Part 17 out of 20
'Then,' said Nicholas, pressing onward, 'I will act upon my first
impulse, and go straight to Ralph Nickleby.'
'By the time you reach his house he will be in bed,' said Newman.
'I'll drag him from it,' cried Nicholas.
'Tut, tut,' said Noggs. 'Be yourself.'
'You are the best of friends to me, Newman,' rejoined Nicholas after
a pause, and taking his hand as he spoke. 'I have made head against
many trials; but the misery of another, and such misery, is involved
in this one, that I declare to you I am rendered desperate, and know
not how to act.'
In truth, it did seem a hopeless case. It was impossible to make
any use of such intelligence as Newman Noggs had gleaned, when he
lay concealed in the closet. The mere circumstance of the compact
between Ralph Nickleby and Gride would not invalidate the marriage,
or render Bray averse to it, who, if he did not actually know of the
existence of some such understanding, doubtless suspected it. What
had been hinted with reference to some fraud on Madeline, had been
put, with sufficient obscurity by Arthur Gride, but coming from
Newman Noggs, and obscured still further by the smoke of his
pocket-pistol, it became wholly unintelligible, and involved in utter
'There seems no ray of hope,' said Nicholas.
'The greater necessity for coolness, for reason, for consideration,
for thought,' said Newman, pausing at every alternate word, to look
anxiously in his friend's face. 'Where are the brothers?'
'Both absent on urgent business, as they will be for a week to
'Is there no way of communicating with them? No way of getting one
of them here by tomorrow night?'
'Impossible!' said Nicholas, 'the sea is between us and them. With
the fairest winds that ever blew, to go and return would take three
days and nights.'
'Their nephew,' said Newman, 'their old clerk.'
'What could either do, that I cannot?' rejoined Nicholas. 'With
reference to them, especially, I am enjoined to the strictest
silence on this subject. What right have I to betray the confidence
reposed in me, when nothing but a miracle can prevent this sacrifice?'
'Think,' urged Newman. 'Is there no way.'
'There is none,' said Nicholas, in utter dejection. 'Not one. The
father urges, the daughter consents. These demons have her in their
toils; legal right, might, power, money, and every influence are on
their side. How can I hope to save her?'
'Hope to the last!' said Newman, clapping him on the back. 'Always
hope; that's a dear boy. Never leave off hoping; it don't answer. Do
you mind me, Nick? It don't answer. Don't leave a stone unturned.
It's always something, to know you've done the most you could. But,
don't leave off hoping, or it's of no use doing anything. Hope,
hope, to the last!'
Nicholas needed encouragement. The suddenness with which
intelligence of the two usurers' plans had come upon him, the little
time which remained for exertion, the probability, almost amounting
to certainty itself, that a few hours would place Madeline Bray for
ever beyond his reach, consign her to unspeakable misery, and
perhaps to an untimely death; all this quite stunned and overwhelmed
him. Every hope connected with her that he had suffered himself to
form, or had entertained unconsciously, seemed to fall at his feet,
withered and dead. Every charm with which his memory or imagination
had surrounded her, presented itself before him, only to heighten
his anguish and add new bitterness to his despair. Every feeling of
sympathy for her forlorn condition, and of admiration for her
heroism and fortitude, aggravated the indignation which shook him in
every limb, and swelled his heart almost to bursting.
But, if Nicholas's own heart embarrassed him, Newman's came to his
relief. There was so much earnestness in his remonstrance, and such
sincerity and fervour in his manner, odd and ludicrous as it always
was, that it imparted to Nicholas new firmness, and enabled him to
say, after he had walked on for some little way in silence:
'You read me a good lesson, Newman, and I will profit by it. One
step, at least, I may take--am bound to take indeed--and to that I
will apply myself tomorrow.'
'What is that?' asked Noggs wistfully. 'Not to threaten Ralph? Not
to see the father?'
'To see the daughter, Newman,' replied Nicholas. 'To do what, after
all, is the utmost that the brothers could do, if they were here, as
Heaven send they were! To reason with her upon this hideous union,
to point out to her all the horrors to which she is hastening;
rashly, it may be, and without due reflection. To entreat her, at
least, to pause. She can have had no counsellor for her good.
Perhaps even I may move her so far yet, though it is the eleventh
hour, and she upon the very brink of ruin.'
'Bravely spoken!' said Newman. 'Well done, well done! Yes. Very
'And I do declare,' cried Nicholas, with honest enthusiasm, 'that in
this effort I am influenced by no selfish or personal
considerations, but by pity for her, and detestation and abhorrence
of this scheme; and that I would do the same, were there twenty
rivals in the field, and I the last and least favoured of them all.'
'You would, I believe,' said Newman. 'But where are you hurrying
'Homewards,' answered Nicholas. 'Do you come with me, or I shall
'I'll come a little way, if you will but walk: not run,' said Noggs.
'I cannot walk tonight, Newman,' returned Nicholas, hurriedly. 'I
must move rapidly, or I could not draw my breath. I'll tell you
what I've said and done tomorrow.'
Without waiting for a reply, he darted off at a rapid pace, and,
plunging into the crowds which thronged the street, was quickly lost
'He's a violent youth at times,' said Newman, looking after him;
'and yet like him for it. There's cause enough now, or the deuce is
in it. Hope! I SAID hope, I think! Ralph Nickleby and Gride with
their heads together! And hope for the opposite party! Ho! ho!'
It was with a very melancholy laugh that Newman Noggs concluded this
soliloquy; and it was with a very melancholy shake of the head, and
a very rueful countenance, that he turned about, and went plodding
on his way.
This, under ordinary circumstances, would have been to some small
tavern or dram-shop; that being his way, in more senses than one.
But, Newman was too much interested, and too anxious, to betake
himself even to this resource, and so, with many desponding and
dismal reflections, went straight home.
It had come to pass, that afternoon, that Miss Morleena Kenwigs had
received an invitation to repair next day, per steamer from
Westminster Bridge, unto the Eel-pie Island at Twickenham: there to
make merry upon a cold collation, bottled beer, shrub, and shrimps,
and to dance in the open air to the music of a locomotive band,
conveyed thither for the purpose: the steamer being specially
engaged by a dancing-master of extensive connection for the
accommodation of his numerous pupils, and the pupils displaying
their appreciation of the dancing-master's services, by purchasing
themselves, and inducing their friends to do the like, divers light-
blue tickets, entitling them to join the expedition. Of these light-
blue tickets, one had been presented by an ambitious neighbour to
Miss Morleena Kenwigs, with an invitation to join her daughters; and
Mrs Kenwigs, rightly deeming that the honour of the family was
involved in Miss Morleena's making the most splendid appearance
possible on so short a notice, and testifying to the dancing-master
that there were other dancing-masters besides him, and to all
fathers and mothers present that other people's children could learn
to be genteel besides theirs, had fainted away twice under the
magnitude of her preparations, but, upheld by a determination to
sustain the family name or perish in the attempt, was still hard at
work when Newman Noggs came home.
Now, between the italian-ironing of frills, the flouncing of
trousers, the trimming of frocks, the faintings and the comings-to
again, incidental to the occasion, Mrs Kenwigs had been so entirely
occupied, that she had not observed, until within half an hour
before, that the flaxen tails of Miss Morleena's hair were, in a
manner, run to seed; and that, unless she were put under the hands
of a skilful hairdresser, she never could achieve that signal
triumph over the daughters of all other people, anything less than
which would be tantamount to defeat. This discovery drove Mrs
Kenwigs to despair; for the hairdresser lived three streets and
eight dangerous crossings off; Morleena could not be trusted to go
there alone, even if such a proceeding were strictly proper: of
which Mrs Kenwigs had her doubts; Mr Kenwigs had not returned from
business; and there was nobody to take her. So, Mrs Kenwigs first
slapped Miss Kenwigs for being the cause of her vexation, and then
'You ungrateful child!' said Mrs Kenwigs, 'after I have gone through
what I have, this night, for your good.'
'I can't help it, ma,' replied Morleena, also in tears; 'my hair
'Don't talk to me, you naughty thing!' said Mrs Kenwigs, 'don't!
Even if I was to trust you by yourself and you were to escape being
run over, I know you'd run in to Laura Chopkins,' who was the
daughter of the ambitious neighbour, 'and tell her what you're going
to wear tomorrow, I know you would. You've no proper pride in
yourself, and are not to be trusted out of sight for an instant.'
Deploring the evil-mindedness of her eldest daughter in these terms,
Mrs Kenwigs distilled fresh drops of vexation from her eyes, and
declared that she did believe there never was anybody so tried as
she was. Thereupon, Morleena Kenwigs wept afresh, and they bemoaned
Matters were at this point, as Newman Noggs was heard to limp past
the door on his way upstairs; when Mrs Kenwigs, gaining new hope
from the sound of his footsteps, hastily removed from her
countenance as many traces of her late emotion as were effaceable on
so short a notice: and presenting herself before him, and
representing their dilemma, entreated that he would escort Morleena
to the hairdresser's shop.
'I wouldn't ask you, Mr Noggs,' said Mrs Kenwigs, 'if I didn't know
what a good, kind-hearted creature you are; no, not for worlds. I
am a weak constitution, Mr Noggs, but my spirit would no more let me
ask a favour where I thought there was a chance of its being
refused, than it would let me submit to see my children trampled
down and trod upon, by envy and lowness!'
Newman was too good-natured not to have consented, even without this
avowal of confidence on the part of Mrs Kenwigs. Accordingly, a
very few minutes had elapsed, when he and Miss Morleena were on
their way to the hairdresser's.
It was not exactly a hairdresser's; that is to say, people of a
coarse and vulgar turn of mind might have called it a barber's; for
they not only cut and curled ladies elegantly, and children
carefully, but shaved gentlemen easily. Still, it was a highly
genteel establishment--quite first-rate in fact--and there were
displayed in the window, besides other elegancies, waxen busts of a
light lady and a dark gentleman which were the admiration of the
whole neighbourhood. Indeed, some ladies had gone so far as to
assert, that the dark gentleman was actually a portrait of the
spirted young proprietor; and the great similarity between their
head-dresses--both wore very glossy hair, with a narrow walk
straight down the middle, and a profusion of flat circular curls on
both sides--encouraged the idea. The better informed among the sex,
however, made light of this assertion, for however willing they were
(and they were very willing) to do full justice to the handsome face
and figure of the proprietor, they held the countenance of the dark
gentleman in the window to be an exquisite and abstract idea of
masculine beauty, realised sometimes, perhaps, among angels and
military men, but very rarely embodied to gladden the eyes of
It was to this establishment that Newman Noggs led Miss Kenwigs in
safety. The proprietor, knowing that Miss Kenwigs had three
sisters, each with two flaxen tails, and all good for sixpence
apiece, once a month at least, promptly deserted an old gentleman
whom he had just lathered for shaving, and handing him over to the
journeyman, (who was not very popular among the ladies, by reason
of his obesity and middle age,) waited on the young lady himself.
