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Chronicles the further Proceedings of the Nickleby Family, and the
Sequel of the Adventure of the Gentleman in the Small-clothes
While Nicholas, absorbed in the one engrossing subject of interest
which had recently opened upon him, occupied his leisure hours with
thoughts of Madeline Bray, and in execution of the commissions which
the anxiety of brother Charles in her behalf imposed upon him, saw
her again and again, and each time with greater danger to his peace
of mind and a more weakening effect upon the lofty resolutions he
had formed, Mrs Nickleby and Kate continued to live in peace and
quiet, agitated by no other cares than those which were connected
with certain harassing proceedings taken by Mr Snawley for the
recovery of his son, and their anxiety for Smike himself, whose
health, long upon the wane, began to be so much affected by
apprehension and uncertainty as sometimes to occasion both them and
Nicholas considerable uneasiness, and even alarm.
It was no complaint or murmur on the part of the poor fellow himself
that thus disturbed them. Ever eager to be employed in such slight
services as he could render, and always anxious to repay his
benefactors with cheerful and happy looks, less friendly eyes might
have seen in him no cause for any misgiving. But there were times,
and often too, when the sunken eye was too bright, the hollow cheek
too flushed, the breath too thick and heavy in its course, the frame
too feeble and exhausted, to escape their regard and notice.
There is a dread disease which so prepares its victim, as it were,
for death; which so refines it of its grosser aspect, and throws
around familiar looks unearthly indications of the coming change; a
dread disease, in which the struggle between soul and body is so
gradual, quiet, and solemn, and the result so sure, that day by day,
and grain by grain, the mortal part wastes and withers away, so that
the spirit grows light and sanguine with its lightening load, and,
feeling immortality at hand, deems it but a new term of mortal life;
a disease in which death and life are so strangely blended, that
death takes the glow and hue of life, and life the gaunt and grisly
form of death; a disease which medicine never cured, wealth never
warded off, or poverty could boast exemption from; which sometimes
moves in giant strides, and sometimes at a tardy sluggish pace, but,
slow or quick, is ever sure and certain.
It was with some faint reference in his own mind to this disorder,
though he would by no means admit it, even to himself, that Nicholas
had already carried his faithful companion to a physician of great
repute. There was no cause for immediate alarm, he said. There
were no present symptoms which could be deemed conclusive. The
constitution had been greatly tried and injured in childhood, but
still it MIGHT not be--and that was all.
But he seemed to grow no worse, and, as it was not difficult to find
a reason for these symptoms of illness in the shock and agitation he
had recently undergone, Nicholas comforted himself with the hope
that his poor friend would soon recover. This hope his mother and
sister shared with him; and as the object of their joint solicitude
seemed to have no uneasiness or despondency for himself, but each
day answered with a quiet smile that he felt better than he had upon
the day before, their fears abated, and the general happiness was by
Many and many a time in after years did Nicholas look back to this
period of his life, and tread again the humble quiet homely scenes
that rose up as of old before him. Many and many a time, in the
twilight of a summer evening, or beside the flickering winter's
fire--but not so often or so sadly then--would his thoughts wander
back to these old days, and dwell with a pleasant sorrow upon every
slight remembrance which they brought crowding home. The little
room in which they had so often sat long after it was dark, figuring
such happy futures; Kate's cheerful voice and merry laugh; how,
if she were from home, they used to sit and watch for her return
scarcely breaking silence but to say how dull it seemed without her;
the glee with which poor Smike would start from the darkened corner
where he used to sit, and hurry to admit her, and the tears they
often saw upon his face, half wondering to see them too, and he so
pleased and happy; every little incident, and even slight words and
looks of those old days little heeded then, but well remembered when
busy cares and trials were quite forgotten, came fresh and thick
before him many and many a time, and, rustling above the dusty
growth of years, came back green boughs of yesterday.
