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Chapter 46

CHAPTER 46

Throws some Light upon Nicholas's Love; but whether for Good or Evil
the Reader must determine


After an anxious consideration of the painful and embarrassing
position in which he was placed, Nicholas decided that he ought to
lose no time in frankly stating it to the kind brothers. Availing
himself of the first opportunity of being alone with Mr Charles
Cheeryble at the close of next day, he accordingly related Smike's
little history, and modestly but firmly expressed his hope that the
good old gentleman would, under such circumstances as he described,
hold him justified in adopting the extreme course of interfering
between parent and child, and upholding the latter in his
disobedience; even though his horror and dread of his father might
seem, and would doubtless be represented as, a thing so repulsive
and unnatural, as to render those who countenanced him in it, fit
objects of general detestation and abhorrence.

'So deeply rooted does this horror of the man appear to be,' said
Nicholas, 'that I can hardly believe he really is his son. Nature
does not seem to have implanted in his breast one lingering feeling
of affection for him, and surely she can never err.'

'My dear sir,' replied brother Charles, 'you fall into the very
common mistake of charging upon Nature, matters with which she has
not the smallest connection, and for which she is in no way
responsible. Men talk of Nature as an abstract thing, and lose
sight of what is natural while they do so. Here is a poor lad who
has never felt a parent's care, who has scarcely known anything all
his life but suffering and sorrow, presented to a man who he is told
is his father, and whose first act is to signify his intention of
putting an end to his short term of happiness, of consigning him to
his old fate, and taking him from the only friend he has ever had--
which is yourself. If Nature, in such a case, put into that lad's
breast but one secret prompting which urged him towards his father
and away from you, she would be a liar and an idiot.'

Nicholas was delighted to find that the old gentleman spoke so
warmly, and in the hope that he might say something more to the same
purpose, made no reply.

'The same mistake presents itself to me, in one shape or other, at
every turn,' said brother Charles. 'Parents who never showed their
love, complain of want of natural affection in their children;
children who never showed their duty, complain of want of natural
feeling in their parents; law-makers who find both so miserable that
their affections have never had enough of life's sun to develop
them, are loud in their moralisings over parents and children too,
and cry that the very ties of nature are disregarded. Natural
affections and instincts, my dear sir, are the most beautiful of the
Almighty's works, but like other beautiful works of His, they must
be reared and fostered, or it is as natural that they should be
wholly obscured, and that new feelings should usurp their place, as
it is that the sweetest productions of the earth, left untended,
should be choked with weeds and briers. I wish we could be brought
to consider this, and remembering natural obligations a little more
at the right time, talk about them a little less at the wrong one.'

After this, brother Charles, who had talked himself into a great
heat, stopped to cool a little, and then continued:

'I dare say you are surprised, my dear sir, that I have listened to
your recital with so little astonishment. That is easily explained.
Your uncle has been here this morning.'

Nicholas coloured, and drew back a step or two.

'Yes,' said the old gentleman, tapping his desk emphatically, 'here,
in this room. He would listen neither to reason, feeling, nor
justice. But brother Ned was hard upon him; brother Ned, sir, might
have melted a paving-stone.'

'He came to--' said Nicholas.

'To complain of you,' returned brother Charles, 'to poison our ears
with calumnies and falsehoods; but he came on a fruitless errand,
and went away with some wholesome truths in his ear besides.
Brother Ned, my dear My Nickleby--brother Ned, sir, is a perfect
lion. So is Tim Linkinwater; Tim is quite a lion. We had Tim in to
face him at first, and Tim was at him, sir, before you could say
"Jack Robinson."'

'How can I ever thank you for all the deep obligations you impose
upon me every day?' said Nicholas.

