Charles Dickens.

The life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby online

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her, for she is below it, I shall, to-morrow morning, settle
upon your children, and make payable to the survivors of
them when they come of age or marry, that money which I
once meant to leave 'em in my will. The deed shall be ex-
ecuted to-morrow, and Mr. Noggs shall be one of the wit-
nesses. He hears me promise this, and he shall see it done."

Overpowered by this noble and generous offer, Mr. Ken-
wigs, Mrs. Kenwigs, and Miss Morleena Kenwigs, all began
to sob together ; and the noise of their sobbing, communicat-
ing itself to the next room where the children lay a-bed, and
causing them to cry too, Mr. Kenwigs rushed wildly in, and
bringing them out in his arms, by two and two, tumbled them
down in their nightcaps and gowns at the feet of Mr. Lilly-
vick, and called upon them to thank and bless him.

"And now," said Mr. Lillyvick, when a heart-rending
scene had ensued and the children were cleared away again,
" Give me some supper. This took place twenty mile from
town. I came up this morning, and have been lingering
about, all day, without being able to make up my mind to
come and see you. I humored her in everything, she had her
own way, she did just as she pleased, and now she has done
this. There was twelve teaspoons and twenty-four pound in
sovereigns — I missed them first — it's a trial — I feel I shall
never be able to knock a double knock again, when I go my
rounds — don't say anything more about it, please — the spoons
were worth — never mind — never mind 1 "

With such muttered outpourings as these, the old gentle-
man shed a few tears ; but, they got him into the elbow-chair,
and prevailed upon him, without much pressing, to make a

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rty supper, and by the time he had finished his first pipe
and disposed of half a dozen glasses out of a crown bowl of
punch, ordered by Mr. Kenwigs, in celebration of his return
to the bosom of his family, he seemed, though still very hum-
ble, quite resigned to his fate, and rather relieved than other-
wise by the flight of his wife.

" When I see that man," said Mr. Kenwigs, with one
hand round Mrs. Kenwigs's waist, his other hand supporting
his pipe (which made him wink and cough very much, for he
was no smoker), and his eyes on Morleena, who sat upon her
uncle's knee, " when I see that man a mingling, once again,
in the spear which he adorns, and see his affections dewelop-
ing themselves in legitimate sitiwations, I feel that his nature
is as elewated and expanded, as his standing afore society as
a public character is unimpeached, and the woices of my in-
fant children purvided for in life, seem to whisper to me
softly, ' This is an ewent at which Evins itself looks down ! ' "



With that settled resolution and steadiness of purpose to
which extreme circumstances so often give birth, acting upon
far less excitable and more sluggish temperaments than that
which was the lot of Madeline Bray's admirer, Nicholas
started, at dawn of day, from the restless couch which no
sleep had visited on the previous night, and prepared to make
that last appeal, by whose slight and fragile thread her only
remaining hope of escape depended.

Although to restless and ardent minds, morning may be
the fitting season for exertion and activity, it is not always at
that time that hope is strongest or the spirit most sanguine
and buoyant. In trying and doubtful positions, youth, cus-
tom, a steady contemplation of the difficulties which surround
us, and a familiarity with them, imperceptibly diminish our ap-
prehensions and beget comparative indifference, if not a vague
and reckless confidence in some relief the means or nature of

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which we care not to foresee. But when we come, fresh,
upon such things in the morning, with that dark and silent
gap between us and yesterday ; with every link in the brittle
chain of hope, to rivet afresh ; our hot enthusiasm subdued,
and cool calm reason substituted in its stead ; doubt and mis-
giving revive. As the traveller sees farthest, by day, and
becomes aware of rugged mountains and trackless plains
which the friendly darkness had shrouded from his sight and
mind together, so, the wayfarer in the toilsome path of human
life, sees, with each returning sun, some new obstacle to sur-
mount, some new height to be attained. Distances stretch out
before him which, last night, were scarcely taken into account,
and the light which gilds all nature with its cheerful beams,
seems but to shine upon the weary obstacles that yet lie
strewn between him and the grave.

