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    Chapter 60

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    Chapter 60
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    CHAPTER 60

    The Dangers thicken, and the Worst is told

    Instead of going home, Ralph threw himself into the first street
    cabriolet he could find, and, directing the driver towards the
    police-office of the district in which Mr Squeers's misfortunes had
    occurred, alighted at a short distance from it, and, discharging the
    man, went the rest of his way thither on foot. Inquiring for the
    object of his solicitude, he learnt that he had timed his visit
    well; for Mr Squeers was, in fact, at that moment waiting for a
    hackney coach he had ordered, and in which he purposed proceeding to
    his week's retirement, like a gentleman.

    Demanding speech with the prisoner, he was ushered into a kind of
    waiting-room in which, by reason of his scholastic profession and
    superior respectability, Mr Squeers had been permitted to pass the
    day. Here, by the light of a guttering and blackened candle, he
    could barely discern the schoolmaster, fast asleep on a bench in a
    remote corner. An empty glass stood on a table before him, which,
    with his somnolent condition and a very strong smell of brandy and
    water, forewarned the visitor that Mr Squeers had been seeking, in
    creature comforts, a temporary forgetfulness of his unpleasant
    situation.

    It was not a very easy matter to rouse him: so lethargic and heavy
    were his slumbers. Regaining his faculties by slow and faint
    glimmerings, he at length sat upright; and, displaying a very yellow
    face, a very red nose, and a very bristly beard: the joint effect of
    which was considerably heightened by a dirty white handkerchief,
    spotted with blood, drawn over the crown of his head and tied under
    his chin: stared ruefully at Ralph in silence, until his feelings
    found a vent in this pithy sentence:

    'I say, young fellow, you've been and done it now; you have!'

    'What's the matter with your head?' asked Ralph.

    'Why, your man, your informing kidnapping man, has been and broke
    it,' rejoined Squeers sulkily; 'that's what's the matter with it.
    You've come at last, have you?'

    'Why have you not sent to me?' said Ralph. 'How could I come till I
    knew what had befallen you?'

    'My family!' hiccuped Mr Squeers, raising his eye to the ceiling:
    'my daughter, as is at that age when all the sensibilities is a-
    coming out strong in blow--my son as is the young Norval of private
    life, and the pride and ornament of a doting willage--here's a shock
    for my family! The coat-of-arms of the Squeerses is tore, and their
    sun is gone down into the ocean wave!'

    'You have been drinking,' said Ralph, 'and have not yet slept
    yourself sober.'

    'I haven't been drinking YOUR health, my codger,' replied Mr
    Squeers; 'so you have nothing to do with that.'

    Ralph suppressed the indignation which the schoolmaster's altered
    and insolent manner awakened, and asked again why he had not sent to
    him.

    'What should I get by sending to you?' returned Squeers. 'To be
    known to be in with you wouldn't do me a deal of good, and they
    won't take bail till they know something more of the case, so here
    am I hard and fast: and there are you, loose and comfortable.'

    'And so must you be in a few days,' retorted Ralph, with affected
    good-humour. 'They can't hurt you, man.'

    'Why, I suppose they can't do much to me, if I explain how it was
    that I got into the good company of that there ca-daverous old
    Slider,' replied Squeers viciously, 'who I wish was dead and buried,
    and resurrected and dissected, and hung upon wires in a anatomical
    museum, before ever I'd had anything to do with her. This is what
    him with the powdered head says this morning, in so many words:
    "Prisoner! As you have been found in company with this woman; as
    you were detected in possession of this document; as you were
    engaged with her in fraudulently destroying others, and can give no
    satisfactory account of yourself; I shall remand you for a week, in
    order that inquiries may be made, and evidence got. And meanwhile I
    can't take any bail for your appearance." Well then, what I say now
    is, that I CAN give a satisfactory account of myself; I can hand in
    the card of my establishment and say, "I am the Wackford Squeers as
    is therein named, sir. I am the man as is guaranteed, by
    unimpeachable references, to be a out-and-outer in morals and
    uprightness of principle. Whatever is wrong in this business is no
    fault of mine. I had no evil design in it, sir. I was not aware
    that anything was wrong. I was merely employed by a friend, my
    friend Mr Ralph Nickleby, of Golden Square. Send for him, sir, and
    ask him what he has to say; he's the man; not me!"'

