Yorkshire Oddities, Incidents and Strange Events/Nancy Nicholson, the Termagant
Mrs. Nancy Nicholson was born at Drax, in the county of York, on the 3rd day of May, 1785, and was the only child of the Rev. John Jackson, vicar of Drax, by his second wife. Mr. Jackson had a son by a former marriage, but he was taken by his mother's relatives into Cumberland; consequently the daughter, Nancy, was the only child at home, and from her infancy was indulged to a fault, and suffered to grow up without restraint, so that she soon became a terror to the other children in the school of which her father was the master.
It is curious that the child of a schoolmaster should have been suffered to grow to womanhood almost wholly without education; but such was the case. The following extract from a letter written by her when aged sixty-four shows how miserably her education had been neglected:—"Dear Mrs. Wilson,—Your letter just came in time as I whas thinking of letting my land but if John Harrison will come and we can a gree I ceep it on if not I shall let it Mr. Totton of Howden whants it and Taylors of Asselby also I Ceep all land and Hosses while I see him pray send him word to Come this week as I must have my Patays up and also my stakes wants thashing."
Having naturally a certain amount of shrewdness, it was mistaken for talent, and low cunning for genius. Being indulged in every way, her headstrong will became intolerant of the smallest restraint. She played with the boys of the school, and acquired from them the coarsest language, and throughout her life never learned, indeed never attempted, to control her tongue.
When Miss Jackson was about twenty years old, the Rev. John Nicholson, a young man from Cumberland, came to Drax to assist Mr. Jackson in his school. He was at that time a well-disposed, gentlemanly young fellow, who gave promise of being a scholar and of use in his generation. But Miss Jackson, who was not without some charms of person, was the ill-omened star that was to blight his life. Living in the house of her father, he was brought in daily contact with her, and she exerted some sort of fascination upon him. If two young people are brought much together, they are sure to form an attachment, and it was so in this case. Nancy concealed her evil disposition from the usher, and laid herself out to catch him.
Mr. Nicholson could not be blind to the fact that Miss Jackson was entitled to property on the death of her parents, and it is probable enough that to a needy young clergyman without interest, the chance of making himself master of a competence may have had more to do with his paying his addresses to Miss Jackson than love.
In the year 1810 Mr. Jackson died, and perhaps this event decided Mr. Nicholson to offer his hand to Nancy. He was at once accepted, and the interest of her friends secured for him immediately the vacant situation of master of the Grammar School. Shortly after the marriage he also became vicar of Drax.
Mr. and Mrs. Nicholson were married at Drax Church in October, 1811, and she then became undisputed mistress of the establishment. Her harsh and tyrannical disposition had now free scope to develop, and the first to feel it was the mother who had encouraged her as a child. The widow was soon obliged to leave the house, where her daughter made it impossible for her to live in comfort and tranquillity. The servants would not stay; no fresh ones could be induced to enter the house under such a mistress. She was therefore obliged to do all the work of the school-house herself, making the unhappy boarders help her in cleaning the house and in washing the clothes. The poor boys were scantily fed, and otherwise miserably provided for.
Four gentlemen, including Lord Downe, were trustees of the Grammar School at Drax, and made visits of inspection regularly every quarter. Nancy was always prepared for these occasions. She had a clean cloth on the table, a plentiful dinner provided, and a dumpling set before each boy. But she took care to impress on each boarder that the one who left the largest amount of dumpling on his plate would receive a reward, and he should receive a hiding who emptied his plate. "And," said Mrs. Nicholson, "let any boy beware how he looks sad or dissatisfied."
When these quarterly visits took place in the cold weather, she had a large fire lighted in the school-room, round which she assembled the boys, and when the trustees came in, she would address them with—"Well, gentlemen, and you, my lord, you see how saucy these boys are; scarce one of them has eaten his dumpling. And capital dumplings they are, my lord and gentlemen!"
When Mr. and Mrs. Nicholson had been married about three years they took an orphan niece of Mr. Nicholson's from Cumberland to provide for, and to this child for several years she behaved with the greatest cruelty, until at length Mrs. Nicholson's mother took compassion on the child, and removed it to her own house. However, when Mrs. Nicholson considered her niece capable of working, she insisted on her return, making her do the work of a servant, and subjecting her to the harshest treatment. The work was heavy, as she kept two or three cows, besides pigs and poultry.
The schoolboys were compelled to collect her eggs, and she caused them to rob the neighbours to obtain a greater number. These depredations were not unknown to the neighbours, but they good-naturedly excused the boys, as they knew they were urged to them by Mrs. Nicholson. She gave the boys a penny a score for all the eggs they could bring. She would then say, "Now, boys, I have such nice apples; I will give you a good pennyworth of apples for your penny; do have a pennyworth." The boys durst not object, and bought the apples. But still she was not satisfied, but would say, "Come, I will play you a game at push-pin for your apples, and I daresay you will win." However, as may be supposed, they never were suffered to win, so that she obtained eggs, penny, apples, and pins also. She committed various other depredations on the property of her neighbours, such as taking coals, corn, goslings—and, in short, anything that came within her reach. One Sunday morning, while the neighbours were at church, she made some of the boys assist her in stealing a hen and fourteen chickens. These she confined in a brick oven till the following morning, when she took them to Selby and disposed of them in the market.
For many years she regularly attended Selby market with her butter, which more than once was seized and taken from her for being light weight. She employed the boys in collecting rags, old iron, &c., all of which she took to Selby, because she could obtain a better price there than at home. It was in vain that Mr. Nicholson remonstrated with her on the disgrace her conduct brought upon him; she only replied in abusive language.
On Sunday mornings she was always remarkably late in her attendance at church, generally entering in the middle of the service, and her appearance was like anything but that which became a vicar's wife, and formed a strange contrast to that of her husband, who retained his care to appear like a gentleman, in clean and well-brushed clothes, and with scrupulously white cravat.
Nancy was neither clean nor well-dressed. For many years she would not afford herself a new bonnet, until at length her mother, utterly ashamed of her appearance, bought one for her. But Mrs. Jackson made her give up the old bonnet before she received the new one, being convinced, if she had the chance, that Nancy would put the new one away and continue to wear the old one.
Mr. and Mrs. Nicholson continued in the school-house several years, during which time they amassed a considerable sum of money, with which they bought various lots of property in the parish, Mrs. Nicholson always contriving to have her name inserted in the deeds as well as Mr. Nicholson's, so that he could not deprive her of her life-interest. One field which they purchased at Carlton she had conveyed to her for her own use and disposal. This caused great dissension between them when discovered by Mr. Nicholson.
At length the trustees were obliged to interfere in behalf of the school. They did so with the utmost reluctance. All respected and pitied Mr. Nicholson, who was a good Christian and a gentleman, and was prepared to discharge his duty conscientiously. But it was impossible for him to control his wife, and make her treat the boarders with ordinary humanity. She was a genuine Mrs. Squeers; but he was a very different sort of person to the Yorkshire school-master of "Nicholas Nickleby."
The trustees were obliged to insist on an investigation. It was conducted with the greatest consideration for the feelings of Mr. Nicholson; but the investigation ended in the school being taken from him.
"Oh, Nancy, Nancy!" Mr. Nicholson would repeat, "you have disgraced me terribly!"
The humiliations he was obliged to undergo broke his spirit, and his self-respect, which had battled against adverse circumstances, gradually gave way. She used the most insulting language to him, not only in private, but in public, making the most odious insinuations, and bringing the scarlet spot of shame to his cheek. The unfortunate man was made to drink to the dregs the cup of degradation.
At last, maddened beyond self-control, he beat her with his horse-whip. A friend, whose house was situated a mile from that of the Nicholsons, has told me that his father has often heard at that distance the screams of rage uttered by Nancy when in a passion with her husband. Their quarrels became the gossip and scandal of Drax. Mr. Nicholson at last, driven of an evening from his home, would visit farmers, or sometimes the public-house, and forget his humiliation in the society of his inferiors. On these occasions he sometimes took too much.
When they lost the school-house the Nicholsons built a new house for themselves on some ground they had purchased at a place called Newland, near Drax, where Mrs. Nicholson had full opportunity for keeping cows, pigs, and poultry, her favourite occupation. But having no family, she would not be at the expense of a servant, and soon gave herself up to sloth and dirt, both in her person and house.
She would rarely admit any visitors, and if Mr. Nicholson occasionally ventured to invite a friend, she would either offend the guest at the time (unless she saw her way to gaining some advantage by him), or revenge herself on Mr. Nicholson after his departure. And if Mr. Nicholson absented himself from the house without her consent, she always upbraided him on his return with the vilest language, attributing the visits to his neighbours or tenants to evil motives.
