Charles Dickens.

The life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby online

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the chances of the disconsolate widower bestowing his hand
on her daughter. Before reaching home, she had freed Mrs.
Wititterly's soul from all bodily restraint ; married Kate with
great splendor at St. George's, Hanover Square; and only
left undecided the minor question, whether a splendid French-
polished mahogany bedstead should be erected for herself in
the two-pair back of the house in Cadogan Place, or in the
three-pair front, between which apartments she could not
quite balance the advantages, and therefore adjusted the ques-
tion at last, by determining to leave it to the decision of her

The inquiries were made. The answer — not to Kate's
very great joy — was favorable ; and at the expiration of a
week she betook herself, with all her movables and valuables,
to Mrs. Wititterly's mansion, where for the present we will
leave her.

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The whole capital which Nicholas found himself entitled
to, either in possession, reversion, remainder, or expectancy,
after paying his rent and settling with the broker from whom
he had hired his poor furniture, did not exceed, by more than
a few half-pence, the sum of twenty shillings. And yet he
hailed the morning on which he had resolved to quit London,
with a light heart, and sprang from his bed with an elasticity
of spirit which is happily the lot of young persons, or the world
would never be stocked with old ones.

It was a cold, dry, foggy morning in early spring. A few
meagre shadows flitted to and fro in the misty streets, and oc-
casionally there loomed through the dull vapor, the heavy
outline of some hackney-coach wending homewards, which,
drawing slowly nearer, rolled jangling by, scattering the thin
crust of frost from its whitened roof and soon was lost again in
the cloud. At intervals were heard the tread of slipshod feet,
and the chilly cry of the poor sweep as he crept, shivering, to
his early toil ; the heavy footfall of the official watcher of
the night, pacing slowly up and down and cursing the tardy
hours that still intervened between him and sleep ; the rum-
bling of ponderous carts and wagons ; the roll of the lighter vehi-
cles which carried buyers and sellers to the different markets ;
the sound of ineffectual knocking at the doors of heavy sleepers
— all these noises fell upon the ear from time to time, but all
seemed muffled by the fog, and to be rendered almost as in-
distinct to the ear as was every object to the sight. The
sluggish darkness thickened as the day came on ; and those
who had the courage to rise and peep at the gloomy street
from their curtained windows, crept back to bed again, and
coiled themselves up to sleep.

Before even these indications of approaching morning
were rife in busy London, Nicholas had made his way alone
to the city, and stood beneath the windows of his mother's
house. It was dull and bare to see, but it had light and life

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for him ; for there was at least one heart within its old walls
to which insult or dishonor would bring the same blood rush-
ing, that flowed in his dwn veins.

He crossed the road, and raised his eyes to the window of
the room where he knew his sister slept. It was closed and
dark. " Poor girl," thought Nicholas, " she little thinks who
lingers here ! "

He looked again, and felt, for the moment, almost vexed
that Kate was not there to exchange one word at parting.
" Good God ! " he thought, suddenly correcting himself,
" what a boy lam!" •

" It is better as it is," said Nicholas, after he had lounged
on, a few paces, and returned to the same spot " When I
left them before, and could have said good-by a thousand
times if I had chosen, I spared them the pain of leave-taking,
and why not now ? " As he spoke, some fancied motion of
the curtain almost persuaded him, for the instant, that Kate
was at the window, and by one of those strange contradictions
of feeling which are common to us all, he shrunk involun-
tarily into a door-way, that she might not see him. He smiled
at his own weakness ; said " God bless them ! " and walked
away with a lighter step.

Smike was anxiously expecting him when he reached his
old lodgings, and so was Newman, who had expended a day's
income in a can of rum and milk to prepare them for the
journey. They had tied up the luggage, Smike shouldered it,
and away they went, with Newman Noggs in company ; for he
had insisted on walking as far as he could with them, overnight.

" Which way ? " asked Newman, wistfully.

" To Kingston first," replied Nicholas.

" And where afterwards ? " asked Newman. " Why won't
you tell me ? "

" Because I scarcely know myself, good friend," rejoined
Nicholas, laying his hand upon his shoulder ; " and if I did,
I have neither plan nor prospect yet, and might shift my
quarters a hundred times before you could possibly communi-
cate with me."

