Part 18 out of 20
the first transports of his surprise and delight, 'as good as' said
so. Without precisely explaining what this qualification meant, she
subsided, whenever she mentioned the subject, into such a mysterious
and important state, and had such visions of wealth and dignity in
perspective, that (vague and clouded though they were) she was, at
such times, almost as happy as if she had really been permanently
provided for, on a scale of great splendour.
The sudden and terrible shock she had received, combined with the
great affliction and anxiety of mind which she had, for a long time,
endured, proved too much for Madeline's strength. Recovering from
the state of stupefaction into which the sudden death of her father
happily plunged her, she only exchanged that condition for one of
dangerous and active illness. When the delicate physical powers
which have been sustained by an unnatural strain upon the mental
energies and a resolute determination not to yield, at last give
way, their degree of prostration is usually proportionate to the
strength of the effort which has previously upheld them. Thus it
was that the illness which fell on Madeline was of no slight or
temporary nature, but one which, for a time, threatened her reason,
and--scarcely worse--her life itself.
Who, slowly recovering from a disorder so severe and dangerous,
could be insensible to the unremitting attentions of such a nurse as
gentle, tender, earnest Kate? On whom could the sweet soft voice,
the light step, the delicate hand, the quiet, cheerful, noiseless
discharge of those thousand little offices of kindness and relief
which we feel so deeply when we are ill, and forget so lightly when
we are well--on whom could they make so deep an impression as on a
young heart stored with every pure and true affection that women
cherish; almost a stranger to the endearments and devotion of its
own sex, save as it learnt them from itself; and rendered, by
calamity and suffering, keenly susceptible of the sympathy so long
unknown and so long sought in vain? What wonder that days became as
years in knitting them together! What wonder, if with every hour of
returning health, there came some stronger and sweeter recognition
of the praises which Kate, when they recalled old scenes--they
seemed old now, and to have been acted years ago--would lavish on
her brother! Where would have been the wonder, even, if those
praises had found a quick response in the breast of Madeline, and
if, with the image of Nicholas so constantly recurring in the
features of his sister that she could scarcely separate the two, she
had sometimes found it equally difficult to assign to each the
feelings they had first inspired, and had imperceptibly mingled with
her gratitude to Nicholas, some of that warmer feeling which she had
assigned to Kate?
'My dear,' Mrs Nickleby would say, coming into the room with an
elaborate caution, calculated to discompose the nerves of an invalid
rather more than the entry of a horse-soldier at full gallop; 'how
do you find yourself tonight? I hope you are better.'
'Almost well, mama,' Kate would reply, laying down her work, and
taking Madeline's hand in hers.
'Kate!' Mrs Nickleby would say, reprovingly, 'don't talk so loud'
(the worthy lady herself talking in a whisper that would have made
the blood of the stoutest man run cold in his veins).
Kate would take this reproof very quietly, and Mrs Nickleby, making
every board creak and every thread rustle as she moved stealthily
about, would add:
'My son Nicholas has just come home, and I have come, according to
custom, my dear, to know, from your own lips, exactly how you are;
for he won't take my account, and never will.'
'He is later than usual to-night,' perhaps Madeline would reply.
'Nearly half an hour.'
'Well, I never saw such people in all my life as you are, for time,
up here!' Mrs Nickleby would exclaim in great astonishment; 'I
declare I never did! I had not the least idea that Nicholas was
after his time, not the smallest. Mr Nickleby used to say--your
poor papa, I am speaking of, Kate my dear--used to say, that
appetite was the best clock in the world, but you have no appetite,
my dear Miss Bray, I wish you had, and upon my word I really think
you ought to take something that would give you one. I am sure I
don't know, but I have heard that two or three dozen native lobsters
give an appetite, though that comes to the same thing after all, for
I suppose you must have an appetite before you can take 'em. If I
said lobsters, I meant oysters, but of course it's all the same,
though really how you came to know about Nicholas--'
'We happened to be just talking about him, mama; that was it.'
'You never seem to me to be talking about anything else, Kate, and
upon my word I am quite surprised at your being so very thoughtless.
You can find subjects enough to talk about sometimes, and when you
know how important it is to keep up Miss Bray's spirits, and
interest her, and all that, it really is quite extraordinary to me
what can induce you to keep on prose, prose, prose, din, din, din,
everlastingly, upon the same theme. You are a very kind nurse,
Kate, and a very good one, and I know you mean very well; but I will
say this--that if it wasn't for me, I really don't know what would
become of Miss Bray's spirits, and so I tell the doctor every day.
He says he wonders how I sustain my own, and I am sure I very often
wonder myself how I can contrive to keep up as I do. Of course it's
an exertion, but still, when I know how much depends upon me in this
house, I am obliged to make it. There's nothing praiseworthy in
that, but it's necessary, and I do it.'
With that, Mrs Nickleby would draw up a chair, and for some three-
quarters of an hour run through a great variety of distracting
topics in the most distracting manner possible; tearing herself
away, at length, on the plea that she must now go and amuse Nicholas
while he took his supper. After a preliminary raising of his
spirits with the information that she considered the patient
decidedly worse, she would further cheer him up by relating how
dull, listless, and low-spirited Miss Bray was, because Kate
foolishly talked about nothing else but him and family matters.
When she had made Nicholas thoroughly comfortable with these and
other inspiriting remarks, she would discourse at length on the
arduous duties she had performed that day; and, sometimes, be moved
to tears in wondering how, if anything were to happen to herself,
the family would ever get on without her.
At other times, when Nicholas came home at night, he would be
accompanied by Mr Frank Cheeryble, who was commissioned by the
brothers to inquire how Madeline was that evening. On such
occasions (and they were of very frequent occurrence), Mrs Nickleby
deemed it of particular importance that she should have her wits
about her; for, from certain signs and tokens which had attracted
her attention, she shrewdly suspected that Mr Frank, interested as
his uncles were in Madeline, came quite as much to see Kate as to
inquire after her; the more especially as the brothers were in
constant communication with the medical man, came backwards and
forwards very frequently themselves, and received a full report from
Nicholas every morning. These were proud times for Mrs Nickleby;
never was anybody half so discreet and sage as she, or half so
mysterious withal; and never were there such cunning generalship,
and such unfathomable designs, as she brought to bear upon Mr Frank,
with the view of ascertaining whether her suspicions were well
founded: and if so, of tantalising him into taking her into his
confidence and throwing himself upon her merciful consideration.
Extensive was the artillery, heavy and light, which Mrs Nickleby
brought into play for the furtherance of these great schemes;
various and opposite the means which she employed to bring about the
end she had in view. At one time, she was all cordiality and ease;
at another, all stiffness and frigidity. Now, she would seem to
open her whole heart to her unhappy victim; the next time they met,
she would receive him with the most distant and studious reserve, as
if a new light had broken in upon her, and, guessing his intentions,
she had resolved to check them in the bud; as if she felt it her
bounden duty to act with Spartan firmness, and at once and for ever
to discourage hopes which never could be realised. At other times,
when Nicholas was not there to overhear, and Kate was upstairs
busily tending her sick friend, the worthy lady would throw out dark
hints of an intention to send her daughter to France for three or
four years, or to Scotland for the improvement of her health
impaired by her late fatigues, or to America on a visit, or anywhere
that threatened a long and tedious separation. Nay, she even went
so far as to hint, obscurely, at an attachment entertained for her
daughter by the son of an old neighbour of theirs, one Horatio
Peltirogus (a young gentleman who might have been, at that time,
four years old, or thereabouts), and to represent it, indeed, as
almost a settled thing between the families--only waiting for her
daughter's final decision, to come off with the sanction of the
church, and to the unspeakable happiness and content of all parties.
It was in the full pride and glory of having sprung this last mine
one night with extraordinary success, that Mrs Nickleby took the
opportunity of being left alone with her son before retiring to
rest, to sound him on the subject which so occupied her thoughts:
not doubting that they could have but one opinion respecting it. To
this end, she approached the question with divers laudatory and
appropriate remarks touching the general amiability of Mr Frank
'You are quite right, mother,' said Nicholas, 'quite right. He is a
'Good-looking, too,' said Mrs Nickleby.
'Decidedly good-looking,' answered Nicholas.
'What may you call his nose, now, my dear?' pursued Mrs Nickleby,
wishing to interest Nicholas in the subject to the utmost.
'Call it?' repeated Nicholas.
'Ah!' returned his mother, 'what style of nose? What order of
architecture, if one may say so. I am not very learned in noses.
Do you call it a Roman or a Grecian?'
'Upon my word, mother,' said Nicholas, laughing, 'as well as I
remember, I should call it a kind of Composite, or mixed nose. But
I have no very strong recollection on the subject. If it will
afford you any gratification, I'll observe it more closely, and let
'I wish you would, my dear,' said Mrs Nickleby, with an earnest
'Very well,' returned Nicholas. 'I will.'
Nicholas returned to the perusal of the book he had been reading,
when the dialogue had gone thus far. Mrs Nickleby, after stopping a
little for consideration, resumed.
'He is very much attached to you, Nicholas, my dear.'
Nicholas laughingly said, as he closed his book, that he was glad to
hear it, and observed that his mother seemed deep in their new
friend's confidence already.
'Hem!' said Mrs Nickleby. 'I don't know about that, my dear, but I
think it is very necessary that somebody should be in his
confidence; highly necessary.'
Elated by a look of curiosity from her son, and the consciousness of
possessing a great secret, all to herself, Mrs Nickleby went on with
'I am sure, my dear Nicholas, how you can have failed to notice it,
is, to me, quite extraordinary; though I don't know why I should say
that, either, because, of course, as far as it goes, and to a
certain extent, there is a great deal in this sort of thing,
especially in this early stage, which, however clear it may be to
females, can scarcely be expected to be so evident to men. I don't
say that I have any particular penetration in such matters. I may
have; those about me should know best about that, and perhaps do
know. Upon that point I shall express no opinion, it wouldn't
become me to do so, it's quite out of the question, quite.'
Nicholas snuffed the candles, put his hands in his pockets, and,
leaning back in his chair, assumed a look of patient suffering and
'I think it my duty, Nicholas, my dear,' resumed his mother, 'to
tell you what I know: not only because you have a right to know it
too, and to know everything that happens in this family, but because
you have it in your power to promote and assist the thing very much;
and there is no doubt that the sooner one can come to a clear
understanding on such subjects, it is always better, every way.
