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    Chapter 27

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    Chapter 27
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    CHAPTER 27

    Mrs Nickleby becomes acquainted with Messrs Pyke and Pluck, whose
    Affection and Interest are beyond all Bounds

    Mrs Nickleby had not felt so proud and important for many a day, as
    when, on reaching home, she gave herself wholly up to the pleasant
    visions which had accompanied her on her way thither. Lady Mulberry
    Hawk--that was the prevalent idea. Lady Mulberry Hawk!--On Tuesday
    last, at St George's, Hanover Square, by the Right Reverend the
    Bishop of Llandaff, Sir Mulberry Hawk, of Mulberry Castle, North
    Wales, to Catherine, only daughter of the late Nicholas Nickleby,
    Esquire, of Devonshire. 'Upon my word!' cried Mrs Nicholas
    Nickleby, 'it sounds very well.'

    Having dispatched the ceremony, with its attendant festivities, to
    the perfect satisfaction of her own mind, the sanguine mother
    pictured to her imagination a long train of honours and distinctions
    which could not fail to accompany Kate in her new and brilliant
    sphere. She would be presented at court, of course. On the
    anniversary of her birthday, which was upon the nineteenth of July
    ('at ten minutes past three o'clock in the morning,' thought Mrs
    Nickleby in a parenthesis, 'for I recollect asking what o'clock it
    was'), Sir Mulberry would give a great feast to all his tenants, and
    would return them three and a half per cent on the amount of their
    last half-year's rent, as would be fully described and recorded in
    the fashionable intelligence, to the immeasurable delight and
    admiration of all the readers thereof. Kate's picture, too, would
    be in at least half-a-dozen of the annuals, and on the opposite page
    would appear, in delicate type, 'Lines on contemplating the Portrait
    of Lady Mulberry Hawk. By Sir Dingleby Dabber.' Perhaps some one
    annual, of more comprehensive design than its fellows, might even
    contain a portrait of the mother of Lady Mulberry Hawk, with lines
    by the father of Sir Dingleby Dabber. More unlikely things had come
    to pass. Less interesting portraits had appeared. As this thought
    occurred to the good lady, her countenance unconsciously assumed
    that compound expression of simpering and sleepiness which, being
    common to all such portraits, is perhaps one reason why they are
    always so charming and agreeable.

    With such triumphs of aerial architecture did Mrs Nickleby occupy
    the whole evening after her accidental introduction to Ralph's
    titled friends; and dreams, no less prophetic and equally promising,
    haunted her sleep that night. She was preparing for her frugal
    dinner next day, still occupied with the same ideas--a little
    softened down perhaps by sleep and daylight--when the girl who
    attended her, partly for company, and partly to assist in the
    household affairs, rushed into the room in unwonted agitation, and
    announced that two gentlemen were waiting in the passage for
    permission to walk upstairs.

    'Bless my heart!' cried Mrs Nickleby, hastily arranging her cap and
    front, 'if it should be--dear me, standing in the passage all this
    time--why don't you go and ask them to walk up, you stupid thing?'

    While the girl was gone on this errand, Mrs Nickleby hastily swept
    into a cupboard all vestiges of eating and drinking; which she had
    scarcely done, and seated herself with looks as collected as she
    could assume, when two gentlemen, both perfect strangers, presented
    themselves.

    'How do you DO?' said one gentleman, laying great stress on the last
    word of the inquiry.

    'HOW do you do?' said the other gentleman, altering the emphasis, as
    if to give variety to the salutation.

    Mrs Nickleby curtseyed and smiled, and curtseyed again, and
    remarked, rubbing her hands as she did so, that she hadn't the--
    really--the honour to--

    'To know us,' said the first gentleman. 'The loss has been ours,
    Mrs Nickleby. Has the loss been ours, Pyke?'

    'It has, Pluck,' answered the other gentleman.

    'We have regretted it very often, I believe, Pyke?' said the first
    gentleman.

    'Very often, Pluck,' answered the second.

    'But now,' said the first gentleman, 'now we have the happiness we
    have pined and languished for. Have we pined and languished for
    this happiness, Pyke, or have we not?'

    'You know we have, Pluck,' said Pyke, reproachfully.

