Charles Dickens.

The life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby online

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a man swear never to help him in his plots and schemes again ?
Isn't it an infernal shame ? "

Pyke asked Pluck whether it was not an infernal shame,
and Pluck asked Pyke ; but neither answered.

" Isn't it the truth ? " demanded Frederick Verisopht.
" Wasn't it so ? "

" Wasn't it so ! " repeated Sir Mulberry. " How would
you have had it ? How could we have got a general invitation
at first sight— come when you like, go when you like, stop as
long as you like, do what you like — if you, the lord, had not
made yourself agreeable to the foolish mistress of the house ?
Do /care for this girl, except as your friend? Haven't I
been sounding your praises in her ears, and bearing her pretty
sulks and peevishness all night for you ? What sort of stuff
do you think I'm made of ? Would I do this for every man ?
Don't I deserve even gratitude in return ? "

" You're a deyvlish good fellow," said the poor young lord,
taking his friend's arm. " Upon my life, you're a deyvlish
good fellow, Hawk."

" And I have done right, have I ? " demanded Sir Mul*
berry.

" Quite ri-ght."



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356 NICHOLAS NICKLEB V.

" And like a poor, silly, good-natured, friendly dog as I
am, eh ? "

" Ye-es, ye-es ; like a friend," replied the other.

" Well then," replied Sir Mulberry, " I'm satisfied. And
now let's go and have our revenge on the German baron and
the Frenchman, who cleaned you out so handsomely last
night."

With these words the friendly creature took his com-
panion's arm and led him away: turning half round as he did
so, and bestowing a wink and a contemptuous smile on Messrs.
Pike and Pluck, who, cramming their handkerchiefs into their
mouths to denote their silent enjoyment of the proceedings,
followed their patron and his victim at a little distance.



CHAPTER XXVIII.



MISS NICKLEBY, RENDERED DESPERATE BY THE PERSECUTION
OF SIR MULBERRY HAWK, AND THE COMPLICATED DIFFI-
CULTIES AND DISTRESSES WHICH SURROUND HER, APPEALS,
AS A LAST RESOURCE, TO HER UNCLE FOR PROTECTION.

The ensuing morning brought reflection with it, as morn-
ing usually does ; but widely different was the train of thought
it awakened in the different persons who had been so unex-
pectedly brought together on the preceding evening, by the
active agency of Messrs. Pike and Pluck.

The reflections of Sir Mulberry Hawk — if such a term
can be applied to the thoughts of the systematic and calcula-
ting man of dissipation, whose joys, regrets, pains, and pleas-
ures, are all of self, and who would seem to retain nothing of
the intellectual faculty but the power to debase himself, and
to degrade the very nature whose outward semblance he wears
— the reflections of Sir Mulberry Hawk turned upon Kate
Nickleby, and were, in brief, that she was undoubtedly hand-
some ; that her coyness must be easily conquerable by a man
of his address and experience, and that the pursuit was one
which could not fail to redound to his credit, and greatly to
enhance his reputation with the world. And lest this last con-
sideration — no mean or secondary one with Sir Mulberry —



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should sound strangely in the ears of some, let it be remem-
bered that most men live in a world of their own, and that in
that limited circle alone are they ambitious for distinction and
applause. Sir Mulberry's world was peopled with profligates,
and he acted accordingly.

Thus, cases of injustice, and oppression, and tyranny, and
the most extravagant bigotry, are in constant occurrence
among us every day. It is the custom to trumpet forth much
wonder and astonishment at the chief actors therein setting
at defiance so completely the opinion of the world ; but there
is no greater fallacy ; it is precisely because they do consult
the opinion of their own little world that such things take
place at all, and strike the great world dumb with amazement.

The reflections of Mrs. Nickleby were of the proudest and
most complacent kind ; under the influence of her very agree-
able delusion she straightway sat down and indited a long
letter to Kate, in which she expressed her entire approval of
the admirable choice she had made, and extolled Sir Mulberry
to the skies ; asserting, for the more complete satisfaction of
her daughter's feelings, that he was precisely the individual
whom she (Mrs. Nickleby) would have chosen for her son-in-
law, if she had had the picking and choosing from all man-
kind. The good lady then, with the preliminary observation
that she might be fairly supposed not to have lived in the
world so long without knowing its ways, communicated a great
many subtle precepts applicable to the state of courtship, and
confirmed in their wisdom by her own personal experience.
Above all things she commended a strict maidenly reserve, as
being not only a very laudable thing in itself, but as tending
materially to strengthen and increase a lover's ardor. " And
I never," added Mrs. Nickleby, " was more delighted in my
life than to observe last night, my dear, that your good sense
had already told you this." With which sentiment, and vari-
ous hints of the pleasure she derived from the knowledge
that her daughter inherited so large an instalment of her own
excellent sense and discretion (to nearly the full measure of
which she might hope, with care, to succeed in time), Mrs.
Nickleby concluded a very long and rather illegible letter.

