Chapter 13Nicholas varies the monotony of Dothebys Hall by a most vigorous and remarkable proceeding, which leads to consequences of some importance
THE COLD, feeble dawn of a January morning was stealing in at the windows of the common sleeping- room, when Nicholas, raising himself on his arm, looked among the prostrate forms which on every side surrounded him, as though in search of some particular object.
It needed a quick eye to detect, from among the huddled mass of sleepers, the form of any given individual. As they lay closely packed together, covered, for warmth's sake, with their patched and ragged clothes, little could be distinguished but the sharp outlines of pale faces, over which the sombre light shed the same dull heavy colour; with, here and there, a gaunt arm thrust forth: its thinness hidden by no covering, but fully exposed to view, in all its shrunken ugliness. There were some who, lying on their backs with upturned faces and clenched hands, just visible in the leaden light, bore more the aspect of dead bodies than of living creatures; and there were others coiled up into strange and fantastic postures, such as might have been taken for the uneasy efforts of pain to gain some temporary relief, rather than the freaks of slumber. A few--and these were among the youngest of the children--slept peacefully on, with smiles upon their faces, dreaming perhaps of home; but ever and again a deep and heavy sigh, breaking the stillness of the room, announced that some new sleeper had awakened to the misery of another day; and, as morning took the place of night, the smiles gradually faded away, with the friendly darkness which had given them birth.
Dreams are the bright creatures of poem and legend, who sport on earth in the night season, and melt away in the first beam of the sun, which lights grim care and stern reality on their daily pilgrimage through the world.
Nicholas looked upon the sleepers; at first, with the air of one who gazes upon a scene which, though familiar to him, has lost none of its sorrowful effect in consequence; and, afterwards, with a more intense and searching scrutiny, as a man would who missed something his eye was accustomed to meet, and had expected to rest upon. He was still occupied in this search, and had half risen from his bed in the eagerness of his quest, when the voice of Squeers was heard, calling from the bottom of the stairs.
`Now then,' cried that gentleman, `are you going to sleep all day, up there--'
`You lazy hounds?' added Mrs Squeers, finishing the sentence, and producing, at the same time, a sharp sound, like that which is occasioned by the lacing of stays.
`We shall be down directly, sir,' replied Nicholas.
`Down directly!' said Squeers. `Ah! you had better be down directly, or I'll be down upon some of you in less. Where's that Smike?'
Nicholas looked hurriedly round again, but made no answer.
`Smike!' shouted Squeers.
`Do you want your head broke in a fresh place, Smike?' demanded his amiable lady in the same key.
Still there was no reply, and still Nicholas stared about him, as did the greater part of the boys, who were by this time roused.
`Confound his impudence!' muttered Squeers, rapping the stair-rail impatiently with his cane. `Nickleby!'
`Send that obstinate scoundrel down; don't you hear me calling?'
|Copyright: All texts on Bibliomania are © Bibliomania.com Ltd, and may not be reproduced in any form without our written permission. See our FAQ for more details.|