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Title: Cranford
Author: Gaskell, Elizabeth Cleghorn, 1810-1865
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Cranford" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



Transcribed from the 1907 J. M. Dent edition by David Price, email
ccx074@pglaf.org.  Extra proofing by Margaret Price.

                 [Picture: “Oh, sir! can you be Peter?”]



                                 CRANFORD


                                   _by_
                       _Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell_

                  [Picture: Picture of lady pouring tea]

                _With twenty-five coloured illustrations_
                             _by C. E. Brock_

                      [Picture: Decorative graphic]

                                   1904

                      _London_.  _J. M. Dent & Co._
                    _New York_.  _E. P. Dutton & Co._



CONTENTS

              _CHAPTER I_
_Our Society_                         1
             _CHAPTER II_
_The Captain_                        16
             _CHAPTER III_
_A Love Affair of Long Ago_          36
             _CHAPTER IV_
_A Visit to an Old Bachelor_         49
              _CHAPTER V_
_Old Letters_                        65
             _CHAPTER VI_
_Poor Peter_                         80
             _CHAPTER VII_
_Visiting_                           96
            _CHAPTER VIII_
“_Your Ladyship_”                   110
             _CHAPTER IX_
_Signor Brunoni_                    128
              _CHAPTER X_
_The Panic_                         142
             _CHAPTER XI_
_Samuel Brown_                      161
             _CHAPTER XII_
_Engaged to be Married_             177
            _CHAPTER XIII_
_Stopped Payment_                   189
             _CHAPTER XIV_
_Friends in Need_                   204
             _CHAPTER XV_
_A Happy Return_                    228
             _CHAPTER XVI_
_Peace to Cranford_                 245

LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

“_Oh, sir_!  _Can you be Peter_?”                         Frontispiece
_Title-page_                                                 —
_A magnificent family red silk umbrella_                             3
_Meekly going to her pasture_                                        8
_Endeavouring to beguile her into conversation_                     14
_She brought the affrighted carter . . . into the                   24
drawing-room_
“_With his arm round Miss Jessie’s waist_!”                         33
_Mr Holbrook . . . bade us good-bye_                                48
_Now_, _what colour are ash-buds in March_?                         54
_I made us of the time to think of many other                       74
things_
“_Confound the woman_!”                                             82
_The temptation of the comfortable arm-chair had                   106
been too much for her_
_Mr Mulliner_                                                      117
_We gave her a tea-spoonful of currant jelly_                      124
_Afraid of matrimonial reports_                                    140
_Asked him to take care of us_                                     148
_Slaughterous and indiscriminate directions_                       157
_Would stretch out their little arms_                              170
“_What do you think_, _Miss Matty_?”                               179
_Standing over him like a bold dragoon_                            190
“_You must give me your note_, _Mr Dobson_, _if                    198
you please_”
“_Please_, _ma’am, he wants to marry me off hand_”                 213
_Miss Matty and I sat assenting to accounts_                       220
_Smiling glory . . . and becoming blushes_                         231
_I went to call Miss Matty_                                        234

                                * * * * *

_Most of the three-colour blocks used in this book have been made by the
Graphic Photo-Engraving Co._, _London_



CHAPTER I—OUR SOCIETY


IN the first place, Cranford is in possession of the Amazons; all the
holders of houses above a certain rent are women.  If a married couple
come to settle in the town, somehow the gentleman disappears; he is
either fairly frightened to death by being the only man in the Cranford
evening parties, or he is accounted for by being with his regiment, his
ship, or closely engaged in business all the week in the great
neighbouring commercial town of Drumble, distant only twenty miles on a
railroad.  In short, whatever does become of the gentlemen, they are not
at Cranford.  What could they do if they were there?  The surgeon has his
round of thirty miles, and sleeps at Cranford; but every man cannot be a
surgeon.  For keeping the trim gardens full of choice flowers without a
weed to speck them; for frightening away little boys who look wistfully
at the said flowers through the railings; for rushing out at the geese
that occasionally venture in to the gardens if the gates are left open;
for deciding all questions of literature and politics without troubling
themselves with unnecessary reasons or arguments; for obtaining clear and
correct knowledge of everybody’s affairs in the parish; for keeping their
neat maid-servants in admirable order; for kindness (somewhat
dictatorial) to the poor, and real tender good offices to each other
whenever they are in distress, the ladies of Cranford are quite
sufficient.  “A man,” as one of them observed to me once, “is _so_ in the
way in the house!”  Although the ladies of Cranford know all each other’s
proceedings, they are exceedingly indifferent to each other’s opinions.
Indeed, as each has her own individuality, not to say eccentricity,
pretty strongly developed, nothing is so easy as verbal retaliation; but,
somehow, good-will reigns among them to a considerable degree.

