Chapter 49 Chronicles the further Proceedings of the Nickleby Family, an_he Sequel of the Adventure of the Gentleman in the Small-clothes
While Nicholas, absorbed in the one engrossing subject of interest which ha_ecently opened upon him, occupied his leisure hours with thoughts of Madelin_ray, and in execution of the commissions which the anxiety of brother Charle_n her behalf imposed upon him, saw her again and again, and each time wit_reater danger to his peace of mind and a more weakening effect upon the loft_esolutions he had formed, Mrs Nickleby and Kate continued to live in peac_nd quiet, agitated by no other cares than those which were connected wit_ertain harassing proceedings taken by Mr Snawley for the recovery of his son, and their anxiety for Smike himself, whose health, long upon the wane, bega_o be so much affected by apprehension and uncertainty as sometimes t_ccasion both them and Nicholas considerable uneasiness, and even alarm.
It was no complaint or murmur on the part of the poor fellow himself that thu_isturbed them. Ever eager to be employed in such slight services as he coul_ender, and always anxious to repay his benefactors with cheerful and happ_ooks, less friendly eyes might have seen in him no cause for any misgiving.
But there were times, and often too, when the sunken eye was too bright, th_ollow cheek too flushed, the breath too thick and heavy in its course, th_rame too feeble and exhausted, to escape their regard and notice.
There is a dread disease which so prepares its victim, as it were, for death; which so refines it of its grosser aspect, and throws around familiar look_nearthly indications of the coming change; a dread disease, in which th_truggle between soul and body is so gradual, quiet, and solemn, and th_esult so sure, that day by day, and grain by grain, the mortal part waste_nd withers away, so that the spirit grows light and sanguine with it_ightening load, and, feeling immortality at hand, deems it but a new term o_ortal life; a disease in which death and life are so strangely blended, tha_eath takes the glow and hue of life, and life the gaunt and grisly form o_eath; a disease which medicine never cured, wealth never warded off, o_overty could boast exemption from; which sometimes moves in giant strides, and sometimes at a tardy sluggish pace, but, slow or quick, is ever sure an_ertain.
It was with some faint reference in his own mind to this disorder, though h_ould by no means admit it, even to himself, that Nicholas had already carrie_is faithful companion to a physician of great repute. There was no cause fo_mmediate alarm, he said. There were no present symptoms which could be deeme_onclusive. The constitution had been greatly tried and injured in childhood, but still it MIGHT not be—and that was all.
But he seemed to grow no worse, and, as it was not difficult to find a reaso_or these symptoms of illness in the shock and agitation he had recentl_ndergone, Nicholas comforted himself with the hope that his poor friend woul_oon recover. This hope his mother and sister shared with him; and as th_bject of their joint solicitude seemed to have no uneasiness or despondenc_or himself, but each day answered with a quiet smile that he felt better tha_e had upon the day before, their fears abated, and the general happiness wa_y degrees restored.
Many and many a time in after years did Nicholas look back to this period o_is life, and tread again the humble quiet homely scenes that rose up as o_ld before him. Many and many a time, in the twilight of a summer evening, o_eside the flickering winter's fire—but not so often or so sadly then—woul_is thoughts wander back to these old days, and dwell with a pleasant sorro_pon every slight remembrance which they brought crowding home. The littl_oom in which they had so often sat long after it was dark, figuring suc_appy futures; Kate's cheerful voice and merry laugh; how, if she were fro_ome, they used to sit and watch for her return scarcely breaking silence bu_o say how dull it seemed without her; the glee with which poor Smike woul_tart from the darkened corner where he used to sit, and hurry to admit her, and the tears they often saw upon his face, half wondering to see them too, and he so pleased and happy; every little incident, and even slight words an_ooks of those old days little heeded then, but well remembered when bus_ares and trials were quite forgotten, came fresh and thick before him man_nd many a time, and, rustling above the dusty growth of years, came bac_reen boughs of yesterday.
But there were other persons associated with these recollections, and man_hanges came about before they had being. A necessary reflection for th_urposes of these adventures, which at once subside into their accustome_rain, and shunning all flighty anticipations or wayward wanderings, pursu_heir steady and decorous course.
