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Title: Aunt Deborah
Author: Mitford, Mary Russell, 1787-1855
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.

*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "Aunt Deborah" ***


By Mary Russell Mitford

A crosser old woman than Mrs. Deborah Thornby was certainly not to be
found in the whole village of Hilton. Worth, in country phrase, a power
of money, and living (to borrow another rustic expression) upon her
means, the exercise of her extraordinary faculty for grumbling and
scolding seemed the sole occupation of her existence, her only pursuit,
solace, and amusement; and really it would have been a great pity to
have deprived the poor woman of a pastime so consolatory to herself, and
which did harm to nobody: her family consisting only of an old labourer,
to guard the house, take care of her horse, her cow, and her chaise and
cart, and work in the garden, who was happily, for his comfort, stone
deaf, and could not hear her vituperation, and of a parish girl of
twelve, to do the indoor work, who had been so used to be scolded all
her life, that she minded the noise no more than a miller minds the
clack of his mill, or than people who live in a churchyard mind the
sound of the church bells, and would probably, from long habit, have
felt some miss of the sound had it ceased, of which, by the way, there
was small danger, so long as Mrs. Deborah continued in this life. Her
crossness was so far innocent that it hurt nobody except herself. But
she was also cross-grained, and that evil quality is unluckily apt to
injure other people; and did so very materially in the present instance.

Mrs. Deborah was the only daughter of old Simon Thornby, of Chalcott
great farm; she had had one brother, who having married the rosy-cheeked
daughter of the parish clerk, a girl with no portion except her modesty,
her good-nature, and her prettiness, had been discarded by his father,
and after trying various ways to gain a living, and failing in all, had
finally died broken-hearted, leaving the unfortunate clerk's daughter,
rosy-cheeked no longer, and one little boy, to the tender mercy of his
family. Old Simon showed none. He drove his son's widow from the door as
he had before driven off his son; and when he also died, an event
which occurred within a year or two, bequeathed all his property to his
daughter Deborah.

This bequest was exceedingly agreeable to Mrs. Deborah, (for she was
already of an age to assume that title,) who valued money, not certainly
for the comforts and luxuries which it may be the means of procuring,
nor even for its own sake, as the phrase goes, but for that which, to
a woman of her temper, was perhaps the highest that she was capable of
enjoying, the power which wealth confers over all who are connected with
or dependent on its possessor.

The principal subjects of her despotic dominion were the young widow and
her boy, whom she placed in a cottage near her own house, and with whose
comfort and happiness she dallied pretty much as a cat plays with the
mouse which she has got into her clutches, and lets go only to catch
again, or an angler with the trout which he has fairly hooked, and
merely suffers to struggle in the stream until it is sufficiently
exhausted to bring to land. She did not mean to be cruel, but she could
not help it; so her poor mice were mocked with the semblance of liberty,
although surrounded by restraints; and the awful paw seemingly sheathed
in velvet, whilst they were in reality never out of reach of the horrors
of the pat.

It sometimes, however, happens that the little mouse makes her escape
from madam pussy at the very moment when she seems to have the unlucky
trembler actually within her claws; and so it occurred in the present

The dwelling to which Mrs. Deborah retired after the death of her
father, was exceedingly romantic and beautiful in point of situation. It
was a small but picturesque farm-house, on the very banks of the Loddon,
a small branch of which, diverging from the parent stream, and crossed
by a pretty footbridge, swept round the homestead, the orchard
and garden, and went winding along the water meadows in a thousand
glittering meanders, until it was lost in the rich woodlands which
formed the back-ground of the picture. In the month of May, when the
orchard was full of its rosy and pearly blossoms, a forest of lovely
bloom, the meadows yellow with cowslips, and the clear brimming river,
bordered by the golden tufts of the water ranunculus, and garlanded by
the snowy flowers of the hawthorn and the wild cherry, the thin wreath
of smoke curling from the tall, old-fashioned chimneys of the pretty
irregular building, with its porch, and its baywindows, and gable-ends
full of light and shadow,--in that month of beauty it would be difficult
to imagine a more beautiful or a more English landscape.

On the other side of the narrow winding road, parted from Mrs. Deborah's
demesne by a long low bridge of many arches, stood a little rustic mill,
and its small low-browed cottage, with its own varied back-ground of
garden and fruit trees and thickly wooded meadows, extending in long
perspective, a smiling verdant valley of many miles.

