They hurried away, through several streets, without stopping or speaking. At last, they halted and confronted each other with blank and rueful faces.
'Never mind,' said Newman, gasping for breath. 'Don't be cast down. It's all right. More fortunate next time. It couldn't be helped. I did MY part.'
'Excellently,' replied Nicholas, taking his hand. 'Excellently, and like the true and zealous friend you are. Only—mind, I am not disappointed, Newman, and feel just as much indebted to you—only IT WAS THE WRONG LADY.'
'Eh?' cried Newman Noggs. 'Taken in by the servant?'
'Newman, Newman,' said Nicholas, laying his hand upon his shoulder: 'it was the wrong servant too.'
Newman's under-jaw dropped, and he gazed at Nicholas, with his sound eye fixed fast and motionless in his head.
'Don't take it to heart,' said Nicholas; 'it's of no consequence; you see I don't care about it; you followed the wrong person, that's all.'
That WAS all. Whether Newman Noggs had looked round the pump, in a slanting direction, so long, that his sight became impaired; or whether, finding that there was time to spare, he had recruited himself with a few drops of something stronger than the pump could yield—by whatsoever means it had come to pass, this was his mistake. And Nicholas went home to brood upon it, and to meditate upon the charms of the unknown young lady, now as far beyond his reach as ever.
Containing some Romantic Passages between Mrs Nickleby and the Gentleman in the Small-clothes next Door
Ever since her last momentous conversation with her son, Mrs Nickleby had begun to display unusual care in the adornment of her person, gradually superadding to those staid and matronly habiliments, which had, up to that time, formed her ordinary attire, a variety of embellishments and decorations, slight perhaps in themselves, but, taken together, and considered with reference to the subject of her disclosure, of no mean importance. Even her black dress assumed something of a deadly-lively air from the jaunty style in which it was worn; and, eked out as its lingering attractions were; by a prudent disposal, here and there, of certain juvenile ornaments of little or no value, which had, for that reason alone, escaped the general wreck and been permitted to slumber peacefully in odd corners of old drawers and boxes where daylight seldom shone, her mourning garments assumed quite a new character. From being the outward tokens of respect and sorrow for the dead, they became converted into signals of very slaughterous and killing designs upon the living.
Mrs Nickleby might have been stimulated to this proceeding by a lofty sense of duty, and impulses of unquestionable excellence. She might, by this time, have become impressed with the sinfulness of long indulgence in unavailing woe, or the necessity of setting a proper example of neatness and decorum to her blooming daughter. Considerations of duty and responsibility apart, the change might have taken its rise in feelings of the purest and most disinterested charity. The gentleman next door had been vilified by Nicholas; rudely stigmatised as a dotard and an idiot; and for these attacks upon his understanding, Mrs Nickleby was, in some sort, accountable. She might have felt that it was the act of a good Christian to show by all means in her power, that the abused gentleman was neither the one nor the other. And what better means could she adopt, towards so virtuous and laudable an end, than proving to all men, in her own person, that his passion was the most rational and reasonable in the world, and just the very result, of all others, which discreet and thinking persons might have foreseen, from her incautiously displaying her matured charms, without reserve, under the very eye, as it were, of an ardent and too-susceptible man?
'Ah!' said Mrs Nickleby, gravely shaking her head; 'if Nicholas knew what his poor dear papa suffered before we were engaged, when I used to hate him, he would have a little more feeling. Shall I ever forget the morning I looked scornfully at him when he offered to carry my parasol? Or that night, when I frowned at him? It was a mercy he didn't emigrate. It very nearly drove him to it.'
Whether the deceased might not have been better off if he had emigrated in his bachelor days, was a question which his relict did not stop to consider; for Kate entered the room, with her workbox, in this stage of her reflections; and a much slighter interruption, or no interruption at all, would have diverted Mrs Nickleby's thoughts into a new channel at any time.
'Kate, my dear,' said Mrs Nickleby; 'I don't know how it is, but a fine warm summer day like this, with the birds singing in every direction, always puts me in mind of roast pig, with sage and onion sauce, and made gravy.'
'That's a curious association of ideas, is it not, mama?'
'Upon my word, my dear, I don't know,' replied Mrs Nickleby. 'Roast pig; let me see. On the day five weeks after you were christened, we had a roast—no, that couldn't have been a pig, either, because I recollect there were a pair of them to carve, and your poor papa and I could never have thought of sitting down to two pigs—they must have been partridges. Roast pig! I hardly think we ever could have had one, now I come to remember, for your papa could never bear the sight of them in the shops, and used to say that they always put him in mind of very little babies, only the pigs had much fairer complexions; and he had a horror of little babies, to, because he couldn't very well afford any increase to his family, and had a natural dislike to the subject. It's very odd now, what can have put that in my head! I recollect dining once at Mrs Bevan's, in that broad street round the corner by the coachmaker's, where the tipsy man fell through the cellar-flap of an empty house nearly a week before the quarter-day, and wasn't found till the new tenant went in—and we had roast pig there. It must be that, I think, that reminds me of it, especially as there was a little bird in the room that would keep on singing all the time of dinner—at least, not a little bird, for it was a parrot, and he didn't sing exactly, for he talked and swore dreadfully: but I think it must be that. Indeed I am sure it must. Shouldn't you say so, my dear?'
'I should say there was not a doubt about it, mama,' returned Kate, with a cheerful smile.
'No; but DO you think so, Kate?' said Mrs Nickleby, with as much gravity as if it were a question of the most imminent and thrilling interest. 'If you don't, say so at once, you know; because it's just as well to be correct, particularly on a point of this kind, which is very curious and worth settling while one thinks about it.'
Kate laughingly replied that she was quite convinced; and as her mama still appeared undetermined whether it was not absolutely essential that the subject should be renewed, proposed that they should take their work into the summer-house, and enjoy the beauty of the afternoon. Mrs Nickleby readily assented, and to the summer-house they repaired, without further discussion.
'Well, I will say,' observed Mrs Nickleby, as she took her seat, 'that there never was such a good creature as Smike. Upon my word, the pains he has taken in putting this little arbour to rights, and training the sweetest flowers about it, are beyond anything I could have—I wish he wouldn't put ALL the gravel on your side, Kate, my dear, though, and leave nothing but mould for me.'
'Dear mama,' returned Kate, hastily, 'take this seat—do—to oblige me, mama.'
'No, indeed, my dear. I shall keep my own side,' said Mrs Nickleby. 'Well! I declare!'
Kate looked up inquiringly.
'If he hasn't been,' said Mrs Nickleby, 'and got, from somewhere or other, a couple of roots of those flowers that I said I was so fond of, the other night, and asked you if you were not—no, that YOU said YOU were so fond of, the other night, and asked me if I wasn't—it's the same thing. Now, upon my word, I take that as very kind and attentive indeed! I don't see,' added Mrs Nickleby, looking narrowly about her, 'any of them on my side, but I suppose they grow best near the gravel. You may depend upon it they do, Kate, and that's the reason they are all near you, and he has put the gravel there, because it's the sunny side. Upon my word, that's very clever now! I shouldn't have had half as much thought myself!'
'Mama,' said Kate, bending over her work so that her face was almost hidden, 'before you were married—'
'Dear me, Kate,' interrupted Mrs Nickleby, 'what in the name of goodness graciousness makes you fly off to the time before I was married, when I'm talking to you about his thoughtfulness and attention to me? You don't seem to take the smallest interest in the garden.'
'Oh! mama,' said Kate, raising her face again, 'you know I do.'
'Well then, my dear, why don't you praise the neatness and prettiness with which it's kept?' said Mrs Nickleby. 'How very odd you are, Kate!'
'I do praise it, mama,' answered Kate, gently. 'Poor fellow!'
'I scarcely ever hear you, my dear,' retorted Mrs Nickleby; 'that's all I've got to say.' By this time the good lady had been a long while upon one topic, so she fell at once into her daughter's little trap, if trap it were, and inquired what she had been going to say.
'About what, mama?' said Kate, who had apparently quite forgotten her diversion.
'Lor, Kate, my dear,' returned her mother, 'why, you're asleep or stupid! About the time before I was married.'
'Oh yes!' said Kate, 'I remember. I was going to ask, mama, before you were married, had you many suitors?'
'Suitors, my dear!' cried Mrs Nickleby, with a smile of wonderful complacency. 'First and last, Kate, I must have had a dozen at least.'
'Mama!' returned Kate, in a tone of remonstrance.
'I had indeed, my dear,' said Mrs Nickleby; 'not including your poor papa, or a young gentleman who used to go, at that time, to the same dancing school, and who WOULD send gold watches and bracelets to our house in gilt-edged paper, (which were always returned,) and who afterwards unfortunately went out to Botany Bay in a cadet ship—a convict ship I mean—and escaped into a bush and killed sheep, (I don't know how they got there,) and was going to be hung, only he accidentally choked himself, and the government pardoned him. Then there was young Lukin,' said Mrs Nickleby, beginning with her left thumb and checking off the names on her fingers—'Mogley—Tipslark—Cabbery—Smifser—'
Having now reached her little finger, Mrs Nickleby was carrying the account over to the other hand, when a loud 'Hem!' which appeared to come from the very foundation of the garden-wall, gave both herself and her daughter a violent start.
'Mama! what was that?' said Kate, in a low tone of voice.
'Upon my word, my dear,' returned Mrs Nickleby, considerably startled, 'unless it was the gentleman belonging to the next house, I don't know what it could possibly—'
'A—hem!' cried the same voice; and that, not in the tone of an ordinary clearing of the throat, but in a kind of bellow, which woke up all the echoes in the neighbourhood, and was prolonged to an extent which must have made the unseen bellower quite black in the face.
