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    Chapter 18

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    Chapter 18
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    CHAPTER 18

    Miss Knag, after doting on Kate Nickleby for three whole Days, makes
    up her Mind to hate her for evermore. The Causes which led Miss
    Knag to form this Resolution

    having no stirring interest for any but those who lead them, are
    disregarded by persons who do not want thought or feeling, but who
    pamper their compassion and need high stimulants to rouse it.

    There are not a few among the disciples of charity who require, in
    their vocation, scarcely less excitement than the votaries of
    pleasure in theirs; and hence it is that diseased sympathy and
    compassion are every day expended on out-of-the-way objects, when
    only too many demands upon the legitimate exercise of the same
    virtues in a healthy state, are constantly within the sight and
    hearing of the most unobservant person alive. In short, charity
    must have its romance, as the novelist or playwright must have his.
    A thief in fustian is a vulgar character, scarcely to be thought of
    by persons of refinement; but dress him in green velvet, with a
    high-crowned hat, and change the scene of his operations, from a
    thickly-peopled city, to a mountain road, and you shall find in him
    the very soul of poetry and adventure. So it is with the one great
    cardinal virtue, which, properly nourished and exercised, leads to,
    if it does not necessarily include, all the others. It must have
    its romance; and the less of real, hard, struggling work-a-day life
    there is in that romance, the better.

    The life to which poor Kate Nickleby was devoted, in consequence of
    the unforeseen train of circumstances already developed in this
    narrative, was a hard one; but lest the very dulness, unhealthy
    confinement, and bodily fatigue, which made up its sum and
    substance, should deprive it of any interest with the mass of the
    charitable and sympathetic, I would rather keep Miss Nickleby
    herself in view just now, than chill them in the outset, by a minute
    and lengthened description of the establishment presided over by
    Madame Mantalini.

    'Well, now, indeed, Madame Mantalini,' said Miss Knag, as Kate was
    taking her weary way homewards on the first night of her novitiate;
    'that Miss Nickleby is a very creditable young person--a very
    creditable young person indeed--hem--upon my word, Madame Mantalini,
    it does very extraordinary credit even to your discrimination that
    you should have found such a very excellent, very well-behaved,
    very--hem--very unassuming young woman to assist in the fitting on.
    I have seen some young women when they had the opportunity of
    displaying before their betters, behave in such a--oh, dear--well--
    but you're always right, Madame Mantalini, always; and as I very
    often tell the young ladies, how you do contrive to be always right,
    when so many people are so often wrong, is to me a mystery indeed.'

    'Beyond putting a very excellent client out of humour, Miss Nickleby
    has not done anything very remarkable today--that I am aware of, at
    least,' said Madame Mantalini in reply.

    'Oh, dear!' said Miss Knag; 'but you must allow a great deal for
    inexperience, you know.'

    'And youth?' inquired Madame.

    'Oh, I say nothing about that, Madame Mantalini,' replied Miss Knag,
    reddening; 'because if youth were any excuse, you wouldn't have--'

    'Quite so good a forewoman as I have, I suppose,' suggested Madame.

    'Well, I never did know anybody like you, Madame Mantalini,'
    rejoined Miss Knag most complacently, 'and that's the fact, for you
    know what one's going to say, before it has time to rise to one's
    lips. Oh, very good! Ha, ha, ha!'

    'For myself,' observed Madame Mantalini, glancing with affected
    carelessness at her assistant, and laughing heartily in her sleeve,
    'I consider Miss Nickleby the most awkward girl I ever saw in my
    life.'

    '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 she 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.

    'Reduced--I should say poor people,' answered Kate, correcting
    herself hastily, for she was afraid of appearing proud, 'must live
    where they can.'

    'Ah! very true, so they must; very proper indeed!' rejoined Miss
    Knag with that sort of half-sigh, which, accompanied by two or three
    slight nods of the head, is pity's small change in general society;
    'and that's what I very often tell my brother, when our servants go
    away ill, one after another, and he thinks the back-kitchen's rather
    too damp for 'em to sleep in. These sort of people, I tell him, are
    glad to sleep anywhere! Heaven suits the back to the burden. What
    a nice thing it is to think that it should be so, isn't it?'

    'Very,' replied Kate.

