Charles Dickens.

The life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby online

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with great rapidity, insomuch that when Miss Petowker awoke
on the succeeding morning in the chamber of Miss SnevelliccJ,
she declared that nothing should ever persuade her that that
really was the day which was to behold a change in her condi-
tion.

u I never will believe it," said Miss Petowker ; " I cannot
really. It's of no use talking, I never can make up my mind
to go through with such a trial ! "

On hearing this, Miss Snevellicci and Miss Ledrook, who
knew perfectly well that their fair friend's mind had been
made up for three or four years, at any period of which time
she would have cheerfully undergone the desperate trial now
approaching if she could have found any eligible gentleman
disposed for the venture, began to preach comfort and firm-
ness, and to say how very proud she ought to feel that it was
in her power to confer lasting bliss on a deserving object, and
how necessary it was for the happiness of mankind in general
that women should possess fortitude and resignation on such
occasions ; and that although for their parts they held true
happiness to consist in a single life, which they would not will-
ingly exchange — no, not for any worldly consideration — still
(thank Heaven), if ever the time should come, they hoped they
knew their duty too well to repine, but would the rather sub-
mit with meekness and humility of spirit to a fate for which
Providence had clearly designed them with a view to the con-
tentment and reward of their fellow-creatures.

H I might feel iMvas a great blow," said Miss Snevellicci,
" to break up old associations and what-do-you-callems of that
kind, but I would submit my dear, I would indeed."

" So would I," said Miss Ledrook ; " I would rather court
the yoke than shun it. I have broken hearts before now, and
I'm very sorry for it. It's a terrible thing to reflect upon."

" It is indeed," said Miss Snevellicci. " Now Led, my
dear, we must positively get her ready, or we shall be too late,
we shall indeed."



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This pious reasoning, and perhaps the fear of being too late,
supported the bride through the ceremony of robing, after
which, strong tea and brandy were administered in alternate
doses as a means of strengthening her feeble limbs and caus-
ing her to walk steadier.

" How do you feel now, my love ? " inquired Miss Snevel-
licci.

" Oh Lillyvick ! " cried the bride. " If you knew what I
am undergoing for you ! "

" Of course he knows it, love, and will never forget it,"
said Miss Ledrook.

" Do you think he won't ? " cried Miss Petowker, really
showing great capability for the stage. " Oh, do you think he
won't ? Do you think Lillyvick will always remember it —
always, always, always ? "

There is no knowing in what this burst of feeling might
have ended, if Miss Snevellicci had not at that moment pro-
claimed the arrival of the fly, which so astounded the bride
that she shook off divers alarming symptoms which were com-
ing on very strong, and running to the glass adjusted her dress,
and calmly declared that she was ready for the sacrifice.

She was accordingly supported into the coach, and there
" kept up " (as Miss Snevellicci said) with perpetual sniffs of
sal volatile and sips of brandy and other gentle stimulants,
until they reached the manager's door, which was already
opened by the two Master Crummleses, who wore white cock-
ades, and were decorated with the choicest and most resplend-
ent waistcoats in the theatrical wardrobe. By the combined ex-
ertions of these young gentlemen and the bridesmaids, assisted
by the coachman, Miss Petowker was at length supported in a
condition of much exhaustion to the first floor, where she no
sooner encountered the youthful bridegroom than she fainted
with great decorum.

" Henrietta Petowker ! " said the collector ; " cheer up, my
lovely one."

Miss Petowker grasped the collector's hand, but emotion
choked her utterance.

"Is the sight of me so dreadful, Henrietta Petowker?"
said the collector.

" Oh no, no, no," rejoined the bride ; " but all the friends,
the darling friends, of my youthful days — to leave them all—
it is such a shock ! "

With 9uch expressions of sorrow, Miss Petowker went on



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326 NICHOLAS NICKLEB V.

to enumerate the dear friends of her youthful days one by
one, and to call upon such of them as were present to come
and embrace her. This done, she remembered that Mrs.
Crummies had been more than a mother to her, and after that,
that Mr. Crummies had been more than a father to her, and
after that, that the Master Crummleses and Miss Ninetta
Crummies had been more than brothers and sisters to her.
These various remembrances being each accompanied with
a series of hugs, occupied a long time, and they were obliged
to drive to church very fast, for fear they should be too late.

