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    Chapter 9

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    Chapter 9
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    CHAPTER 9

    Of Miss Squeers, Mrs Squeers, Master Squeers, and Mr Squeers; and of
    various Matters and Persons connected no less with the Squeerses
    than Nicholas Nickleby

    When Mr Squeers left the schoolroom for the night, he betook
    himself, as has been before remarked, to his own fireside, which was
    situated--not in the room in which Nicholas had supped on the night
    of his arrival, but in a smaller apartment in the rear of the
    premises, where his lady wife, his amiable son, and accomplished
    daughter, were in the full enjoyment of each other's society; Mrs
    Squeers being engaged in the matronly pursuit of stocking-darning;
    and the young lady and gentleman being occupied in the adjustment of
    some youthful differences, by means of a pugilistic contest across
    the table, which, on the approach of their honoured parent, subsided
    into a noiseless exchange of kicks beneath it.

    And, in this place, it may be as well to apprise the reader, that
    Miss Fanny Squeers was in her three-and-twentieth year. If there be
    any one grace or loveliness inseparable from that particular period
    of life, Miss Squeers may be presumed to have been possessed of it,
    as there is no reason to suppose that she was a solitary exception
    to an universal rule. She was not tall like her mother, but short
    like her father; from the former she inherited a voice of harsh
    quality; from the latter a remarkable expression of the right eye,
    something akin to having none at all.

    Miss Squeers had been spending a few days with a neighbouring
    friend, and had only just returned to the parental roof. To this
    circumstance may be referred, her having heard nothing of Nicholas,
    until Mr Squeers himself now made him the subject of conversation.

    'Well, my dear,' said Squeers, drawing up his chair, 'what do you
    think of him by this time?'

    'Think of who?' inquired Mrs Squeers; who (as she often remarked)
    was no grammarian, thank Heaven.

    'Of the young man--the new teacher--who else could I mean?'

    'Oh! that Knuckleboy,' said Mrs Squeers impatiently. 'I hate him.'

    'What do you hate him for, my dear?' asked Squeers.

    'What's that to you?' retorted Mrs Squeers. 'If I hate him, that's
    enough, ain't it?'

    'Quite enough for him, my dear, and a great deal too much I dare
    say, if he knew it,' replied Squeers in a pacific tone. 'I only ask
    from curiosity, my dear.'

    'Well, then, if you want to know,' rejoined Mrs Squeers, 'I'll tell
    you. Because he's a proud, haughty, consequential, turned-up-nosed
    peacock.'

    Mrs Squeers, when excited, was accustomed to use strong language,
    and, moreover, to make use of a plurality of epithets, some of which
    were of a figurative kind, as the word peacock, and furthermore the
    allusion to Nicholas's nose, which was not intended to be taken in
    its literal sense, but rather to bear a latitude of construction
    according to the fancy of the hearers.

    Neither were they meant to bear reference to each other, so much as
    to the object on whom they were bestowed, as will be seen in the
    present case: a peacock with a turned-up nose being a novelty in
    ornithology, and a thing not commonly seen.

    'Hem!' said Squeers, as if in mild deprecation of this outbreak.
    'He is cheap, my dear; the young man is very cheap.'

    'Not a bit of it,' retorted Mrs Squeers.

    'Five pound a year,' said Squeers.

    'What of that; it's dear if you don't want him, isn't it?' replied
    his wife.

    'But we DO want him,' urged Squeers.

    'I don't see that you want him any more than the dead,' said Mrs
    Squeers. 'Don't tell me. You can put on the cards and in the
    advertisements, "Education by Mr Wackford Squeers and able
    assistants," without having any assistants, can't you? Isn't it
    done every day by all the masters about? I've no patience with
    you.'

    'Haven't you!' said Squeers, sternly. 'Now I'll tell you what, Mrs
    Squeers. In this matter of having a teacher, I'll take my own way,
    if you please. A slave driver in the West Indies is allowed a man
    under him, to see that his blacks don't run away, or get up a
    rebellion; and I'll have a man under me to do the same with OUR
    blacks, till such time as little Wackford is able to take charge of
    the school.'

    'Am I to take care of the school when I grow up a man, father?' said
    Wackford junior, suspending, in the excess of his delight, a vicious
    kick which he was administering to his sister.

