Charles Dickens.

The life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby online

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spare the blushes of Mrs. Browdie, whose protestations were
drowned in peals of laughter from her husband. His good-
nature soon put her at her ease ; and although she still denied
the charge, she laughed so heartily at it, that Nicholas had the
satisfaction of feeling assured that in all essential respects it
was strictly true.

u This is the second time, that we have ever taken a meal
together, and only the third I have ever seen you ; and yet
it really seems to me as if I were among old friends."

" Weel ! " observed the Yorkshireman, " so I say."

" And I am sure I do," added his young wife.

" I have the best reason to be impressed with the feeling,
mind," said Nicholas, " for if it had not been for your kind-
ness of heart, my good friend, when I had no right or reason
to expect it, I know not what might have become of me or
what plight I should have been in by this time."

"Talk aboot soom'at else," replied John, gruffly, "and
dinnot bother."

" It must be a new song to the same tune then," said Nich-
olas, smiling. " I told you in my letter that I deeply felt and
admired your sympathy with that poor lad, whom you released
at the risk of involving yourself in trouble and difficulty ; but
I can never tell you how grateful he and I, and others whom
you don't know, are to you for taking pity on him."

" Ecod ! " rejoined John Browdie, drawing up his chair ;
" and I can never tell you hoo grateful soom folks that we do
know would be loikewise, if tfiey know'd I had takken pity on

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"Ah! " exclaimed Mrs. Browdie, "what a state I was in,
that night ! "

" Were they at all disposed to give you credit for assisting
in the escape ? " inquired Nicholas of John Browdie.

"Not a bit," replied the Yorkshireman, extending his
mouth from ear to ear. " There I lay, snoog in schoolmeas-
ther's bed long efther it was dark, and nobody coom nigh the
pleace. ' Weel ! ' thinks I, ' he's got a pretty good start, and
if he bean't whoam by noo, he never will be ; so you may
coom as quick as you loike, and foind us reddy ' — that is, you
know, schoolmeasther might coom."

" I understand," said Nicholas.

" Presently," resumed John, " he did coom. I heerd door
shut doon stairs, and him a warking oop in the daark. ' Slow
and steddy/ I says to myself, * tak your time, sir — no hurry.'
He cooms to the door, turns the key — turns the key when
there warn't nothing to hoold the lock ! — and ca's dot * Hallo,
there ! ' — ' Yes/ thinks I, ' you may do thot agean, and not
wakken anybody, sir.' ' Hallo, there ! ' he says, and then he
stops. ' Thou'd betther not aggravate me/ says schoolmeas-
ther, efhter a little time. ' I'll brak' every boan in your boddy,
Smike/ he says efther another little time. Then all of a
soodden, he sings oot for a loight, and when it cooms — ecod,
such a hoorly-boorly ! 'Wa'at's the matter? ' says I. ' He's
gane/ says he, — stark mad wi' vengeance. ' Have you heerd
nought ? ' ' Ees/ says I, ' I heerd street door shut, no time
at a* ago. I heerd a person run doon there ' (pointing t'other
wa' — eh?) 'Help ! ' he cries. ' I'll help you/ says I ; and
off we set — the wrong wa' ! Ho ! ho ! ho ! "

" Did you go far ? " asked Nicholas.

" Far ! " replied John ; " I run him clean off his legs in
quarther of an hoor. To see old schoolmeasther wi'out his
hat, skimming along oop to his knees in mud and wather,
tumbling over fences, and rowling into ditches, and bawling
oot like mad, wi' his one eye looking sharp out for the lad,
and his coat-tails flying out behind, and him spattered wi' mud
all ower, face and all ! I thot I should ha' dropped doon, and
killed myself wi' laughing."

John laughed so heartily at the mere recollection, that he
communicated the contagion to both his hearers, and all three
burst into peals of laughter, which were renewed again and
again, until they could laugh no longer.

" He's a bad 'un, a very bad 'un, is schoolmeasther."

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" I can't bear the sight of him, John," said his wife.

" Coom," retorted John, " thot's tidy in you, thot is. Ii
it wa'nt along o' you, we shouldn't know nought aboot 'un.
Thou know'd 'un first, Tilly, didn't thou ?"

" I couldn't help knowing Fanny Squeers, John," returned
his wife ; " she was an old playmate of mine, you know."

" Weel," replied John, " didn't I say so, lass ? It's best
to be neighborly, and keep up old acquaintance loike ; and
what I say is, dean't quarrel if 'ee can help it. Dinnot think
so, Mr. Nickleby ? "

" Certainly," returned Nicholas; "and you acted upon
that principle when I met you on horseback on the road, after
our memorable evening."

