Charles Dickens.

The life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby online

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poor sickly cripple. I have asked him, very often, if I can do
nothing for him ; his answer is always the same. ' Nothing/
His voice is growing weak of late, but I can see that he makes
the old reply. He can't leave his bed now, so they have
moved it close beside the window, and there he lies, all day :
now, looking at the sky, and now at his flowers, which he
still makes shift to trim and water, with his own thin hands.
At night, when he sees my candle, he draws back his curtain,
and leaves it so, till I am in bed. It seems such company to
him to know that I am there, that I often sit at my window
for an hour or more, that he may see I am still awake ; and
sometimes I get up in the night to look at the dull melancholy
light in his little room, and wonder whether he is awake or

" The night will not be long coming," said Tim, " when he
will sleep, and never wake again on earth. We have never
so much as shaken hands in all our lives, and yet I shall miss
him like an old friend. Are there any country flowers that
could interest me like these, do you think ? Or do you sup-
pose that the withering of a hundred kinds of the choicest
flowers that blow, called by the hardest Latin names that
were ever invented, would give me one fraction of the pain

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that I shall feel when those old jugs and bottles are swept
away as lumber ! Country ! " cried Tim, with a contemptu-
ous emphasis ; " don't you know that I couldn't have such
a court under my bed-room window, anywhere, but in Lon-

With which inquiry, Tim turned his back, and pretending
to be absorbed in his accounts, took an opportunity of hastily
wiping his eyes when he supposed Nicholas was looking an-
other way.

Whether it was that Tim's accounts were more than usually
intricate that morning, or whether it was that his habitual
serenity had been a little disturbed by these recollections, it
so happened that when Nicholas returned from executing
some commission, and inquired whether Mr. Charles Cheery-
ble was alone in the room, Tim promptly, and without the
smallest hesitation, replied in the affirmative, although some-
body had passed into the room not ten minutes before, and
Tim took especial and particular pride in preventing any in-
trusion on either of the brothers when they were engaged with
any visitor whatever.

" I'll take this letter to him at once," said Nicholas, "if
that's the case." And with that, he walked to the room and
knocked at the door.

No answer.

Another knock, and still no answer.

"He can't be here," thought Nicholas. "I'll lay it on
his table."

So, Nicholas opened the door and walked in ; and very
quickly he turned to walk out again, when he saw, to his great
astonishment and discomfiture, a young lady upon her knees
at Mr. Cheeryble's feet, and Mr. Cheeryble beseeching her to
rise, and entreating a third person who had the appearance
of the young lady's female attendant, jto add her persuasions
to his to induce her to do so.

Nicholas stammered out an awkward apology, and was
precipitately retiring, when the young lady, turning her head a
little, presented to his view the features of the lovely girl
whom he had seen at the register-office on his first visit long
before. Glancing from her to the attendant, he recognized
the same clumsy servant who had accompanied her then ; and
between his admt
her sometimes in her walks, to hope that a day might come
when I might be in a condition to tell her of my love, this
was the utmost extent of my thoughts. Now, however — but
I should be a fool, indeed, to repine at my own good for-
tune ! "

Still, Nicholas was dissatisfied ; and there was more in
the dissatisfaction than mere revulsion of feeling. He was
angry with the young lady for being so easily won, " because,"

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reasoned Nicholas, " it is not as if she knew it was I, but it
might have been anybody," — which was certainly not pleas-
ant. The next moment, he was angry with himself for enter-
taining such thoughts, arguing that nothing but goodness
could dwell in such a temple, and that the behavior of the
brothers sufficiently showed the estimation in which they held
her. " The fact is, she's a mystery altogether," said Nicholas.
This was not more satisfactory than his previous course of
reflection, and only drove him out upon a new sea of specu-
lation and conjecture, where he tossed and tumbled, in great
discomfort of mind, until the clock struck ten, and the hour
of meeting drew nigh.

Nicholas had dressed himself with great care, and even
Newman Noggs had trimmed himself up a little: his coat
presenting the phenomenon of two consecutive buttons, and
the supplementary pins being inserted at tolerably regular in-
tervals. He wore his hat, too, in the newest taste, with a
pocket handkerchief. in the crown, and a twisted end of it
straggling out behind after the fashion of a pigtail, though he
could scarcely lay claim to the ingenuity of inventing this
latter decoration, inasmuch as he was utterly unconscious of
it ; being in a nervous and excited condition which rendered
him quite insensible to everything but the great object of the

They traversed the streets, in profound silence ; and after
walking at a round pace for some distance, arrived in one, of
a gloomy appearance and very little frequented, near the

" Number twelve," said Newman.

