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Chapter 37 Nicholas finds further Favour in the Eyes of the brother_heeryble and Mr Timothy Linkinwater. The brothers give a Banquet on a grea_nnual Occasion. Nicholas, on returning Home from it, receives a mysteriou_nd important Disclosure from the

  • The square in which the counting-house of the brothers Cheeryble was situated, although it might not wholly realise the very sanguine expectations which _tranger would be disposed to form on hearing the fervent encomiums bestowe_pon it by Tim Linkinwater, was, nevertheless, a sufficiently desirable noo_n the heart of a busy town like London, and one which occupied a high plac_n the affectionate remembrances of several grave persons domiciled in th_eighbourhood, whose recollections, however, dated from a much more recen_eriod, and whose attachment to the spot was far less absorbing, than were th_ecollections and attachment of the enthusiastic Tim.
  • And let not those whose eyes have been accustomed to the aristocratic gravit_f Grosvenor Square and Hanover Square, the dowager barrenness and frigidit_f Fitzroy Square, or the gravel walks and garden seats of the Squares o_ussell and Euston, suppose that the affections of Tim Linkinwater, or th_nferior lovers of this particular locality, had been awakened and kept aliv_y any refreshing associations with leaves, however dingy, or grass, howeve_are and thin. The city square has no enclosure, save the lamp-post in th_iddle: and no grass, but the weeds which spring up round its base. It is _uiet, little-frequented, retired spot, favourable to melancholy an_ontemplation, and appointments of long-waiting; and up and down its ever_ide the Appointed saunters idly by the hour together wakening the echoes wit_he monotonous sound of his footsteps on the smooth worn stones, and counting, first the windows, and then the very bricks of the tall silent houses that he_im round about. In winter-time, the snow will linger there, long after it ha_elted from the busy streets and highways. The summer's sun holds it in som_espect, and while he darts his cheerful rays sparingly into the square, keep_is fiery heat and glare for noisier and less-imposing precincts. It is s_uiet, that you can almost hear the ticking of your own watch when you stop t_ool in its refreshing atmosphere. There is a distant hum—of coaches, not o_nsects—but no other sound disturbs the stillness of the square. The ticke_orter leans idly against the post at the corner: comfortably warm, but no_ot, although the day is broiling. His white apron flaps languidly in the air, his head gradually droops upon his breast, he takes very long winks with bot_yes at once; even he is unable to withstand the soporific influence of th_lace, and is gradually falling asleep. But now, he starts into ful_akefulness, recoils a step or two, and gazes out before him with eage_ildness in his eye. Is it a job, or a boy at marbles? Does he see a ghost, o_ear an organ? No; sight more unwonted still—there is a butterfly in th_quare—a real, live butterfly! astray from flowers and sweets, and flutterin_mong the iron heads of the dusty area railings.
  • But if there were not many matters immediately without the doors of Cheerybl_rothers, to engage the attention or distract the thoughts of the young clerk, there were not a few within, to interest and amuse him. There was scarcely a_bject in the place, animate or inanimate, which did not partake in som_egree of the scrupulous method and punctuality of Mr Timothy Linkinwater.
  • Punctual as the counting-house dial, which he maintained to be the best time- keeper in London next after the clock of some old, hidden, unknown church har_y, (for Tim held the fabled goodness of that at the Horse Guards to be _leasant fiction, invented by jealous West-enders,) the old clerk performe_he minutest actions of the day, and arranged the minutest articles in th_ittle room, in a precise and regular order, which could not have bee_xceeded if it had actually been a real glass case, fitted with the choices_uriosities. Paper, pens, ink, ruler, sealing-wax, wafers, pounce-box, string- box, fire-box, Tim's hat, Tim's scrupulously-folded gloves, Tim's othe_oat—looking precisely like a back view of himself as it hung against th_all—all had their accustomed inches of space. Except the clock, there was no_uch an accurate and unimpeachable instrument in existence as the littl_hermometer which hung behind the door. There was not a bird of suc_ethodical and business-like habits in all the world, as the blind blackbird, who dreamed and dozed away his days in a large snug cage, and had lost hi_oice, from old age, years before Tim first bought him. There was not such a_ventful story in the whole range of anecdote, as Tim could tell concernin_he acquisition of that very bird; how, compassionating his starved an_uffering condition, he had purchased him, with the view of humanel_erminating his wretched life; how he determined to wait three days and se_hether the bird revived; how, before half the time was out, the bird di_evive; and how he went on reviving and picking up his appetite and good look_ntil he gradually became what—'what you see him now, sir,'—Tim would say, glancing proudly at the cage. And with that, Tim would utter a melodiou_hirrup, and cry 'Dick;' and Dick, who, for any sign of life he had previousl_iven, might have been a wooden or stuffed representation of a blackbir_ndifferently executed, would come to the side of the cage in three smal_umps, and, thrusting his bill between the bars, turn his sightless hea_owards his old master—and at that moment it would be very difficult t_etermine which of the two was the happier, the bird or Tim Linkinwater.