" Sure-ly," said John. " Wa'at I say, I stick by."

"And that's a fine thing to do, and manly too," said
Nicholas, "though it's not exactly what we understand by
' coming Yorkshire over us ' in London. Miss Squeers is
stopping with you, you said in your note."

" Yes," replied John, " Tilly's bridesmaid ; and a queer
bridesmaid she be, too. She wean't be a bride in .a hurry, I

"For shame, John," said Mrs. Browdie; with an acute
perception of the joke though, being a bride herself.

" The groom will Be a blessed mun," said John, his eyes
twinkling at the idea. " He'll be in luck, he will."

" You see, Mr. Nickleby," said his wife, " that it was in
consequence of her being here, that John wrote to you and
fixed to-night, because we thought that it wouldn't be pleas-
ant for you to meet, after what has passed."

" Unquestionably. You were quite right in that," said
Nicholas, interrupting.

"Especially," observed Mrs. Browdie, looking very sly,
" after what we know about past and gone love matters."

" We know, indeed ! " said Nicholas, shaking his head.
" You behaved rather wickedly there, I suspect."

" O' course she did," said John Browdie, passing his huge
fore-finger through one of his wife's pretty ringlets, and look-
ing very proud of her. " She wur always as skittish and full
o' tricks as a "

" Well, as a what ? " said his wife.

"As a woman," returned John. "Ding! But I dinnot
know ought else that cooms nigh it."

" You were speaking about Miss Squeers," said Nicholas,

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with the view of stopping some slight connubialities which
had begun to pass between Mr. and Mrs. Browdie, and which
rendered the position of a third party in some degree embar-
rassing, as occasioning him to feel rather in the way than

41 Oh yes," rejoined Mrs. Browdie. " John ha' done. John
fixed to-night, because she had settled that she would go and
drink tea with her father. And to make quite sure of there
being nothing amiss, and of your being quite alone with us,
he settled to go out there and fetch her home."

" That was a very good arrangement," said Nicholas,
44 though I am sorry to be the occasion of so much trouble."

44 Not the least in the world," returned Mrs. Browdie ; " for
we have looked forward to seeing you — John and I have, with
the greatest possible pleasure. Do you know, Mr. Nickleby,"
said Mrs. Browdie, with the archest smile, 44 that I really think
Fanny Squeers was very fond of you ? "

44 1 am very much obliged to her," said Nicholas ; 44 but
upon my word, I never aspired to making any impression upon
her virgin heart."

44 How you talk ! " tittered Mrs. Browdie. " No, but do
you know that really — seriously now and without any joking
— I was given to understand by Fanny herself, that you had
made an offer to her, and that you two were going to be en-
gaged quite solemn and regular."

44 Was you, ma'am — was you ? " cried a shrill female voice,
44 was you given to understand that I — I — was going to be en-
gaged to an assassinating thief that shed the gore of my pa ?
Do you — do you think, ma'am — that I was very fond of such
dirt beneath my feet, as I couldn't condescend to touch with
kitchen tongs, without blackening and crocking myself by the
contract ? Do you, ma'am ? Do you ? Oh, base and degrad-
ing 'Tilda!"

With these reproaches Miss Squeers flung the door wide
open, and disclosed to the eyes of the astonished Browdies
and Nicholas, not only her own symmetrical form, arrayed in
the chaste white garments before described, (a little dirtier)
but the form of her brother and father, the pair of Wackfords.

44 This is the hend, is it ? " continued Miss Squeers, who,
being excited, aspirated her h's strongly ; <4 this is the hend,
is it, of all my forbearance and friendship for that double-
faced thing — that viper, that — that — mermaid ? " (Miss
Squeers hesitated a long time for this last epithet, and brought

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it out triumphantly at last, as if it quite clinched the business.)
" This is the hend, is it, of all my bearing with her deceitful-
ness, her lowness, her falseness, her laying herself out to catch
the admiration of vulgar minds, in a way which made me
blush for my — for my "

" Gender," suggested Mr. Squeers, regarding the spectators
with a malevolent eye ; literally a malevolent eye.

"Yes," said Miss Squeers ; "but I thank my stars that my
ma' is of the same."

" Hear, hear ! " remarked Mr. Squeers ; " and I wish she
was here to have a scratch at this company."