The following extract from the correspondence of a young lady from Cumberland, a cousin of Mrs. Nicholson's, who was staying a few months at Drax in the year 1837, gives a lively picture of her mode of life at that period:—
"One evening after tea my sister and I proposed, as we frequently did, to walk out as far as Newland, to see Mr. and Mrs. Nicholson. It was a delightful evening, and a pleasant walk we had. Chatting over bygone times and talking about our future prospects, we soon arrived at the little gate, through which we entered the back grounds belonging to the house, and passed on into the kitchen, where we found Mr. and Mrs. Nicholson seated by the little window which looks out upon the road. As soon as we had got seated and the usual salutations were over, Mrs. Nicholson (who, by-the-bye, I must confess, however little to my credit, was my cousin) began with saying, 'Well, Miss H——n, there is going to be a confirmation at Selby to-morrow, and Mr. Nicholson will have to go with the young people; what do you say, will you go with him? You have never been at Selby, and it will be a nice opportunity.' 'I certainly would like it very much,' I replied, 'if you are going also. But how are we to go?' 'By Langrick Ferry,' said Mr. Nicholson. 'We must be up there by nine o'clock, and meet the packet. You can be up by that time?' 'And who do you think is going to pay a shilling a-piece to go by the packet? Not I, nor you either,' said Mrs. Nicholson, in an angry tone. 'And as for Mary Anne, she has more sense than to waste her money in that way.' I replied by saying, 'Oh, a shilling is not much; and as there is no other conveyance by which we can get, we have no alternative, as we cannot possibly walk it.'—'No,' said she, 'we cannot walk it, but there is a man who has a cart, and I am sure if we could get a dozen to go he would take us at threepence a-piece. There's plenty of lasses and lads who are going to be confirmed would be glad of the chance. Why, you see, we should make three ourselves, and Mr. Nicholson can speak to some of them. The man can put the shelvings on, and we'll go rarely.' 'Who do you mean will go?' said the clergyman. 'Do you think that I will go to Selby in a waggon, or Miss H——n either? No, you shall not bring me to that. You have made me give up my horse and gig long since; but, go as you will yourself, I and Miss H——n will take the packet.' At this his amiable wife got into such a rage, and went on at such a rate, that to make matters up I was glad to give my consent to go with her in the waggon, and Mr. Nicholson said he would ask one of the churchwardens to take him in his gig. This pacified her, and as we rose to take our departure, she said she would see the man about the cart, and I was to mind and be ready at nine o'clock, when they would call for me with it. However, I could not bear the idea of the neighbours around seeing a great waggon filled with country rustics stopping at our door for me to go with them, so I told her I would come up to their house by that time, and we would go direct from thence. But she was afraid I wanted to get off going, and it was not without extorting a faithful promise from me that I would not disappoint her that I succeeded in obtaining her consent at last.
"The morning came, chill and gloomy, and I rose, hoping it was going to rain, that I might make that an excuse for not going. So I made myself ready, and taking an umbrella, set off for Newland. I had proceeded as far as a turn there is in the road, when I heard such a shouting and hurrahing that I stopped to see from whence it proceeded. I had not long to look, for turning the corner, the waggon appeared in sight, with about fourteen or fifteen young people in it of both sexes, and Mrs. Nicholson in the centre, laughing and shouting as loud as the rest. She soon saw me, and bawled out, 'Oh, yonder is Miss H——n coming! Stop the cart!—stop the cart! 'By this time I had come up to them, but was trembling with shame at the idea of going with them, and I felt vexed at the predicament I was in. At length I said, 'I think the cart is so full there is no room for me, and as the rain is already falling, I would rather not go. So do not disturb yourselves, for I will walk back again as quick as possible.' 'Oh, it's not going to be much rain, and you shall come,' replied Mrs. Nicholson; 'so make room for her, lasses. There, Betty, you can sit on the edge of the shelves, and Polly can take your place. Now, Miss H——n, jump in, and let us be off.' It was in vain that I made every excuse I could think of. She appealed to them all, and they joined her, until I was forced to consent, and off we drove. I felt thankful that it was raining a little as we passed through the village, so I put up my umbrella to screen myself from view, pretending that my clothes would get wet and spoiled.
"On we went, and after we had got through Drax the young people and she indulged themselves in conversation such as I had never heard before, and strove in vain to get me to join them, or laugh at their low and obscene discourse. Mrs. Nicholson at length said, 'Come, lasses, can't you raise a song? We'll get her to laugh just now, I warrant us.' They then inquired of her what they must sing, and she told them three or four songs, all of which they sang with all their might, she every now and then asking me how I liked it. At last she said, 'Give us some sea songs; she comes from a seaport town, and will maybe like them better.' So, first one and then another was sung, but with no better success. At length I saw a gig coming fast after us, and begged them to give over till it got past. They all looked, and said it was Mr. Nicholson. 'Oh, sing away! Don't give over. Let them see how we are enjoying ourselves. Don't stop for him,' said Mrs. Nicholson. 'Come, go on—go on!'—'No,' replied some of the young people, 'we won't sing while Mr. Nicholson is going past. Wait awhile.'
"Oh, how glad was I that they kept quiet while the gig was passing, although she was urging them to sing all the time.
"Many other carriages passed us on the road, and they sang and shouted loudly without regarding them; but I did not feel so mortified as I should have done had I not been a stranger whom they could not know.
"At length we arrived at Selby, and I begged that I might be allowed to get out at the entrance to the town. But no. She declared I should not till we arrived at the inn where the cart would put up; and I was obliged to submit. On reaching the inn many were the people that stood looking at us as we alighted. I got out almost the first, and Mrs. Nicholson was the last. I had then an opportunity of seeing her costume in full. There she stood, dressed in an old dirty print gown, so straight that it was like a sack around her, and over her shoulders was thrown an old scarlet cloak, very short, with three small capes, the largest of which did not reach down to her waist. Then the bonnet is beyond description, and the cap beneath, with one plain muslin border that had not been ironed, and sadly soiled. These, with a pair of great dirty shoes that looked fit for a ploughman, over a pair of coarse black, or rather brown, worsted stockings, which her short petticoats displayed to full advantage, completed her attire. And thus, with a great, square, butter basket hanging over her arm, stood like some gipsy woman the wife of the Rev. Mr. Nicholson.
"We then went to the inn, where Mr. Nicholson and all the other clergymen were to meet the children, from whence they would proceed to church, each at the head of his own flock. We found Mr. Nicholson in a room upstairs with some other clergymen. To these he introduced me as his cousin, but none of them appeared to notice Mrs. Nicholson. At last she said, 'Come, Mr. Nicholson, we have business at the bank, and we will have time enough to get it done before you have all to walk to church.' And bidding me come with them also, she proceeded downstairs, and left the inn. Mr. Nicholson was dressed in his gown and bands, and no one who was not acquainted with them would have thought for a moment that she was his wife. However, she trotted on before us with her basket, and, I daresay, we were neither of us sorry that she did so. When we reached the bank Mr. Nicholson's business was soon settled, and then she said he had better go on to the children, or he would be too late. 'Come, then, Miss H——n,' said Mr. Nicholson, 'she can meet us at the church.' I replied, 'I had better wait for her.' (I had been told that she was jealous of almost every female that he spoke to, so I feared if I went with him she might abuse me about it another time.) But though I declined going with him till I was ashamed, she insisted that I should go. Accordingly we left her, and went again to the inn. The procession was just walking off when Mr. Nicholson requested me to take his arm, and we walked before the children of his flock to the church. At the entrance we separated. He desired me to go upstairs into the gallery, as he would have to remain below with the children. I was shown into a pew in the gallery, and viewed the imposing and solemn sight with reverential feelings. I thought, how much it was to be feared, many were there that knew not what they did. I thought of our journey to Selby; and then I wondered why Mrs. Nicholson was not coming. Often and often did I look to the entrance behind me to catch a glimpse of the bouncing dame in the old red cloak. (She was then very stout, being upwards of seventeen stones in weight.) At length the service was concluded. I hurried down as fast as possible, and, without waiting for Mr. Nicholson, went out to seek her. After having sought some time, I spied her in a spirit-shop. She saw me at the same time, and called to me to go in. She seemed quite in good humour, and asked where Mr. Nicholson was. I replied I had left him in the church, having come out to seek her, as I wondered she had not come according to promise. She said she had been doing business all the time, but when she had ordered some spirits here she had done, and would then go with me to the inn, as it was time to be starting for home.
