Charles Dickens.

The life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby online

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Mr. Mantalini previous to her coverture ; and also to an un-
expected outlay of money in payment of the aforesaid debts ;
and furthermore, to certain agreeable weaknesses on that
gentleman's part, such as gaming, wasting, idling, and a
tendency to horse-flesh ; each of which matters of accusation
Mr. Mantalini disposed of, by one kiss or more, as its relative
importance demanded. The upshot of it all, was, that Madame
Mantalini was in raptures with him, and that they went up
stairs to breakfast

Kate busied herself in what she had to do, and was silently
arranging the various articles of decoration in the best taste
she could display, when she started to hear a strange man's
voice in the room, and started again, to observe, on looking
round, that a white hat, and a red neckerchief, and a broad
round face, and a large head, and part of a green coat were in
the room too.

" Don't alarm yourself, Miss," said the proprietor of these
appearances. " I say ; this here's the mantie-making consarn,

"Yes," rejoined Kate, greatly astonished. "What did
you want ? "

The stranger answered not ; but, first looking back, as
though to beckon to some unseen person outside, came, very
deliberately, into the room and was closely followed by a
little man in brown, very much the worse for wear, who
brought with him a mingled fumigation of stale tobacco and
fresh onions. The clothes of this gentleman were much be-
speckled with flue : and his shoes, stockings, and nether

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garments, from his heels to the waist buttons of his .coat in-
clusive, were profusely embroidered with splashes of mud,
caught a fortnight previously — before the setting-in of the fine
weather. •

Kate's very natural impression was, that these engaging
individuals had called with the view of possessing themselves,
unlawfully, of any portable articles that chanced to strike their
fancy. She did not attempt to disguise her apprehensions,
and made a move towards the door.

" Wait a minnit," said the man in the green coat, closing
it softly, and standing with his back against it " This is a
unpleasant bisness. Vere's your gowemor ? "

" My what — did you say ? " asked Kate, trembling ; for
she thought " governor " might be slang for watch or money.

" Mr. Muntlehiney," said the man. " Wot's come on him ?
Is he at home ? "

" He is above stairs, I believe," replied Kate, a little re-
assured by this inquiry. " Do you want him ? "

" No," replied the visitor. " I don't ezactly want him, if
it's made a favor on. You can jist give him that 'ere card,
and tell him if he wants to speak to me, and save trouble, here
I am ; that's all."

With these words, the stranger put a thick square card into
Kate's hand, and, turning to his friend, remarked, with an
easy air, " that the rooms was a good high pitch ; " to which
the friend assented, adding, by way of illustration, " that there
was lots of room for a little boy to grow up a man in either on
'em, vithout much fear of his ever bringing his head into con-
tract vith the ceiling."

After ringing the bell which would summon Madame
Mantalini, Kate glanced at the card, and saw that it displayed
the name of " Scaley," together with some other information
to which she had not had time to refer, when her attention
was attracted by Mr. Scaley himself, who, walking up to one
of the cheval glasses, gave it a hard poke in the centre with
his stick, as coolly as if it had been made of cast iron.

" Good plate this here, Tix," said Mr. Scaley to his friend.

" Ah ! " rejoined Mr. Tix, placing the marks of his four
fingers, and a duplicate impression of his thumb on a piece of
sky-blue silk ; " and this here article warn't made for nothing,
mind you."

From the silk, Mr. Tix transferred his admiration to some
elegant articles of wearing apparel, while Mr. Scaley adjusted

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his neckcloth, at leisure, before the glass, and afterwards,
aided by its reflection, proceeded to the minute consideration
of a pimple on his chin ; in which absorbing occupation he
was yet engaged, when Madame Mantalinf entering the room,
uttered an exclamation of surprise which roused him.

"Oh ! Is this the missis ? " inquired Scaley.

" It is Madame Mantalini," said Kate.

"Then," said Mr. Scaley, producing a small document
from his pocket and unfolding it very slowly, " this is a writ
of execution, and if it's not conwenient to settle we'll go
over the house at wunst, please, and take the inwentory."

