Charles Dickens.

The life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby online

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after Christmas Day, and by the middle of April following
the cold was gone. It seems quite a miracle when you come
to think of it, for I had it ever since the beginning of Sep-
tember."

" What an afflicting calamity ! " said Mr. Pyke.

" Perfectly horrid ! " exclaimed Mr. Pluck.

" But it's worth the pain of hearing, only to know that
Mrs. Nickleby recovered it, isn't it, Pluck ? " cried Mr. Pyke.

" That is the circumstance which gives it such a thrilling
interest," replied Mr. Pluck.

" But come," said Pyke, as if suddenly recollecting him-
self ; " we must not forget our mission in the pleasure of this
interview. We come on a mission, Mrs. Nickleby."

" On a mission," exclaimed that good lady, to whose mind
a definitive proposal of marriage for Kate at once presented
itself in lively colors.

" From Sir Mulberry, replied Pyke. " You must be very
dull here."

" Rather dull, I confess," said Mrs. Nickleby.

" We bring the compliments of Sir Mulberry Hawk, and a
thousand entreaties that you'll take a seat in a private box at
the play to-night," said Mr. Pluck.

" Oh dear I " said Mrs. Nickleby, " I never go out at all,
never."

" And that is the very reason, my dear Mrs. Nickleby,
why you should go out to-night," retorted Mr. Pluck. " Pyke,
entreat Mrs. Nickleby."

" Oh, pray do," said Pyke.

" You positively must," urged Pluck.

" You are very kind," said Mrs. Nickleby, hesitating ;
"but—"

" There's not a but in the case, my dear Mrs. Nickleby,"
remonstrated Mr. Pluck ; " not such a word in the vocabulary.
Your brother-in-law joins us, Lord Frederick joins us, Sir
Mulberry joins us, Pyke joins us — a refusal is out of the ques-
tion. Sir Mulberry sends a carriage for you — twenty minutes
before seven to the moment — you'll not be so cruel as to dis-
appoint the whole party, Mrs. Nickleby ? "

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346 NICHOLAS NICKLEBY.

" You are so very pressing, that I scarcely know what to
say," replied the worthy lady.

" Say nothing ; not a word, not a word, my dearest
madam," urged Mr. Pluck. " Mrs. Nickleby," said that ex-
cellent gentleman, lowering his voice, " there is the most
trifling, the most excusable breach of confidence in what I
am about to say ; and yet if my friend Pyke there overheard
it — such is that man's delicate sense of honor, Mrs. Nickleby
— he'd have me out before dinner-time."

" Mrs. Nickleby cast an apprehensive glance at the war-
like Pyke, who had walked to the window ; and Mr. Pluck,
squeezing her hand, went on :

" Your daughter has made a conquest on which I may
congratulate you. Sir Mulberry, my dear ma'am, Sir Mul-
berry is her devoted slave. Hem ! "

" Hah ! " cried Mr. Pyke, at this juncture, snatching some-
thing from the chimney-piece with a theatrical air. " What
is this ! what do I behold ! "

" What do you behold, my dear fellow ? " asked Mr. Pluck.

"It- is the face, the countenance, the expression," cried
Mr. Pyke, falling into his chair with a miniature in his hand;
" feebly portrayed, imperfectly caught, but still the face, the
countenance, the expression."

" I recognize it at this distance ! " exclaimed Mr. Pluck,
in a fit of enthusiasm. " Is it not, my dear madam, the faint
similitude of — "

" It is my daughter's portrait," said Mrs. Nickleby, with
great pride. And so it was. And little Miss La Creevy had
brought it home for inspection only two nights before.