Now Chalcott mill, reckoned by everybody else the prettiest point in her
prospect, was to Mrs. Deborah not merely an eye-sore, but a heart-sore,
not on its own account; cantankerous as she was, she had no quarrel with
the innocent buildings, but for the sake of its inhabitants.

Honest John Stokes, the miller, was her cousin-german. People did say
that some forty years before there had been question of a marriage
between the parlies; and really they both denied the thing with so much
vehemence and fury, that one should almost be tempted to believe there
was some truth in the report. Certain it is, that if they had been that
wretched thing a mismatched couple, and had gone on snarling together
all their lives, they could not have hated each other more zealously.
One shall not often meet with anything so perfect in its way as that
aversion. It was none of your silent hatreds that never come to words;
nor of your civil hatreds, that veil themselves under smooth phrases
and smiling looks. Their ill-will was frank, open, and above-board. They
could not afford to come to an absolute breach, because it would have
deprived them of the pleasure of quarrelling; and in spite of the
frequent complaints they were wont to make of their near neighbourhood,
I am convinced that they derived no small gratification from the
opportunities which it afforded them of saying disagreeable things to
each other.

And yet Mr. John Stokes was a well-meaning man, and Mrs. Deborah Thornby
was not an ill-meaning woman. But she was, as I have said before, cross
in the grain; and he--why he was one of those plain-dealing personages
who will speak their whole mind, and who pique themselves upon that sort
of sincerity which is comprised in telling to another all the ill
that they have ever heard, or thought, or imagined concerning him,
in repeating, as if it were a point of duty, all the harm that one
neighbour says of another, and in denouncing, as if it were a sin,
whatever the unlucky person whom they address may happen to do, or to
leave undone.

"I am none of your palavering chaps, to flummer over an old vixen for
the sake of her strong-box. I hate such falseness. I speak the truth and
care for no man," quoth John Stokes.

And accordingly John Stokes never saw Mrs. Deborah Thornby but he
saluted her, pretty much as his mastiff accosted her favourite cat;
erected his bristles, looked at her with savage bloodshot eyes, showed
his teeth, and vented a sound something between a snarl and a growl;
whilst she, (like the fourfooted tabby,) set up her back and spit at him
in return.

They met often, as I have said, for the enjoyment of quarrelling; and as
whatever he advised she was pretty sure _not_ to do, it is probable
that his remonstrances in favour of her friendless relations served to
confirm her in the small tyranny which she exercised towards them.

Such being the state of feeling between these two jangling cousins, it
may be imagined with what indignation Mrs. Deborah found John Stokes,
upon the death of his wife, removing her widowed sister-in-law from the
cottage in which she had placed her, and bringing her home to the mill,
to officiate as his housekeeper, and take charge of a lovely little
girl, his only child. She vowed one of those vows of anger which I fear
are oftener kept than the vows of love, to strike both mother and son
out of her will, (by the way, she had a superstitious horror of that
disagreeable ceremony, and even the temptation of choosing new legatees
whenever the old displeased her, had not been sufficient to induce her
to make one,--the threat did as well,) and never to speak to either of
them again as long as she lived.

She proclaimed this resolution at the rate of twelve times an hour,
(that is to say, once in five minutes,) every day for a fortnight; and
in spite of her well-known caprice, there seemed for once in her life
reason to believe that she would keep her word.

Those prudent and sagacious persons who are so good as to take the
superintendence of other people's affairs, and to tell by the look of
the foot where the shoe pinches and where it does not, all united in
blaming the poor widow for withdrawing herself and her son from Mrs.
Deborah's protection. But besides that no human being can adequately
estimate the misery of leading a life of dependence upon one to whom
scolding was as the air she breathed, without it she must die, a
penurious dependence too, which supplied grudgingly the humblest wants,
and yet would not permit the exertions by which she would joyfully have
endeavoured to support herself;--besides the temptation to exchange Mrs.
Deborah's incessant maundering for the Miller's rough kindness, and her
scanty fare for the coarse plenty of his board,--besides these homely
but natural temptations--hardly to be adequately allowed for by those
who have passed their lives amidst smiling kindness and luxurious
abundance; besides these motives she had a stronger and dearer in her
desire to rescue her boy from the dangers of an enforced and miserable
idleness, and to put him in the way of earning his bread by honest

