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The Life And Adventures Of Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens

Part 9 out of 20

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So saying, Sir Mulberry took up his hat, and humming a fragment of a
song disappeared through the door of communication between the two
drawing-rooms, and closed it after him.

'Now, my lord,' said Ralph, 'what is it?'

'Nickleby,' said his client, throwing himself along the sofa on
which he had been previously seated, so as to bring his lips nearer
to the old man's ear, 'what a pretty creature your niece is!'

'Is she, my lord?' replied Ralph. 'Maybe--maybe--I don't trouble my
head with such matters.'

'You know she's a deyvlish fine girl,' said the client. 'You must
know that, Nickleby. Come, don't deny that.'

'Yes, I believe she is considered so,' replied Ralph. 'Indeed, I
know she is. If I did not, you are an authority on such points, and
your taste, my lord--on all points, indeed--is undeniable.'

Nobody but the young man to whom these words were addressed could
have been deaf to the sneering tone in which they were spoken, or
blind to the look of contempt by which they were accompanied. But
Lord Frederick Verisopht was both, and took them to be complimentary.

'Well,' he said, 'p'raps you're a little right, and p'raps you're a
little wrong--a little of both, Nickleby. I want to know where this
beauty lives, that I may have another peep at her, Nickleby.'

'Really--' Ralph began in his usual tones.

'Don't talk so loud,' cried the other, achieving the great point of
his lesson to a miracle. 'I don't want Hawk to hear.'

'You know he is your rival, do you?' said Ralph, looking sharply at
him.

'He always is, d-a-amn him,' replied the client; 'and I want to
steal a march upon him. Ha, ha, ha! He'll cut up so rough,
Nickleby, at our talking together without him. Where does she live,
Nickleby, that's all? Only tell me where she lives, Nickleby.'

'He bites,' thought Ralph. 'He bites.'

'Eh, Nickleby, eh?' pursued the client. 'Where does she live?'

'Really, my lord,' said Ralph, rubbing his hands slowly over each
other, 'I must think before I tell you.'

'No, not a bit of it, Nickleby; you mustn't think at all,' replied
Verisopht. 'Where is it?'

'No good can come of your knowing,' replied Ralph. 'She has been
virtuously and well brought up; to be sure she is handsome, poor,
unprotected! Poor girl, poor girl.'

Ralph ran over this brief summary of Kate's condition as if it were
merely passing through his own mind, and he had no intention to
speak aloud; but the shrewd sly look which he directed at his
companion as he delivered it, gave this poor assumption the lie.

'I tell you I only want to see her,' cried his client. 'A ma-an may
look at a pretty woman without harm, mayn't he? Now, where DOES she
live? You know you're making a fortune out of me, Nickleby, and
upon my soul nobody shall ever take me to anybody else, if you only
tell me this.'

'As you promise that, my lord,' said Ralph, with feigned reluctance,
'and as I am most anxious to oblige you, and as there's no harm in
it--no harm--I'll tell you. But you had better keep it to yourself,
my lord; strictly to yourself.' Ralph pointed to the adjoining room
as he spoke, and nodded expressively.

The young lord, feigning to be equally impressed with the necessity
of this precaution, Ralph disclosed the present address and
occupation of his niece, observing that from what he heard of the
family they appeared very ambitious to have distinguished
acquaintances, and that a lord could, doubtless, introduce himself
with great ease, if he felt disposed.

'Your object being only to see her again,' said Ralph, 'you could
effect it at any time you chose by that means.'

Lord Verisopht acknowledged the hint with a great many squeezes of
Ralph's hard, horny hand, and whispering that they would now do well
to close the conversation, called to Sir Mulberry Hawk that he might
come back.

'I thought you had gone to sleep,' said Sir Mulberry, reappearing
with an ill-tempered air.

'Sorry to detain you,' replied the gull; 'but Nickleby has been so
ama-azingly funny that I couldn't tear myself away.'

'No, no,' said Ralph; 'it was all his lordship. You know what a
witty, humorous, elegant, accomplished man Lord Frederick is. Mind
the step, my lord--Sir Mulberry, pray give way.'

With such courtesies as these, and many low bows, and the same cold
sneer upon his face all the while, Ralph busied himself in showing
his visitors downstairs, and otherwise than by the slightest
possible motion about the corners of his mouth, returned no show of
answer to the look of admiration with which Sir Mulberry Hawk seemed
to compliment him on being such an accomplished and most consummate
scoundrel.

There had been a ring at the bell a few minutes before, which was
answered by Newman Noggs just as they reached the hall. In the
ordinary course of business Newman would have either admitted the
new-comer in silence, or have requested him or her to stand aside
while the gentlemen passed out. But he no sooner saw who it was,
than as if for some private reason of his own, he boldly departed
from the established custom of Ralph's mansion in business hours,
and looking towards the respectable trio who were approaching, cried
in a loud and sonorous voice, 'Mrs Nickleby!'

'Mrs Nickleby!' cried Sir Mulberry Hawk, as his friend looked back,
and stared him in the face.

It was, indeed, that well-intentioned lady, who, having received an
offer for the empty house in the city directed to the landlord, had
brought it post-haste to Mr Nickleby without delay.

'Nobody YOU know,' said Ralph. 'Step into the office, my--my--dear.
I'll be with you directly.'

'Nobody I know!' cried Sir Mulberry Hawk, advancing to the
astonished lady. 'Is this Mrs Nickleby--the mother of Miss
Nickleby--the delightful creature that I had the happiness of
meeting in this house the very last time I dined here? But no;'
said Sir Mulberry, stopping short. 'No, it can't be. There is the
same cast of features, the same indescribable air of--But no; no.
This lady is too young for that.'

'I think you can tell the gentleman, brother-in-law, if it concerns
him to know,' said Mrs Nickleby, acknowledging the compliment with a
graceful bend, 'that Kate Nickleby is my daughter.'

'Her daughter, my lord!' cried Sir Mulberry, turning to his friend.
'This lady's daughter, my lord.'

'My lord!' thought Mrs Nickleby. 'Well, I never did--'

'This, then, my lord,' said Sir Mulberry, 'is the lady to whose
obliging marriage we owe so much happiness. This lady is the mother
of sweet Miss Nickleby. Do you observe the extraordinary likeness,
my lord? Nickleby--introduce us.'

Ralph did so, in a kind of desperation.

'Upon my soul, it's a most delightful thing," said Lord Frederick,
pressing forward. 'How de do?'

Mrs Nickleby was too much flurried by these uncommonly kind
salutations, and her regrets at not having on her other bonnet, to
make any immediate reply, so she merely continued to bend and smile,
and betray great agitation.

'A--and how is Miss Nickleby?' said Lord Frederick. 'Well, I hope?'

'She is quite well, I'm obliged to you, my lord,' returned Mrs
Nickleby, recovering. 'Quite well. She wasn't well for some days
after that day she dined here, and I can't help thinking, that she
caught cold in that hackney coach coming home. Hackney coaches, my
lord, are such nasty things, that it's almost better to walk at any
time, for although I believe a hackney coachman can be transported
for life, if he has a broken window, still they are so reckless,
that they nearly all have broken windows. I once had a swelled face
for six weeks, my lord, from riding in a hackney coach--I think it
was a hackney coach,' said Mrs Nickleby reflecting, 'though I'm not
quite certain whether it wasn't a chariot; at all events I know it
was a dark green, with a very long number, beginning with a nought
and ending with a nine--no, beginning with a nine, and ending with a
nought, that was it, and of course the stamp-office people would
know at once whether it was a coach or a chariot if any inquiries
were made there--however that was, there it was with a broken window
and there was I for six weeks with a swelled face--I think that was
the very same hackney coach, that we found out afterwards, had the
top open all the time, and we should never even have known it, if
they hadn't charged us a shilling an hour extra for having it open,
which it seems is the law, or was then, and a most shameful law it
appears to be--I don't understand the subject, but I should say the
Corn Laws could be nothing to THAT act of Parliament.'

Having pretty well run herself out by this time, Mrs Nickleby
stopped as suddenly as she had started off; and repeated that Kate
was quite well. 'Indeed,' said Mrs Nickleby, 'I don't think she
ever was better, since she had the hooping-cough, scarlet-fever, and
measles, all at the same time, and that's the fact.'

'Is that letter for me?' growled Ralph, pointing to the little
packet Mrs Nickleby held in her hand.

'For you, brother-in-law,' replied Mrs Nickleby, 'and I walked all
the way up here on purpose to give it you.'

'All the way up here!' cried Sir Mulberry, seizing upon the chance
of discovering where Mrs Nickleby had come from. 'What a confounded
distance! How far do you call it now?'

'How far do I call it?' said Mrs Nickleby. 'Let me see. It's just
a mile from our door to the Old Bailey.'

'No, no. Not so much as that,' urged Sir Mulberry.

'Oh! It is indeed,' said Mrs Nickleby. 'I appeal to his lordship.'

'I should decidedly say it was a mile,' remarked Lord Frederick,
with a solemn aspect.

'It must be; it can't be a yard less,' said Mrs Nickleby. 'All
down Newgate Street, all down Cheapside, all up Lombard Street, down
Gracechurch Street, and along Thames Street, as far as Spigwiffin's
Wharf. Oh! It's a mile.'

'Yes, on second thoughts I should say it was,' replied Sir Mulberry.
'But you don't surely mean to walk all the way back?'

'Oh, no,' rejoined Mrs Nickleby. 'I shall go back in an omnibus. I
didn't travel about in omnibuses, when my poor dear Nicholas was
alive, brother-in-law. But as it is, you know--'

'Yes, yes,' replied Ralph impatiently, 'and you had better get back
before dark.'

'Thank you, brother-in-law, so I had,' returned Mrs Nickleby. 'I
think I had better say goodbye, at once.'

'Not stop and--rest?' said Ralph, who seldom offered refreshments
unless something was to be got by it.

'Oh dear me no,' returned Mrs Nickleby, glancing at the dial.

'Lord Frederick,' said Sir Mulberry, 'we are going Mrs Nickleby's
way. We'll see her safe to the omnibus?'

'By all means. Ye-es.'

'Oh! I really couldn't think of it!' said Mrs Nickleby.

But Sir Mulberry Hawk and Lord Verisopht were peremptory in their
politeness, and leaving Ralph, who seemed to think, not unwisely,
that he looked less ridiculous as a mere spectator, than he would
have done if he had taken any part in these proceedings, they
quitted the house with Mrs Nickleby between them; that good lady in
a perfect ecstasy of satisfaction, no less with the attentions shown
her by two titled gentlemen, than with the conviction that Kate
might now pick and choose, at least between two large fortunes, and
most unexceptionable husbands.

As she was carried away for the moment by an irresistible train of
thought, all connected with her daughter's future greatness, Sir
Mulberry Hawk and his friend exchanged glances over the top of the
bonnet which the poor lady so much regretted not having left at
home, and proceeded to dilate with great rapture, but much respect
on the manifold perfections of Miss Nickleby.

