The Complete Works of



Charles Dickens > Nicholas Nickleby > Chapter 19

Nicholas Nickleby

Chapter 19

Descriptive of a Dinner at Mr Ralph Nickleby's, and of the Manner in
which the Company entertained themselves, before Dinner, at Dinner,
and after Dinner.

The bile and rancour of the worthy Miss Knag undergoing no
diminution during the remainder of the week, but rather augmenting
with every successive hour; and the honest ire of all the young
ladies rising, or seeming to rise, in exact proportion to the good
spinster's indignation, and both waxing very hot every time Miss
Nickleby was called upstairs; it will be readily imagined that that
young lady's daily life was none of the most cheerful or enviable
kind. She hailed the arrival of Saturday night, as a prisoner would
a few delicious hours' respite from slow and wearing torture, and
felt that the poor pittance for her first week's labour would have
been dearly and hardly earned, had its amount been trebled.

When she joined her mother, as usual, at the street corner, she was
not a little surprised to find her in conversation with Mr Ralph
Nickleby; but her surprise was soon redoubled, no less by the matter
of their conversation, than by the smoothed and altered manner of Mr
Nickleby himself.

'Ah! my dear!' said Ralph; 'we were at that moment talking about

'Indeed!' replied Kate, shrinking, though she scarce knew why, from
her uncle's cold glistening eye.

'That instant,' said Ralph. 'I was coming to call for you, making
sure to catch you before you left; but your mother and I have been
talking over family affairs, and the time has slipped away so

'Well, now, hasn't it?' interposed Mrs Nickleby, quite insensible to
the sarcastic tone of Ralph's last remark. 'Upon my word, I
couldn't have believed it possible, that such a--Kate, my dear,
you're to dine with your uncle at half-past six o'clock tomorrow.'

Triumphing in having been the first to communicate this
extraordinary intelligence, Mrs Nickleby nodded and smiled a great
many times, to impress its full magnificence on Kate's wondering
mind, and then flew off, at an acute angle, to a committee of ways
and means.

'Let me see,' said the good lady. 'Your black silk frock will be
quite dress enough, my dear, with that pretty little scarf, and a
plain band in your hair, and a pair of black silk stock--Dear,
dear,' cried Mrs Nickleby, flying off at another angle, 'if I had
but those unfortunate amethysts of mine--you recollect them, Kate,
my love--how they used to sparkle, you know--but your papa, your
poor dear papa--ah! there never was anything so cruelly sacrificed
as those jewels were, never!' Overpowered by this agonising thought,
Mrs Nickleby shook her head, in a melancholy manner, and applied her
handkerchief to her eyes.

I don't want them, mama, indeed,' said Kate. 'Forget that you ever
had them.'

'Lord, Kate, my dear,' rejoined Mrs Nickleby, pettishly, 'how like a
child you talk! Four-and-twenty silver tea-spoons, brother-in-law,
two gravies, four salts, all the amethysts--necklace, brooch, and
ear-rings--all made away with, at the same time, and I saying,
almost on my bended knees, to that poor good soul, "Why don't you do
something, Nicholas? Why don't you make some arrangement?" I am
sure that anybody who was about us at that time, will do me the
justice to own, that if I said that once, I said it fifty times a
day. Didn't I, Kate, my dear? Did I ever lose an opportunity of
impressing it on your poor papa?'

'No, no, mama, never,' replied Kate. And to do Mrs Nickleby
justice, she never had lost--and to do married ladies as a body
justice, they seldom do lose--any occasion of inculcating similar
golden percepts, whose only blemish is, the slight degree of
vagueness and uncertainty in which they are usually enveloped.

'Ah!' said Mrs Nickleby, with great fervour, 'if my advice had been
taken at the beginning--Well, I have always done MY duty, and that's
some comfort.'

When she had arrived at this reflection, Mrs Nickleby sighed, rubbed
her hands, cast up her eyes, and finally assumed a look of meek
composure; thus importing that she was a persecuted saint, but that
she wouldn't trouble her hearers by mentioning a circumstance which
must be so obvious to everybody.

