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Chapter 59 The Plots begin to fail, and Doubts and Dangers to disturb th_lotter

  • Ralph sat alone, in the solitary room where he was accustomed to take hi_eals, and to sit of nights when no profitable occupation called him abroad.
  • Before him was an untasted breakfast, and near to where his fingers bea_estlessly upon the table, lay his watch. It was long past the time at which, for many years, he had put it in his pocket and gone with measured step_ownstairs to the business of the day, but he took as little heed of it_onotonous warning, as of the meat and drink before him, and remained with hi_ead resting on one hand, and his eyes fixed moodily on the ground.
  • This departure from his regular and constant habit, in one so regular an_nvarying in all that appertained to the daily pursuit of riches, would almos_f itself have told that the usurer was not well. That he laboured under som_ental or bodily indisposition, and that it was one of no slight kind so t_ffect a man like him, was sufficiently shown by his haggard face, jaded air, and hollow languid eyes: which he raised at last with a start and a hast_lance around him, as one who suddenly awakes from sleep, and canno_mmediately recognise the place in which he finds himself.
  • 'What is this,' he said, 'that hangs over me, and I cannot shake off? I hav_ever pampered myself, and should not be ill. I have never moped, and pined, and yielded to fancies; but what CAN a man do without rest?'
  • He pressed his hand upon his forehead.
  • 'Night after night comes and goes, and I have no rest. If I sleep, what res_s that which is disturbed by constant dreams of the same detested face_rowding round me—of the same detested people, in every variety of action, mingling with all I say and do, and always to my defeat? Waking, what res_ave I, constantly haunted by this heavy shadow of—I know not what—which i_ts worst character? I must have rest. One night's unbroken rest, and I shoul_e a man again.'
  • Pushing the table from him while he spoke, as though he loathed the sight o_ood, he encountered the watch: the hands of which were almost upon noon.
  • 'This is strange!' he said; 'noon, and Noggs not here! What drunken braw_eeps him away? I would give something now—something in money even after tha_readful loss—if he had stabbed a man in a tavern scuffle, or broken into _ouse, or picked a pocket, or done anything that would send him abroad with a_ron ring upon his leg, and rid me of him. Better still, if I could thro_emptation in his way, and lure him on to rob me. He should be welcome to wha_e took, so I brought the law upon him; for he is a traitor, I swear! How, o_hen, or where, I don't know, though I suspect.'
  • After waiting for another half-hour, he dispatched the woman who kept hi_ouse to Newman's lodging, to inquire if he were ill, and why he had not com_r sent. She brought back answer that he had not been home all night, and tha_o one could tell her anything about him.
  • 'But there is a gentleman, sir,' she said, 'below, who was standing at th_oor when I came in, and he says—'
  • 'What says he?' demanded Ralph, turning angrily upon her. 'I told you I woul_ee nobody.'
  • 'He says,' replied the woman, abashed by his harshness, 'that he comes on ver_articular business which admits of no excuse; and I thought perhaps it migh_e about—'
  • 'About what, in the devil's name?' said Ralph. 'You spy and speculate o_eople's business with me, do you?'
  • 'Dear, no, sir! I saw you were anxious, and thought it might be about M_oggs; that's all.'
  • 'Saw I was anxious!' muttered Ralph; 'they all watch me, now. Where is thi_erson? You did not say I was not down yet, I hope?'
  • The woman replied that he was in the little office, and that she had said he_aster was engaged, but she would take the message.
  • 'Well,' said Ralph, 'I'll see him. Go you to your kitchen, and keep there. D_ou mind me?'
  • Glad to be released, the woman quickly disappeared. Collecting himself, an_ssuming as much of his accustomed manner as his utmost resolution coul_ummon, Ralph descended the stairs. After pausing for a few moments, with hi_and upon the lock, he entered Newman's room, and confronted Mr Charle_heeryble.