    'You hear him, ma'am?' said Mr Pluck, looking round; 'you hear the
    unimpeachable testimony of my friend Pyke--that reminds me,--
    formalities, formalities, must not be neglected in civilised
    society. Pyke--Mrs Nickleby.'

    Mr Pyke laid his hand upon his heart, and bowed low.

    'Whether I shall introduce myself with the same formality,' said Mr
    Pluck--'whether I shall say myself that my name is Pluck, or whether
    I shall ask my friend Pyke (who being now regularly introduced, is
    competent to the office) to state for me, Mrs Nickleby, that my name
    is Pluck; whether I shall claim your acquaintance on the plain
    ground of the strong interest I take in your welfare, or whether I
    shall make myself known to you as the friend of Sir Mulberry Hawk--
    these, Mrs Nickleby, are considerations which I leave to you to
    determine.'

    'Any friend of Sir Mulberry Hawk's requires no better introduction
    to me,' observed Mrs Nickleby, graciously.

    'It is delightful to hear you say so,' said Mr Pluck, drawing a
    chair close to Mrs Nickleby, and sitting himself down. 'It is
    refreshing to know that you hold my excellent friend, Sir Mulberry,
    in such high esteem. A word in your ear, Mrs Nickleby. When Sir
    Mulberry knows it, he will be a happy man--I say, Mrs Nickleby, a
    happy man. Pyke, be seated.'

    'MY good opinion,' said Mrs Nickleby, and the poor lady exulted in
    the idea that she was marvellously sly,--'my good opinion can be of
    very little consequence to a gentleman like Sir Mulberry.'

    'Of little consequence!' exclaimed Mr Pluck. 'Pyke, of what
    consequence to our friend, Sir Mulberry, is the good opinion of Mrs
    Nickleby?'

    'Of what consequence?' echoed Pyke.

    'Ay,' repeated Pluck; 'is it of the greatest consequence?'

    'Of the very greatest consequence,' replied Pyke.

    'Mrs Nickleby cannot be ignorant,' said Mr Pluck, 'of the immense
    impression which that sweet girl has--'

    'Pluck!' said his friend, 'beware!'

    'Pyke is right,' muttered Mr Pluck, after a short pause; 'I was not
    to mention it. Pyke is very right. Thank you, Pyke.'

    'Well now, really,' thought Mrs Nickleby within herself. 'Such
    delicacy as that, I never saw!'

    Mr Pluck, after feigning to be in a condition of great embarrassment
    for some minutes, resumed the conversation by entreating Mrs
    Nickleby to take no heed of what he had inadvertently said--to
    consider him imprudent, rash, injudicious. The only stipulation he
    would make in his own favour was, that she should give him credit
    for the best intentions.

    'But when,' said Mr Pluck, 'when I see so much sweetness and beauty
    on the one hand, and so much ardour and devotion on the other, I--
    pardon me, Pyke, I didn't intend to resume that theme. Change the
    subject, Pyke.'

    'We promised Sir Mulberry and Lord Frederick,' said Pyke, 'that we'd
    call this morning and inquire whether you took any cold last night.'

    'Not the least in the world last night, sir,' replied Mrs Nickleby,
    'with many thanks to his lordship and Sir Mulberry for doing me the
    honour to inquire; not the least--which is the more singular, as I
    really am very subject to colds, indeed--very subject. I had a cold
    once,' said Mrs Nickleby, 'I think it was in the year eighteen
    hundred and seventeen; let me see, four and five are nine, and--yes,
    eighteen hundred and seventeen, that I thought I never should get
    rid of; actually and seriously, that I thought I never should get
    rid of. I was only cured at last by a remedy that I don't know
    whether you ever happened to hear of, Mr Pluck. You have a gallon
    of water as hot as you can possibly bear it, with a pound of salt,
    and sixpen'orth of the finest bran, and sit with your head in it for
    twenty minutes every night just before going to bed; at least, I
    don't mean your head--your feet. It's a most extraordinary cure--a
    most extraordinary cure. I used it for the first time, I recollect,
    the day after Christmas Day, and by the middle of April following
    the cold was gone. It seems quite a miracle when you come to think
    of it, for I had it ever since the beginning of September.'

