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Chapter 40

CHAPTER 40

In which Nicholas falls in Love. He employs a Mediator, whose
Proceedings are crowned with unexpected Success, excepting in one
solitary Particular


Once more out of the clutches of his old persecutor, it needed no
fresh stimulation to call forth the utmost energy and exertion that
Smike was capable of summoning to his aid. Without pausing for a
moment to reflect upon the course he was taking, or the probability
of its leading him homewards or the reverse, he fled away with
surprising swiftness and constancy of purpose, borne upon such wings
as only Fear can wear, and impelled by imaginary shouts in the well
remembered voice of Squeers, who, with a host of pursuers, seemed to
the poor fellow's disordered senses to press hard upon his track;
now left at a greater distance in the rear, and now gaining faster
and faster upon him, as the alternations of hope and terror agitated
him by turns. Long after he had become assured that these sounds
were but the creation of his excited brain, he still held on, at a
pace which even weakness and exhaustion could scarcely retard. It
was not until the darkness and quiet of a country road, recalled him
to a sense of external objects, and the starry sky, above, warned
him of the rapid flight of time, that, covered with dust and panting
for breath, he stopped to listen and look about him.

All was still and silent. A glare of light in the distance, casting
a warm glow upon the sky, marked where the huge city lay. Solitary
fields, divided by hedges and ditches, through many of which he had
crashed and scrambled in his flight, skirted the road, both by the
way he had come and upon the opposite side. It was late now. They
could scarcely trace him by such paths as he had taken, and if he
could hope to regain his own dwelling, it must surely be at such a
time as that, and under cover of the darkness. This, by degrees,
became pretty plain, even to the mind of Smike. He had, at first,
entertained some vague and childish idea of travelling into the
country for ten or a dozen miles, and then returning homewards by a
wide circuit, which should keep him clear of London--so great was
his apprehension of traversing the streets alone, lest he should
again encounter his dreaded enemy--but, yielding to the conviction
which these thoughts inspired, he turned back, and taking the open
road, though not without many fears and misgivings, made for London
again, with scarcely less speed of foot than that with which he had
left the temporary abode of Mr Squeers.

By the time he re-entered it, at the western extremity, the greater
part of the shops were closed. Of the throngs of people who had
been tempted abroad after the heat of the day, but few remained in
the streets, and they were lounging home. But of these he asked his
way from time to time, and by dint of repeated inquiries, he at
length reached the dwelling of Newman Noggs.

All that evening, Newman had been hunting and searching in byways
and corners for the very person who now knocked at his door, while
Nicholas had been pursuing the same inquiry in other directions. He
was sitting, with a melancholy air, at his poor supper, when Smike's
timorous and uncertain knock reached his ears. Alive to every
sound, in his anxious and expectant state, Newman hurried
downstairs, and, uttering a cry of joyful surprise, dragged the
welcome visitor into the passage and up the stairs, and said not a
word until he had him safe in his own garret and the door was shut
behind them, when he mixed a great mug-full of gin-and-water, and
holding it to Smike's mouth, as one might hold a bowl of medicine to
the lips of a refractory child, commanded him to drain it to the
last drop.

Newman looked uncommonly blank when he found that Smike did little
more than put his lips to the precious mixture; he was in the act of
raising the mug to his own mouth with a deep sigh of compassion for
his poor friend's weakness, when Smike, beginning to relate the
adventures which had befallen him, arrested him half-way, and he
stood listening, with the mug in his hand.

It was odd enough to see the change that came over Newman as Smike
proceeded. At first he stood, rubbing his lips with the back of his
hand, as a preparatory ceremony towards composing himself for a
draught; then, at the mention of Squeers, he took the mug under his
arm, and opening his eyes very wide, looked on, in the utmost
astonishment. When Smike came to the assault upon himself in the
hackney coach, he hastily deposited the mug upon the table, and
limped up and down the room in a state of the greatest excitement,
stopping himself with a jerk, every now and then, as if to listen
more attentively. When John Browdie came to be spoken of, he
dropped, by slow and gradual degrees, into a chair, and rubbing, his
hands upon his knees--quicker and quicker as the story reached its
climax--burst, at last, into a laugh composed of one loud sonorous
'Ha! ha!' having given vent to which, his countenance immediately
fell again as he inquired, with the utmost anxiety, whether it was
probable that John Browdie and Squeers had come to blows.

