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The life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby online

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pleteness of its appointments as the mansion itself, and the
company were remarkable for doing it ample justice, in which
respect Messrs. Pyke and Pluck particularly signalized them-
selves ; these two gentlemen eating of every dish, and drink-
ing of every bottle, with a capacity and perseverance truly
astonishing. They were remarkably fresh, too, notwithstand-
ing their great exertions: for, on the appearance of the
dessert, they broke out again, as if nothing serious had taken
place since breakfast



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2 4 NICHOLAS NICKLEB Y.

" Well," said Lord Frederick, sipping his first glass of
port, " if this is a discounting dinner all I have to say is,
deyvle take me, if it wouldn't be a good pla-an to get discount
every day."

" You'll have plenty of it, in your time," returned Sir Mul-
berry Hawk ; " Nickleby will tell you that."

" What do you say, Nickleby ? " inquired the young man ;
" am I to be a good customer ? "

" It depends entirely on circumstances, my lord," replied
Ralph.

"On your lordship's circumstances," interposed Colonel
Chowser of the Militia — and the race-courses.

The gallant colonel glanced at Messrs. Pyke and Pluck
as if he thought they ought to laugh at his joke ; but those
gentlemen, being only engaged to laugh for Sir Mulberry
Hawk, were, to his signal discomfiture, as grave as a pair of
undertakers. To add to his defeat, Sir Mulberry, considering
any such efforts an invasion of his peculiar privilege, eyed
the offender steadily, through his glass, as if astonished at
his presumption, and audibly stated his impression that it was-
an " infernal liberty," which being a hint to Lord Frederick,
he put up his glass, and surveyed the object of censure as if
he were some extraordinary wild animal then exhibiting for
the first time. As a matter of course, Messrs. Pyke and Pluck
stared at the individual whom Sir Mulberry Hawk stared at ;
so, the poor colonel, to hide his confusion, was reduced to the
necessity of holding his port before his right eye and affect-
ing to scrutinize its color with the most lively interest.

All this while, Kate had sat as silently as she could,
scarcely daring to raise her eyes, lest they should encounter
the admiring gaze of Lord Frederick Verisopht, or, what was
still more embarrassing, the bold looks of his friend Sir Mul-
berry. The latter gentleman was obliging enough to direct
general attention towards her.

" Here is Miss Nickleby," observed Sir Mulberry, "won-
dering why the deuce somebody doesn't make love to her."

" No, indeed," said Kate, looking hastily up, " I " and

then she stopped, feeling it would have been better to have
said nothing at all.

" I'll hold any man fifty pounds," said Sir Mulberry, "that
Miss Nickleby can't look in my face, and tell me she wasn't
thinking so."

" Done ! " cried the noble gull. " Within ten minutes."



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NICHOLAS NICKLEBY. 241

" Done ! " responded Sir Mulberry. The money was pro-
duced on both sides, and the Honorable Mr. Snobb was
elected to the double office of stake-holder and time-keeper.

" Pray," said Kate, in great confusion, while these pre-
liminaries were in course of completion. " Pray do not make
me the subject of any bets. Uncle, I cannot really "

" Why not my dear ? " replied Ralph, in whose grating
voice, however, there was an unusual huskiness, as though he
spoke unwillingly, and would rather that the proposition had "
not been broached. " It is done in a moment ; there is noth-
ing in it. If the gentlemen insist on it "

/don't insist on it," said Sir Mulberry, with a loud laugh.
"That is, I by no means insist upon Miss Nickleby's making
the denial, for if she does, I lose ; but I shall be glad to see
her bright eyes, especially as she favors the mahogany so
much."

" So she does, and it's too ba-a-d of you, Miss Nickleby,"
said the noble youth.

" Quite cruel," said Mr. Pyke.

" Horrid cruel," said Mr. Pluck.

"I don't care if I do lose," said Sir Mulberry; "for one
tolerable look at Miss Nickleby's eyes is worth double the
money."

44 More," said Mr. Pyke.

44 Far more," said Mr. Pluck.

44 How goes the enemy, Snobb ? " asked Sir Mulberry
Hawk.

44 Four minutes gone."

"Bravo!"

" Won't you ma-ake one effort for me, Miss Nickleby ? "
asked Lord Frederick, after a short interval.

44 You needn't trouble yourself to inquire, my buck," said
Sir Mulberry ; " Miss Nickleby and I understand each other ;
she declares on my side, and shows her taste. You haven't a
chance, old fellow. Time, Snobb ? "

44 Eight minutes gone."

44 Get the money ready," said Sir Mulberry ; " You'll soon
hand over."

44 Ha, ha, ha! " laughed Mr. Pyke.

Mr. Pluck, who always came second, and topped his com-
panion if he could, screamed outright.

