which,
anticipating the request, he had composed in the form of a
letter, whereof copies had been made to send round to the

" My dear Mr. Pugstyles,

" Next to the welfare of our beloved island — this great
and free and happy country, whose powers and resources are,
I sincerely believe, illimitable — I value that noble indepen- '
dence which is an Englishman's proudest boast, and which I
fondly hope to bequeath to my children, untarnished and un-
sullied. Actuated by no personal motives, but moved only by
high and great constitutional considerations ; which I will not
attempt to explain, for they are really beneath the compre-
hension of those who have not made themselves masters, as I
have, of the intricate and arduous study of politics ; I would
rather keep my seat, and intend doing so.

" Will you do me the favor to present my compliments to
the constituent body, and acquaint them with this circum-
stance ?

" With great esteem,

" My dear Mr. Pugstyles,

"&c., &c."

" Then you will not resign, under any circumstances ? "
asked the spokesman.

Mr. Gregsbury smiled, and shook his head.

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" Then, good-morning, sir," said Pugstyles, angrily.
" Heaven bless you ! " said Mr. Gregsbury. And the dep-
utation, with many growls and scowls, filed off as quickly as
the narrowness of the staircase would allow of their getting

The last man being gone, Mr. Gregsbury rubbed his
hands and chuckled, as merry fellows will, when they think
they have said or done a more than commonly gooa thing ;
he was so engrossed in this self-congratulation, that he did
not observe that Nicholas had been left behind in the
shadow of the window-curtains, until that young gentleman,
fearing he might otherwise overhear some soliloquy intended
to have no listeners, coughed twice or thrice, to attract the
member's notice.

" What's that ? " said Mr. Gregsbury, in sharp accents.
Nicholas stepped forward, and bowed.
u What do you do here, sir ? " asked Mr. Gregsbury ; " a
spy upon my privacy ! A concealed voter ! You have heard
my answer, sir. Pray follow the deputation."

" I should have done so, if I had belonged to it, but I do
not," said Nicholas.

44 Then how came you here, sir ? " was the natural inquiry
of Mr. Gregsbury, M.P. "And where the devil have you
come from, sir ? " was the question which followed it.

44 1 brought this card from the General Agency Office, sir,"
said Nicholas, 44 wishing to offer myself as your secretary, and
understanding that you stood in need of one."

44 That's all you have come for, is it ? " said Mr. Gregs 1
bury, eyeing him in some doubt.

Nicholas replied in the affirmative.

44 You have no connection with any of those rascally pa-
pers, have you ? " said Mr. Gregsbury. " You didn't get into
the room to hear what was going forward, and put it in print,

44 1 have no connection, I am sorry to say, with anything
at present," rejoined Nicholas, — politely enough, but quite at
his ease.

" Oh I " said Mr. Gregsbury. 44 How did you find your
way up here, then ? "

Nicholas related how he had been forced up by the depu-

" That was the way, was it ? " said Mr. Gregsbury. 4< Sit

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Nicholas took a chair, and Mr. Gregsbury stared at him
for a long time, as if to make certain* before he asked any
further questions, that there were no objections to his out-
ward appearance.

" You want to be my secretary, do you ? " he said at

" I wish to be employed in that capacity, sir," replied

" Well," said Mr. Gregsbury ; " now what can you do ? "

" I suppose," replied Nicholas, smiling, " that I can do
what usually falls to the lot of other secretaries."

" What's that ? " inquired Mr. Gregsbury.

" What is it ? " replied Nicholas.

" Ah ! What is it ? " retorted the member, looking shrewdly
at him, with his head one side.

" A secretary's duties are rather difficult to define, perhaps,"
said Nicholas, considering. " They include, I presume, cor-
respondence ? "

"Good," interposed Mr. Gregsbury.

" The arrangement of papers and documents ? "

"Very good."

" Occasionally, perhaps the writing from your dictation ;
and possibly, sir," — said Nicholas, with a half smile, " the
copying of your speech for some public journal, when you
have made one of more than usual importance."