'No! I think not,' replied Smike. 'I don't think he could have
missed me till I had got quite away.'

Newman scratched his head with a shout of great disappointment, and
once more lifting up the mug, applied himself to the contents;
smiling meanwhile, over the rim, with a grim and ghastly smile at
Smike.

'You shall stay here,' said Newman; 'you're tired--fagged. I'll
tell them you're come back. They have been half mad about you. Mr
Nicholas--'

'God bless him!' cried Smike.

'Amen!' returned Newman. 'He hasn't had a minute's rest or peace;
no more has the old lady, nor Miss Nickleby.'

'No, no. Has SHE thought about me?' said Smike. 'Has she though?
oh, has she, has she? Don't tell me so if she has not.'

'She has,' cried Newman. 'She is as noble-hearted as she is
beautiful.'

'Yes, yes!' cried Smike. 'Well said!'

'So mild and gentle,' said Newman.

'Yes, yes!' cried Smike, with increasing eagerness.

'And yet with such a true and gallant spirit,' pursued Newman.

He was going on, in his enthusiasm, when, chancing to look at his
companion, he saw that he had covered his face with his hands, and
that tears were stealing out between his fingers.

A moment before, the boy's eyes were sparkling with unwonted fire,
and every feature had been lighted up with an excitement which made
him appear, for the moment, quite a different being.

'Well, well,' muttered Newman, as if he were a little puzzled. 'It
has touched ME, more than once, to think such a nature should have
been exposed to such trials; this poor fellow--yes, yes,--he feels
that too--it softens him--makes him think of his former misery.
Hah! That's it? Yes, that's--hum!'

It was by no means clear, from the tone of these broken reflections,
that Newman Noggs considered them as explaining, at all
satisfactorily, the emotion which had suggested them. He sat, in a
musing attitude, for some time, regarding Smike occasionally with an
anxious and doubtful glance, which sufficiently showed that he was
not very remotely connected with his thoughts.

At length he repeated his proposition that Smike should remain where
he was for that night, and that he (Noggs) should straightway repair
to the cottage to relieve the suspense of the family. But, as Smike
would not hear of this--pleading his anxiety to see his friends
again--they eventually sallied forth together; and the night being,
by this time, far advanced, and Smike being, besides, so footsore
that he could hardly crawl along, it was within an hour of sunrise
when they reached their destination.

At the first sound of their voices outside the house, Nicholas, who
had passed a sleepless night, devising schemes for the recovery of
his lost charge, started from his bed, and joyfully admitted them.
There was so much noisy conversation, and congratulation, and
indignation, that the remainder of the family were soon awakened,
and Smike received a warm and cordial welcome, not only from Kate,
but from Mrs Nickleby also, who assured him of her future favour and
regard, and was so obliging as to relate, for his entertainment and
that of the assembled circle, a most remarkable account extracted
from some work the name of which she had never known, of a
miraculous escape from some prison, but what one she couldn't
remember, effected by an officer whose name she had forgotten,
confined for some crime which she didn't clearly recollect.

At first Nicholas was disposed to give his uncle credit for some
portion of this bold attempt (which had so nearly proved successful)
to carry off Smike; but on more mature consideration, he was
inclined to think that the full merit of it rested with Mr Squeers.
Determined to ascertain, if he could, through John Browdie, how the
case really stood, he betook himself to his daily occupation:
meditating, as he went, on a great variety of schemes for the
punishment of the Yorkshire schoolmaster, all of which had their
foundation in the strictest principles of retributive justice, and
had but the one drawback of being wholly impracticable.

'A fine morning, Mr Linkinwater!' said Nicholas, entering the
office.

'Ah!' replied Tim, 'talk of the country, indeed! What do you think
of this, now, for a day--a London day--eh?'

'It's a little clearer out of town,' said Nicholas.

'Clearer!' echoed Tim Linkinwater. 'You should see it from my
bedroom window.'

'You should see it from MINE,' replied Nicholas, with a smile.

'Pooh! pooh!' said Tim Linkinwater, 'don't tell me. Country!' (Bow
was quite a rustic place to Tim.) 'Nonsense! What can you get in
the country but new-laid eggs and flowers? I can buy new-laid eggs
in Leadenhall Market, any morning before breakfast; and as to
flowers, it's worth a run upstairs to smell my mignonette, or to see
the double wallflower in the back-attic window, at No. 6, in the
court.'