The poor girl, who was so overwhelmed with confusion
that she scarcely knew what she did, had determined Jo remain

16



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242



NICHOLAS NICKLEBY.



perfectly quiet ; but fearing that by so doing she might seem
to countenance Sir Mulberry's boast, which had been uttered
with great coarseness and vulgarity of manner, raised her eyes,
and looked him in the face. There was something so odious,
so insolent, so repulsive in the look which met her, that, with-
out the power to stammer forth a syllable, she rose and hurried
from the room. She restrained her tears by a great effort
until she was alone up stairs, and then gave them vent.

" Capital ! " said Sir Mulberry Hawk, putting the stakes
in his pocket. " That's a girl of spirit, and we'll drink her
health."

It is needless to say, that Pyke and Co. responded, with
great warmth of manner, to this proposal, or that the toast was
drunk with many little insinuations from the firm, relative to
the completeness of Sir Mulberry's conquest. Ralph, who,
while the attention of the other guests was attracted to the
principals in the preceding scene, had eyed them like a wolf,
appeared to breathe more freely now his niece was gone ; the
decanters passing quickly round, he leaned back in his chair,
and turned his eyes from speaker to speaker, as they warmed
with wine, with looks that seemed to search their hearts, and
lay bare, for his distempered sport, every idle thought within
them.

Meanwhile Kate, left wholly to herself, had in some degree,
recovered her composure. She had learnt from a female at-
tendant, that her uncle wished to see her before she left, and
had also gleaned the satisfactory intelligence, that the gentle-
men would take coffee at table. The prospect of seeing them
no more, contributed greatly to calm her agitation, and, taking
up a book, she composed herself to read.

She started sometimes, when the sudden opening of the
dining-room door let loose a wild shout of noisy revelry, and
more than once rose in great alarm, as a fancied footstep on
the staircase impressed her with the fear that some stray mem-
ber of the party was returning alone. Nothing occurring, how-
ever, to realize her apprehensions, she endeavored to fix her
attention more closely on her book, in which by degrees she e
became so much interested, that she had read on through sev-
eral chapters without heed of time or place, when she was teri-
fied by suddenly hearing her name pronounced by a man's
voice close at her ear.

The book fell from her hand. Lounging on an ottoman
close beside her, was Sir Mulberry Hawk, evidently the worse



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NICHOLAS NICKLEBY. 243

— if a man be a ruffian at heart, he is never the better — for
wine.

" What a delightful studiousness ! " said this accomplished
gentleman. " Was it real, now, or only to display the eye-
lashes?"

Kate, looking anxiously towards the door, made no reply.

"I have looked at 'em for five minutes," said Sir Mulberry.
" Upon my soul, they're perfect. Why did I speak, and de-
stroy such a pretty little picture ! "

" Do me the favor to be silent now, sir," replied Kate.

" No, don't," said Sir Mulberry, folding his crush hat to
lay his elbow on, and bringing himself still closer to the young
lady ; " upon my life, you oughtn't to. Such a devoted slave
of yours, Miss Nickleby — it's an infernal thing to treat him so
harshly, upon my soul it is."

" I wish you to understand, sir," said Kate, trembling in
spite of herself, but speaking with great indignation, " that
your behavior offends and disgusts me. If you have a spark
of gentlemanly feeling remaining, you will leave me."

" Now why," said Sir Mulberry, " why will you keep up
this appearance of excessive rigor, my sweet creature ? Now,
be more natural — My dear Miss Nickleby, be more natural —
do."

Kate hastily rose ; but as she rose, Sir Mulberry caught
her diess, and forcibly detained her.

" Let me go, sir," she cried, her heart swelling with anger.
" Do you hear? Instantly — this moment."

" Sit down, sit down," said Sir Mulberry ; " I want to talk
to you."

" Unhand me, sir, this instant." cried Kate.

" Not for the world," rejoined Sir Mulberry. Thus speak-
ing, he leaned over, as if to replace her in her chair ; but the
young lady, making a violent effort to disengage herself, he
lost his balance, and measured his length upon the ground.
As Kate sprang forward to leave the room, Mr. Ralph Nickleby
appeared in the door-way, and confronted her.

" What is this ? " said Ralph.

" It is this, sir," replied Kate, violently agitated ; " that
beneath the roof where I, a helpless girl, your dead brother's
child, should most have found protection, I have been exposed
to insult which should make you shrink to look upon me. Let
me pass you."

