Charles Dickens.

The life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby online

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would you not retract ? "

" No, no no ! It is impossible ; it is a child's tale. Time
would bring his death. He is calling again ! "

"It may be the last time we shall ever meet on earth,"
said Nicholas, " it may be better for me that we should never
meet more."

" For both, for both," replied Madeline, not heeding what
she said. " The time will come when to recall the memory of
this one interview might drive me mad. Be sure to tell them,
that you left me calm and happy. And God be with you, sir,
and my grateful heart and blessing ! "

She was gone. Nicholas, staggering from the house,
thought of the hurried scene which had just closed upon him,
as if it were the phantom of some wild, unquiet dream. The
day wore on ; at night, having been enabled in some measure
to collect his thoughts, he issued forth again.

That night, being the last of Arthur Gride's bachelorship,
found him in tip-top spirits and great glee. The bottle-green
suit had been brushed, ready for the morrow. Peg Sliderskew
had rendered the accounts of her past housekeeping; the
eighteenpence had been rigidly accounted for (she was never
trusted with a larger sum at once, and the accounts were not
usually balanced more than twice a-day) ; every preparation
had been made for the coming festival ; and Arthur might
have sat down and contemplated hu approaching happiness*



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NICHOLAS NICKLEB Y 695

but that he preferred sitting down and contemplating the
entries in a dirty old vellum-book with rusty clasps.

" Well-a-day ! " he chuckled, as sinking on his knees be-
fore a strong chest screwed down to the floor, he thrust in his
arm nearly up to the shoulder, and slowly drew forth this
greasy volume, " Well-a-day now, this is all my library, but it's
one of the most entertaining books that were ever written !
It's a delightful book, and all true and real — that's the best of
it — true as the Bank of England, and real as its gold and
silver. Written by Arthur Gride. He, he, he! None of
your story-book writers will ever make as good a book as this,
I warrant me. It's composed for private circulation, for my
own particular reading, and nobody else's. He, he, he ! "

Muttering this soliloquy, Arthur carried his precious volume
to the table, and, adjusting it upon a dusty desk, put on his
spectacles, and began to pore among the leaves.

" It's a large sum to Mr. Nickleby," he said, in a dolorous
voice. " Debt to be paid in full, nine hundred and seventy-
five, four, three. Additional sum as per bond, five hundred.
One thousand, four hundred and seventy -five pounds, four
shillings, and threepence, to-morrow at twelve o'clock. On the
other side though, there's the per contra, by means of this
pretty chick. But, again, there's the questions whether I
mightn't have brought all this about myself. ' Faint heart
Yiever won fair lady.' Why was my heart so faint ? Why
didn't I boldly open it to Bray myself, and save one thousand
four hundred and seventy-five, four, three ! "

These reflections depressed the old usurer so much, as to
wring a feeble groan or two from his breast, and cause him to
declare, with uplifted hands, that he would die in a workhouse.
Remembering on further cogitation, however, that under any
circumstances he must have paid, or handsomely compounded
for, Ralph's debt, and being by no means confident that he
would have succeeded had he undertaken his enterprise alone,
he regained his equanimity, and chattered and mowed over
more satisfactory items, until the entrance of Peg Sliderskew
interrupted him.

" Aha, Peg ! " said Arthur, " what is it ? What is it now,
Peg?"

" It's the fowl," replied Peg, holding up a plate containing
a little, a very little, one. Quite a phenomenon of a fowl.
So very small and skinny.

" A beautiful bird ! " said Arthur, after inquiring the price



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696 NICHOLAS NICKLEB Y.

and finding it proportionate to the size. " With a rasher of
ham, and an egg made into sauce, and potatoes, and greens
and an apple pudding, Peg, and a little bit of cheese, we
shall have a dinner for an emperor. There'll only be she
and me — and you, Peg, when we've done."

" Don't you complain of the expense afterwards," said Mrs.
Sliderskew, sulkily.

" I'm afraid we must live expensively for the first week,"
returned Arthur, with a groan, " and then we must make up
for it. I won't eat more than I can help, and I know you
love your old master too much to eat more than you can help,
don't you. Peg?"

" Don't I what ? " said Peg.

" Love your old master too mucli — "

" No, not a bit too much," said Peg.

" Oh dear, I wish the devil had this woman ! " cried
Arthur : " love him too much to eat more than you can help
at his expense."

" At his what ? " said Peg.