" I am afraid you have some deep scheme in your head,"
said Newman, doubtfully.

" So deep," replied his young friend, " that even I can't
fathom it. Whatever I resolve upon, depend upon it I will
write you soon."


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" You won't forget ? " said Newman.

" I am not very likely to," rejoined Nicholas. " I have
not so many friends that I shall grow confused among the
number, and forget my best one."

Occupied in such discourse, they walked on for a couple
of hours, as they might have done for a couple of days if
Nicholas had not sat himself down on a stone by the way-
side, and resolutely declared his intention of not moving
another step until Newman Noggs turned back. Having
pleaded ineffectually first for another half-mile, and afterwards
for another quarter, Newman was fain to comply, and to
shape his course towards Golden Square, after interchanging
many hearty and affectionate farewells, and many times turn-
ing back to wave his hat to the two wayfarers when they had
become mere specks in the distance.

" Now listen to me, Smike," said Nicholas, as they trudged
with stout hearts onwards. "We are bound for Ports-

Smike nodded his head and smiled, but expressed no
other emotion ; for whether they had been bound for Ports-
mouth or Port Royal would have been alike to him, so they
had been bound together.

" I don't know much of these matters," resumed Nicholas ;
" but Portsmouth is a sea-port town, and if no other employ-
ment is to be obtained, I should think we might get on board
some ship. I am young and active, and could be useful in
many ways. So could you."

" I hope so," replied Smike. " When I was at that — you
know where I mean ? "

" Yes, I know," said Nicholas. " You needn't name the

" Well, when I was there," resumed Smike ; his eyes
sparkling at the prospect of displaying his abilities ; " I could
milk a cow, and groom a horse, with anybody."

" Ha ! " said Nicholas, gravely. " I am afraid they don't
keep many animals of either kind on board ship, Smike, and
even when they have horses that they are not very particular
about rubbing them down ; still you can learn to do some-
thing else, you know. Where there's a will, there's a way."

" And I am very willing," said Smike, cheering up again.

" God knows you are," rejoined Nicholas ; " and if you
fail, it shall go hard but I'll do enough for us both."

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" Do we go all the way, to-day ? " asked Smike, after a
short silence.

" That would be too severe a trial, even for your willing
legs," said Nicholas, with a good-humored smile. "No.
Godalming is some thirty and odd miles from London — as I
found from a map I borrowed — and I purpose to rest there.
We must push on again to-morrow, for we are not rich enough
to loiter. Let me relieve you of that bundle ! Come ! "

"No, no," rejoined Smike, falling back a few steps.
u Don't ask me to give it up to you."

" Why not ? " asked Nicholas.

"Let me do something for you, at least," said Smike.
" You will never let me serve you as I ought. You will never
know how I think, day and night, of ways to please you."

" You are a foolish fellow to say it, for I know it well, and
see it, or I should be a blind and senseless beast," rejoined
Nicholas. " Let me ask you a question while I think of it,
and there is no one by," he added, looking' him steadily in the
face. " Have you a good memory ? "

" I don't know," said Smike, shaking his head sorrow-
fully. "I think I had once; but it's ail gone now — all

" Why do you think you had once ? " asked Nicholas,
turning quickly upon him as though the answer in some way
helped out the purport of his question.

" Because I could remember, when I was a child," said
Smike, " but that is very, very long ago, or at least it seems
so. I was always confused and giddy at that place you took
me from ; and could never remember, and sometimes couldn't
even understand, what they said to me. I — let me see — let
me see ! "

" You are wandering now," said Nicholas, touching him
on the arm.

" No," replied his companion, with a vacant look. " I

was only thinking how ." He shivered involuntarily as

he spoke.

" Think no more of that place, for it is all over," retorted
Nicholas, fixing his eye full upon that of his companion,
which was fast settling into an unmeaning stupefied gaze, once
habitual to him, and common even then. " What of the first
day you went to Yorkshire ? "

" Eh I " cried the lad.