If the brothers Cheeryble, as they found Nicholas worthy of trust an_onfidence, bestowed upon him every day some new and substantial mark o_indness, they were not less mindful of those who depended on him. Variou_ittle presents to Mrs Nickleby, always of the very things they most required, tended in no slight degree to the improvement and embellishment of th_ottage. Kate's little store of trinkets became quite dazzling; and fo_ompany! If brother Charles and brother Ned failed to look in for at least _ew minutes every Sunday, or one evening in the week, there was Mr Ti_inkinwater (who had never made half-a-dozen other acquaintances in all hi_ife, and who took such delight in his new friends as no words can express) constantly coming and going in his evening walks, and stopping to rest; whil_r Frank Cheeryble happened, by some strange conjunction of circumstances, t_e passing the door on some business or other at least three nights in th_eek.
'He is the most attentive young man I ever saw, Kate,' said Mrs Nickleby t_er daughter one evening, when this last-named gentleman had been the subjec_f the worthy lady's eulogium for some time, and Kate had sat perfectl_ilent.
'Attentive, mama!' rejoined Kate.
'Bless my heart, Kate!' cried Mrs Nickleby, with her wonted suddenness, 'wha_ colour you have got; why, you're quite flushed!'
'Oh, mama! what strange things you fancy!'
'It wasn't fancy, Kate, my dear, I'm certain of that,' returned her mother.
'However, it's gone now at any rate, so it don't much matter whether it was o_ot. What was it we were talking about? Oh! Mr Frank. I never saw suc_ttention in MY life, never.'
'Surely you are not serious,' returned Kate, colouring again; and this tim_eyond all dispute.
'Not serious!' returned Mrs Nickleby; 'why shouldn't I be serious? I'm sure _ever was more serious. I will say that his politeness and attention to me i_ne of the most becoming, gratifying, pleasant things I have seen for a ver_ong time. You don't often meet with such behaviour in young men, and i_trikes one more when one does meet with it.'
'Oh! attention to YOU, mama,' rejoined Kate quickly—'oh yes.'
'Dear me, Kate,' retorted Mrs Nickleby, 'what an extraordinary girl you are!
Was it likely I should be talking of his attention to anybody else? I declar_'m quite sorry to think he should be in love with a German lady, that I am.'
'He said very positively that it was no such thing, mama,' returned Kate.
'Don't you remember his saying so that very first night he came here?
Besides,' she added, in a more gentle tone, 'why should WE be sorry if it i_he case? What is it to us, mama?'
'Nothing to US, Kate, perhaps,' said Mrs Nickleby, emphatically; 'bu_omething to ME, I confess. I like English people to be thorough Englis_eople, and not half English and half I don't know what. I shall tell hi_oint-blank next time he comes, that I wish he would marry one of his ow_ountry-women; and see what he says to that.'
'Pray don't think of such a thing, mama,' returned Kate, hastily; 'not for th_orld. Consider. How very—'
'Well, my dear, how very what?' said Mrs Nickleby, opening her eyes in grea_stonishment.
Before Kate had returned any reply, a queer little double knock announced tha_iss La Creevy had called to see them; and when Miss La Creevy presente_erself, Mrs Nickleby, though strongly disposed to be argumentative on th_revious question, forgot all about it in a gush of supposes about the coac_he had come by; supposing that the man who drove must have been either th_an in the shirt-sleeves or the man with the black eye; that whoever he was, he hadn't found that parasol she left inside last week; that no doubt they ha_topped a long while at the Halfway House, coming down; or that perhaps bein_ull, they had come straight on; and, lastly, that they, surely, must hav_assed Nicholas on the road.
'I saw nothing of him,' answered Miss La Creevy; 'but I saw that dear old sou_r Linkinwater.'
'Taking his evening walk, and coming on to rest here, before he turns back t_he city, I'll be bound!' said Mrs Nickleby.
'I should think he was,' returned Miss La Creevy; 'especially as young M_heeryble was with him.'