'Now,' said Ralph, with a smile, which, in common with all other
tokens of emotion, seemed to skulk under his face, rather than play
boldly over it--'to return to the point from which we have strayed.
I have a little party of--of--gentlemen with whom I am connected in
business just now, at my house tomorrow; and your mother has
promised that you shall keep house for me. I am not much used to
parties; but this is one of business, and such fooleries are an
important part of it sometimes. You don't mind obliging me?'

'Mind!' cried Mrs Nickleby. 'My dear Kate, why--'

'Pray,' interrupted Ralph, motioning her to be silent. 'I spoke to
my niece.'

'I shall be very glad, of course, uncle,' replied Kate; 'but I am
afraid you will find me awkward and embarrassed.'

'Oh no,' said Ralph; 'come when you like, in a hackney coach--I'll
pay for it. Good-night--a--a--God bless you.'

The blessing seemed to stick in Mr Ralph Nickleby's throat, as if it
were not used to the thoroughfare, and didn't know the way out. But
it got out somehow, though awkwardly enough; and having disposed of
it, he shook hands with his two relatives, and abruptly left them.

'What a very strongly marked countenance your uncle has!' said Mrs
Nickleby, quite struck with his parting look. 'I don't see the
slightest resemblance to his poor brother.'

'Mama!' said Kate reprovingly. 'To think of such a thing!'

'No,' said Mrs Nickleby, musing. 'There certainly is none. But
it's a very honest face.'

The worthy matron made this remark with great emphasis and
elocution, as if it comprised no small quantity of ingenuity and
research; and, in truth, it was not unworthy of being classed among
the extraordinary discoveries of the age. Kate looked up hastily,
and as hastily looked down again.

'What has come over you, my dear, in the name of goodness?' asked
Mrs Nickleby, when they had walked on, for some time, in silence.

'I was only thinking, mama,' answered Kate.

'Thinking!' repeated Mrs Nickleby. 'Ay, and indeed plenty to think
about, too. Your uncle has taken a strong fancy to you, that's
quite clear; and if some extraordinary good fortune doesn't come to
you, after this, I shall be a little surprised, that's all.'

With this she launched out into sundry anecdotes of young ladies,
who had had thousand-pound notes given them in reticules, by
eccentric uncles; and of young ladies who had accidentally met
amiable gentlemen of enormous wealth at their uncles' houses, and
married them, after short but ardent courtships; and Kate, listening
first in apathy, and afterwards in amusement, felt, as they walked
home, something of her mother's sanguine complexion gradually
awakening in her own bosom, and began to think that her prospects
might be brightening, and that better days might be dawning upon
them. Such is hope, Heaven's own gift to struggling mortals;
pervading, like some subtle essence from the skies, all things, both
good and bad; as universal as death, and more infectious than

The feeble winter's sun--and winter's suns in the city are very
feeble indeed--might have brightened up, as he shone through the dim
windows of the large old house, on witnessing the unusual sight
which one half-furnished room displayed. In a gloomy corner, where,
for years, had stood a silent dusty pile of merchandise, sheltering
its colony of mice, and frowning, a dull and lifeless mass, upon the
panelled room, save when, responding to the roll of heavy waggons in
the street without, it quaked with sturdy tremblings and caused the
bright eyes of its tiny citizens to grow brighter still with fear,
and struck them motionless, with attentive ear and palpitating
heart, until the alarm had passed away--in this dark corner, was
arranged, with scrupulous care, all Kate's little finery for the
day; each article of dress partaking of that indescribable air of
jauntiness and individuality which empty garments--whether by
association, or that they become moulded, as it were, to the owner's
form--will take, in eyes accustomed to, or picturing, the wearer's
smartness. In place of a bale of musty goods, there lay the black
silk dress: the neatest possible figure in itself. The small shoes,
with toes delicately turned out, stood upon the very pressure of
some old iron weight; and a pile of harsh discoloured leather had
unconsciously given place to the very same little pair of black silk
stockings, which had been the objects of Mrs Nickleby's peculiar
care. Rats and mice, and such small gear, had long ago been
starved, or had emigrated to better quarters: and, in their stead,
appeared gloves, bands, scarfs, hair-pins, and many other little
devices, almost as ingenious in their way as rats and mice
themselves, for the tantalisation of mankind. About and among them
all, moved Kate herself, not the least beautiful or unwonted relief
to the stern, old, gloomy building.

