HotFreeBooks.com
The Life And Adventures Of Nicholas Nickleby
by Charles Dickens
Previous Part     1 ... 5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15  16  17  18  19  20  21     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

'Kate,' murmured Mrs Nickleby, reviving when the coast was clear, 'is he gone?'

She was assured that he was.

'I shall never forgive myself, Kate,' said Mrs Nickleby. 'Never! That gentleman has lost his senses, and I am the unhappy cause.'

'YOU the cause!' said Kate, greatly astonished.

'I, my love,' replied Mrs Nickleby, with a desperate calmness. 'You saw what he was the other day; you see what he is now. I told your brother, weeks and weeks ago, Kate, that I hoped a disappointment might not be too much for him. You see what a wreck he is. Making allowance for his being a little flighty, you know how rationally, and sensibly, and honourably he talked, when we saw him in the garden. You have heard the dreadful nonsense he has been guilty of this night, and the manner in which he has gone on with that poor unfortunate little old maid. Can anybody doubt how all this has been brought about?'

'I should scarcely think they could,' said Kate mildly.

'I should scarcely think so, either,' rejoined her mother. 'Well! if I am the unfortunate cause of this, I have the satisfaction of knowing that I am not to blame. I told Nicholas, I said to him, "Nicholas, my dear, we should be very careful how we proceed." He would scarcely hear me. If the matter had only been properly taken up at first, as I wished it to be! But you are both of you so like your poor papa. However, I have MY consolation, and that should be enough for me!'

Washing her hands, thus, of all responsibility under this head, past, present, or to come, Mrs Nickleby kindly added that she hoped her children might never have greater cause to reproach themselves than she had, and prepared herself to receive the escort, who soon returned with the intelligence that the old gentleman was safely housed, and that they found his custodians, who had been making merry with some friends, wholly ignorant of his absence.

Quiet being again restored, a delicious half-hour—so Frank called it, in the course of subsequent conversation with Tim Linkinwater as they were walking home—was spent in conversation, and Tim's watch at length apprising him that it was high time to depart, the ladies were left alone, though not without many offers on the part of Frank to remain until Nicholas arrived, no matter what hour of the night it might be, if, after the late neighbourly irruption, they entertained the least fear of being left to themselves. As their freedom from all further apprehension, however, left no pretext for his insisting on mounting guard, he was obliged to abandon the citadel, and to retire with the trusty Tim.

Nearly three hours of silence passed away. Kate blushed to find, when Nicholas returned, how long she had been sitting alone, occupied with her own thoughts.

'I really thought it had not been half an hour,' she said.

'They must have been pleasant thoughts, Kate,' rejoined Nicholas gaily, 'to make time pass away like that. What were they now?'

Kate was confused; she toyed with some trifle on the table, looked up and smiled, looked down and dropped a tear.

'Why, Kate,' said Nicholas, drawing his sister towards him and kissing her, 'let me see your face. No? Ah! that was but a glimpse; that's scarcely fair. A longer look than that, Kate. Come—and I'll read your thoughts for you.'

There was something in this proposition, albeit it was said without the slightest consciousness or application, which so alarmed his sister, that Nicholas laughingly changed the subject to domestic matters, and thus gathered, by degrees, as they left the room and went upstairs together, how lonely Smike had been all night—and by very slow degrees, too; for on this subject also, Kate seemed to speak with some reluctance.

'Poor fellow,' said Nicholas, tapping gently at his door, 'what can be the cause of all this?'

Kate was hanging on her brother's arm. The door being quickly opened, she had not time to disengage herself, before Smike, very pale and haggard, and completely dressed, confronted them.

'And have you not been to bed?' said Nicholas.

'N—n—no,' was the reply.

Nicholas gently detained his sister, who made an effort to retire; and asked, 'Why not?'

'I could not sleep,' said Smike, grasping the hand which his friend extended to him.

'You are not well?' rejoined Nicholas.

'I am better, indeed. A great deal better,' said Smike quickly.

'Then why do you give way to these fits of melancholy?' inquired Nicholas, in his kindest manner; 'or why not tell us the cause? You grow a different creature, Smike.'

'I do; I know I do,' he replied. 'I will tell you the reason one day, but not now. I hate myself for this; you are all so good and kind. But I cannot help it. My heart is very full; you do not know how full it is.'

He wrung Nicholas's hand before he released it; and glancing, for a moment, at the brother and sister as they stood together, as if there were something in their strong affection which touched him very deeply, withdrew into his chamber, and was soon the only watcher under that quiet roof.



CHAPTER 50

Involves a serious Catastrophe

The little race-course at Hampton was in the full tide and height of its gaiety; the day as dazzling as day could be; the sun high in the cloudless sky, and shining in its fullest splendour. Every gaudy colour that fluttered in the air from carriage seat and garish tent top, shone out in its gaudiest hues. Old dingy flags grew new again, faded gilding was re-burnished, stained rotten canvas looked a snowy white, the very beggars' rags were freshened up, and sentiment quite forgot its charity in its fervent admiration of poverty so picturesque.

It was one of those scenes of life and animation, caught in its very brightest and freshest moments, which can scarcely fail to please; for if the eye be tired of show and glare, or the ear be weary with a ceaseless round of noise, the one may repose, turn almost where it will, on eager, happy, and expectant faces, and the other deaden all consciousness of more annoying sounds in those of mirth and exhilaration. Even the sunburnt faces of gypsy children, half naked though they be, suggest a drop of comfort. It is a pleasant thing to see that the sun has been there; to know that the air and light are on them every day; to feel that they ARE children, and lead children's lives; that if their pillows be damp, it is with the dews of Heaven, and not with tears; that the limbs of their girls are free, and that they are not crippled by distortions, imposing an unnatural and horrible penance upon their sex; that their lives are spent, from day to day, at least among the waving trees, and not in the midst of dreadful engines which make young children old before they know what childhood is, and give them the exhaustion and infirmity of age, without, like age, the privilege to die. God send that old nursery tales were true, and that gypsies stole such children by the score!

The great race of the day had just been run; and the close lines of people, on either side of the course, suddenly breaking up and pouring into it, imparted a new liveliness to the scene, which was again all busy movement. Some hurried eagerly to catch a glimpse of the winning horse; others darted to and fro, searching, no less eagerly, for the carriages they had left in quest of better stations. Here, a little knot gathered round a pea and thimble table to watch the plucking of some unhappy greenhorn; and there, another proprietor with his confederates in various disguises—one man in spectacles; another, with an eyeglass and a stylish hat; a third, dressed as a farmer well to do in the world, with his top-coat over his arm and his flash notes in a large leathern pocket-book; and all with heavy-handled whips to represent most innocent country fellows who had trotted there on horseback—sought, by loud and noisy talk and pretended play, to entrap some unwary customer, while the gentlemen confederates (of more villainous aspect still, in clean linen and good clothes), betrayed their close interest in the concern by the anxious furtive glance they cast on all new comers. These would be hanging on the outskirts of a wide circle of people assembled round some itinerant juggler, opposed, in his turn, by a noisy band of music, or the classic game of 'Ring the Bull,' while ventriloquists holding dialogues with wooden dolls, and fortune-telling women smothering the cries of real babies, divided with them, and many more, the general attention of the company. Drinking-tents were full, glasses began to clink in carriages, hampers to be unpacked, tempting provisions to be set forth, knives and forks to rattle, champagne corks to fly, eyes to brighten that were not dull before, and pickpockets to count their gains during the last heat. The attention so recently strained on one object of interest, was now divided among a hundred; and look where you would, there was a motley assemblage of feasting, laughing, talking, begging, gambling, and mummery.

Of the gambling-booths there was a plentiful show, flourishing in all the splendour of carpeted ground, striped hangings, crimson cloth, pinnacled roofs, geranium pots, and livery servants. There were the Stranger's club-house, the Athenaeum club-house, the Hampton club-house, the St James's club-house, and half a mile of club-houses to play IN; and there were ROUGE-ET-NOIR, French hazard, and other games to play AT. It is into one of these booths that our story takes its way.

Fitted up with three tables for the purposes of play, and crowded with players and lookers on, it was, although the largest place of the kind upon the course, intensely hot, notwithstanding that a portion of the canvas roof was rolled back to admit more air, and there were two doors for a free passage in and out. Excepting one or two men who, each with a long roll of half-crowns, chequered with a few stray sovereigns, in his left hand, staked their money at every roll of the ball with a business-like sedateness which showed that they were used to it, and had been playing all day, and most probably all the day before, there was no very distinctive character about the players, who were chiefly young men, apparently attracted by curiosity, or staking small sums as part of the amusement of the day, with no very great interest in winning or losing. There were two persons present, however, who, as peculiarly good specimens of a class, deserve a passing notice.

Of these, one was a man of six or eight and fifty, who sat on a chair near one of the entrances of the booth, with his hands folded on the top of his stick, and his chin appearing above them. He was a tall, fat, long-bodied man, buttoned up to the throat in a light green coat, which made his body look still longer than it was. He wore, besides, drab breeches and gaiters, a white neckerchief, and a broad-brimmed white hat. Amid all the buzzing noise of the games, and the perpetual passing in and out of the people, he seemed perfectly calm and abstracted, without the smallest particle of excitement in his composition. He exhibited no indication of weariness, nor, to a casual observer, of interest either. There he sat, quite still and collected. Sometimes, but very rarely, he nodded to some passing face, or beckoned to a waiter to obey a call from one of the tables. The next instant he subsided into his old state. He might have been some profoundly deaf old gentleman, who had come in to take a rest, or he might have been patiently waiting for a friend, without the least consciousness of anybody's presence, or fixed in a trance, or under the influence of opium. People turned round and looked at him; he made no gesture, caught nobody's eye, let them pass away, and others come on and be succeeded by others, and took no notice. When he did move, it seemed wonderful how he could have seen anything to occasion it. And so, in truth, it was. But there was not a face that passed in or out, which this man failed to see; not a gesture at any one of the three tables that was lost upon him; not a word, spoken by the bankers, but reached his ear; not a winner or loser he could not have marked. And he was the proprietor of the place.

