Part 10 out of 20
briefly replied 'No.'
'Then,' said Nicholas, taking up the tall hat and tossing it towards
the door, 'you had better follow that article of your dress, sir, or
you may find yourself very disagreeably deceived, and that within a
'I say, Johnson,' remonstrated Mr Folair, suddenly losing all his
dignity, 'none of that, you know. No tricks with a gentleman's
'Leave the room,' returned Nicholas. 'How could you presume to come
here on such an errand, you scoundrel?'
'Pooh! pooh!' said Mr Folair, unwinding his comforter, and gradually
getting himself out of it. 'There--that's enough.'
'Enough!' cried Nicholas, advancing towards him. 'Take yourself
'Pooh! pooh! I tell you,' returned Mr Folair, waving his hand in
deprecation of any further wrath; 'I wasn't in earnest. I only
brought it in joke.'
'You had better be careful how you indulge in such jokes again,'
said Nicholas, 'or you may find an allusion to pulling noses rather
a dangerous reminder for the subject of your facetiousness. Was it
written in joke, too, pray?'
'No, no, that's the best of it,' returned the actor; 'right down
Nicholas could not repress a smile at the odd figure before him,
which, at all times more calculated to provoke mirth than anger, was
especially so at that moment, when with one knee upon the ground, Mr
Folair twirled his old hat round upon his hand, and affected the
extremest agony lest any of the nap should have been knocked off--an
ornament which it is almost superfluous to say, it had not boasted
for many months.
'Come, sir,' said Nicholas, laughing in spite of himself. 'Have the
goodness to explain.'
'Why, I'll tell you how it is,' said Mr Folair, sitting himself down
in a chair with great coolness. 'Since you came here Lenville has
done nothing but second business, and, instead of having a reception
every night as he used to have, they have let him come on as if he
'What do you mean by a reception?' asked Nicholas.
'Jupiter!' exclaimed Mr Folair, 'what an unsophisticated shepherd
you are, Johnson! Why, applause from the house when you first come
on. So he has gone on night after night, never getting a hand, and
you getting a couple of rounds at least, and sometimes three, till
at length he got quite desperate, and had half a mind last night to
play Tybalt with a real sword, and pink you--not dangerously, but
just enough to lay you up for a month or two.'
'Very considerate,' remarked Nicholas.
'Yes, I think it was under the circumstances; his professional
reputation being at stake,' said Mr Folair, quite seriously. 'But
his heart failed him, and he cast about for some other way of
annoying you, and making himself popular at the same time--for
that's the point. Notoriety, notoriety, is the thing. Bless you,
if he had pinked you,' said Mr Folair, stopping to make a
calculation in his mind, 'it would have been worth--ah, it would
have been worth eight or ten shillings a week to him. All the town
would have come to see the actor who nearly killed a man by mistake;
I shouldn't wonder if it had got him an engagement in London.
However, he was obliged to try some other mode of getting popular,
and this one occurred to him. It's clever idea, really. If you had
shown the white feather, and let him pull your nose, he'd have got
it into the paper; if you had sworn the peace against him, it would
have been in the paper too, and he'd have been just as much talked
about as you--don't you see?'
'Oh, certainly,' rejoined Nicholas; 'but suppose I were to turn the
tables, and pull HIS nose, what then? Would that make his fortune?'
'Why, I don't think it would,' replied Mr Folair, scratching his
head, 'because there wouldn't be any romance about it, and he
wouldn't be favourably known. To tell you the truth though, he
didn't calculate much upon that, for you're always so mild-spoken,
and are so popular among the women, that we didn't suspect you of
showing fight. If you did, however, he has a way of getting out of
it easily, depend upon that.'
'Has he?' rejoined Nicholas. 'We will try, tomorrow morning. In
the meantime, you can give whatever account of our interview you
like best. Good-night.'
As Mr Folair was pretty well known among his fellow-actors for a man
who delighted in mischief, and was by no means scrupulous, Nicholas
had not much doubt but that he had secretly prompted the tragedian
in the course he had taken, and, moreover, that he would have
carried his mission with a very high hand if he had not been
disconcerted by the very unexpected demonstrations with which it had
been received. It was not worth his while to be serious with him,
however, so he dismissed the pantomimist, with a gentle hint that if
he offended again it would be under the penalty of a broken head;
and Mr Folair, taking the caution in exceedingly good part, walked
away to confer with his principal, and give such an account of his
proceedings as he might think best calculated to carry on the joke.
He had no doubt reported that Nicholas was in a state of extreme
bodily fear; for when that young gentleman walked with much
deliberation down to the theatre next morning at the usual hour, he
found all the company assembled in evident expectation, and Mr
Lenville, with his severest stage face, sitting majestically on a
table, whistling defiance.
Now the ladies were on the side of Nicholas, and the gentlemen
(being jealous) were on the side of the disappointed tragedian; so
that the latter formed a little group about the redoubtable Mr
Lenville, and the former looked on at a little distance in some
trepidation and anxiety. On Nicholas stopping to salute them, Mr
Lenville laughed a scornful laugh, and made some general remark
touching the natural history of puppies.
'Oh!' said Nicholas, looking quietly round, 'are you there?'
'Slave!' returned Mr Lenville, flourishing his right arm, and
approaching Nicholas with a theatrical stride. But somehow he
appeared just at that moment a little startled, as if Nicholas did
not look quite so frightened as he had expected, and came all at
once to an awkward halt, at which the assembled ladies burst into a
'Object of my scorn and hatred!' said Mr Lenville, 'I hold ye in
Nicholas laughed in very unexpected enjoyment of this performance;
and the ladies, by way of encouragement, laughed louder than before;
whereat Mr Lenville assumed his bitterest smile, and expressed his
opinion that they were 'minions'.
'But they shall not protect ye!' said the tragedian, taking an
upward look at Nicholas, beginning at his boots and ending at the
crown of his head, and then a downward one, beginning at the crown
of his head, and ending at his boots--which two looks, as everybody
knows, express defiance on the stage. 'They shall not protect ye--
Thus speaking, Mr Lenville folded his arms, and treated Nicholas to
that expression of face with which, in melodramatic performances, he
was in the habit of regarding the tyrannical kings when they said,
'Away with him to the deepest dungeon beneath the castle moat;' and
which, accompanied with a little jingling of fetters, had been known
to produce great effects in its time.
Whether it was the absence of the fetters or not, it made no very
deep impression on Mr Lenville's adversary, however, but rather
seemed to increase the good-humour expressed in his countenance; in
which stage of the contest, one or two gentlemen, who had come out
expressly to witness the pulling of Nicholas's nose, grew impatient,
murmuring that if it were to be done at all it had better be done at
once, and that if Mr Lenville didn't mean to do it he had better say
so, and not keep them waiting there. Thus urged, the tragedian
adjusted the cuff of his right coat sleeve for the performance of
the operation, and walked in a very stately manner up to Nicholas,
who suffered him to approach to within the requisite distance, and
then, without the smallest discomposure, knocked him down.
Before the discomfited tragedian could raise his head from the
boards, Mrs Lenville (who, as has been before hinted, was in an
interesting state) rushed from the rear rank of ladies, and uttering
a piercing scream threw herself upon the body.
'Do you see this, monster? Do you see THIS?' cried Mr Lenville,
sitting up, and pointing to his prostrate lady, who was holding him
very tight round the waist.
'Come,' said Nicholas, nodding his head, 'apologise for the insolent
note you wrote to me last night, and waste no more time in talking.'
'Never!' cried Mr Lenville.
'Yes--yes--yes!' screamed his wife. 'For my sake--for mine,
Lenville--forego all idle forms, unless you would see me a blighted
corse at your feet.'
'This is affecting!' said Mr Lenville, looking round him, and
drawing the back of his hand across his eyes. 'The ties of nature
are strong. The weak husband and the father--the father that is yet
to be--relents. I apologise.'
'Humbly and submissively?' said Nicholas.
'Humbly and submissively,' returned the tragedian, scowling upwards.
'But only to save her,--for a time will come--'
'Very good,' said Nicholas; 'I hope Mrs Lenville may have a good
one; and when it does come, and you are a father, you shall retract
it if you have the courage. There. Be careful, sir, to what
lengths your jealousy carries you another time; and be careful,
also, before you venture too far, to ascertain your rival's temper.'
With this parting advice Nicholas picked up Mr Lenville's ash stick
which had flown out of his hand, and breaking it in half, threw him
the pieces and withdrew, bowing slightly to the spectators as he
The profoundest deference was paid to Nicholas that night, and the
people who had been most anxious to have his nose pulled in the
morning, embraced occasions of taking him aside, and telling him
with great feeling, how very friendly they took it that he should
have treated that Lenville so properly, who was a most unbearable
fellow, and on whom they had all, by a remarkable coincidence, at
one time or other contemplated the infliction of condign punishment,
which they had only been restrained from administering by
considerations of mercy; indeed, to judge from the invariable
termination of all these stories, there never was such a charitable
and kind-hearted set of people as the male members of Mr Crummles's
Nicholas bore his triumph, as he had his success in the little world
of the theatre, with the utmost moderation and good humour. The
crestfallen Mr Lenville made an expiring effort to obtain revenge by
sending a boy into the gallery to hiss, but he fell a sacrifice to
popular indignation, and was promptly turned out without having his
'Well, Smike,' said Nicholas when the first piece was over, and he
had almost finished dressing to go home, 'is there any letter yet?'
'Yes,' replied Smike, 'I got this one from the post-office.'
'From Newman Noggs,' said Nicholas, casting his eye upon the cramped
direction; 'it's no easy matter to make his writing out. Let me
see--let me see.'
By dint of poring over the letter for half an hour, he contrived to
make himself master of the contents, which were certainly not of a
nature to set his mind at ease. Newman took upon himself to send
back the ten pounds, observing that he had ascertained that neither
Mrs Nickleby nor Kate was in actual want of money at the moment, and
that a time might shortly come when Nicholas might want it more. He
entreated him not to be alarmed at what he was about to say;--there
was no bad news--they were in good health--but he thought
circumstances might occur, or were occurring, which would render it
absolutely necessary that Kate should have her brother's protection,
and if so, Newman said, he would write to him to that effect, either
by the next post or the next but one.
Nicholas read this passage very often, and the more he thought of it
the more he began to fear some treachery upon the part of Ralph.
