Charles Dickens.

The life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby online

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painter ; " and God bless you, Mr. Nickleby ; and I wish you

44 It was very little that Nicholas knew of the world, but he
guessed enough about its ways to think, that if he gave Miss
La Greevy one little kiss, perhaps she might not be the less
kindly disposed towards those he was leaving behind. So he
gave her three or four with a kind of jocose gallantry, and Miss
La Greevy evinced no greater symptoms of displeasure than
declaring, as she adjusted her yellow turban, that she had
never heard of such a thing, and couldn't have believed it

Having terminated the unexpected interview in this satis-


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factory manner, Nicholas hastily withdrew himself from the
house. By the time he had found a man to carry his box it
was only seven o'clock, so he walked slowly on, a little in ad-
vance of the porter, and very probably with not half as light
a heart in his breast as the man had, although he had no waist-
coat to cover it with, and had evidently, from the appearance
of his other garments, been spending the night in a stable,
and taking his breakfast at a pump.

•Regarding, with no small curiosity and interest, all the
busy preparations for the coming day which every street and
almost every house displayed ; and thinking, now and then,
that it seemed rather hard that so many people of all ranks
and stations could earn a livelihood in London, and that he
should be compelled to journey so far in search of one ; Nich-
olas speedily arrived at the Saracen's Head, Snow Hill. Hav-
ing dismissed his attendant, and seen the box safely deposited
in the coach-office, he looked into the coffee-room in search of
Mr. Squeers.

He found that learned gentleman sitting at breakfast, with
the three little boys before noticed, and two others who had
turned up by some lucky chance since the interview of the
previous day, ranged in a row on the opposite seat. Mr.
Squeers had before him a small measure of coffee, a plate of
hot toast, and a cold round of beef ; but he was at that mo-
ment intent on preparing breakfast for the little boys.

" This is twopenh'orth of milk, is it waiter ? " said Mr.
Squeers, looking down into a large blue mug, and slanting it
gently, so as to get an accurate view of the quantity of liquid
contained in it.

" That's twopenn'orth, sir," replied the waiter.

" What a rare article milk is, to be sure, in London ! " said
Mr. Squeers with a sigh. " Just fill that mug up with luke-
warm water, William, will you ? "

" To the wery top, sir ? " inquired the waiter. " Why the
milk will be drownded."

" Never you mind that," replied Mr. Squeers. " Serve it
right for being so dear. You ordered that thick bread and
butter for three, did you ? "

" Coming directly, sir."

" You needn't hurry yourself," said Squeers ; " there's
plenty of time. Conquer your passions, boys, and don't be
eager after vittles." As he uttered this moral precept, Mr.
Squeers took a large bite out of the cold beef, and recognized

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" Sit down, Mr. Nickleby," said Squeers. " Here we are,
a breakfasting you see ! "

Nicholas did not see that anybody was breakfasting, except
Mr. Squeers ; but he bowed w % ith all becoming reverence, and
looked as cheerful as he could.

" Oh ! that's the milk and water, is it, William ? " said
Squeers. " Very good ; don't forget the bread and butter

At this fresh mention of the bread and butter, the five
little boys looked very eager, and followed the waiter out,
with their eyes ; meanwhile Mr. Squeers tasted the milk and

" Ah ! " said that gentleman, smacking his lips, " here's
richness ! Think of the many beggars and orphans in the
streets that would be glad of this, little boys. A shocking
thins: hunger is, isn't it, Mr. Nickleby ? "

"Very shocking, sir, ' said Nicholas.

" When 1 say number one," pursued Mr. Squeers, putting
the mug before the children, " the boy on the left hand near-
est the window may take a drink ; and when I say number
two, the boy next him will go in, and so till we come to
number five, which is the last boy. Are you ready ? "

" Yes, sir," cried all the little boys with great eagerness.

" That's right," said Squeers, calmly getting on with his
breakfast ; keep ready till I tell you to begin. Subdue your
appetites, my dears, and you've conquered human natur. This
is the way we inculcate strength of mind, Mr. Nickleby," said
the schoolmaster, turning to Nicholas, and speaking with his
mouth very full of beef and toast.

Nicholas murmured something — he knew not what — in
reply ; and the little boys, dividing their gaze between the
mug, the bread and butter (which had by this time arrived),
and every morsel which Mr. Squeers took into his mouth, re-
mained with strained eyes in torments of expectation.

