Charles Dickens.

The life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby online

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view of that young lady, proceeded to poke their fingers into
her eyes, and tread upon her toes, and show her many other
little attentions peculiar to their time of life.

" I shall certainly persuade Mr. Borum to take a private
box," said the lady of the house, after a most gracious recep-
tion. " I shall only take two of the children, and will make
up the rest of the party of gentlemen — your admirers, Miss
Snevellicci. Augustus, you naughty boy, leave the little girl

This was addressed to a young gentleman who was pinch-
ing the phenomenon behind, apparently with a view of ascer-
taining whether she was real.

44 1 am sure you must be very tired," said the mama, turn-
ing to Miss Snevellicci. " I cannot think of allowing you to
go, without first taking a glass of wine. Fie, Charlotte, I am
ashamed of you ! Miss Lane, my dear, pray see to the chil-

Miss Lane was the governess, and this entreaty was ren-

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dered necessary by the abrupt behavior of the youngest Miss
Borum, who, having filched the phenomenon's little green
parasol, was now carrying it bodily off, while the distracted
infant looked helplessly on.

44 1 am sure, where you ever learnt to act as you do," said
good-natured Mrs. Borum, turning again to Miss Snevellicci,
" I cannot understand (Emma, don't stare so) ; laughing in
one piece, and crying in the next, and so natural in ail — oh,

" I am very happy to hear you express so favorable an
opinion," said Miss Snevellicci. " It's quite delightful to think
you like it"

44 Like it I " cried Mrs. Borum. " Who can help liking it !
I would go to the play twice a week if I could : I dote upon
it. Only you're too affecting sometimes. You do put me in
such a state ; into such fits of crying I Goodness gracious me,
Miss Lane, how can you let them torment that poor child so ! "

The phenomenon was really in a fair way of being torn
limb from limb ; for two strong little boys, one holding on by
each of her hands, were dragging her in different directions as
a trial of strength. However, Miss Lane (who had herself
been too much occupied in contemplating the grown-up actors,
to pay the necessary attention to these proceedings) rescued
the unhappy infant at this juncture, who, being recruited with
a glass of wine, was shortly afterwards taken away by her
friends, after sustaining no more serious damage than a flat-
tening of the pink gauze bonnet, and a rather extensive creas-
ing of the white frock and trousers.

It was a trying morning ; for there were a great many calls
to make, and everybody wanted a different thing. Some
wanted tragedies, and others comedies; some objected to
dancing ; some wanted scarcely anything else. Some thought
the comic singer decidedly low, others hoped he would have
more to do than he usually had. Some people wouldn't prom-
ise to go, because other people wouldn't promise to go ; and
other people wouldn't go at all, because other people went
At length, and by little and little, omitting something in this
place, and adding something in that, Miss Snevellicci pledged
herself to a bill of fare which was comprehensive enough, if it
had no other merit (it included among other trifles, four pieces,
divers songs, a few combats, and several dances) ; and they
returned home, pretty well exhausted with the business of the

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Nicholas worked away at the piece, which was speedily
put into rehearsal, and then worked away at his own part,
which he studied with great perseverance and acted — as the
whole company said — to perfection. And at length the great
day arrived. The crier was sent round, in the morning, to
proclaim the entertainments with sound of bell in all the
thoroughfares ; and extra bills of three feet long by nine inches
wide, were dispersed in all directions, flung down all the
areas, thrust under all the knockers, and developed in all the
shops. They were placarded on all the walls too, though
not with complete success, for an illiterate person having un-
dertaken this office during the indisposition of the regular bill-
sticker, a part were posted sideways, and the remainder up-
side down.

At half-past five, there was a rush of four people to the
gallery-door ; at a quarter before six, there were at least a dozen;
at six o'clock the kicks were terrific ; and when the elder Mas-
ter Crummies opened the door, he was obliged to run behind
it for his life. Fifteen shillings were taken by Mrs. Grudden
in the first ten minutes.

Behind the scenes, the same unwonted excitement prevailed.
Miss Snevellicci was in such a perspiration that the paint
would scarcely stay on her face. Mrs. Crummies was so ner-
vous that she could hardly remember her part. Miss Bra-
vassa's ringlets came out of curl with the heat and anxiety ;
even Mr. Crummies himself kept peeping through the hole in
the curtain, and running back, every now and then, to announce
that another man had come into the pit.

