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The life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby online

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and then it would scout you for a liar. And yet I don't find
business slack, or clients scrupulous. Quite the contrary. I
am reviled or threatened every day by one man or another,"
said Ralph ; " but things roll on just the same, and I don't
grow poorer either."

" I neither revile nor threaten," rejoined the man. " I
can tell you of what you have lost by my acf, what I only can
restore, and what, if I die without restoring, dies with me, and
never can be regained."

** I tell my money pretty accurately, and generally keep it
in my own custody," said Ralph. " I look sharply after most
men that I deal with, and most of all I looked sharply after
you. You are welcome to all what you have kept from me."

" Are those of your own name dear to you ? " said the man
emphatically. " If they are "

" They are not," returned Ralph, exasperated at this per-
severance, and the thought of Nicholas, which the last ques-
tion awakened. "They are not. If you had come as a
common beggar, I might have thrown a sixpence to you in
remembrance of the clever knave you used to be ; but since
you try to palm these stale tricks upon one you might have
known better, I'll not part with a halfpenny — nor would I to
save you from rotting. And remember this, 'scape-gallows,"
said Ralph, menacing him with his hand, " that if we meet
again, and you so much as notice me by one begging gesture,
you shall see the inside of a jail once more, and tighten this
hold upon me in intervals of the hard labor that vagabonds
are put to. There's my answer to your trash. Take it."

With a disdainful scowl at the object of his anger, who met
his eye but uttered not a word, Ralph walked away at his
usual pace,. without manifesting the slightest curiosity to see
what became of his late companion, or indeed once looking
behind him. The man remained on the same spot with his
eyes fixed upon his retreating figure until it was lost to view,
and then drawing his arms about his chest, as if the damp and
lack of food struck coldly to him, lingered with slouching steps
by the wayside, and begged of those who passed along.

Ralph, in no-wise moved by what had lately passed,
further than as he had already expressed himself, walked de-
liberately on, and turning out of the Park and leaving Golden
Square on his right, took his way through some streets at the
west end of the town until he arrived in that particular one in



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57 2 Nicholas nickleb y.

which stood the residence of Madame Mantalini. The name
of that lady no longer appeared on the flaming door-plate, that
of Miss Knag being substituted in its stead ; but the bonnets
and dresses were still dimly visible in the first-floor windows,
by the decaying light of a summer's evening, and excepting
this ostensible alteration in the proprietorship, the establish-
ment wore its old appearance.

" Humph ! " muttered Ralph, drawing his hand across his
mouth with a connoisseur-like air, and surveying the house
from top to bottom ; " these people look pretty well. They
can't last long ; but if I know of their going, in good time, I
am safe, and a fair profit too. I must keep them closely in
view ; that's all."

So, nodding his head very complacently, Ralph was
leaving the spot, when his quick ear caught the sound of a
confused noise and hubbub of voices, mingled with a great
running up and down stairs, in the very house which had been
the subject of his scrutiny ; and wffiie - he was hesitating
whether to knock at the door or listen at the key-hole a little
longer, a female servant of Madame Mantalini's (whom he
had often seen) opened it abruptly and bounced out, with her
blue cap-ribands streaming in the air.

" Hallo here. Stop ! " cried Ralph. " What's the matter ?
Here am I. Didn't you hear me knock ? "

" Oh ! Mr. Nickleby, sir," said the girl. " Go up, for the
love of Gracious. Master's been and done it again."

" Done what ? " said Ralph, tartly, " what d'ye mean ? "

" I knew he would if he was drove to it," cried the girl.
" I said so all along."

" Come here, you silly wench," said Ralph, catching her
by the wrist ; " and don't carry family matters to the neigh-
bors, destroying the credit of the establishment. Come here ;
do you hear me, girl ? "

Without any further expostulation, he led or rather pulled
the frightened handmaid into the house, and shut the door ;
then bidding her walk up stairs before him, followed without
more ceremony.

Guided by the noise of a great many voices all talking to-
gether, and passing the girl in his impatience, before they had
ascended many steps, Ralph quickly reached the private sitting
room, when he was rather amazed by the confused and inex-
plicable scene in which he suddenly found himself.