    'You are, my son,' replied Mr Squeers, in a sentimental voice.

    'Oh my eye, won't I give it to the boys!' exclaimed the interesting
    child, grasping his father's cane. 'Oh, father, won't I make 'em
    squeak again!'

    It was a proud moment in Mr Squeers's life, when he witnessed that
    burst of enthusiasm in his young child's mind, and saw in it a
    foreshadowing of his future eminence. He pressed a penny into his
    hand, and gave vent to his feelings (as did his exemplary wife
    also), in a shout of approving laughter. The infantine appeal to
    their common sympathies, at once restored cheerfulness to the
    conversation, and harmony to the company.

    'He's a nasty stuck-up monkey, that's what I consider him,' said Mrs
    Squeers, reverting to Nicholas.

    'Supposing he is,' said Squeers, 'he is as well stuck up in our
    schoolroom as anywhere else, isn't he?--especially as he don't like
    it.'

    'Well,' observed Mrs Squeers, 'there's something in that. I hope
    it'll bring his pride down, and it shall be no fault of mine if it
    don't.'

    Now, a proud usher in a Yorkshire school was such a very
    extraordinary and unaccountable thing to hear of,--any usher at all
    being a novelty; but a proud one, a being of whose existence the
    wildest imagination could never have dreamed--that Miss Squeers, who
    seldom troubled herself with scholastic matters, inquired with much
    curiosity who this Knuckleboy was, that gave himself such airs.

    'Nickleby,' said Squeers, spelling the name according to some
    eccentric system which prevailed in his own mind; 'your mother
    always calls things and people by their wrong names.'

    'No matter for that,' said Mrs Squeers; 'I see them with right eyes,
    and that's quite enough for me. I watched him when you were laying
    on to little Bolder this afternoon. He looked as black as thunder,
    all the while, and, one time, started up as if he had more than got
    it in his mind to make a rush at you. I saw him, though he thought
    I didn't.'

    'Never mind that, father,' said Miss Squeers, as the head of the
    family was about to reply. 'Who is the man?'

    'Why, your father has got some nonsense in his head that he's the
    son of a poor gentleman that died the other day,' said Mrs Squeers.

    'The son of a gentleman!'

    'Yes; but I don't believe a word of it. If he's a gentleman's son
    at all, he's a fondling, that's my opinion.'

    'Mrs Squeers intended to say 'foundling,' but, as she frequently
    remarked when she made any such mistake, it would be all the same a
    hundred years hence; with which axiom of philosophy, indeed, she was
    in the constant habit of consoling the boys when they laboured under
    more than ordinary ill-usage.

    'He's nothing of the kind,' said Squeers, in answer to the above
    remark, 'for his father was married to his mother years before he
    was born, and she is alive now. If he was, it would be no business
    of ours, for we make a very good friend by having him here; and if
    he likes to learn the boys anything besides minding them, I have no
    objection I am sure.'

    'I say again, I hate him worse than poison,' said Mrs Squeers
    vehemently.

    'If you dislike him, my dear,' returned Squeers, 'I don't know
    anybody who can show dislike better than you, and of course there's
    no occasion, with him, to take the trouble to hide it.'

    'I don't intend to, I assure you,' interposed Mrs S.

    'That's right,' said Squeers; 'and if he has a touch of pride about
    him, as I think he has, I don't believe there's woman in all England
    that can bring anybody's spirit down, as quick as you can, my love.'

    Mrs Squeers chuckled vastly on the receipt of these flattering
    compliments, and said, she hoped she had tamed a high spirit or two
    in her day. It is but due to her character to say, that in
    conjunction with her estimable husband, she had broken many and many
    a one.

    Miss Fanny Squeers carefully treasured up this, and much more
    conversation on the same subject, until she retired for the night,
    when she questioned the hungry servant, minutely, regarding the
    outward appearance and demeanour of Nicholas; to which queries the
    girl returned such enthusiastic replies, coupled with so many
    laudatory remarks touching his beautiful dark eyes, and his sweet
    smile, and his straight legs--upon which last-named articles she
    laid particular stress; the general run of legs at Dotheboys Hall
    being crooked--that Miss Squeers was not long in arriving at the
    conclusion that the new usher must be a very remarkable person, or,
    as she herself significantly phrased it, 'something quite out of the
    common.' And so Miss Squeers made up her mind that she would take a
    personal observation of Nicholas the very next day.

