Charles Dickens.

The life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby online

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advancing to the little table, he laid upon it a bank note,
folded in an envelope and sealed.

" See that the money is right, Madeline," said the father.
" Open the paper my dear."

" It's quite right, papa, I'm sure."

" Here ! " said Mr. Bray, putting out his hand, and opening
and shutting his bony fingers with irritable impatience. " Let
me see. What are you talking about, Madeline ? You're sure ?
How can you be sure of any such thing ? Five pounds — well,
is that right ? "

" Quite," said Madeline, bending over him. She was so
busily employed in arranging the pillows that Nicholas could
not see her face, but as she stooped he thought he saw a tear

" Ring the bell, ring the bell," said the sick man, with the

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same nervous eagerness, and motioning towards it with such
a quivering hand that the bank note rustled in the air.
" Tell her to get it changed, to get a newspaper, to buy me
some grapes, another bottle of the wine that I had last week —
and — and — I forget half I want just now, but she can go out
again. Let her get those first, those first. Now, Madeline,
my love, quick, quick ! Good God, how slow you are ! "

" He remembers nothing that s?u wants 1 " thought Nich-
olas. Perhaps something of what he thought was expressed
in his countenance, for the sick man turning towards him
with great asperity, demanded to know if he waited for a re-
ceipt ?

" It is no matter at all," said Nicholas.

" No matter ! What do you mean, sir ? " was the tart re-
joinder. " No matter ! Do you think you bring your paltry
money here as a favor or a gift ; or as a matter of business, and
in return for value received ? D — n you, sir, because you can't
appreciate the time and taste which are bestowed upon the
-goods you deal in, do you think you give your money away ?
Do you know that you are talking to a gentleman, sir, who at
one time could have bought up fifty such men as you and all
you have ? What do you mean ? "

" I merely mean that, as I shall have many dealings with
this lady, if she will kindly allow me, I will not trouble her
with such forms," said Nicholas.

"Then /mean, if you please, that we'll have as many
forms as we can," returned the father. "My daughter, sir,
requires no kindness from you or anybody else. Have the
goodness to confine your dealings strictly to trade and business,
and not to travel beyond it. Every petty tradesman is to be-
gin to pity her now, is he ? Upon my soul ! Very pretty,
Madeline, my dear, give him a receipt ; and mind vou always
do so."

While she was feigning to write it, and Nicholas was rumi-
nating upon the extraordinary but by no means uncommon
character thus presented to his observation, the invalid, who
appeared at times to suffer great bodily pain, sank back in his
chair and moaned out a feeble complaint that the girl had
been gone an hour, and that everybody conspired to goad him.

"When," said Nicholas, as he took the piece of paper,
" when shall I call again ? "

This was addressed to the daughter, but the father an-
swered immediately.

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u NO matter! do you bring your paltry money here as a favor
OR A GIFT ? "—Page 602.

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"When you're requested to call, sir, and not before.
Don't worry and persecute. Madeline, my dear, when is this
person to call again ? "

" Oh, not for a long time, not for three or four weeks ; it is
not necessary, indeed ; I can do without," said the young lady,
with great eagerness.

" Why, how are we to do without ? " urged her father not
speaking above his breath. " Three or four weeks, Madeline !
Three or four weeks ! "

" Then sooner, sooner, if you please," said the young lady,
turning to Nicholas.

" Three or four weeks ! " muttered the father. " Madeline,
what on earth— do nothing for three or four weeks ! "

" It is a long time, ma'am," said Nicholas.

" You think so, do you ? "retorted the father, angrily. " If
I chose to beg, sir, and stoop to ask assistance from people I
despise, three or four months would not be a long time ; three
or four years would not be a long time. Understand sir, that
is if I chose to be dependent ; but as I don't, you may call in
a week."

Nicholas bowed low to the young lady and retired, pon-
dering upon Mr. Bray's ideas of independence, and devoutly
hoping that there might be few such independent spirits as he
mingling with the baser clay of humanity.

He heard a light footstep above him as he descended the
stairs. Looking round, he saw that the young lady was stand-
ing there, and, glancing timidly towards him, seemed to hesi-
tate whether she should call him back or no. The best way
of settling the question was to turn back at once, which Nich-
olas did.

" I don't know whether I do right in asking you, sir," said
Madeline, hurriedly, " but pray, pray, do not mention to my
poor mother's dear friends what has passed here to-day. He
has suffered much, and is worse this morning. I beg you, sir,
as a boon, a favor to myself."

