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    Chapter 2

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    Chapter 2
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    CHAPTER 2

    Of Mr Ralph Nickleby, and his Establishments, and his Undertakings,
    and of a great Joint Stock Company of vast national Importance

    Mr Ralph Nickleby was not, strictly speaking, what you would call a
    merchant, neither was he a banker, nor an attorney, nor a special
    pleader, nor a notary. He was certainly not a tradesman, and still
    less could he lay any claim to the title of a professional
    gentleman; for it would have been impossible to mention any
    recognised profession to which he belonged. Nevertheless, as he
    lived in a spacious house in Golden Square, which, in addition to a
    brass plate upon the street-door, had another brass plate two sizes
    and a half smaller upon the left hand door-post, surrounding a brass
    model of an infant's fist grasping a fragment of a skewer, and
    displaying the word 'Office,' it was clear that Mr Ralph Nickleby
    did, or pretended to do, business of some kind; and the fact, if it
    required any further circumstantial evidence, was abundantly
    demonstrated by the diurnal attendance, between the hours of half-
    past nine and five, of a sallow-faced man in rusty brown, who sat
    upon an uncommonly hard stool in a species of butler's pantry at the
    end of the passage, and always had a pen behind his ear when he
    answered the bell.

    Although a few members of the graver professions live about Golden
    Square, it is not exactly in anybody's way to or from anywhere. It
    is one of the squares that have been; a quarter of the town that has
    gone down in the world, and taken to letting lodgings. Many of its
    first and second floors are let, furnished, to single gentlemen; and
    it takes boarders besides. It is a great resort of foreigners. The
    dark-complexioned men who wear large rings, and heavy watch-guards,
    and bushy whiskers, and who congregate under the Opera Colonnade,
    and about the box-office in the season, between four and five in the
    afternoon, when they give away the orders,--all live in Golden
    Square, or within a street of it. Two or three violins and a wind
    instrument from the Opera band reside within its precincts. Its
    boarding-houses are musical, and the notes of pianos and harps float
    in the evening time round the head of the mournful statue, the
    guardian genius of a little wilderness of shrubs, in the centre of
    the square. On a summer's night, windows are thrown open, and
    groups of swarthy moustached men are seen by the passer-by, lounging
    at the casements, and smoking fearfully. Sounds of gruff voices
    practising vocal music invade the evening's silence; and the fumes
    of choice tobacco scent the air. There, snuff and cigars, and
    German pipes and flutes, and violins and violoncellos, divide the
    supremacy between them. It is the region of song and smoke. Street
    bands are on their mettle in Golden Square; and itinerant glee-
    singers quaver involuntarily as they raise their voices within its
    boundaries.

    This would not seem a spot very well adapted to the transaction of
    business; but Mr Ralph Nickleby had lived there, notwithstanding,
    for many years, and uttered no complaint on that score. He knew
    nobody round about, and nobody knew him, although he enjoyed the
    reputation of being immensely rich. The tradesmen held that he was
    a sort of lawyer, and the other neighbours opined that he was a kind
    of general agent; both of which guesses were as correct and definite
    as guesses about other people's affairs usually are, or need to be.

    Mr Ralph Nickleby sat in his private office one morning, ready
    dressed to walk abroad. He wore a bottle-green spencer over a blue
    coat; a white waistcoat, grey mixture pantaloons, and Wellington
    boots drawn over them. The corner of a small-plaited shirt-frill
    struggled out, as if insisting to show itself, from between his chin
    and the top button of his spencer; and the latter garment was not
    made low enough to conceal a long gold watch-chain, composed of a
    series of plain rings, which had its beginning at the handle of a
    gold repeater in Mr Nickleby's pocket, and its termination in two
    little keys: one belonging to the watch itself, and the other to
    some patent padlock. He wore a sprinkling of powder upon his head,
    as if to make himself look benevolent; but if that were his purpose,
    he would perhaps have done better to powder his countenance also,
    for there was something in its very wrinkles, and in his cold
    restless eye, which seemed to tell of cunning that would announce
    itself in spite of him. However this might be, there he was; and as
    he was all alone, neither the powder, nor the wrinkles, nor the
    eyes, had the smallest effect, good or bad, upon anybody just then,
    and are consequently no business of ours just now.