  • Nor was this all. Everything gave back, besides, some reflection of the kindl_pirit of the brothers. The warehousemen and porters were such sturdy, joll_ellows, that it was a treat to see them. Among the shipping announcements an_team-packet list's which decorated the counting-house wall, were designs fo_lmshouses, statements of charities, and plans for new hospitals. _lunderbuss and two swords hung above the chimney-piece, for the terror o_vil- doers, but the blunderbuss was rusty and shattered, and the swords wer_roken and edgeless. Elsewhere, their open display in such a condition woul_ave realised a smile; but, there, it seemed as though even violent an_ffensive weapons partook of the reigning influence, and became emblems o_ercy and forbearance.
  • Such thoughts as these occurred to Nicholas very strongly, on the morning whe_e first took possession of the vacant stool, and looked about him, mor_reely and at ease, than he had before enjoyed an opportunity of doing.
  • Perhaps they encouraged and stimulated him to exertion, for, during the nex_wo weeks, all his spare hours, late at night and early in the morning, wer_ncessantly devoted to acquiring the mysteries of book-keeping and some othe_orms of mercantile account. To these, he applied himself with such steadines_nd perseverance that, although he brought no greater amount of previou_nowledge to the subject than certain dim recollections of two or three ver_ong sums entered into a ciphering-book at school, and relieved for parenta_nspection by the effigy of a fat swan tastefully flourished by the writing- master's own hand, he found himself, at the end of a fortnight, in a conditio_o report his proficiency to Mr Linkinwater, and to claim his promise that he, Nicholas Nickleby, should now be allowed to assist him in his graver labours.
  • It was a sight to behold Tim Linkinwater slowly bring out a massive ledger an_ay-book, and, after turning them over and over, and affectionately dustin_heir backs and sides, open the leaves here and there, and cast his eyes, hal_ournfully, half proudly, upon the fair and unblotted entries.
  • 'Four-and-forty year, next May!' said Tim. 'Many new ledgers since then. Four- and-forty year!'
  • Tim closed the book again.
  • 'Come, come,' said Nicholas, 'I am all impatience to begin.'
  • Tim Linkinwater shook his head with an air of mild reproof. Mr Nickleby wa_ot sufficiently impressed with the deep and awful nature of his undertaking.
  • Suppose there should be any mistake—any scratching out!
  • Young men are adventurous. It is extraordinary what they will rush upon, sometimes. Without even taking the precaution of sitting himself down upon hi_tool, but standing leisurely at the desk, and with a smile upon hi_ace—actually a smile—there was no mistake about it; Mr Linkinwater ofte_entioned it afterwards—Nicholas dipped his pen into the inkstand before him, and plunged into the books of Cheeryble Brothers!
  • Tim Linkinwater turned pale, and tilting up his stool on the two legs neares_icholas, looked over his shoulder in breathless anxiety. Brother Charles an_rother Ned entered the counting-house together; but Tim Linkinwater, withou_ooking round, impatiently waved his hand as a caution that profound silenc_ust be observed, and followed the nib of the inexperienced pen with straine_nd eager eyes.
  • The brothers looked on with smiling faces, but Tim Linkinwater smiled not, no_oved for some minutes. At length, he drew a long slow breath, and stil_aintaining his position on the tilted stool, glanced at brother Charles, secretly pointed with the feather of his pen towards Nicholas, and nodded hi_ead in a grave and resolute manner, plainly signifying 'He'll do.'
  • Brother Charles nodded again, and exchanged a laughing look with brother Ned; but, just then, Nicholas stopped to refer to some other page, and Ti_inkinwater, unable to contain his satisfaction any longer, descended from hi_tool, and caught him rapturously by the hand.
  • 'He has done it!' said Tim, looking round at his employers and shaking hi_ead triumphantly. 'His capital B's and D's are exactly like mine; he dots al_is small i's and crosses every t as he writes it. There an't such a young ma_s this in all London,' said Tim, clapping Nicholas on the back; 'not one.
  • Don't tell me! The city can't produce his equal. I challenge the city to d_t!'
  • With this casting down of his gauntlet, Tim Linkinwater struck the desk such _low with his clenched fist, that the old blackbird tumbled off his perch wit_he start it gave him, and actually uttered a feeble croak, in the extremit_f his astonishment.
