Part 2 out of 20
you see that?'
'Everybody must see that,' replied Squeers, half imitating the sneer
with which the old gentleman was regarding his unconscious relative.
'I do, of course,' said Nicholas, eagerly.
'He does, of course, you observe,' said Ralph, in the same dry, hard
manner. 'If any caprice of temper should induce him to cast aside
this golden opportunity before he has brought it to perfection, I
consider myself absolved from extending any assistance to his mother
and sister. Look at him, and think of the use he may be to you in
half-a-dozen ways! Now, the question is, whether, for some time to
come at all events, he won't serve your purpose better than twenty
of the kind of people you would get under ordinary circumstances.
Isn't that a question for consideration?'
'Yes, it is,' said Squeers, answering a nod of Ralph's head with a
nod of his own.
'Good,' rejoined Ralph. 'Let me have two words with you.'
The two words were had apart; in a couple of minutes Mr Wackford
Squeers announced that Mr Nicholas Nickleby was, from that moment,
thoroughly nominated to, and installed in, the office of first
assistant master at Dotheboys Hall.
'Your uncle's recommendation has done it, Mr Nickleby,' said
Nicholas, overjoyed at his success, shook his uncle's hand warmly,
and could almost have worshipped Squeers upon the spot.
'He is an odd-looking man,' thought Nicholas. 'What of that?
Porson was an odd-looking man, and so was Doctor Johnson; all these
'At eight o'clock tomorrow morning, Mr Nickleby,' said Squeers, 'the
coach starts. You must be here at a quarter before, as we take
these boys with us.'
'Certainly, sir,' said Nicholas.
'And your fare down, I have paid,' growled Ralph. 'So, you'll have
nothing to do but keep yourself warm.'
Here was another instance of his uncle's generosity! Nicholas felt
his unexpected kindness so much, that he could scarcely find words
to thank him; indeed, he had not found half enough, when they took
leave of the schoolmaster, and emerged from the Saracen's Head
'I shall be here in the morning to see you fairly off,' said Ralph.
'Thank you, sir,' replied Nicholas; 'I never shall forget this
'Take care you don't,' replied his uncle. 'You had better go home
now, and pack up what you have got to pack. Do you think you could
find your way to Golden Square first?'
'Certainly,' said Nicholas. 'I can easily inquire.'
'Leave these papers with my clerk, then,' said Ralph, producing a
small parcel, 'and tell him to wait till I come home.'
Nicholas cheerfully undertook the errand, and bidding his worthy
uncle an affectionate farewell, which that warm-hearted old
gentleman acknowledged by a growl, hastened away to execute his
He found Golden Square in due course; Mr Noggs, who had stepped out
for a minute or so to the public-house, was opening the door with a
latch-key, as he reached the steps.
'What's that?' inquired Noggs, pointing to the parcel.
'Papers from my uncle,' replied Nicholas; 'and you're to have the
goodness to wait till he comes home, if you please.'
'Uncle!' cried Noggs.
'Mr Nickleby,' said Nicholas in explanation.
'Come in,' said Newman.
Without another word he led Nicholas into the passage, and thence
into the official pantry at the end of it, where he thrust him into
a chair, and mounting upon his high stool, sat, with his arms
hanging, straight down by his sides, gazing fixedly upon him, as
from a tower of observation.
'There is no answer,' said Nicholas, laying the parcel on a table
Newman said nothing, but folding his arms, and thrusting his head
forward so as to obtain a nearer view of Nicholas's face, scanned
his features closely.
'No answer,' said Nicholas, speaking very loud, under the impression
that Newman Noggs was deaf.
Newman placed his hands upon his knees, and, without uttering a
syllable, continued the same close scrutiny of his companion's face.
This was such a very singular proceeding on the part of an utter
stranger, and his appearance was so extremely peculiar, that
Nicholas, who had a sufficiently keen sense of the ridiculous, could
not refrain from breaking into a smile as he inquired whether Mr
Noggs had any commands for him.
Noggs shook his head and sighed; upon which Nicholas rose, and
remarking that he required no rest, bade him good-morning.
It was a great exertion for Newman Noggs, and nobody knows to this
day how he ever came to make it, the other party being wholly
unknown to him, but he drew a long breath and actually said, out
loud, without once stopping, that if the young gentleman did not
object to tell, he should like to know what his uncle was going to
do for him.
Nicholas had not the least objection in the world, but on the
contrary was rather pleased to have an opportunity of talking on the
subject which occupied his thoughts; so, he sat down again, and (his
sanguine imagination warming as he spoke) entered into a fervent and
glowing description of all the honours and advantages to be derived
from his appointment at that seat of learning, Dotheboys Hall.
'But, what's the matter--are you ill?' said Nicholas, suddenly
breaking off, as his companion, after throwing himself into a
variety of uncouth attitudes, thrust his hands under the stool, and
cracked his finger-joints as if he were snapping all the bones in
Newman Noggs made no reply, but went on shrugging his shoulders and
cracking his finger-joints; smiling horribly all the time, and
looking steadfastly at nothing, out of the tops of his eyes, in a
most ghastly manner.
At first, Nicholas thought the mysterious man was in a fit, but, on
further consideration, decided that he was in liquor, under which
circumstances he deemed it prudent to make off at once. He looked
back when he had got the street-door open. Newman Noggs was still
indulging in the same extraordinary gestures, and the cracking of
his fingers sounded louder that ever.
Nicholas starts for Yorkshire. Of his Leave-taking and his Fellow-
Travellers, and what befell them on the Road
If tears dropped into a trunk were charms to preserve its owner from
sorrow and misfortune, Nicholas Nickleby would have commenced his
expedition under most happy auspices. There was so much to be done,
and so little time to do it in; so many kind words to be spoken, and
such bitter pain in the hearts in which they rose to impede their
utterance; that the little preparations for his journey were made
mournfully indeed. A hundred things which the anxious care of his
mother and sister deemed indispensable for his comfort, Nicholas
insisted on leaving behind, as they might prove of some after use,
or might be convertible into money if occasion required. A hundred
affectionate contests on such points as these, took place on the sad
night which preceded his departure; and, as the termination of every
angerless dispute brought them nearer and nearer to the close of
their slight preparations, Kate grew busier and busier, and wept
The box was packed at last, and then there came supper, with some
little delicacy provided for the occasion, and as a set-off against
the expense of which, Kate and her mother had feigned to dine when
Nicholas was out. The poor lady nearly choked himself by attempting
to partake of it, and almost suffocated himself in affecting a jest
or two, and forcing a melancholy laugh. Thus, they lingered on till
the hour of separating for the night was long past; and then they
found that they might as well have given vent to their real feelings
before, for they could not suppress them, do what they would. So,
they let them have their way, and even that was a relief.
Nicholas slept well till six next morning; dreamed of home, or of
what was home once--no matter which, for things that are changed or
gone will come back as they used to be, thank God! in sleep--and
rose quite brisk and gay. He wrote a few lines in pencil, to say
the goodbye which he was afraid to pronounce himself, and laying
them, with half his scanty stock of money, at his sister's door,
shouldered his box and crept softly downstairs.
'Is that you, Hannah?' cried a voice from Miss La Creevy's sitting-
room, whence shone the light of a feeble candle.
'It is I, Miss La Creevy,' said Nicholas, putting down the box and
'Bless us!' exclaimed Miss La Creevy, starting and putting her hand
to her curl-papers. 'You're up very early, Mr Nickleby.'
'So are you,' replied Nicholas.
'It's the fine arts that bring me out of bed, Mr Nickleby,' returned
the lady. 'I'm waiting for the light to carry out an idea.'
Miss La Creevy had got up early to put a fancy nose into a miniature
of an ugly little boy, destined for his grandmother in the country,
who was expected to bequeath him property if he was like the family.
'To carry out an idea,' repeated Miss La Creevy; 'and that's the
great convenience of living in a thoroughfare like the Strand. When
I want a nose or an eye for any particular sitter, I have only to
look out of window and wait till I get one.'
'Does it take long to get a nose, now?' inquired Nicholas, smiling.
'Why, that depends in a great measure on the pattern,' replied Miss
La Creevy. 'Snubs and Romans are plentiful enough, and there are
flats of all sorts and sizes when there's a meeting at Exeter Hall;
but perfect aquilines, I am sorry to say, are scarce, and we
generally use them for uniforms or public characters.'
'Indeed!' said Nicholas. 'If I should meet with any in my travels,
I'll endeavour to sketch them for you.'
'You don't mean to say that you are really going all the way down
into Yorkshire this cold winter's weather, Mr Nickleby?' said Miss
La Creevy. 'I heard something of it last night.'
'I do, indeed,' replied Nicholas. 'Needs must, you know, when
somebody drives. Necessity is my driver, and that is only another
name for the same gentleman.'
'Well, I am very sorry for it; that's all I can say,' said Miss La
Creevy; 'as much on your mother's and sister's account as on yours.
Your sister is a very pretty young lady, Mr Nickleby, and that is an
additional reason why she should have somebody to protect her. I
persuaded her to give me a sitting or two, for the street-door case.
'Ah! she'll make a sweet miniature.' As Miss La Creevy spoke, she
held up an ivory countenance intersected with very perceptible sky-
blue veins, and regarded it with so much complacency, that Nicholas
quite envied her.
'If you ever have an opportunity of showing Kate some little
kindness,' said Nicholas, presenting his hand, 'I think you will.'
'Depend upon that,' said the good-natured miniature painter; 'and
God bless you, Mr Nickleby; and I wish you well.'
It was very little that Nicholas knew of the world, but he guessed
enough about its ways to think, that if he gave Miss La Creevy one
little kiss, perhaps she might not be the less kindly disposed
towards those he was leaving behind. So, he gave her three or four
with a kind of jocose gallantry, and Miss La Creevy evinced no
greater symptoms of displeasure than declaring, as she adjusted her
yellow turban, that she had never heard of such a thing, and
couldn't have believed it possible.
