Charles Dickens.

The life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby online

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" I do believe, now ; upon my honor I do believe, that the
sister is as virtuous and modest a young lady as she is a hand-
some one ; and of the brother, I say this, that he acted as her
brother should, and in a manly and spirited manner. And I
only wish, with all my heart and soul, that any one of us came
out of this matter half as well as he does."

So saying, Lord Frederick Verisopht walked out of the
room, leaving Ralph Nickleby and Sir Mulberry in most un-
pleasant astonishment

u Is this your pupil ? " asked Ralph, softly, " or has he
come fresh from some country parson ? "

" Green fools take these fits sometimes," replied Sir Mul-
berry Hawk, biting his lip, and pointing to the door. " Leave
him to me."

Ralph exchanged a familiar look with his old acquaintance ;
for they had suddenly grown confidential again in this alarm-
ing surprise ; and took his way home, thoughtfully and slowly.

While these things were being said and done, and long
before they were concluded, the omnibus had disgorged Miss
La Creevy and her escort, and they had arrived at her own
door. Now, the good-nature of the little miniature-painter
would by no means allow of Smike's walking back again, until
he had been previously refreshed with just a sip of something



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49 2 NICHOLAS NICKLEBY.

comfortable, and a mixed biscuit or so ; and Smike, enter-
taining no objection either to the sip of something comfort-
able, or the mixed biscuit, but, considering on the contrary
that they would be a very pleasant preparation for a walk to
Bow, it fell out that he delayed much longer than he originally
intended, and that it was some half hour after dusk when he
set forth on his journey home.

There was no likelihood of his losing his way, for it lay
quite straight before him, and he had walked into town with
Nicholas, and back alone, almost every day. So, Miss La
Creevy and he shook hands with mutual confidence, and, being
charged with more kind remembrances to Mrs. and Miss
Nickleby, Smike started off. r

At the foot of Ludgate Hill, he turned a little out*of the
road to satisfy his curiosity by having a look at Newgate,
After staring up at the sombre walls, from the opposite side
of the way, with great care and dread for some minutes, he
turned back again into the old track, and walked briskly
through the city ; stopping now and then to gaze in at the
window of some particularly attractive shop, then running for
a little .way, then stopping again, and so on, as any other
country lad might do.

He had been gazing for a long time through a jeweller's
window, wishing he could take some of the beautiful trinkets
home as a present, and imagining what delight they would afford
if he could, when the clocks struck three-quarters past eight ;
roused by the sound, he hurried on at a very quick pace, and
was crossing the corner of a by-street when he felt himself
violently brought to, with a jerk so sudden that he was obliged
to cling to a lamp-post to save himself from falling. At the
same moment, a small boy clung tight round his leg, and a shrill
cry of " Here he is, father ! Hooray ! " vibrated in his "ears.

Smike knew that voice too well. He cast his despairing
eyes downward towards the form from which it had proceeded,
and, shuddering from head to foot, looked round. Mr.
Squeers had hooked him in the coat-collar with the handle of
his umbrella, and was hanging on at the other end with all his
might and main. The cry of triumph proceeded from Master
Wackford, who, regardless of all his kicks and struggles,
clung to him with the tenacity of a bull-dog !

One glance showed him this ; and in that one glance the
terrified creature became utterly powerless and unable to utter
a sound.



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NICHOLAS NICKLEBY. 4 ^

"Here's a go!" cried Mr. Squeers, gradually coming
hand-over-hand down the umbrella, and only unhooking it
when he had got tight^old of the victim's collar. " Here's a
delicious go ! Wackford, my boy, call up one of them coaches."

" A coach, father ! " cried little Wackford.

" Yes, a coach, sir," replied Squeers, feasting his eyes
upon the countenance of Smike. " Damn the expense. Let's
have him in a coach."

" What's he been a doing of ? " asked a laborer with a hod
of bricks, against whom and a fellow-laborer Mr. Squeers had
backed, on the first jerk of the umbrella.

" Everything ! " replied Mr. Squeers, looking fixedly at
his old pupil in a sort of rapturous trance. " Everything —
running away, sir — joining in bloodthirsty attacks upon his
master — there's nothing that's bad that he hasn't done. Oh,
what a delicious go is this here, good Lord ! "

The man looked from Squeers to Smike ; but such mental
faculties as the poor fellow possessed, had utterly deserted
him. The coach came up, Master Wackford entered, Squeers
pushed in his prize, and, following close at his heels, pulled
up the glasses. The coachman mounted his box and drove
slowly off, leaving the two bricklayers, and an old apple-
woman, and a town-made little boy returning from an evening
school, who had been the only witnesses of the scene, to
meditate upon it at their leisure.