" This is the hend, is it," said Miss Squeers, tossing her
head, and looking contemptuously at the floor, " of my taking
notice of that rubbishing creature, and demeaning myself to
patronize her ? "

" Oh, come," rejoined Mrs. Browdie, disregarding all the
endeavors of her spouse to restrain her, and forcing herself
into a front row, " don't talk such nonsense as that"

" Have I not patronized you, ma'am ? " demanded Miss

" No," returned Mrs. Browdie.

" I will not look for blushes in such a quarter," said Miss
Squeers, haughtily, "for that countenance is a stranger to
everything but hignominiousness and red-faced boldness."

" I say," interposed John Browdie, nettled by these ac-
cumulated attacks on his wife, " dra' it mild, dra' it mild."

" You, Mr. Browdie," said Miss Squeers, taking him up
very quickly, " I pity. I have no feeling for you, sir, but one
of unliquidated pity."

" Oh I " said John.

" No," said Miss Squeers, looking sideways at her parent,
" although I am a queer bridesmaid, and shan't be a bride in
a hurry, and although my husband will be in luck, I enter-
tain no sentiments towards you, sir, but sentiments of pity."

Here Miss Squeers looked sideways at her father again,
who looked sideways at her, as much as to say, * There you
had him.'

" / know what you've got to go through," said Miss
Squeers, shaking her curls violently. " / know what life is
before you, and if you was my bitterest and deadliest enemy,
I could wish you nothing worse."

" Couldn't you wish to be married to him yourself, if that
was the case ? " inquired Mrs. Browdie, with great suavity of

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" Oh, ma'am, how witty you are," retorted Miss Squeers
with a low curtsey, " almost as witty, ma'am, as you are clever.
. How very clever it was in you, ma'am, to choose a time when
I had gone to tea with my pa', and was sure not to come back,
withouCbeing fetched ! What a pity you never thought that
other people might be as clever as yourself and spoil your
plans ! "

" You won't vex me, child, with such airs as these," said
the late Miss Price, assuming the matron.

" Don't Miosis me, ma'am, if you please," returned Miss
Squeers, sharply. u I'll not bear it. Is this the hend — "

" Dang it a'," cried John Browdie, impatiently. " Say
thee say out, Fanny, and mak sure it's the end, and dinnot
ask nobody whether it is or not."

" Thanking you for your advice which was not required,
Mr. Browdie," returned Miss Squeers, with laborious polite-
ness, 44 have the goodness not to presume to meddle with my
christian name. Even my pity shall never make me forget
what's due to myself, Mr. Browdie. 'Tilda," said Miss
Squeers, with such a sudden accession of violence that John
started in his boots, " I throw you off forever, Miss. I aban-
don you. I renounce you. I wouldn't," cried Miss Squeers
in a. solemn voice, "have a child named 'Tilda, not to save
it from its grave."

44 As for the matther o' that," observed John, " it'll be
time eneaf to think aboot neaming of it when it cooms."

44 John ! " interposed his wife, 44 don't tease her."

44 Oh ! Tease, indeed ! " cried Miss Squeers, bridling up.
44 Tease, indeed ! He, he ! Tease, too 1 No, don't tease
her. Consider her feelings, pray ! "

44 If it's fated that listeners are never to hear any good of
themselves," said Mrs. Browdie, 44 1 can't help it, and I am
very sorry for it. But I will say, Fanny, that times out of
number I have spoken so kindly of you behind your back, that
even you could have found no fault with what I said."

44 Oh, I dare say not, ma'am ! " cried Miss Squeers, with
another curtsey. 4i Best thanks to you for your goodness,
and begging and praying you not to be hard upon me an-
other time 1 "

44 1 don't know," resumed Mrs. Browdie, 44 that I have
said anything very bad of you even now. At all events, what
I did say was quite true ; but if I have, I am very sorry, for
it, and I beg your pardon. You have said much worse of


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me, scores of times, Fanny, but I have never borne any
malice to you, and I hope you'll not bear any to me."

Miss Squeers made no more direct reply than surveying
her former friend from top to toe, and elevating her nose in
the air with ineffable disdain. But some indistinct allusions
to a ' puss/ and a 'minx/ and a 'contemptible creature,' es-
caped her ; and this, together with a severe biting of the lips,
great difficulty in swallowing, and very frequent comings and
goings of breath, seemed to imply that feelings were swelling
in Miss Squeers's bosom too great for utterance.

