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The Life And Adventures Of Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens

Part 13 out of 20

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'Why, in the top back room, at my lodging,' replied Squeers, 'with
him on one side, and the key on the other.'

'At thy loodgin'! Thee'st gotten him at thy loodgin'? Ho! ho! The
schoolmeasther agin all England. Give us thee hond, mun; I'm
darned but I must shak thee by the hond for thot.--Gotten him at thy
loodgin'?'

'Yes,' replied Squeers, staggering in his chair under the
congratulatory blow on the chest which the stout Yorkshireman dealt
him; 'thankee. Don't do it again. You mean it kindly, I know,
but it hurts rather. Yes, there he is. That's not so bad, is it?'

'Ba'ad!' repeated John Browdie. 'It's eneaf to scare a mun to hear
tell on.'

'I thought it would surprise you a bit,' said Squeers, rubbing his
hands. 'It was pretty neatly done, and pretty quick too.'

'Hoo wor it?' inquired John, sitting down close to him. 'Tell us
all aboot it, mun; coom, quick!'

Although he could not keep pace with John Browdie's impatience, Mr
Squeers related the lucky chance by which Smike had fallen into his
hands, as quickly as he could, and, except when he was interrupted
by the admiring remarks of his auditors, paused not in the recital
until he had brought it to an end.

'For fear he should give me the slip, by any chance,' observed
Squeers, when he had finished, looking very cunning, 'I've taken
three outsides for tomorrow morning--for Wackford and him and me--
and have arranged to leave the accounts and the new boys to the
agent, don't you see? So it's very lucky you come today, or you'd
have missed us; and as it is, unless you could come and tea with me
tonight, we shan't see anything more of you before we go away.'

'Dean't say anoother wurd,' returned the Yorkshireman, shaking him
by the hand. 'We'd coom, if it was twonty mile.'

'No, would you though?' returned Mr Squeers, who had not expected
quite such a ready acceptance of his invitation, or he would have
considered twice before he gave it.

John Browdie's only reply was another squeeze of the hand, and an
assurance that they would not begin to see London till tomorrow, so
that they might be at Mr Snawley's at six o'clock without fail; and
after some further conversation, Mr Squeers and his son departed.

During the remainder of the day, Mr Browdie was in a very odd and
excitable state; bursting occasionally into an explosion of
laughter, and then taking up his hat and running into the coach-yard
to have it out by himself. He was very restless too, constantly
walking in and out, and snapping his fingers, and dancing scraps of
uncouth country dances, and, in short, conducting himself in such a
very extraordinary manner, that Miss Squeers opined he was going
mad, and, begging her dear 'Tilda not to distress herself,
communicated her suspicions in so many words. Mrs Browdie, however,
without discovering any great alarm, observed that she had seen him
so once before, and that although he was almost sure to be ill after
it, it would not be anything very serious, and therefore he was
better left alone.

The result proved her to be perfectly correct for, while they were
all sitting in Mr Snawley's parlour that night, and just as it was
beginning to get dusk, John Browdie was taken so ill, and seized
with such an alarming dizziness in the head, that the whole company
were thrown into the utmost consternation. His good lady, indeed,
was the only person present, who retained presence of mind enough to
observe that if he were allowed to lie down on Mr Squeers's bed for
an hour or so, and left entirely to himself, he would be sure to
recover again almost as quickly as he had been taken ill. Nobody
could refuse to try the effect of so reasonable a proposal, before
sending for a surgeon. Accordingly, John was supported upstairs,
with great difficulty; being a monstrous weight, and regularly
tumbling down two steps every time they hoisted him up three; and,
being laid on the bed, was left in charge of his wife, who, after a
short interval, reappeared in the parlour, with the gratifying
intelligence that he had fallen fast asleep.

Now, the fact was, that at that particular moment, John Browdie was
sitting on the bed with the reddest face ever seen, cramming the
corner of the pillow into his mouth, to prevent his roaring out loud
with laughter. He had no sooner succeeded in suppressing this
emotion, than he slipped off his shoes, and creeping to the
adjoining room where the prisoner was confined, turned the key,
which was on the outside, and darting in, covered Smike's mouth with
his huge hand before he could utter a sound.

'Ods-bobs, dost thee not know me, mun?' whispered the Yorkshireman
to the bewildered lad. 'Browdie. Chap as met thee efther
schoolmeasther was banged?'

'Yes, yes,' cried Smike. 'Oh! help me.'

'Help thee!' replied John, stopping his mouth again, the instant he
had said this much. 'Thee didn't need help, if thee warn't as silly
yoongster as ever draw'd breath. Wa'at did 'ee come here for,
then?'

'He brought me; oh! he brought me,' cried Smike.

'Brout thee!' replied John. 'Why didn't 'ee punch his head, or lay
theeself doon and kick, and squeal out for the pollis? I'd ha'
licked a doozen such as him when I was yoong as thee. But thee
be'est a poor broken-doon chap,' said John, sadly, 'and God forgi'
me for bragging ower yan o' his weakest creeturs!'

Smike opened his mouth to speak, but John Browdie stopped him.

'Stan' still,' said the Yorkshireman, 'and doant'ee speak a morsel
o' talk till I tell'ee.'

With this caution, John Browdie shook his head significantly, and
drawing a screwdriver from his pocket, took off the box of the lock
in a very deliberate and workmanlike manner, and laid it, together
with the implement, on the floor.

'See thot?' said John 'Thot be thy doin'. Noo, coot awa'!'

Smike looked vacantly at him, as if unable to comprehend his
meaning.

'I say, coot awa',' repeated John, hastily. 'Dost thee know where
thee livest? Thee dost? Weel. Are yon thy clothes, or
schoolmeasther's?'

'Mine,' replied Smike, as the Yorkshireman hurried him to the
adjoining room, and pointed out a pair of shoes and a coat which
were lying on a chair.

'On wi' 'em,' said John, forcing the wrong arm into the wrong
sleeve, and winding the tails of the coat round the fugitive's neck.
'Noo, foller me, and when thee get'st ootside door, turn to the
right, and they wean't see thee pass.'

'But--but--he'll hear me shut the door,' replied Smike, trembling
from head to foot.

'Then dean't shut it at all,' retorted John Browdie. 'Dang it, thee
bean't afeard o' schoolmeasther's takkin cold, I hope?'

'N-no,' said Smike, his teeth chattering in his head. 'But he
brought me back before, and will again. He will, he will indeed.'

'He wull, he wull!' replied John impatiently. 'He wean't, he
wean't. Look'ee! I wont to do this neighbourly loike, and let them
think thee's gotten awa' o' theeself, but if he cooms oot o' thot
parlour awhiles theer't clearing off, he mun' have mercy on his oun
boans, for I wean't. If he foinds it oot, soon efther, I'll put 'un
on a wrong scent, I warrant 'ee. But if thee keep'st a good hart,
thee'lt be at whoam afore they know thee'st gotten off. Coom!'

Smike, who comprehended just enough of this to know it was intended
as encouragement, prepared to follow with tottering steps, when John
whispered in his ear.

'Thee'lt just tell yoong Measther that I'm sploiced to 'Tilly Price,
and to be heerd on at the Saracen by latther, and that I bean't
jealous of 'un--dang it, I'm loike to boost when I think o' that
neight! 'Cod, I think I see 'un now, a powderin' awa' at the thin
bread an' butther!'

It was rather a ticklish recollection for John just then, for he was
within an ace of breaking out into a loud guffaw. Restraining
himself, however, just in time, by a great effort, he glided
downstairs, hauling Smike behind him; and placing himself close to
the parlour door, to confront the first person that might come out,
signed to him to make off.

Having got so far, Smike needed no second bidding. Opening the
house-door gently, and casting a look of mingled gratitude and
terror at his deliverer, he took the direction which had been
indicated to him, and sped away like the wind.

The Yorkshireman remained on his post for a few minutes, but,
finding that there was no pause in the conversation inside, crept
back again unheard, and stood, listening over the stair-rail, for a
full hour. Everything remaining perfectly quiet, he got into Mr
Squeers's bed, once more, and drawing the clothes over his head,
laughed till he was nearly smothered.

If there could only have been somebody by, to see how the bedclothes
shook, and to see the Yorkshireman's great red face and round head
appear above the sheets, every now and then, like some jovial
monster coming to the surface to breathe, and once more dive down
convulsed with the laughter which came bursting forth afresh--that
somebody would have been scarcely less amused than John Browdie
himself.

CHAPTER 40

In which Nicholas falls in Love. He employs a Mediator, whose
Proceedings are crowned with unexpected Success, excepting in one
solitary Particular

Once more out of the clutches of his old persecutor, it needed no
fresh stimulation to call forth the utmost energy and exertion that
Smike was capable of summoning to his aid. Without pausing for a
moment to reflect upon the course he was taking, or the probability
of its leading him homewards or the reverse, he fled away with
surprising swiftness and constancy of purpose, borne upon such wings
as only Fear can wear, and impelled by imaginary shouts in the well
remembered voice of Squeers, who, with a host of pursuers, seemed to
the poor fellow's disordered senses to press hard upon his track;
now left at a greater distance in the rear, and now gaining faster
and faster upon him, as the alternations of hope and terror agitated
him by turns. Long after he had become assured that these sounds
were but the creation of his excited brain, he still held on, at a
pace which even weakness and exhaustion could scarcely retard. It
was not until the darkness and quiet of a country road, recalled him
to a sense of external objects, and the starry sky, above, warned
him of the rapid flight of time, that, covered with dust and panting
for breath, he stopped to listen and look about him.

All was still and silent. A glare of light in the distance, casting
a warm glow upon the sky, marked where the huge city lay. Solitary
fields, divided by hedges and ditches, through many of which he had
crashed and scrambled in his flight, skirted the road, both by the
way he had come and upon the opposite side. It was late now. They
could scarcely trace him by such paths as he had taken, and if he
could hope to regain his own dwelling, it must surely be at such a
time as that, and under cover of the darkness. This, by degrees,
became pretty plain, even to the mind of Smike. He had, at first,
entertained some vague and childish idea of travelling into the
country for ten or a dozen miles, and then returning homewards by a
wide circuit, which should keep him clear of London--so great was
his apprehension of traversing the streets alone, lest he should
again encounter his dreaded enemy--but, yielding to the conviction
which these thoughts inspired, he turned back, and taking the open
road, though not without many fears and misgivings, made for London
again, with scarcely less speed of foot than that with which he had
left the temporary abode of Mr Squeers.

