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Chapter 5 Nicholas starts for Yorkshire. Of his Leave-taking and hi_ellow-Travellers, and what befell them on the Road

  • If tears dropped into a trunk were charms to preserve its owner from sorro_nd misfortune, Nicholas Nickleby would have commenced his expedition unde_ost happy auspices. There was so much to be done, and so little time to do i_n; so many kind words to be spoken, and such bitter pain in the hearts i_hich they rose to impede their utterance; that the little preparations fo_is journey were made mournfully indeed. A hundred things which the anxiou_are of his mother and sister deemed indispensable for his comfort, Nichola_nsisted on leaving behind, as they might prove of some after use, or might b_onvertible into money if occasion required. A hundred affectionate contest_n such points as these, took place on the sad night which preceded hi_eparture; and, as the termination of every angerless dispute brought the_earer and nearer to the close of their slight preparations, Kate grew busie_nd busier, and wept more silently.
  • The box was packed at last, and then there came supper, with some littl_elicacy provided for the occasion, and as a set-off against the expense o_hich, Kate and her mother had feigned to dine when Nicholas was out. The poo_ady nearly choked himself by attempting to partake of it, and almos_uffocated himself in affecting a jest or two, and forcing a melancholy laugh.
  • Thus, they lingered on till the hour of separating for the night was lon_ast; and then they found that they might as well have given vent to thei_eal feelings before, for they could not suppress them, do what they would.
  • So, they let them have their way, and even that was a relief.
  • Nicholas slept well till six next morning; dreamed of home, or of what wa_ome once—no matter which, for things that are changed or gone will come bac_s they used to be, thank God! in sleep—and rose quite brisk and gay. He wrot_ few lines in pencil, to say the goodbye which he was afraid to pronounc_imself, and laying them, with half his scanty stock of money, at his sister'_oor, shouldered his box and crept softly downstairs.
  • 'Is that you, Hannah?' cried a voice from Miss La Creevy's sitting- room, whence shone the light of a feeble candle.
  • 'It is I, Miss La Creevy,' said Nicholas, putting down the box and looking in.
  • 'Bless us!' exclaimed Miss La Creevy, starting and putting her hand to he_url-papers. 'You're up very early, Mr Nickleby.'
  • 'So are you,' replied Nicholas.
  • 'It's the fine arts that bring me out of bed, Mr Nickleby,' returned the lady.
  • 'I'm waiting for the light to carry out an idea.'
  • Miss La Creevy had got up early to put a fancy nose into a miniature of a_gly little boy, destined for his grandmother in the country, who was expecte_o bequeath him property if he was like the family.
  • 'To carry out an idea,' repeated Miss La Creevy; 'and that's the grea_onvenience of living in a thoroughfare like the Strand. When I want a nose o_n eye for any particular sitter, I have only to look out of window and wai_ill I get one.'
  • 'Does it take long to get a nose, now?' inquired Nicholas, smiling.
  • 'Why, that depends in a great measure on the pattern,' replied Miss La Creevy.
  • 'Snubs and Romans are plentiful enough, and there are flats of all sorts an_izes when there's a meeting at Exeter Hall; but perfect aquilines, I am sorr_o say, are scarce, and we generally use them for uniforms or publi_haracters.'
  • 'Indeed!' said Nicholas. 'If I should meet with any in my travels, I'l_ndeavour to sketch them for you.'
  • 'You don't mean to say that you are really going all the way down int_orkshire this cold winter's weather, Mr Nickleby?' said Miss La Creevy. '_eard something of it last night.'
  • 'I do, indeed,' replied Nicholas. 'Needs must, you know, when somebody drives.
  • Necessity is my driver, and that is only another name for the same gentleman.'
  • 'Well, I am very sorry for it; that's all I can say,' said Miss La Creevy; 'a_uch on your mother's and sister's account as on yours. Your sister is a ver_retty young lady, Mr Nickleby, and that is an additional reason why sh_hould have somebody to protect her. I persuaded her to give me a sitting o_wo, for the street-door case. 'Ah! she'll make a sweet miniature.' As Miss L_reevy spoke, she held up an ivory countenance intersected with ver_erceptible sky- blue veins, and regarded it with so much complacency, tha_icholas quite envied her.
  • 'If you ever have an opportunity of showing Kate some little kindness,' sai_icholas, presenting his hand, 'I think you will.'
  • 'Depend upon that,' said the good-natured miniature painter; 'and God bles_ou, Mr Nickleby; and I wish you well.'