'Surely that is no reason why Mr Linkinwater should be coming here,' sai_ate.
'Why I think it is, my dear,' said Miss La Creevy. 'For a young man, Mr Fran_s not a very great walker; and I observe that he generally falls tired, an_equires a good long rest, when he has come as far as this. But where is m_riend?' said the little woman, looking about, after having glanced slyly a_ate. 'He has not been run away with again, has he?'
'Ah! where is Mr Smike?' said Mrs Nickleby; 'he was here this instant.'
Upon further inquiry, it turned out, to the good lady's unbounde_stonishment, that Smike had, that moment, gone upstairs to bed.
'Well now,' said Mrs Nickleby, 'he is the strangest creature! Last Tuesday—wa_t Tuesday? Yes, to be sure it was; you recollect, Kate, my dear, the ver_ast time young Mr Cheeryble was here—last Tuesday night he went off in jus_he same strange way, at the very moment the knock came to the door. It canno_e that he don't like company, because he is always fond of people who ar_ond of Nicholas, and I am sure young Mr Cheeryble is. And the strangest thin_s, that he does not go to bed; therefore it cannot be because he is tired. _now he doesn't go to bed, because my room is the next one, and when I wen_pstairs last Tuesday, hours after him, I found that he had not even taken hi_hoes off; and he had no candle, so he must have sat moping in the dark al_he time. Now, upon my word,' said Mrs Nickleby, 'when I come to think of it, that's very extraordinary!'
As the hearers did not echo this sentiment, but remained profoundly silent, either as not knowing what to say, or as being unwilling to interrupt, Mr_ickleby pursued the thread of her discourse after her own fashion.
'I hope,' said that lady, 'that this unaccountable conduct may not be th_eginning of his taking to his bed and living there all his life, like th_hirsty Woman of Tutbury, or the Cock-lane Ghost, or some of thos_xtraordinary creatures. One of them had some connection with our family. _orget, without looking back to some old letters I have upstairs, whether i_as my great-grandfather who went to school with the Cock-lane Ghost, or th_hirsty Woman of Tutbury who went to school with my grandmother. Miss L_reevy, you know, of course. Which was it that didn't mind what the clergyma_aid? The Cock-lane Ghost or the Thirsty Woman of Tutbury?'
'The Cock-lane Ghost, I believe.'
'Then I have no doubt,' said Mrs Nickleby, 'that it was with him my great- grandfather went to school; for I know the master of his school was _issenter, and that would, in a great measure, account for the Cock-lan_host's behaving in such an improper manner to the clergyman when he grew up.
Ah! Train up a Ghost—child, I mean—'
Any further reflections on this fruitful theme were abruptly cut short by th_rrival of Tim Linkinwater and Mr Frank Cheeryble; in the hurry of receivin_hom, Mrs Nickleby speedily lost sight of everything else.
'I am so sorry Nicholas is not at home,' said Mrs Nickleby. 'Kate, my dear, you must be both Nicholas and yourself.'
'Miss Nickleby need be but herself,' said Frank. 'I—if I may venture to sa_o—oppose all change in her.'
'Then at all events she shall press you to stay,' returned Mrs Nickleby. 'M_inkinwater says ten minutes, but I cannot let you go so soon; Nicholas woul_e very much vexed, I am sure. Kate, my dear!'
In obedience to a great number of nods, and winks, and frowns of extr_ignificance, Kate added her entreaties that the visitors would remain; but i_as observable that she addressed them exclusively to Tim Linkinwater; an_here was, besides, a certain embarrassment in her manner, which, although i_as as far from impairing its graceful character as the tinge it communicate_o her cheek was from diminishing her beauty, was obvious at a glance even t_rs Nickleby. Not being of a very speculative character, however, save unde_ircumstances when her speculations could be put into words and uttered aloud, that discreet matron attributed the emotion to the circumstance of he_aughter's not happening to have her best frock on: 'though I never saw he_ook better, certainly,' she reflected at the same time. Having settled th_uestion in this way, and being most complacently satisfied that in this, an_n all other instances, her conjecture could not fail to be the right one, Mr_ickleby dismissed it from her thoughts, and inwardly congratulated herself o_eing so shrewd and knowing.
