Charles Dickens.

The life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby online

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" Take yourself off, sir."

" Pooh ! pooh ! I tell you," returned Mr. Folair, waving
his hand in deprecation of any further wrath ; " I wasn't in
earnest. I only brought it in joke."

" You had better be careful how you indulge in such jokes
again," said Nicholas, " or you may find an allusion to pull-
ing noses rather a dangerous reminder for the subject of your
facetious ness. Was it written in joke, too, pray?"

" No, no, that's the best of it," returned the actor ; " right
down earnest — honor bright."

Nicholas could not repress a smile at the odd figure before

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him, which, at all times more calculated to provoke mirth
than anger, was especially so at that moment, when with one
knee upon the ground, Mr. Folair twirled his old hat round
upon his hand, and affected the extremest agony lest any of the
nap should have been knocked off — an ornament which it is
almost superfluous to say, it had not boasted for many months.

" Come sir," said Nicholas, laughing in spite of himself.
" Have the goodness to explain/*

" Why, I'll tell you how it is," said Mr. Folair, sitting him-
self down in a chair with great coolness. " Since you came
here Lenville has done nothing but second business, and, in-
stead of having a reception every night as he used to have,
they have let him come on as if he was nobody."

44 What do you mean by a reception ? " asked Nicholas.

" Jupiter ! " exclaimed Mr. Folair, " what an unsophiscated
shepherd you are, Johnson ! Why, applause from the house
when you first come on. So he has gone on night after night
never getting a hand, and you getting a couple of rounds at
least, and sometimes three, till at length he got quite desper-
ate and had half a mind last night to play Tybalt with a real
sviK>rd, and pink you — not dangerously, but just enough to lay
you up for a month or two."

44 Very considerate," remarked Nicholas.

" Yes, I think it was under the circumstances ; his profes-
sional reputation being at stake," said Mr. Folair, quite seri-
ously. 4< But his heart failed him, and he cast about for some
other way of annoying you, and making himself popular at
the same time — for that's the point. Notoriety, notoriety is
the thing. Bless you, if he pinked you," said Mr Folair, stop-
ping to make a calculation in his mind, * 4 it would have been
worth — ah, it would have been worth eight or ten shillings a
a week to him. All the town would have come to see the
actor who nearly killed a man by mistake ; I shouldn't wonder
if it had got him an engagement in London. However, he
was obliged to try some other mode of getting popular, and
this one occurred to him. It's a clever idea, really. If you had
shown the white feather, and let him pull your nose, he'd have
got it into the paper ; if you had sworn the peace against him,
it would have been in the paper too, and he'd have been just
as much talked about as you — don't you see ? "

44 Oh certainly," rejoined Nicholas; "but suppose I were
to turn the tables, and pull his nose, what then ? Would that
make his fortune ? "

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"Why, I don't think it would," replied Mr. Folair, scratch-
ing his head, " because there wouldn't be any romance about
it, and he wouldn't be favorably known. To tell you the
truth though he didn't calculate much upon that, for you're
always so mild spoken, and are so popular among the women,
that we didn't suspect you of showing fight. If you did, how-
ever, he has a way of getting out of it easily, depend upon

" Has he ? " rejoined Nicholas " we will try to-morrow morn-
ing. In the meantime, you can give whatever account of our
interview you like best. Good-night."

As Mr. Folair was pretty well known among his fellow-
actors for a man who delighted in mischief, and was by no
means scrupulous, Nicholas had not much doubt but that he
had secretly prompted the tragedian in the course he had
taken, and, moreover, that he would have carried his mission
with a very high hand if he had not been disconcerted by the
very unexpected demonstrations with which it had been re-
ceived. It was not worth his while to be serious with him,
however, so he dismissed the pantomimist, with a gentle hint
that if he offended again it would be under the penalty of a
broken head ; and Mr. Folair taking the caution in exceed-
ingly good part, walked away to confer with his principal, and
give him such an account of his proceedings as he might think
best calculated to carry on the joke.

He had no doubt reported that Nicholas was in a state of
extreme bodily fear : for when that young gentleman walked
with much deliberation down to the theatre next morning at
the usual hour, he found all the company assembled in evident
expectation, and Mr. Lenville, with his severest stage face,
sitting majestically on a table whistling defiance.

