Charles Dickens.

The life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby online

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woman who kept his house to Newman's lodging, to inquire if
he were ill, and why he had not come or sent. She brought
back answer that he had not been home all night, and that
no one could tell her anything about him.

" But there is a gentleman, sir," she said, " below, who
was standing at the door when I came in, and he says "

" What says he ? " demanded Ralph, turning angrily upon
her. " I told you I would see nobody."

" He says," replied the woman, abashed by his harshness,
" that he comes on very particular business, which admits of
no excuse ; and I thought perhaps it might be about "

" About what, in the devil's name ? " said Ralph. " You
spy and speculate on people's business with me, do you ? "

" Dear, no, sir 1 I saw you were anxious, and thought it
might be about Mr. Noggs ; that's all."

" Saw I was anxious ! " muttered Ralph ; " they all watch
me, now. Where is this person ? You did not say I was
not down yet, I hope 1 "

The woman replied that he was in the little office, and

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that she had said her master was engaged, but she would take
the message.

"Well," said Ralph, "I'll see him. Gq you to your
kitchen, and keep there. Do you mind me ? "

Glad to be released, the woman quickly disappeared.
Collecting himself, and assuming as much of his accustomed
manner as his utmost resolution could summon, Ralph de-
scended the stairs. After pausing for a few moments, with his
hand upon the lock, he entered Newman's room, and con-
fronted Mr. Charles Cheeryble.

Of all men alive, this was one of the last he would have
wished to meet at any time ; but, now, that he recognized in him
only the patron and protector of Nicholas, he would rather have
seen a spectre. One beneficial effect, however, the encounter
had upon him. It instantly roused all his dormant energies ;
rekindled in his breast the passions that, for many years, had
found an improving home there ; called up all his wrath, ha-
tred and malice ; restored the sneer to his lip, and the scowl
to his brow ; and made him again, in all outward appearance,
the same Ralph Nickleby whom so many had bitter cause to

" Humph ( " said Ralph, pausing at theidoor. " This is an
unexpected favor, sir."

" And an unwelcome one," said brother Charles ; " an un-
welcome one, I know."

" Men say you are truth itself, sir," replied Ralph. " You
speak truth now at all events, and Til not contradict you.
The favor is, at least, as unwelcome as it is unexpected. I can
scarcely say more ! "

" Plainly, sir " began brother Charles.

" Plainly, sir," interrupted Ralph, " I wish this conference
to be a short one, and to end where it begins. I guess the
subject upon which you are about to speak, and I'll not hear
you. You like plainness, I believe ; there it is. Here is the
door as you see. Our ways lie in very different directions.
Take yours, I beg of you, and leave me to pursue mine in

" In quiet I " repeated brother Charles mildly, and looking
at him with more of pity than reproach. " To pursue his way
in quiet ! "

" You will scarcely remain in my house, I presume, sir,
against my will," said Ralph ; " or you can scarcely hope to
make an impression upon a man who closes his ears to all

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that you can say, and is firmly and resolutely determined not
to hear you."

" Mr. Nickleby, sir," returned brother Charles : no less
mildly than before, but firmly too, " I come here against my
will, sorely and grievously against my will. I have never been
in this house before ; and, to speak my mind, sir, I don't feel
at home or easy in it, and have no wish ever to be here again.
You do not guess the subject on which I come to speak to
you ; you do not indeed. I am sure of that, or your manner
would be a very different one."

Ralph glanced keenly at him, but the clear eye and open
countenance of the honest old merchant underwent no change
of expression, and met his look without reserve.

" Shall I go on ? " said Mr. Cheeryble.

"Oh, by all means, if you please," returned Ralph dryly.
" Here are walls to speak to, sir, a desk, and two stools : most
attentive auditors, and certain not to interrupt you. Go on, I
beg ; make my house yours, and perhaps by the time I return
from my walk, you will have finished what you have to say,
and will yield me up possession again."

So saying, he buttoned his coat, and turning into the
passage, took dowm his hat The old gentleman followed, and
was about to speak, when Ralph waved him off impatiently,
and said :

" Not a word. I tell you, sir not a word. Virtuous as
you are, you are not ah angel yet, to appear in men's houses
whether they will or no, and pour your speech into unwilling
ears. Preach to the walls I tell you ; not to me ! "

"I am no angel, Heaven knows," returned brother
Charles, shaking his head, " but an erring and imperfect man ;
nevertheless, there is one quality which all men have, in com-
mon with the angels, blessed opportunities of exercising, if
they will, mercy. It is an errand of mercy that brings me
here. Pray, let me discharge it."

