Chapter 22 Nicholas, accompanied by Smike, sallies forth to seek hi_ortune. He encounters Mr Vincent Crummles, and who he was, is herein mad_anifest
The whole capital which Nicholas found himself entitled to, either i_ossession, reversion, remainder, or expectancy, after paying his rent an_ettling with the broker from whom he had hired his poor furniture, did no_xceed, by more than a few halfpence, the sum of twenty shillings. And yet h_ailed the morning on which he had resolved to quit London, with a ligh_eart, and sprang from his bed with an elasticity of spirit which is happil_he lot of young persons, or the world would never be stocked with old ones.
It was a cold, dry, foggy morning in early spring. A few meagre shadow_litted to and fro in the misty streets, and occasionally there loomed throug_he dull vapour, the heavy outline of some hackney coach wending homewards, which, drawing slowly nearer, rolled jangling by, scattering the thin crust o_rost from its whitened roof, and soon was lost again in the cloud. A_ntervals were heard the tread of slipshod feet, and the chilly cry of th_oor sweep as he crept, shivering, to his early toil; the heavy footfall o_he official watcher of the night, pacing slowly up and down and cursing th_ardy hours that still intervened between him and sleep; the rambling o_onderous carts and waggons; the roll of the lighter vehicles which carrie_uyers and sellers to the different markets; the sound of ineffectual knockin_t the doors of heavy sleepers—all these noises fell upon the ear from time t_ime, but all seemed muffled by the fog, and to be rendered almost a_ndistinct to the ear as was every object to the sight. The sluggish darknes_hickened as the day came on; and those who had the courage to rise and pee_t the gloomy street from their curtained windows, crept back to bed again, and coiled themselves up to sleep.
Before even these indications of approaching morning were rife in busy London, Nicholas had made his way alone to the city, and stood beneath the windows o_is mother's house. It was dull and bare to see, but it had light and life fo_im; for there was at least one heart within its old walls to which insult o_ishonour would bring the same blood rushing, that flowed in his own veins.
He crossed the road, and raised his eyes to the window of the room where h_new his sister slept. It was closed and dark. 'Poor girl,' thought Nicholas,
'she little thinks who lingers here!'
He looked again, and felt, for the moment, almost vexed that Kate was no_here to exchange one word at parting. 'Good God!' he thought, suddenl_orrecting himself, 'what a boy I am!'
'It is better as it is,' said Nicholas, after he had lounged on, a few paces, and returned to the same spot. 'When I left them before, and could have sai_oodbye a thousand times if I had chosen, I spared them the pain of leave- taking, and why not now?' As he spoke, some fancied motion of the curtai_lmost persuaded him, for the instant, that Kate was at the window, and by on_f those strange contradictions of feeling which are common to us all, h_hrunk involuntarily into a doorway, that she might not see him. He smiled a_is own weakness; said 'God bless them!' and walked away with a lighter step.
Smike was anxiously expecting him when he reached his old lodgings, and so wa_ewman, who had expended a day's income in a can of rum and milk to prepar_hem for the journey. They had tied up the luggage, Smike shouldered it, an_way they went, with Newman Noggs in company; for he had insisted on walkin_s far as he could with them, overnight.
'Which way?' asked Newman, wistfully.
'To Kingston first,' replied Nicholas.
'And where afterwards?' asked Newman. 'Why won't you tell me?'
'Because I scarcely know myself, good friend,' rejoined Nicholas, laying hi_and upon his shoulder; 'and if I did, I have neither plan nor prospect yet, and might shift my quarters a hundred times before you could possibl_ommunicate with me.'
'I am afraid you have some deep scheme in your head,' said Newman, doubtfully.
'So deep,' replied his young friend, 'that even I can't fathom it. Whatever _esolve upon, depend upon it I will write you soon.'
'You won't forget?' said Newman.
'I am not very likely to,' rejoined Nicholas. 'I have not so many friends tha_ shall grow confused among the number, and forget my best one.'
Occupied in such discourse, they walked on for a couple of hours, as the_ight have done for a couple of days if Nicholas had not sat himself down on _tone by the wayside, and resolutely declared his intention of not movin_nother step until Newman Noggs turned back. Having pleaded ineffectuall_irst for another half-mile, and afterwards for another quarter, Newman wa_ain to comply, and to shape his course towards Golden Square, afte_nterchanging many hearty and affectionate farewells, and many times turnin_ack to wave his hat to the two wayfarers when they had become mere specks i_he distance.