Once or twice he felt tempted to repair to London at all hazards
without an hour's delay, but a little reflection assured him that if
such a step were necessary, Newman would have spoken out and told
him so at once.
'At all events I should prepare them here for the possibility of my
going away suddenly,' said Nicholas; 'I should lose no time in doing
that.' As the thought occurred to him, he took up his hat and
hurried to the green-room.
'Well, Mr Johnson,' said Mrs Crummles, who was seated there in full
regal costume, with the phenomenon as the Maiden in her maternal
arms, 'next week for Ryde, then for Winchester, then for--'
'I have some reason to fear,' interrupted Nicholas, 'that before you
leave here my career with you will have closed.'
'Closed!' cried Mrs Crummles, raising her hands in astonishment.
'Closed!' cried Miss Snevellicci, trembling so much in her tights
that she actually laid her hand upon the shoulder of the manageress
'Why he don't mean to say he's going!' exclaimed Mrs Grudden, making
her way towards Mrs Crummles. 'Hoity toity! Nonsense.'
The phenomenon, being of an affectionate nature and moreover
excitable, raised a loud cry, and Miss Belvawney and Miss Bravassa
actually shed tears. Even the male performers stopped in their
conversation, and echoed the word 'Going!' although some among them
(and they had been the loudest in their congratulations that day)
winked at each other as though they would not be sorry to lose such
a favoured rival; an opinion, indeed, which the honest Mr Folair,
who was ready dressed for the savage, openly stated in so many words
to a demon with whom he was sharing a pot of porter.
Nicholas briefly said that he feared it would be so, although he
could not yet speak with any degree of certainty; and getting away
as soon as he could, went home to con Newman's letter once more, and
speculate upon it afresh.
How trifling all that had been occupying his time and thoughts for
many weeks seemed to him during that sleepless night, and how
constantly and incessantly present to his imagination was the one
idea that Kate in the midst of some great trouble and distress might
even then be looking--and vainly too--for him!
Festivities are held in honour of Nicholas, who suddenly withdraws
himself from the Society of Mr Vincent Crummles and his Theatrical
Mr Vincent Crummles was no sooner acquainted with the public
announcement which Nicholas had made relative to the probability of
his shortly ceasing to be a member of the company, than he evinced
many tokens of grief and consternation; and, in the extremity of his
despair, even held out certain vague promises of a speedy
improvement not only in the amount of his regular salary, but also
in the contingent emoluments appertaining to his authorship.
Finding Nicholas bent upon quitting the society--for he had now
determined that, even if no further tidings came from Newman, he
would, at all hazards, ease his mind by repairing to London and
ascertaining the exact position of his sister--Mr Crummles was fain
to content himself by calculating the chances of his coming back
again, and taking prompt and energetic measures to make the most of
him before he went away.
'Let me see,' said Mr Crummles, taking off his outlaw's wig, the
better to arrive at a cool-headed view of the whole case. 'Let me
see. This is Wednesday night. We'll have posters out the first
thing in the morning, announcing positively your last appearance for
'But perhaps it may not be my last appearance, you know,' said
Nicholas. 'Unless I am summoned away, I should be sorry to
inconvenience you by leaving before the end of the week.'
'So much the better,' returned Mr Crummles. 'We can have positively
your last appearance, on Thursday--re-engagement for one night more,
on Friday--and, yielding to the wishes of numerous influential
patrons, who were disappointed in obtaining seats, on Saturday.
That ought to bring three very decent houses.'
'Then I am to make three last appearances, am I?' inquired Nicholas,
'Yes,' rejoined the manager, scratching his head with an air of some
vexation; 'three is not enough, and it's very bungling and irregular
not to have more, but if we can't help it we can't, so there's no
use in talking. A novelty would be very desirable. You couldn't
sing a comic song on the pony's back, could you?'
'No,' replied Nicholas, 'I couldn't indeed.'
'It has drawn money before now,' said Mr Crummles, with a look of
disappointment. 'What do you think of a brilliant display of
'That it would be rather expensive,' replied Nicholas, drily.
'Eighteen-pence would do it,' said Mr Crummles. 'You on the top of
a pair of steps with the phenomenon in an attitude; "Farewell!" on a
transparency behind; and nine people at the wings with a squib in
each hand--all the dozen and a half going off at once--it would be
very grand--awful from the front, quite awful.'
As Nicholas appeared by no means impressed with the solemnity of the
proposed effect, but, on the contrary, received the proposition in a
most irreverent manner, and laughed at it very heartily, Mr Crummles
abandoned the project in its birth, and gloomily observed that they
must make up the best bill they could with combats and hornpipes,
and so stick to the legitimate drama.
For the purpose of carrying this object into instant execution, the
manager at once repaired to a small dressing-room, adjacent, where
Mrs Crummles was then occupied in exchanging the habiliments of a
melodramatic empress for the ordinary attire of matrons in the
nineteenth century. And with the assistance of this lady, and the
accomplished Mrs Grudden (who had quite a genius for making out
bills, being a great hand at throwing in the notes of admiration,
and knowing from long experience exactly where the largest capitals
ought to go), he seriously applied himself to the composition of the
'Heigho!' sighed Nicholas, as he threw himself back in the
prompter's chair, after telegraphing the needful directions to
Smike, who had been playing a meagre tailor in the interlude, with
one skirt to his coat, and a little pocket-handkerchief with a large
hole in it, and a woollen nightcap, and a red nose, and other
distinctive marks peculiar to tailors on the stage. 'Heigho! I wish
all this were over.'
'Over, Mr Johnson!' repeated a female voice behind him, in a kind of
'It was an ungallant speech, certainly,' said Nicholas, looking up
to see who the speaker was, and recognising Miss Snevellicci. 'I
would not have made it if I had known you had been within hearing.'
'What a dear that Mr Digby is!' said Miss Snevellicci, as the tailor
went off on the opposite side, at the end of the piece, with great
applause. (Smike's theatrical name was Digby.)
'I'll tell him presently, for his gratification, that you said so,'
'Oh you naughty thing!' rejoined Miss Snevellicci. 'I don't know
though, that I should much mind HIS knowing my opinion of him; with
some other people, indeed, it might be--' Here Miss Snevellicci
stopped, as though waiting to be questioned, but no questioning
came, for Nicholas was thinking about more serious matters.
'How kind it is of you,' resumed Miss Snevellicci, after a short
silence, 'to sit waiting here for him night after night, night after
night, no matter how tired you are; and taking so much pains with
him, and doing it all with as much delight and readiness as if you
were coining gold by it!'
'He well deserves all the kindness I can show him, and a great deal
more,' said Nicholas. 'He is the most grateful, single-hearted,
affectionate creature that ever breathed.'
'So odd, too,' remarked Miss Snevellicci, 'isn't he?'
'God help him, and those who have made him so; he is indeed,'
rejoined Nicholas, shaking his head.
'He is such a devilish close chap,' said Mr Folair, who had come up
a little before, and now joined in the conversation. 'Nobody can
ever get anything out of him.'
'What SHOULD they get out of him?' asked Nicholas, turning round
with some abruptness.
'Zooks! what a fire-eater you are, Johnson!' returned Mr Folair,
pulling up the heel of his dancing shoe. 'I'm only talking of the
natural curiosity of the people here, to know what he has been about
all his life.'
'Poor fellow! it is pretty plain, I should think, that he has not
the intellect to have been about anything of much importance to them
or anybody else,' said Nicholas.
'Ay,' rejoined the actor, contemplating the effect of his face in a
lamp reflector, 'but that involves the whole question, you know.'
'What question?' asked Nicholas.
'Why, the who he is and what he is, and how you two, who are so
different, came to be such close companions,' replied Mr Folair,
delighted with the opportunity of saying something disagreeable.
'That's in everybody's mouth.'
'The "everybody" of the theatre, I suppose?' said Nicholas,
'In it and out of it too,' replied the actor. 'Why, you know,
'I thought I had silenced him effectually,' interrupted Nicholas,
'Perhaps you have,' rejoined the immovable Mr Folair; 'if you have,
he said this before he was silenced: Lenville says that you're a
regular stick of an actor, and that it's only the mystery about you
that has caused you to go down with the people here, and that
Crummles keeps it up for his own sake; though Lenville says he don't
believe there's anything at all in it, except your having got into a
scrape and run away from somewhere, for doing something or other.'
'Oh!' said Nicholas, forcing a smile.
'That's a part of what he says,' added Mr Folair. 'I mention it as
the friend of both parties, and in strict confidence. I don't agree
with him, you know. He says he takes Digby to be more knave than
fool; and old Fluggers, who does the heavy business you know, HE
says that when he delivered messages at Covent Garden the season
before last, there used to be a pickpocket hovering about the coach-
stand who had exactly the face of Digby; though, as he very properly
says, Digby may not be the same, but only his brother, or some near
'Oh!' cried Nicholas again.
'Yes,' said Mr Folair, with undisturbed calmness, 'that's what they
say. I thought I'd tell you, because really you ought to know. Oh!
here's this blessed phenomenon at last. Ugh, you little imposition,
I should like to--quite ready, my darling,--humbug--Ring up, Mrs G.,
and let the favourite wake 'em.'
Uttering in a loud voice such of the latter allusions as were
complimentary to the unconscious phenomenon, and giving the rest in
a confidential 'aside' to Nicholas, Mr Folair followed the ascent of
the curtain with his eyes, regarded with a sneer the reception of
Miss Crummles as the Maiden, and, falling back a step or two to
advance with the better effect, uttered a preliminary howl, and
'went on' chattering his teeth and brandishing his tin tomahawk as
the Indian Savage.
'So these are some of the stories they invent about us, and bandy
from mouth to mouth!' thought Nicholas. 'If a man would commit an
inexpiable offence against any society, large or small, let him be
successful. They will forgive him any crime but that.'
'You surely don't mind what that malicious creature says, Mr
Johnson?' observed Miss Snevellicci in her most winning tones.
'Not I,' replied Nicholas. 'If I were going to remain here, I might
think it worth my while to embroil myself. As it is, let them talk
till they are hoarse. But here,' added Nicholas, as Smike
approached, 'here comes the subject of a portion of their good-
nature, so let he and I say good night together.'
'No, I will not let either of you say anything of the kind,'
returned Miss Snevellicci. 'You must come home and see mama, who
only came to Portsmouth today, and is dying to behold you. Led, my
dear, persuade Mr Johnson.'
