Part 3 out of 20
'I'll take a little of the pie, if you please,' replied Nicholas.
'A very little, for I'm not hungry.'
Well, it's a pity to cut the pie if you're not hungry, isn't it?'
said Mrs Squeers. 'Will you try a bit of the beef?'
'Whatever you please,' replied Nicholas abstractedly; 'it's all the
same to me.'
Mrs Squeers looked vastly gracious on receiving this reply; and
nodding to Squeers, as much as to say that she was glad to find the
young man knew his station, assisted Nicholas to a slice of meat
with her own fair hands.
'Ale, Squeery?' inquired the lady, winking and frowning to give him
to understand that the question propounded, was, whether Nicholas
should have ale, and not whether he (Squeers) would take any.
'Certainly,' said Squeers, re-telegraphing in the same manner. 'A
So Nicholas had a glassful, and being occupied with his own
reflections, drank it, in happy innocence of all the foregone
'Uncommon juicy steak that,' said Squeers, as he laid down his knife
and fork, after plying it, in silence, for some time.
'It's prime meat,' rejoined his lady. 'I bought a good large piece
of it myself on purpose for--'
'For what!' exclaimed Squeers hastily. 'Not for the--'
'No, no; not for them,' rejoined Mrs Squeers; 'on purpose for you
against you came home. Lor! you didn't think I could have made such
a mistake as that.'
'Upon my word, my dear, I didn't know what you were going to say,'
said Squeers, who had turned pale.
'You needn't make yourself uncomfortable,' remarked his wife,
laughing heartily. 'To think that I should be such a noddy! Well!'
This part of the conversation was rather unintelligible; but popular
rumour in the neighbourhood asserted that Mr Squeers, being amiably
opposed to cruelty to animals, not unfrequently purchased for by
consumption the bodies of horned cattle who had died a natural
death; possibly he was apprehensive of having unintentionally
devoured some choice morsel intended for the young gentlemen.
Supper being over, and removed by a small servant girl with a hungry
eye, Mrs Squeers retired to lock it up, and also to take into safe
custody the clothes of the five boys who had just arrived, and who
were half-way up the troublesome flight of steps which leads to
death's door, in consequence of exposure to the cold. They were
then regaled with a light supper of porridge, and stowed away, side
by side, in a small bedstead, to warm each other, and dream of a
substantial meal with something hot after it, if their fancies set
that way: which it is not at all improbable they did.
Mr Squeers treated himself to a stiff tumbler of brandy and water,
made on the liberal half-and-half principle, allowing for the
dissolution of the sugar; and his amiable helpmate mixed Nicholas
the ghost of a small glassful of the same compound. This done, Mr
and Mrs Squeers drew close up to the fire, and sitting with their
feet on the fender, talked confidentially in whispers; while
Nicholas, taking up the tutor's assistant, read the interesting
legends in the miscellaneous questions, and all the figures into the
bargain, with as much thought or consciousness of what he was doing,
as if he had been in a magnetic slumber.
At length, Mr Squeers yawned fearfully, and opined that it was high
time to go to bed; upon which signal, Mrs Squeers and the girl
dragged in a small straw mattress and a couple of blankets, and
arranged them into a couch for Nicholas.
'We'll put you into your regular bedroom tomorrow, Nickelby,' said
Squeers. 'Let me see! Who sleeps in Brooks's's bed, my dear?'
'In Brooks's,' said Mrs Squeers, pondering. 'There's Jennings,
little Bolder, Graymarsh, and what's his name.'
'So there is,' rejoined Squeers. 'Yes! Brooks is full.'
'Full!' thought Nicholas. 'I should think he was.'
'There's a place somewhere, I know,' said Squeers; 'but I can't at
this moment call to mind where it is. However, we'll have that all
settled tomorrow. Good-night, Nickleby. Seven o'clock in the
'I shall be ready, sir,' replied Nicholas. 'Good-night.'
'I'll come in myself and show you where the well is,' said Squeers.
'You'll always find a little bit of soap in the kitchen window; that
belongs to you.'
Nicholas opened his eyes, but not his mouth; and Squeers was again
going away, when he once more turned back.
'I don't know, I am sure,' he said, 'whose towel to put you on; but
if you'll make shift with something tomorrow morning, Mrs Squeers
will arrange that, in the course of the day. My dear, don't
'I'll take care,' replied Mrs Squeers; 'and mind YOU take care,
young man, and get first wash. The teacher ought always to have it;
but they get the better of him if they can.'
Mr Squeers then nudged Mrs Squeers to bring away the brandy bottle,
lest Nicholas should help himself in the night; and the lady having
seized it with great precipitation, they retired together.
Nicholas, being left alone, took half-a-dozen turns up and down the
room in a condition of much agitation and excitement; but, growing
gradually calmer, sat himself down in a chair, and mentally
resolved that, come what come might, he would endeavour, for a time,
to bear whatever wretchedness might be in store for him, and that
remembering the helplessness of his mother and sister, he would give
his uncle no plea for deserting them in their need. Good
resolutions seldom fail of producing some good effect in the mind
from which they spring. He grew less desponding, and--so sanguine
and buoyant is youth--even hoped that affairs at Dotheboys Hall
might yet prove better than they promised.
He was preparing for bed, with something like renewed cheerfulness,
when a sealed letter fell from his coat pocket. In the hurry of
leaving London, it had escaped his attention, and had not occurred
to him since, but it at once brought back to him the recollection of
the mysterious behaviour of Newman Noggs.
'Dear me!' said Nicholas; 'what an extraordinary hand!'
It was directed to himself, was written upon very dirty paper, and
in such cramped and crippled writing as to be almost illegible.
After great difficulty and much puzzling, he contrived to read as
My dear young Man.
I know the world. Your father did not, or he would not have done
me a kindness when there was no hope of return. You do not, or you
would not be bound on such a journey.
If ever you want a shelter in London (don't be angry at this, I once
thought I never should), they know where I live, at the sign of the
Crown, in Silver Street, Golden Square. It is at the corner of
Silver Street and James Street, with a bar door both ways. You can
come at night. Once, nobody was ashamed--never mind that. It's all
Excuse errors. I should forget how to wear a whole coat now. I
have forgotten all my old ways. My spelling may have gone with
P.S. If you should go near Barnard Castle, there is good ale at the
King's Head. Say you know me, and I am sure they will not charge
you for it. You may say Mr Noggs there, for I was a gentleman then.
I was indeed.
It may be a very undignified circumstances to record, but after he
had folded this letter and placed it in his pocket-book, Nicholas
Nickleby's eyes were dimmed with a moisture that might have been
taken for tears.
Of the Internal Economy of Dotheboys Hall
A ride of two hundred and odd miles in severe weather, is one of the
best softeners of a hard bed that ingenuity can devise. Perhaps it
is even a sweetener of dreams, for those which hovered over the
rough couch of Nicholas, and whispered their airy nothings in his
ear, were of an agreeable and happy kind. He was making his fortune
very fast indeed, when the faint glimmer of an expiring candle shone
before his eyes, and a voice he had no difficulty in recognising as
part and parcel of Mr Squeers, admonished him that it was time to
'Past seven, Nickleby,' said Mr Squeers.
'Has morning come already?' asked Nicholas, sitting up in bed.
'Ah! that has it,' replied Squeers, 'and ready iced too. Now,
Nickleby, come; tumble up, will you?'
Nicholas needed no further admonition, but 'tumbled up' at once, and
proceeded to dress himself by the light of the taper, which Mr
Squeers carried in his hand.
'Here's a pretty go,' said that gentleman; 'the pump's froze.'
'Indeed!' said Nicholas, not much interested in the intelligence.
'Yes,' replied Squeers. 'You can't wash yourself this morning.'
'Not wash myself!' exclaimed Nicholas.
'No, not a bit of it,' rejoined Squeers tartly. 'So you must be
content with giving yourself a dry polish till we break the ice in
the well, and can get a bucketful out for the boys. Don't stand
staring at me, but do look sharp, will you?'
Offering no further observation, Nicholas huddled on his clothes.
Squeers, meanwhile, opened the shutters and blew the candle out;
when the voice of his amiable consort was heard in the passage,
'Come in, my love,' said Squeers.
Mrs Squeers came in, still habited in the primitive night-jacket
which had displayed the symmetry of her figure on the previous
night, and further ornamented with a beaver bonnet of some
antiquity, which she wore, with much ease and lightness, on the top
of the nightcap before mentioned.
'Drat the things,' said the lady, opening the cupboard; 'I can't
find the school spoon anywhere.'
'Never mind it, my dear,' observed Squeers in a soothing manner;
'it's of no consequence.'
'No consequence, why how you talk!' retorted Mrs Squeers sharply;
'isn't it brimstone morning?'
'I forgot, my dear,' rejoined Squeers; 'yes, it certainly is. We
purify the boys' bloods now and then, Nickleby.'
'Purify fiddlesticks' ends,' said his lady. 'Don't think, young
man, that we go to the expense of flower of brimstone and molasses,
just to purify them; because if you think we carry on the business
in that way, you'll find yourself mistaken, and so I tell you
'My dear,' said Squeers frowning. 'Hem!'
'Oh! nonsense,' rejoined Mrs Squeers. 'If the young man comes to be
a teacher here, let him understand, at once, that we don't want any
foolery about the boys. They have the brimstone and treacle, partly
because if they hadn't something or other in the way of medicine
they'd be always ailing and giving a world of trouble, and partly
because it spoils their appetites and comes cheaper than breakfast
and dinner. So, it does them good and us good at the same time, and
that's fair enough I'm sure.'
Having given this explanation, Mrs Squeers put her head into the
closet and instituted a stricter search after the spoon, in which Mr
Squeers assisted. A few words passed between them while they were
thus engaged, but as their voices were partially stifled by the
cupboard, all that Nicholas could distinguish was, that Mr Squeers
said what Mrs Squeers had said, was injudicious, and that Mrs
Squeers said what Mr Squeers said, was 'stuff.'