  • Of all men alive, this was one of the last he would have wished to meet at an_ime; but, now that he recognised in him only the patron and protector o_icholas, he would rather have seen a spectre. One beneficial effect, however, the encounter had upon him. It instantly roused all his dormant energies; rekindled in his breast the passions that, for many years, had found a_mproving home there; called up all his wrath, hatred, and malice; restore_he sneer to his lip, and the scowl to his brow; and made him again, in al_utward appearance, the same Ralph Nickleby whom so many had bitter cause t_emember.
  • 'Humph!' said Ralph, pausing at the door. 'This is an unexpected favour, sir.'
  • 'And an unwelcome one,' said brother Charles; 'an unwelcome one, I know.'
  • 'Men say you are truth itself, sir,' replied Ralph. 'You speak truth now, a_ll events, and I'll not contradict you. The favour is, at least, as unwelcom_s it is unexpected. I can scarcely say more.'
  • 'Plainly, sir—' began brother Charles.
  • 'Plainly, sir,' interrupted Ralph, 'I wish this conference to be a short one, and to end where it begins. I guess the subject upon which you are about t_peak, and I'll not hear you. You like plainness, I believe; there it is. Her_s the door as you see. Our way lies in very different directions. Take yours, I beg of you, and leave me to pursue mine in quiet.'
  • 'In quiet!' repeated brother Charles mildly, and looking at him with more o_ity than reproach. 'To pursue HIS way in quiet!'
  • 'You will scarcely remain in my house, I presume, sir, against my will,' sai_alph; 'or you can scarcely hope to make an impression upon a man who close_is ears to all that you can say, and is firmly and resolutely determined no_o hear you.'
  • 'Mr Nickleby, sir,' returned brother Charles: no less mildly than before, bu_irmly too: 'I come here against my will, sorely and grievously against m_ill. I have never been in this house before; and, to speak my mind, sir, _on't feel at home or easy in it, and have no wish ever to be here again. Yo_o not guess the subject on which I come to speak to you; you do not indeed. _m sure of that, or your manner would be a very different one.'
  • Ralph glanced keenly at him, but the clear eye and open countenance of th_onest old merchant underwent no change of expression, and met his loo_ithout reserve.
  • 'Shall I go on?' said Mr Cheeryble.
  • 'Oh, by all means, if you please,' returned Ralph drily. 'Here are walls t_peak to, sir, a desk, and two stools: most attentive auditors, and certai_ot to interrupt you. Go on, I beg; make my house yours, and perhaps by th_ime I return from my walk, you will have finished what you have to say, an_ill yield me up possession again.'
  • So saying, he buttoned his coat, and turning into the passage, took down hi_at. The old gentleman followed, and was about to speak, when Ralph waved hi_ff impatiently, and said:
  • 'Not a word. I tell you, sir, not a word. Virtuous as you are, you are not a_ngel yet, to appear in men's houses whether they will or no, and pour you_peech into unwilling ears. Preach to the walls I tell you; not to me!'
  • 'I am no angel, Heaven knows,' returned brother Charles, shaking his head,
  • 'but an erring and imperfect man; nevertheless, there is one quality which al_en have, in common with the angels, blessed opportunities of exercising, i_hey will; mercy. It is an errand of mercy that brings me here. Pray let m_ischarge it.'
  • 'I show no mercy,' retorted Ralph with a triumphant smile, 'and I ask none.
  • Seek no mercy from me, sir, in behalf of the fellow who has imposed upon you_hildish credulity, but let him expect the worst that I can do.'
  • 'HE ask mercy at your hands!' exclaimed the old merchant warmly; 'ask it a_is, sir; ask it at his. If you will not hear me now, when you may, hear m_hen you must, or anticipate what I would say, and take measures to preven_ur ever meeting again. Your nephew is a noble lad, sir, an honest, noble lad.
  • What you are, Mr Nickleby, I will not say; but what you have done, I know.
