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The Life And Adventures Of Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens

Part 7 out of 20

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guilty, had (instead of first proceeding to another quarter of the
town on business, as Newman Noggs supposed he would) gone straight
to his sister-in-law. Hence, when Miss La Creevy, admitted by a
girl who was cleaning the house, made her way to the sitting-room,
she found Mrs Nickleby and Kate in tears, and Ralph just concluding
his statement of his nephew's misdemeanours. Kate beckoned her not
to retire, and Miss La Creevy took a seat in silence.

'You are here already, are you, my gentleman?' thought the little
woman. 'Then he shall announce himself, and see what effect that
has on you.'

'This is pretty,' said Ralph, folding up Miss Squeers's note; 'very
pretty. I recommend him--against all my previous conviction, for I
knew he would never do any good--to a man with whom, behaving
himself properly, he might have remained, in comfort, for years.
What is the result? Conduct for which he might hold up his hand at
the Old Bailey.'

'I never will believe it,' said Kate, indignantly; 'never. It is
some base conspiracy, which carries its own falsehood with it.'

'My dear,' said Ralph, 'you wrong the worthy man. These are not
inventions. The man is assaulted, your brother is not to be found;
this boy, of whom they speak, goes with him--remember, remember.'

'It is impossible,' said Kate. 'Nicholas!--and a thief too! Mama,
how can you sit and hear such statements?'

Poor Mrs Nickleby, who had, at no time, been remarkable for the
possession of a very clear understanding, and who had been reduced
by the late changes in her affairs to a most complicated state of
perplexity, made no other reply to this earnest remonstrance than
exclaiming from behind a mass of pocket-handkerchief, that she never
could have believed it--thereby most ingeniously leaving her hearers
to suppose that she did believe it.

'It would be my duty, if he came in my way, to deliver him up to
justice,' said Ralph, 'my bounden duty; I should have no other
course, as a man of the world and a man of business, to pursue. And
yet,' said Ralph, speaking in a very marked manner, and looking
furtively, but fixedly, at Kate, 'and yet I would not. I would
spare the feelings of his--of his sister. And his mother of
course,' added Ralph, as though by an afterthought, and with far
less emphasis.

Kate very well understood that this was held out as an additional
inducement to her to preserve the strictest silence regarding the
events of the preceding night. She looked involuntarily towards
Ralph as he ceased to speak, but he had turned his eyes another way,
and seemed for the moment quite unconscious of her presence.

'Everything,' said Ralph, after a long silence, broken only by Mrs
Nickleby's sobs, 'everything combines to prove the truth of this
letter, if indeed there were any possibility of disputing it. Do
innocent men steal away from the sight of honest folks, and skulk in
hiding-places, like outlaws? Do innocent men inveigle nameless
vagabonds, and prowl with them about the country as idle robbers do?
Assault, riot, theft, what do you call these?'

'A lie!' cried a voice, as the door was dashed open, and Nicholas
came into the room.

In the first moment of surprise, and possibly of alarm, Ralph rose
from his seat, and fell back a few paces, quite taken off his guard
by this unexpected apparition. In another moment, he stood, fixed
and immovable with folded arms, regarding his nephew with a scowl;
while Kate and Miss La Creevy threw themselves between the two, to
prevent the personal violence which the fierce excitement of
Nicholas appeared to threaten.

'Dear Nicholas,' cried his sister, clinging to him. 'Be calm,
consider--'

'Consider, Kate!' cried Nicholas, clasping her hand so tight in
the tumult of his anger, that she could scarcely bear the pain.
'When I consider all, and think of what has passed, I need be
made of iron to stand before him.'

'Or bronze,' said Ralph, quietly; 'there is not hardihood enough in
flesh and blood to face it out.'

'Oh dear, dear!' cried Mrs Nickleby, 'that things should have come
to such a pass as this!'

'Who speaks in a tone, as if I had done wrong, and brought disgrace
on them?' said Nicholas, looking round.

'Your mother, sir,' replied Ralph, motioning towards her.

'Whose ears have been poisoned by you,' said Nicholas; 'by you--who,
under pretence of deserving the thanks she poured upon you, heaped
every insult, wrong, and indignity upon my head. You, who sent me
to a den where sordid cruelty, worthy of yourself, runs wanton, and
youthful misery stalks precocious; where the lightness of childhood
shrinks into the heaviness of age, and its every promise blights,
and withers as it grows. I call Heaven to witness,' said Nicholas,
looking eagerly round, 'that I have seen all this, and that he knows
it.'

'Refute these calumnies,' said Kate, 'and be more patient, so that
you may give them no advantage. Tell us what you really did, and
show that they are untrue.'

'Of what do they--or of what does he--accuse me?' said Nicholas.

'First, of attacking your master, and being within an ace of
qualifying yourself to be tried for murder,' interposed Ralph. 'I
speak plainly, young man, bluster as you will.'

'I interfered,' said Nicholas, 'to save a miserable creature from
the vilest cruelty. In so doing, I inflicted such punishment upon a
wretch as he will not readily forget, though far less than he
deserved from me. If the same scene were renewed before me now, I
would take the same part; but I would strike harder and heavier, and
brand him with such marks as he should carry to his grave, go to it
when he would.'

'You hear?' said Ralph, turning to Mrs Nickleby. 'Penitence, this!'

'Oh dear me!' cried Mrs Nickleby, 'I don't know what to think, I
really don't.'

'Do not speak just now, mama, I entreat you,' said Kate. 'Dear
Nicholas, I only tell you, that you may know what wickedness can
prompt, but they accuse you of--a ring is missing, and they dare to
say that--'

'The woman,' said Nicholas, haughtily, 'the wife of the fellow from
whom these charges come, dropped--as I suppose--a worthless ring
among some clothes of mine, early in the morning on which I left the
house. At least, I know that she was in the bedroom where they lay,
struggling with an unhappy child, and that I found it when I opened
my bundle on the road. I returned it, at once, by coach, and they
have it now.'

'I knew, I knew,' said Kate, looking towards her uncle. 'About this
boy, love, in whose company they say you left?'

'The boy, a silly, helpless creature, from brutality and hard usage,
is with me now,' rejoined Nicholas.

'You hear?' said Ralph, appealing to the mother again, 'everything
proved, even upon his own confession. Do you choose to restore that
boy, sir?'

'No, I do not,' replied Nicholas.

'You do not?' sneered Ralph.

'No,' repeated Nicholas, 'not to the man with whom I found him. I
would that I knew on whom he has the claim of birth: I might wring
something from his sense of shame, if he were dead to every tie of
nature.'

'Indeed!' said Ralph. 'Now, sir, will you hear a word or two from
me?'

'You can speak when and what you please,' replied Nicholas,
embracing his sister. 'I take little heed of what you say or
threaten.'

'Mighty well, sir,' retorted Ralph; 'but perhaps it may concern
others, who may think it worth their while to listen, and consider
what I tell them. I will address your mother, sir, who knows the
world.'

'Ah! and I only too dearly wish I didn't,' sobbed Mrs Nickleby.

There really was no necessity for the good lady to be much
distressed upon this particular head; the extent of her worldly
knowledge being, to say the least, very questionable; and so Ralph
seemed to think, for he smiled as she spoke. He then glanced
steadily at her and Nicholas by turns, as he delivered himself in
these words:

'Of what I have done, or what I meant to do, for you, ma'am, and my
niece, I say not one syllable. I held out no promise, and leave you
to judge for yourself. I hold out no threat now, but I say that
this boy, headstrong, wilful and disorderly as he is, should not
have one penny of my money, or one crust of my bread, or one grasp
of my hand, to save him from the loftiest gallows in all Europe. I
will not meet him, come where he comes, or hear his name. I will
not help him, or those who help him. With a full knowledge of what
he brought upon you by so doing, he has come back in his selfish
sloth, to be an aggravation of your wants, and a burden upon his
sister's scanty wages. I regret to leave you, and more to leave
her, now, but I will not encourage this compound of meanness and
cruelty, and, as I will not ask you to renounce him, I see you no
more.'

If Ralph had not known and felt his power in wounding those he
hated, his glances at Nicholas would have shown it him, in all its
force, as he proceeded in the above address. Innocent as the young
man was of all wrong, every artful insinuation stung, every well-
considered sarcasm cut him to the quick; and when Ralph noted his
pale face and quivering lip, he hugged himself to mark how well he
had chosen the taunts best calculated to strike deep into a young
and ardent spirit.

'I can't help it,' cried Mrs Nickleby. 'I know you have been very
good to us, and meant to do a good deal for my dear daughter. I am
quite sure of that; I know you did, and it was very kind of you,
having her at your house and all--and of course it would have been a
great thing for her and for me too. But I can't, you know, brother-
in-law, I can't renounce my own son, even if he has done all you say
he has--it's not possible; I couldn't do it; so we must go to rack
and ruin, Kate, my dear. I can bear it, I dare say.' Pouring forth
these and a perfectly wonderful train of other disjointed
expressions of regret, which no mortal power but Mrs Nickleby's
could ever have strung together, that lady wrung her hands, and her
tears fell faster.

'Why do you say "IF Nicholas has done what they say he has," mama?'
asked Kate, with honest anger. 'You know he has not.'

'I don't know what to think, one way or other, my dear,' said Mrs
Nickleby; 'Nicholas is so violent, and your uncle has so much
composure, that I can only hear what he says, and not what Nicholas
does. Never mind, don't let us talk any more about it. We can go
to the Workhouse, or the Refuge for the Destitute, or the Magdalen
Hospital, I dare say; and the sooner we go the better.' With this
extraordinary jumble of charitable institutions, Mrs Nickleby again
gave way to her tears.

'Stay,' said Nicholas, as Ralph turned to go. 'You need not leave
this place, sir, for it will be relieved of my presence in one
minute, and it will be long, very long, before I darken these doors
again.'

'Nicholas,' cried Kate, throwing herself on her brother's shoulder,
'do not say so. My dear brother, you will break my heart. Mama,
speak to him. Do not mind her, Nicholas; she does not mean it, you
should know her better. Uncle, somebody, for Heaven's sake speak to
him.'

