Charles Dickens.

The life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby online

. (page 62 of 79)
Online LibraryCharles DickensThe life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby → online text (page 62 of 79)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


they were, altered the whole complexion of the case.

It happened that Miss La Creevy, finding her patient in
no very threatening condition, and being strongly impelled by
curiosity to see what was going forward, bustled into the
room while the old gentleman was in the very act of bellow-
ing. It happened, too, that the instant the old gentleman saw
her, he stopped short, skipped suddenly on his feet, and fell
to kissing his hand violently : a change of demeanor which



Digitized by VjOOQIC



NICHOLAS NICKLEBY. 643

almost terrified the little portrait-painter out of her senses, and
caused her to retreat behind Tim Linkinwater with the utmost
expedition.

" Aha ! " cried the old gentleman, folding his hands, and
squeezing them with great force against each other. " I see
her now, I see her now ! My love, my life, my bride, my
peerless beauty. She is come at last — at last — and all is gas
and gaiters ! "

Mrs. Nickleby looked rather disconcerted for a moment,
but immediately recovering, nodded to Miss La Creevy and
the other spectators several times, and frowned, and smiled
gravely ; giving them to understand that she saw where the
mistake was, and would set it all to rights in a minute or two.

" She is come ! " said the old gentleman, laying his hand
upon his heart. " Cormoran and Blunderbore ! She is come !
All the wealth I have is hers if she will take me for her slave.
Where are grace, beauty, and blandishments, like those, In
the Empress of Madagascar ? No. , In the Queen of Dia-
monds ? No. In Mrs. Rowland, who every morning bathes
in Kalydor for nothing ? No. Melt all these down into one,
with the three graces, the nine Muses, and fourteen biscuit-
bakers' daughters from Oxford-street, and make a woman half
as lovely. Pho ! I defy you."

After uttering this rhapsody, the old gentleman snapped
his fingers twenty or thirty times, and then subsided into an
ecstatic contemplation of Miss La Creevy's charms. This
affording Mrs. Nickleby a favorable opportunity of explana-
tion, she went about it straight.

" I am sure," said the worthy lady, with a prefatory
cough, "that it's a great relief, under such trying circum-
stances as these, to have anybody else mistaken for me — a
very great relief ; and it's a circumstance that never occurred
before, although I have several times been mistaken for my
daughter Kate. I have no doubt the people were very fool-
ish, and perhaps ought to have known better, but still they
did take me for her, and of course that was no fault of mine,
and it would very hard indeed if I wa? to be made responsi-
ble for it. However, in this instance, of course, I must feel
that I should do exceedingly wrong if I suffered anybody —
especially anybody that I am under great obligations tc—to
be made uncomfortable on my account. And therefore I think
it my duty to tell that gentleman that he is mistaken, that I
am the lady who he was told by some impertinent person was



Digitized by VjOOQIC



644 NICHOLAS NICKLEBY.

niece to the Council of Paving-stones, and that I do beg and
entreat of him to go quietly away, if it's only for," lOTOt
here Mrs. Nickleby simpered and hesitated, " for my sake."

It might have been expected that the old gentleman would
have been penetrated to the heart by the delicacy and con-
descension of this appeal, and that he would at least have
returned a courteous and suitable reply. What, then, was the
shock which Mrs. Nickleby received, when, accosting her in
the most unmistakable manner, he replied in a loud and
sonorous voice : " Avaunt 1 Cat 1 "

" Sir 1 " cried Mrs. Nickleby, in a faint tone.

" Cat ! " repeated the old gentleman. " Puss, Kit, Tit,
Grimalkin, Tabby, Brindle ! Whoosh!" With which last
sound, uttered in a hissing manner between his teeth, the old
gentleman swung his arms violently round and round, and at
the same time alternately advanced on Mrs. Nickleby, and re-
treated from her, in that species of savage dance with which
boys on market-days may be seen to frighten pigs, sheep, and
other animals, when they give out obstinate indications of
turning down a wrong street.

Mrs. Nickleby wasted no words, but uttered an exclama-
tion of horror and surprise, and immediately fainted away.

" I'll attend to mama," said Kate hastily ; "lam not at all
frightened. But pray take him away ; pray take him away ! "

Frank was not at all confident of his power of complying
with this request, until he bethought himself of the stratagem
of sending Miss La Creevy on a few paces in advance, and
urging the old gentleman to follow her. It succeeded to a
miracle; and he went away in a rapture of admiration,
strongly guarded by Tim Linkinwater on one side, and Frank
himself on the other.