Mr. Pyke no sooner ascertained that he was quite right in
his conjecture, than he launched into the most extravagant
encomiums of the divine original ; and in the warmth of his
enthusiasm kissed the picture a thousand times, while Mr.
Pluck pressed Mrs. Nickleby's hand to his heart, and con-
gratulated her on the possession of such a daughter, with so
much earnestness and affection, that the tears stood, or
seemed to stand, in his eyes. Poor Mrs. Nickleby, who had
listened in a state of enviable complacency at first, became at
length quite overpowered by these tokens of regard for, and
attachment to, the family ; and even the servant girl, who had
peeped in at the door, remained rooted to the spot, in aston-
ishment at the ecstasies of the two friendly visitors.

By degrees these raptures subsided, and Mrs. Nickleby went



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on to entertain her guests with a lament over her fallen for-
tunes, and a picturesque account of her old house in the coun-
try ; comprising a full description of the different apartments,
not forgetting the little store-room, and a lively recollection of
how many steps you went down to get into the garden, and
which way you turned when you came out at the parlor-door,
and what capital fixtures there were in the kitchen. This last
reflection naturally conducted her into* the wash-house, where
she stumbled upon the brewing utensils, among which she
might have wandered for an hour, if the mere mention of
those implements had not, by an association of ideas, in-
stantly reminded Mr. Pyke that he was " amazing thirsty."

" And I'll tell you what," said Mr. Pyke ; " if you'll send
round to the public-house for a pot of mild half-and-half, pos-
itively and actually I'll drink it."

And positively and actually Mr. Pyke did drink it, and
Mr. Pluck helped him, while Mrs. Nickleby looked on in di-
vided admiration of the condescension of the two, and the ap-
titude with which they accommodated themselves to the pew-
ter-pot ; in explanation of which seeming marvel it may be
here observed, that gentlemen who, like Messrs. Pyke and
Pluck, live upon their wits (or not so much, perhaps, upon
the presence of their own wits as upon the absence of wits in
other people) are occasionally reduced to very narrow shifts
and straits, and are at such periods accustomed to regale
themselves in a very simple and primitive manner.

" At twenty minutes before seven, then," said Mr. Pyke,
rising, " the coach will be here. One more look — one little
look — at that sweet face. Ah 1 here it is. Unmoved, un-
changed ! " This by the way was a very remarkable circum-
stance, miniatures being liable to so many changes of expres-
sion. "Oh,. Pluck! Pluck!"

Mr. Pluck made no other reply than kissing Mrs. Nick-
leby's hand with a great show of feeling and attachment ;
Mr. Pyke having done the same, both gentlemen hastily with-
drew.

Mrs. Nickleby was commonly in the habit of giving herself
credit for a pretty tolerable share of penetration and acute-
ness, but she had never felt so satisfied with her own sharp-
sightedness as she did that day. She had found it all out
the night before. She had never seen Sir Mulberry and
Kate together — never even heard Sir Mulberry's name — and
yet hadn't she said to herself from the very first,*that she



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348 NICHOLAS NICKLEBY

saw how the case stood ? and what a triumph it was, for
there was now no doubt about it. If these flattering atten-
tions to herself were not sufficient proofs, Sir Mulberry's con-
fidential friend had suffered the secret to escape him in so
many words. " I am quite in love with that dear Mr. Pluck,
I declare I am," said Mrs. Nickleby.

There was one great source of uneasiness in the midst of
this good fortune, and that was the having nobody by, to
whom she could confide it. Once or twice she almost resolved
to walk straight to Miss La Creevy's and tell it all to her.
" But I don't know," thought Mrs. Nickleby ; " she is a very
worthy person, but I am afraid too much beneath Sir Mul-
berry's station for us to make a companion of. Poor thing ! "
Acting upon this grave consideration she rejected the idea of
taking the little portrait-painter into her confidence, and con-
tented herself with holding out sundry vague and mysterious
hopes of preferment to the servant-girl, who received these
obscure hints of dawning greatness with much veneration and
respect.