Mr. Squeers sat himself down on the opposite seat to the
unfortunate Smike, and, planting his hands firmly on his
knees, looked at him for some five minutes, when, seeming to
recover from his trance, he uttered a loud laugh, and slapped
his old pupil's face several times — taking the right and left
sides alternately.

" I*t isn't a dream ! " said Squeers. " That's real flesh
and blood ! I know the feel of it ! " And being quite assured
of his good fortune by these experiments, Mr. Squeers admin-
istered a few boxes on the ear, lest the entertainments should
seem to partake of sameness, and laughed louder and longer
at every one.

" Your mother will be fit to jump out of her skin, my boy,
when she hears of this," said Squeers to his son.

" Oh, won't she though, father ? " replied Master Wack-
ford.

" To think," said Squeers, " that you and me should be
turning out of a street, and come upon him at the very nick ;



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494 NICHOLAS NICKLEBY.

and that I should have him tight, at only one cast of the um-
brella, as if I had hooked him with a grappling-iron ! Ha,"
ha!" ^

" Didn't I catch hold of hk leg, neither, father ? " said lit-
tle Wackford.

" You did ; like a good 'un, my boy," said Mr. Squeers,
patting his son's head, " and you shall have the best button-
over jacket and waistcoat that the next new boy brings down,
as a reward of merit. Mind that. You always keep on in
the same path, and do them things that you see your father
do, and when you die you'll go right slap to Heaven and no
questions asked."

Improving the occasion in these words, Mr. Squeers patted
his son's head again, and then patted Smike's — but harder;
and inquired in a bantering tone how he found himself by this
time ?

" I must go home," replied Smike, looking wildly round.

" To be sure you must. You're about right there," replied
Mr. Squeers. " You'll go home very soon, you will. You'll
find yourself at the peaceful village of Dotheboys, in York-
shire, in something under a week's time, my young friend;
and the next time you get away from there, I give you leave
to keep away. Where's the clothes you run off in, you un-
grateful robber ? " said Mr. Squeers, in a severe voice.

Smike glanced at the neat attire which the care of Nich-
olas had provided for him, and wrung his hands.

" Do you know that I could hang you up, outside of the
Old Bailey, for making away with them articles of property ? "
said Squeers. " Do you know that it's a hanging matter—
and I an't quite certain whether it an't an anatomy one besides
— to walk off with up'ards of the valley of five pound from a
dwelling-house? Eh? Do you know that? What do you
suppose was the worth of them clothes you had ? Do you
know that that Wellington-boot you wore, cost eight-and-
twenty shillings when it was a pair, and the shoe seven-and-
six ? But you came to the right shop for mercy when you
came to me, and thank your stars that it is me as has got to
serve you with the article."

Anybody not in Mr. Squeers's confidence, would have
supposed that he was quite out of the article in question, in-
stead of having a large stock on hand ready for all comers ;
nor would the opinion of skeptical persons have undergone
much alteration when he followed up the remark by poking



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495



Smike in the chest with the ferrule of his umbrella, and deal-
ing a smart shower of blows, with the ribs of the same instru-
ment, upon his head and shoulders.

" I never threshed a boy in a hackney-coach before," said
Mr. Squeers, when he stopped to rest. " There's inconve-
niency in it, but the novelty gives it a sort of relish, too ! "

Poor Smike ! He warded off the blows, as well as he
could, and now shrunk into a corner of the coach, with his
head resting on his hands, and his elbows on his knees ; he
was stunned and stupefied, and had no more idea that any
act of his would enable him to escape from the all-powerful
Squeers, now that he had no friend to speak to or to advise
with, than he had had in all the weary years of his Yorkshire
life which preceded the arrival of Nicholas.

The journey seemed endless ; street after street was en-
tered and left behind ; and still they went jolting on. At last
Mr. Squeers began to thrust his head out of the window every
half-minute, and to bawl a variety of directions to the coach-
man ; and after passing, with some difficulty, through several
mean streets which the appearance of the houses and the bad
state of the road denoted to have been recently built, Mr.
Squeers suddenly tugged at the check string with all his
might, and cried, " Stop ! "

" What are you pulling a man's arm off for ? " said the
coachman, looking angrily down.

"-That's the house," replied Squeers. "The second of
them four little houses, one story high, with the green shutters.
There's a brass plate on the door, with the name of Snawley."

