Charles Dickens.

The life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby online

. (page 39 of 79)
Online LibraryCharles DickensThe life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby → online text (page 39 of 79)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Smike had made good speed while Nicholas was absent,
and with his help everything was soon ready for their depart-
ure. They scarcely stopped to take a morsel of breakfast,
and in less than half an hour arrived at the coach-office :
quite out of breath with the haste they had made to reach it
in time. There were yet a few minutes to spare, so, having
secured the places, Nicholas hurried into a slopseller's hard
by, and bought Smike a great-coat. It would have been
rather large for a substantial yeoman, but the shopman aver-
ring (and with considerable truth) that it was a most uncom-
mon fit, Nicholas would have purchased it in his impatience
if it had been twice the size.

As they hurried up to the coach, which was now in the
open street and all ready for starting, Nicholas was not a little
astonished to find himself suddenly clutched in a close and
violent embrace, which nearly took him off his legs ; nor was
his amazement at all lessened by hearing the voice of Mr.
Crummies exclaim, " It is he — my friend, my friend ! "

" Bless my heart," cried Nicholas, struggling in the mana-
ger's arms, " what are you about ? "

The manager made no reply, but strained him to his breast
again, exclaiming as he did so, " Farewell, my noble, my lion-
hearted boy ! "

In fact, Mr. Crummies, who could never lose any oppor-
tunity for professional display, had turned out for the express
purpose of taking a public farewell of Nicholas ; and to ren-
der it the more imposing, he was now, to that young gentle-
man's most profound annoyance, inflicting upon him a rapid
succession of stage embraces, which, as everybody knows, are

Digitized by VjOOQIC


performed by the embracer's laying his or her chin on the
shoulder of the object of affection, and looking over it. This
Mr. Crummies did in the highest style of melodrama, pouring
forth at the same time all the most dismal forms of farewell
he could think of, out of the stock pieces. Nor was this all,
for the elder Master Crummies was going through a similar
ceremony with Smike ; while Master Percy Crummies, with a
very little second-hand camlet cloak, worn theatrically over
his left shoulder, stood by, in the attitude of an attendant
officer, waiting to convey the two victims to the scaffold.

The lookers-on laughed very heartily, and as it was as
well to put a good face upon the matter, Nicholas laughed too
when he had succeeded in disengaging himself ; and rescuing
the astonished Smike, climbed up to the coach roof after him,
and kissed his hand in honor of the absent Mrs. Crummies as
they rolled away.



In blissful unconsciousness that his nephew was hastening
at the utmost speed of four good horses towards his sphere of
action, and that every passing minute diminished the distance
between them, Ralph Nickleby sat that morning occupied in
his customary avocations, and yet unable to prevent his
thoughts wandering from time to time back to the interview
which had taken place between himself and his niece on the
previous day. At such intervals, after a few moments of ab-
straction, Ralph would mutter some peevish interjection, and
apply himself with renewed steadiness of purpose to the ledger
before him, but again and again the same train of thought came
back despite all his efforts to prevent it, confusing him in his cal-
culations, and utterly distracting his attention from the figures
over which he bent. At length Ralph laid down his pen, and
threw himself back in his chair as though he had made up his

Digitized by VjOOQIC


mind to allow the obtrusive current of reflection to take its
own course, and, by giving it full scope, to rid himself of it

" I am not a man to be moved by a pretty face," muttered
Ralph sternly. " There is a grinning skull beneath it, and
men like me who look and work below the surface see that,
and not its delicate covering. And yet I almost like the girl,
or should if she had been less proudly and squeamishly
brought up. If the boy were drowned or hanged, and the
mother dead, this house should be her home. I wish they
were, with all my soul."

Notwithstanding the deadly hatred which Ralph felt
towards Nicholas, and the bitter contempt with which he
sneered at poor Mrs. Nickleby — notwithstanding the baseness
with which he had behaved, and was then behaving, and would
behave again if his interest prompted him, towards Kate her-
self — still there was, strange though it may seem, something
humanizing and even gentle in his thoughts at that moment.
He thought of what his home might be if Kate were there ;
he placed her in the empty chair, looked upon her, heard her
speak ; he felt again upon his arm the gentle pressure of the
trembling hand ; he strewed his costly rooms with the hun-
dred silent tokens of feminine presence and occupation ; he
came back again to the cold fireside and the silent dreary
splendor ; and in that one glimpse of a better nature, born as
it was in selfish thought, the rich man felt himself friendless,
childless, and alone. Gold, for the instant, lost its lustre in
his eyes, for there were countless treasures of the heart which
it could never purchase.

