Charles Dickens.

The life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby online

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him cordially ; at the same time observing, thaf it would do
Mrs. Crummles's heart good to bid him good-by before they

"You were always a favorite of hers, Johnson," said
Crummies, " always were from the first. I was quite easy in my
mind about you from that first day you dined with us. One
that Mrs. Crummies took a fancy to, was sure to turn out
right. Ah ! Johnson, what a woman that is ! "

"lam sincerely obliged to her for her kindness in this
and all other respects," said Nicholas. " But where are you
going, that you talk about bidding good-by ? "

" Haven't you seen it in the papers ? " said Crummies,
with some dignity.

" No," replied Nicholas.

" I wonder at that," said the manager. " It was among
the varieties. I had the paragraph here somewhere — but I
don't know — oh, yes, here it is."

So saying, Mr. Crummies, after pretending that he thought

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he must have lost it, produced a square inch of newspaper
from the pocket of the pantaloons he'wore in private life (which
together with the plain clothes of several other gentlemen, lay
scattered about on a kind of dresser in the room), and
gave it to Nicholas to read :

" The talented Vincent Crummies, long favorably known
to fame as a country manager and actor of no ordinary pre-
tensions, is about to cross the Atlantic on a histrionic expedi-
tion. Crummies is to be accompanied, we hear, by his lady
and gifted family. We know no man superior to Crummies
in his particular line of character, or one who, whether as a
public or private individual, could carry with him the best
.wishes of a larger circle of friends. Crummies is certain to

u Here's another bit," said Mr. Crummies, handing over a
still smaller scrap. " This is from the notices to correspon-
dents, this one."

Nicholas read it aloud. " * Philo-Dramaticus. Crummies,
the country manager and actor, cannot be more than forty-
three, or forty-four years of age. Crummies is not a Prussian,
having been born at Chelsea/ Humph 1" said Nicholas,
" that's an odd paragraph."

" Very," returned Crummies, scratching the side of his
nose, and looking at Nicholas with an assumption of great
unconcern. " I can't think who puts these things in. 7"

Still keeping his eye on Nicholas, Mr. Crummies shook
his head twice or thrice with profound gravity, and remarking
that he could not for the life of him imagine how the news-
papers found out the things they did, folded up the extracts
and put them in his pocket again.

" 1 am astonished to hear this news," said Nicholas. " Go-
ing to America ! You had no such thing in contemplation
when I was with you."

" No," replied Crummies, " I hadn't then. The fact is,
that Mrs. Crummies — most extraordinary woman, Johnson."
Here he broke off and whispered something in his ear.

" Oh ! " said Nicholas, smiling. " The prospect of an ad-
dition to your family ? "

" The seventh addition, Johnson," returned Mr. Crumm-
ies, solemnly. " I thought such a child as the Phenomenon
must have been a closer ; but it seems we are to have another.
She is a very remarkable woman."

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" I congratulate you," said Nicholas, " and I hope this
may prove a phenomenon too."

" Why, it's pretty sure to be something uncommon, I sup-
pose," rejoined Mr. Crummies. " The talent of the other
three is principally in combat and serious pantomime. I
should like this one to have a turn for juvenile tragedy ; I
understand they want something of that sort in America very
much. However, we must take it as it comes. Perhaps it
may have a genius for the tight-rope. It may have any sort
of genius, in short, if it takes after its mother, Johnson, for
she is an universal genius ; but, whatever its genius is, that
genius shall be developed."

Expressing himself after these terms, Mr. Crummies put on
his other eyebrow, and the calves of his legs, and then put on his
legs, which were of a yellowish flesh-color, and rather soiled
about the knees, from frequent going down upon those joints,
in curses, prayers t last struggles, and other strong passages.

While the ex-manager completed his toilet, he informed
Nicholas that as he should have a fair start in America, from
the proceeds of a tolerably good engagement which he had
been fortunate enough to obtain, and as he and Mrs. Crumm-
ies could scarcely hope to act forever (not being immortal,
except in the breath of Fame and in a figurative sense), he
had made up his mind to settle there permanently, in the hope
of acquiring some land of his own which would support them
in their old age, and which they could afterwards bequeath to
their children. Nicholas, having highly commended this reso-
lution, Mr. Crummies went on to impart such further intelli-
gence relative to their mutual friends as he thought might
prove interesting ; informing Nicholas, among other things,
that Miss Snevellicci was happily married to an affluent young
wax-chandler who* had supplied the theatre with candles, and
that Mr. Lillyvick didn't dare to say his soul was his own,
such was the tyrannical sway of Mrs. Lillyvick, who reigned
paramount and supreme.