    Mr Nickleby closed an account-book which lay on his desk, and,
    throwing himself back in his chair, gazed with an air of abstraction
    through the dirty window. Some London houses have a melancholy
    little plot of ground behind them, usually fenced in by four high
    whitewashed walls, and frowned upon by stacks of chimneys: in which
    there withers on, from year to year, a crippled tree, that makes a
    show of putting forth a few leaves late in autumn when other trees
    shed theirs, and, drooping in the effort, lingers on, all crackled
    and smoke-dried, till the following season, when it repeats the same
    process, and perhaps, if the weather be particularly genial, even
    tempts some rheumatic sparrow to chirrup in its branches. People
    sometimes call these dark yards 'gardens'; it is not supposed that
    they were ever planted, but rather that they are pieces of
    unreclaimed land, with the withered vegetation of the original
    brick-field. No man thinks of walking in this desolate place, or of
    turning it to any account. A few hampers, half-a-dozen broken
    bottles, and such-like rubbish, may be thrown there, when the tenant
    first moves in, but nothing more; and there they remain until he
    goes away again: the damp straw taking just as long to moulder as it
    thinks proper: and mingling with the scanty box, and stunted
    everbrowns, and broken flower-pots, that are scattered mournfully
    about--a prey to 'blacks' and dirt.

    It was into a place of this kind that Mr Ralph Nickleby gazed, as he
    sat with his hands in his pockets looking out of the window. He had
    fixed his eyes upon a distorted fir tree, planted by some former
    tenant in a tub that had once been green, and left there, years
    before, to rot away piecemeal. There was nothing very inviting in
    the object, but Mr Nickleby was wrapt in a brown study, and sat
    contemplating it with far greater attention than, in a more
    conscious mood, he would have deigned to bestow upon the rarest
    exotic. At length, his eyes wandered to a little dirty window on
    the left, through which the face of the clerk was dimly visible;
    that worthy chancing to look up, he beckoned him to attend.

    In obedience to this summons the clerk got off the high stool (to
    which he had communicated a high polish by countless gettings off
    and on), and presented himself in Mr Nickleby's room. He was a tall
    man of middle age, with two goggle eyes whereof one was a fixture, a
    rubicund nose, a cadaverous face, and a suit of clothes (if the term
    be allowable when they suited him not at all) much the worse for
    wear, very much too small, and placed upon such a short allowance of
    buttons that it was marvellous how he contrived to keep them on.

    'Was that half-past twelve, Noggs?' said Mr Nickleby, in a sharp and
    grating voice.

    'Not more than five-and-twenty minutes by the--' Noggs was going to
    add public-house clock, but recollecting himself, substituted
    'regular time.'

    'My watch has stopped,' said Mr Nickleby; 'I don't know from what
    cause.'

    'Not wound up,' said Noggs.

    'Yes it is,' said Mr Nickleby.

    'Over-wound then,' rejoined Noggs.

    'That can't very well be,' observed Mr Nickleby.

    'Must be,' said Noggs.

    'Well!' said Mr Nickleby, putting the repeater back in his pocket;
    'perhaps it is.'

    Noggs gave a peculiar grunt, as was his custom at the end of all
    disputes with his master, to imply that he (Noggs) triumphed; and
    (as he rarely spoke to anybody unless somebody spoke to him) fell
    into a grim silence, and rubbed his hands slowly over each other:
    cracking the joints of his fingers, and squeezing them into all
    possible distortions. The incessant performance of this routine on
    every occasion, and the communication of a fixed and rigid look to
    his unaffected eye, so as to make it uniform with the other, and to
    render it impossible for anybody to determine where or at what he
    was looking, were two among the numerous peculiarities of Mr Noggs,
    which struck an inexperienced observer at first sight.

    'I am going to the London Tavern this morning,' said Mr Nickleby.

    'Public meeting?' inquired Noggs.

