Chapter 33 In which Mr Ralph Nickleby is relieved, by a very expeditiou_rocess, from all Commerce with his Relations
Smike and Newman Noggs, who in his impatience had returned home long befor_he time agreed upon, sat before the fire, listening anxiously to ever_ootstep on the stairs, and the slightest sound that stirred within the house, for the approach of Nicholas. Time had worn on, and it was growing late. H_ad promised to be back in an hour; and his prolonged absence began to excit_onsiderable alarm in the minds of both, as was abundantly testified by th_lank looks they cast upon each other at every new disappointment.
At length a coach was heard to stop, and Newman ran out to light Nicholas u_he stairs. Beholding him in the trim described at the conclusion of the las_hapter, he stood aghast in wonder and consternation.
'Don't be alarmed,' said Nicholas, hurrying him back into the room. 'There i_o harm done, beyond what a basin of water can repair.'
'No harm!' cried Newman, passing his hands hastily over the back and arms o_icholas, as if to assure himself that he had broken no bones. 'What have yo_een doing?'
'I know all,' interrupted Nicholas; 'I have heard a part, and guessed th_est. But before I remove one jot of these stains, I must hear the whole fro_ou. You see I am collected. My resolution is taken. Now, my good friend, speak out; for the time for any palliation or concealment is past, and nothin_ill avail Ralph Nickleby now.'
'Your dress is torn in several places; you walk lame, and I am sure you ar_uffering pain,' said Newman. 'Let me see to your hurts first.'
'I have no hurts to see to, beyond a little soreness and stiffness that wil_oon pass off,' said Nicholas, seating himself with some difficulty. 'But if _ad fractured every limb, and still preserved my senses, you should no_andage one till you had told me what I have the right to know. Come,' sai_icholas, giving his hand to Noggs. 'You had a sister of your own, you told m_nce, who died before you fell into misfortune. Now think of her, and tell me, Newman.'
'Yes, I will, I will,' said Noggs. 'I'll tell you the whole truth.'
Newman did so. Nicholas nodded his head from time to time, as it corroborate_he particulars he had already gleaned; but he fixed his eyes upon the fire, and did not look round once.
His recital ended, Newman insisted upon his young friend's stripping off hi_oat and allowing whatever injuries he had received to be properly tended.
Nicholas, after some opposition, at length consented, and, while some prett_evere bruises on his arms and shoulders were being rubbed with oil an_inegar, and various other efficacious remedies which Newman borrowed from th_ifferent lodgers, related in what manner they had been received. The recita_ade a strong impression on the warm imagination of Newman; for when Nichola_ame to the violent part of the quarrel, he rubbed so hard, as to occasion hi_he most exquisite pain, which he would not have exhibited, however, for th_orld, it being perfectly clear that, for the moment, Newman was operating o_ir Mulberry Hawk, and had quite lost sight of his real patient.
This martyrdom over, Nicholas arranged with Newman that while he was otherwis_ccupied next morning, arrangements should be made for his mother'_mmediately quitting her present residence, and also for dispatching Miss L_reevy to break the intelligence to her. He then wrapped himself in Smike'_reatcoat, and repaired to the inn where they were to pass the night, an_here (after writing a few lines to Ralph, the delivery of which was to b_ntrusted to Newman next day), he endeavoured to obtain the repose of which h_tood so much in need.
Drunken men, they say, may roll down precipices, and be quite unconscious o_ny serious personal inconvenience when their reason returns. The remark ma_ossibly apply to injuries received in other kinds of violent excitement: certain it is, that although Nicholas experienced some pain on first awakenin_ext morning, he sprung out of bed as the clock struck seven, with very littl_ifficulty, and was soon as much on the alert as if nothing had occurred.
Merely looking into Smike's room, and telling him that Newman Noggs would cal_or him very shortly, Nicholas descended into the street, and calling _ackney coach, bade the man drive to Mrs Wititterly's, according to th_irection which Newman had given him on the previous night.
It wanted a quarter to eight when they reached Cadogan Place. Nicholas bega_o fear that no one might be stirring at that early hour, when he was relieve_y the sight of a female servant, employed in cleaning the door-steps. By thi_unctionary he was referred to the doubtful page, who appeared wit_ishevelled hair and a very warm and glossy face, as of a page who had jus_ot out of bed.
By this young gentleman he was informed that Miss Nickleby was then taking he_orning's walk in the gardens before the house. On the question bein_ropounded whether he could go and find her, the page desponded and though_ot; but being stimulated with a shilling, the page grew sanguine and though_e could.
'Say to Miss Nickleby that her brother is here, and in great haste to se_er,' said Nicholas.
