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    Chapter 22

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    Chapter 22
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    CHAPTER 22

    Nicholas, accompanied by Smike, sallies forth to seek his Fortune.
    He encounters Mr Vincent Crummles; and who he was, is herein made
    manifest

    The whole capital which Nicholas found himself entitled to, either
    in possession, reversion, remainder, or expectancy, after paying his
    rent and settling with the broker from whom he had hired his poor
    furniture, did not exceed, by more than a few halfpence, the sum of
    twenty shillings. And yet he hailed the morning on which he had
    resolved to quit London, with a light heart, and sprang from his bed
    with an elasticity of spirit which is happily the lot of young
    persons, or the world would never be stocked with old ones.

    It was a cold, dry, foggy morning in early spring. A few meagre
    shadows flitted to and fro in the misty streets, and occasionally
    there loomed through the dull vapour, the heavy outline of some
    hackney coach wending homewards, which, drawing slowly nearer,
    rolled jangling by, scattering the thin crust of frost from its
    whitened roof, and soon was lost again in the cloud. At intervals
    were heard the tread of slipshod feet, and the chilly cry of the
    poor sweep as he crept, shivering, to his early toil; the heavy
    footfall of the official watcher of the night, pacing slowly up and
    down and cursing the tardy hours that still intervened between him
    and sleep; the rambling of ponderous carts and waggons; the roll of
    the lighter vehicles which carried buyers and sellers to the
    different markets; the sound of ineffectual knocking at the doors of
    heavy sleepers--all these noises fell upon the ear from time to
    time, but all seemed muffled by the fog, and to be rendered almost
    as indistinct to the ear as was every object to the sight. The
    sluggish darkness thickened as the day came on; and those who had
    the courage to rise and peep at the gloomy street from their
    curtained windows, crept back to bed again, and coiled themselves up
    to sleep.

    Before even these indications of approaching morning were rife in
    busy London, Nicholas had made his way alone to the city, and stood
    beneath the windows of his mother's house. It was dull and bare to
    see, but it had light and life for him; for there was at least one
    heart within its old walls to which insult or dishonour would bring
    the same blood rushing, that flowed in his own veins.

    He crossed the road, and raised his eyes to the window of the room
    where he knew his sister slept. It was closed and dark. 'Poor
    girl,' thought Nicholas, 'she little thinks who lingers here!'

    He looked again, and felt, for the moment, almost vexed that Kate
    was not there to exchange one word at parting. 'Good God!' he
    thought, suddenly correcting himself, 'what a boy I am!'

    'It is better as it is,' said Nicholas, after he had lounged on, a
    few paces, and returned to the same spot. 'When I left them before,
    and could have said goodbye a thousand times if I had chosen, I
    spared them the pain of leave-taking, and why not now?' As he spoke,
    some fancied motion of the curtain almost persuaded him, for the
    instant, that Kate was at the window, and by one of those strange
    contradictions of feeling which are common to us all, he shrunk
    involuntarily into a doorway, that she might not see him. He smiled
    at his own weakness; said 'God bless them!' and walked away with a
    lighter step.

    Smike was anxiously expecting him when he reached his old lodgings,
    and so was Newman, who had expended a day's income in a can of rum
    and milk to prepare them for the journey. They had tied up the
    luggage, Smike shouldered it, and away they went, with Newman Noggs
    in company; for he had insisted on walking as far as he could with
    them, overnight.

    'Which way?' asked Newman, wistfully.

    'To Kingston first,' replied Nicholas.

    'And where afterwards?' asked Newman. 'Why won't you tell me?'

    'Because I scarcely know myself, good friend,' rejoined Nicholas,
    laying his hand upon his shoulder; 'and if I did, I have neither
    plan nor prospect yet, and might shift my quarters a hundred times
    before you could possibly communicate with me.'

    'I am afraid you have some deep scheme in your head,' said Newman,
    doubtfully.

    'So deep,' replied his young friend, 'that even I can't fathom it.
    Whatever I resolve upon, depend upon it I will write you soon.'