    'What document was it that you had?' asked Ralph, evading, for the
    moment, the point just raised.

    'What document? Why, THE document,' replied Squeers. 'The Madeline
    What's-her-name one. It was a will; that's what it was.'

    'Of what nature, whose will, when dated, how benefiting her, to what
    extent?' asked Ralph hurriedly.

    'A will in her favour; that's all I know,' rejoined Squeers, 'and
    that's more than you'd have known, if you'd had them bellows on your
    head. It's all owing to your precious caution that they got hold of
    it. If you had let me burn it, and taken my word that it was gone,
    it would have been a heap of ashes behind the fire, instead of being
    whole and sound, inside of my great-coat.'

    'Beaten at every point!' muttered Ralph.

    'Ah!' sighed Squeers, who, between the brandy and water and his
    broken head, wandered strangely, 'at the delightful village of
    Dotheboys near Greta Bridge in Yorkshire, youth are boarded,
    clothed, booked, washed, furnished with pocket-money, provided with
    all necessaries, instructed in all languages living and dead,
    mathematics, orthography, geometry, astronomy, trigonometry--this is
    a altered state of trigonomics, this is! A double 1--all,
    everything--a cobbler's weapon. U-p-up, adjective, not down. S-q-
    u-double e-r-s-Squeers, noun substantive, a educator of youth.
    Total, all up with Squeers!'

    His running on, in this way, had afforded Ralph an opportunity of
    recovering his presence of mind, which at once suggested to him the
    necessity of removing, as far as possible, the schoolmaster's
    misgivings, and leading him to believe that his safety and best
    policy lay in the preservation of a rigid silence.

    'I tell you, once again,' he said, 'they can't hurt you. You shall
    have an action for false imprisonment, and make a profit of this,
    yet. We will devise a story for you that should carry you through
    twenty times such a trivial scrape as this; and if they want
    security in a thousand pounds for your reappearance in case you
    should be called upon, you shall have it. All you have to do is, to
    keep back the truth. You're a little fuddled tonight, and may not
    be able to see this as clearly as you would at another time; but
    this is what you must do, and you'll need all your senses about you;
    for a slip might be awkward.'

    'Oh!' said Squeers, who had looked cunningly at him, with his head
    stuck on one side, like an old raven. 'That's what I'm to do, is
    it? Now then, just you hear a word or two from me. I an't a-going
    to have any stories made for me, and I an't a-going to stick to any.
    If I find matters going again me, I shall expect you to take your
    share, and I'll take care you do. You never said anything about
    danger. I never bargained for being brought into such a plight as
    this, and I don't mean to take it as quiet as you think. I let you
    lead me on, from one thing to another, because we had been mixed up
    together in a certain sort of a way, and if you had liked to be ill-
    natured you might perhaps have hurt the business, and if you liked
    to be good-natured you might throw a good deal in my way. Well; if
    all goes right now, that's quite correct, and I don't mind it; but
    if anything goes wrong, then times are altered, and I shall just say
    and do whatever I think may serve me most, and take advice from
    nobody. My moral influence with them lads,' added Mr Squeers, with
    deeper gravity, 'is a tottering to its basis. The images of Mrs
    Squeers, my daughter, and my son Wackford, all short of vittles, is
    perpetually before me; every other consideration melts away and
    vanishes, in front of these; the only number in all arithmetic that
    I know of, as a husband and a father, is number one, under this here
    most fatal go!'

    How long Mr Squeers might have declaimed, or how stormy a discussion
    his declamation might have led to, nobody knows. Being interrupted,
    at this point, by the arrival of the coach and an attendant who was
    to bear him company, he perched his hat with great dignity on the
    top of the handkerchief that bound his head; and, thrusting one hand
    in his pocket, and taking the attendant's arm with the other,
    suffered himself to be led forth.