    'What an afflicting calamity!' said Mr Pyke.

    'Perfectly horrid!' exclaimed Mr Pluck.

    'But it's worth the pain of hearing, only to know that Mrs Nickleby
    recovered it, isn't it, Pluck?' cried Mr Pyke.

    'That is the circumstance which gives it such a thrilling interest,'
    replied Mr Pluck.

    'But come,' said Pyke, as if suddenly recollecting himself; 'we must
    not forget our mission in the pleasure of this interview. We come
    on a mission, Mrs Nickleby.'

    'On a mission,' exclaimed that good lady, to whose mind a definite
    proposal of marriage for Kate at once presented itself in lively
    colours.

    'From Sir Mulberry,' replied Pyke. 'You must be very dull here.'

    'Rather dull, I confess,' said Mrs Nickleby.

    'We bring the compliments of Sir Mulberry Hawk, and a thousand
    entreaties that you'll take a seat in a private box at the play
    tonight,' said Mr Pluck.

    'Oh dear!' said Mrs Nickleby, 'I never go out at all, never.'

    'And that is the very reason, my dear Mrs Nickleby, why you should
    go out tonight,' retorted Mr Pluck. 'Pyke, entreat Mrs Nickleby.'

    'Oh, pray do,' said Pyke.

    'You positively must,' urged Pluck.

    'You are very kind,' said Mrs Nickleby, hesitating; 'but--'

    'There's not a but in the case, my dear Mrs Nickleby,' remonstrated
    Mr Pluck; 'not such a word in the vocabulary. Your brother-in-law
    joins us, Lord Frederick joins us, Sir Mulberry joins us, Pyke joins
    us--a refusal is out of the question. Sir Mulberry sends a
    carriage for you--twenty minutes before seven to the moment--you'll
    not be so cruel as to disappoint the whole party, Mrs Nickleby?'

    'You are so very pressing, that I scarcely know what to say,'
    replied the worthy lady.

    'Say nothing; not a word, not a word, my dearest madam,' urged Mr
    Pluck. 'Mrs Nickleby,' said that excellent gentleman, lowering his
    voice, 'there is the most trifling, the most excusable breach of
    confidence in what I am about to say; and yet if my friend Pyke
    there overheard it--such is that man's delicate sense of honour, Mrs
    Nickleby--he'd have me out before dinner-time.'

    Mrs Nickleby cast an apprehensive glance at the warlike Pyke, who
    had walked to the window; and Mr Pluck, squeezing her hand, went on:

    'Your daughter has made a conquest--a conquest on which I may
    congratulate you. Sir Mulberry, my dear ma'am, Sir Mulberry is her
    devoted slave. Hem!'

    'Hah!' cried Mr Pyke at this juncture, snatching something from the
    chimney-piece with a theatrical air. 'What is this! what do I
    behold!'

    'What DO you behold, my dear fellow?' asked Mr Pluck.

    'It is the face, the countenance, the expression,' cried Mr Pyke,
    falling into his chair with a miniature in his hand; 'feebly
    portrayed, imperfectly caught, but still THE face, THE countenance,
    THE expression.'

    'I recognise it at this distance!' exclaimed Mr Pluck in a fit of
    enthusiasm. 'Is it not, my dear madam, the faint similitude of--'

    'It is my daughter's portrait,' said Mrs Nickleby, with great pride.
    And so it was. And little Miss La Creevy had brought it home for
    inspection only two nights before.

    Mr Pyke no sooner ascertained that he was quite right in his
    conjecture, than he launched into the most extravagant encomiums of
    the divine original; and in the warmth of his enthusiasm kissed the
    picture a thousand times, while Mr Pluck pressed Mrs Nickleby's hand
    to his heart, and congratulated her on the possession of such a
    daughter, with so much earnestness and affection, that the tears
    stood, or seemed to stand, in his eyes. Poor Mrs Nickleby, who had
    listened in a state of enviable complacency at first, became at
    length quite overpowered by these tokens of regard for, and
    attachment to, the family; and even the servant girl, who had peeped
    in at the door, remained rooted to the spot in astonishment at the
    ecstasies of the two friendly visitors.