" I show no mercy," retorted Ralph with a triumphant
smile, " and I ask none. Seek no mercy from me, sir, in be-
half of the fellow who has imposed upon your childish cre-
dulity, but let him expect the worst that I can do."

" He ask mercy at your hands ! " exclaimed the old mer-
chant warmly, " ask it at his, sir : ask it at his. If you will
not hear me now, when you may, hear me when you must, or
anticipate what I would say, and take measures to pre-
vent our ever meeting again. Your nephew is a noble lad,

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sir, an honest noble lad. What you are, Mr. Nickleby, I will
not say ; but what you have done, I know. Now, sir, when
you go about the business in which you have been recently
engaged, and find it difficult of pursuing, come to me and my
brother Ned, and Tim Linkin water, sir, and we'll explain it
for you — and come soon, or it may be too late, and you may
have it explained with a little more roughness, and a little less
delicacy — and never forget, sir, that I came here this morn-
ing, in mercy to you, and am still ready to talk to you in ,the
same spirit."

With these words, uttered with great emphasis and
emotion, brother Charles put on his broad-brimmed hat, and,
passing Ralph Nickleby without any other remark, trotted
nimbly into the street. Ralph looked after him, but neither
moved nor spoke for some time : when he broke what almost
seemed the silence of stupefaction, by a scornful laugh.

" This," he said, " from its wildness, should be another of
those dreams that have so broken my rest of late. In mercy
to me ! Pho ! The old simpleton has gone mad."

Although he expressed himself in this derisive and con-
temptuous manner, it was plain that, the more Ralph
pondered, the more ill at ease he became, and the more he
labored under some vague anxiety and alarm, which increased
as the time passed on and no tidings of Newman Noggs
arrived. After waiting until late in the afternoon, tortured
by various apprehensions and misgivings, and the recollection
of the warning which his nephew had given him when they
last met: the further confirmation of which now presented
itself in one shape of probability, now in another, and haunted
him perpetually ; he left home, and, scarcely knowing why,
save that he was in, a suspicious and agitated mood, betook
himself to Snawley's house. His wife presented herself;
and, of her, Ralph inquired whether her husband was at

" No," she said sharply, " he is not indeed, and I don't
think he will be at home for a very long time ; that's more."

" Do you know who I am ? " asked Ralph.

" Oh yes, I know you very well ; too well, perhaps, and
perhaps he does too, and sorry aih I that I should have to
say it."

" Tell him that I saw him through the window-blind above,
as I crossed the road just now, and that I would speak to
him on business/' said Ralph, " Do you hear ? "

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" I hear," rejoined Mrs. Snawley, taking no further notice
of the request.

" I knew this woman was a hypocrite, in the way of psalms
and Scripture phrases," said Ralph, passing quietly by, "but
I never knew she drank before."

" Stop ! You don't come in here," said Mr. Snawley's
better-half, interposing her person, which was a robust one,
in the doorway. " You have said more than enough to him
on business, before now. I always told him what dealing
with you and working out your schemes would come to. It
was either you or the schoolmaster— one of you, or the two
between you — that got the * forged letter done ; remember
that ! That wasn't his doing, so don't lay that at his door."

" Hold your tongue, you Jezebel," said Ralph, looking
fearfully round.

" Ah, I know when to hold my tongue, and when to speak,
Mr. Nickleby," retorted the dame. "Take care that other
people know when to hold their tongues."

" You jade," said Ralph, " if your husband has been idiot
enough to trust you with his secrets, keep them ; keep them,
she-devil that you are i "

" Not so much his secrets as other people's secrets per-
haps," retorted the woman; "not so much his secrets as
yours. None of your black looks at me ! You'll want 'em
all perhaps for another time. You had better keep 'em."

" Will you," said Ralph, suppressing his passion as well
as he could, and clutching her tightly by the wrist ; " will you
go to your husband and tell him that I know he is at home,
and that 1 must see him ? And will you tell me what it is,
that you and he mean, by this new style of behavior ? "

" No," replied the woman, violently disengaging herself.
"I'll do neither."