Having terminated the unexpected interview in this satisfactory
manner, Nicholas hastily withdrew himself from the house. By the
time he had found a man to carry his box it was only seven o'clock,
so he walked slowly on, a little in advance of the porter, and very
probably with not half as light a heart in his breast as the man
had, although he had no waistcoat to cover it with, and had
evidently, from the appearance of his other garments, been spending
the night in a stable, and taking his breakfast at a pump.
Regarding, with no small curiosity and interest, all the busy
preparations for the coming day which every street and almost every
house displayed; and thinking, now and then, that it seemed rather
hard that so many people of all ranks and stations could earn a
livelihood in London, and that he should be compelled to journey so
far in search of one; Nicholas speedily arrived at the Saracen's
Head, Snow Hill. Having dismissed his attendant, and seen the box
safely deposited in the coach-office, he looked into the coffee-room
in search of Mr Squeers.
He found that learned gentleman sitting at breakfast, with the three
little boys before noticed, and two others who had turned up by some
lucky chance since the interview of the previous day, ranged in a
row on the opposite seat. Mr Squeers had before him a small measure
of coffee, a plate of hot toast, and a cold round of beef; but he
was at that moment intent on preparing breakfast for the little
'This is twopenn'orth of milk, is it, waiter?' said Mr Squeers,
looking down into a large blue mug, and slanting it gently, so as to
get an accurate view of the quantity of liquid contained in it.
'That's twopenn'orth, sir,' replied the waiter.
'What a rare article milk is, to be sure, in London!' said Mr
Squeers, with a sigh. 'Just fill that mug up with lukewarm water,
William, will you?'
'To the wery top, sir?' inquired the waiter. 'Why, the milk will be
'Never you mind that,' replied Mr Squeers. 'Serve it right for
being so dear. You ordered that thick bread and butter for three,
'Coming directly, sir.'
'You needn't hurry yourself,' said Squeers; 'there's plenty of time.
Conquer your passions, boys, and don't be eager after vittles.' As
he uttered this moral precept, Mr Squeers took a large bite out of
the cold beef, and recognised Nicholas.
'Sit down, Mr Nickleby,' said Squeers. 'Here we are, a breakfasting
Nicholas did NOT see that anybody was breakfasting, except Mr
Squeers; but he bowed with all becoming reverence, and looked as
cheerful as he could.
'Oh! that's the milk and water, is it, William?' said Squeers.
'Very good; don't forget the bread and butter presently.'
At this fresh mention of the bread and butter, the five little boys
looked very eager, and followed the waiter out, with their eyes;
meanwhile Mr Squeers tasted the milk and water.
'Ah!' said that gentleman, smacking his lips, 'here's richness!
Think of the many beggars and orphans in the streets that would be
glad of this, little boys. A shocking thing hunger, isn't it, Mr
'Very shocking, sir,' said Nicholas.
'When I say number one,' pursued Mr Squeers, putting the mug before
the children, 'the boy on the left hand nearest the window may take
a drink; and when I say number two, the boy next him will go in, and
so till we come to number five, which is the last boy. Are you
'Yes, sir,' cried all the little boys with great eagerness.
'That's right,' said Squeers, calmly getting on with his breakfast;
'keep ready till I tell you to begin. Subdue your appetites, my
dears, and you've conquered human natur. This is the way we
inculcate strength of mind, Mr Nickleby,' said the schoolmaster,
turning to Nicholas, and speaking with his mouth very full of beef
Nicholas murmured something--he knew not what--in reply; and the
little boys, dividing their gaze between the mug, the bread and
butter (which had by this time arrived), and every morsel which Mr
Squeers took into his mouth, remained with strained eyes in torments
'Thank God for a good breakfast,' said Squeers, when he had
finished. 'Number one may take a drink.'
Number one seized the mug ravenously, and had just drunk enough to
make him wish for more, when Mr Squeers gave the signal for number
two, who gave up at the same interesting moment to number three; and
the process was repeated until the milk and water terminated with
'And now,' said the schoolmaster, dividing the bread and butter for
three into as many portions as there were children, 'you had better
look sharp with your breakfast, for the horn will blow in a minute
or two, and then every boy leaves off.'
Permission being thus given to fall to, the boys began to eat
voraciously, and in desperate haste: while the schoolmaster (who was
in high good humour after his meal) picked his teeth with a fork,
and looked smilingly on. In a very short time, the horn was heard.
'I thought it wouldn't be long,' said Squeers, jumping up and
producing a little basket from under the seat; 'put what you haven't
had time to eat, in here, boys! You'll want it on the road!'
Nicholas was considerably startled by these very economical
arrangements; but he had no time to reflect upon them, for the
little boys had to be got up to the top of the coach, and their
boxes had to be brought out and put in, and Mr Squeers's luggage was
to be seen carefully deposited in the boot, and all these offices
were in his department. He was in the full heat and bustle of
concluding these operations, when his uncle, Mr Ralph Nickleby,
'Oh! here you are, sir!' said Ralph. 'Here are your mother and
'Where?' cried Nicholas, looking hastily round.
'Here!' replied his uncle. 'Having too much money and nothing at
all to do with it, they were paying a hackney coach as I came up,
'We were afraid of being too late to see him before he went away
from us,' said Mrs Nickleby, embracing her son, heedless of the
unconcerned lookers-on in the coach-yard.
'Very good, ma'am,' returned Ralph, 'you're the best judge of
course. I merely said that you were paying a hackney coach. I
never pay a hackney coach, ma'am; I never hire one. I haven't been
in a hackney coach of my own hiring, for thirty years, and I hope I
shan't be for thirty more, if I live as long.'
'I should never have forgiven myself if I had not seen him,' said
Mrs Nickleby. 'Poor dear boy--going away without his breakfast too,
because he feared to distress us!'
'Mighty fine certainly,' said Ralph, with great testiness. 'When I
first went to business, ma'am, I took a penny loaf and a ha'porth of
milk for my breakfast as I walked to the city every morning; what do
you say to that, ma'am? Breakfast! Bah!'
'Now, Nickleby,' said Squeers, coming up at the moment buttoning his
greatcoat; 'I think you'd better get up behind. I'm afraid of one
of them boys falling off and then there's twenty pound a year gone.'
'Dear Nicholas,' whispered Kate, touching her brother's arm, 'who is
that vulgar man?'
'Eh!' growled Ralph, whose quick ears had caught the inquiry. 'Do
you wish to be introduced to Mr Squeers, my dear?'
'That the schoolmaster! No, uncle. Oh no!' replied Kate, shrinking
'I'm sure I heard you say as much, my dear,' retorted Ralph in his
cold sarcastic manner. 'Mr Squeers, here's my niece: Nicholas's
'Very glad to make your acquaintance, miss,' said Squeers, raising
his hat an inch or two. 'I wish Mrs Squeers took gals, and we had
you for a teacher. I don't know, though, whether she mightn't grow
jealous if we had. Ha! ha! ha!'
If the proprietor of Dotheboys Hall could have known what was
passing in his assistant's breast at that moment, he would have
discovered, with some surprise, that he was as near being soundly
pummelled as he had ever been in his life. Kate Nickleby, having a
quicker perception of her brother's emotions, led him gently aside,
and thus prevented Mr Squeers from being impressed with the fact in
a peculiarly disagreeable manner.
'My dear Nicholas,' said the young lady, 'who is this man? What
kind of place can it be that you are going to?'
'I hardly know, Kate,' replied Nicholas, pressing his sister's hand.
'I suppose the Yorkshire folks are rather rough and uncultivated;
'But this person,' urged Kate.
'Is my employer, or master, or whatever the proper name may be,'
replied Nicholas quickly; 'and I was an ass to take his coarseness
ill. They are looking this way, and it is time I was in my place.
Bless you, love, and goodbye! Mother, look forward to our meeting
again someday! Uncle, farewell! Thank you heartily for all you
have done and all you mean to do. Quite ready, sir!'
With these hasty adieux, Nicholas mounted nimbly to his seat, and
waved his hand as gallantly as if his heart went with it.
At this moment, when the coachman and guard were comparing notes for
the last time before starting, on the subject of the way-bill; when
porters were screwing out the last reluctant sixpences, itinerant
newsmen making the last offer of a morning paper, and the horses
giving the last impatient rattle to their harness; Nicholas felt
somebody pulling softly at his leg. He looked down, and there stood
Newman Noggs, who pushed up into his hand a dirty letter.
'What's this?' inquired Nicholas.
'Hush!' rejoined Noggs, pointing to Mr Ralph Nickleby, who was
saying a few earnest words to Squeers, a short distance off: 'Take
it. Read it. Nobody knows. That's all.'
'Stop!' cried Nicholas.
'No,' replied Noggs.
Nicholas cried stop, again, but Newman Noggs was gone.
A minute's bustle, a banging of the coach doors, a swaying of the
vehicle to one side, as the heavy coachman, and still heavier guard,
climbed into their seats; a cry of all right, a few notes from the
horn, a hasty glance of two sorrowful faces below, and the hard
features of Mr Ralph Nickleby--and the coach was gone too, and
rattling over the stones of Smithfield.
The little boys' legs being too short to admit of their feet resting
upon anything as they sat, and the little boys' bodies being
consequently in imminent hazard of being jerked off the coach,
Nicholas had enough to do over the stones to hold them on. Between
the manual exertion and the mental anxiety attendant upon this task,
he was not a little relieved when the coach stopped at the Peacock
at Islington. He was still more relieved when a hearty-looking
gentleman, with a very good-humoured face, and a very fresh colour,
got up behind, and proposed to take the other corner of the seat.
'If we put some of these youngsters in the middle,' said the new-
comer, 'they'll be safer in case of their going to sleep; eh?'
'If you'll have the goodness, sir,' replied Squeers, 'that'll be the
very thing. Mr Nickleby, take three of them boys between you and
the gentleman. Belling and the youngest Snawley can sit between me
and the guard. Three children,' said Squeers, explaining to the
stranger, 'books as two.'