'There is a double wallflower at No. 6, in the court, is there?'
said Nicholas.

'Yes, is there!' replied Tim, 'and planted in a cracked jug, without
a spout. There were hyacinths there, this last spring, blossoming,
in--but you'll laugh at that, of course.'

'At what?'

'At their blossoming in old blacking-bottles,' said Tim.

'Not I, indeed,' returned Nicholas.

Tim looked wistfully at him, for a moment, as if he were encouraged
by the tone of this reply to be more communicative on the subject;
and sticking behind his ear, a pen that he had been making, and
shutting up his knife with a smart click, said,

'They belong to a sickly bedridden hump-backed boy, and seem to be
the only pleasure, Mr Nickleby, of his sad existence. How many
years is it,' said Tim, pondering, 'since I first noticed him, quite
a little child, dragging himself about on a pair of tiny crutches?
Well! Well! Not many; but though they would appear nothing, if I
thought of other things, they seem a long, long time, when I think
of him. It is a sad thing,' said Tim, breaking off, 'to see a
little deformed child sitting apart from other children, who are
active and merry, watching the games he is denied the power to share
in. He made my heart ache very often.'

'It is a good heart,' said Nicholas, 'that disentangles itself from
the close avocations of every day, to heed such things. You were
saying--'

'That the flowers belonged to this poor boy,' said Tim; 'that's all.
When it is fine weather, and he can crawl out of bed, he draws a
chair close to the window, and sits there, looking at them and
arranging them, all day long. He used to nod, at first, and then we
came to speak. Formerly, when I called to him of a morning, and
asked him how he was, he would smile, and say, "Better!" but now he
shakes his head, and only bends more closely over his old plants.
It must be dull to watch the dark housetops and the flying clouds,
for so many months; but he is very patient.'

'Is there nobody in the house to cheer or help him?' asked Nicholas.

'His father lives there, I believe,' replied Tim, 'and other people
too; but no one seems to care much for the poor sickly cripple. I
have asked him, very often, if I can do nothing for him; his answer
is always the same. "Nothing." His voice is growing weak of late,
but I can SEE that he makes the old reply. He can't leave his bed
now, so they have moved it close beside the window, and there he
lies, all day: now looking at the sky, and now at his flowers, which
he still makes shift to trim and water, with his own thin hands. At
night, when he sees my candle, he draws back his curtain, and leaves
it so, till I am in bed. It seems such company to him to know that
I am there, that I often sit at my window for an hour or more, that
he may see I am still awake; and sometimes I get up in the night to
look at the dull melancholy light in his little room, and wonder
whether he is awake or sleeping.

'The night will not be long coming,' said Tim, 'when he will sleep,
and never wake again on earth. We have never so much as shaken
hands in all our lives; and yet I shall miss him like an old friend.
Are there any country flowers that could interest me like these, do
you think? Or do you suppose that the withering of a hundred kinds
of the choicest flowers that blow, called by the hardest Latin names
that were ever invented, would give me one fraction of the pain that
I shall feel when these old jugs and bottles are swept away as
lumber? Country!' cried Tim, with a contemptuous emphasis; 'don't
you know that I couldn't have such a court under my bedroom window,
anywhere, but in London?'

With which inquiry, Tim turned his back, and pretending to be
absorbed in his accounts, took an opportunity of hastily wiping his
eyes when he supposed Nicholas was looking another way.

Whether it was that Tim's accounts were more than usually intricate
that morning, or whether it was that his habitual serenity had been
a little disturbed by these recollections, it so happened that when
Nicholas returned from executing some commission, and inquired
whether Mr Charles Cheeryble was alone in his room, Tim promptly,
and without the smallest hesitation, replied in the affirmative,
although somebody had passed into the room not ten minutes before,
and Tim took especial and particular pride in preventing any
intrusion on either of the brothers when they were engaged with any
visitor whatever.

'I'll take this letter to him at once,' said Nicholas, 'if that's
the case.' And with that, he walked to the room and knocked at the
door.

No answer.

Another knock, and still no answer.

'He can't be here,' thought Nicholas. 'I'll lay it on his table.'

So, Nicholas opened the door and walked in; and very quickly he
turned to walk out again, when he saw, to his great astonishment and
discomfiture, a young lady upon her knees at Mr Cheeryble's feet,
and Mr Cheeryble beseeching her to rise, and entreating a third
person, who had the appearance of the young lady's female
attendant, to add her persuasions to his to induce her to do so.

