Charles Dickens.

The life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby online

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" But you see 'Tilda is married at last."

" And I stond threat for a soight o* Lunnun, school-
measther," said John vigorously attacking the pie.

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" One of them things that young men do when they get
married," returned Squeers, " and as runs through with their
money like nothing at all ! How much better wouldn't it be
now, to save it up for the eddication of any little boys, for in-
stance. They come on you," said Mr. Squeers in a moral-
izing way, " Before you're aware of it ; mine did upon me."

" Wiiree pick a bit ? " said John.

" I won't myself," returned Squeers ; " but if you'll just
let little Wackford tuck into something fat, I'll be obliged to
you. Give it him in his fingers, else the waiter charges it on,
and there's lot of profit on this sort of vittles without that If
you hear the waiter, coming, sir, shove it in your pocket and
look out of the window, d'ye hear ? "

" I'm awake, father," replied the dutiful Wackford.

" Well," said Squeers, turning to his daughter, " it's your
turn to be married next. You must make haste."

"Oh, I'm in no hurry," said Miss Squeers very sharply.

" No, Fanny ? " cried her old friend with some archness.

" No, 'Tilda, replied Miss Squeers, shaking her head vehe-
mently, "/can wait."

" So can the young men, it seems, Fanny," observed Mrs,

" They an't draw'd into it by me, Tilda," retorted Miss

" No," returned her friend ; " That's exceedingly true."

The sarcastic tone of this reply might have provoked a
rather acrimonious retort from Miss Squeers, who, besides be-
ing of a constitutionally vicious temper — 'aggravated, just now,
by travel and recent jolting — was somewhat irritated by old
recollections and the failure of her own designs upon Mr.
Browdie. And the acrimonious retort might have led to a great
many other retorts, which might have led to Heaven knows
what, if the subject of conversation had not been, at that pre-
cise moment, accidentally changed by Mr. Squeers himself.

" What do you think ? " said that gentleman ; " who do you
suppose we have laid hands on, Wackford and me ? "

" Pa ! not Mr. ? " Miss Squeers was unable to finish

the sentence, but Mrs. Browdie did it for her, and added

" No," said Squeers. " But next door to him though."

" You can't mean Smike ? " cried Miss Squeers, clapping
her hands.

" Yes, I can though, " rejoined her father. " I've got him,
hard and fast"

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" Wa'at ! " exclaimed John Browdie, pushing away his
plate. " Got that poor— dom'd scoondrel ? Where ? "

" Why, in the top back room, at my lodging," with him on
one side, and the key on the other."

" At thy loodgin' ! Thee'st gotten him at thy loodgin' ? Ho !
ho ! The schoolmeasther agin all England ! Give us thee hond
mun ; I'm darned but I must shak thee by the hond for thot.
—Gotten him at thy loodghV ? "

" Yes," replied Squeers, staggering in his chair under the
congratulatory blow on the chest which the stout Yorkshire
man dealt him ; " thankee. Don't do it again. You mean it
kindly, I know, but it hurts rather. Yes, there he is. That's
not so bad, is it ? "

" Ba'ad ! " repeated John Browdie. " It's eneaf to scare a
mun to hear tell on."

" I thought it would surprise you a bit," said Squeers,
rubbing his hands. " It was pretty neatly done, and pretty
quick too."

" Hoo wor it ? " inquired John, sitting down close to him.
" Tell us all aboot it, mun ; coom, quick."

Although he could not keep pace with John Browdie's im-
patience, Mr. Squeers related the lucky chance by which Smike
had fallen into his hands, as quickly as he could, and, except
when he was interrupted by the admiring remarks of his audi-
tors, paused not in the recital until he had brought it to an

" For fear he should give me the slip, by any chance," ob-
served Squeers, when he had finished, looking very cunning,
" I've taken three outsides for to-morrow morning — for Wack-
ford and him and me — and have arranged to leave the ac-
counts and the new boys to the agent, don't you see ? So, it's
very lucky you came tc-day, or you'd have missed us ; as it is,
unless you could come and tea with me to-night, we shan't
see anything more of you before we go away."

" Dean't say anoother wurd," returned the Yorkshireman,
shaking him by the hand. "We'd coom, if it was twonty

" No, would you though ? " returned Mr. Squeers, who had
not expected quite such a ready acceptance of his invitation,
or he would have considered twice before he gave it.