'I understand it now, my dear,' said Mrs Nickleby, laying her hand on Kate's; 'don't be alarmed, my love, it's not directed to you, and is not intended to frighten anybody. Let us give everybody their due, Kate; I am bound to say that.'
So saying, Mrs Nickleby nodded her head, and patted the back of her daughter's hand, a great many times, and looked as if she could tell something vastly important if she chose, but had self-denial, thank Heaven; and wouldn't do it.
'What do you mean, mama?' demanded Kate, in evident surprise.
'Don't be flurried, my dear,' replied Mrs Nickleby, looking towards the garden-wall, 'for you see I'm not, and if it would be excusable in anybody to be flurried, it certainly would—under all the circumstances—be excusable in me, but I am not, Kate—not at all.'
'It seems designed to attract our attention, mama,' said Kate.
'It is designed to attract our attention, my dear; at least,' rejoined Mrs Nickleby, drawing herself up, and patting her daughter's hand more blandly than before, 'to attract the attention of one of us. Hem! you needn't be at all uneasy, my dear.'
Kate looked very much perplexed, and was apparently about to ask for further explanation, when a shouting and scuffling noise, as of an elderly gentleman whooping, and kicking up his legs on loose gravel, with great violence, was heard to proceed from the same direction as the former sounds; and before they had subsided, a large cucumber was seen to shoot up in the air with the velocity of a sky-rocket, whence it descended, tumbling over and over, until it fell at Mrs Nickleby's feet.
This remarkable appearance was succeeded by another of a precisely similar description; then a fine vegetable marrow, of unusually large dimensions, was seen to whirl aloft, and come toppling down; then, several cucumbers shot up together; and, finally, the air was darkened by a shower of onions, turnip-radishes, and other small vegetables, which fell rolling and scattering, and bumping about, in all directions.
As Kate rose from her seat, in some alarm, and caught her mother's hand to run with her into the house, she felt herself rather retarded than assisted in her intention; and following the direction of Mrs Nickleby's eyes, was quite terrified by the apparition of an old black velvet cap, which, by slow degrees, as if its wearer were ascending a ladder or pair of steps, rose above the wall dividing their garden from that of the next cottage, (which, like their own, was a detached building,) and was gradually followed by a very large head, and an old face, in which were a pair of most extraordinary grey eyes: very wild, very wide open, and rolling in their sockets, with a dull, languishing, leering look, most ugly to behold.
'Mama!' cried Kate, really terrified for the moment, 'why do you stop, why do you lose an instant? Mama, pray come in!'
'Kate, my dear,' returned her mother, still holding back, 'how can you be so foolish? I'm ashamed of you. How do you suppose you are ever to get through life, if you're such a coward as this? What do you want, sir?' said Mrs Nickleby, addressing the intruder with a sort of simpering displeasure. 'How dare you look into this garden?'
'Queen of my soul,' replied the stranger, folding his hands together, 'this goblet sip!'
'Nonsense, sir,' said Mrs Nickleby. 'Kate, my love, pray be quiet.'
'Won't you sip the goblet?' urged the stranger, with his head imploringly on one side, and his right hand on his breast. 'Oh, do sip the goblet!'
'I shall not consent to do anything of the kind, sir,' said Mrs Nickleby. 'Pray, begone.'
'Why is it,' said the old gentleman, coming up a step higher, and leaning his elbows on the wall, with as much complacency as if he were looking out of window, 'why is it that beauty is always obdurate, even when admiration is as honourable and respectful as mine?' Here he smiled, kissed his hand, and made several low bows. 'Is it owing to the bees, who, when the honey season is over, and they are supposed to have been killed with brimstone, in reality fly to Barbary and lull the captive Moors to sleep with their drowsy songs? Or is it,' he added, dropping his voice almost to a whisper, 'in consequence of the statue at Charing Cross having been lately seen, on the Stock Exchange at midnight, walking arm-in-arm with the Pump from Aldgate, in a riding-habit?'
'Mama,' murmured Kate, 'do you hear him?'
'Hush, my dear!' replied Mrs Nickleby, in the same tone of voice, 'he is very polite, and I think that was a quotation from the poets. Pray, don't worry me so—you'll pinch my arm black and blue. Go away, sir!'
'Quite away?' said the gentleman, with a languishing look. 'Oh! quite away?'
'Yes,' returned Mrs Nickleby, 'certainly. You have no business here. This is private property, sir; you ought to know that.'
'I do know,' said the old gentleman, laying his finger on his nose, with an air of familiarity, most reprehensible, 'that this is a sacred and enchanted spot, where the most divine charms'—here he kissed his hand and bowed again—'waft mellifluousness over the neighbours' gardens, and force the fruit and vegetables into premature existence. That fact I am acquainted with. But will you permit me, fairest creature, to ask you one question, in the absence of the planet Venus, who has gone on business to the Horse Guards, and would otherwise—jealous of your superior charms—interpose between us?'
'Kate,' observed Mrs Nickleby, turning to her daughter, 'it's very awkward, positively. I really don't know what to say to this gentleman. One ought to be civil, you know.'
'Dear mama,' rejoined Kate, 'don't say a word to him, but let us run away as fast as we can, and shut ourselves up till Nicholas comes home.'
Mrs Nickleby looked very grand, not to say contemptuous, at this humiliating proposal; and, turning to the old gentleman, who had watched them during these whispers with absorbing eagerness, said:
'If you will conduct yourself, sir, like the gentleman I should imagine you to be, from your language and—and—appearance, (quite the counterpart of your grandpapa, Kate, my dear, in his best days,) and will put your question to me in plain words, I will answer it.'
If Mrs Nickleby's excellent papa had borne, in his best days, a resemblance to the neighbour now looking over the wall, he must have been, to say the least, a very queer-looking old gentleman in his prime. Perhaps Kate thought so, for she ventured to glance at his living portrait with some attention, as he took off his black velvet cap, and, exhibiting a perfectly bald head, made a long series of bows, each accompanied with a fresh kiss of the hand. After exhausting himself, to all appearance, with this fatiguing performance, he covered his head once more, pulled the cap very carefully over the tips of his ears, and resuming his former attitude, said,
'The question is—'
Here he broke off to look round in every direction, and satisfy himself beyond all doubt that there were no listeners near. Assured that there were not, he tapped his nose several times, accompanying the action with a cunning look, as though congratulating himself on his caution; and stretching out his neck, said in a loud whisper,
'Are you a princess?'
'You are mocking me, sir,' replied Mrs Nickleby, making a feint of retreating towards the house.
'No, but are you?' said the old gentleman.
'You know I am not, sir,' replied Mrs Nickleby.
'Then are you any relation to the Archbishop of Canterbury?' inquired the old gentleman with great anxiety, 'or to the Pope of Rome? Or the Speaker of the House of Commons? Forgive me, if I am wrong, but I was told you were niece to the Commissioners of Paving, and daughter-in-law to the Lord Mayor and Court of Common Council, which would account for your relationship to all three.'
'Whoever has spread such reports, sir,' returned Mrs Nickleby, with some warmth, 'has taken great liberties with my name, and one which I am sure my son Nicholas, if he was aware of it, would not allow for an instant. The idea!' said Mrs Nickleby, drawing herself up, 'niece to the Commissioners of Paving!'
'Pray, mama, come away!' whispered Kate.
'"Pray mama!" Nonsense, Kate,' said Mrs Nickleby, angrily, 'but that's just the way. If they had said I was niece to a piping bullfinch, what would you care? But I have no sympathy,' whimpered Mrs Nickleby. 'I don't expect it, that's one thing.'
'Tears!' cried the old gentleman, with such an energetic jump, that he fell down two or three steps and grated his chin against the wall. 'Catch the crystal globules—catch 'em—bottle 'em up—cork 'em tight—put sealing wax on the top—seal 'em with a cupid—label 'em "Best quality"—and stow 'em away in the fourteen binn, with a bar of iron on the top to keep the thunder off!'
Issuing these commands, as if there were a dozen attendants all actively engaged in their execution, he turned his velvet cap inside out, put it on with great dignity so as to obscure his right eye and three-fourths of his nose, and sticking his arms a-kimbo, looked very fiercely at a sparrow hard by, till the bird flew away, when he put his cap in his pocket with an air of great satisfaction, and addressed himself with respectful demeanour to Mrs Nickleby.
'Beautiful madam,' such were his words, 'if I have made any mistake with regard to your family or connections, I humbly beseech you to pardon me. If I supposed you to be related to Foreign Powers or Native Boards, it is because you have a manner, a carriage, a dignity, which you will excuse my saying that none but yourself (with the single exception perhaps of the tragic muse, when playing extemporaneously on the barrel organ before the East India Company) can parallel. I am not a youth, ma'am, as you see; and although beings like you can never grow old, I venture to presume that we are fitted for each other.'
'Really, Kate, my love!' said Mrs Nickleby faintly, and looking another way.
'I have estates, ma'am,' said the old gentleman, flourishing his right hand negligently, as if he made very light of such matters, and speaking very fast; 'jewels, lighthouses, fish-ponds, a whalery of my own in the North Sea, and several oyster-beds of great profit in the Pacific Ocean. If you will have the kindness to step down to the Royal Exchange and to take the cocked-hat off the stoutest beadle's head, you will find my card in the lining of the crown, wrapped up in a piece of blue paper. My walking-stick is also to be seen on application to the chaplain of the House of Commons, who is strictly forbidden to take any money for showing it. I have enemies about me, ma'am,' he looked towards his house and spoke very low, 'who attack me on all occasions, and wish to secure my property. If you bless me with your hand and heart, you can apply to the Lord Chancellor or call out the military if necessary—sending my toothpick to the commander-in-chief will be sufficient—and so clear the house of them before the ceremony is performed. After that, love, bliss and rapture; rapture, love and bliss. Be mine, be mine!'
