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The Life And Adventures Of Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens

Part 19 out of 20

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'I show no mercy,' retorted Ralph with a triumphant smile, 'and I
ask none. Seek no mercy from me, sir, in behalf of the fellow who
has imposed upon your childish credulity, but let him expect the
worst that I can do.'

'HE ask mercy at your hands!' exclaimed the old merchant warmly;
'ask it at his, sir; ask it at his. If you will not hear me now,
when you may, hear me when you must, or anticipate what I would say,
and take measures to prevent our ever meeting again. Your nephew is
a noble lad, sir, an honest, noble lad. What you are, Mr Nickleby,
I will not say; but what you have done, I know. Now, sir, when you
go about the business in which you have been recently engaged, and
find it difficult of pursuing, come to me and my brother Ned, and
Tim Linkinwater, sir, and we'll explain it for you--and come soon,
or it may be too late, and you may have it explained with a little
more roughness, and a little less delicacy--and never forget, sir,
that I came here this morning, in mercy to you, and am still ready
to talk to you in the same spirit.'

With these words, uttered with great emphasis and emotion, brother
Charles put on his broad-brimmed hat, and, passing Ralph Nickleby
without any other remark, trotted nimbly into the street. Ralph
looked after him, but neither moved nor spoke for some time: when he
broke what almost seemed the silence of stupefaction, by a scornful
laugh.

'This,' he said, 'from its wildness, should be another of those
dreams that have so broken my rest of late. In mercy to me! Pho!
The old simpleton has gone mad.'

Although he expressed himself in this derisive and contemptuous
manner, it was plain that, the more Ralph pondered, the more ill at
ease he became, and the more he laboured under some vague anxiety
and alarm, which increased as the time passed on and no tidings of
Newman Noggs arrived. After waiting until late in the afternoon,
tortured by various apprehensions and misgivings, and the
recollection of the warning which his nephew had given him when they
last met: the further confirmation of which now presented itself in
one shape of probability, now in another, and haunted him
perpetually: he left home, and, scarcely knowing why, save that he
was in a suspicious and agitated mood, betook himself to Snawley's
house. His wife presented herself; and, of her, Ralph inquired
whether her husband was at home.

'No,' she said sharply, 'he is not indeed, and I don't think he will
be at home for a very long time; that's more.'

'Do you know who I am?' asked Ralph.

'Oh yes, I know you very well; too well, perhaps, and perhaps he
does too, and sorry am I that I should have to say it.'

'Tell him that I saw him through the window-blind above, as I
crossed the road just now, and that I would speak to him on
business,' said Ralph. 'Do you hear?'

'I hear,' rejoined Mrs Snawley, taking no further notice of the
request.

'I knew this woman was a hypocrite, in the way of psalms and
Scripture phrases,' said Ralph, passing quietly by, 'but I never
knew she drank before.'

'Stop! You don't come in here,' said Mr Snawley's better-half,
interposing her person, which was a robust one, in the doorway.
'You have said more than enough to him on business, before now. I
always told him what dealing with you and working out your schemes
would come to. It was either you or the schoolmaster--one of you,
or the two between you--that got the forged letter done; remember
that! That wasn't his doing, so don't lay it at his door.'

'Hold your tongue, you Jezebel,' said Ralph, looking fearfully
round.

'Ah, I know when to hold my tongue, and when to speak, Mr Nickleby,'
retorted the dame. 'Take care that other people know when to hold
theirs.'

'You jade,' said Ralph, 'if your husband has been idiot enough to
trust you with his secrets, keep them; keep them, she-devil that you
are!'

'Not so much his secrets as other people's secrets, perhaps,'
retorted the woman; 'not so much his secrets as yours. None of your
black looks at me! You'll want 'em all, perhaps, for another time.
You had better keep 'em.'

'Will you,' said Ralph, suppressing his passion as well as he could,
and clutching her tightly by the wrist; 'will you go to your husband
and tell him that I know he is at home, and that I must see him?
And will you tell me what it is that you and he mean by this new
style of behaviour?'

'No,' replied the woman, violently disengaging herself, 'I'll do
neither.'

'You set me at defiance, do you?' said Ralph.

'Yes,' was the answer. I do.'

For an instant Ralph had his hand raised, as though he were about to
strike her; but, checking himself, and nodding his head and
muttering as though to assure her he would not forget this, walked
away.

Thence, he went straight to the inn which Mr Squeers frequented, and
inquired when he had been there last; in the vague hope that,
successful or unsuccessful, he might, by this time, have returned
from his mission and be able to assure him that all was safe. But
Mr Squeers had not been there for ten days, and all that the people
could tell about him was, that he had left his luggage and his bill.

Disturbed by a thousand fears and surmises, and bent upon
ascertaining whether Squeers had any suspicion of Snawley, or was,
in any way, a party to this altered behaviour, Ralph determined to
hazard the extreme step of inquiring for him at the Lambeth lodging,
and having an interview with him even there. Bent upon this
purpose, and in that mood in which delay is insupportable, he
repaired at once to the place; and being, by description, perfectly
acquainted with the situation of his room, crept upstairs and
knocked gently at the door.

Not one, nor two, nor three, nor yet a dozen knocks, served to
convince Ralph, against his wish, that there was nobody inside. He
reasoned that he might be asleep; and, listening, almost persuaded
himself that he could hear him breathe. Even when he was satisfied
that he could not be there, he sat patiently on a broken stair and
waited; arguing, that he had gone out upon some slight errand, and
must soon return.

Many feet came up the creaking stairs; and the step of some seemed
to his listening ear so like that of the man for whom he waited,
that Ralph often stood up to be ready to address him when he reached
the top; but, one by one, each person turned off into some room
short of the place where he was stationed: and at every such
disappointment he felt quite chilled and lonely.

At length he felt it was hopeless to remain, and going downstairs
again, inquired of one of the lodgers if he knew anything of Mr
Squeers's movements--mentioning that worthy by an assumed name which
had been agreed upon between them. By this lodger he was referred
to another, and by him to someone else, from whom he learnt, that,
late on the previous night, he had gone out hastily with two men,
who had shortly afterwards returned for the old woman who lived on
the same floor; and that, although the circumstance had attracted
the attention of the informant, he had not spoken to them at the
time, nor made any inquiry afterwards.

This possessed him with the idea that, perhaps, Peg Sliderskew had
been apprehended for the robbery, and that Mr Squeers, being with
her at the time, had been apprehended also, on suspicion of being a
confederate. If this were so, the fact must be known to Gride; and
to Gride's house he directed his steps; now thoroughly alarmed, and
fearful that there were indeed plots afoot, tending to his
discomfiture and ruin.

Arrived at the usurer's house, he found the windows close shut, the
dingy blinds drawn down; all was silent, melancholy, and deserted.
But this was its usual aspect. He knocked--gently at first--then
loud and vigorously. Nobody came. He wrote a few words in
pencil on a card, and having thrust it under the door was going
away, when a noise above, as though a window-sash were stealthily
raised, caught his ear, and looking up he could just discern the
face of Gride himself, cautiously peering over the house parapet
from the window of the garret. Seeing who was below, he drew it in
again; not so quickly, however, but that Ralph let him know he was
observed, and called to him to come down.

The call being repeated, Gride looked out again, so cautiously that
no part of the old man's body was visible. The sharp features and
white hair appearing alone, above the parapet, looked like a severed
head garnishing the wall.

'Hush!' he cried. 'Go away, go away!'

'Come down,' said Ralph, beckoning him.

'Go a--way!' squeaked Gride, shaking his head in a sort of ecstasy
of impatience. 'Don't speak to me, don't knock, don't call
attention to the house, but go away.'

'I'll knock, I swear, till I have your neighbours up in arms,' said
Ralph, 'if you don't tell me what you mean by lurking there, you
whining cur.'

'I can't hear what you say--don't talk to me--it isn't safe--go
away--go away!' returned Gride.

'Come down, I say. Will you come down?' said Ralph fiercely.

'No--o--o--oo,' snarled Gride. He drew in his head; and Ralph, left
standing in the street, could hear the sash closed, as gently and
carefully as it had been opened.

'How is this,' said he, 'that they all fall from me, and shun me
like the plague, these men who have licked the dust from my feet?
IS my day past, and is this indeed the coming on of night? I'll
know what it means! I will, at any cost. I am firmer and more
myself, just now, than I have been these many days.'

Turning from the door, which, in the first transport of his rage, he
had meditated battering upon until Gride's very fears should impel
him to open it, he turned his face towards the city, and working his
way steadily through the crowd which was pouring from it (it was by
this time between five and six o'clock in the afternoon) went
straight to the house of business of the brothers Cheeryble, and
putting his head into the glass case, found Tim Linkinwater alone.

'My name's Nickleby,' said Ralph.

'I know it,' replied Tim, surveying him through his spectacles.

'Which of your firm was it who called on me this morning?' demanded
Ralph.

'Mr Charles.'

'Then, tell Mr Charles I want to see him.'

'You shall see,' said Tim, getting off his stool with great agility,
'you shall see, not only Mr Charles, but Mr Ned likewise.'

Tim stopped, looked steadily and severely at Ralph, nodded his head
once, in a curt manner which seemed to say there was a little more
behind, and vanished. After a short interval, he returned, and,
ushering Ralph into the presence of the two brothers, remained in
the room himself.

'I want to speak to you, who spoke to me this morning,' said Ralph,
pointing out with his finger the man whom he addressed.

'I have no secrets from my brother Ned, or from Tim Linkinwater,'
observed brother Charles quietly.

'I have,' said Ralph.

'Mr Nickleby, sir,' said brother Ned, 'the matter upon which my
brother Charles called upon you this morning is one which is already
perfectly well known to us three, and to others besides, and must
unhappily soon become known to a great many more. He waited upon
you, sir, this morning, alone, as a matter of delicacy and
consideration. We feel, now, that further delicacy and
consideration would be misplaced; and, if we confer together, it
must be as we are or not at all.'

'Well, gentlemen,' said Ralph with a curl of the lip, 'talking in
riddles would seem to be the peculiar forte of you two, and I
suppose your clerk, like a prudent man, has studied the art also
with a view to your good graces. Talk in company, gentlemen, in
God's name. I'll humour you.'

'Humour!' cried Tim Linkinwater, suddenly growing very red in the
face. 'He'll humour us! He'll humour Cheeryble Brothers! Do you
hear that? Do you hear him? DO you hear him say he'll humour
Cheeryble Brothers?'

'Tim,' said Charles and Ned together, 'pray, Tim, pray now, don't.'

Tim, taking the hint, stifled his indignation as well as he could,
and suffered it to escape through his spectacles, with the
additional safety-valve of a short hysterical laugh now and then,
which seemed to relieve him mightily.