    'You won't forget?' said Newman.

    'I am not very likely to,' rejoined Nicholas. 'I have not so many
    friends that I shall grow confused among the number, and forget my
    best one.'

    Occupied in such discourse, they walked on for a couple of hours, as
    they might have done for a couple of days if Nicholas had not sat
    himself down on a stone by the wayside, and resolutely declared his
    intention of not moving another step until Newman Noggs turned back.
    Having pleaded ineffectually first for another half-mile, and
    afterwards for another quarter, Newman was fain to comply, and to
    shape his course towards Golden Square, after interchanging many
    hearty and affectionate farewells, and many times turning back to
    wave his hat to the two wayfarers when they had become mere specks
    in the distance.

    'Now listen to me, Smike,' said Nicholas, as they trudged with stout
    hearts onwards. 'We are bound for Portsmouth.'

    Smike nodded his head and smiled, but expressed no other emotion;
    for whether they had been bound for Portsmouth or Port Royal would
    have been alike to him, so they had been bound together.

    'I don't know much of these matters,' resumed Nicholas; 'but
    Portsmouth is a seaport town, and if no other employment is to be
    obtained, I should think we might get on board some ship. I am
    young and active, and could be useful in many ways. So could you.'

    'I hope so,' replied Smike. 'When I was at that--you know where I
    mean?'

    'Yes, I know,' said Nicholas. 'You needn't name the place.'

    'Well, when I was there,' resumed Smike; his eyes sparkling at the
    prospect of displaying his abilities; 'I could milk a cow, and groom
    a horse, with anybody.'

    'Ha!' said Nicholas, gravely. 'I am afraid they don't keep many
    animals of either kind on board ship, Smike, and even when they have
    horses, that they are not very particular about rubbing them down;
    still you can learn to do something else, you know. Where there's a
    will, there's a way.'

    'And I am very willing,' said Smike, brightening up again.

    'God knows you are,' rejoined Nicholas; 'and if you fail, it shall
    go hard but I'll do enough for us both.'

    'Do we go all the way today?' asked Smike, after a short silence.

    'That would be too severe a trial, even for your willing legs,' said
    Nicholas, with a good-humoured smile. 'No. Godalming is some
    thirty and odd miles from London--as I found from a map I borrowed--
    and I purpose to rest there. We must push on again tomorrow, for we
    are not rich enough to loiter. Let me relieve you of that bundle!
    Come!'

    'No, no,' rejoined Smike, falling back a few steps. 'Don't ask me
    to give it up to you.'

    'Why not?' asked Nicholas.

    'Let me do something for you, at least,' said Smike. 'You will
    never let me serve you as I ought. You will never know how I think,
    day and night, of ways to please you.'

    'You are a foolish fellow to say it, for I know it well, and see it,
    or I should be a blind and senseless beast,' rejoined Nicholas.
    'Let me ask you a question while I think of it, and there is no one
    by,' he added, looking him steadily in the face. 'Have you a good
    memory?'

    'I don't know,' said Smike, shaking his head sorrowfully. 'I think
    I had once; but it's all gone now--all gone.'

    'Why do you think you had once?' asked Nicholas, turning quickly
    upon him as though the answer in some way helped out the purport of
    his question.

    'Because I could remember, when I was a child,' said Smike, 'but
    that is very, very long ago, or at least it seems so. I was always
    confused and giddy at that place you took me from; and could never
    remember, and sometimes couldn't even understand, what they said to
    me. I--let me see--let me see!'

    'You are wandering now,' said Nicholas, touching him on the arm.

    'No,' replied his companion, with a vacant look 'I was only thinking
    how--' He shivered involuntarily as he spoke.

    'Think no more of that place, for it is all over,' retorted
    Nicholas, fixing his eyes full upon that of his companion, which was
    fast settling into an unmeaning stupefied gaze, once habitual to
    him, and common even then. 'What of the first day you went to
    Yorkshire?'

    'Eh!' cried the lad.

