The Complete Works of



Charles Dickens > Nicholas Nickleby > Chapter 14

Nicholas Nickleby

Chapter 14

Having the Misfortune to treat of none but Common People, is
necessarily of a Mean and Vulgar Character

In that quarter of London in which Golden Square is situated, there
is a bygone, faded, tumble-down street, with two irregular rows of
tall meagre houses, which seem to have stared each other out of
countenance years ago. The very chimneys appear to have grown
dismal and melancholy, from having had nothing better to look at
than the chimneys over the way. Their tops are battered, and
broken, and blackened with smoke; and, here and there, some taller
stack than the rest, inclining heavily to one side, and toppling
over the roof, seems to mediate taking revenge for half a century's
neglect, by crushing the inhabitants of the garrets beneath.

The fowls who peck about the kennels, jerking their bodies hither
and thither with a gait which none but town fowls are ever seen to
adopt, and which any country cock or hen would be puzzled to
understand, are perfectly in keeping with the crazy habitations of
their owners. Dingy, ill-plumed, drowsy flutterers, sent, like many
of the neighbouring children, to get a livelihood in the streets,
they hop, from stone to stone, in forlorn search of some hidden
eatable in the mud, and can scarcely raise a crow among them. The
only one with anything approaching to a voice, is an aged bantam at
the baker's; and even he is hoarse, in consequence of bad living in
his last place.

To judge from the size of the houses, they have been, at one time,
tenanted by persons of better condition than their present
occupants; but they are now let off, by the week, in floors or
rooms, and every door has almost as many plates or bell-handles as
there are apartments within. The windows are, for the same reason,
sufficiently diversified in appearance, being ornamented with every
variety of common blind and curtain that can easily be imagined;
while every doorway is blocked up, and rendered nearly impassable,
by a motley collection of children and porter pots of all sizes,
from the baby in arms and the half-pint pot, to the full-grown girl
and half-gallon can.

In the parlour of one of these houses, which was perhaps a thought
dirtier than any of its neighbours; which exhibited more bell-
handles, children, and porter pots, and caught in all its freshness
the first gust of the thick black smoke that poured forth, night and
day, from a large brewery hard by; hung a bill, announcing that
there was yet one room to let within its walls, though on what story
the vacant room could be--regard being had to the outward tokens of
many lodgers which the whole front displayed, from the mangle in the
kitchen window to the flower-pots on the parapet--it would have been
beyond the power of a calculating boy to discover.

The common stairs of this mansion were bare and carpetless; but a
curious visitor who had to climb his way to the top, might have
observed that there were not wanting indications of the progressive
poverty of the inmates, although their rooms were shut. Thus, the
first-floor lodgers, being flush of furniture, kept an old mahogany
table--real mahogany--on the landing-place outside, which was only
taken in, when occasion required. On the second story, the spare
furniture dwindled down to a couple of old deal chairs, of which
one, belonging to the back-room, was shorn of a leg, and bottomless.
The story above, boasted no greater excess than a worm-eaten wash-
tub; and the garret landing-place displayed no costlier articles
than two crippled pitchers, and some broken blacking-bottles.

It was on this garret landing-place that a hard-featured square-
faced man, elderly and shabby, stopped to unlock the door of the
front attic, into which, having surmounted the task of turning the
rusty key in its still more rusty wards, he walked with the air of
legal owner.

This person wore a wig of short, coarse, red hair, which he took off
with his hat, and hung upon a nail. Having adopted in its place a
dirty cotton nightcap, and groped about in the dark till he found a
remnant of candle, he knocked at the partition which divided the two
garrets, and inquired, in a loud voice, whether Mr Noggs had a

The sounds that came back were stifled by the lath and plaster, and
it seemed moreover as though the speaker had uttered them from the
interior of a mug or other drinking vessel; but they were in the
voice of Newman, and conveyed a reply in the affirmative.

'A nasty night, Mr Noggs!' said the man in the nightcap, stepping in
to light his candle.

'Does it rain?' asked Newman.

'Does it?' replied the other pettishly. 'I am wet through.'

