Charles Dickens.

The life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby online

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old window called the Five Sisters."

"That's a melancholy tale," said the merry-faced gentle-
man, emptying his glass.

" It is a tale of life, and life is made up of such sorrows,"
returned the other, courteously, but in a grave and sad tone
of voice.

" There are shades in all good pictures, but there are lights
too, if we choose to contemplate them," said the gentleman
with the merry face. " The youngest sister in your tale was
always light-hearted."

" And died early," said the other gently.

" She would have died earlier, perhaps, had she been less
happy," said the first speaker, with much feeling. " Do you
think the sisters who loved her so well, would have grieved
the less if her life had been one of gloom and sadness ? If any-
thing could soothe the first sharp pain of a heavy loss, it would
be — with me — the reflection, that those I mourned, by being
innocently happy here, and loving all about them, had pre-
pared themselves for a purer and happier world. The sun
does not shine upon this fair earth to meet frowning eyes, de-
pend upon it."

" I believe you are right," said the gentleman who had
told the story.

" Believe ! " retorted the other, " can anybody doubt it ?
Take any subject of sorrowful regret, and see with how much
pleasure it is associated. The recollection of past pleasure
may become pain "

" It does," interposed the other.

"Well ; it does. To remember happiness which cannot
be restored, is pain, but of a softened kind. Our recollec-
tions are unfortunately mingled with much that we deplore,
and with many actions which we bitterly repent ; still in the




most chequered life I firmly think there are so many little
rays of sunshine to lookback upon, that I do not believe
any mortal (unless he had put himself without the pale of
hope) would deliberately drain a goblet of the waters of Lethe,
if he had it in his power."

" Possibly you are correct in that belief," said the gray-
haired gentleman after a short reflection. " I am inclined to
thinlc you are."

"Why, then," replied the other, "the good in this state of
existence preponderates over the bad, let miscalled philoso-
phers tell us what they will. If our affections be tried, our
affections are our consolation and comfort ; and memory,
however sad, is the best and purest link between this world
and a better. But come ! I'll tell you a story of another kind."

After a very brief silence, the merry-faced gentleman sent
round the punch, and glancing slily at the fastidious lady, who
seemed desperately apprehensive that he was going to relate
something improper, began


" The Baron Von Koeldwethout, of Grogzwig in Germany,
was as likely a young baron as you would wish to see. I
needn't say that he lived in a castle, because that's of course ;
neither need I say that he lived in an old castle ; for what
German baron ever lived in a new one ? There were many
strange circumstances connected with this venerable building,
among which, not the least startling and mysterious were,
that when the wind blew, it rumbled in the chimneys, or even
howled among the trees in the neighboring forest ; and that
when the moon shone, she found her way through certain small
loopholes in the wall, and actually made some parts of the
wide halls and galleries quite light, while she left others in
gloomy shadow. I believe that one of the baron's ancestors,
being short of money, had inserted a dagger in a gentleman
who called one night to ask his way, and it was supposed that
these miraculous occurrences took place in consequence.
And yet I hardly know how that could have been, either, be-
cause the baron's ancestor, who was an amiable man, felt very
sorry afterwards for having been so rash, and laying violent
hands upon a quantity of stone and timber which belonged to
a weaker baron, built a chapel as an apology, and so took a
receipt from Heaven, in full of all demands.

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" Talking of the baron's ancestor puts me in mind of the
baron's great claims to respect, on the score of his pedigree.
I am afraid to say, I am sure, how many ancestors the baron
had ; but I know that he had a great many more than any
other man of his time ; and I only wished that he had lived
in these latter days, that he might have had more. It is a
very hard thing upon the great men of the past centuries, that
they should have come into the world so soon, because a man
who was born three or four hundred years ago, cannot reason-
ably be expected to have had as many relations before him,
as a man who is born now. The last man, whoever he is —
and he may be a cobbler or some low vulgar dog for aught we
know — will have a longer pedigree than the greatest nobleman
now alive ; and I contend that this is not fair.