" Kate," murmured Mrs. Nickleby, reviving when the
coast was clear, " is he gone ? "

She was assured that he was.

" I shall never forgive myself, Kate," said Mrs. Nickleby ;
" never ! That gentleman has lost his senses, and / am the
unhappy cause."

" You the cause ! " said Kate, greatly astonished.

"I, my love," replied Mrs. Nickleby, with a desperate
calmness. " You saw what he was the other day ; you see
what he is now. I told your brother, weeks and weeks ago,
Kate, that I hoped a disappointment might not be too much
for him. You see what a wreck he is. Making allowance for



Digitized by VjOOQIC



NICHOLAS NICKLEB Y. 645

his being a little flighty, you know how rationally and sensibly
and honorably he talked, when we saw him in the garden.
You have heard the dreadful nonsense he has been guilty of,
this night, and the manner in which he has gone on with that
poor unfortunate little old maid. Can anybody doubt how
all this has been brought about ! "

" I should scarcely think they could," said Kate mildly.

"/should scarcely think so, either," rejoined her mother.
" Well ! if I am the unfortunate cause of this, I have the
satisfaction of knowing that I am not to blame. I told Nich-
olas. I said to him, * Nicholas, my dear, we should be very
careful how we proceed.' He would scarcely hear me. If
the matter had only been properly taken up at first, as I
wished it to be ! But you are both of you so like your poor
papa. However, I have my consolation, and that should be
enough for me ! "

Washing her hands, thus, of all responsibility under this
head, past, present, or to come, Mrs. Nickleby kindly added
that she hoped her children might never have greater cause to
reproach themselves than she had, and prepared herself to re-
ceive the escort, which soon returned with the intelligence
that the old gentleman was. safely housed, and that they
found his custodians, who had been making merry with some
friends, wholly ignorant of his absence.

Quiet being again restored, a delicious half hour— so
Frank called it, in the course of subsequent conversation with
Tim Linkinwater as they were walking home — was spent in
conversation, and Tim's watch at length apprising him that it
was high time to depart, the ladies were left alone, though
not without many offers on the part of Frank to remain until
Nicholas arrived, no matter what hour of the night it might
be, if, after the late neighborly irruption, they entertained the
least fear of being left to themselves. As their freedom from
all further apprehension, however, left no pretext for his in-
sisting on mounting guard, he was obliged to abandon the
citadel, and to retire with the trusty Tim.

Nearly three hours of silence passed away. Kate blushed
to find, when Nicholas returned, how long she had been sit-
ting alone, occupied with her own thoughts.

" I really thought it had not been half an hour," she said.

"They must have been pleasant thoughts, Kate," rejoined
Nicholas gayly, " to make time pass away like that. What
were they now ? "



Digitized by VjOOQlC



646 NICHOLAS NICKLEBY.

Kate was confused ; she toyed with some trifle on the
table, looked up and smiled, looked down and dropped a tear.
" Why, Kate," said Nicholas, drawing his sister towards
him and kissing her, " let me see your face. No ? Ah ! that
was but a glimpse ; that's scarcely fair. A longer look than
that, Kate. Come — and I'll read your thoughts for you."

There was something in this proposition, albeit it was said
without the slightest consciousness or application, which so
alarmed his sister, that Nicholas laughingly changed the sub-
ject to domestic matters, and thus gathered, by degrees, as
they left the room and went up stairs together, how lonely
Smike had been all night — and by very slow degrees, too ;
for on this subject also, Kate seemed to speak with some re-
luctance.

" Poor fellow," said Nicholas, tapping gently at his door,
"what can be the cause of all this ! "

Kate was hanging on her brother's arm. The door being
quickly opened, she had not time to disengage herself, before
Smike, very pale and haggard, and completely dressed, con-
fronted them.

** And have you not been to bed ? " said Nicholas.
" N — n — no," was the reply.

Nicholas gently detained his sister, who made an effort to
retire ; and asked, " Why not ? "

" I could not sleep," said Smike, grasping the hand which
his friend extended to him.

" You are not well ? " rejoined Nicholas.
" I am better, indeed. A great deal better," said Smike
quickly.

" Then why do you give way to these fits of melancholy ? "
inquired Nicholas, in his kindest manner ; " or why not tell
us the cause ? You grow a different creature, Smike."

"I do; I know I do," he replied. "I will tell you the
reason one day, but not now. I hate myself for this ; you are
all so good and kind. But I cannot help it. My heart is very
full ; you do not know how full it is."

