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The life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby online

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tone in which deaf people commonly speak *

" Was that you a calling, or only the clock a striking ? My
hearing gets so bad, I never know which is which ; but when
I hear a noise, I know it must be one of you, because nothing
else never stirs in the house."

"Me, Peg, me," said Arthur Gride, tapping himself on
the breast to render the reply more intelligible.

" You, eh ? " returned Peg. " And what do you want ? "

"I'll be married in the bottle-green," cried Arthur Gride.

"It's a deal too good to be married in, master, ' rejoined
Peg, after a short inspection of the suit. " Haven't you got
anything worse than this ? "

"Nothing that'll do, " replied old Arthur.

" Why not do ? " retorted Peg. " Why don't you wear
your every-day clothes like a man, — eh ? "

" They an't becoming enough, Peg," returned her master.

" Not what enough ? " said Peg.

" Becoming."

" Becoming what ? " said Peg sharply. " Not becoming
too old to wear? "

Arthur Gride muttered an imprecation on his house-
keeper's deafness, as he roared in her ear :

" Not smart enough ! I want to look as well as I can."

" Look ! " cried Peg. " If she's as handsome as you say
she is, she won't look much at you, master, take your oath of
that ; and as to how you look yourself — pepper-and salt, bot-
tle-green, sky-blue, or tartan-plaid will make no difference in
you."

With which consolatory assurance, Peg Sliderskew gath-
ered up the chosen suit, and folding her skinny arms upon the
bundle, stood, mouthing, and grinning, and blinking her wa-
tery eyes, like an uncouth figure in some monstrous piece of
carving.



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664 NICHOLAS NJCKLEB Y.

" You're in a funny humor, an't you, Peg ? " said Arthur,
with not the best possible grace.

" Why, isn't it enough to make me ? " rejoined the old
woman. " I shall soon enough be put out, though, if anybody
tries to domineer it over me : and so I give you notice mas-
ter. Nobody shall be put over Peg Shderskew's head, after
so many years ; you know that, and so I needn't tell you !
That won't do for me — no, no, nor for you. Try that once,
and come to ruin — ruin — ruin ! "

" Oh dear, dear. I shall never try it," said Arthur Gride,
appalled by the mention of the word, "not for the world. It
would be very easy to ruin me ; we must be very careful ; more
saving than ever, with another mouth to feed. Only we — we
mustn't let her lose her good looks, Peg, because 1 like to see
'em"

•' Take care you don't find good looks come expensive,"
returned Peg, shaking her fore- finger.

" But she can earn money herself, Peg," said Arthur
Gride, eagerly watching what effect his communication pro-
duced upon the old woman's countenance ; * v she can draw,
paint, work all manner of pretty things for ornamenting stools
and chairs : slippers, Peg, watch-guards, hair-chains, and a
thousand little dainty trifles that I couldn't give you half the
names of. Then she can play the piano (and, what's more,
she's got one), and sings like a little bird. She'll be very cheap
to dress and keep, Peg ; don't you think she will ? "

" If you don't let her make a fool of you, she may," re-
turned Peg.

" A fool olmef" exclaimed Arthur. " Trust your old mas-
ter not to be fooled by pretty faces, Peg ; no, no, no — nor by
ugly ones neither, Mrs. Sliderskew," he softly added by way
of soliloquy.

" You're a saying something you don't want me to hear,"
said Peg ; u I know you are."

"Oh dear! the devil's in this woman," muttered Arthur;
adding with an ugly leer, " I said I trusted everything to you
Peg. That was all."

" You do that, master, and all your cares are over," said
Peg approvingly.

" When I do that, Peg Sliderskew," thought Arthur Gride,
"they will be."

Although he thought this, very distinctly, he durst not
move his lips lest the old woman should detect him. He even



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NICHOLAS NICKLEB Y. 665

seemed half afraid that she might have read his thoughts ; for
he leered coaxingly upon her, as he said aloud :

" Take up all loose stitches in the bottle-green with the
best black silk. Have a skein of the best, and some new but-
tons for the coat, and — this is a good idea, Peg, and one you'll
like, I know — as I have never given her anything yet, and girls
like such attentions, you shall polish up a sparkling necklace
that I have got up stairs, and I'll give it her upon the wedding
morning — clasp it round her charming little neck myself — and
take it away again next day. He, he, he ! I'll lock it up for
her, Peg, and lose it. Who'll be made the fool of there, I
wonder, to begin with : eh, Peg ? "

44 Mrs. Sliderskew appeared to approve highly of this inge-
nious scheme, and expressed her satisfaction by various rack-
ings and twitchings of her head and body, which by no means
enhanced her charms. These she prolonged until she had
hobbled to the door, when she exchanged them for a sour
malignant look, and twisting her under-jaw from side to side,
muttered hearty curses upon the future Mrs. Gride, as she
crept slowly down the stairs, and paused for breath at nearly
every one.