'I never meant, Kate,' said Nicholas, tenderly, 'I never meant to
stay among you; think better of me than to suppose it possible. I
may turn my back on this town a few hours sooner than I intended,
but what of that? We shall not forget each other apart, and better
days will come when we shall part no more. Be a woman, Kate,' he
whispered, proudly, 'and do not make me one, while HE looks on.'

'No, no, I will not,' said Kate, eagerly, 'but you will not leave
us. Oh! think of all the happy days we have had together, before
these terrible misfortunes came upon us; of all the comfort and
happiness of home, and the trials we have to bear now; of our having
no protector under all the slights and wrongs that poverty so much
favours, and you cannot leave us to bear them alone, without one
hand to help us.'

'You will be helped when I am away,' replied Nicholas hurriedly. 'I
am no help to you, no protector; I should bring you nothing but
sorrow, and want, and suffering. My own mother sees it, and her
fondness and fears for you, point to the course that I should take.
And so all good angels bless you, Kate, till I can carry you to some
home of mine, where we may revive the happiness denied to us now,
and talk of these trials as of things gone by. Do not keep me here,
but let me go at once. There. Dear girl--dear girl.'

The grasp which had detained him relaxed, and Kate swooned in his
arms. Nicholas stooped over her for a few seconds, and placing her
gently in a chair, confided her to their honest friend.

'I need not entreat your sympathy,' he said, wringing her hand, 'for
I know your nature. You will never forget them.'

He stepped up to Ralph, who remained in the same attitude which he
had preserved throughout the interview, and moved not a finger.

'Whatever step you take, sir,' he said, in a voice inaudible beyond
themselves, 'I shall keep a strict account of. I leave them to you,
at your desire. There will be a day of reckoning sooner or later,
and it will be a heavy one for you if they are wronged.'

Ralph did not allow a muscle of his face to indicate that he heard
one word of this parting address. He hardly knew that it was
concluded, and Mrs Nickleby had scarcely made up her mind to detain
her son by force if necessary, when Nicholas was gone.

As he hurried through the streets to his obscure lodging, seeking to
keep pace, as it were, with the rapidity of the thoughts which
crowded upon him, many doubts and hesitations arose in his mind, and
almost tempted him to return. But what would they gain by this?
Supposing he were to put Ralph Nickleby at defiance, and were even
fortunate enough to obtain some small employment, his being with
them could only render their present condition worse, and might
greatly impair their future prospects; for his mother had spoken of
some new kindnesses towards Kate which she had not denied. 'No,'
thought Nicholas, 'I have acted for the best.'

But, before he had gone five hundred yards, some other and different
feeling would come upon him, and then he would lag again, and
pulling his hat over his eyes, give way to the melancholy
reflections which pressed thickly upon him. To have committed no
fault, and yet to be so entirely alone in the world; to be separated
from the only persons he loved, and to be proscribed like a
criminal, when six months ago he had been surrounded by every
comfort, and looked up to, as the chief hope of his family--this was
hard to bear. He had not deserved it either. Well, there was
comfort in that; and poor Nicholas would brighten up again, to be
again depressed, as his quickly shifting thoughts presented every
variety of light and shade before him.

Undergoing these alternations of hope and misgiving, which no one,
placed in a situation of ordinary trial, can fail to have
experienced, Nicholas at length reached his poor room, where, no
longer borne up by the excitement which had hitherto sustained him,
but depressed by the revulsion of feeling it left behind, he threw
himself on the bed, and turning his face to the wall, gave free vent
to the emotions he had so long stifled.

He had not heard anybody enter, and was unconscious of the presence
of Smike, until, happening to raise his head, he saw him, standing
at the upper end of the room, looking wistfully towards him. He
withdrew his eyes when he saw that he was observed, and affected to
be busied with some scanty preparations for dinner.

'Well, Smike,' said Nicholas, as cheerfully as he could speak, 'let
me hear what new acquaintances you have made this morning, or what
new wonder you have found out, in the compass of this street and the
next one.'

'No,' said Smike, shaking his head mournfully; 'I must talk of
something else today.'

'Of what you like,' replied Nicholas, good-humouredly.

'Of this,' said Smike. 'I know you are unhappy, and have got into
great trouble by bringing me away. I ought to have known that, and
stopped behind--I would, indeed, if I had thought it then. You--
you--are not rich; you have not enough for yourself, and I should
not be here. You grow,' said the lad, laying his hand timidly on
that of Nicholas, 'you grow thinner every day; your cheek is paler,
and your eye more sunk. Indeed I cannot bear to see you so, and
think how I am burdening you. I tried to go away today, but the
thought of your kind face drew me back. I could not leave you
without a word.' The poor fellow could say no more, for his eyes
filled with tears, and his voice was gone.

'The word which separates us,' said Nicholas, grasping him heartily
by the shoulder, 'shall never be said by me, for you are my only
comfort and stay. I would not lose you now, Smike, for all the
world could give. The thought of you has upheld me through all I
have endured today, and shall, through fifty times such trouble.
Give me your hand. My heart is linked to yours. We will journey
from this place together, before the week is out. What, if I am
steeped in poverty? You lighten it, and we will be poor together.'

CHAPTER 21

Madam Mantalini finds herself in a Situation of some Difficulty, and
Miss Nickleby finds herself in no Situation at all

The agitation she had undergone, rendered Kate Nickleby unable to
resume her duties at the dressmaker's for three days, at the
expiration of which interval she betook herself at the accustomed
hour, and with languid steps, to the temple of fashion where Madame
Mantalini reigned paramount and supreme.

The ill-will of Miss Knag had lost nothing of its virulence in the
interval. The young ladies still scrupulously shrunk from all
companionship with their denounced associate; and when that
exemplary female arrived a few minutes afterwards, she was at no
pains to conceal the displeasure with which she regarded Kate's
return.

'Upon my word!' said Miss Knag, as the satellites flocked round, to
relieve her of her bonnet and shawl; 'I should have thought some
people would have had spirit enough to stop away altogether, when
they know what an incumbrance their presence is to right-minded
persons. But it's a queer world; oh! it's a queer world!'

Miss Knag, having passed this comment on the world, in the tone in
which most people do pass comments on the world when they are out of
temper, that is to say, as if they by no means belonged to it,
concluded by heaving a sigh, wherewith she seemed meekly to
compassionate the wickedness of mankind.

The attendants were not slow to echo the sigh, and Miss Knag was
apparently on the eve of favouring them with some further moral
reflections, when the voice of Madame Mantalini, conveyed through
the speaking-tube, ordered Miss Nickleby upstairs to assist in the
arrangement of the show-room; a distinction which caused Miss Knag
to toss her head so much, and bite her lips so hard, that her powers
of conversation were, for the time, annihilated.

'Well, Miss Nickleby, child,' said Madame Mantalini, when Kate
presented herself; 'are you quite well again?'

'A great deal better, thank you,' replied Kate.

'I wish I could say the same,' remarked Madame Mantalini, seating
herself with an air of weariness.

'Are you ill?' asked Kate. 'I am very sorry for that.'

'Not exactly ill, but worried, child--worried,' rejoined Madame.

'I am still more sorry to hear that,' said Kate, gently. 'Bodily
illness is more easy to bear than mental.'

'Ah! and it's much easier to talk than to bear either,' said Madame,
rubbing her nose with much irritability of manner. 'There, get to
your work, child, and put the things in order, do.'

While Kate was wondering within herself what these symptoms of
unusual vexation portended, Mr Mantalini put the tips of his
whiskers, and, by degrees, his head, through the half-opened door,
and cried in a soft voice--

'Is my life and soul there?'

'No,' replied his wife.

'How can it say so, when it is blooming in the front room like a
little rose in a demnition flower-pot?' urged Mantalini. 'May its
poppet come in and talk?'

'Certainly not,' replied Madame: 'you know I never allow you here.
Go along!'

The poppet, however, encouraged perhaps by the relenting tone of
this reply, ventured to rebel, and, stealing into the room, made
towards Madame Mantalini on tiptoe, blowing her a kiss as he came
along.

'Why will it vex itself, and twist its little face into bewitching
nutcrackers?' said Mantalini, putting his left arm round the waist
of his life and soul, and drawing her towards him with his right.

'Oh! I can't bear you,' replied his wife.

'Not--eh, not bear ME!' exclaimed Mantalini. 'Fibs, fibs. It
couldn't be. There's not a woman alive, that could tell me such a
thing to my face--to my own face.' Mr Mantalini stroked his chin, as
he said this, and glanced complacently at an opposite mirror.

'Such destructive extravagance,' reasoned his wife, in a low tone.

'All in its joy at having gained such a lovely creature, such a
little Venus, such a demd, enchanting, bewitching, engrossing,
captivating little Venus,' said Mantalini.

'See what a situation you have placed me in!' urged Madame.

'No harm will come, no harm shall come, to its own darling,'
rejoined Mr Mantalini. 'It is all over; there will be nothing the
matter; money shall be got in; and if it don't come in fast enough,
old Nickleby shall stump up again, or have his jugular separated if
he dares to vex and hurt the little--'

'Hush!' interposed Madame. 'Don't you see?'

Mr Mantalini, who, in his eagerness to make up matters with his
wife, had overlooked, or feigned to overlook, Miss Nickleby
hitherto, took the hint, and laying his finger on his lip, sunk his
voice still lower. There was, then, a great deal of whispering,
during which Madame Mantalini appeared to make reference, more than
once, to certain debts incurred by Mr Mantalini previous to her
coverture; and also to an unexpected outlay of money in payment of
the aforesaid debts; and furthermore, to certain agreeable
weaknesses on that gentleman's part, such as gaming, wasting,
idling, and a tendency to horse-flesh; each of which matters of
accusation Mr Mantalini disposed of, by one kiss or more, as its
relative importance demanded. The upshot of it all was, that Madame
Mantalini was in raptures with him, and that they went upstairs to
breakfast.

Kate busied herself in what she had to do, and was silently
arranging the various articles of decoration in the best taste she
could display, when she started to hear a strange man's voice in the
room, and started again, to observe, on looking round, that a white
hat, and a red neckerchief, and a broad round face, and a large
head, and part of a green coat were in the room too.

'Don't alarm yourself, miss,' said the proprietor of these
appearances. 'I say; this here's the mantie-making consarn, an't it?'

'Yes,' rejoined Kate, greatly astonished. 'What did you want?'