" That was before you began to lose your recollection, you

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know," said Nicholas quietly. "Was the weather hot or

" Wet," replied the boy. " Very wet. I have always said,
when it has rained hard, that it was like the night I came ;
and they used to crowd round and laugh to see me cry when
the rain fell heavily. It was like a child, they said, and that
made me think of it more. I turned cold all over sometimes,
for I could see myself as I was then, coming in at the very
same door."

" As you were then," repeated Nicholas, with assumed
carelessness ; " how was that ? "

" Such a little creature," said Smike, " that they might
have had pity and mercy upon me, only to remember it"

"You didn't find your way there, alone!" remarked

41 No," rejoined Smike, "oh no."

" Who was with you ? "

" A man — a dark, withered man. I have heard them say
so, at the school, and I remembered that before. I was glad
to leave him, I was afraid of him ; but they made me more
afraid of them, and used me harder too."

" Look at me," said Nicholas, wishing to attract his full
attention. " There ; don't turn away. Do you remember no
woman, no kind woman, who hung over you once, and kissed
your lips, and called you her child ? '

" No," said the poor creature, shaking his head, " no,

44 Nor any house but that house in Yorkshire ? "

44 No," rejoined the youth, with a melancholy look ; " a
room — I remember I slept in a room, a large lonesome room
at the top of a house, where there was a trap-door in the ceil-
ing. I have covered my head with the clothes often, not
to see it, for it frightened me : a young child with no one near
at night : and I used to wonder what was on the other side.
There was a clock too, an old clock, in one corner. I remem-
ber that. I have never forgotten that room ; for when I have
terrible dreams, it comes back, just as it was. I see things
and people in it that I had never seen then, but there is the
room just as it used to be ; that never changes."

" Will you let me take the bundle now ? " asked Nicholas,
abruptly changing the theme.

44 No," said Smike, " no. Come, let us walk on."

He quickened his pace as he said this, apparently under

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the impression that they had been standing still, during the
whole of the previous dialogue. Nicholas marked him closely,
and every word of this conversation remained upon his

It was, by this time, within an hour of noon, and although
a dense vapor still enveloped the city they had left, as if the
very breath of its busy people hung over their schemes of gain
and profit and found greater attraction there than in the quiet
region above, in the open country it was clear and fair. Occa-
sionally, in some low spots they came upon patches of mist
which the sun had not yet driven from their strongholds ; but
these were soon passed, and as they labored up the hills be-
yond, it was pleasant to look down, and see how the sluggish
mass rolled heavily off, before the cheering influence of day.
A broad, fine, honest sun lighted up the green pastures and
dimpled water with the semblance of summer, while it left the
travellers all the invigorating freshness of that early time of
year. The ground seemed elastic under their feet ; the sheep-
bells were music to their ears ; and exhilarated by exercise,
and stimulated by hope, they pushed onward with the strength
of lions.

The day wore on, and all these bright colors subsided,
and assumed a quieter tint, like young hopes softened down
by time, or youthful features by degrees resolving into the
calm and serenity of age. But they were scarcely less beau-
• tiful in their slow decline, than they had been in their prime ;
for nature gives to every time and season some beauties of its
own ; and from morning to night, as from the cradle to the
grave, is but a succession of changes so gentle and easy, that
we can scarcely mark their progress.

To Godalming they came at last, and here they bargained
for two humble beds, and slept soundly. In the morning they
were astir, though not quite so" early as the sun, and again
afoot; if not with all the freshness of yesterday, still, with
enough of hope and spirit to bear them cheerily on.

It was a harder day's journey than yesterday's, for there
were long and weary hills to climb ; and in journeys, as in life,
it is a great deal easier to go down hill than up. However,
they kept on, with unabated perseverance, and the hill has not
yet lifted its face to heaven that perseverance will not gain
the summit of at last.

They walked upon the rim of the Devil's Punch Bowl ;
and Smike listened with greedy interest as Nicholas read the

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inscription upon the stone which, reared upon that wild spot,
tells of a murder committed there by night. The grass on
which they stood, had once been dyed with gore ; and the
blood of the murdered man had run down, drop by drop, into
the hollow which gives the place its name. "The Devil's
Bowl," thought Nicholas, as he looked into the void, " never
held fitter liquor than that."