Now the ladies were on the side of Nicholas, and the gen-
tlemen (being jealous) were on the side of the disappointed
tragedian ; so that the latter formed a little group about the
redoubtable Mr. Lenville, and the former looked on at a little
distance in some trepidation and anxiety. On Nicholas stop-
ping to salute them, Mr. Lenville laughed a scornful laugh,
and made some general remark touching the natural history of

" Oh ! " said Nicholas looking quietly round, " are you
there ? "

" Slave ! " returned Mr. Lenville, flourishing his right arm
and approaching Nicholas with a theatrical stride. But some-

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how he appeared just at that moment a little startled, as if
Nicholas did not look quite so frightened as he had expected,
and came all at once to an awkward halt, at which the assem-
bled ladies burst into a shrill laugh.

" Object of my scorn and hatred ! " said Mr. Lenville, " I
hold ye in contempt."

Nicholas laughed in very unexpected enjoyment of this
performance; and the ladies, by way of encouragement,
laughed louder than before; whereat Mr. Lenville assumed
his bitterest smile, and expressed his opinion that they were
14 minions."

" But they shall not protect ye ! " said the tragedian, taking
an upward look at Nicholas, beginning at his boots and
ending at the crown of his head, and then a downward one
beginning at the crown of his head, and ending at his boots —
which two looks, as everybody knows express defiance on the
stage. " They shall not protect ye — boy ! "

Thus speaking, Mr. Lenville folded his arms, and treated
Nicholas to that expression of face with which, in melo-dra-
matic performances, he was in the habit of regarding the tyr-
anical kings when they said, " Away with him to the deepest
dungeon beneath the castle moat ; " and which, accompanied
with a little jingling of fetters, had been known to produce
great effects in its time.

Whether it was the absence of fetters or not, it made no
very deep impression on Mr. Lenville's adversary, however,
but rather seemed to increase the good humor expressed in
his countenance ; in which stage of the contest, one or two
gentlemen, who had come out expressly to witness the pulling
of Nicholas's nose, grew impatient, murmuring that if it were
to be done at all it had better be done at once, and that if
Mr. Lenville didn't mean to do it he had better say so, and
not keep them waiting there. Thus urged, the tragedian ad-
justed the cuff of his right coat sleeve for the performance of
the operation, and walked in a very stately manner up to Nich-
olas, who suffered him to approach to within the requisite dis-
tance, and then, without the smallest discomposure, knocked
him down.

Before the discomfited tragedian could raise his head from
the boards, Mrs. Lenville (who, as has been before hinted, was
in an interesting state) rushed from the rear rank of ladies,
and uttering a piercing scream threw herself upon the body.

" Do you see this, monster ? Do you see this ? " cried Mr.

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Lenville, sitting up, and pointing to his prostrate lady, who
was holding him very tight round the waist.

"Come," said Nicholas, nodding his head, " apologize for
the insolent note you wrote to me last night, and waste no
more time in talking."

" Never ! " cried Mr. Lenville.

« Yes — yes — yes ! " screamed his wife, " For my sake—
for mine, Lenville — forego all idle forms, unless you would see
me a blighted corse at your feet."

" This is affecting ! " said Mr. Lenville, looking round him,
and drawing the back of his hand across his eyes. " The ties
of nature are strong. The weak husband and the father — the
father that is yet to be — relents. I apologize."

44 Humbly and submissively ? " said Nicholas.

44 Humbly and submissively," returned the tragedian,
scowling upward. 44 But only to save her, — for a time will
come "

44 Very good," said Nicholas ; 4< I hope Mrs. Lenville may
have a good one ; and when it does come, and you are a
father, you shall retract it if you have the courage. There.
Be careful, sir, to what lengths your jealousy carries you an-
other time ; and be careful, also, before you venture too far,
to ascertain your rival's temper." With this parting advice
Nicholas picked up Mr. Lenville's ash stick which had flown
out of his hand, and breaking it in half, threw him the pieces
and withdrew.