A vast deal of searching and rummaging ensued, and it proving
fruitless, Smike was called in, and pushed by Mrs Squeers, and boxed
by Mr Squeers; which course of treatment brightening his intellects,
enabled him to suggest that possibly Mrs Squeers might have the
spoon in her pocket, as indeed turned out to be the case. As Mrs
Squeers had previously protested, however, that she was quite
certain she had not got it, Smike received another box on the ear
for presuming to contradict his mistress, together with a promise of
a sound thrashing if he were not more respectful in future; so that
he took nothing very advantageous by his motion.
'A most invaluable woman, that, Nickleby,' said Squeers when his
consort had hurried away, pushing the drudge before her.
'Indeed, sir!' observed Nicholas.
'I don't know her equal,' said Squeers; 'I do not know her equal.
That woman, Nickleby, is always the same--always the same bustling,
lively, active, saving creetur that you see her now.'
Nicholas sighed involuntarily at the thought of the agreeable
domestic prospect thus opened to him; but Squeers was, fortunately,
too much occupied with his own reflections to perceive it.
'It's my way to say, when I am up in London,' continued Squeers,
'that to them boys she is a mother. But she is more than a mother
to them; ten times more. She does things for them boys, Nickleby,
that I don't believe half the mothers going, would do for their own
'I should think they would not, sir,' answered Nicholas.
Now, the fact was, that both Mr and Mrs Squeers viewed the boys in
the light of their proper and natural enemies; or, in other words,
they held and considered that their business and profession was to
get as much from every boy as could by possibility be screwed out of
him. On this point they were both agreed, and behaved in unison
accordingly. The only difference between them was, that Mrs Squeers
waged war against the enemy openly and fearlessly, and that Squeers
covered his rascality, even at home, with a spice of his habitual
deceit; as if he really had a notion of someday or other being able
to take himself in, and persuade his own mind that he was a very
'But come,' said Squeers, interrupting the progress of some thoughts
to this effect in the mind of his usher, 'let's go to the
schoolroom; and lend me a hand with my school-coat, will you?'
Nicholas assisted his master to put on an old fustian shooting-
jacket, which he took down from a peg in the passage; and Squeers,
arming himself with his cane, led the way across a yard, to a door
in the rear of the house.
'There,' said the schoolmaster as they stepped in together; 'this is
our shop, Nickleby!'
It was such a crowded scene, and there were so many objects to
attract attention, that, at first, Nicholas stared about him, really
without seeing anything at all. By degrees, however, the place
resolved itself into a bare and dirty room, with a couple of
windows, whereof a tenth part might be of glass, the remainder being
stopped up with old copy-books and paper. There were a couple of
long old rickety desks, cut and notched, and inked, and damaged, in
every possible way; two or three forms; a detached desk for Squeers;
and another for his assistant. The ceiling was supported, like that
of a barn, by cross-beams and rafters; and the walls were so stained
and discoloured, that it was impossible to tell whether they had
ever been touched with paint or whitewash.
But the pupils--the young noblemen! How the last faint traces of
hope, the remotest glimmering of any good to be derived from his
efforts in this den, faded from the mind of Nicholas as he looked in
dismay around! Pale and haggard faces, lank and bony figures,
children with the countenances of old men, deformities with irons
upon their limbs, boys of stunted growth, and others whose long
meagre legs would hardly bear their stooping bodies, all crowded on
the view together; there were the bleared eye, the hare-lip, the
crooked foot, and every ugliness or distortion that told of
unnatural aversion conceived by parents for their offspring, or of
young lives which, from the earliest dawn of infancy, had been one
horrible endurance of cruelty and neglect. There were little faces
which should have been handsome, darkened with the scowl of sullen,
dogged suffering; there was childhood with the light of its eye
quenched, its beauty gone, and its helplessness alone remaining;
there were vicious-faced boys, brooding, with leaden eyes, like
malefactors in a jail; and there were young creatures on whom the
sins of their frail parents had descended, weeping even for the
mercenary nurses they had known, and lonesome even in their
loneliness. With every kindly sympathy and affection blasted in its
birth, with every young and healthy feeling flogged and starved
down, with every revengeful passion that can fester in swollen
hearts, eating its evil way to their core in silence, what an
incipient Hell was breeding here!
And yet this scene, painful as it was, had its grotesque features,
which, in a less interested observer than Nicholas, might have
provoked a smile. Mrs Squeers stood at one of the desks, presiding
over an immense basin of brimstone and treacle, of which delicious
compound she administered a large instalment to each boy in
succession: using for the purpose a common wooden spoon, which might
have been originally manufactured for some gigantic top, and which
widened every young gentleman's mouth considerably: they being all
obliged, under heavy corporal penalties, to take in the whole of the
bowl at a gasp. In another corner, huddled together for
companionship, were the little boys who had arrived on the preceding
night, three of them in very large leather breeches, and two in old
trousers, a something tighter fit than drawers are usually worn; at
no great distance from these was seated the juvenile son and heir of
Mr Squeers--a striking likeness of his father--kicking, with great
vigour, under the hands of Smike, who was fitting upon him a pair of
new boots that bore a most suspicious resemblance to those which the
least of the little boys had worn on the journey down--as the little
boy himself seemed to think, for he was regarding the appropriation
with a look of most rueful amazement. Besides these, there was a
long row of boys waiting, with countenances of no pleasant
anticipation, to be treacled; and another file, who had just escaped
from the infliction, making a variety of wry mouths indicative of
anything but satisfaction. The whole were attired in such motley,
ill-assorted, extraordinary garments, as would have been
irresistibly ridiculous, but for the foul appearance of dirt,
disorder, and disease, with which they were associated.
'Now,' said Squeers, giving the desk a great rap with his cane,
which made half the little boys nearly jump out of their boots, 'is
that physicking over?'
'Just over,' said Mrs Squeers, choking the last boy in her hurry,
and tapping the crown of his head with the wooden spoon to restore
him. 'Here, you Smike; take away now. Look sharp!'
Smike shuffled out with the basin, and Mrs Squeers having called up
a little boy with a curly head, and wiped her hands upon it, hurried
out after him into a species of wash-house, where there was a small
fire and a large kettle, together with a number of little wooden
bowls which were arranged upon a board.
Into these bowls, Mrs Squeers, assisted by the hungry servant,
poured a brown composition, which looked like diluted pincushions
without the covers, and was called porridge. A minute wedge of
brown bread was inserted in each bowl, and when they had eaten their
porridge by means of the bread, the boys ate the bread itself, and
had finished their breakfast; whereupon Mr Squeers said, in a solemn
voice, 'For what we have received, may the Lord make us truly
thankful!'--and went away to his own.
Nicholas distended his stomach with a bowl of porridge, for much the
same reason which induces some savages to swallow earth--lest they
should be inconveniently hungry when there is nothing to eat.
Having further disposed of a slice of bread and butter, allotted to
him in virtue of his office, he sat himself down, to wait for
He could not but observe how silent and sad the boys all seemed to
be. There was none of the noise and clamour of a schoolroom; none
of its boisterous play, or hearty mirth. The children sat crouching
and shivering together, and seemed to lack the spirit to move about.
The only pupil who evinced the slightest tendency towards locomotion
or playfulness was Master Squeers, and as his chief amusement was to
tread upon the other boys' toes in his new boots, his flow of
spirits was rather disagreeable than otherwise.
After some half-hour's delay, Mr Squeers reappeared, and the boys
took their places and their books, of which latter commodity the
average might be about one to eight learners. A few minutes having
elapsed, during which Mr Squeers looked very profound, as if he had
a perfect apprehension of what was inside all the books, and could
say every word of their contents by heart if he only chose to take
the trouble, that gentleman called up the first class.
Obedient to this summons there ranged themselves in front of the
schoolmaster's desk, half-a-dozen scarecrows, out at knees and
elbows, one of whom placed a torn and filthy book beneath his
'This is the first class in English spelling and philosophy,
Nickleby,' said Squeers, beckoning Nicholas to stand beside him.
'We'll get up a Latin one, and hand that over to you. Now, then,
where's the first boy?'
'Please, sir, he's cleaning the back-parlour window,' said the
temporary head of the philosophical class.
'So he is, to be sure,' rejoined Squeers. 'We go upon the practical
mode of teaching, Nickleby; the regular education system. C-l-e-a-
n, clean, verb active, to make bright, to scour. W-i-n, win, d-e-r,
der, winder, a casement. When the boy knows this out of book, he
goes and does it. It's just the same principle as the use of the
globes. Where's the second boy?'
'Please, sir, he's weeding the garden,' replied a small voice.
'To be sure,' said Squeers, by no means disconcerted. 'So he is.
B-o-t, bot, t-i-n, tin, bottin, n-e-y, ney, bottinney, noun
substantive, a knowledge of plants. When he has learned that
bottinney means a knowledge of plants, he goes and knows 'em.
That's our system, Nickleby: what do you think of it?'
'It's very useful one, at any rate,' answered Nicholas.
'I believe you,' rejoined Squeers, not remarking the emphasis of his
usher. 'Third boy, what's horse?'
'A beast, sir,' replied the boy.
'So it is,' said Squeers. 'Ain't it, Nickleby?'
'I believe there is no doubt of that, sir,' answered Nicholas.
'Of course there isn't,' said Squeers. 'A horse is a quadruped, and
quadruped's Latin for beast, as everybody that's gone through the
grammar knows, or else where's the use of having grammars at all?'
'Where, indeed!' said Nicholas abstractedly.
'As you're perfect in that,' resumed Squeers, turning to the boy,
'go and look after MY horse, and rub him down well, or I'll rub you
down. The rest of the class go and draw water up, till somebody
tells you to leave off, for it's washing-day tomorrow, and they want
the coppers filled.'
So saying, he dismissed the first class to their experiments in
practical philosophy, and eyed Nicholas with a look, half cunning
and half doubtful, as if he were not altogether certain what he
might think of him by this time.
'That's the way we do it, Nickleby,' he said, after a pause.
Nicholas shrugged his shoulders in a manner that was scarcely
perceptible, and said he saw it was.
