Chapter 12 Whereby the Reader will be enabled to trace the further cours_f Miss Fanny Squeer's Love, and to ascertain whether it ran smooth o_therwise
It was a fortunate circumstance for Miss Fanny Squeers, that when her worth_apa returned home on the night of the small tea-party, he was what th_nitiated term 'too far gone' to observe the numerous tokens of extrem_exation of spirit which were plainly visible in her countenance. Being, however, of a rather violent and quarrelsome mood in his cups, it is no_mpossible that he might have fallen out with her, either on this or som_maginary topic, if the young lady had not, with a foresight and prudenc_ighly commendable, kept a boy up, on purpose, to bear the first brunt of th_ood gentleman's anger; which, having vented itself in a variety of kicks an_uffs, subsided sufficiently to admit of his being persuaded to go to bed.
Which he did with his boots on, and an umbrella under his arm.
The hungry servant attended Miss Squeers in her own room according to custom, to curl her hair, perform the other little offices of her toilet, an_dminister as much flattery as she could get up, for the purpose; for Mis_queers was quite lazy enough (and sufficiently vain and frivolous withal) t_ave been a fine lady; and it was only the arbitrary distinctions of rank an_tation which prevented her from being one.
'How lovely your hair do curl tonight, miss!' said the handmaiden. 'I declar_f it isn't a pity and a shame to brush it out!'
'Hold your tongue!' replied Miss Squeers wrathfully.
Some considerable experience prevented the girl from being at all surprised a_ny outbreak of ill-temper on the part of Miss Squeers. Having a half- perception of what had occurred in the course of the evening, she changed he_ode of making herself agreeable, and proceeded on the indirect tack.
'Well, I couldn't help saying, miss, if you was to kill me for it,' said th_ttendant, 'that I never see nobody look so vulgar as Miss Price this night.'
Miss Squeers sighed, and composed herself to listen.
'I know it's very wrong in me to say so, miss,' continued the girl, delighte_o see the impression she was making, 'Miss Price being a friend of your'n, and all; but she do dress herself out so, and go on in such a manner to ge_oticed, that—oh—well, if people only saw themselves!'
'What do you mean, Phib?' asked Miss Squeers, looking in her own little glass, where, like most of us, she saw—not herself, but the reflection of som_leasant image in her own brain. 'How you talk!'
'Talk, miss! It's enough to make a Tom cat talk French grammar, only to se_ow she tosses her head,' replied the handmaid.
'She DOES toss her head,' observed Miss Squeers, with an air of abstraction.
'So vain, and so very—very plain,' said the girl.
'Poor 'Tilda!' sighed Miss Squeers, compassionately.
'And always laying herself out so, to get to be admired,' pursued the servant.
'Oh, dear! It's positive indelicate.'
'I can't allow you to talk in that way, Phib,' said Miss Squeers. ''Tilda'_riends are low people, and if she don't know any better, it's their fault, and not hers.'
'Well, but you know, miss,' said Phoebe, for which name 'Phib' was used as _atronising abbreviation, 'if she was only to take copy by a friend—oh! if sh_nly knew how wrong she was, and would but set herself right by you, what _ice young woman she might be in time!'
'Phib,' rejoined Miss Squeers, with a stately air, 'it's not proper for me t_ear these comparisons drawn; they make 'Tilda look a coarse improper sort o_erson, and it seems unfriendly in me to listen to them. I would rather yo_ropped the subject, Phib; at the same time, I must say, that if 'Tilda Pric_ould take pattern by somebody—not me particularly—'
'Oh yes; you, miss,' interposed Phib.
'Well, me, Phib, if you will have it so,' said Miss Squeers. 'I must say, tha_f she would, she would be all the better for it.'
'So somebody else thinks, or I am much mistaken,' said the girl mysteriously.
'What do you mean?' demanded Miss Squeers.
'Never mind, miss,' replied the girl; 'I know what I know; that's all.'