'By keeping silence upon the subject, my dear sir,' returned brother
Charles. 'You shall be righted. At least you shall not be wronged.
Nobody belonging to you shall be wronged. They shall not hurt a
hair of your head, or the boy's head, or your mother's head, or your
sister's head. I have said it, brother Ned has said it, Tim
Linkinwater has said it. We have all said it, and we'll all do it.
I have seen the father--if he is the father--and I suppose he must
be. He is a barbarian and a hypocrite, Mr Nickleby. I told him,
"You are a barbarian, sir." I did. I said, "You're a barbarian,
sir." And I'm glad of it, I am VERY glad I told him he was a
barbarian, very glad indeed!'

By this time brother Charles was in such a very warm state of
indignation, that Nicholas thought he might venture to put in a
word, but the moment he essayed to do so, Mr Cheeryble laid his hand
softly upon his arm, and pointed to a chair.

'The subject is at an end for the present,' said the old gentleman,
wiping his face. 'Don't revive it by a single word. I am going to
speak upon another subject, a confidential subject, Mr Nickleby. We
must be cool again, we must be cool.'

After two or three turns across the room he resumed his seat, and
drawing his chair nearer to that on which Nicholas was seated, said:

'I am about to employ you, my dear sir, on a confidential and
delicate mission.'

'You might employ many a more able messenger, sir,' said Nicholas,
'but a more trustworthy or zealous one, I may be bold to say, you
could not find.'

'Of that I am well assured,' returned brother Charles, 'well
assured. You will give me credit for thinking so, when I tell you
that the object of this mission is a young lady.'

'A young lady, sir!' cried Nicholas, quite trembling for the moment
with his eagerness to hear more.

'A very beautiful young lady,' said Mr Cheeryble, gravely.

'Pray go on, sir,' returned Nicholas.

'I am thinking how to do so,' said brother Charles; sadly, as it
seemed to his young friend, and with an expression allied to pain.
'You accidentally saw a young lady in this room one morning, my dear
sir, in a fainting fit. Do you remember? Perhaps you have
forgotten.'

'Oh no,' replied Nicholas, hurriedly. 'I--I--remember it very well
indeed.'

'SHE is the lady I speak of,' said brother Charles. Like the famous
parrot, Nicholas thought a great deal, but was unable to utter a
word.

'She is the daughter,' said Mr Cheeryble, 'of a lady who, when she
was a beautiful girl herself, and I was very many years younger, I--
it seems a strange word for me to utter now--I loved very dearly.
You will smile, perhaps, to hear a grey-headed man talk about such
things. You will not offend me, for when I was as young as you, I
dare say I should have done the same.'

'I have no such inclination, indeed,' said Nicholas.

'My dear brother Ned,' continued Mr Cheeryble, 'was to have married
her sister, but she died. She is dead too now, and has been for
many years. She married her choice; and I wish I could add that
her after-life was as happy as God knows I ever prayed it might be!'

A short silence intervened, which Nicholas made no effort to break.

'If trial and calamity had fallen as lightly on his head, as in the
deepest truth of my own heart I ever hoped (for her sake) it would,
his life would have been one of peace and happiness,' said the old
gentleman calmly. 'It will be enough to say that this was not the
case; that she was not happy; that they fell into complicated
distresses and difficulties; that she came, twelve months before her
death, to appeal to my old friendship; sadly changed, sadly altered,
broken-spirited from suffering and ill-usage, and almost broken-
hearted. He readily availed himself of the money which, to give her
but one hour's peace of mind, I would have poured out as freely as
water--nay, he often sent her back for more--and yet even while he
squandered it, he made the very success of these, her applications
to me, the groundwork of cruel taunts and jeers, protesting that he
knew she thought with bitter remorse of the choice she had made,
that she had married him from motives of interest and vanity (he was
a gay young man with great friends about him when she chose him for
her husband), and venting in short upon her, by every unjust and
unkind means, the bitterness of that ruin and disappointment which
had been brought about by his profligacy alone. In those times this
young lady was a mere child. I never saw her again until that
morning when you saw her also, but my nephew, Frank--'

Nicholas started, and indistinctly apologising for the interruption,
begged his patron to proceed.

