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Chapter 20 Wherein Nicholas at length encounters his Uncle, to whom h_xpresses his Sentiments with much Candour. His Resolution.

  • Little Miss La Creevy trotted briskly through divers streets at the west en_f the town, early on Monday morning—the day after the dinner—charged with th_mportant commission of acquainting Madame Mantalini that Miss Nickleby wa_oo unwell to attend that day, but hoped to be enabled to resume her duties o_he morrow. And as Miss La Creevy walked along, revolving in her mind variou_enteel forms and elegant turns of expression, with a view to the selection o_he very best in which to couch her communication, she cogitated a good dea_pon the probable causes of her young friend's indisposition.
  • 'I don't know what to make of it,' said Miss La Creevy. 'Her eyes wer_ecidedly red last night. She said she had a headache; headaches don'_ccasion red eyes. She must have been crying.'
  • Arriving at this conclusion, which, indeed, she had established to her perfec_atisfaction on the previous evening, Miss La Creevy went on to consider—a_he had done nearly all night—what new cause of unhappiness her young frien_ould possibly have had.
  • 'I can't think of anything,' said the little portrait painter. 'Nothing a_ll, unless it was the behaviour of that old bear. Cross to her, I suppose?
  • Unpleasant brute!'
  • Relieved by this expression of opinion, albeit it was vented upon empty air, Miss La Creevy trotted on to Madame Mantalini's; and being informed that th_overning power was not yet out of bed, requested an interview with the secon_n command; whereupon Miss Knag appeared.
  • 'So far as I am concerned,' said Miss Knag, when the message had bee_elivered, with many ornaments of speech; 'I could spare Miss Nickleby fo_vermore.'
  • 'Oh, indeed, ma'am!' rejoined Miss La Creevy, highly offended. 'But, you see, you are not mistress of the business, and therefore it's of no grea_onsequence.'
  • 'Very good, ma'am,' said Miss Knag. 'Have you any further commands for me?'
  • 'No, I have not, ma'am,' rejoined Miss La Creevy.
  • 'Then good-morning, ma'am,' said Miss Knag.
  • 'Good-morning to you, ma'am; and many obligations for your extreme politenes_nd good breeding,' rejoined Miss La Creevy.
  • Thus terminating the interview, during which both ladies had trembled ver_uch, and been marvellously polite—certain indications that they were withi_n inch of a very desperate quarrel—Miss La Creevy bounced out of the room, and into the street.
  • 'I wonder who that is,' said the queer little soul. 'A nice person to know, _hould think! I wish I had the painting of her: I'D do her justice.' So, feeling quite satisfied that she had said a very cutting thing at Miss Knag'_xpense, Miss La Creevy had a hearty laugh, and went home to breakfast i_reat good humour.
  • Here was one of the advantages of having lived alone so long! The littl_ustling, active, cheerful creature existed entirely within herself, talked t_erself, made a confidante of herself, was as sarcastic as she could be, o_eople who offended her, by herself; pleased herself, and did no harm. If sh_ndulged in scandal, nobody's reputation suffered; and if she enjoyed a littl_it of revenge, no living soul was one atom the worse. One of the many t_hom, from straitened circumstances, a consequent inability to form th_ssociations they would wish, and a disinclination to mix with the societ_hey could obtain, London is as complete a solitude as the plains of Syria, the humble artist had pursued her lonely, but contented way for many years; and, until the peculiar misfortunes of the Nickleby family attracted he_ttention, had made no friends, though brimful of the friendliest feelings t_ll mankind. There are many warm hearts in the same solitary guise as poo_ittle Miss La Creevy's.
  • However, that's neither here nor there, just now. She went home to breakfast, and had scarcely caught the full flavour of her first sip of tea, when th_ervant announced a gentleman, whereat Miss La Creevy, at once imagining a ne_itter transfixed by admiration at the street-door case, was in unspeakabl_onsternation at the presence of the tea-things.
  • 'Here, take 'em away; run with 'em into the bedroom; anywhere,' said Miss L_reevy. 'Dear, dear; to think that I should be late on this particula_orning, of all others, after being ready for three weeks by half-past eigh_'clock, and not a soul coming near the place!'
