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    Chapter 29

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    Chapter 29
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    CHAPTER 29

    Of the Proceedings of Nicholas, and certain Internal Divisions in
    the Company of Mr Vincent Crummles

    The unexpected success and favour with which his experiment at
    Portsmouth had been received, induced Mr Crummles to prolong his
    stay in that town for a fortnight beyond the period he had
    originally assigned for the duration of his visit, during which time
    Nicholas personated a vast variety of characters with undiminished
    success, and attracted so many people to the theatre who had never
    been seen there before, that a benefit was considered by the manager
    a very promising speculation. Nicholas assenting to the terms
    proposed, the benefit was had, and by it he realised no less a sum
    than twenty pounds.

    Possessed of this unexpected wealth, his first act was to enclose to
    honest John Browdie the amount of his friendly loan, which he
    accompanied with many expressions of gratitude and esteem, and many
    cordial wishes for his matrimonial happiness. To Newman Noggs he
    forwarded one half of the sum he had realised, entreating him to
    take an opportunity of handing it to Kate in secret, and conveying
    to her the warmest assurances of his love and affection. He made no
    mention of the way in which he had employed himself; merely
    informing Newman that a letter addressed to him under his assumed
    name at the Post Office, Portsmouth, would readily find him, and
    entreating that worthy friend to write full particulars of the
    situation of his mother and sister, and an account of all the grand
    things that Ralph Nickleby had done for them since his departure
    from London.

    'You are out of spirits,' said Smike, on the night after the letter
    had been dispatched.

    'Not I!' rejoined Nicholas, with assumed gaiety, for the confession
    would have made the boy miserable all night; 'I was thinking about
    my sister, Smike.'

    'Sister!'

    'Ay.'

    'Is she like you?' inquired Smike.

    'Why, so they say,' replied Nicholas, laughing, 'only a great deal
    handsomer.'

    'She must be VERY beautiful,' said Smike, after thinking a little
    while with his hands folded together, and his eyes bent upon his
    friend.

    'Anybody who didn't know you as well as I do, my dear fellow, would
    say you were an accomplished courtier,' said Nicholas.

    'I don't even know what that is,' replied Smike, shaking his head.
    'Shall I ever see your sister?'

    'To be sure,' cried Nicholas; 'we shall all be together one of these
    days--when we are rich, Smike.'

    'How is it that you, who are so kind and good to me, have nobody to
    be kind to you?' asked Smike. 'I cannot make that out.'

    'Why, it is a long story,' replied Nicholas, 'and one you would have
    some difficulty in comprehending, I fear. I have an enemy--you
    understand what that is?'

    'Oh, yes, I understand that,' said Smike.

    'Well, it is owing to him,' returned Nicholas. 'He is rich, and not
    so easily punished as YOUR old enemy, Mr Squeers. He is my uncle,
    but he is a villain, and has done me wrong.'

    'Has he though?' asked Smike, bending eagerly forward. 'What is his
    name? Tell me his name.'

    'Ralph--Ralph Nickleby.'

    'Ralph Nickleby,' repeated Smike. 'Ralph. I'll get that name by
    heart.'

    He had muttered it over to himself some twenty times, when a loud
    knock at the door disturbed him from his occupation. Before he
    could open it, Mr Folair, the pantomimist, thrust in his head.

    Mr Folair's head was usually decorated with a very round hat,
    unusually high in the crown, and curled up quite tight in the brims.
    On the present occasion he wore it very much on one side, with the
    back part forward in consequence of its being the least rusty; round
    his neck he wore a flaming red worsted comforter, whereof the
    straggling ends peeped out beneath his threadbare Newmarket coat,
    which was very tight and buttoned all the way up. He carried in his
    hand one very dirty glove, and a cheap dress cane with a glass
    handle; in short, his whole appearance was unusually dashing, and
    demonstrated a far more scrupulous attention to his toilet than he
    was in the habit of bestowing upon it.

