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Chapter 29 Of the Proceedings of Nicholas, and certain Internal Division_n the Company of Mr Vincent Crummles

  • The unexpected success and favour with which his experiment at Portsmouth ha_een received, induced Mr Crummles to prolong his stay in that town for _ortnight beyond the period he had originally assigned for the duration of hi_isit, during which time Nicholas personated a vast variety of characters wit_ndiminished success, and attracted so many people to the theatre who ha_ever been seen there before, that a benefit was considered by the manager _ery promising speculation. Nicholas assenting to the terms proposed, th_enefit was had, and by it he realised no less a sum than twenty pounds.
  • Possessed of this unexpected wealth, his first act was to enclose to hones_ohn Browdie the amount of his friendly loan, which he accompanied with man_xpressions of gratitude and esteem, and many cordial wishes for hi_atrimonial happiness. To Newman Noggs he forwarded one half of the sum he ha_ealised, entreating him to take an opportunity of handing it to Kate i_ecret, and conveying to her the warmest assurances of his love and affection.
  • He made no mention of the way in which he had employed himself; merel_nforming Newman that a letter addressed to him under his assumed name at th_ost Office, Portsmouth, would readily find him, and entreating that worth_riend to write full particulars of the situation of his mother and sister, and an account of all the grand things that Ralph Nickleby had done for the_ince his departure from London.
  • 'You are out of spirits,' said Smike, on the night after the letter had bee_ispatched.
  • 'Not I!' rejoined Nicholas, with assumed gaiety, for the confession would hav_ade the boy miserable all night; 'I was thinking about my sister, Smike.'
  • 'Sister!'
  • 'Ay.'
  • 'Is she like you?' inquired Smike.
  • 'Why, so they say,' replied Nicholas, laughing, 'only a great deal handsomer.'
  • 'She must be VERY beautiful,' said Smike, after thinking a little while wit_is hands folded together, and his eyes bent upon his friend.
  • 'Anybody who didn't know you as well as I do, my dear fellow, would say yo_ere an accomplished courtier,' said Nicholas.
  • 'I don't even know what that is,' replied Smike, shaking his head. 'Shall _ver see your sister?'
  • 'To be sure,' cried Nicholas; 'we shall all be together one of these days—whe_e are rich, Smike.'
  • 'How is it that you, who are so kind and good to me, have nobody to be kind t_ou?' asked Smike. 'I cannot make that out.'
  • 'Why, it is a long story,' replied Nicholas, 'and one you would have som_ifficulty in comprehending, I fear. I have an enemy—you understand what tha_s?'
  • 'Oh, yes, I understand that,' said Smike.
  • 'Well, it is owing to him,' returned Nicholas. 'He is rich, and not so easil_unished as YOUR old enemy, Mr Squeers. He is my uncle, but he is a villain, and has done me wrong.'
  • 'Has he though?' asked Smike, bending eagerly forward. 'What is his name? Tel_e his name.'
  • 'Ralph—Ralph Nickleby.'
  • 'Ralph Nickleby,' repeated Smike. 'Ralph. I'll get that name by heart.'
  • He had muttered it over to himself some twenty times, when a loud knock at th_oor disturbed him from his occupation. Before he could open it, Mr Folair, the pantomimist, thrust in his head.
  • Mr Folair's head was usually decorated with a very round hat, unusually hig_n the crown, and curled up quite tight in the brims. On the present occasio_e wore it very much on one side, with the back part forward in consequence o_ts being the least rusty; round his neck he wore a flaming red worste_omforter, whereof the straggling ends peeped out beneath his threadbar_ewmarket coat, which was very tight and buttoned all the way up. He carrie_n his hand one very dirty glove, and a cheap dress cane with a glass handle; in short, his whole appearance was unusually dashing, and demonstrated a fa_ore scrupulous attention to his toilet than he was in the habit of bestowin_pon it.
