Chapter 46 Throws some Light upon Nicholas's Love, but whether for Good o_vil the Reader must determine
After an anxious consideration of the painful and embarrassing position i_hich he was placed, Nicholas decided that he ought to lose no time in frankl_tating it to the kind brothers. Availing himself of the first opportunity o_eing alone with Mr Charles Cheeryble at the close of next day, he accordingl_elated Smike's little history, and modestly but firmly expressed his hop_hat the good old gentleman would, under such circumstances as he described, hold him justified in adopting the extreme course of interfering betwee_arent and child, and upholding the latter in his disobedience; even thoug_is horror and dread of his father might seem, and would doubtless b_epresented as, a thing so repulsive and unnatural, as to render those wh_ountenanced him in it, fit objects of general detestation and abhorrence.
'So deeply rooted does this horror of the man appear to be,' said Nicholas,
'that I can hardly believe he really is his son. Nature does not seem to hav_mplanted in his breast one lingering feeling of affection for him, and surel_he can never err.'
'My dear sir,' replied brother Charles, 'you fall into the very common mistak_f charging upon Nature, matters with which she has not the smalles_onnection, and for which she is in no way responsible. Men talk of Nature a_n abstract thing, and lose sight of what is natural while they do so. Here i_ poor lad who has never felt a parent's care, who has scarcely known anythin_ll his life but suffering and sorrow, presented to a man who he is told i_is father, and whose first act is to signify his intention of putting an en_o his short term of happiness, of consigning him to his old fate, and takin_im from the only friend he has ever had— which is yourself. If Nature, i_uch a case, put into that lad's breast but one secret prompting which urge_im towards his father and away from you, she would be a liar and an idiot.'
Nicholas was delighted to find that the old gentleman spoke so warmly, and i_he hope that he might say something more to the same purpose, made no reply.
'The same mistake presents itself to me, in one shape or other, at ever_urn,' said brother Charles. 'Parents who never showed their love, complain o_ant of natural affection in their children; children who never showed thei_uty, complain of want of natural feeling in their parents; law-makers wh_ind both so miserable that their affections have never had enough of life'_un to develop them, are loud in their moralisings over parents and childre_oo, and cry that the very ties of nature are disregarded. Natural affection_nd instincts, my dear sir, are the most beautiful of the Almighty's works, but like other beautiful works of His, they must be reared and fostered, or i_s as natural that they should be wholly obscured, and that new feeling_hould usurp their place, as it is that the sweetest productions of the earth, left untended, should be choked with weeds and briers. I wish we could b_rought to consider this, and remembering natural obligations a little more a_he right time, talk about them a little less at the wrong one.'
After this, brother Charles, who had talked himself into a great heat, stoppe_o cool a little, and then continued:
'I dare say you are surprised, my dear sir, that I have listened to you_ecital with so little astonishment. That is easily explained. Your uncle ha_een here this morning.'
Nicholas coloured, and drew back a step or two.
'Yes,' said the old gentleman, tapping his desk emphatically, 'here, in thi_oom. He would listen neither to reason, feeling, nor justice. But brother Ne_as hard upon him; brother Ned, sir, might have melted a paving-stone.'
'He came to—' said Nicholas.
'To complain of you,' returned brother Charles, 'to poison our ears wit_alumnies and falsehoods; but he came on a fruitless errand, and went awa_ith some wholesome truths in his ear besides. Brother Ned, my dear M_ickleby—brother Ned, sir, is a perfect lion. So is Tim Linkinwater; Tim i_uite a lion. We had Tim in to face him at first, and Tim was at him, sir, before you could say "Jack Robinson."'
'How can I ever thank you for all the deep obligations you impose upon m_very day?' said Nicholas.
'By keeping silence upon the subject, my dear sir,' returned brother Charles.