Nicholas did not come home nor did Smike reappear; but neither circumstance, to say the truth, had any great effect upon the little party, who were all i_he best humour possible. Indeed, there sprung up quite a flirtation betwee_iss La Creevy and Tim Linkinwater, who said a thousand jocose and facetiou_hings, and became, by degrees, quite gallant, not to say tender. Little Mis_a Creevy, on her part, was in high spirits, and rallied Tim on havin_emained a bachelor all his life with so much success, that Tim was actuall_nduced to declare, that if he could get anybody to have him, he didn't kno_ut what he might change his condition even yet. Miss La Creevy earnestl_ecommended a lady she knew, who would exactly suit Mr Linkinwater, and had _ery comfortable property of her own; but this latter qualification had ver_ittle effect upon Tim, who manfully protested that fortune would be no objec_ith him, but that true worth and cheerfulness of disposition were what a ma_hould look for in a wife, and that if he had these, he could find mone_nough for the moderate wants of both. This avowal was considered s_onourable to Tim, that neither Mrs Nickleby nor Miss La Creevy coul_ufficiently extol it; and stimulated by their praises, Tim launched out int_everal other declarations also manifesting the disinterestedness of hi_eart, and a great devotion to the fair sex: which were received with no les_pprobation. This was done and said with a comical mixture of jest an_arnest, and, leading to a great amount of laughter, made them very merr_ndeed.
Kate was commonly the life and soul of the conversation at home; but she wa_ore silent than usual upon this occasion (perhaps because Tim and Miss L_reevy engrossed so much of it), and, keeping aloof from the talkers, sat a_he window watching the shadows as the evening closed in, and enjoying th_uiet beauty of the night, which seemed to have scarcely less attractions t_rank, who first lingered near, and then sat down beside, her. No doubt, ther_re a great many things to be said appropriate to a summer evening, and n_oubt they are best said in a low voice, as being most suitable to the peac_nd serenity of the hour; long pauses, too, at times, and then an earnest wor_r so, and then another interval of silence which, somehow, does not seem lik_ilence either, and perhaps now and then a hasty turning away of the head, o_rooping of the eyes towards the ground, all these minor circumstances, with _isinclination to have candles introduced and a tendency to confuse hours wit_inutes, are doubtless mere influences of the time, as many lovely lips ca_learly testify. Neither is there the slightest reason why Mrs Nickleby shoul_ave expressed surprise when, candles being at length brought in, Kate'_right eyes were unable to bear the light which obliged her to avert her face, and even to leave the room for some short time; because, when one has sat i_he dark so long, candles ARE dazzling, and nothing can be more strictl_atural than that such results should be produced, as all well-informed youn_eople know. For that matter, old people know it too, or did know it once, bu_hey forget these things sometimes, and more's the pity.
The good lady's surprise, however, did not end here. It was greatly increase_hen it was discovered that Kate had not the least appetite for supper: _iscovery so alarming that there is no knowing in what unaccountable effort_f oratory Mrs Nickleby's apprehensions might have been vented, if the genera_ttention had not been attracted, at the moment, by a very strange an_ncommon noise, proceeding, as the pale and trembling servant girl affirmed, and as everybody's sense of hearing seemed to affirm also, 'right down' th_himney of the adjoining room.
It being quite plain to the comprehension of all present that, howeve_xtraordinary and improbable it might appear, the noise did nevertheles_roceed from the chimney in question; and the noise (which was a strang_ompound of various shuffling, sliding, rumbling, and struggling sounds, al_uffled by the chimney) still continuing, Frank Cheeryble caught up a candle, and Tim Linkinwater the tongs, and they would have very quickly ascertaine_he cause of this disturbance if Mrs Nickleby had not been taken very faint, and declined being left behind, on any account. This produced a shor_emonstrance, which terminated in their all proceeding to the troubled chambe_n a body, excepting only Miss La Creevy, who, as the servant girl volunteere_ confession of having been subject to fits in her infancy, remained with he_o give the alarm and apply restoratives, in case of extremity.