  • 'Don't let me put you out of the way,' said a voice Miss La Creevy knew. '_old the servant not to mention my name, because I wished to surprise you.'
  • 'Mr Nicholas!' cried Miss La Creevy, starting in great astonishment. 'You hav_ot forgotten me, I see,' replied Nicholas, extending his hand.
  • 'Why, I think I should even have known you if I had met you in the street,'
  • said Miss La Creevy, with a smile. 'Hannah, another cup and saucer. Now, I'l_ell you what, young man; I'll trouble you not to repeat the impertinence yo_ere guilty of, on the morning you went away.'
  • 'You would not be very angry, would you?' asked Nicholas.
  • 'Wouldn't I!' said Miss La Creevy. 'You had better try; that's all!'
  • Nicholas, with becoming gallantry, immediately took Miss La Creevy at he_ord, who uttered a faint scream and slapped his face; but it was not a ver_ard slap, and that's the truth.
  • 'I never saw such a rude creature!' exclaimed Miss La Creevy.
  • 'You told me to try,' said Nicholas.
  • 'Well; but I was speaking ironically,' rejoined Miss La Creevy.
  • 'Oh! that's another thing,' said Nicholas; 'you should have told me that, too.'
  • 'I dare say you didn't know, indeed!' retorted Miss La Creevy. 'But, now _ook at you again, you seem thinner than when I saw you last, and your face i_aggard and pale. And how come you to have left Yorkshire?'
  • She stopped here; for there was so much heart in her altered tone and manner, that Nicholas was quite moved.
  • 'I need look somewhat changed,' he said, after a short silence; 'for I hav_ndergone some suffering, both of mind and body, since I left London. I hav_een very poor, too, and have even suffered from want.'
  • 'Good Heaven, Mr Nicholas!' exclaimed Miss La Creevy, 'what are you tellin_e?'
  • 'Nothing which need distress you quite so much,' answered Nicholas, with _ore sprightly air; 'neither did I come here to bewail my lot, but on matte_ore to the purpose. I wish to meet my uncle face to face. I should tell yo_hat first.'
  • 'Then all I have to say about that is,' interposed Miss La Creevy, 'that _on't envy you your taste; and that sitting in the same room with his ver_oots, would put me out of humour for a fortnight.'
  • 'In the main,' said Nicholas, 'there may be no great difference of opinio_etween you and me, so far; but you will understand, that I desire to confron_im, to justify myself, and to cast his duplicity and malice in his throat.'
  • 'That's quite another matter,' rejoined Miss La Creevy. 'Heaven forgive me; but I shouldn't cry my eyes quite out of my head, if they choked him. Well?'
  • 'To this end, I called upon him this morning,' said Nicholas. 'He onl_eturned to town on Saturday, and I knew nothing of his arrival until lat_ast night.'
  • 'And did you see him?' asked Miss La Creevy.
  • 'No,' replied Nicholas. 'He had gone out.'
  • 'Hah!' said Miss La Creevy; 'on some kind, charitable business, I dare say.'
  • 'I have reason to believe,' pursued Nicholas, 'from what has been told me, b_ friend of mine who is acquainted with his movements, that he intends seein_y mother and sister today, and giving them his version of the occurrence_hat have befallen me. I will meet him there.'
  • 'That's right,' said Miss La Creevy, rubbing her hands. 'And yet, I don'_now,' she added, 'there is much to be thought of—others to be considered.'
  • 'I have considered others,' rejoined Nicholas; 'but as honesty and honour ar_oth at issue, nothing shall deter me.'
  • 'You should know best,' said Miss La Creevy.
  • 'In this case I hope so,' answered Nicholas. 'And all I want you to do for me, is, to prepare them for my coming. They think me a long way off, and if I wen_holly unexpected, I should frighten them. If you can spare time to tell the_hat you have seen me, and that I shall be with them in a quarter of an hou_fterwards, you will do me a great service.'
  • 'I wish I could do you, or any of you, a greater,' said Miss La Creevy; 'bu_he power to serve, is as seldom joined with the will, as the will is with th_ower, I think.'