" Oh ! " replied Nicholas, looking about him.

" Good street ? " said Newman.

" Yes," returned Nicholas. " Rather dull."

Newman made no answer to this remark, but, halting
abruptly, planted Nicholas with his back to some area rail-
ings, and gave him to understand that he was to wait there,
without moving hand or foot, until it was satisfactorily ascer-
tained that the coast was clear. This done, Noggs limped
away with great alacrity ; looking over his shoulder every in-
stant, to make quite certain that Nicholas was obeying his
directions ; and, ascending the steps of a house some half-
dozen doors off, was lost to view.

After a short delay, he re-appeared, and limping back
again, halted midway, and beckoned Nicholas to follow him.

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" Well ? " said Nicholas, advancing towards him on tiptoe.
" All right," replied Newman, in high glee. " All ready ;
nobody at home. Couldn't be better. Ha ! ha ! "

With this fortifying assurance, he stole past a street-door,
on which Nicholas caught a glimpse of a brass plate, with
" Bobster," in very large letters ; and, stopping at the area-
gate, which was open, signed to his young friend to descend.

" What the devil ! " cried Nicholas, drawing back. " Are
we to sneak into the kitchen, as if we came after the forks ? "

" Hush ! " replied Newman. " Old Bobster — ferocious
Turk. He'd kill 'em all — box the young lady's ears — he does

" What ! " cried Nicholas, in high wrath, " do you mean
to tell me that any man would dare to box the ears of such

He had no time to sing the praises of his mistress, just
then, for Newman gave him a gentle push which had nearly
precipitated him to the bottom of the area-steps. Thinking
it best to take the hint in good part, Nicholas descended,
without further remonstrance, but with a countenance be-
speaking anything rather than the hope and rapture of a
passionate lover. Newman followed — he would have fol-
lowed head first, but for the timely assistance of Nicholas —
and, taking his hand, led him through a stone passage, pro-
foundly dark, into a back kitchen or cellar, of the blackest
and most pitchy obscurity, where they stopped.

" Well ! " said Nicholas, in a discontented whisper, " this
is not all, I suppose, is it ? "

" No, no," rejoined Noggs ; " they'll be here directly. It's
all right."

" I am glad to hear it," said Nicholas. " I shouldn't
have thought it, I confess."

They exchanged no further words, and there Nicholas
stood, listening to the loud breathing of Newman Noggs, and
imagining that his nose seemed to glow like a red-hot coal,
even in the midst of the darkness which enshrouded them.
Suddenly, the sound of cautious footsteps attracted his ear,
and directly afterwards a female voice inquired if the gende-
man was there.

" Yes," replied Nicholas, turning towards the corner from
which the voice proceeded. " Who is that ? "

"Only me, sir," replied the voice. "Now if you please,

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A gleam of light shone into the place, and presently the
servant-girl appeared, bearing a light, and followed by her
young mistress, who seemed to be overwhelmed by modesty
and confusion.

At sight of the young lady Nicholas started and changed
color ; his heart beat violently, and he stood rooted to the
spot. At that instant, and almost simultaneously with her
arrival and that of the candle, there was heard a loud and
furious knocking at the street-door, which caused Newman
Noggs to jump up with great agility from a beer-barrel on
wliich he had been seated astride, and to exclaim abruptly,
and with a face of ashy paleness, " Bobster, by the Lord ! "

The young lady shrieked, the attendant wrung her hands,
Nicholas gazed from one to the other in apparent stupefac-
tion, and Newman hurried to and fro, thrusting his hands into
all his pockets successively, and drawing out the linings of
every one in the excess of his irresolution. It was but a mo-
ment, but the confusion crowded into that one moment no
imagination can exaggerate.

" Leave the house, for Heaven's sake ! We have done
wrong, we deserve it all," cried the young lady. " Leave the
house, or I am ruined and undone for ever."

