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Nicholas Nickleby

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CHAPTER 61

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

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

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

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

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

‘Why, so I should,’ said Nicholas, ‘should I not?’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘We have been wearying so for your return,’ said Kate, ‘mama and I, and—and Madeline.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Dear Nicholas!’

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Which I refused,’ said Kate.

‘Yes; and why?’

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

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

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

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

‘Oh no! not if your position had been the same, but—’

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

‘Today? so very soon?’

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

‘You may grow rich, you know,’ said Kate.

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

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

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

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

‘You don’t regret?’

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

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

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

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

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

‘Quite,’ said Nicholas, shaking him by both hands.

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

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

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

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

‘Yes,’ said Nicholas, ‘many and many a time.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘When I reached home this morning.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Waiting upon him! With you, sir!’ cried Nicholas.

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

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






CHAPTER 62

Ralph makes one last Appointment—and keeps it

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘I want Mr. Nickleby,’ replied a voice.

‘What with him?’

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

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

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

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

‘At what hour?’ asked the voice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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






CHAPTER 63

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

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

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

‘What do you mean, mother?’ asked Nicholas, smiling.

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

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

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

‘I have not yet arrived at anything deeper, mother.’

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

‘Tea and supper, perhaps,’ suggested Nicholas.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘No, sir!’ replied Kate. ‘Not once.’

‘And not heard from her, eh? Not heard from her?’

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

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

‘Oh! sad, sad; very sad!’ said Ned.

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

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

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

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

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

‘Young men,’ said Mr. Cheeryble, ‘shake hands!’

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

‘Nor I,’ rejoined Frank, as he clasped it heartily.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘I hardly dared to hope—’

‘You hardly dared to hope! Then, so much the greater reason for having our assistance! Mr. Nickleby, sir, Frank, although he judged hastily, judged, for once, correctly. Madeline’s heart is occupied. Give me your hand, sir; it is occupied by you, and worthily and naturally. This fortune is destined to be yours, but you have a greater fortune in her, sir, than you would have in money were it forty times told. She chooses you, Mr Nickleby. She chooses as we, her dearest friends, would have her choose. Frank chooses as we would have him choose. He should have your sister’s little hand, sir, if she had refused it a score of times; ay, he should, and he shall! You acted nobly, not knowing our sentiments, but now you know them, sir, you must do as you are bid. What! You are the children of a worthy gentleman! The time was, sir, when my dear brother Ned and I were two poor simple-hearted boys, wandering, almost barefoot, to seek our fortunes: are we changed in anything but years and worldly circumstances since that time? No, God forbid! Oh, Ned, Ned, Ned, what a happy day this is for you and me! If our poor mother had only lived to see us now, Ned, how proud it would have made her dear heart at last!’

Thus apostrophised, brother Ned, who had entered with Mrs. Nickleby, and who had been before unobserved by the young men, darted forward, and fairly hugged brother Charles in his arms.

‘Bring in my little Kate,’ said the latter, after a short silence. ‘Bring her in, Ned. Let me see Kate, let me kiss her. I have a right to do so now; I was very near it when she first came; I have often been very near it. Ah! Did you find the letter, my bird? Did you find Madeline herself, waiting for you and expecting you? Did you find that she had not quite forgotten her friend and nurse and sweet companion? Why, this is almost the best of all!’

‘Come, come,’ said Ned, ‘Frank will be jealous, and we shall have some cutting of throats before dinner.’

‘Then let him take her away, Ned, let him take her away. Madeline’s in the next room. Let all the lovers get out of the way, and talk among themselves, if they’ve anything to say. Turn ‘em out, Ned, every one!’

Brother Charles began the clearance by leading the blushing girl to the door, and dismissing her with a kiss. Frank was not very slow to follow, and Nicholas had disappeared first of all. So there only remained Mrs Nickleby and Miss La Creevy, who were both sobbing heartily; the two brothers; and Tim Linkinwater, who now came in to shake hands with everybody: his round face all radiant and beaming with smiles.

‘Well, Tim Linkinwater, sir,’ said brother Charles, who was always spokesman, ‘now the young folks are happy, sir.’

‘You didn’t keep ‘em in suspense as long as you said you would, though,’ returned Tim, archly. ‘Why, Mr. Nickleby and Mr. Frank were to have been in your room for I don’t know how long; and I don’t know what you weren’t to have told them before you came out with the truth.’

‘Now, did you ever know such a villain as this, Ned?’ said the old gentleman; ‘did you ever know such a villain as Tim Linkinwater? He accusing me of being impatient, and he the very man who has been wearying us morning, noon, and night, and torturing us for leave to go and tell ‘em what was in store, before our plans were half complete, or we had arranged a single thing. A treacherous dog!’

