Charles Dickens.

The life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby online

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" No," replied Nicholas, " not yet. I am going to see the
play."

" We've had a pretty good Let," said Mr. Crummies.
" Four front places in the centre, and the whole of the stage-
box."

" Oh, indeed ! " said Nicholas ; " a family, I suppose ? "

" Yes," replied Mr. Crummies, " yes. It's an affecting
thing. There are six children, and they never come unless the
phenomenon plays."

It would have beep difficult for any party, family or other-
wise, to have visited the theatre on a night when the phenom-
enon did not play, inasmuch as she always sustained one, and
not uncommonly two or three, characters, every night ; but
Nicholas, sympathizing with the feelings of a father, refrained
from hinting at this trifling circumstance, and Mr. Crummies
continued to talk, uninterrupted by him.

"Six," said that gentleman ; " Pa and Ma eight, aunt nine,
governess ten, grandfather and grandmother twelve. Then,
there's the footman, who stands outside, with a bag of oranges
and a jug cf toast-and-water and sees the play for nothing



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304 NICHOLAS NICKLEB Y.

through the little pane of glass in the box-door — it's cheap at
a guinea ; they gain by taking a box."

" I wonder you allow so many," observed Nicholas.

" There's no help for it," replied Mr. Crummies ; " it's
always expected in the country. If there are six children,
six people come to hold them in their laps. A family-box
carries double always. Ring in the orchestra, Grudden ! "

That useful lady did as she was requested, and shortly
afterwards the tuning of three fiddles was heard. Which pro-
cess having been protracted as long as it was supposed
that the patience of the audience could possibly bear it,
was put a stop to by another jerk of the bell, which, being
the signal to being in earnest, set the orchestra playing a
variety of popular airs, with involuntary variations.

If Nicholas had been astonished at the alteration for the
better which the gentlemen displayed, the transformation of
the ladies was still more extraordinary. When, from a snug
corner of the manager's box, he beheld Miss Snevellicci in all
the glories of white muslin with a golden hem, and Mrs.
Crummies in all the dignity of the outlaw's wife, and Miss
Bravassa in all the sweetness of Miss Snevellicci's confiden-
tial friend, and Miss Belvawney in the white silks of a
page doing duty everywhere and swearing to live and die in
the service of everybody, he could scarcely contain his
admiration, which testified itself in great applause, and the
closest possible attention to the business of the scene. The
plot was most interesting. It belonged to no particular age,
people, or country, and was perhaps the more delightful on that
account, as nobody's previous information could afford the re-
motest glimmering of what would ever come of it. An outlaw
had been very successful in doing something somewhere, and
came home, in- triumph, to the sounds of shouts and fiddles,
to greet his wife — a lady of masculine mind, who talked a
good deal about her father's bones, which it seemed were un-
buried, though whether from a peculiar taste on the part of
the old gentleman himself, or the reprehensible neglect of his
relations, did not appear. This outlaw's wife was, somehow
or other, mixed up with a patriarch living in a castle a long
way off, and this patriarch was the father of several of the
characters, but he didn't exactly know which, and was uncer-
tain whether he had brought up the right ones in his castle, or
the wrong ones ; he rather inclined to the latter opinion, and,
being uneasy, relieved his mind with a banquet, during which



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NICHOLAS NICKLEBY. 305

solemnity somebody in a cloak said " Beware ! " which some-
body was known by nobody (except the audience) to be the
oudaw himself, who had come there, for reasons unexplained,
but possibly with an eye to the spoons. There was an agree-
able little surprise in the way of certain love passages between
the desponding captive and Miss Snevellicci, and the ccmic
fighting-man and Miss Bravassa ; besides which, Mr. Lenville
had several very tragic scenes in the dark, while on throat-
cutting expeditions, which were all baffled by the skill and
bravery of the comic fighting-man (who overheard whatever
was said all through the piece) and the intrepidity of Miss
Snevellicci, who adopted tights, and therein repaired to the
prison of her captive lover, with a small basket of refresh-
ments and a dark lantern. At last, it came out that the patri-
arch was the man who had treated the bones of the outlaw's
father-in-law with so much disrespect, for which cause and
reason the outlaw's wife repaired to his castle to kill him, and
so got into a dark" room, where, after a good deal of groping
in the dark, everybody got hold of everybody else, and took
them for somebody besides which occasioned a vast quantity
of confusion, with some pistoling, loss of life, and torchlight ;
after which, the patriarch came forward, and observing, with
a knowing look, that he knew all about his children now, and
would tell them when they got inside, said that there could
not be a more appropriate occasion for marrying the young
people than that ; and therefore he joined their hands, with
the full consent of the indefatigable page, who (being the only
other person surviving) pointed with his cap into the clouds,
and his right hand to the ground ; thereby invoking a blessing
and giving the cue for the curtain to come down, which it did,
amidst general applause.

