Charles Dickens.

The life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby online

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comforted himself with the hope that his poor friend would soon
recover. This hope his mother and sister shared with him ;
and as the object of their joint solicitude seemed to have no
uneasiness or despondency for himself, but each day answered



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NICHOLAS NICKLEB Y. 633

with a quiet smile that he felt better than he had upon the
day before, their fears abated, and the general happiness was
by degrees restored.

Many and many a time in after years did Nicholas look
back to this period of his life, and tread again the humble
quiet homely scenes that rose up as of old before him. Many
and many a time, in the twilight of a summer evening, or be-
side the flickering winter's fire — but not so often or so sadly
then — would his thoughts wander back to these old days, and
dwell with a pleasant sorrow upon every slight remembrance
which they brought crowding home. The little room in which
they had so often sat long after it was dark, figuring such
happy futures ; Kate's cheerful voice and merry laugh ; how,
if she were from home they used to sit and watch for her
return, scarcely breaking silence but to say how dull it seemed
without her ; the glee with which poor Smike would start
from the darkened corner where he used to sit, and hurry to
admit her ; and the tears they often saw upon his face, half
wondering to see them too, and he so pleased and happy ;
every little incident, and even slight words and looks of those
old days, little heeded then, but well remembered when busy
cares and trials were quite forgotten ; came fresh and thick
before him many and many a time, and, rustling above the
dusty growth of years, came back green boughs of yesterday.
But there were other persons associated with these recol-
lections, and many changes came about before they had being.
A necessary reflection for the purposes of these adventures,
which at once subside into their accustomed train, and shun-
ning all flighty anticipations or wayward wanderings, pursue
their steady and decorous course.

. If the Brothers Cheeryble, as they found Nicholas worthy
of trust and confidence, bestowed upon him every day some
new and substantial mark of kindness, they were not less
mindful of those who depended on him. Various little
presents to Mrs. Nickleby, always of the very things they
most required, tended in no slight degree to the improvement
and embellishment of the cottage. Kate's little store of
trinkets became quite dazzling ; and for company I If Brother
Charles and Brother Ned failed to look in for at least a few
minutes every Sunday, or one evening in the week, there was
Mr. Tim Linkinwater (who had never made half-a-dozcn other
acquaintances in all his life, and who took such delight in his
new friends as no words can express) constantly coming and



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634 NICHOLAS NICKLEB Y.

going in his evening walks, and stopping to rest ; while Mr.
Frank Cherryble happened, by some strange conjunction of
circumstances, to be passing the door on some business or
other at least three nights in the week.

" He is the most attentive young man / ever saw, Kate,"
said Mrs. Nickleby to her daughter one evening, when this last-
named gentleman had been the subject of the worthy lady's
eulogium for some time, and Kate had sat perfectly silent.

" Attentive, mama ! " rejoined Kate.

" Bless my heart, Kate ! " cried Mrs. Nickleby, with her
wonted suddenness, " what a color you have got ; why, you're
quite flushed ! "

"Oh, mama ! what strange things you fancy."
'It wasn't fancy, Kate, my dear, I'm certain of that,"
returned her mother. " However, it's gone now at any rate,
so it don't much matter whether it was or not. What was it
we were talking about ? Oh ! Mr. Frank. I never saw such
attention in my life, never."

"Surely you are not serious," returned Kate, coloring
again ; and this time beyond all dispute.

" Not serious ! " returned Mrs. Nickleby ; " why shouldn't
I be serious ? I'm sure I never was more serious. I will
say that his politeness and attention to me is one of the most
becoming, gratifying, pleasant things I have seen for a very
long time. You don't often meet with such behavior in young
men, and it strikes one more when one does meet with it."

" Oh ! attention to you mama," rejoined Kate quickly —
"oh yes."

" Dear me, Kate," retorted Mrs. Nickleby, " what an ex-
traordinary girl you are. Was it likely I should be talking of
his attention to anybody else ? I declare I'm quite sorry to
think he should be in love with a German lady, that I am."

" He said very positively that it was no such thing, mama,"
returned Kate. " Don't you remember his saying so that very
first night he came here ? Besides," she added, in a more
gentle tone, " why should we be sorry if it is the case ? What
is it to us, mama ? "

" Nothing to us, Kate, perhaps," said Mrs. Nickleby em-
phatically ; " but something to me, I confess. I like English
people, thorough English people, and not half English and
half I don't know what. I shall tell him point-blank next
time he comes, that I wish he would marry one of his own
countrywomen ; and see what he says to that"



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NICHOLAS NICKLEB Y. 635

" Pray don't think of such a thing, mama," returned Kate
hastily ; " not for the world. Consider. How very "

" Well, my dear, how very what ! " said Mrs. Nickleby,
opening her eyes in great astonishment.

