Charles Dickens.

The life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby online

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Newman Noggs would call for him very shortly, Nicholas
descended into the street, and calling a hackney-coach, bade
the man drive to Mrs. Wititterly's, according to the direction
which Newman had given him on the previous night

It wanted a quarter to eight when they reached Cadogan
Place. Nicholas began to fear that no one might be stirring
at that early hour, when he was relieved by the sight of a
female servant, employed in cleaning the door-steps. By this
functionary he was referred to the doubtful page, who ap-
peared with dishevelled hair and a very warm and glossy face,
as of a page who had just got out of bed.
. By this young gentleman he was informed that Miss Nick-
leby was then taking her morning's walk in the gardens be-
fore the house. On the question being propounded whether
he could go and find her, the page desponded and thought
not ; but being stimulated with a shilling, the page grew san-
guine and thought he could.

" Say to Miss Nickleby that her brother is here, and in
great haste to see her," said Nicholas.

The plated buttons disappeared with an alacrity most un-
usual to them, and Nicholas paced the room in a state of
feverish agitation whicji made the delay even of a minute in-
supportable. He soon heard a light footstep which he well
knew, and before he could advance to meet her, Kate had
fallen on his neck and burst into tears.

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NICHOLAS NICKLEBY. 419

•'My darling girl," said Nicholas as he embraced her.
" How pale you are ! "

" I have been so unhappy here, dear brother," sobbed
poor Kate ; " so very, very miserable. Do not leave me here,
dear Nicholas, or I shall die of a broken heart."

" I will leave you nowhere," answered Nicholas — "never
again, Kate," he cried, moved in spite of himself as he folded
her to his heart. " Tell me that I acted for the best. Tell
me that we parted because I feared to bring misfortune on
your head ; that it was a trial to me no less than to yourself,
wid that if I did wrong it was in ignorance of the world and
unknowingly."

" Why should I tell you what we know so well ? " returned
Kate soothingly. " Nicholas — dear Nicholas — how can you
give way thus ? "

" It is such bitter reproach to me to know what you have
undergone," returned her brother; "to see you so much
altered, and yet so kind and patient — God ! " cried Nicholas,
clenching his fist and suddenly changing his tone and manner,
" it sets my whole blood on fire again. You must leave here
with me directly ; you should not have slept here last night,
but that I knew all this too late. To whom can I speak, be-
% fore we drive away ? "

This question was most opportunely put, for that instant
Mr. Wititterly walked in, and to him Kate introduced her
brother, who at once announced his purpose, and the impossi-
bility of deferring it.

"The quarter's notice," said Mr. Wititterly, with the
gravity of a man on the right side, " is not yet half expired.
Therefore—"

" Therefore," interposed Nicholas, " the quarter's salary
must be lost, sir. You will excuse this extreme haste, but
circumstances require that I should immediately remove my
sister, and I have not a moment's time to lose. Whatever
she brought here I will send for, if you will allow me, in the
course of the day."

Mr. Wititterly bowed, but offered no opposition to Kate's
immediate departure ; with which, indeed, he was rather grati-
fied than otherwise, Sir Tumley Snuffim having given it as
his opinion, that she rather disagreed with Mrs. Wititterly 's
constitution.

" With regard to the trifle of salary that is due," said Mr.
Wititterly, u I will — " here he was interrupted by a violent fit
of coughing — " 1 will — owe it to Miss Nickleby."



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4 2o NICHOLAS NICKLEBY,

Mr. Wititterly, it should be observed, was accustomed to
owe small accounts, and to leave them owing. All men have
some little pleasant way of their own; and this was Mr.
Wititterly's.

"If you please," said Nicholas. And once more offering
a hurried apology for so sudden a departure, he hurried Kate
into the vehicle, and bade the man drive with all speed into
the City.

To the City they went accordingly, with all the speed the
hackney-coach could make ; and as the horses happened to live
at WHitechapel and to be in the habit of taking their break-
fast there, when they breakfasted at all, they performed the
journey with greater expedition than could reasonably have
been expected.

Nicholas sent Kate up stairs a few minutes before him,
that his unlooked-for appearance might not alarm his mother,
and when the way had been paved, presented himself with
much duty and affection. Newman had not been idle, for
there was a little cart at the door, and the effects were hurry-
ing out already.

Now, Mrs. Nickleby was not the sort of person to be told
anything in a hurry, or rather to comprehend anything of
peculiar delicacy or importance on a short notice. Where-
fore, although the good lady had been subjected to a full*
hour's preparation by little Miss La Creevy, and was now ad-
dressed in most lucid terms both by Nicholas and his sister,
she was in a state of singular bewilderment and confusion,
and could by no means be made to comprehend the necessity
of such hurried proceedings.

