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 return.
`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.
`How can it say so, when it is blooming in the front room like a little rose in a demnition flower-pot?' urged Mantalini. `May its poppet come in and talk?'
`Certainly not,' replied Madame: `you know I never allow you here. Go along!'
The poppet, however, encouraged perhaps by the relenting tone of this reply, ventured to rebel, and, stealing into the room, made towards Madame Mantalini on tiptoe, blowing her a kiss as he came along.
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