Through the interest of his grandfather the parish clerk, the little
Edward had been early placed in the Hilton free school, where he had
acquitted himself so much to the satisfaction of the master, that
at twelve years old he was the head boy on the foundation, and took
precedence of the other nine-and-twenty wearers of the full-skirted
blue coats, leathern belts, and tasseled caps, in the various arts of
reading, writing, cyphering, and mensuration. He could flourish a swan
without ever taking his pen from the paper. Nay, there is little doubt
but from long habit he could have flourished it blindfold, like the
man who had so often modelled the wit of Ferney in breadcrumbs, that he
could produce little busts of Voltaire with his hands under the table;
he had not his equal in Practice or the Rule of Three, and his piece,
when sent round at Christmas, was the admiration of the whole parish.

Unfortunately, his arrival at this pre-eminence was also the signal of
his dismissal from the free school. He returned home to his mother,
and as Mrs. Deborah, although hourly complaining of the expense of
supporting a great lubberly boy in idleness, refused to appentice him to
any trade, and even forbade his finding employment in helping her deaf
man of all work to cultivate her garden, which the poor lad, naturally
industrious and active, begged her permission to do, his mother,
considering that no uncertain expectations of money at the death of his
kinswoman could counterbalance the certain evil of dragging on his days
in penury and indolence during her life, wisely determined to betake
herself to the mill, and accept John Stokes's offer of sending Edward
to a friend in town, for the purpose of being placed with a civil
engineer:--a destination with which the boy himself--a fine intelligent
youth, by the way, tall and manly, with black eyes that talked and
laughed, and curling dark hair,--was delighted in every point of view.
He longed for a profession for which he had a decided turn; he longed
to see the world as personified by the city of cities, the unparagoned
London; and he longed more than either to get away from Aunt Deborah,
the storm of whose vituperation seemed ringing in his ears so long as he
continued within sight of her dwelling. One would think the clack of the
mill and the prattle of his pretty cousin Cicely might have drowned
it, but it did not. Nothing short of leaving the spinster fifty miles
behind, and setting the great city between him and her, could efface the

"I hope I am not ungrateful," thought Edward to himself, as he was
trudging London-ward after taking a tender leave of all at the mill; "I
hope I am not ungrateful. I do not think I am, for I would give my right
arm, ay, or my life, if it would serve master John Stokes or please dear
Cissy. But really I do hope never to come within hearing of Aunt Deborah
again, she storms so. I wonder whether all old women are so cross. I
don't think my mother will be, nor Cissy. I am sure Cissy won't Poor
Aunt Deborah! I suppose she can't help it." And with this indulgent
conclusion, Edward wended on his way.

Aunt Deborah's mood was by no means so pacific. She staid at home
fretting, fuming, and chafing, and storming herself hoarse--which, as
the people at the mill took care to keep out of earshot, was all so much
good scolding thrown away. The state of things since Edward's departure
had been so decisive, that even John Stokes thought it wiser to keep
himself aloof for a time; and although they pretty well guessed that she
would take measures to put in effect her threat of disinheritance, the
first outward demonstration came in the shape of a young man (gentleman
I suppose he called himself--ay, there is no doubt but he wrote himself
Esquire) who attended her to church a few Sundays after, and was
admitted to the honour of sitting in the same pew.

Nothing could be more unlike our friend Edward than the stranger.
Fair, freckled, light-haired, light-eyed, with invisible eye-brows and
eye-lashes, insignificant in feature, pert and perking in expression,
and in figure so dwarfed and stunted, that though in point of age he had
evidently attained his full growth, (if one may use the expression to
such a he-doll,) Robert at fifteen would have made two of him,--such was
the new favourite. So far as appearance went, for certain Mrs. Deborah
had not changed for the better.

Gradually it oozed out, as, somehow or other, news, like water, will
find a vent, however small the cranny,--by slow degrees it came to
be understood that Mrs. Deborah's visiter was a certain Mr. Adolphus
Lynfield, clerk to an attorney of no great note in the good town of
Belford Regis, and nearly related, as he affirmed, to the Thornby

Upon hearing these tidings, John Stokes, the son of old Simon Thornly's
sister, marched across the road, and finding the door upon the latch,
entered unannounced into the presence of his enemy.