  • 'Well said, Tim—well said, Tim Linkinwater!' cried brother Charles, scarcel_ess pleased than Tim himself, and clapping his hands gently as he spoke. '_new our young friend would take great pains, and I was quite certain he woul_ucceed, in no time. Didn't I say so, brother Ned?'
  • 'You did, my dear brother; certainly, my dear brother, you said so, and yo_ere quite right,' replied Ned. 'Quite right. Tim Linkinwater is excited, bu_e is justly excited, properly excited. Tim is a fine fellow. Tim Linkinwater, sir—you're a fine fellow.'
  • 'Here's a pleasant thing to think of!' said Tim, wholly regardless of thi_ddress to himself, and raising his spectacles from the ledger to th_rothers. 'Here's a pleasant thing. Do you suppose I haven't often thought o_hat would become of these books when I was gone? Do you suppose I haven'_ften thought that things might go on irregular and untidy here, after I wa_aken away? But now,' said Tim, extending his forefinger towards Nicholas,
  • 'now, when I've shown him a little more, I'm satisfied. The business will g_n, when I'm dead, as well as it did when I was alive—just the same— and _hall have the satisfaction of knowing that there never were such books—neve_ere such books! No, nor never will be such books—as the books of Cheerybl_rothers.'
  • Having thus expressed his sentiments, Mr Linkinwater gave vent to a shor_augh, indicative of defiance to the cities of London and Westminster, and, turning again to his desk, quietly carried seventy-six from the last column h_ad added up, and went on with his work.
  • 'Tim Linkinwater, sir,' said brother Charles; 'give me your hand, sir. This i_our birthday. How dare you talk about anything else till you have been wishe_any happy returns of the day, Tim Linkinwater? God bless you, Tim! God bles_ou!'
  • 'My dear brother,' said the other, seizing Tim's disengaged fist, 'Ti_inkinwater looks ten years younger than he did on his last birthday.'
  • 'Brother Ned, my dear boy,' returned the other old fellow, 'I believe that Ti_inkinwater was born a hundred and fifty years old, and is gradually comin_own to five-and-twenty; for he's younger every birthday than he was the yea_efore.'
  • 'So he is, brother Charles, so he is,' replied brother Ned. 'There's not _oubt about it.'
  • 'Remember, Tim,' said brother Charles, 'that we dine at half-past five toda_nstead of two o'clock; we always depart from our usual custom on thi_nniversary, as you very well know, Tim Linkinwater. Mr Nickleby, my dear sir, you will make one. Tim Linkinwater, give me your snuff-box as a remembrance t_rother Charles and myself of an attached and faithful rascal, and take that, in exchange, as a feeble mark of our respect and esteem, and don't open i_ntil you go to bed, and never say another word upon the subject, or I'll kil_he blackbird. A dog! He should have had a golden cage half-a- dozen year_go, if it would have made him or his master a bit the happier. Now, brothe_ed, my dear fellow, I'm ready. At half-past five, remember, Mr Nickleby! Ti_inkinwater, sir, take care of Mr Nickleby at half-past five. Now, brothe_ed.'
  • Chattering away thus, according to custom, to prevent the possibility of an_hanks or acknowledgment being expressed on the other side, the twins trotte_ff, arm-in-arm; having endowed Tim Linkinwater with a costly gold snuff-box, enclosing a bank note worth more than its value ten times told.
  • At a quarter past five o'clock, punctual to the minute, arrived, according t_nnual usage, Tim Linkinwater's sister; and a great to- do there was, betwee_im Linkinwater's sister and the old housekeeper, respecting Tim Linkinwater'_ister's cap, which had been dispatched, per boy, from the house of the famil_here Tim Linkinwater's sister boarded, and had not yet come to hand: notwithstanding that it had been packed up in a bandbox, and the bandbox in _andkerchief, and the handkerchief tied on to the boy's arm; an_otwithstanding, too, that the place of its consignment had been duly se_orth, at full length, on the back of an old letter, and the boy enjoined, under pain of divers horrible penalties, the full extent of which the eye o_an could not foresee, to deliver the same with all possible speed, and not t_oiter by the way. Tim Linkinwater's sister lamented; the housekeepe_ondoled; and both kept thrusting their heads out of the second-floor windo_o see if the boy was 'coming'—which would have been highly satisfactory, and, upon the whole, tantamount to his being come, as the distance to the corne_as not quite five yards—when, all of a sudden, and when he was leas_xpected, the messenger, carrying the bandbox with elaborate caution, appeare_n an exactly opposite direction, puffing and panting for breath, and flushe_ith recent exercise; as well he might be; for he had taken the air, in th_irst instance, behind a hackney coach that went to Camberwell, and ha_ollowed two Punches afterwards and had seen the Stilts home to their ow_oor. The cap was all safe, however—that was one comfort—and it was no us_colding him—that was another; so the boy went upon his way rejoicing, and Ti_inkinwater's sister presented herself to the company below-stairs, just fiv_inutes after the half-hour had struck by Tim Linkinwater's own infallibl_lock.
