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Charles Dickens > Nicholas Nickleby > Chapter 39

Nicholas Nickleby

Chapter 39

In which another old Friend encounters Smike, very opportunely and
to some Purpose

The night, fraught with so much bitterness to one poor soul, had
given place to a bright and cloudless summer morning, when a north-
country mail-coach traversed, with cheerful noise, the yet silent
streets of Islington, and, giving brisk note of its approach with
the lively winding of the guard's horn, clattered onward to its
halting-place hard by the Post Office.

The only outside passenger was a burly, honest-looking countryman on
the box, who, with his eyes fixed upon the dome of St Paul's
Cathedral, appeared so wrapt in admiring wonder, as to be quite
insensible to all the bustle of getting out the bags and parcels,
until one of the coach windows being let sharply down, he looked
round, and encountered a pretty female face which was just then
thrust out.

'See there, lass!' bawled the countryman, pointing towards the
object of his admiration. 'There be Paul's Church. 'Ecod, he be a
soizable 'un, he be.'

'Goodness, John! I shouldn't have thought it could have been half
the size. What a monster!'

'Monsther!--Ye're aboot right theer, I reckon, Mrs Browdie,' said
the countryman good-humouredly, as he came slowly down in his huge
top-coat; 'and wa'at dost thee tak yon place to be noo--thot'un
owor the wa'? Ye'd never coom near it 'gin you thried for twolve
moonths. It's na' but a Poast Office! Ho! ho! They need to charge
for dooble-latthers. A Poast Office! Wa'at dost thee think o'
thot? 'Ecod, if thot's on'y a Poast Office, I'd loike to see where
the Lord Mayor o' Lunnun lives.'

So saying, John Browdie--for he it was--opened the coach-door, and
tapping Mrs Browdie, late Miss Price, on the cheek as he looked in,
burst into a boisterous fit of laughter.

'Weel!' said John. 'Dang my bootuns if she bean't asleep agean!'

'She's been asleep all night, and was, all yesterday, except for a
minute or two now and then,' replied John Browdie's choice, 'and I
was very sorry when she woke, for she has been SO cross!'

The subject of these remarks was a slumbering figure, so muffled in
shawl and cloak, that it would have been matter of impossibility to
guess at its sex but for a brown beaver bonnet and green veil which
ornamented the head, and which, having been crushed and flattened,
for two hundred and fifty miles, in that particular angle of the
vehicle from which the lady's snores now proceeded, presented an
appearance sufficiently ludicrous to have moved less risible muscles
than those of John Browdie's ruddy face.

'Hollo!' cried John, twitching one end of the dragged veil. 'Coom,
wakken oop, will 'ee?'

After several burrowings into the old corner, and many exclamations
of impatience and fatigue, the figure struggled into a sitting
posture; and there, under a mass of crumpled beaver, and surrounded
by a semicircle of blue curl-papers, were the delicate features of
Miss Fanny Squeers.

'Oh, 'Tilda!' cried Miss Squeers, 'how you have been kicking of me
through this blessed night!'

'Well, I do like that,' replied her friend, laughing, 'when you have
had nearly the whole coach to yourself.'

'Don't deny it, 'Tilda,' said Miss Squeers, impressively, 'because
you have, and it's no use to go attempting to say you haven't. You
mightn't have known it in your sleep, 'Tilda, but I haven't closed
my eyes for a single wink, and so I THINK I am to be believed.'

With which reply, Miss Squeers adjusted the bonnet and veil, which
nothing but supernatural interference and an utter suspension of
nature's laws could have reduced to any shape or form; and evidently
flattering herself that it looked uncommonly neat, brushed off the
sandwich-crumbs and bits of biscuit which had accumulated in her
lap, and availing herself of John Browdie's proffered arm, descended
from the coach.

'Noo,' said John, when a hackney coach had been called, and the
ladies and the luggage hurried in, 'gang to the Sarah's Head, mun.'

'To the VERE?' cried the coachman.

'Lawk, Mr Browdie!' interrupted Miss Squeers. 'The idea! Saracen's

'Sure-ly,' said John, 'I know'd it was something aboot Sarah's Son's
Head. Dost thou know thot?'

'Oh, ah! I know that,' replied the coachman gruffly, as he banged
the door.

''Tilda, dear, really,' remonstrated Miss Squeers, 'we shall be
taken for I don't know what.'

'Let them tak' us as they foind us,' said John Browdie; 'we dean't
come to Lunnun to do nought but 'joy oursel, do we?'

'I hope not, Mr Browdie,' replied Miss Squeers, looking singularly

'Well, then,' said John, 'it's no matther. I've only been a married
man fower days, 'account of poor old feyther deein, and puttin' it
off. Here be a weddin' party--broide and broide's-maid, and the
groom--if a mun dean't 'joy himsel noo, when ought he, hey? Drat it
all, thot's what I want to know.'

