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Chapter 28

CHAPTER 28

Miss Nickleby, rendered desperate by the Persecution of Sir Mulberry
Hawk, and the Complicated Difficulties and Distresses which surround
her, appeals, as a last resource, to her Uncle for Protection


The ensuing morning brought reflection with it, as morning usually
does; but widely different was the train of thought it awakened in
the different persons who had been so unexpectedly brought together
on the preceding evening, by the active agency of Messrs Pyke and
Pluck.

The reflections of Sir Mulberry Hawk--if such a term can be applied
to the thoughts of the systematic and calculating man of
dissipation, whose joys, regrets, pains, and pleasures, are all of
self, and who would seem to retain nothing of the intellectual
faculty but the power to debase himself, and to degrade the very
nature whose outward semblance he wears--the reflections of Sir
Mulberry Hawk turned upon Kate Nickleby, and were, in brief, that
she was undoubtedly handsome; that her coyness MUST be easily
conquerable by a man of his address and experience, and that the
pursuit was one which could not fail to redound to his credit, and
greatly to enhance his reputation with the world. And lest this
last consideration--no mean or secondary one with Sir Mulberry--
should sound strangely in the ears of some, let it be remembered
that most men live in a world of their own, and that in that limited
circle alone are they ambitious for distinction and applause. Sir
Mulberry's world was peopled with profligates, and he acted
accordingly.

Thus, cases of injustice, and oppression, and tyranny, and the most
extravagant bigotry, are in constant occurrence among us every day.
It is the custom to trumpet forth much wonder and astonishment at
the chief actors therein setting at defiance so completely the
opinion of the world; but there is no greater fallacy; it is
precisely because they do consult the opinion of their own little
world that such things take place at all, and strike the great world
dumb with amazement.

The reflections of Mrs Nickleby were of the proudest and most
complacent kind; and under the influence of her very agreeable
delusion she straightway sat down and indited a long letter to Kate,
in which she expressed her entire approval of the admirable choice
she had made, and extolled Sir Mulberry to the skies; asserting, for
the more complete satisfaction of her daughter's feelings, that he
was precisely the individual whom she (Mrs Nickleby) would have
chosen for her son-in-law, if she had had the picking and choosing
from all mankind. The good lady then, with the preliminary
observation that she might be fairly supposed not to have lived in
the world so long without knowing its ways, communicated a great
many subtle precepts applicable to the state of courtship, and
confirmed in their wisdom by her own personal experience. Above all
things she commended a strict maidenly reserve, as being not only a
very laudable thing in itself, but as tending materially to
strengthen and increase a lover's ardour. 'And I never,' added Mrs
Nickleby, 'was more delighted in my life than to observe last night,
my dear, that your good sense had already told you this.' With which
sentiment, and various hints of the pleasure she derived from the
knowledge that her daughter inherited so large an instalment of her
own excellent sense and discretion (to nearly the full measure of
which she might hope, with care, to succeed in time), Mrs Nickleby
concluded a very long and rather illegible letter.

Poor Kate was well-nigh distracted on the receipt of four closely-
written and closely-crossed sides of congratulation on the very
subject which had prevented her closing her eyes all night, and kept
her weeping and watching in her chamber; still worse and more trying
was the necessity of rendering herself agreeable to Mrs Wititterly,
who, being in low spirits after the fatigue of the preceding night,
of course expected her companion (else wherefore had she board and
salary?) to be in the best spirits possible. As to Mr Wititterly,
he went about all day in a tremor of delight at having shaken hands
with a lord, and having actually asked him to come and see him in
his own house. The lord himself, not being troubled to any
inconvenient extent with the power of thinking, regaled himself with
the conversation of Messrs Pyke and Pluck, who sharpened their wit
by a plentiful indulgence in various costly stimulants at his
expense.

It was four in the afternoon--that is, the vulgar afternoon of the
sun and the clock--and Mrs Wititterly reclined, according to custom,
on the drawing-room sofa, while Kate read aloud a new novel in three
volumes, entitled 'The Lady Flabella,' which Alphonse the doubtful
had procured from the library that very morning. And it was a
production admirably suited to a lady labouring under Mrs
Wititterly's complaint, seeing that there was not a line in it, from
beginning to end, which could, by the most remote contingency,
awaken the smallest excitement in any person breathing.

Kate read on.