'I have not the least objection I am sure,' said the fresh-coloured
gentleman; 'I have a brother who wouldn't object to book his six
children as two at any butcher's or baker's in the kingdom, I dare
say. Far from it.'
'Six children, sir?' exclaimed Squeers.
'Yes, and all boys,' replied the stranger.
'Mr Nickleby,' said Squeers, in great haste, 'catch hold of that
basket. Let me give you a card, sir, of an establishment where
those six boys can be brought up in an enlightened, liberal, and
moral manner, with no mistake at all about it, for twenty guineas a
year each--twenty guineas, sir--or I'd take all the boys together
upon a average right through, and say a hundred pound a year for the
'Oh!' said the gentleman, glancing at the card, 'you are the Mr
Squeers mentioned here, I presume?'
'Yes, I am, sir,' replied the worthy pedagogue; 'Mr Wackford Squeers
is my name, and I'm very far from being ashamed of it. These are
some of my boys, sir; that's one of my assistants, sir--Mr Nickleby,
a gentleman's son, amd a good scholar, mathematical, classical, and
commercial. We don't do things by halves at our shop. All manner
of learning my boys take down, sir; the expense is never thought of;
and they get paternal treatment and washing in.'
'Upon my word,' said the gentleman, glancing at Nicholas with a
half-smile, and a more than half expression of surprise, 'these are
'You may say that, sir,' rejoined Squeers, thrusting his hands into
his great-coat pockets. 'The most unexceptionable references are
given and required. I wouldn't take a reference with any boy, that
wasn't responsible for the payment of five pound five a quarter, no,
not if you went down on your knees, and asked me, with the tears
running down your face, to do it.'
'Highly considerate,' said the passenger.
'It's my great aim and end to be considerate, sir,' rejoined
Squeers. 'Snawley, junior, if you don't leave off chattering your
teeth, and shaking with the cold, I'll warm you with a severe
thrashing in about half a minute's time.'
'Sit fast here, genelmen,' said the guard as he clambered up.
'All right behind there, Dick?' cried the coachman.
'All right,' was the reply. 'Off she goes!' And off she did go--if
coaches be feminine--amidst a loud flourish from the guard's horn,
and the calm approval of all the judges of coaches and coach-horses
congregated at the Peacock, but more especially of the helpers, who
stood, with the cloths over their arms, watching the coach till it
disappeared, and then lounged admiringly stablewards, bestowing
various gruff encomiums on the beauty of the turn-out.
When the guard (who was a stout old Yorkshireman) had blown himself
quite out of breath, he put the horn into a little tunnel of a
basket fastened to the coach-side for the purpose, and giving
himself a plentiful shower of blows on the chest and shoulders,
observed it was uncommon cold; after which, he demanded of every
person separately whether he was going right through, and if not,
where he WAS going. Satisfactory replies being made to these
queries, he surmised that the roads were pretty heavy arter that
fall last night, and took the liberty of asking whether any of them
gentlemen carried a snuff-box. It happening that nobody did, he
remarked with a mysterious air that he had heard a medical gentleman
as went down to Grantham last week, say how that snuff-taking was
bad for the eyes; but for his part he had never found it so, and
what he said was, that everybody should speak as they found. Nobody
attempting to controvert this position, he took a small brown-paper
parcel out of his hat, and putting on a pair of horn spectacles (the
writing being crabbed) read the direction half-a-dozen times over;
having done which, he consigned the parcel to its old place, put up
his spectacles again, and stared at everybody in turn. After this,
he took another blow at the horn by way of refreshment; and, having
now exhausted his usual topics of conversation, folded his arms as
well as he could in so many coats, and falling into a solemn
silence, looked carelessly at the familiar objects which met his eye
on every side as the coach rolled on; the only things he seemed to
care for, being horses and droves of cattle, which he scrutinised
with a critical air as they were passed upon the road.
The weather was intensely and bitterly cold; a great deal of snow
fell from time to time; and the wind was intolerably keen. Mr
Squeers got down at almost every stage--to stretch his legs as he
said--and as he always came back from such excursions with a very
red nose, and composed himself to sleep directly, there is reason to
suppose that he derived great benefit from the process. The little
pupils having been stimulated with the remains of their breakfast,
and further invigorated by sundry small cups of a curious cordial
carried by Mr Squeers, which tasted very like toast-and-water put
into a brandy bottle by mistake, went to sleep, woke, shivered, and
cried, as their feelings prompted. Nicholas and the good-tempered
man found so many things to talk about, that between conversing
together, and cheering up the boys, the time passed with them as
rapidly as it could, under such adverse circumstances.
So the day wore on. At Eton Slocomb there was a good coach dinner,
of which the box, the four front outsides, the one inside, Nicholas,
the good-tempered man, and Mr Squeers, partook; while the five
little boys were put to thaw by the fire, and regaled with
sandwiches. A stage or two further on, the lamps were lighted, and
a great to-do occasioned by the taking up, at a roadside inn, of a
very fastidious lady with an infinite variety of cloaks and small
parcels, who loudly lamented, for the behoof of the outsides, the
non-arrival of her own carriage which was to have taken her on, and
made the guard solemnly promise to stop every green chariot he saw
coming; which, as it was a dark night and he was sitting with his
face the other way, that officer undertook, with many fervent
asseverations, to do. Lastly, the fastidious lady, finding there
was a solitary gentleman inside, had a small lamp lighted which she
carried in reticule, and being after much trouble shut in, the
horses were put into a brisk canter and the coach was once more in
The night and the snow came on together, and dismal enough they
were. There was no sound to be heard but the howling of the wind;
for the noise of the wheels, and the tread of the horses' feet, were
rendered inaudible by the thick coating of snow which covered the
ground, and was fast increasing every moment. The streets of
Stamford were deserted as they passed through the town; and its old
churches rose, frowning and dark, from the whitened ground. Twenty
miles further on, two of the front outside passengers, wisely
availing themselves of their arrival at one of the best inns in
England, turned in, for the night, at the George at Grantham. The
remainder wrapped themselves more closely in their coats and cloaks,
and leaving the light and warmth of the town behind them, pillowed
themselves against the luggage, and prepared, with many half-
suppressed moans, again to encounter the piercing blast which swept
across the open country.
They were little more than a stage out of Grantham, or about halfway
between it and Newark, when Nicholas, who had been asleep for a
short time, was suddenly roused by a violent jerk which nearly threw
him from his seat. Grasping the rail, he found that the coach had
sunk greatly on one side, though it was still dragged forward by the
horses; and while--confused by their plunging and the loud screams
of the lady inside--he hesitated, for an instant, whether to jump
off or not, the vehicle turned easily over, and relieved him from
all further uncertainty by flinging him into the road.
In which the Occurrence of the Accident mentioned in the last
Chapter, affords an Opportunity to a couple of Gentlemen to tell
Stories against each other
'Wo ho!' cried the guard, on his legs in a minute, and running to
the leaders' heads. 'Is there ony genelmen there as can len' a
hond here? Keep quiet, dang ye! Wo ho!'
'What's the matter?' demanded Nicholas, looking sleepily up.
'Matther mun, matter eneaf for one neight,' replied the guard; 'dang
the wall-eyed bay, he's gane mad wi' glory I think, carse t'coorch
is over. Here, can't ye len' a hond? Dom it, I'd ha' dean it if
all my boans were brokken.'
'Here!' cried Nicholas, staggering to his feet, 'I'm ready. I'm
only a little abroad, that's all.'
'Hoold 'em toight,' cried the guard, 'while ar coot treaces. Hang
on tiv'em sumhoo. Well deane, my lod. That's it. Let'em goa noo.
Dang 'em, they'll gang whoam fast eneaf!'
In truth, the animals were no sooner released than they trotted
back, with much deliberation, to the stable they had just left,
which was distant not a mile behind.
'Can you blo' a harn?' asked the guard, disengaging one of the
'I dare say I can,' replied Nicholas.
'Then just blo' away into that 'un as lies on the grund, fit to
wakken the deead, will'ee,' said the man, 'while I stop sum o' this
here squealing inside. Cumin', cumin'. Dean't make that noise,
As the man spoke, he proceeded to wrench open the uppermost door of
the coach, while Nicholas, seizing the horn, awoke the echoes far
and wide with one of the most extraordinary performances on that
instrument ever heard by mortal ears. It had its effect, however,
not only in rousing such of their fall, but in summoning assistance
to their relief; for lights gleamed in the distance, and people were
In fact, a man on horseback galloped down, before the passengers
were well collected together; and a careful investigation being
instituted, it appeared that the lady inside had broken her lamp,
and the gentleman his head; that the two front outsides had escaped
with black eyes; the box with a bloody nose; the coachman with a
contusion on the temple; Mr Squeers with a portmanteau bruise on his
back; and the remaining passengers without any injury at all--thanks
to the softness of the snow-drift in which they had been overturned.
These facts were no sooner thoroughly ascertained, than the lady
gave several indications of fainting, but being forewarned that if
she did, she must be carried on some gentleman's shoulders to the
nearest public-house, she prudently thought better of it, and walked
back with the rest.
They found on reaching it, that it was a lonely place with no very
great accommodation in the way of apartments--that portion of its
resources being all comprised in one public room with a sanded
floor, and a chair or two. However, a large faggot and a plentiful
supply of coals being heaped upon the fire, the appearance of things
was not long in mending; and, by the time they had washed off all
effaceable marks of the late accident, the room was warm and light,
which was a most agreeable exchange for the cold and darkness out of
'Well, Mr Nickleby,' said Squeers, insinuating himself into the
warmest corner, 'you did very right to catch hold of them horses. I
should have done it myself if I had come to in time, but I am very
glad you did it. You did it very well; very well.'
'So well,' said the merry-faced gentleman, who did not seem to
approve very much of the patronising tone adopted by Squeers, 'that
if they had not been firmly checked when they were, you would most
probably have had no brains left to teach with.'
