Chapter 9 Of Miss Squeers, Mrs Squeers, Master Squeers, and Mr Squeers, an_f various Matters and Persons connected no less with the Squeerses tha_icholas Nickleby
When Mr Squeers left the schoolroom for the night, he betook himself, as ha_een before remarked, to his own fireside, which was situated—not in the roo_n which Nicholas had supped on the night of his arrival, but in a smalle_partment in the rear of the premises, where his lady wife, his amiable son, and accomplished daughter, were in the full enjoyment of each other's society; Mrs Squeers being engaged in the matronly pursuit of stocking-darning; and th_oung lady and gentleman being occupied in the adjustment of some youthfu_ifferences, by means of a pugilistic contest across the table, which, on th_pproach of their honoured parent, subsided into a noiseless exchange of kick_eneath it.
And, in this place, it may be as well to apprise the reader, that Miss Fann_queers was in her three-and-twentieth year. If there be any one grace o_oveliness inseparable from that particular period of life, Miss Squeers ma_e presumed to have been possessed of it, as there is no reason to suppos_hat she was a solitary exception to an universal rule. She was not tall lik_er mother, but short like her father; from the former she inherited a voic_f harsh quality; from the latter a remarkable expression of the right eye, something akin to having none at all.
Miss Squeers had been spending a few days with a neighbouring friend, and ha_nly just returned to the parental roof. To this circumstance may be referred, her having heard nothing of Nicholas, until Mr Squeers himself now made hi_he subject of conversation.
'Well, my dear,' said Squeers, drawing up his chair, 'what do you think of hi_y this time?'
'Think of who?' inquired Mrs Squeers; who (as she often remarked) was n_rammarian, thank Heaven.
'Of the young man—the new teacher—who else could I mean?'
'Oh! that Knuckleboy,' said Mrs Squeers impatiently. 'I hate him.'
'What do you hate him for, my dear?' asked Squeers.
'What's that to you?' retorted Mrs Squeers. 'If I hate him, that's enough, ain't it?'
'Quite enough for him, my dear, and a great deal too much I dare say, if h_new it,' replied Squeers in a pacific tone. 'I only ask from curiosity, m_ear.'
'Well, then, if you want to know,' rejoined Mrs Squeers, 'I'll tell you.
Because he's a proud, haughty, consequential, turned-up-nosed peacock.'
Mrs Squeers, when excited, was accustomed to use strong language, and, moreover, to make use of a plurality of epithets, some of which were of _igurative kind, as the word peacock, and furthermore the allusion t_icholas's nose, which was not intended to be taken in its literal sense, bu_ather to bear a latitude of construction according to the fancy of th_earers.
Neither were they meant to bear reference to each other, so much as to th_bject on whom they were bestowed, as will be seen in the present case: _eacock with a turned-up nose being a novelty in ornithology, and a thing no_ommonly seen.
'Hem!' said Squeers, as if in mild deprecation of this outbreak. 'He is cheap, my dear; the young man is very cheap.'
'Not a bit of it,' retorted Mrs Squeers.
'Five pound a year,' said Squeers.
'What of that; it's dear if you don't want him, isn't it?' replied his wife.
'But we DO want him,' urged Squeers.
'I don't see that you want him any more than the dead,' said Mrs Squeers.
'Don't tell me. You can put on the cards and in the advertisements, "Educatio_y Mr Wackford Squeers and able assistants," without having any assistants, can't you? Isn't it done every day by all the masters about? I've no patienc_ith you.'
'Haven't you!' said Squeers, sternly. 'Now I'll tell you what, Mrs Squeers. I_his matter of having a teacher, I'll take my own way, if you please. A slav_river in the West Indies is allowed a man under him, to see that his black_on't run away, or get up a rebellion; and I'll have a man under me to do th_ame with OUR blacks, till such time as little Wackford is able to take charg_f the school.'
'Am I to take care of the school when I grow up a man, father?' said Wackfor_unior, suspending, in the excess of his delight, a vicious kick which he wa_dministering to his sister.
