Charles Dickens.

The life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby online

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" So he is, brother Charles, so he is," replied brother Ned.
" There's not a doubt about it."

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"Remember, Tim," said brother Charles, "that we dine
at half-past five to-day instead of two o'clock ; we always de-
part from our usual custom on this anniversary, as you very
well know, Tim Linkinwater. Mr. Nickleby, my dear sir, you
will make one. Tim Linkinwater, give me your snuff-box as
a remembrance to brother Charles and myself of an attached
and faithful rascal, and take that, in exchange, as a feeble mark
of our respect and esteem, and don't open it until you go to
bed, and never say another word upon the subject, or I'll kill
the blackbird. A dog ! He should have had a golden cage
half-a-dozen years ago, if it would have made him or his
master a bit the happier. Now, brother Ned, my dear fellow,
I'm ready. At half-past five, remember, Mr. Nickleby 1 Tim
Linkinwater, sir, take care of Mr. Nickleby at half-past five.
Now, brother Ned."

Chattering away thus, according to custom, to prevent the
possibility of any thanks or acknowledgment heing expressed
on the other side, the twins trotted off, arm in arm ; having
endowed Tim Linkinwater with a costly gold snuff-box, in-
closing a bank note worth more than its value ten times told.

At a quarter past five o'clock, punctual to the minute, arrived
according to annual usage, Tim Linkinwater's sister ; and a
great to-do there was, between Tim Linkinwater's sister and
the old housekeeper, respecting Tim Linkinwater's sister's cap,
which had been despatched, per boy, from the house of the
family where Tim Linkinwater's sister boarded, and had not
yet come to hand ; notwithstanding that it had been packed
up in a bandbox, and the bandbox in a handkerchief, and the
handkerchief tied on to the boy's arm ; and notwithstanding
too, that the place of its consignment had been duly set forth
at full length, on the back of an old letter, and the boy en-
joined, under pain of divers horrible penalties, the full ex-
tent of which the eye of man could not foresee, to deliver the
same with all possible speed, and not to loiter by the way. Tim
Linkinwater's sister lamented ; the housekeeper condoled ;
and both kept thrusting their heads out of the second-floor
window to see if the boy was " coming," — which would have
been highly satisfactory, and, upon the whole, tantamount to
his being come, as the distance to the corner was not quite
five yards — when, all of a sudden, and when he was least ex-
pected, the messenger, carrying the bandbox with elaborate
caution, appeared in an exactly opposite direction, puffing and
panting for breath, and flushed with recent exercise ; as well

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he might be ; for he had taken the air, in the first instance
behind a hackney-coach that went to Camberwell, and had
followed two Punches afterwards, and had seen the Stilts home
to their own door. The cap was all safe however — that was
one comfort — and it was no use scolding him — that was
another ; so the boy went upon his way rejoicing, and Tim
Linkinwater's sister presented herself to the company below
stairs, just five minutes after the half-hour had struck by Tim
Linkinwater's own infallible clock.

The company consisted of the Brothers Cheeryble, Tim
Linkinwater, a ruddy-faced white-headed friend of Tim's (who
was a superannuated bank clerk), and Nicholas, who was pre-
sented to Tim Linkinwater's sister with much gravity and so-
lemnity. The party being now completed, brother Ned rang
for dinner, and, dinner being shortly afterwards announced,
led Tim Linkin water's sister into the next room where it
was set forth with great preparation. Then, brother Ned took
the head of the table, and brother Charles the foot ; and Tim
Linkinwater's sister sat on* the left-hand of brother Ned, and
Tim Linkinwater himself on his right : and an ancient butler of
apoplectic appearance, and with very short legs, took up his
position at the back of brother Ned's arm-chair, and, waving
his right arm preparatory to taking off the covers with a flourish,
stood bolt upright and motionless.

" For these and all other blessings, brother Charles," said

" Lord, make us truly thankful, brother Ned," said Charles.