    'I'll walk with you part of the way, my dear,' said Miss Knag, 'for
    you must go very near our house; and as it's quite dark, and our
    last servant went to the hospital a week ago, with St Anthony's fire
    in her face, I shall be glad of your company.'

    Kate would willingly have excused herself from this flattering
    companionship; but Miss Knag having adjusted her bonnet to her
    entire satisfaction, took her arm with an air which plainly showed
    how much she felt the compliment she was conferring, and they were
    in the street before she could say another word.

    'I fear,' said Kate, hesitating, 'that mama--my mother, I mean--is
    waiting for me.'

    'You needn't make the least apology, my dear,' said Miss Knag,
    smiling sweetly as she spoke; 'I dare say she is a very respectable
    old person, and I shall be quite--hem--quite pleased to know her.'

    As poor Mrs Nickleby was cooling--not her heels alone, but her limbs
    generally at the street corner, Kate had no alternative but to make
    her known to Miss Knag, who, doing the last new carriage customer at
    second-hand, acknowledged the introduction with condescending
    politeness. The three then walked away, arm in arm: with Miss Knag
    in the middle, in a special state of amiability.

    'I have taken such a fancy to your daughter, Mrs Nickleby, you can't
    think,' said Miss Knag, after she had proceeded a little distance in
    dignified silence.

    'I am delighted to hear it,' said Mrs Nickleby; 'though it is
    nothing new to me, that even strangers should like Kate.'

    'Hem!' cried Miss Knag.

    'You will like her better when you know how good she is,' said Mrs
    Nickleby. 'It is a great blessing to me, in my misfortunes, to have
    a child, who knows neither pride nor vanity, and whose bringing-up
    might very well have excused a little of both at first. You don't
    know what it is to lose a husband, Miss Knag.'

    As Miss Knag had never yet known what it was to gain one, it
    followed, very nearly as a matter of course, that she didn't know
    what it was to lose one; so she said, in some haste, 'No, indeed I
    don't,' and said it with an air intending to signify that she should
    like to catch herself marrying anybody--no, no, she knew better than
    that.

    'Kate has improved even in this little time, I have no doubt,' said
    Mrs Nickleby, glancing proudly at her daughter.

    'Oh! of course,' said Miss Knag.

    'And will improve still more,' added Mrs Nickleby.

    'That she will, I'll be bound,' replied Miss Knag, squeezing Kate's
    arm in her own, to point the joke.

    'She always was clever,' said poor Mrs Nickleby, brightening up,
    'always, from a baby. I recollect when she was only two years and a
    half old, that a gentleman who used to visit very much at our house
    --Mr Watkins, you know, Kate, my dear, that your poor papa went bail
    for, who afterwards ran away to the United States, and sent us a
    pair of snow shoes, with such an affectionate letter that it made
    your poor dear father cry for a week. You remember the letter? In
    which he said that he was very sorry he couldn't repay the fifty
    pounds just then, because his capital was all out at interest, and
    he was very busy making his fortune, but that he didn't forget you
    were his god-daughter, and he should take it very unkind if we
    didn't buy you a silver coral and put it down to his old account?
    Dear me, yes, my dear, how stupid you are! and spoke so
    affectionately of the old port wine that he used to drink a bottle
    and a half of every time he came. You must remember, Kate?'

    'Yes, yes, mama; what of him?'

    'Why, that Mr Watkins, my dear,' said Mrs Nickleby slowly, as if she
    were making a tremendous effort to recollect something of paramount
    importance; 'that Mr Watkins--he wasn't any relation, Miss Knag will
    understand, to the Watkins who kept the Old Boar in the village; by-
    the-bye, I don't remember whether it was the Old Boar or the George
    the Third, but it was one of the two, I know, and it's much the
    same--that Mr Watkins said, when you were only two years and a half
    old, that you were one of the most astonishing children he ever saw.
    He did indeed, Miss Knag, and he wasn't at all fond of children, and
    couldn't have had the slightest motive for doing it. I know it was
    he who said so, because I recollect, as well as if it was only
    yesterday, his borrowing twenty pounds of her poor dear papa the
    very moment afterwards.'

    Having quoted this extraordinary and most disinterested testimony to
    her daughter's excellence, Mrs Nickleby stopped to breathe; and Miss
    Knag, finding that the discourse was turning upon family greatness,
    lost no time in striking in, with a small reminiscence on her own
    account.