'"Cherizette," said the Lady Flabella, inserting her mouse-like feet
in the blue satin slippers, which had unwittingly occasioned the
half-playful half-angry altercation between herself and the youthful
Colonel Befillaire, in the Duke of Mincefenille's SALON DE DANSE on
the previous night. "CHERIZETTE, MA CHERE, DONNEZ-MOI DE L'EAU-DE-
COLOGNE, S'IL VOUS PLAIT, MON ENFANT."

'"MERCIE--thank you," said the Lady Flabella, as the lively but
devoted Cherizette plentifully besprinkled with the fragrant
compound the Lady Flabella's MOUCHOIR of finest cambric, edged with
richest lace, and emblazoned at the four corners with the Flabella
crest, and gorgeous heraldic bearings of that noble family.
"MERCIE--that will do."

'At this instant, while the Lady Flabella yet inhaled that delicious
fragrance by holding the MOUCHOIR to her exquisite, but
thoughtfully-chiselled nose, the door of the BOUDOIR (artfully
concealed by rich hangings of silken damask, the hue of Italy's
firmament) was thrown open, and with noiseless tread two VALETS-DE-
CHAMBRE, clad in sumptuous liveries of peach-blossom and gold,
advanced into the room followed by a page in BAS DE SOIE--silk
stockings--who, while they remained at some distance making the most
graceful obeisances, advanced to the feet of his lovely mistress,
and dropping on one knee presented, on a golden salver gorgeously
chased, a scented BILLET.

'The Lady Flabella, with an agitation she could not repress, hastily
tore off the ENVELOPE and broke the scented seal. It WAS from
Befillaire--the young, the slim, the low-voiced--HER OWN
Befillaire.'

'Oh, charming!' interrupted Kate's patroness, who was sometimes
taken literary. 'Poetic, really. Read that description again, Miss
Nickleby.'

Kate complied.

'Sweet, indeed!' said Mrs Wititterly, with a sigh. 'So voluptuous,
is it not--so soft?'

'Yes, I think it is,' replied Kate, gently; 'very soft.'

'Close the book, Miss Nickleby,' said Mrs Wititterly. 'I can hear
nothing more today; I should be sorry to disturb the impression of
that sweet description. Close the book.'

Kate complied, not unwillingly; and, as she did so, Mrs Wititterly
raising her glass with a languid hand, remarked, that she looked
pale.

'It was the fright of that--that noise and confusion last night,'
said Kate.

'How very odd!' exclaimed Mrs Wititterly, with a look of surprise.
And certainly, when one comes to think of it, it WAS very odd that
anything should have disturbed a companion. A steam-engine, or
other ingenious piece of mechanism out of order, would have been
nothing to it.

'How did you come to know Lord Frederick, and those other delightful
creatures, child?' asked Mrs Wititterly, still eyeing Kate through
her glass.

'I met them at my uncle's,' said Kate, vexed to feel that she was
colouring deeply, but unable to keep down the blood which rushed to
her face whenever she thought of that man.

'Have you known them long?'

'No,' rejoined Kate. 'Not long.'

'I was very glad of the opportunity which that respectable person,
your mother, gave us of being known to them,' said Mrs Wititterly,
in a lofty manner. 'Some friends of ours were on the very point of
introducing us, which makes it quite remarkable.'

This was said lest Miss Nickleby should grow conceited on the honour
and dignity of having known four great people (for Pyke and Pluck
were included among the delightful creatures), whom Mrs Wititterly
did not know. But as the circumstance had made no impression one
way or other upon Kate's mind, the force of the observation was
quite lost upon her.

'They asked permission to call,' said Mrs Wititterly. 'I gave it
them of course.'

'Do you expect them today?' Kate ventured to inquire.

Mrs Wititterly's answer was lost in the noise of a tremendous
rapping at the street-door, and before it had ceased to vibrate,
there drove up a handsome cabriolet, out of which leaped Sir
Mulberry Hawk and his friend Lord Verisopht.

'They are here now,' said Kate, rising and hurrying away.

'Miss Nickleby!' cried Mrs Wititterly, perfectly aghast at a
companion's attempting to quit the room, without her permission
first had and obtained. 'Pray don't think of going.'

