Part 11 out of 20
referred to the doubtful page, who appeared with dishevelled hair
and a very warm and glossy face, as of a page who had just got out
By this young gentleman he was informed that Miss Nickleby was then
taking her morning's walk in the gardens before the house. On the
question being propounded whether he could go and find her, the page
desponded and thought not; but being stimulated with a shilling, the
page grew sanguine and thought he could.
'Say to Miss Nickleby that her brother is here, and in great haste
to see her,' said Nicholas.
The plated buttons disappeared with an alacrity most unusual to
them, and Nicholas paced the room in a state of feverish agitation
which made the delay even of a minute insupportable. He soon heard
a light footstep which he well knew, and before he could advance to
meet her, Kate had fallen on his neck and burst into tears.
'My darling girl,' said Nicholas as he embraced her. 'How pale you
'I have been so unhappy here, dear brother,' sobbed poor Kate; 'so
very, very miserable. Do not leave me here, dear Nicholas, or I
shall die of a broken heart.'
'I will leave you nowhere,' answered Nicholas--'never again, Kate,'
he cried, moved in spite of himself as he folded her to his heart.
'Tell me that I acted for the best. Tell me that we parted because
I feared to bring misfortune on your head; that it was a trial to me
no less than to yourself, and that if I did wrong it was in
ignorance of the world and unknowingly.'
'Why should I tell you what we know so well?' returned Kate
soothingly. 'Nicholas--dear Nicholas--how can you give way thus?'
'It is such bitter reproach to me to know what you have undergone,'
returned her brother; 'to see you so much altered, and yet so kind
and patient--God!' cried Nicholas, clenching his fist and suddenly
changing his tone and manner, 'it sets my whole blood on fire again.
You must leave here with me directly; you should not have slept here
last night, but that I knew all this too late. To whom can I speak,
before we drive away?'
This question was most opportunely put, for at that instant Mr
Wititterly walked in, and to him Kate introduced her brother, who at
once announced his purpose, and the impossibility of deferring it.
'The quarter's notice,' said Mr Wititterly, with the gravity of a
man on the right side, 'is not yet half expired. Therefore--'
'Therefore,' interposed Nicholas, 'the quarter's salary must be
lost, sir. You will excuse this extreme haste, but circumstances
require that I should immediately remove my sister, and I have not a
moment's time to lose. Whatever she brought here I will send for,
if you will allow me, in the course of the day.'
Mr Wititterly bowed, but offered no opposition to Kate's immediate
departure; with which, indeed, he was rather gratified than
otherwise, Sir Tumley Snuffim having given it as his opinion, that
she rather disagreed with Mrs Wititterly's constitution.
'With regard to the trifle of salary that is due,' said Mr
Wititterly, 'I will'--here he was interrupted by a violent fit of
coughing--'I will--owe it to Miss Nickleby.'
Mr Wititterly, it should be observed, was accustomed to owe small
accounts, and to leave them owing. All men have some little
pleasant way of their own; and this was Mr Wititterly's.
'If you please,' said Nicholas. And once more offering a hurried
apology for so sudden a departure, he hurried Kate into the vehicle,
and bade the man drive with all speed into the city.
To the city they went accordingly, with all the speed the hackney
coach could make; and as the horses happened to live at Whitechapel
and to be in the habit of taking their breakfast there, when they
breakfasted at all, they performed the journey with greater
expedition than could reasonably have been expected.
Nicholas sent Kate upstairs a few minutes before him, that his
unlooked-for appearance might not alarm his mother, and when the way
had been paved, presented himself with much duty and affection.
Newman had not been idle, for there was a little cart at the door,
and the effects were hurrying out already.
Now, Mrs Nickleby was not the sort of person to be told anything in
a hurry, or rather to comprehend anything of peculiar delicacy or
importance on a short notice. Wherefore, although the good lady had
been subjected to a full hour's preparation by little Miss La
Creevy, and was now addressed in most lucid terms both by Nicholas
and his sister, she was in a state of singular bewilderment and
confusion, and could by no means be made to comprehend the necessity
of such hurried proceedings.
'Why don't you ask your uncle, my dear Nicholas, what he can
possibly mean by it?' said Mrs Nickleby.
'My dear mother,' returned Nicholas, 'the time for talking has gone
by. There is but one step to take, and that is to cast him off with
the scorn and indignation he deserves. Your own honour and good
name demand that, after the discovery of his vile proceedings, you
should not be beholden to him one hour, even for the shelter of
these bare walls.'
'To be sure,' said Mrs Nickleby, crying bitterly, 'he is a brute, a
monster; and the walls are very bare, and want painting too, and I
have had this ceiling whitewashed at the expense of eighteen-pence,
which is a very distressing thing, considering that it is so much
gone into your uncle's pocket. I never could have believed it--
'Nor I, nor anybody else,' said Nicholas.
'Lord bless my life!' exclaimed Mrs Nickleby. 'To think that that
Sir Mulberry Hawk should be such an abandoned wretch as Miss La
Creevy says he is, Nicholas, my dear; when I was congratulating
myself every day on his being an admirer of our dear Kate's, and
thinking what a thing it would be for the family if he was to become
connected with us, and use his interest to get you some profitable
government place. There are very good places to be got about the
court, I know; for a friend of ours (Miss Cropley, at Exeter, my
dear Kate, you recollect), he had one, and I know that it was the
chief part of his duty to wear silk stockings, and a bag wig like a
black watch-pocket; and to think that it should come to this after
all--oh, dear, dear, it's enough to kill one, that it is!' With
which expressions of sorrow, Mrs Nickleby gave fresh vent to her
grief, and wept piteously.
As Nicholas and his sister were by this time compelled to
superintend the removal of the few articles of furniture, Miss La
Creevy devoted herself to the consolation of the matron, and
observed with great kindness of manner that she must really make an
effort, and cheer up.
'Oh I dare say, Miss La Creevy,' returned Mrs Nickleby, with a
petulance not unnatural in her unhappy circumstances, 'it's very
easy to say cheer up, but if you had as many occasions to cheer up
as I have had--and there,' said Mrs Nickleby, stopping short.
'Think of Mr Pyke and Mr Pluck, two of the most perfect gentlemen
that ever lived, what am I too say to them--what can I say to them?
Why, if I was to say to them, "I'm told your friend Sir Mulberry is
a base wretch," they'd laugh at me.'
'They will laugh no more at us, I take it,' said Nicholas,
advancing. 'Come, mother, there is a coach at the door, and until
Monday, at all events, we will return to our old quarters.'
'--Where everything is ready, and a hearty welcome into the
bargain,' added Miss La Creevy. 'Now, let me go with you
But Mrs Nickleby was not to be so easily moved, for first she
insisted on going upstairs to see that nothing had been left, and
then on going downstairs to see that everything had been taken away;
and when she was getting into the coach she had a vision of a
forgotten coffee-pot on the back-kitchen hob, and after she was shut
in, a dismal recollection of a green umbrella behind some unknown
door. At last Nicholas, in a condition of absolute despair, ordered
the coachman to drive away, and in the unexpected jerk of a sudden
starting, Mrs Nickleby lost a shilling among the straw, which
fortunately confined her attention to the coach until it was too
late to remember anything else.
Having seen everything safely out, discharged the servant, and
locked the door, Nicholas jumped into a cabriolet and drove to a bye
place near Golden Square where he had appointed to meet Noggs; and
so quickly had everything been done, that it was barely half-past
nine when he reached the place of meeting.
'Here is the letter for Ralph,' said Nicholas, 'and here the key.
When you come to me this evening, not a word of last night. Ill
news travels fast, and they will know it soon enough. Have you
heard if he was much hurt?'
Newman shook his head.
'I will ascertain that myself without loss of time,' said Nicholas.
'You had better take some rest,' returned Newman. 'You are fevered
Nicholas waved his hand carelessly, and concealing the indisposition
he really felt, now that the excitement which had sustained him was
over, took a hurried farewell of Newman Noggs, and left him.
Newman was not three minutes' walk from Golden Square, but in the
course of that three minutes he took the letter out of his hat and
put it in again twenty times at least. First the front, then the
back, then the sides, then the superscription, then the seal, were
objects of Newman's admiration. Then he held it at arm's length as
if to take in the whole at one delicious survey, and then he rubbed
his hands in a perfect ecstasy with his commission.
He reached the office, hung his hat on its accustomed peg, laid the
letter and key upon the desk, and waited impatiently until Ralph
Nickleby should appear. After a few minutes, the well-known
creaking of his boots was heard on the stairs, and then the bell
'Has the post come in?'
'Any other letters?'
'One.' Newman eyed him closely, and laid it on the desk.
'What's this?' asked Ralph, taking up the key.
'Left with the letter;--a boy brought them--quarter of an hour ago,
Ralph glanced at the direction, opened the letter, and read as
'You are known to me now. There are no reproaches I could heap upon
your head which would carry with them one thousandth part of the
grovelling shame that this assurance will awaken even in your
'Your brother's widow and her orphan child spurn the shelter of your
roof, and shun you with disgust and loathing. Your kindred renounce
you, for they know no shame but the ties of blood which bind them in
name with you.
'You are an old man, and I leave you to the grave. May every
recollection of your life cling to your false heart, and cast their
darkness on your death-bed.'
Ralph Nickleby read this letter twice, and frowning heavily, fell
into a fit of musing; the paper fluttered from his hand and dropped
upon the floor, but he clasped his fingers, as if he held it still.
Suddenly, he started from his seat, and thrusting it all crumpled
into his pocket, turned furiously to Newman Noggs, as though to ask
him why he lingered. But Newman stood unmoved, with his back
towards him, following up, with the worn and blackened stump of an
old pen, some figures in an Interest-table which was pasted against
the wall, and apparently quite abstracted from every other object.
Wherein Mr Ralph Nickleby is visited by Persons with whom the Reader
has been already made acquainted
'What a demnition long time you have kept me ringing at this
confounded old cracked tea-kettle of a bell, every tinkle of which
is enough to throw a strong man into blue convulsions, upon my life
and soul, oh demmit,'--said Mr Mantalini to Newman Noggs, scraping
his boots, as he spoke, on Ralph Nickleby's scraper.
'I didn't hear the bell more than once,' replied Newman.
'Then you are most immensely and outr-i-geously deaf,' said Mr
Mantalini, 'as deaf as a demnition post.'
