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    Chapter 37

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    Chapter 37
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    CHAPTER 37

    Nicholas finds further Favour in the Eyes of the brothers Cheeryble
    and Mr Timothy Linkinwater. The brothers give a Banquet on a great
    Annual Occasion. Nicholas, on returning Home from it, receives a
    mysterious and important Disclosure from the Lips of Mrs Nickleby

    The square in which the counting-house of the brothers Cheeryble was
    situated, although it might not wholly realise the very sanguine
    expectations which a stranger would be disposed to form on hearing
    the fervent encomiums bestowed upon it by Tim Linkinwater, was,
    nevertheless, a sufficiently desirable nook in the heart of a busy
    town like London, and one which occupied a high place in the
    affectionate remembrances of several grave persons domiciled in the
    neighbourhood, whose recollections, however, dated from a much more
    recent period, and whose attachment to the spot was far less
    absorbing, than were the recollections and attachment of the
    enthusiastic Tim.

    And let not those whose eyes have been accustomed to the
    aristocratic gravity of Grosvenor Square and Hanover Square, the
    dowager barrenness and frigidity of Fitzroy Square, or the gravel
    walks and garden seats of the Squares of Russell and Euston, suppose
    that the affections of Tim Linkinwater, or the inferior lovers of
    this particular locality, had been awakened and kept alive by any
    refreshing associations with leaves, however dingy, or grass,
    however bare and thin. The city square has no enclosure, save the
    lamp-post in the middle: and no grass, but the weeds which spring up
    round its base. It is a quiet, little-frequented, retired spot,
    favourable to melancholy and contemplation, and appointments of
    long-waiting; and up and down its every side the Appointed saunters
    idly by the hour together wakening the echoes with the monotonous
    sound of his footsteps on the smooth worn stones, and counting,
    first the windows, and then the very bricks of the tall silent
    houses that hem him round about. In winter-time, the snow will
    linger there, long after it has melted from the busy streets and
    highways. The summer's sun holds it in some respect, and while he
    darts his cheerful rays sparingly into the square, keeps his fiery
    heat and glare for noisier and less-imposing precincts. It is so
    quiet, that you can almost hear the ticking of your own watch when
    you stop to cool in its refreshing atmosphere. There is a distant
    hum--of coaches, not of insects--but no other sound disturbs the
    stillness of the square. The ticket porter leans idly against the
    post at the corner: comfortably warm, but not hot, although the day
    is broiling. His white apron flaps languidly in the air, his head
    gradually droops upon his breast, he takes very long winks with both
    eyes at once; even he is unable to withstand the soporific influence
    of the place, and is gradually falling asleep. But now, he starts
    into full wakefulness, recoils a step or two, and gazes out before
    him with eager wildness in his eye. Is it a job, or a boy at
    marbles? Does he see a ghost, or hear an organ? No; sight more
    unwonted still--there is a butterfly in the square--a real, live
    butterfly! astray from flowers and sweets, and fluttering among the
    iron heads of the dusty area railings.

    But if there were not many matters immediately without the doors of
    Cheeryble Brothers, to engage the attention or distract the thoughts
    of the young clerk, there were not a few within, to interest and
    amuse him. There was scarcely an object in the place, animate or
    inanimate, which did not partake in some degree of the scrupulous
    method and punctuality of Mr Timothy Linkinwater. Punctual as the
    counting-house dial, which he maintained to be the best time-keeper
    in London next after the clock of some old, hidden, unknown church
    hard by, (for Tim held the fabled goodness of that at the Horse
    Guards to be a pleasant fiction, invented by jealous West-enders,)
    the old clerk performed the minutest actions of the day, and
    arranged the minutest articles in the little room, in a precise and
    regular order, which could not have been exceeded if it had actually
    been a real glass case, fitted with the choicest curiosities.
    Paper, pens, ink, ruler, sealing-wax, wafers, pounce-box, string-
    box, fire-box, Tim's hat, Tim's scrupulously-folded gloves, Tim's
    other coat--looking precisely like a back view of himself as it hung
    against the wall--all had their accustomed inches of space. Except
    the clock, there was not such an accurate and unimpeachable
    instrument in existence as the little thermometer which hung behind
    the door. There was not a bird of such methodical and business-like
    habits in all the world, as the blind blackbird, who dreamed and
    dozed away his days in a large snug cage, and had lost his voice,
    from old age, years before Tim first bought him. There was not such
    an eventful story in the whole range of anecdote, as Tim could tell
    concerning the acquisition of that very bird; how, compassionating
    his starved and suffering condition, he had purchased him, with the
    view of humanely terminating his wretched life; how he determined to
    wait three days and see whether the bird revived; how, before half
    the time was out, the bird did revive; and how he went on reviving
    and picking up his appetite and good looks until he gradually became
    what--'what you see him now, sir,'--Tim would say, glancing proudly
    at the cage. And with that, Tim would utter a melodious chirrup,
    and cry 'Dick;' and Dick, who, for any sign of life he had
    previously given, might have been a wooden or stuffed representation
    of a blackbird indifferently executed, would come to the side of the
    cage in three small jumps, and, thrusting his bill between the bars,
    turn his sightless head towards his old master--and at that moment
    it would be very difficult to determine which of the two was the
    happier, the bird or Tim Linkinwater.