" Couldn't you say that, without wrenching a man's limbs
off his body ? " inquired the coachman.

" No ! " bawled Mr. Squeers. " Say another word, and
I'll summons you for having a broken winder. Stop ! "

Obedient to this direction, the coach stopped at Mr. Snaw-
ley's door. Mr. Snawley may be remembered as the sleek
and sanctified gentleman who confided two sons (in law) to
the parental care of Mr. Squeers, as narrated in the fourth
chapter of this history. Mr. Snawley's house was on the ex-
treme borders of some new settlements adjoining Somers
Town, and Mr. Squeers had taken lodging therein for a short
time, as his stay was longer than usual, and as the Saracen,
having experience of Master Wackford's appetite, had de-
clined to receive him on any other terms than as a full-grown
customer.



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496 NICHOLAS NICKLEB Y.

" Here we are ! " said Squeers, hurrying Smike into the
little parlor, where Mr. Snawley and his wife were taking a
lobster supper. " Here's the vagrant — the felon — the rebel —
the monster of unthankfulness."

" What ! The boy that run away ! " cried Snawley, resting
his knife and fork upright on the table, and opening his eyes
to their full width.

" The very boy," said Squeers, putting his fist close to
Sm ike's nose, and drawing it away again, and repeating
the process several times, with a vicious aspect. " If there

wasn't a lady present, I'd fetch him such a : never mind,

I'll owe it him."

And here Mr. Squeers related how, arid in what manner,
and when and where, he had picked up the runaway.

" It's clear that there has been a providence in it, sir,"
said Mr. Snawley, casting down his eyes with an air of humility,
and elevating his fork, with a bit of lobster on the top of it,
towards the ceiling.

" Providence is again him, no doubt," replied Mr. Squeers,
scratching his nose. " Of course ; that was to be expected.
Anybody might have known that."

" Hard-heartedness and evil-doing will never prosper, sir,"
said Mr. Snawley.

" Never was such a thing known," rejoined Squeers, taking
a little roll of notes from his pocket-book, to see that they
were all safe.

" I have been, Mrs. Snawley," said Mr. Squeers, when he
had satisfied himself upon this point, " I have been that chap's
benefactor, feeder, teacher, and clother. I have been that
chap's classical, commercial, mathematical, philosophical, and
trigonomical friend. My son — my only son, Wackford— has
been his brother. Mrs. Squeers has been his mother, grand-
mother, aunt, — Ah ! and I may say uncle too, all in one. She
never cottoned to anybody, except them two engaging and
delightful boys of yours, as she cottoned to this chap. What's
my return ? What's come of my milk of human kindness ? It
turns into curds and whey when I look at him."

" Well it may, sir," said Mrs. Snawley. " Oh ! Well it
may, sir."

" Where has he been all this time ? " inquired Snawley.
" Has he been living with ? "

" Ah, sir ! " interposed Squeers, confronting him again.
" Have you been a living with that there devilish Nickleby,
sir ? "



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But no threats or cuffs could elicit from Smike one word
of reply to this question ; for he had internally resolved that
he would rather perish in the wretched prison to which he was
again about to be consigned, than utter one syllable which
could involve his first and true friend. He had already called
to mind the strict injunctions of secrecy as to his past life,
which Nicholas had laid upon 'him when they travelled from
Yorkshire ; and a confused and perplexed idea that his bene-
factor might have committed some terrible crime in bringing
him away, which would render him liable to heavy punish-
ment if detected, had contributed in some degree to reduce
him to his present state of apathy and terror.

Such were the thoughts — if to visions so imperfect and
undefined as those which wandered through his enfeebled
brain, the term can be applied — which were present to the
mind of Smike, and rendered him deaf alike to intimidation
and persuasion. Finding every effort useless, Mr. Squeers
conducted him to a little back room up stairs, where he was
to pass the night. Taking the precaution of removing his
sfioes, and coat and waistcoat, and also of locking the door
on the outside, lest he should muster up sufficient energy to
make an attempt at escape, that worthy gentleman left him to
his meditations^

What those meditations were, and how the poor creature's
heart sank within him when he thought — when did he, for a
moment, cease to think ! — of his late home, and the dear
friends and familiar faces with which it was associated, cannot
be told. To prepare the mind for such a heavy sleep, its
growth must be stopped by rigor and cruelty in childhood ;
there must be years of misery and suffering lightened by no
ray of hope ; the chords of the heart, which beat a quick re-
sponse to the voice of gentleness and affection, must have
rusted and broken in their secret places, and bear the linger-
ing echo of no old word of love or kindness. Gloomy, indeed,
must have been the short day, and dull the long, long twilight,
preceding such a night of intellect as his.