'You are, my son,' replied Mr Squeers, in a sentimental voice.
'Oh my eye, won't I give it to the boys!' exclaimed the interesting child, grasping his father's cane. 'Oh, father, won't I make 'em squeak again!'
It was a proud moment in Mr Squeers's life, when he witnessed that burst o_nthusiasm in his young child's mind, and saw in it a foreshadowing of hi_uture eminence. He pressed a penny into his hand, and gave vent to hi_eelings (as did his exemplary wife also), in a shout of approving laughter.
The infantine appeal to their common sympathies, at once restored cheerfulnes_o the conversation, and harmony to the company.
'He's a nasty stuck-up monkey, that's what I consider him,' said Mrs Squeers, reverting to Nicholas.
'Supposing he is,' said Squeers, 'he is as well stuck up in our schoolroom a_nywhere else, isn't he?—especially as he don't like it.'
'Well,' observed Mrs Squeers, 'there's something in that. I hope it'll brin_is pride down, and it shall be no fault of mine if it don't.'
Now, a proud usher in a Yorkshire school was such a very extraordinary an_naccountable thing to hear of,—any usher at all being a novelty; but a prou_ne, a being of whose existence the wildest imagination could never hav_reamed—that Miss Squeers, who seldom troubled herself with scholasti_atters, inquired with much curiosity who this Knuckleboy was, that gav_imself such airs.
'Nickleby,' said Squeers, spelling the name according to some eccentric syste_hich prevailed in his own mind; 'your mother always calls things and peopl_y their wrong names.'
'No matter for that,' said Mrs Squeers; 'I see them with right eyes, an_hat's quite enough for me. I watched him when you were laying on to littl_older this afternoon. He looked as black as thunder, all the while, and, on_ime, started up as if he had more than got it in his mind to make a rush a_ou. I saw him, though he thought I didn't.'
'Never mind that, father,' said Miss Squeers, as the head of the family wa_bout to reply. 'Who is the man?'
'Why, your father has got some nonsense in his head that he's the son of _oor gentleman that died the other day,' said Mrs Squeers.
'The son of a gentleman!'
'Yes; but I don't believe a word of it. If he's a gentleman's son at all, he'_ fondling, that's my opinion.'
'Mrs Squeers intended to say 'foundling,' but, as she frequently remarked whe_he made any such mistake, it would be all the same a hundred years hence; with which axiom of philosophy, indeed, she was in the constant habit o_onsoling the boys when they laboured under more than ordinary ill-usage.
'He's nothing of the kind,' said Squeers, in answer to the above remark, 'fo_is father was married to his mother years before he was born, and she i_live now. If he was, it would be no business of ours, for we make a very goo_riend by having him here; and if he likes to learn the boys anything beside_inding them, I have no objection I am sure.'
'I say again, I hate him worse than poison,' said Mrs Squeers vehemently.
'If you dislike him, my dear,' returned Squeers, 'I don't know anybody who ca_how dislike better than you, and of course there's no occasion, with him, t_ake the trouble to hide it.'
'I don't intend to, I assure you,' interposed Mrs S.
'That's right,' said Squeers; 'and if he has a touch of pride about him, as _hink he has, I don't believe there's woman in all England that can brin_nybody's spirit down, as quick as you can, my love.'
Mrs Squeers chuckled vastly on the receipt of these flattering compliments, and said, she hoped she had tamed a high spirit or two in her day. It is bu_ue to her character to say, that in conjunction with her estimable husband, she had broken many and many a one.
Miss Fanny Squeers carefully treasured up this, and much more conversation o_he same subject, until she retired for the night, when she questioned th_ungry servant, minutely, regarding the outward appearance and demeanour o_icholas; to which queries the girl returned such enthusiastic replies, coupled with so many laudatory remarks touching his beautiful dark eyes, an_is sweet smile, and his straight legs—upon which last-named articles she lai_articular stress; the general run of legs at Dotheboys Hall bein_rooked—that Miss Squeers was not long in arriving at the conclusion that th_ew usher must be a very remarkable person, or, as she herself significantl_hrased it, 'something quite out of the common.' And so Miss Squeers made u_er mind that she would take a personal observation of Nicholas the very nex_ay.
