Charles Dickens.

The life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby online

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the messenger. I had it all from him in the first five minutes.
I know where this hound is to be met with ; time and place,
both. But there's no need to talk ; to-morrow will soon be
here."



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NICHOLAS NICKLEBY. 653

" And wha-at's to be done to-morrow ? " inquired Lord
Frederick.

Sir Mulberry Hawk honored him with an angry glance,
but condescended to return no verbal answer to the inquiry.
Both walked sullenly on, as though their thoughts were busily
occupied, until they were quite clear of the crowd, and almost
alone, when Sir Mulberry wheeled round to return.

" Stop," said his companion, " I want to speak to you in
earnest. Don't turn back. Let us walk here a few minutes."

" What have you to say to me, that you could not say
yonder as well as here ? " returned his Mentor, disengaging
his arm.

" Hawk," rejoined the other, " tell me ; I must know."

" Must know," interrupted the other disdainfully. " Whew !
Go on. If you must know, of course there's no escape for
me. Must know 1 "

" Must ask then," returned Lord Frederick, and must press
you for a plain and straightforward answer. Is what you
have just said, only a mere whim of the moment, occasioned
by your being out of humor and irritated, or is it your serious
intention, and one that you have actually contemplated ? "

" Why, don't you remember what passed on the subject
one night, when I was laid up with a broken limb ? " said Sir
Mulberry, with a sneer.

" Perfectly well."

" Then take that for an answer, in the devil's name," re-
plied Sir Mulberry, " and ask me for no other."

Such was the ascendancy he had acquired over his dupe,
and such the latter's general habit of submission, that, for the
moment, the young man seemed half afraid to pursue the sub-
ject. He soon overcame this feeling, however, if it had re-
strained him at all, and retorted angrily :

" If I remember what passed at the time you speak of, I
expressed a strong opinion on this subject, and said that, with
my knowledge or consent, you never should do what you
threaten now."

"Will you prevent me?" asked Sir Mulberry, with a
laugh.

" Ye-es, if I can ; " returned the other, promptly.

" A very ptoper saving clause, that last," said Sir Mul-
berry ; " and one you stand in need of. Look to your own
business, and leave me to look to mine."

"This is mine," retorted Lord Frederick. "I make it



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£ 5 4 NICHOLAS NICKLEB V.

inine ; I will make it mine. It's mine already. I'm more
compromised than I should be, as it is."

" Do as you please and what you please, for yourself,"
said Sir Mulberry, affecting an easy good humor. " Surely that
must content you ! Do nothing for me ; that's all. I advise no
man to interfere in proceedings that I choose to take. I am
sure you know me better than to do so. The fact is, I see, you
mean to offer me advice. # It is well meant, I have no doubt,
but I reject it. Now, if you please, we will return to the car-
riage. I find no entertainment here, but quite the reverse.
If we prolong this conversation we might quarrel, which would
be no proof of wisdom in either you or me."

With this rejoinder, and waiting for no further discussion,
Sir Mulberry Hawk yawned, and very leisurely turned back.

There was not a little tact and knowledge of the young
lord's disposition in this mode of treating him. Sir Mulberry
clearly saw that if his dominion were to last, it must be estab-
lished now. He knew that the moment he became violent,
the young man would become violent too. He had, many
times, been enabled to strengthen his influence, when any cir-
cumstance had occurred to weaken it, by adopting this cool
and laconic style ; and he trusted to it now, with very little
doubt of its entire success.

But while he did this and wore the most careless and
indifferent deportment that his practised arts enabled him to
assume, he inwardly resolved, not only to visit all the morti-
fication of being compelled to suppress his feelings, with ad-
ditional severity upon Nicholas, but also to make the young
lord pay dearly for it, one day, in some shape or other. So
long as he had been a passive instrument in his hands, Sir
Mulberry had regarded him with no other feeling than con-
tempt ; but, now that he presumed to avow opinions in oppo-
sition to his, and even to turn upon him with a lofty tone and
an air of superiority, he began to hate him. Conscious that, in
the vilest and most worthless sense of the term, he was de-
pendent upon the weak young lord, Sir Mulberry could the
less brook humiliation at his hands ; and when he began to
dislike him he measured his dislike — as men often do — by the
extent of the injuries he had inflicted upon its object. When
it is remembered that Sir Mulberry Hawk had plundered,
duped, deceived, and fooled his pupil in every possible way, it
will not be wondered at, that, beginning to hate him, he be-
gan to hate him cordially.



