Whenever such opportunities as these occurred, it was Squeers's custom to drive over to the market town, every evening, on pretence of urgent business, and stop till ten or eleven o'clock at a tavern he much affected. As the party was not in his way, therefore, but rather afforded a means of compromise with Miss Squeers, he readily yielded his full assent thereunto, and willingly communicated to Nicholas that he was expected to take his tea in the parlour that evening, at five o'clock.
To be sure Miss Squeers was in a desperate flutter as the time approached, and to be sure she was dressed out to the best advantage: with her hair--it had more than a tinge of red, and she wore it in a crop--curled in five distinct rows, up to the very top of her head, and arranged dexterously over the doubtful eye; to say nothing of the blue sash which floated down her back, or the worked apron or the long gloves, or the green gauze scarf worn over one shoulder and under the other; or any of the numerous devices which were to be as so many arrows to the heart of Nicholas. She had scarcely completed these arrangements to her entire satisfaction, when the friend arrived with a whity-brown parcel--flat and three- cornered--containing sundry small adornments which were to be put on upstairs, and which the friend put on, talking incessantly. When Miss Squeers had 'done' the friend's hair, the friend 'did' Miss Squeers's hair, throwing in some striking improvements in the way of ringlets down the neck; and then, when they were both touched up to their entire satisfaction, they went downstairs in full state with the long gloves on, all ready for company.
'Where's John, 'Tilda?' said Miss Squeers.
'Only gone home to clean himself,' replied the friend. 'He will be here by the time the tea's drawn.'
'I do so palpitate,' observed Miss Squeers.
'Ah! I know what it is,' replied the friend.
'I have not been used to it, you know, 'Tilda,' said Miss Squeers, applying her hand to the left side of her sash.
'You'll soon get the better of it, dear,' rejoined the friend. While they were talking thus, the hungry servant brought in the tea- things, and, soon afterwards, somebody tapped at the room door.
'There he is!' cried Miss Squeers. 'Oh 'Tilda!'
'Hush!' said 'Tilda. 'Hem! Say, come in.'
'Come in,' cried Miss Squeers faintly. And in walked Nicholas.
'Good-evening,' said that young gentleman, all unconscious of his conquest. 'I understood from Mr Squeers that--'
'Oh yes; it's all right,' interposed Miss Squeers. 'Father don't tea with us, but you won't mind that, I dare say.' (This was said archly.)
Nicholas opened his eyes at this, but he turned the matter off very coolly--not caring, particularly, about anything just then--and went through the ceremony of introduction to the miller's daughter with so much grace, that that young lady was lost in admiration.
'We are only waiting for one more gentleman,' said Miss Squeers, taking off the teapot lid, and looking in, to see how the tea was getting on.
It was matter of equal moment to Nicholas whether they were waiting for one gentleman or twenty, so he received the intelligence with perfect unconcern; and, being out of spirits, and not seeing any especial reason why he should make himself agreeable, looked out of the window and sighed involuntarily.
As luck would have it, Miss Squeers's friend was of a playful turn, and hearing Nicholas sigh, she took it into her head to rally the lovers on their lowness of spirits.
'But if it's caused by my being here,' said the young lady, 'don't mind me a bit, for I'm quite as bad. You may go on just as you would if you were alone.'
''Tilda,' said Miss Squeers, colouring up to the top row of curls, 'I am ashamed of you;' and here the two friends burst into a variety of giggles, and glanced from time to time, over the tops of their pocket-handkerchiefs, at Nicholas, who from a state of unmixed astonishment, gradually fell into one of irrepressible laughter-- occasioned, partly by the bare notion of his being in love with Miss Squeers, and partly by the preposterous appearance and behaviour of the two girls.