There are a great many things you might do; such as taking a walk in
the garden sometimes, or sitting upstairs in your own room for a
little while, or making believe to fall asleep occasionally, or
pretending that you recollected some business, and going out for an
hour or so, and taking Mr Smike with you. These seem very slight
things, and I dare say you will be amused at my making them of so
much importance; at the same time, my dear, I can assure you (and
you'll find this out, Nicholas, for yourself one of these days, if
you ever fall in love with anybody; as I trust and hope you will,
provided she is respectable and well conducted, and of course you'd
never dream of falling in love with anybody who was not), I say, I
can assure you that a great deal more depends upon these little
things than you would suppose possible. If your poor papa was
alive, he would tell you how much depended on the parties being left
alone. Of course, you are not to go out of the room as if you meant
it and did it on purpose, but as if it was quite an accident, and to
come back again in the same way. If you cough in the passage before
you open the door, or whistle carelessly, or hum a tune, or
something of that sort, to let them know you're coming, it's always
better; because, of course, though it's not only natural but
perfectly correct and proper under the circumstances, still it is
very confusing if you interrupt young people when they are--when
they are sitting on the sofa, and--and all that sort of thing: which
is very nonsensical, perhaps, but still they will do it.'
The profound astonishment with which her son regarded her during
this long address, gradually increasing as it approached its climax
in no way discomposed Mrs Nickleby, but rather exalted her opinion
of her own cleverness; therefore, merely stopping to remark, with
much complacency, that she had fully expected him to be surprised,
she entered on a vast quantity of circumstantial evidence of a
particularly incoherent and perplexing kind; the upshot of which
was, to establish, beyond the possibility of doubt, that Mr Frank
Cheeryble had fallen desperately in love with Kate.
'With whom?' cried Nicholas.
Mrs Nickleby repeated, with Kate.
'What! OUR Kate! My sister!'
'Lord, Nicholas!' returned Mrs Nickleby, 'whose Kate should it be,
if not ours; or what should I care about it, or take any interest in
it for, if it was anybody but your sister?'
'Dear mother,' said Nicholas, 'surely it can't be!'
'Very good, my dear,' replied Mrs Nickleby, with great confidence.
'Wait and see.'
Nicholas had never, until that moment, bestowed a thought upon the
remote possibility of such an occurrence as that which was now
communicated to him; for, besides that he had been much from home of
late and closely occupied with other matters, his own jealous fears
had prompted the suspicion that some secret interest in Madeline,
akin to that which he felt himself, occasioned those visits of Frank
Cheeryble which had recently become so frequent. Even now, although
he knew that the observation of an anxious mother was much more
likely to be correct in such a case than his own, and although she
reminded him of many little circumstances which, taken together,
were certainly susceptible of the construction she triumphantly put
upon them, he was not quite convinced but that they arose from mere
good-natured thoughtless gallantry, which would have dictated the
same conduct towards any other girl who was young and pleasing. At
all events, he hoped so, and therefore tried to believe it.
'I am very much disturbed by what you tell me,' said Nicholas, after
a little reflection, 'though I yet hope you may be mistaken.'
'I don't understand why you should hope so,' said Mrs Nickleby, 'I
confess; but you may depend upon it I am not.'
'What of Kate?' inquired Nicholas.
'Why that, my dear,' returned Mrs Nickleby, 'is just the point upon
which I am not yet satisfied. During this sickness, she has been
constantly at Madeline's bedside--never were two people so fond of
each other as they have grown--and to tell you the truth, Nicholas,
I have rather kept her away now and then, because I think it's a
good plan, and urges a young man on. He doesn't get too sure, you
She said this with such a mingling of high delight and self-
congratulation, that it was inexpressibly painful to Nicholas to
dash her hopes; but he felt that there was only one honourable
course before him, and that he was bound to take it.
'Dear mother,' he said kindly, 'don't you see that if there were
really any serious inclination on the part of Mr Frank towards Kate,
and we suffered ourselves for a moment to encourage it, we should be
acting a most dishonourable and ungrateful part? I ask you if you
don't see it, but I need not say that I know you don't, or you would
have been more strictly on your guard. Let me explain my meaning to
you. Remember how poor we are.'
Mrs Nickleby shook her head, and said, through her tears, that
poverty was not a crime.
'No,' said Nicholas, 'and for that reason poverty should engender an
honest pride, that it may not lead and tempt us to unworthy actions,
and that we may preserve the self-respect which a hewer of wood and
drawer of water may maintain, and does better in maintaining than a
monarch in preserving his. Think what we owe to these two brothers:
remember what they have done, and what they do every day for us with
a generosity and delicacy for which the devotion of our whole lives
would be a most imperfect and inadequate return. What kind of
return would that be which would be comprised in our permitting
their nephew, their only relative, whom they regard as a son, and
for whom it would be mere childishness to suppose they have not
formed plans suitably adapted to the education he has had, and the
fortune he will inherit--in our permitting him to marry a
portionless girl: so closely connected with us, that the
irresistible inference must be, that he was entrapped by a plot;
that it was a deliberate scheme, and a speculation amongst us three?
Bring the matter clearly before yourself, mother. Now, how would
you feel, if they were married, and the brothers, coming here on one
of those kind errands which bring them here so often, you had to
break out to them the truth? Would you be at ease, and feel that
you had played an open part?'
Poor Mrs Nickleby, crying more and more, murmured that of course Mr
Frank would ask the consent of his uncles first.
'Why, to be sure, that would place HIM in a better situation with
them,' said Nicholas, 'but we should still be open to the same
suspicions; the distance between us would still be as great; the
advantages to be gained would still be as manifest as now. We may
be reckoning without our host in all this,' he added more
cheerfully, 'and I trust, and almost believe we are. If it be
otherwise, I have that confidence in Kate that I know she will feel
as I do--and in you, dear mother, to be assured that after a little
consideration you will do the same.'
After many more representations and entreaties, Nicholas obtained a
promise from Mrs Nickleby that she would try all she could to think
as he did; and that if Mr Frank persevered in his attentions she
would endeavour to discourage them, or, at the least, would render
him no countenance or assistance. He determined to forbear
mentioning the subject to Kate until he was quite convinced that
there existed a real necessity for his doing so; and resolved to
assure himself, as well as he could by close personal observation,
of the exact position of affairs. This was a very wise resolution,
but he was prevented from putting it in practice by a new source of
anxiety and uneasiness.
Smike became alarmingly ill; so reduced and exhausted that he could
scarcely move from room to room without assistance; and so worn and
emaciated, that it was painful to look upon him. Nicholas was
warned, by the same medical authority to whom he had at first
appealed, that the last chance and hope of his life depended on his
being instantly removed from London. That part of Devonshire in
which Nicholas had been himself bred was named as the most
favourable spot; but this advice was cautiously coupled with the
information, that whoever accompanied him thither must be prepared
for the worst; for every token of rapid consumption had appeared,
and he might never return alive.
The kind brothers, who were acquainted with the poor creature's sad
history, dispatched old Tim to be present at this consultation.
That same morning, Nicholas was summoned by brother Charles into his
private room, and thus addressed:
'My dear sir, no time must be lost. This lad shall not die, if such
human means as we can use can save his life; neither shall he die
alone, and in a strange place. Remove him tomorrow morning, see
that he has every comfort that his situation requires, and don't
leave him; don't leave him, my dear sir, until you know that there
is no longer any immediate danger. It would be hard, indeed, to
part you now. No, no, no! Tim shall wait upon you tonight, sir; Tim
shall wait upon you tonight with a parting word or two. Brother
Ned, my dear fellow, Mr Nickleby waits to shake hands and say
goodbye; Mr Nickleby won't be long gone; this poor chap will soon
get better, very soon get better; and then he'll find out some nice
homely country-people to leave him with, and will go backwards and
forwards sometimes--backwards and forwards you know, Ned. And
there's no cause to be downhearted, for he'll very soon get better,
very soon. Won't he, won't he, Ned?'
What Tim Linkinwater said, or what he brought with him that night,
needs not to be told. Next morning Nicholas and his feeble
companion began their journey.
And who but one--and that one he who, but for those who crowded
round him then, had never met a look of kindness, or known a word of
pity--could tell what agony of mind, what blighted thoughts, what
unavailing sorrow, were involved in that sad parting?
'See,' cried Nicholas eagerly, as he looked from the coach window,
'they are at the corner of the lane still! And now there's Kate,
poor Kate, whom you said you couldn't bear to say goodbye to, waving
her handkerchief. Don't go without one gesture of farewell to
'I cannot make it!' cried his trembling companion, falling back in
his seat and covering his eyes. 'Do you see her now? Is she there
'Yes, yes!' said Nicholas earnestly. 'There! She waves her hand
again! I have answered it for you--and now they are out of sight.
Do not give way so bitterly, dear friend, don't. You will meet them
He whom he thus encouraged, raised his withered hands and clasped
them fervently together.
'In heaven. I humbly pray to God in heaven.'
It sounded like the prayer of a broken heart.
Ralph Nickleby, baffled by his Nephew in his late Design, hatches a
Scheme of Retaliation which Accident suggests to him, and takes into
his Counsels a tried Auxiliary
The course which these adventures shape out for themselves, and
imperatively call upon the historian to observe, now demands that
they should revert to the point they attained previously to the
commencement of the last chapter, when Ralph Nickleby and Arthur
Gride were left together in the house where death had so suddenly
reared his dark and heavy banner.
With clenched hands, and teeth ground together so firm and tight
that no locking of the jaws could have fixed and riveted them more
securely, Ralph stood, for some minutes, in the attitude in which he
had last addressed his nephew: breathing heavily, but as rigid and
motionless in other respects as if he had been a brazen statue.
After a time, he began, by slow degrees, as a man rousing himself
from heavy slumber, to relax. For a moment he shook his clasped
fist towards the door by which Nicholas had disappeared; and then
thrusting it into his breast, as if to repress by force even this
show of passion, turned round and confronted the less hardy usurer,
who had not yet risen from the ground.
The cowering wretch, who still shook in every limb, and whose few
grey hairs trembled and quivered on his head with abject dismay,
tottered to his feet as he met Ralph's eye, and, shielding his face
with both hands, protested, while he crept towards the door, that it
was no fault of his.
'Who said it was, man?' returned Ralph, in a suppressed voice. 'Who
said it was?'
'You looked as if you thought I was to blame,' said Gride, timidly.
'Pshaw!' Ralph muttered, forcing a laugh. 'I blame him for not
living an hour longer. One hour longer would have been long enough.