" What did you think of that ? " asked Mr. Crummies, when
Nicholas went round to the stage again. Mr. Crummies was
very red and hot, for your outlaws are desperate fellows to
shout.

" I think it was very capital indeed," replied Nicholas ;
" Miss Snevellicci in particular was uncommonly good."

" She's a genius," said Mr. Crummies ; " quite a genius,
that girl. By the bye, I've been thinking of bringing out that
piece of yours on her bespeak night."

" When ? " asked Nicholas.

'* The night of her bespeak. Her benefit night, when her
friends and patrons bespeak the play," said Mr. Crummies.



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NICHOLAS NICKLEBY.



" Oh ! I understand," replied Nicholas.

" You see," said Mr. Crummies, "it's sure to go, on such
an occasion, and even if it should not work up quite as well
as we expect, why it will be her risk, you know, and not ours."

44 Yours, you mean," said, Nicholas.

" I said mine, didn't I ? " returned Mr. Crummies. " Next
Monday week. What do you say ? You'll have done it, and
are sure to be up in the lover's part, long befdre that time."

44 I don't know about ' long before,' " replied Nicholas ;
" but by that time I think I can undertake to be ready."

44 Very good," pursued Mr. Crummies, " then we'll call
that settled. Now I want to ask you something else. There's
a little — what shall I call it — a little canvassing takes place
on these occasions. 1 '

44 Among the patrons, I suppose ? " said Nicholas.

" Among the patrons ; and the fact is, that Snevellicci has
had so many bespeaks in this place, that she wants an attrac-
tion. She had a bespeak when her mother-in-law died, and a
bespeak when her uncle died ; and Mrs. Crummies and my-
self have had bespeaks on the anniversary of the phenom-
enon's birthday, and our wedding-day, and occasions of that
description, so that, in fact, there's some difficulty in getting a
good one. N6w, won't you help this poor girl, Mr. Johnson ? "
said Crummies, sitting himself down on a drum, and taking
a great pinch of snuff, as he looked him steadily in the face.

44 How do you mean ?" rejoined Nicholas.

" Don't you think you could spare half-an-hour to-morrow
morning, to call with her at the houses of one or two of the
principal people ? " murmured the manager in a persuasive
tone.

44 Oh dear me," said Nicholas, with an air of very strong
objection, 44 1 shouldn't like to do that."

44 The infant will accompany her," said Mr. Crummies.
44 The moment it was suggested to me, I gave permission for
the infant to go. There will not be the smallest impropriety
— Miss Snevellicci, sir, is the very soul of honor. It would
be of material service — the gentleman from London — author
of the new piece — actor in the new piece — first appearance on
any boards — it would lead to a great bespeak, Mr. Johnson."

44 1 am very sorry to throw a damp upon the prospects of
anybody, and more especially a lady," replied Nicholas;
" but really I must decidedly object to making one of the
canvassing party."



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NICHOLAS NICKLEBY.



307



" What does Mr. Johnson say, Vincent ? " inquired a voice
close to his ear ; and, looking round, he found Mrs. Crummies
and Miss Snevellicci herself standing behind him.

" He has some objection, my dear," replied Mr. Crummies,
looking at Nicholas.

" Objection ! " exclaimed Mrs. Crummies. " Can it be
possible ? "

" Oh, I hope not ! " cried Miss Snevellicci. " You surely
are not so cruel — oh, dear me ! — Well, 1 — to think of that
now, after all one's looking forward to it ! "

"Mr. Johnson will not persist, my dear," said Mrs.
Crummies. " Think better of him than to suppose it. Gal-
lantry, humanity, all the best feelings of his nature must be
enlisted in thjs interesting cause."

"Which moves even a manager," said Mr. Crummies,
smiling.

"And a manager's wife," added Mrs. Crummies, in her
accustomed tragedy tones. " Come, come, you will relent,
1 know you will."

" It is not in my nature," said Nicholas, moved by these
appeals, " to resist any entreaty, unless it is to do something
positively wrong ; and, beyond a feeling of pride, I know noth-
ing which should prevent my doing this. I know nobody
here, and nobody knows me. So be it then. I yield."