" You set me at defiance, do you ? " said Ralph.

" Yes," was the answer. " I do."

For an instant Ralph had his hand raised, as though he
were about to strike her ; but, checking himself, and nodding
his head and muttering as though to assure her he would not
forget this, walked away.

Thence, he went straight to the inn which Mr. Squeers
frequented, and inquired when he had been there last ; in the
vague hope that, successful or unsuccessful, he might, by this
time, have returned from his mission and be able to assure
him that all was safe. But Mr. Squeers had not been there,

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for ten days, and all that the people could tell about him was,
that he had left his luggage and his bill.

Disturbed by a thousand fears and surmises, and bent
upon ascertaining whether Squeers had any suspicion of
Snawley, or was, in any way, a party to this altered behavior,
Ralph determined to hazard the extreme step of inquiring for
him at the Lambeth Lodging, and having an interview with
him even there. Bent upon this purpose, and in that mood
in which delay is insupportable, he repaired at once to the
place ; and being, by description, perfectly acquainted with
the situation of his room, crept upstairs and knocked gently
at the door.

Not one, nor two, nor three, nor yet a dozen knocks,
served to convince Ralph, against his wish, that there was
nobody inside. He reasoned that he might be asleep ; and,
listening, almost persuaded himself that he could hear him
breathe. Even when he was satisfied that he could not be
there, he sat patiently on a broken stair and waited ; arguing
that he had gone out upon some slight errand, and must soon

Many feet came up the creaking stairs ; and the step of
some seemed to his listening ear so like that of the man for
whom he waited, that Ralph often stood up to be ready to
address him when he reached the top ; but, one by one, each
person turned off into some room short of the place where he
was stationed ; and at every such disappointment he felt quite
chilled and lonely.

At length he felt it was quite hopeless to remain, and
going down stairs again, inquired of one of the lodgers if he
knew anything of Mr. Squeers's movements — mentioning that
worthy by an assumed name which had been agreed upon
between them. By this lodger he was referred to another,
and by him to some one else, from whom he learnt, that, late
on the previous night, he had gone out hastily with two men,
who had shortly afterwards returned for the old woman who
lived on the same floor ; and that, although the circumstance
had attracted the attention of the informant, he had not
spoken to them at the time, nor made any inquiry afterwards.

This possessed him with the idea that, perhaps, Peg Sli-
derskew had been apprehended for the robbery, and that Mr.
Squeers, being with her at the time, had been apprehended also,
on suspicion of being a confederate. If this were so, the fact
must be known to Gride ; and to Gride's house he directed

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his steps: now thoroughly alarmed, and fearful that there
were indeed plots afoot, tending to his discomfiture and ruin.

Arrived at the usurer's house, he found the windows close
shut, the dingy blinds drawn down : all silent, melancholy,
and deserted. But this was its usual aspect He knocked —
gently at first — then loud and vigorously. Nobody came.
He wrote a few words in pencil on a card, and having thrust
it under the door was going away, when a noise above, as
though a window-sash were stealthily raised, caught his ear,
and looking up he could just discern the face of Gride himself,
cautiously peering over the house parapet from the window of
the garret. Seeing who was below, he drew it in again ; not
so quickly, however, but that Ralph let him know he was
observed, and called to him to come down.

The call being repeated, Gride looked out again, so
cautiously that no part of the old man's body was visible.
The sharp features and white hair appearing alone, above the
parapet, looked like a severed head garnishing the wall

" Hush I " he cried, " Go away, go away 1 "

" Come down," said Ralph, beckoning him.

" Go a — way ! " squeaked Gride, shaking his head in a
sort of ecstasy of impatience. " Don't speak to me, don't
knock, don't call attention to the house, but go away."

" I'll knock, I swear, till I have your neighbors up in
arms," said Ralph, " if you don't tell me what you mean by
lurking there, you whining cur."

" I can't hear what you say — don't talk to me — it isn't
safe — go away — go away 1 " returned Gride.

" Come down, I say. Will you come down 1 " said Ralph

" No—- o — o— o," snarled Gride. He drew in his head ;
and Ralph, left standing in the street, could hear the sash
closed, as gently and carefully as it had been opened.