    'That was before you began to lose your recollection, you know,'
    said Nicholas quietly. 'Was the weather hot or cold?'

    'Wet,' replied the boy. 'Very wet. I have always said, when it has
    rained hard, that it was like the night I came: and they used to
    crowd round and laugh to see me cry when the rain fell heavily. It
    was like a child, they said, and that made me think of it more. I
    turned cold all over sometimes, for I could see myself as I was
    then, coming in at the very same door.'

    'As you were then,' repeated Nicholas, with assumed carelessness;
    'how was that?'

    'Such a little creature,' said Smike, 'that they might have had pity
    and mercy upon me, only to remember it.'

    'You didn't find your way there, alone!' remarked Nicholas.

    'No,' rejoined Smike, 'oh no.'

    'Who was with you?'

    'A man--a dark, withered man. I have heard them say so, at the
    school, and I remembered that before. I was glad to leave him, I
    was afraid of him; but they made me more afraid of them, and used me
    harder too.'

    'Look at me,' said Nicholas, wishing to attract his full attention.
    'There; don't turn away. Do you remember no woman, no kind woman,
    who hung over you once, and kissed your lips, and called you her
    child?'

    'No,' said the poor creature, shaking his head, 'no, never.'

    'Nor any house but that house in Yorkshire?'

    'No,' rejoined the youth, with a melancholy look; 'a room--I
    remember I slept in a room, a large lonesome room at the top of a
    house, where there was a trap-door in the ceiling. I have covered
    my head with the clothes often, not to see it, for it frightened me:
    a young child with no one near at night: and I used to wonder what
    was on the other side. There was a clock too, an old clock, in one
    corner. I remember that. I have never forgotten that room; for
    when I have terrible dreams, it comes back, just as it was. I see
    things and people in it that I had never seen then, but there is the
    room just as it used to be; THAT never changes.'

    'Will you let me take the bundle now?' asked Nicholas, abruptly
    changing the theme.

    'No,' said Smike, 'no. Come, let us walk on.'

    He quickened his pace as he said this, apparently under the
    impression that they had been standing still during the whole of the
    previous dialogue. Nicholas marked him closely, and every word of
    this conversation remained upon his memory.

    It was, by this time, within an hour of noon, and although a dense
    vapour still enveloped the city they had left, as if the very breath
    of its busy people hung over their schemes of gain and profit, and
    found greater attraction there than in the quiet region above, in
    the open country it was clear and fair. Occasionally, in some low
    spots they came upon patches of mist which the sun had not yet
    driven from their strongholds; but these were soon passed, and as
    they laboured up the hills beyond, it was pleasant to look down, and
    see how the sluggish mass rolled heavily off, before the cheering
    influence of day. A broad, fine, honest sun lighted up the green
    pastures and dimpled water with the semblance of summer, while it
    left the travellers all the invigorating freshness of that early
    time of year. The ground seemed elastic under their feet; the
    sheep-bells were music to their ears; and exhilarated by exercise,
    and stimulated by hope, they pushed onward with the strength of
    lions.

    The day wore on, and all these bright colours subsided, and assumed
    a quieter tint, like young hopes softened down by time, or youthful
    features by degrees resolving into the calm and serenity of age.
    But they were scarcely less beautiful in their slow decline, than
    they had been in their prime; for nature gives to every time and
    season some beauties of its own; and from morning to night, as from
    the cradle to the grave, is but a succession of changes so gentle
    and easy, that we can scarcely mark their progress.

    To Godalming they came at last, and here they bargained for two
    humble beds, and slept soundly. In the morning they were astir:
    though not quite so early as the sun: and again afoot; if not with
    all the freshness of yesterday, still, with enough of hope and
    spirit to bear them cheerily on.

    It was a harder day's journey than yesterday's, for there were long
    and weary hills to climb; and in journeys, as in life, it is a great
    deal easier to go down hill than up. However, they kept on, with
    unabated perseverance, and the hill has not yet lifted its face to
    heaven that perseverance will not gain the summit of at last.