Punctual to its time came the promised vehicle, which was
no hackney coach, but a private chariot, having behind it a
footman, whose legs, although somewhat large for his body,
might, as mere abstract legs, have set themselves up for
models at the Royal Academy. It was quite exhilarating to
hear the clash and bustle with which he banged the door and
jumped up behind after Mrs. Nickleby was in ; and as that
good lady was perfectly unconscious that he applied the gold-
headed end of his long stick to his nose, and so telegraphed
most disrespectfully to the coachman over her very head, she
sat in a state of much stiffness and dignity, not a little proud
of her position.

At the theatre entrance there was more banging and more
bustle, and there were also Messrs. Pyke and Pluck waiting
to escort her to her box ; and so polite were they that Mr.
Pyke threatened with many oaths to " smifligate " a very old
man with a lantern who accidentally stumbled in her way
— to the great terror of Mrs. Nickleby, who, conjecturing
more from Mr. Pyke's excitement than any previous acquaint-
ance with the etymology of the word that smifligation and
bloodshed must be in the main one and the same thing, was
alarmed beyond expression, lest something should occur.
Fortunately, however, Mr. Pyke confined himself to mere
verbal smifligation, and they reached their box with no more



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NICHOLAS NICKLEB Y. 349

serious interruption by the way, than a desire on the part of
the same pugnacious gentleman to " smash " the assistant box-
keeper for happening to mistake the number.

Mrs. Nickleby had scarcely been put away behind the
curtain of the box in an arm chair, when Sir Mulberry and
Lord Frederick Verisopht arrived, arrayed from the crowns
of their heads to the tips of their gloves, and from the tips of
their gloves to the toes of their boots, in the most elegant and
costly manner. Sir Mulberry was a little hoarser than on the
previous day, and Lord Frederick looked rather sleepy and
queer : from which tokens, as well as from the circumstance
of their both being to a trifling extent unsteady on their legs,
Mrs. Nickleby justly concluded that they had taken dinner.

" We have been — we have been — toasting your lovely
daughter, Mrs. Nickleby," whispered Sir Mulbeiry, sitting
down behind her.

" Oh, ho ! " thought that knowing lady ; " wine in, truth
out. — You are very kind, Sir Mulberry."

" No, no, upon my soul ! " replied Sir Mulberry Hawk.
" It's you that's kind, upon my soul it is. It was so kind of
you to come to-night."

" So very kind of you to invite me, you mean, Sir Mulberry,"
replied Mrs. Nickleby, tossing her head, and looking pro-
digiously sly.

" I am so anxious to know you, so anxious to cultivate
your good opinion, so desirous that there should be a delicious
kind of harmonious family understanding between us," said
Sir Mulberry, " that you mustn't think I'm disinterested in
what I do. I'm infernal selfish ; I am — upon my soul I am."

" I am sure you can't be selfish, Sir ^ulberry," replied
Mrs. Nickleby. ' " You have much too open and generous a
countenance for that."

" What an extraordinary observer you are ! " said Sir
Mulberry Hawk.

"Oh no, indeed, I don't see very far into things, Sir
Mulberry," replied Mrs. Nickleby, in a tone of voice which
left the baronet to infer that she saw very far indeed.

" I am quite afraid of you," said the baronet. " Upon my
soul," repeated Sir Mulberry, looking round to his compan-
ions ; "lam afraid of Mrs. Nickleby. She is so immensely
sharp."

Messrs. Pyke and Pluck shook their heads mysteriously,
and observed together that they had found that out long ago ;



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NICHOLAS NICKLEBY.



upon which Mrs. Nickleby tittered, and Sir Mulberry laughed,
and Pyke and Pluck roared. .

'• But where's my brother-in-law, Sir Mulberry? " inquired
Mrs. Nickleby. " I shouldn't be here without him. I hope
he's coming."

" Pyke," said Sir Mulberry, taking out his toothpick and
lolling back in his chair, as if he were too lazy to invent a
reply to this question. " Where's Ralph Nickleby ? "

" Pluck," said Pyke, imitating the baronet's action, and
turning the lie over to his friend, " where's Ralph Nickleby ? "

Mr. Pluck was about to return some evasive reply, when
the bustle caused by a party entering the next box seemed to
attract the attention of all four gentlemen, who exchanged
glances of much meaning. The new party beginning to con-
verse together, Sir Mulberry suddenly assumed the character
of a most attentive listener, and implored his friends not to
breathe — not to breathe.

