HomeCharles DickensThe Old Curiosity Shop

The Old Curiosity Shop. Charles Dickens

In her bower she was, but not alone, for besides the old lady her mother of whom mention has recently been made, there were present some half-dozen ladies of the neighborhood who had happened by a strange accident (and also by a little understanding among themselves) to drop in one after another, just about tea-time. This being a season favourable to conversation, and the room being a cool, shady, lazy kind of place, with some plants at the open window shutting out the dust, and interposing pleasantly enough between the tea table within and the old Tower without, it is no wonder that the ladies felt an inclination to talk and linger, especially when there are taken into account the additional inducements of fresh butter, new bread, shrimps, and watercresses.

Now, the ladies being together under these circumstances, it was extremely natural that the discourse should turn upon the propensity of mankind to tyrannize over the weaker sex, and the duty that developed upon the weaker sex to resist that tyranny and assert their rights and dignity. It was natural for four reasons: firstly, because Mrs Quilp being a young woman and notoriously under the dominion of her husband ought to be excited to rebel; secondly, because Mrs Quilp′s parent was known to be laudably shrewish in her disposition and inclined to resist male authority; thirdly, because each visitor wished to show for herself how superior she was in this respect to the generality of her sex; and forthly, because the company being accustomed to acandalise each other in pairs, were deprived of their usual subject of conversation now that they were all assembled in close friendship, and had consequently no better employment than to attack the common enemy.

Moved by these considerations, a stout lady opened the proceedings by inquiring, with an air of great concern and sympathy, how Mr Quilp was; whereunto Mr Quilp′s wife′s mother replied sharply, ′Oh! He was well enough—nothing much was every the matter with him—and ill weeds were sure to thrive.′ All the ladies then sighed in concert, shook their heads gravely, and looked at Mrs Quilp as a martyr.

′Ah!′ said the spokeswoman, ′I wish you′d give her a little of your advice, Mrs Jiniwin′—Mrs Quilp had been a Miss Jiniwin it should be observed—′nobody knows better than you, ma′am, what us women owe to ourselves.′

′Owe indeed, ma′am!′ replied Mrs Jiniwin. ′When my poor husband, her dear father, was alive, if he had ever venture′d a cross word to me, I′d have—′ The good old lady did not finish the sentence, but she twisted off the head of a shrimp with a vindictiveness which seemed to imply that the action was in some degree a substitute for words. In this light it was clearly understood by the other party, who immediately replied with great approbation, ′You quite enter into my feelings, ma′am, and it′s jist what I′d do myself.′

′But you have no call to do it,′ said Mrs Jiniwin. ′Luckily for you, you have no more occasion to do it than I had.′

′No woman need have, if she was true to herself,′ rejoined the stout lady.

′Do you hear that, Betsy?′ said Mrs Jiniwin, in a warning voice. ′How often have I said the same words to you, and almost gone down my knees when I spoke ′em!′

Poor Mrs Quilp, who had looked in a state of helplessness from one face of condolence to another, coloured, smiled, and shook her head doubtfully.

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