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Nicholas seeks to employ himself in a New Capacity, and being
unsuccessful, accepts an engagement as Tutor in a Private Family
The first care of Nicholas, next morning, was, to look after some
room in which, until better times dawned upon him, he could contrive
to exist, without trenching upon the hospitality of Newman Noggs,
who would have slept upon the stairs with pleasure, so that his
young friend was accommodated.
The vacant apartment to which the bill in the parlour window bore
reference, appeared, on inquiry, to be a small back-room on the
second floor, reclaimed from the leads, and overlooking a soot-
bespeckled prospect of tiles and chimney-pots. For the letting of
this portion of the house from week to week, on reasonable terms,
the parlour lodger was empowered to treat; he being deputed by the
landlord to dispose of the rooms as they became vacant, and to keep
a sharp look-out that the lodgers didn't run away. As a means of
securing the punctual discharge of which last service he was
permitted to live rent-free, lest he should at any time be tempted
to run away himself.
Of this chamber, Nicholas became the tenant; and having hired a few
common articles of furniture from a neighbouring broker, and paid
the first week's hire in advance, out of a small fund raised by the
conversion of some spare clothes into ready money, he sat himself
down to ruminate upon his prospects, which, like the prospect
outside his window, were sufficiently confined and dingy. As they
by no means improved on better acquaintance, and as familiarity
breeds contempt, he resolved to banish them from his thoughts by
dint of hard walking. So, taking up his hat, and leaving poor Smike
to arrange and rearrange the room with as much delight as if it had
been the costliest palace, he betook himself to the streets, and
mingled with the crowd which thronged them.
Although a man may lose a sense of his own importance when he is a
mere unit among a busy throng, all utterly regardless of him, it by
no means follows that he can dispossess himself, with equal
facility, of a very strong sense of the importance and magnitude of
his cares. The unhappy state of his own affairs was the one idea
which occupied the brain of Nicholas, walk as fast as he would; and
when he tried to dislodge it by speculating on the situation and
prospects of the people who surrounded him, he caught himself, in a
few seconds, contrasting their condition with his own, and gliding
almost imperceptibly back into his old train of thought again.
Occupied in these reflections, as he was making his way along one of
the great public thoroughfares of London, he chanced to raise his
eyes to a blue board, whereon was inscribed, in characters of gold,
'General Agency Office; for places and situations of all kinds
inquire within.' It was a shop-front, fitted up with a gauze blind
and an inner door; and in the window hung a long and tempting array
of written placards, announcing vacant places of every grade, from a
secretary's to a foot-boy's.
Nicholas halted, instinctively, before this temple of promise, and
ran his eye over the capital-text openings in life which were so
profusely displayed. When he had completed his survey he walked on
a little way, and then back, and then on again; at length, after
pausing irresolutely several times before the door of the General
Agency Office, he made up his mind, and stepped in.
He found himself in a little floor-clothed room, with a high desk
railed off in one corner, behind which sat a lean youth with cunning
eyes and a protruding chin, whose performances in capital-text
darkened the window. He had a thick ledger lying open before him,
and with the fingers of his right hand inserted between the leaves,
and his eyes fixed on a very fat old lady in a mob-cap--evidently
the proprietress of the establishment--who was airing herself at the
fire, seemed to be only waiting her directions to refer to some
entries contained within its rusty clasps.
As there was a board outside, which acquainted the public that
servants-of-all-work were perpetually in waiting to be hired from
ten till four, Nicholas knew at once that some half-dozen strong
young women, each with pattens and an umbrella, who were sitting
upon a form in one corner, were in attendance for that purpose:
especially as the poor things looked anxious and weary. He was not
quite so certain of the callings and stations of two smart young
ladies who were in conversation with the fat lady before the fire,
until--having sat himself down in a corner, and remarked that he
would wait until the other customers had been served--the fat lady
resumed the dialogue which his entrance had interrupted.
'Cook, Tom,' said the fat lady, still airing herself as aforesaid.
'Cook,' said Tom, turning over some leaves of the ledger. 'Well!'
'Read out an easy place or two,' said the fat lady.
'Pick out very light ones, if you please, young man,' interposed a
genteel female, in shepherd's-plaid boots, who appeared to be the
'"Mrs Marker,"' said Tom, reading, '"Russell Place, Russell Square;
offers eighteen guineas; tea and sugar found. Two in family, and
see very little company. Five servants kept. No man. No
'Oh Lor!' tittered the client. 'THAT won't do. Read another, young
man, will you?'
'"Mrs Wrymug,"' said Tom, '"Pleasant Place, Finsbury. Wages, twelve
guineas. No tea, no sugar. Serious family--"'
'Ah! you needn't mind reading that,' interrupted the client.
'"Three serious footmen,"' said Tom, impressively.
'Three? did you say?' asked the client in an altered tone.