Mr Mantalini had got by this time into the passage, and was making
his way to the door of Ralph's office with very little ceremony,
when Newman interposed his body; and hinting that Mr Nickleby was
unwilling to be disturbed, inquired whether the client's business
was of a pressing nature.
'It is most demnebly particular,' said Mr Mantalini. 'It is to melt
some scraps of dirty paper into bright, shining, chinking, tinkling,
demd mint sauce.'
Newman uttered a significant grunt, and taking Mr Mantalini's
proffered card, limped with it into his master's office. As he
thrust his head in at the door, he saw that Ralph had resumed the
thoughtful posture into which he had fallen after perusing his
nephew's letter, and that he seemed to have been reading it again,
as he once more held it open in his hand. The glance was but
momentary, for Ralph, being disturbed, turned to demand the cause of
As Newman stated it, the cause himself swaggered into the room, and
grasping Ralph's horny hand with uncommon affection, vowed that he
had never seen him looking so well in all his life.
'There is quite a bloom upon your demd countenance,' said Mr
Mantalini, seating himself unbidden, and arranging his hair and
whiskers. 'You look quite juvenile and jolly, demmit!'
'We are alone,' returned Ralph, tartly. 'What do you want with me?'
'Good!' cried Mr Mantalini, displaying his teeth. 'What did I want!
Yes. Ha, ha! Very good. WHAT did I want. Ha, ha. Oh dem!'
'What DO you want, man?' demanded Ralph, sternly.
'Demnition discount,' returned Mr Mantalini, with a grin, and
shaking his head waggishly.
'Money is scarce,' said Ralph.
'Demd scarce, or I shouldn't want it,' interrupted Mr Mantalini.
'The times are bad, and one scarcely knows whom to trust,' continued
Ralph. 'I don't want to do business just now, in fact I would
rather not; but as you are a friend--how many bills have you there?'
'Two,' returned Mr Mantalini.
'What is the gross amount?'
'And the dates?'
'Two months, and four.'
'I'll do them for you--mind, for YOU; I wouldn't for many people--
for five-and-twenty pounds,' said Ralph, deliberately.
'Oh demmit!' cried Mr Mantalini, whose face lengthened considerably
at this handsome proposal.
'Why, that leaves you fifty,' retorted Ralph. 'What would you have?
Let me see the names.'
'You are so demd hard, Nickleby,' remonstrated Mr Mantalini.
'Let me see the names,' replied Ralph, impatiently extending his
hand for the bills. 'Well! They are not sure, but they are safe
enough. Do you consent to the terms, and will you take the money?
I don't want you to do so. I would rather you didn't.'
'Demmit, Nickleby, can't you--' began Mr Mantalini.
'No,' replied Ralph, interrupting him. 'I can't. Will you take the
money--down, mind; no delay, no going into the city and pretending
to negotiate with some other party who has no existence, and never
had. Is it a bargain, or is it not?'
Ralph pushed some papers from him as he spoke, and carelessly
rattled his cash-box, as though by mere accident. The sound was too
much for Mr Mantalini. He closed the bargain directly it reached
his ears, and Ralph told the money out upon the table.
He had scarcely done so, and Mr Mantalini had not yet gathered it
all up, when a ring was heard at the bell, and immediately
afterwards Newman ushered in no less a person than Madame Mantalini,
at sight of whom Mr Mantalini evinced considerable discomposure, and
swept the cash into his pocket with remarkable alacrity.
'Oh, you ARE here,' said Madame Mantalini, tossing her head.
'Yes, my life and soul, I am,' replied her husband, dropping on his
knees, and pouncing with kitten-like playfulness upon a stray
sovereign. 'I am here, my soul's delight, upon Tom Tiddler's ground,
picking up the demnition gold and silver.'
'I am ashamed of you,' said Madame Mantalini, with much indignation.
'Ashamed--of ME, my joy? It knows it is talking demd charming
sweetness, but naughty fibs,' returned Mr Mantalini. 'It knows it
is not ashamed of its own popolorum tibby.'
Whatever were the circumstances which had led to such a result, it
certainly appeared as though the popolorum tibby had rather
miscalculated, for the nonce, the extent of his lady's affection.
Madame Mantalini only looked scornful in reply; and, turning to
Ralph, begged him to excuse her intrusion.
'Which is entirely attributable,' said Madame, 'to the gross
misconduct and most improper behaviour of Mr Mantalini.'
'Of me, my essential juice of pineapple!'
'Of you,' returned his wife. 'But I will not allow it. I will not
submit to be ruined by the extravagance and profligacy of any man.
I call Mr Nickleby to witness the course I intend to pursue with
'Pray don't call me to witness anything, ma'am,' said Ralph.
'Settle it between yourselves, settle it between yourselves.'
'No, but I must beg you as a favour,' said Madame Mantalini, 'to
hear me give him notice of what it is my fixed intention to do--my
fixed intention, sir,' repeated Madame Mantalini, darting an angry
look at her husband.
'Will she call me "Sir"?' cried Mantalini. 'Me who dote upon her
with the demdest ardour! She, who coils her fascinations round me
like a pure angelic rattlesnake! It will be all up with my
feelings; she will throw me into a demd state.'
'Don't talk of feelings, sir,' rejoined Madame Mantalini, seating
herself, and turning her back upon him. 'You don't consider mine.'
'I do not consider yours, my soul!' exclaimed Mr Mantalini.
'No,' replied his wife.
And notwithstanding various blandishments on the part of Mr
Mantalini, Madame Mantalini still said no, and said it too with such
determined and resolute ill-temper, that Mr Mantalini was clearly
'His extravagance, Mr Nickleby,' said Madame Mantalini, addressing
herself to Ralph, who leant against his easy-chair with his hands
behind him, and regarded the amiable couple with a smile of the
supremest and most unmitigated contempt,--'his extravagance is
beyond all bounds.'
'I should scarcely have supposed it,' answered Ralph, sarcastically.
'I assure you, Mr Nickleby, however, that it is,' returned Madame
Mantalini. 'It makes me miserable! I am under constant
apprehensions, and in constant difficulty. And even this,' said
Madame Mantalini, wiping her eyes, 'is not the worst. He took some
papers of value out of my desk this morning without asking my
Mr Mantalini groaned slightly, and buttoned his trousers pocket.
'I am obliged,' continued Madame Mantalini, 'since our late
misfortunes, to pay Miss Knag a great deal of money for having her
name in the business, and I really cannot afford to encourage him in
all his wastefulness. As I have no doubt that he came straight
here, Mr Nickleby, to convert the papers I have spoken of, into
money, and as you have assisted us very often before, and are very
much connected with us in this kind of matters, I wish you to know
the determination at which his conduct has compelled me to arrive.'
Mr Mantalini groaned once more from behind his wife's bonnet, and
fitting a sovereign into one of his eyes, winked with the other at
Ralph. Having achieved this performance with great dexterity, he
whipped the coin into his pocket, and groaned again with increased
'I have made up my mind,' said Madame Mantalini, as tokens of
impatience manifested themselves in Ralph's countenance, 'to
'To do that, my joy?' inquired Mr Mantalini, who did not seem to
have caught the words.
'To put him,' said Madame Mantalini, looking at Ralph, and prudently
abstaining from the slightest glance at her husband, lest his many
graces should induce her to falter in her resolution, 'to put him
upon a fixed allowance; and I say that if he has a hundred and
twenty pounds a year for his clothes and pocket-money, he may
consider himself a very fortunate man.'
Mr Mantalini waited, with much decorum, to hear the amount of the
proposed stipend, but when it reached his ears, he cast his hat and
cane upon the floor, and drawing out his pocket-handkerchief, gave
vent to his feelings in a dismal moan.
'Demnition!' cried Mr Mantalini, suddenly skipping out of his chair,
and as suddenly skipping into it again, to the great discomposure of
his lady's nerves. 'But no. It is a demd horrid dream. It is not
Comforting himself with this assurance, Mr Mantalini closed his eyes
and waited patiently till such time as he should wake up.
'A very judicious arrangement,' observed Ralph with a sneer, 'if
your husband will keep within it, ma'am--as no doubt he will.'
'Demmit!' exclaimed Mr Mantalini, opening his eyes at the sound of
Ralph's voice, 'it is a horrid reality. She is sitting there before
me. There is the graceful outline of her form; it cannot be
mistaken--there is nothing like it. The two countesses had no
outlines at all, and the dowager's was a demd outline. Why is she
so excruciatingly beautiful that I cannot be angry with her, even
'You have brought it upon yourself, Alfred,' returned Madame
Mantalini--still reproachfully, but in a softened tone.
'I am a demd villain!' cried Mr Mantalini, smiting himself on the
head. 'I will fill my pockets with change for a sovereign in
halfpence and drown myself in the Thames; but I will not be angry
with her, even then, for I will put a note in the twopenny-post as I
go along, to tell her where the body is. She will be a lovely
widow. I shall be a body. Some handsome women will cry; she will
'Alfred, you cruel, cruel creature,' said Madame Mantalini, sobbing
at the dreadful picture.
'She calls me cruel--me--me--who for her sake will become a demd,
damp, moist, unpleasant body!' exclaimed Mr Mantalini.
'You know it almost breaks my heart, even to hear you talk of such a
thing,' replied Madame Mantalini.
'Can I live to be mistrusted?' cried her husband. 'Have I cut my
heart into a demd extraordinary number of little pieces, and given
them all away, one after another, to the same little engrossing
demnition captivater, and can I live to be suspected by her?
Demmit, no I can't.'
'Ask Mr Nickleby whether the sum I have mentioned is not a proper
one,' reasoned Madame Mantalini.
'I don't want any sum,' replied her disconsolate husband; 'I shall
require no demd allowance. I will be a body.'
On this repetition of Mr Mantalini's fatal threat, Madame Mantalini
wrung her hands, and implored the interference of Ralph Nickleby;
and after a great quantity of tears and talking, and several
attempts on the part of Mr Mantalini to reach the door, preparatory
to straightway committing violence upon himself, that gentleman was
prevailed upon, with difficulty, to promise that he wouldn't be a
body. This great point attained, Madame Mantalini argued the
question of the allowance, and Mr Mantalini did the same, taking
occasion to show that he could live with uncommon satisfaction upon
bread and water, and go clad in rags, but that he could not support
existence with the additional burden of being mistrusted by the
object of his most devoted and disinterested affection. This
brought fresh tears into Madame Mantalini's eyes, which having just
begun to open to some few of the demerits of Mr Mantalini, were only
open a very little way, and could be easily closed again. The
result was, that without quite giving up the allowance question,
Madame Mantalini, postponed its further consideration; and Ralph
saw, clearly enough, that Mr Mantalini had gained a fresh lease of
his easy life, and that, for some time longer at all events, his
degradation and downfall were postponed.