But there were other persons associated with these recollections,
and many changes came about before they had being. A necessary
reflection for the purposes of these adventures, which at once
subside into their accustomed train, and shunning all flighty
anticipations or wayward wanderings, pursue their steady and
If the brothers Cheeryble, as they found Nicholas worthy of trust
and confidence, bestowed upon him every day some new and substantial
mark of kindness, they were not less mindful of those who depended
on him. Various little presents to Mrs Nickleby, always of the very
things they most required, tended in no slight degree to the
improvement and embellishment of the cottage. Kate's little store
of trinkets became quite dazzling; and for company! If brother
Charles and brother Ned failed to look in for at least a few minutes
every Sunday, or one evening in the week, there was Mr Tim
Linkinwater (who had never made half-a-dozen other acquaintances in
all his life, and who took such delight in his new friends as no
words can express) constantly coming and going in his evening walks,
and stopping to rest; while Mr Frank Cheeryble happened, by some
strange conjunction of circumstances, to be passing the door on some
business or other at least three nights in the week.
'He is the most attentive young man I ever saw, Kate,' said Mrs
Nickleby to her daughter one evening, when this last-named gentleman
had been the subject of the worthy lady's eulogium for some time,
and Kate had sat perfectly silent.
'Attentive, mama!' rejoined Kate.
'Bless my heart, Kate!' cried Mrs Nickleby, with her wonted
suddenness, 'what a colour you have got; why, you're quite flushed!'
'Oh, mama! what strange things you fancy!'
'It wasn't fancy, Kate, my dear, I'm certain of that,' returned her
mother. 'However, it's gone now at any rate, so it don't much
matter whether it was or not. What was it we were talking about?
Oh! Mr Frank. I never saw such attention in MY life, never.'
'Surely you are not serious,' returned Kate, colouring again; and
this time beyond all dispute.
'Not serious!' returned Mrs Nickleby; 'why shouldn't I be serious?
I'm sure I never was more serious. I will say that his politeness
and attention to me is one of the most becoming, gratifying,
pleasant things I have seen for a very long time. You don't often
meet with such behaviour in young men, and it strikes one more when
one does meet with it.'
'Oh! attention to YOU, mama,' rejoined Kate quickly--'oh yes.'
'Dear me, Kate,' retorted Mrs Nickleby, 'what an extraordinary girl
you are! Was it likely I should be talking of his attention to
anybody else? I declare I'm quite sorry to think he should be in
love with a German lady, that I am.'
'He said very positively that it was no such thing, mama,' returned
Kate. 'Don't you remember his saying so that very first night he
came here? Besides,' she added, in a more gentle tone, 'why should
WE be sorry if it is the case? What is it to us, mama?'
'Nothing to US, Kate, perhaps,' said Mrs Nickleby, emphatically;
'but something to ME, I confess. I like English people to be
thorough English people, and not half English and half I don't know
what. I shall tell him point-blank next time he comes, that I wish
he would marry one of his own country-women; and see what he says to
'Pray don't think of such a thing, mama,' returned Kate, hastily;
'not for the world. Consider. How very--'
'Well, my dear, how very what?' said Mrs Nickleby, opening her eyes
in great astonishment.
Before Kate had returned any reply, a queer little double knock
announced that Miss La Creevy had called to see them; and when Miss
La Creevy presented herself, Mrs Nickleby, though strongly disposed
to be argumentative on the previous question, forgot all about it in
a gush of supposes about the coach she had come by; supposing that
the man who drove must have been either the man in the shirt-sleeves
or the man with the black eye; that whoever he was, he hadn't found
that parasol she left inside last week; that no doubt they had
stopped a long while at the Halfway House, coming down; or that
perhaps being full, they had come straight on; and, lastly, that
they, surely, must have passed Nicholas on the road.
'I saw nothing of him,' answered Miss La Creevy; 'but I saw that
dear old soul Mr Linkinwater.'
'Taking his evening walk, and coming on to rest here, before he
turns back to the city, I'll be bound!' said Mrs Nickleby.
'I should think he was,' returned Miss La Creevy; 'especially as
young Mr Cheeryble was with him.'