'As nobody bids me to a seat,' said Ralph, looking round, 'I'll take
one, for I am fatigued with walking. And now, if you please,
gentlemen, I wish to know--I demand to know; I have the right--what
you have to say to me, which justifies such a tone as you have
assumed, and that underhand interference in my affairs which, I have
reason to suppose, you have been practising. I tell you plainly,
gentlemen, that little as I care for the opinion of the world (as
the slang goes), I don't choose to submit quietly to slander and
malice. Whether you suffer yourselves to be imposed upon too
easily, or wilfully make yourselves parties to it, the result to me
is the same. In either case, you can't expect from a plain man like
myself much consideration or forbearance.'

So coolly and deliberately was this said, that nine men out of ten,
ignorant of the circumstances, would have supposed Ralph to be
really an injured man. There he sat, with folded arms; paler than
usual, certainly, and sufficiently ill-favoured, but quite
collected--far more so than the brothers or the exasperated Tim--and
ready to face out the worst.

'Very well, sir,' said brother Charles. 'Very well. Brother Ned,
will you ring the bell?'

'Charles, my dear fellow! stop one instant,' returned the other.
'It will be better for Mr Nickleby and for our object that he should
remain silent, if he can, till we have said what we have to say. I
wish him to understand that.'

'Quite right, quite right,' said brother Charles.

Ralph smiled, but made no reply. The bell was rung; the room-door
opened; a man came in, with a halting walk; and, looking round,
Ralph's eyes met those of Newman Noggs. From that moment, his heart
began to fail him.

'This is a good beginning,' he said bitterly. 'Oh! this is a good
beginning. You are candid, honest, open-hearted, fair-dealing men!
I always knew the real worth of such characters as yours! To tamper
with a fellow like this, who would sell his soul (if he had one) for
drink, and whose every word is a lie. What men are safe if this is
done? Oh, it's a good beginning!'

'I WILL speak,' cried Newman, standing on tiptoe to look over Tim's
head, who had interposed to prevent him. 'Hallo, you sir--old
Nickleby!--what do you mean when you talk of "a fellow like this"?
Who made me "a fellow like this"? If I would sell my soul for
drink, why wasn't I a thief, swindler, housebreaker, area sneak,
robber of pence out of the trays of blind men's dogs, rather than
your drudge and packhorse? If my every word was a lie, why wasn't I
a pet and favourite of yours? Lie! When did I ever cringe and fawn
to you. Tell me that! I served you faithfully. I did more
work, because I was poor, and took more hard words from you because
I despised you and them, than any man you could have got from the
parish workhouse. I did. I served you because I was proud; because
I was a lonely man with you, and there were no other drudges to see
my degradation; and because nobody knew, better than you, that I was
a ruined man: that I hadn't always been what I am: and that I might
have been better off, if I hadn't been a fool and fallen into the
hands of you and others who were knaves. Do you deny that?'

'Gently,' reasoned Tim; 'you said you wouldn't.'

'I said I wouldn't!' cried Newman, thrusting him aside, and moving
his hand as Tim moved, so as to keep him at arm's length; 'don't
tell me! Here, you Nickleby! Don't pretend not to mind me; it won't
do; I know better. You were talking of tampering, just now. Who
tampered with Yorkshire schoolmasters, and, while they sent the
drudge out, that he shouldn't overhear, forgot that such great
caution might render him suspicious, and that he might watch his
master out at nights, and might set other eyes to watch the
schoolmaster? Who tampered with a selfish father, urging him to
sell his daughter to old Arthur Gride, and tampered with Gride too,
and did so in the little office, WITH A CLOSET IN THE ROOM?'

Ralph had put a great command upon himself; but he could not have
suppressed a slight start, if he had been certain to be beheaded for
it next moment.

'Aha!' cried Newman, 'you mind me now, do you? What first set this
fag to be jealous of his master's actions, and to feel that, if he
hadn't crossed him when he might, he would have been as bad as he,
or worse? That master's cruel treatment of his own flesh and blood,
and vile designs upon a young girl who interested even his broken-
down, drunken, miserable hack, and made him linger in his service,
in the hope of doing her some good (as, thank God, he had done
others once or twice before), when he would, otherwise, have
relieved his feelings by pummelling his master soundly, and then
going to the Devil. He would--mark that; and mark this--that I'm
here now, because these gentlemen thought it best. When I sought
them out (as I did; there was no tampering with me), I told them I
wanted help to find you out, to trace you down, to go through with
what I had begun, to help the right; and that when I had done it,
I'd burst into your room and tell you all, face to face, man to man,
and like a man. Now I've said my say, and let anybody else say
theirs, and fire away!'

With this concluding sentiment, Newman Noggs, who had been
perpetually sitting down and getting up again all through his
speech, which he had delivered in a series of jerks; and who was,
from the violent exercise and the excitement combined, in a state of
most intense and fiery heat; became, without passing through any
intermediate stage, stiff, upright, and motionless, and so remained,
staring at Ralph Nickleby with all his might and main.

Ralph looked at him for an instant, and for an instant only; then,
waved his hand, and beating the ground with his foot, said in a
choking voice:

'Go on, gentlemen, go on! I'm patient, you see. There's law to be
had, there's law. I shall call you to an account for this. Take
care what you say; I shall make you prove it.'

'The proof is ready,' returned brother Charles, 'quite ready to our
hands. The man Snawley, last night, made a confession.'

'Who may "the man Snawley" be,' returned Ralph, 'and what may his
"confession" have to do with my affairs?'

To this inquiry, put with a dogged inflexibility of manner, the old
gentleman returned no answer, but went on to say, that to show him
how much they were in earnest, it would be necessary to tell him,
not only what accusations were made against him, but what proof of
them they had, and how that proof had been acquired. This laying
open of the whole question brought up brother Ned, Tim Linkinwater,
and Newman Noggs, all three at once; who, after a vast deal of
talking together, and a scene of great confusion, laid before Ralph,
in distinct terms, the following statement.

That, Newman, having been solemnly assured by one not then
producible that Smike was not the son of Snawley, and this person
having offered to make oath to that effect, if necessary, they had
by this communication been first led to doubt the claim set up,
which they would otherwise have seen no reason to dispute, supported
as it was by evidence which they had no power of disproving. That,
once suspecting the existence of a conspiracy, they had no
difficulty in tracing back its origin to the malice of Ralph, and
the vindictiveness and avarice of Squeers. That, suspicion and
proof being two very different things, they had been advised by a
lawyer, eminent for his sagacity and acuteness in such practice, to
resist the proceedings taken on the other side for the recovery of
the youth as slowly and artfully as possible, and meanwhile to beset
Snawley (with whom it was clear the main falsehood must rest); to
lead him, if possible, into contradictory and conflicting
statements; to harass him by all available means; and so to practise
on his fears, and regard for his own safety, as to induce him to
divulge the whole scheme, and to give up his employer and whomsoever
else he could implicate. That, all this had been skilfully done;
but that Snawley, who was well practised in the arts of low cunning
and intrigue, had successfully baffled all their attempts, until an
unexpected circumstance had brought him, last night, upon his knees.

It thus arose. When Newman Noggs reported that Squeers was again in
town, and that an interview of such secrecy had taken place between
him and Ralph that he had been sent out of the house, plainly lest
he should overhear a word, a watch was set upon the schoolmaster, in
the hope that something might be discovered which would throw some
light upon the suspected plot. It being found, however, that he
held no further communication with Ralph, nor any with Snawley, and
lived quite alone, they were completely at fault; the watch was
withdrawn, and they would have observed his motions no longer, if it
had not happened that, one night, Newman stumbled unobserved on him
and Ralph in the street together. Following them, he discovered, to
his surprise, that they repaired to various low lodging-houses, and
taverns kept by broken gamblers, to more than one of whom Ralph was
known, and that they were in pursuit--so he found by inquiries when
they had left--of an old woman, whose description exactly tallied
with that of deaf Mrs Sliderskew. Affairs now appearing to assume a
more serious complexion, the watch was renewed with increased
vigilance; an officer was procured, who took up his abode in the
same tavern with Squeers: and by him and Frank Cheeryble the
footsteps of the unconscious schoolmaster were dogged, until he was
safely housed in the lodging at Lambeth. Mr Squeers having shifted
his lodging, the officer shifted his, and lying concealed in the
same street, and, indeed, in the opposite house, soon found that Mr
Squeers and Mrs Sliderskew were in constant communication.

In this state of things, Arthur Gride was appealed to. The robbery,
partly owing to the inquisitiveness of the neighbours, and partly to
his own grief and rage, had, long ago, become known; but he
positively refused to give his sanction or yield any assistance to
the old woman's capture, and was seized with such a panic at the
idea of being called upon to give evidence against her, that he shut
himself up close in his house, and refused to hold communication
with anybody. Upon this, the pursuers took counsel together, and,
coming so near the truth as to arrive at the conclusion that Gride
and Ralph, with Squeers for their instrument, were negotiating for
the recovery of some of the stolen papers which would not bear the
light, and might possibly explain the hints relative to Madeline
which Newman had overheard, resolved that Mrs Sliderskew should be
taken into custody before she had parted with them: and Squeers too,
if anything suspicious could be attached to him. Accordingly, a
search-warrant being procured, and all prepared, Mr Squeers's window
was watched, until his light was put out, and the time arrived when,
as had been previously ascertained, he usually visited Mrs
Sliderskew. This done, Frank Cheeryble and Newman stole upstairs to
listen to their discourse, and to give the signal to the officer at
the most favourable time. At what an opportune moment they arrived,
how they listened, and what they heard, is already known to the
reader. Mr Squeers, still half stunned, was hurried off with a
stolen deed in his possession, and Mrs Sliderskew was apprehended
likewise. The information being promptly carried to Snawley that
Squeers was in custody--he was not told for what--that worthy, first
extorting a promise that he should be kept harmless, declared the
whole tale concerning Smike to be a fiction and forgery, and
implicated Ralph Nickleby to the fullest extent. As to Mr Squeers,
he had, that morning, undergone a private examination before a
magistrate; and, being unable to account satisfactorily for his
possession of the deed or his companionship with Mrs Sliderskew, had
been, with her, remanded for a week.

All these discoveries were now related to Ralph, circumstantially,
and in detail. Whatever impression they secretly produced, he
suffered no sign of emotion to escape him, but sat perfectly still,
not raising his frowning eyes from the ground, and covering his
mouth with his hand. When the narrative was concluded; he raised
his head hastily, as if about to speak, but on brother Charles
resuming, fell into his old attitude again.