I blame no one else.'
'N--n--no one else?' said Gride.
'Not for this mischance,' replied Ralph. 'I have an old score to
clear with that young fellow who has carried off your mistress;
but that has nothing to do with his blustering just now, for we
should soon have been quit of him, but for this cursed accident.'
There was something so unnatural in the calmness with which Ralph
Nickleby spoke, when coupled with his face, the expression of the
features, to which every nerve and muscle, as it twitched and
throbbed with a spasm whose workings no effort could conceal, gave,
every instant, some new and frightful aspect--there was something so
unnatural and ghastly in the contrast between his harsh, slow,
steady voice (only altered by a certain halting of the breath which
made him pause between almost every word like a drunken man bent
upon speaking plainly), and these evidences of the most intense and
violent passion, and the struggle he made to keep them under; that
if the dead body which lay above had stood, instead of him, before
the cowering Gride, it could scarcely have presented a spectacle
which would have terrified him more.
'The coach,' said Ralph after a time, during which he had struggled
like some strong man against a fit. 'We came in a coach. Is it
Gride gladly availed himself of the pretext for going to the window
to see. Ralph, keeping his face steadily the other way, tore at his
shirt with the hand which he had thrust into his breast, and
muttered in a hoarse whisper:
'Ten thousand pounds! He said ten thousand! The precise sum paid
in but yesterday for the two mortgages, and which would have gone
out again, at heavy interest, tomorrow. If that house has failed,
and he the first to bring the news!--Is the coach there?'
'Yes, yes,' said Gride, startled by the fierce tone of the inquiry.
'It's here. Dear, dear, what a fiery man you are!'
'Come here,' said Ralph, beckoning to him. 'We mustn't make a show
of being disturbed. We'll go down arm in arm.'
'But you pinch me black and blue,' urged Gride.
Ralph let him go impatiently, and descending the stairs with his
usual firm and heavy tread, got into the coach. Arthur Gride
followed. After looking doubtfully at Ralph when the man asked
where he was to drive, and finding that he remained silent, and
expressed no wish upon the subject, Arthur mentioned his own house,
and thither they proceeded.
On their way, Ralph sat in the furthest corner with folded arms, and
uttered not a word. With his chin sunk upon his breast, and his
downcast eyes quite hidden by the contraction of his knotted brows,
he might have been asleep for any sign of consciousness he gave
until the coach stopped, when he raised his head, and glancing
through the window, inquired what place that was.
'My house,' answered the disconsolate Gride, affected perhaps by its
loneliness. 'Oh dear! my house.'
'True,' said Ralph 'I have not observed the way we came. I should
like a glass of water. You have that in the house, I suppose?'
'You shall have a glass of--of anything you like,' answered Gride,
with a groan. 'It's no use knocking, coachman. Ring the bell!'
The man rang, and rang, and rang again; then, knocked until the
street re-echoed with the sounds; then, listened at the keyhole of
the door. Nobody came. The house was silent as the grave.
'How's this?' said Ralph impatiently.
'Peg is so very deaf,' answered Gride with a look of anxiety and
alarm. 'Oh dear! Ring again, coachman. She SEES the bell.'
Again the man rang and knocked, and knocked and rang again. Some of
the neighbours threw up their windows, and called across the street
to each other that old Gride's housekeeper must have dropped down
dead. Others collected round the coach, and gave vent to various
surmises; some held that she had fallen asleep; some, that she had
burnt herself to death; some, that she had got drunk; and one very
fat man that she had seen something to eat which had frightened her
so much (not being used to it) that she had fallen into a fit. This
last suggestion particularly delighted the bystanders, who cheered
it rather uproariously, and were, with some difficulty, deterred
from dropping down the area and breaking open the kitchen door to
ascertain the fact. Nor was this all. Rumours having gone abroad
that Arthur was to be married that morning, very particular
inquiries were made after the bride, who was held by the majority to
be disguised in the person of Mr Ralph Nickleby, which gave rise to
much jocose indignation at the public appearance of a bride in boots
and pantaloons, and called forth a great many hoots and groans. At
length, the two money-lenders obtained shelter in a house next door,
and, being accommodated with a ladder, clambered over the wall of
the back-yard--which was not a high one--and descended in safety on
the other side.
'I am almost afraid to go in, I declare,' said Arthur, turning to
Ralph when they were alone. 'Suppose she should be murdered. Lying
with her brains knocked out by a poker, eh?'
'Suppose she were,' said Ralph. 'I tell you, I wish such things
were more common than they are, and more easily done. You may stare
and shiver. I do!'
He applied himself to a pump in the yard; and, having taken a deep
draught of water and flung a quantity on his head and face, regained
his accustomed manner and led the way into the house: Gride
following close at his heels.
It was the same dark place as ever: every room dismal and silent as
it was wont to be, and every ghostly article of furniture in its
customary place. The iron heart of the grim old clock, undisturbed
by all the noise without, still beat heavily within its dusty case;
the tottering presses slunk from the sight, as usual, in their
melancholy corners; the echoes of footsteps returned the same
dreary sound; the long-legged spider paused in his nimble run,
and, scared by the sight of men in that his dull domain, hung
motionless on the wall, counterfeiting death until they should have
passed him by.
From cellar to garret went the two usurers, opening every creaking
door and looking into every deserted room. But no Peg was there.
At last, they sat them down in the apartment which Arthur Gride
usually inhabited, to rest after their search.
'The hag is out, on some preparation for your wedding festivities, I
suppose,' said Ralph, preparing to depart. 'See here! I destroy the
bond; we shall never need it now.'
Gride, who had been peering narrowly about the room, fell, at that
moment, upon his knees before a large chest, and uttered a terrible
'How now?' said Ralph, looking sternly round.
'Robbed! robbed!' screamed Arthur Gride.
'Robbed! of money?'
'No, no, no. Worse! far worse!'
'Of what then?' demanded Ralph.
'Worse than money, worse than money!' cried the old man, casting the
papers out of the chest, like some beast tearing up the earth. 'She
had better have stolen money--all my money--I haven't much! She had
better have made me a beggar than have done this!'
'Done what?' said Ralph. 'Done what, you devil's dotard?'
Still Gride made no answer, but tore and scratched among the papers,
and yelled and screeched like a fiend in torment.
'There is something missing, you say,' said Ralph, shaking him
furiously by the collar. 'What is it?'
'Papers, deeds. I am a ruined man. Lost, lost! I am robbed, I am
ruined! She saw me reading it--reading it of late--I did very
often--She watched me, saw me put it in the box that fitted into
this, the box is gone, she has stolen it. Damnation seize her, she
has robbed me!'
'Of WHAT?' cried Ralph, on whom a sudden light appeared to break,
for his eyes flashed and his frame trembled with agitation as he
clutched Gride by his bony arm. 'Of what?'
'She don't know what it is; she can't read!' shrieked Gride, not
heeding the inquiry. 'There's only one way in which money can be
made of it, and that is by taking it to her. Somebody will read it
for her, and tell her what to do. She and her accomplice will get
money for it and be let off besides; they'll make a merit of it--say
they found it--knew it--and be evidence against me. The only person
it will fall upon is me, me, me!'
'Patience!' said Ralph, clutching him still tighter and eyeing him
with a sidelong look, so fixed and eager as sufficiently to denote
that he had some hidden purpose in what he was about to say. 'Hear
reason. She can't have been gone long. I'll call the police. Do
you but give information of what she has stolen, and they'll lay
hands upon her, trust me. Here! Help!'
'No, no, no!' screamed the old man, putting his hand on Ralph's
mouth. 'I can't, I daren't.'
'Help! help!' cried Ralph.
'No, no, no!' shrieked the other, stamping on the ground with the
energy of a madman. 'I tell you no. I daren't, I daren't!'
'Daren't make this robbery public?' said Ralph.
'No!' rejoined Gride, wringing his hands. 'Hush! Hush! Not a word
of this; not a word must be said. I am undone. Whichever way I
turn, I am undone. I am betrayed. I shall be given up. I shall
die in Newgate!'
With frantic exclamations such as these, and with many others in
which fear, grief, and rage, were strangely blended, the panic-
stricken wretch gradually subdued his first loud outcry, until it
had softened down into a low despairing moan, chequered now and then
by a howl, as, going over such papers as were left in the chest, he
discovered some new loss. With very little excuse for departing so
abruptly, Ralph left him, and, greatly disappointing the loiterers
outside the house by telling them there was nothing the matter, got
into the coach, and was driven to his own home.
A letter lay on his table. He let it lie there for some time, as if
he had not the courage to open it, but at length did so and turned
'The worst has happened,' he said; 'the house has failed. I see.
The rumour was abroad in the city last night, and reached the ears
of those merchants. Well, well!'
He strode violently up and down the room and stopped again.
'Ten thousand pounds! And only lying there for a day--for one day!
How many anxious years, how many pinching days and sleepless nights,
before I scraped together that ten thousand pounds!--Ten thousand
pounds! How many proud painted dames would have fawned and smiled,
and how many spendthrift blockheads done me lip-service to my face
and cursed me in their hearts, while I turned that ten thousand
pounds into twenty! While I ground, and pinched, and used these
needy borrowers for my pleasure and profit, what smooth-tongued
speeches, and courteous looks, and civil letters, they would have
given me! The cant of the lying world is, that men like me compass
our riches by dissimulation and treachery: by fawning, cringing, and
stooping. Why, how many lies, what mean and abject evasions, what
humbled behaviour from upstarts who, but for my money, would spurn
me aside as they do their betters every day, would that ten thousand
pounds have brought me in! Grant that I had doubled it--made cent.
per cent.--for every sovereign told another--there would not be one
piece of money in all the heap which wouldn't represent ten thousand
mean and paltry lies, told, not by the money-lender, oh no! but by
the money-borrowers, your liberal, thoughtless, generous, dashing
folks, who wouldn't be so mean as save a sixpence for the world!'
Striving, as it would seem, to lose part of the bitterness of his
regrets in the bitterness of these other thoughts, Ralph continued
to pace the room. There was less and less of resolution in his
manner as his mind gradually reverted to his loss; at length,
dropping into his elbow-chair and grasping its sides so firmly that
they creaked again, he said:
'The time has been when nothing could have moved me like the loss of
this great sum. Nothing. For births, deaths, marriages, and all the
events which are of interest to most men, have (unless they are
connected with gain or loss of money) no interest for me. But now,
I swear, I mix up with the loss, his triumph in telling it. If he
had brought it about,--I almost feel as if he had,--I couldn't hate
him more. Let me but retaliate upon him, by degrees, however slow--
let me but begin to get the better of him, let me but turn the
scale--and I can bear it.'