Nicholas stammered out an awkward apology, and was precipitately
retiring, when the young lady, turning her head a little, presented
to his view the features of the lovely girl whom he had seen at the
register-office on his first visit long before. Glancing from her
to the attendant, he recognised the same clumsy servant who had
accompanied her then; and between his admiration of the young lady's
beauty, and the confusion and surprise of this unexpected
recognition, he stood stock-still, in such a bewildered state of
surprise and embarrassment that, for the moment, he was quite bereft
of the power either to speak or move.

'My dear ma'am--my dear young lady,' cried brother Charles in
violent agitation, 'pray don't--not another word, I beseech and
entreat you! I implore you--I beg of you--to rise. We--we--are not
alone.'

As he spoke, he raised the young lady, who staggered to a chair and
swooned away.

'She has fainted, sir,' said Nicholas, darting eagerly forward.

'Poor dear, poor dear!' cried brother Charles 'Where is my brother
Ned? Ned, my dear brother, come here pray.'

'Brother Charles, my dear fellow,' replied his brother, hurrying
into the room, 'what is the--ah! what--'

'Hush! hush!--not a word for your life, brother Ned,' returned the
other. 'Ring for the housekeeper, my dear brother--call Tim
Linkinwater! Here, Tim Linkinwater, sir--Mr Nickleby, my dear sir,
leave the room, I beg and beseech of you.'

'I think she is better now,' said Nicholas, who had been watching
the patient so eagerly, that he had not heard the request.

'Poor bird!' cried brother Charles, gently taking her hand in his,
and laying her head upon his arm. 'Brother Ned, my dear fellow, you
will be surprised, I know, to witness this, in business hours; but--'
here he was again reminded of the presence of Nicholas, and
shaking him by the hand, earnestly requested him to leave the room,
and to send Tim Linkinwater without an instant's delay.

Nicholas immediately withdrew and, on his way to the counting-house,
met both the old housekeeper and Tim Linkinwater, jostling each
other in the passage, and hurrying to the scene of action with
extraordinary speed. Without waiting to hear his message, Tim
Linkinwater darted into the room, and presently afterwards Nicholas
heard the door shut and locked on the inside.

He had abundance of time to ruminate on this discovery, for Tim
Linkinwater was absent during the greater part of an hour, during
the whole of which time Nicholas thought of nothing but the young
lady, and her exceeding beauty, and what could possibly have brought
her there, and why they made such a mystery of it. The more he
thought of all this, the more it perplexed him, and the more anxious
he became to know who and what she was. 'I should have known her
among ten thousand,' thought Nicholas. And with that he walked up
and down the room, and recalling her face and figure (of which he
had a peculiarly vivid remembrance), discarded all other subjects of
reflection and dwelt upon that alone.

At length Tim Linkinwater came back--provokingly cool, and with
papers in his hand, and a pen in his mouth, as if nothing had
happened.

'Is she quite recovered?' said Nicholas, impetuously.

'Who?' returned Tim Linkinwater.

'Who!' repeated Nicholas. 'The young lady.'

'What do you make, Mr Nickleby,' said Tim, taking his pen out of his
mouth, 'what do you make of four hundred and twenty-seven times
three thousand two hundred and thirty-eight?'

'Nay,' returned Nicholas, 'what do you make of my question first? I
asked you--'

'About the young lady,' said Tim Linkinwater, putting on his
spectacles. 'To be sure. Yes. Oh! she's very well.'

'Very well, is she?' returned Nicholas.

'Very well,' replied Mr Linkinwater, gravely.

'Will she be able to go home today?' asked Nicholas.

'She's gone,' said Tim.

'Gone!'

'Yes.'

'I hope she has not far to go?' said Nicholas, looking earnestly at
the other.

'Ay,' replied the immovable Tim, 'I hope she hasn't.'

Nicholas hazarded one or two further remarks, but it was evident
that Tim Linkinwater had his own reasons for evading the subject,
and that he was determined to afford no further information
respecting the fair unknown, who had awakened so much curiosity in
the breast of his young friend. Nothing daunted by this repulse,
Nicholas returned to the charge next day, emboldened by the
circumstance of Mr Linkinwater being in a very talkative and
communicative mood; but, directly he resumed the theme, Tim relapsed
into a state of most provoking taciturnity, and from answering in
monosyllables, came to returning no answers at all, save such as
were to be inferred from several grave nods and shrugs, which only
served to whet that appetite for intelligence in Nicholas, which had
already attained a most unreasonable height.

