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The Life And Adventures Of Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens

Part 16 out of 20

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gentleman present. These solemnities having been succeeded by a
decent interval, enlivened by musical and other entertainments, Mr
Crummles proposed that ornament of the profession, the African
Swallower, his very dear friend, if he would allow him to call him
so; which liberty (there being no particular reason why he should
not allow it) the African Swallower graciously permitted. The
literary gentleman was then about to be drunk, but it being
discovered that he had been drunk for some time in another
acceptation of the term, and was then asleep on the stairs, the
intention was abandoned, and the honour transferred to the ladies.
Finally, after a very long sitting, Mr Snittle Timberry vacated the
chair, and the company with many adieux and embraces dispersed.

Nicholas waited to the last to give his little presents. When he
had said goodbye all round and came to Mr Crummles, he could not but
mark the difference between their present separation and their
parting at Portsmouth. Not a jot of his theatrical manner remained;
he put out his hand with an air which, if he could have summoned it
at will, would have made him the best actor of his day in homely
parts, and when Nicholas shook it with the warmth he honestly felt,
appeared thoroughly melted.

'We were a very happy little company, Johnson,' said poor Crummles.
'You and I never had a word. I shall be very glad tomorrow morning
to think that I saw you again, but now I almost wish you hadn't
come.'

Nicholas was about to return a cheerful reply, when he was greatly
disconcerted by the sudden apparition of Mrs Grudden, who it seemed
had declined to attend the supper in order that she might rise
earlier in the morning, and who now burst out of an adjoining
bedroom, habited in very extraordinary white robes; and throwing her
arms about his neck, hugged him with great affection.

'What! Are you going too?' said Nicholas, submitting with as good a
grace as if she had been the finest young creature in the world.

'Going?' returned Mrs Grudden. 'Lord ha' mercy, what do you think
they'd do without me?'

Nicholas submitted to another hug with even a better grace than
before, if that were possible, and waving his hat as cheerfully as
he could, took farewell of the Vincent Crummleses.

CHAPTER 49

Chronicles the further Proceedings of the Nickleby Family, and the
Sequel of the Adventure of the Gentleman in the Small-clothes

While Nicholas, absorbed in the one engrossing subject of interest
which had recently opened upon him, occupied his leisure hours with
thoughts of Madeline Bray, and in execution of the commissions which
the anxiety of brother Charles in her behalf imposed upon him, saw
her again and again, and each time with greater danger to his peace
of mind and a more weakening effect upon the lofty resolutions he
had formed, Mrs Nickleby and Kate continued to live in peace and
quiet, agitated by no other cares than those which were connected
with certain harassing proceedings taken by Mr Snawley for the
recovery of his son, and their anxiety for Smike himself, whose
health, long upon the wane, began to be so much affected by
apprehension and uncertainty as sometimes to occasion both them and
Nicholas considerable uneasiness, and even alarm.

It was no complaint or murmur on the part of the poor fellow himself
that thus disturbed them. Ever eager to be employed in such slight
services as he could render, and always anxious to repay his
benefactors with cheerful and happy looks, less friendly eyes might
have seen in him no cause for any misgiving. But there were times,
and often too, when the sunken eye was too bright, the hollow cheek
too flushed, the breath too thick and heavy in its course, the frame
too feeble and exhausted, to escape their regard and notice.

There is a dread disease which so prepares its victim, as it were,
for death; which so refines it of its grosser aspect, and throws
around familiar looks unearthly indications of the coming change; a
dread disease, in which the struggle between soul and body is so
gradual, quiet, and solemn, and the result so sure, that day by day,
and grain by grain, the mortal part wastes and withers away, so that
the spirit grows light and sanguine with its lightening load, and,
feeling immortality at hand, deems it but a new term of mortal life;
a disease in which death and life are so strangely blended, that
death takes the glow and hue of life, and life the gaunt and grisly
form of death; a disease which medicine never cured, wealth never
warded off, or poverty could boast exemption from; which sometimes
moves in giant strides, and sometimes at a tardy sluggish pace, but,
slow or quick, is ever sure and certain.

It was with some faint reference in his own mind to this disorder,
though he would by no means admit it, even to himself, that Nicholas
had already carried his faithful companion to a physician of great
repute. There was no cause for immediate alarm, he said. There
were no present symptoms which could be deemed conclusive. The
constitution had been greatly tried and injured in childhood, but
still it MIGHT not be--and that was all.

But he seemed to grow no worse, and, as it was not difficult to find
a reason for these symptoms of illness in the shock and agitation he
had recently undergone, Nicholas comforted himself with the hope
that his poor friend would soon recover. This hope his mother and
sister shared with him; and as the object of their joint solicitude
seemed to have no uneasiness or despondency for himself, but each
day answered with a quiet smile that he felt better than he had upon
the day before, their fears abated, and the general happiness was by
degrees restored.

Many and many a time in after years did Nicholas look back to this
period of his life, and tread again the humble quiet homely scenes
that rose up as of old before him. Many and many a time, in the
twilight of a summer evening, or beside the flickering winter's
fire--but not so often or so sadly then--would his thoughts wander
back to these old days, and dwell with a pleasant sorrow upon every
slight remembrance which they brought crowding home. The little
room in which they had so often sat long after it was dark, figuring
such happy futures; Kate's cheerful voice and merry laugh; how,
if she were from home, they used to sit and watch for her return
scarcely breaking silence but to say how dull it seemed without her;
the glee with which poor Smike would start from the darkened corner
where he used to sit, and hurry to admit her, and the tears they
often saw upon his face, half wondering to see them too, and he so
pleased and happy; every little incident, and even slight words and
looks of those old days little heeded then, but well remembered when
busy cares and trials were quite forgotten, came fresh and thick
before him many and many a time, and, rustling above the dusty
growth of years, came back green boughs of yesterday.

But there were other persons associated with these recollections,
and many changes came about before they had being. A necessary
reflection for the purposes of these adventures, which at once
subside into their accustomed train, and shunning all flighty
anticipations or wayward wanderings, pursue their steady and
decorous course.

If the brothers Cheeryble, as they found Nicholas worthy of trust
and confidence, bestowed upon him every day some new and substantial
mark of kindness, they were not less mindful of those who depended
on him. Various little presents to Mrs Nickleby, always of the very
things they most required, tended in no slight degree to the
improvement and embellishment of the cottage. Kate's little store
of trinkets became quite dazzling; and for company! If brother
Charles and brother Ned failed to look in for at least a few minutes
every Sunday, or one evening in the week, there was Mr Tim
Linkinwater (who had never made half-a-dozen other acquaintances in
all his life, and who took such delight in his new friends as no
words can express) constantly coming and going in his evening walks,
and stopping to rest; while Mr Frank Cheeryble happened, by some
strange conjunction of circumstances, to be passing the door on some
business or other at least three nights in the week.

'He is the most attentive young man I ever saw, Kate,' said Mrs
Nickleby to her daughter one evening, when this last-named gentleman
had been the subject of the worthy lady's eulogium for some time,
and Kate had sat perfectly silent.

'Attentive, mama!' rejoined Kate.

'Bless my heart, Kate!' cried Mrs Nickleby, with her wonted
suddenness, 'what a colour you have got; why, you're quite flushed!'

'Oh, mama! what strange things you fancy!'

'It wasn't fancy, Kate, my dear, I'm certain of that,' returned her
mother. 'However, it's gone now at any rate, so it don't much
matter whether it was or not. What was it we were talking about?
Oh! Mr Frank. I never saw such attention in MY life, never.'

'Surely you are not serious,' returned Kate, colouring again; and
this time beyond all dispute.

'Not serious!' returned Mrs Nickleby; 'why shouldn't I be serious?
I'm sure I never was more serious. I will say that his politeness
and attention to me is one of the most becoming, gratifying,
pleasant things I have seen for a very long time. You don't often
meet with such behaviour in young men, and it strikes one more when
one does meet with it.'

'Oh! attention to YOU, mama,' rejoined Kate quickly--'oh yes.'

'Dear me, Kate,' retorted Mrs Nickleby, 'what an extraordinary girl
you are! Was it likely I should be talking of his attention to
anybody else? I declare I'm quite sorry to think he should be in
love with a German lady, that I am.'

'He said very positively that it was no such thing, mama,' returned
Kate. 'Don't you remember his saying so that very first night he
came here? Besides,' she added, in a more gentle tone, 'why should
WE be sorry if it is the case? What is it to us, mama?'

'Nothing to US, Kate, perhaps,' said Mrs Nickleby, emphatically;
'but something to ME, I confess. I like English people to be
thorough English people, and not half English and half I don't know
what. I shall tell him point-blank next time he comes, that I wish
he would marry one of his own country-women; and see what he says to
that.'

'Pray don't think of such a thing, mama,' returned Kate, hastily;
'not for the world. Consider. How very--'

'Well, my dear, how very what?' said Mrs Nickleby, opening her eyes
in great astonishment.

Before Kate had returned any reply, a queer little double knock
announced that Miss La Creevy had called to see them; and when Miss
La Creevy presented herself, Mrs Nickleby, though strongly disposed
to be argumentative on the previous question, forgot all about it in
a gush of supposes about the coach she had come by; supposing that
the man who drove must have been either the man in the shirt-sleeves
or the man with the black eye; that whoever he was, he hadn't found
that parasol she left inside last week; that no doubt they had
stopped a long while at the Halfway House, coming down; or that
perhaps being full, they had come straight on; and, lastly, that
they, surely, must have passed Nicholas on the road.

'I saw nothing of him,' answered Miss La Creevy; 'but I saw that
dear old soul Mr Linkinwater.'

'Taking his evening walk, and coming on to rest here, before he
turns back to the city, I'll be bound!' said Mrs Nickleby.

'I should think he was,' returned Miss La Creevy; 'especially as
young Mr Cheeryble was with him.'

'Surely that is no reason why Mr Linkinwater should be coming here,'
said Kate.

'Why I think it is, my dear,' said Miss La Creevy. 'For a young
man, Mr Frank is not a very great walker; and I observe that he
generally falls tired, and requires a good long rest, when he has
come as far as this. But where is my friend?' said the little
woman, looking about, after having glanced slyly at Kate. 'He has
not been run away with again, has he?'

'Ah! where is Mr Smike?' said Mrs Nickleby; 'he was here this
instant.'

Upon further inquiry, it turned out, to the good lady's unbounded
astonishment, that Smike had, that moment, gone upstairs to bed.

