Charles Dickens.

The life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby online

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his pen, "it's a very extraordinary thing about that bird, that
the only people he ever takes the smallest nojtice of, are Mr.
Charles, and Mr. Ned, and you and me."

Here, Tim stopped and glanced anxiously at Nicholas ;
then unexpectedly catching his eyes repeated, " And you and
me, sir, and you and me." And then he glanced at Nicholas
again, and Squeezing his hand, said, "lama bad one at put-
ting off anything I am interested in. I didn't mean to ask
you, but I should like to hear a few particulars about that
poor boy. Did he mention Cheeryble Brothers at all ? "

" Yes," said Nicholas, " many and many a time."

" That was right of him," returned Tim, wiping his eyes ;
" that was very right of him."

"And he mentioned your name a score of times," said
Nicholas, "and often bade me carry back his love to Mr.

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" No, no, did he though ? " rejoined Tim, sobbing outright
" Poor fellow ! " I wish we could have had him buried in town.
There isn't such a burying-ground in all London, as that little
one on the other side of the square — there are counting-houses
all round it, and if you go in there, on a fine day, you can see
the books and safes through the open windows. And he sent
his love to me, did he ? I didn't expect he would have thought
of me. Poor fellow, poor fellow ! His love too ! "

Tim was so completely overcome by this little mark of
recollection, that he was quite unequal to any more conversa-
tion at the moment. Nicholas therefore slipped quietly out,
and went to brother Charles's room.

If he had previously sustained his firmness and fortitude,
it had been by an effort which had cost him no little pain ;
but the warm welcome, the hearty manner, the homely unaf-
fected commiseration, of the good old man, went to his heart,
and no inward struggle could prevent his showing it

" Come, come, my dear sir," said the benevolent merchant ;
" we must not be cast down ; no, no. We must learn to bear
misfortune, and we must remember that there are many sources
of consolation even in death. Every day that this poor lad had
lived, he must have been less and less qualified for the world,
and more and more unhappy in his own deficiencies. It is
better as it is, my dear sir. Yes, yes, yes, it's better as it is."

" I have thought of all that, sir," replied Nicholas, clear-
ing his throat. " I feel it, I assure you."

" Yes, that's well," replied Mr. Cheeryble, who, in the
midst of all his comforting, was quite as much taken aback as
honest old Tim.; " that's well. Where is my brother Ned ?
Tim Linkinwater, sir, where is my brother Ned ? "

" Gone out with Mr. Trimmers, about getting that unfor-
tunate man into the hospital, and sending a nurse to his chil-
dren," said Tim.

" My brother Ned is a fine fellow, a great fellow ! " ex-
claimed brother Charles as he shut the door and returned to
Nicholas. " He will be overjoyed to see you, my dear sir.
We have been speaking of you every day."

" To tell you the truth, sir, I am glad to find you alone,"
said Nicholas, with some natural hesitation ; " for I am anxious
to say something to you. Can you spare me a very few min-
utes ? "

* " Surely, surely," returned brother Charles, looking at him
with an anxious countenance. " Say on, my dear sir, say on."

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" I scarcely know how, or where to begin," said Nicholas.
" If ever one mortal had reason to be penetrated with love
and reverence for another: with such attachment as would
make the hardest service in his behalf a pleasure and delight*
with such grateful recollections as must rouse the utmost zeal
and fidelity of his nature : those are the feelings which I
should entertain for you, and do, from my heart and soul, be-
lieve me I "

" I do believe you," replied the old gentleman, " and I
am happy in the belief. I have never doubted it ; I never
shall. I am sure I never shall."

" Your telling me that, so kindly," said Nicholas, " em-
boldens me to proceed. When you first took me into your
confidence, and despatched me on those missions to Miss
Bray, I should have told you that I had seen her, long before ;
that her beauty had made an impression upon me which I
could not efface; and that I had fruitlessly endeavored to
trace her, and become acquainted with her history. I did not
tell you so, because I vainly thought I could conquer my
weaker feelings, and render every consideration subservient to
my duty to you."

