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The Life And Adventures Of Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens

Part 14 out of 20

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AM a queer bridesmaid, and SHAN'T be a bride in a hurry, and
although my husband WILL be in luck, I entertain no sentiments
towards you, sir, but sentiments of pity.'

Here Miss Squeers looked sideways at her father again, who looked
sideways at her, as much as to say, 'There you had him.'

'I know what you've got to go through,' said Miss Squeers, shaking
her curls violently. 'I know what life is before you, and if you
was my bitterest and deadliest enemy, I could wish you nothing
worse.'

'Couldn't you wish to be married to him yourself, if that was the
case?' inquired Mrs Browdie, with great suavity of manner.

'Oh, ma'am, how witty you are,' retorted Miss Squeers with a low
curtsy, 'almost as witty, ma'am, as you are clever. How very clever
it was in you, ma'am, to choose a time when I had gone to tea with
my pa, and was sure not to come back without being fetched! What a
pity you never thought that other people might be as clever as
yourself and spoil your plans!'

'You won't vex me, child, with such airs as these,' said the late
Miss Price, assuming the matron.

'Don't MISSIS me, ma'am, if you please,' returned Miss Squeers,
sharply. 'I'll not bear it. Is THIS the hend--'

'Dang it a',' cried John Browdie, impatiently. 'Say thee say out,
Fanny, and mak' sure it's the end, and dinnot ask nobody whether it
is or not.'

'Thanking you for your advice which was not required, Mr Browdie,'
returned Miss Squeers, with laborious politeness, 'have the goodness
not to presume to meddle with my Christian name. Even my pity shall
never make me forget what's due to myself, Mr Browdie. 'Tilda,'
said Miss Squeers, with such a sudden accession of violence that
John started in his boots, 'I throw you off for ever, miss. I
abandon you. I renounce you. I wouldn't,' cried Miss Squeers in a
solemn voice, 'have a child named 'Tilda, not to save it from its
grave.'

'As for the matther o' that,' observed John, 'it'll be time eneaf to
think aboot neaming of it when it cooms.'

'John!' interposed his wife, 'don't tease her.'

'Oh! Tease, indeed!' cried Miss Squeers, bridling up. 'Tease,
indeed! He, he! Tease, too! No, don't tease her. Consider her
feelings, pray!'

'If it's fated that listeners are never to hear any good of
themselves,' said Mrs Browdie, 'I can't help it, and I am very sorry
for it. But I will say, Fanny, that times out of number I have
spoken so kindly of you behind your back, that even you could have
found no fault with what I said.'

'Oh, I dare say not, ma'am!' cried Miss Squeers, with another
curtsy. 'Best thanks to you for your goodness, and begging and
praying you not to be hard upon me another time!'

'I don't know,' resumed Mrs Browdie, 'that I have said anything very
bad of you, even now. At all events, what I did say was quite true;
but if I have, I am very sorry for it, and I beg your pardon. You
have said much worse of me, scores of times, Fanny; but I have never
borne any malice to you, and I hope you'll not bear any to me.'

Miss Squeers made no more direct reply than surveying her former
friend from top to toe, and elevating her nose in the air with
ineffable disdain. But some indistinct allusions to a 'puss,' and a
'minx,' and a 'contemptible creature,' escaped her; and this,
together with a severe biting of the lips, great difficulty in
swallowing, and very frequent comings and goings of breath, seemed
to imply that feelings were swelling in Miss Squeers's bosom too
great for utterance.

While the foregoing conversation was proceeding, Master Wackford,
finding himself unnoticed, and feeling his preponderating
inclinations strong upon him, had by little and little sidled up to
the table and attacked the food with such slight skirmishing as
drawing his fingers round and round the inside of the plates, and
afterwards sucking them with infinite relish; picking the bread, and
dragging the pieces over the surface of the butter; pocketing lumps
of sugar, pretending all the time to be absorbed in thought; and so
forth. Finding that no interference was attempted with these small
liberties, he gradually mounted to greater, and, after helping
himself to a moderately good cold collation, was, by this time, deep
in the pie.

Nothing of this had been unobserved by Mr Squeers, who, so long as
the attention of the company was fixed upon other objects, hugged
himself to think that his son and heir should be fattening at the
enemy's expense. But there being now an appearance of a temporary
calm, in which the proceedings of little Wackford could scarcely
fail to be observed, he feigned to be aware of the circumstance for
the first time, and inflicted upon the face of that young gentleman
a slap that made the very tea-cups ring.

'Eating!' cried Mr Squeers, 'of what his father's enemies has left!
It's fit to go and poison you, you unnat'ral boy.'

'It wean't hurt him,' said John, apparently very much relieved by
the prospect of having a man in the quarrel; 'let' un eat. I wish
the whole school was here. I'd give'em soom'at to stay their
unfort'nate stomachs wi', if I spent the last penny I had!'

Squeers scowled at him with the worst and most malicious expression
of which his face was capable--it was a face of remarkable
capability, too, in that way--and shook his fist stealthily.

'Coom, coom, schoolmeasther,' said John, 'dinnot make a fool o'
thyself; for if I was to sheake mine--only once--thou'd fa' doon wi'
the wind o' it.'

'It was you, was it,' returned Squeers, 'that helped off my runaway
boy? It was you, was it?'

'Me!' returned John, in a loud tone. 'Yes, it wa' me, coom; wa'at
o' that? It wa' me. Noo then!'

'You hear him say he did it, my child!' said Squeers, appealing to
his daughter. 'You hear him say he did it!'

'Did it!' cried John. 'I'll tell 'ee more; hear this, too. If
thou'd got another roonaway boy, I'd do it agean. If thou'd got
twonty roonaway boys, I'd do it twonty times ower, and twonty more
to thot; and I tell thee more,' said John, 'noo my blood is oop,
that thou'rt an old ra'ascal; and that it's weel for thou, thou
be'est an old 'un, or I'd ha' poonded thee to flour when thou told
an honest mun hoo thou'd licked that poor chap in t' coorch.'

'An honest man!' cried Squeers, with a sneer.

'Ah! an honest man,' replied John; 'honest in ought but ever putting
legs under seame table wi' such as thou.'

'Scandal!' said Squeers, exultingly. 'Two witnesses to it; Wackford
knows the nature of an oath, he does; we shall have you there, sir.
Rascal, eh?' Mr Squeers took out his pocketbook and made a note of
it. 'Very good. I should say that was worth full twenty pound at
the next assizes, without the honesty, sir.'

''Soizes,' cried John, 'thou'd betther not talk to me o' 'Soizes.
Yorkshire schools have been shown up at 'Soizes afore noo, mun, and
it's a ticklish soobjact to revive, I can tell ye.'

Mr Squeers shook his head in a threatening manner, looking very
white with passion; and taking his daughter's arm, and dragging
little Wackford by the hand, retreated towards the door.

'As for you,' said Squeers, turning round and addressing Nicholas,
who, as he had caused him to smart pretty soundly on a former
occasion, purposely abstained from taking any part in the
discussion, 'see if I ain't down upon you before long. You'll go a
kidnapping of boys, will you? Take care their fathers don't turn
up--mark that--take care their fathers don't turn up, and send 'em
back to me to do as I like with, in spite of you.'

'I am not afraid of that,' replied Nicholas, shrugging his shoulders
contemptuously, and turning away.

'Ain't you!' retorted Squeers, with a diabolical look. 'Now then,
come along.'

'I leave such society, with my pa, for Hever,' said Miss Squeers,
looking contemptuously and loftily round. 'I am defiled by
breathing the air with such creatures. Poor Mr Browdie! He! he!
he! I do pity him, that I do; he's so deluded. He! he! he!--Artful
and designing 'Tilda!'

With this sudden relapse into the sternest and most majestic wrath,
Miss Squeers swept from the room; and having sustained her dignity
until the last possible moment, was heard to sob and scream and
struggle in the passage.

John Browdie remained standing behind the table, looking from his
wife to Nicholas, and back again, with his mouth wide open, until
his hand accidentally fell upon the tankard of ale, when he took it
up, and having obscured his features therewith for some time, drew a
long breath, handed it over to Nicholas, and rang the bell.

'Here, waither,' said John, briskly. 'Look alive here. Tak' these
things awa', and let's have soomat broiled for sooper--vary
comfortable and plenty o' it--at ten o'clock. Bring soom brandy and
soom wather, and a pair o' slippers--the largest pair in the house--
and be quick aboot it. Dash ma wig!' said John, rubbing his hands,
'there's no ganging oot to neeght, noo, to fetch anybody whoam, and
ecod, we'll begin to spend the evening in airnest.'

CHAPTER 43

Officiates as a kind of Gentleman Usher, in bringing various People
together

The storm had long given place to a calm the most profound, and the
evening was pretty far advanced--indeed supper was over, and the
process of digestion proceeding as favourably as, under the
influence of complete tranquillity, cheerful conversation, and a
moderate allowance of brandy-and-water, most wise men conversant
with the anatomy and functions of the human frame will consider that
it ought to have proceeded, when the three friends, or as one might
say, both in a civil and religious sense, and with proper deference
and regard to the holy state of matrimony, the two friends, (Mr and
Mrs Browdie counting as no more than one,) were startled by the
noise of loud and angry threatenings below stairs, which presently
attained so high a pitch, and were conveyed besides in language so
towering, sanguinary, and ferocious, that it could hardly have been
surpassed, if there had actually been a Saracen's head then present
in the establishment, supported on the shoulders and surmounting the
trunk of a real, live, furious, and most unappeasable Saracen.

This turmoil, instead of quickly subsiding after the first outburst,
(as turmoils not unfrequently do, whether in taverns, legislative
assemblies, or elsewhere,) into a mere grumbling and growling
squabble, increased every moment; and although the whole din
appeared to be raised by but one pair of lungs, yet that one pair
was of so powerful a quality, and repeated such words as
'scoundrel,' 'rascal,' 'insolent puppy,' and a variety of expletives
no less flattering to the party addressed, with such great relish
and strength of tone, that a dozen voices raised in concert under
any ordinary circumstances would have made far less uproar and
created much smaller consternation.

'Why, what's the matter?' said Nicholas, moving hastily towards the
door.

John Browdie was striding in the same direction when Mrs Browdie
turned pale, and, leaning back in her chair, requested him with a
faint voice to take notice, that if he ran into any danger it was
her intention to fall into hysterics immediately, and that the
consequences might be more serious than he thought for. John looked
rather disconcerted by this intelligence, though there was a lurking
grin on his face at the same time; but, being quite unable to keep
out of the fray, he compromised the matter by tucking his wife's arm
under his own, and, thus accompanied, following Nicholas downstairs
with all speed.

