Charles Dickens.

The life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby online

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daughter could resist him ? Shouldn't I have her Mrs. Ar-
thur Gride — pretty Mrs. Arthur Gride — a tit-bit — a dainty
chick — shouldn't I have her Mrs. Arthur Gride in a week, a
month, a day — any time I chose to name ? "

" Go on," said Ralph, nodding his head deliberately, and
speaking in a tone whose studied coldness presented a strange
contrast to the rapturous squeak to which his friend had
gradually mounted. " Go on. You didn't come here to ask
me that."

" Oh dear, how you talk ! " cried old Arthur, edging himself
closer still to Ralph. "Of course I didn't, I don't pretend I
did ! I came to ask what you would take from me, if I pros-
pered with the father, for this debt of yours. Five shillings
in the pound, six and eightpence, ten shillings ? I would go
as far as ten for such a friend as you, we have always been on
such good terms ; but you won't be so hard upon me, as that,
I know. Now, will you ? "

" There's something more to be told," said Ralph, as
stony and immovable as ever.

" Yes, yes, there is, but you won't give me time," returned
Arthur Gride. " I want a backer in this matter ; one who can
talk, and urge, and press a point, which you can do as no man
can. I can't do that, for I am a poor, timid, nervous creature.
Now, if you get a good composition for this debt, which you
long ago gave up for lost, you'll stand my friend, and help
me. Won't you ? "

** There's something more," said Ralph

" No, no, indeed," cried Arthur Gride.

" Yes, yes, indeed. I tell you yes," said Ralph.

" Oh ! " returned old Arthur, feigning to be suddenly en-
lightened. " You mean something more, as concerns myself
and my intention. Ay, surely, surely. Shall I mention

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" I think you had better," rejoined Ralph, dryly.

" I didn't like to trouble you with that, because I supposed
your interest would cease with your own concern in the affair,"
said Arthur Gride. " That's land of you to ask. Oh dear,
how very kind of you ! Why, supposing I had a knowledge
of some property — some little property — very little — to which
this pretty chick was entitled; which nobody does or can
know of at this time, but which her husband could sweep into
his pouch, if he knew as much as I do, would that account
for "

" For the whole proceeding," rejoined Ralph, abruptly.
" Now, let me turn this matter over, and consider what I
ought to have if I should help you to success."

" But don't be hard," cried old Arthur, raising his hands
with an imploring gesture^ and speaking in a tremulous voice.
" Don't be too hard upon me. It's a very small property, it
is indeed. Say the ten shillings, and we'll close the bargain.
It's more than I ought to give, but you're so kind — shall we
say the ten ? Do now, do."

Ralph took no notice of these supplications, but sat for
three or four minutes in a brown study, looking thoughtfully
at the person from whom they proceeded. After sufficient
cogitation he broke silence, and it certainly could not be
objected that he used any needless circumlocution, or failed
to speak directly to the purpose.

"If you married this girl without me," said Ralph, "you
must pay my debt in full, because you couldn't set her father
free otherwise. It's plain, then, that I must have the whole
amount, clear of all deduction or incumbrance, or I should
lose from being honored with your confidence, instead of
gaining by it That's the first article of the treaty. For the
second, I shall stipulate that for my trouble in negotiation and
persuasion, and helping you to this fortune, I have five hun-
dred pounds. That's very little, because you have the ripe
lips, and the clustering hair, and what not, all to yourself.
For the third and last article, I require that you execute a
bond to me, this day, binding yourself in the payment of these
two sums, before noon of the day of your marriage with Miss
Madeline Bray. You have told me I can urge and press a
point. I press this one, and will take nothing less than these
terms. Accept them if you like. If not, marry her without
me if you can. I shall still get my debt."

To all entreaties, protestations, and offers of compromise

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between his own proposals and those which Arthur Gride had
first suggested, Ralph was deaf as an adder. He would en-
ter into no further discussion of the subject, and — while old
Arthur dilated on the enormity of his demands and proposed
modifications of them, approaching by degrees nearer and
nearer to the terms he resisted — sat perfectly mute, looking
with an air of quiet abstraction over the entries and papers
in his pocket-book. Finding that it was impossible to make
any impression upon his stanch friend, Arthur Gride, who had
prepared himself for some such result before he came, con-
sented with a heavy heart to the proposed treaty, and upon
the spot filled up the bond required (Ralph kept such instru-
ments handy), after exacting the condition that Mr. Nickleby
should accompany him to Bray's lodgings that very hour, and
open the negotiation at once, should circumstances appear
auspicious and favorable to their designs.

