Nicholas Nickleby HTML version

Chapter 40
In which Nicholas falls in Love. He employs a Mediator, whose Proceedings are
crowned with unexpected Success, excepting in one solitary Particular
Once more out of the clutches of his old persecutor, it needed no fresh
stimulation to call forth the utmost energy and exertion that Smike was capable of
summoning to his aid. Without pausing for a moment to reflect upon the course
he was taking, or the probability of its leading him homewards or the reverse, he
fled away with surprising swiftness and constancy of purpose, borne upon such
wings as only Fear can wear, and impelled by imaginary shouts in the well
remembered voice of Squeers, who, with a host of pursuers, seemed to the poor
fellow's disordered senses to press hard upon his track; now left at a greater
distance in the rear, and now gaining faster and faster upon him, as the
alternations of hope and terror agitated him by turns. Long after he had become
assured that these sounds were but the creation of his excited brain, he still held
on, at a pace which even weakness and exhaustion could scarcely retard. It was
not until the darkness and quiet of a country road, recalled him to a sense of
external objects, and the starry sky, above, warned him of the rapid flight of time,
that, covered with dust and panting for breath, he stopped to listen and look
about him.
All was still and silent. A glare of light in the distance, casting a warm glow upon
the sky, marked where the huge city lay. Solitary fields, divided by hedges and
ditches, through many of which he had crashed and scrambled in his flight,
skirted the road, both by the way he had come and upon the opposite side. It was
late now. They could scarcely trace him by such paths as he had taken, and if he
could hope to regain his own dwelling, it must surely be at such a time as that,
and under cover of the darkness. This, by degrees, became pretty plain, even to
the mind of Smike. He had, at first, entertained some vague and childish idea of
travelling into the country for ten or a dozen miles, and then returning homewards
by a wide circuit, which should keep him clear of London--so great was his
apprehension of traversing the streets alone, lest he should again encounter his
dreaded enemy--but, yielding to the conviction which these thoughts inspired, he
turned back, and taking the open road, though not without many fears and
misgivings, made for London again, with scarcely less speed of foot than that
with which he had left the temporary abode of Mr Squeers.
By the time he re-entered it, at the western extremity, the greater part of the
shops were closed. Of the throngs of people who had been tempted abroad after
the heat of the day, but few remained in the streets, and they were lounging
home. But of these he asked his way from time to time, and by dint of repeated
inquiries, he at length reached the dwelling of Newman Noggs.
All that evening, Newman had been hunting and searching in byways and
corners for the very person who now knocked at his door, while Nicholas had
been pursuing the same inquiry in other directions. He was sitting, with a
melancholy air, at his poor supper, when Smike's timorous and uncertain knock
reached his ears. Alive to every sound, in his anxious and expectant state,