'But it will come soon enough,' thought Ralph; 'all love--bah! that
I should use the cant of boys and girls--is fleeting enough; though
that which has its sole root in the admiration of a whiskered face
like that of yonder baboon, perhaps lasts the longest, as it
originates in the greater blindness and is fed by vanity. Meantime
the fools bring grist to my mill, so let them live out their day,
and the longer it is, the better.'
These agreeable reflections occurred to Ralph Nickleby, as sundry
small caresses and endearments, supposed to be unseen, were
exchanged between the objects of his thoughts.
'If you have nothing more to say, my dear, to Mr Nickleby,' said
Madame Mantalini, 'we will take our leaves. I am sure we have
detained him much too long already.'
Mr Mantalini answered, in the first instance, by tapping Madame
Mantalini several times on the nose, and then, by remarking in words
that he had nothing more to say.
'Demmit! I have, though,' he added almost immediately, drawing Ralph
into a corner. 'Here's an affair about your friend Sir Mulberry.
Such a demd extraordinary out-of-the-way kind of thing as never was
'What do you mean?' asked Ralph.
'Don't you know, demmit?' asked Mr Mantalini.
'I see by the paper that he was thrown from his cabriolet last
night, and severely injured, and that his life is in some danger,'
answered Ralph with great composure; 'but I see nothing
extraordinary in that--accidents are not miraculous events, when men
live hard, and drive after dinner.'
'Whew!' cried Mr Mantalini in a long shrill whistle. 'Then don't
you know how it was?'
'Not unless it was as I have just supposed,' replied Ralph,
shrugging his shoulders carelessly, as if to give his questioner to
understand that he had no curiosity upon the subject.
'Demmit, you amaze me,' cried Mantalini.
Ralph shrugged his shoulders again, as if it were no great feat to
amaze Mr Mantalini, and cast a wistful glance at the face of Newman
Noggs, which had several times appeared behind a couple of panes of
glass in the room door; it being a part of Newman's duty, when
unimportant people called, to make various feints of supposing that
the bell had rung for him to show them out: by way of a gentle hint
to such visitors that it was time to go.
'Don't you know,' said Mr Mantalini, taking Ralph by the button,
'that it wasn't an accident at all, but a demd, furious,
manslaughtering attack made upon him by your nephew?'
'What!' snarled Ralph, clenching his fists and turning a livid
'Demmit, Nickleby, you're as great a tiger as he is,' said
Mantalini, alarmed at these demonstrations.
'Go on,' cried Ralph. 'Tell me what you mean. What is this story?
Who told you? Speak,' growled Ralph. 'Do you hear me?'
''Gad, Nickleby,' said Mr Mantalini, retreating towards his wife,
'what a demneble fierce old evil genius you are! You're enough to
frighten the life and soul out of her little delicious wits--flying
all at once into such a blazing, ravaging, raging passion as never
'Pshaw,' rejoined Ralph, forcing a smile. 'It is but manner.'
'It is a demd uncomfortable, private-madhouse-sort of a manner,'
said Mr Mantalini, picking up his cane.
Ralph affected to smile, and once more inquired from whom Mr
Mantalini had derived his information.
'From Pyke; and a demd, fine, pleasant, gentlemanly dog it is,'
replied Mantalini. 'Demnition pleasant, and a tip-top sawyer.'
'And what said he?' asked Ralph, knitting his brows.
'That it happened this way--that your nephew met him at a
coffeehouse, fell upon him with the most demneble ferocity, followed
him to his cab, swore he would ride home with him, if he rode upon
the horse's back or hooked himself on to the horse's tail; smashed
his countenance, which is a demd fine countenance in its natural
state; frightened the horse, pitched out Sir Mulberry and himself,
'And was killed?' interposed Ralph with gleaming eyes. 'Was he? Is
Mantalini shook his head.
'Ugh,' said Ralph, turning away. 'Then he has done nothing. Stay,'
he added, looking round again. 'He broke a leg or an arm, or put
his shoulder out, or fractured his collar-bone, or ground a rib or
two? His neck was saved for the halter, but he got some painful and
slow-healing injury for his trouble? Did he? You must have heard
that, at least.'
'No,' rejoined Mantalini, shaking his head again. 'Unless he was
dashed into such little pieces that they blew away, he wasn't hurt,
for he went off as quiet and comfortable as--as--as demnition,' said
Mr Mantalini, rather at a loss for a simile.
'And what,' said Ralph, hesitating a little, 'what was the cause of
'You are the demdest, knowing hand,' replied Mr Mantalini, in an
admiring tone, 'the cunningest, rummest, superlativest old fox--oh
dem!--to pretend now not to know that it was the little bright-eyed
niece--the softest, sweetest, prettiest--'
'Alfred!' interposed Madame Mantalini.
'She is always right,' rejoined Mr Mantalini soothingly, 'and when
she says it is time to go, it is time, and go she shall; and when
she walks along the streets with her own tulip, the women shall say,
with envy, she has got a demd fine husband; and the men shall say
with rapture, he has got a demd fine wife; and they shall both be
right and neither wrong, upon my life and soul--oh demmit!'
With which remarks, and many more, no less intellectual and to the
purpose, Mr Mantalini kissed the fingers of his gloves to Ralph
Nickleby, and drawing his lady's arm through his, led her mincingly
'So, so,' muttered Ralph, dropping into his chair; 'this devil is
loose again, and thwarting me, as he was born to do, at every turn.
He told me once there should be a day of reckoning between us,
sooner or later. I'll make him a true prophet, for it shall surely
'Are you at home?' asked Newman, suddenly popping in his head.
'No,' replied Ralph, with equal abruptness.
Newman withdrew his head, but thrust it in again.
'You're quite sure you're not at home, are you?' said Newman.
'What does the idiot mean?' cried Ralph, testily.
'He has been waiting nearly ever since they first came in, and may
have heard your voice--that's all,' said Newman, rubbing his hands.
'Who has?' demanded Ralph, wrought by the intelligence he had just
heard, and his clerk's provoking coolness, to an intense pitch of
The necessity of a reply was superseded by the unlooked-for entrance
of a third party--the individual in question--who, bringing his one
eye (for he had but one) to bear on Ralph Nickleby, made a great
many shambling bows, and sat himself down in an armchair, with his
hands on his knees, and his short black trousers drawn up so high in
the legs by the exertion of seating himself, that they scarcely
reached below the tops of his Wellington boots.'
'Why, this IS a surprise!' said Ralph, bending his gaze upon the
visitor, and half smiling as he scrutinised him attentively; 'I
should know your face, Mr Squeers.'
'Ah!' replied that worthy, 'and you'd have know'd it better, sir, if
it hadn't been for all that I've been a-going through. Just lift
that little boy off the tall stool in the back-office, and tell him
to come in here, will you, my man?' said Squeers, addressing himself
to Newman. 'Oh, he's lifted his-self off. My son, sir, little
Wackford. What do you think of him, sir, for a specimen of the
Dotheboys Hall feeding? Ain't he fit to bust out of his clothes,
and start the seams, and make the very buttons fly off with his
fatness? Here's flesh!' cried Squeers, turning the boy about, and
indenting the plumpest parts of his figure with divers pokes and
punches, to the great discomposure of his son and heir. 'Here's
firmness, here's solidness! Why you can hardly get up enough of him
between your finger and thumb to pinch him anywheres.'
In however good condition Master Squeers might have been, he
certainly did not present this remarkable compactness of person, for
on his father's closing his finger and thumb in illustration of his
remark, he uttered a sharp cry, and rubbed the place in the most
natural manner possible.
'Well,' remarked Squeers, a little disconcerted, 'I had him there;
but that's because we breakfasted early this morning, and he hasn't
had his lunch yet. Why you couldn't shut a bit of him in a door,
when he's had his dinner. Look at them tears, sir,' said Squeers,
with a triumphant air, as Master Wackford wiped his eyes with the
cuff of his jacket, 'there's oiliness!'
'He looks well, indeed,' returned Ralph, who, for some purposes of
his own, seemed desirous to conciliate the schoolmaster. 'But how
is Mrs Squeers, and how are you?'
'Mrs Squeers, sir,' replied the proprietor of Dotheboys, 'is as she
always is--a mother to them lads, and a blessing, and a comfort, and
a joy to all them as knows her. One of our boys--gorging his-self
with vittles, and then turning in; that's their way--got a abscess
on him last week. To see how she operated upon him with a pen-knife!
Oh Lor!' said Squeers, heaving a sigh, and nodding his head a great
many times, 'what a member of society that woman is!'
Mr Squeers indulged in a retrospective look, for some quarter of a
minute, as if this allusion to his lady's excellences had naturally
led his mind to the peaceful village of Dotheboys near Greta Bridge
in Yorkshire; and then looked at Ralph, as if waiting for him to say
'Have you quite recovered that scoundrel's attack?' asked Ralph.
'I've only just done it, if I've done it now,' replied Squeers. 'I
was one blessed bruise, sir,' said Squeers, touching first the roots
of his hair, and then the toes of his boots, 'from HERE to THERE.
Vinegar and brown paper, vinegar and brown paper, from morning to
night. I suppose there was a matter of half a ream of brown paper
stuck upon me, from first to last. As I laid all of a heap in our
kitchen, plastered all over, you might have thought I was a large
brown-paper parcel, chock full of nothing but groans. Did I groan
loud, Wackford, or did I groan soft?' asked Mr Squeers, appealing to
'Loud,' replied Wackford.
'Was the boys sorry to see me in such a dreadful condition,
Wackford, or was they glad?' asked Mr Squeers, in a sentimental
'Eh?' cried Squeers, turning sharp round.
'Sorry,' rejoined his son.
'Oh!' said Squeers, catching him a smart box on the ear. 'Then take
your hands out of your pockets, and don't stammer when you're asked
a question. Hold your noise, sir, in a gentleman's office, or I'll
run away from my family and never come back any more; and then what
would become of all them precious and forlorn lads as would be let
loose on the world, without their best friend at their elbers?'