  • Now, sir, when you go about the business in which you have been recentl_ngaged, and find it difficult of pursuing, come to me and my brother Ned, an_im Linkinwater, sir, and we'll explain it for you—and come soon, or it may b_oo late, and you may have it explained with a little more roughness, and _ittle less delicacy—and never forget, sir, that I came here this morning, i_ercy to you, and am still ready to talk to you in the same spirit.'
  • With these words, uttered with great emphasis and emotion, brother Charles pu_n his broad-brimmed hat, and, passing Ralph Nickleby without any othe_emark, trotted nimbly into the street. Ralph looked after him, but neithe_oved nor spoke for some time: when he broke what almost seemed the silence o_tupefaction, by a scornful laugh.
  • 'This,' he said, 'from its wildness, should be another of those dreams tha_ave so broken my rest of late. In mercy to me! Pho! The old simpleton ha_one mad.'
  • Although he expressed himself in this derisive and contemptuous manner, it wa_lain that, the more Ralph pondered, the more ill at ease he became, and th_ore he laboured under some vague anxiety and alarm, which increased as th_ime passed on and no tidings of Newman Noggs arrived. After waiting unti_ate in the afternoon, tortured by various apprehensions and misgivings, an_he recollection of the warning which his nephew had given him when they las_et: the further confirmation of which now presented itself in one shape o_robability, now in another, and haunted him perpetually: he left home, and, scarcely knowing why, save that he was in a suspicious and agitated mood, betook himself to Snawley's house. His wife presented herself; and, of her, Ralph inquired whether her husband was at home.
  • 'No,' she said sharply, 'he is not indeed, and I don't think he will be a_ome for a very long time; that's more.'
  • 'Do you know who I am?' asked Ralph.
  • 'Oh yes, I know you very well; too well, perhaps, and perhaps he does too, an_orry am I that I should have to say it.'
  • 'Tell him that I saw him through the window-blind above, as I crossed the roa_ust now, and that I would speak to him on business,' said Ralph. 'Do yo_ear?'
  • 'I hear,' rejoined Mrs Snawley, taking no further notice of the request.
  • 'I knew this woman was a hypocrite, in the way of psalms and Scriptur_hrases,' said Ralph, passing quietly by, 'but I never knew she drank before.'
  • 'Stop! You don't come in here,' said Mr Snawley's better-half, interposing he_erson, which was a robust one, in the doorway. 'You have said more tha_nough to him on business, before now. I always told him what dealing with yo_nd working out your schemes would come to. It was either you or th_choolmaster—one of you, or the two between you—that got the forged lette_one; remember that! That wasn't his doing, so don't lay it at his door.'
  • 'Hold your tongue, you Jezebel,' said Ralph, looking fearfully round.
  • 'Ah, I know when to hold my tongue, and when to speak, Mr Nickleby,' retorte_he dame. 'Take care that other people know when to hold theirs.'
  • 'You jade,' said Ralph, 'if your husband has been idiot enough to trust yo_ith his secrets, keep them; keep them, she-devil that you are!'
  • 'Not so much his secrets as other people's secrets, perhaps,' retorted th_oman; 'not so much his secrets as yours. None of your black looks at me!
  • You'll want 'em all, perhaps, for another time. You had better keep 'em.'
  • 'Will you,' said Ralph, suppressing his passion as well as he could, an_lutching her tightly by the wrist; 'will you go to your husband and tell hi_hat I know he is at home, and that I must see him? And will you tell me wha_t is that you and he mean by this new style of behaviour?'
  • 'No,' replied the woman, violently disengaging herself, 'I'll do neither.'
  • 'You set me at defiance, do you?' said Ralph.
  • 'Yes,' was the answer. I do.'
  • For an instant Ralph had his hand raised, as though he were about to strik_er; but, checking himself, and nodding his head and muttering as though t_ssure her he would not forget this, walked away.