" She's half a witch, I think," said Arthur Gride, when he
found himself again alone. " But she's very frugal, and she's
very deaf. Her living costs me next to nothing ; and it's no
use her listening at keyholes ; for she can't hear. She's a
charming woman — for the purpose ; a most discreet old house-
keeper, and worth her weight in— copper."

Having extolled the merits of his domestic in these high
terms, old Arthur went back to the burden of his song. The
suit destined to grace his approaching nuptials being now se-
lected, he replaced the others with no less care than he had
displayed in drawing them from the musty nooks where they
had silently reposed for many years.

Startled by a ring at the door, he hastily concluded this
operation, and locked the press ; but there was no need for
any particular hurry, as the discreet Peg seldom knew the bell
was rung unless she happened to cast her dim eyes upward,
and to see it shaking against the kitchen ceiling. After a short
delay, however, Peg tottered in, followed by Newman Noggs.

" Ah 1 Mr. Noggs ! " cried Arthur Gride, rubbing his
hands. " My good friend, Mr. Noggs, what news do you
bring for me ? "

Newman, with a steadfast and immovable aspect, and his



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666 NICHOLAS NICKLEB Y.

fixed eye very fixed indeed, replied, suiting the action to the
word, " A letter. From Mr. Nickleby. Bearer waits."

" Won't you take a — a — "

Newman looked up, and smacked his lips.

"—A chair?"

" No," replied Newman. " Thank'ee."

Arthur opened the letter, with trembling hands, and de-
voured its contents with the utmost greediness, chuckling rap-
turously over it, and reading it several times, before he could
take it from before his eyes. So many times did he peruse and
re-peruse it, that Newman considered it expedient to remind
him of his presence.

" Answer," said Newman. " Bearer waits.

" True," replied old Arthur. " Yes — yes — ; I almost for-
got, I do declare."

" I thought you were forgetting," said Newman*

" Quite right to remind me, Mr. Noggs. Oh, very right
indeed," said Arthur. " Yes. Til write a line. I'm— I'm —
rather flurried, Mr. Noggs. The news is — "

" Bad ? " interrupted Newman.

" No, Mr. Noggs, thank you ; good, good. The very best
of news. Sit down. I'll get the pen and ink, and write a line
in answer. I'll not detain you long. I know you're a treasure
to your master, Mr. Noggs. He speaks of you in such terms,
sometimes, that oh dear ! you'd be astonished. I may say
that I do too, and always did. I always say the same of you."

" That's * Curse Mr. Noggs with all my heart 1 ' then, if you
do," thought Newman, as Gride hurried out.

The, letter had fallen on the ground. Looking carefully
about him, for an instant, Newman, impelled by curiosity to
know the result of the design he had overheard from his office
closet, caught it up and rapidly read as follows :

" Gride.

" I saw Bray again this moming, and proposed the
day after to-morrow (as you suggested) for the marriage.
There is no objection on his part, and all days arealike to his
daughter. We will go together, and you must be with me by
seven in the morning. I need not tell you to be punctual.

" Make no further visits to the girl, in the meantime.
You have been there, of late, much oftener than you should.
She does not languish for you, and it might have been danger-
ous. Restrain your youthful ardor for eight-and-forty hours,



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NICHOLAS NICKLEB Y. 667

and leave her to the father. You only undo what he does,
and does well.

"Yours,

" Ralph Nickleby."

A footstep was heard without Newman dropped the letter
on the same spot again, pressed it with his foot to prevent its
fluttering away, regained his seat in a single stride, and looked
as vacant and unconscious as ever mortal looked. Arthur
Gride, after peering nervously about him, spied it on the
ground, picked it up, and sitting down to write, glanced at
Newman Noggs, who was staring at the wall with an intensity
so remarkable, that Arthur was quite alarmed.

" Do you see anything particular, Mr. Noggs ? " said
Arthur, trying' to follow the direction of Newman's eyes —
which was an impossibility, and a thing no man had ever done.

" Only a cobweb," replied Newman.

" Oh, is that all ? "

" No," said Newman. " There's a fly in it."

" There are a good many cobwebs here," observed Arthur
Gride.

" So there are in our place," returned Newman ; "and
flies too."

