Charles Dickens.

The life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby online

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or Kate's in everything, was nothing to the pride with which
Nicholas looked at Kate herself; and surely the costliest
mansion in all England might have found in her beautiful face
and graceful form its most exquisite and peerless ornament

About six o'clock in the afternoon, Mrs. Nickleby was
thrown into a great flutter of spirits by the long expected knock
at the door, nor was this flutter at all composed by the audible
tread of two pairs of boots in the passage, which Mrs. Nickleby
augured in a breathless state must be " the two Mr. Cheery-
bles ;" as it certainly was, though not the two Mrs. Nickleby
expected, because it was Charles Cheeryble, and his nephew,
Mr. Frank, who made a thousand apologies for his intrusion,
which Mrs. Nickleby (having teaspoons enough and to spare
for all) most graciously received. Nor did the appearance of
this unexpected visitor occasion the least embarrassment
(save in Kate, and that only to the extent of a blush or two at
first), for the old gentleman was so kind and cordial, and the
young gentleman imitated him in this respect so well, that the



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NICHOLAS NICKLEBY. 56 1

usual stiffness and formality of a first meeting showed no signs
of appearing, and Kate really more than once detected herself
in the very act of wondering when it was going to begin.

At the tea-table there was plenty of conversation on a
great variety of subjects, nor were there wanting jocose
matters of discussion, such as they were ; for young Mr.
Cheeryble's recent stay in Germany happening to be alluded
to, old Mr. Cheeryble informed the company that the aforesaid
young Mr. Cheeryble was suspected to have fallen deeply in love
with the daughter of a certain German burgomaster. This ac-
cusation young Mr. Cheeryble most indignantly repelled, upon
which Mrs. Nickleby slyly remarked that she suspected from
the very warmth of the denial, there must be something in it.
Young Mr. Cheeryble then earnestly entreated old Mr. Cheery-
ble to confess that it was all a jest, which old Mr. Cheeryble
at last did, young Mr. Cheeryble being so much in earnest
about it, that — as Mrs. Nickleby said many thousand times
afterwards in recalling the scene — he " quite colored/' which
she rightly considered a memorable circumstance, and one
worthy of remark, young men not being as a class remarkable
for modesty or self-denial, especially when there is a lady in
the case, when, if they color at all, it is rather their practice
to color the story, and not themselves.

After tea there was a walk in the garden, and the evening
being very fine they strolled out at the garden gate into some
lanes and by-roads, and sauntered up and down until it grew
quite dark. The time seemed to pass very quickly with all
the party. Kate went first, leaning upon her brother's arm,
and talking with him and Mr. Frank Cheeryble; and Mrs.
Nickleby and the elder gentleman followed at a short distance,
the kinaness of the good merchant, his interest in the welfare
of Nicholas, and his admiration of Kate, so operating upon
the good lady's feelings, that the usual current of her speech
was confined within very narrow and circumscribed limits.
Smike (who, if he had ever been an object of interest in his
life, had been one that day) accompanied them, joining some-
times one group and sometimes the other, as brother Charles,
laying his hand upon his shoulder, bade him walk with him, or
Nicholas, looking smilingly round, beckoned him to come and
talk with the old friend who understood him best, and who
could win a smile into his care-worn face when none else
could.

Pride is one of the seven deadly sins ; but it cannot be the
3 6



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S 6 2 NICHOLAS NICKLEBY.

pride of a mother in her children, for that is a compound of two
cardinal virtues — faith and hope. This was the pride which
swelled Mrs. Nickleby's heart that night, and this it was which
left upon her face, glistening in the light when they returned
home, traces of the most grateful tears she had ever shed.

There was a quiet mirth about the little supper, which
harmonized exactly with this tone of feeling, and at length the
two gentlemen took their leave. There was one circumstance
in the leave-taking which occasioned a vast deal of smiling
and pleasantry, and that was, that Mr. Frank Cheeryble
offered his hand to Kate twice over, quite forgetting that he
had bade her adieu already. This was held by the elder Mr.
Cheeryble to be a convincing proof that he was thinking of
his German flame, and the jest occasioned immense laughter.
So easy is it to move light hearts.

In short, it was a day of serene and tranquil happiness ;
and as we all have some bright day — many of us, let us hope,
among a crowd of others — to which we revert with particular
delight, so this one was often looked back to afterwards, as
holding a conspicuous place in the calendar of those who
shared it.