Just as this change had been effected, there presented himself for
shaving, a big, burly, good-humoured coal-heaver with a pipe in his
mouth, who, drawing his hand across his chin, requested to know when
a shaver would be disengaged.
The journeyman, to whom this question was put, looked doubtfully at
the young proprietor, and the young proprietor looked scornfully at
the coal-heaver: observing at the same time:
'You won't get shaved here, my man.'
'Why not?' said the coal-heaver.
'We don't shave gentlemen in your line,' remarked the young
'Why, I see you a shaving of a baker, when I was a looking through
the winder, last week,' said the coal-heaver.
'It's necessary to draw the line somewheres, my fine feller,'
replied the principal. 'We draw the line there. We can't go beyond
bakers. If we was to get any lower than bakers, our customers would
desert us, and we might shut up shop. You must try some other
establishment, sir. We couldn't do it here.'
The applicant stared; grinned at Newman Noggs, who appeared highly
entertained; looked slightly round the shop, as if in depreciation
of the pomatum pots and other articles of stock; took his pipe out
of his mouth and gave a very loud whistle; and then put it in again,
and walked out.
The old gentleman who had just been lathered, and who was sitting in
a melancholy manner with his face turned towards the wall, appeared
quite unconscious of this incident, and to be insensible to
everything around him in the depth of a reverie--a very mournful
one, to judge from the sighs he occasionally vented--in which he was
absorbed. Affected by this example, the proprietor began to clip
Miss Kenwigs, the journeyman to scrape the old gentleman, and Newman
Noggs to read last Sunday's paper, all three in silence: when Miss
Kenwigs uttered a shrill little scream, and Newman, raising his
eyes, saw that it had been elicited by the circumstance of the old
gentleman turning his head, and disclosing the features of Mr
Lillyvick the collector.
The features of Mr Lillyvick they were, but strangely altered. If
ever an old gentleman had made a point of appearing in public,
shaved close and clean, that old gentleman was Mr Lillyvick. If
ever a collector had borne himself like a collector, and assumed,
before all men, a solemn and portentous dignity as if he had the
world on his books and it was all two quarters in arrear, that
collector was Mr Lillyvick. And now, there he sat, with the remains
of a beard at least a week old encumbering his chin; a soiled and
crumpled shirt-frill crouching, as it were, upon his breast, instead
of standing boldly out; a demeanour so abashed and drooping, so
despondent, and expressive of such humiliation, grief, and shame;
that if the souls of forty unsubstantial housekeepers, all of whom
had had their water cut off for non-payment of the rate, could have
been concentrated in one body, that one body could hardly have
expressed such mortification and defeat as were now expressed in the
person of Mr Lillyvick the collector.
Newman Noggs uttered his name, and Mr Lillyvick groaned: then
coughed to hide it. But the groan was a full-sized groan, and the
cough was but a wheeze.
'Is anything the matter?' said Newman Noggs.
'Matter, sir!' cried Mr Lillyvick. 'The plug of life is dry, sir,
and but the mud is left.'
This speech--the style of which Newman attributed to Mr Lillyvick's
recent association with theatrical characters--not being quite
explanatory, Newman looked as if he were about to ask another
question, when Mr Lillyvick prevented him by shaking his hand
mournfully, and then waving his own.
'Let me be shaved!' said Mr Lillyvick. 'It shall be done before
Morleena; it IS Morleena, isn't it?'
'Yes,' said Newman.
'Kenwigses have got a boy, haven't they?' inquired the collector.
Again Newman said 'Yes.'
'Is it a nice boy?' demanded the collector.
'It ain't a very nasty one,' returned Newman, rather embarrassed by
'Susan Kenwigs used to say,' observed the collector, 'that if ever
she had another boy, she hoped it might be like me. Is this one
like me, Mr Noggs?'
This was a puzzling inquiry; but Newman evaded it, by replying to Mr
Lillyvick, that he thought the baby might possibly come like him in
'I should be glad to have somebody like me, somehow,' said Mr
Lillyvick, 'before I die.'
'You don't mean to do that, yet awhile?' said Newman.
Unto which Mr Lillyvick replied in a solemn voice, 'Let me be
shaved!' and again consigning himself to the hands of the
journeyman, said no more.
This was remarkable behaviour. So remarkable did it seem to Miss
Morleena, that that young lady, at the imminent hazard of having her
ear sliced off, had not been able to forbear looking round, some
score of times, during the foregoing colloquy. Of her, however, Mr
Lillyvick took no notice: rather striving (so, at least, it seemed
to Newman Noggs) to evade her observation, and to shrink into
himself whenever he attracted her regards. Newman wondered very
much what could have occasioned this altered behaviour on the part
of the collector; but, philosophically reflecting that he would most
likely know, sooner or later, and that he could perfectly afford to
wait, he was very little disturbed by the singularity of the old
The cutting and curling being at last concluded, the old gentleman,
who had been some time waiting, rose to go, and, walking out with
Newman and his charge, took Newman's arm, and proceeded for some
time without making any observation. Newman, who in power of
taciturnity was excelled by few people, made no attempt to break
silence; and so they went on, until they had very nearly reached
Miss Morleena's home, when Mr Lillyvick said:
'Were the Kenwigses very much overpowered, Mr Noggs, by that news?'
'What news?' returned Newman.
'Married?' suggested Newman.
'Ah!' replied Mr Lillyvick, with another groan; this time not even
disguised by a wheeze.
'It made ma cry when she knew it,' interposed Miss Morleena, 'but we
kept it from her for a long time; and pa was very low in his
spirits, but he is better now; and I was very ill, but I am better
'Would you give your great-uncle Lillyvick a kiss if he was to ask
you, Morleena?' said the collector, with some hesitation.
'Yes; uncle Lillyvick, I would,' returned Miss Morleena, with the
energy of both her parents combined; 'but not aunt Lillyvick. She's
not an aunt of mine, and I'll never call her one.'
Immediately upon the utterance of these words, Mr Lillyvick caught
Miss Morleena up in his arms, and kissed her; and, being by this
time at the door of the house where Mr Kenwigs lodged (which, as has
been before mentioned, usually stood wide open), he walked straight
up into Mr Kenwigs's sitting-room, and put Miss Morleena down in the
midst. Mr and Mrs Kenwigs were at supper. At sight of their
perjured relative, Mrs Kenwigs turned faint and pale, and Mr Kenwigs
'Kenwigs,' said the collector, 'shake hands.'
'Sir,' said Mr Kenwigs, 'the time has been, when I was proud to
shake hands with such a man as that man as now surweys me. The time
has been, sir,' said Mr Kenwigs, 'when a wisit from that man has
excited in me and my family's boozums sensations both nateral and
awakening. But, now, I look upon that man with emotions totally
surpassing everythink, and I ask myself where is his Honour, where
is his straight-for'ardness, and where is his human natur?'
'Susan Kenwigs,' said Mr Lillyvick, turning humbly to his niece,
'don't you say anything to me?'
'She is not equal to it, sir,' said Mr Kenwigs, striking the table
emphatically. 'What with the nursing of a healthy babby, and the
reflections upon your cruel conduct, four pints of malt liquor a day
is hardly able to sustain her.'
'I am glad,' said the poor collector meekly, 'that the baby is a
healthy one. I am very glad of that.'
This was touching the Kenwigses on their tenderest point. Mrs
Kenwigs instantly burst into tears, and Mr Kenwigs evinced great
'My pleasantest feeling, all the time that child was expected,' said
Mr Kenwigs, mournfully, 'was a thinking, "If it's a boy, as I hope
it may be; for I have heard its uncle Lillyvick say again and again
he would prefer our having a boy next, if it's a boy, what will his
uncle Lillyvick say? What will he like him to be called? Will he be
Peter, or Alexander, or Pompey, or Diorgeenes, or what will he be?"
And now when I look at him; a precious, unconscious, helpless
infant, with no use in his little arms but to tear his little cap,
and no use in his little legs but to kick his little self--when I
see him a lying on his mother's lap, cooing and cooing, and, in his
innocent state, almost a choking hisself with his little fist--when
I see him such a infant as he is, and think that that uncle
Lillyvick, as was once a-going to be so fond of him, has withdrawed
himself away, such a feeling of wengeance comes over me as no
language can depicter, and I feel as if even that holy babe was a
telling me to hate him.'
This affecting picture moved Mrs Kenwigs deeply. After several
imperfect words, which vainly attempted to struggle to the surface,
but were drowned and washed away by the strong tide of her tears,
'Uncle,' said Mrs Kenwigs, 'to think that you should have turned
your back upon me and my dear children, and upon Kenwigs which is
the author of their being--you who was once so kind and
affectionate, and who, if anybody had told us such a thing of, we
should have withered with scorn like lightning--you that little
Lillyvick, our first and earliest boy, was named after at the very
altar! Oh gracious!'
'Was it money that we cared for?' said Mr Kenwigs. 'Was it property
that we ever thought of?'
'No,' cried Mrs Kenwigs, 'I scorn it.'
'So do I,' said Mr Kenwigs, 'and always did.'
'My feelings have been lancerated,' said Mrs Kenwigs, 'my heart has
been torn asunder with anguish, I have been thrown back in my
confinement, my unoffending infant has been rendered uncomfortable
and fractious, Morleena has pined herself away to nothing; all this
I forget and forgive, and with you, uncle, I never can quarrel. But
never ask me to receive HER, never do it, uncle. For I will not, I
will not, I won't, I won't, I won't!'
'Susan, my dear,' said Mr Kenwigs, 'consider your child.'
'Yes,' shrieked Mrs Kenwigs, 'I will consider my child! I will
consider my child! My own child, that no uncles can deprive me of;
my own hated, despised, deserted, cut-off little child.' And, here,
the emotions of Mrs Kenwigs became so violent, that Mr Kenwigs was
fain to administer hartshorn internally, and vinegar externally, and
to destroy a staylace, four petticoat strings, and several small
Newman had been a silent spectator of this scene; for Mr Lillyvick
had signed to him not to withdraw, and Mr Kenwigs had further
solicited his presence by a nod of invitation. When Mrs Kenwigs had
been, in some degree, restored, and Newman, as a person possessed of
some influence with her, had remonstrated and begged her to compose
herself, Mr Lillyvick said in a faltering voice:
'I never shall ask anybody here to receive my--I needn't mention the
word; you know what I mean. Kenwigs and Susan, yesterday was a week
she eloped with a half-pay captain!'
