Charles Dickens.

The life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby online

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Mrs. Nickleby confirming her daughter with the best possi-
ble grace — for there was patronage in that too, and a kind of
implication that she had a discerning taste in such matters, and
was something of a critic — John Browdie proceeded to con-
sider the words of some north-country ditty, and to take his
wife's recollection respecting the same. This done, he made
divers ungainly movements in his chair, and singling out one
particular fly on the ceiling from the other flies there asleep,
fixed his eyes on him, and began to roar a meek sentiment
(supposed to be uttered by a gentle swain fast pining away
with love and despair) in a voice of thunder.

At the end of the first verse, as though some person with-
out had waited until then to make himself audible, was heard
a loud and violent knocking at the street-door ; so loud and
so violent, indeed, that the ladies started as by one accord,
and John Browdie stopped.

" It must be some mistake," said Nicholas, carelessly.
" We know nobody who would come here at this hour."

Mrs. Nickleby surmised, however, that perhaps the count-
ing-house was burnt down, or perhaps ' Mr. Cheerybles ' had
sent to take Nicholas into partnership (which certainly ap-
peared highly probable at that time of night), or perhaps Mr.
Linkinwater had run away with the property, or perhaps Miss
La Creevy was taken ill, or perhaps

But a hasty exclamation from Kate stopped her abruptly
in her conjectures, and Ralph Nickleby walked into the room.

" Stay," said Ralph, as Nicholas rose, and Kate, making
her way towards him, threw herself upon his arm. " Before
that boy says a word, hear me."

Nicholas bit his lip and shook his head in a threatening
manner, but appeared for the moment unable to articulate a
syllable. Kate clung closer to his arm, Smike retreated be-

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hind them, and John Browdie, who had heard of Ralph, and ap-
peared to have no great difficulty in recognizing him, stepped
between the old man and his young friend, as if with the inten-
tion of preventing either of them from advancing a step further.

" Hear me, I say," said Ralph, " and not him."

" Say what thou'st gotten to say then, sir," retorted John ;
" and tak' care thou dinnot put up angry bluid which thou'dst
betther try to quiet"

" I should know you" said Ralph, " by your tongue ; and
him " (pointing to Smike) " by his looks."

" Don't speak to him," said Nicholas, recovering his voice.
" I will not have it. I will not hear him. I do not know that
man. I cannot breathe the air that he corrupts. His pres-
ence is an insult to my sister. It is shame to see him. I will
not bear it"

" Stand ! " cried John, laying his heavy hand upon his

" Then let him instantly retire," said Nicholas, struggling.
" I am not going to lay hands upon him, but he shall with-
draw. I will not have him here. John, John Browdie, is this
my house, am I a child ? If he stands there," cried Nicholas,
burning with fury, " looking so calmly upon those who know
his black and dastardly heart, he'll drive me mad."

To all these exclamations John Browdie* answered not a
word, but he retained his hold upon Nicholas ; and when he
was silent again, spoke.

** There's more to say and hear than thou think'st for,"
said John. " I tell'ee I ha' gotten scent o' thot already.
Wa'at be that shadow ootside door there? Noo school-
measther, show thyself, mun ; dinnot be sheame-feaced. Noo,
auld gen '1 'man, let's have schoolmeasther, coom."

Hearing this adjuration, Mr. Squeers, who had been lin-
gering in the passage until such time as it should be expedient
for him to enter and he could appear with effect, was fain to
present himself in a somewhat undignified and sneaking way;
at which John Browdie laughed with such keen and heartfelt
delight, that even Kate, in all the pain, anxiety and surprise
of the scene, and though the tears were in her eyes, felt a dis-
position to join him.

" Have you done enjoying yourself, sir ? " said Ralph at

" Pratty nigh for the prasant time, sir," replied John.

" I can wait," said Ralph. " Take your own time, pray."


Ralph waited until there was a perfect silence, and then
turning to Mrs. Nickleby, but directing an eager glance at
Kate, as if more anxious to watch his effect upon her, said :

" Now, ma'am, listen to me. I don't' imagine that you
were a party to a very fine tirade of words sent me by that
boy of yours, because I don't believe that under his control,
you have the slightest will of your own, or that your advice,
your opinion, your wants, your wishes, anything which in
nature and reason (or of what use is your great experience ?)
ought to weigh with him, has the slightest influence or weight
whatever, or is taken for a moment into account."