The Cranford ladies have only an occasional little quarrel, spirited out
in a few peppery words and angry jerks of the head; just enough to
prevent the even tenor of their lives from becoming too flat.  Their
dress is very independent of fashion; as they observe, “What does it
signify how we dress here at Cranford, where everybody knows us?”  And if
they go from home, their reason is equally cogent, “What does it signify
how we dress here, where nobody knows us?”  The materials of their
clothes are, in general, good and plain, and most of them are nearly as
scrupulous as Miss Tyler, of cleanly memory; but I will answer for it,
the last gigot, the last tight and scanty petticoat in wear in England,
was seen in Cranford—and seen without a smile.

            [Picture: A magnificent family red silk umbrella]

I can testify to a magnificent family red silk umbrella, under which a
gentle little spinster, left alone of many brothers and sisters, used to
patter to church on rainy days.  Have you any red silk umbrellas in
London?  We had a tradition of the first that had ever been seen in
Cranford; and the little boys mobbed it, and called it “a stick in
petticoats.”  It might have been the very red silk one I have described,
held by a strong father over a troop of little ones; the poor little
lady—the survivor of all—could scarcely carry it.

Then there were rules and regulations for visiting and calls; and they
were announced to any young people who might be staying in the town, with
all the solemnity with which the old Manx laws were read once a year on
the Tinwald Mount.

“Our friends have sent to inquire how you are after your journey
to-night, my dear” (fifteen miles in a gentleman’s carriage); “they will
give you some rest to-morrow, but the next day, I have no doubt, they
will call; so be at liberty after twelve—from twelve to three are our
calling hours.”

Then, after they had called—

“It is the third day; I dare say your mamma has told you, my dear, never
to let more than three days elapse between receiving a call and returning
it; and also, that you are never to stay longer than a quarter of an
hour.”

“But am I to look at my watch?  How am I to find out when a quarter of an
hour has passed?”

“You must keep thinking about the time, my dear, and not allow yourself
to forget it in conversation.”

As everybody had this rule in their minds, whether they received or paid
a call, of course no absorbing subject was ever spoken about.  We kept
ourselves to short sentences of small talk, and were punctual to our
time.

I imagine that a few of the gentlefolks of Cranford were poor, and had
some difficulty in making both ends meet; but they were like the
Spartans, and concealed their smart under a smiling face.  We none of us
spoke of money, because that subject savoured of commerce and trade, and
though some might be poor, we were all aristocratic.  The Cranfordians
had that kindly _esprit de corps_ which made them overlook all
deficiencies in success when some among them tried to conceal their
poverty.  When Mrs Forrester, for instance, gave a party in her
baby-house of a dwelling, and the little maiden disturbed the ladies on
the sofa by a request that she might get the tea-tray out from
underneath, everyone took this novel proceeding as the most natural thing
in the world, and talked on about household forms and ceremonies as if we
all believed that our hostess had a regular servants’ hall, second table,
with housekeeper and steward, instead of the one little charity-school
maiden, whose short ruddy arms could never have been strong enough to
carry the tray upstairs, if she had not been assisted in private by her
mistress, who now sat in state, pretending not to know what cakes were
sent up, though she knew, and we knew, and she knew that we knew, and we
knew that she knew that we knew, she had been busy all the morning making
tea-bread and sponge-cakes.

