Chapter 63 The Brothers Cheeryble make various Declarations for themselve_nd others. Tim Linkinwater makes a Declaration for himself
Some weeks had passed, and the first shock of these events had subsided.
Madeline had been removed; Frank had been absent; and Nicholas and Kate ha_egun to try in good earnest to stifle their own regrets, and to live for eac_ther and for their mother—who, poor lady, could in nowise be reconciled t_his dull and altered state of affairs—when there came one evening, per favou_f Mr Linkinwater, an invitation from the brothers to dinner on the next da_ut one: comprehending, not only Mrs Nickleby, Kate, and Nicholas, but littl_iss La Creevy, who was most particularly mentioned.
'Now, my dears,' said Mrs Nickleby, when they had rendered becoming honour t_he bidding, and Tim had taken his departure, 'what does THIS mean?'
'What do YOU mean, mother?' asked Nicholas, smiling.
'I say, my dear,' rejoined that lady, with a face of unfathomable mystery,
'what does this invitation to dinner mean? What is its intention and object?'
'I conclude it means, that on such a day we are to eat and drink in thei_ouse, and that its intent and object is to confer pleasure upon us,' sai_icholas.
'And that's all you conclude it is, my dear?'
'I have not yet arrived at anything deeper, mother.'
'Then I'll just tell you one thing,' said Mrs Nickleby, you'll find yourself _ittle surprised; that's all. You may depend upon it that this means somethin_esides dinner.'
'Tea and supper, perhaps,' suggested Nicholas.
'I wouldn't be absurd, my dear, if I were you,' replied Mrs Nickleby, in _ofty manner, 'because it's not by any means becoming, and doesn't suit you a_ll. What I mean to say is, that the Mr Cheerybles don't ask us to dinner wit_ll this ceremony for nothing. Never mind; wait and see. You won't believ_nything I say, of course. It's much better to wait; a great deal better; it'_atisfactory to all parties, and there can be no disputing. All I say is, remember what I say now, and when I say I said so, don't say I didn't.'
With this stipulation, Mrs Nickleby, who was troubled, night and day, with _ision of a hot messenger tearing up to the door to announce that Nicholas ha_een taken into partnership, quitted that branch of the subject, and entere_pon a new one.
'It's a very extraordinary thing,' she said, 'a most extraordinary thing, tha_hey should have invited Miss La Creevy. It quite astonishes me, upon my wor_t does. Of course it's very pleasant that she should be invited, ver_leasant, and I have no doubt that she'll conduct herself extremely well; sh_lways does. It's very gratifying to think that we should have been the mean_f introducing her into such society, and I'm quite glad of it—quit_ejoiced—for she certainly is an exceedingly well-behaved and good- nature_ittle person. I could wish that some friend would mention to her how ver_adly she has her cap trimmed, and what very preposterous bows those are, bu_f course that's impossible, and if she likes to make a fright of herself, n_oubt she has a perfect right to do so. We never see ourselves—never do, an_ever did— and I suppose we never shall.'
This moral reflection reminding her of the necessity of being peculiarly smar_n the occasion, so as to counterbalance Miss La Creevy, and be herself a_ffectual set-off and atonement, led Mrs Nickleby into a consultation with he_aughter relative to certain ribbons, gloves, and trimmings: which, being _omplicated question, and one of paramount importance, soon routed th_revious one, and put it to flight.
The great day arriving, the good lady put herself under Kate's hands an hou_r so after breakfast, and, dressing by easy stages, completed her toilette i_ufficient time to allow of her daughter's making hers, which was very simple, and not very long, though so satisfactory that she had never appeared mor_harming or looked more lovely. Miss La Creevy, too, arrived with tw_andboxes (whereof the bottoms fell out as they were handed from the coach) and something in a newspaper, which a gentleman had sat upon, coming down, an_hich was obliged to be ironed again, before it was fit for service. At last, everybody was dressed, including Nicholas, who had come home to fetch them, and they went away in a coach sent by the brothers for the purpose: Mr_ickleby wondering very much what they would have for dinner, and cross- examining Nicholas as to the extent of his discoveries in the morning; whethe_e had smelt anything cooking at all like turtle, and if not, what he ha_melt; and diversifying the conversation with reminiscences of dinners t_hich she had gone some twenty years ago, concerning which she particularise_ot only the dishes but the guests, in whom her hearers did not feel a ver_bsorbing interest, as not one of them had ever chanced to hear their name_efore.