  • Thence, he went straight to the inn which Mr Squeers frequented, and inquire_hen he had been there last; in the vague hope that, successful o_nsuccessful, he might, by this time, have returned from his mission and b_ble to assure him that all was safe. But Mr Squeers had not been there fo_en days, and all that the people could tell about him was, that he had lef_is luggage and his bill.
  • Disturbed by a thousand fears and surmises, and bent upon ascertaining whethe_queers had any suspicion of Snawley, or was, in any way, a party to thi_ltered behaviour, Ralph determined to hazard the extreme step of inquirin_or him at the Lambeth lodging, and having an interview with him even there.
  • Bent upon this purpose, and in that mood in which delay is insupportable, h_epaired at once to the place; and being, by description, perfectly acquainte_ith the situation of his room, crept upstairs and knocked gently at the door.
  • Not one, nor two, nor three, nor yet a dozen knocks, served to convince Ralph, against his wish, that there was nobody inside. He reasoned that he might b_sleep; and, listening, almost persuaded himself that he could hear hi_reathe. Even when he was satisfied that he could not be there, he sa_atiently on a broken stair and waited; arguing, that he had gone out upo_ome slight errand, and must soon return.
  • Many feet came up the creaking stairs; and the step of some seemed to hi_istening ear so like that of the man for whom he waited, that Ralph ofte_tood up to be ready to address him when he reached the top; but, one by one, each person turned off into some room short of the place where he wa_tationed: and at every such disappointment he felt quite chilled and lonely.
  • At length he felt it was hopeless to remain, and going downstairs again, inquired of one of the lodgers if he knew anything of Mr Squeers'_ovements—mentioning that worthy by an assumed name which had been agreed upo_etween them. By this lodger he was referred to another, and by him to someon_lse, from whom he learnt, that, late on the previous night, he had gone ou_astily with two men, who had shortly afterwards returned for the old woma_ho lived on the same floor; and that, although the circumstance had attracte_he attention of the informant, he had not spoken to them at the time, no_ade any inquiry afterwards.
  • This possessed him with the idea that, perhaps, Peg Sliderskew had bee_pprehended for the robbery, and that Mr Squeers, being with her at the time, had been apprehended also, on suspicion of being a confederate. If this wer_o, the fact must be known to Gride; and to Gride's house he directed hi_teps; now thoroughly alarmed, and fearful that there were indeed plots afoot, tending to his discomfiture and ruin.
  • Arrived at the usurer's house, he found the windows close shut, the ding_linds drawn down; all was silent, melancholy, and deserted. But this was it_sual aspect. He knocked—gently at first—then loud and vigorously. Nobod_ame. He wrote a few words in pencil on a card, and having thrust it under th_oor was going away, when a noise above, as though a window-sash wer_tealthily raised, caught his ear, and looking up he could just discern th_ace of Gride himself, cautiously peering over the house parapet from th_indow of the garret. Seeing who was below, he drew it in again; not s_uickly, however, but that Ralph let him know he was observed, and called t_im to come down.
  • The call being repeated, Gride looked out again, so cautiously that no part o_he old man's body was visible. The sharp features and white hair appearin_lone, above the parapet, looked like a severed head garnishing the wall.
  • 'Hush!' he cried. 'Go away, go away!'
  • 'Come down,' said Ralph, beckoning him.
  • 'Go a—way!' squeaked Gride, shaking his head in a sort of ecstasy o_mpatience. 'Don't speak to me, don't knock, don't call attention to th_ouse, but go away.'
  • 'I'll knock, I swear, till I have your neighbours up in arms,' said Ralph, 'i_ou don't tell me what you mean by lurking there, you whining cur.'
  • 'I can't hear what you say—don't talk to me—it isn't safe—go away—go away!'
  • returned Gride.
  • 'Come down, I say. Will you come down?' said Ralph fiercely.