'Oh, I'm sure,' returned Miss Ledrook, with considerable vivacity,
'if YOU can't persuade him--' Miss Ledrook said no more, but
intimated, by a dexterous playfulness, that if Miss Snevellicci
couldn't persuade him, nobody could.
'Mr and Mrs Lillyvick have taken lodgings in our house, and share
our sitting-room for the present,' said Miss Snevellicci. 'Won't
that induce you?'
'Surely,' returned Nicholas, 'I can require no possible inducement
beyond your invitation.'
'Oh no! I dare say,' rejoined Miss Snevellicci. And Miss Ledrook
said, 'Upon my word!' Upon which Miss Snevellicci said that Miss
Ledrook was a giddy thing; and Miss Ledrook said that Miss
Snevellicci needn't colour up quite so much; and Miss Snevellicci
beat Miss Ledrook, and Miss Ledrook beat Miss Snevellicci.
'Come,' said Miss Ledrook, 'it's high time we were there, or we
shall have poor Mrs Snevellicci thinking that you have run away with
her daughter, Mr Johnson; and then we should have a pretty to-do.'
'My dear Led,' remonstrated Miss Snevellicci, 'how you do talk!'
Miss Ledrook made no answer, but taking Smike's arm in hers, left
her friend and Nicholas to follow at their pleasure; which it
pleased them, or rather pleased Nicholas, who had no great fancy for
a TETE-A-TETE under the circumstances, to do at once.
There were not wanting matters of conversation when they reached the
street, for it turned out that Miss Snevellicci had a small basket
to carry home, and Miss Ledrook a small bandbox, both containing
such minor articles of theatrical costume as the lady performers
usually carried to and fro every evening. Nicholas would insist
upon carrying the basket, and Miss Snevellicci would insist upon
carrying it herself, which gave rise to a struggle, in which
Nicholas captured the basket and the bandbox likewise. Then
Nicholas said, that he wondered what could possibly be inside the
basket, and attempted to peep in, whereat Miss Snevellicci screamed,
and declared that if she thought he had seen, she was sure she
should faint away. This declaration was followed by a similar
attempt on the bandbox, and similar demonstrations on the part of
Miss Ledrook, and then both ladies vowed that they wouldn't move a
step further until Nicholas had promised that he wouldn't offer to
peep again. At last Nicholas pledged himself to betray no further
curiosity, and they walked on: both ladies giggling very much, and
declaring that they never had seen such a wicked creature in all
their born days--never.
Lightening the way with such pleasantry as this, they arrived at the
tailor's house in no time; and here they made quite a little party,
there being present besides Mr Lillyvick and Mrs Lillyvick, not only
Miss Snevellicci's mama, but her papa also. And an uncommonly fine
man Miss Snevellicci's papa was, with a hook nose, and a white
forehead, and curly black hair, and high cheek bones, and altogether
quite a handsome face, only a little pimply as though with drinking.
He had a very broad chest had Miss Snevellicci's papa, and he wore a
threadbare blue dress-coat buttoned with gilt buttons tight across
it; and he no sooner saw Nicholas come into the room, than he
whipped the two forefingers of his right hand in between the two
centre buttons, and sticking his other arm gracefully a-kimbo seemed
to say, 'Now, here I am, my buck, and what have you got to say to
Such was, and in such an attitude sat Miss Snevellicci's papa, who
had been in the profession ever since he had first played the ten-
year-old imps in the Christmas pantomimes; who could sing a little,
dance a little, fence a little, act a little, and do everything a
little, but not much; who had been sometimes in the ballet, and
sometimes in the chorus, at every theatre in London; who was always
selected in virtue of his figure to play the military visitors and
the speechless noblemen; who always wore a smart dress, and came on
arm-in-arm with a smart lady in short petticoats,--and always did it
too with such an air that people in the pit had been several times
known to cry out 'Bravo!' under the impression that he was somebody.
Such was Miss Snevellicci's papa, upon whom some envious persons
cast the imputation that he occasionally beat Miss Snevellicci's
mama, who was still a dancer, with a neat little figure and some
remains of good looks; and who now sat, as she danced,--being rather
too old for the full glare of the foot-lights,--in the background.
To these good people Nicholas was presented with much formality.
The introduction being completed, Miss Snevellicci's papa (who was
scented with rum-and-water) said that he was delighted to make the
acquaintance of a gentleman so highly talented; and furthermore
remarked, that there hadn't been such a hit made--no, not since the
first appearance of his friend Mr Glavormelly, at the Coburg.
'You have seen him, sir?' said Miss Snevellicci's papa.
'No, really I never did,' replied Nicholas.
'You never saw my friend Glavormelly, sir!' said Miss Snevellicci's
papa. 'Then you have never seen acting yet. If he had lived--'
'Oh, he is dead, is he?' interrupted Nicholas.
'He is,' said Mr Snevellicci, 'but he isn't in Westminster Abbey,
more's the shame. He was a--. Well, no matter. He is gone to that
bourne from whence no traveller returns. I hope he is appreciated
So saying Miss Snevellicci's papa rubbed the tip of his nose with a
very yellow silk handkerchief, and gave the company to understand
that these recollections overcame him.
'Well, Mr Lillyvick,' said Nicholas, 'and how are you?'
'Quite well, sir,' replied the collector. 'There is nothing like
the married state, sir, depend upon it.'
'Indeed!' said Nicholas, laughing.
'Ah! nothing like it, sir,' replied Mr Lillyvick solemnly. 'How do
you think,' whispered the collector, drawing him aside, 'how do you
think she looks tonight?'
'As handsome as ever,' replied Nicholas, glancing at the late Miss
'Why, there's air about her, sir,' whispered the collector, 'that I
never saw in anybody. Look at her, now she moves to put the kettle
on. There! Isn't it fascination, sir?'
'You're a lucky man,' said Nicholas.
'Ha, ha, ha!' rejoined the collector. 'No. Do you think I am
though, eh? Perhaps I may be, perhaps I may be. I say, I couldn't
have done much better if I had been a young man, could I? You
couldn't have done much better yourself, could you--eh--could you?'
With such inquires, and many more such, Mr Lillyvick jerked his
elbow into Nicholas's side, and chuckled till his face became quite
purple in the attempt to keep down his satisfaction.
By this time the cloth had been laid under the joint superintendence
of all the ladies, upon two tables put together, one being high and
narrow, and the other low and broad. There were oysters at the top,
sausages at the bottom, a pair of snuffers in the centre, and baked
potatoes wherever it was most convenient to put them. Two
additional chairs were brought in from the bedroom: Miss Snevellicci
sat at the head of the table, and Mr Lillyvick at the foot; and
Nicholas had not only the honour of sitting next Miss Snevellicci,
but of having Miss Snevellicci's mama on his right hand, and Miss
Snevellicci's papa over the way. In short, he was the hero of the
feast; and when the table was cleared and something warm introduced,
Miss Snevellicci's papa got up and proposed his health in a speech
containing such affecting allusions to his coming departure, that
Miss Snevellicci wept, and was compelled to retire into the bedroom.
'Hush! Don't take any notice of it,' said Miss Ledrook, peeping in
from the bedroom. 'Say, when she comes back, that she exerts
herself too much.'
Miss Ledrook eked out this speech with so many mysterious nods and
frowns before she shut the door again, that a profound silence came
upon all the company, during which Miss Snevellicci's papa looked
very big indeed--several sizes larger than life--at everybody in
turn, but particularly at Nicholas, and kept on perpetually emptying
his tumbler and filling it again, until the ladies returned in a
cluster, with Miss Snevellicci among them.
'You needn't alarm yourself a bit, Mr Snevellicci,' said Mrs
Lillyvick. 'She is only a little weak and nervous; she has been so
ever since the morning.'
'Oh,' said Mr Snevellicci, 'that's all, is it?'
'Oh yes, that's all. Don't make a fuss about it,' cried all the
Now this was not exactly the kind of reply suited to Mr Snevellicci's
importance as a man and a father, so he picked out the unfortunate
Mrs Snevellicci, and asked her what the devil she meant by talking
to him in that way.
'Dear me, my dear!' said Mrs Snevellicci.
'Don't call me your dear, ma'am,' said Mr Snevellicci, 'if you
'Pray, pa, don't,' interposed Miss Snevellicci.
'Don't what, my child?'
'Talk in that way.'
'Why not?' said Mr Snevellicci. 'I hope you don't suppose there's
anybody here who is to prevent my talking as I like?'
'Nobody wants to, pa,' rejoined his daughter.
'Nobody would if they did want to,' said Mr Snevellicci. 'I am not
ashamed of myself, Snevellicci is my name; I'm to be found in Broad
Court, Bow Street, when I'm in town. If I'm not at home, let any
man ask for me at the stage-door. Damme, they know me at the stage-
door I suppose. Most men have seen my portrait at the cigar shop
round the corner. I've been mentioned in the newspapers before now,
haven't I? Talk! I'll tell you what; if I found out that any man
had been tampering with the affections of my daughter, I wouldn't
talk. I'd astonish him without talking; that's my way.'
So saying, Mr Snevellicci struck the palm of his left hand three
smart blows with his clenched fist; pulled a phantom nose with his
right thumb and forefinger, and swallowed another glassful at a
draught. 'That's my way,' repeated Mr Snevellicci.
Most public characters have their failings; and the truth is that Mr
Snevellicci was a little addicted to drinking; or, if the whole
truth must be told, that he was scarcely ever sober. He knew in his
cups three distinct stages of intoxication,--the dignified--the
quarrelsome--the amorous. When professionally engaged he never got
beyond the dignified; in private circles he went through all three,
passing from one to another with a rapidity of transition often
rather perplexing to those who had not the honour of his
Thus Mr Snevellicci had no sooner swallowed another glassful than he
smiled upon all present in happy forgetfulness of having exhibited
symptoms of pugnacity, and proposed 'The ladies! Bless their
hearts!' in a most vivacious manner.
'I love 'em,' said Mr Snevellicci, looking round the table, 'I love
'em, every one.'
'Not every one,' reasoned Mr Lillyvick, mildly.
'Yes, every one,' repeated Mr Snevellicci.
'That would include the married ladies, you know,' said Mr
'I love them too, sir,' said Mr Snevellicci.
The collector looked into the surrounding faces with an aspect of
grave astonishment, seeming to say, 'This is a nice man!' and
appeared a little surprised that Mrs Lillyvick's manner yielded no
evidences of horror and indignation.