  • Talking on very fast and very much, Miss La Creevy finished her breakfast wit_reat expedition, put away the tea-caddy and hid the key under the fender, resumed her bonnet, and, taking Nicholas's arm, sallied forth at once to th_ity. Nicholas left her near the door of his mother's house, and promised t_eturn within a quarter of an hour.
  • It so chanced that Ralph Nickleby, at length seeing fit, for his own purposes, to communicate the atrocities of which Nicholas had been guilty, had (instea_f first proceeding to another quarter of the town on business, as Newma_oggs supposed he would) gone straight to his sister-in-law. Hence, when Mis_a Creevy, admitted by a girl who was cleaning the house, made her way to th_itting-room, she found Mrs Nickleby and Kate in tears, and Ralph jus_oncluding his statement of his nephew's misdemeanours. Kate beckoned her no_o retire, and Miss La Creevy took a seat in silence.
  • 'You are here already, are you, my gentleman?' thought the little woman. 'The_e shall announce himself, and see what effect that has on you.'
  • 'This is pretty,' said Ralph, folding up Miss Squeers's note; 'very pretty. _ecommend him—against all my previous conviction, for I knew he would never d_ny good—to a man with whom, behaving himself properly, he might hav_emained, in comfort, for years. What is the result? Conduct for which h_ight hold up his hand at the Old Bailey.'
  • 'I never will believe it,' said Kate, indignantly; 'never. It is some bas_onspiracy, which carries its own falsehood with it.'
  • 'My dear,' said Ralph, 'you wrong the worthy man. These are not inventions.
  • The man is assaulted, your brother is not to be found; this boy, of whom the_peak, goes with him—remember, remember.'
  • 'It is impossible,' said Kate. 'Nicholas!—and a thief too! Mama, how can yo_it and hear such statements?'
  • Poor Mrs Nickleby, who had, at no time, been remarkable for the possession o_ very clear understanding, and who had been reduced by the late changes i_er affairs to a most complicated state of perplexity, made no other reply t_his earnest remonstrance than exclaiming from behind a mass of pocket- handkerchief, that she never could have believed it—thereby most ingeniousl_eaving her hearers to suppose that she did believe it.
  • 'It would be my duty, if he came in my way, to deliver him up to justice,'
  • said Ralph, 'my bounden duty; I should have no other course, as a man of th_orld and a man of business, to pursue. And yet,' said Ralph, speaking in _ery marked manner, and looking furtively, but fixedly, at Kate, 'and yet _ould not. I would spare the feelings of his—of his sister. And his mother o_ourse,' added Ralph, as though by an afterthought, and with far les_mphasis.
  • Kate very well understood that this was held out as an additional inducemen_o her to preserve the strictest silence regarding the events of the precedin_ight. She looked involuntarily towards Ralph as he ceased to speak, but h_ad turned his eyes another way, and seemed for the moment quite unconsciou_f her presence.
  • 'Everything,' said Ralph, after a long silence, broken only by Mrs Nickleby'_obs, 'everything combines to prove the truth of this letter, if indeed ther_ere any possibility of disputing it. Do innocent men steal away from th_ight of honest folks, and skulk in hiding-places, like outlaws? Do innocen_en inveigle nameless vagabonds, and prowl with them about the country as idl_obbers do? Assault, riot, theft, what do you call these?'
  • 'A lie!' cried a voice, as the door was dashed open, and Nicholas came int_he room.
  • In the first moment of surprise, and possibly of alarm, Ralph rose from hi_eat, and fell back a few paces, quite taken off his guard by this unexpecte_pparition. In another moment, he stood, fixed and immovable with folded arms, regarding his nephew with a scowl; while Kate and Miss La Creevy thre_hemselves between the two, to prevent the personal violence which the fierc_xcitement of Nicholas appeared to threaten.
  • 'Dear Nicholas,' cried his sister, clinging to him. 'Be calm, consider—'
  • 'Consider, Kate!' cried Nicholas, clasping her hand so tight in the tumult o_is anger, that she could scarcely bear the pain. 'When I consider all, an_hink of what has passed, I need be made of iron to stand before him.'
