Nicholas Nickleby HTML version

Chapter 31
Of Ralph Nickleby and Newman Noggs, and some wise Precautions, the success
or failure of which will appear in the Sequel
In blissful unconsciousness that his nephew was hastening at the utmost speed
of four good horses towards his sphere of action, and that every passing minute
diminished the distance between them, Ralph Nickleby sat that morning occupied
in his customary avocations, and yet unable to prevent his thoughts wandering
from time to time back to the interview which had taken place between himself
and his niece on the previous day. At such intervals, after a few moments of
abstraction, Ralph would mutter some peevish interjection, and apply himself
with renewed steadiness of purpose to the ledger before him, but again and
again the same train of thought came back despite all his efforts to prevent it,
confusing him in his calculations, and utterly distracting his attention from the
figures over which he bent. At length Ralph laid down his pen, and threw himself
back in his chair as though he had made up his mind to allow the obtrusive
current of reflection to take its own course, and, by giving it full scope, to rid
himself of it effectually.
'I am not a man to be moved by a pretty face,' muttered Ralph sternly. 'There is a
grinning skull beneath it, and men like me who look and work below the surface
see that, and not its delicate covering. And yet I almost like the girl, or should if
she had been less proudly and squeamishly brought up. If the boy were drowned
or hanged, and the mother dead, this house should be her home. I wish they
were, with all my soul.'
Notwithstanding the deadly hatred which Ralph felt towards Nicholas, and the
bitter contempt with which he sneered at poor Mrs Nickleby-- notwithstanding the
baseness with which he had behaved, and was then behaving, and would
behave again if his interest prompted him, towards Kate herself--still there was,
strange though it may seem, something humanising and even gentle in his
thoughts at that moment. He thought of what his home might be if Kate were
there; he placed her in the empty chair, looked upon her, heard her speak; he felt
again upon his arm the gentle pressure of the trembling hand; he strewed his
costly rooms with the hundred silent tokens of feminine presence and
occupation; he came back again to the cold fireside and the silent dreary
splendour; and in that one glimpse of a better nature, born as it was in selfish
thoughts, the rich man felt himself friendless, childless, and alone. Gold, for the
instant, lost its lustre in his eyes, for there were countless treasures of the heart
which it could never purchase.
A very slight circumstance was sufficient to banish such reflections from the mind
of such a man. As Ralph looked vacantly out across the yard towards the window
of the other office, he became suddenly aware of the earnest observation of
Newman Noggs, who, with his red nose almost touching the glass, feigned to be
mending a pen with a rusty fragment of a knife, but was in reality staring at his
employer with a countenance of the closest and most eager scrutiny.