    'As I supposed from his not sending!' thought Ralph. 'This fellow,
    I plainly see through all his tipsy fooling, has made up his mind to
    turn upon me. I am so beset and hemmed in, that they are not only
    all struck with fear, but, like the beasts in the fable, have their
    fling at me now, though time was, and no longer ago than yesterday
    too, when they were all civility and compliance. But they shall not
    move me. I'll not give way. I will not budge one inch!'

    He went home, and was glad to find his housekeeper complaining of
    illness, that he might have an excuse for being alone and sending
    her away to where she lived: which was hard by. Then, he sat down
    by the light of a single candle, and began to think, for the first
    time, on all that had taken place that day.

    He had neither eaten nor drunk since last night, and, in addition to
    the anxiety of mind he had undergone, had been travelling about,
    from place to place almost incessantly, for many hours. He felt
    sick and exhausted, but could taste nothing save a glass of water,
    and continued to sit with his head upon his hand; not resting nor
    thinking, but laboriously trying to do both, and feeling that every
    sense but one of weariness and desolation, was for the time
    benumbed.

    It was nearly ten o'clock when he heard a knocking at the door, and
    still sat quiet as before, as if he could not even bring his
    thoughts to bear upon that. It had been often repeated, and he had,
    several times, heard a voice outside, saying there was a light in
    the window (meaning, as he knew, his own candle), before he could
    rouse himself and go downstairs.

    'Mr Nickleby, there is terrible news for you, and I am sent to beg
    you will come with me directly,' said a voice he seemed to
    recognise. He held his hand above his eyes, and, looking out, saw
    Tim Linkinwater on the steps.

    'Come where?' demanded Ralph.

    'To our house, where you came this morning. I have a coach here.'

    'Why should I go there?' said Ralph.

    'Don't ask me why, but pray come with me.'

    'Another edition of today!' returned Ralph, making as though he
    would shut the door.

    'No, no!' cried Tim, catching him by the arm and speaking most
    earnestly; 'it is only that you may hear something that has
    occurred: something very dreadful, Mr Nickleby, which concerns you
    nearly. Do you think I would tell you so or come to you like this,
    if it were not the case?'

    Ralph looked at him more closely. Seeing that he was indeed greatly
    excited, he faltered, and could not tell what to say or think.

    'You had better hear this now, than at any other time,' said Tim;
    'it may have some influence with you. For Heaven's sake come!'

    Perhaps, at, another time, Ralph's obstinacy and dislike would have
    been proof against any appeal from such a quarter, however
    emphatically urged; but now, after a moment's hesitation, he went
    into the hall for his hat, and returning, got into the coach without
    speaking a word.

    Tim well remembered afterwards, and often said, that as Ralph
    Nickleby went into the house for this purpose, he saw him, by the
    light of the candle which he had set down upon a chair, reel and
    stagger like a drunken man. He well remembered, too, that when he
    had placed his foot upon the coach-steps, he turned round and looked
    upon him with a face so ashy pale and so very wild and vacant that
    it made him shudder, and for the moment almost afraid to follow.
    People were fond of saying that he had some dark presentiment upon
    him then, but his emotion might, perhaps, with greater show of
    reason, be referred to what he had undergone that day.

    A profound silence was observed during the ride. Arrived at their
    place of destination, Ralph followed his conductor into the house,
    and into a room where the two brothers were. He was so astounded,
    not to say awed, by something of a mute compassion for himself which
    was visible in their manner and in that of the old clerk, that he
    could scarcely speak.

    Having taken a seat, however, he contrived to say, though in broken
    words, 'What--what have you to say to me--more than has been said
    already?'

    The room was old and large, very imperfectly lighted, and terminated
    in a bay window, about which hung some heavy drapery. Casting his
    eyes in this direction as he spoke, he thought he made out the dusky
    figure of a man. He was confirmed in this impression by seeing that
    the object moved, as if uneasy under his scrutiny.

