Charles Dickens.

The life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby online

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about him.

" Recollections like these," pursued Ralph, with a bitter
smile, "flock upon me, when I resign myself to them, in
crowds, and from countless quarters. As a portion of the
world affect to despise the power of money, I must try and
show them "what it is."

And being, by this time, in a pleasant frame of mind for
slumber, Ralph Nickleby went to bed.

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Having established his mother and sister in the apart-
ments of the kind-hearted miniature painter, and ascertained
that Sir Mulberry Hawk was in no danger of losing his life,
Nicholas turned his thoughts to poor Smike, who, after break-
fasting with Newman Noggs, had remained, in a disconsolate
state, at that worthy creature's lodgings, waiting, with much
anxiety, for further intelligence of his protector.

" As he will be one of our own little household, wherever
we live, or whatever fortune is in reserve for us," thought
Nicholas, " I must present the poor fellow in due form. They
will be kind to him for his own sake, and if not (on that ac-
count solely) to the full extent I could wish, they will stretch
a point, I am sure, for mine."

Nicholas said " they," but his misgivings were confined
to one person. He was sure of Kate, but he knew his mother's
peculiarities, and was not quite so certain that Smike would
find favor in the eyes of Mrs. Nickleby.

* However," thought Nicholas as he departed on his
benevolent errand ; " she cannot fail to become attached to
him, when she knows what a devoted creature he is, and as
she must quickly make the discovery, his probation will be a
short one."

" I was afraid," said Smike, overjoyed to see his friend
again, that you had fallen into some fresh trouble ; the time
seemed so long, at last, that I almost feared you were lost."

" Lost ! " replied Nicholas gayly. " You will not be rid of
me so easily, I promise you. I shall rise to the surface many
thousand times yet, and the harder the thrust that pushes me
down, the more quickly I shall rebound, Smike. But come ;
my errand here is to take you home."

" Home ! " faltered Smike, drawing timidly back.

" Ay," rejoined Nicholas, taking his arm. " Why not ? "

" I had such hopes once," said Smike ; " day and night,

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day and night, for many years. I longed for home till I was
weary, and pined away with grief ; but now "

" And what now ? " asked Nicholas, looking kindly in his
face. " What now, old friend ? "

" I could not part from you to go to any home on earth,"
replied Smike, pressing his hand ; " except one, except one.
I shall never be an old man ; and if your hand placed me in
the grave, and I could think, .before I died, that you would
come and look upon it sometimes with one of your kind smiles
and in the summer weather, when everything was alive — not
dead like me — I could go to that home, almost without a

" Why do you talk thus, poor boy, if your life is a happy
one with me ? " said Nicholas.

" Because I should change ; not those about me. And
if they forget me, /should never know. it," replied Smike. "In
the churchyard we are all alike, but here there are none like
me. I am a poor creature, but I know that."

" You are a foolish, silly creature," said Nicholas cheerfully.
" If that is what you mean, I grant you that. Why, here's a
dismal face for ladies' company ! — my pretty sister too, whom
you have so often asked me about. Is this your Yorkshire
gallantry ? For shame ! for shame ! "

Smike brightened up and smiled.

" When I talk of homes," pursued Nicholas, " I talk of
mine — which is yours of course. If it were defined by any
particular four walls and a roof, God knows I should be
sufficiently puzzled to say whereabouts it lay ; but that is not
what I mean. When I speak of home, I speak of the place
where, in default of a better, those I love are gathered to-
gether ; and if that place were a gipsy's tent, or a bam, I
should call it by the same good name notwithstanding. And
now, for what is my present home : which, however alarming
your expectations may be, will neither terrify you by its extent
nor its magnificence ! "

So saying, Nicholas took his companion by the arm, and
saying a great deal more to the same purpose, and pointing
out various things to amuse and interest him as they went
along, led the way to Miss La Creevy's house.

" And this, Kate," said Nicholas, entering the room where
his sister sat alone, " is the faithful friend and affectionate
fellow-traveller whom I prepared you to receive."

