Chapter 39 In which another old Friend encounters Smike, very opportunel_nd to some Purpose
The night, fraught with so much bitterness to one poor soul, had given plac_o a bright and cloudless summer morning, when a north- country mail-coac_raversed, with cheerful noise, the yet silent streets of Islington, and, giving brisk note of its approach with the lively winding of the guard's horn, clattered onward to its halting-place hard by the Post Office.
The only outside passenger was a burly, honest-looking countryman on the box, who, with his eyes fixed upon the dome of St Paul's Cathedral, appeared s_rapt in admiring wonder, as to be quite insensible to all the bustle o_etting out the bags and parcels, until one of the coach windows being le_harply down, he looked round, and encountered a pretty female face which wa_ust then thrust out.
'See there, lass!' bawled the countryman, pointing towards the object of hi_dmiration. 'There be Paul's Church. 'Ecod, he be a soizable 'un, he be.'
'Goodness, John! I shouldn't have thought it could have been half the size.
What a monster!'
'Monsther!—Ye're aboot right theer, I reckon, Mrs Browdie,' said th_ountryman good-humouredly, as he came slowly down in his huge top-coat; 'an_a'at dost thee tak yon place to be noo—thot'un owor the wa'? Ye'd never coo_ear it 'gin you thried for twolve moonths. It's na' but a Poast Office! Ho!
ho! They need to charge for dooble-latthers. A Poast Office! Wa'at dost the_hink o' thot? 'Ecod, if thot's on'y a Poast Office, I'd loike to see wher_he Lord Mayor o' Lunnun lives.'
So saying, John Browdie—for he it was—opened the coach-door, and tapping Mr_rowdie, late Miss Price, on the cheek as he looked in, burst into _oisterous fit of laughter.
'Weel!' said John. 'Dang my bootuns if she bean't asleep agean!'
'She's been asleep all night, and was, all yesterday, except for a minute o_wo now and then,' replied John Browdie's choice, 'and I was very sorry whe_he woke, for she has been SO cross!'
The subject of these remarks was a slumbering figure, so muffled in shawl an_loak, that it would have been matter of impossibility to guess at its sex bu_or a brown beaver bonnet and green veil which ornamented the head, and which, having been crushed and flattened, for two hundred and fifty miles, in tha_articular angle of the vehicle from which the lady's snores now proceeded, presented an appearance sufficiently ludicrous to have moved less risibl_uscles than those of John Browdie's ruddy face.
'Hollo!' cried John, twitching one end of the dragged veil. 'Coom, wakken oop, will 'ee?'
After several burrowings into the old corner, and many exclamations o_mpatience and fatigue, the figure struggled into a sitting posture; an_here, under a mass of crumpled beaver, and surrounded by a semicircle of blu_url-papers, were the delicate features of Miss Fanny Squeers.
'Oh, 'Tilda!' cried Miss Squeers, 'how you have been kicking of me throug_his blessed night!'
'Well, I do like that,' replied her friend, laughing, 'when you have ha_early the whole coach to yourself.'
'Don't deny it, 'Tilda,' said Miss Squeers, impressively, 'because you have, and it's no use to go attempting to say you haven't. You mightn't have know_t in your sleep, 'Tilda, but I haven't closed my eyes for a single wink, an_o I THINK I am to be believed.'
With which reply, Miss Squeers adjusted the bonnet and veil, which nothing bu_upernatural interference and an utter suspension of nature's laws could hav_educed to any shape or form; and evidently flattering herself that it looke_ncommonly neat, brushed off the sandwich-crumbs and bits of biscuit which ha_ccumulated in her lap, and availing herself of John Browdie's proffered arm, descended from the coach.
'Noo,' said John, when a hackney coach had been called, and the ladies and th_uggage hurried in, 'gang to the Sarah's Head, mun.'
'To the VERE?' cried the coachman.
'Lawk, Mr Browdie!' interrupted Miss Squeers. 'The idea! Saracen's Head.'
'Sure-ly,' said John, 'I know'd it was something aboot Sarah's Son's Head.
Dost thou know thot?'
'Oh, ah! I know that,' replied the coachman gruffly, as he banged the door.
''Tilda, dear, really,' remonstrated Miss Squeers, 'we shall be taken for _on't know what.'
'Let them tak' us as they foind us,' said John Browdie; 'we dean't come t_unnun to do nought but 'joy oursel, do we?'
'Well, then,' said John, 'it's no matther. I've only been a married man fowe_ays, 'account of poor old feyther deein, and puttin' it off. Here be _eddin' party—broide and broide's-maid, and the groom—if a mun dean't 'jo_imsel noo, when ought he, hey? Drat it all, thot's what I want to know.'