" Oh dear ! She can never hear the most important word,
and hears all the others I " whined Gride. " At his expense
— you catamaran ! "

The last-mentioned tribute to the charms of Mrs. Sli-
derskew, being uttered in a whisper, that lady assented to
the general proposition by a harsh growl which was accom*
panied by a ring at the street-door.

" There's the bell," said Arthur.

" Ay, ay ; I know that," rejoined Peg.

" Tnen why don't you go ? " bawled Arthur.

" Go where ? " retorted Peg. " I ain't doing any harm
here, ami?"

Arthur Gride in reply repeated the word " bell " as loud
as he could roar ; and, his meaning being rendered further
intelligible to Mrs. Sliderskew's dull sense of hearing by pan-
tomime expressive of ringing at a street-door, Peg hobbled
out after sharply demanding why he hadn't said there was a
ring, before, instead of talking about all manner of things
that had nothing to do with it, and keeping her half-pint of
beer waiting on the steps.

"There's a change come over you, Mrs. Peg," said
Arthur, following her out with his eyes. " What it means I
don't quite know ; but, if it lasts, we shan't agree together
long I see. You are turning crazy, I think. If you are, you



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NICHOLAS NICKLEB Y. 69 7

must take yourself off, Mrs. Peg — or be taken off. All's one
to me." Turning over the leaves of his book as he muttered
this, he soon lighted upon something which attracted his atten-
tion, and^forgot Peg Sliderskew and everything else in the
engrossing interest of its pages.

The room had no other light than that which it derived
from a dim and dirt-clogged lamp, whose lazy wick, being still
further obscured by a dark shade, cast its feeble rays over a
very little space, and left all beyond in heavy shadow. This
lamp, the money-lender had drawn so close to him, that there
was only room between it and himself for the book over
which he bent ; and as he sat, with his elbows on the desk,
and his sharp cheek-bones resting on his hands, it only served
to bring out his ugly features in strong relief, together with
the little table at which he sat, and to shroud all the rest of
the chamber in a deep sullen gloom. Raising his eyes, and
looking vacantly into this gloom as he made some mental cal-
culation, Arthur Gride suddenly met the fixed gaze of a man.

" Thieves ! thieves ! " shrieked the usurer, starting up and
folding his book to his breast. " Robbers ! Murder ! "

" What is the matter ? " said the form, advancing.

" Keep off ! " cried the trembling wretch. " Is it a man
or a — a — "

" For what do you take me, if not for a man ? " was the
inquiry.

" Yes, yes," cried Arthur Gride, shading his eyes with his
hand " it is a man and not a spirit. It is a man. Robbers 1
robbers ! "

" For what are these cries raised ? Unless indeed you
know me, and have some purpose in your brain ? " said the
stranger, coming close up to him. " I am no thief."

"What then, and how come you here?" cried Gride,
somewhat re-assured, but still retreating from his visitor :
" what is your name, and what do you want ? "

" My name you need not know," was the reply. " I came
here, because I was shown the way by your servant. I
have addressed you twice or thrice, but you were too pro-
foundly engaged with your book to hear me, and I have been
silently waiting until you should be less abstracted. What I
want, I will tell you, when you can summon up courage enough
to hear and understand me."

Arthur Gride venturing to regard his visitor more atten-
tively, and perceiving that he was a young man of good mien



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698 NICHOLAS NICKLEB V.

and bearing, returned to his seat, and muttering that there
were bad characters about, and that this, with former attempts
upon his house, had made him nervous, requested his visitor
to sit down. However he declined.

" Good God ! I don't stand up to have you at an advan-
tage," said Nicholas (for Nicholas it was), as he observed a
gesture of alarm on the part of Gride. " Listen to me. You
are to be married to-morrow morning."

" N — n — no," rejoined Gride. "Who said I was ? How
do you know that ? "

" No matter how," replied Nicholas, " I know it The
young lady who is to give you her hand, hates and despises
you. Her blood runs cold at the mention of your name ; the
vulture and the lamb, the rat and the dove, could not be
worse matched than you and she. You see I know her."

Gride looked at him as if he were petrified with astonish-
ment, but did not speak; perhaps lacking the power.

" You and another man, Ralph Nickleby by name, have
hatched this plot between you," pursued Nicholas. "You
pay him for his share in bringing about this sale of Madeline
Bray. You do. A lie is trembling on your lips, I see."

He paused ; but Arthur making no reply, resumed again.

