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The journey seemed endless; street after street was entered and left behind; and still they went jolting on. At last Mr Squeers began to thrust his head out of the widow every half-minute, and to bawl a variety of directions to the coachman; and after passing, with some difficulty, through several mean streets which the appearance of the houses and the bad state of the road denoted to have been recently built, Mr Squeers suddenly tugged at the check string with all his might, and cried, 'Stop!'
'What are you pulling a man's arm off for?' said the coachman looking angrily down.
'That's the house,' replied Squeers. 'The second of them four little houses, one story high, with the green shutters. There's brass plate on the door, with the name of Snawley.'
'Couldn't you say that without wrenching a man's limbs off his body?' inquired the coachman.
'No!' bawled Mr Squeers. 'Say another word, and I'll summons you for having a broken winder. Stop!'
Obedient to this direction, the coach stopped at Mr Snawley's door. Mr Snawley may be remembered as the sleek and sanctified gentleman who confided two sons (in law) to the parental care of Mr Squeers, as narrated in the fourth chapter of this history. Mr Snawley's house was on the extreme borders of some new settlements adjoining Somers Town, and Mr Squeers had taken lodgings therein for a short time, as his stay was longer than usual, and the Saracen, having experience of Master Wackford's appetite, had declined to receive him on any other terms than as a full-grown customer.
'Here we are!' said Squeers, hurrying Smike into the little parlour, where Mr Snawley and his wife were taking a lobster supper. 'Here's the vagrant--the felon--the rebel--the monster of unthankfulness.'
'What! The boy that run away!' cried Snawley, resting his knife and fork upright on the table, and opening his eyes to their full width.
'The very boy', said Squeers, putting his fist close to Smike's nose, and drawing it away again, and repeating the process several times, with a vicious aspect. 'If there wasn't a lady present, I'd fetch him such a--: never mind, I'll owe it him.'
And here Mr Squeers related how, and in what manner, and when and where, he had picked up the runaway.
'It's clear that there has been a Providence in it, sir,' said Mr Snawley, casting down his eyes with an air of humility, and elevating his fork, with a bit of lobster on the top of it, towards the ceiling.
'Providence is against him, no doubt,' replied Mr Squeers, scratching his nose. 'Of course; that was to be expected. Anybody might have known that.'
'Hard-heartedness and evil-doing will never prosper, sir,' said Mr Snawley.
'Never was such a thing known,' rejoined Squeers, taking a little roll of notes from his pocket-book, to see that they were all safe.
'I have been, Mr Snawley,' said Mr Squeers, when he had satisfied himself upon this point, 'I have been that chap's benefactor, feeder, teacher, and clother. I have been that chap's classical, commercial, mathematical, philosophical, and trigonomical friend. My son--my only son, Wackford--has been his brother; Mrs Squeers has been his mother, grandmother, aunt,--ah! and I may say uncle too, all in one. She never cottoned to anybody, except them two engaging and delightful boys of yours, as she cottoned to this chap. What's my return? What's come of my milk of human kindness? It turns into curds and whey when I look at him.'
'Well it may, sir,' said Mrs Snawley. 'Oh! Well it may, sir.'
'Where has he been all this time?' inquired Snawley. 'Has he been living with--?'
'Ah, sir!' interposed Squeers, confronting him again. 'Have you been a living with that there devilish Nickleby, sir?'
But no threats or cuffs could elicit from Smike one word of reply to this question; for he had internally resolved that he would rather perish in the wretched prison to which he was again about to be consigned, than utter one syllable which could involve his first and true friend. He had already called to mind the strict injunctions of secrecy as to his past life, which Nicholas had laid upon him when they travelled from Yorkshire; and a confused and perplexed idea that his benefactor might have committed some terrible crime in bringing him away, which would render him liable to heavy punishment if detected, had contributed, in some degree, to reduce him to his present state of apathy and terror.
Such were the thoughts--if to visions so imperfect and undefined as those which wandered through his enfeebled brain, the term can be applied--which were present to the mind of Smike, and rendered him deaf alike to intimidation and persuasion. Finding every effort useless, Mr Squeers conducted him to a little back room up-stairs, where he was to pass the night; and, taking the precaution of removing his shoes, and coat and waistcoat, and also of locking the door on the outside, lest he should muster up sufficient energy to make an attempt at escape, that worthy gentleman left him to his meditations.
What those meditations were, and how the poor creature's heart sunk within him when he thought--when did he, for a moment, cease to think?--of his late home, and the dear friends and familiar faces with which it was associated, cannot be told. To prepare the mind for such a heavy sleep, its growth must be stopped by rigour and cruelty in childhood; there must be years of misery and suffering, lightened by no ray of hope; the chords of the heart, which beat a quick response to the voice of gentleness and affection, must have rusted and broken in their secret places, and bear the lingering echo of no old word of love or kindness. Gloomy, indeed, must have been the short day, and dull the long, long twilight, preceding such a night of intellect as his.
There were voices which would have roused him, even then; but their welcome tones could not penetrate there; and he crept to bed the same listless, hopeless, blighted creature, that Nicholas had first found him at the Yorkshire school.
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Nicholas Nickleby -- by Charles Dickens