'You are very good!' replied Kate. 'But--'

'For goodness' sake, don't agitate me by making me speak so much,'
said Mrs Wititterly, with great sharpness. 'Dear me, Miss Nickleby,
I beg--'

It was in vain for Kate to protest that she was unwell, for the
footsteps of the knockers, whoever they were, were already on the
stairs. She resumed her seat, and had scarcely done so, when the
doubtful page darted into the room and announced, Mr Pyke, and Mr
Pluck, and Lord Verisopht, and Sir Mulberry Hawk, all at one burst.

'The most extraordinary thing in the world,' said Mr Pluck, saluting
both ladies with the utmost cordiality; 'the most extraordinary
thing. As Lord Frederick and Sir Mulberry drove up to the door,
Pyke and I had that instant knocked.'

'That instant knocked,' said Pyke.

'No matter how you came, so that you are here,' said Mrs Wititterly,
who, by dint of lying on the same sofa for three years and a half,
had got up quite a little pantomime of graceful attitudes, and now
threw herself into the most striking of the whole series, to
astonish the visitors. 'I am delighted, I am sure.'

'And how is Miss Nickleby?' said Sir Mulberry Hawk, accosting Kate,
in a low voice--not so low, however, but that it reached the ears of
Mrs Wititterly.

'Why, she complains of suffering from the fright of last night,'
said the lady. 'I am sure I don't wonder at it, for my nerves are
quite torn to pieces.'

'And yet you look,' observed Sir Mulberry, turning round; 'and yet
you look--'

'Beyond everything,' said Mr Pyke, coming to his patron's
assistance. Of course Mr Pluck said the same.

'I am afraid Sir Mulberry is a flatterer, my lord,' said Mrs
Wititterly, turning to that young gentleman, who had been sucking
the head of his cane in silence, and staring at Kate.

'Oh, deyvlish!' replied Verisopht. Having given utterance to which
remarkable sentiment, he occupied himself as before.

'Neither does Miss Nickleby look the worse,' said Sir Mulberry,
bending his bold gaze upon her. 'She was always handsome, but upon
my soul, ma'am, you seem to have imparted some of your own good
looks to her besides.'

To judge from the glow which suffused the poor girl's countenance
after this speech, Mrs Wititterly might, with some show of reason,
have been supposed to have imparted to it some of that artificial
bloom which decorated her own. Mrs Wititterly admitted, though not
with the best grace in the world, that Kate DID look pretty. She
began to think, too, that Sir Mulberry was not quite so agreeable a
creature as she had at first supposed him; for, although a skilful
flatterer is a most delightful companion if you can keep him all to
yourself, his taste becomes very doubtful when he takes to
complimenting other people.

'Pyke,' said the watchful Mr Pluck, observing the effect which the
praise of Miss Nickleby had produced.

'Well, Pluck,' said Pyke.

'Is there anybody,' demanded Mr Pluck, mysteriously, 'anybody you
know, that Mrs Wititterly's profile reminds you of?'

'Reminds me of!' answered Pyke. 'Of course there is.'

'Who do you mean?' said Pluck, in the same mysterious manner. 'The
D. of B.?'

'The C. of B.,' replied Pyke, with the faintest trace of a grin
lingering in his countenance. 'The beautiful sister is the
countess; not the duchess.'

'True,' said Pluck, 'the C. of B. The resemblance is wonderful!'

'Perfectly startling,' said Mr Pyke.

Here was a state of things! Mrs Wititterly was declared, upon the
testimony of two veracious and competent witnesses, to be the very
picture of a countess! This was one of the consequences of getting
into good society. Why, she might have moved among grovelling
people for twenty years, and never heard of it. How could she,
indeed? what did THEY know about countesses?

The two gentlemen having, by the greediness with which this little
bait was swallowed, tested the extent of Mrs Wititterly's appetite
for adulation, proceeded to administer that commodity in very large
doses, thus affording to Sir Mulberry Hawk an opportunity of
pestering Miss Nickleby with questions and remarks, to which she was
absolutely obliged to make some reply. Meanwhile, Lord Verisopht
enjoyed unmolested the full flavour of the gold knob at the top of
his cane, as he would have done to the end of the interview if Mr
Wititterly had not come home, and caused the conversation to turn to
his favourite topic.

'My lord,' said Mr Wititterly, 'I am delighted--honoured--proud. Be
seated again, my lord, pray. I am proud, indeed--most proud.'

It was to the secret annoyance of his wife that Mr Wititterly said
all this, for, although she was bursting with pride and arrogance,
she would have had the illustrious guests believe that their visit
was quite a common occurrence, and that they had lords and baronets
to see them every day in the week. But Mr Wititterly's feelings
were beyond the power of suppression.