" Why not ? " said Mrs. Nickleby. " What is the matter ? "

" Hush ! " replied Sir Mulberry, laying his hand on her
arm. " Lord Frederick, do you recognize the tones of that



voice



>"



" Deyvle take me if I didn't think it was the voice of Miss
Nickleby."

" Lor, my lord ! " cried Miss Nickleby's mamma, thrusting
her head round the curtain. " Why actually — Kate, my dear,
Kate."

" You here, mamma ! . Is it possible ! "

" Possible, my dear ? Yes."

" Why who— who on earth is that you have with you,
mamma ? " said Kate, shrinking back as she caught sight of a
man smiling and kissing his hand.

" Who do you suppose, my dear ? " replied Mrs. Nickleby,
bending towards Mrs. Wititterly, and speaking a little louder
for that lady's edification. " There's Mr. Pyke, Mr. Pluck, Sir
Mulberry Hawk, and Lord Frederick Verisopht."

" Gracious Heaven ! " thought Kate hurriedly. " How
comes she in such society ! "

Now, Kate thought thus so hurriedly, and the surprise was
so great, and moreover brought back so forcibly the recollec-
tion of what had passed at Ralph's delectable dinner, that she
turned extremely pale and appeared greatly agitated, which
symptoms being observed by Mrs. Nickleby, were at once
set down by that acute lady as being caused and occasioned



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NICHOLAS NICKLEBY, 3SI

by violent love. But, although she was in no small degree
delighted by this discovery which reflected so much credit on
her own quickness of perception, it did not lessen her motherly
anxiety in Kate's behalf ; and accordingly, with a vast quantity
of trepidation, she quitted her own box to hasten into that of
Mrs. Wititterly. Mrs. Wititterly, keenly alive to the glory of
having a lord and a baronet among her visiting acquaintance,
lost no time in signing to Mr. Wititterly to open the door, and
thus it was that in less than thirty seconds Mrs. Nickleby's
party had made an irruption into Mrs. Wititterly's box, which
it filled to the very door, there being in fact only room for
Messrs. Pyke and Pluck to get in their heads and waistcoats.

" My deaf Kate," said Mrs. Nickleby, kissing her daughter
affectionately. " How ill you looked a moment ago ! You
quite frightened me, I declare I "

" It was mere fancy, mamma — the — the — reflection of the
lights perhaps," replied Kate, glancing nervously round, and
finding it impossible to whisper any caution or explanation.

" Don't you see Sir Mulberry Hawk, my dear ? "

Kate bowed slightly, and biting her lip turned her head
towards the stage.

But Sir Mulberry Hawk was not to be so easily repulsed,
for he advanced with extended hand ; and Mrs. Nickleby
officiously informing Kate of this circumstance, she was
obliged to extend her own. Sir Mulberry detained it while
he murmured a profusion of compliments, which Kate, remem-
bering what had passed between them, rightly considered as
so many aggravations of the insult he had already put upon
her. Then followed the recognition of Lord Frederick Veri-
sopht, and then the greeting of Mr. Pyke, and then that of Mr.
Pluck, and finally, to complete the young lady's mortification,
she was compelled at Mrs. Wititterly's request to perform
the ceremony of introducing the odious persons, whom she
regarded with the utmost indignation and abhorrence.

" Mrs. Wititterly is delighted," said Mr. Wititterly, rubbing
his hands ; " delighted, my lord, I am sure, with this oppor-
tunity of contracting an acquaintance which, I trust, my lord,
we shall improve. Julia, my dear, you must not allow your-
self to be too much excited, you must not. Indeed you must
not. Mrs. Wititterly is of a most excitable nature, Sir Mul-
berry. The snuff of a candle, the wick of a lamp, the bloom
of a peach, the down on a butterfly. You might blow her
away, my lord ; you might blow her away."