John Browdie's only reply was another squeeze of the
hand, and an assurance-that they would not begin to see Lon-
don till to-morrow, so that they might be at Mr. Snawley's at

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six o'clock without fail. After some further conversation,
Mr. Squeers and his son departed.

During the remainder of the day, Mr. Browdie was in a
very odd and excitable state ; bursting occasionally into an
explosion of laughter, and then taking up his hat, and running
into the coach-yard to have it out by himself. He was very
restless too, constantly walking in and out, and snapping his
fingers, and dancing scraps of uncouth country dances, and,
in short, conducting himself in such a very extraordinary man-
ner, that Miss Squeers opined he was going mad, and, begging
her dear 'Tilda not to distress herself, communicated her sus-
picions in so many words. Mrs. Browdie, however, without
discovering any great alarm, observed that she had seen him
so, once before, and that although Jie was almost sure to be
ill after it, it would not be anything very serious, and there-
fore he was better left alone.

The result proved to be perfectly correct ; for, while they
were all sitting in Mr. Snawley's parlor that night, and just as
it was beginning to get dusk, John Browdie was taken so ill,
and seized with such an alarming dizziness in the head, that
the whole company were thrown into the utmost consternation.
His good lady, indeed, was the only person present who retained
presence of mind enough to observe that if he were allowed to
lie down on Mr. Squeers's bed for an hour or so, and were
left entirely to himself, he would be sure to recover again al-
most as quickly as he had been taken ill. Nobody could
refuse to try the effect of so reasonable a proposal, before
sending for a surgeon. Accordingly, John was supported up
stairs, with great difficulty (being a monstrous weight, and reg-
ularly tumbling down two steps every time they hoisted him
up three), and, being laid on the bed, was left in charge of
his wife, who after a short interval reappeared in the parlor,
with the gratifying intelligence that he had fallen fast asleep.

Now, the fact was, that at that particular moment, John
Browdie was sitting on the bed, with the reddest face ever
seen, cramming the corner of the pillow into his mouth, to
prevent his roaring out loud with laughter. He had no sooner
succeeded in suppressing this emotion, than he slipped off his
shoes, and, creeping to tie adjoining room where the prisoner
was confined, turned the key, which was on the outside, and
darting in, covered Sm ike's mouth with his huge hand before
he could utter a sound.

" Ods-bobs, dost thee not know me, mun ? " whispered the

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Yorkshireman to the bewildered lad. " Browdie. Chap as
met thee efther schoolmeasther was banged ? "

" Yes, yes," cried Smike. " Oh ! help me."

" Help thee ! " replied John, stopping his mouth again the
instant he had said thus much. " Thee didn't need help, if
thee warn't as silly yoongster as ever draw'd breath. Wa'at
did *ee come here for, then ? "

" He brought me ; oh ! he brought me," cried Smike.

" Brout thee ! " replied John. " Why didn't 'ee punch his
head, or lay theeself doon and kick, and squeal out for the
pollis? I'd ha' licked a doozen such as him when I was
yoong as thee. But thee be'est a poor broken-doon chap,"
said John, sadly, " and God forgi' me for bragging ower yan
o' his weakest creeturs ! "

Smike opened his mouth to speak, but John Browdie
stopped him.

" Stan' still," said the Yorkshireman, " and doant 'ee
speak a morsel o' talk till I tell 'ee."

With this caution, John Browdie shook his head signifi-
cantly, and, drawing a screwdriver from his pocket, took off
the box of the lock in a very deliberate and workmanlike
manner, and laid it, together with the implement, on the

" See thot ? " said John. " Thot be thy doin'. Noo, coot
awa' ! "

Smike looked vacantly at him, as if unable to comprehend
his meaning.

" I say, coot awa'," repeated John, hastily. " Dost thee
know where thee livest ? Thee dost ? Weel. Are yon thy
clothes, or schoolmeasther's ? "

" Mine," replied Smike, as the Yorkshireman hurried him
to the adjoining room, and pointed out a pair of shoes and a
coat which were lying on a chair.

" On wi' 'em ! " said John, forcing the wrong arm into the
wrong sleeve, and winding the tails of the coat round the fu-
gitive's neck. " Noo, foller me, and when thee get'st ootside
door, turn to the right, and they wean't see thee pass."

" But — but— -he'll hear me shut the door," replied Smike,
trembling from head to foot.

