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The life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby online

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addressed could have been deaf to the sneering tone in which
they were spoken, or blind to the look of contempt by which
they were accompanied. But Lord Frederick Verisopht was
both, and took them to be complimentary.

* 4 Well," he said, 44 p'raps you're a little right, and p'raps
you're a little wrong — a little of both, Nickleby. I want to
know where this beauty lives, that I may have another peep
at her, Nickleby."

44 Really-; " Ralph began in his usual tones.



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NICHOLAS NICKLEBY.



335



" Don't talk so loud," cried the other, achieving the great
point of his lesson to a miracle. " I don't want Hawk to
hear."

" You know he is your rival, do you ? " said Ralph, look-
ing sharply at him.

" He always is, d-a-amn him," replied the client ; " and I
want to steal a march upon him. Ha, ha, ha ! He'll cut up
so rough, Nickleby, at our talking together without him.
Where does she live, Nickleby, that's all? Only tell me
where she lives, Nickleby."

" He bites," thought Ralph. " He bites."

" Eh, Nickleby, eh ? " pursued the client. " Where does
9he live ? "

"Really, my lord," said Ralph, rubbing his hands slowly
over each other, " I must think before I tell you."

" No, not a bit of it, Nickleby ; you musn't think at all.
Where is it ? "

" No good can come of your knowing," replied Ralph.
u She has been virtuously and well brought up ; to be sure she
is handsome, poor, unprotected ! Poor girl, poor girl."

Ralph ran over this brief summary of Kate's condition as
if it were merely passing through his own mind, and he had
no intention to speak aloud ; but the shrewd sly look which
he directed at his companion as he delivered it, gave this
poor assumption the lie.

" I tell you I only want to see her," cried his client. " A
ma-an may look at a pretty woman without harm, mayn't he ?
Now, where does she live ? You know you're making a for-
tune out of me, Nickleby, and upon my soul nobody shall
ever take me to anybody else, if you only tell me this.

" As you promise that, my lord," said Ralph, with feigned
reluctance, " and as I am most anxious to oblige you, and as
there's no harm in it — no harm — I'll tell you. But you had
better keep it to yourself, my lord ; strictly to yourself."
Ralph pointed to the adjoining room as he spoke, and nodded
expressively.

The young lord, feigning to be equally impressed with the
necessity of this precaution, Ralph disclosed the present ad-
dress and occupation of his niece, observing that from what he
heard of the family they appeared very ambitious to have
distinguished acquaintances, and that a lord could, doubtless,
introduce himself with great ease, if he felt disposed.

" Your object being only to see her again," said Ralph,
" you could effect it at any time you chose by that means."



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336 NICHOLAS NICKLEB Y.

Lord Frederick acknowledged the bint with a great many
squeezes of Ralph's hard, horny hand, and whispering that
they would now do well to close the conversation, called to
Sir Mulberry Hawk that he might come back.

" I thought you had gone to sleep," said Sir Mulberry, re-
appearing with an ill-tempered air.

" Sorry to detain you/' replied the gull ; " but Nickleby
has been so ama-azingly funny that I couldn't tear myself
away."

" No, no," said Ralph ; " it was all his lordship. You
know what a witty, humorous, elegant, accomplished man
Lord Frederick is. Mind the step, my lord — Sir Mulberry,
pray give way."

With such courtesies as these, and many low bows, and
the same cold sneer upon his face all the while, Ralph busied
himself in showing his visitors down stairs, and otherwise than
by the slightest possible motion about the corners of his
mouth, returned no show of answer to the look of admiration
with which Sir Mulberry Hawk seemed to compliment him on
being such an accomplished and most consummate scoundrel

There had been a ring at the bell a Tew moments before,
which was answered by Newman Noggs just as they reached
the hall. In the ordinary course of business Newman would
have either admitted the new-comer in silence, or have re-
quested him or her to stand aside while the gentlemen passed
out. But he no sooner saw who it was, than as if for some
private reason of his own, he boldly departed from the estab-
lished custom of Ralph's mansion in business hours, and look-
ing towards the respectable trio who were approaching, cried
in a loud and sonorous voice : " Mrs. Nickleby ! "

" Mrs. Nickleby ! " cried Sir Mulberry Hawk, as his friend
looked back, and stared him in the face.