'It is an honour, indeed!' said Mr Wititterly. 'Julia, my soul, you
will suffer for this tomorrow.'

'Suffer!' cried Lord Verisopht.

'The reaction, my lord, the reaction,' said Mr Wititterly. 'This
violent strain upon the nervous system over, my lord, what ensues?
A sinking, a depression, a lowness, a lassitude, a debility. My
lord, if Sir Tumley Snuffim was to see that delicate creature at
this moment, he would not give a--a--THIS for her life.' In
illustration of which remark, Mr Wititterly took a pinch of snuff
from his box, and jerked it lightly into the air as an emblem of
instability.

'Not THAT,' said Mr Wititterly, looking about him with a serious
countenance. 'Sir Tumley Snuffim would not give that for Mrs
Wititterly's existence.'

Mr Wititterly told this with a kind of sober exultation, as if it
were no trifling distinction for a man to have a wife in such a
desperate state, and Mrs Wititterly sighed and looked on, as if she
felt the honour, but had determined to bear it as meekly as might
be.

'Mrs Wititterly,' said her husband, 'is Sir Tumley Snuffim's
favourite patient. I believe I may venture to say, that Mrs
Wititterly is the first person who took the new medicine which is
supposed to have destroyed a family at Kensington Gravel Pits. I
believe she was. If I am wrong, Julia, my dear, you will correct
me.'

'I believe I was,' said Mrs Wititterly, in a faint voice.

As there appeared to be some doubt in the mind of his patron how he
could best join in this conversation, the indefatigable Mr Pyke
threw himself into the breach, and, by way of saying something to
the point, inquired--with reference to the aforesaid medicine--
whether it was nice.

'No, sir, it was not. It had not even that recommendation,' said Mr
W.

'Mrs Wititterly is quite a martyr,' observed Pyke, with a
complimentary bow.

'I THINK I am,' said Mrs Wititterly, smiling.

'I think you are, my dear Julia,' replied her husband, in a tone
which seemed to say that he was not vain, but still must insist upon
their privileges. 'If anybody, my lord,' added Mr Wititterly,
wheeling round to the nobleman, 'will produce to me a greater martyr
than Mrs Wititterly, all I can say is, that I shall be glad to see
that martyr, whether male or female--that's all, my lord.'

Pyke and Pluck promptly remarked that certainly nothing could be
fairer than that; and the call having been by this time protracted
to a very great length, they obeyed Sir Mulberry's look, and rose to
go. This brought Sir Mulberry himself and Lord Verisopht on their
legs also. Many protestations of friendship, and expressions
anticipative of the pleasure which must inevitably flow from so
happy an acquaintance, were exchanged, and the visitors departed,
with renewed assurances that at all times and seasons the mansion of
the Wititterlys would be honoured by receiving them beneath its
roof.

That they came at all times and seasons--that they dined there one
day, supped the next, dined again on the next, and were constantly
to and fro on all--that they made parties to visit public places,
and met by accident at lounges--that upon all these occasions Miss
Nickleby was exposed to the constant and unremitting persecution of
Sir Mulberry Hawk, who now began to feel his character, even in the
estimation of his two dependants, involved in the successful
reduction of her pride--that she had no intervals of peace or rest,
except at those hours when she could sit in her solitary room, and
weep over the trials of the day--all these were consequences
naturally flowing from the well-laid plans of Sir Mulberry, and
their able execution by the auxiliaries, Pyke and Pluck.

And thus for a fortnight matters went on. That any but the weakest
and silliest of people could have seen in one interview that Lord
Verisopht, though he was a lord, and Sir Mulberry Hawk, though he
was a baronet, were not persons accustomed to be the best possible
companions, and were certainly not calculated by habits, manners,
tastes, or conversation, to shine with any very great lustre in the
society of ladies, need scarcely be remarked. But with Mrs
Wititterly the two titles were all sufficient; coarseness became
humour, vulgarity softened itself down into the most charming
eccentricity; insolence took the guise of an easy absence of
reserve, attainable only by those who had had the good fortune to
mix with high folks.

