Charles Dickens.

The life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby online

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ted — not Nicholas, as he had supposed, but Brooker.

Ralph had no reason, that he knew, to fear this man ; he
had never feared him before ; but the pallor which had been
observed in his face when he issued forth that night, came
upon him again. He was seen to tremble, and his voice
changed as he said, keeping his eyes upon him,

"What does this fellow here? Do you know he is a
convict, a felon, a common thief ! "

" Hear what he has to tell you. Oh, Mr. Nickleby, hear
what he has to tell you, be he what he may ! "' cried the
brothers, with such emphatic earnestness, that Ralph turned
to them in wonder. They pointed to Brooker. Ralph again
gazed at him : as it seemed mechanically.

" That boy," said the man, " that these gentlemen have
been talking of — "

" That boy," repeated Ralph looking vacantly at him.

" Whom I saw, stretched dead and cold upon his bed, and
who is now in his grave "

" Who is now in his grave," echoed Ralph, like one who
talks in his sleep.

The man raised his eyes, and clasped his hands solemnly
together :

" Was your only son, so help me God in heaven \ "

In the midst of a dead silence, Ralph sat down, pressing
his two hands upon his temples. He removed them, after a
minute, and never was there seen, part of a living man undis-
figured by any wound, such a ghastly face as he then disclosed.

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He looked at Brooker, who was by this time standing at a short
distance from him ; but did not say one word, or make the
slightest sound or gesture.

" Gentlemen," said the man, " I offer no excuses for my-
self. I am long past that If, in telling you how this has
happened, I tell you that I was harshly used and perhaps
driven out of my real nature, I do it, only as a necessary part
of my story, and not to shield myself. I am a guilty man."

He stopped, as if to recollect, and looking away from
Ralph, and addressing himself to the brothers, proceeded in
a subdued and humble tone :

" Among those who once had dealings with* this man, gen-
tlemen — that's from twenty to five-and-twenty years ago, there
was one : a rough fox-hunting, hard drinking gentleman, who
had run through his own fortune, and wanted to squander
away that of his sister ; they were both orphans, and she
lived with him and managed his house. I don't know whether
it was, originally, to back his influence and try to over-per-
suade the young woman or not, but he," pointing to Ralph,
" used to go down to the house in Leicestershire pretty often,
and stop there many days at a time. They had had a great
many dealings together, and he may have gone, on some of
those, or to patch up his client's affairs, which were in a ruin-
ous state ; of course he went for profit. The gentlewoman
was not a girl, but she was, I have heard say, handsome, and
entitled to a pretty large property. In course of time, he
married her. The same love of gain which led him to contract
this marriage, led to its being kept strictly private ; for a
clause in her father's will declared that if she married without
her brother's consent, the property, in which she had only some
life interest while she remained single, should pass away alto-
gether to another branch of the family. The brother would
give no consent that the sister didn't buy, and pay for hand-
somely ; Mr. Nickleby would consent to no such sacrifice ; and
so, they went on keeping their marriage secret, and waiting
for the brother to break his neck or die of a fever. He did
neither, and meanwhile the result of this private marriage was
a son. The child was put out to nurse, a long way off ; his
mother never saw him but once or twice and then by stealth ;
and his father — so eagerly did he thirst after the money which
seemed to come almost within his grasp now, for his brother-
in-law was very ill, and breaking more and more every day —
never went near him, to avoid raising suspicion. The. brother

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lingered on; Mr. Nickleby's wife constantly urged him to
avow their marriage ; he peremptorily refused. She remained
alone in a dull country house : seeing little or no company but
riotous, drunken sportsmen. He lived in London and clung
to his business. Angry quarrels and recriminations took
place, and when they had been married nearly seven years,
and were within a few weeks of the time when the brother's
death would have adjusted all, she eloped with a younger man,
and left him."

Here he paused, but Ralph did not stir, and the brothers
signed to him to proceed.