So, in order that he might begin to enjoy himself at once, and lose no time, Mr Browdie gave his wife a hearty kiss, and succeeded in wresting another fro_iss Squeers, after a maidenly resistance of scratching and struggling on th_art of that young lady, which was not quite over when they reached th_aracen's Head.
Here, the party straightway retired to rest; the refreshment of sleep bein_ecessary after so long a journey; and here they met again about noon, to _ubstantial breakfast, spread by direction of Mr John Browdie, in a smal_rivate room upstairs commanding an uninterrupted view of the stables.
To have seen Miss Squeers now, divested of the brown beaver, the green veil, and the blue curl-papers, and arrayed in all the virgin splendour of a whit_rock and spencer, with a white muslin bonnet, and an imitative damask rose i_ull bloom on the inside thereof— her luxuriant crop of hair arranged in curl_o tight that it was impossible they could come out by any accident, and he_onnet-cap trimmed with little damask roses, which might be supposed to be s_any promising scions of the big rose—to have seen all this, and to have see_he broad damask belt, matching both the family rose and the little roses, which encircled her slender waist, and by a happy ingenuity took off from th_hortness of the spencer behind,—to have beheld all this, and to have take_urther into account the coral bracelets (rather short of beads, and with _ery visible black string) which clasped her wrists, and the coral necklac_hich rested on her neck, supporting, outside her frock, a lonely cornelia_eart, typical of her own disengaged affections—to have contemplated all thes_ute but expressive appeals to the purest feelings of our nature, might hav_hawed the frost of age, and added new and inextinguishable fuel to the fir_f youth.
The waiter was touched. Waiter as he was, he had human passions and feelings, and he looked very hard at Miss Squeers as he handed the muffins.
'Is my pa in, do you know?' asked Miss Squeers with dignity.
'Beg your pardon, miss?'
'My pa,' repeated Miss Squeers; 'is he in?'
'In where, miss?'
'In here—in the house!' replied Miss Squeers. 'My pa—Mr Wackford Squeers—he'_topping here. Is he at home?'
'I didn't know there was any gen'l'man of that name in the house, miss'
replied the waiter. 'There may be, in the coffee-room.'
MAY BE. Very pretty this, indeed! Here was Miss Squeers, who had bee_epending, all the way to London, upon showing her friends how much at hom_he would be, and how much respectful notice her name and connections woul_xcite, told that her father MIGHT be there! 'As if he was a feller!' observe_iss Squeers, with emphatic indignation.
'Ye'd betther inquire, mun,' said John Browdie. 'An' hond up another pigeon- pie, will 'ee? Dang the chap,' muttered John, looking into the empty dish a_he waiter retired; 'does he ca' this a pie—three yoong pigeons and _roifling matther o' steak, and a crust so loight that you doant know whe_t's in your mooth and when it's gane? I wonder hoo many pies goes to _reakfast!'
After a short interval, which John Browdie employed upon the ham and a col_ound of beef, the waiter returned with another pie, and the information tha_r Squeers was not stopping in the house, but that he came there every day an_hat directly he arrived, he should be shown upstairs. With this, he retired; and he had not retired two minutes, when he returned with Mr Squeers and hi_opeful son.
'Why, who'd have thought of this?' said Mr Squeers, when he had saluted th_arty and received some private family intelligence from his daughter.
'Who, indeed, pa!' replied that young lady, spitefully. 'But you see 'Tilda I_arried at last.'
'And I stond threat for a soight o' Lunnun, schoolmeasther,' said John, vigorously attacking the pie.
'One of them things that young men do when they get married,' returne_queers; 'and as runs through with their money like nothing at all! How muc_etter wouldn't it be now, to save it up for the eddication of any littl_oys, for instance! They come on you,' said Mr Squeers in a moralising way,
'before you're aware of it; mine did upon me.'
'Will 'ee pick a bit?' said John.
'I won't myself,' returned Squeers; 'but if you'll just let little Wackfor_uck into something fat, I'll be obliged to you. Give it him in his fingers, else the waiter charges it on, and there's lot of profit on this sort o_ittles without that. If you hear the waiter coming, sir, shove it in you_ocket and look out of the window, d'ye hear?'
'I'm awake, father,' replied the dutiful Wackford.
'Well,' said Squeers, turning to his daughter, 'it's your turn to be marrie_ext. You must make haste.'
'Oh, I'm in no hurry,' said Miss Squeers, very sharply.
'No, Fanny?' cried her old friend with some archness.
'No, 'Tilda,' replied Miss Squeers, shaking her head vehemently. 'I can wait.'
'So can the young men, it seems, Fanny,' observed Mrs Browdie.
'They an't draw'd into it by ME, 'Tilda,' retorted Miss Squeers.
'No,' returned her friend; 'that's exceedingly true.'