    By degrees these raptures subsided, and Mrs Nickleby went on to
    entertain her guests with a lament over her fallen fortunes, and a
    picturesque account of her old house in the country: comprising a
    full description of the different apartments, not forgetting the
    little store-room, and a lively recollection of how many steps you
    went down to get into the garden, and which way you turned when you
    came out at the parlour door, and what capital fixtures there were
    in the kitchen. This last reflection naturally conducted her into
    the wash-house, where she stumbled upon the brewing utensils, among
    which she might have wandered for an hour, if the mere mention of
    those implements had not, by an association of ideas, instantly
    reminded Mr Pyke that he was 'amazing thirsty.'

    'And I'll tell you what,' said Mr Pyke; 'if you'll send round to the
    public-house for a pot of milk half-and-half, positively and
    actually I'll drink it.'

    And positively and actually Mr Pyke DID drink it, and Mr Pluck
    helped him, while Mrs Nickleby looked on in divided admiration of
    the condescension of the two, and the aptitude with which they
    accommodated themselves to the pewter-pot; in explanation of which
    seeming marvel it may be here observed, that gentlemen who, like
    Messrs Pyke and Pluck, live upon their wits (or not so much,
    perhaps, upon the presence of their own wits as upon the absence of
    wits in other people) are occasionally reduced to very narrow shifts
    and straits, and are at such periods accustomed to regale themselves
    in a very simple and primitive manner.

    'At twenty minutes before seven, then,' said Mr Pyke, rising, 'the
    coach will be here. One more look--one little look--at that sweet
    face. Ah! here it is. Unmoved, unchanged!' This, by the way, was a
    very remarkable circumstance, miniatures being liable to so many
    changes of expression--'Oh, Pluck! Pluck!'

    Mr Pluck made no other reply than kissing Mrs Nickleby's hand with a
    great show of feeling and attachment; Mr Pyke having done the same,
    both gentlemen hastily withdrew.

    Mrs Nickleby was commonly in the habit of giving herself credit for
    a pretty tolerable share of penetration and acuteness, but she had
    never felt so satisfied with her own sharp-sightedness as she did
    that day. She had found it all out the night before. She had never
    seen Sir Mulberry and Kate together--never even heard Sir Mulberry's
    name--and yet hadn't she said to herself from the very first, that
    she saw how the case stood? and what a triumph it was, for there
    was now no doubt about it. If these flattering attentions to
    herself were not sufficient proofs, Sir Mulberry's confidential
    friend had suffered the secret to escape him in so many words. 'I
    am quite in love with that dear Mr Pluck, I declare I am,' said Mrs
    Nickleby.

    There was one great source of uneasiness in the midst of this good
    fortune, and that was the having nobody by, to whom she could
    confide it. Once or twice she almost resolved to walk straight to
    Miss La Creevy's and tell it all to her. 'But I don't know,'
    thought Mrs Nickleby; 'she is a very worthy person, but I am afraid
    too much beneath Sir Mulberry's station for us to make a companion
    of. Poor thing!' Acting upon this grave consideration she rejected
    the idea of taking the little portrait painter into her confidence,
    and contented herself with holding out sundry vague and mysterious
    hopes of preferment to the servant girl, who received these obscure
    hints of dawning greatness with much veneration and respect.

    Punctual to its time came the promised vehicle, which was no hackney
    coach, but a private chariot, having behind it a footman, whose
    legs, although somewhat large for his body, might, as mere abstract
    legs, have set themselves up for models at the Royal Academy. It
    was quite exhilarating to hear the clash and bustle with which he
    banged the door and jumped up behind after Mrs Nickleby was in; and
    as that good lady was perfectly unconscious that he applied the
    gold-headed end of his long stick to his nose, and so telegraphed
    most disrespectfully to the coachman over her very head, she sat in
    a state of much stiffness and dignity, not a little proud of her
    position.