44 It was then that I became acquainted with these circum-
stances from his own lips. They were no secrets then ; for
the brother, and others, knew them ; but they were communi-
cated to me, not on this account, but because I was wanted.
He followed the fugitives. Some said, to make money of his
wife's shame, but, I believe, to take some violent revenge, for
that was as much his character as the other; perhaps more.
He didn't find them, and she died not long after. I don't
know whether he began to think he might like the child, or
whether he wished to make sure that it should never fall into
its mother's hands ; but before he went, he entrusted me
with the charge of bringing it home. And I did so."

He went on, from this point, in a still more humble tone,
and spoke in a very low voice ; pointing to Ralph as he re-

" He had used me ill — cruelly — I reminded him in what,
not long ago when I met him in the street — and I hated him.
I brought the child home to his own house and lodged him in
the front garret. Neglect had made him very sickly, and I
was obliged to call in a doctor, who said he must be removed
for change of air, or he would die. I think that first put it
in my head. I did it then. He was gone six weeks, and
when he came back, I told him — with every circumstance well
planned and proved ; nobody could have suspected me — that
the child was dead and buried. He might have been disap-
pointed in some intention he had formed, or he might have
had some natural affection, but he was grieved at that y and I
was confirmed in my design of opening up the secret one day,
and making it a means of getting money from him. I had heard,
like most other men, of Yorkshire schools. I took the child
to one kept by a man named Squeers, and left it there. I
gave him the name of Smike. Year by year, I paid twenty

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pounds a-year for him for six years : never breathing the
secret all the time : for I had left his father's service after
more hard usage, and quarrelled with him again. I was sent
away from this country. I have been away nearly eight years.
Directly I came home again, I travelled down into Yorkshire,
and, skulking in the village of an evening time, made inquiries
about the boys at the school, and found that this one, whom
I had placed there, had run away with a young man bearing
the name of his own father. I sought his father out in Lon-
don, and hinting at what I could tell him, tried for a little
money to support life ; but he repulsed me with threats. I
then found out his clerk, and, going on from little to little,
and showing him that there were good reasons for communi-
cating with me, learnt what was going on ; and it was I who
told him that the boy was no son of the man who claimed to
be his father. All this time I had never seen the boy. At
length, I heard from this same source that he was very ill,
and where he was. I travelled down there, that I might
recall myself, if possible, to his recollection and confirm my
story. I came upon him unexpectedly ; but before I could
speak he knew me (he had good cause to remember me, poor
lad !) and I would have sworn to him if I had met him in the
Indies. I knew the piteous face I had seen in the little child.
After a few days' indecision, I applied to the young gentleman
in whose care he was, and I found that he was dead. He
knows how quickly he recognized me again, how often he had
described me and my leaving him at the school, and how he
told him of a garret he recollected : which is the one I have
spoken of, and in his father's house to this day. This is my
story. I demand to be brought face to face with the school-
master, and put to any possible proof of any part of it, and I
will show that it's too true, and that I have this guilt upon
my soul."

" Unhappy man ! " said the brothers. " What reparation
can you make for this ? "

"None, gentlemen, none! I have none to make, and
nothing to hope now. I am old in years, and older still in
misery and care. This confession can bring nothing upon me
but new suffering and punishment ;. but I make it, and will
abide by it whatever comes. I have been made the instru-
ment of working out this dreadful retribution upon the head
of a man who, in the hot pursuit of his bad ends, has perse-
cuted and hunted down his own child to death. It must de-

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scend upon me too. I know it must fall. My reparation
comes too late ; and, neither in this world nor in the next,
can I have hope again I "

He had hardly spoken, when the lamp which stood upon
the table close to where Ralph was seated, and which was the
only one in the room, was thrown to the ground, and left them
in darkness. There was some trifling confusion in obtaining
another light ; the interval was a mere nothing ; but when the
light appeared, Ralph Nickleby was gone.

The good brothers and Tim Linkinwater occupied some
time in discussing the probability of his return ; and when it
became apparent that he would not come back, they hesitated
whether or no to "send after him. At length, remembering
how strangely and silently he had sat in one immovable posi-
tion during the interview, and thinking he might possibly be
ill, they determined, although it was now very late, to send to*
his house on some pretence. Finding an excuse in the pres-
ence of Brooker, whom they knew not how to dispose of
without consulting his wishes, they concluded to act upon
this resolution before going to bed.