The other presided over the ROUGE-ET-NOIR table. He was probably some ten years younger, and was a plump, paunchy, sturdy-looking fellow, with his under-lip a little pursed, from a habit of counting money inwardly as he paid it, but with no decidedly bad expression in his face, which was rather an honest and jolly one than otherwise. He wore no coat, the weather being hot, and stood behind the table with a huge mound of crowns and half-crowns before him, and a cash-box for notes. This game was constantly playing. Perhaps twenty people would be staking at the same time. This man had to roll the ball, to watch the stakes as they were laid down, to gather them off the colour which lost, to pay those who won, to do it all with the utmost dispatch, to roll the ball again, and to keep this game perpetually alive. He did it all with a rapidity absolutely marvellous; never hesitating, never making a mistake, never stopping, and never ceasing to repeat such unconnected phrases as the following, which, partly from habit, and partly to have something appropriate and business-like to say, he constantly poured out with the same monotonous emphasis, and in nearly the same order, all day long:

'Rooge-a-nore from Paris! Gentlemen, make your game and back your own opinions—any time while the ball rolls—rooge-a-nore from Paris, gentlemen, it's a French game, gentlemen, I brought it over myself, I did indeed!—Rooge-a-nore from Paris—black wins—black—stop a minute, sir, and I'll pay you, directly—two there, half a pound there, three there—and one there—gentlemen, the ball's a rolling—any time, sir, while the ball rolls!—The beauty of this game is, that you can double your stakes or put down your money, gentlemen, any time while the ball rolls—black again—black wins—I never saw such a thing—I never did, in all my life, upon my word I never did; if any gentleman had been backing the black in the last five minutes he must have won five-and-forty pound in four rolls of the ball, he must indeed. Gentlemen, we've port, sherry, cigars, and most excellent champagne. Here, wai-ter, bring a bottle of champagne, and let's have a dozen or fifteen cigars here—and let's be comfortable, gentlemen—and bring some clean glasses—any time while the ball rolls!—I lost one hundred and thirty-seven pound yesterday, gentlemen, at one roll of the ball, I did indeed!—how do you do, sir?' (recognising some knowing gentleman without any halt or change of voice, and giving a wink so slight that it seems an accident), 'will you take a glass of sherry, sir?—here, wai-ter! bring a clean glass, and hand the sherry to this gentleman—and hand it round, will you, waiter?—this is the rooge-a-nore from Paris, gentlemen—any time while the ball rolls!—gentlemen, make your game, and back your own opinions—it's the rooge-a-nore from Paris—quite a new game, I brought it over myself, I did indeed—gentlemen, the ball's a-rolling!'

This officer was busily plying his vocation when half-a-dozen persons sauntered through the booth, to whom, but without stopping either in his speech or work, he bowed respectfully; at the same time directing, by a look, the attention of a man beside him to the tallest figure in the group, in recognition of whom the proprietor pulled off his hat. This was Sir Mulberry Hawk, with whom were his friend and pupil, and a small train of gentlemanly-dressed men, of characters more doubtful than obscure.

The proprietor, in a low voice, bade Sir Mulberry good-day. Sir Mulberry, in the same tone, bade the proprietor go to the devil, and turned to speak with his friends.

There was evidently an irritable consciousness about him that he was an object of curiosity, on this first occasion of showing himself in public after the accident that had befallen him; and it was easy to perceive that he appeared on the race-course, that day, more in the hope of meeting with a great many people who knew him, and so getting over as much as possible of the annoyance at once, than with any purpose of enjoying the sport. There yet remained a slight scar upon his face, and whenever he was recognised, as he was almost every minute by people sauntering in and out, he made a restless effort to conceal it with his glove; showing how keenly he felt the disgrace he had undergone.

'Ah! Hawk,' said one very sprucely-dressed personage in a Newmarket coat, a choice neckerchief, and all other accessories of the most unexceptionable kind. 'How d'ye do, old fellow?'

This was a rival trainer of young noblemen and gentlemen, and the person of all others whom Sir Mulberry most hated and dreaded to meet. They shook hands with excessive cordiality.

'And how are you now, old fellow, hey?'

'Quite well, quite well,' said Sir Mulberry.

'That's right,' said the other. 'How d'ye do, Verisopht? He's a little pulled down, our friend here. Rather out of condition still, hey?'

It should be observed that the gentleman had very white teeth, and that when there was no excuse for laughing, he generally finished with the same monosyllable, which he uttered so as to display them.

'He's in very good condition; there's nothing the matter with him,' said the young man carelessly.

'Upon my soul I'm glad to hear it,' rejoined the other. 'Have you just returned from Brussels?'

'We only reached town late last night,' said Lord Frederick. Sir Mulberry turned away to speak to one of his own party, and feigned not to hear.

'Now, upon my life,' said the friend, affecting to speak in a whisper, 'it's an uncommonly bold and game thing in Hawk to show himself so soon. I say it advisedly; there's a vast deal of courage in it. You see he has just rusticated long enough to excite curiosity, and not long enough for men to have forgotten that deuced unpleasant—by-the-bye—you know the rights of the affair, of course? Why did you never give those confounded papers the lie? I seldom read the papers, but I looked in the papers for that, and may I be—'

'Look in the papers,' interrupted Sir Mulberry, turning suddenly round, 'tomorrow—no, next day, will you?'

'Upon my life, my dear fellow, I seldom or never read the papers,' said the other, shrugging his shoulders, 'but I will, at your recommendation. What shall I look for?'

'Good day,' said Sir Mulberry, turning abruptly on his heel, and drawing his pupil with him. Falling, again, into the loitering, careless pace at which they had entered, they lounged out, arm in arm.

'I won't give him a case of murder to read,' muttered Sir Mulberry with an oath; 'but it shall be something very near it if whipcord cuts and bludgeons bruise.'

His companion said nothing, but there was something in his manner which galled Sir Mulberry to add, with nearly as much ferocity as if his friend had been Nicholas himself:

'I sent Jenkins to old Nickleby before eight o'clock this morning. He's a staunch one; he was back with me before the messenger. I had it all from him in the first five minutes. I know where this hound is to be met with; time and place both. But there's no need to talk; tomorrow will soon be here.'

'And wha-at's to be done tomorrow?' inquired Lord Frederick.

Sir Mulberry Hawk honoured him with an angry glance, but condescended to return no verbal answer to this inquiry. Both walked sullenly on, as though their thoughts were busily occupied, until they were quite clear of the crowd, and almost alone, when Sir Mulberry wheeled round to return.

'Stop,' said his companion, 'I want to speak to you in earnest. Don't turn back. Let us walk here, a few minutes.'

'What have you to say to me, that you could not say yonder as well as here?' returned his Mentor, disengaging his arm.

'Hawk,' rejoined the other, 'tell me; I must know.'

'MUST know,' interrupted the other disdainfully. 'Whew! Go on. If you must know, of course there's no escape for me. Must know!'

'Must ask then,' returned Lord Frederick, 'and must press you for a plain and straightforward answer. Is what you have just said only a mere whim of the moment, occasioned by your being out of humour and irritated, or is it your serious intention, and one that you have actually contemplated?'

'Why, don't you remember what passed on the subject one night, when I was laid up with a broken limb?' said Sir Mulberry, with a sneer.

'Perfectly well.'

'Then take that for an answer, in the devil's name,' replied Sir Mulberry, 'and ask me for no other.'

Such was the ascendancy he had acquired over his dupe, and such the latter's general habit of submission, that, for the moment, the young man seemed half afraid to pursue the subject. He soon overcame this feeling, however, if it had restrained him at all, and retorted angrily:

'If I remember what passed at the time you speak of, I expressed a strong opinion on this subject, and said that, with my knowledge or consent, you never should do what you threaten now.'

'Will you prevent me?' asked Sir Mulberry, with a laugh.

'Ye-es, if I can,' returned the other, promptly.

'A very proper saving clause, that last,' said Sir Mulberry; 'and one you stand in need of. Oh! look to your own business, and leave me to look to mine.'

'This IS mine,' retorted Lord Frederick. 'I make it mine; I will make it mine. It's mine already. I am more compromised than I should be, as it is.'

'Do as you please, and what you please, for yourself,' said Sir Mulberry, affecting an easy good-humour. 'Surely that must content you! Do nothing for me; that's all. I advise no man to interfere in proceedings that I choose to take. I am sure you know me better than to do so. The fact is, I see, you mean to offer me advice. It is well meant, I have no doubt, but I reject it. Now, if you please, we will return to the carriage. I find no entertainment here, but quite the reverse. If we prolong this conversation, we might quarrel, which would be no proof of wisdom in either you or me.'

With this rejoinder, and waiting for no further discussion, Sir Mulberry Hawk yawned, and very leisurely turned back.

There was not a little tact and knowledge of the young lord's disposition in this mode of treating him. Sir Mulberry clearly saw that if his dominion were to last, it must be established now. He knew that the moment he became violent, the young man would become violent too. He had, many times, been enabled to strengthen his influence, when any circumstance had occurred to weaken it, by adopting this cool and laconic style; and he trusted to it now, with very little doubt of its entire success.

But while he did this, and wore the most careless and indifferent deportment that his practised arts enabled him to assume, he inwardly resolved, not only to visit all the mortification of being compelled to suppress his feelings, with additional severity upon Nicholas, but also to make the young lord pay dearly for it, one day, in some shape or other. So long as he had been a passive instrument in his hands, Sir Mulberry had regarded him with no other feeling than contempt; but, now that he presumed to avow opinions in opposition to his, and even to turn upon him with a lofty tone and an air of superiority, he began to hate him. Conscious that, in the vilest and most worthless sense of the term, he was dependent upon the weak young lord, Sir Mulberry could the less brook humiliation at his hands; and when he began to dislike him he measured his dislike—as men often do—by the extent of the injuries he had inflicted upon its object. When it is remembered that Sir Mulberry Hawk had plundered, duped, deceived, and fooled his pupil in every possible way, it will not be wondered at, that, beginning to hate him, he began to hate him cordially.

On the other hand, the young lord having thought—which he very seldom did about anything—and seriously too, upon the affair with Nicholas, and the circumstances which led to it, had arrived at a manly and honest conclusion. Sir Mulberry's coarse and insulting behaviour on the occasion in question had produced a deep impression on his mind; a strong suspicion of his having led him on to pursue Miss Nickleby for purposes of his own, had been lurking there for some time; he was really ashamed of his share in the transaction, and deeply mortified by the misgiving that he had been gulled. He had had sufficient leisure to reflect upon these things, during their late retirement; and, at times, when his careless and indolent nature would permit, had availed himself of the opportunity. Slight circumstances, too, had occurred to increase his suspicion. It wanted but a very slight circumstance to kindle his wrath against Sir Mulberry. This his disdainful and insolent tone in their recent conversation (the only one they had held upon the subject since the period to which Sir Mulberry referred), effected.