"I think it my duty to let you know, cousin Deborah, that this
here chap's an impostor--a sham--and that you are a fool," was his
conciliatory opening. "Search the register. The Thornlys have been
yeomen of this parish ever since the time of Elizabeth--more shame to
you for forcing the last of the race to seek his bread elsewhere; and if
you can find such a name as Lynfield amongst 'em, I'll give you leave
to turn me into a pettifogging lawyer--that's all. Saunderses, and
Symondses, and Stokeses, and Mays, you'll find in plenty, but never
a Lynfield. Lynfield, quotha! it sounds like a made-up name in a
story-book! And as for 'Dolphus, why there never was anything like it in
all the generation, except my good old great aunt Dolly, and that stood
for Dorothy. All our names have been christian-like and English, Toms,
and Jacks, and Jems, and Bills, and Sims, and Neds--poor fellow! None of
your outlandish 'Dolphuses. Dang it, I believe the foolish woman likes
the chap the better for having a name she can't speak! Remember, I warn
you he's a sham!" And off strode the honest miller, leaving Mrs.
Deborah too angry for reply, and confirmed both in her prejudice and
prepossession by the natural effect of that spirit of contradiction
which formed so large an ingredient in her composition, and was not
wholly wanting in that of John Stokes.

Years passed away, and in spite of frequent ebbs and flows, the tide of
Mrs. Deborah's favour continued to set towards Mr. Adolphus Lynfield.
Once or twice indeed, report had said that he was fairly discarded,
but the very appearance of the good miller, anxious to improve the
opportunity for his protégé, had been sufficient to determine his cousin
to reinstate Mr. Adolphus in her good graces. Whether she really liked
him is doubtful. He entertained too good an opinion of himself to be
very successful in gaining that of other people.

That the gentleman was not deficient in "left-handed wisdom," was
proved pretty clearly by most of his actions; for instance, when routed
by the downright miller from the position which he had taken up of a
near kinsman by the father's side, he, like an able tactician, wheeled
about and called cousins with Mrs. Deborah's mother; and as that good
lady happened to have borne the very general, almost universal, name of
Smith, which is next to anonymous, even John Stokes could not dislodge
him from that entrenchment But he was not always so dexterous. Cunning
in him lacked the crowning perfection of hiding itself under the
appearance of honesty. His art never looked like nature. It stared
you in the face, and could not deceive the dullest observer. His very
flattery had a tone of falseness that affronted the person flattered;
and Mrs. Deborah, in particular, who did not want for shrewdness, found
it so distasteful, that she would certainly have discarded him upon
that one ground of offence, had not her love of power been unconsciously
propitiated by the perception of the efforts which he made, and the
degradation to which he submitted, in the vain attempt to please her.
She liked the homage offered to "_les beaux yeux de sa cassette_" pretty
much as a young beauty likes the devotion extorted by her charms, and
for the sake of the incense tolerated the worshipper.

Nevertheless there were moments when the conceit which I have mentioned
as the leading characteristic of Mr. Adolphus Lynfield had well nigh
banished him from Chalcott. Piquing himself on the variety and extent
of his knowledge, the universality of his genius, he of course paid
the penalty of other universal geniuses, by being in no small degree
superficial. Not content with understanding every trade better than
those who had followed it all their lives, he had a most unlucky
propensity to put his devices into execution, and as his information
was, for the most part, picked up from the column headed "varieties,"
in the county newspaper, where of course there is some chaff mingled
with the grain, and as the figments in question were generally ill
understood and imperfectly recollected, it is really surprising that the
young gentleman did not occasion more mischief than actually occurred by
the quips and quiddities which he delighted to put in practice whenever
he met with any one simple enough to permit the exercise of his talents.

Some damage he did effect by his experiments, as Mrs. Deborah found to
her cost. He killed a bed of old-fashioned spice cloves, the pride of
her heart, by salting the ground to get rid of the worms. Her broods of
geese also, and of turkeys, fell victims to a new and infallible mode of
feeding, which was to make them twice as fat in half the time. Somehow
or other, they all died under the operation. So did half a score of fine
apple-trees, under an improved method of grafting; whilst a magnificent
brown Bury pear, that covered one end of the house, perished of the
grand discovery of severing the bark to increase the crop. He lamed Mrs.
Deborah's old horse by doctoring him for a prick in shoeing, and ruined
her favourite cow, the best milch cow in the county, by a most needless
attempt to increase her milk.