"How is this," said he, " that they all fall from me, and
shun me like the plague, these men who have licked the dust
from my feet 1 Is my day past, and is this indeed the coming
on of night ? I'll know what it means I I will, at any cost
I am firmer and more myself, just now, than I have been
these many days."

Turning from the door, which, in the first transport of his
rage, he had meditated battering upon, until Gride's very
fears should impel him to open it, he turned his face towards
the city, and working his way steadily thrQugh the crowd

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which was pouring from it (it was by this time between five
and six o'clock in the afternoon) went straight to the house
of business of the Brothers Cheeryble, and putting his head
into the glass case, found Tim Linkinwater alone.

" My name's Nickleby," said Ralph.

"I know it," replied Tim, surveying him through his

" Which of your firm was it who called on me this morn-
ing ? " demanded Ralph.

"Mr. Charles."

" Then, tell Mr. Charles I want to see him."

" You shall see," said Tim, getting off his stool with great
agility, "you shall see, not only Mr. Charles, but Mr. Ned

Tim stopped, looked steadily and severely at Ralph,
nodded his head once in a curt manner which seemed to say
there was a little more behind, and vanished. After a short
interval, he returned, and, ushering Ralph into the presence
of the two brothers, remained in the room himself.

" I want to speak to you, who spoke to me this morning,"
said Ralph, pointing out with his finger the man whom he

" I have no secrets from my brother Ned, or from Tim
Linkinwater," observed brother Charles quietly.

" I have," said Ralph.

" Mr. Nickleby, sir," said brother Ned, " the matter upon
which my brother Charles called upon you this morning, is
one which is already perfectly well known to us three, and to
others besides, and must unhappily soon become known to a
great many more. He waited upon you, sir, this morning,
alone, as a matter of delicacy and consideration. We feel,
now, that further delicacy and consideration would be mis-
placed ; and, if we confer together, it must be as we are, or
not at all."

" Well, gentlemen," said Ralph, with a curl of the lip,
" talking in riddles would seem to be the peculiar forte of you
two, and I suppose your clerk, like a prudent man, has
studied the art also with a view to your good graces. Talk
in company, gentlemen, -in God's name. Til humor you."

"Humor!" cried Tim Linkinwater, suddenly growing
very red in the face, " He'll humor us ! He'll humor Cheeryble
Brothers ! Do you hear that ? Do you hear him ? Do you
hear him say he'll humor Cheeryble Brothers ? "

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" Tim," said Charles and Ned together, " pray Tim, pray
now, don't."

Tim, taking the hint, stifled
could, and suffered it to escape
the additional safety valve of
and then, which seemed to relies

"As nobody bids me to a
round, " I'll take one, for I am
now, if you please, gentlemen, I
know ; I have the right — what j
justifies such a tone as you have
interference in my affairs v/hicl
you have been practising. I tel
little as I care for the opinion of
I don't choose to submit qui
Whether you suffer yourselves tc
or wilfully make yourselves par
the same. In either case, you c
like myself much consideration <

So coolly and deliberately v
out of ten, ignorant of the circum
Ralph to be really an injured
folded arms ; paler than usual,
favored, but quite collected — fa:
or the exasperated Tim — and re

"Very well, sir," said bro
Brother Ned, will you ring the b

" Charles, my dear fellow ! si
other. " It will be better for Mr
that he should remain silent if h
we have to say. I wish him to 1

" Quite right, quite right," S£

Ralph smiled, but made no
the room-door opened ; a man c
and, looking round, Ralph's eyes
From that moment, his heart be]

" This is a good beginning,"
is a good beginning. You are

fair-dealing men! I always ki v

characters as yours ! To tamper with a fellow like this, wfco
would sell his soul (it he had one) for drink, and whose every
word is a lie ! What men are safe if this is done ? Oh it's a
good beginning ! "

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" I will speak," cried Newman, standing on tiptoe to look
over Tim's head, who had interposed to prevent him. " Hallo,
you sir — old Nickleby ! — what do you mean when you talk of
*a fellow like this ? ' Who made me ' a fellow like this ? ' If
I would sell my soul for drink, why wasn't I a thief, swindler,
housebreaker, area sneak, robber of pence out of the trays of
blind men's dogs, rather than your drudge and packhorse ?
If my every word was a lie, why wasn't I a pet and favorite
of yours ? Lie ! When did I ever cringe and fawn to you ?
Tell me that ! I served you faithfully. I did more work,
because I was poor, and took more hard words from you
because I despised you and them, than any man you could
have got from the parish workhouse. I did. I served you
because I was proud ; because I was a lonely man with you,
and there were no other drudges to see my degradation;
because nobody knew, better than you, that I was a ruined
man, that I hadn't always been what I am, and that I might
have been better off, if I hadn't been a fool and fallen into
the hands of you and others who were knaves. Do you deny

" Gently," reasoned Tim, " you said you wouldn't."

