Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Books, poems, drama…

The Life And Adventures Of Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens

Part 8 out of 20

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 2.3 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

'Yes, by Jove, and well I may,' said Mr Folair, drawing his arm
through his, and walking him up and down the stage. 'Isn't it
enough to make a man crusty to see that little sprawler put up in
the best business every night, and actually keeping money out of the
house, by being forced down the people's throats, while other people
are passed over? Isn't it extraordinary to see a man's confounded
family conceit blinding him, even to his own interest? Why I KNOW
of fifteen and sixpence that came to Southampton one night last
month, to see me dance the Highland Fling; and what's the
consequence? I've never been put up in it since--never once--while
the "infant phenomenon" has been grinning through artificial flowers
at five people and a baby in the pit, and two boys in the gallery,
every night.'

'If I may judge from what I have seen of you,' said Nicholas, 'you
must be a valuable member of the company.'

'Oh!' replied Mr Folair, beating his slippers together, to knock the
dust out; 'I CAN come it pretty well--nobody better, perhaps, in my
own line--but having such business as one gets here, is like putting
lead on one's feet instead of chalk, and dancing in fetters without
the credit of it. Holloa, old fellow, how are you?'

The gentleman addressed in these latter words was a dark-
complexioned man, inclining indeed to sallow, with long thick black
hair, and very evident inclinations (although he was close shaved)
of a stiff beard, and whiskers of the same deep shade. His age did
not appear to exceed thirty, though many at first sight would have
considered him much older, as his face was long, and very pale, from
the constant application of stage paint. He wore a checked shirt,
an old green coat with new gilt buttons, a neckerchief of broad red
and green stripes, and full blue trousers; he carried, too, a common
ash walking-stick, apparently more for show than use, as he
flourished it about, with the hooked end downwards, except when he
raised it for a few seconds, and throwing himself into a fencing
attitude, made a pass or two at the side-scenes, or at any other
object, animate or inanimate, that chanced to afford him a pretty
good mark at the moment.

'Well, Tommy,' said this gentleman, making a thrust at his friend,
who parried it dexterously with his slipper, 'what's the news?'

'A new appearance, that's all,' replied Mr Folair, looking at
Nicholas.

'Do the honours, Tommy, do the honours,' said the other gentleman,
tapping him reproachfully on the crown of the hat with his stick.

'This is Mr Lenville, who does our first tragedy, Mr Johnson,' said
the pantomimist.

'Except when old bricks and mortar takes it into his head to do it
himself, you should add, Tommy,' remarked Mr Lenville. 'You know
who bricks and mortar is, I suppose, sir?'

'I do not, indeed,' replied Nicholas.

'We call Crummles that, because his style of acting is rather in the
heavy and ponderous way,' said Mr Lenville. 'I mustn't be cracking
jokes though, for I've got a part of twelve lengths here, which I
must be up in tomorrow night, and I haven't had time to look at it
yet; I'm a confounded quick study, that's one comfort.'

Consoling himself with this reflection, Mr Lenville drew from his
coat pocket a greasy and crumpled manuscript, and, having made
another pass at his friend, proceeded to walk to and fro, conning it
to himself and indulging occasionally in such appropriate action as
his imagination and the text suggested.

A pretty general muster of the company had by this time taken place;
for besides Mr Lenville and his friend Tommy, there were present, a
slim young gentleman with weak eyes, who played the low-spirited
lovers and sang tenor songs, and who had come arm-in-arm with the
comic countryman--a man with a turned-up nose, large mouth, broad
face, and staring eyes. Making himself very amiable to the infant
phenomenon, was an inebriated elderly gentleman in the last depths
of shabbiness, who played the calm and virtuous old men; and paying
especial court to Mrs Crummles was another elderly gentleman, a
shade more respectable, who played the irascible old men--those
funny fellows who have nephews in the army and perpetually run about
with thick sticks to compel them to marry heiresses. Besides these,
there was a roving-looking person in a rough great-coat, who strode
up and down in front of the lamps, flourishing a dress cane, and
rattling away, in an undertone, with great vivacity for the
amusement of an ideal audience. He was not quite so young as he had
been, and his figure was rather running to seed; but there was an
air of exaggerated gentility about him, which bespoke the hero of
swaggering comedy. There was, also, a little group of three or four
young men with lantern jaws and thick eyebrows, who were conversing
in one corner; but they seemed to be of secondary importance, and
laughed and talked together without attracting any attention.

The ladies were gathered in a little knot by themselves round the
rickety table before mentioned. There was Miss Snevellicci--who
could do anything, from a medley dance to Lady Macbeth, and also
always played some part in blue silk knee-smalls at her benefit--
glancing, from the depths of her coal-scuttle straw bonnet, at
Nicholas, and affecting to be absorbed in the recital of a diverting
story to her friend Miss Ledrook, who had brought her work, and was
making up a ruff in the most natural manner possible. There was
Miss Belvawney--who seldom aspired to speaking parts, and usually
went on as a page in white silk hose, to stand with one leg bent,
and contemplate the audience, or to go in and out after Mr Crummles
in stately tragedy--twisting up the ringlets of the beautiful Miss
Bravassa, who had once had her likeness taken 'in character' by an
engraver's apprentice, whereof impressions were hung up for sale in
the pastry-cook's window, and the greengrocer's, and at the
circulating library, and the box-office, whenever the announce bills
came out for her annual night. There was Mrs Lenville, in a very
limp bonnet and veil, decidedly in that way in which she would wish
to be if she truly loved Mr Lenville; there was Miss Gazingi, with
an imitation ermine boa tied in a loose knot round her neck,
flogging Mr Crummles, junior, with both ends, in fun. Lastly, there
was Mrs Grudden in a brown cloth pelisse and a beaver bonnet, who
assisted Mrs Crummles in her domestic affairs, and took money at the
doors, and dressed the ladies, and swept the house, and held the
prompt book when everybody else was on for the last scene, and acted
any kind of part on any emergency without ever learning it, and was
put down in the bills under my name or names whatever, that occurred
to Mr Crummles as looking well in print.

Mr Folair having obligingly confided these particulars to Nicholas,
left him to mingle with his fellows; the work of personal
introduction was completed by Mr Vincent Crummles, who publicly
heralded the new actor as a prodigy of genius and learning.

'I beg your pardon,' said Miss Snevellicci, sidling towards
Nicholas, 'but did you ever play at Canterbury?'

'I never did,' replied Nicholas.

'I recollect meeting a gentleman at Canterbury,' said Miss
Snevellicci, 'only for a few moments, for I was leaving the company
as he joined it, so like you that I felt almost certain it was the
same.'

'I see you now for the first time,' rejoined Nicholas with all due
gallantry. 'I am sure I never saw you before; I couldn't have
forgotten it.'

'Oh, I'm sure--it's very flattering of you to say so,' retorted Miss
Snevellicci with a graceful bend. 'Now I look at you again, I see
that the gentleman at Canterbury hadn't the same eyes as you--you'll
think me very foolish for taking notice of such things, won't you?'

'Not at all,' said Nicholas. 'How can I feel otherwise than
flattered by your notice in any way?'

'Oh! you men are such vain creatures!' cried Miss Snevellicci.
Whereupon, she became charmingly confused, and, pulling out her
pocket-handkerchief from a faded pink silk reticule with a gilt
clasp, called to Miss Ledrook--

'Led, my dear,' said Miss Snevellicci.

'Well, what is the matter?' said Miss Ledrook.

'It's not the same.'

'Not the same what?'

'Canterbury--you know what I mean. Come here! I want to speak to
you.'

But Miss Ledrook wouldn't come to Miss Snevellicci, so Miss
Snevellicci was obliged to go to Miss Ledrook, which she did, in a
skipping manner that was quite fascinating; and Miss Ledrook
evidently joked Miss Snevellicci about being struck with Nicholas;
for, after some playful whispering, Miss Snevellicci hit Miss
Ledrook very hard on the backs of her hands, and retired up, in a
state of pleasing confusion.

'Ladies and gentlemen,' said Mr Vincent Crummles, who had been
writing on a piece of paper, 'we'll call the Mortal Struggle
tomorrow at ten; everybody for the procession. Intrigue, and Ways
and Means, you're all up in, so we shall only want one rehearsal.
Everybody at ten, if you please.'

'Everybody at ten,' repeated Mrs Grudden, looking about her.

'On Monday morning we shall read a new piece,' said Mr Crummles;
'the name's not known yet, but everybody will have a good part. Mr
Johnson will take care of that.'

'Hallo!' said Nicholas, starting. 'I--'

'On Monday morning,' repeated Mr Crummles, raising his voice, to
drown the unfortunate Mr Johnson's remonstrance; 'that'll do, ladies
and gentlemen.'

The ladies and gentlemen required no second notice to quit; and, in
a few minutes, the theatre was deserted, save by the Crummles
family, Nicholas, and Smike.

'Upon my word,' said Nicholas, taking the manager aside, 'I don't
think I can be ready by Monday.'

'Pooh, pooh,' replied Mr Crummles.

'But really I can't,' returned Nicholas; 'my invention is not
accustomed to these demands, or possibly I might produce--'

'Invention! what the devil's that got to do with it!' cried the
manager hastily.

'Everything, my dear sir.'

'Nothing, my dear sir,' retorted the manager, with evident
impatience. 'Do you understand French?'

'Perfectly well.'

'Very good,' said the manager, opening the table drawer, and giving
a roll of paper from it to Nicholas. 'There! Just turn that into
English, and put your name on the title-page. Damn me,' said Mr
Crummles, angrily, 'if I haven't often said that I wouldn't have a
man or woman in my company that wasn't master of the language, so
that they might learn it from the original, and play it in English,
and save all this trouble and expense.'

Nicholas smiled and pocketed the play.

'What are you going to do about your lodgings?' said Mr Crummles.

Nicholas could not help thinking that, for the first week, it would
be an uncommon convenience to have a turn-up bedstead in the pit,
but he merely remarked that he had not turned his thoughts that way.

'Come home with me then,' said Mr Crummles, 'and my boys shall go
with you after dinner, and show you the most likely place.'

The offer was not to be refused; Nicholas and Mr Crummles gave Mrs
Crummles an arm each, and walked up the street in stately array.
Smike, the boys, and the phenomenon, went home by a shorter cut, and
Mrs Grudden remained behind to take some cold Irish stew and a pint
of porter in the box-office.