The plated buttons disappeared with an alacrity most unusual to them, an_icholas paced the room in a state of feverish agitation which made the dela_ven of a minute insupportable. He soon heard a light footstep which he wel_new, and before he could advance to meet her, Kate had fallen on his neck an_urst into tears.
'My darling girl,' said Nicholas as he embraced her. 'How pale you are!'
'I have been so unhappy here, dear brother,' sobbed poor Kate; 'so very, ver_iserable. Do not leave me here, dear Nicholas, or I shall die of a broke_eart.'
'I will leave you nowhere,' answered Nicholas—'never again, Kate,' he cried, moved in spite of himself as he folded her to his heart. 'Tell me that I acte_or the best. Tell me that we parted because I feared to bring misfortune o_our head; that it was a trial to me no less than to yourself, and that if _id wrong it was in ignorance of the world and unknowingly.'
'Why should I tell you what we know so well?' returned Kate soothingly.
'Nicholas—dear Nicholas—how can you give way thus?'
'It is such bitter reproach to me to know what you have undergone,' returne_er brother; 'to see you so much altered, and yet so kind and patient—God!'
cried Nicholas, clenching his fist and suddenly changing his tone and manner,
'it sets my whole blood on fire again. You must leave here with me directly; you should not have slept here last night, but that I knew all this too late.
To whom can I speak, before we drive away?'
This question was most opportunely put, for at that instant Mr Wititterl_alked in, and to him Kate introduced her brother, who at once announced hi_urpose, and the impossibility of deferring it.
'The quarter's notice,' said Mr Wititterly, with the gravity of a man on th_ight side, 'is not yet half expired. Therefore—'
'Therefore,' interposed Nicholas, 'the quarter's salary must be lost, sir. Yo_ill excuse this extreme haste, but circumstances require that I shoul_mmediately remove my sister, and I have not a moment's time to lose. Whateve_he brought here I will send for, if you will allow me, in the course of th_ay.'
Mr Wititterly bowed, but offered no opposition to Kate's immediate departure; with which, indeed, he was rather gratified than otherwise, Sir Tumley Snuffi_aving given it as his opinion, that she rather disagreed with Mr_ititterly's constitution.
'With regard to the trifle of salary that is due,' said Mr Wititterly, '_ill'—here he was interrupted by a violent fit of coughing—'I will—owe it t_iss Nickleby.'
Mr Wititterly, it should be observed, was accustomed to owe small accounts, and to leave them owing. All men have some little pleasant way of their own; and this was Mr Wititterly's.
'If you please,' said Nicholas. And once more offering a hurried apology fo_o sudden a departure, he hurried Kate into the vehicle, and bade the ma_rive with all speed into the city.
To the city they went accordingly, with all the speed the hackney coach coul_ake; and as the horses happened to live at Whitechapel and to be in the habi_f taking their breakfast there, when they breakfasted at all, they performe_he journey with greater expedition than could reasonably have been expected.
Nicholas sent Kate upstairs a few minutes before him, that his unlooked-fo_ppearance might not alarm his mother, and when the way had been paved, presented himself with much duty and affection. Newman had not been idle, fo_here was a little cart at the door, and the effects were hurrying ou_lready.
Now, Mrs Nickleby was not the sort of person to be told anything in a hurry, or rather to comprehend anything of peculiar delicacy or importance on a shor_otice. Wherefore, although the good lady had been subjected to a full hour'_reparation by little Miss La Creevy, and was now addressed in most luci_erms both by Nicholas and his sister, she was in a state of singula_ewilderment and confusion, and could by no means be made to comprehend th_ecessity of such hurried proceedings.
'Why don't you ask your uncle, my dear Nicholas, what he can possibly mean b_t?' said Mrs Nickleby.
'My dear mother,' returned Nicholas, 'the time for talking has gone by. Ther_s but one step to take, and that is to cast him off with the scorn an_ndignation he deserves. Your own honour and good name demand that, after th_iscovery of his vile proceedings, you should not be beholden to him one hour, even for the shelter of these bare walls.'
'To be sure,' said Mrs Nickleby, crying bitterly, 'he is a brute, a monster; and the walls are very bare, and want painting too, and I have had thi_eiling whitewashed at the expense of eighteen-pence, which is a ver_istressing thing, considering that it is so much gone into your uncle'_ocket. I never could have believed it— never.'
'Nor I, nor anybody else,' said Nicholas.
'Lord bless my life!' exclaimed Mrs Nickleby. 'To think that that Sir Mulberr_awk should be such an abandoned wretch as Miss La Creevy says he is, Nicholas, my dear; when I was congratulating myself every day on his being a_dmirer of our dear Kate's, and thinking what a thing it would be for th_amily if he was to become connected with us, and use his interest to get yo_ome profitable government place. There are very good places to be got abou_he court, I know; for a friend of ours (Miss Cropley, at Exeter, my dea_ate, you recollect), he had one, and I know that it was the chief part of hi_uty to wear silk stockings, and a bag wig like a black watch-pocket; and t_hink that it should come to this after all—oh, dear, dear, it's enough t_ill one, that it is!' With which expressions of sorrow, Mrs Nickleby gav_resh vent to her grief, and wept piteously.
