Charles Dickens.

The life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby online

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MR. AND MRS. SQUEERS AT HOME.

Mr. Squeers, being safely landed, left Nicholas and the
boys standing with the luggage in the road, to amuse them-
selves by looking at the coach as it changed horses, while he
ran into the tavern and went through the leg-stretching pro-



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NICHOLAS NICKLEB V. 8 1

cess at the bar. After some minutes, he returned, with his
legs thoroughly stretched, if the hue of his nose and a short
hiccup afforded any criterion ; and at the same time there
came out of the yard a rusty pony-chaise, and a cart, driven
by two laboring men.

" Put the boys and the boxes into the cart," said Squeers,
nibbing his hands ; " and this young man and me will go on
in the chaise. Get in, Nickleby."

Nicholas obeyed. Mr. Squeers with some difficulty in-
ducing the pony to obey also, they started off, leaving the
cart-load of infant misery to follow at leisure.

" Are you cold, Nickleby ? " inquired Squeers, after they
had travelled some distance in silence.

" Rather, sir, I must say."

"Well, I don't find fault with that," said Squeers ; " it's a
long journey this weather."

" Is it much farther to Dotheboys Hall, sir ? " asked
Nicholas.

" About three mile from here," replied Squeers. " But
you needn't call it a Hall down here."

Nicholas coughed, as if he would like to know why.

" The fact is, it ain't a Hall," observed Squeers drily.

" Oh, indeed ! " said Nicholas, whom this piece of intelli-
gence much astonished.

*• No," replied Squeers. " We call it a Hall up in London,
because it sounds better, but they don't know it by that name
in these parts. A man may call his house an island if he
likes ; there's no act of Parliament against that, I believe ? "

" I believe not, sir," rejoined Nicholas.

Squeers eyed his companion slily, at the conclusion of this
little dialogue, and finding that he had grown thoughtful and
appeared in nowise disposed to volunteer any observations,
contented himself with lashing the pony until they reached
their journey's end.

*' Jump out," said Squeers. " Hallo there ! come and put
this horse up. Be quick, will you 1 "

While the schoolmaster was uttering these and other im-
patient cries, Nicholas had time to observe that the school
was a long, cold-looking house, one story high, with a few
straggling outbuildings behind, and a barn and stable adjoin-
ing. After the lapse of a minute or two, the noise of some-
body unlocking the yard-gate was heard, and presently a tall
lean boy, with a lantern in his hand, issued forth.

6



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82 NICHOLAS NICKLEB K

Is that you, Smike ? " cried Squeers.

" Yes, sir," replied the boy.

" Then why the devil didn't you come before ? "

" Please, sir, I fell asleep over the fire," answered Smike,
with humility.

" Fire ! what fire ? Where's there a fire ? " demanded
the schoolmaster, sharply.

"Only in the kitchen, sir," replied the boy. "Missus
said as I was sitting up, I might go in there for a warm."

" Your Missus is a fool," retorted Squeers. " You'd have
been a deuced deal more wakeful in the cold, I'll engage."

By this time Mr. Squeers had dismounted; and after
ordering the boy to see to the pony, and to. take care that he
hadn't any more corn that night, he told Nicholas to wait at
the front door a minute while he went round and let him in.

A host of unpleasant misgivings, which had been crowd-
ing upon Nicholas during the whole journey, thronged into
his mind with redoubled force when he was left alone. His
great distance from home and the impossibility of reaching it,
except on foot, should he feel ever so anxious to return, pre-
sented itself to him in most alarming colors ; and as he looked
up at the dreary house and dark windows, and upon the wild
country round, covered with snow, he felt a depression of
heart and spirit which he never had experienced before.

" Now then ! " cried Squeers, poking his head out at the
front door. " Where are you, Nickleby ? "

" Here, sir," replied Nicholas.

" Come in, then," said Squeers, " the wind blows in, at
this door, fit to knock a man off his legs."

Nicholas sighed, and hurried in. Mr. Squeers, having bolt-
ed the door to keep it shut, ushered him into a small parlor
scantily furnished with a few chairs, a yellow map hung
against the wall, and a couple of tables ; one of which bore
some preparations for supper ; while, on the other, a tutor's
assistant, a Murray's grammar, half a dozen cards of terms,
and a worn letter directed to Wackford Squeers, Esquire,
were arranged in picturesque confusion.

They had not been in this apartment a couple of minutes,
when a female bounced into the room, and, seizing Mr.
Squeers by the throat, gave him two loud kisses : one close
after the other, like a postman's knock. The lady, who was
of a large raw-boned figure, was about half a head taller than
Mr. Squeers, and was dressed in a dimity night-jacket ; with



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NICHOLAS NICKLEB K 83

her hair in papers ; she had also a dirty nightcap on, relieved
by a yellow cotton handkerchief which tied it under the chin.

