Charles Dickens.

The life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby online

. (page 36 of 79)
Online LibraryCharles DickensThe life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby → online text (page 36 of 79)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

little time before), " I don't suppose anybody would have be-
lieved it."

Digitized by VjOOQIC


" I don't think they would," murmured Kate. " I do not
think anybody would believe, without actually knowing it,
what I seem doomed to undergo ! "

"Don't talk to me of being doomed to undergo, Miss
Nickleby, if you please," said Mrs. Wititterly, with a shrillness
of tone quite surprising in so great an invalid. " I will not
be answered, Miss Nickleby. I am not accustomed to be
answered, nor will I permit it for an instant. Do you hear ? "
she added, waiting with some apparent inconsistency for an

" I do hear you, ma'am," replied Kate, " with surprise ;
with greater surprise than I can express."

"I have always considered you a particularly well-behaved
young person for your station in life," said Mrs. Wititterly ;
" and as you are a person of healthy appearance, and neat in
your dress and so forth, I have taken an interest in you, as I
do still, considering that I owe a sort of duty to that respect-
able old female, your mother. For these reasons, Miss
Nickleby, I must tell you once for all, and begging you to
mind what I say, that I must insist upon your immediately
altering your very forward behavior to the gentlemen who
visit at this house. It really is not becoming," said Mrs.
Wititterly, closing her chaste eyes as she spoke ; " it is im-
proper, quite improper."

" Oh ! " cried Kate, looking upwards and clasping her
hands ; " is not this, is not this, too cruel, too hard to bear I
Is it not enough that I should have suffered as I have, night
and day ; that I should almost have sunk in my own estima-
tion from very shame of having been brought into contact
with such people ; but must I also be exposed to this unjust
and most unfounded charge ! "

" You will have the goodness to recollect, Miss Nickleby,"
said Mrs. Wititterly, "that when you use such terms as
'unjust,' and 'unfounded/ you charge me, fn effect, with
stating that which is untrue."

" I do," said Kate, with honest indignation. " Whether
you make this accusation of yourself, or at the prompting of
others, is alike to me. I say it is vilely, grossly, wilfully
untrue. Is it possible ! " cried Kate, " that anyone of my
own sex can have sat by, and not have seen the misery these
men have caused me ! Is it possible that you, ma'am, can
have been present, and failed to mark the insulting freedom
that their every look bespoke ? Is it possible that you can

Digitized by VjOOQIC


have avoided seeing, that these libertines, in their utter dis-
respect for you, and utter disregard of all gentlemanly be-
havior, and almost of decency, have had but one object in
introducing themselves here, and that the furtherance of their
designs upon a friendless, helpless girl, who, without this
humiliating confession, might have hoped to receive from one
so much her senior something like womanly aid and sympathy ?
I do not — I cannot believe it ! "

If poor Kate had possessed the slightest knowledge of the
world, she certainly would not have ventured, even in the
excitement into which she had been lashed, upon such an
injudicious speech as this. Its effect was precisely what a
more experienced observer would have foreseen. Mrs.
Wititterly received the attack upon her veracity with ex-
emplary calmness, and listened with the most heroic fortitude
to Kate's account of her own sufferings. But allusion being
made to her being held in disregard by the gentlemen, she
evinced violent emotion, and this blow was no sooner followed
up by the remark concerning her seniority, than she fell back
upon the sofa, uttering dismal screams.

" What is the matter ! " cried Mr. Wititterly, bouncing into
the room. " Heavens, what do I see ! Julia ! Julia ! look
up, my life, look up ! "

But Julia looked down most perse veringly, and screamed
still louder ! so Mr. Wititterly rang the bell, and danced in a
frenzied manner round the sofa on which Mrs. Wititterly lay ;
uttering perpetual cries for Sir Tumley Snuffim, and never
once leaving off to ask for any explanation of the scene be-
fore him.

" Run for Sir Tumley," cried Mr. Wititterly, menacing the
page with both fists. "I knew it Miss Nickleby," he said,
looking round with an air of melancholy triumph, "that
society has been too much for her. This is all soul, you
know, every bit of it." With this assurance Mr. Wititterly
took up the prostrate form of Mrs. Wititterly, and carried her
bodily off to bed.