Foiled in these attempts, he was fain to content himself with
watching for the young lady's next visit, but here again he was
disappointed. Day after day passed, and she did not return. He
looked eagerly at the superscription of all the notes and letters,
but there was not one among them which he could fancy to be in her
handwriting. On two or three occasions he was employed on business
which took him to a distance, and had formerly been transacted by
Tim Linkinwater. Nicholas could not help suspecting that, for some
reason or other, he was sent out of the way on purpose, and that the
young lady was there in his absence. Nothing transpired, however,
to confirm this suspicion, and Tim could not be entrapped into any
confession or admission tending to support it in the smallest
degree.

Mystery and disappointment are not absolutely indispensable to the
growth of love, but they are, very often, its powerful auxiliaries.
'Out of sight, out of mind,' is well enough as a proverb applicable
to cases of friendship, though absence is not always necessary to
hollowness of heart, even between friends, and truth and honesty,
like precious stones, are perhaps most easily imitated at a
distance, when the counterfeits often pass for real. Love, however,
is very materially assisted by a warm and active imagination: which
has a long memory, and will thrive, for a considerable time, on very
slight and sparing food. Thus it is, that it often attains its most
luxuriant growth in separation and under circumstances of the utmost
difficulty; and thus it was, that Nicholas, thinking of nothing but
the unknown young lady, from day to day and from hour to hour,
began, at last, to think that he was very desperately in love with
her, and that never was such an ill-used and persecuted lover as he.

Still, though he loved and languished after the most orthodox
models, and was only deterred from making a confidante of Kate by
the slight considerations of having never, in all his life, spoken
to the object of his passion, and having never set eyes upon her,
except on two occasions, on both of which she had come and gone like
a flash of lightning--or, as Nicholas himself said, in the numerous
conversations he held with himself, like a vision of youth and
beauty much too bright to last--his ardour and devotion remained
without its reward. The young lady appeared no more; so there was a
great deal of love wasted (enough indeed to have set up half-a-dozen
young gentlemen, as times go, with the utmost decency), and nobody
was a bit the wiser for it; not even Nicholas himself, who, on the
contrary, became more dull, sentimental, and lackadaisical, every
day.

While matters were in this state, the failure of a correspondent of
the brothers Cheeryble, in Germany, imposed upon Tim Linkinwater and
Nicholas the necessity of going through some very long and
complicated accounts, extending over a considerable space of time.
To get through them with the greater dispatch, Tim Linkinwater
proposed that they should remain at the counting-house, for a week
or so, until ten o'clock at night; to this, as nothing damped the
zeal of Nicholas in the service of his kind patrons--not even
romance, which has seldom business habits--he cheerfully assented.
On the very first night of these later hours, at nine exactly, there
came: not the young lady herself, but her servant, who, being
closeted with brother Charles for some time, went away, and returned
next night at the same hour, and on the next, and on the next again.

These repeated visits inflamed the curiosity of Nicholas to the very
highest pitch. Tantalised and excited, beyond all bearing, and
unable to fathom the mystery without neglecting his duty, he
confided the whole secret to Newman Noggs, imploring him to be on
the watch next night; to follow the girl home; to set on foot such
inquiries relative to the name, condition, and history of her
mistress, as he could, without exciting suspicion; and to report the
result to him with the least possible delay.

Beyond all measure proud of this commission, Newman Noggs took up
his post, in the square, on the following evening, a full hour
before the needful time, and planting himself behind the pump and
pulling his hat over his eyes, began his watch with an elaborate
appearance of mystery, admirably calculated to excite the suspicion
of all beholders. Indeed, divers servant girls who came to draw
water, and sundry little boys who stopped to drink at the ladle,
were almost scared out of their senses, by the apparition of Newman
Noggs looking stealthily round the pump, with nothing of him visible
but his face, and that wearing the expression of a meditative Ogre.

Punctual to her time, the messenger came again, and, after an
interview of rather longer duration than usual, departed. Newman
had made two appointments with Nicholas: one for the next evening,
conditional on his success: and one the next night following, which
was to be kept under all circumstances. The first night he was not
at the place of meeting (a certain tavern about half-way between the
city and Golden Square), but on the second night he was there before
Nicholas, and received him with open arms.