'You shall be righted. At least you shall not be wronged. Nobody belonging t_ou shall be wronged. They shall not hurt a hair of your head, or the boy'_ead, or your mother's head, or your sister's head. I have said it, brothe_ed has said it, Tim Linkinwater has said it. We have all said it, and we'l_ll do it. I have seen the father—if he is the father—and I suppose he mus_e. He is a barbarian and a hypocrite, Mr Nickleby. I told him, "You are _arbarian, sir." I did. I said, "You're a barbarian, sir." And I'm glad of it, I am VERY glad I told him he was a barbarian, very glad indeed!'
By this time brother Charles was in such a very warm state of indignation, that Nicholas thought he might venture to put in a word, but the moment h_ssayed to do so, Mr Cheeryble laid his hand softly upon his arm, and pointe_o a chair.
'The subject is at an end for the present,' said the old gentleman, wiping hi_ace. 'Don't revive it by a single word. I am going to speak upon anothe_ubject, a confidential subject, Mr Nickleby. We must be cool again, we mus_e cool.'
After two or three turns across the room he resumed his seat, and drawing hi_hair nearer to that on which Nicholas was seated, said:
'I am about to employ you, my dear sir, on a confidential and delicat_ission.'
'You might employ many a more able messenger, sir,' said Nicholas, 'but a mor_rustworthy or zealous one, I may be bold to say, you could not find.'
'Of that I am well assured,' returned brother Charles, 'well assured. You wil_ive me credit for thinking so, when I tell you that the object of thi_ission is a young lady.'
'A young lady, sir!' cried Nicholas, quite trembling for the moment with hi_agerness to hear more.
'A very beautiful young lady,' said Mr Cheeryble, gravely.
'Pray go on, sir,' returned Nicholas.
'I am thinking how to do so,' said brother Charles; sadly, as it seemed to hi_oung friend, and with an expression allied to pain. 'You accidentally saw _oung lady in this room one morning, my dear sir, in a fainting fit. Do yo_emember? Perhaps you have forgotten.'
'Oh no,' replied Nicholas, hurriedly. 'I—I—remember it very well indeed.'
'SHE is the lady I speak of,' said brother Charles. Like the famous parrot, Nicholas thought a great deal, but was unable to utter a word.
'She is the daughter,' said Mr Cheeryble, 'of a lady who, when she was _eautiful girl herself, and I was very many years younger, I— it seems _trange word for me to utter now—I loved very dearly. You will smile, perhaps, to hear a grey-headed man talk about such things. You will not offend me, fo_hen I was as young as you, I dare say I should have done the same.'
'I have no such inclination, indeed,' said Nicholas.
'My dear brother Ned,' continued Mr Cheeryble, 'was to have married he_ister, but she died. She is dead too now, and has been for many years. Sh_arried her choice; and I wish I could add that her after-life was as happy a_od knows I ever prayed it might be!'
A short silence intervened, which Nicholas made no effort to break.
'If trial and calamity had fallen as lightly on his head, as in the deepes_ruth of my own heart I ever hoped (for her sake) it would, his life woul_ave been one of peace and happiness,' said the old gentleman calmly. 'It wil_e enough to say that this was not the case; that she was not happy; that the_ell into complicated distresses and difficulties; that she came, twelv_onths before her death, to appeal to my old friendship; sadly changed, sadl_ltered, broken-spirited from suffering and ill-usage, and almost broken- hearted. He readily availed himself of the money which, to give her but on_our's peace of mind, I would have poured out as freely as water—nay, he ofte_ent her back for more—and yet even while he squandered it, he made the ver_uccess of these, her applications to me, the groundwork of cruel taunts an_eers, protesting that he knew she thought with bitter remorse of the choic_he had made, that she had married him from motives of interest and vanity (h_as a gay young man with great friends about him when she chose him for he_usband), and venting in short upon her, by every unjust and unkind means, th_itterness of that ruin and disappointment which had been brought about by hi_rofligacy alone. In those times this young lady was a mere child. I never sa_er again until that morning when you saw her also, but my nephew, Frank—'
Nicholas started, and indistinctly apologising for the interruption, begge_is patron to proceed.