'Were you obliged to have medical attendance?' inquired Ralph.
'Ay, was I,' rejoined Squeers, 'and a precious bill the medical
attendant brought in too; but I paid it though.'
Ralph elevated his eyebrows in a manner which might be expressive of
either sympathy or astonishment--just as the beholder was pleased to
'Yes, I paid it, every farthing,' replied Squeers, who seemed to
know the man he had to deal with, too well to suppose that any
blinking of the question would induce him to subscribe towards the
expenses; 'I wasn't out of pocket by it after all, either.'
'No!' said Ralph.
'Not a halfpenny,' replied Squeers. 'The fact is, we have only one
extra with our boys, and that is for doctors when required--and not
then, unless we're sure of our customers. Do you see?'
'I understand,' said Ralph.
'Very good,' rejoined Squeers. 'Then, after my bill was run up, we
picked out five little boys (sons of small tradesmen, as was sure
pay) that had never had the scarlet fever, and we sent one to a
cottage where they'd got it, and he took it, and then we put the
four others to sleep with him, and THEY took it, and then the doctor
came and attended 'em once all round, and we divided my total among
'em, and added it on to their little bills, and the parents paid it.
Ha! ha! ha!'
'And a good plan too,' said Ralph, eyeing the schoolmaster stealthily.
'I believe you,' rejoined Squeers. 'We always do it. Why, when Mrs
Squeers was brought to bed with little Wackford here, we ran the
hooping-cough through half-a-dozen boys, and charged her expenses
among 'em, monthly nurse included. Ha! ha! ha!'
Ralph never laughed, but on this occasion he produced the nearest
approach to it that he could, and waiting until Mr Squeers had
enjoyed the professional joke to his heart's content, inquired what
had brought him to town.
'Some bothering law business,' replied Squeers, scratching his head,
'connected with an action, for what they call neglect of a boy. I
don't know what they would have. He had as good grazing, that boy
had, as there is about us.'
Ralph looked as if he did not quite understand the observation.
'Grazing,' said Squeers, raising his voice, under the impression
that as Ralph failed to comprehend him, he must be deaf. 'When a
boy gets weak and ill and don't relish his meals, we give him a
change of diet--turn him out, for an hour or so every day, into a
neighbour's turnip field, or sometimes, if it's a delicate case, a
turnip field and a piece of carrots alternately, and let him eat as
many as he likes. There an't better land in the country than this
perwerse lad grazed on, and yet he goes and catches cold and
indigestion and what not, and then his friends brings a lawsuit
against ME! Now, you'd hardly suppose,' added Squeers, moving in
his chair with the impatience of an ill-used man, 'that people's
ingratitude would carry them quite as far as that; would you?'
'A hard case, indeed,' observed Ralph.
'You don't say more than the truth when you say that,' replied
Squeers. 'I don't suppose there's a man going, as possesses the
fondness for youth that I do. There's youth to the amount of eight
hundred pound a year at Dotheboys Hall at this present time. I'd
take sixteen hundred pound worth if I could get 'em, and be as fond
of every individual twenty pound among 'em as nothing should equal
'Are you stopping at your old quarters?' asked Ralph.
'Yes, we are at the Saracen,' replied Squeers, 'and as it don't want
very long to the end of the half-year, we shall continney to stop
there till I've collected the money, and some new boys too, I hope.
I've brought little Wackford up, on purpose to show to parents and
guardians. I shall put him in the advertisement, this time. Look
at that boy--himself a pupil. Why he's a miracle of high feeding,
that boy is!'
'I should like to have a word with you,' said Ralph, who had both
spoken and listened mechanically for some time, and seemed to have
'As many words as you like, sir,' rejoined Squeers. 'Wackford, you
go and play in the back office, and don't move about too much or
you'll get thin, and that won't do. You haven't got such a thing as
twopence, Mr Nickleby, have you?' said Squeers, rattling a bunch of
keys in his coat pocket, and muttering something about its being all
'I--think I have,' said Ralph, very slowly, and producing, after
much rummaging in an old drawer, a penny, a halfpenny, and two
'Thankee,' said Squeers, bestowing it upon his son. 'Here! You go
and buy a tart--Mr Nickleby's man will show you where--and mind you
buy a rich one. Pastry,' added Squeers, closing the door on Master
Wackford, 'makes his flesh shine a good deal, and parents thinks
that a healthy sign.'
With this explanation, and a peculiarly knowing look to eke it out,
Mr Squeers moved his chair so as to bring himself opposite to Ralph
Nickleby at no great distance off; and having planted it to his
entire satisfaction, sat down.
'Attend to me,' said Ralph, bending forward a little.
'I am not to suppose,' said Ralph, 'that you are dolt enough to
forgive or forget, very readily, the violence that was committed
upon you, or the exposure which accompanied it?'
'Devil a bit,' replied Squeers, tartly.
'Or to lose an opportunity of repaying it with interest, if you
could get one?' said Ralph.
'Show me one, and try,' rejoined Squeers.
'Some such object it was, that induced you to call on me?' said
Ralph, raising his eyes to the schoolmaster's face.
'N-n-no, I don't know that,' replied Squeers. 'I thought that if it
was in your power to make me, besides the trifle of money you sent,
'Ah!' cried Ralph, interrupting him. 'You needn't go on.'
After a long pause, during which Ralph appeared absorbed in
contemplation, he again broke silence by asking:
'Who is this boy that he took with him?'
Squeers stated his name.
'Was he young or old, healthy or sickly, tractable or rebellious?
Speak out, man,' retorted Ralph.
'Why, he wasn't young,' answered Squeers; 'that is, not young for a
boy, you know.'
'That is, he was not a boy at all, I suppose?' interrupted Ralph.
'Well,' returned Squeers, briskly, as if he felt relieved by the
suggestion, 'he might have been nigh twenty. He wouldn't seem so
old, though, to them as didn't know him, for he was a little wanting
here,' touching his forehead; 'nobody at home, you know, if you
knocked ever so often.'
'And you DID knock pretty often, I dare say?' muttered Ralph.
'Pretty well,' returned Squeers with a grin.
'When you wrote to acknowledge the receipt of this trifle of money
as you call it,' said Ralph, 'you told me his friends had deserted
him long ago, and that you had not the faintest clue or trace to
tell you who he was. Is that the truth?'
'It is, worse luck!' replied Squeers, becoming more and more easy
and familiar in his manner, as Ralph pursued his inquiries with the
less reserve. 'It's fourteen years ago, by the entry in my book,
since a strange man brought him to my place, one autumn night, and
left him there; paying five pound five, for his first quarter in
advance. He might have been five or six year old at that time--not
'What more do you know about him?' demanded Ralph.
'Devilish little, I'm sorry to say,' replied Squeers. 'The money
was paid for some six or eight year, and then it stopped. He had
given an address in London, had this chap; but when it came to the
point, of course nobody knowed anything about him. So I kept the
lad out of--out of--'
'Charity?' suggested Ralph drily.
'Charity, to be sure,' returned Squeers, rubbing his knees, 'and
when he begins to be useful in a certain sort of way, this young
scoundrel of a Nickleby comes and carries him off. But the most
vexatious and aggeravating part of the whole affair is,' said
Squeers, dropping his voice, and drawing his chair still closer to
Ralph, 'that some questions have been asked about him at last--not
of me, but, in a roundabout kind of way, of people in our village.
So, that just when I might have had all arrears paid up, perhaps,
and perhaps--who knows? such things have happened in our business
before--a present besides for putting him out to a farmer, or
sending him to sea, so that he might never turn up to disgrace his
parents, supposing him to be a natural boy, as many of our boys are
--damme, if that villain of a Nickleby don't collar him in open day,
and commit as good as highway robbery upon my pocket.'
'We will both cry quits with him before long,' said Ralph, laying
his hand on the arm of the Yorkshire schoolmaster.
'Quits!' echoed Squeers. 'Ah! and I should like to leave a small
balance in his favour, to be settled when he can. I only wish Mrs
Squeers could catch hold of him. Bless her heart! She'd murder
him, Mr Nickleby--she would, as soon as eat her dinner.'
'We will talk of this again,' said Ralph. 'I must have time to
think of it. To wound him through his own affections and fancies--.
If I could strike him through this boy--'
'Strike him how you like, sir,' interrupted Squeers, 'only hit him
hard enough, that's all--and with that, I'll say good-morning.
Here!--just chuck that little boy's hat off that corner peg, and
lift him off the stool will you?'
Bawling these requests to Newman Noggs, Mr Squeers betook himself to
the little back-office, and fitted on his child's hat with parental
anxiety, while Newman, with his pen behind his ear, sat, stiff and
immovable, on his stool, regarding the father and son by turns with
a broad stare.
'He's a fine boy, an't he?' said Squeers, throwing his head a little
on one side, and falling back to the desk, the better to estimate
the proportions of little Wackford.
'Very,' said Newman.
'Pretty well swelled out, an't he?' pursued Squeers. 'He has the
fatness of twenty boys, he has.'
'Ah!' replied Newman, suddenly thrusting his face into that of
Squeers, 'he has;--the fatness of twenty!--more! He's got it all.
God help that others. Ha! ha! Oh Lord!'
Having uttered these fragmentary observations, Newman dropped upon
his desk and began to write with most marvellous rapidity.
'Why, what does the man mean?' cried Squeers, colouring. 'Is he
Newman made no reply.
'Is he mad?' said Squeers.
But, still Newman betrayed no consciousness of any presence save his
own; so, Mr Squeers comforted himself by saying that he was both
drunk AND mad; and, with this parting observation, he led his
hopeful son away.
In exact proportion as Ralph Nickleby became conscious of a
struggling and lingering regard for Kate, had his detestation of
Nicholas augmented. It might be, that to atone for the weakness of
inclining to any one person, he held it necessary to hate some other
more intensely than before; but such had been the course of his
feelings. And now, to be defied and spurned, to be held up to her
in the worst and most repulsive colours, to know that she was taught
to hate and despise him: to feel that there was infection in his
touch, and taint in his companionship--to know all this, and to know
that the mover of it all was that same boyish poor relation who had
twitted him in their very first interview, and openly bearded and
braved him since, wrought his quiet and stealthy malignity to such a
pitch, that there was scarcely anything he would not have hazarded
to gratify it, if he could have seen his way to some immediate
But, fortunately for Nicholas, Ralph Nickleby did not; and although
he cast about all that day, and kept a corner of his brain working
on the one anxious subject through all the round of schemes and
business that came with it, night found him at last, still harping
on the same theme, and still pursuing the same unprofitable
'When my brother was such as he,' said Ralph, 'the first comparisons
were drawn between us--always in my disfavour. HE was open,
liberal, gallant, gay; I a crafty hunks of cold and stagnant blood,
with no passion but love of saving, and no spirit beyond a thirst
for gain. I recollected it well when I first saw this whipster; but
I remember it better now.'