This remark called up a discourse relative to the promptitude
Nicholas had displayed, and he was overwhelmed with compliments and
'I am very glad to have escaped, of course,' observed Squeers:
'every man is glad when he escapes from danger; but if any one of my
charges had been hurt--if I had been prevented from restoring any
one of these little boys to his parents whole and sound as I
received him--what would have been my feelings? Why the wheel a-top
of my head would have been far preferable to it.'
'Are they all brothers, sir?' inquired the lady who had carried the
'Davy' or safety-lamp.
'In one sense they are, ma'am,' replied Squeers, diving into his
greatcoat pocket for cards. 'They are all under the same parental
and affectionate treatment. Mrs Squeers and myself are a mother and
father to every one of 'em. Mr Nickleby, hand the lady them cards,
and offer these to the gentleman. Perhaps they might know of some
parents that would be glad to avail themselves of the establishment.'
Expressing himself to this effect, Mr Squeers, who lost no
opportunity of advertising gratuitously, placed his hands upon his
knees, and looked at the pupils with as much benignity as he could
possibly affect, while Nicholas, blushing with shame, handed round
the cards as directed.
'I hope you suffer no inconvenience from the overturn, ma'am?' said
the merry-faced gentleman, addressing the fastidious lady, as though
he were charitably desirous to change the subject.
'No bodily inconvenience,' replied the lady.
'No mental inconvenience, I hope?'
'The subject is a very painful one to my feelings, sir,' replied the
lady with strong emotion; 'and I beg you as a gentleman, not to
refer to it.'
'Dear me,' said the merry-faced gentleman, looking merrier still, 'I
merely intended to inquire--'
'I hope no inquiries will be made,' said the lady, 'or I shall be
compelled to throw myself on the protection of the other gentlemen.
Landlord, pray direct a boy to keep watch outside the door--and if a
green chariot passes in the direction of Grantham, to stop it
The people of the house were evidently overcome by this request, and
when the lady charged the boy to remember, as a means of identifying
the expected green chariot, that it would have a coachman with a
gold-laced hat on the box, and a footman, most probably in silk
stockings, behind, the attentions of the good woman of the inn were
redoubled. Even the box-passenger caught the infection, and growing
wonderfully deferential, immediately inquired whether there was not
very good society in that neighbourhood, to which the lady replied
yes, there was: in a manner which sufficiently implied that she
moved at the very tiptop and summit of it all.
'As the guard has gone on horseback to Grantham to get another
coach,' said the good-tempered gentleman when they had been all
sitting round the fire, for some time, in silence, 'and as he must
be gone a couple of hours at the very least, I propose a bowl of hot
punch. What say you, sir?'
This question was addressed to the broken-headed inside, who was a
man of very genteel appearance, dressed in mourning. He was not
past the middle age, but his hair was grey; it seemed to have been
prematurely turned by care or sorrow. He readily acceded to the
proposal, and appeared to be prepossessed by the frank good-nature
of the individual from whom it emanated.
This latter personage took upon himself the office of tapster when
the punch was ready, and after dispensing it all round, led the
conversation to the antiquities of York, with which both he and the
grey-haired gentleman appeared to be well acquainted. When this
topic flagged, he turned with a smile to the grey-headed gentleman,
and asked if he could sing.
'I cannot indeed,' replied gentleman, smiling in his turn.
'That's a pity,' said the owner of the good-humoured countenance.
'Is there nobody here who can sing a song to lighten the time?'
The passengers, one and all, protested that they could not; that
they wished they could; that they couldn't remember the words of
anything without the book; and so forth.
'Perhaps the lady would not object,' said the president with great
respect, and a merry twinkle in his eye. 'Some little Italian thing
out of the last opera brought out in town, would be most acceptable
I am sure.'
As the lady condescended to make no reply, but tossed her head
contemptuously, and murmured some further expression of surprise
regarding the absence of the green chariot, one or two voices urged
upon the president himself, the propriety of making an attempt for
the general benefit.
'I would if I could,' said he of the good-tempered face; 'for I hold
that in this, as in all other cases where people who are strangers
to each other are thrown unexpectedly together, they should
endeavour to render themselves as pleasant, for the joint sake of
the little community, as possible.'
'I wish the maxim were more generally acted on, in all cases,' said
the grey-headed gentleman.
'I'm glad to hear it,' returned the other. 'Perhaps, as you can't
sing, you'll tell us a story?'
'Nay. I should ask you.'
'After you, I will, with pleasure.'
'Indeed!' said the grey-haired gentleman, smiling, 'Well, let it be
so. I fear the turn of my thoughts is not calculated to lighten the
time you must pass here; but you have brought this upon yourselves,
and shall judge. We were speaking of York Minster just now. My
story shall have some reference to it. Let us call it
THE FIVE SISTERS OF YORK
After a murmur of approbation from the other passengers, during
which the fastidious lady drank a glass of punch unobserved, the
grey-headed gentleman thus went on:
'A great many years ago--for the fifteenth century was scarce two
years old at the time, and King Henry the Fourth sat upon the throne
of England--there dwelt, in the ancient city of York, five maiden
sisters, the subjects of my tale.
'These five sisters were all of surpassing beauty. The eldest was
in her twenty-third year, the second a year younger, the third a
year younger than the second, and the fourth a year younger than the
third. They were tall stately figures, with dark flashing eyes and
hair of jet; dignity and grace were in their every movement; and the
fame of their great beauty had spread through all the country round.
'But, if the four elder sisters were lovely, how beautiful was the
youngest, a fair creature of sixteen! The blushing tints in the
soft bloom on the fruit, or the delicate painting on the flower, are
not more exquisite than was the blending of the rose and lily in her
gentle face, or the deep blue of her eye. The vine, in all its
elegant luxuriance, is not more graceful than were the clusters of
rich brown hair that sported round her brow.
'If we all had hearts like those which beat so lightly in the bosoms
of the young and beautiful, what a heaven this earth would be! If,
while our bodies grow old and withered, our hearts could but retain
their early youth and freshness, of what avail would be our sorrows
and sufferings! But, the faint image of Eden which is stamped upon
them in childhood, chafes and rubs in our rough struggles with the
world, and soon wears away: too often to leave nothing but a
mournful blank remaining.
'The heart of this fair girl bounded with joy and gladness. Devoted
attachment to her sisters, and a fervent love of all beautiful
things in nature, were its pure affections. Her gleesome voice and
merry laugh were the sweetest music of their home. She was its very
light and life. The brightest flowers in the garden were reared by
her; the caged birds sang when they heard her voice, and pined when
they missed its sweetness. Alice, dear Alice; what living thing
within the sphere of her gentle witchery, could fail to love her!
'You may seek in vain, now, for the spot on which these sisters
lived, for their very names have passed away, and dusty antiquaries
tell of them as of a fable. But they dwelt in an old wooden house--
old even in those days--with overhanging gables and balconies of
rudely-carved oak, which stood within a pleasant orchard, and was
surrounded by a rough stone wall, whence a stout archer might have
winged an arrow to St Mary's Abbey. The old abbey flourished then;
and the five sisters, living on its fair domains, paid yearly dues
to the black monks of St Benedict, to which fraternity it belonged.
'It was a bright and sunny morning in the pleasant time of summer,
when one of those black monks emerged from the abbey portal, and
bent his steps towards the house of the fair sisters. Heaven above
was blue, and earth beneath was green; the river glistened like a
path of diamonds in the sun; the birds poured forth their songs from
the shady trees; the lark soared high above the waving corn; and the
deep buzz of insects filled the air. Everything looked gay and
smiling; but the holy man walked gloomily on, with his eyes bent
upon the ground. The beauty of the earth is but a breath, and man
is but a shadow. What sympathy should a holy preacher have with
'With eyes bent upon the ground, then, or only raised enough to
prevent his stumbling over such obstacles as lay in his way, the
religious man moved slowly forward until he reached a small postern
in the wall of the sisters' orchard, through which he passed,
closing it behind him. The noise of soft voices in conversation,
and of merry laughter, fell upon his ears ere he had advanced many
paces; and raising his eyes higher than was his humble wont, he
descried, at no great distance, the five sisters seated on the
grass, with Alice in the centre: all busily plying their customary
task of embroidering.
'"Save you, fair daughters!" said the friar; and fair in truth they
were. Even a monk might have loved them as choice masterpieces of
his Maker's hand.
'The sisters saluted the holy man with becoming reverence, and the
eldest motioned him to a mossy seat beside them. But the good friar
shook his head, and bumped himself down on a very hard stone,--at
which, no doubt, approving angels were gratified.
'"Ye were merry, daughters," said the monk.
'"You know how light of heart sweet Alice is," replied the eldest
sister, passing her fingers through the tresses of the smiling girl.
'"And what joy and cheerfulness it wakes up within us, to see all
nature beaming in brightness and sunshine, father," added Alice,
blushing beneath the stern look of the recluse.
'The monk answered not, save by a grave inclination of the head, and
the sisters pursued their task in silence.
'"Still wasting the precious hours," said the monk at length,
turning to the eldest sister as he spoke, "still wasting the
precious hours on this vain trifling. Alas, alas! that the few
bubbles on the surface of eternity--all that Heaven wills we should
see of that dark deep stream--should be so lightly scattered!'
'"Father," urged the maiden, pausing, as did each of the others, in
her busy task, "we have prayed at matins, our daily alms have been
distributed at the gate, the sick peasants have been tended,--all
our morning tasks have been performed. I hope our occupation is a
'"See here," said the friar, taking the frame from her hand,
"an intricate winding of gaudy colours, without purpose or object,
unless it be that one day it is destined for some vain ornament, to
minister to the pride of your frail and giddy sex. Day after day
has been employed upon this senseless task, and yet it is not half
accomplished. The shade of each departed day falls upon our graves,
and the worm exults as he beholds it, to know that we are hastening
thither. Daughters, is there no better way to pass the fleeting
'The four elder sisters cast down their eyes as if abashed by the
holy man's reproof, but Alice raised hers, and bent them mildly on
'"Our dear mother," said the maiden; "Heaven rest her soul!"