The procession consisted of two flys ; in the first of which
were Miss Bravassa (the fourth bridesmaid), Mrs. Crummies,
the collector, and Mr. Folair, who had been chosen as his
second on the occasion. In the other were the bride, Mr.
Crummies, Miss Snevellicci, Miss Ledrook, and the phenome-
non. The costumes were beautiful. The bridesmaids were
quite covered with artificial flowers, and the phenomenon, in
particular, was rendered almost invisible by the portable
arbor in which she was enshrined. Miss Ledrook, who was
of a romantic turn, wore in her breast the miniature of some
field-officer unknown, which she had purchased, a great bar-
gain, not very long before ; the other ladies displayed several
dazzling articles of imitative jewellery, almost equal to real ;
and Mrs. Crummies came out in a stern and gloomy majesty,
which attracted the admiration of all beholders.

But, perhaps the appearance of Mr. Crummies was more
striking and appropriate than that of any member of the party.
This gentleman, who personated the bride's father, had, in
pursuance of a happy and original conception, " made up "
for the part by arraying himself in a theatrical wig, of a style
and pattern commonly known as a brown George, and more-
over assuming a snuff-colored suit, of the previous century,
with gray silk stockings, and buckles to his shoes. The bet-
ter to support his assumed character he had determined to
be greatly overcome, and, consequently, when they entered
the church, the sobs of the affectionate parent were so heart-
rending that the pew-opener suggested the propriety of his
retiring to the vestry, and comforting himself with a glass of
water before the ceremony began.

The procession up the aisle was beautiful. The bride,
with the four bridesmaids, forming a group previously arranged
and rehearsed ; the collector, followed by his second, imita-
ting his walk and gestures, to the indescribable amusement of



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some theatrical friends in the gallery ; Mr. Crummies, with
an infirm and feeble gait; Mrs. Crummies advancing with
that stage walk, which consists of a stride and a stop alter-
nately ; it was the completest thing ever witnessed. The
ceremony was very quickly disposed of, and all parties pres-
ent having signed the register (for which purpose, when it
came to his turn, Mr. Crummies carefully wiped and put on
an immense pair of spectacles), they went back to breakfast
in high spirits. And here they found Nicholas awaiting their
arrival.

" Now then," said Crummies, who had been assisting Mrs.
Grudden in the preparations, which were on a more extensive
scale than was quite agreeable to the collector. " Breakfast,
breakfast."

No second invitation was required. The company crowded
and squeezed themselves at the table as well as they could,
and fell to, immediately : Miss Petowker blushing very much
when anybody was looking, and eating very much when any-
body was not looking ; and Mr. Lillyvick going to work as
though with the cool resolve, that since the good things
must be paid for by him, he would leave as little as possible
for the Crummleses to eat up afterwards.

% "It's very soon done, sir, isn't it?" inquired Mr. Folair
of the collector, leaning over the table to address him.

" What is soon done, sir ? " returned Mr. Lillyvick.

" The tying up, the fixing oneself with a wife," replied
Mr. Folair. " It don't take long, does it ? "

" No, sir," replied Mr. Lillyvick, coloring. " It does not
take long. And what then, sir ? "

" Oh ! nothing," said the actor. " It don't take a man
long to hang himself, either, eh ? Ha, ha I "

Mr. Lillyvick laid down his knife and fork, and looked
round the table with indignant astonishment.

" To hang himself 1 " repeated Mr. Lillyvick.

A profound silence came upon all, for Mr. Lillyvick was
dignified beyond expression.

" To hang himself ! " cried Mr. Lillyvick again. " Is any
parallel attempted to be drawn v\ this company between
matrimony and hanging ? "

" The noose, you know," said Mr. Folair, a little crest-
fallen.

" The noose, sir ? " retorted Mr. Lillyvick. " Does any
man dare to speak to me of a noose, and Henrietta Pe— — "



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328 NICHOLAS NICKLEB Y.

" Lillyvick," suggested Mr. Crummies.

— " and Henrietta Lillyvick in the same breath ? " said the
collector. "In this house, in the presence of Mr. and Mrs.
Crummies, who have brought up a talented and virtuous
family, to be blessings and phenomenon^ and what not, are
we to hear talk of nooses ? "

" Folair," said Mr. Crummies, deeming it a matter of
decency to be affected by this allusion to himself and partner,
"I'm astonished at you."

" What are you going on in this way at me for ? " urged
the unfortunate actor. " What have I done ? "

" Done, sir ! " cried Mr. Lillyvick, " aimed a blow at the
whole framework of society — "

" And the best and tenderest feelings," added Crummies,
relapsing into the old man.