‘So he is, brother Charles,’ returned Ned; ‘Tim is a treacherous dog. Tim is not to be trusted. Tim is a wild young fellow. He wants gravity and steadiness; he must sow his wild oats, and then perhaps he’ll become in time a respectable member of society.’

This being one of the standing jokes between the old fellows and Tim, they all three laughed very heartily, and might have laughed much longer, but that the brothers, seeing that Mrs. Nickleby was labouring to express her feelings, and was really overwhelmed by the happiness of the time, took her between them, and led her from the room under pretence of having to consult her on some most important arrangements.

Now, Tim and Miss La Creevy had met very often, and had always been very chatty and pleasant together—had always been great friends—and consequently it was the most natural thing in the world that Tim, finding that she still sobbed, should endeavour to console her. As Miss La Creevy sat on a large old-fashioned window-seat, where there was ample room for two, it was also natural that Tim should sit down beside her; and as to Tim’s being unusually spruce and particular in his attire that day, why it was a high festival and a great occasion, and that was the most natural thing of all.

Tim sat down beside Miss La Creevy, and, crossing one leg over the other so that his foot—he had very comely feet and happened to be wearing the neatest shoes and black silk stockings possible—should come easily within the range of her eye, said in a soothing way:

‘Don’t cry!’

‘I must,’ rejoined Miss La Creevy.

‘No, don’t,’ said Tim. ‘Please don’t; pray don’t.’

‘I am so happy!’ sobbed the little woman.

‘Then laugh,’ said Tim. ‘Do laugh.’

What in the world Tim was doing with his arm, it is impossible to conjecture, but he knocked his elbow against that part of the window which was quite on the other side of Miss La Creevy; and it is clear that it could have no business there.

‘Do laugh,’ said Tim, ‘or I’ll cry.’

‘Why should you cry?’ asked Miss La Creevy, smiling.

‘Because I’m happy too,’ said Tim. ‘We are both happy, and I should like to do as you do.’

Surely, there never was a man who fidgeted as Tim must have done then; for he knocked the window again—almost in the same place—and Miss La Creevy said she was sure he’d break it.

‘I knew,’ said Tim, ‘that you would be pleased with this scene.’

‘It was very thoughtful and kind to remember me,’ returned Miss La Creevy. ‘Nothing could have delighted me half so much.’

Why on earth should Miss La Creevy and Tim Linkinwater have said all this in a whisper? It was no secret. And why should Tim Linkinwater have looked so hard at Miss La Creevy, and why should Miss La Creevy have looked so hard at the ground?

‘It’s a pleasant thing,’ said Tim, ‘to people like us, who have passed all our lives in the world alone, to see young folks that we are fond of, brought together with so many years of happiness before them.’

‘Ah!’ cried the little woman with all her heart, ‘that it is!’

‘Although,’ pursued Tim ‘although it makes one feel quite solitary and cast away. Now don’t it?’

Miss La Creevy said she didn’t know. And why should she say she didn’t know? Because she must have known whether it did or not.

‘It’s almost enough to make us get married after all, isn’t it?’ said Tim.

‘Oh, nonsense!’ replied Miss La Creevy, laughing. ‘We are too old.’

‘Not a bit,’ said Tim; ‘we are too old to be single. Why shouldn’t we both be married, instead of sitting through the long winter evenings by our solitary firesides? Why shouldn’t we make one fireside of it, and marry each other?’

‘Oh, Mr. Linkinwater, you’re joking!’

‘No, no, I’m not. I’m not indeed,’ said Tim. ‘I will, if you will. Do, my dear!’

‘It would make people laugh so.’

‘Let ‘em laugh,’ cried Tim stoutly; ‘we have good tempers I know, and we’ll laugh too. Why, what hearty laughs we have had since we’ve known each other!’

‘So we have,’ cried Miss La Creevy—giving way a little, as Tim thought.

‘It has been the happiest time in all my life; at least, away from the counting-house and Cheeryble Brothers,’ said Tim. ‘Do, my dear! Now say you will.’

‘No, no, we mustn’t think of it,’ returned Miss La Creevy. ‘What would the brothers say?’

‘Why, God bless your soul!’ cried Tim, innocently, ‘you don’t suppose I should think of such a thing without their knowing it! Why they left us here on purpose.’

‘I can never look ‘em in the face again!’ exclaimed Miss La Creevy, faintly.

‘Come,’ said Tim, ‘let’s be a comfortable couple. We shall live in the old house here, where I have been for four-and-forty year; we shall go to the old church, where I’ve been, every Sunday morning, all through that time; we shall have all my old friends about us—Dick, the archway, the pump, the flower-pots, and Mr. Frank’s children, and Mr. Nickleby’s children, that we shall seem like grandfather and grandmother to. Let’s be a comfortable couple, and take care of each other! And if we should get deaf, or lame, or blind, or bed-ridden, how glad we shall be that we have somebody we are fond of, always to talk to and sit with! Let’s be a comfortable couple. Now, do, my dear!’