'Phib,' said Miss Squeers dramatically, 'I insist upon your explainin_ourself. What is this dark mystery? Speak.'
'Why, if you will have it, miss, it's this,' said the servant girl. 'Mr Joh_rowdie thinks as you think; and if he wasn't too far gone to do i_reditable, he'd be very glad to be off with Miss Price, and on with Mis_queers.'
'Gracious heavens!' exclaimed Miss Squeers, clasping her hands with grea_ignity. 'What is this?'
'Truth, ma'am, and nothing but truth,' replied the artful Phib.
'What a situation!' cried Miss Squeers; 'on the brink of unconsciousl_estroying the peace and happiness of my own 'Tilda. What is the reason tha_en fall in love with me, whether I like it or not, and desert their chose_ntendeds for my sake?'
'Because they can't help it, miss,' replied the girl; 'the reason's plain.'
(If Miss Squeers were the reason, it was very plain.)
'Never let me hear of it again,' retorted Miss Squeers. 'Never! Do you hear?
'Tilda Price has faults—many faults—but I wish her well, and above all I wis_er married; for I think it highly desirable—most desirable from the ver_ature of her failings—that she should be married as soon as possible. No, Phib. Let her have Mr Browdie. I may pity HIM, poor fellow; but I have a grea_egard for 'Tilda, and only hope she may make a better wife than I think sh_ill.'
With this effusion of feeling, Miss Squeers went to bed.
Spite is a little word; but it represents as strange a jumble of feelings, an_ompound of discords, as any polysyllable in the language. Miss Squeers kne_s well in her heart of hearts that what the miserable serving-girl had sai_as sheer, coarse, lying flattery, as did the girl herself; yet the mer_pportunity of venting a little ill-nature against the offending Miss Price, and affecting to compassionate her weaknesses and foibles, though only in th_resence of a solitary dependant, was almost as great a relief to her splee_s if the whole had been gospel truth. Nay, more. We have such extraordinar_owers of persuasion when they are exerted over ourselves, that Miss Squeer_elt quite high-minded and great after her noble renunciation of Joh_rowdie's hand, and looked down upon her rival with a kind of holy calmnes_nd tranquillity, that had a mighty effect in soothing her ruffled feelings.
This happy state of mind had some influence in bringing about _econciliation; for, when a knock came at the front-door next day, and th_iller's daughter was announced, Miss Squeers betook herself to the parlour i_ Christian frame of spirit, perfectly beautiful to behold.
'Well, Fanny,' said the miller's daughter, 'you see I have come to see you, although we HAD some words last night.'
'I pity your bad passions, 'Tilda,' replied Miss Squeers, 'but I bear n_alice. I am above it.'
'Don't be cross, Fanny,' said Miss Price. 'I have come to tell you somethin_hat I know will please you.'
'What may that be, 'Tilda?' demanded Miss Squeers; screwing up her lips, an_ooking as if nothing in earth, air, fire, or water, could afford her th_lightest gleam of satisfaction.
'This,' rejoined Miss Price. 'After we left here last night John and I had _readful quarrel.'
'That doesn't please me,' said Miss Squeers—relaxing into a smile though.
'Lor! I wouldn't think so bad of you as to suppose it did,' rejoined he_ompanion. 'That's not it.'
'Oh!' said Miss Squeers, relapsing into melancholy. 'Go on.'
'After a great deal of wrangling, and saying we would never see each other an_ore,' continued Miss Price, 'we made it up, and this morning John went an_rote our names down to be put up, for the first time, next Sunday, so w_hall be married in three weeks, and I give you notice to get your froc_ade.'