"You have but to hint a wish," returned Nicholas, fer-
vently, " and I would hazard my life to gratify it."

" You speak hastily, sir."

"Truly and sincerely," rejoined Nicholas, his lips trem-
bling as he formed the words, " if ever man spoke truly yet
I am not skilled in disguising my feelings, and, if I were, I
could not hide my heart from you. Dear madam, as I know
your history, and feel as men and angels must who hear and

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see such things, I do entreat you to believe that I would die
to serve you."

The young lady turned away her head, and was plainly

" Forgive me," said Nicholas, with respectful earnestness,
" if I seem to say too much or to presume upon the confidence
which has been entrusted to me. But I could not leave you as
if my interest and sympathy expired with the commission of the
day. I am your faithful servant, humbly devoted to you from
this hour, devoted in strict truth and honor to him who sent
me here, and in pure integrity of heart, and distant respect
for you. If I meant more or less than this, I should be un-
worthy his regard, and false to the nature that prompts the
honest words I utter."

She waved her hand, entreating him to be gone, but an-
swered not a word. Nicholas could say no more, and silendy
withdrew. And thus ended his first interview with Madeline
Bray. .



" There go the three quarters past ! " muttered Newman
Noggs, listening to the chimes of some neighboring church,
" and my dinner time's two. He does it on purpose. He
makes a point of it. It's just like him."

It was in his own little den of an office and on the top
of his official stool that Newman thus soliloquized ; and the
soliloquy referred, as Newman's grumbling soliloquies usually
did, to Ralph Nickleby.

" I don't believe he ever had an appetite," said Newman,
" except for pounds, shillings, and pence, and with them he's
as greedy as a wolf. I should like to have him compelled to
swallow one of every English coin. The penny would be an
awkward morsel — but the crown — ha ! ha ! "

His good humor being in some degree restored by the vis-
ion of Ralph Nickleby swallowing, perforce, a five-shilling

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piece, Newman slowly brought forth from his desk one of those
portable bottles, currently known as pocket-pistols, and shak-
ing the same close to mV ear so as to produce a rippling sound
very cool and pleasant to listen to, suffered his features to
relax, and took a gurgling drink, which relaxed them still
more. Replacing the cork he smacked his lips twice or
thrice with an air of great relish, and, the taste of the liquor
having by this time evaporated, recurred to his grievances

" Five minutes to three," growled Newman, "it can't want
more by this time ; and I had my breakfast at eight o'clock,
and such a breakfast ! and my right dinner time is two I And I
might have a nice little bit of hot roast meat spoiling at home
all this time — how does he know I haven't ! ! * Don't go till I
come back/ * Don't go till I come back,' day after day. What
do you always go out at my dinner time for then — eh ? Don't
you know it's nothing but aggravation — eh ? "

These words, though uttered in a very loud key, were ad-
dressed to nothing but empty air. The recital of his wrongs,
however, seemed to have the effect of making Newman Noggs
desperate ; for he flattened his old hat upon his head, and
drawing on the everlasting gloves, declared with great vehe-
mence, that come what might, he would go to dinner that very

Carrying this resolution into instant effect, he had ad-
vanced as far as the passage, when the sound of the latch-key
in the street door caused him to make a precipitate retreat into
his own office again.

" Here he is," growled Newman, " and somebody with him.
Now it'll be ' Stop till this gentleman's gone.' But I won't.
That's flat."

So saying, Newman slipped into a tall empty closet which
opened with two half doors, and shut himself up ; intending
to slip out directly Ralph was safe inside his own room.

" Noggs ! " cried Ralph. " Where is that fellow Noggs ? "

But not a word said Newman.

" The dog has gone to his dinner, though I told him not,"
muttered Ralph, looking into the office and pulling out his
watch. " Humph ! You had better come in here, Gride. My
man's out, and the sun is hot upon my room. This is cool
and in the shade, if you don't mind roughing it."