Five minutes after this honest and straightforward speech, little Miss La Creevy and Tim were talking as pleasantly as if they had been married for a score of years, and had never once quarrelled all the time; and five minutes after that, when Miss La Creevy had bustled out to see if her eyes were red and put her hair to rights, Tim moved with a stately step towards the drawing-room, exclaiming as he went, ‘There an’t such another woman in all London! I know there an’t!’

By this time, the apoplectic butler was nearly in fits, in consequence of the unheard-of postponement of dinner. Nicholas, who had been engaged in a manner in which every reader may imagine for himself or herself, was hurrying downstairs in obedience to his angry summons, when he encountered a new surprise.

On his way down, he overtook, in one of the passages, a stranger genteelly dressed in black, who was also moving towards the dining-room. As he was rather lame, and walked slowly, Nicholas lingered behind, and was following him step by step, wondering who he was, when he suddenly turned round and caught him by both hands.

‘Newman Noggs!’ cried Nicholas joyfully

‘Ah! Newman, your own Newman, your own old faithful Newman! My dear boy, my dear Nick, I give you joy—health, happiness, every blessing! I can’t bear it—it’s too much, my dear boy—it makes a child of me!’

‘Where have you been?’ said Nicholas. ‘What have you been doing? How often have I inquired for you, and been told that I should hear before long!’

‘I know, I know!’ returned Newman. ‘They wanted all the happiness to come together. I’ve been helping ‘em. I—I—look at me, Nick, look at me!’

‘You would never let me do that,’ said Nicholas in a tone of gentle reproach.

‘I didn’t mind what I was, then. I shouldn’t have had the heart to put on gentleman’s clothes. They would have reminded me of old times and made me miserable. I am another man now, Nick. My dear boy, I can’t speak. Don’t say anything to me. Don’t think the worse of me for these tears. You don’t know what I feel today; you can’t, and never will!’

They walked in to dinner arm-in-arm, and sat down side by side.

Never was such a dinner as that, since the world began. There was the superannuated bank clerk, Tim Linkinwater’s friend; and there was the chubby old lady, Tim Linkinwater’s sister; and there was so much attention from Tim Linkinwater’s sister to Miss La Creevy, and there were so many jokes from the superannuated bank clerk, and Tim Linkinwater himself was in such tiptop spirits, and little Miss La Creevy was in such a comical state, that of themselves they would have composed the pleasantest party conceivable. Then, there was Mrs. Nickleby, so grand and complacent; Madeline and Kate, so blushing and beautiful; Nicholas and Frank, so devoted and proud; and all four so silently and tremblingly happy; there was Newman so subdued yet so overjoyed, and there were the twin brothers so delighted and interchanging such looks, that the old servant stood transfixed behind his master’s chair, and felt his eyes grow dim as they wandered round the table.

When the first novelty of the meeting had worn off, and they began truly to feel how happy they were, the conversation became more general, and the harmony and pleasure if possible increased. The brothers were in a perfect ecstasy; and their insisting on saluting the ladies all round, before they would permit them to retire, gave occasion to the superannuated bank clerk to say so many good things, that he quite outshone himself, and was looked upon as a prodigy of humour.

‘Kate, my dear,’ said Mrs. Nickleby, taking her daughter aside, as soon as they got upstairs, ‘you don’t really mean to tell me that this is actually true about Miss La Creevy and Mr. Linkinwater?’

‘Indeed it is, mama.’

‘Why, I never heard such a thing in my life!’ exclaimed Mrs. Nickleby.

‘Mr. Linkinwater is a most excellent creature,’ reasoned Kate, ‘and, for his age, quite young still.’

‘For his age, my dear!’ returned Mrs. Nickleby, ‘yes; nobody says anything against him, except that I think he is the weakest and most foolish man I ever knew. It’s her age I speak of. That he should have gone and offered himself to a woman who must be—ah, half as old again as I am—and that she should have dared to accept him! It don’t signify, Kate; I’m disgusted with her!’

Shaking her head very emphatically indeed, Mrs. Nickleby swept away; and all the evening, in the midst of the merriment and enjoyment that ensued, and in which with that exception she freely participated, conducted herself towards Miss La Creevy in a stately and distant manner, designed to mark her sense of the impropriety of her conduct, and to signify her extreme and cutting disapprobation of the misdemeanour she had so flagrantly committed.






CHAPTER 64

An old Acquaintance is recognised under melancholy Circumstances, and Dotheboys Hall breaks up for ever

Nicholas was one of those whose joy is incomplete unless it is shared by the friends of adverse and less fortunate days. Surrounded by every fascination of love and hope, his warm heart yearned towards plain John Browdie. He remembered their first meeting with a smile, and their second with a tear; saw poor Smike once again with the bundle on his shoulder trudging patiently by his side; and heard the honest Yorkshireman’s rough words of encouragement as he left them on their road to London.