There was mingled gall and honey in this intelligence. The prospect of th_riend's being married so soon was the gall, and the certainty of her no_ntertaining serious designs upon Nicholas was the honey. Upon the whole, th_weet greatly preponderated over the bitter, so Miss Squeers said she woul_et the frock made, and that she hoped 'Tilda might be happy, though at th_ame time she didn't know, and would not have her build too much upon it, fo_en were strange creatures, and a great many married women were ver_iserable, and wished themselves single again with all their hearts; to whic_ondolences Miss Squeers added others equally calculated to raise her friend'_pirits and promote her cheerfulness of mind.
'But come now, Fanny,' said Miss Price, 'I want to have a word or two with yo_bout young Mr Nickleby.'
'He is nothing to me,' interrupted Miss Squeers, with hysterical symptoms. '_espise him too much!'
'Oh, you don't mean that, I am sure?' replied her friend. 'Confess, Fanny; don't you like him now?'
Without returning any direct reply, Miss Squeers, all at once, fell into _aroxysm of spiteful tears, and exclaimed that she was a wretched, neglected, miserable castaway.
'I hate everybody,' said Miss Squeers, 'and I wish that everybody wa_ead—that I do.'
'Dear, dear,' said Miss Price, quite moved by this avowal of misanthropica_entiments. 'You are not serious, I am sure.'
'Yes, I am,' rejoined Miss Squeers, tying tight knots in her pocket- handkerchief and clenching her teeth. 'And I wish I was dead too. There!'
'Oh! you'll think very differently in another five minutes,' said Matilda.
'How much better to take him into favour again, than to hurt yourself by goin_n in that way. Wouldn't it be much nicer, now, to have him all to yourself o_ood terms, in a company- keeping, love-making, pleasant sort of manner?'
'I don't know but what it would,' sobbed Miss Squeers. 'Oh! 'Tilda, how coul_ou have acted so mean and dishonourable! I wouldn't have believed it of you, if anybody had told me.'
'Heyday!' exclaimed Miss Price, giggling. 'One would suppose I had bee_urdering somebody at least.'
'Very nigh as bad,' said Miss Squeers passionately.
'And all this because I happen to have enough of good looks to make peopl_ivil to me,' cried Miss Price. 'Persons don't make their own faces, and it'_o more my fault if mine is a good one than it is other people's fault i_heirs is a bad one.'
'Hold your tongue,' shrieked Miss Squeers, in her shrillest tone; 'or you'l_ake me slap you, 'Tilda, and afterwards I should be sorry for it!'
It is needless to say, that, by this time, the temper of each young lady wa_n some slight degree affected by the tone of her conversation, and that _ash of personality was infused into the altercation, in consequence. Indeed, the quarrel, from slight beginnings, rose to a considerable height, and wa_ssuming a very violent complexion, when both parties, falling into a grea_assion of tears, exclaimed simultaneously, that they had never thought o_eing spoken to in that way: which exclamation, leading to a remonstrance, gradually brought on an explanation: and the upshot was, that they fell int_ach other's arms and vowed eternal friendship; the occasion in questio_aking the fifty-second time of repeating the same impressive ceremony withi_ twelvemonth.
Perfect amicability being thus restored, a dialogue naturally ensued upon th_umber and nature of the garments which would be indispensable for Mis_rice's entrance into the holy state of matrimony, when Miss Squeers clearl_howed that a great many more than the miller could, or would, afford, wer_bsolutely necessary, and could not decently be dispensed with. The young lad_hen, by an easy digression, led the discourse to her own wardrobe, and afte_ecounting its principal beauties at some length, took her friend upstairs t_ake inspection thereof. The treasures of two drawers and a closet having bee_isplayed, and all the smaller articles tried on, it was time for Miss Pric_o return home; and as she had been in raptures with all the frocks, and ha_een stricken quite dumb with admiration of a new pink scarf, Miss Squeer_aid in high good humour, that she would walk part of the way with her, fo_he pleasure of her company; and off they went together: Miss Squeer_ilating, as they walked along, upon her father's accomplishments: an_ultiplying his income by ten, to give her friend some faint notion of th_ast importance and superiority of her family.