Whereupon the apoplectic butler whisked off the top of
the soup-tureen, and shot, all at once, into a state of violent

There was abundance of conversation, and little fear of its
ever flagging, for the good-humor of the glorious old twins drew
everybody out, and Tim Linkinwater's sister went off into a
long and circumstantial account of Tim Linkinwater's infancy,
immediately after the very first glass of champagne — taking
care to premise that she was very much Tim's junior, and had
only become acquainted with the facts from their being pre-
served and handed down in the family. This history concluded,
brother Ned related how that, exactly thirty-five years ago, Tim
Linkinwater was suspected to have received a love-letter, and
how that vague information had been brought to the counting-
house of his having been seen walking down Cheapside with
an uncommonly handsome spinster ; at which there was a roar

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of laughter, and Tim Linkinwater being charged with blushing,
and called upon to explain, denied that the accusation was
true ; and further, that there would have been any harm in it
if it had been ; which last position occasioned the superannu-
ated bank clerk to laugh tremendously, and to declare that it
was the very best thing he had ever heard in his life, and that
Tim Linkinwater might say a great many things before he
said anything which would beat that.

There was one little ceremony peculiar to the day, both
the matter and manner of which made a very strong impres-
sion upon Nicholas. The cloth having been removed and the
decanters sent round for the first time, a profound silence suc-
ceeded, and in the cheerful faces of the brothers there appear-
ed an expression, not of absolute melancholy, but of quiet
thoughtfulness very unusual at a festive table. As Nicholas,
struck by this sudden alteration, was wondering what it could
portend, the brothers rose together, and the one at the top
of the table leaning forward towards the other, and speaking
in a low voice as if he were addressing him individually,
said :

" Brother Charles, my dear fellow, there is another asso-
ciation connected with this day which must never be forgotten,
and never can be forgotten, by you and me. This day, which
brought into the world a most faithful and excellent and ex-
emplary fellow, took from it, the kindest and very best of
parents, the very best of parents to us both. I wish that she
could have seen us in our prosperity, and shared it, and had
the happiness of knowing how dearly we loved her in it, as
we did when we were two poor boys ; but that was not to be.
My dear brother — The Memory of our Mother."

" Good Lord ! " thought Nicholas, " and there are scores of
people of their* own station, knowing all this, and twenty thou-
sand times more, who wouldn't ask these men to dinner be-
cause they eat with their knives, and never went to school ! "
But there was no time to moralize, for the joviality again
became very brisk, and the decanter of port being nearly out,
brother Ned pulled the bell, which was instantly answered by
the apoplectic butler.

" David," said brother Ned.
• " Sir," replied the butler.
" A magnum of the double-diamond, David, to drink the
health of Mr. Linkinwater."

Instantly, by a feat of dexterity, which was the admiration

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of all the company, and had been, annually, for some years
past, the apoplectic butler, bringing his left hand from behind
the small of his back, produced the bottle with the corkscrew
already inserted ; uncorked it at a jerk ; and placed the
magnum and the cork before his master with the dignity of
conscious cleverness.

" Ha!" said brother Ned, first examining the cork and
afterwards filling his glass while the old butler looked com-
placently and amiably on, as if it were all his own property,
but the company were quite welcome to make free with it,
" this looks well, David."

" It ought to, sir," replied David. " You'd be troubled to
find such a glass of wine as is our double-diamond, and that
Mr. Linkinwater knows very well. That was laid down, when
Mr. Linkinwater first come, that wine was, gentlemen."

" Nay, David, nay," interposed brother Charles.

" I wrote the entry in the cellar-book myself, sir, jfyou
please," said David, in the tone of a man, quite confident in
the strength of his facts. " Mr. Linkinwater had only been
here twenty year, sir, when that pipe of double-diamond was
laid down."

" David is quite right, quite right, brother Charles," said
Ned : " are the people here, David ? "

" Outside the door, sir," replied the butler.

" Show 'em in, David, show 'em in."

At this bidding, the old butler placed before his master a
small tray of clean glasses, and opening the door admitted the
jolly porters and warehousemen whom Nicholas had seen
below. They were four in all. As they came in, bowing, and
grinning, and blushing, the housekeeper, and cook, and house-
maid, brought up the rear.

" Seven," said brother Ned, filling a corresponding num-
ber of glasses with the double-diamond, " and David, eight-
There ! Now you're all of you to drink the health of your
best friend Mr. Timothy Linkinwater, and wish him health
and long life and many happy returns of this day, both for his
own sake and that of your old masters, who consider him an
inestimable treasure. Tim Linkinwater, sir, your health.
Devil take you, Tim Linkinwater, sir, God bless you."