Before Kate had returned any reply, a queer little double-
knock announced that Miss La Creevy had called to see
them ; and when Miss La Creevy presented herself, Mrs.
Nickleby, though strongly disposed to be argumentative on
the previous question, forgot all about it in a gush of supposes
about the coach she had come by ; supposing that the man
who drove must have been either the man in the shirt-sleeves
or the man with the black-eye ; that whoever he was, he
hadn't found that parasol she left inside last week ; that no
doubt they bad stopped a long while at the Halfway House,
coming down ; or that perhaps being full, they had come
straight on ; and lastly, that they, surely, must have passed
Nicholas on the road.

44 1 saw nothing of him," answered Miss La Creevy ; " but
I saw that dear old soul Mr. Linkinwater."

44 Taking his evening walk, and coming on to rest here,
before he turns back to the city, I'll be bound ! " said Mrs.
Nickleby.

" 1 should think he was," returned Miss La Creevy ;
" especially as young Mr. Cheeryble was with him."

44 Surely that is no reason why Mr. Linkinwater should be
coming here," said Kate.

44 Why I think it is, my dear," said Miss La Creevy. " For
a young man, Mr. Frank is not a very great walker ; and I
observe that he generally falls tired, and requires a good long
rest, when he has come as far as this. But where is my
friend ? " said the little woman, looking about, after having
glanced slyly at Kate. " He has not been run away with
again, has he ? "

44 Ah ! where is Mr. Smike ? " said Mrs. Nickleby ; " he
was here this instant."

Upon further inquiry, it turned out, to the good lady's
unbounded astonishment, that Smike had, that moment, gone
up stairs to bed.

" Well, now," said Mrs. Nickleby, " he is the strangest
creature ! Last Tuesday — was it Tuesday ? Yes, to be sure
it was ; you recollect, Kate, my dear, the very last time young
Mr. Cheeryble was here — last Tuesday night he went off in
just the same strange way at the very moment the knock



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636 NICHOLAS NICKLEBY.

came to the door. It cannot be that he don't like company,
because he is always fond of people who are fond of Nicholas,
and I am sure young Mr. Cheeryble is. And the strangest
thing is, that he doe j not go to bed ; therefore it cannot be be-
cause he is tired. I know he doesn't go to bed because my
room is the next one, and when I went up stairs last Tuesday
hours after him, I found that he had not even taken his shoes
off ; and he had no candle, so he must have sat moping in the
dark all the time. Now, upon my word," said Mrs. Nickleby,
" when I come to think of it, that's very extraordinary ! "

As the hearers did not echo this sentiment, but remained
profoundly silent, either as not knowing what to say, or as
being unwilling to interrupt, Mrs. Nickleby pursued the thread
of her discourse after her own fashion.

" I hope," said that lady, " that this unaccountable con-
duct may not be the beginning of his taking to his bed and
living there all his life, like the Thirsty Woman of Tutbury,
or the Cock-lane Ghost, or some of those extraordinary crea-
tures. One of them had some connection with our family. I
forget without looking back to some old letters I have up
stairs, whether it was my great-grandfather who went to
school with the Cock-lane Ghost, or the Thirsty Woman of
Tutbury who went to school with my grandmother. Miss La
Creevy, you know, of course. Which was it that didn't mind
what the clergyman said? The Cock-lane Ghost or the
Thirsty Woman of Tutbury ?"

"The Cock-lane Ghost, I believe."

" Then I have no doubt," said Mrs. Nickleby, " that it
was with him my great-grandfather went to school ; for I know
the master of his school was a dissenter, and that would, in
a great measure, account for the Cock-lane Ghost's behaving
in such an improper manner to the clergyman when he grew
up. Ah ! Train up a Ghost — child, I mean ."

Any further reflections on this fruitful theme were abruptly
cut short by the arrival of Tim Linkinwater and Mr. Frank
Cheeryble ; in the hurry of receiving whom, Mrs. Nickleby
speedily lost sight of everything else.