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35 2 NICHOLAS NICKLEB Y.

Sir Mulberry seemed to think that it would be a great
convenience if the lady could be blown away. He said, how-
ever, that the delight was mutual, and Lord Frederick added
that it was mutual, whereupon Messrs. Pike and Pluck were
heard to murmur from the distance that it was very mutual
indeed.

" I take an interest, my lord," said Mrs. Wititterly, with
a faint smile, " such an interest in the drama."

" Ye — es. It's very interesting," replied Lord Frederick.

" I'm always ill after Shakspeare," said Mrs. Wititterly.
" I scarcely exist the next day ; I find the re-action so very
great after a tragedy, my lord, and Shakspeare is such a deli-
cious creature."

" Ye — es ! " replied Lord Frederick. " He was a clayver
man."

" Do you know, my lord," said Mrs. Wititterly, after a
lo»g silence, " I find I take so much more interest in his plays,
after having been to that dear little dull house he was born
in ! Were you ever there, my lord ? "

" No, nayver," replied my lord.

" Then really you ought to go, my lord," returned Mrs.
Wititterly, in very languid and drawling accents. " I don't
know how it is, but after you've seen the place and writteu
your name in the little book, somehow or other you seem to
be inspired ; it kindles up quite a fire within one."

" Ye — es ! " replied Lord Frederick, " I shall certainly go
there."

"Julia, my life," interposed Mr. Wititterly, "you are de-
ceiving his lordship — unintentionally, my lord, she is deceiving
you. It is your poetical temperament, my dear — your ethereal
soul — your fervid imagination, which throws you into a glow
of genius and excitement. There is nothing in the place, my
dear — nothing, nothing."

" I think there must be something in the place," said Mrs.
Nickleby, who had been listening in silence ; "for, soon after
I was married, I went to Stratford with my poor dear Mr.
Nickleby, in a post-chaise from Birmingham — was it a post-
chaise though ! " said Mrs. Nickleby, considering ; " yes, it
must have been a post-chaise, because I recollect remarking
at the time that the driver had a green shade over his left
eye ; — in a post-chaise from Birmingham, and after we had
seen Shakspeare's tomb and birth-place, we went back to the
inn there, where we slept that night, and I recollect that all



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night long I dreamt of nothing but a black gentleman, at full
length, in plaster-of-Paris, with a lay down collar tied with
two tassels, leaning against a post and thinking ; and when I
woke in the morning and described him to Mr. Nickleby, he
said it was Shakspeare just as he had been when he was
alive, which was very curious indeed. Stratford — Stratford/'
continued Mrs. Nickleby, considering. " Yes, I am positive
about that, because I recollect I was in the family way with
my son Nicholas at the time, and I had been very much
frightened by an Italian image boy that very morning. In
fact, it was quite a mercy, ma'am," added Mrs. Nickleby, in a
whisper to Mrs. Wititterly, " that my son didn't turn out to
be a Shakspeare, and what a dreadful thing that would have
been ! "

When Mrs. Nickleby, had brought this interesting anec-
dote to a close, Pyke and Pluck, ever zealous in their patron's
cause, proposed the adjournment of a detachment of the
party into the next box ; and with so much skill were the
preliminaries adjusted, that Kate, despite all she could say or
do to the contrary, had no alternative but to suffer herself to
be led away by Sir Mulberry Hawk. Her mother and Mr.
Pluck accompanied them, but the worthy lady, pluming herself
upon her discretion, took particular care not so much as to
look at her daughter during the whole evening, and to seem
wholly absorbed in the jokes and conversation of Mr. Pluck,
who, having been appointed sentry over Mrs. Nickleby for
that especial purpose, neglected, on his side, no possible op-
portunity of engrossing her attention.