The stranger answered not; but, first looking back, as though to
beckon to some unseen person outside, came, very deliberately, into
the room, and was closely followed by a little man in brown, very
much the worse for wear, who brought with him a mingled fumigation
of stale tobacco and fresh onions. The clothes of this gentleman
were much bespeckled with flue; and his shoes, stockings, and nether
garments, from his heels to the waist buttons of his coat inclusive,
were profusely embroidered with splashes of mud, caught a fortnight
previously--before the setting-in of the fine weather.

Kate's very natural impression was, that these engaging individuals
had called with the view of possessing themselves, unlawfully, of
any portable articles that chanced to strike their fancy. She did
not attempt to disguise her apprehensions, and made a move towards
the door.

'Wait a minnit,' said the man in the green coat, closing it softly,
and standing with his back against it. 'This is a unpleasant
bisness. Vere's your govvernor?'

'My what--did you say?' asked Kate, trembling; for she thought
'governor' might be slang for watch or money.

'Mister Muntlehiney,' said the man. 'Wot's come on him? Is he at
home?'

'He is above stairs, I believe,' replied Kate, a little reassured by
this inquiry. 'Do you want him?'

'No,' replied the visitor. 'I don't ezactly want him, if it's made
a favour on. You can jist give him that 'ere card, and tell him if
he wants to speak to ME, and save trouble, here I am; that's all.'

With these words, the stranger put a thick square card into Kate's
hand, and, turning to his friend, remarked, with an easy air, 'that
the rooms was a good high pitch;' to which the friend assented,
adding, by way of illustration, 'that there was lots of room for a
little boy to grow up a man in either on 'em, vithout much fear of
his ever bringing his head into contract vith the ceiling.'

After ringing the bell which would summon Madame Mantalini, Kate
glanced at the card, and saw that it displayed the name of 'Scaley,'
together with some other information to which she had not had time
to refer, when her attention was attracted by Mr Scaley himself,
who, walking up to one of the cheval-glasses, gave it a hard poke in
the centre with his stick, as coolly as if it had been made of cast
iron.

'Good plate this here, Tix,' said Mr Scaley to his friend.

'Ah!' rejoined Mr Tix, placing the marks of his four fingers, and a
duplicate impression of his thumb, on a piece of sky-blue silk; 'and
this here article warn't made for nothing, mind you.'

From the silk, Mr Tix transferred his admiration to some elegant
articles of wearing apparel, while Mr Scaley adjusted his neckcloth,
at leisure, before the glass, and afterwards, aided by its
reflection, proceeded to the minute consideration of a pimple on his
chin; in which absorbing occupation he was yet engaged, when Madame
Mantalini, entering the room, uttered an exclamation of surprise
which roused him.

'Oh! Is this the missis?' inquired Scaley.

'It is Madame Mantalini,' said Kate.

'Then,' said Mr Scaley, producing a small document from his pocket
and unfolding it very slowly, 'this is a writ of execution, and if
it's not conwenient to settle we'll go over the house at wunst,
please, and take the inwentory.'

Poor Madame Mantalini wrung her hands for grief, and rung the bell
for her husband; which done, she fell into a chair and a fainting
fit, simultaneously. The professional gentlemen, however, were not
at all discomposed by this event, for Mr Scaley, leaning upon a
stand on which a handsome dress was displayed (so that his shoulders
appeared above it, in nearly the same manner as the shoulders of the
lady for whom it was designed would have done if she had had it on),
pushed his hat on one side and scratched his head with perfect
unconcern, while his friend Mr Tix, taking that opportunity for a
general survey of the apartment preparatory to entering on business,
stood with his inventory-book under his arm and his hat in his hand,
mentally occupied in putting a price upon every object within his
range of vision.

Such was the posture of affairs when Mr Mantalini hurried in; and as
that distinguished specimen had had a pretty extensive intercourse
with Mr Scaley's fraternity in his bachelor days, and was, besides,
very far from being taken by surprise on the present agitating
occasion, he merely shrugged his shoulders, thrust his hands down to
the bottom of his pockets, elevated his eyebrows, whistled a bar or
two, swore an oath or two, and, sitting astride upon a chair, put
the best face upon the matter with great composure and decency.

'What's the demd total?' was the first question he asked.

'Fifteen hundred and twenty-seven pound, four and ninepence
ha'penny,' replied Mr Scaley, without moving a limb.

'The halfpenny be demd,' said Mr Mantalini, impatiently.

'By all means if you vish it,' retorted Mr Scaley; 'and the
ninepence.'

'It don't matter to us if the fifteen hundred and twenty-seven pound
went along with it, that I know on,' observed Mr Tix.

'Not a button,' said Scaley.

'Well,' said the same gentleman, after a pause, 'wot's to be done--
anything? Is it only a small crack, or a out-and-out smash? A
break-up of the constitootion is it?--werry good. Then Mr Tom Tix,
esk-vire, you must inform your angel wife and lovely family as you
won't sleep at home for three nights to come, along of being in
possession here. Wot's the good of the lady a fretting herself?'
continued Mr Scaley, as Madame Mantalini sobbed. 'A good half of
wot's here isn't paid for, I des-say, and wot a consolation oughtn't
that to be to her feelings!'

With these remarks, combining great pleasantry with sound moral
encouragement under difficulties, Mr Scaley proceeded to take the
inventory, in which delicate task he was materially assisted by the
uncommon tact and experience of Mr Tix, the broker.

'My cup of happiness's sweetener,' said Mantalini, approaching his
wife with a penitent air; 'will you listen to me for two minutes?'

'Oh! don't speak to me,' replied his wife, sobbing. 'You have
ruined me, and that's enough.'

Mr Mantalini, who had doubtless well considered his part, no sooner
heard these words pronounced in a tone of grief and severity, than
he recoiled several paces, assumed an expression of consuming mental
agony, rushed headlong from the room, and was, soon afterwards,
heard to slam the door of an upstairs dressing-room with great
violence.

'Miss Nickleby,' cried Madame Mantalini, when this sound met her
ear, 'make haste, for Heaven's sake, he will destroy himself! I
spoke unkindly to him, and he cannot bear it from me. Alfred, my
darling Alfred.'

With such exclamations, she hurried upstairs, followed by Kate who,
although she did not quite participate in the fond wife's
apprehensions, was a little flurried, nevertheless. The dressing-
room door being hastily flung open, Mr Mantalini was disclosed to
view, with his shirt-collar symmetrically thrown back: putting a
fine edge to a breakfast knife by means of his razor strop.

'Ah!' cried Mr Mantalini, 'interrupted!' and whisk went the
breakfast knife into Mr Mantalini's dressing-gown pocket, while Mr
Mantalini's eyes rolled wildly, and his hair floating in wild
disorder, mingled with his whiskers.

'Alfred,' cried his wife, flinging her arms about him, 'I didn't
mean to say it, I didn't mean to say it!'

'Ruined!' cried Mr Mantalini. 'Have I brought ruin upon the best
and purest creature that ever blessed a demnition vagabond! Demmit,
let me go.' At this crisis of his ravings Mr Mantalini made a pluck
at the breakfast knife, and being restrained by his wife's grasp,
attempted to dash his head against the wall--taking very good care
to be at least six feet from it.

'Compose yourself, my own angel,' said Madame. 'It was nobody's
fault; it was mine as much as yours, we shall do very well yet.
Come, Alfred, come.'

Mr Mantalini did not think proper to come to, all at once; but,
after calling several times for poison, and requesting some lady or
gentleman to blow his brains out, gentler feelings came upon him,
and he wept pathetically. In this softened frame of mind he did not
oppose the capture of the knife--which, to tell the truth, he was
rather glad to be rid of, as an inconvenient and dangerous article
for a skirt pocket--and finally he suffered himself to be led away
by his affectionate partner.

After a delay of two or three hours, the young ladies were informed
that their services would be dispensed with until further notice,
and at the expiration of two days, the name of Mantalini appeared in
the list of bankrupts: Miss Nickleby received an intimation per
post, on the same morning, that the business would be, in future,
carried on under the name of Miss Knag, and that her assistance
would no longer be required--a piece of intelligence with which Mrs
Nickleby was no sooner made acquainted, than that good lady declared
she had expected it all along and cited divers unknown occasions on
which she had prophesied to that precise effect.

'And I say again,' remarked Mrs Nickleby (who, it is scarcely
necessary to observe, had never said so before), 'I say again, that
a milliner's and dressmaker's is the very last description of
business, Kate, that you should have thought of attaching yourself
to. I don't make it a reproach to you, my love; but still I will
say, that if you had consulted your own mother--'

'Well, well, mama,' said Kate, mildly: 'what would you recommend
now?'

'Recommend!' cried Mrs Nickleby, 'isn't it obvious, my dear, that of
all occupations in this world for a young lady situated as you are,
that of companion to some amiable lady is the very thing for which
your education, and manners, and personal appearance, and everything
else, exactly qualify you? Did you never hear your poor dear papa
speak of the young lady who was the daughter of the old lady who
boarded in the same house that he boarded in once, when he was a
bachelor--what was her name again? I know it began with a B, and
ended with g, but whether it was Waters or--no, it couldn't have
been that, either; but whatever her name was, don't you know that
that young lady went as companion to a married lady who died soon
afterwards, and that she married the husband, and had one of the
finest little boys that the medical man had ever seen--all within
eighteen months?'

Kate knew, perfectly well, that this torrent of favourable
recollection was occasioned by some opening, real or imaginary,
which her mother had discovered, in the companionship walk of life.
She therefore waited, very patiently, until all reminiscences and
anecdotes, bearing or not bearing upon the subject, had been
exhausted, and at last ventured to inquire what discovery had been
made. The truth then came out. Mrs Nickleby had, that morning, had
a yesterday's newspaper of the very first respectability from the
public-house where the porter came from; and in this yesterday's
newspaper was an advertisement, couched in the purest and most
grammatical English, announcing that a married lady was in want of a
genteel young person as companion, and that the married lady's name
and address were to be known, on application at a certain library at
the west end of the town, therein mentioned.

'And I say,' exclaimed Mrs Nickleby, laying the paper down in
triumph, 'that if your uncle don't object, it's well worth the
trial.'