Poor Kate was well nigh distracted on the receipt of four
closely-written and closely-crossed sides of congratulation on
the very subject which had prevented her closing her eyes all
night, and kept her weeping and watching in her chamber ;
still worse and more trying was the necessity of rendering



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358 NICHOLAS NICKLEB Y.

herself agreeable to Mrs. Wititterly, who, being in low spirits
after the fatigue of the preceding night, of course expected
her companion (else wherefore had she board and salary ?) to
be in the best spirits possible. As to Mr. Wititterly, he went
about all day in a tremor of delight at having shaken hands
with a lord, and having actually asked him to come and see
him in his own house. The lord himself, not being troubled
to any inconvenient extent with the power of thinking, re-
galed himself with the conversation of Messrs. Pyke and
Pluck, who sharpened their wit by a plentiful indulgence in
various costly stimulants at his expense.

It was four in the afternoon — that is, the vulgar afternoon
of the sun and the clock — and Mrs. Wititterly reclined,
according to custom, on the drawing-room sofa, while Kate
read aloud a new novel in three volumes, entitled " The
Lady Flabella," which Alphonse the doubtful had procured
from the library that very morning. And it was a production
admirably suited to a lady laboring under Mrs. Wititterly's
complaint, seeing that there was not a line in it, from begin-
ning to end, which could, by the most remote contingency,
awaken the smallest excitement in any person breathing.

Kate read on.

" ' Cherizette, , said the Lady Flabella, inserting her mouse-
like feet in the blue satin slippers, which had unwittingly
occasioned the half-playful half-angry altercation between her-
self and the youthful Colonel Befillaire, in the Duke of Mince-
fenille's salon de danse on the previous night. ' Cheriutte, ma
chere, donnezmoi de r eau-de-Cologne, s'il vous plait, mon enfant!

" ' Mercie — thank you/ said the Lady Flabella, as the live-
ly but devoted Cherizette, plentifully besprinkled with the
fragrant compound the Lady Flabella's mouchoir of finest
cambric, edged with richest lace, and emblazoned at the four
corners with the Flabella crest, and gorgeous heraldic bear-
ings of that noble family* ' Mereie — that will do.'

" At this instant, while the Lady Flabella yet inhaled that
delicious fragrance by holding the mouchoir to her exquisite,
but thoughtfully-chiselled nose, the door of the boudoir
(artfully concealed by rich hangings of silken damask, the hue
of Italy's firmament) was thrown open, and with noiseless
tread two valets-de-chambre, clad in sumptuous liveries of
peach-blossom and gold, advanced into the room followed by
a page in bos de soie — silk stockings — who, while they re-
mained at some distance making the most graceful obeisances,



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359



advanced to the feet of his lovely mistress, and dropping on
one knee presented, on a golden salver gorgeously chased,
a scented billet.

" The Lady Flabella, with an agitation she could not re-
press, hastily tore off the envelope and broke the scented seal.
It was from Befillaire — the young, the slim, the low-voiced —
her own Befillaire."

" Oh, charming ! " interrupted Kate's patroness, who waj
sometimes taken literary ; " Poetic, really. Read that descrip-
tion again Miss Nickleby."

Kate complied.

" Sweet, indeed ! " said Mrs. Wititterly, with a sigh. "So
voluptuous, is it not ? So soft ? "

" Yes, I think it is," replied Kate, gently : " very soft."

" Close the book, Miss Nickleby," said Mrs. Wititterly,
" I can hear nothing more to-day. I should be sorry to dis-
turb the impression of that sweet description. Close the
book."

Kate complied, not unwillingly ; and, as she did so, Mrs.
Wititterly raising her glass with a languid hand, remarked,
that she looked pale.

" It was the fright of that — that noise and confusion last
night," said Kate.

" How very odd ! " exclaimed Mrs. Wititterly, with a look
of surprise. And, certainly, when one comes to think of it,
it was very odd that anything should have disturbed a com-
panion. A steam-engine, or other ingenious piece of
mechanism out of order, would have been nothing to it.

" How did you come to know Lord Frederick, and those
other delightful creatures, child ? " asked Mrs. Wititterly, still
eyeing Kate through her glass.