If the mistress put such a construction upon the behaviour of her
new friends, what could the companion urge against them? If they
accustomed themselves to very little restraint before the lady of
the house, with how much more freedom could they address her paid
dependent! Nor was even this the worst. As the odious Sir Mulberry
Hawk attached himself to Kate with less and less of disguise, Mrs
Wititterly began to grow jealous of the superior attractions of Miss
Nickleby. If this feeling had led to her banishment from the
drawing-room when such company was there, Kate would have been only
too happy and willing that it should have existed, but unfortunately
for her she possessed that native grace and true gentility of
manner, and those thousand nameless accomplishments which give to
female society its greatest charm; if these be valuable anywhere,
they were especially so where the lady of the house was a mere
animated doll. The consequence was, that Kate had the double
mortification of being an indispensable part of the circle when Sir
Mulberry and his friends were there, and of being exposed, on that
very account, to all Mrs Wititterly's ill-humours and caprices when
they were gone. She became utterly and completely miserable.

Mrs Wititterly had never thrown off the mask with regard to Sir
Mulberry, but when she was more than usually out of temper,
attributed the circumstance, as ladies sometimes do, to nervous
indisposition. However, as the dreadful idea that Lord Verisopht
also was somewhat taken with Kate, and that she, Mrs Wititterly, was
quite a secondary person, dawned upon that lady's mind and gradually
developed itself, she became possessed with a large quantity of
highly proper and most virtuous indignation, and felt it her duty,
as a married lady and a moral member of society, to mention the
circumstance to 'the young person' without delay.

Accordingly Mrs Wititterly broke ground next morning, during a pause
in the novel-reading.

'Miss Nickleby,' said Mrs Wititterly, 'I wish to speak to you very
gravely. I am sorry to have to do it, upon my word I am very sorry,
but you leave me no alternative, Miss Nickleby.' Here Mrs Wititterly
tossed her head--not passionately, only virtuously--and remarked,
with some appearance of excitement, that she feared that palpitation
of the heart was coming on again.

'Your behaviour, Miss Nickleby,' resumed the lady, 'is very far from
pleasing me--very far. I am very anxious indeed that you should do
well, but you may depend upon it, Miss Nickleby, you will not, if
you go on as you do.'

'Ma'am!' exclaimed Kate, proudly.

'Don't agitate me by speaking in that way, Miss Nickleby, don't,'
said Mrs Wititterly, with some violence, 'or you'll compel me to
ring the bell.'

Kate looked at her, but said nothing.

'You needn't suppose,' resumed Mrs Wititterly, 'that your looking at
me in that way, Miss Nickleby, will prevent my saying what I am
going to say, which I feel to be a religious duty. You needn't
direct your glances towards me,' said Mrs Wititterly, with a sudden
burst of spite; 'I am not Sir Mulberry, no, nor Lord Frederick
Verisopht, Miss Nickleby, nor am I Mr Pyke, nor Mr Pluck either.'

Kate looked at her again, but less steadily than before; and resting
her elbow on the table, covered her eyes with her hand.

'If such things had been done when I was a young girl,' said Mrs
Wititterly (this, by the way, must have been some little time
before), 'I don't suppose anybody would have believed it.'

'I don't think they would,' murmured Kate. 'I do not think anybody
would believe, without actually knowing it, what I seem doomed to
undergo!'

'Don't talk to me of being doomed to undergo, Miss Nickleby, if you
please,' said Mrs Wititterly, with a shrillness of tone quite
surprising in so great an invalid. 'I will not be answered, Miss
Nickleby. I am not accustomed to be answered, nor will I permit it
for an instant. Do you hear?' she added, waiting with some apparent
inconsistency FOR an answer.

'I do hear you, ma'am,' replied Kate, 'with surprise--with greater
surprise than I can express.'

'I have always considered you a particularly well-behaved young
person for your station in life,' said Mrs Wititterly; 'and as you
are a person of healthy appearance, and neat in your dress and so
forth, I have taken an interest in you, as I do still, considering
that I owe a sort of duty to that respectable old female, your
mother. For these reasons, Miss Nickleby, I must tell you once for
all, and begging you to mind what I say, that I must insist upon
your immediately altering your very forward behaviour to the
gentleman who visit at this house. It really is not becoming,' said
Mrs Wititterly, closing her chaste eyes as she spoke; 'it is
improper--quite improper."

'Oh!' cried Kate, looking upwards and clasping her hands; 'is not
this, is not this, too cruel, too hard to bear! Is it not enough
that I should have suffered as I have, night and day; that I should
almost have sunk in my own estimation from very shame of having been
brought into contact with such people; but must I also be exposed to
this unjust and most unfounded charge!'