    They walked upon the rim of the Devil's Punch Bowl; and Smike
    listened with greedy interest as Nicholas read the inscription upon
    the stone which, reared upon that wild spot, tells of a murder
    committed there by night. The grass on which they stood, had once
    been dyed with gore; and the blood of the murdered man had run down,
    drop by drop, into the hollow which gives the place its name. 'The
    Devil's Bowl,' thought Nicholas, as he looked into the void, 'never
    held fitter liquor than that!'

    Onward they kept, with steady purpose, and entered at length upon a
    wide and spacious tract of downs, with every variety of little hill
    and plain to change their verdant surface. Here, there shot up,
    almost perpendicularly, into the sky, a height so steep, as to be
    hardly accessible to any but the sheep and goats that fed upon its
    sides, and there, stood a mound of green, sloping and tapering off
    so delicately, and merging so gently into the level ground, that you
    could scarce define its limits. Hills swelling above each other;
    and undulations shapely and uncouth, smooth and rugged, graceful and
    grotesque, thrown negligently side by side, bounded the view in each
    direction; while frequently, with unexpected noise, there uprose
    from the ground a flight of crows, who, cawing and wheeling round
    the nearest hills, as if uncertain of their course, suddenly poised
    themselves upon the wing and skimmed down the long vista of some
    opening valley, with the speed of light itself.

    By degrees, the prospect receded more and more on either hand, and
    as they had been shut out from rich and extensive scenery, so they
    emerged once again upon the open country. The knowledge that they
    were drawing near their place of destination, gave them fresh
    courage to proceed; but the way had been difficult, and they had
    loitered on the road, and Smike was tired. Thus, twilight had
    already closed in, when they turned off the path to the door of a
    roadside inn, yet twelve miles short of Portsmouth.

    'Twelve miles,' said Nicholas, leaning with both hands on his stick,
    and looking doubtfully at Smike.

    'Twelve long miles,' repeated the landlord.

    'Is it a good road?' inquired Nicholas.

    'Very bad,' said the landlord. As of course, being a landlord, he
    would say.

    'I want to get on,' observed Nicholas. hesitating. 'I scarcely
    know what to do.'

    'Don't let me influence you,' rejoined the landlord. 'I wouldn't go
    on if it was me.'

    'Wouldn't you?' asked Nicholas, with the same uncertainty.

    'Not if I knew when I was well off,' said the landlord. And having
    said it he pulled up his apron, put his hands into his pockets, and,
    taking a step or two outside the door, looked down the dark road
    with an assumption of great indifference.

    A glance at the toil-worn face of Smike determined Nicholas, so
    without any further consideration he made up his mind to stay where
    he was.

    The landlord led them into the kitchen, and as there was a good fire
    he remarked that it was very cold. If there had happened to be a
    bad one he would have observed that it was very warm.

    'What can you give us for supper?' was Nicholas's natural question.

    'Why--what would you like?' was the landlord's no less natural
    answer.

    Nicholas suggested cold meat, but there was no cold meat--poached
    eggs, but there were no eggs--mutton chops, but there wasn't a
    mutton chop within three miles, though there had been more last week
    than they knew what to do with, and would be an extraordinary supply
    the day after tomorrow.

    'Then,' said Nicholas, 'I must leave it entirely to you, as I would
    have done, at first, if you had allowed me.'

    'Why, then I'll tell you what,' rejoined the landlord. 'There's a
    gentleman in the parlour that's ordered a hot beef-steak pudding and
    potatoes, at nine. There's more of it than he can manage, and I
    have very little doubt that if I ask leave, you can sup with him.
    I'll do that, in a minute.'

    'No, no,' said Nicholas, detaining him. 'I would rather not. I--at
    least--pshaw! why cannot I speak out? Here; you see that I am
    travelling in a very humble manner, and have made my way hither on
    foot. It is more than probable, I think, that the gentleman may not
    relish my company; and although I am the dusty figure you see, I am
    too proud to thrust myself into his.'