'Now listen to me, Smike,' said Nicholas, as they trudged with stout heart_nwards. 'We are bound for Portsmouth.'
Smike nodded his head and smiled, but expressed no other emotion; for whethe_hey had been bound for Portsmouth or Port Royal would have been alike to him, so they had been bound together.
'I don't know much of these matters,' resumed Nicholas; 'but Portsmouth is _eaport town, and if no other employment is to be obtained, I should think w_ight get on board some ship. I am young and active, and could be useful i_any ways. So could you.'
'I hope so,' replied Smike. 'When I was at that—you know where I mean?'
'Yes, I know,' said Nicholas. 'You needn't name the place.'
'Well, when I was there,' resumed Smike; his eyes sparkling at the prospect o_isplaying his abilities; 'I could milk a cow, and groom a horse, wit_nybody.'
'Ha!' said Nicholas, gravely. 'I am afraid they don't keep many animals o_ither kind on board ship, Smike, and even when they have horses, that the_re not very particular about rubbing them down; still you can learn to d_omething else, you know. Where there's a will, there's a way.'
'And I am very willing,' said Smike, brightening up again.
'God knows you are,' rejoined Nicholas; 'and if you fail, it shall go hard bu_'ll do enough for us both.'
'Do we go all the way today?' asked Smike, after a short silence.
'That would be too severe a trial, even for your willing legs,' said Nicholas, with a good-humoured smile. 'No. Godalming is some thirty and odd miles fro_ondon—as I found from a map I borrowed— and I purpose to rest there. We mus_ush on again tomorrow, for we are not rich enough to loiter. Let me reliev_ou of that bundle! Come!'
'No, no,' rejoined Smike, falling back a few steps. 'Don't ask me to give i_p to you.'
'Why not?' asked Nicholas.
'Let me do something for you, at least,' said Smike. 'You will never let m_erve you as I ought. You will never know how I think, day and night, of way_o please you.'
'You are a foolish fellow to say it, for I know it well, and see it, or _hould be a blind and senseless beast,' rejoined Nicholas. 'Let me ask you _uestion while I think of it, and there is no one by,' he added, looking hi_teadily in the face. 'Have you a good memory?'
'I don't know,' said Smike, shaking his head sorrowfully. 'I think I had once; but it's all gone now—all gone.'
'Why do you think you had once?' asked Nicholas, turning quickly upon him a_hough the answer in some way helped out the purport of his question.
'Because I could remember, when I was a child,' said Smike, 'but that is very, very long ago, or at least it seems so. I was always confused and giddy a_hat place you took me from; and could never remember, and sometimes couldn'_ven understand, what they said to me. I—let me see—let me see!'
'You are wandering now,' said Nicholas, touching him on the arm.
'No,' replied his companion, with a vacant look 'I was only thinking how—' H_hivered involuntarily as he spoke.
'Think no more of that place, for it is all over,' retorted Nicholas, fixin_is eyes full upon that of his companion, which was fast settling into a_nmeaning stupefied gaze, once habitual to him, and common even then. 'What o_he first day you went to Yorkshire?'
'Eh!' cried the lad.
'That was before you began to lose your recollection, you know,' said Nichola_uietly. 'Was the weather hot or cold?'
'Wet,' replied the boy. 'Very wet. I have always said, when it has raine_ard, that it was like the night I came: and they used to crowd round an_augh to see me cry when the rain fell heavily. It was like a child, the_aid, and that made me think of it more. I turned cold all over sometimes, fo_ could see myself as I was then, coming in at the very same door.'
'As you were then,' repeated Nicholas, with assumed carelessness; 'how wa_hat?'
'Such a little creature,' said Smike, 'that they might have had pity and merc_pon me, only to remember it.'
'You didn't find your way there, alone!' remarked Nicholas.
'No,' rejoined Smike, 'oh no.'
'Who was with you?'
'A man—a dark, withered man. I have heard them say so, at the school, and _emembered that before. I was glad to leave him, I was afraid of him; but the_ade me more afraid of them, and used me harder too.'
'Look at me,' said Nicholas, wishing to attract his full attention. 'There; don't turn away. Do you remember no woman, no kind woman, who hung over yo_nce, and kissed your lips, and called you her child?'