'One good turn deserves another,' said Mr Snevellicci. 'I love them
and they love me.' And as if this avowal were not made in sufficient
disregard and defiance of all moral obligations, what did Mr
Snevellicci do? He winked--winked openly and undisguisedly; winked
with his right eye--upon Henrietta Lillyvick!
The collector fell back in his chair in the intensity of his
astonishment. If anybody had winked at her as Henrietta Petowker,
it would have been indecorous in the last degree; but as Mrs
Lillyvick! While he thought of it in a cold perspiration, and
wondered whether it was possible that he could be dreaming, Mr
Snevellicci repeated the wink, and drinking to Mrs Lillyvick in dumb
show, actually blew her a kiss! Mr Lillyvick left his chair, walked
straight up to the other end of the table, and fell upon him--
literally fell upon him--instantaneously. Mr Lillyvick was no light
weight, and consequently when he fell upon Mr Snevellicci, Mr
Snevellicci fell under the table. Mr Lillyvick followed him, and
the ladies screamed.
'What is the matter with the men! Are they mad?' cried Nicholas,
diving under the table, dragging up the collector by main force, and
thrusting him, all doubled up, into a chair, as if he had been a
stuffed figure. 'What do you mean to do? What do you want to do?
What is the matter with you?'
While Nicholas raised up the collector, Smike had performed the same
office for Mr Snevellicci, who now regarded his late adversary in
'Look here, sir,' replied Mr Lillyvick, pointing to his astonished
wife, 'here is purity and elegance combined, whose feelings have
been outraged--violated, sir!'
'Lor, what nonsense he talks!' exclaimed Mrs Lillyvick in answer to
the inquiring look of Nicholas. 'Nobody has said anything to me.'
'Said, Henrietta!' cried the collector. 'Didn't I see him--' Mr
Lillyvick couldn't bring himself to utter the word, but he
counterfeited the motion of the eye.
'Well!' cried Mrs Lillyvick. 'Do you suppose nobody is ever to look
at me? A pretty thing to be married indeed, if that was law!'
'You didn't mind it?' cried the collector.
'Mind it!' repeated Mrs Lillyvick contemptuously. 'You ought to go
down on your knees and beg everybody's pardon, that you ought.'
'Pardon, my dear?' said the dismayed collector.
'Yes, and mine first,' replied Mrs Lillyvick. 'Do you suppose I
ain't the best judge of what's proper and what's improper?'
'To be sure,' cried all the ladies. 'Do you suppose WE shouldn't be
the first to speak, if there was anything that ought to be taken
'Do you suppose THEY don't know, sir?' said Miss Snevellicci's papa,
pulling up his collar, and muttering something about a punching of
heads, and being only withheld by considerations of age. With which
Miss Snevellicci's papa looked steadily and sternly at Mr Lillyvick
for some seconds, and then rising deliberately from his chair,
kissed the ladies all round, beginning with Mrs Lillyvick.
The unhappy collector looked piteously at his wife, as if to see
whether there was any one trait of Miss Petowker left in Mrs
Lillyvick, and finding too surely that there was not, begged pardon
of all the company with great humility, and sat down such a crest-
fallen, dispirited, disenchanted man, that despite all his
selfishness and dotage, he was quite an object of compassion.
Miss Snevellicci's papa being greatly exalted by this triumph, and
incontestable proof of his popularity with the fair sex, quickly
grew convivial, not to say uproarious; volunteering more than one
song of no inconsiderable length, and regaling the social circle
between-whiles with recollections of divers splendid women who had
been supposed to entertain a passion for himself, several of whom he
toasted by name, taking occasion to remark at the same time that if
he had been a little more alive to his own interest, he might have
been rolling at that moment in his chariot-and-four. These
reminiscences appeared to awaken no very torturing pangs in the
breast of Mrs Snevellicci, who was sufficiently occupied in
descanting to Nicholas upon the manifold accomplishments and merits
of her daughter. Nor was the young lady herself at all behind-hand
in displaying her choicest allurements; but these, heightened as
they were by the artifices of Miss Ledrook, had no effect whatever
in increasing the attentions of Nicholas, who, with the precedent of
Miss Squeers still fresh in his memory, steadily resisted every
fascination, and placed so strict a guard upon his behaviour that
when he had taken his leave the ladies were unanimous in pronouncing
him quite a monster of insensibility.
Next day the posters appeared in due course, and the public were
informed, in all the colours of the rainbow, and in letters
afflicted with every possible variation of spinal deformity, how
that Mr Johnson would have the honour of making his last appearance
that evening, and how that an early application for places was
requested, in consequence of the extraordinary overflow attendant on
his performances,--it being a remarkable fact in theatrical history,
but one long since established beyond dispute, that it is a hopeless
endeavour to attract people to a theatre unless they can be first
brought to believe that they will never get into it.
Nicholas was somewhat at a loss, on entering the theatre at night,
to account for the unusual perturbation and excitement visible in
the countenances of all the company, but he was not long in doubt as
to the cause, for before he could make any inquiry respecting it Mr
Crummles approached, and in an agitated tone of voice, informed him
that there was a London manager in the boxes.
'It's the phenomenon, depend upon it, sir,' said Crummles, dragging
Nicholas to the little hole in the curtain that he might look
through at the London manager. 'I have not the smallest doubt it's
the fame of the phenomenon--that's the man; him in the great-coat
and no shirt-collar. She shall have ten pound a week, Johnson; she
shall not appear on the London boards for a farthing less. They
shan't engage her either, unless they engage Mrs Crummles too--
twenty pound a week for the pair; or I'll tell you what, I'll throw
in myself and the two boys, and they shall have the family for
thirty. I can't say fairer than that. They must take us all, if
none of us will go without the others. That's the way some of the
London people do, and it always answers. Thirty pound a week--it's
too cheap, Johnson. It's dirt cheap.'
Nicholas replied, that it certainly was; and Mr Vincent Crummles
taking several huge pinches of snuff to compose his feelings,
hurried away to tell Mrs Crummles that he had quite settled the only
terms that could be accepted, and had resolved not to abate one
When everybody was dressed and the curtain went up, the excitement
occasioned by the presence of the London manager increased a
thousand-fold. Everybody happened to know that the London manager
had come down specially to witness his or her own performance, and
all were in a flutter of anxiety and expectation. Some of those who
were not on in the first scene, hurried to the wings, and there
stretched their necks to have a peep at him; others stole up into
the two little private boxes over the stage-doors, and from that
position reconnoitred the London manager. Once the London manager
was seen to smile--he smiled at the comic countryman's pretending to
catch a blue-bottle, while Mrs Crummles was making her greatest
effect. 'Very good, my fine fellow,' said Mr Crummles, shaking his
fist at the comic countryman when he came off, 'you leave this
company next Saturday night.'
In the same way, everybody who was on the stage beheld no audience
but one individual; everybody played to the London manager. When Mr
Lenville in a sudden burst of passion called the emperor a
miscreant, and then biting his glove, said, 'But I must dissemble,'
instead of looking gloomily at the boards and so waiting for his
cue, as is proper in such cases, he kept his eye fixed upon the
London manager. When Miss Bravassa sang her song at her lover, who
according to custom stood ready to shake hands with her between the
verses, they looked, not at each other, but at the London manager.
Mr Crummles died point blank at him; and when the two guards came in
to take the body off after a very hard death, it was seen to open
its eyes and glance at the London manager. At length the London
manager was discovered to be asleep, and shortly after that he woke
up and went away, whereupon all the company fell foul of the unhappy
comic countryman, declaring that his buffoonery was the sole cause;
and Mr Crummles said, that he had put up with it a long time, but
that he really couldn't stand it any longer, and therefore would
feel obliged by his looking out for another engagement.
All this was the occasion of much amusement to Nicholas, whose only
feeling upon the subject was one of sincere satisfaction that the
great man went away before he appeared. He went through his part in
the two last pieces as briskly as he could, and having been received
with unbounded favour and unprecedented applause--so said the bills
for next day, which had been printed an hour or two before--he took
Smike's arm and walked home to bed.
With the post next morning came a letter from Newman Noggs, very
inky, very short, very dirty, very small, and very mysterious,
urging Nicholas to return to London instantly; not to lose an
instant; to be there that night if possible.
'I will,' said Nicholas. 'Heaven knows I have remained here for the
best, and sorely against my own will; but even now I may have
dallied too long. What can have happened? Smike, my good fellow,
here--take my purse. Put our things together, and pay what little
debts we owe--quick, and we shall be in time for the morning coach.
I will only tell them that we are going, and will return to you
So saying, he took his hat, and hurrying away to the lodgings of Mr
Crummles, applied his hand to the knocker with such hearty good-
will, that he awakened that gentleman, who was still in bed, and
caused Mr Bulph the pilot to take his morning's pipe very nearly out
of his mouth in the extremity of his surprise.
The door being opened, Nicholas ran upstairs without any ceremony,
and bursting into the darkened sitting-room on the one-pair front,
found that the two Master Crummleses had sprung out of the sofa-
bedstead and were putting on their clothes with great rapidity,
under the impression that it was the middle of the night, and the
next house was on fire.
Before he could undeceive them, Mr Crummles came down in a flannel
gown and nightcap; and to him Nicholas briefly explained that
circumstances had occurred which rendered it necessary for him to
repair to London immediately.
'So goodbye,' said Nicholas; 'goodbye, goodbye.'
He was half-way downstairs before Mr Crummles had sufficiently
recovered his surprise to gasp out something about the posters.
'I can't help it,' replied Nicholas. 'Set whatever I may have
earned this week against them, or if that will not repay you, say at
once what will. Quick, quick.'
'We'll cry quits about that,' returned Crummles. 'But can't we have
one last night more?'
'Not an hour--not a minute,' replied Nicholas, impatiently.
'Won't you stop to say something to Mrs Crummles?' asked the
manager, following him down to the door.
'I couldn't stop if it were to prolong my life a score of years,'
rejoined Nicholas. 'Here, take my hand, and with it my hearty
thanks.--Oh! that I should have been fooling here!'
Accompanying these words with an impatient stamp upon the ground, he
tore himself from the manager's detaining grasp, and darting rapidly
down the street was out of sight in an instant.