    'Don't talk of lending money, Mrs Nickleby,' said Miss Knag, 'or
    you'll drive me crazy, perfectly crazy. My mama--hem--was the most
    lovely and beautiful creature, with the most striking and exquisite
    --hem--the most exquisite nose that ever was put upon a human face, I
    do believe, Mrs Nickleby (here Miss Knag rubbed her own nose
    sympathetically); the most delightful and accomplished woman,
    perhaps, that ever was seen; but she had that one failing of lending
    money, and carried it to such an extent that she lent--hem--oh!
    thousands of pounds, all our little fortunes, and what's more, Mrs
    Nickleby, I don't think, if we were to live till--till--hem--till
    the very end of time, that we should ever get them back again. I
    don't indeed.'

    After concluding this effort of invention without being interrupted,
    Miss Knag fell into many more recollections, no less interesting
    than true, the full tide of which, Mrs Nickleby in vain attempting
    to stem, at length sailed smoothly down by adding an under-current
    of her own recollections; and so both ladies went on talking
    together in perfect contentment; the only difference between them
    being, that whereas Miss Knag addressed herself to Kate, and talked
    very loud, Mrs Nickleby kept on in one unbroken monotonous flow,
    perfectly satisfied to be talking and caring very little whether
    anybody listened or not.

    In this manner they walked on, very amicably, until they arrived at
    Miss Knag's brother's, who was an ornamental stationer and small
    circulating library keeper, in a by-street off Tottenham Court Road;
    and who let out by the day, week, month, or year, the newest old
    novels, whereof the titles were displayed in pen-and-ink characters
    on a sheet of pasteboard, swinging at his door-post. As Miss Knag
    happened, at the moment, to be in the middle of an account of her
    twenty-second offer from a gentleman of large property, she insisted
    upon their all going in to supper together; and in they went.

    'Don't go away, Mortimer,' said Miss Knag as they entered the shop.
    'It's only one of our young ladies and her mother. Mrs and Miss
    Nickleby.'

    'Oh, indeed!' said Mr Mortimer Knag. 'Ah!'

    Having given utterance to these ejaculations with a very profound
    and thoughtful air, Mr Knag slowly snuffed two kitchen candles on
    the counter, and two more in the window, and then snuffed himself
    from a box in his waistcoat pocket.

    There was something very impressive in the ghostly air with which
    all this was done; and as Mr Knag was a tall lank gentleman of
    solemn features, wearing spectacles, and garnished with much less
    hair than a gentleman bordering on forty, or thereabouts, usually
    boasts, Mrs Nickleby whispered her daughter that she thought he must
    be literary.

    'Past ten,' said Mr Knag, consulting his watch. 'Thomas, close the
    warehouse.'

    Thomas was a boy nearly half as tall as a shutter, and the warehouse
    was a shop about the size of three hackney coaches.

    'Ah!' said Mr Knag once more, heaving a deep sigh as he restored to
    its parent shelf the book he had been reading. 'Well--yes--I
    believe supper is ready, sister.'

    With another sigh Mr Knag took up the kitchen candles from the
    counter, and preceded the ladies with mournful steps to a back-
    parlour, where a charwoman, employed in the absence of the sick
    servant, and remunerated with certain eighteenpences to be deducted
    from her wages due, was putting the supper out.

    'Mrs Blockson,' said Miss Knag, reproachfully, 'how very often I
    have begged you not to come into the room with your bonnet on!'

    'I can't help it, Miss Knag,' said the charwoman, bridling up on the
    shortest notice. 'There's been a deal o'cleaning to do in this
    house, and if you don't like it, I must trouble you to look out for
    somebody else, for it don't hardly pay me, and that's the truth, if
    I was to be hung this minute.'

    'I don't want any remarks if YOU please,' said Miss Knag, with a
    strong emphasis on the personal pronoun. 'Is there any fire
    downstairs for some hot water presently?'

    'No there is not, indeed, Miss Knag,' replied the substitute; 'and
    so I won't tell you no stories about it.'

    'Then why isn't there?' said Miss Knag.

    'Because there arn't no coals left out, and if I could make coals I
    would, but as I can't I won't, and so I make bold to tell you, Mem,'
    replied Mrs Blockson.

    'Will you hold your tongue--female?' said Mr Mortimer Knag, plunging
    violently into this dialogue.

