Charles Dickens.

The life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby online

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smile.

" Yes, by Jove, and well I may," said Mr. Folair, drawing
his arm through his, and walking him up and down the stage.



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NICHOLAS NICKLEB Y. 293

"Isn't it enough to make a man crusty to see that little
sprawler put up in the best business every night, and actually
keeping money out of the house, by being forced down the
people's throats, while other people are passed over ? Isn't
it extraordinary to see a man's confounded family conceit
blinding him, even to his own interest ? Why I know of fifteen
and sixpence that came to Southampton one night last
month, to see me dance the Highland Fling ; and what's the
consequence ? I've never been put up in it since — never once
— while the 4 infant phenomenon ' has been grinning through
artificial flowers at five people and a baby in the pit, and two
boys in the gallery, every night."

" If I may judge from what I have seen of you," said
Nicholas, " you must be a valuable member of the company."

" Oh ! " replied Mr. Folair, beating his slippers together,
to knock the dust out ; " I can come it pretty well — nobody
better, perhaps, in my line — but having such business as one
gets here, is like putting lead on one's feet instead of chalk,
and dancing in fetters without the credit of it. Holloa, old fel-
low, how are you ? "

The gentleman addressed in the latter words, was a dark
complexioned man, inclining indeed to sallow, with long
thick black hair, and very evident indications (although he
was close shaved) of a stiff beard, and whiskers of the same
deep shade. His age did not appear to exceed thirty, though
many at first sight would have considered him much older, as
his face was long, and very pale from the constant application
of stage paint. He wore a checked shirt, an old green coat
with new gilt buttons, a neckerchief of broad red and green
stripes, and full blue trousers ; he carried, too, a common ash
walking-stick, apparently more for show than use, as he
flourished it about, with the hooked end downwards, except
when he raised it for a few seconds, and throwing himself into
a fencing attitude, made a pass or two at the side scenes, or
at any other object, animate or inanimate, that chanced to
afford him a pretty good mark at the moment.

" Well, Tommy," said this gentleman, making a thrust at
his friend, who parried it with his slipper, " what's the news ? "

" A new appearance, that's all," replied Mr. Folair, look-
ing at Nicholas.

" Do the honors, Tommy, do the honors," said the other
gentleman, tapping him reproachfully on the crown of the hat
with his stick.



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294 NICHOLAS NICKLEB Y.

" This is Mr. Lenville, who does our first tragedy, Mr.
Johnson," said the pantomimist.

" Except when old bricks and mortar takes it into his head
to do it himself, you should add, Tommy," remarked Mr.
Lenville. " You know who bricks and mortar is, I suppose, sir ? "

" I do not, indeed," replied Nicholas.

" We call Crummies that, because his style of acting is
rather in the heavy and ponderous way," said Mr. Lenville. " I
mustn't be cracking jokes though, for I've got apart of twelve
lengths here, which I must be up in to-morrow night, and I
haven't had time to look at it yet ; I'm a confounded quick
study, that's one comfort."

Consoling himself with this reflection, Mr. Lenville drew
from his coat-pocket a greasy and crumpled manuscript, and,
having made another pass at his friend, proceeded to walk to
and fro, conning it to himself and indulging occasionally in such
appropriate action as his imagination and the text suggested.

A pretty general muster of the company had by this time
taken place ; for besides Mr. Lenville and his friend Tommy,
there were present, a slim young gentleman with weak eyes,
who played the low-spirited lovers and sang tenor songs, and
who had come arm-in-arm with the comic countryman — a man
with a turned up nose, large mouth, broad face, and staring
eyes. Making himself very amiable to the infant phenomenon,
was an inebriated elderly gentleman in the last depths of
shabbiness, who played the calm and virtuous old men ; and
paying especial court to Mrs. Crummies was another elderly
gentleman, a shade more respectable, who played the irascible
old men — those funny fellows who have nephews in the army
and perpetually run about with thick sticks to compel them to
marry heiresses. Besides these there was a roving-looking per-
son in a rough great-coat, who strode up and down in front of
the lamps, flourishing a dress cane, and rattling away, in an
undertone, with great vivacity, for the amusement of an ideal
audience. He was not quite so young as he had been, and his
figure was rather running to seed ; but there was an air of
exaggerated gentility about him, which bespoke the hero of
swaggering comedy. There was, also, a little group of three
or four young men, with lantern jaws and thick eyebrows,
who were conversing in one corner ; but they seemed to be of
secondary importance, and laughed and talked together with-
out attracting any attention.

The ladies were gathered in a little knot by themselves



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NICHOLAS NICKLEBY.