    Nor was this all. Everything gave back, besides, some reflection of
    the kindly spirit of the brothers. The warehousemen and porters
    were such sturdy, jolly fellows, that it was a treat to see them.
    Among the shipping announcements and steam-packet list's which
    decorated the counting-house wall, were designs for almshouses,
    statements of charities, and plans for new hospitals. A blunderbuss
    and two swords hung above the chimney-piece, for the terror of evil-
    doers, but the blunderbuss was rusty and shattered, and the swords
    were broken and edgeless. Elsewhere, their open display in such a
    condition would have realised a smile; but, there, it seemed as
    though even violent and offensive weapons partook of the reigning
    influence, and became emblems of mercy and forbearance.

    Such thoughts as these occurred to Nicholas very strongly, on the
    morning when he first took possession of the vacant stool, and
    looked about him, more freely and at ease, than he had before
    enjoyed an opportunity of doing. Perhaps they encouraged and
    stimulated him to exertion, for, during the next two weeks, all his
    spare hours, late at night and early in the morning, were
    incessantly devoted to acquiring the mysteries of book-keeping and
    some other forms of mercantile account. To these, he applied
    himself with such steadiness and perseverance that, although he
    brought no greater amount of previous knowledge to the subject than
    certain dim recollections of two or three very long sums entered
    into a ciphering-book at school, and relieved for parental
    inspection by the effigy of a fat swan tastefully flourished by the
    writing-master's own hand, he found himself, at the end of a
    fortnight, in a condition to report his proficiency to Mr
    Linkinwater, and to claim his promise that he, Nicholas Nickleby,
    should now be allowed to assist him in his graver labours.

    It was a sight to behold Tim Linkinwater slowly bring out a massive
    ledger and day-book, and, after turning them over and over, and
    affectionately dusting their backs and sides, open the leaves here
    and there, and cast his eyes, half mournfully, half proudly, upon
    the fair and unblotted entries.

    'Four-and-forty year, next May!' said Tim. 'Many new ledgers since
    then. Four-and-forty year!'

    Tim closed the book again.

    'Come, come,' said Nicholas, 'I am all impatience to begin.'

    Tim Linkinwater shook his head with an air of mild reproof. Mr
    Nickleby was not sufficiently impressed with the deep and awful
    nature of his undertaking. Suppose there should be any mistake--any
    scratching out!

    Young men are adventurous. It is extraordinary what they will rush
    upon, sometimes. Without even taking the precaution of sitting
    himself down upon his stool, but standing leisurely at the desk, and
    with a smile upon his face--actually a smile--there was no mistake
    about it; Mr Linkinwater often mentioned it afterwards--Nicholas
    dipped his pen into the inkstand before him, and plunged into the
    books of Cheeryble Brothers!

    Tim Linkinwater turned pale, and tilting up his stool on the two
    legs nearest Nicholas, looked over his shoulder in breathless
    anxiety. Brother Charles and brother Ned entered the counting-house
    together; but Tim Linkinwater, without looking round, impatiently
    waved his hand as a caution that profound silence must be observed,
    and followed the nib of the inexperienced pen with strained and
    eager eyes.

    The brothers looked on with smiling faces, but Tim Linkinwater
    smiled not, nor moved for some minutes. At length, he drew a long
    slow breath, and still maintaining his position on the tilted stool,
    glanced at brother Charles, secretly pointed with the feather of his
    pen towards Nicholas, and nodded his head in a grave and resolute
    manner, plainly signifying 'He'll do.'

    Brother Charles nodded again, and exchanged a laughing look with
    brother Ned; but, just then, Nicholas stopped to refer to some other
    page, and Tim Linkinwater, unable to contain his satisfaction any
    longer, descended from his stool, and caught him rapturously by the
    hand.

    'He has done it!' said Tim, looking round at his employers and
    shaking his head triumphantly. 'His capital B's and D's are exactly
    like mine; he dots all his small i's and crosses every t as he
    writes it. There an't such a young man as this in all London,' said
    Tim, clapping Nicholas on the back; 'not one. Don't tell me! The
    city can't produce his equal. I challenge the city to do it!'