Ralph did shrink, as the indignant girl fixed her kindling



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244 NICHOLAS NICKLEBY.

eye upon him ; but he did not comply with her injunction,
nevertheless ; for he led her to a distant seat, and returning,
and approaching Sir Mulberry Hawk, who had by this time
risen, motioned towards the door.

" Your way lies there, sir," said Ralph, in a suppressed
voice, that some devil might have owned with pride.

"What do you mean by that ? " asked his friend, fiercely.

The swollen veins stood out like sinews on Ralph's wrinkled
forehead, and the nerves about his mouth worked as though
some unendurable emotion wrung them ; but he smiled dis-
dainfully, and again pointed to the door.

" Do you know me, you old madman ? " asked Sir Mul-
berry.

"Well," said Ralph. The fashionable vagabond for the
moment quite quailed under the steady look of the older sinner,
and walked towards the door, muttering as he went

" You wanted the lord, did you ? " he said, stopping short
when he reached the door, as if a new light had broken in
upon him, and confronting Ralph again. " Damme, I was in
the way, was I ? "

Ralph smiled again, but made no answer.

" Who brought him to you first ? " pursued Sir Mulberry ;
" and how, without me, could you ever have wound him in
your net as you have ? "

" The net is a large one, and rather full," said Ralph.
" Take care that it chokes nobody in the meshes."

" You would sell your flesh and blood for money ; your-
self, if you have not already made a bargain with the devil,"
retorted the other. " Do you mean to tell me that your pretty
niece was not brought here, as a decoy for the drunken boy
down stairs ? "

Although this hurried dialogue was carried on, in a sup-
pressed tone on both sides, Ralph looked involuntarily round
to ascertain that Kate had not moved her position so as to
be within hearing. His adversary saw the advantage he had
gained, and followed it up.

" Do you mean to tell me," he asked again, " that it is not
so ? Do you mean to say that if he had found his way up
here instead of me, you wouldn't have been a little more
blind, and a little more deaf, and a little less flourishing, than
you have been ? Come Nickleby, answer me that."

'* I tell you this," replied Ralph, " that if I brought her
here, as a matter of business "



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NICHOLAS NICKLEBY. 245

" Ay, that's the word," interposed Sir Mulberry, with a
laugh. " You're coming to yourself again now."

" — As a matter of business," pursued Ralph, speaking
slowly and firmly, as a man who has made up his mind to
say no more, " because I thought she might make some im-
pression on the silly youth you have taken in hand and are
lending good help to ruin, I knew — knowing him — that it
would be long before he outraged her girl's feelings, and that
unless he offended by mere puppyism and emptiness, he
would, with a little management, respect the sex and conduct
even of his usurer's niece. But if I thought to draw him on
more gently by this device, I did not think of subjecting the
girl to the licentiousness and brutality of so old a hand as
you. And now we understand each other."

" Especially as there was nothing to be got by it— eh ? "
sneered Sir Mulberry.

" Exactly so," said Ralph. He had turned away, and
looked over his shoulder to make this last reply. The eyes
of the two worthies met, with an expression as if each rascal
felt that there was no disguising himself from the other ; and
Sir Mulberry Hawk shrugged his shoulders and walked slowly
out. *

His friend closed the door, and looked restlessly towards
the spot where his niece still remained in the attitude in which
he had left her. She had flung herself heavily upon the
couch, and with her head drooping over the cushion, and her
face hidden in her hands, seemed to be still weeping in an
agony of shame and grief.

Ralph would have walked into any poverty-stricken
debtor's house, and pointed him out to a bailiff, though in-
attendance upon a young child's death-bed, without the
smallest concern, because it would have been a matter quite
in the ordinary course of business, and the man would have
been an offender against his only code of morality. But,
here was a young girl, who had done no wrong save that of
coming into the world alive ; who had patiently yielded to all
his wishes ; who had tried hard to please him — above all,
who didn't owe him money — and he felt awkward and ner-
vous.

Ralph took a chair at some distance ; then, another chair
a little nearer ; then, moved a little nearer still ; then again,
and finally sat himself on the same sofa, and laid his hand on
Kate's arm.



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246 NICHOLAS NICKLEBY.

" Hush, my dear ! " he said, as she drew it back, and her
sobs burst out afresh. " Hush, hush I Dont mind it now ;
don't think 6f it"

" Oh, for pity's sake, let me go home," cried Kate. " Let
me leave this house, and go home."

" Yes, yes," said Ralph. " You shall. But you must dry
your eyes first, and compose yourself. Let me raise your
head. There— there."