  • 'No—o—o—oo,' snarled Gride. He drew in his head; and Ralph, left standing i_he street, could hear the sash closed, as gently and carefully as it had bee_pened.
  • 'How is this,' said he, 'that they all fall from me, and shun me like th_lague, these men who have licked the dust from my feet? IS my day past, an_s this indeed the coming on of night? I'll know what it means! I will, at an_ost. I am firmer and more myself, just now, than I have been these man_ays.'
  • Turning from the door, which, in the first transport of his rage, he ha_editated battering upon until Gride's very fears should impel him to open it, he turned his face towards the city, and working his way steadily through th_rowd which was pouring from it (it was by this time between five and si_'clock in the afternoon) went straight to the house of business of th_rothers Cheeryble, and putting his head into the glass case, found Ti_inkinwater alone.
  • 'My name's Nickleby,' said Ralph.
  • 'I know it,' replied Tim, surveying him through his spectacles.
  • 'Which of your firm was it who called on me this morning?' demanded Ralph.
  • 'Mr Charles.'
  • 'Then, tell Mr Charles I want to see him.'
  • 'You shall see,' said Tim, getting off his stool with great agility, 'yo_hall see, not only Mr Charles, but Mr Ned likewise.'
  • Tim stopped, looked steadily and severely at Ralph, nodded his head once, in _urt manner which seemed to say there was a little more behind, and vanished.
  • After a short interval, he returned, and, ushering Ralph into the presence o_he two brothers, remained in the room himself.
  • 'I want to speak to you, who spoke to me this morning,' said Ralph, pointin_ut with his finger the man whom he addressed.
  • 'I have no secrets from my brother Ned, or from Tim Linkinwater,' observe_rother Charles quietly.
  • 'I have,' said Ralph.
  • 'Mr Nickleby, sir,' said brother Ned, 'the matter upon which my brothe_harles called upon you this morning is one which is already perfectly wel_nown to us three, and to others besides, and must unhappily soon become know_o a great many more. He waited upon you, sir, this morning, alone, as _atter of delicacy and consideration. We feel, now, that further delicacy an_onsideration would be misplaced; and, if we confer together, it must be as w_re or not at all.'
  • 'Well, gentlemen,' said Ralph with a curl of the lip, 'talking in riddle_ould seem to be the peculiar forte of you two, and I suppose your clerk, lik_ prudent man, has studied the art also with a view to your good graces. Tal_n company, gentlemen, in God's name. I'll humour you.'
  • 'Humour!' cried Tim Linkinwater, suddenly growing very red in the face. 'He'l_umour us! He'll humour Cheeryble Brothers! Do you hear that? Do you hear him?
  • DO you hear him say he'll humour Cheeryble Brothers?'
  • 'Tim,' said Charles and Ned together, 'pray, Tim, pray now, don't.'
  • Tim, taking the hint, stifled his indignation as well as he could, an_uffered it to escape through his spectacles, with the additional safety-valv_f a short hysterical laugh now and then, which seemed to relieve hi_ightily.
  • 'As nobody bids me to a seat,' said Ralph, looking round, 'I'll take one, fo_ am fatigued with walking. And now, if you please, gentlemen, I wish t_now—I demand to know; I have the right—what you have to say to me, whic_ustifies such a tone as you have assumed, and that underhand interference i_y affairs which, I have reason to suppose, you have been practising. I tel_ou plainly, gentlemen, that little as I care for the opinion of the world (a_he slang goes), I don't choose to submit quietly to slander and malice.
  • Whether you suffer yourselves to be imposed upon too easily, or wilfully mak_ourselves parties to it, the result to me is the same. In either case, yo_an't expect from a plain man like myself much consideration or forbearance.'
  • So coolly and deliberately was this said, that nine men out of ten, ignoran_f the circumstances, would have supposed Ralph to be really an injured man.
  • There he sat, with folded arms; paler than usual, certainly, and sufficientl_ll-favoured, but quite collected—far more so than the brothers or th_xasperated Tim—and ready to face out the worst.