" And the highest and most estimable of social ties," said
the collector. " Noose ! As if one was caught, trapped, into
the married state, pinned by the leg, instead of going into it
of one's own accord and glorying in the act ! "

" I didn't mean to make it out, that you were caught and
trapped, and pinned by the leg," replied the actor. " I'm
sorry for it ; I can't say any more."

" So you ought to be, sir," returned Mr. Lillyvick ; "and
I am glad to hear that you have enough of feeling left to be
so."

The quarrel appearing to terminate with this reply, Mrs.
Lillyvick considered that the fittest occasion (the attention of
the company being no longer distracted) to burst into tears,
and require the assistance of all four bridesmaids, which was
immediately rendered, though not without some confusion,
for the room being small and the table-cloth long, a whole
detachment of plates were swept off the board at the very
first move. Regardless of this circumstance, however, Mrs.
Lillyvick refused to be comforted until the belligerents had
passed their words that the dispute should be carried no
further, which, after a sufficient show of reluctance, they did,
and from that time Mr. Folair sat in moody silence, content-
ing himself with pinching Nicholas's leg when anything was
said, and so expressing his contempt both for the speaker and
the sentiments to which he gave utterance.

There were a great number of speeches made ; some by
Nicholas, and some by Crummies, and some by the collector ;
two by the master Crummleses in returning thanks for them-



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selves, and one by the phenomenon on behalf of the brides-
maids, at which Mrs. Crummies shed tears. There was some
sinking, too, from Miss Ledrook and Miss Bravassa, and very
likely there might have been more, if the fly-driver, who
stopped to drive the happy pair to the spot where they pro-
posed to take steamboat to Ryde, had not sent in a peremp-
tory message intimating, that if they didn't come directly he
should infallibly demand eighteen-pence over and above hi$
agreement.

This desperate threat effectually broke up the party.
After a most pathetic leave-taking, Mr. Lillyvick and his bride
departed for Ryde, where they were to spend the next two
days in profound retirement, and whither they were accom-
panied by the infant, who had been appointed travelling
bridesmaid on Mr. Lillyvick's express stipulation : as the
steamboat people, deceived by her size, would (he had pre-
viously ascertained) transport her at half-price.

As there was no performance that night, Mr. Crummies
declared his intention of keeping it up till everything to drink
was disposed of ; but Nicholas having to play Romeo for the
first time on the ensuing evening, contrived to slip away in
the midst of a temporary confusion, occasioned by the unex-
pected development of strong symptoms ai inebriety in the
conduct of Mrs. Grudden.

To this act of desertion he was led, not only by his own
inclinations, but by his anxiety on account of Smike, who,
having to sustain tne character of the Apothecary, had been
as yet wholly unable to get any more of the part into his head
than the general idea that he was very hungry, which — per-
haps from old recollections — he had acquired with great apti-
tude.

" I don't know what's to be done, Smike," said Nicholas,
laying down the book. " I am afraid you can't learn it, my
poor fellow."

" I am afraid not " said Smike, shaking his head. ** I
think if you — but that would give you so much trouble."

" What ? " inquired Nicholas. " Never mind me."

" I think," said Smike, " if you were to keep saying it to
me in little bits, over and over again, I should be able to
recollect it from hearing you."

" Do you think so 1 " exclaimed Nicholas. " Well said.
Let us see who tires first. Not I, Smike, trust me. Now then,
'Who calls so loud?'"



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330 NICHOLAS NICKLEB Y.

" ' Who calls so loud ? ' " said Smike.

" ' Who calls so loud ? ' " repeated Nicholas.

" * Who calls so loud ? ' " cried Smike.

Thus they continued to ask each other who called so loud,
over and over again ; and when Smike had that by heart,
Nicholas went to another sentence, and then to two at a
time, and then to three, and so on, until at midnight poor
Smike found to his unspeakable joy that he really began to
remember something about the text.

Early in the morning they went to it again, and Smike,
rendered more confident by the progress he had already
made, got on faster and with better heart. As soon as he be-
gan to acquire the words pretty freely, Nicholas showed him
how he must come in with both hands spread out upon his
stomach, and how he must occasionally rub it, in compliance
with the established form by which people on the stage always
denote that they want something to eat After the morning's
rehearsal they went to work again, nor did they stop, except
for a hasty dinner, until it was time to repair to the theatre
at night.