'You will have the goodness to recollect, Miss Nickleby,' said Mrs
Wititterly, 'that when you use such terms as "unjust", and
"unfounded", you charge me, in effect, with stating that which is
untrue.'

'I do,' said Kate with honest indignation. 'Whether you make this
accusation of yourself, or at the prompting of others, is alike to
me. I say it IS vilely, grossly, wilfully untrue. Is it possible!'
cried Kate, 'that anyone of my own sex can have sat by, and not have
seen the misery these men have caused me? Is it possible that you,
ma'am, can have been present, and failed to mark the insulting
freedom that their every look bespoke? Is it possible that you can
have avoided seeing, that these libertines, in their utter
disrespect for you, and utter disregard of all gentlemanly
behaviour, and almost of decency, have had but one object in
introducing themselves here, and that the furtherance of their
designs upon a friendless, helpless girl, who, without this
humiliating confession, might have hoped to receive from one so much
her senior something like womanly aid and sympathy? I do not--I
cannot believe it!'

If poor Kate had possessed the slightest knowledge of the world, she
certainly would not have ventured, even in the excitement into which
she had been lashed, upon such an injudicious speech as this. Its
effect was precisely what a more experienced observer would have
foreseen. Mrs Wititterly received the attack upon her veracity with
exemplary calmness, and listened with the most heroic fortitude to
Kate's account of her own sufferings. But allusion being made to
her being held in disregard by the gentlemen, she evinced violent
emotion, and this blow was no sooner followed up by the remark
concerning her seniority, than she fell back upon the sofa, uttering
dismal screams.

'What is the matter?' cried Mr Wititterly, bouncing into the room.
'Heavens, what do I see? Julia! Julia! look up, my life, look up!'

But Julia looked down most perseveringly, and screamed still louder;
so Mr Wititterly rang the bell, and danced in a frenzied manner
round the sofa on which Mrs Wititterly lay; uttering perpetual cries
for Sir Tumley Snuffim, and never once leaving off to ask for any
explanation of the scene before him.

'Run for Sir Tumley,' cried Mr Wititterly, menacing the page with
both fists. 'I knew it, Miss Nickleby,' he said, looking round with
an air of melancholy triumph, 'that society has been too much for
her. This is all soul, you know, every bit of it.' With this
assurance Mr Wititterly took up the prostrate form of Mrs
Wititterly, and carried her bodily off to bed.

Kate waited until Sir Tumley Snuffim had paid his visit and looked
in with a report, that, through the special interposition of a
merciful Providence (thus spake Sir Tumley), Mrs Wititterly had gone
to sleep. She then hastily attired herself for walking, and leaving
word that she should return within a couple of hours, hurried away
towards her uncle's house.

It had been a good day with Ralph Nickleby--quite a lucky day; and
as he walked to and fro in his little back-room with his hands
clasped behind him, adding up in his own mind all the sums that had
been, or would be, netted from the business done since morning, his
mouth was drawn into a hard stern smile; while the firmness of the
lines and curves that made it up, as well as the cunning glance of
his cold, bright eye, seemed to tell, that if any resolution or
cunning would increase the profits, they would not fail to be
excited for the purpose.

'Very good!' said Ralph, in allusion, no doubt, to some proceeding
of the day. 'He defies the usurer, does he? Well, we shall see.
"Honesty is the best policy," is it? We'll try that too.'

He stopped, and then walked on again.

'He is content,' said Ralph, relaxing into a smile, 'to set his
known character and conduct against the power of money--dross, as he
calls it. Why, what a dull blockhead this fellow must be! Dross
to, dross! Who's that?'

'Me,' said Newman Noggs, looking in. 'Your niece.'

'What of her?' asked Ralph sharply.

'She's here.'

'Here!'

Newman jerked his head towards his little room, to signify that she
was waiting there.

'What does she want?' asked Ralph.

'I don't know,' rejoined Newman. 'Shall I ask?' he added quickly.

'No,' replied Ralph. 'Show her in! Stay.' He hastily put away a
padlocked cash-box that was on the table, and substituted in its
stead an empty purse. 'There,' said Ralph. 'NOW she may come in.'

Newman, with a grim smile at this manoeuvre, beckoned the young lady
to advance, and having placed a chair for her, retired; looking
stealthily over his shoulder at Ralph as he limped slowly out.