At last, the orchestra left off, and the curtain rose upon
the new piece. The first scene, in which there was nobody
particular, passed off calmly enough, but when Miss Snevel-
licci went on in the second, accompanied by the phenomenon
as child, what a roar of applause broke out ! The people in
the Borum box rose as one man, waving their hats and hand-
kerchiefs, and uttering shouts of " Bravo 1 " Mrs. Borum and
the governess cast wreaths upon the stage, of which, some
fluttered into the lamps, and one crowned the temples of a fat
gentleman in the pit, who, looking eagerly towards the scene,
remained unconscious of the honor ; the tailor and his family
kicked at the panels of the upper boxes till they threatened
to come out altogether ; the very ginger-beer boy remained
transfixed in the centre of the house ; a young officer, supposed
to entertain a passion for Miss Snevellicci, stuck his glass in

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his eye as though to hide a tear. Again and again Miss Snev-
ellicci, curtseyed lower and lower, and again and again the
applause came down, louder and louder. At length, when the
phenomenon picked up one of the smoking wreaths and put
it on, sideways, over Miss Snevellicci's eye, it reached its cli-
max, and the play proceeded.

But when Nicholas came on for his crack scene with Mrs.
Crummies, what a clapping of hands there was I When Mrs.
Crummies (who was his unworthy mother), sneered and called
him " presumptuous boy," and he defied her, what a tumult
of applause came on I When he quarrelled with the other
gentleman about the young lady, and producing a case of pis-
tols, said that if he was a gentleman, he would fight him in
that drawing-room, until the furniture was sprinkled with the
blood of one, if not of two— how boxes, pit, and gallery, joined
in one most vigorous cheer! When he called his mother
names, because she wouldn't give up the young lady's property,
and she relenting, caused him to relent likewise, and fall down
on one knee and ask her blessing, how the ladies in the audi-
ence sobbed ! When he was hid behind the curtain in the
dark, and the wicked relation poked a sharp sword in every
direction, save where his legs were plainly visible, what a thrill
of anxious fear ran through the house 1 His air, his figure,
his walk, his look, everything he said or did, was the subject
of commendation. There was a round of applause every time
he spoke. And when, at last, in the pump-and-tub scene, Mrs.
Grudden lighted the blue fire, and all the unemployed mem-
bers of the company came in, and tumbled down in various
directions — not because that had anything to do with the plot,
but in order to finish off with a tableau — the audience (who
had by this time increased considerably) gave vent to such a
shout of enthusiasm, as had not been heard in those walls for
many and many a day.

In short, the success both of new piece and new actor
was complete, and when Miss Snevellicci was called for at the
end of the play, Nicholas led her on, and divided the ap-

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The new piece being a decided hit, was announced for
every evening of performance until further notice, and the
evenings when the theatre was closed, were reduced from three
in the week to two. Nor were these the only tokens of extra-
ordinary success ; for, on the succeeding Saturday, Nicholas
received, by favor of the indefatigable Mrs. Grudden, no less
a sum than thirty shillings ; besides which substantial reward,
he enjoyed considerable fame and honor : having a presenta-
tion copy of Mr. Curdle's pamphlet forwarded to the theatre,
with that gentleman's own autograph (in itself an inestimable
treasure) on the fly-leaf, accompanied with a note, containing
many expressions of approval, and an unsolicited assurance
that Mr. Curdle would be very happy to read Shakspeare to
him for three hours every morning before breakfast during his
stay in the town.

" I've got another novelty, Johnson," said Mr. Crummies
one morning in great glee.

" What's that ? " rejoined Nicholas. " The pony ? "

" No, no, we never come to the pony till everything else
has failed," said Mr. Crummies. "I don't think we shall
come to the pony at all, this season. No, no, not the

44 A boy phenomenon, perhaps ? " suggested Nicholas.

" There is only one phenomenon, sir," replied Mr. Crumm-
ies impressively, "and that's a girl."

44 Very true," said Nicholas. " I beg your pardon. Then
I don't know what it is, I am sure."

44 What should you say to a young lady from London ? "
inquired Mr. Crummies. "Miss So-and-so, of the Theatre
Royal, Drury Lane ? "

" I should say she would look very well in the bills," said
Nicholas. •

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" You're about right there," said Mr. Crummies ; " and if
you had said she would look very well upon the stage too, you
wouldn't have been far out. Look here ; what do you think
of this ? "

With this inquiry Mr. Crummies unfolded a red poster,
and a blue poster, and a yellow poster, at the top of each of
which public notification was inscribed in enormous characters
" First appearance of the unrivalled Miss Petowker of the
Theatre Royal, Drury Lane ! "

" Dear me ! " said Nicholas, " I know that lady."