Thus they rejoined their friends: each with causes of dislike against the other rankling in his breast: and the young man haunted, besides, with thoughts of the vindictive retaliation which was threatened against Nicholas, and the determination to prevent it by some strong step, if possible. But this was not all. Sir Mulberry, conceiving that he had silenced him effectually, could not suppress his triumph, or forbear from following up what he conceived to be his advantage. Mr Pyke was there, and Mr Pluck was there, and Colonel Chowser, and other gentlemen of the same caste, and it was a great point for Sir Mulberry to show them that he had not lost his influence. At first, the young lord contented himself with a silent determination to take measures for withdrawing himself from the connection immediately. By degrees, he grew more angry, and was exasperated by jests and familiarities which, a few hours before, would have been a source of amusement to him. This did not serve him; for, at such bantering or retort as suited the company, he was no match for Sir Mulberry. Still, no violent rupture took place. They returned to town; Messrs Pyke and Pluck and other gentlemen frequently protesting, on the way thither, that Sir Mulberry had never been in such tiptop spirits in all his life.

They dined together, sumptuously. The wine flowed freely, as indeed it had done all day. Sir Mulberry drank to recompense himself for his recent abstinence; the young lord, to drown his indignation; and the remainder of the party, because the wine was of the best and they had nothing to pay. It was nearly midnight when they rushed out, wild, burning with wine, their blood boiling, and their brains on fire, to the gaming-table.

Here, they encountered another party, mad like themselves. The excitement of play, hot rooms, and glaring lights was not calculated to allay the fever of the time. In that giddy whirl of noise and confusion, the men were delirious. Who thought of money, ruin, or the morrow, in the savage intoxication of the moment? More wine was called for, glass after glass was drained, their parched and scalding mouths were cracked with thirst. Down poured the wine like oil on blazing fire. And still the riot went on. The debauchery gained its height; glasses were dashed upon the floor by hands that could not carry them to lips; oaths were shouted out by lips which could scarcely form the words to vent them in; drunken losers cursed and roared; some mounted on the tables, waving bottles above their heads and bidding defiance to the rest; some danced, some sang, some tore the cards and raved. Tumult and frenzy reigned supreme; when a noise arose that drowned all others, and two men, seizing each other by the throat, struggled into the middle of the room.

A dozen voices, until now unheard, called aloud to part them. Those who had kept themselves cool, to win, and who earned their living in such scenes, threw themselves upon the combatants, and, forcing them asunder, dragged them some space apart.

'Let me go!' cried Sir Mulberry, in a thick hoarse voice; 'he struck me! Do you hear? I say, he struck me. Have I a friend here? Who is this? Westwood. Do you hear me say he struck me?'

'I hear, I hear,' replied one of those who held him. 'Come away for tonight!'

'I will not, by G—,' he replied. 'A dozen men about us saw the blow.'

'Tomorrow will be ample time,' said the friend.

'It will not be ample time!' cried Sir Mulberry. 'Tonight, at once, here!' His passion was so great, that he could not articulate, but stood clenching his fist, tearing his hair, and stamping upon the ground.

'What is this, my lord?' said one of those who surrounded him. 'Have blows passed?'

'ONE blow has,' was the panting reply. 'I struck him. I proclaim it to all here! I struck him, and he knows why. I say, with him, let this quarrel be adjusted now. Captain Adams,' said the young lord, looking hurriedly about him, and addressing one of those who had interposed, 'let me speak with you, I beg.'

The person addressed stepped forward, and taking the young man's arm, they retired together, followed shortly afterwards by Sir Mulberry and his friend.

It was a profligate haunt of the worst repute, and not a place in which such an affair was likely to awaken any sympathy for either party, or to call forth any further remonstrance or interposition. Elsewhere, its further progress would have been instantly prevented, and time allowed for sober and cool reflection; but not there. Disturbed in their orgies, the party broke up; some reeled away with looks of tipsy gravity; others withdrew noisily discussing what had just occurred; the gentlemen of honour who lived upon their winnings remarked to each other, as they went out, that Hawk was a good shot; and those who had been most noisy, fell fast asleep upon the sofas, and thought no more about it.

Meanwhile, the two seconds, as they may be called now, after a long conference, each with his principal, met together in another room. Both utterly heartless, both men upon town, both thoroughly initiated in its worst vices, both deeply in debt, both fallen from some higher estate, both addicted to every depravity for which society can find some genteel name and plead its most depraving conventionalities as an excuse, they were naturally gentlemen of most unblemished honour themselves, and of great nicety concerning the honour of other people.

These two gentlemen were unusually cheerful just now; for the affair was pretty certain to make some noise, and could scarcely fail to enhance their reputations.

'This is an awkward affair, Adams,' said Mr Westwood, drawing himself up.

'Very,' returned the captain; 'a blow has been struck, and there is but one course, OF course.'

'No apology, I suppose?' said Mr Westwood.

'Not a syllable, sir, from my man, if we talk till doomsday,' returned the captain. 'The original cause of dispute, I understand, was some girl or other, to whom your principal applied certain terms, which Lord Frederick, defending the girl, repelled. But this led to a long recrimination upon a great many sore subjects, charges, and counter-charges. Sir Mulberry was sarcastic; Lord Frederick was excited, and struck him in the heat of provocation, and under circumstances of great aggravation. That blow, unless there is a full retraction on the part of Sir Mulberry, Lord Frederick is ready to justify.'

'There is no more to be said,' returned the other, 'but to settle the hour and the place of meeting. It's a responsibility; but there is a strong feeling to have it over. Do you object to say at sunrise?'

'Sharp work,' replied the captain, referring to his watch; 'however, as this seems to have been a long time breeding, and negotiation is only a waste of words, no.'

'Something may possibly be said, out of doors, after what passed in the other room, which renders it desirable that we should be off without delay, and quite clear of town,' said Mr Westwood. 'What do you say to one of the meadows opposite Twickenham, by the river-side?'

The captain saw no objection.

'Shall we join company in the avenue of trees which leads from Petersham to Ham House, and settle the exact spot when we arrive there?' said Mr Westwood.

To this the captain also assented. After a few other preliminaries, equally brief, and having settled the road each party should take to avoid suspicion, they separated.

'We shall just have comfortable time, my lord,' said the captain, when he had communicated the arrangements, 'to call at my rooms for a case of pistols, and then jog coolly down. If you will allow me to dismiss your servant, we'll take my cab; for yours, perhaps, might be recognised.'

What a contrast, when they reached the street, to the scene they had just left! It was already daybreak. For the flaring yellow light within, was substituted the clear, bright, glorious morning; for a hot, close atmosphere, tainted with the smell of expiring lamps, and reeking with the steams of riot and dissipation, the free, fresh, wholesome air. But to the fevered head on which that cool air blew, it seemed to come laden with remorse for time misspent and countless opportunities neglected. With throbbing veins and burning skin, eyes wild and heavy, thoughts hurried and disordered, he felt as though the light were a reproach, and shrunk involuntarily from the day as if he were some foul and hideous thing.

'Shivering?' said the captain. 'You are cold.'

'Rather.'

'It does strike cool, coming out of those hot rooms. Wrap that cloak about you. So, so; now we're off.'

They rattled through the quiet streets, made their call at the captain's lodgings, cleared the town, and emerged upon the open road, without hindrance or molestation.

Fields, trees, gardens, hedges, everything looked very beautiful; the young man scarcely seemed to have noticed them before, though he had passed the same objects a thousand times. There was a peace and serenity upon them all, strangely at variance with the bewilderment and confusion of his own half-sobered thoughts, and yet impressive and welcome. He had no fear upon his mind; but, as he looked about him, he had less anger; and though all old delusions, relative to his worthless late companion, were now cleared away, he rather wished he had never known him than thought of its having come to this.

The past night, the day before, and many other days and nights beside, all mingled themselves up in one unintelligible and senseless whirl; he could not separate the transactions of one time from those of another. Now, the noise of the wheels resolved itself into some wild tune in which he could recognise scraps of airs he knew; now, there was nothing in his ears but a stunning and bewildering sound, like rushing water. But his companion rallied him on being so silent, and they talked and laughed boisterously. When they stopped, he was a little surprised to find himself in the act of smoking; but, on reflection, he remembered when and where he had taken the cigar.

They stopped at the avenue gate and alighted, leaving the carriage to the care of the servant, who was a smart fellow, and nearly as well accustomed to such proceedings as his master. Sir Mulberry and his friend were already there. All four walked in profound silence up the aisle of stately elm trees, which, meeting far above their heads, formed a long green perspective of Gothic arches, terminating, like some old ruin, in the open sky.

After a pause, and a brief conference between the seconds, they, at length, turned to the right, and taking a track across a little meadow, passed Ham House and came into some fields beyond. In one of these, they stopped. The ground was measured, some usual forms gone through, the two principals were placed front to front at the distance agreed upon, and Sir Mulberry turned his face towards his young adversary for the first time. He was very pale, his eyes were bloodshot, his dress disordered, and his hair dishevelled. For the face, it expressed nothing but violent and evil passions. He shaded his eyes with his hand; grazed at his opponent, steadfastly, for a few moments; and, then taking the weapon which was tendered to him, bent his eyes upon that, and looked up no more until the word was given, when he instantly fired.

The two shots were fired, as nearly as possible, at the same instant. In that instant, the young lord turned his head sharply round, fixed upon his adversary a ghastly stare, and without a groan or stagger, fell down dead.

'He's gone!' cried Westwood, who, with the other second, had run up to the body, and fallen on one knee beside it.

'His blood on his own head,' said Sir Mulberry. 'He brought this upon himself, and forced it upon me.'

'Captain Adams,' cried Westwood, hastily, 'I call you to witness that this was fairly done. Hawk, we have not a moment to lose. We must leave this place immediately, push for Brighton, and cross to France with all speed. This has been a bad business, and may be worse, if we delay a moment. Adams, consult your own safety, and don't remain here; the living before the dead; goodbye!'

With these words, he seized Sir Mulberry by the arm, and hurried him away. Captain Adams—only pausing to convince himself, beyond all question, of the fatal result—sped off in the same direction, to concert measures with his servant for removing the body, and securing his own safety likewise.

So died Lord Frederick Verisopht, by the hand which he had loaded with gifts, and clasped a thousand times; by the act of him, but for whom, and others like him, he might have lived a happy man, and died with children's faces round his bed.

The sun came proudly up in all his majesty, the noble river ran its winding course, the leaves quivered and rustled in the air, the birds poured their cheerful songs from every tree, the short-lived butterfly fluttered its little wings; all the light and life of day came on; and, amidst it all, and pressing down the grass whose every blade bore twenty tiny lives, lay the dead man, with his stark and rigid face turned upwards to the sky.



