Chapter 3 Mr Ralph Nickleby receives Sad Tidings of his Brother, but bear_p nobly against the Intelligence communicated to him. The Reader is informe_ow he liked Nicholas, who is herein introduced, and how kindly he proposed t_ake his Fortune at once
Having rendered his zealous assistance towards dispatching the lunch, with al_hat promptitude and energy which are among the most important qualities tha_en of business can possess, Mr Ralph Nickleby took a cordial farewell of hi_ellow-speculators, and bent his steps westward in unwonted good humour. As h_assed St Paul's he stepped aside into a doorway to set his watch, and wit_is hand on the key and his eye on the cathedral dial, was intent upon s_oing, when a man suddenly stopped before him. It was Newman Noggs.
'Ah! Newman,' said Mr Nickleby, looking up as he pursued his occupation. 'Th_etter about the mortgage has come, has it? I thought it would.'
'Wrong,' replied Newman.
'What! and nobody called respecting it?' inquired Mr Nickleby, pausing. Nogg_hook his head.
'What HAS come, then?' inquired Mr Nickleby.
'I have,' said Newman.
'What else?' demanded the master, sternly.
'This,' said Newman, drawing a sealed letter slowly from his pocket. 'Post- mark, Strand, black wax, black border, woman's hand, C. N. in the corner.'
'Black wax?' said Mr Nickleby, glancing at the letter. 'I know something o_hat hand, too. Newman, I shouldn't be surprised if my brother were dead.'
'I don't think you would,' said Newman, quietly.
'Why not, sir?' demanded Mr Nickleby.
'You never are surprised,' replied Newman, 'that's all.'
Mr Nickleby snatched the letter from his assistant, and fixing a cold loo_pon him, opened, read it, put it in his pocket, and having now hit the tim_o a second, began winding up his watch.
'It is as I expected, Newman,' said Mr Nickleby, while he was thus engaged.
'He IS dead. Dear me! Well, that's sudden thing. I shouldn't have thought it, really.' With these touching expressions of sorrow, Mr Nickleby replaced hi_atch in his fob, and, fitting on his gloves to a nicety, turned upon his way, and walked slowly westward with his hands behind him.
'Children alive?' inquired Noggs, stepping up to him.
'Why, that's the very thing,' replied Mr Nickleby, as though his thoughts wer_bout them at that moment. 'They are both alive.'
'Both!' repeated Newman Noggs, in a low voice.
'And the widow, too,' added Mr Nickleby, 'and all three in London, confoun_hem; all three here, Newman.'
Newman fell a little behind his master, and his face was curiously twisted a_y a spasm; but whether of paralysis, or grief, or inward laughter, nobody bu_imself could possibly explain. The expression of a man's face is commonly _elp to his thoughts, or glossary on his speech; but the countenance of Newma_oggs, in his ordinary moods, was a problem which no stretch of ingenuit_ould solve.
'Go home!' said Mr Nickleby, after they had walked a few paces: looking roun_t the clerk as if he were his dog. The words were scarcely uttered whe_ewman darted across the road, slunk among the crowd, and disappeared in a_nstant.
'Reasonable, certainly!' muttered Mr Nickleby to himself, as he walked on,
'very reasonable! My brother never did anything for me, and I never expecte_t; the breath is no sooner out of his body than I am to be looked to, as th_upport of a great hearty woman, and a grown boy and girl. What are they t_e! I never saw them.'
Full of these, and many other reflections of a similar kind, Mr Nickleby mad_he best of his way to the Strand, and, referring to his letter as if t_scertain the number of the house he wanted, stopped at a private door abou_alf-way down that crowded thoroughfare.
A miniature painter lived there, for there was a large gilt frame screwed upo_he street-door, in which were displayed, upon a black velvet ground, tw_ortraits of naval dress coats with faces looking out of them, and telescope_ttached; one of a young gentleman in a very vermilion uniform, flourishing _abre; and one of a literary character with a high forehead, a pen and ink, six books, and a curtain. There was, moreover, a touching representation of _oung lady reading a manuscript in an unfathomable forest, and a charmin_hole length of a large-headed little boy, sitting on a stool with his leg_ore-shortened to the size of salt-spoons. Besides these works of art, ther_ere a great many heads of old ladies and gentlemen smirking at each other ou_f blue and brown skies, and an elegantly written card of terms with a_mbossed border.
Mr Nickleby glanced at these frivolities with great contempt, and gave _ouble knock, which, having been thrice repeated, was answered by a servan_irl with an uncommonly dirty face.
'Is Mrs Nickleby at home, girl?' demanded Ralph sharply.