As Nicholas and his sister were by this time compelled to superintend th_emoval of the few articles of furniture, Miss La Creevy devoted herself t_he consolation of the matron, and observed with great kindness of manner tha_he must really make an effort, and cheer up.
'Oh I dare say, Miss La Creevy,' returned Mrs Nickleby, with a petulance no_nnatural in her unhappy circumstances, 'it's very easy to say cheer up, bu_f you had as many occasions to cheer up as I have had—and there,' said Mr_ickleby, stopping short. 'Think of Mr Pyke and Mr Pluck, two of the mos_erfect gentlemen that ever lived, what am I too say to them—what can I say t_hem? Why, if I was to say to them, "I'm told your friend Sir Mulberry is _ase wretch," they'd laugh at me.'
'They will laugh no more at us, I take it,' said Nicholas, advancing. 'Come, mother, there is a coach at the door, and until Monday, at all events, we wil_eturn to our old quarters.'
'—Where everything is ready, and a hearty welcome into the bargain,' adde_iss La Creevy. 'Now, let me go with you downstairs.'
But Mrs Nickleby was not to be so easily moved, for first she insisted o_oing upstairs to see that nothing had been left, and then on going downstair_o see that everything had been taken away; and when she was getting into th_oach she had a vision of a forgotten coffee-pot on the back-kitchen hob, an_fter she was shut in, a dismal recollection of a green umbrella behind som_nknown door. At last Nicholas, in a condition of absolute despair, ordere_he coachman to drive away, and in the unexpected jerk of a sudden starting, Mrs Nickleby lost a shilling among the straw, which fortunately confined he_ttention to the coach until it was too late to remember anything else.
Having seen everything safely out, discharged the servant, and locked th_oor, Nicholas jumped into a cabriolet and drove to a bye place near Golde_quare where he had appointed to meet Noggs; and so quickly had everythin_een done, that it was barely half-past nine when he reached the place o_eeting.
'Here is the letter for Ralph,' said Nicholas, 'and here the key. When yo_ome to me this evening, not a word of last night. Ill news travels fast, an_hey will know it soon enough. Have you heard if he was much hurt?'
Newman shook his head.
'I will ascertain that myself without loss of time,' said Nicholas.
'You had better take some rest,' returned Newman. 'You are fevered and ill.'
Nicholas waved his hand carelessly, and concealing the indisposition he reall_elt, now that the excitement which had sustained him was over, took a hurrie_arewell of Newman Noggs, and left him.
Newman was not three minutes' walk from Golden Square, but in the course o_hat three minutes he took the letter out of his hat and put it in agai_wenty times at least. First the front, then the back, then the sides, the_he superscription, then the seal, were objects of Newman's admiration. The_e held it at arm's length as if to take in the whole at one delicious survey, and then he rubbed his hands in a perfect ecstasy with his commission.
He reached the office, hung his hat on its accustomed peg, laid the letter an_ey upon the desk, and waited impatiently until Ralph Nickleby should appear.
After a few minutes, the well-known creaking of his boots was heard on th_tairs, and then the bell rung.
'Has the post come in?'
'Any other letters?'
'One.' Newman eyed him closely, and laid it on the desk.
'What's this?' asked Ralph, taking up the key.
'Left with the letter;—a boy brought them—quarter of an hour ago, or less.'
Ralph glanced at the direction, opened the letter, and read as follows:—
'You are known to me now. There are no reproaches I could heap upon your hea_hich would carry with them one thousandth part of the grovelling shame tha_his assurance will awaken even in your breast.
'Your brother's widow and her orphan child spurn the shelter of your roof, an_hun you with disgust and loathing. Your kindred renounce you, for they kno_o shame but the ties of blood which bind them in name with you.
'You are an old man, and I leave you to the grave. May every recollection o_our life cling to your false heart, and cast their darkness on your death- bed.'
Ralph Nickleby read this letter twice, and frowning heavily, fell into a fi_f musing; the paper fluttered from his hand and dropped upon the floor, bu_e clasped his fingers, as if he held it still.
Suddenly, he started from his seat, and thrusting it all crumpled into hi_ocket, turned furiously to Newman Noggs, as though to ask him why h_ingered. But Newman stood unmoved, with his back towards him, following up, with the worn and blackened stump of an old pen, some figures in an Interest- table which was pasted against the wall, and apparently quite abstracted fro_very other object.