There were all the young-lady workers, some with bonnets



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NICHOLAS NICKLEBY. 573

and some without, in various attitudes expressive of alarm and
consternation ; some gathered round Madame Mantalini, who
was in tears upon one chair ; and others round Miss Knag,
t who was in opposition tears upon another ; and others round
Mr. Mantalini, who was perhaps the most striking figure in
the whole group, for Mr. Mantalini's legs were extended at
full length upon the floor, and his head and shoulders were
supported by a very tail footman, who didn't seem to know
what to do with them, and Mr. Mantalini's eyes were closed,
and his face was pale, and his hair was comparatively straight,
and his whiskers and moustache were limp, and his teeth were
clenched, and he had a little bottle in his right-hand, and a little
tea-spoon in his left, and his hands, anns, legs, and shoulders,
were all stiff and powerless. And yet Madame Mantalini was
not weeping upon the body, but was scolding violently upon
her chair ; and all this amidst a clamor of tongues, perfectly
deafening, and which really appeared to have driven the un-
fortunate footman to the utmost verge of distraction.

"What is the matter here?" said. Ralph, pressing for-
ward.

At this inquiry, the clamor was increased twenty-fold, and
. an astounding string of such shrill contradictions as " He's
poisoned himself"— "He hasn't"— "Send for a doctor"—
" Don't "— " He's dying "— " He isn't, he's only pretending "
— with various other cries, poured forth with bewildering
volubility, until Madame Mantalini was seen to address her-
self to Ralph, when female curiosity to know what she would
say, prevailed, and, as if by general consent, a dead silence,
unbroken by a single whisper, instantaneously succeeded.

" Mr. Nickleby," said Madame Mantalini ; " by what
chance you came here, I don't know."

Here a gurgling voice was heard to ejaculate, as part of
the wanderings of a sick man, the words " Demnition sweet-
ness 1 " But nobody heeded them except the footman, who,
being startled to hear- such awful tones proceeding, as it were,
from between his very fingers, dropped his master's head
upon the floor with a pretty loud crash, and then, without an
effort to lift it up, gazed upon the bystanders, as if he had
done something rather clever than otherwise.

" I will, however," continued Madame Mantalini, drying
her eyes, and speaking with great indignation, " say before
you, and everybody here, for the first time, and once for all,
that I never will supply that man's extravagances and vicious-



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574 NICHOLAS NICKLEB Y.

ness again. I have been a dupe and a fool to him long
enough. In future, he shall support himself if he can, and
then he may spend what money he pleases, upon whom and
how he pleases ; but it shall not be mine, and therefore you %
had better pause before you trust him further."

Thereupon Madame Mantalini, quite unmoved by some
most pathetic lamentations on the part of her husband, that
the apothecary had not mixed the prussic acid strong enough,
and that he must take another bottle or two to finish the work
he had in hand, entered into a catalogue of that amiable gen-
tleman's gallantries, deceptions, extravagances, and infidelities
(especially the last), winding up with a protest against being
supposed to entertain the smallest remnant of regard for him ;
and adducing, in proof of the altered state of her affections,
the circumstance of his having poisoned himself in private no
less than six times within the last fortnight, and her not hav-
ing once interfered by word or deed to save his life.

" And I insist on being separated and left to myself," said
Madame Mantalini, sobbing. " If he dares to refuse me a
separation, Til have one in law — I can — and I hope this will
be a warning to all girls who have seen this disgraceful ex-
hibition."

Miss Knag, who was unquestionably the oldest girl in
company, said with great solemnity, that it would be a warn-
ing to her, and so did the young ladies generally, with the ex-
ception of one or two who appeared to entertain doubts
whether such whiskers could do wrong.

" Why do you say all this before so many listeners ? " said
Ralph, in a low voice. " You know you are not in earnest."

" I am in earnest," replied Madame Mantalini, aloud, and
retreating toward Miss Knag.

" Well, but consider," reasoned Ralph, who had a great
interest in the matter. " It would be well to reflect. A mar-
ried woman has no property."

" Not a solitary single individual dem, my soul," said Mr.
Mantalini, raising himself upon his elbow.

" 1 am quite aware of that," retorted Madame Mantalini,
tossing her head, "and / have none. The business, the
stock, this house, and everything in it, all belong to Miss
Knag."

"That's quite true, Madame Mantalini," salH Miss Knag,
with whom her late employer had secretly come to an^ amica-
ble understanding on this point. " Very true, indeed, Mad-



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NICHOLAS NICKLEBY.