'And a very good way it is, too,' said Squeers. 'Now, just take
them fourteen little boys and hear them some reading, because, you
know, you must begin to be useful. Idling about here won't do.'
Mr Squeers said this, as if it had suddenly occurred to him, either
that he must not say too much to his assistant, or that his
assistant did not say enough to him in praise of the establishment.
The children were arranged in a semicircle round the new master, and
he was soon listening to their dull, drawling, hesitating recital of
those stories of engrossing interest which are to be found in the
more antiquated spelling-books.
In this exciting occupation, the morning lagged heavily on. At one
o'clock, the boys, having previously had their appetites thoroughly
taken away by stir-about and potatoes, sat down in the kitchen to
some hard salt beef, of which Nicholas was graciously permitted to
take his portion to his own solitary desk, to eat it there in peace.
After this, there was another hour of crouching in the schoolroom
and shivering with cold, and then school began again.
It was Mr Squeer's custom to call the boys together, and make a sort
of report, after every half-yearly visit to the metropolis,
regarding the relations and friends he had seen, the news he had
heard, the letters he had brought down, the bills which had been
paid, the accounts which had been left unpaid, and so forth. This
solemn proceeding always took place in the afternoon of the day
succeeding his return; perhaps, because the boys acquired strength
of mind from the suspense of the morning, or, possibly, because Mr
Squeers himself acquired greater sternness and inflexibility from
certain warm potations in which he was wont to indulge after his
early dinner. Be this as it may, the boys were recalled from house-
window, garden, stable, and cow-yard, and the school were assembled
in full conclave, when Mr Squeers, with a small bundle of papers in
his hand, and Mrs S. following with a pair of canes, entered the
room and proclaimed silence.
'Let any boy speak a word without leave,' said Mr Squeers mildly,
'and I'll take the skin off his back.'
This special proclamation had the desired effect, and a deathlike
silence immediately prevailed, in the midst of which Mr Squeers went
on to say:
'Boys, I've been to London, and have returned to my family and you,
as strong and well as ever.'
According to half-yearly custom, the boys gave three feeble cheers
at this refreshing intelligence. Such cheers! Sights of extra
strength with the chill on.
'I have seen the parents of some boys,' continued Squeers, turning
over his papers, 'and they're so glad to hear how their sons are
getting on, that there's no prospect at all of their going away,
which of course is a very pleasant thing to reflect upon, for all
Two or three hands went to two or three eyes when Squeers said this,
but the greater part of the young gentlemen having no particular
parents to speak of, were wholly uninterested in the thing one way
'I have had diappointments to contend against,' said Squeers,
looking very grim; 'Bolder's father was two pound ten short. Where
'Here he is, please sir,' rejoined twenty officious voices. Boys
are very like men to be sure.
'Come here, Bolder,' said Squeers.
An unhealthy-looking boy, with warts all over his hands, stepped
from his place to the master's desk, and raised his eyes imploringly
to Squeers's face; his own, quite white from the rapid beating of
'Bolder,' said Squeers, speaking very slowly, for he was
considering, as the saying goes, where to have him. 'Bolder, if you
father thinks that because--why, what's this, sir?'
As Squeers spoke, he caught up the boy's hand by the cuff of his
jacket, and surveyed it with an edifying aspect of horror and
'What do you call this, sir?' demanded the schoolmaster,
administering a cut with the cane to expedite the reply.
'I can't help it, indeed, sir,' rejoined the boy, crying. 'They
will come; it's the dirty work I think, sir--at least I don't know
what it is, sir, but it's not my fault.'
'Bolder,' said Squeers, tucking up his wristbands, and moistening
the palm of his right hand to get a good grip of the cane, 'you're
an incorrigible young scoundrel, and as the last thrashing did you
no good, we must see what another will do towards beating it out of
With this, and wholly disregarding a piteous cry for mercy, Mr
Squeers fell upon the boy and caned him soundly: not leaving off,
indeed, until his arm was tired out.
'There,' said Squeers, when he had quite done; 'rub away as hard as
you like, you won't rub that off in a hurry. Oh! you won't hold
that noise, won't you? Put him out, Smike.'
The drudge knew better from long experience, than to hesitate about
obeying, so he bundled the victim out by a side-door, and Mr Squeers
perched himself again on his own stool, supported by Mrs Squeers,
who occupied another at his side.
'Now let us see,' said Squeers. 'A letter for Cobbey. Stand up,
Another boy stood up, and eyed the letter very hard while Squeers
made a mental abstract of the same.
'Oh!' said Squeers: 'Cobbey's grandmother is dead, and his uncle
John has took to drinking, which is all the news his sister sends,
except eighteenpence, which will just pay for that broken square of
glass. Mrs Squeers, my dear, will you take the money?'
The worthy lady pocketed the eighteenpence with a most business-like
air, and Squeers passed on to the next boy, as coolly as possible.
'Graymarsh,' said Squeers, 'he's the next. Stand up, Graymarsh.'
Another boy stood up, and the schoolmaster looked over the letter as
'Graymarsh's maternal aunt,' said Squeers, when he had possessed
himself of the contents, 'is very glad to hear he's so well and
happy, and sends her respectful compliments to Mrs Squeers, and
thinks she must be an angel. She likewise thinks Mr Squeers is too
good for this world; but hopes he may long be spared to carry on the
business. Would have sent the two pair of stockings as desired, but
is short of money, so forwards a tract instead, and hopes Graymarsh
will put his trust in Providence. Hopes, above all, that he will
study in everything to please Mr and Mrs Squeers, and look upon them
as his only friends; and that he will love Master Squeers; and not
object to sleeping five in a bed, which no Christian should. Ah!'
said Squeers, folding it up, 'a delightful letter. Very affecting
It was affecting in one sense, for Graymarsh's maternal aunt was
strongly supposed, by her more intimate friends, to be no other than
his maternal parent; Squeers, however, without alluding to this part
of the story (which would have sounded immoral before boys),
proceeded with the business by calling out 'Mobbs,' whereupon
another boy rose, and Graymarsh resumed his seat.
'Mobbs's step-mother,' said Squeers, 'took to her bed on hearing
that he wouldn't eat fat, and has been very ill ever since. She
wishes to know, by an early post, where he expects to go to, if he
quarrels with his vittles; and with what feelings he could turn up
his nose at the cow's-liver broth, after his good master had asked a
blessing on it. This was told her in the London newspapers--not by
Mr Squeers, for he is too kind and too good to set anybody against
anybody--and it has vexed her so much, Mobbs can't think. She is
sorry to find he is discontented, which is sinful and horrid, and
hopes Mr Squeers will flog him into a happier state of mind; with
which view, she has also stopped his halfpenny a week pocket-money,
and given a double-bladed knife with a corkscrew in it to the
Missionaries, which she had bought on purpose for him.'
'A sulky state of feeling,' said Squeers, after a terrible pause,
during which he had moistened the palm of his right hand again,
'won't do. Cheerfulness and contentment must be kept up. Mobbs,
come to me!'
Mobbs moved slowly towards the desk, rubbing his eyes in
anticipation of good cause for doing so; and he soon afterwards
retired by the side-door, with as good cause as a boy need have.
Mr Squeers then proceeded to open a miscellaneous collection of
letters; some enclosing money, which Mrs Squeers 'took care of;' and
others referring to small articles of apparel, as caps and so forth,
all of which the same lady stated to be too large, or too small, and
calculated for nobody but young Squeers, who would appear indeed to
have had most accommodating limbs, since everything that came into
the school fitted him to a nicety. His head, in particular, must
have been singularly elastic, for hats and caps of all dimensions
were alike to him.
This business dispatched, a few slovenly lessons were performed, and
Squeers retired to his fireside, leaving Nicholas to take care of
the boys in the school-room, which was very cold, and where a meal of
bread and cheese was served out shortly after dark.
There was a small stove at that corner of the room which was nearest
to the master's desk, and by it Nicholas sat down, so depressed and
self-degraded by the consciousness of his position, that if death
could have come upon him at that time, he would have been almost
happy to meet it. The cruelty of which he had been an unwilling
witness, the coarse and ruffianly behaviour of Squeers even in his
best moods, the filthy place, the sights and sounds about him, all
contributed to this state of feeling; but when he recollected that,
being there as an assistant, he actually seemed--no matter what
unhappy train of circumstances had brought him to that pass--to be
the aider and abettor of a system which filled him with honest
disgust and indignation, he loathed himself, and felt, for the
moment, as though the mere consciousness of his present situation
must, through all time to come, prevent his raising his head again.
But, for the present, his resolve was taken, and the resolution he
had formed on the preceding night remained undisturbed. He had
written to his mother and sister, announcing the safe conclusion of
his journey, and saying as little about Dotheboys Hall, and saying
that little as cheerfully, as he possibly could. He hoped that by
remaining where he was, he might do some good, even there; at all
events, others depended too much on his uncle's favour, to admit of
his awakening his wrath just then.
One reflection disturbed him far more than any selfish
considerations arising out of his own position. This was the
probable destination of his sister Kate. His uncle had deceived
him, and might he not consign her to some miserable place where her
youth and beauty would prove a far greater curse than ugliness and
decrepitude? To a caged man, bound hand and foot, this was a
terrible idea--but no, he thought, his mother was by; there was the
portrait-painter, too--simple enough, but still living in the world,
and of it. He was willing to believe that Ralph Nickleby had
conceived a personal dislike to himself. Having pretty good reason,
by this time, to reciprocate it, he had no great difficulty in
arriving at this conclusion, and tried to persuade himself that the
feeling extended no farther than between them.
As he was absorbed in these meditations, he all at once encountered
the upturned face of Smike, who was on his knees before the stove,
picking a few stray cinders from the hearth and planting them on the
fire. He had paused to steal a look at Nicholas, and when he saw
that he was observed, shrunk back, as if expecting a blow.
'You need not fear me,' said Nicholas kindly. 'Are you cold?'
'You are shivering.'
'I am not cold,' replied Smike quickly. 'I am used to it.'