Nicholas responded to this confidence on the part of Mr.
Crummies, by confiding to him his own name, situation, and
prospects, and informing him in as few general words as he
could, of the circumstances which had led to their first ac-
quaintance. After congratulating him with great heartiness
on the improved state of his fortunes, Mr. Crummies gave him
to understand that next morning he and his were to start for
Liverpool, where the vessel lay which was to carry them from

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the shores of England, and that if Nicholas wished to take a
last adieu of Mrs. Crummies, he must repair with him that
night to a farewell-supper, given in honor of the family at a
neighboring tavern ; at which Mr. Snittle Timberry would
preside, while the honors of the vice-chair would be sustained
by the African Swallower.

The room being by this time very warm and somewhat
crowded, in consequence of the influx of four gentlemen, who
had just killed each other in the piece under representation,
Nicholas accepted the invitation, and promised to return at
the conclusion of the performances ; preferring the cool air
and twilight out of doors to the mingled perfume of gas,
orange-peel, and gunpowder, which pervaded the hot and
glaring theatre.

He availed himself of this interval to buy a silver snuff-
box — the best his funds would afford — as a token of remem-
brance for Mr. Crummies, and having purchased besides a
pair of ear-rings for Mrs. Crummies, a necklace for the Phe-
nomenon, and a flaming shirt-pin for each of the young gentle-
men, he refreshed himself with a walk, and returning a little
after the appointed time, found the lights out, the theatre
empty, the curtain raised for the night, and Mr. Crummies
walking up and down the stage expecting his arrival.

" Timberry won't be long," said Mr. Crummies. " He
played the audience out to-night. He does a faithful black
in the last piece-, and it takes him a little longer to wash him-

" A very unpleasant line of character, I should think ? "
said Nicholas.

" No, I don't know," replied Mr. Crummies ; " it comes
off easily enough, and there's only the face and neck. We
had a first-tragedy man in our company once, who, when he
played Othello, used to black himself all over. But that's
feeling a part and going into it as if you meant it ; it isn't
usual ; more's the* pity."

Mr. Snittle Timberry now appeared, arm in arm with the
African Swallower, and being introduced to Nicholas, raised
his hat half-a-foot, and said he was proud to know him. The
Swallower said the same, and looked and spoke remarkably
like an Irishman.

" I see by the bills that you have been ill, sir," said Nich-
olas to Mr. Timberry. " I hope you are none the worse for
your exertions to-night ? "


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Mr. Timberry in reply, shook his head with a gloomy air,
tapped his chest several times with great significancy, and
drawing his cloak more closely about him, said, "But no
matter, no matter. Come I "

It is observable that when people upon the stage are in
any strait involving the very last extremity of weakness and
exhaustion, they invariably perform feats of strength requiring
great ingenuity and muscular power. Thus, a wounded prince
or bandit-chief, who is bleeding to death and too faint to
move, except to the softest music (and then only upon his
hands and knees), shall be seen to approach a cottage door
for aid, in such a series of writhings and twistings, and with
such curlings up of the legs, and such rollings over and over,
and such gettings up and tumblings down again, as could
never be achieved save by a very strong man skilled in pos-
ture-making. And so natural did this sort of performance
come to Mr. Snittle Timberry, that on their way out of the
theatre and towards the tavern where the supper was to be
holdem he testified the severity of his recent indisposition and
its wasting effects upon the nervous system, by a series of
gymnastic performances which were the admiration of all

" Why this is indeed a joy I had not looked for ! " said
Mrs. Crummies, when Nicholas was presented.

" Nor I," replied Nicholas. " It is by a mere chance that
I have this opportunity of seeing you, although I would have
made a great exertion to have availed myself of it."