'Three serious footmen,' replied Tom. '"Cook, housemaid, and
nursemaid; each female servant required to join the Little Bethel
Congregation three times every Sunday--with a serious footman. If
the cook is more serious than the footman, she will be expected to
improve the footman; if the footman is more serious than the cook,
he will be expected to improve the cook."'
'I'll take the address of that place,' said the client; 'I don't
know but what it mightn't suit me pretty well.'
'Here's another,' remarked Tom, turning over the leaves. '"Family
of Mr Gallanbile, MP. Fifteen guineas, tea and sugar, and servants
allowed to see male cousins, if godly. Note. Cold dinner in the
kitchen on the Sabbath, Mr Gallanbile being devoted to the
Observance question. No victuals whatever cooked on the Lord's Day,
with the exception of dinner for Mr and Mrs Gallanbile, which, being
a work of piety and necessity, is exempted. Mr Gallanbile dines
late on the day of rest, in order to prevent the sinfulness of the
cook's dressing herself."'
'I don't think that'll answer as well as the other,' said the
client, after a little whispering with her friend. 'I'll take the
other direction, if you please, young man. I can but come back
again, if it don't do.'
Tom made out the address, as requested, and the genteel client,
having satisfied the fat lady with a small fee, meanwhile, went away
accompanied by her friend.
As Nicholas opened his mouth, to request the young man to turn to
letter S, and let him know what secretaryships remained undisposed
of, there came into the office an applicant, in whose favour he
immediately retired, and whose appearance both surprised and
This was a young lady who could be scarcely eighteen, of very slight
and delicate figure, but exquisitely shaped, who, walking timidly up
to the desk, made an inquiry, in a very low tone of voice, relative
to some situation as governess, or companion to a lady. She raised
her veil, for an instant, while she preferred the inquiry, and
disclosed a countenance of most uncommon beauty, though shaded by a
cloud of sadness, which, in one so young, was doubly remarkable.
Having received a card of reference to some person on the books, she
made the usual acknowledgment, and glided away.
She was neatly, but very quietly attired; so much so, indeed, that
it seemed as though her dress, if it had been worn by one who
imparted fewer graces of her own to it, might have looked poor and
shabby. Her attendant--for she had one--was a red-faced, round-
eyed, slovenly girl, who, from a certain roughness about the bare
arms that peeped from under her draggled shawl, and the half-washed-
out traces of smut and blacklead which tattooed her countenance, was
clearly of a kin with the servants-of-all-work on the form: between
whom and herself there had passed various grins and glances,
indicative of the freemasonry of the craft.
This girl followed her mistress; and, before Nicholas had recovered
from the first effects of his surprise and admiration, the young
lady was gone. It is not a matter of such complete and utter
improbability as some sober people may think, that he would have
followed them out, had he not been restrained by what passed between
the fat lady and her book-keeper.
'When is she coming again, Tom?' asked the fat lady.
'Tomorrow morning,' replied Tom, mending his pen.
'Where have you sent her to?' asked the fat lady.
'Mrs Clark's,' replied Tom.
'She'll have a nice life of it, if she goes there,' observed the fat
lady, taking a pinch of snuff from a tin box.
Tom made no other reply than thrusting his tongue into his cheek,
and pointing the feather of his pen towards Nicholas--reminders
which elicited from the fat lady an inquiry, of 'Now, sir, what can
we do for YOU?'
Nicholas briefly replied, that he wanted to know whether there was
any such post to be had, as secretary or amanuensis to a gentleman.
'Any such!' rejoined the mistress; 'a-dozen-such. An't there, Tom?'
'I should think so,' answered that young gentleman; and as he said
it, he winked towards Nicholas, with a degree of familiarity which
he, no doubt, intended for a rather flattering compliment, but with
which Nicholas was most ungratefully disgusted.
Upon reference to the book, it appeared that the dozen secretaryships
had dwindled down to one. Mr Gregsbury, the great member of
parliament, of Manchester Buildings, Westminster, wanted a
young man, to keep his papers and correspondence in order; and
Nicholas was exactly the sort of young man that Mr Gregsbury wanted.
'I don't know what the terms are, as he said he'd settle them
himself with the party,' observed the fat lady; 'but they must be
pretty good ones, because he's a member of parliament.'
Inexperienced as he was, Nicholas did not feel quite assured of the
force of this reasoning, or the justice of this conclusion; but
without troubling himself to question it, he took down the address,
and resolved to wait upon Mr Gregsbury without delay.
'I don't know what the number is,' said Tom; 'but Manchester
Buildings isn't a large place; and if the worst comes to the worst
it won't take you very long to knock at all the doors on both sides
of the way till you find him out. I say, what a good-looking gal
that was, wasn't she?'
'What girl?' demanded Nicholas, sternly.
'Oh yes. I know--what gal, eh?' whispered Tom, shutting one eye,
and cocking his chin in the air. 'You didn't see her, you didn't--I
say, don't you wish you was me, when she comes tomorrow morning?'