    'Good-evening, sir,' said Mr Folair, taking off the tall hat, and
    running his fingers through his hair. 'I bring a communication.
    Hem!'

    'From whom and what about?' inquired Nicholas. 'You are unusually
    mysterious tonight.'

    'Cold, perhaps,' returned Mr Folair; 'cold, perhaps. That is the
    fault of my position--not of myself, Mr Johnson. My position as a
    mutual friend requires it, sir.' Mr Folair paused with a most
    impressive look, and diving into the hat before noticed, drew from
    thence a small piece of whity-brown paper curiously folded, whence
    he brought forth a note which it had served to keep clean, and
    handing it over to Nicholas, said--

    'Have the goodness to read that, sir.'

    Nicholas, in a state of much amazement, took the note and broke the
    seal, glancing at Mr Folair as he did so, who, knitting his brow and
    pursing up his mouth with great dignity, was sitting with his eyes
    steadily fixed upon the ceiling.

    It was directed to blank Johnson, Esq., by favour of Augustus
    Folair, Esq.; and the astonishment of Nicholas was in no degree
    lessened, when he found it to be couched in the following laconic
    terms:--

    "Mr Lenville presents his kind regards to Mr Johnson, and will feel
    obliged if he will inform him at what hour tomorrow morning it will
    be most convenient to him to meet Mr L. at the Theatre, for the
    purpose of having his nose pulled in the presence of the company.

    "Mr Lenville requests Mr Johnson not to neglect making an
    appointment, as he has invited two or three professional friends to
    witness the ceremony, and cannot disappoint them upon any account
    whatever.

    "PORTSMOUTH, TUESDAY NIGHT."

    Indignant as he was at this impertinence, there was something so
    exquisitely absurd in such a cartel of defiance, that Nicholas was
    obliged to bite his lip and read the note over two or three times
    before he could muster sufficient gravity and sternness to address
    the hostile messenger, who had not taken his eyes from the ceiling,
    nor altered the expression of his face in the slightest degree.

    'Do you know the contents of this note, sir?' he asked, at length.

    'Yes,' rejoined Mr Folair, looking round for an instant, and
    immediately carrying his eyes back again to the ceiling.

    'And how dare you bring it here, sir?' asked Nicholas, tearing it
    into very little pieces, and jerking it in a shower towards the
    messenger. 'Had you no fear of being kicked downstairs, sir?'

    Mr Folair turned his head--now ornamented with several fragments of
    the note--towards Nicholas, and with the same imperturbable dignity,
    briefly replied 'No.'

    'Then,' said Nicholas, taking up the tall hat and tossing it towards
    the door, 'you had better follow that article of your dress, sir, or
    you may find yourself very disagreeably deceived, and that within a
    dozen seconds.'

    'I say, Johnson,' remonstrated Mr Folair, suddenly losing all his
    dignity, 'none of that, you know. No tricks with a gentleman's
    wardrobe.'

    'Leave the room,' returned Nicholas. 'How could you presume to come
    here on such an errand, you scoundrel?'

    'Pooh! pooh!' said Mr Folair, unwinding his comforter, and gradually
    getting himself out of it. 'There--that's enough.'

    'Enough!' cried Nicholas, advancing towards him. 'Take yourself
    off, sir.'

    'Pooh! pooh! I tell you,' returned Mr Folair, waving his hand in
    deprecation of any further wrath; 'I wasn't in earnest. I only
    brought it in joke.'

    'You had better be careful how you indulge in such jokes again,'
    said Nicholas, 'or you may find an allusion to pulling noses rather
    a dangerous reminder for the subject of your facetiousness. Was it
    written in joke, too, pray?'

    'No, no, that's the best of it,' returned the actor; 'right down
    earnest--honour bright.'

    Nicholas could not repress a smile at the odd figure before him,
    which, at all times more calculated to provoke mirth than anger, was
    especially so at that moment, when with one knee upon the ground, Mr
    Folair twirled his old hat round upon his hand, and affected the
    extremest agony lest any of the nap should have been knocked off--an
    ornament which it is almost superfluous to say, it had not boasted
    for many months.