    'Lord love you,' said the landlord, 'it's only Mr Crummles; HE isn't
    particular.'

    'Is he not?' asked Nicholas, on whose mind, to tell the truth, the
    prospect of the savoury pudding was making some impression.

    'Not he,' replied the landlord. 'He'll like your way of talking, I
    know. But we'll soon see all about that. Just wait a minute.'

    The landlord hurried into the parlour, without staying for further
    permission, nor did Nicholas strive to prevent him: wisely
    considering that supper, under the circumstances, was too serious a
    matter to be trifled with. It was not long before the host
    returned, in a condition of much excitement.

    'All right,' he said in a low voice. 'I knew he would. You'll see
    something rather worth seeing, in there. Ecod, how they are a-going
    of it!'

    There was no time to inquire to what this exclamation, which was
    delivered in a very rapturous tone, referred; for he had already
    thrown open the door of the room; into which Nicholas, followed by
    Smike with the bundle on his shoulder (he carried it about with him
    as vigilantly as if it had been a sack of gold), straightway
    repaired.

    Nicholas was prepared for something odd, but not for something quite
    so odd as the sight he encountered. At the upper end of the room,
    were a couple of boys, one of them very tall and the other very
    short, both dressed as sailors--or at least as theatrical sailors,
    with belts, buckles, pigtails, and pistols complete--fighting what
    is called in play-bills a terrific combat, with two of those short
    broad-swords with basket hilts which are commonly used at our minor
    theatres. The short boy had gained a great advantage over the tall
    boy, who was reduced to mortal strait, and both were overlooked by a
    large heavy man, perched against the corner of a table, who
    emphatically adjured them to strike a little more fire out of the
    swords, and they couldn't fail to bring the house down, on the very
    first night.

    'Mr Vincent Crummles,' said the landlord with an air of great
    deference. 'This is the young gentleman.'

    Mr Vincent Crummles received Nicholas with an inclination of the
    head, something between the courtesy of a Roman emperor and the nod
    of a pot companion; and bade the landlord shut the door and begone.

    'There's a picture,' said Mr Crummles, motioning Nicholas not to
    advance and spoil it. 'The little 'un has him; if the big 'un
    doesn't knock under, in three seconds, he's a dead man. Do that
    again, boys.'

    The two combatants went to work afresh, and chopped away until the
    swords emitted a shower of sparks: to the great satisfaction of Mr
    Crummles, who appeared to consider this a very great point indeed.
    The engagement commenced with about two hundred chops administered
    by the short sailor and the tall sailor alternately, without
    producing any particular result, until the short sailor was chopped
    down on one knee; but this was nothing to him, for he worked himself
    about on the one knee with the assistance of his left hand, and
    fought most desperately until the tall sailor chopped his sword out
    of his grasp. Now, the inference was, that the short sailor,
    reduced to this extremity, would give in at once and cry quarter,
    but, instead of that, he all of a sudden drew a large pistol from
    his belt and presented it at the face of the tall sailor, who was so
    overcome at this (not expecting it) that he let the short sailor
    pick up his sword and begin again. Then, the chopping recommenced,
    and a variety of fancy chops were administered on both sides; such
    as chops dealt with the left hand, and under the leg, and over the
    right shoulder, and over the left; and when the short sailor made a
    vigorous cut at the tall sailor's legs, which would have shaved them
    clean off if it had taken effect, the tall sailor jumped over the
    short sailor's sword, wherefore to balance the matter, and make it
    all fair, the tall sailor administered the same cut, and the short
    sailor jumped over HIS sword. After this, there was a good deal of
    dodging about, and hitching up of the inexpressibles in the absence
    of braces, and then the short sailor (who was the moral character
    evidently, for he always had the best of it) made a violent
    demonstration and closed with the tall sailor, who, after a few
    unavailing struggles, went down, and expired in great torture as the
    short sailor put his foot upon his breast, and bored a hole in him
    through and through.

    'That'll be a double ENCORE if you take care, boys,' said Mr
    Crummles. 'You had better get your wind now and change your
    clothes.'