Nicholas looked at the ugly clerk, as if he had a mind to reward his
admiration of the young lady by beating the ledger about his ears,
but he refrained, and strode haughtily out of the office; setting at
defiance, in his indignation, those ancient laws of chivalry, which
not only made it proper and lawful for all good knights to hear the
praise of the ladies to whom they were devoted, but rendered it
incumbent upon them to roam about the world, and knock at head all
such matter-of-fact and un-poetical characters, as declined to
exalt, above all the earth, damsels whom they had never chanced to
look upon or hear of--as if that were any excuse!
Thinking no longer of his own misfortunes, but wondering what could
be those of the beautiful girl he had seen, Nicholas, with many
wrong turns, and many inquiries, and almost as many misdirections,
bent his steps towards the place whither he had been directed.
Within the precincts of the ancient city of Westminster, and within
half a quarter of a mile of its ancient sanctuary, is a narrow and
dirty region, the sanctuary of the smaller members of Parliament in
modern days. It is all comprised in one street of gloomy lodging-
houses, from whose windows, in vacation-time, there frown long
melancholy rows of bills, which say, as plainly as did the
countenances of their occupiers, ranged on ministerial and
opposition benches in the session which slumbers with its fathers,
'To Let', 'To Let'. In busier periods of the year these bills
disappear, and the houses swarm with legislators. There are
legislators in the parlours, in the first floor, in the second, in
the third, in the garrets; the small apartments reek with the breath
of deputations and delegates. In damp weather, the place is
rendered close, by the steams of moist acts of parliament and frouzy
petitions; general postmen grow faint as they enter its infected
limits, and shabby figures in quest of franks, flit restlessly to
and fro like the troubled ghosts of Complete Letter-writers
departed. This is Manchester Buildings; and here, at all hours of
the night, may be heard the rattling of latch-keys in their
respective keyholes: with now and then--when a gust of wind sweeping
across the water which washes the Buildings' feet, impels the sound
towards its entrance--the weak, shrill voice of some young member
practising tomorrow's speech. All the livelong day, there is a
grinding of organs and clashing and clanging of little boxes of
music; for Manchester Buildings is an eel-pot, which has no outlet
but its awkward mouth--a case-bottle which has no thoroughfare, and
a short and narrow neck--and in this respect it may be typical of
the fate of some few among its more adventurous residents, who,
after wriggling themselves into Parliament by violent efforts and
contortions, find that it, too, is no thoroughfare for them; that,
like Manchester Buildings, it leads to nothing beyond itself; and
that they are fain at last to back out, no wiser, no richer, not one
whit more famous, than they went in.
Into Manchester Buildings Nicholas turned, with the address of the
great Mr Gregsbury in his hand. As there was a stream of people
pouring into a shabby house not far from the entrance, he waited
until they had made their way in, and then making up to the servant,
ventured to inquire if he knew where Mr Gregsbury lived.
The servant was a very pale, shabby boy, who looked as if he had
slept underground from his infancy, as very likely he had. 'Mr
Gregsbury?' said he; 'Mr Gregsbury lodges here. It's all right.
Nicholas thought he might as well get in while he could, so in he
walked; and he had no sooner done so, than the boy shut the door,
and made off.
This was odd enough: but what was more embarrassing was, that all
along the passage, and all along the narrow stairs, blocking up the
window, and making the dark entry darker still, was a confused crowd
of persons with great importance depicted in their looks; who were,
to all appearance, waiting in silent expectation of some coming
event. From time to time, one man would whisper his neighbour, or a
little group would whisper together, and then the whisperers would
nod fiercely to each other, or give their heads a relentless shake,
as if they were bent upon doing something very desperate, and were
determined not to be put off, whatever happened.
As a few minutes elapsed without anything occurring to explain this
phenomenon, and as he felt his own position a peculiarly
uncomfortable one, Nicholas was on the point of seeking some
information from the man next him, when a sudden move was visible on
the stairs, and a voice was heard to cry, 'Now, gentleman, have the
goodness to walk up!'
So far from walking up, the gentlemen on the stairs began to walk
down with great alacrity, and to entreat, with extraordinary
politeness, that the gentlemen nearest the street would go first;
the gentlemen nearest the street retorted, with equal courtesy, that
they couldn't think of such a thing on any account; but they did it,
without thinking of it, inasmuch as the other gentlemen pressing
some half-dozen (among whom was Nicholas) forward, and closing up
behind, pushed them, not merely up the stairs, but into the very
sitting-room of Mr Gregsbury, which they were thus compelled to
enter with most unseemly precipitation, and without the means of
retreat; the press behind them, more than filling the apartment.
'Gentlemen,' said Mr Gregsbury, 'you are welcome. I am rejoiced to
For a gentleman who was rejoiced to see a body of visitors, Mr
Gregsbury looked as uncomfortable as might be; but perhaps this was
occasioned by senatorial gravity, and a statesmanlike habit of
keeping his feelings under control. He was a tough, burly, thick-
headed gentleman, with a loud voice, a pompous manner, a tolerable
command of sentences with no meaning in them, and, in short, every
requisite for a very good member indeed.