With this singular contradiction of terms, brother Ned
gave Tim Linkinwater a slap on the back, which made him
look, for the moment, almost as apoplectic as the butler ; and
tossed off the contents of his glass in a twinkling.

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The toast was scarcely drunk with all honor to Tim Lin-
kinwater, when the sturdiest and jolliest subordinate elbowed
himself a little in advance of his fellows, and exhibiting a
very hot and flushed countenance, pulled a single lock of
gray hair in the middle of his forehead as a respectful salute
to the company, and delivered himself as follows — rubbing
the palms of his hands very hard on a blue cotton handker-
chief as he did so :

" We're allowed to take a liberty once a year, gen'lemen,
and if you please we'll take it now ; there being no time like
the present, and no two birds in the hand worth one in the
bush as is well known — leastways in a contrary sense, which
the meaning is the same. (A pause — the butler unconvinced.)
What we mean to say is, that there never was (looking at the
butler) — such— (looking at the cook) noble — excellent— (look-
ing everywhere and seeing nobody) free, generous spirited
masters as them as has treated us so handsome this day. And
here's thanking of 'em for all their goodness as is so constancy
a diffusing of itself over everywhere, and wishing they may
live long and die happy ! "

When the foregoing speech was over — and it might have
been much more elegant and much less to the purpose — the
whole body of subordinates under command of the apoplectic
butler gave three soft cheers ; which, to that gentleman's great
indignation, were not very regular, inasmuch as the women
persisted in giving an immense number of little shrill hurrahs
among themselves, in utter disregard of the time. This done,
they withdrew ; shortly afterwards, Tim Linkinwater's sister
withdrew ; in reasonable time after that, the sitting was broken
up for tea and coffee, and a round game of cards.

At half-past ten — late hours for the square — there appeared
a little tray of sandwiches and a bowl of bishop, which bishop
coming on the top of the double diamond, and other excite-
ments, had such an effect upon Tim Linkinwater, that he drew
Nicholas aside, and gave him to understand, confidentially, that
it was quite true about the uncommonly handsome spinster,
and that she was to the full as good-looking as she had been
described — more so, indeed — but that she was in too much of a
hurry to change her condition, and consequently, while Tim
was courting her and thinking of changing his, got married to
somebody else. " After all, I dare say it was my fault," said
Tim. " I'll show you a print I have got up stairs, one of these
days. It cost me five-and-twenty shillings. I bought it, soon

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after we were cool to each other. Don't m jntion it, but it's
the most extraordinary accidental likeness you ever saw — her
very portrait, sir ! "

By this time it was past eleven o'clock ; and Tim Linkin-
water's sister declaring that she ought to have been at home
a full hour ago, a coach was procured, into which she was
handed with great ceremony by brother Ned, while brother
Charles imparted the fullest directions to the coachman, and,
besides paying the man a shilling over and above his fare, in
order that he might take the utmost care of the lady, all but
choked him with a glass of spirits of uncommon strength, and
then nearly knocked all the breath out of his body in his
energetic endeavors to knock it in again.

At length the coach rumbled off, and Tim Linkinwater's
sister being now fairly on her way home, Nicholas and Tim
Linkinwater's friend took their leaves together, and left old
Tim and the worthy brothers to their repose.

As Nicholas had some distance to walk, it was considerably
past midnight by the time he reached home, where he found
his mother and Smike sitting up to receive him. It was long
after their usual hour of retiring, and they had expected him,
at the very latest, two hours ago ; but the time had not hung
heavily on their hands, for Mrs. Nickleby had entertained
Smike with a genealogical account of her family by the
mother's side, comprising biographical sketches of the princi-
pal members, and Smike had sat wondering what it was all
about, and whether it was learnt from a book, or said out of
Mrs. Nickleb/s own head ; so that they got on together very

Nicholas could not go to bed without expatiating on the ex-
cellences and munificence of the Brothers Cheeryble, and
relating the great success which had attended his efforts that
day. But before he had said a dozen words, Mrs. Nickleby,
with many sly winks and nods, observed, that she was sure
Mr. Smike must be quite tired out, and that she positively
must insist on his not sitting up a minute longer.