    Having addressed these words to the combatants, he saluted Nicholas,
    who then observed that the face of Mr Crummles was quite
    proportionate in size to his body; that he had a very full under-
    lip, a hoarse voice, as though he were in the habit of shouting very
    much, and very short black hair, shaved off nearly to the crown of
    his head--to admit (as he afterwards learnt) of his more easily
    wearing character wigs of any shape or pattern.

    'What did you think of that, sir?' inquired Mr Crummles.

    'Very good, indeed--capital,' answered Nicholas.

    'You won't see such boys as those very often, I think,' said Mr
    Crummles.

    Nicholas assented--observing that if they were a little better
    match--

    'Match!' cried Mr Crummles.

    'I mean if they were a little more of a size,' said Nicholas,
    explaining himself.

    'Size!' repeated Mr Crummles; 'why, it's the essence of the combat
    that there should be a foot or two between them. How are you to get
    up the sympathies of the audience in a legitimate manner, if there
    isn't a little man contending against a big one?--unless there's at
    least five to one, and we haven't hands enough for that business in
    our company.'

    'I see,' replied Nicholas. 'I beg your pardon. That didn't occur
    to me, I confess.'

    'It's the main point,' said Mr Crummles. 'I open at Portsmouth the
    day after tomorrow. If you're going there, look into the theatre,
    and see how that'll tell.'

    Nicholas promised to do so, if he could, and drawing a chair near
    the fire, fell into conversation with the manager at once. He was
    very talkative and communicative, stimulated perhaps, not only by
    his natural disposition, but by the spirits and water he sipped very
    plentifully, or the snuff he took in large quantities from a piece
    of whitey-brown paper in his waistcoat pocket. He laid open his
    affairs without the smallest reserve, and descanted at some length
    upon the merits of his company, and the acquirements of his family;
    of both of which, the two broad-sword boys formed an honourable
    portion. There was to be a gathering, it seemed, of the different
    ladies and gentlemen at Portsmouth on the morrow, whither the father
    and sons were proceeding (not for the regular season, but in the
    course of a wandering speculation), after fulfilling an engagement
    at Guildford with the greatest applause.

    'You are going that way?' asked the manager.

    'Ye-yes,' said Nicholas. 'Yes, I am.'

    'Do you know the town at all?' inquired the manager, who seemed to
    consider himself entitled to the same degree of confidence as he had
    himself exhibited.

    'No,' replied Nicholas.

    'Never there?'

    'Never.'

    Mr Vincent Crummles gave a short dry cough, as much as to say, 'If
    you won't be communicative, you won't;' and took so many pinches of
    snuff from the piece of paper, one after another, that Nicholas
    quite wondered where it all went to.

    While he was thus engaged, Mr Crummles looked, from time to time,
    with great interest at Smike, with whom he had appeared considerably
    struck from the first. He had now fallen asleep, and was nodding in
    his chair.

    'Excuse my saying so,' said the manager, leaning over to Nicholas,
    and sinking his voice, 'but what a capital countenance your friend
    has got!'

    'Poor fellow!' said Nicholas, with a half-smile, 'I wish it were a
    little more plump, and less haggard.'

    'Plump!' exclaimed the manager, quite horrified, 'you'd spoil it for
    ever.'

    'Do you think so?'

    'Think so, sir! Why, as he is now,' said the manager, striking his
    knee emphatically; 'without a pad upon his body, and hardly a touch
    of paint upon his face, he'd make such an actor for the starved
    business as was never seen in this country. Only let him be
    tolerably well up in the Apothecary in Romeo and Juliet, with the
    slightest possible dab of red on the tip of his nose, and he'd be
    certain of three rounds the moment he put his head out of the
    practicable door in the front grooves O.P.'

    'You view him with a professional eye,' said Nicholas, laughing.

    'And well I may,' rejoined the manager. 'I never saw a young fellow
    so regularly cut out for that line, since I've been in the
    profession. And I played the heavy children when I was eighteen
    months old.'

