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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?
  • Thank you—good-morning!'
  • '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.