Madeline and he sat down, very many times, jointly to produce a letter which should acquaint John at full length with his altered fortunes, and assure him of his friendship and gratitude. It so happened, however, that the letter could never be written. Although they applied themselves to it with the best intentions in the world, it chanced that they always fell to talking about something else, and when Nicholas tried it by himself, he found it impossible to write one-half of what he wished to say, or to pen anything, indeed, which on reperusal did not appear cold and unsatisfactory compared with what he had in his mind. At last, after going on thus from day to day, and reproaching himself more and more, he resolved (the more readily as Madeline strongly urged him) to make a hasty trip into Yorkshire, and present himself before Mr. and Mrs. Browdie without a word of notice.

Thus it was that between seven and eight o’clock one evening, he and Kate found themselves in the Saracen’s Head booking-office, securing a place to Greta Bridge by the next morning’s coach. They had to go westward, to procure some little necessaries for his journey, and, as it was a fine night, they agreed to walk there, and ride home.

The place they had just been in called up so many recollections, and Kate had so many anecdotes of Madeline, and Nicholas so many anecdotes of Frank, and each was so interested in what the other said, and both were so happy and confiding, and had so much to talk about, that it was not until they had plunged for a full half-hour into that labyrinth of streets which lies between Seven Dials and Soho, without emerging into any large thoroughfare, that Nicholas began to think it just possible they might have lost their way.

The possibility was soon converted into a certainty; for, on looking about, and walking first to one end of the street and then to the other, he could find no landmark he could recognise, and was fain to turn back again in quest of some place at which he could seek a direction.

It was a by-street, and there was nobody about, or in the few wretched shops they passed. Making towards a faint gleam of light which streamed across the pavement from a cellar, Nicholas was about to descend two or three steps so as to render himself visible to those below and make his inquiry, when he was arrested by a loud noise of scolding in a woman’s voice.

‘Oh come away!’ said Kate, ‘they are quarrelling. You’ll be hurt.’

‘Wait one instant, Kate. Let us hear if there’s anything the matter,’ returned her brother. ‘Hush!’

‘You nasty, idle, vicious, good-for-nothing brute,’ cried the woman, stamping on the ground, ‘why don’t you turn the mangle?’

‘So I am, my life and soul!’ replied the man’s voice. ‘I am always turning. I am perpetually turning, like a demd old horse in a demnition mill. My life is one demd horrid grind!’

‘Then why don’t you go and list for a soldier?’ retorted the woman; ‘you’re welcome to.’

‘For a soldier!’ cried the man. ‘For a soldier! Would his joy and gladness see him in a coarse red coat with a little tail? Would she hear of his being slapped and beat by drummers demnebly? Would she have him fire off real guns, and have his hair cut, and his whiskers shaved, and his eyes turned right and left, and his trousers pipeclayed?’

‘Dear Nicholas,’ whispered Kate, ‘you don’t know who that is. It’s Mr Mantalini I am confident.’

‘Do make sure! Peep at him while I ask the way,’ said Nicholas. ‘Come down a step or two. Come!’

Drawing her after him, Nicholas crept down the steps and looked into a small boarded cellar. There, amidst clothes-baskets and clothes, stripped up to his shirt-sleeves, but wearing still an old patched pair of pantaloons of superlative make, a once brilliant waistcoat, and moustache and whiskers as of yore, but lacking their lustrous dye—there, endeavouring to mollify the wrath of a buxom female—not the lawful Madame Mantalini, but the proprietress of the concern—and grinding meanwhile as if for very life at the mangle, whose creaking noise, mingled with her shrill tones, appeared almost to deafen him—there was the graceful, elegant, fascinating, and once dashing Mantalini.

‘Oh you false traitor!’ cried the lady, threatening personal violence on Mr. Mantalini’s face.

‘False! Oh dem! Now my soul, my gentle, captivating, bewitching, and most demnebly enslaving chick-a-biddy, be calm,’ said Mr. Mantalini, humbly.

‘I won’t!’ screamed the woman. ‘I’ll tear your eyes out!’

‘Oh! What a demd savage lamb!’ cried Mr. Mantalini.

‘You’re never to be trusted,’ screamed the woman; ‘you were out all day yesterday, and gallivanting somewhere I know. You know you were! Isn’t it enough that I paid two pound fourteen for you, and took you out of prison and let you live here like a gentleman, but must you go on like this: breaking my heart besides?’

‘I will never break its heart, I will be a good boy, and never do so any more; I will never be naughty again; I beg its little pardon,’ said Mr Mantalini, dropping the handle of the mangle, and folding his palms together; ‘it is all up with its handsome friend! He has gone to the demnition bow-wows. It will have pity? It will not scratch and claw, but pet and comfort? Oh, demmit!’