The passage outside the coffee-room door was the scene of
disturbance, and here were congregated the coffee-room customers and
waiters, together with two or three coachmen and helpers from the
yard. These had hastily assembled round a young man who from his
appearance might have been a year or two older than Nicholas, and
who, besides having given utterance to the defiances just now
described, seemed to have proceeded to even greater lengths in his
indignation, inasmuch as his feet had no other covering than a pair
of stockings, while a couple of slippers lay at no great distance
from the head of a prostrate figure in an opposite corner, who bore
the appearance of having been shot into his present retreat by means
of a kick, and complimented by having the slippers flung about his
ears afterwards.

The coffee-room customers, and the waiters, and the coachmen, and
the helpers--not to mention a barmaid who was looking on from behind
an open sash window--seemed at that moment, if a spectator might
judge from their winks, nods, and muttered exclamations, strongly
disposed to take part against the young gentleman in the stockings.
Observing this, and that the young gentleman was nearly of his own
age and had in nothing the appearance of an habitual brawler,
Nicholas, impelled by such feelings as will influence young men
sometimes, felt a very strong disposition to side with the weaker
party, and so thrust himself at once into the centre of the group,
and in a more emphatic tone, perhaps, than circumstances might seem
to warrant, demanded what all that noise was about.

'Hallo!' said one of the men from the yard, 'this is somebody in
disguise, this is.'

'Room for the eldest son of the Emperor of Roosher, gen'l'men!'
cried another fellow.

Disregarding these sallies, which were uncommonly well received, as
sallies at the expense of the best-dressed persons in a crowd
usually are, Nicholas glanced carelessly round, and addressing the
young gentleman, who had by this time picked up his slippers and
thrust his feet into them, repeated his inquiries with a courteous
air.

'A mere nothing!' he replied.

At this a murmur was raised by the lookers-on, and some of the
boldest cried, 'Oh, indeed!--Wasn't it though?--Nothing, eh?--He
called that nothing, did he? Lucky for him if he found it nothing.'
These and many other expressions of ironical disapprobation having
been exhausted, two or three of the out-of-door fellows began to
hustle Nicholas and the young gentleman who had made the noise:
stumbling against them by accident, and treading on their toes, and
so forth. But this being a round game, and one not necessarily
limited to three or four players, was open to John Browdie too, who,
bursting into the little crowd--to the great terror of his wife--and
falling about in all directions, now to the right, now to the left,
now forwards, now backwards, and accidentally driving his elbow
through the hat of the tallest helper, who had been particularly
active, speedily caused the odds to wear a very different
appearance; while more than one stout fellow limped away to a
respectful distance, anathematising with tears in his eyes the heavy
tread and ponderous feet of the burly Yorkshireman.

'Let me see him do it again,' said he who had been kicked into the
corner, rising as he spoke, apparently more from the fear of John
Browdie's inadvertently treading upon him, than from any desire to
place himself on equal terms with his late adversary. 'Let me see
him do it again. That's all.'

'Let me hear you make those remarks again,' said the young man, 'and
I'll knock that head of yours in among the wine-glasses behind you
there.'

Here a waiter who had been rubbing his hands in excessive enjoyment
of the scene, so long as only the breaking of heads was in question,
adjured the spectators with great earnestness to fetch the police,
declaring that otherwise murder would be surely done, and that he
was responsible for all the glass and china on the premises.

'No one need trouble himself to stir,' said the young gentleman, 'I
am going to remain in the house all night, and shall be found here
in the morning if there is any assault to answer for.'

'What did you strike him for?' asked one of the bystanders.

'Ah! what did you strike him for?' demanded the others.

The unpopular gentleman looked coolly round, and addressing himself
to Nicholas, said:

'You inquired just now what was the matter here. The matter is
simply this. Yonder person, who was drinking with a friend in the
coffee-room when I took my seat there for half an hour before going
to bed, (for I have just come off a journey, and preferred stopping
here tonight, to going home at this hour, where I was not expected
until tomorrow,) chose to express himself in very disrespectful, and
insolently familiar terms, of a young lady, whom I recognised from
his description and other circumstances, and whom I have the honour
to know. As he spoke loud enough to be overheard by the other
guests who were present, I informed him most civilly that he was
mistaken in his conjectures, which were of an offensive nature, and
requested him to forbear. He did so for a little time, but as he
chose to renew his conversation when leaving the room, in a more
offensive strain than before, I could not refrain from making after
him, and facilitating his departure by a kick, which reduced him to
the posture in which you saw him just now. I am the best judge of
my own affairs, I take it,' said the young man, who had certainly
not quite recovered from his recent heat; 'if anybody here thinks
proper to make this quarrel his own, I have not the smallest earthly
objection, I do assure him.'

Of all possible courses of proceeding under the circumstances
detailed, there was certainly not one which, in his then state of
mind, could have appeared more laudable to Nicholas than this.
There were not many subjects of dispute which at that moment could
have come home to his own breast more powerfully, for having the
unknown uppermost in his thoughts, it naturally occurred to him that
he would have done just the same if any audacious gossiper durst
have presumed in his hearing to speak lightly of her. Influenced by
these considerations, he espoused the young gentleman's quarrel with
great warmth, protesting that he had done quite right, and that he
respected him for it; which John Browdie (albeit not quite clear as
to the merits) immediately protested too, with not inferior
vehemence.

'Let him take care, that's all,' said the defeated party, who was
being rubbed down by a waiter, after his recent fall on the dusty
boards. 'He don't knock me about for nothing, I can tell him that.
A pretty state of things, if a man isn't to admire a handsome girl
without being beat to pieces for it!'

This reflection appeared to have great weight with the young lady in
the bar, who (adjusting her cap as she spoke, and glancing at a
mirror) declared that it would be a very pretty state of things
indeed; and that if people were to be punished for actions so
innocent and natural as that, there would be more people to be
knocked down than there would be people to knock them down, and that
she wondered what the gentleman meant by it, that she did.

'My dear girl,' said the young gentleman in a low voice, advancing
towards the sash window.

'Nonsense, sir!' replied the young lady sharply, smiling though as
she turned aside, and biting her lip, (whereat Mrs Browdie, who was
still standing on the stairs, glanced at her with disdain, and
called to her husband to come away).

'No, but listen to me,' said the young man. 'If admiration of a
pretty face were criminal, I should be the most hopeless person
alive, for I cannot resist one. It has the most extraordinary
effect upon me, checks and controls me in the most furious and
obstinate mood. You see what an effect yours has had upon me
already.'

'Oh, that's very pretty,' replied the young lady, tossing her head,
'but--'

'Yes, I know it's very pretty,' said the young man, looking with an
air of admiration in the barmaid's face; 'I said so, you know, just
this moment. But beauty should be spoken of respectfully--
respectfully, and in proper terms, and with a becoming sense of its
worth and excellence, whereas this fellow has no more notion--'

The young lady interrupted the conversation at this point, by
thrusting her head out of the bar-window, and inquiring of the
waiter in a shrill voice whether that young man who had been knocked
down was going to stand in the passage all night, or whether the
entrance was to be left clear for other people. The waiters taking
the hint, and communicating it to the hostlers, were not slow to
change their tone too, and the result was, that the unfortunate
victim was bundled out in a twinkling.

'I am sure I have seen that fellow before,' said Nicholas.

'Indeed!' replied his new acquaintance.

'I am certain of it,' said Nicholas, pausing to reflect. 'Where can
I have--stop!--yes, to be sure--he belongs to a register-office up
at the west end of the town. I knew I recollected the face.'

It was, indeed, Tom, the ugly clerk.

'That's odd enough!' said Nicholas, ruminating upon the strange
manner in which the register-office seemed to start up and stare him
in the face every now and then, and when he least expected it.

'I am much obliged to you for your kind advocacy of my cause when it
most needed an advocate,' said the young man, laughing, and drawing
a card from his pocket. 'Perhaps you'll do me the favour to let me
know where I can thank you.'

Nicholas took the card, and glancing at it involuntarily as he
returned the compliment, evinced very great surprise.

'Mr Frank Cheeryble!' said Nicholas. 'Surely not the nephew of
Cheeryble Brothers, who is expected tomorrow!'

'I don't usually call myself the nephew of the firm,' returned Mr
Frank, good-humouredly; 'but of the two excellent individuals who
compose it, I am proud to say I AM the nephew. And you, I see, are
Mr Nickleby, of whom I have heard so much! This is a most
unexpected meeting, but not the less welcome, I assure you.'

Nicholas responded to these compliments with others of the same
kind, and they shook hands warmly. Then he introduced John Browdie,
who had remained in a state of great admiration ever since the young
lady in the bar had been so skilfully won over to the right side.
Then Mrs John Browdie was introduced, and finally they all went
upstairs together and spent the next half-hour with great
satisfaction and mutual entertainment; Mrs John Browdie beginning
the conversation by declaring that of all the made-up things she
ever saw, that young woman below-stairs was the vainest and the
plainest.

This Mr Frank Cheeryble, although, to judge from what had recently
taken place, a hot-headed young man (which is not an absolute
miracle and phenomenon in nature), was a sprightly, good-humoured,
pleasant fellow, with much both in his countenance and disposition
that reminded Nicholas very strongly of the kind-hearted brothers.
His manner was as unaffected as theirs, and his demeanour full of
that heartiness which, to most people who have anything generous in
their composition, is peculiarly prepossessing. Add to this, that
he was good-looking and intelligent, had a plentiful share of
vivacity, was extremely cheerful, and accommodated himself in five
minutes' time to all John Browdie's oddities with as much ease as if
he had known him from a boy; and it will be a source of no great
wonder that, when they parted for the night, he had produced a most
favourable impression, not only upon the worthy Yorkshireman and his
wife, but upon Nicholas also, who, revolving all these things in his
mind as he made the best of his way home, arrived at the conclusion
that he had laid the foundation of a most agreeable and desirable
acquaintance.

'But it's a most extraordinary thing about that register-office
fellow!' thought Nicholas. 'Is it likely that this nephew can know
anything about that beautiful girl? When Tim Linkinwater gave me to
understand the other day that he was coming to take a share in the
business here, he said he had been superintending it in Germany for
four years, and that during the last six months he had been engaged
in establishing an agency in the north of England. That's four
years and a half--four years and a half. She can't be more than
seventeen--say eighteen at the outside. She was quite a child when
he went away, then. I should say he knew nothing about her and had
never seen her, so HE can give me no information. At all events,'
thought Nicholas, coming to the real point in his mind, 'there can
be no danger of any prior occupation of her affections in that
quarter; that's quite clear.'