Kate waited until Sir Tumley Snuffim had paid his visit
and looked in with a report, that, through the special inter-
position of a merciful Providence (thus spake Sir Tumley), .
Mrs. Wititterly had gone to sleep. She then hastily attired
herself for walking, and leaving word that she should return
within a couple of hours, hurried away towards her uncle's

Digitized by VjOOQIC


It had been a good day with Ralph Nickleby, quite a
lucky day. As he walked to and fro in his little back room
with his hands clasped behind him, adding up in his own
mind all the sums that had been, or would be, netted from
the business done since morning, his mouth was drawn into a
hard stern smile ; while the firmness of the lines and curves
that made it up, as well as the cunning glance of his cold
bright eye, seemed to tell, that if any resolution or cunning
would increase the profits, they would not fail to be exerted
for the purpose.

" Very good ! " said Ralph, in allusion, no doubt, to some
proceeding of the day. " He defies the usurer, does he ?
Well, we shall see. ' Honesty is the best policy/ is it ! Well
try that too."

He stopped, and then walked on again.

" He is content," said Ralph, relaxing into a smile, "to set
his known character and conduct against the power of money.
Dross, as he calls it. Why, what a dull blockhead this fellow
must be ! Dross too, dross ! — Who's that ? "

" Me," said Newman Noggs, looking in. " Your niece."

" What of her ? " asked Ralph sharply.

" She's here."

" Here ? "

Newman jerked his head towards his little room, to signify
that she was waiting there.

" What does she want ? " asked Ralph.

" I don't know," rejoined Newman. " Shall I ask ? " he
added quickly.

" No," replied Ralph. " Show her in ! Stay." He hastily
put away a padlocked cash-box that was on the table, and
substituted in its stead an empty purse. " There," said Ralph.
" Now she may come in."

Newman, with a grim smile at this manoeuvre, beckoned
the young lady to advance, and having placed a chair for her,
retired ; looking stealthily over his shoulder at Ralph as he
limped slowly out.

" Well," said Ralph, roughly enough ; but still with some-
thing more of kindness in his manner than he would have
•exhibited towards anybody else. "Well, my— dear. What
now ? "

Kate raised her eyes, which were filled with tears ; and
with an effort to master her emotion, strove to speak, but in
vain. So drooping her head again, she remained silent. Her

Digitized by VjOOQIC


face was hidden from his view, but Ralph could see that she
was weeping.

" I can guess the cause of this ! " thought Ralph, after
looking at her for sometime in silence. " I can — I can — guess
the cause. Well ! Well ! " thought Ralph — for the moment
quite disconcerted, as he watched the anguish of his beautiful
niece. " Where is the harm ? Only a few tears ; and it's an
excellent lesson for her, an excellent lesson."

"What is the matter?" asked Ralph, drawing a chair
opposite, and sitting down.

He was rather taken aback by the sudden firmness with
which Kate looked up and answered him.

" The matter which brings me to you, sir," she said, " is
one which should call the blood up into your cheeks, and
make you burn to hear, as it does me to tell. I have been
wronged ; my feelings have been outraged, insulted, wounded
past all healing, and by your friends."

" Friends ! " cried Ralph, sternly. "/ have no friends,

" By the men I saw here, then," returned Kate, quickly.
"If they were no friends of yours, and you knew what they
were, — oh, the more shame on you, uncle, for bringing me
among them. To have subjected me to what I was exposed
to here, through any misplaced confidence or imperfect know-
ledge of your guests, would have required some strong excuse ; «
but if you did it — as I now believe you did — knowing them
well, it was most dastardly and cruel."

Ralph drew back in utter amazement at this plain speak-
ing, and regarded Kate with the sternest look. But she met
his gaze proudly and firmly, and although her face was very
pale, it looked more noble and handsome, lighted up as it was,
than it had ever appeared before.

" There is some of that boy's blood in you, I see," said
Ralph, speaking in his harshest tones, as something in the
flashing eye reminded him of Nicholas at their last meeting.

" I hope there is ! " replied Kate. " I should be proud to
know it. I am young, uncle, and all the difficulties and
miseries of my situation have kept it down, but I have been
roused to-day beyond all endurance, and come what may, /
will not y as I am your brother's child, bear these insults

" What insults, girl ? " demanded Ralph sharply.