'Dear me, dear me,' said Mr Crummles, looking wistfully towards the
point at which he had just disappeared; 'if he only acted like that,
what a deal of money he'd draw! He should have kept upon this
circuit; he'd have been very useful to me. But he don't know what's
good for him. He is an impetuous youth. Young men are rash, very
Mr Crummles being in a moralising mood, might possibly have
moralised for some minutes longer if he had not mechanically put his
hand towards his waistcoat pocket, where he was accustomed to keep
his snuff. The absence of any pocket at all in the usual direction,
suddenly recalled to his recollection the fact that he had no
waistcoat on; and this leading him to a contemplation of the extreme
scantiness of his attire, he shut the door abruptly, and retired
upstairs with great precipitation.
Smike had made good speed while Nicholas was absent, and with his
help everything was soon ready for their departure. They scarcely
stopped to take a morsel of breakfast, and in less than half an hour
arrived at the coach-office: quite out of breath with the haste they
had made to reach it in time. There were yet a few minutes to
spare, so, having secured the places, Nicholas hurried into a
slopseller's hard by, and bought Smike a great-coat. It would
have been rather large for a substantial yeoman, but the shopman
averring (and with considerable truth) that it was a most uncommon
fit, Nicholas would have purchased it in his impatience if it had
been twice the size.
As they hurried up to the coach, which was now in the open street
and all ready for starting, Nicholas was not a little astonished to
find himself suddenly clutched in a close and violent embrace, which
nearly took him off his legs; nor was his amazement at all lessened
by hearing the voice of Mr Crummles exclaim, 'It is he--my friend,
'Bless my heart,' cried Nicholas, struggling in the manager's arms,
'what are you about?'
The manager made no reply, but strained him to his breast again,
exclaiming as he did so, 'Farewell, my noble, my lion-hearted boy!'
In fact, Mr Crummles, who could never lose any opportunity for
professional display, had turned out for the express purpose of
taking a public farewell of Nicholas; and to render it the more
imposing, he was now, to that young gentleman's most profound
annoyance, inflicting upon him a rapid succession of stage embraces,
which, as everybody knows, are performed by the embracer's laying
his or her chin on the shoulder of the object of affection, and
looking over it. This Mr Crummles did in the highest style of
melodrama, pouring forth at the same time all the most dismal forms
of farewell he could think of, out of the stock pieces. Nor was
this all, for the elder Master Crummles was going through a similar
ceremony with Smike; while Master Percy Crummles, with a very little
second-hand camlet cloak, worn theatrically over his left shoulder,
stood by, in the attitude of an attendant officer, waiting to convey
the two victims to the scaffold.
The lookers-on laughed very heartily, and as it was as well to put a
good face upon the matter, Nicholas laughed too when he had
succeeded in disengaging himself; and rescuing the astonished Smike,
climbed up to the coach roof after him, and kissed his hand in
honour of the absent Mrs Crummles as they rolled away.
Of Ralph Nickleby and Newman Noggs, and some wise Precautions, the
success or failure of which will appear in the Sequel
In blissful unconsciousness that his nephew was hastening at the
utmost speed of four good horses towards his sphere of action, and
that every passing minute diminished the distance between them,
Ralph Nickleby sat that morning occupied in his customary
avocations, and yet unable to prevent his thoughts wandering from
time to time back to the interview which had taken place between
himself and his niece on the previous day. At such intervals, after
a few moments of abstraction, Ralph would mutter some peevish
interjection, and apply himself with renewed steadiness of purpose
to the ledger before him, but again and again the same train of
thought came back despite all his efforts to prevent it, confusing
him in his calculations, and utterly distracting his attention from
the figures over which he bent. At length Ralph laid down his pen,
and threw himself back in his chair as though he had made up his
mind to allow the obtrusive current of reflection to take its own
course, and, by giving it full scope, to rid himself of it effectually.
'I am not a man to be moved by a pretty face,' muttered Ralph
sternly. 'There is a grinning skull beneath it, and men like me who
look and work below the surface see that, and not its delicate
covering. And yet I almost like the girl, or should if she had been
less proudly and squeamishly brought up. If the boy were drowned or
hanged, and the mother dead, this house should be her home. I wish
they were, with all my soul.'
Notwithstanding the deadly hatred which Ralph felt towards Nicholas,
and the bitter contempt with which he sneered at poor Mrs Nickleby--
notwithstanding the baseness with which he had behaved, and was then
behaving, and would behave again if his interest prompted him,
towards Kate herself--still there was, strange though it may seem,
something humanising and even gentle in his thoughts at that moment.
He thought of what his home might be if Kate were there; he placed
her in the empty chair, looked upon her, heard her speak; he felt
again upon his arm the gentle pressure of the trembling hand; he
strewed his costly rooms with the hundred silent tokens of feminine
presence and occupation; he came back again to the cold fireside and
the silent dreary splendour; and in that one glimpse of a better
nature, born as it was in selfish thoughts, the rich man felt
himself friendless, childless, and alone. Gold, for the instant,
lost its lustre in his eyes, for there were countless treasures of
the heart which it could never purchase.
A very slight circumstance was sufficient to banish such reflections
from the mind of such a man. As Ralph looked vacantly out across
the yard towards the window of the other office, he became suddenly
aware of the earnest observation of Newman Noggs, who, with his red
nose almost touching the glass, feigned to be mending a pen with a
rusty fragment of a knife, but was in reality staring at his
employer with a countenance of the closest and most eager scrutiny.
Ralph exchanged his dreamy posture for his accustomed business
attitude: the face of Newman disappeared, and the train of thought
took to flight, all simultaneously, and in an instant.
After a few minutes, Ralph rang his bell. Newman answered the
summons, and Ralph raised his eyes stealthily to his face, as if he
almost feared to read there, a knowledge of his recent thoughts.
There was not the smallest speculation, however, in the countenance
of Newman Noggs. If it be possible to imagine a man, with two eyes
in his head, and both wide open, looking in no direction whatever,
and seeing nothing, Newman appeared to be that man while Ralph
Nickleby regarded him.
'How now?' growled Ralph.
'Oh!' said Newman, throwing some intelligence into his eyes all at
once, and dropping them on his master, 'I thought you rang.' With
which laconic remark Newman turned round and hobbled away.
'Stop!' said Ralph.
Newman stopped; not at all disconcerted.
'I did ring.'
'I knew you did.'
'Then why do you offer to go if you know that?'
'I thought you rang to say you didn't ring" replied Newman. 'You
'How dare you pry, and peer, and stare at me, sirrah?' demanded
'Stare!' cried Newman, 'at YOU! Ha, ha!' which was all the
explanation Newman deigned to offer.
'Be careful, sir,' said Ralph, looking steadily at him. 'Let me
have no drunken fooling here. Do you see this parcel?'
'It's big enough,' rejoined Newman.
'Carry it into the city; to Cross, in Broad Street, and leave it
there--quick. Do you hear?'
Newman gave a dogged kind of nod to express an affirmative reply,
and, leaving the room for a few seconds, returned with his hat.
Having made various ineffective attempts to fit the parcel (which
was some two feet square) into the crown thereof, Newman took it
under his arm, and after putting on his fingerless gloves with great
precision and nicety, keeping his eyes fixed upon Mr Ralph Nickleby
all the time, he adjusted his hat upon his head with as much care,
real or pretended, as if it were a bran-new one of the most
expensive quality, and at last departed on his errand.
He executed his commission with great promptitude and dispatch, only
calling at one public-house for half a minute, and even that might
be said to be in his way, for he went in at one door and came out at
the other; but as he returned and had got so far homewards as the
Strand, Newman began to loiter with the uncertain air of a man who
has not quite made up his mind whether to halt or go straight
forwards. After a very short consideration, the former inclination
prevailed, and making towards the point he had had in his mind,
Newman knocked a modest double knock, or rather a nervous single
one, at Miss La Creevy's door.
It was opened by a strange servant, on whom the odd figure of the
visitor did not appear to make the most favourable impression
possible, inasmuch as she no sooner saw him than she very nearly
closed it, and placing herself in the narrow gap, inquired what he
wanted. But Newman merely uttering the monosyllable 'Noggs,' as if
it were some cabalistic word, at sound of which bolts would fly back
and doors open, pushed briskly past and gained the door of Miss La
Creevy's sitting-room, before the astonished servant could offer any
'Walk in if you please,' said Miss La Creevy in reply to the sound
of Newman's knuckles; and in he walked accordingly.
'Bless us!' cried Miss La Creevy, starting as Newman bolted in;
'what did you want, sir?'
'You have forgotten me,' said Newman, with an inclination of the
head. 'I wonder at that. That nobody should remember me who knew
me in other days, is natural enough; but there are few people who,
seeing me once, forget me NOW.' He glanced, as he spoke, at his
shabby clothes and paralytic limb, and slightly shook his head.
'I did forget you, I declare,' said Miss La Creevy, rising to
receive Newman, who met her half-way, 'and I am ashamed of myself
for doing so; for you are a kind, good creature, Mr Noggs. Sit down
and tell me all about Miss Nickleby. Poor dear thing! I haven't
seen her for this many a week.'
'How's that?' asked Newman.
'Why, the truth is, Mr Noggs,' said Miss La Creevy, 'that I have
been out on a visit--the first visit I have made for fifteen years.'
'That is a long time,' said Newman, sadly.
'So it is a very long time to look back upon in years, though,
somehow or other, thank Heaven, the solitary days roll away
peacefully and happily enough,' replied the miniature painter. 'I
have a brother, Mr Noggs--the only relation I have--and all that
time I never saw him once. Not that we ever quarrelled, but he was
apprenticed down in the country, and he got married there; and new
ties and affections springing up about him, he forgot a poor little
woman like me, as it was very reasonable he should, you know. Don't
suppose that I complain about that, because I always said to myself,
"It is very natural; poor dear John is making his way in the world,
and has a wife to tell his cares and troubles to, and children now
to play about him, so God bless him and them, and send we may all
meet together one day where we shall part no more." But what do you
think, Mr Noggs,' said the miniature painter, brightening up and
clapping her hands, 'of that very same brother coming up to London
at last, and never resting till he found me out; what do you think
of his coming here and sitting down in that very chair, and crying
like a child because he was so glad to see me--what do you think of
his insisting on taking me down all the way into the country to his
own house (quite a sumptuous place, Mr Noggs, with a large garden
and I don't know how many fields, and a man in livery waiting at
table, and cows and horses and pigs and I don't know what besides),
and making me stay a whole month, and pressing me to stop there all
my life--yes, all my life--and so did his wife, and so did the
children--and there were four of them, and one, the eldest girl of
all, they--they had named her after me eight good years before, they
had indeed. I never was so happy; in all my life I never was!' The
worthy soul hid her face in her handkerchief, and sobbed aloud; for
it was the first opportunity she had had of unburdening her heart,
and it would have its way.
