Nicholas Nickleby HTML version

Chapter 21
Madam Mantalini finds herself in a Situation of some Difficulty, and Miss Nickleby
finds herself in no Situation at all
The agitation she had undergone, rendered Kate Nickleby unable to resume her
duties at the dressmaker's for three days, at the expiration of which interval she
betook herself at the accustomed hour, and with languid steps, to the temple of
fashion where Madame Mantalini reigned paramount and supreme.
The ill-will of Miss Knag had lost nothing of its virulence in the interval. The young
ladies still scrupulously shrunk from all companionship with their denounced
associate; and when that exemplary female arrived a few minutes afterwards,
she was at no pains to conceal the displeasure with which she regarded Kate's
'Upon my word!' said Miss Knag, as the satellites flocked round, to relieve her of
her bonnet and shawl; 'I should have thought some people would have had spirit
enough to stop away altogether, when they know what an incumbrance their
presence is to right-minded persons. But it's a queer world; oh! it's a queer world!'
Miss Knag, having passed this comment on the world, in the tone in which most
people do pass comments on the world when they are out of temper, that is to
say, as if they by no means belonged to it, concluded by heaving a sigh,
wherewith she seemed meekly to compassionate the wickedness of mankind.
The attendants were not slow to echo the sigh, and Miss Knag was apparently on
the eve of favouring them with some further moral reflections, when the voice of
Madame Mantalini, conveyed through the speaking-tube, ordered Miss Nickleby
upstairs to assist in the arrangement of the show-room; a distinction which
caused Miss Knag to toss her head so much, and bite her lips so hard, that her
powers of conversation were, for the time, annihilated.
'Well, Miss Nickleby, child,' said Madame Mantalini, when Kate presented
herself; 'are you quite well again?'
'A great deal better, thank you,' replied Kate.
'I wish I could say the same,' remarked Madame Mantalini, seating herself with
an air of weariness.
'Are you ill?' asked Kate. 'I am very sorry for that.'
'Not exactly ill, but worried, child--worried,' rejoined Madame.
'I am still more sorry to hear that,' said Kate, gently. 'Bodily illness is more easy to
bear than mental.'
'Ah! and it's much easier to talk than to bear either,' said Madame, rubbing her
nose with much irritability of manner. 'There, get to your work, child, and put the
things in order, do.'
While Kate was wondering within herself what these symptoms of unusual
vexation portended, Mr Mantalini put the tips of his whiskers, and, by degrees,
his head, through the half-opened door, and cried in a soft voice--
'Is my life and soul there?'
'No,' replied his wife.