Kate was too sick at heart, after the rough jostling she had already
had with the world, and really cared too little at the moment what
fate was reserved for her, to make any objection. Mr Ralph Nickleby
offered none, but, on the contrary, highly approved of the
suggestion; neither did he express any great surprise at Madame
Mantalini's sudden failure, indeed it would have been strange if he
had, inasmuch as it had been procured and brought about chiefly by
himself. So, the name and address were obtained without loss of
time, and Miss Nickleby and her mama went off in quest of Mrs
Wititterly, of Cadogan Place, Sloane Street, that same forenoon.

Cadogan Place is the one slight bond that joins two great extremes;
it is the connecting link between the aristocratic pavements of
Belgrave Square, and the barbarism of Chelsea. It is in Sloane
Street, but not of it. The people in Cadogan Place look down upon
Sloane Street, and think Brompton low. They affect fashion too, and
wonder where the New Road is. Not that they claim to be on
precisely the same footing as the high folks of Belgrave Square and
Grosvenor Place, but that they stand, with reference to them, rather
in the light of those illegitimate children of the great who are
content to boast of their connections, although their connections
disavow them. Wearing as much as they can of the airs and
semblances of loftiest rank, the people of Cadogan Place have the
realities of middle station. It is the conductor which communicates
to the inhabitants of regions beyond its limit, the shock of pride
of birth and rank, which it has not within itself, but derives from
a fountain-head beyond; or, like the ligament which unites the
Siamese twins, it contains something of the life and essence of two
distinct bodies, and yet belongs to neither.

Upon this doubtful ground, lived Mrs Wititterly, and at Mrs
Wititterly's door Kate Nickleby knocked with trembling hand. The
door was opened by a big footman with his head floured, or chalked,
or painted in some way (it didn't look genuine powder), and the big
footman, receiving the card of introduction, gave it to a little
page; so little, indeed, that his body would not hold, in ordinary
array, the number of small buttons which are indispensable to a
page's costume, and they were consequently obliged to be stuck on
four abreast. This young gentleman took the card upstairs on a
salver, and pending his return, Kate and her mother were shown into
a dining-room of rather dirty and shabby aspect, and so comfortably
arranged as to be adapted to almost any purpose rather than eating
and drinking.

Now, in the ordinary course of things, and according to all
authentic descriptions of high life, as set forth in books, Mrs
Wititterly ought to have been in her BOUDOIR; but whether it was
that Mr Wititterly was at that moment shaving himself in the BOUDOIR
or what not, certain it is that Mrs Wititterly gave audience in the
drawing-room, where was everything proper and necessary, including
curtains and furniture coverings of a roseate hue, to shed a
delicate bloom on Mrs Wititterly's complexion, and a little dog to
snap at strangers' legs for Mrs Wititterly's amusement, and the
afore-mentioned page, to hand chocolate for Mrs Wititterly's
refreshment.

The lady had an air of sweet insipidity, and a face of engaging
paleness; there was a faded look about her, and about the furniture,
and about the house. She was reclining on a sofa in such a very
unstudied attitude, that she might have been taken for an actress
all ready for the first scene in a ballet, and only waiting for the
drop curtain to go up.

'Place chairs.'

The page placed them.

'Leave the room, Alphonse.'

The page left it; but if ever an Alphonse carried plain Bill in his
face and figure, that page was the boy.

'I have ventured to call, ma'am,' said Kate, after a few seconds of
awkward silence, 'from having seen your advertisement.'

'Yes,' replied Mrs Wititterly, 'one of my people put it in the
paper--Yes.'

'I thought, perhaps,' said Kate, modestly, 'that if you had not
already made a final choice, you would forgive my troubling you with
an application.'

'Yes,' drawled Mrs Wititterly again.

'If you have already made a selection--'

'Oh dear no,' interrupted the lady, 'I am not so easily suited. I
really don't know what to say. You have never been a companion
before, have you?'

Mrs Nickleby, who had been eagerly watching her opportunity, came
dexterously in, before Kate could reply. 'Not to any stranger,
ma'am,' said the good lady; 'but she has been a companion to me for
some years. I am her mother, ma'am.'

'Oh!' said Mrs Wititterly, 'I apprehend you.'

'I assure you, ma'am,' said Mrs Nickleby, 'that I very little
thought, at one time, that it would be necessary for my daughter to
go out into the world at all, for her poor dear papa was an
independent gentleman, and would have been at this moment if he had
but listened in time to my constant entreaties and--'

'Dear mama,' said Kate, in a low voice.

'My dear Kate, if you will allow me to speak,' said Mrs Nickleby, 'I
shall take the liberty of explaining to this lady--'

'I think it is almost unnecessary, mama.'

And notwithstanding all the frowns and winks with which Mrs Nickleby
intimated that she was going to say something which would clench the
business at once, Kate maintained her point by an expressive look,
and for once Mrs Nickleby was stopped upon the very brink of an
oration.

'What are your accomplishments?' asked Mrs Wititterly, with her eyes
shut.

Kate blushed as she mentioned her principal acquirements, and Mrs
Nickleby checked them all off, one by one, on her fingers; having
calculated the number before she came out. Luckily the two
calculations agreed, so Mrs Nickleby had no excuse for talking.

'You are a good temper?' asked Mrs Wititterly, opening her eyes for
an instant, and shutting them again.

'I hope so,' rejoined Kate.

'And have a highly respectable reference for everything, have you?'

Kate replied that she had, and laid her uncle's card upon the table.

'Have the goodness to draw your chair a little nearer, and let me
look at you,' said Mrs Wititterly; 'I am so very nearsighted that I
can't quite discern your features.'

Kate complied, though not without some embarrassment, with this
request, and Mrs Wititterly took a languid survey of her
countenance, which lasted some two or three minutes.

'I like your appearance,' said that lady, ringing a little bell.
'Alphonse, request your master to come here.'

The page disappeared on this errand, and after a short interval,
during which not a word was spoken on either side, opened the door
for an important gentleman of about eight-and-thirty, of rather
plebeian countenance, and with a very light head of hair, who leant
over Mrs Wititterly for a little time, and conversed with her in
whispers.

'Oh!' he said, turning round, 'yes. This is a most important
matter. Mrs Wititterly is of a very excitable nature; very
delicate, very fragile; a hothouse plant, an exotic.'

'Oh! Henry, my dear,' interposed Mrs Wititterly.

'You are, my love, you know you are; one breath--' said Mr W.,
blowing an imaginary feather away. 'Pho! you're gone!'

The lady sighed.

'Your soul is too large for your body,' said Mr Wititterly. 'Your
intellect wears you out; all the medical men say so; you know that
there is not a physician who is not proud of being called in to you.
What is their unanimous declaration? "My dear doctor," said I to
Sir Tumley Snuffim, in this very room, the very last time he came.
"My dear doctor, what is my wife's complaint? Tell me all. I can
bear it. Is it nerves?" "My dear fellow," he said, "be proud of
that woman; make much of her; she is an ornament to the fashionable
world, and to you. Her complaint is soul. It swells, expands,
dilates--the blood fires, the pulse quickens, the excitement
increases--Whew!"' Here Mr Wititterly, who, in the ardour of his
description, had flourished his right hand to within something less
than an inch of Mrs Nickleby's bonnet, drew it hastily back again,
and blew his nose as fiercely as if it had been done by some violent
machinery.

'You make me out worse than I am, Henry,' said Mrs Wititterly, with
a faint smile.

'I do not, Julia, I do not,' said Mr W. 'The society in which you
move--necessarily move, from your station, connection, and
endowments--is one vortex and whirlpool of the most frightful
excitement. Bless my heart and body, can I ever forget the night
you danced with the baronet's nephew at the election ball, at
Exeter! It was tremendous.'

'I always suffer for these triumphs afterwards,' said Mrs
Wititterly.

'And for that very reason,' rejoined her husband, 'you must have a
companion, in whom there is great gentleness, great sweetness,
excessive sympathy, and perfect repose.'

Here, both Mr and Mrs Wititterly, who had talked rather at the
Nicklebys than to each other, left off speaking, and looked at their
two hearers, with an expression of countenance which seemed to say,
'What do you think of all this?'

'Mrs Wititterly,' said her husband, addressing himself to Mrs
Nickleby, 'is sought after and courted by glittering crowds and
brilliant circles. She is excited by the opera, the drama, the fine
arts, the--the--the--'

'The nobility, my love,' interposed Mrs Wititterly.

'The nobility, of course,' said Mr Wititterly. 'And the military.
She forms and expresses an immense variety of opinions on an immense
variety of subjects. If some people in public life were acquainted
with Mrs Wititterly's real opinion of them, they would not hold
their heads, perhaps, quite as high as they do.'

'Hush, Henry,' said the lady; 'this is scarcely fair.'

'I mention no names, Julia,' replied Mr Wititterly; 'and nobody is
injured. I merely mention the circumstance to show that you are no
ordinary person, that there is a constant friction perpetually going
on between your mind and your body; and that you must be soothed and
tended. Now let me hear, dispassionately and calmly, what are this
young lady's qualifications for the office.'

In obedience to this request, the qualifications were all gone
through again, with the addition of many interruptions and cross-
questionings from Mr Wititterly. It was finally arranged that
inquiries should be made, and a decisive answer addressed to Miss
Nickleby under cover of her uncle, within two days. These
conditions agreed upon, the page showed them down as far as the
staircase window; and the big footman, relieving guard at that
point, piloted them in perfect safety to the street-door.

'They are very distinguished people, evidently,' said Mrs Nickleby,
as she took her daughter's arm. 'What a superior person Mrs
Wititterly is!'

'Do you think so, mama?' was all Kate's reply.

'Why, who can help thinking so, Kate, my love?' rejoined her mother.
'She is pale though, and looks much exhausted. I hope she may not
be wearing herself out, but I am very much afraid.'

These considerations led the deep-sighted lady into a calculation of
the probable duration of Mrs Wititterly's life, and the chances of
the disconsolate widower bestowing his hand on her daughter. Before
reaching home, she had freed Mrs Wititterly's soul from all bodily
restraint; married Kate with great splendour at St George's, Hanover
Square; and only left undecided the minor question, whether a
splendid French-polished mahogany bedstead should be erected for
herself in the two-pair back of the house in Cadogan Place, or in
the three-pair front: between which apartments she could not quite
balance the advantages, and therefore adjusted the question at last,
by determining to leave it to the decision of her son-in-law.