'Well now,' said Mrs Nickleby, 'he is the strangest creature! Last
Tuesday--was it Tuesday? Yes, to be sure it was; you recollect,
Kate, my dear, the very last time young Mr Cheeryble was here--last
Tuesday night he went off in just the same strange way, at the very
moment the knock came to the door. It cannot be that he don't like
company, because he is always fond of people who are fond of
Nicholas, and I am sure young Mr Cheeryble is. And the strangest
thing is, that he does not go to bed; therefore it cannot be because
he is tired. I know he doesn't go to bed, because my room is the
next one, and when I went upstairs last Tuesday, hours after him, I
found that he had not even taken his shoes off; and he had no
candle, so he must have sat moping in the dark all the time. Now,
upon my word,' said Mrs Nickleby, 'when I come to think of it,
that's very extraordinary!'

As the hearers did not echo this sentiment, but remained profoundly
silent, either as not knowing what to say, or as being unwilling to
interrupt, Mrs Nickleby pursued the thread of her discourse after
her own fashion.

'I hope,' said that lady, 'that this unaccountable conduct may not
be the beginning of his taking to his bed and living there all his
life, like the Thirsty Woman of Tutbury, or the Cock-lane Ghost, or
some of those extraordinary creatures. One of them had some
connection with our family. I forget, without looking back to some
old letters I have upstairs, whether it was my great-grandfather who
went to school with the Cock-lane Ghost, or the Thirsty Woman of
Tutbury who went to school with my grandmother. Miss La Creevy, you
know, of course. Which was it that didn't mind what the clergyman
said? The Cock-lane Ghost or the Thirsty Woman of Tutbury?'

'The Cock-lane Ghost, I believe.'

'Then I have no doubt,' said Mrs Nickleby, 'that it was with him my
great-grandfather went to school; for I know the master of his
school was a dissenter, and that would, in a great measure, account
for the Cock-lane Ghost's behaving in such an improper manner to the
clergyman when he grew up. Ah! Train up a Ghost--child, I mean--'

Any further reflections on this fruitful theme were abruptly cut
short by the arrival of Tim Linkinwater and Mr Frank Cheeryble; in
the hurry of receiving whom, Mrs Nickleby speedily lost sight of
everything else.

'I am so sorry Nicholas is not at home,' said Mrs Nickleby. 'Kate,
my dear, you must be both Nicholas and yourself.'

'Miss Nickleby need be but herself,' said Frank. 'I--if I may
venture to say so--oppose all change in her.'

'Then at all events she shall press you to stay,' returned Mrs
Nickleby. 'Mr Linkinwater says ten minutes, but I cannot let you go
so soon; Nicholas would be very much vexed, I am sure. Kate, my
dear!'

In obedience to a great number of nods, and winks, and frowns of
extra significance, Kate added her entreaties that the visitors
would remain; but it was observable that she addressed them
exclusively to Tim Linkinwater; and there was, besides, a certain
embarrassment in her manner, which, although it was as far from
impairing its graceful character as the tinge it communicated to her
cheek was from diminishing her beauty, was obvious at a glance even
to Mrs Nickleby. Not being of a very speculative character,
however, save under circumstances when her speculations could be put
into words and uttered aloud, that discreet matron attributed the
emotion to the circumstance of her daughter's not happening to have
her best frock on: 'though I never saw her look better, certainly,'
she reflected at the same time. Having settled the question in this
way, and being most complacently satisfied that in this, and in all
other instances, her conjecture could not fail to be the right one,
Mrs Nickleby dismissed it from her thoughts, and inwardly
congratulated herself on being so shrewd and knowing.

Nicholas did not come home nor did Smike reappear; but neither
circumstance, to say the truth, had any great effect upon the little
party, who were all in the best humour possible. Indeed, there
sprung up quite a flirtation between Miss La Creevy and Tim
Linkinwater, who said a thousand jocose and facetious things, and
became, by degrees, quite gallant, not to say tender. Little Miss
La Creevy, on her part, was in high spirits, and rallied Tim on
having remained a bachelor all his life with so much success, that
Tim was actually induced to declare, that if he could get anybody to
have him, he didn't know but what he might change his condition even
yet. Miss La Creevy earnestly recommended a lady she knew, who
would exactly suit Mr Linkinwater, and had a very comfortable
property of her own; but this latter qualification had very little
effect upon Tim, who manfully protested that fortune would be no
object with him, but that true worth and cheerfulness of disposition
were what a man should look for in a wife, and that if he had these,
he could find money enough for the moderate wants of both. This
avowal was considered so honourable to Tim, that neither Mrs
Nickleby nor Miss La Creevy could sufficiently extol it; and
stimulated by their praises, Tim launched out into several other
declarations also manifesting the disinterestedness of his heart,
and a great devotion to the fair sex: which were received with no
less approbation. This was done and said with a comical mixture of
jest and earnest, and, leading to a great amount of laughter, made
them very merry indeed.

Kate was commonly the life and soul of the conversation at home; but
she was more silent than usual upon this occasion (perhaps because
Tim and Miss La Creevy engrossed so much of it), and, keeping aloof
from the talkers, sat at the window watching the shadows as the
evening closed in, and enjoying the quiet beauty of the night, which
seemed to have scarcely less attractions to Frank, who first
lingered near, and then sat down beside, her. No doubt, there are a
great many things to be said appropriate to a summer evening, and no
doubt they are best said in a low voice, as being most suitable to
the peace and serenity of the hour; long pauses, too, at times, and
then an earnest word or so, and then another interval of silence
which, somehow, does not seem like silence either, and perhaps now
and then a hasty turning away of the head, or drooping of the eyes
towards the ground, all these minor circumstances, with a
disinclination to have candles introduced and a tendency to confuse
hours with minutes, are doubtless mere influences of the time, as
many lovely lips can clearly testify. Neither is there the
slightest reason why Mrs Nickleby should have expressed surprise
when, candles being at length brought in, Kate's bright eyes were
unable to bear the light which obliged her to avert her face, and
even to leave the room for some short time; because, when one has
sat in the dark so long, candles ARE dazzling, and nothing can be
more strictly natural than that such results should be produced, as
all well-informed young people know. For that matter, old people
know it too, or did know it once, but they forget these things
sometimes, and more's the pity.

The good lady's surprise, however, did not end here. It was greatly
increased when it was discovered that Kate had not the least
appetite for supper: a discovery so alarming that there is no
knowing in what unaccountable efforts of oratory Mrs Nickleby's
apprehensions might have been vented, if the general attention had
not been attracted, at the moment, by a very strange and uncommon
noise, proceeding, as the pale and trembling servant girl affirmed,
and as everybody's sense of hearing seemed to affirm also, 'right
down' the chimney of the adjoining room.

It being quite plain to the comprehension of all present that,
however extraordinary and improbable it might appear, the noise did
nevertheless proceed from the chimney in question; and the noise
(which was a strange compound of various shuffling, sliding,
rumbling, and struggling sounds, all muffled by the chimney) still
continuing, Frank Cheeryble caught up a candle, and Tim Linkinwater
the tongs, and they would have very quickly ascertained the cause of
this disturbance if Mrs Nickleby had not been taken very faint, and
declined being left behind, on any account. This produced a short
remonstrance, which terminated in their all proceeding to the
troubled chamber in a body, excepting only Miss La Creevy, who, as
the servant girl volunteered a confession of having been subject to
fits in her infancy, remained with her to give the alarm and apply
restoratives, in case of extremity.

Advancing to the door of the mysterious apartment, they were not a
little surprised to hear a human voice, chanting with a highly
elaborated expression of melancholy, and in tones of suffocation
which a human voice might have produced from under five or six
feather-beds of the best quality, the once popular air of 'Has she
then failed in her truth, the beautiful maid I adore?' Nor, on
bursting into the room without demanding a parley, was their
astonishment lessened by the discovery that these romantic sounds
certainly proceeded from the throat of some man up the chimney, of
whom nothing was visible but a pair of legs, which were dangling
above the grate; apparently feeling, with extreme anxiety, for the
top bar whereon to effect a landing.

A sight so unusual and unbusiness-like as this, completely paralysed
Tim Linkinwater, who, after one or two gentle pinches at the
stranger's ankles, which were productive of no effect, stood
clapping the tongs together, as if he were sharpening them for
another assault, and did nothing else.

'This must be some drunken fellow,' said Frank. 'No thief would
announce his presence thus.'

As he said this, with great indignation, he raised the candle to
obtain a better view of the legs, and was darting forward to pull
them down with very little ceremony, when Mrs Nickleby, clasping her
hands, uttered a sharp sound, something between a scream and an
exclamation, and demanded to know whether the mysterious limbs were
not clad in small-clothes and grey worsted stockings, or whether her
eyes had deceived her.

'Yes,' cried Frank, looking a little closer. 'Small-clothes
certainly, and--and--rough grey stockings, too. Do you know him,
ma'am?'

'Kate, my dear,' said Mrs Nickleby, deliberately sitting herself
down in a chair with that sort of desperate resignation which seemed
to imply that now matters had come to a crisis, and all disguise was
useless, 'you will have the goodness, my love, to explain precisely
how this matter stands. I have given him no encouragement--none
whatever--not the least in the world. You know that, my dear,
perfectly well. He was very respectful, exceedingly respectful,
when he declared, as you were a witness to; still at the same time,
if I am to be persecuted in this way, if vegetable what's-his-names
and all kinds of garden-stuff are to strew my path out of doors, and
gentlemen are to come choking up our chimneys at home, I really
don't know--upon my word I do NOT know--what is to become of me.
It's a very hard case--harder than anything I was ever exposed to,
before I married your poor dear papa, though I suffered a good deal
of annoyance then--but that, of course, I expected, and made up my
mind for. When I was not nearly so old as you, my dear, there was a
young gentleman who sat next us at church, who used, almost every
Sunday, to cut my name in large letters in the front of his pew
while the sermon was going on. It was gratifying, of course,
naturally so, but still it was an annoyance, because the pew was in
a very conspicuous place, and he was several times publicly taken
out by the beadle for doing it. But that was nothing to this. This
is a great deal worse, and a great deal more embarrassing. I would
rather, Kate, my dear,' said Mrs Nickleby, with great solemnity, and
an effusion of tears: 'I would rather, I declare, have been a pig-
faced lady, than be exposed to such a life as this!'

Frank Cheeryble and Tim Linkinwater looked, in irrepressible
astonishment, first at each other and then at Kate, who felt that
some explanation was necessary, but who, between her terror at the
apparition of the legs, her fear lest their owner should be
smothered, and her anxiety to give the least ridiculous solution of
the mystery that it was capable of bearing, was quite unable to
utter a single word.

'He gives me great pain,' continued Mrs Nickleby, drying her eyes,
'great pain; but don't hurt a hair of his head, I beg. On no
account hurt a hair of his head.'