CHAPTER 51

The Project of Mr Ralph Nickleby and his Friend approaching a successful Issue, becomes unexpectedly known to another Party, not admitted into their Confidence

In an old house, dismal dark and dusty, which seemed to have withered, like himself, and to have grown yellow and shrivelled in hoarding him from the light of day, as he had in hoarding his money, lived Arthur Gride. Meagre old chairs and tables, of spare and bony make, and hard and cold as misers' hearts, were ranged, in grim array, against the gloomy walls; attenuated presses, grown lank and lantern-jawed in guarding the treasures they enclosed, and tottering, as though from constant fear and dread of thieves, shrunk up in dark corners, whence they cast no shadows on the ground, and seemed to hide and cower from observation. A tall grim clock upon the stairs, with long lean hands and famished face, ticked in cautious whispers; and when it struck the time, in thin and piping sounds, like an old man's voice, rattled, as if it were pinched with hunger.

No fireside couch was there, to invite repose and comfort. Elbow-chairs there were, but they looked uneasy in their minds, cocked their arms suspiciously and timidly, and kept upon their guard. Others, were fantastically grim and gaunt, as having drawn themselves up to their utmost height, and put on their fiercest looks to stare all comers out of countenance. Others, again, knocked up against their neighbours, or leant for support against the wall—somewhat ostentatiously, as if to call all men to witness that they were not worth the taking. The dark square lumbering bedsteads seemed built for restless dreams; the musty hangings seemed to creep in scanty folds together, whispering among themselves, when rustled by the wind, their trembling knowledge of the tempting wares that lurked within the dark and tight-locked closets.

From out the most spare and hungry room in all this spare and hungry house there came, one morning, the tremulous tones of old Gride's voice, as it feebly chirruped forth the fag end of some forgotten song, of which the burden ran:

Ta—ran—tan—too, Throw the old shoe, And may the wedding be lucky!

which he repeated, in the same shrill quavering notes, again and again, until a violent fit of coughing obliged him to desist, and to pursue in silence, the occupation upon which he was engaged.

This occupation was, to take down from the shelves of a worm-eaten wardrobe a quantity of frouzy garments, one by one; to subject each to a careful and minute inspection by holding it up against the light, and after folding it with great exactness, to lay it on one or other of two little heaps beside him. He never took two articles of clothing out together, but always brought them forth, singly, and never failed to shut the wardrobe door, and turn the key, between each visit to its shelves.

'The snuff-coloured suit,' said Arthur Gride, surveying a threadbare coat. 'Did I look well in snuff-colour? Let me think.'

The result of his cogitations appeared to be unfavourable, for he folded the garment once more, laid it aside, and mounted on a chair to get down another, chirping while he did so:

Young, loving, and fair, Oh what happiness there! The wedding is sure to be lucky!

'They always put in "young,"' said old Arthur, 'but songs are only written for the sake of rhyme, and this is a silly one that the poor country-people sang, when I was a little boy. Though stop—young is quite right too—it means the bride—yes. He, he, he! It means the bride. Oh dear, that's good. That's very good. And true besides, quite true!'

In the satisfaction of this discovery, he went over the verse again, with increased expression, and a shake or two here and there. He then resumed his employment.

'The bottle-green,' said old Arthur; 'the bottle-green was a famous suit to wear, and I bought it very cheap at a pawnbroker's, and there was—he, he, he!—a tarnished shilling in the waistcoat pocket. To think that the pawnbroker shouldn't have known there was a shilling in it! I knew it! I felt it when I was examining the quality. Oh, what a dull dog of a pawnbroker! It was a lucky suit too, this bottle-green. The very day I put it on first, old Lord Mallowford was burnt to death in his bed, and all the post-obits fell in. I'll be married in the bottle-green. Peg. Peg Sliderskew—I'll wear the bottle-green!'

This call, loudly repeated twice or thrice at the room-door, brought into the apartment a short, thin, weasen, blear-eyed old woman, palsy-stricken and hideously ugly, who, wiping her shrivelled face upon her dirty apron, inquired, in that subdued tone in which deaf people commonly speak:

'Was that you a calling, or only the clock a striking? My hearing gets so bad, I never know which is which; but when I hear a noise, I know it must be one of you, because nothing else never stirs in the house.'

'Me, Peg, me,' said Arthur Gride, tapping himself on the breast to render the reply more intelligible.

'You, eh?' returned Peg. 'And what do YOU want?'

'I'll be married in the bottle-green,' cried Arthur Gride.

'It's a deal too good to be married in, master,' rejoined Peg, after a short inspection of the suit. 'Haven't you got anything worse than this?'

'Nothing that'll do,' replied old Arthur.

'Why not do?' retorted Peg. 'Why don't you wear your every-day clothes, like a man—eh?'

'They an't becoming enough, Peg,' returned her master.

'Not what enough?' said Peg.

'Becoming.'

'Becoming what?' said Peg, sharply. 'Not becoming too old to wear?'

Arthur Gride muttered an imprecation on his housekeeper's deafness, as he roared in her ear:

'Not smart enough! I want to look as well as I can.'

'Look?' cried Peg. 'If she's as handsome as you say she is, she won't look much at you, master, take your oath of that; and as to how you look yourself—pepper-and-salt, bottle-green, sky-blue, or tartan-plaid will make no difference in you.'

With which consolatory assurance, Peg Sliderskew gathered up the chosen suit, and folding her skinny arms upon the bundle, stood, mouthing, and grinning, and blinking her watery eyes, like an uncouth figure in some monstrous piece of carving.

'You're in a funny humour, an't you, Peg?' said Arthur, with not the best possible grace.

'Why, isn't it enough to make me?' rejoined the old woman. 'I shall, soon enough, be put out, though, if anybody tries to domineer it over me: and so I give you notice, master. Nobody shall be put over Peg Sliderskew's head, after so many years; you know that, and so I needn't tell you! That won't do for me—no, no, nor for you. Try that once, and come to ruin—ruin—ruin!'

'Oh dear, dear, I shall never try it,' said Arthur Gride, appalled by the mention of the word, 'not for the world. It would be very easy to ruin me; we must be very careful; more saving than ever, with another mouth to feed. Only we—we mustn't let her lose her good looks, Peg, because I like to see 'em.'

'Take care you don't find good looks come expensive,' returned Peg, shaking her forefinger.

'But she can earn money herself, Peg,' said Arthur Gride, eagerly watching what effect his communication produced upon the old woman's countenance: 'she can draw, paint, work all manner of pretty things for ornamenting stools and chairs: slippers, Peg, watch-guards, hair-chains, and a thousand little dainty trifles that I couldn't give you half the names of. Then she can play the piano, (and, what's more, she's got one), and sing like a little bird. She'll be very cheap to dress and keep, Peg; don't you think she will?'

'If you don't let her make a fool of you, she may,' returned Peg.

'A fool of ME!' exclaimed Arthur. 'Trust your old master not to be fooled by pretty faces, Peg; no, no, no—nor by ugly ones neither, Mrs Sliderskew,' he softly added by way of soliloquy.

'You're a saying something you don't want me to hear,' said Peg; 'I know you are.'

'Oh dear! the devil's in this woman,' muttered Arthur; adding with an ugly leer, 'I said I trusted everything to you, Peg. That was all.'

'You do that, master, and all your cares are over,' said Peg approvingly.

'WHEN I do that, Peg Sliderskew,' thought Arthur Gride, 'they will be.'

Although he thought this very distinctly, he durst not move his lips lest the old woman should detect him. He even seemed half afraid that she might have read his thoughts; for he leered coaxingly upon her, as he said aloud:

'Take up all loose stitches in the bottle-green with the best black silk. Have a skein of the best, and some new buttons for the coat, and—this is a good idea, Peg, and one you'll like, I know—as I have never given her anything yet, and girls like such attentions, you shall polish up a sparking necklace that I have got upstairs, and I'll give it her upon the wedding morning—clasp it round her charming little neck myself—and take it away again next day. He, he, he! I'll lock it up for her, Peg, and lose it. Who'll be made the fool of there, I wonder, to begin with—eh, Peg?'

Mrs Sliderskew appeared to approve highly of this ingenious scheme, and expressed her satisfaction by various rackings and twitchings of her head and body, which by no means enhanced her charms. These she prolonged until she had hobbled to the door, when she exchanged them for a sour malignant look, and twisting her under-jaw from side to side, muttered hearty curses upon the future Mrs Gride, as she crept slowly down the stairs, and paused for breath at nearly every one.

'She's half a witch, I think,' said Arthur Gride, when he found himself again alone. 'But she's very frugal, and she's very deaf. Her living costs me next to nothing; and it's no use her listening at keyholes; for she can't hear. She's a charming woman—for the purpose; a most discreet old housekeeper, and worth her weight in—copper.'

Having extolled the merits of his domestic in these high terms, old Arthur went back to the burden of his song. The suit destined to grace his approaching nuptials being now selected, he replaced the others with no less care than he had displayed in drawing them from the musty nooks where they had silently reposed for many years.

Startled by a ring at the door, he hastily concluded this operation, and locked the press; but there was no need for any particular hurry, as the discreet Peg seldom knew the bell was rung unless she happened to cast her dim eyes upwards, and to see it shaking against the kitchen ceiling. After a short delay, however, Peg tottered in, followed by Newman Noggs.

'Ah! Mr Noggs!' cried Arthur Gride, rubbing his hands. 'My good friend, Mr Noggs, what news do you bring for me?'

Newman, with a steadfast and immovable aspect, and his fixed eye very fixed indeed, replied, suiting the action to the word, 'A letter. From Mr Nickleby. Bearer waits.'

'Won't you take a—a—'

Newman looked up, and smacked his lips.

'—A chair?' said Arthur Gride.

'No,' replied Newman. 'Thankee.'

Arthur opened the letter with trembling hands, and devoured its contents with the utmost greediness; chuckling rapturously over it, and reading it several times, before he could take it from before his eyes. So many times did he peruse and re-peruse it, that Newman considered it expedient to remind him of his presence.

'Answer,' said Newman. 'Bearer waits.'

'True,' replied old Arthur. 'Yes—yes; I almost forgot, I do declare.'

'I thought you were forgetting,' said Newman.

'Quite right to remind me, Mr Noggs. Oh, very right indeed,' said Arthur. 'Yes. I'll write a line. I'm—I'm—rather flurried, Mr Noggs. The news is—'

'Bad?' interrupted Newman.