He had been occupied in tearing Nicholas's letter into atoms; and as
he spoke, he scattered it in a tiny shower about him.
'Recollections like these,' pursued Ralph, with a bitter smile,
'flock upon me--when I resign myself to them--in crowds, and from
countless quarters. As a portion of the world affect to despise the
power of money, I must try and show them what it is.'
And being, by this time, in a pleasant frame of mind for slumber,
Ralph Nickleby went to bed.
Smike becomes known to Mrs Nickleby and Kate. Nicholas also meets
with new Acquaintances. Brighter Days seem to dawn upon the Family
Having established his mother and sister in the apartments of the
kind-hearted miniature painter, and ascertained that Sir Mulberry
Hawk was in no danger of losing his life, Nicholas turned his
thoughts to poor Smike, who, after breakfasting with Newman Noggs,
had remained, in a disconsolate state, at that worthy creature's
lodgings, waiting, with much anxiety, for further intelligence of
'As he will be one of our own little household, wherever we live, or
whatever fortune is in reserve for us,' thought Nicholas, 'I must
present the poor fellow in due form. They will be kind to him for
his own sake, and if not (on that account solely) to the full extent
I could wish, they will stretch a point, I am sure, for mine.'
Nicholas said 'they', but his misgivings were confined to one
person. He was sure of Kate, but he knew his mother's
peculiarities, and was not quite so certain that Smike would find
favour in the eyes of Mrs Nickleby.
'However,' thought Nicholas as he departed on his benevolent errand;
'she cannot fail to become attached to him, when she knows what a
devoted creature he is, and as she must quickly make the discovery,
his probation will be a short one.'
'I was afraid,' said Smike, overjoyed to see his friend again, 'that
you had fallen into some fresh trouble; the time seemed so long, at
last, that I almost feared you were lost.'
'Lost!' replied Nicholas gaily. 'You will not be rid of me so
easily, I promise you. I shall rise to the surface many thousand
times yet, and the harder the thrust that pushes me down, the more
quickly I shall rebound, Smike. But come; my errand here is to take
'Home!' faltered Smike, drawing timidly back.
'Ay,' rejoined Nicholas, taking his arm. 'Why not?'
'I had such hopes once,' said Smike; 'day and night, day and night,
for many years. I longed for home till I was weary, and pined away
with grief, but now--'
'And what now?' asked Nicholas, looking kindly in his face. 'What
now, old friend?'
'I could not part from you to go to any home on earth,' replied
Smike, pressing his hand; 'except one, except one. I shall never be
an old man; and if your hand placed me in the grave, and I could
think, before I died, that you would come and look upon it sometimes
with one of your kind smiles, and in the summer weather, when
everything was alive--not dead like me--I could go to that home
almost without a tear.'
'Why do you talk thus, poor boy, if your life is a happy one with
me?' said Nicholas.
'Because I should change; not those about me. And if they forgot
me, I should never know it,' replied Smike. 'In the churchyard we
are all alike, but here there are none like me. I am a poor
creature, but I know that.'
'You are a foolish, silly creature,' said Nicholas cheerfully. 'If
that is what you mean, I grant you that. Why, here's a dismal face
for ladies' company!--my pretty sister too, whom you have so often
asked me about. Is this your Yorkshire gallantry? For shame! for
Smike brightened up and smiled.
'When I talk of home,' pursued Nicholas, 'I talk of mine--which is
yours of course. If it were defined by any particular four walls
and a roof, God knows I should be sufficiently puzzled to say
whereabouts it lay; but that is not what I mean. When I speak of
home, I speak of the place where--in default of a better--those I
love are gathered together; and if that place were a gypsy's tent,
or a barn, I should call it by the same good name notwithstanding.
And now, for what is my present home, which, however alarming your
expectations may be, will neither terrify you by its extent nor its
So saying, Nicholas took his companion by the arm, and saying a
great deal more to the same purpose, and pointing out various things
to amuse and interest him as they went along, led the way to Miss La
'And this, Kate,' said Nicholas, entering the room where his sister
sat alone, 'is the faithful friend and affectionate fellow-traveller
whom I prepared you to receive.'
Poor Smike was bashful, and awkward, and frightened enough, at
first, but Kate advanced towards him so kindly, and said, in such a
sweet voice, how anxious she had been to see him after all her
brother had told her, and how much she had to thank him for having
comforted Nicholas so greatly in their very trying reverses, that he
began to be very doubtful whether he should shed tears or not, and
became still more flurried. However, he managed to say, in a broken
voice, that Nicholas was his only friend, and that he would lay down
his life to help him; and Kate, although she was so kind and
considerate, seemed to be so wholly unconscious of his distress and
embarrassment, that he recovered almost immediately and felt quite
Then, Miss La Creevy came in; and to her Smike had to be presented
also. And Miss La Creevy was very kind too, and wonderfully
talkative: not to Smike, for that would have made him uneasy at
first, but to Nicholas and his sister. Then, after a time, she
would speak to Smike himself now and then, asking him whether he was
a judge of likenesses, and whether he thought that picture in the
corner was like herself, and whether he didn't think it would have
looked better if she had made herself ten years younger, and whether
he didn't think, as a matter of general observation, that young
ladies looked better not only in pictures, but out of them too, than
old ones; with many more small jokes and facetious remarks, which
were delivered with such good-humour and merriment, that Smike
thought, within himself, she was the nicest lady he had ever seen;
even nicer than Mrs Grudden, of Mr Vincent Crummles's theatre; and
she was a nice lady too, and talked, perhaps more, but certainly
louder, than Miss La Creevy.
At length the door opened again, and a lady in mourning came in; and
Nicholas kissing the lady in mourning affectionately, and calling
her his mother, led her towards the chair from which Smike had risen
when she entered the room.
'You are always kind-hearted, and anxious to help the oppressed, my
dear mother,' said Nicholas, 'so you will be favourably disposed
towards him, I know.'
'I am sure, my dear Nicholas,' replied Mrs Nickleby, looking very
hard at her new friend, and bending to him with something more of
majesty than the occasion seemed to require: 'I am sure any friend
of yours has, as indeed he naturally ought to have, and must have,
of course, you know, a great claim upon me, and of course, it is a
very great pleasure to me to be introduced to anybody you take an
interest in. There can he no doubt about that; none at all; not the
least in the world,' said Mrs Nickleby. 'At the same time I must
say, Nicholas, my dear, as I used to say to your poor dear papa,
when he WOULD bring gentlemen home to dinner, and there was nothing
in the house, that if he had come the day before yesterday--no, I
don't mean the day before yesterday now; I should have said,
perhaps, the year before last--we should have been better able to
With which remarks, Mrs Nickleby turned to her daughter, and
inquired, in an audible whisper, whether the gentleman was going to
stop all night.
'Because, if he is, Kate, my dear,' said Mrs Nickleby, 'I don't see
that it's possible for him to sleep anywhere, and that's the truth.'
Kate stepped gracefully forward, and without any show of annoyance
or irritation, breathed a few words into her mother's ear.
'La, Kate, my dear,' said Mrs Nickleby, shrinking back, 'how you do
tickle one! Of course, I understand THAT, my love, without your
telling me; and I said the same to Nicholas, and I AM very much
pleased. You didn't tell me, Nicholas, my dear,' added Mrs
Nickleby, turning round with an air of less reserve than she had
before assumed, 'what your friend's name is.'
'His name, mother,' replied Nicholas, 'is Smike.'
The effect of this communication was by no means anticipated; but
the name was no sooner pronounced, than Mrs Nickleby dropped upon a
chair, and burst into a fit of crying.
'What is the matter?' exclaimed Nicholas, running to support her.
'It's so like Pyke,' cried Mrs Nickleby; 'so exactly like Pyke. Oh!
don't speak to me--I shall be better presently.'
And after exhibiting every symptom of slow suffocation in all its
stages, and drinking about a tea-spoonful of water from a full
tumbler, and spilling the remainder, Mrs Nickleby WAS better, and
remarked, with a feeble smile, that she was very foolish, she knew.
'It's a weakness in our family,' said Mrs Nickleby, 'so, of course,
I can't be blamed for it. Your grandmama, Kate, was exactly the
same--precisely. The least excitement, the slightest surprise--she
fainted away directly. I have heard her say, often and often, that
when she was a young lady, and before she was married, she was
turning a corner into Oxford Street one day, when she ran against
her own hairdresser, who, it seems, was escaping from a bear;--the
mere suddenness of the encounter made her faint away directly.
Wait, though,' added Mrs Nickleby, pausing to consider. 'Let me be
sure I'm right. Was it her hairdresser who had escaped from a bear,
or was it a bear who had escaped from her hairdresser's? I declare
I can't remember just now, but the hairdresser was a very handsome
man, I know, and quite a gentleman in his manners; so that it has
nothing to do with the point of the story.'
Mrs Nickleby having fallen imperceptibly into one of her
retrospective moods, improved in temper from that moment, and
glided, by an easy change of the conversation occasionally, into
various other anecdotes, no less remarkable for their strict
application to the subject in hand.
'Mr Smike is from Yorkshire, Nicholas, my dear?' said Mrs Nickleby,
after dinner, and when she had been silent for some time.
'Certainly, mother,' replied Nicholas. 'I see you have not
forgotten his melancholy history.'
'O dear no,' cried Mrs Nickleby. 'Ah! melancholy, indeed. You
don't happen, Mr Smike, ever to have dined with the Grimbles of
Grimble Hall, somewhere in the North Riding, do you?' said the good
lady, addressing herself to him. 'A very proud man, Sir Thomas
Grimble, with six grown-up and most lovely daughters, and the finest
park in the county.'