Is selfishness a necessary ingredient in the composition of that
passion called love, or does it deserve all the fine things which
poets, in the exercise of their undoubted vocation, have said of it?
There are, no doubt, authenticated instances of gentlemen having
given up ladies and ladies having given up gentlemen to meritorious
rivals, under circumstances of great high-mindedness; but is it
quite established that the majority of such ladies and gentlemen
have not made a virtue of necessity, and nobly resigned what was
beyond their reach; as a private soldier might register a vow never
to accept the order of the Garter, or a poor curate of great piety
and learning, but of no family--save a very large family of
children--might renounce a bishopric?

Here was Nicholas Nickleby, who would have scorned the thought of
counting how the chances stood of his rising in favour or fortune
with the brothers Cheeryble, now that their nephew had returned,
already deep in calculations whether that same nephew was likely to
rival him in the affections of the fair unknown--discussing the
matter with himself too, as gravely as if, with that one exception,
it were all settled; and recurring to the subject again and again,
and feeling quite indignant and ill-used at the notion of anybody
else making love to one with whom he had never exchanged a word in
all his life. To be sure, he exaggerated rather than depreciated
the merits of his new acquaintance; but still he took it as a kind
of personal offence that he should have any merits at all--in the
eyes of this particular young lady, that is; for elsewhere he was
quite welcome to have as many as he pleased. There was undoubted
selfishness in all this, and yet Nicholas was of a most free and
generous nature, with as few mean or sordid thoughts, perhaps, as
ever fell to the lot of any man; and there is no reason to suppose
that, being in love, he felt and thought differently from other
people in the like sublime condition.

He did not stop to set on foot an inquiry into his train of thought
or state of feeling, however; but went thinking on all the way home,
and continued to dream on in the same strain all night. For, having
satisfied himself that Frank Cheeryble could have no knowledge of,
or acquaintance with, the mysterious young lady, it began to occur
to him that even he himself might never see her again; upon which
hypothesis he built up a very ingenious succession of tormenting
ideas which answered his purpose even better than the vision of Mr
Frank Cheeryble, and tantalised and worried him, waking and sleeping.

Notwithstanding all that has been said and sung to the contrary,
there is no well-established case of morning having either deferred
or hastened its approach by the term of an hour or so for the mere
gratification of a splenetic feeling against some unoffending lover:
the sun having, in the discharge of his public duty, as the books of
precedent report, invariably risen according to the almanacs, and
without suffering himself to be swayed by any private considerations.
So, morning came as usual, and with it business-hours, and with
them Mr Frank Cheeryble, and with him a long train of smiles and
welcomes from the worthy brothers, and a more grave and clerk-like,
but scarcely less hearty reception from Mr Timothy Linkinwater.

'That Mr Frank and Mr Nickleby should have met last night,' said Tim
Linkinwater, getting slowly off his stool, and looking round the
counting-house with his back planted against the desk, as was his
custom when he had anything very particular to say: 'that those two
young men should have met last night in that manner is, I say, a
coincidence, a remarkable coincidence. Why, I don't believe now,'
added Tim, taking off his spectacles, and smiling as with gentle
pride, 'that there's such a place in all the world for coincidences
as London is!'

'I don't know about that,' said Mr Frank; 'but--'

'Don't know about it, Mr Francis!' interrupted Tim, with an
obstinate air. 'Well, but let us know. If there is any better
place for such things, where is it? Is it in Europe? No, that it
isn't. Is it in Asia? Why, of course it's not. Is it in Africa?
Not a bit of it. Is it in America? YOU know better than that, at
all events. Well, then,' said Tim, folding his arms resolutely,
'where is it?'

'I was not about to dispute the point, Tim,' said young Cheeryble,
laughing. 'I am not such a heretic as that. All I was going to say
was, that I hold myself under an obligation to the coincidence,
that's all.'

'Oh! if you don't dispute it,' said Tim, quite satisfied, 'that's
another thing. I'll tell you what though. I wish you had. I wish
you or anybody would. I would so put that man down,' said Tim,
tapping the forefinger of his left hand emphatically with his
spectacles, 'so put that man down by argument--'

It was quite impossible to find language to express the degree of
mental prostration to which such an adventurous wight would be
reduced in the keen encounter with Tim Linkinwater, so Tim gave up
the rest of his declaration in pure lack of words, and mounted his
stool again.

'We may consider ourselves, brother Ned,' said Charles, after he had
patted Tim Linkinwater approvingly on the back, 'very fortunate in
having two such young men about us as our nephew Frank and Mr
Nickleby. It should be a source of great satisfaction and pleasure
to us.'

'Certainly, Charles, certainly,' returned the other.

'Of Tim,' added brother Ned, 'I say nothing whatever, because Tim is
a mere child--an infant--a nobody that we never think of or take
into account at all. Tim, you villain, what do you say to that,
sir?'

'I am jealous of both of 'em,' said Tim, 'and mean to look out for
another situation; so provide yourselves, gentlemen, if you please.'

Tim thought this such an exquisite, unparalleled, and most
extraordinary joke, that he laid his pen upon the inkstand, and
rather tumbling off his stool than getting down with his usual
deliberation, laughed till he was quite faint, shaking his head all
the time so that little particles of powder flew palpably about the
office. Nor were the brothers at all behind-hand, for they laughed
almost as heartily at the ludicrous idea of any voluntary separation
between themselves and old Tim. Nicholas and Mr Frank laughed quite
boisterously, perhaps to conceal some other emotion awakened by this
little incident, (and so, indeed, did the three old fellows after
the first burst,) so perhaps there was as much keen enjoyment and
relish in that laugh, altogether, as the politest assembly ever
derived from the most poignant witticism uttered at any one person's
expense.

'Mr Nickleby,' said brother Charles, calling him aside, and taking
him kindly by the hand, 'I--I--am anxious, my dear sir, to see that
you are properly and comfortably settled in the cottage. We cannot
allow those who serve us well to labour under any privation or
discomfort that it is in our power to remove. I wish, too, to see
your mother and sister: to know them, Mr Nickleby, and have an
opportunity of relieving their minds by assuring them that any
trifling service we have been able to do them is a great deal more
than repaid by the zeal and ardour you display.--Not a word, my dear
sir, I beg. Tomorrow is Sunday. I shall make bold to come out at
teatime, and take the chance of finding you at home; if you are not,
you know, or the ladies should feel a delicacy in being intruded on,
and would rather not be known to me just now, why I can come again
another time, any other time would do for me. Let it remain upon
that understanding. Brother Ned, my dear fellow, let me have a word
with you this way.'

The twins went out of the office arm-in-arm, and Nicholas, who saw
in this act of kindness, and many others of which he had been the
subject that morning, only so many delicate renewals on the arrival
of their nephew of the kind assurance which the brothers had given
him in his absence, could scarcely feel sufficient admiration and
gratitude for such extraordinary consideration.

The intelligence that they were to have visitor--and such a visitor--
next day, awakened in the breast of Mrs Nickleby mingled feelings
of exultation and regret; for whereas on the one hand she hailed it
as an omen of her speedy restoration to good society and the almost-
forgotten pleasures of morning calls and evening tea-drinkings, she
could not, on the other, but reflect with bitterness of spirit on
the absence of a silver teapot with an ivory knob on the lid, and a
milk-jug to match, which had been the pride of her heart in days of
yore, and had been kept from year's end to year's end wrapped up in
wash-leather on a certain top shelf which now presented itself in
lively colours to her sorrowing imagination.

'I wonder who's got that spice-box,' said Mrs Nickleby, shaking her
head. 'It used to stand in the left-hand corner, next but two to
the pickled onions. You remember that spice-box, Kate?'

'Perfectly well, mama.'

'I shouldn't think you did, Kate,' returned Mrs Nickleby, in a
severe manner, 'talking about it in that cold and unfeeling way! If
there is any one thing that vexes me in these losses more than the
losses themselves, I do protest and declare,' said Mrs Nickleby,
rubbing her nose with an impassioned air, 'that it is to have people
about me who take things with such provoking calmness.'

'My dear mama,' said Kate, stealing her arm round her mother's
neck, 'why do you say what I know you cannot seriously mean or
think, or why be angry with me for being happy and content? You and
Nicholas are left to me, we are together once again, and what regard
can I have for a few trifling things of which we never feel the
want? When I have seen all the misery and desolation that death can
bring, and known the lonesome feeling of being solitary and alone in
crowds, and all the agony of separation in grief and poverty when we
most needed comfort and support from each other, can you wonder that
I look upon this as a place of such delicious quiet and rest, that
with you beside me I have nothing to wish for or regret? There was
a time, and not long since, when all the comforts of our old home
did come back upon me, I own, very often--oftener than you would
think perhaps--but I affected to care nothing for them, in the hope
that you would so be brought to regret them the less. I was not
insensible, indeed. I might have felt happier if I had been. Dear
mama,' said Kate, in great agitation, 'I know no difference between
this home and that in which we were all so happy for so many years,
except that the kindest and gentlest heart that ever ached on earth
has passed in peace to heaven.'

'Kate my dear, Kate,' cried Mrs Nickleby, folding her in her arms.

'I have so often thought,' sobbed Kate, 'of all his kind words--of
the last time he looked into my little room, as he passed upstairs
to bed, and said "God bless you, darling." There was a paleness in
his face, mama--the broken heart--I know it was--I little thought
so--then--'

A gush of tears came to her relief, and Kate laid her head upon her
mother's breast, and wept like a little child.

It is an exquisite and beautiful thing in our nature, that when the
heart is touched and softened by some tranquil happiness or
affectionate feeling, the memory of the dead comes over it most
powerfully and irresistibly. It would almost seem as though our
better thoughts and sympathies were charms, in virtue of which the
soul is enabled to hold some vague and mysterious intercourse with
the spirits of those whom we dearly loved in life. Alas! how often
and how long may those patient angels hover above us, watching for
the spell which is so seldom uttered, and so soon forgotten!

Poor Mrs Nickleby, accustomed to give ready utterance to whatever
came uppermost in her mind, had never conceived the possibility of
her daughter's dwelling upon these thoughts in secret, the more
especially as no hard trial or querulous reproach had ever drawn
them from her. But now, when the happiness of all that Nicholas had
just told them, and of their new and peaceful life, brought these
recollections so strongly upon Kate that she could not suppress
them, Mrs Nickleby began to have a glimmering that she had been
rather thoughtless now and then, and was conscious of something like
self-reproach as she embraced her daughter, and yielded to the
emotions which such a conversation naturally awakened.

There was a mighty bustle that night, and a vast quantity of
preparation for the expected visitor, and a very large nosegay was
brought from a gardener's hard by, and cut up into a number of very
small ones, with which Mrs Nickleby would have garnished the little
sitting-room, in a style that certainly could not have failed to
attract anybody's attention, if Kate had not offered to spare her
the trouble, and arranged them in the prettiest and neatest manner
possible. If the cottage ever looked pretty, it must have been on
such a bright and sunshiny day as the next day was. But Smike's
pride in the garden, or Mrs Nickleby's in the condition of the
furniture, or Kate's in everything, was nothing to the pride with
which Nicholas looked at Kate herself; and surely the costliest
mansion in all England might have found in her beautiful face and
graceful form its most exquisite and peerless ornament.