" Then you are acquainted with as much talent as was ever
compressed into one young person's body," retorted Mr.
Crummies, rolling up the bills again ; " that is, talent of a cer-
tain sort — of a certain sort. * The Blood Drinker/ " added
Mr. Crummies with a prophetic sigh, "'The Blood Drinker*
will die with that girl ; and she's the only sylph / ever saw,
who could stand upon one leg, and play the tambourine on
her other knee like a sylph."

" When does she come down ? " asked Nicholas.

" We expect her to-day," replied Mr. Crummies. " She
is an old friend of Mrs. Crummles's. Mrs. Crummies saw
what she could do — always knew it from the first. She taught
her, indeed, nearly all she knows. Mrs. Crummies was the
original Blood Drinker."

" Was she, indeed ? "

" Yes. She was obliged to give it up though."

" Did it disagree with her ? " asked Nicholas.

" Not so much with her, as with her audiences," replied
Mr. Crummies. "Nobody could stand it. It was too tre-
mendous. You don't quite know what Mrs. Crummies is,

Nicholas ventured to insinuate that he thought he did.

" No, no, you don't," said Mr. Crummies ; "you don't in-
deed, /don't, and that's a fact. I don't think her country
will, till she is dead. Some new proof of talent bursts from
that astonishing woman every year of her life. Look at her,
mother of six children, three of 'em alive, and all upon the
stage ! "

" Extraordinary ! " cried Nicholas.

" Ah ! extraordinary indeed," rejoined Mr. Crummies,
taking a complacent pinch of snuff, and shaking his head
gravely. " I pledge you my professional word I didn't even
know she could dance, till her last benefit, and then she played

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Juliet, and Helen Macgregor, and did the skipping-rope horn-
pipe between the pieces. The very first time I saw that
admirable woman, Johnson," said Mr. Crummies, drawing a
little nearer, and speaking in the tone of confidential friend-
ship, " she stood upon her head on the butt-end of a spear,
surrounded with blazing fireworks."

" You astonish me ! " said Nicholas.

" She astonished me! " returned Mr. Crummies, with a very
serious countenance. " Such grace, coupled with such dignity !
I adored her from that moment ! "

The arrival of the gifted subject of these remarks put an
abrupt termination to Mr. Crummles's eulogium. Almost im-
mediately afterwards, Master Percy Crummies entered with a
letter, which had arrived by the General Post, and was directed
to his gracious mother ; at sight of the superscription where-
of, Mrs. Crummies exclaimed, " From Henrietta Petowker, I
do declare ! " and instantly became absorbed in the contents.

" Is it — ? " inquired Mr. Crummies, hesitating.

" Oh, yes, it's all right," replied Mrs. Crummies, anticipa-
ting the question. '* What an excellent thing for her, to be
sure!" '

" It's the best thing altogether, that I ever heard of, I
think," said Mr. Crummies ; and then Mr. Crummies, Mrs.
Crummies, and Master Percy Crummies, all fell to laugh-
ing violently. Nicholas left them to enjoy their mirth to-
gether, and walked to his lodgings ; wondering very much
what mystery connected with Miss Petowker could provoke
such merriment, and pondering still more on the extreme sur-
prise with which that lady would regard his sudden enlistment
in a profession of which she was such a distinguished and
brilliant ornament.

But, in this latter respect he was mistaken ; for — whether
Mr. Vincent Crummies had paved the way, or Miss Petowker
had some special reason for treating him with even more than
her usual amiability — their meeting at the theatre next day
was more like that of two dear friends who had been insepara-
ble from infancy, than a recognition passing between a lady
and gentleman who had only met some half dozen times, and
then by mere chance. Nay, Miss Petowker even whispered
that she had wholly dropped the Kenwigses in her conversa-
tions with the manager's family, and had represented herself
as having encountered Mr. Johnson in the very first and most
fashionable circles ; and on Nicholas receiving this intelligence

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with unfeigned surprise, she added, with a sweet glance, that
she had a claim on his good nature now, and might tax it be-
fore long.