'But bless my life,' said Miss La Creevy, wiping her eyes after a
short pause, and cramming her handkerchief into her pocket with
great bustle and dispatch; 'what a foolish creature I must seem to
you, Mr Noggs! I shouldn't have said anything about it, only I
wanted to explain to you how it was I hadn't seen Miss Nickleby.'
'Have you seen the old lady?' asked Newman.
'You mean Mrs Nickleby?' said Miss La Creevy. 'Then I tell you
what, Mr Noggs, if you want to keep in the good books in that
quarter, you had better not call her the old lady any more, for I
suspect she wouldn't be best pleased to hear you. Yes, I went there
the night before last, but she was quite on the high ropes about
something, and was so grand and mysterious, that I couldn't make
anything of her: so, to tell you the truth, I took it into my head
to be grand too, and came away in state. I thought she would have
come round again before this, but she hasn't been here.'
'About Miss Nickleby--' said Newman.
'Why, she was here twice while I was away,' returned Miss La Creevy.
'I was afraid she mightn't like to have me calling on her among
those great folks in what's-its-name Place, so I thought I'd wait a
day or two, and if I didn't see her, write.'
'Ah!' exclaimed Newman, cracking his fingers.
'However, I want to hear all the news about them from you,' said
Miss La Creevy. 'How is the old rough and tough monster of Golden
Square? Well, of course; such people always are. I don't mean how
is he in health, but how is he going on: how is he behaving
'Damn him!' cried Newman, dashing his cherished hat on the floor;
'like a false hound.'
'Gracious, Mr Noggs, you quite terrify me!' exclaimed Miss La
Creevy, turning pale.
'I should have spoilt his features yesterday afternoon if I could
have afforded it,' said Newman, moving restlessly about, and shaking
his fist at a portrait of Mr Canning over the mantelpiece. 'I was
very near it. I was obliged to put my hands in my pockets, and keep
'em there very tight. I shall do it some day in that little back-
parlour, I know I shall. I should have done it before now, if I
hadn't been afraid of making bad worse. I shall double-lock myself
in with him and have it out before I die, I'm quite certain of it.'
'I shall scream if you don't compose yourself, Mr Noggs,' said Miss
La Creevy; 'I'm sure I shan't be able to help it.'
'Never mind,' rejoined Newman, darting violently to and fro. 'He's
coming up tonight: I wrote to tell him. He little thinks I know; he
little thinks I care. Cunning scoundrel! he don't think that. Not
he, not he. Never mind, I'll thwart him--I, Newman Noggs. Ho, ho,
Lashing himself up to an extravagant pitch of fury, Newman Noggs
jerked himself about the room with the most eccentric motion ever
beheld in a human being: now sparring at the little miniatures on
the wall, and now giving himself violent thumps on the head, as if
to heighten the delusion, until he sank down in his former seat
quite breathless and exhausted.
'There,' said Newman, picking up his hat; 'that's done me good. Now
I'm better, and I'll tell you all about it.'
It took some little time to reassure Miss La Creevy, who had been
almost frightened out of her senses by this remarkable
demonstration; but that done, Newman faithfully related all that had
passed in the interview between Kate and her uncle, prefacing his
narrative with a statement of his previous suspicions on the
subject, and his reasons for forming them; and concluding with a
communication of the step he had taken in secretly writing to
Though little Miss La Creevy's indignation was not so singularly
displayed as Newman's, it was scarcely inferior in violence and
intensity. Indeed, if Ralph Nickleby had happened to make his
appearance in the room at that moment, there is some doubt whether
he would not have found Miss La Creevy a more dangerous opponent
than even Newman Noggs himself.
'God forgive me for saying so,' said Miss La Creevy, as a wind-up to
all her expressions of anger, 'but I really feel as if I could stick
this into him with pleasure.'
It was not a very awful weapon that Miss La Creevy held, it being in
fact nothing more nor less than a black-lead pencil; but discovering
her mistake, the little portrait painter exchanged it for a mother-
of-pearl fruit knife, wherewith, in proof of her desperate thoughts,
she made a lunge as she spoke, which would have scarcely disturbed
the crumb of a half-quartern loaf.
'She won't stop where she is after tonight,' said Newman. 'That's a
'Stop!' cried Miss La Creevy, 'she should have left there, weeks
'--If we had known of this,' rejoined Newman. 'But we didn't.
Nobody could properly interfere but her mother or brother. The
mother's weak--poor thing--weak. The dear young man will be here
'Heart alive!' cried Miss La Creevy. 'He will do something
desperate, Mr Noggs, if you tell him all at once.'
Newman left off rubbing his hands, and assumed a thoughtful look.
'Depend upon it,' said Miss La Creevy, earnestly, 'if you are not
very careful in breaking out the truth to him, he will do some
violence upon his uncle or one of these men that will bring some
terrible calamity upon his own head, and grief and sorrow to us
'I never thought of that,' rejoined Newman, his countenance falling
more and more. 'I came to ask you to receive his sister in case he
brought her here, but--'
'But this is a matter of much greater importance,' interrupted Miss
La Creevy; 'that you might have been sure of before you came, but
the end of this, nobody can foresee, unless you are very guarded and
'What CAN I do?' cried Newman, scratching his head with an air of
great vexation and perplexity. 'If he was to talk of pistoling 'em
all, I should be obliged to say, "Certainly--serve 'em right."'
Miss La Creevy could not suppress a small shriek on hearing this,
and instantly set about extorting a solemn pledge from Newman that
he would use his utmost endeavours to pacify the wrath of Nicholas;
which, after some demur, was conceded. They then consulted together
on the safest and surest mode of communicating to him the
circumstances which had rendered his presence necessary.
'He must have time to cool before he can possibly do anything,' said
Miss La Creevy. 'That is of the greatest consequence. He must not
be told until late at night.'
'But he'll be in town between six and seven this evening,' replied
Newman. 'I can't keep it from him when he asks me.'
'Then you must go out, Mr Noggs,' said Miss La Creevy. 'You can
easily have been kept away by business, and must not return till
'Then he will come straight here,' retorted Newman.
'So I suppose,' observed Miss La Creevy; 'but he won't find me at
home, for I'll go straight to the city the instant you leave me,
make up matters with Mrs Nickleby, and take her away to the theatre,
so that he may not even know where his sister lives.'
Upon further discussion, this appeared the safest and most feasible
mode of proceeding that could possibly be adopted. Therefore it was
finally determined that matters should be so arranged, and Newman,
after listening to many supplementary cautions and entreaties, took
his leave of Miss La Creevy and trudged back to Golden Square;
ruminating as he went upon a vast number of possibilities and
impossibilities which crowded upon his brain, and arose out of the
conversation that had just terminated.
Relating chiefly to some remarkable Conversation, and some
remarkable Proceedings to which it gives rise
'London at last!' cried Nicholas, throwing back his greatcoat and
rousing Smike from a long nap. 'It seemed to me as though we should
never reach it.'
'And yet you came along at a tidy pace too,' observed the coachman,
looking over his shoulder at Nicholas with no very pleasant
expression of countenance.
'Ay, I know that,' was the reply; 'but I have been very anxious to
be at my journey's end, and that makes the way seem long.'
'Well,' remarked the coachman, 'if the way seemed long with such
cattle as you've sat behind, you MUST have been most uncommon
anxious;' and so saying, he let out his whip-lash and touched up a
little boy on the calves of his legs by way of emphasis.
They rattled on through the noisy, bustling, crowded street of
London, now displaying long double rows of brightly-burning lamps,
dotted here and there with the chemists' glaring lights, and
illuminated besides with the brilliant flood that streamed from the
windows of the shops, where sparkling jewellery, silks and velvets
of the richest colours, the most inviting delicacies, and most
sumptuous articles of luxurious ornament, succeeded each other in
rich and glittering profusion. Streams of people apparently without
end poured on and on, jostling each other in the crowd and hurrying
forward, scarcely seeming to notice the riches that surrounded them
on every side; while vehicles of all shapes and makes, mingled up
together in one moving mass, like running water, lent their
ceaseless roar to swell the noise and tumult.
As they dashed by the quickly-changing and ever-varying objects, it
was curious to observe in what a strange procession they passed
before the eye. Emporiums of splendid dresses, the materials
brought from every quarter of the world; tempting stores of
everything to stimulate and pamper the sated appetite and give new
relish to the oft-repeated feast; vessels of burnished gold and
silver, wrought into every exquisite form of vase, and dish, and
goblet; guns, swords, pistols, and patent engines of destruction;
screws and irons for the crooked, clothes for the newly-born, drugs
for the sick, coffins for the dead, and churchyards for the buried--
all these jumbled each with the other and flocking side by side,
seemed to flit by in motley dance like the fantastic groups of the
old Dutch painter, and with the same stern moral for the unheeding
Nor were there wanting objects in the crowd itself to give new point
and purpose to the shifting scene. The rags of the squalid ballad-
singer fluttered in the rich light that showed the goldsmith's
treasures, pale and pinched-up faces hovered about the windows where
was tempting food, hungry eyes wandered over the profusion guarded
by one thin sheet of brittle glass--an iron wall to them; half-naked
shivering figures stopped to gaze at Chinese shawls and golden
stuffs of India. There was a christening party at the largest
coffin-maker's and a funeral hatchment had stopped some great
improvements in the bravest mansion. Life and death went hand in
hand; wealth and poverty stood side by side; repletion and
starvation laid them down together.
But it was London; and the old country lady inside, who had put her
head out of the coach-window a mile or two this side Kingston, and
cried out to the driver that she was sure he must have passed it and
forgotten to set her down, was satisfied at last.
Nicholas engaged beds for himself and Smike at the inn where the
coach stopped, and repaired, without the delay of another moment, to
the lodgings of Newman Noggs; for his anxiety and impatience had
increased with every succeeding minute, and were almost beyond
There was a fire in Newman's garret; and a candle had been left
burning; the floor was cleanly swept, the room was as comfortably
arranged as such a room could be, and meat and drink were placed in
order upon the table. Everything bespoke the affectionate care and
attention of Newman Noggs, but Newman himself was not there.