    'Come, sir,' said Nicholas, laughing in spite of himself. 'Have the
    goodness to explain.'

    'Why, I'll tell you how it is,' said Mr Folair, sitting himself down
    in a chair with great coolness. 'Since you came here Lenville has
    done nothing but second business, and, instead of having a reception
    every night as he used to have, they have let him come on as if he
    was nobody.'

    'What do you mean by a reception?' asked Nicholas.

    'Jupiter!' exclaimed Mr Folair, 'what an unsophisticated shepherd
    you are, Johnson! Why, applause from the house when you first come
    on. So he has gone on night after night, never getting a hand, and
    you getting a couple of rounds at least, and sometimes three, till
    at length he got quite desperate, and had half a mind last night to
    play Tybalt with a real sword, and pink you--not dangerously, but
    just enough to lay you up for a month or two.'

    'Very considerate,' remarked Nicholas.

    'Yes, I think it was under the circumstances; his professional
    reputation being at stake,' said Mr Folair, quite seriously. 'But
    his heart failed him, and he cast about for some other way of
    annoying you, and making himself popular at the same time--for
    that's the point. Notoriety, notoriety, is the thing. Bless you,
    if he had pinked you,' said Mr Folair, stopping to make a
    calculation in his mind, 'it would have been worth--ah, it would
    have been worth eight or ten shillings a week to him. All the town
    would have come to see the actor who nearly killed a man by mistake;
    I shouldn't wonder if it had got him an engagement in London.
    However, he was obliged to try some other mode of getting popular,
    and this one occurred to him. It's clever idea, really. If you had
    shown the white feather, and let him pull your nose, he'd have got
    it into the paper; if you had sworn the peace against him, it would
    have been in the paper too, and he'd have been just as much talked
    about as you--don't you see?'

    'Oh, certainly,' rejoined Nicholas; 'but suppose I were to turn the
    tables, and pull HIS nose, what then? Would that make his fortune?'

    'Why, I don't think it would,' replied Mr Folair, scratching his
    head, 'because there wouldn't be any romance about it, and he
    wouldn't be favourably known. To tell you the truth though, he
    didn't calculate much upon that, for you're always so mild-spoken,
    and are so popular among the women, that we didn't suspect you of
    showing fight. If you did, however, he has a way of getting out of
    it easily, depend upon that.'

    'Has he?' rejoined Nicholas. 'We will try, tomorrow morning. In
    the meantime, you can give whatever account of our interview you
    like best. Good-night.'

    As Mr Folair was pretty well known among his fellow-actors for a man
    who delighted in mischief, and was by no means scrupulous, Nicholas
    had not much doubt but that he had secretly prompted the tragedian
    in the course he had taken, and, moreover, that he would have
    carried his mission with a very high hand if he had not been
    disconcerted by the very unexpected demonstrations with which it had
    been received. It was not worth his while to be serious with him,
    however, so he dismissed the pantomimist, with a gentle hint that if
    he offended again it would be under the penalty of a broken head;
    and Mr Folair, taking the caution in exceedingly good part, walked
    away to confer with his principal, and give such an account of his
    proceedings as he might think best calculated to carry on the joke.

    He had no doubt reported that Nicholas was in a state of extreme
    bodily fear; for when that young gentleman walked with much
    deliberation down to the theatre next morning at the usual hour, he
    found all the company assembled in evident expectation, and Mr
    Lenville, with his severest stage face, sitting majestically on a
    table, whistling defiance.

    Now the ladies were on the side of Nicholas, and the gentlemen
    (being jealous) were on the side of the disappointed tragedian; so
    that the latter formed a little group about the redoubtable Mr
    Lenville, and the former looked on at a little distance in some
    trepidation and anxiety. On Nicholas stopping to salute them, Mr
    Lenville laughed a scornful laugh, and made some general remark
    touching the natural history of puppies.

