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The life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby online

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of the boldest cried, " Oh, indeed ! — Wasn't it, though ! —
Nothing, eh ? — He called that nothing, did he ? — Lucky for
him if he found it nothing." These and many other expres-
sions of ironical disapprobation having been exhausted, two
or three of the out-of door fellows began to hustle Nicholas
and the young gentleman who had made the noise ; stumbling
against them by accident, and treading on their toes, and so
forth. But this being a round game, and one not necessarily
limited to three or four players, was open to John Browdie
too, who, bursting into the little crowd — to the great terror of
his wife — and falling about in all directions, now to the right,
now to the left, now forwards, now backwards and accidentally



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NICHOLAS NICKLEB Y. ^ t

driving his elbow through the hat of the tallest helper who
had been particularly active, speedily caused the odds to wear
a very different appearance ; while more than one stout fellow, %
limped away to a respectful distance, anathematizing with
tears in his eyes the heavy tread and ponderous feet of the
burly Yorkshireman.

" Let me see him do it again," said he who had been kick-
ed into the corner, rising as he spoke, apparently more from
the fear of John Browdie's inadvertently treading upon him,
than from any desire to place himself on equal terms with his
late adversary. " Let me see him do it again. That's all."

" Let me hear you make those remarks again," said the
young maa, " and I'll knock that head of yours in among the
wine-glasses behind you there." •

Here a waiter who had been rubbing his hands in exces-
sive enjoyment of the scene, so long as only the breaking of
heads was in question, adjured the spectators with great ear-
nestness to fetch the police, declaring that otherwise murder
would be surely done, and that he was responsible for all the
glass and china on the premises.

" No one need trouble himself to stir," said the young
gentleman,." I am going to remain in the house all night, and
shall be found here in the morning if there is any assault to
answer for."

" What did you strike him for ? " asked one of the by-
standers.

" Ah ! What did you strike him for ? " demanded the
others.

The unpopular gentleman looked coolly round, and ad-
dressing himself to Nicholas, said :

44 You inquired just now what was the matter here. The
matter is simply this. Yonder person, who was drinking with a
friend in the coffee-room when I took my seat there for half an
hour before going to -bed (for I have just come off a journey,
and preferred stopping here to-night, to going home at this
hour, where I was not expected until tomorrow), chose to
express himself in very disrespectful, and insolently familiar
terms, of a young lady, whom I recognized from his descrip-
tion and other circumstances, and whom I have the honor to
know. .As he spoke loud enough to be overheard by the
other guests who were present, I informed him most civilly
that he was mistaken in his conjectures, which were of an of-
fensive nature, and requested him to forbear. He did so for



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NICHOLAS NICJCLEBY.



a little time, but as he chose to renew his conversation when
leaving the room, in a more offensive strain than before, I
could not refrain from making after him, facilitating his de-
parture by a kick, which reduced him to the posture in which
you saw him just now. I am the best judge of my own affairs,
I take it," said the young man, who had certainly not quite
recovered from his recent heat, " if anybody here thinks
proper to make this quarrel his own, I have not the smallest
earthly objection, I do assure him."

Of all possible courses of proceeding under the circumstances
detailed, there was certainly not one which, in his then state of
mind, could have appeared more laudable to Nicholas than
this. There were not many subjects of dispute which at that
moment could have come home to his own breast more pow-
erfully, for having the unknown uppermost in his thoughts, it
naturally occurred to him that he would have done just the
same if any audacious gossiper durst have presumed in his
hearing to speak lightly of her. Influenced by these consider-
ations, he espoused the young gentleman's quarrel with great
warmth, protesting that he had done quite right, and that he
respected him for it ; which John Browdie (albeit not quite
clear as to the merits) immediately protested too, with not in-
ferior vehemence.

" Let him take care, that's all," said the defeated party,
who was being rubbed down by a waiter, after his recent fall
on the dusty boards. " He don't knock me about for noth-
ing, I can tell him that. A pretty state of things, if a man
isn't to admire a handsome girl without being beat to pieces
for it ! "

This reflection appeared to have great weight with the
young lady in the bar, who (adjusting her cap as she spoke,
and glancing at a mirror) declared that it would be a very
pretty state of things indeed ; and that if people were to be
punished for actions so innocent and natural as that, there
would be more people to be knocked down than there would be
people to knock them down, and that she wondered what the
gentleman meant by it, that she did.