Advancing to the door of the mysterious apartment, they were not a littl_urprised to hear a human voice, chanting with a highly elaborated expressio_f melancholy, and in tones of suffocation which a human voice might hav_roduced from under five or six feather-beds of the best quality, the onc_opular air of 'Has she then failed in her truth, the beautiful maid I adore?'
Nor, on bursting into the room without demanding a parley, was thei_stonishment lessened by the discovery that these romantic sounds certainl_roceeded from the throat of some man up the chimney, of whom nothing wa_isible but a pair of legs, which were dangling above the grate; apparentl_eeling, with extreme anxiety, for the top bar whereon to effect a landing.
A sight so unusual and unbusiness-like as this, completely paralysed Ti_inkinwater, who, after one or two gentle pinches at the stranger's ankles, which were productive of no effect, stood clapping the tongs together, as i_e were sharpening them for another assault, and did nothing else.
'This must be some drunken fellow,' said Frank. 'No thief would announce hi_resence thus.'
As he said this, with great indignation, he raised the candle to obtain _etter view of the legs, and was darting forward to pull them down with ver_ittle ceremony, when Mrs Nickleby, clasping her hands, uttered a sharp sound, something between a scream and an exclamation, and demanded to know whethe_he mysterious limbs were not clad in small-clothes and grey worste_tockings, or whether her eyes had deceived her.
'Yes,' cried Frank, looking a little closer. 'Small-clothes certainly, and—and—rough grey stockings, too. Do you know him, ma'am?'
'Kate, my dear,' said Mrs Nickleby, deliberately sitting herself down in _hair with that sort of desperate resignation which seemed to imply that no_atters had come to a crisis, and all disguise was useless, 'you will have th_oodness, my love, to explain precisely how this matter stands. I have give_im no encouragement—none whatever—not the least in the world. You know that, my dear, perfectly well. He was very respectful, exceedingly respectful, whe_e declared, as you were a witness to; still at the same time, if I am to b_ersecuted in this way, if vegetable what's-his-names and all kinds of garden- stuff are to strew my path out of doors, and gentlemen are to come choking u_ur chimneys at home, I really don't know—upon my word I do NOT know—what i_o become of me. It's a very hard case—harder than anything I was ever expose_o, before I married your poor dear papa, though I suffered a good deal o_nnoyance then—but that, of course, I expected, and made up my mind for. Whe_ was not nearly so old as you, my dear, there was a young gentleman who sa_ext us at church, who used, almost every Sunday, to cut my name in larg_etters in the front of his pew while the sermon was going on. It wa_ratifying, of course, naturally so, but still it was an annoyance, becaus_he pew was in a very conspicuous place, and he was several times publicl_aken out by the beadle for doing it. But that was nothing to this. This is _reat deal worse, and a great deal more embarrassing. I would rather, Kate, m_ear,' said Mrs Nickleby, with great solemnity, and an effusion of tears: '_ould rather, I declare, have been a pig- faced lady, than be exposed to suc_ life as this!'
Frank Cheeryble and Tim Linkinwater looked, in irrepressible astonishment, first at each other and then at Kate, who felt that some explanation wa_ecessary, but who, between her terror at the apparition of the legs, her fea_est their owner should be smothered, and her anxiety to give the leas_idiculous solution of the mystery that it was capable of bearing, was quit_nable to utter a single word.
'He gives me great pain,' continued Mrs Nickleby, drying her eyes, 'grea_ain; but don't hurt a hair of his head, I beg. On no account hurt a hair o_is head.'
It would not, under existing circumstances, have been quite so easy to hurt _air of the gentleman's head as Mrs Nickleby seemed to imagine, inasmuch a_hat part of his person was some feet up the chimney, which was by no means _ide one. But, as all this time he had never left off singing about th_ankruptcy of the beautiful maid in respect of truth, and now began not onl_o croak very feebly, but to kick with great violence as if respiration becam_ task of difficulty, Frank Cheeryble, without further hesitation, pulled a_he shorts and worsteds with such heartiness as to bring him floundering int_he room with greater precipitation than he had quite calculated upon.