  • 'Or bronze,' said Ralph, quietly; 'there is not hardihood enough in flesh an_lood to face it out.'
  • 'Oh dear, dear!' cried Mrs Nickleby, 'that things should have come to such _ass as this!'
  • 'Who speaks in a tone, as if I had done wrong, and brought disgrace on them?'
  • said Nicholas, looking round.
  • 'Your mother, sir,' replied Ralph, motioning towards her.
  • 'Whose ears have been poisoned by you,' said Nicholas; 'by you—who, unde_retence of deserving the thanks she poured upon you, heaped every insult, wrong, and indignity upon my head. You, who sent me to a den where sordi_ruelty, worthy of yourself, runs wanton, and youthful misery stalk_recocious; where the lightness of childhood shrinks into the heaviness o_ge, and its every promise blights, and withers as it grows. I call Heaven t_itness,' said Nicholas, looking eagerly round, 'that I have seen all this, and that he knows it.'
  • 'Refute these calumnies,' said Kate, 'and be more patient, so that you ma_ive them no advantage. Tell us what you really did, and show that they ar_ntrue.'
  • 'Of what do they—or of what does he—accuse me?' said Nicholas.
  • 'First, of attacking your master, and being within an ace of qualifyin_ourself to be tried for murder,' interposed Ralph. 'I speak plainly, youn_an, bluster as you will.'
  • 'I interfered,' said Nicholas, 'to save a miserable creature from the viles_ruelty. In so doing, I inflicted such punishment upon a wretch as he will no_eadily forget, though far less than he deserved from me. If the same scen_ere renewed before me now, I would take the same part; but I would strik_arder and heavier, and brand him with such marks as he should carry to hi_rave, go to it when he would.'
  • 'You hear?' said Ralph, turning to Mrs Nickleby. 'Penitence, this!'
  • 'Oh dear me!' cried Mrs Nickleby, 'I don't know what to think, I reall_on't.'
  • 'Do not speak just now, mama, I entreat you,' said Kate. 'Dear Nicholas, _nly tell you, that you may know what wickedness can prompt, but they accus_ou of—a ring is missing, and they dare to say that—'
  • 'The woman,' said Nicholas, haughtily, 'the wife of the fellow from whom thes_harges come, dropped—as I suppose—a worthless ring among some clothes o_ine, early in the morning on which I left the house. At least, I know tha_he was in the bedroom where they lay, struggling with an unhappy child, an_hat I found it when I opened my bundle on the road. I returned it, at once, by coach, and they have it now.'
  • 'I knew, I knew,' said Kate, looking towards her uncle. 'About this boy, love, in whose company they say you left?'
  • 'The boy, a silly, helpless creature, from brutality and hard usage, is wit_e now,' rejoined Nicholas.
  • 'You hear?' said Ralph, appealing to the mother again, 'everything proved, even upon his own confession. Do you choose to restore that boy, sir?'
  • 'No, I do not,' replied Nicholas.
  • 'You do not?' sneered Ralph.
  • 'No,' repeated Nicholas, 'not to the man with whom I found him. I would that _new on whom he has the claim of birth: I might wring something from his sens_f shame, if he were dead to every tie of nature.'
  • 'Indeed!' said Ralph. 'Now, sir, will you hear a word or two from me?'
  • 'You can speak when and what you please,' replied Nicholas, embracing hi_ister. 'I take little heed of what you say or threaten.'
  • 'Mighty well, sir,' retorted Ralph; 'but perhaps it may concern others, wh_ay think it worth their while to listen, and consider what I tell them. _ill address your mother, sir, who knows the world.'
  • 'Ah! and I only too dearly wish I didn't,' sobbed Mrs Nickleby.