  • The company consisted of the brothers Cheeryble, Tim Linkinwater, a ruddy- faced white-headed friend of Tim's (who was a superannuated bank clerk), an_icholas, who was presented to Tim Linkinwater's sister with much gravity an_olemnity. The party being now completed, brother Ned rang for dinner, and, dinner being shortly afterwards announced, led Tim Linkinwater's sister int_he next room, where it was set forth with great preparation. Then, brothe_ed took the head of the table, and brother Charles the foot; and Ti_inkinwater's sister sat on the left hand of brother Ned, and Tim Linkinwate_imself on his right: and an ancient butler of apoplectic appearance, and wit_ery short legs, took up his position at the back of brother Ned's armchair, and, waving his right arm preparatory to taking off the covers with _lourish, stood bolt upright and motionless.
  • 'For these and all other blessings, brother Charles,' said Ned.
  • 'Lord, make us truly thankful, brother Ned,' said Charles.
  • Whereupon the apoplectic butler whisked off the top of the soup tureen, an_hot, all at once, into a state of violent activity.
  • There was abundance of conversation, and little fear of its ever flagging, fo_he good-humour of the glorious old twins drew everybody out, and Ti_inkinwater's sister went off into a long and circumstantial account of Ti_inkinwater's infancy, immediately after the very first glass o_hampagne—taking care to premise that she was very much Tim's junior, and ha_nly become acquainted with the facts from their being preserved and hande_own in the family. This history concluded, brother Ned related how that, exactly thirty-five years ago, Tim Linkinwater was suspected to have receive_ love-letter, and how that vague information had been brought to th_ounting-house of his having been seen walking down Cheapside with a_ncommonly handsome spinster; at which there was a roar of laughter, and Ti_inkinwater being charged with blushing, and called upon to explain, denie_hat the accusation was true; and further, that there would have been any har_n it if it had been; which last position occasioned the superannuated ban_lerk to laugh tremendously, and to declare that it was the very best thing h_ad ever heard in his life, and that Tim Linkinwater might say a great man_hings before he said anything which would beat THAT.
  • There was one little ceremony peculiar to the day, both the matter and manne_f which made a very strong impression upon Nicholas. The cloth having bee_emoved and the decanters sent round for the first time, a profound silenc_ucceeded, and in the cheerful faces of the brothers there appeared a_xpression, not of absolute melancholy, but of quiet thoughtfulness ver_nusual at a festive table. As Nicholas, struck by this sudden alteration, wa_ondering what it could portend, the brothers rose together, and the one a_he top of the table leaning forward towards the other, and speaking in a lo_oice as if he were addressing him individually, said:
  • 'Brother Charles, my dear fellow, there is another association connected wit_his day which must never be forgotten, and never can be forgotten, by you an_e. This day, which brought into the world a most faithful and excellent an_xemplary fellow, took from it the kindest and very best of parents, the ver_est of parents to us both. I wish that she could have seen us in ou_rosperity, and shared it, and had the happiness of knowing how dearly w_oved her in it, as we did when we were two poor boys; but that was not to be.
  • My dear brother—The Memory of our Mother.'
  • 'Good Lord!' thought Nicholas, 'and there are scores of people of their ow_tation, knowing all this, and twenty thousand times more, who wouldn't as_hese men to dinner because they eat with their knives and never went t_chool!'
  • But there was no time to moralise, for the joviality again became very brisk, and the decanter of port being nearly out, brother Ned pulled the bell, whic_as instantly answered by the apoplectic butler.
  • 'David,' said brother Ned.
  • 'Sir,' replied the butler.
  • 'A magnum of the double-diamond, David, to drink the health of M_inkinwater.'
  • Instantly, by a feat of dexterity, which was the admiration of all th_ompany, and had been, annually, for some years past, the apoplectic butler, bringing his left hand from behind the small of his back, produced the bottl_ith the corkscrew already inserted; uncorked it at a jerk; and placed th_agnum and the cork before his master with the dignity of consciou_leverness.
  • 'Ha!' said brother Ned, first examining the cork and afterwards filling hi_lass, while the old butler looked complacently and amiably on, as if it wer_ll his own property, but the company were quite welcome to make free with it,
  • 'this looks well, David.'
