Charles Dickens.

The life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby online

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haven't hands enough for that business in our company."

" I see," replied Nicholas. " I beg your pardon. That
didn't occur to me, I confess."

44 It's the main point," said Mr. Crummies. " I open at
Portsmouth the day after to-morrow, If you're going there,
look into the theatre, and see how that'll tell."

Nicholas promised to do so, if he could, and drawing a
chair near the fire, fell into conversation with the manager at
once. He was very talkative and communicative, stimulated
perhaps, not only by his natural disposition, but by the spirits
and water he sipped very plentifully, or the snuff he took in
large quantities from a piece of whitey-brown paper in his
waistcoat pocket. He laid open his affairs without the small-
est reserve, and descanted at some length upon the merits of
his company, and the acquirements of his family ; of both of
which, the two broadsword boys formed an honorable portion.
There was to be a gathering, it seemed, of the different ladies
and gentlemen at Portsmouth on the morrow, whither the
father and sons were proceeding (not for the regular season,
but in the course of a wandering speculation), after fulfilling
an engagement at Guildford with the greatest applause.

" You are going that way ? " asked the manager.

44 Ye-yes," said Nicholas. " Yes, I am."

41 Do you know the town at all ? " inquired the manager,
who seemed to consider himself entitled to the same degree
of confidence as he had himself exhibited. '

44 No," replied Nicholas.

44 Never there ? "

44 Never."

Mr. Vincent Crummies gave a short dry cough, as much
as to say, 44 If you won't be communicative, you won't ; " and
took so many pinches of snuff from the piece of paper, one
after another, that Nicholas quite wondered where it all went to.

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While he was thus engaged, Mr. Crummies looked, from
time to time, with great interest at Smike, with whom he had
appeared considerably struck from the first. He had now
fallen asleep, and was nodding in his chair.

" Excuse my saying so," said the manager, leaning over to
Nicholas, and sinking his voice, " but what a capital counten-
ance your friend has got I "

" Poor fellow ! " said Nicholas, with a half smile, " I wish
it were a little more plump, and less haggard."

" Plump ! " exclaimed the manager, quite horrified, " you'd
spoil it for ever."

" Do you think so ? "

" Think so, sir ? Why, as he is now," said the manager,
striking his knee emphatically ; " without a pad upon his
body, and hardly a touch of paint upon his face, he'd make such
an actor for the starved business as was never seen in this
country. Only let him be tolerably well up in the Apothecary
in Romeo and Juliet with the slightest possible dab of red on
the tip of his nose, and he'd be certain of three rounds the
moment he put his head out of the practicable door in the
front grooves O. P."

u You view him with a professional eye," said Nicholas.

" And well I may," rejoined the manager, " I never saw a
young fellow so regularly cut out for that line, since I've
been in the profession. And I played the heavy children
when I was eighteen months old."

The appearance of the beef-steak pudding, which came in
simultaneously with the junior Vincent Crummleses, turned
the conversation to other matters, and indeed, for a time,
stopped it altogether. These two young gentlemen wielded
their knives and forks with scarcely less address than their
broad-swords, and as the whole party were quite as sharp set
as either class of weapons, there was no time for talking until
the supper had been disposed of.

The Master Crummleses had no sooner swallowed the last
procurable morsel of food, than they evinced, by various half-
suppressed yawns and stretchings of their limbs, an obvious
inclination to retire for the night, which Smike had betrayed
still more strongly : he having, in the course of the meal,
fallen asleep several times while in the very act of eating.
Nicholas therefore proposed that they should break up at
once, but the manager would by no means hear of it ; vowing
that he had promised himself the pleasure of inviting his new

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acquaintance to share* a bowl of punch, and that if he declined,
he should deem it very unhandsome behavior.

" Let them go," said Mr. Vincent Crummies, " and we'll
have it snugly and cosily together by the fire."

Nicholas was not much disposed to sleep — being in truth
too anxious — so, after a little demur, he accepted the offer,
and having exchanged a shake of the hand with the young
Crummleses, and the manager having on his part bestowed a
most affectionate benediction on Smike, he sat himself down
opposite to that gentleman by the fireside to assist in empty-
ing the bowl, which soon afterwards appeared, steaming in a
manner which was quite exhilarating to behold, and sending
forth a most grateful and inviting fragrance.