    'Oh!' said Nicholas, looking quietly round, 'are you there?'

    'Slave!' returned Mr Lenville, flourishing his right arm, and
    approaching Nicholas with a theatrical stride. But somehow he
    appeared just at that moment a little startled, as if Nicholas did
    not look quite so frightened as he had expected, and came all at
    once to an awkward halt, at which the assembled ladies burst into a
    shrill laugh.

    'Object of my scorn and hatred!' said Mr Lenville, 'I hold ye in
    contempt.'

    Nicholas laughed in very unexpected enjoyment of this performance;
    and the ladies, by way of encouragement, laughed louder than before;
    whereat Mr Lenville assumed his bitterest smile, and expressed his
    opinion that they were 'minions'.

    'But they shall not protect ye!' said the tragedian, taking an
    upward look at Nicholas, beginning at his boots and ending at the
    crown of his head, and then a downward one, beginning at the crown
    of his head, and ending at his boots--which two looks, as everybody
    knows, express defiance on the stage. 'They shall not protect ye--
    boy!'

    Thus speaking, Mr Lenville folded his arms, and treated Nicholas to
    that expression of face with which, in melodramatic performances, he
    was in the habit of regarding the tyrannical kings when they said,
    'Away with him to the deepest dungeon beneath the castle moat;' and
    which, accompanied with a little jingling of fetters, had been known
    to produce great effects in its time.

    Whether it was the absence of the fetters or not, it made no very
    deep impression on Mr Lenville's adversary, however, but rather
    seemed to increase the good-humour expressed in his countenance; in
    which stage of the contest, one or two gentlemen, who had come out
    expressly to witness the pulling of Nicholas's nose, grew impatient,
    murmuring that if it were to be done at all it had better be done at
    once, and that if Mr Lenville didn't mean to do it he had better say
    so, and not keep them waiting there. Thus urged, the tragedian
    adjusted the cuff of his right coat sleeve for the performance of
    the operation, and walked in a very stately manner up to Nicholas,
    who suffered him to approach to within the requisite distance, and
    then, without the smallest discomposure, knocked him down.

    Before the discomfited tragedian could raise his head from the
    boards, Mrs Lenville (who, as has been before hinted, was in an
    interesting state) rushed from the rear rank of ladies, and uttering
    a piercing scream threw herself upon the body.

    'Do you see this, monster? Do you see THIS?' cried Mr Lenville,
    sitting up, and pointing to his prostrate lady, who was holding him
    very tight round the waist.

    'Come,' said Nicholas, nodding his head, 'apologise for the insolent
    note you wrote to me last night, and waste no more time in talking.'

    'Never!' cried Mr Lenville.

    'Yes--yes--yes!' screamed his wife. 'For my sake--for mine,
    Lenville--forego all idle forms, unless you would see me a blighted
    corse at your feet.'

    'This is affecting!' said Mr Lenville, looking round him, and
    drawing the back of his hand across his eyes. 'The ties of nature
    are strong. The weak husband and the father--the father that is yet
    to be--relents. I apologise.'

    'Humbly and submissively?' said Nicholas.

    'Humbly and submissively,' returned the tragedian, scowling upwards.
    'But only to save her,--for a time will come--'

    'Very good,' said Nicholas; 'I hope Mrs Lenville may have a good
    one; and when it does come, and you are a father, you shall retract
    it if you have the courage. There. Be careful, sir, to what
    lengths your jealousy carries you another time; and be careful,
    also, before you venture too far, to ascertain your rival's temper.'
    With this parting advice Nicholas picked up Mr Lenville's ash stick
    which had flown out of his hand, and breaking it in half, threw him
    the pieces and withdrew, bowing slightly to the spectators as he
    walked out.