" You pay yourself by defrauding her. How or by what
means — for I scorn to sully her cause by falsehood or deceit
— I do not know ; at present I do not know, but I am not
alone or single-handed in this business. If the energy of
man can compass the discovery of your fraud and treachery
before your death ; if wealth, revenge, and just hatred, can
hunt and track you through your windings ; you will yet be
called to a dear account for this. We are on the scent al-
ready ; judge you who know what we do not, when we shall
have you down ? "

He paused again, and still Arthur Gride glared upon him
in silence.

" If you were a man to whom I could appeal with any hope
of touching his compassion or humanity," said Nicholas, "I
would urge upon you to remember the helplessness, the inno-
cence, the youth, of this lady ; her worth and beauty, her filial
excellence, ana* last, and more than all as concerning you more
nearly, the appeal she has made to your mercy and your manly
feeling. But I take the only ground that can be taken with
men like you, and ask what money will buy yoif off. Remem-
ber the danger to which you are exposed. You see I know



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NICHOLAS MCKLEBY. 699

enough, to know much more with very little help. Bate some
expected gain, for the risk you save, and say what is your
price. ,,

Old Arthur Gride moved his lips, but they only formed an
ugly smile and were motionless again.

" You think," said Nicholas, " that the price would not be
paid. Miss Bray has wealthy friends who would coin their
very hearts to save her in such a strait as this. Name your
price, defer these nuptials for but a few days, and see whether
those I speak of, shrink from the payment. Do you hear me ? "

When Nicholas began, Arthur Gride's impression was, that
Ralph Nickleby had betrayed him ; but, as he proceeded, he
felt convinced that however he had come by the knowledge
he possessed, the part he acted was a genuine one, and that
with Ralph he had nc^ concern. All he seemed to know for
certain, was, that he, Gride, paid Ralph's debt ; but that, to
anybody who knew the circumstances of Bray*s detention —
even to Bray himself on Ralph's own statement — must be per-
fectly notorious. As to the fraud on Madeline herself, his
visitor knew so little about its nature or extent, that it might
be a lucky guess, or a hap-hazard accusation. Whether or no,
he had clearly no key to the mystery, and could not hurt him
who kept it close within his own breast. The allusion to
friends, and the offer of money, Gride held to be mere empty
vaporing, for purposes of delay, " And even if money were to
be had," thought Arthur Gride, as he glanced at Nicholas,
and trembled with passion at his boldness and audacity, " I'd
have that dainty chick for my wife, and cheat you of her,
young smooth-face ! "

Long habit of weighing and noting well what clients said,
and nicely balancing chances in his mind and calculating odds
to their faces, without the least appearance of being so en-
gaged, had rendered Gride quick in forming conclusions, and
arriving, from puzzling, intricate, and often contradictory
premises, at very cunning deductions. Hence it was, that, as
Nicholas went on, he followed him closely with his own con-
structions, and, when he ceased to speak, was as well prepared
as if he had deliberated for a fortnight.

" I hear you," he cried, starting from his seat, casting back
the fastenings of the window-shutters, and throwing up the
sash. "Help here! Help! Help!"

" What are you doing ! " said Nicholas, seizing him by the
arm.



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NICHOLAS NICKLEBY.



" I'll cry robbers, thieves, murder, alarm the neighborhood,
struggle with you, let loose some blood, and swear you came
to rob me, if you don't quit my house," replied Gride, draw-
ing in his head with a frightful grin, " I will ! "

" Wretch ! " cried Nicholas.

" You'll bring your threats here, will you ? " said
Gride, whom jealousy of Nicholas and a sense of his own
triumph had converted into a perfect fiend. "You, the dis-
appointed lover ? Oh, dear ! He ! he ! he ! But you shan't
have her, nor she you. She's my wife, my doting little wife.
Do you think she'll miss you ? Do you think she'll weep ? I
shall like to see her weep, I shan't mind it. She looks prettier
in tears."

" Villain ! " said Nicholas, choking with his rage.

" One minute more," cried Arthur Gride, " and I'll rouse
the street with such screams, as, if they were raised by any
body else, sh<3uld wake me even in the arms of pretty Made-
line."

" You hound ! " said Nicholas, " if you were bdt a younger
man "

" Oh yes ! " sneered Arthur Gride, "if I was but a younger
man it wouldn't be so bad ; but for me, so old and ugly ! To
be jilted by little Madeline for me ! "

" Hear me," said Nicholas, " and be thankful I have
enough command over myself not to fling you into the street,
which no aid could prevent my doing if I once grappled with
you. I have been no lover of this lady's. No contract or
engagement, no word of love, has ever passed between us.
She does not even know my name."