'—My nephew, Frank, I say,' resumed Mr Cheeryble, 'encountered her b_ccident, and lost sight of her almost in a minute afterwards, within two day_fter he returned to England. Her father lay in some secret place to avoid hi_reditors, reduced, between sickness and poverty, to the verge of death, an_he, a child,—we might almost think, if we did not know the wisdom of al_eaven's decrees —who should have blessed a better man, was steadily bravin_rivation, degradation, and everything most terrible to such a young an_elicate creature's heart, for the purpose of supporting him. She wa_ttended, sir,' said brother Charles, 'in these reverses, by one faithfu_reature, who had been, in old times, a poor kitchen wench in the family, wh_as then their solitary servant, but who might have been, for the truth an_idelity of her heart—who might have been—ah! the wife of Tim Linkinwate_imself, sir!'
Pursuing this encomium upon the poor follower with such energy and relish a_o words can describe, brother Charles leant back in his chair, and delivere_he remainder of his relation with greater composure.
It was in substance this: That proudly resisting all offers of permanent ai_nd support from her late mother's friends, because they were made conditiona_pon her quitting the wretched man, her father, who had no friends left, an_hrinking with instinctive delicacy from appealing in their behalf to tha_rue and noble heart which he hated, and had, through its greatest and pures_oodness, deeply wronged by misconstruction and ill report, this young gir_ad struggled alone and unassisted to maintain him by the labour of her hands.
That through the utmost depths of poverty and affliction she had toiled, neve_urning aside for an instant from her task, never wearied by the petulan_loom of a sick man sustained by no consoling recollections of the past o_opes of the future; never repining for the comforts she had rejected, o_ewailing the hard lot she had voluntarily incurred. That every littl_ccomplishment she had acquired in happier days had been put into requisitio_or this purpose, and directed to this one end. That for two long years, toiling by day and often too by night, working at the needle, the pencil, an_he pen, and submitting, as a daily governess, to such caprices an_ndignities as women (with daughters too) too often love to inflict upon thei_wn sex when they serve in such capacities, as though in jealousy of th_uperior intelligence which they are necessitated to employ,—indignities, i_inety-nine cases out of every hundred, heaped upon persons immeasurably an_ncalculably their betters, but outweighing in comparison any that the mos_eartless blackleg would put upon his groom—that for two long years, by din_f labouring in all these capacities and wearying in none, she had no_ucceeded in the sole aim and object of her life, but that, overwhelmed b_ccumulated difficulties and disappointments, she had been compelled to see_ut her mother's old friend, and, with a bursting heart, to confide in him a_ast.
'If I had been poor,' said brother Charles, with sparkling eyes; 'if I ha_een poor, Mr Nickleby, my dear sir, which thank God I am not, I would hav_enied myself (of course anybody would under such circumstances) the commones_ecessaries of life, to help her. As it is, the task is a difficult one. I_er father were dead, nothing could be easier, for then she should share an_heer the happiest home that brother Ned and I could have, as if she were ou_hild or sister. But he is still alive. Nobody can help him; that has bee_ried a thousand times; he was not abandoned by all without good cause, _now.'
'Cannot she be persuaded to—' Nicholas hesitated when he had got thus far.
'To leave him?' said brother Charles. 'Who could entreat a child to desert he_arent? Such entreaties, limited to her seeing him occasionally, have bee_rged upon her—not by me—but always with the same result.'
'Is he kind to her?' said Nicholas. 'Does he requite her affection?'
'True kindness, considerate self-denying kindness, is not in his nature,'
returned Mr Cheeryble. 'Such kindness as he knows, he regards her with, _elieve. The mother was a gentle, loving, confiding creature, and although h_ounded her from their marriage till her death as cruelly and wantonly as eve_an did, she never ceased to love him. She commended him on her death-bed t_er child's care. Her child has never forgotten it, and never will.'
'Have you no influence over him?' asked Nicholas.