    With this casting down of his gauntlet, Tim Linkinwater struck the
    desk such a blow with his clenched fist, that the old blackbird
    tumbled off his perch with the start it gave him, and actually
    uttered a feeble croak, in the extremity of his astonishment.

    'Well said, Tim--well said, Tim Linkinwater!' cried brother Charles,
    scarcely less pleased than Tim himself, and clapping his hands
    gently as he spoke. 'I knew our young friend would take great
    pains, and I was quite certain he would succeed, in no time. Didn't
    I say so, brother Ned?'

    'You did, my dear brother; certainly, my dear brother, you said so,
    and you were quite right,' replied Ned. 'Quite right. Tim
    Linkinwater is excited, but he is justly excited, properly excited.
    Tim is a fine fellow. Tim Linkinwater, sir--you're a fine fellow.'

    'Here's a pleasant thing to think of!' said Tim, wholly regardless
    of this address to himself, and raising his spectacles from the
    ledger to the brothers. 'Here's a pleasant thing. Do you suppose I
    haven't often thought of what would become of these books when I was
    gone? Do you suppose I haven't often thought that things might go
    on irregular and untidy here, after I was taken away? But now,'
    said Tim, extending his forefinger towards Nicholas, 'now, when I've
    shown him a little more, I'm satisfied. The business will go on,
    when I'm dead, as well as it did when I was alive--just the same--
    and I shall have the satisfaction of knowing that there never were
    such books--never were such books! No, nor never will be such
    books--as the books of Cheeryble Brothers.'

    Having thus expressed his sentiments, Mr Linkinwater gave vent to a
    short laugh, indicative of defiance to the cities of London and
    Westminster, and, turning again to his desk, quietly carried
    seventy-six from the last column he had added up, and went on with
    his work.

    'Tim Linkinwater, sir,' said brother Charles; 'give me your hand,
    sir. This is your birthday. How dare you talk about anything else
    till you have been wished many happy returns of the day, Tim
    Linkinwater? God bless you, Tim! God bless you!'

    'My dear brother,' said the other, seizing Tim's disengaged fist,
    'Tim Linkinwater looks ten years younger than he did on his last
    birthday.'

    'Brother Ned, my dear boy,' returned the other old fellow, 'I
    believe that Tim Linkinwater was born a hundred and fifty years old,
    and is gradually coming down to five-and-twenty; for he's younger
    every birthday than he was the year before.'

    'So he is, brother Charles, so he is,' replied brother Ned.
    'There's not a doubt about it.'

    'Remember, Tim,' said brother Charles, 'that we dine at half-past
    five today instead of two o'clock; we always depart from our usual
    custom on this anniversary, as you very well know, Tim Linkinwater.
    Mr Nickleby, my dear sir, you will make one. Tim Linkinwater, give
    me your snuff-box as a remembrance to brother Charles and myself of
    an attached and faithful rascal, and take that, in exchange, as a
    feeble mark of our respect and esteem, and don't open it until you
    go to bed, and never say another word upon the subject, or I'll kill
    the blackbird. A dog! He should have had a golden cage half-a-
    dozen years ago, if it would have made him or his master a bit the
    happier. Now, brother Ned, my dear fellow, I'm ready. At half-past
    five, remember, Mr Nickleby! Tim Linkinwater, sir, take care of Mr
    Nickleby at half-past five. Now, brother Ned.'

    Chattering away thus, according to custom, to prevent the
    possibility of any thanks or acknowledgment being expressed on the
    other side, the twins trotted off, arm-in-arm; having endowed Tim
    Linkinwater with a costly gold snuff-box, enclosing a bank note
    worth more than its value ten times told.

    At a quarter past five o'clock, punctual to the minute, arrived,
    according to annual usage, Tim Linkinwater's sister; and a great to-
    do there was, between Tim Linkinwater's sister and the old
    housekeeper, respecting Tim Linkinwater's sister's cap, which had
    been dispatched, per boy, from the house of the family where Tim
    Linkinwater's sister boarded, and had not yet come to hand:
    notwithstanding that it had been packed up in a bandbox, and the
    bandbox in a handkerchief, and the handkerchief tied on to the boy's
    arm; and notwithstanding, too, that the place of its consignment had
    been duly set forth, at full length, on the back of an old letter,
    and the boy enjoined, under pain of divers horrible penalties, the
    full extent of which the eye of man could not foresee, to deliver
    the same with all possible speed, and not to loiter by the way. Tim
    Linkinwater's sister lamented; the housekeeper condoled; and both
    kept thrusting their heads out of the second-floor window to see if
    the boy was 'coming'--which would have been highly satisfactory,
    and, upon the whole, tantamount to his being come, as the distance
    to the corner was not quite five yards--when, all of a sudden, and
    when he was least expected, the messenger, carrying the bandbox with
    elaborate caution, appeared in an exactly opposite direction,
    puffing and panting for breath, and flushed with recent exercise; as
    well he might be; for he had taken the air, in the first instance,
    behind a hackney coach that went to Camberwell, and had followed two
    Punches afterwards and had seen the Stilts home to their own door.
    The cap was all safe, however--that was one comfort--and it was no
    use scolding him--that was another; so the boy went upon his way
    rejoicing, and Tim Linkinwater's sister presented herself to the
    company below-stairs, just five minutes after the half-hour had
    struck by Tim Linkinwater's own infallible clock.

