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“There! Now, if any other boy thinks Smike has run away, I shall be glad to have a talk with him.”
Profound silence. “Well, Nickleby, you think he has run away I suppose ?" “I think it extremely likely." “Maybe you know he has run away.” “I know nothing about it.” "He didn't tell you he was going, I suppose ?"
'He did not. I am very glad he did not, for it would then have been my duty to have told you.”
"Which no doubt you would have been devilish sorry to do." “I should, indeed.”
Mrs. Squeers had listened to this conversation from the bottom of the stairs; but now, losing all patience, she hastily made her way to the sceno of action.
“ What's all this here to-do? What on earth are you talking to him for, Squeery! The cow-house and stable are locked up, so Smike can't be there; and he's not down stairs anywhere, for the girl has looked. He must have gone York way, and by a public road. He must beg his way, and he could do that nowheres but on the public road. Now, if you takes the chaise and goes one road, and I borrows Swallow's chaise and goes t'other, what with keeping our eyes open, and asking questions, one or other of us is moral sure to lay hold of him.”
The lady's plan was put in execution without delay, Nicholas remaining behind in a tumult of feeling. Death, from want and exposure, was the best that could be expected from the prolonged wandering of so helpless a creature through a country of which he was ignorant. There was little, perhaps, to choose between this and a return to the tender mercies of the school. Nicholas lingered on, in restless anxiety, picturing a thousand possibilities, until the evening of the next day, when Squeers returned alone.
“No news of the scamp!”
Another day came, and Nicholas was scarcely awake when he heard the wheels of a chaise approaching the house. It stopped, and the voice of Mrs. Squeers was heard, ordering a glass of spirits for somebody, which was in itself e sufficient sign that something extraordinary had happened. Nicholas hardly dared to look out of the window, but he did so, and the first object that met his eyes was the wretched Smike, bedabbled with mud and rain, haggard and worn and wild.
“ Lift him out,” said Squeers. “Bring him in, bring him in!"
“Take care,” cried Mrs. Squeers. “We tied his legs under the apron, and made 'em fast to the chaise, to prevent his giving us the slip again.”
With hands trembling with delight, Squeers unloosened the cord; and Smike, more dead than alive, was brought in and locked up in a cellar, until such a time as Squeers should deem it expedient to operate upon him.
The news that the fugitive had been caught and brought back ran like wildfire through the hungry community, and expectation was on tiptoe all the morning. On tiptoe it remained until the afternoon, when Squeers, having re. freshed himself with his dinner and an extra libation or so, made his appearance (accompanied by his amiable partneri, with a fearful instrument of flagellation, strong, supple, wax ended, and new.
“Is every boy here ?”
Every boy was there, but every boy was afraid to speak so Squeers glared along the lines to assure himself.
" Each boy keep his place. Nickleby! you go to your desk sir!"
There was a curious expression in the usher's face; but ho took his seat, without opening his lips in reply. Squeers left the room, and shortly afterwards returned, dragging Smike by the collar–or rather by that fragment of his jacket which was nearest the place where his collar ought to have been.
Now, what have you got to say for yourself? (Stand a little out of the way, Mrs. Squeers, my dear; I've hardly got room enough.)” “Spare me, sir !"
Oh, that's all you've got to say, is it? Yes, I'l: flog you within an inch of your life, and spare you that."
One cruel blow had fallen on him, when Nicholas Nickle. by cried," Stop!" “Who cried stop !" “I did. This must not go on."
Must not go on!” “No! Must not! Shail not! I will prevent it! You wave disregarded all my quiet interference in this miserabie lad's behalf; you have returned no answer to the letter in which I begged forgiveness for him, and offered to be responsible that he would remain quietly here. Don't blame me for this public interference. You have brought it upon yourself, not I.” “Sit down, beggar!"
Wretch, touch him again at your peril! I will not stand by, and see it done. My blood is up, and I have the strength of ten such men as you. By Heaven! I will not spare you, if you drive me on! I have
series of personal insults to avenge, and my indignation is aggravated by the cruelties practiced in this foul den. Have a care; for if you raise the devil in me, the consequences will fall heavily upon your head !"
Squeers, in a violent outbreak, spat at him, and struck him a blow across the face. Nicholas instantly sprang upon him, wrested his weapon from his hand, and, pinning him by the throat, beat the ruffian till he roared for mercy.
He flung him away with all the force he could muster, and the violence of his fall precipitated Mrs. Squeers over an adjacent form; Squeers, striking his head against the same form in his descent, lay at his full length on the ground, stunned and motionless.