While the foregoing conversation was proceeding, Master
Wackford, finding himself unnoticed, and feeling his prepon-
derating inclinations strong upon him, had by little and little
sidled up to the table and attacked the food with such slight
skirmishing as drawing his fingers round and round the inside
of the plates, and afterwards sucking them with infinite relish ;
picking the bread, and dragging the pieces over the surface of
the butter ; pocketing lumps of sugar, pretending all the time
to be absorbed in thought ; and so forth. . Finding that no
interference was attempted with these small liberties, he grad-
ually mounted to greater, and, after helping himself to a mod-
erately good cold collation, was, by this time, deep in the pie.

Nothing of this had been unobserved by Mr. Squeers, who,
so long as the attention of the company was fixed upon other
objects, hugged himself to think that his son and heir should
be fattening at the enemy's expense. But there being now
an appearance of a temporary calm, in which the proceedings
of little Wackford could scarcely fail to be observed, he
feigned to be aware of the circumstance for the first time, and
inflicted upon the face of that young gentleman a slap that
made the very teacups ring.

" Eating," cried Mr. Squeers, " of what his father's enemies
has left ! It's fit to go and poison you, you unnat'ral boy."

" It wean't hurt him," said John, apparently very much
relieved by the prospect of having a man in the quarrel ; " let
*un eat. I wish the whole school was here. I'd give 'em
soom'ut to stay their unfort'nate stomachs wi', if I spent the
last penny I had ! "

Squeers scowled at him with the worst and most malicious
expression of which his face was capable — it was a face of re-
markable capability, too, in that way — and shook his fist

" Coom, coom, schoolmeasther," said John. " dinnot make

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a fool o* thyself ; for if I was to sheake mine— only once —
thou'd fa* doon wi' the wind o' it."

" It was you, was it," returned Squeers, " that helped off
my runaway boy ? It was you, was it ? "

" Me ! " returned John, in a loud tone. " Yes, it wa' me,
coom ; wa'at & that ! It wa' me. Noo then ! "

" You hear him say he did it, my child ! " said Squeers,
appealing to his daughter. " You hear him say he did it ! "

" Did it I " cried John. " I'll tell 'ee more ; hear this, too.
If thou'd get another roonaway boy, I'd do it agean. If
thou'd got twonty roonaway boys, I'd do it twonty times ower,
and twonty more to thot ; and I'll tell thee more," said John,
" noo my blood is oop, that thou't an old ra'ascal ; and that
it's weel for thou, thou be'st an old 'un, or I'd ha poonded
thee to flour when thou told an honest mun hoo' thou'd licked
that poor chap in t' cooach."

" An honest man ! " cried Squeers, with a sneer.
" Ah ! An honest man," replied John ; "honest in ought
but ever putting legs under seame table wi' such as thou."

" Scandal ! " said Squeers, exultingly. " Two witnesses to
it ; Wackford knows the nature of an oath, he does ; we shall
have you there, sir. Rascal, eh ? " Mr. Squeers took out his
pocket-book, and made a note of it. " Very good. I should
>say that was worth full twenty pound at the next assizes, with-
out the honesty, sir."

" 'Soizes," cried John, " thou'd betther not talk to me o'
'Soizes. Yorkshire schools have been shown up at 'Soizes
afore noo, mun, and it's a ticklish soobjact to revive, I can
tell ye."

Mr. Squeers shook his head in a threatening manner, look-
ing very white with passion ; and taking his daughter's arm,
and dragging little Wackford by the hand, retreated towards
the door.

" As for you," said Squeers, turning round and addressing
Nicholas, who, as he had caused him to smart pretty soundly
on a former occasion, purposely abstained from taking any
part in the discussion, " see if 1 ain't down upon you before
long. You'll go a kidnapping of boys, will you ? Take care
their fathers don't turn up— mark that — take care their
fathers don't turn up, and send 'em back to me to do as I like
with, in spite of you."

u I am not afraid of that," replied Nicholas, shrugging his
shoulders contemptuously, and turning away.

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" Ain't you ! " retorted Squeers, with a diabolical look.
" Now then, come along."

" I leave such society, with my pa 1 , for ^ever," said Miss
Squeers, looking contemptuously and loftily round. " I am
defiled by breathing the air with such creatures. Poor Mr.
Browdie ! He ! he ! he ! I do pity him, that I do ; he ? s so
deluded ! He ! he ! he ! Artful and designing 'Tilda ! "

With this sudden relapse into the sternest and most majes-
tic wrath, Miss Squeers swept from the room ; and having
sustained her dignity until the last possible moment, was heard
to sob and scream and struggle in the passage.

John Browdie remained standing behind the table, looking
from his wife to Nicholas, and back again, with his mouth
wide open, until his hand accidentally fell upon the tankard
of ale. He took it up, and having obscured his features there-
with for some time, drew a long breath, handed it over to
Nicholas, and rang the bell.