But, despite the punch and the manager, who told a variety
of stories, and smoked tobacco 4 rom a pipe, and inhaled it in
the shape of snuff, with a most astonishing power, Nicholas
was absent and dispirited. His thoughts were in his old
home, and when they reverted to his present condition, the
uncertainty of the morrow cast a gloom upon him, which his
utmost efforts were unable to dispel. His attention wandered ;
although he heard the manager's voice he was deaf to what
he said ; and when Mr. Vincent Crummies concluded the his-
tory of some long adventure with a loud laugh, and an inquiry
what Nicholas would have done under the same circumstances,
he was obliged to make the best apology in his power, and to
confess his entire ignorance of all he had been talking about.

"Why, so I saw," observed Mr. Crummies. "You're
uneasy in your mind. What's the matter ? "

Nicholas could not refrain from smiling at the abruptness
of the question ; but, thinking it scarcely worth while to parry
h, owned that he was under some apprehensions lest he might
not succeed in the object which had brought him to that part
of the country.

" And what's that ? " asked the manager.

" Getting something to do which will keep me and my poor
fellow-traveller in the common necessaries of life," said Nich-
olas. " That's the truth. You guessed it long ago, I dare
say, so I may as well have the credit of telling it you with a
good grace."

" What's to be got to do at Portsmouth more than any-
where else ? " asked Mr. Vincent Crummies melting the seal-
ing-wax on the stem of his pipe in the candle, and rolling it
out afresh with his little finger.

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" There are many vessels leaving the port, I suppose,"
replied Nicholas. " I sjiall try for a berth in some ship or
other. There is meat and drink there, at all events."

" Salt meat and new rum • pease-pudding and chaff-bis-
cuits," said the manager, taking a whiff at his pipe to keep it
alight, and returning to his work of embellishment.

" One may do worse than that," said Nicholas. " I can
rough it, I believe, as well as most young men of my age and
previous habits."

" You need be able to," said the manager, " if you go on
board ship ; but you won't."

" Why not ? "

u Because there's not a skipper or mate that would think
you worth your salt, when he could get a practiced hand," re-
plied the manager ; " and they as plentiful there, as the oys-
ters in the streets."

" What do you mean ? " asked Nicholas, alarmed by this
prediction, and the confident tone in which it had been uttered.
** Men are not born able seamen. They must be reared, I sup-
pose ? "

Mr. Vincent Crummies nodded his head. " They must ;
but not at your age, or from young gentlemen like you."

There was a pause* The countenance of Nicholas fell,
and he gazed ruefully at the fire.

" Does no other profession occur to you, which a young
man of your figure and address could take up easily, and *see
the world to advantage in ? " asked the manager.

" No," said Nicholas, shaking his head.

" Why, then, I'll tell you one," said Mr. Crummies, throw-
ing his pipe into the fire, and raising his voice. " The stage."

" The stage ! " cried Nicholas, in a voice almost as loud.

" The theatrical profession," said Mr. Vincent Crummies.
" I am in the theatrical profession myself, my wife is in the
theatrical profession, my children are in the theatrical profes-
sion. I had a dog that lived and died in it from a puppy ;
and my chaise-pony goes on in Timour the Tartar. I'll bring
you out, and your friend too. Say the word. I want a novelty."

"I don't know anything about it," rejoined Nicholas,
whose breath had been almost taken away by this sudden pro-
posal. " I never acted a part in my life, except at school."

" There's genteel comedy in your walk and manner, juvenile
tragedy in your eye, and touch-and-go farce in your laugh,"
said Mr. Vincent Crummies. " You'll do as well as if you had

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thought of nothing else but the lamps, from your birth down-

Nicholas thought of the small amount of small change that
would remain in his pocket after paying the tavern bill ; and
he hesitated.

" You can be useful to us in a hundred ways," said Mr.
Crummies. " Think what capital bills a man of your educa-
tion could write for the shop windows."

"Well I think I could manage that department," said

44 To be sure you could," replied Mr. Crummies. " * For
further particulars see small hand-bills ' — we might have half
a volume in every one of 'em. Pieces too ; why, you could
write us a piece to bring out the whole strength of the com-
pany, whenever we wanted one."

"Iara not quite so confident about that," replied Nicholas
" But I dare say I could scribble something now and then,
that would suit you."