575



ame Mantalini — hem — very true. And I never was more glad
in all my life, that I had strength of mind to resist matrimo-
nial offers, no matter how advantageous, Jhan I am when I
think of my present position as compared with your most un-
fortunate and most undeserved one, Madame Mantalini."

44 Demmit ! " cried Mr. Mantalini, turning his head
towards his wife. " Will it not slap and pinch the envious
dowager, that dares to reflect upon its own delicious ? "

But the day of Mr. Mantalini's blandishments had de-
parted. " Miss Knag, sir," said his wife, " is my particular
friend ; " and although Mr. Mantalini leered till his eyes
seemed in danger of never coming back to their right places
again, Madame Mantalini showed no signs of softening.

To do the excellent Miss Knag justice, she had been
mainly instrumental in bringing about this altered state of
things, for, finding by daily experience, that there was no
chance of the business thriving, or even continuing to exist,
while Mr. Mantalini had any hand in the expenditure, and
having now a considerable interest in its well-doing, she had
sedulously applied herself to the Investigation of some little
matters connected with that gentleman's private character,
which she had so well elucidated, and artfully imparted to
Madame Mantalini, as to open her eyes more effectually than
the closest and most philosophical reasoning could have done
in $. series of years. To which end, the accidental discovery
by Miss Knag of some tender correspondence, in which Mad-
ame Mantalini was described as " old " and " ordinary," had
most providentially contributed.

However, notwithstanding her firmness, Madame Man-
talini wept very piteously ; and as she leant upon Miss Knag,
and signed towards the door, that young lady and all the other
young ladies with sympathizing faces, proceeded to bear her
out.

" Nickleby," said Mr. Mantalini in tears, " you have been
made a witness to this demnition cruelty, on the part of the
demdest enslaver and captivater that never was, oh dem ! I
forgive that woman."

" Forgive ! " repeated Madame Mantalini, angrily.

" I do forgive her, Nickleby," said Mr. Mantalini. " You
will blame me, the world will blame me, the women will
blame me ; everybody will laugh, and scoff, and smile, and
grin most demnebly. They will say, *She had a blessing.
She did not know it. He was too weak ; he was too good ; he



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S7 6 NICHOLAS NICKLEB K

was a dem'd fine fellow, but he loved too strong ; he could
not bear her to be cross, and call him wicked names. It was
a dem'd case, there never was a demder. , But I forgive her."

With this affecting speech Mr. Mantalini fell down again
very flat, and lay to all appearance without sense or motion,
until all the females had left the room, when he came cau-
tiously into a sitting posture, and confronted Ralph with a
very blank face, and the little bottle still in one hand and the
tea-spoon in the other.

" You may put away those fooleries now, and live by your
wits again," said Ralph, coolly putting on his hat.

" Demmit, Nickleby, you're not serious ? "

" I seldom joke," said Ralph. "Good-night"

" No, but Nickleby," said Mantalini.

"I am wrong, perhaps," rejoined Ralph. " I hope so.
You should know best. Good-night."

Affecting not to hear his entreaties that he would stay and
advise with him, Ralph left the crest-fallen Mr. Mantalini to
his meditations, and left the house quietly.

"Oho!" he said. "Sets the wind that way so soon?
Half knave and half fool, and detected in both characters ?
I think your day is over, sir."

As he said this, he made some memorandum in his pocket-
book in which Mr. Mantalini's name figured conspicuously,
and finding by his watch that it was between nine and Jen
o'clock, made all speed home.

" Are they here ? " was the first question he asked of
Newman.

Newman nodded. " Been here half-an-hour."

" Two of them ? One a fat sleek man ? "

" Ay," said Newman. " In your room now."

" Good," rejoined Ralph. " Get me a coach."

"A coach! What you — going to — Eh?" stammered
Newman.

Ralph angrily repeated his orders, and Noggs, who might
well have been excused for wondering at such an unusual and
extraordinary circumstance (for he had never seen Ralph in a
coach in his life), departed on his errand, and presently re-
turned with the conveyance.

Into it went Mr. Squeers, and Ralph, and the third
man, whom Newman Noggs had never seen. Newman stood
upon the door-step to see them off, not troubling himself to
wonder where or upon what business they were going, until



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NICHOLAS NICKLEBY.



577



he chanced by mere accident to hear Ralph name the address
whither the coachman was to drive.

Quick as lightning and in a state of the most extreme
wonder, Newman darted into his little office for his hat, and
limped after the coach as if with the intention of getting up
behind ; but in this design he was balked, for it had too much
the start of him and was soon hopelessly ahead, leaving him
gaping in the empty street.