44 Oh, uncle I " exclaimed Kate, clasping her hands.
" What have I done — what have I done — that you should
subject me to this? If I had wronged you in thought,
or word, or deed, it would have been most cruel to me, and
the memory of one you must have loved in some old time ;
but "

" Only listen to me for a moment," interrupted Ralph,
seriously alarmed by the violence of her emotions. " I didn't
know it would be so ; it was impossible for me to foresee it
I did all I could. — Come, let us walk about. You are faint
with the closeness of the room, and the heat of these lamps.
You will be better now, if you make the slightest effort."

" I will do anything," replied Kate, " if you will only send
me home." %

"Well, well, I will," said Ralph ; "but you must get back
your own looks ; for those you have, will frighten them, and
nobody must know of this but you and I. Now let us walk
the other way. There. You look better even now."

With such encouragements as these, Ralph Nickleby walked
to and fro, with his niece leaning on his arm ; actually trem-
bling beneath her touch.

In the same manner, when he judged it prudent to allow
her to depart, he supported her down stairs, after adjusting
her shawl and performing such little offices, most probably
for the first time in his life. Across the hall, and down the
steps, Ralph led her too ; nor did he withdraw his hand, until
she was seated in the coach.

As the door of the vehicle was'roughly closed, a comb fell
from Kate's hair, close at her uncle's feet ; and as he picked
it up, and returned it into her hand, the light from a neigh-
boring lamp shone upon her face. The lock of hair that had
escaped and curled loosely over her brow, the traces of tears
yet scarcely dry, the flushed cheek, the look of sorrow, all
fired some dormant train of recollection in the old man's
breast ; and the face of his dead brother seemed present be-



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NICHOLAS NICKLEB Y. 247

fore him, with the very look it bore on some occasion of boyish
grief, of which every minutest circumstance flashed upon his
mind, with the distinctness of a scene of yesterday.

Ralph Nickleby, who was proof against all appeals of
blood and kindred — who was steeled against every tale of
sorrow and distress — staggered while he looked, and went
back into his house, as a man who had seen a spirit from
some world beyond the grave.



CHAPTER XX.

WHEREIN NICHOLAS AT LENGTH ENCOUNTERS HIS UNCLE, TO
WHOM HE EXPRESSES HIS SENTIMENTS WITH MUCH CAN-
DOR. HIS RESOLUTION.

Littte Miss La Creevy trotted briskly through divers
streets at the west end of the town, early on Monday morning
— the day after the dinner: — charged with the important com-
mission of acquainting Madame Mantalini that Miss Nickleby
was too unwell to attend that day, but hoped to be enabled
to resume her duties on the morrow. And as Miss La Creevy
walked along, revolving in her mind various genteel forms
and elegant turns of expression, with a view to the selection
of the very best in which to couch her communication, she
cogitated a good deal upon the probable causes of her young
friend's indisposition.

" I don't know what to make of it," said Miss La Creevy.
" Her eyes were decidedly red last night. She said she had
a head-ache ; head-aches don't occasion red eyes. She must
have been crying."

Arriving at this conclusion, which, indeed, she had estab-
lished to her perfect satisfaction on the previous evening, Miss
La Creevy went on to consider — as she had done nearly all
night — what new cause of unhappiness her young friend could
possibly have had.

" I can't think of anything," said the little portrait painter.
" Nothing at all, unless it was the behavior of that old bear.
Cross to her I suppose ? Unpleasant brute ! "

Relieved by this expression of opinion, albeit it was vented



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248 NICHOLAS NICKLEBY.

upon empty air, Miss La Creevy trotted on to Madame Man-
talini's ; and being informed that the governing power was not
yet out of bed, requested an interview with the second in com-
mand ; whereupon Miss Knag appeared.

" So far as / am concerned," said Miss Knag, when the
message had been delivered, with many ornaments of speech ;
" I could spare Miss Nickleby for evermore."

" Oh, indeed, ma'am ! " rejoined Miss La Creevy, highly
offended. " But, you see, you are not mistress of the busi-
ness, and therefore it's of no great consequence."

" Very good, ma'am," said Miss Knag. " Have you any
further commands for me ? "

" No, I have not, ma'am * rejoined Miss La Creevy.

" Then good morning, ma'am," said Miss Knag.

" Good morning to you, ma'am ; and many obligations for
your extreme politeness and good breeding," rejoined Miss
La Creevy.

Thus terminating the interview during which both ladies
had. trembled very much, and been marvellously polite — cer-
tain indications that they were within an inch of a very des-
perate quarrel — Miss La Creevy bounced out of the room, and
into the street.