'Oh! yes, yes,' said Kate, directly the whole figure of this singular visito_ppeared in this abrupt manner. 'I know who it is. Pray don't be rough wit_im. Is he hurt? I hope not. Oh, pray see if he is hurt.'
'He is not, I assure you,' replied Frank, handling the object of his surprise, after this appeal, with sudden tenderness and respect. 'He is not hurt in th_east.'
'Don't let him come any nearer,' said Kate, retiring as far as she could.
'Oh, no, he shall not,' rejoined Frank. 'You see I have him secure here. Bu_ay I ask you what this means, and whether you expected, this old gentleman?'
'Oh, no,' said Kate, 'of course not; but he—mama does not think so, _elieve—but he is a mad gentleman who has escaped from the next house, an_ust have found an opportunity of secreting himself here.'
'Kate,' interposed Mrs Nickleby with severe dignity, 'I am surprised at you.'
'Dear mama,' Kate gently remonstrated.
'I am surprised at you,' repeated Mrs Nickleby; 'upon my word, Kate, I a_uite astonished that you should join the persecutors of this unfortunat_entleman, when you know very well that they have the basest designs upon hi_roperty, and that that is the whole secret of it. It would be much kinder o_ou, Kate, to ask Mr Linkinwater or Mr Cheeryble to interfere in his behalf, and see him righted. You ought not to allow your feelings to influence you; it's not right, very far from it. What should my feelings be, do you suppose?
If anybody ought to be indignant, who is it? I, of course, and very properl_o. Still, at the same time, I wouldn't commit such an injustice for th_orld. No,' continued Mrs Nickleby, drawing herself up, and looking anothe_ay with a kind of bashful stateliness; 'this gentleman will understand m_hen I tell him that I repeat the answer I gave him the other day; that _lways will repeat it, though I do believe him to be sincere when I find hi_lacing himself in such dreadful situations on my account; and that I reques_im to have the goodness to go away directly, or it will be impossible to kee_is behaviour a secret from my son Nicholas. I am obliged to him, very muc_bliged to him, but I cannot listen to his addresses for a moment. It's quit_mpossible.'
While this address was in course of delivery, the old gentleman, with his nos_nd cheeks embellished with large patches of soot, sat upon the ground wit_is arms folded, eyeing the spectators in profound silence, and with a ver_ajestic demeanour. He did not appear to take the smallest notice of what Mr_ickleby said, but when she ceased to speak he honoured her with a long stare, and inquired if she had quite finished.
'I have nothing more to say,' replied that lady modestly. 'I really cannot sa_nything more.'
'Very good,' said the old gentleman, raising his voice, 'then bring in th_ottled lightning, a clean tumbler, and a corkscrew.'
Nobody executing this order, the old gentleman, after a short pause, raise_is voice again and demanded a thunder sandwich. This article not bein_orthcoming either, he requested to be served with a fricassee of boot-top_nd goldfish sauce, and then laughing heartily, gratified his hearers with _ery long, very loud, and most melodious bellow.
But still Mrs Nickleby, in reply to the significant looks of all about her, shook her head as though to assure them that she saw nothing whatever in al_his, unless, indeed, it were a slight degree of eccentricity. She might hav_emained impressed with these opinions down to the latest moment of her life, but for a slight train of circumstances, which, trivial as they were, altere_he whole complexion of the case.
It happened that Miss La Creevy, finding her patient in no very threatenin_ondition, and being strongly impelled by curiosity to see what was goin_orward, bustled into the room while the old gentleman was in the very act o_ellowing. It happened, too, that the instant the old gentleman saw her, h_topped short, skipped suddenly on his feet, and fell to kissing his han_iolently: a change of demeanour which almost terrified the little portrai_ainter out of her senses, and caused her to retreat behind Tim Linkinwate_ith the utmost expedition.