Repeating these last words with great rapture and enthusiasm, the old gentleman put on his black velvet cap again, and looking up into the sky in a hasty manner, said something that was not quite intelligible concerning a balloon he expected, and which was rather after its time.
'Be mine, be mine!' repeated the old gentleman.
'Kate, my dear,' said Mrs Nickleby, 'I have hardly the power to speak; but it is necessary for the happiness of all parties that this matter should be set at rest for ever.'
'Surely there is no necessity for you to say one word, mama?' reasoned Kate.
'You will allow me, my dear, if you please, to judge for myself,' said Mrs Nickleby.
'Be mine, be mine!' cried the old gentleman.
'It can scarcely be expected, sir,' said Mrs Nickleby, fixing her eyes modestly on the ground, 'that I should tell a stranger whether I feel flattered and obliged by such proposals, or not. They certainly are made under very singular circumstances; still at the same time, as far as it goes, and to a certain extent of course' (Mrs Nickleby's customary qualification), 'they must be gratifying and agreeable to one's feelings.'
'Be mine, be mine,' cried the old gentleman. 'Gog and Magog, Gog and Magog. Be mine, be mine!'
'It will be sufficient for me to say, sir,' resumed Mrs Nickleby, with perfect seriousness—'and I'm sure you'll see the propriety of taking an answer and going away—that I have made up my mind to remain a widow, and to devote myself to my children. You may not suppose I am the mother of two children—indeed many people have doubted it, and said that nothing on earth could ever make 'em believe it possible—but it is the case, and they are both grown up. We shall be very glad to have you for a neighbour—very glad; delighted, I'm sure—but in any other character it's quite impossible, quite. As to my being young enough to marry again, that perhaps may be so, or it may not be; but I couldn't think of it for an instant, not on any account whatever. I said I never would, and I never will. It's a very painful thing to have to reject proposals, and I would much rather that none were made; at the same time this is the answer that I determined long ago to make, and this is the answer I shall always give.'
These observations were partly addressed to the old gentleman, partly to Kate, and partly delivered in soliloquy. Towards their conclusion, the suitor evinced a very irreverent degree of inattention, and Mrs Nickleby had scarcely finished speaking, when, to the great terror both of that lady and her daughter, he suddenly flung off his coat, and springing on the top of the wall, threw himself into an attitude which displayed his small-clothes and grey worsteds to the fullest advantage, and concluded by standing on one leg, and repeating his favourite bellow with increased vehemence.
While he was still dwelling on the last note, and embellishing it with a prolonged flourish, a dirty hand was observed to glide stealthily and swiftly along the top of the wall, as if in pursuit of a fly, and then to clasp with the utmost dexterity one of the old gentleman's ankles. This done, the companion hand appeared, and clasped the other ankle.
Thus encumbered the old gentleman lifted his legs awkwardly once or twice, as if they were very clumsy and imperfect pieces of machinery, and then looking down on his own side of the wall, burst into a loud laugh.
'It's you, is it?' said the old gentleman.
'Yes, it's me,' replied a gruff voice.
'How's the Emperor of Tartary?' said the old gentleman.
'Oh! he's much the same as usual,' was the reply. 'No better and no worse.'
'The young Prince of China,' said the old gentleman, with much interest. 'Is he reconciled to his father-in-law, the great potato salesman?'
'No,' answered the gruff voice; 'and he says he never will be, that's more.'
'If that's the case,' observed the old gentleman, 'perhaps I'd better come down.'
'Well,' said the man on the other side, 'I think you had, perhaps.'
One of the hands being then cautiously unclasped, the old gentleman dropped into a sitting posture, and was looking round to smile and bow to Mrs Nickleby, when he disappeared with some precipitation, as if his legs had been pulled from below.
Very much relieved by his disappearance, Kate was turning to speak to her mama, when the dirty hands again became visible, and were immediately followed by the figure of a coarse squat man, who ascended by the steps which had been recently occupied by their singular neighbour.
'Beg your pardon, ladies,' said this new comer, grinning and touching his hat. 'Has he been making love to either of you?'
'Yes,' said Kate.
'Ah!' rejoined the man, taking his handkerchief out of his hat and wiping his face, 'he always will, you know. Nothing will prevent his making love.'
'I need not ask you if he is out of his mind, poor creature,' said Kate.
'Why no,' replied the man, looking into his hat, throwing his handkerchief in at one dab, and putting it on again. 'That's pretty plain, that is.'
'Has he been long so?' asked Kate.
'A long while.'
'And is there no hope for him?' said Kate, compassionately
'Not a bit, and don't deserve to be,' replied the keeper. 'He's a deal pleasanter without his senses than with 'em. He was the cruellest, wickedest, out-and-outerest old flint that ever drawed breath.'
'Indeed!' said Kate.
'By George!' replied the keeper, shaking his head so emphatically that he was obliged to frown to keep his hat on. 'I never come across such a vagabond, and my mate says the same. Broke his poor wife's heart, turned his daughters out of doors, drove his sons into the streets; it was a blessing he went mad at last, through evil tempers, and covetousness, and selfishness, and guzzling, and drinking, or he'd have drove many others so. Hope for HIM, an old rip! There isn't too much hope going' but I'll bet a crown that what there is, is saved for more deserving chaps than him, anyhow.'
With which confession of his faith, the keeper shook his head again, as much as to say that nothing short of this would do, if things were to go on at all; and touching his hat sulkily—not that he was in an ill humour, but that his subject ruffled him—descended the ladder, and took it away.
During this conversation, Mrs Nickleby had regarded the man with a severe and steadfast look. She now heaved a profound sigh, and pursing up her lips, shook her head in a slow and doubtful manner.
'Poor creature!' said Kate.
'Ah! poor indeed!' rejoined Mrs Nickleby. 'It's shameful that such things should be allowed. Shameful!'
'How can they be helped, mama?' said Kate, mournfully. 'The infirmities of nature—'
'Nature!' said Mrs Nickleby. 'What! Do YOU suppose this poor gentleman is out of his mind?'
'Can anybody who sees him entertain any other opinion, mama?'
'Why then, I just tell you this, Kate,' returned Mrs Nickleby, 'that, he is nothing of the kind, and I am surprised you can be so imposed upon. It's some plot of these people to possess themselves of his property—didn't he say so himself? He may be a little odd and flighty, perhaps, many of us are that; but downright mad! and express himself as he does, respectfully, and in quite poetical language, and making offers with so much thought, and care, and prudence—not as if he ran into the streets, and went down upon his knees to the first chit of a girl he met, as a madman would! No, no, Kate, there's a great deal too much method in HIS madness; depend upon that, my dear.'
Illustrative of the convivial Sentiment, that the best of Friends must sometimes part
The pavement of Snow Hill had been baking and frying all day in the heat, and the twain Saracens' heads guarding the entrance to the hostelry of whose name and sign they are the duplicate presentments, looked—or seemed, in the eyes of jaded and footsore passers-by, to look—more vicious than usual, after blistering and scorching in the sun, when, in one of the inn's smallest sitting-rooms, through whose open window there rose, in a palpable steam, wholesome exhalations from reeking coach-horses, the usual furniture of a tea-table was displayed in neat and inviting order, flanked by large joints of roast and boiled, a tongue, a pigeon pie, a cold fowl, a tankard of ale, and other little matters of the like kind, which, in degenerate towns and cities, are generally understood to belong more particularly to solid lunches, stage-coach dinners, or unusually substantial breakfasts.
Mr John Browdie, with his hands in his pockets, hovered restlessly about these delicacies, stopping occasionally to whisk the flies out of the sugar-basin with his wife's pocket-handkerchief, or to dip a teaspoon in the milk-pot and carry it to his mouth, or to cut off a little knob of crust, and a little corner of meat, and swallow them at two gulps like a couple of pills. After every one of these flirtations with the eatables, he pulled out his watch, and declared with an earnestness quite pathetic that he couldn't undertake to hold out two minutes longer.
'Tilly!' said John to his lady, who was reclining half awake and half asleep upon a sofa.
'Well, John!' retorted her husband, impatiently. 'Dost thou feel hoongry, lass?'
'Not very,' said Mrs Browdie.
'Not vary!' repeated John, raising his eyes to the ceiling. 'Hear her say not vary, and us dining at three, and loonching off pasthry thot aggravates a mon 'stead of pacifying him! Not vary!'
'Here's a gen'l'man for you, sir,' said the waiter, looking in.
'A wa'at for me?' cried John, as though he thought it must be a letter, or a parcel.
'A gen'l'man, sir.'
'Stars and garthers, chap!' said John, 'wa'at dost thou coom and say thot for? In wi' 'un.'
'Are you at home, sir?'
'At whoam!' cried John, 'I wish I wur; I'd ha tea'd two hour ago. Why, I told t'oother chap to look sharp ootside door, and tell 'un d'rectly he coom, thot we war faint wi' hoonger. In wi' 'un. Aha! Thee hond, Misther Nickleby. This is nigh to be the proodest day o' my life, sir. Hoo be all wi' ye? Ding! But, I'm glod o' this!'
Quite forgetting even his hunger in the heartiness of his salutation, John Browdie shook Nicholas by the hand again and again, slapping his palm with great violence between each shake, to add warmth to the reception.