" Mr. Nickleby," said brother Charles, " you did not vio-
late the confidence I placed in you, or take an unworthy ad-
vantage of it I am sure you did not."

"I did not," said Nicholas firmly. "Although I found
that the necessity for self-command and restraint became every
day more imperious, and the difficulty greater, I never for one
instant spoke or looked but as I would have done had you
been by. I never for one moment deserted my trust, nor have
I to this time. But I find that constant association and com-
panionship with this sweet girl is fatal to my peace of mind,
and may prove destructive to the resolutions I made in the
beginning and up to this time have faithfully kept In short,
sir, I cannot trust myself, and I implore and beseech you to
remove this young lady from under the charge of my mother
and sister, without delay. I know that to anyone but myself
— to you, who consider the immeasurable distance between
me and this young lady, who is now your ward, and the object
of your peculiar care — my loving her, even in thought, must
appear the height of rashness and presumption. I know it is
so. But, who can see her as I have seen, who can know what
her life has been, and not love her ? I have no excuse but
that ; and as I cannot fly from this temptation, and cannot

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repress this passion with its object constantly before me/ what
can I do but pray you to remove it, and to leave me to forget

" Mr. Nickleby," said the old man, after a short silence,
" you can do no more. I was wrong to expose a young man
like you, to this trial. I might have foreseen what would hap-
pen. Thank you sir, thank you. Madeline shall be re-

" If you would grant me one favor, dear sir, and suffer her
to remember me with esteem, by never revealing to her this
confession — "

" I will take care," said Mr. Cheeryble. " And now, is
this all you have to tell me?"

" No 1 " returned Nicholas, meeting his eye, " it is not"

" I know the rest," said Mr. Cheeryble, apparently very
much relieved by this prompt reply. " When did it come to
your knowledge ? "

'.' When I reached home this morning."

" You felt it your duty immediately to come to me, and
tell me what your sister no doubt acquainted you with ? "

" I did," said Nicholas, " though I could have wished to
have spoken to Mr. Frank first."

" Frank was with me last night," replied the old gentle-
ma. " You have done well, Mr. Nickleby — very well, sir —
and I thank you again."

' Upon this head, Nicholas requested permission to add a
few words. He ventured to hope that nothing he had said,
would lead to the estrangement of Kate and Madeline, who
had formed an attachment for each other, any interruption of
which, would, he knew, be attended with great pain to them,
and, most of all, with remorse and pain to him as its unhappy
cause. When these things were all forgotten, he hoped that
Frank and he might still be warm friends, and that no word or
thought of his humble home, or of her who was well contented
to remain there and share his quiet fortunes, would ever again
disturb the harmony between them. He recounted as nearly
as he could, what passed between himself and Kate that
morning : speaking of her with such warmth of pride and af-
fection, and dwelling so cheerfully upon the confidence they
had of overcoming any selfish regrets and living contented
and happy in each other's love, that few could have heard
him unmoved. More moved himself thanhd had been yet, he
expressed in a few hurried words — as expressive, perhaps, as

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the most eloquent phrases — his devotion to the brothers, and
his hope that he might live and die in their service.
N To all this brother Charles listened in profound silence,
and with his chair so turned from Nicholas that his face could
not be seen. He had not spoken either, in his accustomed
manner, but with a certain stiffness and embarrassment very
foreign to it. Nicholas feared he had offended him. He
said, " No, no, he had done quite right ;" but that was all.

" Frank is a heedless, foolish fellow," he said, after Nich-
olas had paused for some time ; " a very heedless, foolish
fellow. I will take care that this is brought to a close with-
out delay. Let us say no more upon the subject ; it's a very
painful one to me. Come to me in half an hour. I have
strange things to tell you, my dear sir, and your uncle has ap-
pointed this afternoon for your waiting upon him with me."

" Waiting upon him ! With you, sir ! " cried Nicholas.

" Ay, with me," replied the old gentleman. " Return to
me in half an hour, and I'll tell you more."