'What a delight, what a comfort, what a happiness, this amiable
creature must be to you,' said Sir Mulberry, throwing into his voice
an indication of the warmest feeling.

'She is indeed, sir,' replied Mrs Nickleby; 'she is the sweetest-
tempered, kindest-hearted creature--and so clever!'

'She looks clayver,' said Lord Verisopht, with the air of a judge of
cleverness.

'I assure you she is, my lord,' returned Mrs Nickleby. 'When she
was at school in Devonshire, she was universally allowed to be
beyond all exception the very cleverest girl there, and there were a
great many very clever ones too, and that's the truth--twenty-five
young ladies, fifty guineas a year without the et-ceteras, both the
Miss Dowdles the most accomplished, elegant, fascinating creatures--
Oh dear me!' said Mrs Nickleby, 'I never shall forget what pleasure
she used to give me and her poor dear papa, when she was at that
school, never--such a delightful letter every half-year, telling us
that she was the first pupil in the whole establishment, and had
made more progress than anybody else! I can scarcely bear to think
of it even now. The girls wrote all the letters themselves,' added
Mrs Nickleby, 'and the writing-master touched them up afterwards
with a magnifying glass and a silver pen; at least I think they
wrote them, though Kate was never quite certain about that, because
she didn't know the handwriting of hers again; but anyway, I know it
was a circular which they all copied, and of course it was a very
gratifying thing--very gratifying.'

With similar recollections Mrs Nickleby beguiled the tediousness of
the way, until they reached the omnibus, which the extreme
politeness of her new friends would not allow them to leave until it
actually started, when they took their hats, as Mrs Nickleby
solemnly assured her hearers on many subsequent occasions,
'completely off,' and kissed their straw-coloured kid gloves till
they were no longer visible.

Mrs Nickleby leant back in the furthest corner of the conveyance,
and, closing her eyes, resigned herself to a host of most pleasing
meditations. Kate had never said a word about having met either of
these gentlemen; 'that,' she thought, 'argues that she is strongly
prepossessed in favour of one of them.' Then the question arose,
which one could it be. The lord was the youngest, and his title was
certainly the grandest; still Kate was not the girl to be swayed by
such considerations as these. 'I will never put any constraint upon
her inclinations,' said Mrs Nickleby to herself; 'but upon my word I
think there's no comparison between his lordship and Sir Mulberry--
Sir Mulberry is such an attentive gentlemanly creature, so much
manner, such a fine man, and has so much to say for himself. I hope
it's Sir Mulberry--I think it must be Sir Mulberry!' And then her
thoughts flew back to her old predictions, and the number of times
she had said, that Kate with no fortune would marry better than
other people's daughters with thousands; and, as she pictured with
the brightness of a mother's fancy all the beauty and grace of the
poor girl who had struggled so cheerfully with her new life of
hardship and trial, her heart grew too full, and the tears trickled
down her face.

Meanwhile, Ralph walked to and fro in his little back-office,
troubled in mind by what had just occurred. To say that Ralph loved
or cared for--in the most ordinary acceptation of those terms--any
one of God's creatures, would be the wildest fiction. Still, there
had somehow stolen upon him from time to time a thought of his niece
which was tinged with compassion and pity; breaking through the dull
cloud of dislike or indifference which darkened men and women in his
eyes, there was, in her case, the faintest gleam of light--a most
feeble and sickly ray at the best of times--but there it was, and it
showed the poor girl in a better and purer aspect than any in which
he had looked on human nature yet.

'I wish,' thought Ralph, 'I had never done this. And yet it will
keep this boy to me, while there is money to be made. Selling a
girl--throwing her in the way of temptation, and insult, and coarse
speech. Nearly two thousand pounds profit from him already though.
Pshaw! match-making mothers do the same thing every day.'

He sat down, and told the chances, for and against, on his fingers.

'If I had not put them in the right track today,' thought Ralph,
'this foolish woman would have done so. Well. If her daughter is
as true to herself as she should be from what I have seen, what harm
ensues? A little teasing, a little humbling, a few tears. Yes,'
said Ralph, aloud, as he locked his iron safe. 'She must take her
chance. She must take her chance.'

CHAPTER 27

Mrs Nickleby becomes acquainted with Messrs Pyke and Pluck, whose
Affection and Interest are beyond all Bounds

Mrs Nickleby had not felt so proud and important for many a day, as
when, on reaching home, she gave herself wholly up to the pleasant
visions which had accompanied her on her way thither. Lady Mulberry
Hawk--that was the prevalent idea. Lady Mulberry Hawk!--On Tuesday
last, at St George's, Hanover Square, by the Right Reverend the
Bishop of Llandaff, Sir Mulberry Hawk, of Mulberry Castle, North
Wales, to Catherine, only daughter of the late Nicholas Nickleby,
Esquire, of Devonshire. 'Upon my word!' cried Mrs Nicholas
Nickleby, 'it sounds very well.'

Having dispatched the ceremony, with its attendant festivities, to
the perfect satisfaction of her own mind, the sanguine mother
pictured to her imagination a long train of honours and distinctions
which could not fail to accompany Kate in her new and brilliant
sphere. She would be presented at court, of course. On the
anniversary of her birthday, which was upon the nineteenth of July
('at ten minutes past three o'clock in the morning,' thought Mrs
Nickleby in a parenthesis, 'for I recollect asking what o'clock it
was'), Sir Mulberry would give a great feast to all his tenants, and
would return them three and a half per cent on the amount of their
last half-year's rent, as would be fully described and recorded in
the fashionable intelligence, to the immeasurable delight and
admiration of all the readers thereof. Kate's picture, too, would
be in at least half-a-dozen of the annuals, and on the opposite page
would appear, in delicate type, 'Lines on contemplating the Portrait
of Lady Mulberry Hawk. By Sir Dingleby Dabber.' Perhaps some one
annual, of more comprehensive design than its fellows, might even
contain a portrait of the mother of Lady Mulberry Hawk, with lines
by the father of Sir Dingleby Dabber. More unlikely things had come
to pass. Less interesting portraits had appeared. As this thought
occurred to the good lady, her countenance unconsciously assumed
that compound expression of simpering and sleepiness which, being
common to all such portraits, is perhaps one reason why they are
always so charming and agreeable.

With such triumphs of aerial architecture did Mrs Nickleby occupy
the whole evening after her accidental introduction to Ralph's
titled friends; and dreams, no less prophetic and equally promising,
haunted her sleep that night. She was preparing for her frugal
dinner next day, still occupied with the same ideas--a little
softened down perhaps by sleep and daylight--when the girl who
attended her, partly for company, and partly to assist in the
household affairs, rushed into the room in unwonted agitation, and
announced that two gentlemen were waiting in the passage for
permission to walk upstairs.

'Bless my heart!' cried Mrs Nickleby, hastily arranging her cap and
front, 'if it should be--dear me, standing in the passage all this
time--why don't you go and ask them to walk up, you stupid thing?'

While the girl was gone on this errand, Mrs Nickleby hastily swept
into a cupboard all vestiges of eating and drinking; which she had
scarcely done, and seated herself with looks as collected as she
could assume, when two gentlemen, both perfect strangers, presented
themselves.

'How do you DO?' said one gentleman, laying great stress on the last
word of the inquiry.

'HOW do you do?' said the other gentleman, altering the emphasis, as
if to give variety to the salutation.

Mrs Nickleby curtseyed and smiled, and curtseyed again, and
remarked, rubbing her hands as she did so, that she hadn't the--
really--the honour to--

'To know us,' said the first gentleman. 'The loss has been ours,
Mrs Nickleby. Has the loss been ours, Pyke?'

'It has, Pluck,' answered the other gentleman.

'We have regretted it very often, I believe, Pyke?' said the first
gentleman.

'Very often, Pluck,' answered the second.

'But now,' said the first gentleman, 'now we have the happiness we
have pined and languished for. Have we pined and languished for
this happiness, Pyke, or have we not?'

'You know we have, Pluck,' said Pyke, reproachfully.

'You hear him, ma'am?' said Mr Pluck, looking round; 'you hear the
unimpeachable testimony of my friend Pyke--that reminds me,--
formalities, formalities, must not be neglected in civilised
society. Pyke--Mrs Nickleby.'

Mr Pyke laid his hand upon his heart, and bowed low.

'Whether I shall introduce myself with the same formality,' said Mr
Pluck--'whether I shall say myself that my name is Pluck, or whether
I shall ask my friend Pyke (who being now regularly introduced, is
competent to the office) to state for me, Mrs Nickleby, that my name
is Pluck; whether I shall claim your acquaintance on the plain
ground of the strong interest I take in your welfare, or whether I
shall make myself known to you as the friend of Sir Mulberry Hawk--
these, Mrs Nickleby, are considerations which I leave to you to
determine.'

'Any friend of Sir Mulberry Hawk's requires no better introduction
to me,' observed Mrs Nickleby, graciously.

'It is delightful to hear you say so,' said Mr Pluck, drawing a
chair close to Mrs Nickleby, and sitting himself down. 'It is
refreshing to know that you hold my excellent friend, Sir Mulberry,
in such high esteem. A word in your ear, Mrs Nickleby. When Sir
Mulberry knows it, he will be a happy man--I say, Mrs Nickleby, a
happy man. Pyke, be seated.'

'MY good opinion,' said Mrs Nickleby, and the poor lady exulted in
the idea that she was marvellously sly,--'my good opinion can be of
very little consequence to a gentleman like Sir Mulberry.'

'Of little consequence!' exclaimed Mr Pluck. 'Pyke, of what
consequence to our friend, Sir Mulberry, is the good opinion of Mrs
Nickleby?'

'Of what consequence?' echoed Pyke.

'Ay,' repeated Pluck; 'is it of the greatest consequence?'

'Of the very greatest consequence,' replied Pyke.

'Mrs Nickleby cannot be ignorant,' said Mr Pluck, 'of the immense
impression which that sweet girl has--'

'Pluck!' said his friend, 'beware!'

'Pyke is right,' muttered Mr Pluck, after a short pause; 'I was not
to mention it. Pyke is very right. Thank you, Pyke.'

'Well now, really,' thought Mrs Nickleby within herself. 'Such
delicacy as that, I never saw!'

Mr Pluck, after feigning to be in a condition of great embarrassment
for some minutes, resumed the conversation by entreating Mrs
Nickleby to take no heed of what he had inadvertently said--to
consider him imprudent, rash, injudicious. The only stipulation he
would make in his own favour was, that she should give him credit
for the best intentions.

'But when,' said Mr Pluck, 'when I see so much sweetness and beauty
on the one hand, and so much ardour and devotion on the other, I--
pardon me, Pyke, I didn't intend to resume that theme. Change the
subject, Pyke.'