Miss Snevellicci was at once overwhelmed with blushes
and expressions of gratitude, of which latter commodity
neither Mr. nor Mrs. Crummies was by any means sparing.
It was arranged that Nicholas should call upon her, at her
lodgings, at eleven next morning, and soon after they parted :
he to return home to his authorship: Miss Snevellicci to
dress for the after-piece : and the disinterested manager and
his wife to discuss the probable gains of the forthcoming
bespeak, of which they were to have two-thirds of the profits
by solemn treaty of agreement.

At the stipulated hour next morning, Nicholas repaired to
the lodgings of Miss Snevellicci, which were in a place called
Lombard Street, at the house of a tailor. A strong smell of
ironing pervaded the little passage ; and the tailor's daughter,
who opened the door, appeared in that flutter of spirits which
is so often attendant upon the periodical getting up of a
family's linen.

" Miss Snevellicci lives here, I believe ? " said Nicholas,
when the door was opened.



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NICHOLAS NICKLEBY.



The tailor's daughter replied in the affirmative.

" Will you have the goodness to let her know that Mr.
Johnson is here ? " said Nicholas.

" Oh, if you please you're to come up stairs," replied the
tailor's daughter, with a smile.

Nicholas followed the young lady, and was shown into a
small apartment on the first floor, communicating with a back
room ; in which, as he judged from a certain half-subdued
clinking sound, as of cups and saucers, Miss Snevellicci was
then taking her breakfast in bed.

" You're to wait, if you please," said the tailor's daughter,
after a short period of absence, during which the clinking in
the back room had ceased, and had been succeeded by whisper-
ing. " She won't be long;."

As she spoke she pulled up the window-blind, and having
by this means (as she thought) diverted Mr. Johnson's atten-
tion from the room to the street, caught up some articles which
were airing on the fender, and had very much the appearance
of stockings, and darted off.

As there were not many objects of interest outside the
window, Nicholas looked about the room with more curiosity
than he might otherwise have bectowed upon it. On the sofa
lay an old guitar, several thumbed pieces of music, and a
scattered litter of curl-papers : together with a confused heap
of play-bills, and a pair of soiled white satin shoes with large
blue rosettes. Hanging over the back of a chair was a half-
finished muslin apron with little pockets ornamented with red
ribbons, such as waiting-women wear on the stage, and (by
consequence) are never seen with anywhere else. In one
corner stood the diminutive pair of top-boots in which Miss
Snevellicci was accustomed to enact the little jockey, and,
folded on a chair hard by, was a small parcel, which bore a
very suspicious resemblance to the companion smalls.

But the most interesting object of all, was, perhaps, the
open scrap-book, displayed in the midst of some theatrical
duodecimos that were strewn upon the table ; and pasted into
which scrap-book were various critical notices of Miss Srievel-
licci's acting, extracted from different provincial journals, to-
gether with one poetic address in her honor commencing —

Sinfr, God of Love, and tell me in what dearth
Thnce^ifted Snevellicci came on earth,
To thrill us with her smile, her tear, her eye,
Sing, God of Love, and tell me quickly why.



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NICHOLAS NICKLEB Y. 309

Besides this effusion, there were innumerable complimentary
allusions, also extracted from newspapers, such as — " We ob-
serve from an advertisement in another part of our paper of
to-day, that the charming and highly-talented Miss Snevel-
licci takes her benefit on Wednesday, for which occasion she
has put forth a bill of fare that might kindle exhilaration in
the breast of a misanthrope. In the confidence that our fel-
low-townsmen have not lost that high appreciation of public
utility and private worth, for which they have long been so
pre-eminently distinguished, we predict that this charming
actress will be greeted with a bumper." " To Correspond-
ents. — J. S. is misinformed when he supposes that the highly-
gifted and beautiful Miss Snevellicci, nightly captivating all
hearts at our pretty and commodious little theatre, is not the
same lady to whom the young gentleman of immense fortune,
residing within a hundred miles of the good city of York,
lately made honorable proposals. We have reason to know
that Miss Snevellicci is the lady who was implicated in that
mysterious and romantic affair, and whose conduct on that
occasion did no less honor to her head and heart, than do her
histrionic triumphs to her brilliant genius." A copious assort-
ment of such paragraphs as these, with long bills of benefits
all ending with " Come Early," in large capitals, formed the
principal contents of Miss Snevellicci's scrap-book.