The profoundest deference was paid to Nicholas that
night, and the people who had been most anxious to have his
nose pulled in the morning, embraced occasions of taking him
aside, and telling him with great feeling, how very friendly
they took it that he should have treated that Lenville so prop-
erly, who was a most unbearable fellow, and on whom they
had all, by a remarkable coincidence, at one time or other con-
templated the infliction of condign punishment, which they
had only been restrained from administering by considera-
tions of mercy ; indeed, to judge from the invariable termina-
tion of all these stories, there never was such a charitable and
kind-hearted set of people as the male members oj Mr.
Crummles's company.

Nicholas bore his triumph, as he had his success in the
little world of the theatre, with the utmost moderation and
good humor. The crest-fallen Mr. Lenville made an expiring
effort to obtain revenge by sending a boy into the gallery to

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hiss, but he fell a sacrifice to popular indignation, and was
promptly turned out without having his money back.

"Well, Smike," said Nicholas when the first piece was
over, and he had almost finished dressing to go home, " is
there any letter yet ? "

44 Yes," replied Smike, " I got this one from the post-

44 From Newman Noggs," said Nicholas, casting his eye
upon the cramped direction ; 44 it's no easy matter to make
his writing out. Let me see — let me see."

By dint of poring over the letter for half an hour, he
contrived to make himself master of the contents, which were
certainly not of a nature to set his mind at ease. Newman
took upon himself to send back the ten pounds, observing
that he had ascertained that neither Mrs. Nickleby nor Kate
was in actual want of money at the moment, and that a time
might shortly come when Nicholas might want it more. He
entreated him not be alarmed at what he was about to say ; —
there was no bad news — they were in good health — but he
thought circumstances might occur, or were occurring, which
would render it absolutely necessary that Kate should have
her brother's protection, and if so, Newman said, he would
write to him to that effect, either by the next post or the next
but one.

Nicholas read this passage very often, and the more he
thought of it the more he began to fear some treachery upon
the part of Ralph. Once or twice he felt tempted to repair
to London at all hazards without an hour's delay, but a little
reflection assured him that if such a step were necessary, New-
man would have spoken out and told him so at once.

44 At all event's I should prepare them here for the pos-
sibility of my going away suddenly," said Nicholas ; * 4 1 should
lose no time in doing that." As the thought occurred to him,
he took up his hat and hurried to the green-room.

44 Well, Mr. Johnson," said Mrs. Crummies, who was
seated there in full regal costume with the phenomenon as the
Maiden in her maternal arms, 44 next week for Ryde, then for
Winchester, then for "

44 1 have some reason to fear," interrupted Nicholas, 44 that
before you leave here my career with you will have closed."

44 Closed ! " cried Mrs. Crummies, raising her hands in

44 Closed ! " cried Miss Snevellicci, trembling so much in

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her tights that she actually laid her hand upon the shoulder
of the manageress for support.

" Why he don't mean to say he's going ! " exclaimed Mrs.
Grudden, making her way towards Mrs. Crummies. " Hoity
toity ! Nonsense."

The phenomenon being of an affectionate nature and
moreover excitable, raised a loud cry, and Miss Belvawney
and Miss Bravassa actually shed tears. Even the male per-
formers stopped in their conversation, and echoed the word
" Going ! " although some among them (and they had been
the loudest in their congratulations that day) winked at each
other as though they would not be sorry to lose such a favored
rival ; an opinion, indeed, which the honest Mr. Folair, who
was ready dressed for the savage, openly stated in so many
words to a demon with whom he was sharing a pot of porter.

Nicholas briefly said that he feared it would be so, al-
though he could not yet speak with any degree of certainty ;
and getting away as soon as he could, went home to con New-
man's letter once more, and speculate upon it afresh.

How trifling all that had been occupying his time and
thoughts for many weeks seemed to him during that sleepless
night, and how constantly and incessantly present to his
imagination was the one idea that Kate in the midst of some
great trouble and distress might even then be looking — and
vainly too— for him !



Mr. Vincent Crummles was no sooner acquainted with
the public announcement which Nicholas had made relative
to the probability of his shortly ceasing to be a member of
the company, than he evinced many tokens of grief and con-
sternation ; and, in the extremity of his despair, even held out
certain vague promises of a speedy improvement not only in
the amount of his regular salary, but also in the contingent

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emoluments appertaining to his authorship. Finding Nicholas
bent upon quitting the society (for he had now determined
that, even if no further tidings came from Newman, he would,
at all hazards, ease his mind by repairing to London and as-
certaining the exact position of his sister) Mr. Crummies was
fain to content himself by calculating the chances of his com-
ing back again, and taking prompt and energetic measures to
make the most of him before he went away.