The inquiries were made. The answer--not to Kate's very great joy--
was favourable; and at the expiration of a week she betook herself,
with all her movables and valuables, to Mrs Wititterly's mansion,
where for the present we will leave her.

CHAPTER 22

Nicholas, accompanied by Smike, sallies forth to seek his Fortune.
He encounters Mr Vincent Crummles; and who he was, is herein made
manifest

The whole capital which Nicholas found himself entitled to, either
in possession, reversion, remainder, or expectancy, after paying his
rent and settling with the broker from whom he had hired his poor
furniture, did not exceed, by more than a few halfpence, the sum of
twenty shillings. And yet he hailed the morning on which he had
resolved to quit London, with a light heart, and sprang from his bed
with an elasticity of spirit which is happily the lot of young
persons, or the world would never be stocked with old ones.

It was a cold, dry, foggy morning in early spring. A few meagre
shadows flitted to and fro in the misty streets, and occasionally
there loomed through the dull vapour, the heavy outline of some
hackney coach wending homewards, which, drawing slowly nearer,
rolled jangling by, scattering the thin crust of frost from its
whitened roof, and soon was lost again in the cloud. At intervals
were heard the tread of slipshod feet, and the chilly cry of the
poor sweep as he crept, shivering, to his early toil; the heavy
footfall of the official watcher of the night, pacing slowly up and
down and cursing the tardy hours that still intervened between him
and sleep; the rambling of ponderous carts and waggons; the roll of
the lighter vehicles which carried buyers and sellers to the
different markets; the sound of ineffectual knocking at the doors of
heavy sleepers--all these noises fell upon the ear from time to
time, but all seemed muffled by the fog, and to be rendered almost
as indistinct to the ear as was every object to the sight. The
sluggish darkness thickened as the day came on; and those who had
the courage to rise and peep at the gloomy street from their
curtained windows, crept back to bed again, and coiled themselves up
to sleep.

Before even these indications of approaching morning were rife in
busy London, Nicholas had made his way alone to the city, and stood
beneath the windows of his mother's house. It was dull and bare to
see, but it had light and life for him; for there was at least one
heart within its old walls to which insult or dishonour would bring
the same blood rushing, that flowed in his own veins.

He crossed the road, and raised his eyes to the window of the room
where he knew his sister slept. It was closed and dark. 'Poor
girl,' thought Nicholas, 'she little thinks who lingers here!'

He looked again, and felt, for the moment, almost vexed that Kate
was not there to exchange one word at parting. 'Good God!' he
thought, suddenly correcting himself, 'what a boy I am!'

'It is better as it is,' said Nicholas, after he had lounged on, a
few paces, and returned to the same spot. 'When I left them before,
and could have said goodbye a thousand times if I had chosen, I
spared them the pain of leave-taking, and why not now?' As he spoke,
some fancied motion of the curtain almost persuaded him, for the
instant, that Kate was at the window, and by one of those strange
contradictions of feeling which are common to us all, he shrunk
involuntarily into a doorway, that she might not see him. He smiled
at his own weakness; said 'God bless them!' and walked away with a
lighter step.

Smike was anxiously expecting him when he reached his old lodgings,
and so was Newman, who had expended a day's income in a can of rum
and milk to prepare them for the journey. They had tied up the
luggage, Smike shouldered it, and away they went, with Newman Noggs
in company; for he had insisted on walking as far as he could with
them, overnight.

'Which way?' asked Newman, wistfully.

'To Kingston first,' replied Nicholas.

'And where afterwards?' asked Newman. 'Why won't you tell me?'

'Because I scarcely know myself, good friend,' rejoined Nicholas,
laying his hand upon his shoulder; 'and if I did, I have neither
plan nor prospect yet, and might shift my quarters a hundred times
before you could possibly communicate with me.'

'I am afraid you have some deep scheme in your head,' said Newman,
doubtfully.

'So deep,' replied his young friend, 'that even I can't fathom it.
Whatever I resolve upon, depend upon it I will write you soon.'

'You won't forget?' said Newman.

'I am not very likely to,' rejoined Nicholas. 'I have not so many
friends that I shall grow confused among the number, and forget my
best one.'

Occupied in such discourse, they walked on for a couple of hours, as
they might have done for a couple of days if Nicholas had not sat
himself down on a stone by the wayside, and resolutely declared his
intention of not moving another step until Newman Noggs turned back.
Having pleaded ineffectually first for another half-mile, and
afterwards for another quarter, Newman was fain to comply, and to
shape his course towards Golden Square, after interchanging many
hearty and affectionate farewells, and many times turning back to
wave his hat to the two wayfarers when they had become mere specks
in the distance.

'Now listen to me, Smike,' said Nicholas, as they trudged with stout
hearts onwards. 'We are bound for Portsmouth.'

Smike nodded his head and smiled, but expressed no other emotion;
for whether they had been bound for Portsmouth or Port Royal would
have been alike to him, so they had been bound together.

'I don't know much of these matters,' resumed Nicholas; 'but
Portsmouth is a seaport town, and if no other employment is to be
obtained, I should think we might get on board some ship. I am
young and active, and could be useful in many ways. So could you.'

'I hope so,' replied Smike. 'When I was at that--you know where I
mean?'

'Yes, I know,' said Nicholas. 'You needn't name the place.'

'Well, when I was there,' resumed Smike; his eyes sparkling at the
prospect of displaying his abilities; 'I could milk a cow, and groom
a horse, with anybody.'

'Ha!' said Nicholas, gravely. 'I am afraid they don't keep many
animals of either kind on board ship, Smike, and even when they have
horses, that they are not very particular about rubbing them down;
still you can learn to do something else, you know. Where there's a
will, there's a way.'

'And I am very willing,' said Smike, brightening up again.

'God knows you are,' rejoined Nicholas; 'and if you fail, it shall
go hard but I'll do enough for us both.'

'Do we go all the way today?' asked Smike, after a short silence.

'That would be too severe a trial, even for your willing legs,' said
Nicholas, with a good-humoured smile. 'No. Godalming is some
thirty and odd miles from London--as I found from a map I borrowed--
and I purpose to rest there. We must push on again tomorrow, for we
are not rich enough to loiter. Let me relieve you of that bundle!
Come!'

'No, no,' rejoined Smike, falling back a few steps. 'Don't ask me
to give it up to you.'

'Why not?' asked Nicholas.

'Let me do something for you, at least,' said Smike. 'You will
never let me serve you as I ought. You will never know how I think,
day and night, of ways to please you.'

'You are a foolish fellow to say it, for I know it well, and see it,
or I should be a blind and senseless beast,' rejoined Nicholas.
'Let me ask you a question while I think of it, and there is no one
by,' he added, looking him steadily in the face. 'Have you a good
memory?'

'I don't know,' said Smike, shaking his head sorrowfully. 'I think
I had once; but it's all gone now--all gone.'

'Why do you think you had once?' asked Nicholas, turning quickly
upon him as though the answer in some way helped out the purport of
his question.

'Because I could remember, when I was a child,' said Smike, 'but
that is very, very long ago, or at least it seems so. I was always
confused and giddy at that place you took me from; and could never
remember, and sometimes couldn't even understand, what they said to
me. I--let me see--let me see!'

'You are wandering now,' said Nicholas, touching him on the arm.

'No,' replied his companion, with a vacant look 'I was only thinking
how--' He shivered involuntarily as he spoke.

'Think no more of that place, for it is all over,' retorted
Nicholas, fixing his eyes full upon that of his companion, which was
fast settling into an unmeaning stupefied gaze, once habitual to
him, and common even then. 'What of the first day you went to
Yorkshire?'

'Eh!' cried the lad.

'That was before you began to lose your recollection, you know,'
said Nicholas quietly. 'Was the weather hot or cold?'

'Wet,' replied the boy. 'Very wet. I have always said, when it has
rained hard, that it was like the night I came: and they used to
crowd round and laugh to see me cry when the rain fell heavily. It
was like a child, they said, and that made me think of it more. I
turned cold all over sometimes, for I could see myself as I was
then, coming in at the very same door.'

'As you were then,' repeated Nicholas, with assumed carelessness;
'how was that?'

'Such a little creature,' said Smike, 'that they might have had pity
and mercy upon me, only to remember it.'

'You didn't find your way there, alone!' remarked Nicholas.

'No,' rejoined Smike, 'oh no.'

'Who was with you?'

'A man--a dark, withered man. I have heard them say so, at the
school, and I remembered that before. I was glad to leave him, I
was afraid of him; but they made me more afraid of them, and used me
harder too.'

'Look at me,' said Nicholas, wishing to attract his full attention.
'There; don't turn away. Do you remember no woman, no kind woman,
who hung over you once, and kissed your lips, and called you her
child?'

'No,' said the poor creature, shaking his head, 'no, never.'

'Nor any house but that house in Yorkshire?'

'No,' rejoined the youth, with a melancholy look; 'a room--I
remember I slept in a room, a large lonesome room at the top of a
house, where there was a trap-door in the ceiling. I have covered
my head with the clothes often, not to see it, for it frightened me:
a young child with no one near at night: and I used to wonder what
was on the other side. There was a clock too, an old clock, in one
corner. I remember that. I have never forgotten that room; for
when I have terrible dreams, it comes back, just as it was. I see
things and people in it that I had never seen then, but there is the
room just as it used to be; THAT never changes.'

'Will you let me take the bundle now?' asked Nicholas, abruptly
changing the theme.

'No,' said Smike, 'no. Come, let us walk on.'

He quickened his pace as he said this, apparently under the
impression that they had been standing still during the whole of the
previous dialogue. Nicholas marked him closely, and every word of
this conversation remained upon his memory.

It was, by this time, within an hour of noon, and although a dense
vapour still enveloped the city they had left, as if the very breath
of its busy people hung over their schemes of gain and profit, and
found greater attraction there than in the quiet region above, in
the open country it was clear and fair. Occasionally, in some low
spots they came upon patches of mist which the sun had not yet
driven from their strongholds; but these were soon passed, and as
they laboured up the hills beyond, it was pleasant to look down, and
see how the sluggish mass rolled heavily off, before the cheering
influence of day. A broad, fine, honest sun lighted up the green
pastures and dimpled water with the semblance of summer, while it
left the travellers all the invigorating freshness of that early
time of year. The ground seemed elastic under their feet; the
sheep-bells were music to their ears; and exhilarated by exercise,
and stimulated by hope, they pushed onward with the strength of
lions.