  • It was very little that Nicholas knew of the world, but he guessed enoug_bout its ways to think, that if he gave Miss La Creevy one little kiss, perhaps she might not be the less kindly disposed towards those he was leavin_ehind. So, he gave her three or four with a kind of jocose gallantry, an_iss La Creevy evinced no greater symptoms of displeasure than declaring, a_he adjusted her yellow turban, that she had never heard of such a thing, an_ouldn't have believed it possible.
  • Having terminated the unexpected interview in this satisfactory manner, Nicholas hastily withdrew himself from the house. By the time he had found _an to carry his box it was only seven o'clock, so he walked slowly on, _ittle in advance of the porter, and very probably with not half as light _eart in his breast as the man had, although he had no waistcoat to cover i_ith, and had evidently, from the appearance of his other garments, bee_pending the night in a stable, and taking his breakfast at a pump.
  • Regarding, with no small curiosity and interest, all the busy preparations fo_he coming day which every street and almost every house displayed; an_hinking, now and then, that it seemed rather hard that so many people of al_anks and stations could earn a livelihood in London, and that he should b_ompelled to journey so far in search of one; Nicholas speedily arrived at th_aracen's Head, Snow Hill. Having dismissed his attendant, and seen the bo_afely deposited in the coach-office, he looked into the coffee-room in searc_f Mr Squeers.
  • He found that learned gentleman sitting at breakfast, with the three littl_oys before noticed, and two others who had turned up by some lucky chanc_ince the interview of the previous day, ranged in a row on the opposite seat.
  • Mr Squeers had before him a small measure of coffee, a plate of hot toast, an_ cold round of beef; but he was at that moment intent on preparing breakfas_or the little boys.
  • 'This is twopenn'orth of milk, is it, waiter?' said Mr Squeers, looking dow_nto a large blue mug, and slanting it gently, so as to get an accurate vie_f the quantity of liquid contained in it.
  • 'That's twopenn'orth, sir,' replied the waiter.
  • 'What a rare article milk is, to be sure, in London!' said Mr Squeers, with _igh. 'Just fill that mug up with lukewarm water, William, will you?'
  • 'To the wery top, sir?' inquired the waiter. 'Why, the milk will be drownded.'
  • 'Never you mind that,' replied Mr Squeers. 'Serve it right for being so dear.
  • You ordered that thick bread and butter for three, did you?'
  • 'Coming directly, sir.'
  • 'You needn't hurry yourself,' said Squeers; 'there's plenty of time. Conque_our passions, boys, and don't be eager after vittles.' As he uttered thi_oral precept, Mr Squeers took a large bite out of the cold beef, an_ecognised Nicholas.
  • 'Sit down, Mr Nickleby,' said Squeers. 'Here we are, a breakfasting you see!'
  • Nicholas did NOT see that anybody was breakfasting, except Mr Squeers; but h_owed with all becoming reverence, and looked as cheerful as he could.
  • 'Oh! that's the milk and water, is it, William?' said Squeers. 'Very good; don't forget the bread and butter presently.'
  • At this fresh mention of the bread and butter, the five little boys looke_ery eager, and followed the waiter out, with their eyes; meanwhile Mr Squeer_asted the milk and water.
  • 'Ah!' said that gentleman, smacking his lips, 'here's richness! Think of th_any beggars and orphans in the streets that would be glad of this, littl_oys. A shocking thing hunger, isn't it, Mr Nickleby?'
  • 'Very shocking, sir,' said Nicholas.
  • 'When I say number one,' pursued Mr Squeers, putting the mug before th_hildren, 'the boy on the left hand nearest the window may take a drink; an_hen I say number two, the boy next him will go in, and so till we come t_umber five, which is the last boy. Are you ready?'
  • 'Yes, sir,' cried all the little boys with great eagerness.
  • 'That's right,' said Squeers, calmly getting on with his breakfast; 'kee_eady till I tell you to begin. Subdue your appetites, my dears, and you'v_onquered human natur. This is the way we inculcate strength of mind, M_ickleby,' said the schoolmaster, turning to Nicholas, and speaking with hi_outh very full of beef and toast.
  • Nicholas murmured something—he knew not what—in reply; and the little boys, dividing their gaze between the mug, the bread and butter (which had by thi_ime arrived), and every morsel which Mr Squeers took into his mouth, remaine_ith strained eyes in torments of expectation.
  • 'Thank God for a good breakfast,' said Squeers, when he had finished. 'Numbe_ne may take a drink.'
  • Number one seized the mug ravenously, and had just drunk enough to make hi_ish for more, when Mr Squeers gave the signal for number two, who gave up a_he same interesting moment to number three; and the process was repeate_ntil the milk and water terminated with number five.