Poor Smike was bashful, and awkward, and frightened

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enough, at first, but Kate advanced towards him so kindly,
and said, in such a sweet voice, how anxious she had been to
see him after all her brother had told her, and how much she
had to thank him for having comforted Nicholas so greatly in
their very trying reverses, that he began to be very doubtful
whether he should shed tears or not, and became still more
flurried. However, he managed to say, in a broken voice,
that Nicholas was his only friend, and that he would lay down
his life to help him ; and Kate, although she was so kind and
.considerate, seemed to be so wholly unconscious of his dis-
tress and embarrassment, that he recovered almost immediate-
ly and felt quite at home.

Then, Miss La Creevy came in ; and to her Smike had to
be presented also. And Miss La Creevy was very kind too,
and wonderfully talkative : not to Smike, for that would have
made him uneasy at first, but to Nicholas and his sister.
Then, after a time, she would speak to Smike himself now and
then, asking him whether he was a judge of likenesses, and
whether he thought that picture in the corner was like herself,
and whether he didn't think it would have looked better if she
had made herself ten years younger, and whether he didn't
think, as a matter of general observation, that young ladies
looked better not only in pictures but out of them too, than
old ones ; with many more small jokes and facetious remarks,
which were delivered with such good humor and merriment,
that Smike thought, within himself, she was the nicest lady
he had ever seen ; even nicer than Mrs. Grudden, of Mr. Vin-
cent Crummiest theatre : and she was a nice lady too, and
talked, perhaps more, but certainly louder, than Miss La

At length the door opened again, and a lady in mourning
came in ; and Nicholas kissing the lady in mourning affection-
ately, and calling her his mother, led her towards the chair
from which Smike had risen when she entered the room.

" You are always kind-hearted, and anxious to help the
oppressed, my dear mother," said Nicholas, " so you will be
favorably disposed towards him, I know."

" I am sure, my dear Nicholas," replied Mrs. Nickleby,
looking very hard at her new friend, and bending to him with
something more of majesty than the occasion seemed to re-
quire : "I am sure any friend of yours has, as indeed he
naturally ought to have, and must have, of course, you know,
a great claim upon me, and of course, it is a very great

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pleasure to me to be introduced to anybody you take an in-
terest in. There can be no doubt about that ; none at all ;
not the least in the world/' said Mrs. Nickleby. " At the
same time I must say, Nicholas, my dear, as I used to say to
your poor dear papa, when he would bring gentlemen home to
dinner and there was nothing in the house, that if he had
come the day before yesterday — no, I don't mean the day be-
fore yesterday ; I should have said, perhaps, the .year before
last — we should have been better able to entertain him."

With which remarks, Mrs. Nickleby turned to her daughter,
and inquired, in an audible whisper, whether the gentleman
was going to stop all night ?

" Because, if he is, Kate my dear," said Mrs. Nickleby,
" I don't see that it's possible for him to sleep anywhere, and
that's the truth."

Kate stepped gracefully forward, and without any show
of annoyance or irritation, breathed a few words into her
mothers ear.

" La, Kate, my dear," said Mrs. Nickleby, shrinking back,
" how you do tickle one ! Of course, I understand that, my
love, without your telling me ; and I said the same to Nich-
olas, and I am very much pleased. You didn't tell me, Nich-
olas, my dear," added Mrs. Nickleby, turning round with an
air of less reserve than she had before assumed, " what your
friend's name is."

" His name, mother," replied Nicholas, " is Smike.*'

The effect of this communication was by no means antici-
pated ; but the name was no sooner pronounced, than Mrs.
Nickleby dropped upon a chair, and burst into a fit of cry-

" What is the matter ? " exclaimed Nicholas, running to

support her.

" It's so like Pyke," cried Mrs. Nickleby ; " so exactly like
Pyke. Oh ! don't speak to me — I shall be better presently."

After exhibiting every symptom of slow suffocation, in all
its stages, and drinking about a teaspoonful of water from a
full tumbler, and spilling the remainder, Mrs. Nickleby was
better, and remarked, with a feeble smile, that she was very
foolish, she knew.