'Surely that is no reason why Mr Linkinwater should be coming here,'
'Why I think it is, my dear,' said Miss La Creevy. 'For a young
man, Mr Frank is not a very great walker; and I observe that he
generally falls tired, and requires a good long rest, when he has
come as far as this. But where is my friend?' said the little
woman, looking about, after having glanced slyly at Kate. 'He has
not been run away with again, has he?'
'Ah! where is Mr Smike?' said Mrs Nickleby; 'he was here this
Upon further inquiry, it turned out, to the good lady's unbounded
astonishment, that Smike had, that moment, gone upstairs to bed.
'Well now,' said Mrs Nickleby, 'he is the strangest creature! Last
Tuesday--was it Tuesday? Yes, to be sure it was; you recollect,
Kate, my dear, the very last time young Mr Cheeryble was here--last
Tuesday night he went off in just the same strange way, at the very
moment the knock came to the door. It cannot be that he don't like
company, because he is always fond of people who are fond of
Nicholas, and I am sure young Mr Cheeryble is. And the strangest
thing is, that he does not go to bed; therefore it cannot be because
he is tired. I know he doesn't go to bed, because my room is the
next one, and when I went upstairs last Tuesday, hours after him, I
found that he had not even taken his shoes off; and he had no
candle, so he must have sat moping in the dark all the time. Now,
upon my word,' said Mrs Nickleby, 'when I come to think of it,
that's very extraordinary!'
As the hearers did not echo this sentiment, but remained profoundly
silent, either as not knowing what to say, or as being unwilling to
interrupt, Mrs Nickleby pursued the thread of her discourse after
her own fashion.
'I hope,' said that lady, 'that this unaccountable conduct may not
be the beginning of his taking to his bed and living there all his
life, like the Thirsty Woman of Tutbury, or the Cock-lane Ghost, or
some of those extraordinary creatures. One of them had some
connection with our family. I forget, without looking back to some
old letters I have upstairs, whether it was my great-grandfather who
went to school with the Cock-lane Ghost, or the Thirsty Woman of
Tutbury who went to school with my grandmother. Miss La Creevy, you
know, of course. Which was it that didn't mind what the clergyman
said? The Cock-lane Ghost or the Thirsty Woman of Tutbury?'
'The Cock-lane Ghost, I believe.'
'Then I have no doubt,' said Mrs Nickleby, 'that it was with him my
great-grandfather went to school; for I know the master of his
school was a dissenter, and that would, in a great measure, account
for the Cock-lane Ghost's behaving in such an improper manner to the
clergyman when he grew up. Ah! Train up a Ghost--child, I mean--'
Any further reflections on this fruitful theme were abruptly cut
short by the arrival of Tim Linkinwater and Mr Frank Cheeryble; in
the hurry of receiving whom, Mrs Nickleby speedily lost sight of
'I am so sorry Nicholas is not at home,' said Mrs Nickleby. 'Kate,
my dear, you must be both Nicholas and yourself.'
'Miss Nickleby need be but herself,' said Frank. 'I--if I may
venture to say so--oppose all change in her.'
'Then at all events she shall press you to stay,' returned Mrs
Nickleby. 'Mr Linkinwater says ten minutes, but I cannot let you go
so soon; Nicholas would be very much vexed, I am sure. Kate, my
In obedience to a great number of nods, and winks, and frowns of
extra significance, Kate added her entreaties that the visitors
would remain; but it was observable that she addressed them
exclusively to Tim Linkinwater; and there was, besides, a certain
embarrassment in her manner, which, although it was as far from
impairing its graceful character as the tinge it communicated to her
cheek was from diminishing her beauty, was obvious at a glance even
to Mrs Nickleby. Not being of a very speculative character,
however, save under circumstances when her speculations could be put
into words and uttered aloud, that discreet matron attributed the
emotion to the circumstance of her daughter's not happening to have
her best frock on: 'though I never saw her look better, certainly,'
she reflected at the same time. Having settled the question in this
way, and being most complacently satisfied that in this, and in all
other instances, her conjecture could not fail to be the right one,
Mrs Nickleby dismissed it from her thoughts, and inwardly
congratulated herself on being so shrewd and knowing.
