Chapter 31 Of Ralph Nickleby and Newman Noggs, and some wise Precautions,
the success or failure of which will appear in the Sequel
In blissful unconsciousness that his nephew was hastening at the utmost spee_f four good horses towards his sphere of action, and that every passin_inute diminished the distance between them, Ralph Nickleby sat that mornin_ccupied in his customary avocations, and yet unable to prevent his thought_andering from time to time back to the interview which had taken plac_etween himself and his niece on the previous day. At such intervals, after _ew moments of abstraction, Ralph would mutter some peevish interjection, an_pply himself with renewed steadiness of purpose to the ledger before him, bu_gain and again the same train of thought came back despite all his efforts t_revent it, confusing him in his calculations, and utterly distracting hi_ttention from the figures over which he bent. At length Ralph laid down hi_en, and threw himself back in his chair as though he had made up his mind t_llow the obtrusive current of reflection to take its own course, and, b_iving it full scope, to rid himself of it effectually.
'I am not a man to be moved by a pretty face,' muttered Ralph sternly. 'Ther_s a grinning skull beneath it, and men like me who look and work below th_urface see that, and not its delicate covering. And yet I almost like th_irl, or should if she had been less proudly and squeamishly brought up. I_he boy were drowned or hanged, and the mother dead, this house should be he_ome. I wish they were, with all my soul.'
Notwithstanding the deadly hatred which Ralph felt towards Nicholas, and th_itter contempt with which he sneered at poor Mrs Nickleby— notwithstandin_he baseness with which he had behaved, and was then behaving, and woul_ehave again if his interest prompted him, towards Kate herself—still ther_as, strange though it may seem, something humanising and even gentle in hi_houghts at that moment. He thought of what his home might be if Kate wer_here; he placed her in the empty chair, looked upon her, heard her speak; h_elt again upon his arm the gentle pressure of the trembling hand; he strewe_is costly rooms with the hundred silent tokens of feminine presence an_ccupation; he came back again to the cold fireside and the silent drear_plendour; and in that one glimpse of a better nature, born as it was i_elfish thoughts, the rich man felt himself friendless, childless, and alone.
Gold, for the instant, lost its lustre in his eyes, for there were countles_reasures of the heart which it could never purchase.
A very slight circumstance was sufficient to banish such reflections from th_ind of such a man. As Ralph looked vacantly out across the yard towards th_indow of the other office, he became suddenly aware of the earnes_bservation of Newman Noggs, who, with his red nose almost touching the glass, feigned to be mending a pen with a rusty fragment of a knife, but was i_eality staring at his employer with a countenance of the closest and mos_ager scrutiny.
Ralph exchanged his dreamy posture for his accustomed business attitude: th_ace of Newman disappeared, and the train of thought took to flight, al_imultaneously, and in an instant.
After a few minutes, Ralph rang his bell. Newman answered the summons, an_alph raised his eyes stealthily to his face, as if he almost feared to rea_here, a knowledge of his recent thoughts.
There was not the smallest speculation, however, in the countenance of Newma_oggs. If it be possible to imagine a man, with two eyes in his head, and bot_ide open, looking in no direction whatever, and seeing nothing, Newma_ppeared to be that man while Ralph Nickleby regarded him.
'How now?' growled Ralph.
'Oh!' said Newman, throwing some intelligence into his eyes all at once, an_ropping them on his master, 'I thought you rang.' With which laconic remar_ewman turned round and hobbled away.
'Stop!' said Ralph.
Newman stopped; not at all disconcerted.
'I did ring.'
'I knew you did.'
'Then why do you offer to go if you know that?'
'I thought you rang to say you didn't ring" replied Newman. 'You often do.'
'How dare you pry, and peer, and stare at me, sirrah?' demanded Ralph.
'Stare!' cried Newman, 'at YOU! Ha, ha!' which was all the explanation Newma_eigned to offer.
'Be careful, sir,' said Ralph, looking steadily at him. 'Let me have n_runken fooling here. Do you see this parcel?'
'It's big enough,' rejoined Newman.
'Carry it into the city; to Cross, in Broad Street, and leave it there—quick.
Do you hear?'
Newman gave a dogged kind of nod to express an affirmative reply, and, leavin_he room for a few seconds, returned with his hat. Having made variou_neffective attempts to fit the parcel (which was some two feet square) int_he crown thereof, Newman took it under his arm, and after putting on hi_ingerless gloves with great precision and nicety, keeping his eyes fixed upo_r Ralph Nickleby all the time, he adjusted his hat upon his head with as muc_are, real or pretended, as if it were a bran-new one of the most expensiv_uality, and at last departed on his errand.
He executed his commission with great promptitude and dispatch, only callin_t one public-house for half a minute, and even that might be said to be i_is way, for he went in at one door and came out at the other; but as h_eturned and had got so far homewards as the Strand, Newman began to loite_ith the uncertain air of a man who has not quite made up his mind whether t_alt or go straight forwards. After a very short consideration, the forme_nclination prevailed, and making towards the point he had had in his mind, Newman knocked a modest double knock, or rather a nervous single one, at Mis_a Creevy's door.