'Do you know what time he will be home?' inquired Nicholas, tapping
at the door of Newman's front neighbour.
'Ah, Mr Johnson!' said Crowl, presenting himself. 'Welcome, sir.
How well you're looking! I never could have believed--'
'Pardon me,' interposed Nicholas. 'My question--I am extremely
anxious to know.'
'Why, he has a troublesome affair of business,' replied Crowl, 'and
will not be home before twelve o'clock. He was very unwilling to
go, I can tell you, but there was no help for it. However, he left
word that you were to make yourself comfortable till he came back,
and that I was to entertain you, which I shall be very glad to do.'
In proof of his extreme readiness to exert himself for the general
entertainment, Mr Crowl drew a chair to the table as he spoke, and
helping himself plentifully to the cold meat, invited Nicholas and
Smike to follow his example.
Disappointed and uneasy, Nicholas could touch no food, so, after he
had seen Smike comfortably established at the table, he walked out
(despite a great many dissuasions uttered by Mr Crowl with his mouth
full), and left Smike to detain Newman in case he returned first.
As Miss La Creevy had anticipated, Nicholas betook himself straight
to her house. Finding her from home, he debated within himself for
some time whether he should go to his mother's residence, and so
compromise her with Ralph Nickleby. Fully persuaded, however, that
Newman would not have solicited him to return unless there was some
strong reason which required his presence at home, he resolved to go
there, and hastened eastwards with all speed.
Mrs Nickleby would not be at home, the girl said, until past twelve,
or later. She believed Miss Nickleby was well, but she didn't live
at home now, nor did she come home except very seldom. She couldn't
say where she was stopping, but it was not at Madame Mantalini's.
She was sure of that.
With his heart beating violently, and apprehending he knew not what
disaster, Nicholas returned to where he had left Smike. Newman had
not been home. He wouldn't be, till twelve o'clock; there was no
chance of it. Was there no possibility of sending to fetch him if
it were only for an instant, or forwarding to him one line of
writing to which he might return a verbal reply? That was quite
impracticable. He was not at Golden Square, and probably had been
sent to execute some commission at a distance.
Nicholas tried to remain quietly where he was, but he felt so
nervous and excited that he could not sit still. He seemed to be
losing time unless he was moving. It was an absurd fancy, he knew,
but he was wholly unable to resist it. So, he took up his hat and
rambled out again.
He strolled westward this time, pacing the long streets with hurried
footsteps, and agitated by a thousand misgivings and apprehensions
which he could not overcome. He passed into Hyde Park, now silent
and deserted, and increased his rate of walking as if in the hope of
leaving his thoughts behind. They crowded upon him more thickly,
however, now there were no passing objects to attract his attention;
and the one idea was always uppermost, that some stroke of ill-
fortune must have occurred so calamitous in its nature that all were
fearful of disclosing it to him. The old question arose again and
again--What could it be? Nicholas walked till he was weary, but was
not one bit the wiser; and indeed he came out of the Park at last a
great deal more confused and perplexed than when he went in.
He had taken scarcely anything to eat or drink since early in the
morning, and felt quite worn out and exhausted. As he returned
languidly towards the point from which he had started, along one of
the thoroughfares which lie between Park Lane and Bond Street, he
passed a handsome hotel, before which he stopped mechanically.
'An expensive place, I dare say,' thought Nicholas; 'but a pint of
wine and a biscuit are no great debauch wherever they are had. And
yet I don't know.'
He walked on a few steps, but looking wistfully down the long vista
of gas-lamps before him, and thinking how long it would take to
reach the end of it and being besides in that kind of mood in which
a man is most disposed to yield to his first impulse--and being,
besides, strongly attracted to the hotel, in part by curiosity, and
in part by some odd mixture of feelings which he would have been
troubled to define--Nicholas turned back again, and walked into the
It was very handsomely furnished. The walls were ornamented with
the choicest specimens of French paper, enriched with a gilded
cornice of elegant design. The floor was covered with a rich
carpet; and two superb mirrors, one above the chimneypiece and one
at the opposite end of the room reaching from floor to ceiling,
multiplied the other beauties and added new ones of their own to
enhance the general effect. There was a rather noisy party of four
gentlemen in a box by the fire-place, and only two other persons
present--both elderly gentlemen, and both alone.
Observing all this in the first comprehensive glance with which a
stranger surveys a place that is new to him, Nicholas sat himself
down in the box next to the noisy party, with his back towards them,
and postponing his order for a pint of claret until such time as the
waiter and one of the elderly gentlemen should have settled a
disputed question relative to the price of an item in the bill of
fare, took up a newspaper and began to read.
He had not read twenty lines, and was in truth himself dozing, when
he was startled by the mention of his sister's name. 'Little Kate
Nickleby' were the words that caught his ear. He raised his head in
amazement, and as he did so, saw by the reflection in the opposite
glass, that two of the party behind him had risen and were standing
before the fire. 'It must have come from one of them,' thought
Nicholas. He waited to hear more with a countenance of some
indignation, for the tone of speech had been anything but
respectful, and the appearance of the individual whom he presumed to
have been the speaker was coarse and swaggering.
This person--so Nicholas observed in the same glance at the mirror
which had enabled him to see his face--was standing with his back to
the fire conversing with a younger man, who stood with his back to
the company, wore his hat, and was adjusting his shirt-collar by the
aid of the glass. They spoke in whispers, now and then bursting
into a loud laugh, but Nicholas could catch no repetition of the
words, nor anything sounding at all like the words, which had
attracted his attention.
At length the two resumed their seats, and more wine being ordered,
the party grew louder in their mirth. Still there was no reference
made to anybody with whom he was acquainted, and Nicholas became
persuaded that his excited fancy had either imagined the sounds
altogether, or converted some other words into the name which had
been so much in his thoughts.
'It is remarkable too,' thought Nicholas: 'if it had been "Kate" or
"Kate Nickleby," I should not have been so much surprised: but
"little Kate Nickleby!"'
The wine coming at the moment prevented his finishing the sentence.
He swallowed a glassful and took up the paper again. At that
'Little Kate Nickleby!' cried the voice behind him.
'I was right,' muttered Nicholas as the paper fell from his hand.
'And it was the man I supposed.'
'As there was a proper objection to drinking her in heel-taps,' said
the voice, 'we'll give her the first glass in the new magnum.
Little Kate Nickleby!'
'Little Kate Nickleby,' cried the other three. And the glasses were
set down empty.
Keenly alive to the tone and manner of this slight and careless
mention of his sister's name in a public place, Nicholas fired at
once; but he kept himself quiet by a great effort, and did not even
turn his head.
'The jade!' said the same voice which had spoken before. 'She's a
true Nickleby--a worthy imitator of her old uncle Ralph--she hangs
back to be more sought after--so does he; nothing to be got out of
Ralph unless you follow him up, and then the money comes doubly
welcome, and the bargain doubly hard, for you're impatient and he
isn't. Oh! infernal cunning.'
'Infernal cunning,' echoed two voices.
Nicholas was in a perfect agony as the two elderly gentlemen
opposite, rose one after the other and went away, lest they should
be the means of his losing one word of what was said. But the
conversation was suspended as they withdrew, and resumed with even
greater freedom when they had left the room.
'I am afraid,' said the younger gentleman, 'that the old woman has
grown jea-a-lous, and locked her up. Upon my soul it looks like
'If they quarrel and little Nickleby goes home to her mother, so
much the better,' said the first. 'I can do anything with the old
lady. She'll believe anything I tell her.'
'Egad that's true,' returned the other voice. 'Ha, ha, ha! Poor
The laugh was taken up by the two voices which always came in
together, and became general at Mrs Nickleby's expense. Nicholas
turned burning hot with rage, but he commanded himself for the
moment, and waited to hear more.
What he heard need not be repeated here. Suffice it that as the
wine went round he heard enough to acquaint him with the characters
and designs of those whose conversation he overhead; to possess him
with the full extent of Ralph's villainy, and the real reason of his
own presence being required in London. He heard all this and more.
He heard his sister's sufferings derided, and her virtuous conduct
jeered at and brutally misconstrued; he heard her name bandied from
mouth to mouth, and herself made the subject of coarse and insolent
wagers, free speech, and licentious jesting.
The man who had spoken first, led the conversation, and indeed
almost engrossed it, being only stimulated from time to time by some
slight observation from one or other of his companions. To him then
Nicholas addressed himself when he was sufficiently composed to
stand before the party, and force the words from his parched and
'Let me have a word with you, sir,' said Nicholas.
'With me, sir?' retorted Sir Mulberry Hawk, eyeing him in disdainful
'I said with you,' replied Nicholas, speaking with great difficulty,
for his passion choked him.
'A mysterious stranger, upon my soul!' exclaimed Sir Mulberry,
raising his wine-glass to his lips, and looking round upon his
'Will you step apart with me for a few minutes, or do you refuse?'
said Nicholas sternly.
Sir Mulberry merely paused in the act of drinking, and bade him
either name his business or leave the table.
Nicholas drew a card from his pocket, and threw it before him.
'There, sir,' said Nicholas; 'my business you will guess.'
A momentary expression of astonishment, not unmixed with some
confusion, appeared in the face of Sir Mulberry as he read the name;
but he subdued it in an instant, and tossing the card to Lord
Verisopht, who sat opposite, drew a toothpick from a glass before
him, and very leisurely applied it to his mouth.
'Your name and address?' said Nicholas, turning paler as his passion
'I shall give you neither,' replied Sir Mulberry.
'If there is a gentleman in this party,' said Nicholas, looking
round and scarcely able to make his white lips form the words, 'he
will acquaint me with the name and residence of this man.'
There was a dead silence.
'I am the brother of the young lady who has been the subject of
conversation here,' said Nicholas. 'I denounce this person as a
liar, and impeach him as a coward. If he has a friend here, he will
save him the disgrace of the paltry attempt to conceal his name--and
utterly useless one--for I will find it out, nor leave him until I
Sir Mulberry looked at him contemptuously, and, addressing his
'Let the fellow talk, I have nothing serious to say to boys of his
station; and his pretty sister shall save him a broken head, if he
talks till midnight.'
