Charles Dickens.

The life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby online

. (page 25 of 79)
Online LibraryCharles DickensThe life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby → online text (page 25 of 79)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


nothing of his arrival until late last night."

" And did you see him ? " asked Miss La Creevy.

" No," replied Nicholas. " He had gone out."

" Hah ! " said Miss La Creevy ; " on some kind, charitable
business, I dare say."

" I have reason to believe," pursued Nicholas, "from what
has been told me, by a friend of mine who is acquainted with
his movements, that he intends seeing my mother and sister
to-day, and giving them his version of the occurrences that
have befallen me. I will meet him there."

<: That's right," said Miss La Creevy, rubbing her hands.
"And yet, I don't know," she added, " there is much to be
thought of — others to be considered."

" I have considered others," rejoined Nicholas : " but as
honesty and honor are both at issue, nothing shall deter me."

" You should know best," said Miss La Creevy.

" In this case I hope so," answered Nicholas. "And all



Digitized by VjOOQlC



NICHOLAS NICKLEBY. 251

I want you to do for me, is, to prepare them for my coming.
They think me a long way off, and if I went wholly unexpect-
ed, I should frighten them. If you can spare time to tell them
that you have seen me, and that I shall be with them in a quar-
ter of an hour afterwards, you will do me a great service. ,,

" I wish I could do you, or any of you, a greater," said
Miss La Creevy ; " but the power to serve, is as seldom joined
with the will, as the will is with the power, / think."

Talking on very fast and very much, Miss La Creevy
finished her breakfast with great expedition, put away the tea-
caddy and hid the key under the fender, resumed her bonnet,
and, taking Nicholas's arm, sallied forth at once into the city.
Nicholas left her near the door of his mother's house, and
promised to return within a quarter of an hour.

It so chanced that Ralph Nickleby, at length seeing fit,
for his own purposes, to communicate the atrocities of which
Nicholas had been guilty, had (instead of first proceeding to
another quarter of the town on business, as Newman Noggs
supposed he would) gone straight to his sister-in-law. Hence,
when Miss La Creevy, admitted by a girl who was cleaning
the house, made her way to the sitting-room, she found Mrs.
Nickleby and Kate in tears, and Ralph just concluding his
statement of his nephew's misdemeanors. Kate beckoned
her not to retire, and Miss La Creevy took a seat in silence.

" You are here already, are you, my gentleman ? " thought
the little woman. " Then he shaH announce himself, and see
what effect that has on you."

" This is pretty," said Ralph, folding up Miss Squeers's
note; "very pretty. I recommended him — against all my
previous conviction, for I knew he would never do any good —
to a man with whom, behaving himself properly, he might
have remained, in comfort, for years. What is the result ?
Conduct, for which he might hold up his hand at the Old
Bailey."

" I never will believe it," said Kate, indignantly ; " never.
It is some base conspiracy, which carries its own falsehood
with it."

" My dear " said Ralph* " you wrong the worthy man.
These are not inventions. The man is assaulted, your brother
is not to be found ; this boy, of whom they speak, goes with
him — remember, remember."

" It is impossible," said Kate. " Nicholas ! — and a thief,
too ! Mamma, how can you sit and hear such statements ? "



Digitized by VjOOQIC



252



NICHOLAS NICKLEBY.



Poor Mrs. Nickleby, who had, at no time, been remarkable
for the possession of a very clear understanding, and who had
been reduced by the late changes in her affairs to a most
complicated state of perplexity, made no other reply to this
earnest remonstrance than exclaiming from behind a mass of
pocket-handkerchief, that she never could have believed it —
thereby most ingeniously leaving her hearers to suppose that
she did believe it.

"It would be my duty, if he came in my way, to deliver
him up to justice," said Ralph, " my bounden duty ; I should
have no other course, as a man of the world and a man of
business, to pursue. And yet, 1 ' said Ralph, speaking in a
very marked manner, and looking furtively, but fixedly, at
Kate, " and yet I would not. I would spare the feelings of
his-r-of his sister. And his mother of course," added Ralph,
as though by afterthought, and with far less emphasis.

Kate very well understood that this was held out as an
additional inducement to her, to preserve the strictest silence
regarding the events of the preceding night She looked
involuntarily towards Ralph as he ceased to speak, but he
had turned his eyes another way, and seemed for the moment
quite unconscious of her presence.