" It's a weakness in our family," said Mrs. Nickleby, " so,
of course, I can't be blamed for it. Your grandmama, Kate,
was exactly the same — precisely. The least excitement, the
slightest surprise — she fainted away directly. I have heard

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her say, often and often, that when she was a young lady, and
before she was married, she was turning a corner into Oxford-
street one day, when she ran against her own hair-dresser,
who, it seems, was escaping from a bear ; — the mere sudden-
ness of the encounter made her faint away, directly. Wait,
though," added Mrs. Nickleby, pausing to consider, " Let me
be sure I'm right. Was it her hair-dresser who had escaped
from a bear, or was it a bear who had escaped from her hair-
dresser's ? I declare I can't remember just now, but the hair-
dresser was a very handsome man, I know, and quite a gen-
tleman in his manners ; so that it has nothing to do with the
point of the story."

Mrs. Nickleby having fallen imperceptibly into one of
her retrospective moods, improved in temper from that mo-
ment, and glided, by an easy change of the conversation oc-
casionally, into various other anecdotes, no less remarkable
for their strict application to the subject in hand.

" Mr. Smike is from Yorkshire, Nicholas, my dear ? " said
Mrs. Nickleby, after dinner, and when she had been silent for
some time.

" Certainly, mother," replied Nicholas. " I see you have
not forgotten his melancholy history."

" O dear no," cried Mrs. Nickleby. " Ah ! Melancholy,
indeed ! You don't happen, Mr. Smike, ever to have dined
with the Grimbles of Grimble Hall, somewhere in the North
Riding, do you ? " said the good lady, addressing herself to
him. "A very proud man, Sir Thomas Grimble, with six
grown-up and most lovely daughters, and the finest park in the

" My dear mother ! " reasoned Nicholas, " Do you sup-
pose that the unfortunate outcast of a Yorkshire school was
likely to receive many cards of invitation from the nobility
and gentry in the neighborhood ? "

" Really, my dear, I don't know why it should be so very
extraordinary," said Mrs. Nickleby. " I know that when /
was at school, I always went at least twice every half-year to
the Hawkinses at Taunton Vale, and they are much richer
than the Grimbles, and connected with them in marriage ; so
you see it's not so very unlikely, after all."

Havinc: put down Nicholas in this triumphant manner,
Mrs. Nickleby was suddenly seized with a forge tfulness of
Smike's real name, and an irresistible tendency to call him
Mr. Slammons; which circumstance she attributed to the

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remarkable similarity of the two names in point of sound,
both beginning with an S, and moreover being spelt with an
M. But whatever doubt there might be on this point, there
was none as to his being a most excellent listener ; which cir-
cumstance had considerable influence in placing them on the
very best terms, and in inducing Mrs. Nickleby to express the
highest opinion of his general deportment and disposition.

Thus, the little circle remained, on the most amicable and
agreeable footing, until the Monday morning, when Nicholas
withdrew himself from it for a short time, seriously to reflect
upon the state of his affairs, and to determine, if he could,
upon some course of life which would enable him to support
those who were so entirely dependent upon his exertions.

Mr. Crummies occurred to him more than once; but
although Kate was acquainted with the whole history of his
connection with that gentleman, his mother was not ; and he
foresaw a thousand fretful objections, on her part, to his seek-
ing a livelihood upon the stage. There were graver reasons,
too, against his returning to that mode of life. Independently
of those arising out of its spare and precarious earnings, and
his own internal conviction that he could never hope to aspire
to any great distinction, even as a provincial actor, how could
he carry his sister from town to town, and place to* place, and
debar her from any other associates than those with whom he
would be compelled, almost without distinction, to mingle ?
" It won't do," said Nicholas, shaking his head ; " I must try
something else."

It was much easier to make this resolution than to carry
it into effect. With no greater experience of the world than
he had acquired for himself in his short trials ; with a suffi-
cient share of headlong rashness and precipitation (qualities
not altogether unnatural at his time of life) ; with a very slen-
der stock of money, and a still more scanty stock of friends ;
what could he do ? " Egad ! " said Nicholas, " I'll try that
Register Office again."

He smiled at himself as he walked away, with a quick
step ; for, an instant before, he had been internally blaming
his own precipitation. He did not laugh himself out of
the intention, however, for on he went : picturing to himself,
as he approached the place, all kinds of splendid possibilities,
and impossibilities too, for that matter, and thinking himself,
perhaps with good reason, very fortunate to be endowed with
so buoyant and sanguine a temperament.