There was such an obvious fear of giving offence in his manner, and
he was such a timid, broken-spirited creature, that Nicholas could
not help exclaiming, 'Poor fellow!'
If he had struck the drudge, he would have slunk away without a
word. But, now, he burst into tears.
'Oh dear, oh dear!' he cried, covering his face with his cracked and
horny hands. 'My heart will break. It will, it will.'
'Hush!' said Nicholas, laying his hand upon his shoulder. 'Be a
man; you are nearly one by years, God help you.'
'By years!' cried Smike. 'Oh dear, dear, how many of them! How
many of them since I was a little child, younger than any that are
here now! Where are they all!'
'Whom do you speak of?' inquired Nicholas, wishing to rouse the poor
half-witted creature to reason. 'Tell me.'
'My friends,' he replied, 'myself--my--oh! what sufferings mine have
'There is always hope,' said Nicholas; he knew not what to say.
'No,' rejoined the other, 'no; none for me. Do you remember the boy
that died here?'
'I was not here, you know,' said Nicholas gently; 'but what of him?'
'Why,' replied the youth, drawing closer to his questioner's side,
'I was with him at night, and when it was all silent he cried no
more for friends he wished to come and sit with him, but began to
see faces round his bed that came from home; he said they smiled,
and talked to him; and he died at last lifting his head to kiss
them. Do you hear?'
'Yes, yes,' rejoined Nicholas.
'What faces will smile on me when I die!' cried his companion,
shivering. 'Who will talk to me in those long nights! They cannot
come from home; they would frighten me, if they did, for I don't
know what it is, and shouldn't know them. Pain and fear, pain and
fear for me, alive or dead. No hope, no hope!'
The bell rang to bed: and the boy, subsiding at the sound into his
usual listless state, crept away as if anxious to avoid notice. It
was with a heavy heart that Nicholas soon afterwards--no, not
retired; there was no retirement there--followed--to his dirty and
Of Miss Squeers, Mrs Squeers, Master Squeers, and Mr Squeers; and of
various Matters and Persons connected no less with the Squeerses
than Nicholas Nickleby
When Mr Squeers left the schoolroom for the night, he betook
himself, as has been before remarked, to his own fireside, which was
situated--not in the room in which Nicholas had supped on the night
of his arrival, but in a smaller apartment in the rear of the
premises, where his lady wife, his amiable son, and accomplished
daughter, were in the full enjoyment of each other's society; Mrs
Squeers being engaged in the matronly pursuit of stocking-darning;
and the young lady and gentleman being occupied in the adjustment of
some youthful differences, by means of a pugilistic contest across
the table, which, on the approach of their honoured parent, subsided
into a noiseless exchange of kicks beneath it.
And, in this place, it may be as well to apprise the reader, that
Miss Fanny Squeers was in her three-and-twentieth year. If there be
any one grace or loveliness inseparable from that particular period
of life, Miss Squeers may be presumed to have been possessed of it,
as there is no reason to suppose that she was a solitary exception
to an universal rule. She was not tall like her mother, but short
like her father; from the former she inherited a voice of harsh
quality; from the latter a remarkable expression of the right eye,
something akin to having none at all.
Miss Squeers had been spending a few days with a neighbouring
friend, and had only just returned to the parental roof. To this
circumstance may be referred, her having heard nothing of Nicholas,
until Mr Squeers himself now made him the subject of conversation.
'Well, my dear,' said Squeers, drawing up his chair, 'what do you
think of him by this time?'
'Think of who?' inquired Mrs Squeers; who (as she often remarked)
was no grammarian, thank Heaven.
'Of the young man--the new teacher--who else could I mean?'
'Oh! that Knuckleboy,' said Mrs Squeers impatiently. 'I hate him.'
'What do you hate him for, my dear?' asked Squeers.
'What's that to you?' retorted Mrs Squeers. 'If I hate him, that's
enough, ain't it?'
'Quite enough for him, my dear, and a great deal too much I dare
say, if he knew it,' replied Squeers in a pacific tone. 'I only ask
from curiosity, my dear.'
'Well, then, if you want to know,' rejoined Mrs Squeers, 'I'll tell
you. Because he's a proud, haughty, consequential, turned-up-nosed
Mrs Squeers, when excited, was accustomed to use strong language,
and, moreover, to make use of a plurality of epithets, some of which
were of a figurative kind, as the word peacock, and furthermore the
allusion to Nicholas's nose, which was not intended to be taken in
its literal sense, but rather to bear a latitude of construction
according to the fancy of the hearers.
Neither were they meant to bear reference to each other, so much as
to the object on whom they were bestowed, as will be seen in the
present case: a peacock with a turned-up nose being a novelty in
ornithology, and a thing not commonly seen.
'Hem!' said Squeers, as if in mild deprecation of this outbreak.
'He is cheap, my dear; the young man is very cheap.'
'Not a bit of it,' retorted Mrs Squeers.
'Five pound a year,' said Squeers.
'What of that; it's dear if you don't want him, isn't it?' replied
'But we DO want him,' urged Squeers.
'I don't see that you want him any more than the dead,' said Mrs
Squeers. 'Don't tell me. You can put on the cards and in the
advertisements, "Education by Mr Wackford Squeers and able
assistants," without having any assistants, can't you? Isn't it
done every day by all the masters about? I've no patience with
'Haven't you!' said Squeers, sternly. 'Now I'll tell you what, Mrs
Squeers. In this matter of having a teacher, I'll take my own way,
if you please. A slave driver in the West Indies is allowed a man
under him, to see that his blacks don't run away, or get up a
rebellion; and I'll have a man under me to do the same with OUR
blacks, till such time as little Wackford is able to take charge of
'Am I to take care of the school when I grow up a man, father?' said
Wackford junior, suspending, in the excess of his delight, a vicious
kick which he was administering to his sister.
'You are, my son,' replied Mr Squeers, in a sentimental voice.
'Oh my eye, won't I give it to the boys!' exclaimed the interesting
child, grasping his father's cane. 'Oh, father, won't I make 'em
It was a proud moment in Mr Squeers's life, when he witnessed that
burst of enthusiasm in his young child's mind, and saw in it a
foreshadowing of his future eminence. He pressed a penny into his
hand, and gave vent to his feelings (as did his exemplary wife
also), in a shout of approving laughter. The infantine appeal to
their common sympathies, at once restored cheerfulness to the
conversation, and harmony to the company.
'He's a nasty stuck-up monkey, that's what I consider him,' said Mrs
Squeers, reverting to Nicholas.
'Supposing he is,' said Squeers, 'he is as well stuck up in our
schoolroom as anywhere else, isn't he?--especially as he don't like
'Well,' observed Mrs Squeers, 'there's something in that. I hope
it'll bring his pride down, and it shall be no fault of mine if it
Now, a proud usher in a Yorkshire school was such a very
extraordinary and unaccountable thing to hear of,--any usher at all
being a novelty; but a proud one, a being of whose existence the
wildest imagination could never have dreamed--that Miss Squeers, who
seldom troubled herself with scholastic matters, inquired with much
curiosity who this Knuckleboy was, that gave himself such airs.
'Nickleby,' said Squeers, spelling the name according to some
eccentric system which prevailed in his own mind; 'your mother
always calls things and people by their wrong names.'
'No matter for that,' said Mrs Squeers; 'I see them with right eyes,
and that's quite enough for me. I watched him when you were laying
on to little Bolder this afternoon. He looked as black as thunder,
all the while, and, one time, started up as if he had more than got
it in his mind to make a rush at you. I saw him, though he thought
'Never mind that, father,' said Miss Squeers, as the head of the
family was about to reply. 'Who is the man?'
'Why, your father has got some nonsense in his head that he's the
son of a poor gentleman that died the other day,' said Mrs Squeers.
'The son of a gentleman!'
'Yes; but I don't believe a word of it. If he's a gentleman's son
at all, he's a fondling, that's my opinion.'
'Mrs Squeers intended to say 'foundling,' but, as she frequently
remarked when she made any such mistake, it would be all the same a
hundred years hence; with which axiom of philosophy, indeed, she was
in the constant habit of consoling the boys when they laboured under
more than ordinary ill-usage.
'He's nothing of the kind,' said Squeers, in answer to the above
remark, 'for his father was married to his mother years before he
was born, and she is alive now. If he was, it would be no business
of ours, for we make a very good friend by having him here; and if
he likes to learn the boys anything besides minding them, I have no
objection I am sure.'
'I say again, I hate him worse than poison,' said Mrs Squeers
'If you dislike him, my dear,' returned Squeers, 'I don't know
anybody who can show dislike better than you, and of course there's
no occasion, with him, to take the trouble to hide it.'
'I don't intend to, I assure you,' interposed Mrs S.
'That's right,' said Squeers; 'and if he has a touch of pride about
him, as I think he has, I don't believe there's woman in all England
that can bring anybody's spirit down, as quick as you can, my love.'
Mrs Squeers chuckled vastly on the receipt of these flattering
compliments, and said, she hoped she had tamed a high spirit or two
in her day. It is but due to her character to say, that in
conjunction with her estimable husband, she had broken many and many
Miss Fanny Squeers carefully treasured up this, and much more
conversation on the same subject, until she retired for the night,
when she questioned the hungry servant, minutely, regarding the
outward appearance and demeanour of Nicholas; to which queries the
girl returned such enthusiastic replies, coupled with so many
laudatory remarks touching his beautiful dark eyes, and his sweet
smile, and his straight legs--upon which last-named articles she
laid particular stress; the general run of legs at Dotheboys Hall
being crooked--that Miss Squeers was not long in arriving at the
conclusion that the new usher must be a very remarkable person, or,
as she herself significantly phrased it, 'something quite out of the
common.' And so Miss Squeers made up her mind that she would take a
personal observation of Nicholas the very next day.
In pursuance of this design, the young lady watched the opportunity
of her mother being engaged, and her father absent, and went
accidentally into the schoolroom to get a pen mended: where, seeing
nobody but Nicholas presiding over the boys, she blushed very
deeply, and exhibited great confusion.