" Weil, but the Baron Von Koeldwethout of Grogzwig !
He was a fine swarthy fellow, with dark hair and large mous-
tachios, who rode a-hunting in clothes of Lincoln green, with
russet boots on his feet, and a bugle slung over his shoulder,
like the guard of a long stage. When he blew this bugle, four-
and-twenty other gentlemen of inferior rank, in Lincoln green a
little coarser, and russet boots with a little thicker soles, turned
out directly ; and away galloped the whole train with spears
in their hands like lackered area railings, to hunt down the
boars, or perhaps encounter a bear : in which latter case the
baron killed him first, and greased his whiskers with him after-

" This was a merry life for the Baron of Grogzwig, and a
merrier still for the baron's retainers, who drank Rhine wine
every night till they fell under the table, and then had the
bottles on the floor, and called for pipes. Never were such
jolly, roystering, rollicking, merry-making blades, as the jovial
crew of Grogzwig.

" But the pleasures of the table, or the pleasures of under
the table, require a little variety ; especially when the same
five-and-twenty people sit daily down to the same board, to
discuss the same subjects, and tell the same stories. The
baron grew weary, and wanted excitement. He took to quar-
relling with his gentlemen, and tried kicking two or three of
them every day after dinner. This was a pleasant change at
first ; but it became monotonous after a week or so, and the
baron felt quite out of sorts, and cast about, in despair, for
some new amusement.

" One night, after a day's sport in which he had outdone

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Nimrod or Gillingwater, and slaughtered * another fine bear,'
and brought him home in triumph, the Baron Von Koeldwe-
thout sat moodily at the head of his table, eyeing the smoky
roof of the hall with a discontented aspect. He swallowed
huge bumpers of wine, but the more he swallowed, the more
he frowned. The gentlemen who had been honored with the
dangerous distinction of sitting on his right and left, imitated
him to a miracle in the drinking, and frowned at each other

" * I will ! ' cried the baron suddenly, smiting the table with
his right hand, and twirling his moustache with his left. ' Fill
to the Lady of Grogzwig ! '

" The -iour-and-twenty Lincoln greens turned pale, with
the exception of their four-and-twenty noses, which were un-

" * I said to the Lady of Grogzwig/ repeated the baron,
looking round the board.

" 4 To the Lady of Grogzwig ! ' shouted the Lincoln greens ;
and down their four-and-twenty throats went four-and-twenty
imperial pints of such rare old hock, that they smacked their
eight-and-forty lips, and winked again.

" * The fair daughter of the Baron Von Swillenhausen,'
said Koeldwethout, condescending to explain. * We will de-
mand her in marriage of her father, ere the sun goes down to-
morrow. If he refuse our suit, we will cut off his nose.'

" A hoarse murmur arose from the company ; every man
touched, first the hilt of his sword, and then the tip of his nose,
with appalling significance.

" What a pleasant thing filial piety is, to contemplate I If
the daughter of the Baron Von Swillenhausen had pleaded a
pre-occupied heart, or fallen at her father's feet and corned
them in salt tears, or only fainted away, and complimented the
old gentleman in frantic ejaculations, the odds are a hundred
to one, but Swillenhausen castle would have been turned out
at window, or rather the baron turned out at window, and the
castle demolished. The damsel held her peace, however,
when an early messenger bore the request of Von Koeldwe-
thout next morning, and modestly retired to her chamber, from
the casement of which she watched the coming of the suitor
and his retinue. She was no sooner assured that the horse-
man with the large moustachios was her proffered husband,
than she hastened to her father's presence, and expressed her
readiness to sacrifice herself to secure his peace. The vener-
able baron caught his child to his arms and shed a wink of joy.

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" There was great feasting at the castle, that day. The
four-and-twenty Lincoln greens of Von Koeldwethout ex-
changed vows of eternal friendship with twelve Lincoln greens
of Von Swillenhausen, and promised the old baron that they
would drink his wine * Till all was blue ' — meaning probably
until their whole countenances had acquired the same tint as
their noses. Everybody slapped everybody else's back, when
the time for parting came ; and the Baron Von Koeldwethout
and his followers rode gayly home.

" For six mortal weeks, the bears and boars had a holiday.
The houses of Koeldwethout and Swillenhausen were united ;
the spears rusted ; and the baron's bugle grew -hoarse for
lack of blowing.

" Those were great times for the four-and-twenty ; but,
alas 1 their high and palmy days had taken boots to them-
selves, and were already walking off.

" * My dear/ said the baroness.

" ' My love,' said the baron.

" ' Those coarse, noisy men \

"' Which, ma'am ? " said the baron starting.

