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The Life And Adventures Of Nicholas Nickleby
by Charles Dickens
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'Dear me!' said Nicholas, 'I know that lady.'

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

'When does she come down?' asked Nicholas.

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

'Was she, indeed?'

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

'Did it disagree with her?' asked Nicholas.

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

Nicholas ventured to insinuate that he thought he did.

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

'Extraordinary!' cried Nicholas.

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

'You astonish me!' said Nicholas.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'This morning, sir,' replied Mr Lillyvick.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Is he?' asked Nicholas.

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

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

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

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

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

'Fine women?' asked Nicholas.

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

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

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

'To make her Mrs Lillyvick?' suggested Nicholas.

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

'I congratulate you, sir,' said Nicholas.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Miss Snevellicci, I suppose?' said Nicholas.

'Yes, that's the name.'

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

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

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

'The—the phenomenon,' groaned the collector.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'To hang himself!' repeated Mr Lillyvick.

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

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

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

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

'Lillyvick,' suggested Mr Crummles.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER 26

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

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

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

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

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

'Hallo!' replied Sir Mulberry, turning round.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Na-ay,' remonstrated Lord Verisopht.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Really—' Ralph began in his usual tones.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ralph did so, in a kind of desperation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'By all means. Ye-es.'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER 27

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Very often, Pluck,' answered the second.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Of what consequence?' echoed Pyke.

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

'Of the very greatest consequence,' replied Pyke.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'What an afflicting calamity!' said Mr Pyke.

'Perfectly horrid!' exclaimed Mr Pluck.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Oh, pray do,' said Pyke.

'You positively must,' urged Pluck.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'YOU here, mama! Is it possible!'

'Possible, my dear? Yes.'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'No, nayver,' replied Verisopht.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She made no reply, but still pressed forward.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Quite ri-ght.'

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER 28

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kate read on.

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

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

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

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

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

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