    At the theatre entrance there was more banging and more bustle, and
    there were also Messrs Pyke and Pluck waiting to escort her to her
    box; and so polite were they, that Mr Pyke threatened with many
    oaths to 'smifligate' a very old man with a lantern who accidentally
    stumbled in her way--to the great terror of Mrs Nickleby, who,
    conjecturing more from Mr Pyke's excitement than any previous
    acquaintance with the etymology of the word that smifligation and
    bloodshed must be in the main one and the same thing, was alarmed
    beyond expression, lest something should occur. Fortunately,
    however, Mr Pyke confined himself to mere verbal smifligation, and
    they reached their box with no more serious interruption by the way,
    than a desire on the part of the same pugnacious gentleman to
    'smash' the assistant box-keeper for happening to mistake the
    number.

    Mrs Nickleby had scarcely been put away behind the curtain of the
    box in an armchair, when Sir Mulberry and Lord Verisopht arrived,
    arrayed from the crowns of their heads to the tips of their gloves,
    and from the tips of their gloves to the toes of their boots, in the
    most elegant and costly manner. Sir Mulberry was a little hoarser
    than on the previous day, and Lord Verisopht looked rather sleepy
    and queer; from which tokens, as well as from the circumstance of
    their both being to a trifling extent unsteady upon their legs, Mrs
    Nickleby justly concluded that they had taken dinner.

    'We have been--we have been--toasting your lovely daughter, Mrs
    Nickleby,' whispered Sir Mulberry, sitting down behind her.

    'Oh, ho!' thought that knowing lady; 'wine in, truth out.--You are
    very kind, Sir Mulberry.'

    'No, no upon my soul!' replied Sir Mulberry Hawk. 'It's you that's
    kind, upon my soul it is. It was so kind of you to come tonight.'

    'So very kind of you to invite me, you mean, Sir Mulberry,' replied
    Mrs Nickleby, tossing her head, and looking prodigiously sly.

    'I am so anxious to know you, so anxious to cultivate your good
    opinion, so desirous that there should be a delicious kind of
    harmonious family understanding between us,' said Sir Mulberry,
    'that you mustn't think I'm disinterested in what I do. I'm
    infernal selfish; I am--upon my soul I am.'

    'I am sure you can't be selfish, Sir Mulberry!' replied Mrs
    Nickleby. 'You have much too open and generous a countenance for
    that.'

    'What an extraordinary observer you are!' said Sir Mulberry Hawk.

    'Oh no, indeed, I don't see very far into things, Sir Mulberry,'
    replied Mrs Nickleby, in a tone of voice which left the baronet to
    infer that she saw very far indeed.

    'I am quite afraid of you,' said the baronet. 'Upon my soul,'
    repeated Sir Mulberry, looking round to his companions; 'I am afraid
    of Mrs Nickleby. She is so immensely sharp.'

    Messrs Pyke and Pluck shook their heads mysteriously, and observed
    together that they had found that out long ago; upon which Mrs
    Nickleby tittered, and Sir Mulberry laughed, and Pyke and Pluck
    roared.

    'But where's my brother-in-law, Sir Mulberry?' inquired Mrs
    Nickleby. 'I shouldn't be here without him. I hope he's coming.'

    'Pyke,' said Sir Mulberry, taking out his toothpick and lolling back
    in his chair, as if he were too lazy to invent a reply to this
    question. 'Where's Ralph Nickleby?'

    'Pluck,' said Pyke, imitating the baronet's action, and turning the
    lie over to his friend, 'where's Ralph Nickleby?'

    Mr Pluck was about to return some evasive reply, when the hustle
    caused by a party entering the next box seemed to attract the
    attention of all four gentlemen, who exchanged glances of much
    meaning. The new party beginning to converse together, Sir Mulberry
    suddenly assumed the character of a most attentive listener, and
    implored his friends not to breathe--not to breathe.

    'Why not?' said Mrs Nickleby. 'What is the matter?'

    'Hush!' replied Sir Mulberry, laying his hand on her arm. 'Lord
    Frederick, do you recognise the tones of that voice?'

    'Deyvle take me if I didn't think it was the voice of Miss
    Nickleby.'

    'Lor, my lord!' cried Miss Nickleby's mama, thrusting her head
    round the curtain. 'Why actually--Kate, my dear, Kate.'

    'YOU here, mama! Is it possible!'

    'Possible, my dear? Yes.'

    'Why who--who on earth is that you have with you, mama?' said Kate,
    shrinking back as she caught sight of a man smiling and kissing his
    hand.