The old butler received them with profound respect and many smiles, an_shered them into the drawing-room, where they were received by the brother_ith so much cordiality and kindness that Mrs Nickleby was quite in a flutter, and had scarcely presence of mind enough, even to patronise Miss La Creevy.
Kate was still more affected by the reception: for, knowing that the brother_ere acquainted with all that had passed between her and Frank, she felt he_osition a most delicate and trying one, and was trembling on the arm o_icholas, when Mr Charles took her in his, and led her to another part of th_oom.
'Have you seen Madeline, my dear,' he said, 'since she left your house?'
'No, sir!' replied Kate. 'Not once.'
'And not heard from her, eh? Not heard from her?'
'I have only had one letter,' rejoined Kate, gently. 'I thought she would no_ave forgotten me quite so soon.'
'Ah,' said the old man, patting her on the head, and speaking a_ffectionately as if she had been his favourite child. 'Poor dear! what do yo_hink of this, brother Ned? Madeline has only written to her once, only once, Ned, and she didn't think she would have forgotten her quite so soon, Ned.'
'Oh! sad, sad; very sad!' said Ned.
The brothers interchanged a glance, and looking at Kate for a little tim_ithout speaking, shook hands, and nodded as if they were congratulating eac_ther on something very delightful.
'Well, well,' said brother Charles, 'go into that room, my dear— that doo_onder—and see if there's not a letter for you from her. I think there's on_pon the table. You needn't hurry back, my love, if there is, for we don'_ine just yet, and there's plenty of time. Plenty of time.'
Kate retired as she was directed. Brother Charles, having followed he_raceful figure with his eyes, turned to Mrs Nickleby, and said:
'We took the liberty of naming one hour before the real dinner-time, ma'am, because we had a little business to speak about, which would occupy th_nterval. Ned, my dear fellow, will you mention what we agreed upon? M_ickleby, sir, have the goodness to follow me.'
Without any further explanation, Mrs Nickleby, Miss La Creevy, and brothe_ed, were left alone together, and Nicholas followed brother Charles into hi_rivate room; where, to his great astonishment, he encountered Frank, whom h_upposed to be abroad.
'Young men,' said Mr Cheeryble, 'shake hands!'
'I need no bidding to do that,' said Nicholas, extending his.
'Nor I,' rejoined Frank, as he clasped it heartily.
The old gentleman thought that two handsomer or finer young fellows coul_carcely stand side by side than those on whom he looked with so muc_leasure. Suffering his eyes to rest upon them, for a short time in silence, he said, while he seated himself at his desk:
'I wish to see you friends—close and firm friends—and if I thought yo_therwise, I should hesitate in what I am about to say. Frank, look here! M_ickleby, will you come on the other side?'
The young men stepped up on either hand of brother Charles, who produced _aper from his desk, and unfolded it.
'This,' he said, 'is a copy of the will of Madeline's maternal grandfather, bequeathing her the sum of twelve thousand pounds, payable either upon he_oming of age or marrying. It would appear that this gentleman, angry with her (his only relation) because she would not put herself under his protection, and detach herself from the society of her father, in compliance with hi_epeated overtures, made a will leaving this property (which was all h_ossessed) to a charitable institution. He would seem to have repented thi_etermination, however, for three weeks afterwards, and in the same month, h_xecuted this. By some fraud, it was abstracted immediately after his decease, and the other—the only will found—was proved and administered. Friendl_egotiations, which have only just now terminated, have been proceeding sinc_his instrument came into our hands, and, as there is no doubt of it_uthenticity, and the witnesses have been discovered (after some trouble), th_oney has been refunded. Madeline has therefore obtained her right, and is, o_ill be, when either of the contingencies which I have mentioned has arisen, mistress of this fortune. You understand me?'
Frank replied in the affirmative. Nicholas, who could not trust himself t_peak lest his voice should be heard to falter, bowed his head.
'Now, Frank,' said the old gentleman, 'you were the immediate means o_ecovering this deed. The fortune is but a small one; but we love Madeline; and such as it is, we would rather see you allied to her with that, than t_ny other girl we know who has three times the money. Will you become a suito_o her for her hand?'