" Thank God for a good breakfast," said Squeers when he
had finished. " Number one may take a drink."

Number one seized the mug ravenously, and had just drunk
enough to make him wish for more, when Mr. Squeers gave
the signal, for number two, who gave up at the same interest-
ing moment to number three ; and the process was repeated
until the milk and water terminated with number five.

"And now," said the schoolmaster, dividing the bread and
butter for three into as many portions as there were children,

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" you had better look sharp with your breakfast, for the horn
will blow in a minute or two, and then every boy leaves off."

Permission being thus given to fall to, the boys began to
eat voraciously, and in desperaie haste : while the school-
master (who was in high good humor after his meal) picked
his teeth with a fork, and looked smilingly on. In a very
short time, the horn was heard.

" I thought it wouldn't be long," said Squeers, jumping up
and producing a little basket from under the seat ; " put what
you haven't had time to eat, in here, boys ! You'll want it on
the road ! "

Nicholas was considerably startled by these very eco-
nomical arrangements ; but he had no time to reflect upon
them, for the little boys had 'to be got up to the top of the
coach, and their boxes had to be brought out and put in, and
Mr. Squeers's luggage was to be seen carefully deposited in
the boot, and all these offices were in his department. He
was in the full heat and bustle of concluding these operations,
when his uncle, Mr. Ralph Nickleby, accosted him.

" Oh ! here you are, sir 1 " said Ralph. " Here are your
mother and sister, sir."

" Where ! " cried Nicholas, looking hastily round.

" Here ! " replied his uncle. " Having too much money
and nothing at all to do with it, they were paying a hackney
coach as I came up, sir."

*• We were afraid of being too late to see him before he
went away from us," said Mrs. Nickleby, embracing her son,
heedless of the unconcerned lookers-on in the coach-yard.

"Very good, ma'am," returned Ralph, "you're the best
judge of course. I merely said that you were paying a hack-
ney coach. / never pay a hackney coach, ma'am, I never
hire one. I haven't been in a hackney coach of my own hir-
ing for thirty years, and I hope I shan't be for thirty more, if
I live as long."

" I should never have forgiven myself if I had not seen
him," said Mrs. Nickleby. "Poor dear boy — going away
without his breakfast too, because he feared to distress us I "

" Mighty fine certainly," said Ralph, with great testiness.
" When I first went to business, ma'am, I took a penny loaf
and a ha'porth of milk for my breakfast as I walked to the
city every morning ; what do you say to that, ma'am ? Break-
fast ! Bah ! "

"Now, Nickleby," said Squeers, coming up at the

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moment buttoning his greatcoat ; " I think you'd better get
up behind. I'm afraid of one of them boys falling off, and
then there's twenty pound a year gone."

"Dear Nicholas," whispered Kate, touching her brother's
arm, " who is that vulgar man ? "

" Eh ! " growled Ralph, whose quick ears had caught the
inquiry. " Do you wish to be introduced to Mr. Squeers, my

" That the schoolmaster 1 No, uncle. Oh no I " replied
Kate, shrinking back.

" I'm sure 1 heard you say as much, my dear," retorted
Ralph in his cold sarcastic manner. " Mr. Squeers, here's
my niece : Nicholas's sister ! "

"Very glad to make your acquaintance, miss," said
Squeers, raising his hat an inch or two. " I wish Mrs.
Squeers took gals, and we had you for a teacher. I don't
know, though, whether she mightn't grow jealous if we had.
Ha! ha! ha!"

If the proprietor of Dotheboys Hall could have known
what was passing in his assistant's breast at that moment, he
would have discovered, with some surprise, that he was as
near being soundly pummelled as he had ever been in his life.
Kate Nickleby, having a quicker perception of her brother's
emotions, led him gently aside, and thus prevented Mr.
Squeers from being impressed with the fact in a peculiarly
disagreeable manner.

"My dear Nicholas," said the young lady, "who is this
man ? What kind of place can it be that you are going

" I hardly know, Kate," replied Nicholas, pressing his
sister's hand. " I suppose the Yorkshire folks are rather
rough and uncultivated ; that's all."

" But this person," urged Kate.