*95



round the rickety table before mentioned. There was Miss
Snevellicci — who could do anything, from a medley dance to
Lady Macbeth, and also always played some part in blue silk
knee-smalls at her benefit — glancing, from the depths of her
coal-scuttle straw bonnet, at Nicholas, and affecting to be
absorbed in the recital of a diverting story to her friend Miss
Led rook, who had brought her work, and was making up a
ruff in the most natural manner possible. There was Miss
Belvawney — who seldom aspired to speaking parts, and usually
went on as a page in white silk hose, to stand with one leg
bent, and contemplate the audience, or to go in and out after
Mr. Crummies in stately tragedy — twisting up the ringlets of
the beautiful Miss Bravassa, who had once had her likeness
taken " in character " by an engraver's apprentice, whereof im-
pressions were hung up for sale in the pastry-cook's window, and
the green-grocer's, and at the circulating library, and the box-
office, whenever the announce bills came out tor her annual
night. There was Mrs. Lenville, in a very limp bonnet and
veil, decidedly in that way in which she would wish to be if
she truly loved Mr. Lenville \ there was Miss Gazingi, with
an. imitation ermine boa tied in a loose knot round her neck,
flogging Mr. Crummies, junior, with both ends, in fun. Lastly,
there was Mrs. Grudden in a brown cloth pelisse and a beaver
bonnet, who assisted Mrs. Crummies in her domestic affairs,
and took money at the doors, and dressed the ladies, and
swept the house, and held the prompt book when everybody
else was on for the last scene, and acted any kind of part on
any emergency without ever learning it, and was put down in
the bills under any name or names whatever, that occurred to
Mr. Crummies as looking well in print

Mr. Folair having obligingly confided these particulars to
Nicholas, left him to mingle with his fellows ; the work of
personal introduction was completed by Mr. Vincent Crumm-
ies, who publicly heralded the new actor as a prodigy of ge-
nius and learning.

" I beg your pardon," said Miss Snevellicci, sidling
towards Nicholas, " but did you ever play at Canterbury ? "

" I never did," replied Nicholas.

" I recollect meeting a gentleman at Canterbury," said
Miss Snevellicci, " only for a few moments, for I was leaving
the company as he joined it, so like you that I felt almost
certain it was the same."

" I see you now, for the first time," rejoined Nicholas with



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296 NICHOLAS NICKLEB Y.

all due gallantry. " I am sure I never saw you before ; I
couldn't have forgotten it."

" Oh, I'm sure — it's very flattering of you to say so," re-
torted Miss Snevellicci with a graceful bend. " Now I look
at you again, I see that the gentleman at Canterbury hadn't
the same eyes as you — you'll think me very foolish for taking
notice of such things, won't you ? "

" Not at all," said Nicholas. " How can I feel otherwise
than flattered by your notice in any way ? "

" Oh, you men are such vain creatures ! " cried Miss
Snevellicci. Whereupon, she became charmingly confused,
and, pulling out her pocket-handkerchief from a faded pink
silk reticule with a gilt clasp, called to Miss Ledrook —

" Led, my dear," said Miss Snevellicci.

" Well, what is the matter ? " said Miss Ledrook.

" It's not the same."

" Not the same what ? "

" Canterbury — you know what I mean. Come here ! I
want to speak to you."

But Miss Ledrook wouldn't come to Miss Snevellicci, so
Miss Snevellicci was obliged to go to Miss Ledrook, which
she did, in a skipping manner that was quite fascinating ; and
Miss Ledrook evidently joked Miss Snevellicci about being
struck with Nicholas ; for, after some playful whispering, Miss
Snevellicci hit Miss Ledrook very hard on the backs of her
hands, and retired up, in a state of pleasing confusion.

" Ladies and gentlemen," said Mr. Vincent Crummies, who
had been writing on a piece of paper, " we'll call the Mortal
Struggle to-morrow at ten; everybody f° r th e procession.
Intrigue, and Ways and Means, you're all up in, so we shall
only want one rehearsal. Everybody at ten, if you please."

" Everybody at ten," repeated Mrs. Grudden, looking
about her.

" On Monday morning we shall read a new piece," said
Mr. Crummies ; " the names not known yet, but everybody
will have a good part. Mr. Johnson will take care of that."

" Hallo ! " said Nicholas, starting, "I "

" On Monday morning," repeated Mr. Crummies, raising
his voice, to drown the unfortunate Mr. Johnson's remon-
strance ; " that'll do, ladies and gentlemen."

The ladies and gentlemen required no second notice to
quit ; and, in a few minutes, the theatre was deserted, save by
the Crummies' family, Nicholas, and Smike.