'You are a base and spiritless scoundrel!' said Nicholas, 'and shall
be proclaimed so to the world. I WILL know you; I will follow you
home if you walk the streets till morning.'
Sir Mulberry's hand involuntarily closed upon the decanter, and he
seemed for an instant about to launch it at the head of his
challenger. But he only filled his glass, and laughed in derision.
Nicholas sat himself down, directly opposite to the party, and,
summoning the waiter, paid his bill.
'Do you know that person's name?' he inquired of the man in an
audible voice; pointing out Sir Mulberry as he put the question.
Sir Mulberry laughed again, and the two voices which had always
spoken together, echoed the laugh; but rather feebly.
'That gentleman, sir?' replied the waiter, who, no doubt, knew his
cue, and answered with just as little respect, and just as much
impertinence as he could safely show: 'no, sir, I do not, sir.'
'Here, you sir,' cried Sir Mulberry, as the man was retiring; 'do
you know THAT person's name?'
'Name, sir? No, sir.'
'Then you'll find it there,' said Sir Mulberry, throwing Nicholas's
card towards him; 'and when you have made yourself master of it, put
that piece of pasteboard in the fire--do you hear me?'
The man grinned, and, looking doubtfully at Nicholas, compromised
the matter by sticking the card in the chimney-glass. Having done
this, he retired.
Nicholas folded his arms, and biting his lip, sat perfectly quiet;
sufficiently expressing by his manner, however, a firm determination
to carry his threat of following Sir Mulberry home, into steady
It was evident from the tone in which the younger member of the
party appeared to remonstrate with his friend, that he objected to
this course of proceeding, and urged him to comply with the request
which Nicholas had made. Sir Mulberry, however, who was not quite
sober, and who was in a sullen and dogged state of obstinacy, soon
silenced the representations of his weak young friend, and further
seemed--as if to save himself from a repetition of them--to insist
on being left alone. However this might have been, the young
gentleman and the two who had always spoken together, actually rose
to go after a short interval, and presently retired, leaving their
friend alone with Nicholas.
It will be very readily supposed that to one in the condition of
Nicholas, the minutes appeared to move with leaden wings indeed, and
that their progress did not seem the more rapid from the monotonous
ticking of a French clock, or the shrill sound of its little bell
which told the quarters. But there he sat; and in his old seat on
the opposite side of the room reclined Sir Mulberry Hawk, with his
legs upon the cushion, and his handkerchief thrown negligently over
his knees: finishing his magnum of claret with the utmost coolness
Thus they remained in perfect silence for upwards of an hour--
Nicholas would have thought for three hours at least, but that the
little bell had only gone four times. Twice or thrice he looked
angrily and impatiently round; but there was Sir Mulberry in the
same attitude, putting his glass to his lips from time to time, and
looking vacantly at the wall, as if he were wholly ignorant of the
presence of any living person.
At length he yawned, stretched himself, and rose; walked coolly to
the glass, and having surveyed himself therein, turned round and
honoured Nicholas with a long and contemptuous stare. Nicholas
stared again with right good-will; Sir Mulberry shrugged his
shoulders, smiled slightly, rang the bell, and ordered the waiter to
help him on with his greatcoat.
The man did so, and held the door open.
'Don't wait,' said Sir Mulberry; and they were alone again.
Sir Mulberry took several turns up and down the room, whistling
carelessly all the time; stopped to finish the last glass of claret
which he had poured out a few minutes before, walked again, put on
his hat, adjusted it by the glass, drew on his gloves, and, at last,
walked slowly out. Nicholas, who had been fuming and chafing until
he was nearly wild, darted from his seat, and followed him: so
closely, that before the door had swung upon its hinges after Sir
Mulberry's passing out, they stood side by side in the street
There was a private cabriolet in waiting; the groom opened the
apron, and jumped out to the horse's head.
'Will you make yourself known to me?' asked Nicholas in a suppressed
'No,' replied the other fiercely, and confirming the refusal with an
'If you trust to your horse's speed, you will find yourself
mistaken,' said Nicholas. 'I will accompany you. By Heaven I will,
if I hang on to the foot-board.'
'You shall be horsewhipped if you do,' returned Sir Mulberry.
'You are a villain,' said Nicholas.
'You are an errand-boy for aught I know,' said Sir Mulberry Hawk.
'I am the son of a country gentleman,' returned Nicholas, 'your
equal in birth and education, and your superior I trust in
everything besides. I tell you again, Miss Nickleby is my sister.
Will you or will you not answer for your unmanly and brutal
'To a proper champion--yes. To you--no,' returned Sir Mulberry,
taking the reins in his hand. 'Stand out of the way, dog. William,
let go her head.'
'You had better not,' cried Nicholas, springing on the step as Sir
Mulberry jumped in, and catching at the reins. 'He has no command
over the horse, mind. You shall not go--you shall not, I swear--
till you have told me who you are.'
The groom hesitated, for the mare, who was a high-spirited animal
and thorough-bred, plunged so violently that he could scarcely hold
'Leave go, I tell you!' thundered his master.
The man obeyed. The animal reared and plunged as though it would
dash the carriage into a thousand pieces, but Nicholas, blind to all
sense of danger, and conscious of nothing but his fury, still
maintained his place and his hold upon the reins.
'Will you unclasp your hand?'
'Will you tell me who you are?'
In less time than the quickest tongue could tell it, these words
were exchanged, and Sir Mulberry shortening his whip, applied it
furiously to the head and shoulders of Nicholas. It was broken in
the struggle; Nicholas gained the heavy handle, and with it laid
open one side of his antagonist's face from the eye to the lip. He
saw the gash; knew that the mare had darted off at a wild mad
gallop; a hundred lights danced in his eyes, and he felt himself
flung violently upon the ground.
He was giddy and sick, but staggered to his feet directly, roused by
the loud shouts of the men who were tearing up the street, and
screaming to those ahead to clear the way. He was conscious of a
torrent of people rushing quickly by--looking up, could discern the
cabriolet whirled along the foot-pavement with frightful rapidity--
then heard a loud cry, the smashing of some heavy body, and the
breaking of glass--and then the crowd closed in in the distance, and
he could see or hear no more.
The general attention had been entirely directed from himself to the
person in the carriage, and he was quite alone. Rightly judging
that under such circumstances it would be madness to follow, he
turned down a bye-street in search of the nearest coach-stand,
finding after a minute or two that he was reeling like a drunken
man, and aware for the first time of a stream of blood that was
trickling down his face and breast.
In which Mr Ralph Nickleby is relieved, by a very expeditious
Process, from all Commerce with his Relations
Smike and Newman Noggs, who in his impatience had returned home long
before the time agreed upon, sat before the fire, listening
anxiously to every footstep on the stairs, and the slightest sound
that stirred within the house, for the approach of Nicholas. Time
had worn on, and it was growing late. He had promised to be back in
an hour; and his prolonged absence began to excite considerable
alarm in the minds of both, as was abundantly testified by the blank
looks they cast upon each other at every new disappointment.
At length a coach was heard to stop, and Newman ran out to light
Nicholas up the stairs. Beholding him in the trim described at the
conclusion of the last chapter, he stood aghast in wonder and
'Don't be alarmed,' said Nicholas, hurrying him back into the room.
'There is no harm done, beyond what a basin of water can repair.'
'No harm!' cried Newman, passing his hands hastily over the back and
arms of Nicholas, as if to assure himself that he had broken no
bones. 'What have you been doing?'
'I know all,' interrupted Nicholas; 'I have heard a part, and
guessed the rest. But before I remove one jot of these stains, I
must hear the whole from you. You see I am collected. My
resolution is taken. Now, my good friend, speak out; for the time
for any palliation or concealment is past, and nothing will avail
Ralph Nickleby now.'
'Your dress is torn in several places; you walk lame, and I am sure
you are suffering pain,' said Newman. 'Let me see to your hurts
'I have no hurts to see to, beyond a little soreness and stiffness
that will soon pass off,' said Nicholas, seating himself with some
difficulty. 'But if I had fractured every limb, and still preserved
my senses, you should not bandage one till you had told me what I
have the right to know. Come,' said Nicholas, giving his hand to
Noggs. 'You had a sister of your own, you told me once, who died
before you fell into misfortune. Now think of her, and tell me,
'Yes, I will, I will,' said Noggs. 'I'll tell you the whole truth.'
Newman did so. Nicholas nodded his head from time to time, as it
corroborated the particulars he had already gleaned; but he fixed
his eyes upon the fire, and did not look round once.
His recital ended, Newman insisted upon his young friend's stripping
off his coat and allowing whatever injuries he had received to be
properly tended. Nicholas, after some opposition, at length
consented, and, while some pretty severe bruises on his arms and
shoulders were being rubbed with oil and vinegar, and various other
efficacious remedies which Newman borrowed from the different
lodgers, related in what manner they had been received. The recital
made a strong impression on the warm imagination of Newman; for when
Nicholas came to the violent part of the quarrel, he rubbed so hard,
as to occasion him the most exquisite pain, which he would not have
exhibited, however, for the world, it being perfectly clear that,
for the moment, Newman was operating on Sir Mulberry Hawk, and had
quite lost sight of his real patient.
This martyrdom over, Nicholas arranged with Newman that while he was
otherwise occupied next morning, arrangements should be made for his
mother's immediately quitting her present residence, and also for
dispatching Miss La Creevy to break the intelligence to her. He
then wrapped himself in Smike's greatcoat, and repaired to the inn
where they were to pass the night, and where (after writing a few
lines to Ralph, the delivery of which was to be intrusted to Newman
next day), he endeavoured to obtain the repose of which he stood so
much in need.
Drunken men, they say, may roll down precipices, and be quite
unconscious of any serious personal inconvenience when their reason
returns. The remark may possibly apply to injuries received in
other kinds of violent excitement: certain it is, that although
Nicholas experienced some pain on first awakening next morning, he
sprung out of bed as the clock struck seven, with very little
difficulty, and was soon as much on the alert as if nothing had
Merely looking into Smike's room, and telling him that Newman Noggs
would call for him very shortly, Nicholas descended into the street,
and calling a hackney coach, bade the man drive to Mrs Wititterly's,
according to the direction which Newman had given him on the
It wanted a quarter to eight when they reached Cadogan Place.
Nicholas began to fear that no one might be stirring at that early
hour, when he was relieved by the sight of a female servant,
employed in cleaning the door-steps. By this functionary he was