Nicholas did not come home nor did Smike reappear; but neither
circumstance, to say the truth, had any great effect upon the little
party, who were all in the best humour possible. Indeed, there
sprung up quite a flirtation between Miss La Creevy and Tim
Linkinwater, who said a thousand jocose and facetious things, and
became, by degrees, quite gallant, not to say tender. Little Miss
La Creevy, on her part, was in high spirits, and rallied Tim on
having remained a bachelor all his life with so much success, that
Tim was actually induced to declare, that if he could get anybody to
have him, he didn't know but what he might change his condition even
yet. Miss La Creevy earnestly recommended a lady she knew, who
would exactly suit Mr Linkinwater, and had a very comfortable
property of her own; but this latter qualification had very little
effect upon Tim, who manfully protested that fortune would be no
object with him, but that true worth and cheerfulness of disposition
were what a man should look for in a wife, and that if he had these,
he could find money enough for the moderate wants of both. This
avowal was considered so honourable to Tim, that neither Mrs
Nickleby nor Miss La Creevy could sufficiently extol it; and
stimulated by their praises, Tim launched out into several other
declarations also manifesting the disinterestedness of his heart,
and a great devotion to the fair sex: which were received with no
less approbation. This was done and said with a comical mixture of
jest and earnest, and, leading to a great amount of laughter, made
them very merry indeed.
Kate was commonly the life and soul of the conversation at home; but
she was more silent than usual upon this occasion (perhaps because
Tim and Miss La Creevy engrossed so much of it), and, keeping aloof
from the talkers, sat at the window watching the shadows as the
evening closed in, and enjoying the quiet beauty of the night, which
seemed to have scarcely less attractions to Frank, who first
lingered near, and then sat down beside, her. No doubt, there are a
great many things to be said appropriate to a summer evening, and no
doubt they are best said in a low voice, as being most suitable to
the peace and serenity of the hour; long pauses, too, at times, and
then an earnest word or so, and then another interval of silence
which, somehow, does not seem like silence either, and perhaps now
and then a hasty turning away of the head, or drooping of the eyes
towards the ground, all these minor circumstances, with a
disinclination to have candles introduced and a tendency to confuse
hours with minutes, are doubtless mere influences of the time, as
many lovely lips can clearly testify. Neither is there the
slightest reason why Mrs Nickleby should have expressed surprise
when, candles being at length brought in, Kate's bright eyes were
unable to bear the light which obliged her to avert her face, and
even to leave the room for some short time; because, when one has
sat in the dark so long, candles ARE dazzling, and nothing can be
more strictly natural than that such results should be produced, as
all well-informed young people know. For that matter, old people
know it too, or did know it once, but they forget these things
sometimes, and more's the pity.
The good lady's surprise, however, did not end here. It was greatly
increased when it was discovered that Kate had not the least
appetite for supper: a discovery so alarming that there is no
knowing in what unaccountable efforts of oratory Mrs Nickleby's
apprehensions might have been vented, if the general attention had
not been attracted, at the moment, by a very strange and uncommon
noise, proceeding, as the pale and trembling servant girl affirmed,
and as everybody's sense of hearing seemed to affirm also, 'right
down' the chimney of the adjoining room.
It being quite plain to the comprehension of all present that,
however extraordinary and improbable it might appear, the noise did
nevertheless proceed from the chimney in question; and the noise
(which was a strange compound of various shuffling, sliding,
rumbling, and struggling sounds, all muffled by the chimney) still
continuing, Frank Cheeryble caught up a candle, and Tim Linkinwater
the tongs, and they would have very quickly ascertained the cause of
this disturbance if Mrs Nickleby had not been taken very faint, and
declined being left behind, on any account. This produced a short
remonstrance, which terminated in their all proceeding to the
troubled chamber in a body, excepting only Miss La Creevy, who, as
the servant girl volunteered a confession of having been subject to
fits in her infancy, remained with her to give the alarm and apply
restoratives, in case of extremity.
