'This gentleman, sir, is a parent who is kind enough to compliment me upon the course of education adopted at Dotheboys Hall, which is situated, sir, at the delightful village of Dotheboys, near Greta Bridge in Yorkshire, where youth are boarded, clothed, booked, washed, furnished with pocket-money--'
'Yes, we know all about that, sir,' interrupted Ralph, testily. 'It's in the advertisement.'
'You are very right, sir; it IS in the advertisement,' replied Squeers.
'And in the matter of fact besides,' interrupted Mr Snawley. 'I feel bound to assure you, sir, and I am proud to have this opportunity OF assuring you, that I consider Mr Squeers a gentleman highly virtuous, exemplary, well conducted, and--'
'I make no doubt of it, sir,' interrupted Ralph, checking the torrent of recommendation; 'no doubt of it at all. Suppose we come to business?'
'With all my heart, sir,' rejoined Squeers. '"Never postpone business," is the very first lesson we instil into our commercial pupils. Master Belling, my dear, always remember that; do you hear?'
'Yes, sir,' repeated Master Belling.
'He recollects what it is, does he?' said Ralph.
'Tell the gentleman,' said Squeers.
'"Never,"' repeated Master Belling.
'Very good,' said Squeers; 'go on.'
'Never,' repeated Master Belling again.
'Very good indeed,' said Squeers. 'Yes.'
'P,' suggested Nicholas, good-naturedly.
'Perform--business!' said Master Belling. 'Never--perform-- business!'
'Very well, sir,' said Squeers, darting a withering look at the culprit. 'You and I will perform a little business on our private account by-and-by.'
'And just now,' said Ralph, 'we had better transact our own, perhaps.'
'If you please,' said Squeers.
'Well,' resumed Ralph, 'it's brief enough; soon broached; and I hope easily concluded. You have advertised for an able assistant, sir?'
'Precisely so,' said Squeers.
'And you really want one?'
'Certainly,' answered Squeers.
'Here he is!' said Ralph. 'My nephew Nicholas, hot from school, with everything he learnt there, fermenting in his head, and nothing fermenting in his pocket, is just the man you want.'
'I am afraid,' said Squeers, perplexed with such an application from a youth of Nicholas's figure, 'I am afraid the young man won't suit me.'
'Yes, he will,' said Ralph; 'I know better. Don't be cast down, sir; you will be teaching all the young noblemen in Dotheboys Hall in less than a week's time, unless this gentleman is more obstinate than I take him to be.'
'I fear, sir,' said Nicholas, addressing Mr Squeers, 'that you object to my youth, and to my not being a Master of Arts?'
'The absence of a college degree IS an objection,' replied Squeers, looking as grave as he could, and considerably puzzled, no less by the contrast between the simplicity of the nephew and the worldly manner of the uncle, than by the incomprehensible allusion to the young noblemen under his tuition.
'Look here, sir,' said Ralph; 'I'll put this matter in its true light in two seconds.'
'If you'll have the goodness,' rejoined Squeers.
'This is a boy, or a youth, or a lad, or a young man, or a hobbledehoy, or whatever you like to call him, of eighteen or nineteen, or thereabouts,' said Ralph.
'That I see,' observed the schoolmaster.
'So do I,' said Mr Snawley, thinking it as well to back his new friend occasionally.
'His father is dead, he is wholly ignorant of the world, has no resources whatever, and wants something to do,' said Ralph. 'I recommend him to this splendid establishment of yours, as an opening which will lead him to fortune if he turns it to proper account. Do you see that?'
'Everybody must see that,' replied Squeers, half imitating the sneer with which the old gentleman was regarding his unconscious relative.
'I do, of course,' said Nicholas, eagerly.
'He does, of course, you observe,' said Ralph, in the same dry, hard manner. 'If any caprice of temper should induce him to cast aside this golden opportunity before he has brought it to perfection, I consider myself absolved from extending any assistance to his mother and sister.