'Aha!' cried the old gentleman, folding his hands, and squeezing them wit_reat force against each other. 'I see her now; I see her now! My love, m_ife, my bride, my peerless beauty. She is come at last—at last—and all is ga_nd gaiters!'
Mrs Nickleby looked rather disconcerted for a moment, but immediatel_ecovering, nodded to Miss La Creevy and the other spectators several times, and frowned, and smiled gravely, giving them to understand that she saw wher_he mistake was, and would set it all to rights in a minute or two.
'She is come!' said the old gentleman, laying his hand upon his heart.
'Cormoran and Blunderbore! She is come! All the wealth I have is hers if sh_ill take me for her slave. Where are grace, beauty, and blandishments, lik_hose? In the Empress of Madagascar? No. In the Queen of Diamonds? No. In Mr_owland, who every morning bathes in Kalydor for nothing? No. Melt all thes_own into one, with the three Graces, the nine Muses, and fourteen biscuit- bakers' daughters from Oxford Street, and make a woman half as lovely. Pho! _efy you.'
After uttering this rhapsody, the old gentleman snapped his fingers twenty o_hirty times, and then subsided into an ecstatic contemplation of Miss L_reevy's charms. This affording Mrs Nickleby a favourable opportunity o_xplanation, she went about it straight.
'I am sure,' said the worthy lady, with a prefatory cough, 'that it's a grea_elief, under such trying circumstances as these, to have anybody els_istaken for me—a very great relief; and it's a circumstance that neve_ccurred before, although I have several times been mistaken for my daughte_ate. I have no doubt the people were very foolish, and perhaps ought to hav_nown better, but still they did take me for her, and of course that was n_ault of mine, and it would be very hard indeed if I was to be mad_esponsible for it. However, in this instance, of course, I must feel that _hould do exceedingly wrong if I suffered anybody— especially anybody that _m under great obligations to—to be made uncomfortable on my account. An_herefore I think it my duty to tell that gentleman that he is mistaken, tha_ am the lady who he was told by some impertinent person was niece to th_ouncil of Paving-stones, and that I do beg and entreat of him to go quietl_way, if it's only for,' here Mrs Nickleby simpered and hesitated, 'for M_ake.'
It might have been expected that the old gentleman would have been penetrate_o the heart by the delicacy and condescension of this appeal, and that h_ould at least have returned a courteous and suitable reply. What, then, wa_he shock which Mrs Nickleby received, when, accosting HER in the mos_nmistakable manner, he replied in a loud and sonourous voice: 'Avaunt! Cat!'
'Sir!' cried Mrs Nickleby, in a faint tone.
'Cat!' repeated the old gentleman. 'Puss, Kit, Tit, Grimalkin, Tabby, Brindle!
Whoosh!' with which last sound, uttered in a hissing manner between his teeth, the old gentleman swung his arms violently round and round, and at the sam_ime alternately advanced on Mrs Nickleby, and retreated from her, in tha_pecies of savage dance with which boys on market-days may be seen to frighte_igs, sheep, and other animals, when they give out obstinate indications o_urning down a wrong street.
Mrs Nickleby wasted no words, but uttered an exclamation of horror an_urprise, and immediately fainted away.
'I'll attend to mama,' said Kate, hastily; 'I am not at all frightened. Bu_ray take him away: pray take him away!'
Frank was not at all confident of his power of complying with this request, until he bethought himself of the stratagem of sending Miss La Creevy on a fe_aces in advance, and urging the old gentleman to follow her. It succeeded t_ miracle; and he went away in a rapture of admiration, strongly guarded b_im Linkinwater on one side, and Frank himself on the other.
'Kate,' murmured Mrs Nickleby, reviving when the coast was clear, 'is h_one?'
She was assured that he was.
'I shall never forgive myself, Kate,' said Mrs Nickleby. 'Never! Tha_entleman has lost his senses, and I am the unhappy cause.'
'YOU the cause!' said Kate, greatly astonished.
'I, my love,' replied Mrs Nickleby, with a desperate calmness. 'You saw wha_e was the other day; you see what he is now. I told your brother, weeks an_eeks ago, Kate, that I hoped a disappointment might not be too much for him.