There were one or two consequences arising from this general but
unacknowledged poverty, and this very much acknowledged gentility, which
were not amiss, and which might be introduced into many circles of
society to their great improvement.  For instance, the inhabitants of
Cranford kept early hours, and clattered home in their pattens, under the
guidance of a lantern-bearer, about nine o’clock at night; and the whole
town was abed and asleep by half-past ten.  Moreover, it was considered
“vulgar” (a tremendous word in Cranford) to give anything expensive, in
the way of eatable or drinkable, at the evening entertainments.  Wafer
bread-and-butter and sponge-biscuits were all that the Honourable Mrs
Jamieson gave; and she was sister-in-law to the late Earl of Glenmire,
although she did practise such “elegant economy.”

“Elegant economy!”  How naturally one falls back into the phraseology of
Cranford!  There, economy was always “elegant,” and money-spending always
“vulgar and ostentatious”; a sort of sour-grapeism which made us very
peaceful and satisfied.  I never shall forget the dismay felt when a
certain Captain Brown came to live at Cranford, and openly spoke about
his being poor—not in a whisper to an intimate friend, the doors and
windows being previously closed, but in the public street! in a loud
military voice! alleging his poverty as a reason for not taking a
particular house.  The ladies of Cranford were already rather moaning
over the invasion of their territories by a man and a gentleman.  He was
a half-pay captain, and had obtained some situation on a neighbouring
railroad, which had been vehemently petitioned against by the little
town; and if, in addition to his masculine gender, and his connection
with the obnoxious railroad, he was so brazen as to talk of being
poor—why, then, indeed, he must be sent to Coventry.  Death was as true
and as common as poverty; yet people never spoke about that, loud out in
the streets.  It was a word not to be mentioned to ears polite.  We had
tacitly agreed to ignore that any with whom we associated on terms of
visiting equality could ever be prevented by poverty from doing anything
that they wished.  If we walked to or from a party, it was because the
night was _so_ fine, or the air _so_ refreshing, not because sedan-chairs
were expensive.  If we wore prints, instead of summer silks, it was
because we preferred a washing material; and so on, till we blinded
ourselves to the vulgar fact that we were, all of us, people of very
moderate means.  Of course, then, we did not know what to make of a man
who could speak of poverty as if it was not a disgrace.  Yet, somehow,
Captain Brown made himself respected in Cranford, and was called upon, in
spite of all resolutions to the contrary.  I was surprised to hear his
opinions quoted as authority at a visit which I paid to Cranford about a
year after he had settled in the town.  My own friends had been among the
bitterest opponents of any proposal to visit the Captain and his
daughters, only twelve months before; and now he was even admitted in the
tabooed hours before twelve.  True, it was to discover the cause of a
smoking chimney, before the fire was lighted; but still Captain Brown
walked upstairs, nothing daunted, spoke in a voice too large for the
room, and joked quite in the way of a tame man about the house.  He had
been blind to all the small slights, and omissions of trivial ceremonies,
with which he had been received.  He had been friendly, though the
Cranford ladies had been cool; he had answered small sarcastic
compliments in good faith; and with his manly frankness had overpowered
all the shrinking which met him as a man who was not ashamed to be poor.
And, at last, his excellent masculine common sense, and his facility in
devising expedients to overcome domestic dilemmas, had gained him an
extraordinary place as authority among the Cranford ladies.  He himself
went on in his course, as unaware of his popularity as he had been of the
reverse; and I am sure he was startled one day when he found his advice
so highly esteemed as to make some counsel which he had given in jest to
be taken in sober, serious earnest.