Now these mischances and misdemeanors, ay, or the half of them, would
undoubtedly have occasioned Mr. Adolphus's dismission, and the recall of
poor Edward, every account of whom was in the highest degree favourable,
had the worthy miller been able to refrain from lecturing his cousin
upon her neglect of the one, and her partiality for the other. It was
really astonishing that John Stokes, a man of sagacity in all other
respects, never could understand that scolding was of all devisable
processes the least likely to succeed in carrying his point with one who
was such a proficient in that accomplishment, that if the old penalty
for female scolds, the ducking-stool, had continued in fashion, she
would have stood an excellent chance of attaining to that distinction.
But so it was. The same blood coursed through their veins, and his
tempestuous good-will and her fiery anger took the same form of violence
and passion.

Nothing but these lectures _could_ have kept Mrs. Deborah constant in
the train of such a trumpery, jiggetting, fidgetty little personage
as Mr. Adolphus,--the more especially as her heart was assailed in its
better and softer parts, by the quiet respectfulness of Mrs. Thornly's
demeanour, who never forgot that she had experienced her protection
in the hour of need, and by the irresistible good-nature of Cicely, a
smiling, rosy, sunny-looking creature, whose only vocation in this world
seemed to be the trying to make everybody as happy as herself.

Mrs. Deborah (with such a humanising taste, she could not, in spite of
her cantankerous temper, be all bad) loved flowers: and Cicely, a
rover of the woods and fields from early childhood, and no despicable
practical gardener, took care to keep her beaupots constantly supplied
from the first snowdrop to the last china rose. Nothing was too large
for Cicely's good-will, nothing too small. Huge chimney jars of lilacs,
laburnums, horse-chestnuts, peonies, and the golden and gorgeous double
furze; china jugs filled with magnificent double stocks, and rich
wallflowers,* with their bitter-sweet odour, like the taste of orange
marmalade, pinks, sweet-peas, and mignonette, from her own little
garden, or woodland posies that might beseem the hand of the faerie
queen, composed of those gems of flowers, the scarlet pimpernel, and the
blue anagallis, the rosy star of the wild geranium, with its aromatic
crimson-tipped leaves, the snowy star of the white ochil, and that third
starry flower the yellow loose-strife, the milk vetch, purple, or pink,
or cream coloured, backed by moss-like leaves and lilac blossoms of the
lousewort, and overhung by the fragrant bells and cool green leaves of
the lily of the valley.

     * Few flowers, (and almost all look best when arranged each
     sort in its separate vase,)--few look so well together as
     the four sorts of double wallflowers. The common dark, (the
     old bloody warrior)--I have a love for those graphic names--
     words which paint the common dark, the common yellow, the
     newer and more intensely coloured dark, and that new gold
     colour still so rare, which is in tint, form, growth,
     hardiness, and profusion, one of the most valuable
     acquisitions to the flower garden. When placed together in
     ajar, the brighter blossoms seem to stand out from those of
     deeper hue, with exactly the sort of relief, the harmonious
     combination of light and shade, that one sometimes sees in
     the rich gilt carving of an old flower-wreathed picture-
     frame, or, better still, it might seem a pot of flowers
     chased in gold, by Benvenuto Cellini, in which the
     workmanship outvalued the metal. Many beaupots are gayer,
     many sweeter, but this is the richest, both for scent and
     colour, that I have ever seen.

It would puzzle a gardener to surpass the elegance and delicacy of such
a nosegay.

Offerings like these did our miller's maiden delight to bring at all
seasons, and under all circumstances, whether of peace or war between
the heads of the two opposite houses; and whenever there chanced to be a
lull in the storm, she availed herself of the opportunity to add to her
simple tribute a dish of eels from the mill-stream, or perch from the
river. That the thought of Edward ("dear Edward," as she always called
him,) might not add somewhat of alacrity to her attentions to his
wayward aunt, I will not venture to deny, but she would have done the
same if Edward had not been in existence, from the mere effect of her
own peacemaking spirit, and a generosity of nature which found more
pleasure in giving than in possessing. A sweet and happy creature was
Cicely; it was difficult even for Mrs. Deborah to resist her gentle
voice and artless smiles.