'No,' said the poor creature, shaking his head, 'no, never.'
'Nor any house but that house in Yorkshire?'
'No,' rejoined the youth, with a melancholy look; 'a room—I remember I slep_n a room, a large lonesome room at the top of a house, where there was _rap-door in the ceiling. I have covered my head with the clothes often, no_o see it, for it frightened me: a young child with no one near at night: an_ used to wonder what was on the other side. There was a clock too, an ol_lock, in one corner. I remember that. I have never forgotten that room; fo_hen I have terrible dreams, it comes back, just as it was. I see things an_eople in it that I had never seen then, but there is the room just as it use_o be; THAT never changes.'
'Will you let me take the bundle now?' asked Nicholas, abruptly changing th_heme.
'No,' said Smike, 'no. Come, let us walk on.'
He quickened his pace as he said this, apparently under the impression tha_hey had been standing still during the whole of the previous dialogue.
Nicholas marked him closely, and every word of this conversation remained upo_is memory.
It was, by this time, within an hour of noon, and although a dense vapou_till enveloped the city they had left, as if the very breath of its bus_eople hung over their schemes of gain and profit, and found greate_ttraction there than in the quiet region above, in the open country it wa_lear and fair. Occasionally, in some low spots they came upon patches of mis_hich the sun had not yet driven from their strongholds; but these were soo_assed, and as they laboured up the hills beyond, it was pleasant to loo_own, and see how the sluggish mass rolled heavily off, before the cheerin_nfluence of day. A broad, fine, honest sun lighted up the green pastures an_impled water with the semblance of summer, while it left the travellers al_he invigorating freshness of that early time of year. The ground seeme_lastic under their feet; the sheep-bells were music to their ears; an_xhilarated by exercise, and stimulated by hope, they pushed onward with th_trength of lions.
The day wore on, and all these bright colours subsided, and assumed a quiete_int, like young hopes softened down by time, or youthful features by degree_esolving into the calm and serenity of age. But they were scarcely les_eautiful in their slow decline, than they had been in their prime; for natur_ives to every time and season some beauties of its own; and from morning t_ight, as from the cradle to the grave, is but a succession of changes s_entle and easy, that we can scarcely mark their progress.
To Godalming they came at last, and here they bargained for two humble beds, and slept soundly. In the morning they were astir: though not quite so earl_s the sun: and again afoot; if not with all the freshness of yesterday, still, with enough of hope and spirit to bear them cheerily on.
It was a harder day's journey than yesterday's, for there were long and wear_ills to climb; and in journeys, as in life, it is a great deal easier to g_own hill than up. However, they kept on, with unabated perseverance, and th_ill has not yet lifted its face to heaven that perseverance will not gain th_ummit of at last.
They walked upon the rim of the Devil's Punch Bowl; and Smike listened wit_reedy interest as Nicholas read the inscription upon the stone which, reare_pon that wild spot, tells of a murder committed there by night. The grass o_hich they stood, had once been dyed with gore; and the blood of the murdere_an had run down, drop by drop, into the hollow which gives the place it_ame. 'The Devil's Bowl,' thought Nicholas, as he looked into the void, 'neve_eld fitter liquor than that!'
Onward they kept, with steady purpose, and entered at length upon a wide an_pacious tract of downs, with every variety of little hill and plain to chang_heir verdant surface. Here, there shot up, almost perpendicularly, into th_ky, a height so steep, as to be hardly accessible to any but the sheep an_oats that fed upon its sides, and there, stood a mound of green, sloping an_apering off so delicately, and merging so gently into the level ground, tha_ou could scarce define its limits. Hills swelling above each other; an_ndulations shapely and uncouth, smooth and rugged, graceful and grotesque, thrown negligently side by side, bounded the view in each direction; whil_requently, with unexpected noise, there uprose from the ground a flight o_rows, who, cawing and wheeling round the nearest hills, as if uncertain o_heir course, suddenly poised themselves upon the wing and skimmed down th_ong vista of some opening valley, with the speed of light itself.
By degrees, the prospect receded more and more on either hand, and as they ha_een shut out from rich and extensive scenery, so they emerged once again upo_he open country. The knowledge that they were drawing near their place o_estination, gave them fresh courage to proceed; but the way had bee_ifficult, and they had loitered on the road, and Smike was tired. Thus, twilight had already closed in, when they turned off the path to the door of _oadside inn, yet twelve miles short of Portsmouth.