Advancing to the door of the mysterious apartment, they were not a
little surprised to hear a human voice, chanting with a highly
elaborated expression of melancholy, and in tones of suffocation
which a human voice might have produced from under five or six
feather-beds of the best quality, the once popular air of 'Has she
then failed in her truth, the beautiful maid I adore?' Nor, on
bursting into the room without demanding a parley, was their
astonishment lessened by the discovery that these romantic sounds
certainly proceeded from the throat of some man up the chimney, of
whom nothing was visible but a pair of legs, which were dangling
above the grate; apparently feeling, with extreme anxiety, for the
top bar whereon to effect a landing.
A sight so unusual and unbusiness-like as this, completely paralysed
Tim Linkinwater, who, after one or two gentle pinches at the
stranger's ankles, which were productive of no effect, stood
clapping the tongs together, as if he were sharpening them for
another assault, and did nothing else.
'This must be some drunken fellow,' said Frank. 'No thief would
announce his presence thus.'
As he said this, with great indignation, he raised the candle to
obtain a better view of the legs, and was darting forward to pull
them down with very little ceremony, when Mrs Nickleby, clasping her
hands, uttered a sharp sound, something between a scream and an
exclamation, and demanded to know whether the mysterious limbs were
not clad in small-clothes and grey worsted stockings, or whether her
eyes had deceived her.
'Yes,' cried Frank, looking a little closer. 'Small-clothes
certainly, and--and--rough grey stockings, too. Do you know him,
'Kate, my dear,' said Mrs Nickleby, deliberately sitting herself
down in a chair with that sort of desperate resignation which seemed
to imply that now matters had come to a crisis, and all disguise was
useless, 'you will have the goodness, my love, to explain precisely
how this matter stands. I have given him no encouragement--none
whatever--not the least in the world. You know that, my dear,
perfectly well. He was very respectful, exceedingly respectful,
when he declared, as you were a witness to; still at the same time,
if I am to be persecuted in this way, if vegetable what's-his-names
and all kinds of garden-stuff are to strew my path out of doors, and
gentlemen are to come choking up our chimneys at home, I really
don't know--upon my word I do NOT know--what is to become of me.
It's a very hard case--harder than anything I was ever exposed to,
before I married your poor dear papa, though I suffered a good deal
of annoyance then--but that, of course, I expected, and made up my
mind for. When I was not nearly so old as you, my dear, there was a
young gentleman who sat next us at church, who used, almost every
Sunday, to cut my name in large letters in the front of his pew
while the sermon was going on. It was gratifying, of course,
naturally so, but still it was an annoyance, because the pew was in
a very conspicuous place, and he was several times publicly taken
out by the beadle for doing it. But that was nothing to this. This
is a great deal worse, and a great deal more embarrassing. I would
rather, Kate, my dear,' said Mrs Nickleby, with great solemnity, and
an effusion of tears: 'I would rather, I declare, have been a pig-
faced lady, than be exposed to such a life as this!'
Frank Cheeryble and Tim Linkinwater looked, in irrepressible
astonishment, first at each other and then at Kate, who felt that
some explanation was necessary, but who, between her terror at the
apparition of the legs, her fear lest their owner should be
smothered, and her anxiety to give the least ridiculous solution of
the mystery that it was capable of bearing, was quite unable to
utter a single word.
'He gives me great pain,' continued Mrs Nickleby, drying her eyes,
'great pain; but don't hurt a hair of his head, I beg. On no
account hurt a hair of his head.'
It would not, under existing circumstances, have been quite so easy
to hurt a hair of the gentleman's head as Mrs Nickleby seemed to
imagine, inasmuch as that part of his person was some feet up the
chimney, which was by no means a wide one. But, as all this time he
had never left off singing about the bankruptcy of the beautiful
maid in respect of truth, and now began not only to croak very
feebly, but to kick with great violence as if respiration became a
task of difficulty, Frank Cheeryble, without further hesitation,
pulled at the shorts and worsteds with such heartiness as to bring
him floundering into the room with greater precipitation than he had
quite calculated upon.