'It doesn't take much to wet you and me through, Mr Crowl,' said
Newman, laying his hand upon the lappel of his threadbare coat.

'Well; and that makes it the more vexatious,' observed Mr Crowl, in
the same pettish tone.

Uttering a low querulous growl, the speaker, whose harsh countenance
was the very epitome of selfishness, raked the scanty fire nearly
out of the grate, and, emptying the glass which Noggs had pushed
towards him, inquired where he kept his coals.

Newman Noggs pointed to the bottom of a cupboard, and Mr Crowl,
seizing the shovel, threw on half the stock: which Noggs very
deliberately took off again, without saying a word.

'You have not turned saving, at this time of day, I hope?' said

Newman pointed to the empty glass, as though it were a sufficient
refutation of the charge, and briefly said that he was going
downstairs to supper.

'To the Kenwigses?' asked Crowl.

Newman nodded assent.

'Think of that now!' said Crowl. 'If I didn't--thinking that you
were certain not to go, because you said you wouldn't--tell Kenwigs
I couldn't come, and make up my mind to spend the evening with you!'

'I was obliged to go,' said Newman. 'They would have me.'

'Well; but what's to become of me?' urged the selfish man, who never
thought of anybody else. 'It's all your fault. I'll tell you what
--I'll sit by your fire till you come back again.'

Newman cast a despairing glance at his small store of fuel, but, not
having the courage to say no--a word which in all his life he never
had said at the right time, either to himself or anyone else--gave
way to the proposed arrangement. Mr Crowl immediately went about
making himself as comfortable, with Newman Nogg's means, as
circumstances would admit of his being made.

The lodgers to whom Crowl had made allusion under the designation of
'the Kenwigses,' were the wife and olive branches of one Mr Kenwigs,
a turner in ivory, who was looked upon as a person of some
consideration on the premises, inasmuch as he occupied the whole of
the first floor, comprising a suite of two rooms. Mrs Kenwigs, too,
was quite a lady in her manners, and of a very genteel family,
having an uncle who collected a water-rate; besides which
distinction, the two eldest of her little girls went twice a week to
a dancing school in the neighbourhood, and had flaxen hair, tied
with blue ribbons, hanging in luxuriant pigtails down their backs;
and wore little white trousers with frills round the ankles--for all
of which reasons, and many more equally valid but too numerous to
mention, Mrs Kenwigs was considered a very desirable person to know,
and was the constant theme of all the gossips in the street, and
even three or four doors round the corner at both ends.

It was the anniversary of that happy day on which the Church of
England as by law established, had bestowed Mrs Kenwigs upon Mr
Kenwigs; and in grateful commemoration of the same, Mrs Kenwigs had
invited a few select friends to cards and a supper in the first
floor, and had put on a new gown to receive them in: which gown,
being of a flaming colour and made upon a juvenile principle, was so
successful that Mr Kenwigs said the eight years of matrimony and the
five children seemed all a dream, and Mrs Kenwigs younger and more
blooming than on the very first Sunday he had kept company with her.

Beautiful as Mrs Kenwigs looked when she was dressed though, and so
stately that you would have supposed she had a cook and housemaid at
least, and nothing to do but order them about, she had a world of
trouble with the preparations; more, indeed, than she, being of a
delicate and genteel constitution, could have sustained, had not the
pride of housewifery upheld her. At last, however, all the things
that had to be got together were got together, and all the things
that had to be got out of the way were got out of the way, and
everything was ready, and the collector himself having promised to
come, fortune smiled upon the occasion.