" Not at all, Mr. Nickleby, oh not at all. All places are
alike to me, sir. Ah ! very nice indeed. Oh ! very nice I "

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The person who made this reply was a little old man, of
about seventy or seventy-five years of age, of a very lean figure,
much bent, and slightly twisted. He wore a gray coat with
a very narrow collar, an old-fashioned waistcoat of ribbed
black silk, and such scanty trousers as displayed his shrunken
spindle-shanks in their full ugliness. The only articles of
display or ornament in his dress, were a steel watch-chain to
which were attached some large gold seals : and a black ribbon
into which, in compliance with an old fashion scarcely ever
observed in these days, his gray hair was gathered behind.
His nose and chin were sharp and prominent, his jaws had
fallen inwards frrfm loss of teeth, his face was shrivelled and
yellow, save where the cheeks were streaked with the color of
a dry winter apple ; and where his beard had been, there lin-
gered yet a few gray tufts which seemed, like the ragged eye-
brows, to denote the badness of the soil from which they
sprung. The whole air and attitude of the form, was one of
stealthy cat-like obsequiousness ; the whole expression of the
face was concentrated in a wrinkled leer, compounded of cun-
ning, lecherousness, slyness, and avarice.

Such was old Arthur Gride, in whose face there was not a
wrinkle, in whose dress there was not one spare fold or plait,
but expressed the most covetous and griping penury, and
sufficiently indicated his belonging to that class of which Ralph
Nickleby was a member. Such was old Arthur Gride, as he
sat in a low chair looking up into the face of Ralph Nickleby,
who, lounging on the tall office stool, with his arms upon his
knees, looked down into his ; a match for him, on whatever
errand he had come.

" And how have you been ? " said Gride, feigning great in-
terest in Ralphs state of health. " I haven't seen you for —
oh ! not for—"

" Not for a long time," said Ralph, with a peculiar smile,
importing that he very well knew it was not on a mere visit of
compliment that his friend had come. " It was a narrow
chance that you saw me now, for I had only just come up to
the door as you turned the corner."

" I am very lucky," observed Gride.

" So men say," replied Ralph, dryly.

The older money-lender wagged his chin and smiled, but
he originated no new remark, and they sat for some little time
without speaking. Each was looking out to take the other at
a disadvantage.

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" Come, Gride," said Ralph at length ; " what's in the
wind to-day?"

44 Ahal you're a bold man, Mr. Nickleby," cried the other,
apparently very much relieved by Ralph's leading the way to
business. " Oh dear, dear, what a bold man you are I "

" Why you have a sleek and slinking way with you that
makes me seem so by contrast," returned Ralph. " I don't
know but that yours may answer better, but I want the pa-
tience for it."

" You were born a genius, Mr. Nickleby," said old Arthur.
44 Deep, deep, deep. Ah ! "

" Deep enough," retorted Ralph, " to know that I shall
need all the depth I have, when men like you begin to com-
pliment. You know I have stood by when you fawned and
flattered other people, and I remember pretty well what thai
always led to."

44 Ha, ha, ha ! " rejoined Arthur, rubbing his hands. 44 So
you do, so you do, no doubt. Not a man knows it better.
Well, it's a pleasant thing now to think that you remember
old times. Oh dear ! "

44 Now then," said Ralph, composedly : " what's in the
wind, I ask again. What is it ? "

44 See that now ! " cried the other. 44 He can't even keep
from business while we're chatting over by-gones. Oh, dear,
dear, what a man it is ! "

" Which of the by-gones do you want to revive ? " said
Ralph. 44 One of them I know, or you wouldn't talk about

44 He suspects even me ! " cried old Arthur, holding up
his hands. 44 Even me ! Oh dear, even me. What a man it
is ! Ha, ha, ha ! What a man it is ! Mr. Nickleby against
all the world. There's nobody like him. A giant among pig-
mies, a giant, a giant ! "

Ralph looked at the old dog with a quiet smile as he
chuckled on in this strain, and Newman Noggs in the closet
felt his heart sink within him as the prospect of dinner grew
fainter and fainter.

44 1 must humor him though," cried old Arthur ; 44 he
must have his way — a wilful man, as the Scotch say — well,
well, they're a wise people, the Scotch. He will talk about
business, and won't give away his time for nothing. He's
very right. Time is money, time is money."

44 He was one of us who made that saying, I should think,"

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said Ralph. " Time is money, and very good money too, to
those who reckon interest by it. Time is money ! Yes, and
time costs money ; it's rather an expensive article to some
people we could name, or I forget my trade."