"When we got again to the inn, and into the room where we had been before, she inquired for Mr. Nicholson, and was told he was in another room. She said, 'I suppose he is tipsy; show me where he is.' The waiter went out, and she followed him, desiring me to wait until her return. In a short time she came back, saying, 'Aye, he is yonder, tipsy enough. He has been dining and drinking wine with a set of them, and now he is laid upon a sofa, and I cannot get him to stir. It will have cost him a fine deal; but he won't tell me anything, and what is worse, I can't get his money from him, and he has a large sum in his pocket. I expect the cart will be here presently, and they won't wait for me. I suppose I must go, but if I leave him, he'll be robbed. I never can walk home, and besides, I shall have my threepence to pay. So I suppose I must go. Oh, Mary Anne, do you go and speak to him, and see if he will come. The gentleman with whom he came has gone for his gig, and if he won't go with him, and we leave him, he will be robbed, and perhaps murdered.'
"'Well,' I replied, 'I'll go and see; but if he won't move for you, I don't expect he will for me. But see, there is the waggon with its live load at the door. For my part I would rather walk all the way than go in that horrid thing.'
"She went out, and I followed her down a short passage, at the end of which we entered another room, where one or two gentlemen were sitting. We found Mr. Nicholson lying on a sofa. I went up to him and said, 'Come, Mr. Nicholson, won't you go home? The cart is at the door waiting for Mrs. Nicholson, and she is quite distressed that you would not speak to her.' He replied that he would go directly the gig was ready. She then came forward and said, 'Give me your money, or you will lose or spend it.'
"'No,' he replied, 'I won't; you shall not have it. Go away, I do not want you here.'
"'Well, then,' said she, 'may Miss H——n stop with you?'
"'Yes,' he rephed, 'I shall be glad of her company.'
"'No,' I said, 'I cannot stop, for I intend walking home, and it is time I was going.'
"'Oh, you must not leave him,' said Mrs. Nicholson. 'He will get more to drink, and Mr. —— will not get him home. He will be as stupid as a mule if he gets any more drink; so, there's a dear good girl, do stay with him, and don't let him get any more drink, and mind and watch that nobody robs him, and see that he does not lose his bands. Now,' she said, addressing him, 'mind you do as Mary Anne wishes you.'
"'Yes; certainly,' he replied.
"'But,' I said, 'I shall have a long walk; so I must go directly.'
"'No,' said Mr. Nicholson, 'you had better come with us. I am sure that Mr. ——, the churchwarden, will be glad to accommodate you with a seat in his gig. I will go and ask him.'
"'You'll get more drink if you go,' said Mrs. Nicholson; 'he is in the parlour below, and I'll go and ask him myself. So promise me, Mary Anne, that you won't leave him, and then I'll be content.'
"Just then the gentleman himself entered the room, and Mr. Nicholson asked him if he could take this young lady also. He said he could, with the greatest pleasure. Mrs. Nicholson was delighted with this arrangement. She charged me again not to leave him, and then hurried away, and got into the cart, where the driver was grumbling at having to wait so long.
"Mr. Nicholson, Mr. ——, and myself had a pleasant chat until the gig drove up. We were soon wheeling along the road, and overtook the waggon a short distance from the town, Mrs. Nicholson bawling out as we passed—'Mind, Mary Anne, and take care of him; don't let him out of your sight till I come.'"
About this time they bought some more land, and, as usual, Mrs. Nicholson wanted to have it secured to herself, but her husband positively refused to hear of it. On the morning when he was going to order the writings she endeavoured to gain her point by a little coaxing. As she assisted him on with his coat she said, "Come, Johnny, honey, I'll give you a glass of gin for fear you get cold. It is such a cold morning." And when she gave it to him she added, "Now, Johnny, honey, you'll get these deeds made the same as the others?" "No, Nancy," he replied, "I shall not indeed. I have been deceived by you too often." This led to a torrent of abuse, before which Mr. Nicholson fled. He went to Howden to order the writings, from which, however, he excluded her name, an offence which she never forgave him, and the loss of that land after Mr. Nicholson's death was a constant subject of regret.
A small orchard was attached to one of their houses at Drax, and at the end of the building was a plum-tree. Mrs. Nicholson frequently cast a longing eye on the plums, and as she was not on the best terms with the person who occupied the premises, she determined, as the tree was not within the orchard fence, that she would have the plums for herself. Accordingly, by alternate scolding and coaxing, she prevailed on Mr. Nicholson to go with her early one morning to assist in pulling the plums. When they arrived at the place she said—"Now, Johnny, honey, you'll be like to get into the tree." He told her the consequence of the act, and endeavoured to dissuade her from the attempt, but in vain. She insisted on his climbing; to this he at length consented, and commenced pulling the plums, which Mrs. Nicholson received in her apron. While they were thus engaged the tenant discovered them, and assembled several other people as witnesses. He then ordered Mr. Nicholson out of the tree, and afterwards summoned him before a magistrate for stealing the plums.
Mr. Nicholson felt keenly the disgraceful position in which he had placed himself by yielding to his wife's solicitations, and upbraided her bitterly, declaring that he should die of shame if he had to appear before a magistrate. Mrs. Nicholson advised him to feign himself ill, and undertook to appear in his stead. Accordingly, Mrs. Nicholson set out, and met at Langrick Ferry with the constable and witnesses, when the constable inquired for Mr. Nicholson. She informed him he was so poorly he would not be able to walk. The constable said he would get a horse for him, for come he must. Having procured a horse, he went to Mr. Nicholson's, who, finding he had no means of escape, determined to go and endeavour to come to some arrangement with his tenant when he arrived at the ferry.
Having proposed to settle the affair amicably, the tenant assured Mr. Nicholson that he felt no resentment against him; and if he would pay £5 for expenses, he would proceed no further. The money was paid, and the affair settled, but much to the vexation of Mrs. Nicholson. The tenant, however, generously proposed to spend the five pounds, stating that he only wanted protection, not profit. He accordingly ordered supper for all present, and spent the remainder in drink. Mrs. Nicholson sulked for some time, but at length joined the party, considering that she might as well get all she could out of the £5 as let them enjoy it without her.
After Mr. Nicholson refused to let his wife's name appear in the deeds for the property he purchased, she saved up a considerable sum of money unknown to her husband, and with it bought some property at Rawcliffe. The deeds for this property she ordered to be made in her mother's name, and thus revenged herself on Mr. Nicholson for excluding her name from his deeds. Mr. Nicholson often said it was his money which bought it, and they had frequent altercations about it.
Her disposition for avarice seems to have increased, if possible, with her years. Her mother frequently declared it was impossible for anyone to live with her, and that although Nancy was her only child, she (her mother) would rather spend her declining years in the Union than in the house with her.
In the year 1842 Mrs. Jackson died, leaving Mrs. Nicholson the whole of her property for her own disposal, over which he, her husband, notwithstanding the marriage, could have no control. After her mother's death she at once resolved to keep a separate purse, being determined that Mr. Nicholson should not squander her money by his extravagance. She told him she would not ask him for anything but the egg, butter, and fruit money, just to provide groceries, &c., and she would superintend his house for her meat without any wage. But Mr. Nicholson had to provide a servant, and he was bound to pay for coals, taxes, butcher's meat, drink, and extras of all kinds, without touching the profits of the dairy. She would never let him have a single penny without insisting on its return, but she was by no means scrupulous about helping herself from his pockets when she had an opportunity, and if he missed anything, she always persisted that he had lost it.
As soon as she had got matters settled after her mother's death, she wrote to a cousin in Dublin, desiring him to come over and divide the land, which, up to this time, had been a joint estate. But previous to his coming, Mrs. Nicholson took care to pay a visit to the person who occupied the greatest portion of the land. She got him to show her all over the property, and point out to her where the best land was situated, promising as he was an old tenant that he should never be disturbed. Having obtained all the information she could, she took advantage of her cousin, who was ignorant of the different qualities of the soil, and she took care that no person should have an opportunity of telling him till it was too late to retract. When he came over to Yorkshire to accommodate her by dividing the land, she laid her plans, and partly by promises if he gratified her in letting her have such and such portions in her allotment, and partly by threats of disinheriting him if he refused, she succeeded in getting nearly all the best land laid to her share, and left him only the same quantity of the inferior quality.
At the same time that the cousin from Dublin was at Drax, another cousin, a widow from Cumberland, happened to arrive on some business of her own. Mrs. Nicholson conceived the project of getting this widow to come and live in Yorkshire, doubtless thinking she would be able to make her useful, and, besides, she had a house unoccupied at Drax, and thought she might find in this cousin an eligible tenant. These circumstances induced her to behave with tolerable civility to her visitors for a short time, but her temper was so irritable that they could not speak freely in her presence.