Mrs. Nickleby shook her head and sighed, as if there were
a good deal in that, certainly.

" For this reason," resumed Ralph, " I address myself to
you, ma'am. For this reason, partly, and partly because I do
not wish to be disgraced by the acts of a vicious stripling
whom / was obliged to disown, and who, afterwards, in his
boyish majesty feigns to— ha ! ha ! — to disown me, I present
myself here to night. I have another motive in coming : a
motive of humanity. I come here," said Ralph, looking
round with a biting and triumphant smile, and gloating and
dwelling upon the words as if he were loath to lose the pleas-
ure of saying them, "to restore a parent his child. Ay, sir,"
he continued, bending eagerly forward, and addressing Nicho-
las, as he marked the change of his countenance, " to restore
a parent his child ; his son, sir ; trepanned, waylaid, and
guarded at every turn by you, with the base design of robbing
him some day of any little wretched pittance of which he
might become possessed."

" In that, you know you lie," said Nicholas, proudly.

" In this, I know I speak the truth. I have his father
here," retorted Ralph.

" Here ! " sneered Squeers, stepping forward. " Do you
hear that? Here! Didn't I tell you to be careful that his
father didn't turn up, and send him back to me ? Why, his
fathers my friend ; he's to come back to me directly, he is.
Now, what do you say — eh ! — now — come — what do you say
to that — an't you sorry you took so much trouble for nothing ?
an't you ? an't you ? "

" You bear upon your body certain marks I gave you,"
said Nicholas, looking quietly away, " and may talk in ac-
knowledgment of them as much as you please. You'll talk a
long time before you rub them out, Mr. Squeers."

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The estimable gentleman last named, cast a hasty look at
the table, as if he were prompted by this retort to throw a jug
or bottle at the head of Nicholas ; but he was interrupted in
this design (if such design he had) by Ralph, who, touching
him on the elbow, bade him tell the father that he might now
appear and claim his son.

This being purely a labor of love, Mr. Squeers readily
complied, and leaving the room for the purpose, almost im-
mediately returned, supporting a sleek personage with an oily
face, who, bursting from him, and giving to view the form and
face of Mr. Snawley, made straight up to Smike, and tucking
that poor fellow's head under his arm in a most uncouth and
awkward embrace, elevated his broad-brimmed hat at arm's
length in the air as a token of devout thanksgiving, exclaim-
ing, meanwhile : " How little did I think of this here joyful
meeting, when I saw him last ! Oh, how little did I think it ! "

" Be composed, sir," said Ralph, with a gruff expression
of sympathy ; " you have got him now."

** Got him ! Oh, haven't I got him ! Have I got him,
though ? " cried Mr. Snawley, scarcely able to believe it
" Yes, here he is, flesh and blood, flesh and blood."

" Vary little flesh," said John Browdie.

Mr. Snawley was too much occupied by his parental feel-
ings to notice this remark ; and, to assure himself more com-
pletely of the restoration of his child, tucked his head under
his arm again, and kept it there.

" What was it," said Snawley, " that made me take such a
strong interest in him, when that worthy instructor of youth
brought him to my house ? What was it that made me burn
all over with a wish to chastise him severely for cutting away
from his best friends, his pastors and masters ? "

" It was parental instinct, sir," observed Squeers.

" That's what it was, sir," rejoined Snawley ; " the elevated
feeling, the feeling of the ancient Romans and Grecians, and
of the beasts of the field and birds of the air, with the excep-
tion of rabbits and tom-cats, which sometimes devour their
offspring. My heart yearned towards him. I could have—
I don't know what I couldn't have done to him in the anger
of a father."

" It only shows what Natur is, sir," said Mr. Squeers.
" She's a rum 'un, is Natur."

" She is a holy thing, sir," remarked Snawley.

" I believe you/' added Mr. Squeers, with a moral sigh.

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" I should like to know how we should ever get on without
her. Natur," said Mr. Squeers, solemnly, " is more easier
conceived than described. Oh what a blessed thing, sir, to
be in a state of natur ! "

Pending this philosophical discourse, the bystanders had
been quite stupefied with amazement, while Nicholas had
looked keenly from Snawley to Squeers, and from Squeers to
Ralph, divided between his feelings of disgust, doubt, and sur-
prise. At this juncture, Smike escaping from his father fled
to Nicholas, and implored him, in most moving terms, never
to give him up, but to let him live and die beside him.