It would not, under existing circumstances, have been quite so easy
to hurt a hair of the gentleman's head as Mrs Nickleby seemed to
imagine, inasmuch as that part of his person was some feet up the
chimney, which was by no means a wide one. But, as all this time he
had never left off singing about the bankruptcy of the beautiful
maid in respect of truth, and now began not only to croak very
feebly, but to kick with great violence as if respiration became a
task of difficulty, Frank Cheeryble, without further hesitation,
pulled at the shorts and worsteds with such heartiness as to bring
him floundering into the room with greater precipitation than he had
quite calculated upon.

'Oh! yes, yes,' said Kate, directly the whole figure of this
singular visitor appeared in this abrupt manner. 'I know who it is.
Pray don't be rough with him. Is he hurt? I hope not. Oh, pray see
if he is hurt.'

'He is not, I assure you,' replied Frank, handling the object of his
surprise, after this appeal, with sudden tenderness and respect.
'He is not hurt in the least.'

'Don't let him come any nearer,' said Kate, retiring as far as she
could.

'Oh, no, he shall not,' rejoined Frank. 'You see I have him secure
here. But may I ask you what this means, and whether you expected,
this old gentleman?'

'Oh, no,' said Kate, 'of course not; but he--mama does not think
so, I believe--but he is a mad gentleman who has escaped from the
next house, and must have found an opportunity of secreting himself
here.'

'Kate,' interposed Mrs Nickleby with severe dignity, 'I am surprised
at you.'

'Dear mama,' Kate gently remonstrated.

'I am surprised at you,' repeated Mrs Nickleby; 'upon my word, Kate,
I am quite astonished that you should join the persecutors of this
unfortunate gentleman, when you know very well that they have the
basest designs upon his property, and that that is the whole secret
of it. It would be much kinder of you, Kate, to ask Mr Linkinwater
or Mr Cheeryble to interfere in his behalf, and see him righted.
You ought not to allow your feelings to influence you; it's not
right, very far from it. What should my feelings be, do you
suppose? If anybody ought to be indignant, who is it? I, of
course, and very properly so. Still, at the same time, I wouldn't
commit such an injustice for the world. No,' continued Mrs
Nickleby, drawing herself up, and looking another way with a kind of
bashful stateliness; 'this gentleman will understand me when I tell
him that I repeat the answer I gave him the other day; that I
always will repeat it, though I do believe him to be sincere when I
find him placing himself in such dreadful situations on my account;
and that I request him to have the goodness to go away directly, or
it will be impossible to keep his behaviour a secret from my son
Nicholas. I am obliged to him, very much obliged to him, but I
cannot listen to his addresses for a moment. It's quite
impossible.'

While this address was in course of delivery, the old gentleman,
with his nose and cheeks embellished with large patches of soot, sat
upon the ground with his arms folded, eyeing the spectators in
profound silence, and with a very majestic demeanour. He did not
appear to take the smallest notice of what Mrs Nickleby said, but
when she ceased to speak he honoured her with a long stare, and
inquired if she had quite finished.

'I have nothing more to say,' replied that lady modestly. 'I really
cannot say anything more.'

'Very good,' said the old gentleman, raising his voice, 'then bring
in the bottled lightning, a clean tumbler, and a corkscrew.'

Nobody executing this order, the old gentleman, after a short pause,
raised his voice again and demanded a thunder sandwich. This
article not being forthcoming either, he requested to be served with
a fricassee of boot-tops and goldfish sauce, and then laughing
heartily, gratified his hearers with a very long, very loud, and
most melodious bellow.

But still Mrs Nickleby, in reply to the significant looks of all
about her, shook her head as though to assure them that she saw
nothing whatever in all this, unless, indeed, it were a slight
degree of eccentricity. She might have remained impressed with
these opinions down to the latest moment of her life, but for a
slight train of circumstances, which, trivial as they were, altered
the whole complexion of the case.

It happened that Miss La Creevy, finding her patient in no very
threatening condition, and being strongly impelled by curiosity to
see what was going forward, bustled into the room while the old
gentleman was in the very act of bellowing. It happened, too, that
the instant the old gentleman saw her, he stopped short, skipped
suddenly on his feet, and fell to kissing his hand violently: a
change of demeanour which almost terrified the little portrait
painter out of her senses, and caused her to retreat behind Tim
Linkinwater with the utmost expedition.

'Aha!' cried the old gentleman, folding his hands, and squeezing
them with great force against each other. 'I see her now; I see her
now! My love, my life, my bride, my peerless beauty. She is come
at last--at last--and all is gas and gaiters!'

Mrs Nickleby looked rather disconcerted for a moment, but
immediately recovering, nodded to Miss La Creevy and the other
spectators several times, and frowned, and smiled gravely, giving
them to understand that she saw where the mistake was, and would set
it all to rights in a minute or two.

'She is come!' said the old gentleman, laying his hand upon his
heart. 'Cormoran and Blunderbore! She is come! All the wealth I
have is hers if she will take me for her slave. Where are grace,
beauty, and blandishments, like those? In the Empress of
Madagascar? No. In the Queen of Diamonds? No. In Mrs Rowland,
who every morning bathes in Kalydor for nothing? No. Melt all
these down into one, with the three Graces, the nine Muses, and
fourteen biscuit-bakers' daughters from Oxford Street, and make a
woman half as lovely. Pho! I defy you.'

After uttering this rhapsody, the old gentleman snapped his fingers
twenty or thirty times, and then subsided into an ecstatic
contemplation of Miss La Creevy's charms. This affording Mrs
Nickleby a favourable opportunity of explanation, she went about it
straight.

'I am sure,' said the worthy lady, with a prefatory cough, 'that
it's a great relief, under such trying circumstances as these, to
have anybody else mistaken for me--a very great relief; and it's a
circumstance that never occurred before, although I have several
times been mistaken for my daughter Kate. I have no doubt the
people were very foolish, and perhaps ought to have known better,
but still they did take me for her, and of course that was no fault
of mine, and it would be very hard indeed if I was to be made
responsible for it. However, in this instance, of course, I must
feel that I should do exceedingly wrong if I suffered anybody--
especially anybody that I am under great obligations to--to be made
uncomfortable on my account. And therefore I think it my duty to
tell that gentleman that he is mistaken, that I am the lady who he
was told by some impertinent person was niece to the Council of
Paving-stones, and that I do beg and entreat of him to go quietly
away, if it's only for,' here Mrs Nickleby simpered and hesitated,
'for MY sake.'

It might have been expected that the old gentleman would have been
penetrated to the heart by the delicacy and condescension of this
appeal, and that he would at least have returned a courteous and
suitable reply. What, then, was the shock which Mrs Nickleby
received, when, accosting HER in the most unmistakable manner, he
replied in a loud and sonourous voice: 'Avaunt! Cat!'

'Sir!' cried Mrs Nickleby, in a faint tone.

'Cat!' repeated the old gentleman. 'Puss, Kit, Tit, Grimalkin,
Tabby, Brindle! Whoosh!' with which last sound, uttered in a hissing
manner between his teeth, the old gentleman swung his arms violently
round and round, and at the same time alternately advanced on Mrs
Nickleby, and retreated from her, in that species of savage dance
with which boys on market-days may be seen to frighten pigs, sheep,
and other animals, when they give out obstinate indications of
turning down a wrong street.

Mrs Nickleby wasted no words, but uttered an exclamation of horror
and surprise, and immediately fainted away.

'I'll attend to mama,' said Kate, hastily; 'I am not at all
frightened. But pray take him away: pray take him away!'

Frank was not at all confident of his power of complying with this
request, until he bethought himself of the stratagem of sending Miss
La Creevy on a few paces in advance, and urging the old gentleman to
follow her. It succeeded to a miracle; and he went away in a
rapture of admiration, strongly guarded by Tim Linkinwater on one
side, and Frank himself on the other.

'Kate,' murmured Mrs Nickleby, reviving when the coast was clear,
'is he gone?'

She was assured that he was.

'I shall never forgive myself, Kate,' said Mrs Nickleby. 'Never!
That gentleman has lost his senses, and I am the unhappy cause.'

'YOU the cause!' said Kate, greatly astonished.

'I, my love,' replied Mrs Nickleby, with a desperate calmness. 'You
saw what he was the other day; you see what he is now. I told your
brother, weeks and weeks ago, Kate, that I hoped a disappointment
might not be too much for him. You see what a wreck he is. Making
allowance for his being a little flighty, you know how rationally,
and sensibly, and honourably he talked, when we saw him in the
garden. You have heard the dreadful nonsense he has been guilty of
this night, and the manner in which he has gone on with that poor
unfortunate little old maid. Can anybody doubt how all this has
been brought about?'

'I should scarcely think they could,' said Kate mildly.

'I should scarcely think so, either,' rejoined her mother. 'Well!
if I am the unfortunate cause of this, I have the satisfaction of
knowing that I am not to blame. I told Nicholas, I said to him,
"Nicholas, my dear, we should be very careful how we proceed." He
would scarcely hear me. If the matter had only been properly taken
up at first, as I wished it to be! But you are both of you so like
your poor papa. However, I have MY consolation, and that should be
enough for me!'

Washing her hands, thus, of all responsibility under this head,
past, present, or to come, Mrs Nickleby kindly added that she hoped
her children might never have greater cause to reproach themselves
than she had, and prepared herself to receive the escort, who soon
returned with the intelligence that the old gentleman was safely
housed, and that they found his custodians, who had been making
merry with some friends, wholly ignorant of his absence.

Quiet being again restored, a delicious half-hour--so Frank called
it, in the course of subsequent conversation with Tim Linkinwater as
they were walking home--was spent in conversation, and Tim's watch
at length apprising him that it was high time to depart, the ladies
were left alone, though not without many offers on the part of
Frank to remain until Nicholas arrived, no matter what hour of
the night it might be, if, after the late neighbourly irruption,
they entertained the least fear of being left to themselves.
As their freedom from all further apprehension, however, left no
pretext for his insisting on mounting guard, he was obliged to
abandon the citadel, and to retire with the trusty Tim.

Nearly three hours of silence passed away. Kate blushed to find,
when Nicholas returned, how long she had been sitting alone,
occupied with her own thoughts.

'I really thought it had not been half an hour,' she said.

'They must have been pleasant thoughts, Kate,' rejoined Nicholas
gaily, 'to make time pass away like that. What were they now?'

Kate was confused; she toyed with some trifle on the table, looked
up and smiled, looked down and dropped a tear.

'Why, Kate,' said Nicholas, drawing his sister towards him and
kissing her, 'let me see your face. No? Ah! that was but a
glimpse; that's scarcely fair. A longer look than that, Kate.
Come--and I'll read your thoughts for you.'