Mr and Mrs Kenwigs started together.
'Eloped with a half-pay captain,' repeated Mr Lillyvick, 'basely and
falsely eloped with a half-pay captain. With a bottle-nosed captain
that any man might have considered himself safe from. It was in
this room,' said Mr Lillyvick, looking sternly round, 'that I first
see Henrietta Petowker. It is in this room that I turn her off, for
This declaration completely changed the whole posture of affairs.
Mrs Kenwigs threw herself upon the old gentleman's neck, bitterly
reproaching herself for her late harshness, and exclaiming, if she
had suffered, what must his sufferings have been! Mr Kenwigs
grasped his hand, and vowed eternal friendship and remorse. Mrs
Kenwigs was horror-stricken to think that she should ever have
nourished in her bosom such a snake, adder, viper, serpent, and base
crocodile as Henrietta Petowker. Mr Kenwigs argued that she must
have been bad indeed not to have improved by so long a contemplation
of Mrs Kenwigs's virtue. Mrs Kenwigs remembered that Mr Kenwigs had
often said that he was not quite satisfied of the propriety of Miss
Petowker's conduct, and wondered how it was that she could have been
blinded by such a wretch. Mr Kenwigs remembered that he had had his
suspicions, but did not wonder why Mrs Kenwigs had not had hers, as
she was all chastity, purity, and truth, and Henrietta all baseness,
falsehood, and deceit. And Mr and Mrs Kenwigs both said, with
strong feelings and tears of sympathy, that everything happened for
the best; and conjured the good collector not to give way to
unavailing grief, but to seek consolation in the society of those
affectionate relations whose arms and hearts were ever open to him.
'Out of affection and regard for you, Susan and Kenwigs,' said Mr
Lillyvick, 'and not out of revenge and spite against her, for she is
below it, I shall, tomorrow morning, settle upon your children, and
make payable to the survivors of them when they come of age of
marry, that money that I once meant to leave 'em in my will. The
deed shall be executed tomorrow, and Mr Noggs shall be one of the
witnesses. He hears me promise this, and he shall see it done.'
Overpowered by this noble and generous offer, Mr Kenwigs, Mrs
Kenwigs, and Miss Morleena Kenwigs, all began to sob together; and
the noise of their sobbing, communicating itself to the next room,
where the children lay a-bed, and causing them to cry too, Mr Kenwigs
rushed wildly in, and bringing them out in his arms, by two and two,
tumbled them down in their nightcaps and gowns at the feet of Mr
Lillyvick, and called upon them to thank and bless him.
'And now,' said Mr Lillyvick, when a heart-rending scene had ensued
and the children were cleared away again, 'give me some supper.
This took place twenty mile from town. I came up this morning, and
have being lingering about all day, without being able to make up my
mind to come and see you. I humoured her in everything, she had her
own way, she did just as she pleased, and now she has done this.
There was twelve teaspoons and twenty-four pound in sovereigns--I
missed them first--it's a trial--I feel I shall never be able to
knock a double knock again, when I go my rounds--don't say anything
more about it, please--the spoons were worth--never mind--never
With such muttered outpourings as these, the old gentleman shed a
few tears; but, they got him into the elbow-chair, and prevailed
upon him, without much pressing, to make a hearty supper, and by the
time he had finished his first pipe, and disposed of half-a-dozen
glasses out of a crown bowl of punch, ordered by Mr Kenwigs, in
celebration of his return to the bosom of his family, he seemed,
though still very humble, quite resigned to his fate, and rather
relieved than otherwise by the flight of his wife.
'When I see that man,' said Mr Kenwigs, with one hand round Mrs
Kenwigs's waist: his other hand supporting his pipe (which made him
wink and cough very much, for he was no smoker): and his eyes on
Morleena, who sat upon her uncle's knee, 'when I see that man as
mingling, once again, in the spear which he adorns, and see his
affections deweloping themselves in legitimate sitiwations, I feel
that his nature is as elewated and expanded, as his standing afore
society as a public character is unimpeached, and the woices of my
infant children purvided for in life, seem to whisper to me softly,
"This is an ewent at which Evins itself looks down!"'
Containing the further Progress of the Plot contrived by Mr Ralph
Nickleby and Mr Arthur Gride
With that settled resolution, and steadiness of purpose to which
extreme circumstances so often give birth, acting upon far less
excitable and more sluggish temperaments than that which was the lot
of Madeline Bray's admirer, Nicholas started, at dawn of day, from
the restless couch which no sleep had visited on the previous night,
and prepared to make that last appeal, by whose slight and fragile
thread her only remaining hope of escape depended.
Although, to restless and ardent minds, morning may be the fitting
season for exertion and activity, it is not always at that time that
hope is strongest or the spirit most sanguine and buoyant. In
trying and doubtful positions, youth, custom, a steady contemplation
of the difficulties which surround us, and a familiarity with them,
imperceptibly diminish our apprehensions and beget comparative
indifference, if not a vague and reckless confidence in some relief,
the means or nature of which we care not to foresee. But when we
come, fresh, upon such things in the morning, with that dark and
silent gap between us and yesterday; with every link in the brittle
chain of hope, to rivet afresh; our hot enthusiasm subdued, and cool
calm reason substituted in its stead; doubt and misgiving revive.
As the traveller sees farthest by day, and becomes aware of rugged
mountains and trackless plains which the friendly darkness had
shrouded from his sight and mind together, so, the wayfarer in the
toilsome path of human life sees, with each returning sun, some new
obstacle to surmount, some new height to be attained. Distances
stretch out before him which, last night, were scarcely taken into
account, and the light which gilds all nature with its cheerful
beams, seems but to shine upon the weary obstacles that yet lie
strewn between him and the grave.
So thought Nicholas, when, with the impatience natural to a
situation like his, he softly left the house, and, feeling as though
to remain in bed were to lose most precious time, and to be up and
stirring were in some way to promote the end he had in view,
wandered into London; perfectly well knowing that for hours to come
he could not obtain speech with Madeline, and could do nothing but
wish the intervening time away.
And, even now, as he paced the streets, and listlessly looked round
on the gradually increasing bustle and preparation for the day,
everything appeared to yield him some new occasion for despondency.
Last night, the sacrifice of a young, affectionate, and beautiful
creature, to such a wretch, and in such a cause, had seemed a thing
too monstrous to succeed; and the warmer he grew, the more confident
he felt that some interposition must save her from his clutches.
But now, when he thought how regularly things went on, from day to
day, in the same unvarying round; how youth and beauty died, and
ugly griping age lived tottering on; how crafty avarice grew rich,
and manly honest hearts were poor and sad; how few they were who
tenanted the stately houses, and how many of those who lay in
noisome pens, or rose each day and laid them down each night, and
lived and died, father and son, mother and child, race upon race,
and generation upon generation, without a home to shelter them or
the energies of one single man directed to their aid; how, in
seeking, not a luxurious and splendid life, but the bare means of a
most wretched and inadequate subsistence, there were women and
children in that one town, divided into classes, numbered and
estimated as regularly as the noble families and folks of great
degree, and reared from infancy to drive most criminal and dreadful
trades; how ignorance was punished and never taught; how jail-doors
gaped, and gallows loomed, for thousands urged towards them by
circumstances darkly curtaining their very cradles' heads, and but
for which they might have earned their honest bread and lived in
peace; how many died in soul, and had no chance of life; how many
who could scarcely go astray, be they vicious as they would, turned
haughtily from the crushed and stricken wretch who could scarce do
otherwise, and who would have been a greater wonder had he or she
done well, than even they had they done ill; how much injustice,
misery, and wrong, there was, and yet how the world rolled on, from
year to year, alike careless and indifferent, and no man seeking to
remedy or redress it; when he thought of all this, and selected from
the mass the one slight case on which his thoughts were bent, he
felt, indeed, that there was little ground for hope, and little
reason why it should not form an atom in the huge aggregate of
distress and sorrow, and add one small and unimportant unit to swell
the great amount.
But youth is not prone to contemplate the darkest side of a picture
it can shift at will. By dint of reflecting on what he had to do,
and reviving the train of thought which night had interrupted,
Nicholas gradually summoned up his utmost energy, and when the
morning was sufficiently advanced for his purpose, had no thought
but that of using it to the best advantage. A hasty breakfast
taken, and such affairs of business as required prompt attention
disposed of, he directed his steps to the residence of Madeline
Bray: whither he lost no time in arriving.
It had occurred to him that, very possibly, the young lady might be
denied, although to him she never had been; and he was still
pondering upon the surest method of obtaining access to her in that
case, when, coming to the door of the house, he found it had been
left ajar--probably by the last person who had gone out. The
occasion was not one upon which to observe the nicest ceremony;
therefore, availing himself of this advantage, Nicholas walked
gently upstairs and knocked at the door of the room into which he
had been accustomed to be shown. Receiving permission to enter,
from some person on the other side, he opened the door and walked
Bray and his daughter were sitting there alone. It was nearly three
weeks since he had seen her last, but there was a change in the
lovely girl before him which told Nicholas, in startling terms, how
much mental suffering had been compressed into that short time.
There are no words which can express, nothing with which can be
compared, the perfect pallor, the clear transparent whiteness, of
the beautiful face which turned towards him when he entered. Her
hair was a rich deep brown, but shading that face, and straying upon
a neck that rivalled it in whiteness, it seemed by the strong
contrast raven black. Something of wildness and restlessness there
was in the dark eye, but there was the same patient look, the same
expression of gentle mournfulness which he well remembered, and no
trace of a single tear. Most beautiful--more beautiful, perhaps,
than ever--there was something in her face which quite unmanned him,
and appeared far more touching than the wildest agony of grief. It
was not merely calm and composed, but fixed and rigid, as though the
violent effort which had summoned that composure beneath her
father's eye, while it mastered all other thoughts, had prevented
even the momentary expression they had communicated to the features
from subsiding, and had fastened it there, as an evidence of its
The father sat opposite to her; not looking directly in her face,
but glancing at her, as he talked with a gay air which ill disguised
the anxiety of his thoughts. The drawing materials were not on
their accustomed table, nor were any of the other tokens of her
usual occupations to be seen. The little vases which Nicholas had
always seen filled with fresh flowers were empty, or supplied only
with a few withered stalks and leaves. The bird was silent. The
cloth that covered his cage at night was not removed. His mistress
had forgotten him.
There are times when, the mind being painfully alive to receive
impressions, a great deal may be noted at a glance. This was one,
for Nicholas had but glanced round him when he was recognised by Mr
Bray, who said impatiently:
'Now, sir, what do you want? Name your errand here, quickly, if you
please, for my daughter and I are busily engaged with other and more
important matters than those you come about. Come, sir, address
yourself to your business at once.'
