Charles Dickens.

The life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby online

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" Mr. and Mrs. Lillyvick have taken lodgings in our house,
and share our sitting-room for the present," said Miss Snevel-
licci. " Won't that induce you ? "

" Surely," returned Nicholas, " I can require no possible
inducement beyond your invitation."

" Oh no ! I dare say," rejoined Miss Snevellicci. And
Miss Ledrook said, " Upon my word ! " Upon which Miss
Snevellicci said that Miss Ledrook was a giddy thing ; and
Miss Ledrook said that Miss Snevellicci needn't color up quite
so much ; and Miss Snevellicci beat Miss Ledrook, and Miss
Ledrook beat Miss Snevellicci.

" Come," said Miss Ledrook, " it's high time we were
there, or we shall have poor Mrs. Snevellicci thinking that you
have run away with her daughter, Mr. Johnson ; and then we
should have a pretty to-do."

" My dear Led," remonstrated Miss Snevellicci, "how you
do talk ! "

Miss Ledrook made no answer, but taking Smike's arm in
hers, left her friend and Nicholas to follow at their pleasure ;
which it pleased them, or rather pleased Nicholas, who had no
great fancy for a t&c-d-t&te under the circumstances, to do at
once.

There were not wanting matters of conversation when
they reached the street, for it turned out that Miss Snevellicci
had a small basket to carry home, and Miss Ledrook a small
band-box, both containing such minor articles of theatrical
costume as the lady performers usually carried to and fro
every evening. Nicholas would insist upon carrying the
basket, and Miss Snevellicci would insist upon carrying it her-
self, which gave rise to a struggle, in which Nicholas captured
the basket and the band-box likewise. Then Nicholas said,
that he wondered what could possibly be inside the basket,
and attempted to peep in, whereat Miss Snevellicci screamed,
and declared that if she thought he had seen, she was sure
she should faint away. This declaration was followed by a
similar attempt on the band-box, and similar demonstrations



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388 NICHOLAS NICKLEBY.

on the part of Miss Ledrook, and then both ladies vowed that
they wouldn't move a step further until Nicholas had prom-
ised that he wouldn't offer to peep again. At last Nicholas
pledged himself to betray no further curiosity, and they walked
on : both ladies giggling very much, and declaring that they
never had seen such a wicked creature in all their born days
— never.

Lightening the way with such pleasantry as this, they ar-
rived at the tailor's house in no time ; and here they made
quite a little party, there being present besides Mr. Lillyvick
and Mrs. Lillyvick, not only Miss Snevellicci's mama, but her
papa also. And an uncommonly fine man Miss Snevellicci's
papa was, with a hook nose, and a white forehead, and curly
black hair, and high cheek bones, and altogether quite a
handsome face, only a little pimply as though with drinking.
He had a very broad chest had Miss Snevellicci's papa, and
he wore a threadbare blue dress coat buttoned with gilt but-
tons tight across it ; and he no sooner saw Nicholas come
into the room, than he whipped the two forefingers of his
right hand in between the two centre buttons, and sticking his
other arm gracefully a-kimbo, seemed to say, " Now, here I
am, my buck, and what have you got to say to me ? "

Such was, and in such an attitude sat Miss Snevellicci's
papa, who had been in the profession ever since he had first
played the ten-year-old imps in the Christmas pantomimes ; who
could sing a little, dance a little, fence a little, act a little, and
do everything a little, but not much ; who had been sometimes
in the ballet, and sometimes in the chorus, at every theatre in
London ; who was always selected in virtue of his figure to
play the military visitors and the speechless noblemen ; who
always wore a smart dress, and came on arm-in-arm with a
smart lady in short petticoats, — and always did it it too with
such an air that people in the pit had been several times known
to cry out " Bravo ! " under the impression that he was some-
body. Such was Miss Snevellicci's papa, upon whom some
envious persons cast the imputation that he occasionally beat
Miss Snevellicci's mama, who was still a dancer, with a neat
little figure and some remaihs of good looks, and who now
sat, as she danced, — being rather too old for the full glare of
the foot lijl t , — in the back ground.

To these good people Nicholas was presented with much
formality. The introduction being completed, Miss Snevel-
licci's papa (who was scented with nun and water) said that



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NICHOLAS NJCKLEBY. 389

he. was delighted to make the acquaintance of. a gentleman so
highly talented ; and furthermore remarked, that there hadn't
been such a hit made — no, not since the first appearance of
his friend Mr. Glavormelly, at the Coburg.

" You have seen him, sir ? " said Miss Snevellicci's papa.