  • 'It ought to, sir,' replied David. 'You'd be troubled to find such a glass o_ine as is our double-diamond, and that Mr Linkinwater knows very well. Tha_as laid down when Mr Linkinwater first come: that wine was, gentlemen.'
  • 'Nay, David, nay,' interposed brother Charles.
  • 'I wrote the entry in the cellar-book myself, sir, if you please,' said David, in the tone of a man, quite confident in the strength of his facts. 'M_inkinwater had only been here twenty year, sir, when that pipe of double- diamond was laid down.'
  • 'David is quite right, quite right, brother Charles," said Ned: 'are th_eople here, David?'
  • 'Outside the door, sir,' replied the butler.
  • 'Show 'em in, David, show 'em in.'
  • At this bidding, the older butler placed before his master a small tray o_lean glasses, and opening the door admitted the jolly porters an_arehousemen whom Nicholas had seen below. They were four in all, and as the_ame in, bowing, and grinning, and blushing, the housekeeper, and cook, an_ousemaid, brought up the rear.
  • 'Seven,' said brother Ned, filling a corresponding number of glasses with th_ouble-diamond, 'and David, eight. There! Now, you're all of you to drink th_ealth of your best friend Mr Timothy Linkinwater, and wish him health an_ong life and many happy returns of this day, both for his own sake and tha_f your old masters, who consider him an inestimable treasure. Ti_inkinwater, sir, your health. Devil take you, Tim Linkinwater, sir, God bles_ou.'
  • With this singular contradiction of terms, brother Ned gave Tim Linkinwater _lap on the back, which made him look, for the moment, almost as apoplectic a_he butler: and tossed off the contents of his glass in a twinkling.
  • The toast was scarcely drunk with all honour to Tim Linkinwater, when th_turdiest and jolliest subordinate elbowed himself a little in advance of hi_ellows, and exhibiting a very hot and flushed countenance, pulled a singl_ock of grey hair in the middle of his forehead as a respectful salute to th_ompany, and delivered himself as follows—rubbing the palms of his hands ver_ard on a blue cotton handkerchief as he did so:
  • 'We're allowed to take a liberty once a year, gen'lemen, and if you pleas_e'll take it now; there being no time like the present, and no two birds i_he hand worth one in the bush, as is well known— leastways in a contrair_ense, which the meaning is the same. (A pause—the butler unconvinced.) Wha_e mean to say is, that there never was (looking at the butler)—such—(lookin_t the cook) noble—excellent—(looking everywhere and seeing nobody) free, generous-spirited masters as them as has treated us so handsome this day. An_ere's thanking of 'em for all their goodness as is so constancy a diffusin_f itself over everywhere, and wishing they may live long and die happy!'
  • When the foregoing speech was over—and it might have been much more elegan_nd much less to the purpose—the whole body of subordinates under command o_he apoplectic butler gave three soft cheers; which, to that gentleman's grea_ndignation, were not very regular, inasmuch as the women persisted in givin_n immense number of little shrill hurrahs among themselves, in utte_isregard of the time. This done, they withdrew; shortly afterwards, Ti_inkinwater's sister withdrew; in reasonable time after that, the sitting wa_roken up for tea and coffee, and a round game of cards.
  • At half-past ten—late hours for the square—there appeared a little tray o_andwiches and a bowl of bishop, which bishop coming on the top of the double- diamond, and other excitements, had such an effect upon Tim Linkinwater, tha_e drew Nicholas aside, and gave him to understand, confidentially, that i_as quite true about the uncommonly handsome spinster, and that she was to th_ull as good- looking as she had been described—more so, indeed—but that sh_as in too much of a hurry to change her condition, and consequently, whil_im was courting her and thinking of changing his, got married to somebod_lse. 'After all, I dare say it was my fault,' said Tim. 'I'll show you _rint I have got upstairs, one of these days. It cost me five-and-twent_hillings. I bought it soon after we were cool to each other. Don't mentio_t, but it's the most extraordinary accidental likeness you ever saw—her ver_ortrait, sir!'
  • By this time it was past eleven o'clock; and Tim Linkinwater's siste_eclaring that she ought to have been at home a full hour ago, a coach wa_rocured, into which she was handed with great ceremony by brother Ned, whil_rother Charles imparted the fullest directions to the coachman, and beside_aying the man a shilling over and above his fare, in order that he might tak_he utmost care of the lady, all but choked him with a glass of spirits o_ncommon strength, and then nearly knocked all the breath out of his body i_is energetic endeavours to knock it in again.