" If you are this boy's father," said Nicholas, " look at the
wreck he is, and tell me that you purpose to send him back to
that loathsome den from which I brought him."

" Scandal again ! " cried Squeers. '* Recollect I You an't
worth powder and shot, but I'll be even with you one way or

44 Stop," said Ralph, as Snawley was about to speak. " Let
us cut this matter short, and not bandy words here with hair-
brained profligates. This is your son, as you can prove. And
you, Mr. Squeers, you know this boy to be the same that was
with you for so many years under the name of Smike. Do you ? "

44 Do I ! " returned Squeers. 4< Don't I ?"

44 Good," said Ralph ; " a very few words will be sufficient
here. You had a son by your first wife, Mr. Snawley ?"

44 1 had," replied that person, 44 and there he stands."

44 We'll show that presently," said Ralph. " You and your
wife were separated, and she had the boy to live with her,
when he was a year old. You received a communication from
her, when you had lived apart a year or two, that the boy was
dead ; and you believed it ? "

44 Of course I did ! " said Snawley. 44 Oh the joy of n

44 Be rational, sir, pray," said Ralph. "This is business,
and transports interfere with it. This wife died a year and a
half ago, or thereabout — not more — in some obscure place,
where sjie was housekeeper in a family. Is that the case ? "

44 That's the case," replied Snawley.

44 Having written on her death-bed a letter or confession to
you, about this very boy, which, as it was not directed other-
wise than in your name, only reached you, and that by a cir-
cuitous course, a few days since ? "

44 Just so," said Snawley. 44 Correct in every particular,

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"And this confession," resumed Ralph, " is to the effect
that his death was an invention of hers to wound you — was a
part of a system of annoyance, in short, which you seem to
have adopted towards each other — that the boy lived, but was
of weak imperfect intellect — that she sent him by a trusty
hand to a cheap school in Yorkshire — that she had paid for
his education for some years, and then, being poor, and going
a long way off, gradually deserted him, for which she prayed
forgiveness ? "

Snawley nodded his head, and wiped his eyes ; the first,
slightly ; the last, violently.

44 The school was Mr. Squeers's," continued Ralph ; "the
boy was left there in the name of Smike ; every description
was fully given, dates tally exactly with Mr. Squeers's books,
Mr. Squeers is lodging with you at this time ; you have two
other boys at his school : you communicated the whole dis-
covery to him, he brought you to me as the person who had
recommended to him the kidnapper of his child ; and I
brought you here. Is that so ? "

" You talk like a good book, sir, that's got nothing in its
inside but what's the truth," replied Snawley.

" This is your pocket-book," said Ralph, producing one
from his coat ; " the certificates of your first marriage and of
the boy's birth, and your wife's two letters, and every other
paper that can support these statements directly or by impli-
cation, are here, are they ? "

"Every one of 'em, sir."

" And you don't object to their being looked at here, so
that these people may be convinced of your power to substan-
tiate your claim at once in law and reason, and you may re-
sume your control over your own son without more delay. Do
I understand you ? "

" I couldn't have understood myself better, sir."

" There then," said Ralph, tossing the pocket book upon
the table. " Let them see them if they like ; and as those are
the original papers, I should recommend you to stand near
while they are being examined, or you may chance to lose

With these words Ralph sat down unbidden, and com-
pressing his lips, which were for the moment slightly parted
by a smile, folded his arms, and looked for the first time at
his nephew.

Nicholas, stung by the concluding taunt, darted an indig-

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nant glance at him ; but commanding himself as well as he
could, entered upon a close examination of the documents, at
which John Browdie assisted. There was nothing about them
which could be called in question. The certificates were reg-
ularly signed as extracts from the parish books, the first letter
had a genuine appearance of having been written and pre-
served for some years, the handwriting of the second tallied
with it exactly (making proper allowance for its having been
written by a person in extremity,) and there were several other
corroboratory scraps of entries and memoranda which it was
equally difficult to question.