" We'll have a new show piece out directly," said the
manager. 4 * Let me see — peculiar resources of this establish-
ment — new and splendid scenery — you must manage to intro-
duce a real pump and two washing-tubs."

44 Into the piece ? " said Nicholas.

"Yes," replied the manager. "I bought 'em cheap at a
sale the other day, and they'll come in admirably. That's the
London plan. They look up some dresses and properties, and
have a piece written to fit 'em. Most of the theatres keep an
author on purpose."

44 Indeed ! " cried Nicholas.

44 Oh yes," said the manager; "a common thing. It'll
look very well in the bills in separate lines — Real pump!
— Splendid tubs 1 — Great attraction ! You 4pn't happen to be
anything of an artist, do you ? "

44 That is not one of my accomplishments," rejoined

44 Ah ! Then it can't be helped," said the manager. 4< If
you had been, we might have had a large woodcut of the last
scene for the posters, showing the whole depth of the stage,
with the pump and tubs in the middle ; but, however, if you're
not, it can't be helped."

44 What should I get for all this ? " inquired Nicholas, after
a few moments' reflection. " Could I live by it ? "

44 Live by it ! " said the manager. " Like a prince ! With

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your own salary, and your friends, and your writings, you'd
make — ah ! you'd make a pound a week ! "

" You don't say so ! "
• " I do indeed, and if we had a run of good houses, nearly
double the money."

Nicholas shrugged his shoulders ; but sheer destitution was
before him ; and if he could summon fortitude to undergo the
extremes of want and hardship, for what had he rescued his
helpless charge if it were only to bear as hard a fate as that
from which he had wrested him ? It was easy to think of
seventy miles as nothing, when he was in the same town with
the man who had treated him so ill and roused his bitterest
thoughts ; but now, it seemed far enough. What if he went
abroad, and his mother or Kate were to die the while ?

Without more deliberation, he hastily declared that it was
a bargain, and gave Mr. Vincent Crummies his hand upon it



As Mr. Crummies had a strange four-legged animal in the
inn stables, which he called a pony, and a vehicle of unknown
design, on which he bestowed the appellation of a four-wheeled
phaeton, Nicholas proceeded on his journey next morning
with greater ease than he had expected ; the manager and him-
self occupying the front seat ; and the Master Crummleses
and Smike being packed together behind, in company with a
wicker basket defended from wet by a stout oilskin, in which
were the broad-swords, pistols, pigtails, nautical costumes,
and other professional necessaries of the aforesaid young

The pony took his time upon the road, and — possibly in
consequence of his theatrical education— evinced, every now
and then, a strong inclination to lie down. However, Mr.
Vincent Crummies kept him up pretty well, by jerking the
rein, and plying the whip ; and when these means failed, and
the animal came to a stand, the elder Master Crummies got

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out and kicked him. By dint of these encouragements, he
was persuaded to move from time to time, and they jogged on
(as Mr. Crummies truly observed) very comfortably for all

" He's a good pony at bottom," said Mr. Crummies, turn-
ing to Nicholas.

He might have been at bottom, but he certainly was not
at top, seeing that his coat was of the roughest and most ill-
favored kind. So, Nicholas merely observed that he shouldn't
wonder if he was.

" Many and many is the circuit this pony has gone," said
Mr. Crummies, flicking him skilfully on the eyeUd for old
acquaintance sake. " He is quite one of us. His mother was
on the stage."

" Was she ? " rejoined Nicholas.

" She ate apple-pie at a circus for upwards of fourteen
years," said the manager ; " fired pistols, and went to bed in a
nightcap ; and, in short, took the low comedy entirely. His
father was a dancer."

" Was he at all distinguished ? "

" Not very," said the manager. " He was rather a low sort
of pony. The fact is, he had been originally jobbed out by
the day, and he never quite got over his old habits. He was
clever in melodrama too, but too broad — too broad. When
the mother died he took the port wine business."

" The port wine business I " cried Nicholas.

" Drinking port wine with the clown," said the manager ;
" but he was greedy, and one night bit off the bowl of the glass
and choked himself, so his vulgarity was the death of him at

The descendant of this ill-starred animal requiring in-
creased attention from Mr. Crummies as he progressed in his
day's work, that gentleman had very little time for conversa-
tion. Nicholas was thus left at leisure to entertain himself
with his own thoughts, until they arrived at the drawbridge at
Portsmouth, when Mr. Crummies pulled up

" We'll get down here," said the manager, " and the boys
will take him round to the stable, and call at my lodgings
with the luggage. You had better let yours be taken there,
for the present."