"Then dean't shut it at all," retorted John Browdie.
" Dang it, thee bean't afeard o' schoolmeasther's takkin cold,
I hope?"

"N-no," said Smike, his teeth chattering in his head.

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" But he brought me back before, and will again. He will,
he will indeed."

" He wuil, he wull ? " replied John, impatiently. " He
wean't, he wean't. Look'ee ! I wont to do this neighborly
loike, and let them think thee's gotten awa' o' theeself, but if
he cooms oot o' that parlor awhiles thee'rt clearing off, he
mun' have mercy on his oun bones, for I wean't. If he
foinds it oot, soon efther, I'll put 'un on a wrong -scent, I war-
rant 'ee. But if thee keep'st a good hart, thee'il be at whoam
afore they know thee'st gotten off. Coom ! "

Smike, who comprehended just enough of this to know it
was intended as encouragement, prepared to follow with tot-
tering steps, when John whispered in his ear.

" Thee'lt just tell yoong Measther, that I'm sploiced to
'Tilly Price, and to be heerd on at the Saracen by latther, and
that I bean't jealous of 'un— dang it, I'm loike to boost when
I thick o' that neight ! 'Cod, I think I see 'un now, a pow-
derin' awa' at the thin bread an' butther ! "

It was rather a ticklish recollection for John just then, for
he was within an ace of breaking out into a loud guffaw.
Restraining himself, however, just in time, by a great effort,
he glided down stairs, hauling Smike behind him ; then plac-
ing himself close to the parlor-door, to confront the • first per-
son that might come out, he signed to Smike to make off.

Having got so far, Smike needed no second bidding.
Opening the house-door gently, and casting a look of mingled
gratitude and terror at his deliverer, he took the direction
which had been indicated to him, and sped away like the

The Yorkshireman remained on his post, for a few min-
utes, but finding that there was no pause in the conversation
inside, crept back again unheard, and stood listening over the
stair-rail for a full hour. Everything remaining perfectly quiet,
he got into Mr. Squeers's bed, once more, and drawing the
clothes over his head, laughed till he was nearly smothered.

If there could only have been somebody by, to see how
the bed-clothes shook, and to see the Yorkshireman 's great
red face and round head appear above the sheets every now
and then, like some jovial monster coming to the surface to
breathe, and once more dive down convulsed with the laughter
which came bursting forth afresh — that somebody would have
been scarcely less amused than John Browdie himself.

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Once more out of the clutches of his old persecutor, it
needed no fresh stimulation to call forth the utmost energy
and exertion that Smike was capable of summoning to his aid.
Without pausing for a moment to reflect upon the course he
was taking, or the probability of its leading him homewards
or the reverse, he fled away with surprising swiftness and con-
stancy of purpose, borne upon such wings as only Fear can
wear, and impelled by imaginary shouts in the well-remem-
bered voice of Squeers, who, with a host of pursuers, seemed
to the poor fellow's disordered senses to press hard upon his
track ; now left at a greater distance in the rear, and now
gaining faster and faster upon him, as the alternations of hope
and terror agitated him by turns. Long after he had become
assured that these sounds were but the creation of his excited
brain, he still held on, at a pace, which even weakness and
exhaustion could scarcely retard. It was not until the dark-
ness and quiet of a country road, recalled him to his sense of
external objects, and the starry sky, above, warned him of the
rapid flight of time, that, covered with dust and panting for
breath, he stopped to listen and look about him.

All was still and silent. A glare of light in the distance,
casting a warm glow upon the sky, marked where the huge
city lay. Solitary fields, divided by hedges and ditches,
through many of which he had crashed and scrambled in his
flight, skirted the road, both by the way he had come and
upon the opposite side. It was late now. They could
scarcely trace him by such paths as he had taken, and if he
could hope to regain his own dwelling, it must surely be at
such a time as that, and under cover of the darkness. This,
by degrees, became pretty plain, even to the mind of Smike.
He had, at first, entertained some vague and childish idea of
travelling into the country for ten or a dozen miles, and then

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returning homewards, by a wide circuit, which should keep
him clear of London — so great was his apprehension of trav-
ersing the streets alone, lest he should again encounter his
dreaded enemy — but, yielding to the conviction which these
thoughts inspired, he turned back, and taking the open road,
though not without many fears and misgivings, made for Lon-
don again, with scarcely less speed of foot than that* with
which he had left the temporary abode of Mr. Squeers.