'No, Mr Noggs, thank you; good, good. The very best of news. Sit down. I'll get the pen and ink, and write a line in answer. I'll not detain you long. I know you're a treasure to your master, Mr Noggs. He speaks of you in such terms, sometimes, that, oh dear! you'd be astonished. I may say that I do too, and always did. I always say the same of you.'

'That's "Curse Mr Noggs with all my heart!" then, if you do,' thought Newman, as Gride hurried out.

The letter had fallen on the ground. Looking carefully about him for an instant, Newman, impelled by curiosity to know the result of the design he had overheard from his office closet, caught it up and rapidly read as follows:

'GRIDE.

'I saw Bray again this morning, and proposed the day after tomorrow (as you suggested) for the marriage. There is no objection on his part, and all days are alike to his daughter. We will go together, and you must be with me by seven in the morning. I need not tell you to be punctual.

'Make no further visits to the girl in the meantime. You have been there, of late, much oftener than you should. She does not languish for you, and it might have been dangerous. Restrain your youthful ardour for eight-and-forty hours, and leave her to the father. You only undo what he does, and does well.

'Yours,

'RALPH NICKLEBY.'

A footstep was heard without. Newman dropped the letter on the same spot again, pressed it with his foot to prevent its fluttering away, regained his seat in a single stride, and looked as vacant and unconscious as ever mortal looked. Arthur Gride, after peering nervously about him, spied it on the ground, picked it up, and sitting down to write, glanced at Newman Noggs, who was staring at the wall with an intensity so remarkable, that Arthur was quite alarmed.

'Do you see anything particular, Mr Noggs?' said Arthur, trying to follow the direction of Newman's eyes—which was an impossibility, and a thing no man had ever done.

'Only a cobweb,' replied Newman.

'Oh! is that all?'

'No,' said Newman. 'There's a fly in it.'

'There are a good many cobwebs here,' observed Arthur Gride.

'So there are in our place,' returned Newman; 'and flies too.'

Newman appeared to derive great entertainment from this repartee, and to the great discomposure of Arthur Gride's nerves, produced a series of sharp cracks from his finger-joints, resembling the noise of a distant discharge of small artillery. Arthur succeeded in finishing his reply to Ralph's note, nevertheless, and at length handed it over to the eccentric messenger for delivery.

'That's it, Mr Noggs,' said Gride.

Newman gave a nod, put it in his hat, and was shuffling away, when Gride, whose doting delight knew no bounds, beckoned him back again, and said, in a shrill whisper, and with a grin which puckered up his whole face, and almost obscured his eyes:

'Will you—will you take a little drop of something—just a taste?'

In good fellowship (if Arthur Gride had been capable of it) Newman would not have drunk with him one bubble of the richest wine that was ever made; but to see what he would be at, and to punish him as much as he could, he accepted the offer immediately.

Arthur Gride, therefore, again applied himself to the press, and from a shelf laden with tall Flemish drinking-glasses, and quaint bottles: some with necks like so many storks, and others with square Dutch-built bodies and short fat apoplectic throats: took down one dusty bottle of promising appearance, and two glasses of curiously small size.

'You never tasted this,' said Arthur. 'It's EAU-D'OR—golden water. I like it on account of its name. It's a delicious name. Water of gold, golden water! O dear me, it seems quite a sin to drink it!'

As his courage appeared to be fast failing him, and he trifled with the stopper in a manner which threatened the dismissal of the bottle to its old place, Newman took up one of the little glasses, and clinked it, twice or thrice, against the bottle, as a gentle reminder that he had not been helped yet. With a deep sigh, Arthur Gride slowly filled it—though not to the brim—and then filled his own.

'Stop, stop; don't drink it yet,' he said, laying his hand on Newman's; 'it was given to me, twenty years ago, and when I take a little taste, which is ve—ry seldom, I like to think of it beforehand, and tease myself. We'll drink a toast. Shall we drink a toast, Mr Noggs?'

'Ah!' said Newman, eyeing his little glass impatiently. 'Look sharp. Bearer waits.'

'Why, then, I'll tell you what,' tittered Arthur, 'we'll drink—he, he, he!—we'll drink a lady.'

'THE ladies?' said Newman.

'No, no, Mr Noggs,' replied Gride, arresting his hand, 'A lady. You wonder to hear me say A lady. I know you do, I know you do. Here's little Madeline. That's the toast. Mr Noggs. Little Madeline!'

'Madeline!' said Newman; inwardly adding, 'and God help her!'

The rapidity and unconcern with which Newman dismissed his portion of the golden water, had a great effect upon the old man, who sat upright in his chair, and gazed at him, open-mouthed, as if the sight had taken away his breath. Quite unmoved, however, Newman left him to sip his own at leisure, or to pour it back again into the bottle, if he chose, and departed; after greatly outraging the dignity of Peg Sliderskew by brushing past her, in the passage, without a word of apology or recognition.

Mr Gride and his housekeeper, immediately on being left alone, resolved themselves into a committee of ways and means, and discussed the arrangements which should be made for the reception of the young bride. As they were, like some other committees, extremely dull and prolix in debate, this history may pursue the footsteps of Newman Noggs; thereby combining advantage with necessity; for it would have been necessary to do so under any circumstances, and necessity has no law, as all the world knows.

'You've been a long time,' said Ralph, when Newman returned.

'HE was a long time,' replied Newman.

'Bah!' cried Ralph impatiently. 'Give me his note, if he gave you one: his message, if he didn't. And don't go away. I want a word with you, sir.'

Newman handed in the note, and looked very virtuous and innocent while his employer broke the seal, and glanced his eye over it.

'He'll be sure to come,' muttered Ralph, as he tore it to pieces; 'why of course, I know he'll be sure to come. What need to say that? Noggs! Pray, sir, what man was that, with whom I saw you in the street last night?'

'I don't know,' replied Newman.

'You had better refresh your memory, sir,' said Ralph, with a threatening look.

'I tell you,' returned Newman boldly, 'that I don't know. He came here twice, and asked for you. You were out. He came again. You packed him off, yourself. He gave the name of Brooker.'

'I know he did,' said Ralph; 'what then?'

'What then? Why, then he lurked about and dogged me in the street. He follows me, night after night, and urges me to bring him face to face with you; as he says he has been once, and not long ago either. He wants to see you face to face, he says, and you'll soon hear him out, he warrants.'

'And what say you to that?' inquired Ralph, looking keenly at his drudge.

'That it's no business of mine, and I won't. I told him he might catch you in the street, if that was all he wanted, but no! that wouldn't do. You wouldn't hear a word there, he said. He must have you alone in a room with the door locked, where he could speak without fear, and you'd soon change your tone, and hear him patiently.'

'An audacious dog!' Ralph muttered.

'That's all I know,' said Newman. 'I say again, I don't know what man he is. I don't believe he knows himself. You have seen him; perhaps YOU do.'

'I think I do,' replied Ralph.

'Well,' retored Newman, sulkily, 'don't expect me to know him too; that's all. You'll ask me, next, why I never told you this before. What would you say, if I was to tell you all that people say of you? What do you call me when I sometimes do? "Brute, ass!" and snap at me like a dragon.'

This was true enough; though the question which Newman anticipated, was, in fact, upon Ralph's lips at the moment.

'He is an idle ruffian,' said Ralph; 'a vagabond from beyond the sea where he travelled for his crimes; a felon let loose to run his neck into the halter; a swindler, who has the audacity to try his schemes on me who know him well. The next time he tampers with you, hand him over to the police, for attempting to extort money by lies and threats,—d'ye hear?—and leave the rest to me. He shall cool his heels in jail a little time, and I'll be bound he looks for other folks to fleece, when he comes out. You mind what I say, do you?'

'I hear,' said Newman.

'Do it then,' returned Ralph, 'and I'll reward you. Now, you may go.'

Newman readily availed himself of the permission, and, shutting himself up in his little office, remained there, in very serious cogitation, all day. When he was released at night, he proceeded, with all the expedition he could use, to the city, and took up his old position behind the pump, to watch for Nicholas. For Newman Noggs was proud in his way, and could not bear to appear as his friend, before the brothers Cheeryble, in the shabby and degraded state to which he was reduced.

He had not occupied this position many minutes, when he was rejoiced to see Nicholas approaching, and darted out from his ambuscade to meet him. Nicholas, on his part, was no less pleased to encounter his friend, whom he had not seen for some time; so, their greeting was a warm one.

'I was thinking of you, at that moment,' said Nicholas.

'That's right,' rejoined Newman, 'and I of you. I couldn't help coming up, tonight. I say, I think I am going to find out something.'

'And what may that be?' returned Nicholas, smiling at this odd communication.

'I don't know what it may be, I don't know what it may not be,' said Newman; 'it's some secret in which your uncle is concerned, but what, I've not yet been able to discover, although I have my strong suspicions. I'll not hint 'em now, in case you should be disappointed.'

'I disappointed!' cried Nicholas; 'am I interested?'

'I think you are,' replied Newman. 'I have a crotchet in my head that it must be so. I have found out a man, who plainly knows more than he cares to tell at once. And he has already dropped such hints to me as puzzle me—I say, as puzzle me,' said Newman, scratching his red nose into a state of violent inflammation, and staring at Nicholas with all his might and main meanwhile.

Admiring what could have wound his friend up to such a pitch of mystery, Nicholas endeavoured, by a series of questions, to elucidate the cause; but in vain. Newman could not be drawn into any more explicit statement than a repetition of the perplexities he had already thrown out, and a confused oration, showing, How it was necessary to use the utmost caution; how the lynx-eyed Ralph had already seen him in company with his unknown correspondent; and how he had baffled the said Ralph by extreme guardedness of manner and ingenuity of speech; having prepared himself for such a contingency from the first.

Remembering his companion's propensity,—of which his nose, indeed, perpetually warned all beholders like a beacon,—Nicholas had drawn him into a sequestered tavern. Here, they fell to reviewing the origin and progress of their acquaintance, as men sometimes do, and tracing out the little events by which it was most strongly marked, came at last to Miss Cecilia Bobster.

'And that reminds me,' said Newman, 'that you never told me the young lady's real name.'

'Madeline!' said Nicholas.

'Madeline!' cried Newman. 'What Madeline? Her other name. Say her other name.'

'Bray,' said Nicholas, in great astonishment.

'It's the same!' cried Newman. 'Sad story! Can you stand idly by, and let that unnatural marriage take place without one attempt to save her?'

'What do you mean?' exclaimed Nicholas, starting up; 'marriage! are you mad?'