" Is my employer, or master, or whatever the proper name
may be," replied Nicholas quickly, " and I was an ass to take
his coarseness ill. They are looking this way, and it is time I
was in my place. Bless you love, and good-by ! Mother ;
look forward to our meeting again some day ! Uncle, fare-
well ! Thank you heartily for all you have done and all you
mean to do. Quite ready, sir ! "

With these hasty adieux, Nicholas mounted nimbly to his
seat, and waved his hand as gallantly as if his heart went
with it.

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At this moment, when the coachman and guard were com-
paring notes for the last time before starting, on the subject
of the way-bill ; when porters were screwing out the last re-
luctant sixpences, itinerant newsmen making the last offer of
a morning paper, and the horses giving the last impatient
rattle to their harness ; Nicholas felt somebody softly pulling
at his leg. He looked down, and there stood Newman Noggs,
who pushed up into his hand a dirty letter.

" What's this ? " inquired Nicholas.

" Hush ! " rejoined Noggs, pointing to Mr. Ralph Nickleby,
who was saying a few earnest words to Squeers, a short dis-
tance off. "Take it. Read it. Nobody knows. That's

" Stop ! " cried Nicholas.

" No," replied Noggs.

Nicholas cried stop, again, but Newman Noggs was gone.

A minute's bustle, a banging of the coach doors, a swaying
of the vehicle to one side, as the heavy coachman, and
still heavier guard, climbed into their seats ; a cry of all right,
a few notes from the horn, a hasty glance of two sorrowful
faces below, and the hard features of Mr. Ralph Nickleby —
and the coach was gone too, and rattling over the stones of

The little boys' legs being too short to admit of their feet
resting upon anything as they sat, and the little boys' bodies
being consequently in imminent hazard of being jerked off
the coach, Nicholas had enough to do, over the stones, to
hold them on. Between the manual exertion and the mental
anxiety attendant upon this task, he was not a little relieved
when the coach stopped at the Peacock at Islington. He
was still more relieved when a hearty-looking gentleman, with
a very good-humored face, and a very fresh color, got up
behind, and proposed to take the other corner of the seat.

" If we put some of these youngsters in the middle," said
the new comer, "they'll be safer in case of their going to
sleep ; eh ? "

" If you'll have the goodness, sir," replied Squeers,
"that'll be the very thing. Mr. Nickleby, take three of them
boys between you and the gentleman. Belling and the
youngest Snawley can sit between me and the guard. Three
children, said Squeers, explaining to the stranger, ** books as

" I have not the least objection, I am sure," said the

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fresh-colored gentleman ; " I have a brother who wouldn't
object to book his six children as two at any butcher's or
baker's in the kingdom, I dare say. Far from it."

44 Six children, sir ? " exclaimed Squeers.

" Yes, and all boys," replied the stranger,

" Mr. Nickleby," said Squeers, in great haste, " catch
hold of that basket. Let me give you a card, sir, of an estab-
lishment where those six boys can be brought up in an en-
lightened, liberal and moral manner, with no mistake at all
about it, for twenty guineas a year each — twenty guineas, sir,
-—or I'd take all the boys together upon an average right
through, and say a hundred pound a year for the lot."

" Oh ! " said the gentleman, glancing at the card, " you
are the Mr. Squeers mentioned here, I presume ? "

44 Yes I am, sir," replied the worthy pedagogue ; " Mr.
Wackford Squeers is my name, and I'm very far from being
ashamed of it. These are some of my boys, sir ; that's one
of my assistants, sir — Mr. Nickleby, a gentleman's son, and
a good scholar, mathematical, classical, and commercial. We
don't do things by halves at our shop. All manner of learn-
ing my boys take down, sir ; the expense is never thought of ;
and they get paternal treatment and washing in."

44 Upon my word," said the gentleman, glancing at Nicho-
las with a half smile, and a more than half expression of
surprise, " these ai£ advantages indeed."

44 You may say that, sir," rejoined Squeers, thrusting his
hands into his greatcoat pockets. "The most unexception-
able references are given and required. I wouldn't take a
reference with any boy, that wasn't responsible for the pay-
ment of five pound five a quarter, no, not if you went down
on your knees, and asked me with the tears running down
your face, to do it."

44 Highly considerate," said the passenger.

44 It's my great aim and end to be considerate, sir," re-
joined Squeers. 44 Snawley, junior, if you don't leave off
chattering your teeth, and shaking with the cold, I'll warm
you with a severe thrashing in about half a minute's time."

