Part 5 out of 20
impressing the company with a deep sense of the collector's dignity,
a ring was heard at the bell.
'That's him,' whispered Mr Kenwigs, greatly excited. 'Morleena, my
dear, run down and let your uncle in, and kiss him directly you get
the door open. Hem! Let's be talking.'
Adopting Mr Kenwigs's suggestion, the company spoke very loudly, to
look easy and unembarrassed; and almost as soon as they had begun to
do so, a short old gentleman in drabs and gaiters, with a face that
might have been carved out of LIGNUM VITAE, for anything that
appeared to the contrary, was led playfully in by Miss Morleena
Kenwigs, regarding whose uncommon Christian name it may be here
remarked that it had been invented and composed by Mrs Kenwigs
previous to her first lying-in, for the special distinction of her
eldest child, in case it should prove a daughter.
'Oh, uncle, I am SO glad to see you,' said Mrs Kenwigs, kissing the
collector affectionately on both cheeks. 'So glad!'
'Many happy returns of the day, my dear,' replied the collector,
returning the compliment.
Now, this was an interesting thing. Here was a collector of water-
rates, without his book, without his pen and ink, without his double
knock, without his intimidation, kissing--actually kissing--an
agreeable female, and leaving taxes, summonses, notices that he had
called, or announcements that he would never call again, for two
quarters' due, wholly out of the question. It was pleasant to see
how the company looked on, quite absorbed in the sight, and to
behold the nods and winks with which they expressed their
gratification at finding so much humanity in a tax-gatherer.
'Where will you sit, uncle?' said Mrs Kenwigs, in the full glow of
family pride, which the appearance of her distinguished relation
'Anywheres, my dear,' said the collector, 'I am not particular.'
Not particular! What a meek collector! If he had been an author,
who knew his place, he couldn't have been more humble.
'Mr Lillyvick,' said Kenwigs, addressing the collector, 'some
friends here, sir, are very anxious for the honour of--thank you--Mr
and Mrs Cutler, Mr Lillyvick.'
'Proud to know you, sir,' said Mr Cutler; 'I've heerd of you very
often.' These were not mere words of ceremony; for, Mr Cutler,
having kept house in Mr Lillyvick's parish, had heard of him very
often indeed. His attention in calling had been quite extraordinary.
'George, you know, I think, Mr Lillyvick,' said Kenwigs; 'lady from
downstairs--Mr Lillyvick. Mr Snewkes--Mr Lillyvick. Miss Green--Mr
Lillyvick. Mr Lillyvick--Miss Petowker of the Theatre Royal, Drury
Lane. Very glad to make two public characters acquainted! Mrs
Kenwigs, my dear, will you sort the counters?'
Mrs Kenwigs, with the assistance of Newman Noggs, (who, as he
performed sundry little acts of kindness for the children, at all
times and seasons, was humoured in his request to be taken no notice
of, and was merely spoken about, in a whisper, as the decayed
gentleman), did as he was desired; and the greater part of the
guests sat down to speculation, while Newman himself, Mrs Kenwigs,
and Miss Petowker of the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, looked after the
While the ladies were thus busying themselves, Mr Lillyvick was
intent upon the game in progress, and as all should be fish that
comes to a water-collector's net, the dear old gentleman was by no
means scrupulous in appropriating to himself the property of his
neighbours, which, on the contrary, he abstracted whenever an
opportunity presented itself, smiling good-humouredly all the while,
and making so many condescending speeches to the owners, that they
were delighted with his amiability, and thought in their hearts that
he deserved to be Chancellor of the Exchequer at least.
After a great deal of trouble, and the administration of many slaps
on the head to the infant Kenwigses, whereof two of the most
rebellious were summarily banished, the cloth was laid with much
elegance, and a pair of boiled fowls, a large piece of pork, apple-
pie, potatoes and greens, were served; at sight of which, the worthy
Mr Lillyvick vented a great many witticisms, and plucked up
amazingly: to the immense delight and satisfaction of the whole body
Very well and very fast the supper went off; no more serious
difficulties occurring, than those which arose from the incessant
demand for clean knives and forks; which made poor Mrs Kenwigs wish,
more than once, that private society adopted the principle of
schools, and required that every guest should bring his own knife,
fork, and spoon; which doubtless would be a great accommodation in
many cases, and to no one more so than to the lady and gentleman of
the house, especially if the school principle were carried out to
the full extent, and the articles were expected, as a matter of
delicacy, not to be taken away again.
Everybody having eaten everything, the table was cleared in a most
alarming hurry, and with great noise; and the spirits, whereat the
eyes of Newman Noggs glistened, being arranged in order, with water
both hot and cold, the party composed themselves for conviviality;
Mr Lillyvick being stationed in a large armchair by the fireside,
and the four little Kenwigses disposed on a small form in front of
the company with their flaxen tails towards them, and their faces to
the fire; an arrangement which was no sooner perfected, than Mrs
Kenwigs was overpowered by the feelings of a mother, and fell upon
the left shoulder of Mr Kenwigs dissolved in tears.
'They are so beautiful!' said Mrs Kenwigs, sobbing.
'Oh, dear,' said all the ladies, 'so they are! it's very natural you
should feel proud of that; but don't give way, don't.'
'I can--not help it, and it don't signify,' sobbed Mrs Kenwigs; 'oh!
they're too beautiful to live, much too beautiful!'
On hearing this alarming presentiment of their being doomed to an
early death in the flower of their infancy, all four little girls
raised a hideous cry, and burying their heads in their mother's lap
simultaneously, screamed until the eight flaxen tails vibrated
again; Mrs Kenwigs meanwhile clasping them alternately to her bosom,
with attitudes expressive of distraction, which Miss Petowker
herself might have copied.
At length, the anxious mother permitted herself to be soothed into a
more tranquil state, and the little Kenwigses, being also composed,
were distributed among the company, to prevent the possibility of
Mrs Kenwigs being again overcome by the blaze of their combined
beauty. This done, the ladies and gentlemen united in prophesying
that they would live for many, many years, and that there was no
occasion at all for Mrs Kenwigs to distress herself; which, in good
truth, there did not appear to be; the loveliness of the children by
no means justifying her apprehensions.
'This day eight year,' said Mr Kenwigs after a pause. 'Dear me--
This reflection was echoed by all present, who said 'Ah!' first, and
'dear me,' afterwards.
'I was younger then,' tittered Mrs Kenwigs.
'No,' said the collector.
'Certainly not,' added everybody.
'I remember my niece,' said Mr Lillyvick, surveying his audience
with a grave air; 'I remember her, on that very afternoon, when she
first acknowledged to her mother a partiality for Kenwigs.
"Mother," she says, "I love him."'
'"Adore him," I said, uncle,' interposed Mrs Kenwigs.
'"Love him," I think, my dear,' said the collector, firmly.
'Perhaps you are right, uncle,' replied Mrs Kenwigs, submissively.
'I thought it was "adore."'
'"Love," my dear,' retorted Mr Lillyvick. '"Mother," she says, "I
love him!" "What do I hear?" cries her mother; and instantly falls
into strong conwulsions.'
A general exclamation of astonishment burst from the company.
'Into strong conwulsions,' repeated Mr Lillyvick, regarding them
with a rigid look. 'Kenwigs will excuse my saying, in the presence
of friends, that there was a very great objection to him, on the
ground that he was beneath the family, and would disgrace it. You
'Certainly,' replied that gentleman, in no way displeased at the
reminiscence, inasmuch as it proved, beyond all doubt, what a high
family Mrs Kenwigs came of.
'I shared in that feeling,' said Mr Lillyvick: 'perhaps it was
natural; perhaps it wasn't.'
A gentle murmur seemed to say, that, in one of Mr Lillyvick's
station, the objection was not only natural, but highly praiseworthy.
'I came round to him in time,' said Mr Lillyvick. 'After they were
married, and there was no help for it, I was one of the first to say
that Kenwigs must be taken notice of. The family DID take notice of
him, in consequence, and on my representation; and I am bound to
say--and proud to say--that I have always found him a very honest,
well-behaved, upright, respectable sort of man. Kenwigs, shake
'I am proud to do it, sir,' said Mr Kenwigs.
'So am I, Kenwigs,' rejoined Mr Lillyvick.
'A very happy life I have led with your niece, sir,' said Kenwigs.
'It would have been your own fault if you had not, sir,' remarked Mr
'Morleena Kenwigs,' cried her mother, at this crisis, much affected,
'kiss your dear uncle!'
The young lady did as she was requested, and the three other little
girls were successively hoisted up to the collector's countenance,
and subjected to the same process, which was afterwards repeated on
them by the majority of those present.
'Oh dear, Mrs Kenwigs,' said Miss Petowker, 'while Mr Noggs is
making that punch to drink happy returns in, do let Morleena go
through that figure dance before Mr Lillyvick.'
'No, no, my dear,' replied Mrs Kenwigs, 'it will only worry my
'It can't worry him, I am sure,' said Miss Petowker. 'You will be
very much pleased, won't you, sir?'
'That I am sure I shall' replied the collector, glancing at the
'Well then, I'll tell you what,' said Mrs Kenwigs, 'Morleena shall
do the steps, if uncle can persuade Miss Petowker to recite us the
Blood-Drinker's Burial, afterwards.'
There was a great clapping of hands and stamping of feet, at this
proposition; the subject whereof, gently inclined her head several
times, in acknowledgment of the reception.
'You know,' said Miss Petowker, reproachfully, 'that I dislike doing
anything professional in private parties.'
'Oh, but not here!' said Mrs Kenwigs. 'We are all so very friendly
and pleasant, that you might as well be going through it in your own
room; besides, the occasion--'
'I can't resist that,' interrupted Miss Petowker; 'anything in my
humble power I shall be delighted to do.'
Mrs Kenwigs and Miss Petowker had arranged a small PROGRAMME of the
entertainments between them, of which this was the prescribed order,
but they had settled to have a little pressing on both sides,
because it looked more natural. The company being all ready, Miss
Petowker hummed a tune, and Morleena danced a dance; having
previously had the soles of her shoes chalked, with as much care as
if she were going on the tight-rope. It was a very beautiful
figure, comprising a great deal of work for the arms, and was
received with unbounded applause.