"Remember what took place here, and ask yourself,"


Digitized by VjOOQIC



replied Kate, coloring deeply. " Uncle you must — I am sure
you will — release me from such vile and degrading companion-
ship as I am exposed to now. I do not mean," said Kate,
hurrying to the old man, and laying her arm upon his shoulder;
" I do not mean to be angry and violent — I beg your pardon
if I have seemed so, dear uncle, — but you do not know what
I have suffered, you do not indeed. You cannot tell what
the heart of a young girl is — I have no right to expect you
should ; but when I tell you that I am wretched, and that my
heart is breaking, I am sure you will help me. I am sure, I
am sure you will ! "

Ralph looked at her for an instant ; then tnrned away his
head, and beat his foot nervously upon the ground.

" I have gone on day after day," said Kate, bending over
him, and timidly placing her little hand in his, " in the hope
that this persecution would cease ; I have gone on day after
day, compelled to assume the appearance of cheerfulness,
when I was most unhappy. I have had no counsellor, no
adviser, no one to protect me. Mama supposes that these
are honorable men, rich and distinguished, and how can I —
how czm I undeceive her — when she is so happy in these
little delusions, which are the only happiness she has ? The
lady with whom you placed me, is not the person to whom I
could confide matters of so much delicacy, and I have come
at last to you, the only friend I have at hand — almost the
only friend I have v at all — to intreat and implore you to assist

" How can / assist you, child ? " said Ralph, rising from
his chair, and pacing up and down the room in his old

"You have influence with one of •these men, I know"
rejoined Kate, emphatically. " Would not a word from you
induce them to desist from this unmanly course ? "

" No," said Ralph, suddenly turning ; " at least — that — I
can't say it, if it would."

" Can't say it ! "

" No," said Ralph, coming to a dead stop, and clasping
his hands more tightly behind him. " I can't say it."

Kate fell back a step or two, and looked at him, as if in
doubt whether she had heard aright.

" We are connected in business," said Ralph, poising him-
self alternately on his toes and heels, and looking coolly in his
niece's face, "in business, and I can't afford to offend them.

Digitized by VjOOQIC


What is it after all ? We have all our trials, and this is one
of yours. Some girls would be proud to have such gallants at
their feet."

" Proud 1 " cried Kate.

"I don't say," rejoined Ralph, raising his fore-finger,
"but that you do right to despise them ; no, you show your
good sense in that, as indeed I knew from the first you would.
Well. In all other respects you are comfortably bestowed.
It's not much to bear. If this young lord does dog your foot-
steps, and whisper his drivelling inanities in your ears, what
of it ? It's a dishonorable passion. %o be it ; it won't last
long. Some other novelty will spring up one day, and you
will be released. In the meantime "

" In the meantime," interrupted Kate, with becoming
pride and indignation, " I am to be the scorn of my own sex,
and the toy of the other ; justly condemned by all women of
right feeling, and despised by all honest and honorable men ;
sunken in my own esteem, and degraded in every eye that
looks upon me. No, not if I work my fingers to the bone, not
if I am driven to the roughest and hardest labor. Do not
mistake me. I will not disgrace your recommendation. I will
remain in the house in which it placed me, until I am entitled
to leave it by the terms of my engagement ; though, mind, I
see these men no more ! Wnen I quit it, I will hide myself
from them and you, and, striving to support my mother by
hard service, I will live, at least, in peace, and trust in God to
help me."

With these words, she waved her hand, and quitted the
room, leaving Ralph Nickleby motionless as a statue.

The surprise with which Kate, as she closed the room-
door, beheld, close beside it, Newman Noggs standing bolt
upright in a little niche in the wall like some scarecrow or
Guy Faux laid up in winter quarters, almost occasioned her
to call aluud. But, Newman, laying his finger upon his lips,
she had the presence of mind to refrain.

" Don't," said Newman, gliding out of his recess, and ac-
companying her across the hall. " Don't cry, don't cry." Two
very large tears, by the bye, were running down Newman's
face, as he spoke.

" I see how it is," said poor Noggs, drawing from his
pocket what seemed to be a very old duster, and wiping Kate's
eyes with it, as gently as if she were an infant. " You're
giving way now. Yes, yes, very good ; that's right, I like

Digitized by VjOOQIC



that. It was right not to give way before him. Yes, yes !
Ha, ha, ha ! Oh, yes. Poor thing ! "

With these disjointed exclamations, Newman wiped his
own eyes with the afore-mentioned duster, and, limping to the
streetndoor, opened it to lebher out.

" Don't cry any more," whispered Newman. " I shall see
you soon. Ha ! ha ! ha ! And so shall somebody else too.
Yes, yes. Ho ! ho ! ho 1 "

"God bless you," answered Kate, hurrying out, "God
bless you."