'Ah! there she be,' said John, observing the look which Nicholas directed towards his wife. 'There she be—we shan't quarrel about her noo—eh? Ecod, when I think o' thot—but thou want'st soom'at to eat. Fall to, mun, fall to, and for wa'at we're aboot to receive—'
No doubt the grace was properly finished, but nothing more was heard, for John had already begun to play such a knife and fork, that his speech was, for the time, gone.
'I shall take the usual licence, Mr Browdie,' said Nicholas, as he placed a chair for the bride.
'Tak' whatever thou like'st,' said John, 'and when a's gane, ca' for more.'
Without stopping to explain, Nicholas kissed the blushing Mrs Browdie, and handed her to her seat.
'I say,' said John, rather astounded for the moment, 'mak' theeself quite at whoam, will 'ee?'
'You may depend upon that,' replied Nicholas; 'on one condition.'
'And wa'at may thot be?' asked John.
'That you make me a godfather the very first time you have occasion for one.'
'Eh! d'ye hear thot?' cried John, laying down his knife and fork. 'A godfeyther! Ha! ha! ha! Tilly—hear till 'un—a godfeyther! Divn't say a word more, ye'll never beat thot. Occasion for 'un—a godfeyther! Ha! ha! ha!'
Never was man so tickled with a respectable old joke, as John Browdie was with this. He chuckled, roared, half suffocated himself by laughing large pieces of beef into his windpipe, roared again, persisted in eating at the same time, got red in the face and black in the forehead, coughed, cried, got better, went off again laughing inwardly, got worse, choked, had his back thumped, stamped about, frightened his wife, and at last recovered in a state of the last exhaustion and with the water streaming from his eyes, but still faintly ejaculating, 'A godfeyther—a godfeyther, Tilly!' in a tone bespeaking an exquisite relish of the sally, which no suffering could diminish.
'You remember the night of our first tea-drinking?' said Nicholas.
'Shall I e'er forget it, mun?' replied John Browdie.
'He was a desperate fellow that night though, was he not, Mrs Browdie?' said Nicholas. 'Quite a monster!'
'If you had only heard him as we were going home, Mr Nickleby, you'd have said so indeed,' returned the bride. 'I never was so frightened in all my life.'
'Coom, coom,' said John, with a broad grin; 'thou know'st betther than thot, Tilly.'
'So I was,' replied Mrs Browdie. 'I almost made up my mind never to speak to you again.'
'A'most!' said John, with a broader grin than the last. 'A'most made up her mind! And she wur coaxin', and coaxin', and wheedlin', and wheedlin' a' the blessed wa'. "Wa'at didst thou let yon chap mak' oop tiv'ee for?" says I. "I deedn't, John," says she, a squeedgin my arm. "You deedn't?" says I. "Noa," says she, a squeedgin of me agean.'
'Lor, John!' interposed his pretty wife, colouring very much. 'How can you talk such nonsense? As if I should have dreamt of such a thing!'
'I dinnot know whether thou'd ever dreamt of it, though I think that's loike eneaf, mind,' retorted John; 'but thou didst it. "Ye're a feeckle, changeable weathercock, lass," says I. "Not feeckle, John," says she. "Yes," says I, "feeckle, dom'd feeckle. Dinnot tell me thou bean't, efther yon chap at schoolmeasther's," says I. "Him!" says she, quite screeching. "Ah! him!" says I. "Why, John," says she—and she coom a deal closer and squeedged a deal harder than she'd deane afore—"dost thou think it's nat'ral noo, that having such a proper mun as thou to keep company wi', I'd ever tak' opp wi' such a leetle scanty whipper-snapper as yon?" she says. Ha! ha! ha! She said whipper-snapper! "Ecod!" I says, "efther thot, neame the day, and let's have it ower!" Ha! ha! ha!'
Nicholas laughed very heartily at this story, both on account of its telling against himself, and his being desirous to spare the blushes of Mrs Browdie, whose protestations were drowned in peals of laughter from her husband. His good-nature soon put her at her ease; and although she still denied the charge, she laughed so heartily at it, that Nicholas had the satisfaction of feeling assured that in all essential respects it was strictly true.
'This is the second time,' said Nicholas, 'that we have ever taken a meal together, and only third I have ever seen you; and yet it really seems to me as if I were among old friends.'
'Weel!' observed the Yorkshireman, 'so I say.'
'And I am sure I do,' added his young wife.
'I have the best reason to be impressed with the feeling, mind,' said Nicholas; 'for if it had not been for your kindness of heart, my good friend, when I had no right or reason to expect it, I know not what might have become of me or what plight I should have been in by this time.'
'Talk aboot soom'at else,' replied John, gruffly, 'and dinnot bother.'
'It must be a new song to the same tune then,' said Nicholas, smiling. 'I told you in my letter that I deeply felt and admired your sympathy with that poor lad, whom you released at the risk of involving yourself in trouble and difficulty; but I can never tell you how greateful he and I, and others whom you don't know, are to you for taking pity on him.'
'Ecod!' rejoined John Browdie, drawing up his chair; 'and I can never tell YOU hoo gratful soom folks that we do know would be loikewise, if THEY know'd I had takken pity on him.'
'Ah!' exclaimed Mrs Browdie, 'what a state I was in that night!'
'Were they at all disposed to give you credit for assisting in the escape?' inquired Nicholas of John Browdie.
'Not a bit,' replied the Yorkshireman, extending his mouth from ear to ear. 'There I lay, snoog in schoolmeasther's bed long efther it was dark, and nobody coom nigh the pleace. "Weel!" thinks I, "he's got a pretty good start, and if he bean't whoam by noo, he never will be; so you may coom as quick as you loike, and foind us reddy"—that is, you know, schoolmeasther might coom.'
'I understand,' said Nicholas.
'Presently,' resumed John, 'he DID coom. I heerd door shut doonstairs, and him a warking, oop in the daark. "Slow and steddy," I says to myself, "tak' your time, sir—no hurry." He cooms to the door, turns the key—turns the key when there warn't nothing to hoold the lock—and ca's oot "Hallo, there!"—"Yes," thinks I, "you may do thot agean, and not wakken anybody, sir." "Hallo, there," he says, and then he stops. "Thou'd betther not aggravate me," says schoolmeasther, efther a little time. "I'll brak' every boan in your boddy, Smike," he says, efther another little time. Then all of a soodden, he sings oot for a loight, and when it cooms—ecod, such a hoorly-boorly! "Wa'at's the matter?" says I. "He's gane," says he,—stark mad wi' vengeance. "Have you heerd nought?" "Ees," says I, "I heerd street-door shut, no time at a' ago. I heerd a person run doon there" (pointing t'other wa'—eh?) "Help!" he cries. "I'll help you," says I; and off we set—the wrong wa'! Ho! ho! ho!'
'Did you go far?' asked Nicholas.
'Far!' replied John; 'I run him clean off his legs in quarther of an hoor. To see old schoolmeasther wi'out his hat, skimming along oop to his knees in mud and wather, tumbling over fences, and rowling into ditches, and bawling oot like mad, wi' his one eye looking sharp out for the lad, and his coat-tails flying out behind, and him spattered wi' mud all ower, face and all! I tho't I should ha' dropped doon, and killed myself wi' laughing.'
John laughed so heartily at the mere recollection, that he communicated the contagion to both his hearers, and all three burst into peals of laughter, which were renewed again and again, until they could laugh no longer.
'He's a bad 'un,' said John, wiping his eyes; 'a very bad 'un, is schoolmeasther.'
'I can't bear the sight of him, John,' said his wife.
'Coom,' retorted John, 'thot's tidy in you, thot is. If it wa'nt along o' you, we shouldn't know nought aboot 'un. Thou know'd 'un first, Tilly, didn't thou?'
'I couldn't help knowing Fanny Squeers, John,' returned his wife; 'she was an old playmate of mine, you know.'
'Weel,' replied John, 'dean't I say so, lass? It's best to be neighbourly, and keep up old acquaintance loike; and what I say is, dean't quarrel if 'ee can help it. Dinnot think so, Mr Nickleby?'
'Certainly,' returned Nicholas; 'and you acted upon that principle when I meet you on horseback on the road, after our memorable evening.'
'Sure-ly,' said John. 'Wa'at I say, I stick by.'
'And that's a fine thing to do, and manly too,' said Nicholas, 'though it's not exactly what we understand by "coming Yorkshire over us" in London. Miss Squeers is stopping with you, you said in your note.'
'Yes,' replied John, 'Tilly's bridesmaid; and a queer bridesmaid she be, too. She wean't be a bride in a hurry, I reckon.'
'For shame, John,' said Mrs Browdie; with an acute perception of the joke though, being a bride herself.
'The groom will be a blessed mun,' said John, his eyes twinkling at the idea. 'He'll be in luck, he will.'
'You see, Mr Nickleby,' said his wife, 'that it was in consequence of her being here, that John wrote to you and fixed tonight, because we thought that it wouldn't be pleasant for you to meet, after what has passed.'
'Unquestionably. You were quite right in that,' said Nicholas, interrupting.
'Especially,' observed Mrs Browdie, looking very sly, 'after what we know about past and gone love matters.'
'We know, indeed!' said Nicholas, shaking his head. 'You behaved rather wickedly there, I suspect.'
'O' course she did,' said John Browdie, passing his huge forefinger through one of his wife's pretty ringlets, and looking very proud of her. 'She wur always as skittish and full o' tricks as a—'
'Well, as a what?' said his wife.
'As a woman,' returned John. 'Ding! But I dinnot know ought else that cooms near it.'
'You were speaking about Miss Squeers,' said Nicholas, with the view of stopping some slight connubialities which had begun to pass between Mr and Mrs Browdie, and which rendered the position of a third party in some degree embarrassing, as occasioning him to feel rather in the way than otherwise.