Nicholas could very well discern that the irritability and
impatience of this speech were assumed, and that Bray, in his heart,
was rejoiced at any interruption which promised to engage the
attention of his daughter. He bent his eyes involuntarily upon the
father as he spoke, and marked his uneasiness; for he coloured and
turned his head away.
The device, however, so far as it was a device for causing Madeline
to interfere, was successful. She rose, and advancing towards
Nicholas paused half-way, and stretched out her hand as expecting a
'Madeline,' said her father impatiently, 'my love, what are you
'Miss Bray expects an inclosure perhaps,' said Nicholas, speaking
very distinctly, and with an emphasis she could scarcely
misunderstand. 'My employer is absent from England, or I should
have brought a letter with me. I hope she will give me time--a
little time. I ask a very little time.'
'If that is all you come about, sir,' said Mr Bray, 'you may make
yourself easy on that head. Madeline, my dear, I didn't know this
person was in your debt?'
'A--a trifle, I believe,' returned Madeline, faintly.
'I suppose you think now,' said Bray, wheeling his chair round and
confronting Nicholas, 'that, but for such pitiful sums as you bring
here, because my daughter has chosen to employ her time as she has,
we should starve?'
'I have not thought about it,' returned Nicholas.
'You have not thought about it!' sneered the invalid. 'You know you
HAVE thought about it, and have thought that, and think so every
time you come here. Do you suppose, young man, that I don't know
what little purse-proud tradesmen are, when, through some fortunate
circumstances, they get the upper hand for a brief day--or think
they get the upper hand--of a gentleman?'
'My business,' said Nicholas respectfully, 'is with a lady.'
'With a gentleman's daughter, sir,' returned the sick man, 'and the
pettifogging spirit is the same. But perhaps you bring ORDERS, eh?
Have you any fresh ORDERS for my daughter, sir?'
Nicholas understood the tone of triumph in which this interrogatory
was put; but remembering the necessity of supporting his assumed
character, produced a scrap of paper purporting to contain a list of
some subjects for drawings which his employer desired to have
executed; and with which he had prepared himself in case of any such
'Oh!' said Mr Bray. 'These are the orders, are they?'
'Since you insist upon the term, sir, yes,' replied Nicholas.
'Then you may tell your master,' said Bray, tossing the paper back
again, with an exulting smile, 'that my daughter, Miss Madeline
Bray, condescends to employ herself no longer in such labours as
these; that she is not at his beck and call, as he supposes her to
be; that we don't live upon his money, as he flatters himself we do;
that he may give whatever he owes us, to the first beggar that
passes his shop, or add it to his own profits next time he
calculates them; and that he may go to the devil for me. That's my
acknowledgment of his orders, sir!'
'And this is the independence of a man who sells his daughter as he
has sold that weeping girl!' thought Nicholas.
The father was too much absorbed with his own exultation to mark the
look of scorn which, for an instant, Nicholas could not have
suppressed had he been upon the rack. 'There,' he continued, after
a short silence, 'you have your message and can retire--unless you
have any further--ha!--any further orders.'
'I have none,' said Nicholas; 'nor, in the consideration of the
station you once held, have I used that or any other word which,
however harmless in itself, could be supposed to imply authority on
my part or dependence on yours. I have no orders, but I have fears
--fears that I will express, chafe as you may--fears that you may be
consigning that young lady to something worse than supporting you by
the labour of her hands, had she worked herself dead. These are my
fears, and these fears I found upon your own demeanour. Your
conscience will tell you, sir, whether I construe it well or not.'
'For Heaven's sake!' cried Madeline, interposing in alarm between
them. 'Remember, sir, he is ill.'
'Ill!' cried the invalid, gasping and catching for breath. 'Ill!
Ill! I am bearded and bullied by a shop-boy, and she beseeches him
to pity me and remember I am ill!'
He fell into a paroxysm of his disorder, so violent that for a few
moments Nicholas was alarmed for his life; but finding that he began
to recover, he withdrew, after signifying by a gesture to the young
lady that he had something important to communicate, and would wait
for her outside the room. He could hear that the sick man came
gradually, but slowly, to himself, and that without any reference to
what had just occurred, as though he had no distinct recollection of
it as yet, he requested to be left alone.
'Oh!' thought Nicholas, 'that this slender chance might not be lost,
and that I might prevail, if it were but for one week's time and
'You are charged with some commission to me, sir,' said Madeline,
presenting herself in great agitation. 'Do not press it now, I beg
and pray you. The day after tomorrow; come here then.'
'It will be too late--too late for what I have to say,' rejoined
Nicholas, 'and you will not be here. Oh, madam, if you have but one
thought of him who sent me here, but one last lingering care for
your own peace of mind and heart, I do for God's sake urge you to
give me a hearing.'
She attempted to pass him, but Nicholas gently detained her.
'A hearing,' said Nicholas. 'I ask you but to hear me: not me
alone, but him for whom I speak, who is far away and does not know
your danger. In the name of Heaven hear me!'
The poor attendant, with her eyes swollen and red with weeping,
stood by; and to her Nicholas appealed in such passionate terms that
she opened a side-door, and, supporting her mistress into an
adjoining room, beckoned Nicholas to follow them.
'Leave me, sir, pray,' said the young lady.
'I cannot, will not leave you thus,' returned Nicholas. 'I have a
duty to discharge; and, either here, or in the room from which we
have just now come, at whatever risk or hazard to Mr Bray, I must
beseech you to contemplate again the fearful course to which you
have been impelled.'
'What course is this you speak of, and impelled by whom, sir?'
demanded the young lady, with an effort to speak proudly.
'I speak of this marriage,' returned Nicholas, 'of this marriage,
fixed for tomorrow, by one who never faltered in a bad purpose, or
lent his aid to any good design; of this marriage, the history of
which is known to me, better, far better, than it is to you. I know
what web is wound about you. I know what men they are from whom
these schemes have come. You are betrayed and sold for money; for
gold, whose every coin is rusted with tears, if not red with the
blood of ruined men, who have fallen desperately by their own mad
'You say you have a duty to discharge,' said Madeline, 'and so have
I. And with the help of Heaven I will perform it.'
'Say rather with the help of devils,' replied Nicholas, 'with the
help of men, one of them your destined husband, who are--'
'I must not hear this,' cried the young lady, striving to repress a
shudder, occasioned, as it seemed, even by this slight allusion to
Arthur Gride. 'This evil, if evil it be, has been of my own
seeking. I am impelled to this course by no one, but follow it of
my own free will. You see I am not constrained or forced. Report
this,' said Madeline, 'to my dear friend and benefactor, and, taking
with you my prayers and thanks for him and for yourself, leave me
'Not until I have besought you, with all the earnestness and fervour
by which I am animated,' cried Nicholas, 'to postpone this marriage
for one short week. Not until I have besought you to think more
deeply than you can have done, influenced as you are, upon the step
you are about to take. Although you cannot be fully conscious of
the villainy of this man to whom you are about to give your hand,
some of his deeds you know. You have heard him speak, and have
looked upon his face. Reflect, reflect, before it is too late, on
the mockery of plighting to him at the altar, faith in which your
heart can have no share--of uttering solemn words, against which
nature and reason must rebel--of the degradation of yourself in your
own esteem, which must ensue, and must be aggravated every day, as
his detested character opens upon you more and more. Shrink from
the loathsome companionship of this wretch as you would from
corruption and disease. Suffer toil and labour if you will, but
shun him, shun him, and be happy. For, believe me, I speak the
truth; the most abject poverty, the most wretched condition of
human life, with a pure and upright mind, would be happiness to that
which you must undergo as the wife of such a man as this!'
Long before Nicholas ceased to speak, the young lady buried her face
in her hands, and gave her tears free way. In a voice at first
inarticulate with emotion, but gradually recovering strength as she
proceeded, she answered him:
'I will not disguise from you, sir--though perhaps I ought--that I
have undergone great pain of mind, and have been nearly broken-
hearted since I saw you last. I do NOT love this gentleman. The
difference between our ages, tastes, and habits, forbids it. This
he knows, and knowing, still offers me his hand. By accepting it,
and by that step alone, I can release my father who is dying in this
place; prolong his life, perhaps, for many years; restore him to
comfort--I may almost call it affluence; and relieve a generous man
from the burden of assisting one, by whom, I grieve to say, his
noble heart is little understood. Do not think so poorly of me as
to believe that I feign a love I do not feel. Do not report so ill
of me, for THAT I could not bear. If I cannot, in reason or in
nature, love the man who pays this price for my poor hand, I can
discharge the duties of a wife: I can be all he seeks in me, and
will. He is content to take me as I am. I have passed my word, and
should rejoice, not weep, that it is so. I do. The interest you
take in one so friendless and forlorn as I, the delicacy with which
you have discharged your trust, the faith you have kept with me,
have my warmest thanks: and, while I make this last feeble
acknowledgment, move me to tears, as you see. But I do not repent,
nor am I unhappy. I am happy in the prospect of all I can achieve
so easily. I shall be more so when I look back upon it, and all is
done, I know.'
'Your tears fall faster as you talk of happiness,' said Nicholas,
'and you shun the contemplation of that dark future which must be
laden with so much misery to you. Defer this marriage for a week.
For but one week!'
'He was talking, when you came upon us just now, with such smiles as
I remember to have seen of old, and have not seen for many and many
a day, of the freedom that was to come tomorrow,' said Madeline,
with momentary firmness, 'of the welcome change, the fresh air: all
the new scenes and objects that would bring fresh life to his
exhausted frame. His eye grew bright, and his face lightened at the
thought. I will not defer it for an hour.'
'These are but tricks and wiles to urge you on,' cried Nicholas.
'I'll hear no more,' said Madeline, hurriedly; 'I have heard too
much--more than I should--already. What I have said to you, sir, I
have said as to that dear friend to whom I trust in you honourably
to repeat it. Some time hence, when I am more composed and
reconciled to my new mode of life, if I should live so long, I will
write to him. Meantime, all holy angels shower blessings on his
head, and prosper and preserve him.'
She was hurrying past Nicholas, when he threw himself before her,
and implored her to think, but once again, upon the fate to which
she was precipitately hastening.
'There is no retreat,' said Nicholas, in an agony of supplication;
'no withdrawing! All regret will be unavailing, and deep and bitter
it must be. What can I say, that will induce you to pause at this
last moment? What can I do to save you?'
'Nothing,' she incoherently replied. 'This is the hardest trial I
have had. Have mercy on me, sir, I beseech, and do not pierce my
heart with such appeals as these. I--I hear him calling. I--I--
must not, will not, remain here for another instant.'