The party was admirably selected. There were, first of all, Mr
Kenwigs and Mrs Kenwigs, and four olive Kenwigses who sat up to
supper; firstly, because it was but right that they should have a
treat on such a day; and secondly, because their going to bed, in
presence of the company, would have been inconvenient, not to say
improper. Then, there was a young lady who had made Mrs Kenwigs's
dress, and who--it was the most convenient thing in the world--
living in the two-pair back, gave up her bed to the baby, and got a
little girl to watch it. Then, to match this young lady, was a
young man, who had known Mr Kenwigs when he was a bachelor, and was
much esteemed by the ladies, as bearing the reputation of a rake.
To these were added a newly-married couple, who had visited Mr and
Mrs Kenwigs in their courtship; and a sister of Mrs Kenwigs's, who
was quite a beauty; besides whom, there was another young man,
supposed to entertain honourable designs upon the lady last
mentioned; and Mr Noggs, who was a genteel person to ask, because he
had been a gentleman once. There were also an elderly lady from the
back-parlour, and one more young lady, who, next to the collector,
perhaps was the great lion of the party, being the daughter of a
theatrical fireman, who 'went on' in the pantomime, and had the
greatest turn for the stage that was ever known, being able to sing
and recite in a manner that brought the tears into Mrs Kenwigs's
eyes. There was only one drawback upon the pleasure of seeing such
friends, and that was, that the lady in the back-parlour, who was
very fat, and turned of sixty, came in a low book-muslin dress and
short kid gloves, which so exasperated Mrs Kenwigs, that that lady
assured her visitors, in private, that if it hadn't happened that
the supper was cooking at the back-parlour grate at that moment, she
certainly would have requested its representative to withdraw.

'My dear,' said Mr Kenwigs, 'wouldn't it be better to begin a round

'Kenwigs, my dear,' returned his wife, 'I am surprised at you.
Would you begin without my uncle?'

'I forgot the collector,' said Kenwigs; 'oh no, that would never

'He's so particular,' said Mrs Kenwigs, turning to the other married
lady, 'that if we began without him, I should be out of his will for

'Dear!' cried the married lady.

'You've no idea what he is,' replied Mrs Kenwigs; 'and yet as good a
creature as ever breathed.'

'The kindest-hearted man as ever was,' said Kenwigs.

'It goes to his heart, I believe, to be forced to cut the water off,
when the people don't pay,' observed the bachelor friend, intending
a joke.

'George,' said Mr Kenwigs, solemnly, 'none of that, if you please.'

'It was only my joke,' said the friend, abashed.

'George,' rejoined Mr Kenwigs, 'a joke is a wery good thing--a wery
good thing--but when that joke is made at the expense of Mrs
Kenwigs's feelings, I set my face against it. A man in public life
expects to be sneered at--it is the fault of his elewated
sitiwation, and not of himself. Mrs Kenwigs's relation is a public
man, and that he knows, George, and that he can bear; but putting
Mrs Kenwigs out of the question (if I COULD put Mrs Kenwigs out of
the question on such an occasion as this), I have the honour to be
connected with the collector by marriage; and I cannot allow these
remarks in my--' Mr Kenwigs was going to say 'house,' but he rounded
the sentence with 'apartments'.

At the conclusion of these observations, which drew forth evidences
of acute feeling from Mrs Kenwigs, and had the intended effect of
impressing the company with a deep sense of the collector's dignity,
a ring was heard at the bell.

'That's him,' whispered Mr Kenwigs, greatly excited. 'Morleena, my
dear, run down and let your uncle in, and kiss him directly you get
the door open. Hem! Let's be talking.'

Adopting Mr Kenwigs's suggestion, the company spoke very loudly, to
look easy and unembarrassed; and almost as soon as they had begun to
do so, a short old gentleman in drabs and gaiters, with a face that
might have been carved out of LIGNUM VITAE, for anything that
appeared to the contrary, was led playfully in by Miss Morleena
Kenwigs, regarding whose uncommon Christian name it may be here
remarked that it had been invented and composed by Mrs Kenwigs
previous to her first lying-in, for the special distinction of her
eldest child, in case it should prove a daughter.

'Oh, uncle, I am SO glad to see you,' said Mrs Kenwigs, kissing the
collector affectionately on both cheeks. 'So glad!'

'Many happy returns of the day, my dear,' replied the collector,
returning the compliment.

Now, this was an interesting thing. Here was a collector of water-
rates, without his book, without his pen and ink, without his double
knock, without his intimidation, kissing--actually kissing--an
agreeable female, and leaving taxes, summonses, notices that he had
called, or announcements that he would never call again, for two
quarters' due, wholly out of the question. It was pleasant to see
how the company looked on, quite absorbed in the sight, and to
behold the nods and winks with which they expressed their
gratification at finding so much humanity in a tax-gatherer.