His meditations were long and deep. They terminated in his
dispatching a letter by Newman, addressed to Mr Squeers at the
Saracen's Head, with instructions to inquire whether he had arrived
in town, and, if so, to wait an answer. Newman brought back the
information that Mr Squeers had come by mail that morning, and had
received the letter in bed; but that he sent his duty, and word that
he would get up and wait upon Mr Nickleby directly.
The interval between the delivery of this message, and the arrival
of Mr Squeers, was very short; but, before he came, Ralph had
suppressed every sign of emotion, and once more regained the hard,
immovable, inflexible manner which was habitual to him, and to
which, perhaps, was ascribable no small part of the influence which,
over many men of no very strong prejudices on the score of morality,
he could exert, almost at will.
'Well, Mr Squeers,' he said, welcoming that worthy with his
accustomed smile, of which a sharp look and a thoughtful frown were
part and parcel: 'how do YOU do?'
'Why, sir,' said Mr Squeers, 'I'm pretty well. So's the family, and
so's the boys, except for a sort of rash as is a running through the
school, and rather puts 'em off their feed. But it's a ill wind as
blows no good to nobody; that's what I always say when them lads has
a wisitation. A wisitation, sir, is the lot of mortality.
Mortality itself, sir, is a wisitation. The world is chock full of
wisitations; and if a boy repines at a wisitation and makes you
uncomfortable with his noise, he must have his head punched. That's
going according to the Scripter, that is.'
'Mr Squeers,' said Ralph, drily.
'We'll avoid these precious morsels of morality if you please, and
talk of business.'
'With all my heart, sir,' rejoined Squeers, 'and first let me say--'
'First let ME say, if you please.--Noggs!'
Newman presented himself when the summons had been twice or thrice
repeated, and asked if his master called.
'I did. Go to your dinner. And go at once. Do you hear?'
'It an't time,' said Newman, doggedly.
'My time is yours, and I say it is,' returned Ralph.
'You alter it every day,' said Newman. 'It isn't fair.'
'You don't keep many cooks, and can easily apologise to them for the
trouble,' retorted Ralph. 'Begone, sir!'
Ralph not only issued this order in his most peremptory manner, but,
under pretence of fetching some papers from the little office, saw
it obeyed, and, when Newman had left the house, chained the door, to
prevent the possibility of his returning secretly, by means of his
'I have reason to suspect that fellow,' said Ralph, when he returned
to his own office. 'Therefore, until I have thought of the shortest
and least troublesome way of ruining him, I hold it best to keep him
at a distance.'
'It wouldn't take much to ruin him, I should think,' said Squeers,
with a grin.
'Perhaps not,' answered Ralph. 'Nor to ruin a great many people
whom I know. You were going to say--?'
Ralph's summary and matter-of-course way of holding up this example,
and throwing out the hint that followed it, had evidently an effect
(as doubtless it was designed to have) upon Mr Squeers, who said,
after a little hesitation and in a much more subdued tone:
'Why, what I was a-going to say, sir, is, that this here business
regarding of that ungrateful and hard-hearted chap, Snawley senior,
puts me out of my way, and occasions a inconveniency quite
unparalleled, besides, as I may say, making, for whole weeks
together, Mrs Squeers a perfect widder. It's a pleasure to me to
act with you, of course.'
'Of course,' said Ralph, drily.
'Yes, I say of course,' resumed Mr Squeers, rubbing his knees, 'but
at the same time, when one comes, as I do now, better than two
hundred and fifty mile to take a afferdavid, it does put a man out a
good deal, letting alone the risk.'
'And where may the risk be, Mr Squeers?' said Ralph.
'I said, letting alone the risk,' replied Squeers, evasively.
'And I said, where was the risk?'
'I wasn't complaining, you know, Mr Nickleby,' pleaded Squeers.
'Upon my word I never see such a--'
'I ask you where is the risk?' repeated Ralph, emphatically.
'Where the risk?' returned Squeers, rubbing his knees still harder.
'Why, it an't necessary to mention. Certain subjects is best
awoided. Oh, you know what risk I mean.'
'How often have I told you,' said Ralph, 'and how often am I to tell
you, that you run no risk? What have you sworn, or what are you
asked to swear, but that at such and such a time a boy was left with
you in the name of Smike; that he was at your school for a given
number of years, was lost under such and such circumstances, is now
found, and has been identified by you in such and such keeping?
This is all true; is it not?'
'Yes,' replied Squeers, 'that's all true.'
'Well, then,' said Ralph, 'what risk do you run? Who swears to a
lie but Snawley; a man whom I have paid much less than I have you?'
'He certainly did it cheap, did Snawley,' observed Squeers.
'He did it cheap!' retorted Ralph, testily; 'yes, and he did it
well, and carries it off with a hypocritical face and a sanctified
air, but you! Risk! What do you mean by risk? The certificates are
all genuine, Snawley HAD another son, he HAS been married twice, his
first wife IS dead, none but her ghost could tell that she didn't
write that letter, none but Snawley himself can tell that this is
not his son, and that his son is food for worms! The only perjury
is Snawley's, and I fancy he is pretty well used to it. Where's
'Why, you know,' said Squeers, fidgeting in his chair, 'if you come
to that, I might say where's yours?'
'You might say where's mine!' returned Ralph; 'you may say where's
mine. I don't appear in the business, neither do you. All
Snawley's interest is to stick well to the story he has told; and
all his risk is, to depart from it in the least. Talk of YOUR risk
in the conspiracy!'
'I say,' remonstrated Squeers, looking uneasily round: 'don't call
it that! Just as a favour, don't.'
'Call it what you like,' said Ralph, irritably, 'but attend to me.
This tale was originally fabricated as a means of annoyance against
one who hurt your trade and half cudgelled you to death, and to
enable you to obtain repossession of a half-dead drudge, whom you
wished to regain, because, while you wreaked your vengeance on him
for his share in the business, you knew that the knowledge that he
was again in your power would be the best punishment you could
inflict upon your enemy. Is that so, Mr Squeers?'
'Why, sir,' returned Squeers, almost overpowered by the
determination which Ralph displayed to make everything tell against
him, and by his stern unyielding manner, 'in a measure it was.'
'What does that mean?' said Ralph.
'Why, in a measure means," returned Squeers, 'as it may be, that it
wasn't all on my account, because you had some old grudge to
'If I had not had,' said Ralph, in no way abashed by the reminder,
'do you think I should have helped you?'
'Why no, I don't suppose you would,' Squeers replied. 'I only
wanted that point to be all square and straight between us.'
'How can it ever be otherwise?' retorted Ralph. 'Except that the
account is against me, for I spend money to gratify my hatred, and
you pocket it, and gratify yours at the same time. You are, at
least, as avaricious as you are revengeful. So am I. Which is best
off? You, who win money and revenge, at the same time and by the
same process, and who are, at all events, sure of money, if not of
revenge; or I, who am only sure of spending money in any case, and
can but win bare revenge at last?'
As Mr Squeers could only answer this proposition by shrugs and
smiles, Ralph bade him be silent, and thankful that he was so well
off; and then, fixing his eyes steadily upon him, proceeded to say:
First, that Nicholas had thwarted him in a plan he had formed for
the disposal in marriage of a certain young lady, and had, in the
confusion attendant on her father's sudden death, secured that lady
himself, and borne her off in triumph.
Secondly, that by some will or settlement--certainly by some
instrument in writing, which must contain the young lady's name, and
could be, therefore, easily selected from others, if access to the
place where it was deposited were once secured--she was entitled to
property which, if the existence of this deed ever became known to
her, would make her husband (and Ralph represented that Nicholas was
certain to marry her) a rich and prosperous man, and most formidable
Thirdly, that this deed had been, with others, stolen from one who
had himself obtained or concealed it fraudulently, and who feared to
take any steps for its recovery; and that he (Ralph) knew the thief.
To all this Mr Squeers listened, with greedy ears that devoured
every syllable, and with his one eye and his mouth wide open:
marvelling for what special reason he was honoured with so much of
Ralph's confidence, and to what it all tended.
'Now,' said Ralph, leaning forward, and placing his hand on
Squeers's arm, 'hear the design which I have conceived, and which I
must--I say, must, if I can ripen it--have carried into execution.
No advantage can be reaped from this deed, whatever it is, save by
the girl herself, or her husband; and the possession of this deed by
one or other of them is indispensable to any advantage being gained.
THAT I have discovered beyond the possibility of doubt. I want that
deed brought here, that I may give the man who brings it fifty
pounds in gold, and burn it to ashes before his face.'
Mr Squeers, after following with his eye the action of Ralph's hand
towards the fire-place as if he were at that moment consuming the
paper, drew a long breath, and said:
'Yes; but who's to bring it?'
'Nobody, perhaps, for much is to be done before it can be got at,'
said Ralph. 'But if anybody--you!'
Mr Squeers's first tokens of consternation, and his flat
relinquishment of the task, would have staggered most men, if they
had not immediately occasioned an utter abandonment of the
proposition. On Ralph they produced not the slightest effect.
Resuming, when the schoolmaster had quite talked himself out of
breath, as coolly as if he had never been interrupted, Ralph
proceeded to expatiate on such features of the case as he deemed it
most advisable to lay the greatest stress on.
These were, the age, decrepitude, and weakness of Mrs Sliderskew;
the great improbability of her having any accomplice or even
acquaintance: taking into account her secluded habits, and her long
residence in such a house as Gride's; the strong reason there was to
suppose that the robbery was not the result of a concerted plan:
otherwise she would have watched an opportunity of carrying off a
sum of money; the difficulty she would be placed in when she began
to think on what she had done, and found herself encumbered with
documents of whose nature she was utterly ignorant; and the
comparative ease with which somebody, with a full knowledge of her
position, obtaining access to her, and working on her fears, if
necessary, might worm himself into her confidence and obtain, under
one pretence or another, free possession of the deed. To these were
added such considerations as the constant residence of Mr Squeers at
a long distance from London, which rendered his association with Mrs
Sliderskew a mere masquerading frolic, in which nobody was likely to
recognise him, either at the time or afterwards; the impossibility
of Ralph's undertaking the task himself, he being already known to
her by sight; and various comments on the uncommon tact and
experience of Mr Squeers: which would make his overreaching one old
woman a mere matter of child's play and amusement. In addition to
these influences and persuasions, Ralph drew, with his utmost skill
and power, a vivid picture of the defeat which Nicholas would
sustain, should they succeed, in linking himself to a beggar, where
he expected to wed an heiress--glanced at the immeasurable
importance it must be to a man situated as Squeers, to preserve such
a friend as himself--dwelt on a long train of benefits, conferred
since their first acquaintance, when he had reported favourably of
his treatment of a sickly boy who had died under his hands (and
whose death was very convenient to Ralph and his clients, but this
he did NOT say), and finally hinted that the fifty pounds might be
increased to seventy-five, or, in the event of very great success,
even to a hundred.