'I told you this morning,' said the old gentleman, laying his hand
upon his brother's shoulder, 'that I came to you in mercy. How far
you may be implicated in this last transaction, or how far the
person who is now in custody may criminate you, you best know. But,
justice must take its course against the parties implicated in the
plot against this poor, unoffending, injured lad. It is not in my
power, or in the power of my brother Ned, to save you from the
consequences. The utmost we can do is, to warn you in time, and to
give you an opportunity of escaping them. We would not have an old
man like you disgraced and punished by your near relation; nor would
we have him forget, like you, all ties of blood and nature. We
entreat you--brother Ned, you join me, I know, in this entreaty, and
so, Tim Linkinwater, do you, although you pretend to be an obstinate
dog, sir, and sit there frowning as if you didn't--we entreat you to
retire from London, to take shelter in some place where you will be
safe from the consequences of these wicked designs, and where you
may have time, sir, to atone for them, and to become a better man.'

'And do you think,' returned Ralph, rising, 'and do you think, you
will so easily crush ME? Do you think that a hundred well-arranged
plans, or a hundred suborned witnesses, or a hundred false curs at
my heels, or a hundred canting speeches full of oily words, will
move me? I thank you for disclosing your schemes, which I am now
prepared for. You have not the man to deal with that you think; try
me! and remember that I spit upon your fair words and false
dealings, and dare you--provoke you--taunt you--to do to me the very
worst you can!'

Thus they parted, for that time; but the worst had not come yet.

CHAPTER 60

The Dangers thicken, and the Worst is told

Instead of going home, Ralph threw himself into the first street
cabriolet he could find, and, directing the driver towards the
police-office of the district in which Mr Squeers's misfortunes had
occurred, alighted at a short distance from it, and, discharging the
man, went the rest of his way thither on foot. Inquiring for the
object of his solicitude, he learnt that he had timed his visit
well; for Mr Squeers was, in fact, at that moment waiting for a
hackney coach he had ordered, and in which he purposed proceeding to
his week's retirement, like a gentleman.

Demanding speech with the prisoner, he was ushered into a kind of
waiting-room in which, by reason of his scholastic profession and
superior respectability, Mr Squeers had been permitted to pass the
day. Here, by the light of a guttering and blackened candle, he
could barely discern the schoolmaster, fast asleep on a bench in a
remote corner. An empty glass stood on a table before him, which,
with his somnolent condition and a very strong smell of brandy and
water, forewarned the visitor that Mr Squeers had been seeking, in
creature comforts, a temporary forgetfulness of his unpleasant
situation.

It was not a very easy matter to rouse him: so lethargic and heavy
were his slumbers. Regaining his faculties by slow and faint
glimmerings, he at length sat upright; and, displaying a very yellow
face, a very red nose, and a very bristly beard: the joint effect of
which was considerably heightened by a dirty white handkerchief,
spotted with blood, drawn over the crown of his head and tied under
his chin: stared ruefully at Ralph in silence, until his feelings
found a vent in this pithy sentence:

'I say, young fellow, you've been and done it now; you have!'

'What's the matter with your head?' asked Ralph.

'Why, your man, your informing kidnapping man, has been and broke
it,' rejoined Squeers sulkily; 'that's what's the matter with it.
You've come at last, have you?'

'Why have you not sent to me?' said Ralph. 'How could I come till I
knew what had befallen you?'

'My family!' hiccuped Mr Squeers, raising his eye to the ceiling:
'my daughter, as is at that age when all the sensibilities is a-
coming out strong in blow--my son as is the young Norval of private
life, and the pride and ornament of a doting willage--here's a shock
for my family! The coat-of-arms of the Squeerses is tore, and their
sun is gone down into the ocean wave!'

'You have been drinking,' said Ralph, 'and have not yet slept
yourself sober.'

'I haven't been drinking YOUR health, my codger,' replied Mr
Squeers; 'so you have nothing to do with that.'

Ralph suppressed the indignation which the schoolmaster's altered
and insolent manner awakened, and asked again why he had not sent to
him.

'What should I get by sending to you?' returned Squeers. 'To be
known to be in with you wouldn't do me a deal of good, and they
won't take bail till they know something more of the case, so here
am I hard and fast: and there are you, loose and comfortable.'

'And so must you be in a few days,' retorted Ralph, with affected
good-humour. 'They can't hurt you, man.'

'Why, I suppose they can't do much to me, if I explain how it was
that I got into the good company of that there ca-daverous old
Slider,' replied Squeers viciously, 'who I wish was dead and buried,
and resurrected and dissected, and hung upon wires in a anatomical
museum, before ever I'd had anything to do with her. This is what
him with the powdered head says this morning, in so many words:
"Prisoner! As you have been found in company with this woman; as
you were detected in possession of this document; as you were
engaged with her in fraudulently destroying others, and can give no
satisfactory account of yourself; I shall remand you for a week, in
order that inquiries may be made, and evidence got. And meanwhile I
can't take any bail for your appearance." Well then, what I say now
is, that I CAN give a satisfactory account of myself; I can hand in
the card of my establishment and say, "I am the Wackford Squeers as
is therein named, sir. I am the man as is guaranteed, by
unimpeachable references, to be a out-and-outer in morals and
uprightness of principle. Whatever is wrong in this business is no
fault of mine. I had no evil design in it, sir. I was not aware
that anything was wrong. I was merely employed by a friend, my
friend Mr Ralph Nickleby, of Golden Square. Send for him, sir, and
ask him what he has to say; he's the man; not me!"'

'What document was it that you had?' asked Ralph, evading, for the
moment, the point just raised.

'What document? Why, THE document,' replied Squeers. 'The Madeline
What's-her-name one. It was a will; that's what it was.'

'Of what nature, whose will, when dated, how benefiting her, to what
extent?' asked Ralph hurriedly.

'A will in her favour; that's all I know,' rejoined Squeers, 'and
that's more than you'd have known, if you'd had them bellows on your
head. It's all owing to your precious caution that they got hold of
it. If you had let me burn it, and taken my word that it was gone,
it would have been a heap of ashes behind the fire, instead of being
whole and sound, inside of my great-coat.'

'Beaten at every point!' muttered Ralph.

'Ah!' sighed Squeers, who, between the brandy and water and his
broken head, wandered strangely, 'at the delightful village of
Dotheboys near Greta Bridge in Yorkshire, youth are boarded,
clothed, booked, washed, furnished with pocket-money, provided with
all necessaries, instructed in all languages living and dead,
mathematics, orthography, geometry, astronomy, trigonometry--this is
a altered state of trigonomics, this is! A double 1--all,
everything--a cobbler's weapon. U-p-up, adjective, not down. S-q-
u-double e-r-s-Squeers, noun substantive, a educator of youth.
Total, all up with Squeers!'

His running on, in this way, had afforded Ralph an opportunity of
recovering his presence of mind, which at once suggested to him the
necessity of removing, as far as possible, the schoolmaster's
misgivings, and leading him to believe that his safety and best
policy lay in the preservation of a rigid silence.

'I tell you, once again,' he said, 'they can't hurt you. You shall
have an action for false imprisonment, and make a profit of this,
yet. We will devise a story for you that should carry you through
twenty times such a trivial scrape as this; and if they want
security in a thousand pounds for your reappearance in case you
should be called upon, you shall have it. All you have to do is, to
keep back the truth. You're a little fuddled tonight, and may not
be able to see this as clearly as you would at another time; but
this is what you must do, and you'll need all your senses about you;
for a slip might be awkward.'

'Oh!' said Squeers, who had looked cunningly at him, with his head
stuck on one side, like an old raven. 'That's what I'm to do, is
it? Now then, just you hear a word or two from me. I an't a-going
to have any stories made for me, and I an't a-going to stick to any.
If I find matters going again me, I shall expect you to take your
share, and I'll take care you do. You never said anything about
danger. I never bargained for being brought into such a plight as
this, and I don't mean to take it as quiet as you think. I let you
lead me on, from one thing to another, because we had been mixed up
together in a certain sort of a way, and if you had liked to be ill-
natured you might perhaps have hurt the business, and if you liked
to be good-natured you might throw a good deal in my way. Well; if
all goes right now, that's quite correct, and I don't mind it; but
if anything goes wrong, then times are altered, and I shall just say
and do whatever I think may serve me most, and take advice from
nobody. My moral influence with them lads,' added Mr Squeers, with
deeper gravity, 'is a tottering to its basis. The images of Mrs
Squeers, my daughter, and my son Wackford, all short of vittles, is
perpetually before me; every other consideration melts away and
vanishes, in front of these; the only number in all arithmetic that
I know of, as a husband and a father, is number one, under this here
most fatal go!'

How long Mr Squeers might have declaimed, or how stormy a discussion
his declamation might have led to, nobody knows. Being interrupted,
at this point, by the arrival of the coach and an attendant who was
to bear him company, he perched his hat with great dignity on the
top of the handkerchief that bound his head; and, thrusting one hand
in his pocket, and taking the attendant's arm with the other,
suffered himself to be led forth.

'As I supposed from his not sending!' thought Ralph. 'This fellow,
I plainly see through all his tipsy fooling, has made up his mind to
turn upon me. I am so beset and hemmed in, that they are not only
all struck with fear, but, like the beasts in the fable, have their
fling at me now, though time was, and no longer ago than yesterday
too, when they were all civility and compliance. But they shall not
move me. I'll not give way. I will not budge one inch!'

He went home, and was glad to find his housekeeper complaining of
illness, that he might have an excuse for being alone and sending
her away to where she lived: which was hard by. Then, he sat down
by the light of a single candle, and began to think, for the first
time, on all that had taken place that day.

He had neither eaten nor drunk since last night, and, in addition to
the anxiety of mind he had undergone, had been travelling about,
from place to place almost incessantly, for many hours. He felt
sick and exhausted, but could taste nothing save a glass of water,
and continued to sit with his head upon his hand; not resting nor
thinking, but laboriously trying to do both, and feeling that every
sense but one of weariness and desolation, was for the time
benumbed.

It was nearly ten o'clock when he heard a knocking at the door, and
still sat quiet as before, as if he could not even bring his
thoughts to bear upon that. It had been often repeated, and he had,
several times, heard a voice outside, saying there was a light in
the window (meaning, as he knew, his own candle), before he could
rouse himself and go downstairs.

'Mr Nickleby, there is terrible news for you, and I am sent to beg
you will come with me directly,' said a voice he seemed to
recognise. He held his hand above his eyes, and, looking out, saw
Tim Linkinwater on the steps.

'Come where?' demanded Ralph.

'To our house, where you came this morning. I have a coach here.'

'Why should I go there?' said Ralph.

'Don't ask me why, but pray come with me.'

'Another edition of today!' returned Ralph, making as though he
would shut the door.

