Charles Dickens.

The life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby online

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I suppose."

" But this man, who is not a shoemaker — what has he
done, mother, what has he said ? " inquired Nicholas, fretted

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almost beyond endurance, but looking nearly as resigned and
patient as Mrs. Nickleby herself. " You know, there is no
language of vegetables, which converts a cucumber into a
formal declaration of attachment."

" My dear," replied Mrs. Nickleby, tossing her head and
looking at the ashes in the grate, " he has done and said all
sorts of things."

" Is there no mistake on your part ? " asked Nicholas.

" Mistake ! " cried Mrs. Nickleby. " Lord, Nicholas my
dear, do you suppose I don't know when a man's in earnest ? "

44 Well, well ! " muttered Nicholas.

" Every time I go to the window," said Mrs. Nickleby,
" he kisses one hand, and lays the other upon his heart — of
course it's very foolish of him to do so, and I dare say you'll
say it's very wrong, but he does it very respectfully — very
respectfully indeed-^-and very tenderly, extremely tenderly.
So far, he deserves the greatest credit ; there can be no doubt
about that. Then, there are the presents which come pouring
over the wall every day, and very fine they certainly are, very
fine ; we had one of the cucumbers at dinner yesterday, and
think of pickling the rest for next winter. Ana last evening,"
added Mrs. Nickleby, with increased confusion, "he called
gently over the wall, as I was walking in the garden, and pro-
posed marriage, and an elopement. His voice is as clear as
a bell or a musical glass — very like a musical glass indeed —
but of course I didn't listen to it. Then, the question is,
Nicholas my dear, what am I to do ? "

" Does Kate know of this ? " asked Nicholas.

" I have not said a word about it yet," answered his

" Then, for Heaven's sake," rejoined Nicholas, rising,
" do not, for it would make her very unhappy. And with re-
gard to what you should do, my dear mother, do what your
good sense and feeling, and respect for my father's memory,
would prompt. There are a thousand ways in which you can
show your dislike of these preposterous and doting attentions.
If you act as decidedly as you ought and they are still con-
tinued, and to your annoyance, I can speedily put a stop to
them. But I should not interfere in a matter so ridiculous, and
attach importance to it, until you have vindicated yourself.
Most women can do that, but especially one of your age and
condition, in circumstances like these, which are unworthy of
a serious thought. I would not shame you by seeming to


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take them to heart, or treat them earnestly for an instant Ab-
surd old idiot ! "

So saying, Nicholas kissed his mother, and bade her good-
night, and they retired to their respective chambers.

To do Mrs. Nickleby justice, her attachment to her chil-
dren would have prevented her seriously contemplating a sec-
ond marriage, even if she could have so far conquered her
recollections of her late husband as to have any strong incli-
nations that way. But, although there was no evil and little
real selfishness in Mrs. Nickleby's heart, she had a weak head
and a vain one ; and there was something so flattering in being
sought (and vainly sought) in marriage at this time of day,
that she could not dismiss the passion of the unknown gentle-
man, quite so summarily or lightly, as Nicholas appeared to
deem becoming.

" As to its being preposterous, and doting, and ridiculous,"
thought Mrs. Nickleby, communing with herself in her own
room, " I don't see that, at all. It's hopeless on his part,
certainly ; but why he should be an absurd old idiot, I confess
I don't see. He is not to be supposed to know it's hopeless.
Poor fellow I He is to be pitied, V* think ! "

Having made these reflections, Mrs. Nickleby looked in
her little dressing-glass, and walking backward a few steps
from it, tried to remember who it was who used to say that
when Nicholas was one-and-twenty he would have more the
appearance of her brother, than her son. Not being able to
call the authority to mind, she extinguished her candle, and
drew up the window-blind to admit the light of morning, which
had, by this time, began to dawn.