'I beg your pardon,' faltered Miss Squeers; 'I thought my father
was--or might be--dear me, how very awkward!'
'Mr Squeers is out,' said Nicholas, by no means overcome by the
apparition, unexpected though it was.
'Do you know will he be long, sir?' asked Miss Squeers, with bashful
'He said about an hour,' replied Nicholas--politely of course, but
without any indication of being stricken to the heart by Miss
'I never knew anything happen so cross,' exclaimed the young lady.
'Thank you! I am very sorry I intruded, I am sure. If I hadn't
thought my father was here, I wouldn't upon any account have--it is
very provoking--must look so very strange,' murmured Miss Squeers,
blushing once more, and glancing, from the pen in her hand, to
Nicholas at his desk, and back again.
'If that is all you want,' said Nicholas, pointing to the pen, and
smiling, in spite of himself, at the affected embarrassment of the
schoolmaster's daughter, 'perhaps I can supply his place.'
Miss Squeers glanced at the door, as if dubious of the propriety of
advancing any nearer to an utter stranger; then round the
schoolroom, as though in some measure reassured by the presence of
forty boys; and finally sidled up to Nicholas and delivered the pen
into his hand, with a most winning mixture of reserve and
'Shall it be a hard or a soft nib?' inquired Nicholas, smiling to
prevent himself from laughing outright.
'He HAS a beautiful smile,' thought Miss Squeers.
'Which did you say?' asked Nicholas.
'Dear me, I was thinking of something else for the moment, I
declare,' replied Miss Squeers. 'Oh! as soft as possible, if you
please.' With which words, Miss Squeers sighed. It might be, to
give Nicholas to understand that her heart was soft, and that the
pen was wanted to match.
Upon these instructions Nicholas made the pen; when he gave it to
Miss Squeers, Miss Squeers dropped it; and when he stooped to pick
it up, Miss Squeers stopped also, and they knocked their heads
together; whereat five-and-twenty little boys laughed aloud: being
positively for the first and only time that half-year.
'Very awkward of me,' said Nicholas, opening the door for the young
'Not at all, sir,' replied Miss Squeers; 'it was my fault. It was
all my foolish--a--a--good-morning!'
'Goodbye,' said Nicholas. 'The next I make for you, I hope will be
made less clumsily. Take care! You are biting the nib off now.'
'Really,' said Miss Squeers; 'so embarrassing that I scarcely know
what I--very sorry to give you so much trouble.'
'Not the least trouble in the world,' replied Nicholas, closing the
'I never saw such legs in the whole course of my life!' said Miss
Squeers, as she walked away.
In fact, Miss Squeers was in love with Nicholas Nickleby.
To account for the rapidity with which this young lady had conceived
a passion for Nicholas, it may be necessary to state, that the
friend from whom she had so recently returned, was a miller's
daughter of only eighteen, who had contracted herself unto the son
of a small corn-factor, resident in the nearest market town. Miss
Squeers and the miller's daughter, being fast friends, had
covenanted together some two years before, according to a custom
prevalent among young ladies, that whoever was first engaged to be
married, should straightway confide the mighty secret to the bosom
of the other, before communicating it to any living soul, and
bespeak her as bridesmaid without loss of time; in fulfilment of
which pledge the miller's daughter, when her engagement was formed,
came out express, at eleven o'clock at night as the corn-factor's son
made an offer of his hand and heart at twenty-five minutes past ten
by the Dutch clock in the kitchen, and rushed into Miss Squeers's
bedroom with the gratifying intelligence. Now, Miss Squeers being
five years older, and out of her teens (which is also a great
matter), had, since, been more than commonly anxious to return the
compliment, and possess her friend with a similar secret; but,
either in consequence of finding it hard to please herself, or
harder still to please anybody else, had never had an opportunity so
to do, inasmuch as she had no such secret to disclose. The little
interview with Nicholas had no sooner passed, as above described,
however, than Miss Squeers, putting on her bonnet, made her way,
with great precipitation, to her friend's house, and, upon a solemn
renewal of divers old vows of secrecy, revealed how that she was--
not exactly engaged, but going to be--to a gentleman's son--(none of
your corn-factors, but a gentleman's son of high descent)--who had
come down as teacher to Dotheboys Hall, under most mysterious and
remarkable circumstances--indeed, as Miss Squeers more than once
hinted she had good reason to believe, induced, by the fame of her
many charms, to seek her out, and woo and win her.
'Isn't it an extraordinary thing?' said Miss Squeers, emphasising
the adjective strongly.
'Most extraordinary,' replied the friend. 'But what has he said to
'Don't ask me what he said, my dear,' rejoined Miss Squeers. 'If
you had only seen his looks and smiles! I never was so overcome in
all my life.'
'Did he look in this way?' inquired the miller's daughter,
counterfeiting, as nearly as she could, a favourite leer of the
'Very like that--only more genteel,' replied Miss Squeers.
'Ah!' said the friend, 'then he means something, depend on it.'
Miss Squeers, having slight misgivings on the subject, was by no
means ill pleased to be confirmed by a competent authority; and
discovering, on further conversation and comparison of notes, a
great many points of resemblance between the behaviour of Nicholas,
and that of the corn-factor, grew so exceedingly confidential, that
she intrusted her friend with a vast number of things Nicholas had
NOT said, which were all so very complimentary as to be quite
conclusive. Then, she dilated on the fearful hardship of having a
father and mother strenuously opposed to her intended husband; on
which unhappy circumstance she dwelt at great length; for the
friend's father and mother were quite agreeable to her being
married, and the whole courtship was in consequence as flat and
common-place an affair as it was possible to imagine.
'How I should like to see him!' exclaimed the friend.
'So you shall, 'Tilda,' replied Miss Squeers. 'I should consider
myself one of the most ungrateful creatures alive, if I denied you.
I think mother's going away for two days to fetch some boys; and
when she does, I'll ask you and John up to tea, and have him to meet
This was a charming idea, and having fully discussed it, the friends
It so fell out, that Mrs Squeers's journey, to some distance, to
fetch three new boys, and dun the relations of two old ones for the
balance of a small account, was fixed that very afternoon, for the
next day but one; and on the next day but one, Mrs Squeers got up
outside the coach, as it stopped to change at Greta Bridge, taking
with her a small bundle containing something in a bottle, and some
sandwiches, and carrying besides a large white top-coat to wear in
the night-time; with which baggage she went her way.
Whenever such opportunities as these occurred, it was Squeers's
custom to drive over to the market town, every evening, on pretence
of urgent business, and stop till ten or eleven o'clock at a tavern
he much affected. As the party was not in his way, therefore, but
rather afforded a means of compromise with Miss Squeers, he readily
yielded his full assent thereunto, and willingly communicated to
Nicholas that he was expected to take his tea in the parlour that
evening, at five o'clock.
To be sure Miss Squeers was in a desperate flutter as the time
approached, and to be sure she was dressed out to the best
advantage: with her hair--it had more than a tinge of red, and she
wore it in a crop--curled in five distinct rows, up to the very top
of her head, and arranged dexterously over the doubtful eye; to say
nothing of the blue sash which floated down her back, or the worked
apron or the long gloves, or the green gauze scarf worn over one
shoulder and under the other; or any of the numerous devices which
were to be as so many arrows to the heart of Nicholas. She had
scarcely completed these arrangements to her entire satisfaction,
when the friend arrived with a whity-brown parcel--flat and three-
cornered--containing sundry small adornments which were to be put on
upstairs, and which the friend put on, talking incessantly. When
Miss Squeers had 'done' the friend's hair, the friend 'did' Miss
Squeers's hair, throwing in some striking improvements in the way of
ringlets down the neck; and then, when they were both touched up to
their entire satisfaction, they went downstairs in full state with
the long gloves on, all ready for company.
'Where's John, 'Tilda?' said Miss Squeers.
'Only gone home to clean himself,' replied the friend. 'He will be
here by the time the tea's drawn.'
'I do so palpitate,' observed Miss Squeers.
'Ah! I know what it is,' replied the friend.
'I have not been used to it, you know, 'Tilda,' said Miss Squeers,
applying her hand to the left side of her sash.
'You'll soon get the better of it, dear,' rejoined the friend.
While they were talking thus, the hungry servant brought in the tea-
things, and, soon afterwards, somebody tapped at the room door.
'There he is!' cried Miss Squeers. 'Oh 'Tilda!'
'Hush!' said 'Tilda. 'Hem! Say, come in.'
'Come in,' cried Miss Squeers faintly. And in walked Nicholas.
'Good-evening,' said that young gentleman, all unconscious of his
conquest. 'I understood from Mr Squeers that--'
'Oh yes; it's all right,' interposed Miss Squeers. 'Father don't
tea with us, but you won't mind that, I dare say.' (This was said
Nicholas opened his eyes at this, but he turned the matter off very
coolly--not caring, particularly, about anything just then--and went
through the ceremony of introduction to the miller's daughter with
so much grace, that that young lady was lost in admiration.
'We are only waiting for one more gentleman,' said Miss Squeers,
taking off the teapot lid, and looking in, to see how the tea was
It was matter of equal moment to Nicholas whether they were waiting
for one gentleman or twenty, so he received the intelligence with
perfect unconcern; and, being out of spirits, and not seeing any
especial reason why he should make himself agreeable, looked out of
the window and sighed involuntarily.
As luck would have it, Miss Squeers's friend was of a playful turn,
and hearing Nicholas sigh, she took it into her head to rally the
lovers on their lowness of spirits.
'But if it's caused by my being here,' said the young lady, 'don't
mind me a bit, for I'm quite as bad. You may go on just as you would
if you were alone.'
''Tilda,' said Miss Squeers, colouring up to the top row of curls,
'I am ashamed of you;' and here the two friends burst into a variety
of giggles, and glanced from time to time, over the tops of their
pocket-handkerchiefs, at Nicholas, who from a state of unmixed
astonishment, gradually fell into one of irrepressible laughter--
occasioned, partly by the bare notion of his being in love with Miss
Squeers, and partly by the preposterous appearance and behaviour of
the two girls. These two causes of merriment, taken together,
struck him as being so keenly ridiculous, that, despite his
miserable condition, he laughed till he was thoroughly exhausted.