'We promised Sir Mulberry and Lord Frederick,' said Pyke, 'that we'd
call this morning and inquire whether you took any cold last night.'

'Not the least in the world last night, sir,' replied Mrs Nickleby,
'with many thanks to his lordship and Sir Mulberry for doing me the
honour to inquire; not the least--which is the more singular, as I
really am very subject to colds, indeed--very subject. I had a cold
once,' said Mrs Nickleby, 'I think it was in the year eighteen
hundred and seventeen; let me see, four and five are nine, and--yes,
eighteen hundred and seventeen, that I thought I never should get
rid of; actually and seriously, that I thought I never should get
rid of. I was only cured at last by a remedy that I don't know
whether you ever happened to hear of, Mr Pluck. You have a gallon
of water as hot as you can possibly bear it, with a pound of salt,
and sixpen'orth of the finest bran, and sit with your head in it for
twenty minutes every night just before going to bed; at least, I
don't mean your head--your feet. It's a most extraordinary cure--a
most extraordinary cure. I used it for the first time, I recollect,
the day after Christmas Day, and by the middle of April following
the cold was gone. It seems quite a miracle when you come to think
of it, for I had it ever since the beginning of September.'

'What an afflicting calamity!' said Mr Pyke.

'Perfectly horrid!' exclaimed Mr Pluck.

'But it's worth the pain of hearing, only to know that Mrs Nickleby
recovered it, isn't it, Pluck?' cried Mr Pyke.

'That is the circumstance which gives it such a thrilling interest,'
replied Mr Pluck.

'But come,' said Pyke, as if suddenly recollecting himself; 'we must
not forget our mission in the pleasure of this interview. We come
on a mission, Mrs Nickleby.'

'On a mission,' exclaimed that good lady, to whose mind a definite
proposal of marriage for Kate at once presented itself in lively
colours.

'From Sir Mulberry,' replied Pyke. 'You must be very dull here.'

'Rather dull, I confess,' said Mrs Nickleby.

'We bring the compliments of Sir Mulberry Hawk, and a thousand
entreaties that you'll take a seat in a private box at the play
tonight,' said Mr Pluck.

'Oh dear!' said Mrs Nickleby, 'I never go out at all, never.'

'And that is the very reason, my dear Mrs Nickleby, why you should
go out tonight,' retorted Mr Pluck. 'Pyke, entreat Mrs Nickleby.'

'Oh, pray do,' said Pyke.

'You positively must,' urged Pluck.

'You are very kind,' said Mrs Nickleby, hesitating; 'but--'

'There's not a but in the case, my dear Mrs Nickleby,' remonstrated
Mr Pluck; 'not such a word in the vocabulary. Your brother-in-law
joins us, Lord Frederick joins us, Sir Mulberry joins us, Pyke joins
us--a refusal is out of the question. Sir Mulberry sends a
carriage for you--twenty minutes before seven to the moment--you'll
not be so cruel as to disappoint the whole party, Mrs Nickleby?'

'You are so very pressing, that I scarcely know what to say,'
replied the worthy lady.

'Say nothing; not a word, not a word, my dearest madam,' urged Mr
Pluck. 'Mrs Nickleby,' said that excellent gentleman, lowering his
voice, 'there is the most trifling, the most excusable breach of
confidence in what I am about to say; and yet if my friend Pyke
there overheard it--such is that man's delicate sense of honour, Mrs
Nickleby--he'd have me out before dinner-time.'

Mrs Nickleby cast an apprehensive glance at the warlike Pyke, who
had walked to the window; and Mr Pluck, squeezing her hand, went on:

'Your daughter has made a conquest--a conquest on which I may
congratulate you. Sir Mulberry, my dear ma'am, Sir Mulberry is her
devoted slave. Hem!'

'Hah!' cried Mr Pyke at this juncture, snatching something from the
chimney-piece with a theatrical air. 'What is this! what do I
behold!'

'What DO you behold, my dear fellow?' asked Mr Pluck.

'It is the face, the countenance, the expression,' cried Mr Pyke,
falling into his chair with a miniature in his hand; 'feebly
portrayed, imperfectly caught, but still THE face, THE countenance,
THE expression.'

'I recognise it at this distance!' exclaimed Mr Pluck in a fit of
enthusiasm. 'Is it not, my dear madam, the faint similitude of--'

'It is my daughter's portrait,' said Mrs Nickleby, with great pride.
And so it was. And little Miss La Creevy had brought it home for
inspection only two nights before.

Mr Pyke no sooner ascertained that he was quite right in his
conjecture, than he launched into the most extravagant encomiums of
the divine original; and in the warmth of his enthusiasm kissed the
picture a thousand times, while Mr Pluck pressed Mrs Nickleby's hand
to his heart, and congratulated her on the possession of such a
daughter, with so much earnestness and affection, that the tears
stood, or seemed to stand, in his eyes. Poor Mrs Nickleby, who had
listened in a state of enviable complacency at first, became at
length quite overpowered by these tokens of regard for, and
attachment to, the family; and even the servant girl, who had peeped
in at the door, remained rooted to the spot in astonishment at the
ecstasies of the two friendly visitors.

By degrees these raptures subsided, and Mrs Nickleby went on to
entertain her guests with a lament over her fallen fortunes, and a
picturesque account of her old house in the country: comprising a
full description of the different apartments, not forgetting the
little store-room, and a lively recollection of how many steps you
went down to get into the garden, and which way you turned when you
came out at the parlour door, and what capital fixtures there were
in the kitchen. This last reflection naturally conducted her into
the wash-house, where she stumbled upon the brewing utensils, among
which she might have wandered for an hour, if the mere mention of
those implements had not, by an association of ideas, instantly
reminded Mr Pyke that he was 'amazing thirsty.'

'And I'll tell you what,' said Mr Pyke; 'if you'll send round to the
public-house for a pot of milk half-and-half, positively and
actually I'll drink it.'

And positively and actually Mr Pyke DID drink it, and Mr Pluck
helped him, while Mrs Nickleby looked on in divided admiration of
the condescension of the two, and the aptitude with which they
accommodated themselves to the pewter-pot; in explanation of which
seeming marvel it may be here observed, that gentlemen who, like
Messrs Pyke and Pluck, live upon their wits (or not so much,
perhaps, upon the presence of their own wits as upon the absence of
wits in other people) are occasionally reduced to very narrow shifts
and straits, and are at such periods accustomed to regale themselves
in a very simple and primitive manner.

'At twenty minutes before seven, then,' said Mr Pyke, rising, 'the
coach will be here. One more look--one little look--at that sweet
face. Ah! here it is. Unmoved, unchanged!' This, by the way, was a
very remarkable circumstance, miniatures being liable to so many
changes of expression--'Oh, Pluck! Pluck!'

Mr Pluck made no other reply than kissing Mrs Nickleby's hand with a
great show of feeling and attachment; Mr Pyke having done the same,
both gentlemen hastily withdrew.

Mrs Nickleby was commonly in the habit of giving herself credit for
a pretty tolerable share of penetration and acuteness, but she had
never felt so satisfied with her own sharp-sightedness as she did
that day. She had found it all out the night before. She had never
seen Sir Mulberry and Kate together--never even heard Sir Mulberry's
name--and yet hadn't she said to herself from the very first, that
she saw how the case stood? and what a triumph it was, for there
was now no doubt about it. If these flattering attentions to
herself were not sufficient proofs, Sir Mulberry's confidential
friend had suffered the secret to escape him in so many words. 'I
am quite in love with that dear Mr Pluck, I declare I am,' said Mrs
Nickleby.

There was one great source of uneasiness in the midst of this good
fortune, and that was the having nobody by, to whom she could
confide it. Once or twice she almost resolved to walk straight to
Miss La Creevy's and tell it all to her. 'But I don't know,'
thought Mrs Nickleby; 'she is a very worthy person, but I am afraid
too much beneath Sir Mulberry's station for us to make a companion
of. Poor thing!' Acting upon this grave consideration she rejected
the idea of taking the little portrait painter into her confidence,
and contented herself with holding out sundry vague and mysterious
hopes of preferment to the servant girl, who received these obscure
hints of dawning greatness with much veneration and respect.

Punctual to its time came the promised vehicle, which was no hackney
coach, but a private chariot, having behind it a footman, whose
legs, although somewhat large for his body, might, as mere abstract
legs, have set themselves up for models at the Royal Academy. It
was quite exhilarating to hear the clash and bustle with which he
banged the door and jumped up behind after Mrs Nickleby was in; and
as that good lady was perfectly unconscious that he applied the
gold-headed end of his long stick to his nose, and so telegraphed
most disrespectfully to the coachman over her very head, she sat in
a state of much stiffness and dignity, not a little proud of her
position.

At the theatre entrance there was more banging and more bustle, and
there were also Messrs Pyke and Pluck waiting to escort her to her
box; and so polite were they, that Mr Pyke threatened with many
oaths to 'smifligate' a very old man with a lantern who accidentally
stumbled in her way--to the great terror of Mrs Nickleby, who,
conjecturing more from Mr Pyke's excitement than any previous
acquaintance with the etymology of the word that smifligation and
bloodshed must be in the main one and the same thing, was alarmed
beyond expression, lest something should occur. Fortunately,
however, Mr Pyke confined himself to mere verbal smifligation, and
they reached their box with no more serious interruption by the way,
than a desire on the part of the same pugnacious gentleman to
'smash' the assistant box-keeper for happening to mistake the
number.

Mrs Nickleby had scarcely been put away behind the curtain of the
box in an armchair, when Sir Mulberry and Lord Verisopht arrived,
arrayed from the crowns of their heads to the tips of their gloves,
and from the tips of their gloves to the toes of their boots, in the
most elegant and costly manner. Sir Mulberry was a little hoarser
than on the previous day, and Lord Verisopht looked rather sleepy
and queer; from which tokens, as well as from the circumstance of
their both being to a trifling extent unsteady upon their legs, Mrs
Nickleby justly concluded that they had taken dinner.

'We have been--we have been--toasting your lovely daughter, Mrs
Nickleby,' whispered Sir Mulberry, sitting down behind her.

'Oh, ho!' thought that knowing lady; 'wine in, truth out.--You are
very kind, Sir Mulberry.'

'No, no upon my soul!' replied Sir Mulberry Hawk. 'It's you that's
kind, upon my soul it is. It was so kind of you to come tonight.'

'So very kind of you to invite me, you mean, Sir Mulberry,' replied
Mrs Nickleby, tossing her head, and looking prodigiously sly.

'I am so anxious to know you, so anxious to cultivate your good
opinion, so desirous that there should be a delicious kind of
harmonious family understanding between us,' said Sir Mulberry,
'that you mustn't think I'm disinterested in what I do. I'm
infernal selfish; I am--upon my soul I am.'