In pursuance of this design, the young lady watched the opportunity of he_other being engaged, and her father absent, and went accidentally into th_choolroom to get a pen mended: where, seeing nobody but Nicholas presidin_ver the boys, she blushed very deeply, and exhibited great confusion.
'I beg your pardon,' faltered Miss Squeers; 'I thought my father was—or migh_e—dear me, how very awkward!'
'Mr Squeers is out,' said Nicholas, by no means overcome by the apparition, unexpected though it was.
'Do you know will he be long, sir?' asked Miss Squeers, with bashfu_esitation.
'He said about an hour,' replied Nicholas—politely of course, but without an_ndication of being stricken to the heart by Miss Squeers's charms.
'I never knew anything happen so cross,' exclaimed the young lady. 'Thank you!
I am very sorry I intruded, I am sure. If I hadn't thought my father was here, I wouldn't upon any account have—it is very provoking—must look so ver_trange,' murmured Miss Squeers, blushing once more, and glancing, from th_en in her hand, to Nicholas at his desk, and back again.
'If that is all you want,' said Nicholas, pointing to the pen, and smiling, i_pite of himself, at the affected embarrassment of the schoolmaster'_aughter, 'perhaps I can supply his place.'
Miss Squeers glanced at the door, as if dubious of the propriety of advancin_ny nearer to an utter stranger; then round the schoolroom, as though in som_easure reassured by the presence of forty boys; and finally sidled up t_icholas and delivered the pen into his hand, with a most winning mixture o_eserve and condescension.
'Shall it be a hard or a soft nib?' inquired Nicholas, smiling to preven_imself from laughing outright.
'He HAS a beautiful smile,' thought Miss Squeers.
'Which did you say?' asked Nicholas.
'Dear me, I was thinking of something else for the moment, I declare,' replie_iss Squeers. 'Oh! as soft as possible, if you please.' With which words, Mis_queers sighed. It might be, to give Nicholas to understand that her heart wa_oft, and that the pen was wanted to match.
Upon these instructions Nicholas made the pen; when he gave it to Mis_queers, Miss Squeers dropped it; and when he stooped to pick it up, Mis_queers stopped also, and they knocked their heads together; whereat five-and- twenty little boys laughed aloud: being positively for the first and only tim_hat half-year.
'Very awkward of me,' said Nicholas, opening the door for the young lady'_etreat.
'Not at all, sir,' replied Miss Squeers; 'it was my fault. It was all m_oolish—a—a—good-morning!'
'Goodbye,' said Nicholas. 'The next I make for you, I hope will be made les_lumsily. Take care! You are biting the nib off now.'
'Really,' said Miss Squeers; 'so embarrassing that I scarcely know what I—ver_orry to give you so much trouble.'
'Not the least trouble in the world,' replied Nicholas, closing the schoolroo_oor.
'I never saw such legs in the whole course of my life!' said Miss Squeers, a_he walked away.
In fact, Miss Squeers was in love with Nicholas Nickleby.
To account for the rapidity with which this young lady had conceived a passio_or Nicholas, it may be necessary to state, that the friend from whom she ha_o recently returned, was a miller's daughter of only eighteen, who ha_ontracted herself unto the son of a small corn-factor, resident in th_earest market town. Miss Squeers and the miller's daughter, being fas_riends, had covenanted together some two years before, according to a custo_revalent among young ladies, that whoever was first engaged to be married, should straightway confide the mighty secret to the bosom of the other, befor_ommunicating it to any living soul, and bespeak her as bridesmaid withou_oss of time; in fulfilment of which pledge the miller's daughter, when he_ngagement was formed, came out express, at eleven o'clock at night as th_orn-factor's son made an offer of his hand and heart at twenty-five minute_ast ten by the Dutch clock in the kitchen, and rushed into Miss Squeers'_edroom with the gratifying intelligence. Now, Miss Squeers being five year_lder, and out of her teens (which is also a great matter), had, since, bee_ore than commonly anxious to return the compliment, and possess her frien_ith a similar secret; but, either in consequence of finding it hard to pleas_erself, or harder still to please anybody else, had never had an opportunit_o to do, inasmuch as she had no such secret to disclose. The little intervie_ith Nicholas had no sooner passed, as above described, however, than Mis_queers, putting on her bonnet, made her way, with great precipitation, to he_riend's house, and, upon a solemn renewal of divers old vows of secrecy, revealed how that she was— not exactly engaged, but going to be—to _entleman's son—(none of your corn-factors, but a gentleman's son of hig_escent)—who had come down as teacher to Dotheboys Hall, under most mysteriou_nd remarkable circumstances—indeed, as Miss Squeers more than once hinted sh_ad good reason to believe, induced, by the fame of her many charms, to see_er out, and woo and win her.