In pursuance of this last understanding the worthy gen-
tlemen went out together shortly afterwards, and Newman
Noggs emerged, bottle in hand, from the cupboard, out of the
upper door of which, at the imminent risk of detection, he
had more than once thrust his red nose when such parts of
the subject were under discussion as interested him most

" I have no appetite now," said Newman, putting the flask
in his pocket. " I've had my dinner."

Having delivered this observation in a very grievous and
doleful tone, Newman reached the door in one long limp, and
came back again in another.

" I don't know who she may be, or what she may be," he
said ; " but I pity her with all my heart and soul ; and I can't
help her, nor can I help any of the people against whom a
hundred tricks, but none so vile as this, are plotted every day !
Well, that adds to my pain, but not to theirs. The thing is
no worse because I know it, and it tortures me as well as
them. Gride and Nickleby ! Good pair for a curricle. Oh
roguery ! roguery ! roguery ! "

With these reflections, and a very hard knock on the crown
of his unfortunate hat at each repetition of the last word,
Newman Noggs, whose brain was a little muddled by so much
of the contents of the pocket-pistol as had found their way
there during his recent concealment, went forth to seek such
consolation as might be derivable from the beef and -greens
of some cheap eating-house.

Meanwhile the two plotters had betaken themselves to the

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same house whither Nicholas had repaired for the first time
but a few mornings before, and having obtained access to Mr.
Bray, and found his daughter from home, had by a train of
the most masterly approaches that Ralph's utmost skill could
frame, at length laid open the real object of their visit.

" There he sits, Mr. Bray," said Ralph, as the invalid, not
yet recovered from his surprise, reclined in his chair, looking
alternately at him and Arthur Gride. " What if he has had
the ill fortune to be one cause of your detention in this place ?
I have been another. Men must live ; you are too much a
man of the world not to see that in its true light. We offer
the best reparation in our power. Reparation ? Here is an
offer of marriage, that many a titled father would leap at, for
his child. Mr. Arthur Gride, with the fortune of a prince.
Think what a haul it is ! "

" My daughter, sir," returned Bray, haughtily, "as /have
brought her up, would be a rich recompense for the largest
fortune that a man could bestow in exchange for her hand."

" Precisely what I told you," said the artful Ralph, turning
to his friend, old Arthur. " Precisely what made me consider
the thing so fair and easy. There is no obligation on either
side. You have money, and Miss Madeline has beauty and
worth. She has youth, you have money. She has not money,
you have not youth. Tit for tat, quits, a match of Heaven's
own making ! "

"Matches are made in Heaven, they say," added Arthur
Gride, leering hideously at the father-in-law he wanted. " If
we are married, it will be destiny, according to that."

" Then think, Mr. Bray," said Ralph, hastily substituting
for this argument considerations more nearly allied to earth,
" think what a stake is involved in the acceptance or rejec-
tion of these proposals of my friend."

" How can I accept or reject," interrupted Mr. Bray, with
an irritable conscientiousness that it really rested with him to
decide. " It is for my daughter to accept or reject ; it is for
my daughter. You know that."

" True," said Ralph, emphatically ; " but you have still the
power to . advise ; to state the reasons for and against ; to
hint a wish."

" To hint a wish, sir ! " returned the debtor, proud and
mean by turns, and selfish at all times. " I am her father, am
I not ? Why should I hint, and beat about the bush ? Do
you suppose, like her mother's friends and my enemies — a

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curse upon them all ! — that there is anything in what she has
done for me but duty, sir, but duty ? Or do you think that
my having been unfortunate is a sufficient reason why our rel-
ative positions should be changed, and that she should com-
mand and I should obey ? Hint a wish too ! Perhaps you
think because you see me in this place and scarcely able to
leave this chair without assistance, that I am some broken-
spirited dependent creature, without the courage or power to
do what I may think best for my own child. Still the power
to hint a wish ! I hope so ! "

" Pardon me/* returned Ralph, who thoroughly knew his
man, and had taken his ground accordingly ; " you do not
hear me out. I was about to say that your hinting a wish,
even hinting a wish, would surely be equivalent to com-

"Why, of course it would," retorted Mr. Bray, in an ex-
asperated tone. " If you don't happen to have heard of the
time, sir, I tell you that there was a time, when I carried every
point in triumph against her mother's whole family, although
they had power and wealth on their side, by my will alone."