It was, indeed, that well-intentioned lady, who, haying
received an offer for the empty house in the city directed to
the landlord, had brought it post-haste to Mr. Nickleby with-
out delay.

" NoDodyjvw know," said Ralph. " Step into the office,
my — my— dear. I'll be with you directly."

" Nobody I know ! " cried Sir Mulberry Hawk, advancing
to the astonished lady. " Is this Mrs. Nickleby — the mother
of Miss Nickleby — the delightful creature that I had the hap-
piness of meeting in this house the very last time I dined
here ! But no ; " said Sir Mulberry, stopping short. " No, it



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NICHOLAS NICKLEB Y. 337

can't be. There is the same cast of features, the same inde-
scribable air of — But no, no. This lady is too young for that."

" I think you can tell the gentleman, brother-in-law, if it
concerns him to know," said Mrs. Nickleby, acknowledging
the compliment with a graceful bend, " that Kate Nickleby is
my daughter."

" Her daughter, my lord ! " cried Sir Mulberry, turning to
his friend. " This lady's daughter, my lord."

"My lord!" thought Mrs. Nickleby. "Well, I never
did—! "

" This, then, my lord," said Sir Mulberry, "is the lady to
whose obliging marriage we owe so much happiness. This
lady is the mother of sweet Miss Nickleby. Do you observe
the extraordinary likeness, my lord? Nickleby — introduce
us."

Ralph did so, in a kind of desperation.

" Upon my soul, it's a most delightful thing," said Lord
Frederick, pressing forward : " How de do ? "

Mrs. Nickleby was too much flurried by these uncommonly
kind salutations, and her regrets at not having on her other
bonnet, to make any immediate reply, so she merely continued
to bend and smile, and betray great agitation.

" A — and how is Miss Nickleby ? " said Lord Frederick.
" Well, I hope ? "

" She is quite well, I'm obliged to you, my lord," returned
Mrs. Nickleby, recovering. " Quite well. She wasn't well
for some days after that day she dined here, and I can't help
thinking, that she caught cold in that hackney-coach coming
home : Hackney-coaches, my lord, are such nasty things, that
it's almost better to walk at any time, for although I believe a
hackney-coachman can be transported for life, if he has a
broken window, still they are so reckless, that they nearly all
have broken windows. I once had a swelled face for six weeks,
my lord, from riding in a hackney-coach — I think it was a hack-
ney-coach," said Mrs. Nickleby reflecting, " though I'm not
quite certain, whether it wasn't a chariot ; at all events I
know it was a dark green, with a very long number, beginning
with a nought and ending with a nine — no, beginning with a
nine, and ending with a nought, that was it, and of course the
stamp-office people would know at once whether it was a
coach or a chariot if any inquiries were made there — however
that was, there it was with a broken window, and there was I
for six weeks with a swelled face — I think that was the very

22



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338 NICHOLAS NICKLEBY,

same hackney-coach, that we found qut afterwards, had the top
open all the time, and we should never even have known it,
if they hadn't charged us a shilling an hottr extra for having it
open, which it seems is the law, or was then, and a most
shameful law it appears to be — I don't understand the subject,
but I should say the corn Laws could be nothing to that act
of Parliament."

Having pretty well run herself out by this time, Mrs. Nick-
leby stopped as suddenly as she had started off, and repeated
that Kate was quite well. " Indeed," said Mrs. Nickleby,
" I don't think she ever was better, since she had the hooping-
cough, scarlet-fever and measles, all at the same time, and
that's the fact."