On the next morning after Brooker's disclosure had been
made, Nicholas returned home. The meeting between him
and those whom he had left there, was not without strong
emotion on both sides ; for they had been informed by his
letters of what had occurred : and, besides that his griefs were
theirs, they mourned with him the death of one whose forlorn
and helpless state had first established a claim upon their
compassion, and whose truth of heart and grateful earnest
nature had, every day, endeared him to them more and more.

" I am sure," said Mrs. Nickleby, wiping her eyes, and
sobbing bitterly, " I have lost the best, the most zealous, and
most attentive creature, that has ever been a companion to
me in my life — putting you, my dear Nicholas, and Kate, and

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your poor papa, and that well-behaved nurse who ran away
with the linen and twelve small forks, out of the question, of
course. Of all the tractable, equal-tempered, attached, and
faithful beings that ever lived, I believe he was the most so.
To look roun3 upon the garden, now, that he took so much
pride in, or to go into his room and see it filled with so many
of those little contrivances for our comfort that he was so
fond of making, and made so well, and so little thought he
would leave unfinished — I can't bear it, I cannot really. Ah !
This is a great trial to me, a great trial. It will be a comfort
to you, my dear Nicholas, to the end of your life, to recollect
how kind and good you always were to him — so it will be to
me, to think what excellent terms we were always upon, and
how fond he always was of me, poor fellow ! It was very
. natural you should have been attached to him, my dear — very
— and of course you were, and are very much cut up by this.
I am sure it's only necessary to look at you and see how
changed you are, to see that ; but nobody knows what my
feelings are — nobody can — it's quite impossible ! "

While Mrs. Nickleby, with the utmost sincerity, gave vent
to her sorrows after her own peculiar fashion of considering
herself foremost, she was not the only one who indulged such
feelings. Kate, although well accustomed to forget herself
when others were to be considered, could not repress her
grief ; Madeline was scarcely less moved than she ; and poor,
hearty, honest, little Miss La Creevy, who had come upon
one of her visits while Nicholas was away, and had done
nothing, since the sad news arrived, but console and cheer
them all, no sooner beheld him coming in at the door, than
she sat herself down upon the stairs, and bursting into a flood
of tears refused for a long time to be comforted.

" It hurts me so," cried the poor body, " to see him come
back alone. I can't help thinking what he must have suffered
himself. I wouldn't mind so much if he gave way a little
more ; but he bears it so manfully."

"Why, so I should," said Nicholas, "should I not?"

"Yes, yes," replied the little woman, " and bless you for
a good creature ! but this does seem at first to a simple soul
like me — I know it's wrong to say so, and I shall be sorry for
it presently — this does seem such a poor reward for all you
have done."

" Nay," said Nicholas gently, " what better reward could
I have, than the knowledge that his last days were peaceful

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and happy, and the recollection that I was his constant com-
panion, and was not prevented, as I might have been by a hun-
dred circumstances, from being beside him ? "

" To be sure," sobbed Miss La Creevy ; " it's very true,
and I'm an ungrateful, impious, wicked little fool, I know."

With that, the good soul fell to crying afresh, and, en-
deavoring to recover herself, tried to laugh. The laugh, and
the cry meeting each other thus abruptly, had a struggle for
the mastery ; the result was, that it was a drawn battle, and
Miss La Creevy went into hysterics.

Waiting until they were all tolerably quiet and composed
again, Nicholas, who stood in need of some rest after his long
journey, retired to his own room, and throwing himself, dressed
as he was, upon the bed, fell into a sound sleep. When he
awoke, he found Kate sitting by his bed-side, who, seeing
that he had opened his eyes, stooped down to kiss him.

" I came to tell you how glad I am to see you home

" But I can't tell you how glad I am to see you, Kate."

" We have been wearying so, for your return," said Kate,
" mama and I, and — and Madeline."

" You said in your last letter that she was quite well,"
said Nicholas, rather hastily, and coloring as he spoke.
" Has nothing been said, since I have been away, about any
future arrangements that the brothers have in contemplation
for her?"