" My dear girl," said the young gentleman in a low voice,
advancing towards the sash window.

" Nonsense, sir ! " replied the young lady sharply, smil-
ing though as she turned aside, and biting her lip (whereat
Mrs. Browdie, who was still standing on the stairs, glanced at
her with disdain, and called to her husband to come away).



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NICHOLAS NICKLEB Y. 5S3

"No, but listen to me," said the young man. "If admira-
tion of a pretty face were criminal, I should be the most
hopeless person alive, for I cannot resist one. It has the most
extraordinary effect upon me, checks and controls me in the
most furious and obstinate mood. You see what an effect
yours has had upon me already."

44 Oh, that's very pretty," replied the young lady, tossing
her head, " but "

44 Yes, I know it's very pretty," said the young man, look-
ing with an air of admiration in the bar-maid's face, " I said
so, you Icnow, just this moment. But beauty should be spoken
of respectfully — respectfully, and in proper terms, and with a
becoming sense of its worth and excellence, whereas this
fellow has no more notion "

The young lady interrupted the conversation at this
point, by thrusting her head out of the bar-window, and in-
quiring of the waiter in a shrill voice whether that young
man who had been knocked down was going to stand in the
passage all night, or whether the entrance was to be left clear
for other people ?' The waiters taking the hint, and communi-
cating it to the hostlers, were not slow to change their tone
too r and the result was, that the unfortunate victim was bun-
dled out in a twinkling.

" I am sure I have seen that fellow before," said Nicholas.

" Indeed ! " replied his new acquaintance.

" I am certain of it," said Nicholas, pausing to reflect
" Where can I have — stop ! — yes, to be sure — he belongs to a
register-office up at the west end of the town. I knew I rec-
ollected the face."

It was indeed, Tom, the ugly clerk.

" That's odd enough!" said Nicholas, ruminating upon
the strange manner in which that register office seemed to
start up and stare him, in the face every now and then, and
when he least expected it.

44 1 am much obliged to you for your kind advocacy of my
cause when it most needed an advocate," said the young man,
laughing, and drawing a card from his pocket. " Perhaps
you'll do me the favor to let me know where I can thank
you."

Nicholas took the card t and glancing at it involuntarily as
he returned the compliment, evinced very great surprise.

44 Mr. Frank Cheeryble ! " said Nicholas. " Surely not the
nephew of Cheeryble Brothers, who is expected to-morrow 1 "



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" I don't usually call myself the nephew of the firm,"
returned Mr. Frank, good-humoredly ; '* but of the two ex-
cellent individuals who compose it, I am proud to say I am
the nephew. And you, I see, are Mr. Nickleby, of whom I
have heard so much ! This is a most unexpected meeting,
but not the less welcome, I assure you."

Nicholas responded to these compliments with others of
the same kind, and they shook hands warmly. Then he
introduced John Browdie, who had remained in a state of great
admiration ever since the young lady in the bar had been so
skilfully won over to the right side. Then Mrs. John Browdie
was introduced, and finally they all went up stairs together and
spent the next half hour with great satisfaction and mutual
entertainment ; Mrs. John Browdie beginning the conversation
by declaring that of all the made-up things she ever saw, that
youn^ woman below stairs was the vainest and the plainest.

This Mr. Frank Cheeryble, although, to judge from what
had recently taken place, a hot-headed young man (which is
not an absolute miracle and phenomenon in nature), was a
sprightly, good-humored, pleasant fellow, with much both in
his countenance and disposition that reminded Nicholas very
strongly of the kind-hearted brothers. His manner was as
unaffected as theirs, and his demeanor full of that heartiness
which, to most people who have anything generous in their
composition, is peculiarly prepossessing. Add to this, that
he was good-looking and intelligent, had a plentiful share of
vivacity, was extremely cheerful, and accommodated himself
in five minutes' time to all John Browdie's oddities with as
much ease as if he had known him from a boy ; and it will be
a source of no great wonder that when they parted for the
night he had produced a most favorable impression, not only
upon the worthy Yorkshireman and his wife, but upon Nicho-
las also, who, revolving all these things in his mind as he
made the best of his way home, arrived at the conclusion that
he had laid the foundation of a most agreeable and desirable
acquaintance.

