When John Browdie came to be spoken of, he dropped, by slow and gradual degrees, into a chair, and rubbing, his hands upon his knees -- quicker and quicker as the story reached its climax -- burst, at last, into a laugh composed of one loud sonorous `Ha! ha!' having given vent to which, his countenance immediately fell again as he inquired, with the utmost anxiety, whether it was probable that John Browdie and Squeers had come to blows.
`No! I think not,' replied Smike. `I don't think he could have missed me till I had got quite away.'
Newman scratched his head with a shout of great disappointment, and once more lifting up the mug, applied himself to the contents; smiling meanwhile, over the rim, with a grim and ghastly smile at Smike.
`You shall stay here,' said Newman; `you're tired -- fagged. I'll tell them you're come back. They have been half mad about you. Mr Nicholas --'
`God bless him!' cried Smike.
`Amen!' returned Newman. `He hasn't had a minute's rest or peace; no more has the old lady, nor Miss Nickleby.'
`No, no. Has she thought about me?' said Smike. `Has she though? oh, has she -- has she? Don't tell me so if she has not.'
`She has,' cried Newman. `She is as noble-hearted as she is beautiful.'
`Yes, yes!' cried Smike. `Well said!'
`So mild and gentle,' said Newman.
`Yes, yes!' cried Smike, with increasing eagerness.
`And yet with such a true and gallant spirit,' pursued Newman.
He was going on, in his enthusiasm, when, chancing to look at his companion, he saw that he had covered his face with his hands, and that tears were stealing out between his fingers.
A moment before, the boy's eyes were sparkling with unwonted fire, and every feature had been lighted up with an excitement which made him appear, for the moment, quite a different being.
`Well, well,' muttered Newman, as if he were a little puzzled. `It has touched me, more than once, to think such a nature should have been exposed to such trials; this poor fellow -- yes, yes, -- he feels that too -- it softens him -- makes him think of his former misery. Hah! That's it? Yes, that's -- hum!'
It was by no means clear, from the tone of these broken reflections, that Newman Noggs considered them as explaining, at all satisfactorily, the emotion which had suggested them. He sat, in a musing attitude, for some time, regarding Smike occasionally with an anxious and doubtful glance, which sufficiently showed that he was not very remotely connected with his thoughts.
At length he repeated his proposition that Smike should remain where he was for that night, and that he (Noggs) should straightway repair to the cottage to relieve the suspense of the family. But, as Smike would not hear of this -- pleading his anxiety to see his friends again -- they eventually sallied forth together; and the night being, by this time, far advanced, and Smike being, besides, so footsore that he could hardly crawl along, it was within an hour of sunrise when they reached their destination.
At the first sound of their voices outside the house, Nicholas, who had passed a sleepless night, devising schemes for the recovery of his lost charge, started from his bed, and joyfully admitted them. There was so much noisy conversation, and congratulation, and indignation, that the remainder of the family were
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