'No, no!' cried Tim, catching him by the arm and speaking most
earnestly; 'it is only that you may hear something that has
occurred: something very dreadful, Mr Nickleby, which concerns you
nearly. Do you think I would tell you so or come to you like this,
if it were not the case?'

Ralph looked at him more closely. Seeing that he was indeed greatly
excited, he faltered, and could not tell what to say or think.

'You had better hear this now, than at any other time,' said Tim;
'it may have some influence with you. For Heaven's sake come!'

Perhaps, at, another time, Ralph's obstinacy and dislike would have
been proof against any appeal from such a quarter, however
emphatically urged; but now, after a moment's hesitation, he went
into the hall for his hat, and returning, got into the coach without
speaking a word.

Tim well remembered afterwards, and often said, that as Ralph
Nickleby went into the house for this purpose, he saw him, by the
light of the candle which he had set down upon a chair, reel and
stagger like a drunken man. He well remembered, too, that when he
had placed his foot upon the coach-steps, he turned round and looked
upon him with a face so ashy pale and so very wild and vacant that
it made him shudder, and for the moment almost afraid to follow.
People were fond of saying that he had some dark presentiment upon
him then, but his emotion might, perhaps, with greater show of
reason, be referred to what he had undergone that day.

A profound silence was observed during the ride. Arrived at their
place of destination, Ralph followed his conductor into the house,
and into a room where the two brothers were. He was so astounded,
not to say awed, by something of a mute compassion for himself which
was visible in their manner and in that of the old clerk, that he
could scarcely speak.

Having taken a seat, however, he contrived to say, though in broken
words, 'What--what have you to say to me--more than has been said
already?'

The room was old and large, very imperfectly lighted, and terminated
in a bay window, about which hung some heavy drapery. Casting his
eyes in this direction as he spoke, he thought he made out the dusky
figure of a man. He was confirmed in this impression by seeing that
the object moved, as if uneasy under his scrutiny.

'Who's that yonder?' he said.

'One who has conveyed to us, within these two hours, the
intelligence which caused our sending to you,' replied brother
Charles. 'Let him be, sir, let him be for the present.'

'More riddles!' said Ralph, faintly. 'Well, sir?'

In turning his face towards the brothers he was obliged to avert it
from the window; but, before either of them could speak, he had
looked round again. It was evident that he was rendered restless
and uncomfortable by the presence of the unseen person; for he
repeated this action several times, and at length, as if in a
nervous state which rendered him positively unable to turn away from
the place, sat so as to have it opposite him, muttering as an excuse
that he could not bear the light.

The brothers conferred apart for a short time: their manner showing
that they were agitated. Ralph glanced at them twice or thrice, and
ultimately said, with a great effort to recover his self-possession,
'Now, what is this? If I am brought from home at this time of
night, let it be for something. What have you got to tell me?'
After a short pause, he added, 'Is my niece dead?'

He had struck upon a key which rendered the task of commencement an
easier one. Brother Charles turned, and said that it was a death of
which they had to tell him, but that his niece was well.

'You don't mean to tell me,' said Ralph, as his eyes brightened,
'that her brother's dead? No, that's too good. I'd not believe it,
if you told me so. It would be too welcome news to be true.'

'Shame on you, you hardened and unnatural man,' cried the other
brother, warmly. 'Prepare yourself for intelligence which, if you
have any human feeling in your breast, will make even you shrink and
tremble. What if we tell you that a poor unfortunate boy: a child
in everything but never having known one of those tender
endearments, or one of those lightsome hours which make our
childhood a time to be remembered like a happy dream through all our
after life: a warm-hearted, harmless, affectionate creature, who
never offended you, or did you wrong, but on whom you have vented
the malice and hatred you have conceived for your nephew, and whom
you have made an instrument for wreaking your bad passions upon him:
what if we tell you that, sinking under your persecution, sir, and
the misery and ill-usage of a life short in years but long in
suffering, this poor creature has gone to tell his sad tale where,
for your part in it, you must surely answer?'

'If you tell me,' said Ralph; 'if you tell me that he is dead, I
forgive you all else. If you tell me that he is dead, I am in your
debt and bound to you for life. He is! I see it in your faces.
Who triumphs now? Is this your dreadful news; this your terrible
intelligence? You see how it moves me. You did well to send. I
would have travelled a hundred miles afoot, through mud, mire, and
darkness, to hear this news just at this time.'

Even then, moved as he was by this savage joy, Ralph could see in
the faces of the two brothers, mingling with their look of disgust
and horror, something of that indefinable compassion for himself
which he had noticed before.

'And HE brought you the intelligence, did he?' said Ralph, pointing
with his finger towards the recess already mentioned; 'and sat
there, no doubt, to see me prostrated and overwhelmed by it! Ha,
ha, ha! But I tell him that I'll be a sharp thorn in his side for
many a long day to come; and I tell you two, again, that you don't
know him yet; and that you'll rue the day you took compassion on the
vagabond.'

'You take me for your nephew,' said a hollow voice; 'it would be
better for you, and for me too, if I were he indeed.'

The figure that he had seen so dimly, rose, and came slowly down.
He started back, for he found that he confronted--not Nicholas, as
he had supposed, but Brooker.

Ralph had no reason, that he knew, to fear this man; he had never
feared him before; but the pallor which had been observed in his
face when he issued forth that night, came upon him again. He was
seen to tremble, and his voice changed as he said, keeping his eyes
upon him,

'What does this fellow here? Do you know he is a convict, a felon,
a common thief?'

'Hear what he has to tell you. Oh, Mr Nickleby, hear what he has to
tell you, be he what he may!' cried the brothers, with such emphatic
earnestness, that Ralph turned to them in wonder. They pointed to
Brooker. Ralph again gazed at him: as it seemed mechanically.

'That boy,' said the man, 'that these gentlemen have been talking
of--'

'That boy,' repeated Ralph, looking vacantly at him.

'Whom I saw, stretched dead and cold upon his bed, and who is now
in his grave--'

'Who is now in his grave,' echoed Ralph, like one who talks in his
sleep.

The man raised his eyes, and clasped his hands solemnly together:

'--Was your only son, so help me God in heaven!'

In the midst of a dead silence, Ralph sat down, pressing his two
hands upon his temples. He removed them, after a minute, and never
was there seen, part of a living man undisfigured by any wound, such
a ghastly face as he then disclosed. He looked at Brooker, who was
by this time standing at a short distance from him; but did not say
one word, or make the slightest sound or gesture.

'Gentlemen,' said the man, 'I offer no excuses for myself. I am
long past that. If, in telling you how this has happened, I tell
you that I was harshly used, and perhaps driven out of my real
nature, I do it only as a necessary part of my story, and not to
shield myself. I am a guilty man.'

He stopped, as if to recollect, and looking away from Ralph, and
addressing himself to the brothers, proceeded in a subdued and
humble tone:

'Among those who once had dealings with this man, gentlemen--that's
from twenty to five-and-twenty years ago--there was one: a rough
fox-hunting, hard-drinking gentleman, who had run through his own
fortune, and wanted to squander away that of his sister: they were
both orphans, and she lived with him and managed his house. I don't
know whether it was, originally, to back his influence and try to
over-persuade the young woman or not, but he,' pointing, to Ralph,
'used to go down to the house in Leicestershire pretty often, and
stop there many days at a time. They had had a great many dealings
together, and he may have gone on some of those, or to patch up his
client's affairs, which were in a ruinous state; of course he went
for profit. The gentlewoman was not a girl, but she was, I have
heard say, handsome, and entitled to a pretty large property. In
course of time, he married her. The same love of gain which led him
to contract this marriage, led to its being kept strictly private;
for a clause in her father's will declared that if she married
without her brother's consent, the property, in which she had only
some life interest while she remained single, should pass away
altogether to another branch of the family. The brother would give
no consent that the sister didn't buy, and pay for handsomely; Mr
Nickleby would consent to no such sacrifice; and so they went on,
keeping their marriage secret, and waiting for him to break his neck
or die of a fever. He did neither, and meanwhile the result of this
private marriage was a son. The child was put out to nurse, a long
way off; his mother never saw him but once or twice, and then by
stealth; and his father--so eagerly did he thirst after the money
which seemed to come almost within his grasp now, for his brother-
in-law was very ill, and breaking more and more every day--never
went near him, to avoid raising any suspicion. The brother lingered
on; Mr Nickleby's wife constantly urged him to avow their marriage;
he peremptorily refused. She remained alone in a dull country
house: seeing little or no company but riotous, drunken sportsmen.
He lived in London and clung to his business. Angry quarrels and
recriminations took place, and when they had been married nearly
seven years, and were within a few weeks of the time when the
brother's death would have adjusted all, she eloped with a younger
man, and left him.'

Here he paused, but Ralph did not stir, and the brothers signed to
him to proceed.

'It was then that I became acquainted with these circumstances from
his own lips. They were no secrets then; for the brother, and
others, knew them; but they were communicated to me, not on this
account, but because I was wanted. He followed the fugitives. Some
said to make money of his wife's shame, but, I believe, to take some
violent revenge, for that was as much his character as the other;
perhaps more. He didn't find them, and she died not long after. I
don't know whether he began to think he might like the child, or
whether he wished to make sure that it should never fall into its
mother's hands; but, before he went, he intrusted me with the charge
of bringing it home. And I did so.'

He went on, from this point, in a still more humble tone, and spoke
in a very low voice; pointing to Ralph as he resumed.

'He had used me ill--cruelly--I reminded him in what, not long ago
when I met him in the street--and I hated him. I brought the child
home to his own house, and lodged him in the front garret. Neglect
had made him very sickly, and I was obliged to call in a doctor, who
said he must be removed for change of air, or he would die. I think
that first put it in my head. I did it then. He was gone six weeks,
and when he came back, I told him--with every circumstance well
planned and proved; nobody could have suspected me--that the child
was dead and buried. He might have been disappointed in some
intention he had formed, or he might have had some natural
affection, but he WAS grieved at THAT, and I was confirmed in my
design of opening up the secret one day, and making it a means of
getting money from him. I had heard, like most other men, of
Yorkshire schools. I took the child to one kept by a man named
Squeers, and left it there. I gave him the name of Smike. Year by
year, I paid twenty pounds a-year for him for six years; never
breathing the secret all the time; for I had left his father's
service after more hard usage, and quarrelled with him again. I was
sent away from this country. I have been away nearly eight years.
Directly I came home again, I travelled down into Yorkshire, and,
skulking in the village of an evening-time, made inquiries about the
boys at the school, and found that this one, whom I had placed
there, had run away with a young man bearing the name of his own
father. I sought his father out in London, and hinting at what I
could tell him, tried for a little money to support life; but he
repulsed me with threats. I then found out his clerk, and, going on
from little to little, and showing him that there were good reasons
for communicating with me, learnt what was going on; and it was I
who told him that the boy was no son of the man who claimed to be
his father. All this time I had never seen the boy. At length, I
heard from this same source that he was very ill, and where he was.
I travelled down there, that I might recall myself, if possible, to
his recollection and confirm my story. I came upon him
unexpectedly; but before I could speak he knew me--he had good cause
to remember me, poor lad!--and I would have sworn to him if I had
met him in the Indies. I knew the piteous face I had seen in the
little child. After a few days' indecision, I applied to the young
gentleman in whose care he was, and I found that he was dead. He
knows how quickly he recognised me again, how often he had described
me and my leaving him at the school, and how he told him of a garret
he recollected: which is the one I have spoken of, and in his
father's house to this day. This is my story. I demand to be
brought face to face with the schoolmaster, and put to any possible
proof of any part of it, and I will show that it's too true, and
that I have this guilt upon my soul.'