'My dear mother,' reasoned Nicholas, 'do you suppose that the
unfortunate outcast of a Yorkshire school was likely to receive many
cards of invitation from the nobility and gentry in the
'Really, my dear, I don't know why it should be so very
extraordinary,' said Mrs Nickleby. 'I know that when I was at
school, I always went at least twice every half-year to the
Hawkinses at Taunton Vale, and they are much richer than the
Grimbles, and connected with them in marriage; so you see it's not
so very unlikely, after all.'
Having put down Nicholas in this triumphant manner, Mrs Nickleby was
suddenly seized with a forgetfulness of Smike's real name, and an
irresistible tendency to call him Mr Slammons; which circumstance
she attributed to the remarkable similarity of the two names in
point of sound both beginning with an S, and moreover being spelt
with an M. But whatever doubt there might be on this point, there
was none as to his being a most excellent listener; which
circumstance had considerable influence in placing them on the very
best terms, and inducing Mrs Nickleby to express the highest opinion
of his general deportment and disposition.
Thus, the little circle remained, on the most amicable and agreeable
footing, until the Monday morning, when Nicholas withdrew himself
from it for a short time, seriously to reflect upon the state of his
affairs, and to determine, if he could, upon some course of life,
which would enable him to support those who were so entirely
dependent upon his exertions.
Mr Crummles occurred to him more than once; but although Kate was
acquainted with the whole history of his connection with that
gentleman, his mother was not; and he foresaw a thousand fretful
objections, on her part, to his seeking a livelihood upon the stage.
There were graver reasons, too, against his returning to that mode
of life. Independently of those arising out of its spare and
precarious earnings, and his own internal conviction that he could
never hope to aspire to any great distinction, even as a provincial
actor, how could he carry his sister from town to town, and place to
place, and debar her from any other associates than those with whom
he would be compelled, almost without distinction, to mingle? 'It
won't do,' said Nicholas, shaking his head; 'I must try something
It was much easier to make this resolution than to carry it into
effect. With no greater experience of the world than he had
acquired for himself in his short trials; with a sufficient share of
headlong rashness and precipitation (qualities not altogether
unnatural at his time of life); with a very slender stock of money,
and a still more scanty stock of friends; what could he do? 'Egad!'
said Nicholas, 'I'll try that Register Office again.'
He smiled at himself as he walked away with a quick step; for, an
instant before, he had been internally blaming his own
precipitation. He did not laugh himself out of the intention,
however, for on he went: picturing to himself, as he approached the
place, all kinds of splendid possibilities, and impossibilities too,
for that matter, and thinking himself, perhaps with good reason,
very fortunate to be endowed with so buoyant and sanguine a
The office looked just the same as when he had left it last, and,
indeed, with one or two exceptions, there seemed to be the very same
placards in the window that he had seen before. There were the same
unimpeachable masters and mistresses in want of virtuous servants,
and the same virtuous servants in want of unimpeachable masters and
mistresses, and the same magnificent estates for the investment of
capital, and the same enormous quantities of capital to be invested
in estates, and, in short, the same opportunities of all sorts for
people who wanted to make their fortunes. And a most extraordinary
proof it was of the national prosperity, that people had not been
found to avail themselves of such advantages long ago.
As Nicholas stopped to look in at the window, an old gentleman
happened to stop too; and Nicholas, carrying his eye along the
window-panes from left to right in search of some capital-text
placard which should be applicable to his own case, caught sight of
this old gentleman's figure, and instinctively withdrew his eyes
from the window, to observe the same more closely.
He was a sturdy old fellow in a broad-skirted blue coat, made pretty
large, to fit easily, and with no particular waist; his bulky legs
clothed in drab breeches and high gaiters, and his head protected by
a low-crowned broad-brimmed white hat, such as a wealthy grazier
might wear. He wore his coat buttoned; and his dimpled double chin
rested in the folds of a white neckerchief--not one of your stiff-
starched apoplectic cravats, but a good, easy, old-fashioned white
neckcloth that a man might go to bed in and be none the worse for.
But what principally attracted the attention of Nicholas was the old
gentleman's eye,--never was such a clear, twinkling, honest, merry,
happy eye, as that. And there he stood, looking a little upward,
with one hand thrust into the breast of his coat, and the other
playing with his old-fashioned gold watch-chain: his head thrown a
little on one side, and his hat a little more on one side than his
head, (but that was evidently accident; not his ordinary way of
wearing it,) with such a pleasant smile playing about his mouth, and
such a comical expression of mingled slyness, simplicity, kind-
heartedness, and good-humour, lighting up his jolly old face, that
Nicholas would have been content to have stood there and looked at
him until evening, and to have forgotten, meanwhile, that there was
such a thing as a soured mind or a crabbed countenance to be met
with in the whole wide world.
But, even a very remote approach to this gratification was not to be
made, for although he seemed quite unconscious of having been the
subject of observation, he looked casually at Nicholas; and the
latter, fearful of giving offence, resumed his scrutiny of the
Still, the old gentleman stood there, glancing from placard to
placard, and Nicholas could not forbear raising his eyes to his face
again. Grafted upon the quaintness and oddity of his appearance,
was something so indescribably engaging, and bespeaking so much
worth, and there were so many little lights hovering about the
corners of his mouth and eyes, that it was not a mere amusement, but
a positive pleasure and delight to look at him.
This being the case, it is no wonder that the old man caught
Nicholas in the fact, more than once. At such times, Nicholas
coloured and looked embarrassed: for the truth is, that he had begun
to wonder whether the stranger could, by any possibility, be looking
for a clerk or secretary; and thinking this, he felt as if the old
gentleman must know it.
Long as all this takes to tell, it was not more than a couple of
minutes in passing. As the stranger was moving away, Nicholas
caught his eye again, and, in the awkwardness of the moment,
stammered out an apology.
'No offence. Oh no offence!' said the old man.
This was said in such a hearty tone, and the voice was so exactly
what it should have been from such a speaker, and there was such a
cordiality in the manner, that Nicholas was emboldened to speak
'A great many opportunities here, sir,' he said, half smiling as he
motioned towards the window.
'A great many people willing and anxious to be employed have
seriously thought so very often, I dare say,' replied the old man.
'Poor fellows, poor fellows!'
He moved away as he said this; but seeing that Nicholas was about to
speak, good-naturedly slackened his pace, as if he were unwilling to
cut him short. After a little of that hesitation which may be
sometimes observed between two people in the street who have
exchanged a nod, and are both uncertain whether they shall turn back
and speak, or not, Nicholas found himself at the old man's side.
'You were about to speak, young gentleman; what were you going to
'Merely that I almost hoped--I mean to say, thought--you had some
object in consulting those advertisements,' said Nicholas.
'Ay, ay? what object now--what object?' returned the old man,
looking slyly at Nicholas. 'Did you think I wanted a situation now
--eh? Did you think I did?'
Nicholas shook his head.
'Ha! ha!' laughed the old gentleman, rubbing his hands and wrists as
if he were washing them. 'A very natural thought, at all events,
after seeing me gazing at those bills. I thought the same of you,
at first; upon my word I did.'
'If you had thought so at last, too, sir, you would not have been
far from the truth,' rejoined Nicholas.
'Eh?' cried the old man, surveying him from head to foot. 'What!
Dear me! No, no. Well-behaved young gentleman reduced to such a
necessity! No no, no no.'
Nicholas bowed, and bidding him good-morning, turned upon his heel.
'Stay,' said the old man, beckoning him into a bye street, where they
could converse with less interruption. 'What d'ye mean, eh?'
'Merely that your kind face and manner--both so unlike any I have
ever seen--tempted me into an avowal, which, to any other stranger
in this wilderness of London, I should not have dreamt of making,'
'Wilderness! Yes, it is, it is. Good! It IS a wilderness,' said
the old man with much animation. 'It was a wilderness to me once.
I came here barefoot. I have never forgotten it. Thank God!' and he
raised his hat from his head, and looked very grave.
'What's the matter? What is it? How did it all come about?' said the
old man, laying his hand on the shoulder of Nicholas, and walking
him up the street. 'You're--Eh?' laying his finger on the sleeve of
his black coat. 'Who's it for, eh?'
'My father,' replied Nicholas.
'Ah!' said the old gentleman quickly. 'Bad thing for a young man to
lose his father. Widowed mother, perhaps?'
'Brothers and sisters too? Eh?'
'One sister,' rejoined Nicholas.
'Poor thing, poor thing! You are a scholar too, I dare say?' said
the old man, looking wistfully into the face of the young one.
'I have been tolerably well educated,' said Nicholas.
'Fine thing,' said the old gentleman, 'education a great thing: a
very great thing! I never had any. I admire it the more in others.
A very fine thing. Yes, yes. Tell me more of your history. Let me
hear it all. No impertinent curiosity--no, no, no.'
There was something so earnest and guileless in the way in which all
this was said, and such a complete disregard of all conventional
restraints and coldnesses, that Nicholas could not resist it. Among
men who have any sound and sterling qualities, there is nothing so
contagious as pure openness of heart. Nicholas took the infection
instantly, and ran over the main points of his little history
without reserve: merely suppressing names, and touching as lightly
as possible upon his uncle's treatment of Kate. The old man
listened with great attention, and when he had concluded, drew his
arm eagerly through his own.
'Don't say another word. Not another word' said he. 'Come along
with me. We mustn't lose a minute.'
So saying, the old gentleman dragged him back into Oxford Street,
and hailing an omnibus on its way to the city, pushed Nicholas in
before him, and followed himself.
As he appeared in a most extraordinary condition of restless
excitement, and whenever Nicholas offered to speak, immediately
interposed with: 'Don't say another word, my dear sir, on any
account--not another word,' the young man thought it better to
attempt no further interruption. Into the city they journeyed
accordingly, without interchanging any conversation; and the farther
they went, the more Nicholas wondered what the end of the adventure
could possibly be.
The old gentleman got out, with great alacrity, when they reached
the Bank, and once more taking Nicholas by the arm, hurried him
along Threadneedle Street, and through some lanes and passages on
the right, until they, at length, emerged in a quiet shady little
square. Into the oldest and cleanest-looking house of business in
the square, he led the way. The only inscription on the door-post
was 'Cheeryble, Brothers;' but from a hasty glance at the directions
of some packages which were lying about, Nicholas supposed that the
brothers Cheeryble were German merchants.