'Well,' thought Nicholas, 'as I am here, and seem expected, for some
reason or other, to be amiable, it's of no use looking like a goose.
I may as well accommodate myself to the company.'
We blush to tell it; but his youthful spirits and vivacity getting,
for the time, the better of his sad thoughts, he no sooner formed
this resolution than he saluted Miss Squeers and the friend with
great gallantry, and drawing a chair to the tea-table, began to make
himself more at home than in all probability an usher has ever done
in his employer's house since ushers were first invented.
The ladies were in the full delight of this altered behaviour on the
part of Mr Nickleby, when the expected swain arrived, with his hair
very damp from recent washing, and a clean shirt, whereof the collar
might have belonged to some giant ancestor, forming, together with
a white waistcoat of similar dimensions, the chief ornament of his
'Well, John,' said Miss Matilda Price (which, by-the-bye, was the
name of the miller's daughter).
'Weel,' said John with a grin that even the collar could not
'I beg your pardon,' interposed Miss Squeers, hastening to do the
honours. 'Mr Nickleby--Mr John Browdie.'
'Servant, sir,' said John, who was something over six feet high,
with a face and body rather above the due proportion than below it.
'Yours to command, sir,' replied Nicholas, making fearful ravages on
the bread and butter.
Mr Browdie was not a gentleman of great conversational powers, so he
grinned twice more, and having now bestowed his customary mark of
recognition on every person in company, grinned at nothing in
particular, and helped himself to food.
'Old wooman awa', bean't she?' said Mr Browdie, with his mouth full.
Miss Squeers nodded assent.
Mr Browdie gave a grin of special width, as if he thought that
really was something to laugh at, and went to work at the bread and
butter with increased vigour. It was quite a sight to behold how he
and Nicholas emptied the plate between them.
'Ye wean't get bread and butther ev'ry neight, I expect, mun,' said
Mr Browdie, after he had sat staring at Nicholas a long time over
the empty plate.
Nicholas bit his lip, and coloured, but affected not to hear the
'Ecod,' said Mr Browdie, laughing boisterously, 'they dean't put too
much intiv'em. Ye'll be nowt but skeen and boans if you stop here
long eneaf. Ho! ho! ho!'
'You are facetious, sir,' said Nicholas, scornfully.
'Na; I dean't know,' replied Mr Browdie, 'but t'oother teacher, 'cod
he wur a learn 'un, he wur.' The recollection of the last teacher's
leanness seemed to afford Mr Browdie the most exquisite delight, for
he laughed until he found it necessary to apply his coat-cuffs to
'I don't know whether your perceptions are quite keen enough, Mr
Browdie, to enable you to understand that your remarks are
offensive,' said Nicholas in a towering passion, 'but if they are,
have the goodness to--'
'If you say another word, John,' shrieked Miss Price, stopping her
admirer's mouth as he was about to interrupt, 'only half a word,
I'll never forgive you, or speak to you again.'
'Weel, my lass, I dean't care aboot 'un,' said the corn-factor,
bestowing a hearty kiss on Miss Matilda; 'let 'un gang on, let 'un
It now became Miss Squeers's turn to intercede with Nicholas, which
she did with many symptoms of alarm and horror; the effect of the
double intercession was, that he and John Browdie shook hands across
the table with much gravity; and such was the imposing nature of the
ceremonial, that Miss Squeers was overcome and shed tears.
'What's the matter, Fanny?' said Miss Price.
'Nothing, 'Tilda,' replied Miss Squeers, sobbing.
'There never was any danger,' said Miss Price, 'was there, Mr
'None at all,' replied Nicholas. 'Absurd.'
'That's right,' whispered Miss Price, 'say something kind to her,
and she'll soon come round. Here! Shall John and I go into the
little kitchen, and come back presently?'
'Not on any account,' rejoined Nicholas, quite alarmed at the
proposition. 'What on earth should you do that for?'
'Well,' said Miss Price, beckoning him aside, and speaking with some
degree of contempt--'you ARE a one to keep company.'
'What do you mean?' said Nicholas; 'I am not a one to keep company
at all--here at all events. I can't make this out.'
'No, nor I neither," rejoined Miss Price; 'but men are always
fickle, and always were, and always will be; that I can make out,
'Fickle!' cried Nicholas; 'what do you suppose? You don't mean to
say that you think--'
'Oh no, I think nothing at all,' retorted Miss Price, pettishly.
'Look at her, dressed so beautiful and looking so well--really
ALMOST handsome. I am ashamed at you.'
'My dear girl, what have I got to do with her dressing beautifully
or looking well?' inquired Nicholas.
'Come, don't call me a dear girl,' said Miss Price--smiling a little
though, for she was pretty, and a coquette too in her small way, and
Nicholas was good-looking, and she supposed him the property of
somebody else, which were all reasons why she should be gratified to
think she had made an impression on him,--'or Fanny will be saying
it's my fault. Come; we're going to have a game at cards.'
Pronouncing these last words aloud, she tripped away and rejoined
the big Yorkshireman.
This was wholly unintelligible to Nicholas, who had no other
distinct impression on his mind at the moment, than that Miss
Squeers was an ordinary-looking girl, and her friend Miss Price a
pretty one; but he had not time to enlighten himself by reflection,
for the hearth being by this time swept up, and the candle snuffed,
they sat down to play speculation.
'There are only four of us, 'Tilda,' said Miss Squeers, looking
slyly at Nicholas; 'so we had better go partners, two against two.'
'What do you say, Mr Nickleby?' inquired Miss Price.
'With all the pleasure in life,' replied Nicholas. And so saying,
quite unconscious of his heinous offence, he amalgamated into one
common heap those portions of a Dotheboys Hall card of terms, which
represented his own counters, and those allotted to Miss Price,
'Mr Browdie,' said Miss Squeers hysterically, 'shall we make a bank
The Yorkshireman assented--apparently quite overwhelmed by the new
usher's impudence--and Miss Squeers darted a spiteful look at her
friend, and giggled convulsively.
The deal fell to Nicholas, and the hand prospered.
'We intend to win everything,' said he.
''Tilda HAS won something she didn't expect, I think, haven't you,
dear?' said Miss Squeers, maliciously.
'Only a dozen and eight, love,' replied Miss Price, affecting to
take the question in a literal sense.
'How dull you are tonight!' sneered Miss Squeers.
'No, indeed,' replied Miss Price, 'I am in excellent spirits. I was
thinking YOU seemed out of sorts.'
'Me!' cried Miss Squeers, biting her lips, and trembling with very
jealousy. 'Oh no!'
'That's well,' remarked Miss Price. 'Your hair's coming out of
'Never mind me,' tittered Miss Squeers; 'you had better attend to
'Thank you for reminding her,' said Nicholas. 'So she had.'
The Yorkshireman flattened his nose, once or twice, with his
clenched fist, as if to keep his hand in, till he had an opportunity
of exercising it upon the features of some other gentleman; and Miss
Squeers tossed her head with such indignation, that the gust of wind
raised by the multitudinous curls in motion, nearly blew the candle
'I never had such luck, really,' exclaimed coquettish Miss Price,
after another hand or two. 'It's all along of you, Mr Nickleby, I
think. I should like to have you for a partner always.'
'I wish you had.'
'You'll have a bad wife, though, if you always win at cards,' said
'Not if your wish is gratified,' replied Nicholas. 'I am sure I
shall have a good one in that case.'
To see how Miss Squeers tossed her head, and the corn-factor
flattened his nose, while this conversation was carrying on! It
would have been worth a small annuity to have beheld that; let alone
Miss Price's evident joy at making them jealous, and Nicholas
Nickleby's happy unconsciousness of making anybody uncomfortable.
'We have all the talking to ourselves, it seems,' said Nicholas,
looking good-humouredly round the table as he took up the cards for
a fresh deal.
'You do it so well,' tittered Miss Squeers, 'that it would be a pity
to interrupt, wouldn't it, Mr Browdie? He! he! he!'
'Nay,' said Nicholas, 'we do it in default of having anybody else to
'We'll talk to you, you know, if you'll say anything,' said Miss
'Thank you, 'Tilda, dear,' retorted Miss Squeers, majestically.
'Or you can talk to each other, if you don't choose to talk to us,'
said Miss Price, rallying her dear friend. 'John, why don't you say
'Say summat?' repeated the Yorkshireman.
'Ay, and not sit there so silent and glum.'
'Weel, then!' said the Yorkshireman, striking the table heavily with
his fist, 'what I say's this--Dang my boans and boddy, if I stan'
this ony longer. Do ye gang whoam wi' me, and do yon loight an'
toight young whipster look sharp out for a brokken head, next time
he cums under my hond.'
'Mercy on us, what's all this?' cried Miss Price, in affected
'Cum whoam, tell 'e, cum whoam,' replied the Yorkshireman, sternly.
And as he delivered the reply, Miss Squeers burst into a shower of
tears; arising in part from desperate vexation, and in part from an
impotent desire to lacerate somebody's countenance with her fair
This state of things had been brought about by divers means and
workings. Miss Squeers had brought it about, by aspiring to the
high state and condition of being matrimonially engaged, without
good grounds for so doing; Miss Price had brought it about, by
indulging in three motives of action: first, a desire to punish her
friend for laying claim to a rivalship in dignity, having no good
title: secondly, the gratification of her own vanity, in receiving
the compliments of a smart young man: and thirdly, a wish to
convince the corn-factor of the great danger he ran, in deferring
the celebration of their expected nuptials; while Nicholas had
brought it about, by half an hour's gaiety and thoughtlessness, and
a very sincere desire to avoid the imputation of inclining at all to
Miss Squeers. So the means employed, and the end produced, were
alike the most natural in the world; for young ladies will look
forward to being married, and will jostle each other in the race to
the altar, and will avail themselves of all opportunities of
displaying their own attractions to the best advantage, down to the
very end of time, as they have done from its beginning.
