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.'
'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 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
'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!