" The baroness pointed, from the windgw at which they
stood, to the court-yard beneath, where the unconscious Lin-
coln greens were taking a copious stirrup-cup, preparatory to
issuing forth after a boar or two.

" * My hunting train, ma'am/ said the baron.

" * Disband them, love/ murmured the baroness.

" ' Disband them ! ' cried the baron, in amazement.

"'To please me, love/ replied the baroness.

" ' To please the devil, ma'am/ answered the baron.

" Whereupon the baroness uttered a great cry, and swooned
away at the baron's feet.

" What could the baron do ? He called for the lady's maid,
and roared for the doctor ; and then, rushing into the yard,
kicked the two Lincoln greens who were the most used to it,

and cursing the others all round, bade them go but

never mind where. I don't know the German for it, or I
would put it delicately that way.

" It is not for me to say by what means or by what degrees,
some wives manage to keep down some husbands as they do,
although I may have my private opinion on the subject, and
may think that no Member of Parliament ought to be married,
inasmuch as three married members out of every four, must
vote according to their wives' consciences (if there be such

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things), and not according to their own. All I need say, just
now, is, that the Baroness Von Koeldwethout somehow or
other acquired great control over the Baron Von Koeldwe-
thout, and that, little by little, and bit by bit, and day by day,
and year by year, the baron got the worst of some disputed
question, or was slyly unhorsed from some old hobby ; and
that by the time he was a fat hearty fellow of forty-eight or
thereabouts, he had no feasting, no revelry, no hunting train,
and no hunting — nothing in short that he liked, or used to
have ; and that, although he was as fierce as a lion and as
bold as brass, he was decidedly snubbed and put down, by his
own lady, in his own castle of Grogzwig.

" Nor was this the whole extent of the baron's misfortunes.
About a year after his nuptials, there came into the world a
lusty young baron, in whose honor a great many fireworks
were let off, and a great many dozens of wine drunk ; but
next year there came a young baroness, and next year another
young baron, and so on, every year, either a baron or bar-
oness (and one year both together), until the baron found him-
self the father of a small family of twelve. Upon every one of
these anniversaries, the venerable Baroness Von Swillenhausen
was nervously sensitive for the well-being of her child, the
Baroness Von Koeldwethout ; and although it was not found
that the good lady ever did anything material towards contrib-
uting to her child's recovery, still she made it a point of duty
to be as nervous as possible at the castle at Grogzwig, and to
divide her time between moral observations on the baron's
housekeeping, and bewailing the hard lot of her unhappy
daughter. And if the Baron of Grogzwig, a little hurt and
irritated at this, took heart, and ventured to suggest that his
was at least no worse off than the wives of other barons, the
Baroness Von Swillenhausen begged all persons to take no-
tice, that nobody but she sympathized with her dear daugh-
ter's sufferings ; upon which, hejr relations and friends re-
marked, that to be sure she did cry a great deal more than her
son-in-law, and that if there were a hard-hearted brute alive,
it was that Baron of Grogzwig.

" The poor baron bore it all, as long as he could, and
when he could bear it no longer lost his appetite and his
spirits, and sat himself gloomily and dejectedly down. But
there were worse troubles yet in store for him, and as they
came on, his melancholy and sadness increased. Times
changed. He got into debt. The Grogzwig coffers ran low,

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though the Swillenhausen family had looked upon them as in-
exhaustible ; and just when the baroness was on the point of
making a thirteenth addition to the family pedigree, Von
Koeldwethout discovered that he had no means of replenish-
ing them.

" ' I don't see what is to be done/ said the baron. *I
think I'll kilt myself.'

" This was a bright idea. The baron took an old hunting-
knife from a cupboard hard by, and having sharpened it on
his boot, made what boys call ' an offer '' at his throat.

" * Hem ! ' said the baron, stopping short. * Perhaps it's
not sharp enough.'

" The baron sharpened it again, and made another offer,
when his hand was arrested by a loud screaming among the
young barons and baronesses, who had a nursery in an up
stairs tower with iron bars outside the window, to prevent
their tumbling out into the moat.

'* * If I had been a bachelor,' said the baron sighing, * I
might have done it fifty times over, without being interrupted.
Hallo ! Put a flask of wine and the largest pipe, in the little
vaulted room behind the hall.'

