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The Life And Adventures Of Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens

Part 4 out of 20

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'But my question, uncle; you have not answered it.'

'Why, I anticipated something of the kind,' said Ralph; 'and--though
I object very strongly, mind--have provided against it. I spoke of
you as an out-of-door worker; so you will go to this home that may
be humble, every night.'

There was comfort in this. Kate poured forth many thanks for her
uncle's consideration, which Ralph received as if he had deserved
them all, and they arrived without any further conversation at the
dressmaker's door, which displayed a very large plate, with Madame
Mantalini's name and occupation, and was approached by a handsome
flight of steps. There was a shop to the house, but it was let off
to an importer of otto of roses. Madame Mantalini's shows-rooms
were on the first-floor: a fact which was notified to the nobility
and gentry by the casual exhibition, near the handsomely curtained
windows, of two or three elegant bonnets of the newest fashion, and
some costly garments in the most approved taste.

A liveried footman opened the door, and in reply to Ralph's inquiry
whether Madame Mantalini was at home, ushered them, through a
handsome hall and up a spacious staircase, into the show saloon,
which comprised two spacious drawing-rooms, and exhibited an immense
variety of superb dresses and materials for dresses: some arranged
on stands, others laid carelessly on sofas, and others again,
scattered over the carpet, hanging on the cheval-glasses, or
mingling, in some other way, with the rich furniture of various
descriptions, which was profusely displayed.

They waited here a much longer time than was agreeable to Mr Ralph
Nickleby, who eyed the gaudy frippery about him with very little
concern, and was at length about to pull the bell, when a gentleman
suddenly popped his head into the room, and, seeing somebody there,
as suddenly popped it out again.

'Here. Hollo!' cried Ralph. 'Who's that?'

At the sound of Ralph's voice, the head reappeared, and the mouth,
displaying a very long row of very white teeth, uttered in a mincing
tone the words, 'Demmit. What, Nickleby! oh, demmit!' Having
uttered which ejaculations, the gentleman advanced, and shook hands
with Ralph, with great warmth. He was dressed in a gorgeous morning
gown, with a waistcoat and Turkish trousers of the same pattern, a
pink silk neckerchief, and bright green slippers, and had a very
copious watch-chain wound round his body. Moreover, he had whiskers
and a moustache, both dyed black and gracefully curled.

'Demmit, you don't mean to say you want me, do you, demmit?' said
this gentleman, smiting Ralph on the shoulder.

'Not yet,' said Ralph, sarcastically.

'Ha! ha! demmit,' cried the gentleman; when, wheeling round to laugh
with greater elegance, he encountered Kate Nickleby, who was
standing near.

'My niece,' said Ralph.

'I remember,' said the gentleman, striking his nose with the knuckle
of his forefinger as a chastening for his forgetfulness. 'Demmit, I
remember what you come for. Step this way, Nickleby; my dear, will
you follow me? Ha! ha! They all follow me, Nickleby; always did,
demmit, always.'

Giving loose to the playfulness of his imagination, after this
fashion, the gentleman led the way to a private sitting-room on the
second floor, scarcely less elegantly furnished than the apartment
below, where the presence of a silver coffee-pot, an egg-shell, and
sloppy china for one, seemed to show that he had just breakfasted.

'Sit down, my dear,' said the gentleman: first staring Miss Nickleby
out of countenance, and then grinning in delight at the achievement.
'This cursed high room takes one's breath away. These infernal sky
parlours--I'm afraid I must move, Nickleby.'

'I would, by all means,' replied Ralph, looking bitterly round.

'What a demd rum fellow you are, Nickleby,' said the gentleman, 'the
demdest, longest-headed, queerest-tempered old coiner of gold and
silver ever was--demmit.'

Having complimented Ralph to this effect, the gentleman rang the
bell, and stared at Miss Nickleby until it was answered, when he
left off to bid the man desire his mistress to come directly; after
which, he began again, and left off no more until Madame Mantalini
appeared.

The dressmaker was a buxom person, handsomely dressed and rather
good-looking, but much older than the gentleman in the Turkish
trousers, whom she had wedded some six months before. His name was
originally Muntle; but it had been converted, by an easy transition,
into Mantalini: the lady rightly considering that an English
appellation would be of serious injury to the business. He had
married on his whiskers; upon which property he had previously
subsisted, in a genteel manner, for some years; and which he had
recently improved, after patient cultivation by the addition of a
moustache, which promised to secure him an easy independence: his
share in the labours of the business being at present confined to
spending the money, and occasionally, when that ran short, driving
to Mr Ralph Nickleby to procure discount--at a percentage--for the
customers' bills.

'My life,' said Mr Mantalini, 'what a demd devil of a time you have
been!'

'I didn't even know Mr Nickleby was here, my love,' said Madame
Mantalini.

'Then what a doubly demd infernal rascal that footman must be, my
soul,' remonstrated Mr Mantalini.

'My dear,' said Madame, 'that is entirely your fault.'

'My fault, my heart's joy?'

'Certainly,' returned the lady; 'what can you expect, dearest, if
you will not correct the man?'

'Correct the man, my soul's delight!'

'Yes; I am sure he wants speaking to, badly enough,' said Madame,
pouting.

'Then do not vex itself,' said Mr Mantalini; 'he shall be horse-
whipped till he cries out demnebly.' With this promise Mr Mantalini
kissed Madame Mantalini, and, after that performance, Madame
Mantalini pulled Mr Mantalini playfully by the ear: which done, they
descended to business.

'Now, ma'am,' said Ralph, who had looked on, at all this, with such
scorn as few men can express in looks, 'this is my niece.'

'Just so, Mr Nickleby,' replied Madame Mantalini, surveying Kate
from head to foot, and back again. 'Can you speak French, child?'

'Yes, ma'am,' replied Kate, not daring to look up; for she felt that
the eyes of the odious man in the dressing-gown were directed
towards her.

'Like a demd native?' asked the husband.

Miss Nickleby offered no reply to this inquiry, but turned her back
upon the questioner, as if addressing herself to make answer to what
his wife might demand.

'We keep twenty young women constantly employed in the
establishment,' said Madame.

'Indeed, ma'am!' replied Kate, timidly.

'Yes; and some of 'em demd handsome, too,' said the master.

'Mantalini!' exclaimed his wife, in an awful voice.

'My senses' idol!' said Mantalini.

'Do you wish to break my heart?'

'Not for twenty thousand hemispheres populated with--with--with
little ballet-dancers,' replied Mantalini in a poetical strain.

'Then you will, if you persevere in that mode of speaking,' said his
wife. 'What can Mr Nickleby think when he hears you?'

'Oh! Nothing, ma'am, nothing,' replied Ralph. 'I know his amiable
nature, and yours,--mere little remarks that give a zest to your
daily intercourse--lovers' quarrels that add sweetness to those
domestic joys which promise to last so long--that's all; that's
all.'

If an iron door could be supposed to quarrel with its hinges, and to
make a firm resolution to open with slow obstinacy, and grind them
to powder in the process, it would emit a pleasanter sound in so
doing, than did these words in the rough and bitter voice in which
they were uttered by Ralph. Even Mr Mantalini felt their influence,
and turning affrighted round, exclaimed: 'What a demd horrid
croaking!'

'You will pay no attention, if you please, to what Mr Mantalini
says,' observed his wife, addressing Miss Nickleby.

'I do not, ma'am,' said Kate, with quiet contempt.

'Mr Mantalini knows nothing whatever about any of the young women,'
continued Madame, looking at her husband, and speaking to Kate. 'If
he has seen any of them, he must have seen them in the street, going
to, or returning from, their work, and not here. He was never even
in the room. I do not allow it. What hours of work have you been
accustomed to?'

'I have never yet been accustomed to work at all, ma'am,' replied
Kate, in a low voice.

'For which reason she'll work all the better now,' said Ralph,
putting in a word, lest this confession should injure the
negotiation.

'I hope so,' returned Madame Mantalini; 'our hours are from nine to
nine, with extra work when we're very full of business, for which I
allow payment as overtime.'

Kate bowed her head, to intimate that she heard, and was satisfied.

'Your meals,' continued Madame Mantalini, 'that is, dinner and tea,
you will take here. I should think your wages would average from
five to seven shillings a week; but I can't give you any certain
information on that point, until I see what you can do.'

Kate bowed her head again.

'If you're ready to come,' said Madame Mantalini, 'you had better
begin on Monday morning at nine exactly, and Miss Knag the forewoman
shall then have directions to try you with some easy work at first.
Is there anything more, Mr Nickleby?'

'Nothing more, ma'am,' replied Ralph, rising.

'Then I believe that's all,' said the lady. Having arrived at this
natural conclusion, she looked at the door, as if she wished to be
gone, but hesitated notwithstanding, as though unwilling to leave to
Mr Mantalini the sole honour of showing them downstairs. Ralph
relieved her from her perplexity by taking his departure without
delay: Madame Mantalini making many gracious inquiries why he never
came to see them; and Mr Mantalini anathematising the stairs with
great volubility as he followed them down, in the hope of inducing
Kate to look round,--a hope, however, which was destined to remain
ungratified.

'There!' said Ralph when they got into the street; 'now you're
provided for.'

Kate was about to thank him again, but he stopped her.

'I had some idea,' he said, 'of providing for your mother in a
pleasant part of the country--(he had a presentation to some
almshouses on the borders of Cornwall, which had occurred to him
more than once)--but as you want to be together, I must do something
else for her. She has a little money?'

'A very little,' replied Kate.

'A little will go a long way if it's used sparingly,' said Ralph.
'She must see how long she can make it last, living rent free. You
leave your lodgings on Saturday?'

'You told us to do so, uncle.'

'Yes; there is a house empty that belongs to me, which I can put you
into till it is let, and then, if nothing else turns up, perhaps I
shall have another. You must live there.'

'Is it far from here, sir?' inquired Kate.

'Pretty well,' said Ralph; 'in another quarter of the town--at the
East end; but I'll send my clerk down to you, at five o'clock on
Saturday, to take you there. Goodbye. You know your way? Straight
on.'

Coldly shaking his niece's hand, Ralph left her at the top of Regent
Street, and turned down a by-thoroughfare, intent on schemes of
money-getting. Kate walked sadly back to their lodgings in the
Strand.