'I am sure you can't be selfish, Sir Mulberry!' replied Mrs
Nickleby. 'You have much too open and generous a countenance for
that.'

'What an extraordinary observer you are!' said Sir Mulberry Hawk.

'Oh no, indeed, I don't see very far into things, Sir Mulberry,'
replied Mrs Nickleby, in a tone of voice which left the baronet to
infer that she saw very far indeed.

'I am quite afraid of you,' said the baronet. 'Upon my soul,'
repeated Sir Mulberry, looking round to his companions; 'I am afraid
of Mrs Nickleby. She is so immensely sharp.'

Messrs Pyke and Pluck shook their heads mysteriously, and observed
together that they had found that out long ago; upon which Mrs
Nickleby tittered, and Sir Mulberry laughed, and Pyke and Pluck
roared.

'But where's my brother-in-law, Sir Mulberry?' inquired Mrs
Nickleby. 'I shouldn't be here without him. I hope he's coming.'

'Pyke,' said Sir Mulberry, taking out his toothpick and lolling back
in his chair, as if he were too lazy to invent a reply to this
question. 'Where's Ralph Nickleby?'

'Pluck,' said Pyke, imitating the baronet's action, and turning the
lie over to his friend, 'where's Ralph Nickleby?'

Mr Pluck was about to return some evasive reply, when the hustle
caused by a party entering the next box seemed to attract the
attention of all four gentlemen, who exchanged glances of much
meaning. The new party beginning to converse together, Sir Mulberry
suddenly assumed the character of a most attentive listener, and
implored his friends not to breathe--not to breathe.

'Why not?' said Mrs Nickleby. 'What is the matter?'

'Hush!' replied Sir Mulberry, laying his hand on her arm. 'Lord
Frederick, do you recognise the tones of that voice?'

'Deyvle take me if I didn't think it was the voice of Miss
Nickleby.'

'Lor, my lord!' cried Miss Nickleby's mama, thrusting her head
round the curtain. 'Why actually--Kate, my dear, Kate.'

'YOU here, mama! Is it possible!'

'Possible, my dear? Yes.'

'Why who--who on earth is that you have with you, mama?' said Kate,
shrinking back as she caught sight of a man smiling and kissing his
hand.

'Who do you suppose, my dear?' replied Mrs Nickleby, bending towards
Mrs Wititterly, and speaking a little louder for that lady's
edification. 'There's Mr Pyke, Mr Pluck, Sir Mulberry Hawk, and
Lord Frederick Verisopht.'

'Gracious Heaven!' thought Kate hurriedly. 'How comes she in such
society?'

Now, Kate thought thus SO hurriedly, and the surprise was so great,
and moreover brought back so forcibly the recollection of what had
passed at Ralph's delectable dinner, that she turned extremely pale
and appeared greatly agitated, which symptoms being observed by Mrs
Nickleby, were at once set down by that acute lady as being caused
and occasioned by violent love. But, although she was in no small
degree delighted by this discovery, which reflected so much credit
on her own quickness of perception, it did not lessen her motherly
anxiety in Kate's behalf; and accordingly, with a vast quantity of
trepidation, she quitted her own box to hasten into that of Mrs
Wititterly. Mrs Wititterly, keenly alive to the glory of having a
lord and a baronet among her visiting acquaintance, lost no time in
signing to Mr Wititterly to open the door, and thus it was that in
less than thirty seconds Mrs Nickleby's party had made an irruption
into Mrs Wititterly's box, which it filled to the very door, there
being in fact only room for Messrs Pyke and Pluck to get in their
heads and waistcoats.

'My dear Kate,' said Mrs Nickleby, kissing her daughter
affectionately. 'How ill you looked a moment ago! You quite
frightened me, I declare!'

'It was mere fancy, mama,--the--the--reflection of the lights
perhaps,' replied Kate, glancing nervously round, and finding it
impossible to whisper any caution or explanation.

'Don't you see Sir Mulberry Hawk, my dear?'

Kate bowed slightly, and biting her lip turned her head towards the
stage.

But Sir Mulberry Hawk was not to be so easily repulsed, for he
advanced with extended hand; and Mrs Nickleby officiously informing
Kate of this circumstance, she was obliged to extend her own. Sir
Mulberry detained it while he murmured a profusion of compliments,
which Kate, remembering what had passed between them, rightly
considered as so many aggravations of the insult he had already put
upon her. Then followed the recognition of Lord Verisopht, and then
the greeting of Mr Pyke, and then that of Mr Pluck, and finally, to
complete the young lady's mortification, she was compelled at Mrs
Wititterly's request to perform the ceremony of introducing the
odious persons, whom she regarded with the utmost indignation and
abhorrence.

'Mrs Wititterly is delighted,' said Mr Wititterly, rubbing his
hands; 'delighted, my lord, I am sure, with this opportunity of
contracting an acquaintance which, I trust, my lord, we shall
improve. Julia, my dear, you must not allow yourself to be too much
excited, you must not. Indeed you must not. Mrs Wititterly is of a
most excitable nature, Sir Mulberry. The snuff of a candle, the
wick of a lamp, the bloom on a peach, the down on a butterfly. You
might blow her away, my lord; you might blow her away.'

Sir Mulberry seemed to think that it would be a great convenience if
the lady could be blown away. He said, however, that the delight
was mutual, and Lord Verisopht added that it was mutual, whereupon
Messrs Pyke and Pluck were heard to murmur from the distance that it
was very mutual indeed.

'I take an interest, my lord,' said Mrs Wititterly, with a faint
smile, 'such an interest in the drama.'

'Ye--es. It's very interesting,' replied Lord Verisopht.

'I'm always ill after Shakespeare,' said Mrs Wititterly. 'I
scarcely exist the next day; I find the reaction so very great after
a tragedy, my lord, and Shakespeare is such a delicious creature.'

'Ye--es!' replied Lord Verisopht. 'He was a clayver man.'

'Do you know, my lord,' said Mrs Wititterly, after a long silence,
'I find I take so much more interest in his plays, after having been
to that dear little dull house he was born in! Were you ever there,
my lord?'

'No, nayver,' replied Verisopht.

'Then really you ought to go, my lord,' returned Mrs Wititterly, in
very languid and drawling accents. 'I don't know how it is, but
after you've seen the place and written your name in the little
book, somehow or other you seem to be inspired; it kindles up quite
a fire within one.'

'Ye--es!' replied Lord Verisopht, 'I shall certainly go there.'

'Julia, my life,' interposed Mr Wititterly, 'you are deceiving his
lordship--unintentionally, my lord, she is deceiving you. It is
your poetical temperament, my dear--your ethereal soul--your fervid
imagination, which throws you into a glow of genius and excitement.
There is nothing in the place, my dear--nothing, nothing.'

'I think there must be something in the place,' said Mrs Nickleby,
who had been listening in silence; 'for, soon after I was married, I
went to Stratford with my poor dear Mr Nickleby, in a post-chaise
from Birmingham--was it a post-chaise though?' said Mrs Nickleby,
considering; 'yes, it must have been a post-chaise, because I
recollect remarking at the time that the driver had a green shade
over his left eye;--in a post-chaise from Birmingham, and after we
had seen Shakespeare's tomb and birthplace, we went back to the inn
there, where we slept that night, and I recollect that all night
long I dreamt of nothing but a black gentleman, at full length, in
plaster-of-Paris, with a lay-down collar tied with two tassels,
leaning against a post and thinking; and when I woke in the morning
and described him to Mr Nickleby, he said it was Shakespeare just as
he had been when he was alive, which was very curious indeed.
Stratford--Stratford,' continued Mrs Nickleby, considering. 'Yes, I
am positive about that, because I recollect I was in the family way
with my son Nicholas at the time, and I had been very much
frightened by an Italian image boy that very morning. In fact, it
was quite a mercy, ma'am,' added Mrs Nickleby, in a whisper to Mrs
Wititterly, 'that my son didn't turn out to be a Shakespeare, and
what a dreadful thing that would have been!'

When Mrs Nickleby had brought this interesting anecdote to a close,
Pyke and Pluck, ever zealous in their patron's cause, proposed the
adjournment of a detachment of the party into the next box; and with
so much skill were the preliminaries adjusted, that Kate, despite
all she could say or do to the contrary, had no alternative but to
suffer herself to be led away by Sir Mulberry Hawk. Her mother and
Mr Pluck accompanied them, but the worthy lady, pluming herself upon
her discretion, took particular care not so much as to look at her
daughter during the whole evening, and to seem wholly absorbed in
the jokes and conversation of Mr Pluck, who, having been appointed
sentry over Mrs Nickleby for that especial purpose, neglected, on
his side, no possible opportunity of engrossing her attention.

Lord Frederick Verisopht remained in the next box to be talked to by
Mrs Wititterly, and Mr Pyke was in attendance to throw in a word or
two when necessary. As to Mr Wititterly, he was sufficiently busy
in the body of the house, informing such of his friends and
acquaintance as happened to be there, that those two gentlemen
upstairs, whom they had seen in conversation with Mrs W., were the
distinguished Lord Frederick Verisopht and his most intimate friend,
the gay Sir Mulberry Hawk--a communication which inflamed several
respectable house-keepers with the utmost jealousy and rage, and
reduced sixteen unmarried daughters to the very brink of despair.

The evening came to an end at last, but Kate had yet to be handed
downstairs by the detested Sir Mulberry; and so skilfully were the
manoeuvres of Messrs Pyke and Pluck conducted, that she and the
baronet were the last of the party, and were even--without an
appearance of effort or design--left at some little distance behind.

'Don't hurry, don't hurry,' said Sir Mulberry, as Kate hastened on,
and attempted to release her arm.

She made no reply, but still pressed forward.

'Nay, then--' coolly observed Sir Mulberry, stopping her outright.

'You had best not seek to detain me, sir!' said Kate, angrily.

'And why not?' retorted Sir Mulberry. 'My dear creature, now why do
you keep up this show of displeasure?'

'SHOW!' repeated Kate, indignantly. 'How dare you presume to speak
to me, sir--to address me--to come into my presence?'

'You look prettier in a passion, Miss Nickleby,' said Sir Mulberry
Hawk, stooping down, the better to see her face.

'I hold you in the bitterest detestation and contempt, sir,' said
Kate. 'If you find any attraction in looks of disgust and aversion,
you--let me rejoin my friends, sir, instantly. Whatever
considerations may have withheld me thus far, I will disregard them
all, and take a course that even YOU might feel, if you do not
immediately suffer me to proceed.'

Sir Mulberry smiled, and still looking in her face and retaining her
arm, walked towards the door.

'If no regard for my sex or helpless situation will induce you to
desist from this coarse and unmanly persecution,' said Kate,
scarcely knowing, in the tumult of her passions, what she said,--'I
have a brother who will resent it dearly, one day.'