" I don't know though," said Noggs, stopping for breath,
" any good that I could have done by going too. He would
have seen me if I had. Drive there! What can come of
this ! If I had only known it yesterday I could have told —
drive there ! There's mischief in it. There must be."

His reflections were interrupted by a gray-haired man of
a very remarkable, though far from prepossessing appearance,
who, coming stealthily toward him, solicited relief.

Newman, still cogitating deeply, turned away ; but the
man followed him, and pressed him with such a tale of misery
that Newman (who might have been considered a hopeless
person to beg from, and who had little enough to give) looked
into his hat for some halfpence which he usually kept screwed
up, when he had any, in a corner of his pocket handkerchief.

While he was busily untwisting the knot with his teeth,
the man said something which attracted his attention ; what-
ever that something was, it led to something else ; in the end
he and Newman walked away side by side — the strange man
talking earnestly, and Newman listening.



CHAPTER XLV.

CONTAINING MATTER OF A SURPRISING KIND.

" As we gang awa' fra' Lunnun to-morrow neeght, and as
I dinnot know that I was e'er so happy in a' my days, Misther
Nickleby, Ding ! but I will tak' anoother glass to our next
merry meeting ! "

So said John Browdie, rubbing his hands with great joy-
ousness, and looking round him with a ruddy shining face,
quite in keeping with the declaration.

37



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jy8 NICHOLAS NICKLEBY.

The time at which John found himself in this enviable
condition, was the same evening to which the last chapter
bore reference ; the place was the cottage ; and the assembled
company were Nicholas, Mrs. Nickleby, Mrs. Browdie, Kate
Nickleby, and Smike.

A very merry party they had been. Mrs. Nickleby, know-
ing of her son's obligations to the honest Yorkshireman, had,
after some dinner, yielded her consent to Mr. and Mrs.
Browdie being invited out to tea ; in the way of which ar-
rangement, there were at first sundry difficulties and obstacles,
arising out of her not having had an opportunity of "calling"
upon Mrs. Browdie first ; for although Mrs. Nickleby very
often observed with much complacency (as most punctilious
people do), that she had not an atom of pride or formality
about her, still she was a great stickler for dignity and cere-
monies ; and as it was manifest that, until a call had been made,
she could not be (politely speaking, and according to the
laws of society) even cognizant of the fact of Mrs. Browdie's
existence, she felt her situation to be one of peculiar delicacy
and difficulty.

" The call must originate with me, my dear," said Mrs.
Nickleby, " that's indispensable. The fact is, my dear, that
it's necessary there should be a sort of condescension on my
part, and that I should show this young person that I am
willing to take notice of her. There's a very respectable-
looking young man," added Mrs. Nickleby, after a short
consideration, "who is conductor to one of the omnibuses
that go by here, and who wears a glazed hat — your sister and
I have noticed him very often — he has a wart upon his nose,
Kate, you know, exactly like a gentleman's servant."

" Have all gentlemen's servants warts upon their noses,
mother ? " asked Nicholas.

" Nicholas, my dear, how very absurd you are," returned
his mother ; " of course I mean that his glazed hat looks like
a gentleman's servant, and not the wart upon his nose;
though even that is not so ridiculous as it may seem to you,
for we had a footboy once, who had not only a wart, but a
wen also, and a very large wen too, and he demanded to
have his wages raised in consequence, because he found it
came very expensive. Let me see, what was I — oh yes, I
know. The best way that I can think of, would be to send a
card, and my compliments (I've no doubt he'd take 'em for
a pot of porter,) by this young man, to the Saracen with Two



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NICHOLAS NICKLEB V. 579

Necks. If the waiter took him for a gentleman's servant, so
much the better. Then all Mrs. Browdie would have to do,
would be to send her card back by the earner (he could
easily come with a double knock), and there's an end of it."

" My dear mother," said Nicholas, " I don't suppose such
unsophisticated people as these ever had a card of their own,
or ever will have."

"Oh that, indeed, Nicholas, my dear," returned Mrs.
Nickleby, "that's another thing. If you put it upon that
ground, why of course, I have ho more to say, than that I
have no doubt they are very good sort of persons, and that I
have no kind of objection to their coming here to tea if they
like, and shall make a point of being very civil to them if they
da."