There was something in this proposition, albeit it was said without
the slightest consciousness or application, which so alarmed his
sister, that Nicholas laughingly changed the subject to domestic
matters, and thus gathered, by degrees, as they left the room and
went upstairs together, how lonely Smike had been all night--and by
very slow degrees, too; for on this subject also, Kate seemed to
speak with some reluctance.

'Poor fellow,' said Nicholas, tapping gently at his door, 'what can
be the cause of all this?'

Kate was hanging on her brother's arm. The door being quickly
opened, she had not time to disengage herself, before Smike, very
pale and haggard, and completely dressed, confronted them.

'And have you not been to bed?' said Nicholas.

'N--n--no,' was the reply.

Nicholas gently detained his sister, who made an effort to retire;
and asked, 'Why not?'

'I could not sleep,' said Smike, grasping the hand which his friend
extended to him.

'You are not well?' rejoined Nicholas.

'I am better, indeed. A great deal better,' said Smike quickly.

'Then why do you give way to these fits of melancholy?' inquired
Nicholas, in his kindest manner; 'or why not tell us the cause? You
grow a different creature, Smike.'

'I do; I know I do,' he replied. 'I will tell you the reason one
day, but not now. I hate myself for this; you are all so good and
kind. But I cannot help it. My heart is very full; you do not
know how full it is.'

He wrung Nicholas's hand before he released it; and glancing, for a
moment, at the brother and sister as they stood together, as if
there were something in their strong affection which touched him
very deeply, withdrew into his chamber, and was soon the only
watcher under that quiet roof.

CHAPTER 50

Involves a serious Catastrophe

The little race-course at Hampton was in the full tide and height of
its gaiety; the day as dazzling as day could be; the sun high in the
cloudless sky, and shining in its fullest splendour. Every gaudy
colour that fluttered in the air from carriage seat and garish tent
top, shone out in its gaudiest hues. Old dingy flags grew new
again, faded gilding was re-burnished, stained rotten canvas looked
a snowy white, the very beggars' rags were freshened up, and
sentiment quite forgot its charity in its fervent admiration of
poverty so picturesque.

It was one of those scenes of life and animation, caught in its very
brightest and freshest moments, which can scarcely fail to please;
for if the eye be tired of show and glare, or the ear be weary with
a ceaseless round of noise, the one may repose, turn almost where it
will, on eager, happy, and expectant faces, and the other deaden all
consciousness of more annoying sounds in those of mirth and
exhilaration. Even the sunburnt faces of gypsy children, half naked
though they be, suggest a drop of comfort. It is a pleasant thing
to see that the sun has been there; to know that the air and light
are on them every day; to feel that they ARE children, and lead
children's lives; that if their pillows be damp, it is with the dews
of Heaven, and not with tears; that the limbs of their girls are
free, and that they are not crippled by distortions, imposing an
unnatural and horrible penance upon their sex; that their lives are
spent, from day to day, at least among the waving trees, and not in
the midst of dreadful engines which make young children old before
they know what childhood is, and give them the exhaustion and
infirmity of age, without, like age, the privilege to die. God send
that old nursery tales were true, and that gypsies stole such
children by the score!

The great race of the day had just been run; and the close lines of
people, on either side of the course, suddenly breaking up and
pouring into it, imparted a new liveliness to the scene, which was
again all busy movement. Some hurried eagerly to catch a glimpse of
the winning horse; others darted to and fro, searching, no less
eagerly, for the carriages they had left in quest of better
stations. Here, a little knot gathered round a pea and thimble
table to watch the plucking of some unhappy greenhorn; and there,
another proprietor with his confederates in various disguises--one
man in spectacles; another, with an eyeglass and a stylish hat; a
third, dressed as a farmer well to do in the world, with his top-
coat over his arm and his flash notes in a large leathern pocket-
book; and all with heavy-handled whips to represent most innocent
country fellows who had trotted there on horseback--sought, by loud
and noisy talk and pretended play, to entrap some unwary customer,
while the gentlemen confederates (of more villainous aspect still,
in clean linen and good clothes), betrayed their close interest in
the concern by the anxious furtive glance they cast on all
new comers. These would be hanging on the outskirts of a wide circle
of people assembled round some itinerant juggler, opposed, in his
turn, by a noisy band of music, or the classic game of 'Ring the
Bull,' while ventriloquists holding dialogues with wooden dolls, and
fortune-telling women smothering the cries of real babies, divided
with them, and many more, the general attention of the company.
Drinking-tents were full, glasses began to clink in carriages,
hampers to be unpacked, tempting provisions to be set forth, knives
and forks to rattle, champagne corks to fly, eyes to brighten that
were not dull before, and pickpockets to count their gains during
the last heat. The attention so recently strained on one object of
interest, was now divided among a hundred; and look where you would,
there was a motley assemblage of feasting, laughing, talking,
begging, gambling, and mummery.

Of the gambling-booths there was a plentiful show, flourishing in
all the splendour of carpeted ground, striped hangings, crimson
cloth, pinnacled roofs, geranium pots, and livery servants. There
were the Stranger's club-house, the Athenaeum club-house, the
Hampton club-house, the St James's club-house, and half a mile of
club-houses to play IN; and there were ROUGE-ET-NOIR, French hazard,
and other games to play AT. It is into one of these booths that our
story takes its way.

Fitted up with three tables for the purposes of play, and crowded
with players and lookers on, it was, although the largest place of
the kind upon the course, intensely hot, notwithstanding that a
portion of the canvas roof was rolled back to admit more air, and
there were two doors for a free passage in and out. Excepting one
or two men who, each with a long roll of half-crowns, chequered with
a few stray sovereigns, in his left hand, staked their money at
every roll of the ball with a business-like sedateness which showed
that they were used to it, and had been playing all day, and most
probably all the day before, there was no very distinctive character
about the players, who were chiefly young men, apparently attracted
by curiosity, or staking small sums as part of the amusement of the
day, with no very great interest in winning or losing. There were
two persons present, however, who, as peculiarly good specimens of a
class, deserve a passing notice.

Of these, one was a man of six or eight and fifty, who sat on a
chair near one of the entrances of the booth, with his hands folded
on the top of his stick, and his chin appearing above them. He was
a tall, fat, long-bodied man, buttoned up to the throat in a light
green coat, which made his body look still longer than it was. He
wore, besides, drab breeches and gaiters, a white neckerchief, and a
broad-brimmed white hat. Amid all the buzzing noise of the games,
and the perpetual passing in and out of the people, he seemed
perfectly calm and abstracted, without the smallest particle of
excitement in his composition. He exhibited no indication of
weariness, nor, to a casual observer, of interest either. There he
sat, quite still and collected. Sometimes, but very rarely, he
nodded to some passing face, or beckoned to a waiter to obey a call
from one of the tables. The next instant he subsided into his old
state. He might have been some profoundly deaf old gentleman, who
had come in to take a rest, or he might have been patiently waiting
for a friend, without the least consciousness of anybody's presence,
or fixed in a trance, or under the influence of opium. People
turned round and looked at him; he made no gesture, caught nobody's
eye, let them pass away, and others come on and be succeeded by
others, and took no notice. When he did move, it seemed wonderful
how he could have seen anything to occasion it. And so, in truth,
it was. But there was not a face that passed in or out, which this
man failed to see; not a gesture at any one of the three tables that
was lost upon him; not a word, spoken by the bankers, but reached
his ear; not a winner or loser he could not have marked. And he was
the proprietor of the place.

The other presided over the ROUGE-ET-NOIR table. He was probably
some ten years younger, and was a plump, paunchy, sturdy-looking
fellow, with his under-lip a little pursed, from a habit of counting
money inwardly as he paid it, but with no decidedly bad expression
in his face, which was rather an honest and jolly one than
otherwise. He wore no coat, the weather being hot, and stood behind
the table with a huge mound of crowns and half-crowns before him,
and a cash-box for notes. This game was constantly playing.
Perhaps twenty people would be staking at the same time. This man
had to roll the ball, to watch the stakes as they were laid down, to
gather them off the colour which lost, to pay those who won, to do
it all with the utmost dispatch, to roll the ball again, and to keep
this game perpetually alive. He did it all with a rapidity
absolutely marvellous; never hesitating, never making a mistake,
never stopping, and never ceasing to repeat such unconnected phrases
as the following, which, partly from habit, and partly to have
something appropriate and business-like to say, he constantly poured
out with the same monotonous emphasis, and in nearly the same order,
all day long:

'Rooge-a-nore from Paris! Gentlemen, make your game and back your
own opinions--any time while the ball rolls--rooge-a-nore from
Paris, gentlemen, it's a French game, gentlemen, I brought it over
myself, I did indeed!--Rooge-a-nore from Paris--black wins--black--
stop a minute, sir, and I'll pay you, directly--two there, half a
pound there, three there--and one there--gentlemen, the ball's a
rolling--any time, sir, while the ball rolls!--The beauty of this
game is, that you can double your stakes or put down your money,
gentlemen, any time while the ball rolls--black again--black wins--I
never saw such a thing--I never did, in all my life, upon my word I
never did; if any gentleman had been backing the black in the last
five minutes he must have won five-and-forty pound in four rolls of
the ball, he must indeed. Gentlemen, we've port, sherry, cigars, and
most excellent champagne. Here, wai-ter, bring a bottle of
champagne, and let's have a dozen or fifteen cigars here--and let's
be comfortable, gentlemen--and bring some clean glasses--any time
while the ball rolls!--I lost one hundred and thirty-seven pound
yesterday, gentlemen, at one roll of the ball, I did indeed!--how do
you do, sir?' (recognising some knowing gentleman without any halt
or change of voice, and giving a wink so slight that it seems an
accident), 'will you take a glass of sherry, sir?--here, wai-ter!
bring a clean glass, and hand the sherry to this gentleman--and hand
it round, will you, waiter?--this is the rooge-a-nore from Paris,
gentlemen--any time while the ball rolls!--gentlemen, make your
game, and back your own opinions--it's the rooge-a-nore from Paris--
quite a new game, I brought it over myself, I did indeed--gentlemen,
the ball's a-rolling!'

This officer was busily plying his vocation when half-a-dozen
persons sauntered through the booth, to whom, but without stopping
either in his speech or work, he bowed respectfully; at the same
time directing, by a look, the attention of a man beside him to the
tallest figure in the group, in recognition of whom the proprietor
pulled off his hat. This was Sir Mulberry Hawk, with whom were his
friend and pupil, and a small train of gentlemanly-dressed men, of
characters more doubtful than obscure.

The proprietor, in a low voice, bade Sir Mulberry good-day. Sir
Mulberry, in the same tone, bade the proprietor go to the devil, and
turned to speak with his friends.

