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!'