Chapter 19

Descriptive of a dinner at Mr Ralph Nickleby's, and of the manner in which the company entertained themselves, before dinner, at dinner, and after dinner.

THE BILE and rancour of the worthy Miss Knag undergoing no diminution during the remainder of the week, but rather augmenting with every successive hour; and the honest ire of all the young ladies rising, or seeming to rise, in exact proportion to the good spinster's indignation, and both waxing very hot every time Miss Nickleby was called upstairs; it will be readily imagined that that young lady's daily life was none of the most cheerful or enviable kind. She hailed the arrival of Saturday night, as a prisoner would a few delicious hours' respite from slow and wearing torture, and felt that the poor pittance for her first week's labour would have been dearly and hardly earned, had its amount been trebled.

When she joined her mother, as usual, at the street corner, she was not a little surprised to find her in conversation with Mr Ralph Nickleby; but her surprise was soon redoubled, no less by the matter of their conversation, than by the smoothed and altered manner of Mr Nickleby himself.

`Ah! my dear!' said Ralph; `we were at that moment talking about you.'

`Indeed!' replied Kate, shrinking, though she scarce knew why, from her uncle's cold glistening eye.

`That instant,' said Ralph. `I was coming to call for you, making sure to catch you before you left; but your mother and I have been talking over family affairs, and the time has slipped away so rapidly --'

`Well, now, hasn't it?' interposed Mrs Nickleby, quite insensible to the sarcastic tone of Ralph's last remark. `Upon my word, I couldn't have believed it possible, that such a -- Kate, my dear, you're to dine with your uncle at half-past six o'clock tomorrow.'

Triumphing in having been the first to communicate this extraordinary intelligence, Mrs Nickleby nodded and smiled a great many times, to impress its full magnificence on Kate's wondering mind, and then flew off, at an acute angle, to a committee of ways and means.

`Let me see,' said the good lady. `Your black silk frock will be quite dress enough, my dear, with that pretty little scarf, and a plain band in your hair, and a pair of black silk stock -- Dear, dear,' cried Mrs Nickleby, flying off at another angle, `if I had but those unfortunate amethysts of mine -- you recollect them, Kate, my love -- how they used to sparkle, you know -- but your papa, your poor dear papa -- ah! there never was anything so cruelly sacrificed as those jewels were, never!' Overpowered by this agonising thought, Mrs Nickleby shook her head, in a melancholy manner, and applied her handkerchief to her eyes.

I don't want them, mamma, indeed,' said Kate. `Forget that you ever had them.'

`Lord, Kate, my dear,' rejoined Mrs Nickleby, pettishly, `how like a child you talk! Four-and-twenty silver tea-spoons, brother-in-law, two gravies, four salts, all the amethysts -- necklace, brooch, and ear-rings -- all made away with, at the same time, and I saying, almost on my bended knees, to that poor good soul, "Why don't you do something, Nicholas? Why don't you make some arrangement?" I am sure that anybody who was about us at that time, will do me the justice to own, that if I said that once, I said it fifty times a day. Didn't I, Kate, my dear? Did I ever lose an opportunity of impressing it on your poor papa?'

`No, no, mamma, never,' replied Kate. And to do Mrs Nickleby justice, she never had lost -- and to do married ladies as a body justice, they seldom do lose -- any occasion of inculcating similar golden percepts, whose only blemish is, the slight degree of vagueness and uncertainty in which they are usually enveloped.

`Ah!' said Mrs Nickleby, with great fervour, `if my advice had been taken at the beginning -- Well, I have always done my duty, and that's some comfort.'

  By PanEris using Melati.

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