Lord Frederick Verisopht remained in the next box to be
talked to by Mrs. Wititterly, and Mr. Pyke was in attendance
to throw in a word or two when necessary. As to Mr. Witit-
terly, he was sufficiently busy in the body of the house, in-
forming such of his friends and acquaintance as happened to
be there, that those two gentlemen up stairs, whom they had
seen in conversation with Mrs. W., were the distinguished
Lord Frederick Verisopht and his most intimate friend, the
gay Sir Mulberry Hawk — a communication which inflamed
several respectable "house-keepers with the utmost jealousy
and rage, and reduced sixteen unmarried daughters to the
very brink of despair.

The evening came to an end at last, but Kate had yet to
be handed down stairs by the detested Sir Mulberry ; and so
skilfully were the manoeuvres of Messrs. Pyke and Pluck

23

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354 NICHOLAS NICKLEB Y.

conducted, that she and the baronet were the last of the party,
and were even — without an appearance of effort or design —
left at some little distance behind.

" Don't hurry, don't hurry," said Sir Mulberry, as Kate
hastened on, and attempted to release her arm.

She made no reply, but still pressed forward.

" Nay, then — " coolly observed Sir Mulberry, stopping her
outright.

"You had best not seek to detain me, sir ! " said Kate,
angrily.

" And why not ? " retorted Sir Mulberry. " My dear
creaturej now why do you keep up this show of displeas-
ure ? "

" Show I " repeated Kate, indignantly. " How dare you
presume to speak to me, sir — to address me — to come into
my presence ? "

"You look prettier in a passion, Miss Nickleby," said
Sir Mulberry Hawk, stooping down, the better to see her
face.

" I hold you in the bitterest detestation and contempt,
sir," said Kate. " If you find any attraction in looks of dis-
gust and aversion, you — let me rejoin my friends sir, in-
stantly. Whatever considerations may have withheld me thus
far, I will disregard them all, and take a course that even
you might feel, if you do not immediately suffer me to pro-
ceed."

Sir Mulberry smiled, and still looKrng in her face and re-
taining her arm, walked towards the door.

" If no regard for my sex or helpless situation will induce
you to desist from this coarse and unmanly persecution,"
said Kate, scarcely knowing, in the tumult of her passions,
what she said, " I have a brother who will resent it dearly,
one day."

" Upon my soul ! " exclaimed Sir Mulberry, as though
quietly communing with himself, and passing his arm round
her waist as he spoke, " she looks more beautiful, and I like
her better, in this mood, than when her eyes are cast down,
and she is in perfect repose ! " • •

How Kate reached the lobby where her friends were
waiting she never knew, but she hurried across it without at
all regarding them, and disengaged herself suddenly from her
companion, sprang into the coach, and throwing herself into
its darkest corner burst into tears.



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Messrs. Pike and Pluck, knowing their cue, at once threw
the party into great commotion by shouting for the carriages,
and getting up a violent quarrel with sundry inoffensive by-
standers ; in the midst of which tumult they put the affrighted
Mrs. Nickleby in her chariot, and having got her safely off,
turned their thoughts to Mrs. Wititterly, whose attention also
they had now effectually distracted from the young lady, by
throwing her into a state of the utmost bewilderment and
consternation. At length, the conveyance in which she had
come rolled off too with its load, and the four worthies, being
left alone under the portico, enjoyed a hearty laugh together.

" There," said Sir Mulberry, turning to his noble friend.
"Didn't I tell you last night that if we could find where they
were going by bribing a servant through my fellow, and then
established ourselves close by with the mother, these people's
house would be our own ? Why here it is, done in four-and-
twenty hours."

" Ye-es," replied the dupe. " But I have been tied to the
old woman all ni-ight."

" Hear him ! " said Sir Mulberry, turning to his two friends.
" Hear this discontented grumbler. Isn't it enough to make



Online LibraryCharles DickensThe life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby → online text (page 34 of 79)