"1 am so sorry Nicholas is not at home," said Mrs.
Nickleby. " Kate, my dear, you must be both Nicholas and
yourself."

" Miss Nickleby need be but herself," said Frank.

" Then at all events she shall press you to stay," returned
Mrs. Nickleby. " Mr. Linkinwater says ten minutes, but I



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NICHOLAS NICKLEB Y. 637

cannot let you go so soon ; Nicholas would be very much
vexed, I am sure. Kate, my dear ! "

In obedience to a great number of nods, and winks, and
: frowns of extra significance, Kate added her entreaties that*
the visitors would remain ; but it was observed that she ad-
dressed them exclusively to Tim Linkinwater ; and there was,
besides a certain embarrassment in her manner, which, al-
though it was as far from impairing its graceful character as
the tinge it communicated to her cheek was from diminishing
her beauty, was obvious at a glance even to Mrs. Nickleby.
Not being of a very speculative character, however, save un-
der circumstances when her speculations could be put into
words and uttered aloud, that discreet matron attributed the
emotion to the circumstance of her daughter's not happen-
ing to have her best frock on : " though I never saw her look
better, certainly," she reflected at the same time. Having
settled the question in this way, and being most complacently
satisfied that in this, as in all other instances, her conjecture
could not fail to be the right one, Mrs. Nickleby dismissed it
from her thoughts, and inwardly congratulated herself on
being so shrewd and knowing.

Nicholas did not come home nor did Smike re-appear ; but
neither circumstance, to say the truth, had any great effect
upon the little party, who were all in the best humor possible.
Indeed, there sprung up quite a flirtation between Miss La
Creevy and Tim Linkinwater, who said a thousand jocose and
facetious things, and became, by degrees, quite gallant, not to
say tender. Little Miss La Creevy, on her part, was in high
spirits, and rallied Tim on having remained a bachelor all his
life with so much success, that Tim was actually induced to
declare, that if he could get anybody to have him he didn't
know but what he might change his condition even yet. Miss
La Creevy earnestly recommended a lady she knew, who
would exactly suit Mr. Linkinwater, and had a very comfort-
able property of her own ; but this latter qualification had
very little effect upon Tim, who manfully protested that for-
tune would be no object with him, but that true worth and
cheerfulness of disposition were what a man should look for
in a wife, and that if he had these, he could find money
enough for the moderate wants of both. This avowal was
considered so honorable to Tim, that neither Mrs. Nickleby
nor Miss La Creevy could sufficiently extol it ; and stimulated
by their praises, Tim launched out into several other declara-



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£38 NICHOLAS NICKLEB Y.

tions also manifesting the disinterestedness of his heart, and
a great devotion to the fair sex : which were received with no
less approbation. This was done and said with a comical
■•mixture of jest and earnest, and, leading to a great amount
of laughter, made them very merry indeed.

Kate was commonly the life and soul of the conversation
at home ; but she was more silent than usual upon this oc-
casion (perhaps because Tim and Miss La Creevy engrossed
so much of it), and keeping aloof from the talkers, sat at the
window watching the shadows as the evening closed in, and
enjoying the quiet beauty of the night, which seemed to have
scarcely less attractions for Frank, who first lingered near,
and then sat down beside her. No doubt there are a great
many things to be said appropriate to a summer evening, and
no doubt they are best said in a low voice as being most suit-
able to the peace and serenity of the hour ; long pauses, too,
at times, and then an earnest word or so, and then another
interval of silence which, somehow, does not seem like si-
lence either, and perhaps now and then a hasty turning away
of the head, or drooping of the eyes towards the ground, all
these minor circumstances, with a disinclination to have
candles introduced and a tendency to confuse hours with
minutes, are doubtless mere influences of the time, as many
lovely lips can clearly testify. Neither was there the slightest
reason why Mrs. Nickleby should have expressed surprise
when, candles being at length brought in, Kate's bright eyes
were unable to bear the light which obliged her to avert her face,
and even to leave the room for some short time ; because
when one has sat in the dark so long candles are dazzling,
and nothing can be more strictly natural than that such results
should be produced, as all well-informed young people know.
For that matter, old people know it too, or did know it once,
but they forget these things sometimes, and more's the pit}'.