In good time, or in bad time, as the reader likes to take it--for
Mrs Nickleby's impatience went a great deal faster than the clocks
at that end of the town, and Kate was dressed to the very last hair-
pin a full hour and a half before it was at all necessary to begin
to think about it--in good time, or in bad time, the toilet was
completed; and it being at length the hour agreed upon for starting,
the milkman fetched a coach from the nearest stand, and Kate, with
many adieux to her mother, and many kind messages to Miss La Creevy,
who was to come to tea, seated herself in it, and went away in
state, if ever anybody went away in state in a hackney coach yet.
And the coach, and the coachman, and the horses, rattled, and
jangled, and whipped, and cursed, and swore, and tumbled on
together, until they came to Golden Square.

The coachman gave a tremendous double knock at the door, which was
opened long before he had done, as quickly as if there had been a
man behind it, with his hand tied to the latch. Kate, who had
expected no more uncommon appearance than Newman Noggs in a clean
shirt, was not a little astonished to see that the opener was a man
in handsome livery, and that there were two or three others in the
hall. There was no doubt about its being the right house, however,
for there was the name upon the door; so she accepted the laced
coat-sleeve which was tendered her, and entering the house, was
ushered upstairs, into a back drawing-room, where she was left

If she had been surprised at the apparition of the footman, she was
perfectly absorbed in amazement at the richness and splendour of the
furniture. The softest and most elegant carpets, the most exquisite
pictures, the costliest mirrors; articles of richest ornament, quite
dazzling from their beauty and perplexing from the prodigality with
which they were scattered around; encountered her on every side.
The very staircase nearly down to the hall-door, was crammed with
beautiful and luxurious things, as though the house were brimful of
riches, which, with a very trifling addition, would fairly run over
into the street.

Presently, she heard a series of loud double knocks at the street-
door, and after every knock some new voice in the next room; the
tones of Mr Ralph Nickleby were easily distinguishable at first, but
by degrees they merged into the general buzz of conversation, and
all she could ascertain was, that there were several gentlemen with
no very musical voices, who talked very loud, laughed very heartily,
and swore more than she would have thought quite necessary. But
this was a question of taste.

At length, the door opened, and Ralph himself, divested of his
boots, and ceremoniously embellished with black silks and shoes,
presented his crafty face.

'I couldn't see you before, my dear,' he said, in a low tone, and
pointing, as he spoke, to the next room. 'I was engaged in
receiving them. Now--shall I take you in?'

'Pray, uncle,' said Kate, a little flurried, as people much more
conversant with society often are, when they are about to enter a
room full of strangers, and have had time to think of it previously,
'are there any ladies here?'

'No,' said Ralph, shortly, 'I don't know any.'

'Must I go in immediately?' asked Kate, drawing back a little.

'As you please,' said Ralph, shrugging his shoulders. 'They are all
come, and dinner will be announced directly afterwards--that's all.'

Kate would have entreated a few minutes' respite, but reflecting
that her uncle might consider the payment of the hackney-coach fare
a sort of bargain for her punctuality, she suffered him to draw her
arm through his, and to lead her away.

Seven or eight gentlemen were standing round the fire when they went
in, and, as they were talking very loud, were not aware of their
entrance until Mr Ralph Nickleby, touching one on the coat-sleeve,
said in a harsh emphatic voice, as if to attract general attention--

'Lord Frederick Verisopht, my niece, Miss Nickleby.'

The group dispersed, as if in great surprise, and the gentleman
addressed, turning round, exhibited a suit of clothes of the most
superlative cut, a pair of whiskers of similar quality, a moustache,
a head of hair, and a young face.

'Eh!' said the gentleman. 'What--the--deyvle!'

With which broken ejaculations, he fixed his glass in his eye, and
stared at Miss Nickleby in great surprise.

'My niece, my lord,' said Ralph.

'Then my ears did not deceive me, and it's not wa-a-x work,' said
his lordship. 'How de do? I'm very happy.' And then his lordship
turned to another superlative gentleman, something older, something
stouter, something redder in the face, and something longer upon
town, and said in a loud whisper that the girl was 'deyvlish pitty.'