He wrung Nicholas's hand before he released it ; and,
glancing, for a moment, at the brother and sister as they stood
together, as if there were something in their strong affection
which touched him deeply, withdrew into his chamber, and
was soon the only watcher under that quiet roof.



Digitized by VjOOQIC



NICHOLAS NICKLEBY, 647



CHAPTER L.

INVOLVES A SERIOUS CATASTROPHE.

The little race-course of Hampton was in the full tide and
height of its gayety ; the day as dazzling as day could be ; the
sun high in the cloudless sky, and shining in its fullest splen-
dor. Every gaudy color that fluttered in the air from carriage
seat and garish tent top, shone out in its gaudiest hues. Old
dingy flags grew new again, faded gilding was re-burnished,
stained rotten canvas looked a snowy white, the very beggars'
rags were freshened up, and sentiment quite forgot its charity
in its fervent admiration of poverty so picturesque.

It was one of those scenes of life and animation, caught,
in its very brightest and freshest moments, which can scarcely
fail to please ; for, if the eye be tired of show and glare, or
the ear be weary with a ceaseless round of noise, the one may
repose, turn almost where it will, on eager, happy, and expec-
tant faces, and the other deaden all consciousness of more
annoying sounds in those of mirth and exhilaration. Even
the sunburnt faces of gipsy children, half naked though they
be, suggest a drop of comfort. It is a pleasant thing to see
that the sun has been there ; to know that the air and light
are on them every day ; to feel that they are children, and
.lead children's lives ; that if their pillows be damp, it is with
the dews of Heaven, and not with tears : that the limbs of
their girls are free, and that they are not crippled by distor-
tions, imposing an unnatural and horrible penance upon their
sex ; that their lives are spent, from day to day, at least among
the waving trees, and not in the midst of dreadful engines
which make young children old before they know what child-
hood is, and give them the exhaustion and infirmity of age,
without, like age, the privilege to die. God send that old
nursery tales .were true, and that gipsies stole such children by
the score !

The great race of the day had just been run ; and the close
lines of people, on either side of the course, suddenly break-
ing up and pouring into it, imparted a new liveliness to the
scene, which was again all busy movement. Some, hurried
eagerly to catch a glimpse of the winning horse ; others darted



Digitized by VjOOQIC



648 NICHOLAS NICKLEB Y.

to and fro, searching, no less eagerly, for the carriage they
had left in quest of better stations. Here, a little knot
gathered round a pea and thimble table to watch the plucking
of some unhappy greenhorn ; and there, another proprietor
with his confederates in various disguises — one man in specta-
cles, another, with an eye-glass and a stylish hat ; a third,
dressed as a farmer well to do in the world, with his top-cc«at
over his arm and his flash notes in a large leathern pocket-
book ; and all with heavy-handled whips to represent most in-
nocent country fellows who had trotted there on horseback —
sought, by loud and noisy talk and pretended play, to entrap
some unwary customer, while the gentlemen confederates (of
more villanous aspect still, in clean linen and good clothes,)
betrayed their close interest in the concern by the anxious fur-
tive glance they cast on all new comers. These would be
hanging on the outskirts of a wide circle of people assembled
round some itinerant juggler, opposed, in his turn, by a noisy
band of music, or the classic game of " Ring the Bull," while
ventriloquists holding dialogues with wooden dolls, and for-
tune-telling women smothering the cries of real babies, divided
with them, and many more, the general attention of the com-
pany. Drinking-tents were full, glasses began to clink in
carriages, hampers to be unpacked, tempting provisions to be
set forth, knives and forks to rattle, champagne corks to fly,
eyes to brighten that were not dull before, and pickpockets to
count their gains during the last heat. The attention so re-
cently strained on one object of interest, was now divided
among a hundred ; and, look where you would, there was a
motley assemblage of feasting, laughing, talking, begging,
gambling, and mummery.

Of the gambling-booths there was a plentiful show,
flourishing in all the splendor of carpeted ground, striped
hangings, crimson cloth, pinnacled roofs, geranium pots, and
livery servants. There were the Stranger's club-house, the
Athenaeum club-house, the Hampton club-house, the Saint
James's club-house, half-a-mile of club-houses, to play in;
and there were rouge-et-noir, French hazard, and other games,
to play at. It is into one of these booths that our story takes
its way.