    Mr Nickleby nodded. 'I expect a letter from the solicitor
    respecting that mortgage of Ruddle's. If it comes at all, it will
    be here by the two o'clock delivery. I shall leave the city about
    that time and walk to Charing Cross on the left-hand side of the
    way; if there are any letters, come and meet me, and bring them with
    you.'

    Noggs nodded; and as he nodded, there came a ring at the office
    bell. The master looked up from his papers, and the clerk calmly
    remained in a stationary position.

    'The bell,' said Noggs, as though in explanation. 'At home?'

    'Yes.'

    'To anybody?'

    'Yes.'

    'To the tax-gatherer?'

    'No! Let him call again.'

    Noggs gave vent to his usual grunt, as much as to say 'I thought
    so!' and, the ring being repeated, went to the door, whence he
    presently returned, ushering in, by the name of Mr Bonney, a pale
    gentleman in a violent hurry, who, with his hair standing up in
    great disorder all over his head, and a very narrow white cravat
    tied loosely round his throat, looked as if he had been knocked up
    in the night and had not dressed himself since.

    'My dear Nickleby,' said the gentleman, taking off a white hat which
    was so full of papers that it would scarcely stick upon his head,
    'there's not a moment to lose; I have a cab at the door. Sir
    Matthew Pupker takes the chair, and three members of Parliament are
    positively coming. I have seen two of them safely out of bed. The
    third, who was at Crockford's all night, has just gone home to put a
    clean shirt on, and take a bottle or two of soda water, and will
    certainly be with us, in time to address the meeting. He is a
    little excited by last night, but never mind that; he always speaks
    the stronger for it.'

    'It seems to promise pretty well,' said Mr Ralph Nickleby, whose
    deliberate manner was strongly opposed to the vivacity of the other
    man of business.

    'Pretty well!' echoed Mr Bonney. 'It's the finest idea that was
    ever started. "United Metropolitan Improved Hot Muffin and Crumpet
    Baking and Punctual Delivery Company. Capital, five millions, in
    five hundred thousand shares of ten pounds each." Why the very name
    will get the shares up to a premium in ten days.'

    'And when they ARE at a premium,' said Mr Ralph Nickleby, smiling.

    'When they are, you know what to do with them as well as any man
    alive, and how to back quietly out at the right time,' said Mr
    Bonney, slapping the capitalist familiarly on the shoulder. 'By-
    the-bye, what a VERY remarkable man that clerk of yours is.'

    'Yes, poor devil!' replied Ralph, drawing on his gloves. 'Though
    Newman Noggs kept his horses and hounds once.'

    'Ay, ay?' said the other carelessly.

    'Yes,' continued Ralph, 'and not many years ago either; but he
    squandered his money, invested it anyhow, borrowed at interest, and
    in short made first a thorough fool of himself, and then a beggar.
    He took to drinking, and had a touch of paralysis, and then came
    here to borrow a pound, as in his better days I had--'

    'Done business with him,' said Mr Bonney with a meaning look.

    'Just so,' replied Ralph; 'I couldn't lend it, you know.'

    'Oh, of course not.'

    'But as I wanted a clerk just then, to open the door and so forth, I
    took him out of charity, and he has remained with me ever since. He
    is a little mad, I think,' said Mr Nickleby, calling up a charitable
    look, 'but he is useful enough, poor creature--useful enough.'

    The kind-hearted gentleman omitted to add that Newman Noggs, being
    utterly destitute, served him for rather less than the usual wages
    of a boy of thirteen; and likewise failed to mention in his hasty
    chronicle, that his eccentric taciturnity rendered him an especially
    valuable person in a place where much business was done, of which it
    was desirable no mention should be made out of doors. The other
    gentleman was plainly impatient to be gone, however, and as they
    hurried into the hackney cabriolet immediately afterwards, perhaps
    Mr Nickleby forgot to mention circumstances so unimportant.