44 Sit fast here, genelmen," said the guard as he clambered

44 All right behind there, Dick ? " cried the coachman.

44 All right," was the reply. 44 Off she goes ! " And off she
did go, — if coaches be feminine — amidst a loud flourish from
the guard's horn, and the calm approval of all the judges o£

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coaches and . coach-horses congregated at the Peacock, but
more especially of the helpers, who stood, with the cloths
over their arms, watching the coach till it disappeared, and
then lounged admiringly stable wards, bestowing various gruff
encomiums on the beauty of the turn-out.

When the guard (who was a stout old Yorkshireman) had
blown himself quite out of breath, he put the horn into a
litde tunnel of a basket fastened to the coach side for the
purpose, and giving himself a plentiful shower of blows on the
chest and shoulders, observed it was uncommon cold ; after
which, he demanded ofc every person separately whether he
was going right through, and if not where he was going.
Satisfactory replies being made to these queries, he surmised
that the roads were pretty heavy arter that fall last night, and
took the liberty of asking whether any of them gentlemen
carried a snuff-box. It happening that nobody did, he re-
marked with a mysterious air that he had heard a medical
gentleman as went down to Grantham last week, say how that
snuff-taking was bad for the eyes ; but for his part he had
never found it so, and what he said was, that everybody
should speak as they found. Nobody attempting to contro-
vert this position, he took a small brown-paper parcel out of
his hat, and putting on a pair of horn spectacles (the writing
being crabbed) read the direction half-a-dozen times over;
having done which, he consigned the parcel to its old place,
put up his spectacles again, and stared at' everybody in turn.
After this, he took another blow at the horn by way of refresh-
ment ; and, having now exhausted his usual topics of conver-
sation, folded his arms as well as he could in so many coats,
and falling into a solemn silence, looked carelessly at the
familiar objects which met his eye on every side as the coach
rolled on ; the only things he seemed to care for, being
horses and droves of cattle, which he scrutinized with a criti-
cal air as they were passed upon the road.

The weather was intensely and bitterly cold ; a great deal
of snow fell from time to time ; and the wind was intolerably
keen. Mr. Squeers got down at almost every stage — to
stretch his legs as he said — and as he always came back
from such excursions with a very red nose, and composed
himself to sleep directly, there is reason to suppose that he
derived great benefit from the process. The little pupils
having been stimulated with the remains of their breakfast,
and further invigorated by sundry small cups of a curious

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cordial carried by Mr. Squeers, which tasted very like toast-
and-water put into a brandy bottle by mistake, went to sleep,
woke, shivered, and cried, as their feelings prompted. Nich-
olas and the good-tempered man found so many things to
talk about, that between conversing together, and cheering up
the boys, the time passed with them as rapidly as it could,
under such adverse circumstances.

So the day wore on. At Eton Slocomb there was a good
coach dinner, of which the box, the four front outsides, the
one inside, Nicholas, the good-tempered man, and Mr.
Squeers, partook ; while the five little boys^were put to thaw
by the fire, and regaled with sandwiches. A stage or two
further on, the lamps were lighted, and a great to-do occa-
sioned by the taking up, at a road-side inn, of a very fastidious
lady with an infinite variety of cloaks and small parcels, who
loudly lamented, for the behoof of the outsides, the non-arri-
val of her own carriage which was to have taken her on, and
made the guard solemnly promise to stop every green chariot
he saw coming ; which, as it was a dark night and he was
sitting with his face the other way, that officer undertook, with
many fervent asseverations, to do. Lastly, the fastidious lady,
rinding there was a solitary gentleman inside, had a small
lamp lighted which she carried in her reticule, and being after
much trouble shut in, the horses were put into a brisk canter
and the coach was once more in rapid motion.

The night and the snow came on together, and dismal
enough they were. There was no sound to be heard but the
howling of the wind ; for the noise of the wheels, and the tread
of the horses' feet, were rendered inaudible by the thick coat-
ing of snow which covered the ground, and was fast increasing
every moment. The streets of Stamford were deserted as
they passed through the town ; and its old churches rose,
frowning and dark, from the whitened ground. Twenty miles
further on, two of the front outside passengers wisely availing
themselves of their arrival at one of the best inns in England,
turned in for the night, at the George at Grantham. The re-
mainder wrapped themselves more closely in their coats and
cloaks, and leaving the light and warmth of the town behind
them, pillowed themselves against the luggage, and prepared,
with many half-suppressed moans, again to encounter the
piercing blast which swept across the open country.