'It's all right,' whispered Newman. 'Sit down. Sit down, there's a
dear young man, and let me tell you all about it.'

Nicholas needed no second invitation, and eagerly inquired what was
the news.

'There's a great deal of news,' said Newman, in a flutter of
exultation. 'It's all right. Don't be anxious. I don't know where
to begin. Never mind that. Keep up your spirits. It's all right.'

'Well?' said Nicholas eagerly. 'Yes?'

'Yes,' replied Newman. 'That's it.'

'What's it?' said Nicholas. 'The name--the name, my dear fellow!'

'The name's Bobster,' replied Newman.

'Bobster!' repeated Nicholas, indignantly.

'That's the name,' said Newman. 'I remember it by lobster.'

'Bobster!' repeated Nicholas, more emphatically than before. 'That
must be the servant's name.'

'No, it an't,' said Newman, shaking his head with great positiveness.
'Miss Cecilia Bobster.'

'Cecilia, eh?' returned Nicholas, muttering the two names together
over and over again in every variety of tone, to try the effect.
'Well, Cecilia is a pretty name.'

'Very. And a pretty creature too,' said Newman.

'Who?' said Nicholas.

'Miss Bobster.'

'Why, where have you seen her?' demanded Nicholas.

'Never mind, my dear boy,' retorted Noggs, clapping him on the
shoulder. 'I HAVE seen her. You shall see her. I've managed it
all.'

'My dear Newman,' cried Nicholas, grasping his hand, 'are you
serious?'

'I am,' replied Newman. 'I mean it all. Every word. You shall see
her tomorrow night. She consents to hear you speak for yourself. I
persuaded her. She is all affability, goodness, sweetness, and
beauty.'

'I know she is; I know she must be, Newman!' said Nicholas, wringing
his hand.

'You are right,' returned Newman.

'Where does she live?' cried Nicholas. 'What have you learnt of her
history? Has she a father--mother--any brothers--sisters? What did
she say? How came you to see her? Was she not very much surprised?
Did you say how passionately I have longed to speak to her? Did you
tell her where I had seen her? Did you tell her how, and when, and
where, and how long, and how often, I have thought of that sweet
face which came upon me in my bitterest distress like a glimpse of
some better world--did you, Newman--did you?'

Poor Noggs literally gasped for breath as this flood of questions
rushed upon him, and moved spasmodically in his chair at every fresh
inquiry, staring at Nicholas meanwhile with a most ludicrous
expression of perplexity.

'No,' said Newman, 'I didn't tell her that.'

'Didn't tell her which?' asked Nicholas.

'About the glimpse of the better world,' said Newman. 'I didn't
tell her who you were, either, or where you'd seen her. I said you
loved her to distraction.'

'That's true, Newman,' replied Nicholas, with his characteristic
vehemence. 'Heaven knows I do!'

'I said too, that you had admired her for a long time in secret,'
said Newman.

'Yes, yes. What did she say to that?' asked Nicholas.

'Blushed,' said Newman.

'To be sure. Of course she would,' said Nicholas approvingly.
Newman then went on to say, that the young lady was an only child,
that her mother was dead, that she resided with her father, and that
she had been induced to allow her lover a secret interview, at the
intercession of her servant, who had great influence with her. He
further related how it required much moving and great eloquence to
bring the young lady to this pass; how it was expressly understood
that she merely afforded Nicholas an opportunity of declaring his
passion; and how she by no means pledged herself to be favourably
impressed with his attentions. The mystery of her visits to the
brothers Cheeryble remained wholly unexplained, for Newman had not
alluded to them, either in his preliminary conversations with the
servant or his subsequent interview with the mistress, merely
remarking that he had been instructed to watch the girl home and
plead his young friend's cause, and not saying how far he had
followed her, or from what point. But Newman hinted that from what
had fallen from the confidante, he had been led to suspect that the
young lady led a very miserable and unhappy life, under the strict
control of her only parent, who was of a violent and brutal temper;
a circumstance which he thought might in some degree account, both
for her having sought the protection and friendship of the brothers,
and her suffering herself to be prevailed upon to grant the promised
interview. The last he held to be a very logical deduction from the
premises, inasmuch as it was but natural to suppose that a young
lady, whose present condition was so unenviable, would be more than
commonly desirous to change it.