A very slight circumstance was sufficient to banish such
reflections from the mind of such a man. As Ralph looked
vacantly out across the yard towards the window of the other
office, he became suddenly aware of the earnest observation
of Newman Noggs, who with his red nose almost touching the
glass, feigned to be mending a pen with a rusty fragment of a
knife, but was in reality staring at his employer with a counte-
nance of the closest and most eager scrutiny.

Ralph exchanged his dreamy posture for his accustomed
business attitude : the face of Newman disappeared, and the
train of thought took to flight, all simultaneously and in an
instant ^

After a few minutes, Ralph rang his bell. Newman an-
swered the summons, and Ralph raised his eyes steathily to

Digitized byVjOOQlC


his face, as if he almost feared to read there, a knowledge of
his recent thoughts.

There was not the smallest speculation, however, in the
countenance of Newman Noggs. If it be possible to imagine
a man with two eyes in his head, and both wide open, looking
in no direction whatever, and seeing nothing, Newman ap-
peared to be that man while Ralph Nickleby regarded him.
" How now ? " growled Ralph.

" Oh ! " said Newman, throwing some intelligence into his
eyes all at once, and dropping them on his master, " I thought
you rang." With which laconic remark Newman turned
round and hobbled away.
" Stop ! " said Ralph.
Newman stopped ; not at all disconcerted.
44 1 did ring."
" I knew you did."

" Then why do you offer to go if you know that ? "
"I thought you rang to say you didn't ring," replied New-
man. ."You often do."

" How dare you pry, and peer, and stare at me, sirrah ? "
demanded Ralph.

" Stare ! " cried Newman, " at you / Ha, ha ! " which was
all the explanation Newman deigned to offer.

"Be careful, sir," said Ralph, looking steadily at him.
" Let me have no drunken fooling here,. Do you see this
parcel ? "

" It's big enough," rejoined Newman.
" Carry it into the City ; to Cross, in Broad Street, and
leave it there — quick. Do you hear ? "

Newman gave a dogged kind of nod to express an affirma-
tive reply, and, leaving the room for a few seconds, returned
with his hat. Having made various ineffective attempts to fit
the parcel (which was some two feet square) into the crown
thereof, Newman took it under his arm, and after putting on
his fingerless gloves with great precision and nicety, keeping
his eyes fixed upon Mr. Ralph Nickleby all the time, he ad-
justed his hat upon his head with as much care, real or pre-
tended, as if it were a bran-new one of the most expensive
quality, and at last departed on his errand.

He executed his commission with great promptitude and
despatch, only calling at one public-house for half a minute,
and even that might be said to be in his way, for he went in
at one door and came out at the other ; but as he returned

Digitized by VjOOQIC


and had got so far homewards as the Strand, Newman began
to loiter with the uncertain air of a man who has not quite
made up his mind whether to halt or go straight forwards.
After a very short consideration, the former inclination pre-
vailed, and making towards the point he had had in his mind,
Newman knocked a modest double-knock, or rather a nervous
single one, at Miss La Creevy's door.

It was opened by a strange servant, on whom the odd figure
of the visitor did not appear to make the most favorable inv*
pression possible, inasmuch as she no sooner saw him than
she very nearly closed it, and placing herself in the narrow
gap, inquired what he wanted. But Newman merely uttering
the monosyllable " Noggs," as if it were some cabalistic word,
at sound of which bolts would fly back and doors open,
pushed briskly past and gained the door of Miss La Creevy's
sitting-room, before the astonished servant could offer any

" Walk in if you please," said Miss La Creevy in reply to the
sound of Newman's knuckles ; and in he walked accordingly.

" Bless us ! " cried Miss La Creevy, starting as Newman
bolted in ; " what did you want, sir ? "

" You have forgotten me," said Newman, with an inclina*
tion of the head. " I wonder at that. That nobody should
remember me who knew me in other days, is natural enough ;
but there are few people who, seeing me once, forget me noiv"
He glanced, as he, spoke, at his shabby clothes and paralytic
limb, and slightly shook his head.

" I did forget you, I declare," said Miss La Creevy, rising
to receive Newman, who met her half-way, " and I am ashamed
of myself for doing so ; for you are a kind, good creature, Mr.
Noggs. Sit down and tell me all about Miss Nickleby. Poor
dear thing ! I haven't seen her for this many a week."

" How's that ? " asked Newman.

" Why the truth is, Mr. Noggs," said Miss La Creevy,
" that I have been out on a visit — the first visit I have made
for fifteen years."

"That is a long time," said Newman, sadly.

" So it is a very long time to look back upon in years, though,
somehow or other, thank Heaven, the solitary days roll away
peacefully and happily enough," replied the miniature painter.
" I have a brother, Mr. Noggs — the only relation I have — and
all that time I never saw him once. Not that we ever quar-
relled, but he was apprenticed down in the country, and he got


Digitized by VjOOQIC



married there, and new ties and affections springing up about
him, he forgot a poor little woman like me, as it was very rea-
sonable he should, you know. Don't suppose that I complain,
about that, because I always said to myself, * It is very natural ;
poor dear John is making his way in the world, and has a wife
♦ to tell his cares and troubles to, and children now to play
about him, so God bless him and them, and send we may all
meet together one day where we shall part no more.' But
what do you think, Mr. Noggs," said the miniature painter,
brightening up and clapping her hands, " of that very same
brother coming up to London at last, and never resting till he
found me out ; what do you think of his coming here and sit-
ting down in that very chair, and crying like a child because
he was so glad to see me — what do you think of his insisting
on taking me down all the way into the country to his own
house (quite a sumptuous place, Mr. Noggs, with a large gar-
den and I don't know how many fields, and a man in livery
waiting at table, and cows and horses and pigs and I don't
know what besides), and making me stay a whole month, and
pressing me to stop there all my life — yes, all my life — and so
did his wife, and so did the children — and there were four of
them, and one, the eldest girl of all, they — they had named
her after me eight good years before, they had indeed. I
nevef was so happy ; in all my life I never was ! " The wor-
thy soul hid her face in her handkerchief, and sobbed aloud;
for it was the first opportunity she had had of unburdening
her heart, and it would have its way.

" But bless my life," said Miss La Creevy, wiping her eyes
after a short pause, and cramming her handkerchief into her
pocket with great bustle and dispatch ; " what a foolish
creature I must seem to you, Mr. Noggs ! I shouldn't have
said anything about it, only I wanted to explain to you how it
was I hadn't seen Miss Nickleby."

" Have you seen the old lady ? " asked Newman.

"You mean Mrs. Nickleby?" said Miss La Creevy. ~
" Then I tell you what, Mr. Noggs, if you want to keep in the
good books in that quarter, you had better not call her the old
lady any more, for I suspect she wouldn't be best pleased to
hear you. Yes, I went there the night before last, but she was
quite on the high ropes about something, and was so grand
and mysterious, that I couldn't make anything of her ; so, to
tell you the truth, I took it into my head to be grand too, and
came away in state. I thought she would have come round
again before this, but she hasn't been here."

Digitized by VjOOQIC


" About Miss Nickleby — " said Newman.

44 Why, she was here twice while I was away," returned
Miss La Creevy. " I was afraid she mightn't like to have me
calling on her among those great folks in what's-its-name Place,
so I thought I'd wait a day or two, and if I didn't see her,

" Ah I " exclaimed Newman, cracking his fingers.

" However, I want to hear all the news about them from
you," said Miss La Creevy. " How is the old rough and
tough monster of Golden Square ? Well, of course ; such
people always are. I don't mean how is he in health, but how
is he going on ; how is he behaving himself ? "

44 Damn him ! " cried Newman, dashing his cherished hat
on the floor ; " like a false hound."

" Gracious, Mr. Noggs, you quite terrify me ! " exclaimed
Miss La Creevy, turning pale.

" I should have spoilt his features yesterday afternoon if I
could have afforded it," said Newman, moving restlessly about,
and shaking his fist at a portrait of Mr. Canning over the
mantelpiece. " I was very near it. I was obliged to put my
hands in my pockets, and keep 'em there very tight. I shall
do it some day in that little back parlor, I know I shall. I
should have done it before now, if I hadn't been afraid of
making bad worse. I shall double-lock myself in with him and
have it out before I die, I'm quite certain of it."

" I shall scream if you don't compose yourself, Mr. Noggs,"
said Miss La Creevy ; I'm sure I shan't be able to help it."

44 Never mind," rejoined Newman, darting violently to and
fro. 44 He's coming up to-night ; I wrote to tell him. He lit-
tle thinks I know ; he little thinks I care. Cunning scoun-
drel ! he don't think that. Not he, not he. Never mind, I'll
thwart him — /, Newman Noggs. Ho, ho, the rascal ! "

Lashing himself up to an extravagant pitch of fury, New-
man Noggs jerked himself about the room with the most
eccentric motion ever beheld in a human being ; now sparring
at the little miniatures on the wall, and now giving himself
violent thumps on the head, as if to heighten the delusion,
until he sank down in his former seat quite breathless and

44 There," said Newman, picking up his hat ; " that's done
me good. Now I'm better, and I'll tell you all about it."

It took some little time to reassure Miss La Creevy, who
had been almost frightened out of her senses by this remark-

Digitized by VjOOQlC



able demonstration ; but that done, Newman faithfully re-
lated all that had passed in the interview between Kate and
her uncle, prefacing his narrative with a statement of his
previous suspicions on the subject, and his reasons for form-
ing them ; and concluding with a communication of the step
he had taken in secretly writing to Nicholas.

Though little Miss La Creevy's indignation was not so
singularly displayed as Newman's, it was scarcely inferior in
violence and intensity. Indeed if Ralph Nickleby had hap-
pened to make his appearance in the room at that moment,
there is some doubt whether he would not have found Miss
La Creevy a more dangerous opponent than even Newman
Noggs himself.

" God forgive me for saying so," said Miss La Creevy, as
a wind-up to all her expressions of anger, " but I really feel as
if I could stick this into him with pleasure."

It was not a very awful weapon that Miss La Creevy held,
it being in fact nothing more nor less than a black-lead pencil;
but discovering her mistake, the little portrait painter, ex-
changed it for a mother-of-pearl fruit knife, wherewith^ in proof
of her desperate thoughts, she made a lunge as she spoke,
which would have scarcely disturbed the crumb of a half-
quartern loaf.

" She won't stop where she is, after to-night," said New-
man. "That's a comfort."

" Stop ! " cried Miss La Creevy, " she should have left
there, weeks ago."

— " If we had Known of this," rejoined Newman. " But
we didn't. Nobody could properly interfere but her mother
or brother. The mother's weak — poor thing — weak. The
dear young man will be here to-night."

" Heart alive ! " cried Miss La Creevy. " He will do
something desperate, Mr. Noggs, if you tell him all at once."

Newman left off rubbing his hands, and assumed a thought-
ful look.

"Depend upon it," said Miss La Creevy, earnestly, " if
you are not very careful in breaking out the truth to him, he
will do some violence upon his uncle or one of these men that
will bring some terrible calamity upon his own head, and grief
and sorrow to us all."

" I never thought of that," rejoined Newman, his counten-
ance falling more and more. " I came to ask you to receive
his sister in case he brought her here, but — "

Digitized by VjOOQIC



" But this is a matter of much greater importance," inter-
rupted Miss La Creevy; "that you might have been sure of
before you came, but the end of this, nobody can forsee, unless
you are very guarded and careful."

" What can I do ? " cried Newman, scratching his head
with an air of great vexation and perplexity. " If he was to
talk of pistolling 'em all, I should be obliged to say, * Certainly.
Serve 'em right.' "

Miss La Creevy could not suppress a small shriek on hear-
ing this, and instantly set about extorting a solemn pledge
^rom Newman, that he would use his utmost endeavors to
pacify the wrath of Nicholas ; which, after some demur, was
conceded. They then consulted together on the safest and
surest mode of communicating to him the circumstances
which had rendered his presence necessary.

" He must have time to cool before he can possibly do any-
thing," said Miss La Creevy. " That is of the greatest con-
sequence. He must not be told until late at night."

" But he'll be in town between six and seven this evening,"
replied Newman. " / can't keep it from him when he asks

" Then you must go out, Mr. Noggs," said Miss La Creevy.
" You can easily have been kept away by business, and must
not return till nearly midnight."

" Then he'll come straight here," retorted Newman.

" So I suppose," observed Miss La Creevy ; " but he won't
find me at home, for I'll go straight to the City, the instant
you leave me, make up matters with Mrs. Nickleby, and take
her away to the theatre, so that he may not even know where
his sister lives."

Upon further discussion, this appeared the safest and most
feasible mode of proceeding that could possibly be adopted.
Therefore it was finally determined that matters should be so
arranged. Newman, after listening to many supplementary
cautions and entreaties, took his leave of Miss La Creevy
and trudged back to Golden Square, ruminating as he went
upon a vast number of possibilities and impossibilities which
crowded upon his brain, and arose out of the conversation
that had just terminated.

Digitized by VjOOQlC




" London at last I " cried Nicholas, throwing back his
great-coat and rousing Smike from a long nap. "It seemed
to me as though we should never reach it."

" And yet you came along at a tidy pace too," observed
the coachman, looking over his shoulder at Nicholas with no
very pleasant expression of countenance.

" Ay, I know that," was the reply, " but I have been very
anxious to to be at my journey's end, and that makes the way
seem long."

"Well," remarked the coachman, " if the way seemed long
with such cattle as youVe sat behind, you must have been
most uncommon anxious ; " and so saying, he let out his whip-
lash and touched up a little boy on the calves of his legs by
way of emphasis.

They rattled on through the noisy, bustling, crowded streets
of London, now displaying long double rows of brightly-burn-
ing lamps, dotted here and there with the chemists' glaring
lights, and illuminated besides with the brilliant flood that
streamed from the windows of the shops, where sparkling jewel-
lery, silks and velvets of the richest colors, the most inviting
delicacies, and most sumptuous articles of luxurious ornaments
succeeded each other in rich and glittering profusion. Streams
of people apparently without end poured on and on, jostling
each other in the crowd and hurrying forward, scarcely seem-
ing to notice the riches that surrounded them on every side ;
while vehicles of all shapes and makes, mingled up together
in one moving mass like running water, lent their ceaseless
roar to swell the noise and tumult.

As they dashed by the quickly-changing and ever-varying
objects, it was curious to observe in what a strange procession
they passed before the eye. Emporiums of splendid dresses,
the materials brought from every quarter of the world ; tempt-
ing stores of everything to stimulate and pamper the sated

Digitized by VjOOQlC



appetite and give new relish to the oft-repeated feast ; vessels
of burnished gold and silver, wrought into every exquisite
form of vase, and dish, and goblet ; guns, swords, pistols and
patent engines of destruction ; screws and irons for the crooked,
clothes for the newly-born, drugs for the sick, coffins for the
dead, churchyards for the buried — all these jumbled each with
the other and flockirg side by side, seemed to flit by in motley
dance like the fantastic groups of the old Dutch painter, and
with the same stern moral for the unheeding restless crowd.

Nor were there wanting objects in the crowd itself to give
new point and purpose to the shifting scene. The rags of the
squalid ballad-singer fluttered in the rich light that showed
the goldsmith's treasures ; pale and pinched-up faces hovered
about the windows where was tempting food ; hungry eyes
wandered over the profusion guarded by one thin sheet of
brittle glass — an iron wall to them ; half-naked shivering fig-
ures stopped to gaze at Chinese shawls and golden stuffs of
India. There was a christening party at the largest coffin-
maker's, and a funeral hatchman had stopped some great im-
provements in the bravest mansion. Life and death went
hand in hand ; wealth and poverty stood side by side ; reple-
tion and starvation laid them down together.

But it was London ; and the old country lady inside, who
had put her head out of the coach-window a mile or two on
this side of Kingston, and had cried out to the driver that she
was sure he must have passed it and forgotten to set her down,
was satisfied at last.

Nicholas engaged beds for himself and Smike at the inn
where the coach stopped, and repaired, without the delay of
another moment, to the lodgings of Newman Noggs ; for his
anxiety and impatience had increased with every succeeding
minute, and were almost beyond control.

There was a fire in Newman's garret, and a candle had
been left burning ; the floor was cleanly swept, the room was
as comfortably arranged as such a room could be, and meat
and drink were placed in order upon the table. Everything
bespoke the affectionate care and attention of Newman Noggs,
but Newman himself was not there.

" Do you know what time he will be home ? " inquired
Nicholas, tapping at the door of Newman's front neighbor.

Online LibraryCharles DickensThe life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby → online text (page 39 of 79)