" Hefe is one whom you know/* said Mrs. Crummies,
thrusting forward the Phenomenon in a blue gauze frock,
extensively flounced, and trousers of the same -, " and here
another — and another," presenting the Masters Crummleses.
" And how is your friend, the faithful Digby ? "

" Digby ! " said Nicholas, forgetting at the instant that
this had been Smike's theatrical name. " Oh yes. He's quite
— what am I saying? — he is very far from well."

" How ! " exclaimed Mrs. Crummies, with a tragic recoil

" I fear," said Nicholas, shaking his head, and making an
attempt to smile, " that your better-half would be more struck
with him now, than ever."

" What mean you ? " rejoined Mrs. Crummies, in her most
popular manner. " Whence comes this altered tone ? "

" I mean that a dastardly enemy of mine has struck at me
through him, and that while he thinks to torture me, he inflicts

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on him such agonies of terror and suspense as You will

excuse me, I am sure/' said Nicholas, checking himself. " I
should never speak of this, and never do, except to those who
know the facts, but for a moment I forgot myself."

With this hasty apology Nicholas stooped down to salute
the Phenomenon, and changed the subject ; inwardly cursing
his precipitation, and very much wondering what Mrs.
Crummies must think of so sudden an explosion.

That lady seemed to think very little about it, for the
supper being by this time on table, she gave her hand to
Nicholas and repaired with a stately step to the left hand of
Mr. Snittle Timberry. Nicholas had the honor to support
her, and Mr. Crummies was placed upon the chairman's right ;
the Phenomenon and the Masters Crummies sustained the

The company amounted in number to some twenty-five or
thirty, being composed of such members of the theatrical pro-
fession, then engaged or disengaged in London, as were
numbered among the most intimate friends of Mr. and Mrs.
Crummies. The ladies and gentlemen were pretty equally
balanced ; the expenses of the entertainment being defrayed
by the latter, each of whom had the privilege of inviting one
of the former as his guest.

It was upon the whole a very distinguished party, for in-
dependently of the lesser theatrical lights who clustered on
this occasion round Mr. Snittle Timberry, there was a literary
gentleman present who had dramatized in his time two
hundred and forty-seven novels as fast as they had come out
— some of them faster than they had come out — and who was
a literary gentleman in consequence.

This gentleman sat on the left hand of Nicholas, to whom
he was introduced by his friend the African Swallower, from
the bottom of the table, with a high eulogium upon his fame
and reputation.

" I am happy to know a gentleman of such great distinc-
tion," said Nicholas, politely.

"Sir," replied the wit, "you're very welcome, I'm sure.
The honor is reciprocal, sir, as I usually say when I dramatize
a book. Did you ever hear a definition of fame, sir ? "

" I have heard several," replied Nicholas, with a smile.
"What is yours 1"

" When I dramatize a book, sir," said the literary gende-
maxi"thafs fame. For its author."

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" Oh, indeed ! " rejoined Nicholas.

" That's fame sir," said the literary gentleman.

" So Richard Turpin, Tom King, and Jerry Abershaw have
handed down to fame the names of those on whom they com-
mitted their most impudent robberies ? " said Nicholas.

" I don't know anything about that, sir," answered the
literary gentleman.

" Shakspeare dramatized stories which had previously
appeared in print, it is true," observed Nicholas.

" Meaning Bill, sir ? " said the literary gentleman. " So
he did. Bill was an adapter, certainly. So he was — and very
well he adapted too-rconsidering."

" I was about to say," rejoined Nicholas, "that Shaks-
peare derived some of his plots from old tales and legends
in general circulation ; but it seems to me, that some of the
gentlemen of your craft at the present day, have shot very far
beyond him — "

" You're quite right, sir," interrupted the literary gentle-
man, leaning back in his chair and exercising his toothpick;
" Human intellect, sir, has progressed since his time, is pro-
gressing, will progress."