'--My nephew, Frank, I say,' resumed Mr Cheeryble, 'encountered her by
accident, and lost sight of her almost in a minute afterwards,
within two days after he returned to England. Her father lay in
some secret place to avoid his creditors, reduced, between sickness
and poverty, to the verge of death, and she, a child,--we might
almost think, if we did not know the wisdom of all Heaven's decrees
--who should have blessed a better man, was steadily braving
privation, degradation, and everything most terrible to such a young
and delicate creature's heart, for the purpose of supporting him.
She was attended, sir,' said brother Charles, 'in these reverses, by
one faithful creature, who had been, in old times, a poor kitchen
wench in the family, who was then their solitary servant, but who
might have been, for the truth and fidelity of her heart--who might
have been--ah! the wife of Tim Linkinwater himself, sir!'

Pursuing this encomium upon the poor follower with such energy and
relish as no words can describe, brother Charles leant back in his
chair, and delivered the remainder of his relation with greater
composure.

It was in substance this: That proudly resisting all offers of
permanent aid and support from her late mother's friends, because
they were made conditional upon her quitting the wretched man, her
father, who had no friends left, and shrinking with instinctive
delicacy from appealing in their behalf to that true and noble heart
which he hated, and had, through its greatest and purest goodness,
deeply wronged by misconstruction and ill report, this young girl
had struggled alone and unassisted to maintain him by the labour of
her hands. That through the utmost depths of poverty and affliction
she had toiled, never turning aside for an instant from her task,
never wearied by the petulant gloom of a sick man sustained by no
consoling recollections of the past or hopes of the future; never
repining for the comforts she had rejected, or bewailing the hard
lot she had voluntarily incurred. That every little accomplishment
she had acquired in happier days had been put into requisition for
this purpose, and directed to this one end. That for two long
years, toiling by day and often too by night, working at the needle,
the pencil, and the pen, and submitting, as a daily governess, to
such caprices and indignities as women (with daughters too) too
often love to inflict upon their own sex when they serve in such
capacities, as though in jealousy of the superior intelligence which
they are necessitated to employ,--indignities, in ninety-nine cases
out of every hundred, heaped upon persons immeasurably and
incalculably their betters, but outweighing in comparison any that
the most heartless blackleg would put upon his groom--that for two
long years, by dint of labouring in all these capacities and
wearying in none, she had not succeeded in the sole aim and object
of her life, but that, overwhelmed by accumulated difficulties and
disappointments, she had been compelled to seek out her mother's old
friend, and, with a bursting heart, to confide in him at last.

'If I had been poor,' said brother Charles, with sparkling eyes; 'if
I had been poor, Mr Nickleby, my dear sir, which thank God I am not,
I would have denied myself (of course anybody would under such
circumstances) the commonest necessaries of life, to help her. As
it is, the task is a difficult one. If her father were dead,
nothing could be easier, for then she should share and cheer the
happiest home that brother Ned and I could have, as if she were our
child or sister. But he is still alive. Nobody can help him; that
has been tried a thousand times; he was not abandoned by all without
good cause, I know.'

'Cannot she be persuaded to--' Nicholas hesitated when he had got
thus far.

'To leave him?' said brother Charles. 'Who could entreat a child to
desert her parent? Such entreaties, limited to her seeing him
occasionally, have been urged upon her--not by me--but always with
the same result.'

'Is he kind to her?' said Nicholas. 'Does he requite her affection?'

'True kindness, considerate self-denying kindness, is not in his
nature,' returned Mr Cheeryble. 'Such kindness as he knows, he
regards her with, I believe. The mother was a gentle, loving,
confiding creature, and although he wounded her from their marriage
till her death as cruelly and wantonly as ever man did, she never
ceased to love him. She commended him on her death-bed to her
child's care. Her child has never forgotten it, and never will.'

'Have you no influence over him?' asked Nicholas.