'Now, gentlemen,' said Mr Gregsbury, tossing a great bundle of
papers into a wicker basket at his feet, and throwing himself back
in his chair with his arms over the elbows, 'you are dissatisfied
with my conduct, I see by the newspapers.'
'Yes, Mr Gregsbury, we are,' said a plump old gentleman in a violent
heat, bursting out of the throng, and planting himself in the front.
'Do my eyes deceive me,' said Mr Gregsbury, looking towards the
speaker, 'or is that my old friend Pugstyles?'
'I am that man, and no other, sir,' replied the plump old gentleman.
'Give me your hand, my worthy friend,' said Mr Gregsbury.
'Pugstyles, my dear friend, I am very sorry to see you here.'
'I am very sorry to be here, sir,' said Mr Pugstyles; 'but your
conduct, Mr Gregsbury, has rendered this deputation from your
constituents imperatively necessary.'
'My conduct, Pugstyles,' said Mr Gregsbury, looking round upon the
deputation with gracious magnanimity--'my conduct has been, and ever
will be, regulated by a sincere regard for the true and real
interests of this great and happy country. Whether I look at home,
or abroad; whether I behold the peaceful industrious communities of
our island home: her rivers covered with steamboats, her roads with
locomotives, her streets with cabs, her skies with balloons of a
power and magnitude hitherto unknown in the history of aeronautics
in this or any other nation--I say, whether I look merely at home,
or, stretching my eyes farther, contemplate the boundless prospect
of conquest and possession--achieved by British perseverance and
British valour--which is outspread before me, I clasp my hands, and
turning my eyes to the broad expanse above my head, exclaim, "Thank
Heaven, I am a Briton!"'
The time had been, when this burst of enthusiasm would have been
cheered to the very echo; but now, the deputation received it with
chilling coldness. The general impression seemed to be, that as an
explanation of Mr Gregsbury's political conduct, it did not enter
quite enough into detail; and one gentleman in the rear did not
scruple to remark aloud, that, for his purpose, it savoured rather
too much of a 'gammon' tendency.
'The meaning of that term--gammon,' said Mr Gregsbury, 'is unknown
to me. If it means that I grow a little too fervid, or perhaps even
hyperbolical, in extolling my native land, I admit the full justice
of the remark. I AM proud of this free and happy country. My form
dilates, my eye glistens, my breast heaves, my heart swells, my
bosom burns, when I call to mind her greatness and her glory.'
'We wish, sir,' remarked Mr Pugstyles, calmly, 'to ask you a few
'If you please, gentlemen; my time is yours--and my country's--and
my country's--' said Mr Gregsbury.
This permission being conceded, Mr Pugstyles put on his spectacles,
and referred to a written paper which he drew from his pocket;
whereupon nearly every other member of the deputation pulled a
written paper from HIS pocket, to check Mr Pugstyles off, as he read
This done, Mr Pugstyles proceeded to business.
'Question number one.--Whether, sir, you did not give a voluntary
pledge previous to your election, that in event of your being
returned, you would immediately put down the practice of coughing
and groaning in the House of Commons. And whether you did not
submit to be coughed and groaned down in the very first debate of
the session, and have since made no effort to effect a reform in
this respect? Whether you did not also pledge yourself to astonish
the government, and make them shrink in their shoes? And whether
you have astonished them, and made them shrink in their shoes, or
'Go on to the next one, my dear Pugstyles,' said Mr Gregsbury.
'Have you any explanation to offer with reference to that question,
sir?' asked Mr Pugstyles.
'Certainly not,' said Mr Gregsbury.
The members of the deputation looked fiercely at each other, and
afterwards at the member. 'Dear Pugstyles' having taken a very long
stare at Mr Gregsbury over the tops of his spectacles, resumed his
list of inquiries.
'Question number two.--Whether, sir, you did not likewise give a
voluntary pledge that you would support your colleague on every
occasion; and whether you did not, the night before last, desert him
and vote upon the other side, because the wife of a leader on that
other side had invited Mrs Gregsbury to an evening party?'
'Go on,' said Mr Gregsbury.
'Nothing to say on that, either, sir?' asked the spokesman.
'Nothing whatever,' replied Mr Gregsbury. The deputation, who had
only seen him at canvassing or election time, were struck dumb by
his coolness. He didn't appear like the same man; then he was all
milk and honey; now he was all starch and vinegar. But men ARE so
different at different times!
'Question number three--and last,' said Mr Pugstyles, emphatically.
'Whether, sir, you did not state upon the hustings, that it was your
firm and determined intention to oppose everything proposed; to
divide the house upon every question, to move for returns on every
subject, to place a motion on the books every day, and, in short, in
your own memorable words, to play the very devil with everything and
everybody?' With this comprehensive inquiry, Mr Pugstyles folded up
his list of questions, as did all his backers.