'Twelve miles,' said Nicholas, leaning with both hands on his stick, an_ooking doubtfully at Smike.
'Twelve long miles,' repeated the landlord.
'Is it a good road?' inquired Nicholas.
'Very bad,' said the landlord. As of course, being a landlord, he would say.
'I want to get on,' observed Nicholas. hesitating. 'I scarcely know what t_o.'
'Don't let me influence you,' rejoined the landlord. 'I wouldn't go on if i_as me.'
'Wouldn't you?' asked Nicholas, with the same uncertainty.
'Not if I knew when I was well off,' said the landlord. And having said it h_ulled up his apron, put his hands into his pockets, and, taking a step or tw_utside the door, looked down the dark road with an assumption of grea_ndifference.
A glance at the toil-worn face of Smike determined Nicholas, so without an_urther consideration he made up his mind to stay where he was.
The landlord led them into the kitchen, and as there was a good fire h_emarked that it was very cold. If there had happened to be a bad one he woul_ave observed that it was very warm.
'What can you give us for supper?' was Nicholas's natural question.
'Why—what would you like?' was the landlord's no less natural answer.
Nicholas suggested cold meat, but there was no cold meat—poached eggs, bu_here were no eggs—mutton chops, but there wasn't a mutton chop within thre_iles, though there had been more last week than they knew what to do with, and would be an extraordinary supply the day after tomorrow.
'Then,' said Nicholas, 'I must leave it entirely to you, as I would have done, at first, if you had allowed me.'
'Why, then I'll tell you what,' rejoined the landlord. 'There's a gentleman i_he parlour that's ordered a hot beef-steak pudding and potatoes, at nine.
There's more of it than he can manage, and I have very little doubt that if _sk leave, you can sup with him. I'll do that, in a minute.'
'No, no,' said Nicholas, detaining him. 'I would rather not. I—at least—pshaw!
why cannot I speak out? Here; you see that I am travelling in a very humbl_anner, and have made my way hither on foot. It is more than probable, _hink, that the gentleman may not relish my company; and although I am th_usty figure you see, I am too proud to thrust myself into his.'
'Lord love you,' said the landlord, 'it's only Mr Crummles; HE isn'_articular.'
'Is he not?' asked Nicholas, on whose mind, to tell the truth, the prospect o_he savoury pudding was making some impression.
'Not he,' replied the landlord. 'He'll like your way of talking, I know. Bu_e'll soon see all about that. Just wait a minute.'
The landlord hurried into the parlour, without staying for further permission, nor did Nicholas strive to prevent him: wisely considering that supper, unde_he circumstances, was too serious a matter to be trifled with. It was no_ong before the host returned, in a condition of much excitement.
'All right,' he said in a low voice. 'I knew he would. You'll see somethin_ather worth seeing, in there. Ecod, how they are a-going of it!'
There was no time to inquire to what this exclamation, which was delivered i_ very rapturous tone, referred; for he had already thrown open the door o_he room; into which Nicholas, followed by Smike with the bundle on hi_houlder (he carried it about with him as vigilantly as if it had been a sac_f gold), straightway repaired.
Nicholas was prepared for something odd, but not for something quite so odd a_he sight he encountered. At the upper end of the room, were a couple of boys, one of them very tall and the other very short, both dressed as sailors—or a_east as theatrical sailors, with belts, buckles, pigtails, and pistol_omplete—fighting what is called in play-bills a terrific combat, with two o_hose short broad-swords with basket hilts which are commonly used at ou_inor theatres. The short boy had gained a great advantage over the tall boy, who was reduced to mortal strait, and both were overlooked by a large heav_an, perched against the corner of a table, who emphatically adjured them t_trike a little more fire out of the swords, and they couldn't fail to brin_he house down, on the very first night.
'Mr Vincent Crummles,' said the landlord with an air of great deference. 'Thi_s the young gentleman.'
Mr Vincent Crummles received Nicholas with an inclination of the head, something between the courtesy of a Roman emperor and the nod of a po_ompanion; and bade the landlord shut the door and begone.
'There's a picture,' said Mr Crummles, motioning Nicholas not to advance an_poil it. 'The little 'un has him; if the big 'un doesn't knock under, i_hree seconds, he's a dead man. Do that again, boys.'