    'By your leave, Mr Knag,' retorted the charwoman, turning sharp
    round. 'I'm only too glad not to speak in this house, excepting
    when and where I'm spoke to, sir; and with regard to being a female,
    sir, I should wish to know what you considered yourself?'

    'A miserable wretch,' exclaimed Mr Knag, striking his forehead. 'A
    miserable wretch.'

    'I'm very glad to find that you don't call yourself out of your
    name, sir,' said Mrs Blockson; 'and as I had two twin children the
    day before yesterday was only seven weeks, and my little Charley
    fell down a airy and put his elber out, last Monday, I shall take it
    as a favour if you'll send nine shillings, for one week's work, to
    my house, afore the clock strikes ten tomorrow.'

    With these parting words, the good woman quitted the room with great
    ease of manner, leaving the door wide open; Mr Knag, at the same
    moment, flung himself into the 'warehouse,' and groaned aloud.

    'What is the matter with that gentleman, pray?' inquired Mrs
    Nickleby, greatly disturbed by the sound.

    'Is he ill?' inquired Kate, really alarmed.

    'Hush!' replied Miss Knag; 'a most melancholy history. He was once
    most devotedly attached to--hem--to Madame Mantalini.'

    'Bless me!' exclaimed Mrs Nickleby.

    'Yes,' continued Miss Knag, 'and received great encouragement too,
    and confidently hoped to marry her. He has a most romantic heart,
    Mrs Nickleby, as indeed--hem--as indeed all our family have, and the
    disappointment was a dreadful blow. He is a wonderfully
    accomplished man--most extraordinarily accomplished--reads--hem--
    reads every novel that comes out; I mean every novel that--hem--that
    has any fashion in it, of course. The fact is, that he did find so
    much in the books he read, applicable to his own misfortunes, and
    did find himself in every respect so much like the heroes--because
    of course he is conscious of his own superiority, as we all are, and
    very naturally--that he took to scorning everything, and became a
    genius; and I am quite sure that he is, at this very present moment,
    writing another book.'

    'Another book!' repeated Kate, finding that a pause was left for
    somebody to say something.

    'Yes,' said Miss Knag, nodding in great triumph; 'another book, in
    three volumes post octavo. Of course it's a great advantage to him,
    in all his little fashionable descriptions, to have the benefit of
    my--hem--of my experience, because, of course, few authors who write
    about such things can have such opportunities of knowing them as I
    have. He's so wrapped up in high life, that the least allusion to
    business or worldly matters--like that woman just now, for instance--
    quite distracts him; but, as I often say, I think his disappointment
    a great thing for him, because if he hadn't been disappointed he
    couldn't have written about blighted hopes and all that; and the
    fact is, if it hadn't happened as it has, I don't believe his
    genius would ever have come out at all.'

    How much more communicative Miss Knag might have become under more
    favourable circumstances, it is impossible to divine, but as the
    gloomy one was within ear-shot, and the fire wanted making up, her
    disclosures stopped here. To judge from all appearances, and the
    difficulty of making the water warm, the last servant could not have
    been much accustomed to any other fire than St Anthony's; but a
    little brandy and water was made at last, and the guests, having
    been previously regaled with cold leg of mutton and bread and
    cheese, soon afterwards took leave; Kate amusing herself, all the
    way home, with the recollection of her last glimpse of Mr Mortimer
    Knag deeply abstracted in the shop; and Mrs Nickleby by debating
    within herself whether the dressmaking firm would ultimately become
    'Mantalini, Knag, and Nickleby', or 'Mantalini, Nickleby, and Knag'.

    At this high point, Miss Knag's friendship remained for three whole
    days, much to the wonderment of Madame Mantalini's young ladies who
    had never beheld such constancy in that quarter, before; but on the
    fourth, it received a check no less violent than sudden, which thus
    occurred.

    It happened that an old lord of great family, who was going to marry
    a young lady of no family in particular, came with the young lady,
    and the young lady's sister, to witness the ceremony of trying on
    two nuptial bonnets which had been ordered the day before, and
    Madame Mantalini announcing the fact, in a shrill treble, through
    the speaking-pipe, which communicated with the workroom, Miss Knag
    darted hastily upstairs with a bonnet in each hand, and presented
    herself in the show-room, in a charming state of palpitation,
    intended to demonstrate her enthusiasm in the cause. The bonnets
    were no sooner fairly on, than Miss Knag and Madame Mantalini fell
    into convulsions of admiration.