Was there one exception, and that one he who needed to
have been most happy ?

Who was that who, in the, silence of his own chamber, sunk
upon his knees to pray as his first friend had taught him, and
folding his hands and stretching them wildly, in the air, fell
upon his face in a passion of bitter grief ?



CHAPTER XLIV.



MR. RALPH NICKLEBY CUTS AN OLD ACQUAINTANCE. IT WOULD
ALSO APPEAR FROM THE CONTENTS HEREOF, THAT A JOKE
EVEN BETWEEN HUSBAND AND WIFE, MAY BE SOMETIMES
CARRIED TOO FAR.

There are some men who, living with the one object of en-
riching themselves, no matter by what means, and being per-
fectly conscious of the baseness and rascality of the means
% which they will use every day towards this end, affect never-



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NICHOLAS NICKLEBY. 563

theless— even to themselves — a high tone of moral rectitude
and si ake their heads and sigh over the depravity of the
world. Some of the craftiest scoundrels that ever walked this
earth, or rather — for walking implies, at least, an erect position
and the bearing of a man — that ever crawled and crept
through life by its dirtiest and narrowest ways, will gravely
jot down in diaries the events of every day, and keep a regular
debtor and creditor account with Heaven, which shall always
show a floating balance in their own favor. Whether this is a
gratuitous (the only gratuitous) part of the falsehood and
-trickery of such men's lives, or whether they really hope to
cheat Heaven itself, and lay up treasure in the next world by
the same process which has enabled them to lay up treasure
in this — not to question how it is, so it is. And, doubtless,
such book-keeping (like certain autobiographies which have
enlightened the world) cannot fail to prove serviceable, in the
one respect of sparing the recording Angel some time and
labor.

Ralph Nickleby was not a man of this stamp. Stern, un-
yielding, dogged, and impenetrable, Ralph cared for nothing
in life, or beyond it, save the gratification of two passions :
avarice, the first and predominant appetite of his nature, and
hatred, the second. Affecting to consider himself but a type
of all humanity, he was at little pains to conceal his true
character from the world in general, and in his own heart he
exulted over and cherished every bad design as it had birth.
The only scriptural admonition that Ralph Nickleby heeded,
in the letter, was " Know thyself." He knew himself well,
and choosing to imagine that all mankind were cast in the
same mould, hated them ; for, though no man hates himself,
the coldest among us having too much self-love for that, yet
most men unconsciously judge the world from themselves, and
it will be very generally found that those who sneer habitually
af human nature, and affect to despise it, are among its worst
and least pleasant samples.

But the present business of these adventures is with Ralph
himself, who stood regarding Newman Noggs with a heavy
frown, while that worthy took off his fingerless gloves, and,
spreading them carefully on the palm of his left hand, and
flattening them with his right to take the creases out, pro-
ceeded to roll them up with an absent air, as if he were utterly
regardless of all things else, in the deep interest of the cere-
monial.



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564 NICHOLAS NICKLEBY.

" Gone out of town ! " said Ralph, slowly. " A mistake
of yours. Go back again."

"No mistake," returned Newman. "Not even going;
gone."

" Has he turned girl or baby ? " muttered Ralph, with a
fretful gesture.

" I don't know," said Newman, " but he's gone."

The repetition of the word, "gone," seemed to afford
Newman Noggs inexpressible delight, in proportion as it an-
noyed Ralph Nickleby. He uttered the word with a full
round emphasis, dwelling upon it as long as he decently could,,
and when he could hold out no longer without attracting
observation, stood gasping it to himself, as if even that were
a satisfaction.

" And where has he gone ? " said Ralph.

" France," replied Newman. " Danger of another attack
of erysipelas — a worse attack — in the head. So the doctors
ordered him off. And he's gone."

" And Lord Frederick ? " began Ralph.

" He's gone too," replied Newman.

" And he carries his drubbing with him, does he ! " said
Ralph, turning away ; " pockets his bruises, and sneaks off
without the retaliation of a word, or seeking the smallest
reparation ! "

" He's too ill," said Newman.

" Too ill ! " repeated Ralph. " Why /would have it if I
were dying ; in that case I would only be the more determined
to have it, and that without delay — I mean if I were he. But
he's too ill ! Poor Sir Mulberry ! Too ill ! "

Uttering these words with supreme contempt and great
irritation of manner, Ralph signed hastily to Newman to leave
the room ; and throwing himself into his chair, beat his foot
impatiently upon the ground.