" Oh, not a word," replied Kate, " I can't think of part-
ing from her without sorrow ; and surely, Nicholas, you don't
wish it ! "

Nicholas colored again, and, sitting down beside his sister
on a little couch near the window, said :

" No, Kate, no, I do not. I might strive to disguise my
real feelings from anybody but you ; but I will tell you that
— briefly and plainly, Kate — that I love her."

Kate's eyes brightened, and she was going to make some
reply, when Nicholas laid his hand upon her arm, and went

" Nobody must know this but you. She, last of all."

" Dear Nicholas ! "

" Last of all ; never, though never is a long day. Some-
times, try to think that the time may come when I may honestly
tell her this ; but it is so far off, in such distant perspective, so
many years must elapse before it comes, and when it does come

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(if ever) I shall be so unlike what I am now, and shall have so
outlived my days of youth and romance — though not, I am sure,
of love for her — that even I feel how visionary all such hopes
must be, and try to crush them rudely, myself, and have the
pain over, rather than suffer time to wither them, and keep
the disappointment in store. No, Kate ! Since I have been
absent, I have Jiad, in that poor fellow who is gone, perpetu-
ally before my eyes, another instance of the munificent liber-
ality of these noble brothers. As far as in me lies, I will de-
serve it, and if I have wavered in my bounden duty to them be-
fore, I am now determined to discharge it rigidly, and to put
further delays and temptations beyond my reach."

" Before you say another word, dear Nicholas," said Rate,
turning pale, " you must hear what I have to tell you. I
came on purpose, but I had not the courage. What you say
now gives me new heart." She faltered, and burst into tears.

There was that, in her manner, which prepared Nicholas
for what was coming. Kate tried to speak, but her tears pre-
vented her.

"Come you foolish girl," said Nicholas; "why Kate,
Kate, be a woman ! I think I know what you would tell me.
It concerns Mr. Frank, does it not ? "

Kate sunk her head upon his shoulder, and sobbed out

" And he has offered you his hand, perhaps since I have
been away," said Nicholas ; " is that it ? Yes. Well, well ;
it's not so difficult, you see, to tell me, after all. He offered
you his hand ? "

"Which I refused," said Kate.

" Yes ; and why ? "

" I told him," she said, in a trembling voice, " all that I have
since found you told mama ; and while I could not conceal
from him, and cannot from you that, that it was a pang and a
great trial, I did so, firmly, and begged him not to see me any

" That's my own brave Kate ! " said Nicholas, pressing her
to his breast. " I knew you would."

" He tried to alter my resolution," said Kate, " and de-
clared that, be my decision what it might, he would not only
inform his uncles of the step he had taken, but would com-
municate it to you also, directly you returned. I am afraid,"
she added ; her momentary composure forsaking her, " I am
afraid I may not have said, strongly enough, how deeply I felt

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such disinterested love, and how earnestly I prayed for his
future happiness. If you do talk together, I should — I should
like him to know that."

" And did you suppose, Kate, when you had made this
sacrifice to what you knew was right and honorable, that I
should shrink from mine ? " said Nicholas tenderly.

" Oh, no ! not if your position had been the same, but — "

" But it is the same," interrupted Nicholas ; " Madeline is
not the near relation of our benefactors, but she is closely
bound to them by ties as dear ; and I was first entrusted with
her history, specially because they reposed unbounded confi-
dence in me, and believed that I was as true as steel. How
base would it be of me to take advantage of the circumstances
which placed her here, or of the slight service I was happily
able to render her, and to seek to engage her affections when
the result must be, if I succeeded, that the brothers would be
disappointed in their darling wish of establishing her as their
own child, and that I must seem to hope to build my fortunes
on their compassion for the young creature whom I had so
meanly and unworthily entrapped : turning her very gratitude
and warmth of heart to my own purpose and account, and
trading in her misfortunes ! I, too, whose duty, and pride,
and pleasure, Kate, it is, to have other claims upon me which
I will never forget : and who have the means of a comfortable
and happy life already, and have no right to look beyond it !
I have determined to remove this weight from my mind. I
doubt whether I have not done wrong, even now ; and to-
day I will without reserve or equivocation, disclose my real
reasons to Mr. Cheeryble, and implore him to take immediate
measures for removing this young lady to the shelter of some
other roof."