'Oh yes,' rejoined Mrs Browdie. 'John ha' done. John fixed tonight, because she had settled that she would go and drink tea with her father. And to make quite sure of there being nothing amiss, and of your being quite alone with us, he settled to go out there and fetch her home.'
'That was a very good arrangement,' said Nicholas, 'though I am sorry to be the occasion of so much trouble.'
'Not the least in the world,' returned Mrs Browdie; 'for we have looked forward to see you—John and I have—with the greatest possible pleasure. Do you know, Mr Nickleby,' said Mrs Browdie, with her archest smile, 'that I really think Fanny Squeers was very fond of you?'
'I am very much obliged to her,' said Nicholas; 'but upon my word, I never aspired to making any impression upon her virgin heart.'
'How you talk!' tittered Mrs Browdie. 'No, but do you know that really—seriously now and without any joking—I was given to understand by Fanny herself, that you had made an offer to her, and that you two were going to be engaged quite solemn and regular.'
'Was you, ma'am—was you?' cried a shrill female voice, 'was you given to understand that I—I—was going to be engaged to an assassinating thief that shed the gore of my pa? Do you—do you think, ma'am—that I was very fond of such dirt beneath my feet, as I couldn't condescend to touch with kitchen tongs, without blacking and crocking myself by the contract? Do you, ma'am—do you? Oh! base and degrading 'Tilda!'
With these reproaches Miss Squeers flung the door wide open, and disclosed to the eyes of the astonished Browdies and Nicholas, not only her own symmetrical form, arrayed in the chaste white garments before described (a little dirtier), but the form of her brother and father, the pair of Wackfords.
'This is the hend, is it?' continued Miss Squeers, who, being excited, aspirated her h's strongly; 'this is the hend, is it, of all my forbearance and friendship for that double-faced thing—that viper, that—that—mermaid?' (Miss Squeers hesitated a long time for this last epithet, and brought it out triumphantly as last, as if it quite clinched the business.) 'This is the hend, is it, of all my bearing with her deceitfulness, her lowness, her falseness, her laying herself out to catch the admiration of vulgar minds, in a way which made me blush for my—for my—'
'Gender,' suggested Mr Squeers, regarding the spectators with a malevolent eye—literally A malevolent eye.
'Yes,' said Miss Squeers; 'but I thank my stars that my ma is of the same—'
'Hear, hear!' remarked Mr Squeers; 'and I wish she was here to have a scratch at this company.'
'This is the hend, is it,' said Miss Squeers, tossing her head, and looking contemptuously at the floor, 'of my taking notice of that rubbishing creature, and demeaning myself to patronise her?'
'Oh, come,' rejoined Mrs Browdie, disregarding all the endeavours of her spouse to restrain her, and forcing herself into a front row, 'don't talk such nonsense as that.'
'Have I not patronised you, ma'am?' demanded Miss Squeers.
'No,' returned Mrs Browdie.
'I will not look for blushes in such a quarter,' said Miss Squeers, haughtily, 'for that countenance is a stranger to everything but hignominiousness and red-faced boldness.'
'I say,' interposed John Browdie, nettled by these accumulated attacks on his wife, 'dra' it mild, dra' it mild.'
'You, Mr Browdie,' said Miss Squeers, taking him up very quickly, 'I pity. I have no feeling for you, sir, but one of unliquidated pity.'
'Oh!' said John.
'No,' said Miss Squeers, looking sideways at her parent, 'although I AM a queer bridesmaid, and SHAN'T be a bride in a hurry, and although my husband WILL be in luck, I entertain no sentiments towards you, sir, but sentiments of pity.'
Here Miss Squeers looked sideways at her father again, who looked sideways at her, as much as to say, 'There you had him.'
'I know what you've got to go through,' said Miss Squeers, shaking her curls violently. 'I know what life is before you, and if you was my bitterest and deadliest enemy, I could wish you nothing worse.'
'Couldn't you wish to be married to him yourself, if that was the case?' inquired Mrs Browdie, with great suavity of manner.
'Oh, ma'am, how witty you are,' retorted Miss Squeers with a low curtsy, 'almost as witty, ma'am, as you are clever. How very clever it was in you, ma'am, to choose a time when I had gone to tea with my pa, and was sure not to come back without being fetched! What a pity you never thought that other people might be as clever as yourself and spoil your plans!'
'You won't vex me, child, with such airs as these,' said the late Miss Price, assuming the matron.
'Don't MISSIS me, ma'am, if you please,' returned Miss Squeers, sharply. 'I'll not bear it. Is THIS the hend—'
'Dang it a',' cried John Browdie, impatiently. 'Say thee say out, Fanny, and mak' sure it's the end, and dinnot ask nobody whether it is or not.'
'Thanking you for your advice which was not required, Mr Browdie,' returned Miss Squeers, with laborious politeness, 'have the goodness not to presume to meddle with my Christian name. Even my pity shall never make me forget what's due to myself, Mr Browdie. 'Tilda,' said Miss Squeers, with such a sudden accession of violence that John started in his boots, 'I throw you off for ever, miss. I abandon you. I renounce you. I wouldn't,' cried Miss Squeers in a solemn voice, 'have a child named 'Tilda, not to save it from its grave.'
'As for the matther o' that,' observed John, 'it'll be time eneaf to think aboot neaming of it when it cooms.'
'John!' interposed his wife, 'don't tease her.'
'Oh! Tease, indeed!' cried Miss Squeers, bridling up. 'Tease, indeed! He, he! Tease, too! No, don't tease her. Consider her feelings, pray!'
'If it's fated that listeners are never to hear any good of themselves,' said Mrs Browdie, 'I can't help it, and I am very sorry for it. But I will say, Fanny, that times out of number I have spoken so kindly of you behind your back, that even you could have found no fault with what I said.'
'Oh, I dare say not, ma'am!' cried Miss Squeers, with another curtsy. 'Best thanks to you for your goodness, and begging and praying you not to be hard upon me another time!'
'I don't know,' resumed Mrs Browdie, 'that I have said anything very bad of you, even now. At all events, what I did say was quite true; but if I have, I am very sorry for it, and I beg your pardon. You have said much worse of me, scores of times, Fanny; but I have never borne any malice to you, and I hope you'll not bear any to me.'
Miss Squeers made no more direct reply than surveying her former friend from top to toe, and elevating her nose in the air with ineffable disdain. But some indistinct allusions to a 'puss,' and a 'minx,' and a 'contemptible creature,' escaped her; and this, together with a severe biting of the lips, great difficulty in swallowing, and very frequent comings and goings of breath, seemed to imply that feelings were swelling in Miss Squeers's bosom too great for utterance.
While the foregoing conversation was proceeding, Master Wackford, finding himself unnoticed, and feeling his preponderating inclinations strong upon him, had by little and little sidled up to the table and attacked the food with such slight skirmishing as drawing his fingers round and round the inside of the plates, and afterwards sucking them with infinite relish; picking the bread, and dragging the pieces over the surface of the butter; pocketing lumps of sugar, pretending all the time to be absorbed in thought; and so forth. Finding that no interference was attempted with these small liberties, he gradually mounted to greater, and, after helping himself to a moderately good cold collation, was, by this time, deep in the pie.
Nothing of this had been unobserved by Mr Squeers, who, so long as the attention of the company was fixed upon other objects, hugged himself to think that his son and heir should be fattening at the enemy's expense. But there being now an appearance of a temporary calm, in which the proceedings of little Wackford could scarcely fail to be observed, he feigned to be aware of the circumstance for the first time, and inflicted upon the face of that young gentleman a slap that made the very tea-cups ring.
'Eating!' cried Mr Squeers, 'of what his father's enemies has left! It's fit to go and poison you, you unnat'ral boy.'
'It wean't hurt him,' said John, apparently very much relieved by the prospect of having a man in the quarrel; 'let' un eat. I wish the whole school was here. I'd give'em soom'at to stay their unfort'nate stomachs wi', if I spent the last penny I had!'
Squeers scowled at him with the worst and most malicious expression of which his face was capable—it was a face of remarkable capability, too, in that way—and shook his fist stealthily.
'Coom, coom, schoolmeasther,' said John, 'dinnot make a fool o' thyself; for if I was to sheake mine—only once—thou'd fa' doon wi' the wind o' it.'
'It was you, was it,' returned Squeers, 'that helped off my runaway boy? It was you, was it?'
'Me!' returned John, in a loud tone. 'Yes, it wa' me, coom; wa'at o' that? It wa' me. Noo then!'
'You hear him say he did it, my child!' said Squeers, appealing to his daughter. 'You hear him say he did it!'
'Did it!' cried John. 'I'll tell 'ee more; hear this, too. If thou'd got another roonaway boy, I'd do it agean. If thou'd got twonty roonaway boys, I'd do it twonty times ower, and twonty more to thot; and I tell thee more,' said John, 'noo my blood is oop, that thou'rt an old ra'ascal; and that it's weel for thou, thou be'est an old 'un, or I'd ha' poonded thee to flour when thou told an honest mun hoo thou'd licked that poor chap in t' coorch.'
'An honest man!' cried Squeers, with a sneer.
'Ah! an honest man,' replied John; 'honest in ought but ever putting legs under seame table wi' such as thou.'
'Scandal!' said Squeers, exultingly. 'Two witnesses to it; Wackford knows the nature of an oath, he does; we shall have you there, sir. Rascal, eh?' Mr Squeers took out his pocketbook and made a note of it. 'Very good. I should say that was worth full twenty pound at the next assizes, without the honesty, sir.'
''Soizes,' cried John, 'thou'd betther not talk to me o' 'Soizes. Yorkshire schools have been shown up at 'Soizes afore noo, mun, and it's a ticklish soobjact to revive, I can tell ye.'