    There was a great bustle in Bishopsgate Street Within, as they drew
    up, and (it being a windy day) half-a-dozen men were tacking across
    the road under a press of paper, bearing gigantic announcements that
    a Public Meeting would be holden at one o'clock precisely, to take
    into consideration the propriety of petitioning Parliament in favour
    of the United Metropolitan Improved Hot Muffin and Crumpet Baking
    and Punctual Delivery Company, capital five millions, in five
    hundred thousand shares of ten pounds each; which sums were duly set
    forth in fat black figures of considerable size. Mr Bonney elbowed
    his way briskly upstairs, receiving in his progress many low bows
    from the waiters who stood on the landings to show the way; and,
    followed by Mr Nickleby, dived into a suite of apartments behind the
    great public room: in the second of which was a business-looking
    table, and several business-looking people.

    'Hear!' cried a gentleman with a double chin, as Mr Bonney presented
    himself. 'Chair, gentlemen, chair!'

    The new-comers were received with universal approbation, and Mr
    Bonney bustled up to the top of the table, took off his hat, ran his
    fingers through his hair, and knocked a hackney-coachman's knock on
    the table with a little hammer: whereat several gentlemen cried
    'Hear!' and nodded slightly to each other, as much as to say what
    spirited conduct that was. Just at this moment, a waiter, feverish
    with agitation, tore into the room, and throwing the door open with
    a crash, shouted 'Sir Matthew Pupker!'

    The committee stood up and clapped their hands for joy, and while
    they were clapping them, in came Sir Matthew Pupker, attended by two
    live members of Parliament, one Irish and one Scotch, all smiling
    and bowing, and looking so pleasant that it seemed a perfect marvel
    how any man could have the heart to vote against them. Sir Matthew
    Pupker especially, who had a little round head with a flaxen wig on
    the top of it, fell into such a paroxysm of bows, that the wig
    threatened to be jerked off, every instant. When these symptoms had
    in some degree subsided, the gentlemen who were on speaking terms
    with Sir Matthew Pupker, or the two other members, crowded round
    them in three little groups, near one or other of which the
    gentlemen who were NOT on speaking terms with Sir Matthew Pupker or
    the two other members, stood lingering, and smiling, and rubbing
    their hands, in the desperate hope of something turning up which
    might bring them into notice. All this time, Sir Matthew Pupker and
    the two other members were relating to their separate circles what
    the intentions of government were, about taking up the bill; with a
    full account of what the government had said in a whisper the last
    time they dined with it, and how the government had been observed to
    wink when it said so; from which premises they were at no loss to
    draw the conclusion, that if the government had one object more at
    heart than another, that one object was the welfare and advantage of
    the United Metropolitan Improved Hot Muffin and Crumpet Baking and
    Punctual Delivery Company.

    Meanwhile, and pending the arrangement of the proceedings, and a
    fair division of the speechifying, the public in the large room were
    eyeing, by turns, the empty platform, and the ladies in the Music
    Gallery. In these amusements the greater portion of them had been
    occupied for a couple of hours before, and as the most agreeable
    diversions pall upon the taste on a too protracted enjoyment of
    them, the sterner spirits now began to hammer the floor with their
    boot-heels, and to express their dissatisfaction by various hoots
    and cries. These vocal exertions, emanating from the people who had
    been there longest, naturally proceeded from those who were nearest
    to the platform and furthest from the policemen in attendance, who
    having no great mind to fight their way through the crowd, but
    entertaining nevertheless a praiseworthy desire to do something to
    quell the disturbance, immediately began to drag forth, by the coat
    tails and collars, all the quiet people near the door; at the same
    time dealing out various smart and tingling blows with their
    truncheons, after the manner of that ingenious actor, Mr Punch:
    whose brilliant example, both in the fashion of his weapons and
    their use, this branch of the executive occasionally follows.

    Several very exciting skirmishes were in progress, when a loud shout
    attracted the attention even of the belligerents, and then there
    poured on to the platform, from a door at the side, a long line of
    gentlemen with their hats off, all looking behind them, and uttering
    vociferous cheers; the cause whereof was sufficiently explained when
    Sir Matthew Pupker and the two other real members of Parliament came
    to the front, amidst deafening shouts, and testified to each other
    in dumb motions that they had never seen such a glorious sight as
    that, in the whole course of thier public career.