Never had master a more anxious, humble, docile pupil.
Never had pupil a more patient, unwearying, considerate kind-
hearted master.

As soon as they were dressed, and at every interval when
he was not upon the stage, Nicholas renewed his instructions.
They prospered well. The Romeo was received with hearty
plaudits and unbounded favor, and Smike was pronounced
unanimously, alike by audience and actors, the very prince
and prodigy of Apothecaries.



CHAPTER XXVI.



IS FRAUGHT WITH SOME DANGER TO MISS NICKLEBY'S PEACE

OF MIND.

The place was a handsome suit of private apartments in
Regent Street ; the time was three o'clock in the afternoon to
the dull and plodding, and the first hour of morning to the gay
and spirited ; the persons were Lord Frederick Verisopht, and
his friend Sir Mulberry Hawk.

These distinguished gentlemen were reclining listlessly on a



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couple of sofas, with a table between them, on which were
scattered in rich confusion the materials of an untasted break-
fast Newspapers lay strewn about the room, but these, like
the meal, were neglected and unnoticed ; not, however, be-
cause any flow of conversation prevented the attractions of
the journals from being called into request, for not a word
was exchanged between the two, nor was any sound uttered,
save when one, in tossing about to find an easier resting-place
for his aching head, uttered an exclamation of impatience,
and seemed for the moment to communicate a new restlessness
to his companion.

These appearances would in themselves have furnished a
pretty strong clue to the extent of the debauch of the previous
night, even if there had not been other indications of the
amusements in which it has been passed. A couple of billiard
balls, all mud and dirt, two battered hats, a champagne bottle
with a soiled glove twisted round the neck, to allow of its be-
ing grasped more surely in its capacity of an offensive weapon ;
a broken cane ; a card-case without the top ; an empty purse ;
a watch-guard snapped asunder ; a handful of silver, mingled
with fragments of half-smoked cigars, and their stale and
crumbled ashes ; these, and many other tokens of riot and
disorder, hinted very intelligibly at the nature of last night's
gentlemanly frolics.

Lord Frederick Verisopht was the first to speak. Dropping
his slippered foot on the ground, and, yawning heavily, he
struggled into a sitting posture, and turned his dull languid
eyes towards his friend, to whom he called in a drowsy voice.

" Hallo ! " replied Sir Mulberry, turning round.

" Are we going to lie here all da-a-y ? " said the lord.

" I don't know that we're fit for anything else," replied Sir
Mulberry ; " yet awhile, at least. I haven't a grain of life in
me this morning."

" Life ! " cried Lord Frederick. " I feel as if there would
be nothing so snug and comfortable as to die at once."

" Then why don't you die ? " said Sir Mulberry.

With which inquiry he turned his face away, and seemed
to occupy himself in an attempt to fall asleep.

His hopeful friend and pupil drew a chair to the breakfast
table, and essayed to eat ; but, finding that impossible, lounged
to the window, then loitered up and down the room with his
hand to his fevered head, and finally threw himself again on
his sofa, and roused his friend once more.



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33 2 NICHOLAS NICKLEB Y.

" What the devil's the matter ? " groaned Sir Mulberry,
sitting upright on the couch.

Although Sir Mulberry said this with sufficient ill-humor,
he did not seem to feel himself quite at liberty to remain si-
lent ; for after stretching himself very often, and declaring
with a shiver that it was "infernal cold," he made an experi-
ment at the breakfast table, and proving more successful than
his less-seasoned friend, remained there.

" Suppose," said Sir Mulberry, pausing with a morsel on
the point of the fork, " Suppose we go back to the subject of
little Nickleby, eh?"

" Which little Nickleby ; the money-lender or the ga-a-1 ? "
asked Lord Frederick.

" You take me, I see," replied Sir Mulberry. " The girl,
of course."

" You promised me you'd find her out," said Lord Fred-
erick.

" So I did," rejoined his friend ; "but I have thought fur-
ther of the matter since then. You distrust me in the busi-
ness — you shall find her out yourself."

" Na-ay," remonstrated the other.

" But I say yes," returned his friend. " You shall find
her out yourself. Don't think that I mean, when you can — I
know as well as you that if I did, you could never get sight of
her without me. No. I say you shall find her out — shall —
and I'll put you in the way."

" Now curse me, if you ain't a real, devylish, downright,
thorough-paced friend," said the young lord, on whom this
speech had produced a most reviving effect.