By the time he re-entered it, at the western extremity, the greater
part of the shops were closed. Of the throngs of people who had
been tempted abroad after the heat of the day, but few remained in
the streets, and they were lounging home. But of these he asked his
way from time to time, and by dint of repeated inquiries, he at
length reached the dwelling of Newman Noggs.

All that evening, Newman had been hunting and searching in byways
and corners for the very person who now knocked at his door, while
Nicholas had been pursuing the same inquiry in other directions. He
was sitting, with a melancholy air, at his poor supper, when Smike's
timorous and uncertain knock reached his ears. Alive to every
sound, in his anxious and expectant state, Newman hurried
downstairs, and, uttering a cry of joyful surprise, dragged the
welcome visitor into the passage and up the stairs, and said not a
word until he had him safe in his own garret and the door was shut
behind them, when he mixed a great mug-full of gin-and-water, and
holding it to Smike's mouth, as one might hold a bowl of medicine to
the lips of a refractory child, commanded him to drain it to the
last drop.

Newman looked uncommonly blank when he found that Smike did little
more than put his lips to the precious mixture; he was in the act of
raising the mug to his own mouth with a deep sigh of compassion for
his poor friend's weakness, when Smike, beginning to relate the
adventures which had befallen him, arrested him half-way, and he
stood listening, with the mug in his hand.

It was odd enough to see the change that came over Newman as Smike
proceeded. At first he stood, rubbing his lips with the back of his
hand, as a preparatory ceremony towards composing himself for a
draught; then, at the mention of Squeers, he took the mug under his
arm, and opening his eyes very wide, looked on, in the utmost
astonishment. When Smike came to the assault upon himself in the
hackney coach, he hastily deposited the mug upon the table, and
limped up and down the room in a state of the greatest excitement,
stopping himself with a jerk, every now and then, as if to listen
more attentively. When John Browdie came to be spoken of, he
dropped, by slow and gradual degrees, into a chair, and rubbing, his
hands upon his knees--quicker and quicker as the story reached its
climax--burst, at last, into a laugh composed of one loud sonorous
'Ha! ha!' having given vent to which, his countenance immediately
fell again as he inquired, with the utmost anxiety, whether it was
probable that John Browdie and Squeers had come to blows.

'No! I think not,' replied Smike. 'I don't think he could have
missed me till I had got quite away.'

Newman scratched his head with a shout of great disappointment, and
once more lifting up the mug, applied himself to the contents;
smiling meanwhile, over the rim, with a grim and ghastly smile at
Smike.

'You shall stay here,' said Newman; 'you're tired--fagged. I'll
tell them you're come back. They have been half mad about you. Mr
Nicholas--'

'God bless him!' cried Smike.

'Amen!' returned Newman. 'He hasn't had a minute's rest or peace;
no more has the old lady, nor Miss Nickleby.'

'No, no. Has SHE thought about me?' said Smike. 'Has she though?
oh, has she, has she? Don't tell me so if she has not.'

'She has,' cried Newman. 'She is as noble-hearted as she is
beautiful.'

'Yes, yes!' cried Smike. 'Well said!'

'So mild and gentle,' said Newman.

'Yes, yes!' cried Smike, with increasing eagerness.

'And yet with such a true and gallant spirit,' pursued Newman.

He was going on, in his enthusiasm, when, chancing to look at his
companion, he saw that he had covered his face with his hands, and
that tears were stealing out between his fingers.

A moment before, the boy's eyes were sparkling with unwonted fire,
and every feature had been lighted up with an excitement which made
him appear, for the moment, quite a different being.

'Well, well,' muttered Newman, as if he were a little puzzled. 'It
has touched ME, more than once, to think such a nature should have
been exposed to such trials; this poor fellow--yes, yes,--he feels
that too--it softens him--makes him think of his former misery.
Hah! That's it? Yes, that's--hum!'

It was by no means clear, from the tone of these broken reflections,
that Newman Noggs considered them as explaining, at all
satisfactorily, the emotion which had suggested them. He sat, in a
musing attitude, for some time, regarding Smike occasionally with an
anxious and doubtful glance, which sufficiently showed that he was
not very remotely connected with his thoughts.

At length he repeated his proposition that Smike should remain where
he was for that night, and that he (Noggs) should straightway repair
to the cottage to relieve the suspense of the family. But, as Smike
would not hear of this--pleading his anxiety to see his friends
again--they eventually sallied forth together; and the night being,
by this time, far advanced, and Smike being, besides, so footsore
that he could hardly crawl along, it was within an hour of sunrise
when they reached their destination.

At the first sound of their voices outside the house, Nicholas, who
had passed a sleepless night, devising schemes for the recovery of
his lost charge, started from his bed, and joyfully admitted them.
There was so much noisy conversation, and congratulation, and
indignation, that the remainder of the family were soon awakened,
and Smike received a warm and cordial welcome, not only from Kate,
but from Mrs Nickleby also, who assured him of her future favour and
regard, and was so obliging as to relate, for his entertainment and
that of the assembled circle, a most remarkable account extracted
from some work the name of which she had never known, of a
miraculous escape from some prison, but what one she couldn't
remember, effected by an officer whose name she had forgotten,
confined for some crime which she didn't clearly recollect.

At first Nicholas was disposed to give his uncle credit for some
portion of this bold attempt (which had so nearly proved successful)
to carry off Smike; but on more mature consideration, he was
inclined to think that the full merit of it rested with Mr Squeers.
Determined to ascertain, if he could, through John Browdie, how the
case really stood, he betook himself to his daily occupation:
meditating, as he went, on a great variety of schemes for the
punishment of the Yorkshire schoolmaster, all of which had their
foundation in the strictest principles of retributive justice, and
had but the one drawback of being wholly impracticable.

'A fine morning, Mr Linkinwater!' said Nicholas, entering the
office.

'Ah!' replied Tim, 'talk of the country, indeed! What do you think
of this, now, for a day--a London day--eh?'

'It's a little clearer out of town,' said Nicholas.

'Clearer!' echoed Tim Linkinwater. 'You should see it from my
bedroom window.'

'You should see it from MINE,' replied Nicholas, with a smile.

'Pooh! pooh!' said Tim Linkinwater, 'don't tell me. Country!' (Bow
was quite a rustic place to Tim.) 'Nonsense! What can you get in
the country but new-laid eggs and flowers? I can buy new-laid eggs
in Leadenhall Market, any morning before breakfast; and as to
flowers, it's worth a run upstairs to smell my mignonette, or to see
the double wallflower in the back-attic window, at No. 6, in the
court.'

'There is a double wallflower at No. 6, in the court, is there?'
said Nicholas.

'Yes, is there!' replied Tim, 'and planted in a cracked jug, without
a spout. There were hyacinths there, this last spring, blossoming,
in--but you'll laugh at that, of course.'

'At what?'

'At their blossoming in old blacking-bottles,' said Tim.

'Not I, indeed,' returned Nicholas.

Tim looked wistfully at him, for a moment, as if he were encouraged
by the tone of this reply to be more communicative on the subject;
and sticking behind his ear, a pen that he had been making, and
shutting up his knife with a smart click, said,

'They belong to a sickly bedridden hump-backed boy, and seem to be
the only pleasure, Mr Nickleby, of his sad existence. How many
years is it,' said Tim, pondering, 'since I first noticed him, quite
a little child, dragging himself about on a pair of tiny crutches?
Well! Well! Not many; but though they would appear nothing, if I
thought of other things, they seem a long, long time, when I think
of him. It is a sad thing,' said Tim, breaking off, 'to see a
little deformed child sitting apart from other children, who are
active and merry, watching the games he is denied the power to share
in. He made my heart ache very often.'

'It is a good heart,' said Nicholas, 'that disentangles itself from
the close avocations of every day, to heed such things. You were
saying--'

'That the flowers belonged to this poor boy,' said Tim; 'that's all.
When it is fine weather, and he can crawl out of bed, he draws a
chair close to the window, and sits there, looking at them and
arranging them, all day long. He used to nod, at first, and then we
came to speak. Formerly, when I called to him of a morning, and
asked him how he was, he would smile, and say, "Better!" but now he
shakes his head, and only bends more closely over his old plants.
It must be dull to watch the dark housetops and the flying clouds,
for so many months; but he is very patient.'

'Is there nobody in the house to cheer or help him?' asked Nicholas.

'His father lives there, I believe,' replied Tim, 'and other people
too; but no one seems to care much for the poor sickly cripple. I
have asked him, very often, if I can do nothing for him; his answer
is always the same. "Nothing." His voice is growing weak of late,
but I can SEE that he makes the old reply. He can't leave his bed
now, so they have moved it close beside the window, and there he
lies, all day: now looking at the sky, and now at his flowers, which
he still makes shift to trim and water, with his own thin hands. At
night, when he sees my candle, he draws back his curtain, and leaves
it so, till I am in bed. It seems such company to him to know that
I am there, that I often sit at my window for an hour or more, that
he may see I am still awake; and sometimes I get up in the night to
look at the dull melancholy light in his little room, and wonder
whether he is awake or sleeping.

'The night will not be long coming,' said Tim, 'when he will sleep,
and never wake again on earth. We have never so much as shaken
hands in all our lives; and yet I shall miss him like an old friend.
Are there any country flowers that could interest me like these, do
you think? Or do you suppose that the withering of a hundred kinds
of the choicest flowers that blow, called by the hardest Latin names
that were ever invented, would give me one fraction of the pain that
I shall feel when these old jugs and bottles are swept away as
lumber? Country!' cried Tim, with a contemptuous emphasis; 'don't
you know that I couldn't have such a court under my bedroom window,
anywhere, but in London?'

With which inquiry, Tim turned his back, and pretending to be
absorbed in his accounts, took an opportunity of hastily wiping his
eyes when he supposed Nicholas was looking another way.

Whether it was that Tim's accounts were more than usually intricate
that morning, or whether it was that his habitual serenity had been
a little disturbed by these recollections, it so happened that when
Nicholas returned from executing some commission, and inquired
whether Mr Charles Cheeryble was alone in his room, Tim promptly,
and without the smallest hesitation, replied in the affirmative,
although somebody had passed into the room not ten minutes before,
and Tim took especial and particular pride in preventing any
intrusion on either of the brothers when they were engaged with any
visitor whatever.

'I'll take this letter to him at once,' said Nicholas, 'if that's
the case.' And with that, he walked to the room and knocked at the
door.

No answer.

Another knock, and still no answer.

'He can't be here,' thought Nicholas. 'I'll lay it on his table.'

So, Nicholas opened the door and walked in; and very quickly he
turned to walk out again, when he saw, to his great astonishment and
discomfiture, a young lady upon her knees at Mr Cheeryble's feet,
and Mr Cheeryble beseeching her to rise, and entreating a third
person, who had the appearance of the young lady's female
attendant, to add her persuasions to his to induce her to do so.