'Unhappy man!' said the brothers. 'What reparation can you make for
this?'

'None, gentlemen, none! I have none to make, and nothing to hope
now. I am old in years, and older still in misery and care. This
confession can bring nothing upon me but new suffering and
punishment; but I make it, and will abide by it whatever comes. I
have been made the instrument of working out this dreadful
retribution upon the head of a man who, in the hot pursuit of his
bad ends, has persecuted and hunted down his own child to death. It
must descend upon me too. I know it must fall. My reparation comes
too late; and, neither in this world nor in the next, can I have
hope again!'

He had hardly spoken, when the lamp, which stood upon the table
close to where Ralph was seated, and which was the only one in the
room, was thrown to the ground, and left them in darkness. There
was some trifling confusion in obtaining another light; the interval
was a mere nothing; but when the light appeared, Ralph Nickleby was
gone.

The good brothers and Tim Linkinwater occupied some time in
discussing the probability of his return; and, when it became
apparent that he would not come back, they hesitated whether or no
to send after him. At length, remembering how strangely and
silently he had sat in one immovable position during the interview,
and thinking he might possibly be ill, they determined, although it
was now very late, to send to his house on some pretence. Finding
an excuse in the presence of Brooker, whom they knew not how to
dispose of without consulting his wishes, they concluded to act upon
this resolution before going to bed.

CHAPTER 61

Wherein Nicholas and his Sister forfeit the good Opinion of all
worldly and prudent People

On the next morning after Brooker's disclosure had been made,
Nicholas returned home. The meeting between him and those whom he
had left there was not without strong emotion on both sides; for
they had been informed by his letters of what had occurred: and,
besides that his griefs were theirs, they mourned with him the death
of one whose forlorn and helpless state had first established a
claim upon their compassion, and whose truth of heart and grateful
earnest nature had, every day, endeared him to them more and more.

'I am sure,' said Mrs Nickleby, wiping her eyes, and sobbing
bitterly, 'I have lost the best, the most zealous, and most
attentive creature that has ever been a companion to me in my life--
putting you, my dear Nicholas, and Kate, and your poor papa, and
that well-behaved nurse who ran away with the linen and the twelve
small forks, out of the question, of course. Of all the tractable,
equal-tempered, attached, and faithful beings that ever lived, I
believe he was the most so. To look round upon the garden, now,
that he took so much pride in, or to go into his room and see it
filled with so many of those little contrivances for our comfort
that he was so fond of making, and made so well, and so little
thought he would leave unfinished--I can't bear it, I cannot really.
Ah! This is a great trial to me, a great trial. It will be comfort
to you, my dear Nicholas, to the end of your life, to recollect how
kind and good you always were to him--so it will be to me, to think
what excellent terms we were always upon, and how fond he always was
of me, poor fellow! It was very natural you should have been
attached to him, my dear--very--and of course you were, and are very
much cut up by this. I am sure it's only necessary to look at you
and see how changed you are, to see that; but nobody knows what my
feelings are--nobody can--it's quite impossible!'

While Mrs Nickleby, with the utmost sincerity, gave vent to her
sorrows after her own peculiar fashion of considering herself
foremost, she was not the only one who indulged such feelings.
Kate, although well accustomed to forget herself when others were to
be considered, could not repress her grief; Madeline was scarcely
less moved than she; and poor, hearty, honest little Miss La Creevy,
who had come upon one of her visits while Nicholas was away, and had
done nothing, since the sad news arrived, but console and cheer them
all, no sooner beheld him coming in at the door, than she sat
herself down upon the stairs, and bursting into a flood of tears,
refused for a long time to be comforted.

'It hurts me so,' cried the poor body, 'to see him come back alone.
I can't help thinking what he must have suffered himself. I
wouldn't mind so much if he gave way a little more; but he bears it
so manfully.'

'Why, so I should,' said Nicholas, 'should I not?'

'Yes, yes,' replied the little woman, 'and bless you for a good
creature! but this does seem at first to a simple soul like me--I
know it's wrong to say so, and I shall be sorry for it presently--
this does seem such a poor reward for all you have done.'

'Nay,' said Nicholas gently, 'what better reward could I have, than
the knowledge that his last days were peaceful and happy, and the
recollection that I was his constant companion, and was not
prevented, as I might have been by a hundred circumstances, from
being beside him?'

'To be sure,' sobbed Miss La Creevy; 'it's very true, and I'm an
ungrateful, impious, wicked little fool, I know.'

With that, the good soul fell to crying afresh, and, endeavouring to
recover herself, tried to laugh. The laugh and the cry, meeting
each other thus abruptly, had a struggle for the mastery; the result
was, that it was a drawn battle, and Miss La Creevy went into
hysterics.

Waiting until they were all tolerably quiet and composed again,
Nicholas, who stood in need of some rest after his long journey,
retired to his own room, and throwing himself, dressed as he was,
upon the bed, fell into a sound sleep. When he awoke, he found Kate
sitting by his bedside, who, seeing that he had opened his eyes,
stooped down to kiss him.

'I came to tell you how glad I am to see you home again.'

'But I can't tell you how glad I am to see you, Kate.'

'We have been wearying so for your return,' said Kate, 'mama and I,
and--and Madeline.'

'You said in your last letter that she was quite well,' said
Nicholas, rather hastily, and colouring as he spoke. 'Has nothing
been said, since I have been away, about any future arrangements
that the brothers have in contemplation for her?'

'Oh, not a word,' replied Kate. 'I can't think of parting from her
without sorrow; and surely, Nicholas, YOU don't wish it!'

Nicholas coloured again, and, sitting down beside his sister on a
little couch near the window, said:

'No, Kate, no, I do not. I might strive to disguise my real
feelings from anybody but you; but I will tell you that--briefly and
plainly, Kate--that I love her.'

Kate's eyes brightened, and she was going to make some reply, when
Nicholas laid his hand upon her arm, and went on:

'Nobody must know this but you. She, last of all.'

'Dear Nicholas!'

'Last of all; never, though never is a long day. Sometimes, I try
to think that the time may come when I may honestly tell her this;
but it is so far off; in such distant perspective, so many years
must elapse before it comes, and when it does come (if ever) I shall
be so unlike what I am now, and shall have so outlived my days of
youth and romance--though not, I am sure, of love for her--that even
I feel how visionary all such hopes must be, and try to crush them
rudely myself, and have the pain over, rather than suffer time to
wither them, and keep the disappointment in store. No, Kate! Since
I have been absent, I have had, in that poor fellow who is gone,
perpetually before my eyes, another instance of the munificent
liberality of these noble brothers. As far as in me lies, I will
deserve it, and if I have wavered in my bounden duty to them before,
I am now determined to discharge it rigidly, and to put further
delays and temptations beyond my reach.'

'Before you say another word, dear Nicholas,' said Kate, turning
pale, 'you must hear what I have to tell you. I came on purpose,
but I had not the courage. What you say now, gives me new heart.'
She faltered, and burst into tears.

There was that in her manner which prepared Nicholas for what was
coming. Kate tried to speak, but her tears prevented her.

'Come, you foolish girl,' said Nicholas; 'why, Kate, Kate, be a
woman! I think I know what you would tell me. It concerns Mr
Frank, does it not?'

Kate sunk her head upon his shoulder, and sobbed out 'Yes.'

'And he has offered you his hand, perhaps, since I have been away,'
said Nicholas; 'is that it? Yes. Well, well; it is not so
difficult, you see, to tell me, after all. He offered you his
hand?'

'Which I refused,' said Kate.

'Yes; and why?'

'I told him,' she said, in a trembling voice, 'all that I have since
found you told mama; and while I could not conceal from him, and
cannot from you, that--that it was a pang and a great trial, I did
so firmly, and begged him not to see me any more.'

'That's my own brave Kate!' said Nicholas, pressing her to his
breast. 'I knew you would.'

'He tried to alter my resolution,' said Kate, 'and declared that, be
my decision what it might, he would not only inform his uncles of
the step he had taken, but would communicate it to you also,
directly you returned. I am afraid,' she added, her momentary
composure forsaking her, 'I am afraid I may not have said, strongly
enough, how deeply I felt such disinterested love, and how earnestly
I prayed for his future happiness. If you do talk together, I
should--I should like him to know that.'

'And did you suppose, Kate, when you had made this sacrifice to what
you knew was right and honourable, that I should shrink from mine?'
said Nicholas tenderly.

'Oh no! not if your position had been the same, but--'

'But it is the same,' interrupted Nicholas. 'Madeline is not the
near relation of our benefactors, but she is closely bound to them
by ties as dear; and I was first intrusted with her history,
specially because they reposed unbounded confidence in me, and
believed that I was as true as steel. How base would it be of me to
take advantage of the circumstances which placed her here, or of the
slight service I was happily able to render her, and to seek to
engage her affections when the result must be, if I succeeded, that
the brothers would be disappointed in their darling wish of
establishing her as their own child, and that I must seem to hope to
build my fortunes on their compassion for the young creature whom I
had so meanly and unworthily entrapped: turning her very gratitude
and warmth of heart to my own purpose and account, and trading in
her misfortunes! I, too, whose duty, and pride, and pleasure, Kate,
it is to have other claims upon me which I will never forget; and
who have the means of a comfortable and happy life already, and have
no right to look beyond it! I have determined to remove this weight
from my mind. I doubt whether I have not done wrong, even now; and
today I will, without reserve or equivocation, disclose my real
reasons to Mr Cherryble, and implore him to take immediate measures
for removing this young lady to the shelter of some other roof.'

'Today? so very soon?'