" It's a bad light to distinguish objects in," murmured
Mrs. Nickleby, peering into the garden, and my eyes are not
very good — I was short-sighted from a child — but, upon my
word, I think there's another large vegetable marrow sticking,
at this moment, on the broken glass bottles at the top of the
wall I"

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Quite unconscious of the demonstrations of their amorous
neighbor, or of their effects upon the susceptible bosom of her
mama, Kate Nickleby had, by this time, begun to enjoy a
settled feeling of tranquillity and happiness, to which,even in oc-
casional and transitory glimpses, she had long been a stranger.
Living under the same roof with the beloved brother from
whom she had been so suddenly and hardly separated,
with a mind at ease and free from any persecutions which
could call a blush into her cheek or a pang into her heart, she
seemed to have passed into a new state of being. Her former
cheerfulness was restored, her step regained its elasticity and
lightness, the color which had forsaken her cheek visited it
once again, and Kate Nickleby looked more beautiful than

Such was the result to which Miss La Creevy's rumina-
tions and observations led her, when the cottage had been, as
she emphatically said, " thoroughly got to rights, from the
chimney-pots to the street-door scraper," and the busy little
woman had at length a moment's time to think about its in-

" Which I declare I haven't had since I first came down
here," said Miss La Creevy ; " for I have thought of nothing
but hammers, nails, screw-drivers, and gimlets, morning, noon,
and night."

" You never bestow one thought upon yourself, I believe,"
returned Kate, smiling.

" Upon my word, my dear, when there are so many pleas-
anter things to think of, I should be a goose if I did," said Miss
La Creevy. " By the bye, I have thought of somebody too. Do
you know, that I observe a great change in one of this family
— a very extraordinary change ? "

" In whom ? " asked Kate, anxiously. " Not in — "

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" Not in your brother, my dear," returned Miss LaCreevy,
anticipating the close of the sentence, " for he is always the
same affectionate good-natured clever creature, with a spice of
the — I won't say who — in him when there's any occasion, that
he was when I first knew you. No. Smike, as he will be
called, poor fellow ! for he won't hear of a Afr. before his
name, is greatly altered, even in this short time.

" How ? " asked Kate. " Not in health ? "

"N-n-o; perhaps not in health exactly," said Miss La
Creevy, pausing to consider, " although he is a worn and fee-
ble creature, and has that in his face which it would wring my
heart to see in yours. No ; not in health."

" How then ? "

" I scarcely know," said the miniature-painter. " But I
have watched him, and he has brought the tears into my eyes
many times. It is not a very difficult matter to do that, cer-
tainly, for I am easily melted ; still I think these came with
good cause and reason. I am sure that since he has been
here, he has grown, for some strong cause, more conscious of
his weak intellect. He feels it more. It gives him greater
pain to know that he wanders sometimes, and cannot under-
stand very simple things. I have watched him when you have
not been by, my dear, sit brooding by himself, with such a
look of pain as I could scarcely bear to see, and then get up
and leave the room ; so sorrowfully, and in such dejection,
that I cannot tell you how it has hurt me. Not three weeks
ago, he was a light-hearted busy creature, overjoyed to be in
a bustle, and as happy as the day was long. Now, he is
another being — the same willing, harmless, faithful, loving
creature — but the same in nothing else."

" Surely this will all pass off," said Kate. " Poor fellow!"

" I hope," returned her little friend, with a gravity very
unusual in her, " it may. I hope, for the sake of that poor lad,
it may. However," said Miss La Creevy, relapsing into the
cheerful, chattering tone, which was habitual to her, " I have
said my say, and a very long say it is, and a very wrong say
too, I shouldn't wonder at all. I shall cheer him up to-night,
at all events, for if he is to be my squire all the way to the
Strand, I shall talk on, and on, and on, and never leave off,
till I have roused him into a laugh at something. So the
sooner he goes the better for him, and the sooner I go, the
better for me, I am sure, or else I shall have my maid galli-
vanting with somebody who may rob the house — though what

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there is to take away, besides tables, and chairs, I don't
know, except the miniatures : and he is a clever thief who
can dispose of them to any great advantage, for / can't, I
know, and that's the honest truth."

So saying, little Miss La Creevy hid her face in a very flat
bonnet and herself in a very big shawl ; and fixing herself
tightly into the latter, by means of a large pin, declared that
the omnibus might come as soon as it pleased, for she was
quite ready. ,