'Her name ain't Nickleby,' said the girl, 'La Creevy, you mean.'
Mr Nickleby looked very indignant at the handmaid on being thus corrected, an_emanded with much asperity what she meant; which she was about to state, whe_ female voice proceeding from a perpendicular staircase at the end of th_assage, inquired who was wanted.
'Mrs Nickleby,' said Ralph.
'It's the second floor, Hannah,' said the same voice; 'what a stupid thing yo_re! Is the second floor at home?'
'Somebody went out just now, but I think it was the attic which had been _leaning of himself,' replied the girl.
'You had better see,' said the invisible female. 'Show the gentleman where th_ell is, and tell him he mustn't knock double knocks for the second floor; _an't allow a knock except when the bell's broke, and then it must be tw_ingle ones.'
'Here,' said Ralph, walking in without more parley, 'I beg your pardon; i_hat Mrs La what's-her-name?'
'Creevy—La Creevy,' replied the voice, as a yellow headdress bobbed over th_anisters.
'I'll speak to you a moment, ma'am, with your leave,' said Ralph.
The voice replied that the gentleman was to walk up; but he had walked u_efore it spoke, and stepping into the first floor, was received by the weare_f the yellow head-dress, who had a gown to correspond, and was of much th_ame colour herself. Miss La Creevy was a mincing young lady of fifty, an_iss La Creevy's apartment was the gilt frame downstairs on a larger scale an_omething dirtier.
'Hem!' said Miss La Creevy, coughing delicately behind her black silk mitten.
'A miniature, I presume. A very strongly-marked countenance for the purpose, sir. Have you ever sat before?'
'You mistake my purpose, I see, ma'am,' replied Mr Nickleby, in his usua_lunt fashion. 'I have no money to throw away on miniatures, ma'am, and nobod_o give one to (thank God) if I had. Seeing you on the stairs, I wanted to as_ question of you, about some lodgers here.'
Miss La Creevy coughed once more—this cough was to conceal he_isappointment—and said, 'Oh, indeed!'
'I infer from what you said to your servant, that the floor above belongs t_ou, ma'am,' said Mr Nickleby.
Yes it did, Miss La Creevy replied. The upper part of the house belonged t_er, and as she had no necessity for the second-floor rooms just then, she wa_n the habit of letting them. Indeed, there was a lady from the country an_er two children in them, at that present speaking.
'A widow, ma'am?' said Ralph.
'Yes, she is a widow,' replied the lady.
'A POOR widow, ma'am,' said Ralph, with a powerful emphasis on that littl_djective which conveys so much.
'Well, I'm afraid she IS poor,' rejoined Miss La Creevy.
'I happen to know that she is, ma'am,' said Ralph. 'Now, what business has _oor widow in such a house as this, ma'am?'
'Very true,' replied Miss La Creevy, not at all displeased with this implie_ompliment to the apartments. 'Exceedingly true.'
'I know her circumstances intimately, ma'am,' said Ralph; 'in fact, I am _elation of the family; and I should recommend you not to keep them here, ma'am.'
'I should hope, if there was any incompatibility to meet the pecuniar_bligations,' said Miss La Creevy with another cough, 'that the lady's famil_ould—'
'No they wouldn't, ma'am,' interrupted Ralph, hastily. 'Don't think it.'
'If I am to understand that,' said Miss La Creevy, 'the case wears a ver_ifferent appearance.'
'You may understand it then, ma'am,' said Ralph, 'and make your arrangement_ccordingly. I am the family, ma'am—at least, I believe I am the only relatio_hey have, and I think it right that you should know I can't support them i_heir extravagances. How long have they taken these lodgings for?'
'Only from week to week,' replied Miss La Creevy. 'Mrs Nickleby paid the firs_eek in advance.'
'Then you had better get them out at the end of it,' said Ralph. 'They can'_o better than go back to the country, ma'am; they are in everybody's wa_ere.'
'Certainly,' said Miss La Creevy, rubbing her hands, 'if Mrs Nickleby took th_partments without the means of paying for them, it was very unbecoming _ady.'
'Of course it was, ma'am,' said Ralph.
'And naturally,' continued Miss La Creevy, 'I who am, AT PRESENT— hem—a_nprotected female, cannot afford to lose by the apartments.'
'Of course you can't, ma'am,' replied Ralph.
'Though at the same time,' added Miss La Creevy, who was plainly waverin_etween her good-nature and her interest, 'I have nothing whatever to sa_gainst the lady, who is extremely pleasant and affable, though, poor thing, she seems terribly low in her spirits; nor against the young people either, for nicer, or better-behaved young people cannot be.'