'I, my dear sir! The last man in the world. Such are his jealousy and hatre_f me, that if he knew his daughter had opened her heart to me, he woul_ender her life miserable with his reproaches; although—this is th_nconsistency and selfishness of his character—although if he knew that ever_enny she had came from me, he would not relinquish one personal desire tha_he most reckless expenditure of her scanty stock could gratify.'
'An unnatural scoundrel!' said Nicholas, indignantly.
'We will use no harsh terms,' said brother Charles, in a gentle voice; 'bu_ccommodate ourselves to the circumstances in which this young lady is placed.
Such assistance as I have prevailed upon her to accept, I have been obliged, at her own earnest request, to dole out in the smallest portions, lest he, finding how easily money was procured, should squander it even more lightl_han he is accustomed to do. She has come to and fro, to and fro, secretly an_y night, to take even this; and I cannot bear that things should go on i_his way, Mr Nickleby, I really cannot bear it.'
Then it came out by little and little, how that the twins had been revolvin_n their good old heads manifold plans and schemes for helping this young lad_n the most delicate and considerate way, and so that her father should no_uspect the source whence the aid was derived; and how they had at last com_o the conclusion, that the best course would be to make a feint of purchasin_er little drawings and ornamental work at a high price, and keeping up _onstant demand for the same. For the furtherance of which end and object i_as necessary that somebody should represent the dealer in such commodities, and after great deliberation they had pitched upon Nicholas to support thi_haracter.
'He knows me,' said brother Charles, 'and he knows my brother Ned. Neither o_s would do. Frank is a very good fellow—a very fine fellow—but we are afrai_hat he might be a little flighty and thoughtless in such a delicate matter, and that he might, perhaps— that he might, in short, be too susceptible (fo_he is a beautiful creature, sir; just what her poor mother was), and fallin_n love with her before he knew well his own mind, carry pain and sorrow int_hat innocent breast, which we would be the humble instruments of graduall_aking happy. He took an extraordinary interest in her fortunes when he firs_appened to encounter her; and we gather from the inquiries we have made o_im, that it was she in whose behalf he made that turmoil which led to you_irst acquaintance.'
Nicholas stammered out that he had before suspected the possibility of such _hing; and in explanation of its having occurred to him, described when an_here he had seen the young lady himself.
'Well; then you see,' continued brother Charles, 'that HE wouldn't do. Ti_inkinwater is out of the question; for Tim, sir, is such a tremendous fellow, that he could never contain himself, but would go to loggerheads with th_ather before he had been in the place five minutes. You don't know what Ti_s, sir, when he is aroused by anything that appeals to his feelings ver_trongly; then he is terrific, sir, is Tim Linkinwater, absolutely terrific.
Now, in you we can repose the strictest confidence; in you we have seen—or a_east I have seen, and that's the same thing, for there's no differenc_etween me and my brother Ned, except that he is the finest creature that eve_ived, and that there is not, and never will be, anybody like him in all th_orld—in you we have seen domestic virtues and affections, and delicacy o_eeling, which exactly qualify you for such an office. And you are the man, sir.'
'The young lady, sir,' said Nicholas, who felt so embarrassed that he had n_mall difficulty in saying anything at all—'Does—is—is she a party to thi_nnocent deceit?'
'Yes, yes,' returned Mr Cheeryble; 'at least she knows you come from us; sh_oes NOT know, however, but that we shall dispose of these little production_hat you'll purchase from time to time; and, perhaps, if you did it very well (that is, VERY well indeed), perhaps she might be brought to believe tha_e—that we made a profit of them. Eh? Eh?'
In this guileless and most kind simplicity, brother Charles was so happy, an_n this possibility of the young lady being led to think that she was under n_bligation to him, he evidently felt so sanguine and had so much delight, tha_icholas would not breathe a doubt upon the subject.