But there was still Mrs. Nickleby to take leave of \ and
long before that good lady had concluded some reminiscences,
bearing upon, and appropriate to, the occasion, the omnibus
arrived. This put Miss La Creevy in a great bustle, in con-
sequence whereof, as she secretly rewarded the servant-girl
with eighteen-pence behind the street-door, she pulled out of
her reticule ten-pennyworth of halfpence, which rolled into all
possible corners of the passage, and occupied some consider-
able time in the picking-up. This ceremony, had, of course,
to be succeeded by a second kissing of Kate and Mrs. Nick-
leby, and a gathering together of the little basket and the
brown-paper parcel, during which proceedings, " the omni-
bus," as Miss La Creevy protested, " swore so dreadfully, that
it was quite awful to hear it." At length, and at last, it made
a feint of going away, and when Miss La Creevy darted out
and darted in, apologizing with great volubility to all the pas-
sengers, and declaring that she wouldn't purposely have kept
them waiting on any account whatever. While she was look-
ing about for a convenient seat, the conductor pushed Smike
in, and cried that it was all right — though it wasn't — and away
went the huge vehicle, with the noise of half a dozen brewers'
drays at least.

Leaving it to pursue its journey at the pleasure of the
conductor aforementioned, who lounged gracefully on his little
shelf behind, smoking an odoriferous cigar ; and leaving it to
stop, or go on, or gallop, or crawl, as that gentleman deemed
expedient and advisable ; this narrative may embrace the op-
portunity of ascertaining the condition of Sir Mulberry Hawk,
and to what extent, he had, by this time, recovered from the
injuries consequent on being flung violently from his cabriolet,
under the circumstances already detailed.

With a shattered limb, a body severely bruised, a face dis-
figured by half-healed scars, and pallid from the exhaustion of
recent pain and fever, Sir Mulberry Hawk lay stretched upon

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his back, on the couch to which he was doomed to be a
prisoner for some weeks yet to come. Mr. Pyke and Mr.
Pluck sat drinking hard in the next room, now and then vary-
ing the monotonous murmurs of their conversation with a
half-smothered laugh, while the young lord — the only member
of the party who was not thoroughly irredeemable, and who
really had a kind heart — sat beside his Mentor, with a cigar
in his mouth, and read to him, by the light of a lamp, such
scraps of intelligence from a paper of the day, as were most
likely to yield him interest or amusement.

" Curse those hounds ! " said the invalid, turning his head
impatiently towards the adjoining room ; " will nothing stop
their infernal throats ? "

Messrs. Pyke and Pluck heard the exclamation, and
stopped immediately, winking to each other as they did so,
and filling their glasses to the brim, as some recompense for
the deprivation of speech.

" Damn ! " muttered the sick man between his teeth, and
writhing impatiently in his bed. " Isn't this mattress hard
enough, and the room dull enough, and pain bad enough, but
they must torture me ? What's the time ? "

" Half-past eight," replied his friend.

" Here, draw the table nearer, and let us have the cards
again," said Sir Mulberry. " More piquet. Come."

It was curious to see how eagerly the sick man, debarred
from any change of position save the mere turning of his head
from side to side, watched every motion of his friend in the
progress of the game ; and with what eagerness and interest
he played, and yet how warily and coolly. His address and
skill were more than twenty times a match for his adversary,
who could make little head against them, even when fortune
favored him with good cards, which was not often the case.
Sir Mulberry won every game ; and when his companion threw
down the cards, and refused to play any longer, thrust forth
his wasted arm and caught up the stakes with a boastful oath,
and the same hoarse laugh, though considerably lowered in
tone, that had resounded in Ralph Nickleby's dining-room,
months before.

While he was thus occupied, his man appeared, to an-
nounce that Mr. Ralph Nickleby was below, and wished to
know how he was to-night.

" Better," said Sir Mulberry, impatiently.

" Mr. Nickleby wishes to know, sir "

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" I tell you, better," replied Sir Mulberry, striking his hand
upon the table.

The man hesitated for a moment or two, and then said
that Mr. Nickleby had requested permision to see Sir Mul-
berry Hawk, if it was not inconvenient.

" It is inconvenient, I can't see him. I can't see any-
body," said his master, more violently than before. " You
know that, you blockhead."

"I am very sorry, sir," returned the man. " But Mr.
Nickleby pressed so much, sir "

The fact was, that Ralph Nickleby had bribed the man,
who, being anxious to earn his money with a view to future
favors, held the door in his hand, and ventured to linger still.

" Did he say whether he had any business to speak
about ? " inquired Sir Mulberry, after a little impatient con-

" No, sir. He said he wished to see you, sir. Particularly
Mr. Nickleby said, sir."