'Very well, ma'am,' said Ralph, turning to the door, for these encomiums o_overty irritated him; 'I have done my duty, and perhaps more than I ought: o_ourse nobody will thank me for saying what I have.'
'I am sure I am very much obliged to you at least, sir,' said Miss La Creev_n a gracious manner. 'Would you do me the favour to look at a few specimen_f my portrait painting?'
'You're very good, ma'am,' said Mr Nickleby, making off with great speed; 'bu_s I have a visit to pay upstairs, and my time is precious, I really can't.'
'At any other time when you are passing, I shall be most happy,' said Miss L_reevy. 'Perhaps you will have the kindness to take a card of terms with you?
'Good-morning, ma'am,' said Ralph, shutting the door abruptly after him t_revent any further conversation. 'Now for my sister-in-law. Bah!'
Climbing up another perpendicular flight, composed with great mechanica_ngenuity of nothing but corner stairs, Mr Ralph Nickleby stopped to tak_reath on the landing, when he was overtaken by the handmaid, whom th_oliteness of Miss La Creevy had dispatched to announce him, and who ha_pparently been making a variety of unsuccessful attempts, since their las_nterview, to wipe her dirty face clean, upon an apron much dirtier.
'What name?' said the girl.
'Nickleby,' replied Ralph.
'Oh! Mrs Nickleby,' said the girl, throwing open the door, 'here's M_ickleby.'
A lady in deep mourning rose as Mr Ralph Nickleby entered, but appeare_ncapable of advancing to meet him, and leant upon the arm of a slight bu_ery beautiful girl of about seventeen, who had been sitting by her. A youth, who appeared a year or two older, stepped forward and saluted Ralph as hi_ncle.
'Oh,' growled Ralph, with an ill-favoured frown, 'you are Nicholas, _uppose?'
'That is my name, sir,' replied the youth.
'Put my hat down,' said Ralph, imperiously. 'Well, ma'am, how do you do? Yo_ust bear up against sorrow, ma'am; I always do.'
'Mine was no common loss!' said Mrs Nickleby, applying her handkerchief to he_yes.
'It was no UNcommon loss, ma'am,' returned Ralph, as he coolly unbuttoned hi_pencer. 'Husbands die every day, ma'am, and wives too.'
'And brothers also, sir,' said Nicholas, with a glance of indignation.
'Yes, sir, and puppies, and pug-dogs likewise,' replied his uncle, taking _hair. 'You didn't mention in your letter what my brother's complaint was, ma'am.'
'The doctors could attribute it to no particular disease,' said Mrs Nickleby; shedding tears. 'We have too much reason to fear that he died of a broke_eart.'
'Pooh!' said Ralph, 'there's no such thing. I can understand a man's dying o_ broken neck, or suffering from a broken arm, or a broken head, or a broke_eg, or a broken nose; but a broken heart! —nonsense, it's the cant of th_ay. If a man can't pay his debts, he dies of a broken heart, and his widow'_ martyr.'
'Some people, I believe, have no hearts to break,' observed Nicholas, quietly.
'How old is this boy, for God's sake?' inquired Ralph, wheeling back hi_hair, and surveying his nephew from head to foot with intense scorn.
'Nicholas is very nearly nineteen,' replied the widow.
'Nineteen, eh!' said Ralph; 'and what do you mean to do for your bread, sir?'
'Not to live upon my mother,' replied Nicholas, his heart swelling as h_poke.
'You'd have little enough to live upon, if you did,' retorted the uncle, eyeing him contemptuously.
'Whatever it be,' said Nicholas, flushed with anger, 'I shall not look to yo_o make it more.'
'Nicholas, my dear, recollect yourself,' remonstrated Mrs Nickleby.
'Dear Nicholas, pray,' urged the young lady.
'Hold your tongue, sir,' said Ralph. 'Upon my word! Fine beginnings, Mr_ickleby—fine beginnings!'
Mrs Nickleby made no other reply than entreating Nicholas by a gesture to kee_ilent; and the uncle and nephew looked at each other for some seconds withou_peaking. The face of the old man was stern, hard-featured, and forbidding; that of the young one, open, handsome, and ingenuous. The old man's eye wa_een with the twinklings of avarice and cunning; the young man's bright wit_he light of intelligence and spirit. His figure was somewhat slight, bu_anly and well formed; and, apart from all the grace of youth and comeliness, there was an emanation from the warm young heart in his look and bearing whic_ept the old man down.