It was on this subject: An old lady had an Alderney cow, which she looked
upon as a daughter.  You could not pay the short quarter of an hour call
without being told of the wonderful milk or wonderful intelligence of
this animal.  The whole town knew and kindly regarded Miss Betsy Barker’s
Alderney; therefore great was the sympathy and regret when, in an
unguarded moment, the poor cow tumbled into a lime-pit.  She moaned so
loudly that she was soon heard and rescued; but meanwhile the poor beast
had lost most of her hair, and came out looking naked, cold, and
miserable, in a bare skin.  Everybody pitied the animal, though a few
could not restrain their smiles at her droll appearance.  Miss Betsy
Barker absolutely cried with sorrow and dismay; and it was said she
thought of trying a bath of oil.  This remedy, perhaps, was recommended
by some one of the number whose advice she asked; but the proposal, if
ever it was made, was knocked on the head by Captain Brown’s decided “Get
her a flannel waistcoat and flannel drawers, ma’am, if you wish to keep
her alive.  But my advice is, kill the poor creature at once.”

Miss Betsy Barker dried her eyes, and thanked the Captain heartily; she
set to work, and by-and-by all the town turned out to see the Alderney
meekly going to her pasture, clad in dark grey flannel.  I have watched
her myself many a time.  Do you ever see cows dressed in grey flannel in
London?

                  [Picture: Meekly going to her pasture]

Captain Brown had taken a small house on the outskirts of the town, where
he lived with his two daughters.  He must have been upwards of sixty at
the time of the first visit I paid to Cranford after I had left it as a
residence.  But he had a wiry, well-trained, elastic figure, a stiff
military throw-back of his head, and a springing step, which made him
appear much younger than he was.  His eldest daughter looked almost as
old as himself, and betrayed the fact that his real was more than his
apparent age.  Miss Brown must have been forty; she had a sickly, pained,
careworn expression on her face, and looked as if the gaiety of youth had
long faded out of sight.  Even when young she must have been plain and
hard-featured.  Miss Jessie Brown was ten years younger than her sister,
and twenty shades prettier.  Her face was round and dimpled.  Miss
Jenkyns once said, in a passion against Captain Brown (the cause of which
I will tell you presently), “that she thought it was time for Miss Jessie
to leave off her dimples, and not always to be trying to look like a
child.”  It was true there was something childlike in her face; and there
will be, I think, till she dies, though she should live to a hundred.
Her eyes were large blue wondering eyes, looking straight at you; her
nose was unformed and snub, and her lips were red and dewy; she wore her
hair, too, in little rows of curls, which heightened this appearance.  I
do not know whether she was pretty or not; but I liked her face, and so
did everybody, and I do not think she could help her dimples.  She had
something of her father’s jauntiness of gait and manner; and any female
observer might detect a slight difference in the attire of the two
sisters—that of Miss Jessie being about two pounds per annum more
expensive than Miss Brown’s.  Two pounds was a large sum in Captain
Brown’s annual disbursements.

Such was the impression made upon me by the Brown family when I first saw
them all together in Cranford Church.  The Captain I had met before—on
the occasion of the smoky chimney, which he had cured by some simple
alteration in the flue.  In church, he held his double eye-glass to his
eyes during the Morning Hymn, and then lifted up his head erect and sang
out loud and joyfully.  He made the responses louder than the clerk—an
old man with a piping feeble voice, who, I think, felt aggrieved at the
Captain’s sonorous bass, and quivered higher and higher in consequence.

On coming out of church, the brisk Captain paid the most gallant
attention to his two daughters.  He nodded and smiled to his
acquaintances; but he shook hands with none until he had helped Miss
Brown to unfurl her umbrella, had relieved her of her prayer-book, and
had waited patiently till she, with trembling nervous hands, had taken up
her gown to walk through the wet roads.