Nicholas waited upon him at the time mentioned, and
then learnt all that had taken place on the previous day, and
all that was known of- the appointment Ralph had made with
the brothers ; which was for that night ; and for the better
understanding of which it will be requisite to return and
follow Ralph's own footsteps from the house of the twin
brothers. Therefore, we leave Nicholas somewhat reassured
by the restored kindness of their manner towards him, and
yet sensible that it was different from what it had been
(though he scarcely knew in what respect) : so he was full of
uneasiness, uncertainty, and disquiet.



Creeping from the house, and slinking off like a thief ;
groping with his hands when first he got into the street, as if
he were a blind man ; and looking often over his shoulder
while he hurried away, as though he were followed in imagi-
nation or reality by some one anxious to question or detain

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him ; Ralph Nickleby left the city behind him, and took the
road to his own home.

The night was dark, and a cold wind blew, driving the
clouds furiously and fast before it There was one black
gloomy mass that seemed to follow him : not hurrying in the
wild chase with the others, but lingering sullenly behind, and
gliding darkly and stealthily on. He often looked back at
this, and, more than once, stopped to let it pass over ; but,
somehow, when he went forward again, it was still behind
him, coming mournfully and slowly up, like a shadowy funeral

He had to pass a poor, mean burial ground — a dismal
place, raised a few feet above the level of the street, and
parted from it by a low parapet-wall and an iron railing ; a
rank, unwholesome, rotten spot, where the very grass and
weeds seemed, in their frowsy growth, to tell that they had
sprung from paupers* bodies, and had struck their roots in
the graves of men, sodden, while alive, in steaming courts
and drunken hungry dens. And here, in truth, they lay,
parted from the living by a little earth and a board or two —
lay thick and close — corrupting in body as they had in mind
— a dense and squalid crowd. Here they lay, cheek by jowl
with life : no deeper down than the feet of the throng that
passed there, every day, and piled high as their throats.
Here they lay, a grisly family all these dear departed brothers
and sisters of the ruddy clergyman who did his task so speedily
when they were hidden in the ground I

As he passed here, Ralph called to mind that he had been
one of a jury, long before, on the body of a man who had cut
his throat ; and that the man was buried in this place. He
could not tell how he came to recollect it now, when he had
so often passed and never thought about him, or how it was
that he felt an interest in the circumstance ; but he did both ;
and stopping, and clasping the iron railings with his hands,
looked eagerly in, wondering which might be his grave.

While he was thus engaged, there came towards him,
with noise of shouts and singing, some fellows full of drink,
followed by others who were remonstrating with them and
urging them to go home in quiet. They were in high good-
humor ; and one of them, a little, weazen, humped-backed
man, began to dance. He was a grotesque, fantastic figure,
and the few bystanders laughed. Ralph himself was moved
to mirth, and echoed the laugh of one who stood near and

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who looked round in his face. When they had passed on,
and he was left alone again, he resumed his speculation with
a new kind of interest ; for he recollected that the last person
who had seen the suicide alive, had left him very merry, and
he remembered how strange he and the other jurors had
thought that, at the time.

He could not fix upon the spot among such a heap of
graves, but he conjured up a strong and vivid idea of the
man himself, and how he looked, and what had led him to do
it : all of which he recalled with ease. By dint of dwelling
upon this theme, he carried the impression with him when he
went away ; as he remembered, when a child, to have had fre-
quently before him the figure of some goblin he had once seen
chalked upon a door. But as he drew nearer and nearer
home he forgot it again, and began to think how very dull and
solitary the house would be inside.

This feeling became so strong at last, that when he reached
his own door, he could hardly make up his mind to turn the
key and open it. When he had done that, and gone into the
passage, he felt as though to shut it again would be to shut
out the world. But he let it go, and it closed with a loud
noise. There was no light How very dreary, cold, and still
it was !

Shivering from head to foot he made his way up stairs
into the room where he had been last disturbed. He had
made a kind of compact with himself that he would not think
of what had happened, until he got home. He was at home
now, and suffered himself to consider it.

His own child, his own child ! He never doubted the
tale ; he felt it was true ; knew it as well, now, as if he had
been privy to it all along. His own child I And dead too.
Dying beside Nicholas, loving him, and looking upon him as
something like an angel ! That was the worst.