Onward, they kept, with steady purpose, and entered at
length upon a wide and spacious tract of downs, with every
variety of little hill and plain, to change their verdant surface.
Here, there shot up, almost perpendicularly, into the sky, a
height so steep, as to be hardly accessible to any but the
sheep and goats that fed upon its sides, and there, stood a
mound of green, sloping and tapering off so delicately, and
merging so gently into the level ground, that you could scarce
define its limits. Hills swelling above each other ; and undu-
lations, shapely and uncouth, smooth and rugged, graceful
and grotesque, thrown negligently side by side, bounded the
view in each direction ; while frequently, with unexpected
noise, there uprose from the ground a flight of crows, who,
cawing and wheeling round the nearest hill, as if uncertain of
their course suddenly poised themselves upon the wing and
skimmed down the long vista of some opening valley, with the
speed of light itself.

By degrees, the prospect receded more and more on either
hand, and as they had been shut out from rich and extensive
scenery, so they emerged once again upon the open country.
The knowledge that they were drawing near their place of
destination, gave them fresh courage to proceed ; but the way
had been difficult, and they had loitered on the road, and
Smike was tired. Thus twilight had already closed in, when
they turned off the path to the door of a road-side inn, yet
twelve miles short of Portsmouth.

"Twelve miles," said Nicholas, leaning with both hands
on his stick, and looking doubtfully at Smike.

" Twelve long mijes," repeated the landlord.

" Is it a good road ? " inquired Nicholas.

" Very bad," said the landlord. As of course, being a
landlord, he would say.

" I want to get on," said Nicholas, hesitating. " I scarcely
know what to do."

" Don't let me influence you," rejoined the landlord. " /
wouldn't go on if it was me."

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" Wouldn't you ? " asked Nicholas, with the same uncer-

" Not if I knew when I was well off," said the landlord.
And having said it, he pulled up his apron, put his hands into
his pockets, and taking a step or two outside the door, looked
down the dark road with an assumption of great indifference.

A glance at the toil-worn face of Smike determined Nich-
olas, so without any further consideration he made up his mind
to stay where he was.

The landlord led them into the kitchen, and as there was
a good fire he remarked that it was very cold. If there had
happened to be a bad one he would have observed that it was
very warm.

" What can you give us for supper ? " was Nicholas's
natural question.

" Why — what would you like ? " was the landlord's no less
natural answer.

Nicholas suggested cold meat, but there was no cold meat
— poached eggs, but there were no eggs — mutton chops, but
there wasn't a mutton chop within three miles, though there
had been more last week than they knew what to do with, and
would be an extraordinary supply the day after to-morrow.

" Then," said Nicholas, " I must leave it entirely to you,
as I would have done, at first, if you had allowed me."

"Why, then I'll tell you what," rejoined the landlord.
" There's a gentleman in the parlor that's ordered a hot beef-
steak pudding and potatoes, at nine. There's more of it than
he can manage, and I have very little doubt that if I ask
leave, you can sup with him. I'll do that, in a minute."

" No, no," said Nicholas, detaining him. " I would rather
not I — at least — pshaw ! why cannot I speak out. Here ;
you see that I am travelling in a very humble manner, and
have made my way hither on foot. It is more than probable,
I think, that the gentleman may not relish my company ; and
although I am the dusty figure you see, I am too proud to
thrust myself into his."

" Lord love you," said the landlord, " it's only Mr. Crumm-
ies ; he isn't particular." #

" Is he not ? " asked Nicholas, on whose mind, to tell the
truth, the prospect of the savory pudding was making some

" Not he. He'll like your way of talking, I know. But
we'll soon see all about that Just wait a minute."

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The landlord hurried into the parlor, without staying for
further permission, nor did Nicholas strive to prevent him :
wisely considering that supper, under the circumstances, was
too serious a matter to trifle with. It was not long before the
host returned, in a condition of much excitement

" All right," he said in a low voice. " I knew he would.
You'll see something rather worth seeing, in there. Ecod,
how they are a going of it ! "

There was no time to inquire to what this exclamation,
which was delivered in a very rapturous tone, referred ; for he
had already thrown open the door of the room ; into which
Nicholas, followed by Smike with the bundle on his shoulder
(he carried it about with him as vigilantly as if it had been a
sack of gold), straightway repaired.