Nicholas stammered out an awkward apology, and was precipitately
retiring, when the young lady, turning her head a little, presented
to his view the features of the lovely girl whom he had seen at the
register-office on his first visit long before. Glancing from her
to the attendant, he recognised the same clumsy servant who had
accompanied her then; and between his admiration of the young lady's
beauty, and the confusion and surprise of this unexpected
recognition, he stood stock-still, in such a bewildered state of
surprise and embarrassment that, for the moment, he was quite bereft
of the power either to speak or move.

'My dear ma'am--my dear young lady,' cried brother Charles in
violent agitation, 'pray don't--not another word, I beseech and
entreat you! I implore you--I beg of you--to rise. We--we--are not
alone.'

As he spoke, he raised the young lady, who staggered to a chair and
swooned away.

'She has fainted, sir,' said Nicholas, darting eagerly forward.

'Poor dear, poor dear!' cried brother Charles 'Where is my brother
Ned? Ned, my dear brother, come here pray.'

'Brother Charles, my dear fellow,' replied his brother, hurrying
into the room, 'what is the--ah! what--'

'Hush! hush!--not a word for your life, brother Ned,' returned the
other. 'Ring for the housekeeper, my dear brother--call Tim
Linkinwater! Here, Tim Linkinwater, sir--Mr Nickleby, my dear sir,
leave the room, I beg and beseech of you.'

'I think she is better now,' said Nicholas, who had been watching
the patient so eagerly, that he had not heard the request.

'Poor bird!' cried brother Charles, gently taking her hand in his,
and laying her head upon his arm. 'Brother Ned, my dear fellow, you
will be surprised, I know, to witness this, in business hours; but--'
here he was again reminded of the presence of Nicholas, and
shaking him by the hand, earnestly requested him to leave the room,
and to send Tim Linkinwater without an instant's delay.

Nicholas immediately withdrew and, on his way to the counting-house,
met both the old housekeeper and Tim Linkinwater, jostling each
other in the passage, and hurrying to the scene of action with
extraordinary speed. Without waiting to hear his message, Tim
Linkinwater darted into the room, and presently afterwards Nicholas
heard the door shut and locked on the inside.

He had abundance of time to ruminate on this discovery, for Tim
Linkinwater was absent during the greater part of an hour, during
the whole of which time Nicholas thought of nothing but the young
lady, and her exceeding beauty, and what could possibly have brought
her there, and why they made such a mystery of it. The more he
thought of all this, the more it perplexed him, and the more anxious
he became to know who and what she was. 'I should have known her
among ten thousand,' thought Nicholas. And with that he walked up
and down the room, and recalling her face and figure (of which he
had a peculiarly vivid remembrance), discarded all other subjects of
reflection and dwelt upon that alone.

At length Tim Linkinwater came back--provokingly cool, and with
papers in his hand, and a pen in his mouth, as if nothing had
happened.

'Is she quite recovered?' said Nicholas, impetuously.

'Who?' returned Tim Linkinwater.

'Who!' repeated Nicholas. 'The young lady.'

'What do you make, Mr Nickleby,' said Tim, taking his pen out of his
mouth, 'what do you make of four hundred and twenty-seven times
three thousand two hundred and thirty-eight?'

'Nay,' returned Nicholas, 'what do you make of my question first? I
asked you--'

'About the young lady,' said Tim Linkinwater, putting on his
spectacles. 'To be sure. Yes. Oh! she's very well.'

'Very well, is she?' returned Nicholas.

'Very well,' replied Mr Linkinwater, gravely.

'Will she be able to go home today?' asked Nicholas.

'She's gone,' said Tim.

'Gone!'

'Yes.'

'I hope she has not far to go?' said Nicholas, looking earnestly at
the other.

'Ay,' replied the immovable Tim, 'I hope she hasn't.'

Nicholas hazarded one or two further remarks, but it was evident
that Tim Linkinwater had his own reasons for evading the subject,
and that he was determined to afford no further information
respecting the fair unknown, who had awakened so much curiosity in
the breast of his young friend. Nothing daunted by this repulse,
Nicholas returned to the charge next day, emboldened by the
circumstance of Mr Linkinwater being in a very talkative and
communicative mood; but, directly he resumed the theme, Tim relapsed
into a state of most provoking taciturnity, and from answering in
monosyllables, came to returning no answers at all, save such as
were to be inferred from several grave nods and shrugs, which only
served to whet that appetite for intelligence in Nicholas, which had
already attained a most unreasonable height.

Foiled in these attempts, he was fain to content himself with
watching for the young lady's next visit, but here again he was
disappointed. Day after day passed, and she did not return. He
looked eagerly at the superscription of all the notes and letters,
but there was not one among them which he could fancy to be in her
handwriting. On two or three occasions he was employed on business
which took him to a distance, and had formerly been transacted by
Tim Linkinwater. Nicholas could not help suspecting that, for some
reason or other, he was sent out of the way on purpose, and that the
young lady was there in his absence. Nothing transpired, however,
to confirm this suspicion, and Tim could not be entrapped into any
confession or admission tending to support it in the smallest
degree.

Mystery and disappointment are not absolutely indispensable to the
growth of love, but they are, very often, its powerful auxiliaries.
'Out of sight, out of mind,' is well enough as a proverb applicable
to cases of friendship, though absence is not always necessary to
hollowness of heart, even between friends, and truth and honesty,
like precious stones, are perhaps most easily imitated at a
distance, when the counterfeits often pass for real. Love, however,
is very materially assisted by a warm and active imagination: which
has a long memory, and will thrive, for a considerable time, on very
slight and sparing food. Thus it is, that it often attains its most
luxuriant growth in separation and under circumstances of the utmost
difficulty; and thus it was, that Nicholas, thinking of nothing but
the unknown young lady, from day to day and from hour to hour,
began, at last, to think that he was very desperately in love with
her, and that never was such an ill-used and persecuted lover as he.

Still, though he loved and languished after the most orthodox
models, and was only deterred from making a confidante of Kate by
the slight considerations of having never, in all his life, spoken
to the object of his passion, and having never set eyes upon her,
except on two occasions, on both of which she had come and gone like
a flash of lightning--or, as Nicholas himself said, in the numerous
conversations he held with himself, like a vision of youth and
beauty much too bright to last--his ardour and devotion remained
without its reward. The young lady appeared no more; so there was a
great deal of love wasted (enough indeed to have set up half-a-dozen
young gentlemen, as times go, with the utmost decency), and nobody
was a bit the wiser for it; not even Nicholas himself, who, on the
contrary, became more dull, sentimental, and lackadaisical, every
day.

While matters were in this state, the failure of a correspondent of
the brothers Cheeryble, in Germany, imposed upon Tim Linkinwater and
Nicholas the necessity of going through some very long and
complicated accounts, extending over a considerable space of time.
To get through them with the greater dispatch, Tim Linkinwater
proposed that they should remain at the counting-house, for a week
or so, until ten o'clock at night; to this, as nothing damped the
zeal of Nicholas in the service of his kind patrons--not even
romance, which has seldom business habits--he cheerfully assented.
On the very first night of these later hours, at nine exactly, there
came: not the young lady herself, but her servant, who, being
closeted with brother Charles for some time, went away, and returned
next night at the same hour, and on the next, and on the next again.

These repeated visits inflamed the curiosity of Nicholas to the very
highest pitch. Tantalised and excited, beyond all bearing, and
unable to fathom the mystery without neglecting his duty, he
confided the whole secret to Newman Noggs, imploring him to be on
the watch next night; to follow the girl home; to set on foot such
inquiries relative to the name, condition, and history of her
mistress, as he could, without exciting suspicion; and to report the
result to him with the least possible delay.

Beyond all measure proud of this commission, Newman Noggs took up
his post, in the square, on the following evening, a full hour
before the needful time, and planting himself behind the pump and
pulling his hat over his eyes, began his watch with an elaborate
appearance of mystery, admirably calculated to excite the suspicion
of all beholders. Indeed, divers servant girls who came to draw
water, and sundry little boys who stopped to drink at the ladle,
were almost scared out of their senses, by the apparition of Newman
Noggs looking stealthily round the pump, with nothing of him visible
but his face, and that wearing the expression of a meditative Ogre.

Punctual to her time, the messenger came again, and, after an
interview of rather longer duration than usual, departed. Newman
had made two appointments with Nicholas: one for the next evening,
conditional on his success: and one the next night following, which
was to be kept under all circumstances. The first night he was not
at the place of meeting (a certain tavern about half-way between the
city and Golden Square), but on the second night he was there before
Nicholas, and received him with open arms.

'It's all right,' whispered Newman. 'Sit down. Sit down, there's a
dear young man, and let me tell you all about it.'

Nicholas needed no second invitation, and eagerly inquired what was
the news.

'There's a great deal of news,' said Newman, in a flutter of
exultation. 'It's all right. Don't be anxious. I don't know where
to begin. Never mind that. Keep up your spirits. It's all right.'

'Well?' said Nicholas eagerly. 'Yes?'

'Yes,' replied Newman. 'That's it.'

'What's it?' said Nicholas. 'The name--the name, my dear fellow!'

'The name's Bobster,' replied Newman.

'Bobster!' repeated Nicholas, indignantly.

'That's the name,' said Newman. 'I remember it by lobster.'

'Bobster!' repeated Nicholas, more emphatically than before. 'That
must be the servant's name.'

'No, it an't,' said Newman, shaking his head with great positiveness.
'Miss Cecilia Bobster.'

'Cecilia, eh?' returned Nicholas, muttering the two names together
over and over again in every variety of tone, to try the effect.
'Well, Cecilia is a pretty name.'

'Very. And a pretty creature too,' said Newman.

'Who?' said Nicholas.

'Miss Bobster.'

'Why, where have you seen her?' demanded Nicholas.

'Never mind, my dear boy,' retorted Noggs, clapping him on the
shoulder. 'I HAVE seen her. You shall see her. I've managed it
all.'

'My dear Newman,' cried Nicholas, grasping his hand, 'are you
serious?'

'I am,' replied Newman. 'I mean it all. Every word. You shall see
her tomorrow night. She consents to hear you speak for yourself. I
persuaded her. She is all affability, goodness, sweetness, and
beauty.'

'I know she is; I know she must be, Newman!' said Nicholas, wringing
his hand.

'You are right,' returned Newman.