'Where will you sit, uncle?' said Mrs Kenwigs, in the full glow of
family pride, which the appearance of her distinguished relation

'Anywheres, my dear,' said the collector, 'I am not particular.'

Not particular! What a meek collector! If he had been an author,
who knew his place, he couldn't have been more humble.

'Mr Lillyvick,' said Kenwigs, addressing the collector, 'some
friends here, sir, are very anxious for the honour of--thank you--Mr
and Mrs Cutler, Mr Lillyvick.'

'Proud to know you, sir,' said Mr Cutler; 'I've heerd of you very
often.' These were not mere words of ceremony; for, Mr Cutler,
having kept house in Mr Lillyvick's parish, had heard of him very
often indeed. His attention in calling had been quite extraordinary.

'George, you know, I think, Mr Lillyvick,' said Kenwigs; 'lady from
downstairs--Mr Lillyvick. Mr Snewkes--Mr Lillyvick. Miss Green--Mr
Lillyvick. Mr Lillyvick--Miss Petowker of the Theatre Royal, Drury
Lane. Very glad to make two public characters acquainted! Mrs
Kenwigs, my dear, will you sort the counters?'

Mrs Kenwigs, with the assistance of Newman Noggs, (who, as he
performed sundry little acts of kindness for the children, at all
times and seasons, was humoured in his request to be taken no notice
of, and was merely spoken about, in a whisper, as the decayed
gentleman), did as he was desired; and the greater part of the
guests sat down to speculation, while Newman himself, Mrs Kenwigs,
and Miss Petowker of the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, looked after the

While the ladies were thus busying themselves, Mr Lillyvick was
intent upon the game in progress, and as all should be fish that
comes to a water-collector's net, the dear old gentleman was by no
means scrupulous in appropriating to himself the property of his
neighbours, which, on the contrary, he abstracted whenever an
opportunity presented itself, smiling good-humouredly all the while,
and making so many condescending speeches to the owners, that they
were delighted with his amiability, and thought in their hearts that
he deserved to be Chancellor of the Exchequer at least.

After a great deal of trouble, and the administration of many slaps
on the head to the infant Kenwigses, whereof two of the most
rebellious were summarily banished, the cloth was laid with much
elegance, and a pair of boiled fowls, a large piece of pork, apple-
pie, potatoes and greens, were served; at sight of which, the worthy
Mr Lillyvick vented a great many witticisms, and plucked up
amazingly: to the immense delight and satisfaction of the whole body
of admirers.

Very well and very fast the supper went off; no more serious
difficulties occurring, than those which arose from the incessant
demand for clean knives and forks; which made poor Mrs Kenwigs wish,
more than once, that private society adopted the principle of
schools, and required that every guest should bring his own knife,
fork, and spoon; which doubtless would be a great accommodation in
many cases, and to no one more so than to the lady and gentleman of
the house, especially if the school principle were carried out to
the full extent, and the articles were expected, as a matter of
delicacy, not to be taken away again.

Everybody having eaten everything, the table was cleared in a most
alarming hurry, and with great noise; and the spirits, whereat the
eyes of Newman Noggs glistened, being arranged in order, with water
both hot and cold, the party composed themselves for conviviality;
Mr Lillyvick being stationed in a large armchair by the fireside,
and the four little Kenwigses disposed on a small form in front of
the company with their flaxen tails towards them, and their faces to
the fire; an arrangement which was no sooner perfected, than Mrs
Kenwigs was overpowered by the feelings of a mother, and fell upon
the left shoulder of Mr Kenwigs dissolved in tears.

'They are so beautiful!' said Mrs Kenwigs, sobbing.

'Oh, dear,' said all the ladies, 'so they are! it's very natural you
should feel proud of that; but don't give way, don't.'

'I can--not help it, and it don't signify,' sobbed Mrs Kenwigs; 'oh!
they're too beautiful to live, much too beautiful!'