" One of the domestics, in a very kind manner, executed
the baron's order in the course of half an hour or so, and Von
Koeldwethout being apprised thereof, strode to the vaulted
room, the walls of which, being of dark shining wood, gleamed
in the light of the blazing logs which were piled upon the
hearth. The bottle and pipe were ready, and, upon the whole,
the place looked very comfortable.

" ' Leave the lamp,' said the baron.

" * Anything else, my lord ? ' inquired the domestic.

" * The room,' replied the baron. The domestic obeyed,
and the baron locked the door.

" * I'll smoke a last pipe,' said the baron, ' and then I'll be
off.' So, putting the knife upon the table till he wanted it,
and tossing off a goodly measure of wine, the Lord of Grogz-
wig threw himself back in his chair, stretched his legs out
before the fire, and puffed away.

" He thought about a great many things — about his pres-
ent troubles and past days of bachelorship, and about the Lin-
coln greens, long since dispersed up and down the country,
no one knew whither : with the exception of two who had
been unfortunately beheaded, and four who had killed them-
selves with drinking. His mind was running upon bears and

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boars, when, in the process of draining his glass to the bot-
tom, he raised his eyes, and saw, for the first time and with
unbounded astonishment, that he was not alone.

" No, he was not ; for, on the opposite side of the fire,
there sat with folded arms a wrinkled hideous figure, with
deeply sunk and bloodshot eyes, and an immensely long cadav-
erous face, shadowed by jagged and matted locks of coarse
black hair. He wore a kind of tunic of a dull bluish color,
which, the baron observed, on regarding it attentively, was
clasped or ornamented down the front with coffin handles.
His legs, too, were encased in coffin plates as though in arm-
or ; and over his left shoulder he wore a short dusky cloak,
which seemed made of a remnant of some pall. He took no
notice of the baron, but was intently eyeing the fire.

44 * Halloa ! ' said the baron, stamping his foot to attract

" ' Halloa ! ' replied the stranger, moving his eyes towards
the baron, but not his face or himself. * What now ? '

" * What now ! ' replied the baron, nothing daunted by his
hollow voice and lustreless eyes, ' 1 should ask that question.
How did you get here ? '

44 4 Through the door,* replied the figure

44 4 What are you ? * says the baron.

" * A man/ replied the figure.

44 * I don't believe it,' says the baron.
- 4< 4 Disbelieve it then," says the figure.

" 4 1 will/ rejoined the baron.

44 The figure looked at the bold Baron of Grogzwig for
some time, and then said familiarly,

44 4 There's no coming over you, I see. I'm not a man ! '

44 4 What are you then?' asked the baron.

44 4 A genius/ replied the figure.

44 4 You don't look much like one/ returned the baron.

44 4 1 am the Genius of Despair and Suicide/ said the ap-
parition. 4 Now you know me.'

44 With these words the apparition turned towards the baron,
as if composing himself for a talk — and, what was very remark-
able, was, that he threw his cloak aside, and displaying a
stake, which was run through the centre of his body, pulled it
out with a jerk, and laid it on the table, as composedly as if
it had been a walking-stick.

44 4 Now/ said the figure, glancing at the hunting-knife,
' are you ready for me ? '

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" ' Not quite/ rejoined the baron ; ' I must finish this pipe

" ' Look sharp then/ said the figure.

* ' You seem in a hurry/ said the baron.

" * Why, yes, I am/ answered the figure ; 'they're doing a
pretty brisk business in my way, over in England and France
just now, and my time is a good deal taken up.'

" ' Do you drink ? ' said the baron, touching the bottle with
the bowl of his pipe.

" ' Nine times out of ten, and then very hard/ rejoined the
figure, drily.

" * Never in moderation ? ' asked the baron.

" ' Never/ replied the figure, with a shudder, ' that breeds

" The baron took another look at his new friend, whom he
thought an uncommonly queer customer, and at length in-
quired whether he look any active part in such little pro-
ceedings as that which he had in contemplation.

" * No/ replied the figure evasively; 'but I am always

" 'Just to see fair, I suppose ? ' said the baron.

" 'Just that/ replied the figure, playing with the stake, and
examining the ferule.

" ' Be as quick as you can, will you, for there's a young
gentleman who is afflicted with too much money and leisure
wanting me now, I find.'