"Same to you," rejoined Newman, opening the door again
a little way, to say so. " Ha, ha, ha ! Ho ! ho ! ho ! "

And Newman Noggs opened the door once again to nod
cheerfully, and laugh — and shut it, to shake his head mourn-
fully, and cry.

Ralph remained in the same attitude till he heard the
noise of the closing door, when he shrugged his shoulders, and
after a few turns about the room — hasty at first, but gradually
becoming slower, as he relapsed into himself — sat down before
his desk.

It is one of those problems of human nature, which may
be noted down, but not solved ; — although Ralph felt no re-
morse at that moment for his conduct towards the innocent,
true-hearted girl ; although his libertine clients had done pre-
cisely what he had expected, precisely what he most wished,
and precisely what would tend most to his advantage, still he
hated them for doing it, from the very bottom of his soul.

" Ugh ! " said Ralph, scowling round, and shaking his
clenched hand as the faces of the two profligates rose up be-
fore his mind ; " you shall pay for this. Oh ! you shall pay
for this ! "

As the usurer turned for consolation to his books and
papers, a performance was going on outside his office-door,
which would have occasioned him no small surprise, if he
could by any means have become acquainted with it.

Newman Noggs was the sole actor. He stood at a little
distance from the door, with his face towards it ; and with the
sleeves of his coat turned back at the wrists, was occupied in
bestowing the most vigorous, scientific, and straightforward
blows upon the empty air.

At first sight, this would have appeared merely a wise pre-
caution in a man of sedentary habits, with the view of opening
the chest and strengthening the muscles of the arms. But

Digitized by VjOOQIC



the intense eagerness and joy depicted in the face of Newman
Noggs, which was suffused with perspiration ; the surprising
energy with which he directed a constant succession of blows
towards a particular panel about five feet eight from the
ground, and still worked away in the most untiring and per-
severing manner ; would have sufficiently explained to the
attentive observer, that his imagination was threshing to with-
in an inch of his life, his body's most active employer, Mr.
Ralph Nickleby.



The unexpected success and favor with which his experi-
ment at Portsmouth had been received, induced Mr. Crumm-
ies to prolong his stay in that town for a fortnight beyond the
period he had originally assigned for the duration of his visit,
during which time Nicholas personated a vast variety of
characters with undiminished success, and attracted so many
people to the theatre who had never, been seen there before,
that a benefit was considered by the manager a very promising
speculation. Nicholas assenting to the terms proposed, the
benefit was had, and by it he realized no less a sum than
twenty pounds.

Possessed of this unexpected wealth, his first act was to
enclose to honest John Browdie the amount of his friendly
loan, which he accompanied with many expressions of grati-
tude and esteem, and many cordial wishes for his matrimonial
happiness. To Newman Noggs he forwarded one half of the
sum he had realized, entreating him to take an opportunity of
handing it to Kate in secret, and conveying to her the warm-
est assurance of his love and affection. He made no mention
of the way in which he had employed himself ; merely inform-
ing Newman that a letter addressed to him under his
assumed name at the Post Office, Portsmouth, would readily
find him, and entreating that worthy friend to write full par-
ticulars of the situation of his mother and sister, and an

Digitized by VjOOQIC


account of all the grand things that Ralph Nickleby had done
for them since his departure from London.

" You are out of spirits," said Smike, on the night after
the letter had been dispatched.

" Not I ! " rejoined Nicholas, with assumed gayety, for the
confession would have made the boy miserable all night ; " I
was thinking about my sister, Smike."

" Sister 1 "

"Is she like you ? " inquired Smike.

" Why, so they say," replied Nicholas, laughing, " only a
great deal handsomer."

" She must be very beautiful," said Smike, after thinking
a little while with his hands folded together, and his eyes
bent upon his friend.

" Anybody who didn't know you as well as I do, my dear
fellow, would say you were an accomplished courtier," said

" I don't even know what that is," replied Smike, shaking
his head. " Shall I ever see your sister ? "

" To be sure," cried Nicholas ; " we shall all be together
one of these days — when we are rich, Smike."

" How is it that you, who are so kind and good to me,
have; nobody to be kind to you ? " asked Smike. " I cannot
make that out."

" Why, it is a long stojy," replied Nicholas, " and one you
would have some difficulty in comprehending, I fear. I have
an enemy — you understand what that is ? "

" Oh, yes, I understand that," said Smike.