On hearing this alarming presentiment of their being doomed to an
early death in the flower of their infancy, all four little girls
raised a hideous cry, and burying their heads in their mother's lap
simultaneously, screamed until the eight flaxen tails vibrated
again; Mrs Kenwigs meanwhile clasping them alternately to her bosom,
with attitudes expressive of distraction, which Miss Petowker
herself might have copied.

At length, the anxious mother permitted herself to be soothed into a
more tranquil state, and the little Kenwigses, being also composed,
were distributed among the company, to prevent the possibility of
Mrs Kenwigs being again overcome by the blaze of their combined
beauty. This done, the ladies and gentlemen united in prophesying
that they would live for many, many years, and that there was no
occasion at all for Mrs Kenwigs to distress herself; which, in good
truth, there did not appear to be; the loveliness of the children by
no means justifying her apprehensions.

'This day eight year,' said Mr Kenwigs after a pause. 'Dear me--

This reflection was echoed by all present, who said 'Ah!' first, and
'dear me,' afterwards.

'I was younger then,' tittered Mrs Kenwigs.

'No,' said the collector.

'Certainly not,' added everybody.

'I remember my niece,' said Mr Lillyvick, surveying his audience
with a grave air; 'I remember her, on that very afternoon, when she
first acknowledged to her mother a partiality for Kenwigs.
"Mother," she says, "I love him."'

'"Adore him," I said, uncle,' interposed Mrs Kenwigs.

'"Love him," I think, my dear,' said the collector, firmly.

'Perhaps you are right, uncle,' replied Mrs Kenwigs, submissively.
'I thought it was "adore."'

'"Love," my dear,' retorted Mr Lillyvick. '"Mother," she says, "I
love him!" "What do I hear?" cries her mother; and instantly falls
into strong conwulsions.'

A general exclamation of astonishment burst from the company.

'Into strong conwulsions,' repeated Mr Lillyvick, regarding them
with a rigid look. 'Kenwigs will excuse my saying, in the presence
of friends, that there was a very great objection to him, on the
ground that he was beneath the family, and would disgrace it. You
remember, Kenwigs?'

'Certainly,' replied that gentleman, in no way displeased at the
reminiscence, inasmuch as it proved, beyond all doubt, what a high
family Mrs Kenwigs came of.

'I shared in that feeling,' said Mr Lillyvick: 'perhaps it was
natural; perhaps it wasn't.'

A gentle murmur seemed to say, that, in one of Mr Lillyvick's
station, the objection was not only natural, but highly praiseworthy.

'I came round to him in time,' said Mr Lillyvick. 'After they were
married, and there was no help for it, I was one of the first to say
that Kenwigs must be taken notice of. The family DID take notice of
him, in consequence, and on my representation; and I am bound to
say--and proud to say--that I have always found him a very honest,
well-behaved, upright, respectable sort of man. Kenwigs, shake

'I am proud to do it, sir,' said Mr Kenwigs.

'So am I, Kenwigs,' rejoined Mr Lillyvick.

'A very happy life I have led with your niece, sir,' said Kenwigs.

'It would have been your own fault if you had not, sir,' remarked Mr

'Morleena Kenwigs,' cried her mother, at this crisis, much affected,
'kiss your dear uncle!'

The young lady did as she was requested, and the three other little
girls were successively hoisted up to the collector's countenance,
and subjected to the same process, which was afterwards repeated on
them by the majority of those present.

'Oh dear, Mrs Kenwigs,' said Miss Petowker, 'while Mr Noggs is
making that punch to drink happy returns in, do let Morleena go
through that figure dance before Mr Lillyvick.'

'No, no, my dear,' replied Mrs Kenwigs, 'it will only worry my

'It can't worry him, I am sure,' said Miss Petowker. 'You will be
very much pleased, won't you, sir?'

'That I am sure I shall' replied the collector, glancing at the

'Well then, I'll tell you what,' said Mrs Kenwigs, 'Morleena shall
do the steps, if uncle can persuade Miss Petowker to recite us the
Blood-Drinker's Burial, afterwards.'

There was a great clapping of hands and stamping of feet, at this
proposition; the subject whereof, gently inclined her head several
times, in acknowledgment of the reception.