  • 'Good-evening, sir,' said Mr Folair, taking off the tall hat, and running hi_ingers through his hair. 'I bring a communication. Hem!'
  • 'From whom and what about?' inquired Nicholas. 'You are unusually mysteriou_onight.'
  • 'Cold, perhaps,' returned Mr Folair; 'cold, perhaps. That is the fault of m_osition—not of myself, Mr Johnson. My position as a mutual friend require_t, sir.' Mr Folair paused with a most impressive look, and diving into th_at before noticed, drew from thence a small piece of whity-brown pape_uriously folded, whence he brought forth a note which it had served to kee_lean, and handing it over to Nicholas, said—
  • 'Have the goodness to read that, sir.'
  • Nicholas, in a state of much amazement, took the note and broke the seal, glancing at Mr Folair as he did so, who, knitting his brow and pursing up hi_outh with great dignity, was sitting with his eyes steadily fixed upon th_eiling.
  • It was directed to blank Johnson, Esq., by favour of Augustus Folair, Esq.; and the astonishment of Nicholas was in no degree lessened, when he found i_o be couched in the following laconic terms:—
  • "Mr Lenville presents his kind regards to Mr Johnson, and will feel obliged i_e will inform him at what hour tomorrow morning it will be most convenient t_im to meet Mr L. at the Theatre, for the purpose of having his nose pulled i_he presence of the company.
  • "Mr Lenville requests Mr Johnson not to neglect making an appointment, as h_as invited two or three professional friends to witness the ceremony, an_annot disappoint them upon any account whatever.
  • "PORTSMOUTH, TUESDAY NIGHT."
  • Indignant as he was at this impertinence, there was something so exquisitel_bsurd in such a cartel of defiance, that Nicholas was obliged to bite his li_nd read the note over two or three times before he could muster sufficien_ravity and sternness to address the hostile messenger, who had not taken hi_yes from the ceiling, nor altered the expression of his face in the slightes_egree.
  • 'Do you know the contents of this note, sir?' he asked, at length.
  • 'Yes,' rejoined Mr Folair, looking round for an instant, and immediatel_arrying his eyes back again to the ceiling.
  • 'And how dare you bring it here, sir?' asked Nicholas, tearing it into ver_ittle pieces, and jerking it in a shower towards the messenger. 'Had you n_ear of being kicked downstairs, sir?'
  • Mr Folair turned his head—now ornamented with several fragments of th_ote—towards Nicholas, and with the same imperturbable dignity, briefl_eplied 'No.'
  • 'Then,' said Nicholas, taking up the tall hat and tossing it towards the door,
  • 'you had better follow that article of your dress, sir, or you may fin_ourself very disagreeably deceived, and that within a dozen seconds.'
  • 'I say, Johnson,' remonstrated Mr Folair, suddenly losing all his dignity,
  • 'none of that, you know. No tricks with a gentleman's wardrobe.'
  • 'Leave the room,' returned Nicholas. 'How could you presume to come here o_uch an errand, you scoundrel?'
  • 'Pooh! pooh!' said Mr Folair, unwinding his comforter, and gradually gettin_imself out of it. 'There—that's enough.'
  • 'Enough!' cried Nicholas, advancing towards him. 'Take yourself off, sir.'
  • 'Pooh! pooh! I tell you,' returned Mr Folair, waving his hand in deprecatio_f any further wrath; 'I wasn't in earnest. I only brought it in joke.'
  • 'You had better be careful how you indulge in such jokes again,' sai_icholas, 'or you may find an allusion to pulling noses rather a dangerou_eminder for the subject of your facetiousness. Was it written in joke, too, pray?'
  • 'No, no, that's the best of it,' returned the actor; 'right dow_arnest—honour bright.'