    'Who's that yonder?' he said.

    'One who has conveyed to us, within these two hours, the
    intelligence which caused our sending to you,' replied brother
    Charles. 'Let him be, sir, let him be for the present.'

    'More riddles!' said Ralph, faintly. 'Well, sir?'

    In turning his face towards the brothers he was obliged to avert it
    from the window; but, before either of them could speak, he had
    looked round again. It was evident that he was rendered restless
    and uncomfortable by the presence of the unseen person; for he
    repeated this action several times, and at length, as if in a
    nervous state which rendered him positively unable to turn away from
    the place, sat so as to have it opposite him, muttering as an excuse
    that he could not bear the light.

    The brothers conferred apart for a short time: their manner showing
    that they were agitated. Ralph glanced at them twice or thrice, and
    ultimately said, with a great effort to recover his self-possession,
    'Now, what is this? If I am brought from home at this time of
    night, let it be for something. What have you got to tell me?'
    After a short pause, he added, 'Is my niece dead?'

    He had struck upon a key which rendered the task of commencement an
    easier one. Brother Charles turned, and said that it was a death of
    which they had to tell him, but that his niece was well.

    'You don't mean to tell me,' said Ralph, as his eyes brightened,
    'that her brother's dead? No, that's too good. I'd not believe it,
    if you told me so. It would be too welcome news to be true.'

    'Shame on you, you hardened and unnatural man,' cried the other
    brother, warmly. 'Prepare yourself for intelligence which, if you
    have any human feeling in your breast, will make even you shrink and
    tremble. What if we tell you that a poor unfortunate boy: a child
    in everything but never having known one of those tender
    endearments, or one of those lightsome hours which make our
    childhood a time to be remembered like a happy dream through all our
    after life: a warm-hearted, harmless, affectionate creature, who
    never offended you, or did you wrong, but on whom you have vented
    the malice and hatred you have conceived for your nephew, and whom
    you have made an instrument for wreaking your bad passions upon him:
    what if we tell you that, sinking under your persecution, sir, and
    the misery and ill-usage of a life short in years but long in
    suffering, this poor creature has gone to tell his sad tale where,
    for your part in it, you must surely answer?'

    'If you tell me,' said Ralph; 'if you tell me that he is dead, I
    forgive you all else. If you tell me that he is dead, I am in your
    debt and bound to you for life. He is! I see it in your faces.
    Who triumphs now? Is this your dreadful news; this your terrible
    intelligence? You see how it moves me. You did well to send. I
    would have travelled a hundred miles afoot, through mud, mire, and
    darkness, to hear this news just at this time.'

    Even then, moved as he was by this savage joy, Ralph could see in
    the faces of the two brothers, mingling with their look of disgust
    and horror, something of that indefinable compassion for himself
    which he had noticed before.

    'And HE brought you the intelligence, did he?' said Ralph, pointing
    with his finger towards the recess already mentioned; 'and sat
    there, no doubt, to see me prostrated and overwhelmed by it! Ha,
    ha, ha! But I tell him that I'll be a sharp thorn in his side for
    many a long day to come; and I tell you two, again, that you don't
    know him yet; and that you'll rue the day you took compassion on the
    vagabond.'

    'You take me for your nephew,' said a hollow voice; 'it would be
    better for you, and for me too, if I were he indeed.'

    The figure that he had seen so dimly, rose, and came slowly down.
    He started back, for he found that he confronted--not Nicholas, as
    he had supposed, but Brooker.

    Ralph had no reason, that he knew, to fear this man; he had never
    feared him before; but the pallor which had been observed in his
    face when he issued forth that night, came upon him again. He was
    seen to tremble, and his voice changed as he said, keeping his eyes
    upon him,

    'What does this fellow here? Do you know he is a convict, a felon,
    a common thief?'