Nicholas had the honor of playing in a slight piece with
Miss Petowker that night, and could not but observe that
the warmth of her reception was mainly attributable to a most
persevering umbrella in the upper boxes ; he saw, too, that
the enchanting actress cast many sweet looks towards the
quarter whence these sounds proceeded ; and that every time
she did so, the umbrella broke out afresh. Once, he thought
that a peculiarly shaped hat in the same corner was not wholly
unknown to him ; but, being occupied with his share of the
stage business, he bestowed no great attention upon this cir-
cumstance, and it had quite vanished from his memory by the
time he reached home.

He had just sat down to supper with Smike, when one of
the people of the house came outside the door, and announced
that a gentleman below stairs wished to speak to Mr. Johnson.

44 Well, if he does, you must tell him to come up ; that's
all I know," replied Nicholas. " One of our hungry brethren,
I suppose, Smike." *

His fellow-lodger looked at the cold meat in silent calcula-
tion of the quantity that would be left for dinner next day, and
put back a slice he had cut for himself, in order that the visit-
or's encroachments might be less formidable in their effects.

"It is not anybody who has been here before," said
Nicholas, * 4 for he is tumbling up every stair. Come in, come
in. In the name of wonder ! Mr. Lillyvick ? "

It was, indeed, the collector of water-rates who, regarding
Nicholas, with a fixed look and immovable countenance,
shook hands with most portentous solemnity, and sat himself
down in a seat by the chimney-corner.

44 Why, when did you come here ? " asked Nicholas

44 This morning, sir," replied Mr. Lillyvick ;

44 Oh ! I see ; then you were at the theatre* to-night, and it
was your umb "

44 This umbrella," said Mr. Lillyvick, producing a fat green
cotton one with a battered ferrule. " What did you think of
that performance ? "

44 So far as I could judge, being on the stage," replied
Nicholas, 44 1 thought it very agreeable."

44 Agreeable ! " cried the collector. " I mean to say, sir,
that it was delicious."

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Mr. Lillyvick bent forward to pronoupce the last word
with greater emphasis ; and having done so, drew himself up,
and frowned and nodded a great many times.

" I say, delicious," repeated Mr. Lillyvick. M Absorbing,
fairy-like, toomultuous," and again Mr. Lillyvick drew himself
up, and again he frowned and nodded. .

"Ah!" said Nicholas, a little surprised at these symp-
toms of ecstatic approbation. " Yes, she is a clever girl."

" She is a divinity," returned Mr. Lillyvick, giving a col-
lector's double knock on the ground with the umbrella before-
mentioned. " I have known divine actresses before now, sir ;
I used to collect — at least I used to call for — and very often
call for — the water-rate at the house of a divine actress, who
lived in my beat for upwards of four year, but never — no,
never, sir — of all divine creatures, actresses or no actresses,
did I see a diviner one than is Henrietta Petowker."

Nicholas had much ado to prevent himself from laughing ;
not trusting himself to speak, he merely nodded in accord-
ance with Mr. Lillyvick's nods, and remained silent.

" Let me speak a word with you in private,** said Mr.

Nicholas looked good-humoredly at Smike, who, taking
the hint, disappeared.

" A bachelor is a miserable wretch, sir," said Mr. Lillyvick.

" Is he ? " asked Nicholas.

M He is," rejoined the collector. " I have lived in the
world for nigh sixty year, and I ought to know what it is."

" You ought to know, certainly," thought Nicholas ; " but
whether you do or not, is another question."

" If a bachelor happens to have saved a little matter of
money," said Mr. Lillyvick, " his sisters and brothers, and
nephews and nieces, look to that money, and not to him ;
even if, by being a public character, he is the head of the
family, or, as it may be, the main from which all the other
little branches are turned on, they still wish him dead all the
while, and get low-spirited every time they see him looking in
good health, because they want to come into his little prop-
erty. You see that ? "

" Oh, yes," replied Nicholas : " it's very true, no doubt. " #

" The great reason for not being married," resumed Mr.
Lillyvick, " is the expense ; that's what's kept me off, or else
— Lord ! " said Mr. Lillyvick, snapping his fingers, " I might
have had fifty women."


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" Fine women ? " asked Nicholas.

" Fine women, sir ! " replied the collector ; " ay ! not so
fine as Henrietta Petowker, for she is an uncommon speci-
men, but such women as don't fall into every man's way, I
can tell you. Now suppose a man can get a fortune in a wife
instead of with her — eh ? "

" Why, then, he's a lucky fellow," replied Nicholas.