Mr Gregsbury reflected, blew his nose, threw himself further back in
his chair, came forward again, leaning his elbows on the table, made
a triangle with his two thumbs and his two forefingers, and tapping
his nose with the apex thereof, replied (smiling as he said it), 'I
At this unexpected answer, a hoarse murmur arose from the
deputation; and the same gentleman who had expressed an opinion
relative to the gammoning nature of the introductory speech, again
made a monosyllabic demonstration, by growling out 'Resign!' Which
growl being taken up by his fellows, swelled into a very earnest and
'I am requested, sir, to express a hope,' said Mr Pugstyles, with a
distant bow, 'that on receiving a requisition to that effect from a
great majority of your constituents, you will not object at once to
resign your seat in favour of some candidate whom they think they
can better trust.'
To this, Mr Gregsbury read the following reply, which, anticipating
the request, he had composed in the form of a letter, whereof copies
had been made to send round to the newspapers.
'MY DEAR MR PUGSTYLES,
'Next to the welfare of our beloved island--this great and free
and happy country, whose powers and resources are, I sincerely
believe, illimitable--I value that noble independence which is
an Englishman's proudest boast, and which I fondly hope to bequeath
to my children, untarnished and unsullied. Actuated by no personal
motives, but moved only by high and great constitutional
considerations; which I will not attempt to explain, for they are
really beneath the comprehension of those who have not made
themselves masters, as I have, of the intricate and arduous
study of politics; I would rather keep my seat, and intend doing so.
'Will you do me the favour to present my compliments to the
constituent body, and acquaint them with this circumstance?
'With great esteem,
'My dear Mr Pugstyles,
'Then you will not resign, under any circumstances?' asked the
Mr Gregsbury smiled, and shook his head.
'Then, good-morning, sir,' said Pugstyles, angrily.
'Heaven bless you!' said Mr Gregsbury. And the deputation, with
many growls and scowls, filed off as quickly as the narrowness of
the staircase would allow of their getting down.
The last man being gone, Mr Gregsbury rubbed his hands and chuckled,
as merry fellows will, when they think they have said or done a more
than commonly good thing; he was so engrossed in this self-
congratulation, that he did not observe that Nicholas had been left
behind in the shadow of the window-curtains, until that young
gentleman, fearing he might otherwise overhear some soliloquy
intended to have no listeners, coughed twice or thrice, to attract
the member's notice.
'What's that?' said Mr Gregsbury, in sharp accents.
Nicholas stepped forward, and bowed.
'What do you do here, sir?' asked Mr Gregsbury; 'a spy upon my
privacy! A concealed voter! You have heard my answer, sir. Pray
follow the deputation.'
'I should have done so, if I had belonged to it, but I do not,' said
'Then how came you here, sir?' was the natural inquiry of Mr
Gregsbury, MP. 'And where the devil have you come from, sir?' was
the question which followed it.
'I brought this card from the General Agency Office, sir,' said
Nicholas, 'wishing to offer myself as your secretary, and
understanding that you stood in need of one.'
'That's all you have come for, is it?' said Mr Gregsbury, eyeing him
in some doubt.
Nicholas replied in the affirmative.
'You have no connection with any of those rascally papers have you?'
said Mr Gregsbury. 'You didn't get into the room, to hear what was
going forward, and put it in print, eh?'
'I have no connection, I am sorry to say, with anything at present,'
rejoined Nicholas,--politely enough, but quite at his ease.
'Oh!' said Mr Gregsbury. 'How did you find your way up here, then?'
Nicholas related how he had been forced up by the deputation.
'That was the way, was it?' said Mr Gregsbury. 'Sit down.'
Nicholas took a chair, and Mr Gregsbury stared at him for a long
time, as if to make certain, before he asked any further questions,
that there were no objections to his outward appearance.
'You want to be my secretary, do you?' he said at length.
'I wish to be employed in that capacity, sir,' replied Nicholas.
'Well,' said Mr Gregsbury; 'now what can you do?'
'I suppose,' replied Nicholas, smiling, 'that I can do what usually
falls to the lot of other secretaries.'
'What's that?' inquired Mr Gregsbury.
'What is it?' replied Nicholas.
'Ah! What is it?' retorted the member, looking shrewdly at him,
with his head on one side.
'A secretary's duties are rather difficult to define, perhaps,' said
Nicholas, considering. 'They include, I presume, correspondence?'
'Good,' interposed Mr Gregsbury.
'The arrangement of papers and documents?'
'Occasionally, perhaps, the writing from your dictation; and
possibly, sir,' said Nicholas, with a half-smile, 'the copying of
your speech for some public journal, when you have made one of more
than usual importance.'
'Certainly,' rejoined Mr Gregsbury. 'What else?'
'Really,' said Nicholas, after a moment's reflection, 'I am not
able, at this instant, to recapitulate any other duty of a
secretary, beyond the general one of making himself as agreeable and
useful to his employer as he can, consistently with his own
respectability, and without overstepping that line of duties which
he undertakes to perform, and which the designation of his office is
usually understood to imply.'