    'A most elegant appearance,' said Madame Mantalini.

    'I never saw anything so exquisite in all my life,' said Miss Knag.

    Now, the old lord, who was a VERY old lord, said nothing, but
    mumbled and chuckled in a state of great delight, no less with the
    nuptial bonnets and their wearers, than with his own address in
    getting such a fine woman for his wife; and the young lady, who was
    a very lively young lady, seeing the old lord in this rapturous
    condition, chased the old lord behind a cheval-glass, and then and
    there kissed him, while Madame Mantalini and the other young lady
    looked, discreetly, another way.

    But, pending the salutation, Miss Knag, who was tinged with
    curiosity, stepped accidentally behind the glass, and encountered
    the lively young lady's eye just at the very moment when she kissed
    the old lord; upon which the young lady, in a pouting manner,
    murmured something about 'an old thing,' and 'great impertinence,'
    and finished by darting a look of displeasure at Miss Knag, and
    smiling contemptuously.

    'Madame Mantalini,' said the young lady.

    'Ma'am,' said Madame Mantalini.

    'Pray have up that pretty young creature we saw yesterday.'

    'Oh yes, do,' said the sister.

    'Of all things in the world, Madame Mantalini,' said the lord's
    intended, throwing herself languidly on a sofa, 'I hate being waited
    upon by frights or elderly persons. Let me always see that young
    creature, I beg, whenever I come.'

    'By all means,' said the old lord; 'the lovely young creature, by
    all means.'

    'Everybody is talking about her,' said the young lady, in the same
    careless manner; 'and my lord, being a great admirer of beauty, must
    positively see her.'

    'She IS universally admired,' replied Madame Mantalini. 'Miss Knag,
    send up Miss Nickleby. You needn't return.'

    'I beg your pardon, Madame Mantalini, what did you say last?' asked
    Miss Knag, trembling.

    'You needn't return,' repeated the superior, sharply. Miss Knag
    vanished without another word, and in all reasonable time was
    replaced by Kate, who took off the new bonnets and put on the old
    ones: blushing very much to find that the old lord and the two young
    ladies were staring her out of countenance all the time.

    'Why, how you colour, child!' said the lord's chosen bride.

    'She is not quite so accustomed to her business, as she will be in a
    week or two,' interposed Madame Mantalini with a gracious smile.

    'I am afraid you have been giving her some of your wicked looks, my
    lord,' said the intended.

    'No, no, no,' replied the old lord, 'no, no, I'm going to be
    married, and lead a new life. Ha, ha, ha! a new life, a new life!
    ha, ha, ha!'

    It was a satisfactory thing to hear that the old gentleman was going
    to lead a new life, for it was pretty evident that his old one would
    not last him much longer. The mere exertion of protracted chuckling
    reduced him to a fearful ebb of coughing and gasping; it was some
    minutes before he could find breath to remark that the girl was too
    pretty for a milliner.

    'I hope you don't think good looks a disqualification for the
    business, my lord,' said Madame Mantalini, simpering.

    'Not by any means,' replied the old lord, 'or you would have left it
    long ago.'

    'You naughty creature,' said the lively lady, poking the peer with
    her parasol; 'I won't have you talk so. How dare you?'

    This playful inquiry was accompanied with another poke, and another,
    and then the old lord caught the parasol, and wouldn't give it up
    again, which induced the other lady to come to the rescue, and some
    very pretty sportiveness ensued.

    'You will see that those little alterations are made, Madame
    Mantalini,' said the lady. 'Nay, you bad man, you positively shall
    go first; I wouldn't leave you behind with that pretty girl, not for
    half a second. I know you too well. Jane, my dear, let him go
    first, and we shall be quite sure of him.'

    The old lord, evidently much flattered by this suspicion, bestowed a
    grotesque leer upon Kate as he passed; and, receiving another tap
    with the parasol for his wickedness, tottered downstairs to the
    door, where his sprightly body was hoisted into the carriage by two
    stout footmen.

    'Foh!' said Madame Mantalini, 'how he ever gets into a carriage
    without thinking of a hearse, I can't think. There, take the things
    away, my dear, take them away.'

    Kate, who had remained during the whole scene with her eyes modestly
    fixed upon the ground, was only too happy to avail herself of the
    permission to retire, and hasten joyfully downstairs to Miss Knag's
    dominion.

