Chapter 64 An old Acquaintance is recognised under melanchol_ircumstances, and Dotheboys Hall breaks up for ever
Nicholas was one of those whose joy is incomplete unless it is shared by th_riends of adverse and less fortunate days. Surrounded by every fascination o_ove and hope, his warm heart yearned towards plain John Browdie. H_emembered their first meeting with a smile, and their second with a tear; sa_oor Smike once again with the bundle on his shoulder trudging patiently b_is side; and heard the honest Yorkshireman's rough words of encouragement a_e left them on their road to London.
Madeline and he sat down, very many times, jointly to produce a letter whic_hould acquaint John at full length with his altered fortunes, and assure hi_f his friendship and gratitude. It so happened, however, that the lette_ould never be written. Although they applied themselves to it with the bes_ntentions in the world, it chanced that they always fell to talking abou_omething else, and when Nicholas tried it by himself, he found it impossibl_o write one-half of what he wished to say, or to pen anything, indeed, whic_n reperusal did not appear cold and unsatisfactory compared with what he ha_n his mind. At last, after going on thus from day to day, and reproachin_imself more and more, he resolved (the more readily as Madeline strongl_rged him) to make a hasty trip into Yorkshire, and present himself before M_nd Mrs Browdie without a word of notice.
Thus it was that between seven and eight o'clock one evening, he and Kat_ound themselves in the Saracen's Head booking-office, securing a place t_reta Bridge by the next morning's coach. They had to go westward, to procur_ome little necessaries for his journey, and, as it was a fine night, the_greed to walk there, and ride home.
The place they had just been in called up so many recollections, and Kate ha_o many anecdotes of Madeline, and Nicholas so many anecdotes of Frank, an_ach was so interested in what the other said, and both were so happy an_onfiding, and had so much to talk about, that it was not until they ha_lunged for a full half-hour into that labyrinth of streets which lies betwee_even Dials and Soho, without emerging into any large thoroughfare, tha_icholas began to think it just possible they might have lost their way.
The possibility was soon converted into a certainty; for, on looking about, and walking first to one end of the street and then to the other, he coul_ind no landmark he could recognise, and was fain to turn back again in ques_f some place at which he could seek a direction.
It was a by-street, and there was nobody about, or in the few wretched shop_hey passed. Making towards a faint gleam of light which streamed across th_avement from a cellar, Nicholas was about to descend two or three steps so a_o render himself visible to those below and make his inquiry, when he wa_rrested by a loud noise of scolding in a woman's voice.
'Oh come away!' said Kate, 'they are quarrelling. You'll be hurt.'
'Wait one instant, Kate. Let us hear if there's anything the matter,' returne_er brother. 'Hush!'
'You nasty, idle, vicious, good-for-nothing brute,' cried the woman, stampin_n the ground, 'why don't you turn the mangle?'
'So I am, my life and soul!' replied the man's voice. 'I am always turning. _m perpetually turning, like a demd old horse in a demnition mill. My life i_ne demd horrid grind!'
'Then why don't you go and list for a soldier?' retorted the woman; 'you'r_elcome to.'
'For a soldier!' cried the man. 'For a soldier! Would his joy and gladness se_im in a coarse red coat with a little tail? Would she hear of his bein_lapped and beat by drummers demnebly? Would she have him fire off real guns, and have his hair cut, and his whiskers shaved, and his eyes turned right an_eft, and his trousers pipeclayed?'
'Dear Nicholas,' whispered Kate, 'you don't know who that is. It's M_antalini I am confident.'
'Do make sure! Peep at him while I ask the way,' said Nicholas. 'Come down _tep or two. Come!'
Drawing her after him, Nicholas crept down the steps and looked into a smal_oarded cellar. There, amidst clothes-baskets and clothes, stripped up to hi_hirt-sleeves, but wearing still an old patched pair of pantaloons o_uperlative make, a once brilliant waistcoat, and moustache and whiskers as o_ore, but lacking their lustrous dye—there, endeavouring to mollify the wrat_f a buxom female—not the lawful Madame Mantalini, but the proprietress of th_oncern— and grinding meanwhile as if for very life at the mangle, whos_reaking noise, mingled with her shrill tones, appeared almost to deafe_im—there was the graceful, elegant, fascinating, and once dashing Mantalini.
'Oh you false traitor!' cried the lady, threatening personal violence on M_antalini's face.
'False! Oh dem! Now my soul, my gentle, captivating, bewitching, and mos_emnebly enslaving chick-a-biddy, be calm,' said Mr Mantalini, humbly.
'I won't!' screamed the woman. 'I'll tear your eyes out!'
'Oh! What a demd savage lamb!' cried Mr Mantalini.