Mr Gregsbury looked fixedly at Nicholas for a short time, and then
glancing warily round the room, said in a suppressed voice:
'This is all very well, Mr--what is your name?'
'This is all very well, Mr Nickleby, and very proper, so far as it
goes--so far as it goes, but it doesn't go far enough. There are
other duties, Mr Nickleby, which a secretary to a parliamentary
gentleman must never lose sight of. I should require to be crammed,
'I beg your pardon,' interposed Nicholas, doubtful whether he had
'--To be crammed, sir,' repeated Mr Gregsbury.
'May I beg your pardon again, if I inquire what you mean, sir?' said
'My meaning, sir, is perfectly plain,' replied Mr Gregsbury with a
solemn aspect. 'My secretary would have to make himself master of
the foreign policy of the world, as it is mirrored in the
newspapers; to run his eye over all accounts of public meetings, all
leading articles, and accounts of the proceedings of public bodies;
and to make notes of anything which it appeared to him might be made
a point of, in any little speech upon the question of some petition
lying on the table, or anything of that kind. Do you understand?'
'I think I do, sir,' replied Nicholas.
'Then,' said Mr Gregsbury, 'it would be necessary for him to make
himself acquainted, from day to day, with newspaper paragraphs on
passing events; such as "Mysterious disappearance, and supposed
suicide of a potboy," or anything of that sort, upon which I might
found a question to the Secretary of State for the Home Department.
Then, he would have to copy the question, and as much as I
remembered of the answer (including a little compliment about
independence and good sense); and to send the manuscript in a frank
to the local paper, with perhaps half-a-dozen lines of leader, to
the effect, that I was always to be found in my place in parliament,
and never shrunk from the responsible and arduous duties, and so
forth. You see?'
'Besides which,' continued Mr Gregsbury, 'I should expect him, now
and then, to go through a few figures in the printed tables, and to
pick out a few results, so that I might come out pretty well on
timber duty questions, and finance questions, and so on; and I
should like him to get up a few little arguments about the
disastrous effects of a return to cash payments and a metallic
currency, with a touch now and then about the exportation of
bullion, and the Emperor of Russia, and bank notes, and all that
kind of thing, which it's only necessary to talk fluently about,
because nobody understands it. Do you take me?'
'I think I understand,' said Nicholas.
'With regard to such questions as are not political,' continued Mr
Gregsbury, warming; 'and which one can't be expected to care a curse
about, beyond the natural care of not allowing inferior people to be
as well off as ourselves--else where are our privileges?--I should
wish my secretary to get together a few little flourishing speeches,
of a patriotic cast. For instance, if any preposterous bill were
brought forward, for giving poor grubbing devils of authors a right
to their own property, I should like to say, that I for one would
never consent to opposing an insurmountable bar to the diffusion of
literature among THE PEOPLE,--you understand?--that the creations of
the pocket, being man's, might belong to one man, or one family; but
that the creations of the brain, being God's, ought as a matter of
course to belong to the people at large--and if I was pleasantly
disposed, I should like to make a joke about posterity, and say that
those who wrote for posterity should be content to be rewarded by
the approbation OF posterity; it might take with the house, and
could never do me any harm, because posterity can't be expected to
know anything about me or my jokes either--do you see?'
'I see that, sir,' replied Nicholas.
'You must always bear in mind, in such cases as this, where our
interests are not affected,' said Mr Gregsbury, 'to put it very
strong about the people, because it comes out very well at election-
time; and you could be as funny as you liked about the authors;
because I believe the greater part of them live in lodgings, and are
not voters. This is a hasty outline of the chief things you'd have
to do, except waiting in the lobby every night, in case I forgot
anything, and should want fresh cramming; and, now and then, during
great debates, sitting in the front row of the gallery, and saying
to the people about--'You see that gentleman, with his hand to his
face, and his arm twisted round the pillar--that's Mr Gregsbury--the
celebrated Mr Gregsbury,'--with any other little eulogium that might
strike you at the moment. And for salary,' said Mr Gregsbury,
winding up with great rapidity; for he was out of breath--'and for
salary, I don't mind saying at once in round numbers, to prevent any
dissatisfaction--though it's more than I've been accustomed to give
--fifteen shillings a week, and find yourself. There!'
With this handsome offer, Mr Gregsbury once more threw himself back
in his chair, and looked like a man who had been most profligately
liberal, but is determined not to repent of it notwithstanding.
'Fifteen shillings a week is not much,' said Nicholas, mildly.
'Not much! Fifteen shillings a week not much, young man?' cried Mr
Gregsbury. 'Fifteen shillings a--'
'Pray do not suppose that I quarrel with the sum, sir,' replied
Nicholas; 'for I am not ashamed to confess, that whatever it may be
in itself, to me it is a great deal. But the duties and
responsibilities make the recompense small, and they are so very
heavy that I fear to undertake them.'
'Do you decline to undertake them, sir?' inquired Mr Gregsbury, with
his hand on the bell-rope.