Very little affected, to judge from her action, by this tender appeal, the lady was on the point of returning some angry reply, when Nicholas, raising his voice, asked his way to Piccadilly.

Mr. Mantalini turned round, caught sight of Kate, and, without another word, leapt at one bound into a bed which stood behind the door, and drew the counterpane over his face: kicking meanwhile convulsively.

‘Demmit,’ he cried, in a suffocating voice, ‘it’s little Nickleby! Shut the door, put out the candle, turn me up in the bedstead! Oh, dem, dem, dem!’

The woman looked, first at Nicholas, and then at Mr. Mantalini, as if uncertain on whom to visit this extraordinary behaviour; but Mr. Mantalini happening by ill-luck to thrust his nose from under the bedclothes, in his anxiety to ascertain whether the visitors were gone, she suddenly, and with a dexterity which could only have been acquired by long practice, flung a pretty heavy clothes-basket at him, with so good an aim that he kicked more violently than before, though without venturing to make any effort to disengage his head, which was quite extinguished. Thinking this a favourable opportunity for departing before any of the torrent of her wrath discharged itself upon him, Nicholas hurried Kate off, and left the unfortunate subject of this unexpected recognition to explain his conduct as he best could.

The next morning he began his journey. It was now cold, winter weather: forcibly recalling to his mind under what circumstances he had first travelled that road, and how many vicissitudes and changes he had since undergone. He was alone inside the greater part of the way, and sometimes, when he had fallen into a doze, and, rousing himself, looked out of the window, and recognised some place which he well remembered as having passed, either on his journey down, or in the long walk back with poor Smike, he could hardly believe but that all which had since happened had been a dream, and that they were still plodding wearily on towards London, with the world before them.

To render these recollections the more vivid, it came on to snow as night set in; and, passing through Stamford and Grantham, and by the little alehouse where he had heard the story of the bold Baron of Grogzwig, everything looked as if he had seen it but yesterday, and not even a flake of the white crust on the roofs had melted away. Encouraging the train of ideas which flocked upon him, he could almost persuade himself that he sat again outside the coach, with Squeers and the boys; that he heard their voices in the air; and that he felt again, but with a mingled sensation of pain and pleasure now, that old sinking of the heart, and longing after home. While he was yet yielding himself up to these fancies he fell asleep, and, dreaming of Madeline, forgot them.

He slept at the inn at Greta Bridge on the night of his arrival, and, rising at a very early hour next morning, walked to the market town, and inquired for John Browdie’s house. John lived in the outskirts, now he was a family man; and as everbody knew him, Nicholas had no difficulty in finding a boy who undertook to guide him to his residence.

Dismissing his guide at the gate, and in his impatience not even stopping to admire the thriving look of cottage or garden either, Nicholas made his way to the kitchen door, and knocked lustily with his stick.

‘Halloa!’ cried a voice inside. ‘Wa’et be the matther noo? Be the toon a-fire? Ding, but thou mak’st noise eneaf!’

With these words, John Browdie opened the door himself, and opening his eyes too to their utmost width, cried, as he clapped his hands together, and burst into a hearty roar:

‘Ecod, it be the godfeyther, it be the godfeyther! Tilly, here be Misther Nickleby. Gi’ us thee hond, mun. Coom awa’, coom awa’. In wi ‘un, doon beside the fire; tak’ a soop o’ thot. Dinnot say a word till thou’st droonk it a’! Oop wi’ it, mun. Ding! but I’m reeght glod to see thee.’

Adapting his action to his text, John dragged Nicholas into the kitchen, forced him down upon a huge settle beside a blazing fire, poured out from an enormous bottle about a quarter of a pint of spirits, thrust it into his hand, opened his mouth and threw back his head as a sign to him to drink it instantly, and stood with a broad grin of welcome overspreading his great red face like a jolly giant.

‘I might ha’ knowa’d,’ said John, ‘that nobody but thou would ha’ coom wi’ sike a knock as you. Thot was the wa’ thou knocked at schoolmeasther’s door, eh? Ha, ha, ha! But I say; wa’at be a’ this aboot schoolmeasther?’

‘You know it then?’ said Nicholas.

‘They were talking aboot it, doon toon, last neeght,’ replied John, ‘but neane on ‘em seemed quite to un’erstan’ it, loike.’

‘After various shiftings and delays,’ said Nicholas, ‘he has been sentenced to be transported for seven years, for being in the unlawful possession of a stolen will; and, after that, he has to suffer the consequence of a conspiracy.’

‘Whew!’ cried John, ‘a conspiracy! Soom’at in the pooder-plot wa’? Eh? Soom’at in the Guy Faux line?’

‘No, no, no, a conspiracy connected with his school; I’ll explain it presently.’