" How is my Squeery ? " said this lady in a playful man-
ner, and a very hoarse voice.

"Quite well, my love," replied Squeers. "How's the
cows?"

" All right, every one of 'em," answered the lady.

" And the pigs ? " said Squeers.

44 As well as they were when you went away."

" Come ; that's a blessing," said Squeers, pulling off his
great-coat. " The boys are all as they were, I suppose ? "

"Oh, yes, they're well enough," replied Mrs. Squeers,
snappishly. " That young Pitcher's had a fever."

" No ! " exclaimed Squeers. " Damn that boy, he's al-
ways at something of that sort"

" Never was such a boy, I do believe," said Mrs. Squeers ;
" whatever he has is always catching too. I say it's obstinacy,
and nothing shall ever convince me that it isn't. I'd beat it
out of him ; and I told you that, six months ago."

"So you did, my love," rejoined Squeers. "We'll try
what can be done."

Pending these little endearments, Nicholas had stood,
awkwardly enough, in the middle of the room, not very well
knowing whether he was expected to retire into the passage,
or to remain where he was. He was now relieved from his
perplexity by Mr. Squeers.

" This is the new young man, my dear," said that gentle-
man.

" Oh," replied Mrs. Squeers, nodding her head at Nicho-
las, and eyeing him coldly from top to toe.

" He'll take a meal with us to-night," said Squeers, " and
go among the boys to-morrow morning. You can give him a
shake down here, to-night, can't you ?*"

" We must manage it somehow," replied the lady. " You
don't much mind how you sleep, I suppose, sir ? "

" No, indeed," replied Nicholas, " I am not particular."

"That's lucky," said Mrs. Squeers. And as the lady's
humor was considered to lie chiefly in retort, Mr. Squeers
laughed heartily, and seemed to expect that Nicholas should
do the same.

After some further conversation between the master and
mistress relative to the success of Mr. Squeers's trip, and the
people who had paid, and the peopte who had made default



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8 4 NICHOLAS NICKLEB Y.

in payment, a young servant girl brought in a Yorkshire pie
and some cold beef, which being set upon the table, the boy ,
Smike appeared with a jug of ale.

Mr. Squeers was emptying his great-coat pockets of let-
ters to different boys, and other small documents, which he
had brought down in them. The boy glanced, with an anx-
ious and timid expression, at the papers, as if with a sickly
hope that one among them might relate to him. The look
was a very painful one, and went to Nicholas's heart at once ;
for it told a long and very sad history.

It induced him to consider the boy more attentively, and
he was surprised to observe the extraordinary mixture of gar-
ments which formed his dress. Although he could not have
been less than eighteen or nineteen years old, and was tall
for that age, he wore a skeleton suit, such as is usually put
upon very little boys, and which, though most absurdly short
in the arms and legs, was quite wide enough for his atten-
uated frame. In order that the lower part of his legs might
be in perfect keeping with this singular dress, he had a very
large pair of boots, originally made for tops, which might
have been once worn by some stout farmer, but were now
too patched and tattered for a beggar. Heaven knows how
long he had been there, but he still wore the same linen which
he had first taken down ; for, round his neck was a tattered
child's frill, only half concealed by a coarse, man's necker-
chief. He was lame ; and as he feigned to be busy in ar-
ranging the table, glanced at the letters with a look so keen,
and yet so dispirited and hopeless, that Nicholas could hardly
bear to watch him.

" What are you bothering about there, Smike ? " cried Mrs.
Squeers ; " let the things alone, can't you."

" Eh ! " said Squeers, looking up. " Oh ! it's you, is it ? "

" Yes, sir," replied the youth, pressing his hands together,
as though to control, by force, the nervous wandering of his
fingers ; " is there "

"Well! "said Squeers.

"Have you — did anybody — has nothing been heard —
about me ? "

" Devil a bit," replied Squeers testily.

The lad withdrew his eyes, and, putting his hand to his
face, moved towards the door.

"Not a word," resumed Squeers, "and never will be.
Now, this is a pretty sort of thing, isn't it, that you should



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NICHOLAS NICKLEBY. $5

have been left here, all these years, and no money paid after
the first six-r-nor no notice taken, nor no clue to be got who
you belong to ? It's a pretty sort of thing that I should have
to feed a great fellow like you, and never hope to get one
penny for it, isn't it ? "

The boy put his hand to his head as if he were making an
effort to recollect something, and then, looking vacantly at
his questioner, gradually broke into a smile, and limped away.