" I said I wouldn't ! " cried Newman, thrusting him aside,
and moving his hand as Tim moved, so as to keep him at
arm's-length. " Don't tell me ! Here, you Nickleby ! Don't
pretend not to mind me ; it won't do ; I know better. You
were talking of tampering, just now. Who tampered with
Yorkshire schoolmasters, and, while they sent the drudge out
that he shouldn't overhear, forgot that such great caution
might render him suspicious, and that he might watch his
master out at nights, and might set other eyes to watch the
schoolmaster ? Who tampered with a selfish father, urging
him to sell his daughter to old Arthur Gride, and tampered
with Gride too, and did so in the little office with a closet in
the room ? "

Ralph had put a great command upon himself ; but he
could not have suppressed a slight start, if he had been cer-
tain to be beheaded for it next moment.

" Aha ! " cried Newman. " You mind me now, do you ?
What first set this fag to be jealous of his master's actions,
and to feel that, if he hadn't crossed him when he might, he
would have been as bad as he, or worse ? That master's cruel
treatment of his own flesh and blood, and vile designs upon
a young girl who interested even his broken-down drunken

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miserable hack, and made him linger in his service, in the hope
of doing her some good (as, thank God, he had done others,
once or twice before), when he would, otherwise, have relieved
his feelings by pummelling his master soundly, and then go-
ing to the Devil. He would — mark that ; and mark this — that
I'm here now, because these gentlemen thought it best. When
I sought them out (as I did ; there was no tampering with me),
I told them I wanted help to find you out, to trace you down,
to go through with what I had begun, to help the right ; and
that when I had done it, I'd burst into your room and tell you
all, face to face, man to man, and like a man. Now I've said
my say, and let anybody else say theirs, and fire away ! "

With this concluding sentiment, Newman Noggs, who had
been perpetually sitting down and getting up again all through
his speech, which he had delivered in a series of jerks ; and
who was, from the violent exercise and the excitement com-
bined, in a state of most intense and fiery heat ; became,
without passing through any intermediate stage, stiff, upright,
and motionless, and so remained, staring at Ralph Nickleby
with all his might and main.

Ralph looked at him, for an instant, and for an instant
only ; then, waved his hand, and beating the ground with his
foot, said in a choking voice :

" Go on, gentlemen, go on ! I'm patient, you see. There's
law to be had, there's law. I shall call you to an account for
this. Take care what you say ; I shall make you prove it"

u The proof is ready," returned Brother Charles, "quite
ready to our hands. The man Snawley, last night, made a

" Who may ' the man Snawley ' be," returned Ralph, " and
what may his ' confession ' have to do with my affairs ? "

To this inquiry, put with a dogged inflexibility of manner,
the old gentleman returned no answer, but went on to say,
that to show him how much they were in earnest, it would be
necessary to tell him, not only what accusations were made
against him, but what proof of them they had, and how that
proof had been acquired. This laying open of the whole
question, brought up brother Ned, Tim Linkinwater, and New-
man Noggs, all three at once ; who, after a vast deal of talk-
ing together, and a scene of great confusion, laid before Ralph,
in distinct terms, the following statement.

That, Newman, having been solemnly assuredly one not
then producible that Smike was not the son of Snawley, and

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this person having offered to make oath to that effect, if neces-
sary, they had by this communication been first led to doubt
the claim set up, which they would otherwise have seen no
reason to dispute ; supported as it was by evidence which they
had no power of disproving. That, once suspecting the exist-
ence of a conspiracy, they had no difficulty in tracing back
its origin to the malice of Ralph, and the vindictiveness and
avarice of Squeers. That, suspicion and proof being two

Online LibraryCharles DickensThe life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby → online text (page 73 of 79)