'I have thought of this for weeks, and why should I postpone it? If
the scene through which I have just passed has taught me to reflect,
and has awakened me to a more anxious and careful sense of duty, why
should I wait until the impression has cooled? You would not
dissuade me, Kate; now would you?'

'You may grow rich, you know,' said Kate.

'I may grow rich!' repeated Nicholas, with a mournful smile, 'ay,
and I may grow old! But rich or poor, or old or young, we shall
ever be the same to each other, and in that our comfort lies. What
if we have but one home? It can never be a solitary one to you and
me. What if we were to remain so true to these first impressions as
to form no others? It is but one more link to the strong chain that
binds us together. It seems but yesterday that we were playfellows,
Kate, and it will seem but tomorrow when we are staid old people,
looking back to these cares as we look back, now, to those of our
childish days: and recollecting with a melancholy pleasure that the
time was, when they could move us. Perhaps then, when we are quaint
old folks and talk of the times when our step was lighter and our
hair not grey, we may be even thankful for the trials that so
endeared us to each other, and turned our lives into that current,
down which we shall have glided so peacefully and calmly. And
having caught some inkling of our story, the young people about us--
as young as you and I are now, Kate--may come to us for sympathy,
and pour distresses which hope and inexperience could scarcely feel
enough for, into the compassionate ears of the old bachelor brother
and his maiden sister.'

Kate smiled through her tears as Nicholas drew this picture; but
they were not tears of sorrow, although they continued to fall when
he had ceased to speak.

'Am I not right, Kate?' he said, after a short silence.

'Quite, quite, dear brother; and I cannot tell you how happy I am
that I have acted as you would have had me.'

'You don't regret?'

'N--n--no,' said Kate timidly, tracing some pattern upon the ground
with her little foot. 'I don't regret having done what was
honourable and right, of course; but I do regret that this should
have ever happened--at least sometimes I regret it, and sometimes I
--I don't know what I say; I am but a weak girl, Nicholas, and it has
agitated me very much.'

It is no vaunt to affirm that if Nicholas had had ten thousand
pounds at the minute, he would, in his generous affection for the
owner of the blushing cheek and downcast eye, have bestowed its
utmost farthing, in perfect forgetfulness of himself, to secure her
happiness. But all he could do was to comfort and console her by
kind words; and words they were of such love and kindness, and
cheerful encouragement, that poor Kate threw her arms about his
neck, and declared she would weep no more.

'What man,' thought Nicholas proudly, while on his way, soon
afterwards, to the brothers' house, 'would not be sufficiently
rewarded for any sacrifice of fortune by the possession of such a
heart as Kate's, which, but that hearts weigh light, and gold and
silver heavy, is beyond all praise? Frank has money, and wants no
more. Where would it buy him such a treasure as Kate? And yet, in
unequal marriages, the rich party is always supposed to make a great
sacrifice, and the other to get a good bargain! But I am thinking
like a lover, or like an ass: which I suppose is pretty nearly the
same.'

Checking thoughts so little adapted to the business on which he was
bound, by such self-reproofs as this and many others no less sturdy,
he proceeded on his way and presented himself before Tim Linkinwater.

'Ah! Mr Nickleby!' cried Tim, 'God bless you! how d'ye do? Well?
Say you're quite well and never better. Do now.'

'Quite,' said Nicholas, shaking him by both hands.

'Ah!' said Tim, 'you look tired though, now I come to look at you.
Hark! there he is, d'ye hear him? That was Dick, the blackbird. He
hasn't been himself since you've been gone. He'd never get on
without you, now; he takes as naturally to you as he does to me.'

'Dick is a far less sagacious fellow than I supposed him, if he
thinks I am half so well worthy of his notice as you,' replied
Nicholas.

'Why, I'll tell you what, sir,' said Tim, standing in his favourite
attitude and pointing to the cage with the feather of his pen, 'it's
a very extraordinary thing about that bird, that the only people he
ever takes the smallest notice of, are Mr Charles, and Mr Ned, and
you, and me.'

Here, Tim stopped and glanced anxiously at Nicholas; then
unexpectedly catching his eye repeated, 'And you and me, sir, and
you and me.' And then he glanced at Nicholas again, and, squeezing
his hand, said, 'I am a bad one at putting off anything I am
interested in. I didn't mean to ask you, but I should like to hear
a few particulars about that poor boy. Did he mention Cheeryble
Brothers at all?'

'Yes,' said Nicholas, 'many and many a time.'

'That was right of him,' returned Tim, wiping his eyes; 'that was
very right of him.'

'And he mentioned your name a score of times,' said Nicholas, 'and
often bade me carry back his love to Mr Linkinwater.'

'No, no, did he though?' rejoined Tim, sobbing outright. 'Poor
fellow! I wish we could have had him buried in town. There isn't
such a burying-ground in all London as that little one on the other
side of the square--there are counting-houses all round it, and if
you go in there, on a fine day, you can see the books and safes
through the open windows. And he sent his love to me, did he? I
didn't expect he would have thought of me. Poor fellow, poor
fellow! His love too!'

Tim was so completely overcome by this little mark of recollection,
that he was quite unequal to any more conversation at the moment.
Nicholas therefore slipped quietly out, and went to brother
Charles's room.

If he had previously sustained his firmness and fortitude, it had
been by an effort which had cost him no little pain; but the warm
welcome, the hearty manner, the homely unaffected commiseration, of
the good old man, went to his heart, and no inward struggle could
prevent his showing it.

'Come, come, my dear sir,' said the benevolent merchant; 'we must
not be cast down; no, no. We must learn to bear misfortune, and we
must remember that there are many sources of consolation even in
death. Every day that this poor lad had lived, he must have been
less and less qualified for the world, and more and more unhappy in
is own deficiencies. It is better as it is, my dear sir. Yes, yes,
yes, it's better as it is.'

'I have thought of all that, sir,' replied Nicholas, clearing his
throat. 'I feel it, I assure you.'

'Yes, that's well,' replied Mr Cheeryble, who, in the midst of all
his comforting, was quite as much taken aback as honest old Tim;
'that's well. Where is my brother Ned? Tim Linkinwater, sir, where
is my brother Ned?'

'Gone out with Mr Trimmers, about getting that unfortunate man into
the hospital, and sending a nurse to his children,' said Tim.

'My brother Ned is a fine fellow, a great fellow!' exclaimed brother
Charles as he shut the door and returned to Nicholas. 'He will be
overjoyed to see you, my dear sir. We have been speaking of you
every day.'

'To tell you the truth, sir, I am glad to find you alone,' said
Nicholas, with some natural hesitation; 'for I am anxious to say
something to you. Can you spare me a very few minutes?'

'Surely, surely,' returned brother Charles, looking at him with an
anxious countenance. 'Say on, my dear sir, say on.'

'I scarcely know how, or where, to begin,' said Nicholas. 'If ever
one mortal had reason to be penetrated with love and reverence for
another: with such attachment as would make the hardest service in
his behalf a pleasure and delight: with such grateful recollections
as must rouse the utmost zeal and fidelity of his nature: those are
the feelings which I should entertain for you, and do, from my heart
and soul, believe me!'

'I do believe you,' replied the old gentleman, 'and I am happy in
the belief. I have never doubted it; I never shall. I am sure I
never shall.'

'Your telling me that so kindly,' said Nicholas, 'emboldens me to
proceed. When you first took me into your confidence, and
dispatched me on those missions to Miss Bray, I should have told you
that I had seen her long before; that her beauty had made an
impression upon me which I could not efface; and that I had
fruitlessly endeavoured to trace her, and become acquainted with her
history. I did not tell you so, because I vainly thought I could
conquer my weaker feelings, and render every consideration
subservient to my duty to you.'

'Mr Nickleby,' said brother Charles, 'you did not violate the
confidence I placed in you, or take an unworthy advantage of it. I
am sure you did not.'

'I did not,' said Nicholas, firmly. 'Although I found that the
necessity for self-command and restraint became every day more
imperious, and the difficulty greater, I never, for one instant,
spoke or looked but as I would have done had you been by. I never,
for one moment, deserted my trust, nor have I to this instant. But
I find that constant association and companionship with this sweet
girl is fatal to my peace of mind, and may prove destructive to the
resolutions I made in the beginning, and up to this time have
faithfully kept. In short, sir, I cannot trust myself, and I
implore and beseech you to remove this young lady from under the
charge of my mother and sister without delay. I know that to anyone
but myself--to you, who consider the immeasurable distance between
me and this young lady, who is now your ward, and the object of your
peculiar care--my loving her, even in thought, must appear the
height of rashness and presumption. I know it is so. But who can
see her as I have seen, who can know what her life has been, and
not love her? I have no excuse but that; and as I cannot fly from
this temptation, and cannot repress this passion, with its object
constantly before me, what can I do but pray and beseech you to
remove it, and to leave me to forget her?'

'Mr Nickleby,' said the old man, after a short silence, 'you can do
no more. I was wrong to expose a young man like you to this trial.
I might have foreseen what would happen. Thank you, sir, thank you.
Madeline shall be removed.'

'If you would grant me one favour, dear sir, and suffer her to
remember me with esteem, by never revealing to her this confession--'

'I will take care,' said Mr Cheeryble. 'And now, is this all you
have to tell me?'

'No!' returned Nicholas, meeting his eye, 'it is not.'

'I know the rest,' said Mr Cheeryble, apparently very much relieved
by this prompt reply. 'When did it come to your knowledge?'

'When I reached home this morning.'

'You felt it your duty immediately to come to me, and tell me what
your sister no doubt acquainted you with?'

'I did,' said Nicholas, 'though I could have wished to have spoken
to Mr Frank first.'

'Frank was with me last night,' replied the old gentleman. 'You
have done well, Mr Nickleby--very well, sir--and I thank you again.'

Upon this head, Nicholas requested permission to add a few words.
He ventured to hope that nothing he had said would lead to the
estrangement of Kate and Madeline, who had formed an attachment for
each other, any interruption of which would, he knew, be attended
with great pain to them, and, most of all, with remorse and pain to
him, as its unhappy cause. When these things were all forgotten, he
hoped that Frank and he might still be warm friends, and that no
word or thought of his humble home, or of her who was well contented
to remain there and share his quiet fortunes, would ever again
disturb the harmony between them. He recounted, as nearly as he
could, what had passed between himself and Kate that morning:
speaking of her with such warmth of pride and affection, and
dwelling so cheerfully upon the confidence they had of overcoming
any selfish regrets and living contented and happy in each other's
love, that few could have heard him unmoved. More moved himself
than he had been yet, he expressed in a few hurried words--as
expressive, perhaps, as the most eloquent phrases--his devotion to
the brothers, and his hope that he might live and die in their
service.