    The company consisted of the brothers Cheeryble, Tim Linkinwater, a
    ruddy-faced white-headed friend of Tim's (who was a superannuated
    bank clerk), and Nicholas, who was presented to Tim Linkinwater's
    sister with much gravity and solemnity. The party being now
    completed, brother Ned rang for dinner, and, dinner being shortly
    afterwards announced, led Tim Linkinwater's sister into the next
    room, where it was set forth with great preparation. Then, brother
    Ned took the head of the table, and brother Charles the foot; and
    Tim Linkinwater's sister sat on the left hand of brother Ned, and
    Tim Linkinwater himself on his right: and an ancient butler of
    apoplectic appearance, and with very short legs, took up his
    position at the back of brother Ned's armchair, and, waving his
    right arm preparatory to taking off the covers with a flourish,
    stood bolt upright and motionless.

    'For these and all other blessings, brother Charles,' said Ned.

    'Lord, make us truly thankful, brother Ned,' said Charles.

    Whereupon the apoplectic butler whisked off the top of the soup
    tureen, and shot, all at once, into a state of violent activity.

    There was abundance of conversation, and little fear of its ever
    flagging, for the good-humour of the glorious old twins drew
    everybody out, and Tim Linkinwater's sister went off into a long and
    circumstantial account of Tim Linkinwater's infancy, immediately
    after the very first glass of champagne--taking care to premise that
    she was very much Tim's junior, and had only become acquainted with
    the facts from their being preserved and handed down in the family.
    This history concluded, brother Ned related how that, exactly
    thirty-five years ago, Tim Linkinwater was suspected to have
    received a love-letter, and how that vague information had been
    brought to the counting-house of his having been seen walking down
    Cheapside with an uncommonly handsome spinster; at which there was a
    roar of laughter, and Tim Linkinwater being charged with blushing,
    and called upon to explain, denied that the accusation was true; and
    further, that there would have been any harm in it if it had been;
    which last position occasioned the superannuated bank clerk to laugh
    tremendously, and to declare that it was the very best thing he had
    ever heard in his life, and that Tim Linkinwater might say a great
    many things before he said anything which would beat THAT.

    There was one little ceremony peculiar to the day, both the matter
    and manner of which made a very strong impression upon Nicholas.
    The cloth having been removed and the decanters sent round for the
    first time, a profound silence succeeded, and in the cheerful faces
    of the brothers there appeared an expression, not of absolute
    melancholy, but of quiet thoughtfulness very unusual at a festive
    table. As Nicholas, struck by this sudden alteration, was wondering
    what it could portend, the brothers rose together, and the one at
    the top of the table leaning forward towards the other, and speaking
    in a low voice as if he were addressing him individually, said:

    'Brother Charles, my dear fellow, there is another association
    connected with this day which must never be forgotten, and never can
    be forgotten, by you and me. This day, which brought into the world
    a most faithful and excellent and exemplary fellow, took from it the
    kindest and very best of parents, the very best of parents to us
    both. I wish that she could have seen us in our prosperity, and
    shared it, and had the happiness of knowing how dearly we loved her
    in it, as we did when we were two poor boys; but that was not to be.
    My dear brother--The Memory of our Mother.'

    'Good Lord!' thought Nicholas, 'and there are scores of people of
    their own station, knowing all this, and twenty thousand times more,
    who wouldn't ask these men to dinner because they eat with their
    knives and never went to school!'

    But there was no time to moralise, for the joviality again became
    very brisk, and the decanter of port being nearly out, brother Ned
    pulled the bell, which was instantly answered by the apoplectic
    butler.

    'David,' said brother Ned.

    'Sir,' replied the butler.

    'A magnum of the double-diamond, David, to drink the health of Mr
    Linkinwater.'

    Instantly, by a feat of dexterity, which was the admiration of all
    the company, and had been, annually, for some years past, the
    apoplectic butler, bringing his left hand from behind the small of
    his back, produced the bottle with the corkscrew already inserted;
    uncorked it at a jerk; and placed the magnum and the cork before his
    master with the dignity of conscious cleverness.