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The office looked just the same as when he had left it last,
and, indeed, with one or two exceptions, there seemed to be
the very same placards in the window that he had seen before.
There were the same unimpeachable masters and mistresses,
in want of virtuous servants, and the same virtuous servants
in want of unimpeachable masters and mistresses, and the
same magnificent estates for the investment of capital, and
the same enormous quantities of capital to be invested in
estates, and, in short, the same opportunities of all sorts for
people who wanted to make their fortunes. And a most
extraordinary proof it was of the national prosperity, that
people had not been found to avail themselves of such advan-
tages long ago.

As Nicholas stopped to look in at the window, an old
gentleman happened to stop too ; Nicholas, carrying his eye
along the window-panes from left to right in search of some
capital-text placard, which should be applicable to his own
case, caught sight of this old gentleman's figure, and instinc-
tively withdrew his eyes from the window, to observe the same
more closely.

He was a sturdy old fellow in a broad-skirted blue coat,
made pretty large, to fit easily, and with no particular waist ;
his bulky legs clothed in drab breeches and high gaiters, and
his head protected by a low-crowned broad-brimmed white hat,
such as a wealthy grazier might wear. He wore his coat but-
toned ; and his dimpled double-chin rested in the folds of a
white neckerchief — not one of your stiff-starched apoplectic
cravats, but a good, easy, old-fashioned white neck-cloth that
a man might go to bed in and be none the worse for. But
what principally attracted the attention of Nicholas, was the
old gentleman's eye, — never was such a clear, twinkling,
honest, merry, happy eye, as that. And there he' stood, look-
ing a little upward, with one hand thrust into the breast of his
coat, and the other playing with his old-fashioned gold watch-
chain : his head thrown a little on one side, and his hat a little
more on one side than his head, (but that was evidendy ac-
cident ; not his ordinary way of wearing it,) with such a pleas-
ant smile playing about his mouth, and such a comical expres-
sion of mingled slyness, simplicity, kind-heartedness, and good-
humor, lighting up his jolly old face, that Nicholas would have
been content to have stood there, and looked at him until
evening, and to have forgotten, meanwhile, that there was
such a thing as a soured mind or a crabbed countenance to
be met with in the whole wide world.

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But, even a very remote approach to this gratification was
not to be made, for although he seemed quite unconscious of
having been the subject of observation, he looked casually at
Nicholas ; and the latter, fearful of giving offence, resumed
his scrutiny of the window instantly.

Still, the old gentleman stood there, glancing from placard
to placard, and Nicholas could not forbear raising his eyes to his
face again. Grafted upon the quaintness and oddity of his ap-
pearance, was something so indescribably engaging, and be-
speaking so much worth, and there were so many little lights
hovering about the corners of his mouth and eyes, that it was
not a mere amusement, but a positive pleasure and delight to
look at him.

This being the case, it is no wonder that the old man
caught Nicholas in the fact, more than once. At such times,
Nicholas colored and looked embarrassed : for the truth is,
that he had begun to wonder whether the stranger could, by
any possibility, be looking for a clerk or secretary ; and think-
ing this, he felt as if the old gentleman must know it.

Long as all this takes to tell, it was not more than a couple
of minutes in passing. As the stranger was moving away,
Nicholas caught his eye again, and, in the awkwardness of
the moment, stammered out an apology.

" No offence. Oh no offence ! " said the old man.

This was said in such a hearty tone, and the voice was so
exactly what it should have been from such a speaker, and
there was such a cordiality in the manner, that Nicholas was
emboldened to speak again.

" A great many opportunities here, sir ! " he said, half-
smiling as he motioned towards the window.

" A great many people willing and anxious to be employed
have seriously thought so very often, I dare say," replied the
old man. " Poor fellows, poor fellows ! "

He moved away, as he said this ; but, seeing that Nicholas
was about to speak good-naturedly, slackened his pace, as if
he were unwilling to cut him short. After a little of that
hesitation which may be sometimes observed between two
people in the street who have exchanged a nod, and are both
uncertain whether they shall turn back and speak, or not,
Nicholas found himself at the old man's side.

" You were about to speak, young gentleman ; what were
you going to say ? "

" Merely that I almost hoped — I mean to say, thought —

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you had some object in consulting those advertisements, said

" Ay, ay ? what object now — what object ? " returned the
old man, looking slyly at Nicholas. " Did you think I wanted
a situation now ? Eh ? Did you think I did ? w

Nicholas shook his head.