'Well,' said Ralph, roughly enough; but still with something more of
kindness in his manner than he would have exhibited towards anybody
else. 'Well, my--dear. What now?'

Kate raised her eyes, which were filled with tears; and with an
effort to master her emotion strove to speak, but in vain. So
drooping her head again, she remained silent. Her face was hidden
from his view, but Ralph could see that she was weeping.

'I can guess the cause of this!' thought Ralph, after looking at her
for some time in silence. 'I can--I can--guess the cause. Well!
Well!' thought Ralph--for the moment quite disconcerted, as he
watched the anguish of his beautiful niece. 'Where is the harm?
only a few tears; and it's an excellent lesson for her, an excellent
lesson.'

'What is the matter?' asked Ralph, drawing a chair opposite, and
sitting down.

He was rather taken aback by the sudden firmness with which Kate
looked up and answered him.

'The matter which brings me to you, sir,' she said, 'is one which
should call the blood up into your cheeks, and make you burn to
hear, as it does me to tell. I have been wronged; my feelings have
been outraged, insulted, wounded past all healing, and by your
friends.'

'Friends!' cried Ralph, sternly. 'I have no friends, girl.'

'By the men I saw here, then,' returned Kate, quickly. 'If they
were no friends of yours, and you knew what they were,--oh, the more
shame on you, uncle, for bringing me among them. To have subjected
me to what I was exposed to here, through any misplaced confidence
or imperfect knowledge of your guests, would have required some
strong excuse; but if you did it--as I now believe you did--knowing
them well, it was most dastardly and cruel.'

Ralph drew back in utter amazement at this plain speaking, and
regarded Kate with the sternest look. But she met his gaze proudly
and firmly, and although her face was very pale, it looked more
noble and handsome, lighted up as it was, than it had ever appeared
before.

'There is some of that boy's blood in you, I see,' said Ralph,
speaking in his harshest tones, as something in the flashing eye
reminded him of Nicholas at their last meeting.

'I hope there is!' replied Kate. 'I should be proud to know it. I
am young, uncle, and all the difficulties and miseries of my
situation have kept it down, but I have been roused today beyond all
endurance, and come what may, I WILL NOT, as I am your brother's
child, bear these insults longer.'

'What insults, girl?' demanded Ralph, sharply.

'Remember what took place here, and ask yourself,' replied Kate,
colouring deeply. 'Uncle, you must--I am sure you will--release me
from such vile and degrading companionship as I am exposed to now.
I do not mean,' said Kate, hurrying to the old man, and laying her
arm upon his shoulder; 'I do not mean to be angry and violent--I beg
your pardon if I have seemed so, dear uncle,--but you do not know
what I have suffered, you do not indeed. You cannot tell what the
heart of a young girl is--I have no right to expect you should; but
when I tell you that I am wretched, and that my heart is breaking, I
am sure you will help me. I am sure, I am sure you will!'

Ralph looked at her for an instant; then turned away his head, and
beat his foot nervously upon the ground.

'I have gone on day after day,' said Kate, bending over him, and
timidly placing her little hand in his, 'in the hope that this
persecution would cease; I have gone on day after day, compelled to
assume the appearance of cheerfulness, when I was most unhappy. I
have had no counsellor, no adviser, no one to protect me. Mama
supposes that these are honourable men, rich and distinguished, and
how CAN I--how can I undeceive her--when she is so happy in these
little delusions, which are the only happiness she has? The lady
with whom you placed me, is not the person to whom I could confide
matters of so much delicacy, and I have come at last to you, the
only friend I have at hand--almost the only friend I have at all--to
entreat and implore you to assist me.'

'How can I assist you, child?' said Ralph, rising from his chair,
and pacing up and down the room in his old attitude.

'You have influence with one of these men, I KNOW,' rejoined Kate,
emphatically. 'Would not a word from you induce them to desist from
this unmanly course?'

'No,' said Ralph, suddenly turning; 'at least--that--I can't say it,
if it would.'

'Can't say it!'

'No,' said Ralph, coming to a dead stop, and clasping his hands more
tightly behind him. 'I can't say it.'

Kate fell back a step or two, and looked at him, as if in doubt
whether she had heard aright.

'We are connected in business,' said Ralph, poising himself
alternately on his toes and heels, and looking coolly in his niece's
face, 'in business, and I can't afford to offend them. What is it
after all? We have all our trials, and this is one of yours. Some
girls would be proud to have such gallants at their feet.'