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NICHOLAS NICKLEBY.



297



u Upon my word," said Nicholas, taking the manager
aside, " I don't think I can be ready by Monday."

" Pooh, pooh," replied Mr. Crummies.

" But really I can't," returned Nicholas ; " my invention
is not accustomed to these demands, or possibly I might
produce " %

" Invention ! what the devil's that got to do with it ! " cried
the manager, hastily.

" Everything, my dear sir."

" Nothing, my dear sir," retorted the manager, with
evident impatience. " Do you understand French ? " , *

" Perfectly well."

" Very good," said the manager, opening the table-drawer,
and giving a roll of paper from it to Nicholas. "There!
Just turn that into English, and put your name on the title-
page. Damn me," said Mr. Crummies, angrily, 4< If I haven't
often said that I wouldn't have a man or woman in my
company that wasn't master of the language, so that they
might learn it from the original, and play it in English, and
save all this trouble and expense."

Nicholas smiled and pocketed the play.

" What are you going to do about your lodgings ? " said
Mr. Crummies.

Nicholas could not help thinking that, for the first week,
it would be an uncommon convenience to have a turn-up bed-
stead in the pit, but he merely remarked that he had not
turned his thoughts that way.

" Come home with me then," said Mr. Crummies, " and
my boys shall go with you after dinner, and show you the
most likely place."

The offer was not to be refused; Nicholas and Mr.
Crummies gave Mrs. Crummies an arm each, and walked up
the street in stately array. Smike, the boys, and the phe-
nomenon, went home by a shorter cut, and Mrs. Grudden
remained behind to take some cold Irish stew and a pint of
porter in the box-office.

Mrs. Crummies trod the pavement as if she were going
to immediate execution with an animating consciousness
of innocence, and that heroic fortitude which virtue alone
inspires. Mr. Crummies, on the other hand, assumed the
look and gait of a hardened despot ; but they both attracted
some notice from many of the passers-by, and when they
heard a whisper of " Mr. and Mrs. Crummies ! " or saw a little



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298 NICHOLAS NICKLEB Y.

boy run back to stare them in the face, the severe expression
of their countenances relaxed, for they felt it was popularity.

Mr. Crummies lived in Saint Thomas Street, at the house
of one Bulph, a pilot, who sported a boat-green door, with
window-frames of the same color, and had the little finger of
a drowned man on his parlor mantel-shelf, with other maritime
and natural curiosities. He displayed also a brass knocker,
a brass plate, and a brass bell handle, all very bright and
shining ; and had a mast, with a vane on the top of it, in his
back yard.

." You are welcome," said Mrs. Crummies, turning round
to Nicholas when they reached the bow-windowed front room
on the first floor.

Nicholas bowed his acknowledgments, and was unfeignedly
glad to see the cloth laid.

" We have but a shoulder of mutton with onion sauce,"
said Mrs. Crummies, in the same charnel-house voice ; "but
such as our dinner is, we beg you to partake of it."

"You are very good," replied Nicholas, "I shall do it
ample justice."

"Vincent," said Mrs. Crummies, "what is the hour?"

"Five minutes past dinner-time," said Mr. Crummies.

Mrs. Crummies rang the bell. " Let the mutton and onion
sauce appear."

The slave who attended upon Mr. Bulph's lodgers, dis-
appeared, and after a short interval re-appeared with the fes-
tive banquet. Nicholas and the infant phenomenon opposed
each other at the pembroke-table, and Smike and the master
Crummleses dined on the sofa bedstead.

" Are they very theatrical people here ? " asked Nicholas.

"No," replied Mr. Crummies, shaking his head, "far
from it — far from it."

" I pity them," observed Mrs. Crummies.

" So do I," said Nicholas ; " if they have no relish for
theatrical entertainments, properly conducted."

" Then they have none, sir," rejoined Mr. Crummies. " To
the infant's benefit, last year, on which occasion she repeated
three of her most popular characters, and also appeared in the
Fairy Porcupine, as originally performed by her, there was a
house of no more than four pound twelve."

" Is it possible ? " cried Nicholas.

" And two pound of that was trust, pa," said the phe-
nomenon.



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NICHOLAS NICKLEBY.



299



" And two pound of that was trust," repeated Mr. Crumm-
ies. " Mrs. Crummies herself has played to mere handfuls."

" But they are always a taking audience, Vincent," said
the manager's wife.

" Most audiences are, when they have good acting — real
good acting — the regular thing," replied Mr. Crummies,
forcibly.

" Do you give lessons, ma'am ? " inquired Nicholas.