About six o'clock in the afternoon Mrs Nickleby was thrown into a
great flutter of spirits by the long-expected knock at the door, nor
was this flutter at all composed by the audible tread of two pair of
boots in the passage, which Mrs Nickleby augured, in a breathless
state, must be 'the two Mr Cheerybles;' as it certainly was, though
not the two Mrs Nickleby expected, because it was Mr Charles
Cheeryble, and his nephew, Mr Frank, who made a thousand apologies
for his intrusion, which Mrs Nickleby (having tea-spoons enough and
to spare for all) most graciously received. Nor did the appearance
of this unexpected visitor occasion the least embarrassment, (save
in Kate, and that only to the extent of a blush or two at first,)
for the old gentleman was so kind and cordial, and the young
gentleman imitated him in this respect so well, that the usual
stiffness and formality of a first meeting showed no signs of
appearing, and Kate really more than once detected herself in the
very act of wondering when it was going to begin.

At the tea-table there was plenty of conversation on a great variety
of subjects, nor were there wanting jocose matters of discussion,
such as they were; for young Mr Cheeryble's recent stay in Germany
happening to be alluded to, old Mr Cheeryble informed the company
that the aforesaid young Mr Cheeryble was suspected to have fallen
deeply in love with the daughter of a certain German burgomaster.
This accusation young Mr Cheeryble most indignantly repelled, upon
which Mrs Nickleby slyly remarked, that she suspected, from the very
warmth of the denial, there must be something in it. Young Mr
Cheeryble then earnestly entreated old Mr Cheeryble to confess that
it was all a jest, which old Mr Cheeryble at last did, young Mr
Cheeryble being so much in earnest about it, that--as Mrs Nickleby
said many thousand times afterwards in recalling the scene--he
'quite coloured,' which she rightly considered a memorable
circumstance, and one worthy of remark, young men not being as a
class remarkable for modesty or self-denial, especially when there
is a lady in the case, when, if they colour at all, it is rather
their practice to colour the story, and not themselves.

After tea there was a walk in the garden, and the evening being very
fine they strolled out at the garden-gate into some lanes and bye-
roads, and sauntered up and down until it grew quite dark. The time
seemed to pass very quickly with all the party. Kate went first,
leaning upon her brother's arm, and talking with him and Mr Frank
Cheeryble; and Mrs Nickleby and the elder gentleman followed at a
short distance, the kindness of the good merchant, his interest in
the welfare of Nicholas, and his admiration of Kate, so operating
upon the good lady's feelings, that the usual current of her speech
was confined within very narrow and circumscribed limits. Smike
(who, if he had ever been an object of interest in his life, had
been one that day) accompanied them, joining sometimes one group and
sometimes the other, as brother Charles, laying his hand upon his
shoulder, bade him walk with him, or Nicholas, looking smilingly
round, beckoned him to come and talk with the old friend who
understood him best, and who could win a smile into his careworn
face when none else could.

Pride is one of the seven deadly sins; but it cannot be the pride of
a mother in her children, for that is a compound of two cardinal
virtues--faith and hope. This was the pride which swelled Mrs
Nickleby's heart that night, and this it was which left upon her
face, glistening in the light when they returned home, traces of the
most grateful tears she had ever shed.

There was a quiet mirth about the little supper, which harmonised
exactly with this tone of feeling, and at length the two gentlemen
took their leave. There was one circumstance in the leave-taking
which occasioned a vast deal of smiling and pleasantry, and that
was, that Mr Frank Cheeryble offered his hand to Kate twice over,
quite forgetting that he had bade her adieu already. This was held
by the elder Mr Cheeryble to be a convincing proof that he was
thinking of his German flame, and the jest occasioned immense
laughter. So easy is it to move light hearts.

In short, it was a day of serene and tranquil happiness; and as we
all have some bright day--many of us, let us hope, among a crowd of
others--to which we revert with particular delight, so this one was
often looked back to afterwards, as holding a conspicuous place in
the calendar of those who shared it.

Was there one exception, and that one he who needed to have been
most happy?

Who was that who, in the silence of his own chamber, sunk upon his
knees to pray as his first friend had taught him, and folding his
hands and stretching them wildly in the air, fell upon his face in a
passion of bitter grief?

CHAPTER 44

Mr Ralph Nickleby cuts an old Acquaintance. It would also appear
from the Contents hereof, that a Joke, even between Husband and
Wife, may be sometimes carried too far

There are some men who, living with the one object of enriching
themselves, no matter by what means, and being perfectly conscious
of the baseness and rascality of the means which they will use every
day towards this end, affect nevertheless--even to themselves--a
high tone of moral rectitude, and shake their heads and sigh over
the depravity of the world. Some of the craftiest scoundrels that
ever walked this earth, or rather--for walking implies, at least,
an erect position and the bearing of a man--that ever crawled and
crept through life by its dirtiest and narrowest ways, will gravely
jot down in diaries the events of every day, and keep a regular
debtor and creditor account with Heaven, which shall always show a
floating balance in their own favour. Whether this is a gratuitous
(the only gratuitous) part of the falsehood and trickery of such
men's lives, or whether they really hope to cheat Heaven itself, and
lay up treasure in the next world by the same process which has
enabled them to lay up treasure in this--not to question how it is,
so it is. And, doubtless, such book-keeping (like certain
autobiographies which have enlightened the world) cannot fail to
prove serviceable, in the one respect of sparing the recording Angel
some time and labour.

Ralph Nickleby was not a man of this stamp. Stern, unyielding,
dogged, and impenetrable, Ralph cared for nothing in life, or beyond
it, save the gratification of two passions, avarice, the first and
predominant appetite of his nature, and hatred, the second.
Affecting to consider himself but a type of all humanity, he was at
little pains to conceal his true character from the world in
general, and in his own heart he exulted over and cherished every
bad design as it had birth. The only scriptural admonition that
Ralph Nickleby heeded, in the letter, was 'know thyself.' He knew
himself well, and choosing to imagine that all mankind were cast in
the same mould, hated them; for, though no man hates himself, the
coldest among us having too much self-love for that, yet most men
unconsciously judge the world from themselves, and it will be very
generally found that those who sneer habitually at human nature, and
affect to despise it, are among its worst and least pleasant
samples.

But the present business of these adventures is with Ralph himself,
who stood regarding Newman Noggs with a heavy frown, while that
worthy took off his fingerless gloves, and spreading them carefully
on the palm of his left hand, and flattening them with his right to
take the creases out, proceeded to roll them up with an absent air
as if he were utterly regardless of all things else, in the deep
interest of the ceremonial.

'Gone out of town!' said Ralph, slowly. 'A mistake of yours. Go
back again.'

'No mistake,' returned Newman. 'Not even going; gone.'

'Has he turned girl or baby?' muttered Ralph, with a fretful
gesture.

'I don't know,' said Newman, 'but he's gone.'

The repetition of the word 'gone' seemed to afford Newman Noggs
inexpressible delight, in proportion as it annoyed Ralph Nickleby.
He uttered the word with a full round emphasis, dwelling upon it as
long as he decently could, and when he could hold out no longer
without attracting observation, stood gasping it to himself as if
even that were a satisfaction.

'And WHERE has he gone?' said Ralph.

'France,' replied Newman. 'Danger of another attack of erysipelas
--a worse attack--in the head. So the doctors ordered him off. And
he's gone.'

'And Lord Frederick--?' began Ralph.

'He's gone too,' replied Newman.

'And he carries his drubbing with him, does he?' said Ralph, turning
away; 'pockets his bruises, and sneaks off without the retaliation
of a word, or seeking the smallest reparation!'

'He's too ill,' said Newman.

'Too ill!' repeated Ralph. 'Why I would have it if I were dying; in
that case I should only be the more determined to have it, and that
without delay--I mean if I were he. But he's too ill! Poor Sir
Mulberry! Too ill!'

Uttering these words with supreme contempt and great irritation of
manner, Ralph signed hastily to Newman to leave the room; and
throwing himself into his chair, beat his foot impatiently upon the
ground.

'There is some spell about that boy,' said Ralph, grinding his
teeth. 'Circumstances conspire to help him. Talk of fortune's
favours! What is even money to such Devil's luck as this?'

He thrust his hands impatiently into his pockets, but notwithstanding
his previous reflection there was some consolation there, for his
face relaxed a little; and although there was still a deep frown
upon the contracted brow, it was one of calculation, and not of
disappointment.

'This Hawk will come back, however,' muttered Ralph; 'and if I know
the man (and I should by this time) his wrath will have lost
nothing of its violence in the meanwhile. Obliged to live in
retirement--the monotony of a sick-room to a man of his habits--no
life--no drink--no play--nothing that he likes and lives by. He
is not likely to forget his obligations to the cause of all this.
Few men would; but he of all others? No, no!'

He smiled and shook his head, and resting his chin upon his hand,
fell a musing, and smiled again. After a time he rose and rang the
bell.

'That Mr Squeers; has he been here?' said Ralph.

'He was here last night. I left him here when I went home,'
returned Newman.

'I know that, fool, do I not?' said Ralph, irascibly. 'Has he been
here since? Was he here this morning?'

'No,' bawled Newman, in a very loud key.

'If he comes while I am out--he is pretty sure to be here by nine
tonight--let him wait. And if there's another man with him, as
there will be--perhaps,' said Ralph, checking himself, 'let him
wait too.'

'Let 'em both wait?' said Newman.

'Ay,' replied Ralph, turning upon him with an angry look. 'Help me
on with this spencer, and don't repeat after me, like a croaking
parrot.'

'I wish I was a parrot,' Newman, sulkily.

'I wish you were,' rejoined Ralph, drawing his spencer on; 'I'd have
wrung your neck long ago.'

Newman returned no answer to this compliment, but looked over
Ralph's shoulder for an instant, (he was adjusting the collar of the
spencer behind, just then,) as if he were strongly disposed to tweak
him by the nose. Meeting Ralph's eye, however, he suddenly recalled
his wandering fingers, and rubbed his own red nose with a vehemence
quite astonishing.

Bestowing no further notice upon his eccentric follower than a
threatening look, and an admonition to be careful and make no
mistake, Ralph took his hat and gloves, and walked out.