So, in order that he might begin to enjoy himself at once, and lose
no time, Mr Browdie gave his wife a hearty kiss, and succeeded in
wresting another from Miss Squeers, after a maidenly resistance of
scratching and struggling on the part of that young lady, which was
not quite over when they reached the Saracen's Head.

Here, the party straightway retired to rest; the refreshment of
sleep being necessary after so long a journey; and here they met
again about noon, to a substantial breakfast, spread by direction of
Mr John Browdie, in a small private room upstairs commanding an
uninterrupted view of the stables.

To have seen Miss Squeers now, divested of the brown beaver, the
green veil, and the blue curl-papers, and arrayed in all the virgin
splendour of a white frock and spencer, with a white muslin bonnet,
and an imitative damask rose in full bloom on the inside thereof--
her luxuriant crop of hair arranged in curls so tight that it was
impossible they could come out by any accident, and her bonnet-cap
trimmed with little damask roses, which might be supposed to be so
many promising scions of the big rose--to have seen all this, and to
have seen the broad damask belt, matching both the family rose and
the little roses, which encircled her slender waist, and by a happy
ingenuity took off from the shortness of the spencer behind,--to
have beheld all this, and to have taken further into account the
coral bracelets (rather short of beads, and with a very visible
black string) which clasped her wrists, and the coral necklace which
rested on her neck, supporting, outside her frock, a lonely
cornelian heart, typical of her own disengaged affections--to have
contemplated all these mute but expressive appeals to the purest
feelings of our nature, might have thawed the frost of age, and
added new and inextinguishable fuel to the fire of youth.

The waiter was touched. Waiter as he was, he had human passions and
feelings, and he looked very hard at Miss Squeers as he handed the

'Is my pa in, do you know?' asked Miss Squeers with dignity.

'Beg your pardon, miss?'

'My pa,' repeated Miss Squeers; 'is he in?'

'In where, miss?'

'In here--in the house!' replied Miss Squeers. 'My pa--Mr Wackford
Squeers--he's stopping here. Is he at home?'

'I didn't know there was any gen'l'man of that name in the house,
miss' replied the waiter. 'There may be, in the coffee-room.'

MAY BE. Very pretty this, indeed! Here was Miss Squeers, who had
been depending, all the way to London, upon showing her friends how
much at home she would be, and how much respectful notice her name
and connections would excite, told that her father MIGHT be there!
'As if he was a feller!' observed Miss Squeers, with emphatic

'Ye'd betther inquire, mun,' said John Browdie. 'An' hond up
another pigeon-pie, will 'ee? Dang the chap,' muttered John,
looking into the empty dish as the waiter retired; 'does he ca' this
a pie--three yoong pigeons and a troifling matther o' steak, and a
crust so loight that you doant know when it's in your mooth and when
it's gane? I wonder hoo many pies goes to a breakfast!'

After a short interval, which John Browdie employed upon the ham and
a cold round of beef, the waiter returned with another pie, and the
information that Mr Squeers was not stopping in the house, but that
he came there every day and that directly he arrived, he should be
shown upstairs. With this, he retired; and he had not retired two
minutes, when he returned with Mr Squeers and his hopeful son.

'Why, who'd have thought of this?' said Mr Squeers, when he had
saluted the party and received some private family intelligence from
his daughter.

'Who, indeed, pa!' replied that young lady, spitefully. 'But you
see 'Tilda IS married at last.'

'And I stond threat for a soight o' Lunnun, schoolmeasther,' said
John, vigorously attacking the pie.

'One of them things that young men do when they get married,'
returned Squeers; 'and as runs through with their money like nothing
at all! How much better wouldn't it be now, to save it up for the
eddication of any little boys, for instance! They come on you,'
said Mr Squeers in a moralising way, 'before you're aware of it;
mine did upon me.'

'Will 'ee pick a bit?' said John.

'I won't myself,' returned Squeers; 'but if you'll just let little
Wackford tuck into something fat, I'll be obliged to you. Give it
him in his fingers, else the waiter charges it on, and there's lot
of profit on this sort of vittles without that. If you hear the
waiter coming, sir, shove it in your pocket and look out of the
window, d'ye hear?'

'I'm awake, father,' replied the dutiful Wackford.

'Well,' said Squeers, turning to his daughter, 'it's your turn to be
married next. You must make haste.'

'Oh, I'm in no hurry,' said Miss Squeers, very sharply.

'No, Fanny?' cried her old friend with some archness.

'No, 'Tilda,' replied Miss Squeers, shaking her head vehemently. 'I
can wait.'

'So can the young men, it seems, Fanny,' observed Mrs Browdie.