The sarcastic tone of this reply might have provoked a rather acrimoniou_etort from Miss Squeers, who, besides being of a constitutionally viciou_emper—aggravated, just now, by travel and recent jolting—was somewha_rritated by old recollections and the failure of her own designs upon M_rowdie; and the acrimonious retort might have led to a great many othe_etorts, which might have led to Heaven knows what, if the subject o_onversation had not been, at that precise moment, accidentally changed by M_queers himself
'What do you think?' said that gentleman; 'who do you suppose we have lai_ands on, Wackford and me?'
'Pa! not Mr—?' Miss Squeers was unable to finish the sentence, but Mrs Browdi_id it for her, and added, 'Nickleby?'
'No,' said Squeers. 'But next door to him though.'
'You can't mean Smike?' cried Miss Squeers, clapping her hands.
'Yes, I can though,' rejoined her father. 'I've got him, hard and fast.'
'Wa'at!' exclaimed John Browdie, pushing away his plate. 'Got that poor—dom'_coondrel? Where?'
'Why, in the top back room, at my lodging,' replied Squeers, 'with him on on_ide, and the key on the other.'
'At thy loodgin'! Thee'st gotten him at thy loodgin'? Ho! ho! Th_choolmeasther agin all England. Give us thee hond, mun; I'm darned but I mus_hak thee by the hond for thot.—Gotten him at thy loodgin'?'
'Yes,' replied Squeers, staggering in his chair under the congratulatory blo_n the chest which the stout Yorkshireman dealt him; 'thankee. Don't do i_gain. You mean it kindly, I know, but it hurts rather. Yes, there he is.
That's not so bad, is it?'
'Ba'ad!' repeated John Browdie. 'It's eneaf to scare a mun to hear tell on.'
'I thought it would surprise you a bit,' said Squeers, rubbing his hands. 'I_as pretty neatly done, and pretty quick too.'
'Hoo wor it?' inquired John, sitting down close to him. 'Tell us all aboot it, mun; coom, quick!'
Although he could not keep pace with John Browdie's impatience, Mr Squeer_elated the lucky chance by which Smike had fallen into his hands, as quickl_s he could, and, except when he was interrupted by the admiring remarks o_is auditors, paused not in the recital until he had brought it to an end.
'For fear he should give me the slip, by any chance,' observed Squeers, whe_e had finished, looking very cunning, 'I've taken three outsides for tomorro_orning—for Wackford and him and me— and have arranged to leave the account_nd the new boys to the agent, don't you see? So it's very lucky you com_oday, or you'd have missed us; and as it is, unless you could come and te_ith me tonight, we shan't see anything more of you before we go away.'
'Dean't say anoother wurd,' returned the Yorkshireman, shaking him by th_and. 'We'd coom, if it was twonty mile.'
'No, would you though?' returned Mr Squeers, who had not expected quite such _eady acceptance of his invitation, or he would have considered twice befor_e gave it.
John Browdie's only reply was another squeeze of the hand, and an assuranc_hat they would not begin to see London till tomorrow, so that they might b_t Mr Snawley's at six o'clock without fail; and after some furthe_onversation, Mr Squeers and his son departed.
During the remainder of the day, Mr Browdie was in a very odd and excitabl_tate; bursting occasionally into an explosion of laughter, and then taking u_is hat and running into the coach-yard to have it out by himself. He was ver_estless too, constantly walking in and out, and snapping his fingers, an_ancing scraps of uncouth country dances, and, in short, conducting himself i_uch a very extraordinary manner, that Miss Squeers opined he was going mad, and, begging her dear 'Tilda not to distress herself, communicated he_uspicions in so many words. Mrs Browdie, however, without discovering an_reat alarm, observed that she had seen him so once before, and that althoug_e was almost sure to be ill after it, it would not be anything very serious, and therefore he was better left alone.
The result proved her to be perfectly correct for, while they were all sittin_n Mr Snawley's parlour that night, and just as it was beginning to get dusk, John Browdie was taken so ill, and seized with such an alarming dizziness i_he head, that the whole company were thrown into the utmost consternation.
His good lady, indeed, was the only person present, who retained presence o_ind enough to observe that if he were allowed to lie down on Mr Squeers's be_or an hour or so, and left entirely to himself, he would be sure to recove_gain almost as quickly as he had been taken ill. Nobody could refuse to tr_he effect of so reasonable a proposal, before sending for a surgeon.
Accordingly, John was supported upstairs, with great difficulty; being _onstrous weight, and regularly tumbling down two steps every time the_oisted him up three; and, being laid on the bed, was left in charge of hi_ife, who, after a short interval, reappeared in the parlour, with th_ratifying intelligence that he had fallen fast asleep.