So thought Nicholas, when, with the impatience natural to
a situation like his, he softly left the house, and, feeling as
though to remain in bed were to lose most precious time,
and to be up and stirring were in some way to promote the
end he had in view, wandered into London ; perfectly well
knowing that for hours to come he could not obtain speech
with Madeline, and could do nothing but wish the intervening
time away.

And, even now, as he paced the streets, and listlessly look-
ed round on the gradually increasing bustle and preparation
for the day, everything appeared to yield him some new occa-
sion for despondency. Last night, the sacrifice of a young,
affectionate, and beautiful creature, to such a wretch, and in
such a cause, had seemed a thing too monstrous to succeed;
and the warmer he grew, the more confident he felt that some
interposition must save her from his clutches. But now, when
he thought how regularly things went on, from day to day, in
the same unvarying round ; how youth and beauty died, and
ugly griping age lived tottering on ; how crafty avarice grew
rich, and manly honest hearts were poor and sad ; how few they
were who tenanted the stately houses, and how many those
who lay in noisome pens, or rose each day and laid them
down each night, and lived and died, father and son, mother
and child, race upon race, generation upon generation, without
a home to shelter them or the energies of one single man di-
rected to their aid; how, in seeking, not a luxurious and
splendid life, but the bare means of a most wretched and in-
adequate subsistence, there were women and children in that

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one town, divided into classes, numbered and estimated as reg-
ularly as the noble families and folks of great degree, and
reared from infancy to drive most criminal and dreadful
trades ; how ignorance was punished and never taught ; how
jail-doors gaped and gallows loomed, for thousands urged
towards them by circumstances darkly curtaining their very
cradles' heads, and but for which they might have earned
their honest bread and lived in peace; how many died in
soul, and had no chance of life ; how many who could scarcely
go astray, be they vicious as they would, turned haughtily from
the crushed and stricken wretch who could scarce do otherwise,
and who would have been a greater wonder had he or she done
well, than even they had they done ill ; how much injustice, .
misery, and wrong, there was, and yet how the world rolled
on, from year to year, alike careless and indifferent, and no
man seeking to remedy or redress it ; when he thought of all
this, and selected from the mass the one slight case on which
his thoughts were bent, he felt, indeed, that there was little
ground for hope, and little reason why it should not form an
atom in the huge aggregate of distress and sorrow, and add
one small and unimportant unit to swell the great amount.

But youth is not prone to contemplate the darkest side of.
a picture it can shift at will. By dint of reflecting on what he
had to do, and reviving the train of thought which night had
interrupted, Nicholas gradually summoned up his utmost
energy, and when the morning was sufficiently advanced for
his purpose, had no thought but that of using it to the best ad-
vantage. A hasty breakfast taken, and such affairs of busi-
ness as required prompt attention disposed of, he directed his
steps to the residence of Madeline Bray : whither he lost no
time in arriving.

It had occurred to him that, very possibly, the young lady
might be denied, although to him she never had been ; and
he was still pondering upon the surest method of obtaining
access to her in that case, when coming to the door of the
house, he found it had been left ajar — probably by the last per-
son who had gone out. The occasion was not one upon which
to observe the nicest ceremony ; therefore, availing himself of
this advantage, Nicholas walked gently up stairs and knocked
at the door of the room into which he had been accustomed
to be shown. Receiving permission to enter, from some per-
son on the other side, he opened the door and walked in.

Bray and his daughter were sitting there alone. It was

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nearly three weeks since he had seen her last, but there was a
change in the lovely girl before him which told Nicholas, in
startling terms, how much mental suffering had been com-
pressed into that short time. There are no words which can
express, nothing with which can be compared, the perfect
pallor, the clear transparent whiteness, of the beautiful face
which turned towards him when he entered. Her hair was a
rich deep brown, but shading that face, and straying upon a
neck that rivalled in whiteness, it seemed by the strong con-
trast raven black. Something of wildness and restlessness
there was in the dark eye, but there was the same patient look,
the same expression of gentle mournfulness which he well re-
membered, and no trace of a single tear. Most beautiful, —
more beautiful, perhaps, than ever — there was something in her
face which quite unmanned him, and appeared far more touching
than the wildest agony of grief. It was not merely calm and
composed, but fixed and rigid, as though the violent effort
which had summoned that composure beneath her father's eye,
while it mastered all other thoughts, had prevented even the
momentary expression they had communicated to the features
from subsiding, and had fastened it there, as an evidence of its

