Chapter 7Mr and Mrs Squeers at home
MR SQUEERS, being safely landed, left Nicholas and the boys standing with the luggage in the road, to amuse themselves by looking at the coach as it changed horses, while he ran into the tavern and went through the leg-stretching process at the bar. After some minutes, he returned, with his legs thoroughly stretched, if the hue of his nose and a short hiccup afforded any criterion; and at the same time there came out of the yard a rusty pony-chaise, and a cart, driven by two labouring men.
`Put the boys and the boxes into the cart,' said Squeers, rubbing his hands: `and this young man and me will go on in the chaise. Get in, Nickleby.'
Nicholas obeyed. Mr. Squeers with some difficulty inducing the pony to obey also, they started off, leaving the cart-load of infant misery to follow at leisure.
`Are you cold, Nickleby?' inquired Squeers, after they had travelled some distance in silence.
`Rather, sir, I must say.'
`Well, I don't find fault with that,' said Squeers; `it's a long journey this weather.'
`Is it much farther to Dotheboys Hall, sir?' asked Nicholas.
`About three mile from here,' replied Squeers. `But you needn't call it a Hall down here.'
Nicholas coughed, as if he would like to know why.
`The fact is, it ain't a Hall,' observed Squeers drily.
`Oh, indeed!' said Nicholas, whom this piece of intelligence much astonished.
`No,' replied Squeers. `We call it a Hall up in London, because it sounds better, but they don't know it by that name in these parts. A man may call his house an island if he likes; there's no act of Parliament against that, I believe?'
`I believe not, sir,' rejoined Nicholas.
Squeers eyed his companion slily, at the conclusion of this little dialogue, and finding that he had grown thoughtful and appeared in nowise disposed to volunteer any observations, contented himself with lashing the pony until they reached their journey's end.
`Jump out,' said Squeers. `Hallo there! Come and put this horse up. Be quick, will you!'
While the schoolmaster was uttering these and other impatient cries, Nicholas had time to observe that the school was a long, cold-looking house, one storey high, with a few straggling out-buildings behind, and a barn and stable adjoining. After the lapse of a minute or two, the noise of somebody unlocking the yard-gate was heard, and presently a tall lean boy, with a lantern in his hand, issued forth.
`Is that you, Smike?' cried Squeers.
`Yes, sir,' replied the boy.
`Then why the devil didn't you come before?'
`Please, sir, I fell asleep over the fire,' answered Smike, with humility.
`Fire! what fire? Where's there a fire?' demanded the schoolmaster, sharply.
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