" Is that letter for me ? " growled Ralph, pointing to the
little packet Mrs. Nickleby held in her hand.

" For you, brother-in-law," replied Mrs. Nickleby, "and I
walked all the way up here on purpose to give it you."

" All the way up here ! " cried Sir Mulberry, seizing upon
the chance of discovering where Mrs. Nickleby had come from.
" What a confounded distance ! How far do you call it
now?"

" How far do I call it ! " said Mrs. Nickleby. " Let me
see. It's just a mile, from our door to the Old Bailey."

" No, no. Not so much as that," urged Sir Mulberry.

" Oh ! It is indeed," said Mrs. Nickleby. " I appeal to
his lordship."

" I should decidedly say it was a mile," remarked Lord
Frederick, with a solemn aspect.

"It must be ; it can't be a yard less," said Mrs. Nickleby.
" All down Newgate Street, all down Cheapside, ail up Lom-
bard Street, down Gracechurch Street, and along Thames
Street, as far as Spigwiffin's Wharf. Oh ! It's a mile."

" Yes, on second thoughts I should say it was," replied
Sir Mulberry. " But you don't surely mean to walk all the
way back ? "

" Oh, no," rejoined Mrs. Nickleby. " I shall go back in
ah omnibus. I didn't travel about in omnibuses, when my poor
dear Nicholas was alive, brother-in-law. But as it is, you
know — "

" Yes, yes," replied Ralph impatiently, "and you had
better get back before dark."

" Thank you, brother-in-law, so I had," returned Mrs.
Nickleby. " I think I had better say good-by, at once."



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NICHOLAS NICKLEBY. 339

" Not stop and — rest ? " said Ralph, who seldom offered
refreshments unless something was to be got by it.

" Oh dear me no," returned Mrs. Nickleby, glancing at
the dial.

" Lord Frederick," said Sir Mulberry, " we are going Mrs.
Nickleby's way. We'll see her safe to the omnibus ? "

" By all means. Ye-es."

"Oh! I really couldn't think of it!" said Mrs. Nick-
leby.

But Sir Mulberry Hawk and Lord Frederick were per-
emptory in their politeness, and leaving Ralph, who seemed
to think, not unwisely, that he looked less ridiculous as a mere
spectator, than he would have done if he had taken any part
in these proceedings, they quitted the house with Mrs. Nickleby
between them ; that good lady in a perfect ecstasy of satisfac-
tion, no less with the attentions shown her by two titled gen-
tlemen, than with the conviction that Kate might now pick
and choose, at least between two, large fortunes, and most
unexceptionable husbands.

As she was carried away for the moment by an irresistible
train of thought, all connected with her daughter's future
greatness, Sir Mulberry Hawk and his friend exchanged
glances over the top of the bonnet which the poor lady so
much regretted not having left at home, and proceeded to dilate
with great rapture, but much respect, on the manifold per-
fections of Miss Nickleby.

" What a delight, what a comfort, what a happiness, this
amiable creature must be to you," said Sir Mulberry, throw-
ing into his voice an indication of the warmest feeling.

" She is indeed, sir," replied Mrs. Nickleby; "she is the
sweetest-tempered, kindest-hearted creature — and so clever ! "

" She looks clayver," said Lord Frederick Verisopht, with
the air of a judge of cleverness.

" I assure you she is,, my lord," returned Mrs. Nickleby.
" When she was at school in Devonshire, she was universally
allowed to be beyond all exception the very cleverest girl there,
and there were a great many very clever ones too, and that's
the truth — twenty-five young ladies, fifty guineas a-year without
the et-ceteras, both the Miss Dowdies, the mo'st accomplished,
elegant, fascinating creatures — Oh dear me ! " said Mrs.
Nickleby, " I never shall forget what pleasure she used to
give me and her poor dear papa, when she was at that school,
never — such a delightful letter every half-year, telling us that



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3 4 o NICHOLAS NICKLEBY.

she was the first pupil in the whole establishment, and had
made more progress than anybody else ! I can scarcely bear
to think of it even now. The girls wrote all the letters them-
selves," added Mrs. Nickleby, " and the writing-master touched
them up afterwards with a magnifying glass and a silver pen ;
at least I think they wrote them, though Kate was never quite
certain about that, because she didn't know the handwriting
of hers again ; but any way, I know it was a circular which
they all copied, and of course it was a very gratifying thing —
very gratifying."