He appeared to have a very extraordinary and miscellaneous
connection, and very odd calls he made, some at great rich houses,
and some at small poor ones, but all upon one subject: money. His
face was a talisman to the porters and servants of his more dashing
clients, and procured him ready admission, though he trudged on
foot, and others, who were denied, rattled to the door in carriages.
Here he was all softness and cringing civility; his step so light,
that it scarcely produced a sound upon the thick carpets; his voice
so soft that it was not audible beyond the person to whom it was
addressed. But in the poorer habitations Ralph was another man; his
boots creaked upon the passage floor as he walked boldly in; his
voice was harsh and loud as he demanded the money that was overdue;
his threats were coarse and angry. With another class of customers,
Ralph was again another man. These were attorneys of more than
doubtful reputation, who helped him to new business, or raised fresh
profits upon old. With them Ralph was familiar and jocose,
humorous upon the topics of the day, and especially pleasant upon
bankruptcies and pecuniary difficulties that made good for trade.
In short, it would have been difficult to have recognised the same
man under these various aspects, but for the bulky leather case full
of bills and notes which he drew from his pocket at every house, and
the constant repetition of the same complaint, (varied only in tone
and style of delivery,) that the world thought him rich, and that
perhaps he might be if he had his own; but there was no getting
money in when it was once out, either principal or interest, and it
was a hard matter to live; even to live from day to day.

It was evening before a long round of such visits (interrupted only
by a scanty dinner at an eating-house) terminated at Pimlico, and
Ralph walked along St James's Park, on his way home.

There were some deep schemes in his head, as the puckered brow and
firmly-set mouth would have abundantly testified, even if they had
been unaccompanied by a complete indifference to, or unconsciousness
of, the objects about him. So complete was his abstraction,
however, that Ralph, usually as quick-sighted as any man, did not
observe that he was followed by a shambling figure, which at one
time stole behind him with noiseless footsteps, at another crept a
few paces before him, and at another glided along by his side; at
all times regarding him with an eye so keen, and a look so eager and
attentive, that it was more like the expression of an intrusive face
in some powerful picture or strongly marked dream, than the scrutiny
even of a most interested and anxious observer.

The sky had been lowering and dark for some time, and the
commencement of a violent storm of rain drove Ralph for shelter to a
tree. He was leaning against it with folded arms, still buried in
thought, when, happening to raise his eyes, he suddenly met those of
a man who, creeping round the trunk, peered into his face with a
searching look. There was something in the usurer's expression at
the moment, which the man appeared to remember well, for it decided
him; and stepping close up to Ralph, he pronounced his name.

Astonished for the moment, Ralph fell back a couple of paces and
surveyed him from head to foot. A spare, dark, withered man, of
about his own age, with a stooping body, and a very sinister face
rendered more ill-favoured by hollow and hungry cheeks, deeply
sunburnt, and thick black eyebrows, blacker in contrast with the
perfect whiteness of his hair; roughly clothed in shabby garments,
of a strange and uncouth make; and having about him an indefinable
manner of depression and degradation--this, for a moment, was all
he saw. But he looked again, and the face and person seemed
gradually to grow less strange; to change as he looked, to subside
and soften into lineaments that were familiar, until at last they
resolved themselves, as if by some strange optical illusion, into
those of one whom he had known for many years, and forgotten and
lost sight of for nearly as many more.

The man saw that the recognition was mutual, and beckoning to Ralph
to take his former place under the tree, and not to stand in the
falling rain, of which, in his first surprise, he had been quite
regardless, addressed him in a hoarse, faint tone.

'You would hardly have known me from my voice, I suppose, Mr
Nickleby?' he said.

'No,' returned Ralph, bending a severe look upon him. 'Though there
is something in that, that I remember now.'

'There is little in me that you can call to mind as having been
there eight years ago, I dare say?' observed the other.

'Quite enough,' said Ralph, carelessly, and averting his face.
'More than enough.'

'If I had remained in doubt about YOU, Mr Nickleby,' said the other,
'this reception, and YOUR manner, would have decided me very soon.'

'Did you expect any other?' asked Ralph, sharply.

'No!' said the man.

'You were right,' retorted Ralph; 'and as you feel no surprise, need
express none.'

'Mr Nickleby,' said the man, bluntly, after a brief pause, during
which he had seemed to struggle with an inclination to answer him by
some reproach, 'will you hear a few words that I have to say?'

'I am obliged to wait here till the rain holds a little,' said
Ralph, looking abroad. 'If you talk, sir, I shall not put my
fingers in my ears, though your talking may have as much effect as
if I did.'

'I was once in your confidence--' thus his companion began. Ralph
looked round, and smiled involuntarily.

'Well,' said the other, 'as much in your confidence as you ever
chose to let anybody be.'

'Ah!' rejoined Ralph, folding his arms; 'that's another thing,
quite another thing.'

'Don't let us play upon words, Mr Nickleby, in the name of
humanity.'

'Of what?' said Ralph.

'Of humanity,' replied the other, sternly. 'I am hungry and in
want. If the change that you must see in me after so long an
absence--must see, for I, upon whom it has come by slow and hard
degrees, see it and know it well--will not move you to pity, let
the knowledge that bread; not the daily bread of the Lord's Prayer,
which, as it is offered up in cities like this, is understood to
include half the luxuries of the world for the rich, and just as
much coarse food as will support life for the poor--not that, but
bread, a crust of dry hard bread, is beyond my reach today--let
that have some weight with you, if nothing else has.'

'If this is the usual form in which you beg, sir,' said Ralph, 'you
have studied your part well; but if you will take advice from one
who knows something of the world and its ways, I should recommend a
lower tone; a little lower tone, or you stand a fair chance of
being starved in good earnest.'

As he said this, Ralph clenched his left wrist tightly with his
right hand, and inclining his head a little on one side and dropping
his chin upon his breast, looked at him whom he addressed with a
frowning, sullen face. The very picture of a man whom nothing could
move or soften.

'Yesterday was my first day in London,' said the old man, glancing
at his travel-stained dress and worn shoes.

'It would have been better for you, I think, if it had been your
last also,' replied Ralph.

'I have been seeking you these two days, where I thought you were
most likely to be found,' resumed the other more humbly, 'and I met
you here at last, when I had almost given up the hope of
encountering you, Mr Nickleby.'

He seemed to wait for some reply, but Ralph giving him none, he
continued:

'I am a most miserable and wretched outcast, nearly sixty years old,
and as destitute and helpless as a child of six.'

'I am sixty years old, too,' replied Ralph, 'and am neither
destitute nor helpless. Work. Don't make fine play-acting speeches
about bread, but earn it.'

'How?' cried the other. 'Where? Show me the means. Will you give
them to me--will you?'

'I did once,' replied Ralph, composedly; 'you scarcely need ask me
whether I will again.'

'It's twenty years ago, or more,' said the man, in a suppressed
voice, 'since you and I fell out. You remember that? I claimed a
share in the profits of some business I brought to you, and, as I
persisted, you arrested me for an old advance of ten pounds, odd
shillings, including interest at fifty per cent, or so.'

'I remember something of it,' replied Ralph, carelessly. 'What
then?'

'That didn't part us,' said the man. 'I made submission, being on
the wrong side of the bolts and bars; and as you were not the made
man then that you are now, you were glad enough to take back a clerk
who wasn't over nice, and who knew something of the trade you
drove.'

'You begged and prayed, and I consented,' returned Ralph. 'That was
kind of me. Perhaps I did want you. I forget. I should think I
did, or you would have begged in vain. You were useful; not too
honest, not too delicate, not too nice of hand or heart; but
useful.'

'Useful, indeed!' said the man. 'Come. You had pinched and ground
me down for some years before that, but I had served you faithfully
up to that time, in spite of all your dog's usage. Had I?'

Ralph made no reply.

'Had I?' said the man again.

'You had had your wages,' rejoined Ralph, 'and had done your work.
We stood on equal ground so far, and could both cry quits.'

'Then, but not afterwards,' said the other.

'Not afterwards, certainly, nor even then, for (as you have just
said) you owed me money, and do still,' replied Ralph.

'That's not all,' said the man, eagerly. 'That's not all. Mark
that. I didn't forget that old sore, trust me. Partly in
remembrance of that, and partly in the hope of making money someday
by the scheme, I took advantage of my position about you, and
possessed myself of a hold upon you, which you would give half of
all you have to know, and never can know but through me. I left
you--long after that time, remember--and, for some poor trickery
that came within the law, but was nothing to what you money-makers
daily practise just outside its bounds, was sent away a convict for
seven years. I have returned what you see me. Now, Mr Nickleby,'
said the man, with a strange mixture of humility and sense of power,
'what help and assistance will you give me; what bribe, to speak out
plainly? My expectations are not monstrous, but I must live, and to
live I must eat and drink. Money is on your side, and hunger and
thirst on mine. You may drive an easy bargain.'

'Is that all?' said Ralph, still eyeing his companion with the same
steady look, and moving nothing but his lips.

'It depends on you, Mr Nickleby, whether that's all or not,' was the
rejoinder.

'Why then, harkye, Mr--, I don't know by what name I am to call
you,' said Ralph.

'By my old one, if you like.'

'Why then, harkye, Mr Brooker,' said Ralph, in his harshest accents,
'and don't expect to draw another speech from me. Harkye, sir. I
know you of old for a ready scoundrel, but you never had a stout
heart; and hard work, with (maybe) chains upon those legs of yours,
and shorter food than when I "pinched" and "ground" you, has blunted
your wits, or you would not come with such a tale as this to me.
You a hold upon me! Keep it, or publish it to the world, if you
like.'

'I can't do that,' interposed Brooker. 'That wouldn't serve me.'

'Wouldn't it?' said Ralph. 'It will serve you as much as bringing
it to me, I promise you. To be plain with you, I am a careful man,
and know my affairs thoroughly. I know the world, and the world
knows me. Whatever you gleaned, or heard, or saw, when you served
me, the world knows and magnifies already. You could tell it
nothing that would surprise it, unless, indeed, it redounded to my
credit or honour, and then it would scout you for a liar. And yet I
don't find business slack, or clients scrupulous. Quite the
contrary. I am reviled or threatened every day by one man or
another,' said Ralph; 'but things roll on just the same, and I don't
grow poorer either.'

'I neither revile nor threaten,' rejoined the man. 'I can tell you
of what you have lost by my act, what I only can restore, and what,
if I die without restoring, dies with me, and never can be
regained.'

'I tell my money pretty accurately, and generally keep it in my own
custody,' said Ralph. 'I look sharply after most men that I deal
with, and most of all I looked sharply after you. You are welcome
to all you have kept from me.'