Her cousins had agreed to depart from Yorkshire together, and travel in company as far as Liverpool, and the day of their departure was fixed, much to the satisfaction of all parties, for she sorely grudged the expense of providing for them, and, as may well be believed, they did not find themselves particularly comfortable at Drax.
Mrs. Nicholson had living with her at this time a great-niece of Mr. Nicholson's, who was acting in place of the servant whom she had discharged in a fit of jealousy.
The young girl had striven all she could, along with Mr. Nicholson, to make the visitors comfortable, and generally contrived during the day to have some eatables deposited where she could have free access to them at night when they went to bed, so that while Mrs. Nicholson was enjoying her supper in the dairy, her visitors, thanks to the young girl's kindness, were quietly enjoying themselves upstairs in their bedrooms.
Mr. Nicholson, during the visit of these friends of Mrs. Nicholson's, had behaved with the utmost kindness and cordiality towards them. On the Monday evening previous to their departure (which was fixed for Wednesday), as they were together walking in the orchard, Mr. Nicholson directed their attention towards some fine geese. "Yes," he repeated, as his visitors admired them, "they are fine ones, and we will have one killed and roasted for tomorrow's dinner, as it may be a long time before we shall all have an opportunity of dining together again." "No," exclaimed Mrs. Nicholson, "we will not; they are not your geese, they are mine; and I intend to send them to Selby market where I shall get four and sixpence a-piece for them." "Well, if they are yours," replied Mr. Nicholson, "you will surely not refuse to have one of them taken as a treat for your friends the last day they will be here." "Yes, but I will, though," replied she. "You care nothing about a goose, do you?" said she, addressing herself to them. Of course they answered "No." "But," said Mr. Nicholson, "we must have one; and if you will not give a paltry goose as a treat to your friends, I will buy one from you, for I am determined we shall have it." "Well, then," she replied, "I will sell you one for five shillings." "No," he answered; "you said you would get four and sixpence at the market, and I will give you no more." After much altercation and debate, it was at length agreed that he should have a goose for four and sixpence, but he refused to pay the money without a receipt, for he knew if he did not get one she would swear that he had not paid for it. At last a receipt was written out and duly signed, and deposited by Mr. Nicholson in his pocket-book. The evening passed away pleasantly enough, and the visitors retired to rest not a little amused at the bargain which had been made between the husband and wife. Very different, however, were the sentiments they experienced for the two individuals; for the husband they could not help feeling both pity and esteem, but for the wife they felt nothing but disgust.
In the morning a scene ensued which it is difficult to describe. The visitors were awakened by loud quarrelling and angry and bitter words. They arose and went down-stairs, and found Mr. and Mrs. Nicholson almost at blows. It was supposed that Mrs. Nicholson, after they had all retired for the night, crept into her husband's room when she had been assured he was asleep (for at this time, and long previous, they had occupied separate apartments), and taking the pocket-book out of his pocket stole therefrom the receipt for the goose; she then replaced the pocket-book, and went quietly to bed. In the morning Mr. Nicholson rose early to have the goose killed and dressed in good time, and it was ready for the spit when Mrs. Nicholson came down-stairs. When she saw it, she was in a furious rage. She stormed and raved, and swore she would have Mr. Nicholson taken up for theft. Just then her cousins all came down-stairs and endeavoured to make peace, but in vain. She declared she would have him taken up, for the goose was hers, and he had stolen it.
"How can you say so," he replied, "when I have your own receipt showing that I paid you for it?"
"You are a liar!" she replied. "You did not pay for it. You have no receipt. You have killed my goose; but I will have you taken up, I will."
"Did you ever hear such a woman?" said Mr. Nicholson, appealing to the company. "Is she not enough to drive a man mad? You all saw me pay for the goose last night, and I can produce the receipt she gave me for it."
"You can't! you can't! I never gave you one, and you shall pay me for my goose yet. Show the receipt if you have it, you thief!"
Mr. Nicholson took out his pocket-book immediately, thinking to silence her; but the receipt was gone. Finding it had been abstracted from his pocket-book, he was very much enraged, and accused her of having taken it. But she did not care for that, and after some more angry recrimination, Mr. Nicholson, for the sake of peace, and to prevent the company from being any longer annoyed by their disagreement, consented to pay for the goose a second time, and it was then roasted for dinner.
After dinner was over she suddenly declared her intention of going to Cumberland to see some property she had there, and also to visit her half-brother and his children, whom she had not seen for many years. Another inducement was her fear that her cousin would not return to settle in Yorkshire unless she accompanied her on her journey to Cumberland, when she would have an opportunity of continually urging her to do so. She also thought she could travel cheaper in her cousin's company than alone, for she always managed to lean pretty heavily on her companions.
The plan which the other friends had formed of travelling as far as Liverpool together was prevented by this fresh arrangement, and one of the cousins was placed in a dilemma by a little act of kindness on the part of the niece, who had hidden in her box a few fine pears as a remembrance for the children in Cumberland. Now, Mrs. Nicholson had declared that she would not take any box or trunk with her, and desired her cousin to bring down her trunk to see if room could be made for the few things she would require during her absence from home. No time was therefore to be lost in removing the pears, which the niece slyly effected by transferring them to her pocket whilst her aunt was looking in another direction. Had Mrs. Nicholson seen the pears in the box, she would have had cousins, niece, and all indicted together for stealing them.
On the Wednesday morning her cousin from Dublin, with his wife and daughter, took their departure, heartily glad to leave their inhospitable relative.
Mrs. Nicholson immediately commenced preparing for her journey, giving a particular charge to her niece not to let Mr. Nicholson get possession of the butter or apple money during her absence, and to keep close watch over him that he did not get drunk. Previous to her departure, Mr. Nicholson asked her to bring back with her into Yorkshire his sister, who was decrepit and destitute, and dependent on him for her support. She agreed to the proposal, remarking if he would keep her he could do it cheaper at home. But before she would undertake to bring the old lady she required a promise in writing from Mr. Nicholson that he would refund all travelling expenses incurred on his sister's account; remarking to her cousin that she would charge him plenty, for she was not going to be at the trouble of bringing the old woman for nothing; and she thought if she proved good for anything, she might make her take the place of a servant, if the niece left her, as she often threatened to do.
Taking all these things into consideration, she promised to bring her sister-in-law with her when she returned from Cumberland. And now, all other things being arranged, she began to contrive the most economical way of making the journey. She proposed to take the packet for York at Langrick Ferry. She could walk that distance very well, but as her cousin had a trunk she advised her to hire a cart, which would take them all, for it would cost as much if she sent the trunk by itself. Accordingly, a cart was procured, they bade farewell to Mr. Nicholson, and proceeded on their journey. They got safe on board the packet, and nothing particular occurred until they arrived in York, about three o'clock in the afternoon, when Mrs. Nicholson told her cousin that she knew a respectable house in Lendal where they could lodge cheap. Upon proceeding there they found very comfortable accommodation, and the cousin was much relieved by finding that the landlady perfectly understood Mrs. Nicholson's character.
At this time Mrs. Nicholson's dress consisted of an old mourning print dress, very thin and faded, and so scanty for her corpulent figure that it was scarcely sufficient to cover her under-garments, which were of a corresponding description. Over her shoulders was an old black or rather brown stuff shawl, bound round the edge with what had once been black crape; her bonnet was an old fancy straw, trimmed with black ribbon; a cap to correspond; a large yellow silk handkerchief round her neck, and a large printed apron tied before her, completed her travelling attire. In the trunk was deposited a black, stuff dress. This, along with the shawl she wore, had been bought for her by her mother thirteen years before, as mourning for an aunt, and it had also served as mourning for her mother, for whom she was then wearing it. In addition to the gown, there was a black apron, an old vest, and an old dimity skirt, which formed the whole of her wardrobe. However, the idea of these treasures being in the trunk made her very anxious about its safety in the various stages of their journey. After they had taken some refreshment, Mrs. Nicholson said they must now consider which would be the cheapest way of getting into Cumberland. It would never do to go by train. She knew there were fly waggons travelling from York to various places, and they must try and find them out.