'Where does she live?' cried Nicholas. 'What have you learnt of her
history? Has she a father--mother--any brothers--sisters? What did
she say? How came you to see her? Was she not very much surprised?
Did you say how passionately I have longed to speak to her? Did you
tell her where I had seen her? Did you tell her how, and when, and
where, and how long, and how often, I have thought of that sweet
face which came upon me in my bitterest distress like a glimpse of
some better world--did you, Newman--did you?'

Poor Noggs literally gasped for breath as this flood of questions
rushed upon him, and moved spasmodically in his chair at every fresh
inquiry, staring at Nicholas meanwhile with a most ludicrous
expression of perplexity.

'No,' said Newman, 'I didn't tell her that.'

'Didn't tell her which?' asked Nicholas.

'About the glimpse of the better world,' said Newman. 'I didn't
tell her who you were, either, or where you'd seen her. I said you
loved her to distraction.'

'That's true, Newman,' replied Nicholas, with his characteristic
vehemence. 'Heaven knows I do!'

'I said too, that you had admired her for a long time in secret,'
said Newman.

'Yes, yes. What did she say to that?' asked Nicholas.

'Blushed,' said Newman.

'To be sure. Of course she would,' said Nicholas approvingly.
Newman then went on to say, that the young lady was an only child,
that her mother was dead, that she resided with her father, and that
she had been induced to allow her lover a secret interview, at the
intercession of her servant, who had great influence with her. He
further related how it required much moving and great eloquence to
bring the young lady to this pass; how it was expressly understood
that she merely afforded Nicholas an opportunity of declaring his
passion; and how she by no means pledged herself to be favourably
impressed with his attentions. The mystery of her visits to the
brothers Cheeryble remained wholly unexplained, for Newman had not
alluded to them, either in his preliminary conversations with the
servant or his subsequent interview with the mistress, merely
remarking that he had been instructed to watch the girl home and
plead his young friend's cause, and not saying how far he had
followed her, or from what point. But Newman hinted that from what
had fallen from the confidante, he had been led to suspect that the
young lady led a very miserable and unhappy life, under the strict
control of her only parent, who was of a violent and brutal temper;
a circumstance which he thought might in some degree account, both
for her having sought the protection and friendship of the brothers,
and her suffering herself to be prevailed upon to grant the promised
interview. The last he held to be a very logical deduction from the
premises, inasmuch as it was but natural to suppose that a young
lady, whose present condition was so unenviable, would be more than
commonly desirous to change it.

It appeared, on further questioning--for it was only by a very long
and arduous process that all this could be got out of Newman Noggs--
that Newman, in explanation of his shabby appearance, had
represented himself as being, for certain wise and indispensable
purposes connected with that intrigue, in disguise; and, being
questioned how he had come to exceed his commission so far as to
procure an interview, he responded, that the lady appearing willing
to grant it, he considered himself bound, both in duty and
gallantry, to avail himself of such a golden means of enabling
Nicholas to prosecute his addresses. After these and all possible
questions had been asked and answered twenty times over, they
parted, undertaking to meet on the following night at half-past ten,
for the purpose of fulfilling the appointment; which was for eleven
o'clock.

'Things come about very strangely!' thought Nicholas, as he walked
home. 'I never contemplated anything of this kind; never dreamt of
the possibility of it. To know something of the life of one in whom
I felt such interest; to see her in the street, to pass the house in
which she lived, to meet her sometimes in her walks, to hope that a
day might come when I might be in a condition to tell her of my
love, this was the utmost extent of my thoughts. Now, however--but
I should be a fool, indeed, to repine at my own good fortune!'

Still, Nicholas was dissatisfied; and there was more in the
dissatisfaction than mere revulsion of feeling. He was angry with
the young lady for being so easily won, 'because,' reasoned
Nicholas, 'it is not as if she knew it was I, but it might have been
anybody,'--which was certainly not pleasant. The next moment, he
was angry with himself for entertaining such thoughts, arguing that
nothing but goodness could dwell in such a temple, and that the
behaviour of the brothers sufficiently showed the estimation in
which they held her. 'The fact is, she's a mystery altogether,'
said Nicholas. This was not more satisfactory than his previous
course of reflection, and only drove him out upon a new sea of
speculation and conjecture, where he tossed and tumbled, in great
discomfort of mind, until the clock struck ten, and the hour of
meeting drew nigh.

Nicholas had dressed himself with great care, and even Newman Noggs
had trimmed himself up a little; his coat presenting the phenomenon
of two consecutive buttons, and the supplementary pins being
inserted at tolerably regular intervals. He wore his hat, too, in
the newest taste, with a pocket-handkerchief in the crown, and a
twisted end of it straggling out behind after the fashion of a
pigtail, though he could scarcely lay claim to the ingenuity of
inventing this latter decoration, inasmuch as he was utterly
unconscious of it: being in a nervous and excited condition which
rendered him quite insensible to everything but the great object of
the expedition.

They traversed the streets in profound silence; and after walking at
a round pace for some distance, arrived in one, of a gloomy
appearance and very little frequented, near the Edgeware Road.

'Number twelve,' said Newman.

'Oh!' replied Nicholas, looking about him.

'Good street?' said Newman.

'Yes,' returned Nicholas. 'Rather dull.'

Newman made no answer to this remark, but, halting abruptly, planted
Nicholas with his back to some area railings, and gave him to
understand that he was to wait there, without moving hand or foot,
until it was satisfactorily ascertained that the coast was clear.
This done, Noggs limped away with great alacrity; looking over his
shoulder every instant, to make quite certain that Nicholas was
obeying his directions; and, ascending the steps of a house some
half-dozen doors off, was lost to view.

After a short delay, he reappeared, and limping back again, halted
midway, and beckoned Nicholas to follow him.

'Well?' said Nicholas, advancing towards him on tiptoe.

'All right,' replied Newman, in high glee. 'All ready; nobody at
home. Couldn't be better. Ha! ha!'

With this fortifying assurance, he stole past a street-door, on
which Nicholas caught a glimpse of a brass plate, with 'BOBSTER,' in
very large letters; and, stopping at the area-gate, which was open,
signed to his young friend to descend.

'What the devil!' cried Nicholas, drawing back. 'Are we to sneak
into the kitchen, as if we came after the forks?'

'Hush!' replied Newman. 'Old Bobster--ferocious Turk. He'd kill
'em all--box the young lady's ears--he does--often.'

'What!' cried Nicholas, in high wrath, 'do you mean to tell me that
any man would dare to box the ears of such a--'

He had no time to sing the praises of his mistress, just then, for
Newman gave him a gentle push which had nearly precipitated him to
the bottom of the area steps. Thinking it best to take the hint in
good part, Nicholas descended, without further remonstrance, but
with a countenance bespeaking anything rather than the hope and
rapture of a passionate lover. Newman followed--he would have
followed head first, but for the timely assistance of Nicholas--and,
taking his hand, led him through a stone passage, profoundly dark,
into a back-kitchen or cellar, of the blackest and most pitchy
obscurity, where they stopped.

'Well!' said Nicholas, in a discontented whisper, 'this is not all,
I suppose, is it?'

'No, no,' rejoined Noggs; 'they'll be here directly. It's all
right.'

'I am glad to hear it,' said Nicholas. 'I shouldn't have thought
it, I confess.'

They exchanged no further words, and there Nicholas stood, listening
to the loud breathing of Newman Noggs, and imagining that his nose
seemed to glow like a red-hot coal, even in the midst of the
darkness which enshrouded them. Suddenly the sound of cautious
footsteps attracted his ear, and directly afterwards a female voice
inquired if the gentleman was there.

'Yes,' replied Nicholas, turning towards the corner from which the
voice proceeded. 'Who is that?'

'Only me, sir,' replied the voice. 'Now if you please, ma'am.'

A gleam of light shone into the place, and presently the servant
girl appeared, bearing a light, and followed by her young mistress,
who seemed to be overwhelmed by modesty and confusion.

At sight of the young lady, Nicholas started and changed colour; his
heart beat violently, and he stood rooted to the spot. At that
instant, and almost simultaneously with her arrival and that of the
candle, there was heard a loud and furious knocking at the street-
door, which caused Newman Noggs to jump up, with great agility, from
a beer-barrel on which he had been seated astride, and to exclaim
abruptly, and with a face of ashy paleness, 'Bobster, by the Lord!'

The young lady shrieked, the attendant wrung her hands, Nicholas
gazed from one to the other in apparent stupefaction, and Newman
hurried to and fro, thrusting his hands into all his pockets
successively, and drawing out the linings of every one in the excess
of his irresolution. It was but a moment, but the confusion crowded
into that one moment no imagination can exaggerate.

'Leave the house, for Heaven's sake! We have done wrong, we deserve
it all,' cried the young lady. 'Leave the house, or I am ruined and
undone for ever.'

'Will you hear me say but one word?' cried Nicholas. 'Only one. I
will not detain you. Will you hear me say one word, in explanation
of this mischance?'

But Nicholas might as well have spoken to the wind, for the young
lady, with distracted looks, hurried up the stairs. He would have
followed her, but Newman, twisting his hand in his coat collar,
dragged him towards the passage by which they had entered.

'Let me go, Newman, in the Devil's name!' cried Nicholas. 'I must
speak to her. I will! I will not leave this house without.'

'Reputation--character--violence--consider,' said Newman, clinging
round him with both arms, and hurrying him away. 'Let them open the
door. We'll go, as we came, directly it's shut. Come. This way.
Here.'

Overpowered by the remonstrances of Newman, and the tears and
prayers of the girl, and the tremendous knocking above, which had
never ceased, Nicholas allowed himself to be hurried off; and,
precisely as Mr Bobster made his entrance by the street-door, he and
Noggs made their exit by the area-gate.

They hurried away, through several streets, without stopping or
speaking. At last, they halted and confronted each other with blank
and rueful faces.

'Never mind,' said Newman, gasping for breath. 'Don't be cast down.
It's all right. More fortunate next time. It couldn't be helped.
I did MY part.'

'Excellently,' replied Nicholas, taking his hand. 'Excellently, and
like the true and zealous friend you are. Only--mind, I am not
disappointed, Newman, and feel just as much indebted to you--only IT
WAS THE WRONG LADY.'

'Eh?' cried Newman Noggs. 'Taken in by the servant?'

'Newman, Newman,' said Nicholas, laying his hand upon his shoulder:
'it was the wrong servant too.'

Newman's under-jaw dropped, and he gazed at Nicholas, with his sound
eye fixed fast and motionless in his head.

'Don't take it to heart,' said Nicholas; 'it's of no consequence;
you see I don't care about it; you followed the wrong person, that's
all.'