‘Thot’s reeght!’ said John, ‘explain it arter breakfast, not noo, for thou be’est hoongry, and so am I; and Tilly she mun’ be at the bottom o’ a’ explanations, for she says thot’s the mutual confidence. Ha, ha, ha! Ecod, it’s a room start, is the mutual confidence!’

The entrance of Mrs. Browdie, with a smart cap on, and very many apologies for their having been detected in the act of breakfasting in the kitchen, stopped John in his discussion of this grave subject, and hastened the breakfast: which, being composed of vast mounds of toast, new-laid eggs, boiled ham, Yorkshire pie, and other cold substantials (of which heavy relays were constantly appearing from another kitchen under the direction of a very plump servant), was admirably adapted to the cold bleak morning, and received the utmost justice from all parties. At last, it came to a close; and the fire which had been lighted in the best parlour having by this time burnt up, they adjourned thither, to hear what Nicholas had to tell.

Nicholas told them all, and never was there a story which awakened so many emotions in the breasts of two eager listeners. At one time, honest John groaned in sympathy, and at another roared with joy; at one time he vowed to go up to London on purpose to get a sight of the brothers Cheeryble; and, at another, swore that Tim Linkinwater should receive such a ham by coach, and carriage free, as mortal knife had never carved. When Nicholas began to describe Madeline, he sat with his mouth wide open, nudging Mrs Browdie from time to time, and exclaiming under his breath that she must be ‘raa’ther a tidy sart,’ and when he heard at last that his young friend had come down purposely to communicate his good fortune, and to convey to him all those assurances of friendship which he could not state with sufficient warmth in writing—that the only object of his journey was to share his happiness with them, and to tell them that when he was married they must come up to see him, and that Madeline insisted on it as well as he—John could hold out no longer, but after looking indignantly at his wife, and demanding to know what she was whimpering for, drew his coat sleeve over his eyes and blubbered outright.

‘Tell’ee wa’at though,’ said John seriously, when a great deal had been said on both sides, ‘to return to schoolmeasther. If this news aboot ‘un has reached school today, the old ‘ooman wean’t have a whole boan in her boddy, nor Fanny neither.’

‘Oh, John!’ cried Mrs. Browdie.

‘Ah! and Oh, John agean,’ replied the Yorkshireman. ‘I dinnot know what they lads mightn’t do. When it first got aboot that schoolmeasther was in trouble, some feythers and moothers sent and took their young chaps awa’. If them as is left, should know waat’s coom tiv’un, there’ll be sike a revolution and rebel!—Ding! But I think they’ll a’ gang daft, and spill bluid like wather!’

In fact, John Browdie’s apprehensions were so strong that he determined to ride over to the school without delay, and invited Nicholas to accompany him, which, however, he declined, pleading that his presence might perhaps aggravate the bitterness of their adversity.

‘Thot’s true!’ said John; ‘I should ne’er ha’ thought o’ thot.’

‘I must return tomorrow,’ said Nicholas, ‘but I mean to dine with you today, and if Mrs. Browdie can give me a bed—’

‘Bed!’ cried John, ‘I wish thou couldst sleep in fower beds at once. Ecod, thou shouldst have ‘em a’. Bide till I coom back; on’y bide till I coom back, and ecod we’ll make a day of it.’

Giving his wife a hearty kiss, and Nicholas a no less hearty shake of the hand, John mounted his horse and rode off: leaving Mrs. Browdie to apply herself to hospitable preparations, and his young friend to stroll about the neighbourhood, and revisit spots which were rendered familiar to him by many a miserable association.

John cantered away, and arriving at Dotheboys Hall, tied his horse to a gate and made his way to the schoolroom door, which he found locked on the inside. A tremendous noise and riot arose from within, and, applying his eye to a convenient crevice in the wall, he did not remain long in ignorance of its meaning.

The news of Mr. Squeers’s downfall had reached Dotheboys; that was quite clear. To all appearance, it had very recently become known to the young gentlemen; for the rebellion had just broken out.

It was one of the brimstone-and-treacle mornings, and Mrs. Squeers had entered school according to custom with the large bowl and spoon, followed by Miss Squeers and the amiable Wackford: who, during his father’s absence, had taken upon him such minor branches of the executive as kicking the pupils with his nailed boots, pulling the hair of some of the smaller boys, pinching the others in aggravating places, and rendering himself, in various similar ways, a great comfort and happiness to his mother. Their entrance, whether by premeditation or a simultaneous impulse, was the signal of revolt. While one detachment rushed to the door and locked it, and another mounted on the desks and forms, the stoutest (and consequently the newest) boy seized the cane, and confronting Mrs Squeers with a stern countenance, snatched off her cap and beaver bonnet, put them on his own head, armed himself with the wooden spoon, and bade her, on pain of death, go down upon her knees and take a dose directly. Before that estimable lady could recover herself, or offer the slightest retaliation, she was forced into a kneeling posture by a crowd of shouting tormentors, and compelled to swallow a spoonful of the odious mixture, rendered more than usually savoury by the immersion in the bowl of Master Wackford’s head, whose ducking was intrusted to another rebel. The success of this first achievement prompted the malicious crowd, whose faces were clustered together in every variety of lank and half-starved ugliness, to further acts of outrage. The leader was insisting upon Mrs. Squeers repeating her dose, Master Squeers was undergoing another dip in the treacle, and a violent assault had been commenced on Miss Squeers, when John Browdie, bursting open the door with a vigorous kick, rushed to the rescue. The shouts, screams, groans, hoots, and clapping of hands, suddenly ceased, and a dead silence ensued.