'Why, and here's Fanny in tears now!' exclaimed Miss Price, as if in
fresh amazement. 'What can be the matter?'
'Oh! you don't know, miss, of course you don't know. Pray don't
trouble yourself to inquire,' said Miss Squeers, producing that
change of countenance which children call making a face.
'Well, I'm sure!' exclaimed Miss Price.
'And who cares whether you are sure or not, ma'am?' retorted Miss
Squeers, making another face.
'You are monstrous polite, ma'am,' said Miss Price.
'I shall not come to you to take lessons in the art, ma'am!'
retorted Miss Squeers.
'You needn't take the trouble to make yourself plainer than you are,
ma'am, however,' rejoined Miss Price, 'because that's quite
Miss Squeers, in reply, turned very red, and thanked God that she
hadn't got the bold faces of some people. Miss Price, in rejoinder,
congratulated herself upon not being possessed of the envious
feeling of other people; whereupon Miss Squeers made some general
remark touching the danger of associating with low persons; in which
Miss Price entirely coincided: observing that it was very true
indeed, and she had thought so a long time.
''Tilda,' exclaimed Miss Squeers with dignity, 'I hate you.'
'Ah! There's no love lost between us, I assure you,' said Miss
Price, tying her bonnet strings with a jerk. 'You'll cry your eyes
out, when I'm gone; you know you will.'
'I scorn your words, Minx,' said Miss Squeers.
'You pay me a great compliment when you say so,' answered the
miller's daughter, curtseying very low. 'Wish you a very good-
night, ma'am, and pleasant dreams attend your sleep!'
With this parting benediction, Miss Price swept from the room,
followed by the huge Yorkshireman, who exchanged with Nicholas, at
parting, that peculiarly expressive scowl with which the cut-and-
thrust counts, in melodramatic performances, inform each other they
will meet again.
They were no sooner gone, than Miss Squeers fulfilled the prediction
of her quondam friend by giving vent to a most copious burst of
tears, and uttering various dismal lamentations and incoherent
words. Nicholas stood looking on for a few seconds, rather doubtful
what to do, but feeling uncertain whether the fit would end in his
being embraced, or scratched, and considering that either infliction
would be equally agreeable, he walked off very quietly while Miss
Squeers was moaning in her pocket-handkerchief.
'This is one consequence,' thought Nicholas, when he had groped his
way to the dark sleeping-room, 'of my cursed readiness to adapt
myself to any society in which chance carries me. If I had sat mute
and motionless, as I might have done, this would not have happened.'
He listened for a few minutes, but all was quiet.
'I was glad,' he murmured, 'to grasp at any relief from the sight of
this dreadful place, or the presence of its vile master. I have set
these people by the ears, and made two new enemies, where, Heaven
knows, I needed none. Well, it is a just punishment for having
forgotten, even for an hour, what is around me now!'
So saying, he felt his way among the throng of weary-hearted
sleepers, and crept into his poor bed.
How Mr Ralph Nickleby provided for his Niece and Sister-in-Law
On the second morning after the departure of Nicholas for Yorkshire,
Kate Nickleby sat in a very faded chair raised upon a very dusty
throne in Miss La Creevy's room, giving that lady a sitting for the
portrait upon which she was engaged; and towards the full perfection
of which, Miss La Creevy had had the street-door case brought
upstairs, in order that she might be the better able to infuse into
the counterfeit countenance of Miss Nickleby, a bright salmon flesh-
tint which she had originally hit upon while executing the miniature
of a young officer therein contained, and which bright salmon flesh-
tint was considered, by Miss La Creevy's chief friends and patrons,
to be quite a novelty in art: as indeed it was.
'I think I have caught it now,' said Miss La Creevy. 'The very
shade! This will be the sweetest portrait I have ever done,
'It will be your genius that makes it so, then, I am sure,' replied
'No, no, I won't allow that, my dear,' rejoined Miss La Creevy.
'It's a very nice subject--a very nice subject, indeed--though, of
course, something depends upon the mode of treatment.'
'And not a little,' observed Kate.
'Why, my dear, you are right there,' said Miss La Creevy, 'in the
main you are right there; though I don't allow that it is of such
very great importance in the present case. Ah! The difficulties of
Art, my dear, are great.'
'They must be, I have no doubt,' said Kate, humouring her good-
natured little friend.
'They are beyond anything you can form the faintest conception of,'
replied Miss La Creevy. 'What with bringing out eyes with all one's
power, and keeping down noses with all one's force, and adding to
heads, and taking away teeth altogether, you have no idea of the
trouble one little miniature is.'
'The remuneration can scarcely repay you,' said Kate.
'Why, it does not, and that's the truth,' answered Miss La Creevy;
'and then people are so dissatisfied and unreasonable, that, nine
times out of ten, there's no pleasure in painting them. Sometimes
they say, "Oh, how very serious you have made me look, Miss La
Creevy!" and at others, "La, Miss La Creevy, how very smirking!"
when the very essence of a good portrait is, that it must be either
serious or smirking, or it's no portrait at all.'
'Indeed!' said Kate, laughing.
'Certainly, my dear; because the sitters are always either the one
or the other,' replied Miss La Creevy. 'Look at the Royal Academy!
All those beautiful shiny portraits of gentlemen in black velvet
waistcoats, with their fists doubled up on round tables, or marble
slabs, are serious, you know; and all the ladies who are playing
with little parasols, or little dogs, or little children--it's the
same rule in art, only varying the objects--are smirking. In fact,'
said Miss La Creevy, sinking her voice to a confidential whisper,
'there are only two styles of portrait painting; the serious and the
smirk; and we always use the serious for professional people (except
actors sometimes), and the smirk for private ladies and gentlemen
who don't care so much about looking clever.'
Kate seemed highly amused by this information, and Miss La Creevy
went on painting and talking, with immovable complacency.
'What a number of officers you seem to paint!' said Kate, availing
herself of a pause in the discourse, and glancing round the room.
'Number of what, child?' inquired Miss La Creevy, looking up from
her work. 'Character portraits, oh yes--they're not real military
men, you know.'
'Bless your heart, of course not; only clerks and that, who hire a
uniform coat to be painted in, and send it here in a carpet bag.
Some artists,' said Miss La Creevy, 'keep a red coat, and charge
seven-and-sixpence extra for hire and carmine; but I don't do that
myself, for I don't consider it legitimate.'
Drawing herself up, as though she plumed herself greatly upon not
resorting to these lures to catch sitters, Miss La Creevy applied
herself, more intently, to her task: only raising her head
occasionally, to look with unspeakable satisfaction at some touch
she had just put in: and now and then giving Miss Nickleby to
understand what particular feature she was at work upon, at the
moment; 'not,' she expressly observed, 'that you should make it up
for painting, my dear, but because it's our custom sometimes to tell
sitters what part we are upon, in order that if there's any
particular expression they want introduced, they may throw it in, at
the time, you know.'
'And when,' said Miss La Creevy, after a long silence, to wit, an
interval of full a minute and a half, 'when do you expect to see
your uncle again?'
'I scarcely know; I had expected to have seen him before now,'
replied Kate. 'Soon I hope, for this state of uncertainty is worse
'I suppose he has money, hasn't he?' inquired Miss La Creevy.
'He is very rich, I have heard,' rejoined Kate. 'I don't know that
he is, but I believe so.'
'Ah, you may depend upon it he is, or he wouldn't be so surly,'
remarked Miss La Creevy, who was an odd little mixture of shrewdness
and simplicity. 'When a man's a bear, he is generally pretty
'His manner is rough,' said Kate.
'Rough!' cried Miss La Creevy, 'a porcupine's a featherbed to him!
I never met with such a cross-grained old savage.'
'It is only his manner, I believe,' observed Kate, timidly; 'he was
disappointed in early life, I think I have heard, or has had his
temper soured by some calamity. I should be sorry to think ill of
him until I knew he deserved it.'
'Well; that's very right and proper,' observed the miniature
painter, 'and Heaven forbid that I should be the cause of your doing
so! But, now, mightn't he, without feeling it himself, make you and
your mama some nice little allowance that would keep you both
comfortable until you were well married, and be a little fortune to
her afterwards? What would a hundred a year for instance, be to
'I don't know what it would be to him,' said Kate, with energy, 'but
it would be that to me I would rather die than take.'
'Heyday!' cried Miss La Creevy.
'A dependence upon him,' said Kate, 'would embitter my whole life.
I should feel begging a far less degradation.'
'Well!' exclaimed Miss La Creevy. 'This of a relation whom you will
not hear an indifferent person speak ill of, my dear, sounds oddly
enough, I confess.'
'I dare say it does,' replied Kate, speaking more gently, 'indeed I
am sure it must. I--I--only mean that with the feelings and
recollection of better times upon me, I could not bear to live on
anybody's bounty--not his particularly, but anybody's.'
Miss La Creevy looked slyly at her companion, as if she doubted
whether Ralph himself were not the subject of dislike, but seeing
that her young friend was distressed, made no remark.
'I only ask of him,' continued Kate, whose tears fell while she
spoke, 'that he will move so little out of his way, in my behalf, as
to enable me by his recommendation--only by his recommendation--to
earn, literally, my bread and remain with my mother. Whether we
shall ever taste happiness again, depends upon the fortunes of my
dear brother; but if he will do this, and Nicholas only tells us
that he is well and cheerful, I shall be contented.'
As she ceased to speak, there was a rustling behind the screen which
stood between her and the door, and some person knocked at the
'Come in, whoever it is!' cried Miss La Creevy.