By the time he re-entered it, at the western extremity, the
greater part of the shops were closed. Of the throngs of
people who had been tempted abroad after the heat of the
day, but few remained in the streets, and they were lounging
home. But of these he asked his way from time to time, and,
by dint of repeated inquiries, he at length reached the dwell-
ing of Newman Noggs.

All that evening, Newman had been hunting and searching
in by-ways and corners for the very person who now knocked
at his door, while Nicholas had been pursuing the same inquiry
in other directions. He was sitting, with a melancholy air, at
his poor supper, when Smike's timorous and uncertain knock
reached his ears. Alive to every sound, in his anxious and
expectant state, Newman hurried down stairs, and, uttering a
cry of joyful surprise, dragged the welcome visitor into the
passage and up the stairs, and said not a word until he had
him safe in his own garret and the door was shut behind them,
when he mixed a great mug-full of gin and water, and holding
it to Smike's mouth, as one might hold a bowl of medicine
to the lips of a refractory child, commanded him to drain it to
the last drop.

Newman looked uncommonly blank when he found that
Smike did little more than put his lips to the precious mixture ;
he was in the act of raising the mug to his own mouth with a
deep sigh of compassion for his poor friend's weakness, when
Smike, beginning to relate the adventures which had befallen
him, arrested him half-way, and he stood listening, with the
mug in his hand.

It was odd enough to see the change that came over New-
man as Smike proceeded. At first he stood, rubbing his lips
with the back of his hand, as a preparatory ceremony towards
composing himself for a draught ; then, at the mention of
Squeers, he took the mug under his arm, and opening his
eyes very wide, looked on in the utmost astonishment. When
Smike came to the assault upon himself, in the hackney-coach,

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he hastily deposited the mug upon the table, and limped
up and down the room in a state of the greatest excitement,
stopping himself with a jerk, every now and then, as if to
listen more attentively. When John Browdie came to be
spoken of, he dropped, by slow and gradual degrees, into a
chair, and rubbing his hands upon his knees — quicker and
quicker as the story reached its climax — burst, at last, into a
laugh composed of one loud sonorous " Ha ! ha ! " Having
given vent to which, his countenance immediately fell again
as he inquired, with the utmost anxiety, whether it was prob-
able that John Browdie and Squeers had come to blows ?

" No.! I think not," replied Smike. " I don't think he
could have missed me till I had got quite away."

Newman scratched his head with a show of great disap-
pointment, and once more lifting up the mug, applied him-
self to the contents ; smiling meanwhile, over the rim, with
a grim and ghastly smile at Smike.

" You shall stay here," said Newman ; " you're tired —
fagged. I'll tell them you're come back. They have been
half mad about you. Mr. Nicholas "

" God bless him ! " cried Smike.

" Amen ! " returned Newman. " He hasn't had a min-
ute's rest or peace ; no more has the old lady, nor Miss
• Nickleby."

" No, no. Has she thought about me ? " said Smike.
" Has she thought ? Oh, has she, has she ? Don't tell me
so, if she has not"

" She has," cried Newman. " She is as noble-hearted as
she is beautiful."

" Yes, yes ! " cried Smike. " Well said I "

" So mild and gentle," said Newman.

" Yes, yes ! " cried Smike, with increasing eagerness.

" And yet with such a true and gallant spirit," pursued

He was going on, in his enthusiasm, when, chancing to
look at his companion, he saw that he had covered his face
with his hands, and that tears were stealing out between his

A moment before, the boy's eyes were sparkling with un-
wonted fire, and every feature had been lighted up with an
excitement which made him appear, for the moment, quite a
different being.

"Well, well," muttered Newman, as if he were a little

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puzzled. " It has touched me y more than once, to think such
a nature should have been exposed to such trials ; this poor
fellow — yes, yes, — he feels that too — it softens him — makes
him think of his former misery. Hah ! That's it ? Yes,
that's— hum ! "

It was by no means clear, from the tone of these broken
reflections, that Newman Noggs considered them as explain-
ing at all satisfactorily, the emotion which had suggested
them. He sat, in a musing attitude, for some time, regarding
Smik3 occasionally with an anxious and doubtful glance, which
sufficiently showed that he was not very remotely connected
with his thoughts.