" No, really I never did," replied'Nicholas.

" You never saw my friend Glavormelly, sir ! " said Miss
Snevellicci's papa. " Then you have never seen acting yet.
If he had lived "

"Oh, he is dead, is he ?" interrupted Nicholas.

" He is," said Mr. Snevellicci. " but he isn't in Westmintser

Abbey, more's the shame. He was a . Well, no matter.

He is gone to that bourne from whence no traveller returns.
I hope he is appreciated there'*

So saying Miss Snevellicci's papa rubbed the tip of Jus
nose with a very yellow silk handkerchief, and gave the com-
pany to understand that these recollections overcame him.

" Well, Mr. Lillyvick," said Nicholas, " and how are you ? "

" Quite well, sir," replied the collector. " There is nothing
like the married state, sir, depend upon it."

" Indeed ! " said Nicholas, laughing.

"Nothing like it," sir, replied Mr. Lillyvick solemnly.
" How do you think," whispered the collector, drawing him
aside, " How do you think she looks to-night ? "

" As handsome as ever," replied Nicholas, glancing at the
late Miss Petowker.

" Why, there's a air about her, sir," whispered die collec-
tor, " that I never saw in anybody. Look at her, now she
moves to put the kettle on. There 1 Isn't it fascination,
sir?"

" You're a lucky man," said Nicholas.

" Ha, ha, ha ! " rejoined the collector. " No. Do you
think I am though, eh ? Perhaps I may be, perhaps I may
be. I say, I couldn't have done much better it I had been a
young man, could I ? You couldn't have done much better
yourself, could you — eh — could you ? " With such inquiries,
and many more such, Mr. Lillyvick jerked his elbow into
Nicholas's side, and chuckled till his face became quite pur-
ple in the attempt to keep down his satisfaction.

By this time the cloth had been laid under the joint super-
intendence of all the ladies, upon two tables put together, one
being high and narrow, and the other low and broad. There
were oysters at the top, sausages at the bottom, a pair of snuf-



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3 9 o NICHOLAS NICJCLEB Y.

fers in the centre, and baked potatoes wherever it was mpst
convenient to put them. Two additional chairs were brought
in from the bedroom ; Miss Snevellicci sat at the head of the
table, and Mr. Lillyvick at the foot ; and Nicholas had not
only the honor of sitting next Miss Snevellicci, but of having
Miss Snevellicci's mama on his right hand, and Miss Snevel-
licci's papa over the way. In short, he was the hero of the
feast ; and when the table was cleared and something warm
introduced, Miss Snevellicci's papa got up and proposed his
health in a speech containing such affecting allusions to his
coming departure, that Miss Snevellicci wept, and was com-
pelled to retire into the bedroom.

" Hush ! Don't take any notice of it," said Miss Le-
drook, peeping in from the bedroom. " Say, when she comes
back, that she exerts herself too much."

Miss Ledrook eked out this speech with so many myste-
rious nods and frowns before she shut the door again, that a
profound silence came upon all the company, during which
Miss Snevellicci's papa looked very big indeed — several sizes
larger than life — at everybody in turn, but particularly at
Nicholas, and kept on perpetually emptying his tumbler and
filling it again, until the ladies returned in a cluster, with
Miss Snevellicci among them.

" You needn't alarm yourself a bit, Mr. Snevellicci," said
Mrs. Lillyvick. " She is only a little weak and nervous ; she
has been so ever since the morning."

" Oh," said Mr. Snevellicci, " that's all, is it ? "

" Oh yes, that's all. Don't make a fuss about it," cried
all the ladies together.

Now this was not exactly the kind of reply suited to Mr.
Snevellici's importance as a man and a father, so he picked
out the unfortunate Mrs. Snevellicci, and asked her what the
devil she meant by talking to him in that way.

" Dear me, my dear ! " said Mrs. Snevellicci.

"Don't call me your dear, ma'am," said Mr. Snevellicci,
" if you please."

" Pray, pa, don't," interposed Miss Snevellicci..

" Don't what, my child ? "

" Talk in that way."

" Why not ? " said Mr. Snevellicci. " I hope you don't
suppose there's anybody here who is to prevent my talking as
I like ? "

"Nobody wants to, pa," rejoined his daughter.



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NICHOLAS NICKLEB Y. 39 L

" Nobody would if they did want to," said Mr. Snevellicci.
" I am not ashamed of myself. Snevellicci is my name. I'm
to be found in Broad Court, Bow Street, when I'm in town.
If I'm not at home, let any man ask for me at the stage door.
Damme, they know me at the stage door I suppose ? Most
men have seen my portrait at the cigar shop round the corner.
I've been mentioned in the newspapers before now, haven't
I ? Talk ! I'll tell you what ; if I found out that any man had
been tampering with the affections of my daughter, I wouldn't
talk. I'd astonish him without talking ; that's my way."