Tlie good lady's surprise, however, did not end here. It
was greatly increased when it was discovered that Kate had
not the least appetite for supper ; a discovery so alarming
that there is no knowing in what unaccountable efforts of
oratory Mrs. Nickleby's apprehensions might have been vent-
ed, if the general attention had not been attracted, at the mo-
ment, by a very strange and uncommon noise, proceeding, as
the pale and trembling servant girl affirmed, and as every-
body's sense of hearing seemed to affirm also, " right down "
the chimney of the adjoining room.



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NICHOLAS NICKLEBY. 639

It being quite plain to the comprehension of all present
that, however extraordinary and improbable it might appear,
the noise did nevertheless proceed from the chimney in ques-
tion ; and the noise (which was a strange compound of various
shuffling, sliding, rumbling, and struggling sounds, all muffled
by the chimney) still continuing, Frank Cheeryble caught up
a candle, and Tim Linkinwater the tongs, and they would
have very quickly ascertained the cause of this disturbance
if Mrs. Nickleby had not been taken very faint, and declined
being left behind, on any account. This produced a short re-
monstrance, which terminated in their all proceeding to the
troubled chamber in a body, excepting only Miss La Creevy,
who, as the servant-girl volunteered a confession of having
been subject to fits in her infancy, remained with her to give
the alarm and apply restoratives, in case of extremity.

Advancing to the door of the mysterious apartment, they
were not a little surprised to hear a human voice, chaunting
with a highly elaborated expression of melancholy, and in
tones of suffocation which a human voice might have pro-
duced from under five or six feather-beds of the best quality,
the once popular air of " Has she then failed in her truth, the
beautiful maid I adore ! " Nor, on bursting into the room
without demanding a parley, was their astonishment lessened
by the discovery that these romantic sounds certainly pro-
ceeded from the throat of some man up the chimney, of whom
nothing was visible but a pair of legs, which were dangling
above the grate ; apparently feeling, with extreme anxiety,
for the top bar whereon to effect a landing.

A sight so unusual and unbusiness-like as this, completely
paralyzed Tim Linkinwater, who, after one or two gentle
pinches at the stranger's ankles, which were productive of no
effect, stood clapping the tongs together, as if he were sharp-
ening them for another assault, and did nothing else.

" This must be some drunken fellow," said Frank. " No
thief would announce his presence thus."

As he said this, with great indignation, he raised the
candle to obtain a better view of the legs, and was darting
forward to pull them down with very little ceremony, when
Mrs. Nickleby, clasping her hands, uttered a sharp sound,
something between a scream and an exclamation, and de-
manded to know whether the mysterious limbs were not clad
in small-clothes and gray worsted stockings, or whether her
eyes had deceived her ?



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640 NICHOLAS NICKLEB Y.

"Yes," cried Frank, looking a little closer. "Small-
clothes certainly, and — and — rough gray stockings, too. Do
you know him ma'am ? "

" Kate, my dear," said Mrs. Nickleby, deliberately sitting
herself down in a chair with that sort of desperate resignation
which seemed to imply that now matters had come to a crisis,
and all disguise was useless, " you will have the goodness, my
love, to explain precisely how this matter stands. I have
given him no encouragement — none whatever — not the least
in the world. You know that, my dear, perfectly well. He
was very respectful, exceedingly respectful, when he declared,
as you were a witness to ; still at the. same time, if I am to
be persecuted in this way, if vegetable what's-his-names and
all kind of garden-stuff are to strew my path out of doors,
and gentlemen are to come choking up our chimneys at home,
I really don't know — upon my word I do not know — what is
to become of me. It's a very hard case — harder than any-
thing I was ever exposed to, before I married your poor dear
papa, though I suffered a good deal of annoyance then — but
that, of course, I expected, and made up my mind for. When
I was not nearly so old as you, my dear, there was a young
gentleman who sat next us at church, who used, almost every
Sunday, to cut my name in large letters in the front of his
pew while the sermon was going on. It was gratifying, of
course, naturally so, but still it was an annoyance, because the
pew was in a very conspicuous place, and he was several
times publicly taken out by the beadle for doing it. But
that was nothing to this. This is a great deal worse, and a
great deal more embarrassing. I would rather, Kate, my
dear," said Mrs. Nickleby, with great solemnity, and an effu-
sion of tears : " I would rather, I declare, have been a pig-
faced lady, than be exposed to such a life as this ! "

Frank Cheeryble and Tim Linkinwater looked, in irre-
pressible astonishment, first at each other and then at Kate,
who felt that some explanation was necessary, but who, be-
tween her terror at the apparition of the legs, her fear lest
their owner should be smothered, and her anxiety to give the
least ridiculous solution of the mystery that it was capable of
bearing, was quite unable to utter a single word.