Mrs Crummles trod the pavement as if she were going to immediate
execution with an animating consciousness of innocence, and that
heroic fortitude which virtue alone inspires. Mr Crummles, on the
other hand, assumed the look and gait of a hardened despot; but they
both attracted some notice from many of the passers-by, and when
they heard a whisper of 'Mr and Mrs Crummles!' or saw a little boy
run back to stare them in the face, the severe expression of their
countenances relaxed, for they felt it was popularity.

Mr Crummles lived in St Thomas's Street, at the house of one Bulph,
a pilot, who sported a boat-green door, with window-frames of the
same colour, and had the little finger of a drowned man on his
parlour mantelshelf, with other maritime and natural curiosities.
He displayed also a brass knocker, a brass plate, and a brass bell-
handle, all very bright and shining; and had a mast, with a vane on
the top of it, in his back yard.

'You are welcome,' said Mrs Crummles, turning round to Nicholas when
they reached the bow-windowed front room on the first floor.

Nicholas bowed his acknowledgments, and was unfeignedly glad to see
the cloth laid.

'We have but a shoulder of mutton with onion sauce,' said Mrs
Crummles, in the same charnel-house voice; 'but such as our dinner
is, we beg you to partake of it.'

'You are very good,' replied Nicholas, 'I shall do it ample
justice.'

'Vincent,' said Mrs Crummles, 'what is the hour?'

'Five minutes past dinner-time,' said Mr Crummles.

Mrs Crummles rang the bell. 'Let the mutton and onion sauce
appear.'

The slave who attended upon Mr Bulph's lodgers, disappeared, and
after a short interval reappeared with the festive banquet.
Nicholas and the infant phenomenon opposed each other at the
pembroke-table, and Smike and the master Crummleses dined on the
sofa bedstead.

'Are they very theatrical people here?' asked Nicholas.

'No,' replied Mr Crummles, shaking his head, 'far from it--far from
it.'

'I pity them,' observed Mrs Crummles.

'So do I,' said Nicholas; 'if they have no relish for theatrical
entertainments, properly conducted.'

'Then they have none, sir,' rejoined Mr Crummles. 'To the infant's
benefit, last year, on which occasion she repeated three of her most
popular characters, and also appeared in the Fairy Porcupine, as
originally performed by her, there was a house of no more than four
pound twelve.'

'Is it possible?' cried Nicholas.

'And two pound of that was trust, pa,' said the phenomenon.

'And two pound of that was trust,' repeated Mr Crummles. 'Mrs
Crummles herself has played to mere handfuls.'

'But they are always a taking audience, Vincent,' said the manager's
wife.

'Most audiences are, when they have good acting--real good acting--
the regular thing,' replied Mr Crummles, forcibly.

'Do you give lessons, ma'am?' inquired Nicholas.

'I do,' said Mrs Crummles.

'There is no teaching here, I suppose?'

'There has been,' said Mrs Crummles. 'I have received pupils here.
I imparted tuition to the daughter of a dealer in ships' provision;
but it afterwards appeared that she was insane when she first came
to me. It was very extraordinary that she should come, under such
circumstances.'

Not feeling quite so sure of that, Nicholas thought it best to hold
his peace.

'Let me see,' said the manager cogitating after dinner. 'Would you
like some nice little part with the infant?'

'You are very good,' replied Nicholas hastily; 'but I think perhaps
it would be better if I had somebody of my own size at first, in
case I should turn out awkward. I should feel more at home,
perhaps.'

'True,' said the manager. 'Perhaps you would. And you could play
up to the infant, in time, you know.'

'Certainly,' replied Nicholas: devoutly hoping that it would be a
very long time before he was honoured with this distinction.

'Then I'll tell you what we'll do,' said Mr Crummles. 'You shall
study Romeo when you've done that piece--don't forget to throw the
pump and tubs in by-the-bye--Juliet Miss Snevellicci, old Grudden
the nurse.--Yes, that'll do very well. Rover too;--you might get up
Rover while you were about it, and Cassio, and Jeremy Diddler. You
can easily knock them off; one part helps the other so much. Here
they are, cues and all.'

With these hasty general directions Mr Crummles thrust a number of
little books into the faltering hands of Nicholas, and bidding his
eldest son go with him and show where lodgings were to be had, shook
him by the hand, and wished him good night.

There is no lack of comfortable furnished apartments in Portsmouth,
and no difficulty in finding some that are proportionate to very
slender finances; but the former were too good, and the latter too
bad, and they went into so many houses, and came out unsuited, that
Nicholas seriously began to think he should be obliged to ask
permission to spend the night in the theatre, after all.

Eventually, however, they stumbled upon two small rooms up three
pair of stairs, or rather two pair and a ladder, at a tobacconist's
shop, on the Common Hard: a dirty street leading down to the
dockyard. These Nicholas engaged, only too happy to have escaped
any request for payment of a week's rent beforehand.

'There! Lay down our personal property, Smike,' he said, after
showing young Crummles downstairs. 'We have fallen upon strange
times, and Heaven only knows the end of them; but I am tired with
the events of these three days, and will postpone reflection till
tomorrow--if I can.'

CHAPTER 24

Of the Great Bespeak for Miss Snevellicci, and the first Appearance
of Nicholas upon any Stage

Nicholas was up betimes in the morning; but he had scarcely begun to
dress, notwithstanding, when he heard footsteps ascending the
stairs, and was presently saluted by the voices of Mr Folair the
pantomimist, and Mr Lenville, the tragedian.

'House, house, house!' cried Mr Folair.

'What, ho! within there" said Mr Lenville, in a deep voice.

'Confound these fellows!' thought Nicholas; 'they have come to
breakfast, I suppose. I'll open the door directly, if you'll wait
an instant.'

The gentlemen entreated him not to hurry himself; and, to beguile
the interval, had a fencing bout with their walking-sticks on the
very small landing-place: to the unspeakable discomposure of all the
other lodgers downstairs.

'Here, come in,' said Nicholas, when he had completed his toilet.
'In the name of all that's horrible, don't make that noise outside.'

'An uncommon snug little box this,' said Mr Lenville, stepping into
the front room, and taking his hat off, before he could get in at
all. 'Pernicious snug.'

'For a man at all particular in such matters, it might be a trifle
too snug,' said Nicholas; 'for, although it is, undoubtedly, a great
convenience to be able to reach anything you want from the ceiling
or the floor, or either side of the room, without having to move
from your chair, still these advantages can only be had in an
apartment of the most limited size.'

'It isn't a bit too confined for a single man,' returned Mr
Lenville. 'That reminds me,--my wife, Mr Johnson,--I hope she'll
have some good part in this piece of yours?'

'I glanced at the French copy last night,' said Nicholas. 'It looks
very good, I think.'

'What do you mean to do for me, old fellow?' asked Mr Lenville,
poking the struggling fire with his walking-stick, and afterwards
wiping it on the skirt of his coat. 'Anything in the gruff and
grumble way?'

'You turn your wife and child out of doors,' said Nicholas; 'and, in
a fit of rage and jealousy, stab your eldest son in the library.'

'Do I though!' exclaimed Mr Lenville. 'That's very good business.'

'After which,' said Nicholas, 'you are troubled with remorse till
the last act, and then you make up your mind to destroy yourself.
But, just as you are raising the pistol to your head, a clock
strikes--ten.'

'I see,' cried Mr Lenville. 'Very good.'

'You pause,' said Nicholas; 'you recollect to have heard a clock
strike ten in your infancy. The pistol falls from your hand--you
are overcome--you burst into tears, and become a virtuous and
exemplary character for ever afterwards.'

'Capital!' said Mr Lenville: 'that's a sure card, a sure card. Get
the curtain down with a touch of nature like that, and it'll be a
triumphant success.'

'Is there anything good for me?' inquired Mr Folair, anxiously.

'Let me see,' said Nicholas. 'You play the faithful and attached
servant; you are turned out of doors with the wife and child.'

'Always coupled with that infernal phenomenon,' sighed Mr Folair;
'and we go into poor lodgings, where I won't take any wages, and
talk sentiment, I suppose?'

'Why--yes,' replied Nicholas: 'that is the course of the piece.'

'I must have a dance of some kind, you know,' said Mr Folair.
'You'll have to introduce one for the phenomenon, so you'd better
make a PAS DE DEUX, and save time.'

'There's nothing easier than that,' said Mr Lenville, observing the
disturbed looks of the young dramatist.

'Upon my word I don't see how it's to be done,' rejoined Nicholas.

'Why, isn't it obvious?' reasoned Mr Lenville. 'Gadzooks, who can
help seeing the way to do it?--you astonish me! You get the
distressed lady, and the little child, and the attached servant,
into the poor lodgings, don't you?--Well, look here. The distressed
lady sinks into a chair, and buries her face in her pocket-
handkerchief. "What makes you weep, mama?" says the child. "Don't
weep, mama, or you'll make me weep too!"--"And me!" says the
favourite servant, rubbing his eyes with his arm. "What can we do
to raise your spirits, dear mama?" says the little child. "Ay,
what CAN we do?" says the faithful servant. "Oh, Pierre!" says the
distressed lady; "would that I could shake off these painful
thoughts."--"Try, ma'am, try," says the faithful servant; "rouse
yourself, ma'am; be amused."--"I will," says the lady, "I will learn
to suffer with fortitude. Do you remember that dance, my honest
friend, which, in happier days, you practised with this sweet angel?
It never failed to calm my spirits then. Oh! let me see it once
again before I die!"--There it is--cue for the band, BEFORE I DIE,--
and off they go. That's the regular thing; isn't it, Tommy?'

'That's it,' replied Mr Folair. 'The distressed lady, overpowered
by old recollections, faints at the end of the dance, and you close
in with a picture.'

Profiting by these and other lessons, which were the result of the
personal experience of the two actors, Nicholas willingly gave them
the best breakfast he could, and, when he at length got rid of them,
applied himself to his task: by no means displeased to find that it
was so much easier than he had at first supposed. He worked very
hard all day, and did not leave his room until the evening, when he
went down to the theatre, whither Smike had repaired before him to
go on with another gentleman as a general rebellion.

Here all the people were so much changed, that he scarcely knew
them. False hair, false colour, false calves, false muscles--they
had become different beings. Mr Lenville was a blooming warrior of
most exquisite proportions; Mr Crummles, his large face shaded by a
profusion of black hair, a Highland outlaw of most majestic bearing;
one of the old gentlemen a jailer, and the other a venerable
patriarch; the comic countryman, a fighting-man of great valour,
relieved by a touch of humour; each of the Master Crummleses a
prince in his own right; and the low-spirited lover, a desponding
captive. There was a gorgeous banquet ready spread for the third
act, consisting of two pasteboard vases, one plate of biscuits, a
black bottle, and a vinegar cruet; and, in short, everything was on
a scale of the utmost splendour and preparation.