All this time, however, there hovered upon the tip of his tongue a confessio_hat the very same objections which Mr Cheeryble had stated to the employmen_f his nephew in this commission applied with at least equal force an_alidity to himself, and a hundred times had he been upon the point of avowin_he real state of his feelings, and entreating to be released from it. But a_ften, treading upon the heels of this impulse, came another which urged hi_o refrain, and to keep his secret to his own breast. 'Why should I,' though_icholas, 'why should I throw difficulties in the way of this benevolent an_igh-minded design? What if I do love and reverence this good and lovel_reature. Should I not appear a most arrogant and shallow coxcomb if I gravel_epresented that there was any danger of her falling in love with me? Besides, have I no confidence in myself? Am I not now bound in honour to repress thes_houghts? Has not this excellent man a right to my best and hearties_ervices, and should any considerations of self deter me from rendering them?'
Asking himself such questions as these, Nicholas mentally answered with grea_mphasis 'No!' and persuading himself that he was a most conscientious an_lorious martyr, nobly resolved to do what, if he had examined his own heart _ittle more carefully, he would have found he could not resist. Such is th_leight of hand by which we juggle with ourselves, and change our ver_eaknesses into stanch and most magnanimous virtues!
Mr Cheeryble, being of course wholly unsuspicious that such reflections wer_resenting themselves to his young friend, proceeded to give him the needfu_redentials and directions for his first visit, which was to be made nex_orning; and all preliminaries being arranged, and the strictest secrec_njoined, Nicholas walked home for the night very thoughtfully indeed.
The place to which Mr Cheeryble had directed him was a row of mean and no_ver-cleanly houses, situated within 'the Rules' of the King's Bench Prison, and not many hundred paces distant from the obelisk in St George's Fields. Th_ules are a certain liberty adjoining the prison, and comprising some doze_treets in which debtors who can raise money to pay large fees, from whic_heir creditors do NOT derive any benefit, are permitted to reside by the wis_rovisions of the same enlightened laws which leave the debtor who can rais_o money to starve in jail, without the food, clothing, lodging, or warmth, which are provided for felons convicted of the most atrocious crimes that ca_isgrace humanity. There are many pleasant fictions of the law in constan_peration, but there is not one so pleasant or practically humorous as tha_hich supposes every man to be of equal value in its impartial eye, and th_enefits of all laws to be equally attainable by all men, without the smalles_eference to the furniture of their pockets.
To the row of houses indicated to him by Mr Charles Cheeryble, Nichola_irected his steps, without much troubling his head with such matters a_hese; and at this row of houses—after traversing a very dirty and dust_uburb, of which minor theatricals, shell-fish, ginger-beer, spring vans, greengrocery, and brokers' shops, appeared to compose the main and mos_rominent features—he at length arrived with a palpitating heart. There wer_mall gardens in front which, being wholly neglected in all other respects, served as little pens for the dust to collect in, until the wind came roun_he corner and blew it down the road. Opening the rickety gate which, danglin_n its broken hinges before one of these, half admitted and half repulsed th_isitor, Nicholas knocked at the street door with a faltering hand.
It was in truth a shabby house outside, with very dim parlour windows and ver_mall show of blinds, and very dirty muslin curtains dangling across the lowe_anes on very loose and limp strings. Neither, when the door was opened, di_he inside appear to belie the outward promise, as there was faded carpetin_n the stairs and faded oil-cloth in the passage; in addition to whic_iscomforts a gentleman Ruler was smoking hard in the front parlour (though i_as not yet noon), while the lady of the house was busily engaged i_urpentining the disjointed fragments of a tent-bedstead at the door of th_ack parlour, as if in preparation for the reception of some new lodger wh_ad been fortunate enough to engage it.
Nicholas had ample time to make these observations while the little boy, wh_ent on errands for the lodgers, clattered down the kitchen stairs and wa_eard to scream, as in some remote cellar, for Miss Bray's servant, who, presently appearing and requesting him to follow her, caused him to evinc_reater symptoms of nervousness and disorder than so natural a consequence o_is having inquired for that young lady would seem calculated to occasion.
Upstairs he went, however, and into a front room he was shown, and there, seated at a little table by the window, on which were drawing materials wit_hich she was occupied, sat the beautiful girl who had so engrossed hi_houghts, and who, surrounded by all the new and strong interest whic_icholas attached to her story, seemed now, in his eyes, a thousand times mor_eautiful than he had ever yet supposed her.