Having brought affairs to this happy termination, and having ascertained, to his satisfaction, that Squeers was only stunned, and not dead (upon which point he had had some unpleasant doubts at first), Nicholas packed up a few clothes in a small valise, and, finding that nobody offered to oppose
marched boldly out by the front door, and struck into the road. Then such a cheer arose as the walls of Dotheboys Hall had never echoed before, and would never respond to again. When the sound had died away, the school was empty; and of the crowd of boys not one remained.
When Nicholas had cooled sufficiently to give his present circumstances some reflection, they did not appear in an encouraging light; he had only four shillings and odd pence in his pocket, and was something more than two hundred and fifty miles from London.
Lifting up his eyes, he beheld a horseman coming towards him, whom he discovered to be no other than Mr. John Browdie, carrying a thick asha stick.
“I am in no mood for more noise and riot, and yet, do what I will, I shall have an altercation with this honest blockhead, and perhaps a blow or two from yonder cudgel."
There appeared reason to expect it, for John Browdie no sooner saw Nicholas, than he reined in his horse, and waited until such time as he should come up.
Servant, young genelman,” “ Yours.” “Weel; we ha' met at last.”
“Yes.-Come! We parted on no very good terms the last time we met; it was my fault; but I had no intention of offending you, and no idea that I was doing so. I was very sorry for it afterwards. Will you shake hands ?”
“Shake honds! Ah! that I weel! But wa'at be the matter wi' thy feace, mun? It be all brokken loike."
“ It is a cut,-a blow; but I returned it to the giver, and with good interest.”
Noa, did'ee though? Well deane! I loike’un for thot." “The fact is, I have been ill-treated." “Noa! Dean't say thot.”
Yes, I have, by that man Squeers, and I have beaten him soundly, and am leaving this place in consequence.”
“What !" cried John Browdie, with such an ecstatic shout that the horse shied at it. “Beatten the schoolmeasther! Ho! ho! ho! Beatten the schoolmeast her!
Who ever heard o' the loike o' that noo! Giv' us thee hond agean, yoongster. Beatten the schoolmeasther! Dang it, I loove thee for 't."
When his mirth had subsided, he inquired what Nicholas meant to do. On his replying, to go straight to London, he shook his head, and inquired if he knew how much the coaches charged to carry passengers so far?
“No, I do not; but it is of no great consequence to me, for I intend walking."
Gang awa’ to Lunnun afoat! (Stan' still, tell’ee, old horse,) Hoo much cash hast thee gotten ?”
“Not much, but I can make it enough. Where there's a will, there's a way, you know."
John Browdie pulled out an old purse, and insisted that Nicholas should borrow from him whatever he required.
Dean't be a feard, mun, tak' eneaf to carry thee whoam. Thee'lt pay me yan day, a' warrant."
Nicholas would by no means be prevailed upon to borrow more than a sovereign, with which loan Mr. Browdie was fain to content himself, after many entreaties that he would accept of more.
He observed, with a touch of Yorkshire caution, that if Nicholas didn't spend it all, he could put the surplus by, till he had an opportunity of remitting it carriage free.
'Tak’ that bit 'o timber to help thee on wi', mun; keep a good heart, and bless thee. Beatten the schoolmeasther! Pod, it's the best thing 'a 've heard this twonty year!"
John set spurs to his horse, and went off at a smart can1er. Nicholas watched the horse and rider until they disappeared over the brow of a distant hill, and then set forward on his journey.
He did not travel far, that afternoon, for by this time it was nearly dark; so he lay, that night, at a cottage, where beds were let cheap; and, rising betimes next morning, made his way before night to Boroughbridge. There he stumbled on an empty barn ; and in a warm corner stretched his weary limbs and fell asleep.
When he awoke next morning, he sat up, rubbed his eyes, and stared at some motionless object in front of him.
“Strange! It cannot be real; and yet I--I am awake! Smike!" It was Smike, indeed.
Why do you kneel to me?" "To go with
you--anywhere-everywhere-to the world's end-to the churchyard. Let me go with you; Oh! do let me. You are my home, my kind friend; take me with you, pray!"
He had followed Nicholas, it seemed; had never lost sight of him all the way; had watched while he slept, and when he halted for refreshment; and had feared to appear sooner, lest he should be sent back.
"Poor fellow! Your hard fate denies you any friend but one, and he is nearly as poor and helpless as yourself.”