These arguments at length concluded, Mr Squeers crossed his legs,
uncrossed them, scratched his head, rubbed his eye, examined the
palms of his hands, and bit his nails, and after exhibiting many
other signs of restlessness and indecision, asked 'whether one
hundred pound was the highest that Mr Nickleby could go.' Being
answered in the affirmative, he became restless again, and, after
some thought, and an unsuccessful inquiry 'whether he couldn't go
another fifty,' said he supposed he must try and do the most he
could for a friend: which was always his maxim, and therefore he
undertook the job.
'But how are you to get at the woman?' he said; 'that's what it is
as puzzles me.'
'I may not get at her at all,' replied Ralph, 'but I'll try. I have
hunted people in this city, before now, who have been better hid
than she; and I know quarters in which a guinea or two, carefully
spent, will often solve darker riddles than this. Ay, and keep them
close too, if need be! I hear my man ringing at the door. We may
as well part. You had better not come to and fro, but wait till you
hear from me.'
'Good!' returned Squeers. 'I say! If you shouldn't find her out,
you'll pay expenses at the Saracen, and something for loss of time?'
'Well,' said Ralph, testily; 'yes! You have nothing more to say?'
Squeers shaking his head, Ralph accompanied him to the streetdoor,
and audibly wondering, for the edification of Newman, why it was
fastened as if it were night, let him in and Squeers out, and
returned to his own room.
'Now!' he muttered, 'come what come may, for the present I am firm
and unshaken. Let me but retrieve this one small portion of my loss
and disgrace; let me but defeat him in this one hope, dear to his
heart as I know it must be; let me but do this; and it shall be the
first link in such a chain which I will wind about him, as never
man forged yet.'
How Ralph Nickleby's Auxiliary went about his Work, and how he
prospered with it
It was a dark, wet, gloomy night in autumn, when in an upper room of
a mean house situated in an obscure street, or rather court, near
Lambeth, there sat, all alone, a one-eyed man grotesquely habited,
either for lack of better garments or for purposes of disguise, in a
loose greatcoat, with arms half as long again as his own, and a
capacity of breadth and length which would have admitted of his
winding himself in it, head and all, with the utmost ease, and
without any risk of straining the old and greasy material of which
it was composed.
So attired, and in a place so far removed from his usual haunts and
occupations, and so very poor and wretched in its character, perhaps
Mrs Squeers herself would have had some difficulty in recognising
her lord: quickened though her natural sagacity doubtless would have
been by the affectionate yearnings and impulses of a tender wife.
But Mrs Squeers's lord it was; and in a tolerably disconsolate mood
Mrs Squeers's lord appeared to be, as, helping himself from a black
bottle which stood on the table beside him, he cast round the
chamber a look, in which very slight regard for the objects within
view was plainly mingled with some regretful and impatient
recollection of distant scenes and persons.
There were, certainly, no particular attractions, either in the room
over which the glance of Mr Squeers so discontentedly wandered, or
in the narrow street into which it might have penetrated, if he had
thought fit to approach the window. The attic chamber in which he
sat was bare and mean; the bedstead, and such few other articles of
necessary furniture as it contained, were of the commonest
description, in a most crazy state, and of a most uninviting
appearance. The street was muddy, dirty, and deserted. Having but
one outlet, it was traversed by few but the inhabitants at any time;
and the night being one of those on which most people are glad to be
within doors, it now presented no other signs of life than the dull
glimmering of poor candles from the dirty windows, and few sounds
but the pattering of the rain, and occasionally the heavy closing of
some creaking door.
Mr Squeers continued to look disconsolately about him, and to listen
to these noises in profound silence, broken only by the rustling of
his large coat, as he now and then moved his arm to raise his glass
to his lips. Mr Squeers continued to do this for some time, until
the increasing gloom warned him to snuff the candle. Seeming to be
slightly roused by this exertion, he raised his eye to the ceiling,
and fixing it upon some uncouth and fantastic figures, traced upon
it by the wet and damp which had penetrated through the roof, broke
into the following soliloquy:
'Well, this is a pretty go, is this here! An uncommon pretty go!
Here have I been, a matter of how many weeks--hard upon six--a
follering up this here blessed old dowager petty larcenerer,'--Mr
Squeers delivered himself of this epithet with great difficulty and
effort,--'and Dotheboys Hall a-running itself regularly to seed the
while! That's the worst of ever being in with a owdacious chap like
that old Nickleby. You never know when he's done with you, and if
you're in for a penny, you're in for a pound.'
This remark, perhaps, reminded Mr Squeers that he was in for a
hundred pound at any rate. His countenance relaxed, and he raised
his glass to his mouth with an air of greater enjoyment of its
contents than he had before evinced.
'I never see,' soliloquised Mr Squeers in continuation, 'I never see
nor come across such a file as that old Nickleby. Never! He's out
of everybody's depth, he is. He's what you may call a rasper, is
Nickleby. To see how sly and cunning he grubbed on, day after day,
a-worming and plodding and tracing and turning and twining of
hisself about, till he found out where this precious Mrs Peg was
hid, and cleared the ground for me to work upon. Creeping and
crawling and gliding, like a ugly, old, bright-eyed, stagnation-
blooded adder! Ah! He'd have made a good 'un in our line, but it
would have been too limited for him; his genius would have busted
all bonds, and coming over every obstacle, broke down all before it,
till it erected itself into a monneyment of--Well, I'll think of the
rest, and say it when conwenient.'
Making a halt in his reflections at this place, Mr Squeers again put
his glass to his lips, and drawing a dirty letter from his pocket,
proceeded to con over its contents with the air of a man who had
read it very often, and now refreshed his memory rather in the
absence of better amusement than for any specific information.
'The pigs is well,' said Mr Squeers, 'the cows is well, and the boys
is bobbish. Young Sprouter has been a-winking, has he? I'll wink
him when I get back. "Cobbey would persist in sniffing while he was
a-eating his dinner, and said that the beef was so strong it made
him."--Very good, Cobbey, we'll see if we can't make you sniff a
little without beef. "Pitcher was took with another fever,"--of
course he was--"and being fetched by his friends, died the day after
he got home,"--of course he did, and out of aggravation; it's part
of a deep-laid system. There an't another chap in the school but
that boy as would have died exactly at the end of the quarter:
taking it out of me to the very last, and then carrying his spite to
the utmost extremity. "The juniorest Palmer said he wished he was
in Heaven." I really don't know, I do NOT know what's to be done
with that young fellow; he's always a-wishing something horrid. He
said once, he wished he was a donkey, because then he wouldn't have
a father as didn't love him! Pretty wicious that for a child of
Mr Squeers was so much moved by the contemplation of this hardened
nature in one so young, that he angrily put up the letter, and
sought, in a new train of ideas, a subject of consolation.
'It's a long time to have been a-lingering in London,' he said; 'and
this is a precious hole to come and live in, even if it has been
only for a week or so. Still, one hundred pound is five boys, and
five boys takes a whole year to pay one hundred pounds, and there's
their keep to be substracted, besides. There's nothing lost,
neither, by one's being here; because the boys' money comes in just
the same as if I was at home, and Mrs Squeers she keeps them in
order. There'll be some lost time to make up, of course. There'll
be an arrear of flogging as'll have to be gone through: still, a
couple of days makes that all right, and one don't mind a little
extra work for one hundred pound. It's pretty nigh the time to wait
upon the old woman. From what she said last night, I suspect that
if I'm to succeed at all, I shall succeed tonight; so I'll have half
a glass more, to wish myself success, and put myself in spirits.
Mrs Squeers, my dear, your health!'
Leering with his one eye as if the lady to whom he drank had been
actually present, Mr Squeers--in his enthusiasm, no doubt--poured
out a full glass, and emptied it; and as the liquor was raw spirits,
and he had applied himself to the same bottle more than once
already, it is not surprising that he found himself, by this time,
in an extremely cheerful state, and quite enough excited for his
What this purpose was soon appeared; for, after a few turns about
the room to steady himself, he took the bottle under his arm and the
glass in his hand, and blowing out the candle as if he purposed
being gone some time, stole out upon the staircase, and creeping
softly to a door opposite his own, tapped gently at it.
'But what's the use of tapping?' he said, 'She'll never hear. I
suppose she isn't doing anything very particular; and if she is, it
don't much matter, that I see.'
With this brief preface, Mr Squeers applied his hand to the latch of
the door, and thrusting his head into a garret far more deplorable
than that he had just left, and seeing that there was nobody there
but an old woman, who was bending over a wretched fire (for although
the weather was still warm, the evening was chilly), walked in, and
tapped her on the shoulder.
'Well, my Slider,' said Mr Squeers, jocularly.
'Is that you?' inquired Peg.
'Ah! it's me, and me's the first person singular, nominative case,
agreeing with the verb "it's", and governed by Squeers understood,
as a acorn, a hour; but when the h is sounded, the a only is to be
used, as a and, a art, a ighway,' replied Mr Squeers, quoting at
random from the grammar. 'At least, if it isn't, you don't know any
better, and if it is, I've done it accidentally.'
Delivering this reply in his accustomed tone of voice, in which of
course it was inaudible to Peg, Mr Squeers drew a stool to the fire,
and placing himself over against her, and the bottle and glass on
the floor between them, roared out again, very loud,
'Well, my Slider!'
'I hear you,' said Peg, receiving him very graciously.
'I've come according to promise,' roared Squeers.
'So they used to say in that part of the country I come from,'
observed Peg, complacently, 'but I think oil's better.'
'Better than what?' roared Squeers, adding some rather strong
language in an undertone.
'No,' said Peg, 'of course not.'
'I never saw such a monster as you are!' muttered Squeers, looking
as amiable as he possibly could the while; for Peg's eye was upon
him, and she was chuckling fearfully, as though in delight at having
made a choice repartee, 'Do you see this? This is a bottle.'