There were voices which would have roused him, even
then ; but their welcome tones could not penetrate there ; and
he crept to bed the same listless, hopeless, blighted creature,
that Nicholas had first found him at the Yorkshire school.

32



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498 NICHOLAS NTCKLEBY.



CHAPTER XXXIX.

IN WHICH ANOTHER OLD FRIEND ENCOUNTERS SMIKE, VERY
OPPORTUNELY AND TO SOME PURPOSE.

The night, fraught with so much bitterness to one poor
soul, had given place to a bright and cloudless summer morn-
ing, when a north-country mail-coach traversed, with cheerful
noise, the yet silent streets of Islington, and giving brisk note
of its approach with the lively winding of the guard's horn,
• clattered onward to its halting-place hard by the Post-office.

The only outside passenger was a burly, honest-looking
countryman on the box, who, with his eyes fixed upon the
dome of St. Paul's Cathedral, appeared so wrapt in admiring
wonder, as to be quite insensible to all the bustle of getting
out the bags and parcels, until one of the coach windows be-
ing let sharply down, he looked round, and encountered a
pretty female face which was just then thrust out

" See there, lass ! " bawled the countryman, pointing to-
wards the object of his admiration. " There be Paul's Church.
'Ecod, he be a soizable 'un, he be."

"Goodness, John! I shouldn't have thought it could
have been half the size. What a monster ! "

"Monsther! — Ye're aboot right theer, I reckon, Mrs.
Browdie," said the countryman good-humoredly, as he came
slowly down in his huge top-coat, " and wa'at dost thee tak
yon place to be noo — thot 'un ower the wa\ Ye'd never coom
near it 'gin ye thried for a twolve moonths. It's na' but a
Poast-ofTice ! Ho I ho ! They need to charge for dooble-
latthers. A Poast-ofnce ! Wa'at dost thee think o' thot?
'Ecod, if thot's on'y a Poast-ofnce, I'd loike to see where the
Lord Mayor o' Lunnun lives."

So saying, John Browdie — for he it was— opened the coach-
door, and tapping Mrs. Browdie, late Miss Price, on the cheek
as he looked in, burst into a boisterous fit of laughter.

" Weel ! " said John. " Dang my bootuns if she bean't
asleep agean ! "

" She's been asleep all night, and was, all yesterday, ex-
cept for a minute or two now and then," replied John Brow-



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499



die's choice, " and I was very sorry when she woke, for she
has been so cross."

The subject of these remarks was a slumbering figure, so
muffled in shawl and cloak, that it would have been matter of
impossibility to guess at its sex but for a brown-beaver bonnet
and green veil which ornamented the head, and which, having
been crushed and flattened for two hundred and fifty miles in
that particular angle of the vehicle from which the lady's
snores now proceeded, presented an appearance sufficiently
ludicrous to have moved less risible muscles than those of
John Browdie's ruddy face.

" Hollo ! " cried John, twitching one end of the dragged
veil. " Coom, wakken oop, will 'ee."

After several burrowings into the old corner, and many ex-
clamations of impatience and fatigue, the figure struggled into
a sitting posture ; and there, under a mass of crumpled beaver,
and surrounded by a semicircle of blue curl-papers, were the
delicate features of Miss Fanny Squeers.

" Oh, Tilda ! " cried Miss Squeers, " How you have been
•kicking of me through this blessed night ! "

"Well, I do like that," replied her friend, laughing,
" when you have had nearly the whole coach to yourself."

" Don't deny it, 'Tilda," said Miss Squeers, impressively,
" because you have, and it's no use to go attempting to say
you haven't. You mightn't have known it in your sleep,
'Tilda, but I haven't closed my eyes for a single wink, and so
I think I am to be believed."

With which reply, Miss Squeers adjusted the bonnet and
veil, which nothing but supernatural interference and an utter
suspension of nature's laws could have reduced to any shape
or form ; and evidently flattering herself that it looked un-
commonly neat, brushed off the sandwich-crumbs and bits of
biscuit which had accumulated in her lap, and availing herself
of John Browdie's proffered arm, descended from the coach.

" Noo," said John, when a hackney-coach had been called
and the ladies and the luggage hurried in, "gang to the
Sarah's Head, mun."

" To the vere 1 " cried the coachman.

" Lawk, Mr. Browdie ! " interrupted Miss Squeers. " The
idea ! Saracen's Head."