" Certainly," rejoined Mr. Gregsbury. "What else ? "

" Really," said Nicholas, after a moment's reflection. " I
am not able, at this instant, to recapitulate any other duty of
a secretary, beyond the general one of making himself as agree-
able and useful to his employer as he can, consistently with
his own respectability, and without overstepping that line of
duties which he undertakes to perform, and which the desig-
nation of his office is usually understood to imply."

Mr. Gregsbury looked fixedly at Nicholas for a short
time, and then glancing warily round the room, said in a sup-
pressed voice :

" This is all very well, Mr. — what is your name ? "

" Nickleby."

" This is all very well, Mr. Nickleby, and very proper, so
far as it goes — so far as it goes, but it doesn't go far enough.
There are other duties, Mr. Nickleby, which a secretary to a
parliamentary gentleman must never lose sight of. I should
require to be crammed, sir."

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" I beg your pardon/' interposed Nicholas, doubtful wheth-
er he had heard aright

" — To be crammed, sir," repeated Mr. Gregsbury.

" May I beg your pardon again, if I inquire what you
mean, sir ? " said Nicholas.

" My meaning, sir, is perfectly plain," replied Mr. Gregs-
bury, with a solemn aspect. " My secretary would have to
make himself master of the foreign policy of the world, as it
is mirrored in the newspapers ; to run his eye over all accounts
of public meetings, all leading articles, and accounts of the
proceedings of public bodies ; and to make notes of anything
which it appeared to him might be made a point of, in any
little speech upon the question of some petition lying on the
table, or anything of that kind. Do you understand ? "

" I think I do, sir," replied Nicholas.

" Then," said Mr. Gregsbury, "it would be necessary for
him to make himself acquainted, from day to day, with news*
paper paragraphs on passing events ; such as * Mysterious
disappearance, and supposed suicide of a pot-boy,' or anything .
of that sort upon which I might found a question to the Secre-
tary of State for the Home Department. Then, he would have
to copy the question, and as much as I remembered of the an-
swer (including a little compliment about independence and
good sense) ; and to send the manuscript in a frank to the
local paper, with perhaps half a dozen lines of leader, to the
effect, that I was always to be found in my place in Parliament,
and never shrunk from the responsible and arduous duties.
and so forth. You see ? "

Nicholas bowed.

" Besides which," continued Mr. Gregsbury, " I should ex-
pect him, now and then, to go through a few figures in the
printed tables, and to pick out a few results, so that I might
come out pretty well on timber duty questions, and finance
questions, and so on ; and I should like him to get up a few
little arguments about the disastrous effects of a return tb
cash payments and a metallic currency, with a touch now and
then about the exportation of bullion, and the Emperor of
Russia, and bank notes, and all that kind of thing, which it's
only necessary to talk fluently about, because nobody under-
stands it. Do you take me ? "

" I think I understand," said Nicholas.

" With regard to such questions as are not political," con-
tinued Mr. Gregsbury, warming ; " and which one can't be ex*

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pected to care a curse about, beyond the natural care of not
allowing inferior people to be as well off as ourselves — else
where are our privileges? — I should wish my secretary to
get together a few little flourishing speeches, of a patriotic cast
For instance, if any preposterous bill were brought forward*
for giving poor grubbing devils of authors a right to their
own property, I should like to say, that I for one would never
consent to opposing an insurmountable bar to the diffusion of
literature among the people, — you understand ? — that the crea-
tions of the pocket, being man's, might belong to one man, or
one family ; but that the creations of the brain, being God's,
ought as a matter of course to belong to the people at large—
and if I was pleasantly disposed, I should like to make a joke
about posterity, and •say that those who wrote for posterity
should be content to be rewarded by the approbation of pos-
terity ; it might take with the house, and could never do
me any harm, because posterity can't be expected to know
anything about me or my jokes either — do you see ? "

" I see that, sir," replied Nicholas.

