Nicholas Nickleby HTML version

Chapter 41
Containing some Romantic Passages between Mrs Nickleby and the Gentleman
in the Small-clothes next Door
Ever since her last momentous conversation with her son, Mrs Nickleby had
begun to display unusual care in the adornment of her person, gradually
superadding to those staid and matronly habiliments, which had, up to that time,
formed her ordinary attire, a variety of embellishments and decorations, slight
perhaps in themselves, but, taken together, and considered with reference to the
subject of her disclosure, of no mean importance. Even her black dress assumed
something of a deadly-lively air from the jaunty style in which it was worn; and,
eked out as its lingering attractions were; by a prudent disposal, here and there,
of certain juvenile ornaments of little or no value, which had, for that reason
alone, escaped the general wreck and been permitted to slumber peacefully in
odd corners of old drawers and boxes where daylight seldom shone, her
mourning garments assumed quite a new character. From being the outward
tokens of respect and sorrow for the dead, they became converted into signals of
very slaughterous and killing designs upon the living.
Mrs Nickleby might have been stimulated to this proceeding by a lofty sense of
duty, and impulses of unquestionable excellence. She might, by this time, have
become impressed with the sinfulness of long indulgence in unavailing woe, or
the necessity of setting a proper example of neatness and decorum to her
blooming daughter. Considerations of duty and responsibility apart, the change
might have taken its rise in feelings of the purest and most disinterested charity.
The gentleman next door had been vilified by Nicholas; rudely stigmatised as a
dotard and an idiot; and for these attacks upon his understanding, Mrs Nickleby
was, in some sort, accountable. She might have felt that it was the act of a good
Christian to show by all means in her power, that the abused gentleman was
neither the one nor the other. And what better means could she adopt, towards
so virtuous and laudable an end, than proving to all men, in her own person, that
his passion was the most rational and reasonable in the world, and just the very
result, of all others, which discreet and thinking persons might have foreseen,
from her incautiously displaying her matured charms, without reserve, under the
very eye, as it were, of an ardent and too-susceptible man?
'Ah!' said Mrs Nickleby, gravely shaking her head; 'if Nicholas knew what his poor
dear papa suffered before we were engaged, when I used to hate him, he would
have a little more feeling. Shall I ever forget the morning I looked scornfully at
him when he offered to carry my parasol? Or that night, when I frowned at him? It
was a mercy he didn't emigrate. It very nearly drove him to it.'
Whether the deceased might not have been better off if he had emigrated in his
bachelor days, was a question which his relict did not stop to consider; for Kate
entered the room, with her workbox, in this stage of her reflections; and a much
slighter interruption, or no interruption at all, would have diverted Mrs Nickleby's
thoughts into a new channel at any time.