    At length, and at last, the assembly left off shouting, but Sir
    Matthew Pupker being voted into the chair, they underwent a relapse
    which lasted five minutes. This over, Sir Matthew Pupker went on to
    say what must be his feelings on that great occasion, and what must
    be that occasion in the eyes of the world, and what must be the
    intelligence of his fellow-countrymen before him, and what must be
    the wealth and respectability of his honourable friends behind him,
    and lastly, what must be the importance to the wealth, the
    happiness, the comfort, the liberty, the very existence of a free
    and great people, of such an Institution as the United Metropolitan
    Improved Hot Muffin and Crumpet Baking and Punctual Delivery
    Company!

    Mr Bonney then presented himself to move the first resolution; and
    having run his right hand through his hair, and planted his left, in
    an easy manner, in his ribs, he consigned his hat to the care of the
    gentleman with the double chin (who acted as a species of bottle-
    holder to the orators generally), and said he would read to them the
    first resolution--'That this meeting views with alarm and
    apprehension, the existing state of the Muffin Trade in this
    Metropolis and its neighbourhood; that it considers the Muffin Boys,
    as at present constituted, wholly underserving the confidence of the
    public; and that it deems the whole Muffin system alike prejudicial
    to the health and morals of the people, and subversive of the best
    interests of a great commercial and mercantile community.' The
    honourable gentleman made a speech which drew tears from the eyes of
    the ladies, and awakened the liveliest emotions in every individual
    present. He had visited the houses of the poor in the various
    districts of London, and had found them destitute of the slightest
    vestige of a muffin, which there appeared too much reason to believe
    some of these indigent persons did not taste from year's end to
    year's end. He had found that among muffin-sellers there existed
    drunkenness, debauchery, and profligacy, which he attributed to the
    debasing nature of their employment as at present exercised; he had
    found the same vices among the poorer class of people who ought to
    be muffin consumers; and this he attributed to the despair
    engendered by their being placed beyond the reach of that nutritious
    article, which drove them to seek a false stimulant in intoxicating
    liquors. He would undertake to prove before a committee of the
    House of Commons, that there existed a combination to keep up the
    price of muffins, and to give the bellmen a monopoly; he would prove
    it by bellmen at the bar of that House; and he would also prove,
    that these men corresponded with each other by secret words and
    signs as 'Snooks,' 'Walker,' 'Ferguson,' 'Is Murphy right?' and many
    others. It was this melancholy state of things that the Company
    proposed to correct; firstly, by prohibiting, under heavy penalties,
    all private muffin trading of every description; secondly, by
    themselves supplying the public generally, and the poor at their own
    homes, with muffins of first quality at reduced prices. It was with
    this object that a bill had been introduced into Parliament by their
    patriotic chairman Sir Matthew Pupker; it was this bill that they
    had met to support; it was the supporters of this bill who would
    confer undying brightness and splendour upon England, under the name
    of the United Metropolitan Improved Hot Muffin and Crumpet Baking
    and Punctual Delivery Company; he would add, with a capital of Five
    Millions, in five hundred thousand shares of ten pounds each.

    Mr Ralph Nickleby seconded the resolution, and another gentleman
    having moved that it be amended by the insertion of the words 'and
    crumpet' after the word 'muffin,' whenever it occurred, it was
    carried triumphantly. Only one man in the crowd cried 'No!' and he
    was promptly taken into custody, and straightway borne off.