'Introduce me, Nickleby,' said this second gentleman, who was
lounging with his back to the fire, and both elbows on the

'Sir Mulberry Hawk,' said Ralph.

'Otherwise the most knowing card in the pa-ack, Miss Nickleby,' said
Lord Frederick Verisopht.

'Don't leave me out, Nickleby,' cried a sharp-faced gentleman, who
was sitting on a low chair with a high back, reading the paper.

'Mr Pyke,' said Ralph.

'Nor me, Nickleby,' cried a gentleman with a flushed face and a
flash air, from the elbow of Sir Mulberry Hawk.

'Mr Pluck,' said Ralph. Then wheeling about again, towards a
gentleman with the neck of a stork and the legs of no animal in
particular, Ralph introduced him as the Honourable Mr Snobb; and a
white-headed person at the table as Colonel Chowser. The colonel
was in conversation with somebody, who appeared to be a make-weight,
and was not introduced at all.

There were two circumstances which, in this early stage of the
party, struck home to Kate's bosom, and brought the blood tingling
to her face. One was the flippant contempt with which the guests
evidently regarded her uncle, and the other, the easy insolence of
their manner towards herself. That the first symptom was very
likely to lead to the aggravation of the second, it needed no great
penetration to foresee. And here Mr Ralph Nickleby had reckoned
without his host; for however fresh from the country a young lady
(by nature) may be, and however unacquainted with conventional
behaviour, the chances are, that she will have quite as strong an
innate sense of the decencies and proprieties of life as if she had
run the gauntlet of a dozen London seasons--possibly a stronger one,
for such senses have been known to blunt in this improving process.

When Ralph had completed the ceremonial of introduction, he led his
blushing niece to a seat. As he did so, he glanced warily round as
though to assure himself of the impression which her unlooked-for
appearance had created.

'An unexpected playsure, Nickleby,' said Lord Frederick Verisopht,
taking his glass out of his right eye, where it had, until now, done
duty on Kate, and fixing it in his left, to bring it to bear on

'Designed to surprise you, Lord Frederick,' said Mr Pluck.

'Not a bad idea,' said his lordship, 'and one that would almost
warrant the addition of an extra two and a half per cent.'

'Nickleby,' said Sir Mulberry Hawk, in a thick coarse voice, 'take
the hint, and tack it on the other five-and-twenty, or whatever it
is, and give me half for the advice.'

Sir Mulberry garnished this speech with a hoarse laugh, and
terminated it with a pleasant oath regarding Mr Nickleby's limbs,
whereat Messrs Pyke and Pluck laughed consumedly.

These gentlemen had not yet quite recovered the jest, when dinner
was announced, and then they were thrown into fresh ecstasies by a
similar cause; for Sir Mulberry Hawk, in an excess of humour, shot
dexterously past Lord Frederick Verisopht who was about to lead Kate
downstairs, and drew her arm through his up to the elbow.

'No, damn it, Verisopht,' said Sir Mulberry, 'fair play's a jewel,
and Miss Nickleby and I settled the matter with our eyes ten minutes

'Ha, ha, ha!' laughed the honourable Mr Snobb, 'very good, very

Rendered additionally witty by this applause, Sir Mulberry Hawk
leered upon his friends most facetiously, and led Kate downstairs
with an air of familiarity, which roused in her gentle breast such
burning indignation, as she felt it almost impossible to repress.
Nor was the intensity of these feelings at all diminished, when she
found herself placed at the top of the table, with Sir Mulberry Hawk
and Lord Frederick Verisopht on either side.

'Oh, you've found your way into our neighbourhood, have you?' said
Sir Mulberry as his lordship sat down.

'Of course,' replied Lord Frederick, fixing his eyes on Miss
Nickleby, 'how can you a-ask me?'

'Well, you attend to your dinner,' said Sir Mulberry, 'and don't
mind Miss Nickleby and me, for we shall prove very indifferent
company, I dare say.'

'I wish you'd interfere here, Nickleby,' said Lord Frederick.

'What is the matter, my lord?' demanded Ralph from the bottom of the
table, where he was supported by Messrs Pyke and Pluck.

'This fellow, Hawk, is monopolising your niece,' said Lord Frederick.

'He has a tolerable share of everything that you lay claim to, my
lord,' said Ralph with a sneer.

''Gad, so he has,' replied the young man; 'deyvle take me if I know
which is master in my house, he or I.'

'I know,' muttered Ralph.

'I think I shall cut him off with a shilling,' said the young
nobleman, jocosely.

'No, no, curse it,' said Sir Mulberry. 'When you come to the
shilling--the last shilling--I'll cut you fast enough; but till
then, I'll never leave you--you may take your oath of it.'

This sally (which was strictly founded on fact) was received with a
general roar, above which, was plainly distinguishable the laughter
of Mr Pyke and Mr Pluck, who were, evidently, Sir Mulberry's toads
in ordinary. Indeed, it was not difficult to see, that the majority
of the company preyed upon the unfortunate young lord, who, weak and
silly as he was, appeared by far the least vicious of the party.
Sir Mulberry Hawk was remarkable for his tact in ruining, by himself
and his creatures, young gentlemen of fortune--a genteel and elegant
profession, of which he had undoubtedly gained the head. With all
the boldness of an original genius, he had struck out an entirely
new course of treatment quite opposed to the usual method; his
custom being, when he had gained the ascendancy over those he took
in hand, rather to keep them down than to give them their own way;
and to exercise his vivacity upon them openly, and without reserve.
Thus, he made them butts, in a double sense, and while he emptied
them with great address, caused them to ring with sundry well-
administered taps, for the diversion of society.

The dinner was as remarkable for the splendour and completeness of
its appointments as the mansion itself, and the company were
remarkable for doing it ample justice, in which respect Messrs Pyke
and Pluck particularly signalised themselves; these two gentlemen
eating of every dish, and drinking of every bottle, with a capacity
and perseverance truly astonishing. They were remarkably fresh,
too, notwithstanding their great exertions: for, on the appearance
of the dessert, they broke out again, as if nothing serious had
taken place since breakfast.

'Well,' said Lord Frederick, sipping his first glass of port, 'if
this is a discounting dinner, all I have to say is, deyvle take me,
if it wouldn't be a good pla-an to get discount every day.'

'You'll have plenty of it, in your time,' returned Sir Mulberry
Hawk; 'Nickleby will tell you that.'

'What do you say, Nickleby?' inquired the young man; 'am I to be a
good customer?'

'It depends entirely on circumstances, my lord,' replied Ralph.

'On your lordship's circumstances,' interposed Colonel Chowser of
the Militia--and the race-courses.

The gallant colonel glanced at Messrs Pyke and Pluck as if he
thought they ought to laugh at his joke; but those gentlemen, being
only engaged to laugh for Sir Mulberry Hawk, were, to his signal
discomfiture, as grave as a pair of undertakers. To add to his
defeat, Sir Mulberry, considering any such efforts an invasion of
his peculiar privilege, eyed the offender steadily, through his
glass, as if astonished at his presumption, and audibly stated his
impression that it was an 'infernal liberty,' which being a hint to
Lord Frederick, he put up HIS glass, and surveyed the object of
censure as if he were some extraordinary wild animal then exhibiting
for the first time. As a matter of course, Messrs Pyke and Pluck
stared at the individual whom Sir Mulberry Hawk stared at; so, the
poor colonel, to hide his confusion, was reduced to the necessity of
holding his port before his right eye and affecting to scrutinise
its colour with the most lively interest.

All this while, Kate had sat as silently as she could, scarcely
daring to raise her eyes, lest they should encounter the admiring
gaze of Lord Frederick Verisopht, or, what was still more
embarrassing, the bold looks of his friend Sir Mulberry. The latter
gentleman was obliging enough to direct general attention towards

'Here is Miss Nickleby,' observed Sir Mulberry, 'wondering why the
deuce somebody doesn't make love to her.'

'No, indeed,' said Kate, looking hastily up, 'I--' and then she
stopped, feeling it would have been better to have said nothing at

'I'll hold any man fifty pounds,' said Sir Mulberry, 'that Miss
Nickleby can't look in my face, and tell me she wasn't thinking so.'

'Done!' cried the noble gull. 'Within ten minutes.'

'Done!' responded Sir Mulberry. The money was produced on both
sides, and the Honourable Mr Snobb was elected to the double office
of stake-holder and time-keeper.

'Pray,' said Kate, in great confusion, while these preliminaries
were in course of completion. 'Pray do not make me the subject of
any bets. Uncle, I cannot really--'

'Why not, my dear?' replied Ralph, in whose grating voice, however,
there was an unusual huskiness, as though he spoke unwillingly, and
would rather that the proposition had not been broached. 'It is
done in a moment; there is nothing in it. If the gentlemen insist
on it--'

'I don't insist on it,' said Sir Mulberry, with a loud laugh. 'That
is, I by no means insist upon Miss Nickleby's making the denial, for
if she does, I lose; but I shall be glad to see her bright eyes,
especially as she favours the mahogany so much.'

'So she does, and it's too ba-a-d of you, Miss Nickleby,' said the
noble youth.

'Quite cruel,' said Mr Pyke.

'Horrid cruel,' said Mr Pluck.

'I don't care if I do lose,' said Sir Mulberry; 'for one tolerable
look at Miss Nickleby's eyes is worth double the money.'

'More,' said Mr Pyke.

'Far more,' said Mr Pluck.

'How goes the enemy, Snobb?' asked Sir Mulberry Hawk.

'Four minutes gone.'


'Won't you ma-ake one effort for me, Miss Nickleby?' asked Lord
Frederick, after a short interval.

'You needn't trouble yourself to inquire, my buck,' said Sir
Mulberry; 'Miss Nickleby and I understand each other; she declares
on my side, and shows her taste. You haven't a chance, old fellow.
Time, Snobb?'

'Eight minutes gone.'

'Get the money ready,' said Sir Mulberry; 'you'll soon hand over.'

'Ha, ha, ha!' laughed Mr Pyke.

Mr Pluck, who always came second, and topped his companion if he
could, screamed outright.

The poor girl, who was so overwhelmed with confusion that she
scarcely knew what she did, had determined to remain perfectly
quiet; but fearing that by so doing she might seem to countenance
Sir Mulberry's boast, which had been uttered with great coarseness
and vulgarity of manner, raised her eyes, and looked him in the
face. There was something so odious, so insolent, so repulsive in
the look which met her, that, without the power to stammer forth a
syllable, she rose and hurried from the room. She restrained her
tears by a great effort until she was alone upstairs, and then gave
them vent.

'Capital!' said Sir Mulberry Hawk, putting the stakes in his pocket.

'That's a girl of spirit, and we'll drink her health.'

It is needless to say, that Pyke and Co. responded, with great
warmth of manner, to this proposal, or that the toast was drunk with
many little insinuations from the firm, relative to the completeness
of Sir Mulberry's conquest. Ralph, who, while the attention of the
other guests was attracted to the principals in the preceding scene,
had eyed them like a wolf, appeared to breathe more freely now his
niece was gone; the decanters passing quickly round, he leaned back
in his chair, and turned his eyes from speaker to speaker, as they
warmed with wine, with looks that seemed to search their hearts, and
lay bare, for his distempered sport, every idle thought within them.

Meanwhile Kate, left wholly to herself, had, in some degree,
recovered her composure. She had learnt from a female attendant,
that her uncle wished to see her before she left, and had also
gleaned the satisfactory intelligence, that the gentlemen would take
coffee at table. The prospect of seeing them no more, contributed
greatly to calm her agitation, and, taking up a book, she composed
herself to read.

She started sometimes, when the sudden opening of the dining-room
door let loose a wild shout of noisy revelry, and more than once
rose in great alarm, as a fancied footstep on the staircase
impressed her with the fear that some stray member of the party was
returning alone. Nothing occurring, however, to realise her
apprehensions, she endeavoured to fix her attention more closely on
her book, in which by degrees she became so much interested, that
she had read on through several chapters without heed of time or
place, when she was terrified by suddenly hearing her name
pronounced by a man's voice close at her ear.

The book fell from her hand. Lounging on an ottoman close beside
her, was Sir Mulberry Hawk, evidently the worse--if a man be a
ruffian at heart, he is never the better--for wine.

'What a delightful studiousness!' said this accomplished gentleman.
'Was it real, now, or only to display the eyelashes?'

Kate, looking anxiously towards the door, made no reply.

'I have looked at 'em for five minutes,' said Sir Mulberry. 'Upon
my soul, they're perfect. Why did I speak, and destroy such a
pretty little picture?'

'Do me the favour to be silent now, sir,' replied Kate.

'No, don't,' said Sir Mulberry, folding his crushed hat to lay his
elbow on, and bringing himself still closer to the young lady; 'upon
my life, you oughtn't to. Such a devoted slave of yours, Miss
Nickleby--it's an infernal thing to treat him so harshly, upon my
soul it is.'

'I wish you to understand, sir,' said Kate, trembling in spite of
herself, but speaking with great indignation, 'that your behaviour
offends and disgusts me. If you have a spark of gentlemanly feeling
remaining, you will leave me.'

'Now why,' said Sir Mulberry, 'why will you keep up this appearance
of excessive rigour, my sweet creature? Now, be more natural--my
dear Miss Nickleby, be more natural--do.'

Kate hastily rose; but as she rose, Sir Mulberry caught her dress,
and forcibly detained her.

'Let me go, sir,' she cried, her heart swelling with anger. 'Do you
hear? Instantly--this moment.'

'Sit down, sit down,' said Sir Mulberry; 'I want to talk to you.'

'Unhand me, sir, this instant,' cried Kate.

'Not for the world,' rejoined Sir Mulberry. Thus speaking, he
leaned over, as if to replace her in her chair; but the young lady,
making a violent effort to disengage herself, he lost his balance,
and measured his length upon the ground. As Kate sprung forward to
leave the room, Mr Ralph Nickleby appeared in the doorway, and
confronted her.

'What is this?' said Ralph.

'It is this, sir,' replied Kate, violently agitated: 'that beneath
the roof where I, a helpless girl, your dead brother's child, should
most have found protection, I have been exposed to insult which
should make you shrink to look upon me. Let me pass you.'

Ralph DID shrink, as the indignant girl fixed her kindling eye upon
him; but he did not comply with her injunction, nevertheless: for he
led her to a distant seat, and returning, and approaching Sir
Mulberry Hawk, who had by this time risen, motioned towards the

'Your way lies there, sir,' said Ralph, in a suppressed voice, that
some devil might have owned with pride.

'What do you mean by that?' demanded his friend, fiercely.

The swoln veins stood out like sinews on Ralph's wrinkled forehead,
and the nerves about his mouth worked as though some unendurable
emotion wrung them; but he smiled disdainfully, and again pointed to
the door.

'Do you know me, you old madman?' asked Sir Mulberry.

'Well,' said Ralph. The fashionable vagabond for the moment quite
quailed under the steady look of the older sinner, and walked
towards the door, muttering as he went.

'You wanted the lord, did you?' he said, stopping short when he
reached the door, as if a new light had broken in upon him, and
confronting Ralph again. 'Damme, I was in the way, was I?'

Ralph smiled again, but made no answer.

'Who brought him to you first?' pursued Sir Mulberry; 'and how,
without me, could you ever have wound him in your net as you have?'

'The net is a large one, and rather full,' said Ralph. 'Take care
that it chokes nobody in the meshes.'

'You would sell your flesh and blood for money; yourself, if you
have not already made a bargain with the devil,' retorted the other.
'Do you mean to tell me that your pretty niece was not brought here
as a decoy for the drunken boy downstairs?'

Although this hurried dialogue was carried on in a suppressed tone
on both sides, Ralph looked involuntarily round to ascertain that
Kate had not moved her position so as to be within hearing. His
adversary saw the advantage he had gained, and followed it up.

'Do you mean to tell me,' he asked again, 'that it is not so? Do
you mean to say that if he had found his way up here instead of me,
you wouldn't have been a little more blind, and a little more deaf,
and a little less flourishing, than you have been? Come, Nickleby,
answer me that.'

'I tell you this,' replied Ralph, 'that if I brought her here, as a
matter of business--'

'Ay, that's the word,' interposed Sir Mulberry, with a laugh.
'You're coming to yourself again now.'

'--As a matter of business,' pursued Ralph, speaking slowly and
firmly, as a man who has made up his mind to say no more, 'because I
thought she might make some impression on the silly youth you have
taken in hand and are lending good help to ruin, I knew--knowing
him--that it would be long before he outraged her girl's feelings,
and that unless he offended by mere puppyism and emptiness, he
would, with a little management, respect the sex and conduct even of
his usurer's niece. But if I thought to draw him on more gently by
this device, I did not think of subjecting the girl to the
licentiousness and brutality of so old a hand as you. And now we
understand each other.'

'Especially as there was nothing to be got by it--eh?' sneered Sir

'Exactly so,' said Ralph. He had turned away, and looked over his
shoulder to make this last reply. The eyes of the two worthies met,
with an expression as if each rascal felt that there was no
disguising himself from the other; and Sir Mulberry Hawk shrugged
his shoulders and walked slowly out.

His friend closed the door, and looked restlessly towards the spot
where his niece still remained in the attitude in which he had left
her. She had flung herself heavily upon the couch, and with her
head drooping over the cushion, and her face hidden in her hands,
seemed to be still weeping in an agony of shame and grief.

Ralph would have walked into any poverty-stricken debtor's house,
and pointed him out to a bailiff, though in attendance upon a young
child's death-bed, without the smallest concern, because it would
have been a matter quite in the ordinary course of business, and the
man would have been an offender against his only code of morality.
But, here was a young girl, who had done no wrong save that of
coming into the world alive; who had patiently yielded to all his
wishes; who had tried hard to please him--above all, who didn't owe
him money--and he felt awkward and nervous.

Ralph took a chair at some distance; then, another chair a little
nearer; then, moved a little nearer still; then, nearer again, and
finally sat himself on the same sofa, and laid his hand on Kate's

'Hush, my dear!' he said, as she drew it back, and her sobs burst
out afresh. 'Hush, hush! Don't mind it, now; don't think of it.'

'Oh, for pity's sake, let me go home,' cried Kate. 'Let me leave
this house, and go home.'

'Yes, yes,' said Ralph. 'You shall. But you must dry your eyes
first, and compose yourself. Let me raise your head. There--

'Oh, uncle!' exclaimed Kate, clasping her hands. 'What have I done
--what have I done--that you should subject me to this? If I had
wronged you in thought, or word, or deed, it would have been most
cruel to me, and the memory of one you must have loved in some old
time; but--'

'Only listen to me for a moment,' interrupted Ralph, seriously
alarmed by the violence of her emotions. 'I didn't know it would be
so; it was impossible for me to foresee it. I did all I could.--
Come, let us walk about. You are faint with the closeness of the
room, and the heat of these lamps. You will be better now, if you
make the slightest effort.'

'I will do anything,' replied Kate, 'if you will only send me home.'

'Well, well, I will,' said Ralph; 'but you must get back your own
looks; for those you have, will frighten them, and nobody must know
of this but you and I. Now let us walk the other way. There. You
look better even now.'

With such encouragements as these, Ralph Nickleby walked to and fro,
with his niece leaning on his arm; actually trembling beneath her

In the same manner, when he judged it prudent to allow her to
depart, he supported her downstairs, after adjusting her shawl and
performing such little offices, most probably for the first time in
his life. Across the hall, and down the steps, Ralph led her too;
nor did he withdraw his hand until she was seated in the coach.

As the door of the vehicle was roughly closed, a comb fell from
Kate's hair, close at her uncle's feet; and as he picked it up, and
returned it into her hand, the light from a neighbouring lamp shone
upon her face. The lock of hair that had escaped and curled loosely
over her brow, the traces of tears yet scarcely dry, the flushed
cheek, the look of sorrow, all fired some dormant train of
recollection in the old man's breast; and the face of his dead
brother seemed present before him, with the very look it bore on
some occasion of boyish grief, of which every minutest circumstance
flashed upon his mind, with the distinctness of a scene of

Ralph Nickleby, who was proof against all appeals of blood and
kindred--who was steeled against every tale of sorrow and distress--
staggered while he looked, and went back into his house, as a man
who had seen a spirit from some world beyond the grave.

< Back
Forward >

Index Index

Other Authors Other Authors

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