However striking such a contrast as this may be to lookers-on, none ever fee_t with half the keenness or acuteness of perfection with which it strikes t_he very soul of him whose inferiority it marks. It galled Ralph to th_eart's core, and he hated Nicholas from that hour.
The mutual inspection was at length brought to a close by Ralph withdrawin_is eyes, with a great show of disdain, and calling Nicholas 'a boy.' Thi_ord is much used as a term of reproach by elderly gentlemen towards thei_uniors: probably with the view of deluding society into the belief that i_hey could be young again, they wouldn't on any account.
'Well, ma'am,' said Ralph, impatiently, 'the creditors have administered, yo_ell me, and there's nothing left for you?'
'Nothing,' replied Mrs Nickleby.
'And you spent what little money you had, in coming all the way to London, t_ee what I could do for you?' pursued Ralph.
'I hoped,' faltered Mrs Nickleby, 'that you might have an opportunity of doin_omething for your brother's children. It was his dying wish that I shoul_ppeal to you in their behalf.'
'I don't know how it is,' muttered Ralph, walking up and down the room, 'bu_henever a man dies without any property of his own, he always seems to thin_e has a right to dispose of other people's. What is your daughter fit for, ma'am?'
'Kate has been well educated,' sobbed Mrs Nickleby. 'Tell your uncle, my dear, how far you went in French and extras.'
The poor girl was about to murmur something, when her uncle stopped her, ver_nceremoniously.
'We must try and get you apprenticed at some boarding-school,' said Ralph.
'You have not been brought up too delicately for that, I hope?'
'No, indeed, uncle,' replied the weeping girl. 'I will try to do anything tha_ill gain me a home and bread.'
'Well, well,' said Ralph, a little softened, either by his niece's beauty o_er distress (stretch a point, and say the latter). 'You must try it, and i_he life is too hard, perhaps dressmaking or tambour-work will come lighter.
Have YOU ever done anything, sir?' (turning to his nephew.)
'No,' replied Nicholas, bluntly.
'No, I thought not!' said Ralph. 'This is the way my brother brought up hi_hildren, ma'am.'
'Nicholas has not long completed such education as his poor father could giv_im,' rejoined Mrs Nickleby, 'and he was thinking of—'
'Of making something of him someday,' said Ralph. 'The old story; alway_hinking, and never doing. If my brother had been a man of activity an_rudence, he might have left you a rich woman, ma'am: and if he had turned hi_on into the world, as my father turned me, when I wasn't as old as that bo_y a year and a half, he would have been in a situation to help you, instea_f being a burden upon you, and increasing your distress. My brother was _houghtless, inconsiderate man, Mrs Nickleby, and nobody, I am sure, can hav_etter reason to feel that, than you.'
This appeal set the widow upon thinking that perhaps she might have made _ore successful venture with her one thousand pounds, and then she began t_eflect what a comfortable sum it would have been just then; which disma_houghts made her tears flow faster, and in the excess of these griefs she (being a well-meaning woman enough, but weak withal) fell first to deplorin_er hard fate, and then to remarking, with many sobs, that to be sure she ha_een a slave to poor Nicholas, and had often told him she might have marrie_etter (as indeed she had, very often), and that she never knew in hi_ifetime how the money went, but that if he had confided in her they might al_ave been better off that day; with other bitter recollections common to mos_arried ladies, either during their coverture, or afterwards, or at bot_eriods. Mrs Nickleby concluded by lamenting that the dear departed had neve_eigned to profit by her advice, save on one occasion; which was a strictl_eracious statement, inasmuch as he had only acted upon it once, and ha_uined himself in consequence.
Mr Ralph Nickleby heard all this with a half-smile; and when the widow ha_inished, quietly took up the subject where it had been left before the abov_utbreak.
'Are you willing to work, sir?' he inquired, frowning on his nephew.
'Of course I am,' replied Nicholas haughtily.
'Then see here, sir,' said his uncle. 'This caught my eye this morning, an_ou may thank your stars for it.'
With this exordium, Mr Ralph Nickleby took a newspaper from his pocket, an_fter unfolding it, and looking for a short time among the advertisements, read as follows:
'"EDUCATION.—At Mr Wackford Squeers's Academy, Dotheboys Hall, at th_elightful village of Dotheboys, near Greta Bridge in Yorkshire, Youth ar_oarded, clothed, booked, furnished with pocket-money, provided with al_ecessaries, instructed in all languages living and dead, mathematics, orthography, geometry, astronomy, trigonometry, the use of the globes, algebra, single stick (if required), writing, arithmetic, fortification, an_very other branch of classical literature. Terms, twenty guineas per annum.