'Upon my soul!' exclaimed Sir Mulberry, as though quietly communing
with himself; passing his arm round her waist as he spoke, 'she
looks more beautiful, and I like her better in this mood, than when
her eyes are cast down, and she is in perfect repose!'

How Kate reached the lobby where her friends were waiting she never
knew, but she hurried across it without at all regarding them, and
disengaged herself suddenly from her companion, sprang into the
coach, and throwing herself into its darkest corner burst into
tears.

Messrs Pyke and Pluck, knowing their cue, at once threw the party
into great commotion by shouting for the carriages, and getting up a
violent quarrel with sundry inoffensive bystanders; in the midst of
which tumult they put the affrighted Mrs Nickleby in her chariot,
and having got her safely off, turned their thoughts to Mrs
Wititterly, whose attention also they had now effectually distracted
from the young lady, by throwing her into a state of the utmost
bewilderment and consternation. At length, the conveyance in which
she had come rolled off too with its load, and the four worthies,
being left alone under the portico, enjoyed a hearty laugh together.

'There,' said Sir Mulberry, turning to his noble friend. 'Didn't I
tell you last night that if we could find where they were going by
bribing a servant through my fellow, and then established ourselves
close by with the mother, these people's honour would be our own?
Why here it is, done in four-and-twenty hours.'

'Ye--es,' replied the dupe. 'But I have been tied to the old woman
all ni-ight.'

'Hear him,' said Sir Mulberry, turning to his two friends. 'Hear
this discontented grumbler. Isn't it enough to make a man swear
never to help him in his plots and schemes again? Isn't it an
infernal shame?'

Pyke asked Pluck whether it was not an infernal shame, and Pluck
asked Pyke; but neither answered.

'Isn't it the truth?' demanded Verisopht. 'Wasn't it so?'

'Wasn't it so!' repeated Sir Mulberry. 'How would you have had it?
How could we have got a general invitation at first sight--come when
you like, go when you like, stop as long as you like, do what you
like--if you, the lord, had not made yourself agreeable to the
foolish mistress of the house? Do I care for this girl, except as
your friend? Haven't I been sounding your praises in her ears, and
bearing her pretty sulks and peevishness all night for you? What
sort of stuff do you think I'm made of? Would I do this for every
man? Don't I deserve even gratitude in return?'

'You're a deyvlish good fellow,' said the poor young lord, taking
his friend's arm. 'Upon my life you're a deyvlish good fellow,
Hawk.'

'And I have done right, have I?' demanded Sir Mulberry.

'Quite ri-ght.'

'And like a poor, silly, good-natured, friendly dog as I am, eh?'

'Ye--es, ye--es; like a friend,' replied the other.

'Well then,' replied Sir Mulberry, 'I'm satisfied. And now let's go
and have our revenge on the German baron and the Frenchman, who
cleaned you out so handsomely last night.'

With these words the friendly creature took his companion's arm and
led him away, turning half round as he did so, and bestowing a wink
and a contemptuous smile on Messrs Pyke and Pluck, who, cramming
their handkerchiefs into their mouths to denote their silent
enjoyment of the whole proceedings, followed their patron and his
victim at a little distance.

CHAPTER 28

Miss Nickleby, rendered desperate by the Persecution of Sir Mulberry
Hawk, and the Complicated Difficulties and Distresses which surround
her, appeals, as a last resource, to her Uncle for Protection

The ensuing morning brought reflection with it, as morning usually
does; but widely different was the train of thought it awakened in
the different persons who had been so unexpectedly brought together
on the preceding evening, by the active agency of Messrs Pyke and
Pluck.

The reflections of Sir Mulberry Hawk--if such a term can be applied
to the thoughts of the systematic and calculating man of
dissipation, whose joys, regrets, pains, and pleasures, are all of
self, and who would seem to retain nothing of the intellectual
faculty but the power to debase himself, and to degrade the very
nature whose outward semblance he wears--the reflections of Sir
Mulberry Hawk turned upon Kate Nickleby, and were, in brief, that
she was undoubtedly handsome; that her coyness MUST be easily
conquerable by a man of his address and experience, and that the
pursuit was one which could not fail to redound to his credit, and
greatly to enhance his reputation with the world. And lest this
last consideration--no mean or secondary one with Sir Mulberry--
should sound strangely in the ears of some, let it be remembered
that most men live in a world of their own, and that in that limited
circle alone are they ambitious for distinction and applause. Sir
Mulberry's world was peopled with profligates, and he acted
accordingly.

Thus, cases of injustice, and oppression, and tyranny, and the most
extravagant bigotry, are in constant occurrence among us every day.
It is the custom to trumpet forth much wonder and astonishment at
the chief actors therein setting at defiance so completely the
opinion of the world; but there is no greater fallacy; it is
precisely because they do consult the opinion of their own little
world that such things take place at all, and strike the great world
dumb with amazement.

The reflections of Mrs Nickleby were of the proudest and most
complacent kind; and under the influence of her very agreeable
delusion she straightway sat down and indited a long letter to Kate,
in which she expressed her entire approval of the admirable choice
she had made, and extolled Sir Mulberry to the skies; asserting, for
the more complete satisfaction of her daughter's feelings, that he
was precisely the individual whom she (Mrs Nickleby) would have
chosen for her son-in-law, if she had had the picking and choosing
from all mankind. The good lady then, with the preliminary
observation that she might be fairly supposed not to have lived in
the world so long without knowing its ways, communicated a great
many subtle precepts applicable to the state of courtship, and
confirmed in their wisdom by her own personal experience. Above all
things she commended a strict maidenly reserve, as being not only a
very laudable thing in itself, but as tending materially to
strengthen and increase a lover's ardour. 'And I never,' added Mrs
Nickleby, 'was more delighted in my life than to observe last night,
my dear, that your good sense had already told you this.' With which
sentiment, and various hints of the pleasure she derived from the
knowledge that her daughter inherited so large an instalment of her
own excellent sense and discretion (to nearly the full measure of
which she might hope, with care, to succeed in time), Mrs Nickleby
concluded a very long and rather illegible letter.

Poor Kate was well-nigh distracted on the receipt of four closely-
written and closely-crossed sides of congratulation on the very
subject which had prevented her closing her eyes all night, and kept
her weeping and watching in her chamber; still worse and more trying
was the necessity of rendering herself agreeable to Mrs Wititterly,
who, being in low spirits after the fatigue of the preceding night,
of course expected her companion (else wherefore had she board and
salary?) to be in the best spirits possible. As to Mr Wititterly,
he went about all day in a tremor of delight at having shaken hands
with a lord, and having actually asked him to come and see him in
his own house. The lord himself, not being troubled to any
inconvenient extent with the power of thinking, regaled himself with
the conversation of Messrs Pyke and Pluck, who sharpened their wit
by a plentiful indulgence in various costly stimulants at his
expense.

It was four in the afternoon--that is, the vulgar afternoon of the
sun and the clock--and Mrs Wititterly reclined, according to custom,
on the drawing-room sofa, while Kate read aloud a new novel in three
volumes, entitled 'The Lady Flabella,' which Alphonse the doubtful
had procured from the library that very morning. And it was a
production admirably suited to a lady labouring under Mrs
Wititterly's complaint, seeing that there was not a line in it, from
beginning to end, which could, by the most remote contingency,
awaken the smallest excitement in any person breathing.

Kate read on.

'"Cherizette," said the Lady Flabella, inserting her mouse-like feet
in the blue satin slippers, which had unwittingly occasioned the
half-playful half-angry altercation between herself and the youthful
Colonel Befillaire, in the Duke of Mincefenille's SALON DE DANSE on
the previous night. "CHERIZETTE, MA CHERE, DONNEZ-MOI DE L'EAU-DE-
COLOGNE, S'IL VOUS PLAIT, MON ENFANT."

'"MERCIE--thank you," said the Lady Flabella, as the lively but
devoted Cherizette plentifully besprinkled with the fragrant
compound the Lady Flabella's MOUCHOIR of finest cambric, edged with
richest lace, and emblazoned at the four corners with the Flabella
crest, and gorgeous heraldic bearings of that noble family.
"MERCIE--that will do."

'At this instant, while the Lady Flabella yet inhaled that delicious
fragrance by holding the MOUCHOIR to her exquisite, but
thoughtfully-chiselled nose, the door of the BOUDOIR (artfully
concealed by rich hangings of silken damask, the hue of Italy's
firmament) was thrown open, and with noiseless tread two VALETS-DE-
CHAMBRE, clad in sumptuous liveries of peach-blossom and gold,
advanced into the room followed by a page in BAS DE SOIE--silk
stockings--who, while they remained at some distance making the most
graceful obeisances, advanced to the feet of his lovely mistress,
and dropping on one knee presented, on a golden salver gorgeously
chased, a scented BILLET.

'The Lady Flabella, with an agitation she could not repress, hastily
tore off the ENVELOPE and broke the scented seal. It WAS from
Befillaire--the young, the slim, the low-voiced--HER OWN
Befillaire.'

'Oh, charming!' interrupted Kate's patroness, who was sometimes
taken literary. 'Poetic, really. Read that description again, Miss
Nickleby.'

Kate complied.

'Sweet, indeed!' said Mrs Wititterly, with a sigh. 'So voluptuous,
is it not--so soft?'

'Yes, I think it is,' replied Kate, gently; 'very soft.'

'Close the book, Miss Nickleby,' said Mrs Wititterly. 'I can hear
nothing more today; I should be sorry to disturb the impression of
that sweet description. Close the book.'

Kate complied, not unwillingly; and, as she did so, Mrs Wititterly
raising her glass with a languid hand, remarked, that she looked
pale.

'It was the fright of that--that noise and confusion last night,'
said Kate.

'How very odd!' exclaimed Mrs Wititterly, with a look of surprise.
And certainly, when one comes to think of it, it WAS very odd that
anything should have disturbed a companion. A steam-engine, or
other ingenious piece of mechanism out of order, would have been
nothing to it.

'How did you come to know Lord Frederick, and those other delightful
creatures, child?' asked Mrs Wititterly, still eyeing Kate through
her glass.

'I met them at my uncle's,' said Kate, vexed to feel that she was
colouring deeply, but unable to keep down the blood which rushed to
her face whenever she thought of that man.

'Have you known them long?'

'No,' rejoined Kate. 'Not long.'

'I was very glad of the opportunity which that respectable person,
your mother, gave us of being known to them,' said Mrs Wititterly,
in a lofty manner. 'Some friends of ours were on the very point of
introducing us, which makes it quite remarkable.'

This was said lest Miss Nickleby should grow conceited on the honour
and dignity of having known four great people (for Pyke and Pluck
were included among the delightful creatures), whom Mrs Wititterly
did not know. But as the circumstance had made no impression one
way or other upon Kate's mind, the force of the observation was
quite lost upon her.

'They asked permission to call,' said Mrs Wititterly. 'I gave it
them of course.'