CHAPTER 11

Newman Noggs inducts Mrs and Miss Nickleby into their New Dwelling
in the City

Miss Nickleby's reflections, as she wended her way homewards, were
of that desponding nature which the occurrences of the morning had
been sufficiently calculated to awaken. Her uncle's was not a
manner likely to dispel any doubts or apprehensions she might have
formed, in the outset, neither was the glimpse she had had of Madame
Mantalini's establishment by any means encouraging. It was with
many gloomy forebodings and misgivings, therefore, that she looked
forward, with a heavy heart, to the opening of her new career.

If her mother's consolations could have restored her to a pleasanter
and more enviable state of mind, there were abundance of them to
produce the effect. By the time Kate reached home, the good lady
had called to mind two authentic cases of milliners who had been
possessed of considerable property, though whether they had acquired
it all in business, or had had a capital to start with, or had been
lucky and married to advantage, she could not exactly remember.
However, as she very logically remarked, there must have been SOME
young person in that way of business who had made a fortune without
having anything to begin with, and that being taken for granted, why
should not Kate do the same? Miss La Creevy, who was a member of
the little council, ventured to insinuate some doubts relative to
the probability of Miss Nickleby's arriving at this happy
consummation in the compass of an ordinary lifetime; but the good
lady set that question entirely at rest, by informing them that she
had a presentiment on the subject--a species of second-sight with
which she had been in the habit of clenching every argument with the
deceased Mr Nickleby, and, in nine cases and three-quarters out of
every ten, determining it the wrong way.

'I am afraid it is an unhealthy occupation,' said Miss La Creevy.
'I recollect getting three young milliners to sit to me, when I
first began to paint, and I remember that they were all very pale
and sickly.'

'Oh! that's not a general rule by any means,' observed Mrs Nickleby;
'for I remember, as well as if it was only yesterday, employing one
that I was particularly recommended to, to make me a scarlet cloak
at the time when scarlet cloaks were fashionable, and she had a very
red face--a very red face, indeed.'

'Perhaps she drank,' suggested Miss La Creevy.

'I don't know how that may have been,' returned Mrs Nickleby: 'but I
know she had a very red face, so your argument goes for nothing.'

In this manner, and with like powerful reasoning, did the worthy
matron meet every little objection that presented itself to the new
scheme of the morning. Happy Mrs Nickleby! A project had but to be
new, and it came home to her mind, brightly varnished and gilded as
a glittering toy.

This question disposed of, Kate communicated her uncle's desire
about the empty house, to which Mrs Nickleby assented with equal
readiness, characteristically remarking, that, on the fine evenings,
it would be a pleasant amusement for her to walk to the West end to
fetch her daughter home; and no less characteristically forgetting,
that there were such things as wet nights and bad weather to be
encountered in almost every week of the year.

'I shall be sorry--truly sorry to leave you, my kind friend,' said
Kate, on whom the good feeling of the poor miniature painter had
made a deep impression.

'You shall not shake me off, for all that,' replied Miss La Creevy,
with as much sprightliness as she could assume. 'I shall see you
very often, and come and hear how you get on; and if, in all London,
or all the wide world besides, there is no other heart that takes an
interest in your welfare, there will be one little lonely woman that
prays for it night and day.'

With this, the poor soul, who had a heart big enough for Gog, the
guardian genius of London, and enough to spare for Magog to boot,
after making a great many extraordinary faces which would have
secured her an ample fortune, could she have transferred them to
ivory or canvas, sat down in a corner, and had what she termed 'a
real good cry.'

But no crying, or talking, or hoping, or fearing, could keep off the
dreaded Saturday afternoon, or Newman Noggs either; who, punctual to
his time, limped up to the door, and breathed a whiff of cordial gin
through the keyhole, exactly as such of the church clocks in the
neighbourhood as agreed among themselves about the time, struck
five. Newman waited for the last stroke, and then knocked.

'From Mr Ralph Nickleby,' said Newman, announcing his errand, when
he got upstairs, with all possible brevity.

'We shall be ready directly,' said Kate. 'We have not much to
carry, but I fear we must have a coach.'

'I'll get one,' replied Newman.

'Indeed you shall not trouble yourself,' said Mrs Nickleby.

'I will,' said Newman.

'I can't suffer you to think of such a thing,' said Mrs Nickleby.

'You can't help it,' said Newman.

'Not help it!'

'No; I thought of it as I came along; but didn't get one, thinking
you mightn't be ready. I think of a great many things. Nobody can
prevent that.'

'Oh yes, I understand you, Mr Noggs,' said Mrs Nickleby. 'Our
thoughts are free, of course. Everybody's thoughts are their own,
clearly.'

'They wouldn't be, if some people had their way,' muttered Newman.

'Well, no more they would, Mr Noggs, and that's very true,' rejoined
Mrs Nickleby. 'Some people to be sure are such--how's your master?'

Newman darted a meaning glance at Kate, and replied with a strong
emphasis on the last word of his answer, that Mr Ralph Nickleby was
well, and sent his LOVE.

'I am sure we are very much obliged to him,' observed Mrs Nickleby.

'Very,' said Newman. 'I'll tell him so.'

It was no very easy matter to mistake Newman Noggs, after having
once seen him, and as Kate, attracted by the singularity of his
manner (in which on this occasion, however, there was something
respectful and even delicate, notwithstanding the abruptness of his
speech), looked at him more closely, she recollected having caught a
passing glimpse of that strange figure before.

'Excuse my curiosity,' she said, 'but did I not see you in the
coachyard, on the morning my brother went away to Yorkshire?'

Newman cast a wistful glance on Mrs Nickleby and said 'No,' most
unblushingly.

'No!' exclaimed Kate, 'I should have said so anywhere.'

'You'd have said wrong,' rejoined Newman. 'It's the first time I've
been out for three weeks. I've had the gout.'

Newman was very, very far from having the appearance of a gouty
subject, and so Kate could not help thinking; but the conference was
cut short by Mrs Nickleby's insisting on having the door shut, lest
Mr Noggs should take cold, and further persisting in sending the
servant girl for a coach, for fear he should bring on another attack
of his disorder. To both conditions, Newman was compelled to yield.
Presently, the coach came; and, after many sorrowful farewells, and
a great deal of running backwards and forwards across the pavement
on the part of Miss La Creevy, in the course of which the yellow
turban came into violent contact with sundry foot-passengers, it
(that is to say the coach, not the turban) went away again, with the
two ladies and their luggage inside; and Newman, despite all Mrs
Nickleby's assurances that it would be his death--on the box beside
the driver.

They went into the city, turning down by the river side; and, after
a long and very slow drive, the streets being crowded at that hour
with vehicles of every kind, stopped in front of a large old dingy
house in Thames Street: the door and windows of which were so
bespattered with mud, that it would have appeared to have been
uninhabited for years.

The door of this deserted mansion Newman opened with a key which he
took out of his hat--in which, by-the-bye, in consequence of the
dilapidated state of his pockets, he deposited everything, and would
most likely have carried his money if he had had any--and the coach
being discharged, he led the way into the interior of the mansion.

Old, and gloomy, and black, in truth it was, and sullen and dark
were the rooms, once so bustling with life and enterprise. There
was a wharf behind, opening on the Thames. An empty dog-kennel,
some bones of animals, fragments of iron hoops, and staves of old
casks, lay strewn about, but no life was stirring there. It was a
picture of cold, silent decay.

'This house depresses and chills one,' said Kate, 'and seems as if
some blight had fallen on it. If I were superstitious, I should be
almost inclined to believe that some dreadful crime had been
perpetrated within these old walls, and that the place had never
prospered since. How frowning and how dark it looks!'

'Lord, my dear,' replied Mrs Nickleby, 'don't talk in that way, or
you'll frighten me to death.'

'It is only my foolish fancy, mama,' said Kate, forcing a smile.

'Well, then, my love, I wish you would keep your foolish fancy to
yourself, and not wake up MY foolish fancy to keep it company,'
retorted Mrs Nickleby. 'Why didn't you think of all this before--
you are so careless--we might have asked Miss La Creevy to keep us
company or borrowed a dog, or a thousand things--but it always was
the way, and was just the same with your poor dear father. Unless I
thought of everything--' This was Mrs Nickleby's usual commencement
of a general lamentation, running through a dozen or so of
complicated sentences addressed to nobody in particular, and into
which she now launched until her breath was exhausted.

Newman appeared not to hear these remarks, but preceded them to a
couple of rooms on the first floor, which some kind of attempt had
been made to render habitable. In one, were a few chairs, a table,
an old hearth-rug, and some faded baize; and a fire was ready laid
in the grate. In the other stood an old tent bedstead, and a few
scanty articles of chamber furniture.

'Well, my dear,' said Mrs Nickleby, trying to be pleased, 'now isn't
this thoughtful and considerate of your uncle? Why, we should not
have had anything but the bed we bought yesterday, to lie down upon,
if it hadn't been for his thoughtfulness!'

'Very kind, indeed,' replied Kate, looking round.

Newman Noggs did not say that he had hunted up the old furniture
they saw, from attic and cellar; or that he had taken in the
halfpennyworth of milk for tea that stood upon a shelf, or filled
the rusty kettle on the hob, or collected the woodchips from the
wharf, or begged the coals. But the notion of Ralph Nickleby having
directed it to be done, tickled his fancy so much, that he could not
refrain from cracking all his ten fingers in succession: at which
performance Mrs Nickleby was rather startled at first, but supposing
it to be in some remote manner connected with the gout, did not
remark upon.

'We need detain you no longer, I think,' said Kate.

'Is there nothing I can do?' asked Newman.

'Nothing, thank you,' rejoined Miss Nickleby.

'Perhaps, my dear, Mr Noggs would like to drink our healths,' said
Mrs Nickleby, fumbling in her reticule for some small coin.

'I think, mama,' said Kate hesitating, and remarking Newman's
averted face, 'you would hurt his feelings if you offered it.'

Newman Noggs, bowing to the young lady more like a gentleman than
the miserable wretch he seemed, placed his hand upon his breast,
and, pausing for a moment, with the air of a man who struggles to
speak but is uncertain what to say, quitted the room.

As the jarring echoes of the heavy house-door, closing on its latch,
reverberated dismally through the building, Kate felt half tempted
to call him back, and beg him to remain a little while; but she was
ashamed to own her fears, and Newman Noggs was on his road homewards.