'Oh! yes, yes,' said Kate, directly the whole figure of this
singular visitor appeared in this abrupt manner. 'I know who it is.
Pray don't be rough with him. Is he hurt? I hope not. Oh, pray see
if he is hurt.'
'He is not, I assure you,' replied Frank, handling the object of his
surprise, after this appeal, with sudden tenderness and respect.
'He is not hurt in the least.'
'Don't let him come any nearer,' said Kate, retiring as far as she
'Oh, no, he shall not,' rejoined Frank. 'You see I have him secure
here. But may I ask you what this means, and whether you expected,
this old gentleman?'
'Oh, no,' said Kate, 'of course not; but he--mama does not think
so, I believe--but he is a mad gentleman who has escaped from the
next house, and must have found an opportunity of secreting himself
'Kate,' interposed Mrs Nickleby with severe dignity, 'I am surprised
'Dear mama,' Kate gently remonstrated.
'I am surprised at you,' repeated Mrs Nickleby; 'upon my word, Kate,
I am quite astonished that you should join the persecutors of this
unfortunate gentleman, when you know very well that they have the
basest designs upon his property, and that that is the whole secret
of it. It would be much kinder of you, Kate, to ask Mr Linkinwater
or Mr Cheeryble to interfere in his behalf, and see him righted.
You ought not to allow your feelings to influence you; it's not
right, very far from it. What should my feelings be, do you
suppose? If anybody ought to be indignant, who is it? I, of
course, and very properly so. Still, at the same time, I wouldn't
commit such an injustice for the world. No,' continued Mrs
Nickleby, drawing herself up, and looking another way with a kind of
bashful stateliness; 'this gentleman will understand me when I tell
him that I repeat the answer I gave him the other day; that I
always will repeat it, though I do believe him to be sincere when I
find him placing himself in such dreadful situations on my account;
and that I request him to have the goodness to go away directly, or
it will be impossible to keep his behaviour a secret from my son
Nicholas. I am obliged to him, very much obliged to him, but I
cannot listen to his addresses for a moment. It's quite
While this address was in course of delivery, the old gentleman,
with his nose and cheeks embellished with large patches of soot, sat
upon the ground with his arms folded, eyeing the spectators in
profound silence, and with a very majestic demeanour. He did not
appear to take the smallest notice of what Mrs Nickleby said, but
when she ceased to speak he honoured her with a long stare, and
inquired if she had quite finished.
'I have nothing more to say,' replied that lady modestly. 'I really
cannot say anything more.'
'Very good,' said the old gentleman, raising his voice, 'then bring
in the bottled lightning, a clean tumbler, and a corkscrew.'
Nobody executing this order, the old gentleman, after a short pause,
raised his voice again and demanded a thunder sandwich. This
article not being forthcoming either, he requested to be served with
a fricassee of boot-tops and goldfish sauce, and then laughing
heartily, gratified his hearers with a very long, very loud, and
most melodious bellow.
But still Mrs Nickleby, in reply to the significant looks of all
about her, shook her head as though to assure them that she saw
nothing whatever in all this, unless, indeed, it were a slight
degree of eccentricity. She might have remained impressed with
these opinions down to the latest moment of her life, but for a
slight train of circumstances, which, trivial as they were, altered
the whole complexion of the case.
It happened that Miss La Creevy, finding her patient in no very
threatening condition, and being strongly impelled by curiosity to
see what was going forward, bustled into the room while the old
gentleman was in the very act of bellowing. It happened, too, that
the instant the old gentleman saw her, he stopped short, skipped
suddenly on his feet, and fell to kissing his hand violently: a
change of demeanour which almost terrified the little portrait
painter out of her senses, and caused her to retreat behind Tim
Linkinwater with the utmost expedition.