Now, the fact was, that at that particular moment, John Browdie was sitting o_he bed with the reddest face ever seen, cramming the corner of the pillo_nto his mouth, to prevent his roaring out loud with laughter. He had n_ooner succeeded in suppressing this emotion, than he slipped off his shoes, and creeping to the adjoining room where the prisoner was confined, turned th_ey, which was on the outside, and darting in, covered Smike's mouth with hi_uge hand before he could utter a sound.
'Ods-bobs, dost thee not know me, mun?' whispered the Yorkshireman to th_ewildered lad. 'Browdie. Chap as met thee efther schoolmeasther was banged?'
'Yes, yes,' cried Smike. 'Oh! help me.'
'Help thee!' replied John, stopping his mouth again, the instant he had sai_his much. 'Thee didn't need help, if thee warn't as silly yoongster as eve_raw'd breath. Wa'at did 'ee come here for, then?'
'He brought me; oh! he brought me,' cried Smike.
'Brout thee!' replied John. 'Why didn't 'ee punch his head, or lay theesel_oon and kick, and squeal out for the pollis? I'd ha' licked a doozen such a_im when I was yoong as thee. But thee be'est a poor broken-doon chap,' sai_ohn, sadly, 'and God forgi' me for bragging ower yan o' his weakes_reeturs!'
Smike opened his mouth to speak, but John Browdie stopped him.
'Stan' still,' said the Yorkshireman, 'and doant'ee speak a morsel o' tal_ill I tell'ee.'
With this caution, John Browdie shook his head significantly, and drawing _crewdriver from his pocket, took off the box of the lock in a very deliberat_nd workmanlike manner, and laid it, together with the implement, on th_loor.
'See thot?' said John 'Thot be thy doin'. Noo, coot awa'!'
Smike looked vacantly at him, as if unable to comprehend his meaning.
Thee dost? Weel. Are yon thy clothes, or schoolmeasther's?'
'Mine,' replied Smike, as the Yorkshireman hurried him to the adjoining room, and pointed out a pair of shoes and a coat which were lying on a chair.
'On wi' 'em,' said John, forcing the wrong arm into the wrong sleeve, an_inding the tails of the coat round the fugitive's neck. 'Noo, foller me, an_hen thee get'st ootside door, turn to the right, and they wean't see the_ass.'
'But—but—he'll hear me shut the door,' replied Smike, trembling from head t_oot.
'Then dean't shut it at all,' retorted John Browdie. 'Dang it, thee bean'_feard o' schoolmeasther's takkin cold, I hope?'
'N-no,' said Smike, his teeth chattering in his head. 'But he brought me bac_efore, and will again. He will, he will indeed.'
'He wull, he wull!' replied John impatiently. 'He wean't, he wean't. Look'ee!
I wont to do this neighbourly loike, and let them think thee's gotten awa' o'
theeself, but if he cooms oot o' thot parlour awhiles theer't clearing off, h_un' have mercy on his oun boans, for I wean't. If he foinds it oot, soo_fther, I'll put 'un on a wrong scent, I warrant 'ee. But if thee keep'st _ood hart, thee'lt be at whoam afore they know thee'st gotten off. Coom!'
Smike, who comprehended just enough of this to know it was intended a_ncouragement, prepared to follow with tottering steps, when John whispered i_is ear.
'Thee'lt just tell yoong Measther that I'm sploiced to 'Tilly Price, and to b_eerd on at the Saracen by latther, and that I bean't jealous of 'un—dang it, I'm loike to boost when I think o' that neight! 'Cod, I think I see 'un now, _owderin' awa' at the thin bread an' butther!'
It was rather a ticklish recollection for John just then, for he was within a_ce of breaking out into a loud guffaw. Restraining himself, however, just i_ime, by a great effort, he glided downstairs, hauling Smike behind him; an_lacing himself close to the parlour door, to confront the first person tha_ight come out, signed to him to make off.
Having got so far, Smike needed no second bidding. Opening the house-doo_ently, and casting a look of mingled gratitude and terror at his deliverer, he took the direction which had been indicated to him, and sped away like th_ind.
The Yorkshireman remained on his post for a few minutes, but, finding tha_here was no pause in the conversation inside, crept back again unheard, an_tood, listening over the stair-rail, for a full hour. Everything remainin_erfectly quiet, he got into Mr Squeers's bed, once more, and drawing th_lothes over his head, laughed till he was nearly smothered.
If there could only have been somebody by, to see how the bedclothes shook, and to see the Yorkshireman's great red face and round head appear above th_heets, every now and then, like some jovial monster coming to the surface t_reathe, and once more dive down convulsed with the laughter which cam_ursting forth afresh—that somebody would have been scarcely less amused tha_ohn Browdie himself.