"There is some spell about that boy," said Ralph, grind-
ing his teeth. " Circumstances conspire to help him. Talk
of fortune's favors ! What is even money to such Devil's
luck as this ! "

He thrust his hands impatiently into his pockets, but not-
withstanding his previous reflection there was some consola-
tion there, for his face relaxed a little ; and although there
was still a deep frown upon the contracted brow, it was one
of calculation, and not of disappointment.

"This 'Hawk will come back, however," muttered Ralph;



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NICHOLAS NTCKLEB V. 565

a and if I know the man (and I should by this time) his
wrath will have lost nothing of its violence in the meanwhile.
Obliged to live in retirement — the monotony of a sick-room to
a man of his habits — no life — no drink — no play — nothing that
he likes and lives by. He is not likely to forget his obliga-
tions to the cause of all this. Few men would ; but he of all
others ? No, no ! "

He smiled and shook his head, and resting his chin upon
his hand, fell a musing, and smiled again. After a time he
rose and rang the bell.

" That Mr. Squeers ; has he been here ? " said Ralph.

" He was here last night. I left him here when I went
home," returned Newman.

" I know that, fool, do I not ? " said Ralph, irascibly.
" Has he been here since ? Was he here this morning ? "

" No," bawled Newman, in a very loud key.

" If he comes while I am out — he is pretty sure to be here
by nine to-night — let him wait. And if there's another man
with him, as there will be — perhaps," said Ralph, checking
himself, " let him wait too." ,

" Let 'em both wait ? " said Newman.

"Ay," replied Ralph, turning upon him with an angry
look. " Help me on with this spencer, and don't repeat after
me, like a croaking parrot."

" I wish I was a parrot," said Newman, sulkily.

" I wish you were," rejoined Ralph, drawing his spencer
on ; " I'd have wrung your neck long ago."

Newman returned no answer to this compliment, but
looked over Ralph's shoulder for an instant, (he was adjust
ing the collar "of the spencer behind, just then,) as if he were
strongly disposed to tweak him by the nose. Meeting Ralph's
eye, however, he suddenly recalled his wandering fingers, and
rubbed his own red nose with a vehemence quite astonishing.

Bestowing no further notice upon his eccentric follower
than a threatening look, and an admonition to be careful and
make no mistake, Ralph took his hat and gloves, and walked
out.

He appeared to have a very extraordinary and miscel-
laneous connection, and very odd calls he made, some at
great rich houses, and some at small poor houses, but all upon
one subject : money. His face was a talisman to the porters
and servants of his more dashing clients, and procured him
ready admission, though he trudged on foot, and others, who



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S 66 NICHOLAS NICKLEB Y.

were denied, rattled to the door in carriages. Here, he was
all softness and cringing civility; his step so light, that it
scarcely produced a sound upon the thick carpets ; his voice
so soft that it was not audible beyond the person to whom it
was addressed. But in the poorer habitations Ralph was
another man ; his boots creaked on the passage floor as he
walked boldly in ; his voice was harsh and loud as he de-
manded the money that was overdue ; his threats were coarse
and angry. With another class of customers, Ralph was again
another man. These were attorneys of more than doubtful
reputation, who helped him to new business, or raised fresh
profits upon old. With them Ralph was familiar and jocose,
humorous upon the topics of the day, and especially pleasant
upon bankruptcies and pecuniary difficulties that made good
for trade. In short, it would have been difficult to have
recognized the same man under these various aspects, but
for the bulky leather case full of bills and notes which he
drew from his pocket at every house, and the constant repeti-
tion of the sajne complaint, (varied only in tone and style of
delivery), that the world thought him rich, and that perhaps
he might be if he had his own ; but that there was no getting
money in when it was once out, either principal or interest,
and it was a hard matter to live ; even to live from day to
day.

It was evening before a long round of such visits (inter-
rupted only by a scanty dinner at an eating-house) terminated
at Pimlico, and Ralph walked along St. James's Park, on his
way home.

There were some deep schemes in his head, as the puck-
ered brow and firmly-set mouth would have abundantly
testified, even if they had been unaccompanied by a complete
indiilerence to, or unconsciousness of, the objects about him.
So complete was his abstraction, however, that Ralph, usually
as quick-sighted as any man, did not observe that he was fol-
lowed by a shambling figure, which at one time stole behind
him with noiseless footsteps, at another crept a few paces
before him, and at another glided along by his side ; at all
times regarding him with an eye so keen, and a look so eager
and attentive, that it was more like the expression of an in-
trusive face in some powerful picture or strongly marked
dream, than the scrutiny even of a most interested and
anxious observer.