Newman appeared to derive great entertainment from
this repartee, and to the great discomposure of Arthur Gride's
nerves, produced a series of sharp cracks from his finger-joints,
resembling the noise of a distant discharge of small artillery.
Arthur succeeded in finishing his reply to Ralph's note, never-
theless, and at length handed it over to the eccentric mes-
senger for delivery.

" That's it, Mr. Noggs," said Gride.

Newman gave a nod, put it in his hat, and was shuffling
away, when Gride, whose doting delight knew no bounds,,
beckoned him back again, and said, in a shrill whisper, and
with a grin which puckered up his whole face, and almost
obscured his eyes :

" Will you — will you take a little drop of something — just
a taste ? "

In good fellowship (if Arthur Gride had been capable of
it) Newman would not have drunk with him one bubble of the
richest wine that was ever made ; but to see what he would
be at, and to punish him as much as he could, he accepted
the offer immediately.



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663 NICHOLAS NICKLEB K

Arthur Gride, therefore, again applied himself to the press,
and from a shelf laden with tall Flemish drinking-glasses, and
quaint bottles, some with necks like so many storks, and
others with square Dutch-built bodies and short fat apoplectic
throats, took down one dusty bottle of promising appearance
and two glasses of curiously small size.

" You never tasted this," said Arthur. " It's catnTor—
golden water. I like it on account of its name, It's a deli-
cious name. Water of gold, golden water ! O dear me, it
seems quite a sin to drink it ! "

As his courage appeared to be fast failing him, an4he
trifled with the stopper in a manner which threatened the dis-
missal of the bottle to its old place, Newman took up one of
the little glasses, and clinked it, twice or thrice, against the bot-
tle, as a gentle reminder that he had not been helped yet.
With a deep sigh, Arthur Gride slowly filled it — though not to
the brim — and then filled his own.

" Stop, stop ; don't drink it yet," he said laying his hand
on Newman's ; " it was given to me, twenty years ago, and
when I take a little taste, which is ve — ry seldom, I like to
think of it beforehand, and teaze myself. We'll drink a toast
Shall we drink a toast, Mr. Noggs ? "

" Ah ! " said Newman, eyeing his little glass impatiently.
" Look sharp. Bearer waits."

" Why, then, I'll tell you what," tittered Arthur, " We'll
drink — he, he, he ! — we'll drink a lady."

" The ladies ? " said Newman.

' No, no, Mr. Noggs," replied Gride, arresting his hand,
" a lady. You wonder to hear me say a lady. I know you
do, I know you do. Here's little Madeline. That's the toast,
Mr. Noggs. Little Madeline ! "

" Madeline," said Newman ; inwardly adding, " and God
help her ! "

The rapidity and unconcern with which Newman dismissed
his portion of the golden water, had a great effect upon the
old man, who sat upright in his chair, and gazed at him, open-
mouthed, as if the sight had taken away his breath. Quite
unmoved, however, Newman left him to sip his own, at leisure,
or to pour it back again into the bottle, if he chose, and
departed ; after greatly outraging the dignity of Peg Slider-
skew by brushing past her, in the passage, without a word of
apology or recognition.

Mr. Gride and his housekeeper, immediately on being left



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NICHOLAS NICKLEB Y. 669

alone, resolved themselves into a committee of ways and
means, and discussed the arrangements which should be
made for the reception of the young bride. As they were, like
some other committees, extremely dull and prolix in debate,
this history may pursue the footsteps of Newman Noggs ;
thereby combining advantage with necessity; for it would
have been necessary to do so under any circumstances, and
necessity has no law, as all the world know.

" You've been a long time," said Ralph when Newman
returned.

" He was a long time," replied Newman.

" Bah ! " cried Ralph, impatiently. " Give me his note,
if he gave you one : his message, if he didn't And don't go
away. I want a word with you, sir."

Newman handed in the note, and looked very virtuous and
innocent while his employer broke the seal, and glanced his
eye over it.

44 He'll be sure to come ! " muttered Ralph, as he tore it
to pieces ; " why of course, I know he'll be sure to come.
What need to say that ? Noggs ! Pray sir, what man was
that, with whom I saw you in the street last night ? "

44 I don't know," replied Newman.

44 You had better refresh your memory, sir," said Ralph,
with a threatening look.

44 I tell you," returned Newman boldly, 44 that I don't
know. He came here, twice, and asked for you. You were
out. He came again. You packed him off, yourself. He
gave the name of Brooker."

44 I know he did," said Ralph ; 44 what then ? "

44 What then ? Why, then he lurked about and dogged

me in the street. He follows me, night after night, and urges

me to bring him face to face with you ; as he says he has been

- once, and not long ago either. He wants to see you face to

face, he says, and you'll soon hear him out, he warrants."

