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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.
  • 'Never there?'
  • 'Never.'
  • 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.'
  • 'Why not?'
  • '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.