" He gives me great pain," continued Mrs. Nickleby, dry-
ing her eyes, " great pain ; but don't hurt a hair of his head,
I beg. On no account hurt a hair of his head."

It would not, under existing circumstances, have been



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NICHOLAS NICKLEBY. 641

quite so easy to hurt a hair of the gentleman's head as Mrs.
Nickleby seemed to imagine, in as much as that part of his
person was some feet up the chimney, which was by no
means a wide one. But, as all this time, he had never left off
singing about the bankruptcy of the beautiful maid in respect
of truth, and now began not only to croak very feebly, but to
kick with great violence as if respiration became a task of
difficulty, Frank Cheeryble, without further hesitation, pulled
at the shorts and worsteds with such heartiness as to bring
him floundering into the room with greater precipitation than
he had quite calculated upon.

"Oh I yes, yes," said Kate, directly the whole figure of
this singular visitor appeared in this abrupt manner. " I
know who it is. Pray don't be rough with him. Is he hurt ?
I hope not Oh, pray see if he is hurt."

" He is not, I assure you," replied Frank, handling the
object of his surprise, after this appeal, with sudden tender-
ness and respect. " He is not hurt in the least."

" Don't let him come any nearer," said Kate, retiring as
far as she could.

" No no, he shall not," rejoined Frank. " You see I have
him secure here. But may I ask you, what this means, and
whether you expected this old gentleman ? "

" Oh, no," said Kate, " of course not ; but he — mama
does not think so, I believe — but he is a mad gentleman who
has escaped from the next house, and must have found an
opportunity of secreting himself here."

" Kate," interposed Mrs. Nickleby with severe dignity,
" I am surprised at you."

" Dear mama," Kate gently remonstrated.

"I am surprised at you," repeated Mrs. Nickleby; "upon
my word, Kate, I am quite astonished that "you should join
the persecutors of this unfortunate gentleman, when you
know very well that they have the basest designs upon his
property, and that that is the whole secret of it. It would be
much kinder of you, Kate, to ask Mr. Linkinwater or Mr.
Cheeryble to interfere in his behalf, and see him righted.
You ought not to allow your feelings to influence you ; it's
not right, very far from it. What should my feelings be, do
you suppose ? If anybody ought to be indignant, who is it ?
I, of course, and very properly so. Still, at the same time, I
wouldn't commit such an injustice for the world. No," con-
tinued Mrs. Nickleby, drawing herself up, and looking

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642 NICHOLAS NICKLEB Y

another way with a kind of bashful stateliness ; •• this gentle-
man will understand me when I tell him that I repeat the
answer I gave him the other day ; that I always will repeat it,
though I do believe him. to be sincere when I find him placing
himself in such dreadful situations on my account ; and that
I request him to have the goodness to go away directly, or it
will be impossible to keep his behavior a secret from my son
Nicholas, I am obliged to him, very much obliged to him,
but I cannot listen to his addresses for a moment. It's quite
impossible."

While this address was in course of delivery, the old
gentleman, with his nose and cheeks embellished with lar^e
patches of soot, sat upon the ground with his arms folded,
eyeing the spectators in profound silence, and with a very
majestic demeanor. He did not appear to take the smallest
notice of what Mrs. Nickleby said, but when she ceased to
speak he honored her with a long stare, and inquired if she
had quite finished ?

" I have nothing more to say," replied that lady modestly
" I really cannot say anything more."

" Very good," said the old gentleman, raising his voice,
" then bring in the bottled lightning, a clean tumbler, and a
corkscrew."

Nobody executing this order, the old gentleman, after a
short pause, raised his voice again, and demanded a thunder
sandwich. This article not being forthcoming either, he re-
quested to be served with a fricassee of boot-tops and gold-
fish sauce, and then laughing heartily, gratified his hearers
with a very long, very loud, and most melodious bellow.

But still Mrs. Nickleby, in reply to the significant looks of
all about her, shook her head as though to assure them that
she saw nothing whatever in all this, unless, indeed, it were a
slight degree of eccentricity. She might have remained im-
pressed with these opinions down to the latest moment of her
life but for a slight train of circumstances, which, trivial as



Online LibraryCharles DickensThe life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby → online text (page 61 of 79)