'If this were a plot,' said Nicholas, with the same violent rapidity
with which she spoke, 'a plot, not yet laid bare by me, but which,
with time, I might unravel; if you were (not knowing it) entitled to
fortune of your own, which, being recovered, would do all that this
marriage can accomplish, would you not retract?'
'No, no, no! It is impossible; it is a child's tale. Time would
bring his death. He is calling again!'
'It may be the last time we shall ever meet on earth,' said
Nicholas, 'it may be better for me that we should never meet more.'
'For both, for both,' replied Madeline, not heeding what she said.
'The time will come when to recall the memory of this one interview
might drive me mad. Be sure to tell them, that you left me calm and
happy. And God be with you, sir, and my grateful heart and
She was gone. Nicholas, staggering from the house, thought of the
hurried scene which had just closed upon him, as if it were the
phantom of some wild, unquiet dream. The day wore on; at night,
having been enabled in some measure to collect his thoughts, he
issued forth again.
That night, being the last of Arthur Gride's bachelorship, found him
in tiptop spirits and great glee. The bottle-green suit had been
brushed, ready for the morrow. Peg Sliderskew had rendered the
accounts of her past housekeeping; the eighteen-pence had been
rigidly accounted for (she was never trusted with a larger sum at
once, and the accounts were not usually balanced more than twice a
day); every preparation had been made for the coming festival; and
Arthur might have sat down and contemplated his approaching
happiness, but that he preferred sitting down and contemplating the
entries in a dirty old vellum-book with rusty clasps.
'Well-a-day!' he chuckled, as sinking on his knees before a strong
chest screwed down to the floor, he thrust in his arm nearly up to
the shoulder, and slowly drew forth this greasy volume. 'Well-a-day
now, this is all my library, but it's one of the most entertaining
books that were ever written! It's a delightful book, and all true
and real--that's the best of it--true as the Bank of England, and
real as its gold and silver. Written by Arthur Gride. He, he, he!
None of your storybook writers will ever make as good a book as
this, I warrant me. It's composed for private circulation, for my
own particular reading, and nobody else's. He, he, he!'
Muttering this soliloquy, Arthur carried his precious volume to the
table, and, adjusting it upon a dusty desk, put on his spectacles,
and began to pore among the leaves.
'It's a large sum to Mr Nickleby,' he said, in a dolorous voice.
'Debt to be paid in full, nine hundred and seventy-five, four,
three. Additional sum as per bond, five hundred pound. One
thousand, four hundred and seventy-five pounds, four shillings, and
threepence, tomorrow at twelve o'clock. On the other side, though,
there's the PER CONTRA, by means of this pretty chick. But, again,
there's the question whether I mightn't have brought all this about,
myself. "Faint heart never won fair lady." Why was my heart so
faint? Why didn't I boldly open it to Bray myself, and save one
thousand four hundred and seventy-five, four, three?'
These reflections depressed the old usurer so much, as to wring a
feeble groan or two from his breast, and cause him to declare, with
uplifted hands, that he would die in a workhouse. Remembering on
further cogitation, however, that under any circumstances he must
have paid, or handsomely compounded for, Ralph's debt, and being by
no means confident that he would have succeeded had he undertaken
his enterprise alone, he regained his equanimity, and chattered and
mowed over more satisfactory items, until the entrance of Peg
Sliderskew interrupted him.
'Aha, Peg!' said Arthur, 'what is it? What is it now, Peg?'
'It's the fowl,' replied Peg, holding up a plate containing a
little, a very little one. Quite a phenomenon of a fowl. So very
small and skinny.
'A beautiful bird!' said Arthur, after inquiring the price, and
finding it proportionate to the size. 'With a rasher of ham, and an
egg made into sauce, and potatoes, and greens, and an apple pudding,
Peg, and a little bit of cheese, we shall have a dinner for an
emperor. There'll only be she and me--and you, Peg, when we've
'Don't you complain of the expense afterwards,' said Mrs Sliderskew,
'I am afraid we must live expensively for the first week,' returned
Arthur, with a groan, 'and then we must make up for it. I won't eat
more than I can help, and I know you love your old master too much
to eat more than YOU can help, don't you, Peg?'
'Don't I what?' said Peg.
'Love your old master too much--'
'No, not a bit too much,' said Peg.
'Oh, dear, I wish the devil had this woman!' cried Arthur: 'love him
too much to eat more than you can help at his expense.'
'At his what?' said Peg.
'Oh dear! she can never hear the most important word, and hears all
the others!' whined Gride. 'At his expense--you catamaran!'
The last-mentioned tribute to the charms of Mrs Sliderskew being
uttered in a whisper, that lady assented to the general proposition
by a harsh growl, which was accompanied by a ring at the street-
'There's the bell,' said Arthur.
'Ay, ay; I know that,' rejoined Peg.
'Then why don't you go?' bawled Arthur.
'Go where?' retorted Peg. 'I ain't doing any harm here, am I?'
Arthur Gride in reply repeated the word 'bell' as loud as he could
roar; and, his meaning being rendered further intelligible to Mrs
Sliderskew's dull sense of hearing by pantomime expressive of
ringing at a street-door, Peg hobbled out, after sharply demanding
why he hadn't said there was a ring before, instead of talking about
all manner of things that had nothing to do with it, and keeping her
half-pint of beer waiting on the steps.
'There's a change come over you, Mrs Peg,' said Arthur, following
her out with his eyes. 'What it means I don't quite know; but, if
it lasts, we shan't agree together long I see. You are turning
crazy, I think. If you are, you must take yourself off, Mrs Peg--or
be taken off. All's one to me.' Turning over the leaves of his book
as he muttered this, he soon lighted upon something which attracted
his attention, and forgot Peg Sliderskew and everything else in the
engrossing interest of its pages.
The room had no other light than that which it derived from a dim
and dirt-clogged lamp, whose lazy wick, being still further obscured
by a dark shade, cast its feeble rays over a very little space, and
left all beyond in heavy shadow. This lamp the money-lender had
drawn so close to him, that there was only room between it and
himself for the book over which he bent; and as he sat, with his
elbows on the desk, and his sharp cheek-bones resting on his hands,
it only served to bring out his ugly features in strong relief,
together with the little table at which he sat, and to shroud all
the rest of the chamber in a deep sullen gloom. Raising his eyes,
and looking vacantly into this gloom as he made some mental
calculation, Arthur Gride suddenly met the fixed gaze of a man.
'Thieves! thieves!' shrieked the usurer, starting up and folding his
book to his breast. 'Robbers! Murder!'
'What is the matter?' said the form, advancing.
'Keep off!' cried the trembling wretch. 'Is it a man or a--a--'
'For what do you take me, if not for a man?' was the inquiry.
'Yes, yes,' cried Arthur Gride, shading his eyes with his hand, 'it
is a man, and not a spirit. It is a man. Robbers! robbers!'
'For what are these cries raised? Unless indeed you know me, and
have some purpose in your brain?' said the stranger, coming close up
to him. 'I am no thief.'
'What then, and how come you here?' cried Gride, somewhat reassured,
but still retreating from his visitor: 'what is your name, and what
do you want?'
'My name you need not know,' was the reply. 'I came here, because I
was shown the way by your servant. I have addressed you twice or
thrice, but you were too profoundly engaged with your book to hear
me, and I have been silently waiting until you should be less
abstracted. What I want I will tell you, when you can summon up
courage enough to hear and understand me.'
Arthur Gride, venturing to regard his visitor more attentively, and
perceiving that he was a young man of good mien and bearing,
returned to his seat, and muttering that there were bad characters
about, and that this, with former attempts upon his house, had made
him nervous, requested his visitor to sit down. This, however, he
'Good God! I don't stand up to have you at an advantage,' said
Nicholas (for Nicholas it was), as he observed a gesture of alarm on
the part of Gride. 'Listen to me. You are to be married tomorrow
'N--n--no,' rejoined Gride. 'Who said I was? How do you know
'No matter how,' replied Nicholas, 'I know it. The young lady who
is to give you her hand hates and despises you. Her blood runs cold
at the mention of your name; the vulture and the lamb, the rat and
the dove, could not be worse matched than you and she. You see I
Gride looked at him as if he were petrified with astonishment, but
did not speak; perhaps lacking the power.
'You and another man, Ralph Nickleby by name, have hatched this plot
between you,' pursued Nicholas. 'You pay him for his share in
bringing about this sale of Madeline Bray. You do. A lie is
trembling on your lips, I see.'
He paused; but, Arthur making no reply, resumed again.
'You pay yourself by defrauding her. How or by what means--for I
scorn to sully her cause by falsehood or deceit--I do not know; at
present I do not know, but I am not alone or single-handed in this
business. If the energy of man can compass the discovery of your
fraud and treachery before your death; if wealth, revenge, and just
hatred, can hunt and track you through your windings; you will yet
be called to a dear account for this. We are on the scent already;
judge you, who know what we do not, when we shall have you down!'
He paused again, and still Arthur Gride glared upon him in silence.
'If you were a man to whom I could appeal with any hope of touching
his compassion or humanity,' said Nicholas, 'I would urge upon you
to remember the helplessness, the innocence, the youth, of this
lady; her worth and beauty, her filial excellence, and last, and
more than all, as concerning you more nearly, the appeal she has
made to your mercy and your manly feeling. But, I take the only
ground that can be taken with men like you, and ask what money will
buy you off. Remember the danger to which you are exposed. You see
I know enough to know much more with very little help. Bate some
expected gain for the risk you save, and say what is your price.'
Old Arthur Gride moved his lips, but they only formed an ugly smile
and were motionless again.
'You think,' said Nicholas, 'that the price would not be paid. Miss
Bray has wealthy friends who would coin their very hearts to save
her in such a strait as this. Name your price, defer these nuptials
for but a few days, and see whether those I speak of, shrink from
the payment. Do you hear me?'
When Nicholas began, Arthur Gride's impression was, that Ralph
Nickleby had betrayed him; but, as he proceeded, he felt convinced
that however he had come by the knowledge he possessed, the part he
acted was a genuine one, and that with Ralph he had no concern. All
he seemed to know, for certain, was, that he, Gride, paid Ralph's
debt; but that, to anybody who knew the circumstances of Bray's
detention--even to Bray himself, on Ralph's own statement--must be
perfectly notorious. As to the fraud on Madeline herself, his
visitor knew so little about its nature or extent, that it might be
a lucky guess, or a hap-hazard accusation. Whether or no, he had
clearly no key to the mystery, and could not hurt him who kept it
close within his own breast. The allusion to friends, and the offer
of money, Gride held to be mere empty vapouring, for purposes of
delay. 'And even if money were to be had,' thought Arthur Glide, as
he glanced at Nicholas, and trembled with passion at his boldness
and audacity, 'I'd have that dainty chick for my wife, and cheat YOU
of her, young smooth-face!'