The two combatants went to work afresh, and chopped away until the sword_mitted a shower of sparks: to the great satisfaction of Mr Crummles, wh_ppeared to consider this a very great point indeed. The engagement commence_ith about two hundred chops administered by the short sailor and the tal_ailor alternately, without producing any particular result, until the shor_ailor was chopped down on one knee; but this was nothing to him, for h_orked himself about on the one knee with the assistance of his left hand, an_ought most desperately until the tall sailor chopped his sword out of hi_rasp. Now, the inference was, that the short sailor, reduced to thi_xtremity, would give in at once and cry quarter, but, instead of that, he al_f a sudden drew a large pistol from his belt and presented it at the face o_he tall sailor, who was so overcome at this (not expecting it) that he le_he short sailor pick up his sword and begin again. Then, the choppin_ecommenced, and a variety of fancy chops were administered on both sides; such as chops dealt with the left hand, and under the leg, and over the righ_houlder, and over the left; and when the short sailor made a vigorous cut a_he tall sailor's legs, which would have shaved them clean off if it had take_ffect, the tall sailor jumped over the short sailor's sword, wherefore t_alance the matter, and make it all fair, the tall sailor administered th_ame cut, and the short sailor jumped over HIS sword. After this, there was _ood deal of dodging about, and hitching up of the inexpressibles in th_bsence of braces, and then the short sailor (who was the moral characte_vidently, for he always had the best of it) made a violent demonstration an_losed with the tall sailor, who, after a few unavailing struggles, went down, and expired in great torture as the short sailor put his foot upon his breast, and bored a hole in him through and through.
'That'll be a double ENCORE if you take care, boys,' said Mr Crummles. 'Yo_ad better get your wind now and change your clothes.'
Having addressed these words to the combatants, he saluted Nicholas, who the_bserved that the face of Mr Crummles was quite proportionate in size to hi_ody; that he had a very full under- lip, a hoarse voice, as though he were i_he habit of shouting very much, and very short black hair, shaved off nearl_o the crown of his head—to admit (as he afterwards learnt) of his more easil_earing character wigs of any shape or pattern.
'What did you think of that, sir?' inquired Mr Crummles.
'Very good, indeed—capital,' answered Nicholas.
'You won't see such boys as those very often, I think,' said Mr Crummles.
Nicholas assented—observing that if they were a little better match—
'Match!' cried Mr Crummles.
'I mean if they were a little more of a size,' said Nicholas, explainin_imself.
'Size!' repeated Mr Crummles; 'why, it's the essence of the combat that ther_hould be a foot or two between them. How are you to get up the sympathies o_he audience in a legitimate manner, if there isn't a little man contendin_gainst a big one?—unless there's at least five to one, and we haven't hand_nough for that business in our company.'
'I see,' replied Nicholas. 'I beg your pardon. That didn't occur to me, _onfess.'
'It's the main point,' said Mr Crummles. 'I open at Portsmouth the day afte_omorrow. If you're going there, look into the theatre, and see how that'l_ell.'
Nicholas promised to do so, if he could, and drawing a chair near the fire, fell into conversation with the manager at once. He was very talkative an_ommunicative, stimulated perhaps, not only by his natural disposition, but b_he spirits and water he sipped very plentifully, or the snuff he took i_arge quantities from a piece of whitey-brown paper in his waistcoat pocket.
He laid open his affairs without the smallest reserve, and descanted at som_ength upon the merits of his company, and the acquirements of his family; o_oth of which, the two broad-sword boys formed an honourable portion. Ther_as to be a gathering, it seemed, of the different ladies and gentlemen a_ortsmouth on the morrow, whither the father and sons were proceeding (not fo_he regular season, but in the course of a wandering speculation), afte_ulfilling an engagement at Guildford with the greatest applause.
'You are going that way?' asked the manager.
'Ye-yes,' said Nicholas. 'Yes, I am.'
'Do you know the town at all?' inquired the manager, who seemed to conside_imself entitled to the same degree of confidence as he had himself exhibited.
'No,' replied Nicholas.
Mr Vincent Crummles gave a short dry cough, as much as to say, 'If you won'_e communicative, you won't;' and took so many pinches of snuff from the piec_f paper, one after another, that Nicholas quite wondered where it all wen_o.
While he was thus engaged, Mr Crummles looked, from time to time, with grea_nterest at Smike, with whom he had appeared considerably struck from th_irst. He had now fallen asleep, and was nodding in his chair.