  • At length the coach rumbled off, and Tim Linkinwater's sister being now fairl_n her way home, Nicholas and Tim Linkinwater's friend took their leave_ogether, and left old Tim and the worthy brothers to their repose.
  • As Nicholas had some distance to walk, it was considerably past midnight b_he time he reached home, where he found his mother and Smike sitting up t_eceive him. It was long after their usual hour of retiring, and they ha_xpected him, at the very latest, two hours ago; but the time had not hun_eavily on their hands, for Mrs Nickleby had entertained Smike with _enealogical account of her family by the mother's side, comprisin_iographical sketches of the principal members, and Smike had sat wonderin_hat it was all about, and whether it was learnt from a book, or said out o_rs Nickleby's own head; so that they got on together very pleasantly.
  • Nicholas could not go to bed without expatiating on the excellences an_unificence of the brothers Cheeryble, and relating the great success whic_ad attended his efforts that day. But before he had said a dozen words, Mr_ickleby, with many sly winks and nods, observed, that she was sure Mr Smik_ust be quite tired out, and that she positively must insist on his no_itting up a minute longer.
  • 'A most biddable creature he is, to be sure,' said Mrs Nickleby, when Smik_ad wished them good-night and left the room. 'I know you'll excuse me, Nicholas, my dear, but I don't like to do this before a third person; indeed, before a young man it would not be quite proper, though really, after all, _on't know what harm there is in it, except that to be sure it's not a ver_ecoming thing, though some people say it is very much so, and really I don'_now why it should not be, if it's well got up, and the borders are small- plaited; of course, a good deal depends upon that.'
  • With which preface, Mrs Nickleby took her nightcap from between the leaves o_ very large prayer-book where it had been folded up small, and proceeded t_ie it on: talking away in her usual discursive manner, all the time.
  • 'People may say what they like,' observed Mrs Nickleby, 'but there's a grea_eal of comfort in a nightcap, as I'm sure you would confess, Nicholas m_ear, if you would only have strings to yours, and wear it like a Christian, instead of sticking it upon the very top of your head like a blue-coat boy.
  • You needn't think it an unmanly or quizzical thing to be particular about you_ightcap, for I have often heard your poor dear papa, and the Reverend M_hat's- his-name, who used to read prayers in that old church with the curiou_ittle steeple that the weathercock was blown off the night week before yo_ere born,—I have often heard them say, that the young men at college ar_ncommonly particular about their nightcaps, and that the Oxford nightcaps ar_uite celebrated for their strength and goodness; so much so, indeed, that th_oung men never dream of going to bed without 'em, and I believe it's admitte_n all hands that THEY know what's good, and don't coddle themselves.'
  • Nicholas laughed, and entering no further into the subject of this lengthene_arangue, reverted to the pleasant tone of the little birthday party. And a_rs Nickleby instantly became very curious respecting it, and made a grea_umber of inquiries touching what they had had for dinner, and how it was pu_n table, and whether it was overdone or underdone, and who was there, an_hat 'the Mr Cherrybles' said, and what Nicholas said, and what the M_herrybles said when he said that; Nicholas described the festivities at ful_ength, and also the occurrences of the morning.
  • 'Late as it is,' said Nicholas, 'I am almost selfish enough to wish that Kat_ad been up to hear all this. I was all impatience, as I came along, to tel_er.'
  • 'Why, Kate,' said Mrs Nickleby, putting her feet upon the fender, and drawin_er chair close to it, as if settling herself for a long talk. 'Kate has bee_n bed—oh! a couple of hours—and I'm very glad, Nicholas my dear, that _revailed upon her not to sit up, for I wished very much to have a_pportunity of saying a few words to you. I am naturally anxious about it, an_f course it's a very delightful and consoling thing to have a grown-up so_hat one can put confidence in, and advise with; indeed I don't know any us_here would be in having sons at all, unless people could put confidence i_hem.'
  • Nicholas stopped in the middle of a sleepy yawn, as his mother began to speak: and looked at her with fixed attention.
  • 'There was a lady in our neighbourhood,' said Mrs Nickleby, 'speaking of son_uts me in mind of it—a lady in our neighbourhood when we lived near Dawlish, I think her name was Rogers; indeed I am sure it was if it wasn't Murphy, which is the only doubt I have—'
  • 'Is it about her, mother, that you wished to speak to me?' said Nichola_uietly.
  • 'About HER!' cried Mrs Nickleby. 'Good gracious, Nicholas, my dear, how CA_ou be so ridiculous! But that was always the way with your poor dea_apa,—just his way—always wandering, never able to fix his thoughts on any on_ubject for two minutes together. I think I see him now!' said Mrs Nickleby, wiping her eyes, 'looking at me while I was talking to him about his affairs, just as if his ideas were in a state of perfect conglomeration! Anybody wh_ad come in upon us suddenly, would have supposed I was confusing an_istracting him instead of making things plainer; upon my word they would.'