They had all turned from him and deserted him in his
very first need. Even money could not buy them now ; every-
thing must come out, and everybody must know all. Here
was the young lord dead, his companion abroad and beyond
his reach, ten thousand pounds gone at one blow, his plot
with Gride overset at the moment o{ triumph, his after schemes
discovered, himself in danger, the object of his persecution
and Nicholas's love, his own wretched boy ; everything
crumbled and fallen upon him, and he beaten down beneath
the ruins and grovelling in the dust.

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If he had known his child to be alive ; if no deceit had
been ever practised, and he had grown up, beneath his eye ;
he might have been a careless, indifferent, rough, harsh father
— like enough — he felt that ; but the thought would come that
he might have been otherwise, and that his son might have
been a comfort to him and they two happy together. He
began to think now, that his supposed death and his wife's
flight had had some share in making him the morose, hard
man he was. He seemed to remember a time when he was
not quite so rough and obdurate ; and almost thought that
he had first hated Nicholas, because he was young and gallant,
and perhaps like the stripling who had brought dishonor and
loss of fortune on his head.

But one tender thought, or one of natural regret, in his
whirlwind of passion and remorse, was as a drop of calm
water in a stormy maddened sea. His hatred of Nicholas
had been fed upon his own defeat, nourished on his inter-
ference with his schemes, fattened upon his old defiance
and success. There were reasons for its increase; it had
grown and strengthened gradually. Now, it attained a height
which was sheer wild lunacy. That his, of all others, should
have been the hands to rescue his miserable child ; that he
should have been his protector and faithful friend ; that he
have shown him that love and tenderness which, from the
wretched moment of his birth, he had never known ; that
he should have taught him to hate his own parent and ex-
ecrate his very name ; that he should now know and feel all this,
and triumph in the recollection, was gall and madness to the
usurer's heart. The dead boy's love for Nicholas, and the at-
tachment of Nicholas to him, was insupportable agony. The
picture of his death-bed, with Nicholas at his side, tending
and supporting him, and he breathing out his thanks and ex-
piring in his arms, when he would have had them mortal ene-
mies and hating each other to the last, drove him frantic. He
gnashed his teeth, and smote the air, and looking wildly round,
with eyes which gleamed through the darkness, cried aloud :

" I am trampled down and ruined. The wretch told me
true. The night has come ! Is there no way to rob them of
further triumph, and spurn their mercy and compassion ? Is
there no devil to help me? "

Swiftly, there glided again into his brain the figure he had
raised that night. It seemed to lie before him. The head
was covered now. So it was when he first saw it. The rigid

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upturned marble feet too, he remembered well. Then came
before him, the pale and trembling relatives who had told
their tale upon the inquest — the shrieks of women — the silent
dread of men — the consternation and disquiet — the victory
achieved by that heap of clay, which, with one motion of its
hand, had let out the life and made this stir among them

He spoke no more ; but, after a pause, softly groped his
way out of the room, and up the echoing stairs — up to the top
— to the front garret — where he closed the door behind him,
and remained.

It was a mere lumber-room now, but it yet contained an
old dismantled bedstead ; the one on which his son had
slept; for no other had ever been there. He avoided it
hastily, and sat down as far from it as he could.

The weakened glare of the lights in the street below,
shining through the window which had no blind or curtain to
intercept it, was enough to show the character of the room,
though not sufficient fully to reveal the various articles of lum-
ber, old corded trunks and broken furniture, which were scat-
tered about. It had a shelving roof ; high in one part, and
at another descending almost to the floor. It was towards the
highest part, that Ralph directed his eyes ; and upon it he
kept them fixed steadily for some minutes. Then he rose,
and dragging thither an old chest upon which he had been
seated, mounted on it, and felt along the wall above his head
with both hands. At length, they touched a large iron hook,
firmly driven into one of the beams.

At that moment, he was interrupted by a loud knocking
at the door below. After a little hesitation he opened the
window, and demanded who it was.

" I want Mr. Nickleby," replied a voice.

"What with him?"

" That's not Mr. Nickleby's voice surely ? " was the re-

It was not like it ; but it was Ralph who spoke, and so he said.