‘Ye be noice chaps,’ said John, looking steadily round. ‘What’s to do here, thou yoong dogs?’

‘Squeers is in prison, and we are going to run away!’ cried a score of shrill voices. ‘We won’t stop, we won’t stop!’

‘Weel then, dinnot stop,’ replied John; ‘who waants thee to stop? Roon awa’ loike men, but dinnot hurt the women.’

‘Hurrah!’ cried the shrill voices, more shrilly still.

‘Hurrah?’ repeated John. ‘Weel, hurrah loike men too. Noo then, look out. Hip—hip,—hip—hurrah!’

‘Hurrah!’ cried the voices.

‘Hurrah! Agean;’ said John. ‘Looder still.’

The boys obeyed.

‘Anoother!’ said John. ‘Dinnot be afeared on it. Let’s have a good ‘un!’

‘Hurrah!’

‘Noo then,’ said John, ‘let’s have yan more to end wi’, and then coot off as quick as you loike. Tak’a good breath noo—Squeers be in jail—the school’s brokken oop—it’s a’ ower—past and gane—think o’ thot, and let it be a hearty ‘un! Hurrah!’

Such a cheer arose as the walls of Dotheboys Hall had never echoed before, and were destined never to respond to again. When the sound had died away, the school was empty; and of the busy noisy crowd which had peopled it but five minutes before, not one remained.

‘Very well, Mr. Browdie!’ said Miss Squeers, hot and flushed from the recent encounter, but vixenish to the last; ‘you’ve been and excited our boys to run away. Now see if we don’t pay you out for that, sir! If my pa is unfortunate and trod down by henemies, we’re not going to be basely crowed and conquered over by you and ‘Tilda.’

‘Noa!’ replied John bluntly, ‘thou bean’t. Tak’ thy oath o’ thot. Think betther o’ us, Fanny. I tell ‘ee both, that I’m glod the auld man has been caught out at last—dom’d glod—but ye’ll sooffer eneaf wi’out any crowin’ fra’ me, and I be not the mun to crow, nor be Tilly the lass, so I tell ‘ee flat. More than thot, I tell ‘ee noo, that if thou need’st friends to help thee awa’ from this place—dinnot turn up thy nose, Fanny, thou may’st—thou’lt foind Tilly and I wi’ a thout o’ old times aboot us, ready to lend thee a hond. And when I say thot, dinnot think I be asheamed of waa’t I’ve deane, for I say again, Hurrah! and dom the schoolmeasther. There!’

His parting words concluded, John Browdie strode heavily out, remounted his nag, put him once more into a smart canter, and, carolling lustily forth some fragments of an old song, to which the horse’s hoofs rang a merry accompaniment, sped back to his pretty wife and to Nicholas.

For some days afterwards, the neighbouring country was overrun with boys, who, the report went, had been secretly furnished by Mr. and Mrs. Browdie, not only with a hearty meal of bread and meat, but with sundry shillings and sixpences to help them on their way. To this rumour John always returned a stout denial, which he accompanied, however, with a lurking grin, that rendered the suspicious doubtful, and fully confirmed all previous believers.

There were a few timid young children, who, miserable as they had been, and many as were the tears they had shed in the wretched school, still knew no other home, and had formed for it a sort of attachment, which made them weep when the bolder spirits fled, and cling to it as a refuge. Of these, some were found crying under hedges and in such places, frightened at the solitude. One had a dead bird in a little cage; he had wandered nearly twenty miles, and when his poor favourite died, lost courage, and lay down beside him. Another was discovered in a yard hard by the school, sleeping with a dog, who bit at those who came to remove him, and licked the sleeping child’s pale face.

They were taken back, and some other stragglers were recovered, but by degrees they were claimed, or lost again; and, in course of time, Dotheboys Hall and its last breaking-up began to be forgotten by the neighbours, or to be only spoken of as among the things that had been.