I wonder what the Cranford ladies did with Captain Brown at their
parties.  We had often rejoiced, in former days, that there was no
gentleman to be attended to, and to find conversation for, at the
card-parties.  We had congratulated ourselves upon the snugness of the
evenings; and, in our love for gentility, and distaste of mankind, we had
almost persuaded ourselves that to be a man was to be “vulgar”; so that
when I found my friend and hostess, Miss Jenkyns, was going to have a
party in my honour, and that Captain and the Miss Browns were invited, I
wondered much what would be the course of the evening.  Card-tables, with
green baize tops, were set out by daylight, just as usual; it was the
third week in November, so the evenings closed in about four.  Candles,
and clean packs of cards, were arranged on each table.  The fire was made
up; the neat maid-servant had received her last directions; and there we
stood, dressed in our best, each with a candle-lighter in our hands,
ready to dart at the candles as soon as the first knock came.  Parties in
Cranford were solemn festivities, making the ladies feel gravely elated
as they sat together in their best dresses.  As soon as three had
arrived, we sat down to “Preference,” I being the unlucky fourth.  The
next four comers were put down immediately to another table; and
presently the tea-trays, which I had seen set out in the store-room as I
passed in the morning, were placed each on the middle of a card-table.
The china was delicate egg-shell; the old-fashioned silver glittered with
polishing; but the eatables were of the slightest description.  While the
trays were yet on the tables, Captain and the Miss Browns came in; and I
could see that, somehow or other, the Captain was a favourite with all
the ladies present.  Ruffled brows were smoothed, sharp voices lowered at
his approach.  Miss Brown looked ill, and depressed almost to gloom.
Miss Jessie smiled as usual, and seemed nearly as popular as her father.
He immediately and quietly assumed the man’s place in the room; attended
to every one’s wants, lessened the pretty maid-servant’s labour by
waiting on empty cups and bread-and-butterless ladies; and yet did it all
in so easy and dignified a manner, and so much as if it were a matter of
course for the strong to attend to the weak, that he was a true man
throughout.  He played for threepenny points with as grave an interest as
if they had been pounds; and yet, in all his attention to strangers, he
had an eye on his suffering daughter—for suffering I was sure she was,
though to many eyes she might only appear to be irritable.  Miss Jessie
could not play cards: but she talked to the sitters-out, who, before her
coming, had been rather inclined to be cross.  She sang, too, to an old
cracked piano, which I think had been a spinet in its youth.  Miss Jessie
sang, “Jock of Hazeldean” a little out of tune; but we were none of us
musical, though Miss Jenkyns beat time, out of time, by way of appearing
to be so.

It was very good of Miss Jenkyns to do this; for I had seen that, a
little before, she had been a good deal annoyed by Miss Jessie Brown’s
unguarded admission (_à propos_ of Shetland wool) that she had an uncle,
her mother’s brother, who was a shop-keeper in Edinburgh.  Miss Jenkyns
tried to drown this confession by a terrible cough—for the Honourable Mrs
Jamieson was sitting at a card-table nearest Miss Jessie, and what would
she say or think if she found out she was in the same room with a
shop-keeper’s niece!  But Miss Jessie Brown (who had no tact, as we all
agreed the next morning) _would_ repeat the information, and assure Miss
Pole she could easily get her the identical Shetland wool required,
“through my uncle, who has the best assortment of Shetland goods of any
one in Edinbro’.”  It was to take the taste of this out of our mouths,
and the sound of this out of our ears, that Miss Jenkyns proposed music;
so I say again, it was very good of her to beat time to the song.

When the trays re-appeared with biscuits and wine, punctually at a
quarter to nine, there was conversation, comparing of cards, and talking
over tricks; but by-and-by Captain Brown sported a bit of literature.

“Have you seen any numbers of ‘The Pickwick Papers’?” said he.  (They
were then publishing in parts.)  “Capital thing!”

Now Miss Jenkyns was daughter of a deceased rector of Cranford; and, on
the strength of a number of manuscript sermons, and a pretty good library
of divinity, considered herself literary, and looked upon any
conversation about books as a challenge to her.  So she answered and
said, “Yes, she had seen them; indeed, she might say she had read them.”

“And what do you think of them?” exclaimed Captain Brown.  “Aren’t they
famously good?”

So urged Miss Jenkyns could not but speak.

“I must say, I don’t think they are by any means equal to Dr Johnson.
Still, perhaps, the author is young.  Let him persevere, and who knows
what he may become if he will take the great Doctor for his model?”  This
was evidently too much for Captain Brown to take placidly; and I saw the
words on the tip of his tongue before Miss Jenkyns had finished her
sentence.