'Do you expect them today?' Kate ventured to inquire.

Mrs Wititterly's answer was lost in the noise of a tremendous
rapping at the street-door, and before it had ceased to vibrate,
there drove up a handsome cabriolet, out of which leaped Sir
Mulberry Hawk and his friend Lord Verisopht.

'They are here now,' said Kate, rising and hurrying away.

'Miss Nickleby!' cried Mrs Wititterly, perfectly aghast at a
companion's attempting to quit the room, without her permission
first had and obtained. 'Pray don't think of going.'

'You are very good!' replied Kate. 'But--'

'For goodness' sake, don't agitate me by making me speak so much,'
said Mrs Wititterly, with great sharpness. 'Dear me, Miss Nickleby,
I beg--'

It was in vain for Kate to protest that she was unwell, for the
footsteps of the knockers, whoever they were, were already on the
stairs. She resumed her seat, and had scarcely done so, when the
doubtful page darted into the room and announced, Mr Pyke, and Mr
Pluck, and Lord Verisopht, and Sir Mulberry Hawk, all at one burst.

'The most extraordinary thing in the world,' said Mr Pluck, saluting
both ladies with the utmost cordiality; 'the most extraordinary
thing. As Lord Frederick and Sir Mulberry drove up to the door,
Pyke and I had that instant knocked.'

'That instant knocked,' said Pyke.

'No matter how you came, so that you are here,' said Mrs Wititterly,
who, by dint of lying on the same sofa for three years and a half,
had got up quite a little pantomime of graceful attitudes, and now
threw herself into the most striking of the whole series, to
astonish the visitors. 'I am delighted, I am sure.'

'And how is Miss Nickleby?' said Sir Mulberry Hawk, accosting Kate,
in a low voice--not so low, however, but that it reached the ears of
Mrs Wititterly.

'Why, she complains of suffering from the fright of last night,'
said the lady. 'I am sure I don't wonder at it, for my nerves are
quite torn to pieces.'

'And yet you look,' observed Sir Mulberry, turning round; 'and yet
you look--'

'Beyond everything,' said Mr Pyke, coming to his patron's
assistance. Of course Mr Pluck said the same.

'I am afraid Sir Mulberry is a flatterer, my lord,' said Mrs
Wititterly, turning to that young gentleman, who had been sucking
the head of his cane in silence, and staring at Kate.

'Oh, deyvlish!' replied Verisopht. Having given utterance to which
remarkable sentiment, he occupied himself as before.

'Neither does Miss Nickleby look the worse,' said Sir Mulberry,
bending his bold gaze upon her. 'She was always handsome, but upon
my soul, ma'am, you seem to have imparted some of your own good
looks to her besides.'

To judge from the glow which suffused the poor girl's countenance
after this speech, Mrs Wititterly might, with some show of reason,
have been supposed to have imparted to it some of that artificial
bloom which decorated her own. Mrs Wititterly admitted, though not
with the best grace in the world, that Kate DID look pretty. She
began to think, too, that Sir Mulberry was not quite so agreeable a
creature as she had at first supposed him; for, although a skilful
flatterer is a most delightful companion if you can keep him all to
yourself, his taste becomes very doubtful when he takes to
complimenting other people.

'Pyke,' said the watchful Mr Pluck, observing the effect which the
praise of Miss Nickleby had produced.

'Well, Pluck,' said Pyke.

'Is there anybody,' demanded Mr Pluck, mysteriously, 'anybody you
know, that Mrs Wititterly's profile reminds you of?'

'Reminds me of!' answered Pyke. 'Of course there is.'

'Who do you mean?' said Pluck, in the same mysterious manner. 'The
D. of B.?'

'The C. of B.,' replied Pyke, with the faintest trace of a grin
lingering in his countenance. 'The beautiful sister is the
countess; not the duchess.'

'True,' said Pluck, 'the C. of B. The resemblance is wonderful!'

'Perfectly startling,' said Mr Pyke.

Here was a state of things! Mrs Wititterly was declared, upon the
testimony of two veracious and competent witnesses, to be the very
picture of a countess! This was one of the consequences of getting
into good society. Why, she might have moved among grovelling
people for twenty years, and never heard of it. How could she,
indeed? what did THEY know about countesses?

The two gentlemen having, by the greediness with which this little
bait was swallowed, tested the extent of Mrs Wititterly's appetite
for adulation, proceeded to administer that commodity in very large
doses, thus affording to Sir Mulberry Hawk an opportunity of
pestering Miss Nickleby with questions and remarks, to which she was
absolutely obliged to make some reply. Meanwhile, Lord Verisopht
enjoyed unmolested the full flavour of the gold knob at the top of
his cane, as he would have done to the end of the interview if Mr
Wititterly had not come home, and caused the conversation to turn to
his favourite topic.

'My lord,' said Mr Wititterly, 'I am delighted--honoured--proud. Be
seated again, my lord, pray. I am proud, indeed--most proud.'

It was to the secret annoyance of his wife that Mr Wititterly said
all this, for, although she was bursting with pride and arrogance,
she would have had the illustrious guests believe that their visit
was quite a common occurrence, and that they had lords and baronets
to see them every day in the week. But Mr Wititterly's feelings
were beyond the power of suppression.

'It is an honour, indeed!' said Mr Wititterly. 'Julia, my soul, you
will suffer for this tomorrow.'

'Suffer!' cried Lord Verisopht.

'The reaction, my lord, the reaction,' said Mr Wititterly. 'This
violent strain upon the nervous system over, my lord, what ensues?
A sinking, a depression, a lowness, a lassitude, a debility. My
lord, if Sir Tumley Snuffim was to see that delicate creature at
this moment, he would not give a--a--THIS for her life.' In
illustration of which remark, Mr Wititterly took a pinch of snuff
from his box, and jerked it lightly into the air as an emblem of
instability.

'Not THAT,' said Mr Wititterly, looking about him with a serious
countenance. 'Sir Tumley Snuffim would not give that for Mrs
Wititterly's existence.'

Mr Wititterly told this with a kind of sober exultation, as if it
were no trifling distinction for a man to have a wife in such a
desperate state, and Mrs Wititterly sighed and looked on, as if she
felt the honour, but had determined to bear it as meekly as might
be.

'Mrs Wititterly,' said her husband, 'is Sir Tumley Snuffim's
favourite patient. I believe I may venture to say, that Mrs
Wititterly is the first person who took the new medicine which is
supposed to have destroyed a family at Kensington Gravel Pits. I
believe she was. If I am wrong, Julia, my dear, you will correct
me.'

'I believe I was,' said Mrs Wititterly, in a faint voice.

As there appeared to be some doubt in the mind of his patron how he
could best join in this conversation, the indefatigable Mr Pyke
threw himself into the breach, and, by way of saying something to
the point, inquired--with reference to the aforesaid medicine--
whether it was nice.

'No, sir, it was not. It had not even that recommendation,' said Mr
W.

'Mrs Wititterly is quite a martyr,' observed Pyke, with a
complimentary bow.

'I THINK I am,' said Mrs Wititterly, smiling.

'I think you are, my dear Julia,' replied her husband, in a tone
which seemed to say that he was not vain, but still must insist upon
their privileges. 'If anybody, my lord,' added Mr Wititterly,
wheeling round to the nobleman, 'will produce to me a greater martyr
than Mrs Wititterly, all I can say is, that I shall be glad to see
that martyr, whether male or female--that's all, my lord.'

Pyke and Pluck promptly remarked that certainly nothing could be
fairer than that; and the call having been by this time protracted
to a very great length, they obeyed Sir Mulberry's look, and rose to
go. This brought Sir Mulberry himself and Lord Verisopht on their
legs also. Many protestations of friendship, and expressions
anticipative of the pleasure which must inevitably flow from so
happy an acquaintance, were exchanged, and the visitors departed,
with renewed assurances that at all times and seasons the mansion of
the Wititterlys would be honoured by receiving them beneath its
roof.

That they came at all times and seasons--that they dined there one
day, supped the next, dined again on the next, and were constantly
to and fro on all--that they made parties to visit public places,
and met by accident at lounges--that upon all these occasions Miss
Nickleby was exposed to the constant and unremitting persecution of
Sir Mulberry Hawk, who now began to feel his character, even in the
estimation of his two dependants, involved in the successful
reduction of her pride--that she had no intervals of peace or rest,
except at those hours when she could sit in her solitary room, and
weep over the trials of the day--all these were consequences
naturally flowing from the well-laid plans of Sir Mulberry, and
their able execution by the auxiliaries, Pyke and Pluck.

And thus for a fortnight matters went on. That any but the weakest
and silliest of people could have seen in one interview that Lord
Verisopht, though he was a lord, and Sir Mulberry Hawk, though he
was a baronet, were not persons accustomed to be the best possible
companions, and were certainly not calculated by habits, manners,
tastes, or conversation, to shine with any very great lustre in the
society of ladies, need scarcely be remarked. But with Mrs
Wititterly the two titles were all sufficient; coarseness became
humour, vulgarity softened itself down into the most charming
eccentricity; insolence took the guise of an easy absence of
reserve, attainable only by those who had had the good fortune to
mix with high folks.

If the mistress put such a construction upon the behaviour of her
new friends, what could the companion urge against them? If they
accustomed themselves to very little restraint before the lady of
the house, with how much more freedom could they address her paid
dependent! Nor was even this the worst. As the odious Sir Mulberry
Hawk attached himself to Kate with less and less of disguise, Mrs
Wititterly began to grow jealous of the superior attractions of Miss
Nickleby. If this feeling had led to her banishment from the
drawing-room when such company was there, Kate would have been only
too happy and willing that it should have existed, but unfortunately
for her she possessed that native grace and true gentility of
manner, and those thousand nameless accomplishments which give to
female society its greatest charm; if these be valuable anywhere,
they were especially so where the lady of the house was a mere
animated doll. The consequence was, that Kate had the double
mortification of being an indispensable part of the circle when Sir
Mulberry and his friends were there, and of being exposed, on that
very account, to all Mrs Wititterly's ill-humours and caprices when
they were gone. She became utterly and completely miserable.

Mrs Wititterly had never thrown off the mask with regard to Sir
Mulberry, but when she was more than usually out of temper,
attributed the circumstance, as ladies sometimes do, to nervous
indisposition. However, as the dreadful idea that Lord Verisopht
also was somewhat taken with Kate, and that she, Mrs Wititterly, was
quite a secondary person, dawned upon that lady's mind and gradually
developed itself, she became possessed with a large quantity of
highly proper and most virtuous indignation, and felt it her duty,
as a married lady and a moral member of society, to mention the
circumstance to 'the young person' without delay.

Accordingly Mrs Wititterly broke ground next morning, during a pause
in the novel-reading.