It appeared, on further questioning--for it was only by a very long
and arduous process that all this could be got out of Newman Noggs--
that Newman, in explanation of his shabby appearance, had
represented himself as being, for certain wise and indispensable
purposes connected with that intrigue, in disguise; and, being
questioned how he had come to exceed his commission so far as to
procure an interview, he responded, that the lady appearing willing
to grant it, he considered himself bound, both in duty and
gallantry, to avail himself of such a golden means of enabling
Nicholas to prosecute his addresses. After these and all possible
questions had been asked and answered twenty times over, they
parted, undertaking to meet on the following night at half-past ten,
for the purpose of fulfilling the appointment; which was for eleven
o'clock.

'Things come about very strangely!' thought Nicholas, as he walked
home. 'I never contemplated anything of this kind; never dreamt of
the possibility of it. To know something of the life of one in whom
I felt such interest; to see her in the street, to pass the house in
which she lived, to meet her sometimes in her walks, to hope that a
day might come when I might be in a condition to tell her of my
love, this was the utmost extent of my thoughts. Now, however--but
I should be a fool, indeed, to repine at my own good fortune!'

Still, Nicholas was dissatisfied; and there was more in the
dissatisfaction than mere revulsion of feeling. He was angry with
the young lady for being so easily won, 'because,' reasoned
Nicholas, 'it is not as if she knew it was I, but it might have been
anybody,'--which was certainly not pleasant. The next moment, he
was angry with himself for entertaining such thoughts, arguing that
nothing but goodness could dwell in such a temple, and that the
behaviour of the brothers sufficiently showed the estimation in
which they held her. 'The fact is, she's a mystery altogether,'
said Nicholas. This was not more satisfactory than his previous
course of reflection, and only drove him out upon a new sea of
speculation and conjecture, where he tossed and tumbled, in great
discomfort of mind, until the clock struck ten, and the hour of
meeting drew nigh.

Nicholas had dressed himself with great care, and even Newman Noggs
had trimmed himself up a little; his coat presenting the phenomenon
of two consecutive buttons, and the supplementary pins being
inserted at tolerably regular intervals. He wore his hat, too, in
the newest taste, with a pocket-handkerchief in the crown, and a
twisted end of it straggling out behind after the fashion of a
pigtail, though he could scarcely lay claim to the ingenuity of
inventing this latter decoration, inasmuch as he was utterly
unconscious of it: being in a nervous and excited condition which
rendered him quite insensible to everything but the great object of
the expedition.

They traversed the streets in profound silence; and after walking at
a round pace for some distance, arrived in one, of a gloomy
appearance and very little frequented, near the Edgeware Road.

'Number twelve,' said Newman.

'Oh!' replied Nicholas, looking about him.

'Good street?' said Newman.

'Yes,' returned Nicholas. 'Rather dull.'

Newman made no answer to this remark, but, halting abruptly, planted
Nicholas with his back to some area railings, and gave him to
understand that he was to wait there, without moving hand or foot,
until it was satisfactorily ascertained that the coast was clear.
This done, Noggs limped away with great alacrity; looking over his
shoulder every instant, to make quite certain that Nicholas was
obeying his directions; and, ascending the steps of a house some
half-dozen doors off, was lost to view.

After a short delay, he reappeared, and limping back again, halted
midway, and beckoned Nicholas to follow him.

'Well?' said Nicholas, advancing towards him on tiptoe.

'All right,' replied Newman, in high glee. 'All ready; nobody at
home. Couldn't be better. Ha! ha!'

With this fortifying assurance, he stole past a street-door, on
which Nicholas caught a glimpse of a brass plate, with 'BOBSTER,' in
very large letters; and, stopping at the area-gate, which was open,
signed to his young friend to descend.

'What the devil!' cried Nicholas, drawing back. 'Are we to sneak
into the kitchen, as if we came after the forks?'

'Hush!' replied Newman. 'Old Bobster--ferocious Turk. He'd kill
'em all--box the young lady's ears--he does--often.'

'What!' cried Nicholas, in high wrath, 'do you mean to tell me that
any man would dare to box the ears of such a--'

He had no time to sing the praises of his mistress, just then, for
Newman gave him a gentle push which had nearly precipitated him to
the bottom of the area steps. Thinking it best to take the hint in
good part, Nicholas descended, without further remonstrance, but
with a countenance bespeaking anything rather than the hope and
rapture of a passionate lover. Newman followed--he would have
followed head first, but for the timely assistance of Nicholas--and,
taking his hand, led him through a stone passage, profoundly dark,
into a back-kitchen or cellar, of the blackest and most pitchy
obscurity, where they stopped.