'I see it,' answered Peg.
'Well, and do you see THIS?' bawled Squeers. 'This is a glass.' Peg
saw that too.
'See here, then,' said Squeers, accompanying his remarks with
appropriate action, 'I fill the glass from the bottle, and I say
"Your health, Slider," and empty it; then I rinse it genteelly with
a little drop, which I'm forced to throw into the fire--hallo! we
shall have the chimbley alight next--fill it again, and hand it over
'YOUR health,' said Peg.
'She understands that, anyways,' muttered Squeers, watching Mrs
Sliderskew as she dispatched her portion, and choked and gasped in a
most awful manner after so doing. 'Now then, let's have a talk.
How's the rheumatics?'
Mrs Sliderskew, with much blinking and chuckling, and with looks
expressive of her strong admiration of Mr Squeers, his person,
manners, and conversation, replied that the rheumatics were better.
'What's the reason,' said Mr Squeers, deriving fresh facetiousness
from the bottle; 'what's the reason of rheumatics? What do they
mean? What do people have'em for--eh?'
Mrs Sliderskew didn't know, but suggested that it was possibly
because they couldn't help it.
'Measles, rheumatics, hooping-cough, fevers, agers, and lumbagers,'
said Mr Squeers, 'is all philosophy together; that's what it is.
The heavenly bodies is philosophy, and the earthly bodies is
philosophy. If there's a screw loose in a heavenly body, that's
philosophy; and if there's screw loose in a earthly body, that's
philosophy too; or it may be that sometimes there's a little
metaphysics in it, but that's not often. Philosophy's the chap for
me. If a parent asks a question in the classical, commercial, or
mathematical line, says I, gravely, "Why, sir, in the first place,
are you a philosopher?"--"No, Mr Squeers," he says, "I an't." "Then,
sir," says I, "I am sorry for you, for I shan't be able to explain
it." Naturally, the parent goes away and wishes he was a
philosopher, and, equally naturally, thinks I'm one.'
Saying this, and a great deal more, with tipsy profundity and a
serio-comic air, and keeping his eye all the time on Mrs Sliderskew,
who was unable to hear one word, Mr Squeers concluded by helping
himself and passing the bottle: to which Peg did becoming reverence.
'That's the time of day!' said Mr Squeers. 'You look twenty pound
ten better than you did.'
Again Mrs Sliderskew chuckled, but modesty forbade her assenting
verbally to the compliment.
'Twenty pound ten better,' repeated Mr Squeers, 'than you did that
day when I first introduced myself. Don't you know?'
'Ah!' said Peg, shaking her head, 'but you frightened me that day.'
'Did I?' said Squeers; 'well, it was rather a startling thing for a
stranger to come and recommend himself by saying that he knew all
about you, and what your name was, and why you were living so quiet
here, and what you had boned, and who you boned it from, wasn't it?'
Peg nodded her head in strong assent.
'But I know everything that happens in that way, you see,' continued
Squeers. 'Nothing takes place, of that kind, that I an't up to
entirely. I'm a sort of a lawyer, Slider, of first-rate standing,
and understanding too; I'm the intimate friend and confidential
adwiser of pretty nigh every man, woman, and child that gets
themselves into difficulties by being too nimble with their fingers,
Mr Squeers's catalogue of his own merits and accomplishments, which
was partly the result of a concerted plan between himself and Ralph
Nickleby, and flowed, in part, from the black bottle, was here
interrupted by Mrs Sliderskew.
'Ha, ha, ha!' she cried, folding her arms and wagging her head; 'and
so he wasn't married after all, wasn't he. Not married after all?'
'No,' replied Squeers, 'that he wasn't!'
'And a young lover come and carried off the bride, eh?' said Peg.
'From under his very nose,' replied Squeers; 'and I'm told the young
chap cut up rough besides, and broke the winders, and forced him to
swaller his wedding favour which nearly choked him.'
'Tell me all about it again,' cried Peg, with a malicious relish of
her old master's defeat, which made her natural hideousness
something quite fearful; 'let's hear it all again, beginning at the
beginning now, as if you'd never told me. Let's have it every word
--now--now--beginning at the very first, you know, when he went to
the house that morning!'
Mr Squeers, plying Mrs Sliderskew freely with the liquor, and
sustaining himself under the exertion of speaking so loud by
frequent applications to it himself, complied with this request by
describing the discomfiture of Arthur Gride, with such improvements
on the truth as happened to occur to him, and the ingenious
invention and application of which had been very instrumental in
recommending him to her notice in the beginning of their
acquaintance. Mrs Sliderskew was in an ecstasy of delight, rolling
her head about, drawing up her skinny shoulders, and wrinkling her
cadaverous face into so many and such complicated forms of ugliness,
as awakened the unbounded astonishment and disgust even of Mr
'He's a treacherous old goat,' said Peg, 'and cozened me with
cunning tricks and lying promises, but never mind. I'm even with
him. I'm even with him.'
'More than even, Slider,' returned Squeers; 'you'd have been even
with him if he'd got married; but with the disappointment besides,
you're a long way ahead. Out of sight, Slider, quite out of sight.
And that reminds me,' he added, handing her the glass, 'if you want
me to give you my opinion of them deeds, and tell you what you'd
better keep and what you'd better burn, why, now's your time,
'There an't no hurry for that,' said Peg, with several knowing looks
'Oh! very well!' observed Squeers, 'it don't matter to me; you asked
me, you know. I shouldn't charge you nothing, being a friend.
You're the best judge of course. But you're a bold woman, Slider.'
'How do you mean, bold?' said Peg.
'Why, I only mean that if it was me, I wouldn't keep papers as might
hang me, littering about when they might be turned into money--them
as wasn't useful made away with, and them as was, laid by
somewheres, safe; that's all,' returned Squeers; 'but everybody's
the best judge of their own affairs. All I say is, Slider, I
wouldn't do it.'
'Come,' said Peg, 'then you shall see 'em.'
'I don't want to see 'em,' replied Squeers, affecting to be out of
humour; 'don't talk as if it was a treat. Show 'em to somebody
else, and take their advice.'
Mr Squeers would, very likely, have carried on the farce of being
offended a little longer, if Mrs Sliderskew, in her anxiety to
restore herself to her former high position in his good graces, had
not become so extremely affectionate that he stood at some risk of
being smothered by her caresses. Repressing, with as good a grace
as possible, these little familiarities--for which, there is reason
to believe, the black bottle was at least as much to blame as any
constitutional infirmity on the part of Mrs Sliderskew--he protested
that he had only been joking: and, in proof of his unimpaired good-
humour, that he was ready to examine the deeds at once, if, by so
doing, he could afford any satisfaction or relief of mind to his
'And now you're up, my Slider,' bawled Squeers, as she rose to fetch
them, 'bolt the door.'
Peg trotted to the door, and after fumbling at the bolt, crept to
the other end of the room, and from beneath the coals which filled
the bottom of the cupboard, drew forth a small deal box. Having
placed this on the floor at Squeers's feet, she brought, from under
the pillow of her bed, a small key, with which she signed to that
gentleman to open it. Mr Squeers, who had eagerly followed her
every motion, lost no time in obeying this hint: and, throwing back
the lid, gazed with rapture on the documents which lay within.
'Now you see,' said Peg, kneeling down on the floor beside him, and
staying his impatient hand; 'what's of no use we'll burn; what we
can get any money by, we'll keep; and if there's any we could get
him into trouble by, and fret and waste away his heart to shreds,
those we'll take particular care of; for that's what I want to do,
and what I hoped to do when I left him.'
'I thought,' said Squeers, 'that you didn't bear him any particular
good-will. But, I say, why didn't you take some money besides?'
'Some what?' asked Peg.
'Some money,' roared Squeers. 'I do believe the woman hears me, and
wants to make me break a wessel, so that she may have the pleasure
of nursing me. Some money, Slider, money!'
'Why, what a man you are to ask!' cried Peg, with some contempt.
'If I had taken money from Arthur Gride, he'd have scoured the whole
earth to find me--aye, and he'd have smelt it out, and raked it up,
somehow, if I had buried it at the bottom of the deepest well in
England. No, no! I knew better than that. I took what I thought
his secrets were hid in: and them he couldn't afford to make public,
let'em be worth ever so much money. He's an old dog; a sly, old,
cunning, thankless dog! He first starved, and then tricked me; and
if I could I'd kill him.'
'All right, and very laudable,' said Squeers. 'But, first and
foremost, Slider, burn the box. You should never keep things as may
lead to discovery. Always mind that. So while you pull it to pieces
(which you can easily do, for it's very old and rickety) and burn it
in little bits, I'll look over the papers and tell you what they
Peg, expressing her acquiescence in this arrangement, Mr Squeers
turned the box bottom upwards, and tumbling the contents upon the
floor, handed it to her; the destruction of the box being an
extemporary device for engaging her attention, in case it should
prove desirable to distract it from his own proceedings.
'There!' said Squeers; 'you poke the pieces between the bars, and
make up a good fire, and I'll read the while. Let me see, let me
see.' And taking the candle down beside him, Mr Squeers, with great
eagerness and a cunning grin overspreading his face, entered upon
his task of examination.
If the old woman had not been very deaf, she must have heard, when
she last went to the door, the breathing of two persons close behind
it: and if those two persons had been unacquainted with her
infirmity, they must probably have chosen that moment either for
presenting themselves or taking to flight. But, knowing with whom
they had to deal, they remained quite still, and now, not only
appeared unobserved at the door--which was not bolted, for the bolt
had no hasp--but warily, and with noiseless footsteps, advanced into
As they stole farther and farther in by slight and scarcely
perceptible degrees, and with such caution that they scarcely seemed
to breathe, the old hag and Squeers little dreaming of any such
invasion, and utterly unconscious of there being any soul near but
themselves, were busily occupied with their tasks. The old woman,
with her wrinkled face close to the bars of the stove, puffing at
the dull embers which had not yet caught the wood; Squeers stooping
down to the candle, which brought out the full ugliness of his face,
as the light of the fire did that of his companion; both intently
engaged, and wearing faces of exultation which contrasted strongly
with the anxious looks of those behind, who took advantage of the
slightest sound to cover their advance, and, almost before they had
moved an inch, and all was silent, stopped again. This, with the
large bare room, damp walls, and flickering doubtful light, combined
to form a scene which the most careless and indifferent spectator
(could any have been present) could scarcely have failed to derive
some interest from, and would not readily have forgotten.