Long habit of weighing and noting well what clients said, and nicely
balancing chances in his mind and calculating odds to their faces,
without the least appearance of being so engaged, had rendered Gride
quick in forming conclusions, and arriving, from puzzling,
intricate, and often contradictory premises, at very cunning
deductions. Hence it was that, as Nicholas went on, he followed him
closely with his own constructions, and, when he ceased to speak,
was as well prepared as if he had deliberated for a fortnight.
'I hear you,' he cried, starting from his seat, casting back the
fastenings of the window-shutters, and throwing up the sash. 'Help
here! Help! Help!'
'What are you doing?' said Nicholas, seizing him by the arm.
'I'll cry robbers, thieves, murder, alarm the neighbourhood,
struggle with you, let loose some blood, and swear you came to rob
me, if you don't quit my house,' replied Gride, drawing in his head
with a frightful grin, 'I will!'
'Wretch!' cried Nicholas.
'YOU'LL bring your threats here, will you?' said Gride, whom
jealousy of Nicholas and a sense of his own triumph had converted
into a perfect fiend. 'You, the disappointed lover? Oh dear! He!
he! he! But you shan't have her, nor she you. She's my wife, my
doting little wife. Do you think she'll miss you? Do you think
she'll weep? I shall like to see her weep, I shan't mind it. She
looks prettier in tears.'
'Villain!' said Nicholas, choking with his rage.
'One minute more,' cried Arthur Gride, 'and I'll rouse the street
with such screams, as, if they were raised by anybody else, should
wake me even in the arms of pretty Madeline.'
'You hound!' said Nicholas. 'If you were but a younger man--'
'Oh yes!' sneered Arthur Gride, 'If I was but a younger man it
wouldn't be so bad; but for me, so old and ugly! To be jilted by
little Madeline for me!'
'Hear me,' said Nicholas, 'and be thankful I have enough command
over myself not to fling you into the street, which no aid could
prevent my doing if I once grappled with you. I have been no lover
of this lady's. No contract or engagement, no word of love, has
ever passed between us. She does not even know my name.'
'I'll ask it for all that. I'll beg it of her with kisses,' said
Arthur Gride. 'Yes, and she'll tell me, and pay them back, and
we'll laugh together, and hug ourselves, and be very merry, when we
think of the poor youth that wanted to have her, but couldn't
because she was bespoke by me!'
This taunt brought such an expression into the face of Nicholas,
that Arthur Gride plainly apprehended it to be the forerunner of his
putting his threat of throwing him into the street in immediate
execution; for he thrust his head out of the window, and holding
tight on with both hands, raised a pretty brisk alarm. Not thinking
it necessary to abide the issue of the noise, Nicholas gave vent to
an indignant defiance, and stalked from the room and from the house.
Arthur Gride watched him across the street, and then, drawing in his
head, fastened the window as before, and sat down to take breath.
'If she ever turns pettish or ill-humoured, I'll taunt her with that
spark,' he said, when he had recovered. 'She'll little think I know
about him; and, if I manage it well, I can break her spirit by this
means and have her under my thumb. I'm glad nobody came. I didn't
call too loud. The audacity to enter my house, and open upon me!
But I shall have a very good triumph tomorrow, and he'll be gnawing
his fingers off: perhaps drown himself or cut his throat! I
shouldn't wonder! That would make it quite complete, that would:
When he had become restored to his usual condition by these and
other comments on his approaching triumph, Arthur Gride put away his
book, and, having locked the chest with great caution, descended
into the kitchen to warn Peg Sliderskew to bed, and scold her for
having afforded such ready admission to a stranger.
The unconscious Peg, however, not being able to comprehend the
offence of which she had been guilty, he summoned her to hold the
light, while he made a tour of the fastenings, and secured the
street-door with his own hands.
'Top bolt,' muttered Arthur, fastening as he spoke, 'bottom bolt,
chain, bar, double lock, and key out to put under my pillow! So, if
any more rejected admirers come, they may come through the keyhole.
And now I'll go to sleep till half-past five, when I must get up to
be married, Peg!'
With that, he jocularly tapped Mrs Sliderskew under the chin, and
appeared, for the moment, inclined to celebrate the close of his
bachelor days by imprinting a kiss on her shrivelled lips. Thinking
better of it, however, he gave her chin another tap, in lieu of that
warmer familiarity, and stole away to bed.
The Crisis of the Project and its Result
There are not many men who lie abed too late, or oversleep
themselves, on their wedding morning. A legend there is of somebody
remarkable for absence of mind, who opened his eyes upon the day
which was to give him a young wife, and forgetting all about the
matter, rated his servants for providing him with such fine clothes
as had been prepared for the festival. There is also a legend of a
young gentleman, who, not having before his eyes the fear of the
canons of the church for such cases made and provided, conceived a
passion for his grandmother. Both cases are of a singular and
special kind and it is very doubtful whether either can be
considered as a precedent likely to be extensively followed by
Arthur Gride had enrobed himself in his marriage garments of bottle-
green, a full hour before Mrs Sliderskew, shaking off her more heavy
slumbers, knocked at his chamber door; and he had hobbled downstairs
in full array and smacked his lips over a scanty taste of his
favourite cordial, ere that delicate piece of antiquity enlightened
the kitchen with her presence.
'Faugh!' said Peg, grubbing, in the discharge of her domestic
functions, among a scanty heap of ashes in the rusty grate.
'Wedding indeed! A precious wedding! He wants somebody better than
his old Peg to take care of him, does he? And what has he said to
me, many and many a time, to keep me content with short food, small
wages, and little fire? "My will, Peg! my will!" says he: "I'm a
bachelor--no friends--no relations, Peg." Lies! And now he's to
bring home a new mistress, a baby-faced chit of a girl! If he
wanted a wife, the fool, why couldn't he have one suitable to his
age, and that knew his ways? She won't come in MY way, he says.
No, that she won't, but you little think why, Arthur boy!'
While Mrs Sliderskew, influenced possibly by some lingering feelings
of disappointment and personal slight, occasioned by her old
master's preference for another, was giving loose to these
grumblings below stairs, Arthur Gride was cogitating in the parlour
upon what had taken place last night.
'I can't think how he can have picked up what he knows,' said
Arthur, 'unless I have committed myself--let something drop at
Bray's, for instance--which has been overheard. Perhaps I may. I
shouldn't be surprised if that was it. Mr Nickleby was often angry
at my talking to him before we got outside the door. I mustn't tell
him that part of the business, or he'll put me out of sorts, and
make me nervous for the day.'
Ralph was universally looked up to, and recognised among his fellows
as a superior genius, but upon Arthur Gride his stern unyielding
character and consummate art had made so deep an impression, that he
was actually afraid of him. Cringing and cowardly to the core by
nature, Arthur Gride humbled himself in the dust before Ralph
Nickleby, and, even when they had not this stake in common, would
have licked his shoes and crawled upon the ground before him rather
than venture to return him word for word, or retort upon him in any
other spirit than one of the most slavish and abject sycophancy.
To Ralph Nickleby's, Arthur Gride now betook himself according to
appointment; and to Ralph Nickleby he related how, last night, some
young blustering blade, whom he had never seen, forced his way into
his house, and tried to frighten him from the proposed nuptials.
Told, in short, what Nicholas had said and done, with the slight
reservation upon which he had determined.
'Well, and what then?' said Ralph.
'Oh! nothing more,' rejoined Gride.
'He tried to frighten you,' said Ralph, 'and you WERE frightened I
suppose; is that it?'
'I frightened HIM by crying thieves and murder,' replied Gride.
'Once I was in earnest, I tell you that, for I had more than half a
mind to swear he uttered threats, and demanded my life or my money.'
'Oho!' said Ralph, eyeing him askew. 'Jealous too!'
'Dear now, see that!' cried Arthur, rubbing his hands and affecting
'Why do you make those grimaces, man?' said Ralph; 'you ARE jealous
--and with good cause I think.'
'No, no, no; not with good cause, hey? You don't think with good
cause, do you?' cried Arthur, faltering. 'Do you though, hey?'
'Why, how stands the fact?' returned Ralph. 'Here is an old man
about to be forced in marriage upon a girl; and to this old man
there comes a handsome young fellow--you said he was handsome,
'No!' snarled Arthur Gride.
'Oh!' rejoined Ralph, 'I thought you did. Well! Handsome or not
handsome, to this old man there comes a young fellow who casts all
manner of fierce defiances in his teeth--gums I should rather say--
and tells him in plain terms that his mistress hates him. What does
he do that for? Philanthropy's sake?'
'Not for love of the lady,' replied Gride, 'for he said that no word
of love--his very words--had ever passed between 'em.'
'He said!' repeated Ralph, contemptuously. 'But I like him for one
thing, and that is, his giving you this fair warning to keep your--
what is it?--Tit-tit or dainty chick--which?--under lock and key.
Be careful, Gride, be careful. It's a triumph, too, to tear her
away from a gallant young rival: a great triumph for an old man! It
only remains to keep her safe when you have her--that's all.'
'What a man it is!' cried Arthur Gride, affecting, in the extremity
of his torture, to be highly amused. And then he added, anxiously,
'Yes; to keep her safe, that's all. And that isn't much, is it?'
'Much!' said Ralph, with a sneer. 'Why, everybody knows what easy
things to understand and to control, women are. But come, it's very
nearly time for you to be made happy. You'll pay the bond now, I
suppose, to save us trouble afterwards.'
'Oh what a man you are!' croaked Arthur.
'Why not?' said Ralph. 'Nobody will pay you interest for the money,
I suppose, between this and twelve o'clock; will they?'
'But nobody would pay you interest for it either, you know,'
returned Arthur, leering at Ralph with all the cunning and slyness
he could throw into his face.
'Besides which,' said Ralph, suffering his lip to curl into a smile,
'you haven't the money about you, and you weren't prepared for this,
or you'd have brought it with you; and there's nobody you'd so much
like to accommodate as me. I see. We trust each other in about an
equal degree. Are you ready?'
Gride, who had done nothing but grin, and nod, and chatter, during
this last speech of Ralph's, answered in the affirmative; and,
producing from his hat a couple of large white favours, pinned one
on his breast, and with considerable difficulty induced his friend
to do the like. Thus accoutred, they got into a hired coach which
Ralph had in waiting, and drove to the residence of the fair and
most wretched bride.
Gride, whose spirits and courage had gradually failed him more and
more as they approached nearer and nearer to the house, was utterly
dismayed and cowed by the mournful silence which pervaded it. The
face of the poor servant girl, the only person they saw, was
disfigured with tears and want of sleep. There was nobody to
receive or welcome them; and they stole upstairs into the usual
sitting-room, more like two burglars than the bridegroom and his
'One would think,' said Ralph, speaking, in spite of himself, in a
low and subdued voice, 'that there was a funeral going on here, and
not a wedding.'