It happened that that particular time, comprising the short daily interva_hich was suffered to elapse between what was pleasantly called the dinner o_r Squeers's pupils, and their return to the pursuit of useful knowledge, wa_recisely the hour when Nicholas was accustomed to issue forth for _elancholy walk, and to brood, as he sauntered listlessly through the village, upon his miserable lot. Miss Squeers knew this perfectly well, but had perhap_orgotten it, for when she caught sight of that young gentleman advancin_owards them, she evinced many symptoms of surprise and consternation, an_ssured her friend that she 'felt fit to drop into the earth.'
'Shall we turn back, or run into a cottage?' asked Miss Price. 'He don't se_s yet.'
'No, 'Tilda,' replied Miss Squeers, 'it is my duty to go through with it, an_ will!'
As Miss Squeers said this, in the tone of one who has made a high mora_esolution, and was, besides, taken with one or two chokes and catchings o_reath, indicative of feelings at a high pressure, her friend made no furthe_emark, and they bore straight down upon Nicholas, who, walking with his eye_ent upon the ground, was not aware of their approach until they were clos_pon him; otherwise, he might, perhaps, have taken shelter himself.
'Good-morning,' said Nicholas, bowing and passing by.
'He is going,' murmured Miss Squeers. 'I shall choke, 'Tilda.'
'Come back, Mr Nickleby, do!' cried Miss Price, affecting alarm at he_riend's threat, but really actuated by a malicious wish to hear what Nichola_ould say; 'come back, Mr Nickleby!'
Mr Nickleby came back, and looked as confused as might be, as he inquire_hether the ladies had any commands for him.
'Don't stop to talk,' urged Miss Price, hastily; 'but support her on the othe_ide. How do you feel now, dear?'
'Better,' sighed Miss Squeers, laying a beaver bonnet of a reddish brown wit_ green veil attached, on Mr Nickleby's shoulder. 'This foolish faintness!'
'Don't call it foolish, dear,' said Miss Price: her bright eye dancing wit_erriment as she saw the perplexity of Nicholas; 'you have no reason to b_shamed of it. It's those who are too proud to come round again, without al_his to-do, that ought to be ashamed.'
'You are resolved to fix it upon me, I see,' said Nicholas, smiling, 'althoug_ told you, last night, it was not my fault.'
'There; he says it was not his fault, my dear,' remarked the wicked Mis_rice. 'Perhaps you were too jealous, or too hasty with him? He says it wa_ot his fault. You hear; I think that's apology enough.'
'You will not understand me,' said Nicholas. 'Pray dispense with this jesting, for I have no time, and really no inclination, to be the subject or promote_f mirth just now.'
'What do you mean?' asked Miss Price, affecting amazement.
'Don't ask him, 'Tilda,' cried Miss Squeers; 'I forgive him.'
'Dear me,' said Nicholas, as the brown bonnet went down on his shoulder again,
'this is more serious than I supposed. Allow me! Will you have the goodness t_ear me speak?'
Here he raised up the brown bonnet, and regarding with most unfeigne_stonishment a look of tender reproach from Miss Squeers, shrunk back a fe_aces to be out of the reach of the fair burden, and went on to say:
'I am very sorry—truly and sincerely sorry—for having been the cause of an_ifference among you, last night. I reproach myself, most bitterly, for havin_een so unfortunate as to cause the dissension that occurred, although I di_o, I assure you, most unwittingly and heedlessly.'
'Well; that's not all you have got to say surely,' exclaimed Miss Price a_icholas paused.
'I fear there is something more,' stammered Nicholas with a half- smile, an_ooking towards Miss Squeers, 'it is a most awkward thing to say—but—the ver_ention of such a supposition makes one look like a puppy—still—may I ask i_hat lady supposes that I entertain any—in short, does she think that I am i_ove with her?'
'Delightful embarrassment,' thought Miss Squeers, 'I have brought him to it, at last. Answer for me, dear,' she whispered to her friend.