Thanking Mr. Vincent Crummies for his obliging offer,
Nicholas jumped out, and, giving Smike his arm, accompanied
the manager up High Street on their way to the theatre ; feel-

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ing nervous and uncomfortable enough at the prospect of an
immediate introduction to a scene so new to him.

They passed a great many bills, pasted against the walls
and displayed in windows, wherein the names of Mr. Vincent
Crummies, Mrs. Vincent Crummies, Master Crummies, Mas-
ter P. Crummies, and Miss Crummies, were printed in very
large letters, and everything else in very small ones ; and,
turning at length into an entry, in which was a strong smell
of orange-peel and lamp-oil, with an under-current of saw-dust,
groped their way through a dark passage, and, descending a
step or two, threaded a little maze of canvas screens and paint-
pots, and emerged upon the stage of the Portsmouth Theatre.

44 Here we are," said Mr. Crummies.

It was not very light, but Nicholas found himself close to
the first entrance on the prompt side, among bare walls, dusty
scenes, mildewed clouds, heavily daubed draperies, and dirty
floors. He looked about him ; ceiling, pit, boxes, gallery,
orchestra, fittings, and decorations of every kind, — all looked
coarse, cold, gloomy, and wretched.

44 Is this a theatre ? " whispered Smike, in amazement ;
" I thought it was a blaze of light and finery."

44 Why, so it is," replied Nicholas, hardly less surprised ;
" but not by day, Smike — not by day."

The manager's voice recalled him from a more careful in-
spection of the building, to the opposite side of the proscenium,
where, at a small mahogany table with rickety legs, and of an
oblong shape, sat a stout, portly female, apparently between
forty and fifty, in a tarnished silk cloak, with her bonnet
dangling by the strings in her hand, and her hair (of which
she had a great quantity) braided in a large festoon over each

44 Mr. Johnson," said the manager (for Nicholas had given
the name which Newman Noggs had bestowed upon him in
his conversation with Mrs. Kenwigs), " let me introduce Mrs.
Vincent Crummies."

44 1 am glad to see you, sir," said Mrs. Vincent Crummies,
in a sepulchral voice. " I am very glad to see you, and still
more happy to hail you as a promising member of our corps."

The lady shook Nicholas by the hand as she addressed
him in these terms ; he saw it was a large one, but had not
expected quite such an iron grip as that with which she
honored him.

"And this," said the lady, crossing to Smike, as tragic


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actresses cross when they obey a stage direction, " and this
is the other. You too, are welcome, sir."

" He'll do, I think, my dear ? " said the manager, taking a
pinch of snuff.

" He is admirable," replied the lady. " An acquisition

As Mrs. Vincent Crummies recrossed back to the table,
there bounded on to the stage from some mysterious inlet, a
little girl in a dirty white frock with tucks up to the knees,
short trousers, sandaled shoes, white spencer, pink gauze
bonnet, green veil and curl-papers ; who turned a pirouette,
cut twice in the air, turned another pirouette, then, looking
off at the opposite wing, shrieked, bounded forward to within
six inches of the footlights, and fell into a beautiful attitude
of terror, as a shabby gentleman in an old pair of buff slippers
came in at one powerful slide, and chattering his teeth, fiercely
brandished a walking-stick.

"They are going through the Indian Savage and the
Maiden," said Mrs. Crummies.

" Oh ! " said the manager, " the little ballet interlude.
Very good, go on. A little this way, if you please, Mr. John-
son. That'll do. Now ! "

The manager clapped his hands as a signal to proceed,
and the savage, becoming ferocious, made a slide towards the
maiden ; but the maiden avoided him in six twirls, and came
down, at the end of the last one, upon the very points of her
toes. This seemed to make some impression upon the savage ;
for, after a little more ferocity and chasing of the maiden into
corners, he began to relent, and stroked his face several times
with his right thumb and forefingers, thereby intimating that
he was struck with admiration of the maiden's beauty. Acting
upon the impulse of this passion, he (the savage) began to hit
himself severe thumps in the chest, and to exhibit other in-
dications of being desperately in love, which being rather a
prosy proceeding, was very likely the cause of- the maiden's
falling asleep ; whether it was or no, asleep she did fall,
sound as a church, on a sloping bank, and the savage per-
ceiving it, leant his left ear on his left hand, and nodded side-
ways, to intimate to all whom it might concern that she was
asleep, and no shamming. Being left to himself, the savage
had a dance, all alone. Just as he left off, the maiden woke
up, rubbed her eyes, got off the bank, and had a dance all
alone too — such a dance that the savage looked on in ecstasy