" Everything," said Ralph, after a long silence, broken
only by Mrs. Nickleby's sobs, " everything combines to prove
the truth of this letter, if indeed there were any possibility of
disputing it. Do innocent men steal away from the sight of
honest folks and skulk in hiding-places, like outlaws? Do
innocent men inveigle nameless vagabonds, and prowl with
them about the country as idle robbers do? Assault, riot,
theft, what do you call these ? "

"A lie 1 " cried a voice, as the door was dashed open, and
Nicholas came into the room.

In the first moment of surprise, and possibly of alarm,
Ralph rose from his seat, and fell back a few paces, quite
taken off his guard by this unexpected apparition. In another
moment, he stood, fixed and immovable with folded arms,
regarding his nephew with a scowl ; while Kate and Miss
La Creevy threw themselves between the two, to prevent the .
personal violence which the fierce excitement of Nicholas
appeared to threaten.

" Dear Nicholas," cried his sister, clinging to him. " Be
calm, consider "

" Consider, Kate I " cried Nicholas, clasping her hand so



Digitized by VjOOQIC



NICHOLAS NICKLEB Y. 253

tight, in the tumult of his anger, that she could scarcely bear
the pain. "When I consider all, and think of what has
passed, I need be made of iron to stand before him."

" Or bronze," said Ralph quietly ; " there is not hardihood
enough in flesh and blood to face it out"

"Oh dear, dear ! " cried Mrs. Nickleby, " that things should
have come to such a pass as this."

"Who speaks in a tone, as if I had done wrong, and
brought disgrace on them ? " said Nicholas, looking round.

" Your mother, sir ? " replied Ralph, motioning towards
her.

" Whose ears have been poisoned by you," said Nicholas ;
" by you — who, under pretence of deserving the thanks she
poured upon you, heaped every insult, wrong, and indignity,
upon my head. You, who sent me to a den where sordid
cruelty, worthy of yourself, runs wanton, and youthful misery
stalks precocious ; where the lightness of childhood shrinks
into the heaviness of age, and its every promise blights, and
withers as it grows. I call Heaven to witness," said Nicholas,
looking eagerly round, " that I have seen all this, and that he
knows it."

" Refute these calumnies," said Kate, " and be more
patient, so that you may give them no advantage. Tell us
what you really did, and show that they are untrue."

" Of what do they — or of what does he — accuse me ? " said
Nicholas.

" First, of attacking your master, and being within an ace
of qualifying yourself to be tried for murder," interposed
Ralph, " I speak plainly, young man, bluster as you will."

" I interfered," said Nicholas, " to save a miserable
creature from the vilest cruelty. In so doing, I inflicted such
punishment upon a wretch as he will not readily forget, though
far less than he deserved from me. If the same scene were
renewed before me now, I would take the same part ; but I
would strike harder and heavier, and brand him with such
marks as he should carry to his grave, go to it when he
would."

"You hear?" said Ralph, turning to Mrs. Nickleby.
" Penitence, this I "

" Oh dear me ! " cried Mrs. Nickleby, " I don't know what
to think, I really don't."

" Do not speak just now, mamma, I entreat you," said
Kate. " Dear Nicholas, I only tell you, that you may know



Digitized by VjOOQIC



2 S 4 NICHOLAS NICKLEB Y.

what wickedness can prompt, but they accuse you of — a ring
is missing, and they dare to say that — "

"The woman," said Nicholas, haughtily, "the wife of the
fellow from whom these charges come, dropped — as I suppose
— a worthless ring among some clothes of mine, early in the
morning on which I left the house. At least I know that
she was in the bedroom where they lay, struggling with an un-
happy child, and that I found it when I opened my bun-
dle on the road. I returned it, at once, by coach, and they
have it now."

" I knew, I knew," said Kate looking towards her uncle.
" About this boy, love, in whose company they say you left ? "

"The boy, a silly, helpless creature, from brutality and
hard usage, is with me now," rejoined Nicholas.

" You hear ? " said Ralph, appealing to the mother again,
" everything proved even upon his own confession. Do you
choose to restore that boy, sir ? "

" No. I do not," replied Nicholas.

" You do not ? " sneered Ralph.

" No," repeated Nicholas, " not to the man with whom I
found him. I would that I knew on whom he has the claim of
birth : I might wring something from his sense of shame, if
he were dead to every tie of nature."

" Indeed ! " said Ralph. " Now, sir, will you hear a word
or two from me ? "

" You can speak when, and what you please," replied Nich-
olas, embracing his sister. " I take little heed of what you
say or threaten."

" Mighty well, sir," retorted Ralph ; " but perhaps it may
concern others, who may think it worth their while to listen and
consider what I tell them. I will address your mother, sir,
who knows the world."

" Ah ! and I only too dearly wish I didn't," sobbed Mrs.
Nickleby.