" I wonder who that is," said the queer little soul, " A
nice person to know, I should think I I wish I had the paint-
ing of her : Pd do her justice." So, feeling quite satisfied
that she had said a very cutting thing at Miss Knag's expense,
Miss La Creevy had a hearty laugh, and went home to break-
fast, in great good humor.

Here was one of the advantages of having lived alone so
long ! The little bustling, active, cheerful creature, existed
entirely within herself, talked to herself, made a confidant of
herself, was as sarcastic as she could be, on people who of-
fended her, by herself ; pleased herself, and did no harm. If
she indulged in scandal, nobody's reputation suffered / and if
she enjoyed a little bit of revenge, no living soul was one
atom the worse. One of the many to whom, from straitened
circumstances, a consequent inability to form the associations
they would wish, and a disinclination to mix with the society
they could obtain, London is as complete a solitude as the
plains of Syria, the humble artist had pursued her lonely, but
contented way for many years ; and, until the peculiar misfor-
tunes of the Nickleby family attracted her attention, had made
no friends, though brimful of the friendliest feelings to all



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NICHOLAS NICKLEB Y. 249

mankind. There are many warm hearts in the same solitary
guise as poor little Miss La Creevy's.

However, that's neither here nor there, just now. She
went home to breakfast, and had scarcely caught the full fla-
vor of her first sip of tea, when the servant announced a gen-
tleman, whereat Miss La Creevy, at once imagining a new
sitter, transfixed by admiration at the street-door case, was in
unspeakable consternation at the presence of the tea-things.

" Here, take 'em away ; run with 'em into the bed-room ;
anywhere," said Miss La Creevy. "Dear, dear; to think
that I should be late on this particular morning, of all others,
after being ready for three weeks by half-past eight o'clock,
and not a soul coming near the place ! "

" Don't let me put you out of the way," said a voice Miss
La Creevy knew. " I told the servant not to mention my
name, because I wished to surprise you."

" Mr. Nicholas ! " cried Miss La Creevy, starting in great
astonishment

" You have not forgotten me, I see," replied Nicholas, ex-
tending his hand.

" Why, I think I should even have known you if I had
met you in the street," said Miss La Creevy, with a smile.
" Hannah, another cup and saucer. Now, I'll tell you what,
young man ; I'll trouble you not to repeat the impertinence
you were guilty of, on the morning you went away."

" You would not be very angry, would you ? " asked
Nicholas.

" Wouldn't 1 1 " said Miss La Creevy. " You had better
try ; that's all ! "

Nicholas, with becoming gallantry, immediately took Miss
La Creevy at her word, who uttered a faint scream and slapped
his face ; but it was not a very hard slap, and that's the truth.

" I never saw such a rude creature ! " exclaimed Miss La
Creevy.

" You told me to try," said Nicholas.

" Well ; but I was speaking ironically," rejoined Miss La
Creevy.

" Oh ! that's another thing," said Nicholas ; " you should
have told me that, too."

" I dare say you didn't know, indeed ! " retorted Miss La
Creevy. " But, now I look at you again, you seem thinner
than when I saw you last, and your face is haggard and pale.
And how come you to have left Yorkshire ? "



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250 NICHOLAS NICKLEB V.

She stopped here ; for there was so much heart in her al-
tered tone and manner, that Nicholas was quite moved.

" I need look somewhat changed," he said, after a short
silence ; " for I have undergone some suffering, both of mind
and body, since I left London. I have been very poor, too,
and have even suffered from want."

" Good Heaven, Mr. Nicholas ! " exclaimed Miss La
Creevy, " what are you telling me ? "

" Nothing which need distress you quite so much," an-
swered Nicholas, with a more sprightly air ; " neither did I
come here, to bewail my lot, but on matter more to the pur-
pose. I wish to meet my uncle face to face. I should tell
you that first."

" Then all I have to say about that is," interposed Miss La
Creevy, " that I don't envy you your taste ; and that sitting
in the same room with his very boots, would put me out of
humor for a fortnight."

" In the main," said Nicholas, " there may be no great
difference of opinion between you and me, so far ; but you
will understand, that I desire to confront him, to justify my-
self, and to cast his duplicity and malice in his throat."

" That's quite another matter," rejoined Miss La Creevy.
" Heaven forgive me ; but I shouldn't cry my eyes quite out
of my head, if they choked him. Well ? "

" To this end, I called upon him this morning," said Nich-
olas. " He only returned to town on Saturday, and I knew



Online LibraryCharles DickensThe life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby → online text (page 24 of 79)