"I'll tell you what, Squeers," remarked his wife as the
door closed, " I think that young chap's turning silly."

"I hope not," said the schoolmaster; "for he's a handy
fellow out of doors, and worth his meat and drink, anyway.
I should think he'd have wit enough for us though, if he was.
But come ; let's us have supper, for I am hungry and tired,
and want to get to bed."

This reminder brought in an exclusive steak for Mr.
Squeers, who speedily proceeded to do it ample justice.
Nicholas drew up his chair, but his appetite was effectually
taken away.

" How's the steak, Squeers ? " said Mrs. S.

" Tender as a lamb," replied Squeers. " Have a bit."

" I couldn't eat a morsel," replied his wife. " What'll the
young man take, my dear ? "

" Whatever he likes that's present," rejoined Squeers, in
a most unusual burst of generosity.

" What do you say, Mr. Knuckleboy ? " inquired Mrs.
Squeers.

" I'll take a little of the pie, if you please," replied Nicho-
las. " A very little, for I'm not hungry."

" Well, it's a pity to cut the pie if you're not hungry, isn't
it ? " said Mrs. Squeers. " Will you try a bit of the beef ? "

" Whatever you please," replied Nicholas, abstractedly :
" it's all the same to me."

Mrs. Squeers looked vastly gracious on receiving this
reply ; and nodding to Squeers, as much as to say that she
was glad to find the young man knew his station, assisted
Nicholas to a slice of meat with her own fair hands.

" Ale, Squeery ? " inquired the lady, winking and frowning
to give him to understand that the question propounded,
was, whether Nicholas should have ale, and not whether he
(Squeers) would take any.

"Certainly," said Squeers, re-telegraphing in the same
manner. " A glassful."



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86 NICHOLAS NICKLEB Y.

So Nicholas had a glassful, and, being occupied with his
own reflections, drank it, in happy innocence of all the fore-
gone proceedings.

" Uncommon juicy steak that," said Squeers, as he laid
down his knife and fork, after plying it, in silence, for some
time.

" It's prime meat," rejoined his lady. " I bought a good
large piece of it myself on purpose for "

"For what!" exclaimed Squeers hastily. "Not for
the "

"No, no; not for them," rejoined Mrs. Squeers; "on
purpose for you against you came home. Lor ! you didn't
think I could have made such a mistake as that."

" Upon my word, my dear, I didn't know what you were
going to say," said Squeers, who had turned pale.

"You needn't make yourself uncomfortable," remarked
his wife, laughing heartily. " To think that I should be such
a noddy! Well!"

This part of the conversation was rather unintelligible ;
but popular rumor in the neighborhood asserted that Mr.
Squeers, being amiably opposed to cruelty to animals, not
unfrequently purchased for boy consumption the bodies of
horned cattle who had died a natural death ; possibly he was
apprehensive of having unintentionally devoured some choice
morsel intended for the young gentlemen.

Supper being over, and removed by a small servant girl
with a hungry eye, Mrs. Squeers retired to lock it up, and
also to take into safe custody the clothes of the five boys who
had just arrived, and who were half-way up the troublesome
flight of steps which leads to death's door, in consequence of
exposure to the cold. They were then regaled with a light
supper of porridge, and stowed away, side by side, in a small
bedstead, to warm each other, and dream of a substantial
meal with something hot after it, if their fancies set that way :
which it is not at all improbable they did.

Mr. Squeers treated himself to a stiff tumbler of brandy
and water, made on the liberal half-and-half principle, allowing
for the dissolution of the sugar ; and his amiable helpmate
mixed Nicholas the ghost of a small glassful of the same com-
pound. This done, Mr. and Mrs. Squeers drew close up to
the fire, and sitting with their feet on the fender, talked con-
fidentially in whispers ; while Nicholas, taking up the tutor's
assistant, read the interesting legends in the miscellaneous



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NICHOLAS NICKLEBY. gy

questions, and all the figures into the bargain, with as much
thought or consciousness of what he was doing, as if he had
been in a magnetic slumber.

At length, Mr. Squeers yawned fearfully, and opined that
it was high time to go to bed ; upon which signal, Mrs.
Squeers and the girl dragged in a small straw mattress and
a couple of blankets, and arranged them into a couch for
Nicholas.

"We'll put you into your regular bed-room to-morrow,
Nickleby," said Squeers. "Let me seel Who sleeps in
Brooks's bed, my dear? "

" In Brooks's," said Mrs. Squeers, pondering. " There's
Jennings, little Bolder, Graymarsh, and what's his name."