Mr Squeers shook his head in a threatening manner, looking very white with passion; and taking his daughter's arm, and dragging little Wackford by the hand, retreated towards the door.
'As for you,' said Squeers, turning round and addressing Nicholas, who, as he had caused him to smart pretty soundly on a former occasion, purposely abstained from taking any part in the discussion, 'see if I ain't down upon you before long. You'll go a kidnapping of boys, will you? Take care their fathers don't turn up—mark that—take care their fathers don't turn up, and send 'em back to me to do as I like with, in spite of you.'
'I am not afraid of that,' replied Nicholas, shrugging his shoulders contemptuously, and turning away.
'Ain't you!' retorted Squeers, with a diabolical look. 'Now then, come along.'
'I leave such society, with my pa, for Hever,' said Miss Squeers, looking contemptuously and loftily round. 'I am defiled by breathing the air with such creatures. Poor Mr Browdie! He! he! he! I do pity him, that I do; he's so deluded. He! he! he!—Artful and designing 'Tilda!'
With this sudden relapse into the sternest and most majestic wrath, Miss Squeers swept from the room; and having sustained her dignity until the last possible moment, was heard to sob and scream and struggle in the passage.
John Browdie remained standing behind the table, looking from his wife to Nicholas, and back again, with his mouth wide open, until his hand accidentally fell upon the tankard of ale, when he took it up, and having obscured his features therewith for some time, drew a long breath, handed it over to Nicholas, and rang the bell.
'Here, waither,' said John, briskly. 'Look alive here. Tak' these things awa', and let's have soomat broiled for sooper—vary comfortable and plenty o' it—at ten o'clock. Bring soom brandy and soom wather, and a pair o' slippers—the largest pair in the house—and be quick aboot it. Dash ma wig!' said John, rubbing his hands, 'there's no ganging oot to neeght, noo, to fetch anybody whoam, and ecod, we'll begin to spend the evening in airnest.'
Officiates as a kind of Gentleman Usher, in bringing various People together
The storm had long given place to a calm the most profound, and the evening was pretty far advanced—indeed supper was over, and the process of digestion proceeding as favourably as, under the influence of complete tranquillity, cheerful conversation, and a moderate allowance of brandy-and-water, most wise men conversant with the anatomy and functions of the human frame will consider that it ought to have proceeded, when the three friends, or as one might say, both in a civil and religious sense, and with proper deference and regard to the holy state of matrimony, the two friends, (Mr and Mrs Browdie counting as no more than one,) were startled by the noise of loud and angry threatenings below stairs, which presently attained so high a pitch, and were conveyed besides in language so towering, sanguinary, and ferocious, that it could hardly have been surpassed, if there had actually been a Saracen's head then present in the establishment, supported on the shoulders and surmounting the trunk of a real, live, furious, and most unappeasable Saracen.
This turmoil, instead of quickly subsiding after the first outburst, (as turmoils not unfrequently do, whether in taverns, legislative assemblies, or elsewhere,) into a mere grumbling and growling squabble, increased every moment; and although the whole din appeared to be raised by but one pair of lungs, yet that one pair was of so powerful a quality, and repeated such words as 'scoundrel,' 'rascal,' 'insolent puppy,' and a variety of expletives no less flattering to the party addressed, with such great relish and strength of tone, that a dozen voices raised in concert under any ordinary circumstances would have made far less uproar and created much smaller consternation.
'Why, what's the matter?' said Nicholas, moving hastily towards the door.
John Browdie was striding in the same direction when Mrs Browdie turned pale, and, leaning back in her chair, requested him with a faint voice to take notice, that if he ran into any danger it was her intention to fall into hysterics immediately, and that the consequences might be more serious than he thought for. John looked rather disconcerted by this intelligence, though there was a lurking grin on his face at the same time; but, being quite unable to keep out of the fray, he compromised the matter by tucking his wife's arm under his own, and, thus accompanied, following Nicholas downstairs with all speed.
The passage outside the coffee-room door was the scene of disturbance, and here were congregated the coffee-room customers and waiters, together with two or three coachmen and helpers from the yard. These had hastily assembled round a young man who from his appearance might have been a year or two older than Nicholas, and who, besides having given utterance to the defiances just now described, seemed to have proceeded to even greater lengths in his indignation, inasmuch as his feet had no other covering than a pair of stockings, while a couple of slippers lay at no great distance from the head of a prostrate figure in an opposite corner, who bore the appearance of having been shot into his present retreat by means of a kick, and complimented by having the slippers flung about his ears afterwards.
The coffee-room customers, and the waiters, and the coachmen, and the helpers—not to mention a barmaid who was looking on from behind an open sash window—seemed at that moment, if a spectator might judge from their winks, nods, and muttered exclamations, strongly disposed to take part against the young gentleman in the stockings. Observing this, and that the young gentleman was nearly of his own age and had in nothing the appearance of an habitual brawler, Nicholas, impelled by such feelings as will influence young men sometimes, felt a very strong disposition to side with the weaker party, and so thrust himself at once into the centre of the group, and in a more emphatic tone, perhaps, than circumstances might seem to warrant, demanded what all that noise was about.
'Hallo!' said one of the men from the yard, 'this is somebody in disguise, this is.'
'Room for the eldest son of the Emperor of Roosher, gen'l'men!' cried another fellow.
Disregarding these sallies, which were uncommonly well received, as sallies at the expense of the best-dressed persons in a crowd usually are, Nicholas glanced carelessly round, and addressing the young gentleman, who had by this time picked up his slippers and thrust his feet into them, repeated his inquiries with a courteous air.
'A mere nothing!' he replied.
At this a murmur was raised by the lookers-on, and some of the boldest cried, 'Oh, indeed!—Wasn't it though?—Nothing, eh?—He called that nothing, did he? Lucky for him if he found it nothing.' These and many other expressions of ironical disapprobation having been exhausted, two or three of the out-of-door fellows began to hustle Nicholas and the young gentleman who had made the noise: stumbling against them by accident, and treading on their toes, and so forth. But this being a round game, and one not necessarily limited to three or four players, was open to John Browdie too, who, bursting into the little crowd—to the great terror of his wife—and falling about in all directions, now to the right, now to the left, now forwards, now backwards, and accidentally driving his elbow through the hat of the tallest helper, who had been particularly active, speedily caused the odds to wear a very different appearance; while more than one stout fellow limped away to a respectful distance, anathematising with tears in his eyes the heavy tread and ponderous feet of the burly Yorkshireman.
'Let me see him do it again,' said he who had been kicked into the corner, rising as he spoke, apparently more from the fear of John Browdie's inadvertently treading upon him, than from any desire to place himself on equal terms with his late adversary. 'Let me see him do it again. That's all.'
'Let me hear you make those remarks again,' said the young man, 'and I'll knock that head of yours in among the wine-glasses behind you there.'
Here a waiter who had been rubbing his hands in excessive enjoyment of the scene, so long as only the breaking of heads was in question, adjured the spectators with great earnestness to fetch the police, declaring that otherwise murder would be surely done, and that he was responsible for all the glass and china on the premises.
'No one need trouble himself to stir,' said the young gentleman, 'I am going to remain in the house all night, and shall be found here in the morning if there is any assault to answer for.'
'What did you strike him for?' asked one of the bystanders.
'Ah! what did you strike him for?' demanded the others.
The unpopular gentleman looked coolly round, and addressing himself to Nicholas, said:
'You inquired just now what was the matter here. The matter is simply this. Yonder person, who was drinking with a friend in the coffee-room when I took my seat there for half an hour before going to bed, (for I have just come off a journey, and preferred stopping here tonight, to going home at this hour, where I was not expected until tomorrow,) chose to express himself in very disrespectful, and insolently familiar terms, of a young lady, whom I recognised from his description and other circumstances, and whom I have the honour to know. As he spoke loud enough to be overheard by the other guests who were present, I informed him most civilly that he was mistaken in his conjectures, which were of an offensive nature, and requested him to forbear. He did so for a little time, but as he chose to renew his conversation when leaving the room, in a more offensive strain than before, I could not refrain from making after him, and facilitating his departure by a kick, which reduced him to the posture in which you saw him just now. I am the best judge of my own affairs, I take it,' said the young man, who had certainly not quite recovered from his recent heat; 'if anybody here thinks proper to make this quarrel his own, I have not the smallest earthly objection, I do assure him.'
Of all possible courses of proceeding under the circumstances detailed, there was certainly not one which, in his then state of mind, could have appeared more laudable to Nicholas than this. There were not many subjects of dispute which at that moment could have come home to his own breast more powerfully, for having the unknown uppermost in his thoughts, it naturally occurred to him that he would have done just the same if any audacious gossiper durst have presumed in his hearing to speak lightly of her. Influenced by these considerations, he espoused the young gentleman's quarrel with great warmth, protesting that he had done quite right, and that he respected him for it; which John Browdie (albeit not quite clear as to the merits) immediately protested too, with not inferior vehemence.
'Let him take care, that's all,' said the defeated party, who was being rubbed down by a waiter, after his recent fall on the dusty boards. 'He don't knock me about for nothing, I can tell him that. A pretty state of things, if a man isn't to admire a handsome girl without being beat to pieces for it!'
This reflection appeared to have great weight with the young lady in the bar, who (adjusting her cap as she spoke, and glancing at a mirror) declared that it would be a very pretty state of things indeed; and that if people were to be punished for actions so innocent and natural as that, there would be more people to be knocked down than there would be people to knock them down, and that she wondered what the gentleman meant by it, that she did.
'My dear girl,' said the young gentleman in a low voice, advancing towards the sash window.