'Aha!' cried the old gentleman, folding his hands, and squeezing
them with great force against each other. 'I see her now; I see her
now! My love, my life, my bride, my peerless beauty. She is come
at last--at last--and all is gas and gaiters!'
Mrs Nickleby looked rather disconcerted for a moment, but
immediately recovering, nodded to Miss La Creevy and the other
spectators several times, and frowned, and smiled gravely, giving
them to understand that she saw where the mistake was, and would set
it all to rights in a minute or two.
'She is come!' said the old gentleman, laying his hand upon his
heart. 'Cormoran and Blunderbore! She is come! All the wealth I
have is hers if she will take me for her slave. Where are grace,
beauty, and blandishments, like those? In the Empress of
Madagascar? No. In the Queen of Diamonds? No. In Mrs Rowland,
who every morning bathes in Kalydor for nothing? No. Melt all
these down into one, with the three Graces, the nine Muses, and
fourteen biscuit-bakers' daughters from Oxford Street, and make a
woman half as lovely. Pho! I defy you.'
After uttering this rhapsody, the old gentleman snapped his fingers
twenty or thirty times, and then subsided into an ecstatic
contemplation of Miss La Creevy's charms. This affording Mrs
Nickleby a favourable opportunity of explanation, she went about it
'I am sure,' said the worthy lady, with a prefatory cough, 'that
it's a great relief, under such trying circumstances as these, to
have anybody else mistaken for me--a very great relief; and it's a
circumstance that never occurred before, although I have several
times been mistaken for my daughter Kate. I have no doubt the
people were very foolish, and perhaps ought to have known better,
but still they did take me for her, and of course that was no fault
of mine, and it would be very hard indeed if I was to be made
responsible for it. However, in this instance, of course, I must
feel that I should do exceedingly wrong if I suffered anybody--
especially anybody that I am under great obligations to--to be made
uncomfortable on my account. And therefore I think it my duty to
tell that gentleman that he is mistaken, that I am the lady who he
was told by some impertinent person was niece to the Council of
Paving-stones, and that I do beg and entreat of him to go quietly
away, if it's only for,' here Mrs Nickleby simpered and hesitated,
'for MY sake.'
It might have been expected that the old gentleman would have been
penetrated to the heart by the delicacy and condescension of this
appeal, and that he would at least have returned a courteous and
suitable reply. What, then, was the shock which Mrs Nickleby
received, when, accosting HER in the most unmistakable manner, he
replied in a loud and sonourous voice: 'Avaunt! Cat!'
'Sir!' cried Mrs Nickleby, in a faint tone.
'Cat!' repeated the old gentleman. 'Puss, Kit, Tit, Grimalkin,
Tabby, Brindle! Whoosh!' with which last sound, uttered in a hissing
manner between his teeth, the old gentleman swung his arms violently
round and round, and at the same time alternately advanced on Mrs
Nickleby, and retreated from her, in that species of savage dance
with which boys on market-days may be seen to frighten pigs, sheep,
and other animals, when they give out obstinate indications of
turning down a wrong street.
Mrs Nickleby wasted no words, but uttered an exclamation of horror
and surprise, and immediately fainted away.
'I'll attend to mama,' said Kate, hastily; 'I am not at all
frightened. But pray take him away: pray take him away!'
Frank was not at all confident of his power of complying with this
request, until he bethought himself of the stratagem of sending Miss
La Creevy on a few paces in advance, and urging the old gentleman to
follow her. It succeeded to a miracle; and he went away in a
rapture of admiration, strongly guarded by Tim Linkinwater on one
side, and Frank himself on the other.
'Kate,' murmured Mrs Nickleby, reviving when the coast was clear,
'is he gone?'
She was assured that he was.
'I shall never forgive myself, Kate,' said Mrs Nickleby. 'Never!
That gentleman has lost his senses, and I am the unhappy cause.'
'YOU the cause!' said Kate, greatly astonished.