Nicholas was standing with his back to the curtain, now
contemplating the first scene, which was a Gothic archway, about two
feet shorter than Mr Crummles, through which that gentleman was to
make his first entrance, and now listening to a couple of people who
were cracking nuts in the gallery, wondering whether they made the
whole audience, when the manager himself walked familiarly up and
accosted him.

'Been in front tonight?' said Mr Crummles.

'No,' replied Nicholas, 'not yet. I am going to see the play.'

'We've had a pretty good Let,' said Mr Crummles. 'Four front places
in the centre, and the whole of the stage-box.'

'Oh, indeed!' said Nicholas; 'a family, I suppose?'

'Yes,' replied Mr Crummles, 'yes. It's an affecting thing. There
are six children, and they never come unless the phenomenon plays.'

It would have been difficult for any party, family, or otherwise, to
have visited the theatre on a night when the phenomenon did NOT
play, inasmuch as she always sustained one, and not uncommonly two
or three, characters, every night; but Nicholas, sympathising with
the feelings of a father, refrained from hinting at this trifling
circumstance, and Mr Crummles continued to talk, uninterrupted by
him.

'Six,' said that gentleman; 'pa and ma eight, aunt nine, governess
ten, grandfather and grandmother twelve. Then, there's the footman,
who stands outside, with a bag of oranges and a jug of toast-and-
water, and sees the play for nothing through the little pane of
glass in the box-door--it's cheap at a guinea; they gain by taking a
box.'

'I wonder you allow so many,' observed Nicholas.

'There's no help for it,' replied Mr Crummles; 'it's always expected
in the country. If there are six children, six people come to hold
them in their laps. A family-box carries double always. Ring in
the orchestra, Grudden!'

That useful lady did as she was requested, and shortly afterwards
the tuning of three fiddles was heard. Which process having been
protracted as long as it was supposed that the patience of the
audience could possibly bear it, was put a stop to by another jerk
of the bell, which, being the signal to begin in earnest, set the
orchestra playing a variety of popular airs, with involuntary
variations.

If Nicholas had been astonished at the alteration for the better
which the gentlemen displayed, the transformation of the ladies was
still more extraordinary. When, from a snug corner of the manager's
box, he beheld Miss Snevellicci in all the glories of white muslin
with a golden hem, and Mrs Crummles in all the dignity of the
outlaw's wife, and Miss Bravassa in all the sweetness of Miss
Snevellicci's confidential friend, and Miss Belvawney in the white
silks of a page doing duty everywhere and swearing to live and die
in the service of everybody, he could scarcely contain his
admiration, which testified itself in great applause, and the
closest possible attention to the business of the scene. The plot
was most interesting. It belonged to no particular age, people, or
country, and was perhaps the more delightful on that account, as
nobody's previous information could afford the remotest glimmering
of what would ever come of it. An outlaw had been very successful
in doing something somewhere, and came home, in triumph, to the
sound of shouts and fiddles, to greet his wife--a lady of masculine
mind, who talked a good deal about her father's bones, which it
seemed were unburied, though whether from a peculiar taste on the
part of the old gentleman himself, or the reprehensible neglect of
his relations, did not appear. This outlaw's wife was, somehow or
other, mixed up with a patriarch, living in a castle a long way off,
and this patriarch was the father of several of the characters, but
he didn't exactly know which, and was uncertain whether he had
brought up the right ones in his castle, or the wrong ones; he
rather inclined to the latter opinion, and, being uneasy, relieved
his mind with a banquet, during which solemnity somebody in a cloak
said 'Beware!' which somebody was known by nobody (except the
audience) to be the outlaw himself, who had come there, for reasons
unexplained, but possibly with an eye to the spoons. There was an
agreeable little surprise in the way of certain love passages
between the desponding captive and Miss Snevellicci, and the comic
fighting-man and Miss Bravassa; besides which, Mr Lenville had
several very tragic scenes in the dark, while on throat-cutting
expeditions, which were all baffled by the skill and bravery of the
comic fighting-man (who overheard whatever was said all through the
piece) and the intrepidity of Miss Snevellicci, who adopted tights,
and therein repaired to the prison of her captive lover, with a
small basket of refreshments and a dark lantern. At last, it came
out that the patriarch was the man who had treated the bones of the
outlaw's father-in-law with so much disrespect, for which cause and
reason the outlaw's wife repaired to his castle to kill him, and so
got into a dark room, where, after a good deal of groping in the
dark, everybody got hold of everybody else, and took them for
somebody besides, which occasioned a vast quantity of confusion,
with some pistolling, loss of life, and torchlight; after which, the
patriarch came forward, and observing, with a knowing look, that he
knew all about his children now, and would tell them when they got
inside, said that there could not be a more appropriate occasion for
marrying the young people than that; and therefore he joined their
hands, with the full consent of the indefatigable page, who (being
the only other person surviving) pointed with his cap into the
clouds, and his right hand to the ground; thereby invoking a
blessing and giving the cue for the curtain to come down, which it
did, amidst general applause.

'What did you think of that?' asked Mr Crummles, when Nicholas went
round to the stage again. Mr Crummles was very red and hot, for
your outlaws are desperate fellows to shout.

'I think it was very capital indeed,' replied Nicholas; 'Miss
Snevellicci in particular was uncommonly good.'

'She's a genius,' said Mr Crummles; 'quite a genius, that girl. By-
the-bye, I've been thinking of bringing out that piece of yours on
her bespeak night.'

'When?' asked Nicholas.

'The night of her bespeak. Her benefit night, when her friends and
patrons bespeak the play,' said Mr Crummles.

'Oh! I understand,' replied Nicholas.

'You see,' said Mr. Crummles, 'it's sure to go, on such an
occasion, and even if it should not work up quite as well as we
expect, why it will be her risk, you know, and not ours.'

'Yours, you mean,' said Nicholas.

'I said mine, didn't I?' returned Mr Crummles. 'Next Monday week.
What do you say? You'll have done it, and are sure to be up in the
lover's part, long before that time.'

'I don't know about "long before,"' replied Nicholas; 'but BY that
time I think I can undertake to be ready.'

'Very good,' pursued Mr Crummles, 'then we'll call that settled.
Now, I want to ask you something else. There's a little--what shall
I call it?--a little canvassing takes place on these occasions.'

'Among the patrons, I suppose?' said Nicholas.

'Among the patrons; and the fact is, that Snevellicci has had so
many bespeaks in this place, that she wants an attraction. She had
a bespeak when her mother-in-law died, and a bespeak when her uncle
died; and Mrs Crummles and myself have had bespeaks on the
anniversary of the phenomenon's birthday, and our wedding-day, and
occasions of that description, so that, in fact, there's some
difficulty in getting a good one. Now, won't you help this poor
girl, Mr Johnson?' said Crummles, sitting himself down on a drum,
and taking a great pinch of snuff, as he looked him steadily in the
face.

'How do you mean?' rejoined Nicholas.

'Don't you think you could spare half an hour tomorrow morning, to
call with her at the houses of one or two of the principal people?'
murmured the manager in a persuasive tone.

'Oh dear me,' said Nicholas, with an air of very strong objection,
'I shouldn't like to do that.'

'The infant will accompany her,' said Mr Crummles. 'The moment it
was suggested to me, I gave permission for the infant to go. There
will not be the smallest impropriety--Miss Snevellicci, sir, is the
very soul of honour. It would be of material service--the gentleman
from London--author of the new piece--actor in the new piece--first
appearance on any boards--it would lead to a great bespeak, Mr
Johnson.'

'I am very sorry to throw a damp upon the prospects of anybody, and
more especially a lady,' replied Nicholas; 'but really I must
decidedly object to making one of the canvassing party.'

'What does Mr Johnson say, Vincent?' inquired a voice close to his
ear; and, looking round, he found Mrs Crummles and Miss Snevellicci
herself standing behind him.

'He has some objection, my dear,' replied Mr Crummles, looking at
Nicholas.

'Objection!' exclaimed Mrs Crummles. 'Can it be possible?'

'Oh, I hope not!' cried Miss Snevellicci. 'You surely are not so
cruel--oh, dear me!--Well, I--to think of that now, after all one's
looking forward to it!'

'Mr Johnson will not persist, my dear,' said Mrs Crummles. 'Think
better of him than to suppose it. Gallantry, humanity, all the best
feelings of his nature, must be enlisted in this interesting cause.'

'Which moves even a manager,' said Mr Crummles, smiling.

'And a manager's wife,' added Mrs Crummles, in her accustomed
tragedy tones. 'Come, come, you will relent, I know you will.'

'It is not in my nature,' said Nicholas, moved by these appeals, 'to
resist any entreaty, unless it is to do something positively wrong;
and, beyond a feeling of pride, I know nothing which should prevent
my doing this. I know nobody here, and nobody knows me. So be it
then. I yield.'

Miss Snevellicci was at once overwhelmed with blushes and
expressions of gratitude, of which latter commodity neither Mr nor
Mrs Crummles was by any means sparing. It was arranged that
Nicholas should call upon her, at her lodgings, at eleven next
morning, and soon after they parted: he to return home to his
authorship: Miss Snevellicci to dress for the after-piece: and the
disinterested manager and his wife to discuss the probable gains of
the forthcoming bespeak, of which they were to have two-thirds of
the profits by solemn treaty of agreement.

At the stipulated hour next morning, Nicholas repaired to the
lodgings of Miss Snevellicci, which were in a place called Lombard
Street, at the house of a tailor. A strong smell of ironing
pervaded the little passage; and the tailor's daughter, who opened
the door, appeared in that flutter of spirits which is so often
attendant upon the periodical getting up of a family's linen.

'Miss Snevellicci lives here, I believe?' said Nicholas, when the
door was opened.

The tailor's daughter replied in the affirmative.

'Will you have the goodness to let her know that Mr Johnson is
here?' said Nicholas.

'Oh, if you please, you're to come upstairs,' replied the tailor's
daughter, with a smile.

Nicholas followed the young lady, and was shown into a small
apartment on the first floor, communicating with a back-room; in
which, as he judged from a certain half-subdued clinking sound, as
of cups and saucers, Miss Snevellicci was then taking her breakfast
in bed.