The father sat opposite to her ; not looking directly in
her face, but glancing at her, as he talked with a gay air which
ill disguised the anxiety of his thoughts. The drawing ma-
terials were not on their accustomed table, nor were any of the
other tokens of her usual occupations to be seen. The little
vases which Nicholas had always seen filled with fresh flowers,
were empty, or supplied only with a few withered stalks and
leaves. The bird was silent. The cloth that covered his cage
at night, was not removed. His mistress had forgotten him.

There are times when the mind, being painfully alive to re-
ceive impressions, a great deal may be noted at a glance.
This was one, for Nicholas had but glanced round him when
he was recognized by Mr. Bray, who said impatiently :

" Now, sir, what do you want ? Name your errand here,
quickly, if you please, for my daughter and I are busily engaged
with other and more important matters than those you come
about. Come, sir, address yourself to your business at once."

Nicholas could very well discern that the irritability and
impatience of this speech were assumed, and that Bray, in his
heart, was rejoiced at any interruption which promised to en-
gage the attention of his daughter. He bent his eyes invol-

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untarily upon the father as he spoke, and marked his uneasi-
ness ; for he colored and turned his head away.

The device, however, so far as it was a device for causing
Madeline to interfere, was successful. She rose, and advan-
cing towards Nicholas paused half way, and stretched out her
hand as expecting a letter.

" Madeline," said her father impatiently ; "my love, what
are you doing ? "

" Miss Bray expects an inclosure perhaps," said Nicholas,
speaking very distinctly, and with an emphasis she could
scarcely misunderstand. " My employer is absent from Eng-
land, or I should have brought a letter with me. I hope she
will give me time — a little time. I ask a very little time."

" If that is all you come about, sir," said Mr. Bray, " you
may make yourself easy-Qn that head. Madeline, my dear,
I didn't know this person was in your debt ? "

" A — a trifle I believe," returned Madeline, faintly.

" I suppose you think now," said Bray, wheeling his chair
round and confronting Nicholas, " that, but for such pitiful
sums as you bring here, because my daughter has chosen to
employ her time as she has, we should starve ? "

" I have not thought about it," returned Nicholas.

" You have not thought about it I " sneered the invalid.
" You know you have thought about it, and have thought that,
and think so every time you come here. Do you suppose,
young man, that I don't know what little purse-proud trades-
men are, when, through some fortunate circumstances, they get
the upper hand for a brief day— or think they get the upper
hand — of a gentleman ? "

"My business," said Nicholas respectfully, "is with a

"With a gentleman's daughter, sir," returned the sick
man, " and the pettifogging spirit is the same. But perhaps
you bring orders eh ? Have you any fresh orders for my
daughter, sir ? "

Nicholas understood the tone of triumph in which this
interrogatory was put ; but, remembering the necessity of
supporting his assumed character, produced a scrap of paper
purporting to contain a list of some subjects for drawings
which his employer desired to have executed ; and with which
he had prepared himself in case of any such contingency.

"Oh!" said Mr. Bray. "These are the orders, are


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" Since you insist upon the term, sir, yes," replied Nich-

" Then you may tell your master," said Bray, tossing the
paper back again, with an exulting smile, " that my daughter,
Miss Madeline Bray, condescends to employ herself no longer
in such labors as these ; that she is not at his beck and call,
as he supposes her to be ; that we don't live upon his money,
as he flatters himself we do ; that he may give whatever he
owes us, to the first beggar who passes his shop, or add it to
his own profits next time he calculates them ; and that he may
go to the devil, for me. That's my acknowledgment of his
orders, sir ! "

" And this is the independence of a man who sells his
daughter as he has sold that weeping girl ! " thought Nicholas.