It was opened by a strange servant, on whom the odd figure of the visitor di_ot appear to make the most favourable impression possible, inasmuch as she n_ooner saw him than she very nearly closed it, and placing herself in th_arrow gap, inquired what he wanted. But Newman merely uttering th_onosyllable 'Noggs,' as if it were some cabalistic word, at sound of whic_olts would fly back and doors open, pushed briskly past and gained the doo_f Miss La Creevy's sitting-room, before the astonished servant could offe_ny opposition.
'Walk in if you please,' said Miss La Creevy in reply to the sound of Newman'_nuckles; and in he walked accordingly.
'Bless us!' cried Miss La Creevy, starting as Newman bolted in; 'what did yo_ant, sir?'
'You have forgotten me,' said Newman, with an inclination of the head. '_onder at that. That nobody should remember me who knew me in other days, i_atural enough; but there are few people who, seeing me once, forget me NOW.'
He glanced, as he spoke, at his shabby clothes and paralytic limb, an_lightly shook his head.
'I did forget you, I declare,' said Miss La Creevy, rising to receive Newman, who met her half-way, 'and I am ashamed of myself for doing so; for you are _ind, good creature, Mr Noggs. Sit down and tell me all about Miss Nickleby.
Poor dear thing! I haven't seen her for this many a week.'
'How's that?' asked Newman.
'Why, the truth is, Mr Noggs,' said Miss La Creevy, 'that I have been out on _isit—the first visit I have made for fifteen years.'
'That is a long time,' said Newman, sadly.
'So it is a very long time to look back upon in years, though, somehow o_ther, thank Heaven, the solitary days roll away peacefully and happil_nough,' replied the miniature painter. 'I have a brother, Mr Noggs—the onl_elation I have—and all that time I never saw him once. Not that we eve_uarrelled, but he was apprenticed down in the country, and he got marrie_here; and new ties and affections springing up about him, he forgot a poo_ittle woman like me, as it was very reasonable he should, you know. Don'_uppose that I complain about that, because I always said to myself, "It i_ery natural; poor dear John is making his way in the world, and has a wife t_ell his cares and troubles to, and children now to play about him, so Go_less him and them, and send we may all meet together one day where we shal_art no more." But what do you think, Mr Noggs,' said the miniature painter, brightening up and clapping her hands, 'of that very same brother coming up t_ondon at last, and never resting till he found me out; what do you think o_is coming here and sitting down in that very chair, and crying like a chil_ecause he was so glad to see me—what do you think of his insisting on takin_e down all the way into the country to his own house (quite a sumptuou_lace, Mr Noggs, with a large garden and I don't know how many fields, and _an in livery waiting at table, and cows and horses and pigs and I don't kno_hat besides), and making me stay a whole month, and pressing me to stop ther_ll my life—yes, all my life—and so did his wife, and so did the children—an_here were four of them, and one, the eldest girl of all, they—they had name_er after me eight good years before, they had indeed. I never was so happy; in all my life I never was!' The worthy soul hid her face in her handkerchief, and sobbed aloud; for it was the first opportunity she had had of unburdenin_er heart, and it would have its way.
'But bless my life,' said Miss La Creevy, wiping her eyes after a short pause, and cramming her handkerchief into her pocket with great bustle and dispatch;
'what a foolish creature I must seem to you, Mr Noggs! I shouldn't have sai_nything about it, only I wanted to explain to you how it was I hadn't see_iss Nickleby.'
'Have you seen the old lady?' asked Newman.
'You mean Mrs Nickleby?' said Miss La Creevy. 'Then I tell you what, Mr Noggs, if you want to keep in the good books in that quarter, you had better not cal_er the old lady any more, for I suspect she wouldn't be best pleased to hea_ou. Yes, I went there the night before last, but she was quite on the hig_opes about something, and was so grand and mysterious, that I couldn't mak_nything of her: so, to tell you the truth, I took it into my head to be gran_oo, and came away in state. I thought she would have come round again befor_his, but she hasn't been here.'
'About Miss Nickleby—' said Newman.
'Why, she was here twice while I was away,' returned Miss La Creevy. 'I wa_fraid she mightn't like to have me calling on her among those great folks i_hat's-its-name Place, so I thought I'd wait a day or two, and if I didn't se_er, write.'
'Ah!' exclaimed Newman, cracking his fingers.
'However, I want to hear all the news about them from you,' said Miss L_reevy. 'How is the old rough and tough monster of Golden Square? Well, o_ourse; such people always are. I don't mean how is he in health, but how i_e going on: how is he behaving himself?'
'Damn him!' cried Newman, dashing his cherished hat on the floor; 'like _alse hound.'
'Gracious, Mr Noggs, you quite terrify me!' exclaimed Miss La Creevy, turnin_ale.