" You must always bear in mind, in such cases as this,
where our interests are not affected," said Mr. Gregsbury, "to
put it very strong about the people, because it comes out very
well at election-time ; and you could be as funny as you liked
about the authors ; because I believe the greater part of them
live in lodgings, and are not voters. This is a hasty outline
of the chief things you'd have to do, except waiting in the
lobby every night, in case I forgot anything, and should want
fresh cramming ; and, now and then, during great debates,
sitting in the front row of the gallery, and saying to the people
about — ' You see that gentleman, with his hand to his face,
and his arm twisted round the pillar — that's Mr. Gregsbury —
the celebrated Mr. Gregsbury — ' with any other little eulogiura
that might strike you at- the moment. And for salary," said
Mr. Gregsbury, winding up with great rapidity ; for he was out
Si breath — " And for salary, I don't mind saying at once in
round numbers, to prevent any dissatisfaction — though it's
more than I've been accustomed to give — fifteen shillings a
week, and find yourself. There ? "

With this handsome offer, Mr. Gregsbury once more threw
himself back in his chair, and looked like a man who had been
most profligately liberal, but is determined not to repent of it

" Fifteen shillings a week is not much," said Nicholas,

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" Not much ? Fifteen shillings a week not much, young
man ? " cried Mr. Gregsbury. " Fifteen shillings a "

" Pray do not suppose that I quarrel with the sum, sir,"
replied Nicholas ; " for I am not ashamed to confess, that
whatever it may be in itself, to me it is a great deal. But the
duties and responsibilities make tr/e recompense small, and
they are so very heavy that I fear to undertake them."

" Do you decline to undertake them, sir ? " inquired Mr.
Gregsbury, with his hand on the bell-rope.

" I fear they are too great for my powers, however good
my will may be, sir," replied Nicholas.

" That is as much as to say that you had rather not accept
the place, and that you consider fifteen shillings a week too
little," said Mr. Gregsbury, ringing. " Do you decline it,
sir ? "

" I have no alternative but to do so," replied Nicholas.

" Door, Matthews ! " said Mr. Gregsbury, as the boy ap-

" I am sorry I have troubled you unnecessarily, sir," said

"I am sorry you have," rejoined Mr. Gregsbury, turning
his back upon him. " Door, Matthews ! "

" Good-morning, sir," said Nicholas.

" Door, Matthews ! " cried Mr. Gregsbury.

The boy beckoned Nicholas, and tumbling lazily down
stairs before him, opened the door, and ushered him into the
street. With a sad pensive air, he retraced his steps home-

Smike had scraped a meal together from the remnant of
last night's supper, and was anxiously awaiting his return.
The occurrences of the morning had not improved Nicholas's
appetite, and, by him, the dinner remained untasted. He
was sitting in a thoughtful attitude, with the plate which the
pool fellow had assiduously filled with the choicest morsels,
untouched, by his side, when Newman Noggs looked into the
room. t

" Come back ? " asked Newman.

" Yes," replied Nicholas, " tired to death ; and, what is
worse, might have remained at home for all the good 1 have

" Couldn't expect to do much in one morning," said New-

" May be so, but I am sanguine, and did expect," said

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Nicholas, "and am proportionately disappointed." Saying
which, he gave Newman an account of his proceedings.

" If I could do anything," said Nicholas, u anything how-
ever slight, until Ralph Nickleby returns, and I have eased
my mind by confronting him, I should feel happier. I should
think it no disgrace to work, Heaven knows. Lying indo-
lently here, like a half-tamed sullen beast, distracts me."

" I don't know," said Newman ; " small things offer — they
would pay the rent, and more — but you wouldn't like them ;
no, you could hardly be expected to undergo it — no, no.* 1

" What could I hardly be expected to undergo ? " asked
Nicholas raising his eyes. " Show me, in this wide waste of
London, any honest meaos by which I could even defray the
weekly hire of this poor room, and see if I shrink from re-
sorting to them ! Undergo ! I have undergone too much,
my friend, to feel pride or squeamishness now. Except — "
added Nicholas hastily, after a short silence, " except such
squeamishness as is common honesty, and so much pride as
constitutes self-respect. I see little to choose, between as-
sistant to a brutal pedagogue, and toad-eater to a mean and
ignorant upstart, be he member or no member."

" I hardly know whether I should tell you what I heard
this morning or not," said Newman.

"Has it reference to what you said just now?" asked

" It has."

" Then in Heaven's name, my good friend, tell it me,"
said Nicholas. " For God's sake consider my deplorable con-
dition ; and, while I promise to take no step without taking
counsel with you, give me, at least, a vote in my own behalf."