'You're never to be trusted,' screamed the woman; 'you were out all da_esterday, and gallivanting somewhere I know. You know you were! Isn't i_nough that I paid two pound fourteen for you, and took you out of prison an_et you live here like a gentleman, but must you go on like this: breaking, m_eart besides?'
'I will never break its heart, I will be a good boy, and never do so any more; I will never be naughty again; I beg its little pardon,' said Mr Mantalini, dropping the handle of the mangle, and folding his palms together; 'it is al_p with its handsome friend! He has gone to the demnition bow-wows. It wil_ave pity? It will not scratch and claw, but pet and comfort? Oh, demmit!'
Very little affected, to judge from her action, by this tender appeal, th_ady was on the point of returning some angry reply, when Nicholas, raisin_is voice, asked his way to Piccadilly.
Mr Mantalini turned round, caught sight of Kate, and, without another word, leapt at one bound into a bed which stood behind the door, and drew th_ounterpane over his face: kicking meanwhile convulsively.
'Demmit,' he cried, in a suffocating voice, 'it's little Nickleby! Shut th_oor, put out the candle, turn me up in the bedstead! Oh, dem, dem, dem!'
The woman looked, first at Nicholas, and then at Mr Mantalini, as if uncertai_n whom to visit this extraordinary behaviour; but Mr Mantalini happening b_ll-luck to thrust his nose from under the bedclothes, in his anxiety t_scertain whether the visitors were gone, she suddenly, and with a dexterit_hich could only have been acquired by long practice, flung a pretty heav_lothes-basket at him, with so good an aim that he kicked more violently tha_efore, though without venturing to make any effort to disengage his head, which was quite extinguished. Thinking this a favourable opportunity fo_eparting before any of the torrent of her wrath discharged itself upon him, Nicholas hurried Kate off, and left the unfortunate subject of this unexpecte_ecognition to explain his conduct as he best could.
The next morning he began his journey. It was now cold, winter weather: forcibly recalling to his mind under what circumstances he had first travelle_hat road, and how many vicissitudes and changes he had since undergone. H_as alone inside the greater part of the way, and sometimes, when he ha_allen into a doze, and, rousing himself, looked out of the window, an_ecognised some place which he well remembered as having passed, either on hi_ourney down, or in the long walk back with poor Smike, he could hardl_elieve but that all which had since happened had been a dream, and that the_ere still plodding wearily on towards London, with the world before them.
To render these recollections the more vivid, it came on to snow as night se_n; and, passing through Stamford and Grantham, and by the little alehous_here he had heard the story of the bold Baron of Grogzwig, everything looke_s if he had seen it but yesterday, and not even a flake of the white crust o_he roofs had melted away. Encouraging the train of ideas which flocked upo_im, he could almost persuade himself that he sat again outside the coach, with Squeers and the boys; that he heard their voices in the air; and that h_elt again, but with a mingled sensation of pain and pleasure now, that ol_inking of the heart, and longing after home. While he was yet yieldin_imself up to these fancies he fell asleep, and, dreaming of Madeline, forgo_hem.
He slept at the inn at Greta Bridge on the night of his arrival, and, risin_t a very early hour next morning, walked to the market town, and inquired fo_ohn Browdie's house. John lived in the outskirts, now he was a family man; and as everbody knew him, Nicholas had no difficulty in finding a boy wh_ndertook to guide him to his residence.
Dismissing his guide at the gate, and in his impatience not even stopping t_dmire the thriving look of cottage or garden either, Nicholas made his way t_he kitchen door, and knocked lustily with his stick.
'Halloa!' cried a voice inside. 'Wa'et be the matther noo? Be the toon a-fire?
Ding, but thou mak'st noise eneaf!'
With these words, John Browdie opened the door himself, and opening his eye_oo to their utmost width, cried, as he clapped his hands together, and burs_nto a hearty roar:
'Ecod, it be the godfeyther, it be the godfeyther! Tilly, here be Misthe_ickleby. Gi' us thee hond, mun. Coom awa', coom awa'. In wi 'un, doon besid_he fire; tak' a soop o' thot. Dinnot say a word till thou'st droonk it a'!
Oop wi' it, mun. Ding! but I'm reeght glod to see thee.'
Adapting his action to his text, John dragged Nicholas into the kitchen, forced him down upon a huge settle beside a blazing fire, poured out from a_normous bottle about a quarter of a pint of spirits, thrust it into his hand, opened his mouth and threw back his head as a sign to him to drink i_nstantly, and stood with a broad grin of welcome overspreading his great re_ace like a jolly giant.
'I might ha' knowa'd,' said John,;' that nobody but thou would ha' coom wi'
sike a knock as you. Thot was the wa' thou knocked at schoolmeasther's door, eh? Ha, ha, ha! But I say; wa'at be a' this aboot schoolmeasther?'
'You know it then?' said Nicholas.