" Why don't you ask your uncle, my dear Nicholas, what
he can possibly mean by it ? " said Mrs. Nickleby.

"My dear mother," returned Nicholas, "the time for
talking has gone by. There is but one step to take, and that
is to cast him off with the scorn and indignation he deserves.
Your own honor and good name demand that, after the dis-
covery of his vile proceedings, you should not be beholden to
him one hour, even for the shelter of these bare walls."

" To be sure," said Mrs. Nickleby, crying bitterly, " he is
a brute, a monster ; and the walls are very bare, and want
painting too, and I have had this ceiling white-washed at the
expense of ei^hteen-pence, which is a very distressing thing,
considering that it is so much gone into your uncle's Docket.
I never could have believed it — never."



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u Nor I, nor anybody else," said Nicholas.

" Lord bless my life ! " ^exclaimed Mrs. Nickleby. " To
think that that Sir Mulberry Hawk should be such an aban-
doned wretch as Miss La Creevy says he is, Nicholas, my
dear ; when I was congratulating myself every day on his be-
ing an admirer of our dear Kate's, and thinking what a thing
it would be for the family if he was to become connected
with us, and use his interest to get you some profitable govern-
ment place. There are very good places to be got about the
court, I know ; for a friend of ours (Mr. Cropley, at Exeter,
my dear Kate, you recollect), he had one, and I know that it
was the chief part of his duty to wear silk stockings, and a
bag wig like a black watch-pocket ; and to think that it should
come to this after all— oh, dear, dear, it's enough to kill one,
that it is ! " With which expressions of sorrow, Mrs. Nickleby
gave fresh vent to her grief, and wept piteously.

As Nicholas and his sister were by this time compelled to
superintend the removal of the few articles of furniture, Miss
La Creevy devoted herself to the consolation of the matron,
and observed with great kindness of manner that she must
really make an effort, and cheer up.

" Oh I dare say, Miss La Creevy/' returned Mrs. Nickle-
by, with a petulance not unnatural in her unhappy circum-
stances, " it's very easy to say cheer up, but if you had as many

occasions to cheer up as I have had and there," said Mrs.

Nickleby, stopping short, " Think of Mr. Pyke and Mr. Pluck,
two of the most perfect gentlemen that ever lived, what am I
to say to them — what can I say to them ? Why, if I was to
say to them, * I'm told your friend Sir Mulberry is a base
wretch,' they'd laugh at me."

" They will laugh no more at us, I take it," said Nicholas,
advancing. " Come, mother, there is a coach at the door,
and until Monday, at all events, we will return to our old ,
quarters."

— " Where everything is ready, and a hearty welcome into
the bargain," added Miss La Creevy. " Now, let me go with
you down stairs."

But Mrs. Nickleby was not to be so easily moved, for first
she insisted on going up stairs to see that nothing had been
left, and then on going down stairs to see that everything had
been taken away ; and when she was getting into the coach
she had a vision of a forgotten coffee-pot on the back-kitchen
hob, and after she was shut in, a dismal recollection of a green



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422



NICHOLAS NICKLEBY,



umbrella behind some unknown door. At last Nicholas, in a
condition of absolute despair, ordered the coachman to drive
away, and in the unexpected jerk of a sudden starting, Mrs.
Nickleby lost a shilling among the straw, which fortunately
confined her attention to the coach until it was too late to re-
member anything else.

Having seen everything safely out, discharged the servant,
and locked the door, Nicholas jumped into a cabriolet and
drove to a by-place near Golden Square where he had ap-
pointed to meet Noggs ; and so quickly had everything been
done, that it was barely half-past nine when he reached the
place of meeting.

" Here is the letter for Ralph," said Nicholas, " and here
the key. When you come to me this evening, not a word of
last night. Ill news travels fast, and they will know it soon
enough. Have you heard if he was much hurt ? "

Newman shook his head.

" I will ascertain that, myself, without loss of time," said
Nicholas.

" You had better take some rest," returned Newman. " You
are fevered and ill."

Nicholas waved his hand carelessly, and concealing the
indisposition he really felt, now that the excitement which
had sustained him was over, took a hurried farewell of New-
man Noggs, and left him.

Newman was not three minutes' walk from Golden Square,
but in the course of that three minutes he took the letter out
of his hat and put it in again twenty times at least. First the
front, then the back, then the sides, then the superscription,
then the seal, were objects of Newman's admiration. Then
he held it at arm's length as if to take in the whole at one
delicious survey, and then he rubbed his hands in a perfect
ecstasy with his commission.