Affairs were in this posture between the belligerents, sometimes war to
the knife, sometimes a truce under favour of Cissy's white flag, when
one October evening, John Stokes entered the dwelling of his kinswoman
to inform her that Edward's apprenticeship had been some time at an end,
that he had come of age about a month ago, and that his master, for whom
he had continued to work, was so satisfied of his talents, industry, and
integrity, that he had offered to take him into partnership for a sum
incredibly moderate, considering the advantages which such a connexion
would ensure.

"You have more than the money wanted in the Belford Bank, money that
ought to have been his," quoth John Stokes, "besides all your property
in land and houses and the funds; and if you did advance this sum, which
all the world knows is only a small part of what should have belonged to
him in right of his father, it would be as safe as if it was in the Bank
of England, and the interest paid half-yearly. You ought to give it
him out and out; but of course you won't even lend it," pursued this
judicious negotiator; "you keep all your money for that precious chap,
Mr. 'Dolphus, to make ducks and drakes with after you are dead; a fine
jig he'll dance over your grave. You know, I suppose, that we've got the
fellow in a cleft stick about that petition the other day? He persuaded
old Jacob, who's as deaf as a post, to put his mark to it, and when he
was gone, Jacob came to me (I'm the only man in the parish who can make
him hear) to ask what it was about. So upon my explaining the matter,
Jacob found he had got into the wrong box. But as the chap had taken
away his petition, and Jacob could not scratch out his name, what does
he do but set his mark to ours o' t'other side; and we've wrote all
about it to Sir Robert to explain to the Parliament, lest seeing Jacob's
name both ways like, they should think 'twas he, poor fellow, that meant
to humbug 'em. A pretty figure Mr. 'Dolphus 'll cut when the story comes
to be told in the House of Commons! But that's not the worst. He took
the petition to the workhouse, and meeting with little Fan Ropley, who
had been taught to write at our charity-school, and is quick at her pen,
he makes her sign her name at full length, and then strikes a dot over
the _e_ to turn it into Francis, and persuade the great folk up at
Lunnun, that little Fan's a grown-up man. If that chap won't come
someday to be transported for forgery, my name's not John Stokes! Well,
dame, will you let Ned have the money? Yes or no?"

That Mrs. Deborah should have suffered the good miller to proceed with
his harangue without interruption, can only be accounted for on the
score of the loudness of tone on which he piqued himself with so much
justice. When she did take up the word, her reply made up in volubility
and virulence for any deficiency in sound, concluding by a formal
renunciation of her nephew, and a command to his zealous advocate never
again to appear within her doors. Upon which, honest John vowed he never
would, and departed.

Two or three days after this quarrel, Mr. Adolphus having arrived,
as happened not un-frequently, to spend the afternoon at Chalcott,
persuaded his hostess to accompany him to see a pond drawn at the Hall,
to which, as the daughter of one of Sir Robert's old tenants, she would
undoubtedly have the right of _entrée_; and Mrs. Deborah assented to his
request, partly because the weather was fine, and the distance short,
partly, it may be, from a lurking desire to take her chance as a
bystander of a dish of fish; they who need such windfalls least, being
commonly those who are most desirous to put themselves in their way.

Mr. Adolphus Lynfield's reasons were obvious enough. Besides the _ennui_
of a tête-a-tête, all flattery on one side and contradiction on the
other, he was naturally of the fidgetty restless temperament which hates
to be long confined to one place or one occupation, and can never
hear of a gathering of people, whatever might be the occasion, without
longing to find himself amongst them.

Moreover, he had, or professed to have, a passion for field sports of
every description; and having that very season contrived, with his usual
curious infelicity, to get into as many scrapes in shooting as shall
last most sportsmen their whole lives--having shot a spaniel instead of
a hare, a keeper instead of a partridge, and his own foot instead of
a pheasant, and finally, having been taken up for a poacher, although
wholly innocent of the death of any bird that ever wore feathers,--after
all these woeful experiences, (to say nothing of mischances in angling
which might put to shame those of our friend Mr. Thompson,) he found
himself particularly well disposed to a diversion which appeared to
combine in most choice union the appearance of sporting, which he
considered essential to his reputation, with a most happy exemption from
the usual sporting requisites, exertion or skill. All that he would
have to do would be to look on and talk,--to throw out a hint here and
a suggestion there, and find fault with everything and everybody, like a
man who understood what was going forward.