With similar recollections Mrs. Nickleby beguiled the
tediousness of the way, until they reached the omnibus, which
the extreme politeness of her new friends would not allow
them to leave until it actually started, when they took their
hats, as Mrs. Nickleby solemnly assured her hearers on many
subsequent occasions, " completely off," , and kissed their
straw-colored kid gloves till they were no longer visible.

Mrs. Nickleby leant back in the furthest corner of the
conveyance, and, closing her eyes, resigned herself to a host
of most pleasing meditations. Kate had never said a word
about having met either of these gentlemen ; *' that," she
thought, " argues that she is strongly prepossessed in favor
of one of them." Then the question arose, which one could
it be. The lord was the youngest, and his title was certainly
the grandest ; still Kate was not the girl to be swayed by such
considerations as these. " I will never put any constraint
upon her inclinations," said Mrs. Nickleby to herself; "but
upon my word I think there's no comparison between his
lordship and Sir Mulberry. Sir Mulberry is such an attentive
gentlemanly creature, so much manner, such a fine man, and
has so much to say for himself. I hope it's Sir Mulberry ;
I think it must be Sir Mulberry ! " And then her thoughts
flew back to her old predictions, and the number of times
she had said, that Kate with no fortune would marry better
than other people's daughters with thousands ; and, as she
pictured with the brightness of a mother's fancy all the
beauty and grace of the poor girl who had struggled so cheer-
fully with her new life of hardship and trial, her heart grew too
full, and the tears trickled down her face.

Meanwhile, Ralph walked to and fro in his little back
office, troubled in mind by what had just occurred. To say
that Ralph loved or cared for — in the most ordinary accepta-
tion of those terms — any one of God's creatures, would be the



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NICHOLAS NIC fCLEBY. 34I

wildest fiction. Still, there had somehow stolen upon him
from time to time a thought of his niece which was tinged
with compassion and pity ; breaking through the dull cloud
of dislike or indifference which darkened men and women in
his eyes, there was, in her case, the faintest gleam of light — a
most feeble and sickly ray at the best of times — but there it "
was, and it showed the poor girl in a better and purer aspect
than any in which he had looked on human nature yet.

" I wish," thought Ralph, " I had never done this. And
yet it will keep this boy to me, while there is money to be
made. Selling a girl — throwing her in the way of temptation,
and insult, and coarse speech. Nearly two thousand pounds
profit from him already though. Pshaw! match-making
mothers do the same thing every day."

He sat down, and told the chances, for and against, on
his fingers.

" If I had not put them in the right track to-day," thought
Ralph, " this foolish woman would have done so. Well. If
her daughter is as true to herself as she should be from
what I have seen, what harm ensues ? A little teazing, a little
humbling, a few tears. Yes," said Ralph, aloud, as he locked
his iron safe. " She must take her chance. She must take
her chance."



CHAPTER XXVII.



MRS. NICKLEBY BECOMES ACQUAINTED WITH MESSRS. PYKE
AND PLUCK, WHOSE AFFECTION AND INTEREST ARE BEYOND
ALL BOUNDS.