'No, sir. I interested myself in the recovery of that instrument, believin_hat her hand was already pledged to one who has a thousand times the claim_pon her gratitude, and, if I mistake not, upon her heart, that I or any othe_an can ever urge. In this it seems I judged hastily.'
'As you always, do, sir,' cried brother Charles, utterly forgetting hi_ssumed dignity, 'as you always do. How dare you think, Frank, that we woul_ave you marry for money, when youth, beauty, and every amiable virtue an_xcellence were to be had for love? How dared you, Frank, go and make love t_r Nickleby's sister without telling us first what you meant to do, an_etting us speak for you?'
'I hardly dared to hope—'
'You hardly dared to hope! Then, so much the greater reason for having ou_ssistance! Mr Nickleby, sir, Frank, although he judged hastily, judged, fo_nce, correctly. Madeline's heart IS occupied. Give me your hand, sir; it i_ccupied by you, and worthily and naturally. This fortune is destined to b_ours, but you have a greater fortune in her, sir, than you would have i_oney were it forty times told. She chooses you, Mr Nickleby. She chooses a_e, her dearest friends, would have her choose. Frank chooses as we would hav_IM choose. He should have your sister's little hand, sir, if she had refuse_t a score of times; ay, he should, and he shall! You acted nobly, not knowin_ur sentiments, but now you know them, sir, you must do as you are bid. What!
You are the children of a worthy gentleman! The time was, sir, when my dea_rother Ned and I were two poor simple-hearted boys, wandering, almos_arefoot, to seek our fortunes: are we changed in anything but years an_orldly circumstances since that time? No, God forbid! Oh, Ned, Ned, Ned, wha_ happy day this is for you and me! If our poor mother had only lived to se_s now, Ned, how proud it would have made her dear heart at last!'
Thus apostrophised, brother Ned, who had entered with Mrs Nickleby, and wh_ad been before unobserved by the young men, darted forward, and fairly hugge_rother Charles in his arms.
'Bring in my little Kate,' said the latter, after a short silence. 'Bring he_n, Ned. Let me see Kate, let me kiss her. I have a right to do so now; I wa_ery near it when she first came; I have often been very near it. Ah! Did yo_ind the letter, my bird? Did you find Madeline herself, waiting for you an_xpecting you? Did you find that she had not quite forgotten her friend an_urse and sweet companion? Why, this is almost the best of all!'
'Come, come,' said Ned, 'Frank will be jealous, and we shall have some cuttin_f throats before dinner.'
'Then let him take her away, Ned, let him take her away. Madeline's in th_ext room. Let all the lovers get out of the way, and talk among themselves, if they've anything to say. Turn 'em out, Ned, every one!'
Brother Charles began the clearance by leading the blushing girl to the door, and dismissing her with a kiss. Frank was not very slow to follow, an_icholas had disappeared first of all. So there only remained Mrs Nickleby an_iss La Creevy, who were both sobbing heartily; the two brothers; and Ti_inkinwater, who now came in to shake hands with everybody: his round face al_adiant and beaming with smiles.
'Well, Tim Linkinwater, sir,' said brother Charles, who was always spokesman,
'now the young folks are happy, sir.'
'You didn't keep 'em in suspense as long as you said you would, though,'
returned Tim, archly. 'Why, Mr Nickleby and Mr Frank were to have been in you_oom for I don't know how long; and I don't know what you weren't to have tol_hem before you came out with the truth.'
'Now, did you ever know such a villain as this, Ned?' said the old gentleman;
'did you ever know such a villain as Tim Linkinwater? He accusing me of bein_mpatient, and he the very man who has been wearying us morning, noon, an_ight, and torturing us for leave to go and tell 'em what was in store, befor_ur plans were half complete, or we had arranged a single thing. A treacherou_og!'
'So he is, brother Charles,' returned Ned; 'Tim is a treacherous dog. Tim i_ot to be trusted. Tim is a wild young fellow. He wants gravity an_teadiness; he must sow his wild oats, and then perhaps he'll become in time _espectable member of society.'
This being one of the standing jokes between the old fellows and Tim, they al_hree laughed very heartily, and might have laughed much longer, but that th_rothers, seeing that Mrs Nickleby was labouring to express her feelings, an_as really overwhelmed by the happiness of the time, took her between them, and led her from the room under pretence of having to consult her on some mos_mportant arrangements.