Being, however, informed that the fly waggons had ceased travelling since all goods were forwarded by train, it occurred to her that perhaps she might get conveyed cheaper by luggage train. Accordingly she went to the railway station, and applied at the offices of Pickford and other carriers, telling them of her wish to travel by the fly waggons, but as they were superseded by the luggage trains, she thought they might take passengers along with the goods in the same way as was formerly done by the waggons. The clerks and porters told her they could not do anything of the sort; there were regular passenger trains, and she could not go by any other. She said she could scarcely afford to travel in that way, and begged to be allowed to go with the goods. But her labour was in vain, and much to the satisfaction of her thoroughly-ashamed companion, she was obliged to relinquish her hopes, and return to her lodgings, fatigued, dispirited, and abusing everybody she had met with.
On the following morning she reluctantly consented to take the train as far as Northallerton. When she arrived there several hours were spent in similar fruitless attempts to procure a conveyance to Darlington. Finding her efforts were useless, she began to consider that the expense of lodgings would be incurred if they remained there much longer, and she then determined to take the last train at night for Darlington, at which station they arrived about ten o'clock. Proceeding towards the town, they inquired where they could get a decent private lodging, and were directed to an old couple, with whom they spent the night and next day till the conveyance they had chosen was ready to depart.
They found the waggon was very heavily loaded, having among other things several very long fir planks. There was some difficulty in getting Mrs. Nicholson mounted, but at length she got squeezed in, and reclining herself on the planks, endeavoured to compose herself to sleep. But what with the jolting of the waggon and the confined space into which she was squeezed being insufficient for her huge person, her limbs became completely cramped; and this, with the excessive closeness of the place, for the waggon was covered with canvas, made Mrs. Nicholson ill. Reaching out her arms in the dark, she seized her companion by the hair, and exclaimed, "Oh, I am dying! Oh, do get the man to stop! Oh, do, or I shall die in this confounded waggon." In vain did her companion beg she would relinquish her hold of her hair, telling her if she did not release her she could not get to the front of the waggon to make the man hear. The only reply was, "Oh, I am dying! Get a knife out of your pocket and cut the cover open." At length her companion succeeded in disengaging herself from Mrs. Nicholson's grasp, and scrambling over the various packages in the waggon, attracted the attention of the waggoner, who immediately stopped his horses, and did all in his power to render the situation of the travellers a little more comfortable. They arrived at Barnard Castle about nine in the morning. Here the driver said they would remain until noon, and then proceed to Brough.
Mrs. Nicholson told the landlady of the house where the waggon stopped how ill she had been on the road; that she could not afford to travel by a better conveyance; that she could not take any refreshment except a cup of tea, and that she had plenty of eatables with her in her basket. The kind landlady looked at her as if she sincerely pitied her, and said, "Well, never mind, you shall have a kettle boiled, and you shall make yourself comfortable. I will charge you nothing for it." She then showed the travellers into a neat little room, and said she hoped when Mrs. Nicholson had taken some tea, and had a little rest on the sofa, she would be able to proceed on her journey as soon as the waggon was ready.
They arrived in safety at Brough, intending to proceed on their journey next morning. But in the morning she was very ill. She had been little accustomed to exercise for some time before, and the long and toilsome journey in the waggon had been too much for her.
A day or two recruited her strength, and with the recovery of health, she forgot her dislike to the waggon, for they next proceeded by carrier's cart by Appleby to Penrith. But here she declared her intention of finishing her journey on foot, for what with lodgings and what with travelling expenses, she said it was going to cost as much as if they had proceeded direct by railway. The trunk was accordingly re-directed, to be left at Coldbeck, in Cumberland, till called for, and given in charge of the carrier, with many injunctions from Mrs. Nicholson to be careful of it, as it contained many things of consequence.
When they reached the little inn at Blencow the landlady eyed them suspiciously from head to foot.
The landlady, being unable to accommodate them, set a domestic to inquire for lodgings, but returned unsuccessful, for a company of Sappers and Miners who were then in that neighbourhood occupied every place which was available in the little village.
Mrs. Nicholson declared her intention of remaining, repeatedly asserting that the landlady was compelled to accommodate them. But the landlady appeared to be anxious to get rid of them, and said she could not be compelled to accommodate more travellers than the size of the house would afford.
Fortunately Mrs. Nicholson remembered having an old acquaintance in the place, and from him a light cart was obtained to convey the travellers to Southernby, where Mrs. Nicholson's tenant, Mr. Ralph, resided. Here they remained a day or two, and were treated most hospitably.
Mr. Ralph conveyed them in his own cart to Park End, near Coldbeck, where Mrs. Nicholson's brother and family resided. The travellers received a hearty welcome and the kindest treatment. On the day after their arrival at Park End, at Mrs. Nicholson's request, her nephew proceeded to Coldbeck to inquire after the trunk. He brought the trunk back with him, and informed them that it had been carried by mistake to another person of the same name, who had opened it, but finding it was not hers, she had fastened it up again as well as she could, and said the owner would find all right inside. "Oh, my apron, my good black apron, I am sure it will be gone," exclaimed Mrs. Nicholson; "I wish I had never put anything into your nasty trunk. My good skirts, too, if they are gone I'll make them pay dearly for them." The trunk was soon examined, and fortunately her precious things were all safe, so that peace was soon restored.
They remained at Park End about a week, and but for the restraint her presence always inflicted on those connected with her, the kindness they received would have made the visit delightful.
Mrs. Nicholson's nephew took his aunt and her cousin to the place where Mr. Nicholson's sister resided. She explained to the persons who had the care of her the arrangement which Mr. Nicholson had made for her future custody, and desired them to be in readiness to convey her to Whitehaven when she was sent for. Both the old woman and the person she lived with, who was a niece of Mr. Nicholson's, seemed much affected at the thought of parting with each other; but the idea of joining her dear brother seemed to console the old lady. Alas! she little knew the cheerless home that awaited her.
When they had arranged this business, they returned to Park End. Her nephew then took her to visit another lady, an old acquaintance of Mr. Nicholson's, between whom it appeared a rather close intimacy had subsisted previous to Mr. Nicholson's removal to Yorkshire. They received as usual a very kind reception, and an invitation to remain.
Many sheep are kept in that part of Cumberland, and this was the period for the annual clipping. At this season they make a kind of feast with what is called there "butter sopps." Mrs. S——, the lady of the house where they were staying, presented Mrs. Nicholson with some of the butter sopps in a basin, requesting her to take them to Mr. Nicholson as a present from her, jocosely remarking that she would like to be within hearing when he was eating them. Mrs. Nicholson accepted the butter sopps, and promised to deliver the message.
Part of old Miss Nicholson's furniture was sold, and arrangements were made for removing the remainder to Yorkshire. Then Mrs. Nicholson and the old lady started. It happened that part of the furniture of Miss Nicholson had been bought by parties from Whitehaven, and a cart was engaged next day to convey a sofa and a clock to the abode of the purchaser. Mrs. Nicholson persuaded her cousin to proceed in this cart to Whitehaven, at which place her other sister resided. This lady was the companion of Mrs. Nicholson when she went to Selby confirmation, and wrote the lively account of her visit which appears in this memoir. Mrs. Nicholson's notable plan of travelling in the cart with the sofa and clock was adopted. The sofa was placed lengthways on the cart, so that the two passengers when seated thereon travelled sideways. The clock-case lay behind, with a basket containing the works placed on the top. They proceeded along pretty well until they were near a town named Distington, through which they had to pass, when by some means the works of the clock began to strike like a bell ringing, nor could their efforts to stop it avail. With every roll of the cart it went tingle, tingle, tingle, until the people began to look out of their houses as they passed. "Come and look," said they; "here is such a fat woman mounted on a sofa, and they are ringing a bell and going to show her."
This exasperated Nancy Nicholson to the utmost. She swore at the urchins that ran by the side of the cart, and the more furious she grew the more provoking did they become.
When they arrived at their cousin's house at Whitehaven the servants were struck with amazement at her great size, and exclaimed, "However shall we get her off the cart? We shall be forced to take her to the warehouse and bouse her out with the crane." However, they managed to assist her down without the aid of the crane, and she was very soon made so comfortable that she forgot the vexation of her journey through Distington.
Mrs. Nicholson, old Miss Nicholson, and a cousin who was travelling with them, and to whom the reader is indebted for the details of the journey, were hospitably received by the cousin at Whitehaven.
Mrs. Nicholson appears to have been still fearful that her companion would not return with her, and therefore determined to take her departure by the packet which left Whitehaven on Saturday for Liverpool, and her cousin arranged to accompany her. They had been informed that the packet would start at two o'clock in the afternoon, but just as they were sitting down to dinner a gentleman called to say the packet was then making ready. Immediately all was bustle and confusion. It was necessary to convey down to the vessel not only the luggage, but Mr. Nicholson's sister also, who was unable to walk. The dinner was left untasted, but the kind cousin at whose house they had been staying placed the meat and vegetables in a basket, and sent it after them, saying they must dine when they got on board.