'You're to wait, if you please,' said the tailor's daughter, after a
short period of absence, during which the clinking in the back-room
had ceased, and been succeeded by whispering--'She won't be long.'

As she spoke, she pulled up the window-blind, and having by this
means (as she thought) diverted Mr Johnson's attention from the room
to the street, caught up some articles which were airing on the
fender, and had very much the appearance of stockings, and darted
off.

As there were not many objects of interest outside the window,
Nicholas looked about the room with more curiosity than he might
otherwise have bestowed upon it. On the sofa lay an old guitar,
several thumbed pieces of music, and a scattered litter of curl-
papers; together with a confused heap of play-bills, and a pair of
soiled white satin shoes with large blue rosettes. Hanging over the
back of a chair was a half-finished muslin apron with little pockets
ornamented with red ribbons, such as waiting-women wear on the
stage, and (by consequence) are never seen with anywhere else. In
one corner stood the diminutive pair of top-boots in which Miss
Snevellicci was accustomed to enact the little jockey, and, folded
on a chair hard by, was a small parcel, which bore a very suspicious
resemblance to the companion smalls.

But the most interesting object of all was, perhaps, the open
scrapbook, displayed in the midst of some theatrical duodecimos that
were strewn upon the table; and pasted into which scrapbook were
various critical notices of Miss Snevellicci's acting, extracted
from different provincial journals, together with one poetic address
in her honour, commencing--

Sing, God of Love, and tell me in what dearth
Thrice-gifted SNEVELLICCI came on earth,
To thrill us with her smile, her tear, her eye,
Sing, God of Love, and tell me quickly why.

Besides this effusion, there were innumerable complimentary
allusions, also extracted from newspapers, such as--'We observe from
an advertisement in another part of our paper of today, that the
charming and highly-talented Miss Snevellicci takes her benefit on
Wednesday, for which occasion she has put forth a bill of fare that
might kindle exhilaration in the breast of a misanthrope. In the
confidence that our fellow-townsmen have not lost that high
appreciation of public utility and private worth, for which they
have long been so pre-eminently distinguished, we predict that this
charming actress will be greeted with a bumper.' 'To
Correspondents.--J.S. is misinformed when he supposes that the
highly-gifted and beautiful Miss Snevellicci, nightly captivating
all hearts at our pretty and commodious little theatre, is NOT the
same lady to whom the young gentleman of immense fortune, residing
within a hundred miles of the good city of York, lately made
honourable proposals. We have reason to know that Miss Snevellicci
IS the lady who was implicated in that mysterious and romantic
affair, and whose conduct on that occasion did no less honour to her
head and heart, than do her histrionic triumphs to her brilliant
genius.' A copious assortment of such paragraphs as these, with long
bills of benefits all ending with 'Come Early', in large capitals,
formed the principal contents of Miss Snevellicci's scrapbook.

Nicholas had read a great many of these scraps, and was absorbed in
a circumstantial and melancholy account of the train of events which
had led to Miss Snevellicci's spraining her ankle by slipping on a
piece of orange-peel flung by a monster in human form, (so the paper
said,) upon the stage at Winchester,--when that young lady herself,
attired in the coal-scuttle bonnet and walking-dress complete,
tripped into the room, with a thousand apologies for having detained
him so long after the appointed time.

'But really,' said Miss Snevellicci, 'my darling Led, who lives with
me here, was taken so very ill in the night that I thought she would
have expired in my arms.'

'Such a fate is almost to be envied,' returned Nicholas, 'but I am
very sorry to hear it nevertheless.'

'What a creature you are to flatter!' said Miss Snevellicci,
buttoning her glove in much confusion.

'If it be flattery to admire your charms and accomplishments,'
rejoined Nicholas, laying his hand upon the scrapbook, 'you have
better specimens of it here.'

'Oh you cruel creature, to read such things as those! I'm almost
ashamed to look you in the face afterwards, positively I am,' said
Miss Snevellicci, seizing the book and putting it away in a closet.
'How careless of Led! How could she be so naughty!'

'I thought you had kindly left it here, on purpose for me to read,'
said Nicholas. And really it did seem possible.

'I wouldn't have had you see it for the world!' rejoined Miss
Snevellicci. 'I never was so vexed--never! But she is such a
careless thing, there's no trusting her.'

The conversation was here interrupted by the entrance of the
phenomenon, who had discreetly remained in the bedroom up to this
moment, and now presented herself, with much grace and lightness,
bearing in her hand a very little green parasol with a broad fringe
border, and no handle. After a few words of course, they sallied
into the street.

The phenomenon was rather a troublesome companion, for first the
right sandal came down, and then the left, and these mischances
being repaired, one leg of the little white trousers was discovered
to be longer than the other; besides these accidents, the green
parasol was dropped down an iron grating, and only fished up again
with great difficulty and by dint of much exertion. However, it was
impossible to scold her, as she was the manager's daughter, so
Nicholas took it all in perfect good humour, and walked on, with
Miss Snevellicci, arm-in-arm on one side, and the offending infant
on the other.

The first house to which they bent their steps, was situated in a
terrace of respectable appearance. Miss Snevellicci's modest
double-knock was answered by a foot-boy, who, in reply to her
inquiry whether Mrs Curdle was at home, opened his eyes very wide,
grinned very much, and said he didn't know, but he'd inquire. With
this he showed them into a parlour where he kept them waiting, until
the two women-servants had repaired thither, under false pretences,
to see the play-actors; and having compared notes with them in the
passage, and joined in a vast quantity of whispering and giggling,
he at length went upstairs with Miss Snevellicci's name.

Now, Mrs Curdle was supposed, by those who were best informed on
such points, to possess quite the London taste in matters relating
to literature and the drama; and as to Mr Curdle, he had written a
pamphlet of sixty-four pages, post octavo, on the character of the
Nurse's deceased husband in Romeo and Juliet, with an inquiry
whether he really had been a 'merry man' in his lifetime, or whether
it was merely his widow's affectionate partiality that induced her
so to report him. He had likewise proved, that by altering the
received mode of punctuation, any one of Shakespeare's plays could
be made quite different, and the sense completely changed; it is
needless to say, therefore, that he was a great critic, and a very
profound and most original thinker.

'Well, Miss Snevellicci,' said Mrs Curdle, entering the parlour,
'and how do YOU do?'

Miss Snevellicci made a graceful obeisance, and hoped Mrs Curdle was
well, as also Mr Curdle, who at the same time appeared. Mrs Curdle
was dressed in a morning wrapper, with a little cap stuck upon the
top of her head. Mr Curdle wore a loose robe on his back, and his
right forefinger on his forehead after the portraits of Sterne, to
whom somebody or other had once said he bore a striking resemblance.

'I venture to call, for the purpose of asking whether you would put
your name to my bespeak, ma'am,' said Miss Snevellicci, producing
documents.

'Oh! I really don't know what to say,' replied Mrs Curdle. 'It's
not as if the theatre was in its high and palmy days--you needn't
stand, Miss Snevellicci--the drama is gone, perfectly gone.'

'As an exquisite embodiment of the poet's visions, and a realisation
of human intellectuality, gilding with refulgent light our dreamy
moments, and laying open a new and magic world before the mental
eye, the drama is gone, perfectly gone,' said Mr Curdle.

'What man is there, now living, who can present before us all those
changing and prismatic colours with which the character of Hamlet is
invested?' exclaimed Mrs Curdle.

'What man indeed--upon the stage,' said Mr Curdle, with a small
reservation in favour of himself. 'Hamlet! Pooh! ridiculous!
Hamlet is gone, perfectly gone.'

Quite overcome by these dismal reflections, Mr and Mrs Curdle
sighed, and sat for some short time without speaking. At length,
the lady, turning to Miss Snevellicci, inquired what play she
proposed to have.

'Quite a new one,' said Miss Snevellicci, 'of which this gentleman
is the author, and in which he plays; being his first appearance on
any stage. Mr Johnson is the gentleman's name.'

'I hope you have preserved the unities, sir?' said Mr Curdle.

'The original piece is a French one,' said Nicholas. 'There is
abundance of incident, sprightly dialogue, strongly-marked
characters--'

'--All unavailing without a strict observance of the unities, sir,'
returned Mr Curdle. 'The unities of the drama, before everything.'

'Might I ask you,' said Nicholas, hesitating between the respect he
ought to assume, and his love of the whimsical, 'might I ask you
what the unities are?'

Mr Curdle coughed and considered. 'The unities, sir,' he said, 'are
a completeness--a kind of universal dovetailedness with regard to
place and time--a sort of a general oneness, if I may be allowed to
use so strong an expression. I take those to be the dramatic
unities, so far as I have been enabled to bestow attention upon
them, and I have read much upon the subject, and thought much. I
find, running through the performances of this child,' said Mr
Curdle, turning to the phenomenon, 'a unity of feeling, a breadth, a
light and shade, a warmth of colouring, a tone, a harmony, a glow,
an artistical development of original conceptions, which I look for,
in vain, among older performers--I don't know whether I make myself
understood?'

'Perfectly,' replied Nicholas.

'Just so,' said Mr Curdle, pulling up his neckcloth. 'That is my
definition of the unities of the drama.'

Mrs Curdle had sat listening to this lucid explanation with great
complacency. It being finished, she inquired what Mr Curdle
thought, about putting down their names.

'I don't know, my dear; upon my word I don't know,' said Mr Curdle.
'If we do, it must be distinctly understood that we do not pledge
ourselves to the quality of the performances. Let it go forth to
the world, that we do not give THEM the sanction of our names, but
that we confer the distinction merely upon Miss Snevellicci. That
being clearly stated, I take it to be, as it were, a duty, that we
should extend our patronage to a degraded stage, even for the sake
of the associations with which it is entwined. Have you got two-
and-sixpence for half-a-crown, Miss Snevellicci?' said Mr Curdle,
turning over four of those pieces of money.

Miss Snevellicci felt in all the corners of the pink reticule, but
there was nothing in any of them. Nicholas murmured a jest about
his being an author, and thought it best not to go through the form
of feeling in his own pockets at all.

'Let me see,' said Mr Curdle; 'twice four's eight--four shillings
a-piece to the boxes, Miss Snevellicci, is exceedingly dear in the
present state of the drama--three half-crowns is seven-and-six; we
shall not differ about sixpence, I suppose? Sixpence will not part
us, Miss Snevellicci?'

Poor Miss Snevellicci took the three half-crowns, with many smiles
and bends, and Mrs Curdle, adding several supplementary directions
relative to keeping the places for them, and dusting the seat, and
sending two clean bills as soon as they came out, rang the bell, as
a signal for breaking up the conference.