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NICHOLAS NICKLEB Y. 655

On the other hand, the young lord having thought — which
he very seldom did about anything — and seriously too, upon
the affair with Nicholas, and the circumstances which led to
it, had arrived at a manly and honest conclusion. Sir Mul-
berry's coarse and insulting behavior on the occasion in ques-
tion had produced a deep impression on his mind ; a strong
suspicion of his having led him on to pursue Miss Nickleby
for purposes of his own, had been lurking there, for some
time ; he was really ashamed of his share in the transaction,
and deeply mortified by the misgiving that he had been gulled.
He had had sufficient leisure to reflect upon these things,
during their late retirement ; and, at times, when his careless
and indolent nature would permit, had availed himself of the
opportunity. Slight circumstances, too, had occurred to in-
crease his suspicion. It wanted but a very slight ciroum-
stance to kindle his wrath against Sir Mulberry. This his
disdainful and insolent tone in their recent conversation (the
only one they had held upon the subject since the period to
which Sir Mulberry referred), effected.

Thus they rejoined their friends : each with causes of dis-
like against the other, rankling in his breast : the young man
haunted, besides, with thoughts of the vindictive retaliation
which was threatened against Nicholas, and the determination
to prevent it by some strong step, if possible. But this was
not all. Sir Mulberry, conceiving that he had silenced him
effectually, could not suppress his triumph, or forbear from
following up what he conceived to be his advantage. Mr.
Pyke was there, and Mr. Pluck was there, and Colonel Chou-
ser, and other gentlemen of the same caste was there, and it
was a great point for Sir Mulberry to show them that he had
not lost his influence. At first, the young lord contented him-
self with a silent determination to take measures for with-
drawing himself from the connection immediately. By degrees,
he grew more angry, and was exasperated by jests and fa-
miliarities which, a few hours before, would have been a source
of amusement to him. This did not serve him ; for, at such
bantering or retort as suited the company, he was no match
for Sir Mulberry. Still, no violent rupture took place. They
returned to town ; Messrs. Pyke and Pluck and other gentle-
men frequently protesting on the way thither, that Sir Mul-
berry had never been in such tiptop spirits in all his life.

They dined together, sumptuously. The wine flowed
freely, as indeed it had done all day. Sir Mulberry drank, to



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656 NICHOLAS NICKLEB V.

recompense himself for his recent abstinence ; the young lorB,
to drown his indignation ; the remainder of the party, because
the wine was of the best and they had nothing to pay. It
was nearly midnight when they rushed out, wild, burning with
wine, their blood boiling, and their brains on fire, to the
gaming-table.

Here they encountered another party, mad like them-
selves. The excitement of play, hot rooms, and glaring lights,
was not calculated to allay the fever of the time. In that
giddy whirl of noise and confusion, the men were delirious.
Who thought of money, ruin, or the morrow, in the savage in-
toxication of the moment ? More wine was called for, glass
after glass was drained, their parched and scalding mouths
were cracked with thirst. Down poured the wine like oil on
blazing fire. And still the riot went on. The debauchery
gained its height; glasses were dashed upon the floor by
hands that could not carry them to lips ; oaths were shouted
out by lips which could scarcely form the words to vent them
in ; drunken losers cursed and roared ; some mounted on
the tables, waving bottles above their heads, and bidding de-
fiance to the rest ; some danced, some sang, some tore the
cards and raved. Tumult and frenzy reigned supreme ; when
a noise arose that drowned all others, and two men, seizing
each other by the throat, struggled into the middle of the
room.

A dozen voices, until now unheard, called aloud to part
them. Those who had kept themselves cool, to win, and who
earned their living in such scenes, threw themselves upon the
combatants, and, forcing them asunder, dragged them some
space apart.

" Let me go ! " cried Sir Mulberry, in a thick hoarse voice.
" He struck me ! Do you hear ? I say, he struck me. Have
I a friend here ? Who is this ? Westwood. Do you hear me
say he struck me ! "

" I hear, I hear," replied one of those who held him.
" Come away, for to-night ! "

" I will not, by G — ," he replied. " A dozen men about
us saw the blow."

" To-morrow will be ample time," said the friend.

" It will -not be ample time ! " cried Sir Mulberry. " To-
night, at once, here ! " His passion was so great, that he
could not articulate, but stood clenching his fist, tearing his
hair, and stamping on the ground.