To all this, brother Charles listened in profound silence, and with
his chair so turned from Nicholas that his face could not be seen.
He had not spoken either, in his accustomed manner, but with a
certain stiffness and embarrassment very foreign to it. Nicholas
feared he had offended him. He said, 'No, no, he had done quite
right,' but that was all.

'Frank is a heedless, foolish fellow,' he said, after Nicholas had
paused for some time; 'a very heedless, foolish fellow. I will take
care that this is brought to a close without delay. Let us say no
more upon the subject; it's a very painful one to me. Come to me in
half an hour; I have strange things to tell you, my dear sir, and
your uncle has appointed this afternoon for your waiting upon him
with me.'

'Waiting upon him! With you, sir!' cried Nicholas.

'Ay, with me,' replied the old gentleman. 'Return to me in half an
hour, and I'll tell you more.'

Nicholas waited upon him at the time mentioned, and then learnt all
that had taken place on the previous day, and all that was known of
the appointment Ralph had made with the brothers; which was for that
night; and for the better understanding of which it will be
requisite to return and follow his own footsteps from the house of
the twin brothers. Therefore, we leave Nicholas somewhat reassured
by the restored kindness of their manner towards him, and yet
sensible that it was different from what it had been (though he
scarcely knew in what respect): so he was full of uneasiness,
uncertainty, and disquiet.

CHAPTER 62

Ralph makes one last Appointment--and keeps it

Creeping from the house, and slinking off like a thief; groping with
his hands, when first he got into the street, as if he were a blind
man; and looking often over his shoulder while he hurried away, as
though he were followed in imagination or reality by someone anxious
to question or detain him; Ralph Nickleby left the city behind him,
and took the road to his own home.

The night was dark, and a cold wind blew, driving the clouds,
furiously and fast, before it. There was one black, gloomy mass
that seemed to follow him: not hurrying in the wild chase with the
others, but lingering sullenly behind, and gliding darkly and
stealthily on. He often looked back at this, and, more than once,
stopped to let it pass over; but, somehow, when he went forward
again, it was still behind him, coming mournfully and slowly up,
like a shadowy funeral train.

He had to pass a poor, mean burial-ground--a dismal place, raised a
few feet above the level of the street, and parted from it by a low
parapet-wall and an iron railing; a rank, unwholesome, rotten spot,
where the very grass and weeds seemed, in their frouzy growth, to
tell that they had sprung from paupers' bodies, and had struck their
roots in the graves of men, sodden, while alive, in steaming courts
and drunken hungry dens. And here, in truth, they lay, parted from
the living by a little earth and a board or two--lay thick and
close--corrupting in body as they had in mind--a dense and squalid
crowd. Here they lay, cheek by jowl with life: no deeper down than
the feet of the throng that passed there every day, and piled high
as their throats. Here they lay, a grisly family, all these dear
departed brothers and sisters of the ruddy clergyman who did his
task so speedily when they were hidden in the ground!

As he passed here, Ralph called to mind that he had been one of a
jury, long before, on the body of a man who had cut his throat; and
that he was buried in this place. He could not tell how he came to
recollect it now, when he had so often passed and never thought
about him, or how it was that he felt an interest in the
circumstance; but he did both; and stopping, and clasping the iron
railings with his hands, looked eagerly in, wondering which might be
his grave.

While he was thus engaged, there came towards him, with noise of
shouts and singing, some fellows full of drink, followed by others,
who were remonstrating with them and urging them to go home in
quiet. They were in high good-humour; and one of them, a little,
weazen, hump-backed man, began to dance. He was a grotesque,
fantastic figure, and the few bystanders laughed. Ralph himself was
moved to mirth, and echoed the laugh of one who stood near and who
looked round in his face. When they had passed on, and he was left
alone again, he resumed his speculation with a new kind of interest;
for he recollected that the last person who had seen the suicide
alive, had left him very merry, and he remembered how strange he and
the other jurors had thought that at the time.

He could not fix upon the spot among such a heap of graves, but he
conjured up a strong and vivid idea of the man himself, and how he
looked, and what had led him to do it; all of which he recalled with
ease. By dint of dwelling upon this theme, he carried the
impression with him when he went away; as he remembered, when a
child, to have had frequently before him the figure of some goblin
he had once seen chalked upon a door. But as he drew nearer and
nearer home he forgot it again, and began to think how very dull and
solitary the house would be inside.

This feeling became so strong at last, that when he reached his own
door, he could hardly make up his mind to turn the key and open it.
When he had done that, and gone into the passage, he felt as though
to shut it again would be to shut out the world. But he let it go,
and it closed with a loud noise. There was no light. How very
dreary, cold, and still it was!

Shivering from head to foot, he made his way upstairs into the room
where he had been last disturbed. He had made a kind of compact
with himself that he would not think of what had happened until he
got home. He was at home now, and suffered himself to consider it.

His own child, his own child! He never doubted the tale; he felt it
was true; knew it as well, now, as if he had been privy to it all
along. His own child! And dead too. Dying beside Nicholas, loving
him, and looking upon him as something like an angel. That was the
worst!

They had all turned from him and deserted him in his very first
need. Even money could not buy them now; everything must come out,
and everybody must know all. Here was the young lord dead, his
companion abroad and beyond his reach, ten thousand pounds gone at
one blow, his plot with Gride overset at the very moment of triumph,
his after-schemes discovered, himself in danger, the object of his
persecution and Nicholas's love, his own wretched boy; everything
crumbled and fallen upon him, and he beaten down beneath the ruins
and grovelling in the dust.

If he had known his child to be alive; if no deceit had been ever
practised, and he had grown up beneath his eye; he might have been a
careless, indifferent, rough, harsh father--like enough--he felt
that; but the thought would come that he might have been otherwise,
and that his son might have been a comfort to him, and they two
happy together. He began to think now, that his supposed death and
his wife's flight had had some share in making him the morose, hard
man he was. He seemed to remember a time when he was not quite so
rough and obdurate; and almost thought that he had first hated
Nicholas because he was young and gallant, and perhaps like the
stripling who had brought dishonour and loss of fortune on his head.

But one tender thought, or one of natural regret, in his whirlwind
of passion and remorse, was as a drop of calm water in a stormy
maddened sea. His hatred of Nicholas had been fed upon his own
defeat, nourished on his interference with his schemes, fattened
upon his old defiance and success. There were reasons for its
increase; it had grown and strengthened gradually. Now it attained
a height which was sheer wild lunacy. That his, of all others,
should have been the hands to rescue his miserable child; that he
should have been his protector and faithful friend; that he should
have shown him that love and tenderness which, from the wretched
moment of his birth, he had never known; that he should have taught
him to hate his own parent and execrate his very name; that he
should now know and feel all this, and triumph in the recollection;
was gall and madness to the usurer's heart. The dead boy's love for
Nicholas, and the attachment of Nicholas to him, was insupportable
agony. The picture of his deathbed, with Nicholas at his side,
tending and supporting him, and he breathing out his thanks, and
expiring in his arms, when he would have had them mortal enemies and
hating each other to the last, drove him frantic. He gnashed his
teeth and smote the air, and looking wildly round, with eyes which
gleamed through the darkness, cried aloud:

'I am trampled down and ruined. The wretch told me true. The night
has come! Is there no way to rob them of further triumph, and spurn
their mercy and compassion? Is there no devil to help me?'

Swiftly, there glided again into his brain the figure he had raised
that night. It seemed to lie before him. The head was covered now.
So it was when he first saw it. The rigid, upturned, marble feet
too, he remembered well. Then came before him the pale and
trembling relatives who had told their tale upon the inquest--the
shrieks of women--the silent dread of men--the consternation and
disquiet--the victory achieved by that heap of clay, which, with one
motion of its hand, had let out the life and made this stir among
them--

He spoke no more; but, after a pause, softly groped his way out of
the room, and up the echoing stairs--up to the top--to the front
garret--where he closed the door behind him, and remained.

It was a mere lumber-room now, but it yet contained an old
dismantled bedstead; the one on which his son had slept; for no
other had ever been there. He avoided it hastily, and sat down as
far from it as he could.

The weakened glare of the lights in the street below, shining
through the window which had no blind or curtain to intercept it,
was enough to show the character of the room, though not sufficient
fully to reveal the various articles of lumber, old corded trunks
and broken furniture, which were scattered about. It had a shelving
roof; high in one part, and at another descending almost to the
floor. It was towards the highest part that Ralph directed his
eyes; and upon it he kept them fixed steadily for some minutes, when
he rose, and dragging thither an old chest upon which he had been
seated, mounted on it, and felt along the wall above his head with
both hands. At length, they touched a large iron hook, firmly
driven into one of the beams.

At that moment, he was interrupted by a loud knocking at the door
below. After a little hesitation he opened the window, and demanded
who it was.

'I want Mr Nickleby,' replied a voice.

'What with him?'

'That's not Mr Nickleby's voice, surely?' was the rejoinder.

It was not like it; but it was Ralph who spoke, and so he said.

The voice made answer that the twin brothers wished to know whether
the man whom he had seen that night was to be detained; and that
although it was now midnight they had sent, in their anxiety to do
right.

'Yes,' cried Ralph, 'detain him till tomorrow; then let them bring
him here--him and my nephew--and come themselves, and be sure that I
will be ready to receive them.'

'At what hour?' asked the voice.

'At any hour,' replied Ralph fiercely. 'In the afternoon, tell
them. At any hour, at any minute. All times will be alike to me.'

He listened to the man's retreating footsteps until the sound had
passed, and then, gazing up into the sky, saw, or thought he saw,
the same black cloud that had seemed to follow him home, and which
now appeared to hover directly above the house.

'I know its meaning now,' he muttered, 'and the restless nights, the
dreams, and why I have quailed of late. All pointed to this. Oh! if
men by selling their own souls could ride rampant for a term, for
how short a term would I barter mine tonight!'

The sound of a deep bell came along the wind. One.

'Lie on!' cried the usurer, 'with your iron tongue! Ring merrily
for births that make expectants writhe, and marriages that are made
in hell, and toll ruefully for the dead whose shoes are worn
already! Call men to prayers who are godly because not found out,
and ring chimes for the coming in of every year that brings this
cursed world nearer to its end. No bell or book for me! Throw me
on a dunghill, and let me rot there, to infect the air!'

With a wild look around, in which frenzy, hatred, and despair were
horribly mingled, he shook his clenched hand at the sky above him,
which was still dark and threatening, and closed the window.

The rain and hail pattered against the glass; the chimneys quaked
and rocked; the crazy casement rattled with the wind, as though an
impatient hand inside were striving to burst it open. But no hand
was there, and it opened no more.

'How's this?' cried one. 'The gentleman say they can't make anybody
hear, and have been trying these two hours.'