    In pursuance of this design, the young lady watched the opportunity
    of her mother being engaged, and her father absent, and went
    accidentally into the schoolroom to get a pen mended: where, seeing
    nobody but Nicholas presiding over the boys, she blushed very
    deeply, and exhibited great confusion.

    'I beg your pardon,' faltered Miss Squeers; 'I thought my father
    was--or might be--dear me, how very awkward!'

    'Mr Squeers is out,' said Nicholas, by no means overcome by the
    apparition, unexpected though it was.

    'Do you know will he be long, sir?' asked Miss Squeers, with bashful
    hesitation.

    'He said about an hour,' replied Nicholas--politely of course, but
    without any indication of being stricken to the heart by Miss
    Squeers's charms.

    'I never knew anything happen so cross,' exclaimed the young lady.
    'Thank you! I am very sorry I intruded, I am sure. If I hadn't
    thought my father was here, I wouldn't upon any account have--it is
    very provoking--must look so very strange,' murmured Miss Squeers,
    blushing once more, and glancing, from the pen in her hand, to
    Nicholas at his desk, and back again.

    'If that is all you want,' said Nicholas, pointing to the pen, and
    smiling, in spite of himself, at the affected embarrassment of the
    schoolmaster's daughter, 'perhaps I can supply his place.'

    Miss Squeers glanced at the door, as if dubious of the propriety of
    advancing any nearer to an utter stranger; then round the
    schoolroom, as though in some measure reassured by the presence of
    forty boys; and finally sidled up to Nicholas and delivered the pen
    into his hand, with a most winning mixture of reserve and
    condescension.

    'Shall it be a hard or a soft nib?' inquired Nicholas, smiling to
    prevent himself from laughing outright.

    'He HAS a beautiful smile,' thought Miss Squeers.

    'Which did you say?' asked Nicholas.

    'Dear me, I was thinking of something else for the moment, I
    declare,' replied Miss Squeers. 'Oh! as soft as possible, if you
    please.' With which words, Miss Squeers sighed. It might be, to
    give Nicholas to understand that her heart was soft, and that the
    pen was wanted to match.

    Upon these instructions Nicholas made the pen; when he gave it to
    Miss Squeers, Miss Squeers dropped it; and when he stooped to pick
    it up, Miss Squeers stopped also, and they knocked their heads
    together; whereat five-and-twenty little boys laughed aloud: being
    positively for the first and only time that half-year.

    'Very awkward of me,' said Nicholas, opening the door for the young
    lady's retreat.

    'Not at all, sir,' replied Miss Squeers; 'it was my fault. It was
    all my foolish--a--a--good-morning!'

    'Goodbye,' said Nicholas. 'The next I make for you, I hope will be
    made less clumsily. Take care! You are biting the nib off now.'

    'Really,' said Miss Squeers; 'so embarrassing that I scarcely know
    what I--very sorry to give you so much trouble.'

    'Not the least trouble in the world,' replied Nicholas, closing the
    schoolroom door.

    'I never saw such legs in the whole course of my life!' said Miss
    Squeers, as she walked away.

    In fact, Miss Squeers was in love with Nicholas Nickleby.