    The second resolution, which recognised the expediency of
    immediately abolishing 'all muffin (or crumpet) sellers, all traders
    in muffins (or crumpets) of whatsoever description, whether male or
    female, boys or men, ringing hand-bells or otherwise,' was moved by
    a grievous gentleman of semi-clerical appearance, who went at once
    into such deep pathetics, that he knocked the first speaker clean
    out of the course in no time. You might have heard a pin fall--a
    pin! a feather--as he described the cruelties inflicted on muffin
    boys by their masters, which he very wisely urged were in themselves
    a sufficient reason for the establishment of that inestimable
    company. It seemed that the unhappy youths were nightly turned out
    into the wet streets at the most inclement periods of the year, to
    wander about, in darkness and rain--or it might be hail or snow--for
    hours together, without shelter, food, or warmth; and let the public
    never forget upon the latter point, that while the muffins were
    provided with warm clothing and blankets, the boys were wholly
    unprovided for, and left to their own miserable resources. (Shame!)
    The honourable gentleman related one case of a muffin boy, who
    having been exposed to this inhuman and barbarous system for no less
    than five years, at length fell a victim to a cold in the head,
    beneath which he gradually sunk until he fell into a perspiration
    and recovered; this he could vouch for, on his own authority, but he
    had heard (and he had no reason to doubt the fact) of a still more
    heart-rending and appalling circumstance. He had heard of the case
    of an orphan muffin boy, who, having been run over by a hackney
    carriage, had been removed to the hospital, had undergone the
    amputation of his leg below the knee, and was now actually pursuing
    his occupation on crutches. Fountain of justice, were these things
    to last!

    This was the department of the subject that took the meeting, and
    this was the style of speaking to enlist their sympathies. The men
    shouted; the ladies wept into their pocket-handkerchiefs till they
    were moist, and waved them till they were dry; the excitement was
    tremendous; and Mr Nickleby whispered his friend that the shares
    were thenceforth at a premium of five-and-twenty per cent.

    The resolution was, of course, carried with loud acclamations, every
    man holding up both hands in favour of it, as he would in his
    enthusiasm have held up both legs also, if he could have
    conveniently accomplished it. This done, the draft of the proposed
    petition was read at length: and the petition said, as all petitions
    DO say, that the petitioners were very humble, and the petitioned
    very honourable, and the object very virtuous; therefore (said the
    petition) the bill ought to be passed into a law at once, to the
    everlasting honour and glory of that most honourable and glorious
    Commons of England in Parliament assembled.

    Then, the gentleman who had been at Crockford's all night, and who
    looked something the worse about the eyes in consequence, came
    forward to tell his fellow-countrymen what a speech he meant to make
    in favour of that petition whenever it should be presented, and how
    desperately he meant to taunt the parliament if they rejected the
    bill; and to inform them also, that he regretted his honourable
    friends had not inserted a clause rendering the purchase of muffins
    and crumpets compulsory upon all classes of the community, which he
    --opposing all half-measures, and preferring to go the extreme
    animal-- pledged himself to propose and divide upon, in committee.
    After announcing this determination, the honourable gentleman grew
    jocular; and as patent boots, lemon-coloured kid gloves, and a fur
    coat collar, assist jokes materially, there was immense laughter and
    much cheering, and moreover such a brilliant display of ladies'
    pocket-handkerchiefs, as threw the grievous gentleman quite into the
    shade.

    And when the petition had been read and was about to be adopted,
    there came forward the Irish member (who was a young gentleman of
    ardent temperament,) with such a speech as only an Irish member can
    make, breathing the true soul and spirit of poetry, and poured forth
    with such fervour, that it made one warm to look at him; in the
    course whereof, he told them how he would demand the extension of
    that great boon to his native country; how he would claim for her
    equal rights in the muffin laws as in all other laws; and how he yet
    hoped to see the day when crumpets should be toasted in her lowly
    cabins, and muffin bells should ring in her rich green valleys.
    And, after him, came the Scotch member, with various pleasant
    allusions to the probable amount of profits, which increased the
    good humour that the poetry had awakened; and all the speeches put
    together did exactly what they were intended to do, and established
    in the hearers' minds that there was no speculation so promising, or
    at the same time so praiseworthy, as the United Metropolitan
    Improved Hot Muffin and Crumpet Baking and Punctual Delivery
    Company.

    So, the petition in favour of the bill was agreed upon, and the
    meeting adjourned with acclamations, and Mr Nickleby and the other
    directors went to the office to lunch, as they did every day at
    half-past one o'clock; and to remunerate themselves for which
    trouble, (as the company was yet in its infancy,) they only charged
    three guineas each man for every such attendance.
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