'Nonsense, sir!' replied the young lady sharply, smiling though as she turned aside, and biting her lip, (whereat Mrs Browdie, who was still standing on the stairs, glanced at her with disdain, and called to her husband to come away).
'No, but listen to me,' said the young man. 'If admiration of a pretty face were criminal, I should be the most hopeless person alive, for I cannot resist one. It has the most extraordinary effect upon me, checks and controls me in the most furious and obstinate mood. You see what an effect yours has had upon me already.'
'Oh, that's very pretty,' replied the young lady, tossing her head, 'but—'
'Yes, I know it's very pretty,' said the young man, looking with an air of admiration in the barmaid's face; 'I said so, you know, just this moment. But beauty should be spoken of respectfully—respectfully, and in proper terms, and with a becoming sense of its worth and excellence, whereas this fellow has no more notion—'
The young lady interrupted the conversation at this point, by thrusting her head out of the bar-window, and inquiring of the waiter in a shrill voice whether that young man who had been knocked down was going to stand in the passage all night, or whether the entrance was to be left clear for other people. The waiters taking the hint, and communicating it to the hostlers, were not slow to change their tone too, and the result was, that the unfortunate victim was bundled out in a twinkling.
'I am sure I have seen that fellow before,' said Nicholas.
'Indeed!' replied his new acquaintance.
'I am certain of it,' said Nicholas, pausing to reflect. 'Where can I have—stop!—yes, to be sure—he belongs to a register-office up at the west end of the town. I knew I recollected the face.'
It was, indeed, Tom, the ugly clerk.
'That's odd enough!' said Nicholas, ruminating upon the strange manner in which the register-office seemed to start up and stare him in the face every now and then, and when he least expected it.
'I am much obliged to you for your kind advocacy of my cause when it most needed an advocate,' said the young man, laughing, and drawing a card from his pocket. 'Perhaps you'll do me the favour to let me know where I can thank you.'
Nicholas took the card, and glancing at it involuntarily as he returned the compliment, evinced very great surprise.
'Mr Frank Cheeryble!' said Nicholas. 'Surely not the nephew of Cheeryble Brothers, who is expected tomorrow!'
'I don't usually call myself the nephew of the firm,' returned Mr Frank, good-humouredly; 'but of the two excellent individuals who compose it, I am proud to say I AM the nephew. And you, I see, are Mr Nickleby, of whom I have heard so much! This is a most unexpected meeting, but not the less welcome, I assure you.'
Nicholas responded to these compliments with others of the same kind, and they shook hands warmly. Then he introduced John Browdie, who had remained in a state of great admiration ever since the young lady in the bar had been so skilfully won over to the right side. Then Mrs John Browdie was introduced, and finally they all went upstairs together and spent the next half-hour with great satisfaction and mutual entertainment; Mrs John Browdie beginning the conversation by declaring that of all the made-up things she ever saw, that young woman below-stairs was the vainest and the plainest.
This Mr Frank Cheeryble, although, to judge from what had recently taken place, a hot-headed young man (which is not an absolute miracle and phenomenon in nature), was a sprightly, good-humoured, pleasant fellow, with much both in his countenance and disposition that reminded Nicholas very strongly of the kind-hearted brothers. His manner was as unaffected as theirs, and his demeanour full of that heartiness which, to most people who have anything generous in their composition, is peculiarly prepossessing. Add to this, that he was good-looking and intelligent, had a plentiful share of vivacity, was extremely cheerful, and accommodated himself in five minutes' time to all John Browdie's oddities with as much ease as if he had known him from a boy; and it will be a source of no great wonder that, when they parted for the night, he had produced a most favourable impression, not only upon the worthy Yorkshireman and his wife, but upon Nicholas also, who, revolving all these things in his mind as he made the best of his way home, arrived at the conclusion that he had laid the foundation of a most agreeable and desirable acquaintance.
'But it's a most extraordinary thing about that register-office fellow!' thought Nicholas. 'Is it likely that this nephew can know anything about that beautiful girl? When Tim Linkinwater gave me to understand the other day that he was coming to take a share in the business here, he said he had been superintending it in Germany for four years, and that during the last six months he had been engaged in establishing an agency in the north of England. That's four years and a half—four years and a half. She can't be more than seventeen—say eighteen at the outside. She was quite a child when he went away, then. I should say he knew nothing about her and had never seen her, so HE can give me no information. At all events,' thought Nicholas, coming to the real point in his mind, 'there can be no danger of any prior occupation of her affections in that quarter; that's quite clear.'
Is selfishness a necessary ingredient in the composition of that passion called love, or does it deserve all the fine things which poets, in the exercise of their undoubted vocation, have said of it? There are, no doubt, authenticated instances of gentlemen having given up ladies and ladies having given up gentlemen to meritorious rivals, under circumstances of great high-mindedness; but is it quite established that the majority of such ladies and gentlemen have not made a virtue of necessity, and nobly resigned what was beyond their reach; as a private soldier might register a vow never to accept the order of the Garter, or a poor curate of great piety and learning, but of no family—save a very large family of children—might renounce a bishopric?
Here was Nicholas Nickleby, who would have scorned the thought of counting how the chances stood of his rising in favour or fortune with the brothers Cheeryble, now that their nephew had returned, already deep in calculations whether that same nephew was likely to rival him in the affections of the fair unknown—discussing the matter with himself too, as gravely as if, with that one exception, it were all settled; and recurring to the subject again and again, and feeling quite indignant and ill-used at the notion of anybody else making love to one with whom he had never exchanged a word in all his life. To be sure, he exaggerated rather than depreciated the merits of his new acquaintance; but still he took it as a kind of personal offence that he should have any merits at all—in the eyes of this particular young lady, that is; for elsewhere he was quite welcome to have as many as he pleased. There was undoubted selfishness in all this, and yet Nicholas was of a most free and generous nature, with as few mean or sordid thoughts, perhaps, as ever fell to the lot of any man; and there is no reason to suppose that, being in love, he felt and thought differently from other people in the like sublime condition.
He did not stop to set on foot an inquiry into his train of thought or state of feeling, however; but went thinking on all the way home, and continued to dream on in the same strain all night. For, having satisfied himself that Frank Cheeryble could have no knowledge of, or acquaintance with, the mysterious young lady, it began to occur to him that even he himself might never see her again; upon which hypothesis he built up a very ingenious succession of tormenting ideas which answered his purpose even better than the vision of Mr Frank Cheeryble, and tantalised and worried him, waking and sleeping.
Notwithstanding all that has been said and sung to the contrary, there is no well-established case of morning having either deferred or hastened its approach by the term of an hour or so for the mere gratification of a splenetic feeling against some unoffending lover: the sun having, in the discharge of his public duty, as the books of precedent report, invariably risen according to the almanacs, and without suffering himself to be swayed by any private considerations. So, morning came as usual, and with it business-hours, and with them Mr Frank Cheeryble, and with him a long train of smiles and welcomes from the worthy brothers, and a more grave and clerk-like, but scarcely less hearty reception from Mr Timothy Linkinwater.
'That Mr Frank and Mr Nickleby should have met last night,' said Tim Linkinwater, getting slowly off his stool, and looking round the counting-house with his back planted against the desk, as was his custom when he had anything very particular to say: 'that those two young men should have met last night in that manner is, I say, a coincidence, a remarkable coincidence. Why, I don't believe now,' added Tim, taking off his spectacles, and smiling as with gentle pride, 'that there's such a place in all the world for coincidences as London is!'
'I don't know about that,' said Mr Frank; 'but—'
'Don't know about it, Mr Francis!' interrupted Tim, with an obstinate air. 'Well, but let us know. If there is any better place for such things, where is it? Is it in Europe? No, that it isn't. Is it in Asia? Why, of course it's not. Is it in Africa? Not a bit of it. Is it in America? YOU know better than that, at all events. Well, then,' said Tim, folding his arms resolutely, 'where is it?'
'I was not about to dispute the point, Tim,' said young Cheeryble, laughing. 'I am not such a heretic as that. All I was going to say was, that I hold myself under an obligation to the coincidence, that's all.'
'Oh! if you don't dispute it,' said Tim, quite satisfied, 'that's another thing. I'll tell you what though. I wish you had. I wish you or anybody would. I would so put that man down,' said Tim, tapping the forefinger of his left hand emphatically with his spectacles, 'so put that man down by argument—'
It was quite impossible to find language to express the degree of mental prostration to which such an adventurous wight would be reduced in the keen encounter with Tim Linkinwater, so Tim gave up the rest of his declaration in pure lack of words, and mounted his stool again.
'We may consider ourselves, brother Ned,' said Charles, after he had patted Tim Linkinwater approvingly on the back, 'very fortunate in having two such young men about us as our nephew Frank and Mr Nickleby. It should be a source of great satisfaction and pleasure to us.'
'Certainly, Charles, certainly,' returned the other.
'Of Tim,' added brother Ned, 'I say nothing whatever, because Tim is a mere child—an infant—a nobody that we never think of or take into account at all. Tim, you villain, what do you say to that, sir?'
'I am jealous of both of 'em,' said Tim, 'and mean to look out for another situation; so provide yourselves, gentlemen, if you please.'
Tim thought this such an exquisite, unparalleled, and most extraordinary joke, that he laid his pen upon the inkstand, and rather tumbling off his stool than getting down with his usual deliberation, laughed till he was quite faint, shaking his head all the time so that little particles of powder flew palpably about the office. Nor were the brothers at all behind-hand, for they laughed almost as heartily at the ludicrous idea of any voluntary separation between themselves and old Tim. Nicholas and Mr Frank laughed quite boisterously, perhaps to conceal some other emotion awakened by this little incident, (and so, indeed, did the three old fellows after the first burst,) so perhaps there was as much keen enjoyment and relish in that laugh, altogether, as the politest assembly ever derived from the most poignant witticism uttered at any one person's expense.