'Are you? Is she? Are you blind, deaf, senseless, dead?' said Newman. 'Do you know that within one day, by means of your uncle Ralph, she will be married to a man as bad as he, and worse, if worse there is? Do you know that, within one day, she will be sacrificed, as sure as you stand there alive, to a hoary wretch—a devil born and bred, and grey in devils' ways?'

'Be careful what you say,' replied Nicholas. 'For Heaven's sake be careful! I am left here alone, and those who could stretch out a hand to rescue her are far away. What is it that you mean?'

'I never heard her name,' said Newman, choking with his energy. 'Why didn't you tell me? How was I to know? We might, at least, have had some time to think!'

'What is it that you mean?' cried Nicholas.

It was not an easy task to arrive at this information; but, after a great quantity of extraordinary pantomime, which in no way assisted it, Nicholas, who was almost as wild as Newman Noggs himself, forced the latter down upon his seat and held him down until he began his tale.

Rage, astonishment, indignation, and a storm of passions, rushed through the listener's heart, as the plot was laid bare. He no sooner understood it all, than with a face of ashy paleness, and trembling in every limb, he darted from the house.

'Stop him!' cried Newman, bolting out in pursuit. 'He'll be doing something desperate; he'll murder somebody. Hallo! there, stop him. Stop thief! stop thief!'



CHAPTER 52

Nicholas despairs of rescuing Madeline Bray, but plucks up his Spirits again, and determines to attempt it. Domestic Intelligence of the Kenwigses and Lillyvicks

Finding that Newman was determined to arrest his progress at any hazard, and apprehensive that some well-intentioned passenger, attracted by the cry of 'Stop thief,' might lay violent hands upon his person, and place him in a disagreeable predicament from which he might have some difficulty in extricating himself, Nicholas soon slackened his pace, and suffered Newman Noggs to come up with him: which he did, in so breathless a condition, that it seemed impossible he could have held out for a minute longer.

'I will go straight to Bray's,' said Nicholas. 'I will see this man. If there is a feeling of humanity lingering in his breast, a spark of consideration for his own child, motherless and friendless as she is, I will awaken it.'

'You will not,' replied Newman. 'You will not, indeed.'

'Then,' said Nicholas, pressing onward, 'I will act upon my first impulse, and go straight to Ralph Nickleby.'

'By the time you reach his house he will be in bed,' said Newman.

'I'll drag him from it,' cried Nicholas.

'Tut, tut,' said Noggs. 'Be yourself.'

'You are the best of friends to me, Newman,' rejoined Nicholas after a pause, and taking his hand as he spoke. 'I have made head against many trials; but the misery of another, and such misery, is involved in this one, that I declare to you I am rendered desperate, and know not how to act.'

In truth, it did seem a hopeless case. It was impossible to make any use of such intelligence as Newman Noggs had gleaned, when he lay concealed in the closet. The mere circumstance of the compact between Ralph Nickleby and Gride would not invalidate the marriage, or render Bray averse to it, who, if he did not actually know of the existence of some such understanding, doubtless suspected it. What had been hinted with reference to some fraud on Madeline, had been put, with sufficient obscurity by Arthur Gride, but coming from Newman Noggs, and obscured still further by the smoke of his pocket-pistol, it became wholly unintelligible, and involved in utter darkness.

'There seems no ray of hope,' said Nicholas.

'The greater necessity for coolness, for reason, for consideration, for thought,' said Newman, pausing at every alternate word, to look anxiously in his friend's face. 'Where are the brothers?'

'Both absent on urgent business, as they will be for a week to come.'

'Is there no way of communicating with them? No way of getting one of them here by tomorrow night?'

'Impossible!' said Nicholas, 'the sea is between us and them. With the fairest winds that ever blew, to go and return would take three days and nights.'

'Their nephew,' said Newman, 'their old clerk.'

'What could either do, that I cannot?' rejoined Nicholas. 'With reference to them, especially, I am enjoined to the strictest silence on this subject. What right have I to betray the confidence reposed in me, when nothing but a miracle can prevent this sacrifice?'

'Think,' urged Newman. 'Is there no way.'

'There is none,' said Nicholas, in utter dejection. 'Not one. The father urges, the daughter consents. These demons have her in their toils; legal right, might, power, money, and every influence are on their side. How can I hope to save her?'

'Hope to the last!' said Newman, clapping him on the back. 'Always hope; that's a dear boy. Never leave off hoping; it don't answer. Do you mind me, Nick? It don't answer. Don't leave a stone unturned. It's always something, to know you've done the most you could. But, don't leave off hoping, or it's of no use doing anything. Hope, hope, to the last!'

Nicholas needed encouragement. The suddenness with which intelligence of the two usurers' plans had come upon him, the little time which remained for exertion, the probability, almost amounting to certainty itself, that a few hours would place Madeline Bray for ever beyond his reach, consign her to unspeakable misery, and perhaps to an untimely death; all this quite stunned and overwhelmed him. Every hope connected with her that he had suffered himself to form, or had entertained unconsciously, seemed to fall at his feet, withered and dead. Every charm with which his memory or imagination had surrounded her, presented itself before him, only to heighten his anguish and add new bitterness to his despair. Every feeling of sympathy for her forlorn condition, and of admiration for her heroism and fortitude, aggravated the indignation which shook him in every limb, and swelled his heart almost to bursting.

But, if Nicholas's own heart embarrassed him, Newman's came to his relief. There was so much earnestness in his remonstrance, and such sincerity and fervour in his manner, odd and ludicrous as it always was, that it imparted to Nicholas new firmness, and enabled him to say, after he had walked on for some little way in silence:

'You read me a good lesson, Newman, and I will profit by it. One step, at least, I may take—am bound to take indeed—and to that I will apply myself tomorrow.'

'What is that?' asked Noggs wistfully. 'Not to threaten Ralph? Not to see the father?'

'To see the daughter, Newman,' replied Nicholas. 'To do what, after all, is the utmost that the brothers could do, if they were here, as Heaven send they were! To reason with her upon this hideous union, to point out to her all the horrors to which she is hastening; rashly, it may be, and without due reflection. To entreat her, at least, to pause. She can have had no counsellor for her good. Perhaps even I may move her so far yet, though it is the eleventh hour, and she upon the very brink of ruin.'

'Bravely spoken!' said Newman. 'Well done, well done! Yes. Very good.'

'And I do declare,' cried Nicholas, with honest enthusiasm, 'that in this effort I am influenced by no selfish or personal considerations, but by pity for her, and detestation and abhorrence of this scheme; and that I would do the same, were there twenty rivals in the field, and I the last and least favoured of them all.'

'You would, I believe,' said Newman. 'But where are you hurrying now?'

'Homewards,' answered Nicholas. 'Do you come with me, or I shall say good-night?'

'I'll come a little way, if you will but walk: not run,' said Noggs.

'I cannot walk tonight, Newman,' returned Nicholas, hurriedly. 'I must move rapidly, or I could not draw my breath. I'll tell you what I've said and done tomorrow.'

Without waiting for a reply, he darted off at a rapid pace, and, plunging into the crowds which thronged the street, was quickly lost to view.

'He's a violent youth at times,' said Newman, looking after him; 'and yet like him for it. There's cause enough now, or the deuce is in it. Hope! I SAID hope, I think! Ralph Nickleby and Gride with their heads together! And hope for the opposite party! Ho! ho!'

It was with a very melancholy laugh that Newman Noggs concluded this soliloquy; and it was with a very melancholy shake of the head, and a very rueful countenance, that he turned about, and went plodding on his way.

This, under ordinary circumstances, would have been to some small tavern or dram-shop; that being his way, in more senses than one. But, Newman was too much interested, and too anxious, to betake himself even to this resource, and so, with many desponding and dismal reflections, went straight home.

It had come to pass, that afternoon, that Miss Morleena Kenwigs had received an invitation to repair next day, per steamer from Westminster Bridge, unto the Eel-pie Island at Twickenham: there to make merry upon a cold collation, bottled beer, shrub, and shrimps, and to dance in the open air to the music of a locomotive band, conveyed thither for the purpose: the steamer being specially engaged by a dancing-master of extensive connection for the accommodation of his numerous pupils, and the pupils displaying their appreciation of the dancing-master's services, by purchasing themselves, and inducing their friends to do the like, divers light-blue tickets, entitling them to join the expedition. Of these light-blue tickets, one had been presented by an ambitious neighbour to Miss Morleena Kenwigs, with an invitation to join her daughters; and Mrs Kenwigs, rightly deeming that the honour of the family was involved in Miss Morleena's making the most splendid appearance possible on so short a notice, and testifying to the dancing-master that there were other dancing-masters besides him, and to all fathers and mothers present that other people's children could learn to be genteel besides theirs, had fainted away twice under the magnitude of her preparations, but, upheld by a determination to sustain the family name or perish in the attempt, was still hard at work when Newman Noggs came home.

Now, between the italian-ironing of frills, the flouncing of trousers, the trimming of frocks, the faintings and the comings-to again, incidental to the occasion, Mrs Kenwigs had been so entirely occupied, that she had not observed, until within half an hour before, that the flaxen tails of Miss Morleena's hair were, in a manner, run to seed; and that, unless she were put under the hands of a skilful hairdresser, she never could achieve that signal triumph over the daughters of all other people, anything less than which would be tantamount to defeat. This discovery drove Mrs Kenwigs to despair; for the hairdresser lived three streets and eight dangerous crossings off; Morleena could not be trusted to go there alone, even if such a proceeding were strictly proper: of which Mrs Kenwigs had her doubts; Mr Kenwigs had not returned from business; and there was nobody to take her. So, Mrs Kenwigs first slapped Miss Kenwigs for being the cause of her vexation, and then shed tears.

'You ungrateful child!' said Mrs Kenwigs, 'after I have gone through what I have, this night, for your good.'

'I can't help it, ma,' replied Morleena, also in tears; 'my hair WILL grow.'

'Don't talk to me, you naughty thing!' said Mrs Kenwigs, 'don't! Even if I was to trust you by yourself and you were to escape being run over, I know you'd run in to Laura Chopkins,' who was the daughter of the ambitious neighbour, 'and tell her what you're going to wear tomorrow, I know you would. You've no proper pride in yourself, and are not to be trusted out of sight for an instant.'

Deploring the evil-mindedness of her eldest daughter in these terms, Mrs Kenwigs distilled fresh drops of vexation from her eyes, and declared that she did believe there never was anybody so tried as she was. Thereupon, Morleena Kenwigs wept afresh, and they bemoaned themselves together.

