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!'
'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.
'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.