'Well!' said Nicholas, in a discontented whisper, 'this is not all,
I suppose, is it?'

'No, no,' rejoined Noggs; 'they'll be here directly. It's all
right.'

'I am glad to hear it,' said Nicholas. 'I shouldn't have thought
it, I confess.'

They exchanged no further words, and there Nicholas stood, listening
to the loud breathing of Newman Noggs, and imagining that his nose
seemed to glow like a red-hot coal, even in the midst of the
darkness which enshrouded them. Suddenly the sound of cautious
footsteps attracted his ear, and directly afterwards a female voice
inquired if the gentleman was there.

'Yes,' replied Nicholas, turning towards the corner from which the
voice proceeded. 'Who is that?'

'Only me, sir,' replied the voice. 'Now if you please, ma'am.'

A gleam of light shone into the place, and presently the servant
girl appeared, bearing a light, and followed by her young mistress,
who seemed to be overwhelmed by modesty and confusion.

At sight of the young lady, Nicholas started and changed colour; his
heart beat violently, and he stood rooted to the spot. At that
instant, and almost simultaneously with her arrival and that of the
candle, there was heard a loud and furious knocking at the street-
door, which caused Newman Noggs to jump up, with great agility, from
a beer-barrel on which he had been seated astride, and to exclaim
abruptly, and with a face of ashy paleness, 'Bobster, by the Lord!'

The young lady shrieked, the attendant wrung her hands, Nicholas
gazed from one to the other in apparent stupefaction, and Newman
hurried to and fro, thrusting his hands into all his pockets
successively, and drawing out the linings of every one in the excess
of his irresolution. It was but a moment, but the confusion crowded
into that one moment no imagination can exaggerate.

'Leave the house, for Heaven's sake! We have done wrong, we deserve
it all,' cried the young lady. 'Leave the house, or I am ruined and
undone for ever.'

'Will you hear me say but one word?' cried Nicholas. 'Only one. I
will not detain you. Will you hear me say one word, in explanation
of this mischance?'

But Nicholas might as well have spoken to the wind, for the young
lady, with distracted looks, hurried up the stairs. He would have
followed her, but Newman, twisting his hand in his coat collar,
dragged him towards the passage by which they had entered.

'Let me go, Newman, in the Devil's name!' cried Nicholas. 'I must
speak to her. I will! I will not leave this house without.'

'Reputation--character--violence--consider,' said Newman, clinging
round him with both arms, and hurrying him away. 'Let them open the
door. We'll go, as we came, directly it's shut. Come. This way.
Here.'

Overpowered by the remonstrances of Newman, and the tears and
prayers of the girl, and the tremendous knocking above, which had
never ceased, Nicholas allowed himself to be hurried off; and,
precisely as Mr Bobster made his entrance by the street-door, he and
Noggs made their exit by the area-gate.

They hurried away, through several streets, without stopping or
speaking. At last, they halted and confronted each other with blank
and rueful faces.

'Never mind,' said Newman, gasping for breath. 'Don't be cast down.
It's all right. More fortunate next time. It couldn't be helped.
I did MY part.'

'Excellently,' replied Nicholas, taking his hand. 'Excellently, and
like the true and zealous friend you are. Only--mind, I am not
disappointed, Newman, and feel just as much indebted to you--only IT
WAS THE WRONG LADY.'

'Eh?' cried Newman Noggs. 'Taken in by the servant?'

'Newman, Newman,' said Nicholas, laying his hand upon his shoulder:
'it was the wrong servant too.'

Newman's under-jaw dropped, and he gazed at Nicholas, with his sound
eye fixed fast and motionless in his head.

'Don't take it to heart,' said Nicholas; 'it's of no consequence;
you see I don't care about it; you followed the wrong person, that's
all.'

That WAS all. Whether Newman Noggs had looked round the pump, in a
slanting direction, so long, that his sight became impaired; or
whether, finding that there was time to spare, he had recruited
himself with a few drops of something stronger than the pump could
yield--by whatsoever means it had come to pass, this was his
mistake. And Nicholas went home to brood upon it, and to meditate
upon the charms of the unknown young lady, now as far beyond his
reach as ever.


Charles Dickens