44 And what say you to that ? " inquired Ralph, looking
keenly at his drudge.

44 That it's no business of mine, and I won't. I told him
he might catch you in the street, if that was all he wanted,
but no ! that wouldn't do. You wouldn't hear a word there,
he said. He must have you, alone in a room with the door
locked, where he could speak without fear, and you'd soon
change your tone, and hear him patiently."

44 An audacious dog ! " Ralph muttered.



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670 NICHOLAS NICKLEBY.

" That's all I know," said Newman. " I say again, I don't
know what man he is. I don't believe he knows himself.
You have seen him perhaps ; you do."

" I think I do," replied Ralph.

" Well," retorted Newman, sulkily, " don't expect me to
know him too ; that's all. You'll ask me, next, why I never
told you this, before. What would you say, if I was to tell
you all that people say of you ? What do you call me when I
sometimes do ? * Brute, ass ! ' and snap at me like a dragon."

This was true enough ; though the question which New-
man anticipated, was, in fact, upon Ralph's lips at the moment

" He is an idle ruffian," said Ralph ; " a vagabond from
beyond the sea where he travelled for his crimes ; a felon let
loose to run his neck into the halter; a swindler, who has the
audacity to try his schemes on me who know him well. The
next time he tampers with you, hand him over to the police,
for attempting to extort money by lies and threats, — d'ye
hear ? — and leave the rest to me. He shall cool his heels in
jail, a little time, and I'll be bound he looks for other folks to
fleece, when he comes out. You mind what I say, do you ? "

44 1 hear," said Newman.

" Do it then," returned Ralph, " and I'll reward you.
Now, you may go."

Newman readily availed himself of the permission, and
shutting himself up in his little office, remained there, in very
serious cogitation, all day. When he was released at night,
he proceeded, with all the expedition he could use, to the
City, and took up his old position behind the pump, to watch
for Nicholas. For Newman Noggs was proud in his way,
and could not bear to appear as his friend, before the broth-
ers Cheeryble, in the shabby and degraded state to which he
was reduced. .

He had not occupied this position many minutes, when he
was rejoiced to see Nicholas approaching, and darted out
from his ambuscade to meet him. Nicholas, on his part, was
no less pleased to encounter his friend, whom he had not
seen for some time ; so, their greeting was a warm one.

" I was thinking of you, at that moment," said Nicholas.

"That's right," rejoined Newman, "and I of you. I
couldn't help coming up, to-night. I say ! I think I'm going
to find out something."

" And what may that be ? " returned Nicholas, smiling at
this odd communication.



I



NICHOLAS NICKLEB Y. 67 1

•' I don't know what it may be, I don't know what it may
not be," said Newman ; " it's some secret in which your uncle
is concerned, but what, I've not yet been able to discover*,
although I have my strong suspicions. I'll not hint 'em now,
in case you should be disappointed."

" / disappointed ! " cried Nicholas ; "ami interested ? "

" I think you are," replied Newman. " I have a crotchet
in my head that it must be so. I have found out a man, who
plainly knows more than he cares to tell at once. And he
has already dropped such hints to me as puzzle me — I say/as
puzzle me," said Newman, scratching his red nose into a state
of violent inflammation, and staring at Nicholas with all his
might and main meanwhile.

Admiring what could have wound his friend up to such a
pitch of mystery, Nicholas endeavored, by a series of ques-
tions, to elucidate the cause ; but in vain. Newman could
not be drawn into any more explicit statement, than a repe-
tition of the perplexities he had already thrown out, and a
confused oration, showing, How it was necessary to use the
utmost caution ; how the lynx-eyed Ralph had already seen
him in company with his unknown correspondent ; and how
he had baffled the said Ralph by extreme guardedness of
manner and ingenuity of speech ; having prepared himself
for such a contingency from the first.

Remembering his companion's propensity, — of which his
nose, indeed, perpetually warned all beholders like a beacon,
— Nicholas had drawn him into a sequestered tavern. Here,
they fell to reviewing the origin and progress of their ac-
quaintance, as men sometimes do, and tracing out the little
events by which it was most strongly marked, came at last to
Miss Cecilia Bobster.

" And that reminds me," said Newman, " that you never
told me the young lady's real name."

" Madeline ! " said Nicholas.
„ " Madeline ! " cried Newman. " What Madeline ? Her
other name. Say her other name."

" Bray," said Nicholas, in great astonishment.