'Odd people those,' said Nicholas, when they got clear of the house.

'I assure you,' said Miss Snevellicci, taking his arm, 'that I think
myself very lucky they did not owe all the money instead of being
sixpence short. Now, if you were to succeed, they would give people
to understand that they had always patronised you; and if you were
to fail, they would have been quite certain of that from the very
beginning.'

At the next house they visited, they were in great glory; for,
there, resided the six children who were so enraptured with the
public actions of the phenomenon, and who, being called down from
the nursery to be treated with a private view of that young lady,
proceeded to poke their fingers into her eyes, and tread upon her
toes, and show her many other little attentions peculiar to their
time of life.

'I shall certainly persuade Mr Borum to take a private box,' said
the lady of the house, after a most gracious reception. 'I shall
only take two of the children, and will make up the rest of the
party, of gentlemen--your admirers, Miss Snevellicci. Augustus, you
naughty boy, leave the little girl alone.'

This was addressed to a young gentleman who was pinching the
phenomenon behind, apparently with a view of ascertaining whether
she was real.

'I am sure you must be very tired,' said the mama, turning to Miss
Snevellicci. 'I cannot think of allowing you to go, without first
taking a glass of wine. Fie, Charlotte, I am ashamed of you! Miss
Lane, my dear, pray see to the children.'

Miss Lane was the governess, and this entreaty was rendered
necessary by the abrupt behaviour of the youngest Miss Borum, who,
having filched the phenomenon's little green parasol, was now
carrying it bodily off, while the distracted infant looked
helplessly on.

'I am sure, where you ever learnt to act as you do,' said good-
natured Mrs Borum, turning again to Miss Snevellicci, 'I cannot
understand (Emma, don't stare so); laughing in one piece, and crying
in the next, and so natural in all--oh, dear!'

'I am very happy to hear you express so favourable an opinion,' said
Miss Snevellicci. 'It's quite delightful to think you like it.'

'Like it!' cried Mrs Borum. 'Who can help liking it? I would go to
the play, twice a week if I could: I dote upon it--only you're too
affecting sometimes. You do put me in such a state--into such fits
of crying! Goodness gracious me, Miss Lane, how can you let them
torment that poor child so!'

The phenomenon was really in a fair way of being torn limb from
limb; for two strong little boys, one holding on by each of her
hands, were dragging her in different directions as a trial of
strength. However, Miss Lane (who had herself been too much
occupied in contemplating the grown-up actors, to pay the necessary
attention to these proceedings) rescued the unhappy infant at this
juncture, who, being recruited with a glass of wine, was shortly
afterwards taken away by her friends, after sustaining no more
serious damage than a flattening of the pink gauze bonnet, and a
rather extensive creasing of the white frock and trousers.

It was a trying morning; for there were a great many calls to make,
and everybody wanted a different thing. Some wanted tragedies, and
others comedies; some objected to dancing; some wanted scarcely
anything else. Some thought the comic singer decidedly low, and
others hoped he would have more to do than he usually had. Some
people wouldn't promise to go, because other people wouldn't promise
to go; and other people wouldn't go at all, because other people
went. At length, and by little and little, omitting something in
this place, and adding something in that, Miss Snevellicci pledged
herself to a bill of fare which was comprehensive enough, if it had
no other merit (it included among other trifles, four pieces, divers
songs, a few combats, and several dances); and they returned home,
pretty well exhausted with the business of the day.

Nicholas worked away at the piece, which was speedily put into
rehearsal, and then worked away at his own part, which he studied
with great perseverance and acted--as the whole company said--to
perfection. And at length the great day arrived. The crier was
sent round, in the morning, to proclaim the entertainments with the
sound of bell in all the thoroughfares; and extra bills of three
feet long by nine inches wide, were dispersed in all directions,
flung down all the areas, thrust under all the knockers, and
developed in all the shops. They were placarded on all the walls
too, though not with complete success, for an illiterate person
having undertaken this office during the indisposition of the
regular bill-sticker, a part were posted sideways, and the remainder
upside down.

At half-past five, there was a rush of four people to the gallery-
door; at a quarter before six, there were at least a dozen; at six
o'clock the kicks were terrific; and when the elder Master Crummles
opened the door, he was obliged to run behind it for his life.
Fifteen shillings were taken by Mrs Grudden in the first ten
minutes.

Behind the scenes, the same unwonted excitement prevailed. Miss
Snevellicci was in such a perspiration that the paint would scarcely
stay on her face. Mrs Crummles was so nervous that she could hardly
remember her part. Miss Bravassa's ringlets came out of curl with
the heat and anxiety; even Mr Crummles himself kept peeping through
the hole in the curtain, and running back, every now and then, to
announce that another man had come into the pit.

At last, the orchestra left off, and the curtain rose upon the new
piece. The first scene, in which there was nobody particular,
passed off calmly enough, but when Miss Snevellicci went on in the
second, accompanied by the phenomenon as child, what a roar of
applause broke out! The people in the Borum box rose as one man,
waving their hats and handkerchiefs, and uttering shouts of 'Bravo!'
Mrs Borum and the governess cast wreaths upon the stage, of which,
some fluttered into the lamps, and one crowned the temples of a fat
gentleman in the pit, who, looking eagerly towards the scene,
remained unconscious of the honour; the tailor and his family kicked
at the panels of the upper boxes till they threatened to come out
altogether; the very ginger-beer boy remained transfixed in the
centre of the house; a young officer, supposed to entertain a
passion for Miss Snevellicci, stuck his glass in his eye as though
to hide a tear. Again and again Miss Snevellicci curtseyed lower
and lower, and again and again the applause came down, louder and
louder. At length, when the phenomenon picked up one of the smoking
wreaths and put it on, sideways, over Miss Snevellicci's eye, it
reached its climax, and the play proceeded.

But when Nicholas came on for his crack scene with Mrs Crummles,
what a clapping of hands there was! When Mrs Crummles (who was his
unworthy mother), sneered, and called him 'presumptuous boy,' and he
defied her, what a tumult of applause came on! When he quarrelled
with the other gentleman about the young lady, and producing a case
of pistols, said, that if he WAS a gentleman, he would fight him in
that drawing-room, until the furniture was sprinkled with the blood
of one, if not of two--how boxes, pit, and gallery, joined in one
most vigorous cheer! When he called his mother names, because she
wouldn't give up the young lady's property, and she relenting,
caused him to relent likewise, and fall down on one knee and ask her
blessing, how the ladies in the audience sobbed! When he was hid
behind the curtain in the dark, and the wicked relation poked a
sharp sword in every direction, save where his legs were plainly
visible, what a thrill of anxious fear ran through the house! His
air, his figure, his walk, his look, everything he said or did, was
the subject of commendation. There was a round of applause every
time he spoke. And when, at last, in the pump-and-tub scene, Mrs
Grudden lighted the blue fire, and all the unemployed members of the
company came in, and tumbled down in various directions--not because
that had anything to do with the plot, but in order to finish off
with a tableau--the audience (who had by this time increased
considerably) gave vent to such a shout of enthusiasm as had not
been heard in those walls for many and many a day.

In short, the success both of new piece and new actor was complete,
and when Miss Snevellicci was called for at the end of the play,
Nicholas led her on, and divided the applause.

CHAPTER 25

Concerning a young Lady from London, who joins the Company, and an
elderly Admirer who follows in her Train; with an affecting Ceremony
consequent on their Arrival

The new piece being a decided hit, was announced for every evening
of performance until further notice, and the evenings when the
theatre was closed, were reduced from three in the week to two. Nor
were these the only tokens of extraordinary success; for, on the
succeeding Saturday, Nicholas received, by favour of the
indefatigable Mrs Grudden, no less a sum than thirty shillings;
besides which substantial reward, he enjoyed considerable fame and
honour: having a presentation copy of Mr Curdle's pamphlet forwarded
to the theatre, with that gentleman's own autograph (in itself an
inestimable treasure) on the fly-leaf, accompanied with a note,
containing many expressions of approval, and an unsolicited
assurance that Mr Curdle would be very happy to read Shakespeare to
him for three hours every morning before breakfast during his stay
in the town.

'I've got another novelty, Johnson,' said Mr Crummles one morning in
great glee.

'What's that?' rejoined Nicholas. 'The pony?'

'No, no, we never come to the pony till everything else has failed,'
said Mr Crummles. 'I don't think we shall come to the pony at all,
this season. No, no, not the pony.'

'A boy phenomenon, perhaps?' suggested Nicholas.

'There is only one phenomenon, sir,' replied Mr Crummles
impressively, 'and that's a girl.'

'Very true,' said Nicholas. 'I beg your pardon. Then I don't know
what it is, I am sure.'

'What should you say to a young lady from London?' inquired Mr
Crummles. 'Miss So-and-so, of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane?'

'I should say she would look very well in the bills,' said Nicholas.

'You're about right there,' said Mr Crummles; 'and if you had said
she would look very well upon the stage too, you wouldn't have been
far out. Look here; what do you think of this?'

With this inquiry Mr Crummles unfolded a red poster, and a blue
poster, and a yellow poster, at the top of each of which public
notification was inscribed in enormous characters--'First appearance
of the unrivalled Miss Petowker of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane!'

'Dear me!' said Nicholas, 'I know that lady.'

'Then you are acquainted with as much talent as was ever compressed
into one young person's body,' retorted Mr Crummles, rolling up the
bills again; 'that is, talent of a certain sort--of a certain sort.
"The Blood Drinker,"' added Mr Crummles with a prophetic sigh, '"The
Blood Drinker" will die with that girl; and she's the only sylph I
ever saw, who could stand upon one leg, and play the tambourine on
her other knee, LIKE a sylph.'

'When does she come down?' asked Nicholas.

'We expect her today,' replied Mr Crummles. 'She is an old friend
of Mrs Crummles's. Mrs Crummles saw what she could do--always knew
it from the first. She taught her, indeed, nearly all she knows.
Mrs Crummles was the original Blood Drinker.'

'Was she, indeed?'

'Yes. She was obliged to give it up though.'

'Did it disagree with her?' asked Nicholas.

'Not so much with her, as with her audiences,' replied Mr Crummles.
'Nobody could stand it. It was too tremendous. You don't quite
know what Mrs Crummles is yet.'

Nicholas ventured to insinuate that he thought he did.