Of the stealthy comers, Frank Cheeryble was one, and Newman Noggs
the other. Newman had caught up, by the rusty nozzle, an old pair
of bellows, which were just undergoing a flourish in the air
preparatory to a descent upon the head of Mr Squeers, when Frank,
with an earnest gesture, stayed his arm, and, taking another step in
advance, came so close behind the schoolmaster that, by leaning
slightly forward, he could plainly distinguish the writing which he
held up to his eye.
Mr Squeers, not being remarkably erudite, appeared to be
considerably puzzled by this first prize, which was in an engrossing
hand, and not very legible except to a practised eye. Having tried
it by reading from left to right, and from right to left, and
finding it equally clear both ways, he turned it upside down with no
'Ha, ha, ha!' chuckled Peg, who, on her knees before the fire, was
feeding it with fragments of the box, and grinning in most devilish
exultation. 'What's that writing about, eh?'
'Nothing particular,' replied Squeers, tossing it towards her.
'It's only an old lease, as well as I can make out. Throw it in the
Mrs Sliderskew complied, and inquired what the next one was.
'This,' said Squeers, 'is a bundle of overdue acceptances and
renewed bills of six or eight young gentlemen, but they're all MPs,
so it's of no use to anybody. Throw it in the fire!' Peg did as she
was bidden, and waited for the next.
'This,' said Squeers, 'seems to be some deed of sale of the right of
presentation to the rectory of Purechurch, in the valley of Cashup.
Take care of that, Slider, literally for God's sake. It'll fetch
its price at the Auction Mart.'
'What's the next?' inquired Peg.
'Why, this,' said Squeers, 'seems, from the two letters that's with
it, to be a bond from a curate down in the country, to pay half a
year's wages of forty pound for borrowing twenty. Take care of
that, for if he don't pay it, his bishop will very soon be down upon
him. We know what the camel and the needle's eye means; no man as
can't live upon his income, whatever it is, must expect to go to
heaven at any price. It's very odd; I don't see anything like it
'What's the matter?' said Peg.
'Nothing,' replied Squeers, 'only I'm looking for--'
Newman raised the bellows again. Once more, Frank, by a rapid
motion of his arm, unaccompanied by any noise, checked him in his
'Here you are,' said Squeers, 'bonds--take care of them. Warrant of
attorney--take care of that. Two cognovits--take care of them.
Lease and release--burn that. Ah! "Madeline Bray--come of age or
marry--the said Madeline"--here, burn THAT!'
Eagerly throwing towards the old woman a parchment that he caught up
for the purpose, Squeers, as she turned her head, thrust into the
breast of his large coat, the deed in which these words had caught
his eye, and burst into a shout of triumph.
'I've got it!' said Squeers. 'I've got it! Hurrah! The plan was a
good one, though the chance was desperate, and the day's our own at
Peg demanded what he laughed at, but no answer was returned.
Newman's arm could no longer be restrained; the bellows, descending
heavily and with unerring aim on the very centre of Mr Squeers's
head, felled him to the floor, and stretched him on it flat and
In which one Scene of this History is closed
Dividing the distance into two days' journey, in order that his
charge might sustain the less exhaustion and fatigue from travelling
so far, Nicholas, at the end of the second day from their leaving
home, found himself within a very few miles of the spot where the
happiest years of his life had been passed, and which, while it
filled his mind with pleasant and peaceful thoughts, brought back
many painful and vivid recollections of the circumstances in which
he and his had wandered forth from their old home, cast upon the
rough world and the mercy of strangers.
It needed no such reflections as those which the memory of old days,
and wanderings among scenes where our childhood has been passed,
usually awaken in the most insensible minds, to soften the heart of
Nicholas, and render him more than usually mindful of his drooping
friend. By night and day, at all times and seasons: always
watchful, attentive, and solicitous, and never varying in the
discharge of his self-imposed duty to one so friendless and helpless
as he whose sands of life were now fast running out and dwindling
rapidly away: he was ever at his side. He never left him. To
encourage and animate him, administer to his wants, support and
cheer him to the utmost of his power, was now his constant and
They procured a humble lodging in a small farmhouse, surrounded by
meadows where Nicholas had often revelled when a child with a troop
of merry schoolfellows; and here they took up their rest.
At first, Smike was strong enough to walk about, for short distances
at a time, with no other support or aid than that which Nicholas
could afford him. At this time, nothing appeared to interest him so
much as visiting those places which had been most familiar to his
friend in bygone days. Yielding to this fancy, and pleased to find
that its indulgence beguiled the sick boy of many tedious hours, and
never failed to afford him matter for thought and conversation
afterwards, Nicholas made such spots the scenes of their daily
rambles: driving him from place to place in a little pony-chair, and
supporting him on his arm while they walked slowly among these old
haunts, or lingered in the sunlight to take long parting looks of
those which were most quiet and beautiful.
It was on such occasions as these, that Nicholas, yielding almost
unconsciously to the interest of old associations, would point out
some tree that he had climbed, a hundred times, to peep at the young
birds in their nest; and the branch from which he used to shout to
little Kate, who stood below terrified at the height he had gained,
and yet urging him higher still by the intensity of her admiration.
There was the old house too, which they would pass every day,
looking up at the tiny window through which the sun used to stream
in and wake him on the summer mornings--they were all summer
mornings then--and climbing up the garden-wall and looking over,
Nicholas could see the very rose-bush which had come, a present to
Kate, from some little lover, and she had planted with her own
hands. There were the hedgerows where the brother and sister had so
often gathered wild flowers together, and the green fields and shady
paths where they had so often strayed. There was not a lane, or
brook, or copse, or cottage near, with which some childish event was
not entwined, and back it came upon the mind--as events of childhood
do--nothing in itself: perhaps a word, a laugh, a look, some slight
distress, a passing thought or fear: and yet more strongly and
distinctly marked, and better remembered, than the hardest trials or
severest sorrows of a year ago.
One of these expeditions led them through the churchyard where was
his father's grave. 'Even here,' said Nicholas softly, 'we used to
loiter before we knew what death was, and when we little thought
whose ashes would rest beneath; and, wondering at the silence, sit
down to rest and speak below our breath. Once, Kate was lost, and
after an hour of fruitless search, they found her, fast asleep,
under that tree which shades my father's grave. He was very fond of
her, and said when he took her up in his arms, still sleeping, that
whenever he died he would wish to be buried where his dear little
child had laid her head. You see his wish was not forgotten.'
Nothing more passed at the time, but that night, as Nicholas sat
beside his bed, Smike started from what had seemed to be a slumber,
and laying his hand in his, prayed, as the tears coursed down his
face, that he would make him one solemn promise.
'What is that?' said Nicholas, kindly. 'If I can redeem it, or hope
to do so, you know I will.'
'I am sure you will,' was the reply. 'Promise me that when I die, I
shall be buried near--as near as they can make my grave--to the tree
we saw today.'
Nicholas gave the promise; he had few words to give it in, but they
were solemn and earnest. His poor friend kept his hand in his, and
turned as if to sleep. But there were stifled sobs; and the hand
was pressed more than once, or twice, or thrice, before he sank to
rest, and slowly loosed his hold.
In a fortnight's time, he became too ill to move about. Once or
twice, Nicholas drove him out, propped up with pillows; but the
motion of the chaise was painful to him, and brought on fits of
fainting, which, in his weakened state, were dangerous. There was
an old couch in the house, which was his favourite resting-place by
day; and when the sun shone, and the weather was warm, Nicholas had
this wheeled into a little orchard which was close at hand, and his
charge being well wrapped up and carried out to it, they used to sit
there sometimes for hours together.
It was on one of these occasions that a circumstance took place,
which Nicholas, at the time, thoroughly believed to be the mere
delusion of an imagination affected by disease; but which he had,
afterwards, too good reason to know was of real and actual
He had brought Smike out in his arms--poor fellow! a child might
have carried him then--to see the sunset, and, having arranged his
couch, had taken his seat beside it. He had been watching the whole
of the night before, and being greatly fatigued both in mind and
body, gradually fell asleep.
He could not have closed his eyes five minutes, when he was awakened
by a scream, and starting up in that kind of terror which affects a
person suddenly roused, saw, to his great astonishment, that his
charge had struggled into a sitting posture, and with eyes almost
starting from their sockets, cold dew standing on his forehead, and
in a fit of trembling which quite convulsed his frame, was calling
to him for help.
'Good Heaven, what is this?' said Nicholas, bending over him. 'Be
calm; you have been dreaming.'
'No, no, no!' cried Smike, clinging to him. 'Hold me tight. Don't
let me go. There, there. Behind the tree!'
Nicholas followed his eyes, which were directed to some distance
behind the chair from which he himself had just risen. But, there
was nothing there.
'This is nothing but your fancy,' he said, as he strove to compose
him; 'nothing else, indeed.'
'I know better. I saw as plain as I see now,' was the answer. 'Oh!
say you'll keep me with you. Swear you won't leave me for an
'Do I ever leave you?' returned Nicholas. 'Lie down again--there!
You see I'm here. Now, tell me; what was it?'
'Do you remember,' said Smike, in a low voice, and glancing
fearfully round, 'do you remember my telling you of the man who
first took me to the school?'
'I raised my eyes, just now, towards that tree--that one with the
thick trunk--and there, with his eyes fixed on me, he stood!'
'Only reflect for one moment,' said Nicholas; 'granting, for an
instant, that it's likely he is alive and wandering about a lonely
place like this, so far removed from the public road, do you think
that at this distance of time you could possibly know that man
'Anywhere--in any dress,' returned Smike; 'but, just now, he stood
leaning upon his stick and looking at me, exactly as I told you I
remembered him. He was dusty with walking, and poorly dressed--I
think his clothes were ragged--but directly I saw him, the wet
night, his face when he left me, the parlour I was left in, and the
people that were there, all seemed to come back together. When he
knew I saw him, he looked frightened; for he started, and shrunk
away. I have thought of him by day, and dreamt of him by night. He
looked in my sleep, when I was quite a little child, and has looked
in my sleep ever since, as he did just now.'