" But it's a most extraordinary thing about that register-
office fellow ! " thought Nicholas. " Is it likely that this
nephew can know anything about that beautiful girl ? When
Tim Linkinwater gave me to understand the other day that
he was coming to take a share in the business here, he said
he had been superintending it in Germany for four years, and
that during the last six months he had been engaged in estab-



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555



lishing an agency in the north of England. That's four years
and a half — four years and a half. She can't be more than
seventeen — say eighteen at the outside. She was quite a
child when he went away then. I should say he knew nothing
about her and had never seen her, so ^can give me no infor-
mation. At all events," thought Nicholas, coming to the real
point in his mind, "there can be no danger of any prior
occupation of her affections in that quarter ; that's quite clear.'*

Is selfishness a necessary ingredient in the composition of
that passion called love, or does it deserve all the fine things
which poets, in the exercise of their undoubted vocation, have
said of it ? There are, no doubt, authenticated instances of
gentlemen having given up ladies and ladies having given up
gentlemen to meritorious rivals, under circumstances of great
high-mindedness ; but is it quite established that the majority
of such ladies and gentlemen have not made a virtue of neces-
sity, and nobly resigned what was beyond their reach ; as a pri-
vate soldier might register a vow never to accept the order of
the Garter, or a poor curate of great piety and learning, but of
no family — save a very large family of children — might re-
nounce a bishopric ?

Here was Nicholas Nickleby, who would have scorned the
thought of counting how the chances stood of his rising in
favor or fortune with the Brothers Cheeryble, now that their
nephew had returned, already deep in calculations whether
that same nephew was likely to rival him in the affections of
the fair unknown — discussing the matter with himself too, as
gravely as if, with that one exception, it were all settled ; and
recurring to the subject again and again, and feeling quite
indignant and ill-used at the notion of anybody else making
love to one with whom he had never exchanged a word in all
his life. To be sure, he exaggerated rather than depreciated
the merits of his new acquaintance ; but still he took it as a
kind of personal offence that he should have any merits at all
— in the eyes of this particular young lady, that is ; for else-
where he was quite welcome to have as many as he pleased.
There was undoubted selfishness in all this, and yet Nicholas
was of a most free and generous nature, with as few mean or
sordid thoughts, perhaps, as ever fell to the lot of any man ;
and there is no reason to suppose that, being in love, he felt
and thought differently from other people in the like sublime
condition.

He did not stop to set on foot an inquiry into his train of



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556 NICHOLAS NICKLEBY.

thought or state of feeling, however; but went thinking on
all the way home, and continued to dream on in the same
strain all night. For, having satisfied himself that Frank
Cheeryble could have no knowledge of, or acquaintance with
the mysterious young lady, it began to occur to him that even
he himself might never see her again ; upon which hypothesis
he built up a very ingenious succession of tormenting ideas
which answered his purpose even better than the vision of
Mr. Frank Cheeryble, and tantalized and worried him, waking
and sleeping.

Notwithstanding all that has been said and sung to the
contrary, there is no well-established case of morning having
either deferred or hastened its approach by the term of an
hour or so for the mere gratification of a splenetic feeling
against some unoffending lover ; the sun having, in the dis-
charge of his public duty, as the books of precedent report,
invariably risen according to the almanacs, and without
suffering himself to be swayed by any private considerations.
So, morning came as usual, and with it business-hours, and
with them Mr. Frank Cheeryble, and with him a long train of
smiles and welcomes from the worthy brothers, and a more
grave and clerk-like, but scarcely less hearty reception from
Mr. Timothy Linkinwater.