    'Ha!' said brother Ned, first examining the cork and afterwards
    filling his glass, while the old butler looked complacently and
    amiably on, as if it were all his own property, but the company were
    quite welcome to make free with it, 'this looks well, David.'

    'It ought to, sir,' replied David. 'You'd be troubled to find such
    a glass of wine as is our double-diamond, and that Mr Linkinwater
    knows very well. That was laid down when Mr Linkinwater first come:
    that wine was, gentlemen.'

    'Nay, David, nay,' interposed brother Charles.

    'I wrote the entry in the cellar-book myself, sir, if you please,'
    said David, in the tone of a man, quite confident in the strength of
    his facts. 'Mr Linkinwater had only been here twenty year, sir,
    when that pipe of double-diamond was laid down.'

    'David is quite right, quite right, brother Charles," said Ned: 'are
    the people here, David?'

    'Outside the door, sir,' replied the butler.

    'Show 'em in, David, show 'em in.'

    At this bidding, the older butler placed before his master a small
    tray of clean glasses, and opening the door admitted the jolly
    porters and warehousemen whom Nicholas had seen below. They were
    four in all, and as they came in, bowing, and grinning, and
    blushing, the housekeeper, and cook, and housemaid, brought up the
    rear.

    'Seven,' said brother Ned, filling a corresponding number of glasses
    with the double-diamond, 'and David, eight. There! Now, you're all
    of you to drink the health of your best friend Mr Timothy
    Linkinwater, and wish him health and long life and many happy
    returns of this day, both for his own sake and that of your old
    masters, who consider him an inestimable treasure. Tim Linkinwater,
    sir, your health. Devil take you, Tim Linkinwater, sir, God bless
    you.'

    With this singular contradiction of terms, brother Ned gave Tim
    Linkinwater a slap on the back, which made him look, for the moment,
    almost as apoplectic as the butler: and tossed off the contents of
    his glass in a twinkling.

    The toast was scarcely drunk with all honour to Tim Linkinwater,
    when the sturdiest and jolliest subordinate elbowed himself a little
    in advance of his fellows, and exhibiting a very hot and flushed
    countenance, pulled a single lock of grey hair in the middle of his
    forehead as a respectful salute to the company, and delivered
    himself as follows--rubbing the palms of his hands very hard on a
    blue cotton handkerchief as he did so:

    'We're allowed to take a liberty once a year, gen'lemen, and if you
    please we'll take it now; there being no time like the present, and
    no two birds in the hand worth one in the bush, as is well known--
    leastways in a contrairy sense, which the meaning is the same. (A
    pause--the butler unconvinced.) What we mean to say is, that there
    never was (looking at the butler)--such--(looking at the cook)
    noble--excellent--(looking everywhere and seeing nobody) free,
    generous-spirited masters as them as has treated us so handsome this
    day. And here's thanking of 'em for all their goodness as is so
    constancy a diffusing of itself over everywhere, and wishing they
    may live long and die happy!'

    When the foregoing speech was over--and it might have been much more
    elegant and much less to the purpose--the whole body of subordinates
    under command of the apoplectic butler gave three soft cheers;
    which, to that gentleman's great indignation, were not very regular,
    inasmuch as the women persisted in giving an immense number of
    little shrill hurrahs among themselves, in utter disregard of the
    time. This done, they withdrew; shortly afterwards, Tim
    Linkinwater's sister withdrew; in reasonable time after that, the
    sitting was broken up for tea and coffee, and a round game of cards.

    At half-past ten--late hours for the square--there appeared a little
    tray of sandwiches and a bowl of bishop, which bishop coming on the
    top of the double-diamond, and other excitements, had such an effect
    upon Tim Linkinwater, that he drew Nicholas aside, and gave him to
    understand, confidentially, that it was quite true about the
    uncommonly handsome spinster, and that she was to the full as good-
    looking as she had been described--more so, indeed--but that she was
    in too much of a hurry to change her condition, and consequently,
    while Tim was courting her and thinking of changing his, got married
    to somebody else. 'After all, I dare say it was my fault,' said
    Tim. 'I'll show you a print I have got upstairs, one of these days.
    It cost me five-and-twenty shillings. I bought it soon after we
    were cool to each other. Don't mention it, but it's the most
    extraordinary accidental likeness you ever saw--her very portrait,
    sir!'

    By this time it was past eleven o'clock; and Tim Linkinwater's
    sister declaring that she ought to have been at home a full hour
    ago, a coach was procured, into which she was handed with great
    ceremony by brother Ned, while brother Charles imparted the fullest
    directions to the coachman, and besides paying the man a shilling
    over and above his fare, in order that he might take the utmost care
    of the lady, all but choked him with a glass of spirits of uncommon
    strength, and then nearly knocked all the breath out of his body in
    his energetic endeavours to knock it in again.