" A most biddable creature he N is to be sure," said Mrs.
Nickleby, when Smike had wished them good-night and left
the room. " I know you'll excuse me, Nicholas, my dear, but
I don't like to do this before a third person ; indeed, before
a young man it would not be quite proper, though really, after
all, I don't know what harm there is in it, except that to be
sure it's not a very becoming thing, though some people say it

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is very much so, and really I don't know why it should not be,
if it's well got up, and the borders are small plaited, of course,
a good deal depends upon that."

With which preface, Mrs. Nickleby took her night-cap
from between the leaves of a very large prayer-book where it
had been folded up, small, and proceeded to tie it on ; talking
away, in her usual discursive manner, all the time.

44 People may say what they like," observed Mrs. Nickleby,
"but there's a great deal of comfort in a night-cap, as I'm
sure you would confess, Nicholas, my dear, if you would only
have strings to yours, and wear it like a Christian, instead of
sticking it upon the very top of your head like a blue-coat boy.
You needn't think it an unmanly or quizzical thing to be par-
ticular about your night-cap, for I have often heard your poor
dear papa, and the Reverend Mr. what's-his-name, who used
to read prayers in that old church with the curious little steeple
that the weathercock was blown off the night week before you
were born, — I have often heard them say, that the young men
at college are uncommonly particular about their night caps,
and that the Oxford night caps are quite celebrated for their
strength and goodness ; so much so, indeed, that the young
men never dream of going to bed without 'em, and I believe
it's admitted on all hands that they know what's good, and
don't coddle themselves."

Nicholas laughed, and entering no further into the sub-
ject of this lengthened harangue, reverted to the pleasant tone
of the little birthday party. And as Mrs. Nickleby instantly
became very curious respecting it, and made a great number of
inquiries touching what they had had for dinner, and how it
was put on table, and whether it was overdone or under-
done, and who was there, and what " the Mr. Cherrybles "
said, and what Nicholas said, and what the Mr. Cherrybles
said when he said that ; Nicholas described the festivities at
full length, and also the occurrences of the morning.

44 Late as it is," said Nicholas, "I am almost selfish enough
to wish that Kate had been up ; to hear all this. I was all
impatience, as I came along, to tell her."

44 Why, Kate," said Mrs. Nickleby, putting her feet upon
the iender, and drawing her chair close to it, as if settling
herself for a long talk. " Kate has been in bed — oh ! a couple
of hours — and I'm very glad, Nicholas my dear, that I pre-
" vailed upon her not to sit up, for I wished very much to have
an opportunity of saying a few words to you. I am naturally

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anxious about it, and of course it's a very delightful and con-
soling thing to have a grown-up son that one can put confi-
dence in, and advise with ; indeed I don't know any use there
would be in having sons at all, unless people could put confi-
dence in them."

Nicholas stopped in the middle of a sleepy yawn, as his
mother began to speak, and looked at her with fixed atten-

" There was a lady in our neighborhood," said Mrs.
Nickleby, " speaking of sons puts me in mind of it — a lady in
our neighborhood when we lived near Dawlish, I think her
name was Rogers ; indeed I am sure it was if it wasn't
Murphy, which is the only doubt I have "

" Is it about her, mother, that you wish to speak to me ? "
said Nicholas quietly.

"About her I" cried Mrs. Nickleby. "Good gracious,
Nicholas, my dear, how can you be so ridiculous 1 But that was
always the way with your poor dear papa, — just his way —
always wandering, never able to fix his thoughts on any one
subject for two minutes together. I think I see him now ! "
said Mrs. Nickleby, wiping her eyes, "looking, at me while I
was talking to him about his affairs, just as if his ideas were in
a state of perfect conglomeration ! Anybody who had come in
upon us suddenly, would have supposed I was confusing and
distracting him instead of making things plainer ; upon my
word they would."

" I am very sorry, mother, that I should inherit this un-
fortunate slowness of apprehension," said Nicholas, kindly ;
" but I'll do my best to understand you, if you'll only go
straight on."

" Your poor papa ? " said Mrs. Nickleby, pondering. " He
never knew, till it was too late, what I would have had him
do ! "

This was undoubtedly the case, inasmuch as the deceased
Mr. Nickleby had not arrived at the knowledge when he died.
Neither had Mrs. Nickleby herself ; which is, in some sort, an
explanation of the circumstance.

" However," said Mrs. Nickleby, drying her tears, " this
has nothing to do — certainly, nothing whatever to do— ^with
the gentleman in the next house."