Moved by this entreaty, Newman stammered forth a varie-
ty of most unaccountable and entangled sentences, the up-
shot of which, was, that Mrs. Kenwigs had examined him, at
great length that morning, touching the origin of his acquaint-
ance with, and the whole life, adventures, and pedigree of,
Nicholas ; that Newman had parried these questions as long
as he could, but being, at length, hard pressed and driven
into a corner, had gone so far as to admi f , that Nicholas was
a tutor of great "accomplishments, involved in some misfor-
tunes which he was not at liberty to explain, and bearing the
name of Johnson. That Mrs. Kenwigs, impelled by gratitude,
or ambition, or maternal pride, or maternal love, or all four
powerful motives conjointly, had taken secret conference

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with Mr. Kenwigs, and had finally returned to propose that
Mr. Johnson should instruct the four Miss Kenwigses in the
French language as spoken by natives, at the weekly stipend
of five shillings, current coin of the realm ; being at the rate
of one shilling per week, per each Miss Kenwigs, and one
shilling over, until such time as the baby might be able to
take it out in grammar.

"Which, unless I am very much mistaken," observed Mrs.
Kenwigs in making the proposition, " will not be very long ;
for such clever children, Mr. Noggs, never were born into this
world, I do believe."

"There," said Newman, "that's all. It's beneath you, I
know ; but I thought that perhaps you might "

" Might 1 " cried Nicholas, with great alacrity ; " of course
I shall. I accept the offer at once. Tell the worthy mother
so, without delay, my dear fellow ; and that I am ready to be-
gin whenever she pleases."

Newman hastened, with joyful steps, to inform Mrs. Ken-
wigs of his friend's acquiescence, and soon returning brought
back word that they would be happy to see him in the first
floor as soon as convenient ; that Mrs. Kenwigs had, upon
the instant, sent out to secure a second-hand French gram-
mar and dialogues, which had long been fluttering in the six-
penny box at the book-stall round the corner ; and that the
family, highly excited at the prospect ot this addition to their
gentility, wished the initiatory lesson to come off immedi-

And here it may be observed, that Nicholas was not in the
ordinary sense of the word, a young man of high spirit. He
would resent an affront to himself, or interpose to redress a
wrong offered to another, as boldly and freely as any knight
that ever set lance in rest ; but he lacked that peculiar excess
of coolness and great-minded selfishness, which invariably
distinguish gentlemen of high spirit. In truth, for our own
part, we are disposed to look upon such gentlemen as being
rather incumbrances than otherwise in rising families : hap-
pening to be acquainted with several whose spirit prevents
their settling down to any grovelling occupation, and only dis-
plays itself in a tendency to cultivate mustaches, and look
fierce ; and although mustaches and ferocity are both very
pretty things in their way, and very much to be commended, we
confess to a desire to see them bred at the owner's proper
cost, rather than at the expense of low-spirited people.

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Nicholas, therefore, not being a high-spirited young man
according to common parlance, and deeming it a greater deg-
radation to borrow, for the supply of his necessities, from
Newman Noggs, than to teach French to the little Kenwigses
for five shillings a week, accepted the offer, with the alacrity
already described, and betook himself to the first floor with
all convenient speed.

Here, he was received by Mrs. Kenwigs with a genteel
air, kindly intended to assure him of her protection and sup-
port ; and here, too, he found Mr. Lillyvick and Miss Petow-
ker ; the four Miss Kenwigses on their form of audience ; and
the baby in a dwarf porter's chair with a deal tray before it,
amusing himself with a toy horse without a head ; the said
horse being composed of a small wooden cylinder, not unlike
an Italian iron, supported on four crooked pegs and painted
in ingenious resemblance of red wafers set in blacking.

" How do you do, Mr. Johnson ? " said Mr. Kenwigs.
" Uncle — Mr. Johnson."

" How do you do, sir ? " said Mr. Lillyvick — rather sharply ;
for he had not known what Nicholas was, on the previous
night, and it was rather an aggravating circumstance if a tax
collector had been too polite to a teacher.

" Mr. Johnson is engaged as private master to the children,
uncle," said Mrs. Kenwigs.

" So you said just now, my dear," replied Mr. Lillyvick.