'I, my dear sir! The last man in the world. Such are his jealousy
and hatred of me, that if he knew his daughter had opened her heart
to me, he would render her life miserable with his reproaches;
although--this is the inconsistency and selfishness of his
character--although if he knew that every penny she had came from
me, he would not relinquish one personal desire that the most
reckless expenditure of her scanty stock could gratify.'

'An unnatural scoundrel!' said Nicholas, indignantly.

'We will use no harsh terms,' said brother Charles, in a gentle
voice; 'but accommodate ourselves to the circumstances in which this
young lady is placed. Such assistance as I have prevailed upon her
to accept, I have been obliged, at her own earnest request, to dole
out in the smallest portions, lest he, finding how easily money was
procured, should squander it even more lightly than he is accustomed
to do. She has come to and fro, to and fro, secretly and by night,
to take even this; and I cannot bear that things should go on in
this way, Mr Nickleby, I really cannot bear it.'

Then it came out by little and little, how that the twins had been
revolving in their good old heads manifold plans and schemes for
helping this young lady in the most delicate and considerate way,
and so that her father should not suspect the source whence the aid
was derived; and how they had at last come to the conclusion, that
the best course would be to make a feint of purchasing her little
drawings and ornamental work at a high price, and keeping up a
constant demand for the same. For the furtherance of which end and
object it was necessary that somebody should represent the dealer in
such commodities, and after great deliberation they had pitched upon
Nicholas to support this character.

'He knows me,' said brother Charles, 'and he knows my brother Ned.
Neither of us would do. Frank is a very good fellow--a very fine
fellow--but we are afraid that he might be a little flighty and
thoughtless in such a delicate matter, and that he might, perhaps--
that he might, in short, be too susceptible (for she is a beautiful
creature, sir; just what her poor mother was), and falling in love
with her before he knew well his own mind, carry pain and sorrow
into that innocent breast, which we would be the humble instruments
of gradually making happy. He took an extraordinary interest in her
fortunes when he first happened to encounter her; and we gather from
the inquiries we have made of him, that it was she in whose behalf
he made that turmoil which led to your first acquaintance.'

Nicholas stammered out that he had before suspected the possibility
of such a thing; and in explanation of its having occurred to him,
described when and where he had seen the young lady himself.

'Well; then you see,' continued brother Charles, 'that HE wouldn't
do. Tim Linkinwater is out of the question; for Tim, sir, is such a
tremendous fellow, that he could never contain himself, but would go
to loggerheads with the father before he had been in the place five
minutes. You don't know what Tim is, sir, when he is aroused by
anything that appeals to his feelings very strongly; then he is
terrific, sir, is Tim Linkinwater, absolutely terrific. Now, in you
we can repose the strictest confidence; in you we have seen--or at
least I have seen, and that's the same thing, for there's no
difference between me and my brother Ned, except that he is the
finest creature that ever lived, and that there is not, and never
will be, anybody like him in all the world--in you we have seen
domestic virtues and affections, and delicacy of feeling, which
exactly qualify you for such an office. And you are the man, sir.'

'The young lady, sir,' said Nicholas, who felt so embarrassed that
he had no small difficulty in saying anything at all--'Does--is--is
she a party to this innocent deceit?'

'Yes, yes,' returned Mr Cheeryble; 'at least she knows you come from
us; she does NOT know, however, but that we shall dispose of these
little productions that you'll purchase from time to time; and,
perhaps, if you did it very well (that is, VERY well indeed),
perhaps she might be brought to believe that we--that we made a
profit of them. Eh? Eh?'

In this guileless and most kind simplicity, brother Charles was so
happy, and in this possibility of the young lady being led to think
that she was under no obligation to him, he evidently felt so
sanguine and had so much delight, that Nicholas would not breathe a
doubt upon the subject.