  • 'I am very sorry, mother, that I should inherit this unfortunate slowness o_pprehension,' said Nicholas, kindly; 'but I'll do my best to understand you, if you'll only go straight on: indeed I will.'
  • 'Your poor pa!' said Mrs Nickleby, pondering. 'He never knew, till it was to_ate, what I would have had him do!'
  • This was undoubtedly the case, inasmuch as the deceased Mr Nickleby had no_rrived at the knowledge. Then he died. Neither had Mrs Nickleby herself; which is, in some sort, an explanation of the circumstance.
  • 'However,' said Mrs Nickleby, drying her tears, 'this has nothing t_o—certainly nothing whatever to do—with the gentleman in the next house.'
  • 'I should suppose that the gentleman in the next house has as little to d_ith us,' returned Nicholas.
  • 'There can be no doubt,' said Mrs Nickleby, 'that he IS a gentleman, and ha_he manners of a gentleman, and the appearance of a gentleman, although h_oes wear smalls and grey worsted stockings. That may be eccentricity, or h_ay be proud of his legs. I don't see why he shouldn't be. The Prince Regen_as proud of his legs, and so was Daniel Lambert, who was also a fat man; H_as proud of his legs. So was Miss Biffin: she was—no,' added Mrs Nickleby, correcting, herself, 'I think she had only toes, but the principle is th_ame.'
  • Nicholas looked on, quite amazed at the introduction of this new theme. Whic_eemed just what Mrs Nickleby had expected him to be.
  • 'You may well be surprised, Nicholas, my dear,' she said, 'I am sure I was. I_ame upon me like a flash of fire, and almost froze my blood. The bottom o_is garden joins the bottom of ours, and of course I had several times see_im sitting among the scarlet-beans in his little arbour, or working at hi_ittle hot-beds. I used to think he stared rather, but I didn't take an_articular notice of that, as we were newcomers, and he might be curious t_ee what we were like. But when he began to throw his cucumbers over ou_all—'
  • 'To throw his cucumbers over our wall!' repeated Nicholas, in grea_stonishment.
  • 'Yes, Nicholas, my dear,' replied Mrs Nickleby in a very serious tone; 'hi_ucumbers over our wall. And vegetable marrows likewise.'
  • 'Confound his impudence!' said Nicholas, firing immediately. 'What does h_ean by that?'
  • 'I don't think he means it impertinently at all,' replied Mrs Nickleby.
  • 'What!' said Nicholas, 'cucumbers and vegetable marrows flying at the heads o_he family as they walk in their own garden, and not meant impertinently! Why, mother—'
  • Nicholas stopped short; for there was an indescribable expression of placi_riumph, mingled with a modest confusion, lingering between the borders of Mr_ickleby's nightcap, which arrested his attention suddenly.
  • 'He must be a very weak, and foolish, and inconsiderate man,' said Mr_ickleby; 'blamable indeed—at least I suppose other people would consider hi_o; of course I can't be expected to express any opinion on that point, especially after always defending your poor dear papa when other people blame_im for making proposals to me; and to be sure there can be no doubt that h_as taken a very singular way of showing it. Still at the same time, hi_ttentions are—that is, as far as it goes, and to a certain extent of course— a flattering sort of thing; and although I should never dream of marryin_gain with a dear girl like Kate still unsettled in life—'
  • 'Surely, mother, such an idea never entered your brain for an instant?' sai_icholas.
  • 'Bless my heart, Nicholas my dear,' returned his mother in a peevish tone,
  • 'isn't that precisely what I am saying, if you would only let me speak? O_ourse, I never gave it a second thought, and I am surprised and astonishe_hat you should suppose me capable of such a thing. All I say is, what step i_he best to take, so as to reject these advances civilly and delicately, an_ithout hurting his feelings too much, and driving him to despair, or anythin_f that kind? My goodness me!' exclaimed Mrs Nickleby, with a half- simper,
  • 'suppose he was to go doing anything rash to himself. Could I ever be happ_gain, Nicholas?'
  • Despite his vexation and concern, Nicholas could scarcely help smiling, as h_ejoined, 'Now, do you think, mother, that such a result would be likely t_nsue from the most cruel repulse?'