There was evidently an irritable consciousness about him that he was
an object of curiosity, on this first occasion of showing himself in
public after the accident that had befallen him; and it was easy to
perceive that he appeared on the race-course, that day, more in the
hope of meeting with a great many people who knew him, and so
getting over as much as possible of the annoyance at once, than with
any purpose of enjoying the sport. There yet remained a slight scar
upon his face, and whenever he was recognised, as he was almost
every minute by people sauntering in and out, he made a restless
effort to conceal it with his glove; showing how keenly he felt the
disgrace he had undergone.

'Ah! Hawk,' said one very sprucely-dressed personage in a Newmarket
coat, a choice neckerchief, and all other accessories of the most
unexceptionable kind. 'How d'ye do, old fellow?'

This was a rival trainer of young noblemen and gentlemen, and the
person of all others whom Sir Mulberry most hated and dreaded to
meet. They shook hands with excessive cordiality.

'And how are you now, old fellow, hey?'

'Quite well, quite well,' said Sir Mulberry.

'That's right,' said the other. 'How d'ye do, Verisopht? He's a
little pulled down, our friend here. Rather out of condition still,
hey?'

It should be observed that the gentleman had very white teeth, and
that when there was no excuse for laughing, he generally finished
with the same monosyllable, which he uttered so as to display them.

'He's in very good condition; there's nothing the matter with him,'
said the young man carelessly.

'Upon my soul I'm glad to hear it,' rejoined the other. 'Have you
just returned from Brussels?'

'We only reached town late last night,' said Lord Frederick. Sir
Mulberry turned away to speak to one of his own party, and feigned
not to hear.

'Now, upon my life,' said the friend, affecting to speak in a
whisper, 'it's an uncommonly bold and game thing in Hawk to show
himself so soon. I say it advisedly; there's a vast deal of courage
in it. You see he has just rusticated long enough to excite
curiosity, and not long enough for men to have forgotten that deuced
unpleasant--by-the-bye--you know the rights of the affair, of
course? Why did you never give those confounded papers the lie? I
seldom read the papers, but I looked in the papers for that, and may
I be--'

'Look in the papers,' interrupted Sir Mulberry, turning suddenly
round, 'tomorrow--no, next day, will you?'

'Upon my life, my dear fellow, I seldom or never read the papers,'
said the other, shrugging his shoulders, 'but I will, at your
recommendation. What shall I look for?'

'Good day,' said Sir Mulberry, turning abruptly on his heel, and
drawing his pupil with him. Falling, again, into the loitering,
careless pace at which they had entered, they lounged out, arm in
arm.

'I won't give him a case of murder to read,' muttered Sir Mulberry
with an oath; 'but it shall be something very near it if whipcord
cuts and bludgeons bruise.'

His companion said nothing, but there was something in his manner
which galled Sir Mulberry to add, with nearly as much ferocity as if
his friend had been Nicholas himself:

'I sent Jenkins to old Nickleby before eight o'clock this morning.
He's a staunch one; he was back with me before the messenger. I had
it all from him in the first five minutes. I know where this hound
is to be met with; time and place both. But there's no need to
talk; tomorrow will soon be here.'

'And wha-at's to be done tomorrow?' inquired Lord Frederick.

Sir Mulberry Hawk honoured him with an angry glance, but
condescended to return no verbal answer to this inquiry. Both
walked sullenly on, as though their thoughts were busily occupied,
until they were quite clear of the crowd, and almost alone, when Sir
Mulberry wheeled round to return.

'Stop,' said his companion, 'I want to speak to you in earnest.
Don't turn back. Let us walk here, a few minutes.'

'What have you to say to me, that you could not say yonder as well
as here?' returned his Mentor, disengaging his arm.

'Hawk,' rejoined the other, 'tell me; I must know.'

'MUST know,' interrupted the other disdainfully. 'Whew! Go on. If
you must know, of course there's no escape for me. Must know!'

'Must ask then,' returned Lord Frederick, 'and must press you for a
plain and straightforward answer. Is what you have just said only a
mere whim of the moment, occasioned by your being out of humour and
irritated, or is it your serious intention, and one that you have
actually contemplated?'

'Why, don't you remember what passed on the subject one night, when
I was laid up with a broken limb?' said Sir Mulberry, with a sneer.

'Perfectly well.'

'Then take that for an answer, in the devil's name,' replied Sir
Mulberry, 'and ask me for no other.'

Such was the ascendancy he had acquired over his dupe, and such the
latter's general habit of submission, that, for the moment, the
young man seemed half afraid to pursue the subject. He soon
overcame this feeling, however, if it had restrained him at all, and
retorted angrily:

'If I remember what passed at the time you speak of, I expressed a
strong opinion on this subject, and said that, with my knowledge or
consent, you never should do what you threaten now.'

'Will you prevent me?' asked Sir Mulberry, with a laugh.

'Ye-es, if I can,' returned the other, promptly.

'A very proper saving clause, that last,' said Sir Mulberry; 'and
one you stand in need of. Oh! look to your own business, and leave
me to look to mine.'

'This IS mine,' retorted Lord Frederick. 'I make it mine; I will
make it mine. It's mine already. I am more compromised than I
should be, as it is.'

'Do as you please, and what you please, for yourself,' said Sir
Mulberry, affecting an easy good-humour. 'Surely that must content
you! Do nothing for me; that's all. I advise no man to interfere
in proceedings that I choose to take. I am sure you know me better
than to do so. The fact is, I see, you mean to offer me advice. It
is well meant, I have no doubt, but I reject it. Now, if you
please, we will return to the carriage. I find no entertainment
here, but quite the reverse. If we prolong this conversation, we
might quarrel, which would be no proof of wisdom in either you or
me.'

With this rejoinder, and waiting for no further discussion, Sir
Mulberry Hawk yawned, and very leisurely turned back.

There was not a little tact and knowledge of the young lord's
disposition in this mode of treating him. Sir Mulberry clearly saw
that if his dominion were to last, it must be established now. He
knew that the moment he became violent, the young man would become
violent too. He had, many times, been enabled to strengthen his
influence, when any circumstance had occurred to weaken it, by
adopting this cool and laconic style; and he trusted to it now, with
very little doubt of its entire success.

But while he did this, and wore the most careless and indifferent
deportment that his practised arts enabled him to assume, he
inwardly resolved, not only to visit all the mortification of being
compelled to suppress his feelings, with additional severity upon
Nicholas, but also to make the young lord pay dearly for it, one
day, in some shape or other. So long as he had been a passive
instrument in his hands, Sir Mulberry had regarded him with no other
feeling than contempt; but, now that he presumed to avow opinions in
opposition to his, and even to turn upon him with a lofty tone and
an air of superiority, he began to hate him. Conscious that, in the
vilest and most worthless sense of the term, he was dependent upon
the weak young lord, Sir Mulberry could the less brook humiliation
at his hands; and when he began to dislike him he measured his
dislike--as men often do--by the extent of the injuries he had
inflicted upon its object. When it is remembered that Sir Mulberry
Hawk had plundered, duped, deceived, and fooled his pupil in every
possible way, it will not be wondered at, that, beginning to hate
him, he began to hate him cordially.

On the other hand, the young lord having thought--which he very
seldom did about anything--and seriously too, upon the affair with
Nicholas, and the circumstances which led to it, had arrived at a
manly and honest conclusion. Sir Mulberry's coarse and insulting
behaviour on the occasion in question had produced a deep impression
on his mind; a strong suspicion of his having led him on to pursue
Miss Nickleby for purposes of his own, had been lurking there for
some time; he was really ashamed of his share in the transaction,
and deeply mortified by the misgiving that he had been gulled. He
had had sufficient leisure to reflect upon these things, during
their late retirement; and, at times, when his careless and indolent
nature would permit, had availed himself of the opportunity. Slight
circumstances, too, had occurred to increase his suspicion. It
wanted but a very slight circumstance to kindle his wrath against
Sir Mulberry. This his disdainful and insolent tone in their recent
conversation (the only one they had held upon the subject since the
period to which Sir Mulberry referred), effected.

Thus they rejoined their friends: each with causes of dislike
against the other rankling in his breast: and the young man haunted,
besides, with thoughts of the vindictive retaliation which was
threatened against Nicholas, and the determination to prevent it by
some strong step, if possible. But this was not all. Sir Mulberry,
conceiving that he had silenced him effectually, could not suppress
his triumph, or forbear from following up what he conceived to be
his advantage. Mr Pyke was there, and Mr Pluck was there, and
Colonel Chowser, and other gentlemen of the same caste, and it was a
great point for Sir Mulberry to show them that he had not lost his
influence. At first, the young lord contented himself with a silent
determination to take measures for withdrawing himself from the
connection immediately. By degrees, he grew more angry, and was
exasperated by jests and familiarities which, a few hours before,
would have been a source of amusement to him. This did not serve
him; for, at such bantering or retort as suited the company, he was
no match for Sir Mulberry. Still, no violent rupture took place.
They returned to town; Messrs Pyke and Pluck and other gentlemen
frequently protesting, on the way thither, that Sir Mulberry had
never been in such tiptop spirits in all his life.

They dined together, sumptuously. The wine flowed freely, as indeed
it had done all day. Sir Mulberry drank to recompense himself for
his recent abstinence; the young lord, to drown his indignation; and
the remainder of the party, because the wine was of the best and
they had nothing to pay. It was nearly midnight when they rushed
out, wild, burning with wine, their blood boiling, and their brains
on fire, to the gaming-table.

Here, they encountered another party, mad like themselves. The
excitement of play, hot rooms, and glaring lights was not calculated
to allay the fever of the time. In that giddy whirl of noise and
confusion, the men were delirious. Who thought of money, ruin, or
the morrow, in the savage intoxication of the moment? More wine was
called for, glass after glass was drained, their parched and
scalding mouths were cracked with thirst. Down poured the wine like
oil on blazing fire. And still the riot went on. The debauchery
gained its height; glasses were dashed upon the floor by hands that
could not carry them to lips; oaths were shouted out by lips which
could scarcely form the words to vent them in; drunken losers cursed
and roared; some mounted on the tables, waving bottles above their
heads and bidding defiance to the rest; some danced, some sang, some
tore the cards and raved. Tumult and frenzy reigned supreme; when a
noise arose that drowned all others, and two men, seizing each other
by the throat, struggled into the middle of the room.

A dozen voices, until now unheard, called aloud to part them. Those
who had kept themselves cool, to win, and who earned their living in
such scenes, threw themselves upon the combatants, and, forcing them
asunder, dragged them some space apart.

'Let me go!' cried Sir Mulberry, in a thick hoarse voice; 'he struck
me! Do you hear? I say, he struck me. Have I a friend here? Who
is this? Westwood. Do you hear me say he struck me?'

'I hear, I hear,' replied one of those who held him. 'Come away for
tonight!'

'I will not, by G--,' he replied. 'A dozen men about us saw the
blow.'