" Shot beyond him, I mean," resumed Nicholas, " in quite
another respect, for, whereas he brought within the magic
<nrcle Qf his genius, traditions peculiarly adapted for his pur-
pose, and turned familiar things into constellations which
should enlighten the world for ages, you drag within the magic
circle of your dulness, subjects not at all adapted to the
purpose of the stage, and debase as he exalted. For instance,
you take the uncompleted books of living authors, fresh from
their hands, wet from the press, cut, hack, and carve them to
the powers and capacities of your actors, and the capability
of your theatres, finish unfinished works, hastily and crudely
vamp up ideas not yet worked out by their original pro-
jector, but which have doubtless cost him many thoughtful
days and sleepless nights ; by a comparison of incidents and
dialogue, down to the very last word he may have written a
fortnight before, do your utmost to anticipate his plot — all
this without his permission, and against his will ; and then,
to crown the whole proceeding, publish in some mean
pamphlet, an unmeaning farrago of garbled extracts from his
work, to which you put your name as author, with the honor-
able distinction annexed, of having perpetrated a hundred
other outrages of the same description. Now, show me the

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distinction between such pilfering as this, and picking a man's
pocket in the street : unless, indeed, it be, that the legislature
has a regard for pocket handkerchiefs, and leaves men's
brains (except when they are knocked out by violence), to take
care of themselves."

" Men must live, sir," said the literary gentleman,
shrugging his shoulders.

" That would be an equally fair plea in both cases,"
replied Nicholas ; "but if you put it upon that ground, I have
nothing more to say, than, that if I were a writer of books, and
you a thirsty dramatist, I would rather pay your tavern score
for six months, large as it might be, than have a niche in the
Temple of Fame with you for the humblest corner of my
pedestal, through six hundred generations."

The conversation threatened to take a somewhat angry
tone when it had arrived thus far, but Mrs. Crummies
opportunely interposed to prevent its leading to any violent
outbreak, by making some inquiries of the literary gentleman
relative to the plots of the six new pieces which he had written
by contract to introduce the African Knife-swallower in his
various unrivalled performances. This speedily engaged him
in an animated conversation with that lady, in the interest of
which, all recollection of his recent discussion with Nicholas
very quickly evaporated.

The board being now clear of the more substantial articles
of food, and punch, wine, and spirits being placed upon it and
handed about, the guests, who had been previously conversing
in little groups of three or four, gradually fell on into a dead
silence, while the majority of those present, glanced from time
to time at Mr. Snittle Timberry, and the bolder spirits did
not even hesitate to strike the table with their knuckles, and
plainly intimate their expectations, by uttering such en-
couragements <as " Now, Tim," "Wake up, Mr. Chairman,"
" All charged, sir, and waiting for a toast," and so forth.

To these remonstrances, Mr. Timberry deigned no other
rejoinder than striking his chest and gasping for breath, and
giving many other indications of being still the victim of in-
disposition — for a man must not make himself too cheap
either on the stage or off — while Mr. Crummies, who knew
full well that he would be the subject of the forthcoming toast,
sat gracefully in his chair with his arm thrown carelessly over
the back, and now and then lifted his glass to his mouth and
drank a little punch, with the same air with which he was

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accustomed to take long draughts of nothing, out of the
pasteboard goblets in banquet scenes.

At length Mr. Snittle Timberry rose in the most approved
attitude, with one hand in the breast of his waistcoat and the
other on the nearest snuff-box, and having been received with
great enthusiasm, proposed, with abundance of quotations, his
friend Mr. Vincent Crummies : ending a pretty long speech
by extending his right hand on one side and his left on the
other, and severally calling upon Mr. and Mrs. Crummies to
grasp the same. This done, Mr. Vincent Crummies returned
thanks, and that done, the African Swallower proposed Mrs.
Vincent Crummies, in affecting terms. Then were heard loud
moans and sobs from Mrs. Crummies and the ladies, despite
of which that heroic woman insisted upon returning thanks
herself, which she did, in a manner and in a speech which has
never been surpassed and seldom equalled. It then became
the duty of Mr. Snittle Timberry to give the young Crum-
mleses, which he did ; after which Mr. Vincent Crummies, as
their father, addressed the company in a supplementary
speech, enlarging on their virtues, amiabilities, and excel-
lences, and wishing that they were the sons and daughter of
every lady and gentleman present. These solemnities having
been succeeded by a decent interval, enlivened by musical and
other entertainments, Mr. Crummies proposed that ornament
of the profession, Mr. Snittle Timberry ; and at a little later
period of the evening, the health of that other ornament of
the profession, the African Swallower, his very dear friend* if
he would allow him to call him so ; which liberty (there being
no particular reason why he should not allow it) the African
Swallower graciously permitted. The literary gentleman was
then about to be drunk, but it being discovered that he had
been drunk for some time in another acceptation of the term,
and was then asleep on the stairs, the intention was aban-
doned, and the honor transferred to the ladies. Finally, after
a very long sitting, Mr. Snittle Timberry vacated the chair,
and the company with many adieus and embraces dispersed.

