Nicholas Nickleby HTML version

Chapter 22
Nicholas, accompanied by Smike, sallies forth to seek his Fortune. He
encounters Mr Vincent Crummles; and who he was, is herein made manifest
The whole capital which Nicholas found himself entitled to, either in possession,
reversion, remainder, or expectancy, after paying his rent and settling with the
broker from whom he had hired his poor furniture, did not exceed, by more than a
few halfpence, the sum of twenty shillings. And yet he hailed the morning on
which he had resolved to quit London, with a light heart, and sprang from his bed
with an elasticity of spirit which is happily the lot of young persons, or the world
would never be stocked with old ones.
It was a cold, dry, foggy morning in early spring. A few meagre shadows flitted to
and fro in the misty streets, and occasionally there loomed through the dull
vapour, the heavy outline of some hackney coach wending homewards, which,
drawing slowly nearer, rolled jangling by, scattering the thin crust of frost from its
whitened roof, and soon was lost again in the cloud. At intervals were heard the
tread of slipshod feet, and the chilly cry of the poor sweep as he crept, shivering,
to his early toil; the heavy footfall of the official watcher of the night, pacing slowly
up and down and cursing the tardy hours that still intervened between him and
sleep; the rambling of ponderous carts and waggons; the roll of the lighter
vehicles which carried buyers and sellers to the different markets; the sound of
ineffectual knocking at the doors of heavy sleepers--all these noises fell upon the
ear from time to time, but all seemed muffled by the fog, and to be rendered
almost as indistinct to the ear as was every object to the sight. The sluggish
darkness thickened as the day came on; and those who had the courage to rise
and peep at the gloomy street from their curtained windows, crept back to bed
again, and coiled themselves up to sleep.
Before even these indications of approaching morning were rife in busy London,
Nicholas had made his way alone to the city, and stood beneath the windows of
his mother's house. It was dull and bare to see, but it had light and life for him; for
there was at least one heart within its old walls to which insult or dishonour would
bring the same blood rushing, that flowed in his own veins.
He crossed the road, and raised his eyes to the window of the room where he
knew his sister slept. It was closed and dark. 'Poor girl,' thought Nicholas, 'she
little thinks who lingers here!'
He looked again, and felt, for the moment, almost vexed that Kate was not there
to exchange one word at parting. 'Good God!' he thought, suddenly correcting
himself, 'what a boy I am!'
'It is better as it is,' said Nicholas, after he had lounged on, a few paces, and
returned to the same spot. 'When I left them before, and could have said
goodbye a thousand times if I had chosen, I spared them the pain of leave-
taking, and why not now?' As he spoke, some fancied motion of the curtain
almost persuaded him, for the instant, that Kate was at the window, and by one
of those strange contradictions of feeling which are common to us all, he shrunk