" Dear Nicholas," whispered Kate, who had been looking
anxiously over his shoulder, " can this be really the case ? Is
this statement true ? "

" I fear it is," answered Nicholas. " What say you,

John scratched his head and shook it, but said nothing at

" You will observe, ma'am," said Ralph, addressing himself
to Mrs. Nickleby, " that this boy being a minor and not of
strong mind, we might have come here to-night, armed with
the powers of the law, and backed by a troop of its myrmidons.
I should have done so, ma'am, unquestionably, but for my
regard for the feelings of yourself, and your daughter."

" You have shown your regard for her feelings well," said
Nicholas, drawing his sister towards him.

"Thank you," replied Ralph. "Your praise, sir, is com-
mendation, indeed."

"Well," said Squeers, "what's to be done? Them hack-
ney-coach horses will catch cold if we don't think of moving ;
there's one of 'em a sneezing now, so that he blows the street
door right open. What's the order of the day? Is Master
Snawley to come along with us ? "

" No, no, no," replied Smike, drawing back, and clinging
to Nicholas. " No. Pray, no. I will not go from you with
him. No, no."

"This is a cruel thing," said Snawley, looking to his
friends for support. "Do parents bring children into the
world for this ? "

" Do parents bring children into the world for thot ? " said
John Browdie, bluntly, pointing, as he spoke, to Squeers.

" Never you mind," retorted that gentleman, tapping his
nose derisively.

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"Never I mind?." said John. "No, nor never nobody
mind, say'st thou, schoolmeasther. " It's nobody's minding
that keeps sike men as thou afloat. Noo then, where be'st
thou coomin' to ? Dang it, dinnot coom treadin' ower me,

Suiting the action to the word, John Browdie just jerked his
elbow into the chest of Mr. Squeers, who was advancing upon
Smike, with so much dexterity that the schoolmaster reeled
and staggered back upon Ralph Nickleby, and, being unable
to recover his balance, knocked that gentleman off his chair,
and stumbled heavily upon him.

This accidental circumstance was the signal for some very
decisive proceedings. In the midst of a great noise, occa-
sioned by the prayers and entreaties of Smike, the cries and
exclamations of the women, and the vehemence of the men,
demonstrations were made of carrying off the lost son by.
violence. Squeers had actually begun to haul him out, when
Nicholas (who, until then, had been evidently undecided how
to act) took him by the collar, and shaking him so that such
teeth as he had, chattered in his head, politely escorted him
to the room door, and thrusting him into the passage, shut it
upon him.

" Now," said Nicholas, to the other two, "have the kind-
ness to follow your friend."

" I want my son," said Snawley.

" Your son," replied Nicholas, " chooses for himself. He
chooses to remain here, and he shall."

" You won't give him up? " said Snawley.

" I would not give him up against his will, to be the vic-
tim of such brutality as that to which you would consign him,"
replied Nicholas, " if he were a dog or a rat."

" Knock that Nickleby down with a candlestick," cried Mr.
Squeers, through the keyhole, " and bring out my hat, some-
body, will you, unless he wants to steal it."

" I am very sorry, indeed," said Mrs. Nickleby, who, with
Mrs. Browdie, had stood crying and biting her fingers in a
corner, while Kate (very pale, but perfectly quiet) had kept
as near to her brother as she could. " I am very sorry, indeed,
for all this. I really don't know what would be best to do,
and that's the truth. Nicholas ought to be the best judge,
and I hope he is. Of course, it's a hard thing to have to
keep other people's children, though young Mr. Snawley is
certainly as useful and willing as it's possible for anybody to

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be ; but, if it could be settled in any friendly manner — if old
Mr. Snawley v for instance, would settle to pay something
certain for his board and lodging, and some fair arrangement
was come to, so that we undertook to have fish twice a-week,
and a pudding twice, or a dumpling, or something of that
sort — I do think that it might be very satisfactory and pleasant
for all parties."

This compromise, which was proposed with abundance of
tears and sighs, not exactly meeting the point at issue, nobody
took any notice of it ; poor Mrs. Nickleby accordingly pro-
ceeded to enlighten Mrs. Browdie upon the advantages of
such a scheme, and the unhappy results flowing, on all oc-
casions, from her not being attended to when she proffered
her advice.

" You, sir," said Snawley, addressing the terrified Smike,
" are an unnatural, ungrateful, unlovable boy. You won't let
me love you when Iwant to. Won't you come home, won't
you ? "

" No, no, no," cried Smike, shrinking back.