Mrs. Nickleby had not felt so proud and important for
many a day, as when, on reaching home, she gave herself
wholly up to the pleasant visions which had accompanied her
on her way thither. Lady Mulberry Hawk — that was the
prevalent idea. Lady Mulberry Hawk ! — On Tuesday last,
at St. George's, Hanover-square, by the Right Reverend the
Bishop of Llandaff,, Sir Mulberry Hawk, of Mulberry Castle,
North Wales, to Catherine, only daughter of the late Nicholas
Nickleby, Esquire, of Devonshire. " Upon my word ! " cried
Mrs. Nicholas Nickleby, " it sounds very well."

Having despatched the ceremony, with its attendant fes-



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3 42 NICHOLAS NICKLEB V.

tivities, to the perfect satisfaction of her own mind, the san-
guine mother pictured to her imagination a long train of honors
and distinctions which could not fail to accompany Kate in
her new and brilliant sphere. She would be presented at
court, of course. On the anniversary of her birthday, which
was upon the nineteenth of July (" at ten minutes past three
o'clock in the morning," thought Mrs. Nickleby in a paren-
thesis, " for I recollect asking what o'clock it was, ,, ) Sir Mul-
berry would give a great feast to all his tenants, and would
return them three and a half per cent, on the amount of their
last half-year's rent, as would be fully described and recorded
in the fashionable intelligence, to the immeasurable delight
and admiration of all the readers thereof. Kate's picture,
too, would be in at least half-a-dozen of the annuals, and on
the opposite page would appear, in delicate type, " Lines on
contemplating the Portrait of Lady Mulberry Hawk. By Sir
Dingleby Dabber. Perhaps some one annual, of more com-
prehensive design than its fellows, might even contain a por-
trait of the mother of Lady Mulberry Hawk, with lines by the
father of Sir Dingleby Dabber. More unlikely things had
come to pass. Less interesting portraits had appeared. As
this thought occurred to the good lady, her countenance un-
consciously assumed that compound expression of simpering
and sleepiness which, being common to all such portraits, is
perhaps one reason why they are always so charming and
agreeable.

With such triumphs of aerial architecture did Mrs. Nickle-
by occupy the whole evening after her accidental introduction
to Ralph's titled friends ; and dreams, no less prophetic and
equally promising, haunted her sleep that night. She was
preparing for her frugal dinner next day, still occupied with the
same ideas — a little softened down perhaps by sleep and
daylight — when the girl who attended her partly for company,
and partly to assist in the household affairs, rushed into the
room in unwonted agitation, and announced that two gentle-
men were waiting in the passage for permission to walk up
stairs.

" Bless my heart ! " cried Mrs. Nickleby, hastily arranging
her cap and front, " if it should be — dear me, standing in the
passage all this time — why don't you go and ask them to
walk up, you stupid thing ? "

While the girl was gone on this errand, Mrs. Nickleby
hastily swept into a cupboard all vestiges of eating and drink-



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NICHOLAS NICKLEB Y. 343

ing; which she had scarcely done, and seated herself with
looks as collected as she could assume, when two gentlemen,
both perfect strangers, presented themselves.

" How do you do ? " said one gentleman, laying great
stress on the last word of the inquiry.

u How do you do ? " said the other gentleman, altering
the emphasis, as if to give variety to the salutation.

Mrs. Nickleby curtseyed and smiled, and curtseyed again,
and remarked, rubbing her hands as she did so, that she
hadn't the — really — the honor to —

" To know us," said the first gentleman. " The loss has
been ours, Mrs. Nickleby. Has the loss been ours, Pyke ? "

" It has, Pluck," answered the other gentleman.

" We have regretted it very often, I believe, Pyke ? " said
the first gentleman.

" Very often; Pluck," answered the second.

" But now," said the first gentleman, " now we have the
happiness we have pined and languished for. Have we pined
and languished for this happiness, Pyke, or have we not ? "

" You know we have, Pluck," said Pyke, reproachfully.

" You hear him, ma'am ? " said Mr. Pluck, looking
round ; " you hear the unimpeachable testimony of my friend
Pyke — that reminds me, — formalities, formalities, must not be
neglected in civilized society. Pyke — Mrs. Nickleby."