" ' Going to kill himself because he has too much money ! '
exclaimed the baron, quite tickled ; ' Ha ! ha ! that's a good
one.' (This was the first time the baron had laughed for
many a long day.)

" ' I say/ expostulated the figure, looking very much
scared ; ' don't do that again.'

" ' Why not ? ' demanded the baron.

" ' Because it gives me pain all over/ replied the figure.
4 Sigh as much as you please ; that does me good.'

" The baron sighed mechanically, at the mention of the
word ; the figure, brightening up again, handed him the hunt-
ing-knife with the most winning politeness.

" ' It's not a bad idea though,' said the baron, feeling the
edge of the weapon ; ' a man killing himself because he has
too much money.'

" ' Pooh ! ' said the apparition, petulantly, ' no better than
a man's killing himself because he has none or little.'

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" Whether the genius unintentionally committed himself in
saying this, or whether he thought the baron's mind was so
thoroughly made up that it didn't matter what he said, I have
no means of knowing. I only know that the baron stopped
his hand, all of a sudden, opened his eyes wide, and looked as
if quite a new light had come upon him for the first time.

" * Why, certainly/ said Von Koeldwethout, 4 nothing is
too bad to be retrieved/

" 4 Except empty coffers/ cried the genius.

" ' Well ; but they may be one day filled again/ said the
baron. '

" ' Scolding wives/ snarled the genius.

" * Oh ! They may be made quiet/ said the baron.

" * Thirteen children/ shouted the genius.

" ' Can't all go wrong, surely/ said the baron.

" The genius was evidently growing very savage with the
baron, for holding these opinions all at once ; but he tried to
laugh it off, and said if he would let him know when he had
left off joking, he should feel obliged to him.

" * But I am not joking ; I was never farther from it/
remonstrateMhe baron.

" ' Well, I am glad to hear that/ said the genius, looking
very grim, * because a joke, without any figure of speech, is
the death of me. Come I Quit this dreary world at once/

" ' I don't know/ said the baron, playing with the knife ;
Mt's a dreary one certainly, but I don't think yours is much
better, for you have not the appearance of being particularly
comfortable. That puts me in mind — what security have I,
that I shall be any the better for going out of the world after
all ! ' he cried, starting up ; ' I never thought of that/

" ' Dispatch/ cried the figure, gnashing its teeth.

" * Keep off ! ' said the baron. * I'll brood over miseries
no longer, but put a good face on the matter, and try the fresh
air and the bears again ; and if that don't do, I'll talk to the
baroness soundly, and cut the Von Swillenhausens dead/
With this the baron fell into his chair, and laughed so loud
and boisterously, that the room rang with it.

" The figure fell back a pace or two, regarding the baron
meanwhile with a look of intense terror, and when he had
ceased, caught up the stake, plunged it violently into its body,
uttered a frightful howl, and disappeared.

"Von Koeldwethout never saw it again. Having once
made up his mind to action, he soon brought the baroness

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and the Von Swillenhausens to reason, and died many years
afterwards : not a rich man that I am aware of, but certainly
a happy one : leaving behind him a numerous family, who had
been carefully educated in bear and boar-hunting under his
own personal eye. And my advice to all men is, that if ever
they become hipped and melancholy from similar causes (as
very many men do), they look at both sides of the question,
applying a magnifying glass to the best one ; and if they still
feel tempted to retire without leave, that they smoke a large
pipe and drink a full bottle first, and profit by the laudable
example of the Baron of Grogzwig."

" The fresh coach is ready, ladies and gentlemen, if you
please/' said a new driver, looking in.

This intelligence caused the punch to be finished in a great
hurry, and prevented any discussion relative to the last story.
Mr. Squeers was observed to draw the gray-headed gentle-
man on one side, and to ask a question with great apparent
interest ; it bore reference to the Five Sisters of York, and
was, in fact, an inquiry whether he could inform him how
much per annum the Yorkshire convents gotV those days
with their boarders.

The journey was then * resumed. Nicholas fell asleep
towards morning, and, when he awoke, found, with great
regret, that, during his nap, both the Baron of Grogzwig and
the gray-haired gentleman had got down and were gone. The
day dragged on uncomfortably enough. At about six o'clock
that night, he and Mr. Squeers, and the little boys, and their
united luggage, were all put down together at the George and
New Inn, Greta Bridge.


Online LibraryCharles DickensThe life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby → online text (page 8 of 79)