The point being thus effectually set at rest, and Mrs.
Nickleby duly placed in the patronizing and mildly-condescend-
ing position which became her rank and matrimonial years,
Mr. and Mrs. Browdie were invited and came ; and as they
were very deferential to Mrs. Nickleby, and seemed to have a
becoming appreciation of her greatness, and were very much
pleased with everything, the good lady had more than once
given Kate to understand, in a whisper, that she thought they
were the very best-meaning people she had ever seen, and
perfectly well behaved.

And thus it came to pass, that John Browdie declared, in
the parlor after supper, to wit, at twenty minutes before eleven
o'clock, p. m., that he had never been so happy in all his
days.

Nor was Mrs. Browdie much behind her husband in this
respect, for that young matron, whose rustic beauty contrasted
very prettily with the more delicate loveliness of Kate, and
without suffering by the contrast either, for each served as it
were to set off and decorate the other, could not sufficiently
admire the gentle and winning manners of the young lady, or
the engaging affability of the elder. Then Kate had the art
of turning the conversation to subjects upon which the country
girl, bashful at first in strange company, could feel herself at
home ; and if Mrs. Nickleby was not quite so felicitous at
times in the selection of topics of discourse, or if she did seem,
as Mrs. Browdie expressed it, " rather high in her notions,"
still nothing could be kinder, and that she took considerable
interest in the young couple was manifest from the very long
lectures on housewifery with which she was so obliging as to



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580 NICHOLAS NICKLEBY.

entertain Mrs. Browdie's private ear, which were illustrated
by various references to the domestic economy of the cottage,
in which (those duties falling exclusively upon Kate) the good
lady had about as much share, either in theory or practice, as
any one of the statues of the Twelve Apostles which embellish
the exterior of St. Paul's Cathedral.

" Mr. Browdie," said Kate, addressing his young wife, " is
the best-humored, the kindest and heartiest creature I ever
saw. If I were oppressed with I don't know how many cares,
it would make me happy only to look at him."

" He does seem indeed, upon my word, a most excellent
creature, Kate," said Mrs. Nickleby ; "most excellent And
I am sure that at all times it will give me pleasure — really
pleasure now — to have you, Mrs. Browdie, to see me in this
plain and homely manner. We make no display," said Mrs.
Nickleby, with an air which seemed to insinuate that they
could make a vast deal if they were so disposed ; " no fuss,
no preparation ; I wouldn't allow it. I said * Kate, my dear,
you will only make Mrs. Browdie feel uncomfortable, and how
very foolish and inconsiderate that would be ! "

" I am very much obliged to you, I am sure, ma'am," re-
turned Mrs. Browdie, gratefully. " It's nearly eleven o'clock,
John. I am afraid we are keeping you up very late, ma'am."

" Late ! " cried Mrs. Nickleby, with a sharp thin laugh,
and one little cough at the end, like a note of admiration ex-
pressed. "This is quite early for us. We used to keep such
hours ! Twelve, one, two, three o'clock was nothing to us.
Balls, dinners, card-parties ! Never were such rakes as the
people about where we used to live. I often think now, I am
sure, that how we ever could go through with it is quite as-
tonishing, and that is just the evil of having a large connec-
tion and being a great deal sought after, which I would recom-
mend all young married people steadily to resist ; though of
course, and it's perfectly clear, and a very happy thing too, /
think, that very few young married people can be exposed to
such temptations. There was one family in particular, that
used to live about a mile from us — not straight down the road,
but turning sharp off to the left by the turnpike where the
Plymouth mail ran over the donkey — that were quite extraordi-
nary people for giving the most extravagant parties, with arti-
ficial flowers and champagne, and variegated lamps, and, in
short, every delicacy of eating and drinking that the most singu-
lar epicure could possibly require. I don't think there ever



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NICHOLAS NICKLEB K. jg r

were such people as those Peltiroguses. You remember the
Peltiroguses, Kate ? "

Kate saw that for the ease and comfort of the visitors it
was high time to stay this flood of recollection, so answered
that she entertained of the Peltiroguses a most vivid and dis-
tinct remembrance ; and then said that Mr. Browdie had half
promised, early in the evening, that he would sing a York-
shire song, and that she was most impatient that he should
redeem his promise, because she was sure it would afford her
mama more amusement and pleasure than it was possible to



Online LibraryCharles DickensThe life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby → online text (page 55 of 79)