Fitted up with three tables for the purposes of play, and
crowded with players and lookers on, it was, although the
largest place of the kind upon the course, intensely hot,
notwithstanding that a portion of the canvas roof was rolled



Digitized by VjOOQIC



NICHOLAS NICKLEB V. 649

back to admit more air, and there were two doors for a free
passage in and out. Excepting one or two men who, each
with a long roll of half-crowns chequered with a few stray
sovereigns, in his left hand, staked their money at every roll
of the ball with a business-like sedateness which showed that
they were used to it, and had been playing all day, and most
probably all the day before, there was no very distinctive
character about the players. They were chiefly young men,
apparently attracted by curiosity, or staking small sums as
part of the amusement of the day, with no very great interest
in winning or losing. There were two persons present, how-
ever, who, as peculiarly good specimens of a class, deserve a
passing notice.

Of these, one was a man of six or eight and fifty, who sat
on a chair near one of the entrances of the booth, with his
hands folded on the top of his stick, and his chin appearing
above them. He was a tall, fat, long-bodied man, buttoned
up to the throat in a light green coat, which made his body
look still longer than it was. He wore, besides, drab breeches
and gaiters, a white neckerchief, and a broad-brimmed white
hat. Amid all the buzzing noise of the games, and the per-
petual passing in and out of people, he seemed perfectly calm
and abstracted, without the smallest particle of excitement in
his composition. He exhibited^no indication of weariness,
nor, to a casual observer, of interest either. There he sat,
quite still and collected. Sometimes, but very rarely, he
nodded to some passing face, or beckoned to a waiter to obey
a call from one of the tables. The next instant he subsided
into his old state. He might have been some profoundly
deaf old gentleman, who had come in to take a rest, or he
might have been patiently waiting for a friend, without the
least consciousness of anybody's presence, or he might have
been fixed in a trance, or under the influence of opium.
People turned round and looked at him ; he made no gesture,
caught nobody's eye, let them pass away, and others come on
and be succeeded by others, and took no notice. When he
did move, it seemed wonderful how he could have seen any-
thing to pccasion it. And so, in truth, it was. But there was
not a face that passed in or out, which this man failed to see ;
not a gesture at any one of the three tables that was lost
upon him ; not a word, spoken by the bankers, but reached
his ear ; not a winner or loser he could not have marked.
And he was the proprietor of the place.



Digitized by VjOOQIC



650 NICHOLAS NICKLEB V.

The other presided over the rouge-et-noir table. He was
probably some ten years younger, and was a plump, paunchy,
sturdy-looking fellow, with his underlip a little pursed, from a
habit of counting money inwardly as he paid it, but with no
decidedly bad expression in his face, which was rather an
honest and jolly one than otherwise. He wore no coat, the
weather being hot, and stood behind the table with a huge
mound of crowns and half-crowns before him, and a cash-box
for n/>tes. This game was constantly playing. Perhaps
twenty people would be staking at the same time. This man
had to roll the ball, to watch the stakes as they were laid
down, to gather them off the color which lost, to pay those
who won, to do it all with the utmost despatch, to roll the
ball again, and to keep this game perpetually alive. He did
it all with a rapidity absolutely marvellous ; never hesitating,
never making a mistake, never stopping, and never ceasing to
repeat such unconnected phrases as the following, which,
partly from habit, and partly to have something appropriate
and business-like to say, he constantly poured out with the
same monotonous emphasis, and in nearly the same order, all
day long :

" Rooge-a-nore from Paris ! Gentlemen, make your game
and back your own opinions — any time while the ball rolls —
rooge-a-nore from Paris, gentlemen, it's a French game,
gentlemen, I brought it over myself, I did indeed ! — Rooge-a-
nore from Paris — black wins — black — stop a minute, sir, and
I'll pay you directly — two there, half a pound there, three
there — and one there — gentlemen, the ball's a rolling — any
time, sir, while the ball rolls 1 — The beauty of this game is,
that you can double your stakes or put down your money,
gentlemen, any time while the ball rolls — black again —
black wins — I never saw such a thing — I never did, in all my
life, upon my word I never did ; if any gentleman had been
backing the black in the last five minutes he must have won
five and forty pound in four rolls of the ball, he must indeed.
Gentlemen, we've port, sherry, cigars, and most excellent
champagne. Here, wai-ter, bring a bottle of champagne, and
let's have a dozen or fifteen cigars here — and let's Jbe com-
fortable, gentlemen — and bring some clean glasses — any time
while the ball rolls! — I lost one hundred and thirty-seven
pound yesterday, gentlemen, at one roll of the ball, I did
indeed ! — how do you do, sir " (recognizing some knowing
gentleman without any halt or change of voice, and giving a