"I met them at my uncle's," said Kate, vexed to feel that
she was coloring deeply, but unable to keep down the blood
which rushed to her face whenever she thought of that man.

" Have you known them long ? "

" No," rejoined Kate. " Not long."

" I was very glad of the opportunity which that respectable
person, your mother, gave us of being known to them," said
Mrs. Wititterly, in a lofty manner. " Some friends of ours
were on the very point of introducing us, which makes it quite
remarkable."

This was said lest Miss Nickleby should grow conceited
on the honor and dignity of having known four great people



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360 NICHOLAS NICKLEB Y.

(for Pyke and Pluck were included among the delightful
creatures), whom Mrs. Wititterly did not know. But as the
circumstance had made no impression one way or other upon
Kate's mind, the force of the observation was quite lost upon
her.

"They asked permission to call," said Mrs. Wititterly.
" I gave it them of course."

" Do you expect them to-day ? " Kate ventured to inquire.

Mrs. Wititterly 's answer was lost in the noise of a tremen-
dous rapping at the street-door, and, before it had ceased to
vibrate, there drove up a handsome cabriolet, out of which
leaped Sir Mulberry Hawk and his friend Lord Frederick.

"They are here now," said Kate, rising and hurrying
away.

" Miss Nickleby ! " cried Mrs. Wititterly, perfectly aghast
at a companion's attempting to quit the room, without her
permission first had and obtained. " Pray don't think of
going."

" You are very good ! " replied Kate. " But "

"For goodness* sake, don't agitate me by making me
speak so much," said Mrs. Wititterly, with great sharpness.
" Dear me, Miss Nickleby, I beg "

It was in vain for Kate to protest that she was unwell, for
the footsteps of the knockers, whoever they were, were already
on the stairs. She resumed her seat, and had scarcely done
so, when the doubtful page darted into the room and an-
nounced, Mr. Pyke, and Mr. Pluck, and Lord Frederick
Verisopht, and Sir Mulberry Hawk, all at one burst

" The most extraordinary thing in the world," said Mr.
Pluck, saluting both ladies with the utmost cordiality ; " the
most extraordinary thing. As Lord Frederick and Sir Mul-
berry drove up to the door, Pyke and I had that instant
knocked."

" That instant knocked," said Pyke.

" No matter how you came, so that you are here," said Mrs.
Wititterly, who, by dint of lying on the same sofa for three
years and a half, had got up a little pantomime of graceful
attitudes, and now threw herself into the most striking of the
series, to astonish the visitors. " I am delighted, I am sure."

" And how is Miss Nickleby ? " said Sir Mulberry Hawk,'
accosting Kate, in a low voice ; not so low, however, but that
it reached the ears of Mrs Wititterly.

" Why, she complains of suffering 'from the fright of last



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NICHOLAS NICKLEB Y. 361

night," said the lady. "I am sure, I don't wonder at it, for
my nerves are quite torn to pieces."

" And yet you look," observed Sir Mulberry, turning round ;
" and yet you look "

"Beyond everything," said Mr. Pyke, coming to his
patron's assistance. Of course Mr. Pluck said the same.

" I am afraid Sir Mulberry is a flatterer, my lord," said
Mrs. Wititterly, turning to that young gentleman, who had
been sucking the head of his cane in silence, and staring at
Kate.

" Oh, deyvlish ! " replied my lord. Having given utterance
to which remarkable sentiment, he occupied himself as before.

" Neither does Miss Nickleby look the worse," said Sir
Mulberry, bending his bold gaze upon her. " She was always
handsome, but upon my soul, ma'am, you seem to have
imparted some of your own good looks to her besides."

To judge from the glow which suffused the poor girl's
countenance after this speech, Mrs. Wititterly might, with
some show of reason, have been supposed to have imparted
to it some of that artificial bloom which decorated her own.
Mrs. Wititterly admitted, though not with the best grace in
the world, that Kate did look pretty. She began to think too,
that Sir Mulberry was not quite so agreeable a creature as
she had at first supposed him ; for, although a skilful flatterer
is a most delightful companion if you can keep him all to
yourself, his taste becomes very doubtful when he takes to
complimenting other people.

" Pyke," said the watchful Mr. Pluck, observing the effect
which the praise of Miss Nickleby had produced.

" Well, Pluck," said Pyke.

" Is there anybody," demanded Mr. Pluck, mysteriously,
" anybody you know, whom Mrs. Wititterly's profile reminds
you of?"

"Reminds me of!" answered Pyke. "Of course. there
is." .