The day wore on, and all these bright colours subsided, and assumed
a quieter tint, like young hopes softened down by time, or youthful
features by degrees resolving into the calm and serenity of age.
But they were scarcely less beautiful in their slow decline, than
they had been in their prime; for nature gives to every time and
season some beauties of its own; and from morning to night, as from
the cradle to the grave, is but a succession of changes so gentle
and easy, that we can scarcely mark their progress.

To Godalming they came at last, and here they bargained for two
humble beds, and slept soundly. In the morning they were astir:
though not quite so early as the sun: and again afoot; if not with
all the freshness of yesterday, still, with enough of hope and
spirit to bear them cheerily on.

It was a harder day's journey than yesterday's, for there were long
and weary hills to climb; and in journeys, as in life, it is a great
deal easier to go down hill than up. However, they kept on, with
unabated perseverance, and the hill has not yet lifted its face to
heaven that perseverance will not gain the summit of at last.

They walked upon the rim of the Devil's Punch Bowl; and Smike
listened with greedy interest as Nicholas read the inscription upon
the stone which, reared upon that wild spot, tells of a murder
committed there by night. The grass on which they stood, had once
been dyed with gore; and the blood of the murdered man had run down,
drop by drop, into the hollow which gives the place its name. 'The
Devil's Bowl,' thought Nicholas, as he looked into the void, 'never
held fitter liquor than that!'

Onward they kept, with steady purpose, and entered at length upon a
wide and spacious tract of downs, with every variety of little hill
and plain to change their verdant surface. Here, there shot up,
almost perpendicularly, into the sky, a height so steep, as to be
hardly accessible to any but the sheep and goats that fed upon its
sides, and there, stood a mound of green, sloping and tapering off
so delicately, and merging so gently into the level ground, that you
could scarce define its limits. Hills swelling above each other;
and undulations shapely and uncouth, smooth and rugged, graceful and
grotesque, thrown negligently side by side, bounded the view in each
direction; while frequently, with unexpected noise, there uprose
from the ground a flight of crows, who, cawing and wheeling round
the nearest hills, as if uncertain of their course, suddenly poised
themselves upon the wing and skimmed down the long vista of some
opening valley, with the speed of light itself.

By degrees, the prospect receded more and more on either hand, and
as they had been shut out from rich and extensive scenery, so they
emerged once again upon the open country. The knowledge that they
were drawing near their place of destination, gave them fresh
courage to proceed; but the way had been difficult, and they had
loitered on the road, and Smike was tired. Thus, twilight had
already closed in, when they turned off the path to the door of a
roadside inn, yet twelve miles short of Portsmouth.

'Twelve miles,' said Nicholas, leaning with both hands on his stick,
and looking doubtfully at Smike.

'Twelve long miles,' repeated the landlord.

'Is it a good road?' inquired Nicholas.

'Very bad,' said the landlord. As of course, being a landlord, he
would say.

'I want to get on,' observed Nicholas. hesitating. 'I scarcely
know what to do.'

'Don't let me influence you,' rejoined the landlord. 'I wouldn't go
on if it was me.'

'Wouldn't you?' asked Nicholas, with the same uncertainty.

'Not if I knew when I was well off,' said the landlord. And having
said it he pulled up his apron, put his hands into his pockets, and,
taking a step or two outside the door, looked down the dark road
with an assumption of great indifference.

A glance at the toil-worn face of Smike determined Nicholas, so
without any further consideration he made up his mind to stay where
he was.

The landlord led them into the kitchen, and as there was a good fire
he remarked that it was very cold. If there had happened to be a
bad one he would have observed that it was very warm.

'What can you give us for supper?' was Nicholas's natural question.

'Why--what would you like?' was the landlord's no less natural
answer.

Nicholas suggested cold meat, but there was no cold meat--poached
eggs, but there were no eggs--mutton chops, but there wasn't a
mutton chop within three miles, though there had been more last week
than they knew what to do with, and would be an extraordinary supply
the day after tomorrow.

'Then,' said Nicholas, 'I must leave it entirely to you, as I would
have done, at first, if you had allowed me.'

'Why, then I'll tell you what,' rejoined the landlord. 'There's a
gentleman in the parlour that's ordered a hot beef-steak pudding and
potatoes, at nine. There's more of it than he can manage, and I
have very little doubt that if I ask leave, you can sup with him.
I'll do that, in a minute.'

'No, no,' said Nicholas, detaining him. 'I would rather not. I--at
least--pshaw! why cannot I speak out? Here; you see that I am
travelling in a very humble manner, and have made my way hither on
foot. It is more than probable, I think, that the gentleman may not
relish my company; and although I am the dusty figure you see, I am
too proud to thrust myself into his.'

'Lord love you,' said the landlord, 'it's only Mr Crummles; HE isn't
particular.'

'Is he not?' asked Nicholas, on whose mind, to tell the truth, the
prospect of the savoury pudding was making some impression.

'Not he,' replied the landlord. 'He'll like your way of talking, I
know. But we'll soon see all about that. Just wait a minute.'

The landlord hurried into the parlour, without staying for further
permission, nor did Nicholas strive to prevent him: wisely
considering that supper, under the circumstances, was too serious a
matter to be trifled with. It was not long before the host
returned, in a condition of much excitement.

'All right,' he said in a low voice. 'I knew he would. You'll see
something rather worth seeing, in there. Ecod, how they are a-going
of it!'

There was no time to inquire to what this exclamation, which was
delivered in a very rapturous tone, referred; for he had already
thrown open the door of the room; into which Nicholas, followed by
Smike with the bundle on his shoulder (he carried it about with him
as vigilantly as if it had been a sack of gold), straightway
repaired.

Nicholas was prepared for something odd, but not for something quite
so odd as the sight he encountered. At the upper end of the room,
were a couple of boys, one of them very tall and the other very
short, both dressed as sailors--or at least as theatrical sailors,
with belts, buckles, pigtails, and pistols complete--fighting what
is called in play-bills a terrific combat, with two of those short
broad-swords with basket hilts which are commonly used at our minor
theatres. The short boy had gained a great advantage over the tall
boy, who was reduced to mortal strait, and both were overlooked by a
large heavy man, perched against the corner of a table, who
emphatically adjured them to strike a little more fire out of the
swords, and they couldn't fail to bring the house down, on the very
first night.

'Mr Vincent Crummles,' said the landlord with an air of great
deference. 'This is the young gentleman.'

Mr Vincent Crummles received Nicholas with an inclination of the
head, something between the courtesy of a Roman emperor and the nod
of a pot companion; and bade the landlord shut the door and begone.

'There's a picture,' said Mr Crummles, motioning Nicholas not to
advance and spoil it. 'The little 'un has him; if the big 'un
doesn't knock under, in three seconds, he's a dead man. Do that
again, boys.'

The two combatants went to work afresh, and chopped away until the
swords emitted a shower of sparks: to the great satisfaction of Mr
Crummles, who appeared to consider this a very great point indeed.
The engagement commenced with about two hundred chops administered
by the short sailor and the tall sailor alternately, without
producing any particular result, until the short sailor was chopped
down on one knee; but this was nothing to him, for he worked himself
about on the one knee with the assistance of his left hand, and
fought most desperately until the tall sailor chopped his sword out
of his grasp. Now, the inference was, that the short sailor,
reduced to this extremity, would give in at once and cry quarter,
but, instead of that, he all of a sudden drew a large pistol from
his belt and presented it at the face of the tall sailor, who was so
overcome at this (not expecting it) that he let the short sailor
pick up his sword and begin again. Then, the chopping recommenced,
and a variety of fancy chops were administered on both sides; such
as chops dealt with the left hand, and under the leg, and over the
right shoulder, and over the left; and when the short sailor made a
vigorous cut at the tall sailor's legs, which would have shaved them
clean off if it had taken effect, the tall sailor jumped over the
short sailor's sword, wherefore to balance the matter, and make it
all fair, the tall sailor administered the same cut, and the short
sailor jumped over HIS sword. After this, there was a good deal of
dodging about, and hitching up of the inexpressibles in the absence
of braces, and then the short sailor (who was the moral character
evidently, for he always had the best of it) made a violent
demonstration and closed with the tall sailor, who, after a few
unavailing struggles, went down, and expired in great torture as the
short sailor put his foot upon his breast, and bored a hole in him
through and through.

'That'll be a double ENCORE if you take care, boys,' said Mr
Crummles. 'You had better get your wind now and change your
clothes.'

Having addressed these words to the combatants, he saluted Nicholas,
who then observed that the face of Mr Crummles was quite
proportionate in size to his body; that he had a very full under-
lip, a hoarse voice, as though he were in the habit of shouting very
much, and very short black hair, shaved off nearly to the crown of
his head--to admit (as he afterwards learnt) of his more easily
wearing character wigs of any shape or pattern.

'What did you think of that, sir?' inquired Mr Crummles.

'Very good, indeed--capital,' answered Nicholas.

'You won't see such boys as those very often, I think,' said Mr
Crummles.

Nicholas assented--observing that if they were a little better
match--

'Match!' cried Mr Crummles.

'I mean if they were a little more of a size,' said Nicholas,
explaining himself.

'Size!' repeated Mr Crummles; 'why, it's the essence of the combat
that there should be a foot or two between them. How are you to get
up the sympathies of the audience in a legitimate manner, if there
isn't a little man contending against a big one?--unless there's at
least five to one, and we haven't hands enough for that business in
our company.'

'I see,' replied Nicholas. 'I beg your pardon. That didn't occur
to me, I confess.'

'It's the main point,' said Mr Crummles. 'I open at Portsmouth the
day after tomorrow. If you're going there, look into the theatre,
and see how that'll tell.'