  • Nicholas could not repress a smile at the odd figure before him, which, at al_imes more calculated to provoke mirth than anger, was especially so at tha_oment, when with one knee upon the ground, Mr Folair twirled his old ha_ound upon his hand, and affected the extremest agony lest any of the na_hould have been knocked off—an ornament which it is almost superfluous t_ay, it had not boasted for many months.
  • 'Come, sir,' said Nicholas, laughing in spite of himself. 'Have the goodnes_o explain.'
  • 'Why, I'll tell you how it is,' said Mr Folair, sitting himself down in _hair with great coolness. 'Since you came here Lenville has done nothing bu_econd business, and, instead of having a reception every night as he used t_ave, they have let him come on as if he was nobody.'
  • 'What do you mean by a reception?' asked Nicholas.
  • 'Jupiter!' exclaimed Mr Folair, 'what an unsophisticated shepherd you are, Johnson! Why, applause from the house when you first come on. So he has gon_n night after night, never getting a hand, and you getting a couple of round_t least, and sometimes three, till at length he got quite desperate, and ha_alf a mind last night to play Tybalt with a real sword, and pink you—no_angerously, but just enough to lay you up for a month or two.'
  • 'Very considerate,' remarked Nicholas.
  • 'Yes, I think it was under the circumstances; his professional reputatio_eing at stake,' said Mr Folair, quite seriously. 'But his heart failed him, and he cast about for some other way of annoying you, and making himsel_opular at the same time—for that's the point. Notoriety, notoriety, is th_hing. Bless you, if he had pinked you,' said Mr Folair, stopping to make _alculation in his mind, 'it would have been worth—ah, it would have bee_orth eight or ten shillings a week to him. All the town would have come t_ee the actor who nearly killed a man by mistake; I shouldn't wonder if it ha_ot him an engagement in London. However, he was obliged to try some othe_ode of getting popular, and this one occurred to him. It's clever idea, really. If you had shown the white feather, and let him pull your nose, he'_ave got it into the paper; if you had sworn the peace against him, it woul_ave been in the paper too, and he'd have been just as much talked about a_ou—don't you see?'
  • 'Oh, certainly,' rejoined Nicholas; 'but suppose I were to turn the tables, and pull HIS nose, what then? Would that make his fortune?'
  • 'Why, I don't think it would,' replied Mr Folair, scratching his head,
  • 'because there wouldn't be any romance about it, and he wouldn't be favourabl_nown. To tell you the truth though, he didn't calculate much upon that, fo_ou're always so mild-spoken, and are so popular among the women, that w_idn't suspect you of showing fight. If you did, however, he has a way o_etting out of it easily, depend upon that.'
  • 'Has he?' rejoined Nicholas. 'We will try, tomorrow morning. In the meantime, you can give whatever account of our interview you like best. Good-night.'
  • As Mr Folair was pretty well known among his fellow-actors for a man wh_elighted in mischief, and was by no means scrupulous, Nicholas had not muc_oubt but that he had secretly prompted the tragedian in the course he ha_aken, and, moreover, that he would have carried his mission with a very hig_and if he had not been disconcerted by the very unexpected demonstration_ith which it had been received. It was not worth his while to be serious wit_im, however, so he dismissed the pantomimist, with a gentle hint that if h_ffended again it would be under the penalty of a broken head; and Mr Folair, taking the caution in exceedingly good part, walked away to confer with hi_rincipal, and give such an account of his proceedings as he might think bes_alculated to carry on the joke.
  • He had no doubt reported that Nicholas was in a state of extreme bodily fear; for when that young gentleman walked with much deliberation down to th_heatre next morning at the usual hour, he found all the company assembled i_vident expectation, and Mr Lenville, with his severest stage face, sittin_ajestically on a table, whistling defiance.
  • Now the ladies were on the side of Nicholas, and the gentlemen (being jealous) were on the side of the disappointed tragedian; so that the latter formed _ittle group about the redoubtable Mr Lenville, and the former looked on at _ittle distance in some trepidation and anxiety. On Nicholas stopping t_alute them, Mr Lenville laughed a scornful laugh, and made some genera_emark touching the natural history of puppies.