At length he repeated his proposition that Smike should
remain where he was for that night, and that he (Noggs)
should straightway repair to the cottage to relieve the suspense
of the family. But, as Smike would not hear of this — plead-
ing his anxiety to see his friends again— they eventually sallied
forth together ; and the night being, by this time, far advanced,
and Smike being, besides, so footsore that he could hardly
crawl along, it was within an hour of sunrise when they reached
their destination.

At the first sound of their voices outside the house, Nicho-
las, who had passed a sleepless night, devising schemes for
the recovery of his lost charge, started from his bed, and
joyfully admitted them. There was so much noisy conversa-
tion, and congratulation, and indignation, that the remainder
of the family were soon awakened, and Smike received a warm
and cordial welcome, not only from Kate, but from Mrs.
Nickleby also: who assured him of her future favor and
regard, and was so obliging as to relate for his entertainment
and that of the assembled, circle a most remarkable account
extracted from some work the name of which she had never !j

known, of a miraculous escape from some prison, but what 3

prison she couldn't remember, effected by an officer whose 1

name she had forgotten, confined for some crime which she ■

didn't clearly recollect.

At first Nicholas was disposed to give his uncle credit for i

some portion of this bold attempt (which had so nearly proved J

successful), to carry off Smike ; but, on more mature consid- )

eration, he was inclined to think that the full merit of it rested
with Mr. Squeers. Determined to ascertain, if he could,
through John Browdie, how the case really stood, he betook
himself to his daily occupation : meditating as he went, on a

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great variety of schemes for the punishment of the Yorkshire
schoolmaster, all of which had their foundation in the strictest
principles of retributive justice, and had but the one draw-
back of being wholly impracticable.

" A fine morning, Mr. Linkinwater I " said Nicholas, en-
tering the office.

" Ah ! " replied Tim, " talk of the country, indeed I
What do you think of this, now, for a day — a London day —

" It's a little clearer out of town," said Nicholas.

" Clearer ! " echoed Tim Linkinwater. " You should see it
from my bed-room window."

" You should see it from mine" replied Nicholas, with a

" Pooh ! pooh ! " said Tim Linkinwater. " Don't tell me.
Country ! " (Bow was quite a rustic place to Tim), " Non-
sense I What can you get in the country but new-laid eggs
and Mowers ? I can buy new-laid eggs in Leadenhall market,
any morning before breakfast. And as to flowers, it's
worth a run up stairs to smell my mignonette, or to see the
double-wallflower in the back-attic window, at No. 6, in the

" There is a double- wallflower at No. 6, in the court, is
there ? " said Nicholas.

" Yes, is there ! " replied Tim, " and planted in a cracked
jug, without a spout. There were hyacinths there, this last
spring, blossoming in but you'll laugh at that."

"At what?"

"At their blossoming in old blacking-bottles," said

" Not I, indeed," returned Nicholas.

Tim looked wistfully at him, for a moment, as if he were
encouraged by the tone of this reply to be more communica-
tive on the subject ; sticking behind his ear, a pen that he had
been making, and shutting up his knife with a smart click, he

" They belong to a sickly bed-ridden hump-backed boy,
and seem to be the only pleasures, Mr. Nickleby, of his sad
existence. How many years is it," said Tim, pondering,
" since I first noticed him, quite a little child, dragging him-
self about on a pair of tiny crutches ? Well ! Well ! Not
many ; but though they would appear nothing, if I thought of
other things, they seem a long long time, when I think of

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him. It is a sad thing," said Tim, breaking off, " to see a
little deformed child sitting apart from other children, who
are active and merry, watching the games he is denied the
power to share in. He made my heart ache .very often."

" It is a good heart," said Nicholas, " that disentangles
itself from the close avocations of every day, to heed such
things. You were saying "

" That the flowers belonged to this poor boy," said Tim ;
" that's all. When it is fine weather, and he can crawl out of
bed, he draws a chair close to the window, and sits there,
looking at them and arranging them, all day long. We used
to nod, at first, and then we came to speak. Formerly, when
I called to him of a morning, and asked him how he was, he
would smile, and say, ' better ; ' but now he shakes his head,
and only bends more closely over his old plants. It must be
dull to watch the dark house-tops and the flying clouds, for
so many months ; but he is very patient."

" Is there nobody in the house to cheer or help him ? "
asked Nicholas.

"His father lives there, I believe," replied Tim, "and
other people too; but no one seems to care much for the

Online LibraryCharles DickensThe life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby → online text (page 49 of 79)