'Are those of your own name dear to you?' said the man emphatically.
'If they are--'

'They are not,' returned Ralph, exasperated at this perseverance,
and the thought of Nicholas, which the last question awakened.
'They are not. If you had come as a common beggar, I might have
thrown a sixpence to you in remembrance of the clever knave you used
to be; but since you try to palm these stale tricks upon one you
might have known better, I'll not part with a halfpenny--nor would I
to save you from rotting. And remember this, 'scape-gallows,' said
Ralph, menacing him with his hand, 'that if we meet again, and you
so much as notice me by one begging gesture, you shall see the
inside of a jail once more, and tighten this hold upon me in
intervals of the hard labour that vagabonds are put to. There's my
answer to your trash. Take it.'

With a disdainful scowl at the object of his anger, who met his eye
but uttered not a word, Ralph walked away at his usual pace, without
manifesting the slightest curiosity to see what became of his late
companion, or indeed once looking behind him. The man remained on
the same spot with his eyes fixed upon his retreating figure until
it was lost to view, and then drawing his arm about his chest, as if
the damp and lack of food struck coldly to him, lingered with
slouching steps by the wayside, and begged of those who passed
along.

Ralph, in no-wise moved by what had lately passed, further than as he
had already expressed himself, walked deliberately on, and turning
out of the Park and leaving Golden Square on his right, took his way
through some streets at the west end of the town until he arrived in
that particular one in which stood the residence of Madame
Mantalini. The name of that lady no longer appeared on the flaming
door-plate, that of Miss Knag being substituted in its stead; but
the bonnets and dresses were still dimly visible in the first-floor
windows by the decaying light of a summer's evening, and excepting
this ostensible alteration in the proprietorship, the establishment
wore its old appearance.

'Humph!' muttered Ralph, drawing his hand across his mouth with a
connoisseur-like air, and surveying the house from top to bottom;
'these people look pretty well. They can't last long; but if I know
of their going in good time, I am safe, and a fair profit too. I
must keep them closely in view; that's all.'

So, nodding his head very complacently, Ralph was leaving the spot,
when his quick ear caught the sound of a confused noise and hubbub
of voices, mingled with a great running up and down stairs, in the
very house which had been the subject of his scrutiny; and while he
was hesitating whether to knock at the door or listen at the keyhole
a little longer, a female servant of Madame Mantalini's (whom he had
often seen) opened it abruptly and bounced out, with her blue cap-
ribbons streaming in the air.

'Hallo here. Stop!' cried Ralph. 'What's the matter? Here am I.
Didn't you hear me knock?'

'Oh! Mr Nickleby, sir,' said the girl. 'Go up, for the love of
Gracious. Master's been and done it again.'

'Done what?' said Ralph, tartly; 'what d'ye mean?'

'I knew he would if he was drove to it,' cried the girl. 'I said so
all along.'

'Come here, you silly wench,' said Ralph, catching her by the wrist;
'and don't carry family matters to the neighbours, destroying the
credit of the establishment. Come here; do you hear me, girl?'

Without any further expostulation, he led or rather pulled the
frightened handmaid into the house, and shut the door; then bidding
her walk upstairs before him, followed without more ceremony.

Guided by the noise of a great many voices all talking together, and
passing the girl in his impatience, before they had ascended many
steps, Ralph quickly reached the private sitting-room, when he was
rather amazed by the confused and inexplicable scene in which he
suddenly found himself.

There were all the young-lady workers, some with bonnets and some
without, in various attitudes expressive of alarm and consternation;
some gathered round Madame Mantalini, who was in tears upon one
chair; and others round Miss Knag, who was in opposition tears upon
another; and others round Mr Mantalini, who was perhaps the most
striking figure in the whole group, for Mr Mantalini's legs were
extended at full length upon the floor, and his head and shoulders
were supported by a very tall footman, who didn't seem to know what
to do with them, and Mr Mantalini's eyes were closed, and his face
was pale and his hair was comparatively straight, and his whiskers
and moustache were limp, and his teeth were clenched, and he had a
little bottle in his right hand, and a little tea-spoon in his left;
and his hands, arms, legs, and shoulders, were all stiff and
powerless. And yet Madame Mantalini was not weeping upon the body,
but was scolding violently upon her chair; and all this amidst a
clamour of tongues perfectly deafening, and which really appeared to
have driven the unfortunate footman to the utmost verge of
distraction.

'What is the matter here?' said Ralph, pressing forward.

At this inquiry, the clamour was increased twenty-fold, and an
astounding string of such shrill contradictions as 'He's poisoned
himself'--'He hasn't'--'Send for a doctor'--'Don't'--'He's dying'--
'He isn't, he's only pretending'--with various other cries, poured
forth with bewildering volubility, until Madame Mantalini was seen
to address herself to Ralph, when female curiosity to know what she
would say, prevailed, and, as if by general consent, a dead silence,
unbroken by a single whisper, instantaneously succeeded.

'Mr Nickleby,' said Madame Mantalini; 'by what chance you came here,
I don't know.'

Here a gurgling voice was heard to ejaculate, as part of the
wanderings of a sick man, the words 'Demnition sweetness!' but
nobody heeded them except the footman, who, being startled to hear
such awful tones proceeding, as it were, from between his very
fingers, dropped his master's head upon the floor with a pretty loud
crash, and then, without an effort to lift it up, gazed upon the
bystanders, as if he had done something rather clever than
otherwise.

'I will, however,' continued Madame Mantalini, drying her eyes, and
speaking with great indignation, 'say before you, and before
everybody here, for the first time, and once for all, that I never
will supply that man's extravagances and viciousness again. I have
been a dupe and a fool to him long enough. In future, he shall
support himself if he can, and then he may spend what money he
pleases, upon whom and how he pleases; but it shall not be mine, and
therefore you had better pause before you trust him further.'

Thereupon Madame Mantalini, quite unmoved by some most pathetic
lamentations on the part of her husband, that the apothecary had not
mixed the prussic acid strong enough, and that he must take another
bottle or two to finish the work he had in hand, entered into a
catalogue of that amiable gentleman's gallantries, deceptions,
extravagances, and infidelities (especially the last), winding up
with a protest against being supposed to entertain the smallest
remnant of regard for him; and adducing, in proof of the altered
state of her affections, the circumstance of his having poisoned
himself in private no less than six times within the last fortnight,
and her not having once interfered by word or deed to save his
life.

'And I insist on being separated and left to myself,' said Madame
Mantalini, sobbing. 'If he dares to refuse me a separation, I'll
have one in law--I can--and I hope this will be a warning to all
girls who have seen this disgraceful exhibition.'

Miss Knag, who was unquestionably the oldest girl in company, said
with great solemnity, that it would be a warning to HER, and so did
the young ladies generally, with the exception of one or two who
appeared to entertain some doubts whether such whispers could do
wrong.

'Why do you say all this before so many listeners?' said Ralph, in a
low voice. 'You know you are not in earnest.'

'I AM in earnest,' replied Madame Mantalini, aloud, and retreating
towards Miss Knag.

'Well, but consider,' reasoned Ralph, who had a great interest in
the matter. 'It would be well to reflect. A married woman has no
property.'

'Not a solitary single individual dem, my soul,' and Mr Mantalini,
raising himself upon his elbow.

'I am quite aware of that,' retorted Madame Mantalini, tossing her
head; 'and I have none. The business, the stock, this house, and
everything in it, all belong to Miss Knag.'

'That's quite true, Madame Mantalini,' said Miss Knag, with whom her
late employer had secretly come to an amicable understanding on this
point. 'Very true, indeed, Madame Mantalini--hem--very true. And I
never was more glad in all my life, that I had strength of mind to
resist matrimonial offers, no matter how advantageous, than I am
when I think of my present position as compared with your most
unfortunate and most undeserved one, Madame Mantalini.'

'Demmit!' cried Mr Mantalini, turning his head towards his wife.
'Will it not slap and pinch the envious dowager, that dares to
reflect upon its own delicious?'

But the day of Mr Mantalini's blandishments had departed. 'Miss
Knag, sir,' said his wife, 'is my particular friend;' and although
Mr Mantalini leered till his eyes seemed in danger of never coming
back to their right places again, Madame Mantalini showed no signs
of softening.

To do the excellent Miss Knag justice, she had been mainly
instrumental in bringing about this altered state of things, for,
finding by daily experience, that there was no chance of the
business thriving, or even continuing to exist, while Mr Mantalini
had any hand in the expenditure, and having now a considerable
interest in its well-doing, she had sedulously applied herself to
the investigation of some little matters connected with that
gentleman's private character, which she had so well elucidated, and
artfully imparted to Madame Mantalini, as to open her eyes more
effectually than the closest and most philosophical reasoning could
have done in a series of years. To which end, the accidental
discovery by Miss Knag of some tender correspondence, in which
Madame Mantalini was described as 'old' and 'ordinary,' had most
providentially contributed.

However, notwithstanding her firmness, Madame Mantalini wept very
piteously; and as she leant upon Miss Knag, and signed towards the
door, that young lady and all the other young ladies with
sympathising faces, proceeded to bear her out.

'Nickleby,' said Mr Mantalini in tears, 'you have been made a
witness to this demnition cruelty, on the part of the demdest
enslaver and captivator that never was, oh dem! I forgive that
woman.'

'Forgive!' repeated Madame Mantalini, angrily.

'I do forgive her, Nickleby,' said Mr Mantalini. 'You will blame
me, the world will blame me, the women will blame me; everybody will
laugh, and scoff, and smile, and grin most demnebly. They will say,
"She had a blessing. She did not know it. He was too weak; he was
too good; he was a dem'd fine fellow, but he loved too strong; he
could not bear her to be cross, and call him wicked names. It was a
dem'd case, there never was a demder." But I forgive her.'

With this affecting speech Mr Mantalini fell down again very flat,
and lay to all appearance without sense or motion, until all the
females had left the room, when he came cautiously into a sitting
posture, and confronted Ralph with a very blank face, and the little
bottle still in one hand and the tea-spoon in the other.

'You may put away those fooleries now, and live by your wits again,'
said Ralph, coolly putting on his hat.

'Demmit, Nickleby, you're not serious?'

'I seldom joke,' said Ralph. 'Good-night.'

'No, but Nickleby--' said Mantalini.

'I am wrong, perhaps,' rejoined Ralph. 'I hope so. You should know
best. Good-night.'

Affecting not to hear his entreaties that he would stay and advise
with him, Ralph left the crest-fallen Mr Mantalini to his
meditations, and left the house quietly.

'Oho!' he said, 'sets the wind that way so soon? Half knave and
half fool, and detected in both characters? I think your day is
over, sir.'

As he said this, he made some memorandum in his pocket-book in which
Mr Mantalini's name figured conspicuously, and finding by his watch
that it was between nine and ten o'clock, made all speed home.

'Are they here?' was the first question he asked of Newman.

Newman nodded. 'Been here half an hour.'

'Two of them? One a fat sleek man?'