He reached the office, hung his hat on its accustomed peg,
laid the letter and key upon the desk, and waited impatiently
until Ralph Nickleby should appear. After a few minutes,
the well-known creaking of his boots was heard on the stairs,
and then the bell rung.

"Has the post come in ? "

" No."

" Any other letters ? "

" One." Newman eyed him closely, and laid it on the
desk.



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NICHOLAS NICKLEB V. 423

" What's this ? " asked Ralph, taking up the key.

" Left with the letter ; — a boy brought them — quarter of
an hour ago, or less."

Ralph glanced at the direction, opened the letter, and
read as follows :

" You are known to me now. There are no reproaches I
could heap upon your head which would carry with them one
thousandth part of the grovelling shame that this assurance
will awaken even in your breast. -

" Your brother's widow and her orphan child spurn the
shelter of your roof, and shun you with disgust and loathing.
Your kindred renounce you, for they know no shame but the
ties of blood which bind them in name with you.

" You are an old man, and I leave you to the grave. May
every recollection of your life cling to your false heart, and
cast their darkness on your death-bed."

Ralph Nickleby read this letter twice, and frowning heav-
ily, fell into a fit of musing ; the paper fluttered from his hand
and dropped upon the floor, but he clasped his fingers, as if
he held it still.

Suddenly, he started from his seat, and thrusting it all
crumpled into his pocket, turned furiously to Newman Noggs,
as though to ask him why he lingered. But Newman stood
unmoved, with his back towards him, following up, with the
worn and blackened stump of an old pen, some figures in an
Interest-table which was pasted against the wall, and appar-
ently quite abstracted from every other object.



CHAPTER XXXIV.



WHEREIN MR. RALPH NICKLEBY IS VISITED BY PERSONS WITH
WHOM THE READER HAS BEEN ALREADY MADE ACQUAINTED.

" What a demnition long time you have kept me ringing
at this confounded old cracked tea-kettle of a bell, every tin-
kle of which is enough to throw a strong man into blue
convulsions, upon my life and soul, oh demmit," said Mr.
Mantalini to Newman Noggs, scraping his boots, as he spoke,
on Ralph Nickleby's scraper.



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424



NICHOLAS NICKLEBY.



" I didn't hear the bell more than once," replied New-
man.

" Then you are most immensely and outr/geously deaf,"
said Mr. Mantalini, " as deaf as a demnition post."

Mr. Mantalini had got by this time into the passage, and
was making his way to the door of Ralph's office with very
little ceremony, when Newman interposed his body ; and
hinting that Mr. Nickleby was unwilling to be disturbed, in-
quired whether the client's business was of a pressing nature.

" It is most demnebly particular," said Mr. Mantalini
" It is to melt some scraps of dirty paper into bright, shining,
chinking, tinkling, demd mint sauce."

Newman uttered a significant grunt, and taking Mr. Man-
talini's proffered card, limped with it into his master's office.
As he thrust his head in at the door, he saw that Ralph had
resumed the thoughtful posture into which he had fallen after
perusing his nephew's letter, and that he seemed to have been
reading it again, as he once more held it open in his hand.
The glance was but momentary, for Ralph, being disturbed,
turned to demand the cause of the interruption.

As Newman stated it, the cause himself, swaggered into
the room, and grasping Ralph's horny hand with uncommon
affection, vowed that he had never seen him looking so well
in all his life.

" There is quite a bloom upon your demd countenance,*
said Mr. Mantalini, seating himself unbidden, and arranging
his hair and whiskers. " You look quite juvenile and jolly,
demmit ! "

" We are alone," returned Ralph, tartly. " What do you
want with me ? "

" Good ! " cried Mr. Mantalini,. displaying his teeth.
" What did I want ! Yes. Ha, ha ! Very good. What did
I want. Ha, ha. Oh dem ! "

" What do you want, man ? " demanded Ralph, sternly.

44 Demnition discount," returned Mr. Mantalini, with a
grin, and shaking his head waggishly.

" Money is scarce," said Ralph.

" Demd scarce, or I shouldn't want it," interrupted Mr.
Mantalini.

" The times are bad, and one scarcely knows whom to
trust," continued Ralph. " I don't want to do business just
now, in fact I would rather not ; but as you are a friend — how
many bills have you there ? "



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425



" Two," returned Mr. Mantalini.

" What is the gross amount ? "

" Demd trifling. Five-and-seventy."

"And the dates?"

" Two months, and four."