CHAPTER 12

Whereby the Reader will be enabled to trace the further course of
Miss Fanny Squeer's Love, and to ascertain whether it ran smooth or
otherwise.

It was a fortunate circumstance for Miss Fanny Squeers, that when
her worthy papa returned home on the night of the small tea-party,
he was what the initiated term 'too far gone' to observe the
numerous tokens of extreme vexation of spirit which were plainly
visible in her countenance. Being, however, of a rather violent and
quarrelsome mood in his cups, it is not impossible that he might
have fallen out with her, either on this or some imaginary topic, if
the young lady had not, with a foresight and prudence highly
commendable, kept a boy up, on purpose, to bear the first brunt of
the good gentleman's anger; which, having vented itself in a variety
of kicks and cuffs, subsided sufficiently to admit of his being
persuaded to go to bed. Which he did with his boots on, and an
umbrella under his arm.

The hungry servant attended Miss Squeers in her own room according
to custom, to curl her hair, perform the other little offices of her
toilet, and administer as much flattery as she could get up, for the
purpose; for Miss Squeers was quite lazy enough (and sufficiently
vain and frivolous withal) to have been a fine lady; and it was only
the arbitrary distinctions of rank and station which prevented her
from being one.

'How lovely your hair do curl tonight, miss!' said the handmaiden.
'I declare if it isn't a pity and a shame to brush it out!'

'Hold your tongue!' replied Miss Squeers wrathfully.

Some considerable experience prevented the girl from being at all
surprised at any outbreak of ill-temper on the part of Miss Squeers.
Having a half-perception of what had occurred in the course of the
evening, she changed her mode of making herself agreeable, and
proceeded on the indirect tack.

'Well, I couldn't help saying, miss, if you was to kill me for it,'
said the attendant, 'that I never see nobody look so vulgar as Miss
Price this night.'

Miss Squeers sighed, and composed herself to listen.

'I know it's very wrong in me to say so, miss,' continued the girl,
delighted to see the impression she was making, 'Miss Price being a
friend of your'n, and all; but she do dress herself out so, and go on
in such a manner to get noticed, that--oh--well, if people only saw
themselves!'

'What do you mean, Phib?' asked Miss Squeers, looking in her own
little glass, where, like most of us, she saw--not herself, but the
reflection of some pleasant image in her own brain. 'How you talk!'

'Talk, miss! It's enough to make a Tom cat talk French grammar,
only to see how she tosses her head,' replied the handmaid.

'She DOES toss her head,' observed Miss Squeers, with an air of
abstraction.

'So vain, and so very--very plain,' said the girl.

'Poor 'Tilda!' sighed Miss Squeers, compassionately.

'And always laying herself out so, to get to be admired,' pursued
the servant. 'Oh, dear! It's positive indelicate.'

'I can't allow you to talk in that way, Phib,' said Miss Squeers.
''Tilda's friends are low people, and if she don't know any better,
it's their fault, and not hers.'

'Well, but you know, miss,' said Phoebe, for which name 'Phib' was
used as a patronising abbreviation, 'if she was only to take copy by
a friend--oh! if she only knew how wrong she was, and would but set
herself right by you, what a nice young woman she might be in time!'

'Phib,' rejoined Miss Squeers, with a stately air, 'it's not proper
for me to hear these comparisons drawn; they make 'Tilda look a
coarse improper sort of person, and it seems unfriendly in me to
listen to them. I would rather you dropped the subject, Phib; at
the same time, I must say, that if 'Tilda Price would take pattern
by somebody--not me particularly--'

'Oh yes; you, miss,' interposed Phib.

'Well, me, Phib, if you will have it so,' said Miss Squeers. 'I
must say, that if she would, she would be all the better for it.'

'So somebody else thinks, or I am much mistaken,' said the girl
mysteriously.

'What do you mean?' demanded Miss Squeers.

'Never mind, miss,' replied the girl; 'I know what I know; that's
all.'

'Phib,' said Miss Squeers dramatically, 'I insist upon your
explaining yourself. What is this dark mystery? Speak.'

'Why, if you will have it, miss, it's this,' said the servant girl.
'Mr John Browdie thinks as you think; and if he wasn't too far gone
to do it creditable, he'd be very glad to be off with Miss Price,
and on with Miss Squeers.'

'Gracious heavens!' exclaimed Miss Squeers, clasping her hands with
great dignity. 'What is this?'

'Truth, ma'am, and nothing but truth,' replied the artful Phib.

'What a situation!' cried Miss Squeers; 'on the brink of
unconsciously destroying the peace and happiness of my own 'Tilda.
What is the reason that men fall in love with me, whether I like it
or not, and desert their chosen intendeds for my sake?'

'Because they can't help it, miss,' replied the girl; 'the reason's
plain.' (If Miss Squeers were the reason, it was very plain.)

'Never let me hear of it again,' retorted Miss Squeers. 'Never! Do
you hear? 'Tilda Price has faults--many faults--but I wish her
well, and above all I wish her married; for I think it highly
desirable--most desirable from the very nature of her failings--that
she should be married as soon as possible. No, Phib. Let her have
Mr Browdie. I may pity HIM, poor fellow; but I have a great regard
for 'Tilda, and only hope she may make a better wife than I think
she will.'

With this effusion of feeling, Miss Squeers went to bed.

Spite is a little word; but it represents as strange a jumble of
feelings, and compound of discords, as any polysyllable in the
language. Miss Squeers knew as well in her heart of hearts that
what the miserable serving-girl had said was sheer, coarse, lying
flattery, as did the girl herself; yet the mere opportunity of
venting a little ill-nature against the offending Miss Price, and
affecting to compassionate her weaknesses and foibles, though only
in the presence of a solitary dependant, was almost as great a
relief to her spleen as if the whole had been gospel truth. Nay,
more. We have such extraordinary powers of persuasion when they are
exerted over ourselves, that Miss Squeers felt quite high-minded and
great after her noble renunciation of John Browdie's hand, and
looked down upon her rival with a kind of holy calmness and
tranquillity, that had a mighty effect in soothing her ruffled
feelings.

This happy state of mind had some influence in bringing about a
reconciliation; for, when a knock came at the front-door next day,
and the miller's daughter was announced, Miss Squeers betook herself
to the parlour in a Christian frame of spirit, perfectly beautiful
to behold.

'Well, Fanny,' said the miller's daughter, 'you see I have come to
see you, although we HAD some words last night.'

'I pity your bad passions, 'Tilda,' replied Miss Squeers, 'but I
bear no malice. I am above it.'

'Don't be cross, Fanny,' said Miss Price. 'I have come to tell you
something that I know will please you.'

'What may that be, 'Tilda?' demanded Miss Squeers; screwing up her
lips, and looking as if nothing in earth, air, fire, or water, could
afford her the slightest gleam of satisfaction.

'This,' rejoined Miss Price. 'After we left here last night John
and I had a dreadful quarrel.'

'That doesn't please me,' said Miss Squeers--relaxing into a smile
though.

'Lor! I wouldn't think so bad of you as to suppose it did,'
rejoined her companion. 'That's not it.'

'Oh!' said Miss Squeers, relapsing into melancholy. 'Go on.'

'After a great deal of wrangling, and saying we would never see each
other any more,' continued Miss Price, 'we made it up, and this
morning John went and wrote our names down to be put up, for the
first time, next Sunday, so we shall be married in three weeks, and
I give you notice to get your frock made.'

There was mingled gall and honey in this intelligence. The prospect
of the friend's being married so soon was the gall, and the
certainty of her not entertaining serious designs upon Nicholas was
the honey. Upon the whole, the sweet greatly preponderated over the
bitter, so Miss Squeers said she would get the frock made, and that
she hoped 'Tilda might be happy, though at the same time she didn't
know, and would not have her build too much upon it, for men were
strange creatures, and a great many married women were very
miserable, and wished themselves single again with all their hearts;
to which condolences Miss Squeers added others equally calculated to
raise her friend's spirits and promote her cheerfulness of mind.

'But come now, Fanny,' said Miss Price, 'I want to have a word or
two with you about young Mr Nickleby.'

'He is nothing to me,' interrupted Miss Squeers, with hysterical
symptoms. 'I despise him too much!'

'Oh, you don't mean that, I am sure?' replied her friend. 'Confess,
Fanny; don't you like him now?'

Without returning any direct reply, Miss Squeers, all at once, fell
into a paroxysm of spiteful tears, and exclaimed that she was a
wretched, neglected, miserable castaway.

'I hate everybody,' said Miss Squeers, 'and I wish that everybody
was dead--that I do.'

'Dear, dear,' said Miss Price, quite moved by this avowal of
misanthropical sentiments. 'You are not serious, I am sure.'

'Yes, I am,' rejoined Miss Squeers, tying tight knots in her pocket-
handkerchief and clenching her teeth. 'And I wish I was dead too.
There!'

'Oh! you'll think very differently in another five minutes,' said
Matilda. 'How much better to take him into favour again, than to
hurt yourself by going on in that way. Wouldn't it be much nicer,
now, to have him all to yourself on good terms, in a company-
keeping, love-making, pleasant sort of manner?'

'I don't know but what it would,' sobbed Miss Squeers. 'Oh!
'Tilda, how could you have acted so mean and dishonourable! I
wouldn't have believed it of you, if anybody had told me.'

'Heyday!' exclaimed Miss Price, giggling. 'One would suppose I had
been murdering somebody at least.'

'Very nigh as bad,' said Miss Squeers passionately.

'And all this because I happen to have enough of good looks to make
people civil to me,' cried Miss Price. 'Persons don't make their
own faces, and it's no more my fault if mine is a good one than it
is other people's fault if theirs is a bad one.'

'Hold your tongue,' shrieked Miss Squeers, in her shrillest tone;
'or you'll make me slap you, 'Tilda, and afterwards I should be
sorry for it!'

It is needless to say, that, by this time, the temper of each young
lady was in some slight degree affected by the tone of her
conversation, and that a dash of personality was infused into the
altercation, in consequence. Indeed, the quarrel, from slight
beginnings, rose to a considerable height, and was assuming a very
violent complexion, when both parties, falling into a great passion
of tears, exclaimed simultaneously, that they had never thought of
being spoken to in that way: which exclamation, leading to a
remonstrance, gradually brought on an explanation: and the upshot
was, that they fell into each other's arms and vowed eternal
friendship; the occasion in question making the fifty-second time of
repeating the same impressive ceremony within a twelvemonth.