'Ay,' said Newman. 'In your room now.'

'Good,' rejoined Ralph. 'Get me a coach.'

'A coach! What, you--going to--eh?' stammered Newman.

Ralph angrily repeated his orders, and Noggs, who might well have
been excused for wondering at such an unusual and extraordinary
circumstance (for he had never seen Ralph in a coach in his life)
departed on his errand, and presently returned with the conveyance.

Into it went Mr Squeers, and Ralph, and the third man, whom Newman
Noggs had never seen. Newman stood upon the door-step to see them
off, not troubling himself to wonder where or upon what business
they were going, until he chanced by mere accident to hear Ralph
name the address whither the coachman was to drive.

Quick as lightning and in a state of the most extreme wonder, Newman
darted into his little office for his hat, and limped after the
coach as if with the intention of getting up behind; but in this
design he was balked, for it had too much the start of him and was
soon hopelessly ahead, leaving him gaping in the empty street.

'I don't know though,' said Noggs, stopping for breath, 'any good
that I could have done by going too. He would have seen me if I
had. Drive THERE! What can come of this? If I had only known it
yesterday I could have told--drive there! There's mischief in it.
There must be.'

His reflections were interrupted by a grey-haired man of a very
remarkable, though far from prepossessing appearance, who, coming
stealthily towards him, solicited relief.

Newman, still cogitating deeply, turned away; but the man followed
him, and pressed him with such a tale of misery that Newman (who
might have been considered a hopeless person to beg from, and who
had little enough to give) looked into his hat for some halfpence
which he usually kept screwed up, when he had any, in a corner of
his pocket-handkerchief.

While he was busily untwisting the knot with his teeth, the man said
something which attracted his attention; whatever that something
was, it led to something else, and in the end he and Newman walked
away side by side--the strange man talking earnestly, and Newman
listening.

CHAPTER 45

Containing Matter of a surprising Kind

'As we gang awa' fra' Lunnun tomorrow neeght, and as I dinnot know
that I was e'er so happy in a' my days, Misther Nickleby, Ding! but
I WILL tak' anoother glass to our next merry meeting!'

So said John Browdie, rubbing his hands with great joyousness, and
looking round him with a ruddy shining face, quite in keeping with
the declaration.

The time at which John found himself in this enviable condition was
the same evening to which the last chapter bore reference; the place
was the cottage; and the assembled company were Nicholas, Mrs
Nickleby, Mrs Browdie, Kate Nickleby, and Smike.

A very merry party they had been. Mrs Nickleby, knowing of her
son's obligations to the honest Yorkshireman, had, after some demur,
yielded her consent to Mr and Mrs Browdie being invited out to tea;
in the way of which arrangement, there were at first sundry
difficulties and obstacles, arising out of her not having had an
opportunity of 'calling' upon Mrs Browdie first; for although Mrs
Nickleby very often observed with much complacency (as most
punctilious people do), that she had not an atom of pride or
formality about her, still she was a great stickler for dignity and
ceremonies; and as it was manifest that, until a call had been made,
she could not be (politely speaking, and according to the laws of
society) even cognisant of the fact of Mrs Browdie's existence, she
felt her situation to be one of peculiar delicacy and difficulty.

'The call MUST originate with me, my dear,' said Mrs Nickleby,
'that's indispensable. The fact is, my dear, that it's necessary
there should be a sort of condescension on my part, and that I
should show this young person that I am willing to take notice of
her. There's a very respectable-looking young man,' added Mrs
Nickleby, after a short consideration, 'who is conductor to one of
the omnibuses that go by here, and who wears a glazed hat--your
sister and I have noticed him very often--he has a wart upon his
nose, Kate, you know, exactly like a gentleman's servant.'

'Have all gentlemen's servants warts upon their noses, mother?'
asked Nicholas.

'Nicholas, my dear, how very absurd you are,' returned his mother;
'of course I mean that his glazed hat looks like a gentleman's
servant, and not the wart upon his nose; though even that is not so
ridiculous as it may seem to you, for we had a footboy once, who had
not only a wart, but a wen also, and a very large wen too, and he
demanded to have his wages raised in consequence, because he found
it came very expensive. Let me see, what was I--oh yes, I know.
The best way that I can think of would be to send a card, and my
compliments, (I've no doubt he'd take 'em for a pot of porter,) by
this young man, to the Saracen with Two Necks. If the waiter took
him for a gentleman's servant, so much the better. Then all Mrs
Browdie would have to do would be to send her card back by the
carrier (he could easily come with a double knock), and there's an
end of it.'

'My dear mother,' said Nicholas, 'I don't suppose such
unsophisticated people as these ever had a card of their own, or
ever will have.'

'Oh that, indeed, Nicholas, my dear,' returned Mrs Nickleby, 'that's
another thing. If you put it upon that ground, why, of course, I
have no more to say, than that I have no doubt they are very good
sort of persons, and that I have no kind of objection to their
coming here to tea if they like, and shall make a point of being
very civil to them if they do.'

The point being thus effectually set at rest, and Mrs Nickleby duly
placed in the patronising and mildly-condescending position which
became her rank and matrimonial years, Mr and Mrs Browdie were
invited and came; and as they were very deferential to Mrs Nickleby,
and seemed to have a becoming appreciation of her greatness, and
were very much pleased with everything, the good lady had more than
once given Kate to understand, in a whisper, that she thought they
were the very best-meaning people she had ever seen, and perfectly
well behaved.

And thus it came to pass, that John Browdie declared, in the parlour
after supper, to wit, and twenty minutes before eleven o'clock p.m.,
that he had never been so happy in all his days.

Nor was Mrs Browdie much behind her husband in this respect, for
that young matron, whose rustic beauty contrasted very prettily with
the more delicate loveliness of Kate, and without suffering by the
contrast either, for each served as it were to set off and decorate
the other, could not sufficiently admire the gentle and winning
manners of the young lady, or the engaging affability of the elder
one. Then Kate had the art of turning the conversation to subjects
upon which the country girl, bashful at first in strange company,
could feel herself at home; and if Mrs Nickleby was not quite so
felicitous at times in the selection of topics of discourse, or if
she did seem, as Mrs Browdie expressed it, 'rather high in her
notions,' still nothing could be kinder, and that she took
considerable interest in the young couple was manifest from the very
long lectures on housewifery with which she was so obliging as to
entertain Mrs Browdie's private ear, which were illustrated by
various references to the domestic economy of the cottage, in which
(those duties falling exclusively upon Kate) the good lady had about
as much share, either in theory or practice, as any one of the
statues of the Twelve Apostles which embellish the exterior of St
Paul's Cathedral.

'Mr Browdie,' said Kate, addressing his young wife, 'is the best-
humoured, the kindest and heartiest creature I ever saw. If I were
oppressed with I don't know how many cares, it would make me happy
only to look at him.'

'He does seem indeed, upon my word, a most excellent creature,
Kate,' said Mrs Nickleby; 'most excellent. And I am sure that at
all times it will give me pleasure--really pleasure now--to have
you, Mrs Browdie, to see me in this plain and homely manner. We
make no display,' said Mrs Nickleby, with an air which seemed to
insinuate that they could make a vast deal if they were so disposed;
'no fuss, no preparation; I wouldn't allow it. I said, "Kate, my
dear, you will only make Mrs Browdie feel uncomfortable, and how
very foolish and inconsiderate that would be!" '

'I am very much obliged to you, I am sure, ma'am,' returned Mrs
Browdie, gratefully. 'It's nearly eleven o'clock, John. I am
afraid we are keeping you up very late, ma'am.'

'Late!' cried Mrs Nickleby, with a sharp thin laugh, and one little
cough at the end, like a note of admiration expressed. 'This is
quite early for us. We used to keep such hours! Twelve, one, two,
three o'clock was nothing to us. Balls, dinners, card-parties!
Never were such rakes as the people about where we used to live. I
often think now, I am sure, that how we ever could go through with
it is quite astonishing, and that is just the evil of having a large
connection and being a great deal sought after, which I would
recommend all young married people steadily to resist; though of
course, and it's perfectly clear, and a very happy thing too, I
think, that very few young married people can be exposed to such
temptations. There was one family in particular, that used to live
about a mile from us--not straight down the road, but turning sharp
off to the left by the turnpike where the Plymouth mail ran over the
donkey--that were quite extraordinary people for giving the most
extravagant parties, with artificial flowers and champagne, and
variegated lamps, and, in short, every delicacy of eating and
drinking that the most singular epicure could possibly require. I
don't think that there ever were such people as those Peltiroguses.
You remember the Peltiroguses, Kate?'

Kate saw that for the ease and comfort of the visitors it was high
time to stay this flood of recollection, so answered that she
entertained of the Peltiroguses a most vivid and distinct
remembrance; and then said that Mr Browdie had half promised, early
in the evening, that he would sing a Yorkshire song, and that she
was most impatient that he should redeem his promise, because she
was sure it would afford her mama more amusement and pleasure than
it was possible to express.

Mrs Nickleby confirming her daughter with the best possible grace--
for there was patronage in that too, and a kind of implication that
she had a discerning taste in such matters, and was something of a
critic--John Browdie proceeded to consider the words of some north-
country ditty, and to take his wife's recollection respecting the
same. This done, he made divers ungainly movements in his chair,
and singling out one particular fly on the ceiling from the other
flies there asleep, fixed his eyes upon him, and began to roar a
meek sentiment (supposed to be uttered by a gentle swain fast pining
away with love and despair) in a voice of thunder.

At the end of the first verse, as though some person without had
waited until then to make himself audible, was heard a loud and
violent knocking at the street-door; so loud and so violent, indeed,
that the ladies started as by one accord, and John Browdie stopped.

'It must be some mistake,' said Nicholas, carelessly. 'We know
nobody who would come here at this hour.'

Mrs Nickleby surmised, however, that perhaps the counting-house was
burnt down, or perhaps 'the Mr Cheerybles' had sent to take Nicholas
into partnership (which certainly appeared highly probable at that
time of night), or perhaps Mr Linkinwater had run away with the
property, or perhaps Miss La Creevy was taken in, or perhaps--

But a hasty exclamation from Kate stopped her abruptly in her
conjectures, and Ralph Nickleby walked into the room.

'Stay,' said Ralph, as Nicholas rose, and Kate, making her way
towards him, threw herself upon his arm. 'Before that boy says a
word, hear me.'

Nicholas bit his lip and shook his head in a threatening manner, but
appeared for the moment unable to articulate a syllable. Kate clung
closer to his arm, Smike retreated behind them, and John Browdie,
who had heard of Ralph, and appeared to have no great difficulty in
recognising him, stepped between the old man and his young friend,
as if with the intention of preventing either of them from advancing
a step further.