'They were talking aboot it, doon toon, last neeght,' replied John, 'but nean_n 'em seemed quite to un'erstan' it, loike.'
'After various shiftings and delays,' said Nicholas, 'he has been sentenced t_e transported for seven years, for being in the unlawful possession of _tolen will; and, after that, he has to suffer the consequence of _onspiracy.'
'Whew!' cried John, 'a conspiracy! Soom'at in the pooder-plot wa'? Eh? Soom'a_n the Guy Faux line?'
'No, no, no, a conspiracy connected with his school; I'll explain i_resently.'
'Thot's reeght!' said John, 'explain it arter breakfast, not noo, for tho_e'est hoongry, and so am I; and Tilly she mun' be at the bottom o' a'
explanations, for she says thot's the mutual confidence. Ha, ha, ha! Ecod, it's a room start, is the mutual confidence!'
The entrance of Mrs Browdie, with a smart cap on, and very many apologies fo_heir having been detected in the act of breakfasting in the kitchen, stoppe_ohn in his discussion of this grave subject, and hastened the breakfast: which, being composed of vast mounds of toast, new-laid eggs, boiled ham, Yorkshire pie, and other cold substantials (of which heavy relays wer_onstantly appearing from another kitchen under the direction of a very plum_ervant), was admirably adapted to the cold bleak morning, and received th_tmost justice from all parties. At last, it came to a close; and the fir_hich had been lighted in the best parlour having by this time burnt up, the_djourned thither, to hear what Nicholas had to tell.
Nicholas told them all, and never was there a story which awakened so man_motions in the breasts of two eager listeners. At one time, honest Joh_roaned in sympathy, and at another roared with joy; at one time he vowed t_o up to London on purpose to get a sight of the brothers Cheeryble; and, a_nother, swore that Tim Linkinwater should receive such a ham by coach, an_arriage free, as mortal knife had never carved. When Nicholas began t_escribe Madeline, he sat with his mouth wide open, nudging Mrs Browdie fro_ime to time, and exclaiming under his breath that she must be 'raa'ther _idy sart,' and when he heard at last that his young friend had come dow_urposely to communicate his good fortune, and to convey to him all thos_ssurances of friendship which he could not state with sufficient warmth i_riting—that the only object of his journey was to share his happiness wit_hem, and to tell them that when he was married they must come up to see him, and that Madeline insisted on it as well as he—John could hold out no longer, but after looking indignantly at his wife, and demanding to know what she wa_himpering for, drew his coat sleeve over his eyes and blubbered outright.
'Tell'ee wa'at though,' said John seriously, when a great deal had been sai_n both sides, 'to return to schoolmeasther. If this news aboot 'un ha_eached school today, the old 'ooman wean't have a whole boan in her boddy, nor Fanny neither.'
'Oh, John!' cried Mrs Browdie.
'Ah! and Oh, John agean,' replied the Yorkshireman. 'I dinnot know what the_ads mightn't do. When it first got aboot that schoolmeasther was in trouble, some feythers and moothers sent and took their young chaps awa'. If them as i_eft, should know waat's coom tiv'un, there'll be sike a revolution an_ebel!—Ding! But I think they'll a' gang daft, and spill bluid like wather!'
In fact, John Browdie's apprehensions were so strong that he determined t_ide over to the school without delay, and invited Nicholas to accompany him, which, however, he declined, pleading that his presence might perhap_ggravate the bitterness of their adversity.
'Thot's true!' said John; 'I should ne'er ha' thought o' thot.'
'I must return tomorrow,' said Nicholas, 'but I mean to dine with you today, and if Mrs Browdie can give me a bed—'
'Bed!' cried John, 'I wish thou couldst sleep in fower beds at once. Ecod, thou shouldst have 'em a'. Bide till I coom back; on'y bide till I coom back, and ecod we'll make a day of it.'
Giving his wife a hearty kiss, and Nicholas a no less hearty shake of th_and, John mounted his horse and rode off: leaving Mrs Browdie to appl_erself to hospitable preparations, and his young friend to stroll about th_eighbourhood, and revisit spots which were rendered familiar to him by many _iserable association.
John cantered away, and arriving at Dotheboys Hall, tied his horse to a gat_nd made his way to the schoolroom door, which he found locked on the inside.
A tremendous noise and riot arose from within, and, applying his eye to _onvenient crevice in the wall, he did not remain long in ignorance of it_eaning.
The news of Mr Squeers's downfall had reached Dotheboys; that was quite clear.
To all appearance, it had very recently become known to the young gentlemen; for the rebellion had just broken out.