'Tomorrow will be ample time,' said the friend.

'It will not be ample time!' cried Sir Mulberry. 'Tonight, at once,
here!' His passion was so great, that he could not articulate, but
stood clenching his fist, tearing his hair, and stamping upon the
ground.

'What is this, my lord?' said one of those who surrounded him.
'Have blows passed?'

'ONE blow has,' was the panting reply. 'I struck him. I proclaim it
to all here! I struck him, and he knows why. I say, with him, let
this quarrel be adjusted now. Captain Adams,' said the young lord,
looking hurriedly about him, and addressing one of those who had
interposed, 'let me speak with you, I beg.'

The person addressed stepped forward, and taking the young man's
arm, they retired together, followed shortly afterwards by Sir
Mulberry and his friend.

It was a profligate haunt of the worst repute, and not a place in
which such an affair was likely to awaken any sympathy for either
party, or to call forth any further remonstrance or interposition.
Elsewhere, its further progress would have been instantly prevented,
and time allowed for sober and cool reflection; but not there.
Disturbed in their orgies, the party broke up; some reeled away with
looks of tipsy gravity; others withdrew noisily discussing what had
just occurred; the gentlemen of honour who lived upon their winnings
remarked to each other, as they went out, that Hawk was a good shot;
and those who had been most noisy, fell fast asleep upon the sofas,
and thought no more about it.

Meanwhile, the two seconds, as they may be called now, after a long
conference, each with his principal, met together in another room.
Both utterly heartless, both men upon town, both thoroughly
initiated in its worst vices, both deeply in debt, both fallen from
some higher estate, both addicted to every depravity for which
society can find some genteel name and plead its most depraving
conventionalities as an excuse, they were naturally gentlemen of
most unblemished honour themselves, and of great nicety concerning
the honour of other people.

These two gentlemen were unusually cheerful just now; for the affair
was pretty certain to make some noise, and could scarcely fail to
enhance their reputations.

'This is an awkward affair, Adams,' said Mr Westwood, drawing
himself up.

'Very,' returned the captain; 'a blow has been struck, and there is
but one course, OF course.'

'No apology, I suppose?' said Mr Westwood.

'Not a syllable, sir, from my man, if we talk till doomsday,'
returned the captain. 'The original cause of dispute, I understand,
was some girl or other, to whom your principal applied certain
terms, which Lord Frederick, defending the girl, repelled. But this
led to a long recrimination upon a great many sore subjects,
charges, and counter-charges. Sir Mulberry was sarcastic; Lord
Frederick was excited, and struck him in the heat of provocation,
and under circumstances of great aggravation. That blow, unless
there is a full retraction on the part of Sir Mulberry, Lord
Frederick is ready to justify.'

'There is no more to be said,' returned the other, 'but to settle
the hour and the place of meeting. It's a responsibility; but there
is a strong feeling to have it over. Do you object to say at
sunrise?'

'Sharp work,' replied the captain, referring to his watch; 'however,
as this seems to have been a long time breeding, and negotiation is
only a waste of words, no.'

'Something may possibly be said, out of doors, after what passed in
the other room, which renders it desirable that we should be off
without delay, and quite clear of town,' said Mr Westwood. 'What do
you say to one of the meadows opposite Twickenham, by the river-
side?'

The captain saw no objection.

'Shall we join company in the avenue of trees which leads from
Petersham to Ham House, and settle the exact spot when we arrive
there?' said Mr Westwood.

To this the captain also assented. After a few other preliminaries,
equally brief, and having settled the road each party should take to
avoid suspicion, they separated.

'We shall just have comfortable time, my lord,' said the captain,
when he had communicated the arrangements, 'to call at my rooms for
a case of pistols, and then jog coolly down. If you will allow me
to dismiss your servant, we'll take my cab; for yours, perhaps,
might be recognised.'

What a contrast, when they reached the street, to the scene they had
just left! It was already daybreak. For the flaring yellow light
within, was substituted the clear, bright, glorious morning; for a
hot, close atmosphere, tainted with the smell of expiring lamps, and
reeking with the steams of riot and dissipation, the free, fresh,
wholesome air. But to the fevered head on which that cool air blew,
it seemed to come laden with remorse for time misspent and countless
opportunities neglected. With throbbing veins and burning skin,
eyes wild and heavy, thoughts hurried and disordered, he felt as
though the light were a reproach, and shrunk involuntarily from the
day as if he were some foul and hideous thing.

'Shivering?' said the captain. 'You are cold.'

'Rather.'

'It does strike cool, coming out of those hot rooms. Wrap that
cloak about you. So, so; now we're off.'

They rattled through the quiet streets, made their call at the
captain's lodgings, cleared the town, and emerged upon the open
road, without hindrance or molestation.

Fields, trees, gardens, hedges, everything looked very beautiful;
the young man scarcely seemed to have noticed them before, though he
had passed the same objects a thousand times. There was a peace and
serenity upon them all, strangely at variance with the bewilderment
and confusion of his own half-sobered thoughts, and yet impressive
and welcome. He had no fear upon his mind; but, as he looked about
him, he had less anger; and though all old delusions, relative to
his worthless late companion, were now cleared away, he rather
wished he had never known him than thought of its having come to
this.

The past night, the day before, and many other days and nights
beside, all mingled themselves up in one unintelligible and
senseless whirl; he could not separate the transactions of one time
from those of another. Now, the noise of the wheels resolved itself
into some wild tune in which he could recognise scraps of airs he
knew; now, there was nothing in his ears but a stunning and
bewildering sound, like rushing water. But his companion rallied
him on being so silent, and they talked and laughed boisterously.
When they stopped, he was a little surprised to find himself in the
act of smoking; but, on reflection, he remembered when and where he
had taken the cigar.

They stopped at the avenue gate and alighted, leaving the carriage
to the care of the servant, who was a smart fellow, and nearly as
well accustomed to such proceedings as his master. Sir Mulberry and
his friend were already there. All four walked in profound silence
up the aisle of stately elm trees, which, meeting far above their
heads, formed a long green perspective of Gothic arches,
terminating, like some old ruin, in the open sky.

After a pause, and a brief conference between the seconds, they, at
length, turned to the right, and taking a track across a little
meadow, passed Ham House and came into some fields beyond. In one
of these, they stopped. The ground was measured, some usual forms
gone through, the two principals were placed front to front at the
distance agreed upon, and Sir Mulberry turned his face towards his
young adversary for the first time. He was very pale, his eyes were
bloodshot, his dress disordered, and his hair dishevelled. For
the face, it expressed nothing but violent and evil passions. He
shaded his eyes with his hand; grazed at his opponent, steadfastly,
for a few moments; and, then taking the weapon which was tendered to
him, bent his eyes upon that, and looked up no more until the word
was given, when he instantly fired.

The two shots were fired, as nearly as possible, at the same
instant. In that instant, the young lord turned his head sharply
round, fixed upon his adversary a ghastly stare, and without a groan
or stagger, fell down dead.

'He's gone!' cried Westwood, who, with the other second, had run up
to the body, and fallen on one knee beside it.

'His blood on his own head,' said Sir Mulberry. 'He brought this
upon himself, and forced it upon me.'

'Captain Adams,' cried Westwood, hastily, 'I call you to witness
that this was fairly done. Hawk, we have not a moment to lose. We
must leave this place immediately, push for Brighton, and cross to
France with all speed. This has been a bad business, and may be
worse, if we delay a moment. Adams, consult your own safety, and
don't remain here; the living before the dead; goodbye!'

With these words, he seized Sir Mulberry by the arm, and hurried him
away. Captain Adams--only pausing to convince himself, beyond all
question, of the fatal result--sped off in the same direction, to
concert measures with his servant for removing the body, and
securing his own safety likewise.

So died Lord Frederick Verisopht, by the hand which he had loaded
with gifts, and clasped a thousand times; by the act of him, but for
whom, and others like him, he might have lived a happy man, and died
with children's faces round his bed.

The sun came proudly up in all his majesty, the noble river ran its
winding course, the leaves quivered and rustled in the air, the
birds poured their cheerful songs from every tree, the short-lived
butterfly fluttered its little wings; all the light and life of day
came on; and, amidst it all, and pressing down the grass whose every
blade bore twenty tiny lives, lay the dead man, with his stark and
rigid face turned upwards to the sky.

CHAPTER 51

The Project of Mr Ralph Nickleby and his Friend approaching a
successful Issue, becomes unexpectedly known to another Party, not
admitted into their Confidence

In an old house, dismal dark and dusty, which seemed to have
withered, like himself, and to have grown yellow and shrivelled in
hoarding him from the light of day, as he had in hoarding his money,
lived Arthur Gride. Meagre old chairs and tables, of spare and bony
make, and hard and cold as misers' hearts, were ranged, in grim
array, against the gloomy walls; attenuated presses, grown lank and
lantern-jawed in guarding the treasures they enclosed, and
tottering, as though from constant fear and dread of thieves, shrunk
up in dark corners, whence they cast no shadows on the ground, and
seemed to hide and cower from observation. A tall grim clock upon
the stairs, with long lean hands and famished face, ticked in
cautious whispers; and when it struck the time, in thin and piping
sounds, like an old man's voice, rattled, as if it were pinched with
hunger.

No fireside couch was there, to invite repose and comfort. Elbow-
chairs there were, but they looked uneasy in their minds, cocked
their arms suspiciously and timidly, and kept upon their guard.
Others, were fantastically grim and gaunt, as having drawn
themselves up to their utmost height, and put on their fiercest
looks to stare all comers out of countenance. Others, again,
knocked up against their neighbours, or leant for support against
the wall--somewhat ostentatiously, as if to call all men to witness
that they were not worth the taking. The dark square lumbering
bedsteads seemed built for restless dreams; the musty hangings
seemed to creep in scanty folds together, whispering among
themselves, when rustled by the wind, their trembling knowledge of
the tempting wares that lurked within the dark and tight-locked
closets.

From out the most spare and hungry room in all this spare and hungry
house there came, one morning, the tremulous tones of old Gride's
voice, as it feebly chirruped forth the fag end of some forgotten
song, of which the burden ran:

Ta--ran--tan--too,
Throw the old shoe,
And may the wedding be lucky!

which he repeated, in the same shrill quavering notes, again and
again, until a violent fit of coughing obliged him to desist, and to
pursue in silence, the occupation upon which he was engaged.

This occupation was, to take down from the shelves of a worm-eaten
wardrobe a quantity of frouzy garments, one by one; to subject each
to a careful and minute inspection by holding it up against the
light, and after folding it with great exactness, to lay it on one
or other of two little heaps beside him. He never took two articles
of clothing out together, but always brought them forth, singly, and
never failed to shut the wardrobe door, and turn the key, between
each visit to its shelves.