"That's what I say," retorted the collector, patting him
benignantly on the side of the head with his umbrella ; " just
what I say. Henrietta Petowker, the talented Henrietta
Petowker has a fortune in herself, and I am going to "

" To make her Mrs. Lillyvick ? " suggested Nicholas.

" No, sir, not to make her Mrs. Lillyvick," replied the
collector. " Actresses, sir, always keep their maiden names
— that's the regular thing — but I'm going to marry her ; and
the day after to-morrow, too."

" I congratulate you, sir," said Nicholas.

"Thank you, sir," replied the collector, buttoning his
waistcoat. " I shall draw her salary, of course, and I hope
after all that it's nearly as cheap to Keep two as it is to keep
one ; that's a consolation."

44 Surely you don't want any consolation at such a mo-
ment ? " oDserved Nicholas.

" No," replied Mr. Lillyvick, shaking his head nervously :
" no— of course not."

" But how come you both here, if you're going to be mar-
ried, Mr. Lillyvick ? " asked Nicholas.

" Why, that's what I came to explain to you," replied the
collector of water-rate. "The fact is, we have thought it
best to keep it secret from the family."

" Family ! " said Nicholas. " What family ? "

"The Kenwigses of course," rejoined Mr. Lillyvick. "If
my niece and the children had known a word about it before
I came away, they'd have gone into fits at my feet, and never
have come out of 'em till I took an oath not to marry any-
body. Or they'd have got out a commission of lunacy, or
some dreadful thing," said the collector, quite trembling as he

" To be sure," said Nicholas. " Yes ; they would have
been jealous, no doubt."

" To prevent which," said Mr. Lillyvick, " Henrietta Pe-
towker (it was settled between us) should come down here to
her friends, the Crummleses, under pretence of this engage-

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ment, and I should go down to Guildford the day before, and
join her on the coach there ; which I did, and we came down
from Guildford yesterday together. Now, for fear you should
be writing to Mr. Noggs, and might say anything about us,
we have thought it best to let you into the secret. We shall
be married from the Crummleses' lodgings, and shall be de-
lighted to see you— either before church or at breakfast-time,
which you like. It won't be expensive, you know," said the
collector, highly anxious to prevent any misunderstanding on
this point; "just muffins and coffee, with perhaps a shrimp
6r something of that sort for a relish, you know."

" Yes, yes, I understand," replied Nicholas. " Oh, I shall
be most happy to come ; it will give me the greatest pleasure.
Where's the lady stopping ? With Mrs. Crummies ? "

" Why, no," said the collector ; " they couldn't very well
dispose of her at night, and so she is staying with an acquaint-
ance of hers, and another young lady ; they both belong to
the theatre."

" Miss Snevellicci, I suppose ? " said Nicholas.

" Yes, that's the name."

" And they'll be bridesmaids, I presume ? " said Nicholas.

" Why," said the collector, with a rueful face, " they will
have four bridesmaids. I'm afraid they'll make it rather theat-

** Oh no, not at all," replied Nicholas, with an awkward
attempt to convert a laugh into a cough. " Who may the four
be ? Miss Snevellicci of course — Miss Ledrook "

" The — the phenomenon," groaned the collector.

" Ha, ha I " cried Nicholas. " I beg your pardon, I don't
know what I'm laughing at — yes, that'll be very pretty — the
phenomenon — who else ? "

" Some young woman or other," replied the collector,
rising ; " some other friend of Henrietta Petowker's. Well,
you'll be careful not to say anything about it, will you ? "

" You may safely depend upon me," replied Nicholas.
" Won't you take anything to eat or drink ? "

" No," said the collector ; " I haven't any appetite. I
should think it was a very pleasant life, the married one, eh ? "

" I have not the least doubt of it," rejoined Nicholas.

" Yes," said the collector ; " certainly. Oh yes. No
doubt. Good-night."

With these words, Mr. Lillyvick, whose manner had ex-
hibited through the whole of this interview a most extraordinary

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compound of precipitation, hesitation, confidence and doubt,
fondness, misgiving, meanness, and self-importance, turned his
back upon the room, and left Nicholas to enjoy a laugh by
himself if he felt so disposed.

Without stopping to inquire whether the intervening day
appeared to Nicholas to consist of the usual number of hours
of the ordinary length, it may be remarked that, to the parties
more directly interested in the forthcoming ceremony, it passed

Online LibraryCharles DickensThe life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby → online text (page 31 of 79)