There really was no necessity for the good lady to be much
distressed upon this particular head ; the extent of her worldly
knowledge being, to say the least, very questionable ; and so
Ralph seemed to think, for he smiled as she spoke. He then
glanced steadily at her and Nicholas by turns, as he delivered
himself in these words :

"Of what I have done, or what I meant to do, for you
ma'am and my niece, I say not one syllable. I held out
no promise, and leave you to judge for yourself. I hold out



Digitized by VjOOQlC



NICHOLAS NICKLEB Y.



255



do threat now, but I say that this boy, headstrong, wilful, and
disorderly as he is, should not have one penny of my money,
or one crust of my bread, or one grasp of my hand to save
him from the loftiest gallows in all Europe. I will not meet
him, come where he comes, or hear his name. I will not help
him, or those who help him. With a full knowledge of what
he brought upon you by so doing, he has come back in his
selfish sloth, to be an aggravation of your wants, and a burden
upon his sister's scanty wages. I regret to leave you, and
more to leave her, now, but I will not encourage this com-
pound of meanness and cruelty, and, as I will not ask you to
renounce him, I see you no more."

If Ralph had not known and felt his power in wounding
those he hated, his glance at Nicholas would have shown it
him, in all its force, as he proceeded in the above address.
Innocent as the young man was, of all wrong, every artful in-
sinuation stung, every well-considered sarcasm cut him to the
quick ; and when Ralph noted his pale face and quivering
lip, he hugged himself to mark how well he had chosen the
taunts best calculated to strike deep into the young and ardent
spirit!

" I can't help it," cried Mrs. Nickleby, " I know you have
been very good to us, and meant to do a good deal for my
dear daughter. I am quite sure of that ; I know you did,
and it was very kind of you, having her at your house and all
— and of course it would have been a great thing for her and
for me too. But I can't, you know, brother-in-law, I can't re-
nounce my own son, even if he has done all you say he has —
it's not possible ; I couldn't do it ; so we must go to rack and
ruin, Kate, my dear. I can bear it, I dare say." Pouring forth
these and a perfectly wonderful train of other disjointed ex-
pressions of regret which no mortal power but Mrs. Nickleby's
could ever have strung together, that lady wrung her hands,
and her tears fell faster.

w Why do you say * if Nicholas has done what they say he
has,' mamma ? " asked Kate with honest anger. " You know
he has not"

" I don't know what to think, one way or other, my
dear," said Mrs. Nickleby ; " Nicholas is so violent, and your
uncle has so much composure, that I can only hear what he
says, and not what Nicholas does. Never mind, don't let us
talk any more about it. We can go to the Workhouse, or the
Refuge for the Destitute, or the Magdalen Hospital, I dare



Digitized by VjOOQIC



2 56 NICHOLAS NICKLEB V.

say : and the sooner we go the better." With this extraor-
dinary jumble of charitable institutions, Mrs. Nickleby again
gave way to her tears.

"Stay," said Nicholas, as Ralph turned to go. "You
need not leave this place sir, for it will be relieved of my pres-
ence in one minute, and it will be long, very long before I
darken these doors again."

" Nicholas," cried Kate, throwing herself on her brother's
shoulder, " do not say so. My dear brother, you will break
my heart. Mamma, speak to him. Do not mind her, Nich-
olas ; she does not mean it, you should know her better. Uncle,
somebody, for Heaven's sake speak to him."

" I never meant, Kate," said Nicholas tenderly, " I never
meant to stay among you ; think better of me than to suppose
it possible. I may turn my back on this town a few hours
sooner than I intended, but what of that ? We shall not for-
get each other apart, and better .days will come when we shall
part no more. Be a woman Kate," he whispered, proudly,
" and do not make me one while he looks on."

" No, no, I will not," said- Kate eagerly, " but you will not
leave us. Oh 1 think of all the happy days we have had to-
gether, befcre these terrible misfortunes came upon us ; of all
the comfort and happiness of home, and the trials we have to
bear now ; of our having no protector under all the slights and
wrongs that poverty so much favors, and you cannot leave us
to bear them alone, without one hand to help us."

" You will be helped when I am away," replied Nicholas,
hurriedly. " I am no help to you, no protector ; I should
bring you nothing but sorrow, and want, and suffering. My
own mother sees it, and her fondness and fears for you point
to the course that I should take. And so all good angels
bless you, Kate, till I can carry you to some home of mine,
where we may revive the happiness denied to us now, and talk
of these trials as of things gone by. Do not keep me here,
but let me go at once. There. Dear girl — dear girl."