All this time, however, there hovered upon the tip of his tongue a
confession that the very same objections which Mr Cheeryble had
stated to the employment of his nephew in this commission applied
with at least equal force and validity to himself, and a hundred
times had he been upon the point of avowing the real state of his
feelings, and entreating to be released from it. But as often,
treading upon the heels of this impulse, came another which urged
him to refrain, and to keep his secret to his own breast. 'Why
should I,' thought Nicholas, 'why should I throw difficulties in the
way of this benevolent and high-minded design? What if I do love
and reverence this good and lovely creature. Should I not appear a
most arrogant and shallow coxcomb if I gravely represented that
there was any danger of her falling in love with me? Besides, have
I no confidence in myself? Am I not now bound in honour to repress
these thoughts? Has not this excellent man a right to my best and
heartiest services, and should any considerations of self deter me
from rendering them?'

Asking himself such questions as these, Nicholas mentally answered
with great emphasis 'No!' and persuading himself that he was a most
conscientious and glorious martyr, nobly resolved to do what, if he
had examined his own heart a little more carefully, he would have
found he could not resist. Such is the sleight of hand by which we
juggle with ourselves, and change our very weaknesses into stanch
and most magnanimous virtues!

Mr Cheeryble, being of course wholly unsuspicious that such
reflections were presenting themselves to his young friend,
proceeded to give him the needful credentials and directions for his
first visit, which was to be made next morning; and all
preliminaries being arranged, and the strictest secrecy enjoined,
Nicholas walked home for the night very thoughtfully indeed.

The place to which Mr Cheeryble had directed him was a row of mean
and not over-cleanly houses, situated within 'the Rules' of the
King's Bench Prison, and not many hundred paces distant from the
obelisk in St George's Fields. The Rules are a certain liberty
adjoining the prison, and comprising some dozen streets in which
debtors who can raise money to pay large fees, from which their
creditors do NOT derive any benefit, are permitted to reside by the
wise provisions of the same enlightened laws which leave the debtor
who can raise no money to starve in jail, without the food,
clothing, lodging, or warmth, which are provided for felons
convicted of the most atrocious crimes that can disgrace humanity.
but there is not one so pleasant or practically humorous as that
which supposes every man to be of equal value in its impartial eye,
and the benefits of all laws to be equally attainable by all men,
without the smallest reference to the furniture of their pockets.

To the row of houses indicated to him by Mr Charles Cheeryble,
Nicholas directed his steps, without much troubling his head with
such matters as these; and at this row of houses--after traversing a
very dirty and dusty suburb, of which minor theatricals, shell-fish,
ginger-beer, spring vans, greengrocery, and brokers' shops, appeared
to compose the main and most prominent features--he at length
arrived with a palpitating heart. There were small gardens in front
which, being wholly neglected in all other respects, served as
little pens for the dust to collect in, until the wind came round
the corner and blew it down the road. Opening the rickety gate
which, dangling on its broken hinges before one of these, half
admitted and half repulsed the visitor, Nicholas knocked at the
street door with a faltering hand.

It was in truth a shabby house outside, with very dim parlour
windows and very small show of blinds, and very dirty muslin
curtains dangling across the lower panes on very loose and limp
strings. Neither, when the door was opened, did the inside appear
to belie the outward promise, as there was faded carpeting on the
stairs and faded oil-cloth in the passage; in addition to which
discomforts a gentleman Ruler was smoking hard in the front parlour
(though it was not yet noon), while the lady of the house was busily
engaged in turpentining the disjointed fragments of a tent-bedstead
at the door of the back parlour, as if in preparation for the reception
of some new lodger who had been fortunate enough to engage it.

Nicholas had ample time to make these observations while the little
boy, who went on errands for the lodgers, clattered down the kitchen
stairs and was heard to scream, as in some remote cellar, for Miss
Bray's servant, who, presently appearing and requesting him to
follow her, caused him to evince greater symptoms of nervousness and
disorder than so natural a consequence of his having inquired for
that young lady would seem calculated to occasion.

Upstairs he went, however, and into a front room he was shown, and
there, seated at a little table by the window, on which were drawing
materials with which she was occupied, sat the beautiful girl who
had so engrossed his thoughts, and who, surrounded by all the new
and strong interest which Nicholas attached to her story, seemed
now, in his eyes, a thousand times more beautiful than he had ever
yet supposed her.