  • 'Very well, sir,' said brother Charles. 'Very well. Brother Ned, will you rin_he bell?'
  • 'Charles, my dear fellow! stop one instant,' returned the other. 'It will b_etter for Mr Nickleby and for our object that he should remain silent, if h_an, till we have said what we have to say. I wish him to understand that.'
  • 'Quite right, quite right,' said brother Charles.
  • Ralph smiled, but made no reply. The bell was rung; the room-door opened; _an came in, with a halting walk; and, looking round, Ralph's eyes met thos_f Newman Noggs. From that moment, his heart began to fail him.
  • 'This is a good beginning,' he said bitterly. 'Oh! this is a good beginning.
  • You are candid, honest, open-hearted, fair-dealing men! I always knew the rea_orth of such characters as yours! To tamper with a fellow like this, wh_ould sell his soul (if he had one) for drink, and whose every word is a lie.
  • What men are safe if this is done? Oh, it's a good beginning!'
  • 'I WILL speak,' cried Newman, standing on tiptoe to look over Tim's head, wh_ad interposed to prevent him. 'Hallo, you sir—old Nickleby!—what do you mea_hen you talk of "a fellow like this"? Who made me "a fellow like this"? If _ould sell my soul for drink, why wasn't I a thief, swindler, housebreaker, area sneak, robber of pence out of the trays of blind men's dogs, rather tha_our drudge and packhorse? If my every word was a lie, why wasn't I a pet an_avourite of yours? Lie! When did I ever cringe and fawn to you. Tell me that!
  • I served you faithfully. I did more work, because I was poor, and took mor_ard words from you because I despised you and them, than any man you coul_ave got from the parish workhouse. I did. I served you because I was proud; because I was a lonely man with you, and there were no other drudges to see m_egradation; and because nobody knew, better than you, that I was a ruine_an: that I hadn't always been what I am: and that I might have been bette_ff, if I hadn't been a fool and fallen into the hands of you and others wh_ere knaves. Do you deny that?'
  • 'Gently,' reasoned Tim; 'you said you wouldn't.'
  • 'I said I wouldn't!' cried Newman, thrusting him aside, and moving his hand a_im moved, so as to keep him at arm's length; 'don't tell me! Here, yo_ickleby! Don't pretend not to mind me; it won't do; I know better. You wer_alking of tampering, just now. Who tampered with Yorkshire schoolmasters, and, while they sent the drudge out, that he shouldn't overhear, forgot tha_uch great caution might render him suspicious, and that he might watch hi_aster out at nights, and might set other eyes to watch the schoolmaster? Wh_ampered with a selfish father, urging him to sell his daughter to old Arthu_ride, and tampered with Gride too, and did so in the little office, WITH _LOSET IN THE ROOM?'
  • Ralph had put a great command upon himself; but he could not have suppressed _light start, if he had been certain to be beheaded for it next moment.
  • 'Aha!' cried Newman, 'you mind me now, do you? What first set this fag to b_ealous of his master's actions, and to feel that, if he hadn't crossed hi_hen he might, he would have been as bad as he, or worse? That master's crue_reatment of his own flesh and blood, and vile designs upon a young girl wh_nterested even his broken- down, drunken, miserable hack, and made him linge_n his service, in the hope of doing her some good (as, thank God, he had don_thers once or twice before), when he would, otherwise, have relieved hi_eelings by pummelling his master soundly, and then going to the Devil. H_ould—mark that; and mark this—that I'm here now, because these gentleme_hought it best. When I sought them out (as I did; there was no tampering wit_e), I told them I wanted help to find you out, to trace you down, to g_hrough with what I had begun, to help the right; and that when I had done it, I'd burst into your room and tell you all, face to face, man to man, and lik_ man. Now I've said my say, and let anybody else say theirs, and fire away!'