The grasp which had detained him, relaxed, and Kate
swooned in his arms. Nicholas stooped over her, for a few
seconds, and placing her gently in a chair, confided her to
their honest friend.

" I need not entreat your symyathy," he said, wringing her
hand, "for I know your nature. You will never forget
them."

He stepped up to Ralph, who remained in the same attitude



Digitized by VjOOQIC



NICHOLAS NICKLEBY. 257

which he had preserved throughout the interview, and moved
not a finger.

" Whatever step you take, sir," he said, in a voice inaudi-
ble beyond themselves, " I shall keep a strict account of. I
leave them to you at your desire. There will be a day of
reckoning sooner or later, and it will be a heavy one for you if
they are wronged."

Ralph did not allow a muscle of his face to indicate that
he heard one word of this parting address. He hardly
knew that it was concluded, and Mrs. Nickleby had scarcely
made up her mind to detain her son by force if necessary,
when Nicholas was gone.

As he hurried through the streets to his obscure lodging
seeking to keep pace, as it were, with the rapidity of the
thoughts which crowded upon him, many doubts and hesita-
tions arose in his mind, and almost tempted him to return.
But what would they gain by this ? Supposing he were to put
Ralph Nickleby at defiance, and were even fortunate enough
to obtain some small employment, his being with them could
only render their present condition worse, and might greatly
impair their future prospects ; for his mother had spoken of
some new kindnesses towards Kate which she had not denied.
"No," thought Nicholas, " I have acted for the best."

But, before he had gone five hundred yards, some other
and different feeling would come upon him, and then he
would lag again, and pulling his hat over his eyes, give way
to the melancholy reflections which pressed thickly upon him.
To have committed no fault, and yet to be so entirely alone
in the world ; to be separated from the only persons he loved,
and to be proscribed like a criminal, when six months ago he
had been surrounded by every comfort, and looked up to, as
the chief hope of his family — this was hard to bear. He had
not deserved it either. Well, there was comfort in that ;
and poor Nicholas would brighten up again, to be again de-
pressed, as his quickly shifting thoughts presented every va-
riety of light and shade before him.

Undergoing these alternations of hope and misgiving,
which no one, placed in a situation of ordinary trial, can fail
to have experienced, Nicholas at length reached his poor
room, where, no longer borne up by the excitement which
had hitherto sustained him, but depressed by the revulsion of
feeling it left behind, he threw himself on the bed, and turn-

*7



Digitized by VjOOQIC



258 NICHOLAS NICKLEBY.

ing his face to the wall, gave free vent to the emotions he had
so long stifled.

He had not heard anybody enter, and was unconscious of
the presence of Smike, until, happening to raise his head, he
saw him, standing at the upper end of the room, looking
wistfully towards him. He withdrew his eyes when he saw
that he was observed, and affected to be busied with some
scanty preparations for dinner.

"Well, Smike," said Nicholas, as cheerfully as he could
speak, " let me *hear what new acquaintances you have made
this morning, or what new wonder you have found out, in the
compass of this street and the next one."

" No," said Smike, shaking his head mournfully ; " I must
talk of something else to-day."

"Of what you like," replied Nicholas, good-humoredly.

" Of this ; " said Smike. " I know you are unhappy, and
have got into great trouble by bringing me away. I ought to
have known that and stopped behind — I would, indeed, if I
had thought it then. You — you — are not rich : you have not
enough for yourself, and I should not be here. You grow,"
said the lad, laying his hand timidly on that of Nicholas, "you
grow thinner every day; your cheek is paler, and your eye
more sunk. Indeed I cannot bear to see you so, and think
how I am burdening you. I tried to go away to-day, but the
thought of your kind face drew me back. I could not leave
you without a word." The poor fellow could say no more,
for his eyes filled with tears, and his voice was gone.

"The word which separates us," said Nicholas, grasping
him heartily by the shoulder, " shall never be said by me, for
you are my only comfort and stay. I would not lose you
now, Smike, for all the world could give. The thought of
you has upheld me through all I have endured to-day, and
shall, through fifty times such trouble. Give me your hand.
My heart is linked to yours. We will journey from this place
together, before. the week is out. What, if I am steeped in
poverty ? You lighten it, and we will be poor together,"



Digitized by VjOOQIC



NICHOLAS NICKLEB Y. 259



CHAPTER XXI.

MADAME MANTALINI FINDS HBRSELF IN A SITUATION OF
SOME DIFFICULTY, AND MISS NICKLEBY FINDS HERSELF
IN NO SITUATION AT ALL.