'"Amen!" cried the friar in a deep voice.
'"Our dear mother," faltered the fair Alice, "was living when these
long tasks began, and bade us, when she should be no more, ply them
in all discretion and cheerfulness, in our leisure hours; she said
that if in harmless mirth and maidenly pursuits we passed those
hours together, they would prove the happiest and most peaceful of
our lives, and that if, in later times, we went forth into the
world, and mingled with its cares and trials--if, allured by its
temptations and dazzled by its glitter, we ever forgot that love and
duty which should bind, in holy ties, the children of one loved
parent--a glance at the old work of our common girlhood would awaken
good thoughts of bygone days, and soften our hearts to affection and
'"Alice speaks truly, father," said the elder sister, somewhat
proudly. And so saying she resumed her work, as did the others.
'It was a kind of sampler of large size, that each sister had before
her; the device was of a complex and intricate description, and the
pattern and colours of all five were the same. The sisters bent
gracefully over their work; the monk, resting his chin upon his
hands, looked from one to the other in silence.
'"How much better," he said at length, "to shun all such thoughts
and chances, and, in the peaceful shelter of the church, devote your
lives to Heaven! Infancy, childhood, the prime of life, and old
age, wither as rapidly as they crowd upon each other. Think how
human dust rolls onward to the tomb, and turning your faces steadily
towards that goal, avoid the cloud which takes its rise among the
pleasures of the world, and cheats the senses of their votaries.
The veil, daughters, the veil!"
'"Never, sisters," cried Alice. "Barter not the light and air of
heaven, and the freshness of earth and all the beautiful things
which breathe upon it, for the cold cloister and the cell. Nature's
own blessings are the proper goods of life, and we may share them
sinlessly together. To die is our heavy portion, but, oh, let us
die with life about us; when our cold hearts cease to beat, let warm
hearts be beating near; let our last look be upon the bounds which
God has set to his own bright skies, and not on stone walls and bars
of iron! Dear sisters, let us live and die, if you list, in this
green garden's compass; only shun the gloom and sadness of a
cloister, and we shall be happy."
'The tears fell fast from the maiden's eyes as she closed her
impassioned appeal, and hid her face in the bosom of her sister.
'"Take comfort, Alice," said the eldest, kissing her fair forehead.
"The veil shall never cast its shadow on thy young brow. How say
you, sisters? For yourselves you speak, and not for Alice, or for
'The sisters, as with one accord, cried that their lot was cast
together, and that there were dwellings for peace and virtue beyond
the convent's walls.
'"Father," said the eldest lady, rising with dignity, "you hear our
final resolve. The same pious care which enriched the abbey of St
Mary, and left us, orphans, to its holy guardianship, directed that
no constraint should be imposed upon our inclinations, but that we
should be free to live according to our choice. Let us hear no more
of this, we pray you. Sisters, it is nearly noon. Let us take
shelter until evening!" With a reverence to the friar, the lady rose
and walked towards the house, hand in hand with Alice; the other
'The holy man, who had often urged the same point before, but had
never met with so direct a repulse, walked some little distance
behind, with his eyes bent upon the earth, and his lips moving AS IF
in prayer. As the sisters reached the porch, he quickened his pace,
and called upon them to stop.
'"Stay!" said the monk, raising his right hand in the air, and
directing an angry glance by turns at Alice and the eldest sister.
"Stay, and hear from me what these recollections are, which you
would cherish above eternity, and awaken--if in mercy they
slumbered--by means of idle toys. The memory of earthly things is
charged, in after life, with bitter disappointment, affliction,
death; with dreary change and wasting sorrow. The time will one day
come, when a glance at those unmeaning baubles will tear open deep
wounds in the hearts of some among you, and strike to your inmost
souls. When that hour arrives--and, mark me, come it will--turn
from the world to which you clung, to the refuge which you spurned.
Find me the cell which shall be colder than the fire of mortals
grows, when dimmed by calamity and trial, and there weep for the
dreams of youth. These things are Heaven's will, not mine," said
the friar, subduing his voice as he looked round upon the shrinking
girls. "The Virgin's blessing be upon you, daughters!"
'With these words he disappeared through the postern; and the
sisters hastening into the house were seen no more that day.
'But nature will smile though priests may frown, and next day the
sun shone brightly, and on the next, and the next again. And in the
morning's glare, and the evening's soft repose, the five sisters
still walked, or worked, or beguiled the time by cheerful
conversation, in their quiet orchard.
'Time passed away as a tale that is told; faster indeed than many
tales that are told, of which number I fear this may be one. The
house of the five sisters stood where it did, and the same trees
cast their pleasant shade upon the orchard grass. The sisters too
were there, and lovely as at first, but a change had come over their
dwelling. Sometimes, there was the clash of armour, and the
gleaming of the moon on caps of steel; and, at others, jaded
coursers were spurred up to the gate, and a female form glided
hurriedly forth, as if eager to demand tidings of the weary
messenger. A goodly train of knights and ladies lodged one night
within the abbey walls, and next day rode away, with two of the fair
sisters among them. Then, horsemen began to come less frequently,
and seemed to bring bad tidings when they did, and at length they
ceased to come at all, and footsore peasants slunk to the gate after
sunset, and did their errand there, by stealth. Once, a vassal was
dispatched in haste to the abbey at dead of night, and when morning
came, there were sounds of woe and wailing in the sisters' house;
and after this, a mournful silence fell upon it, and knight or lady,
horse or armour, was seen about it no more.
'There was a sullen darkness in the sky, and the sun had gone
angrily down, tinting the dull clouds with the last traces of his
wrath, when the same black monk walked slowly on, with folded arms,
within a stone's-throw of the abbey. A blight had fallen on the
trees and shrubs; and the wind, at length beginning to break the
unnatural stillness that had prevailed all day, sighed heavily from
time to time, as though foretelling in grief the ravages of the
coming storm. The bat skimmed in fantastic flights through the
heavy air, and the ground was alive with crawling things, whose
instinct brought them forth to swell and fatten in the rain.
'No longer were the friar's eyes directed to the earth; they were
cast abroad, and roamed from point to point, as if the gloom and
desolation of the scene found a quick response in his own bosom.
Again he paused near the sisters' house, and again he entered by the
'But not again did his ear encounter the sound of laughter, or his
eyes rest upon the beautiful figures of the five sisters. All was
silent and deserted. The boughs of the trees were bent and broken,
and the grass had grown long and rank. No light feet had pressed it
for many, many a day.
'With the indifference or abstraction of one well accustomed to the
change, the monk glided into the house, and entered a low, dark
room. Four sisters sat there. Their black garments made their pale
faces whiter still, and time and sorrow had worked deep ravages.
They were stately yet; but the flush and pride of beauty were gone.
'And Alice--where was she? In Heaven.
'The monk--even the monk--could bear with some grief here; for it
was long since these sisters had met, and there were furrows in
their blanched faces which years could never plough. He took his
seat in silence, and motioned them to continue their speech.
'"They are here, sisters," said the elder lady in a trembling voice.
"I have never borne to look upon them since, and now I blame myself
for my weakness. What is there in her memory that we should dread?
To call up our old days shall be a solemn pleasure yet."
'She glanced at the monk as she spoke, and, opening a cabinet,
brought forth the five frames of work, completed long before. Her
step was firm, but her hand trembled as she produced the last one;
and, when the feelings of the other sisters gushed forth at sight of
it, her pent-up tears made way, and she sobbed "God bless her!"
'The monk rose and advanced towards them. "It was almost the last
thing she touched in health," he said in a low voice.
'"It was," cried the elder lady, weeping bitterly.
'The monk turned to the second sister.
'"The gallant youth who looked into thine eyes, and hung upon thy
very breath when first he saw thee intent upon this pastime, lies
buried on a plain whereof the turf is red with blood. Rusty
fragments of armour, once brightly burnished, lie rotting on the
ground, and are as little distinguishable for his, as are the bones
that crumble in the mould!"
'The lady groaned, and wrung her hands.
'"The policy of courts," he continued, turning to the two other
sisters, "drew ye from your peaceful home to scenes of revelry and
splendour. The same policy, and the restless ambition of--proud and
fiery men, have sent ye back, widowed maidens, and humbled outcasts.
Do I speak truly?"
'The sobs of the two sisters were their only reply.
'"There is little need," said the monk, with a meaning look, "to
fritter away the time in gewgaws which shall raise up the pale
ghosts of hopes of early years. Bury them, heap penance and
mortification on their heads, keep them down, and let the convent be
'The sisters asked for three days to deliberate; and felt, that
night, as though the veil were indeed the fitting shroud for their
dead joys. But, morning came again, and though the boughs of the
orchard trees drooped and ran wild upon the ground, it was the same
orchard still. The grass was coarse and high, but there was yet the
spot on which they had so often sat together, when change and sorrow
were but names. There was every walk and nook which Alice had made
glad; and in the minster nave was one flat stone beneath which she
slept in peace.
'And could they, remembering how her young heart had sickened at the
thought of cloistered walls, look upon her grave, in garbs which
would chill the very ashes within it? Could they bow down in
prayer, and when all Heaven turned to hear them, bring the dark
shade of sadness on one angel's face? No.