    To account for the rapidity with which this young lady had conceived
    a passion for Nicholas, it may be necessary to state, that the
    friend from whom she had so recently returned, was a miller's
    daughter of only eighteen, who had contracted herself unto the son
    of a small corn-factor, resident in the nearest market town. Miss
    Squeers and the miller's daughter, being fast friends, had
    covenanted together some two years before, according to a custom
    prevalent among young ladies, that whoever was first engaged to be
    married, should straightway confide the mighty secret to the bosom
    of the other, before communicating it to any living soul, and
    bespeak her as bridesmaid without loss of time; in fulfilment of
    which pledge the miller's daughter, when her engagement was formed,
    came out express, at eleven o'clock at night as the corn-factor's son
    made an offer of his hand and heart at twenty-five minutes past ten
    by the Dutch clock in the kitchen, and rushed into Miss Squeers's
    bedroom with the gratifying intelligence. Now, Miss Squeers being
    five years older, and out of her teens (which is also a great
    matter), had, since, been more than commonly anxious to return the
    compliment, and possess her friend with a similar secret; but,
    either in consequence of finding it hard to please herself, or
    harder still to please anybody else, had never had an opportunity so
    to do, inasmuch as she had no such secret to disclose. The little
    interview with Nicholas had no sooner passed, as above described,
    however, than Miss Squeers, putting on her bonnet, made her way,
    with great precipitation, to her friend's house, and, upon a solemn
    renewal of divers old vows of secrecy, revealed how that she was--
    not exactly engaged, but going to be--to a gentleman's son--(none of
    your corn-factors, but a gentleman's son of high descent)--who had
    come down as teacher to Dotheboys Hall, under most mysterious and
    remarkable circumstances--indeed, as Miss Squeers more than once
    hinted she had good reason to believe, induced, by the fame of her
    many charms, to seek her out, and woo and win her.

    'Isn't it an extraordinary thing?' said Miss Squeers, emphasising
    the adjective strongly.

    'Most extraordinary,' replied the friend. 'But what has he said to
    you?'

    'Don't ask me what he said, my dear,' rejoined Miss Squeers. 'If
    you had only seen his looks and smiles! I never was so overcome in
    all my life.'

    'Did he look in this way?' inquired the miller's daughter,
    counterfeiting, as nearly as she could, a favourite leer of the
    corn-factor.

    'Very like that--only more genteel,' replied Miss Squeers.

    'Ah!' said the friend, 'then he means something, depend on it.'

    Miss Squeers, having slight misgivings on the subject, was by no
    means ill pleased to be confirmed by a competent authority; and
    discovering, on further conversation and comparison of notes, a
    great many points of resemblance between the behaviour of Nicholas,
    and that of the corn-factor, grew so exceedingly confidential, that
    she intrusted her friend with a vast number of things Nicholas had
    NOT said, which were all so very complimentary as to be quite
    conclusive. Then, she dilated on the fearful hardship of having a
    father and mother strenuously opposed to her intended husband; on
    which unhappy circumstance she dwelt at great length; for the
    friend's father and mother were quite agreeable to her being
    married, and the whole courtship was in consequence as flat and
    common-place an affair as it was possible to imagine.

    'How I should like to see him!' exclaimed the friend.

    'So you shall, 'Tilda,' replied Miss Squeers. 'I should consider
    myself one of the most ungrateful creatures alive, if I denied you.
    I think mother's going away for two days to fetch some boys; and
    when she does, I'll ask you and John up to tea, and have him to meet
    you.'

    This was a charming idea, and having fully discussed it, the friends
    parted.

    It so fell out, that Mrs Squeers's journey, to some distance, to
    fetch three new boys, and dun the relations of two old ones for the
    balance of a small account, was fixed that very afternoon, for the
    next day but one; and on the next day but one, Mrs Squeers got up
    outside the coach, as it stopped to change at Greta Bridge, taking
    with her a small bundle containing something in a bottle, and some
    sandwiches, and carrying besides a large white top-coat to wear in
    the night-time; with which baggage she went her way.

    Whenever such opportunities as these occurred, it was Squeers's
    custom to drive over to the market town, every evening, on pretence
    of urgent business, and stop till ten or eleven o'clock at a tavern
    he much affected. As the party was not in his way, therefore, but
    rather afforded a means of compromise with Miss Squeers, he readily
    yielded his full assent thereunto, and willingly communicated to
    Nicholas that he was expected to take his tea in the parlour that
    evening, at five o'clock.

    To be sure Miss Squeers was in a desperate flutter as the time
    approached, and to be sure she was dressed out to the best
    advantage: with her hair--it had more than a tinge of red, and she
    wore it in a crop--curled in five distinct rows, up to the very top
    of her head, and arranged dexterously over the doubtful eye; to say
    nothing of the blue sash which floated down her back, or the worked
    apron or the long gloves, or the green gauze scarf worn over one
    shoulder and under the other; or any of the numerous devices which
    were to be as so many arrows to the heart of Nicholas. She had
    scarcely completed these arrangements to her entire satisfaction,
    when the friend arrived with a whity-brown parcel--flat and three-
    cornered--containing sundry small adornments which were to be put on
    upstairs, and which the friend put on, talking incessantly. When
    Miss Squeers had 'done' the friend's hair, the friend 'did' Miss
    Squeers's hair, throwing in some striking improvements in the way of
    ringlets down the neck; and then, when they were both touched up to
    their entire satisfaction, they went downstairs in full state with
    the long gloves on, all ready for company.