Nicholas endeavoured, by every persuasion and argument he could
think of, to convince the terrified creature that his imagination
had deceived him, and that this close resemblance between the
creation of his dreams and the man he supposed he had seen was but a
proof of it; but all in vain. When he could persuade him to remain,
for a few moments, in the care of the people to whom the house
belonged, he instituted a strict inquiry whether any stranger had
been seen, and searched himself behind the tree, and through the
orchard, and upon the land immediately adjoining, and in every place
near, where it was possible for a man to lie concealed; but all in
vain. Satisfied that he was right in his original conjecture, he
applied himself to calming the fears of Smike, which, after some
time, he partially succeeded in doing, though not in removing the
impression upon his mind; for he still declared, again and again, in
the most solemn and fervid manner, that he had positively seen what
he had described, and that nothing could ever remove his conviction
of its reality.
And now, Nicholas began to see that hope was gone, and that, upon
the partner of his poverty, and the sharer of his better fortune,
the world was closing fast. There was little pain, little
uneasiness, but there was no rallying, no effort, no struggle for
life. He was worn and wasted to the last degree; his voice had sunk
so low, that he could scarce be heard to speak. Nature was
thoroughly exhausted, and he had lain him down to die.
On a fine, mild autumn day, when all was tranquil and at peace: when
the soft sweet air crept in at the open window of the quiet room,
and not a sound was heard but the gentle rustling of the leaves:
Nicholas sat in his old place by the bedside, and knew that the time
was nearly come. So very still it was, that, every now and then, he
bent down his ear to listen for the breathing of him who lay asleep,
as if to assure himself that life was still there, and that he had
not fallen into that deep slumber from which on earth there is no
While he was thus employed, the closed eyes opened, and on the pale
face there came a placid smile.
'That's well!' said Nicholas. 'The sleep has done you good.'
'I have had such pleasant dreams,' was the answer. 'Such pleasant,
'Of what?' said Nicholas.
The dying boy turned towards him, and, putting his arm about his
neck, made answer, 'I shall soon be there!'
After a short silence, he spoke again.
'I am not afraid to die,' he said. 'I am quite contented. I almost
think that if I could rise from this bed quite well I would not wish
to do so, now. You have so often told me we shall meet again--so
very often lately, and now I feel the truth of that so strongly--
that I can even bear to part from you.'
The trembling voice and tearful eye, and the closer grasp of the arm
which accompanied these latter words, showed how they filled the
speaker's heart; nor were there wanting indications of how deeply
they had touched the heart of him to whom they were addressed.
'You say well,' returned Nicholas at length, 'and comfort me very
much, dear fellow. Let me hear you say you are happy, if you can.'
'I must tell you something, first. I should not have a secret from
you. You would not blame me, at a time like this, I know.'
'I blame you!' exclaimed Nicholas.
'I am sure you would not. You asked me why I was so changed, and--
and sat so much alone. Shall I tell you why?'
'Not if it pains you,' said Nicholas. 'I only asked that I might
make you happier, if I could.'
'I know. I felt that, at the time.' He drew his friend closer to
him. 'You will forgive me; I could not help it, but though I would
have died to make her happy, it broke my heart to see--I know he
loves her dearly--Oh! who could find that out so soon as I?'
The words which followed were feebly and faintly uttered, and broken
by long pauses; but, from them, Nicholas learnt, for the first time,
that the dying boy, with all the ardour of a nature concentrated on
one absorbing, hopeless, secret passion, loved his sister Kate.
He had procured a lock of her hair, which hung at his breast, folded
in one or two slight ribbons she had worn. He prayed that, when he
was dead, Nicholas would take it off, so that no eyes but his might
see it, and that when he was laid in his coffin and about to be
placed in the earth, he would hang it round his neck again, that it
might rest with him in the grave.
Upon his knees Nicholas gave him this pledge, and promised again
that he should rest in the spot he had pointed out. They embraced,
and kissed each other on the cheek.
'Now,' he murmured, 'I am happy.'
He fell into a light slumber, and waking smiled as before; then,
spoke of beautiful gardens, which he said stretched out before him,
and were filled with figures of men, women, and many children, all
with light upon their faces; then, whispered that it was Eden--and
The Plots begin to fail, and Doubts and Dangers to disturb the
Ralph sat alone, in the solitary room where he was accustomed to
take his meals, and to sit of nights when no profitable occupation
called him abroad. Before him was an untasted breakfast, and near
to where his fingers beat restlessly upon the table, lay his watch.
It was long past the time at which, for many years, he had put it in
his pocket and gone with measured steps downstairs to the business
of the day, but he took as little heed of its monotonous warning, as
of the meat and drink before him, and remained with his head resting
on one hand, and his eyes fixed moodily on the ground.
This departure from his regular and constant habit, in one so
regular and unvarying in all that appertained to the daily pursuit
of riches, would almost of itself have told that the usurer was not
well. That he laboured under some mental or bodily indisposition,
and that it was one of no slight kind so to affect a man like him,
was sufficiently shown by his haggard face, jaded air, and hollow
languid eyes: which he raised at last with a start and a hasty
glance around him, as one who suddenly awakes from sleep, and cannot
immediately recognise the place in which he finds himself.
'What is this,' he said, 'that hangs over me, and I cannot shake
off? I have never pampered myself, and should not be ill. I have
never moped, and pined, and yielded to fancies; but what CAN a man
do without rest?'
He pressed his hand upon his forehead.
'Night after night comes and goes, and I have no rest. If I sleep,
what rest is that which is disturbed by constant dreams of the same
detested faces crowding round me--of the same detested people, in
every variety of action, mingling with all I say and do, and always
to my defeat? Waking, what rest have I, constantly haunted by this
heavy shadow of--I know not what--which is its worst character? I
must have rest. One night's unbroken rest, and I should be a man
Pushing the table from him while he spoke, as though he loathed the
sight of food, he encountered the watch: the hands of which were
almost upon noon.
'This is strange!' he said; 'noon, and Noggs not here! What drunken
brawl keeps him away? I would give something now--something in
money even after that dreadful loss--if he had stabbed a man in a
tavern scuffle, or broken into a house, or picked a pocket, or done
anything that would send him abroad with an iron ring upon his leg,
and rid me of him. Better still, if I could throw temptation in his
way, and lure him on to rob me. He should be welcome to what he
took, so I brought the law upon him; for he is a traitor, I swear!
How, or when, or where, I don't know, though I suspect.'
After waiting for another half-hour, he dispatched the woman who
kept his house to Newman's lodging, to inquire if he were ill, and
why he had not come or sent. She brought back answer that he had
not been home all night, and that no one could tell her anything
'But there is a gentleman, sir,' she said, 'below, who was standing
at the door when I came in, and he says--'
'What says he?' demanded Ralph, turning angrily upon her. 'I told
you I would see nobody.'
'He says,' replied the woman, abashed by his harshness, 'that he
comes on very particular business which admits of no excuse; and I
thought perhaps it might be about--'
'About what, in the devil's name?' said Ralph. 'You spy and
speculate on people's business with me, do you?'
'Dear, no, sir! I saw you were anxious, and thought it might be
about Mr Noggs; that's all.'
'Saw I was anxious!' muttered Ralph; 'they all watch me, now. Where
is this person? You did not say I was not down yet, I hope?'
The woman replied that he was in the little office, and that she had
said her master was engaged, but she would take the message.
'Well,' said Ralph, 'I'll see him. Go you to your kitchen, and keep
there. Do you mind me?'
Glad to be released, the woman quickly disappeared. Collecting
himself, and assuming as much of his accustomed manner as his utmost
resolution could summon, Ralph descended the stairs. After pausing
for a few moments, with his hand upon the lock, he entered Newman's
room, and confronted Mr Charles Cheeryble.
Of all men alive, this was one of the last he would have wished to
meet at any time; but, now that he recognised in him only the patron
and protector of Nicholas, he would rather have seen a spectre. One
beneficial effect, however, the encounter had upon him. It
instantly roused all his dormant energies; rekindled in his breast
the passions that, for many years, had found an improving home
there; called up all his wrath, hatred, and malice; restored the
sneer to his lip, and the scowl to his brow; and made him again, in
all outward appearance, the same Ralph Nickleby whom so many had
bitter cause to remember.
'Humph!' said Ralph, pausing at the door. 'This is an unexpected
'And an unwelcome one,' said brother Charles; 'an unwelcome one, I
'Men say you are truth itself, sir,' replied Ralph. 'You speak
truth now, at all events, and I'll not contradict you. The favour
is, at least, as unwelcome as it is unexpected. I can scarcely say
'Plainly, sir--' began brother Charles.
'Plainly, sir,' interrupted Ralph, 'I wish this conference to be a
short one, and to end where it begins. I guess the subject upon
which you are about to speak, and I'll not hear you. You like
plainness, I believe; there it is. Here is the door as you see.
Our way lies in very different directions. Take yours, I beg of
you, and leave me to pursue mine in quiet.'
'In quiet!' repeated brother Charles mildly, and looking at him with
more of pity than reproach. 'To pursue HIS way in quiet!'
'You will scarcely remain in my house, I presume, sir, against my
will,' said Ralph; 'or you can scarcely hope to make an impression
upon a man who closes his ears to all that you can say, and is
firmly and resolutely determined not to hear you.'
'Mr Nickleby, sir,' returned brother Charles: no less mildly than
before, but firmly too: 'I come here against my will, sorely and
grievously against my will. I have never been in this house before;
and, to speak my mind, sir, I don't feel at home or easy in it, and
have no wish ever to be here again. You do not guess the subject on
which I come to speak to you; you do not indeed. I am sure of that,
or your manner would be a very different one.'
Ralph glanced keenly at him, but the clear eye and open countenance
of the honest old merchant underwent no change of expression, and
met his look without reserve.
'Shall I go on?' said Mr Cheeryble.
'Oh, by all means, if you please,' returned Ralph drily. 'Here are
walls to speak to, sir, a desk, and two stools: most attentive
auditors, and certain not to interrupt you. Go on, I beg; make my
house yours, and perhaps by the time I return from my walk, you will
have finished what you have to say, and will yield me up possession
So saying, he buttoned his coat, and turning into the passage, took
down his hat. The old gentleman followed, and was about to speak,
when Ralph waved him off impatiently, and said:
'Not a word. I tell you, sir, not a word. Virtuous as you are, you
are not an angel yet, to appear in men's houses whether they will or
no, and pour your speech into unwilling ears. Preach to the walls I
tell you; not to me!'
'I am no angel, Heaven knows,' returned brother Charles, shaking his
head, 'but an erring and imperfect man; nevertheless, there is one
quality which all men have, in common with the angels, blessed
opportunities of exercising, if they will; mercy. It is an errand
of mercy that brings me here. Pray let me discharge it.'