" It's the same ! " cried Newman. " Sad story ! Can you
stand idly by, and let that unnatural marriage take place
without one attempt to save her ? "

" What do you mean ? " exclaimed Nicholas, starting up ;
" marriage ! Are you mad ? "

"Are you? Is she? Are you blind, deaf, senseless,



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672 NICHOLAS NICKLEB Y.

dead ? " said Newman. " Do you know that within one day,
by means of your uncle Ralph, she will be married to a man
as bad as he, and worse, if worse there is ? Do you know
that, within one day, she will be sacrificed, as sure as you
stand there alive, to a hoary wretch — a devil born and bred,
and gray in devils' ways ? "

44 Be careful what you say," replied Nicholas. " For
Heaven's sake be careful ! I am left here alone, and those
who could stretch out a hand to rescue her, are far away.
What is it that you mean ? "

" I never heard her name," said Newman, choking with
his energy. " Why didn't you tell me ? How was I to know ?
We might, at least, have had some time to think ! "

" What is it that you mean ? " cried Nicholas.

It was not an easy task to arrive at this information ; but,
after a great quantity of extraordinary pantomime, which in
no way assisted it, Nicholas, who was almost as wild as New-
man Noggs himself, forced the latter down upon his seat and
held him down until he began his tale.

Rage, astonishment, indignation, and a storm of passions,
rushed through the listener's heart, as the plot was laid bare.
He no sooner understood it all, than with a face of ashy pale-
ness, and trembling in every limb, he darted from the house.

44 Stop him ! " cried Newman, bolting out in pursuit.
" He'll be doing something desperate ; he'll murder some-
body. Hallo ! there, stop him. Stop thief ! stop thief 1 "



. CHAPTER LIT.

NICHOLAS DESPAIRS OF RESCUING MADELINE BRAY, BUT
PLUCKS UP HIS SPIRITS AGAIN, AND DETERMINES TO AT-
TEMPT IT. DOMESTIC INTELLIGENCE OF THE KENWIGSES
AND LILLYVICKS.

Finding that Newman was determined to arrest his pro-
gress at any hazard, and apprehensive that some well-inten-
tioned passenger attracted by the cry of 44 stop thief," might
lay violent hands upon his person, and place him in a dis-
agreeable predicament from which he might have some diffi-



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NICHOLAS NICKLEB K 673

culty in extricating himself, Nicholas soon slackened his pace,
and suffered Newman Noggs to come up with him ; which he
did, in so breathless a condition, that it seemed impossible he
could have held out for a minute longer.

" I will go straight to Bray's," said Nicholas. " I will see
this man. If there is a feeling of humanity lingering in his
breast, a spark of consideration for his own child, motherless
and friendless as she is, I will awaken it."

"You will not," replied Newman. "You will not, in-
deed."

" Then," said Nicholas, pressing onward, " I will act upon
my first impulse, and go straight to Ralph Nickleby."

" By the time you reach his house he will be in bed," said
Newman.

" I'll drag him from it," cried Nicholas.

" Tut, tut, ".said Noggs. " Be yourself."

" You are the best of friends to me, Newman," rejoined
Nicholas after a pause, and taking his hand as he spoke. " I
have made head against many trials ; but the misery of an-
other, and such misery, is involved in this one, that I declare
to you I am rendered desperate, and know not how to act."

In truth, it did seem a hopeless case. It was impossible
to make any use of such intelligence as Newman Noggs had
gleaned, when he lay concealed in the closet. The mere cir-
cumstance of the compact between Ralph Nickleby and Gride
would not invalidate the marriage, or render Bray averse to
it, who, if he did not actually know of the existence of some
such understanding, doubtless suspected it What had been
hinted with reference to some fraud on Madeline, had been
put with sufficient obscurity by Arthur Gride, but coming
from Newman Noggs, and obscured still further by the smoke
of his pocket pistol, it became wholly unintelligible, and in-
volved in utter darkness.

" There seems no ray of hope," said Nicholas.

" The greater necessity for coolness, for reason, for con-
sideration, for thought," said Newman, pausing at every alter-
nate word, to look anxiously in his friend's face. " Where
are the brothers ? "

" Both absent on urgent -business, as they will be for a
week to come."

" Is there no way of communicating with them ? No way
of getting one of them here, by to-morrow night ? "

" Impossible 1 " said Nicholas, " the sea is between us and
43

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674 NICHOLAS NICKLEB Y.

them. With the fairest winds that ever blew, to go and re-
turn would take three days and nights."

" Their nephew," said Newman, " their old clerk."

" What could either do, that I cannot ? " rejoined Nich-
olas. " With reference to them especially, I am enjoined to
the strictest silence on this subject. What right have I to
betray the confidence reposed in me, when nothing but a



Online LibraryCharles DickensThe life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby → online text (page 64 of 79)