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There was a general hum of anxious denial, in the midst of
which, one shrill voice was heard to say (as, indeed, everybody

‘Please, sir, I think Smike’s run away, sir.’
‘Ha!’ cried Squeers, turning sharp round. ‘Who said that?’
‘Tomkins, please sir,’ rejoined a chorus of voices. Mr Squeers
made a plunge into the crowd, and at one dive, caught a very little
boy, habited still in his night-gear, and the perplexed expression of
whose countenance, as he was brought forward, seemed to
intimate that he was as yet uncertain whether he was about to be
punished or rewarded for the suggestion. He was not long in

‘You think he has run away, do you, sir?’ demanded Squeers.
‘Yes, please sir,’ replied the little boy.

‘And what, sir,’ said Squeers, catching the little boy suddenly by
the arms and whisking up his drapery in a most dexterous
manner, ‘what reason have you to suppose that any boy would
want to run away from this establishment? Eh, sir?’

The child raised a dismal cry, by way of answer, and Mr
Squeers, throwing himself into the most favourable attitude for
exercising his strength, beat him until the little urchin in his
writhings actually rolled out of his hands, when he mercifully
allowed him to roll away, as he best could.

‘There,’ said Squeers. ‘Now if any other boy thinks Smike has
run away, I shall be glad to have a talk with him.’

There was, of course, a profound silence, during which Nicholas
showed his disgust as plainly as looks could show it.

‘Well, Nickleby,’ said Squeers, eyeing him maliciously. ‘YOU
think he has run away, I suppose?’

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