Perfect amicability being thus restored, a dialogue naturally ensued
upon the number and nature of the garments which would be
indispensable for Miss Price's entrance into the holy state of
matrimony, when Miss Squeers clearly showed that a great many more
than the miller could, or would, afford, were absolutely necessary,
and could not decently be dispensed with. The young lady then, by
an easy digression, led the discourse to her own wardrobe, and after
recounting its principal beauties at some length, took her friend
upstairs to make inspection thereof. The treasures of two drawers
and a closet having been displayed, and all the smaller articles
tried on, it was time for Miss Price to return home; and as she had
been in raptures with all the frocks, and had been stricken quite
dumb with admiration of a new pink scarf, Miss Squeers said in high
good humour, that she would walk part of the way with her, for the
pleasure of her company; and off they went together: Miss Squeers
dilating, as they walked along, upon her father's accomplishments:
and multiplying his income by ten, to give her friend some faint
notion of the vast importance and superiority of her family.

It happened that that particular time, comprising the short daily
interval which was suffered to elapse between what was pleasantly
called the dinner of Mr Squeers's pupils, and their return to the
pursuit of useful knowledge, was precisely the hour when Nicholas
was accustomed to issue forth for a melancholy walk, and to brood,
as he sauntered listlessly through the village, upon his miserable
lot. Miss Squeers knew this perfectly well, but had perhaps
forgotten it, for when she caught sight of that young gentleman
advancing towards them, she evinced many symptoms of surprise and
consternation, and assured her friend that she 'felt fit to drop
into the earth.'

'Shall we turn back, or run into a cottage?' asked Miss Price. 'He
don't see us yet.'

'No, 'Tilda,' replied Miss Squeers, 'it is my duty to go through
with it, and I will!'

As Miss Squeers said this, in the tone of one who has made a high
moral resolution, and was, besides, taken with one or two chokes and
catchings of breath, indicative of feelings at a high pressure, her
friend made no further remark, and they bore straight down upon
Nicholas, who, walking with his eyes bent upon the ground, was not
aware of their approach until they were close upon him; otherwise,
he might, perhaps, have taken shelter himself.

'Good-morning,' said Nicholas, bowing and passing by.

'He is going,' murmured Miss Squeers. 'I shall choke, 'Tilda.'

'Come back, Mr Nickleby, do!' cried Miss Price, affecting alarm at
her friend's threat, but really actuated by a malicious wish to hear
what Nicholas would say; 'come back, Mr Nickleby!'

Mr Nickleby came back, and looked as confused as might be, as he
inquired whether the ladies had any commands for him.

'Don't stop to talk,' urged Miss Price, hastily; 'but support her on
the other side. How do you feel now, dear?'

'Better,' sighed Miss Squeers, laying a beaver bonnet of a reddish
brown with a green veil attached, on Mr Nickleby's shoulder. 'This
foolish faintness!'

'Don't call it foolish, dear,' said Miss Price: her bright eye
dancing with merriment as she saw the perplexity of Nicholas; 'you
have no reason to be ashamed of it. It's those who are too proud to
come round again, without all this to-do, that ought to be ashamed.'

'You are resolved to fix it upon me, I see,' said Nicholas, smiling,
'although I told you, last night, it was not my fault.'

'There; he says it was not his fault, my dear,' remarked the wicked
Miss Price. 'Perhaps you were too jealous, or too hasty with him?
He says it was not his fault. You hear; I think that's apology
enough.'

'You will not understand me,' said Nicholas. 'Pray dispense with
this jesting, for I have no time, and really no inclination, to be
the subject or promoter of mirth just now.'

'What do you mean?' asked Miss Price, affecting amazement.

'Don't ask him, 'Tilda,' cried Miss Squeers; 'I forgive him.'

'Dear me,' said Nicholas, as the brown bonnet went down on his
shoulder again, 'this is more serious than I supposed. Allow me!
Will you have the goodness to hear me speak?'

Here he raised up the brown bonnet, and regarding with most
unfeigned astonishment a look of tender reproach from Miss Squeers,
shrunk back a few paces to be out of the reach of the fair burden,
and went on to say:

'I am very sorry--truly and sincerely sorry--for having been the
cause of any difference among you, last night. I reproach myself,
most bitterly, for having been so unfortunate as to cause the
dissension that occurred, although I did so, I assure you, most
unwittingly and heedlessly.'

'Well; that's not all you have got to say surely,' exclaimed Miss
Price as Nicholas paused.

'I fear there is something more,' stammered Nicholas with a half-
smile, and looking towards Miss Squeers, 'it is a most awkward thing
to say--but--the very mention of such a supposition makes one look
like a puppy--still--may I ask if that lady supposes that I
entertain any--in short, does she think that I am in love with her?'

'Delightful embarrassment,' thought Miss Squeers, 'I have brought
him to it, at last. Answer for me, dear,' she whispered to her
friend.

'Does she think so?' rejoined Miss Price; 'of course she does.'

'She does!' exclaimed Nicholas with such energy of utterance as
might have been, for the moment, mistaken for rapture.

'Certainly,' replied Miss Price

'If Mr Nickleby has doubted that, 'Tilda,' said the blushing Miss
Squeers in soft accents, 'he may set his mind at rest. His
sentiments are recipro--'

'Stop,' cried Nicholas hurriedly; 'pray hear me. This is the
grossest and wildest delusion, the completest and most signal
mistake, that ever human being laboured under, or committed. I have
scarcely seen the young lady half-a-dozen times, but if I had seen
her sixty times, or am destined to see her sixty thousand, it would
be, and will be, precisely the same. I have not one thought, wish,
or hope, connected with her, unless it be--and I say this, not to
hurt her feelings, but to impress her with the real state of my own
--unless it be the one object, dear to my heart as life itself, of
being one day able to turn my back upon this accursed place, never
to set foot in it again, or think of it--even think of it--but with
loathing and disgust.'

With this particularly plain and straightforward declaration, which
he made with all the vehemence that his indignant and excited
feelings could bring to bear upon it, Nicholas waiting to hear no
more, retreated.

But poor Miss Squeers! Her anger, rage, and vexation; the rapid
succession of bitter and passionate feelings that whirled through
her mind; are not to be described. Refused! refused by a teacher,
picked up by advertisement, at an annual salary of five pounds
payable at indefinite periods, and 'found' in food and lodging like
the very boys themselves; and this too in the presence of a little
chit of a miller's daughter of eighteen, who was going to be
married, in three weeks' time, to a man who had gone down on his
very knees to ask her. She could have choked in right good earnest,
at the thought of being so humbled.

But, there was one thing clear in the midst of her mortification;
and that was, that she hated and detested Nicholas with all the
narrowness of mind and littleness of purpose worthy a descendant of
the house of Squeers. And there was one comfort too; and that was,
that every hour in every day she could wound his pride, and goad him
with the infliction of some slight, or insult, or deprivation, which
could not but have some effect on the most insensible person, and
must be acutely felt by one so sensitive as Nicholas. With these
two reflections uppermost in her mind, Miss Squeers made the best of
the matter to her friend, by observing that Mr Nickleby was such an
odd creature, and of such a violent temper, that she feared she
should be obliged to give him up; and parted from her.

And here it may be remarked, that Miss Squeers, having bestowed her
affections (or whatever it might be that, in the absence of anything
better, represented them) on Nicholas Nickleby, had never once
seriously contemplated the possibility of his being of a different
opinion from herself in the business. Miss Squeers reasoned that
she was prepossessing and beautiful, and that her father was master,
and Nicholas man, and that her father had saved money, and Nicholas
had none, all of which seemed to her conclusive arguments why the
young man should feel only too much honoured by her preference. She
had not failed to recollect, either, how much more agreeable she
could render his situation if she were his friend, and how much more
disagreeable if she were his enemy; and, doubtless, many less
scrupulous young gentlemen than Nicholas would have encouraged her
extravagance had it been only for this very obvious and intelligible
reason. However, he had thought proper to do otherwise, and Miss
Squeers was outrageous.

'Let him see,' said the irritated young lady, when she had regained
her own room, and eased her mind by committing an assault on Phib,
'if I don't set mother against him a little more when she comes
back!'

It was scarcely necessary to do this, but Miss Squeers was as good
as her word; and poor Nicholas, in addition to bad food, dirty
lodging, and the being compelled to witness one dull unvarying round
of squalid misery, was treated with every special indignity that
malice could suggest, or the most grasping cupidity put upon him.

Nor was this all. There was another and deeper system of annoyance
which made his heart sink, and nearly drove him wild, by its
injustice and cruelty.

The wretched creature, Smike, since the night Nicholas had spoken
kindly to him in the schoolroom, had followed him to and fro, with
an ever-restless desire to serve or help him; anticipating such
little wants as his humble ability could supply, and content only to
be near him. He would sit beside him for hours, looking patiently
into his face; and a word would brighten up his care-worn visage,
and call into it a passing gleam, even of happiness. He was an
altered being; he had an object now; and that object was, to show
his attachment to the only person--that person a stranger--who had
treated him, not to say with kindness, but like a human creature.

Upon this poor being, all the spleen and ill-humour that could not
be vented on Nicholas were unceasingly bestowed. Drudgery would
have been nothing--Smike was well used to that. Buffetings
inflicted without cause, would have been equally a matter of course;
for to them also he had served a long and weary apprenticeship; but
it was no sooner observed that he had become attached to Nicholas,
than stripes and blows, stripes and blows, morning, noon, and night,
were his only portion. Squeers was jealous of the influence which
his man had so soon acquired, and his family hated him, and Smike
paid for both. Nicholas saw it, and ground his teeth at every
repetition of the savage and cowardly attack.

He had arranged a few regular lessons for the boys; and one night,
as he paced up and down the dismal schoolroom, his swollen heart
almost bursting to think that his protection and countenance should
have increased the misery of the wretched being whose peculiar
destitution had awakened his pity, he paused mechanically in a dark
corner where sat the object of his thoughts.