Matters were at this point, as Newman Noggs was heard to limp past the door on his way upstairs; when Mrs Kenwigs, gaining new hope from the sound of his footsteps, hastily removed from her countenance as many traces of her late emotion as were effaceable on so short a notice: and presenting herself before him, and representing their dilemma, entreated that he would escort Morleena to the hairdresser's shop.

'I wouldn't ask you, Mr Noggs,' said Mrs Kenwigs, 'if I didn't know what a good, kind-hearted creature you are; no, not for worlds. I am a weak constitution, Mr Noggs, but my spirit would no more let me ask a favour where I thought there was a chance of its being refused, than it would let me submit to see my children trampled down and trod upon, by envy and lowness!'

Newman was too good-natured not to have consented, even without this avowal of confidence on the part of Mrs Kenwigs. Accordingly, a very few minutes had elapsed, when he and Miss Morleena were on their way to the hairdresser's.

It was not exactly a hairdresser's; that is to say, people of a coarse and vulgar turn of mind might have called it a barber's; for they not only cut and curled ladies elegantly, and children carefully, but shaved gentlemen easily. Still, it was a highly genteel establishment—quite first-rate in fact—and there were displayed in the window, besides other elegancies, waxen busts of a light lady and a dark gentleman which were the admiration of the whole neighbourhood. Indeed, some ladies had gone so far as to assert, that the dark gentleman was actually a portrait of the spirted young proprietor; and the great similarity between their head-dresses—both wore very glossy hair, with a narrow walk straight down the middle, and a profusion of flat circular curls on both sides—encouraged the idea. The better informed among the sex, however, made light of this assertion, for however willing they were (and they were very willing) to do full justice to the handsome face and figure of the proprietor, they held the countenance of the dark gentleman in the window to be an exquisite and abstract idea of masculine beauty, realised sometimes, perhaps, among angels and military men, but very rarely embodied to gladden the eyes of mortals.

It was to this establishment that Newman Noggs led Miss Kenwigs in safety. The proprietor, knowing that Miss Kenwigs had three sisters, each with two flaxen tails, and all good for sixpence apiece, once a month at least, promptly deserted an old gentleman whom he had just lathered for shaving, and handing him over to the journeyman, (who was not very popular among the ladies, by reason of his obesity and middle age,) waited on the young lady himself.

Just as this change had been effected, there presented himself for shaving, a big, burly, good-humoured coal-heaver with a pipe in his mouth, who, drawing his hand across his chin, requested to know when a shaver would be disengaged.

The journeyman, to whom this question was put, looked doubtfully at the young proprietor, and the young proprietor looked scornfully at the coal-heaver: observing at the same time:

'You won't get shaved here, my man.'

'Why not?' said the coal-heaver.

'We don't shave gentlemen in your line,' remarked the young proprietor.

'Why, I see you a shaving of a baker, when I was a looking through the winder, last week,' said the coal-heaver.

'It's necessary to draw the line somewheres, my fine feller,' replied the principal. 'We draw the line there. We can't go beyond bakers. If we was to get any lower than bakers, our customers would desert us, and we might shut up shop. You must try some other establishment, sir. We couldn't do it here.'

The applicant stared; grinned at Newman Noggs, who appeared highly entertained; looked slightly round the shop, as if in depreciation of the pomatum pots and other articles of stock; took his pipe out of his mouth and gave a very loud whistle; and then put it in again, and walked out.

The old gentleman who had just been lathered, and who was sitting in a melancholy manner with his face turned towards the wall, appeared quite unconscious of this incident, and to be insensible to everything around him in the depth of a reverie—a very mournful one, to judge from the sighs he occasionally vented—in which he was absorbed. Affected by this example, the proprietor began to clip Miss Kenwigs, the journeyman to scrape the old gentleman, and Newman Noggs to read last Sunday's paper, all three in silence: when Miss Kenwigs uttered a shrill little scream, and Newman, raising his eyes, saw that it had been elicited by the circumstance of the old gentleman turning his head, and disclosing the features of Mr Lillyvick the collector.

The features of Mr Lillyvick they were, but strangely altered. If ever an old gentleman had made a point of appearing in public, shaved close and clean, that old gentleman was Mr Lillyvick. If ever a collector had borne himself like a collector, and assumed, before all men, a solemn and portentous dignity as if he had the world on his books and it was all two quarters in arrear, that collector was Mr Lillyvick. And now, there he sat, with the remains of a beard at least a week old encumbering his chin; a soiled and crumpled shirt-frill crouching, as it were, upon his breast, instead of standing boldly out; a demeanour so abashed and drooping, so despondent, and expressive of such humiliation, grief, and shame; that if the souls of forty unsubstantial housekeepers, all of whom had had their water cut off for non-payment of the rate, could have been concentrated in one body, that one body could hardly have expressed such mortification and defeat as were now expressed in the person of Mr Lillyvick the collector.

Newman Noggs uttered his name, and Mr Lillyvick groaned: then coughed to hide it. But the groan was a full-sized groan, and the cough was but a wheeze.

'Is anything the matter?' said Newman Noggs.

'Matter, sir!' cried Mr Lillyvick. 'The plug of life is dry, sir, and but the mud is left.'

This speech—the style of which Newman attributed to Mr Lillyvick's recent association with theatrical characters—not being quite explanatory, Newman looked as if he were about to ask another question, when Mr Lillyvick prevented him by shaking his hand mournfully, and then waving his own.

'Let me be shaved!' said Mr Lillyvick. 'It shall be done before Morleena; it IS Morleena, isn't it?'

'Yes,' said Newman.

'Kenwigses have got a boy, haven't they?' inquired the collector.

Again Newman said 'Yes.'

'Is it a nice boy?' demanded the collector.

'It ain't a very nasty one,' returned Newman, rather embarrassed by the question.

'Susan Kenwigs used to say,' observed the collector, 'that if ever she had another boy, she hoped it might be like me. Is this one like me, Mr Noggs?'

This was a puzzling inquiry; but Newman evaded it, by replying to Mr Lillyvick, that he thought the baby might possibly come like him in time.

'I should be glad to have somebody like me, somehow,' said Mr Lillyvick, 'before I die.'

'You don't mean to do that, yet awhile?' said Newman.

Unto which Mr Lillyvick replied in a solemn voice, 'Let me be shaved!' and again consigning himself to the hands of the journeyman, said no more.

This was remarkable behaviour. So remarkable did it seem to Miss Morleena, that that young lady, at the imminent hazard of having her ear sliced off, had not been able to forbear looking round, some score of times, during the foregoing colloquy. Of her, however, Mr Lillyvick took no notice: rather striving (so, at least, it seemed to Newman Noggs) to evade her observation, and to shrink into himself whenever he attracted her regards. Newman wondered very much what could have occasioned this altered behaviour on the part of the collector; but, philosophically reflecting that he would most likely know, sooner or later, and that he could perfectly afford to wait, he was very little disturbed by the singularity of the old gentleman's deportment.

The cutting and curling being at last concluded, the old gentleman, who had been some time waiting, rose to go, and, walking out with Newman and his charge, took Newman's arm, and proceeded for some time without making any observation. Newman, who in power of taciturnity was excelled by few people, made no attempt to break silence; and so they went on, until they had very nearly reached Miss Morleena's home, when Mr Lillyvick said:

'Were the Kenwigses very much overpowered, Mr Noggs, by that news?'

'What news?' returned Newman.

'That about—my—being—'

'Married?' suggested Newman.

'Ah!' replied Mr Lillyvick, with another groan; this time not even disguised by a wheeze.

'It made ma cry when she knew it,' interposed Miss Morleena, 'but we kept it from her for a long time; and pa was very low in his spirits, but he is better now; and I was very ill, but I am better too.'

'Would you give your great-uncle Lillyvick a kiss if he was to ask you, Morleena?' said the collector, with some hesitation.

'Yes; uncle Lillyvick, I would,' returned Miss Morleena, with the energy of both her parents combined; 'but not aunt Lillyvick. She's not an aunt of mine, and I'll never call her one.'

Immediately upon the utterance of these words, Mr Lillyvick caught Miss Morleena up in his arms, and kissed her; and, being by this time at the door of the house where Mr Kenwigs lodged (which, as has been before mentioned, usually stood wide open), he walked straight up into Mr Kenwigs's sitting-room, and put Miss Morleena down in the midst. Mr and Mrs Kenwigs were at supper. At sight of their perjured relative, Mrs Kenwigs turned faint and pale, and Mr Kenwigs rose majestically.

'Kenwigs,' said the collector, 'shake hands.'

'Sir,' said Mr Kenwigs, 'the time has been, when I was proud to shake hands with such a man as that man as now surweys me. The time has been, sir,' said Mr Kenwigs, 'when a wisit from that man has excited in me and my family's boozums sensations both nateral and awakening. But, now, I look upon that man with emotions totally surpassing everythink, and I ask myself where is his Honour, where is his straight-for'ardness, and where is his human natur?'

'Susan Kenwigs,' said Mr Lillyvick, turning humbly to his niece, 'don't you say anything to me?'

'She is not equal to it, sir,' said Mr Kenwigs, striking the table emphatically. 'What with the nursing of a healthy babby, and the reflections upon your cruel conduct, four pints of malt liquor a day is hardly able to sustain her.'

'I am glad,' said the poor collector meekly, 'that the baby is a healthy one. I am very glad of that.'

This was touching the Kenwigses on their tenderest point. Mrs Kenwigs instantly burst into tears, and Mr Kenwigs evinced great emotion.

'My pleasantest feeling, all the time that child was expected,' said Mr Kenwigs, mournfully, 'was a thinking, "If it's a boy, as I hope it may be; for I have heard its uncle Lillyvick say again and again he would prefer our having a boy next, if it's a boy, what will his uncle Lillyvick say? What will he like him to be called? Will he be Peter, or Alexander, or Pompey, or Diorgeenes, or what will he be?" And now when I look at him; a precious, unconscious, helpless infant, with no use in his little arms but to tear his little cap, and no use in his little legs but to kick his little self—when I see him a lying on his mother's lap, cooing and cooing, and, in his innocent state, almost a choking hisself with his little fist—when I see him such a infant as he is, and think that that uncle Lillyvick, as was once a-going to be so fond of him, has withdrawed himself away, such a feeling of wengeance comes over me as no language can depicter, and I feel as if even that holy babe was a telling me to hate him.'

This affecting picture moved Mrs Kenwigs deeply. After several imperfect words, which vainly attempted to struggle to the surface, but were drowned and washed away by the strong tide of her tears, she spake.