“It is quite a different sort of thing, my dear madam,” he began.

“I am quite aware of that,” returned she.  “And I make allowances,
Captain Brown.”

“Just allow me to read you a scene out of this month’s number,” pleaded
he.  “I had it only this morning, and I don’t think the company can have
read it yet.”

“As you please,” said she, settling herself with an air of resignation.
He read the account of the “swarry” which Sam Weller gave at Bath.  Some
of us laughed heartily.  _I_ did not dare, because I was staying in the
house.  Miss Jenkyns sat in patient gravity.  When it was ended, she
turned to me, and said with mild dignity—

“Fetch me ‘Rasselas,’ my dear, out of the book-room.”

When I had brought it to her, she turned to Captain Brown—

“Now allow _me_ to read you a scene, and then the present company can
judge between your favourite, Mr Boz, and Dr Johnson.”

She read one of the conversations between Rasselas and Imlac, in a
high-pitched, majestic voice: and when she had ended, she said, “I
imagine I am now justified in my preference of Dr Johnson as a writer of
fiction.”  The Captain screwed his lips up, and drummed on the table, but
he did not speak.  She thought she would give him a finishing blow or
two.

         [Picture: Endeavouring to beguile her into conversation]

“I consider it vulgar, and below the dignity of literature, to publish in
numbers.”

“How was the _Rambler_ published, ma’am?” asked Captain Brown in a low
voice, which I think Miss Jenkyns could not have heard.

“Dr Johnson’s style is a model for young beginners.  My father
recommended it to me when I began to write letters—I have formed my own
style upon it; I recommended it to your favourite.”

“I should be very sorry for him to exchange his style for any such
pompous writing,” said Captain Brown.

Miss Jenkyns felt this as a personal affront, in a way of which the
Captain had not dreamed.  Epistolary writing she and her friends
considered as her _forte_.  Many a copy of many a letter have I seen
written and corrected on the slate, before she “seized the half-hour just
previous to post-time to assure” her friends of this or of that; and Dr
Johnson was, as she said, her model in these compositions.  She drew
herself up with dignity, and only replied to Captain Brown’s last remark
by saying, with marked emphasis on every syllable, “I prefer Dr Johnson
to Mr Boz.”

It is said—I won’t vouch for the fact—that Captain Brown was heard to
say, _sotto voce_, “D-n Dr Johnson!”  If he did, he was penitent
afterwards, as he showed by going to stand near Miss Jenkyns’ arm-chair,
and endeavouring to beguile her into conversation on some more pleasing
subject.  But she was inexorable.  The next day she made the remark I
have mentioned about Miss Jessie’s dimples.



CHAPTER II—THE CAPTAIN


IT was impossible to live a month at Cranford and not know the daily
habits of each resident; and long before my visit was ended I knew much
concerning the whole Brown trio.  There was nothing new to be discovered
respecting their poverty; for they had spoken simply and openly about
that from the very first.  They made no mystery of the necessity for
their being economical.  All that remained to be discovered was the
Captain’s infinite kindness of heart, and the various modes in which,
unconsciously to himself, he manifested it.  Some little anecdotes were
talked about for some time after they occurred.  As we did not read much,
and as all the ladies were pretty well suited with servants, there was a
dearth of subjects for conversation.  We therefore discussed the
circumstance of the Captain taking a poor old woman’s dinner out of her
hands one very slippery Sunday.  He had met her returning from the
bakehouse as he came from church, and noticed her precarious footing;
and, with the grave dignity with which he did everything, he relieved her
of her burden, and steered along the street by her side, carrying her
baked mutton and potatoes safely home.  This was thought very eccentric;
and it was rather expected that he would pay a round of calls, on the
Monday morning, to explain and apologise to the Cranford sense of
propriety: but he did no such thing: and then it was decided that he was
ashamed, and was keeping out of sight.  In a kindly pity for him, we
began to say, “After all, the Sunday morning’s occurrence showed great
goodness of heart,” and it was resolved that he should be comforted on
his next appearance amongst us; but, lo! he came down upon us, untouched
by any sense of shame, speaking loud and bass as ever, his head thrown
back, his wig as jaunty and well-curled as usual, and we were obliged to
conclude he had forgotten all about Sunday.