Nicholas had read a great many of these scraps, and was
absorbed in a circumstantial and melancholy account of the
train of events which had led to Miss Snevellicci's spraining
her ankle by slipping on a piece of orange-peel flung by a
monster in human form, (so the paper said,) upon the stage at
Winchester, — when that young lady herself, attired in the
coal-scuttle bonnet and walking-dress complete, tripped into
the room, with a thousand apologies for having detained him
so long after the appointed time.

" But really," said Miss Snevellicci, " my darling Led, who
lives with me here, was taken so very ill in the night that I
thought she would have expired in my arms."

" Such a fate is almost to be envied," returned Nicholas,
" but I am very sorry to hear it nevertheless."

" What a creature you are to flatter I " said Miss Snevel-
licci, buttoning her glove in much confusion.

" If it be flattery to admire your charms and accomplish-
ments," rejoined Nicholas, laying his hand upon the scrap-
book, " you have better specimens of it here."



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3 1 o , NICHOLAS NICKLEB Y.

" Oh you cruel creature, to read such things as those !
1*111 almost ashamed to look you in the face afterwards, posi-
tively I am," said Miss Snevellicci, seizing the book and putting
it away in a closet. " How careless of Led ! How could she
be so naughty ! "

" I thought you had kindly left it here, on purpose for me
to read," said Nicholas. And really it did seem possible.

" I wouldn't have had you see it for the world 1 " rejoined
Miss Snevellicci. " I never was so vexed — never ! But she
is such a careless thing, there's no trusting her."

The conversation was here interrupted by the entrance of
the phenomenon, who had discreetly remained in the bedroom
up to this moment, and now presented herself, with much
grace and lightness, bearing in her hand a very little green
parasol with a broad fringe border, and no handle. After a
few words of course, they sallied into the street.

The phenomenon was rather a troublesome companion, for
first the right sandal came down, and then the left, and these
mischances being repaired, one leg of the little white trousers
was discovered to be longer than the other ; besides these ac-
cidents, the green parasol was dropped down an iron grating,
and only fished up again, with great difficulty and by dint
of much exertion. However, it was impossible to scold her,
as she was the manager's daughter, so Nicholas took it all in
perfect good humor, and walked on, with Miss Snevellicci,
arm in arm on one side, and the offending infant on the other.

The first house to which they bent their steps, was situated
in a terrace of respectable appearance. Miss Snevellicci's
modest double-knock was answered by a foot-boy, who, in re-
ply to her inquiry whether Mrs. Curdle was at home, opened
his eyes very wide, grinned very much, and said he didn't
know, but he'd inquire. With this, he showed them into a
parlor where he kept them waiting, until the two women-ser-
vants had repaired thither, under false pretences, to see the
play-actors ; and having compared notes with them in the pas-
sage, and joined in a vast quantity of whispering and gig-
gling, he at length went up stairs with Miss Snevellicci's
name.

Now, Mrs. Curdle was supposed, by those who were best
informed on such points, to possess quite the London taste in
matters relating to literature and the drama ; and as to Mr.
Curdle, he had written a pamphlet of sixty-four pages, post
octavo, on the character of the Nurse's deceased husband in



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NICHOLAS NICKLEBY.



3"



Romeo and Juliet, with an inquiry whether he really had been
a " merry man " in his life-time, or whether it was merely his
widow's affectionate partiality that induced her so to report
him. He had likewise proved, that by altering the received
mode of punctuation, any one of Shakspeare's plays could be
made quite different, and the sense completely changed ; it is
needless to say, therefore, that he was a great critic, and a
very profound and most original thinker.

" Well, Miss Snevellicci," said Mrs. Curdle, entering the
parlor, " and how do you do ? "

Miss Snevellicci made a graceful obeisance, and hoped
Mrs. Curdle was well, as also Mr. Curdle, who at the same
time appeared. Mrs. Curdle was dressed in a morning wrap-
per, with a little cap stuck upon the top of her head. Mr.
Curdle wore a loose robe on his back, and his right forefinger
on his forehead after the portraits of Sterne, to whom some-
body or other had once said he bore a striking resemblance.

" I ventured to call, for the purpose of asking whether you
would put your name to my bespeak, ma'am," said Miss
Snevellicci, producing documents.

" Oh ! I really don't know what to say," replied Mrs.
Curdle. " It's not as if the theatre was in its high and palmy
days — you needn't stand, Miss Snevellicci — the drama is
gone, perfectly gone."