"I'll tell you how," said Mulberry. "She was at that
dinner as a bait for you."

" No ! " cried the young lord. " What the dey "

" As a bait for you," repeated his friend; "old Nickleby
told me so himself."

What a fine old cock it is ! " exclaimed Lord Frederick ;
" a noble rascal I "

"Yes," said Sir Mulberry, "he knew she was a smart
little creature "

" Smart ! " interposed the young lord. " Upon my soul,
Hawk, she's a perfect beauty — a — a picture, a statue, a — a —
upon my soul she is ! "

"Well," replied Sir Mulberry, shrugging hi9 shoulders
and manifesting an indifference, whether he felt it or not ;



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" that's a matter of taste ; if mine doesn't agree with yours,
so much the better."

" Confound it ! " reasoned the lord, " you were thick
enough with her that day, anyhow. I could hardly get in a
word."

" Well enough for once, well enough for once," replied Sir
Mulberry ; " but not worth the trouble of being agreeable to
again. If you seriously want to follow up the niece, tell the
uncle that you must know where she lives and how she lives,
and with whom, or you are no longer a customer of his.
He'll tell you fast enough."

" Why didn't you say this before ? " asked Lord Frederick,
" instead of letting me go on burning, consuming, dragging
out a miserable existence for an a-age ! "

" I didn't know it, in the first place," answered Sir Mulberry
carelessy ; " and in the second, I didn't believe you were so
very much in earnest."

Now, the truth was, that in the interval which had
elapsed since the dinner at Ralph Nickleby's, Sir Mulberry
Hawk had been furtively trying by every means in his power
to discover whence Kate had so suddenly appeared, and
whither she had disappeared. Unassisted by Ralph, how-
ever, with whom he had held no communication since their
angry parting on that occasion, all his efforts were wholly
unavailing, and he had therefore arrived at the determination
of communicating to the young lord the substance of the ad-
mission he had gleaned from that worthy. To this he was
impelled by various considerations ; among which the cer-
tainty of knowing whatever the weak young man knew was
decidedly not the least, as the desire of encountering the
usurer's niece again, and using his utmost arts to reduce her
pride, and revenge himself for her contempt, was uppermost
in his thoughts. It was a politic course of proceeding, and
one which could not fail to redound to his advantage in every
point of view, since the very circumstance of his having ex-
torted from Ralph Nickleby his real design in introducing his
niece to such society, coupled with his extreme disinterested-
ness in communicating it so freely to his friend, could not but
advance his interests in that quarter, and greatly facilitate the
passage of coin (pretty frequent and speedy already) from
the pockets of Lord Frederick Verisopht to those of Sir Mul-
berry Hawk.

Thus reasoned Sir Mulberry, and in pursuance of this



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NICHOLAS NICKLEBY.



reasoning he and his friend soon afterwards repaired to Ralph
Nickleby's, there to execute a plan of operations concerted by
Sir Mulberry himself, avowedly to promote his friend's object,
and really to attain his own.

They found Ralph at home, and alone. As he led them
into the drawing-room, the recollection of the scene which
had taken place there seemed to occur to him, for he cast a
curious look at Sir Mulberry, who bestowed upon it no other
acknowledgment than .a careless smile.

They had a short conference upon some money matters
then in progress, which were scarcely disposed of when the
lordly dupe (in pursuance of his friend's instructions) re-
quested with some embarrassment to speak to Ralph alone.

44 Alone, eh ? " cried Sir Mulberry, affecting surprise.
" Oh, very good. I'll walk into the next room here. Don't
keep me long, that's all."

So saying, Sir Mulberry took up his hat, and humming a
fragment of a song disappeared through the door of com-
munication between the two drawing-rooms, and closed it
after him.

44 Now, my lord," said Ralph, " what is it ?"

" Nickleby," said his client, throwing himself along the
sofa on which he had been previously seated, so as to bring
his lips nearer to the old man's ear, 44 what a pretty creature
your niece is ! "

44 Is she, my lord ? " replied Ralph. " Maybe — maybe. I
don't trouble my head with such matters."

44 You know she's a deyv'lish fine girl," said the client
" You must know that, Nickleby. Come, don't deny that."

44 Yes, I believe she is considered so," replied Ralph.
44 Indeed, I know she is. If I did not, you are an authority
on such points, and your taste, my lord— on all points, indeed
— is undeniable."

Nobody but the young man to whom these words were



Online LibraryCharles DickensThe life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby → online text (page 32 of 79)