Nicholas was prepared for something odd, but not for
something quite so odd as the sight he encountered. At the
upper end of the room, were a couple of boys, one of them
very tall and the other very short, both dressed as sailors —
or at least as theatrical sailors, with belts, buckles, pigtails,
and pistols complete — fighting what is called in play-bills a ter-
rific combat, with two of those short broad-swords with basket
hilts which are commonly used at our minor theatres. The
short boy had gained a great advantage over the tall boy, who
was reduced to mortal strait, and both were overlooked by a
large heavy man, perched against the corner of a table, who
emphatically adjured them to strike a little more fire out of
the swords, and they couldn't fail to bring the house down,
on the very first night.

" Mr. Vincent Crummies," said the landlord with an air of
great deference. " This is the young gentleman."

Mr. Vincent Crummies received Nicholas with an inclina-
tion of the head, something between the courtesy of a Roman
emperor and the nod of a pot companion ; and bade the land-
lord shut the door and begone.

" There's a picture," said Mr. Crummies, motioning Nich-
olas not to advance and spoil it. " The little 'un has him ;
if the big 'un doesn't knock under, in three seconds, he's a
d$ad man. Do that again, boys."

The two combatants went to work afresh, and chopped away
until the swords emitted a shower of sparks : to the great satis-
faction of Mr. Crummies, who appeared to consider this a very
great point indeed. The engagement commenced with about
two hundred chops administered by the short sailor and the

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tall sailor, alternately, without producing any particular result,
until the short sailor was chopped down on one knee ; but this
was nothing to him, for he worked himself about on the one
knee with the assistance of his left hand, and fought most des-
perately until the tall sailor chopped his sword out of his grasp.
Now, the inference was, that the short sailor, reduced to this
extremity, would give in at once and cry quarter, but, instead
of that, he all of a sudden drew a large pistol from his belt
and presented it at the face of the tall sailor, who was so over-
come at this (not expecting it) that he let the short sailor pick
up his sword and begin again. Then, the chopping recom-
menced, and a variety of fancy chops were administered on
both sides ; such as chops dealt with the left hand, and under
the leg, and over the right shoulder, and over the left ; and
when the short sailor made a vigorous cut at the tall sailor's
legs, which would have shaved them clean off if it had taken
effect, the tall sailor jumped over the short sailor's sword,
wherefore to balance the matter, and make it all fair, the tall
sailor administered the same cut, and the short sailor jumped
over his sword. After this, there was a good deal of dodging
about, and hitching up of the inexpressibles in the absence of
braces, and then the short sailor (who was the moral character
evidently, for he always had the best of it) made a violent de-
monstration and closed with the tall sailor, who, after a few un-
availing struggles, went down, and expired in great torture as
the short sailor put his foot upon his breast, and bored a hole
in him through and through.

" That'll be a double encore if you take care, boys," said
Mr. Crummies. " You had better get your wind now and
change your clothes."

Having addressed these words to the combatants, he
saluted Nicholas, who then observed that the face of Mr.
Crummies was quite proportionate in size to his body ; that
he had a very full under-lip, a hoarse voice, as though he were
in the habit of shouting very much, and very short black hair,
shaved off nearly to the crown of his head — to admit (as he
afterwards learnt) of his more easily wearing character wigs
of any shape or pattern.

" What do you think of that, sir ? " inquired Mr. Crumm-

" Very good, indeed— capital," answered Nicholas.

" You won't see such boys as those very often, I think,"
said Mr. Crummies.

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Nicholas assented — observing that if they were a little
better match

" Match ! " cried Mr. Crummies.

" I mean if they were a little more of a size," said Nicholas,
explaining himself.

" Size ! " repeated Mr. Crummies ; " why it's the essence
of the combat that there should be a foot or two between
them. How are you to get up the sympathies of the audience
in a legitimate manner, if there isn't a little man contending
against a big one — unless there's at least five to one, and we

Online LibraryCharles DickensThe life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby → online text (page 27 of 79)