'They sent abroad, to artists of great celebrity in those times, and
having obtained the church's sanction to their work of piety, caused
to be executed, in five large compartments of richly stained glass,
a faithful copy of their old embroidery work. These were fitted
into a large window until that time bare of ornament; and when the
sun shone brightly, as she had so well loved to see it, the familiar
patterns were reflected in their original colours, and throwing a
stream of brilliant light upon the pavement, fell warmly on the name
'For many hours in every day, the sisters paced slowly up and down
the nave, or knelt by the side of the flat broad stone. Only three
were seen in the customary place, after many years; then but two,
and, for a long time afterwards, but one solitary female bent with
age. At length she came no more, and the stone bore five plain
'That stone has worn away and been replaced by others, and many
generations have come and gone since then. Time has softened down
the colours, but the same stream of light still falls upon the
forgotten tomb, of which no trace remains; and, to this day, the
stranger is shown in York Cathedral, an old window called the Five
'That's a melancholy tale,' said the merry-faced gentleman, emptying
'It is a tale of life, and life is made up of such sorrows,'
returned the other, courteously, but in a grave and sad tone of
'There are shades in all good pictures, but there are lights too, if
we choose to contemplate them,' said the gentleman with the merry
face. 'The youngest sister in your tale was always light-hearted.'
'And died early,' said the other, gently.
'She would have died earlier, perhaps, had she been less happy,'
said the first speaker, with much feeling. 'Do you think the
sisters who loved her so well, would have grieved the less if her
life had been one of gloom and sadness? If anything could soothe
the first sharp pain of a heavy loss, it would be--with me--the
reflection, that those I mourned, by being innocently happy here,
and loving all about them, had prepared themselves for a purer and
happier world. The sun does not shine upon this fair earth to meet
frowning eyes, depend upon it.'
'I believe you are right,' said the gentleman who had told the
'Believe!' retorted the other, 'can anybody doubt it? Take any
subject of sorrowful regret, and see with how much pleasure it is
associated. The recollection of past pleasure may become pain--'
'It does,' interposed the other.
'Well; it does. To remember happiness which cannot be restored, is
pain, but of a softened kind. Our recollections are unfortunately
mingled with much that we deplore, and with many actions which we
bitterly repent; still in the most chequered life I firmly think
there are so many little rays of sunshine to look back upon, that I
do not believe any mortal (unless he had put himself without the
pale of hope) would deliberately drain a goblet of the waters of
Lethe, if he had it in his power.'
'Possibly you are correct in that belief,' said the grey-haired
gentleman after a short reflection. 'I am inclined to think you
'Why, then,' replied the other, 'the good in this state of existence
preponderates over the bad, let miscalled philosophers tell us what
they will. If our affections be tried, our affections are our
consolation and comfort; and memory, however sad, is the best and
purest link between this world and a better. But come! I'll tell
you a story of another kind.'
After a very brief silence, the merry-faced gentleman sent round the
punch, and glancing slyly at the fastidious lady, who seemed
desperately apprehensive that he was going to relate something
THE BARON OF GROGZWIG
'The Baron Von Koeldwethout, of Grogzwig in Germany, was as likely a
young baron as you would wish to see. I needn't say that he lived
in a castle, because that's of course; neither need I say that he
lived in an old castle; for what German baron ever lived in a new
one? There were many strange circumstances connected with this
venerable building, among which, not the least startling and
mysterious were, that when the wind blew, it rumbled in the
chimneys, or even howled among the trees in the neighbouring forest;
and that when the moon shone, she found her way through certain
small loopholes in the wall, and actually made some parts of the
wide halls and galleries quite light, while she left others in
gloomy shadow. I believe that one of the baron's ancestors, being
short of money, had inserted a dagger in a gentleman who called one
night to ask his way, and it WAS supposed that these miraculous
occurrences took place in consequence. And yet I hardly know how
that could have been, either, because the baron's ancestor, who was
an amiable man, felt very sorry afterwards for having been so rash,
and laying violent hands upon a quantity of stone and timber which
belonged to a weaker baron, built a chapel as an apology, and so
took a receipt from Heaven, in full of all demands.
'Talking of the baron's ancestor puts me in mind of the baron's
great claims to respect, on the score of his pedigree. I am afraid
to say, I am sure, how many ancestors the baron had; but I know that
he had a great many more than any other man of his time; and I only
wish that he had lived in these latter days, that he might have had
more. It is a very hard thing upon the great men of past centuries,
that they should have come into the world so soon, because a man who
was born three or four hundred years ago, cannot reasonably be
expected to have had as many relations before him, as a man who is
born now. The last man, whoever he is--and he may be a cobbler or
some low vulgar dog for aught we know--will have a longer pedigree
than the greatest nobleman now alive; and I contend that this is not
'Well, but the Baron Von Koeldwethout of Grogzwig! He was a fine
swarthy fellow, with dark hair and large moustachios, who rode
a-hunting in clothes of Lincoln green, with russet boots on his feet,
and a bugle slung over his shoulder like the guard of a long stage.
When he blew this bugle, four-and-twenty other gentlemen of inferior
rank, in Lincoln green a little coarser, and russet boots with a
little thicker soles, turned out directly: and away galloped the
whole train, with spears in their hands like lacquered area
railings, to hunt down the boars, or perhaps encounter a bear: in
which latter case the baron killed him first, and greased his
whiskers with him afterwards.
'This was a merry life for the Baron of Grogzwig, and a merrier
still for the baron's retainers, who drank Rhine wine every night
till they fell under the table, and then had the bottles on the
floor, and called for pipes. Never were such jolly, roystering,
rollicking, merry-making blades, as the jovial crew of Grogzwig.
'But the pleasures of the table, or the pleasures of under the
table, require a little variety; especially when the same five-and-
twenty people sit daily down to the same board, to discuss the same
subjects, and tell the same stories. The baron grew weary, and
wanted excitement. He took to quarrelling with his gentlemen, and
tried kicking two or three of them every day after dinner. This was
a pleasant change at first; but it became monotonous after a week or
so, and the baron felt quite out of sorts, and cast about, in
despair, for some new amusement.
'One night, after a day's sport in which he had outdone Nimrod or
Gillingwater, and slaughtered "another fine bear," and brought him
home in triumph, the Baron Von Koeldwethout sat moodily at the head
of his table, eyeing the smoky roof of the hall with a discontended
aspect. He swallowed huge bumpers of wine, but the more he
swallowed, the more he frowned. The gentlemen who had been honoured
with the dangerous distinction of sitting on his right and left,
imitated him to a miracle in the drinking, and frowned at each
'"I will!" cried the baron suddenly, smiting the table with his
right hand, and twirling his moustache with his left. "Fill to the
Lady of Grogzwig!"
'The four-and-twenty Lincoln greens turned pale, with the exception
of their four-and-twenty noses, which were unchangeable.
'"I said to the Lady of Grogzwig," repeated the baron, looking round
'"To the Lady of Grogzwig!" shouted the Lincoln greens; and down
their four-and-twenty throats went four-and-twenty imperial pints of
such rare old hock, that they smacked their eight-and-forty lips,
and winked again.
'"The fair daughter of the Baron Von Swillenhausen," said
Koeldwethout, condescending to explain. "We will demand her in
marriage of her father, ere the sun goes down tomorrow. If he
refuse our suit, we will cut off his nose."
'A hoarse murmur arose from the company; every man touched, first
the hilt of his sword, and then the tip of his nose, with appalling
'What a pleasant thing filial piety is to contemplate! If the
daughter of the Baron Von Swillenhausen had pleaded a preoccupied
heart, or fallen at her father's feet and corned them in salt tears,
or only fainted away, and complimented the old gentleman in frantic
ejaculations, the odds are a hundred to one but Swillenhausen Castle
would have been turned out at window, or rather the baron turned out
at window, and the castle demolished. The damsel held her peace,
however, when an early messenger bore the request of Von
Koeldwethout next morning, and modestly retired to her chamber, from
the casement of which she watched the coming of the suitor and his
retinue. She was no sooner assured that the horseman with the large
moustachios was her proffered husband, than she hastened to her
father's presence, and expressed her readiness to sacrifice herself
to secure his peace. The venerable baron caught his child to his
arms, and shed a wink of joy.
'There was great feasting at the castle, that day. The four-and-
twenty Lincoln greens of Von Koeldwethout exchanged vows of eternal
friendship with twelve Lincoln greens of Von Swillenhausen, and
promised the old baron that they would drink his wine "Till all was
blue"--meaning probably until their whole countenances had acquired
the same tint as their noses. Everybody slapped everybody else's
back, when the time for parting came; and the Baron Von Koeldwethout
and his followers rode gaily home.
'For six mortal weeks, the bears and boars had a holiday. The
houses of Koeldwethout and Swillenhausen were united; the spears
rusted; and the baron's bugle grew hoarse for lack of blowing.
'Those were great times for the four-and-twenty; but, alas! their
high and palmy days had taken boots to themselves, and were already
'"My dear," said the baroness.
'"My love," said the baron.
'"Those coarse, noisy men--"
'"Which, ma'am?" said the baron, starting.
'The baroness pointed, from the window at which they stood, to the
courtyard beneath, where the unconscious Lincoln greens were taking
a copious stirrup-cup, preparatory to issuing forth after a boar or
'"My hunting train, ma'am," said the baron.
'"Disband them, love," murmured the baroness.
'"Disband them!" cried the baron, in amazement.
'"To please me, love," replied the baroness.
'"To please the devil, ma'am," answered the baron.
'Whereupon the baroness uttered a great cry, and swooned away at the
'What could the baron do? He called for the lady's maid, and roared
for the doctor; and then, rushing into the yard, kicked the two
Lincoln greens who were the most used to it, and cursing the others
all round, bade them go--but never mind where. I don't know the
German for it, or I would put it delicately that way.
'It is not for me to say by what means, or by what degrees, some
wives manage to keep down some husbands as they do, although I may
have my private opinion on the subject, and may think that no Member
of Parliament ought to be married, inasmuch as three married members
out of every four, must vote according to their wives' consciences
(if there be such things), and not according to their own. All I
need say, just now, is, that the Baroness Von Koeldwethout somehow
or other acquired great control over the Baron Von Koeldwethout, and
that, little by little, and bit by bit, and day by day, and year by
year, the baron got the worst of some disputed question, or was
slyly unhorsed from some old hobby; and that by the time he was a
fat hearty fellow of forty-eight or thereabouts, he had no feasting,
no revelry, no hunting train, and no hunting--nothing in short that
he liked, or used to have; and that, although he was as fierce as a
lion, and as bold as brass, he was decidedly snubbed and put down,
by his own lady, in his own castle of Grogzwig.