Poor Madame Mantalini wrung her hands for grief, and
rung the b*U for her husband ; which done, she fell into a
chair and a fainting fit, simultaneously. The professional
gentlemen, however, were not at all discomposed by this event,
for Mr. Scaley, leaning upon a stand on which a handsome
dress was displayed (so that his shoulders appeared above it,
in nearly the same manner as the shoulders of the lady for
whom it was designed would have done if she had had it on),
pushed his hat on one side and scratched his head with per-
fect unconcern, while his friend Mr. Tix, taking that oppor-
tunity for a general survey of the apartment preparatory to
entering on business, stood with his inventory-book under his
arm, and his hat in his hand, mentally occupied in putting a
price upon every object within his range of vision.

Such was the posture of affairs when Mr. Mantalini
hurried in ; and as that distinguished specimen had had a
pretty extensive intercourse with Mr. Scaley's fraternity in his
bachelor days, and was, besides, very far from being taken
by surprise on the present agitating occasion, he merely
shrugged his shoulders, thrust his hands down to the bottom
of his pockets, elevated his eyebrows, whistled a bar or two,
swore an oath or two, and, sitting astride upon a chair, put
the best face upon the matter with great composure and

"What's the demd total?" was the first question he

" Fifteen hundred and twenty-seven pound, four and nine-
pence ha'penny," replied Mr. Scaley, without moving a limb.

" The halfpenny be demd," said Mr. Mantalini, impatiently.

" By all means if you vish it," retorted Mr. Scaley ; " and
the ninepence."

u It don't matter to us if the fifteen hundred and twenty-

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seven pound went along with it, that I know on," observed
Mr. Tix.

" Not a button," said Scaley.

"Well ;" said the same gentleman, after a pause, " Wor/s
to be done — anything ? Is it only a small crack, or a out-
and-out smash ? A break-up of the constitootion is it — werry
good. Then Mr. Tom Tix, esk-vire, you must inform your
angel wife and lovely family as you won't sleep at home for
three nights to come, along of being in possession here.
Wot's the good of the lady a fretting herself ? " continued
Mr. Scaley, as Madame Mantalini sobbed. " A good half of
wot's here, isn't paid for, I des-say, and wot a consolation
oughtn't that to be to her feelings I " #

With these remarks, combining great pleasantry with sound
moral encouragement under difficulties, Mr. Scaley proceeded
to take the inventory, in which task he was materially assisted
by the uncommon tact and experience of Mr. Tix, the broker.

" My cup of happiness's sweetener," said Mantalini, ap-
proaching his wife with a penitent air ; " will you listen to me
for two minutes ? "

"Oh! don't speak to me," replied his wife, sobbing.
" You have ruined me, and that's enough."

Mr. Mantalini, who had doubtless well considered his part,
no sooner heard these words pronounced in a tone of grief
and severity, than he recoiled several paces, assumed an ex-
pression of consuming mental agony, rushed headlong from
the room, and was, soon afterwards, heard to slam the door
of an up stairs dressing-room with great violence.

" Miss Nickleby," cried Madame Mantalini, when this
sound met her ear, "make haste for Heaven's sake, he will
destroy himself ! I spoke unkindly to him, and he cannot
bear it from me. Alfred, my darling Alfred."

With such exclamations, she hurried up stairs, followed by
Kate, who, although she did not quite participate in the fond
wife's apprehensions, was a little flurried, nevertheless. The
dressing-room door being hastily flung open, Mr. Mantalini
was disclosed to view, with his shirt-collar symmetrically
thrown back ; putting a fine edge to a breakfast knife by
means of his razor strop.

" Ah ! " cried Mr. Mantalini, " Interrupted ! " and whisk
went the breakfast knife into Mr. Mantalini's dressing-gown
pocket, while Mr. Mantalini's eyes rolled wildly, and his hair
floating in wild disorder, mingled with his whiskers.

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" Alfred," cried his wife, flinging her arms about him, " I
didn't mean to say it, I didn't mean to say it ! "

" Ruined ! " cried Mr. Mantalini. " Have I brought ruin
upon the best and purest creature that ever blessed a demni-
tion vagabond ! Demmit, let me go." At this crisis of his
ravings Mr. Mantalini made a pluck at the breakfast knife,
and being restrained by his wife's grasp, attempted to dash
his head against the wall — taking very good care to be at
least six feet from it

" Compose yourself, my own angel," said Madame. " It
was nobody's fault ; it was mine as much as yours, we shall
do very well yet. Come, Alfred, come."

Mr. Mantalini did not think proper to come to, all at
once ; but, after calling several times for poison, and request-
ing some lady or gentleman to blow his brains out, gentler
feelings came upon him, and he wept pathetically. In this
softened frame of mind he did not oppose the capture of the
knife — which, to tell the truth, he was rather glad to be rid
of, as an inconvenient and dangerous article for a skirt pocket
— and finally he suffered himself to be led away, by his affec-
tionate partner.