" Tell him to come up. Here ! " cried Sir Mulberry, call-
ing the man back, as he passed his hand over his disfigured
face, " move that lamp, and put it on the stand behind me.
Wheel that table away, and place a chair there — further off.
Leave it so."

The man obeyed these directions as if he -quite compre-
hended the motive with which they were dictated, and left the
room. Lord Frederick Verisopht, remarking that he would
look in presently, strolled into the adjoining apartment, and
closed the folding-door behind him.

Then was heard a subdued footstep on the stairs ; and
Ralph Nickleby, hat in hand, crept softly into the room, with
his body bent forward as if in profound respect, and his eyes
fixed upon the face of his worthy client.

" Well, Nickleby," said Sir Mulberry, motioning him to
the chair by the couch side, and waving his hand in assumed
carelessness, " I have had a bad accident, you see."

" I see," rejoined Ralph, with the same steady gaze. " Bad,
indeed I I should not have known you, Sir Mulberry. Dear,
dear ! That is bad."

Ralph's manner was one of profound humility and respect,
and his low tone of voice was that which the gentlest consid-
eration for a sick man would have taught a visitor to assume.
But the expression of his face, Sir Mulberry's being averted,
was in extraordinary contrast. And as he stood, in his usual

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attitude, calmly looking on the prostrate form before him, all
that part of his features which was not cast into shadow by
his protruding and contracted brows, bore the impress of a
sarcastic smile.

" Sit down," said Sir Mulberry, turning towards him, as
though by a violent effort. " Am I a sight, that you stand
gazing there ? "

As he turned his face, Ralph recoiled a step or two, and
making as though he were irresistibly impelled to express
astonishment, but was determined not to do so, sat down with
well-acted confusion.

" I have inquired at the door, Sir Mulberry, every day,"
said Ralph, " twice a day, indeed, at first — and to-night, pre-
suming upon old acquaintance, and past transactions by which
we have mutually benefited in some degree, I could not re-
sist soliciting admission to your chamber. Have you — have
you suffered much ? " said Ralph, bending forward, and
allowing the same harsh smile to gather upon his face, as the
other closed his eyes.

" More than enough to please me, and less than enough
to please some broken down hacks that you and I know of,"
and who lay their ruin between us, I dare say," returned Sir
Mulberry, tossing his arm restlessly upon the coverlet

Ralph shrugged his shoulders in deprecation of the in-
tense irritation with which this had been said ; for there was
an aggravating, cold distinctness in his speech and manner
which so grated on the sick man that he could scarcely en-
dure it.

" And what is it in these * past transactions,' that brought
you here to-night ? *' asked Sir Mulberry.

" Nothing," replied Ralph. " There are some bills of my
lord's which need renewal ; but let them be, till you are well.
I — I — came," said Ralph, speaking more slowly, and with
harsher emphasis, " I came to say how grieved I am that any
relative of mine, although disowned by me, should have in-
flicted such punishment on you as "

" Punishment ! " interposed Sir Mulberry.

" I know it has been a severe one," said Ralph, wilfully
mistaking the meaning of the interruption, "and that has
made me the more anxious to tell you that I disown this vaga-
bond — that I acknowledge him as no kin of mine — and that
I leave him to take his deserts from you, and every man be-
sides. You may wring his neck if you please. / shall not

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" This story that they tell me here, has got abroad then, has
it ? " asked Sir Mulberry, clenching his hands and teeth.

" Noised in all directions," replied Ralph. " Every club
and gaming-room has rung with it. There has been a good
song made about it, as I am told," said Ralph, looking eagerly
af his questioner. " I have not heard it myself, not being in
the way of such things, but I have been told it's even printed
— for private circulation — but that's all over town, of course."

" It's a lie ! " said Sir Mulberry ; " I tell you it's all a lie.
The mare took fright."

" They say he frightened her," observed Ralph, in the
same unmoved and quiet manner. " Some say he frightened
you, but thafs a lie, I know. I have said that boldly — oh, a
score of times I I am a peaceable man, but I can't hear folks
tell that of you. No, no."

When Sir Mulberry found coherent words to utter, Ralph
bent forward with his head to his ear, and a face as calm as
if its every line of sternness had been cast in iron.