'Isn't it an extraordinary thing?' said Miss Squeers, emphasising th_djective strongly.
'Most extraordinary,' replied the friend. 'But what has he said to you?'
'Don't ask me what he said, my dear,' rejoined Miss Squeers. 'If you had onl_een his looks and smiles! I never was so overcome in all my life.'
'Did he look in this way?' inquired the miller's daughter, counterfeiting, a_early as she could, a favourite leer of the corn-factor.
'Very like that—only more genteel,' replied Miss Squeers.
'Ah!' said the friend, 'then he means something, depend on it.'
Miss Squeers, having slight misgivings on the subject, was by no means il_leased to be confirmed by a competent authority; and discovering, on furthe_onversation and comparison of notes, a great many points of resemblanc_etween the behaviour of Nicholas, and that of the corn-factor, grew s_xceedingly confidential, that she intrusted her friend with a vast number o_hings Nicholas had NOT said, which were all so very complimentary as to b_uite conclusive. Then, she dilated on the fearful hardship of having a fathe_nd mother strenuously opposed to her intended husband; on which unhapp_ircumstance she dwelt at great length; for the friend's father and mothe_ere quite agreeable to her being married, and the whole courtship was i_onsequence as flat and common-place an affair as it was possible to imagine.
'How I should like to see him!' exclaimed the friend.
'So you shall, 'Tilda,' replied Miss Squeers. 'I should consider myself one o_he most ungrateful creatures alive, if I denied you. I think mother's goin_way for two days to fetch some boys; and when she does, I'll ask you and Joh_p to tea, and have him to meet you.'
This was a charming idea, and having fully discussed it, the friends parted.
It so fell out, that Mrs Squeers's journey, to some distance, to fetch thre_ew boys, and dun the relations of two old ones for the balance of a smal_ccount, was fixed that very afternoon, for the next day but one; and on th_ext day but one, Mrs Squeers got up outside the coach, as it stopped t_hange at Greta Bridge, taking with her a small bundle containing something i_ bottle, and some sandwiches, and carrying besides a large white top-coat t_ear in the night-time; with which baggage she went her way.
Whenever such opportunities as these occurred, it was Squeers's custom t_rive over to the market town, every evening, on pretence of urgent business, and stop till ten or eleven o'clock at a tavern he much affected. As the part_as not in his way, therefore, but rather afforded a means of compromise wit_iss Squeers, he readily yielded his full assent thereunto, and willingl_ommunicated to Nicholas that he was expected to take his tea in the parlou_hat evening, at five o'clock.
To be sure Miss Squeers was in a desperate flutter as the time approached, an_o be sure she was dressed out to the best advantage: with her hair—it ha_ore than a tinge of red, and she wore it in a crop—curled in five distinc_ows, up to the very top of her head, and arranged dexterously over th_oubtful eye; to say nothing of the blue sash which floated down her back, o_he worked apron or the long gloves, or the green gauze scarf worn over on_houlder and under the other; or any of the numerous devices which were to b_s so many arrows to the heart of Nicholas. She had scarcely completed thes_rrangements to her entire satisfaction, when the friend arrived with a whity- brown parcel—flat and three- cornered—containing sundry small adornments whic_ere to be put on upstairs, and which the friend put on, talking incessantly.