After a delay of two or three hours, the young ladies were
informed that their services would be dispensed with, until
further notice, and at the expiration of two days, the name
of Mantalini appeared in the list of bankrupts : Miss Nickleby
received an intimation per post, the same morning, that the
business would be, in future, carried on under the name of
Miss Knag, and that her assistance would no longer be re-
quired — a piece of intelligence with which Mrs. Nickleby was
no sooner made acquainted, than that good lady declared she
had expected it all along, and cited divers unknown occasions
on which she had prophesied lo that precise effect.

"And I say again," remarked Mrs. Nickleby (who, it is
scarcely necessary to observe, had never said so before), " I
say again, that a milliner's and dress-maker's is the very last
description of business, Kate, that you should have tnought
of attaching yourself to. I don't make it a reproach to you,
my love ; but still I will say, that if you had consulted your
mother "

" Well, well, mama," said Kate, mildly ; " what would you
recommend now ? "

" Recommend 1 " cried Mrs. Nickleby, " isn't it obvious,
my dear, that of all occupations in this world for a young lady


situated as you are, that of companion to some amiable lady
is the very thing for which your education, and manners, and
personal appearance, and everything else, exactly qualify you ?
Did you never hear your poor dear papa speak of the young
lady who was the daughter of the old lady who boarded in the
same house that he boarded in once, when he was a bachelor
— what was her name again ? I know it began with a B, and
ended with a g, but whether it was Waters or — no it couldn't
have been that, either ; but whatever her name was, don't you
know that that young lady went as companion to a married
lady who died soon afterwards, and that she married the hus-
band, and had one of the finest little boys that the medical
man had ever seen — all within eighteen months.

Kate knew, perfectly well, that this torrent of favorable
recollection was occasioned by some opening, real or imagin-
ary, which her mother had discovered, in the companionship
walk of life. She therefore waited, very patiently, until all
reminiscences and anecdotes, bearing or not bearing upon the
subject, had been exhausted, and at last ventured to inquire
what discovery had been made. The truth then came out
Mrs. Nickleby had, that morning, had a yesterday newspaper
of the very first respectability from the public-house where the
porter came from ; and in this yesterday's newspaper was an
advertisement, couched in the purest and most grammatical
English, announcing that a married lady was in want of a gen-
teel young person as companion, and that the married lady's
name and address were to be known, on application at a cer-
tain library at the west end of the town, therein mentioned.

" And I say," exclaimed Mrs. Nickleby, laying the paper
down in triumph, " that if your uncle don't object, it's well
worth the trial."

Kate was too sick at heart, after the rough jostling she
had already had with the world, and really cared too little at
the moment what fate was reserved for her, to make any ob-

i'ection. Mr. Ralph Nickleby offered none, but, on the contrary,
lighl/ approved of the suggestion ; neither did he express any
great surprise at Madame Mantalini's sudden failure, indeed
it would have been strange if he had, inasmuch as it had been
procured and brought about, chiefly by himself. So, the name
and address were obtained without loss of time, and Miss
Nickleby and her mama went off in quest of Mrs. Wititterly,
of Cadogan Place, Sloane Street, that same forenoon.

Cadogan Place is the one slight bond that joins two great

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extremes -, it is the connecting link between the aristocratic
pavements of Belgrave Square, and the barbarism of Chelsea.
It is in Sloane Street, but not of it. The people in Cadogan
Place look down upon Sloane Street, and think Brompton low.
They affect fashion too, and wonder where the New Road is.
Not that they claim to be on precisely the same footing as the
high folks of Belgrave Square and Grosvenor Place, but that
they stand, with reference to them, rather in the light of those
illegitimate children of the great who are content to boast of
their connections, although their connections disavow them.
Wearing as much as they can of the airs and semblances of
loftiest rank, the people of Cadogan Place have the realities
of middle station. It is the conductor which communicates to
the inhabitants of regions beyond its limit, the shock of pride
of birth and rank, which it has not within itself, but derives
from a fountain-head beyond ; or, like the ligament which
unites the Siamese twins, it contains something of the life and
essence of two distinct bodies, and yet belongs to neither.

