`Poor dear thing,' said Miss Knag, `it's not her fault. If it was, we might hope to cure it; but as it's her misfortune, Madame Mantalini, why really you know, as the man said about the blind horse, we ought to respect it.'
`Her uncle told me she had been considered pretty,' remarked Madame Mantalini. `I think her one of the most ordinary girls I ever met with.'
`Ordinary!' cried Miss Knag with a countenance beaming delight; `and awkward! Well, all I can say is, Madame Mantalini, that I quite love the poor girl; and that if she was twice as indifferent-looking, and twice as awkward as she is, I should be only so much the more her friend, and that's the truth of it.'
In fact, Miss Knag had conceived an incipient affection for Kate Nickleby, after witnessing her failure that morning, and this short conversation with her superior increased the favourable prepossession to a most surprising extent; which was the more remarkable, as when she first scanned that young lady's face and figure, she had entertained certain inward misgivings that they would never agree.
`But now,' said Miss Knag, glancing at the reflection of herself in a mirror at no great distance, `I love her-- I quite love her--I declare I do!'
Of such a highly disinterested quality was this devoted friendship, and so superior was it to the little weaknesses of flattery or ill-nature, that the kind-hearted Miss Knag candidly informed Kate Nickleby, next day, that she saw she would never do for the business, but that she need not give herself the slightest uneasiness on this account, for that she (Miss Knag), by increased exertions on her own part, would keep her as much as possible in the background, and that all she would have to do, would be to remain perfectly quiet before company, and to shrink from attracting notice by every means in her power. This last suggestion was so much in accordance with the timid girl's own feelings and wishes, that she readily promised implicit reliance on the excellent spinster's advice: without questioning, or indeed bestowing a moment's reflection upon, the motives that dictated it.
`I take quite a lively interest in you, my dear soul, upon my word,' said Miss Knag; `a sister's interest, actually. It's the most singular circumstance I ever knew.'
Undoubtedly it was singular, that if Miss Knag did feel a strong interest in Kate Nickleby, it should not rather have been the interest of a maiden aunt or grandmother; that being the conclusion to which the difference in their respective ages would have naturally tended. But Miss Knag wore clothes of a very youthful pattern, and perhaps her feelings took the same shape.
`Bless you!' said Miss Knag, bestowing a kiss upon Kate at the conclusion of the second day's work, `how very awkward you have been all day.'
`I fear your kind and open communication, which has rendered me more painfully conscious of my own defects, has not improved me,' sighed Kate.
`No, no, I dare say not,' rejoined Miss Knag, in a most uncommon flow of good humour. `But how much better that you should know it at first, and so be able to go on, straight and comfortable! Which way are you walking, my love?'
`Towards the City,' replied Kate.
`The City!' cried Miss Knag, regarding herself with great favour in the glass as the tied her bonnet. `Goodness gracious me! now do you really live in the City?'
`Is it so very unusual for anybody to live there?' asked Kate, half smiling.
`I couldn't have believed it possible that any young woman could have lived there, under any circumstances whatever, for three days together,' replied Miss Knag.
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