" But I hope," said Mrs. Kenwigs, drawing herself up,
" that that will not make them proud ; but that they will bless
their own good fortune, which has born them superior to com-
mon people's children. Do you hear, Morleena ? "

" Yes, ma," replied Miss Kenwigs.

"And when you go out in the streets, or elsewhere, I desire
that you don't boast of it to the other children," said Mrs.
Kenwigs ; " and that if you must say anything about it, you
don't say no more than * We've got a private master comes to
teach us at home, but we ain't proud, because ma says it's
sinful.' Do you hear, Morleena ? "

" Yes, ma," replied Miss Kenwigs again.

" Then mind you recollect, and do as I tell you," said
Mrs. Kenwigs. " Shall Mr. Johnson begin, uncle ? "

" I am ready to hear, if Mr. Johnson is ready to com-
mence, my dear," said the collector, assuming the air of a pro-
found critic. " What sort of language do you consider French,
sir ? "

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" How do you mean ? " asked Nicholas.

" Do you consider it a good language, sir ? " said the col-
lector ; " a pretty language, a sensible language ? "

" A pretty language, certainly/' replied Nicholas ; " and as
it has a name for everything, and admits of elegant conversa-
tion about everything, I presume it is a sensible one."

" I don't know," said Mr. Lillyvic^, doubtfully. " Do you
call it a cheerful language, now ? "

" Yes," replied Nicholas, " I should say it was, certainly."

" It's very much changed since my time, then," said the
collector, " very much."

*' Was it a dismal one in your time ? " asked Nicholas,
scarcely able to repress a smile.

" Very," replied Mr. Lillyvick, with some vehemence of
manner. " It's the wafr time that 1 speak of ; the last war. It
may be a cheerful language. • I should be sorry to contradict
anybody ; but I can only say that I've heard the French pris-
oners, who were natives, and ought to know how to speak it,
talking in such a dismal manner, that it made one miserable
to hear them. Ay, that I have, fifty times, sir — fifty times ! "

Mr. Lillyvick was waxing so cross, that Mrs. Kenwigs
thought it expedient to motion to Nicholas not to say anything ;
and it was not until Miss Petowker had practised several
blandishments, to soften the excellent old gentleman, that he
deigned to break silence, by asking,

" What's the water in French, sir ? "

" L y Eau" replied Nicholas.

" Ah ! " said Mr. Lillyvick, shaking his head mournfully,
u I thought as much. Lo, eh ? I don't think anything of that
language — nothing at all."

" I suppose the children may begin, uncle ? " said Mrs.

" Oh yes ; they may begin, my dear," replied the collector,
discontentedly, "/have no wish to prevent them."

This permission being conceded, the four Miss Kenwigses
sat in a row with their tails all one way, and Morleena at the
top : while Nicholas, taking the book, began his preliminary
explanations. Miss Petowker and Mrs. Kenwigs looked on, in
silent admiration, broken only by the whispered assurances of
the latter, that Morleena would have it all by heart in no time ;
and Mr. Lillyvick regarded the group with frowning arid atten-
tive eyes, lying in wait for something upon which he could
open a fresh discussion on the language.

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It was with a heavy heart, and many sad forebodings which
no effort could banish, that Kate Nickleby, on the morning
appointed for the commencement of her engagement, with
Madame Mantalini, left the city when its clocks yet wanted a
quarter of an hour of eight, and threaded her way alone, amid
the noise and bustle of the streets, towards the west end of

At this early hour many sickly girlfc, whose business, like
that of the poor worm, is to produce, with patient toil, the
finery that bedecks the thoughtless and luxurious, traverse our
streets, making towards the scene of their daily labor, and
catching, as if by stealth, in their hurried walk, the only gasp
of wholesome air and glimpse of sunlight which cheers their
monotonous existence during the long train of hours that
make a working day. As she drew nigh to the more fashion-
able quarter of the town, Kate marked many of this class as
they passed by, hurrying like herself to their painful occupa-
tion, and saw, in their unhealthy looks and feeble gait, but too
clear an evidence that her misgivings were not wholly ground-

She arrived at Madame MantalinTs some minutes before
the appointed hour, and after walking a few times up and
down, in the hope that some other female might arrive and

Online LibraryCharles DickensThe life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby → online text (page 20 of 79)