That WAS all. Whether Newman Noggs had looked round the pump, in a
slanting direction, so long, that his sight became impaired; or
whether, finding that there was time to spare, he had recruited
himself with a few drops of something stronger than the pump could
yield--by whatsoever means it had come to pass, this was his
mistake. And Nicholas went home to brood upon it, and to meditate
upon the charms of the unknown young lady, now as far beyond his
reach as ever.

CHAPTER 41

Containing some Romantic Passages between Mrs Nickleby and the
Gentleman in the Small-clothes next Door

Ever since her last momentous conversation with her son, Mrs
Nickleby had begun to display unusual care in the adornment of her
person, gradually superadding to those staid and matronly
habiliments, which had, up to that time, formed her ordinary attire,
a variety of embellishments and decorations, slight perhaps in
themselves, but, taken together, and considered with reference to
the subject of her disclosure, of no mean importance. Even her
black dress assumed something of a deadly-lively air from the jaunty
style in which it was worn; and, eked out as its lingering
attractions were; by a prudent disposal, here and there, of certain
juvenile ornaments of little or no value, which had, for that reason
alone, escaped the general wreck and been permitted to slumber
peacefully in odd corners of old drawers and boxes where daylight
seldom shone, her mourning garments assumed quite a new character.
From being the outward tokens of respect and sorrow for the dead,
they became converted into signals of very slaughterous and killing
designs upon the living.

Mrs Nickleby might have been stimulated to this proceeding by a
lofty sense of duty, and impulses of unquestionable excellence. She
might, by this time, have become impressed with the sinfulness of
long indulgence in unavailing woe, or the necessity of setting a
proper example of neatness and decorum to her blooming daughter.
Considerations of duty and responsibility apart, the change might
have taken its rise in feelings of the purest and most disinterested
charity. The gentleman next door had been vilified by Nicholas;
rudely stigmatised as a dotard and an idiot; and for these attacks
upon his understanding, Mrs Nickleby was, in some sort, accountable.
She might have felt that it was the act of a good Christian to show
by all means in her power, that the abused gentleman was neither the
one nor the other. And what better means could she adopt, towards
so virtuous and laudable an end, than proving to all men, in her own
person, that his passion was the most rational and reasonable in the
world, and just the very result, of all others, which discreet and
thinking persons might have foreseen, from her incautiously
displaying her matured charms, without reserve, under the very eye,
as it were, of an ardent and too-susceptible man?

'Ah!' said Mrs Nickleby, gravely shaking her head; 'if Nicholas knew
what his poor dear papa suffered before we were engaged, when I used
to hate him, he would have a little more feeling. Shall I ever
forget the morning I looked scornfully at him when he offered to
carry my parasol? Or that night, when I frowned at him? It was a
mercy he didn't emigrate. It very nearly drove him to it.'

Whether the deceased might not have been better off if he had
emigrated in his bachelor days, was a question which his relict did
not stop to consider; for Kate entered the room, with her workbox,
in this stage of her reflections; and a much slighter interruption,
or no interruption at all, would have diverted Mrs Nickleby's
thoughts into a new channel at any time.

'Kate, my dear,' said Mrs Nickleby; 'I don't know how it is, but a
fine warm summer day like this, with the birds singing in every
direction, always puts me in mind of roast pig, with sage and onion
sauce, and made gravy.'

'That's a curious association of ideas, is it not, mama?'

'Upon my word, my dear, I don't know,' replied Mrs Nickleby. 'Roast
pig; let me see. On the day five weeks after you were christened,
we had a roast--no, that couldn't have been a pig, either, because I
recollect there were a pair of them to carve, and your poor papa and
I could never have thought of sitting down to two pigs--they must
have been partridges. Roast pig! I hardly think we ever could have
had one, now I come to remember, for your papa could never bear the
sight of them in the shops, and used to say that they always put him
in mind of very little babies, only the pigs had much fairer
complexions; and he had a horror of little babies, to, because he
couldn't very well afford any increase to his family, and had a
natural dislike to the subject. It's very odd now, what can have
put that in my head! I recollect dining once at Mrs Bevan's, in
that broad street round the corner by the coachmaker's, where the
tipsy man fell through the cellar-flap of an empty house nearly a
week before the quarter-day, and wasn't found till the new tenant
went in--and we had roast pig there. It must be that, I think, that
reminds me of it, especially as there was a little bird in the room
that would keep on singing all the time of dinner--at least, not a
little bird, for it was a parrot, and he didn't sing exactly, for he
talked and swore dreadfully: but I think it must be that. Indeed I
am sure it must. Shouldn't you say so, my dear?'

'I should say there was not a doubt about it, mama,' returned Kate,
with a cheerful smile.

'No; but DO you think so, Kate?' said Mrs Nickleby, with as much
gravity as if it were a question of the most imminent and thrilling
interest. 'If you don't, say so at once, you know; because it's
just as well to be correct, particularly on a point of this kind,
which is very curious and worth settling while one thinks about it.'

Kate laughingly replied that she was quite convinced; and as her
mama still appeared undetermined whether it was not absolutely
essential that the subject should be renewed, proposed that they
should take their work into the summer-house, and enjoy the beauty
of the afternoon. Mrs Nickleby readily assented, and to the summer-
house they repaired, without further discussion.

'Well, I will say,' observed Mrs Nickleby, as she took her seat,
'that there never was such a good creature as Smike. Upon my word,
the pains he has taken in putting this little arbour to rights, and
training the sweetest flowers about it, are beyond anything I could
have--I wish he wouldn't put ALL the gravel on your side, Kate, my
dear, though, and leave nothing but mould for me.'

'Dear mama,' returned Kate, hastily, 'take this seat--do--to oblige
me, mama.'

'No, indeed, my dear. I shall keep my own side,' said Mrs Nickleby.
'Well! I declare!'

Kate looked up inquiringly.

'If he hasn't been,' said Mrs Nickleby, 'and got, from somewhere
or other, a couple of roots of those flowers that I said I was so
fond of, the other night, and asked you if you were not--no, that
YOU said YOU were so fond of, the other night, and asked me if I
wasn't--it's the same thing. Now, upon my word, I take that as very
kind and attentive indeed! I don't see,' added Mrs Nickleby,
looking narrowly about her, 'any of them on my side, but I suppose
they grow best near the gravel. You may depend upon it they do,
Kate, and that's the reason they are all near you, and he has put
the gravel there, because it's the sunny side. Upon my word, that's
very clever now! I shouldn't have had half as much thought myself!'

'Mama,' said Kate, bending over her work so that her face was
almost hidden, 'before you were married--'

'Dear me, Kate,' interrupted Mrs Nickleby, 'what in the name of
goodness graciousness makes you fly off to the time before I was
married, when I'm talking to you about his thoughtfulness and
attention to me? You don't seem to take the smallest interest in
the garden.'

'Oh! mama,' said Kate, raising her face again, 'you know I do.'

'Well then, my dear, why don't you praise the neatness and
prettiness with which it's kept?' said Mrs Nickleby. 'How very odd
you are, Kate!'

'I do praise it, mama,' answered Kate, gently. 'Poor fellow!'

'I scarcely ever hear you, my dear,' retorted Mrs Nickleby; 'that's
all I've got to say.' By this time the good lady had been a long
while upon one topic, so she fell at once into her daughter's little
trap, if trap it were, and inquired what she had been going to say.

'About what, mama?' said Kate, who had apparently quite forgotten
her diversion.

'Lor, Kate, my dear,' returned her mother, 'why, you're asleep or
stupid! About the time before I was married.'

'Oh yes!' said Kate, 'I remember. I was going to ask, mama, before
you were married, had you many suitors?'

'Suitors, my dear!' cried Mrs Nickleby, with a smile of wonderful
complacency. 'First and last, Kate, I must have had a dozen at
least.'

'Mama!' returned Kate, in a tone of remonstrance.

'I had indeed, my dear,' said Mrs Nickleby; 'not including your poor
papa, or a young gentleman who used to go, at that time, to the same
dancing school, and who WOULD send gold watches and bracelets to our
house in gilt-edged paper, (which were always returned,) and who
afterwards unfortunately went out to Botany Bay in a cadet ship--a
convict ship I mean--and escaped into a bush and killed sheep, (I
don't know how they got there,) and was going to be hung, only he
accidentally choked himself, and the government pardoned him. Then
there was young Lukin,' said Mrs Nickleby, beginning with her left
thumb and checking off the names on her fingers--'Mogley--Tipslark--
Cabbery--Smifser--'

Having now reached her little finger, Mrs Nickleby was carrying the
account over to the other hand, when a loud 'Hem!' which appeared to
come from the very foundation of the garden-wall, gave both herself
and her daughter a violent start.

'Mama! what was that?' said Kate, in a low tone of voice.

'Upon my word, my dear,' returned Mrs Nickleby, considerably
startled, 'unless it was the gentleman belonging to the next house,
I don't know what it could possibly--'

'A--hem!' cried the same voice; and that, not in the tone of an
ordinary clearing of the throat, but in a kind of bellow, which woke
up all the echoes in the neighbourhood, and was prolonged to an
extent which must have made the unseen bellower quite black in the
face.

'I understand it now, my dear,' said Mrs Nickleby, laying her hand
on Kate's; 'don't be alarmed, my love, it's not directed to you, and
is not intended to frighten anybody. Let us give everybody their
due, Kate; I am bound to say that.'

So saying, Mrs Nickleby nodded her head, and patted the back of her
daughter's hand, a great many times, and looked as if she could tell
something vastly important if she chose, but had self-denial, thank
Heaven; and wouldn't do it.

'What do you mean, mama?' demanded Kate, in evident surprise.

'Don't be flurried, my dear,' replied Mrs Nickleby, looking towards
the garden-wall, 'for you see I'm not, and if it would be excusable
in anybody to be flurried, it certainly would--under all the
circumstances--be excusable in me, but I am not, Kate--not at all.'

'It seems designed to attract our attention, mama,' said Kate.

'It is designed to attract our attention, my dear; at least,'
rejoined Mrs Nickleby, drawing herself up, and patting her
daughter's hand more blandly than before, 'to attract the attention
of one of us. Hem! you needn't be at all uneasy, my dear.'

Kate looked very much perplexed, and was apparently about to ask for
further explanation, when a shouting and scuffling noise, as of an
elderly gentleman whooping, and kicking up his legs on loose gravel,
with great violence, was heard to proceed from the same direction as
the former sounds; and before they had subsided, a large cucumber
was seen to shoot up in the air with the velocity of a sky-rocket,
whence it descended, tumbling over and over, until it fell at Mrs
Nickleby's feet.