" Well, it is owing to him," returned Nicholas. " He is rich,
and not so easily punished as your old enemy, Mr. Squeers.
He is my uncle, but he is a villain, and has done me wrong."

" Has he though ? " asked Smike, bending eagerly forward.
" What is his name ? Tell me his name.

" Ralph— Ralph Nickleby."

" Ralph Nickleby," repeated Smike. " Ralph. Ill get
that name by heart."

He had muttered it over to himself some twenty times,
when a loud knock at the door disturbed him from his occu-
pation. Before he could open it, Mr. Folair, the pantomimist,
thrust in his head.

Mr. Folair's head was usually decorated with a very round
hat, unusually high in the crown, and curled up quite tight in

Digitized by VjOOQIC



the brims. On the present occasion he wore it very much on
one side, with the back part forward in consequence of its
being the least rusty ; round his neck he wore a flaming red
worsted comforter, whereof the straggling ends peeped out
beneath his threadbare Newmarket coat, which was very tight
and buttoned all the way up. He carried in his hand one
very dirty glove, and a cheap dress cane with a glass handle ;
in short, his whole appearance was unusually dashing, and
demonstrated a far more scrupulous attention to his toilet,
than he was in the habit of bestowing upon it.

" Good-evening, sir," said Mr. Folair, taking off the tall
hat, and running his fingers through his hair. " I bring a
communication. Hem ! "

" From whom and what about ? " inquired Nicholas. " You
are unusually mysterious to-night."

" Cold, perhaps," returned Mr. Folair, " cold, perhaps.
That is the fault of my position — not of myself, Mr. Johnson.
My position as a mutual friend requires it, sir." Mr. Folair
paused with a most impressive look, and diving into the hat,
before noticed, drew from thence a small piece of whity-brown
paper curiously folded, whence he brought forth a note which
it had served to keep clean, and handing it over to Nicholas,
said —

" Have the goodness to read that, sir."

Nicholas, in a state of much amazement, took the note
and broke the seal, glancing at Mr. Folair as he did so, who,
knitting his brow and pursing up his mouth with great dignity,
was sitting with his eyes steadfastly fixed upon the ceiling.

It was directed to blank Johnson, Esq., by favor of Augus-
tus Folair, Esq. ; and the astonishment of Nicholas was in no
degree lessened, when he found it to be couched in the fol-
lowing laconic terms :

" Mr. Lenville presents his kind regards to Mr. Johnson,
and will feel obliged if he will inform him at what hour to-
morrow morning it will be most convenient to him to meet Mr.
L. at the theatre, for the purpose of having his nose pulled in
the presence of the company.

" Mr. Lenville requests Mr. Johnson not to neglect making
an appointment, as he has invited two or three professional
friends to witness the ceremony, and cannot disappoint them
upon any account whatever.

44 Portsmouth, Tuesday night."

Digitized by VjOOQIC


Indignant as he was at this impertinence, there was some-
thing so exquisitely absurd in such a cartel of defiance, that
Nicholas was obliged to bite his lip and read the note over
two or three times before he could muster sufficient gravity
and sternness to address the hostile messenger, who had not
taken his eyes from the ceiling, nor altered the expression of
his face in the slightest degree.

" Do you know the contents of this note, sir ? " he asked,
at length.

" Yes," rejoined Mr. Folair, looking round for an instant,
and immediately carrying his eyes back again to the ceil-

" And how dare you bring it here, sir ? " asked Nicholas,
tearing it into very little pieces, and jerking it in a shower
towards the messenger. " Had you no fear of being kicked
down stairs, sir ? "

Mr. Folair turned his head — now ornamented with several
fragments of the note — towards Nicholas, and with the same
imperturbable dignity, briefly replied " No."

" Then," said Nicholas, taking up the tall hat and tossing
it towards the door, " you had better follow that article of
your dress, sir, or you may find yourself very disagreeably
deceived, and that within a dozen seconds."

" I say, Johnson," remonstrated Mr. Folair, suddenly los-
ing all his dignity, " none of that, you know. No tricks with
a gentleman's wardrobe."

" Leave the room," returned Nicholas. " How could you
presume to come here on such an errand, you scoundrel ? "

" Pooh 1 pooh ! " said Mr. Folair, unwinding his comforter,
and gradually getting himself out of it. "There — that's

" Enough ! " cried Nicholas, advancing towards him.

Online LibraryCharles DickensThe life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby → online text (page 36 of 79)