  • With this concluding sentiment, Newman Noggs, who had been perpetually sittin_own and getting up again all through his speech, which he had delivered in _eries of jerks; and who was, from the violent exercise and the excitemen_ombined, in a state of most intense and fiery heat; became, without passin_hrough any intermediate stage, stiff, upright, and motionless, and s_emained, staring at Ralph Nickleby with all his might and main.
  • Ralph looked at him for an instant, and for an instant only; then, waved hi_and, and beating the ground with his foot, said in a choking voice:
  • 'Go on, gentlemen, go on! I'm patient, you see. There's law to be had, there'_aw. I shall call you to an account for this. Take care what you say; I shal_ake you prove it.'
  • 'The proof is ready,' returned brother Charles, 'quite ready to our hands. Th_an Snawley, last night, made a confession.'
  • 'Who may "the man Snawley" be,' returned Ralph, 'and what may his "confession"
  • have to do with my affairs?'
  • To this inquiry, put with a dogged inflexibility of manner, the old gentlema_eturned no answer, but went on to say, that to show him how much they were i_arnest, it would be necessary to tell him, not only what accusations wer_ade against him, but what proof of them they had, and how that proof had bee_cquired. This laying open of the whole question brought up brother Ned, Ti_inkinwater, and Newman Noggs, all three at once; who, after a vast deal o_alking together, and a scene of great confusion, laid before Ralph, i_istinct terms, the following statement.
  • That, Newman, having been solemnly assured by one not then producible tha_mike was not the son of Snawley, and this person having offered to make oat_o that effect, if necessary, they had by this communication been first led t_oubt the claim set up, which they would otherwise have seen no reason t_ispute, supported as it was by evidence which they had no power o_isproving. That, once suspecting the existence of a conspiracy, they had n_ifficulty in tracing back its origin to the malice of Ralph, and th_indictiveness and avarice of Squeers. That, suspicion and proof being tw_ery different things, they had been advised by a lawyer, eminent for hi_agacity and acuteness in such practice, to resist the proceedings taken o_he other side for the recovery of the youth as slowly and artfully a_ossible, and meanwhile to beset Snawley (with whom it was clear the mai_alsehood must rest); to lead him, if possible, into contradictory an_onflicting statements; to harass him by all available means; and so t_ractise on his fears, and regard for his own safety, as to induce him t_ivulge the whole scheme, and to give up his employer and whomsoever else h_ould implicate. That, all this had been skilfully done; but that Snawley, wh_as well practised in the arts of low cunning and intrigue, had successfull_affled all their attempts, until an unexpected circumstance had brought him, last night, upon his knees.
  • It thus arose. When Newman Noggs reported that Squeers was again in town, an_hat an interview of such secrecy had taken place between him and Ralph tha_e had been sent out of the house, plainly lest he should overhear a word, _atch was set upon the schoolmaster, in the hope that something might b_iscovered which would throw some light upon the suspected plot. It bein_ound, however, that he held no further communication with Ralph, nor any wit_nawley, and lived quite alone, they were completely at fault; the watch wa_ithdrawn, and they would have observed his motions no longer, if it had no_appened that, one night, Newman stumbled unobserved on him and Ralph in th_treet together. Following them, he discovered, to his surprise, that the_epaired to various low lodging-houses, and taverns kept by broken gamblers, to more than one of whom Ralph was known, and that they were in pursuit—so h_ound by inquiries when they had left—of an old woman, whose descriptio_xactly tallied with that of deaf Mrs Sliderskew. Affairs now appearing t_ssume a more serious complexion, the watch was renewed with increase_igilance; an officer was procured, who took up his abode in the same taver_ith Squeers: and by him and Frank Cheeryble the footsteps of the unconsciou_choolmaster were dogged, until he was safely housed in the lodging a_ambeth. Mr Squeers having shifted his lodging, the officer shifted his, an_ying concealed in the same street, and, indeed, in the opposite house, soo_ound that Mr Squeers and Mrs Sliderskew were in constant communication.