    At length the coach rumbled off, and Tim Linkinwater's sister being
    now fairly on her way home, Nicholas and Tim Linkinwater's friend
    took their leaves together, and left old Tim and the worthy brothers
    to their repose.

    As Nicholas had some distance to walk, it was considerably past
    midnight by the time he reached home, where he found his mother and
    Smike sitting up to receive him. It was long after their usual hour
    of retiring, and they had expected him, at the very latest, two
    hours ago; but the time had not hung heavily on their hands, for Mrs
    Nickleby had entertained Smike with a genealogical account of her
    family by the mother's side, comprising biographical sketches of the
    principal members, and Smike had sat wondering what it was all
    about, and whether it was learnt from a book, or said out of Mrs
    Nickleby's own head; so that they got on together very pleasantly.

    Nicholas could not go to bed without expatiating on the excellences
    and munificence of the brothers Cheeryble, and relating the great
    success which had attended his efforts that day. But before he had
    said a dozen words, Mrs Nickleby, with many sly winks and nods,
    observed, that she was sure Mr Smike must be quite tired out, and
    that she positively must insist on his not sitting up a minute
    longer.

    'A most biddable creature he is, to be sure,' said Mrs Nickleby,
    when Smike had wished them good-night and left the room. 'I know
    you'll excuse me, Nicholas, my dear, but I don't like to do this
    before a third person; indeed, before a young man it would not be
    quite proper, though really, after all, I don't know what harm there
    is in it, except that to be sure it's not a very becoming thing,
    though some people say it is very much so, and really I don't know
    why it should not be, if it's well got up, and the borders are
    small-plaited; of course, a good deal depends upon that.'

    With which preface, Mrs Nickleby took her nightcap from between the
    leaves of a very large prayer-book where it had been folded up
    small, and proceeded to tie it on: talking away in her usual
    discursive manner, all the time.

    'People may say what they like,' observed Mrs Nickleby, 'but there's
    a great deal of comfort in a nightcap, as I'm sure you would
    confess, Nicholas my dear, if you would only have strings to yours,
    and wear it like a Christian, instead of sticking it upon the very
    top of your head like a blue-coat boy. You needn't think it an
    unmanly or quizzical thing to be particular about your nightcap, for
    I have often heard your poor dear papa, and the Reverend Mr What's-
    his-name, who used to read prayers in that old church with the
    curious little steeple that the weathercock was blown off the night
    week before you were born,--I have often heard them say, that the
    young men at college are uncommonly particular about their
    nightcaps, and that the Oxford nightcaps are quite celebrated for
    their strength and goodness; so much so, indeed, that the young men
    never dream of going to bed without 'em, and I believe it's admitted
    on all hands that THEY know what's good, and don't coddle
    themselves.'

    Nicholas laughed, and entering no further into the subject of this
    lengthened harangue, reverted to the pleasant tone of the little
    birthday party. And as Mrs Nickleby instantly became very curious
    respecting it, and made a great number of inquiries touching what
    they had had for dinner, and how it was put on table, and whether it
    was overdone or underdone, and who was there, and what 'the Mr
    Cherrybles' said, and what Nicholas said, and what the Mr Cherrybles
    said when he said that; Nicholas described the festivities at full
    length, and also the occurrences of the morning.

    'Late as it is,' said Nicholas, 'I am almost selfish enough to wish
    that Kate had been up to hear all this. I was all impatience, as I
    came along, to tell her.'

    'Why, Kate,' said Mrs Nickleby, putting her feet upon the fender,
    and drawing her chair close to it, as if settling herself for a long
    talk. 'Kate has been in bed--oh! a couple of hours--and I'm very
    glad, Nicholas my dear, that I prevailed upon her not to sit up, for
    I wished very much to have an opportunity of saying a few words to
    you. I am naturally anxious about it, and of course it's a very
    delightful and consoling thing to have a grown-up son that one can
    put confidence in, and advise with; indeed I don't know any use
    there would be in having sons at all, unless people could put
    confidence in them.'

    Nicholas stopped in the middle of a sleepy yawn, as his mother began
    to speak: and looked at her with fixed attention.

    'There was a lady in our neighbourhood,' said Mrs Nickleby,
    'speaking of sons puts me in mind of it--a lady in our neighbourhood
    when we lived near Dawlish, I think her name was Rogers; indeed I am
    sure it was if it wasn't Murphy, which is the only doubt I have--'

    'Is it about her, mother, that you wished to speak to me?' said
    Nicholas quietly.