'He, he!' tittered his friend, 'you are so--so very funny!'
'I need be,' remarked Ralph, drily, 'for this is rather dull and
chilling. Look a little brisker, man, and not so hangdog like!'
'Yes, yes, I will,' said Gride. 'But--but--you don't think she's
coming just yet, do you?'
'Why, I suppose she'll not come till she is obliged,' returned
Ralph, looking at his watch, 'and she has a good half-hour to spare
yet. Curb your impatience.'
'I--I--am not impatient,' stammered Arthur. 'I wouldn't be hard
with her for the world. Oh dear, dear, not on any account. Let her
take her time--her own time. Her time shall be ours by all means.'
While Ralph bent upon his trembling friend a keen look, which showed
that he perfectly understood the reason of this great consideration
and regard, a footstep was heard upon the stairs, and Bray himself
came into the room on tiptoe, and holding up his hand with a
cautious gesture, as if there were some sick person near, who must
not be disturbed.
'Hush!' he said, in a low voice. 'She was very ill last night. I
thought she would have broken her heart. She is dressed, and crying
bitterly in her own room; but she's better, and quite quiet. That's
'She is ready, is she?' said Ralph.
'Quite ready,' returned the father.
'And not likely to delay us by any young-lady weaknesses--fainting,
or so forth?' said Ralph.
'She may be safely trusted now,' returned Bray. 'I have been
talking to her this morning. Here! Come a little this way.'
He drew Ralph Nickleby to the further end of the room, and pointed
towards Gride, who sat huddled together in a corner, fumbling
nervously with the buttons of his coat, and exhibiting a face, of
which every skulking and base expression was sharpened and
aggravated to the utmost by his anxiety and trepidation.
'Look at that man,' whispered Bray, emphatically. 'This seems a
cruel thing, after all.'
'What seems a cruel thing?' inquired Ralph, with as much stolidity
of face, as if he really were in utter ignorance of the other's
'This marriage,' answered Bray. 'Don't ask me what. You know as
well as I do.'
Ralph shrugged his shoulders, in silent deprecation of Bray's
impatience, and elevated his eyebrows, and pursed his lips, as men
do when they are prepared with a sufficient answer to some remark,
but wait for a more favourable opportunity of advancing it, or think
it scarcely worth while to answer their adversary at all.
'Look at him. Does it not seem cruel?' said Bray.
'No!' replied Ralph, boldly.
'I say it does,' retorted Bray, with a show of much irritation. 'It
is a cruel thing, by all that's bad and treacherous!'
When men are about to commit, or to sanction the commission of some
injustice, it is not uncommon for them to express pity for the
object either of that or some parallel proceeding, and to feel
themselves, at the time, quite virtuous and moral, and immensely
superior to those who express no pity at all. This is a kind of
upholding of faith above works, and is very comfortable. To do
Ralph Nickleby justice, he seldom practised this sort of
dissimulation; but he understood those who did, and therefore
suffered Bray to say, again and again, with great vehemence, that
they were jointly doing a very cruel thing, before he again offered
to interpose a word.
'You see what a dry, shrivelled, withered old chip it is,' returned
Ralph, when the other was at length silent. 'If he were younger, it
might be cruel, but as it is--harkee, Mr Bray, he'll die soon, and
leave her a rich young widow! Miss Madeline consults your tastes
this time; let her consult her own next.'
'True, true,' said Bray, biting his nails, and plainly very ill at
ease. 'I couldn't do anything better for her than advise her to
accept these proposals, could I? Now, I ask you, Nickleby, as a man
of the world; could I?'
'Surely not,' answered Ralph. 'I tell you what, sir; there are a
hundred fathers, within a circuit of five miles from this place;
well off; good, rich, substantial men; who would gladly give their
daughters, and their own ears with them, to that very man yonder,
ape and mummy as he looks.'
'So there are!' exclaimed Bray, eagerly catching at anything which
seemed a justification of himself. 'And so I told her, both last
night and today.'
'You told her truth,' said Ralph, 'and did well to do so; though I
must say, at the same time, that if I had a daughter, and my
freedom, pleasure, nay, my very health and life, depended on her
taking a husband whom I pointed out, I should hope it would not be
necessary to advance any other arguments to induce her to consent to
Bray looked at Ralph as if to see whether he spoke in earnest, and
having nodded twice or thrice in unqualified assent to what had
fallen from him, said:
'I must go upstairs for a few minutes, to finish dressing. When I
come down, I'll bring Madeline with me. Do you know, I had a very
strange dream last night, which I have not remembered till this
instant. I dreamt that it was this morning, and you and I had been
talking as we have been this minute; that I went upstairs, for the
very purpose for which I am going now; and that as I stretched out
my hand to take Madeline's, and lead her down, the floor sunk with
me, and after falling from such an indescribable and tremendous
height as the imagination scarcely conceives, except in dreams, I
alighted in a grave.'
'And you awoke, and found you were lying on your back, or with your
head hanging over the bedside, or suffering some pain from
indigestion?' said Ralph. 'Pshaw, Mr Bray! Do as I do (you will
have the opportunity, now that a constant round of pleasure and
enjoyment opens upon you), and, occupying yourself a little more by
day, have no time to think of what you dream by night.'
Ralph followed him, with a steady look, to the door; and, turning to
the bridegroom, when they were again alone, said,
'Mark my words, Gride, you won't have to pay HIS annuity very long.
You have the devil's luck in bargains, always. If he is not booked
to make the long voyage before many months are past and gone, I wear
an orange for a head!'
To this prophecy, so agreeable to his ears, Arthur returned no
answer than a cackle of great delight. Ralph, throwing himself into
a chair, they both sat waiting in profound silence. Ralph was
thinking, with a sneer upon his lips, on the altered manner of Bray
that day, and how soon their fellowship in a bad design had lowered
his pride and established a familiarity between them, when his
attentive ear caught the rustling of a female dress upon the stairs,
and the footstep of a man.
'Wake up,' he said, stamping his foot impatiently upon the ground,
'and be something like life, man, will you? They are here. Urge
those dry old bones of yours this way. Quick, man, quick!'
Gride shambled forward, and stood, leering and bowing, close by
Ralph's side, when the door opened and there entered in haste--not
Bray and his daughter, but Nicholas and his sister Kate.
If some tremendous apparition from the world of shadows had suddenly
presented itself before him, Ralph Nickleby could not have been more
thunder-stricken than he was by this surprise. His hands fell
powerless by his side, he reeled back; and with open mouth, and a
face of ashy paleness, stood gazing at them in speechless rage: his
eyes so prominent, and his face so convulsed and changed by the
passions which raged within him, that it would have been difficult
to recognise in him the same stern, composed, hard-featured man he
had been not a minute ago.
'The man that came to me last night,' whispered Gride, plucking at
his elbow. 'The man that came to me last night!'
'I see,' muttered Ralph, 'I know! I might have guessed as much
before. Across my every path, at every turn, go where I will, do
what I may, he comes!'
The absence of all colour from the face; the dilated nostril; the
quivering of the lips which, though set firmly against each other,
would not be still; showed what emotions were struggling for the
mastery with Nicholas. But he kept them down, and gently pressing
Kate's arm to reassure her, stood erect and undaunted, front to
front with his unworthy relative.
As the brother and sister stood side by side, with a gallant bearing
which became them well, a close likeness between them was apparent,
which many, had they only seen them apart, might have failed to
remark. The air, carriage, and very look and expression of the
brother were all reflected in the sister, but softened and refined
to the nicest limit of feminine delicacy and attraction. More
striking still was some indefinable resemblance, in the face of
Ralph, to both. While they had never looked more handsome, nor he
more ugly; while they had never held themselves more proudly, nor he
shrunk half so low; there never had been a time when this
resemblance was so perceptible, or when all the worst characteristics
of a face rendered coarse and harsh by evil thoughts were half so
manifest as now.
'Away!' was the first word he could utter as he literally gnashed
his teeth. 'Away! What brings you here? Liar, scoundrel, dastard,
'I come here,' said Nicholas in a low deep voice, 'to save your
victim if I can. Liar and scoundrel you are, in every action of
your life; theft is your trade; and double dastard you must be, or
you were not here today. Hard words will not move me, nor would
hard blows. Here I stand, and will, till I have done my errand.'
'Girl!' said Ralph, 'retire! We can use force to him, but I would
not hurt you if I could help it. Retire, you weak and silly wench,
and leave this dog to be dealt with as he deserves.'
'I will not retire,' cried Kate, with flashing eyes and the red
blood mantling in her cheeks. 'You will do him no hurt that he will
not repay. You may use force with me; I think you will, for I AM a
girl, and that would well become you. But if I have a girl's
weakness, I have a woman's heart, and it is not you who in a cause
like this can turn that from its purpose.'
'And what may your purpose be, most lofty lady?' said Ralph.
'To offer to the unhappy subject of your treachery, at this last
moment,' replied Nicholas, 'a refuge and a home. If the near
prospect of such a husband as you have provided will not prevail
upon her, I hope she may be moved by the prayers and entreaties of
one of her own sex. At all events they shall be tried. I myself,
avowing to her father from whom I come and by whom I am
commissioned, will render it an act of greater baseness, meanness,
and cruelty in him if he still dares to force this marriage on.
Here I wait to see him and his daughter. For this I came and
brought my sister even into your presence. Our purpose is not to
see or speak with you; therefore to you we stoop to say no more.'
'Indeed!' said Ralph. 'You persist in remaining here, ma'am, do
His niece's bosom heaved with the indignant excitement into which he
had lashed her, but she gave him no reply.
'Now, Gride, see here,' said Ralph. 'This fellow--I grieve to say
my brother's son: a reprobate and profligate, stained with every
mean and selfish crime--this fellow, coming here today to disturb a
solemn ceremony, and knowing that the consequence of his presenting
himself in another man's house at such a time, and persisting in
remaining there, must be his being kicked into the streets and
dragged through them like the vagabond he is--this fellow, mark you,
brings with him his sister as a protection, thinking we would not
expose a silly girl to the degradation and indignity which is no
novelty to him; and, even after I have warned her of what must
ensue, he still keeps her by him, as you see, and clings to her
apron-strings like a cowardly boy to his mother's. Is not this a
pretty fellow to talk as big as you have heard him now?'