The agitation she had undergone, rendered Kate Nickleby
unable to resume her duties at the dress-maker's for three
days, at the expiration of which interval she betook herself at
the accustomed hour, and with languid steps, to the temple
of fashion where Madame Mantalini reigned paramount and
supreme.

The ill will of Miss Knag had lost nothing of its virulence,
in the interval. The young ladies still scrupulously shrunk
from all companionship with their denounced associate ; and
when that exemplary female arrived a few minutes afterwards,
she was at no pains to conceal the displeasure with which she
regarded Kate '£ return.

" Upon my word ! " said Miss Knag, as the satellites
flocked round, to relieve her of her bonnet and shawl ; " I
should have thought some people would have had spirit
enough to stop away altogether, when they know what an in-
cumbrance their presence is to right-minded persons. But it's
a queer world ; oh ! it's a queer world ! "

Miss Knag, having passed this comment on the world, in
the tone in which most people do pass comments on the world
when they are out of temper, that is to say, as if they by no
means belonged to it, concluded by heaving a sigh, where-
with she seeme.d meekly to compassionate the wickedness of
mankind.

The attendants were not slow to echo the sigh, and Miss
Knag was apparently on the eve of favoring them with some
further moral reflections, when the voice of Madame Manta-
lini, conveyed through the speaking-tube, ordered Miss Nick-
elby up stairs to assist in the arrangement of the show-room ;
a distinction which caused Miss Knag to toss her head so
much, and bite her lip so hard, that her powers of conversa-
tion were, for the time, annihilated.



Digitized by VjOOQIC



2 6o NICHOLAS NICKLEB Y.

. "Well, Miss Nickleby, child," said Madame Mantalini,
when Kate presented herself ; " are you quite well again ? "

" A great deal better, thank you," replied Kate.

"I wish I could say the same," remarked Madame Man-
talini, seating herself with an air of weariness.

" Are you ill ? " asked Kate. " I am very sorry for that"

" Not exactly ill, but worried, child — worried."

" I am still more sorry .to hear that," said Kate, gently.
44 Bodily illness is more easy to bear, than mental."

44 Ah ! and it's much easier to talk than to bear either,"
said Madame, rubbing her nose with much irritability of man-
ner. " There, get to your work, child, and put the things in
order, do."

While KatQ.was wondering within herself what these symp-
toms of unusual vexation portended, Mr. Mantalini put the
tips of his whiskers, and, by degrees, his head, through the
half-opened door, and cried in a soft voice —

44 Is my life and soul there ? "

44 No," replied his wife.

44 How can it say so, when it is blooming in the front room
like a little rose in a demnition flower-pot ? " urged Mantalini
44 May its poppet come in and talk ? "

"Certainly not," replied Madame; "you know I never
allow you here. Go along ! "

The poppet, however, encouraged perhaps by the relenting
tone of this reply, ventured to rebel, and stealing into the
room, made towards Madame Mantalini on tiptoe, blowing her
a kiss as he came along.

" Why will it vex itself, and twist its little face into be-
witching nutcrackers ? " said Mantalini, putting his left arm
round the waist of his life and soul, and drawing her towards
him with his right.

"Oh ! I can't bear you," replied his wife.

"Not — eh, not bear me I" exclaimed Mantalini. " Fibs,
fibs. It couldn't be. There's not "a woman alive, that could
tell me such a thing to my face — to my own face." Mr.
Mantalini stroked his chin as he said this, and glanced com-
placently at an opposite mirror.

" Such destructive extravagance," reasoned his wife, in a
low tone.

" All in its joy at having gained such a lovely creature,
such a little Venus, such a demd enchanting, bewitching,
engrossing, captivating little Venus," said Mantalini.



Digitized by VjOOQIC



NICHOLAS NICKLEBY. 261

"See what a situation you have placed me in!" urged
Madame.

" No harm will come, no harm shall come, to its own dar-
ling/' rejoined Mr. Mantalini. " It is all over ; there will be
nothing the matter ; money shall be got in ; and if it don't
come in fast enough, old Nickleby shall stump up again, or
have his jugular separated if he dares to vex and hurt the
little "

" Hush ! " interposed Madame. " Don't you see ? "

Mr. Mantalini, who, in his eagerness to make up matters
with his wife, had overlooked, or feigned to overlook, Miss
Nickleby hitherto, took the hint, and laying his finger on his
lip, sunk his voice still lower. There was, then, a great deal
of whispering, during which Madame Mantalini appeared to
make reference, more than once, to certain debts incurred by



Online LibraryCharles DickensThe life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby → online text (page 25 of 79)