" Ha ! ha ! " laughed the old gentleman, rubbing his hands
and wrists as if he were washing them. " A very natural
thought, at all events, after seeing me gazing at those bills.
I thought the same of you, at first ; upon my word, I did."

"If you had thought so at last, too, sir, you would not have
been far from the truth," rejoined Nicholas.

" Eh ? " cried the old man, surveying him from head to
foot. " What ! Dear me ! No, no. Well-behaved young
gentleman reduced to such a necessity ! No no, no no."

Nicholas bowed, and bidding him good morning, turned
upon his heel.

" Stay," said the old man, beckoning him into a by street,
where they could converse with less interruption. "What
d'ye mean, eh ? "

"Merely that your kind face and manner — both unlike
any I have ever seen — tempted me into an avowal, which, to
any other stranger in this wilderness of London, I should not
have dreamt of making," returned Nicholas.

" Wildnerness ! Yes it is, it is. Good ! It is a wilder-
ness," said the old man with much animation. " It was a
wilderness to me once. I came here barefoot. I have never
forgotten it. Thank God ! " and he raised his hat from his
head, and looked very grave.

"What's the matter? What is it How did it all come
about ? " said the old man, laying his hand on the shoulder of
Nicholas, and walking him up the street. " You-'re — Eh ? "
laying his finger on the sleeve of his black coat " Who's it
for, eh ? "

" My father," replied Nicholas.

" Ah ! " said the old gentleman quickly. " Bad thing for
a young man to lose his father. Widowed mother, perhaps ? "

Nicholas sighed.

" Brothers and sisters too ? Eh ? "

" One sister," rejoined Nicholas.

" Poor thing, poor thing ! You're a scholar too, I dare
say ? " said the old man, looking wistfully into the face of the
young one.

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" I have been tolerably well educated," said Nicholas.

"Fine thing," said the old gentleman : " education a great
thing : a very great thing \ I never had any. I admire it the
more in others. A very fine thing. Yes, yes. Tell me more
of your history. Let me hear it all. No impertinent curiosity
— no, no, no."

There was something so earnest and guileless in the way
in which all this was said, and such a complete disregard of
all conventional restraints and coldness, that Nicholas could
not resist it. Among men who have any sound and sterling
qualities, there is nothing so contagious as pure openness of
heart. Nicholas took the infection instantly, and ran over
the main points of his little history without reserve : merely
suppressing names, and touching As lightly as possible upon
his uncle's treatment of Kate. The old man listened with
great attention, and when he had concluded, drew his arm
eagerly through his own.

" Don't say another word. Not another word ! " said he.
" Come along with me. We mustn't lose a minute."

So saying, the old gentleman dragged him back into
Oxford Street, and hailing an omnibus on its way to the city,
pushed Nicholas in before him, and followed, himself.

As he appeared in a most extraordinary condition of rest-
less excitement, and whenever Nicholas .offered to speak, im-
mediately interposed with : " Don't say another word, my
dear sir, on any account — not another word ! " the young man
thought it better to attempt no further interruption. Into the
city they journeyed accordingly, without interchanging any
conversation ; and the farther they went, the more Nicholas
wondered what the end of the adventure could possibly be.

The old gentleman got out, with great alacrity, when they
reached the Bank, and once more taking Nicholas by the arm,
hurried him along Threadneedle Street, and through some
lanes and passages on the right, until they, at length, emerged
in a quiet shady little square. Into the oldest and cleanest-
looking house of business in the square, he Jed the way. The
only inscription on the door-post was " Cheeryble, Brothers : "
but from a hasty glance at the direction of some packages
which were lying about, Nicholas supposed that the Brothers
Cheeryble were German-merchants.

Passing through a warehouse which presented every indi-
cation of a thriving business, Mr. Cheeryble (for such Nich-
olas supposed him to be, from the respect which had been


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shown him by the warehousemen and porters whom they
passed) led him into a little partitioned-off counting-house like
a large glass-case, in which counting-house there sat — as free
from dust and blemish as if he had been fixed into the glass

Online LibraryCharles DickensThe life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby → online text (page 43 of 79)