Digitized by VjOOQIC



NICHOLAS NICKLEB K 65 1

wink so slight that it seems an accident), " will you take a
glass of sherry, sir — here, wai-ter ! bring a clean glass, and
hand the sherry to this gentleman — and hand it round, will
you, waiter — this is the rooge-a-nore from Paris, gentlemen —
any time while the ball rolls 1 — gentlemen, make your game,
and back your own opinions — it's the rooge-a-nore from Paris
—quite a new game, I brought it over myself, I did indeed —
gentlemen, the ball's a rolling 1 "

This officer was 'busily plying his vocation when half-a-
dozen persons sauntered through the booth, to whom, but
without stopping either in his speech or work, he bowed
respectfully ; at the same time, directing, by a look, the
attention of a man beside him to the tallest figure in the
group, in recognition of whom the proprietor pulled off his
hat. This was Sir Mulberry Hawk, with whom were his
friend and pupil, and a small train of gentlemanly-dressed
men, of characters more doubtful than obscure.

The proprietor, in a low voice, bade Sir Mulberry good-
day. Sir Mulberry, in the same tone, bade the proprietor go
to the devil, and turned to "speak with his friends.

There was evidently an irritable consciousness about him
that he was an object of curiosity, on this first occasion of
showing himself in public after the accident that had befallen
him ; and it was easy to perceive that he appeared on the
race-course, that day, more in the hope of meeting with a
great many people who knew him,' and so getting over as
much as possible of the annoyance at once, than with any
purpose of enjoying the sport. There yet remained a slight
scar on his face, and whenever he was recognized, as he was
almost every minute by people sauntering in and out, he made
a restless effort to conceal it with his gloves ; showing how
keenly he felt the disgrace he had undergone.

"Ah! Hawk," said one very sprucely dressed personage
in a Newmarket coat, a choice neckerchief, and all other
accessories of the most unexceptionable kind. " How d'ye
do, old fellow?"

This was a rival trainer of young noblemen and gentlemen,
and the person of all others whom Sir Mulberry most hated
and dreaded to meet. They shook hands with excessive
cordiality.

" And how are you now, old fellow, hey ? "

" Quite well, quite well," said Sir Mulberry.

" That's right," said the other. " How d'ye do, Lord Fred-



Digitized by VjOOQlC



652 NICHOLAS NICKLEB Y.

erick ? He's a little pulled down, our friend here. Rather
out of condition still, hey ? "

It should be observed that the gentleman had very white
teeth, and that when there was no excuse for laughing, he
generally finished with the same monosyllable, which he
uttered so as to display them.

" He's in very good condition ; there's nothing the matter
with him," said the young man carelessly.

" Upon my soul I'm glad to hear it, rejoined the other.
" Have you just returned from Brussels ? "
- " We only reached town late last night," said Lord Fred-
erick. Sir Mulberry turned away to speak to one of his own
party, and feigned not to hear.

" Now, upon my life," said the friend, affecting to speak
in a whisper, " it's an uncommonly bold and game thing in
Hawk to show himself so soon. I say it advisedly ; there's a
vast deal of courage in it. You see he has just rusticated
long enough to excite curiosity, and not long enough for men
to have forgotten that deuced unpleasant — by the bye — you
know the rights of the affair, of course ? Why did you never
give those confounded papers the lie ? I seldom read the
papers, but I looked in the papers for that, and may I be — "

" Look in the papers," interrupted Sir Mulberry, turning
suddenly round, " to-morrow — no, next day."

" Upon my life, my dear fellow, I seldom or never read
the papers," said the other, shrugging his shoulders, u but I
will, at your recommendation. What shall I look for ? "

"Good-day," said Sir Mulberry, turning abruptly on his
heel, and drawing his pupil with him. Falling, again, into the
loitering careless pace at which they had entered, they
lounged out, arm in arm.

" I won't give him a case of murder to read," muttered
Sir Mulberry, with an oath ; " but it shall be something very
near it, if whip-cord cuts and bludgeons bruise."

His companion said nothing, but there was something in
his manner which galled Sir Mulberry to add, with nearly as
much ferocity as if his friend had been Nicholas himself :

" I sent Jenkins to old Nickleby before eight o'clock this
morning. He's a stanch one ; he was back with me before



Online LibraryCharles DickensThe life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby → online text (page 62 of 79)