    The appearance of the beef-steak pudding, which came in
    simultaneously with the junior Vincent Crummleses, turned the
    conversation to other matters, and indeed, for a time, stopped it
    altogether. These two young gentlemen wielded their knives and
    forks with scarcely less address than their broad-swords, and as the
    whole party were quite as sharp set as either class of weapons,
    there was no time for talking until the supper had been disposed of.

    The Master Crummleses had no sooner swallowed the last procurable
    morsel of food, than they evinced, by various half-suppressed yawns
    and stretchings of their limbs, an obvious inclination to retire for
    the night, which Smike had betrayed still more strongly: he having,
    in the course of the meal, fallen asleep several times while in the
    very act of eating. Nicholas therefore proposed that they should
    break up at once, but the manager would by no means hear of it;
    vowing that he had promised himself the pleasure of inviting his new
    acquaintance to share a bowl of punch, and that if he declined, he
    should deem it very unhandsome behaviour.

    'Let them go,' said Mr Vincent Crummles, 'and we'll have it snugly
    and cosily together by the fire.'

    Nicholas was not much disposed to sleep--being in truth too anxious--
    so, after a little demur, he accepted the offer, and having
    exchanged a shake of the hand with the young Crummleses, and the
    manager having on his part bestowed a most affectionate benediction
    on Smike, he sat himself down opposite to that gentleman by the
    fireside to assist in emptying the bowl, which soon afterwards
    appeared, steaming in a manner which was quite exhilarating to
    behold, and sending forth a most grateful and inviting fragrance.

    But, despite the punch and the manager, who told a variety of
    stories, and smoked tobacco from a pipe, and inhaled it in the shape
    of snuff, with a most astonishing power, Nicholas was absent and
    dispirited. His thoughts were in his old home, and when they
    reverted to his present condition, the uncertainty of the morrow
    cast a gloom upon him, which his utmost efforts were unable to
    dispel. His attention wandered; although he heard the manager's
    voice, he was deaf to what he said; and when Mr Vincent Crummles
    concluded the history of some long adventure with a loud laugh, and
    an inquiry what Nicholas would have done under the same
    circumstances, he was obliged to make the best apology in his power,
    and to confess his entire ignorance of all he had been talking
    about.

    'Why, so I saw,' observed Mr Crummles. 'You're uneasy in your mind.
    What's the matter?'

    Nicholas could not refrain from smiling at the abruptness of the
    question; but, thinking it scarcely worth while to parry it, owned
    that he was under some apprehensions lest he might not succeed in
    the object which had brought him to that part of the country.

    'And what's that?' asked the manager.

    'Getting something to do which will keep me and my poor fellow-
    traveller in the common necessaries of life,' said Nicholas.
    'That's the truth. You guessed it long ago, I dare say, so I may as
    well have the credit of telling it you with a good grace.'

    'What's to be got to do at Portsmouth more than anywhere else?'
    asked Mr Vincent Crummles, melting the sealing-wax on the stem of
    his pipe in the candle, and rolling it out afresh with his little
    finger.

    Nicholas. 'I shall try for a berth in some ship or other. There is
    meat and drink there at all events.'

    'Salt meat and new rum; pease-pudding and chaff-biscuits,' said the
    manager, taking a whiff at his pipe to keep it alight, and returning
    to his work of embellishment.

    'One may do worse than that,' said Nicholas. 'I can rough it, I
    believe, as well as most young men of my age and previous habits.'

    'You need be able to,' said the manager, 'if you go on board ship;
    but you won't.'

    'Why not?'

    'Because there's not a skipper or mate that would think you worth
    your salt, when he could get a practised hand,' replied the manager;
    'and they as plentiful there, as the oysters in the streets.'

    'What do you mean?' asked Nicholas, alarmed by this prediction, and
    the confident tone in which it had been uttered. 'Men are not born
    able seamen. They must be reared, I suppose?'

    Mr Vincent Crummles nodded his head. 'They must; but not at your
    age, or from young gentlemen like you.'