"He never loved nobody," bawled Squeers, through the.
keyhole. " He never loved me ; he never loved Wackford,
who is next door but one to a cherubim. How can you
expect that he'll love his father ? He'll never love his father,
he won't. He don't know what it is to have a father. He
don't understand it. It ain't in him."

Mr. Snawley looked steadfastly at his son for a full minute,
and then covering his eyes with his hand, and once more
raising his hat in the air, appeared deeply occupied in deplor-
ing his black ingratitude. Then drawing his arm across his
eyes, he picked up Mr. Squeers's hat, and taking it under
one arm, and his own under the other, walked slowly and
sadly out.

"Your romance, sir," said Ralph, lingering for a moment,
"is destroyed, I take it. No unknown; no persecuted de-
scendant of a man of high degree ; the weak imbecile son of
a poor petty tradesman. We shall see how your sympathy
melts before plain matter of fact."

" You shall," said Nicholas, motioning towards the door.

" And trust me, sir," added Ralph, " that I never supposed
you would give him up to-night. Pride, obstinacy, reputation
for fine feeling, were all against it. These must be brought
down, sir, lowered, crushed, as they shall be soon. The
protracted and wearing anxiety and expense of the law in its

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most oppressive form, its torture from hour to hour, its weary
days and sleepless nights, with these I'll prove you, and
break your haughty spirit, strong as you deem it now. And
when you make this house a hell, and visit these trials upon
yonder wretched object (as you will, I know you), and those
who think you now a young-fledged hero, we'll go into old
accounts between us two, and see who stands the debtor, and
comes out best at last, even before the world."

Ralph Nickleby withdrew. But Mr. Squeers, who had
heard a portion of this closing address, and was by this time
wound up to a pitch of impotent malignity almost unprece-
dented, could not refrain from returning to the parlor-door,
and actually cutting some dozen capers with various wry faces
and hideous grimaces, expressive of his triumphant confidence
in the downfall and defeat of Nicholas.

Having concluded this war dance, in which his short
trousers and large boots had borne a very conspicuous figure,
Mr. Squeers followed his friends, and the family were left to
meditate upon recent occurrences



After an anxious consideration of the painful and em-
barrassing position in which he was placed, Nicholas decided
that he ought to lose no time in frankly stating it to the kind
brothers. Availing himself of the first opportunity of being
alone with Mr. Charles Cheeryble at the close of next day,
he accordingly related Smike's little history, and modestly
but firmly expressed his hope that the good old gentleman
would, under such circumstances as he described, hold him
justified in adopting the extreme course of interfering between
parent and child, and upholding the latter in his disobedi-
ence ; even though his horror and dread of his father might
seem, and would doubtless be represented as, a thing so re-
pulsive and unnatural, as to render those who countenanced
him in it, fit objects of general detestation, and abhorrence.

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" So deeply-rooted does this horror of the man appear to
be," said Nicholas, " that I can hardly believe he really is his
son. Nature does not seem to have implanted in his breast
one lingering feeling of affection for him, and surely she can
never err."

" My dear sir," replied brother Charles, " you fall into the
very common mistake, of charging' upon Nature, matters with
which she has not the smallest connection, and for which she
is in no way responsible. Men talk of nature as an abstract
thing, and lose sight of what is natural while they do so.
Here is a poor lad who has never felt a parent's care, who
has scarcely known anything all his life but suffering and sor-
row, presented to a man who he is told is his father, and
whose first act is to signify his intention of putting an end to
his short term of happiness,of consigning him to his old fate,
and taking him from the only friend he has ever had — which
is yourself. If Nature, in such a case, put into that lad's
breast but one secret prompting which urged him towards his
father and away from you, she would be a liar and an idiot."

Nicholas was delighted to find that the old gentleman
spoke so warmly, and in the hope that he might say something
more to the same purpose, made no reply.

" The same mistake presents itself to me, in one shape or
other, at every turn," said brother Charles. " Parents who
never showed their love, complain of want of natural affection
in their children ; children who never showed their duty, com-
plain of want of natural feeling in their parents ; law-makers
who find both so miserable that their affections have never
had enough of life's sun to develop them, are loud in their
moralizings over parents and children too, and cry that the
very ties of nature are disregarded. Natural affections and

Online LibraryCharles DickensThe life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby → online text (page 56 of 79)