The poor soul was poring hard over a tattered book, with the traces
of recent tears still upon his face; vainly endeavouring to master
some task which a child of nine years old, possessed of ordinary
powers, could have conquered with ease, but which, to the addled
brain of the crushed boy of nineteen, was a sealed and hopeless
mystery. Yet there he sat, patiently conning the page again and
again, stimulated by no boyish ambition, for he was the common jest
and scoff even of the uncouth objects that congregated about him,
but inspired by the one eager desire to please his solitary friend.

Nicholas laid his hand upon his shoulder.

'I can't do it,' said the dejected creature, looking up with bitter
disappointment in every feature. 'No, no.'

'Do not try,' replied Nicholas.

The boy shook his head, and closing the book with a sigh, looked
vacantly round, and laid his head upon his arm. He was weeping.

'Do not for God's sake,' said Nicholas, in an agitated voice; 'I
cannot bear to see you.'

'They are more hard with me than ever,' sobbed the boy.

'I know it,' rejoined Nicholas. 'They are.'

'But for you,' said the outcast, 'I should die. They would kill me;
they would; I know they would.'

'You will do better, poor fellow,' replied Nicholas, shaking his
head mournfully, 'when I am gone.'

'Gone!' cried the other, looking intently in his face.

'Softly!' rejoined Nicholas. 'Yes.'

'Are you going?' demanded the boy, in an earnest whisper.

'I cannot say,' replied Nicholas. 'I was speaking more to my own
thoughts, than to you.'

'Tell me,' said the boy imploringly, 'oh do tell me, WILL you go--
WILL you?'

'I shall be driven to that at last!' said Nicholas. 'The world is
before me, after all.'

'Tell me,' urged Smike, 'is the world as bad and dismal as this
place?'

'Heaven forbid,' replied Nicholas, pursuing the train of his own
thoughts; 'its hardest, coarsest toil, were happiness to this.'

'Should I ever meet you there?' demanded the boy, speaking with
unusual wildness and volubility.

'Yes,' replied Nicholas, willing to soothe him.

'No, no!' said the other, clasping him by the hand. 'Should I--
should I--tell me that again. Say I should be sure to find you.'

'You would,' replied Nicholas, with the same humane intention, 'and
I would help and aid you, and not bring fresh sorrow on you as I
have done here.'

The boy caught both the young man's hands passionately in his, and,
hugging them to his breast, uttered a few broken sounds which were
unintelligible. Squeers entered at the moment, and he shrunk back
into his old corner.

CHAPTER 13

Nicholas varies the Monotony of Dothebys Hall by a most vigorous and
remarkable proceeding, which leads to Consequences of some
Importance

The cold, feeble dawn of a January morning was stealing in at the
windows of the common sleeping-room, when Nicholas, raising himself
on his arm, looked among the prostrate forms which on every side
surrounded him, as though in search of some particular object.

It needed a quick eye to detect, from among the huddled mass of
sleepers, the form of any given individual. As they lay closely
packed together, covered, for warmth's sake, with their patched and
ragged clothes, little could be distinguished but the sharp outlines
of pale faces, over which the sombre light shed the same dull heavy
colour; with, here and there, a gaunt arm thrust forth: its thinness
hidden by no covering, but fully exposed to view, in all its
shrunken ugliness. There were some who, lying on their backs with
upturned faces and clenched hands, just visible in the leaden light,
bore more the aspect of dead bodies than of living creatures; and
there were others coiled up into strange and fantastic postures,
such as might have been taken for the uneasy efforts of pain to gain
some temporary relief, rather than the freaks of slumber. A few--
and these were among the youngest of the children--slept peacefully
on, with smiles upon their faces, dreaming perhaps of home; but ever
and again a deep and heavy sigh, breaking the stillness of the room,
announced that some new sleeper had awakened to the misery of
another day; and, as morning took the place of night, the smiles
gradually faded away, with the friendly darkness which had given
them birth.

Dreams are the bright creatures of poem and legend, who sport on
earth in the night season, and melt away in the first beam of the
sun, which lights grim care and stern reality on their daily
pilgrimage through the world.

Nicholas looked upon the sleepers; at first, with the air of one who
gazes upon a scene which, though familiar to him, has lost none of
its sorrowful effect in consequence; and, afterwards, with a more
intense and searching scrutiny, as a man would who missed something
his eye was accustomed to meet, and had expected to rest upon. He
was still occupied in this search, and had half risen from his bed
in the eagerness of his quest, when the voice of Squeers was heard,
calling from the bottom of the stairs.

'Now then,' cried that gentleman, 'are you going to sleep all day,
up there--'

'You lazy hounds?' added Mrs Squeers, finishing the sentence, and
producing, at the same time, a sharp sound, like that which is
occasioned by the lacing of stays.

'We shall be down directly, sir,' replied Nicholas.

'Down directly!' said Squeers. 'Ah! you had better be down
directly, or I'll be down upon some of you in less. Where's that
Smike?'

Nicholas looked hurriedly round again, but made no answer.

'Smike!' shouted Squeers.

'Do you want your head broke in a fresh place, Smike?' demanded his
amiable lady in the same key.

Still there was no reply, and still Nicholas stared about him, as
did the greater part of the boys, who were by this time roused.

'Confound his impudence!' muttered Squeers, rapping the stair-rail
impatiently with his cane. 'Nickleby!'

'Well, sir.'

'Send that obstinate scoundrel down; don't you hear me calling?'

'He is not here, sir,' replied Nicholas.

'Don't tell me a lie,' retorted the schoolmaster. 'He is.'

'He is not,' retorted Nicholas angrily, 'don't tell me one.'

'We shall soon see that,' said Mr Squeers, rushing upstairs. 'I'll
find him, I warrant you.'

With which assurance, Mr Squeers bounced into the dormitory, and,
swinging his cane in the air ready for a blow, darted into the
corner where the lean body of the drudge was usually stretched at
night. The cane descended harmlessly upon the ground. There was
nobody there.

'What does this mean?' said Squeers, turning round with a very pale
face. 'Where have you hid him?'

'I have seen nothing of him since last night,' replied Nicholas.

'Come,' said Squeers, evidently frightened, though he endeavoured to
look otherwise, 'you won't save him this way. Where is he?'

'At the bottom of the nearest pond for aught I know,' rejoined
Nicholas in a low voice, and fixing his eyes full on the master's
face.

'Damn you, what do you mean by that?' retorted Squeers in great
perturbation. Without waiting for a reply, he inquired of the boys
whether any one among them knew anything of their missing
schoolmate.

There was a general hum of anxious denial, in the midst of which,
one shrill voice was heard to say (as, indeed, everybody thought):

'Please, sir, I think Smike's run away, sir.'

'Ha!' cried Squeers, turning sharp round. 'Who said that?'

'Tomkins, please sir,' rejoined a chorus of voices. Mr Squeers made
a plunge into the crowd, and at one dive, caught a very little boy,
habited still in his night-gear, and the perplexed expression of
whose countenance, as he was brought forward, seemed to intimate
that he was as yet uncertain whether he was about to be punished or
rewarded for the suggestion. He was not long in doubt.

'You think he has run away, do you, sir?' demanded Squeers.

'Yes, please sir,' replied the little boy.

'And what, sir,' said Squeers, catching the little boy suddenly by
the arms and whisking up his drapery in a most dexterous manner,
'what reason have you to suppose that any boy would want to run away
from this establishment? Eh, sir?'

The child raised a dismal cry, by way of answer, and Mr Squeers,
throwing himself into the most favourable attitude for exercising
his strength, beat him until the little urchin in his writhings
actually rolled out of his hands, when he mercifully allowed him to
roll away, as he best could.

'There,' said Squeers. 'Now if any other boy thinks Smike has run
away, I shall be glad to have a talk with him.'

There was, of course, a profound silence, during which Nicholas
showed his disgust as plainly as looks could show it.

'Well, Nickleby,' said Squeers, eyeing him maliciously. 'YOU think
he has run away, I suppose?'

'I think it extremely likely,' replied Nicholas, in a quiet manner.

'Oh, you do, do you?' sneered Squeers. 'Maybe you know he has?'

'I know nothing of the kind.'

'He didn't tell you he was going, I suppose, did he?' sneered
Squeers.

'He did not,' replied Nicholas; 'I am very glad he did not, for it
would then have been my duty to have warned you in time.'

'Which no doubt you would have been devilish sorry to do,' said
Squeers in a taunting fashion.

'I should indeed,' replied Nicholas. 'You interpret my feelings
with great accuracy.'

Mrs Squeers had listened to this conversation, from the bottom of
the stairs; but, now losing all patience, she hastily assumed her
night-jacket, and made her way to the scene of action.

'What's all this here to-do?' said the lady, as the boys fell off
right and left, to save her the trouble of clearing a passage with
her brawny arms. 'What on earth are you a talking to him for,
Squeery!'

'Why, my dear,' said Squeers, 'the fact is, that Smike is not to be
found.'

'Well, I know that,' said the lady, 'and where's the wonder? If you
get a parcel of proud-stomached teachers that set the young dogs a
rebelling, what else can you look for? Now, young man, you just
have the kindness to take yourself off to the schoolroom, and take
the boys off with you, and don't you stir out of there till you have
leave given you, or you and I may fall out in a way that'll spoil
your beauty, handsome as you think yourself, and so I tell you.'

'Indeed!' said Nicholas.

'Yes; and indeed and indeed again, Mister Jackanapes,' said the
excited lady; 'and I wouldn't keep such as you in the house another
hour, if I had my way.'

'Nor would you if I had mine,' replied Nicholas. 'Now, boys!'

'Ah! Now, boys,' said Mrs Squeers, mimicking, as nearly as she
could, the voice and manner of the usher. 'Follow your leader,
boys, and take pattern by Smike if you dare. See what he'll get for
himself, when he is brought back; and, mind! I tell you that you
shall have as bad, and twice as bad, if you so much as open your
mouths about him.'

'If I catch him,' said Squeers, 'I'll only stop short of flaying him
alive. I give you notice, boys.'

'IF you catch him,' retorted Mrs Squeers, contemptuously; 'you are
sure to; you can't help it, if you go the right way to work. Come!
Away with you!'

With these words, Mrs Squeers dismissed the boys, and after a little
light skirmishing with those in the rear who were pressing forward
to get out of the way, but were detained for a few moments by the
throng in front, succeeded in clearing the room, when she confronted
her spouse alone.