But how the graces and elegancies which she had dispersed about the poorly- furnished room went to the heart of Nicholas! Flowers, plants, birds, th_arp, the old piano whose notes had sounded so much sweeter in bygone times; how many struggles had it cost her to keep these two last links of that broke_hain which bound her yet to home! With every slender ornament, the occupatio_f her leisure hours, replete with that graceful charm which lingers in ever_ittle tasteful work of woman's hands, how much patient endurance and how man_entle affections were entwined! He felt as though the smile of Heaven were o_he little chamber; as though the beautiful devotion of so young and weak _reature had shed a ray of its own on the inanimate things around, and mad_hem beautiful as itself; as though the halo with which old painters surroun_he bright angels of a sinless world played about a being akin in spirit t_hem, and its light were visibly before him.
And yet Nicholas was in the Rules of the King's Bench Prison! If he had bee_n Italy indeed, and the time had been sunset, and the scene a statel_errace! But, there is one broad sky over all the world, and whether it b_lue or cloudy, the same heaven beyond it; so, perhaps, he had no need o_ompunction for thinking as he did.
It is not to be supposed that he took in everything at one glance, for he ha_s yet been unconscious of the presence of a sick man propped up with pillow_n an easy-chair, who, moving restlessly and impatiently in his seat, attracted his attention.
He was scarce fifty, perhaps, but so emaciated as to appear much older. Hi_eatures presented the remains of a handsome countenance, but one in which th_mbers of strong and impetuous passions were easier to be traced than an_xpression which would have rendered a far plainer face much mor_repossessing. His looks were very haggard, and his limbs and body literall_orn to the bone, but there was something of the old fire in the large sunke_ye notwithstanding, and it seemed to kindle afresh as he struck a thic_tick, with which he seemed to have supported himself in his seat, impatientl_n the floor twice or thrice, and called his daughter by her name.
'Madeline, who is this? What does anybody want here? Who told a stranger w_ould be seen? What is it?'
'I believe—' the young lady began, as she inclined her head with an air o_ome confusion, in reply to the salutation of Nicholas.
'You always believe,' returned her father, petulantly. 'What is it?'
By this time Nicholas had recovered sufficient presence of mind to speak fo_imself, so he said (as it had been agreed he should say) that he had calle_bout a pair of hand-screens, and some painted velvet for an ottoman, both o_hich were required to be of the most elegant design possible, neither tim_or expense being of the smallest consideration. He had also to pay for th_wo drawings, with many thanks, and, advancing to the little table, he lai_pon it a bank note, folded in an envelope and sealed.
'See that the money is right, Madeline,' said the father. 'Open the paper, m_ear.'
'It's quite right, papa, I'm sure.'
'Here!' said Mr Bray, putting out his hand, and opening and shutting his bon_ingers with irritable impatience. 'Let me see. What are you talking about, Madeline? You're sure? How can you be sure of any such thing? Fiv_ounds—well, is THAT right?'
'Quite,' said Madeline, bending over him. She was so busily employed i_rranging the pillows that Nicholas could not see her face, but as she stoope_e thought he saw a tear fall.
'Ring the bell, ring the bell,' said the sick man, with the same nervou_agerness, and motioning towards it with such a quivering hand that the ban_ote rustled in the air. 'Tell her to get it changed, to get me a newspaper, to buy me some grapes, another bottle of the wine that I had las_eek—and—and—I forget half I want just now, but she can go out again. Let he_et those first, those first. Now, Madeline, my love, quick, quick! Good God, how slow you are!'
'He remembers nothing that SHE wants!' thought Nicholas. Perhaps something o_hat he thought was expressed in his countenance, for the sick man, turnin_owards him with great asperity, demanded to know if he waited for a receipt.
'It is no matter at all,' said Nicholas.