  • 'Upon my word, my dear, I don't know," returned Mrs Nickleby; 'really, I don'_now. I am sure there was a case in the day before yesterday's paper, extracted from one of the French newspapers, about a journeyman shoemaker wh_as jealous of a young girl in an adjoining village, because she wouldn't shu_erself up in an air- tight three-pair-of-stairs, and charcoal herself t_eath with him; and who went and hid himself in a wood with a sharp-pointe_nife, and rushed out, as she was passing by with a few friends, and kille_imself first, and then all the friends, and then her—no, killed all th_riends first, and then herself, and then HIMself—which it is quite frightfu_o think of. Somehow or other,' added Mrs Nickleby, after a momentary pause,
  • 'they always ARE journeyman shoemakers who do these things in France, according to the papers. I don't know how it is—something in the leather, _uppose.'
  • 'But this man, who is not a shoemaker—what has he done, mother, what has h_aid?' inquired Nicholas, fretted almost beyond endurance, but looking nearl_s resigned and patient as Mrs Nickleby herself. 'You know, there is n_anguage of vegetables, which converts a cucumber into a formal declaration o_ttachment.'
  • 'My dear,' replied Mrs Nickleby, tossing her head and looking at the ashes i_he grate, 'he has done and said all sorts of things.'
  • 'Is there no mistake on your part?' asked Nicholas.
  • 'Mistake!' cried Mrs Nickleby. 'Lord, Nicholas my dear, do you suppose I don'_now when a man's in earnest?'
  • 'Well, well!' muttered Nicholas.
  • 'Every time I go to the window,' said Mrs Nickleby, 'he kisses one hand, an_ays the other upon his heart—of course it's very foolish of him to do so, an_ dare say you'll say it's very wrong, but he does it very respectfully—ver_espectfully indeed—and very tenderly, extremely tenderly. So far, he deserve_he greatest credit; there can be no doubt about that. Then, there are th_resents which come pouring over the wall every day, and very fine the_ertainly are, very fine; we had one of the cucumbers at dinner yesterday, an_hink of pickling the rest for next winter. And last evening,' added Mr_ickleby, with increased confusion, 'he called gently over the wall, as I wa_alking in the garden, and proposed marriage, and an elopement. His voice i_s clear as a bell or a musical glass—very like a musical glass indeed—but o_ourse I didn't listen to it. Then, the question is, Nicholas my dear, what a_ to do?'
  • 'Does Kate know of this?' asked Nicholas.
  • 'I have not said a word about it yet,' answered his mother.
  • 'Then, for Heaven's sake,' rejoined Nicholas, rising, 'do not, for it woul_ake her very unhappy. And with regard to what you should do, my dear mother, do what your good sense and feeling, and respect for my father's memory, woul_rompt. There are a thousand ways in which you can show your dislike of thes_reposterous and doting attentions. If you act as decidedly as you ought an_hey are still continued, and to your annoyance, I can speedily put a stop t_hem. But I should not interfere in a matter so ridiculous, and attac_mportance to it, until you have vindicated yourself. Most women can do that, but especially one of your age and condition, in circumstances like these, which are unworthy of a serious thought. I would not shame you by seeming t_ake them to heart, or treat them earnestly for an instant. Absurd old idiot!'
  • So saying, Nicholas kissed his mother, and bade her good-night, and the_etired to their respective chambers.
  • To do Mrs Nickleby justice, her attachment to her children would hav_revented her seriously contemplating a second marriage, even if she coul_ave so far conquered her recollections of her late husband as to have an_trong inclinations that way. But, although there was no evil and little rea_elfishness in Mrs Nickleby's heart, she had a weak head and a vain one; an_here was something so flattering in being sought (and vainly sought) i_arriage at this time of day, that she could not dismiss the passion of th_nknown gentleman quite so summarily or lightly as Nicholas appeared to dee_ecoming.
  • 'As to its being preposterous, and doting, and ridiculous,' thought Mr_ickleby, communing with herself in her own room, 'I don't see that, at all.
  • It's hopeless on his part, certainly; but why he should be an absurd ol_diot, I confess I don't see. He is not to be supposed to know it's hopeless.
  • Poor fellow! He is to be pitied, I think!'
  • Having made these reflections, Mrs Nickleby looked in her little dressing- glass, and walking backward a few steps from it, tried to remember who it wa_ho used to say that when Nicholas was one-and- twenty he would have more th_ppearance of her brother than her son. Not being able to call the authorit_o mind, she extinguished her candle, and drew up the window-blind to admi_he light of morning, which had, by this time, begun to dawn.
  • 'It's a bad light to distinguish objects in,' murmured Mrs Nickleby, peerin_nto the garden, 'and my eyes are not very good—I was short-sighted from _hild—but, upon my word, I think there's another large vegetable marro_ticking, at this moment, on the broken glass bottles at the top of the wall!'