" Let me see," said Mr. Crummies, taking off his outlaw's
wig, the better to arrive at a cool-headed view of the whole
case. " Let me see. This is Wednesday night. We'll have
posters out the first thing in the morning, announcing posi-
tively your last appearance for to-morrow."

" But perhaps it may not be my last appearance, you
know," said Nicholas. "Unless I am summoned away, I
should be sorry to inconvenience you by leaving before the
end of the week."

" So much the better," returned Mr. Crummies. " We '
can have positively your last appearance, on Thursday — re-en-
gagement for one night more, on Friday — and, yielding to the
wishes of numerous influential patrons, who were disappointed
in obtaining seats, on Saturday. That ought to bring three
very decent houses."

" Then I am to make three last appearances, ami?" in-
quired Nicholas, smiling.

" Yes," rejoined the manager, scratching his head with an
air of some vexation ; " three is not enough, and it's very
bungling and irregular not to have more, but if we can't help
it we can't, so there's no use in talking. A novelty would be
very desirable. You couldn't sing a comic song on the pony's
back, could you ? "

" No," replied Nicholas, " I couldn't indeed."

" It has drawn money before now," said Mr. Crummies,
with a look of disappointment. "What do you think of a
brilliant display of fireworks ? "

"That it would be rather expensive," replied Nicholas,

" Eighteenpence would do it," said Mr. Crummies. " You
on the top of a pair of steps with the phenomenon in an atti-
tude ; ' Farewell ' on a transparency behind ; and nine people
at the wings with a squib in each hand — all the dozen and a
half going off at once — it would be very grand — awful from
the front, quite awful."

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As Nicholas appeared by no means impressed with the
solemnity of the proposed effect, but, on the contrary, received
the proposition in a most irreverent manner, and laughed at
it very heartily, Mr. Crummies abandoned the project in its
birth, and gloomily observed that they must make up the best
bill they could with combats and hornpipes, and so stick to
the legitimate drama.

For the purpose of carrying this object into instant execu-
tion, the manager at once repaired to a small dressing-room,
adjacent, where Mrs. Crummies was then occupied in ex-
changing the habiliments of a melo-dramatic empress for the
ordinary attire of matrons in the nineteenth century. And
with the assistance of this lady, and the accomplished Mrs,
Grudden (who had quite a genius for making out bills, being
a great hand at throwing in the notes of admiration, and know-
ing from long experience exactly where the largest capitals
ought to go), he seriously applied himself to the composition
of the poster.

" Heigho ! " sighed Nicholas, as he threw himself back in
the prompter's chair, after telegraphing the needful directions
to Smike, who had been playing a meagre tailor in the inter-
lude, with one skirt to his coat, and a little pocket handker-
chief with a large hole in it, and a woollen nightcap, and a red
nose, and other distinctive marks peculiar to tailors on the
stage. " Heigho ! I wish all this were over."

" Over, Mr. Johnson ! " repeated a female voice behind
him, in a kind of plaintive surprise.

" It was an ungallant speech, certainly," said Nicholas,
looking up to see who the speaker was, and recognizing Miss
Snevellicci. " I would not have made it if I had known you
had been within hearing."

" What a dear that Mr. Digby is ! " said Miss Snevellicci,
as the tailor went off on the opposite side, at the end of the
piece, with great applause. (Smike's theatrical name was

" I'll tell him presently, for his gratification, that you said
so," returned Nicholas.

" Oh you naughty thing ! " rejoined Miss Snevellicci. "I
don't know though, that I should much mind his knowing my
opinion of him ; with some other people, indeed, it might

be " Here Miss Snevellicci stopped, as though waiting

to be questioned, but no questioning came, for Nicholas was
thinking about more serious matters.

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" How kind it is of you," resumed Miss Snevellicci, after
a short silence, "to sit waiting for him night after night,
night after night, no matter how tired you are ; and taking so
much pains with him, and doing it all with as much delight
and readiness as if you were coining gold by it ! "

" He well deserves all the kindness I can show him, and a
great deal more," said Nicholas. " He is the most grateful,
single-hearted, affectionate creature, that ever breathed."

" So odd, too," remarked Miss Snevellicci, " isn't he ? "

" God help him, and those who have made him so ; he is
indeed," rejoined Nicholas, shaking his head.

" He is such a devilish close chap," said Mr. Folair, who
had come up a little before, and now joined in the conversa-
tion. " Nobody can ever get anything out of him."

" What should they get out of him ? " asked Nicholas,
turning round with some abruptness.

" Zooks ! what a fire-eater you are, Johnson ! " returned
Mr. Folair, pulling up the heel of his dancing shoe. " I'm
only talking of the natural curiosity of the people here, to
know what he has been about all his life."

" Poor fellow ! it is pretty plain, I should think, that he
has not the intellect to have been about anything of much
importance to them or anybody else," said Nicholas.

14 Ay," rejoined the actor, contemplating the effect of his
face in a lamp reflector, " but that involves the whole ques-
tion, you know."

" What question ? " asked Nicholas.

" Why, the who he is and what he is, and how you two,
who are so different, came to be such close companions," re-
plied Mr. Folair, delighted with the opportunity of saying
something disagreeable. " That's in everybody's mouth."

" The * everybody ' of the theatre, I suppose ? " said Nich-
olas, contemptuously.

" In it and out of it too," replied the actor. " Why, you
know, Lenville says "

" I thought I had silenced him effectually," interrupted
Nicholas, reddening.

" Perhaps you have," rejoined the immovable Mr. Folair ;
" if you have, he said this before he was silenced : Lenville
says that you're a regular stick of an actor, and that it's only
the mystery about you that has caused you to go down with
the people here, and that Crummies keeps it up for his own
sake j though Lenville says he don't believe there's anything

2 5

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at all in it, except your having got into a scrape and ran away
from somewhere, for doing something or other."

" Oh ! " said Nicholas, forcing a smile.

"That's a part of what he says," added Mr. Folair. "I
mention it as the friend of both parties, and in strict confi-
dence. / don't agree with him, you know. He says he takes
Digby to be more knave than fool ; and old Fluggers, who does
the heavy business you know, he says that when he delivered
messages at Covent Garden the season before last, there
used to be a pickpocket hovering about the coach-stand who
had exactly the face of Digby ; though, as he very properly
says, Digby may not be the same, but only his brother, or
some near relation."

" Oh ! " cried Nicholas again.

"Yes," said Mr. Folair, with undisturbed calmness, " that's
what they say. I thought I'd tell you, because really you
ought to know. Oh ! here's this blessed phenomenon at last.
Ugh, you little imposition, I should like to — quite ready, my
darling, — humbug — Ring up Mrs. G., and let the favorite
wake 'em ! "

Uttering in a loud voice such of the latter allusions as were
complimentary to the unconscious phenomenon, and giving
the rest in a confidential " aside " to Nicholas, Mr. Folair
followed the ascent of the curtain with his eyes, regarded with
a sneer the reception of Miss Crummies as the Maiden, and,
falling back a step or two, to advance with the better effect,
uttered a preliminary howl, and " went on " chattering his
teeth and brandishing his tin tomahawk as the Indian Savage.

" So these are some of the stories they invent about us, and
bandy from mouth to mouth 1 " thought Nicholas. " If a man
would commit an inexpiable offence against any society, large
or small, let him be successful. They will forgive him any
crime but that."

" You surely don't mind what that malicious creature says,
Mr. Johnson ? " observed Miss Snevellicci in her most winning

" Not I," replied Nicholas. " If I were going to remain
here, I might think it worth my while to embroil myself. As
it is, let them talk till they are hoarse. But here," added
Nicholas, as Smike approached, " here comes the subject of a
portion of their good nature, so let he and I say good night

" No, I will not let either of you say anything of the kind,"

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returned Miss Snevellicci. " You must come home and see
mama who only came to Portsmouth to-day, and is dying to
behold you. Led, my dear, persuade Mr. Johnson."

"Oh, I'm sure," returned Miss Ledrook, with considerable
vivacity, " if you can't persuade him — " Miss Ledrook said
no more, but intimated, by a dexterous playfulness, that if
Miss Snevellicci couldn't persuade him, nobody could.

Online LibraryCharles DickensThe life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby → online text (page 37 of 79)