  • 'And now,' said the schoolmaster, dividing the bread and butter for three int_s many portions as there were children, 'you had better look sharp with you_reakfast, for the horn will blow in a minute or two, and then every bo_eaves off.'
  • Permission being thus given to fall to, the boys began to eat voraciously, an_n desperate haste: while the schoolmaster (who was in high good humour afte_is meal) picked his teeth with a fork, and looked smilingly on. In a ver_hort time, the horn was heard.
  • 'I thought it wouldn't be long,' said Squeers, jumping up and producing _ittle basket from under the seat; 'put what you haven't had time to eat, i_ere, boys! You'll want it on the road!'
  • Nicholas was considerably startled by these very economical arrangements; bu_e had no time to reflect upon them, for the little boys had to be got up t_he top of the coach, and their boxes had to be brought out and put in, and M_queers's luggage was to be seen carefully deposited in the boot, and al_hese offices were in his department. He was in the full heat and bustle o_oncluding these operations, when his uncle, Mr Ralph Nickleby, accosted him.
  • 'Oh! here you are, sir!' said Ralph. 'Here are your mother and sister, sir.'
  • 'Where?' cried Nicholas, looking hastily round.
  • 'Here!' replied his uncle. 'Having too much money and nothing at all to d_ith it, they were paying a hackney coach as I came up, sir.'
  • 'We were afraid of being too late to see him before he went away from us,'
  • said Mrs Nickleby, embracing her son, heedless of the unconcerned lookers-o_n the coach-yard.
  • 'Very good, ma'am,' returned Ralph, 'you're the best judge of course. I merel_aid that you were paying a hackney coach. I never pay a hackney coach, ma'am; I never hire one. I haven't been in a hackney coach of my own hiring, fo_hirty years, and I hope I shan't be for thirty more, if I live as long.'
  • 'I should never have forgiven myself if I had not seen him,' said Mr_ickleby. 'Poor dear boy—going away without his breakfast too, because h_eared to distress us!'
  • 'Mighty fine certainly,' said Ralph, with great testiness. 'When I first wen_o business, ma'am, I took a penny loaf and a ha'porth of milk for m_reakfast as I walked to the city every morning; what do you say to that, ma'am? Breakfast! Bah!'
  • 'Now, Nickleby,' said Squeers, coming up at the moment buttoning hi_reatcoat; 'I think you'd better get up behind. I'm afraid of one of them boy_alling off and then there's twenty pound a year gone.'
  • 'Dear Nicholas,' whispered Kate, touching her brother's arm, 'who is tha_ulgar man?'
  • 'Eh!' growled Ralph, whose quick ears had caught the inquiry. 'Do you wish t_e introduced to Mr Squeers, my dear?'
  • 'That the schoolmaster! No, uncle. Oh no!' replied Kate, shrinking back.
  • 'I'm sure I heard you say as much, my dear,' retorted Ralph in his col_arcastic manner. 'Mr Squeers, here's my niece: Nicholas's sister!'
  • 'Very glad to make your acquaintance, miss,' said Squeers, raising his hat a_nch or two. 'I wish Mrs Squeers took gals, and we had you for a teacher. _on't know, though, whether she mightn't grow jealous if we had. Ha! ha! ha!'
  • If the proprietor of Dotheboys Hall could have known what was passing in hi_ssistant's breast at that moment, he would have discovered, with som_urprise, that he was as near being soundly pummelled as he had ever been i_is life. Kate Nickleby, having a quicker perception of her brother'_motions, led him gently aside, and thus prevented Mr Squeers from bein_mpressed with the fact in a peculiarly disagreeable manner.
  • 'My dear Nicholas,' said the young lady, 'who is this man? What kind of plac_an it be that you are going to?'
  • 'I hardly know, Kate,' replied Nicholas, pressing his sister's hand. '_uppose the Yorkshire folks are rather rough and uncultivated; that's all.'
  • 'But this person,' urged Kate.
  • 'Is my employer, or master, or whatever the proper name may be,' replie_icholas quickly; 'and I was an ass to take his coarseness ill. They ar_ooking this way, and it is time I was in my place. Bless you, love, an_oodbye! Mother, look forward to our meeting again someday! Uncle, farewell!
  • Thank you heartily for all you have done and all you mean to do. Quite ready, sir!'
  • With these hasty adieux, Nicholas mounted nimbly to his seat, and waved hi_and as gallantly as if his heart went with it.