'Excuse my saying so,' said the manager, leaning over to Nicholas, and sinkin_is voice, 'but what a capital countenance your friend has got!'
'Poor fellow!' said Nicholas, with a half-smile, 'I wish it were a little mor_lump, and less haggard.'
'Plump!' exclaimed the manager, quite horrified, 'you'd spoil it for ever.'
'Do you think so?'
'Think so, sir! Why, as he is now,' said the manager, striking his kne_mphatically; 'without a pad upon his body, and hardly a touch of paint upo_is face, he'd make such an actor for the starved business as was never see_n this country. Only let him be tolerably well up in the Apothecary in Rome_nd Juliet, with the slightest possible dab of red on the tip of his nose, an_e'd be certain of three rounds the moment he put his head out of th_racticable door in the front grooves O.P.'
'You view him with a professional eye,' said Nicholas, laughing.
'And well I may,' rejoined the manager. 'I never saw a young fellow s_egularly cut out for that line, since I've been in the profession. And _layed the heavy children when I was eighteen months old.'
The appearance of the beef-steak pudding, which came in simultaneously wit_he junior Vincent Crummleses, turned the conversation to other matters, an_ndeed, for a time, stopped it altogether. These two young gentlemen wielde_heir knives and forks with scarcely less address than their broad-swords, an_s the whole party were quite as sharp set as either class of weapons, ther_as no time for talking until the supper had been disposed of.
The Master Crummleses had no sooner swallowed the last procurable morsel o_ood, than they evinced, by various half-suppressed yawns and stretchings o_heir limbs, an obvious inclination to retire for the night, which Smike ha_etrayed still more strongly: he having, in the course of the meal, falle_sleep several times while in the very act of eating. Nicholas therefor_roposed that they should break up at once, but the manager would by no mean_ear of it; vowing that he had promised himself the pleasure of inviting hi_ew acquaintance to share a bowl of punch, and that if he declined, he shoul_eem it very unhandsome behaviour.
'Let them go,' said Mr Vincent Crummles, 'and we'll have it snugly and cosil_ogether by the fire.'
Nicholas was not much disposed to sleep—being in truth too anxious— so, afte_ little demur, he accepted the offer, and having exchanged a shake of th_and with the young Crummleses, and the manager having on his part bestowed _ost affectionate benediction on Smike, he sat himself down opposite to tha_entleman by the fireside to assist in emptying the bowl, which soo_fterwards appeared, steaming in a manner which was quite exhilarating t_ehold, and sending forth a most grateful and inviting fragrance.
But, despite the punch and the manager, who told a variety of stories, an_moked tobacco from a pipe, and inhaled it in the shape of snuff, with a mos_stonishing power, Nicholas was absent and dispirited. His thoughts were i_is old home, and when they reverted to his present condition, the uncertaint_f the morrow cast a gloom upon him, which his utmost efforts were unable t_ispel. His attention wandered; although he heard the manager's voice, he wa_eaf to what he said; and when Mr Vincent Crummles concluded the history o_ome long adventure with a loud laugh, and an inquiry what Nicholas would hav_one under the same circumstances, he was obliged to make the best apology i_is power, and to confess his entire ignorance of all he had been talkin_bout.
'Why, so I saw,' observed Mr Crummles. 'You're uneasy in your mind. What's th_atter?'
Nicholas could not refrain from smiling at the abruptness of the question; but, thinking it scarcely worth while to parry it, owned that he was unde_ome apprehensions lest he might not succeed in the object which had brough_im to that part of the country.
'And what's that?' asked the manager.
'Getting something to do which will keep me and my poor fellow- traveller i_he common necessaries of life,' said Nicholas. 'That's the truth. You guesse_t long ago, I dare say, so I may as well have the credit of telling it yo_ith a good grace.'
'What's to be got to do at Portsmouth more than anywhere else?' asked M_incent Crummles, melting the sealing-wax on the stem of his pipe in th_andle, and rolling it out afresh with his little finger.
'There are many vessels leaving the port, I suppose,' replied Nicholas. '_hall try for a berth in some ship or other. There is meat and drink there a_ll events.'
'Salt meat and new rum; pease-pudding and chaff-biscuits,' said the manager, taking a whiff at his pipe to keep it alight, and returning to his work o_mbellishment.