'Proud!' cried Kate.

'I don't say,' rejoined Ralph, raising his forefinger, 'but that you
do right to despise them; no, you show your good sense in that, as
indeed I knew from the first you would. Well. In all other
respects you are comfortably bestowed. It's not much to bear. If
this young lord does dog your footsteps, and whisper his drivelling
inanities in your ears, what of it? It's a dishonourable passion.
So be it; it won't last long. Some other novelty will spring up one
day, and you will be released. In the mean time--'

'In the mean time,' interrupted Kate, with becoming pride and
indignation, 'I am to be the scorn of my own sex, and the toy of the
other; justly condemned by all women of right feeling, and despised
by all honest and honourable men; sunken in my own esteem, and
degraded in every eye that looks upon me. No, not if I work my
fingers to the bone, not if I am driven to the roughest and hardest
labour. Do not mistake me. I will not disgrace your
recommendation. I will remain in the house in which it placed me,
until I am entitled to leave it by the terms of my engagement;
though, mind, I see these men no more. When I quit it, I will hide
myself from them and you, and, striving to support my mother by hard
service, I will live, at least, in peace, and trust in God to help
me.'

With these words, she waved her hand, and quitted the room, leaving
Ralph Nickleby motionless as a statue.

The surprise with which Kate, as she closed the room-door, beheld,
close beside it, Newman Noggs standing bolt upright in a little
niche in the wall like some scarecrow or Guy Faux laid up in winter
quarters, almost occasioned her to call aloud. But, Newman laying
his finger upon his lips, she had the presence of mind to refrain.

'Don't,' said Newman, gliding out of his recess, and accompanying
her across the hall. 'Don't cry, don't cry.' Two very large tears,
by-the-bye, were running down Newman's face as he spoke.

'I see how it is,' said poor Noggs, drawing from his pocket what
seemed to be a very old duster, and wiping Kate's eyes with it, as
gently as if she were an infant. 'You're giving way now. Yes, yes,
very good; that's right, I like that. It was right not to give way
before him. Yes, yes! Ha, ha, ha! Oh, yes. Poor thing!'

With these disjointed exclamations, Newman wiped his own eyes with
the afore-mentioned duster, and, limping to the street-door, opened
it to let her out.

'Don't cry any more,' whispered Newman. 'I shall see you soon. Ha!
ha! ha! And so shall somebody else too. Yes, yes. Ho! ho!'

'God bless you,' answered Kate, hurrying out, 'God bless you.'

'Same to you,' rejoined Newman, opening the door again a little way
to say so. 'Ha, ha, ha! Ho! ho! ho!'

And Newman Noggs opened the door once again to nod cheerfully, and
laugh--and shut it, to shake his head mournfully, and cry.

Ralph remained in the same attitude till he heard the noise of the
closing door, when he shrugged his shoulders, and after a few turns
about the room--hasty at first, but gradually becoming slower, as he
relapsed into himself--sat down before his desk.

It is one of those problems of human nature, which may be noted
down, but not solved;--although Ralph felt no remorse at that moment
for his conduct towards the innocent, true-hearted girl; although
his libertine clients had done precisely what he had expected,
precisely what he most wished, and precisely what would tend most to
his advantage, still he hated them for doing it, from the very
bottom of his soul.

'Ugh!' said Ralph, scowling round, and shaking his clenched hand as
the faces of the two profligates rose up before his mind; 'you shall
pay for this. Oh! you shall pay for this!'

As the usurer turned for consolation to his books and papers, a
performance was going on outside his office door, which would have
occasioned him no small surprise, if he could by any means have
become acquainted with it.

Newman Noggs was the sole actor. He stood at a little distance from
the door, with his face towards it; and with the sleeves of his coat
turned back at the wrists, was occupied in bestowing the most
vigorous, scientific, and straightforward blows upon the empty air.

At first sight, this would have appeared merely a wise precaution in
a man of sedentary habits, with the view of opening the chest and
strengthening the muscles of the arms. But the intense eagerness
and joy depicted in the face of Newman Noggs, which was suffused
with perspiration; the surprising energy with which he directed a
constant succession of blows towards a particular panel about five
feet eight from the ground, and still worked away in the most
untiring and persevering manner, would have sufficiently explained
to the attentive observer, that his imagination was thrashing, to
within an inch of his life, his body's most active employer, Mr
Ralph Nickleby.


Charles Dickens