But how the graces and elegancies which she had dispersed about the
poorly-furnished room went to the heart of Nicholas! Flowers,
plants, birds, the harp, the old piano whose notes had sounded so
much sweeter in bygone times; how many struggles had it cost her to
keep these two last links of that broken chain which bound her yet
to home! With every slender ornament, the occupation of her leisure
hours, replete with that graceful charm which lingers in every
little tasteful work of woman's hands, how much patient endurance
and how many gentle affections were entwined! He felt as though the
smile of Heaven were on the little chamber; as though the beautiful
devotion of so young and weak a creature had shed a ray of its own
on the inanimate things around, and made them beautiful as itself;
as though the halo with which old painters surround the bright
angels of a sinless world played about a being akin in spirit to
them, and its light were visibly before him.

And yet Nicholas was in the Rules of the King's Bench Prison! If he
had been in Italy indeed, and the time had been sunset, and the
scene a stately terrace! But, there is one broad sky over all the
world, and whether it be blue or cloudy, the same heaven beyond it;
so, perhaps, he had no need of compunction for thinking as he did.

It is not to be supposed that he took in everything at one glance,
for he had as yet been unconscious of the presence of a sick man
propped up with pillows in an easy-chair, who, moving restlessly and
impatiently in his seat, attracted his attention.

He was scarce fifty, perhaps, but so emaciated as to appear much
older. His features presented the remains of a handsome
countenance, but one in which the embers of strong and impetuous
passions were easier to be traced than any expression which would
have rendered a far plainer face much more prepossessing. His looks
were very haggard, and his limbs and body literally worn to the
bone, but there was something of the old fire in the large sunken
eye notwithstanding, and it seemed to kindle afresh as he struck a
thick stick, with which he seemed to have supported himself in his
seat, impatiently on the floor twice or thrice, and called his
daughter by her name.

'Madeline, who is this? What does anybody want here? Who told a
stranger we could be seen? What is it?'

'I believe--' the young lady began, as she inclined her head with an
air of some confusion, in reply to the salutation of Nicholas.

'You always believe,' returned her father, petulantly. 'What is
it?'

By this time Nicholas had recovered sufficient presence of mind to
speak for himself, so he said (as it had been agreed he should say)
that he had called about a pair of hand-screens, and some painted
velvet for an ottoman, both of which were required to be of the most
elegant design possible, neither time nor expense being of the
smallest consideration. He had also to pay for the two drawings,
with many thanks, and, advancing to the little table, he laid upon
it a bank note, folded in an envelope and sealed.

'See that the money is right, Madeline,' said the father. 'Open the
paper, my dear.'

'It's quite right, papa, I'm sure.'

'Here!' said Mr Bray, putting out his hand, and opening and shutting
his bony fingers with irritable impatience. 'Let me see. What are
you talking about, Madeline? You're sure? How can you be sure of any
such thing? Five pounds--well, is THAT right?'

'Quite,' said Madeline, bending over him. She was so busily
employed in arranging the pillows that Nicholas could not see her
face, but as she stooped he thought he saw a tear fall.

'Ring the bell, ring the bell,' said the sick man, with the same
nervous eagerness, and motioning towards it with such a quivering
hand that the bank note rustled in the air. 'Tell her to get it
changed, to get me a newspaper, to buy me some grapes, another
bottle of the wine that I had last week--and--and--I forget half I
want just now, but she can go out again. Let her get those first,
those first. Now, Madeline, my love, quick, quick! Good God, how
slow you are!'

'He remembers nothing that SHE wants!' thought Nicholas. Perhaps
something of what he thought was expressed in his countenance, for
the sick man, turning towards him with great asperity, demanded to
know if he waited for a receipt.

'It is no matter at all,' said Nicholas.