Nicholas waited to the last to give his little presents. When
he had said good-by all round and came to Mr. Crummies,
he could not but mark the difference between their present
separation and their parting at Portsmouth. Not a jot of his
theatrical manner remained ; he put out his hand with an
air which, if he could have summoned it at will, would have
made him the best actor of his day in homely parts, and when

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Nicholas shook it with the warmth he honestly felt, appeared
thoroughly melted.

" We were a very happy little company, Johnson," said
poor Crummies. " You and I never had a word. I shall be
very glad to-morrow morning to think that I saw you again,
but now I almost wish you hadn't come."

Nicholas was about to return a cheerful reply, when he was
greatly disconcerted by the sudden apparition of Mrs. Grudden,
who it seemed had declined to attend the supper in order that
she might rise earlier in the morning, and who now burst out
of an adjoining bedroom, habited in very extraordinary white
robes ; and throwing her arms about his neck, hugged him
with great affection.

" What ! Are you going too ? " said Nicholas, submitting
with as good a grace as if she had been the finest young
creature in the world.

" Going ? " returned Mrs. Grudden. " Lord ha* mercy,
what do you think they'd do without me ? "

Nicholas submitted to another hug with even a better
grace than before, if that were possible, and waving his hat
as cheerfully as he could, took farewell of the Vincent Crumm-



While Nicholas, absorbed in the one engrossing subject
of interest which had recently opened upon him, occupied his
leisure hours with thoughts of Madeline Bray, and in execution
of the commissions which the anxiety of Brother Charles in
her behalf imposed upon him, saw her again and again, and
each time with greater danger to his peace of mind and a
more weakening effect upon the lofty resolutions he had
formed, Mrs. Nickleby and Kate continued to live in peace
and quiet, agitated by no other cares than those which were
connected with certain harassing proceedings taken by Mr.
Snawley for the recovery of his son, and their anxiety for

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Smike himself, whose health, long upon the wane, began to-
be so much affected by apprehension and uncertainty as some-
times to occasion both them and Nicholas considerable un-
easiness, and even alarm.

It was no complaint or murmur on the part of the poor
fellow himself that thus disturbed them. Ever eager to be
employed in such slight services as he could render, and al-
ways anxious to repay his benefactors with cheerful and happy
looks, less friendly eyes might have seeh in him no cause for
any misgiving. But there were times, and often too, when the
sunken eye was too bright, the hollow cheek too flushed, the
breath too thick and heavy in its course, the frame too feeble
and exhausted, to escape their regard and notice.

There is a dread disease which so prepares its victim, as it
were, for death ; which so refines it of its grosser aspect, and
throws around familiar looks, unearthly indications of the
coming change; a dread disease, in which the struggle be-
tween soul and body is so gradual, quiet, and solemn, and the
result so sure, that day by day, and grain by grain, the mortal
part wastes and withers away, so that the spirit grows light
and sanguine with its lightening load, and, feeling immortality
at hand, deems it but a new term of mortal life ; a disease in
which death and life are so strangely blended, that death takes
the glow and hue of life, and life the gaunt and grisly form of
death ; a disease which medicine never cured, wealth never
warded off, or poverty could boast exemption from ; which
sometimes moves in giant strides, and sometimes at a tardy
sluggish pace, but, slow or quick, is ever sure and certain.

It was with some faint reference in his own mind to this
disorder, though he would by no means admit it, even to him-
self, that Nicholas had already carried his faithful companion
to a physician of great repute. There was no cause for imme-
diate alarm, he said. There were no present symptoms which
could be deemed conclusive. The constitution had been
greatly tried and injured in childhood, but still it might not
be — and that was all.

But he seemed to grow no worse, and, as it was not diffi-
cult to find a reason for these symptoms of illness in the
shock and agitation he had recently undergone, Nicholas

Online LibraryCharles DickensThe life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby → online text (page 60 of 79)