'No matter! what do you mean, sir?' was the tart rejoinder. 'No matter! Do yo_hink you bring your paltry money here as a favour or a gift; or as a matte_f business, and in return for value received? D—n you, sir, because you can'_ppreciate the time and taste which are bestowed upon the goods you deal in, do you think you give your money away? Do you know that you are talking to _entleman, sir, who at one time could have bought up fifty such men as you an_ll you have? What do you mean?'
'I merely mean that as I shall have many dealings with this lady, if she wil_indly allow me, I will not trouble her with such forms,' said Nicholas.
'Then I mean, if you please, that we'll have as many forms as we can, returne_he father. 'My daughter, sir, requires no kindness from you or anybody else.
Have the goodness to confine your dealings strictly to trade and business, an_ot to travel beyond it. Every petty tradesman is to begin to pity her now, i_e? Upon my soul! Very pretty. Madeline, my dear, give him a receipt; and min_ou always do so.'
While she was feigning to write it, and Nicholas was ruminating upon th_xtraordinary but by no means uncommon character thus presented to hi_bservation, the invalid, who appeared at times to suffer great bodily pain, sank back in his chair and moaned out a feeble complaint that the girl ha_een gone an hour, and that everybody conspired to goad him.
'When,' said Nicholas, as he took the piece of paper, 'when shall I cal_gain?'
This was addressed to the daughter, but the father answered immediately.
'When you're requested to call, sir, and not before. Don't worry an_ersecute. Madeline, my dear, when is this person to call again?'
'Oh, not for a long time, not for three or four weeks; it is not necessary, indeed; I can do without,' said the young lady, with great eagerness.
'Why, how are we to do without?' urged her father, not speaking above hi_reath. 'Three or four weeks, Madeline! Three or four weeks!'
'Then sooner, sooner, if you please,' said the young lady, turning t_icholas.
'Three or four weeks!' muttered the father. 'Madeline, what on earth—d_othing for three or four weeks!'
'It is a long time, ma'am,' said Nicholas.
'YOU think so, do you?' retorted the father, angrily. 'If I chose to beg, sir, and stoop to ask assistance from people I despise, three or four months woul_ot be a long time; three or four years would not be a long time. Understand, sir, that is if I chose to be dependent; but as I don't, you may call in _eek.'
Nicholas bowed low to the young lady and retired, pondering upon Mr Bray'_deas of independence, and devoutly hoping that there might be few suc_ndependent spirits as he mingling with the baser clay of humanity.
He heard a light footstep above him as he descended the stairs, and lookin_ound saw that the young lady was standing there, and glancing timidly toward_im, seemed to hesitate whether she should call him back or no. The best wa_f settling the question was to turn back at once, which Nicholas did.
'I don't know whether I do right in asking you, sir,' said Madeline, hurriedly, 'but pray, pray, do not mention to my poor mother's dear friend_hat has passed here today. He has suffered much, and is worse this morning. _eg you, sir, as a boon, a favour to myself.'
'You have but to hint a wish,' returned Nicholas fervently, 'and I woul_azard my life to gratify it.'
'You speak hastily, sir.'
'Truly and sincerely,' rejoined Nicholas, his lips trembling as he formed th_ords, 'if ever man spoke truly yet. I am not skilled in disguising m_eelings, and if I were, I could not hide my heart from you. Dear madam, as _now your history, and feel as men and angels must who hear and see suc_hings, I do entreat you to believe that I would die to serve you.'
The young lady turned away her head, and was plainly weeping.
'Forgive me,' said Nicholas, with respectful earnestness, 'if I seem to sa_oo much, or to presume upon the confidence which has been intrusted to me.
But I could not leave you as if my interest and sympathy expired with th_ommission of the day. I am your faithful servant, humbly devoted to you fro_his hour, devoted in strict truth and honour to him who sent me here, and i_ure integrity of heart, and distant respect for you. If I meant more or les_han this, I should be unworthy his regard, and false to the very nature tha_rompts the honest words I utter.'
She waved her hand, entreating him to be gone, but answered not a word.
Nicholas could say no more, and silently withdrew. And thus ended his firs_nterview with Madeline Bray.