    'Where's John, 'Tilda?' said Miss Squeers.

    'Only gone home to clean himself,' replied the friend. 'He will be
    here by the time the tea's drawn.'

    'I do so palpitate,' observed Miss Squeers.

    'Ah! I know what it is,' replied the friend.

    'I have not been used to it, you know, 'Tilda,' said Miss Squeers,
    applying her hand to the left side of her sash.

    'You'll soon get the better of it, dear,' rejoined the friend.
    While they were talking thus, the hungry servant brought in the tea-
    things, and, soon afterwards, somebody tapped at the room door.

    'There he is!' cried Miss Squeers. 'Oh 'Tilda!'

    'Hush!' said 'Tilda. 'Hem! Say, come in.'

    'Come in,' cried Miss Squeers faintly. And in walked Nicholas.

    'Good-evening,' said that young gentleman, all unconscious of his
    conquest. 'I understood from Mr Squeers that--'

    'Oh yes; it's all right,' interposed Miss Squeers. 'Father don't
    tea with us, but you won't mind that, I dare say.' (This was said
    archly.)

    Nicholas opened his eyes at this, but he turned the matter off very
    coolly--not caring, particularly, about anything just then--and went
    through the ceremony of introduction to the miller's daughter with
    so much grace, that that young lady was lost in admiration.

    'We are only waiting for one more gentleman,' said Miss Squeers,
    taking off the teapot lid, and looking in, to see how the tea was
    getting on.

    It was matter of equal moment to Nicholas whether they were waiting
    for one gentleman or twenty, so he received the intelligence with
    perfect unconcern; and, being out of spirits, and not seeing any
    especial reason why he should make himself agreeable, looked out of
    the window and sighed involuntarily.

    As luck would have it, Miss Squeers's friend was of a playful turn,
    and hearing Nicholas sigh, she took it into her head to rally the
    lovers on their lowness of spirits.

    'But if it's caused by my being here,' said the young lady, 'don't
    mind me a bit, for I'm quite as bad. You may go on just as you would
    if you were alone.'

    "Tilda,' said Miss Squeers, colouring up to the top row of curls,
    'I am ashamed of you;' and here the two friends burst into a variety
    of giggles, and glanced from time to time, over the tops of their
    pocket-handkerchiefs, at Nicholas, who from a state of unmixed
    astonishment, gradually fell into one of irrepressible laughter--
    occasioned, partly by the bare notion of his being in love with Miss
    Squeers, and partly by the preposterous appearance and behaviour of
    the two girls. These two causes of merriment, taken together,
    struck him as being so keenly ridiculous, that, despite his
    miserable condition, he laughed till he was thoroughly exhausted.

    'Well,' thought Nicholas, 'as I am here, and seem expected, for some
    reason or other, to be amiable, it's of no use looking like a goose.
    I may as well accommodate myself to the company.'

    We blush to tell it; but his youthful spirits and vivacity getting,
    for the time, the better of his sad thoughts, he no sooner formed
    this resolution than he saluted Miss Squeers and the friend with
    great gallantry, and drawing a chair to the tea-table, began to make
    himself more at home than in all probability an usher has ever done
    in his employer's house since ushers were first invented.

    The ladies were in the full delight of this altered behaviour on the
    part of Mr Nickleby, when the expected swain arrived, with his hair
    very damp from recent washing, and a clean shirt, whereof the collar
    might have belonged to some giant ancestor, forming, together with
    a white waistcoat of similar dimensions, the chief ornament of his
    person.

    'Well, John,' said Miss Matilda Price (which, by-the-bye, was the
    name of the miller's daughter).

    'Weel,' said John with a grin that even the collar could not
    conceal.

    'I beg your pardon,' interposed Miss Squeers, hastening to do the
    honours. 'Mr Nickleby--Mr John Browdie.'