'The snuff-coloured suit,' said Arthur Gride, surveying a threadbare
coat. 'Did I look well in snuff-colour? Let me think.'

The result of his cogitations appeared to be unfavourable, for he
folded the garment once more, laid it aside, and mounted on a chair
to get down another, chirping while he did so:

Young, loving, and fair,
Oh what happiness there!
The wedding is sure to be lucky!

'They always put in "young,"' said old Arthur, 'but songs are only
written for the sake of rhyme, and this is a silly one that the poor
country-people sang, when I was a little boy. Though stop--young is
quite right too--it means the bride--yes. He, he, he! It means the
bride. Oh dear, that's good. That's very good. And true besides,
quite true!'

In the satisfaction of this discovery, he went over the verse again,
with increased expression, and a shake or two here and there. He
then resumed his employment.

'The bottle-green,' said old Arthur; 'the bottle-green was a famous
suit to wear, and I bought it very cheap at a pawnbroker's, and
there was--he, he, he!--a tarnished shilling in the waistcoat
pocket. To think that the pawnbroker shouldn't have known there was
a shilling in it! I knew it! I felt it when I was examining the
quality. Oh, what a dull dog of a pawnbroker! It was a lucky suit
too, this bottle-green. The very day I put it on first, old Lord
Mallowford was burnt to death in his bed, and all the post-obits
fell in. I'll be married in the bottle-green. Peg. Peg Sliderskew
--I'll wear the bottle-green!'

This call, loudly repeated twice or thrice at the room-door, brought
into the apartment a short, thin, weasen, blear-eyed old woman,
palsy-stricken and hideously ugly, who, wiping her shrivelled face
upon her dirty apron, inquired, in that subdued tone in which deaf
people commonly speak:

'Was that you a calling, or only the clock a striking? My hearing
gets so bad, I never know which is which; but when I hear a noise, I
know it must be one of you, because nothing else never stirs in the
house.'

'Me, Peg, me,' said Arthur Gride, tapping himself on the breast to
render the reply more intelligible.

'You, eh?' returned Peg. 'And what do YOU want?'

'I'll be married in the bottle-green,' cried Arthur Gride.

'It's a deal too good to be married in, master,' rejoined Peg, after
a short inspection of the suit. 'Haven't you got anything worse
than this?'

'Nothing that'll do,' replied old Arthur.

'Why not do?' retorted Peg. 'Why don't you wear your every-day
clothes, like a man--eh?'

'They an't becoming enough, Peg,' returned her master.

'Not what enough?' said Peg.

'Becoming.'

'Becoming what?' said Peg, sharply. 'Not becoming too old to wear?'

Arthur Gride muttered an imprecation on his housekeeper's deafness,
as he roared in her ear:

'Not smart enough! I want to look as well as I can.'

'Look?' cried Peg. 'If she's as handsome as you say she is, she
won't look much at you, master, take your oath of that; and as to
how you look yourself--pepper-and-salt, bottle-green, sky-blue, or
tartan-plaid will make no difference in you.'

With which consolatory assurance, Peg Sliderskew gathered up the
chosen suit, and folding her skinny arms upon the bundle, stood,
mouthing, and grinning, and blinking her watery eyes, like an
uncouth figure in some monstrous piece of carving.

'You're in a funny humour, an't you, Peg?' said Arthur, with not the
best possible grace.

'Why, isn't it enough to make me?' rejoined the old woman. 'I
shall, soon enough, be put out, though, if anybody tries to domineer
it over me: and so I give you notice, master. Nobody shall be put
over Peg Sliderskew's head, after so many years; you know that, and
so I needn't tell you! That won't do for me--no, no, nor for you.
Try that once, and come to ruin--ruin--ruin!'

'Oh dear, dear, I shall never try it,' said Arthur Gride, appalled
by the mention of the word, 'not for the world. It would be very
easy to ruin me; we must be very careful; more saving than ever,
with another mouth to feed. Only we--we mustn't let her lose her
good looks, Peg, because I like to see 'em.'

'Take care you don't find good looks come expensive,' returned Peg,
shaking her forefinger.

'But she can earn money herself, Peg,' said Arthur Gride, eagerly
watching what effect his communication produced upon the old woman's
countenance: 'she can draw, paint, work all manner of pretty things
for ornamenting stools and chairs: slippers, Peg, watch-guards,
hair-chains, and a thousand little dainty trifles that I couldn't
give you half the names of. Then she can play the piano, (and,
what's more, she's got one), and sing like a little bird. She'll be
very cheap to dress and keep, Peg; don't you think she will?'

'If you don't let her make a fool of you, she may,' returned Peg.

'A fool of ME!' exclaimed Arthur. 'Trust your old master not to be
fooled by pretty faces, Peg; no, no, no--nor by ugly ones neither,
Mrs Sliderskew,' he softly added by way of soliloquy.

'You're a saying something you don't want me to hear,' said Peg; 'I
know you are.'

'Oh dear! the devil's in this woman,' muttered Arthur; adding with
an ugly leer, 'I said I trusted everything to you, Peg. That was
all.'

'You do that, master, and all your cares are over,' said Peg
approvingly.

'WHEN I do that, Peg Sliderskew,' thought Arthur Gride, 'they will
be.'

Although he thought this very distinctly, he durst not move his lips
lest the old woman should detect him. He even seemed half afraid
that she might have read his thoughts; for he leered coaxingly upon
her, as he said aloud:

'Take up all loose stitches in the bottle-green with the best black
silk. Have a skein of the best, and some new buttons for the coat,
and--this is a good idea, Peg, and one you'll like, I know--as I
have never given her anything yet, and girls like such attentions,
you shall polish up a sparking necklace that I have got upstairs,
and I'll give it her upon the wedding morning--clasp it round her
charming little neck myself--and take it away again next day. He,
he, he! I'll lock it up for her, Peg, and lose it. Who'll be made the
fool of there, I wonder, to begin with--eh, Peg?'

Mrs Sliderskew appeared to approve highly of this ingenious scheme,
and expressed her satisfaction by various rackings and twitchings of
her head and body, which by no means enhanced her charms. These she
prolonged until she had hobbled to the door, when she exchanged them
for a sour malignant look, and twisting her under-jaw from side to
side, muttered hearty curses upon the future Mrs Gride, as she crept
slowly down the stairs, and paused for breath at nearly every one.

'She's half a witch, I think,' said Arthur Gride, when he found
himself again alone. 'But she's very frugal, and she's very deaf.
Her living costs me next to nothing; and it's no use her listening
at keyholes; for she can't hear. She's a charming woman--for the
purpose; a most discreet old housekeeper, and worth her weight in--
copper.'

Having extolled the merits of his domestic in these high terms, old
Arthur went back to the burden of his song. The suit destined to
grace his approaching nuptials being now selected, he replaced the
others with no less care than he had displayed in drawing them from
the musty nooks where they had silently reposed for many years.

Startled by a ring at the door, he hastily concluded this operation,
and locked the press; but there was no need for any particular
hurry, as the discreet Peg seldom knew the bell was rung unless she
happened to cast her dim eyes upwards, and to see it shaking against
the kitchen ceiling. After a short delay, however, Peg tottered in,
followed by Newman Noggs.

'Ah! Mr Noggs!' cried Arthur Gride, rubbing his hands. 'My good
friend, Mr Noggs, what news do you bring for me?'

Newman, with a steadfast and immovable aspect, and his fixed eye
very fixed indeed, replied, suiting the action to the word, 'A
letter. From Mr Nickleby. Bearer waits.'

'Won't you take a--a--'

Newman looked up, and smacked his lips.

'--A chair?' said Arthur Gride.

'No,' replied Newman. 'Thankee.'

Arthur opened the letter with trembling hands, and devoured its
contents with the utmost greediness; chuckling rapturously over it,
and reading it several times, before he could take it from before
his eyes. So many times did he peruse and re-peruse it, that Newman
considered it expedient to remind him of his presence.

'Answer,' said Newman. 'Bearer waits.'

'True,' replied old Arthur. 'Yes--yes; I almost forgot, I do
declare.'

'I thought you were forgetting,' said Newman.

'Quite right to remind me, Mr Noggs. Oh, very right indeed,' said
Arthur. 'Yes. I'll write a line. I'm--I'm--rather flurried, Mr
Noggs. The news is--'

'Bad?' interrupted Newman.

'No, Mr Noggs, thank you; good, good. The very best of news. Sit
down. I'll get the pen and ink, and write a line in answer. I'll
not detain you long. I know you're a treasure to your master, Mr
Noggs. He speaks of you in such terms, sometimes, that, oh dear!
you'd be astonished. I may say that I do too, and always did. I
always say the same of you.'

'That's "Curse Mr Noggs with all my heart!" then, if you do,'
thought Newman, as Gride hurried out.

The letter had fallen on the ground. Looking carefully about him
for an instant, Newman, impelled by curiosity to know the result of
the design he had overheard from his office closet, caught it up and
rapidly read as follows:

'GRIDE.

'I saw Bray again this morning, and proposed the day after
tomorrow (as you suggested) for the marriage. There is no objection
on his part, and all days are alike to his daughter. We will go
together, and you must be with me by seven in the morning. I need
not tell you to be punctual.

'Make no further visits to the girl in the meantime. You have been
there, of late, much oftener than you should. She does not languish
for you, and it might have been dangerous. Restrain your youthful
ardour for eight-and-forty hours, and leave her to the father. You
only undo what he does, and does well.

'Yours,

'RALPH NICKLEBY.'

A footstep was heard without. Newman dropped the letter on the same
spot again, pressed it with his foot to prevent its fluttering away,
regained his seat in a single stride, and looked as vacant and
unconscious as ever mortal looked. Arthur Gride, after peering
nervously about him, spied it on the ground, picked it up, and
sitting down to write, glanced at Newman Noggs, who was staring at
the wall with an intensity so remarkable, that Arthur was quite
alarmed.

'Do you see anything particular, Mr Noggs?' said Arthur, trying to
follow the direction of Newman's eyes--which was an impossibility,
and a thing no man had ever done.

'Only a cobweb,' replied Newman.

'Oh! is that all?'

'No,' said Newman. 'There's a fly in it.'

'There are a good many cobwebs here,' observed Arthur Gride.

'So there are in our place,' returned Newman; 'and flies too.'

Newman appeared to derive great entertainment from this repartee,
and to the great discomposure of Arthur Gride's nerves, produced a
series of sharp cracks from his finger-joints, resembling the noise
of a distant discharge of small artillery. Arthur succeeded in
finishing his reply to Ralph's note, nevertheless, and at length
handed it over to the eccentric messenger for delivery.

'That's it, Mr Noggs,' said Gride.