1 " Still," rejoined Ralph, as mildly as his nature would al-
low him, "you have not heard me out. You are a man yet
qualified to shine in society, with many years of life before
you ; that is, if you lived in free air, and under brighter skies,
and chose your own companions. Gayety is your element,
you have shone in it before. Fashion and freedom for you.
France, and an annuity that would support you there in lux-
ury, would give you a new lease of life, would transfer you to
a new existence. The town rang with your expensive pleas-
ures once, and you could blaze on a new scene again, profit-
ing by experience, and living a little at others' cost, instead
of letting others live at yours. What is there on the reverse
side of the picture ? What is there ? I don't know which is
the nearest churchyard, but a gravestone there, wherever it is,
and a date, perhaps two years hence, perhaps twenty. That's

Mr. Bray rested his elbow on the arm of his chair, and
shaded his face with his hand.

" I speak plainly," said Ralph, sitting down beside him,
" because I feel strongly. It's my interest that you should
marry your daughter to my friend Gride, because then he sees
me paid — in part, that is. I don't disguise it. I acknowledge
it openly. But what interest have you in recommending her

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to such a step ? Keep that in view. She might object, re-
monstrate, shed tears, talk of his being too old, and plead
that her life would be rendered miserable. , But what is it



Several slight gestures on the part of the invalid, showed
that these arguments were no more lost upon him, than the
smallest iota of his demeanor was upon Ralph.

" What is it now, I say," pursued the wily usurer, " or
what has it a chance of being ? If you died, indeed, the peo-
ple you hate would make her happy. But can you bear the
thought of that?"

" No ! " returned Bray, urged by a vindictive impulse he
could not repress.

"I should imagine not, indeed 1" said Ralph, quietly.
" If she profits by anybody's death," this was said in a lower
tone, " let it be by her husband's. Don't let her have to look
back to yours, as the event from which to date a happier life.
Where is the objection ? Let me hear it stated. What is it ?
That her suitor is an old man ? Why, how often do men of
family and fortune, who haven't your excuse, but have all the
means and superfluities of life within their reach, how often
do they marry their daughters to old men, or (worse still) to
young men without heads or hearts, to tickle some idle vanity,
strengthen some family interest, to secure some seat in Parlia-
ment ! Judge for her, sir, judge for her. You must know
best, and she will live to thank you."

" Hush ! hush ! " cried Mr. Bray, suddenly starting up,
and covering Ralph's mouth with his trembling hand. " I
hear her at the door 1 "

There was a gleam of conscience in the shame and terror
of this hasty action, which, in one short moment, tore the thin
covering of sophistry from the cruel design, and laid it bare
in all its meanness and heartless deformity. The father fell
into his chair pale and trembling ; Arthur Gride plucked and
fumbled at his hat, and durst not raise his eyes from the
floor ; even Ralph crouched for the moment like a beaten
hound, cowed by the presence of one young innocent girl !

The effect was almost as brief as sudden. Ralph was the
first to recover himself, and observing Madeline's looks of
alarm, entreated the poor girl to be composed, assuring her
that there was no cause for fear.

" A sudden spasm," said Ralph, glancing at Mr. Bray,
" He is quite well now."

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It might have moved a very hard and worldly heart to see
the young and beautiful creature, whose certain misery they
had been contriving but a minute before, throw her arms
about her father's neck, and pour forth words of tender sym-
pathy and love, the sweetest a father's ear can know, or child's
lips form. But Ralph looked coldly on ; and Arthur Gride,
whose bleared eyes gloated only over the outward beauties,
and were blind to the spirit which reigned within, evinced a
fantastic kind of warmth certainly, but not exactly that kind
of warmth of feeling which the contemplation of virtue usually

" Madeline," said her father, gently disengaging himself,
" it was nothing."

44 But you had that spasm yesterday, and it is terrible to
see you in such pain. Can I do nothing for you ? "

44 Nothing just now. Here are two gentlemen, Madeline,
one of whom you have seen before. She used to say," added
Mr. Bray, addressing Arthur Gride, 44 that the sight of you
always made me worse. That was natural, knowing what she
did, and only what she did, of our connection and its results.
Well, well. Perhaps she may change her mind on thsa point ;
girls have leave to change their minds, you know. You are
very tired, my dear."

44 1 am not, indeed."

44 Indeed you are. You do too much."

44 1 wish I could do more."

44 1 know you do, but you overtask your strength. This
wretched life, my love, of daily labor and fatigue, is more than
you can bear. I am sure it is. Poor Madeline ! "

With these and many more kind words, Mr. Bray drew his
daughter to him and kissed her cheek affectionately. Ralph,
watching him sharply and closely in the meantime, made his
way towards the door, and signed to Gride to follow him.

44 You will communicate with us again ? " said Ralph.

44 Yes, yes," returned Mr. Bray, hastily thrusting his daugh-
ter aside. "Ina week. Give me a week."

"One week," said Ralph, turning to his companion, "from
to-day. Good-morning, Miss Madeline, I kiss your hand."

" We will shake hands, Gride," said Mr. Bray, extending
his, as old Arthur bowed. 44 You mean well, no doubt. I am
bound to say so now. If I owed you money, that was not your
fault. Madeline, my love, your hand here."

44 Oh dear ! If the young lady would condescend 1 Only

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the tips of her fingers ! " said Arthur, hesitating and half re-

Madeline shrunk involuntarily from the goblin figure, but
she placed the tips of her fingers in his hand and instantly
withdrew them. After an ineffectual clutch, intended to de-
tain and carry them to his lips, old Arthur gave his own fin-
gers a mumbling kiss, and with many amorous distortions of
visage went in pursuit of his friend who was by this time in
the street.

" What does he say, what does he say ? What does the
giant say to the pigmy ? " inquired Arthur Gride, hobbling up
to Ralph.

" What does the pigmy say to the giant ? " rejoined Ralph,
elevating his eyebrows and looking down upon his questioner.

" He doesn't know what Xo say," replied Arthur Gride.
" He hopes and fears. But is she not a dainty morsel ? "

" I have no great taste for beauty," growled Ralph.

" But I have," rejoined Arthur, rubbing his hands. " Oh
dear ! How handsome her eyes looked when she was stoop-
ing over him ! Such long lashes, such delicate fringe ! She
— she — looked at me so soft."

" Not over-lovingly, I think ? " said Ralph. " Did she ? "

" No you think not ? " replied old Arthur. " But don't
you think it, it can be brought about? Don't you think it
can ? "

Ralph looked at him with a contemptuous frown, and re-
plied with a sneer, and between his teeth :

" Did you mark his telling her she was tired and did too
much, and overtasked her strength."

" Ay, ay. What of it ? "

" When do you think he ever told her that before ? The
life is more than she can bear ! Yes, yes. He'll change it
for her."

" D'ye think it's done ? " inquired old Arthur, peering into
his companion's face with half-closed eyes.

44 1 am sure it's done," said Ralph. "He is trying to de-
ceive himself, even before our eyes already. He is making
believe that he thinks of her good, and not his own. He is
acting a virtuous part, and is so considerate and affectionate,
sir, that his daughter scarcely knew him. I saw a tear of sur-
prise in her eye. There'll be a few more tears of surprise
there before long, though of a different kind. Oh ! we may
wait with confidence for this day week."

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It was with a very sad and heavy heart, oppressed by
many painful ideas, that Nicholas retraced his steps eastward,
and betook himself to the counting house of Cheeryble Broth-
ers. Whatever the idle hopes he had suffered himself to en-
tertain, whatever the pleasant visions which had sprung up in
his mind and grouped themselves around the fair image of
Madeline Bray, they were now dispelled, and not a vestige of
their gayety and brightness remained.