'No, no, you don't,' said Mr Crummles; 'you don't, indeed. I don't,
and that's a fact. I don't think her country will, till she is
dead. Some new proof of talent bursts from that astonishing woman
every year of her life. Look at her--mother of six children--three
of 'em alive, and all upon the stage!'

'Extraordinary!' cried Nicholas.

'Ah! extraordinary indeed,' rejoined Mr Crummles, taking a
complacent pinch of snuff, and shaking his head gravely. 'I pledge
you my professional word I didn't even know she could dance, till
her last benefit, and then she played Juliet, and Helen Macgregor,
and did the skipping-rope hornpipe between the pieces. The very
first time I saw that admirable woman, Johnson,' said Mr Crummles,
drawing a little nearer, and speaking in the tone of confidential
friendship, 'she stood upon her head on the butt-end of a spear,
surrounded with blazing fireworks.'

'You astonish me!' said Nicholas.

'SHE astonished ME!' returned Mr Crummles, with a very serious
countenance. 'Such grace, coupled with such dignity! I adored her
from that moment!'

The arrival of the gifted subject of these remarks put an abrupt
termination to Mr Crummles's eulogium. Almost immediately
afterwards, Master Percy Crummles entered with a letter, which had
arrived by the General Post, and was directed to his gracious
mother; at sight of the superscription whereof, Mrs Crummles
exclaimed, 'From Henrietta Petowker, I do declare!' and instantly
became absorbed in the contents.

'Is it--?' inquired Mr Crummles, hesitating.

'Oh, yes, it's all right,' replied Mrs Crummles, anticipating the
question. 'What an excellent thing for her, to be sure!'

'It's the best thing altogether, that I ever heard of, I think,'
said Mr Crummles; and then Mr Crummles, Mrs Crummles, and Master
Percy Crummles, all fell to laughing violently. Nicholas left them
to enjoy their mirth together, and walked to his lodgings; wondering
very much what mystery connected with Miss Petowker could provoke
such merriment, and pondering still more on the extreme surprise
with which that lady would regard his sudden enlistment in a
profession of which she was such a distinguished and brilliant
ornament.

But, in this latter respect he was mistaken; for--whether Mr Vincent
Crummles had paved the way, or Miss Petowker had some special reason
for treating him with even more than her usual amiability--their
meeting at the theatre next day was more like that of two dear
friends who had been inseparable from infancy, than a recognition
passing between a lady and gentleman who had only met some half-
dozen times, and then by mere chance. Nay, Miss Petowker even
whispered that she had wholly dropped the Kenwigses in her
conversations with the manager's family, and had represented herself
as having encountered Mr Johnson in the very first and most
fashionable circles; and on Nicholas receiving this intelligence
with unfeigned surprise, she added, with a sweet glance, that she
had a claim on his good nature now, and might tax it before long.

Nicholas had the honour of playing in a slight piece with Miss
Petowker that night, and could not but observe that the warmth of
her reception was mainly attributable to a most persevering umbrella
in the upper boxes; he saw, too, that the enchanting actress cast
many sweet looks towards the quarter whence these sounds proceeded;
and that every time she did so, the umbrella broke out afresh.
Once, he thought that a peculiarly shaped hat in the same corner was
not wholly unknown to him; but, being occupied with his share of the
stage business, he bestowed no great attention upon this
circumstance, and it had quite vanished from his memory by the time
he reached home.

He had just sat down to supper with Smike, when one of the people of
the house came outside the door, and announced that a gentleman
below stairs wished to speak to Mr Johnson.

'Well, if he does, you must tell him to come up; that's all I know,'
replied Nicholas. 'One of our hungry brethren, I suppose, Smike.'

His fellow-lodger looked at the cold meat in silent calculation of
the quantity that would be left for dinner next day, and put back a
slice he had cut for himself, in order that the visitor's
encroachments might be less formidable in their effects.

'It is not anybody who has been here before,' said Nicholas, 'for he
is tumbling up every stair. Come in, come in. In the name of
wonder! Mr Lillyvick?'

It was, indeed, the collector of water-rates who, regarding Nicholas
with a fixed look and immovable countenance, shook hands with most
portentous solemnity, and sat himself down in a seat by the chimney-
corner.

'Why, when did you come here?' asked Nicholas.

'This morning, sir,' replied Mr Lillyvick.

'Oh! I see; then you were at the theatre tonight, and it was your
umb--'

'This umbrella,' said Mr Lillyvick, producing a fat green cotton one
with a battered ferrule. 'What did you think of that performance?'

'So far as I could judge, being on the stage,' replied Nicholas, 'I
thought it very agreeable.'

'Agreeable!' cried the collector. 'I mean to say, sir, that it was
delicious.'

Mr Lillyvick bent forward to pronounce the last word with greater
emphasis; and having done so, drew himself up, and frowned and
nodded a great many times.

'I say, delicious,' repeated Mr Lillyvick. 'Absorbing, fairy-like,
toomultuous,' and again Mr Lillyvick drew himself up, and again he
frowned and nodded.

'Ah!' said Nicholas, a little surprised at these symptoms of
ecstatic approbation. 'Yes--she is a clever girl.'

'She is a divinity,' returned Mr Lillyvick, giving a collector's
double knock on the ground with the umbrella before-mentioned. 'I
have known divine actresses before now, sir, I used to collect--at
least I used to CALL for--and very often call for--the water-rate at
the house of a divine actress, who lived in my beat for upwards of
four year but never--no, never, sir of all divine creatures,
actresses or no actresses, did I see a diviner one than is Henrietta
Petowker.'

Nicholas had much ado to prevent himself from laughing; not trusting
himself to speak, he merely nodded in accordance with Mr Lillyvick's
nods, and remained silent.

'Let me speak a word with you in private,' said Mr Lillyvick.

Nicholas looked good-humouredly at Smike, who, taking the hint,
disappeared.

'A bachelor is a miserable wretch, sir,' said Mr Lillyvick.

'Is he?' asked Nicholas.

'He is,' rejoined the collector. 'I have lived in the world for
nigh sixty year, and I ought to know what it is.'

'You OUGHT to know, certainly,' thought Nicholas; 'but whether you
do or not, is another question.'

'If a bachelor happens to have saved a little matter of money,' said
Mr Lillyvick, 'his sisters and brothers, and nephews and nieces,
look TO that money, and not to him; even if, by being a public
character, he is the head of the family, or, as it may be, the main
from which all the other little branches are turned on, they still
wish him dead all the while, and get low-spirited every time they
see him looking in good health, because they want to come into his
little property. You see that?'

'Oh yes,' replied Nicholas: 'it's very true, no doubt.'

'The great reason for not being married,' resumed Mr Lillyvick, 'is
the expense; that's what's kept me off, or else--Lord!' said Mr
Lillyvick, snapping his fingers, 'I might have had fifty women.'

'Fine women?' asked Nicholas.

'Fine women, sir!' replied the collector; 'ay! not so fine as
Henrietta Petowker, for she is an uncommon specimen, but such women
as don't fall into every man's way, I can tell you. Now suppose a
man can get a fortune IN a wife instead of with her--eh?'

'Why, then, he's a lucky fellow,' replied Nicholas.

'That's what I say,' retorted the collector, patting him benignantly
on the side of the head with his umbrella; 'just what I say.
Henrietta Petowker, the talented Henrietta Petowker has a fortune in
herself, and I am going to--'

'To make her Mrs Lillyvick?' suggested Nicholas.

'No, sir, not to make her Mrs Lillyvick,' replied the collector.
'Actresses, sir, always keep their maiden names--that's the regular
thing--but I'm going to marry her; and the day after tomorrow, too.'

'I congratulate you, sir,' said Nicholas.

'Thank you, sir,' replied the collector, buttoning his waistcoat.
'I shall draw her salary, of course, and I hope after all that it's
nearly as cheap to keep two as it is to keep one; that's a
consolation.'

'Surely you don't want any consolation at such a moment?' observed
Nicholas.

'No,' replied Mr Lillyvick, shaking his head nervously: 'no--of
course not.'

'But how come you both here, if you're going to be married, Mr
Lillyvick?' asked Nicholas.

'Why, that's what I came to explain to you,' replied the collector
of water-rate. 'The fact is, we have thought it best to keep it
secret from the family.'

'Family!' said Nicholas. 'What family?'

'The Kenwigses of course,' rejoined Mr Lillyvick. 'If my niece and
the children had known a word about it before I came away, they'd
have gone into fits at my feet, and never have come out of 'em till
I took an oath not to marry anybody--or they'd have got out a
commission of lunacy, or some dreadful thing,' said the collector,
quite trembling as he spoke.

'To be sure,' said Nicholas. 'Yes; they would have been jealous, no
doubt.'

'To prevent which,' said Mr Lillyvick, 'Henrietta Petowker (it was
settled between us) should come down here to her friends, the
Crummleses, under pretence of this engagement, and I should go down
to Guildford the day before, and join her on the coach there, which
I did, and we came down from Guildford yesterday together. Now, for
fear you should be writing to Mr Noggs, and might say anything about
us, we have thought it best to let you into the secret. We shall be
married from the Crummleses' lodgings, and shall be delighted to see
you--either before church or at breakfast-time, which you like. It
won't be expensive, you know,' said the collector, highly anxious to
prevent any misunderstanding on this point; 'just muffins and
coffee, with perhaps a shrimp or something of that sort for a
relish, you know.'

'Yes, yes, I understand,' replied Nicholas. 'Oh, I shall be most
happy to come; it will give me the greatest pleasure. Where's the
lady stopping--with Mrs Crummles?'

'Why, no,' said the collector; 'they couldn't very well dispose of
her at night, and so she is staying with an acquaintance of hers,
and another young lady; they both belong to the theatre.'

'Miss Snevellicci, I suppose?' said Nicholas.

'Yes, that's the name.'

'And they'll be bridesmaids, I presume?' said Nicholas.

'Why,' said the collector, with a rueful face, 'they WILL have four
bridesmaids; I'm afraid they'll make it rather theatrical.'

'Oh no, not at all,' replied Nicholas, with an awkward attempt to
convert a laugh into a cough. 'Who may the four be? Miss
Snevellicci of course--Miss Ledrook--'

'The--the phenomenon,' groaned the collector.

'Ha, ha!' cried Nicholas. 'I beg your pardon, I don't know what I'm
laughing at--yes, that'll be very pretty--the phenomenon--who else?'

'Some young woman or other,' replied the collector, rising; 'some
other friend of Henrietta Petowker's. Well, you'll be careful not
to say anything about it, will you?'