'I, my love,' replied Mrs Nickleby, with a desperate calmness. 'You
saw what he was the other day; you see what he is now. I told your
brother, weeks and weeks ago, Kate, that I hoped a disappointment
might not be too much for him. You see what a wreck he is. Making
allowance for his being a little flighty, you know how rationally,
and sensibly, and honourably he talked, when we saw him in the
garden. You have heard the dreadful nonsense he has been guilty of
this night, and the manner in which he has gone on with that poor
unfortunate little old maid. Can anybody doubt how all this has
been brought about?'
'I should scarcely think they could,' said Kate mildly.
'I should scarcely think so, either,' rejoined her mother. 'Well!
if I am the unfortunate cause of this, I have the satisfaction of
knowing that I am not to blame. I told Nicholas, I said to him,
"Nicholas, my dear, we should be very careful how we proceed." He
would scarcely hear me. If the matter had only been properly taken
up at first, as I wished it to be! But you are both of you so like
your poor papa. However, I have MY consolation, and that should be
enough for me!'
Washing her hands, thus, of all responsibility under this head,
past, present, or to come, Mrs Nickleby kindly added that she hoped
her children might never have greater cause to reproach themselves
than she had, and prepared herself to receive the escort, who soon
returned with the intelligence that the old gentleman was safely
housed, and that they found his custodians, who had been making
merry with some friends, wholly ignorant of his absence.
Quiet being again restored, a delicious half-hour--so Frank called
it, in the course of subsequent conversation with Tim Linkinwater as
they were walking home--was spent in conversation, and Tim's watch
at length apprising him that it was high time to depart, the ladies
were left alone, though not without many offers on the part of
Frank to remain until Nicholas arrived, no matter what hour of
the night it might be, if, after the late neighbourly irruption,
they entertained the least fear of being left to themselves.
As their freedom from all further apprehension, however, left no
pretext for his insisting on mounting guard, he was obliged to
abandon the citadel, and to retire with the trusty Tim.
Nearly three hours of silence passed away. Kate blushed to find,
when Nicholas returned, how long she had been sitting alone,
occupied with her own thoughts.
'I really thought it had not been half an hour,' she said.
'They must have been pleasant thoughts, Kate,' rejoined Nicholas
gaily, 'to make time pass away like that. What were they now?'
Kate was confused; she toyed with some trifle on the table, looked
up and smiled, looked down and dropped a tear.
'Why, Kate,' said Nicholas, drawing his sister towards him and
kissing her, 'let me see your face. No? Ah! that was but a
glimpse; that's scarcely fair. A longer look than that, Kate.
Come--and I'll read your thoughts for you.'
There was something in this proposition, albeit it was said without
the slightest consciousness or application, which so alarmed his
sister, that Nicholas laughingly changed the subject to domestic
matters, and thus gathered, by degrees, as they left the room and
went upstairs together, how lonely Smike had been all night--and by
very slow degrees, too; for on this subject also, Kate seemed to
speak with some reluctance.
'Poor fellow,' said Nicholas, tapping gently at his door, 'what can
be the cause of all this?'
Kate was hanging on her brother's arm. The door being quickly
opened, she had not time to disengage herself, before Smike, very
pale and haggard, and completely dressed, confronted them.
'And have you not been to bed?' said Nicholas.
'N--n--no,' was the reply.
Nicholas gently detained his sister, who made an effort to retire;
and asked, 'Why not?'
'I could not sleep,' said Smike, grasping the hand which his friend
extended to him.
'You are not well?' rejoined Nicholas.
'I am better, indeed. A great deal better,' said Smike quickly.
'Then why do you give way to these fits of melancholy?' inquired
Nicholas, in his kindest manner; 'or why not tell us the cause? You
grow a different creature, Smike.'
'I do; I know I do,' he replied. 'I will tell you the reason one
day, but not now. I hate myself for this; you are all so good and
kind. But I cannot help it. My heart is very full; you do not
know how full it is.'
He wrung Nicholas's hand before he released it; and glancing, for a
moment, at the brother and sister as they stood together, as if
there were something in their strong affection which touched him
very deeply, withdrew into his chamber, and was soon the only
watcher under that quiet roof.