The father was too much absorbed with his own exultation
to mark the look of scorn which, for an instant, Nicholas could
not have suppressed had he been upon the rack. " There,"
he continued, after a short silence, " you have your message
and can retire — unless you have any further — ha ! — any further

" I have none," said Nicholas ; " nor in consideration of
the station you once held, have I used that or any other word
which, however harmless in itself, could be supposed to imply
authority on my part or dependence on yours. I have no
orders, but I have fears — fears that I will express, chafe as
you may — fears that you may be consigning that young lady
to something worse than supporting you by the labor of her
hands, had she worked herself dead. These are my fears,
and these fears I found upon your own demeanor. Your
conscience will tell you, sir, whether I construe it well or

"For Heaven's sake!" cried Madeline, interposing in
alarm between them. " Remember, sir, he is ill."

" 111 ! " cried the invalid, gasping and catching for breath.
" 111 ! Ill ! I am bearded and bullied by a shopboy, and she
beseeches him to pity me and remember I am ill ! "

He fell into a paroxysm of his disorder, so violent that
for a few moments Nicholas was alarmed for his life ; but
finding that he began to recover, he withdrew, after signifying
by a gesture to the young lady that he had something impor-
tant to communicate, and would wait for her outside the room.
He could hear that the sick man came, gradually, but slowly
to himself, and that without any reference to what had just

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occurred, as though he had no distinct recollection of it, as
yet, he requested to be left alone.

" Oh ! " thought Nicholas, " that this slender chance might
not be lost, and that I might prevail, if it were but for one
week's time and re-consideration ! "

" You are charged with some commission to me, sir," said
Madeline, presenting herself in great agitation. " Do not
press it now, I beg and pray you. The day after to-morrow ;
come here then."

"It will be too late — too late for what I have to say," re-
joined Nicholas, " and you will not be here. Oh, madam, if
you have but one thought of him who sent me here, but one
last lingering care for your own peace of mind and heart, I do
for God's sake urge you to give me a hearing."

She attempted to pass him, but Nicholas gently detained

" A hearing," said Nicholas. " I do ask you but to hear
me : not me alone, but him for whom I speak, who is far away
and does not know your danger. In the name of Heaven
hear me!"

The poor attendant, with her eyes swollen and red with
weeping, stood by ; to her, Nicholas appealed in such passion-
ate terms that she opened a side-door, and, supporting her
mistress into an adjoining room, beckoned Nicholas to follow

" Leave me, sir, pray," said the young lady.

" I cannot, will not leave you thus," returned Nicholas.
" I have a duty to discharge ; and, either here, or in the room
from which we have just now come, at whatever risk or hazard
to Mr. Bray, I must beseech you to contemplate again the
fearful course to which you have been impelled."

" What course is this you speak of, and impelled by whom,
sir ? " demanded the young lady, with an effort to speak

" I speak of this marriage," returned Nicholas ; " of this
marriage, fixed for to-morrow, by one who never faltered in a
bad purpose, or lent his aid to any good design ; of this mar-
riage, the history of which is known to me, better, far better,
than it is to you. I knew what web is wound about you. I
know what men they are from whom these schemes have come.
You are betrayed, and sold for money ; for gold, whose every
coin is rusted with tears, if not red with the blood of ruined
men, who have fallen desperately by their own mad hands."

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" You say you have a duty to discharge," said Madeline,
" and so have I. And with the help of Heaven I will perform

"Say rather with the help of devils," replied Nicholas:
" with the help of men, one of them your destined husband,
who are "

" I must not hear this," cried the young lady, striving to
repress a shudder, occasioned, as it seemed, even by this
slight allusion to Authur Gride. " This evil, if evil it be, has
been of my own seeking. I am impelled to this course by no
one, but follow it of my own free will. You see I am not con-
strained or forced. Report this," said Madeline, " to my dear
friend and benefactor, and, taking with you my prayers and
thanks for him and for yourself, leave me for ever 1 "