'Nor was this the whole extent of the baron's misfortunes. About a
year after his nuptials, there came into the world a lusty young
baron, in whose honour a great many fireworks were let off, and a
great many dozens of wine drunk; but next year there came a young
baroness, and next year another young baron, and so on, every year,
either a baron or baroness (and one year both together), until the
baron found himself the father of a small family of twelve. Upon
every one of these anniversaries, the venerable Baroness Von
Swillenhausen was nervously sensitive for the well-being of her
child the Baroness Von Koeldwethout; and although it was not found
that the good lady ever did anything material towards contributing
to her child's recovery, still she made it a point of duty to be as
nervous as possible at the castle of Grogzwig, and to divide her
time between moral observations on the baron's housekeeping, and
bewailing the hard lot of her unhappy daughter. And if the Baron of
Grogzwig, a little hurt and irritated at this, took heart, and
ventured to suggest that his wife was at least no worse off than the
wives of other barons, the Baroness Von Swillenhausen begged all
persons to take notice, that nobody but she, sympathised with her
dear daughter's sufferings; upon which, her relations and friends
remarked, that to be sure she did cry a great deal more than her
son-in-law, and that if there were a hard-hearted brute alive, it
was that Baron of Grogzwig.
'The poor baron bore it all as long as he could, and when he could
bear it no longer lost his appetite and his spirits, and sat himself
gloomily and dejectedly down. But there were worse troubles yet in
store for him, and as they came on, his melancholy and sadness
increased. Times changed. He got into debt. The Grogzwig coffers
ran low, though the Swillenhausen family had looked upon them as
inexhaustible; and just when the baroness was on the point of making
a thirteenth addition to the family pedigree, Von Koeldwethout
discovered that he had no means of replenishing them.
'"I don't see what is to be done," said the baron. "I think I'll
'This was a bright idea. The baron took an old hunting-knife from a
cupboard hard by, and having sharpened it on his boot, made what
boys call "an offer" at his throat.
'"Hem!" said the baron, stopping short. "Perhaps it's not sharp
'The baron sharpened it again, and made another offer, when his hand
was arrested by a loud screaming among the young barons and
baronesses, who had a nursery in an upstairs tower with iron bars
outside the window, to prevent their tumbling out into the moat.
'"If I had been a bachelor," said the baron sighing, "I might have
done it fifty times over, without being interrupted. Hallo! Put a
flask of wine and the largest pipe in the little vaulted room behind
'One of the domestics, in a very kind manner, executed the baron's
order in the course of half an hour or so, and Von Koeldwethout
being apprised thereof, strode to the vaulted room, the walls of
which, being of dark shining wood, gleamed in the light of the
blazing logs which were piled upon the hearth. The bottle and pipe
were ready, and, upon the whole, the place looked very comfortable.
'"Leave the lamp," said the baron.
'"Anything else, my lord?" inquired the domestic.
'"The room," replied the baron. The domestic obeyed, and the baron
locked the door.
'"I'll smoke a last pipe," said the baron, "and then I'll be off."
So, putting the knife upon the table till he wanted it, and tossing
off a goodly measure of wine, the Lord of Grogzwig threw himself
back in his chair, stretched his legs out before the fire, and
'He thought about a great many things--about his present troubles
and past days of bachelorship, and about the Lincoln greens, long
since dispersed up and down the country, no one knew whither: with
the exception of two who had been unfortunately beheaded, and four
who had killed themselves with drinking. His mind was running upon
bears and boars, when, in the process of draining his glass to the
bottom, he raised his eyes, and saw, for the first time and with
unbounded astonishment, that he was not alone.
'No, he was not; for, on the opposite side of the fire, there sat
with folded arms a wrinkled hideous figure, with deeply sunk and
bloodshot eyes, and an immensely long cadaverous face, shadowed by
jagged and matted locks of coarse black hair. He wore a kind of
tunic of a dull bluish colour, which, the baron observed, on
regarding it attentively, was clasped or ornamented down the front
with coffin handles. His legs, too, were encased in coffin plates
as though in armour; and over his left shoulder he wore a short
dusky cloak, which seemed made of a remnant of some pall. He took
no notice of the baron, but was intently eyeing the fire.
'"Halloa!" said the baron, stamping his foot to attract attention.
'"Halloa!" replied the stranger, moving his eyes towards the baron,
but not his face or himself "What now?"
'"What now!" replied the baron, nothing daunted by his hollow voice
and lustreless eyes. "I should ask that question. How did you get
'"Through the door," replied the figure.
'"What are you?" says the baron.
'"A man," replied the figure.
'"I don't believe it," says the baron.
'"Disbelieve it then," says the figure.
'"I will," rejoined the baron.
'The figure looked at the bold Baron of Grogzwig for some time, and
then said familiarly,
'"There's no coming over you, I see. I'm not a man!"
'"What are you then?" asked the baron.
'"A genius," replied the figure.
'"You don't look much like one," returned the baron scornfully.
'"I am the Genius of Despair and Suicide," said the apparition.
"Now you know me."
'With these words the apparition turned towards the baron, as if
composing himself for a talk--and, what was very remarkable, was,
that he threw his cloak aside, and displaying a stake, which was run
through the centre of his body, pulled it out with a jerk, and laid
it on the table, as composedly as if it had been a walking-stick.
'"Now," said the figure, glancing at the hunting-knife, "are you
ready for me?"
'"Not quite," rejoined the baron; "I must finish this pipe first."
'"Look sharp then," said the figure.
'"You seem in a hurry," said the baron.
'"Why, yes, I am," answered the figure; "they're doing a pretty
brisk business in my way, over in England and France just now, and
my time is a good deal taken up."
'"Do you drink?" said the baron, touching the bottle with the bowl
of his pipe.
'"Nine times out of ten, and then very hard," rejoined the figure,
'"Never in moderation?" asked the baron.
'"Never," replied the figure, with a shudder, "that breeds
'The baron took another look at his new friend, whom he thought an
uncommonly queer customer, and at length inquired whether he took
any active part in such little proceedings as that which he had in
'"No," replied the figure evasively; "but I am always present."
'"Just to see fair, I suppose?" said the baron.
'"Just that," replied the figure, playing with his stake, and
examining the ferule. "Be as quick as you can, will you, for
there's a young gentleman who is afflicted with too much money and
leisure wanting me now, I find."
'"Going to kill himself because he has too much money!" exclaimed
the baron, quite tickled. "Ha! ha! that's a good one." (This was
the first time the baron had laughed for many a long day.)
'"I say," expostulated the figure, looking very much scared; "don't
do that again."
'"Why not?" demanded the baron.
'"Because it gives me pain all over," replied the figure. "Sigh as
much as you please: that does me good."
'The baron sighed mechanically at the mention of the word; the
figure, brightening up again, handed him the hunting-knife with most
'"It's not a bad idea though," said the baron, feeling the edge of
the weapon; "a man killing himself because he has too much money."
'"Pooh!" said the apparition, petulantly, "no better than a man's
killing himself because he has none or little."
'Whether the genius unintentionally committed himself in saying
this, or whether he thought the baron's mind was so thoroughly made
up that it didn't matter what he said, I have no means of knowing.
I only know that the baron stopped his hand, all of a sudden, opened
his eyes wide, and looked as if quite a new light had come upon him
for the first time.
'"Why, certainly," said Von Koeldwethout, "nothing is too bad to be
'"Except empty coffers," cried the genius.
'"Well; but they may be one day filled again," said the baron.
'"Scolding wives," snarled the genius.
'"Oh! They may be made quiet," said the baron.
'"Thirteen children," shouted the genius.
'"Can't all go wrong, surely," said the baron.
'The genius was evidently growing very savage with the baron, for
holding these opinions all at once; but he tried to laugh it off,
and said if he would let him know when he had left off joking he
should feel obliged to him.
'"But I am not joking; I was never farther from it," remonstrated
'"Well, I am glad to hear that," said the genius, looking very grim,
"because a joke, without any figure of speech, IS the death of me.
Come! Quit this dreary world at once."
'"I don't know," said the baron, playing with the knife; "it's a
dreary one certainly, but I don't think yours is much better, for
you have not the appearance of being particularly comfortable. That
puts me in mind--what security have I, that I shall be any the
better for going out of the world after all!" he cried, starting up;
"I never thought of that."
'"Dispatch," cried the figure, gnashing his teeth.
'"Keep off!" said the baron. 'I'll brood over miseries no longer,
but put a good face on the matter, and try the fresh air and the
bears again; and if that don't do, I'll talk to the baroness
soundly, and cut the Von Swillenhausens dead.' With this the baron
fell into his chair, and laughed so loud and boisterously, that the
room rang with it.
'The figure fell back a pace or two, regarding the baron meanwhile
with a look of intense terror, and when he had ceased, caught up the
stake, plunged it violently into its body, uttered a frightful howl,
'Von Koeldwethout never saw it again. Having once made up his mind
to action, he soon brought the baroness and the Von Swillenhausens
to reason, and died many years afterwards: not a rich man that I am
aware of, but certainly a happy one: leaving behind him a numerous
family, who had been carefully educated in bear and boar-hunting
under his own personal eye. And my advice to all men is, that if
ever they become hipped and melancholy from similar causes (as very
many men do), they look at both sides of the question, applying a
magnifying-glass to the best one; and if they still feel tempted to
retire without leave, that they smoke a large pipe and drink a full
bottle first, and profit by the laudable example of the Baron of
'The fresh coach is ready, ladies and gentlemen, if you please,'
said a new driver, looking in.
This intelligence caused the punch to be finished in a great hurry,
and prevented any discussion relative to the last story. Mr Squeers
was observed to draw the grey-headed gentleman on one side, and to
ask a question with great apparent interest; it bore reference to
the Five Sisters of York, and was, in fact, an inquiry whether he
could inform him how much per annum the Yorkshire convents got in
those days with their boarders.