" I do," said Mrs. Crummies.

" There is no teaching here, I suppose ? "

" There has been," said Mrs. Crummies. " I have re-
ceived pupils here. I imparted tuition to the daughter of a
dealer in ships' provision ; but it afterwards appeared that
she was insane when she first came to me. It was very ex-
traordinary that she would come, under such circumstances."

Not feeling quite so sure of that, Nicholas thought it best
to hold his peace.

" Let me see," said the manager, cogitating after dinner.
" Would you like some nice little part with the infant ? "

"You are very good," replied Nicholas hastily; "but I
think perhaps it would be better if I had somebody of my own
size at first, in case I should turn out awkward. I should feel
more at home perhaps."

" True," said the manager. " Perhaps you would. And
you could play up to the infant, in time, you know."

" Certainly," replied Nicholas : devoutly hoping that it
would be a very long time before he was honored with this
distinction. *

" Then Til tell you what we'll do," said Mr. Crummies.
" You shall study Romeo when you've done that piece — don't
forget to throw the pump and the tubs in by the bye — Juliet
Miss Snevellicci, old Grudden the nurse. — Yes, that'll do very
well. Rover too ; — you might get up Rover while you were
about it, and Cassio, and Jeremy Diddler. You can easily
knock them off ; one part helps the other so much. Here
they are, cues and all."

With these hasty general directions Mr. Crummies thrust
a number of little books into the faltering hands of Nicholas,
and bidding his eldest son go with him and show where
lodgings were to be had, shook him by the hand, and wished
him good-night.

There is no lack of comfortable furnished apartments in
Portsmouth, and no difficulty in finding some that are pro-



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3°°



NICHOLAS NICKLEBY.



portionate to very slender finances ; but the former were too
good, and the latter too bad, and they went into so many
houses, and came out unsuited, that Nicholas seriously began
to think he should be obliged to ask permission to spend the
night in the theatre after all.

Eventually, however, they stumbled upon two small rooms
up three pair of stairs, or rather two pair and a ladder, at a
tobacconist's shop, on the Common Hard : a dirty street lead-
ing down to the dockyard. These Nicholas engaged, only too
happy to have escaped any request for payment of a week's
rent beforehand.

" There ! Lay down our personal property, Smike," he
said, after showing young Crummies down stairs. " We have
fallen upon strange times, and Heaven only knows the end of
them : but I am tired with the events of these three days, and
will postpone reflection till to-morrow — if I can."



CHAPTER XXIV.



OF THE GREAT BESPEAK FOR MISS SNEVELLICCI, AND THE
FIRST APPEARANCE OF NICHOLAS UPON ANY STAGE

Nicholas was up betimes in the morning ; but he had
scarcely begun to dress, notwithstanding, when he heard foot-
steps ascending the stairs, and was presently saluted by the
voices of Mr. Folair the pantomimist, and Mr. Lenville, the
tragedian.

" House, house, house ! " cried Mr. Folair.

" What, ho I within there ! " said Mr. Lenville, in a deep
voice.

" Confound these -fellows ! " thought Nicholas ; " they
have come to breakfast, I suppose. I'll open the door
directly, if you'll wait an instant."

The gentlemen entreated him not to hurry himself ; and,
to beguile the interval, had a fencing bout with their walking-
sticks on the very small landing-place : to the unspeakable
discomposure of all the other lodgers down stairs.

" Here, come in," said Nicholas, when he had completed
his toilet " In the name of all that's horrible, don't make
that noise outside."



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NICHOLAS NICKLEB Y. 301

" An uncommon snug little box this," said Mr. Lenville,
stepping into the front room, and taking his hat off, before he
could get in at all. " Pernicious snug."

" For a man at all particular in such matters, it might be
a trifle too snug," said Nicholas; "for, although it is, un-
doubtedly, a great convenience to be able to reach anything
you want from the ceiling or the floor, or either side of the
_ room, without having to move from your chair, still these ad-
vantages can only be had in an apartment of the most limited
size."

" It isn't a bit too confined for a single man," returned
Mr. Lenville. "That reminds me, — my wife, Mr. Johnson, —
I hope she'll have some good part in this piece of yours ? "

" I glanced at the French copy last night," said Nicholas.
" It looks very good I think."

" What do you mean to do for me, old fellow ? " asked Mr.
Lenville, poking the struggling fire with his walking-stick, and,
afterwards wiping it on the skirt of his coat. " Anything in
the gruff and grumble way ? "

" You turn your wife and child out of doors," said Nicholas ;
" and in a fit of rage and jealousy, stab your eldest son in the
library."