  • 'Oh!' said Nicholas, looking quietly round, 'are you there?'
  • 'Slave!' returned Mr Lenville, flourishing his right arm, and approachin_icholas with a theatrical stride. But somehow he appeared just at that momen_ little startled, as if Nicholas did not look quite so frightened as he ha_xpected, and came all at once to an awkward halt, at which the assemble_adies burst into a shrill laugh.
  • 'Object of my scorn and hatred!' said Mr Lenville, 'I hold ye in contempt.'
  • Nicholas laughed in very unexpected enjoyment of this performance; and th_adies, by way of encouragement, laughed louder than before; whereat M_enville assumed his bitterest smile, and expressed his opinion that they were
  • 'minions'.
  • 'But they shall not protect ye!' said the tragedian, taking an upward look a_icholas, beginning at his boots and ending at the crown of his head, and the_ downward one, beginning at the crown of his head, and ending at hi_oots—which two looks, as everybody knows, express defiance on the stage.
  • 'They shall not protect ye— boy!'
  • Thus speaking, Mr Lenville folded his arms, and treated Nicholas to tha_xpression of face with which, in melodramatic performances, he was in th_abit of regarding the tyrannical kings when they said, 'Away with him to th_eepest dungeon beneath the castle moat;' and which, accompanied with a littl_ingling of fetters, had been known to produce great effects in its time.
  • Whether it was the absence of the fetters or not, it made no very dee_mpression on Mr Lenville's adversary, however, but rather seemed to increas_he good-humour expressed in his countenance; in which stage of the contest, one or two gentlemen, who had come out expressly to witness the pulling o_icholas's nose, grew impatient, murmuring that if it were to be done at al_t had better be done at once, and that if Mr Lenville didn't mean to do it h_ad better say so, and not keep them waiting there. Thus urged, the tragedia_djusted the cuff of his right coat sleeve for the performance of th_peration, and walked in a very stately manner up to Nicholas, who suffere_im to approach to within the requisite distance, and then, without th_mallest discomposure, knocked him down.
  • Before the discomfited tragedian could raise his head from the boards, Mr_enville (who, as has been before hinted, was in an interesting state) rushe_rom the rear rank of ladies, and uttering a piercing scream threw hersel_pon the body.
  • 'Do you see this, monster? Do you see THIS?' cried Mr Lenville, sitting up, and pointing to his prostrate lady, who was holding him very tight round th_aist.
  • 'Come,' said Nicholas, nodding his head, 'apologise for the insolent note yo_rote to me last night, and waste no more time in talking.'
  • 'Never!' cried Mr Lenville.
  • 'Yes—yes—yes!' screamed his wife. 'For my sake—for mine, Lenville—forego al_dle forms, unless you would see me a blighted corse at your feet.'
  • 'This is affecting!' said Mr Lenville, looking round him, and drawing the bac_f his hand across his eyes. 'The ties of nature are strong. The weak husban_nd the father—the father that is yet to be—relents. I apologise.'
  • 'Humbly and submissively?' said Nicholas.
  • 'Humbly and submissively,' returned the tragedian, scowling upwards. 'But onl_o save her,—for a time will come—'
  • 'Very good,' said Nicholas; 'I hope Mrs Lenville may have a good one; and whe_t does come, and you are a father, you shall retract it if you have th_ourage. There. Be careful, sir, to what lengths your jealousy carries yo_nother time; and be careful, also, before you venture too far, to ascertai_our rival's temper.' With this parting advice Nicholas picked up M_enville's ash stick which had flown out of his hand, and breaking it in half, threw him the pieces and withdrew, bowing slightly to the spectators as h_alked out.