All their friends assembled on the pier from which the packet sailed, and the sad farewell was followed by many prayers for her who had been lured away from her friends and home by what they considered the specious promises of Mrs. Nicholson.
The travelling party now comprised Mrs. Nicholson, her sister-in-law (who was quite decrepit, and could scarcely walk even with the assistance of sticks), the cousin who had accompanied her throughout the journey, and her two children.
Soon after the packet left Whitehaven, it commenced blowing pretty strong, and many of the passengers were very sick; amongst the rest, Mrs. Nicholson and her cousin.
When the passengers left Whitehaven they expected to reach Liverpool by midnight, when they would have been able to take the first train in the morning for Manchester. The wind had caused some delay, and unfortunately the packet had run against a loaded schooner, which had carried away one of her paddles, and in consequence the remainder of the voyage was performed without the aid of steam.
It was late in the forenoon when our travellers arrived in Liverpool, and having procured a cab, as Miss Nicholson could not walk, they proceeded at once to the railway station in Lime Street. To their dismay they found the station closed, and on inquiry were informed that it would not be open again for some hours. They were now in an awkward dilemma, for Mrs. Nicholson declared her intention of remaining in the street until the doors were opened, for she could not think of being at the trouble and expense of removing her sister-in-law backwards and forwards in vain.
Her cousin urged her to go to the nearest public-house, as it would be disgraceful to remain at the doors of a railway station for such a length of time on the Sabbath-day. Her cousin felt herself degraded, as she had both friends and relations in Liverpool, and was fearful of being recognised. But entreaties and expostulations were all in vain. Mrs. Nicholson seated herself and her sister-in-law on the baggage, and took out the mutton and potatoes, declaring herself right hungry, and they would have their dinners. Mrs. Nicholson shared out the mutton and potatoes, settled herself down with the dish on her knees, and commenced her dinner most vigorously, declaring the meat was very good. Heartily glad was the cousin when the doors opened; in a few minutes they obtained their tickets, and were soon on their way to Manchester. On their arrival they alighted from the train, not being certain that they could proceed any further that night, and their movements being very slow, the train started off again before they got fresh tickets. After the train had departed and the crowd dispersed, the party proceeded to the waiting-room to consult about procuring lodgings for the night, when Mrs. Nicholson settled the point by declaring she would not leave the station. They were still in the midst of their discussion when some of the company's servants entered the waiting-room, and curtly informed them it was necessary to depart, as the last train had gone, and they wanted to close the station. But Mrs. Nicholson told them the train had gone off and left them, as that old woman, pointing to her sister-in-law, was unable to walk; and if she was removed from the station that night they would not be able to get her there again in time for the morning train. They replied that there was an hotel close to the doors of the station where they might all be accommodated, and being so near, the old woman could be brought to the train in the morning without much difficulty. "Oh," replied Mrs. Nicholson, "do, if you please, my good man, let us remain here; we would rather remain here than go anywhere else. We will give you a trifle to let us stop where we are, for we cannot afford to pay for our beds. But we will give you something if you will let us stop here; we can sleep on the long settle." "Well, poor woman," replied the kind-hearted man, evidently touched with pity, "I cannot give you leave to stay, neither can I accept anything from you; but I will acquaint the master, and see what I can do for you." He accordingly departed, and in a little time returned, saying it was quite contrary to their rules to permit anyone to remain in the station all night. However, as their case was so pitiful, and they had missed the train, they would be allowed to remain till morning. He then kindly offered to make a fire, which, however, Mrs. Nicholson declined, but thanked him heartily for his kindness. She said if he would only permit the gaslight to remain burning, it would be all they would require. He granted her request, and very kindly bade them good-night, and shut the door.
The travellers then endeavoured to compose themselves to rest, Mrs. Nicholson exulting in her success in obtaining leave to remain at the station, whereby they would save the expense of lodgings. Fortunately a pair of pillows belonging to the cousin were corded on the top of one of their trunks. They were accidentally omitted when the other portion of her furniture was packed off, and they now proved extremely useful. The cords were speedily untied, and Mrs. Nicholson and her sister-in-law each took a pillow, and laid down on the long seats of the waiting-room. Her cousin and her children, with the help of sundry bundles, followed their example, and wrapping themselves in shawls and cloaks, were soon settled down, and prepared for a sound sleep after the fatigues of the day.
On the following morning they took tickets for Selby, where they arrived safely without any further adventures, and returned to Drax in the evening by the carrier's cart, after having been absent from home about a month.
Mr. Nicholson received his poor old sister very kindly.
Mr. Nicholson's niece left a few weeks after her aunt returned from Cumberland, after which time Mrs. Nicholson treated the poor sister-in-law with the greatest cruelty, compelling her to walk without the assistance of her sticks, although she was scarcely able to totter along.
It will be readily imagined that under these circumstances matters became worse and worse in Mr. Nicholson's house.
It was about the end of November, 1844, that husband and wife had a violent quarrel, which ended in a mutual agreement to separate.
Mrs. Nicholson's intention was to take up her abode in a house belonging to her at Drax, which was next door but one to that occupied by her cousin, and at that time unoccupied, and thither she moved with such furniture as Mr. Nicholson would spare her. A series of miserable squabbles ensued, an account of which is given in full in the chap. book from which this notice is taken, but which we will spare our readers.
The final quarrel took place in 1845, when Mr. Nicholson beat his wife, in the house where she lived. He never from that day visited her again, or would suffer her to re-enter his doors. Indeed, they never again met.
She remained at Newland some time, and then removed to Asselby. The first change she made there was to turn out of his farm the tenant who had given her so much information previous to the division of the land with her Dublin cousin, by means of which she had obtained the best land. For the purpose of gaining this information she had made her tenant a promise that he should never be disturbed. He reminded her of her promise, but she had made her plan, and cared neither for his entreaties nor for her promise. He was compelled to leave the farm at the termination of his tenancy, which was the Lady-day following her final separation from her husband.
She persuaded her cousin to come and live with her at Asselby, promising her if she would do so that she would leave her all her property. The cousin, although to do so was extremely inconvenient, and certainly most unpleasant, agreed on these terms to do what she wished.
Poor Mr. Nicholson had bought an accordion, which he amused himself in the long evenings with playing. On a summer night he sat out under the trees and practised on his instrument. Nancy was highly exasperated when she heard this. It was done, she concluded, out of malice, to exhibit to the whole parish that he was indifferent to his loss, and could be supremely happy without his wife.
"And I can be happy too," said Nancy, and she launched out in the extravagance of an organ. She could not play it, but she could pull out all the stops, bang her fist on the notes, and let the roar of the instrument proclaim to the neighbourhood through the open windows that she too was merry.
But not satisfied with this, she determined to be revenged on her husband by obtaining, if possible, his inhibition. She resolved on bringing Mr. Nicholson's intemperance under the notice of the Archbishop, yet so ingeniously did she lay her plans, that when the investigation took place, the part she had taken in it did not transpire.
It appears that Mr. Nicholson had a dispute with a tenant at Drax about giving up possession of his premises at a certain time, and this tenant called on Mrs. Nicholson at Asselby, requesting her to be a witness as to the time of his entering into possession, when she instigated him to write to the Archbishop of York and give a full account of Mr. Nicholson's various acts of intemperance, with a full detail of all the circumstances in his conduct which were likely to degrade him in the eyes of the Archbishop.
Mrs. Nicholson then caused letters to be written to the Archbishop, complaining that Mr. Nicholson had beat her, and caused her to be turned away without a home. This brought about a correspondence between the Archbishop and Mrs. Nicholson, but, contrary to her hopes, it ended in the Archbishop advising Mrs. Nicholson to consult a solicitor on the subject.
The investigation caused Mr. Nicholson's suspension from preaching for two years, which event gave Mrs. Nicholson great satisfaction. She wrote several letters to him from Asselby, in some of which she abused him, and in others expressed a wish to be again reconciled, but she never received any reply.
Being now in comparative tranquillity with all around her, she was at a loss for an object on which to employ her ever active brain, when one day, as she was reading over the advertisements in the newspaper, she suddenly exclaimed, "I am tired of doing nothing, and I think it is a sin to be idle. To be sure I have what will keep me, and somebody after me, but I would rather be employed. I will try to obtain a housekeeper's situation. I know there are many who would be glad to have such a person as me, if it was only to take care of things for them." It is probable that no one else would be of the same opinion, but from that time she searched the advertisements in the newspapers with an interest truly ridiculous. Week after week passed, but nothing appeared which was likely to suit her.