    'Who do you suppose, my dear?' replied Mrs Nickleby, bending towards
    Mrs Wititterly, and speaking a little louder for that lady's
    edification. 'There's Mr Pyke, Mr Pluck, Sir Mulberry Hawk, and
    Lord Frederick Verisopht.'

    'Gracious Heaven!' thought Kate hurriedly. 'How comes she in such
    society?'

    Now, Kate thought thus SO hurriedly, and the surprise was so great,
    and moreover brought back so forcibly the recollection of what had
    passed at Ralph's delectable dinner, that she turned extremely pale
    and appeared greatly agitated, which symptoms being observed by Mrs
    Nickleby, were at once set down by that acute lady as being caused
    and occasioned by violent love. But, although she was in no small
    degree delighted by this discovery, which reflected so much credit
    on her own quickness of perception, it did not lessen her motherly
    anxiety in Kate's behalf; and accordingly, with a vast quantity of
    trepidation, she quitted her own box to hasten into that of Mrs
    Wititterly. Mrs Wititterly, keenly alive to the glory of having a
    lord and a baronet among her visiting acquaintance, lost no time in
    signing to Mr Wititterly to open the door, and thus it was that in
    less than thirty seconds Mrs Nickleby's party had made an irruption
    into Mrs Wititterly's box, which it filled to the very door, there
    being in fact only room for Messrs Pyke and Pluck to get in their
    heads and waistcoats.

    'My dear Kate,' said Mrs Nickleby, kissing her daughter
    affectionately. 'How ill you looked a moment ago! You quite
    frightened me, I declare!'

    'It was mere fancy, mama,--the--the--reflection of the lights
    perhaps,' replied Kate, glancing nervously round, and finding it
    impossible to whisper any caution or explanation.

    'Don't you see Sir Mulberry Hawk, my dear?'

    Kate bowed slightly, and biting her lip turned her head towards the
    stage.

    But Sir Mulberry Hawk was not to be so easily repulsed, for he
    advanced with extended hand; and Mrs Nickleby officiously informing
    Kate of this circumstance, she was obliged to extend her own. Sir
    Mulberry detained it while he murmured a profusion of compliments,
    which Kate, remembering what had passed between them, rightly
    considered as so many aggravations of the insult he had already put
    upon her. Then followed the recognition of Lord Verisopht, and then
    the greeting of Mr Pyke, and then that of Mr Pluck, and finally, to
    complete the young lady's mortification, she was compelled at Mrs
    Wititterly's request to perform the ceremony of introducing the
    odious persons, whom she regarded with the utmost indignation and
    abhorrence.

    'Mrs Wititterly is delighted,' said Mr Wititterly, rubbing his
    hands; 'delighted, my lord, I am sure, with this opportunity of
    contracting an acquaintance which, I trust, my lord, we shall
    improve. Julia, my dear, you must not allow yourself to be too much
    excited, you must not. Indeed you must not. Mrs Wititterly is of a
    most excitable nature, Sir Mulberry. The snuff of a candle, the
    wick of a lamp, the bloom on a peach, the down on a butterfly. You
    might blow her away, my lord; you might blow her away.'

    Sir Mulberry seemed to think that it would be a great convenience if
    the lady could be blown away. He said, however, that the delight
    was mutual, and Lord Verisopht added that it was mutual, whereupon
    Messrs Pyke and Pluck were heard to murmur from the distance that it
    was very mutual indeed.

    'I take an interest, my lord,' said Mrs Wititterly, with a faint
    smile, 'such an interest in the drama.'

    'Ye--es. It's very interesting,' replied Lord Verisopht.

    'I'm always ill after Shakespeare,' said Mrs Wititterly. 'I
    scarcely exist the next day; I find the reaction so very great after
    a tragedy, my lord, and Shakespeare is such a delicious creature.'

    'Ye--es!' replied Lord Verisopht. 'He was a clayver man.'

    'Do you know, my lord,' said Mrs Wititterly, after a long silence,
    'I find I take so much more interest in his plays, after having been
    to that dear little dull house he was born in! Were you ever there,
    my lord?'

    'No, nayver,' replied Verisopht.