  • There really was no necessity for the good lady to be much distressed upo_his particular head; the extent of her worldly knowledge being, to say th_east, very questionable; and so Ralph seemed to think, for he smiled as sh_poke. He then glanced steadily at her and Nicholas by turns, as he delivere_imself in these words:
  • 'Of what I have done, or what I meant to do, for you, ma'am, and my niece, _ay not one syllable. I held out no promise, and leave you to judge fo_ourself. I hold out no threat now, but I say that this boy, headstrong, wilful and disorderly as he is, should not have one penny of my money, or on_rust of my bread, or one grasp of my hand, to save him from the lofties_allows in all Europe. I will not meet him, come where he comes, or hear hi_ame. I will not help him, or those who help him. With a full knowledge o_hat he brought upon you by so doing, he has come back in his selfish sloth, to be an aggravation of your wants, and a burden upon his sister's scant_ages. I regret to leave you, and more to leave her, now, but I will no_ncourage this compound of meanness and cruelty, and, as I will not ask you t_enounce him, I see you no more.'
  • If Ralph had not known and felt his power in wounding those he hated, hi_lances at Nicholas would have shown it him, in all its force, as he proceede_n the above address. Innocent as the young man was of all wrong, every artfu_nsinuation stung, every well- considered sarcasm cut him to the quick; an_hen Ralph noted his pale face and quivering lip, he hugged himself to mar_ow well he had chosen the taunts best calculated to strike deep into a youn_nd ardent spirit.
  • 'I can't help it,' cried Mrs Nickleby. 'I know you have been very good to us, and meant to do a good deal for my dear daughter. I am quite sure of that; _now you did, and it was very kind of you, having her at your house an_ll—and of course it would have been a great thing for her and for me too. Bu_ can't, you know, brother- in-law, I can't renounce my own son, even if h_as done all you say he has—it's not possible; I couldn't do it; so we must g_o rack and ruin, Kate, my dear. I can bear it, I dare say.' Pouring fort_hese and a perfectly wonderful train of other disjointed expressions o_egret, which no mortal power but Mrs Nickleby's could ever have strun_ogether, that lady wrung her hands, and her tears fell faster.
  • 'Why do you say "IF Nicholas has done what they say he has," mama?' aske_ate, with honest anger. 'You know he has not.'
  • 'I don't know what to think, one way or other, my dear,' said Mrs Nickleby;
  • 'Nicholas is so violent, and your uncle has so much composure, that I can onl_ear what he says, and not what Nicholas does. Never mind, don't let us tal_ny more about it. We can go to the Workhouse, or the Refuge for th_estitute, or the Magdalen Hospital, I dare say; and the sooner we go th_etter.' With this extraordinary jumble of charitable institutions, Mr_ickleby again gave way to her tears.
  • 'Stay,' said Nicholas, as Ralph turned to go. 'You need not leave this place, sir, for it will be relieved of my presence in one minute, and it will b_ong, very long, before I darken these doors again.'
  • 'Nicholas,' cried Kate, throwing herself on her brother's shoulder, 'do no_ay so. My dear brother, you will break my heart. Mama, speak to him. Do no_ind her, Nicholas; she does not mean it, you should know her better. Uncle, somebody, for Heaven's sake speak to him.'
  • 'I never meant, Kate,' said Nicholas, tenderly, 'I never meant to stay amon_ou; think better of me than to suppose it possible. I may turn my back o_his town a few hours sooner than I intended, but what of that? We shall no_orget each other apart, and better days will come when we shall part no more.
  • Be a woman, Kate,' he whispered, proudly, 'and do not make me one, while H_ooks on.'
  • 'No, no, I will not,' said Kate, eagerly, 'but you will not leave us. Oh!
  • think of all the happy days we have had together, before these terribl_isfortunes came upon us; of all the comfort and happiness of home, and th_rials we have to bear now; of our having no protector under all the slight_nd wrongs that poverty so much favours, and you cannot leave us to bear the_lone, without one hand to help us.'
  • 'You will be helped when I am away,' replied Nicholas hurriedly. 'I am no hel_o you, no protector; I should bring you nothing but sorrow, and want, an_uffering. My own mother sees it, and her fondness and fears for you, point t_he course that I should take. And so all good angels bless you, Kate, till _an carry you to some home of mine, where we may revive the happiness denie_o us now, and talk of these trials as of things gone by. Do not keep me here, but let me go at once. There. Dear girl—dear girl.'
  • The grasp which had detained him relaxed, and Kate swooned in his arms.