'He is off,' said Mrs Squeers. 'The cow-house and stable are locked
up, so he can't be there; and he's not downstairs anywhere, for the
girl has looked. He must have gone York way, and by a public road
too.'

'Why must he?' inquired Squeers.

'Stupid!' said Mrs Squeers angrily. 'He hadn't any money, had he?'

'Never had a penny of his own in his whole life, that I know of,'
replied Squeers.

'To be sure,' rejoined Mrs Squeers, 'and he didn't take anything to
eat with him; that I'll answer for. Ha! ha! ha!'

'Ha! ha! ha!' laughed Squeers.

'Then, of course,' said Mrs S., 'he must beg his way, and he could
do that, nowhere, but on the public road.'

'That's true,' exclaimed Squeers, clapping his hands.

'True! Yes; but you would never have thought of it, for all that,
if I hadn't said so,' replied his wife. 'Now, if you take the
chaise and go one road, and I borrow Swallow's chaise, and go the
other, what with keeping our eyes open, and asking questions, one or
other of us is pretty certain to lay hold of him.'

The worthy lady's plan was adopted and put in execution without a
moment's delay. After a very hasty breakfast, and the prosecution
of some inquiries in the village, the result of which seemed to show
that he was on the right track, Squeers started forth in the pony-
chaise, intent upon discovery and vengeance. Shortly afterwards,
Mrs Squeers, arrayed in the white top-coat, and tied up in various
shawls and handkerchiefs, issued forth in another chaise and another
direction, taking with her a good-sized bludgeon, several odd pieces
of strong cord, and a stout labouring man: all provided and carried
upon the expedition, with the sole object of assisting in the
capture, and (once caught) insuring the safe custody of the
unfortunate Smike.

Nicholas remained behind, in a tumult of feeling, sensible that
whatever might be the upshot of the boy's flight, nothing but
painful and deplorable consequences were likely to ensue from it.
Death, from want and exposure to the weather, was the best that
could be expected from the protracted wandering of so poor and
helpless a creature, alone and unfriended, through a country of
which he was wholly ignorant. There was little, perhaps, to choose
between this fate and a return to the tender mercies of the
Yorkshire school; but the unhappy being had established a hold upon
his sympathy and compassion, which made his heart ache at the
prospect of the suffering he was destined to undergo. He lingered
on, in restless anxiety, picturing a thousand possibilities, until
the evening of next day, when Squeers returned, alone, and
unsuccessful.

'No news of the scamp!' said the schoolmaster, who had evidently
been stretching his legs, on the old principle, not a few times
during the journey. 'I'll have consolation for this out of
somebody, Nickleby, if Mrs Squeers don't hunt him down; so I give
you warning.'

'It is not in my power to console you, sir,' said Nicholas. 'It is
nothing to me.'

'Isn't it?' said Squeers in a threatening manner. 'We shall see!'

'We shall,' rejoined Nicholas.

'Here's the pony run right off his legs, and me obliged to come home
with a hack cob, that'll cost fifteen shillings besides other
expenses,' said Squeers; 'who's to pay for that, do you hear?'

Nicholas shrugged his shoulders and remained silent.

'I'll have it out of somebody, I tell you,' said Squeers, his usual
harsh crafty manner changed to open bullying 'None of your whining
vapourings here, Mr Puppy, but be off to your kennel, for it's past
your bedtime! Come! Get out!'

Nicholas bit his lip and knit his hands involuntarily, for his
fingerends tingled to avenge the insult; but remembering that the
man was drunk, and that it could come to little but a noisy brawl,
he contented himself with darting a contemptuous look at the tyrant,
and walked, as majestically as he could, upstairs: not a little
nettled, however, to observe that Miss Squeers and Master Squeers,
and the servant girl, were enjoying the scene from a snug corner;
the two former indulging in many edifying remarks about the
presumption of poor upstarts, which occasioned a vast deal of
laughter, in which even the most miserable of all miserable servant
girls joined: while Nicholas, stung to the quick, drew over his head
such bedclothes as he had, and sternly resolved that the outstanding
account between himself and Mr Squeers should be settled rather more
speedily than the latter anticipated.

Another day came, and Nicholas was scarcely awake when he heard the
wheels of a chaise approaching the house. It stopped. The voice of
Mrs Squeers was heard, and in exultation, ordering a glass of
spirits for somebody, which was in itself a sufficient sign that
something extraordinary had happened. Nicholas hardly dared to look
out of the window; but he did so, and the very first object that met
his eyes was the wretched Smike: so bedabbled with mud and rain, so
haggard and worn, and wild, that, but for his garments being such as
no scarecrow was ever seen to wear, he might have been doubtful,
even then, of his identity.

'Lift him out,' said Squeers, after he had literally feasted his
eyes, in silence, upon the culprit. 'Bring him in; bring him in!'

'Take care,' cried Mrs Squeers, as her husband proffered his
assistance. 'We tied his legs under the apron and made'em fast to
the chaise, to prevent his giving us the slip again.'

With hands trembling with delight, Squeers unloosened the cord; and
Smike, to all appearance more dead than alive, was brought into the
house and securely locked up in a cellar, until such time as Mr
Squeers should deem it expedient to operate upon him, in presence of
the assembled school.

Upon a hasty consideration of the circumstances, it may be matter of
surprise to some persons, that Mr and Mrs Squeers should have taken
so much trouble to repossess themselves of an incumbrance of which
it was their wont to complain so loudly; but their surprise will
cease when they are informed that the manifold services of the
drudge, if performed by anybody else, would have cost the
establishment some ten or twelve shillings per week in the shape of
wages; and furthermore, that all runaways were, as a matter of
policy, made severe examples of, at Dotheboys Hall, inasmuch as, in
consequence of the limited extent of its attractions, there was but
little inducement, beyond the powerful impulse of fear, for any
pupil, provided with the usual number of legs and the power of using
them, to remain.

The news that Smike had been caught and brought back in triumph, ran
like wild-fire through the hungry community, and expectation was on
tiptoe all the morning. On tiptoe it was destined to remain,
however, until afternoon; when Squeers, having refreshed himself
with his dinner, and further strengthened himself by an extra
libation or so, made his appearance (accompanied by his amiable
partner) with a countenance of portentous import, and a fearful
instrument of flagellation, strong, supple, wax-ended, and new,--in
short, purchased that morning, expressly for the occasion.

'Is every boy here?' asked Squeers, in a tremendous voice.

Every boy was there, but every boy was afraid to speak, so Squeers
glared along the lines to assure himself; and every eye drooped, and
every head cowered down, as he did so.

'Each boy keep his place,' said Squeers, administering his favourite
blow to the desk, and regarding with gloomy satisfaction the
universal start which it never failed to occasion. 'Nickleby! to
your desk, sir.'

It was remarked by more than one small observer, that there was a
very curious and unusual expression in the usher's face; but he took
his seat, without opening his lips in reply. Squeers, casting a
triumphant glance at his assistant and a look of most comprehensive
despotism on the boys, left the room, and shortly afterwards
returned, dragging Smike by the collar--or rather by that fragment
of his jacket which was nearest the place where his collar would
have been, had he boasted such a decoration.

In any other place, the appearance of the wretched, jaded,
spiritless object would have occasioned a murmur of compassion and
remonstrance. It had some effect, even there; for the lookers-on
moved uneasily in their seats; and a few of the boldest ventured to
steal looks at each other, expressive of indignation and pity.

They were lost on Squeers, however, whose gaze was fastened on the
luckless Smike, as he inquired, according to custom in such cases,
whether he had anything to say for himself.

'Nothing, I suppose?' said Squeers, with a diabolical grin.

Smike glanced round, and his eye rested, for an instant, on
Nicholas, as if he had expected him to intercede; but his look was
riveted on his desk.

'Have you anything to say?' demanded Squeers again: giving his right
arm two or three flourishes to try its power and suppleness. 'Stand
a little out of the way, Mrs Squeers, my dear; I've hardly got room
enough.'

'Spare me, sir!' cried Smike.

'Oh! that's all, is it?' said Squeers. 'Yes, I'll flog you within
an inch of your life, and spare you that.'

'Ha, ha, ha,' laughed Mrs Squeers, 'that's a good 'un!'

'I was driven to do it,' said Smike faintly; and casting another
imploring look about him.

'Driven to do it, were you?' said Squeers. 'Oh! it wasn't your
fault; it was mine, I suppose--eh?'

'A nasty, ungrateful, pig-headed, brutish, obstinate, sneaking dog,'
exclaimed Mrs Squeers, taking Smike's head under her arm, and
administering a cuff at every epithet; 'what does he mean by that?'

'Stand aside, my dear,' replied Squeers. 'We'll try and find out.'

Mrs Squeers, being out of breath with her exertions, complied.
Squeers caught the boy firmly in his grip; one desperate cut had
fallen on his body--he was wincing from the lash and uttering a
scream of pain--it was raised again, and again about to fall--when
Nicholas Nickleby, suddenly starting up, cried 'Stop!' in a voice
that made the rafters ring.

'Who cried stop?' said Squeers, turning savagely round.

'I,' said Nicholas, stepping forward. 'This must not go on.'

'Must not go on!' cried Squeers, almost in a shriek.

'No!' thundered Nicholas.

Aghast and stupefied by the boldness of the interference, Squeers
released his hold of Smike, and, falling back a pace or two, gazed
upon Nicholas with looks that were positively frightful.

'I say must not,' repeated Nicholas, nothing daunted; 'shall not. I
will prevent it.'

Squeers continued to gaze upon him, with his eyes starting out of
his head; but astonishment had actually, for the moment, bereft him
of speech.

'You have disregarded all my quiet interference in the miserable
lad's behalf,' said Nicholas; 'you have returned no answer to the
letter in which I begged forgiveness for him, and offered to be
responsible that he would remain quietly here. Don't blame me for
this public interference. You have brought it upon yourself; not I.'

'Sit down, beggar!' screamed Squeers, almost beside himself with
rage, and seizing Smike as he spoke.

'Wretch,' rejoined Nicholas, fiercely, 'touch him at your peril! I
will not stand by, and see it done. My blood is up, and I have the
strength of ten such men as you. Look to yourself, for by Heaven I
will not spare you, if you drive me on!'

'Stand back,' cried Squeers, brandishing his weapon.