'Miss Nickleby,' said Mrs Wititterly, 'I wish to speak to you very
gravely. I am sorry to have to do it, upon my word I am very sorry,
but you leave me no alternative, Miss Nickleby.' Here Mrs Wititterly
tossed her head--not passionately, only virtuously--and remarked,
with some appearance of excitement, that she feared that palpitation
of the heart was coming on again.

'Your behaviour, Miss Nickleby,' resumed the lady, 'is very far from
pleasing me--very far. I am very anxious indeed that you should do
well, but you may depend upon it, Miss Nickleby, you will not, if
you go on as you do.'

'Ma'am!' exclaimed Kate, proudly.

'Don't agitate me by speaking in that way, Miss Nickleby, don't,'
said Mrs Wititterly, with some violence, 'or you'll compel me to
ring the bell.'

Kate looked at her, but said nothing.

'You needn't suppose,' resumed Mrs Wititterly, 'that your looking at
me in that way, Miss Nickleby, will prevent my saying what I am
going to say, which I feel to be a religious duty. You needn't
direct your glances towards me,' said Mrs Wititterly, with a sudden
burst of spite; 'I am not Sir Mulberry, no, nor Lord Frederick
Verisopht, Miss Nickleby, nor am I Mr Pyke, nor Mr Pluck either.'

Kate looked at her again, but less steadily than before; and resting
her elbow on the table, covered her eyes with her hand.

'If such things had been done when I was a young girl,' said Mrs
Wititterly (this, by the way, must have been some little time
before), 'I don't suppose anybody would have believed it.'

'I don't think they would,' murmured Kate. 'I do not think anybody
would believe, without actually knowing it, what I seem doomed to
undergo!'

'Don't talk to me of being doomed to undergo, Miss Nickleby, if you
please,' said Mrs Wititterly, with a shrillness of tone quite
surprising in so great an invalid. 'I will not be answered, Miss
Nickleby. I am not accustomed to be answered, nor will I permit it
for an instant. Do you hear?' she added, waiting with some apparent
inconsistency FOR an answer.

'I do hear you, ma'am,' replied Kate, 'with surprise--with greater
surprise than I can express.'

'I have always considered you a particularly well-behaved young
person for your station in life,' said Mrs Wititterly; 'and as you
are a person of healthy appearance, and neat in your dress and so
forth, I have taken an interest in you, as I do still, considering
that I owe a sort of duty to that respectable old female, your
mother. For these reasons, Miss Nickleby, I must tell you once for
all, and begging you to mind what I say, that I must insist upon
your immediately altering your very forward behaviour to the
gentleman who visit at this house. It really is not becoming,' said
Mrs Wititterly, closing her chaste eyes as she spoke; 'it is
improper--quite improper."

'Oh!' cried Kate, looking upwards and clasping her hands; 'is not
this, is not this, too cruel, too hard to bear! Is it not enough
that I should have suffered as I have, night and day; that I should
almost have sunk in my own estimation from very shame of having been
brought into contact with such people; but must I also be exposed to
this unjust and most unfounded charge!'

'You will have the goodness to recollect, Miss Nickleby,' said Mrs
Wititterly, 'that when you use such terms as "unjust", and
"unfounded", you charge me, in effect, with stating that which is
untrue.'

'I do,' said Kate with honest indignation. 'Whether you make this
accusation of yourself, or at the prompting of others, is alike to
me. I say it IS vilely, grossly, wilfully untrue. Is it possible!'
cried Kate, 'that anyone of my own sex can have sat by, and not have
seen the misery these men have caused me? Is it possible that you,
ma'am, can have been present, and failed to mark the insulting
freedom that their every look bespoke? Is it possible that you can
have avoided seeing, that these libertines, in their utter
disrespect for you, and utter disregard of all gentlemanly
behaviour, and almost of decency, have had but one object in
introducing themselves here, and that the furtherance of their
designs upon a friendless, helpless girl, who, without this
humiliating confession, might have hoped to receive from one so much
her senior something like womanly aid and sympathy? I do not--I
cannot believe it!'

If poor Kate had possessed the slightest knowledge of the world, she
certainly would not have ventured, even in the excitement into which
she had been lashed, upon such an injudicious speech as this. Its
effect was precisely what a more experienced observer would have
foreseen. Mrs Wititterly received the attack upon her veracity with
exemplary calmness, and listened with the most heroic fortitude to
Kate's account of her own sufferings. But allusion being made to
her being held in disregard by the gentlemen, she evinced violent
emotion, and this blow was no sooner followed up by the remark
concerning her seniority, than she fell back upon the sofa, uttering
dismal screams.

'What is the matter?' cried Mr Wititterly, bouncing into the room.
'Heavens, what do I see? Julia! Julia! look up, my life, look up!'

But Julia looked down most perseveringly, and screamed still louder;
so Mr Wititterly rang the bell, and danced in a frenzied manner
round the sofa on which Mrs Wititterly lay; uttering perpetual cries
for Sir Tumley Snuffim, and never once leaving off to ask for any
explanation of the scene before him.

'Run for Sir Tumley,' cried Mr Wititterly, menacing the page with
both fists. 'I knew it, Miss Nickleby,' he said, looking round with
an air of melancholy triumph, 'that society has been too much for
her. This is all soul, you know, every bit of it.' With this
assurance Mr Wititterly took up the prostrate form of Mrs
Wititterly, and carried her bodily off to bed.

Kate waited until Sir Tumley Snuffim had paid his visit and looked
in with a report, that, through the special interposition of a
merciful Providence (thus spake Sir Tumley), Mrs Wititterly had gone
to sleep. She then hastily attired herself for walking, and leaving
word that she should return within a couple of hours, hurried away
towards her uncle's house.

It had been a good day with Ralph Nickleby--quite a lucky day; and
as he walked to and fro in his little back-room with his hands
clasped behind him, adding up in his own mind all the sums that had
been, or would be, netted from the business done since morning, his
mouth was drawn into a hard stern smile; while the firmness of the
lines and curves that made it up, as well as the cunning glance of
his cold, bright eye, seemed to tell, that if any resolution or
cunning would increase the profits, they would not fail to be
excited for the purpose.

'Very good!' said Ralph, in allusion, no doubt, to some proceeding
of the day. 'He defies the usurer, does he? Well, we shall see.
"Honesty is the best policy," is it? We'll try that too.'

He stopped, and then walked on again.

'He is content,' said Ralph, relaxing into a smile, 'to set his
known character and conduct against the power of money--dross, as he
calls it. Why, what a dull blockhead this fellow must be! Dross
to, dross! Who's that?'

'Me,' said Newman Noggs, looking in. 'Your niece.'

'What of her?' asked Ralph sharply.

'She's here.'

'Here!'

Newman jerked his head towards his little room, to signify that she
was waiting there.

'What does she want?' asked Ralph.

'I don't know,' rejoined Newman. 'Shall I ask?' he added quickly.

'No,' replied Ralph. 'Show her in! Stay.' He hastily put away a
padlocked cash-box that was on the table, and substituted in its
stead an empty purse. 'There,' said Ralph. 'NOW she may come in.'

Newman, with a grim smile at this manoeuvre, beckoned the young lady
to advance, and having placed a chair for her, retired; looking
stealthily over his shoulder at Ralph as he limped slowly out.

'Well,' said Ralph, roughly enough; but still with something more of
kindness in his manner than he would have exhibited towards anybody
else. 'Well, my--dear. What now?'

Kate raised her eyes, which were filled with tears; and with an
effort to master her emotion strove to speak, but in vain. So
drooping her head again, she remained silent. Her face was hidden
from his view, but Ralph could see that she was weeping.

'I can guess the cause of this!' thought Ralph, after looking at her
for some time in silence. 'I can--I can--guess the cause. Well!
Well!' thought Ralph--for the moment quite disconcerted, as he
watched the anguish of his beautiful niece. 'Where is the harm?
only a few tears; and it's an excellent lesson for her, an excellent
lesson.'

'What is the matter?' asked Ralph, drawing a chair opposite, and
sitting down.

He was rather taken aback by the sudden firmness with which Kate
looked up and answered him.

'The matter which brings me to you, sir,' she said, 'is one which
should call the blood up into your cheeks, and make you burn to
hear, as it does me to tell. I have been wronged; my feelings have
been outraged, insulted, wounded past all healing, and by your
friends.'

'Friends!' cried Ralph, sternly. 'I have no friends, girl.'

'By the men I saw here, then,' returned Kate, quickly. 'If they
were no friends of yours, and you knew what they were,--oh, the more
shame on you, uncle, for bringing me among them. To have subjected
me to what I was exposed to here, through any misplaced confidence
or imperfect knowledge of your guests, would have required some
strong excuse; but if you did it--as I now believe you did--knowing
them well, it was most dastardly and cruel.'

Ralph drew back in utter amazement at this plain speaking, and
regarded Kate with the sternest look. But she met his gaze proudly
and firmly, and although her face was very pale, it looked more
noble and handsome, lighted up as it was, than it had ever appeared
before.

'There is some of that boy's blood in you, I see,' said Ralph,
speaking in his harshest tones, as something in the flashing eye
reminded him of Nicholas at their last meeting.

'I hope there is!' replied Kate. 'I should be proud to know it. I
am young, uncle, and all the difficulties and miseries of my
situation have kept it down, but I have been roused today beyond all
endurance, and come what may, I WILL NOT, as I am your brother's
child, bear these insults longer.'

'What insults, girl?' demanded Ralph, sharply.

'Remember what took place here, and ask yourself,' replied Kate,
colouring deeply. 'Uncle, you must--I am sure you will--release me
from such vile and degrading companionship as I am exposed to now.
I do not mean,' said Kate, hurrying to the old man, and laying her
arm upon his shoulder; 'I do not mean to be angry and violent--I beg
your pardon if I have seemed so, dear uncle,--but you do not know
what I have suffered, you do not indeed. You cannot tell what the
heart of a young girl is--I have no right to expect you should; but
when I tell you that I am wretched, and that my heart is breaking, I
am sure you will help me. I am sure, I am sure you will!'

Ralph looked at her for an instant; then turned away his head, and
beat his foot nervously upon the ground.

'I have gone on day after day,' said Kate, bending over him, and
timidly placing her little hand in his, 'in the hope that this
persecution would cease; I have gone on day after day, compelled to
assume the appearance of cheerfulness, when I was most unhappy. I
have had no counsellor, no adviser, no one to protect me. Mama
supposes that these are honourable men, rich and distinguished, and
how CAN I--how can I undeceive her--when she is so happy in these
little delusions, which are the only happiness she has? The lady
with whom you placed me, is not the person to whom I could confide
matters of so much delicacy, and I have come at last to you, the
only friend I have at hand--almost the only friend I have at all--to
entreat and implore you to assist me.'

'How can I assist you, child?' said Ralph, rising from his chair,
and pacing up and down the room in his old attitude.

'You have influence with one of these men, I KNOW,' rejoined Kate,
emphatically. 'Would not a word from you induce them to desist from
this unmanly course?'