So saying, Mr. Snevellicci struck the palm of his left hand
three smart blows with his clenched fist ; pulled a phantom
nose with his right thumb and fore finger, and swallowed
another glassfull at a draught. " That's my way," repeated
Mr. Snevellicci.

Most public characters have their failings ; and the truth
is that Mr. Snevellicci was a little addicted to drinking ; or,
if the whole truth must be told, that he was scarcely ever
sober. He knew in his cups three distinct stages of intoxica-
tion, — the dignified — the quarrelsome — the amorous. When
professionally engaged he never got beyond the dignified ; in
private circles he went through all three, passing from one to
another with a rapidity of transition often rather perplexing
to those who had not the honor of his acquaintance.

Thus Mr. Snevellicci had no sooner swallowed another
glassful than he smiled upon all present in happy forgetfulness
of having exhibited symptoms of pugnacity, and proposed
" The ladies ! Bless their hearts ! " in a most vivacious man-
ner.

" I love 'em," said Mr. Snevellicci, looking round the ta-
ble, " I love 'em, every one."

" Not every one," reasoned Mr. Lilly vick, mildly.

" Yes, every one," repeated Mr. Snevellicci.

"That would include the married ladies, you know," said
Mr. Lillyvick.

" I love them too, sir," said Mr. Snevellicci.

The collector looked into the surrounding faces with an
aspect of grave astonishment, seeming to say, "This is a
nice man ! " and appeared a little surprised that Mrs. Lilly-
vick's manner yielded no evidences of horror and indignation.

"One good turn deserves another," said Mr. Snevellicci.
"I love them and they love me." And as if this avowal
were not made in sufficient disregard and defiance of all moral



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392 NICHOLAS NICKLEBY.

obligations, what did Mr. Snevellicci do ? He winked — wink-
ed, openly and undisguisedly ; winked with his right eye —
upon Henrietta Lillyvick !

The collector fell back in his chair in the intensity of his
astonishment. If anybody had winked at her as Henrietta
Petowker, it would have been indecorous in the last degree ;
but as Mrs. Lillyvick ! While he thought of it in a cold per-
spiration, and wondered whether it was possible that he could
be dreaming, Mr. Snevellicci, repeated the wink, and drinking
to Mrs. Lillyvick in dumb show, actually blew her a kiss !
Mr. Lillyvick left his chair, walked straight up to the other
end of the table, and fell upon him — literally fell upon him —
instantaneously. Mr. Lillyvick was no light weight, and con-
sequently when he fell upon Mr. Snevellicci, Mr. Snevellicci
fell under the table. Mr. Lillyvick followed him, and the
ladies screamed.

" What is the matter with the men ! Are they mad ? "
cried Nicholas, diving under the table, dragging up the col-
lector by main force, and thrusting him, all doubled up, into
a chair, as if he had been a stuffed figure. " What do you
mean to do ? What do you want to do ? What is the matter
with you ? "

While Nicholas raised up the collector, Smike had per-
formed the same office for Mr. Snevellicci, who now regarded
his late adversary in tipsy amazement.

" Look here, sir," replied Mr. Lillyvick, pointing to his
astonished wife, " here is purity and elegance combined, whose
feelings have been outraged — violated, sir ! "

" Lor, what nonsense he talks! " exclaimed Mrs. Lillyvick
in answer to the inquiring look of Nicholas. " Nobody has
said anything to me."

" Said, Henrietta ! " cried the collector. " Didn't I see
him — " Mr. Lillyvick couldn't bring himself to utter the
word, but he counterfeited the motion of the eye.

" Well ! " cried Mrs. Lillyvick. " Do you suppose nobody
is ever to look at me ? A pretty thing to be married indeed,
if that was law ! "

" You didn't mind it ? " cried the collector.

" Mind it I " repeated Mrs. Lillyvick contemptuously.
" You ought to go down on your knees and beg everybod/s
pardon, that you ought."

" Pardon, my dear ? " said the dismayed collector.

" Yes, and mine first," replied Mrs. Lillyvick. " Do you



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NICHOLAS NICKLEB Y. 393

suppose I ain't the best judge of what's proper and what's
improper ? "

" To be sure," cried all the ladies. " Do you suppose we
shouldn't be the first to speak, if there was anything that
ought to be taken notice of ? "

" Do you suppose they don't know, sir ? " said Miss Snevel-
licci's papa, pulling up his collar, and muttering something
about a punching of heads, and being only withheld by con-
siderations of age. With which Miss Snevellicci's papa looked
steadily and sternly at Mr. Lillyvick for some seconds, and
then rising deliberately from his chair, kisfced the ladies all
round, beginning with Mrs. Lillyvick.

The unhappy collector looked piteously at his wife, as if
to see whether there was any one trait of Miss Petowker left
in Mrs. Lillyvick, and finding too surely that there was not,
begged pardon of all the company with great humility, and
sat down such a crest-fallen, dispirited, disenchanted man,
that despite all his selfishness and dotage, he was quite an
object of compassion.

Miss Snevellicci's papa being greatly exalted by this
triumph, and incontestable proof of his popularity with the
fair sex, quickly grew convivial, not to say uproarious.; volun-
teering more than one song of no inconsiderable length, and
regaling the social circle between-whiles with recollections of
divers splendid women who had been supposed to entertain a
passion for himself, several of whom he toasted by name,
taking occasion to remark at the same time that if he had
been a little more alive to his own interest, he might have
been rolling at that moment in his chariot-and-four. These
reminiscences appeared to awaken no very torturing pangs in
the breast of Mrs. Snevellicci, who was sufficiently occupied
in descanting to Nicholas upon the manifold accomplishments
and merits of her daughter. Nor was the young lady herself
at all behind-hand in displaying her choicest allurements ; but
these, heightened as they were by the artifices of Miss Le-
drook, had no effect whatever in increasing the attention of
Nicholas, who, with the precedent of Miss Squeers still fresh
in his memory, steadily resisted every fascination, and placed
so strict a guard upon his behavior that when he had taken
his leave the ladies were unanimous in pronouncing him quite
a monster of insensibility.

Next day the posters appeared in due course, and the
public were informed, in all the colors of the rainbow, and in



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394 NICHOLAS NICKLEB Y.

letters afflicted with every possible variation of spinal deformity,
how that Mr. Johnson would have the honor of making his
last appearance that evening, and how that an early applica-
tion for places was requested, in consequence of the extraor-
dinary overflow attendant on his performances. It being a
remarkable fact in theatrical history, but one long since estab-
lished beyond dispute, that it is a hopeless endeavor to attract
people to a theatre unless they can be first brought to believe
tjfat they will never get into it.

Nicholas was somewhat at a loss, on entering the theatre
at night, to account for the unusual perturbation and excite-
ment visible in the countenances of all the company, but he
was not long in doubt as to the cause, for before he could
make any inquiry respecting it Mr. Crummies approached,
and in an agitated tone of voice, informed him that there was
a London manager in the boxes.

" It's the phenomenon, depend upon it, sir," said Crummies,
dragging Nicholas to the little hole in the curtain that he
might look through at the London manager. " I have not
the smallest doubt it's the fame of the phenomenon — that's
the man ; him in the great-coat and no shirt-collar. She shall
have tep pound a-week, Johnson ; she shall not appear on the
London boards for a farthing less. They shan't engage her
either, unless they engage Mrs. Crummies too — twenty pound
a-week for the pair ; or I'll tell you what, I'll throw in myself
and the two boys, and they shall have the family for thirty. I
can't say fairer than that. They must take us all, if none of
us will go without the others. That's the way some of the
London people do, and it always answers. Thirty pound a-
week. It's too cheap, Johnson. It's dirt cheap."

Nicholas replied, that it certainly was ; and Mr. Vincent
Crummies taking several huge pinches of snuff to compose
his feelings, hurried away to tell Mrs. Crummies that he had
quite settled the only terms that could be accepted, and had
resolved not to abate one single farthing.

When everybody was dressed and the curtain went up, the
excitement occasioned by the presence of the London manager
increased a thousand-fold. Everybody happened to know
that the London manager had come down specially to witness
his or her own performance, and all were in a flutter of anxiety
and expectation. Some of those who were not on in the
first scene, hurried to the. wings, and there stretched their
necks to have a peep at him ; others stole up into the two



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NICHOLAS NICKLEBY.



395



little private boxes over the stage-doors, and from that posi-
tion reconnoitered the London manager. Once the London
manager was seen to smile. He smiled at the comic country-
man's pretending to catch a blue-bottle, while Mrs. Crummies
was making her greatest effect. " Very good, my fine fel-
low/' said Mr. Crummies, shaking his fist at the comic
countryman when he came off, " you leave this company next
Saturday night."