'No matter! what do you mean, sir?' was the tart rejoinder. 'No
matter! Do you think you bring your paltry money here as a favour
or a gift; or as a matter of business, and in return for value
received? D--n you, sir, because you can't appreciate the time and
taste which are bestowed upon the goods you deal in, do you think
you give your money away? Do you know that you are talking to a
gentleman, sir, who at one time could have bought up fifty such men
as you and all you have? What do you mean?'

'I merely mean that as I shall have many dealings with this lady, if
she will kindly allow me, I will not trouble her with such forms,'
said Nicholas.

'Then I mean, if you please, that we'll have as many forms as we
can, returned the father. 'My daughter, sir, requires no kindness
from you or anybody else. Have the goodness to confine your
dealings strictly to trade and business, and not to travel beyond
it. Every petty tradesman is to begin to pity her now, is he? Upon
my soul! Very pretty. Madeline, my dear, give him a receipt; and
mind you always do so.'

While she was feigning to write it, and Nicholas was ruminating upon
the extraordinary but by no means uncommon character thus presented
to his observation, the invalid, who appeared at times to suffer
great bodily pain, sank back in his chair and moaned out a feeble
complaint that the girl had been gone an hour, and that everybody
conspired to goad him.

'When,' said Nicholas, as he took the piece of paper, 'when shall I
call again?'

This was addressed to the daughter, but the father answered
immediately.

'When you're requested to call, sir, and not before. Don't worry
and persecute. Madeline, my dear, when is this person to call
again?'

'Oh, not for a long time, not for three or four weeks; it is not
necessary, indeed; I can do without,' said the young lady, with
great eagerness.

'Why, how are we to do without?' urged her father, not speaking
above his breath. 'Three or four weeks, Madeline! Three or four
weeks!'

'Then sooner, sooner, if you please,' said the young lady, turning
to Nicholas.

'Three or four weeks!' muttered the father. 'Madeline, what on
earth--do nothing for three or four weeks!'

'It is a long time, ma'am,' said Nicholas.

'YOU think so, do you?' retorted the father, angrily. 'If I chose
to beg, sir, and stoop to ask assistance from people I despise,
three or four months would not be a long time; three or four years
would not be a long time. Understand, sir, that is if I chose to be
dependent; but as I don't, you may call in a week.'

Nicholas bowed low to the young lady and retired, pondering upon Mr
Bray's ideas of independence, and devoutly hoping that there might
be few such independent spirits as he mingling with the baser clay
of humanity.

He heard a light footstep above him as he descended the stairs, and
looking round saw that the young lady was standing there, and
glancing timidly towards him, seemed to hesitate whether she should
call him back or no. The best way of settling the question was to
turn back at once, which Nicholas did.

'I don't know whether I do right in asking you, sir,' said Madeline,
hurriedly, 'but pray, pray, do not mention to my poor mother's dear
friends what has passed here today. He has suffered much, and is
worse this morning. I beg you, sir, as a boon, a favour to myself.'

'You have but to hint a wish,' returned Nicholas fervently, 'and I
would hazard my life to gratify it.'

'You speak hastily, sir.'

'Truly and sincerely,' rejoined Nicholas, his lips trembling as he
formed the words, 'if ever man spoke truly yet. I am not skilled in
disguising my feelings, and if I were, I could not hide my heart
from you. Dear madam, as I know your history, and feel as men and
angels must who hear and see such things, I do entreat you to
believe that I would die to serve you.'

The young lady turned away her head, and was plainly weeping.

'Forgive me,' said Nicholas, with respectful earnestness, 'if I seem
to say too much, or to presume upon the confidence which has been
intrusted to me. But I could not leave you as if my interest and
sympathy expired with the commission of the day. I am your faithful
servant, humbly devoted to you from this hour, devoted in strict
truth and honour to him who sent me here, and in pure integrity of
heart, and distant respect for you. If I meant more or less than
this, I should be unworthy his regard, and false to the very nature
that prompts the honest words I utter.'

She waved her hand, entreating him to be gone, but answered not a
word. Nicholas could say no more, and silently withdrew. And thus
ended his first interview with Madeline Bray.


Charles Dickens