" Who do you mean ? " said Pluck, in the same mysterious
manner. " The D. of B. ? "

" The C. of B.," replied Pyke, with the faintest trace of a
grin lingering in his countenance. " The beautiful sister is
the countess ; not the duchess."

" True," said Pluck, " the C. of B. The resemblance is
wonderful ? "

" Perfectly startling ! " said Mr. Pyke.



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362 NICHOLAS NICKLEB Y.

Here was a state of things ! Mrs. Wititterly was declared,
upon the testimony of two veracious and competent witnesses,
to be the very picture of a countess ! This was one of the
consequences of getting into good society. Why, she might
have moved among grovelling people for twenty years, and
never heard of it. How could she, indeed ? what did they
know about countesses !

The two gentlemen having by the greediness with which
this little bait was swallowed, tested the extent of Mrs.
Wititterly's appetite for adulation, proceeded to administer
that commodity in very large doses, thus affording to Sir
Mulberry Hawk an opportunity of pestering Miss Nickleby
with questions and remarks, to which she was absolutely
obliged to make some reply. Meanwhile, Lord Frederick
enjoyed unmolested the full flavor of the gold knob at the
top of his cane, as he would have done to the end of the
interview if Mr. Wititterly had not come home, and caused
the conversation to turn to his favorite topic.

" My lord," said Mr. Wititterly, " I am delighted — honored
— proud. Be seated again, my lord, pray. I am proud,
indeed ; most proud."

It was to the secret annoyance of his wife that Mr.
Wititterly said all this, for, although she was bursting with
pride and arrogance, she would have had the illustrious guests
believe that their visit was quite a common occurrence, and
that they had lords and baronets to see them every day in
the week. But Mr. Wititterly's feelings were beyond the
power of suppression.

"It is an honor, indeed ! " said Mr. Wititterly. " Julia,
my soul, you will suffer for this to-morrow."

" Suffer ! " cried Lord Frederick.

"The reaction, my lord, the reaction," said Mr. Wititterly.
" This violent strain upon the nervous system over, my lord,
what -ensues ? A sinking, a depression, a lowness, a lassi-
tude, a debility. My lord, if Sir Tumley Snuflim was to see
that delicate creature at this moment, he would not give a —
a — this for her life." In illustration of which remark, Mr.
Wititterly took a pinch of snuff from his box, and jerked it
lightly into the air as an emblem .of instability.

" Not that" said Mr. Wititterly, looking about him with a
serious countenance. " Sir Tumley Snuflim would not give
that for Mrs. Wititterly's existence."

Mr. Wititterly told this with a kind of sober exultation, as



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NICHOLAS NICKLEBY. 363

if it were no trifling distinction for a man to have a wife in
such a desperate state, and Mrs. Wititterly sighed and looked
on, as if she felt the honor, but had determined to bear it as
meekly as mi^ht be.

"Mrs. Wititterly," said her husband, "is Sir Tumley
SnufnnVs favorite patient. I believe I may venture to say,
that Mrs. Wititterly is the first person who took the new
medicine which is supposed to have destroyed a family at
Kensington Gravel Pits. I believe she was. If I am wrong,
Julia, my dear, you will correct me."

" I believe I was," said Mrs. Wititterly, in a faint voice.

As there appeared to be some doubt in the mind of his
patron how he could best join in this conversation, the inde-
fatigable Mr. Pyke threw himself into, the breach, and, by
way of saying something to the point, inquired — with reference
to the aforesaid medicine — whether it was nice ?

" No, sir, it was not It had not even that recommenda-
tion," said Mr. W.

" Mrs. Wititterly is quite a martyr," observed Pyke, with
a complimentary bow.

" I think I am," said Mrs. Wititterly, smiling.

" I think you are, my dear Julia," replied her husband, in
a tone which seemed to say that he was not vain, but still
must insist upon their privileges. " If anybody, my lord,"
added Mr. Wititterly, wheeling round to the nobleman, "will
produce to me a greater martyr than Mrs. Wititterly, all I can
say is, that I shall be glad to see that martyr, whether male
or female — that's all, my lord."

Pyke and Pluck promptly remarked that certainly nothing
could be fairer than that ; and the call having been by this
time protracted to a very great length, they obeyed Sir Mul-
berry's look, and rose to go. This brought Sir Mulberry
himself and Lord Frederick on their legs also. Many pro-
testations of friendship, and expressions anticipative of the
pleasure which must inevitably flow from so happy an ac^
quaintance, were exchanged, and the visitors departed, with
renewed assurances that at all times and seasons the mansion
of the Wititterlys would be honored by receiving them beneath
its roof.