    'Then really you ought to go, my lord,' returned Mrs Wititterly, in
    very languid and drawling accents. 'I don't know how it is, but
    after you've seen the place and written your name in the little
    book, somehow or other you seem to be inspired; it kindles up quite
    a fire within one.'

    'Ye--es!' replied Lord Verisopht, 'I shall certainly go there.'

    'Julia, my life,' interposed Mr Wititterly, 'you are deceiving his
    lordship--unintentionally, my lord, she is deceiving you. It is
    your poetical temperament, my dear--your ethereal soul--your fervid
    imagination, which throws you into a glow of genius and excitement.
    There is nothing in the place, my dear--nothing, nothing.'

    'I think there must be something in the place,' said Mrs Nickleby,
    who had been listening in silence; 'for, soon after I was married, I
    went to Stratford with my poor dear Mr Nickleby, in a post-chaise
    from Birmingham--was it a post-chaise though?' said Mrs Nickleby,
    considering; 'yes, it must have been a post-chaise, because I
    recollect remarking at the time that the driver had a green shade
    over his left eye;--in a post-chaise from Birmingham, and after we
    had seen Shakespeare's tomb and birthplace, we went back to the inn
    there, where we slept that night, and I recollect that all night
    long I dreamt of nothing but a black gentleman, at full length, in
    plaster-of-Paris, with a lay-down collar tied with two tassels,
    leaning against a post and thinking; and when I woke in the morning
    and described him to Mr Nickleby, he said it was Shakespeare just as
    he had been when he was alive, which was very curious indeed.
    Stratford--Stratford,' continued Mrs Nickleby, considering. 'Yes, I
    am positive about that, because I recollect I was in the family way
    with my son Nicholas at the time, and I had been very much
    frightened by an Italian image boy that very morning. In fact, it
    was quite a mercy, ma'am,' added Mrs Nickleby, in a whisper to Mrs
    Wititterly, 'that my son didn't turn out to be a Shakespeare, and
    what a dreadful thing that would have been!'

    When Mrs Nickleby had brought this interesting anecdote to a close,
    Pyke and Pluck, ever zealous in their patron's cause, proposed the
    adjournment of a detachment of the party into the next box; and with
    so much skill were the preliminaries adjusted, that Kate, despite
    all she could say or do to the contrary, had no alternative but to
    suffer herself to be led away by Sir Mulberry Hawk. Her mother and
    Mr Pluck accompanied them, but the worthy lady, pluming herself upon
    her discretion, took particular care not so much as to look at her
    daughter during the whole evening, and to seem wholly absorbed in
    the jokes and conversation of Mr Pluck, who, having been appointed
    sentry over Mrs Nickleby for that especial purpose, neglected, on
    his side, no possible opportunity of engrossing her attention.

    Lord Frederick Verisopht remained in the next box to be talked to by
    Mrs Wititterly, and Mr Pyke was in attendance to throw in a word or
    two when necessary. As to Mr Wititterly, he was sufficiently busy
    in the body of the house, informing such of his friends and
    acquaintance as happened to be there, that those two gentlemen
    upstairs, whom they had seen in conversation with Mrs W., were the
    distinguished Lord Frederick Verisopht and his most intimate friend,
    the gay Sir Mulberry Hawk--a communication which inflamed several
    respectable house-keepers with the utmost jealousy and rage, and
    reduced sixteen unmarried daughters to the very brink of despair.

    The evening came to an end at last, but Kate had yet to be handed
    downstairs by the detested Sir Mulberry; and so skilfully were the
    manoeuvres of Messrs Pyke and Pluck conducted, that she and the
    baronet were the last of the party, and were even--without an
    appearance of effort or design--left at some little distance behind.

    'Don't hurry, don't hurry,' said Sir Mulberry, as Kate hastened on,
    and attempted to release her arm.

    She made no reply, but still pressed forward.

    'Nay, then--' coolly observed Sir Mulberry, stopping her outright.

    'You had best not seek to detain me, sir!' said Kate, angrily.

    'And why not?' retorted Sir Mulberry. 'My dear creature, now why do
    you keep up this show of displeasure?'

    'SHOW!' repeated Kate, indignantly. 'How dare you presume to speak
    to me, sir--to address me--to come into my presence?'