  • The profoundest deference was paid to Nicholas that night, and the people wh_ad been most anxious to have his nose pulled in the morning, embrace_ccasions of taking him aside, and telling him with great feeling, how ver_riendly they took it that he should have treated that Lenville so properly, who was a most unbearable fellow, and on whom they had all, by a remarkabl_oincidence, at one time or other contemplated the infliction of condig_unishment, which they had only been restrained from administering b_onsiderations of mercy; indeed, to judge from the invariable termination o_ll these stories, there never was such a charitable and kind-hearted set o_eople as the male members of Mr Crummles's company.
  • Nicholas bore his triumph, as he had his success in the little world of th_heatre, with the utmost moderation and good humour. The crestfallen M_enville made an expiring effort to obtain revenge by sending a boy into th_allery to hiss, but he fell a sacrifice to popular indignation, and wa_romptly turned out without having his money back.
  • 'Well, Smike,' said Nicholas when the first piece was over, and he had almos_inished dressing to go home, 'is there any letter yet?'
  • 'Yes,' replied Smike, 'I got this one from the post-office.'
  • 'From Newman Noggs,' said Nicholas, casting his eye upon the crampe_irection; 'it's no easy matter to make his writing out. Let me see—let m_ee.'
  • By dint of poring over the letter for half an hour, he contrived to mak_imself master of the contents, which were certainly not of a nature to se_is mind at ease. Newman took upon himself to send back the ten pounds, observing that he had ascertained that neither Mrs Nickleby nor Kate was i_ctual want of money at the moment, and that a time might shortly come whe_icholas might want it more. He entreated him not to be alarmed at what he wa_bout to say;—there was no bad news—they were in good health—but he though_ircumstances might occur, or were occurring, which would render it absolutel_ecessary that Kate should have her brother's protection, and if so, Newma_aid, he would write to him to that effect, either by the next post or th_ext but one.
  • Nicholas read this passage very often, and the more he thought of it the mor_e began to fear some treachery upon the part of Ralph. Once or twice he fel_empted to repair to London at all hazards without an hour's delay, but _ittle reflection assured him that if such a step were necessary, Newman woul_ave spoken out and told him so at once.
  • 'At all events I should prepare them here for the possibility of my going awa_uddenly,' said Nicholas; 'I should lose no time in doing that.' As th_hought occurred to him, he took up his hat and hurried to the green-room.
  • 'Well, Mr Johnson,' said Mrs Crummles, who was seated there in full rega_ostume, with the phenomenon as the Maiden in her maternal arms, 'next wee_or Ryde, then for Winchester, then for—'
  • 'I have some reason to fear,' interrupted Nicholas, 'that before you leav_ere my career with you will have closed.'
  • 'Closed!' cried Mrs Crummles, raising her hands in astonishment.
  • 'Closed!' cried Miss Snevellicci, trembling so much in her tights that sh_ctually laid her hand upon the shoulder of the manageress for support.
  • 'Why he don't mean to say he's going!' exclaimed Mrs Grudden, making her wa_owards Mrs Crummles. 'Hoity toity! Nonsense.'
  • The phenomenon, being of an affectionate nature and moreover excitable, raise_ loud cry, and Miss Belvawney and Miss Bravassa actually shed tears. Even th_ale performers stopped in their conversation, and echoed the word 'Going!'
  • although some among them (and they had been the loudest in thei_ongratulations that day) winked at each other as though they would not b_orry to lose such a favoured rival; an opinion, indeed, which the honest M_olair, who was ready dressed for the savage, openly stated in so many word_o a demon with whom he was sharing a pot of porter.
  • Nicholas briefly said that he feared it would be so, although he could not ye_peak with any degree of certainty; and getting away as soon as he could, wen_ome to con Newman's letter once more, and speculate upon it afresh.
  • How trifling all that had been occupying his time and thoughts for many week_eemed to him during that sleepless night, and how constantly and incessantl_resent to his imagination was the one idea that Kate in the midst of som_reat trouble and distress might even then be looking—and vainly too—for him!