    The circumstances of the little kingdom had greatly changed,
    however, during the short period of her absence. In place of Miss
    Knag being stationed in her accustomed seat, preserving all the
    dignity and greatness of Madame Mantalini's representative, that
    worthy soul was reposing on a large box, bathed in tears, while
    three or four of the young ladies in close attendance upon her,
    together with the presence of hartshorn, vinegar, and other
    restoratives, would have borne ample testimony, even without the
    derangement of the head-dress and front row of curls, to her having
    fainted desperately.

    'Bless me!' said Kate, stepping hastily forward, 'what is the
    matter?'

    This inquiry produced in Miss Knag violent symptoms of a relapse;
    and several young ladies, darting angry looks at Kate, applied more
    vinegar and hartshorn, and said it was 'a shame.'

    'What is a shame?' demanded Kate. 'What is the matter? What has
    happened? tell me.'

    'Matter!' cried Miss Knag, coming, all at once, bolt upright, to the
    great consternation of the assembled maidens; 'matter! Fie upon
    you, you nasty creature!'

    'Gracious!' cried Kate, almost paralysed by the violence with which
    the adjective had been jerked out from between Miss Knag's closed
    teeth; 'have I offended you?'

    'YOU offended me!' retorted Miss Knag, 'YOU! a chit, a child, an
    upstart nobody! Oh, indeed! Ha, ha!'

    Now, it was evident, as Miss Knag laughed, that something struck her
    as being exceedingly funny; and as the young ladies took their tone
    from Miss Knag--she being the chief--they all got up a laugh without
    a moment's delay, and nodded their heads a little, and smiled
    sarcastically to each other, as much as to say how very good that
    was!

    'Here she is,' continued Miss Knag, getting off the box, and
    introducing Kate with much ceremony and many low curtseys to the
    delighted throng; 'here she is--everybody is talking about her--the
    belle, ladies--the beauty, the--oh, you bold-faced thing!'

    At this crisis, Miss Knag was unable to repress a virtuous shudder,
    which immediately communicated itself to all the young ladies; after
    which, Miss Knag laughed, and after that, cried.

    'For fifteen years,' exclaimed Miss Knag, sobbing in a most
    affecting manner, 'for fifteen years have I been the credit and
    ornament of this room and the one upstairs. Thank God,' said Miss
    Knag, stamping first her right foot and then her left with
    remarkable energy, 'I have never in all that time, till now, been
    exposed to the arts, the vile arts, of a creature, who disgraces us
    with all her proceedings, and makes proper people blush for
    themselves. But I feel it, I do feel it, although I am disgusted.'

    Miss Knag here relapsed into softness, and the young ladies renewing
    their attentions, murmured that she ought to be superior to such
    things, and that for their part they despised them, and considered
    them beneath their notice; in witness whereof, they called out, more
    emphatically than before, that it was a shame, and that they felt so
    angry, they did, they hardly knew what to do with themselves.

    'Have I lived to this day to be called a fright!' cried Miss Knag,
    suddenly becoming convulsive, and making an effort to tear her front
    off.

    'Oh no, no,' replied the chorus, 'pray don't say so; don't now!'

    'Have I deserved to be called an elderly person?' screamed Miss
    Knag, wrestling with the supernumeraries.

    'Don't think of such things, dear,' answered the chorus.

    'I hate her,' cried Miss Knag; 'I detest and hate her. Never let
    her speak to me again; never let anybody who is a friend of mine
    speak to her; a slut, a hussy, an impudent artful hussy!' Having
    denounced the object of her wrath, in these terms, Miss Knag
    screamed once, hiccuped thrice, gurgled in her throat several times,
    slumbered, shivered, woke, came to, composed her head-dress, and
    declared herself quite well again.

    Poor Kate had regarded these proceedings, at first, in perfect
    bewilderment. She had then turned red and pale by turns, and once
    or twice essayed to speak; but, as the true motives of this altered
    behaviour developed themselves, she retired a few paces, and looked
    calmly on without deigning a reply. Nevertheless, although she
    walked proudly to her seat, and turned her back upon the group of
    little satellites who clustered round their ruling planet in the
    remotest corner of the room, she gave way, in secret, to some such
    bitter tears as would have gladdened Miss Knag's inmost soul, if she
    could have seen them fall.
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    Chapter 18
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