Mr. Pyke laid his hand upon his heart, and bowed low.

" Whether I shall introduce myself with the same formal-
ity," said Mr. Pluck — " whether I shall say myself that my
name is Pluck, or whether I shall ask my friend Pyke (who
being now regularly introduced, is competent to the office) to
state for me, Mrs. Nickleby, that my name is Pluck ; whether
I shall claim your acquaintance on the plain ground of the
strong interest I take in your welfare, or whether I shall
make myself known to you as the friend of Sir Mulberry
Hawk — these, Mrs. Nickleby, are considerations which I
leave to you to determine."

" Any friend of Sir Mulberry Hawk's requires no better
introduction to me," observed Mrs. Nickleby, graciously.

"It is delightful to hear you say so," said Mr. Pluck,
drawing a chair close to Mrs. Nickleby, and seating himself.
" It is refreshing to know that you hold my excellent friend,
Sir. Mulberry, in such high esteem.* A word in your ear, Mrs.
Nickleby. When Sir Mulberry knows it, he will be a happy
man — I say, Mrs, Nickleby, a happy man. Pyke, be seated."



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NICHOLAS NICKLEBY.



" My good opinion," said Mrs. Nickleby, and the poor
lady exulted in the idea that she was marvellously sly : " my
good opinion can be of very little consequence to a gentleman
like Sir Mulberry."

" Of little consequence ! " exclaimed Mr. Pluck. " Pyke,
of what consequence to our friend, Sir Mulberry, is the good
opinion of Mrs. Nickleby ? "

" Of what consequence ? " echoed Pyke.

"Ay," repeated Pluck; "is it of the greatest conse-
quence ? "

" Of the very greatest consequence," replied Pyke.

"Mrs. Nickleby cannot be ignorant," said Mr. Pluck, "of
the immense impression which that sweet girl has — "

" Pluck ! " said his friend. " beware ! "

" Pyke is right," mutterea Mr. Pluck, after a short pause;
" I was not to mention it. Pyke is very right. Thank you,
Pyke." *

" Well now, really ! " thought Mrs. Nickleby within her-
self. " Such delicacy as that, I never saw ! "

Mr. Pluck, after feigning to be in a condition of great
embarrassment for some minutes, resumed the conversation
by entreating Mrs. Nickleby to take no heed of what he had
inadvertently said — to consider him imprudent, rash, injudi-
cious. The only stipulation he would make in his own favor
was, that she should give him credit for the best intentions.

" But when," said Mr. Pluck, " when I see so much sweet-
ness and beauty on the one hand, and so much ardor and
devotion on the other, I — pardon me, Pyke, I didn't intend to
resume that theme. Change the subject, Pyke."

"We promised Sir Mulberry and Lord Frederick," said
Pyke, " that we'd call this morning and inquire whether you
took any cold last night."

" Not the least in the world last night, sir," replied Mrs.
Nickleby, " with many thanks to his lordship and Sir Mul-
berry for doing me the honor to inquire ; not the least —
which is the more singular, as I really am very subject to colds,
indeed — very subject. I had a cold once," said Mrs. Nickle-
by, " I think it was in the year eighteen hundred and seven-
teen ; let me see, four and five are nine, and — yes, eighteen
hundred and seventeen, that I thought I never should get rid
of ; actually and seriously,' that I thought I never should get
rid of. I was only cured at last by a remedy that I don't
know whether you ever happened to hear of, Mr. Pluck.



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NICHOLAS NICKLEBY.



345



You have a gallon of water as hot as you can possibly bear
it, with a pound of salt and sixpen'orth of the finest bran,
and sit with your head in it for twenty minutes every night
just before going to bed ; at least, I don't mean your head —
your feet. It's a most extraordinary cure — a most extraordi-
nary cure. I used it for the first time, I recollect, the day



Online LibraryCharles DickensThe life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby → online text (page 33 of 79)