" Sure-ly," said John, " I know'd it was something aboot
Sarah's Son's Head. Dost thou know thot ? "

" Oh, ah ! I know that," replied the coachman gruffly, as
he banged the door.



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joo NICHOLAS NICKLEB V.

" Tilda, dear, really," remonstrated Miss Squeers, " we
shall be taken for I don't know what."

" Let them tak' us as they foind us," said John Browdie ;
" we dean't come to Lunnun to do nought but 'joy oursel, do
we?"

" I hope not, Mr. Browdie," replied Miss Squeers, looking
singularly dismal.

"Well, then," said John, "it's no matther. I've only
been a married man fower days, 'account of poor old feyther
deein' and puttin' it off. Here be a weddin' party — broide
and broide'smaid, and the groom — if a mun dean't 'joy himself
nod, when ought he, hey ? Drat it all, thot's what I want to
know."

So, in order that he might begin to enjoy himself at once,
and lose no time, Mr. Browdie gave his wife a hearty kiss,
and succeeded in wresting another from Miss Squeers, after a
maidenly resistance of scratching and struggling on the part
of that young lady, which was not quite over when they reached
the Saracen's Head.

Here the party straightway retired to rest ; the refreshment
of sleep being necessary after so long a journey ; and here
they met again about noon, to a substantial breakfast, spread
by direction of Mr. John Browdie, in a small private room up
stairs commanding an uninterrupted view of the stables.

To have seen Miss Squeers now, divested of the brown
beaver, the green veil, and the blue curl-papers, and arrayed
in all the virgin splendor of a white frock and spencer, with a
white muslin bonnet, and an imitative damask rose in full
bloom on the inside thereof — her luxuriant crop of hair ar-
ranged in curls so tight that it was impossible they could come
out by any accident, and her bonnet-cap trimmed with little dam-
ask roses, which might be supposed to be so many promising
scions of the big rose — to have seen all this, and to have seen
the broad damask belt, matching both the family rose and
the little roses, which encircled her slender waist, and by a
happy ingenuity took off from the shortness of the spencer be-
hind, — to have beheld all this, and to have taken further into
account the coral bracelets (rather short of beads, and with a
very visible black string) which clasped her wrists, and the
coral necklace which rested on her neck, supporting, outside
her frock a lonely cornelian heart, typical of her own disen-
gaged affections — to have contemplated all these mute but ex-
pressive appeals to the purest feelings of our nature, might



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NICHOLAS MCKLEBY.



SOI



have thawed the frost of age, and added new and inextinguish-
able fuel to the fire of youth.

The waiter was touched. Waiter as he was, he had human
passions and feelings, and he looked very hard at Miss Squeers
as he handed the muffins.

" Is my pa in, do you know ? " asked Miss Squeers with
dignity.

" Beg your pardon, Miss? "

" My pa," repeated Miss Squeers ; " is he in ? "

"In where, Miss?"

" In here — in the house ! " replied Miss Squeers. " My
pa — Mr. Wackford Squeers — he's stopping here. Is he at
home ? "

44 1 didn't know there was any genTman of that name in
the house Miss," replied the waiter. " There may be in the
coffee-room."

May be. Very pretty this, indeed ! Here was Miss
Squeers, who had been depending, all the way to London,
upon showing her friends how much at home she would be,
and how much respectful notice her name and connections
would excite, told that her father might be there ! " As if he
was a feller ! " observed Miss Squeers, with emphatic indig-
nation.

" Ye'd betther inquire mun," said John Browdie. " An'
hond up another pigeon-pie, will 'ee ? Dang the chap," mut-
tered John, looking into the empty dish as the waiter retired ;
" Does he ca' this a pie — three young pigeons and a troifling
matther o' steak, and a crust so loight that you doant know
when it's in your mooth and when it's gane ? I wonder hoo
many pies goes to a breakfast I "

After a short interval, which John Browdie employed upon
the ham and a cold round of beef, the waiter returned with
another pie, and the information that Mr. Squeers was not
stopping in the house, but that he came there every day, and
that when he arrived, he should be shown up stairs. With
this he retired ; and he had not retired two minutes, when he re-
turned with Mr. Squeers and his hopeful son.

" Why, who'd have thought of this ? " said Mr. Squeers,
when he had saluted the party, and received some private
family intelligence from his daughter.

" Who, indeed, pa ! " replied that young lady, spitefully.



Online LibraryCharles DickensThe life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby → online text (page 48 of 79)