'I have a long series of insults to avenge,' said Nicholas, flushed
with passion; 'and my indignation is aggravated by the dastardly
cruelties practised on helpless infancy in this foul den. Have a
care; for if you do raise the devil within me, the consequences
shall fall heavily upon your own head!'

He had scarcely spoken, when Squeers, in a violent outbreak of
wrath, and with a cry like the howl of a wild beast, spat upon him,
and struck him a blow across the face with his instrument of
torture, which raised up a bar of livid flesh as it was inflicted.
Smarting with the agony of the blow, and concentrating into that one
moment all his feelings of rage, scorn, and indignation, Nicholas
sprang upon him, wrested the weapon from his hand, and pinning him
by the throat, beat the ruffian till he roared for mercy.

The boys--with the exception of Master Squeers, who, coming to his
father's assistance, harassed the enemy in the rear--moved not, hand
or foot; but Mrs Squeers, with many shrieks for aid, hung on to the
tail of her partner's coat, and endeavoured to drag him from his
infuriated adversary; while Miss Squeers, who had been peeping
through the keyhole in expectation of a very different scene, darted
in at the very beginning of the attack, and after launching a shower
of inkstands at the usher's head, beat Nicholas to her heart's content;
animating herself, at every blow, with the recollection of his
having refused her proffered love, and thus imparting additional
strength to an arm which (as she took after her mother in this
respect) was, at no time, one of the weakest.

Nicholas, in the full torrent of his violence, felt the blows no
more than if they had been dealt with feathers; but, becoming tired
of the noise and uproar, and feeling that his arm grew weak besides,
he threw all his remaining strength into half-a-dozen finishing
cuts, and flung Squeers from him with all the force he could muster.
The violence of his fall precipitated Mrs Squeers completely over an
adjacent form; and Squeers striking his head against it in his
descent, lay at his full length on the ground, stunned and
motionless.

Having brought affairs to this happy termination, and ascertained,
to his thorough satisfaction, that Squeers was only stunned, and not
dead (upon which point he had had some unpleasant doubts at first),
Nicholas left his family to restore him, and retired to consider
what course he had better adopt. He looked anxiously round for
Smike, as he left the room, but he was nowhere to be seen.

After a brief consideration, he packed up a few clothes in a small
leathern valise, and, finding that nobody offered to oppose his
progress, marched boldly out by the front-door, and shortly
afterwards, struck into the road which led to Greta Bridge.

When he had cooled sufficiently to be enabled to give his present
circumstances some little reflection, they did not appear in a very
encouraging light; he had only four shillings and a few pence in his
pocket, and was something more than two hundred and fifty miles from
London, whither he resolved to direct his steps, that he might
ascertain, among other things, what account of the morning's
proceedings Mr Squeers transmitted to his most affectionate uncle.

Lifting up his eyes, as he arrived at the conclusion that there was
no remedy for this unfortunate state of things, he beheld a horseman
coming towards him, whom, on nearer approach, he discovered, to his
infinite chagrin, to be no other than Mr John Browdie, who, clad in
cords and leather leggings, was urging his animal forward by means
of a thick ash stick, which seemed to have been recently cut from
some stout sapling.

'I am in no mood for more noise and riot,' thought Nicholas, 'and
yet, do what I will, I shall have an altercation with this honest
blockhead, and perhaps a blow or two from yonder staff.'

In truth, there appeared some reason to expect that such a result
would follow from the encounter, for John Browdie no sooner saw
Nicholas advancing, than he reined in his horse by the footpath, and
waited until such time as he should come up; looking meanwhile, very
sternly between the horse's ears, at Nicholas, as he came on at his
leisure.

'Servant, young genelman,' said John.

'Yours,' said Nicholas.

'Weel; we ha' met at last,' observed John, making the stirrup ring
under a smart touch of the ash stick.

'Yes,' replied Nicholas, hesitating. 'Come!' he said, frankly,
after a moment's pause, 'we parted on no very good terms the last
time we met; it was my fault, I believe; but I had no intention of
offending you, and no idea that I was doing so. I was very sorry
for it, afterwards. Will you shake hands?'

'Shake honds!' cried the good-humoured Yorkshireman; 'ah! that I
weel;' at the same time, he bent down from the saddle, and gave
Nicholas's fist a huge wrench: 'but wa'at be the matther wi' thy
feace, mun? it be all brokken loike.'

'It is a cut,' said Nicholas, turning scarlet as he spoke,--'a blow;
but I returned it to the giver, and with good interest too.'

'Noa, did 'ee though?' exclaimed John Browdie. 'Well deane! I
loike 'un for thot.'

'The fact is,' said Nicholas, not very well knowing how to make the
avowal, 'the fact is, that I have been ill-treated.'

'Noa!' interposed John Browdie, in a tone of compassion; for he was
a giant in strength and stature, and Nicholas, very likely, in his
eyes, seemed a mere dwarf; 'dean't say thot.'

'Yes, I have,' replied Nicholas, 'by that man Squeers, and I have
beaten him soundly, and am leaving this place in consequence.'

'What!' cried John Browdie, with such an ecstatic shout, that the
horse quite shied at it. 'Beatten the schoolmeasther! Ho! ho! ho!
Beatten the schoolmeasther! who ever heard o' the loike o' that noo!
Giv' us thee hond agean, yoongster. Beatten the schoolmeasther!
Dang it, I loov' thee for't.'

With these expressions of delight, John Browdie laughed and laughed
again--so loud that the echoes, far and wide, sent back nothing but
jovial peals of merriment--and shook Nicholas by the hand meanwhile,
no less heartily. When his mirth had subsided, he inquired what
Nicholas meant to do; on his informing him, to go straight to
London, he shook his head doubtfully, and inquired if he knew how
much the coaches charged to carry passengers so far.

'No, I do not,' said Nicholas; 'but it is of no great consequence to
me, for I intend walking.'

'Gang awa' to Lunnun afoot!' cried John, in amazement.

'Every step of the way,' replied Nicholas. 'I should be many steps
further on by this time, and so goodbye!'

'Nay noo,' replied the honest countryman, reining in his impatient
horse, 'stan' still, tellee. Hoo much cash hast thee gotten?'

'Not much,' said Nicholas, colouring, 'but I can make it enough.
Where there's a will, there's a way, you know.'

John Browdie made no verbal answer to this remark, but putting his
hand in his pocket, pulled out an old purse of solid leather, and
insisted that Nicholas should borrow from him whatever he required
for his present necessities.

'Dean't be afeard, mun,' he said; 'tak' eneaf to carry thee whoam.
Thee'lt pay me yan day, a' warrant.'

Nicholas could by no means be prevailed upon to borrow more than a
sovereign, with which loan Mr Browdie, after many entreaties that he
would accept of more (observing, with a touch of Yorkshire caution,
that if he didn't spend it all, he could put the surplus by, till he
had an opportunity of remitting it carriage free), was fain to
content himself.

'Tak' that bit o' timber to help thee on wi', mun,' he added,
pressing his stick on Nicholas, and giving his hand another squeeze;
'keep a good heart, and bless thee. Beatten the schoolmeasther!
'Cod it's the best thing a've heerd this twonty year!'

So saying, and indulging, with more delicacy than might have been
expected from him, in another series of loud laughs, for the purpose
of avoiding the thanks which Nicholas poured forth, John Browdie set
spurs to his horse, and went off at a smart canter: looking back,
from time to time, as Nicholas stood gazing after him, and waving
his hand cheerily, as if to encourage him on his way. Nicholas
watched the horse and rider until they disappeared over the brow of
a distant hill, and then set forward on his journey.

He did not travel far that afternoon, for by this time it was nearly
dark, and there had been a heavy fall of snow, which not only
rendered the way toilsome, but the track uncertain and difficult to
find, after daylight, save by experienced wayfarers. He lay, that
night, at a cottage, where beds were let at a cheap rate to the more
humble class of travellers; and, rising betimes next morning, made
his way before night to Boroughbridge. Passing through that town in
search of some cheap resting-place, he stumbled upon an empty barn
within a couple of hundred yards of the roadside; in a warm corner
of which, he stretched his weary limbs, and soon fell asleep.

When he awoke next morning, and tried to recollect his dreams, which
had been all connected with his recent sojourn at Dotheboys Hall, he
sat up, rubbed his eyes and stared--not with the most composed
countenance possible--at some motionless object which seemed to be
stationed within a few yards in front of him.

'Strange!' cried Nicholas; 'can this be some lingering creation of
the visions that have scarcely left me! It cannot be real--and yet
I--I am awake! Smike!'

The form moved, rose, advanced, and dropped upon its knees at his
feet. It was Smike indeed.

'Why do you kneel to me?' said Nicholas, hastily raising him.

'To go with you--anywhere--everywhere--to the world's end--to the
churchyard grave,' replied Smike, clinging to his hand. 'Let me, oh
do let me. You are my home--my kind friend--take me with you,
pray.'

'I am a friend who can do little for you,' said Nicholas, kindly.
'How came you here?'

He had followed him, it seemed; had never lost sight of him all the
way; had watched while he slept, and when he halted for refreshment;
and had feared to appear before, lest he should be sent back. He
had not intended to appear now, but Nicholas had awakened more
suddenly than he looked for, and he had had no time to conceal
himself.

'Poor fellow!' said Nicholas, 'your hard fate denies you any friend
but one, and he is nearly as poor and helpless as yourself.'

'May I--may I go with you?' asked Smike, timidly. 'I will be your
faithful hard-working servant, I will, indeed. I want no clothes,'
added the poor creature, drawing his rags together; 'these will do
very well. I only want to be near you.'

'And you shall,' cried Nicholas. 'And the world shall deal by you
as it does by me, till one or both of us shall quit it for a better.
Come!'

With these words, he strapped his burden on his shoulders, and,
taking his stick in one hand, extended the other to his delighted
charge; and so they passed out of the old barn, together.

CHAPTER 14

Having the Misfortune to treat of none but Common People, is
necessarily of a Mean and Vulgar Character

In that quarter of London in which Golden Square is situated, there
is a bygone, faded, tumble-down street, with two irregular rows of
tall meagre houses, which seem to have stared each other out of
countenance years ago. The very chimneys appear to have grown
dismal and melancholy, from having had nothing better to look at
than the chimneys over the way. Their tops are battered, and
broken, and blackened with smoke; and, here and there, some taller
stack than the rest, inclining heavily to one side, and toppling
over the roof, seems to mediate taking revenge for half a century's
neglect, by crushing the inhabitants of the garrets beneath.