'You know,' said Miss Petowker, reproachfully, 'that I dislike doing
anything professional in private parties.'

'Oh, but not here!' said Mrs Kenwigs. 'We are all so very friendly
and pleasant, that you might as well be going through it in your own
room; besides, the occasion--'

'I can't resist that,' interrupted Miss Petowker; 'anything in my
humble power I shall be delighted to do.'

Mrs Kenwigs and Miss Petowker had arranged a small PROGRAMME of the
entertainments between them, of which this was the prescribed order,
but they had settled to have a little pressing on both sides,
because it looked more natural. The company being all ready, Miss
Petowker hummed a tune, and Morleena danced a dance; having
previously had the soles of her shoes chalked, with as much care as
if she were going on the tight-rope. It was a very beautiful
figure, comprising a great deal of work for the arms, and was
received with unbounded applause.

'If I was blessed with a--a child--' said Miss Petowker, blushing,
'of such genius as that, I would have her out at the Opera

Mrs Kenwigs sighed, and looked at Mr Kenwigs, who shook his head,
and observed that he was doubtful about it.

'Kenwigs is afraid,' said Mrs K.

'What of?' inquired Miss Petowker, 'not of her failing?'

'Oh no,' replied Mrs Kenwigs, 'but if she grew up what she is now,--
only think of the young dukes and marquises.'

'Very right,' said the collector.

'Still,' submitted Miss Petowker, 'if she took a proper pride in
herself, you know--'

'There's a good deal in that,' observed Mrs Kenwigs, looking at her

'I only know--' faltered Miss Petowker,--'it may be no rule to be
sure--but I have never found any inconvenience or unpleasantness of
that sort.'

Mr Kenwigs, with becoming gallantry, said that settled the question
at once, and that he would take the subject into his serious
consideration. This being resolved upon, Miss Petowker was
entreated to begin the Blood-Drinker's Burial; to which end, that
young lady let down her back hair, and taking up her position at the
other end of the room, with the bachelor friend posted in a corner,
to rush out at the cue 'in death expire,' and catch her in his arms
when she died raving mad, went through the performance with
extraordinary spirit, and to the great terror of the little
Kenwigses, who were all but frightened into fits.

The ecstasies consequent upon the effort had not yet subsided, and
Newman (who had not been thoroughly sober at so late an hour for a
long long time,) had not yet been able to put in a word of
announcement, that the punch was ready, when a hasty knock was heard
at the room-door, which elicited a shriek from Mrs Kenwigs, who
immediately divined that the baby had fallen out of bed.

'Who is that?' demanded Mr Kenwigs, sharply.

'Don't be alarmed, it's only me,' said Crowl, looking in, in his
nightcap. 'The baby is very comfortable, for I peeped into the room
as I came down, and it's fast asleep, and so is the girl; and I
don't think the candle will set fire to the bed-curtain, unless a
draught was to get into the room--it's Mr Noggs that's wanted.'

'Me!' cried Newman, much astonished.

'Why, it IS a queer hour, isn't it?' replied Crowl, who was not best
pleased at the prospect of losing his fire; 'and they are queer-
looking people, too, all covered with rain and mud. Shall I tell
them to go away?'

'No,' said Newman, rising. 'People? How many?'

'Two,' rejoined Crowl.

'Want me? By name?' asked Newman.

'By name,' replied Crowl. 'Mr Newman Noggs, as pat as need be.'

Newman reflected for a few seconds, and then hurried away, muttering
that he would be back directly. He was as good as his word; for, in
an exceedingly short time, he burst into the room, and seizing,
without a word of apology or explanation, a lighted candle and
tumbler of hot punch from the table, darted away like a madman.

'What the deuce is the matter with him?' exclaimed Crowl, throwing
the door open. 'Hark! Is there any noise above?'

The guests rose in great confusion, and, looking in each other's
faces with much perplexity and some fear, stretched their necks
forward, and listened attentively.

< Back
Forward >

Index Index

Other Authors Other Authors

Charles Dickens. Copyright © 2022,
Contact the webmaster
Disclaimer here. Privacy Policy here.