    'Servant, sir,' said John, who was something over six feet high,
    with a face and body rather above the due proportion than below it.

    'Yours to command, sir,' replied Nicholas, making fearful ravages on
    the bread and butter.

    Mr Browdie was not a gentleman of great conversational powers, so he
    grinned twice more, and having now bestowed his customary mark of
    recognition on every person in company, grinned at nothing in
    particular, and helped himself to food.

    'Old wooman awa', bean't she?' said Mr Browdie, with his mouth full.

    Miss Squeers nodded assent.

    Mr Browdie gave a grin of special width, as if he thought that
    really was something to laugh at, and went to work at the bread and
    butter with increased vigour. It was quite a sight to behold how he
    and Nicholas emptied the plate between them.

    'Ye wean't get bread and butther ev'ry neight, I expect, mun,' said
    Mr Browdie, after he had sat staring at Nicholas a long time over
    the empty plate.

    Nicholas bit his lip, and coloured, but affected not to hear the
    remark.

    'Ecod,' said Mr Browdie, laughing boisterously, 'they dean't put too
    much intiv'em. Ye'll be nowt but skeen and boans if you stop here
    long eneaf. Ho! ho! ho!'

    'You are facetious, sir,' said Nicholas, scornfully.

    'Na; I dean't know,' replied Mr Browdie, 'but t'oother teacher, 'cod
    he wur a learn 'un, he wur.' The recollection of the last teacher's
    leanness seemed to afford Mr Browdie the most exquisite delight, for
    he laughed until he found it necessary to apply his coat-cuffs to
    his eyes.

    'I don't know whether your perceptions are quite keen enough, Mr
    Browdie, to enable you to understand that your remarks are
    offensive,' said Nicholas in a towering passion, 'but if they are,
    have the goodness to--'

    'If you say another word, John,' shrieked Miss Price, stopping her
    admirer's mouth as he was about to interrupt, 'only half a word,
    I'll never forgive you, or speak to you again.'

    'Weel, my lass, I dean't care aboot 'un,' said the corn-factor,
    bestowing a hearty kiss on Miss Matilda; 'let 'un gang on, let 'un
    gang on.'

    It now became Miss Squeers's turn to intercede with Nicholas, which
    she did with many symptoms of alarm and horror; the effect of the
    double intercession was, that he and John Browdie shook hands across
    the table with much gravity; and such was the imposing nature of the
    ceremonial, that Miss Squeers was overcome and shed tears.

    'What's the matter, Fanny?' said Miss Price.

    'Nothing, 'Tilda,' replied Miss Squeers, sobbing.

    'There never was any danger,' said Miss Price, 'was there, Mr
    Nickleby?'

    'None at all,' replied Nicholas. 'Absurd.'

    'That's right,' whispered Miss Price, 'say something kind to her,
    and she'll soon come round. Here! Shall John and I go into the
    little kitchen, and come back presently?'

    'Not on any account,' rejoined Nicholas, quite alarmed at the
    proposition. 'What on earth should you do that for?'

    'Well,' said Miss Price, beckoning him aside, and speaking with some
    degree of contempt--'you ARE a one to keep company.'

    'What do you mean?' said Nicholas; 'I am not a one to keep company
    at all--here at all events. I can't make this out.'

    'No, nor I neither," rejoined Miss Price; 'but men are always
    fickle, and always were, and always will be; that I can make out,
    very easily.'

    'Fickle!' cried Nicholas; 'what do you suppose? You don't mean to
    say that you think--'

    'Oh no, I think nothing at all,' retorted Miss Price, pettishly.
    'Look at her, dressed so beautiful and looking so well--really
    ALMOST handsome. I am ashamed at you.'

    'My dear girl, what have I got to do with her dressing beautifully
    or looking well?' inquired Nicholas.

    'Come, don't call me a dear girl,' said Miss Price--smiling a little
    though, for she was pretty, and a coquette too in her small way, and
    Nicholas was good-looking, and she supposed him the property of
    somebody else, which were all reasons why she should be gratified to
    think she had made an impression on him,--'or Fanny will be saying
    it's my fault. Come; we're going to have a game at cards.'
    Pronouncing these last words aloud, she tripped away and rejoined
    the big Yorkshireman.