In the same way, everybody who was on the stage beheld
no audience but one individual ; everybody played to the
London manager. When Mr. Lenville in a sudden burst of
passion called the emperor a miscreant, and then biting his
gtove, said, u But I must dissemble," instead of looking
gloomily at the boards and so waiting for his cue, as is proper
in such cases, he kept his eye fixed upon the London man-
ager. When Miss Bravassa sang her song at her lover, who
according to custom stood ready to shake hands with her be-
tween the verses, they looked, not at each other but at the
London manager. Mr. Crummies died point blank at him ;
and when the two guards came in to take the body off after a
very hard death, it was seen to open its eyes and glance at
the London manager. At length the London manager was
discovered to be asleep, and shortly after that he woke up and
went away, whereupon all the company fell foul of the un-
happy comic countryman, declaring that his buffonery was the
sole cause ; and Mr. Crummies said, that he had put up with
it a long time, but that he really couldn't stand it any longer,
and therefore would feel obliged by his looking out for another
engagement.

All this was the occasion of much amusement to Nicholas,
whose only feeling upon the subject was one of sincere satis-
faction that the great man went away before he appeared. He
went through his part in the two last pieces as briskly as he
could, and having been received with unbounded favor and
unprecedented applause — so said the bills for next day, which
had been printed an hour or two before — he took Smike's
arm and walked home to bed.

With the post next morning came a letter from Newman
Noggs, very inky, very short, very dirty, very small, and very
mysterious, urging Nicholas to return to London instantly ;
not to lose an instant ; to be there that night if possible.

" I will," said Nicholas. " Heaven knows I have remained
here for the best, and sorely against my own will ; but even



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396 NICHOLAS NICKLEBY.

now I may have dallied too long. What can have happened ?
Smike, my good fellow, here — take my purse. Put our things
together, and pay what little debts we owe— quick, and we
shall be in time for the morning coach. I will only tell them
that we are going, and will return to you immediately."

So saying, he took his hat, and hurrying away to the
lodgings of Mr. Crummies, applied his hand to the knocker
with such hearty good-will, that he awakened that gentleman,
who was still in bed, and caused Mr. Bulph the pilot to take
his morning's pipe very nearly out of his mouth in the ex-
tremity of his surprise.

The door being opened, Nicholas ran up stairs without
any ceremony, and bursting into the darkened sitting-room
on the one pair front, found that the two Master Crummleses
had sprung out of the sofa-bedstead and were putting on their
clothes with great rapidity, under the impression that it was
the middle of the night, and the next house was on fire.

Before he could undeceive them, Mr. Crummies came
down in a flannel-gown and night-cap ; and to him Nicholas
briefly explained that circumstances had occurred which ren-
dered it necessary for him to repair to London immediately.

" So good-by," said Nicholas ; "good-by, good-by."

He was half-way down stairs before Mr. Crummies had
sufficiently recovered his surprise to gasp out something about
the posters.

" I can't help it," replied Nicholas. " Set whatever I may
have earned this week against them, or if that will not repay
you, say at once what will. Quick, quick."

"We'll cry quits about that," returned Crummies. "But
can't we have one last night more ? "

"Not an hour — not a minute," replied Nicholas, im-
patiently.

" Won't you stop to say something to Mrs. Crummies ? "
asked the manager, following him down to the door.

" I couldn't stop if it were to prolong my life a score of
years," rejoined Nicholas. " Here, take my hand, and with
it my hearty thanks. — Oh ! that I should have been fooling
here ! "

Accompanying these words with an impatient stamp upon
the ground, he tore himself from the manager's detaining
grasp, and darting rapidly down the street was out of sight in
an instant.

" Dear me, dear me," said Mr. Crummies, looking wist-



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NICHOLAS NICKLEBY.



397



fully towards the point at which he had just disappeared ; " if
he only acted like that, what a deal of money he'd draw ! He
should have kept upon this circuit ; he'd have been very use-
ful to me. But he don't know what's good for him. He is
an impetuous youth. Young men are rash, very rash."

Mr. Crummies being in a moralizing mood, might possibly
have moralized for some minutes longer if he had not mechan-
ically put his hand towards his waistcoat pocket, where he
was accustomed to keep his snuff. The absence of any
pocket at all in the usual direction, suddenly recalled to his
recollection the fact that he had no waistcoat on ; and this
leading him to a contemplation of the extreme scantiness of
his attire, he shut the door abruptly, and retired up stairs
with great precipitation.



Online LibraryCharles DickensThe life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby → online text (page 38 of 79)