Upon this doubtful ground, lived Mrs. Wititterly, and at
Mrs. Wititterly's door Kate Nickleby knocked with trembling
hand. The aoor was opened by a big footman with his head
floured, or chalked, or painted in some way (it didn't look
genuine powder), and the big footman, receiving the card of
introduction, gave it to a little page ; so little, indeed, that his
body would not hold, in ordinary array, the number of small
buttons which are indispensable to a page's costume, and they
were consequently obliged to be stuck on four abreast. This
young gentleman took the card up stairs on a salver, and
pending his return, Kate and her mother were shown into a
dining-room of rather dirty and shabby aspect, and so com-
fortably arranged as to be adapted to almost any purpose
rather than eating and drinking.

Now, in the ordinary course of things, and according to
all authentic descriptions of high life, as set forth in books,
Mrs. Wititterly ought to have been in her boudoir; but
whether it was that Mr. Wititterly was at that moment shav-
ing himself in the boudoir or what not, certain it is that Mrs.
Wititterly gave audience in the drawing-room, where was every-
thing proper and necessary, including curtains and furniture
coverings of a roseate hue, to shed a delicate bloom on Mrs.
Wititterly's complexion, and a little dog to snap at strangers'
legs for Mrs. Wititterly's amusement, and the afore-mentioned
page, to hand chocolate for Mrs. Wititterly's lefreshmenk

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The lady had an air of sweet insipidity, and. a face of
engaging paleness ; there was a faded look about her, and
about the furniture, and about the house. She was reclining
on a sofa in such a very unstudied attitude, that she might
have been taken for an actress all ready for the first scene in
a ballet, and only waiting for the drop curtain to go up.

" Place chairs."

The page placed them.

44 Leave the room, Alphonse. v

The page left it ; but if ever an Alphonse carried plain
Bill in his face and figure, that page was the boy.

44 I have ventured to call, ma'am," said Kate, after a few
seconds of awkward silence, 4< from having seen your adver-

44 Yes," replied Mrs. Wititterly, 44 one of my people put it
in the paper. — Yes."

44 1 thought, perhaps," said Kate, modestly, " that if you
had not already made a final choice, you would forgive my
troubling you with an application."

44 Yes," drawled Mrs. Wititterly again.

44 If you have already made a selection "

44 Oh dear no," interrupted the lady, 44 I am not so easily
suited. I really don't know what to say. You have never
been a companion before, have you ? "

Mrs. Nickleby, who had been eagerly watching her oppor-
tunity, came dexterously in, before Kate could reply. 44 Not
to any stranger, ma'am," said the good lady ; " but she has
been a companion to me for some years. I am her mother,

" Oh ! " said Mrs. Wititterly, 44 I apprehend you."

44 I assure you, ma'am," said Mrs. Nickleby, 44 that I very
little thought, at one time, that it would be necessary for my
daughter to go out into the world at all, for her poor dear
papa was an independent gentleman, and would have been at
this moment if he had but listened in time to my constant
entreaties and "

44 Dear mama," said Kate, in a low voice.

44 My dear Kate, if you will allow me to speak," said Mrs.
Nickleby, ' 4 1 shall take the liberty of explaining to this
lady "

44 I think it is almost unnecessary, mama."

And notwithstanding all the frowns and winks with which
Mrs. Nickleby intimated that she was going to say something

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which would clench the business at once, Kate maintained
her point by an expressive look, and for once Mrs. Nickleby
was stopped upon the very brink of an oration.

" What are your accomplishments ? " asked Mrs. Wititterly,
with her eyes shut

Kate blushed as she mentioned her principal acquirements,
and Mrs. Nickleby checked them all off, one by one, on her
fingers ; having calculated the number before she came out.
Luckily the two calculations agreed, so Mrs. Nickleby had no
excuse for talking.

" You are a good temper ? " asked Mrs. Wititterly, open-
ing her eyes for an instant, and shutting them again.

44 I hope so," rejoined Kate.

" And have a highly respectable reference for everything,
have you ? "

Kate replied that she* had, and laid her uncle's card upon
the table.

" Have the. goodness to draw your chair a little nearer,
and let me look at you," said Mrs. Wititterly ; "lam so very
near-sighted that I can't quite discern your features."

Kate complied, though not without some embarrassment,
with this request, and Mrs. Wititterly took a languid survey
of her countenance, which lasted some two or three minutes.

" I like your appearance," said that lady, ringing a little
bell. " Alphonse, request your master to come here."