" Will you hear me say but one word ! " cried Nicholas.
" Only one. I will not detain you. Will you hear me say
one word in explanation of this mischance ? "

But Nicholas /night as well have spoken to the wind, for
the young lady, with distracted looks, hurried up the stairs.
He would have followed her, but Newman, twisting his hand
in his coat collar, dragged him towards the passage by which
they had entered.

" Let me go, Newman, in the Devil's name I " cried
Nicholas. " I must speak to her. I will 1 I will not leave
this house without."

" Reputation — character — violence— consider," said New-
man, clinging round him with both arms, and hurrying him
away. " Let them open the door. We'll go, as we came,
directly it's shut. Come. This way. Here."

Overpowered by the remonstrances of Newman, and the
tears and prayers of the girl, and the tremendous knocking
above, which had never ceased, Nicholas allowed himself to
be hurried off ; and, precisely as Mr. Bobster made his en*
trance by the street-door, he and Noggs made their exit by
the area-gate.

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They hurried away, through several streets, without stop-
ping or speaking. At last, they halted and confronted each
other with blank and rueful faces.

"Never mind," said Newman, gasping for breath.
" Don't be cast down. It's all right More fortunate next
time. It couldn't be helped. I did my part"

" Excellently," replied Nicholas, taking his hand. " Ex-
cellently, and like the true and zealous friend you are. Only
— mind, I am not disappointed, Newman, and feel just as
much indebted to you — only it was the wrong lady"

" Eh ? " cried Newman Noggs. " Taken in by the ser-

"Newman, Newman," said Nicholas, laying his hand
upon his shoulder : " it was the wrong servant too." .

Newman's under-jaw dropped, and he gazed at Nicholas,
with his sound eye fixed fast and motionless in his head.

" Don't take it to heart," said Nicholas ; "it's of no conse-
quence; you see I don't care about it; you followed the
wrong person, that's all."

That was all. Whether Newman Noggs had looked
round the pump, in a slanting direction, so long, that his sight
became impaired ; or whether, finding that there was time to
spare he had recruited himself with a few drops of something
stronger than the pump could yield — by whatsoever means it
had come to pass, this was his mistake. And Nicholas went
home to brood upon it, and to meditate upon the charms of
the unknown young lady, now as far beyond his reach as ever.



Ever since her last momentous conversation with her son,
Mrs. Nickleby had begun to display unusual care in the adorn-
ment of her person, gradually superadding to those staid and
matronly habiliments which had, up to that time, formed her
ordinary attire, a variety of embellishments and decorations,
slight perhaps in themselves, but, taken together, and consi-

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dered with reference to the subject of her disclosure, of no
mean importance. Even her black dress assumed something
of a deadly lively air from the jaunty style in which it was
worn ; and, eked out as its lingering attractions were, by a pru-
dent disposal, here and there, of certain juvenile ornaments of
little or no value, which had, for that reason alone, escaped
the general wreck and been permitted to slumber peacefully in
odd corners of old drawers and boxes where daylight seldom
shone, her mourning garments assumed quite a new character.
From being the outward tokens of respect and sorrow for the
dead, they became converted into signals of very slaughterous
and killing designs upon the living.

Mrs. Nickleby might have been stimulated to this proceed-
ing by a lofty sense of duty, and impulses of unquestionable
excellence. She might, by this time, have become impressed
with the sinfulness of long indulgence in unavailing woe, or
the necessity of setting a proper example of neatness and
decorum to her blooming daughter. Considerations of duty
and responsibility apart, the change might have taken its rise
in feelings of the purest and most disinterested charity.
The gentleman next door had been vilified by Nicholas ;
rudely stigmatized as a dotard and an idiot ; and for these at-
tacks upon his understanding, Mrs. Nickleby was, in some
sort, accountable. She might have felt that it was the act of
a good Christian to show, by all means in her power, that the
abused gentleman was neither the one nor the other. And
what better means could she adopt, towards so virtuous and
laudable an end, than proving to all men, in her own person,
that his passion was the most rational and reasonable in the
world, and just the very result, of all others, which discreet
and thinking persons might have foreseen, from her incau-
tiously displaying her matured charms, without reserve, under
the very eye, as it were, of an ardent and too-susceptible man ?