" Here, waither," said John briskly. " Look alive here,
Tak' these thing awa', and let's have soomat broiled for sooper
— vary coomfortable and plenty o' it — at ten o'clock. Bring
soom brandy and soom wather, and a pair o' slippers — the
largest pair in the house — and be quick aboot it. Dash ma'
wig ! " said John, rubbing his hands, " there's no ganging oot
to neeght, noo, to fetch anybody whoam. and ecod we'll begin
to spend the evening in airnest I "



The storm had long given place to a calm the most profound,
and the evening was pretty far advanced — indeed supper was
over, and the process of digestion proceeding as favorably as,
under the influence of complete tranquillity, cheerful conversa-
tion, and a moderate allowance of brandy and water, most
wise men conversant with the anatomy and functions of the
human frame will consider that it ought to have proceeded,
when the three friends, or as one might say, both in a civil

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and religious sense, and with proper deference and regard to
the holy state of matrimony, the two friends (Mr. and Mrs.
Browdie counting as no more than one), were startled by the
noise of-loud and angry threatenings below stairs, which pres-
ently attained so high a pitch, and were conveyed besides in
language so towering, sanguinary and ferocious, that it could
hardly have been surpassed, if there had actually been a Sara-
cen's head then present in the establishment, supported on the
shoulders and surmounting the trunk of a real live, furious,
and most unappeasable Saracen.

This turmoil, instead of quickly subsiding after the first
outburst (as turmoils not unfrequently do, whether in taverns,
legislative assemblies, or elsewhere), into a mere grumbling
and growling squabble, increased every moment ; and although
the whole din appeared to be raised by but one pair of lungs,
yet that one pair was of so powerful a quality, and repeated
such words as " scoundrel," " rascal," "insolent puppy," and
a variety of expletives no less flattering to the party addressed,
with such great relish and strength of tone, that a dozen voices
raised in concert under ordinary circumstances would have
made far less uproar and created much smaller consternation.

" Why, what's the matter ? " said Nicholas, moving towards
the door.

John Browdie was striding in the same direction when
Mrs. Browdie turned pale, and leaning back in her chair, re-
quested him with a faint voice to take notice,, that if he ran
into any danger it was her intention to fall into hysterics im-
mediately, and that the consequences might be more serious
than he thought for, John looked rather disconcerted by this
intelligence, though there was a lurking grin on his face at the
same time ; but, being quite unable to keep out of the fray,
he compromised the matter by tucking his wife's arm under
his own, and, thus accompanied, following Nicholas down stairs
with all speed.

The passage outside the coffee-room door was the scene
of disturbance, and here were congregated the coffee-room
customers and waiters, together with two or three coachmen
and helpers from the yard. These had hastily assembled
round a young man man who from his appearance might have
been a year or two older than Nicholas, and who, besides hav-
ing given utterance to the defiances just now described,
seemed to have proceeded to even greater lengths in his in-
dignation, inasmuch as his feet had no other covering than a

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pair of stockings, while a couple of slippers lay at no great
distance from the head of a prostrate figure in an opposite
corner, who bore the appearance of having been shot into his
present retreat by means of a kick, and complimented by
having the slippers flung about his ears afterwards.

The coffee-room customers, and the waiters, and the coach-
men, and the helpers — not to mention a bar-maid who was
looking on from behind an open sash window — seemed at that
moment, if a spectator might judge from their winks, nods,
and muttered exclamations, strongly disposed to take part
against the young gentleman in the stockings. Observing this,
and that the young gentleman was nearly of his own age and
had in nothing the appearance of an habitual brawler, Nicholas,
impelled by such feelings as will influence young men some-
times, felt a very strong disposition to side with the weaker
party, and so thrust himself at once into the centre of the
group, and in a more emphatic tone, perhaps, than circum-
stances might seem to warrant, demanded what all that
noise»was about.

" Hallo ! " said one of the men from the yard, " This is
somebody in disguise, this is."

" Room for the eldest son of the Emperor of Roosher,
genTmen ! " cried another fellow.

Disregarding these sallies, which were uncommonly well
received, as sallies at the expense of the best-dressed persons
in a crowd usually are, Nicholas glanced carelessly round,
and addressing the young gentleman, who had by this time
picked up his slippers, and thrust his feet into them, repeated
his inquiries with a courteous air.

" A mere nothing ! " he replied.

At this, a murmur was raised by the lookers-on, and some

Online LibraryCharles DickensThe life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby → online text (page 52 of 79)