Chapter 55

Of family matters, cares, hopes, disappointments, and sorrows

ALTHOUGH MRS NICKLEBY had been made acquainted by her son and daughter with every circumstance of Madeline Bray's history which was known to them; although the responsible situation in which Nicholas stood had been carefully explained to her, and she had been prepared, even for the possible contingency of having to receive the young lady in her own house--improbable as such a result had appeared only a few minutes before it came about--still, Mrs Nickleby, from the moment when this confidence was first reposed in her, late on the previous evening, had remained in an unsatisfactory and profoundly mystified state, from which no explanations or arguments could relieve her, and which every fresh soliloquy and reflection only aggravated more and more.

`Bless my heart, Kate!' so the good lady argued; `if the Mr Cheerybles don't want this young lady to be married, why don't they file a bill against the Lord Chancellor, make her a Chancery ward, and shut her up in the Fleet prison for safety?--I have read of such things in the newspapers a hundred times-- or, if they are so very fond of her as Nicholas says they are, why don't they marry her themselves--one of them I mean? And even supposing they don't want her to be married, and don't want to marry her themselves, why in the name of wonder should Nicholas go about the world, forbidding people's banns?'

`I don't think you quite understand,' said Kate, gently.

`Well I am sure, Kate, my dear, you're very polite!' replied Mrs Nickleby. `I have been married myself I hope, and I have seen other people married. Not understand, indeed!'

`I know you have had great experience, dear mamma,' said Kate; `I mean that perhaps you don't quite understand all the circumstances in this instance. We have stated them awkwardly, I dare say.'

`That I dare say you have,' retorted her mother, briskly. `That's very likely. I am not to be held accountable for that; thought, at the same time, as the circumstances speak for themselves, I shall take the liberty, my love, of saying that I do understand them, and perfectly well too; whatever you and Nicholas may choose to think to the contrary. Why is such a great fuss made because this Miss Magdalen is going to marry somebody who is older than herself? Your poor papa was older than I was--four years and a half older. Jane Dibabs--the Dibabses lived in the beautiful little thatched white house one story high, covered all over with ivy and creeping plants, with an exquisite little porch with twining honysuckles and all sorts of things: where the earwigs used to fall into one's tea on a summer evening, and always fell upon their backs and kicked dreadfully, and where the frogs used to get into the rushlight shades when one stopped all night, and sit up and look through the little holes like Christians--Jane Dibabs, she married a man who was a great deal older than herself, and would marry him, notwithstanding all that could be said to the contrary, and she was so fond of him that nothing was ever equal to it. There was no fuss made about Jane Dibabs, and her husband was a most honourable and excellent man, and everybody spoke well of him. Then why should there by any fuss about this Magdalen?'

`Her husband is much older; he is not her own choice; his character is the very reverse of that which you have just described. Don't you see a broad destinction between the two cases?' said Kate.

To this, Mrs Nickleby only replied that she durst say she was very stupid, indeed she had no doubt she was, for her own children almost as much as told her so, every day of her life; to be sure she was a little older than they, and perhaps some foolish people might think she ought reasonably to know best. However, no doubt she was wrong; of course she was--she always was--she couldn't be right, indeed-- couldn't be expected to be so she had better not expose herself any more; and to all Kate's conciliations and concessions for an hour ensuing, the good lady gave no other replies than--Oh, certainly--why did they ask her?--her opinion was of no consequence--it didn't matter what she said--with many other rejoinders of the same class.

In this frame of mind (expressed, when she had become too resigned for speech, by nods of the head, upliftings of the eyes, and little beginnings of groans, converted, as they attracted attention, into short

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