'They an't draw'd into it by ME, 'Tilda,' retorted Miss Squeers.

'No,' returned her friend; 'that's exceedingly true.'

The sarcastic tone of this reply might have provoked a rather
acrimonious retort from Miss Squeers, who, besides being of a
constitutionally vicious temper--aggravated, just now, by travel and
recent jolting--was somewhat irritated by old recollections and the
failure of her own designs upon Mr Browdie; and the acrimonious
retort might have led to a great many other retorts, which might
have led to Heaven knows what, if the subject of conversation had
not been, at that precise moment, accidentally changed by Mr Squeers

'What do you think?' said that gentleman; 'who do you suppose we
have laid hands on, Wackford and me?'

'Pa! not Mr--?' Miss Squeers was unable to finish the sentence, but
Mrs Browdie did it for her, and added, 'Nickleby?'

'No,' said Squeers. 'But next door to him though.'

'You can't mean Smike?' cried Miss Squeers, clapping her hands.

'Yes, I can though,' rejoined her father. 'I've got him, hard and

'Wa'at!' exclaimed John Browdie, pushing away his plate. 'Got that
poor--dom'd scoondrel? Where?'

'Why, in the top back room, at my lodging,' replied Squeers, 'with
him on one side, and the key on the other.'

'At thy loodgin'! Thee'st gotten him at thy loodgin'? Ho! ho! The
schoolmeasther agin all England. Give us thee hond, mun; I'm
darned but I must shak thee by the hond for thot.--Gotten him at thy

'Yes,' replied Squeers, staggering in his chair under the
congratulatory blow on the chest which the stout Yorkshireman dealt
him; 'thankee. Don't do it again. You mean it kindly, I know,
but it hurts rather. Yes, there he is. That's not so bad, is it?'

'Ba'ad!' repeated John Browdie. 'It's eneaf to scare a mun to hear
tell on.'

'I thought it would surprise you a bit,' said Squeers, rubbing his
hands. 'It was pretty neatly done, and pretty quick too.'

'Hoo wor it?' inquired John, sitting down close to him. 'Tell us
all aboot it, mun; coom, quick!'

Although he could not keep pace with John Browdie's impatience, Mr
Squeers related the lucky chance by which Smike had fallen into his
hands, as quickly as he could, and, except when he was interrupted
by the admiring remarks of his auditors, paused not in the recital
until he had brought it to an end.

'For fear he should give me the slip, by any chance,' observed
Squeers, when he had finished, looking very cunning, 'I've taken
three outsides for tomorrow morning--for Wackford and him and me--
and have arranged to leave the accounts and the new boys to the
agent, don't you see? So it's very lucky you come today, or you'd
have missed us; and as it is, unless you could come and tea with me
tonight, we shan't see anything more of you before we go away.'

'Dean't say anoother wurd,' returned the Yorkshireman, shaking him
by the hand. 'We'd coom, if it was twonty mile.'

'No, would you though?' returned Mr Squeers, who had not expected
quite such a ready acceptance of his invitation, or he would have
considered twice before he gave it.

John Browdie's only reply was another squeeze of the hand, and an
assurance that they would not begin to see London till tomorrow, so
that they might be at Mr Snawley's at six o'clock without fail; and
after some further conversation, Mr Squeers and his son departed.

During the remainder of the day, Mr Browdie was in a very odd and
excitable state; bursting occasionally into an explosion of
laughter, and then taking up his hat and running into the coach-yard
to have it out by himself. He was very restless too, constantly
walking in and out, and snapping his fingers, and dancing scraps of
uncouth country dances, and, in short, conducting himself in such a
very extraordinary manner, that Miss Squeers opined he was going
mad, and, begging her dear 'Tilda not to distress herself,
communicated her suspicions in so many words. Mrs Browdie, however,
without discovering any great alarm, observed that she had seen him
so once before, and that although he was almost sure to be ill after
it, it would not be anything very serious, and therefore he was
better left alone.

The result proved her to be perfectly correct for, while they were
all sitting in Mr Snawley's parlour that night, and just as it was
beginning to get dusk, John Browdie was taken so ill, and seized
with such an alarming dizziness in the head, that the whole company
were thrown into the utmost consternation. His good lady, indeed,
was the only person present, who retained presence of mind enough to
observe that if he were allowed to lie down on Mr Squeers's bed for
an hour or so, and left entirely to himself, he would be sure to
recover again almost as quickly as he had been taken ill. Nobody
could refuse to try the effect of so reasonable a proposal, before
sending for a surgeon. Accordingly, John was supported upstairs,
with great difficulty; being a monstrous weight, and regularly
tumbling down two steps every time they hoisted him up three; and,
being laid on the bed, was left in charge of his wife, who, after a
short interval, reappeared in the parlour, with the gratifying
intelligence that he had fallen fast asleep.