The fowls who peck about the kennels, jerking their bodies hither
and thither with a gait which none but town fowls are ever seen to
adopt, and which any country cock or hen would be puzzled to
understand, are perfectly in keeping with the crazy habitations of
their owners. Dingy, ill-plumed, drowsy flutterers, sent, like many
of the neighbouring children, to get a livelihood in the streets,
they hop, from stone to stone, in forlorn search of some hidden
eatable in the mud, and can scarcely raise a crow among them. The
only one with anything approaching to a voice, is an aged bantam at
the baker's; and even he is hoarse, in consequence of bad living in
his last place.

To judge from the size of the houses, they have been, at one time,
tenanted by persons of better condition than their present
occupants; but they are now let off, by the week, in floors or
rooms, and every door has almost as many plates or bell-handles as
there are apartments within. The windows are, for the same reason,
sufficiently diversified in appearance, being ornamented with every
variety of common blind and curtain that can easily be imagined;
while every doorway is blocked up, and rendered nearly impassable,
by a motley collection of children and porter pots of all sizes,
from the baby in arms and the half-pint pot, to the full-grown girl
and half-gallon can.

In the parlour of one of these houses, which was perhaps a thought
dirtier than any of its neighbours; which exhibited more bell-
handles, children, and porter pots, and caught in all its freshness
the first gust of the thick black smoke that poured forth, night and
day, from a large brewery hard by; hung a bill, announcing that
there was yet one room to let within its walls, though on what story
the vacant room could be--regard being had to the outward tokens of
many lodgers which the whole front displayed, from the mangle in the
kitchen window to the flower-pots on the parapet--it would have been
beyond the power of a calculating boy to discover.

The common stairs of this mansion were bare and carpetless; but a
curious visitor who had to climb his way to the top, might have
observed that there were not wanting indications of the progressive
poverty of the inmates, although their rooms were shut. Thus, the
first-floor lodgers, being flush of furniture, kept an old mahogany
table--real mahogany--on the landing-place outside, which was only
taken in, when occasion required. On the second story, the spare
furniture dwindled down to a couple of old deal chairs, of which
one, belonging to the back-room, was shorn of a leg, and bottomless.
The story above, boasted no greater excess than a worm-eaten wash-
tub; and the garret landing-place displayed no costlier articles
than two crippled pitchers, and some broken blacking-bottles.

It was on this garret landing-place that a hard-featured square-
faced man, elderly and shabby, stopped to unlock the door of the
front attic, into which, having surmounted the task of turning the
rusty key in its still more rusty wards, he walked with the air of
legal owner.

This person wore a wig of short, coarse, red hair, which he took off
with his hat, and hung upon a nail. Having adopted in its place a
dirty cotton nightcap, and groped about in the dark till he found a
remnant of candle, he knocked at the partition which divided the two
garrets, and inquired, in a loud voice, whether Mr Noggs had a
light.

The sounds that came back were stifled by the lath and plaster, and
it seemed moreover as though the speaker had uttered them from the
interior of a mug or other drinking vessel; but they were in the
voice of Newman, and conveyed a reply in the affirmative.

'A nasty night, Mr Noggs!' said the man in the nightcap, stepping in
to light his candle.

'Does it rain?' asked Newman.

'Does it?' replied the other pettishly. 'I am wet through.'

'It doesn't take much to wet you and me through, Mr Crowl,' said
Newman, laying his hand upon the lappel of his threadbare coat.

'Well; and that makes it the more vexatious,' observed Mr Crowl, in
the same pettish tone.

Uttering a low querulous growl, the speaker, whose harsh countenance
was the very epitome of selfishness, raked the scanty fire nearly
out of the grate, and, emptying the glass which Noggs had pushed
towards him, inquired where he kept his coals.

Newman Noggs pointed to the bottom of a cupboard, and Mr Crowl,
seizing the shovel, threw on half the stock: which Noggs very
deliberately took off again, without saying a word.

'You have not turned saving, at this time of day, I hope?' said
Crowl.

Newman pointed to the empty glass, as though it were a sufficient
refutation of the charge, and briefly said that he was going
downstairs to supper.

'To the Kenwigses?' asked Crowl.

Newman nodded assent.

'Think of that now!' said Crowl. 'If I didn't--thinking that you
were certain not to go, because you said you wouldn't--tell Kenwigs
I couldn't come, and make up my mind to spend the evening with you!'

'I was obliged to go,' said Newman. 'They would have me.'

'Well; but what's to become of me?' urged the selfish man, who never
thought of anybody else. 'It's all your fault. I'll tell you what
--I'll sit by your fire till you come back again.'

Newman cast a despairing glance at his small store of fuel, but, not
having the courage to say no--a word which in all his life he never
had said at the right time, either to himself or anyone else--gave
way to the proposed arrangement. Mr Crowl immediately went about
making himself as comfortable, with Newman Nogg's means, as
circumstances would admit of his being made.

The lodgers to whom Crowl had made allusion under the designation of
'the Kenwigses,' were the wife and olive branches of one Mr Kenwigs,
a turner in ivory, who was looked upon as a person of some
consideration on the premises, inasmuch as he occupied the whole of
the first floor, comprising a suite of two rooms. Mrs Kenwigs, too,
was quite a lady in her manners, and of a very genteel family,
having an uncle who collected a water-rate; besides which
distinction, the two eldest of her little girls went twice a week to
a dancing school in the neighbourhood, and had flaxen hair, tied
with blue ribbons, hanging in luxuriant pigtails down their backs;
and wore little white trousers with frills round the ankles--for all
of which reasons, and many more equally valid but too numerous to
mention, Mrs Kenwigs was considered a very desirable person to know,
and was the constant theme of all the gossips in the street, and
even three or four doors round the corner at both ends.

It was the anniversary of that happy day on which the Church of
England as by law established, had bestowed Mrs Kenwigs upon Mr
Kenwigs; and in grateful commemoration of the same, Mrs Kenwigs had
invited a few select friends to cards and a supper in the first
floor, and had put on a new gown to receive them in: which gown,
being of a flaming colour and made upon a juvenile principle, was so
successful that Mr Kenwigs said the eight years of matrimony and the
five children seemed all a dream, and Mrs Kenwigs younger and more
blooming than on the very first Sunday he had kept company with her.

Beautiful as Mrs Kenwigs looked when she was dressed though, and so
stately that you would have supposed she had a cook and housemaid at
least, and nothing to do but order them about, she had a world of
trouble with the preparations; more, indeed, than she, being of a
delicate and genteel constitution, could have sustained, had not the
pride of housewifery upheld her. At last, however, all the things
that had to be got together were got together, and all the things
that had to be got out of the way were got out of the way, and
everything was ready, and the collector himself having promised to
come, fortune smiled upon the occasion.

The party was admirably selected. There were, first of all, Mr
Kenwigs and Mrs Kenwigs, and four olive Kenwigses who sat up to
supper; firstly, because it was but right that they should have a
treat on such a day; and secondly, because their going to bed, in
presence of the company, would have been inconvenient, not to say
improper. Then, there was a young lady who had made Mrs Kenwigs's
dress, and who--it was the most convenient thing in the world--
living in the two-pair back, gave up her bed to the baby, and got a
little girl to watch it. Then, to match this young lady, was a
young man, who had known Mr Kenwigs when he was a bachelor, and was
much esteemed by the ladies, as bearing the reputation of a rake.
To these were added a newly-married couple, who had visited Mr and
Mrs Kenwigs in their courtship; and a sister of Mrs Kenwigs's, who
was quite a beauty; besides whom, there was another young man,
supposed to entertain honourable designs upon the lady last
mentioned; and Mr Noggs, who was a genteel person to ask, because he
had been a gentleman once. There were also an elderly lady from the
back-parlour, and one more young lady, who, next to the collector,
perhaps was the great lion of the party, being the daughter of a
theatrical fireman, who 'went on' in the pantomime, and had the
greatest turn for the stage that was ever known, being able to sing
and recite in a manner that brought the tears into Mrs Kenwigs's
eyes. There was only one drawback upon the pleasure of seeing such
friends, and that was, that the lady in the back-parlour, who was
very fat, and turned of sixty, came in a low book-muslin dress and
short kid gloves, which so exasperated Mrs Kenwigs, that that lady
assured her visitors, in private, that if it hadn't happened that
the supper was cooking at the back-parlour grate at that moment, she
certainly would have requested its representative to withdraw.

'My dear,' said Mr Kenwigs, 'wouldn't it be better to begin a round
game?'

'Kenwigs, my dear,' returned his wife, 'I am surprised at you.
Would you begin without my uncle?'

'I forgot the collector,' said Kenwigs; 'oh no, that would never
do.'

'He's so particular,' said Mrs Kenwigs, turning to the other married
lady, 'that if we began without him, I should be out of his will for
ever.'

'Dear!' cried the married lady.

'You've no idea what he is,' replied Mrs Kenwigs; 'and yet as good a
creature as ever breathed.'

'The kindest-hearted man as ever was,' said Kenwigs.

'It goes to his heart, I believe, to be forced to cut the water off,
when the people don't pay,' observed the bachelor friend, intending
a joke.

'George,' said Mr Kenwigs, solemnly, 'none of that, if you please.'

'It was only my joke,' said the friend, abashed.

'George,' rejoined Mr Kenwigs, 'a joke is a wery good thing--a wery
good thing--but when that joke is made at the expense of Mrs
Kenwigs's feelings, I set my face against it. A man in public life
expects to be sneered at--it is the fault of his elewated
sitiwation, and not of himself. Mrs Kenwigs's relation is a public
man, and that he knows, George, and that he can bear; but putting
Mrs Kenwigs out of the question (if I COULD put Mrs Kenwigs out of
the question on such an occasion as this), I have the honour to be
connected with the collector by marriage; and I cannot allow these
remarks in my--' Mr Kenwigs was going to say 'house,' but he rounded
the sentence with 'apartments'.

At the conclusion of these observations, which drew forth evidences
of acute feeling from Mrs Kenwigs, and had the intended effect of

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