    'Hear what he has to tell you. Oh, Mr Nickleby, hear what he has to
    tell you, be he what he may!' cried the brothers, with such emphatic
    earnestness, that Ralph turned to them in wonder. They pointed to
    Brooker. Ralph again gazed at him: as it seemed mechanically.

    'That boy,' said the man, 'that these gentlemen have been talking
    of--'

    'That boy,' repeated Ralph, looking vacantly at him.

    'Whom I saw, stretched dead and cold upon his bed, and who is now
    in his grave--'

    'Who is now in his grave,' echoed Ralph, like one who talks in his
    sleep.

    The man raised his eyes, and clasped his hands solemnly together:

    '--Was your only son, so help me God in heaven!'

    In the midst of a dead silence, Ralph sat down, pressing his two
    hands upon his temples. He removed them, after a minute, and never
    was there seen, part of a living man undisfigured by any wound, such
    a ghastly face as he then disclosed. He looked at Brooker, who was
    by this time standing at a short distance from him; but did not say
    one word, or make the slightest sound or gesture.

    'Gentlemen,' said the man, 'I offer no excuses for myself. I am
    long past that. If, in telling you how this has happened, I tell
    you that I was harshly used, and perhaps driven out of my real
    nature, I do it only as a necessary part of my story, and not to
    shield myself. I am a guilty man.'

    He stopped, as if to recollect, and looking away from Ralph, and
    addressing himself to the brothers, proceeded in a subdued and
    humble tone:

    'Among those who once had dealings with this man, gentlemen--that's
    from twenty to five-and-twenty years ago--there was one: a rough
    fox-hunting, hard-drinking gentleman, who had run through his own
    fortune, and wanted to squander away that of his sister: they were
    both orphans, and she lived with him and managed his house. I don't
    know whether it was, originally, to back his influence and try to
    over-persuade the young woman or not, but he,' pointing, to Ralph,
    'used to go down to the house in Leicestershire pretty often, and
    stop there many days at a time. They had had a great many dealings
    together, and he may have gone on some of those, or to patch up his
    client's affairs, which were in a ruinous state; of course he went
    for profit. The gentlewoman was not a girl, but she was, I have
    heard say, handsome, and entitled to a pretty large property. In
    course of time, he married her. The same love of gain which led him
    to contract this marriage, led to its being kept strictly private;
    for a clause in her father's will declared that if she married
    without her brother's consent, the property, in which she had only
    some life interest while she remained single, should pass away
    altogether to another branch of the family. The brother would give
    no consent that the sister didn't buy, and pay for handsomely; Mr
    Nickleby would consent to no such sacrifice; and so they went on,
    keeping their marriage secret, and waiting for him to break his neck
    or die of a fever. He did neither, and meanwhile the result of this
    private marriage was a son. The child was put out to nurse, a long
    way off; his mother never saw him but once or twice, and then by
    stealth; and his father--so eagerly did he thirst after the money
    which seemed to come almost within his grasp now, for his brother-
    in-law was very ill, and breaking more and more every day--never
    went near him, to avoid raising any suspicion. The brother lingered
    on; Mr Nickleby's wife constantly urged him to avow their marriage;
    he peremptorily refused. She remained alone in a dull country
    house: seeing little or no company but riotous, drunken sportsmen.
    He lived in London and clung to his business. Angry quarrels and
    recriminations took place, and when they had been married nearly
    seven years, and were within a few weeks of the time when the
    brother's death would have adjusted all, she eloped with a younger
    man, and left him.'

    Here he paused, but Ralph did not stir, and the brothers signed to
    him to proceed.

    'It was then that I became acquainted with these circumstances from
    his own lips. They were no secrets then; for the brother, and
    others, knew them; but they were communicated to me, not on this
    account, but because I was wanted. He followed the fugitives. Some
    said to make money of his wife's shame, but, I believe, to take some
    violent revenge, for that was as much his character as the other;
    perhaps more. He didn't find them, and she died not long after. I
    don't know whether he began to think he might like the child, or
    whether he wished to make sure that it should never fall into its
    mother's hands; but, before he went, he intrusted me with the charge
    of bringing it home. And I did so.'