When Miss Squeers had 'done' the friend's hair, the friend 'did' Mis_queers's hair, throwing in some striking improvements in the way of ringlet_own the neck; and then, when they were both touched up to their entir_atisfaction, they went downstairs in full state with the long gloves on, al_eady for company.
'Where's John, 'Tilda?' said Miss Squeers.
'Only gone home to clean himself,' replied the friend. 'He will be here by th_ime the tea's drawn.'
'I do so palpitate,' observed Miss Squeers.
'Ah! I know what it is,' replied the friend.
'I have not been used to it, you know, 'Tilda,' said Miss Squeers, applyin_er hand to the left side of her sash.
'You'll soon get the better of it, dear,' rejoined the friend. While they wer_alking thus, the hungry servant brought in the tea- things, and, soo_fterwards, somebody tapped at the room door.
'There he is!' cried Miss Squeers. 'Oh 'Tilda!'
'Hush!' said 'Tilda. 'Hem! Say, come in.'
'Come in,' cried Miss Squeers faintly. And in walked Nicholas.
'Good-evening,' said that young gentleman, all unconscious of his conquest. '_nderstood from Mr Squeers that—'
'Oh yes; it's all right,' interposed Miss Squeers. 'Father don't tea with us, but you won't mind that, I dare say.' (This was said archly.)
Nicholas opened his eyes at this, but he turned the matter off very coolly—no_aring, particularly, about anything just then—and went through the ceremon_f introduction to the miller's daughter with so much grace, that that youn_ady was lost in admiration.
'We are only waiting for one more gentleman,' said Miss Squeers, taking of_he teapot lid, and looking in, to see how the tea was getting on.
It was matter of equal moment to Nicholas whether they were waiting for on_entleman or twenty, so he received the intelligence with perfect unconcern; and, being out of spirits, and not seeing any especial reason why he shoul_ake himself agreeable, looked out of the window and sighed involuntarily.
As luck would have it, Miss Squeers's friend was of a playful turn, an_earing Nicholas sigh, she took it into her head to rally the lovers on thei_owness of spirits.
'But if it's caused by my being here,' said the young lady, 'don't mind me _it, for I'm quite as bad. You may go on just as you would if you were alone.'
''Tilda,' said Miss Squeers, colouring up to the top row of curls, 'I a_shamed of you;' and here the two friends burst into a variety of giggles, an_lanced from time to time, over the tops of their pocket-handkerchiefs, a_icholas, who from a state of unmixed astonishment, gradually fell into one o_rrepressible laughter— occasioned, partly by the bare notion of his being i_ove with Miss Squeers, and partly by the preposterous appearance an_ehaviour of the two girls. These two causes of merriment, taken together, struck him as being so keenly ridiculous, that, despite his miserabl_ondition, he laughed till he was thoroughly exhausted.
'Well,' thought Nicholas, 'as I am here, and seem expected, for some reason o_ther, to be amiable, it's of no use looking like a goose. I may as wel_ccommodate myself to the company.'
We blush to tell it; but his youthful spirits and vivacity getting, for th_ime, the better of his sad thoughts, he no sooner formed this resolution tha_e saluted Miss Squeers and the friend with great gallantry, and drawing _hair to the tea-table, began to make himself more at home than in al_robability an usher has ever done in his employer's house since ushers wer_irst invented.
The ladies were in the full delight of this altered behaviour on the part o_r Nickleby, when the expected swain arrived, with his hair very damp fro_ecent washing, and a clean shirt, whereof the collar might have belonged t_ome giant ancestor, forming, together with a white waistcoat of simila_imensions, the chief ornament of his person.
'Well, John,' said Miss Matilda Price (which, by-the-bye, was the name of th_iller's daughter).
'Weel,' said John with a grin that even the collar could not conceal.
'I beg your pardon,' interposed Miss Squeers, hastening to do the honours. 'M_ickleby—Mr John Browdie.'
'Servant, sir,' said John, who was something over six feet high, with a fac_nd body rather above the due proportion than below it.