    'You look prettier in a passion, Miss Nickleby,' said Sir Mulberry
    Hawk, stooping down, the better to see her face.

    'I hold you in the bitterest detestation and contempt, sir,' said
    Kate. 'If you find any attraction in looks of disgust and aversion,
    you--let me rejoin my friends, sir, instantly. Whatever
    considerations may have withheld me thus far, I will disregard them
    all, and take a course that even YOU might feel, if you do not
    immediately suffer me to proceed.'

    Sir Mulberry smiled, and still looking in her face and retaining her
    arm, walked towards the door.

    'If no regard for my sex or helpless situation will induce you to
    desist from this coarse and unmanly persecution,' said Kate,
    scarcely knowing, in the tumult of her passions, what she said,--'I
    have a brother who will resent it dearly, one day.'

    'Upon my soul!' exclaimed Sir Mulberry, as though quietly communing
    with himself; passing his arm round her waist as he spoke, 'she
    looks more beautiful, and I like her better in this mood, than when
    her eyes are cast down, and she is in perfect repose!'

    How Kate reached the lobby where her friends were waiting she never
    knew, but she hurried across it without at all regarding them, and
    disengaged herself suddenly from her companion, sprang into the
    coach, and throwing herself into its darkest corner burst into
    tears.

    Messrs Pyke and Pluck, knowing their cue, at once threw the party
    into great commotion by shouting for the carriages, and getting up a
    violent quarrel with sundry inoffensive bystanders; in the midst of
    which tumult they put the affrighted Mrs Nickleby in her chariot,
    and having got her safely off, turned their thoughts to Mrs
    Wititterly, whose attention also they had now effectually distracted
    from the young lady, by throwing her into a state of the utmost
    bewilderment and consternation. At length, the conveyance in which
    she had come rolled off too with its load, and the four worthies,
    being left alone under the portico, enjoyed a hearty laugh together.

    'There,' said Sir Mulberry, turning to his noble friend. 'Didn't I
    tell you last night that if we could find where they were going by
    bribing a servant through my fellow, and then established ourselves
    close by with the mother, these people's honour would be our own?
    Why here it is, done in four-and-twenty hours.'

    'Ye--es,' replied the dupe. 'But I have been tied to the old woman
    all ni-ight.'

    'Hear him,' said Sir Mulberry, turning to his two friends. 'Hear
    this discontented grumbler. Isn't it enough to make a man swear
    never to help him in his plots and schemes again? Isn't it an
    infernal shame?'

    Pyke asked Pluck whether it was not an infernal shame, and Pluck
    asked Pyke; but neither answered.

    'Isn't it the truth?' demanded Verisopht. 'Wasn't it so?'

    'Wasn't it so!' repeated Sir Mulberry. 'How would you have had it?
    How could we have got a general invitation at first sight--come when
    you like, go when you like, stop as long as you like, do what you
    like--if you, the lord, had not made yourself agreeable to the
    foolish mistress of the house? Do I care for this girl, except as
    your friend? Haven't I been sounding your praises in her ears, and
    bearing her pretty sulks and peevishness all night for you? What
    sort of stuff do you think I'm made of? Would I do this for every
    man? Don't I deserve even gratitude in return?'

    'You're a deyvlish good fellow,' said the poor young lord, taking
    his friend's arm. 'Upon my life you're a deyvlish good fellow,
    Hawk.'

    'And I have done right, have I?' demanded Sir Mulberry.

    'Quite ri-ght.'

    'And like a poor, silly, good-natured, friendly dog as I am, eh?'

    'Ye--es, ye--es; like a friend,' replied the other.

    'Well then,' replied Sir Mulberry, 'I'm satisfied. And now let's go
    and have our revenge on the German baron and the Frenchman, who
    cleaned you out so handsomely last night.'

    With these words the friendly creature took his companion's arm and
    led him away, turning half round as he did so, and bestowing a wink
    and a contemptuous smile on Messrs Pyke and Pluck, who, cramming
    their handkerchiefs into their mouths to denote their silent
    enjoyment of the whole proceedings, followed their patron and his
    victim at a little distance.
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    Chapter 27
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