'And as I heard him last night,' said Arthur Gride; 'as I heard him
last night when he sneaked into my house, and--he! he! he!--very
soon sneaked out again, when I nearly frightened him to death. And
HE wanting to marry Miss Madeline too! Oh dear! Is there anything
else he'd like? Anything else we can do for him, besides giving her
up? Would he like his debts paid and his house furnished, and a few
bank notes for shaving paper if he shaves at all? He! he! he!'
'You will remain, girl, will you?' said Ralph, turning upon Kate
again, 'to be hauled downstairs like a drunken drab, as I swear you
shall if you stop here? No answer! Thank your brother for what
follows. Gride, call down Bray--and not his daughter. Let them
keep her above.'
'If you value your head,' said Nicholas, taking up a position before
the door, and speaking in the same low voice in which he had spoken
before, and with no more outward passion than he had before
displayed; 'stay where you are!'
'Mind me, and not him, and call down Bray,' said Ralph.
'Mind yourself rather than either of us, and stay where you are!'
'Will you call down Bray?' cried Ralph.
'Remember that you come near me at your peril,' said Nicholas.
Gride hesitated. Ralph being, by this time, as furious as a baffled
tiger, made for the door, and, attempting to pass Kate, clasped her
arm roughly with his hand. Nicholas, with his eyes darting fire,
seized him by the collar. At that moment, a heavy body fell with
great violence on the floor above, and, in an instant afterwards,
was heard a most appalling and terrific scream.
They all stood still, and gazed upon each other. Scream succeeded
scream; a heavy pattering of feet succeeded; and many shrill voices
clamouring together were heard to cry, 'He is dead!'
'Stand off!' cried Nicholas, letting loose all the passion he had
restrained till now; 'if this is what I scarcely dare to hope it is,
you are caught, villains, in your own toils.'
He burst from the room, and, darting upstairs to the quarter from
whence the noise proceeded, forced his way through a crowd of
persons who quite filled a small bed-chamber, and found Bray lying
on the floor quite dead; his daughter clinging to the body.
'How did this happen?' he cried, looking wildly about him.
Several voices answered together, that he had been observed, through
the half-opened door, reclining in a strange and uneasy position
upon a chair; that he had been spoken to several times, and not
answering, was supposed to be asleep, until some person going in and
shaking him by the arm, he fell heavily to the ground and was
discovered to be dead.
'Who is the owner of this house?' said Nicholas, hastily.
An elderly woman was pointed out to him; and to her he said, as he
knelt down and gently unwound Madeline's arms from the lifeless mass
round which they were entwined: 'I represent this lady's nearest
friends, as her servant here knows, and must remove her from this
dreadful scene. This is my sister to whose charge you confide her.
My name and address are upon that card, and you shall receive from
me all necessary directions for the arrangements that must be made.
Stand aside, every one of you, and give me room and air for God's
The people fell back, scarce wondering more at what had just
occurred, than at the excitement and impetuosity of him who spoke.
Nicholas, taking the insensible girl in his arms, bore her from the
chamber and downstairs into the room he had just quitted, followed
by his sister and the faithful servant, whom he charged to procure a
coach directly, while he and Kate bent over their beautiful charge
and endeavoured, but in vain, to restore her to animation. The girl
performed her office with such expedition, that in a very few
minutes the coach was ready.
Ralph Nickleby and Gride, stunned and paralysed by the awful event
which had so suddenly overthrown their schemes (it would not
otherwise, perhaps, have made much impression on them), and carried
away by the extraordinary energy and precipitation of Nicholas,
which bore down all before him, looked on at these proceedings like
men in a dream or trance. It was not until every preparation was
made for Madeline's immediate removal that Ralph broke silence by
declaring she should not be taken away.
'Who says so?' cried Nicholas, rising from his knee and confronting
them, but still retaining Madeline's lifeless hand in his.
'I!' answered Ralph, hoarsely.
'Hush, hush!' cried the terrified Gride, catching him by the arm
again. 'Hear what he says.'
'Ay!' said Nicholas, extending his disengaged hand in the air, 'hear
what he says. That both your debts are paid in the one great debt
of nature. That the bond, due today at twelve, is now waste paper.
That your contemplated fraud shall be discovered yet. That your
schemes are known to man, and overthrown by Heaven. Wretches, that
he defies you both to do your worst.'
'This man,' said Ralph, in a voice scarcely intelligible, 'this man
claims his wife, and he shall have her.'
'That man claims what is not his, and he should not have her if he
were fifty men, with fifty more to back him,' said Nicholas.
'Who shall prevent him?'
'By what right I should like to know,' said Ralph. 'By what right I
'By this right. That, knowing what I do, you dare not tempt me
further,' said Nicholas, 'and by this better right; that those I
serve, and with whom you would have done me base wrong and injury,
are her nearest and her dearest friends. In their name I bear her
hence. Give way!'
'One word!' cried Ralph, foaming at the mouth.
'Not one,' replied Nicholas, 'I will not hear of one--save this.
Look to yourself, and heed this warning that I give you! Your day
is past, and night is comin' on.'
'My curse, my bitter, deadly curse, upon you, boy!'
'Whence will curses come at your command? Or what avails a curse or
blessing from a man like you? I tell you, that misfortune and
discovery are thickening about your head; that the structures you
have raised, through all your ill-spent life, are crumbling into
dust; that your path is beset with spies; that this very day, ten
thousand pounds of your hoarded wealth have gone in one great
''Tis false!' cried Ralph, shrinking back.
''Tis true, and you shall find it so. I have no more words to
waste. Stand from the door. Kate, do you go first. Lay not a hand
on her, or on that woman, or on me, or so much a brush their
garments as they pass you by!--You let them pass, and he blocks the
Arthur Gride happened to be in the doorway, but whether
intentionally or from confusion was not quite apparent. Nicholas
swung him away, with such violence as to cause him to spin round the
room until he was caught by a sharp angle of the wall, and there
knocked down; and then taking his beautiful burden in his arms
rushed out. No one cared to stop him, if any were so disposed.
Making his way through a mob of people, whom a report of the
circumstances had attracted round the house, and carrying Madeline,
in his excitement, as easily as if she were an infant, he reached
the coach in which Kate and the girl were already waiting, and,
confiding his charge to them, jumped up beside the coachman and bade
him drive away.
Of Family Matters, Cares, Hopes, Disappointments, and Sorrows
Although Mrs Nickleby had been made acquainted by her son and
daughter with every circumstance of Madeline Bray's history which
was known to them; although the responsible situation in which
Nicholas stood had been carefully explained to her, and she had been
prepared, even for the possible contingency of having to receive the
young lady in her own house, improbable as such a result had
appeared only a few minutes before it came about, still, Mrs
Nickleby, from the moment when this confidence was first reposed in
her, late on the previous evening, had remained in an unsatisfactory
and profoundly mystified state, from which no explanations or
arguments could relieve her, and which every fresh soliloquy and
reflection only aggravated more and more.
'Bless my heart, Kate!' so the good lady argued; 'if the Mr
Cheerybles don't want this young lady to be married, why don't they
file a bill against the Lord Chancellor, make her a Chancery ward,
and shut her up in the Fleet prison for safety?--I have read of such
things in the newspapers a hundred times. Or, if they are so very
fond of her as Nicholas says they are, why don't they marry her
themselves--one of them I mean? And even supposing they don't want
her to be married, and don't want to marry her themselves, why in
the name of wonder should Nicholas go about the world, forbidding
'I don't think you quite understand,' said Kate, gently.
'Well I am sure, Kate, my dear, you're very polite!' replied Mrs
Nickleby. 'I have been married myself I hope, and I have seen other
people married. Not understand, indeed!'
'I know you have had great experience, dear mama,' said Kate; 'I
mean that perhaps you don't quite understand all the circumstances
in this instance. We have stated them awkwardly, I dare say.'
'That I dare say you have,' retorted her mother, briskly. 'That's
very likely. I am not to be held accountable for that; though, at
the same time, as the circumstances speak for themselves, I shall
take the liberty, my love, of saying that I do understand them, and
perfectly well too; whatever you and Nicholas may choose to think to
the contrary. Why is such a great fuss made because this Miss
Magdalen is going to marry somebody who is older than herself? Your
poor papa was older than I was, four years and a half older. Jane
Dibabs--the Dibabses lived in the beautiful little thatched white
house one story high, covered all over with ivy and creeping plants,
with an exquisite little porch with twining honysuckles and all
sorts of things: where the earwigs used to fall into one's tea on a
summer evening, and always fell upon their backs and kicked
dreadfully, and where the frogs used to get into the rushlight
shades when one stopped all night, and sit up and look through the
little holes like Christians--Jane Dibabs, SHE married a man who was
a great deal older than herself, and WOULD marry him, notwithstanding
all that could be said to the contrary, and she was so fond of him
that nothing was ever equal to it. There was no fuss made about
Jane Dibabs, and her husband was a most honourable and excellent
man, and everybody spoke well of him. Then why should there by any
fuss about this Magdalen?'
'Her husband is much older; he is not her own choice; his character
is the very reverse of that which you have just described. Don't
you see a broad destinction between the two cases?' said Kate.
To this, Mrs Nickleby only replied that she durst say she was very
stupid, indeed she had no doubt she was, for her own children almost
as much as told her so, every day of her life; to be sure she was a
little older than they, and perhaps some foolish people might think
she ought reasonably to know best. However, no doubt she was wrong;
of course she was; she always was, she couldn't be right, she
couldn't be expected to be; so she had better not expose herself any
more; and to all Kate's conciliations and concessions for an hour
ensuing, the good lady gave no other replies than Oh, certainly,
why did they ask HER?, HER opinion was of no consequence, it didn't
matter what SHE said, with many other rejoinders of the same class.
In this frame of mind (expressed, when she had become too resigned
for speech, by nods of the head, upliftings of the eyes, and little
beginnings of groans, converted, as they attracted attention, into
short coughs), Mrs Nickleby remained until Nicholas and Kate
returned with the object of their solicitude; when, having by this
time asserted her own importance, and becoming besides interested in
the trials of one so young and beautiful, she not only displayed the
utmost zeal and solicitude, but took great credit to herself for
recommending the course of procedure which her son had adopted:
frequently declaring, with an expressive look, that it was very
fortunate things were AS they were: and hinting, that but for great
encouragement and wisdom on her own part, they never could have been
brought to that pass.
Not to strain the question whether Mrs Nickleby had or had not any
great hand in bringing matters about, it is unquestionable that she
had strong ground for exultation. The brothers, on their return,
bestowed such commendations on Nicholas for the part he had taken,
and evinced so much joy at the altered state of events and the
recovery of their young friend from trials so great and dangers so
threatening, that, as she more than once informed her daughter, she
now considered the fortunes of the family 'as good as' made. Mr
Charles Cheeryble, indeed, Mrs Nickleby positively asserted, had, in