'And yet he came home last night,' said another; 'for he spoke to
somebody out of that window upstairs.'

They were a little knot of men, and, the window being mentioned,
went out into the road to look up at it. This occasioned their
observing that the house was still close shut, as the housekeeper
had said she had left it on the previous night, and led to a great
many suggestions: which terminated in two or three of the boldest
getting round to the back, and so entering by a window, while the
others remained outside, in impatient expectation.

They looked into all the rooms below: opening the shutters as they
went, to admit the fading light: and still finding nobody, and
everything quiet and in its place, doubted whether they should go
farther. One man, however, remarking that they had not yet been
into the garret, and that it was there he had been last seen, they
agreed to look there too, and went up softly; for the mystery and
silence made them timid.

After they had stood for an instant, on the landing, eyeing each
other, he who had proposed their carrying the search so far, turned
the handle of the door, and, pushing it open, looked through the
chink, and fell back directly.

'It's very odd,' he whispered, 'he's hiding behind the door! Look!'

They pressed forward to see; but one among them thrusting the others
aside with a loud exclamation, drew a clasp-knife from his pocket,
and dashing into the room, cut down the body.

He had torn a rope from one of the old trunks, and hung himself on
an iron hook immediately below the trap-door in the ceiling--in the
very place to which the eyes of his son, a lonely, desolate, little
creature, had so often been directed in childish terror, fourteen
years before.

CHAPTER 63

The Brothers Cheeryble make various Declarations for themselves and
others. Tim Linkinwater makes a Declaration for himself

Some weeks had passed, and the first shock of these events had
subsided. Madeline had been removed; Frank had been absent; and
Nicholas and Kate had begun to try in good earnest to stifle their
own regrets, and to live for each other and for their mother--who,
poor lady, could in nowise be reconciled to this dull and altered
state of affairs--when there came one evening, per favour of Mr
Linkinwater, an invitation from the brothers to dinner on the next
day but one: comprehending, not only Mrs Nickleby, Kate, and
Nicholas, but little Miss La Creevy, who was most particularly
mentioned.

'Now, my dears,' said Mrs Nickleby, when they had rendered becoming
honour to the bidding, and Tim had taken his departure, 'what does
THIS mean?'

'What do YOU mean, mother?' asked Nicholas, smiling.

'I say, my dear,' rejoined that lady, with a face of unfathomable
mystery, 'what does this invitation to dinner mean? What is its
intention and object?'

'I conclude it means, that on such a day we are to eat and drink in
their house, and that its intent and object is to confer pleasure
upon us,' said Nicholas.

'And that's all you conclude it is, my dear?'

'I have not yet arrived at anything deeper, mother.'

'Then I'll just tell you one thing,' said Mrs Nickleby, you'll find
yourself a little surprised; that's all. You may depend upon it
that this means something besides dinner.'

'Tea and supper, perhaps,' suggested Nicholas.

'I wouldn't be absurd, my dear, if I were you,' replied Mrs
Nickleby, in a lofty manner, 'because it's not by any means
becoming, and doesn't suit you at all. What I mean to say is, that
the Mr Cheerybles don't ask us to dinner with all this ceremony for
nothing. Never mind; wait and see. You won't believe anything I
say, of course. It's much better to wait; a great deal better; it's
satisfactory to all parties, and there can be no disputing. All I
say is, remember what I say now, and when I say I said so, don't say
I didn't.'

With this stipulation, Mrs Nickleby, who was troubled, night and
day, with a vision of a hot messenger tearing up to the door to
announce that Nicholas had been taken into partnership, quitted that
branch of the subject, and entered upon a new one.

'It's a very extraordinary thing,' she said, 'a most extraordinary
thing, that they should have invited Miss La Creevy. It quite
astonishes me, upon my word it does. Of course it's very pleasant
that she should be invited, very pleasant, and I have no doubt that
she'll conduct herself extremely well; she always does. It's very
gratifying to think that we should have been the means of
introducing her into such society, and I'm quite glad of it--quite
rejoiced--for she certainly is an exceedingly well-behaved and good-
natured little person. I could wish that some friend would mention
to her how very badly she has her cap trimmed, and what very
preposterous bows those are, but of course that's impossible, and if
she likes to make a fright of herself, no doubt she has a perfect
right to do so. We never see ourselves--never do, and never did--
and I suppose we never shall.'

This moral reflection reminding her of the necessity of being
peculiarly smart on the occasion, so as to counterbalance Miss La
Creevy, and be herself an effectual set-off and atonement, led Mrs
Nickleby into a consultation with her daughter relative to certain
ribbons, gloves, and trimmings: which, being a complicated question,
and one of paramount importance, soon routed the previous one, and
put it to flight.

The great day arriving, the good lady put herself under Kate's hands
an hour or so after breakfast, and, dressing by easy stages,
completed her toilette in sufficient time to allow of her daughter's
making hers, which was very simple, and not very long, though so
satisfactory that she had never appeared more charming or looked
more lovely. Miss La Creevy, too, arrived with two bandboxes
(whereof the bottoms fell out as they were handed from the coach)
and something in a newspaper, which a gentleman had sat upon, coming
down, and which was obliged to be ironed again, before it was fit
for service. At last, everybody was dressed, including Nicholas,
who had come home to fetch them, and they went away in a coach sent
by the brothers for the purpose: Mrs Nickleby wondering very much
what they would have for dinner, and cross-examining Nicholas as to
the extent of his discoveries in the morning; whether he had smelt
anything cooking at all like turtle, and if not, what he had smelt;
and diversifying the conversation with reminiscences of dinners to
which she had gone some twenty years ago, concerning which she
particularised not only the dishes but the guests, in whom her
hearers did not feel a very absorbing interest, as not one of them
had ever chanced to hear their names before.

The old butler received them with profound respect and many smiles,
and ushered them into the drawing-room, where they were received by
the brothers with so much cordiality and kindness that Mrs Nickleby
was quite in a flutter, and had scarcely presence of mind enough,
even to patronise Miss La Creevy. Kate was still more affected by
the reception: for, knowing that the brothers were acquainted with
all that had passed between her and Frank, she felt her position a
most delicate and trying one, and was trembling on the arm of
Nicholas, when Mr Charles took her in his, and led her to another
part of the room.

'Have you seen Madeline, my dear,' he said, 'since she left your
house?'

'No, sir!' replied Kate. 'Not once.'

'And not heard from her, eh? Not heard from her?'

'I have only had one letter,' rejoined Kate, gently. 'I thought she
would not have forgotten me quite so soon.'

'Ah,' said the old man, patting her on the head, and speaking as
affectionately as if she had been his favourite child. 'Poor dear!
what do you think of this, brother Ned? Madeline has only written
to her once, only once, Ned, and she didn't think she would have
forgotten her quite so soon, Ned.'

'Oh! sad, sad; very sad!' said Ned.

The brothers interchanged a glance, and looking at Kate for a little
time without speaking, shook hands, and nodded as if they were
congratulating each other on something very delightful.

'Well, well,' said brother Charles, 'go into that room, my dear--
that door yonder--and see if there's not a letter for you from her.
I think there's one upon the table. You needn't hurry back, my
love, if there is, for we don't dine just yet, and there's plenty of
time. Plenty of time.'

Kate retired as she was directed. Brother Charles, having followed
her graceful figure with his eyes, turned to Mrs Nickleby, and said:

'We took the liberty of naming one hour before the real dinner-time,
ma'am, because we had a little business to speak about, which would
occupy the interval. Ned, my dear fellow, will you mention what we
agreed upon? Mr Nickleby, sir, have the goodness to follow me.'

Without any further explanation, Mrs Nickleby, Miss La Creevy, and
brother Ned, were left alone together, and Nicholas followed brother
Charles into his private room; where, to his great astonishment, he
encountered Frank, whom he supposed to be abroad.

'Young men,' said Mr Cheeryble, 'shake hands!'

'I need no bidding to do that,' said Nicholas, extending his.

'Nor I,' rejoined Frank, as he clasped it heartily.

The old gentleman thought that two handsomer or finer young fellows
could scarcely stand side by side than those on whom he looked with
so much pleasure. Suffering his eyes to rest upon them, for a short
time in silence, he said, while he seated himself at his desk:

'I wish to see you friends--close and firm friends--and if I thought
you otherwise, I should hesitate in what I am about to say. Frank,
look here! Mr Nickleby, will you come on the other side?'

The young men stepped up on either hand of brother Charles, who
produced a paper from his desk, and unfolded it.

'This,' he said, 'is a copy of the will of Madeline's maternal
grandfather, bequeathing her the sum of twelve thousand pounds,
payable either upon her coming of age or marrying. It would appear
that this gentleman, angry with her (his only relation) because she
would not put herself under his protection, and detach herself from
the society of her father, in compliance with his repeated
overtures, made a will leaving this property (which was all he
possessed) to a charitable institution. He would seem to have
repented this determination, however, for three weeks afterwards,
and in the same month, he executed this. By some fraud, it was
abstracted immediately after his decease, and the other--the only
will found--was proved and administered. Friendly negotiations,
which have only just now terminated, have been proceeding since this
instrument came into our hands, and, as there is no doubt of its
authenticity, and the witnesses have been discovered (after some
trouble), the money has been refunded. Madeline has therefore
obtained her right, and is, or will be, when either of the
contingencies which I have mentioned has arisen, mistress of this
fortune. You understand me?'

Frank replied in the affirmative. Nicholas, who could not trust
himself to speak lest his voice should be heard to falter, bowed his
head.

'Now, Frank,' said the old gentleman, 'you were the immediate means
of recovering this deed. The fortune is but a small one; but we
love Madeline; and such as it is, we would rather see you allied to
her with that, than to any other girl we know who has three times
the money. Will you become a suitor to her for her hand?'

'No, sir. I interested myself in the recovery of that instrument,
believing that her hand was already pledged to one who has a
thousand times the claims upon her gratitude, and, if I mistake not,
upon her heart, that I or any other man can ever urge. In this it
seems I judged hastily.'

'As you always, do, sir,' cried brother Charles, utterly forgetting
his assumed dignity, 'as you always do. How dare you think, Frank,
that we would have you marry for money, when youth, beauty, and
every amiable virtue and excellence were to be had for love? How
dared you, Frank, go and make love to Mr Nickleby's sister without
telling us first what you meant to do, and letting us speak for
you?'

'I hardly dared to hope--'

'You hardly dared to hope! Then, so much the greater reason for
having our assistance! Mr Nickleby, sir, Frank, although he judged
hastily, judged, for once, correctly. Madeline's heart IS occupied.
Give me your hand, sir; it is occupied by you, and worthily and

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