" To-day ? so very soon ! "

" I have thought of this, for weeks, and why should I post-
pone it ? If the scene through which I have just passed, has
taught me to reflect, and has awakened me to a more anxious
and careful sense of duty, why should I wait until the im-
pression has cooled ? You would not dissuade me Kate ; now
would you ? "

" You may grow rich, you know," said Kate.

" I may grow rich ! " repeated Nicholas, with a mournful
smile, " ay, and I may grow old ! But rich or poor, or old or
young, we shall ever be the same to each other, and in that
our comfort lies. What if we have but one. home ? It can

x 5°

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never be a solitary one to you and me. What if we were ro
remain so true to these first impressions as to form no others ?
It is but one more link to the strong chain that binds us together.
It seems but yesterday that we were playfellows, Kate, and it
will seem but to-morrow when we are staid old people, looking
back to these cares as we lookback now to those of our child-
ish days : and recollecting with a melancholy pleasure that
the time was, when they could move us. Perhaps then, when
we are quaint old folks and talk of the times when our step
was lighter and our hair not gray, we may be even thankful
for the trials that so endeared us to each other, and turned
our lives into that current, down which we shall have glided
so peacefully and calmly. And having caught some inkling
of our story, the young people about us — as young as you and
I are now, Kate — may come to us for sympathy, and pour
distresses which hope and inexperience could scarcely feel
enough for, into the compassionate ears of the old bachelor
brother and his maiden sister."

Kate smiled through her tears, as Nicholas drew this pic-
ture ; but they were not tears of sorrow, although they con-
tinued to fall when he had ceased to speak.

" Am I not right, Kate ? " he said, after a short silence.

" Quite, quite, dear brother ; and I cannot tell you how
happy I am, that I have acted as you would have had me."

" You don't regret ? "

"N — n — no," said Kate timidly, tracing some pattern
upon the ground with her little foot. " I don't regret having
done what was honorable and right, of course ; but I do
regret that this should have ever happened — at least some-
times I regret it, and sometimes I — I don't know what I say ;
I am but a weak girl, Nicholas, and it has agitated me very

It is no vaunt to affirm that if Nicholas had had ten thou-
sand pounds at the minute, he would, in his generous affec-
tion for the owner of the blushing cheek and downcast eye,
have bestowed its. utmost farthing, in perfect forgetfulness of
himself, to secure her happiness. But all he could do was to
comfort and console her by kind words ; and words they were
of such love and kindness, and cheerful encouragement, that
poor Kate threw her arms about his neck, and declared she
would weep no more.

" What man," thought Nicholas proudly, while on his way,
soon afterwards, to the brothers' house, "would not be suffi-

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ciently rewarded for any sacrifice of fortune, by the possession
of such a heart as Kate's, which, but that hearts weigh light,
and gold and silver heavy, is beyond all praise ! Frank has
money and wants no more. Where would it buy him such a
treasure as Kate ! And yet, in unequal marriages, the rich
party is always supposed to make a great sacrifice, and the
other to get a good bargain ? But I am thinking like a
lover, or like an -ass : which I suppose is pretty nearly the

Checking thoughts so little adapted to the business on
which he was bound, by such self-reproofs as this and many
others no less sturdy, he proceeded on his way and presented
himself before Tim Linkinwater.

" Ah ! Mr. Nickleby ! " cried Tim, " God bless you ! How
d'ye do ! Well ? Say you're quite well and never better. Do

" Quite," said Nicholas, shaking him by both hands.

" Ah ! " said Tim, " you look tired though, now I come to
look at you. Hark ! there he is, d'ye hear him ? That was
Dick, the blackbird. He hasn't been himself, since you've
been gone. He'd never get on without you, now ; he takes
as naturally to you, as he does to me."

" Dick is a far less sagacious fellow than I supposed him,
if he thinks I am half so well worthy of his notice as you,"
replied Nicholas.

" Why, I'll tell you what, sir," said Tim, standing in his
favorite attitude and pointing to the cage with the feather of

Online LibraryCharles DickensThe life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby → online text (page 75 of 79)