Now, Tim and Miss La Creevy had met very often, and had always been ver_hatty and pleasant together—had always been great friends— and consequentl_t was the most natural thing in the world that Tim, finding that she stil_obbed, should endeavour to console her. As Miss La Creevy sat on a large old- fashioned window-seat, where there was ample room for two, it was also natura_hat Tim should sit down beside her; and as to Tim's being unusually spruc_nd particular in his attire that day, why it was a high festival and a grea_ccasion, and that was the most natural thing of all.
Tim sat down beside Miss La Creevy, and, crossing one leg over the other s_hat his foot—he had very comely feet and happened to be wearing the neates_hoes and black silk stockings possible—should come easily within the range o_er eye, said in a soothing way:
'I must,' rejoined Miss La Creevy.
'No, don't,' said Tim. 'Please don't; pray don't.'
'I am so happy!' sobbed the little woman.
'Then laugh,' said Tim. 'Do laugh.'
What in the world Tim was doing with his arm, it is impossible to conjecture, but he knocked his elbow against that part of the window which was quite o_he other side of Miss La Creevy; and it is clear that it could have n_usiness there.
'Do laugh,' said Tim, 'or I'll cry.'
'Why should you cry?' asked Miss La Creevy, smiling.
'Because I'm happy too,' said Tim. 'We are both happy, and I should like to d_s you do.'
Surely, there never was a man who fidgeted as Tim must have done then; for h_nocked the window again—almost in the same place—and Miss La Creevy said sh_as sure he'd break it.
'I knew,' said Tim, 'that you would be pleased with this scene.'
'It was very thoughtful and kind to remember me,' returned Miss La Creevy.
'Nothing could have delighted me half so much.'
Why on earth should Miss La Creevy and Tim Linkinwater have said all this in _hisper? It was no secret. And why should Tim Linkinwater have looked so har_t Miss La Creevy, and why should Miss La Creevy have looked so hard at th_round?
'It's a pleasant thing,' said Tim, 'to people like us, who have passed all ou_ives in the world alone, to see young folks that we are fond of, brough_ogether with so many years of happiness before them.'
'Ah!' cried the little woman with all her heart, 'that it is!'
'Although,' pursued Tim 'although it makes one feel quite solitary and cas_way. Now don't it?'
Miss La Creevy said she didn't know. And why should she say she didn't know?
Because she must have known whether it did or not.
'It's almost enough to make us get married after all, isn't it?' said Tim.
'Oh, nonsense!' replied Miss La Creevy, laughing. 'We are too old.'
'Not a bit,' said Tim; 'we are too old to be single. Why shouldn't we both b_arried, instead of sitting through the long winter evenings by our solitar_iresides? Why shouldn't we make one fireside of it, and marry each other?'
'Oh, Mr Linkinwater, you're joking!'
'No, no, I'm not. I'm not indeed,' said Tim. 'I will, if you will. Do, m_ear!'
'It would make people laugh so.'
'Let 'em laugh,' cried Tim stoutly; 'we have good tempers I know, and we'l_augh too. Why, what hearty laughs we have had since we've known each other!'
'So we have,' cried' Miss La Creevy—giving way a little, as Tim thought.
'It has been the happiest time in all my life; at least, away from th_ounting-house and Cheeryble Brothers,' said Tim. 'Do, my dear! Now say yo_ill.'
'No, no, we mustn't think of it,' returned Miss La Creevy. 'What would th_rothers say?'
'Why, God bless your soul!' cried Tim, innocently, 'you don't suppose I shoul_hink of such a thing without their knowing it! Why they left us here o_urpose.'
'I can never look 'em in the face again!' exclaimed Miss La Creevy, faintly.
'Come,' said Tim, 'let's be a comfortable couple. We shall live in the ol_ouse here, where I have been for four-and-forty year; we shall go to the ol_hurch, where I've been, every Sunday morning, all through that time; we shal_ave all my old friends about us— Dick, the archway, the pump, the flower- pots, and Mr Frank's children, and Mr Nickleby's children, that we shall see_ike grandfather and grandmother to. Let's be a comfortable couple, and tak_are of each other! And if we should get deaf, or lame, or blind, or bed- ridden, how glad we shall be that we have somebody we are fond of, always t_alk to and sit with! Let's be a comfortable couple. Now, do, my dear!'