Passing through a warehouse which presented every indication of a
thriving business, Mr Cheeryble (for such Nicholas supposed him to
be, from the respect which had been shown him by the warehousemen
and porters whom they passed) led him into a little partitioned-off
counting-house like a large glass case, in which counting-house
there sat--as free from dust and blemish as if he had been fixed
into the glass case before the top was put on, and had never come
out since--a fat, elderly, large-faced clerk, with silver spectacles
and a powdered head.
'Is my brother in his room, Tim?' said Mr Cheeryble, with no less
kindness of manner than he had shown to Nicholas.
'Yes, he is, sir,' replied the fat clerk, turning his spectacle-
glasses towards his principal, and his eyes towards Nicholas, 'but
Mr Trimmers is with him.'
'Ay! And what has he come about, Tim?' said Mr Cheeryble.
'He is getting up a subscription for the widow and family of a man
who was killed in the East India Docks this morning, sir,' rejoined
Tim. 'Smashed, sir, by a cask of sugar.'
'He is a good creature,' said Mr Cheeryble, with great earnestness.
'He is a kind soul. I am very much obliged to Trimmers. Trimmers
is one of the best friends we have. He makes a thousand cases known
to us that we should never discover of ourselves. I am VERY much
obliged to Trimmers.' Saying which, Mr Cheeryble rubbed his hands
with infinite delight, and Mr Trimmers happening to pass the door
that instant, on his way out, shot out after him and caught him by
'I owe you a thousand thanks, Trimmers, ten thousand thanks. I take
it very friendly of you, very friendly indeed,' said Mr Cheeryble,
dragging him into a corner to get out of hearing. 'How many
children are there, and what has my brother Ned given, Trimmers?'
'There are six children,' replied the gentleman, 'and your brother
has given us twenty pounds.'
'My brother Ned is a good fellow, and you're a good fellow too,
Trimmers,' said the old man, shaking him by both hands with
trembling eagerness. 'Put me down for another twenty--or--stop a
minute, stop a minute. We mustn't look ostentatious; put me down
ten pound, and Tim Linkinwater ten pound. A cheque for twenty pound
for Mr Trimmers, Tim. God bless you, Trimmers--and come and dine
with us some day this week; you'll always find a knife and fork, and
we shall be delighted. Now, my dear sir--cheque from Mr
Linkinwater, Tim. Smashed by a cask of sugar, and six poor
children--oh dear, dear, dear!'
Talking on in this strain, as fast as he could, to prevent any
friendly remonstrances from the collector of the subscription on the
large amount of his donation, Mr Cheeryble led Nicholas, equally
astonished and affected by what he had seen and heard in this short
space, to the half-opened door of another room.
'Brother Ned,' said Mr Cheeryble, tapping with his knuckles, and
stooping to listen, 'are you busy, my dear brother, or can you spare
time for a word or two with me?'
'Brother Charles, my dear fellow,' replied a voice from the inside,
so like in its tones to that which had just spoken, that Nicholas
started, and almost thought it was the same, 'don't ask me such a
question, but come in directly.'
They went in, without further parley. What was the amazement of
Nicholas when his conductor advanced, and exchanged a warm greeting
with another old gentleman, the very type and model of himself--the
same face, the same figure, the same coat, waistcoat, and neckcloth,
the same breeches and gaiters--nay, there was the very same white
hat hanging against the wall!
As they shook each other by the hand: the face of each lighted up by
beaming looks of affection, which would have been most delightful to
behold in infants, and which, in men so old, was inexpressibly
touching: Nicholas could observe that the last old gentleman was
something stouter than his brother; this, and a slight additional
shade of clumsiness in his gait and stature, formed the only
perceptible difference between them. Nobody could have doubted
their being twin brothers.
'Brother Ned,' said Nicholas's friend, closing the room-door, 'here
is a young friend of mine whom we must assist. We must make proper
inquiries into his statements, in justice to him as well as to
ourselves, and if they are confirmed--as I feel assured they will
be--we must assist him, we must assist him, brother Ned.'
'It is enough, my dear brother, that you say we should,' returned
the other. 'When you say that, no further inquiries are needed. He
SHALL be assisted. What are his necessities, and what does he
require? Where is Tim Linkinwater? Let us have him here.'
Both the brothers, it may be here remarked, had a very emphatic and
earnest delivery; both had lost nearly the same teeth, which
imparted the same peculiarity to their speech; and both spoke as if,
besides possessing the utmost serenity of mind that the kindliest
and most unsuspecting nature could bestow, they had, in collecting
the plums from Fortune's choicest pudding, retained a few for
present use, and kept them in their mouths.
'Where is Tim Linkinwater?' said brother Ned.
'Stop, stop, stop!' said brother Charles, taking the other aside.
'I've a plan, my dear brother, I've a plan. Tim is getting old, and
Tim has been a faithful servant, brother Ned; and I don't think
pensioning Tim's mother and sister, and buying a little tomb for the
family when his poor brother died, was a sufficient recompense for
his faithful services.'
'No, no, no,' replied the other. 'Certainly not. Not half enough,
'If we could lighten Tim's duties,' said the old gentleman, 'and
prevail upon him to go into the country, now and then, and sleep in
the fresh air, besides, two or three times a week (which he could,
if he began business an hour later in the morning), old Tim
Linkinwater would grow young again in time; and he's three good
years our senior now. Old Tim Linkinwater young again! Eh, brother
Ned, eh? Why, I recollect old Tim Linkinwater quite a little boy,
don't you? Ha, ha, ha! Poor Tim, poor Tim!'
And the fine old fellows laughed pleasantly together: each with a
tear of regard for old Tim Linkinwater standing in his eye.
'But hear this first--hear this first, brother Ned,' said the old
man, hastily, placing two chairs, one on each side of Nicholas:
'I'll tell it you myself, brother Ned, because the young gentleman
is modest, and is a scholar, Ned, and I shouldn't feel it right that
he should tell us his story over and over again as if he was a
beggar, or as if we doubted him. No, no no.'
'No, no, no,' returned the other, nodding his head gravely. 'Very
right, my dear brother, very right.'
'He will tell me I'm wrong, if I make a mistake,' said Nicholas's
friend. 'But whether I do or not, you'll be very much affected,
brother Ned, remembering the time when we were two friendless lads,
and earned our first shilling in this great city.'
The twins pressed each other's hands in silence; and in his own
homely manner, brother Charles related the particulars he had heard
from Nicholas. The conversation which ensued was a long one, and
when it was over, a secret conference of almost equal duration took
place between brother Ned and Tim Linkinwater in another room. It
is no disparagement to Nicholas to say, that before he had been
closeted with the two brothers ten minutes, he could only wave his
hand at every fresh expression of kindness and sympathy, and sob
like a little child.
At length brother Ned and Tim Linkinwater came back together, when
Tim instantly walked up to Nicholas and whispered in his ear in a
very brief sentence (for Tim was ordinarily a man of few words),
that he had taken down the address in the Strand, and would call
upon him that evening, at eight. Having done which, Tim wiped his
spectacles and put them on, preparatory to hearing what more the
brothers Cheeryble had got to say.
'Tim,' said brother Charles, 'you understand that we have an
intention of taking this young gentleman into the counting-house?'
Brother Ned remarked that Tim was aware of that intention, and quite
approved of it; and Tim having nodded, and said he did, drew himself
up and looked particularly fat, and very important. After which,
there was a profound silence.
'I'm not coming an hour later in the morning, you know,' said Tim,
breaking out all at once, and looking very resolute. 'I'm not going
to sleep in the fresh air; no, nor I'm not going into the country
either. A pretty thing at this time of day, certainly. Pho!'
'Damn your obstinacy, Tim Linkinwater,' said brother Charles,
looking at him without the faintest spark of anger, and with a
countenance radiant with attachment to the old clerk. 'Damn your
obstinacy, Tim Linkinwater, what do you mean, sir?'
'It's forty-four year,' said Tim, making a calculation in the air
with his pen, and drawing an imaginary line before he cast it up,
'forty-four year, next May, since I first kept the books of
Cheeryble, Brothers. I've opened the safe every morning all that
time (Sundays excepted) as the clock struck nine, and gone over the
house every night at half-past ten (except on Foreign Post nights,
and then twenty minutes before twelve) to see the doors fastened,
and the fires out. I've never slept out of the back-attic one
single night. There's the same mignonette box in the middle of the
window, and the same four flower-pots, two on each side, that I
brought with me when I first came. There an't--I've said it again
and again, and I'll maintain it--there an't such a square as this in
the world. I KNOW there an't,' said Tim, with sudden energy, and
looking sternly about him. 'Not one. For business or pleasure, in
summer-time or winter--I don't care which--there's nothing like it.
There's not such a spring in England as the pump under the archway.
There's not such a view in England as the view out of my window;
I've seen it every morning before I shaved, and I ought to know
something about it. I have slept in that room,' added Tim, sinking
his voice a little, 'for four-and-forty year; and if it wasn't
inconvenient, and didn't interfere with business, I should request
leave to die there.'
'Damn you, Tim Linkinwater, how dare you talk about dying?' roared
the twins by one impulse, and blowing their old noses violently.
'That's what I've got to say, Mr Edwin and Mr Charles,' said Tim,
squaring his shoulders again. 'This isn't the first time you've
talked about superannuating me; but, if you please, we'll make it
the last, and drop the subject for evermore.'
With these words, Tim Linkinwater stalked out, and shut himself up
in his glass case, with the air of a man who had had his say, and
was thoroughly resolved not to be put down.
The brothers interchanged looks, and coughed some half-dozen times
'He must be done something with, brother Ned,' said the other,
warmly; 'we must disregard his old scruples; they can't be
tolerated, or borne. He must be made a partner, brother Ned; and if
he won't submit to it peaceably, we must have recourse to violence.'
'Quite right,' replied brother Ned, nodding his head as a man
thoroughly determined; 'quite right, my dear brother. If he won't
listen to reason, we must do it against his will, and show him that
we are determined to exert our authority. We must quarrel with him,
'We must. We certainly must have a quarrel with Tim Linkinwater,'
said the other. 'But in the meantime, my dear brother, we are
keeping our young friend; and the poor lady and her daughter will be
anxious for his return. So let us say goodbye for the present, and
--there, there--take care of that box, my dear sir--and--no, no, not
a word now; but be careful of the crossings and--'
And with any disjointed and unconnected words which would prevent
Nicholas from pouring forth his thanks, the brothers hurried him
out: shaking hands with him all the way, and affecting very
unsuccessfully--they were poor hands at deception!--to be wholly
unconscious of the feelings that completely mastered him.