'Does she think so?' rejoined Miss Price; 'of course she does.'
'She does!' exclaimed Nicholas with such energy of utterance as might hav_een, for the moment, mistaken for rapture.
'Certainly,' replied Miss Price
'If Mr Nickleby has doubted that, 'Tilda,' said the blushing Miss Squeers i_oft accents, 'he may set his mind at rest. His sentiments are recipro—'
'Stop,' cried Nicholas hurriedly; 'pray hear me. This is the grossest an_ildest delusion, the completest and most signal mistake, that ever huma_eing laboured under, or committed. I have scarcely seen the young lad_alf-a-dozen times, but if I had seen her sixty times, or am destined to se_er sixty thousand, it would be, and will be, precisely the same. I have no_ne thought, wish, or hope, connected with her, unless it be—and I say this, not to hurt her feelings, but to impress her with the real state of my own —unless it be the one object, dear to my heart as life itself, of being on_ay able to turn my back upon this accursed place, never to set foot in i_gain, or think of it—even think of it—but with loathing and disgust.'
With this particularly plain and straightforward declaration, which he mad_ith all the vehemence that his indignant and excited feelings could bring t_ear upon it, Nicholas waiting to hear no more, retreated.
But poor Miss Squeers! Her anger, rage, and vexation; the rapid succession o_itter and passionate feelings that whirled through her mind; are not to b_escribed. Refused! refused by a teacher, picked up by advertisement, at a_nnual salary of five pounds payable at indefinite periods, and 'found' i_ood and lodging like the very boys themselves; and this too in the presenc_f a little chit of a miller's daughter of eighteen, who was going to b_arried, in three weeks' time, to a man who had gone down on his very knees t_sk her. She could have choked in right good earnest, at the thought of bein_o humbled.
But, there was one thing clear in the midst of her mortification; and tha_as, that she hated and detested Nicholas with all the narrowness of mind an_ittleness of purpose worthy a descendant of the house of Squeers. And ther_as one comfort too; and that was, that every hour in every day she coul_ound his pride, and goad him with the infliction of some slight, or insult, or deprivation, which could not but have some effect on the most insensibl_erson, and must be acutely felt by one so sensitive as Nicholas. With thes_wo reflections uppermost in her mind, Miss Squeers made the best of th_atter to her friend, by observing that Mr Nickleby was such an odd creature, and of such a violent temper, that she feared she should be obliged to giv_im up; and parted from her.
And here it may be remarked, that Miss Squeers, having bestowed her affections (or whatever it might be that, in the absence of anything better, represente_hem) on Nicholas Nickleby, had never once seriously contemplated th_ossibility of his being of a different opinion from herself in the business.
Miss Squeers reasoned that she was prepossessing and beautiful, and that he_ather was master, and Nicholas man, and that her father had saved money, an_icholas had none, all of which seemed to her conclusive arguments why th_oung man should feel only too much honoured by her preference. She had no_ailed to recollect, either, how much more agreeable she could render hi_ituation if she were his friend, and how much more disagreeable if she wer_is enemy; and, doubtless, many less scrupulous young gentlemen than Nichola_ould have encouraged her extravagance had it been only for this very obviou_nd intelligible reason. However, he had thought proper to do otherwise, an_iss Squeers was outrageous.
'Let him see,' said the irritated young lady, when she had regained her ow_oom, and eased her mind by committing an assault on Phib, 'if I don't se_other against him a little more when she comes back!'
It was scarcely necessary to do this, but Miss Squeers was as good as he_ord; and poor Nicholas, in addition to bad food, dirty lodging, and the bein_ompelled to witness one dull unvarying round of squalid misery, was treate_ith every special indignity that malice could suggest, or the most graspin_upidity put upon him.
Nor was this all. There was another and deeper system of annoyance which mad_is heart sink, and nearly drove him wild, by its injustice and cruelty.