'Uncle,' said Mrs Kenwigs, 'to think that you should have turned your back upon me and my dear children, and upon Kenwigs which is the author of their being—you who was once so kind and affectionate, and who, if anybody had told us such a thing of, we should have withered with scorn like lightning—you that little Lillyvick, our first and earliest boy, was named after at the very altar! Oh gracious!'

'Was it money that we cared for?' said Mr Kenwigs. 'Was it property that we ever thought of?'

'No,' cried Mrs Kenwigs, 'I scorn it.'

'So do I,' said Mr Kenwigs, 'and always did.'

'My feelings have been lancerated,' said Mrs Kenwigs, 'my heart has been torn asunder with anguish, I have been thrown back in my confinement, my unoffending infant has been rendered uncomfortable and fractious, Morleena has pined herself away to nothing; all this I forget and forgive, and with you, uncle, I never can quarrel. But never ask me to receive HER, never do it, uncle. For I will not, I will not, I won't, I won't, I won't!'

'Susan, my dear,' said Mr Kenwigs, 'consider your child.'

'Yes,' shrieked Mrs Kenwigs, 'I will consider my child! I will consider my child! My own child, that no uncles can deprive me of; my own hated, despised, deserted, cut-off little child.' And, here, the emotions of Mrs Kenwigs became so violent, that Mr Kenwigs was fain to administer hartshorn internally, and vinegar externally, and to destroy a staylace, four petticoat strings, and several small buttons.

Newman had been a silent spectator of this scene; for Mr Lillyvick had signed to him not to withdraw, and Mr Kenwigs had further solicited his presence by a nod of invitation. When Mrs Kenwigs had been, in some degree, restored, and Newman, as a person possessed of some influence with her, had remonstrated and begged her to compose herself, Mr Lillyvick said in a faltering voice:

'I never shall ask anybody here to receive my—I needn't mention the word; you know what I mean. Kenwigs and Susan, yesterday was a week she eloped with a half-pay captain!'

Mr and Mrs Kenwigs started together.

'Eloped with a half-pay captain,' repeated Mr Lillyvick, 'basely and falsely eloped with a half-pay captain. With a bottle-nosed captain that any man might have considered himself safe from. It was in this room,' said Mr Lillyvick, looking sternly round, 'that I first see Henrietta Petowker. It is in this room that I turn her off, for ever.'

This declaration completely changed the whole posture of affairs. Mrs Kenwigs threw herself upon the old gentleman's neck, bitterly reproaching herself for her late harshness, and exclaiming, if she had suffered, what must his sufferings have been! Mr Kenwigs grasped his hand, and vowed eternal friendship and remorse. Mrs Kenwigs was horror-stricken to think that she should ever have nourished in her bosom such a snake, adder, viper, serpent, and base crocodile as Henrietta Petowker. Mr Kenwigs argued that she must have been bad indeed not to have improved by so long a contemplation of Mrs Kenwigs's virtue. Mrs Kenwigs remembered that Mr Kenwigs had often said that he was not quite satisfied of the propriety of Miss Petowker's conduct, and wondered how it was that she could have been blinded by such a wretch. Mr Kenwigs remembered that he had had his suspicions, but did not wonder why Mrs Kenwigs had not had hers, as she was all chastity, purity, and truth, and Henrietta all baseness, falsehood, and deceit. And Mr and Mrs Kenwigs both said, with strong feelings and tears of sympathy, that everything happened for the best; and conjured the good collector not to give way to unavailing grief, but to seek consolation in the society of those affectionate relations whose arms and hearts were ever open to him.

'Out of affection and regard for you, Susan and Kenwigs,' said Mr Lillyvick, 'and not out of revenge and spite against her, for she is below it, I shall, tomorrow morning, settle upon your children, and make payable to the survivors of them when they come of age of marry, that money that I once meant to leave 'em in my will. The deed shall be executed tomorrow, and Mr Noggs shall be one of the witnesses. He hears me promise this, and he shall see it done.'

Overpowered by this noble and generous offer, Mr Kenwigs, Mrs Kenwigs, and Miss Morleena Kenwigs, all began to sob together; and the noise of their sobbing, communicating itself to the next room, where the children lay a-bed, and causing them to cry too, Mr Kenwigs rushed wildly in, and bringing them out in his arms, by two and two, tumbled them down in their nightcaps and gowns at the feet of Mr Lillyvick, and called upon them to thank and bless him.

'And now,' said Mr Lillyvick, when a heart-rending scene had ensued and the children were cleared away again, 'give me some supper. This took place twenty mile from town. I came up this morning, and have being lingering about all day, without being able to make up my mind to come and see you. I humoured her in everything, she had her own way, she did just as she pleased, and now she has done this. There was twelve teaspoons and twenty-four pound in sovereigns—I missed them first—it's a trial—I feel I shall never be able to knock a double knock again, when I go my rounds—don't say anything more about it, please—the spoons were worth—never mind—never mind!'

With such muttered outpourings as these, the old gentleman shed a few tears; but, they got him into the elbow-chair, and prevailed upon him, without much pressing, to make a hearty supper, and by the time he had finished his first pipe, and disposed of half-a-dozen glasses out of a crown bowl of punch, ordered by Mr Kenwigs, in celebration of his return to the bosom of his family, he seemed, though still very humble, quite resigned to his fate, and rather relieved than otherwise by the flight of his wife.

'When I see that man,' said Mr Kenwigs, with one hand round Mrs Kenwigs's waist: his other hand supporting his pipe (which made him wink and cough very much, for he was no smoker): and his eyes on Morleena, who sat upon her uncle's knee, 'when I see that man as mingling, once again, in the spear which he adorns, and see his affections deweloping themselves in legitimate sitiwations, I feel that his nature is as elewated and expanded, as his standing afore society as a public character is unimpeached, and the woices of my infant children purvided for in life, seem to whisper to me softly, "This is an ewent at which Evins itself looks down!"'



CHAPTER 53

Containing the further Progress of the Plot contrived by Mr Ralph Nickleby and Mr Arthur Gride

With that settled resolution, and steadiness of purpose to which extreme circumstances so often give birth, acting upon far less excitable and more sluggish temperaments than that which was the lot of Madeline Bray's admirer, Nicholas started, at dawn of day, from the restless couch which no sleep had visited on the previous night, and prepared to make that last appeal, by whose slight and fragile thread her only remaining hope of escape depended.

Although, to restless and ardent minds, morning may be the fitting season for exertion and activity, it is not always at that time that hope is strongest or the spirit most sanguine and buoyant. In trying and doubtful positions, youth, custom, a steady contemplation of the difficulties which surround us, and a familiarity with them, imperceptibly diminish our apprehensions and beget comparative indifference, if not a vague and reckless confidence in some relief, the means or nature of which we care not to foresee. But when we come, fresh, upon such things in the morning, with that dark and silent gap between us and yesterday; with every link in the brittle chain of hope, to rivet afresh; our hot enthusiasm subdued, and cool calm reason substituted in its stead; doubt and misgiving revive. As the traveller sees farthest by day, and becomes aware of rugged mountains and trackless plains which the friendly darkness had shrouded from his sight and mind together, so, the wayfarer in the toilsome path of human life sees, with each returning sun, some new obstacle to surmount, some new height to be attained. Distances stretch out before him which, last night, were scarcely taken into account, and the light which gilds all nature with its cheerful beams, seems but to shine upon the weary obstacles that yet lie strewn between him and the grave.

So thought Nicholas, when, with the impatience natural to a situation like his, he softly left the house, and, feeling as though to remain in bed were to lose most precious time, and to be up and stirring were in some way to promote the end he had in view, wandered into London; perfectly well knowing that for hours to come he could not obtain speech with Madeline, and could do nothing but wish the intervening time away.

And, even now, as he paced the streets, and listlessly looked round on the gradually increasing bustle and preparation for the day, everything appeared to yield him some new occasion for despondency. Last night, the sacrifice of a young, affectionate, and beautiful creature, to such a wretch, and in such a cause, had seemed a thing too monstrous to succeed; and the warmer he grew, the more confident he felt that some interposition must save her from his clutches. But now, when he thought how regularly things went on, from day to day, in the same unvarying round; how youth and beauty died, and ugly griping age lived tottering on; how crafty avarice grew rich, and manly honest hearts were poor and sad; how few they were who tenanted the stately houses, and how many of those who lay in noisome pens, or rose each day and laid them down each night, and lived and died, father and son, mother and child, race upon race, and generation upon generation, without a home to shelter them or the energies of one single man directed to their aid; how, in seeking, not a luxurious and splendid life, but the bare means of a most wretched and inadequate subsistence, there were women and children in that one town, divided into classes, numbered and estimated as regularly as the noble families and folks of great degree, and reared from infancy to drive most criminal and dreadful trades; how ignorance was punished and never taught; how jail-doors gaped, and gallows loomed, for thousands urged towards them by circumstances darkly curtaining their very cradles' heads, and but for which they might have earned their honest bread and lived in peace; how many died in soul, and had no chance of life; how many who could scarcely go astray, be they vicious as they would, turned haughtily from the crushed and stricken wretch who could scarce do otherwise, and who would have been a greater wonder had he or she done well, than even they had they done ill; how much injustice, misery, and wrong, there was, and yet how the world rolled on, from year to year, alike careless and indifferent, and no man seeking to remedy or redress it; when he thought of all this, and selected from the mass the one slight case on which his thoughts were bent, he felt, indeed, that there was little ground for hope, and little reason why it should not form an atom in the huge aggregate of distress and sorrow, and add one small and unimportant unit to swell the great amount.

But youth is not prone to contemplate the darkest side of a picture it can shift at will. By dint of reflecting on what he had to do, and reviving the train of thought which night had interrupted, Nicholas gradually summoned up his utmost energy, and when the morning was sufficiently advanced for his purpose, had no thought but that of using it to the best advantage. A hasty breakfast taken, and such affairs of business as required prompt attention disposed of, he directed his steps to the residence of Madeline Bray: whither he lost no time in arriving.

It had occurred to him that, very possibly, the young lady might be denied, although to him she never had been; and he was still pondering upon the surest method of obtaining access to her in that case, when, coming to the door of the house, he found it had been left ajar—probably by the last person who had gone out. The occasion was not one upon which to observe the nicest ceremony; therefore, availing himself of this advantage, Nicholas walked gently upstairs and knocked at the door of the room into which he had been accustomed to be shown. Receiving permission to enter, from some person on the other side, he opened the door and walked in.

Previous Part     1 ... 5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15  16  17  18  19  20  21     Next Part
Home - Random Browse