'You may safely depend upon me,' replied Nicholas. 'Won't you take
anything to eat or drink?'

'No,' said the collector; 'I haven't any appetite. I should think
it was a very pleasant life, the married one, eh?'

'I have not the least doubt of it,' rejoined Nicholas.

'Yes,' said the collector; 'certainly. Oh yes. No doubt. Good
night.'

With these words, Mr Lillyvick, whose manner had exhibited through
the whole of this interview a most extraordinary compound of
precipitation, hesitation, confidence and doubt, fondness,
misgiving, meanness, and self-importance, turned his back upon the
room, and left Nicholas to enjoy a laugh by himself if he felt so
disposed.

Without stopping to inquire whether the intervening day appeared to
Nicholas to consist of the usual number of hours of the ordinary
length, it may be remarked that, to the parties more directly
interested in the forthcoming ceremony, it passed with great
rapidity, insomuch that when Miss Petowker awoke on the succeeding
morning in the chamber of Miss Snevellicci, she declared that
nothing should ever persuade her that that really was the day which
was to behold a change in her condition.

'I never will believe it,' said Miss Petowker; 'I cannot really.
It's of no use talking, I never can make up my mind to go through
with such a trial!'

On hearing this, Miss Snevellicci and Miss Ledrook, who knew
perfectly well that their fair friend's mind had been made up for
three or four years, at any period of which time she would have
cheerfully undergone the desperate trial now approaching if she
could have found any eligible gentleman disposed for the venture,
began to preach comfort and firmness, and to say how very proud she
ought to feel that it was in her power to confer lasting bliss on a
deserving object, and how necessary it was for the happiness of
mankind in general that women should possess fortitude and
resignation on such occasions; and that although for their parts
they held true happiness to consist in a single life, which they
would not willingly exchange--no, not for any worldly consideration--
still (thank God), if ever the time SHOULD come, they hoped they
knew their duty too well to repine, but would the rather submit with
meekness and humility of spirit to a fate for which Providence had
clearly designed them with a view to the contentment and reward of
their fellow-creatures.

'I might feel it was a great blow,' said Miss Snevellicci, 'to break
up old associations and what-do-you-callems of that kind, but I
would submit, my dear, I would indeed.'

'So would I,' said Miss Ledrook; 'I would rather court the yoke than
shun it. I have broken hearts before now, and I'm very sorry for
it: for it's a terrible thing to reflect upon.'

'It is indeed,' said Miss Snevellicci. 'Now Led, my dear, we must
positively get her ready, or we shall be too late, we shall indeed.'

This pious reasoning, and perhaps the fear of being too late,
supported the bride through the ceremony of robing, after which,
strong tea and brandy were administered in alternate doses as a
means of strengthening her feeble limbs and causing her to walk
steadier.

'How do you feel now, my love?' inquired Miss Snevellicci.

'Oh Lillyvick!' cried the bride. 'If you knew what I am undergoing
for you!'

'Of course he knows it, love, and will never forget it,' said Miss
Ledrook.

'Do you think he won't?' cried Miss Petowker, really showing great
capability for the stage. 'Oh, do you think he won't? Do you think
Lillyvick will always remember it--always, always, always?'

There is no knowing in what this burst of feeling might have ended,
if Miss Snevellicci had not at that moment proclaimed the arrival of
the fly, which so astounded the bride that she shook off divers
alarming symptoms which were coming on very strong, and running to
the glass adjusted her dress, and calmly declared that she was ready
for the sacrifice.

She was accordingly supported into the coach, and there 'kept up'
(as Miss Snevellicci said) with perpetual sniffs of SAL VOLATILE and
sips of brandy and other gentle stimulants, until they reached the
manager's door, which was already opened by the two Master
Crummleses, who wore white cockades, and were decorated with the
choicest and most resplendent waistcoats in the theatrical wardrobe.
By the combined exertions of these young gentlemen and the
bridesmaids, assisted by the coachman, Miss Petowker was at length
supported in a condition of much exhaustion to the first floor,
where she no sooner encountered the youthful bridegroom than she
fainted with great decorum.

'Henrietta Petowker!' said the collector; 'cheer up, my lovely one.'

Miss Petowker grasped the collector's hand, but emotion choked her
utterance.

'Is the sight of me so dreadful, Henrietta Petowker?' said the
collector.

'Oh no, no, no,' rejoined the bride; 'but all the friends--the
darling friends--of my youthful days--to leave them all--it is such
a shock!'

With such expressions of sorrow, Miss Petowker went on to enumerate
the dear friends of her youthful days one by one, and to call upon
such of them as were present to come and embrace her. This done,
she remembered that Mrs Crummles had been more than a mother to her,
and after that, that Mr Crummles had been more than a father to her,
and after that, that the Master Crummleses and Miss Ninetta Crummles
had been more than brothers and sisters to her. These various
remembrances being each accompanied with a series of hugs, occupied
a long time, and they were obliged to drive to church very fast, for
fear they should be too late.

The procession consisted of two flys; in the first of which were
Miss Bravassa (the fourth bridesmaid), Mrs Crummles, the collector,
and Mr Folair, who had been chosen as his second on the occasion.
In the other were the bride, Mr Crummles, Miss Snevellicci, Miss
Ledrook, and the phenomenon. The costumes were beautiful. The
bridesmaids were quite covered with artificial flowers, and the
phenomenon, in particular, was rendered almost invisible by the
portable arbour in which she was enshrined. Miss Ledrook, who was
of a romantic turn, wore in her breast the miniature of some field-
officer unknown, which she had purchased, a great bargain, not very
long before; the other ladies displayed several dazzling articles of
imitative jewellery, almost equal to real, and Mrs Crummles came out
in a stern and gloomy majesty, which attracted the admiration of all
beholders.

But, perhaps the appearance of Mr Crummles was more striking and
appropriate than that of any member of the party. This gentleman,
who personated the bride's father, had, in pursuance of a happy and
original conception, 'made up' for the part by arraying himself in a
theatrical wig, of a style and pattern commonly known as a brown
George, and moreover assuming a snuff-coloured suit, of the previous
century, with grey silk stockings, and buckles to his shoes. The
better to support his assumed character he had determined to be
greatly overcome, and, consequently, when they entered the church,
the sobs of the affectionate parent were so heart-rending that the
pew-opener suggested the propriety of his retiring to the vestry,
and comforting himself with a glass of water before the ceremony
began.

The procession up the aisle was beautiful. The bride, with the four
bridesmaids, forming a group previously arranged and rehearsed; the
collector, followed by his second, imitating his walk and gestures
to the indescribable amusement of some theatrical friends in the
gallery; Mr Crummles, with an infirm and feeble gait; Mrs Crummles
advancing with that stage walk, which consists of a stride and a
stop alternately--it was the completest thing ever witnessed. The
ceremony was very quickly disposed of, and all parties present
having signed the register (for which purpose, when it came to his
turn, Mr Crummles carefully wiped and put on an immense pair of
spectacles), they went back to breakfast in high spirits. And here
they found Nicholas awaiting their arrival.

'Now then,' said Crummles, who had been assisting Mrs Grudden in the
preparations, which were on a more extensive scale than was quite
agreeable to the collector. 'Breakfast, breakfast.'

No second invitation was required. The company crowded and squeezed
themselves at the table as well as they could, and fell to,
immediately: Miss Petowker blushing very much when anybody was
looking, and eating very much when anybody was NOT looking; and Mr
Lillyvick going to work as though with the cool resolve, that since
the good things must be paid for by him, he would leave as little as
possible for the Crummleses to eat up afterwards.

'It's very soon done, sir, isn't it?' inquired Mr Folair of the
collector, leaning over the table to address him.

'What is soon done, sir?' returned Mr Lillyvick.

'The tying up--the fixing oneself with a wife,' replied Mr Folair.
'It don't take long, does it?'

'No, sir,' replied Mr Lillyvick, colouring. 'It does not take long.
And what then, sir?'

'Oh! nothing,' said the actor. 'It don't take a man long to hang
himself, either, eh? ha, ha!'

Mr Lillyvick laid down his knife and fork, and looked round the
table with indignant astonishment.

'To hang himself!' repeated Mr Lillyvick.

A profound silence came upon all, for Mr Lillyvick was dignified
beyond expression.

'To hang himself!' cried Mr Lillyvick again. 'Is any parallel
attempted to be drawn in this company between matrimony and
hanging?'

'The noose, you know,' said Mr Folair, a little crest-fallen.

'The noose, sir?' retorted Mr Lillyvick. 'Does any man dare to
speak to me of a noose, and Henrietta Pe--'

'Lillyvick,' suggested Mr Crummles.

'--And Henrietta Lillyvick in the same breath?' said the collector.
'In this house, in the presence of Mr and Mrs Crummles, who have
brought up a talented and virtuous family, to be blessings and
phenomenons, and what not, are we to hear talk of nooses?'

'Folair,' said Mr Crummles, deeming it a matter of decency to be
affected by this allusion to himself and partner, 'I'm astonished at
you.'

'What are you going on in this way at me for?' urged the unfortunate
actor. 'What have I done?'

'Done, sir!' cried Mr Lillyvick, 'aimed a blow at the whole framework
of society--'

'And the best and tenderest feelings,' added Crummles, relapsing
into the old man.

'And the highest and most estimable of social ties,' said the
collector. 'Noose! As if one was caught, trapped into the married
state, pinned by the leg, instead of going into it of one's own
accord and glorying in the act!'

'I didn't mean to make it out, that you were caught and trapped, and
pinned by the leg,' replied the actor. 'I'm sorry for it; I can't
say any more.'

'So you ought to be, sir,' returned Mr Lillyvick; 'and I am glad to
hear that you have enough of feeling left to be so.'

The quarrel appearing to terminate with this reply, Mrs Lillyvick
considered that the fittest occasion (the attention of the company
being no longer distracted) to burst into tears, and require the
assistance of all four bridesmaids, which was immediately rendered,
though not without some confusion, for the room being small and the
table-cloth long, a whole detachment of plates were swept off the
board at the very first move. Regardless of this circumstance,
however, Mrs Lillyvick refused to be comforted until the
belligerents had passed their words that the dispute should be
carried no further, which, after a sufficient show of reluctance,
they did, and from that time Mr Folair sat in moody silence,
contenting himself with pinching Nicholas's leg when anything was
said, and so expressing his contempt both for the speaker and the
sentiments to which he gave utterance.