"I'll do them for you — mind, for you; I wouldn't for
many people — for five-and-twenty pounds," said Ralph, delib-
erately.

" Oh demmit ! " cried Mr. Mantalini, whose face length-
ened considerably at this handsome proposal.

"Why, that leaves you fifty," retorted Ralph. "What
would you have ? Let me see the names."

"You are so demd hard, Nickleby," remonstrated Mr.
Mantalini.

" Let me see the names," replied Ralph, impatiently ex-
tending his hand for the bills. " Well ! They are not sure,
but they are safe enough. Do you consent to the terms, and
will you take the money? I don't want you to do so. I
would rather you didn't."

"Demmifc Nickleby, can't you — " began Mr. Mantalini.

" No," r«gued Ralph, interrupting him. " I can't. Will
you take the money — down, mind ; no delay, no going into
the city and presiding to negotiate with some other party
who has no existence and never had. Is it a bargain or is it
not ? "

Ralph pushe^some papers from him as he spoke, and
carelessly rattle crhis cash-box, as though by mere accident.
The sound was too much for Mr. Mantalini. He closed the
bargain directly it reaqRed his ears, and Ralph told the money
out upon the table.

He had. scarcely done so, and Mr. Mantalini had not yet
gathered it all up, when a ring was heard at the bell, and im-
mediately afterwards Newman ushered in no less a person
than Madame Mantalini, at sight of whom Mr. Mantalini
evinced considerable discomposure, and swept the cash into
his pocket with remarkable alacrity.

" Oh, you are here," said Madame Mantalini, tossing her
head.

" Yes, my life and soul, I am," replied her husband, drop-
ping on his knees, and pouncing with kitten-like playfulness
upon a stray sovereign. "J am here, my soul's delight, upon
Tom Tiddler's ground, picking up the demnition gold and
silver."



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42 6 NICHOLAS NICKLEB K.

u I am ashamed of you," said Madame Mantalini, with
much indignation. ,

44 Ashamed ? Of me, my joy ? It knows it is talking
demd charming sweetness, but naughty fibs," returned Mr.
Mantalini. " It knows it is not ashamed of its own popo-
lorum tibby."

Whatever were the circumstances which had led to such a
result, it certainly appeared as though the popolorum tibby
had rather miscalculated, for the nonce, the extent of his lady's
affection. Madame Mantalini only looked scornful in reply,
and, turning to Ralph, begged him to excuse her intrusion.

44 Which is entirely attributable," said Madame, " to the
gross misconduct and most improper behavior of Mr. Man-
talini."

44 Of me, my essential juice of pine-apple ! "

44 Of you," returned his wife. 4< But I will not allow it. I
will not submit to be ruined by the extravagance and prof-
ligacy of any man. I call Mr. Nickleby to witness the course
I intend to pursue with you."

44 Pray don't call me to witness anything, ma'am," said
Ralph. 44 Settle it between yourselves, settle it between your-
selves."

44 No, but I must beg you as a favor," said Madame Man-
talini, 44 to hear me give him notice of what it is my fixed
intention to do — my fixed intention, sir," repeated Madame
Mantalini, darting an angry look at her nusfeand.

44 Will she call me, 4 Sir ' ! " cried Mantalini. 44 Me who
doat upon her with the demdest ardor ! She, who coils her
fascinations round me like a pure and angelic rattlesnake ! It
will be all up with my feelings ; she will throw me into a demd
state."

44 Don't talk of feelings, sir," rejoined Madame Mantalini,
seating herself, and turning her back upon him. 44 You don't
consider mine."

44 1 do not consider yours, my soul ! " exclaimed Mr. Man-
talini.

44 No," replied his wife.

And notwithstanding various blandishments on the part of
Mr. Mantalini, Madame Mantalini still said no, and said it
too with such determined and resolute ill-temper, that Mr.
Mantalini was clearly taken aback.

44 His extravagance, Mr. Nickleby," said Madame Man-
talini, addressing herself to Ralph, who leant against his



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NICHOLAS NICKLEBY.



427



easy-chair with his hands behind him, and regarded the
amiable couple with a smile of the supremest and most
unmitigated contempt, "his extravagance is beyond all
bounds."

" I should scarcely have supposed it," answered Ralph
sarcastically.

" I assure you, Mr. Nickleby, however, that it is," re-
turned Madame Mantalini. "It makes me miserable. I am
under constant apprehensions and in constant difficulty.
And even this," said Madame Mantalini, wiping her eyes, " is
not the worst. He took some papers of value out of my desk
this morning without asking my permission."

Mr. Mantalini groaned slightly, and buttoned his trouser's
pocket.

" I am obliged," continued Madame Mantalini, " since our
late misfortunes, to pay Miss Knagg a great deal of money
for having her name in the business, and I really cannot
afford to encourage him in, all his wastefulness. As I have
no doubt that he came straight here, Mr. Nickleby, to con-
vert the papers I have spoken of into money, and as you
have assisted us very often before, and are very much con-
nected with us in this kind of matters, I wish you to know
the determination at which his conduct has compelled me
to arrive."

Mr. Mantalini groaned once more from behind his wife's
bonnet, and fitting a sovereign into one of his eyes, winked
with the other at Ralph. Having achieved this performance
with great dexterity, he whipped the coin into his pocket, and
groaned again with increased penitence.

" I have made up my mind," said Madame Mantalini, as
tokens of impatience manifested themselves in Ralph's coun-
tenance, " to allowance him."

" To do what, my joy ? " inquired Mr. Mantalini, who did
not seem to have caught the words.

" To put him," said Madame Mantalini, looking at Ralph,
and prudently abstaining from the slightest glance at her hus-
band, lest his many graces should induce her to falter in her
resolution, " to put him upon a fixed allowance ; and I say
that if he has a hundred and twenty pounds a-year for his
clothes and pocket-money, he may consider himself a very
fortunate man."

Mr. Mantalini waited, with much decorum, to hear the
amount of the proposed stipend, but when it reached his ears,



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42 8 NICHOLAS NICKLEB Y.

he cast his hat and cane upon the floor, and drawing out his
pocket-handkerchief, gave vent to his feelings in a dismal
moan.

" Demnition ! " cried Mr. Mantalini, suddenly skipping
out of his chair, and as suddenly skipping into it again, to the
great discomposure of his lady's nerves. " But no. It is a
demd horrid dream. It is not reality. No ! "

Comforting himself with this assurance, Mr. Mantalini
closed his eyes and waited patiently till such time as he should
wake up.

" A very judicious arrangement," observed Ralph with a
sneer, " if your husband will keep within it, ma' am — as no
doubt he will."

" Demmit ! " exclaimed Mr. Mantalini, opening his eyes
at the sound of Ralph's voice, " it is a horrid reality. She is
sitting there before me. There is the graceful outline of her
form ; it cannot be mistaken — there is nothing like it. The
two countesses had no outlines at all, and the dowager's was
a demd outline. Why is she so excruciatingly beautiful that
I cannot be angry with her, even now ? "

" You have brought it upon yourself; Alfred," returned
Madame Mantalini — still reproachfully, but in a softened tone.

"I am a demd villain ! " cried Mr. Mantalini, smiting
himself on the head. " I will fill my pockets with change for
a sovereign in halfpence and drown myself in the Thames ;
but I will not be angry with her, even then, for I will put a
note in the twopenny-post as I go along, to tell her where the
body is. She will be a lovely widow. I shall be a body.
Some handsome women will cry ; she will laugh demnebly."

" Alfred, you cruel, cruel, creature," said Madame Manta-
lini, sobbing at the dreadful picture.

" She calls me cruel — me — me — who for her sake will be-
come a demd, damp, moist, unpleasant body ! " exclaimed
Mr. Mantalini.

" You know it almost breaks my heart, eyen to hear you
talk of such a thing, replied Madame Mantalini.

" Can I live to be mistrusted ? " cried her husband.
" Have I cut my heart into a demd extraordinary number of
little pieces, and given them all away, one after another, to
the same little engrossing demnition captivater, and can I live
to be suspected by her! Demmit, no I can't."

" Ask Mr. Nickleby whether the sum I have mentioned is
not a proper one," reasoned Madame Mantalini



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" I don't want any sum," replied her disconsolate husband ;
" I shall require no demd allowance. I will be a body."

On this repetition of Mr. Mantalini's fatal threat, Madame
Mantalini wrung her hands, and implored the interference of
Ralph Nickleby ; and after a great quantity of tears and talk-
ing, and several attempts on the part of Mr. Mantalini to
reach the door, preparatory to straightway committing vio-
lence upon himself, that gentleman was prevailed upon with
difficulty, to promise that he wouldn't be a body. This great
point attained, Madame Mantalini argued the question of the
allowance, and Mr. Mantalini did the same, taking occasion
to show that he could live with uncommon satisfaction upon
bread and water, and go clad in rags, but that he could not
support existence with the additional burden of being mis-
trusted by the object of his most devoted and disinterested
affection. This brought fresh tears into Madame Mantalini's



Online LibraryCharles DickensThe life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby → online text (page 41 of 79)