'Yours to command, sir,' replied Nicholas, making fearful ravages on the brea_nd butter.
Mr Browdie was not a gentleman of great conversational powers, so he grinne_wice more, and having now bestowed his customary mark of recognition on ever_erson in company, grinned at nothing in particular, and helped himself t_ood.
'Old wooman awa', bean't she?' said Mr Browdie, with his mouth full.
Miss Squeers nodded assent.
Mr Browdie gave a grin of special width, as if he thought that really wa_omething to laugh at, and went to work at the bread and butter with increase_igour. It was quite a sight to behold how he and Nicholas emptied the plat_etween them.
'Ye wean't get bread and butther ev'ry neight, I expect, mun,' said M_rowdie, after he had sat staring at Nicholas a long time over the empt_late.
Nicholas bit his lip, and coloured, but affected not to hear the remark.
'Ecod,' said Mr Browdie, laughing boisterously, 'they dean't put too muc_ntiv'em. Ye'll be nowt but skeen and boans if you stop here long eneaf. Ho!
'You are facetious, sir,' said Nicholas, scornfully.
'Na; I dean't know,' replied Mr Browdie, 'but t'oother teacher, 'cod he wur _earn 'un, he wur.' The recollection of the last teacher's leanness seemed t_fford Mr Browdie the most exquisite delight, for he laughed until he found i_ecessary to apply his coat-cuffs to his eyes.
'I don't know whether your perceptions are quite keen enough, Mr Browdie, t_nable you to understand that your remarks are offensive,' said Nicholas in _owering passion, 'but if they are, have the goodness to—'
'If you say another word, John,' shrieked Miss Price, stopping her admirer'_outh as he was about to interrupt, 'only half a word, I'll never forgive you, or speak to you again.'
'Weel, my lass, I dean't care aboot 'un,' said the corn-factor, bestowing _earty kiss on Miss Matilda; 'let 'un gang on, let 'un gang on.'
It now became Miss Squeers's turn to intercede with Nicholas, which she di_ith many symptoms of alarm and horror; the effect of the double intercessio_as, that he and John Browdie shook hands across the table with much gravity; and such was the imposing nature of the ceremonial, that Miss Squeers wa_vercome and shed tears.
'What's the matter, Fanny?' said Miss Price.
'Nothing, 'Tilda,' replied Miss Squeers, sobbing.
'There never was any danger,' said Miss Price, 'was there, Mr Nickleby?'
'None at all,' replied Nicholas. 'Absurd.'
'That's right,' whispered Miss Price, 'say something kind to her, and she'l_oon come round. Here! Shall John and I go into the little kitchen, and com_ack presently?'
'Not on any account,' rejoined Nicholas, quite alarmed at the proposition.
'What on earth should you do that for?'
'Well,' said Miss Price, beckoning him aside, and speaking with some degree o_ontempt—'you ARE a one to keep company.'
'What do you mean?' said Nicholas; 'I am not a one to keep company at all—her_t all events. I can't make this out.'
'No, nor I neither," rejoined Miss Price; 'but men are always fickle, an_lways were, and always will be; that I can make out, very easily.'
'Fickle!' cried Nicholas; 'what do you suppose? You don't mean to say that yo_hink—'
'Oh no, I think nothing at all,' retorted Miss Price, pettishly. 'Look at her, dressed so beautiful and looking so well—really ALMOST handsome. I am ashame_t you.'
'My dear girl, what have I got to do with her dressing beautifully
or looking well?' inquired Nicholas.
'Come, don't call me a dear girl,' said Miss Price—smiling a little though, for she was pretty, and a coquette too in her small way, and Nicholas wa_ood-looking, and she supposed him the property of somebody else, which wer_ll reasons why she should be gratified to think she had made an impression o_im,—'or Fanny will be saying it's my fault. Come; we're going to have a gam_t cards.' Pronouncing these last words aloud, she tripped away and rejoine_he big Yorkshireman.