The page disappeared on this errand, and after a short
interval, during which not a word was spoken on either side,
opened the door for an important gentleman of about eight-
and-thirty, of rather plebeian countenance, and with a very light
head of hair, who leant over Mrs. Wititterly for a little time,
and conversed with her in whispers.

" Oh ! " he said, turning round, " yes. This is a most im-
portant matter. Mrs. Wititterly is of a very excitable nature ;
very delicate, very fragile ; a hothouse plant, an exotic."

" Oh ! Henry, my dear," interposed Mrs. Wititterly.

" You are, my love, you know you are ; one breath — " said
Mr. W., blowing an imaginary feather away. " Pho ! you're
gone ! "

The lady sighed.

" Your soul is too large for your body," said Mr. Wititterly.
" Your intellect wears you out ; all the medical men say so ;
you know that there is not a physician who is not proud of
being called in to you. What is their unanimous declaration ?

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* My dear doctor/ said I to Sir Tumley Snuffim, in this very
room, the very last time he came. * My dear doctor, what is
my wife's complaint ? Tell me all. I can bear it. Is it nerves ? '
' My dear fellow,' he said, ' be proud of that woman ; make
much of her ; she is an ornament to the fashionable world,
and to you. Her complaint is soul. It swells, expands, dilates —
the blood fires, the pulse quickens, the excitement increases —
Whew ! ' " Here Mr. Wititterly, who in the ardor of his de-
scription, had flourished his right hand to within something
less than an inch of Mrs. Nickleby's bonnet, drew it hastily
back again, and blew his nose as fiercely as if it had been
done by some violent machinery.

" You make me out worse than I am, Henry," said Mrs.
Wititterly, with a faint smile.

" I do not, Julia, I do not," said Mr. W. " The society
in which you move — necessarily move, from your station, con-
nection, and endowments — is one vortex and whirlpool of the
most frightful excitement Bless my heart and body, can I
ever forget the night you danced with the baronet's nephew
at the election ball, at Exeter ! It was tremendous."

" I always suffer for these triumphs afterwards," said Mrs.

" And for that very reason/' rejoined her husband, " you
must have a companion, in whom there is great gentleness,
great sweetness, excessive sympathy, and perfect repose."

Here, both Mr. and Mrs. Wititterly, who had talked rather
at the Nicklebys than to each other, left off speaking, and
looked at their two hearers, with an expression of countenance
which seeme'd to say " What do you think of all this ! "

" Mrs. Wititterly," said her husband, addressing himself
to Mrs. Nickleby, " is sought after and courted by glittering
crowds and brilliant circles. She is excited by the opera, the
drama, the fine arts, the — the — the "

"The nobility, my love," interposed Mrs. Wititterly.

" The nobility, of course," said Mr. Wititterly. " And the
military. She forms and expresses an immense variety of
opinions on an immense variety of subjects. If some people
in public life were acquainted with Mrs. Wititterly's real opin-
ion of them, they would not hold their heads, perhaps, quite
as high as they do."

" Hush, Henry," said the lady ; " this is scarcely fair."

" I mention no names, Julia," replied Mr. Wititterly ;
" and nobody is injured. I merely mention the circumstance

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to show that you are no ordinary person, that there is a con-
stant friction perpetually going on between your mind and
your body ; and that you must be soothed and tended. Now
let me hear, dispassionately and calmly, what are this young
lady's qualifications for the office."

In obedience to this request, the qualifications were all
gone through again, with the addition of many interruptions
and cross-questionings from Mr. Wititterly. It was finally
arranged that inquiries should be made, and a decisive answer
addressed to Miss Nickleby under cover to her uncle, within
two days. These conditions agreed upon, the page showed
them down as far as the staircase window ; and the big foot-
man, relieving guard at that point, piloted them in perfect
safety to the street-door.

" They are very distinguished people, evidently," said Mrs.
Nickleby, as she took her daughter's arm. " What a superior
person Mrs. Wititterly is 1 "

" Do you think so, mama ? " was all Kate's reply.

" Why, who can help thinking so, Kate, my love ? "
rejoined her mother. " She is pale though, and looks much
exhausted. I "hope she may not be wearing herself out, but
I am very much afraid."

These considerations led the deep-sighted lady into a cal-
culation of the probable duration of Mrs. Wititterly's life, and

Online LibraryCharles DickensThe life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby → online text (page 26 of 79)