" When I am off this cursed bed," said the invalid, actu-
ally striking at his broken leg in the ecstasy of his passion,
"I'll have such revenge as never man had yet. By G — I
will ! Accident favoring him, he has marked me for a week
or two, but I'll put a mark on him that he shall carry to his
grave. I'll slit his nose and ears, flog him, maim him for
life. I'll do more than that ; I'll drag that pattern of chas-
tity, that pink of prudery, his delicate sister, through "

It might have been that even Ralph's cold blood tingled
in his cheeks at that moment. It might have been that Sir
Mulberry remembered, that, knave and usurer as he was,
he must, in some early time of infancy, have twined his arm
about her father's neck. He stopped, and, menacing with his
hand, confirmed the unuttered threat with a tremendous oath.

" It is a galling thing," said Ralph, after a short term of
silence, during which he had eyed the sufferer keenly, " to
think that the man about town, the rake, the rout, the rook of
twenty seasons, should be brought to this pass by a mere

Sir Mulberry darted a wrathful look at him, but Ralph's
eyes were bent upon the ground, and his face wore no other
expression than one of thoughtfulness.

" A raw, slight stripling," continued Ralph, " against a
man whose very weight might crush him ; to say nothing of
his skill in — I am right, I think," said Ralph, raising his eyes :
" you were a patron of the ring once, were you not ? "

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The sick man made an impatient gesture, which Ralph
chose to consider as one of acquiescence.

" Ha ! " he said, " I thought so. That was before I knew
you, but I was pretty sure I couldn't be mistaken. He is
light and active, I suppose. But those were slight advantages
compared with yours. Luck, luck I These hangdog outcasts
have it."

" He'll need the most he has, when I am well again," said
Sir Mulberry Hawk, " let him fly where he will."

" Oh ! " returned Ralph quickly, " he doesn't dream of
that. He is here, good sir, waiting your pleasure, here in
London, walking the streets at noonday, carrying it off jaun-
tily, looking for you, I swear," said Ralph, his face darkening,
and his own hatred getting the upper hand of him, for the
first time, as this gay picture of Nicholas presented itself j
" if we were only citizens of a country where it could be
safely done, I'd give good money to have him stabbed to the
heart and rolled into the kennel for the dogs to tear."

As Ralph, somewhat to the surprise of his old client,
vented this little piece of sound family feeling, and took up
his hat preparatory to departing, Lord Frederick Verisopht
looked in.

" Why what in the dayvle's name, Hawk, have you and
Nickleby been talking about ? " said the young man. " I
neyver heard such an insufferable riot. Croak, croak, croak.
Bow, wow, wow. What has it all been about ? "

" Sir Mulberry has been angry, my Lord," said Ralph,
looking towards the couch.

" Not about money, I hope ? Nothing has gone wrong in
business, has it, Nickleby ? "

" No, my Lord, no," returned Ralph. " On that point we
always agree. Sir Mulberry has been calling to mind the
cause of "

There was neither necessity nor opportunity for Ralph to
proceed ; for Sir Mulberry took up the theme, and vented his
threats and oaths against Nicholas, almost as ferociously as

Ralph, who was no common observer, was surprised to
see that as this tirade proceeded, the manner of Lord Freder-
ick Verisopht, who at the commencement had been twirling
his whiskers with a most dandified and listless air, underwent
a complete alteration. He was still more surprised when,
Sir Mulberry ceasing to speak, the young lord angrily, and

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almost unaffectedly, requested never to have the subject re-
newed in his presence.

" Mind that, Hawk ! " he added, with unusual energy. " I
never will be a party to, or permit, it I can help it, a cowardly
attack upon this young fellow."

" Cowardly ! " interrupted his friend.

" Ye-es," said the other, turning full upon him. " If you
had told him who you were ; if you had given him your card,
and found out, afterwards, that his station or character pre-
vented your fighting him, it would have been bad enough then ;
upon my soul it would have been bad enough then. As it is,
you did wrong. I did wrong too, not to interfere, and I am
sorry for it. What happened to you afterwards, was as much
the consequence of accident as design, and more your fault
than his ; and it shall not, with my knowledge, be cruelly
visited upon him, it shall not indeed. 1 '

With this emphatic repetition of his concluding words, the
young lord turned upon his heel ; but before he had reached
the adjoining room he turned back again, and said, with even
greater vehemence than he had displayed before,

Online LibraryCharles DickensThe life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby → online text (page 47 of 79)