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NICHOLAS NICKLEB Y. 657

• "What is this, my lord?" said one of those who sur-
rounded him. " Have blows- passed ? "

" One blow has," was the panting reply. " I struck him.
I proclaim it to all here ! I struck him, and he knows why.
I say, with him, let this quarrel be adjusted now. Captain
Adams," said the young lord, looking hurriedly about him,
and addressing one of those who had interposed, " Let me
speak with you, I beg."

The person addressed, stepped forward, and, taking the
young man's arm, they retired together, followed shortly after-
wards by Sir Mulberry and his friend.

It was a profligate haunt of the worst repute, and not a
place in which such an affair was likely to awaken any sym-
pathy for either party, or to call forth any further remon-
strance or interposition. Elsewhere, its further progress would
have been instantly prevented, and time allowed for sober and
cool reflection ; but not there. Disturbed in their orgies, the
party broke up ; some reeled away with looks of tipsy gravity ;
others withdrew, noisily discussing what had just occurred ;
the gentlemen of honor who lived upon their winnings re-
marked to each other, as they went out, that Hawk was a good
shot ; those who had been most noisy, fell fast asleep upon
the sofas, and thought no more about it

Meanwhile, the two seconds, as they may be called now,
after a long conference, each with his principal, met together in
another room. Both utterly heartless, both men upon town,
both thoroughly initiated in its worst vices, both deeply in
debt, both fallen from some higher estate, both addicted to
every depravity for which society can find some genteel name
and plead its most depraving conventionalities as an excuse,
they were, naturally, gentlemen of unblemished honor them-
selves, and of great nicety concerning the honor of other
people.

These two gentlemen were unusually cheerful, just now ;
for the affair was pretty certain to make some noise, and could
scarcely fail to enhance their reputations.

" This is an awkward affair, Adams," said Mr. Westwood,
drawing himself up.

" Very," returned the captain ; " a blow has been struck,
and there is but one course, of course."

" No apology, I suppose ? " said Mr. Westwood.

" Not a syllable, sir, from my man, if we talk till dooms-'
day," returned the captain. " The original cause of dispute,

42

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658 NICHOLAS NICKLEB K

I understand, was some girl or other, to whom your principal
applied certain terms, which Lord Frederick, defending the
girl, repelled. But this led to a long recrimination upon a
great many sore subjects, charges, and counter-charges. Sir
Mulberry was sarcastic ; Lord Frederick was excited, and
struck him in the heat of provocation, and under circum-
stances of great aggravation. The blow, unless there is a full
retraction on the part of Sir Mulberry, Lord Frederick is ready
to justify."

" There is no more to be said," returned the other, " but
to settle the hour and the place of meeting. It's a responsi-
bility ; but there is a strong feeling to have it over. Do you
object to say at sunrise ? "

44 Sharp work," replied the captain, referring to his watch,
" however, as this seems to have been a long time breeding,
and negotiation is only a waste of words, no."

44 Something may possibly be said, out of doors, after what
passed in the other room, which renders it desirable that we
should be off without delay, and quite clear of town," said
Mr. Westwood. 44 What do you say to one of the meadows
opposite Twickenham, by the river-side ? "

The captain saw no objection.

44 Shall we join company in the avenue of trees which leads
from Petersham to Ham House, and settle the exact spot
' when we arrive there ? " said Mr. Westwood.

To this the captain also assented. After a few other pre-
liminaries, equally brief, and having settled the road each
party should take to avoid suspicion, they separated.

44 We shall just have comfortable time, my lord," said the
captain, when he had communicated the arrangements, " to
call at my rooms for a case of pistols, and then jog coolly
down. If you will allow me to dismiss your servant, well
take my cab ; for yours, perhaps, might be recognized."

What a contrast, when they reached the street, to the
scene they had just left ! It was already daybreak. For the
flaring yellow light within, was substituted the clear, bright,
glorious morning ; for a hot, close atmosphere, tainted with
the smell of expiring lamps, and reeking with the steams of
riot and dissipation, the free, fresh, wholesome air. But to
the fevered head on which that cool air blew, it seemed to
come laden with remorse for time mis-spent and countless
opportunities neglected. With throbbing veins and burning
skin, eyes wild and heavy, thoughts hurried and disordered,



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NICHOLAS NICKLEBY. 659

he felt as though the light were a reproach, and shrank in-
voluntarily from the day as if he were some foul and hideous
thing.