    'About HER!' cried Mrs Nickleby. 'Good gracious, Nicholas, my dear,
    how CAN you be so ridiculous! But that was always the way with your
    poor dear papa,--just his way--always wandering, never able to fix
    his thoughts on any one subject for two minutes together. I think I
    see him now!' said Mrs Nickleby, wiping her eyes, 'looking at me
    while I was talking to him about his affairs, just as if his ideas
    were in a state of perfect conglomeration! Anybody who had come in
    upon us suddenly, would have supposed I was confusing and
    distracting him instead of making things plainer; upon my word they
    would.'

    'I am very sorry, mother, that I should inherit this unfortunate
    slowness of apprehension,' said Nicholas, kindly; 'but I'll do my
    best to understand you, if you'll only go straight on: indeed I
    will.'

    'Your poor pa!' said Mrs Nickleby, pondering. 'He never knew, till
    it was too late, what I would have had him do!'

    This was undoubtedly the case, inasmuch as the deceased Mr Nickleby
    had not arrived at the knowledge. Then he died. Neither had Mrs
    Nickleby herself; which is, in some sort, an explanation of the
    circumstance.

    'However,' said Mrs Nickleby, drying her tears, 'this has nothing to
    do--certainly nothing whatever to do--with the gentleman in the next
    house.'

    'I should suppose that the gentleman in the next house has as little
    to do with us,' returned Nicholas.

    'There can be no doubt,' said Mrs Nickleby, 'that he IS a gentleman,
    and has the manners of a gentleman, and the appearance of a
    gentleman, although he does wear smalls and grey worsted stockings.
    That may be eccentricity, or he may be proud of his legs. I don't
    see why he shouldn't be. The Prince Regent was proud of his legs,
    and so was Daniel Lambert, who was also a fat man; HE was proud of
    his legs. So was Miss Biffin: she was--no,' added Mrs Nickleby,
    correcting, herself, 'I think she had only toes, but the principle
    is the same.'

    Nicholas looked on, quite amazed at the introduction of this new
    theme. Which seemed just what Mrs Nickleby had expected him to be.

    'You may well be surprised, Nicholas, my dear,' she said, 'I am sure
    I was. It came upon me like a flash of fire, and almost froze my
    blood. The bottom of his garden joins the bottom of ours, and of
    course I had several times seen him sitting among the scarlet-beans
    in his little arbour, or working at his little hot-beds. I used to
    think he stared rather, but I didn't take any particular notice of
    that, as we were newcomers, and he might be curious to see what we
    were like. But when he began to throw his cucumbers over our wall--'

    'To throw his cucumbers over our wall!' repeated Nicholas, in great
    astonishment.

    'Yes, Nicholas, my dear,' replied Mrs Nickleby in a very serious
    tone; 'his cucumbers over our wall. And vegetable marrows
    likewise.'

    'Confound his impudence!' said Nicholas, firing immediately. 'What
    does he mean by that?'

    'I don't think he means it impertinently at all,' replied Mrs
    Nickleby.

    'What!' said Nicholas, 'cucumbers and vegetable marrows flying at
    the heads of the family as they walk in their own garden, and not
    meant impertinently! Why, mother--'

    Nicholas stopped short; for there was an indescribable expression of
    placid triumph, mingled with a modest confusion, lingering between
    the borders of Mrs Nickleby's nightcap, which arrested his attention
    suddenly.

    'He must be a very weak, and foolish, and inconsiderate man,' said
    Mrs Nickleby; 'blamable indeed--at least I suppose other people
    would consider him so; of course I can't be expected to express any
    opinion on that point, especially after always defending your poor
    dear papa when other people blamed him for making proposals to me;
    and to be sure there can be no doubt that he has taken a very
    singular way of showing it. Still at the same time, his attentions
    are--that is, as far as it goes, and to a certain extent of course--
    a flattering sort of thing; and although I should never dream of
    marrying again with a dear girl like Kate still unsettled in life--'

    'Surely, mother, such an idea never entered your brain for an
    instant?' said Nicholas.

    'Bless my heart, Nicholas my dear,' returned his mother in a peevish
    tone, 'isn't that precisely what I am saying, if you would only let
    me speak? Of course, I never gave it a second thought, and I am
    surprised and astonished that you should suppose me capable of such
    a thing. All I say is, what step is the best to take, so as to
    reject these advances civilly and delicately, and without hurting
    his feelings too much, and driving him to despair, or anything of
    that kind? My goodness me!' exclaimed Mrs Nickleby, with a half-
    simper, 'suppose he was to go doing anything rash to himself. Could
    I ever be happy again, Nicholas?'

    Despite his vexation and concern, Nicholas could scarcely help
    smiling, as he rejoined, 'Now, do you think, mother, that such a
    result would be likely to ensue from the most cruel repulse?'