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all the while, and when it was done, plucked from a neighbor-
ing tree some botanical curiosity, resembling a small pickled
cabbage, and offered it to the maiden, who at first wouldn't
have it, but on the savage shedding tears relented. Then
the savage jumped for joy ; then the maiden jumped for rap-
ture at the sweet smell of the pickled cabbage. Then the
savage and the maiden danced violently together, and, finally,
the savage dropped down on one knee, and the maiden stood
on one leg upon his other knee ; thus concluding the ballet,
and leaving the spectators in a state of pleasing uncertainty,
whether she would ultimately marry the savage, or return to
her friends.

" Very well indeed," said Mr. Crummies ; " bravo ! "

" Bravo ! " cried Nicholas, resolved to make the best of
everything. " Beautiful I "

"This, sir," said Mr. Vincent Crummies, bringing the
maiden forward, "This is the infant phenomenon — Miss
Ninetta Crummies."

" Your daughter ? " inquired Nicholas.

" My daughter — my daughter," replied Mr. Vincent
Crummies ; " the idol of every place we go into, sir. We
have had complimentary letters about this girl, sir, from the
nobility and gentry of almost every town in England."

" I am not surprised at that," said Nicholas ; " she must
be quite a natural genius."

" Quite a — ! " Mr. Crummies stopped : language was not
powerful enough to describe the infant phenomenon. " I'll tell
you what, sir," he said ; " the talent of this child is not to be
imagined. She must be seen, sir — seen—to be ever so faintly
appreciated. There ; go to your mother,' my dear."

" May I ask how old she is ? " inquired Nicholas.

" You may, sir," replied Mr. Crummies, looking steadily
in his questioner's face, as some men do when they have
doubts about being implicitly believed in what they are going
to say. " She is ten years of age, sir."

" Not more ! "

" Not a day."

" Dear me ! " said Nicholas, " it's extraordinary.'*

It was ; for the infant phenomenon, though of short stature,
had a comparatively aged countenance, and had moreover
been precisely the same age — not perhaps to the full extent
of the memory of the oldest inhabitant, but certainly for five
good years. But she had been kept up late every night, and

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put upon an unlimited allowance of gin and water from in-
fancy, to prevent her growing tall, and perhaps this system of
training had produced in the infant phenomenon these addi-
tional phenomena.

While this Short dialogue was going on, the gentleman
who had enacted the savage, came up, with his walking shoes
on his feet, and his slippers in his hand, to within a few
paces, as if desirous to join in the conversation. Deeming this
a good opportunity, he put in his word.

" Talent there, sir ! " said the savage, nodding towards Miss

Nicholas assented.

" Ah ! " said the actor, setting his teeth together, and draw-
ing in his breath with a hissing sound, " she oughtn't to be in
the provinces, she oughtn't."

" What do you mean ? " asked the manager.

" I mean to say," replied the other, warmly, " that she is
too good for country boards, and that she ought to be in one
of the large houses in London, or nowhere ; and I tell you
more, without mincing the matter, that if it wasn't for envy
and jealousy in some quarter that you know of, she would
be. Perhaps you'll introduce me here, Mr. Crummies."

" Mr. Folair," said the manager, presenting him to Nich-

" Happy to know you, sir." Mr. Folair touched the brim
of his hat with his forefinger, and then shook hands. "A
recruit, sir, I understand ? "

" An unworthy one," replied Nicholas.

" Did you ever see such a set out as that ? " whispered the
actor, drawing him away, as Crummies left them to speak to
his wife.

" As what ? "

Mr. Folair made a funny face from his pantomime collec-
tion, and pointed over his shoulder.

" You don't mean the infant phenomenon ? "

" Infant humbug, sir," replied Mr. Folair. " There isn't a
female child of common sharpness in a charity school, that
couldn't do better than that. She may thank her stars she
was born a manager's daughter."

" You seem to take it to heart," observed Nicholas, with a

Online LibraryCharles DickensThe life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby → online text (page 28 of 79)