" I'll ask it for all that. I'll beg it of her with kisses,"
said Arthur Gride. " Yes, and she'll tell me, and pay them
back, and we'll laugh together, and hug ourselves, and be
very merry, when we think of the poor youth that wanted to
have her, but couldn't because she was bespoke by me ! "

This taunt brought such an expression into the face of
Nicholas, that Arthur Gride plainly apprehended it to be the
forerunner of his putting his threat of throwing him into the
street in immediate execution ; for he thrust his head out of
the window, and holding tight on with both hands, raised a
pretty brisk alarm. Not thinking it necessary to abide the
issue of the noise, Nicholas gave vent to an indignant defiance,
and stalked from the room and from the house. Arthur Gride
watched him across the street, and then, drawing in his head,
fastened the window as before, and sat down to take breath.



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NICHOLAS NICKLEB Y. y ol

" If she ever turns pettish or ill-humored, I'll taunt her
with that spark," he said, when he had recovered. " She'll
little think I know about him ; and, if I manage it well, I can
break her spirit by this means and have her under my thumb.
I'm glad nobody came. I didn't call too loud. The audacity
to enter my house, and open upon me ! But I shall have a
very good triumph to-morrow, and he'll be gnawing his fingers
off : perhaps drown himself, or cut his throat 1 I shouldn't
wonder ! That would make it quite complete, that would :
quite."

When he had become restored to his usual condition by
these and other comments on his approaching triumph,
Arthur Gride put away his book, and having locked the
chest with great caution, descended into the kitchen to warn
Peg Sliderskew to bed, and scold her for having afforded such
ready admission to a stranger.

The unconscious Peg, however, not being able to compre-
hend the offence of which she had been guilty, he summoned
her to hold the light, while he made a tour of the fastenings,
and secured the street-door with his own hands.*

" Top bolt," muttered Arthur, fastening as he spoke, " bot-
tom bolt, chain, bar, double-lock, and key out to put under
my pillow- 1 So, . if any more rejected admirers come, they
may come through the key-hole. And now I'll go to sleep
till half-past five, when I must get up to be married, Peg 1 "

With that, he jocularly tapped Mrs. Sliderskew under the
chin, and appeared for the moment inclined to celebrate the
close of his bachelor days by imprinting a kiss on her shriv-
elled lips. Thinking better of it, however, he gave her chin
another tap, in lieu of that warmer familiarity, and stole away
to bed.



CHAPTER LIV.

THE CRISIS OF THE PROJECT AND ITS RESULT.

There are not many men who lie abed too late, or over-
sleep themselves, on their wedding morning. A legend there
is, of somebody remarkable for absence of mind, who opened
his eyes upon the day which was to give him a young wife, and



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7°*



NICHOLAS NICKLEBY.



forgetting all about the matter, rated his servants for providing
him with such fine clothes as had been prepared for the festi-
val. There is also a legend of a young gentleman, who, not
having before his eyes the fear of the canons of the church
for such cases made and provided, conceived a passion for his
grandmother. Both cases are of a singular and special kind,
and it is very doubtful whether either can be considered as a
precedent likely to be extensively followed by succeeding gen-
erations.

Arthur Gride had enrobed himself in his marriage gar-
ments of bottle-green, a full hour before Mrs. Sliderskew,
shaking off her more heavy slumbers, knocked at his chamber
door ; and he had hobbled down stairs in full array and
smacked his lips over a scanty taste of his favorite cordial,
ere that delicate piece of antiquity enlightened the kitchen
with her presence.

" Faugh ! " said Peg, grubbing, in the discharge of her do-
mestic functions among a scanty heap of ashes in the rusty
grate, " Wedding indeed ! A precious wedding !'. He wants
somebody better than his old Peg to take care of him, does
he ? And what has he said to me, many and many a time, to
keep me content with short food, small wages, and little fire ?
4 My will, Peg ! my will ! ' says he, * I'm a bachelor— no friends
— no relations, Peg.' Lies ! And now he's to bring home a
new mistress, a baby-faced chit of a girl ! If he wanted a wife,
the fool, why couldn't he have one suitable to his age and that
knew his ways ? She won't come in my way, he says. No,
that she won't ; but you little think why, Arthur boy ! "

While Mrs. Sliderskew, influenced possibly by some linger-
ing feelings of disappointment and personal slight, occasioned
by her old. master's preference for another, was giving loose
to these grumblings below stairs, Arthur Gride was cogitating
in the parlor upon what had taken place last night

" I can't think how he can have picked up what he knows,"
said Arthur, " unless I have committed myself — let something
drop at Bray's, for instance — which has been overheard.
Perhaps I may. I shouldn't be surprised if that was it. Mr.
Nickleby was often angry at my talking to him before we got
outside the door. I musn'ttell him that part of the business,
or he'll put me out of sorts, and make me nervous for the
day."