    'Upon my word, my dear, I don't know," returned Mrs Nickleby;
    'really, I don't know. I am sure there was a case in the day before
    yesterday's paper, extracted from one of the French newspapers,
    about a journeyman shoemaker who was jealous of a young girl in an
    adjoining village, because she wouldn't shut herself up in an air-
    tight three-pair-of-stairs, and charcoal herself to death with him;
    and who went and hid himself in a wood with a sharp-pointed knife,
    and rushed out, as she was passing by with a few friends, and killed
    himself first, and then all the friends, and then her--no, killed
    all the friends first, and then herself, and then HIMself--which it
    is quite frightful to think of. Somehow or other,' added Mrs
    Nickleby, after a momentary pause, 'they always ARE journeyman
    shoemakers who do these things in France, according to the papers.
    I don't know how it is--something in the leather, I suppose.'

    'But this man, who is not a shoemaker--what has he done, mother,
    what has he said?' inquired Nicholas, fretted almost beyond
    endurance, but looking nearly as resigned and patient as Mrs
    Nickleby herself. 'You know, there is no language of vegetables,
    which converts a cucumber into a formal declaration of attachment.'

    'My dear,' replied Mrs Nickleby, tossing her head and looking at the
    ashes in the grate, 'he has done and said all sorts of things.'

    'Is there no mistake on your part?' asked Nicholas.

    'Mistake!' cried Mrs Nickleby. 'Lord, Nicholas my dear, do you
    suppose I don't know when a man's in earnest?'

    'Well, well!' muttered Nicholas.

    'Every time I go to the window,' said Mrs Nickleby, 'he kisses one
    hand, and lays the other upon his heart--of course it's very foolish
    of him to do so, and I dare say you'll say it's very wrong, but he
    does it very respectfully--very respectfully indeed--and very
    tenderly, extremely tenderly. So far, he deserves the greatest
    credit; there can be no doubt about that. Then, there are the
    presents which come pouring over the wall every day, and very fine
    they certainly are, very fine; we had one of the cucumbers at dinner
    yesterday, and think of pickling the rest for next winter. And last
    evening,' added Mrs Nickleby, with increased confusion, 'he called
    gently over the wall, as I was walking in the garden, and proposed
    marriage, and an elopement. His voice is as clear as a bell or a
    musical glass--very like a musical glass indeed--but of course I
    didn't listen to it. Then, the question is, Nicholas my dear, what
    am I to do?'

    'Does Kate know of this?' asked Nicholas.

    'I have not said a word about it yet,' answered his mother.

    'Then, for Heaven's sake,' rejoined Nicholas, rising, 'do not, for
    it would make her very unhappy. And with regard to what you should
    do, my dear mother, do what your good sense and feeling, and respect
    for my father's memory, would prompt. There are a thousand ways in
    which you can show your dislike of these preposterous and doting
    attentions. If you act as decidedly as you ought and they are still
    continued, and to your annoyance, I can speedily put a stop to them.
    But I should not interfere in a matter so ridiculous, and attach
    importance to it, until you have vindicated yourself. Most women
    can do that, but especially one of your age and condition, in
    circumstances like these, which are unworthy of a serious thought.
    I would not shame you by seeming to take them to heart, or treat
    them earnestly for an instant. Absurd old idiot!'

    So saying, Nicholas kissed his mother, and bade her good-night, and
    they retired to their respective chambers.

    To do Mrs Nickleby justice, her attachment to her children would
    have prevented her seriously contemplating a second marriage, even
    if she could have so far conquered her recollections of her late
    husband as to have any strong inclinations that way. But, although
    there was no evil and little real selfishness in Mrs Nickleby's
    heart, she had a weak head and a vain one; and there was something
    so flattering in being sought (and vainly sought) in marriage at
    this time of day, that she could not dismiss the passion of the
    unknown gentleman quite so summarily or lightly as Nicholas appeared
    to deem becoming.

    'As to its being preposterous, and doting, and ridiculous,' thought
    Mrs Nickleby, communing with herself in her own room, 'I don't see
    that, at all. It's hopeless on his part, certainly; but why he
    should be an absurd old idiot, I confess I don't see. He is not to
    be supposed to know it's hopeless. Poor fellow! He is to be
    pitied, I think!'

    Having made these reflections, Mrs Nickleby looked in her little
    dressing-glass, and walking backward a few steps from it, tried to
    remember who it was who used to say that when Nicholas was one-and-
    twenty he would have more the appearance of her brother than her
    son. Not being able to call the authority to mind, she extinguished
    her candle, and drew up the window-blind to admit the light of
    morning, which had, by this time, begun to dawn.

    'It's a bad light to distinguish objects in,' murmured Mrs Nickleby,
    peering into the garden, 'and my eyes are not very good--I was
    short-sighted from a child--but, upon my word, I think there's
    another large vegetable marrow sticking, at this moment, on the
    broken glass bottles at the top of the wall!'
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    Chapter 37
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