  • Nicholas stooped over her for a few seconds, and placing her gently in _hair, confided her to their honest friend.
  • 'I need not entreat your sympathy,' he said, wringing her hand, 'for I kno_our nature. You will never forget them.'
  • He stepped up to Ralph, who remained in the same attitude which he ha_reserved throughout the interview, and moved not a finger.
  • 'Whatever step you take, sir,' he said, in a voice inaudible beyon_hemselves, 'I shall keep a strict account of. I leave them to you, at you_esire. There will be a day of reckoning sooner or later, and it will be _eavy one for you if they are wronged.'
  • Ralph did not allow a muscle of his face to indicate that he heard one word o_his parting address. He hardly knew that it was concluded, and Mrs Nickleb_ad scarcely made up her mind to detain her son by force if necessary, whe_icholas was gone.
  • As he hurried through the streets to his obscure lodging, seeking to kee_ace, as it were, with the rapidity of the thoughts which crowded upon him, many doubts and hesitations arose in his mind, and almost tempted him t_eturn. But what would they gain by this? Supposing he were to put Ralp_ickleby at defiance, and were even fortunate enough to obtain some smal_mployment, his being with them could only render their present conditio_orse, and might greatly impair their future prospects; for his mother ha_poken of some new kindnesses towards Kate which she had not denied. 'No,'
  • thought Nicholas, 'I have acted for the best.'
  • But, before he had gone five hundred yards, some other and different feelin_ould come upon him, and then he would lag again, and pulling his hat over hi_yes, give way to the melancholy reflections which pressed thickly upon him.
  • To have committed no fault, and yet to be so entirely alone in the world; t_e separated from the only persons he loved, and to be proscribed like _riminal, when six months ago he had been surrounded by every comfort, an_ooked up to, as the chief hope of his family—this was hard to bear. He ha_ot deserved it either. Well, there was comfort in that; and poor Nichola_ould brighten up again, to be again depressed, as his quickly shiftin_houghts presented every variety of light and shade before him.
  • Undergoing these alternations of hope and misgiving, which no one, placed in _ituation of ordinary trial, can fail to have experienced, Nicholas at lengt_eached his poor room, where, no longer borne up by the excitement which ha_itherto sustained him, but depressed by the revulsion of feeling it lef_ehind, he threw himself on the bed, and turning his face to the wall, gav_ree vent to the emotions he had so long stifled.
  • He had not heard anybody enter, and was unconscious of the presence of Smike, until, happening to raise his head, he saw him, standing at the upper end o_he room, looking wistfully towards him. He withdrew his eyes when he saw tha_e was observed, and affected to be busied with some scanty preparations fo_inner.
  • 'Well, Smike,' said Nicholas, as cheerfully as he could speak, 'let me hea_hat new acquaintances you have made this morning, or what new wonder you hav_ound out, in the compass of this street and the next one.'
  • 'No,' said Smike, shaking his head mournfully; 'I must talk of something els_oday.'
  • 'Of what you like,' replied Nicholas, good-humouredly.
  • 'Of this,' said Smike. 'I know you are unhappy, and have got into grea_rouble by bringing me away. I ought to have known that, and stopped behind—_ould, indeed, if I had thought it then. You— you—are not rich; you have no_nough for yourself, and I should not be here. You grow,' said the lad, layin_is hand timidly on that of Nicholas, 'you grow thinner every day; your chee_s paler, and your eye more sunk. Indeed I cannot bear to see you so, an_hink how I am burdening you. I tried to go away today, but the thought o_our kind face drew me back. I could not leave you without a word.' The poo_ellow could say no more, for his eyes filled with tears, and his voice wa_one.
  • 'The word which separates us,' said Nicholas, grasping him heartily by th_houlder, 'shall never be said by me, for you are my only comfort and stay. _ould not lose you now, Smike, for all the world could give. The thought o_ou has upheld me through all I have endured today, and shall, through fift_imes such trouble. Give me your hand. My heart is linked to yours. We wil_ourney from this place together, before the week is out. What, if I a_teeped in poverty? You lighten it, and we will be poor together.'