It was one of the brimstone-and-treacle mornings, and Mrs Squeers had entere_chool according to custom with the large bowl and spoon, followed by Mis_queers and the amiable Wackford: who, during his father's absence, had take_pon him such minor branches of the executive as kicking the pupils with hi_ailed boots, pulling the hair of some of the smaller boys, pinching th_thers in aggravating places, and rendering himself, in various similar ways, a great comfort and happiness to his mother. Their entrance, whether b_remeditation or a simultaneous impulse, was the signal of revolt. While on_etachment rushed to the door and locked it, and another mounted on the desk_nd forms, the stoutest (and consequently the newest) boy seized the cane, an_onfronting Mrs Squeers with a stern countenance, snatched off her cap an_eaver bonnet, put them on his own head, armed himself with the wooden spoon, and bade her, on pain of death, go down upon her knees and take a dos_irectly. Before that estimable lady could recover herself, or offer th_lightest retaliation, she was forced into a kneeling posture by a crowd o_houting tormentors, and compelled to swallow a spoonful of the odiou_ixture, rendered more than usually savoury by the immersion in the bowl o_aster Wackford's head, whose ducking was intrusted to another rebel. Th_uccess of this first achievement prompted the malicious crowd, whose face_ere clustered together in every variety of lank and half-starved ugliness, t_urther acts of outrage. The leader was insisting upon Mrs Squeers repeatin_er dose, Master Squeers was undergoing another dip in the treacle, and _iolent assault had been commenced on Miss Squeers, when John Browdie, bursting open the door with a vigorous kick, rushed to the rescue. The shouts, screams, groans, hoots, and clapping of hands, suddenly ceased, and a dea_ilence ensued.
'Ye be noice chaps,' said John, looking steadily round. 'What's to do here, thou yoong dogs?'
'Squeers is in prison, and we are going to run away!' cried a score of shril_oices. 'We won't stop, we won't stop!'
'Anoother!' said John. 'Dinnot be afeared on it. Let's have a good 'un!'
'Noo then,' said John, 'let's have yan more to end wi', and then coot off a_uick as you loike. Tak'a good breath noo—Squeers be in jail—the school'_rokken oop—it's a' ower—past and gane— think o' thot, and let it be a hearty
Such a cheer arose as the walls of Dotheboys Hall had never echoed before, an_ere destined never to respond to again. When the sound had died away, th_chool was empty; and of the busy noisy crowd which had peopled it but fiv_inutes before, not one remained.
'Very well, Mr Browdie!' said Miss Squeers, hot and flushed from the recen_ncounter, but vixenish to the last; 'you've been and excited our boys to ru_way. Now see if we don't pay you out for that, sir! If my pa IS unfortunat_nd trod down by henemies, we're not going to be basely crowed and conquere_ver by you and 'Tilda.'
'Noa!' replied John bluntly, 'thou bean't. Tak' thy oath o' thot. Thin_etther o' us, Fanny. I tell 'ee both, that I'm glod the auld man has bee_aught out at last—dom'd glod—but ye'll sooffer eneaf wi'out any crowin' fra'
me, and I be not the mun to crow, nor be Tilly the lass, so I tell 'ee flat.
More than thot, I tell 'ee noo, that if thou need'st friends to help thee awa'
from this place— dinnot turn up thy nose, Fanny, thou may'st—thou'lt foin_illy and I wi' a thout o' old times aboot us, ready to lend thee a hond. An_hen I say thot, dinnot think I be asheamed of waa't I've deane, for I sa_gain, Hurrah! and dom the schoolmeasther. There!'
His parting words concluded, John Browdie strode heavily out, remounted hi_ag, put him once more into a smart canter, and, carolling lustily forth som_ragments of an old song, to which the horse's hoofs rang a merr_ccompaniment, sped back to his pretty wife and to Nicholas.
For some days afterwards, the neighbouring country was overrun with boys, who, the report went, had been secretly furnished by Mr and Mrs Browdie, not onl_ith a hearty meal of bread and meat, but with sundry shillings and sixpence_o help them on their way. To this rumour John always returned a stout denial, which he accompanied, however, with a lurking grin, that rendered th_uspicious doubtful, and fully confirmed all previous believers.
There were a few timid young children, who, miserable as they had been, an_any as were the tears they had shed in the wretched school, still knew n_ther home, and had formed for it a sort of attachment, which made them wee_hen the bolder spirits fled, and cling to it as a refuge. Of these, some wer_ound crying under hedges and in such places, frightened at the solitude. On_ad a dead bird in a little cage; he had wandered nearly twenty miles, an_hen his poor favourite died, lost courage, and lay down beside him. Anothe_as discovered in a yard hard by the school, sleeping with a dog, who bit a_hose who came to remove him, and licked the sleeping child's pale face.
They were taken back, and some other stragglers were recovered, but by degree_hey were claimed, or lost again; and, in course of time, Dotheboys Hall an_ts last breaking-up began to be forgotten by the neighbours, or to be onl_poken of as among the things that had been.