In rejoinder to this sally, old Arthur again raised his
hands, again chuckled, and again ejaculated. , " What a man
it is ! " which done, he dragged the low chair a little nearer
td Ralph's high stool, and looking upwards into his immova-
ble face, said,

" What would you say to me, if I was to tell you that I
was — 'that I was — going to be married ? "

"I should tell you," replied Ralph, looking coldly down
upon him, " that for some purpose of your own you told a lie,
and that it wasn't the first time and wouldn't be the last \
that I wasn't surprised, and wasn't to be taken in."

" Then I tell you seriously that I am," said old Arthur.

" And /tell you seriously," rejoined Ralph, " what I told
you this minute. Stay. Let me look at you. There's a
liquorish devilry in your face. What is this ? "

" I wouldn't deceive you, you know," whined Arthur
Gride ; " I couldn't do it, I should be mad to try. I, I, to
deceive Mr. Nickleby! The pigmy to impose upon the giant.
I ask again — he, he, he ! — what should you say to me if I was
to tell you that I was going to be married ? "

" To some old hag ? " said Ralph.

" No, no," cried Arthur, interrupting him, and rubbing his
hands in an ecstasy. " Wrong, wrong again. Mr. Nickleby
for once at fault : out, quite out ! To a young and beautiful
girl ; fresh, lovely, bewitching, and not nineteen. Dark eyes,
long eyelashes, ripe and ruddy lips that to look at is to long
to kiss, beautiful clustering hair that one's fingers itch to play
with, such a waist as might make a man clasp the air involun-
tarily thinking of twining his arm about it, little feet that tread
so lightly they hardly seem to walk upon the ground — to marry
all this, sir, this — hey, hey ! "

" This is something more than common drivelling/' said
Ralph, after listening with a curled lip to the old sinner's
raptures. " The girl's name ? " .

" Oh deep, deep ! See now how deep that is ! " exclaimed
old Arthur. " He knows I want his help, he knows he can
give it me, he knows it must all turn to his advantage, he
sees the thing, already. Her name — is there nobody within
hearing ? "

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" Why, who the devil should there be ? " retorted Ralph,

"I didn't know but that perhaps somebody might be
passing up or down the stairs," said Arthur Gride, after look-
ing out at the door and carefully reclosing it ; " or but that
your man might have come back and might have been listen-
ing outside. Clerks and servants have a trick of listening,
and I should have been very uncomfortable if Mr. Noggs — "

44 Curse Mr. Noggs," said Ralph, sharply, " and go on
with what you have to say."

44 Curse Mr. Noggs, by all means," rejoined old Arthur ;
„" I am sure I have not the least objection to that. Her name

44 Well," said Ralph, rendered very irritable by old Arthur's,
pausing again. " What is it ? "

44 Madeline Bray."

Whatever reasons there might have been — and Arthur
Gride appeared to have anticipated some — for the mention of
this name producing an effect upon Ralph, or whatever effect
it really did produce upon him, he permitted none to manifest
itself, but calmly repeated the name several times, as if re-
flecting when and where he had heard it before.

44 Bray," said Ralph. 44 Bray — there was young Bray of

, no, he never had a daughter."

44 You remember Bray ? " rejoined Arthur Gride.

44 No," said Ralph, looking vacantly at him.

44 Not Walter Bray ! The dashing man, who used his
handsome wife so ill ? "

44 If you seek to recall any particular dashing man to my
recollection by such a trait as that," said Ralph, shrugging
his shoulders, 44 1 shall confound him with nine-tenths of the
dashing men I have ever known."

44 Tut, tut That Bray who is now in the Rules of the
Bench," said old Arthur. 44 You can't have forgotten Bray.
Both of us did business with him. Why, he owes you
money ! "

44 Oh him /" rejoined Ralph. "Ay, ay. Now you speak.
Oh ! It's his daughter, is it ? "

Naturally as this was said, it was not said so naturally but
that a kindred spirit like old Arthur Gride might have dis-
cerned a design on the part of Ralph to lead him on to much
more explicit statements and explanations than he would
have volunteered, or than Ralph could in all likelihood have


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obtained by any other means. Old Arthur, however, was so
intent upon his own designs, that he suffered himself to be
over-reached, and had no suspicion but that his good friend
was in earnest.

" I knew you couldn't forget him, when you came to think
for a moment," he said.