This remarkable appearance was succeeded by another of a precisely
similar description; then a fine vegetable marrow, of unusually
large dimensions, was seen to whirl aloft, and come toppling down;
then, several cucumbers shot up together; and, finally, the air was
darkened by a shower of onions, turnip-radishes, and other small
vegetables, which fell rolling and scattering, and bumping about, in
all directions.

As Kate rose from her seat, in some alarm, and caught her mother's
hand to run with her into the house, she felt herself rather
retarded than assisted in her intention; and following the direction
of Mrs Nickleby's eyes, was quite terrified by the apparition of an
old black velvet cap, which, by slow degrees, as if its wearer were
ascending a ladder or pair of steps, rose above the wall dividing
their garden from that of the next cottage, (which, like their own,
was a detached building,) and was gradually followed by a very large
head, and an old face, in which were a pair of most extraordinary
grey eyes: very wild, very wide open, and rolling in their sockets,
with a dull, languishing, leering look, most ugly to behold.

'Mama!' cried Kate, really terrified for the moment, 'why do you
stop, why do you lose an instant? Mama, pray come in!'

'Kate, my dear,' returned her mother, still holding back, 'how can
you be so foolish? I'm ashamed of you. How do you suppose you are
ever to get through life, if you're such a coward as this? What do
you want, sir?' said Mrs Nickleby, addressing the intruder with a
sort of simpering displeasure. 'How dare you look into this
garden?'

'Queen of my soul,' replied the stranger, folding his hands
together, 'this goblet sip!'

'Nonsense, sir,' said Mrs Nickleby. 'Kate, my love, pray be quiet.'

'Won't you sip the goblet?' urged the stranger, with his head
imploringly on one side, and his right hand on his breast. 'Oh, do
sip the goblet!'

'I shall not consent to do anything of the kind, sir,' said Mrs
Nickleby. 'Pray, begone.'

'Why is it,' said the old gentleman, coming up a step higher, and
leaning his elbows on the wall, with as much complacency as if he
were looking out of window, 'why is it that beauty is always
obdurate, even when admiration is as honourable and respectful as
mine?' Here he smiled, kissed his hand, and made several low bows.
'Is it owing to the bees, who, when the honey season is over, and
they are supposed to have been killed with brimstone, in reality fly
to Barbary and lull the captive Moors to sleep with their drowsy
songs? Or is it,' he added, dropping his voice almost to a whisper,
'in consequence of the statue at Charing Cross having been lately
seen, on the Stock Exchange at midnight, walking arm-in-arm with the
Pump from Aldgate, in a riding-habit?'

'Mama,' murmured Kate, 'do you hear him?'

'Hush, my dear!' replied Mrs Nickleby, in the same tone of voice,
'he is very polite, and I think that was a quotation from the poets.
Pray, don't worry me so--you'll pinch my arm black and blue. Go
away, sir!'

'Quite away?' said the gentleman, with a languishing look. 'Oh!
quite away?'

'Yes,' returned Mrs Nickleby, 'certainly. You have no business
here. This is private property, sir; you ought to know that.'

'I do know,' said the old gentleman, laying his finger on his nose,
with an air of familiarity, most reprehensible, 'that this is a
sacred and enchanted spot, where the most divine charms'--here he
kissed his hand and bowed again--'waft mellifluousness over the
neighbours' gardens, and force the fruit and vegetables into
premature existence. That fact I am acquainted with. But will you
permit me, fairest creature, to ask you one question, in the absence
of the planet Venus, who has gone on business to the Horse Guards,
and would otherwise--jealous of your superior charms--interpose
between us?'

'Kate,' observed Mrs Nickleby, turning to her daughter, 'it's very
awkward, positively. I really don't know what to say to this
gentleman. One ought to be civil, you know.'

'Dear mama,' rejoined Kate, 'don't say a word to him, but let us
run away as fast as we can, and shut ourselves up till Nicholas
comes home.'

Mrs Nickleby looked very grand, not to say contemptuous, at this
humiliating proposal; and, turning to the old gentleman, who had
watched them during these whispers with absorbing eagerness, said:

'If you will conduct yourself, sir, like the gentleman I should
imagine you to be, from your language and--and--appearance, (quite
the counterpart of your grandpapa, Kate, my dear, in his best days,)
and will put your question to me in plain words, I will answer it.'

If Mrs Nickleby's excellent papa had borne, in his best days, a
resemblance to the neighbour now looking over the wall, he must have
been, to say the least, a very queer-looking old gentleman in his
prime. Perhaps Kate thought so, for she ventured to glance at his
living portrait with some attention, as he took off his black velvet
cap, and, exhibiting a perfectly bald head, made a long series of
bows, each accompanied with a fresh kiss of the hand. After
exhausting himself, to all appearance, with this fatiguing
performance, he covered his head once more, pulled the cap very
carefully over the tips of his ears, and resuming his former
attitude, said,

'The question is--'

Here he broke off to look round in every direction, and satisfy
himself beyond all doubt that there were no listeners near. Assured
that there were not, he tapped his nose several times, accompanying
the action with a cunning look, as though congratulating himself on
his caution; and stretching out his neck, said in a loud whisper,

'Are you a princess?'

'You are mocking me, sir,' replied Mrs Nickleby, making a feint of
retreating towards the house.

'No, but are you?' said the old gentleman.

'You know I am not, sir,' replied Mrs Nickleby.

'Then are you any relation to the Archbishop of Canterbury?'
inquired the old gentleman with great anxiety, 'or to the Pope of
Rome? Or the Speaker of the House of Commons? Forgive me, if I am
wrong, but I was told you were niece to the Commissioners of Paving,
and daughter-in-law to the Lord Mayor and Court of Common Council,
which would account for your relationship to all three.'

'Whoever has spread such reports, sir,' returned Mrs Nickleby, with
some warmth, 'has taken great liberties with my name, and one which
I am sure my son Nicholas, if he was aware of it, would not allow
for an instant. The idea!' said Mrs Nickleby, drawing herself up,
'niece to the Commissioners of Paving!'

'Pray, mama, come away!' whispered Kate.

'"Pray mama!" Nonsense, Kate,' said Mrs Nickleby, angrily, 'but
that's just the way. If they had said I was niece to a piping
bullfinch, what would you care? But I have no sympathy,' whimpered
Mrs Nickleby. 'I don't expect it, that's one thing.'

'Tears!' cried the old gentleman, with such an energetic jump, that
he fell down two or three steps and grated his chin against the
wall. 'Catch the crystal globules--catch 'em--bottle 'em up--cork
'em tight--put sealing wax on the top--seal 'em with a cupid--label
'em "Best quality"--and stow 'em away in the fourteen binn, with a
bar of iron on the top to keep the thunder off!'

Issuing these commands, as if there were a dozen attendants all
actively engaged in their execution, he turned his velvet cap inside
out, put it on with great dignity so as to obscure his right eye and
three-fourths of his nose, and sticking his arms a-kimbo, looked
very fiercely at a sparrow hard by, till the bird flew away, when he
put his cap in his pocket with an air of great satisfaction, and
addressed himself with respectful demeanour to Mrs Nickleby.

'Beautiful madam,' such were his words, 'if I have made any mistake
with regard to your family or connections, I humbly beseech you to
pardon me. If I supposed you to be related to Foreign Powers or
Native Boards, it is because you have a manner, a carriage, a
dignity, which you will excuse my saying that none but yourself
(with the single exception perhaps of the tragic muse, when playing
extemporaneously on the barrel organ before the East India Company)
can parallel. I am not a youth, ma'am, as you see; and although
beings like you can never grow old, I venture to presume that we are
fitted for each other.'

'Really, Kate, my love!' said Mrs Nickleby faintly, and looking
another way.

'I have estates, ma'am,' said the old gentleman, flourishing his
right hand negligently, as if he made very light of such matters,
and speaking very fast; 'jewels, lighthouses, fish-ponds, a whalery
of my own in the North Sea, and several oyster-beds of great profit
in the Pacific Ocean. If you will have the kindness to step down to
the Royal Exchange and to take the cocked-hat off the stoutest
beadle's head, you will find my card in the lining of the crown,
wrapped up in a piece of blue paper. My walking-stick is also to be
seen on application to the chaplain of the House of Commons, who is
strictly forbidden to take any money for showing it. I have enemies
about me, ma'am,' he looked towards his house and spoke very low,
'who attack me on all occasions, and wish to secure my property. If
you bless me with your hand and heart, you can apply to the Lord
Chancellor or call out the military if necessary--sending my
toothpick to the commander-in-chief will be sufficient--and so clear
the house of them before the ceremony is performed. After that,
love, bliss and rapture; rapture, love and bliss. Be mine, be mine!'

Repeating these last words with great rapture and enthusiasm, the
old gentleman put on his black velvet cap again, and looking up into
the sky in a hasty manner, said something that was not quite
intelligible concerning a balloon he expected, and which was rather
after its time.

'Be mine, be mine!' repeated the old gentleman.

'Kate, my dear,' said Mrs Nickleby, 'I have hardly the power to
speak; but it is necessary for the happiness of all parties that
this matter should be set at rest for ever.'

'Surely there is no necessity for you to say one word, mama?'
reasoned Kate.

'You will allow me, my dear, if you please, to judge for myself,'
said Mrs Nickleby.

'Be mine, be mine!' cried the old gentleman.

'It can scarcely be expected, sir,' said Mrs Nickleby, fixing her
eyes modestly on the ground, 'that I should tell a stranger whether
I feel flattered and obliged by such proposals, or not. They
certainly are made under very singular circumstances; still at the
same time, as far as it goes, and to a certain extent of course'
(Mrs Nickleby's customary qualification), 'they must be gratifying
and agreeable to one's feelings.'

'Be mine, be mine,' cried the old gentleman. 'Gog and Magog, Gog
and Magog. Be mine, be mine!'

'It will be sufficient for me to say, sir,' resumed Mrs Nickleby,
with perfect seriousness--'and I'm sure you'll see the propriety of
taking an answer and going away--that I have made up my mind to
remain a widow, and to devote myself to my children. You may not
suppose I am the mother of two children--indeed many people have
doubted it, and said that nothing on earth could ever make 'em
believe it possible--but it is the case, and they are both grown up.
We shall be very glad to have you for a neighbour--very glad;
delighted, I'm sure--but in any other character it's quite
impossible, quite. As to my being young enough to marry again, that
perhaps may be so, or it may not be; but I couldn't think of it for
an instant, not on any account whatever. I said I never would, and
I never will. It's a very painful thing to have to reject
proposals, and I would much rather that none were made; at the same
time this is the answer that I determined long ago to make, and this
is the answer I shall always give.'