" Ah ! " said Mrs. Nickleby, gravely shaking her head ;
" if Nicholas knew what his poor dear papa suffered before
we were engaged, when I used to hate him, he would have
a little more feeling. Shall I ever forgot the morning I
looked scornfully at him when he offered to carry my
parasol ? Or that night when I frowned at him ? It was
a mercy he didn't emigrate. It very nearly drove him to it"

Whether the deceased might not have been better off if he
had emigrated in his bachelor days, was a question which his
relict did not stop to consider; for Kate entered the room, with

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her work-box, m this stage of her reflections ; and a much slight*
er interruption, or no interruption at all, would have diverted
Mrs. Nickleby's thoughts into a new channel at any time.

" Kate, my dear," said Mrs. Nickieby ; " I don't know
how it is, but a fine warm summer day like this, with the birds
singing in every direction, always puts me in mind of roast
pig, with sage and onion sauce, and made gravy."

" That's a curious association of ideas, is it not, mama ? "

" Upon my word, my dear, I don't know," replied Mrs,
Nickieby. " Roast pig ; let me see. On the day five weeks
after you were christened, we had a roast — no that couldn't
have been a pig, either, because I recollect there were a pair
of them to carve, and your poor papa and I could never have
thought of sitting down to two pigs — they must have been
partridges. Roast pig ! I hardly think we ever could have
had one, now I come to remember, for your papa could never
bear the sight of them in the shops, and used to say that they
always put him in mind of very little babies, only the pigs had
much fairer complexions ; and he had a horror of little babies,
too, because he couldn't very well afford any increase to his
family, and had a natural dislike to the subject. It's very
odd now r what can have put that in my head ! I recollect
dining once at Mrs. Be van's, in that broad street round the
corner by the coachmaker's, where the tipsy man fell through
the cellar-flap of an empty house nearly a week before the
quarter-day, and wasn't found till the new tenant went in —
and we had roast pig there. It must be that, I think, that
reminds me of it, especially as there was a little bird in the
room that would keep on singing all the time of dinner — at
least, not a little bird, for it was a parrot, and he didn't sing
exactly, for he talked and swore dreadfully ; but I think it must
be that. Indeed I am sure it must Shouldn't you say so,
my dear ? "

" I should say there was not a doubt about it, mama," re-
turned Kate, with a cheerful smile. " No ; but do you think
so, Kate ? " said Mrs. Nickieby, with as much jrravity as if it
were a question of the most imminent and thrilling interest.
"If you don't, say so at once, you know ; because it's just as
well to be correct, particularly on a point of this kind, which
is very curious and worth settling while one thinks about it."

Kate laughingly replied that she was quite convinced ;
and as her mama still appeared undetermined whether it was
not absolutely essential that the subject should be renewed,

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proposed that they should take their work into the summer-
house, and enjoy the beauty of the afternoon. Mrs. Nickleby
readily assented, and to the summer-house they repaired,
without further discussion.

" Well, I say," observed Mrs. Nicklely, as she took her
seat, " that there never was such a good creature as Smike.
Upon my word, the pains he has taken in putting this little
arbor to rights, and training the sweetest flowers about it,

are beyond anything I could have 1 wish he wouldn't

put all the gravel on your side, Kate, my dear, though, and
leave nothing but mould for me."

" Dear mama," returned Kate, hastily, " take this seat —
do — to oblige me, mama."

" No, indeed, my dear. I shall keep my own side," said
Mrs. Nickleby. " Well ! I declare 1 "

Kate looked up inquiringly.

" If he hasn't been," said Mrs. Nickleby, " and got, from
somewhere or other, a couple of roots of those flowers that I
said I was so fond of, the other night, and asked you if you
were not — no, that you said you were so fond of, the other
night, and asked me if I wasn't — it's the same thing. Now,
upon my word, I take that as very kind and attentive indeed !
I don't see," added Mrs. Nickleby, looking narrowly about
her, " any of them, on my side, but I suppose they grow best
near the gravel. You may depend upon it they do, Kate, and
that's the reason they are all near you, and he has put the
gravel there, because it's the sunny side. Upon my word,
that's very clever now ! I shouldn't have had half so much
thought myself 1 "

" Mama," said Kate, bending over her work so that her
face was almost hidden, " before you were married "

"Dear me, Kate," interrupted Mrs. Nickleby, " what in
the name of goodness graciousness makes you fly off to the
time before I was married, when I'm talking to you about his
thoughtfulness and attention to me ? You don't seem to take
the smallest interest in the garden."