44 Shivering?" said the captain. "You are cold."

"Rather." •

"It does strike cool, coming out of those hot rooms. Wrap
that cloak about you. So, so ; now we're off."

They rattled through the quiet streets, made their call at
the captain's lodgings, cleared the town, and emerged upon
the open road without hindrance or molestation.

Fields, trees, gardens, hedges, everything looked very
beautiful ; the young man scarcely seemed to have noticed
them before, though he had passed the same objects a
thousand times. There was a peace and serenity upon them
all, strangely at variance with the bewilderment and confusion
of his own half-sobered thoughts, and yet impressive and
welcome. He had no fear upon his mind ; but, as he looked
about him, he had less anger; and though all delusions,
relative to his worthless late companion, were now cleared
away, he rather wished he had never known him than thought
of its having come to this.

The past night, the day before, and many other days and
nights beside, all mingled themselves up in one unintelligible
and senseless whirl ; he could not separate the transactions of
one time from those of another. Now, the noise of the wheels
resolved itself into some wild tune in which he could recognize
scraps of airs he knew ; now, there was nothing in his ears but
a stunning and bewildering sound, like rushing water. But
his companion rallied him on being so silent, and they talked
and laughed boisterously. When they stopped, he was a little
surprised to find himself in the act of smoking j but, on reflec-
tion, he remembered when and where he had taken the cigar.

They stopped at the avenue gate and alighted, leaving the
carriage to the care of the servant, who was a smart fellow,
and nearly as well accustomed to such proceedings as his
master. Sir Mulberry and his friend were already there. All
four walked in profound silence, up the aisle of stately elm
trees, which, meeting far above their heads, formed a long
green perspective of gothic arches, terminating, like some old
ruin, in the open sky.

After a pause, and a brief conference between the seconds,
they, at length, turned to the right, and taking a track across
a little meadow, passed Ham House and came into some
fields beyond. In one of these, they stopped. The ground



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660 NICHOLAS NICKLEB Y

was measured, some usual forms gone through, the two
principals were placed front to front at the distance agreed
upon, and Sir Mulberry turned his face towards his young
adversary for the first time. He was very pale, his eyes were
bloodshot, his dress disordered, and his hair dishevelled. For
the face, it expressed nothing but violent and evil passions.
He shaded his eyes with his hand ; gazed at his opponent,
steadfastly, for a few moments ; and then taking the weapon
which was tendered to him, bent his eyes upon that, and
looked up no more until the word was given, when he instantly
fired.

The two shots were fired, as nearly as possible, at the
same instant In that instant, the young lord turned his head
sharply round, fixed upon his adversary a ghastly stare, and,
without a groan or stagger, fell down dead.

" He's gone ! " cried Westwood, who, with the other second
had run up to the body, and fallen on one knee beside it

" His blood on his own head/ 1 said Sir Mulberry. "He
brought this upon himself, and forced it upon me."

u Captain Adams," cried Westwood, hastily, "I call you
to witness that this was fairly done. Hawk, we have not a
moment to lose. We must leave this place immediately, push
for Brighton, and cross to France with all speed. This has
been a bad business, and may be worse, if we delay a moment.
Adams, consult your own safety, and don't, remain here ; the
living before the dead ; good-by ! "

With these words, he seized Sir Mulberry by the arm, and
hurried him away. Captain Adams — only pausing to convince
himself, beyond all question, of the fatal result — sped off in
the same direction, to concert measures with his servant for
removing the body, and securing his own safety likewise.

So died Lord Frederick Verisopht, by the hand which he
had loaded with gifts, and clasped a thousand times ; by the
act of him, but for whom, and others like him, he might have
lived a happy man, and died with children's faces round his
bed.

The sun came proudly up in all his majesty, the noble
river ran its winding course, the leaves quivered and rustled
in the air, the birds poured their cheerful songs from every
tree, the short-lived butterfly fluttered its little wings ; all the
light and life of day came on ; and amidst it all, and pressing
down the grass whose every blade bore twenty tiny lives, lay
the dead man, with his stark and rigid face turned upward to
the sky.



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NICHOLAS NICKLEB K 66 1



CHAPTER LI.

THE PROJECT OF MR. RALPH NICKLEBY AND HIS FRIEND,
APPROACHING A SUCCESSFUL ISSUE, BECOMES UNEXPECT-
EDLY KNOWN TO ANOTHER PARTY NOT ADMITTED INTO
THEIR CONFIDENCE.