    The profoundest deference was paid to Nicholas that night, and the
    people who had been most anxious to have his nose pulled in the
    morning, embraced occasions of taking him aside, and telling him
    with great feeling, how very friendly they took it that he should
    have treated that Lenville so properly, who was a most unbearable
    fellow, and on whom they had all, by a remarkable coincidence, at
    one time or other contemplated the infliction of condign punishment,
    which they had only been restrained from administering by
    considerations of mercy; indeed, to judge from the invariable
    termination of all these stories, there never was such a charitable
    and kind-hearted set of people as the male members of Mr Crummles's
    company.

    Nicholas bore his triumph, as he had his success in the little world
    of the theatre, with the utmost moderation and good humour. The
    crestfallen Mr Lenville made an expiring effort to obtain revenge by
    sending a boy into the gallery to hiss, but he fell a sacrifice to
    popular indignation, and was promptly turned out without having his
    money back.

    'Well, Smike,' said Nicholas when the first piece was over, and he
    had almost finished dressing to go home, 'is there any letter yet?'

    'Yes,' replied Smike, 'I got this one from the post-office.'

    'From Newman Noggs,' said Nicholas, casting his eye upon the cramped
    direction; 'it's no easy matter to make his writing out. Let me
    see--let me see.'

    By dint of poring over the letter for half an hour, he contrived to
    make himself master of the contents, which were certainly not of a
    nature to set his mind at ease. Newman took upon himself to send
    back the ten pounds, observing that he had ascertained that neither
    Mrs Nickleby nor Kate was in actual want of money at the moment, and
    that a time might shortly come when Nicholas might want it more. He
    entreated him not to be alarmed at what he was about to say;--there
    was no bad news--they were in good health--but he thought
    circumstances might occur, or were occurring, which would render it
    absolutely necessary that Kate should have her brother's protection,
    and if so, Newman said, he would write to him to that effect, either
    by the next post or the next but one.

    Nicholas read this passage very often, and the more he thought of it
    the more he began to fear some treachery upon the part of Ralph.
    Once or twice he felt tempted to repair to London at all hazards
    without an hour's delay, but a little reflection assured him that if
    such a step were necessary, Newman would have spoken out and told
    him so at once.

    'At all events I should prepare them here for the possibility of my
    going away suddenly,' said Nicholas; 'I should lose no time in doing
    that.' As the thought occurred to him, he took up his hat and
    hurried to the green-room.

    'Well, Mr Johnson,' said Mrs Crummles, who was seated there in full
    regal costume, with the phenomenon as the Maiden in her maternal
    arms, 'next week for Ryde, then for Winchester, then for--'

    'I have some reason to fear,' interrupted Nicholas, 'that before you
    leave here my career with you will have closed.'

    'Closed!' cried Mrs Crummles, raising her hands in astonishment.

    'Closed!' cried Miss Snevellicci, trembling so much in her tights
    that she actually laid her hand upon the shoulder of the manageress
    for support.

    'Why he don't mean to say he's going!' exclaimed Mrs Grudden, making
    her way towards Mrs Crummles. 'Hoity toity! Nonsense.'

    The phenomenon, being of an affectionate nature and moreover
    excitable, raised a loud cry, and Miss Belvawney and Miss Bravassa
    actually shed tears. Even the male performers stopped in their
    conversation, and echoed the word 'Going!' although some among them
    (and they had been the loudest in their congratulations that day)
    winked at each other as though they would not be sorry to lose such
    a favoured rival; an opinion, indeed, which the honest Mr Folair,
    who was ready dressed for the savage, openly stated in so many words
    to a demon with whom he was sharing a pot of porter.

    Nicholas briefly said that he feared it would be so, although he
    could not yet speak with any degree of certainty; and getting away
    as soon as he could, went home to con Newman's letter once more, and
    speculate upon it afresh.

    How trifling all that had been occupying his time and thoughts for
    many weeks seemed to him during that sleepless night, and how
    constantly and incessantly present to his imagination was the one
    idea that Kate in the midst of some great trouble and distress might
    even then be looking--and vainly too--for him!
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