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.