    There was a pause. The countenance of Nicholas fell, and he gazed
    ruefully at the fire.

    'Does no other profession occur to you, which a young man of your
    figure and address could take up easily, and see the world to
    advantage in?' asked the manager.

    'No,' said Nicholas, shaking his head.

    'Why, then, I'll tell you one,' said Mr Crummles, throwing his pipe
    into the fire, and raising his voice. 'The stage.'

    'The stage!' cried Nicholas, in a voice almost as loud.

    'The theatrical profession,' said Mr Vincent Crummles. 'I am in the
    theatrical profession myself, my wife is in the theatrical
    profession, my children are in the theatrical profession. I had a
    dog that lived and died in it from a puppy; and my chaise-pony goes
    on, in Timour the Tartar. I'll bring you out, and your friend too.
    Say the word. I want a novelty.'

    'I don't know anything about it,' rejoined Nicholas, whose breath
    had been almost taken away by this sudden proposal. 'I never acted
    a part in my life, except at school.'

    'There's genteel comedy in your walk and manner, juvenile tragedy in
    your eye, and touch-and-go farce in your laugh,' said Mr Vincent
    Crummles. 'You'll do as well as if you had thought of nothing else
    but the lamps, from your birth downwards.'

    Nicholas thought of the small amount of small change that would
    remain in his pocket after paying the tavern bill; and he hesitated.

    'You can be useful to us in a hundred ways,' said Mr Crummles.
    'Think what capital bills a man of your education could write for
    the shop-windows.'

    'Well, I think I could manage that department,' said Nicholas.

    'To be sure you could,' replied Mr Crummles. '"For further
    particulars see small hand-bills"--we might have half a volume in
    every one of 'em. Pieces too; why, you could write us a piece to
    bring out the whole strength of the company, whenever we wanted
    one.'

    'I am not quite so confident about that,' replied Nicholas. 'But I
    dare say I could scribble something now and then, that would suit
    you.'

    'We'll have a new show-piece out directly,' said the manager. 'Let
    me see--peculiar resources of this establishment--new and splendid
    scenery--you must manage to introduce a real pump and two washing-
    tubs.'

    'Into the piece?' said Nicholas.

    'Yes,' replied the manager. 'I bought 'em cheap, at a sale the
    other day, and they'll come in admirably. That's the London plan.
    They look up some dresses, and properties, and have a piece written
    to fit 'em. Most of the theatres keep an author on purpose.'

    'Indeed!' cried Nicholas.

    'Oh, yes,' said the manager; 'a common thing. It'll look very well
    in the bills in separate lines--Real pump!--Splendid tubs!--Great
    attraction! You don't happen to be anything of an artist, do you?'

    'That is not one of my accomplishments,' rejoined Nicholas.

    'Ah! Then it can't be helped,' said the manager. 'If you had been,
    we might have had a large woodcut of the last scene for the posters,
    showing the whole depth of the stage, with the pump and tubs in the
    middle; but, however, if you're not, it can't be helped.'

    'What should I get for all this?' inquired Nicholas, after a few
    moments' reflection. 'Could I live by it?'

    'Live by it!' said the manager. 'Like a prince! With your own
    salary, and your friend's, and your writings, you'd make--ah! you'd
    make a pound a week!'

    'You don't say so!'

    'I do indeed, and if we had a run of good houses, nearly double the
    money.'

    Nicholas shrugged his shoulders; but sheer destitution was before
    him; and if he could summon fortitude to undergo the extremes of
    want and hardship, for what had he rescued his helpless charge if it
    were only to bear as hard a fate as that from which he had wrested
    him? It was easy to think of seventy miles as nothing, when he was
    in the same town with the man who had treated him so ill and roused
    his bitterest thoughts; but now, it seemed far enough. What if he
    went abroad, and his mother or Kate were to die the while?

    Without more deliberation, he hastily declared that it was a
    bargain, and gave Mr Vincent Crummles his hand upon it.
    Next Chapter
    Chapter 22
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