'Mr Nickleby,' said brother Charles, calling him aside, and taking him kindly by the hand, 'I—I—am anxious, my dear sir, to see that you are properly and comfortably settled in the cottage. We cannot allow those who serve us well to labour under any privation or discomfort that it is in our power to remove. I wish, too, to see your mother and sister: to know them, Mr Nickleby, and have an opportunity of relieving their minds by assuring them that any trifling service we have been able to do them is a great deal more than repaid by the zeal and ardour you display.—Not a word, my dear sir, I beg. Tomorrow is Sunday. I shall make bold to come out at teatime, and take the chance of finding you at home; if you are not, you know, or the ladies should feel a delicacy in being intruded on, and would rather not be known to me just now, why I can come again another time, any other time would do for me. Let it remain upon that understanding. Brother Ned, my dear fellow, let me have a word with you this way.'
The twins went out of the office arm-in-arm, and Nicholas, who saw in this act of kindness, and many others of which he had been the subject that morning, only so many delicate renewals on the arrival of their nephew of the kind assurance which the brothers had given him in his absence, could scarcely feel sufficient admiration and gratitude for such extraordinary consideration.
The intelligence that they were to have visitor—and such a visitor—next day, awakened in the breast of Mrs Nickleby mingled feelings of exultation and regret; for whereas on the one hand she hailed it as an omen of her speedy restoration to good society and the almost-forgotten pleasures of morning calls and evening tea-drinkings, she could not, on the other, but reflect with bitterness of spirit on the absence of a silver teapot with an ivory knob on the lid, and a milk-jug to match, which had been the pride of her heart in days of yore, and had been kept from year's end to year's end wrapped up in wash-leather on a certain top shelf which now presented itself in lively colours to her sorrowing imagination.
'I wonder who's got that spice-box,' said Mrs Nickleby, shaking her head. 'It used to stand in the left-hand corner, next but two to the pickled onions. You remember that spice-box, Kate?'
'Perfectly well, mama.'
'I shouldn't think you did, Kate,' returned Mrs Nickleby, in a severe manner, 'talking about it in that cold and unfeeling way! If there is any one thing that vexes me in these losses more than the losses themselves, I do protest and declare,' said Mrs Nickleby, rubbing her nose with an impassioned air, 'that it is to have people about me who take things with such provoking calmness.'
'My dear mama,' said Kate, stealing her arm round her mother's neck, 'why do you say what I know you cannot seriously mean or think, or why be angry with me for being happy and content? You and Nicholas are left to me, we are together once again, and what regard can I have for a few trifling things of which we never feel the want? When I have seen all the misery and desolation that death can bring, and known the lonesome feeling of being solitary and alone in crowds, and all the agony of separation in grief and poverty when we most needed comfort and support from each other, can you wonder that I look upon this as a place of such delicious quiet and rest, that with you beside me I have nothing to wish for or regret? There was a time, and not long since, when all the comforts of our old home did come back upon me, I own, very often—oftener than you would think perhaps—but I affected to care nothing for them, in the hope that you would so be brought to regret them the less. I was not insensible, indeed. I might have felt happier if I had been. Dear mama,' said Kate, in great agitation, 'I know no difference between this home and that in which we were all so happy for so many years, except that the kindest and gentlest heart that ever ached on earth has passed in peace to heaven.'
'Kate my dear, Kate,' cried Mrs Nickleby, folding her in her arms.
'I have so often thought,' sobbed Kate, 'of all his kind words—of the last time he looked into my little room, as he passed upstairs to bed, and said "God bless you, darling." There was a paleness in his face, mama—the broken heart—I know it was—I little thought so—then—'
A gush of tears came to her relief, and Kate laid her head upon her mother's breast, and wept like a little child.
It is an exquisite and beautiful thing in our nature, that when the heart is touched and softened by some tranquil happiness or affectionate feeling, the memory of the dead comes over it most powerfully and irresistibly. It would almost seem as though our better thoughts and sympathies were charms, in virtue of which the soul is enabled to hold some vague and mysterious intercourse with the spirits of those whom we dearly loved in life. Alas! how often and how long may those patient angels hover above us, watching for the spell which is so seldom uttered, and so soon forgotten!
Poor Mrs Nickleby, accustomed to give ready utterance to whatever came uppermost in her mind, had never conceived the possibility of her daughter's dwelling upon these thoughts in secret, the more especially as no hard trial or querulous reproach had ever drawn them from her. But now, when the happiness of all that Nicholas had just told them, and of their new and peaceful life, brought these recollections so strongly upon Kate that she could not suppress them, Mrs Nickleby began to have a glimmering that she had been rather thoughtless now and then, and was conscious of something like self-reproach as she embraced her daughter, and yielded to the emotions which such a conversation naturally awakened.
There was a mighty bustle that night, and a vast quantity of preparation for the expected visitor, and a very large nosegay was brought from a gardener's hard by, and cut up into a number of very small ones, with which Mrs Nickleby would have garnished the little sitting-room, in a style that certainly could not have failed to attract anybody's attention, if Kate had not offered to spare her the trouble, and arranged them in the prettiest and neatest manner possible. If the cottage ever looked pretty, it must have been on such a bright and sunshiny day as the next day was. But Smike's pride in the garden, or Mrs Nickleby's in the condition of the furniture, or Kate's in everything, was nothing to the pride with which Nicholas looked at Kate herself; and surely the costliest mansion in all England might have found in her beautiful face and graceful form its most exquisite and peerless ornament.
About six o'clock in the afternoon Mrs Nickleby was thrown into a great flutter of spirits by the long-expected knock at the door, nor was this flutter at all composed by the audible tread of two pair of boots in the passage, which Mrs Nickleby augured, in a breathless state, must be 'the two Mr Cheerybles;' as it certainly was, though not the two Mrs Nickleby expected, because it was Mr Charles Cheeryble, and his nephew, Mr Frank, who made a thousand apologies for his intrusion, which Mrs Nickleby (having tea-spoons enough and to spare for all) most graciously received. Nor did the appearance of this unexpected visitor occasion the least embarrassment, (save in Kate, and that only to the extent of a blush or two at first,) for the old gentleman was so kind and cordial, and the young gentleman imitated him in this respect so well, that the usual stiffness and formality of a first meeting showed no signs of appearing, and Kate really more than once detected herself in the very act of wondering when it was going to begin.
At the tea-table there was plenty of conversation on a great variety of subjects, nor were there wanting jocose matters of discussion, such as they were; for young Mr Cheeryble's recent stay in Germany happening to be alluded to, old Mr Cheeryble informed the company that the aforesaid young Mr Cheeryble was suspected to have fallen deeply in love with the daughter of a certain German burgomaster. This accusation young Mr Cheeryble most indignantly repelled, upon which Mrs Nickleby slyly remarked, that she suspected, from the very warmth of the denial, there must be something in it. Young Mr Cheeryble then earnestly entreated old Mr Cheeryble to confess that it was all a jest, which old Mr Cheeryble at last did, young Mr Cheeryble being so much in earnest about it, that—as Mrs Nickleby said many thousand times afterwards in recalling the scene—he 'quite coloured,' which she rightly considered a memorable circumstance, and one worthy of remark, young men not being as a class remarkable for modesty or self-denial, especially when there is a lady in the case, when, if they colour at all, it is rather their practice to colour the story, and not themselves.
After tea there was a walk in the garden, and the evening being very fine they strolled out at the garden-gate into some lanes and bye-roads, and sauntered up and down until it grew quite dark. The time seemed to pass very quickly with all the party. Kate went first, leaning upon her brother's arm, and talking with him and Mr Frank Cheeryble; and Mrs Nickleby and the elder gentleman followed at a short distance, the kindness of the good merchant, his interest in the welfare of Nicholas, and his admiration of Kate, so operating upon the good lady's feelings, that the usual current of her speech was confined within very narrow and circumscribed limits. Smike (who, if he had ever been an object of interest in his life, had been one that day) accompanied them, joining sometimes one group and sometimes the other, as brother Charles, laying his hand upon his shoulder, bade him walk with him, or Nicholas, looking smilingly round, beckoned him to come and talk with the old friend who understood him best, and who could win a smile into his careworn face when none else could.
Pride is one of the seven deadly sins; but it cannot be the pride of a mother in her children, for that is a compound of two cardinal virtues—faith and hope. This was the pride which swelled Mrs Nickleby's heart that night, and this it was which left upon her face, glistening in the light when they returned home, traces of the most grateful tears she had ever shed.
There was a quiet mirth about the little supper, which harmonised exactly with this tone of feeling, and at length the two gentlemen took their leave. There was one circumstance in the leave-taking which occasioned a vast deal of smiling and pleasantry, and that was, that Mr Frank Cheeryble offered his hand to Kate twice over, quite forgetting that he had bade her adieu already. This was held by the elder Mr Cheeryble to be a convincing proof that he was thinking of his German flame, and the jest occasioned immense laughter. So easy is it to move light hearts.
In short, it was a day of serene and tranquil happiness; and as we all have some bright day—many of us, let us hope, among a crowd of others—to which we revert with particular delight, so this one was often looked back to afterwards, as holding a conspicuous place in the calendar of those who shared it.
Was there one exception, and that one he who needed to have been most happy?
Who was that who, in the silence of his own chamber, sunk upon his knees to pray as his first friend had taught him, and folding his hands and stretching them wildly in the air, fell upon his face in a passion of bitter grief?