" That Mr. Frank and Mr. Nickleby should have met last
night," said Tim Linkinwater, getting slowly off his stool, and
looking round the counting-house with his back planted against
the desk, as was his custom when he had anything very par-
ticular to say : " that those two young men should have met
last night in that manner is, I say, a coincidence, a remark-
able coincidence. Why I don't believe now," added Tim,
taking off his spectacles, and smiling as with gentle pride,
" that there's such a place in all the world for coincidences as
London is ! "

" I don't know about that," said Mr. Frank ; " but "

" Don't know about it, Mr. Francis ! " interrupted Tim,
with an obstinate air. " Well, but let us know. If there is
any better place for such things, where is it ? Is it in Europe ?
No, that it isn't. Is it in Asia ? Why, of course it's not. Is
it in Africa ? Not a bit of it. Is it in America ? You know
better than that, at all events. Well, then," said Tim, folding
his arms resolutely, " where is it ? "

" I was not about to dispute the point, Tim," said young
Cheeryble, laughing. "lam not such a heretic as that. All



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557



I was going to say was, that I hold myself under an obliga-
tion to the coincidence, that's all."

" Oh ! if you don't dispute it," said Tim, quite satisfied,
" that's another thing. I'll tell you what though. I wish you
had. I wish you or anybody would. I would so put that
man down," said Tim, tapping the forefinger of his left hand
emphatically with his spectacles, " so put that man down by
argument "

It was quite impossible to find language to express the
degree of mental prostration to which such an adventurous
wight would be reduced in the keen encounter with Tim
Linkinwater, so Tim gave up the rest of his declaration in
pure lack of words, and mounted his stool again.

" We may consider ourselves, brother Ned," said Charles,
after he had patted Tim Linkinwater approvingly on the back,
" very fortunate in having two such young men about us as
our nephew Frank and Mr. Nickleby. It should be a source
of great satisfaction and pleasure to us."

" Certainly, Charles, certainly," returned the other.

"Of Tim," added "brother Ned, " I say nothing whatever,
because Tim is a mere child — an infant — a nobody that we
never think of or take into account at all. Tim, you villain,
what do you say to that, sir ? "

" I am jealous of both of 'em," said Tim, " and mean to
look out for another situation ; so provide yourselves, gentle-
men, if you please."

Tim thought this such an exquisite, unparalleled, and most
extraordinary joke, that he laid his pen upon the inkstand,
and rather tumbling off his stool than getting down with his
usual deliberation, laughed till he was quite faint, shaking his
head all the time so that little particles of powder flew palpa-
bly about the office. Nor were the brothers at all behind-
hand, for they laughed almost as heartily at the ludicrous idea
of any voluntary separation between themselves and old Tim.
Nicholas and Mr. Frank laughed quite boisterously, perhaps
to conceal some other emotion awakened by this little inci-
dent, (and, so indeed, did the three old fellows after the first
burst,) so perhaps there was as much keen enjoyment and
relish in that laugh altogether, as the politest assembly ever
derived from the most poignant witticism uttered at any one
person's expense.

"Mr. Nickleby," said brother Charles, calling him aside,
and taking him kindly by the hand, " I — I am anxious, my



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558 NICHOLAS NICKLEBY.

dear sir, to see that you are properly and comfortably settled
in the cottage. We cannot allow those who serve us well, to
labor under any privation or discomfort that it is in our power
to remove. I wish, too, to see your mother and sister : to
know them, Mr. Nickleby, and have an opportunity of reliev-
ing their minds by assuring them that any trifling service we
have been able to do them is a great deal more than repaid
by the zeal and ardor you display. — Not a word, my dear sir,
I beg. To-morrow is Sunday. I shall make bold to come
out at tea-time, and take the chance of finding you at home ;
if you are not, you know, or the ladies should feel a delicacy
in being intruded on, and would rather not be known to me
just now, why I can come again another time, any other time
would do for me. Let it remain upon that understanding.
Brother Ned, my dear fellow, let me have a word with you
this way."

The twins went out of the office arm in arm, and Nicholas,
who saw in this act of kindness, and many others of which he
had been the subject that morning, only so many delicate re-
newals on the arrival of their nephew of the kind assurances
which 9 the brothers had given him in his absence, could
scarcely feel sufficient admiration and gratitude for such ex-
traordinary consideration.

The intelligence that they were to have a visitor — and such
a visitor — next day, awakened in the breast of Mrs. Nickleby
mingled feelings of exultation and regret ; for whereas on the
one hand she hailed it as an omen of her speedy restoration
to good society and the almost-forgotten pleasures of morning
calls and evening tea-drinkings, she could not, on the other,
but reflect with bitterness of spirit on the absence of a silver
teapot with an ivory knob on the lid, and a milk-jug to match,
which had been the pride of her heart in days of yore, and
had been kept from year's end to year's end wrapped up in
wash-leather on a certain top shelf which now presented itself
in lively colors to her sorrowing imagination.