CHAPTER 65

Conclusion

When her term of mourning had expired, Madeline gave her hand and fortune to Nicholas; and, on the same day and at the same time, Kate became Mrs Frank Cheeryble. It was expected that Tim Linkinwater and Miss La Creevy would have made a third couple on the occasion, but they declined, and two or three weeks afterwards went out together one morning before breakfast, and, coming back with merry faces, were found to have been quietly married that day.

The money which Nicholas acquired in right of his wife he invested in the firm of Cheeryble Brothers, in which Frank had become a partner. Before many years elapsed, the business began to be carried on in the names of ‘Cheeryble and Nickleby,’ so that Mrs. Nickleby’s prophetic anticipations were realised at last.

The twin brothers retired. Who needs to be told that they were happy? They were surrounded by happiness of their own creation, and lived but to increase it.

Tim Linkinwater condescended, after much entreaty and brow-beating, to accept a share in the house; but he could never be prevailed upon to suffer the publication of his name as a partner, and always persisted in the punctual and regular discharge of his clerkly duties.

He and his wife lived in the old house, and occupied the very bedchamber in which he had slept for four-and-forty years. As his wife grew older, she became even a more cheerful and light-hearted little creature; and it was a common saying among their friends, that it was impossible to say which looked the happier, Tim as he sat calmly smiling in his elbow-chair on one side of the fire, or his brisk little wife chatting and laughing, and constantly bustling in and out of hers, on the other.

Dick, the blackbird, was removed from the counting-house and promoted to a warm corner in the common sitting-room. Beneath his cage hung two miniatures, of Mrs. Linkinwater’s execution; one representing herself, and the other Tim; and both smiling very hard at all beholders. Tim’s head being powdered like a twelfth cake, and his spectacles copied with great nicety, strangers detected a close resemblance to him at the first glance, and this leading them to suspect that the other must be his wife, and emboldening them to say so without scruple, Mrs. Linkinwater grew very proud of these achievements in time, and considered them among the most successful likenesses she had ever painted. Tim had the profoundest faith in them, likewise; for on this, as on all other subjects, they held but one opinion; and if ever there were a ‘comfortable couple’ in the world, it was Mr. and Mrs. Linkinwater.

Ralph, having died intestate, and having no relations but those with whom he had lived in such enmity, they would have become in legal course his heirs. But they could not bear the thought of growing rich on money so acquired, and felt as though they could never hope to prosper with it. They made no claim to his wealth; and the riches for which he had toiled all his days, and burdened his soul with so many evil deeds, were swept at last into the coffers of the state, and no man was the better or the happier for them.

Arthur Gride was tried for the unlawful possession of the will, which he had either procured to be stolen, or had dishonestly acquired and retained by other means as bad. By dint of an ingenious counsel, and a legal flaw, he escaped; but only to undergo a worse punishment; for, some years afterwards, his house was broken open in the night by robbers, tempted by the rumours of his great wealth, and he was found murdered in his bed.

Mrs. Sliderskew went beyond the seas at nearly the same time as Mr. Squeers, and in the course of nature never returned. Brooker died penitent. Sir Mulberry Hawk lived abroad for some years, courted and caressed, and in high repute as a fine dashing fellow. Ultimately, returning to this country, he was thrown into jail for debt, and there perished miserably, as such high spirits generally do.

The first act of Nicholas, when he became a rich and prosperous merchant, was to buy his father’s old house. As time crept on, and there came gradually about him a group of lovely children, it was altered and enlarged; but none of the old rooms were ever pulled down, no old tree was ever rooted up, nothing with which there was any association of bygone times was ever removed or changed.

Within a stone’s throw was another retreat, enlivened by children’s pleasant voices too; and here was Kate, with many new cares and occupations, and many new faces courting her sweet smile (and one so like her own, that to her mother she seemed a child again), the same true gentle creature, the same fond sister, the same in the love of all about her, as in her girlish days.

Mrs. Nickleby lived, sometimes with her daughter, and sometimes with her son, accompanying one or other of them to London at those periods when the cares of business obliged both families to reside there, and always preserving a great appearance of dignity, and relating her experiences (especially on points connected with the management and bringing-up of children) with much solemnity and importance. It was a very long time before she could be induced to receive Mrs. Linkinwater into favour, and it is even doubtful whether she ever thoroughly forgave her.

There was one grey-haired, quiet, harmless gentleman, who, winter and summer, lived in a little cottage hard by Nicholas’s house, and, when he was not there, assumed the superintendence of affairs. His chief pleasure and delight was in the children, with whom he was a child himself, and master of the revels. The little people could do nothing without dear Newman Noggs.

The grass was green above the dead boy’s grave, and trodden by feet so small and light, that not a daisy drooped its head beneath their pressure. Through all the spring and summertime, garlands of fresh flowers, wreathed by infant hands, rested on the stone; and, when the children came to change them lest they should wither and be pleasant to him no longer, their eyes filled with tears, and they spoke low and softly of their poor dead cousin.

END