    This was wholly unintelligible to Nicholas, who had no other
    distinct impression on his mind at the moment, than that Miss
    Squeers was an ordinary-looking girl, and her friend Miss Price a
    pretty one; but he had not time to enlighten himself by reflection,
    for the hearth being by this time swept up, and the candle snuffed,
    they sat down to play speculation.

    'There are only four of us, 'Tilda,' said Miss Squeers, looking
    slyly at Nicholas; 'so we had better go partners, two against two.'

    'What do you say, Mr Nickleby?' inquired Miss Price.

    'With all the pleasure in life,' replied Nicholas. And so saying,
    quite unconscious of his heinous offence, he amalgamated into one
    common heap those portions of a Dotheboys Hall card of terms, which
    represented his own counters, and those allotted to Miss Price,
    respectively.

    'Mr Browdie,' said Miss Squeers hysterically, 'shall we make a bank
    against them?'

    The Yorkshireman assented--apparently quite overwhelmed by the new
    usher's impudence--and Miss Squeers darted a spiteful look at her
    friend, and giggled convulsively.

    The deal fell to Nicholas, and the hand prospered.

    'We intend to win everything,' said he.

    "Tilda HAS won something she didn't expect, I think, haven't you,
    dear?' said Miss Squeers, maliciously.

    'Only a dozen and eight, love,' replied Miss Price, affecting to
    take the question in a literal sense.

    'How dull you are tonight!' sneered Miss Squeers.

    'No, indeed,' replied Miss Price, 'I am in excellent spirits. I was
    thinking YOU seemed out of sorts.'

    'Me!' cried Miss Squeers, biting her lips, and trembling with very
    jealousy. 'Oh no!'

    'That's well,' remarked Miss Price. 'Your hair's coming out of
    curl, dear.'

    'Never mind me,' tittered Miss Squeers; 'you had better attend to
    your partner.'

    'Thank you for reminding her,' said Nicholas. 'So she had.'

    The Yorkshireman flattened his nose, once or twice, with his
    clenched fist, as if to keep his hand in, till he had an opportunity
    of exercising it upon the features of some other gentleman; and Miss
    Squeers tossed her head with such indignation, that the gust of wind
    raised by the multitudinous curls in motion, nearly blew the candle
    out.

    'I never had such luck, really,' exclaimed coquettish Miss Price,
    after another hand or two. 'It's all along of you, Mr Nickleby, I
    think. I should like to have you for a partner always.'

    'I wish you had.'

    'You'll have a bad wife, though, if you always win at cards,' said
    Miss Price.

    'Not if your wish is gratified,' replied Nicholas. 'I am sure I
    shall have a good one in that case.'

    To see how Miss Squeers tossed her head, and the corn-factor
    flattened his nose, while this conversation was carrying on! It
    would have been worth a small annuity to have beheld that; let alone
    Miss Price's evident joy at making them jealous, and Nicholas
    Nickleby's happy unconsciousness of making anybody uncomfortable.

    'We have all the talking to ourselves, it seems,' said Nicholas,
    looking good-humouredly round the table as he took up the cards for
    a fresh deal.

    'You do it so well,' tittered Miss Squeers, 'that it would be a pity
    to interrupt, wouldn't it, Mr Browdie? He! he! he!'

    'Nay,' said Nicholas, 'we do it in default of having anybody else to
    talk to.'

    'We'll talk to you, you know, if you'll say anything,' said Miss
    Price.

    'Thank you, 'Tilda, dear,' retorted Miss Squeers, majestically.

    'Or you can talk to each other, if you don't choose to talk to us,'
    said Miss Price, rallying her dear friend. 'John, why don't you say
    something?'

    'Say summat?' repeated the Yorkshireman.

    'Ay, and not sit there so silent and glum.'

    'Weel, then!' said the Yorkshireman, striking the table heavily with
    his fist, 'what I say's this--Dang my boans and boddy, if I stan'
    this ony longer. Do ye gang whoam wi' me, and do yon loight an'
    toight young whipster look sharp out for a brokken head, next time
    he cums under my hond.'

    'Mercy on us, what's all this?' cried Miss Price, in affected
    astonishment.