In an old house, dismal, dark and dusty, which seemed to
have withered, like himself, and to have grown yellow and
shrivelled in hoarding him from the light of day, as he had,
in hoarding his money, lived Arthur Gride. Meagre old chairs
and tables, of spare and bony make, and hard and cold as
misers' hearts, were ranged in grim array against the gloomy
walls ; attenuated presses, grown lank and lantern-jawed in
guarding the treasures they inclosed, arid tottering, as though
from constant fear and dread of thieves, shrunk up in dark
corners, whence they cast no shadows on the ground, and
seemed to hide and cower from observation. A tall grim
clock upon the stairs, with long lean hands and famished face
ticked in cautious whispers ; and when it struck the time, in
thin and piping sounds like an old man's voice, it rattled, as if
it were pinched with hunger.

No fireside couch was there, to invite repose and comfort.
Elbow-chairs there were, but they looked uneasy in their minds,
cocked their arms suspiciously and timidly, and kept on their
guard. Others were fantastically grim and gaunt, as having
drawn themselves up to their utmost height, and put on their
fiercest looks to stare all comers out of countenance. Others,
again, knocked up against their neighbors, or leaned for sup-
port against the wall — somewhat ostentatiously, as if to call
all men to witness that they were not worth the taking. The
dark square lumbering bedsteads seemed built for restless
dreams. The musty hangings seemed to creep in scanty folds
together, whispering among themselves, when rustled by the
wind, their trembling knowledge of the tempting wares that
lurked within the dark and tight-locked closets.

From out the most spare and hungry room in all this spare
and hungry house there came, one morning, the tremulous



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662 NICHOLAS NICKLEBY.

tones of old Gride's voice, as it feebly chirruped forth the fag-
end of some forgotten song, of which the burden ran :

Ta- ran — tan— too,
Throw the old shoe,
And may the wedding be lucky !

which he repeated, in the same shrill quavering notes, again
and again, until a violent fit of coughing obliged him to desist,
and pursue in silence the occupation upon which he was en-
gaged.

This occupation was, to take down from the shelves of a
worm-eaten wardrobe, a quantity of frowsy garments, one by
one ; to subject each to a careful and minute inspection by
holding it up against the light, and, after folding it with great
exactness, to lay it on one or other of two little heaps beside
him. He never took two articles of clothing out together, but
always brought them forth, singly, and never failed to shut
the wardrobe door, and turn the key, between each visit to its
shelves.

** The snuff-colored suit," said Arthur Gride, surveying a
threadbare coat, " Did I look well in snuff-color ? Let me
think."

The result of his cogitations appeared to be unfavorable,
for he folded the garment once more, laid it aside, and
mounted on a chair to get down another ; chirping while he
did so;

Young, loving, and fair.

Oh what happiness there !

The wedding is sure to be lucky I

" They always put in * young/ " said old Arthur, " but
songs are only written for the sake of rhyme, and this is a
silly one that the poor country people sang, when I was a lit-
tle boy. Though stop — young is quite right too — it means
the bride — yes. He, he, he ! It means the bride. Oh dear,
that's good. That's very good. And true besides, quite
true ! "

In the satisfaction of this discovery, he went over the verse
again, with increased expression, and a shake or two here and
there. He then resumed his employment.

" The bottle-green," said old Arthur ; '• the bottle-green was
a famous suit to wear, and I bought it very cheap at a pawn-
broker's and there was — he, he, he ! — a tarnished shilling in the
waistcoat pocket. To think that the pawnbroker shouldn't
have known there was a shilling in it ' / knew it ! I felt it



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NICHOLAS NICKLEBY. 663

when I was examining the quality. Oh, what a dull dog of a
pawnbroker ! It was a lucky suit too, this bottle-green. The
very day I put it on first, old Lord Mallowford was burnt to
death in his bed, and all the post-obits fell in. I'll be mar-
ried in the bottle-green, Peg. Peg Sliderskew — I'll wear the
bottle-green ! "

This call, loudly repeated twice or thrice at the room door,
brought into the apartment a short, thin, weasen, blear-eyed
old woman, palsy-stricken and hideously ugly, who, wiping her
shrivelled face upon her dirty apron, inquired, in that subdued



Online LibraryCharles DickensThe life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby → online text (page 63 of 79)