Nicholas Nickleby HTML version

Chapter 13
Nicholas varies the Monotony of Dothebys Hall by a most vigorous and
remarkable proceeding, which leads to Consequences of some Importance
The cold, feeble dawn of a January morning was stealing in at the windows of the
common sleeping-room, when Nicholas, raising himself on his arm, looked
among the prostrate forms which on every side surrounded him, as though in
search of some particular object.
It needed a quick eye to detect, from among the huddled mass of sleepers, the
form of any given individual. As they lay closely packed together, covered, for
warmth's sake, with their patched and ragged clothes, little could be
distinguished but the sharp outlines of pale faces, over which the sombre light
shed the same dull heavy colour; with, here and there, a gaunt arm thrust forth:
its thinness hidden by no covering, but fully exposed to view, in all its shrunken
ugliness. There were some who, lying on their backs with upturned faces and
clenched hands, just visible in the leaden light, bore more the aspect of dead
bodies than of living creatures; and there were others coiled up into strange and
fantastic postures, such as might have been taken for the uneasy efforts of pain
to gain some temporary relief, rather than the freaks of slumber. A few-- and
these were among the youngest of the children--slept peacefully on, with smiles
upon their faces, dreaming perhaps of home; but ever and again a deep and
heavy sigh, breaking the stillness of the room, announced that some new sleeper
had awakened to the misery of another day; and, as morning took the place of
night, the smiles gradually faded away, with the friendly darkness which had
given them birth.
Dreams are the bright creatures of poem and legend, who sport on earth in the
night season, and melt away in the first beam of the sun, which lights grim care
and stern reality on their daily pilgrimage through the world.
Nicholas looked upon the sleepers; at first, with the air of one who gazes upon a
scene which, though familiar to him, has lost none of its sorrowful effect in
consequence; and, afterwards, with a more intense and searching scrutiny, as a
man would who missed something his eye was accustomed to meet, and had
expected to rest upon. He was still occupied in this search, and had half risen
from his bed in the eagerness of his quest, when the voice of Squeers was
heard, calling from the bottom of the stairs.
'Now then,' cried that gentleman, 'are you going to sleep all day, up there--'
'You lazy hounds?' added Mrs Squeers, finishing the sentence, and producing, at
the same time, a sharp sound, like that which is occasioned by the lacing of
'We shall be down directly, sir,' replied Nicholas.
'Down directly!' said Squeers. 'Ah! you had better be down directly, or I'll be down
upon some of you in less. Where's that Smike?'
Nicholas looked hurriedly round again, but made no answer.
'Smike!' shouted Squeers.