    'Cum whoam, tell 'e, cum whoam,' replied the Yorkshireman, sternly.
    And as he delivered the reply, Miss Squeers burst into a shower of
    tears; arising in part from desperate vexation, and in part from an
    impotent desire to lacerate somebody's countenance with her fair
    finger-nails.

    This state of things had been brought about by divers means and
    workings. Miss Squeers had brought it about, by aspiring to the
    high state and condition of being matrimonially engaged, without
    good grounds for so doing; Miss Price had brought it about, by
    indulging in three motives of action: first, a desire to punish her
    friend for laying claim to a rivalship in dignity, having no good
    title: secondly, the gratification of her own vanity, in receiving
    the compliments of a smart young man: and thirdly, a wish to
    convince the corn-factor of the great danger he ran, in deferring
    the celebration of their expected nuptials; while Nicholas had
    brought it about, by half an hour's gaiety and thoughtlessness, and
    a very sincere desire to avoid the imputation of inclining at all to
    Miss Squeers. So the means employed, and the end produced, were
    alike the most natural in the world; for young ladies will look
    forward to being married, and will jostle each other in the race to
    the altar, and will avail themselves of all opportunities of
    displaying their own attractions to the best advantage, down to the
    very end of time, as they have done from its beginning.

    'Why, and here's Fanny in tears now!' exclaimed Miss Price, as if in
    fresh amazement. 'What can be the matter?'

    'Oh! you don't know, miss, of course you don't know. Pray don't
    trouble yourself to inquire,' said Miss Squeers, producing that
    change of countenance which children call making a face.

    'Well, I'm sure!' exclaimed Miss Price.

    'And who cares whether you are sure or not, ma'am?' retorted Miss
    Squeers, making another face.

    'You are monstrous polite, ma'am,' said Miss Price.

    'I shall not come to you to take lessons in the art, ma'am!'
    retorted Miss Squeers.

    'You needn't take the trouble to make yourself plainer than you are,
    ma'am, however,' rejoined Miss Price, 'because that's quite
    unnecessary.'

    Miss Squeers, in reply, turned very red, and thanked God that she
    hadn't got the bold faces of some people. Miss Price, in rejoinder,
    congratulated herself upon not being possessed of the envious
    feeling of other people; whereupon Miss Squeers made some general
    remark touching the danger of associating with low persons; in which
    Miss Price entirely coincided: observing that it was very true
    indeed, and she had thought so a long time.

    "Tilda,' exclaimed Miss Squeers with dignity, 'I hate you.'

    'Ah! There's no love lost between us, I assure you,' said Miss
    Price, tying her bonnet strings with a jerk. 'You'll cry your eyes
    out, when I'm gone; you know you will.'

    'I scorn your words, Minx,' said Miss Squeers.

    'You pay me a great compliment when you say so,' answered the
    miller's daughter, curtseying very low. 'Wish you a very good-
    night, ma'am, and pleasant dreams attend your sleep!'

    With this parting benediction, Miss Price swept from the room,
    followed by the huge Yorkshireman, who exchanged with Nicholas, at
    parting, that peculiarly expressive scowl with which the cut-and-
    thrust counts, in melodramatic performances, inform each other they
    will meet again.

    They were no sooner gone, than Miss Squeers fulfilled the prediction
    of her quondam friend by giving vent to a most copious burst of
    tears, and uttering various dismal lamentations and incoherent
    words. Nicholas stood looking on for a few seconds, rather doubtful
    what to do, but feeling uncertain whether the fit would end in his
    being embraced, or scratched, and considering that either infliction
    would be equally agreeable, he walked off very quietly while Miss
    Squeers was moaning in her pocket-handkerchief.

    'This is one consequence,' thought Nicholas, when he had groped his
    way to the dark sleeping-room, 'of my cursed readiness to adapt
    myself to any society in which chance carries me. If I had sat mute
    and motionless, as I might have done, this would not have happened.'

    He listened for a few minutes, but all was quiet.

    'I was glad,' he murmured, 'to grasp at any relief from the sight of
    this dreadful place, or the presence of its vile master. I have set
    these people by the ears, and made two new enemies, where, Heaven
    knows, I needed none. Well, it is a just punishment for having
    forgotten, even for an hour, what is around me now!'

    So saying, he felt his way among the throng of weary-hearted
    sleepers, and crept into his poor bed.
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    Chapter 9
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