No extras, no vacations, and diet unparalleled. Mr Squeers is in town, an_ttends daily, from one till four, at the Saracen's Head, Snow Hill. N.B. A_ble assistant wanted. Annual salary 5 pounds. A Master of Arts would b_referred."
'There!' said Ralph, folding the paper again. 'Let him get that situation, an_is fortune is made.'
'But he is not a Master of Arts,' said Mrs Nickleby.
'That,' replied Ralph, 'that, I think, can be got over.'
'But the salary is so small, and it is such a long way off, uncle!' faltere_ate.
'Hush, Kate my dear,' interposed Mrs Nickleby; 'your uncle must know best.'
'I say,' repeated Ralph, tartly, 'let him get that situation, and his fortun_s made. If he don't like that, let him get one for himself. Without friends, money, recommendation, or knowledge of business of any kind, let him fin_onest employment in London, which will keep him in shoe leather, and I'l_ive him a thousand pounds. At least,' said Mr Ralph Nickleby, checkin_imself, 'I would if I had it.'
'Poor fellow!' said the young lady. 'Oh! uncle, must we be separated so soon!'
'Don't tease your uncle with questions when he is thinking only for our good, my love,' said Mrs Nickleby. 'Nicholas, my dear, I wish you would sa_omething.'
'Yes, mother, yes,' said Nicholas, who had hitherto remained silent an_bsorbed in thought. 'If I am fortunate enough to be appointed to this post, sir, for which I am so imperfectly qualified, what will become of those _eave behind?'
'Your mother and sister, sir,' replied Ralph, 'will be provided for, in tha_ase (not otherwise), by me, and placed in some sphere of life in which the_ill be able to be independent. That will be my immediate care; they will no_emain as they are, one week after your departure, I will undertake.'
'Then,' said Nicholas, starting gaily up, and wringing his uncle's hand, 'I a_eady to do anything you wish me. Let us try our fortune with Mr Squeers a_nce; he can but refuse.'
'He won't do that,' said Ralph. 'He will be glad to have you on m_ecommendation. Make yourself of use to him, and you'll rise to be a partne_n the establishment in no time. Bless me, only think! if he were to die, wh_our fortune's made at once.'
'To be sure, I see it all,' said poor Nicholas, delighted with a thousan_isionary ideas, that his good spirits and his inexperience were conjuring u_efore him. 'Or suppose some young nobleman who is being educated at the Hall, were to take a fancy to me, and get his father to appoint me his travellin_utor when he left, and when we come back from the continent, procured me som_andsome appointment. Eh! uncle?'
'Ah, to be sure!' sneered Ralph.
'And who knows, but when he came to see me when I was settled (as he would o_ourse), he might fall in love with Kate, who would be keeping my house, and—and marry her, eh! uncle? Who knows?'
'Who, indeed!' snarled Ralph.
'How happy we should be!' cried Nicholas with enthusiasm. 'The pain of partin_s nothing to the joy of meeting again. Kate will be a beautiful woman, and _o proud to hear them say so, and mother so happy to be with us once again, and all these sad times forgotten, and—' The picture was too bright a one t_ear, and Nicholas, fairly overpowered by it, smiled faintly, and burst int_ears.
This simple family, born and bred in retirement, and wholly unacquainted wit_hat is called the world—a conventional phrase which, being interpreted, ofte_ignifieth all the rascals in it— mingled their tears together at the though_f their first separation; and, this first gush of feeling over, wer_roceeding to dilate with all the buoyancy of untried hope on the brigh_rospects before them, when Mr Ralph Nickleby suggested, that if they los_ime, some more fortunate candidate might deprive Nicholas of the stepping- stone to fortune which the advertisement pointed out, and so undermine al_heir air-built castles. This timely reminder effectually stopped th_onversation. Nicholas, having carefully copied the address of Mr Squeers, th_ncle and nephew issued forth together in quest of that accomplishe_entleman; Nicholas firmly persuading himself that he had done his relativ_reat injustice in disliking him at first sight; and Mrs Nickleby being a_ome pains to inform her daughter that she was sure he was a much more kindl_isposed person than he seemed; which, Miss Nickleby dutifully remarked, h_ight very easily be.
To tell the truth, the good lady's opinion had been not a little influenced b_er brother-in-law's appeal to her better understanding, and his implie_ompliment to her high deserts; and although she had dearly loved her husband, and still doted on her children, he had struck so successfully on one of thos_ittle jarring chords in the human heart (Ralph was well acquainted with it_orst weaknesses, though he knew nothing of its best), that she had alread_egun seriously to consider herself the amiable and suffering victim of he_ate husband's imprudence.