Nicholas promised to do so, if he could, and drawing a chair near
the fire, fell into conversation with the manager at once. He was
very talkative and communicative, stimulated perhaps, not only by
his natural disposition, but by the spirits and water he sipped very
plentifully, or the snuff he took in large quantities from a piece
of whitey-brown paper in his waistcoat pocket. He laid open his
affairs without the smallest reserve, and descanted at some length
upon the merits of his company, and the acquirements of his family;
of both of which, the two broad-sword boys formed an honourable
portion. There was to be a gathering, it seemed, of the different
ladies and gentlemen at Portsmouth on the morrow, whither the father
and sons were proceeding (not for the regular season, but in the
course of a wandering speculation), after fulfilling an engagement
at Guildford with the greatest applause.

'You are going that way?' asked the manager.

'Ye-yes,' said Nicholas. 'Yes, I am.'

'Do you know the town at all?' inquired the manager, who seemed to
consider himself entitled to the same degree of confidence as he had
himself exhibited.

'No,' replied Nicholas.

'Never there?'

'Never.'

Mr Vincent Crummles gave a short dry cough, as much as to say, 'If
you won't be communicative, you won't;' and took so many pinches of
snuff from the piece of paper, one after another, that Nicholas
quite wondered where it all went to.

While he was thus engaged, Mr Crummles looked, from time to time,
with great interest at Smike, with whom he had appeared considerably
struck from the first. He had now fallen asleep, and was nodding in
his chair.

'Excuse my saying so,' said the manager, leaning over to Nicholas,
and sinking his voice, 'but what a capital countenance your friend
has got!'

'Poor fellow!' said Nicholas, with a half-smile, 'I wish it were a
little more plump, and less haggard.'

'Plump!' exclaimed the manager, quite horrified, 'you'd spoil it for
ever.'

'Do you think so?'

'Think so, sir! Why, as he is now,' said the manager, striking his
knee emphatically; 'without a pad upon his body, and hardly a touch
of paint upon his face, he'd make such an actor for the starved
business as was never seen in this country. Only let him be
tolerably well up in the Apothecary in Romeo and Juliet, with the
slightest possible dab of red on the tip of his nose, and he'd be
certain of three rounds the moment he put his head out of the
practicable door in the front grooves O.P.'

'You view him with a professional eye,' said Nicholas, laughing.

'And well I may,' rejoined the manager. 'I never saw a young fellow
so regularly cut out for that line, since I've been in the
profession. And I played the heavy children when I was eighteen
months old.'

The appearance of the beef-steak pudding, which came in
simultaneously with the junior Vincent Crummleses, turned the
conversation to other matters, and indeed, for a time, stopped it
altogether. These two young gentlemen wielded their knives and
forks with scarcely less address than their broad-swords, and as the
whole party were quite as sharp set as either class of weapons,
there was no time for talking until the supper had been disposed of.

The Master Crummleses had no sooner swallowed the last procurable
morsel of food, than they evinced, by various half-suppressed yawns
and stretchings of their limbs, an obvious inclination to retire for
the night, which Smike had betrayed still more strongly: he having,
in the course of the meal, fallen asleep several times while in the
very act of eating. Nicholas therefore proposed that they should
break up at once, but the manager would by no means hear of it;
vowing that he had promised himself the pleasure of inviting his new
acquaintance to share a bowl of punch, and that if he declined, he
should deem it very unhandsome behaviour.

'Let them go,' said Mr Vincent Crummles, 'and we'll have it snugly
and cosily together by the fire.'

Nicholas was not much disposed to sleep--being in truth too anxious--
so, after a little demur, he accepted the offer, and having
exchanged a shake of the hand with the young Crummleses, and the
manager having on his part bestowed a most affectionate benediction
on Smike, he sat himself down opposite to that gentleman by the
fireside to assist in emptying the bowl, which soon afterwards
appeared, steaming in a manner which was quite exhilarating to
behold, and sending forth a most grateful and inviting fragrance.

But, despite the punch and the manager, who told a variety of
stories, and smoked tobacco from a pipe, and inhaled it in the shape
of snuff, with a most astonishing power, Nicholas was absent and
dispirited. His thoughts were in his old home, and when they
reverted to his present condition, the uncertainty of the morrow
cast a gloom upon him, which his utmost efforts were unable to
dispel. His attention wandered; although he heard the manager's
voice, he was deaf to what he said; and when Mr Vincent Crummles
concluded the history of some long adventure with a loud laugh, and
an inquiry what Nicholas would have done under the same
circumstances, he was obliged to make the best apology in his power,
and to confess his entire ignorance of all he had been talking
about.

'Why, so I saw,' observed Mr Crummles. 'You're uneasy in your mind.
What's the matter?'

Nicholas could not refrain from smiling at the abruptness of the
question; but, thinking it scarcely worth while to parry it, owned
that he was under some apprehensions lest he might not succeed in
the object which had brought him to that part of the country.

'And what's that?' asked the manager.

'Getting something to do which will keep me and my poor fellow-
traveller in the common necessaries of life,' said Nicholas.
'That's the truth. You guessed it long ago, I dare say, so I may as
well have the credit of telling it you with a good grace.'

'What's to be got to do at Portsmouth more than anywhere else?'
asked Mr Vincent Crummles, melting the sealing-wax on the stem of
his pipe in the candle, and rolling it out afresh with his little
finger.

'There are many vessels leaving the port, I suppose,' replied
Nicholas. 'I shall try for a berth in some ship or other. There is
meat and drink there at all events.'

'Salt meat and new rum; pease-pudding and chaff-biscuits,' said the
manager, taking a whiff at his pipe to keep it alight, and returning
to his work of embellishment.

'One may do worse than that,' said Nicholas. 'I can rough it, I
believe, as well as most young men of my age and previous habits.'

'You need be able to,' said the manager, 'if you go on board ship;
but you won't.'

'Why not?'

'Because there's not a skipper or mate that would think you worth
your salt, when he could get a practised hand,' replied the manager;
'and they as plentiful there, as the oysters in the streets.'

'What do you mean?' asked Nicholas, alarmed by this prediction, and
the confident tone in which it had been uttered. 'Men are not born
able seamen. They must be reared, I suppose?'

Mr Vincent Crummles nodded his head. 'They must; but not at your
age, or from young gentlemen like you.'

There was a pause. The countenance of Nicholas fell, and he gazed
ruefully at the fire.

'Does no other profession occur to you, which a young man of your
figure and address could take up easily, and see the world to
advantage in?' asked the manager.

'No,' said Nicholas, shaking his head.

'Why, then, I'll tell you one,' said Mr Crummles, throwing his pipe
into the fire, and raising his voice. 'The stage.'

'The stage!' cried Nicholas, in a voice almost as loud.

'The theatrical profession,' said Mr Vincent Crummles. 'I am in the
theatrical profession myself, my wife is in the theatrical
profession, my children are in the theatrical profession. I had a
dog that lived and died in it from a puppy; and my chaise-pony goes
on, in Timour the Tartar. I'll bring you out, and your friend too.
Say the word. I want a novelty.'

'I don't know anything about it,' rejoined Nicholas, whose breath
had been almost taken away by this sudden proposal. 'I never acted
a part in my life, except at school.'

'There's genteel comedy in your walk and manner, juvenile tragedy in
your eye, and touch-and-go farce in your laugh,' said Mr Vincent
Crummles. 'You'll do as well as if you had thought of nothing else
but the lamps, from your birth downwards.'

Nicholas thought of the small amount of small change that would
remain in his pocket after paying the tavern bill; and he hesitated.

'You can be useful to us in a hundred ways,' said Mr Crummles.
'Think what capital bills a man of your education could write for
the shop-windows.'

'Well, I think I could manage that department,' said Nicholas.

'To be sure you could,' replied Mr Crummles. '"For further
particulars see small hand-bills"--we might have half a volume in
every one of 'em. Pieces too; why, you could write us a piece to
bring out the whole strength of the company, whenever we wanted
one.'

'I am not quite so confident about that,' replied Nicholas. 'But I
dare say I could scribble something now and then, that would suit
you.'

'We'll have a new show-piece out directly,' said the manager. 'Let
me see--peculiar resources of this establishment--new and splendid
scenery--you must manage to introduce a real pump and two washing-
tubs.'

'Into the piece?' said Nicholas.

'Yes,' replied the manager. 'I bought 'em cheap, at a sale the
other day, and they'll come in admirably. That's the London plan.
They look up some dresses, and properties, and have a piece written
to fit 'em. Most of the theatres keep an author on purpose.'

'Indeed!' cried Nicholas.

'Oh, yes,' said the manager; 'a common thing. It'll look very well
in the bills in separate lines--Real pump!--Splendid tubs!--Great
attraction! You don't happen to be anything of an artist, do you?'

'That is not one of my accomplishments,' rejoined Nicholas.

'Ah! Then it can't be helped,' said the manager. 'If you had been,
we might have had a large woodcut of the last scene for the posters,
showing the whole depth of the stage, with the pump and tubs in the
middle; but, however, if you're not, it can't be helped.'

'What should I get for all this?' inquired Nicholas, after a few
moments' reflection. 'Could I live by it?'

'Live by it!' said the manager. 'Like a prince! With your own
salary, and your friend's, and your writings, you'd make--ah! you'd
make a pound a week!'

'You don't say so!'

'I do indeed, and if we had a run of good houses, nearly double the
money.'

Nicholas shrugged his shoulders; but sheer destitution was before
him; and if he could summon fortitude to undergo the extremes of
want and hardship, for what had he rescued his helpless charge if it
were only to bear as hard a fate as that from which he had wrested
him? It was easy to think of seventy miles as nothing, when he was
in the same town with the man who had treated him so ill and roused
his bitterest thoughts; but now, it seemed far enough. What if he
went abroad, and his mother or Kate were to die the while?

Without more deliberation, he hastily declared that it was a
bargain, and gave Mr Vincent Crummles his hand upon it.

CHAPTER 23

Treats of the Company of Mr Vincent Crummles, and of his Affairs,
Domestic and Theatrical

As Mr Crummles had a strange four-legged animal in the inn stables,
which he called a pony, and a vehicle of unknown design, on which he
bestowed the appellation of a four-wheeled phaeton, Nicholas
proceeded on his journey next morning with greater ease than he had
expected: the manager and himself occupying the front seat: and the
Master Crummleses and Smike being packed together behind, in company
with a wicker basket defended from wet by a stout oilskin, in which
were the broad-swords, pistols, pigtails, nautical costumes, and
other professional necessaries of the aforesaid young gentlemen.