" I wonder who's got that spice-box," said Mrs. Nickleby,
shaking her head. " It used to stand in the left-hand corner,
next but two to the pickled onions. You remember that
spice-box, Kate ? "

" Perfectly well, mama."

" I shouldn't think you did, Kate," returned Mrs. Nickleby,
in a severe manner, " talking about it in that cold and unfeel-
ing way ! If there is any one thing that vexes me in these



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NICHOLAS NICKLEBY. 559

losses more than the losses themselves, I do protest and de-
clare," said Mrs. Nickleby, rubbing her nose with an impas-
sioned air, " that it is to have people about me who take
things with such provoking calmness ! "

" My dear mama," said Kate, stealing her arm round her
mother's neck, " why do you say what I know you cannot
seriously mean or think, or why be angry with me for being
happy and content ? You and Nicholas are left to me, we are
together once again, and what regard can I have for a few
trifling things of which we never feel the want ? When I have
seen all the misery and desolation that death can bring, and
known the lonesome Reeling of being solitary and alone in
crowds, and all the agony of separation in grief and poverty
when we most needed comfort and support from each other,
can you wonder that I look upon this as a place of such deli-
cious quiet and rest, that with you beside me I have nothing
to wish for or regret ? There was a time, and not long since,
when all the comforts of our old home did come back upon
me, I own, very often — oftener than you would think perhaps
— but I affected to care nothing for them, in the hope that you
would so be brought to regret them less. I was not insensible,
indeed. I might have felt happier if I had been. Dear ma-
ma," said Kate, in great agitation, " I know no difference
between this home and that in which we were all so happy
for so many years, except that the kindest and gentlest heart
that ever ached on earth has passed in peace to heaven."

" Kate, my dear Kate ! " cried Mrs. Nickleby, folding her
in her arms.

" I have so often thought," sobbed Kate, " of all his kind
words — of the last time he looked into my little room, as he
passed up stairs to bed, and said ' God bless you, darling.'
There was a paleness in his face, mama — the broken heart —
I know it was — I little thought so — then — "

A gush of tears came to her relief, and Kate laid her head
upon her mother's breast, and wept like a little child.

It is an exquisite and beautiful thing in our nature, that
when the heart is touched and softened by some tranquil hap-
piness or affectionate feeling, the memory of the dead comes
over it most powerfully and irresistibly. It would almost
seem as though our better thoughts and sympathies were
charms, in virtue of which the soul is enabled to hold some
vague and mysterious intercourse with the spirits of those
whom we dearly loved in life. Alas ! how often and how long



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560 NICHOLAS NICKLEB Y.

may those patient angels hover above us, watching for the
spell which is so seldom uttered, and so soon forgotten !

Poor Mrs. Nickleby, accustomed to give ready utterance
to whatever came uppermost in her mind, had never conceived
the possibility of her daughter's dwelling upon these thoughts
in secret, the more especially as no hard trial or querulous
reproach had ever drawn them from her. But now, when the
happiness of all that Nicholas had just told them, and of their
new and peaceful life, brought these recollections so strongly
upon Kate that she could not suppress, them, Mrs. Nickleby
began to have a glimmering that she had been rather thought-
less now and then, and was conscious of something like self-
reproach as she embraced her daughter, and yielded to the
emotions which such a conversation naturally awakened.

There was a mighty bustle that night, and a vast quantity
of preparation for the expected visitor, and a very large nose-
gay was brought from a gardener's hard by and cut up into a
number of very small ones with which Mrs. Nickleby would
have garnished the little sitting-room, in a style that certainly
could not have failed to attract anybody's attention, if Kate
had not offered to spare her the trouble, and arranged them
in the prettiest and neatest manner possible. If the cottage
ever looked pretty, it must have been on such a bright and
sunshiny day as the next day was. But Smike's pride in the
garden, or Mrs. Nickleby's in the condition of the furniture,



Online LibraryCharles DickensThe life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby → online text (page 53 of 79)