  • At this moment, when the coachman and guard were comparing notes for the las_ime before starting, on the subject of the way-bill; when porters wer_crewing out the last reluctant sixpences, itinerant newsmen making the las_ffer of a morning paper, and the horses giving the last impatient rattle t_heir harness; Nicholas felt somebody pulling softly at his leg. He looke_own, and there stood Newman Noggs, who pushed up into his hand a dirt_etter.
  • 'What's this?' inquired Nicholas.
  • 'Hush!' rejoined Noggs, pointing to Mr Ralph Nickleby, who was saying a fe_arnest words to Squeers, a short distance off: 'Take it. Read it. Nobod_nows. That's all.'
  • 'Stop!' cried Nicholas.
  • 'No,' replied Noggs.
  • Nicholas cried stop, again, but Newman Noggs was gone.
  • A minute's bustle, a banging of the coach doors, a swaying of the vehicle t_ne side, as the heavy coachman, and still heavier guard, climbed into thei_eats; a cry of all right, a few notes from the horn, a hasty glance of tw_orrowful faces below, and the hard features of Mr Ralph Nickleby—and th_oach was gone too, and rattling over the stones of Smithfield.
  • The little boys' legs being too short to admit of their feet resting upo_nything as they sat, and the little boys' bodies being consequently i_mminent hazard of being jerked off the coach, Nicholas had enough to do ove_he stones to hold them on. Between the manual exertion and the mental anxiet_ttendant upon this task, he was not a little relieved when the coach stoppe_t the Peacock at Islington. He was still more relieved when a hearty-lookin_entleman, with a very good-humoured face, and a very fresh colour, got u_ehind, and proposed to take the other corner of the seat.
  • 'If we put some of these youngsters in the middle,' said the new- comer,
  • 'they'll be safer in case of their going to sleep; eh?'
  • 'If you'll have the goodness, sir,' replied Squeers, 'that'll be the ver_hing. Mr Nickleby, take three of them boys between you and the gentleman.
  • Belling and the youngest Snawley can sit between me and the guard. Thre_hildren,' said Squeers, explaining to the stranger, 'books as two.'
  • 'I have not the least objection I am sure,' said the fresh-coloured gentleman;
  • 'I have a brother who wouldn't object to book his six children as two at an_utcher's or baker's in the kingdom, I dare say. Far from it.'
  • 'Six children, sir?' exclaimed Squeers.
  • 'Yes, and all boys,' replied the stranger.
  • 'Mr Nickleby,' said Squeers, in great haste, 'catch hold of that basket. Le_e give you a card, sir, of an establishment where those six boys can b_rought up in an enlightened, liberal, and moral manner, with no mistake a_ll about it, for twenty guineas a year each—twenty guineas, sir—or I'd tak_ll the boys together upon a average right through, and say a hundred pound _ear for the lot.'
  • 'Oh!' said the gentleman, glancing at the card, 'you are the Mr Squeer_entioned here, I presume?'
  • 'Yes, I am, sir,' replied the worthy pedagogue; 'Mr Wackford Squeers is m_ame, and I'm very far from being ashamed of it. These are some of my boys, sir; that's one of my assistants, sir—Mr Nickleby, a gentleman's son, amd _ood scholar, mathematical, classical, and commercial. We don't do things b_alves at our shop. All manner of learning my boys take down, sir; the expens_s never thought of; and they get paternal treatment and washing in.'
  • 'Upon my word,' said the gentleman, glancing at Nicholas with a half-smile, and a more than half expression of surprise, 'these are advantages indeed.'
  • 'You may say that, sir,' rejoined Squeers, thrusting his hands into his great- coat pockets. 'The most unexceptionable references are given and required. _ouldn't take a reference with any boy, that wasn't responsible for th_ayment of five pound five a quarter, no, not if you went down on your knees, and asked me, with the tears running down your face, to do it.'
  • 'Highly considerate,' said the passenger.
  • 'It's my great aim and end to be considerate, sir,' rejoined Squeers.
  • 'Snawley, junior, if you don't leave off chattering your teeth, and shakin_ith the cold, I'll warm you with a severe thrashing in about half a minute'_ime.'
  • 'Sit fast here, genelmen,' said the guard as he clambered up.
  • 'All right behind there, Dick?' cried the coachman.
  • 'All right,' was the reply. 'Off she goes!' And off she did go—if coaches b_eminine—amidst a loud flourish from the guard's horn, and the calm approva_f all the judges of coaches and coach-horses congregated at the Peacock, bu_ore especially of the helpers, who stood, with the cloths over their arms, watching the coach till it disappeared, and then lounged admiringl_tablewards, bestowing various gruff encomiums on the beauty of the turn-out.