At length an advertisement appeared for a cook and housekeeper wanted for a single gentleman. The address was copied, and a letter written, describing her as a clergy-man's daughter, &c. It was read over several times by Mrs. Nicholson previous to its being deposited in the post-office, and the reply was anxiously looked for. At length it arrived, when it appeared that the advertiser was a highly respectable physician residing at Thirsk, and he appointed a time for meeting Mrs. Nicholson at the Railway Hotel at York.
Mrs. Nicholson immediately considered herself engaged, and as she expected to leave Asselby for some time, she made great preparations for securing her apartments and the property they contained, locking and marking every drawer and cupboard, so that she might know if anyone meddled with them during her absence.
She had then to consider what clothing would be necessary for this important occasion. She thought it probable that she would be expected to dress rather smartly in her new situation, and accordingly packed up in a band-box an old-fashioned black silk pelisse, lined in front with yellow; a pink muslin gown which she had got soon after her marriage, and which was consequently too small for her at this time; her never-failing black stuff gown for occasional use; and a light shawl. These formed her wardrobe and filled the band-box, which was then tied up in a large old shawl. She then packed a few articles in a reticule basket covered with a piece of old blue print. This she secured with a padlock passed through the lid of the basket and the willows at the top which were left uncovered by the print.
In vain her friends tried to persuade her not to take her clothes with her, as it was doubtful if she would get the situation. She appeared to think that was impossible, because she was determined to go, let the place be what it might, never seeming to think the other side would refuse. She was then entreated to dress herself as tidily as possible, but she would only go her own way. So she arrayed herself in an old print gown, very much soiled, the indispensable apron, a woollen plaid shawl, a cap very much crushed, and a bonnet little better.
The day appointed for meeting the gentleman at York was wet and stormy, but Mrs. Nicholson resolutely faced the storm, and taking the packet at the ferry, arrived in safety at York. She then set off to walk to the hotel, but by the time she reached the end of Skeldergate she was pretty well fatigued with her great bundle and basket, and her shoes were covered with mud, her bonnet blown back off her face, and her hair hanging about in disorder.
She was in this state when she arrived at the hotel, and inquired if Mr. —— from Thirsk was there. She was immediately shown into his presence. On entering the room she made a low curtsey, placed her bundle on the floor, and sat down on the nearest chair, almost overcome.
The gentleman approached from the other end of the room, which was a large one, and looking at her for about a minute, he inquired, "Were you wanting me?"
"Yes, sir," she replied. "I suppose you are Mr. ——, from Thirsk?"
"I am," said the gentleman.
"Oh, then," said she, "I am Mrs. Nicholson who wrote to you about your situation as cook and housekeeper."
The gentleman, who appeared rather nervous, immediately replied, "Oh, dear me—you Mrs. Nicholson!—you the person who wrote to me! I understood——"
Here his sentence was left unfinished, and he commenced again, "Oh, my good woman, it must be some mistake. Are you the person who wrote to me?"
"Yes, sir," she replied; "and I assure you I will take all possible care of anything intrusted to me."
"Oh, dear!" said he, "you are not at all the kind of person that I require. I have hitherto had my sister to superintend my house, but she is going to travel in Italy, and I want a person qualified to supply her place."
"Oh," answered Mrs. Nicholson, "I can do that. I have been used to manage a family of fifteen, and I am sure I can do all you require."
"Oh, dear, no!" again retorted the gentleman, who began to look upon her with some degree of apprehension. "I assure you, you are not the sort of person I want. There must have been some mistake, my good woman—you really will not do for me." So saying, he retreated towards the other end of the room.
Mrs. Nicholson began to feel disappointed, but resolved to try again. Once more advancing towards him, she said, "Well, sir, I am very sorry you think so. However, I have no objections to travel, and if your sister should want a companion——"
Here the gentleman interrupted her, saying, "My good woman, no such thing, I assure you. You really will not do at all. There has evidently been some mistake, for had I known before, I need not have troubled you."
"Well, indeed," said Mrs. Nicholson, "it has been a great deal of trouble, for I have come all the way on purpose, and have brought my clothes with me."
The gentleman involuntarily cast his eyes first at the great bundle and then at the speaker, and observed he was really sorry, though he could not be answerable for her actions, but if she desired, he would order her some refreshment.
However, she declined, and took her departure, murmuring something about her disappointment and the trouble she had been at.
Week after week rolled on, and she was still pondering over a situation, when her attention was again attracted by an advertisement for a housekeeper. Application was made, and an answer duly returned, informing her that her services would be required to manage a large establishment. Her wages would be thirty pounds per annum, and she would have the control of all the female servants, except the lady's maid and the governess. The others she would have power to engage and discharge at her own discretion. She was requested to go over immediately to meet the lady and gentleman at their own house.
Mrs. Nicholson was delighted with these proposals, and already fancied herself at the head of the establishment. She immediately began to calculate how much money she could save out of her wages, and the various perquisites which she considered would be within her reach, and she then rejoiced that she had not obtained the old bachelor's situation at Thirsk.
As this situation promised to be one of importance, she thought it would be necessary to take most of her smart clothes, but after mature consideration she made up her mind to take precisely the same as she had taken to York. The band-box had not been unpacked since her former journey, so that she had only the covered basket to fill, and she was then ready to start.
The letter she had received directed her to a beautiful mansion near Skipton in Craven. As it was necessary to be there as early as possible, she was obliged to travel by rail. When she arrived at the station at Skipton, she inquired the way to A——, and after a weary walk, at length reached the entrance to the grounds surrounding the Hall. After proceeding a few yards along the avenue, she sat down to arrange her dress, and then took a survey of the place. From the spot which she occupied she could obtain a slight glimpse of the building. "Why," she exclaimed, "this is much finer than K—— Hall; I shall have a grander place than him." After resting a short time she proceeded to a door, and slightly tapping at it, retired a few steps. It was speedily opened by a female domestic, who inquired of Mrs. Nicholson what she wanted. She replied by asking if Mrs. —— was at home. The girl having answered in the affirmative, she requested her to be so kind as to inform the lady that Mrs. Nicholson had arrived.
"Oh, certainly," replied the girl; and eyeing her from head to foot, she asked, "are you Mrs. Nicholson?"
"Yes," replied Mrs. Nicholson, "and I have just arrived by the train."
The girl then invited her to walk in, and she was shown into a small sitting-room. In passing along she saw that the house was very extensive, and the apartments so numerous and so grand that she would not be able to stop there. She had just made up her mind that the place was too grand for her, when the door opened and a lady entered. Mrs. Nicholson arose and curtsied, but was full of confusion, and unable to utter a word. The lady requested her to sit down, and informed her that Mrs. —— would be with her in a few minutes.
"What," answered Mrs. Nicholson, "are not you Mrs. ——?"
"Oh, no," replied she; "I am her maid."
"I suppose Mrs. —— is expecting me?" said Mrs. Nicholson.
"Oh, yes," replied the maid; "she sent the carriage to the railway station to meet the train, and bring you here. But it returned some time since. The groom said he made inquiries, but could not hear of a passenger likely to be the new housekeeper."
During this speech the lady's maid appeared to be examining Mrs. Nicholson's dress most minutely.
In a short time the lady herself appeared, and the maid withdrew, but Mrs. Nicholson had both seen and heard sufficient to prevent her from feeling the least desire to remain. She therefore at once said to the lady, "Oh, ma'am, I am sorry I have come here, for I could never stay in this great place."
The lady replied, "Well, Mrs. Nicholson, I am sorry likewise, for I was really in hopes I had met with an excellent housekeeper. However, as you see it yourself, I shall be spared the necessity of wounding your feelings."
The lady then repeated what the maid had told her about sending the carriage to the railway station, but Mrs. Nicholson appeared quite incapable of entering into conversation. The lady evidently observed her confusion, and behaved with the utmost kindness and condescension. She remarked that night was coming on; therefore if Mrs. Nicholson would remain till morning, she would give orders for her accommodation.
Mrs. Nicholson decided not to remain, and she also declined taking any refreshments, but she expressed a desire to see some of the rooms in the Hall. The lady readily granted her wish, and showed her through the splendid apartments herself. She again expressed her sorrow that a mistake, as she expressed it, had occurred, and Mrs. Nicholson replied that she was sorry too, for the journey had been a great expense to her, but she hoped the lady would give her something towards it.
The lady smiled at her request, and gave her a few shillings, remarking that she had now paid for advertising for a housekeeper.