  • In this state of things, Arthur Gride was appealed to. The robbery, partl_wing to the inquisitiveness of the neighbours, and partly to his own grie_nd rage, had, long ago, become known; but he positively refused to give hi_anction or yield any assistance to the old woman's capture, and was seize_ith such a panic at the idea of being called upon to give evidence agains_er, that he shut himself up close in his house, and refused to hol_ommunication with anybody. Upon this, the pursuers took counsel together, and, coming so near the truth as to arrive at the conclusion that Gride an_alph, with Squeers for their instrument, were negotiating for the recovery o_ome of the stolen papers which would not bear the light, and might possibl_xplain the hints relative to Madeline which Newman had overheard, resolve_hat Mrs Sliderskew should be taken into custody before she had parted wit_hem: and Squeers too, if anything suspicious could be attached to him.
  • Accordingly, a search-warrant being procured, and all prepared, Mr Squeers'_indow was watched, until his light was put out, and the time arrived when, a_ad been previously ascertained, he usually visited Mrs Sliderskew. This done, Frank Cheeryble and Newman stole upstairs to listen to their discourse, and t_ive the signal to the officer at the most favourable time. At what a_pportune moment they arrived, how they listened, and what they heard, i_lready known to the reader. Mr Squeers, still half stunned, was hurried of_ith a stolen deed in his possession, and Mrs Sliderskew was apprehende_ikewise. The information being promptly carried to Snawley that Squeers wa_n custody—he was not told for what—that worthy, first extorting a promis_hat he should be kept harmless, declared the whole tale concerning Smike t_e a fiction and forgery, and implicated Ralph Nickleby to the fullest extent.
  • As to Mr Squeers, he had, that morning, undergone a private examination befor_ magistrate; and, being unable to account satisfactorily for his possessio_f the deed or his companionship with Mrs Sliderskew, had been, with her, remanded for a week.
  • All these discoveries were now related to Ralph, circumstantially, and i_etail. Whatever impression they secretly produced, he suffered no sign o_motion to escape him, but sat perfectly still, not raising his frowning eye_rom the ground, and covering his mouth with his hand. When the narrative wa_oncluded; he raised his head hastily, as if about to speak, but on brothe_harles resuming, fell into his old attitude again.
  • 'I told you this morning,' said the old gentleman, laying his hand upon hi_rother's shoulder, 'that I came to you in mercy. How far you may b_mplicated in this last transaction, or how far the person who is now i_ustody may criminate you, you best know. But, justice must take its cours_gainst the parties implicated in the plot against this poor, unoffending, injured lad. It is not in my power, or in the power of my brother Ned, to sav_ou from the consequences. The utmost we can do is, to warn you in time, an_o give you an opportunity of escaping them. We would not have an old man lik_ou disgraced and punished by your near relation; nor would we have hi_orget, like you, all ties of blood and nature. We entreat you—brother Ned, you join me, I know, in this entreaty, and so, Tim Linkinwater, do you, although you pretend to be an obstinate dog, sir, and sit there frowning as i_ou didn't—we entreat you to retire from London, to take shelter in some plac_here you will be safe from the consequences of these wicked designs, an_here you may have time, sir, to atone for them, and to become a better man.'
  • 'And do you think,' returned Ralph, rising, 'and do you think, you will s_asily crush ME? Do you think that a hundred well-arranged plans, or a hundre_uborned witnesses, or a hundred false curs at my heels, or a hundred cantin_peeches full of oily words, will move me? I thank you for disclosing you_chemes, which I am now prepared for. You have not the man to deal with tha_ou think; try me! and remember that I spit upon your fair words and fals_ealings, and dare you—provoke you—taunt you—to do to me the very worst yo_an!'
  • Thus they parted, for that time; but the worst had not come yet.