There were a great number of speeches made; some by Nicholas, and
some by Crummles, and some by the collector; two by the Master
Crummleses in returning thanks for themselves, and one by the
phenomenon on behalf of the bridesmaids, at which Mrs Crummles shed
tears. There was some singing, too, from Miss Ledrook and Miss
Bravassa, and very likely there might have been more, if the fly-
driver, who stopped to drive the happy pair to the spot where they
proposed to take steamboat to Ryde, had not sent in a peremptory
message intimating, that if they didn't come directly he should
infallibly demand eighteen-pence over and above his agreement.

This desperate threat effectually broke up the party. After a most
pathetic leave-taking, Mr Lillyvick and his bride departed for Ryde,
where they were to spend the next two days in profound retirement,
and whither they were accompanied by the infant, who had been
appointed travelling bridesmaid on Mr Lillyvick's express
stipulation: as the steamboat people, deceived by her size, would
(he had previously ascertained) transport her at half-price.

As there was no performance that night, Mr Crummles declared his
intention of keeping it up till everything to drink was disposed of;
but Nicholas having to play Romeo for the first time on the ensuing
evening, contrived to slip away in the midst of a temporary
confusion, occasioned by the unexpected development of strong
symptoms of inebriety in the conduct of Mrs Grudden.

To this act of desertion he was led, not only by his own
inclinations, but by his anxiety on account of Smike, who, having to
sustain the character of the Apothecary, had been as yet wholly
unable to get any more of the part into his head than the general
idea that he was very hungry, which--perhaps from old recollections--
he had acquired with great aptitude.

'I don't know what's to be done, Smike,' said Nicholas, laying down
the book. 'I am afraid you can't learn it, my poor fellow.'

'I am afraid not,' said Smike, shaking his head. 'I think if you--
but that would give you so much trouble.'

'What?' inquired Nicholas. 'Never mind me.'

'I think,' said Smike, 'if you were to keep saying it to me in
little bits, over and over again, I should be able to recollect it
from hearing you.'

'Do you think so?' exclaimed Nicholas. 'Well said. Let us see who
tires first. Not I, Smike, trust me. Now then. Who calls so
loud?"

'"Who calls so loud?"' said Smike.

'"Who calls so loud?"' repeated Nicholas.

'"Who calls so loud?"' cried Smike.

Thus they continued to ask each other who called so loud, over and
over again; and when Smike had that by heart Nicholas went to
another sentence, and then to two at a time, and then to three, and
so on, until at midnight poor Smike found to his unspeakable joy
that he really began to remember something about the text.

Early in the morning they went to it again, and Smike, rendered more
confident by the progress he had already made, got on faster and
with better heart. As soon as he began to acquire the words pretty
freely, Nicholas showed him how he must come in with both hands
spread out upon his stomach, and how he must occasionally rub it, in
compliance with the established form by which people on the stage
always denote that they want something to eat. After the morning's
rehearsal they went to work again, nor did they stop, except for a
hasty dinner, until it was time to repair to the theatre at night.

Never had master a more anxious, humble, docile pupil. Never had
pupil a more patient, unwearying, considerate, kindhearted master.

As soon as they were dressed, and at every interval when he was not
upon the stage, Nicholas renewed his instructions. They prospered
well. The Romeo was received with hearty plaudits and unbounded
favour, and Smike was pronounced unanimously, alike by audience and
actors, the very prince and prodigy of Apothecaries.

CHAPTER 26

Is fraught with some Danger to Miss Nickleby's Peace of Mind

The place was a handsome suite of private apartments in Regent
Street; the time was three o'clock in the afternoon to the dull and
plodding, and the first hour of morning to the gay and spirited; the
persons were Lord Frederick Verisopht, and his friend Sir Mulberry
Hawk.

These distinguished gentlemen were reclining listlessly on a couple
of sofas, with a table between them, on which were scattered in rich
confusion the materials of an untasted breakfast. Newspapers lay
strewn about the room, but these, like the meal, were neglected and
unnoticed; not, however, because any flow of conversation prevented
the attractions of the journals from being called into request, for
not a word was exchanged between the two, nor was any sound uttered,
save when one, in tossing about to find an easier resting-place for
his aching head, uttered an exclamation of impatience, and seemed
for a moment to communicate a new restlessness to his companion.

These appearances would in themselves have furnished a pretty strong
clue to the extent of the debauch of the previous night, even if
there had not been other indications of the amusements in which it
had been passed. A couple of billiard balls, all mud and dirt, two
battered hats, a champagne bottle with a soiled glove twisted round
the neck, to allow of its being grasped more surely in its capacity
of an offensive weapon; a broken cane; a card-case without the top;
an empty purse; a watch-guard snapped asunder; a handful of silver,
mingled with fragments of half-smoked cigars, and their stale and
crumbled ashes;--these, and many other tokens of riot and disorder,
hinted very intelligibly at the nature of last night's gentlemanly
frolics.

Lord Frederick Verisopht was the first to speak. Dropping his
slippered foot on the ground, and, yawning heavily, he struggled
into a sitting posture, and turned his dull languid eyes towards his
friend, to whom he called in a drowsy voice.

'Hallo!' replied Sir Mulberry, turning round.

'Are we going to lie here all da-a-y?' said the lord.

'I don't know that we're fit for anything else,' replied Sir
Mulberry; 'yet awhile, at least. I haven't a grain of life in me
this morning.'

'Life!' cried Lord Verisopht. 'I feel as if there would be nothing
so snug and comfortable as to die at once.'

'Then why don't you die?' said Sir Mulberry.

With which inquiry he turned his face away, and seemed to occupy
himself in an attempt to fall asleep.

His hopeful fiend and pupil drew a chair to the breakfast-table, and
essayed to eat; but, finding that impossible, lounged to the window,
then loitered up and down the room with his hand to his fevered
head, and finally threw himself again on his sofa, and roused his
friend once more.

'What the devil's the matter?' groaned Sir Mulberry, sitting upright
on the couch.

Although Sir Mulberry said this with sufficient ill-humour, he did
not seem to feel himself quite at liberty to remain silent; for,
after stretching himself very often, and declaring with a shiver
that it was 'infernal cold,' he made an experiment at the breakfast-
table, and proving more successful in it than his less-seasoned
friend, remained there.

'Suppose,' said Sir Mulberry, pausing with a morsel on the point of
his fork, 'suppose we go back to the subject of little Nickleby,
eh?'

'Which little Nickleby; the money-lender or the ga-a-l?' asked Lord
Verisopht.

'You take me, I see,' replied Sir Mulberry. 'The girl, of course.'

'You promised me you'd find her out,' said Lord Verisopht.

'So I did,' rejoined his friend; 'but I have thought further of the
matter since then. You distrust me in the business--you shall find
her out yourself.'

'Na-ay,' remonstrated Lord Verisopht.

'But I say yes,' returned his friend. 'You shall find her out
yourself. Don't think that I mean, when you can--I know as well as
you that if I did, you could never get sight of her without me. No.
I say you shall find her out--SHALL--and I'll put you in the way.'

'Now, curse me, if you ain't a real, deyvlish, downright, thorough-
paced friend,' said the young lord, on whom this speech had produced
a most reviving effect.

'I'll tell you how,' said Sir Mulberry. 'She was at that dinner as
a bait for you.'

'No!' cried the young lord. 'What the dey--'

'As a bait for you,' repeated his friend; 'old Nickleby told me so
himself.'

'What a fine old cock it is!' exclaimed Lord Verisopht; 'a noble
rascal!'

'Yes,' said Sir Mulberry, 'he knew she was a smart little creature--'

'Smart!' interposed the young lord. 'Upon my soul, Hawk, she's a
perfect beauty--a--a picture, a statue, a--a--upon my soul she is!'

'Well,' replied Sir Mulberry, shrugging his shoulders and
manifesting an indifference, whether he felt it or not; 'that's a
matter of taste; if mine doesn't agree with yours, so much the
better.'

'Confound it!' reasoned the lord, 'you were thick enough with her
that day, anyhow. I could hardly get in a word.'

'Well enough for once, well enough for once,' replied Sir Mulberry;
'but not worth the trouble of being agreeable to again. If you
seriously want to follow up the niece, tell the uncle that you must
know where she lives and how she lives, and with whom, or you are no
longer a customer of his. He'll tell you fast enough.'

'Why didn't you say this before?' asked Lord Verisopht, 'instead of
letting me go on burning, consuming, dragging out a miserable
existence for an a-age!'

'I didn't know it, in the first place,' answered Sir Mulberry
carelessly; 'and in the second, I didn't believe you were so very
much in earnest.'

Now, the truth was, that in the interval which had elapsed since the
dinner at Ralph Nickleby's, Sir Mulberry Hawk had been furtively
trying by every means in his power to discover whence Kate had so
suddenly appeared, and whither she had disappeared. Unassisted by
Ralph, however, with whom he had held no communication since their
angry parting on that occasion, all his efforts were wholly
unavailing, and he had therefore arrived at the determination of
communicating to the young lord the substance of the admission he
had gleaned from that worthy. To this he was impelled by various
considerations; among which the certainty of knowing whatever the
weak young man knew was decidedly not the least, as the desire of
encountering the usurer's niece again, and using his utmost arts to
reduce her pride, and revenge himself for her contempt, was
uppermost in his thoughts. It was a politic course of proceeding,
and one which could not fail to redound to his advantage in every
point of view, since the very circumstance of his having extorted
from Ralph Nickleby his real design in introducing his niece to such
society, coupled with his extreme disinterestedness in communicating
it so freely to his friend, could not but advance his interests in
that quarter, and greatly facilitate the passage of coin (pretty
frequent and speedy already) from the pockets of Lord Frederick
Verisopht to those of Sir Mulberry Hawk.

Thus reasoned Sir Mulberry, and in pursuance of this reasoning he
and his friend soon afterwards repaired to Ralph Nickleby's, there
to execute a plan of operations concerted by Sir Mulberry himself,
avowedly to promote his friend's object, and really to attain his
own.

They found Ralph at home, and alone. As he led them into the
drawing-room, the recollection of the scene which had taken place
there seemed to occur to him, for he cast a curious look at Sir
Mulberry, who bestowed upon it no other acknowledgment than a
careless smile.

They had a short conference upon some money matters then in
progress, which were scarcely disposed of when the lordly dupe (in
pursuance of his friend's instructions) requested with some
embarrassment to speak to Ralph alone.

'Alone, eh?' cried Sir Mulberry, affecting surprise. 'Oh, very
good. I'll walk into the next room here. Don't keep me long,
that's all.'

Book of the day: