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Charles Dickens > Nicholas Nickleby > Chapter 38

Nicholas Nickleby

Chapter 38

Comprises certain Particulars arising out of a Visit of
Condolence, which may prove important hereafter. Smike
unexpectedly encounters a very old Friend, who invites him to his
House, and will take no Denial

Quite unconscious of the demonstrations of their amorous
neighbour, or their effects upon the susceptible bosom of her
mama, Kate Nickleby had, by this time, begun to enjoy a settled
feeling of tranquillity and happiness, to which, even in
occasional and transitory glimpses, she had long been a stranger.
Living under the same roof with the beloved brother from whom she
had been so suddenly and hardly separated: with a mind at ease,
and free from any persecutions which could call a blush into her
cheek, or a pang into her heart, she seemed to have passed into a
new state of being. Her former cheerfulness was restored, her
step regained its elasticity and lightness, the colour which had
forsaken her cheek visited it once again, and Kate Nickleby looked
more beautiful than ever.

Such was the result to which Miss La Creevy's ruminations and
observations led her, when the cottage had been, as she
emphatically said, 'thoroughly got to rights, from the chimney-
pots to the street-door scraper,' and the busy little woman had at
length a moment's time to think about its inmates.

'Which I declare I haven't had since I first came down here,' said
Miss La Creevy; 'for I have thought of nothing but hammers, nails,
screwdrivers, and gimlets, morning, noon, and night.'

'You never bestowed one thought upon yourself, I believe,'
returned Kate, smiling.

'Upon my word, my dear, when there are so many pleasanter things
to think of, I should be a goose if I did,' said Miss La Creevy.
'By-the-bye, I HAVE thought of somebody too. Do you know, that I
observe a great change in one of this family--a very extraordinary

'In whom?' asked Kate, anxiously. 'Not in--'

'Not in your brother, my dear,' returned Miss La Creevy,
anticipating the close of the sentence, 'for he is always the same
affectionate good-natured clever creature, with a spice of the--I
won't say who--in him when there's any occasion, that he was when
I first knew you. No. Smike, as he WILL be called, poor fellow!
for he won't hear of a MR before his name, is greatly altered,
even in this short time.'

'How?' asked Kate. 'Not in health?'

'N--n--o; perhaps not in health exactly,' said Miss La Creevy,
pausing to consider, 'although he is a worn and feeble creature,
and has that in his face which it would wring my heart to see in
yours. No; not in health.'

'How then?'

'I scarcely know,' said the miniature painter. 'But I have
watched him, and he has brought the tears into my eyes many times.
It is not a very difficult matter to do that, certainly, for I am
easily melted; still I think these came with good cause and
reason. I am sure that since he has been here, he has grown, from
some strong cause, more conscious of his weak intellect. He feels
it more. It gives him greater pain to know that he wanders
sometimes, and cannot understand very simple things. I have
watched him when you have not been by, my dear, sit brooding by
himself, with such a look of pain as I could scarcely bear to see,
and then get up and leave the room: so sorrowfully, and in such
dejection, that I cannot tell you how it has hurt me. Not three
weeks ago, he was a light-hearted busy creature, overjoyed to be
in a bustle, and as happy as the day was long. Now, he is another
being--the same willing, harmless, faithful, loving creature--but
the same in nothing else.'

'Surely this will all pass off,' said Kate. 'Poor fellow!'

'I hope,' returned her little friend, with a gravity very unusual
in her, 'it may. I hope, for the sake of that poor lad, it may.
However,' said Miss La Creevy, relapsing into the cheerful,
chattering tone, which was habitual to her, 'I have said my say,
and a very long say it is, and a very wrong say too, I shouldn't
wonder at all. I shall cheer him up tonight, at all events, for
if he is to be my squire all the way to the Strand, I shall talk
on, and on, and on, and never leave off, till I have roused him
into a laugh at something. So the sooner he goes, the better for
him, and the sooner I go, the better for me, I am sure, or else I
shall have my maid gallivanting with somebody who may rob the
house--though what there is to take away, besides tables and
chairs, I don't know, except the miniatures: and he is a clever
thief who can dispose of them to any great advantage, for I can't,
I know, and that's the honest truth.'

So saying, little Miss La Creevy hid her face in a very flat
bonnet, and herself in a very big shawl; and fixing herself
tightly into the latter, by means of a large pin, declared that
the omnibus might come as soon as it pleased, for she was quite

But there was still Mrs Nickleby to take leave of; and long before
that good lady had concluded some reminiscences bearing upon, and
appropriate to, the occasion, the omnibus arrived. This put Miss
La Creevy in a great bustle, in consequence whereof, as she
secretly rewarded the servant girl with eighteen-pence behind the
street-door, she pulled out of her reticule ten-pennyworth of
halfpence, which rolled into all possible corners of the passage,
and occupied some considerable time in the picking up. This
ceremony had, of course, to be succeeded by a second kissing of
Kate and Mrs Nickleby, and a gathering together of the little
basket and the brown-paper parcel, during which proceedings, 'the
omnibus,' as Miss La Creevy protested, 'swore so dreadfully, that
it was quite awful to hear it.' At length and at last, it made a
feint of going away, and then Miss La Creevy darted out, and
darted in, apologising with great volubility to all the
passengers, and declaring that she wouldn't purposely have kept
them waiting on any account whatever. While she was looking about
for a convenient seat, the conductor pushed Smike in, and cried
that it was all right--though it wasn't--and away went the huge
vehicle, with the noise of half-a-dozen brewers' drays at least.

Leaving it to pursue its journey at the pleasure of the conductor
aforementioned, who lounged gracefully on his little shelf
behind, smoking an odoriferous cigar; and leaving it to stop, or
go on, or gallop, or crawl, as that gentleman deemed expedient and
advisable; this narrative may embrace the opportunity of
ascertaining the condition of Sir Mulberry Hawk, and to what
extent he had, by this time, recovered from the injuries
consequent on being flung violently from his cabriolet, under the
circumstances already detailed.

With a shattered limb, a body severely bruised, a face disfigured
by half-healed scars, and pallid from the exhaustion of recent
pain and fever, Sir Mulberry Hawk lay stretched upon his back, on
the couch to which he was doomed to be a prisoner for some weeks
yet to come. Mr Pyke and Mr Pluck sat drinking hard in the next
room, now and then varying the monotonous murmurs of their
conversation with a half-smothered laugh, while the young lord--
the only member of the party who was not thoroughly irredeemable,
and who really had a kind heart--sat beside his Mentor, with a
cigar in his mouth, and read to him, by the light of a lamp, such
scraps of intelligence from a paper of the day, as were most
likely to yield him interest or amusement.

'Curse those hounds!' said the invalid, turning his head
impatiently towards the adjoining room; 'will nothing stop their
infernal throats?'

Messrs Pyke and Pluck heard the exclamation, and stopped
immediately: winking to each other as they did so, and filling
their glasses to the brim, as some recompense for the deprivation
of speech.

'Damn!' muttered the sick man between his teeth, and writhing
impatiently in his bed. 'Isn't this mattress hard enough, and the
room dull enough, and pain bad enough, but THEY must torture me?
What's the time?'

'Half-past eight,' replied his friend.

'Here, draw the table nearer, and let us have the cards again,'
said Sir Mulberry. 'More piquet. Come.'

It was curious to see how eagerly the sick man, debarred from any
change of position save the mere turning of his head from side to
side, watched every motion of his friend in the progress of the
game; and with what eagerness and interest he played, and yet how
warily and coolly. His address and skill were more than twenty
times a match for his adversary, who could make little head
against them, even when fortune favoured him with good cards,
which was not often the case. Sir Mulberry won every game; and
when his companion threw down the cards, and refused to play any
longer, thrust forth his wasted arm and caught up the stakes with
a boastful oath, and the same hoarse laugh, though considerably
lowered in tone, that had resounded in Ralph Nickleby's dining-
room, months before.

While he was thus occupied, his man appeared, to announce that Mr
Ralph Nickleby was below, and wished to know how he was, tonight.

'Better,' said Sir Mulberry, impatiently.

'Mr Nickleby wishes to know, sir--'

'I tell you, better,' replied Sir Mulberry, striking his hand upon
the table.

The man hesitated for a moment or two, and then said that Mr
Nickleby had requested permission to see Sir Mulberry Hawk, if it
was not inconvenient.

'It IS inconvenient. I can't see him. I can't see anybody,' said
his master, more violently than before. 'You know that, you

'I am very sorry, sir,' returned the man. 'But Mr Nickleby
pressed so much, sir--'

The fact was, that Ralph Nickleby had bribed the man, who, being
anxious to earn his money with a view to future favours, held the
door in his hand, and ventured to linger still.

'Did he say whether he had any business to speak about?' inquired
Sir Mulberry, after a little impatient consideration.

'No, sir. He said he wished to see you, sir. Particularly, Mr
Nickleby said, sir.'

'Tell him to come up. Here,' cried Sir Mulberry, calling the man
back, as he passed his hand over his disfigured face, 'move that
lamp, and put it on the stand behind me. Wheel that table away,
and place a chair there--further off. Leave it so.'

The man obeyed these directions as if he quite comprehended the
motive with which they were dictated, and left the room. Lord
Frederick Verisopht, remarking that he would look in presently,
strolled into the adjoining apartment, and closed the folding door
behind him.

Then was heard a subdued footstep on the stairs; and Ralph
Nickleby, hat in hand, crept softly into the room, with his body
bent forward as if in profound respect, and his eyes fixed upon
the face of his worthy client.

'Well, Nickleby,' said Sir Mulberry, motioning him to the chair by
the couch side, and waving his hand in assumed carelessness, 'I
have had a bad accident, you see.'

'I see,' rejoined Ralph, with the same steady gaze. 'Bad, indeed!
I should not have known you, Sir Mulberry. Dear, dear! This IS

Ralph's manner was one of profound humility and respect; and the
low tone of voice was that, which the gentlest consideration for a
sick man would have taught a visitor to assume. But the
expression of his face, Sir Mulberry's being averted, was in
extraordinary contrast; and as he stood, in his usual attitude,
calmly looking on the prostrate form before him, all that part of
his features which was not cast into shadow by his protruding and
contracted brows, bore the impress of a sarcastic smile.

'Sit down,' said Sir Mulberry, turning towards him, as though by a
violent effort. 'Am I a sight, that you stand gazing there?'

As he turned his face, Ralph recoiled a step or two, and making as
though he were irresistibly impelled to express astonishment, but
was determined not to do so, sat down with well-acted confusion.

'I have inquired at the door, Sir Mulberry, every day,' said
Ralph, 'twice a day, indeed, at first--and tonight, presuming upon
old acquaintance, and past transactions by which we have mutually
benefited in some degree, I could not resist soliciting admission
to your chamber. Have you--have you suffered much?' said Ralph,
bending forward, and allowing the same harsh smile to gather upon
his face, as the other closed his eyes.

'More than enough to please me, and less than enough to please
some broken-down hacks that you and I know of, and who lay their
ruin between us, I dare say,' returned Sir Mulberry, tossing his
arm restlessly upon the coverlet.

Ralph shrugged his shoulders in deprecation of the intense
irritation with which this had been said; for there was an
aggravating, cold distinctness in his speech and manner which so
grated on the sick man that he could scarcely endure it.

'And what is it in these "past transactions," that brought you
here tonight?' asked Sir Mulberry.

'Nothing,' replied Ralph. 'There are some bills of my lord's
which need renewal; but let them be till you are well. I--I--
came,' said Ralph, speaking more slowly, and with harsher
emphasis, 'I came to say how grieved I am that any relative of
mine, although disowned by me, should have inflicted such
punishment on you as--'

'Punishment!' interposed Sir Mulberry.

'I know it has been a severe one,' said Ralph, wilfully mistaking
the meaning of the interruption, 'and that has made me the more
anxious to tell you that I disown this vagabond--that I
acknowledge him as no kin of mine--and that I leave him to take
his deserts from you, and every man besides. You may wring his
neck if you please. I shall not interfere.'

'This story that they tell me here, has got abroad then, has it?'
asked Sir Mulberry, clenching his hands and teeth.

'Noised in all directions,' replied Ralph. 'Every club and
gaming-room has rung with it. There has been a good song made
about it, as I am told,' said Ralph, looking eagerly at his
questioner. 'I have not heard it myself, not being in the way of
such things, but I have been told it's even printed--for private
circulation--but that's all over town, of course.'

'It's a lie!' said Sir Mulberry; 'I tell you it's all a lie. The
mare took fright.'

'They SAY he frightened her,' observed Ralph, in the same unmoved
and quiet manner. 'Some say he frightened you, but THAT'S a lie,
I know. I have said that boldly--oh, a score of times! I am a
peaceable man, but I can't hear folks tell that of you. No, no.'

When Sir Mulberry found coherent words to utter, Ralph bent
forward with his hand to his ear, and a face as calm as if its
every line of sternness had been cast in iron.

'When I am off this cursed bed,' said the invalid, actually
striking at his broken leg in the ecstasy of his passion, 'I'll
have such revenge as never man had yet. By God, I will. Accident
favouring him, he has marked me for a week or two, but I'll put a
mark on him that he shall carry to his grave. I'll slit his nose
and ears, flog him, maim him for life. I'll do more than that;
I'll drag that pattern of chastity, that pink of prudery, the
delicate sister, through--'

It might have been that even Ralph's cold blood tingled in his
cheeks at that moment. It might have been that Sir Mulberry
remembered, that, knave and usurer as he was, he must, in some
early time of infancy, have twined his arm about her father's
neck. He stopped, and menacing with his hand, confirmed the
unuttered threat with a tremendous oath.

'It is a galling thing,' said Ralph, after a short term of
silence, during which he had eyed the sufferer keenly, 'to think
that the man about town, the rake, the ROUE, the rook of twenty
seasons should be brought to this pass by a mere boy!'

Sir Mulberry darted a wrathful look at him, but Ralph's eyes were
bent upon the ground, and his face wore no other expression than
one of thoughtfulness.

'A raw, slight stripling,' continued Ralph, 'against a man whose
very weight might crush him; to say nothing of his skill in--I am
right, I think,' said Ralph, raising his eyes, 'you WERE a patron
of the ring once, were you not?'

The sick man made an impatient gesture, which Ralph chose to
consider as one of acquiescence.

'Ha!' he said, 'I thought so. That was before I knew you, but I
was pretty sure I couldn't be mistaken. He is light and active, I
suppose. But those were slight advantages compared with yours.
Luck, luck! These hang-dog outcasts have it.'

'He'll need the most he has, when I am well again,' said Sir
Mulberry Hawk, 'let him fly where he will.'

'Oh!' returned Ralph quickly, 'he doesn't dream of that. He is
here, good sir, waiting your pleasure, here in London, walking the
streets at noonday; carrying it off jauntily; looking for you, I
swear,' said Ralph, his face darkening, and his own hatred getting
the upper hand of him, for the first time, as this gay picture of
Nicholas presented itself; 'if we were only citizens of a country
where it could be safely done, I'd give good money to have him
stabbed to the heart and rolled into the kennel for the dogs to

As Ralph, somewhat to the surprise of his old client, vented this
little piece of sound family feeling, and took up his hat
preparatory to departing, Lord Frederick Verisopht looked in.

'Why what in the deyvle's name, Hawk, have you and Nickleby been
talking about?' said the young man. 'I neyver heard such an
insufferable riot. Croak, croak, croak. Bow, wow, wow. What has
it all been about?'

'Sir Mulberry has been angry, my Lord,' said Ralph, looking
towards the couch.

'Not about money, I hope? Nothing has gone wrong in business, has
it, Nickleby?'

'No, my Lord, no,' returned Ralph. 'On that point we always
agree. Sir Mulberry has been calling to mind the cause of--'

There was neither necessity nor opportunity for Ralph to proceed;
for Sir Mulberry took up the theme, and vented his threats and
oaths against Nicholas, almost as ferociously as before.

Ralph, who was no common observer, was surprised to see that as
this tirade proceeded, the manner of Lord Frederick Verisopht,
who at the commencement had been twirling his whiskers with a most
dandified and listless air, underwent a complete alteration. He
was still more surprised when, Sir Mulberry ceasing to speak, the
young lord angrily, and almost unaffectedly, requested never to
have the subject renewed in his presence.

'Mind that, Hawk!' he added, with unusual energy. 'I never will
be a party to, or permit, if I can help it, a cowardly attack upon
this young fellow.'

'Cowardly!' interrupted his friend.

'Ye-es,' said the other, turning full upon him. 'If you had told
him who you were; if you had given him your card, and found out,
afterwards, that his station or character prevented your fighting
him, it would have been bad enough then; upon my soul it would
have been bad enough then. As it is, you did wrong. I did wrong
too, not to interfere, and I am sorry for it. What happened to
you afterwards, was as much the consequence of accident as design,
and more your fault than his; and it shall not, with my knowledge,
be cruelly visited upon him, it shall not indeed.'

With this emphatic repetition of his concluding words, the young
lord turned upon his heel; but before he had reached the adjoining
room he turned back again, and said, with even greater vehemence
than he had displayed before,

'I do believe, now; upon my honour I do believe, that the sister
is as virtuous and modest a young lady as she is a handsome one;
and of the brother, I say this, that he acted as her brother
should, and in a manly and spirited manner. And I only wish, with
all my heart and soul, that any one of us came out of this matter
half as well as he does.'

So saying, Lord Frederick Verisopht walked out of the room,
leaving Ralph Nickleby and Sir Mulberry in most unpleasant

'Is this your pupil?' asked Ralph, softly, 'or has he come fresh
from some country parson?'

'Green fools take these fits sometimes,' replied Sir Mulberry
Hawk, biting his lip, and pointing to the door. 'Leave him to

Ralph exchanged a familiar look with his old acquaintance; for
they had suddenly grown confidential again in this alarming
surprise; and took his way home, thoughtfully and slowly.

While these things were being said and done, and long before they
were concluded, the omnibus had disgorged Miss La Creevy and her
escort, and they had arrived at her own door. Now, the good-
nature of the little miniature painter would by no means allow of
Smike's walking back again, until he had been previously refreshed
with just a sip of something comfortable and a mixed biscuit or
so; and Smike, entertaining no objection either to the sip of
something comfortable, or the mixed biscuit, but, considering on
the contrary that they would be a very pleasant preparation for a
walk to Bow, it fell out that he delayed much longer than he
originally intended, and that it was some half-hour after dusk
when he set forth on his journey home.

There was no likelihood of his losing his way, for it lay quite
straight before him, and he had walked into town with Nicholas,
and back alone, almost every day. So, Miss La Creevy and he shook
hands with mutual confidence, and, being charged with more kind
remembrances to Mrs and Miss Nickleby, Smike started off.

At the foot of Ludgate Hill, he turned a little out of the road to
satisfy his curiosity by having a look at Newgate. After staring
up at the sombre walls, from the opposite side of the way, with
great care and dread for some minutes, he turned back again into
the old track, and walked briskly through the city; stopping now
and then to gaze in at the window of some particularly
attractive shop, then running for a little way, then stopping
again, and so on, as any other country lad might do.

He had been gazing for a long time through a jeweller's window,
wishing he could take some of the beautiful trinkets home as a
present, and imagining what delight they would afford if he could,
when the clocks struck three-quarters past eight; roused by the
sound, he hurried on at a very quick pace, and was crossing the
corner of a by-street when he felt himself violently brought to,
with a jerk so sudden that he was obliged to cling to a lamp-post
to save himself from falling. At the same moment, a small boy
clung tight round his leg, and a shrill cry of 'Here he is,
father! Hooray!' vibrated in his ears.

Smike knew that voice too well. He cast his despairing eyes
downward towards the form from which it had proceeded, and,
shuddering from head to foot, looked round. Mr Squeers had
hooked him in the coat collar with the handle of his umbrella,
and was hanging on at the other end with all his might and main.
The cry of triumph proceeded from Master Wackford, who, regardless
of all his kicks and struggles, clung to him with the tenacity of
a bull-dog!

One glance showed him this; and in that one glance the terrified
creature became utterly powerless and unable to utter a sound.

'Here's a go!' cried Mr Squeers, gradually coming hand-over-hand
down the umbrella, and only unhooking it when he had got tight
hold of the victim's collar. 'Here's a delicious go! Wackford, my
boy, call up one of them coaches.'

'A coach, father!' cried little Wackford.

'Yes, a coach, sir,' replied Squeers, feasting his eyes upon the
countenance of Smike. 'Damn the expense. Let's have him in a

'What's he been a doing of?' asked a labourer with a hod of
bricks, against whom and a fellow-labourer Mr Squeers had backed,
on the first jerk of the umbrella.

'Everything!' replied Mr Squeers, looking fixedly at his old pupil
in a sort of rapturous trance. 'Everything--running away, sir--
joining in bloodthirsty attacks upon his master--there's nothing
that's bad that he hasn't done. Oh, what a delicious go is this
here, good Lord!'

The man looked from Squeers to Smike; but such mental faculties as
the poor fellow possessed, had utterly deserted him. The coach
came up; Master Wackford entered; Squeers pushed in his prize, and
following close at his heels, pulled up the glasses. The coachman
mounted his box and drove slowly off, leaving the two bricklayers,
and an old apple-woman, and a town-made little boy returning from
an evening school, who had been the only witnesses of the scene,
to meditate upon it at their leisure.

Mr Squeers sat himself down on the opposite seat to the
unfortunate Smike, and, planting his hands firmly on his knees,
looked at him for some five minutes, when, seeming to recover from
his trance, he uttered a loud laugh, and slapped his old pupil's
face several times--taking the right and left sides alternately.

'It isn't a dream!' said Squeers. 'That's real flesh and blood! I
know the feel of it!' and being quite assured of his good fortune
by these experiments, Mr Squeers administered a few boxes on the
ear, lest the entertainments should seem to partake of sameness,
and laughed louder and longer at every one.

'Your mother will be fit to jump out of her skin, my boy, when she
hears of this,' said Squeers to his son.

'Oh, won't she though, father?' replied Master Wackford.

'To think,' said Squeers, 'that you and me should be turning out
of a street, and come upon him at the very nick; and that I should
have him tight, at only one cast of the umbrella, as if I had
hooked him with a grappling-iron! Ha, ha!'

'Didn't I catch hold of his leg, neither, father?' said little

'You did; like a good 'un, my boy,' said Mr Squeers, patting his
son's head, 'and you shall have the best button-over jacket and
waistcoat that the next new boy brings down, as a reward of merit.
Mind that. You always keep on in the same path, and do them
things that you see your father do, and when you die you'll go
right slap to Heaven and no questions asked.'

Improving the occasion in these words, Mr Squeers patted his son's
head again, and then patted Smike's--but harder; and inquired in a
bantering tone how he found himself by this time.

'I must go home,' replied Smike, looking wildly round.

'To be sure you must. You're about right there,' replied Mr
Squeers. 'You'll go home very soon, you will. You'll find
yourself at the peaceful village of Dotheboys, in Yorkshire, in
something under a week's time, my young friend; and the next time
you get away from there, I give you leave to keep away. Where's
the clothes you run off in, you ungrateful robber?' said Mr
Squeers, in a severe voice.

Smike glanced at the neat attire which the care of Nicholas had
provided for him; and wrung his hands.

'Do you know that I could hang you up, outside of the Old Bailey,
for making away with them articles of property?' said Squeers. 'Do
you know that it's a hanging matter--and I an't quite certain
whether it an't an anatomy one besides--to walk off with up'ards
of the valley of five pound from a dwelling-house? Eh? Do you
know that? What do you suppose was the worth of them clothes you
had? Do you know that that Wellington boot you wore, cost eight-
and-twenty shillings when it was a pair, and the shoe seven-and-
six? But you came to the right shop for mercy when you came to
me, and thank your stars that it IS me as has got to serve you
with the article.'

Anybody not in Mr Squeers's confidence would have supposed that he
was quite out of the article in question, instead of having a
large stock on hand ready for all comers; nor would the opinion of
sceptical persons have undergone much alteration when he followed
up the remark by poking Smike in the chest with the ferrule of his
umbrella, and dealing a smart shower of blows, with the ribs of
the same instrument, upon his head and shoulders.

'I never threshed a boy in a hackney coach before,' said Mr
Squeers, when he stopped to rest. 'There's inconveniency in it,
but the novelty gives it a sort of relish, too!'

Poor Smike! He warded off the blows, as well as he could, and now
shrunk into a corner of the coach, with his head resting on his
hands, and his elbows on his knees; he was stunned and stupefied,
and had no more idea that any act of his, would enable him to
escape from the all-powerful Squeers, now that he had no friend to
speak to or to advise with, than he had had in all the weary years
of his Yorkshire life which preceded the arrival of Nicholas.

The journey seemed endless; street after street was entered and
left behind; and still they went jolting on. At last Mr Squeers
began to thrust his head out of the widow every half-minute, and
to bawl a variety of directions to the coachman; and after
passing, with some difficulty, through several mean streets which
the appearance of the houses and the bad state of the road denoted
to have been recently built, Mr Squeers suddenly tugged at the
check string with all his might, and cried, 'Stop!'

'What are you pulling a man's arm off for?' said the coachman
looking angrily down.

'That's the house,' replied Squeers. 'The second of them four
little houses, one story high, with the green shutters. There's
brass plate on the door, with the name of Snawley.'

'Couldn't you say that without wrenching a man's limbs off his
body?' inquired the coachman.

'No!' bawled Mr Squeers. 'Say another word, and I'll summons you
for having a broken winder. Stop!'

Obedient to this direction, the coach stopped at Mr Snawley's
door. Mr Snawley may be remembered as the sleek and sanctified
gentleman who confided two sons (in law) to the parental care of
Mr Squeers, as narrated in the fourth chapter of this history.
Mr Snawley's house was on the extreme borders of some new
settlements adjoining Somers Town, and Mr Squeers had taken
lodgings therein for a short time, as his stay was longer than
usual, and the Saracen, having experience of Master Wackford's
appetite, had declined to receive him on any other terms than as a
full-grown customer.

'Here we are!' said Squeers, hurrying Smike into the little
parlour, where Mr Snawley and his wife were taking a lobster
supper. 'Here's the vagrant--the felon--the rebel--the monster
of unthankfulness.'

'What! The boy that run away!' cried Snawley, resting his knife
and fork upright on the table, and opening his eyes to their full

'The very boy', said Squeers, putting his fist close to Smike's
nose, and drawing it away again, and repeating the process several
times, with a vicious aspect. 'If there wasn't a lady present, I'd
fetch him such a--: never mind, I'll owe it him.'

And here Mr Squeers related how, and in what manner, and when and
where, he had picked up the runaway.

'It's clear that there has been a Providence in it, sir,' said Mr
Snawley, casting down his eyes with an air of humility, and
elevating his fork, with a bit of lobster on the top of it,
towards the ceiling.

'Providence is against him, no doubt,' replied Mr Squeers,
scratching his nose. 'Of course; that was to be expected. Anybody
might have known that.'

'Hard-heartedness and evil-doing will never prosper, sir,' said Mr

'Never was such a thing known,' rejoined Squeers, taking a little
roll of notes from his pocket-book, to see that they were all

'I have been, Mr Snawley,' said Mr Squeers, when he had satisfied
himself upon this point, 'I have been that chap's benefactor,
feeder, teacher, and clother. I have been that chap's classical,
commercial, mathematical, philosophical, and trigonomical friend.
My son--my only son, Wackford--has been his brother; Mrs Squeers
has been his mother, grandmother, aunt,--ah! and I may say uncle
too, all in one. She never cottoned to anybody, except them two
engaging and delightful boys of yours, as she cottoned to this
chap. What's my return? What's come of my milk of human kindness?
It turns into curds and whey when I look at him.'

'Well it may, sir,' said Mrs Snawley. 'Oh! Well it may, sir.'

'Where has he been all this time?' inquired Snawley. 'Has he been
living with--?'

'Ah, sir!' interposed Squeers, confronting him again. 'Have you
been a living with that there devilish Nickleby, sir?'

But no threats or cuffs could elicit from Smike one word of reply
to this question; for he had internally resolved that he would
rather perish in the wretched prison to which he was again about
to be consigned, than utter one syllable which could involve his
first and true friend. He had already called to mind the strict
injunctions of secrecy as to his past life, which Nicholas had
laid upon him when they travelled from Yorkshire; and a confused
and perplexed idea that his benefactor might have committed some
terrible crime in bringing him away, which would render him liable
to heavy punishment if detected, had contributed, in some degree,
to reduce him to his present state of apathy and terror.

Such were the thoughts--if to visions so imperfect and undefined
as those which wandered through his enfeebled brain, the term can
be applied--which were present to the mind of Smike, and rendered
him deaf alike to intimidation and persuasion. Finding every
effort useless, Mr Squeers conducted him to a little back room
up-stairs, where he was to pass the night; and, taking the
precaution of removing his shoes, and coat and waistcoat, and also
of locking the door on the outside, lest he should muster up
sufficient energy to make an attempt at escape, that worthy
gentleman left him to his meditations.

What those meditations were, and how the poor creature's heart
sunk within him when he thought--when did he, for a moment, cease
to think?--of his late home, and the dear friends and familiar
faces with which it was associated, cannot be told. To prepare the
mind for such a heavy sleep, its growth must be stopped by rigour
and cruelty in childhood; there must be years of misery and
suffering, lightened by no ray of hope; the chords of the heart,
which beat a quick response to the voice of gentleness and
affection, must have rusted and broken in their secret places, and
bear the lingering echo of no old word of love or kindness.
Gloomy, indeed, must have been the short day, and dull the long,
long twilight, preceding such a night of intellect as his.

There were voices which would have roused him, even then; but
their welcome tones could not penetrate there; and he crept to bed
the same listless, hopeless, blighted creature, that Nicholas had
first found him at the Yorkshire school.

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