Table of Contents

+ Add to Library

Previous Next

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?'
  • 'I hope not, Mr Browdie,' replied Miss Squeers, looking singularly dismal.
  • '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.
  • 'I say, coot awa',' repeated John, hastily. 'Dost thee know where thee livest?
  • 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.