" I should suppose that the gentleman in the next house
has as little to do with us," returned Nicholas.

"There can be no doubt," said Mrs. Nickleby, "that he

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is a gentleman, and has the manners of a gentleman, and the
appearance of a gentleman, although he does wear smalls and
gray worsted stockings. That may be eccentricity, or he may
be proud of his legs. I don't see why he shouldn't be. The
Prince Regent was proud of his legs, and so was Daniel
Lambert, who was also a fat man ; he was proud of his legs.
So was Miss Biffin ; she was — no," added Mrs. Nickleby,
correcting herself, " I think she had only toes, but the prin-
ciple is the same."

Nicholas looked on, quite amazed at the introduction of
this new theme. Which seemed just what Mrs. Nickleby had
expected him to be.

"You may well be surprised, Nicholas, my dear," she
said, "lam sure /was. It came upon me like a flash of fire,
and almost froze my blood. The bottom of his garden joins
the bottom of ours, and of course I had several times seen
him sitting among the scarlet-beans in his little arbor, or
working at his little hot-beds. I used to think he stared
rather, but I didn't take any particular notice of that, as we
were new-comers, and he might be curious to see what we
were like. But when he began to throw his cucumbers over
our wall "

"To throw his cucumbers over our wall?" repeated
Nicholas, in great astonishment.

" Yes, Nicholas, my dear," replied Mrs. Nickleby in a very
serious tone ; " his cucumbers over our wall. And vegetable-
marrows likewise."

" Confound his impudence ! " said Nicholas, firing im-
mediately. " What does he mean by that ? "

" I don't think he means it impertinently at all," replied
Mrs. Nickleby.

" What ! " said Nicholas. " Cucumbers and vegetable-
marrows flying at the heads of the family as they walk in
their own garden, and not meant impertinently ! Why,
mother "

Nicholas stopped short ; for there was an indescribable
expression of placid triumph, mingled with a modest confusion,
lingering between the borders of Mrs. Nickleby 's nightcap,
which arrested his attention suddenly.

" He must be a very weak, and foolish, and inconsiderate
man," said Mrs. Nickleby; "blameable, indeed — at least I
suppose other people would consider him so; of course I
can't be expected to express any opinion on that point,

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especially after always defending your poor dear papa when
other people blamed him for making proposals to me ; and
to be sure there can be no doubt that he has taken a very
singular way of showing it. Still at the same time, his
attentions are — that is, as far as it goes, and to a certain ex-
tent of course — a flattering sort of thing. And although I
should never dream of marrying again with a dear girl like
Kate still unsettled in life "

" Surely, mother, such an idea never entered your brain
for an instant ? " said Nicholas.

" Bless my heart, Nicholas, my dear," returned his mother
in a peevish tone, " isn't that precisely what I am saying, if
you would only let me speak ? Of course, I never gave it a
second thought, and I am surprised and astonished that you
should suppose me capable of such a thing. All I say is,
what step is the best to take, so as to reject these advances
civilly and delicately, and without hurting his feelings too
much, and driving him to despair, or anything of that kind ?
My goodness me ! " exclaimed Mrs. Nickleby, with a half
simper, " suppose he was to go doing anything rash to himselL
Could I ever be happy again, Nicholas ? "

Despite his vexation and concern, Nicholas could scarcely
help smiling, as he rejoined, " Now, do you think, mother,
that such a result would be likely to ensue from the most
cruel repulse ? "

" Upon my word, my dear, I don't know," returned Mrs.
Nickleby ; " really, I don't know. I am sure there was a case
in the day before yesterday's paper, extracted from one of the
French newspapers, about a journeyman shoemaker who was
jealous of a young girl in an adjoining village, because she
wouldn't shut herself up in an air-tight three-pair-of-stairs, and
charcoal herself to death with him ; and who went and hid
himself in a Wood with a sharp-pointed knife, and rushed out,
as she was passing by with a few friends, and killed himself
first and then all the friends, and then her — no, killed all the
friends first, and then herself, and then Aimself — which it is
quite frightful to think of. Somehow or other," added Mrs.
Nickleby, after a momentary pause, " they always are journey-
men shoemakers who do these things in France, according to
the papers. I don't know how it is — something in the leather,

Online LibraryCharles DickensThe life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby → online text (page 46 of 79)