" As an exquisite embodiment of the poet's visions, and a
realization of human intellectuality, gilding with refulgent
light our dreamy moments, and laying open -a new and magic
world before the mental eye, the drama is gone, perfectly
gone," said Mr. Curdle.

" What man is there, now living, who can present before
us all those changing and prismatic colors with which the
character of Hamlet is invested ? " exclaimed Mrs. Curdle.

" What man indeed — upon the stage," said Mr. Curdle,
with a small reservation in favor of himself. " Hamlet 1
Pooh ! ridiculous ! Hamlet is gone, perfectly gone."

Quite overcome by these dismal reflections, Mr. and Mrs.
Curdle sighed, and sat for some short time without speaking.
At length, the lady, turning to Miss Snevellicci, inquired what
play she proposed to have.

" Quite a new one," said Miss Snevellicci, " of which this
gentleman is the author, and in which he plays ; being his
first appearance on any stage. Mr. Johnson is the gentle-
man's name."



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3 ! 2 NICHOLAS NICKLEB Y.

" I hope yau have preserved the unities, sir ? " said Mr.
Curdle.

" The original piece is a French one," said Nicholas.
" There is abundance of incident, sprightly dialogue, strongly-
marked characters "

" — All unavailing without a strict observance of the unities,
sir," returned Mr. Curdle. " The unities of the drama, be-
fore everything."

*' Might I ask you," said Nicholas, hestitating between the
respect he ought to assume, and l)is love of the whimsical,
" might I ask you what the unities are ? "

Mr. Curdle coughed and considered. " The unities, sir,"
he said, " are a completeness— a kind of a universal dovetail-
edness with regard to place and time — a sort of a general
oneness, if I may be allowed to use so strong an expression.
I take those to be the dramatic unities, so far as I have been
enabled to bestow attention upon them, and I have read much
upon the subject, and thought much. I find, running through
the performances of this child," said Mr. Curdle, turning to
the phenomenon, " a unity of feeling, a breadth, a light and
shade, a warmth of coloring, a tone, a harmony, a glow, an
artistical development of original conceptions, which I look
for, in vain, among older performers. I don't know whether
I make myself understood ? "

" Perfectly," replied Nicholas.

"Just so," said Mr. Curdle, pulling up his neckcloth.
" That is my definition of the unities of the drama."

Mrs. Curdle had sat listening to this lucid explanation
with great complacency. It being finished, she inquired what
Mr. Curdle thought, about putting down their names.

" I don't know, my dear ; upon my word I don't know,"
said Mr. Curdle. " If we do, it must be distinctly understood
that we do not pledge ourselves to the quality of the perform-
ances. Let it go forth to the world, that we do not give
them the sanction of our names, but that we confer the dis-
tinction merely upon Miss Snevellicci. That being clearly
stated, I take it to be, as it were, a duty, that we should ex-
tend our patronage to a degraded stage, even for the sake of
the associations with which it is entwined. Have you got two-
and-sixpence for half-a-crown, Miss Snevellicci ? " said Mr.
Curdle, turning over four of those pieces of money.

Miss Snevellicci felt in all the corners of the pink reticule,
but there was nothing in any of them. Nicholas murmured a



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NICHOLAS NICKLEB Y. 3 ^

jest about his being an author, and thought it best not to go
through the form of feeling in his own pockets at all.

" Let me see," said Mr. Curdle ; " twice four's eight — four
shillings a-piece to the boxes, Miss Snevellicci, is exceedingly
dear in the present state of the drama — three half-crowns is
seven-and-six ; we shall not differ about sixpence, I suppose ?
Sixpence will not part us, Miss Snevellicci ? "

Poor Miss Snevellicci took the three half-crowns, with
many smiles and bends, and Mrs. Curdle, adding several sup-
plementary directions relative to keeping the places for
them, and dusting the seat,, and sending two clean bills as
soon as they came out, rang the bell, as a signal for breaking
up the conference.

" Odd people those," said Nicholas, when they got clear
of the house.

"I assure you," said Miss Snevellicci, taking his arm,
" that I think myself very lucky they did not owe all the
money instead of being sixpence short. Now, if you were to
succeed, they would give people to understand that they had
always patronized you ; and if you were to fail, they would
have been quite certain of that from the very beginning."

At the next house they visited they were in great glory ;
for, there, resided the six children who were so enraptured
with the public actions of the phenomenon, and who, being
called down from the nursery to be treated with a private



Online LibraryCharles DickensThe life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby → online text (page 30 of 79)