You see what a wreck he is. Making allowance for his being a little flighty, you know how rationally, and sensibly, and honourably he talked, when we sa_im in the garden. You have heard the dreadful nonsense he has been guilty o_his night, and the manner in which he has gone on with that poor unfortunat_ittle old maid. Can anybody doubt how all this has been brought about?'
'I should scarcely think they could,' said Kate mildly.
'I should scarcely think so, either,' rejoined her mother. 'Well! if I am th_nfortunate cause of this, I have the satisfaction of knowing that I am not t_lame. I told Nicholas, I said to him, "Nicholas, my dear, we should be ver_areful how we proceed." He would scarcely hear me. If the matter had onl_een properly taken up at first, as I wished it to be! But you are both of yo_o like your poor papa. However, I have MY consolation, and that should b_nough for me!'
Washing her hands, thus, of all responsibility under this head, past, present, or to come, Mrs Nickleby kindly added that she hoped her children might neve_ave greater cause to reproach themselves than she had, and prepared hersel_o receive the escort, who soon returned with the intelligence that the ol_entleman was safely housed, and that they found his custodians, who had bee_aking merry with some friends, wholly ignorant of his absence.
Quiet being again restored, a delicious half-hour—so Frank called it, in th_ourse of subsequent conversation with Tim Linkinwater as they were walkin_ome—was spent in conversation, and Tim's watch at length apprising him tha_t was high time to depart, the ladies were left alone, though not withou_any offers on the part of Frank to remain until Nicholas arrived, no matte_hat hour of the night it might be, if, after the late neighbourly irruption, they entertained the least fear of being left to themselves. As their freedo_rom all further apprehension, however, left no pretext for his insisting o_ounting guard, he was obliged to abandon the citadel, and to retire with th_rusty Tim.
Nearly three hours of silence passed away. Kate blushed to find, when Nichola_eturned, how long she had been sitting alone, occupied with her own thoughts.
'I really thought it had not been half an hour,' she said.
'They must have been pleasant thoughts, Kate,' rejoined Nicholas gaily, 't_ake time pass away like that. What were they now?'
Kate was confused; she toyed with some trifle on the table, looked up an_miled, looked down and dropped a tear.
'Why, Kate,' said Nicholas, drawing his sister towards him and kissing her,
'let me see your face. No? Ah! that was but a glimpse; that's scarcely fair. _onger look than that, Kate. Come—and I'll read your thoughts for you.'
There was something in this proposition, albeit it was said without th_lightest consciousness or application, which so alarmed his sister, tha_icholas laughingly changed the subject to domestic matters, and thu_athered, by degrees, as they left the room and went upstairs together, ho_onely Smike had been all night—and by very slow degrees, too; for on thi_ubject also, Kate seemed to speak with some reluctance.
'Poor fellow,' said Nicholas, tapping gently at his door, 'what can be th_ause of all this?'
Kate was hanging on her brother's arm. The door being quickly opened, she ha_ot time to disengage herself, before Smike, very pale and haggard, an_ompletely dressed, confronted them.
'And have you not been to bed?' said Nicholas.
'N—n—no,' was the reply.
Nicholas gently detained his sister, who made an effort to retire; and asked,
'I could not sleep,' said Smike, grasping the hand which his friend extende_o him.
'You are not well?' rejoined Nicholas.
'I am better, indeed. A great deal better,' said Smike quickly.
'Then why do you give way to these fits of melancholy?' inquired Nicholas, i_is kindest manner; 'or why not tell us the cause? You grow a differen_reature, Smike.'
'I do; I know I do,' he replied. 'I will tell you the reason one day, but no_ow. I hate myself for this; you are all so good and kind. But I cannot hel_t. My heart is very full; you do not know how full it is.'
He wrung Nicholas's hand before he released it; and glancing, for a moment, a_he brother and sister as they stood together, as if there were something i_heir strong affection which touched him very deeply, withdrew into hi_hamber, and was soon the only watcher under that quiet roof.