This was wholly unintelligible to Nicholas, who had no other distinc_mpression on his mind at the moment, than that Miss Squeers was an ordinary- looking girl, and her friend Miss Price a pretty one; but he had not time t_nlighten himself by reflection, for the hearth being by this time swept up, and the candle snuffed, they sat down to play speculation.
'There are only four of us, 'Tilda,' said Miss Squeers, looking slyly a_icholas; 'so we had better go partners, two against two.'
'What do you say, Mr Nickleby?' inquired Miss Price.
'With all the pleasure in life,' replied Nicholas. And so saying, quit_nconscious of his heinous offence, he amalgamated into one common heap thos_ortions of a Dotheboys Hall card of terms, which represented his ow_ounters, and those allotted to Miss Price, respectively.
'Mr Browdie,' said Miss Squeers hysterically, 'shall we make a bank agains_hem?'
The Yorkshireman assented—apparently quite overwhelmed by the new usher'_mpudence—and Miss Squeers darted a spiteful look at her friend, and giggle_onvulsively.
The deal fell to Nicholas, and the hand prospered.
'We intend to win everything,' said he.
''Tilda HAS won something she didn't expect, I think, haven't you, dear?' sai_iss Squeers, maliciously.
'Only a dozen and eight, love,' replied Miss Price, affecting to take th_uestion in a literal sense.
'How dull you are tonight!' sneered Miss Squeers.
'No, indeed,' replied Miss Price, 'I am in excellent spirits. I was thinkin_OU seemed out of sorts.'
'Me!' cried Miss Squeers, biting her lips, and trembling with very jealousy.
'That's well,' remarked Miss Price. 'Your hair's coming out of curl, dear.'
'Never mind me,' tittered Miss Squeers; 'you had better attend to you_artner.'
'Thank you for reminding her,' said Nicholas. 'So she had.'
The Yorkshireman flattened his nose, once or twice, with his clenched fist, a_f to keep his hand in, till he had an opportunity of exercising it upon th_eatures of some other gentleman; and Miss Squeers tossed her head with suc_ndignation, that the gust of wind raised by the multitudinous curls i_otion, nearly blew the candle out.
'I never had such luck, really,' exclaimed coquettish Miss Price, afte_nother hand or two. 'It's all along of you, Mr Nickleby, I think. I shoul_ike to have you for a partner always.'
'I wish you had.'
'You'll have a bad wife, though, if you always win at cards,' said Miss Price.
'Not if your wish is gratified,' replied Nicholas. 'I am sure I shall have _ood one in that case.'
To see how Miss Squeers tossed her head, and the corn-factor flattened hi_ose, while this conversation was carrying on! It would have been worth _mall annuity to have beheld that; let alone Miss Price's evident joy a_aking them jealous, and Nicholas Nickleby's happy unconsciousness of makin_nybody uncomfortable.
'We have all the talking to ourselves, it seems,' said Nicholas, looking good- humouredly round the table as he took up the cards for a fresh deal.
'You do it so well,' tittered Miss Squeers, 'that it would be a pity t_nterrupt, wouldn't it, Mr Browdie? He! he! he!'
'Nay,' said Nicholas, 'we do it in default of having anybody else to talk to.'
'We'll talk to you, you know, if you'll say anything,' said Miss Price.
'Thank you, 'Tilda, dear,' retorted Miss Squeers, majestically.
'Or you can talk to each other, if you don't choose to talk to us,' said Mis_rice, rallying her dear friend. 'John, why don't you say something?'
'Say summat?' repeated the Yorkshireman.
'Ay, and not sit there so silent and glum.'
'Weel, then!' said the Yorkshireman, striking the table heavily with his fist,
'what I say's this—Dang my boans and boddy, if I stan' this ony longer. Do y_ang whoam wi' me, and do yon loight an' toight young whipster look sharp ou_or a brokken head, next time he cums under my hond.'
'Mercy on us, what's all this?' cried Miss Price, in affected astonishment.
'Cum whoam, tell 'e, cum whoam,' replied the Yorkshireman, sternly. And as h_elivered the reply, Miss Squeers burst into a shower of tears; arising i_art from desperate vexation, and in part from an impotent desire to lacerat_omebody's countenance with her fair finger-nails.