The sky had been lowering and dark for some time, and



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NICHOLAS NICKLEBY. 567

the commencement of a violent storm of rain drove Ralph for
shelter to a tree. He was leaning against it with folded arms,
still buried in thought, when, happening to raise his eyes, he
suddenly met those of a man who, creeping round the trunk,
peered into his face with a searching look. There was some-
thing in the usurer's expression at the moment, which the
man appeared to remember well, for it decided him ; and
stepping close up to Ralph, he pronounced his name.

Astonished for the moment, Ralph fell back a couple of
paces and surveyed him from head to foot. A spare, dark,
withered man, of about his own age, with a stooping body,
and a very sinister face rendered more ill-favored by hollow
and hungry cheeks deeply sunburnt, and thick black eye-
brows, blacker in contrast with the perfect whiteness of his
hairs roughly clothed in shabby garments, of a strange and
uncouth make ; and having about him an indefinable manner
of depression and degradation — this, for a moment, was all he
saw. But he looked again, and the face and person seemed
gradually to grow less strange, to change as he looked, to
subside and soften into lineaments that were familiar, until at
last they resolved themselves, as if by some strange optical illu-
sion, into those of one whom he had known for many years,
and forgotten and lost sight of for nearly as many more.

The man saw that the recognition was mutual, and
beckoning to Ralph to take his former place under the tree,
and not to stand in the falling rain — of which, in his first
surprise, he had been quite regardless — addressed him in a
hoarse faint tone.

" You would hardly have known me from my voice, I sup-
pose, Mr. Nickleby ? " he said.

" No," returned Ralph, bending a severe look upon him.
" Though there is something in that, that I remember now."

" There is little in me that you can call to mind as having
been there eight years ago, I dare say ? " observed the other.

"Quite enough," said Ralph, carelessly, and averting his
face. " More than enough."

** If I had remained in doubt about you, Mr. Nickleby,"
said the other, " this reception, and your manner, would have
decided me very soon."

" Did you expect any other? " asked Ralph, sharply.

" No ! " said the man.

" You were right," retorted Ralph ; " and as you feel no
surprise, need express none."



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5 68 NICHOLAS NICKLEBY,

" Mr. Nickleby," said the man, bluntly, after a brief pause,
during which he had seemed to struggle with an inclination
to answer him by some reproach, " will you hear a few words
that I have to say ? "

" I am obliged to wait here till the rain holds a little,"
said Ralph, looking abroad. " If you talk, sir, I shall not
put my fingers in my ears, though your talking may have as
much effect as if I did."

" I was once in your confidence — ," thus his companion
began. Ralph looked round, and smiled involuntarily.

" Well," said the other, " as much in your confidence as
you ever chose to let anybody be."

" Ah ! " rejoined Ralph, folding his arms ; " that's another
thing, quite another thing."

" Don't let us play upon words, Mr. Nickleby, in the name
of humanity."

"Of what? "said Ralph.

" Of humanity," replied the other, sternly. " I am hungry
and in want If the change that you must see in me after so
long an absence — must see » f° r h upon whom it has come by
slow and hard degrees, see it and know it well — will not move
you to pity, let the knowledge that bread — not the daily bread
of the Lord's Prayer, which, as it is offered up in cities like
this, is understood to include half the luxuries of the world
for the rich, and just as much coarse food as will support life
for the poor — not that, but bread, a crust of dry hard bread,
is beyond my reach to-day — let that have some weight with
you, if nothing else has."

"If this is the usual form in which you beg, sir," said
Ralph, " you have studied your part well ; but if you will take
advice from one who knows something of the world and its
ways, I should recommend a lower tone ; a little lower tone,
or you stand a fair chance of being starved in good earnest."

As he said this, Ralph clenched his left wrist tightly with
his right hand, and inclining his head a little on one side and
dropping his chin upon his breast, looked at him whom he
addressed with a frowning, sullen face. The very picture of
a man whom nothing could move or soften.

" Yesterday was my first day in London," said the old
man, glancing at his travel-stained dress and worn shoes.