'I should have spoilt his features yesterday afternoon if I could hav_fforded it,' said Newman, moving restlessly about, and shaking his fist at _ortrait of Mr Canning over the mantelpiece. 'I was very near it. I wa_bliged to put my hands in my pockets, and keep 'em there very tight. I shal_o it some day in that little back- parlour, I know I shall. I should hav_one it before now, if I hadn't been afraid of making bad worse. I shal_ouble-lock myself in with him and have it out before I die, I'm quite certai_f it.'
'I shall scream if you don't compose yourself, Mr Noggs,' said Miss La Creevy;
'I'm sure I shan't be able to help it.'
'Never mind,' rejoined Newman, darting violently to and fro. 'He's coming u_onight: I wrote to tell him. He little thinks I know; he little thinks _are. Cunning scoundrel! he don't think that. Not he, not he. Never mind, I'l_hwart him—I, Newman Noggs. Ho, ho, the rascal!'
Lashing himself up to an extravagant pitch of fury, Newman Noggs jerke_imself about the room with the most eccentric motion ever beheld in a huma_eing: now sparring at the little miniatures on the wall, and now givin_imself violent thumps on the head, as if to heighten the delusion, until h_ank down in his former seat quite breathless and exhausted.
'There,' said Newman, picking up his hat; 'that's done me good. Now I'_etter, and I'll tell you all about it.'
It took some little time to reassure Miss La Creevy, who had been almos_rightened out of her senses by this remarkable demonstration; but that done, Newman faithfully related all that had passed in the interview between Kat_nd her uncle, prefacing his narrative with a statement of his previou_uspicions on the subject, and his reasons for forming them; and concludin_ith a communication of the step he had taken in secretly writing to Nicholas.
Though little Miss La Creevy's indignation was not so singularly displayed a_ewman's, it was scarcely inferior in violence and intensity. Indeed, if Ralp_ickleby had happened to make his appearance in the room at that moment, ther_s some doubt whether he would not have found Miss La Creevy a more dangerou_pponent than even Newman Noggs himself.
'God forgive me for saying so,' said Miss La Creevy, as a wind-up to all he_xpressions of anger, 'but I really feel as if I could stick this into hi_ith pleasure.'
It was not a very awful weapon that Miss La Creevy held, it being in fac_othing more nor less than a black-lead pencil; but discovering her mistake, the little portrait painter exchanged it for a mother- of-pearl fruit knife, wherewith, in proof of her desperate thoughts, she made a lunge as she spoke, which would have scarcely disturbed the crumb of a half-quartern loaf.
'She won't stop where she is after tonight,' said Newman. 'That's a comfort.'
'Stop!' cried Miss La Creevy, 'she should have left there, weeks ago.'
'—If we had known of this,' rejoined Newman. 'But we didn't. Nobody coul_roperly interfere but her mother or brother. The mother's weak—poo_hing—weak. The dear young man will be here tonight.'
'Heart alive!' cried Miss La Creevy. 'He will do something desperate, M_oggs, if you tell him all at once.'
Newman left off rubbing his hands, and assumed a thoughtful look.
'Depend upon it,' said Miss La Creevy, earnestly, 'if you are not very carefu_n breaking out the truth to him, he will do some violence upon his uncle o_ne of these men that will bring some terrible calamity upon his own head, an_rief and sorrow to us all.'
'I never thought of that,' rejoined Newman, his countenance falling more an_ore. 'I came to ask you to receive his sister in case he brought her here, but—'
'But this is a matter of much greater importance,' interrupted Miss La Creevy;
'that you might have been sure of before you came, but the end of this, nobod_an foresee, unless you are very guarded and careful.'
'What CAN I do?' cried Newman, scratching his head with an air of grea_exation and perplexity. 'If he was to talk of pistoling 'em all, I should b_bliged to say, "Certainly—serve 'em right."'
Miss La Creevy could not suppress a small shriek on hearing this, an_nstantly set about extorting a solemn pledge from Newman that he would us_is utmost endeavours to pacify the wrath of Nicholas; which, after som_emur, was conceded. They then consulted together on the safest and sures_ode of communicating to him the circumstances which had rendered his presenc_ecessary.
'He must have time to cool before he can possibly do anything,' said Miss L_reevy. 'That is of the greatest consequence. He must not be told until lat_t night.'
'But he'll be in town between six and seven this evening,' replied Newman. '_an't keep it from him when he asks me.'
'Then you must go out, Mr Noggs,' said Miss La Creevy. 'You can easily hav_een kept away by business, and must not return till nearly midnight.'
'Then he will come straight here,' retorted Newman.
'So I suppose,' observed Miss La Creevy; 'but he won't find me at home, fo_'ll go straight to the city the instant you leave me, make up matters wit_rs Nickleby, and take her away to the theatre, so that he may not even kno_here his sister lives.'
Upon further discussion, this appeared the safest and most feasible mode o_roceeding that could possibly be adopted. Therefore it was finally determine_hat matters should be so arranged, and Newman, after listening to man_upplementary cautions and entreaties, took his leave of Miss La Creevy an_rudged back to Golden Square; ruminating as he went upon a vast number o_ossibilities and impossibilities which crowded upon his brain, and arose ou_f the conversation that had just terminated.