Five minutes after this honest and straightforward speech, little Miss L_reevy and Tim were talking as pleasantly as if they had been married for _core of years, and had never once quarrelled all the time; and five minute_fter that, when Miss La Creevy had bustled out to see if her eyes were re_nd put her hair to rights, Tim moved with a stately step towards the drawing- room, exclaiming as he went, 'There an't such another woman in all London! _NOW there an't!'
By this time, the apoplectic butler was nearly in fits, in consequence of th_nheard-of postponement of dinner. Nicholas, who had been engaged in a manne_n which every reader may imagine for himself or herself, was hurryin_ownstairs in obedience to his angry summons, when he encountered a ne_urprise.
On his way down, he overtook, in one of the passages, a stranger genteell_ressed in black, who was also moving towards the dining- room. As he wa_ather lame, and walked slowly, Nicholas lingered behind, and was followin_im step by step, wondering who he was, when he suddenly turned round an_aught him by both hands.
'Newman Noggs!' cried Nicholas joyfully
'Ah! Newman, your own Newman, your own old faithful Newman! My dear boy, m_ear Nick, I give you joy—health, happiness, every blessing! I can't bea_t—it's too much, my dear boy—it makes a child of me!'
'Where have you been?' said Nicholas. 'What have you been doing? How ofte_ave I inquired for you, and been told that I should hear before long!'
'I know, I know!' returned Newman. 'They wanted all the happiness to com_ogether. I've been helping 'em. I—I—look at me, Nick, look at me!'
'You would never let ME do that,' said Nicholas in a tone of gentle reproach.
'I didn't mind what I was, then. I shouldn't have had the heart to put o_entleman's clothes. They would have reminded me of old times and made m_iserable. I am another man now, Nick. My dear boy, I can't speak. Don't sa_nything to me. Don't think the worse of me for these tears. You don't kno_hat I feel today; you can't, and never will!'
They walked in to dinner arm-in-arm, and sat down side by side.
Never was such a dinner as that, since the world began. There was th_uperannuated bank clerk, Tim Linkinwater's friend; and there was the chubb_ld lady, Tim Linkinwater's sister; and there was so much attention from Ti_inkinwater's sister to Miss La Creevy, and there were so many jokes from th_uperannuated bank clerk, and Tim Linkinwater himself was in such tipto_pirits, and little Miss La Creevy was in such a comical state, that o_hemselves they would have composed the pleasantest party conceivable. Then, there was Mrs Nickleby, so grand and complacent; Madeline and Kate, s_lushing and beautiful; Nicholas and Frank, so devoted and proud; and all fou_o silently and tremblingly happy; there was Newman so subdued yet s_verjoyed, and there were the twin brothers so delighted and interchangin_uch looks, that the old servant stood transfixed behind his master's chair, and felt his eyes grow dim as they wandered round the table.
When the first novelty of the meeting had worn off, and they began truly t_eel how happy they were, the conversation became more general, and th_armony and pleasure if possible increased. The brothers were in a perfec_cstasy; and their insisting on saluting the ladies all round, before the_ould permit them to retire, gave occasion to the superannuated bank clerk t_ay so many good things, that he quite outshone himself, and was looked upo_s a prodigy of humour.
'Kate, my dear,' said Mrs Nickleby, taking her daughter aside, as soon as the_ot upstairs, 'you don't really mean to tell me that this is actually tru_bout Miss La Creevy and Mr Linkinwater?'
'Indeed it is, mama.'
'Why, I never heard such a thing in my life!' exclaimed Mrs Nickleby.
'Mr Linkinwater is a most excellent creature,' reasoned Kate, 'and, for hi_ge, quite young still.'
'For HIS age, my dear!' returned Mrs Nickleby, 'yes; nobody says anythin_gainst him, except that I think he is the weakest and most foolish man I eve_new. It's HER age I speak of. That he should have gone and offered himself t_ woman who must be—ah, half as old again as I am—and that she should hav_ared to accept him! It don't signify, Kate; I'm disgusted with her!'
Shaking her head very emphatically indeed, Mrs Nickleby swept away; and al_he evening, in the midst of the merriment and enjoyment that ensued, and i_hich with that exception she freely participated, conducted herself toward_iss La Creevy in a stately and distant manner, designed to mark her sense o_he impropriety of her conduct, and to signify her extreme and cuttin_isapprobation of the misdemeanour she had so flagrantly committed.