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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.