" Oh ! mama," said Kate, raising her face again, " you
know I do."

** Well then, my dear, why don't you praise the neatness
and prettiness with which it's kept?" said Mrs. Nickleby.
" How very odd yon are, Kate ! "

" I do praise it, mama," answered Kate, gently. " Poor
tellow 1"

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44 I scarcely ever hear you, my dear," retorted Mrs. Nickle-
by ; " that's all I've got to say." By this time the good lady
had been a long while upon one topic, so she fell at once into
her daughter's little trap, if trap it were, and inquired what
she had been going to say.

" About what, mama ? " said Kate, who had apparently
quite forgotten her diversion.

" Lor, Kate, my dear," returned her mother, " why, you're
asleep or stupid ! About the time before I was married."

"Oh yes!" said Kate, "I remember. I was going to
ask, mama, before you were married, had you many suitors ? "

44 Suitors, my dear 1 " cried Mrs. Nickleby, with a smile of
wonderful complacency. 44 First and last, Kate, I must have
had a dozen at least."

44 Mama 1 " returned Kate, in a tone of remonstrance.

44 1 had indeed, my dear," said Mrs. Nickleby ; * 4 not in-
cluding your papa, or a young gentleman who used to go, at
that time, to the same dancing school, and who would send
gold watches and bracelets to our house in gilt-edged paper
(which were always returned), and who afterwardis unfortu-
nately went out to Botany Bay in a cadet ship — a convict ship
I mean — and escaped into a bush and killed sheep (I don't
know how they got there), and was going to be hung, only he
accidently choked himself, and the government pardoned him.
Then there was young Lukin," said Mrs. Nickleby, beginning
with her left thumb and checking off the names on her fin-
gers — 44 Mogiey — Tipslark — Cabbery — Smifser "

Having now reached her little finger, Mrs. Nickleby was
carrying the account over to the other hand, when a loud
44 Hem ! " which appeared to come from the very foundation
of the garden-wall, gave both herself and her daughter a vio-
lent start.

44 Mama ! what was that ? " said Kate, in a low tone of

44 Upon my word, my dear," returned Mrs. Nickleby, con-
siderably startled, 44 unless it was the gentleman belonging to
the next house, I don't know what it could possibly "

44 A — hem ! " cried the same voice ; and that, not in the
tone of an ordinary clearing of the' throat, but in a kind of
bellow, which woke up all the echoes in the neighborhood,
and was prolonged to an extent which must have made the
unseen bellower quite black in the face.

44 1 understand it now, my dear," said Mrs. Nickleby, lay-

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ing her hand on Kate's ; " don't be alarmed, my love, it's not
directed to you, and is not intended to frighten anybody. Let
us give everybody their due, Kate ; I am bound to say that."

So saying, Mrs. Nickleby nodded her head, and patted
the back of her daughter's hand, a great many times, and
looked as if she could tell something vastly important if she
chose, but had self-denial, thank Heaven ; and wouldn't do it
" What do you mean, mama ? " demanded Kate, in evident

" Don't be flurried, my dear," replied Mrs. Nickleby, look-
ing towards the garden-wall, " for you see I'm not, and if it
would be excusable in anybody to be flurried, it certainly
would — under all the circumstances — be excusable in me, but
I am not, Kate, not at all."

" It seems designed to attract our attention, mama," said

" It is designed to attract our attention, my dear ; at least,"
rejoined Mrs. Nickleby, drawing herself up, and patting her
daughter's hand more blandly than before, " to attract the
attention of one of us. Hem ! you needn't be at all uneasy,
my dear."

Kate looked very much perplexed, and was apparently
about to ask for further explanation, when a shouting and
scuffling noise, as of an elderly gentleman whooping, and
kicking up his legs on loose gravel, with great violence, was
heard to proceed from the same direction as the former
sounds ; and, before they had subsided, a large cucumber
was seen to shoot up in the air with the velocity of a sky-
rocket, whence it descended, tumbling over and over, until it
fell at Mrs. Nickleby's feet.

This remarkable appearance was succeeded by another of
a precisely similiar description ; then a fine vegetable marrow,
of unusually large dimensions, was seen to whirl aloft, and
come toppling down ; then, several cucumbers shot up to-
gether ; finally, the air was darkened by a shower of onions,

Online LibraryCharles DickensThe life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby → online text (page 50 of 79)