They were little more than a stage out of Grantham, or
about half way between it and Newark, when Nicholas, who

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had been asleep for a short time, was suddenly roused by a
violent jerk which nearly threw him from his seat. Grasping
the rail, he found that the coach had sunk greatly on one side,
though it was still dragged forward by the horses ; and while
—confused by their plunging and the loud screams of the
lady inside — he hesitated, for an instant, whether to jump off
or not, the vehicle turned easily over, and relieved him from
all further uncertainty by flinging him into the road.



" Wo ho ! " cried the guard, on his legs in a minute, and
running to the leaders' heads. "Is there ony genelmen there
as can len' a hond here ? Keep quiet, dang ye ! Wo ho ! "

" What's the matter ? " asked Nicholas, looking sleepily

" Matther mun, matther eneaf for one neight," replied the
guard ; " dang the wall-eyed bay, he's gane mad wi' glory I
think, carse t'coorch is over. Here, can't ye len' a hond ?
Dom it, I'd ha' dean it if all my boans were brokken."

" Here ! " cried Nicholas, staggering to his feet. " I'm
ready. I'm only a little abroad, that's all."

"Hoold 'em toight," cried the guard, "while ar coot
treaces. Hang on tiv 'em sumhoo. Weel deane, my lod.
That's it. Let 'em goa noo. Dang 'em, they'll gang whoam
fast eneaf ! "

In truth, the animals were no sooner released than they
trotted back, with much deliberation, to the stable they had
just left, which was distant not a mile behind.

" Can you bio' a harn ? " asked the guard, disengaging
one of the coach-lamps.

" I dare say I can," replied Nicholas.

" Then just bio' away into that 'un as lies on the grund,
fit to wakken the deead, will'ee," said the man, "while I stop

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sum o' this here squealing inside. Cumin', cumin'. Doan't
make that noise, wooman."

As the man spoke, he proceeded to wrench open the upper-
most door of the coach, while Nicholas, seizing the horn,
awoke the echoes far and wide with one of the most extraor-
dinary performances on that instrument ever heard by mortal
ears. It had its effect, however, not only in rousing such of
the passengers as were recovering from the stunning effects of
their fall, but in summoning assistance to their relief; for
lights gleamed in the distance, and people were already astir.

In fact, a man on horseback galloped down, before the
passengers were well collected together ; and a careful inves-
tigation being instituted, it appeared that the lady inside had
broken her lamp, and the gentleman his head ; that the two
front outsides had escaped with black eyes ; the box with a
bloody nose ; the coachman with a contusion on the temple ;
Mr. Squeers with a portmanteau bruise on his back ; and the
remaining passengers without any injury at all — thanks to the
softness of the snow-drift in which they had been overturned.
These facts were no sooner thoroughly ascertained, than the
lady gave several indications of fainting, but being forewarned
that if she did, she must be carried on some gentleman's
shoulders to the nearest public house, she prudently thought
better of it, and walked back with the rest.

They found on reaching it, that it was a lonely place with
no very great accommodation in the way of apartments — that
portion of its resources being all comprised in one public
room with a sanded floor, and a chair or two. However, a
large faggot and a plentiful supply of coals being heaped upon
the fire, the appearance of things was not long in mending ;
and, by the time they had washed off all effaceable marks of the
late accid2nt, the room was warm and light, which was a most
agreeable exchange for the cold and darkness out of doors.

"Well, Mr. Nickleby," said Squeers, insinuating himself
into the wannest corner, " you did very right to catch hold of
them horses. I should have done it myself if I had come to in
time, but I am very glad you did it. You did it very well ;
very well."

44 So well," said the merry-faced gentleman, who did not
seem to approve very much of the patronizing tone adopted
by Squeers, " that if they had not been firmly checked when
they were, you would most probably have had no brains left
to teach with."

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This remark called up a discourse relative to the prompti-
tude Nicholas had displayed, and he was overwhelmed with
compliments and commendations.

44 1 am very glad to have escaped, of course," observed
Squeers ; " every man is glad when he escapes from danger ;
but if any one of my charges had been hurt — if I had been
prevented from restoring any one of these little boys to his

Online LibraryCharles DickensThe life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby → online text (page 6 of 79)