These observations were partly addressed to the old gentleman,
partly to Kate, and partly delivered in soliloquy. Towards their
conclusion, the suitor evinced a very irreverent degree of
inattention, and Mrs Nickleby had scarcely finished speaking, when,
to the great terror both of that lady and her daughter, he suddenly
flung off his coat, and springing on the top of the wall, threw
himself into an attitude which displayed his small-clothes and grey
worsteds to the fullest advantage, and concluded by standing on one
leg, and repeating his favourite bellow with increased vehemence.

While he was still dwelling on the last note, and embellishing it
with a prolonged flourish, a dirty hand was observed to glide
stealthily and swiftly along the top of the wall, as if in pursuit
of a fly, and then to clasp with the utmost dexterity one of the old
gentleman's ankles. This done, the companion hand appeared, and
clasped the other ankle.

Thus encumbered the old gentleman lifted his legs awkwardly once or
twice, as if they were very clumsy and imperfect pieces of
machinery, and then looking down on his own side of the wall, burst
into a loud laugh.

'It's you, is it?' said the old gentleman.

'Yes, it's me,' replied a gruff voice.

'How's the Emperor of Tartary?' said the old gentleman.

'Oh! he's much the same as usual,' was the reply. 'No better and no
worse.'

'The young Prince of China,' said the old gentleman, with much
interest. 'Is he reconciled to his father-in-law, the great potato
salesman?'

'No,' answered the gruff voice; 'and he says he never will be,
that's more.'

'If that's the case,' observed the old gentleman, 'perhaps I'd
better come down.'

'Well,' said the man on the other side, 'I think you had, perhaps.'

One of the hands being then cautiously unclasped, the old gentleman
dropped into a sitting posture, and was looking round to smile and
bow to Mrs Nickleby, when he disappeared with some precipitation, as
if his legs had been pulled from below.

Very much relieved by his disappearance, Kate was turning to speak
to her mama, when the dirty hands again became visible, and were
immediately followed by the figure of a coarse squat man, who
ascended by the steps which had been recently occupied by their
singular neighbour.

'Beg your pardon, ladies,' said this new comer, grinning and
touching his hat. 'Has he been making love to either of you?'

'Yes,' said Kate.

'Ah!' rejoined the man, taking his handkerchief out of his hat and
wiping his face, 'he always will, you know. Nothing will prevent
his making love.'

'I need not ask you if he is out of his mind, poor creature,' said
Kate.

'Why no,' replied the man, looking into his hat, throwing his
handkerchief in at one dab, and putting it on again. 'That's pretty
plain, that is.'

'Has he been long so?' asked Kate.

'A long while.'

'And is there no hope for him?' said Kate, compassionately

'Not a bit, and don't deserve to be,' replied the keeper. 'He's a
deal pleasanter without his senses than with 'em. He was the
cruellest, wickedest, out-and-outerest old flint that ever drawed
breath.'

'Indeed!' said Kate.

'By George!' replied the keeper, shaking his head so emphatically
that he was obliged to frown to keep his hat on. 'I never come
across such a vagabond, and my mate says the same. Broke his poor
wife's heart, turned his daughters out of doors, drove his sons into
the streets; it was a blessing he went mad at last, through evil
tempers, and covetousness, and selfishness, and guzzling, and
drinking, or he'd have drove many others so. Hope for HIM, an old
rip! There isn't too much hope going' but I'll bet a crown that
what there is, is saved for more deserving chaps than him, anyhow.'

With which confession of his faith, the keeper shook his head again,
as much as to say that nothing short of this would do, if things
were to go on at all; and touching his hat sulkily--not that he was
in an ill humour, but that his subject ruffled him--descended the
ladder, and took it away.

During this conversation, Mrs Nickleby had regarded the man with a
severe and steadfast look. She now heaved a profound sigh, and
pursing up her lips, shook her head in a slow and doubtful manner.

'Poor creature!' said Kate.

'Ah! poor indeed!' rejoined Mrs Nickleby. 'It's shameful that such
things should be allowed. Shameful!'

'How can they be helped, mama?' said Kate, mournfully. 'The
infirmities of nature--'

'Nature!' said Mrs Nickleby. 'What! Do YOU suppose this poor
gentleman is out of his mind?'

'Can anybody who sees him entertain any other opinion, mama?'

'Why then, I just tell you this, Kate,' returned Mrs Nickleby,
'that, he is nothing of the kind, and I am surprised you can be so
imposed upon. It's some plot of these people to possess themselves
of his property--didn't he say so himself? He may be a little odd
and flighty, perhaps, many of us are that; but downright mad! and
express himself as he does, respectfully, and in quite poetical
language, and making offers with so much thought, and care, and
prudence--not as if he ran into the streets, and went down upon his
knees to the first chit of a girl he met, as a madman would! No,
no, Kate, there's a great deal too much method in HIS madness;
depend upon that, my dear.'

CHAPTER 42

Illustrative of the convivial Sentiment, that the best of Friends
must sometimes part

The pavement of Snow Hill had been baking and frying all day in the
heat, and the twain Saracens' heads guarding the entrance to the
hostelry of whose name and sign they are the duplicate presentments,
looked--or seemed, in the eyes of jaded and footsore passers-by, to
look--more vicious than usual, after blistering and scorching in the
sun, when, in one of the inn's smallest sitting-rooms, through whose
open window there rose, in a palpable steam, wholesome exhalations
from reeking coach-horses, the usual furniture of a tea-table was
displayed in neat and inviting order, flanked by large joints of
roast and boiled, a tongue, a pigeon pie, a cold fowl, a tankard of
ale, and other little matters of the like kind, which, in degenerate
towns and cities, are generally understood to belong more
particularly to solid lunches, stage-coach dinners, or unusually
substantial breakfasts.

Mr John Browdie, with his hands in his pockets, hovered restlessly
about these delicacies, stopping occasionally to whisk the flies out
of the sugar-basin with his wife's pocket-handkerchief, or to dip a
teaspoon in the milk-pot and carry it to his mouth, or to cut off a
little knob of crust, and a little corner of meat, and swallow them
at two gulps like a couple of pills. After every one of these
flirtations with the eatables, he pulled out his watch, and declared
with an earnestness quite pathetic that he couldn't undertake to
hold out two minutes longer.

'Tilly!' said John to his lady, who was reclining half awake and
half asleep upon a sofa.

'Well, John!'

'Well, John!' retorted her husband, impatiently. 'Dost thou feel
hoongry, lass?'

'Not very,' said Mrs Browdie.

'Not vary!' repeated John, raising his eyes to the ceiling. 'Hear
her say not vary, and us dining at three, and loonching off pasthry
thot aggravates a mon 'stead of pacifying him! Not vary!'

'Here's a gen'l'man for you, sir,' said the waiter, looking in.

'A wa'at for me?' cried John, as though he thought it must be a
letter, or a parcel.

'A gen'l'man, sir.'

'Stars and garthers, chap!' said John, 'wa'at dost thou coom and say
thot for? In wi' 'un.'

'Are you at home, sir?'

'At whoam!' cried John, 'I wish I wur; I'd ha tea'd two hour ago.
Why, I told t'oother chap to look sharp ootside door, and tell 'un
d'rectly he coom, thot we war faint wi' hoonger. In wi' 'un. Aha!
Thee hond, Misther Nickleby. This is nigh to be the proodest day o'
my life, sir. Hoo be all wi' ye? Ding! But, I'm glod o' this!'

Quite forgetting even his hunger in the heartiness of his
salutation, John Browdie shook Nicholas by the hand again and again,
slapping his palm with great violence between each shake, to add
warmth to the reception.

'Ah! there she be,' said John, observing the look which Nicholas
directed towards his wife. 'There she be--we shan't quarrel about
her noo--eh? Ecod, when I think o' thot--but thou want'st soom'at
to eat. Fall to, mun, fall to, and for wa'at we're aboot to
receive--'

No doubt the grace was properly finished, but nothing more was
heard, for John had already begun to play such a knife and fork,
that his speech was, for the time, gone.

'I shall take the usual licence, Mr Browdie,' said Nicholas, as he
placed a chair for the bride.

'Tak' whatever thou like'st,' said John, 'and when a's gane, ca' for
more.'

Without stopping to explain, Nicholas kissed the blushing Mrs
Browdie, and handed her to her seat.

'I say,' said John, rather astounded for the moment, 'mak' theeself
quite at whoam, will 'ee?'

'You may depend upon that,' replied Nicholas; 'on one condition.'

'And wa'at may thot be?' asked John.

'That you make me a godfather the very first time you have occasion
for one.'

'Eh! d'ye hear thot?' cried John, laying down his knife and fork.
'A godfeyther! Ha! ha! ha! Tilly--hear till 'un--a godfeyther!
Divn't say a word more, ye'll never beat thot. Occasion for 'un--a
godfeyther! Ha! ha! ha!'

Never was man so tickled with a respectable old joke, as John
Browdie was with this. He chuckled, roared, half suffocated himself
by laughing large pieces of beef into his windpipe, roared again,
persisted in eating at the same time, got red in the face and black
in the forehead, coughed, cried, got better, went off again laughing
inwardly, got worse, choked, had his back thumped, stamped about,
frightened his wife, and at last recovered in a state of the last
exhaustion and with the water streaming from his eyes, but still
faintly ejaculating, 'A godfeyther--a godfeyther, Tilly!' in a tone
bespeaking an exquisite relish of the sally, which no suffering
could diminish.

'You remember the night of our first tea-drinking?' said Nicholas.

'Shall I e'er forget it, mun?' replied John Browdie.

'He was a desperate fellow that night though, was he not, Mrs
Browdie?' said Nicholas. 'Quite a monster!'

'If you had only heard him as we were going home, Mr Nickleby, you'd
have said so indeed,' returned the bride. 'I never was so
frightened in all my life.'

'Coom, coom,' said John, with a broad grin; 'thou know'st betther
than thot, Tilly.'

'So I was,' replied Mrs Browdie. 'I almost made up my mind never to
speak to you again.'

'A'most!' said John, with a broader grin than the last. 'A'most
made up her mind! And she wur coaxin', and coaxin', and wheedlin',
and wheedlin' a' the blessed wa'. "Wa'at didst thou let yon chap
mak' oop tiv'ee for?" says I. "I deedn't, John," says she, a
squeedgin my arm. "You deedn't?" says I. "Noa," says she, a
squeedgin of me agean.'

'Lor, John!' interposed his pretty wife, colouring very much. 'How
can you talk such nonsense? As if I should have dreamt of such a
thing!'