Newman gave a nod, put it in his hat, and was shuffling away, when
Gride, whose doting delight knew no bounds, beckoned him back again,
and said, in a shrill whisper, and with a grin which puckered up his
whole face, and almost obscured his eyes:

'Will you--will you take a little drop of something--just a taste?'

In good fellowship (if Arthur Gride had been capable of it) Newman
would not have drunk with him one bubble of the richest wine that
was ever made; but to see what he would be at, and to punish him as
much as he could, he accepted the offer immediately.

Arthur Gride, therefore, again applied himself to the press, and
from a shelf laden with tall Flemish drinking-glasses, and quaint
bottles: some with necks like so many storks, and others with square
Dutch-built bodies and short fat apoplectic throats: took down one
dusty bottle of promising appearance, and two glasses of curiously
small size.

'You never tasted this,' said Arthur. 'It's EAU-D'OR--golden water.
I like it on account of its name. It's a delicious name. Water of
gold, golden water! O dear me, it seems quite a sin to drink it!'

As his courage appeared to be fast failing him, and he trifled with
the stopper in a manner which threatened the dismissal of the bottle
to its old place, Newman took up one of the little glasses, and
clinked it, twice or thrice, against the bottle, as a gentle reminder
that he had not been helped yet. With a deep sigh, Arthur Gride
slowly filled it--though not to the brim--and then filled his own.

'Stop, stop; don't drink it yet,' he said, laying his hand on
Newman's; 'it was given to me, twenty years ago, and when I take a
little taste, which is ve--ry seldom, I like to think of it
beforehand, and tease myself. We'll drink a toast. Shall we drink
a toast, Mr Noggs?'

'Ah!' said Newman, eyeing his little glass impatiently. 'Look
sharp. Bearer waits.'

'Why, then, I'll tell you what,' tittered Arthur, 'we'll drink--he,
he, he!--we'll drink a lady.'

'THE ladies?' said Newman.

'No, no, Mr Noggs,' replied Gride, arresting his hand, 'A lady. You
wonder to hear me say A lady. I know you do, I know you do. Here's
little Madeline. That's the toast. Mr Noggs. Little Madeline!'

'Madeline!' said Newman; inwardly adding, 'and God help her!'

The rapidity and unconcern with which Newman dismissed his portion
of the golden water, had a great effect upon the old man, who sat
upright in his chair, and gazed at him, open-mouthed, as if the
sight had taken away his breath. Quite unmoved, however, Newman
left him to sip his own at leisure, or to pour it back again into
the bottle, if he chose, and departed; after greatly outraging the
dignity of Peg Sliderskew by brushing past her, in the passage,
without a word of apology or recognition.

Mr Gride and his housekeeper, immediately on being left alone,
resolved themselves into a committee of ways and means, and
discussed the arrangements which should be made for the reception of
the young bride. As they were, like some other committees,
extremely dull and prolix in debate, this history may pursue the
footsteps of Newman Noggs; thereby combining advantage with
necessity; for it would have been necessary to do so under any
circumstances, and necessity has no law, as all the world knows.

'You've been a long time,' said Ralph, when Newman returned.

'HE was a long time,' replied Newman.

'Bah!' cried Ralph impatiently. 'Give me his note, if he gave you
one: his message, if he didn't. And don't go away. I want a word
with you, sir.'

Newman handed in the note, and looked very virtuous and innocent
while his employer broke the seal, and glanced his eye over it.

'He'll be sure to come,' muttered Ralph, as he tore it to pieces;
'why of course, I know he'll be sure to come. What need to say
that? Noggs! Pray, sir, what man was that, with whom I saw you in
the street last night?'

'I don't know,' replied Newman.

'You had better refresh your memory, sir,' said Ralph, with a
threatening look.

'I tell you,' returned Newman boldly, 'that I don't know. He came
here twice, and asked for you. You were out. He came again. You
packed him off, yourself. He gave the name of Brooker.'

'I know he did,' said Ralph; 'what then?'

'What then? Why, then he lurked about and dogged me in the street.
He follows me, night after night, and urges me to bring him face to
face with you; as he says he has been once, and not long ago either.
He wants to see you face to face, he says, and you'll soon hear him
out, he warrants.'

'And what say you to that?' inquired Ralph, looking keenly at his
drudge.

'That it's no business of mine, and I won't. I told him he might
catch you in the street, if that was all he wanted, but no! that
wouldn't do. You wouldn't hear a word there, he said. He must have
you alone in a room with the door locked, where he could speak
without fear, and you'd soon change your tone, and hear him
patiently.'

'An audacious dog!' Ralph muttered.

'That's all I know,' said Newman. 'I say again, I don't know what
man he is. I don't believe he knows himself. You have seen him;
perhaps YOU do.'

'I think I do,' replied Ralph.

'Well,' retored Newman, sulkily, 'don't expect me to know him too;
that's all. You'll ask me, next, why I never told you this before.
What would you say, if I was to tell you all that people say of you?
What do you call me when I sometimes do? "Brute, ass!" and snap at
me like a dragon.'

This was true enough; though the question which Newman anticipated,
was, in fact, upon Ralph's lips at the moment.

'He is an idle ruffian,' said Ralph; 'a vagabond from beyond the sea
where he travelled for his crimes; a felon let loose to run his neck
into the halter; a swindler, who has the audacity to try his schemes
on me who know him well. The next time he tampers with you, hand
him over to the police, for attempting to extort money by lies and
threats,--d'ye hear?--and leave the rest to me. He shall cool his
heels in jail a little time, and I'll be bound he looks for other
folks to fleece, when he comes out. You mind what I say, do you?'

'I hear,' said Newman.

'Do it then,' returned Ralph, 'and I'll reward you. Now, you may
go.'

Newman readily availed himself of the permission, and, shutting
himself up in his little office, remained there, in very serious
cogitation, all day. When he was released at night, he proceeded,
with all the expedition he could use, to the city, and took up his
old position behind the pump, to watch for Nicholas. For Newman
Noggs was proud in his way, and could not bear to appear as his
friend, before the brothers Cheeryble, in the shabby and degraded
state to which he was reduced.

He had not occupied this position many minutes, when he was rejoiced
to see Nicholas approaching, and darted out from his ambuscade to
meet him. Nicholas, on his part, was no less pleased to encounter
his friend, whom he had not seen for some time; so, their greeting
was a warm one.

'I was thinking of you, at that moment,' said Nicholas.

'That's right,' rejoined Newman, 'and I of you. I couldn't help
coming up, tonight. I say, I think I am going to find out
something.'

'And what may that be?' returned Nicholas, smiling at this odd
communication.

'I don't know what it may be, I don't know what it may not be,' said
Newman; 'it's some secret in which your uncle is concerned, but
what, I've not yet been able to discover, although I have my strong
suspicions. I'll not hint 'em now, in case you should be
disappointed.'

'I disappointed!' cried Nicholas; 'am I interested?'

'I think you are,' replied Newman. 'I have a crotchet in my head
that it must be so. I have found out a man, who plainly knows more
than he cares to tell at once. And he has already dropped such
hints to me as puzzle me--I say, as puzzle me,' said Newman,
scratching his red nose into a state of violent inflammation, and
staring at Nicholas with all his might and main meanwhile.

Admiring what could have wound his friend up to such a pitch of
mystery, Nicholas endeavoured, by a series of questions, to
elucidate the cause; but in vain. Newman could not be drawn into
any more explicit statement than a repetition of the perplexities he
had already thrown out, and a confused oration, showing, How it was
necessary to use the utmost caution; how the lynx-eyed Ralph had
already seen him in company with his unknown correspondent; and how
he had baffled the said Ralph by extreme guardedness of manner and
ingenuity of speech; having prepared himself for such a contingency
from the first.

Remembering his companion's propensity,--of which his nose, indeed,
perpetually warned all beholders like a beacon,--Nicholas had drawn
him into a sequestered tavern. Here, they fell to reviewing the
origin and progress of their acquaintance, as men sometimes do, and
tracing out the little events by which it was most strongly marked,
came at last to Miss Cecilia Bobster.

'And that reminds me,' said Newman, 'that you never told me the
young lady's real name.'

'Madeline!' said Nicholas.

'Madeline!' cried Newman. 'What Madeline? Her other name. Say her
other name.'

'Bray,' said Nicholas, in great astonishment.

'It's the same!' cried Newman. 'Sad story! Can you stand idly by,
and let that unnatural marriage take place without one attempt to
save her?'

'What do you mean?' exclaimed Nicholas, starting up; 'marriage! are
you mad?'

'Are you? Is she? Are you blind, deaf, senseless, dead?' said
Newman. 'Do you know that within one day, by means of your uncle
Ralph, she will be married to a man as bad as he, and worse, if
worse there is? Do you know that, within one day, she will be
sacrificed, as sure as you stand there alive, to a hoary wretch--a
devil born and bred, and grey in devils' ways?'

'Be careful what you say,' replied Nicholas. 'For Heaven's sake be
careful! I am left here alone, and those who could stretch out a
hand to rescue her are far away. What is it that you mean?'

'I never heard her name,' said Newman, choking with his energy.
'Why didn't you tell me? How was I to know? We might, at least,
have had some time to think!'

'What is it that you mean?' cried Nicholas.

It was not an easy task to arrive at this information; but, after a
great quantity of extraordinary pantomime, which in no way assisted
it, Nicholas, who was almost as wild as Newman Noggs himself, forced
the latter down upon his seat and held him down until he began his
tale.

Rage, astonishment, indignation, and a storm of passions, rushed
through the listener's heart, as the plot was laid bare. He no
sooner understood it all, than with a face of ashy paleness, and
trembling in every limb, he darted from the house.

'Stop him!' cried Newman, bolting out in pursuit. 'He'll be doing
something desperate; he'll murder somebody. Hallo! there, stop him.
Stop thief! stop thief!'

CHAPTER 52

Nicholas despairs of rescuing Madeline Bray, but plucks up his
Spirits again, and determines to attempt it. Domestic Intelligence
of the Kenwigses and Lillyvicks

Finding that Newman was determined to arrest his progress at any
hazard, and apprehensive that some well-intentioned passenger,
attracted by the cry of 'Stop thief,' might lay violent hands upon
his person, and place him in a disagreeable predicament from which
he might have some difficulty in extricating himself, Nicholas soon
slackened his pace, and suffered Newman Noggs to come up with him:
which he did, in so breathless a condition, that it seemed
impossible he could have held out for a minute longer.

'I will go straight to Bray's,' said Nicholas. 'I will see this
man. If there is a feeling of humanity lingering in his breast, a
spark of consideration for his own child, motherless and friendless
as she is, I will awaken it.'

'You will not,' replied Newman. 'You will not, indeed.'

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