" Not until J have besought you, with all the earnestness
and fervor by which I am animated," cried Nicholas, " to post-
pone this marriage for one short week. Not until I have be-
sought you to think, more deeply than you can have done, in-
fluenced as you are, upon the step you are about to take.
Although you cannot be fully conscious of the villany of this
man to whom you are about to give your hand, some of his
deeds you know. You have heard him speak, and have
looked upon his face. Reflect, reflect before it is too late, on
the mockery of plighting to him at the altar, faith in which your
heart can have no share— of uttering solemn words, against
which nature and reason must rebel — of the degradation of
yourself in your own esteem, which must ensue, and must be
aggravated every day, as his detested character opens upon you
more and more. Shrink from the loathsome companionship
of this wretch as you would from corruption and disease.
Suffer toil and labor if you will, but shun him, shun him, and
be happy. For, believe me, I speak the truth ; the most
abject poverty, the most wretched condition of human life,
with a pure and upright mind, would be happiness to that
which you must undergo as the wife of such a man as this ! "

Long before Nicholas ceased to speak, the young lady
buried her face in her hands, and gave her tears free way. In
a voice at first inarticulate with emotion, but gradually re-
covering strength as she proceeded, she answered him :

" I will not disguise from you, sir — though perhaps I ought
— that I have undergone great pain of mind, and have been
nearly broken-hearted since I saw you last. I do not love
this gentleman. The difference between our ages, tastes, and

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habits, forbids it. This he knows, and knowing, still offers me
his hand. By accepting it, and by that step alone, I can re-
lease my father who is dying in this place ; prolong his life,
perhaps, for many years ; restore him to comfort — I may al-
most call it affluence ; and relieve a generous man from the
burden of assisting one, by whom, I grieve to say, his noble
heart is little understood. Do not think so poorly of me as to
believe that I feign a love I do not feel. Do not report sa ill
of me, for that I -could not bear. If I cannot, in reason or in
nature, love the man who pays this price for my poor hand, I
can discharge the duties of a wife : I can be all he seeks in
me, and will. He is content to take me as I am. I have
passed my word, and should rejoice, not weep, that it is so.
I do. The interest you take in one so friendless and forlorn
as I, the delicacy with which you have discharged your trust,
the faith you have kept with me, have my warmest thanks,
and, while I make this last feeble acknowledgment, move me
,to tears, as you see. But I do not repent, nor am I unhappy.
I am happy in the prospect of all I can achieve so easily. I
shall be more so when I look back upon it, and all is done, I

" Your tears fall faster as you talk of happiness," said
Nicholas, "and you shun the contemplation of that dark
future which must be laden with so much misery to you.
Defer this marriage for a week. For but one week ! "

" He was talking, when you came upon us just now, with
such smiles as I remember to have seen of old, and have not
seen for many and many a day, of the freedom that was to
come to-morrow," said Madeline, with momentary firmness :
44 of the welcome change, the fresh air, all the new scenes and
objects that would bring fresh life to his exhausted frame.
His eye grew bright, and his face lightened at the thought. I
will not defer it for an hour."

44 These are but tricks and wiles to urge you on," cried

44 I'll hear no more," said Madeline, hurriedly, 44 1 have
heard too much — more than I should — already. What I have
said to you, sir, I have said as to that dear friend to whom I
trust in you honorably to repeat it. Some time hence, when I
am more composed and reconciled to my new mode of life, if
I should live so long, I will write to him. Meantime, all holy
angels shower blessings on his head, and prosper and preserve

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She was hurrying past Nicholas, when he threw himself
before her, and implored her to think, but once again, upon
the fate to which she was precipitately hastening.

"There is no retreat," said Nicholas, in an agony of sup-
plication, " no withdrawing ! All regret will be unavailing,
and deep and bitter it must be. What can I say, that will in-
duce you to pause at this last moment ! What can I do, to
save you ! "

" Nothing," she incoherently replied. " This is the hardest
trial I have had. Have mercy on me, sir, I beseech, and do
not pierce my heart with such appeals as these. I — I hear
him calling. I — I must not, will not, remain here for another

" If this were a plot," said Nicholas, with the same vio-
lent rapidity with which she spoke, " a plot, not yet laid
bare by me, but which with time I might unravel ; if you were
(not knowing it) entitled to fortune of your own, which, being
recovered, would do all that this marriage can accomplish,

Online LibraryCharles DickensThe life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby → online text (page 66 of 79)