"So there is," rejoined Squeers. "Yes ! Brooks is full."

" Full I " thought Nicholas. " I should think he was."

"There's a place somewhere, I know," said Squeers;
*' but I can't at this moment call to mind where it is. How-
ever, we'll have that all settled to-morrow. Good-night,
Nickleby. Seven o'clock in the morning, mind."

"I shall be ready, sir," replied Nicholas. "Good-night."

" I'll come in myself and show you where the well is,"
said Squeers. " You'll always find a little bit of soap in the
kitchen window ; that belongs to you."

Nicholas opened his eyes, but not his mouth ; and Squeers
was again going away, when he once more turned back.

" I don't know, I am sure," he said, " whose towel to put
you on ; but if you'll make shift with something to-morrow
morning, Mrs. Squeers will arrange that, in the course of the
day. My dear, don't forget."

"I'll take care," replied Mrs. Squeers; "and mind you
take care, young man, and get first wash. The teacher ought
always to have it ; but they get the better of him if they can."

" Mr. Squeers then nudged Mrs. Squeers to bring away
the brandy bottle, lest Nicholas should help himself in the
night ; and the lady having seized it with great precipitation,
they retired together.

Nicholas, being left alone, took half a dozen turns up and
down the room in a condition of much agitation and excite-
ment ; but, growing gradually calmer, sat himself down in a
chair, and mentally resolved that, come what come might, he
would endeavor, for a time, to bear whatever wretchedness
might be in store for him, and that remembering the helpless-
of his mother and sister, he would give his uncle no plea for



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88 NICHOLAS NICKLEB K

deserting them in their need. Good resolutions seldom fail
of producing some good effect in the mind from which they
spring. He grew less desponding, and — so sanguine and
buoyant is youth — even hoped that affairs at Dotheboys Hall
might yet prove better than they promised.

He was preparing for bed, with something like renewed
cheerfulness, when a sealed letter fell from his coat pocket
In the hurry of leaving London, it had escaped his attention,
and had not occurred to him since, but it at once brought
back to him the recollection of the mysterious behavior of
Newman Noggs.

" Dear me 1 " said Nicholas ; " what an extraordinary
hand ! "

It was directed to himself, was written upon very dirty
paper, and in such cramped and crippled writing as to be
almost illegible. After great difficulty and much puzzling, he
contrived to read as follows : —

" My dear young Man.

" I know the world. Your father did not, or
he would not have done me a kindness when there was no
hope of return. You do not, or you would not be bound on
such a journey.

" If ever you want a shelter in London (don't be angry at
this, /once thought I never should), they know where I live,
at the sign of the Crown, in Silver Street, Golden Square. It
is at the corner of Silver Street and James Street, with a bar
door both ways. You can come at night. Once, nobody was
ashamed — never mind that. It's all over.

" Excuse errors. I should forget how to wear a whole
coat now. I have forgotten all my old ways. My spelling
may have gone with them.

"Newman Noggs.

" P.S. If you should go near* Barnard Castle, there is
good ale at the King's Head. Say you know me, and I am
sure they will not charge you for it. You may say Mr. Noggs
there, for I was a gentleman then. I was indeed."

It may be a very undignified circumstance to record, but
after he had folded this letter and placed it in his pocket-book,
Nicholas Nickleby's eyes were dimmed with a moisture that
might have been taken for tears.



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NICHOLAS NICKLEBY, 89



CHAPTER VIII.

OF THE INTERNAL. ECONOMY OF DOTHEBOYS HALL.

A ride of two hundred and odd miles in severe weather,
is one of the best softeners of a hard bed that ingenuity can
devise. Perhaps it is even a sweetener of dreams, for those
which hovered over the rough couch of Nicholas, and whispered
their airy nothings in his ear, were of an agreeable and happy
kind. He was making his fortune very fast indeed, when the
faint glimmer of an expiring candle shone before his eyes, and
a voice he had no difficulty in recognizing as part and parcel
of Mr. Squeers, admonished him that it was time to rise.

" Past seven, Nickleby," said Mr. Squeers.

" Has morning come already ? " asked Nicholas, sitting up
in bed.

" Ah 1 that has it," replied Squeers, " and ready iced too.
Now, Nickleby, come ; tumble up, will you ? "

Nicholas needed no futher admonition, but " tumbled up "
at once, and proceeded to dress himself by the light of the
taper, which Mr. Squeers carried in his hand.

*' Here's a pretty go," said that gentleman ; " the pump's
froze."

" Indeed ! " said Nicholas, not much interested in the intel-
ligence.