  • When the guard (who was a stout old Yorkshireman) had blown himself quite ou_f breath, he put the horn into a little tunnel of a basket fastened to th_oach-side for the purpose, and giving himself a plentiful shower of blows o_he chest and shoulders, observed it was uncommon cold; after which, h_emanded of every person separately whether he was going right through, and i_ot, where he WAS going. Satisfactory replies being made to these queries, h_urmised that the roads were pretty heavy arter that fall last night, and too_he liberty of asking whether any of them gentlemen carried a snuff-box. I_appening that nobody did, he remarked with a mysterious air that he had hear_ medical gentleman as went down to Grantham last week, say how that snuff- taking was bad for the eyes; but for his part he had never found it so, an_hat he said was, that everybody should speak as they found. Nobody attemptin_o controvert this position, he took a small brown-paper parcel out of hi_at, and putting on a pair of horn spectacles (the writing being crabbed) rea_he direction half-a-dozen times over; having done which, he consigned th_arcel to its old place, put up his spectacles again, and stared at everybod_n turn. After this, he took another blow at the horn by way of refreshment; and, having now exhausted his usual topics of conversation, folded his arms a_ell as he could in so many coats, and falling into a solemn silence, looke_arelessly at the familiar objects which met his eye on every side as th_oach rolled on; the only things he seemed to care for, being horses an_roves of cattle, which he scrutinised with a critical air as they were passe_pon the road.
  • The weather was intensely and bitterly cold; a great deal of snow fell fro_ime to time; and the wind was intolerably keen. Mr Squeers got down at almos_very stage—to stretch his legs as he said—and as he always came back fro_uch excursions with a very red nose, and composed himself to sleep directly, there is reason to suppose that he derived great benefit from the process. Th_ittle pupils having been stimulated with the remains of their breakfast, an_urther invigorated by sundry small cups of a curious cordial carried by M_queers, which tasted very like toast-and-water put into a brandy bottle b_istake, went to sleep, woke, shivered, and cried, as their feelings prompted.
  • Nicholas and the good-tempered man found so many things to talk about, tha_etween conversing together, and cheering up the boys, the time passed wit_hem as rapidly as it could, under such adverse circumstances.
  • So the day wore on. At Eton Slocomb there was a good coach dinner, of whic_he box, the four front outsides, the one inside, Nicholas, the good-tempere_an, and Mr Squeers, partook; while the five little boys were put to thaw b_he fire, and regaled with sandwiches. A stage or two further on, the lamp_ere lighted, and a great to-do occasioned by the taking up, at a roadsid_nn, of a very fastidious lady with an infinite variety of cloaks and smal_arcels, who loudly lamented, for the behoof of the outsides, the non-arriva_f her own carriage which was to have taken her on, and made the guar_olemnly promise to stop every green chariot he saw coming; which, as it was _ark night and he was sitting with his face the other way, that office_ndertook, with many fervent asseverations, to do. Lastly, the fastidiou_ady, finding there was a solitary gentleman inside, had a small lamp lighte_hich she carried in reticule, and being after much trouble shut in, th_orses were put into a brisk canter and the coach was once more in rapi_otion.
  • The night and the snow came on together, and dismal enough they were. Ther_as no sound to be heard but the howling of the wind; for the noise of th_heels, and the tread of the horses' feet, were rendered inaudible by th_hick coating of snow which covered the ground, and was fast increasing ever_oment. The streets of Stamford were deserted as they passed through the town; and its old churches rose, frowning and dark, from the whitened ground. Twent_iles further on, two of the front outside passengers, wisely availin_hemselves of their arrival at one of the best inns in England, turned in, fo_he night, at the George at Grantham. The remainder wrapped themselves mor_losely in their coats and cloaks, and leaving the light and warmth of th_own behind them, pillowed themselves against the luggage, and prepared, wit_any half- suppressed moans, again to encounter the piercing blast which swep_cross the open country.
  • They were little more than a stage out of Grantham, or about halfway betwee_t and Newark, when Nicholas, who had been asleep for a short time, wa_uddenly roused by a violent jerk which nearly threw him from his seat.
  • Grasping the rail, he found that the coach had sunk greatly on one side, though it was still dragged forward by the horses; and while—confused by thei_lunging and the loud screams of the lady inside—he hesitated, for an instant, whether to jump off or not, the vehicle turned easily over, and relieved hi_rom all further uncertainty by flinging him into the road.