The weather was most propitious; a bright breezy sunny October day, with
light snowy clouds, chased by a keen crisp wind across the deep
blue heavens,--and the beautiful park, the turf of an emerald green,
contrasting with the brown fern and tawny woods, rivalling in richness
and brightness the vivid hues of the autumnal sky. Nothing could
exceed the gorgeous tinting of the magnificent trees, which, whether in
detached clumps or forest-like masses, formed the pride and glory of
the place. The oak still retaining its dark and heavy verdure; the elm
letting fall a shower of yellow leaves, that tinged the ground beneath;
the deep orange of the horse-chestnut, the beech varying from ruddy gold
to greenish brown; and above all, the shining green of the holly, and
the rich purplish red of the old thorns, those hoary thorns, the growth
of centuries, gave to this old English gentleman's seat much of the
variety and beauty of the American backwoods. The house, a stately
ancient mansion, from the porch of which you might expect to see Sir
Roger de Coverley issue, stood half-way up a gentle hill, finely backed
by woods of great extent; and the pond, which was the object of the
visit, was within sight of the windows, but so skilfully veiled by
trees, as to appear of much greater extent than it really was. The
master and mistress of the Hall, with their pretty daughters, were
absent on a tour:--Is any English country family ever at home in the
month of October in these days of fashionable enterprise? They were gone
to visit the temples of Thebes, or the ruins of Carthage, the Fountains
of the Nile or the Falls of Niagara, St. Sophia, or the Kremlin, or some
such pretty little excursion, which ladies and gentlemen now talk of as
familiarly "as maids of puppy dogs." They were away. But enough of
the household remained at Chalcott, to compose, with a few visiters, a
sufficiently numerous and animated group.

The first person whom Mrs. Deborah espied, (and it is remarkable that we
always see first those whom we had rather not see at all,) was her old
enemy the miller,--a fisherman of so much experience and celebrity, that
his presence might have been reckoned upon as certain--busily engaged,
together with some half-dozen stout and active coadjutors, in dragging
the net ashore, amidst a chorus of exclamations and cautions from the
various assistants, and the breathless expectation of the spectators on
the bank, amongst whom were Mrs. Thornly and Cicely, accompanied by a
tall, athletic young man of dark complexion, with peculiarly bright eyes
and curling hair, whom his aunt immediately recognised as Edward.

"How improved he is!" was the thought that flashed across her mind, as
with an air of respectful alacrity he stepped forward to meet her; but
the miller, in tugging at his nets, happened to look towards them, and
ashamed that he of all men should see her change of feeling, she turned
away abruptly, without acknowledging his salutation, and walked off to
the other side with her attendant, Mr. Adolphus.

"Drat the perverse old jade!" exclaimed John Stokes, involuntarily, as
he gave a mighty tug, which brought half the net ashore.

"She's heavy, my good sir!" observed the pompous butler, conceiving that
the honest miller's exclamation had reference to the sport; "only see
how full she is! We shall have a magnificent hawl!"

And the spectators, male and female, crowded round, and the fishermen
exerted themselves so efficiently, that in two minutes the net was on
dry land.

"Nothing but weeds and rubbish!" ejaculated the disappointed butler, a
peculiarly blank look taking the place of his usual self-importance.
"What can have become of the fish?"

"The net has been improperly drawn," observed Mr. Adolphus; "I myself
saw four or five large carp just before it was dragged ashore!"

"Better fling you in, master 'Dolphus, by way of bait!" ejaculated our
friend the miller; "I've seen jacks in this pond that would make no
more bones of swallowing a leg or an arm of such an atomy as you, if
they did not have a try at the whole body, than a shark would of bolting
down Punch in the show; as to carp, everybody that ever fished a pond
knows their tricks. Catch them in a net if you can. They swim round and
round, just to let you look at 'em, and then they drop plump into the
mud, and lie as still and as close as so many stones. But come, Mr.
Tomkins," continued honest John, addressing the butler, "we'll try
again. I'm minded that we shall have better luck this time. Here are
some brave large tench, which never move till the water is disturbed; we
shall have a good chance for them as well as for the jacks. Now, steady
there, you in the boat Throw her in, boys, and mind you don't draw too
fast!" So to work they all went again.