'If I was blessed with a--a child--' said Miss Petowker, blushing,
'of such genius as that, I would have her out at the Opera
Mrs Kenwigs sighed, and looked at Mr Kenwigs, who shook his head,
and observed that he was doubtful about it.
'Kenwigs is afraid,' said Mrs K.
'What of?' inquired Miss Petowker, 'not of her failing?'
'Oh no,' replied Mrs Kenwigs, 'but if she grew up what she is now,--
only think of the young dukes and marquises.'
'Very right,' said the collector.
'Still,' submitted Miss Petowker, 'if she took a proper pride in
herself, you know--'
'There's a good deal in that,' observed Mrs Kenwigs, looking at her
'I only know--' faltered Miss Petowker,--'it may be no rule to be
sure--but I have never found any inconvenience or unpleasantness of
Mr Kenwigs, with becoming gallantry, said that settled the question
at once, and that he would take the subject into his serious
consideration. This being resolved upon, Miss Petowker was
entreated to begin the Blood-Drinker's Burial; to which end, that
young lady let down her back hair, and taking up her position at the
other end of the room, with the bachelor friend posted in a corner,
to rush out at the cue 'in death expire,' and catch her in his arms
when she died raving mad, went through the performance with
extraordinary spirit, and to the great terror of the little
Kenwigses, who were all but frightened into fits.
The ecstasies consequent upon the effort had not yet subsided, and
Newman (who had not been thoroughly sober at so late an hour for a
long long time,) had not yet been able to put in a word of
announcement, that the punch was ready, when a hasty knock was heard
at the room-door, which elicited a shriek from Mrs Kenwigs, who
immediately divined that the baby had fallen out of bed.
'Who is that?' demanded Mr Kenwigs, sharply.
'Don't be alarmed, it's only me,' said Crowl, looking in, in his
nightcap. 'The baby is very comfortable, for I peeped into the room
as I came down, and it's fast asleep, and so is the girl; and I
don't think the candle will set fire to the bed-curtain, unless a
draught was to get into the room--it's Mr Noggs that's wanted.'
'Me!' cried Newman, much astonished.
'Why, it IS a queer hour, isn't it?' replied Crowl, who was not best
pleased at the prospect of losing his fire; 'and they are queer-
looking people, too, all covered with rain and mud. Shall I tell
them to go away?'
'No,' said Newman, rising. 'People? How many?'
'Two,' rejoined Crowl.
'Want me? By name?' asked Newman.
'By name,' replied Crowl. 'Mr Newman Noggs, as pat as need be.'
Newman reflected for a few seconds, and then hurried away, muttering
that he would be back directly. He was as good as his word; for, in
an exceedingly short time, he burst into the room, and seizing,
without a word of apology or explanation, a lighted candle and
tumbler of hot punch from the table, darted away like a madman.
'What the deuce is the matter with him?' exclaimed Crowl, throwing
the door open. 'Hark! Is there any noise above?'
The guests rose in great confusion, and, looking in each other's
faces with much perplexity and some fear, stretched their necks
forward, and listened attentively.
Acquaints the Reader with the Cause and Origin of the Interruption
described in the last Chapter, and with some other Matters necessary
to be known
Newman Noggs scrambled in violent haste upstairs with the steaming
beverage, which he had so unceremoniously snatched from the table of
Mr Kenwigs, and indeed from the very grasp of the water-rate
collector, who was eyeing the contents of the tumbler, at the moment
of its unexpected abstraction, with lively marks of pleasure visible
in his countenance. He bore his prize straight to his own back-
garret, where, footsore and nearly shoeless, wet, dirty, jaded, and
disfigured with every mark of fatiguing travel, sat Nicholas and
Smike, at once the cause and partner of his toil; both perfectly
worn out by their unwonted and protracted exertion.
Newman's first act was to compel Nicholas, with gentle force, to
swallow half of the punch at a breath, nearly boiling as it was; and
his next, to pour the remainder down the throat of Smike, who, never
having tasted anything stronger than aperient medicine in his whole
life, exhibited various odd manifestations of surprise and delight,
during the passage of the liquor down his throat, and turned up his
eyes most emphatically when it was all gone.
'You are wet through,' said Newman, passing his hand hastily over
the coat which Nicholas had thrown off; 'and I--I--haven't even a
change,' he added, with a wistful glance at the shabby clothes he
'I have dry clothes, or at least such as will serve my turn well, in
my bundle,' replied Nicholas. 'If you look so distressed to see me,
you will add to the pain I feel already, at being compelled, for one
night, to cast myself upon your slender means for aid and shelter.'
Newman did not look the less distressed to hear Nicholas talking in
this strain; but, upon his young friend grasping him heartily by the
hand, and assuring him that nothing but implicit confidence in the
sincerity of his professions, and kindness of feeling towards
himself, would have induced him, on any consideration, even to have
made him acquainted with his arrival in London, Mr Noggs brightened
up again, and went about making such arrangements as were in his
power for the comfort of his visitors, with extreme alacrity.
These were simple enough; poor Newman's means halting at a very
considerable distance short of his inclinations; but, slight as they
were, they were not made without much bustling and running about.
As Nicholas had husbanded his scanty stock of money, so well that it
was not yet quite expended, a supper of bread and cheese, with some
cold beef from the cook's shop, was soon placed upon the table; and
these viands being flanked by a bottle of spirits and a pot of
porter, there was no ground for apprehension on the score of hunger
or thirst, at all events. Such preparations as Newman had it in his
power to make, for the accommodation of his guests during the night,
occupied no very great time in completing; and as he had insisted,
as an express preliminary, that Nicholas should change his clothes,
and that Smike should invest himself in his solitary coat (which no
entreaties would dissuade him from stripping off for the purpose),
the travellers partook of their frugal fare, with more satisfaction
than one of them at least had derived from many a better meal.
They then drew near the fire, which Newman Noggs had made up as well
as he could, after the inroads of Crowl upon the fuel; and Nicholas,
who had hitherto been restrained by the extreme anxiety of his
friend that he should refresh himself after his journey, now pressed
him with earnest questions concerning his mother and sister.
'Well,' replied Newman, with his accustomed taciturnity; 'both
'They are living in the city still?' inquired Nicholas.
'They are,' said Newman.
'And my sister,'--added Nicholas. 'Is she still engaged in the
business which she wrote to tell me she thought she should like so
Newman opened his eyes rather wider than usual, but merely replied
by a gasp, which, according to the action of the head that
accompanied it, was interpreted by his friends as meaning yes or no.
In the present instance, the pantomime consisted of a nod, and not a
shake; so Nicholas took the answer as a favourable one.
'Now listen to me,' said Nicholas, laying his hand on Newman's
shoulder. 'Before I would make an effort to see them, I deemed it
expedient to come to you, lest, by gratifying my own selfish desire,
I should inflict an injury upon them which I can never repair. What
has my uncle heard from Yorkshire?'
Newman opened and shut his mouth, several times, as though he were
trying his utmost to speak, but could make nothing of it, and
finally fixed his eyes on Nicholas with a grim and ghastly stare.
'What has he heard?' urged Nicholas, colouring. 'You see that I am
prepared to hear the very worst that malice can have suggested. Why
should you conceal it from me? I must know it sooner or later; and
what purpose can be gained by trifling with the matter for a few
minutes, when half the time would put me in possession of all that
has occurred? Tell me at once, pray.'
'Tomorrow morning,' said Newman; 'hear it tomorrow.'
'What purpose would that answer?' urged Nicholas.
'You would sleep the better,' replied Newman.
'I should sleep the worse,' answered Nicholas, impatiently. 'Sleep!
Exhausted as I am, and standing in no common need of rest, I cannot
hope to close my eyes all night, unless you tell me everything.'
'And if I should tell you everything,' said Newman, hesitating.
'Why, then you may rouse my indignation or wound my pride,' rejoined
Nicholas; 'but you will not break my rest; for if the scene were
acted over again, I could take no other part than I have taken; and
whatever consequences may accrue to myself from it, I shall never
regret doing as I have done--never, if I starve or beg in
consequence. What is a little poverty or suffering, to the disgrace
of the basest and most inhuman cowardice! I tell you, if I had
stood by, tamely and passively, I should have hated myself, and
merited the contempt of every man in existence. The black-hearted
With this gentle allusion to the absent Mr Squeers, Nicholas
repressed his rising wrath, and relating to Newman exactly what had
passed at Dotheboys Hall, entreated him to speak out without more
pressing. Thus adjured, Mr Noggs took, from an old trunk, a sheet
of paper, which appeared to have been scrawled over in great haste;
and after sundry extraordinary demonstrations of reluctance,
delivered himself in the following terms.
'My dear young man, you mustn't give way to--this sort of thing will
never do, you know--as to getting on in the world, if you take
everybody's part that's ill-treated--Damn it, I am proud to hear of
it; and would have done it myself!'
Newman accompanied this very unusual outbreak with a violent blow
upon the table, as if, in the heat of the moment, he had mistaken it
for the chest or ribs of Mr Wackford Squeers. Having, by this open
declaration of his feelings, quite precluded himself from offering
Nicholas any cautious worldly advice (which had been his first
intention), Mr Noggs went straight to the point.
'The day before yesterday,' said Newman, 'your uncle received this
letter. I took a hasty copy of it, while he was out. Shall I read
'If you please,' replied Nicholas. Newman Noggs accordingly read as
'My pa requests me to write to you, the doctors considering it
doubtful whether he will ever recuvver the use of his legs which
prevents his holding a pen.
'We are in a state of mind beyond everything, and my pa is one mask
of brooses both blue and green likewise two forms are steepled in
his Goar. We were kimpelled to have him carried down into the
kitchen where he now lays. You will judge from this that he has
been brought very low.
'When your nevew that you recommended for a teacher had done this to
my pa and jumped upon his body with his feet and also langwedge
which I will not pollewt my pen with describing, he assaulted my ma
with dreadful violence, dashed her to the earth, and drove her back
comb several inches into her head. A very little more and it must
have entered her skull. We have a medical certifiket that if it
had, the tortershell would have affected the brain.
'Me and my brother were then the victims of his feury since which we
have suffered very much which leads us to the arrowing belief that
we have received some injury in our insides, especially as no marks
of violence are visible externally. I am screaming out loud all the
time I write and so is my brother which takes off my attention
rather and I hope will excuse mistakes.
'The monster having sasiated his thirst for blood ran away, taking
with him a boy of desperate caracter that he had excited to
rebellyon, and a garnet ring belonging to my ma, and not having been
apprehended by the constables is supposed to have been took up by
some stage-coach. My pa begs that if he comes to you the ring may
be returned, and that you will let the thief and assassin go, as if
we prosecuted him he would only be transported, and if he is let go
he is sure to be hung before long which will save us trouble and be
much more satisfactory. Hoping to hear from you when convenient
'Yours and cetrer
'P.S. I pity his ignorance and despise him.'
A profound silence succeeded to the reading of this choice epistle,
during which Newman Noggs, as he folded it up, gazed with a kind of
grotesque pity at the boy of desperate character therein referred
to; who, having no more distinct perception of the matter in hand,
than that he had been the unfortunate cause of heaping trouble and
falsehood upon Nicholas, sat mute and dispirited, with a most
woe-begone and heart-stricken look.
'Mr Noggs,' said Nicholas, after a few moments' reflection, 'I must
go out at once.'
'Go out!' cried Newman.
'Yes,' said Nicholas, 'to Golden Square. Nobody who knows me would
believe this story of the ring; but it may suit the purpose, or
gratify the hatred of Mr Ralph Nickleby to feign to attach credence
to it. It is due--not to him, but to myself--that I should state
the truth; and moreover, I have a word or two to exchange with him,
which will not keep cool.'
'They must,' said Newman.
'They must not, indeed,' rejoined Nicholas firmly, as he prepared to
leave the house.
'Hear me speak,' said Newman, planting himself before his impetuous
young friend. 'He is not there. He is away from town. He will not
be back for three days; and I know that letter will not be answered
before he returns.'
'Are you sure of this?' asked Nicholas, chafing violently, and
pacing the narrow room with rapid strides.
'Quite,' rejoined Newman. 'He had hardly read it when he was called
away. Its contents are known to nobody but himself and us.'
'Are you certain?' demanded Nicholas, precipitately; 'not even to my
mother or sister? If I thought that they--I will go there--I must
see them. Which is the way? Where is it?'
'Now, be advised by me,' said Newman, speaking for the moment, in
his earnestness, like any other man--'make no effort to see even
them, till he comes home. I know the man. Do not seem to have been
tampering with anybody. When he returns, go straight to him, and
speak as boldly as you like. Guessing at the real truth, he knows
it as well as you or I. Trust him for that.'
'You mean well to me, and should know him better than I can,'
replied Nicholas, after some consideration. 'Well; let it be so.'
Newman, who had stood during the foregoing conversation with his
back planted against the door, ready to oppose any egress from the
apartment by force, if necessary, resumed his seat with much
satisfaction; and as the water in the kettle was by this time
boiling, made a glassful of spirits and water for Nicholas, and a
cracked mug-full for the joint accommodation of himself and Smike,
of which the two partook in great harmony, while Nicholas, leaning
his head upon his hand, remained buried in melancholy meditation.
Meanwhile, the company below stairs, after listening attentively and
not hearing any noise which would justify them in interfering for
the gratification of their curiosity, returned to the chamber of the
Kenwigses, and employed themselves in hazarding a great variety of
conjectures relative to the cause of Mr Noggs' sudden disappearance
'Lor, I'll tell you what,' said Mrs Kenwigs. 'Suppose it should be
an express sent up to say that his property has all come back
'Dear me,' said Mr Kenwigs; 'it's not impossible. Perhaps, in that
case, we'd better send up and ask if he won't take a little more
'Kenwigs!' said Mr Lillyvick, in a loud voice, 'I'm surprised at
'What's the matter, sir?' asked Mr Kenwigs, with becoming submission
to the collector of water-rates.
'Making such a remark as that, sir,' replied Mr Lillyvick, angrily.
'He has had punch already, has he not, sir? I consider the way in
which that punch was cut off, if I may use the expression, highly
disrespectful to this company; scandalous, perfectly scandalous. It
may be the custom to allow such things in this house, but it's not
the kind of behaviour that I've been used to see displayed, and so I
don't mind telling you, Kenwigs. A gentleman has a glass of punch
before him to which he is just about to set his lips, when another
gentleman comes and collars that glass of punch, without a "with
your leave", or "by your leave", and carries that glass of punch
away. This may be good manners--I dare say it is--but I don't
understand it, that's all; and what's more, I don't care if I never
do. It's my way to speak my mind, Kenwigs, and that is my mind; and
if you don't like it, it's past my regular time for going to bed,
and I can find my way home without making it later.'
Here was an untoward event! The collector had sat swelling and
fuming in offended dignity for some minutes, and had now fairly
burst out. The great man--the rich relation--the unmarried uncle--
who had it in his power to make Morleena an heiress, and the very
baby a legatee--was offended. Gracious Powers, where was this to
'I am very sorry, sir,' said Mr Kenwigs, humbly.
'Don't tell me you're sorry,' retorted Mr Lillyvick, with much
sharpness. 'You should have prevented it, then.'
The company were quite paralysed by this domestic crash. The back-
parlour sat with her mouth wide open, staring vacantly at the
collector, in a stupor of dismay; the other guests were scarcely
less overpowered by the great man's irritation. Mr Kenwigs, not
being skilful in such matters, only fanned the flame in attempting
to extinguish it.
'I didn't think of it, I am sure, sir,' said that gentleman. 'I
didn't suppose that such a little thing as a glass of punch would
have put you out of temper.'
'Out of temper! What the devil do you mean by that piece of
impertinence, Mr Kenwigs?' said the collector. 'Morleena, child--
give me my hat.'
'Oh, you're not going, Mr Lillyvick, sir,' interposed Miss Petowker,
with her most bewitching smile.
But still Mr Lillyvick, regardless of the siren, cried obdurately,
'Morleena, my hat!' upon the fourth repetition of which demand, Mrs
Kenwigs sunk back in her chair, with a cry that might have softened
a water-butt, not to say a water-collector; while the four little
girls (privately instructed to that effect) clasped their uncle's
drab shorts in their arms, and prayed him, in imperfect English, to
'Why should I stop here, my dears?' said Mr Lillyvick; 'I'm not
'Oh, do not speak so cruelly, uncle,' sobbed Mrs Kenwigs, 'unless
you wish to kill me.'
'I shouldn't wonder if some people were to say I did,' replied Mr
Lillyvick, glancing angrily at Kenwigs. 'Out of temper!'
'Oh! I cannot bear to see him look so, at my husband,' cried Mrs
Kenwigs. 'It's so dreadful in families. Oh!'
'Mr Lillyvick,' said Kenwigs, 'I hope, for the sake of your niece,
that you won't object to be reconciled.'
The collector's features relaxed, as the company added their
entreaties to those of his nephew-in-law. He gave up his hat, and
held out his hand.
'There, Kenwigs,' said Mr Lillyvick; 'and let me tell you, at the
same time, to show you how much out of temper I was, that if I had
gone away without another word, it would have made no difference
respecting that pound or two which I shall leave among your children
when I die.'
'Morleena Kenwigs,' cried her mother, in a torrent of affection.
'Go down upon your knees to your dear uncle, and beg him to love you
all his life through, for he's more a angel than a man, and I've
always said so.'
Miss Morleena approaching to do homage, in compliance with this
injunction, was summarily caught up and kissed by Mr Lillyvick; and
thereupon Mrs Kenwigs darted forward and kissed the collector, and
an irrepressible murmur of applause broke from the company who had
witnessed his magnanimity.
The worthy gentleman then became once more the life and soul of the
society; being again reinstated in his old post of lion, from which
high station the temporary distraction of their thoughts had for a
moment dispossessed him. Quadruped lions are said to be savage,
only when they are hungry; biped lions are rarely sulky longer than
when their appetite for distinction remains unappeased. Mr
Lillyvick stood higher than ever; for he had shown his power; hinted
at his property and testamentary intentions; gained great credit for
disinterestedness and virtue; and, in addition to all, was finally
accommodated with a much larger tumbler of punch than that which
Newman Noggs had so feloniously made off with.
'I say! I beg everybody's pardon for intruding again,' said Crowl,
looking in at this happy juncture; 'but what a queer business this
is, isn't it? Noggs has lived in this house, now going on for five
years, and nobody has ever been to see him before, within the memory
of the oldest inhabitant.'
'It's a strange time of night to be called away, sir, certainly,'
said the collector; 'and the behaviour of Mr Noggs himself, is, to
say the least of it, mysterious.'
'Well, so it is,' rejoined Growl; 'and I'll tell you what's more--I
think these two geniuses, whoever they are, have run away from
'What makes you think that, sir?' demanded the collector, who
seemed, by a tacit understanding, to have been chosen and elected
mouthpiece to the company. 'You have no reason to suppose that they
have run away from anywhere without paying the rates and taxes due,
Mr Crowl, with a look of some contempt, was about to enter a general
protest against the payment of rates or taxes, under any
circumstances, when he was checked by a timely whisper from Kenwigs,
and several frowns and winks from Mrs K., which providentially
'Why the fact is,' said Crowl, who had been listening at Newman's
door with all his might and main; 'the fact is, that they have been
talking so loud, that they quite disturbed me in my room, and so I
couldn't help catching a word here, and a word there; and all I
heard, certainly seemed to refer to their having bolted from some
place or other. I don't wish to alarm Mrs Kenwigs; but I hope they
haven't come from any jail or hospital, and brought away a fever or
some unpleasantness of that sort, which might be catching for the
Mrs Kenwigs was so overpowered by this supposition, that it needed
all the tender attentions of Miss Petowker, of the Theatre Royal,
Drury Lane, to restore her to anything like a state of calmness; not
to mention the assiduity of Mr Kenwigs, who held a fat smelling-
bottle to his lady's nose, until it became matter of some doubt
whether the tears which coursed down her face were the result of
feelings or SAL VOLATILE.
The ladies, having expressed their sympathy, singly and separately,
fell, according to custom, into a little chorus of soothing
expressions, among which, such condolences as 'Poor dear!'--'I
should feel just the same, if I was her'--'To be sure, it's a very
trying thing'--and 'Nobody but a mother knows what a mother's
feelings is,' were among the most prominent, and most frequently
repeated. In short, the opinion of the company was so clearly
manifested, that Mr Kenwigs was on the point of repairing to Mr
Noggs's room, to demand an explanation, and had indeed swallowed a
preparatory glass of punch, with great inflexibility and steadiness
of purpose, when the attention of all present was diverted by a new
and terrible surprise.
This was nothing less than the sudden pouring forth of a rapid
succession of the shrillest and most piercing screams, from an upper
story; and to all appearance from the very two-pair back, in which
the infant Kenwigs was at that moment enshrined. They were no
sooner audible, than Mrs Kenwigs, opining that a strange cat had
come in, and sucked the baby's breath while the girl was asleep,
made for the door, wringing her hands, and shrieking dismally; to
the great consternation and confusion of the company.
'Mr Kenwigs, see what it is; make haste!' cried the sister, laying
violent hands upon Mrs Kenwigs, and holding her back by force. 'Oh
don't twist about so, dear, or I can never hold you.'
'My baby, my blessed, blessed, blessed, blessed baby!' screamed Mrs
Kenwigs, making every blessed louder than the last. 'My own
darling, sweet, innocent Lillyvick--Oh let me go to him. Let me go-
Pending the utterance of these frantic cries, and the wails and
lamentations of the four little girls, Mr Kenwigs rushed upstairs to
the room whence the sounds proceeded; at the door of which, he
encountered Nicholas, with the child in his arms, who darted out
with such violence, that the anxious father was thrown down six
stairs, and alighted on the nearest landing-place, before he had
found time to open his mouth to ask what was the matter.
'Don't be alarmed,' cried Nicholas, running down; 'here it is; it's
all out, it's all over; pray compose yourselves; there's no harm
done;' and with these, and a thousand other assurances, he delivered
the baby (whom, in his hurry, he had carried upside down), to Mrs
Kenwigs, and ran back to assist Mr Kenwigs, who was rubbing his head
very hard, and looking much bewildered by his tumble.
Reassured by this cheering intelligence, the company in some degree
recovered from their fears, which had been productive of some most
singular instances of a total want of presence of mind; thus, the
bachelor friend had, for a long time, supported in his arms Mrs
Kenwigs's sister, instead of Mrs Kenwigs; and the worthy Mr
Lillyvick had been actually seen, in the perturbation of his
spirits, to kiss Miss Petowker several times, behind the room-door,
as calmly as if nothing distressing were going forward.
'It is a mere nothing,' said Nicholas, returning to Mrs Kenwigs;
'the little girl, who was watching the child, being tired I suppose,
fell asleep, and set her hair on fire.'
'Oh you malicious little wretch!' cried Mrs Kenwigs, impressively
shaking her forefinger at the small unfortunate, who might be
thirteen years old, and was looking on with a singed head and a
'I heard her cries,' continued Nicholas, 'and ran down, in time to
prevent her setting fire to anything else. You may depend upon it
that the child is not hurt; for I took it off the bed myself, and
brought it here to convince you.'
This brief explanation over, the infant, who, as he was christened
after the collector! rejoiced in the names of Lillyvick Kenwigs, was
partially suffocated under the caresses of the audience, and
squeezed to his mother's bosom, until he roared again. The
attention of the company was then directed, by a natural transition,
to the little girl who had had the audacity to burn her hair off,
and who, after receiving sundry small slaps and pushes from the more
energetic of the ladies, was mercifully sent home: the ninepence,
with which she was to have been rewarded, being escheated to the
'And whatever we are to say to you, sir,' exclaimed Mrs Kenwigs,
addressing young Lillyvick's deliverer, 'I am sure I don't know.'
'You need say nothing at all,' replied Nicholas. 'I have done
nothing to found any very strong claim upon your eloquence, I am
'He might have been burnt to death, if it hadn't been for you, sir,'
simpered Miss Petowker.
'Not very likely, I think,' replied Nicholas; 'for there was
abundance of assistance here, which must have reached him before he
had been in any danger.'
'You will let us drink your health, anyvays, sir!' said Mr Kenwigs
motioning towards the table.
'--In my absence, by all means,' rejoined Nicholas, with a smile.
'I have had a very fatiguing journey, and should be most indifferent
company--a far greater check upon your merriment, than a promoter of
it, even if I kept awake, which I think very doubtful. If you will
allow me, I'll return to my friend, Mr Noggs, who went upstairs
again, when he found nothing serious had occurred. Good-night.'
Excusing himself, in these terms, from joining in the festivities,
Nicholas took a most winning farewell of Mrs Kenwigs and the other
ladies, and retired, after making a very extraordinary impression
upon the company.
'What a delightful young man!' cried Mrs Kenwigs.
'Uncommon gentlemanly, really,' said Mr Kenwigs. 'Don't you think
so, Mr Lillyvick?'
'Yes,' said the collector, with a dubious shrug of his shoulders,
'He is gentlemanly, very gentlemanly--in appearance.'
'I hope you don't see anything against him, uncle?' inquired Mrs
'No, my dear,' replied the collector, 'no. I trust he may not turn
out--well--no matter--my love to you, my dear, and long life to the
'Your namesake,' said Mrs Kenwigs, with a sweet smile.
'And I hope a worthy namesake,' observed Mr Kenwigs, willing to
propitiate the collector. 'I hope a baby as will never disgrace his
godfather, and as may be considered, in arter years, of a piece with
the Lillyvicks whose name he bears. I do say--and Mrs Kenwigs is of
the same sentiment, and feels it as strong as I do--that I consider
his being called Lillyvick one of the greatest blessings and Honours
of my existence.'
'THE greatest blessing, Kenwigs,' murmured his lady.
'THE greatest blessing,' said Mr Kenwigs, correcting himself. 'A
blessing that I hope, one of these days, I may be able to deserve.'
This was a politic stroke of the Kenwigses, because it made Mr
Lillyvick the great head and fountain of the baby's importance. The
good gentleman felt the delicacy and dexterity of the touch, and at
once proposed the health of the gentleman, name unknown, who had
signalised himself, that night, by his coolness and alacrity.
'Who, I don't mind saying,' observed Mr Lillyvick, as a great
concession, 'is a good-looking young man enough, with manners that I
hope his character may be equal to.'
'He has a very nice face and style, really,' said Mrs Kenwigs.
'He certainly has,' added Miss Petowker. 'There's something in his
appearance quite--dear, dear, what's that word again?'
'What word?' inquired Mr Lillyvick.
'Why--dear me, how stupid I am,' replied Miss Petowker, hesitating.
'What do you call it, when Lords break off door-knockers and beat
policemen, and play at coaches with other people's money, and all
that sort of thing?'
'Aristocratic?' suggested the collector.
'Ah! aristocratic,' replied Miss Petowker; 'something very
aristocratic about him, isn't there?'
The gentleman held their peace, and smiled at each other, as who
should say, 'Well! there's no accounting for tastes;' but the ladies
resolved unanimously that Nicholas had an aristocratic air; and
nobody caring to dispute the position, it was established
The punch being, by this time, drunk out, and the little Kenwigses
(who had for some time previously held their little eyes open with
their little forefingers) becoming fractious, and requesting rather
urgently to be put to bed, the collector made a move by pulling out
his watch, and acquainting the company that it was nigh two o'clock;
whereat some of the guests were surprised and others shocked, and
hats and bonnets being groped for under the tables, and in course of
time found, their owners went away, after a vast deal of shaking of
hands, and many remarks how they had never spent such a delightful
evening, and how they marvelled to find it so late, expecting to
have heard that it was half-past ten at the very latest, and how
they wished that Mr and Mrs Kenwigs had a wedding-day once a week,
and how they wondered by what hidden agency Mrs Kenwigs could
possibly have managed so well; and a great deal more of the same
kind. To all of which flattering expressions, Mr and Mrs Kenwigs
replied, by thanking every lady and gentleman, SERIATIM, for the
favour of their company, and hoping they might have enjoyed
themselves only half as well as they said they had.
As to Nicholas, quite unconscious of the impression he had produced,
he had long since fallen asleep, leaving Mr Newman Noggs and Smike
to empty the spirit bottle between them; and this office they
performed with such extreme good-will, that Newman was equally at a
loss to determine whether he himself was quite sober, and whether he
had ever seen any gentleman so heavily, drowsily, and completely
intoxicated as his new acquaintance.
Nicholas seeks to employ himself in a New Capacity, and being
unsuccessful, accepts an engagement as Tutor in a Private Family
The first care of Nicholas, next morning, was, to look after some
room in which, until better times dawned upon him, he could contrive
to exist, without trenching upon the hospitality of Newman Noggs,
who would have slept upon the stairs with pleasure, so that his
young friend was accommodated.
The vacant apartment to which the bill in the parlour window bore
reference, appeared, on inquiry, to be a small back-room on the
second floor, reclaimed from the leads, and overlooking a soot-
bespeckled prospect of tiles and chimney-pots. For the letting of
this portion of the house from week to week, on reasonable terms,
the parlour lodger was empowered to treat; he being deputed by the
landlord to dispose of the rooms as they became vacant, and to keep
a sharp look-out that the lodgers didn't run away. As a means of
securing the punctual discharge of which last service he was
permitted to live rent-free, lest he should at any time be tempted
to run away himself.
Of this chamber, Nicholas became the tenant; and having hired a few
common articles of furniture from a neighbouring broker, and paid
the first week's hire in advance, out of a small fund raised by the
conversion of some spare clothes into ready money, he sat himself
down to ruminate upon his prospects, which, like the prospect
outside his window, were sufficiently confined and dingy. As they
by no means improved on better acquaintance, and as familiarity
breeds contempt, he resolved to banish them from his thoughts by
dint of hard walking. So, taking up his hat, and leaving poor Smike
to arrange and rearrange the room with as much delight as if it had
been the costliest palace, he betook himself to the streets, and
mingled with the crowd which thronged them.
Although a man may lose a sense of his own importance when he is a
mere unit among a busy throng, all utterly regardless of him, it by
no means follows that he can dispossess himself, with equal
facility, of a very strong sense of the importance and magnitude of
his cares. The unhappy state of his own affairs was the one idea
which occupied the brain of Nicholas, walk as fast as he would; and
when he tried to dislodge it by speculating on the situation and
prospects of the people who surrounded him, he caught himself, in a
few seconds, contrasting their condition with his own, and gliding
almost imperceptibly back into his old train of thought again.
Occupied in these reflections, as he was making his way along one of
the great public thoroughfares of London, he chanced to raise his
eyes to a blue board, whereon was inscribed, in characters of gold,
'General Agency Office; for places and situations of all kinds
inquire within.' It was a shop-front, fitted up with a gauze blind
and an inner door; and in the window hung a long and tempting array
of written placards, announcing vacant places of every grade, from a
secretary's to a foot-boy's.
Nicholas halted, instinctively, before this temple of promise, and
ran his eye over the capital-text openings in life which were so
profusely displayed. When he had completed his survey he walked on
a little way, and then back, and then on again; at length, after
pausing irresolutely several times before the door of the General
Agency Office, he made up his mind, and stepped in.
He found himself in a little floor-clothed room, with a high desk
railed off in one corner, behind which sat a lean youth with cunning
eyes and a protruding chin, whose performances in capital-text
darkened the window. He had a thick ledger lying open before him,
and with the fingers of his right hand inserted between the leaves,
and his eyes fixed on a very fat old lady in a mob-cap--evidently
the proprietress of the establishment--who was airing herself at the
fire, seemed to be only waiting her directions to refer to some
entries contained within its rusty clasps.
As there was a board outside, which acquainted the public that
servants-of-all-work were perpetually in waiting to be hired from
ten till four, Nicholas knew at once that some half-dozen strong
young women, each with pattens and an umbrella, who were sitting
upon a form in one corner, were in attendance for that purpose:
especially as the poor things looked anxious and weary. He was not
quite so certain of the callings and stations of two smart young
ladies who were in conversation with the fat lady before the fire,
until--having sat himself down in a corner, and remarked that he
would wait until the other customers had been served--the fat lady
resumed the dialogue which his entrance had interrupted.
'Cook, Tom,' said the fat lady, still airing herself as aforesaid.
'Cook,' said Tom, turning over some leaves of the ledger. 'Well!'
'Read out an easy place or two,' said the fat lady.
'Pick out very light ones, if you please, young man,' interposed a
genteel female, in shepherd's-plaid boots, who appeared to be the
'"Mrs Marker,"' said Tom, reading, '"Russell Place, Russell Square;
offers eighteen guineas; tea and sugar found. Two in family, and
see very little company. Five servants kept. No man. No
'Oh Lor!' tittered the client. 'THAT won't do. Read another, young
man, will you?'
'"Mrs Wrymug,"' said Tom, '"Pleasant Place, Finsbury. Wages, twelve
guineas. No tea, no sugar. Serious family--"'
'Ah! you needn't mind reading that,' interrupted the client.
'"Three serious footmen,"' said Tom, impressively.
'Three? did you say?' asked the client in an altered tone.
'Three serious footmen,' replied Tom. '"Cook, housemaid, and
nursemaid; each female servant required to join the Little Bethel
Congregation three times every Sunday--with a serious footman. If
the cook is more serious than the footman, she will be expected to
improve the footman; if the footman is more serious than the cook,
he will be expected to improve the cook."'
'I'll take the address of that place,' said the client; 'I don't
know but what it mightn't suit me pretty well.'
'Here's another,' remarked Tom, turning over the leaves. '"Family
of Mr Gallanbile, MP. Fifteen guineas, tea and sugar, and servants
allowed to see male cousins, if godly. Note. Cold dinner in the
kitchen on the Sabbath, Mr Gallanbile being devoted to the
Observance question. No victuals whatever cooked on the Lord's Day,
with the exception of dinner for Mr and Mrs Gallanbile, which, being
a work of piety and necessity, is exempted. Mr Gallanbile dines
late on the day of rest, in order to prevent the sinfulness of the
cook's dressing herself."'
'I don't think that'll answer as well as the other,' said the
client, after a little whispering with her friend. 'I'll take the
other direction, if you please, young man. I can but come back
again, if it don't do.'
Tom made out the address, as requested, and the genteel client,
having satisfied the fat lady with a small fee, meanwhile, went away
accompanied by her friend.
As Nicholas opened his mouth, to request the young man to turn to
letter S, and let him know what secretaryships remained undisposed
of, there came into the office an applicant, in whose favour he
immediately retired, and whose appearance both surprised and
This was a young lady who could be scarcely eighteen, of very slight
and delicate figure, but exquisitely shaped, who, walking timidly up
to the desk, made an inquiry, in a very low tone of voice, relative
to some situation as governess, or companion to a lady. She raised
her veil, for an instant, while she preferred the inquiry, and
disclosed a countenance of most uncommon beauty, though shaded by a
cloud of sadness, which, in one so young, was doubly remarkable.
Having received a card of reference to some person on the books, she
made the usual acknowledgment, and glided away.
She was neatly, but very quietly attired; so much so, indeed, that
it seemed as though her dress, if it had been worn by one who
imparted fewer graces of her own to it, might have looked poor and
shabby. Her attendant--for she had one--was a red-faced, round-
eyed, slovenly girl, who, from a certain roughness about the bare
arms that peeped from under her draggled shawl, and the half-washed-
out traces of smut and blacklead which tattooed her countenance, was
clearly of a kin with the servants-of-all-work on the form: between
whom and herself there had passed various grins and glances,
indicative of the freemasonry of the craft.
This girl followed her mistress; and, before Nicholas had recovered
from the first effects of his surprise and admiration, the young
lady was gone. It is not a matter of such complete and utter
improbability as some sober people may think, that he would have
followed them out, had he not been restrained by what passed between
the fat lady and her book-keeper.
'When is she coming again, Tom?' asked the fat lady.
'Tomorrow morning,' replied Tom, mending his pen.
'Where have you sent her to?' asked the fat lady.
'Mrs Clark's,' replied Tom.
'She'll have a nice life of it, if she goes there,' observed the fat
lady, taking a pinch of snuff from a tin box.
Tom made no other reply than thrusting his tongue into his cheek,
and pointing the feather of his pen towards Nicholas--reminders
which elicited from the fat lady an inquiry, of 'Now, sir, what can
we do for YOU?'
Nicholas briefly replied, that he wanted to know whether there was
any such post to be had, as secretary or amanuensis to a gentleman.
'Any such!' rejoined the mistress; 'a-dozen-such. An't there, Tom?'
'I should think so,' answered that young gentleman; and as he said
it, he winked towards Nicholas, with a degree of familiarity which
he, no doubt, intended for a rather flattering compliment, but with
which Nicholas was most ungratefully disgusted.
Upon reference to the book, it appeared that the dozen secretaryships
had dwindled down to one. Mr Gregsbury, the great member of
parliament, of Manchester Buildings, Westminster, wanted a
young man, to keep his papers and correspondence in order; and
Nicholas was exactly the sort of young man that Mr Gregsbury wanted.
'I don't know what the terms are, as he said he'd settle them
himself with the party,' observed the fat lady; 'but they must be
pretty good ones, because he's a member of parliament.'
Inexperienced as he was, Nicholas did not feel quite assured of the
force of this reasoning, or the justice of this conclusion; but
without troubling himself to question it, he took down the address,
and resolved to wait upon Mr Gregsbury without delay.
'I don't know what the number is,' said Tom; 'but Manchester
Buildings isn't a large place; and if the worst comes to the worst
it won't take you very long to knock at all the doors on both sides
of the way till you find him out. I say, what a good-looking gal
that was, wasn't she?'
'What girl?' demanded Nicholas, sternly.
'Oh yes. I know--what gal, eh?' whispered Tom, shutting one eye,
and cocking his chin in the air. 'You didn't see her, you didn't--I
say, don't you wish you was me, when she comes tomorrow morning?'
Nicholas looked at the ugly clerk, as if he had a mind to reward his
admiration of the young lady by beating the ledger about his ears,
but he refrained, and strode haughtily out of the office; setting at
defiance, in his indignation, those ancient laws of chivalry, which
not only made it proper and lawful for all good knights to hear the
praise of the ladies to whom they were devoted, but rendered it
incumbent upon them to roam about the world, and knock at head all
such matter-of-fact and un-poetical characters, as declined to
exalt, above all the earth, damsels whom they had never chanced to
look upon or hear of--as if that were any excuse!
Thinking no longer of his own misfortunes, but wondering what could
be those of the beautiful girl he had seen, Nicholas, with many
wrong turns, and many inquiries, and almost as many misdirections,
bent his steps towards the place whither he had been directed.
Within the precincts of the ancient city of Westminster, and within
half a quarter of a mile of its ancient sanctuary, is a narrow and
dirty region, the sanctuary of the smaller members of Parliament in
modern days. It is all comprised in one street of gloomy lodging-
houses, from whose windows, in vacation-time, there frown long
melancholy rows of bills, which say, as plainly as did the
countenances of their occupiers, ranged on ministerial and
opposition benches in the session which slumbers with its fathers,
'To Let', 'To Let'. In busier periods of the year these bills
disappear, and the houses swarm with legislators. There are
legislators in the parlours, in the first floor, in the second, in
the third, in the garrets; the small apartments reek with the breath
of deputations and delegates. In damp weather, the place is
rendered close, by the steams of moist acts of parliament and frouzy
petitions; general postmen grow faint as they enter its infected
limits, and shabby figures in quest of franks, flit restlessly to
and fro like the troubled ghosts of Complete Letter-writers
departed. This is Manchester Buildings; and here, at all hours of
the night, may be heard the rattling of latch-keys in their
respective keyholes: with now and then--when a gust of wind sweeping
across the water which washes the Buildings' feet, impels the sound
towards its entrance--the weak, shrill voice of some young member
practising tomorrow's speech. All the livelong day, there is a
grinding of organs and clashing and clanging of little boxes of
music; for Manchester Buildings is an eel-pot, which has no outlet
but its awkward mouth--a case-bottle which has no thoroughfare, and
a short and narrow neck--and in this respect it may be typical of
the fate of some few among its more adventurous residents, who,
after wriggling themselves into Parliament by violent efforts and
contortions, find that it, too, is no thoroughfare for them; that,
like Manchester Buildings, it leads to nothing beyond itself; and
that they are fain at last to back out, no wiser, no richer, not one
whit more famous, than they went in.
Into Manchester Buildings Nicholas turned, with the address of the
great Mr Gregsbury in his hand. As there was a stream of people
pouring into a shabby house not far from the entrance, he waited
until they had made their way in, and then making up to the servant,
ventured to inquire if he knew where Mr Gregsbury lived.
The servant was a very pale, shabby boy, who looked as if he had
slept underground from his infancy, as very likely he had. 'Mr
Gregsbury?' said he; 'Mr Gregsbury lodges here. It's all right.
Nicholas thought he might as well get in while he could, so in he
walked; and he had no sooner done so, than the boy shut the door,
and made off.
This was odd enough: but what was more embarrassing was, that all
along the passage, and all along the narrow stairs, blocking up the
window, and making the dark entry darker still, was a confused crowd
of persons with great importance depicted in their looks; who were,
to all appearance, waiting in silent expectation of some coming
event. From time to time, one man would whisper his neighbour, or a
little group would whisper together, and then the whisperers would
nod fiercely to each other, or give their heads a relentless shake,
as if they were bent upon doing something very desperate, and were
determined not to be put off, whatever happened.
As a few minutes elapsed without anything occurring to explain this
phenomenon, and as he felt his own position a peculiarly
uncomfortable one, Nicholas was on the point of seeking some
information from the man next him, when a sudden move was visible on
the stairs, and a voice was heard to cry, 'Now, gentleman, have the
goodness to walk up!'
So far from walking up, the gentlemen on the stairs began to walk
down with great alacrity, and to entreat, with extraordinary
politeness, that the gentlemen nearest the street would go first;
the gentlemen nearest the street retorted, with equal courtesy, that
they couldn't think of such a thing on any account; but they did it,
without thinking of it, inasmuch as the other gentlemen pressing
some half-dozen (among whom was Nicholas) forward, and closing up
behind, pushed them, not merely up the stairs, but into the very
sitting-room of Mr Gregsbury, which they were thus compelled to
enter with most unseemly precipitation, and without the means of
retreat; the press behind them, more than filling the apartment.
'Gentlemen,' said Mr Gregsbury, 'you are welcome. I am rejoiced to
For a gentleman who was rejoiced to see a body of visitors, Mr
Gregsbury looked as uncomfortable as might be; but perhaps this was
occasioned by senatorial gravity, and a statesmanlike habit of
keeping his feelings under control. He was a tough, burly, thick-
headed gentleman, with a loud voice, a pompous manner, a tolerable
command of sentences with no meaning in them, and, in short, every
requisite for a very good member indeed.
'Now, gentlemen,' said Mr Gregsbury, tossing a great bundle of
papers into a wicker basket at his feet, and throwing himself back
in his chair with his arms over the elbows, 'you are dissatisfied
with my conduct, I see by the newspapers.'
'Yes, Mr Gregsbury, we are,' said a plump old gentleman in a violent
heat, bursting out of the throng, and planting himself in the front.
'Do my eyes deceive me,' said Mr Gregsbury, looking towards the
speaker, 'or is that my old friend Pugstyles?'
'I am that man, and no other, sir,' replied the plump old gentleman.
'Give me your hand, my worthy friend,' said Mr Gregsbury.
'Pugstyles, my dear friend, I am very sorry to see you here.'
'I am very sorry to be here, sir,' said Mr Pugstyles; 'but your
conduct, Mr Gregsbury, has rendered this deputation from your
constituents imperatively necessary.'
'My conduct, Pugstyles,' said Mr Gregsbury, looking round upon the
deputation with gracious magnanimity--'my conduct has been, and ever
will be, regulated by a sincere regard for the true and real
interests of this great and happy country. Whether I look at home,
or abroad; whether I behold the peaceful industrious communities of
our island home: her rivers covered with steamboats, her roads with
locomotives, her streets with cabs, her skies with balloons of a
power and magnitude hitherto unknown in the history of aeronautics
in this or any other nation--I say, whether I look merely at home,
or, stretching my eyes farther, contemplate the boundless prospect
of conquest and possession--achieved by British perseverance and
British valour--which is outspread before me, I clasp my hands, and
turning my eyes to the broad expanse above my head, exclaim, "Thank
Heaven, I am a Briton!"'
The time had been, when this burst of enthusiasm would have been
cheered to the very echo; but now, the deputation received it with
chilling coldness. The general impression seemed to be, that as an
explanation of Mr Gregsbury's political conduct, it did not enter
quite enough into detail; and one gentleman in the rear did not
scruple to remark aloud, that, for his purpose, it savoured rather
too much of a 'gammon' tendency.
'The meaning of that term--gammon,' said Mr Gregsbury, 'is unknown
to me. If it means that I grow a little too fervid, or perhaps even
hyperbolical, in extolling my native land, I admit the full justice
of the remark. I AM proud of this free and happy country. My form
dilates, my eye glistens, my breast heaves, my heart swells, my
bosom burns, when I call to mind her greatness and her glory.'
'We wish, sir,' remarked Mr Pugstyles, calmly, 'to ask you a few
'If you please, gentlemen; my time is yours--and my country's--and
my country's--' said Mr Gregsbury.
This permission being conceded, Mr Pugstyles put on his spectacles,
and referred to a written paper which he drew from his pocket;
whereupon nearly every other member of the deputation pulled a
written paper from HIS pocket, to check Mr Pugstyles off, as he read
This done, Mr Pugstyles proceeded to business.
'Question number one.--Whether, sir, you did not give a voluntary
pledge previous to your election, that in event of your being
returned, you would immediately put down the practice of coughing
and groaning in the House of Commons. And whether you did not
submit to be coughed and groaned down in the very first debate of
the session, and have since made no effort to effect a reform in
this respect? Whether you did not also pledge yourself to astonish
the government, and make them shrink in their shoes? And whether
you have astonished them, and made them shrink in their shoes, or
'Go on to the next one, my dear Pugstyles,' said Mr Gregsbury.
'Have you any explanation to offer with reference to that question,
sir?' asked Mr Pugstyles.
'Certainly not,' said Mr Gregsbury.
The members of the deputation looked fiercely at each other, and
afterwards at the member. 'Dear Pugstyles' having taken a very long
stare at Mr Gregsbury over the tops of his spectacles, resumed his
list of inquiries.
'Question number two.--Whether, sir, you did not likewise give a
voluntary pledge that you would support your colleague on every
occasion; and whether you did not, the night before last, desert him
and vote upon the other side, because the wife of a leader on that
other side had invited Mrs Gregsbury to an evening party?'
'Go on,' said Mr Gregsbury.
'Nothing to say on that, either, sir?' asked the spokesman.
'Nothing whatever,' replied Mr Gregsbury. The deputation, who had
only seen him at canvassing or election time, were struck dumb by
his coolness. He didn't appear like the same man; then he was all
milk and honey; now he was all starch and vinegar. But men ARE so
different at different times!
'Question number three--and last,' said Mr Pugstyles, emphatically.
'Whether, sir, you did not state upon the hustings, that it was your
firm and determined intention to oppose everything proposed; to
divide the house upon every question, to move for returns on every
subject, to place a motion on the books every day, and, in short, in
your own memorable words, to play the very devil with everything and
everybody?' With this comprehensive inquiry, Mr Pugstyles folded up
his list of questions, as did all his backers.
Mr Gregsbury reflected, blew his nose, threw himself further back in
his chair, came forward again, leaning his elbows on the table, made
a triangle with his two thumbs and his two forefingers, and tapping
his nose with the apex thereof, replied (smiling as he said it), 'I
At this unexpected answer, a hoarse murmur arose from the
deputation; and the same gentleman who had expressed an opinion
relative to the gammoning nature of the introductory speech, again
made a monosyllabic demonstration, by growling out 'Resign!' Which
growl being taken up by his fellows, swelled into a very earnest and
'I am requested, sir, to express a hope,' said Mr Pugstyles, with a
distant bow, 'that on receiving a requisition to that effect from a
great majority of your constituents, you will not object at once to
resign your seat in favour of some candidate whom they think they
can better trust.'
To this, Mr Gregsbury read the following reply, which, anticipating
the request, he had composed in the form of a letter, whereof copies
had been made to send round to the newspapers.
'MY DEAR MR PUGSTYLES,
'Next to the welfare of our beloved island--this great and free
and happy country, whose powers and resources are, I sincerely
believe, illimitable--I value that noble independence which is
an Englishman's proudest boast, and which I fondly hope to bequeath
to my children, untarnished and unsullied. Actuated by no personal
motives, but moved only by high and great constitutional
considerations; which I will not attempt to explain, for they are
really beneath the comprehension of those who have not made
themselves masters, as I have, of the intricate and arduous
study of politics; I would rather keep my seat, and intend doing so.
'Will you do me the favour to present my compliments to the
constituent body, and acquaint them with this circumstance?
'With great esteem,
'My dear Mr Pugstyles,
'Then you will not resign, under any circumstances?' asked the
Mr Gregsbury smiled, and shook his head.
'Then, good-morning, sir,' said Pugstyles, angrily.
'Heaven bless you!' said Mr Gregsbury. And the deputation, with
many growls and scowls, filed off as quickly as the narrowness of
the staircase would allow of their getting down.
The last man being gone, Mr Gregsbury rubbed his hands and chuckled,
as merry fellows will, when they think they have said or done a more
than commonly good thing; he was so engrossed in this self-
congratulation, that he did not observe that Nicholas had been left
behind in the shadow of the window-curtains, until that young
gentleman, fearing he might otherwise overhear some soliloquy
intended to have no listeners, coughed twice or thrice, to attract
the member's notice.
'What's that?' said Mr Gregsbury, in sharp accents.
Nicholas stepped forward, and bowed.
'What do you do here, sir?' asked Mr Gregsbury; 'a spy upon my
privacy! A concealed voter! You have heard my answer, sir. Pray
follow the deputation.'
'I should have done so, if I had belonged to it, but I do not,' said
'Then how came you here, sir?' was the natural inquiry of Mr
Gregsbury, MP. 'And where the devil have you come from, sir?' was
the question which followed it.
'I brought this card from the General Agency Office, sir,' said
Nicholas, 'wishing to offer myself as your secretary, and
understanding that you stood in need of one.'
'That's all you have come for, is it?' said Mr Gregsbury, eyeing him
in some doubt.
Nicholas replied in the affirmative.
'You have no connection with any of those rascally papers have you?'
said Mr Gregsbury. 'You didn't get into the room, to hear what was
going forward, and put it in print, eh?'
'I have no connection, I am sorry to say, with anything at present,'
rejoined Nicholas,--politely enough, but quite at his ease.
'Oh!' said Mr Gregsbury. 'How did you find your way up here, then?'
Nicholas related how he had been forced up by the deputation.
'That was the way, was it?' said Mr Gregsbury. 'Sit down.'
Nicholas took a chair, and Mr Gregsbury stared at him for a long
time, as if to make certain, before he asked any further questions,
that there were no objections to his outward appearance.
'You want to be my secretary, do you?' he said at length.
'I wish to be employed in that capacity, sir,' replied Nicholas.
'Well,' said Mr Gregsbury; 'now what can you do?'
'I suppose,' replied Nicholas, smiling, 'that I can do what usually
falls to the lot of other secretaries.'
'What's that?' inquired Mr Gregsbury.
'What is it?' replied Nicholas.
'Ah! What is it?' retorted the member, looking shrewdly at him,
with his head on one side.
'A secretary's duties are rather difficult to define, perhaps,' said
Nicholas, considering. 'They include, I presume, correspondence?'
'Good,' interposed Mr Gregsbury.
'The arrangement of papers and documents?'
'Occasionally, perhaps, the writing from your dictation; and
possibly, sir,' said Nicholas, with a half-smile, 'the copying of
your speech for some public journal, when you have made one of more
than usual importance.'
'Certainly,' rejoined Mr Gregsbury. 'What else?'
'Really,' said Nicholas, after a moment's reflection, 'I am not
able, at this instant, to recapitulate any other duty of a
secretary, beyond the general one of making himself as agreeable and
useful to his employer as he can, consistently with his own
respectability, and without overstepping that line of duties which
he undertakes to perform, and which the designation of his office is
usually understood to imply.'
Mr Gregsbury looked fixedly at Nicholas for a short time, and then
glancing warily round the room, said in a suppressed voice:
'This is all very well, Mr--what is your name?'
'This is all very well, Mr Nickleby, and very proper, so far as it
goes--so far as it goes, but it doesn't go far enough. There are
other duties, Mr Nickleby, which a secretary to a parliamentary
gentleman must never lose sight of. I should require to be crammed,
'I beg your pardon,' interposed Nicholas, doubtful whether he had
'--To be crammed, sir,' repeated Mr Gregsbury.
'May I beg your pardon again, if I inquire what you mean, sir?' said
'My meaning, sir, is perfectly plain,' replied Mr Gregsbury with a
solemn aspect. 'My secretary would have to make himself master of
the foreign policy of the world, as it is mirrored in the
newspapers; to run his eye over all accounts of public meetings, all
leading articles, and accounts of the proceedings of public bodies;
and to make notes of anything which it appeared to him might be made
a point of, in any little speech upon the question of some petition
lying on the table, or anything of that kind. Do you understand?'
'I think I do, sir,' replied Nicholas.
'Then,' said Mr Gregsbury, 'it would be necessary for him to make
himself acquainted, from day to day, with newspaper paragraphs on
passing events; such as "Mysterious disappearance, and supposed
suicide of a potboy," or anything of that sort, upon which I might
found a question to the Secretary of State for the Home Department.
Then, he would have to copy the question, and as much as I
remembered of the answer (including a little compliment about
independence and good sense); and to send the manuscript in a frank
to the local paper, with perhaps half-a-dozen lines of leader, to
the effect, that I was always to be found in my place in parliament,
and never shrunk from the responsible and arduous duties, and so
forth. You see?'
'Besides which,' continued Mr Gregsbury, 'I should expect him, now
and then, to go through a few figures in the printed tables, and to
pick out a few results, so that I might come out pretty well on
timber duty questions, and finance questions, and so on; and I
should like him to get up a few little arguments about the
disastrous effects of a return to cash payments and a metallic
currency, with a touch now and then about the exportation of
bullion, and the Emperor of Russia, and bank notes, and all that
kind of thing, which it's only necessary to talk fluently about,
because nobody understands it. Do you take me?'
'I think I understand,' said Nicholas.
'With regard to such questions as are not political,' continued Mr
Gregsbury, warming; 'and which one can't be expected to care a curse
about, beyond the natural care of not allowing inferior people to be
as well off as ourselves--else where are our privileges?--I should
wish my secretary to get together a few little flourishing speeches,
of a patriotic cast. For instance, if any preposterous bill were
brought forward, for giving poor grubbing devils of authors a right
to their own property, I should like to say, that I for one would
never consent to opposing an insurmountable bar to the diffusion of
literature among THE PEOPLE,--you understand?--that the creations of
the pocket, being man's, might belong to one man, or one family; but
that the creations of the brain, being God's, ought as a matter of
course to belong to the people at large--and if I was pleasantly
disposed, I should like to make a joke about posterity, and say that
those who wrote for posterity should be content to be rewarded by
the approbation OF posterity; it might take with the house, and
could never do me any harm, because posterity can't be expected to
know anything about me or my jokes either--do you see?'
'I see that, sir,' replied Nicholas.
'You must always bear in mind, in such cases as this, where our
interests are not affected,' said Mr Gregsbury, 'to put it very
strong about the people, because it comes out very well at election-
time; and you could be as funny as you liked about the authors;
because I believe the greater part of them live in lodgings, and are
not voters. This is a hasty outline of the chief things you'd have
to do, except waiting in the lobby every night, in case I forgot
anything, and should want fresh cramming; and, now and then, during
great debates, sitting in the front row of the gallery, and saying
to the people about--'You see that gentleman, with his hand to his
face, and his arm twisted round the pillar--that's Mr Gregsbury--the
celebrated Mr Gregsbury,'--with any other little eulogium that might
strike you at the moment. And for salary,' said Mr Gregsbury,
winding up with great rapidity; for he was out of breath--'and for
salary, I don't mind saying at once in round numbers, to prevent any
dissatisfaction--though it's more than I've been accustomed to give
--fifteen shillings a week, and find yourself. There!'
With this handsome offer, Mr Gregsbury once more threw himself back
in his chair, and looked like a man who had been most profligately
liberal, but is determined not to repent of it notwithstanding.
'Fifteen shillings a week is not much,' said Nicholas, mildly.
'Not much! Fifteen shillings a week not much, young man?' cried Mr
Gregsbury. 'Fifteen shillings a--'
'Pray do not suppose that I quarrel with the sum, sir,' replied
Nicholas; 'for I am not ashamed to confess, that whatever it may be
in itself, to me it is a great deal. But the duties and
responsibilities make the recompense small, and they are so very
heavy that I fear to undertake them.'
'Do you decline to undertake them, sir?' inquired Mr Gregsbury, with
his hand on the bell-rope.
'I fear they are too great for my powers, however good my will may
be, sir,' replied Nicholas.
'That is as much as to say that you had rather not accept the place,
and that you consider fifteen shillings a week too little,' said Mr
Gregsbury, ringing. 'Do you decline it, sir?'
'I have no alternative but to do so,' replied Nicholas.
'Door, Matthews!' said Mr Gregsbury, as the boy appeared.
'I am sorry I have troubled you unnecessarily, sir,' said Nicholas,
'I am sorry you have,' rejoined Mr Gregsbury, turning his back upon
him. 'Door, Matthews!'
'Good-morning, sir,' said Nicholas.
'Door, Matthews!' cried Mr Gregsbury.
The boy beckoned Nicholas, and tumbling lazily downstairs before
him, opened the door, and ushered him into the street. With a sad
and pensive air, he retraced his steps homewards.
Smike had scraped a meal together from the remnant of last night's
supper, and was anxiously awaiting his return. The occurrences of
the morning had not improved Nicholas's appetite, and, by him, the
dinner remained untasted. He was sitting in a thoughtful attitude,
with the plate which the poor fellow had assiduously filled with the
choicest morsels, untouched, by his side, when Newman Noggs looked
into the room.
'Come back?' asked Newman.
'Yes,' replied Nicholas, 'tired to death: and, what is worse, might
have remained at home for all the good I have done.'
'Couldn't expect to do much in one morning,' said Newman.
'Maybe so, but I am sanguine, and did expect,' said Nicholas, 'and
am proportionately disappointed.' Saying which, he gave Newman an
account of his proceedings.
'If I could do anything,' said Nicholas, 'anything, however slight,
until Ralph Nickleby returns, and I have eased my mind by
confronting him, I should feel happier. I should think it no
disgrace to work, Heaven knows. Lying indolently here, like a half-
tamed sullen beast, distracts me.'
'I don't know,' said Newman; 'small things offer--they would pay the
rent, and more--but you wouldn't like them; no, you could hardly be
expected to undergo it--no, no.'
'What could I hardly be expected to undergo?' asked Nicholas,
raising his eyes. 'Show me, in this wide waste of London, any
honest means by which I could even defray the weekly hire of this
poor room, and see if I shrink from resorting to them! Undergo! I
have undergone too much, my friend, to feel pride or squeamishness
now. Except--' added Nicholas hastily, after a short silence,
'except such squeamishness as is common honesty, and so much pride
as constitutes self-respect. I see little to choose, between
assistant to a brutal pedagogue, and toad-eater to a mean and
ignorant upstart, be he member or no member.'
'I hardly know whether I should tell you what I heard this morning,
or not,' said Newman.
'Has it reference to what you said just now?' asked Nicholas.
'Then in Heaven's name, my good friend, tell it me,' said Nicholas.
'For God's sake consider my deplorable condition; and, while I
promise to take no step without taking counsel with you, give me, at
least, a vote in my own behalf.'
Moved by this entreaty, Newman stammered forth a variety of most
unaccountable and entangled sentences, the upshot of which was, that
Mrs Kenwigs had examined him, at great length that morning, touching
the origin of his acquaintance with, and the whole life, adventures,
and pedigree of, Nicholas; that Newman had parried these questions
as long as he could, but being, at length, hard pressed and driven
into a corner, had gone so far as to admit, that Nicholas was a
tutor of great accomplishments, involved in some misfortunes which
he was not at liberty to explain, and bearing the name of Johnson.
That Mrs Kenwigs, impelled by gratitude, or ambition, or maternal
pride, or maternal love, or all four powerful motives conjointly,
had taken secret conference with Mr Kenwigs, and had finally
returned to propose that Mr Johnson should instruct the four Miss
Kenwigses in the French language as spoken by natives, at the weekly
stipend of five shillings, current coin of the realm; being at the
rate of one shilling per week, per each Miss Kenwigs, and one
shilling over, until such time as the baby might be able to take it
out in grammar.
'Which, unless I am very much mistaken,' observed Mrs Kenwigs in
making the proposition, 'will not be very long; for such clever
children, Mr Noggs, never were born into this world, I do believe.'
'There,' said Newman, 'that's all. It's beneath you, I know; but I
thought that perhaps you might--'
'Might!' cried Nicholas, with great alacrity; 'of course I shall. I
accept the offer at once. Tell the worthy mother so, without delay,
my dear fellow; and that I am ready to begin whenever she pleases.'
Newman hastened, with joyful steps, to inform Mrs Kenwigs of his
friend's acquiescence, and soon returning, brought back word that
they would be happy to see him in the first floor as soon as
convenient; that Mrs Kenwigs had, upon the instant, sent out to
secure a second-hand French grammar and dialogues, which had long
been fluttering in the sixpenny box at the bookstall round the
corner; and that the family, highly excited at the prospect of this
addition to their gentility, wished the initiatory lesson to come
And here it may be observed, that Nicholas was not, in the ordinary
sense of the word, a young man of high spirit. He would resent an
affront to himself, or interpose to redress a wrong offered to
another, as boldly and freely as any knight that ever set lance in
rest; but he lacked that peculiar excess of coolness and great-
minded selfishness, which invariably distinguish gentlemen of high
spirit. In truth, for our own part, we are disposed to look upon
such gentleman as being rather incumbrances than otherwise in rising
families: happening to be acquainted with several whose spirit
prevents their settling down to any grovelling occupation, and only
displays itself in a tendency to cultivate moustachios, and look
fierce; and although moustachios and ferocity are both very pretty
things in their way, and very much to be commended, we confess to a
desire to see them bred at the owner's proper cost, rather than at
the expense of low-spirited people.
Nicholas, therefore, not being a high-spirited young man according
to common parlance, and deeming it a greater degradation to borrow,
for the supply of his necessities, from Newman Noggs, than to teach
French to the little Kenwigses for five shillings a week, accepted
the offer with the alacrity already described, and betook himself to
the first floor with all convenient speed.
Here, he was received by Mrs Kenwigs with a genteel air, kindly
intended to assure him of her protection and support; and here, too,
he found Mr Lillyvick and Miss Petowker; the four Miss Kenwigses on
their form of audience; and the baby in a dwarf porter's chair with
a deal tray before it, amusing himself with a toy horse without a
head; the said horse being composed of a small wooden cylinder, not
unlike an Italian iron, supported on four crooked pegs, and painted
in ingenious resemblance of red wafers set in blacking.
'How do you do, Mr Johnson?' said Mrs Kenwigs. 'Uncle--Mr Johnson.'
'How do you do, sir?' said Mr Lillyvick--rather sharply; for he had
not known what Nicholas was, on the previous night, and it was
rather an aggravating circumstance if a tax collector had been too
polite to a teacher.
'Mr Johnson is engaged as private master to the children, uncle,'
said Mrs Kenwigs.
'So you said just now, my dear,' replied Mr Lillyvick.
'But I hope,' said Mrs Kenwigs, drawing herself up, 'that that will
not make them proud; but that they will bless their own good
fortune, which has born them superior to common people's children.
Do you hear, Morleena?'
'Yes, ma,' replied Miss Kenwigs.
'And when you go out in the streets, or elsewhere, I desire that you
don't boast of it to the other children,' said Mrs Kenwigs; 'and
that if you must say anything about it, you don't say no more than
"We've got a private master comes to teach us at home, but we ain't
proud, because ma says it's sinful." Do you hear, Morleena?'
'Yes, ma,' replied Miss Kenwigs again.
'Then mind you recollect, and do as I tell you,' said Mrs Kenwigs.
'Shall Mr Johnson begin, uncle?'
'I am ready to hear, if Mr Johnson is ready to commence, my dear,'
said the collector, assuming the air of a profound critic. 'What
sort of language do you consider French, sir?'
'How do you mean?' asked Nicholas.
'Do you consider it a good language, sir?' said the collector; 'a
pretty language, a sensible language?'
'A pretty language, certainly,' replied Nicholas; 'and as it has a
name for everything, and admits of elegant conversation about
everything, I presume it is a sensible one.'
'I don't know,' said Mr Lillyvick, doubtfully. 'Do you call it a
cheerful language, now?'
'Yes,' replied Nicholas, 'I should say it was, certainly.'
'It's very much changed since my time, then,' said the collector,
'Was it a dismal one in your time?' asked Nicholas, scarcely able to
repress a smile.
'Very,' replied Mr Lillyvick, with some vehemence of manner. 'It's
the war time that I speak of; the last war. It may be a cheerful
language. I should be sorry to contradict anybody; but I can only
say that I've heard the French prisoners, who were natives, and
ought to know how to speak it, talking in such a dismal manner, that
it made one miserable to hear them. Ay, that I have, fifty times,
Mr Lillyvick was waxing so cross, that Mrs Kenwigs thought it
expedient to motion to Nicholas not to say anything; and it was not
until Miss Petowker had practised several blandishments, to soften
the excellent old gentleman, that he deigned to break silence by
'What's the water in French, sir?'
'L'EAU,' replied Nicholas.
'Ah!' said Mr Lillyvick, shaking his head mournfully, 'I thought as
much. Lo, eh? I don't think anything of that language--nothing at
'I suppose the children may begin, uncle?' said Mrs Kenwigs.
'Oh yes; they may begin, my dear,' replied the collector,
discontentedly. 'I have no wish to prevent them.'
This permission being conceded, the four Miss Kenwigses sat in a
row, with their tails all one way, and Morleena at the top: while
Nicholas, taking the book, began his preliminary explanations. Miss
Petowker and Mrs Kenwigs looked on, in silent admiration, broken
only by the whispered assurances of the latter, that Morleena would
have it all by heart in no time; and Mr Lillyvick regarded the group
with frowning and attentive eyes, lying in wait for something upon
which he could open a fresh discussion on the language.
Follows the Fortunes of Miss Nickleby
It was with a heavy heart, and many sad forebodings which no effort
could banish, that Kate Nickleby, on the morning appointed for the
commencement of her engagement with Madame Mantalini, left the city
when its clocks yet wanted a quarter of an hour of eight, and
threaded her way alone, amid the noise and bustle of the streets,
towards the west end of London.
At this early hour many sickly girls, whose business, like that of
the poor worm, is to produce, with patient toil, the finery that
bedecks the thoughtless and luxurious, traverse our streets, making
towards the scene of their daily labour, and catching, as if by
stealth, in their hurried walk, the only gasp of wholesome air and
glimpse of sunlight which cheer their monotonous existence during
the long train of hours that make a working day. As she drew nigh
to the more fashionable quarter of the town, Kate marked many of
this class as they passed by, hurrying like herself to their painful
occupation, and saw, in their unhealthy looks and feeble gait, but
too clear an evidence that her misgivings were not wholly groundless.
She arrived at Madame Mantalini's some minutes before the appointed
hour, and after walking a few times up and down, in the hope that
some other female might arrive and spare her the embarrassment of
stating her business to the servant, knocked timidly at the door:
which, after some delay, was opened by the footman, who had been
putting on his striped jacket as he came upstairs, and was now
intent on fastening his apron.
'Is Madame Mantalini in?' faltered Kate.
'Not often out at this time, miss,' replied the man in a tone which
rendered "Miss," something more offensive than "My dear."
'Can I see her?' asked Kate.
'Eh?' replied the man, holding the door in his hand, and honouring
the inquirer with a stare and a broad grin, 'Lord, no.'
'I came by her own appointment,' said Kate; 'I am--I am--to be
'Oh! you should have rung the worker's bell,' said the footman,
touching the handle of one in the door-post. 'Let me see, though, I
forgot--Miss Nickleby, is it?'
'Yes,' replied Kate.
'You're to walk upstairs then, please,' said the man. 'Madame
Mantalini wants to see you--this way--take care of these things on
Cautioning her, in these terms, not to trip over a heterogeneous
litter of pastry-cook's trays, lamps, waiters full of glasses, and
piles of rout seats which were strewn about the hall, plainly
bespeaking a late party on the previous night, the man led the way
to the second story, and ushered Kate into a back-room,
communicating by folding-doors with the apartment in which she had
first seen the mistress of the establishment.
'If you'll wait here a minute,' said the man, 'I'll tell her
presently.' Having made this promise with much affability, he
retired and left Kate alone.
There was not much to amuse in the room; of which the most
attractive feature was, a half-length portrait in oil, of Mr
Mantalini, whom the artist had depicted scratching his head in an
easy manner, and thus displaying to advantage a diamond ring, the
gift of Madame Mantalini before her marriage. There was, however,
the sound of voices in conversation in the next room; and as the
conversation was loud and the partition thin, Kate could not help
discovering that they belonged to Mr and Mrs Mantalini.
'If you will be odiously, demnebly, outrIgeously jealous, my soul,'
said Mr Mantalini, 'you will be very miserable--horrid miserable--
demnition miserable.' And then, there was a sound as though Mr
Mantalini were sipping his coffee.
'I AM miserable,' returned Madame Mantalini, evidently pouting.
'Then you are an ungrateful, unworthy, demd unthankful little
fairy,' said Mr Mantalini.
'I am not,' returned Madame, with a sob.
'Do not put itself out of humour,' said Mr Mantalini, breaking an
egg. 'It is a pretty, bewitching little demd countenance, and it
should not be out of humour, for it spoils its loveliness, and makes
it cross and gloomy like a frightful, naughty, demd hobgoblin.'
'I am not to be brought round in that way, always,' rejoined Madame,
'It shall be brought round in any way it likes best, and not brought
round at all if it likes that better,' retorted Mr Mantalini, with
his egg-spoon in his mouth.