This state of things had been brought about by divers means and workings. Mis_queers had brought it about, by aspiring to the high state and condition o_eing matrimonially engaged, without good grounds for so doing; Miss Price ha_rought it about, by indulging in three motives of action: first, a desire t_unish her friend for laying claim to a rivalship in dignity, having no goo_itle: secondly, the gratification of her own vanity, in receiving th_ompliments of a smart young man: and thirdly, a wish to convince the corn- factor of the great danger he ran, in deferring the celebration of thei_xpected nuptials; while Nicholas had brought it about, by half an hour'_aiety and thoughtlessness, and a very sincere desire to avoid the imputatio_f inclining at all to Miss Squeers. So the means employed, and the en_roduced, were alike the most natural in the world; for young ladies will loo_orward to being married, and will jostle each other in the race to the altar, and will avail themselves of all opportunities of displaying their ow_ttractions to the best advantage, down to the very end of time, as they hav_one from its beginning.
'Why, and here's Fanny in tears now!' exclaimed Miss Price, as if in fres_mazement. 'What can be the matter?'
'Oh! you don't know, miss, of course you don't know. Pray don't troubl_ourself to inquire,' said Miss Squeers, producing that change of countenanc_hich children call making a face.
'Well, I'm sure!' exclaimed Miss Price.
'And who cares whether you are sure or not, ma'am?' retorted Miss Squeers, making another face.
'You are monstrous polite, ma'am,' said Miss Price.
'I shall not come to you to take lessons in the art, ma'am!' retorted Mis_queers.
'You needn't take the trouble to make yourself plainer than you are, ma'am, however,' rejoined Miss Price, 'because that's quite unnecessary.'
Miss Squeers, in reply, turned very red, and thanked God that she hadn't go_he bold faces of some people. Miss Price, in rejoinder, congratulated hersel_pon not being possessed of the envious feeling of other people; whereupo_iss Squeers made some general remark touching the danger of associating wit_ow persons; in which Miss Price entirely coincided: observing that it wa_ery true indeed, and she had thought so a long time.
''Tilda,' exclaimed Miss Squeers with dignity, 'I hate you.'
'Ah! There's no love lost between us, I assure you,' said Miss Price, tyin_er bonnet strings with a jerk. 'You'll cry your eyes out, when I'm gone; yo_now you will.'
'I scorn your words, Minx,' said Miss Squeers.
'You pay me a great compliment when you say so,' answered the miller'_aughter, curtseying very low. 'Wish you a very good- night, ma'am, an_leasant dreams attend your sleep!'
With this parting benediction, Miss Price swept from the room, followed by th_uge Yorkshireman, who exchanged with Nicholas, at parting, that peculiarl_xpressive scowl with which the cut-and- thrust counts, in melodramati_erformances, inform each other they will meet again.
They were no sooner gone, than Miss Squeers fulfilled the prediction of he_uondam friend by giving vent to a most copious burst of tears, and utterin_arious dismal lamentations and incoherent words. Nicholas stood looking o_or a few seconds, rather doubtful what to do, but feeling uncertain whethe_he fit would end in his being embraced, or scratched, and considering tha_ither infliction would be equally agreeable, he walked off very quietly whil_iss Squeers was moaning in her pocket-handkerchief.
'This is one consequence,' thought Nicholas, when he had groped his way to th_ark sleeping-room, 'of my cursed readiness to adapt myself to any society i_hich chance carries me. If I had sat mute and motionless, as I might hav_one, this would not have happened.'
He listened for a few minutes, but all was quiet.
'I was glad,' he murmured, 'to grasp at any relief from the sight of thi_readful place, or the presence of its vile master. I have set these people b_he ears, and made two new enemies, where, Heaven knows, I needed none. Well, it is a just punishment for having forgotten, even for an hour, what is aroun_e now!'
So saying, he felt his way among the throng of weary-hearted sleepers, an_rept into his poor bed.