The pony took his time upon the road, and--possibly in consequence
of his theatrical education--evinced, every now and then, a strong
inclination to lie down. However, Mr Vincent Crummles kept him up
pretty well, by jerking the rein, and plying the whip; and when
these means failed, and the animal came to a stand, the elder Master
Crummles got out and kicked him. By dint of these encouragements,
he was persuaded to move from time to time, and they jogged on (as
Mr Crummles truly observed) very comfortably for all parties.

'He's a good pony at bottom,' said Mr Crummles, turning to Nicholas.

He might have been at bottom, but he certainly was not at top,
seeing that his coat was of the roughest and most ill-favoured kind.
So, Nicholas merely observed that he shouldn't wonder if he was.

'Many and many is the circuit this pony has gone,' said Mr Crummles,
flicking him skilfully on the eyelid for old acquaintance' sake.
'He is quite one of us. His mother was on the stage.'

'Was she?' rejoined Nicholas.

'She ate apple-pie at a circus for upwards of fourteen years,' said
the manager; 'fired pistols, and went to bed in a nightcap; and, in
short, took the low comedy entirely. His father was a dancer.'

'Was he at all distinguished?'

'Not very,' said the manager. 'He was rather a low sort of pony.
The fact is, he had been originally jobbed out by the day, and he
never quite got over his old habits. He was clever in melodrama
too, but too broad--too broad. When the mother died, he took the
port-wine business.'

'The port-wine business!' cried Nicholas.

'Drinking port-wine with the clown,' said the manager; 'but he was
greedy, and one night bit off the bowl of the glass, and choked
himself, so his vulgarity was the death of him at last.'

The descendant of this ill-starred animal requiring increased
attention from Mr Crummles as he progressed in his day's work, that
gentleman had very little time for conversation. Nicholas was thus
left at leisure to entertain himself with his own thoughts, until
they arrived at the drawbridge at Portsmouth, when Mr Crummles
pulled up.

'We'll get down here,' said the manager, 'and the boys will take him
round to the stable, and call at my lodgings with the luggage. You
had better let yours be taken there, for the present.'

Thanking Mr Vincent Crummles for his obliging offer, Nicholas jumped
out, and, giving Smike his arm, accompanied the manager up High
Street on their way to the theatre; feeling nervous and
uncomfortable enough at the prospect of an immediate introduction to
a scene so new to him.

They passed a great many bills, pasted against the walls and
displayed in windows, wherein the names of Mr Vincent Crummles, Mrs
Vincent Crummles, Master Crummles, Master P. Crummles, and Miss
Crummles, were printed in very large letters, and everything else in
very small ones; and, turning at length into an entry, in which was
a strong smell of orange-peel and lamp-oil, with an under-current of
sawdust, groped their way through a dark passage, and, descending a
step or two, threaded a little maze of canvas screens and paint
pots, and emerged upon the stage of the Portsmouth Theatre.

'Here we are,' said Mr Crummles.

It was not very light, but Nicholas found himself close to the first
entrance on the prompt side, among bare walls, dusty scenes,
mildewed clouds, heavily daubed draperies, and dirty floors. He
looked about him; ceiling, pit, boxes, gallery, orchestra, fittings,
and decorations of every kind,--all looked coarse, cold, gloomy, and
wretched.

'Is this a theatre?' whispered Smike, in amazement; 'I thought it
was a blaze of light and finery.'

'Why, so it is,' replied Nicholas, hardly less surprised; 'but not
by day, Smike--not by day.'

The manager's voice recalled him from a more careful inspection of
the building, to the opposite side of the proscenium, where, at a
small mahogany table with rickety legs and of an oblong shape, sat a
stout, portly female, apparently between forty and fifty, in a
tarnished silk cloak, with her bonnet dangling by the strings in her
hand, and her hair (of which she had a great quantity) braided in a
large festoon over each temple.

'Mr Johnson,' said the manager (for Nicholas had given the name
which Newman Noggs had bestowed upon him in his conversation with
Mrs Kenwigs), 'let me introduce Mrs Vincent Crummles.'

'I am glad to see you, sir,' said Mrs Vincent Crummles, in a
sepulchral voice. 'I am very glad to see you, and still more happy
to hail you as a promising member of our corps.'

The lady shook Nicholas by the hand as she addressed him in these
terms; he saw it was a large one, but had not expected quite such an
iron grip as that with which she honoured him.

'And this,' said the lady, crossing to Smike, as tragic actresses
cross when they obey a stage direction, 'and this is the other. You
too, are welcome, sir.'

'He'll do, I think, my dear?' said the manager, taking a pinch of
snuff.

'He is admirable,' replied the lady. 'An acquisition indeed.'

As Mrs Vincent Crummles recrossed back to the table, there bounded
on to the stage from some mysterious inlet, a little girl in a dirty
white frock with tucks up to the knees, short trousers, sandaled
shoes, white spencer, pink gauze bonnet, green veil and curl papers;
who turned a pirouette, cut twice in the air, turned another
pirouette, then, looking off at the opposite wing, shrieked, bounded
forward to within six inches of the footlights, and fell into a
beautiful attitude of terror, as a shabby gentleman in an old pair
of buff slippers came in at one powerful slide, and chattering his
teeth, fiercely brandished a walking-stick.

'They are going through the Indian Savage and the Maiden,' said Mrs
Crummles.

'Oh!' said the manager, 'the little ballet interlude. Very good, go
on. A little this way, if you please, Mr Johnson. That'll do.
Now!'

The manager clapped his hands as a signal to proceed, and the
savage, becoming ferocious, made a slide towards the maiden; but the
maiden avoided him in six twirls, and came down, at the end of the
last one, upon the very points of her toes. This seemed to make
some impression upon the savage; for, after a little more ferocity
and chasing of the maiden into corners, he began to relent, and
stroked his face several times with his right thumb and four
fingers, thereby intimating that he was struck with admiration of
the maiden's beauty. Acting upon the impulse of this passion, he
(the savage) began to hit himself severe thumps in the chest, and to
exhibit other indications of being desperately in love, which being
rather a prosy proceeding, was very likely the cause of the maiden's
falling asleep; whether it was or no, asleep she did fall, sound as
a church, on a sloping bank, and the savage perceiving it, leant his
left ear on his left hand, and nodded sideways, to intimate to all
whom it might concern that she WAS asleep, and no shamming. Being
left to himself, the savage had a dance, all alone. Just as he left
off, the maiden woke up, rubbed her eyes, got off the bank, and had
a dance all alone too--such a dance that the savage looked on in
ecstasy all the while, and when it was done, plucked from a
neighbouring tree some botanical curiosity, resembling a small
pickled cabbage, and offered it to the maiden, who at first wouldn't
have it, but on the savage shedding tears relented. Then the savage
jumped for joy; then the maiden jumped for rapture at the sweet
smell of the pickled cabbage. Then the savage and the maiden danced
violently together, and, finally, the savage dropped down on one
knee, and the maiden stood on one leg upon his other knee; thus
concluding the ballet, and leaving the spectators in a state of
pleasing uncertainty, whether she would ultimately marry the savage,
or return to her friends.

'Very well indeed,' said Mr Crummles; 'bravo!'

'Bravo!' cried Nicholas, resolved to make the best of everything.
'Beautiful!'

'This, sir,' said Mr Vincent Crummles, bringing the maiden forward,
'this is the infant phenomenon--Miss Ninetta Crummles.'

'Your daughter?' inquired Nicholas.

'My daughter--my daughter,' replied Mr Vincent Crummles; 'the idol
of every place we go into, sir. We have had complimentary letters
about this girl, sir, from the nobility and gentry of almost every
town in England.'

'I am not surprised at that,' said Nicholas; 'she must be quite a
natural genius.'

'Quite a--!' Mr Crummles stopped: language was not powerful enough
to describe the infant phenomenon. 'I'll tell you what, sir,' he
said; 'the talent of this child is not to be imagined. She must be
seen, sir--seen--to be ever so faintly appreciated. There; go to
your mother, my dear.'

'May I ask how old she is?' inquired Nicholas.

'You may, sir,' replied Mr Crummles, looking steadily in his
questioner's face, as some men do when they have doubts about being
implicitly believed in what they are going to say. 'She is ten
years of age, sir.'

'Not more!'

'Not a day.'

'Dear me!' said Nicholas, 'it's extraordinary.'

It was; for the infant phenomenon, though of short stature, had a
comparatively aged countenance, and had moreover been precisely the
same age--not perhaps to the full extent of the memory of the oldest
inhabitant, but certainly for five good years. But she had been
kept up late every night, and put upon an unlimited allowance of
gin-and-water from infancy, to prevent her growing tall, and perhaps
this system of training had produced in the infant phenomenon these
additional phenomena.

While this short dialogue was going on, the gentleman who had
enacted the savage, came up, with his walking shoes on his feet, and
his slippers in his hand, to within a few paces, as if desirous to
join in the conversation. Deeming this a good opportunity, he put
in his word.

'Talent there, sir!' said the savage, nodding towards Miss Crummles.

Nicholas assented.

'Ah!' said the actor, setting his teeth together, and drawing in his
breath with a hissing sound, 'she oughtn't to be in the provinces,
she oughtn't.'

'What do you mean?' asked the manager.

'I mean to say,' replied the other, warmly, 'that she is too good
for country boards, and that she ought to be in one of the large
houses in London, or nowhere; and I tell you more, without mincing
the matter, that if it wasn't for envy and jealousy in some quarter
that you know of, she would be. Perhaps you'll introduce me here,
Mr Crummles.'

'Mr Folair,' said the manager, presenting him to Nicholas.

'Happy to know you, sir.' Mr Folair touched the brim of his hat with
his forefinger, and then shook hands. 'A recruit, sir, I
understand?'

'An unworthy one,' replied Nicholas.

'Did you ever see such a set-out as that?' whispered the actor,
drawing him away, as Crummles left them to speak to his wife.

'As what?'

Mr Folair made a funny face from his pantomime collection, and
pointed over his shoulder.

'You don't mean the infant phenomenon?'

'Infant humbug, sir,' replied Mr Folair. 'There isn't a female
child of common sharpness in a charity school, that couldn't do
better than that. She may thank her stars she was born a manager's
daughter.'

'You seem to take it to heart,' observed Nicholas, with a smile.

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