The voice made answer that the twin Brothers wished to
know whether the man whom he had seen that night, was to
be detained ; and that although it was now midnight they had
sent, in their anxiety to do right.

" Yes," cried Ralph, " detain him till to-morrow ; then let
them bring him here — him and my nephew — and come them-
selves, and be sure that I will be ready to receive them."

" At what hour ? " asked the voice.

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" At any hour," replied Ralph fiercely. " In the afternoon,
tell them. At any hour, at any minute. All times will be
alike to me."

He listened to the man's retreating footsteps, until the
sound had passed, and then gazing up into the sky, saw, or
thought he saw the same black cloud that had seemed to fol-
low him home, and which now appeared to hover directly
above the house.

" I know its meaning now," he muttered, " and the rest-
less nights, the dreams, and why I have quailed of late. All
pointed to this. Oh ! if men by selling their own souls could
ride rampant for a term, for how short a term would I barter
mine to-night I "

The sound of a deep bell came along the wind. One.

" Lie on I " cried the usurer, " with your iron tongue ! Ring
merrily for births that make expectants writhe, and for mar-
riages that are made in hell, and toll ruefully for the dead
whose shoes are worn already ! Call men to prayers who are
godly because not found out, and ring chimes for the coming in
of every year that brings this cursed world nearer to its end.
No bell or book for me ! Throw me on a dunghill, and let
me rot there, to infect the air ! "

With a wild look around, in which frenzy, hatred, and
despair, were horribly mingled, he shook his clenched hand
at the sky above him, which was still dark and threatening,
and closed the window.

The rain and hail pattered against the glass ; the chimneys
quaked and rocked ; the crazy casement rattled with the wind,
as though an impatient hand inside were striving to burst

it open. But no hand was there, and it opened no more.


" How's this ? " cried one. The gentlemen say they can't
make anybody hear, and have been trying these two hours."

li And yet he came home last night," said another ; " for he
spoke to somebody out of that window up stairs."

They were a little knot of men, and the window being
mentioned, went out in the road to look up at it This occa-
sioned their observing that the house was still close shut, as the
housekeeper had said she had left it on the previous night,
and led to a great many suggestions : which terminated in two
or three of the boldest getting round to the back and so
entering by a window, while the others remained outside, in
impatient expectation.

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They looked into all the rooms below : opening the shutter-
as they went, to admit the fading light : and, still finding no
body, and everything quiet and in its place, doubted whether
they should go farther. One man, however, remarking that
they had not yet been into the garret, and that it was there he
had been last seen, they agreed to look there too, and went up
softly ; for the mystery and silence made them timid.

After they had stood for an instant, on the landing, eyeing
each other, he who had proposed their carrying the search so
far turned the handle of the door, and pushing it open, looked
through the chink and fell back directly.

" It's very odd," he whispered, " he's hiding behind the
door! Look!"

They pressed forward to see ; but one among them thrust-
ing the others aside with a loud exclamation, drew a clasp
knife from his pocket and dashing into the room cut down the

He had torn a rope from one of the old trunks, and hang-
ed himself on an iron hook immediately below the trap-door
in the ceiling — in the very place to which the eyes of his son,
a lonely desolate little creature, had so often been directed in
childish terror, fourteen years before.



Some weeks had passed, and the first shock of these events
had subsided. Madeline had been removed ; Frank had been
absent ; Nicholas and Kate had begun to try in good earnest
to stifle their own regrets, and to live for each other and for
their mother — who, poor lady, could in nowise be reconciled
to this dull and altered state of affairs — when there came one
evening, per favor of Mr. Linkinwater, an invitation from the
Brothers, to dinner on the next day but one : comprehending,
not only Mrs. Nickleby, Kate, and Nicholas, but little Miss
La Creevy who was most particularly mentioned.

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" Now, my dears," said Mrs. Nickleby, when they had
rendered becoming honor to the bidding, and Tim had taken
his departure ; " what does this mean ? "

" What 60 you mean, mother ? " asked Nicholas, smiling.

Online LibraryCharles DickensThe life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby → online text (page 76 of 79)