The wretched creature, Smike, since the night Nicholas had spoken kindly t_im in the schoolroom, had followed him to and fro, with an ever-restles_esire to serve or help him; anticipating such little wants as his humbl_bility could supply, and content only to be near him. He would sit beside hi_or hours, looking patiently into his face; and a word would brighten up hi_are-worn visage, and call into it a passing gleam, even of happiness. He wa_n altered being; he had an object now; and that object was, to show hi_ttachment to the only person—that person a stranger—who had treated him, no_o say with kindness, but like a human creature.
Upon this poor being, all the spleen and ill-humour that could not be vente_n Nicholas were unceasingly bestowed. Drudgery would have been nothing—Smik_as well used to that. Buffetings inflicted without cause, would have bee_qually a matter of course; for to them also he had served a long and wear_pprenticeship; but it was no sooner observed that he had become attached t_icholas, than stripes and blows, stripes and blows, morning, noon, and night, were his only portion. Squeers was jealous of the influence which his man ha_o soon acquired, and his family hated him, and Smike paid for both. Nichola_aw it, and ground his teeth at every repetition of the savage and cowardl_ttack.
He had arranged a few regular lessons for the boys; and one night, as he pace_p and down the dismal schoolroom, his swollen heart almost bursting to thin_hat his protection and countenance should have increased the misery of th_retched being whose peculiar destitution had awakened his pity, he pause_echanically in a dark corner where sat the object of his thoughts.
The poor soul was poring hard over a tattered book, with the traces of recen_ears still upon his face; vainly endeavouring to master some task which _hild of nine years old, possessed of ordinary powers, could have conquere_ith ease, but which, to the addled brain of the crushed boy of nineteen, wa_ sealed and hopeless mystery. Yet there he sat, patiently conning the pag_gain and again, stimulated by no boyish ambition, for he was the common jes_nd scoff even of the uncouth objects that congregated about him, but inspire_y the one eager desire to please his solitary friend.
Nicholas laid his hand upon his shoulder.
'I can't do it,' said the dejected creature, looking up with bitte_isappointment in every feature. 'No, no.'
'Do not try,' replied Nicholas.
The boy shook his head, and closing the book with a sigh, looked vacantl_ound, and laid his head upon his arm. He was weeping.
'Do not for God's sake,' said Nicholas, in an agitated voice; 'I cannot bea_o see you.'
'They are more hard with me than ever,' sobbed the boy.
'I know it,' rejoined Nicholas. 'They are.'
'But for you,' said the outcast, 'I should die. They would kill me; the_ould; I know they would.'
'You will do better, poor fellow,' replied Nicholas, shaking his hea_ournfully, 'when I am gone.'
'Gone!' cried the other, looking intently in his face.
'Softly!' rejoined Nicholas. 'Yes.'
'Are you going?' demanded the boy, in an earnest whisper.
'I cannot say,' replied Nicholas. 'I was speaking more to my own thoughts, than to you.'
'Tell me,' said the boy imploringly, 'oh do tell me, WILL you go— WILL you?'
'I shall be driven to that at last!' said Nicholas. 'The world is before me, after all.'
'Tell me,' urged Smike, 'is the world as bad and dismal as this place?'
'Heaven forbid,' replied Nicholas, pursuing the train of his own thoughts;
'its hardest, coarsest toil, were happiness to this.'
'Should I ever meet you there?' demanded the boy, speaking with unusua_ildness and volubility.
'Yes,' replied Nicholas, willing to soothe him.
'No, no!' said the other, clasping him by the hand. 'Should I— should I—tel_e that again. Say I should be sure to find you.'
'You would,' replied Nicholas, with the same humane intention, 'and I woul_elp and aid you, and not bring fresh sorrow on you as I have done here.'
The boy caught both the young man's hands passionately in his, and, huggin_hem to his breast, uttered a few broken sounds which were unintelligible.
Squeers entered at the moment, and he shrunk back into his old corner.