All was proceeding prosperously, and the net, evidently well filled with
fish, was dragging slowly to land, when John Stokes shouted suddenly
from the other side of the pond--"Dang it, if that unlucky chap, master
'Dolphus there, has not got hold of the top of the net! He'll pull it
over. See, that great jack has got out already. Take the net from him,
Tom! He'll let all the fish loose, and tumble in himself, and the water
at that part is deep enough to drown twenty such mannikins. Not that I
think drowning likely to be his fate--witness that petition business,"
muttered John to himself in a sort of parenthesis. "Let go, I say, or
you will be in. Let go, can't ye?" added he, in his loudest tone.

And with the word, Mr. Adolphus, still struggling to retain his hold of
the net, lost his balance and fell in, and catching at the person next
him, who happened to be Mrs. Deborah, with the hope of saving himself,
dragged her in after him.

Both sank, and amidst the confusion that ensued, the shrieks and sobs
of the women, the oaths and exclamations of the men, the danger was
so imminent that both might have been drowned, had not Edward Thornly,
hastily flinging off his coat and hat, plunged in and rescued Mrs.
Deborah, whilst good John Stokes, running round the head of the pond as
nimbly as a boy, did the same kind office for his prime aversion, the
attorney's clerk. What a sound kernel is sometimes hidden under a rough
and rugged rind!

Mr. Adolphus, more frightened than hurt, and with so much of the
conceit washed out of him by his involuntary cold bath, that it might be
accounted one of the most fortunate accidents in his life, was conveyed
to the Hall; but her own house being almost equally near, Mrs. Deborah
was at once taken home, and put comfortably to bed in her own chamber.

About two hours afterwards, the whole of the miller's family, Mrs.
Thornly still pallid and trembling, Cicely smiling through her tears,
and her father as blunt and freespoken as ever, were assembled round the
homely couch of their maiden cousin.

"I tell you I must have the lawyer fetched directly. I can't sleep till
I have made my will;" said Mrs. Deborah.

"Better not," responded John Stokes; "you'll want it altered

"What's that you say, cousin John?" inquired the spinster.

"That if you make your will to night, you'll change your mind
to-morrow," reiterated John Stokes. "Ned's going to be married to my
Cicely," added he, "and that you mayn't like, or if you did like it
this week, you might not like it next So you'd better let matters rest
as they are."

"You're a provoking man, John Stokes," said his cousin--"a very
provoking, obstinate man. But I'll convince you for once. Take that key,
Mrs. Thornly," quoth she, raising herself in bed, and fumbling in an
immense pair of pockets for a small old-fashioned key, "and open the
'scrutoire, and give me the pen and ink, and the old narrow brown book,
that you'll find at the top. Not like his marrying Cicely! Why I always
have loved that child--don't cry, Cissy!--and have always had cause, for
she has been a kind little creature to me. Those dahlias came from her,
and the sweet posy," pursued Mrs. Deborah, pointing to a nosegay of
autumn flowers, the old fragrant monthly rose, mignionette, heliotrope,
cloves, and jessamine, which stood by the bedside. "Ay, that's the book,
Mrs. Thornly; and there, Cissy," continued Aunt Deborah, filling up the
check, with a sum far larger than that required for the partnership--
"there, Cissy, is your marriage portion. Don't cry so, child!" said she,
as the affectionate girl hung round her neck in a passion of grateful
tears--"don't cry, but find out Edward, and send for the lawyer, for I'm
determined to settle my affairs to night And now, John Stokes, I know
I've been a cross old woman, but...."

"Cousin Deborah," interrupted John, seizing her withered hand with a
gripe like a smith's vice,--"Cousin Deborah, thou hast acted nobly,
and I beg thy pardon once for all. God bless thee!--Dang it," added the
honest miller to himself, "I do verily believe that this squabbling has
been mainly my fault, and that if I had not been so provoking she would
not have been so contrary. Well, she has made us all happy, and we must
try to make her happy in return. If we did not, we should deserve to be
soused in the fish-pond along with that unhappy chap, Master 'Dolphus.
For my part," continued the good yeoman, forming with great earnestness
a solemn resolution--"for my part, I've fully made up my mind never
to contradict her again, say what she will. No, not if she says black's
white! It's contradiction that makes women contrary; it sets their backs
up, like. I'll never contradict her again so long as my name's John

*** End of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "Aunt Deborah" ***

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