Now, the fact was, that at that particular moment, John Browdie was
sitting on the bed with the reddest face ever seen, cramming the
corner of the pillow into his mouth, to prevent his roaring out loud
with laughter. He had no sooner succeeded in suppressing this
emotion, than he slipped off his shoes, and creeping to the
adjoining room where the prisoner was confined, turned the key,
which was on the outside, and darting in, covered Smike's mouth with
his huge hand before he could utter a sound.

'Ods-bobs, dost thee not know me, mun?' whispered the Yorkshireman
to the bewildered lad. 'Browdie. Chap as met thee efther
schoolmeasther was banged?'

'Yes, yes,' cried Smike. 'Oh! help me.'

'Help thee!' replied John, stopping his mouth again, the instant he
had said this much. 'Thee didn't need help, if thee warn't as silly
yoongster as ever draw'd breath. Wa'at did 'ee come here for,

'He brought me; oh! he brought me,' cried Smike.

'Brout thee!' replied John. 'Why didn't 'ee punch his head, or lay
theeself doon and kick, and squeal out for the pollis? I'd ha'
licked a doozen such as him when I was yoong as thee. But thee
be'est a poor broken-doon chap,' said John, sadly, 'and God forgi'
me for bragging ower yan o' his weakest creeturs!'

Smike opened his mouth to speak, but John Browdie stopped him.

'Stan' still,' said the Yorkshireman, 'and doant'ee speak a morsel
o' talk till I tell'ee.'

With this caution, John Browdie shook his head significantly, and
drawing a screwdriver from his pocket, took off the box of the lock
in a very deliberate and workmanlike manner, and laid it, together
with the implement, on the floor.

'See thot?' said John 'Thot be thy doin'. Noo, coot awa'!'

Smike looked vacantly at him, as if unable to comprehend his

'I say, coot awa',' repeated John, hastily. 'Dost thee know where
thee livest? Thee dost? Weel. Are yon thy clothes, or

'Mine,' replied Smike, as the Yorkshireman hurried him to the
adjoining room, and pointed out a pair of shoes and a coat which
were lying on a chair.

'On wi' 'em,' said John, forcing the wrong arm into the wrong
sleeve, and winding the tails of the coat round the fugitive's neck.
'Noo, foller me, and when thee get'st ootside door, turn to the
right, and they wean't see thee pass.'

'But--but--he'll hear me shut the door,' replied Smike, trembling
from head to foot.

'Then dean't shut it at all,' retorted John Browdie. 'Dang it, thee
bean't afeard o' schoolmeasther's takkin cold, I hope?'

'N-no,' said Smike, his teeth chattering in his head. 'But he
brought me back before, and will again. He will, he will indeed.'

'He wull, he wull!' replied John impatiently. 'He wean't, he
wean't. Look'ee! I wont to do this neighbourly loike, and let them
think thee's gotten awa' o' theeself, but if he cooms oot o' thot
parlour awhiles theer't clearing off, he mun' have mercy on his oun
boans, for I wean't. If he foinds it oot, soon efther, I'll put 'un
on a wrong scent, I warrant 'ee. But if thee keep'st a good hart,
thee'lt be at whoam afore they know thee'st gotten off. Coom!'

Smike, who comprehended just enough of this to know it was intended
as encouragement, prepared to follow with tottering steps, when John
whispered in his ear.

'Thee'lt just tell yoong Measther that I'm sploiced to 'Tilly Price,
and to be heerd on at the Saracen by latther, and that I bean't
jealous of 'un--dang it, I'm loike to boost when I think o' that
neight! 'Cod, I think I see 'un now, a powderin' awa' at the thin
bread an' butther!'

It was rather a ticklish recollection for John just then, for he was
within an ace of breaking out into a loud guffaw. Restraining
himself, however, just in time, by a great effort, he glided
downstairs, hauling Smike behind him; and placing himself close to
the parlour door, to confront the first person that might come out,
signed to him to make off.

Having got so far, Smike needed no second bidding. Opening the
house-door gently, and casting a look of mingled gratitude and
terror at his deliverer, he took the direction which had been
indicated to him, and sped away like the wind.

The Yorkshireman remained on his post for a few minutes, but,
finding that there was no pause in the conversation inside, crept
back again unheard, and stood, listening over the stair-rail, for a
full hour. Everything remaining perfectly quiet, he got into Mr
Squeers's bed, once more, and drawing the clothes over his head,
laughed till he was nearly smothered.

If there could only have been somebody by, to see how the bedclothes
shook, and to see the Yorkshireman's great red face and round head
appear above the sheets, every now and then, like some jovial
monster coming to the surface to breathe, and once more dive down
convulsed with the laughter which came bursting forth afresh--that
somebody would have been scarcely less amused than John Browdie

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