"You were right," answered Ralph. "But old Arthur
Gride and matrimony is a most anomalous conjunction of
words ; old Arthur Gride and dark eyes and eyelashes, and
lips that to look at is to long to kiss, and clustering hair that
he wants to play with, and waists that he wants to span, and
little feet that don't tread upon anything — old Arthur Grid*
and such things as these, is more monstrous still ; but old
.Arthur Gride marrying the daughter of a ruined 'dashing
man ' in the Rules of the Bench, is the most monstrous and
incredible of all. Plainly, friend Arthur Gride, if you want
any help from me in this business (which of course you do,
or you would not be here), speak out, and to the purpose.
And, above all, don't talk to me of its turning to my advan-
tage, for I know it must turn to yours also, and to a good
round tune too, or you would have no finger in such a pie as

There was enough acerbity and sarcasm not only in the
matter of Ralph's speech, but in the tone of voice in which
he uttered it, and the looks with which he eked it out, to
have fired even the ancient usurer's cold blood and flushed
even his withered cheek. But he gave vent to no demonstra-
tion of anger, contenting himself with exclaiming as before,
" What a man it is ! " and rolling himself from side to side,
as if in unrestrained enjoyment of his freedom and drollery.
Clearly observing, however, from the expression on Ralph's
features, that he had best come to the point as speedily as
might be, he composed himself for more serious business,
and entered upon the pith and marrow of his negotiation.

First, he dwelt upon the fact that Madeline Bray was
devoted to the support and maintenance, and was a slave to
every wish, of her only parent, who had no other friend on
earth ; to which Ralph rejoined that he had heard something
of the kind before, and that if she had known a little more of
the world, she wouldn't have been such a fool.

Secondly, he enlarged upon the character of her father,
arguing, that even taking it for granted that he loved her in
return with the utmost affection of which he was capable, yet

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he loved himself a great deal better ; which Ralph said it was
quite unnecessary to say anything more about, as that was very
natural, and probable enough.

And, thirdly, old Arthur premised that the girl was a
delicate and beautiful creature, and that he had really a
hankering to have her for his wife. To this Ralph deigned
no other rejoinder than a harsh smile, and a glance at the
shrivelled old creature before him : which were, however, suf-
ficiently expressive.

" Now," said Gride, " for the little plan I have in my mind
to bring this about ; because, I haven't offered myself even
to the father yet, I should have told you. But that you have
gathered already ? Ah ! oh dear, oh dear, what an edged tool
you are ! "

" Don't play with me then," said Ralph, impatiently.
" You know the proverb."

" A reply always on the tip of his tongue ! " cried old
Arthur, raising his hands and eyes in admiration. " He is
always prepared ! Oh dear, what a blessing to have such a
ready wit, and so much ready money to back it ! " Then,
suddenly changing his tone, he went on : "I have been back-
wards and forwards to Bray's lodgings several times within
the last six months. It is just half a year since I first saw
this delicate morsel, and, oh dear, what a delicate morsel it
is ! But that is neither here nor there. I am his detaining
creditor for seventeen hundred pounds."

" You talk as if you were the only detaining creditor,"
said Ralph, pulling out his pocket-book. " I am another for
nine hundred and seventy-five pounds four and threepence."

" The only other, Mr. Nickleby," said old Arthur, eagerly.
" The only other. Nobody else went to the expense of lodg-
ing a detainer, trusting to our holding him fast enough, I
warrant you. We both fell into the same snare ; oh, dear,
what a pitfall it was ; it almost ruined me ! And lent him our
money upon bills, with only one name besides his own, which
to .be sure everybody supposed to be a good one, and was as
negotiable as money, but which turned out you know how.
Just as we should have come upon him, he died insolvent.
Ah ! It went very nigh to ruin me, that loss did ! "

" Go on with your scheme," said Ralph. " It's of no use
raising the cry of our trade just now ; there's nobody to hear

" It's always as well to talk that way," returned old Arthur,

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with a chuckle, " whether there's anybody to hear us or not.
Practice makes perfect, you know. Now, if I offer myself to
Bray as his son-in-law, upon one simple condition that the
moment I am fast married he shall be quietly released, and
have an allowance to live just t'other side the water like a
gentleman (he can't live long, for I have asked his doctor,
and he declares that his complaint is one of the Heart, and it
is impossible), and if all the advantages of this condition are
properly stated and dwelt upon to him, do you think he could
resist me ? And if he could not resist me, do you think his

Online LibraryCharles DickensThe life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby → online text (page 58 of 79)