Mrs. Nicholson humbly thanked her, and took her departure, amidst the half-suppressed titters of the servants, who had assembled to witness her exit.
These events were seldom referred to afterwards, and Mrs. Nicholson thenceforth rested satisfied without seeking another situation, but continued steadily her usual mode of living and amassing money.
In the beginning of the year 1850, having heard that Mr. Nicholson was dangerously ill, she felt anxious to see him, but first caused the question to be put to him if he wished to see her, when he expressed the greatest abhorrence at the idea, and declared that he never wished to see her more. He died on the 8th of February following.
At the invitation of the executors she attended the funeral. She was dressed in her never-failing black stuff gown, and a white Tuscan bonnet which she bought soon after she separated from her husband. The bonnet was trimmed for the funeral with a narrow black gauze ribbon.
Mr. Nicholson left a will wherein he provided for his poor old sister for life, with remainder to a niece in Northamptonshire. His household furniture and effects were to be sold. Of course he could not prevent Mrs. Nicholson from having a life interest in any property referred to in the deeds in which her name was inserted.
When the sale of the furniture was advertised, Mrs. Nicholson determined to go over to Newland and take possession of the house. Her cousin was invited to accompany her. She was much troubled at the thought of the sale, for the things had formerly been hers, and she seemed to feel great pain at parting with them in that way. At length she declared, as she could not keep them herself, she would endeavour to prevent anybody else from enjoying them. She then broke the glass over the clock face, and with a penknife cut slits in the carpets and haircloth covering of the sofa. These were not visible at the time of the sale, but would undoubtedly appear when brought into use.
The sale took place on the Saturday, and it was late in the evening when it was concluded. Several friends invited Mrs. Nicholson to their homes, but she refused to leave the house. Two bedsteads and a crimson sofa were left, which the purchasers could not conveniently remove that evening, and which Mrs. Nicholson gladly allowed to remain, as they were likely to be useful to her. She had previously observed a large bundle in the garden, which had evidently been overlooked by the auctioneer and his assistants. This she contrived to conceal in the cellar until all the company had retired, when she brought it forth, and found it to contain an excellent pair of blankets and a good quilt, which enabled the pair to make their quarters rather more comfortable. She also found in the cellar a barrel containing a considerable quantity of ale, with which she nearly filled an old kettle, and having boiled it over a fire made of sticks and old wood, she drank the greater part of the kettleful at her supper, and was soon as fast asleep in her new-found blankets, laid on the bare bedstead, as if she had been on a bed of down.
When morning arrived, the house, as might be expected, presented a very desolate appearance. The cold was intense, but Mrs. Nicholson resolutely refused every invitation to leave it. She and her cousin found plenty of sticks and wood, with which they kept up a tolerable fire, and having drunk some more boiled ale, Nancy commenced a thorough inspection of the house. She found some old lumber which had not been worth selling, and in one of the chambers a good heap of barley. Into this chamber she removed all the lumber, together with all the pots and pans, whether broken or sound, a quantity of doctors' bottles, and every piece of wood about the place which was not then required for their fire.
Having only a life interest in the house, she determined to remove the fixtures. She pulled the shelves out of the cupboard, tore down the banisters at the top of the stairs, took the lock off the parlour door and the rollers from the windows, and deposited them in the chamber with the lumber and the barley. When night again drew on she had all arranged to her satisfaction. Again she boiled her kettleful of ale, and again slept soundly in her blankets as on the previous night.
Early on Monday morning she deposited in the chamber the blankets, the quilt, and the old kettle, and having securely locked the door and placed a private mark upon it that she might know if an entrance had been attempted, she waited anxiously until the owner of the bedsteads and sofa arrived and took them away. She then secured the house by nailing down the windows, &c., and taking the path across the fields, once more returned to Asselby.
Almost immediately after she arrived at home, she was informed by the niece whose husband was tenant of the farm, that, owing to the heavy rent and other circumstances, their affairs had become embarrassed. Mrs. Nicholson had always promised to be a friend to them, and they now offered to give all up to her, hoping by that means to secure a continuance of her friendship. But she suddenly took offence at something or other, and seized upon all they possessed, which was immediately advertised to be sold by auction, and her niece and family left the house the same evening.
There was then no one left about the premises but herself, and as she could not bear to be alone, she again entreated her cousin to remain with her for a time.
The sale of her niece's stock and furniture proceeded. At the conclusion, the villagers, to whom she had always been an object of dislike, made a large straw effigy, and paraded it up and down the place. They then set fire to it in front of her window, and saluted her with songs, hisses, and execrations.
The sight of the fire thoroughly alarmed her, and throwing open the window she screamed and swore like a mad woman. She sent for a constable and shouted for help. No one appeared to interfere on her behalf, but when the effigy had ceased burning, the crowd dispersed of their own accord.
Nancy Nicholson was so offended at having been burnt in effigy that she determined to leave Asselby, and as she had again a house at liberty at Drax, she moved her furniture into it, and persuaded her cousin to accompany her.
About six weeks after the death of her husband, an elderly gentleman began to pay his addresses to Mrs. Nicholson. A second suitor speedily followed, and shortly afterwards a third. This bevy of suitors had a wonderful effect on the old lady, and she began to pay great attention to her dress and personal appearance. She purchased within one week three new gowns, all of which she had made up with flounces; she got also a new bonnet, and had several caps newly trimmed. She then brought from her stores several rings, not one of which was gold except her marriage ring, and with these she adorned her fingers. An hour or more she would spend every morning in rubbing her rings, and in oiling and dressing her hair, taking great pains to set herself off to the best advantage, assuming all the giddy flirting airs of a girl of sixteen. There is little doubt she would have married a second time, but feared parting with her money, and it is thought that none of her suitors were particularly anxious to take her without it.
About this time she began to attend the Roman Catholic chapel at Howden, and shortly after was received into the Roman Church by baptism; and at that time she certainly appeared to have more devotional feeling than she ever displayed either before or afterwards. But on being applied to for a small donation towards the new church then in course of erection at Howden, she speedily withdrew from the Roman communion, remarking that she had a good pew in the parish church, to which she could go without expense whenever she felt disposed, and she would, too, in spite of every one.
Mrs. Nicholson could never get a servant to live with her for any length of time, her filthy habits being past endurance. She endeavoured to do without assistance, but finding that impossible, she prevailed on her cousin to come once a week to help her to clean up a little. She had her bed in the room down-stairs where she lived, and her chambers were not swept for months previous to her death. If her cousin offered to clean up-stairs, she would reply that it was of no consequence, for no one went up but herself. Her cousin received no payment for her attendance, although she found her own provisions, relying entirely on Mrs. Nicholson's oft-repeated promise that she should be rewarded in her will. Her weekly attendance was continued until about the beginning of July, 1854, when Mrs. Nicholson engaged a daughter of the niece before mentioned, to go three times a week. She also found her own provisions, but had wages for her labour. The cousin, at Mrs. Nicholson's request, still went occasionally.
Soon after this Mrs. Nicholson became very ill, but was without medical advice until the 4th of August, making her words good in that respect, that she would never have another doctor until the last extremity. On that day she allowed one to be sent for, and on the following day she gave instructions for her will to be made. She bequeathed the farm and house she occupied, with all her furniture and money in the bank, to the niece before mentioned. She left another farm to the cousin in Ireland, who had been defrauded when they separated their land. She left £1500 to the son of a half-cousin by her mother's side, residing in Cumberland. But the great bulk of her property was left to her half-nephew mentioned in the account of her visit to Cumberland.
Although both the medical gentlemen and the solicitor very kindly urged her to remember the cousin who had so constantly attended upon her, without having hitherto received the slightest recompense or reward for her trouble and expense, she refused to leave her anything.
About a fortnight before her death she wished for some wine, and sent for a bottle of the best that could be procured. The wine was brought, and she was informed the price was four shillings, which caused her great dissatisfaction. She accused the person who brought it with extravagance in paying so much, and with folly in not ascertaining what would be allowed for the bottle when empty.
She then ordered in a five-gallon barrel of ale, all of which she consumed in the week previous to her death. Hearing from the doctor that she could not live long, she was dreadfully afraid of dying before she had finished the barrel, and so not have had all she could out of her money. As she had not been accustomed to drink fermented liquors for some years before, there is no doubt she must have been half-stupefied with beer during the last week of her existence.
She signed her will on Sunday morning, August 6th, 1854, and died the evening of the same day.
- "The Life of Mrs Nancy Nicholson, who died August 6th, 1854." Howden: W. Small. 1855.
- The Free Grammar School at Drax, where twelve boys are boarded and educated from a fund left for the purpose.