'I fear they are too great for my powers, however good my will may
be, sir,' replied Nicholas.
'That is as much as to say that you had rather not accept the place,
and that you consider fifteen shillings a week too little,' said Mr
Gregsbury, ringing. 'Do you decline it, sir?'
'I have no alternative but to do so,' replied Nicholas.
'Door, Matthews!' said Mr Gregsbury, as the boy appeared.
'I am sorry I have troubled you unnecessarily, sir,' said Nicholas,
'I am sorry you have,' rejoined Mr Gregsbury, turning his back upon
him. 'Door, Matthews!'
'Good-morning, sir,' said Nicholas.
'Door, Matthews!' cried Mr Gregsbury.
The boy beckoned Nicholas, and tumbling lazily downstairs before
him, opened the door, and ushered him into the street. With a sad
and pensive air, he retraced his steps homewards.
Smike had scraped a meal together from the remnant of last night's
supper, and was anxiously awaiting his return. The occurrences of
the morning had not improved Nicholas's appetite, and, by him, the
dinner remained untasted. He was sitting in a thoughtful attitude,
with the plate which the poor fellow had assiduously filled with the
choicest morsels, untouched, by his side, when Newman Noggs looked
into the room.
'Come back?' asked Newman.
'Yes,' replied Nicholas, 'tired to death: and, what is worse, might
have remained at home for all the good I have done.'
'Couldn't expect to do much in one morning,' said Newman.
'Maybe so, but I am sanguine, and did expect,' said Nicholas, 'and
am proportionately disappointed.' Saying which, he gave Newman an
account of his proceedings.
'If I could do anything,' said Nicholas, 'anything, however slight,
until Ralph Nickleby returns, and I have eased my mind by
confronting him, I should feel happier. I should think it no
disgrace to work, Heaven knows. Lying indolently here, like a half-
tamed sullen beast, distracts me.'
'I don't know,' said Newman; 'small things offer--they would pay the
rent, and more--but you wouldn't like them; no, you could hardly be
expected to undergo it--no, no.'
'What could I hardly be expected to undergo?' asked Nicholas,
raising his eyes. 'Show me, in this wide waste of London, any
honest means by which I could even defray the weekly hire of this
poor room, and see if I shrink from resorting to them! Undergo! I
have undergone too much, my friend, to feel pride or squeamishness
now. Except--' added Nicholas hastily, after a short silence,
'except such squeamishness as is common honesty, and so much pride
as constitutes self-respect. I see little to choose, between
assistant to a brutal pedagogue, and toad-eater to a mean and
ignorant upstart, be he member or no member.'
'I hardly know whether I should tell you what I heard this morning,
or not,' said Newman.
'Has it reference to what you said just now?' asked Nicholas.
'Then in Heaven's name, my good friend, tell it me,' said Nicholas.
'For God's sake consider my deplorable condition; and, while I
promise to take no step without taking counsel with you, give me, at
least, a vote in my own behalf.'
Moved by this entreaty, Newman stammered forth a variety of most
unaccountable and entangled sentences, the upshot of which was, that
Mrs Kenwigs had examined him, at great length that morning, touching
the origin of his acquaintance with, and the whole life, adventures,
and pedigree of, Nicholas; that Newman had parried these questions
as long as he could, but being, at length, hard pressed and driven
into a corner, had gone so far as to admit, that Nicholas was a
tutor of great accomplishments, involved in some misfortunes which
he was not at liberty to explain, and bearing the name of Johnson.
That Mrs Kenwigs, impelled by gratitude, or ambition, or maternal
pride, or maternal love, or all four powerful motives conjointly,
had taken secret conference with Mr Kenwigs, and had finally
returned to propose that Mr Johnson should instruct the four Miss
Kenwigses in the French language as spoken by natives, at the weekly
stipend of five shillings, current coin of the realm; being at the
rate of one shilling per week, per each Miss Kenwigs, and one
shilling over, until such time as the baby might be able to take it
out in grammar.
'Which, unless I am very much mistaken,' observed Mrs Kenwigs in
making the proposition, 'will not be very long; for such clever
children, Mr Noggs, never were born into this world, I do believe.'
'There,' said Newman, 'that's all. It's beneath you, I know; but I
thought that perhaps you might--'
'Might!' cried Nicholas, with great alacrity; 'of course I shall. I
accept the offer at once. Tell the worthy mother so, without delay,
my dear fellow; and that I am ready to begin whenever she pleases.'