The journey was then resumed. Nicholas fell asleep towards morning,
and, when he awoke, found, with great regret, that, during his nap,
both the Baron of Grogzwig and the grey-haired gentleman had got
down and were gone. The day dragged on uncomfortably enough. At
about six o'clock that night, he and Mr Squeers, and the little
boys, and their united luggage, were all put down together at the
George and New Inn, Greta Bridge.
Mr and Mrs Squeers at Home
Mr Squeers, being safely landed, left Nicholas and the boys standing
with the luggage in the road, to amuse themselves by looking at the
coach as it changed horses, while he ran into the tavern and went
through the leg-stretching process at the bar. After some minutes,
he returned, with his legs thoroughly stretched, if the hue of his
nose and a short hiccup afforded any criterion; and at the same time
there came out of the yard a rusty pony-chaise, and a cart, driven
by two labouring men.
'Put the boys and the boxes into the cart,' said Squeers, rubbing
his hands; 'and this young man and me will go on in the chaise. Get
Nicholas obeyed. Mr. Squeers with some difficulty inducing the
pony to obey also, they started off, leaving the cart-load of infant
misery to follow at leisure.
'Are you cold, Nickleby?' inquired Squeers, after they had travelled
some distance in silence.
'Rather, sir, I must say.'
'Well, I don't find fault with that,' said Squeers; 'it's a long
journey this weather.'
'Is it much farther to Dotheboys Hall, sir?' asked Nicholas.
'About three mile from here,' replied Squeers. 'But you needn't
call it a Hall down here.'
Nicholas coughed, as if he would like to know why.
'The fact is, it ain't a Hall,' observed Squeers drily.
'Oh, indeed!' said Nicholas, whom this piece of intelligence much
'No,' replied Squeers. 'We call it a Hall up in London, because it
sounds better, but they don't know it by that name in these parts.
A man may call his house an island if he likes; there's no act of
Parliament against that, I believe?'
'I believe not, sir,' rejoined Nicholas.
Squeers eyed his companion slyly, at the conclusion of this little
dialogue, and finding that he had grown thoughtful and appeared in
nowise disposed to volunteer any observations, contented himself
with lashing the pony until they reached their journey's end.
'Jump out,' said Squeers. 'Hallo there! Come and put this horse
up. Be quick, will you!'
While the schoolmaster was uttering these and other impatient cries,
Nicholas had time to observe that the school was a long, cold-
looking house, one storey high, with a few straggling out-buildings
behind, and a barn and stable adjoining. After the lapse of a
minute or two, the noise of somebody unlocking the yard-gate was
heard, and presently a tall lean boy, with a lantern in his hand,
'Is that you, Smike?' cried Squeers.
'Yes, sir,' replied the boy.
'Then why the devil didn't you come before?'
'Please, sir, I fell asleep over the fire,' answered Smike, with
'Fire! what fire? Where's there a fire?' demanded the schoolmaster,
'Only in the kitchen, sir,' replied the boy. 'Missus said as I was
sitting up, I might go in there for a warm.'
'Your missus is a fool,' retorted Squeers. 'You'd have been a
deuced deal more wakeful in the cold, I'll engage.'
By this time Mr Squeers had dismounted; and after ordering the boy
to see to the pony, and to take care that he hadn't any more corn
that night, he told Nicholas to wait at the front-door a minute
while he went round and let him in.
A host of unpleasant misgivings, which had been crowding upon
Nicholas during the whole journey, thronged into his mind with
redoubled force when he was left alone. His great distance from
home and the impossibility of reaching it, except on foot, should he
feel ever so anxious to return, presented itself to him in most
alarming colours; and as he looked up at the dreary house and dark
windows, and upon the wild country round, covered with snow, he felt
a depression of heart and spirit which he had never experienced
'Now then!' cried Squeers, poking his head out at the front-door.
'Where are you, Nickleby?'
'Here, sir,' replied Nicholas.
'Come in, then,' said Squeers 'the wind blows in, at this door, fit
to knock a man off his legs.'
Nicholas sighed, and hurried in. Mr Squeers, having bolted the door
to keep it shut, ushered him into a small parlour scantily furnished
with a few chairs, a yellow map hung against the wall, and a couple
of tables; one of which bore some preparations for supper; while, on
the other, a tutor's assistant, a Murray's grammar, half-a-dozen
cards of terms, and a worn letter directed to Wackford Squeers,
Esquire, were arranged in picturesque confusion.
They had not been in this apartment a couple of minutes, when a
female bounced into the room, and, seizing Mr Squeers by the throat,
gave him two loud kisses: one close after the other, like a
postman's knock. The lady, who was of a large raw-boned figure, was
about half a head taller than Mr Squeers, and was dressed in a
dimity night-jacket; with her hair in papers; she had also a dirty
nightcap on, relieved by a yellow cotton handkerchief which tied it
under the chin.
'How is my Squeery?' said this lady in a playful manner, and a very
'Quite well, my love,' replied Squeers. 'How's the cows?'
'All right, every one of'em,' answered the lady.
'And the pigs?' said Squeers.
'As well as they were when you went away.'
'Come; that's a blessing,' said Squeers, pulling off his great-coat.
'The boys are all as they were, I suppose?'
'Oh, yes, they're well enough,' replied Mrs Squeers, snappishly.
'That young Pitcher's had a fever.'
'No!' exclaimed Squeers. 'Damn that boy, he's always at something
of that sort.'
'Never was such a boy, I do believe,' said Mrs Squeers; 'whatever he
has is always catching too. I say it's obstinacy, and nothing shall
ever convince me that it isn't. I'd beat it out of him; and I told
you that, six months ago.'
'So you did, my love,' rejoined Squeers. 'We'll try what can be
Pending these little endearments, Nicholas had stood, awkwardly
enough, in the middle of the room: not very well knowing whether he
was expected to retire into the passage, or to remain where he was.
He was now relieved from his perplexity by Mr Squeers.
'This is the new young man, my dear,' said that gentleman.
'Oh,' replied Mrs Squeers, nodding her head at Nicholas, and eyeing
him coldly from top to toe.
'He'll take a meal with us tonight,' said Squeers, 'and go among the
boys tomorrow morning. You can give him a shake-down here, tonight,
'We must manage it somehow,' replied the lady. 'You don't much mind
how you sleep, I suppose, sir?'
No, indeed,' replied Nicholas, 'I am not particular.'
'That's lucky,' said Mrs Squeers. And as the lady's humour was
considered to lie chiefly in retort, Mr Squeers laughed heartily,
and seemed to expect that Nicholas should do the same.
After some further conversation between the master and mistress
relative to the success of Mr Squeers's trip and the people who had
paid, and the people who had made default in payment, a young
servant girl brought in a Yorkshire pie and some cold beef, which
being set upon the table, the boy Smike appeared with a jug of ale.
Mr Squeers was emptying his great-coat pockets of letters to
different boys, and other small documents, which he had brought down
in them. The boy glanced, with an anxious and timid expression, at
the papers, as if with a sickly hope that one among them might
relate to him. The look was a very painful one, and went to
Nicholas's heart at once; for it told a long and very sad history.
It induced him to consider the boy more attentively, and he was
surprised to observe the extraordinary mixture of garments which
formed his dress. Although he could not have been less than
eighteen or nineteen years old, and was tall for that age, he wore a
skeleton suit, such as is usually put upon very little boys, and
which, though most absurdly short in the arms and legs, was quite
wide enough for his attenuated frame. In order that the lower part
of his legs might be in perfect keeping with this singular dress, he
had a very large pair of boots, originally made for tops, which
might have been once worn by some stout farmer, but were now too
patched and tattered for a beggar. Heaven knows how long he had
been there, but he still wore the same linen which he had first
taken down; for, round his neck, was a tattered child's frill, only
half concealed by a coarse, man's neckerchief. He was lame; and as
he feigned to be busy in arranging the table, glanced at the letters
with a look so keen, and yet so dispirited and hopeless, that
Nicholas could hardly bear to watch him.
'What are you bothering about there, Smike?' cried Mrs Squeers; 'let
the things alone, can't you?'
'Eh!' said Squeers, looking up. 'Oh! it's you, is it?'
'Yes, sir,' replied the youth, pressing his hands together, as
though to control, by force, the nervous wandering of his fingers.
'Well!' said Squeers.
'Have you--did anybody--has nothing been heard--about me?'
'Devil a bit,' replied Squeers testily.
The lad withdrew his eyes, and, putting his hand to his face, moved
towards the door.
'Not a word,' resumed Squeers, 'and never will be. Now, this is a
pretty sort of thing, isn't it, that you should have been left here,
all these years, and no money paid after the first six--nor no
notice taken, nor no clue to be got who you belong to? It's a
pretty sort of thing that I should have to feed a great fellow like
you, and never hope to get one penny for it, isn't it?'
The boy put his hand to his head as if he were making an effort to
recollect something, and then, looking vacantly at his questioner,
gradually broke into a smile, and limped away.
'I'll tell you what, Squeers,' remarked his wife as the door closed,
'I think that young chap's turning silly.'
'I hope not,' said the schoolmaster; 'for he's a handy fellow out of
doors, and worth his meat and drink, anyway. I should think he'd
have wit enough for us though, if he was. But come; let's have
supper, for I am hungry and tired, and want to get to bed.'
This reminder brought in an exclusive steak for Mr Squeers, who
speedily proceeded to do it ample justice. Nicholas drew up his
chair, but his appetite was effectually taken away.
'How's the steak, Squeers?' said Mrs S.
'Tender as a lamb,' replied Squeers. 'Have a bit.'
'I couldn't eat a morsel,' replied his wife. 'What'll the young man
take, my dear?'
'Whatever he likes that's present,' rejoined Squeers, in a most
unusual burst of generosity.
'What do you say, Mr Knuckleboy?' inquired Mrs Squeers.