"It would have been better for you, I think, if it had been
your last also," replied Ralph.

" I have been seeking you these two days, where I thought



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NICHOLAS NICKLEBY. jfy

you were most likely to be found," resumed the other more
humbly, "and I met you here at last, when I had almost
given up the hope of encountering you, Mr. Nickleby."

He seemed to wait for some reply, but Ralph giving him
none, he continued :

"I am a most miserable and wretched outcast, nearly
sixty years old, and as destitute and helpless as a child of six/'

44 1 am sixty years old, too," replied Ralph, 44 and am neither
destitute nor helpless. Work. Don't make fine play-acting
speeches about bread, but earn it."

44 How ? " cried the other. 44 Where ? Show me the means.
Will you give them to me ? "

44 1 did once," replied Ralph, composedly, " you scarcely
need ask me whether I will again."

44 It's twenty years ago, or more," said the man, in a sup-
pressed voice, 44 since you and I fell out. You remember
that ? I claimed a share in the profits of some business I
brought to you, and, as I persisted, you arrested me for an
old advance of ten pounds, odd shillings, including interest at
fifty per cent, or so."

44 1 remember something of it," replied Ralph, carelessly.
"What then?"

44 That didn't part us," said the man. " I made submission,
being on the wrong side of the bolts and bars ; and as you
were not the made man then that you are now, you were glad
enough to take back a clerk who wasn't over nice, and who
knew something of the trade you drove."

44 You begged and prayed, and I consented," returned
Ralph. " That was kind of me. Perhaps I did want you. I
forget. I should think I did, or you would have begged in
vain. You were useful ; not too honest, not too delicate, not
too nice of hand or heart ; but useful."

44 Useful, indeed!" said the man. "Come. .You had
pinched and ground me down for some years before that, but
I had served you faithfully up to that time, in spite of all
your dog's usage. Had I ? "

Ralph made no reply.

44 Had I ? " said the man again.

44 You had had your wages," rejoined Ralph, " and had
done your work. We stood on equal ground so far, and could
both cry quits."

44 Then, but not afterwards," said the other.

" Not afterwards, certainly, nor even then, for (as you



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570



NICHOLAS NICKLEBY.



have just said) you owed me money, and do still," replied
Ralph.

" That's not all," said the man, eagerly. " That's not alL
Mark that. I didn't forget that old sore, trust me. Partly in
remembrance of that, and partly in the hope of making money
some day by the* scheme, I took advantage of my position
about you, and possessed myself of a hold upon you, which
you would give half of all you have to know, and never can
know but through me. I left you — long after that time, re-
member — and, for some poor trickery that came within the
law, but was nothing to what you money-makers daily practise
just outside its bounds, was. sent away a convict for seven
years. I have returned what you see me. Now, Mr. Nickle-
by," said the man, with a strange mixture of humility and
sense of power, " what help and assistance will you give me ;
what bribe, to speak out plainly ? My expectations are not
monstrous, but I must live, and to live I must eat and drink.
Money is on your side, and hunger and thirst are on mine.
You may drive an easy bargain."

" Is that all ? " said Ralph, still eyeing his companion
with the same steady look, and moving nothing but his lips.

" It depends on you, Mr. Nickleby, whether that's all or
not," was the rejoinder.

" Why then, harkye, Mr. , I don't know by what name

I am to call you," said Ralph.

" By my old one, if you like."

" Why, then, harkye, Mr. Brooker," said Ralph, in his
harshest accents, " and don't expect to draw another speech
from me. Harkye, sir. I know you of old for a ready
scoundrel ; but you never had a stout heart ; and hard work,
with (maybe) chains upon those legs of yours, and shorter food
than when I ' pinched ' and * ground ' you, has blunted your
wits, or you would not come with such a tale as this to me.
You a hold upon me ! Keep it, or publish it to the world, if
you like."

"I can't do that," interposed Brooker. " That wouldn't
serve me."

" Wouldn't it ? " said Ralph. " It will serve you as much
as bringing it to me, I promise you. To be plain with you, I
am a careful man, and know my affairs thoroughly. I know
the world, and the world knows me. Whatever you gleaned,
or heard, or saw, when you served me, the world knows and
magnifies already. You could tell it nothing that would sur-



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NICHOLAS NICKLEBY.



57*



prise it, unless, indeed, it redounded to my credit or honor,



Online LibraryCharles DickensThe life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby → online text (page 54 of 79)