The person complied, and, coming forward at once, gave to view the
form and features of no less an individual than Mr Ralph Nickleby
'Your servant, ladies,' said Ralph, looking sharply at them by
turns. 'You were talking so loud, that I was unable to make you
When the man of business had a more than commonly vicious snarl
lurking at his heart, he had a trick of almost concealing his eyes
under their thick and protruding brows, for an instant, and then
displaying them in their full keenness. As he did so now, and tried
to keep down the smile which parted his thin compressed lips, and
puckered up the bad lines about his mouth, they both felt certain
that some part, if not the whole, of their recent conversation, had
'I called in, on my way upstairs, more than half expecting to find
you here,' said Ralph, addressing his niece, and looking
contemptuously at the portrait. 'Is that my niece's portrait,
'Yes it is, Mr Nickleby,' said Miss La Creevy, with a very sprightly
air, 'and between you and me and the post, sir, it will be a very
nice portrait too, though I say it who am the painter.'
'Don't trouble yourself to show it to me, ma'am,' cried Ralph,
moving away, 'I have no eye for likenesses. Is it nearly finished?'
'Why, yes,' replied Miss La Creevy, considering with the pencil end
of her brush in her mouth. 'Two sittings more will--'
'Have them at once, ma'am,' said Ralph. 'She'll have no time to
idle over fooleries after tomorrow. Work, ma'am, work; we must all
work. Have you let your lodgings, ma'am?'
'I have not put a bill up yet, sir.'
'Put it up at once, ma'am; they won't want the rooms after this
week, or if they do, can't pay for them. Now, my dear, if you're
ready, we'll lose no more time.'
With an assumption of kindness which sat worse upon him even than
his usual manner, Mr Ralph Nickleby motioned to the young lady to
precede him, and bowing gravely to Miss La Creevy, closed the door
and followed upstairs, where Mrs Nickleby received him with many
expressions of regard. Stopping them somewhat abruptly, Ralph waved
his hand with an impatient gesture, and proceeded to the object of
'I have found a situation for your daughter, ma'am,' said Ralph.
'Well,' replied Mrs Nickleby. 'Now, I will say that that is only
just what I have expected of you. "Depend upon it," I said to Kate,
only yesterday morning at breakfast, "that after your uncle has
provided, in that most ready manner, for Nicholas, he will not leave
us until he has done at least the same for you." These were my very
words, as near as I remember. Kate, my dear, why don't you thank
'Let me proceed, ma'am, pray,' said Ralph, interrupting his sister-
in-law in the full torrent of her discourse.
'Kate, my love, let your uncle proceed,' said Mrs Nickleby.
'I am most anxious that he should, mama,' rejoined Kate.
'Well, my dear, if you are anxious that he should, you had better
allow your uncle to say what he has to say, without interruption,'
observed Mrs Nickleby, with many small nods and frowns. 'Your
uncle's time is very valuable, my dear; and however desirous you may
be--and naturally desirous, as I am sure any affectionate relations
who have seen so little of your uncle as we have, must naturally be
to protract the pleasure of having him among us, still, we are
bound not to be selfish, but to take into consideration the
important nature of his occupations in the city.'
'I am very much obliged to you, ma'am,' said Ralph with a scarcely
perceptible sneer. 'An absence of business habits in this family
leads, apparently, to a great waste of words before business--when
it does come under consideration--is arrived at, at all.'
'I fear it is so indeed,' replied Mrs Nickleby with a sigh. 'Your
'My poor brother, ma'am,' interposed Ralph tartly, 'had no idea what
business was--was unacquainted, I verily believe, with the very
meaning of the word.'
'I fear he was,' said Mrs Nickleby, with her handkerchief to her
eyes. 'If it hadn't been for me, I don't know what would have
become of him.'
What strange creatures we are! The slight bait so skilfully thrown
out by Ralph, on their first interview, was dangling on the hook
yet. At every small deprivation or discomfort which presented
itself in the course of the four-and-twenty hours to remind her of
her straitened and altered circumstances, peevish visions of her
dower of one thousand pounds had arisen before Mrs Nickleby's mind,
until, at last, she had come to persuade herself that of all her
late husband's creditors she was the worst used and the most to be
pitied. And yet, she had loved him dearly for many years, and had
no greater share of selfishness than is the usual lot of mortals.
Such is the irritability of sudden poverty. A decent annuity would
have restored her thoughts to their old train, at once.
'Repining is of no use, ma'am,' said Ralph. 'Of all fruitless
errands, sending a tear to look after a day that is gone is the most
'So it is,' sobbed Mrs Nickleby. 'So it is.'
'As you feel so keenly, in your own purse and person, the
consequences of inattention to business, ma'am,' said Ralph, 'I am
sure you will impress upon your children the necessity of attaching
themselves to it early in life.'
'Of course I must see that,' rejoined Mrs Nickleby. 'Sad
experience, you know, brother-in-law.--Kate, my dear, put that down
in the next letter to Nicholas, or remind me to do it if I write.'
Ralph paused for a few moments, and seeing that he had now made
pretty sure of the mother, in case the daughter objected to his
proposition, went on to say:
'The situation that I have made interest to procure, ma'am, is with
--with a milliner and dressmaker, in short.'
'A milliner!' cried Mrs Nickleby.
'A milliner and dressmaker, ma'am,' replied Ralph. 'Dressmakers in
London, as I need not remind you, ma'am, who are so well acquainted
with all matters in the ordinary routine of life, make large
fortunes, keep equipages, and become persons of great wealth and
Now, the first idea called up in Mrs Nickleby's mind by the words
milliner and dressmaker were connected with certain wicker baskets
lined with black oilskin, which she remembered to have seen carried
to and fro in the streets; but, as Ralph proceeded, these
disappeared, and were replaced by visions of large houses at the
West end, neat private carriages, and a banker's book; all of which
images succeeded each other with such rapidity, that he had no
sooner finished speaking, than she nodded her head and said 'Very
true,' with great appearance of satisfaction.
'What your uncle says is very true, Kate, my dear,' said Mrs
Nickleby. 'I recollect when your poor papa and I came to town after
we were married, that a young lady brought me home a chip cottage-
bonnet, with white and green trimming, and green persian lining, in
her own carriage, which drove up to the door full gallop;--at least,
I am not quite certain whether it was her own carriage or a hackney
chariot, but I remember very well that the horse dropped down dead
as he was turning round, and that your poor papa said he hadn't had
any corn for a fortnight.'
This anecdote, so strikingly illustrative of the opulence of
milliners, was not received with any great demonstration of feeling,
inasmuch as Kate hung down her head while it was relating, and Ralph
manifested very intelligible symptoms of extreme impatience.
'The lady's name,' said Ralph, hastily striking in, 'is Mantalini--
Madame Mantalini. I know her. She lives near Cavendish Square. If
your daughter is disposed to try after the situation, I'll take her
'Have you nothing to say to your uncle, my love?' inquired Mrs
'A great deal,' replied Kate; 'but not now. I would rather speak to
him when we are alone;--it will save his time if I thank him and say
what I wish to say to him, as we walk along.'
With these words, Kate hurried away, to hide the traces of emotion
that were stealing down her face, and to prepare herself for the
walk, while Mrs Nickleby amused her brother-in-law by giving him,
with many tears, a detailed account of the dimensions of a rosewood
cabinet piano they had possessed in their days of affluence,
together with a minute description of eight drawing-room chairs,
with turned legs and green chintz squabs to match the curtains,
which had cost two pounds fifteen shillings apiece, and had gone at
the sale for a mere nothing.
These reminiscences were at length cut short by Kate's return in her
walking dress, when Ralph, who had been fretting and fuming during
the whole time of her absence, lost no time, and used very little
ceremony, in descending into the street.
'Now,' he said, taking her arm, 'walk as fast as you can, and you'll
get into the step that you'll have to walk to business with, every
morning.' So saying, he led Kate off, at a good round pace, towards
'I am very much obliged to you, uncle,' said the young lady, after
they had hurried on in silence for some time; 'very.'
'I'm glad to hear it,' said Ralph. 'I hope you'll do your duty.'
'I will try to please, uncle,' replied Kate: 'indeed I--'
'Don't begin to cry,' growled Ralph; 'I hate crying.'
'It's very foolish, I know, uncle,' began poor Kate.
'It is,' replied Ralph, stopping her short, 'and very affected
besides. Let me see no more of it.'
Perhaps this was not the best way to dry the tears of a young and
sensitive female, about to make her first entry on an entirely new
scene of life, among cold and uninterested strangers; but it had its
effect notwithstanding. Kate coloured deeply, breathed quickly for
a few moments, and then walked on with a firmer and more determined
It was a curious contrast to see how the timid country girl shrunk
through the crowd that hurried up and down the streets, giving way
to the press of people, and clinging closely to Ralph as though she
feared to lose him in the throng; and how the stern and hard-
featured man of business went doggedly on, elbowing the passengers
aside, and now and then exchanging a gruff salutation with some
passing acquaintance, who turned to look back upon his pretty
charge, with looks expressive of surprise, and seemed to wonder at
the ill-assorted companionship. But, it would have been a stranger
contrast still, to have read the hearts that were beating side by
side; to have laid bare the gentle innocence of the one, and the
rugged villainy of the other; to have hung upon the guileless
thoughts of the affectionate girl, and been amazed that, among all
the wily plots and calculations of the old man, there should not be
one word or figure denoting thought of death or of the grave. But
so it was; and stranger still--though this is a thing of every day--
the warm young heart palpitated with a thousand anxieties and
apprehensions, while that of the old worldly man lay rusting in its
cell, beating only as a piece of cunning mechanism, and yielding no
one throb of hope, or fear, or love, or care, for any living thing.
'Uncle,' said Kate, when she judged they must be near their
destination, 'I must ask one question of you. I am to live at
'At home!' replied Ralph; 'where's that?'
'I mean with my mother--THE WIDOW,' said Kate emphatically.
'You will live, to all intents and purposes, here,' rejoined Ralph;
'for here you will take your meals, and here you will be from
morning till night--occasionally perhaps till morning again.'
'But at night, I mean,' said Kate; 'I cannot leave her, uncle. I
must have some place that I can call a home; it will be wherever she
is, you know, and may be a very humble one.'
'May be!' said Ralph, walking faster, in the impatience provoked by
the remark; 'must be, you mean. May be a humble one! Is the girl
'The word slipped from my lips, I did not mean it indeed,' urged
'I hope not,' said Ralph.