'One may do worse than that,' said Nicholas. 'I can rough it, I believe, a_ell as most young men of my age and previous habits.'
'You need be able to,' said the manager, 'if you go on board ship; but yo_on't.'
'Because there's not a skipper or mate that would think you worth your salt, when he could get a practised hand,' replied the manager; 'and they a_lentiful there, as the oysters in the streets.'
'What do you mean?' asked Nicholas, alarmed by this prediction, and th_onfident tone in which it had been uttered. 'Men are not born able seamen.
They must be reared, I suppose?'
Mr Vincent Crummles nodded his head. 'They must; but not at your age, or fro_oung gentlemen like you.'
There was a pause. The countenance of Nicholas fell, and he gazed ruefully a_he fire.
'Does no other profession occur to you, which a young man of your figure an_ddress could take up easily, and see the world to advantage in?' asked th_anager.
'No,' said Nicholas, shaking his head.
'Why, then, I'll tell you one,' said Mr Crummles, throwing his pipe into th_ire, and raising his voice. 'The stage.'
'The stage!' cried Nicholas, in a voice almost as loud.
'The theatrical profession,' said Mr Vincent Crummles. 'I am in the theatrica_rofession myself, my wife is in the theatrical profession, my children are i_he theatrical profession. I had a dog that lived and died in it from a puppy; and my chaise-pony goes on, in Timour the Tartar. I'll bring you out, and you_riend too. Say the word. I want a novelty.'
'I don't know anything about it,' rejoined Nicholas, whose breath had bee_lmost taken away by this sudden proposal. 'I never acted a part in my life, except at school.'
'There's genteel comedy in your walk and manner, juvenile tragedy in your eye, and touch-and-go farce in your laugh,' said Mr Vincent Crummles. 'You'll do a_ell as if you had thought of nothing else but the lamps, from your birt_ownwards.'
Nicholas thought of the small amount of small change that would remain in hi_ocket after paying the tavern bill; and he hesitated.
'You can be useful to us in a hundred ways,' said Mr Crummles. 'Think wha_apital bills a man of your education could write for the shop-windows.'
'Well, I think I could manage that department,' said Nicholas.
'To be sure you could,' replied Mr Crummles. '"For further particulars se_mall hand-bills"—we might have half a volume in every one of 'em. Pieces too; why, you could write us a piece to bring out the whole strength of th_ompany, whenever we wanted one.'
'I am not quite so confident about that,' replied Nicholas. 'But I dare say _ould scribble something now and then, that would suit you.'
'We'll have a new show-piece out directly,' said the manager. 'Let m_ee—peculiar resources of this establishment—new and splendid scenery—you mus_anage to introduce a real pump and two washing- tubs.'
'Into the piece?' said Nicholas.
'Yes,' replied the manager. 'I bought 'em cheap, at a sale the other day, an_hey'll come in admirably. That's the London plan. They look up some dresses, and properties, and have a piece written to fit 'em. Most of the theatres kee_n author on purpose.'
'Indeed!' cried Nicholas.
'Oh, yes,' said the manager; 'a common thing. It'll look very well in th_ills in separate lines—Real pump!—Splendid tubs!—Great attraction! You don'_appen to be anything of an artist, do you?'
'That is not one of my accomplishments,' rejoined Nicholas.
'Ah! Then it can't be helped,' said the manager. 'If you had been, we migh_ave had a large woodcut of the last scene for the posters, showing the whol_epth of the stage, with the pump and tubs in the middle; but, however, i_ou're not, it can't be helped.'
'What should I get for all this?' inquired Nicholas, after a few moments'
reflection. 'Could I live by it?'
'Live by it!' said the manager. 'Like a prince! With your own salary, and you_riend's, and your writings, you'd make—ah! you'd make a pound a week!'
'You don't say so!'
'I do indeed, and if we had a run of good houses, nearly double the money.'
Nicholas shrugged his shoulders; but sheer destitution was before him; and i_e could summon fortitude to undergo the extremes of want and hardship, fo_hat had he rescued his helpless charge if it were only to bear as hard a fat_s that from which he had wrested him? It was easy to think of seventy mile_s nothing, when he was in the same town with the man who had treated him s_ll and roused his bitterest thoughts; but now, it seemed far enough. What i_e went abroad, and his mother or Kate were to die the while?
Without more deliberation, he hastily declared that it was a bargain, and gav_r Vincent Crummles his hand upon it.