'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 slyly, 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.
'Only in the kitchen, sir,' replied the boy. 'Missus said as I was sitting up, I might go in there for a warm.'
'Your missus is a fool,' retorted Squeers. 'You'd have been a deuced deal more wakeful in the cold, I'll engage.'
By this time Mr Squeers had dismounted; and after ordering the boy to see to the pony, and to take care that he hadn't any more corn that night, he told Nicholas to wait at the front-door a minute while he went round and let him in.
A host of unpleasant misgivings, which had been crowding upon Nicholas during the whole journey, thronged into his mind with redoubled force when he was left alone. His great distance from home and the impossibility of reaching it, except on foot, should he feel ever so anxious to return, presented itself to him in most alarming colours; and as he looked up at the dreary house and dark windows, and upon the wild country round, covered with snow, he felt a depression of heart and spirit which he had never experienced before.
'Now then!' cried Squeers, poking his head out at the front-door. 'Where are you, Nickleby?'
'Here, sir,' replied Nicholas.
'Come in, then,' said Squeers 'the wind blows in, at this door, fit to knock a man off his legs.'
Nicholas sighed, and hurried in. Mr Squeers, having bolted the door to keep it shut, ushered him into a small parlour scantily furnished with a few chairs, a yellow map hung against the wall, and a couple of tables; one of which bore some preparations for supper; while, on the other, a tutor's assistant, a Murray's grammar, half-a-dozen cards of terms, and a worn letter directed to Wackford Squeers, Esquire, were arranged in picturesque confusion.
They had not been in this apartment a couple of minutes, when a female bounced into the room, and, seizing Mr Squeers by the throat, gave him two loud kisses: one close after the other, like a postman's knock. The lady, who was of a large raw-boned figure, was about half a head taller than Mr Squeers, and was dressed in a dimity night-jacket; with her hair in papers; she had also a dirty nightcap on, relieved by a yellow cotton handkerchief which tied it under the chin.
'How is my Squeery?' said this lady in a playful manner, and a very hoarse voice.
'Quite well, my love,' replied Squeers. 'How's the cows?'
'All right, every one of'em,' answered the lady.
'And the pigs?' said Squeers.
'As well as they were when you went away.'
'Come; that's a blessing,' said Squeers, pulling off his great-coat. 'The boys are all as they were, I suppose?'
'Oh, yes, they're well enough,' replied Mrs Squeers, snappishly. 'That young Pitcher's had a fever.'
'No!' exclaimed Squeers.