" Do I though ? " exclaimed Mr. Lenville. " That's very
good business."

" After which," said Nicholas, " You are troubled with re-
morse till the last act, and then you make up your mind to
destroy yourself. But just as you are raising the pistol to your
head, a clock strikes — ten."

" I see," cried Mr. Lenville. " Very good."

"You pause," said Nicholas; "You recollect to have
heard a clock strike ten in your infancy. The pistol falls
from your hand — you are overcome — you burst into tears, and
become a virtuous and exemplary character for ever after-
wards."

" Capital ! " said Mr. Lenville : " that's a sure card, a sure
card. Get the curtain down with a touch of nature like that,
and it'll be a triumphant success."

" Is there anything good for me ? " inquired Mr. Folair,
anxiously.

" Let me see," said Nicholas. " You play the faithful and
attached servant ; you are turned out of doors with the wife
and child."

" Always coupled with that infernal phenomenon," sighed



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302 NICHOLAS NICKLEB V.

Mr. Folair ; " and we go into poor lodgings, where I won't
take any wages, a,nd talk sentiment, I suppose ? "

" Why — yes," replied Nicholas : " that is the course of the
piece."

" I must have a dance of some kind, you know," said Mr.
Folair. " You'll have to introduce one for the phenomenon,
so you'd better make a pas de deux, and save time."

" There's nothing easier than that," said Mr. Lenville, ob-
serving the disturbed looks of the young dramatist.

" Upon my word I don't see how it's to be done," rejoined
Nicholas.

" Why, isn't it obvious ? " reasoned Mr. Lenville. " Gad-
zooks, who can help seeing the way to do it ? — you astonish
me ! You get the distressed lady, and the little child, and
the attached servant, into the poor lodgings, don't you ?
— Well, look here. The distressed lady sinks into a
chair, and buries her face in her pocket handkerchief —
1 What makes you weep, mama ? ' says the child. * Don't
weep, mama, or you'll make me weep too ! ' — ' And me ! ' says
the faithful servant, rubbing his eyes with his arm. * What
can we do to raise your spirits, dear mama ? ' says the little
child. ' Ay, what can we do ? ' says the faithful servant ' Oh,
Pierre ! ' says the distressed lady ; ' would that I could shake
off these painful thoughts.' — ' Try, ma'am, try,' says the faith-
ful servant ; ' rouse yourself, ma'am ; be amused.' — ' I will/
says the lady, * I will learn to suffer with fortitude. Do you
remember that dance, my honest friend, which, in happier
days, you practised with this sweet angel ? It never failed to
calm my spirits then. Oh ! let me see it once again before
I die ! ' — there it is — cue for the band before I die, — and off
they go. That's the regular thing ; isn't it, Tommy ? "

"That's it," replied Mr. Folair. "The distressed lady,
overpowered by old recollections, faints at the end of the
dance, and you close in with a picture."

Profiting by these and other lessons, which were the result
of the personal experience of the two actors, Nicholas wil-
lingly gave them the best breakfast he could, and, when he at
length got rid of them, applied himself to his task : by no
means displeased to find that it was so much easier than he
had at first supposed. He worked very hard all day, and did
not leave his room" until the evening, when he went down to
the theatre, whither Smike had repaired before him to go on
with another gentleman as a general rebellion.



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NICHOLAS NICKLEB V. 303

Here all the people were so much changed, that he scarcely
knew them. False hair, false color, false calves, false muscles
— they had become different beings. Mr. Lenville was a bloom-
ing warrior of most exquisite proportions ; Mr. Crummies, his
large face shaded by a profusion of black hair, a Highland out-
law of most majestic bearing ; one of the old gentleman a gaoler,
and the other a venerable patriarch ; the comic countryman,
a fighting-man of great valor, relieved by a touch of humor ;
each of the master Crummleses a prince in his own right ; and
the low-spirited lover, a desponding captive. There was a
gorgeous banquet ready spread for the third act, consisting of
two pasteboard vases, one plate of biscuits, a black bottle, and
a vinegar cruet ; and, in short, everything was on a scale of
the utmost splendor and preparation.

Nicholas was standing with hi$ back to the curtain,
now contemplating the first scene, which was a Gothic arch-
way, about two feet shorter than Mr. Crummies, through which
that gentleman was to make the first entrance, and now listen-
ing to a couple of people who were cracking nuts in the gal-
lery, wondering whether they made the whole audience,
when the manager himself walked familiarly up and accosted
him.

" Been in front to-night ? " said Mr. Crummies.



Online LibraryCharles DickensThe life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby → online text (page 29 of 79)