'No,' said Ralph, suddenly turning; 'at least--that--I can't say it,
if it would.'

'Can't say it!'

'No,' said Ralph, coming to a dead stop, and clasping his hands more
tightly behind him. 'I can't say it.'

Kate fell back a step or two, and looked at him, as if in doubt
whether she had heard aright.

'We are connected in business,' said Ralph, poising himself
alternately on his toes and heels, and looking coolly in his niece's
face, 'in business, and I can't afford to offend them. What is it
after all? We have all our trials, and this is one of yours. Some
girls would be proud to have such gallants at their feet.'

'Proud!' cried Kate.

'I don't say,' rejoined Ralph, raising his forefinger, 'but that you
do right to despise them; no, you show your good sense in that, as
indeed I knew from the first you would. Well. In all other
respects you are comfortably bestowed. It's not much to bear. If
this young lord does dog your footsteps, and whisper his drivelling
inanities in your ears, what of it? It's a dishonourable passion.
So be it; it won't last long. Some other novelty will spring up one
day, and you will be released. In the mean time--'

'In the mean time,' interrupted Kate, with becoming pride and
indignation, 'I am to be the scorn of my own sex, and the toy of the
other; justly condemned by all women of right feeling, and despised
by all honest and honourable men; sunken in my own esteem, and
degraded in every eye that looks upon me. No, not if I work my
fingers to the bone, not if I am driven to the roughest and hardest
labour. Do not mistake me. I will not disgrace your
recommendation. I will remain in the house in which it placed me,
until I am entitled to leave it by the terms of my engagement;
though, mind, I see these men no more. When I quit it, I will hide
myself from them and you, and, striving to support my mother by hard
service, I will live, at least, in peace, and trust in God to help
me.'

With these words, she waved her hand, and quitted the room, leaving
Ralph Nickleby motionless as a statue.

The surprise with which Kate, as she closed the room-door, beheld,
close beside it, Newman Noggs standing bolt upright in a little
niche in the wall like some scarecrow or Guy Faux laid up in winter
quarters, almost occasioned her to call aloud. But, Newman laying
his finger upon his lips, she had the presence of mind to refrain.

'Don't,' said Newman, gliding out of his recess, and accompanying
her across the hall. 'Don't cry, don't cry.' Two very large tears,
by-the-bye, were running down Newman's face as he spoke.

'I see how it is,' said poor Noggs, drawing from his pocket what
seemed to be a very old duster, and wiping Kate's eyes with it, as
gently as if she were an infant. 'You're giving way now. Yes, yes,
very good; that's right, I like that. It was right not to give way
before him. Yes, yes! Ha, ha, ha! Oh, yes. Poor thing!'

With these disjointed exclamations, Newman wiped his own eyes with
the afore-mentioned duster, and, limping to the street-door, opened
it to let her out.

'Don't cry any more,' whispered Newman. 'I shall see you soon. Ha!
ha! ha! And so shall somebody else too. Yes, yes. Ho! ho!'

'God bless you,' answered Kate, hurrying out, 'God bless you.'

'Same to you,' rejoined Newman, opening the door again a little way
to say so. 'Ha, ha, ha! Ho! ho! ho!'

And Newman Noggs opened the door once again to nod cheerfully, and
laugh--and shut it, to shake his head mournfully, and cry.

Ralph remained in the same attitude till he heard the noise of the
closing door, when he shrugged his shoulders, and after a few turns
about the room--hasty at first, but gradually becoming slower, as he
relapsed into himself--sat down before his desk.

It is one of those problems of human nature, which may be noted
down, but not solved;--although Ralph felt no remorse at that moment
for his conduct towards the innocent, true-hearted girl; although
his libertine clients had done precisely what he had expected,
precisely what he most wished, and precisely what would tend most to
his advantage, still he hated them for doing it, from the very
bottom of his soul.

'Ugh!' said Ralph, scowling round, and shaking his clenched hand as
the faces of the two profligates rose up before his mind; 'you shall
pay for this. Oh! you shall pay for this!'

As the usurer turned for consolation to his books and papers, a
performance was going on outside his office door, which would have
occasioned him no small surprise, if he could by any means have
become acquainted with it.

Newman Noggs was the sole actor. He stood at a little distance from
the door, with his face towards it; and with the sleeves of his coat
turned back at the wrists, was occupied in bestowing the most
vigorous, scientific, and straightforward blows upon the empty air.

At first sight, this would have appeared merely a wise precaution in
a man of sedentary habits, with the view of opening the chest and
strengthening the muscles of the arms. But the intense eagerness
and joy depicted in the face of Newman Noggs, which was suffused
with perspiration; the surprising energy with which he directed a
constant succession of blows towards a particular panel about five
feet eight from the ground, and still worked away in the most
untiring and persevering manner, would have sufficiently explained
to the attentive observer, that his imagination was thrashing, to
within an inch of his life, his body's most active employer, Mr
Ralph Nickleby.

CHAPTER 29

Of the Proceedings of Nicholas, and certain Internal Divisions in
the Company of Mr Vincent Crummles

The unexpected success and favour with which his experiment at
Portsmouth had been received, induced Mr Crummles to prolong his
stay in that town for a fortnight beyond the period he had
originally assigned for the duration of his visit, during which time
Nicholas personated a vast variety of characters with undiminished
success, and attracted so many people to the theatre who had never
been seen there before, that a benefit was considered by the manager
a very promising speculation. Nicholas assenting to the terms
proposed, the benefit was had, and by it he realised no less a sum
than twenty pounds.

Possessed of this unexpected wealth, his first act was to enclose to
honest John Browdie the amount of his friendly loan, which he
accompanied with many expressions of gratitude and esteem, and many
cordial wishes for his matrimonial happiness. To Newman Noggs he
forwarded one half of the sum he had realised, entreating him to
take an opportunity of handing it to Kate in secret, and conveying
to her the warmest assurances of his love and affection. He made no
mention of the way in which he had employed himself; merely
informing Newman that a letter addressed to him under his assumed
name at the Post Office, Portsmouth, would readily find him, and
entreating that worthy friend to write full particulars of the
situation of his mother and sister, and an account of all the grand
things that Ralph Nickleby had done for them since his departure
from London.

'You are out of spirits,' said Smike, on the night after the letter
had been dispatched.

'Not I!' rejoined Nicholas, with assumed gaiety, for the confession
would have made the boy miserable all night; 'I was thinking about
my sister, Smike.'

'Sister!'

'Ay.'

'Is she like you?' inquired Smike.

'Why, so they say,' replied Nicholas, laughing, 'only a great deal
handsomer.'

'She must be VERY beautiful,' said Smike, after thinking a little
while with his hands folded together, and his eyes bent upon his
friend.

'Anybody who didn't know you as well as I do, my dear fellow, would
say you were an accomplished courtier,' said Nicholas.

'I don't even know what that is,' replied Smike, shaking his head.
'Shall I ever see your sister?'

'To be sure,' cried Nicholas; 'we shall all be together one of these
days--when we are rich, Smike.'

'How is it that you, who are so kind and good to me, have nobody to
be kind to you?' asked Smike. 'I cannot make that out.'

'Why, it is a long story,' replied Nicholas, 'and one you would have
some difficulty in comprehending, I fear. I have an enemy--you
understand what that is?'

'Oh, yes, I understand that,' said Smike.

'Well, it is owing to him,' returned Nicholas. 'He is rich, and not
so easily punished as YOUR old enemy, Mr Squeers. He is my uncle,
but he is a villain, and has done me wrong.'

'Has he though?' asked Smike, bending eagerly forward. 'What is his
name? Tell me his name.'

'Ralph--Ralph Nickleby.'

'Ralph Nickleby,' repeated Smike. 'Ralph. I'll get that name by
heart.'

He had muttered it over to himself some twenty times, when a loud
knock at the door disturbed him from his occupation. Before he
could open it, Mr Folair, the pantomimist, thrust in his head.

Mr Folair's head was usually decorated with a very round hat,
unusually high in the crown, and curled up quite tight in the brims.
On the present occasion he wore it very much on one side, with the
back part forward in consequence of its being the least rusty; round
his neck he wore a flaming red worsted comforter, whereof the
straggling ends peeped out beneath his threadbare Newmarket coat,
which was very tight and buttoned all the way up. He carried in his
hand one very dirty glove, and a cheap dress cane with a glass
handle; in short, his whole appearance was unusually dashing, and
demonstrated a far more scrupulous attention to his toilet than he
was in the habit of bestowing upon it.

'Good-evening, sir,' said Mr Folair, taking off the tall hat, and
running his fingers through his hair. 'I bring a communication.
Hem!'

'From whom and what about?' inquired Nicholas. 'You are unusually
mysterious tonight.'

'Cold, perhaps,' returned Mr Folair; 'cold, perhaps. That is the
fault of my position--not of myself, Mr Johnson. My position as a
mutual friend requires it, sir.' Mr Folair paused with a most
impressive look, and diving into the hat before noticed, drew from
thence a small piece of whity-brown paper curiously folded, whence
he brought forth a note which it had served to keep clean, and
handing it over to Nicholas, said--

'Have the goodness to read that, sir.'

Nicholas, in a state of much amazement, took the note and broke the
seal, glancing at Mr Folair as he did so, who, knitting his brow and
pursing up his mouth with great dignity, was sitting with his eyes
steadily fixed upon the ceiling.

It was directed to blank Johnson, Esq., by favour of Augustus
Folair, Esq.; and the astonishment of Nicholas was in no degree
lessened, when he found it to be couched in the following laconic
terms:--

"Mr Lenville presents his kind regards to Mr Johnson, and will feel
obliged if he will inform him at what hour tomorrow morning it will
be most convenient to him to meet Mr L. at the Theatre, for the
purpose of having his nose pulled in the presence of the company.

"Mr Lenville requests Mr Johnson not to neglect making an
appointment, as he has invited two or three professional friends to
witness the ceremony, and cannot disappoint them upon any account
whatever.

"PORTSMOUTH, TUESDAY NIGHT."

Indignant as he was at this impertinence, there was something so
exquisitely absurd in such a cartel of defiance, that Nicholas was
obliged to bite his lip and read the note over two or three times
before he could muster sufficient gravity and sternness to address
the hostile messenger, who had not taken his eyes from the ceiling,
nor altered the expression of his face in the slightest degree.

'Do you know the contents of this note, sir?' he asked, at length.

'Yes,' rejoined Mr Folair, looking round for an instant, and
immediately carrying his eyes back again to the ceiling.

'And how dare you bring it here, sir?' asked Nicholas, tearing it
into very little pieces, and jerking it in a shower towards the
messenger. 'Had you no fear of being kicked downstairs, sir?'

Mr Folair turned his head--now ornamented with several fragments of
the note--towards Nicholas, and with the same imperturbable dignity,

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