'I dinnot know whether thou'd ever dreamt of it, though I think
that's loike eneaf, mind,' retorted John; 'but thou didst it.
"Ye're a feeckle, changeable weathercock, lass," says I. "Not
feeckle, John," says she. "Yes," says I, "feeckle, dom'd feeckle.
Dinnot tell me thou bean't, efther yon chap at schoolmeasther's,"
says I. "Him!" says she, quite screeching. "Ah! him!" says I.
"Why, John," says she--and she coom a deal closer and squeedged a
deal harder than she'd deane afore--"dost thou think it's nat'ral
noo, that having such a proper mun as thou to keep company wi', I'd
ever tak' opp wi' such a leetle scanty whipper-snapper as yon?" she
says. Ha! ha! ha! She said whipper-snapper! "Ecod!" I says,
"efther thot, neame the day, and let's have it ower!" Ha! ha! ha!'

Nicholas laughed very heartily at this story, both on account of its
telling against himself, and his being desirous to spare the blushes
of Mrs Browdie, whose protestations were drowned in peals of
laughter from her husband. His good-nature soon put her at her
ease; and although she still denied the charge, she laughed so
heartily at it, that Nicholas had the satisfaction of feeling
assured that in all essential respects it was strictly true.

'This is the second time,' said Nicholas, 'that we have ever taken a
meal together, and only third I have ever seen you; and yet it
really seems to me as if I were among old friends.'

'Weel!' observed the Yorkshireman, 'so I say.'

'And I am sure I do,' added his young wife.

'I have the best reason to be impressed with the feeling, mind,'
said Nicholas; 'for if it had not been for your kindness of heart,
my good friend, when I had no right or reason to expect it, I know
not what might have become of me or what plight I should have been
in by this time.'

'Talk aboot soom'at else,' replied John, gruffly, 'and dinnot
bother.'

'It must be a new song to the same tune then,' said Nicholas,
smiling. 'I told you in my letter that I deeply felt and admired
your sympathy with that poor lad, whom you released at the risk of
involving yourself in trouble and difficulty; but I can never tell
you how greateful he and I, and others whom you don't know, are to
you for taking pity on him.'

'Ecod!' rejoined John Browdie, drawing up his chair; 'and I can
never tell YOU hoo gratful soom folks that we do know would be
loikewise, if THEY know'd I had takken pity on him.'

'Ah!' exclaimed Mrs Browdie, 'what a state I was in that night!'

'Were they at all disposed to give you credit for assisting in the
escape?' inquired Nicholas of John Browdie.

'Not a bit,' replied the Yorkshireman, extending his mouth from ear
to ear. 'There I lay, snoog in schoolmeasther's bed long efther it
was dark, and nobody coom nigh the pleace. "Weel!" thinks I, "he's
got a pretty good start, and if he bean't whoam by noo, he never
will be; so you may coom as quick as you loike, and foind us reddy"
--that is, you know, schoolmeasther might coom.'

'I understand,' said Nicholas.

'Presently,' resumed John, 'he DID coom. I heerd door shut
doonstairs, and him a warking, oop in the daark. "Slow and steddy,'
I says to myself, "tak' your time, sir--no hurry." He cooms to the
door, turns the key--turns the key when there warn't nothing to
hoold the lock--and ca's oot 'Hallo, there!"--"Yes," thinks I, "you
may do thot agean, and not wakken anybody, sir." "Hallo, there," he
says, and then he stops. "Thou'd betther not aggravate me," says
schoolmeasther, efther a little time. "I'll brak' every boan in
your boddy, Smike," he says, efther another little time. Then all
of a soodden, he sings oot for a loight, and when it cooms--ecod,
such a hoorly-boorly! "Wa'at's the matter?" says I. "He's gane,"
says he,--stark mad wi' vengeance. "Have you heerd nought?" "Ees,"
says I, "I heerd street-door shut, no time at a' ago. I heerd a
person run doon there" (pointing t'other wa'--eh?) "Help!" he cries.
"I'll help you," says I; and off we set--the wrong wa'! Ho! ho!
ho!'

'Did you go far?' asked Nicholas.

'Far!' replied John; 'I run him clean off his legs in quarther of an
hoor. To see old schoolmeasther wi'out his hat, skimming along oop
to his knees in mud and wather, tumbling over fences, and rowling
into ditches, and bawling oot like mad, wi' his one eye looking
sharp out for the lad, and his coat-tails flying out behind, and him
spattered wi' mud all ower, face and all! I tho't I should ha'
dropped doon, and killed myself wi' laughing.'

John laughed so heartily at the mere recollection, that he
communicated the contagion to both his hearers, and all three burst
into peals of laughter, which were renewed again and again, until
they could laugh no longer.

'He's a bad 'un,' said John, wiping his eyes; 'a very bad 'un, is
schoolmeasther.'

'I can't bear the sight of him, John,' said his wife.

'Coom,' retorted John, 'thot's tidy in you, thot is. If it wa'nt
along o' you, we shouldn't know nought aboot 'un. Thou know'd 'un
first, Tilly, didn't thou?'

'I couldn't help knowing Fanny Squeers, John,' returned his wife;
'she was an old playmate of mine, you know.'

'Weel,' replied John, 'dean't I say so, lass? It's best to be
neighbourly, and keep up old acquaintance loike; and what I say is,
dean't quarrel if 'ee can help it. Dinnot think so, Mr Nickleby?'

'Certainly,' returned Nicholas; 'and you acted upon that principle
when I meet you on horseback on the road, after our memorable
evening.'

'Sure-ly,' said John. 'Wa'at I say, I stick by.'

'And that's a fine thing to do, and manly too,' said Nicholas,
'though it's not exactly what we understand by "coming Yorkshire
over us" in London. Miss Squeers is stopping with you, you said in
your note.'

'Yes,' replied John, 'Tilly's bridesmaid; and a queer bridesmaid she
be, too. She wean't be a bride in a hurry, I reckon.'

'For shame, John,' said Mrs Browdie; with an acute perception of the
joke though, being a bride herself.

'The groom will be a blessed mun,' said John, his eyes twinkling at
the idea. 'He'll be in luck, he will.'

'You see, Mr Nickleby,' said his wife, 'that it was in consequence
of her being here, that John wrote to you and fixed tonight, because
we thought that it wouldn't be pleasant for you to meet, after what
has passed.'

'Unquestionably. You were quite right in that,' said Nicholas,
interrupting.

'Especially,' observed Mrs Browdie, looking very sly, 'after what we
know about past and gone love matters.'

'We know, indeed!' said Nicholas, shaking his head. 'You behaved
rather wickedly there, I suspect.'

'O' course she did,' said John Browdie, passing his huge forefinger
through one of his wife's pretty ringlets, and looking very proud of
her. 'She wur always as skittish and full o' tricks as a--'

'Well, as a what?' said his wife.

'As a woman,' returned John. 'Ding! But I dinnot know ought else
that cooms near it.'

'You were speaking about Miss Squeers,' said Nicholas, with the view
of stopping some slight connubialities which had begun to pass
between Mr and Mrs Browdie, and which rendered the position of a
third party in some degree embarrassing, as occasioning him to feel
rather in the way than otherwise.

'Oh yes,' rejoined Mrs Browdie. 'John ha' done. John fixed tonight,
because she had settled that she would go and drink tea with her
father. And to make quite sure of there being nothing amiss, and of
your being quite alone with us, he settled to go out there and fetch
her home.'

'That was a very good arrangement,' said Nicholas, 'though I am
sorry to be the occasion of so much trouble.'

'Not the least in the world,' returned Mrs Browdie; 'for we have
looked forward to see you--John and I have--with the greatest
possible pleasure. Do you know, Mr Nickleby,' said Mrs Browdie,
with her archest smile, 'that I really think Fanny Squeers was very
fond of you?'

'I am very much obliged to her,' said Nicholas; 'but upon my word, I
never aspired to making any impression upon her virgin heart.'

'How you talk!' tittered Mrs Browdie. 'No, but do you know that
really--seriously now and without any joking--I was given to
understand by Fanny herself, that you had made an offer to her, and
that you two were going to be engaged quite solemn and regular.'

'Was you, ma'am--was you?' cried a shrill female voice, 'was you
given to understand that I--I--was going to be engaged to an
assassinating thief that shed the gore of my pa? Do you--do you
think, ma'am--that I was very fond of such dirt beneath my feet, as
I couldn't condescend to touch with kitchen tongs, without blacking
and crocking myself by the contract? Do you, ma'am--do you? Oh!
base and degrading 'Tilda!'

With these reproaches Miss Squeers flung the door wide open, and
disclosed to the eyes of the astonished Browdies and Nicholas, not
only her own symmetrical form, arrayed in the chaste white garments
before described (a little dirtier), but the form of her brother and
father, the pair of Wackfords.

'This is the hend, is it?' continued Miss Squeers, who, being
excited, aspirated her h's strongly; 'this is the hend, is it, of
all my forbearance and friendship for that double-faced thing--that
viper, that--that--mermaid?' (Miss Squeers hesitated a long time for
this last epithet, and brought it out triumphantly as last, as if it
quite clinched the business.) 'This is the hend, is it, of all my
bearing with her deceitfulness, her lowness, her falseness, her
laying herself out to catch the admiration of vulgar minds, in a way
which made me blush for my--for my--'

'Gender,' suggested Mr Squeers, regarding the spectators with a
malevolent eye--literally A malevolent eye.

'Yes,' said Miss Squeers; 'but I thank my stars that my ma is of the
same--'

'Hear, hear!' remarked Mr Squeers; 'and I wish she was here to have
a scratch at this company.'

'This is the hend, is it,' said Miss Squeers, tossing her head, and
looking contemptuously at the floor, 'of my taking notice of that
rubbishing creature, and demeaning myself to patronise her?'

'Oh, come,' rejoined Mrs Browdie, disregarding all the endeavours of
her spouse to restrain her, and forcing herself into a front row,
'don't talk such nonsense as that.'

'Have I not patronised you, ma'am?' demanded Miss Squeers.

'No,' returned Mrs Browdie.

'I will not look for blushes in such a quarter,' said Miss Squeers,
haughtily, 'for that countenance is a stranger to everything but
hignominiousness and red-faced boldness.'

'I say,' interposed John Browdie, nettled by these accumulated
attacks on his wife, 'dra' it mild, dra' it mild.'

'You, Mr Browdie,' said Miss Squeers, taking him up very quickly, 'I
pity. I have no feeling for you, sir, but one of unliquidated
pity.'

'Oh!' said John.

'No,' said Miss Squeers, looking sideways at her parent, 'although I

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