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Nickleby. We'll get up a Latin one, and hand that over to you. Now then, where's the first boy?”
“Please, sir, he's cleaning the back parlor window.”
“So he is, to be sure. We go upon the practical mode of teaching, Nickleby, the regular educational system. C-l-e-a-n, clean. Verb active. To make bright, to scour. W-i-n, win, d-e-r, der, winder. A casement. When a boy knows this out of his book he goes and does it. It's just the same principle as the use of the globes. Where's the second boy?”
“Please, sir, he's weeding the garden."
“To be sure, so he is. B-o-t, bot, t-i-n, tin, bottin, n-e-y, ney, bottinney. Noun substantive. A knowledge of plants. When a boy learns that bottinney is a knowledge of plants, he goes and knows 'em. That's our system, Nickleby. Third boy, what's a horse?”
“A beast, sir.”
“So it is. A horse is a quadruped, and quadruped is Latin for beast, as everybody that's gone through the grammar knows, or else where's the use of havin' grammars at all? As you're perfect in that, go and look after my horse, and rub him down well or I'll rub you down. The rest of the class go and draw water up, till somebody tells you to leave off, for it's washing day to-morrow and they want the coppers filled.”
So saying, he dismissed his first class to their experiments in practical philosophy.
It was Squeers's custom to call the boys together, and make a sort of report, after every half-yearly visit to the metropolis. They were therefore soon recalled from the house, window, garden, stable, and cow yard, and Mr. Squeers entered the room. A deathlike silence immediately prevailed.
"Boys, I've been to London, and have returned to my family and you as strong and as well as ever.”
According to half-yearly custom, the boys gave three feeble cheers at this refreshing intelligence. Such cheers! Sighs of extra strength with the chill on.
“I have seen the parents of some boys, and they're so glad to hear how their sons are getting on, that there's no prospect at all of their going away, which of course is a very pleasant thing to reflect upon for all parties. But I've had disappointments to contend against. Bolder's father was two pound ten short. Where is Bolder?
“Here he is, please, sir.”
An unhealthy boy with warts all over his hands, stepped from his place to the Master's desk, and raised his eyes imploringly to Squeers's face.
“Bolder, if your father thinks that because why, what's this, sir?"
As Squeers spoke, he caught up the boy's hand by the cuff of his jacket, and surveyed the warts with an edifying aspect of horror and disgust.
“What do you call this, sir?”
“I can't help it, indeed, sir. They will come; it's the dirty work, I think, sir at least I don't know what it is, sir, but it's not my fault.”
“Bolder, you're an incorrigible young scoundrel, and as the last thrashing did you no good, we'll see what another will do towards beating it out of you."
With this, and wholly disregarding a piteous cry for mercy, Mr. Squeers fell upon the boy and caned him soundly; not leaving off, indeed, until his arm was tired out.
“There, rub away as hard as you like, you won't rub that off in a hurry. Now let us see. A letter for Cobbey. Stand up,
. Cobbey. Oh! Cobbey's grandmother is dead, and his uncle John has took to drinking, which is all the news his sister sends, except eighteen pence, which will just pay for that broken square of glass. Mrs. Squeers, my dear, will you take the money ?
“Graymarsh, he's the next. Stand up, Graymarsh. Graymarsh's aunt is very glad to hear he's so well and happy, and sends her respectful compliments to Mrs. Squeers and thinks she must be an angel. She likewise thinks that Mr. Squeers is too good for this world, but hopes he may long be spared to carry on the business. Would have sent the two pairs of stockings as desired, but is short of money, so forwards a tract instead, and hopes that Graymarsh will put his trust in Providence. Hopes, above all, that he will study in everything to please Mr. and Mrs. Squeers, and look upon them as his only friends; and that he will love master Squeers, and not object to sleeping five in a bed, which no Christian should. Ah! a delightful letter. Very affecting indeed.
“Mobbs !- Mobbs's mother-in-law took to her bed on hearing that he wouldn't eat fat, and has been very ill ever since. She wishes to know, by an early post, where he expects to go to if he quarrels with his vittles; and with what feelings he could turn up his nose at the cow's liver broth, after his good master had asked a blessing on it. This was told her in the London newspapers — not by Mr. Squeers, for he's too kind and good to set anybody against anybody. She is sorry to find he is discontented, which is sinful and horrid, and hopes Mr. Squeers will flog him into a happier state of mind. With which view she has also stopped his half penny a week pocket-money, and given a double-bladed knife with a cork-screw in it to the missionaries, which she had bought on purpose for him. A sulky state of feeling won't do. Cheerfulness and contentment must be kept up. Mobbs, come to me!”
Mobbs moved slowly towards the desk, rubbing his eyes in anticipation of good cause for doing so; and he soon afterwards retired, with as good cause as a boy need have.
This business dispatched, a few slovenly lessons were performed, and Squeers retired to his fireside, leaving Nicholas to take care of the boys in the school-room which was very cold, and where a meal of bread was served out shortly after dark.
There was a small stove at that corner of the room which was nearest the master's desk, and by it Nicholas sat down, depressed and self-degraded.
As he was absorbed in his meditations, he all at once encountered the upturned face of Smike, who was on his knees before the stove, picking a few stray cinders from the hearth and planting them on the fire. He had paused to steal a look at Nicholas, and when he saw that he was observed, shrank back, as if expecting a blow.
“You need not fear me. Are you cold?"
There was such an obvious fear of giving offense in his manner, and he was such a timid, broken-spirited creature, that Nicholas could not help exclaiming, “Poor fellow !”
“Oh dear, oh dear! my heart will break. It will, it will !” said Smike.
“Hush! Be a man; you are nearly one by years. God help
“By years! Oh dear, dear, how many of them! How many of them since I was a little child, younger than are here now! Where are they all ?”
“Of whom do you speak? Tell me.”
“My friends, myself — my - oh! what sufferings mine have been !”
“There is always hope."
“No, no; none for me. Do you remember the boy that died here?"
“I was not here, you know.”
“Why, I was with him at night, and when it was all silent, he cried no more for friends he wished to come and sit with him, but began to see faces round his bed that came from home. He said they smiled, and talked to him; and he died at last lifting his head to kiss them. Do you hear?”
“Yes, yes,” rejoined Nicholas.
“What faces will smile on me when I die? Who will talk to me in those long nights? They cannot come from home; they would frighten me if they did, for I shouldn't know them. Pain and fear, pain and fear for me, alive or dead. No hope, no hope!”
The bell rang to bed; and the boy, subsiding at the sound into his usual listless state, crept away as if anxious to avoid notice. It was with a heavy heart that Nicholas soon afterwards no, not retired, there was no retirement there - followed to his dirty and crowded dormitory.
THE SECRET OF DEATH
“She is dead !” they said to him; "come away;
They smoothed her tresses of dark-brown hair;
Over her eyes, that gazed too much,
About her brows and beautiful face
And drew on her feet her white silk shoes -
And there was silence, and nothing there