'Hear me, I say,' said Ralph, 'and not him.'

'Say what thou'st gotten to say then, sir,' retorted John; 'and tak'
care thou dinnot put up angry bluid which thou'dst betther try to
quiet.'

'I should know YOU,' said Ralph, 'by your tongue; and HIM' (pointing
to Smike) 'by his looks.'

'Don't speak to him,' said Nicholas, recovering his voice. 'I will
not have it. I will not hear him. I do not know that man. I
cannot breathe the air that he corrupts. His presence is an insult
to my sister. It is shame to see him. I will not bear it.'

'Stand!' cried John, laying his heavy hand upon his chest.

'Then let him instantly retire,' said Nicholas, struggling. 'I am
not going to lay hands upon him, but he shall withdraw. I will not
have him here. John, John Browdie, is this my house, am I a child?
If he stands there,' cried Nicholas, burning with fury, 'looking so
calmly upon those who know his black and dastardly heart, he'll
drive me mad.'

To all these exclamations John Browdie answered not a word, but he
retained his hold upon Nicholas; and when he was silent again,
spoke.

'There's more to say and hear than thou think'st for,' said John.
'I tell'ee I ha' gotten scent o' thot already. Wa'at be that
shadow ootside door there? Noo, schoolmeasther, show thyself, mun;
dinnot be sheame-feaced. Noo, auld gen'l'man, let's have
schoolmeasther, coom.'

Hearing this adjuration, Mr Squeers, who had been lingering in the
passage until such time as it should be expedient for him to enter
and he could appear with effect, was fain to present himself in a
somewhat undignified and sneaking way; at which John Browdie laughed
with such keen and heartfelt delight, that even Kate, in all the
pain, anxiety, and surprise of the scene, and though the tears were
in her eyes, felt a disposition to join him.

'Have you done enjoying yourself, sir?' said Ralph, at length.

'Pratty nigh for the prasant time, sir,' replied John.

'I can wait,' said Ralph. 'Take your own time, pray.'

Ralph waited until there was a perfect silence, and then turning to
Mrs Nickleby, but directing an eager glance at Kate, as if more
anxious to watch his effect upon her, said:

'Now, ma'am, listen to me. I don't imagine that you were a party to
a very fine tirade of words sent me by that boy of yours, because I
don't believe that under his control, you have the slightest will of
your own, or that your advice, your opinion, your wants, your
wishes, anything which in nature and reason (or of what use is your
great experience?) ought to weigh with him, has the slightest
influence or weight whatever, or is taken for a moment into
account.'

Mrs Nickleby shook her head and sighed, as if there were a good deal
in that, certainly.

'For this reason,' resumed Ralph, 'I address myself to you, ma'am.
For this reason, partly, and partly because I do not wish to be
disgraced by the acts of a vicious stripling whom I was obliged to
disown, and who, afterwards, in his boyish majesty, feigns to--ha!
ha!--to disown ME, I present myself here tonight. I have another
motive in coming: a motive of humanity. I come here,' said Ralph,
looking round with a biting and triumphant smile, and gloating and
dwelling upon the words as if he were loath to lose the pleasure of
saying them, 'to restore a parent his child. Ay, sir,' he
continued, bending eagerly forward, and addressing Nicholas, as he
marked the change of his countenance, 'to restore a parent his
child; his son, sir; trepanned, waylaid, and guarded at every turn
by you, with the base design of robbing him some day of any little
wretched pittance of which he might become possessed.'

'In that, you know you lie,' said Nicholas, proudly.

'In this, I know I speak the truth. I have his father here,'
retorted Ralph.

'Here!' sneered Squeers, stepping forward. 'Do you hear that?
Here! Didn't I tell you to be careful that his father didn't turn
up and send him back to me? Why, his father's my friend; he's to
come back to me directly, he is. Now, what do you say--eh!--now--
come--what do you say to that--an't you sorry you took so much
trouble for nothing? an't you? an't you?'

'You bear upon your body certain marks I gave you,' said Nicholas,
looking quietly away, 'and may talk in acknowledgment of them as
much as you please. You'll talk a long time before you rub them
out, Mr Squeers.'

The estimable gentleman last named cast a hasty look at the table,
as if he were prompted by this retort to throw a jug or bottle at
the head of Nicholas, but he was interrupted in this design (if such
design he had) by Ralph, who, touching him on the elbow, bade him
tell the father that he might now appear and claim his son.

This being purely a labour of love, Mr Squeers readily complied, and
leaving the room for the purpose, almost immediately returned,
supporting a sleek personage with an oily face, who, bursting from
him, and giving to view the form and face of Mr Snawley, made
straight up to Smike, and tucking that poor fellow's head under his
arm in a most uncouth and awkward embrace, elevated his broad-
brimmed hat at arm's length in the air as a token of devout
thanksgiving, exclaiming, meanwhile, 'How little did I think of this
here joyful meeting, when I saw him last! Oh, how little did I
think it!'

'Be composed, sir,' said Ralph, with a gruff expression of sympathy,
'you have got him now.'

'Got him! Oh, haven't I got him! Have I got him, though?' cried Mr
Snawley, scarcely able to believe it. 'Yes, here he is, flesh and
blood, flesh and blood.'

'Vary little flesh,' said John Browdie.

Mr Snawley was too much occupied by his parental feelings to notice
this remark; and, to assure himself more completely of the
restoration of his child, tucked his head under his arm again, and
kept it there.

'What was it,' said Snawley, 'that made me take such a strong
interest in him, when that worthy instructor of youth brought him to
my house? What was it that made me burn all over with a wish to
chastise him severely for cutting away from his best friends, his
pastors and masters?'

'It was parental instinct, sir,' observed Squeers.

'That's what it was, sir,' rejoined Snawley; 'the elevated feeling,
the feeling of the ancient Romans and Grecians, and of the beasts of
the field and birds of the air, with the exception of rabbits and
tom-cats, which sometimes devour their offspring. My heart yearned
towards him. I could have--I don't know what I couldn't have done
to him in the anger of a father.'

'It only shows what Natur is, sir,' said Mr Squeers. 'She's rum 'un,
is Natur.'

'She is a holy thing, sir,' remarked Snawley.

'I believe you,' added Mr Squeers, with a moral sigh. 'I should
like to know how we should ever get on without her. Natur,' said Mr
Squeers, solemnly, 'is more easier conceived than described. Oh
what a blessed thing, sir, to be in a state of natur!'

Pending this philosophical discourse, the bystanders had been quite
stupefied with amazement, while Nicholas had looked keenly from
Snawley to Squeers, and from Squeers to Ralph, divided between his
feelings of disgust, doubt, and surprise. At this juncture, Smike
escaping from his father fled to Nicholas, and implored him, in most
moving terms, never to give him up, but to let him live and die
beside him.

'If you are this boy's father,' said Nicholas, 'look at the wreck he
is, and tell me that you purpose to send him back to that loathsome
den from which I brought him.'

'Scandal again!' cried Squeers. 'Recollect, you an't worth powder
and shot, but I'll be even with you one way or another.'

'Stop,' interposed Ralph, as Snawley was about to speak. 'Let us
cut this matter short, and not bandy words here with hare-brained
profligates. This is your son, as you can prove. And you, Mr
Squeers, you know this boy to be the same that was with you for so
many years under the name of Smike. Do you?'

'Do I!' returned Squeers. 'Don't I?'

'Good,' said Ralph; 'a very few words will be sufficient here. You
had a son by your first wife, Mr Snawley?'

'I had,' replied that person, 'and there he stands.'

'We'll show that presently,' said Ralph. 'You and your wife were
separated, and she had the boy to live with her, when he was a year
old. You received a communication from her, when you had lived
apart a year or two, that the boy was dead; and you believed it?'

'Of course I did!' returned Snawley. 'Oh the joy of--'

'Be rational, sir, pray,' said Ralph. 'This is business, and
transports interfere with it. This wife died a year and a half ago,
or thereabouts--not more--in some obscure place, where she was
housekeeper in a family. Is that the case?'

'That's the case,' replied Snawley.

'Having written on her death-bed a letter or confession to you,
about this very boy, which, as it was not directed otherwise than in
your name, only reached you, and that by a circuitous course, a few
days since?'

'Just so,' said Snawley. 'Correct in every particular, sir.'

'And this confession,' resumed Ralph, 'is to the effect that his
death was an invention of hers to wound you--was a part of a system
of annoyance, in short, which you seem to have adopted towards each
other--that the boy lived, but was of weak and imperfect intellect--
that she sent him by a trusty hand to a cheap school in Yorkshire--
that she had paid for his education for some years, and then, being
poor, and going a long way off, gradually deserted him, for which
she prayed forgiveness?'

Snawley nodded his head, and wiped his eyes; the first slightly, the
last violently.

'The school was Mr Squeers's,' continued Ralph; 'the boy was left
there in the name of Smike; every description was fully given, dates
tally exactly with Mr Squeers's books, Mr Squeers is lodging with
you at this time; you have two other boys at his school: you
communicated the whole discovery to him, he brought you to me as the
person who had recommended to him the kidnapper of his child; and I
brought you here. Is that so?'

'You talk like a good book, sir, that's got nothing in its inside
but what's the truth,' replied Snawley.

'This is your pocket-book,' said Ralph, producing one from his coat;
'the certificates of your first marriage and of the boy's birth, and
your wife's two letters, and every other paper that can support
these statements directly or by implication, are here, are they?'

'Every one of 'em, sir.'

'And you don't object to their being looked at here, so that these
people may be convinced of your power to substantiate your claim at
once in law and reason, and you may resume your control over your
own son without more delay. Do I understand you?'

'I couldn't have understood myself better, sir.'

'There, then,' said Ralph, tossing the pocket-book upon the table.
'Let them see them if they like; and as those are the original
papers, I should recommend you to stand near while they are being
examined, or you may chance to lose some.'

With these words Ralph sat down unbidden, and compressing his lips,
which were for the moment slightly parted by a smile, folded his
arms, and looked for the first time at his nephew.

Nicholas, stung by the concluding taunt, darted an indignant glance
at him; but commanding himself as well as he could, entered upon a
close examination of the documents, at which John Browdie assisted.
There was nothing about them which could be called in question. The
certificates were regularly signed as extracts from the parish
books, the first letter had a genuine appearance of having been
written and preserved for some years, the handwriting of the second
tallied with it exactly, (making proper allowance for its having
been written by a person in extremity,) and there were several other
corroboratory scraps of entries and memoranda which it was equally
difficult to question.

'Dear Nicholas,' whispered Kate, who had been looking anxiously over
his shoulder, 'can this be really the case? Is this statement
true?'

'I fear it is,' answered Nicholas. 'What say you, John?'

'John scratched his head and shook it, but said nothing at all.

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