Ralph was universally looked up to, and recognized among
his fellows as a superior genius, but upon Arthur Gride his



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NICHOLAS NICKLEB Y. j 03

stern unyielding character and consummate art had made so
deep an impression, that he was actually afraid of him.
Cringing and cowardly to the core, by nature, Arthur Gride
humbled himself in the dust before Ralph Nickleby, and,
even when they had not this stake in common, would have
licked his shoes and crawled upon the ground before him
rather than venture to return him word for word, or retort
upon him in any other spirit than one of the most slavish and
abject sycophancy.

To Ralph Nickleby's, Arthur Gride now betook himself
according to appointment ; and to Ralph Nickleby he related,
^ how, last night, some young blustering blade whom he had
never seen, forced his way into his house, and tried to frighten
him from the proposed nuptials. Told, in short, what Nicho-
las had said and done, with the slight reservation upon which
he had determined.

" Well, and what then ? " said Ralph.

" Oh ! nothing more," rejoined Gride.

" He tried to frighten you," said Ralph, " and you were
frightened I suppose ; is that it ? "

" I frightened him by crying thieves and murder," replied
Gride. " Once I was in earnest, I tell you that, for I had
more than half a mind to swear he uttered threats, and
demanded- my life or my money."

" Oho ! " said Ralph, eyeing him askew. • "Jealous too ! "

" Dear now, see that ! " cried Arthur, rubbing his hands
and affecting to laugh.

" Why do you make those grimaces, man ? " said Ralph ;
" you are jealous — and with good cause I think."

" No, no, no ; not with good cause, hey ? You don't
think with good cause, do you ? " cried Arthur, faltering, " Do
you though, hey ? "

4 Why, how stands the fact ? " returned Ralph. " Here is
an old man about to be forced in marriage upon a girl ; and
to this old man there comes a handsome young fellow — you
said he was handsome, didn't you ? "

" No ! " snarled Arthur Gride.

"Oh!" rejoined Ralph, "I thought you did. Well!
Handsome or not handsome, to this old man there comes a
young fellow who casts all manner of fierce defiances in his
teeth — gums I should rather say — and tells him in plain terms
that his mistress hates him. What does he do that for?
Philanthropy's sake ? "



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jo4 NICHOLAS N1CKLEB Y.

" Not for love of the lady," replied Gride, " for he said that
no word of love (his very words) had ever passed between 'em."

" He said ! " repeated Ralph, contemptuously. " But I
like him for one thing, and that is, his giving you this fair
warning to keep your — what is it ? — Tit-tit or dainty chick —
which ? — under lock and key. Be careful, Gride, be careful.
It's a triumph, too, to tear her away from a gallant young
rival : a great triumph for an old man ! It only remains to
keep her safe when you have her — that's all."

" What a man it is ! " cried Arthur Gride, affecting, in the
extremity of his torture, to be highly amused. And then he
added, anxiously, " Yes ; to keep her safe, that's all. And
that isn't much, is it ? "

" Much ! " said Ralph, with a sneer. " Why, everybody
knows what easy things to understand and to contrql, women
are. But come, it's very nearly time for you to be made
happy. You'll pay the bond, now, I suppose, to save us
trouble afterwards."

" Oh what a man you are ! " croaked Arthur.

" Why not ? " said Ralph. " Nobody will pay you interest
for the money, I suppose, between this and twelve o'clock :
will they?"

" But nobody would pay you interest for it either, you
know." returned Arthur, leering at Ralph with all the cunning
and slyness he could throw into his face.

" Besides which," said Ralph, suffering his lip to curl into
a smile, " you haven't the money about you, and you weren't
prepared for this, or you'd have brought it with you ; and
there's nobody you'd so much like to accommodate as me.
I see. We trust each other in about an equal degree. Are
you ready ? "

Gride, who had done nothing but grin, and nod, and
chatter, during this last speech of Ralph's, answered in the
affirmative ; and, producing from his hat a couple of large
white favors, pinned one on his breast, and with considerable
difficulty induced his friend to do the like. Thus accoutred,
they got into a hired coach which Ralph had in waiting, and
drove to the residence of the fair and most wretched bride.

Gride, whose spirits and courage had gradually failed him



Online LibraryCharles DickensThe life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby → online text (page 67 of 79)