Chapter 20

Wherein Nicholas at length encounters his uncle, to whom he expresses his sentiments with much candour. His resolution LITTLE MISS LA CREEVY trotted briskly through divers streets at the West-end of the town, early on Monday morning--the day after the dinner--charged with the important commission of acquainting Madame Mantalini that Miss Nickleby was too unwell to attend that day, but hoped to be enabled to resume her duties on the morrow. And as Miss La Creevy walked along, revolving in her mind various genteel forms and elegant turns of expression, with a view to the selection of the very best in which to couch her communication, she cogitated a good deal upon the probable causes of her young friend's indisposition.

`I don't know what to make of it,' said Miss La Creevy. `Her eyes were decidedly red last night. She said she had a headache; headaches don't occasion red eyes. She must have been crying.'

Arriving at this conclusion, which, indeed, she had established to her perfect satisfaction on the previous evening, Miss La Creevy went on to consider--as she had done nearly all night--what new cause of unhappiness her young friend could possibly have had.

`I can't think of anything,' said the little portrait painter. `Nothing at all, unless it was the behaviour of that old bear. Cross to her, I suppose? Unpleasant brute!'

Relieved by this expression of opinion, albeit it was vented upon empty air, Miss La Creevy trotted on to Madame Mantalini's; and being informed that the governing power was not yet out of bed, requested an interview with the second in command; whereupon Miss Knag appeared.

`So far as I am concerned,' said Miss Knag, when the message had been delivered, with many ornaments of speech; `I could spare Miss Nickleby for evermore.'

`Oh, indeed, ma'am!' rejoined Miss La Creevy, highly offended. `But, you see, you are not mistress of the business, and therefore it's of no great consequence.'

`Very good, ma'am,' said Miss Knag. `Have you any further commands for me?'

`No, I have not, ma'am,' rejoined Miss La Creevy.

`Then good-morning, ma'am,' said Miss Knag.

`Good-morning to you, ma'am; and many obligations for your extreme politeness and good breeding,' rejoined Miss La Creevy.

Thus terminating the interview, during which both ladies had trembled very much, and been marvellously polite--certain indications that they were within an inch of a very desperate quarrel--Miss La Creevy bounced out of the room, and into the street.

`I wonder who that is,' said the queer little soul. `A nice person to know, I should think! I wish I had the painting of her: I'd do her justice.' So, feeling quite satisfied that she had said a very cutting thing at Miss Knag's expense, Miss La Creevy had a hearty laugh, and went home to breakfast in great good-humour.

Here was one of the advantages of having lived alone so long! The little bustling, active, cheerful creature existed entirely within herself, talked to herself, made a confidante of herself, was as sarcastic as she could be, on people who offended her, by herself; pleased herself, and did no harm. If she indulged in scandal, nobody's reputation suffered; and if she enjoyed a little bit of revenge, no living soul was one atom the worse. One of the many to whom, from straitened circumstances, a consequent inability to form the associations they would wish, and a disinclination to mix with the society they could obtain, London is as complete a solitude as the plains of Syria, the humble artist had pursued her lonely, but contented way for many years; and, until the peculiar misfortunes of the Nickleby family attracted her

  By PanEris using Melati.

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