" Yes," replied Squeers. " You can't wash yourself this
morning."

" Not wash myself ! " exclaimed Nicholas.

" No, not a bit if it," rejoined Squeers tartly. " So you
must be content with giving yourself a dry polish till we break
the ice in the well, and can get a bucketful out for the boys.
Don't stand staring at me, but do look sharp, will you ? "

Offering no further observation* Nicholas huddled on his
clothes. Squeers, meanwhile, opened the shutters and blew
the candle out ; when the voice of his amiable consort was
heard in the passage, demanding admittance.

" Come in, my love," said Squeers.

Mrs. Squeers came in, still habited in the primitive night-
jacket which had displayed the symmetry of her figure on the



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NICHOLAS NICKLEBY.



previous night, and futher ornamented with a beaver bonnet
of some antiquity, which she wore with much ease and
lightness, on the top of the nightcap before mentioned.

" Drat the things," said the lady, opening the cupboard ;
" I can't find the school spoon anywhere."

" Never mind it, my dear," observed Squeers in a soothing
manner ; " it's of no consequence."

" No consequence, why how you talk ! " retorted Mrs.
Squeers sharply ; " isn't it brimstone morning ? "

" I forgot, my dear," rejoined Squeers ; " yes, it certainly
is. We purify the boys' bloods now and then, Nickleby."

" Purify fiddlesticks' ends," said his lady. " Don't think,
young man, that we go to the expense of flower of brimstone
and molasses, just to purify them ; because if you think we
carry on the business in that way, you'll find yourself mistaken,
and so I tell you plainly."

" My dear," said Squeers frowning. " Hem ! "

" Oh ! nonsense," rejoined Mrs. Squeers. " If the young
man comes to be a teacher here, let him understand, at once,
that we don't want any foolery about the boys. They have
the brimstone and treacle, partly because if they hadn't some-
thing or other in the way of medicine they'd be always ailing
and giving a world of trouble, and partly because it spoils
their appetites and comes cheaper than breakfast and dinner.
So, it does them good and us good at the same time, and
that's fair enough, I'm sure."

Having given this exclamation, Mrs. Squeers put her
hand into the closet and instituted a stricter search after the
spoon, in which Mr. Squeers assisted. A few words passed
between them while they were thus engaged, but as their
voices were partially stifled by the cupboard, all that Nicholas
could distinguish was, that Mr. Squeers said what Mrs.
Squeers had said, was injudicious, and that Mrs. Squeers said
what Mr. Squeers said, was " stuff."

A vast deal of searching and rummaging ensued, and it prov-
ing fruitless, Smike was called in, and pushed by Mrs. Squeers
and boxed by Mr. Squeers ; which course of treatment bright-
ening his intellects, enabled him to suggest that possibly
Mrs. Squeers night have the spoon in her pocket, as indeed
turned out to be the case. As Mrs. Squeers had previously
protested, however, that she was quite certain she had not got
it, Smike received another box on the ear for presuming to
contradict his mistress, together with a promise of a sound



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NICHOLAS NICKLEB V. 9 x

thrashing if he were not more respectful in future ; so that he
took nothing very advantageous by his motion.

" A most invaluable woman, that, Nickleby," said Squeers
when his consort had hurried away, pushing the drudge before
her.

" Indeed, sir ! " observed Nicholas.

" I don't know her equal," said Squeers ; " I do not know
her equal. That woman, Nickleby, is always the same —
always the same bustling, lively, active, saving creetur that
you see her now."

Nicholas sighed involuntarily at the thought of the agreea-
ble domestic prospect thus opened to him ; but Squeers was,
fortunately, too much occupied with his own reflections to
perceive it.

" It's my way to say, when I am up in London," continued
Squeers, " that to them boys she is a mother. But she is
more than a mother to them; ten times more. She does
things for them boys, Nickleby, that I don't believe half the
mothers going, would do for their own sons."

" I should think they would not, sir," answered Nicholas.

Now, the fact was, that both Mr. and Mrs. Squeers viewed
the boys in the light of their proper and natural enemies ; or,
in other words, they held and considered that their business
and profession was to get as much from every boy as could
by possibility be screwed out of him. On this point they
were both agreed, and behaved in unison accordingly. The
only difference between them was, that Mrs. Squeers waged
war against the enemy openly and fearlessly, and that Squeers
covered his rascality, even at home, with a spice of his habit-
ual deceit ; as if he really had a notion of some day or other
being able to take himself in, and persuade his own mind that
he was a very good fellow.



Online LibraryCharles DickensThe life and adventures of Nicholas Nickelby → online text (page 9 of 79)