It would be a poor compliment to Nicholas's better na-
ture, and one which he was very far from deserving, to insin-
uate that the solution, and such a solution, of the mystery
which had seemed to surround Madeline Bray, where he was
ignorant even of her name, had damped his ardor or cooled
the fervor of his admiration. If he had regarded her before,
with such a passion as young men attracted by mere beauty
and eloquence may entertain, he was now conscious of much
deeper and stronger feelings. But, reverence for the truth
and purity of her heart, respect for the helplessness and lone-
liness of her situation, sympathy with the trials of one so
young and fair, and admiration of her great and noble spirit,
all seemed to raise her far above his reach, and, while they
imparted new depth and dignity to his love, to whisper that it
was hopeless.

" I will keep my word, as I have pledged it to her," said
Nicholas, manfully. " This is no common trust that I have
to discharge, and I will perform the double duty that is im-
posed upon me most scrupulously and strictly. My secret
feelings deserve no consideration in such a case as this, and
they shall have none."

Still, there were the secret feelings in existence just the
same, and in secret Nicholas rather encouraged them than
otherwise ; reasoning (if he reasoned at all) that there they
could do no harm to anybody but himself, and that if he kept
them to himself from a sense of duty, he had an additional

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right to entertain himself with them as a reward for his he-

All these thoughts, coupled with what he had seen that
morning and the anticipation of his next visit, rendered him
a very dull and abstracted companion ; so much so, indeed,
that Tim Linkinwater suspected he must have made the mis-
take of a figure somewhere, which was preying upon his mind,
and seriously conjured him, if such were the case, to make a
clean breast and scratch it out, rather than have his whole
life embittered by the tortures of remorse.

But in reply to these considerate representations, and
many others both from Tim and Mr. Frank, Nicholas could
only be brought to state that he was never merrier in his life ;
and so went on all day, and so went towards home at night,
still turning over and over again the same subjects, thinking
over and over again the same things, and arriving over and
over again at the same conclusions.

In this pensive, wayward, and uncertain state, people are
apt to lounge and loiter without knowing why, to read pla-
cards on the walls with great attention and without the smallest
idea of one word of their contents, and to stare most ear-
nestly through shop-windows at things which they don't see.
It was thus that Nicholas found himself poring with the ut-
most interest over a large play-bill hanging outside a Minor
Theatre which he had to pass on his way home, and reading
a list of the actors and actresses who had promised to do
honor to some approaching benefit, with as much gravity as if
it had been a catalogue of the names of those ladies and gen-
tlemen who stood highest upon the Book of Fate, and he had
been looking anxiously for his own. He glanced at the top
of the bill, with a smile at his own dulness, as he prepared to
resume his walk, and there saw announced, in large letters
with a large space between each of them, " Positively the last
appearance of Mr. Vincent Crummies of Provincial Celeb-
rity ! ! ! "

" Nonsense ! " said Nicholas, turning back again. " It
can't be."

But there it was. In one line by itself was an announce-
ment of the first night of a new melodrama ; in another line
by itself was an announcement of the last six nights of an old
one ; a third line was devoted to the re-engagement of the un-
rivalled African Knife-swallower, who had kindly suffered him-
self to be prevailed upon to forego his country engagements

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for one week longer ; a fourth line announced that Mr. Snittle
Timberry, having recovered from his late severe indisposition,
would have the honor of appearing that evening ; a fifth line
said that there were " Cheers, Tears, and Laughter ! " every
night ; a sixth, that that was positively the last appearance of
Mr. Vincent Crummies of Provincial Celebrity.

" Surely it must be the same man," thought Nicholas.
" There can't be two Vincent Crummleses."

The better to settle this question he referred to the bill
again, and finding that there was a Baron* in the first piece,
and that Roberto (his son) was enacted by one Master
Crummies, and Spaletro (his nephew) by one Master Percy
Crummies — their last appearances — and that, incidental to
the piece, was a characteristic dance by the characters, and a
Castanet pas seul by the Infant Phenomenon — her last appear-
ance — he no longer entertained any doubt; and presenting
himself at the stage door, and sending in a scrap of paper
with " Mr. Johnson " written thereon in pencil, was presently
conducted by a Robber with a very large belt and buckle
round his waist, and very large leather gauntlets on his hands,
into the presence of his former manager.

Mr. Crummies was unfeignedly glad to see him, and start-
ing up from before a small dressing-glass, with one very bushy
eyebrow stuck on crooked over his left eye, and the fellow
eyebrow and the calf of one of his legs in his hand, embraced

Online LibraryCharles DickensThe life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby → online text (page 59 of 79)