That they came at all times and seasons — that they dined
there one day, supped the next, dined again on the next, and
were constantly to and fro on all — that they made parties to
visit public places, and met by accident at lounges — that upon



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364 NICHOLAS NICKLEB Y.

all these occasions Miss Nickleby was exposed to the con-
stant and unremitting persecution of Sir Mulberry Hawk, who
now began to feel his character, even in the estimation of his
two dependants, involved in the successful reduction of her
pride — that she had no intervals of peace or rest, except at
those hours when she could sit in her solitary room, and weep
over the trials of the day-w-all these were consequences
naturally flowing from the well-laid plans of Sir Mulberry,
and their able execution by the auxiliaries, Pike and Pluck.

And thus for a fortnight matters went on. That any but
the weakest and silliest of people could have seen in one
interview that Lord Frederick Verisopht, though he was a
lord, and Sir Mulberry Hawk, though he was a baronet, were
not persons accustomed to be the best possible companions,
and were certainly not calculated by habits, manners, tastes,
or conversation, to shine with any very great lustre in the
society of ladies, need scarcely be remarked. But with Mrs.
Wititterly the two titles were all-sufficient ; coarseness became
humor, vulgarity softened itself down into the most charming
eccentricity ; insolence took the guise of an easy absence of
reserve, attainable only by those who had had the good for-
tune to mix with high folks.

If the mistress put such a construction upon the behavior
of her new friends, what could the companion urge against
them ? If they accustomed themselves to very little restraint
before the lady of the house, with how much more freedom
could they address her paid dependant ! Nor was even this
the worst. As the odious Sir Mulberry Hawk attached him-
self to Kate with less and less of disguise, Mrs. Wititterly
began to grow jealous of the superior attractions of Miss
Nickleby. If this feeling had led to her banishment from the
drawing-room when such company was there, Kate would have
been only too happy and willing that it should have existed,
but unfortunately for her she possessed that native grace and
true gentility of manner, and those thousand nameless accom-
plishments which give to female society its greatest charm ; if
these be valuable anywhere, they were especially so where
the lady of the house was a mere animated doll. The conse-
quence was, that Kate had the double mortification of being
an indispensable part of the circle when Sir Mulberry and his
friends were there, and of being exposed, on that very
account, to all Mrs. Wititterly's ill-humors and caprices when
they were gone. She became utterly and completely miserable.



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NICHOLAS NICKLEBY. 365

Mrs. Wititterly had never thrown off the mask with regard
to Sir Mulberry, but when she was more than usually out of
temper, attributed the circumstance, as ladies sometimes do,
to nervous indisposition. However, as the dreadful idea that
Lord Frederick Verisopht also was somewhat taken with Kate,
and that she, Mrs. Wititterly, was quite a secondary person,
dawned upon that lady's mind and gradually developed itself,
she became possessed with a large quantity of highly proper
and most virtuous indignation, and felt it her duty, as a
married lady and a moral member of society, to mention the
circumstance to " the young person " without delay.

Accordingly Mrs. Wititterly broke ground next morning,
during a pause in the novel-reading.

" Miss Nickleby," said Mrs. Wititterly, " I wish to speak
to you very gravely. I am sorry to have to do it, upon my
word I am very sorry, but you leave me no alternative, Miss
Nickleby." Here Mrs. Wititterly tossed her head — not
passionately, only virtuously — and remarked, with some
appearance of excitement, that she feared that palpitation of
the heart was coming on again.

" Your behavior, Miss Nickleby," resumed the lady, " is
very far from pleasing me — very far. I am very anxious
indeed that you should do well, but you may depend upon it,
Niss Nickleby, you will not, if you go on as you do."

" Ma'am ! " exclaimejl Kate, proudly.

" Don't agitate me by speaking in that way, Miss Nickleby,
don't," said Mrs. Wititterly, with some violence, "or you'll
compel me to ring the bell."

Kate looked at her, but said nothing.

" You needn't suppose," resumed Mrs. Wititterly, " that
your looking at me in that way, Miss Nickleby, will prevent
my saying what I am going to say, which I feel to be a
religious duty. You needn't direct your glances towards me,"
said Mrs. Wititterly, with a sudden burst of spite ; / am not
Sir Mulberry, no, nor Lord Frederick Verisopht, Miss
Nickleby ; nor am I Mr. Pyke, nor Mr. Pluck either."

Kate looked at her again, but less steadily than before ;
and resting her elbow on the table, covered her eyes with her
hand.

" If such things had been done when /was a young girl,"
said Mrs. Wititterly (this, by the way, must have been some



Online LibraryCharles DickensThe life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby → online text (page 35 of 79)