Newman hastened, with joyful steps, to inform Mrs Kenwigs of his
friend's acquiescence, and soon returning, brought back word that
they would be happy to see him in the first floor as soon as
convenient; that Mrs Kenwigs had, upon the instant, sent out to
secure a second-hand French grammar and dialogues, which had long
been fluttering in the sixpenny box at the bookstall round the
corner; and that the family, highly excited at the prospect of this
addition to their gentility, wished the initiatory lesson to come
And here it may be observed, that Nicholas was not, in the ordinary
sense of the word, a young man of high spirit. He would resent an
affront to himself, or interpose to redress a wrong offered to
another, as boldly and freely as any knight that ever set lance in
rest; but he lacked that peculiar excess of coolness and great-
minded selfishness, which invariably distinguish gentlemen of high
spirit. In truth, for our own part, we are disposed to look upon
such gentleman as being rather incumbrances than otherwise in rising
families: happening to be acquainted with several whose spirit
prevents their settling down to any grovelling occupation, and only
displays itself in a tendency to cultivate moustachios, and look
fierce; and although moustachios and ferocity are both very pretty
things in their way, and very much to be commended, we confess to a
desire to see them bred at the owner's proper cost, rather than at
the expense of low-spirited people.
Nicholas, therefore, not being a high-spirited young man according
to common parlance, and deeming it a greater degradation to borrow,
for the supply of his necessities, from Newman Noggs, than to teach
French to the little Kenwigses for five shillings a week, accepted
the offer with the alacrity already described, and betook himself to
the first floor with all convenient speed.
Here, he was received by Mrs Kenwigs with a genteel air, kindly
intended to assure him of her protection and support; and here, too,
he found Mr Lillyvick and Miss Petowker; the four Miss Kenwigses on
their form of audience; and the baby in a dwarf porter's chair with
a deal tray before it, amusing himself with a toy horse without a
head; the said horse being composed of a small wooden cylinder, not
unlike an Italian iron, supported on four crooked pegs, and painted
in ingenious resemblance of red wafers set in blacking.
'How do you do, Mr Johnson?' said Mrs Kenwigs. 'Uncle--Mr Johnson.'
'How do you do, sir?' said Mr Lillyvick--rather sharply; for he had
not known what Nicholas was, on the previous night, and it was
rather an aggravating circumstance if a tax collector had been too
polite to a teacher.
'Mr Johnson is engaged as private master to the children, uncle,'
said Mrs Kenwigs.
'So you said just now, my dear,' replied Mr Lillyvick.
'But I hope,' said Mrs Kenwigs, drawing herself up, 'that that will
not make them proud; but that they will bless their own good
fortune, which has born them superior to common people's children.
Do you hear, Morleena?'
'Yes, ma,' replied Miss Kenwigs.
'And when you go out in the streets, or elsewhere, I desire that you
don't boast of it to the other children,' said Mrs Kenwigs; 'and
that if you must say anything about it, you don't say no more than
"We've got a private master comes to teach us at home, but we ain't
proud, because ma says it's sinful." Do you hear, Morleena?'
'Yes, ma,' replied Miss Kenwigs again.
'Then mind you recollect, and do as I tell you,' said Mrs Kenwigs.
'Shall Mr Johnson begin, uncle?'
'I am ready to hear, if Mr Johnson is ready to commence, my dear,'
said the collector, assuming the air of a profound critic. 'What
sort of language do you consider French, sir?'
'How do you mean?' asked Nicholas.
'Do you consider it a good language, sir?' said the collector; 'a
pretty language, a sensible language?'
'A pretty language, certainly,' replied Nicholas; 'and as it has a
name for everything, and admits of elegant conversation about
everything, I presume it is a sensible one.'
'I don't know,' said Mr Lillyvick, doubtfully. 'Do you call it a
cheerful language, now?'
'Yes,' replied Nicholas, 'I should say it was, certainly.'
'It's very much changed since my time, then,' said the collector,
'Was it a dismal one in your time?' asked Nicholas, scarcely able to
repress a smile.
'Very,' replied Mr Lillyvick, with some vehemence of manner. 'It's
the war time that I speak of; the last war. It may be a cheerful
language. I should be sorry to contradict anybody; but I can only
say that I've heard the French prisoners, who were natives, and
ought to know how to speak it, talking in such a dismal manner, that
it made one miserable to hear them. Ay, that I have, fifty times,
Mr Lillyvick was waxing so cross, that Mrs Kenwigs thought it
expedient to motion to Nicholas not to say anything; and it was not
until Miss Petowker had practised several blandishments, to soften
the excellent old gentleman, that he deigned to break silence by
'What's the water in French, sir?'
'L'EAU,' replied Nicholas.
'Ah!' said Mr Lillyvick, shaking his head mournfully, 'I thought as
much. Lo, eh? I don't think anything of that language--nothing at
'I suppose the children may begin, uncle?' said Mrs Kenwigs.
'Oh yes; they may begin, my dear,' replied the collector,
discontentedly. 'I have no wish to prevent them.'
This permission being conceded, the four Miss Kenwigses sat in a
row, with their tails all one way, and Morleena at the top: while
Nicholas, taking the book, began his preliminary explanations. Miss
Petowker and Mrs Kenwigs looked on, in silent admiration, broken
only by the whispered assurances of the latter, that Morleena would
have it all by heart in no time; and Mr Lillyvick regarded the group
with frowning and attentive eyes, lying in wait for something upon
which he could open a fresh discussion on the language.
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