Nicholas's heart was too full to allow of his turning into the
street until he had recovered some composure. When he at last
glided out of the dark doorway corner in which he had been compelled
to halt, he caught a glimpse of the twins stealthily peeping in at
one corner of the glass case, evidently undecided whether they
should follow up their late attack without delay, or for the present
postpone laying further siege to the inflexible Tim Linkinwater.
To recount all the delight and wonder which the circumstances just
detailed awakened at Miss La Creevy's, and all the things that were
done, said, thought, expected, hoped, and prophesied in consequence,
is beside the present course and purpose of these adventures. It is
sufficient to state, in brief, that Mr Timothy Linkinwater arrived,
punctual to his appointment; that, oddity as he was, and jealous, as
he was bound to be, of the proper exercise of his employers' most
comprehensive liberality, he reported strongly and warmly in favour
of Nicholas; and that, next day, he was appointed to the vacant
stool in the counting-house of Cheeryble, Brothers, with a present
salary of one hundred and twenty pounds a year.
'And I think, my dear brother,' said Nicholas's first friend, 'that
if we were to let them that little cottage at Bow which is empty, at
something under the usual rent, now? Eh, brother Ned?'
'For nothing at all,' said brother Ned. 'We are rich, and should be
ashamed to touch the rent under such circumstances as these. Where
is Tim Linkinwater?--for nothing at all, my dear brother, for
nothing at all.'
'Perhaps it would be better to say something, brother Ned,'
suggested the other, mildly; 'it would help to preserve habits of
frugality, you know, and remove any painful sense of overwhelming
obligations. We might say fifteen pound, or twenty pound, and if it
was punctually paid, make it up to them in some other way. And I
might secretly advance a small loan towards a little furniture, and
you might secretly advance another small loan, brother Ned; and if
we find them doing well--as we shall; there's no fear, no fear--we
can change the loans into gifts. Carefully, brother Ned, and by
degrees, and without pressing upon them too much; what do you say
Brother Ned gave his hand upon it, and not only said it should be
done, but had it done too; and, in one short week, Nicholas took
possession of the stool, and Mrs Nickleby and Kate took possession
of the house, and all was hope, bustle, and light-heartedness.
There surely never was such a week of discoveries and surprises as
the first week of that cottage. Every night when Nicholas came
home, something new had been found out. One day it was a grapevine,
and another day it was a boiler, and another day it was the key of
the front-parlour closet at the bottom of the water-butt, and so on
through a hundred items. Then, this room was embellished with a
muslin curtain, and that room was rendered quite elegant by a
window-blind, and such improvements were made, as no one would have
supposed possible. Then there was Miss La Creevy, who had come out
in the omnibus to stop a day or two and help, and who was
perpetually losing a very small brown-paper parcel of tin tacks and
a very large hammer, and running about with her sleeves tucked up at
the wrists, and falling off pairs of steps and hurting herself very
much--and Mrs Nickleby, who talked incessantly, and did something
now and then, but not often--and Kate, who busied herself
noiselessly everywhere, and was pleased with everything--and Smike,
who made the garden a perfect wonder to look upon--and Nicholas, who
helped and encouraged them every one--all the peace and cheerfulness
of home restored, with such new zest imparted to every frugal
pleasure, and such delight to every hour of meeting, as misfortune
and separation alone could give!
In short, the poor Nicklebys were social and happy; while the rich
Nickleby was alone and miserable.
Private and confidential; relating to Family Matters. Showing how
Mr Kenwigs underwent violent Agitation, and how Mrs Kenwigs was as
well as could be expected
It might have been seven o'clock in the evening, and it was growing
dark in the narrow streets near Golden Square, when Mr Kenwigs sent
out for a pair of the cheapest white kid gloves--those at fourteen-
pence--and selecting the strongest, which happened to be the right-
hand one, walked downstairs with an air of pomp and much excitement,
and proceeded to muffle the knob of the street-door knocker therein.
Having executed this task with great nicety, Mr Kenwigs pulled the
door to, after him, and just stepped across the road to try the
effect from the opposite side of the street. Satisfied that nothing
could possibly look better in its way, Mr Kenwigs then stepped back
again, and calling through the keyhole to Morleena to open the door,
vanished into the house, and was seen no longer.
Now, considered as an abstract circumstance, there was no more
obvious cause or reason why Mr Kenwigs should take the trouble of
muffling this particular knocker, than there would have been for his
muffling the knocker of any nobleman or gentleman resident ten miles
off; because, for the greater convenience of the numerous lodgers,
the street-door always stood wide open, and the knocker was never
used at all. The first floor, the second floor, and the third
floor, had each a bell of its own. As to the attics, no one ever
called on them; if anybody wanted the parlours, they were close at
hand, and all he had to do was to walk straight into them; while the
kitchen had a separate entrance down the area steps. As a question
of mere necessity and usefulness, therefore, this muffling of the
knocker was thoroughly incomprehensible.
But knockers may be muffled for other purposes than those of mere
utilitarianism, as, in the present instance, was clearly shown.
There are certain polite forms and ceremonies which must be observed
in civilised life, or mankind relapse into their original barbarism.
No genteel lady was ever yet confined--indeed, no genteel
confinement can possibly take place--without the accompanying symbol
of a muffled knocker. Mrs Kenwigs was a lady of some pretensions to
gentility; Mrs Kenwigs was confined. And, therefore, Mr Kenwigs
tied up the silent knocker on the premises in a white kid glove.
'I'm not quite certain neither,' said Mr Kenwigs, arranging his
shirt-collar, and walking slowly upstairs, 'whether, as it's a boy,
I won't have it in the papers.'
Pondering upon the advisability of this step, and the sensation it
was likely to create in the neighbourhood, Mr Kenwigs betook himself
to the sitting-room, where various extremely diminutive articles of
clothing were airing on a horse before the fire, and Mr Lumbey, the
doctor, was dandling the baby--that is, the old baby--not the new
'It's a fine boy, Mr Kenwigs,' said Mr Lumbey, the doctor.
'You consider him a fine boy, do you, sir?' returned Mr Kenwigs.
'It's the finest boy I ever saw in all my life,' said the doctor.
'I never saw such a baby.'
It is a pleasant thing to reflect upon, and furnishes a complete
answer to those who contend for the gradual degeneration of the
human species, that every baby born into the world is a finer one
than the last.
'I ne--ver saw such a baby,' said Mr Lumbey, the doctor.
'Morleena was a fine baby,' remarked Mr Kenwigs; as if this were
rather an attack, by implication, upon the family.
'They were all fine babies,' said Mr Lumbey. And Mr Lumbey went on
nursing the baby with a thoughtful look. Whether he was considering
under what head he could best charge the nursing in the bill, was
best known to himself.
During this short conversation, Miss Morleena, as the eldest of the
family, and natural representative of her mother during her
indisposition, had been hustling and slapping the three younger Miss
Kenwigses, without intermission; which considerate and affectionate
conduct brought tears into the eyes of Mr Kenwigs, and caused him to
declare that, in understanding and behaviour, that child was a
'She will be a treasure to the man she marries, sir,' said Mr
Kenwigs, half aside; 'I think she'll marry above her station, Mr
'I shouldn't wonder at all,' replied the doctor.
'You never see her dance, sir, did you?' asked Mr Kenwigs.
The doctor shook his head.
'Ay!' said Mr Kenwigs, as though he pitied him from his heart, 'then
you don't know what she's capable of.'
All this time there had been a great whisking in and out of the
other room; the door had been opened and shut very softly about
twenty times a minute (for it was necessary to keep Mrs Kenwigs
quiet); and the baby had been exhibited to a score or two of
deputations from a select body of female friends, who had assembled
in the passage, and about the street-door, to discuss the event in
all its bearings. Indeed, the excitement extended itself over the
whole street, and groups of ladies might be seen standing at the
doors, (some in the interesting condition in which Mrs Kenwigs had
last appeared in public,) relating their experiences of similar
occurrences. Some few acquired great credit from having prophesied,
the day before yesterday, exactly when it would come to pass;
others, again, related, how that they guessed what it was, directly
they saw Mr Kenwigs turn pale and run up the street as hard as ever
he could go. Some said one thing, and some another; but all talked
together, and all agreed upon two points: first, that it was very
meritorious and highly praiseworthy in Mrs Kenwigs to do as she had
done: and secondly, that there never was such a skilful and
scientific doctor as that Dr Lumbey.
In the midst of this general hubbub, Dr Lumbey sat in the first-
floor front, as before related, nursing the deposed baby, and
talking to Mr Kenwigs. He was a stout bluff-looking gentleman, with
no shirt-collar to speak of, and a beard that had been growing since
yesterday morning; for Dr Lumbey was popular, and the neighbourhood
was prolific; and there had been no less than three other knockers
muffled, one after the other within the last forty-eight hours.
'Well, Mr Kenwigs,' said Dr Lumbey, 'this makes six. You'll have a
fine family in time, sir.'
'I think six is almost enough, sir,' returned Mr Kenwigs.
'Pooh! pooh!' said the doctor. 'Nonsense! not half enough.'
With this, the doctor laughed; but he didn't laugh half as much as a
married friend of Mrs Kenwigs's, who had just come in from the sick
chamber to report progress, and take a small sip of brandy-and-
water: and who seemed to consider it one of the best jokes ever
launched upon society.
'They're not altogether dependent upon good fortune, neither,' said
Mr Kenwigs, taking his second daughter on his knee; 'they have
'Oh, indeed!' said Mr Lumbey, the doctor.
'And very good ones too, I believe, haven't they?' asked the married
'Why, ma'am,' said Mr Kenwigs, 'it's not exactly for me to say what
they may be, or what they may not be. It's not for me to boast of
any family with which I have the honour to be connected; at the same
time, Mrs Kenwigs's is--I should say,' said Mr Kenwigs, abruptly,
and raising his voice as he spoke, 'that my children might come into
a matter of a hundred pound apiece, perhaps. Perhaps more, but
'And a very pretty little fortune,' said the married lady.
'There are some relations of Mrs Kenwigs's,' said Mr Kenwigs, taking
a pinch of snuff from the doctor's box, and then sneezing very hard,
for he wasn't used to it, 'that might leave their hundred pound
apiece to ten people, and yet not go begging when they had done it.'