    He went on, from this point, in a still more humble tone, and spoke
    in a very low voice; pointing to Ralph as he resumed.

    'He had used me ill--cruelly--I reminded him in what, not long ago
    when I met him in the street--and I hated him. I brought the child
    home to his own house, and lodged him in the front garret. Neglect
    had made him very sickly, and I was obliged to call in a doctor, who
    said he must be removed for change of air, or he would die. I think
    that first put it in my head. I did it then. He was gone six weeks,
    and when he came back, I told him--with every circumstance well
    planned and proved; nobody could have suspected me--that the child
    was dead and buried. He might have been disappointed in some
    intention he had formed, or he might have had some natural
    affection, but he WAS grieved at THAT, and I was confirmed in my
    design of opening up the secret one day, and making it a means of
    getting money from him. I had heard, like most other men, of
    Yorkshire schools. I took the child to one kept by a man named
    Squeers, and left it there. I gave him the name of Smike. Year by
    year, I paid twenty pounds a-year for him for six years; never
    breathing the secret all the time; for I had left his father's
    service after more hard usage, and quarrelled with him again. I was
    sent away from this country. I have been away nearly eight years.
    Directly I came home again, I travelled down into Yorkshire, and,
    skulking in the village of an evening-time, made inquiries about the
    boys at the school, and found that this one, whom I had placed
    there, had run away with a young man bearing the name of his own
    father. I sought his father out in London, and hinting at what I
    could tell him, tried for a little money to support life; but he
    repulsed me with threats. I then found out his clerk, and, going on
    from little to little, and showing him that there were good reasons
    for communicating with me, learnt what was going on; and it was I
    who told him that the boy was no son of the man who claimed to be
    his father. All this time I had never seen the boy. At length, I
    heard from this same source that he was very ill, and where he was.
    I travelled down there, that I might recall myself, if possible, to
    his recollection and confirm my story. I came upon him
    unexpectedly; but before I could speak he knew me--he had good cause
    to remember me, poor lad!--and I would have sworn to him if I had
    met him in the Indies. I knew the piteous face I had seen in the
    little child. After a few days' indecision, I applied to the young
    gentleman in whose care he was, and I found that he was dead. He
    knows how quickly he recognised me again, how often he had described
    me and my leaving him at the school, and how he told him of a garret
    he recollected: which is the one I have spoken of, and in his
    father's house to this day. This is my story. I demand to be
    brought face to face with the schoolmaster, and put to any possible
    proof of any part of it, and I will show that it's too true, and
    that I have this guilt upon my soul.'

    'Unhappy man!' said the brothers. 'What reparation can you make for
    this?'

    'None, gentlemen, none! I have none to make, and nothing to hope
    now. I am old in years, and older still in misery and care. This
    confession can bring nothing upon me but new suffering and
    punishment; but I make it, and will abide by it whatever comes. I
    have been made the instrument of working out this dreadful
    retribution upon the head of a man who, in the hot pursuit of his
    bad ends, has persecuted and hunted down his own child to death. It
    must descend upon me too. I know it must fall. My reparation comes
    too late; and, neither in this world nor in the next, can I have
    hope again!'

    He had hardly spoken, when the lamp, which stood upon the table
    close to where Ralph was seated, and which was the only one in the
    room, was thrown to the ground, and left them in darkness. There
    was some trifling confusion in obtaining another light; the interval
    was a mere nothing; but when the light appeared, Ralph Nickleby was
    gone.

    The good brothers and Tim Linkinwater occupied some time in
    discussing the probability of his return; and, when it became
    apparent that he would not come back, they hesitated whether or no
    to send after him. At length, remembering how strangely and
    silently he had sat in one immovable position during the interview,
    and thinking he might possibly be ill, they determined, although it
    was now very late, to send to his house on some pretence. Finding
    an excuse in the presence of Brooker, whom they knew not how to
    dispose of without consulting his wishes, they concluded to act upon
    this resolution before going to bed.
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