Miss Pole and Miss Jessie Brown had set up a kind of intimacy on the
strength of the Shetland wool and the new knitting stitches; so it
happened that when I went to visit Miss Pole I saw more of the Browns
than I had done while staying with Miss Jenkyns, who had never got over
what she called Captain Brown’s disparaging remarks upon Dr Johnson as a
writer of light and agreeable fiction.  I found that Miss Brown was
seriously ill of some lingering, incurable complaint, the pain occasioned
by which gave the uneasy expression to her face that I had taken for
unmitigated crossness.  Cross, too, she was at times, when the nervous
irritability occasioned by her disease became past endurance.  Miss
Jessie bore with her at these times, even more patiently than she did
with the bitter self-upbraidings by which they were invariably succeeded.
Miss Brown used to accuse herself, not merely of hasty and irritable
temper, but also of being the cause why her father and sister were
obliged to pinch, in order to allow her the small luxuries which were
necessaries in her condition.  She would so fain have made sacrifices for
them, and have lightened their cares, that the original generosity of her
disposition added acerbity to her temper.  All this was borne by Miss
Jessie and her father with more than placidity—with absolute tenderness.
I forgave Miss Jessie her singing out of tune, and her juvenility of
dress, when I saw her at home.  I came to perceive that Captain Brown’s
dark Brutus wig and padded coat (alas! too often threadbare) were
remnants of the military smartness of his youth, which he now wore
unconsciously.  He was a man of infinite resources, gained in his barrack
experience.  As he confessed, no one could black his boots to please him
except himself; but, indeed, he was not above saving the little
maid-servant’s labours in every way—knowing, most likely, that his
daughter’s illness made the place a hard one.

He endeavoured to make peace with Miss Jenkyns soon after the memorable
dispute I have named, by a present of a wooden fire-shovel (his own
making), having heard her say how much the grating of an iron one annoyed
her.  She received the present with cool gratitude, and thanked him
formally.  When he was gone, she bade me put it away in the lumber-room;
feeling, probably, that no present from a man who preferred Mr Boz to Dr
Johnson could be less jarring than an iron fire-shovel.

Such was the state of things when I left Cranford and went to Drumble.  I
had, however, several correspondents, who kept me _au fait_ as to the
proceedings of the dear little town.  There was Miss Pole, who was
becoming as much absorbed in crochet as she had been once in knitting,
and the burden of whose letter was something like, “But don’t you forget
the white worsted at Flint’s” of the old song; for at the end of every
sentence of news came a fresh direction as to some crochet commission
which I was to execute for her.  Miss Matilda Jenkyns (who did not mind
being called Miss Matty, when Miss Jenkyns was not by) wrote nice, kind,
rambling letters, now and then venturing into an opinion of her own; but
suddenly pulling herself up, and either begging me not to name what she
had said, as Deborah thought differently, and _she_ knew, or else putting
in a postscript to the effect that, since writing the above, she had been
talking over the subject with Deborah, and was quite convinced that,
etc.—(here probably followed a recantation of every opinion she had given
in the letter).  Then came Miss Jenkyns—Deborah, as she liked Miss Matty
to call her, her father having once said that the Hebrew name ought to be
so pronounced.  I secretly think she took the Hebrew prophetess for a
model in character; and, indeed, she was not unlike the stern prophetess
in some ways, making allowance, of course, for modern customs and
difference in dress.  Miss Jenkyns wore a cravat, and a little bonnet
like a jockey-cap, and altogether had the appearance of a strong-minded
woman; although she would have despised the modern idea of women being
equal to men.  Equal, indeed! she knew they were superior.  But to return
to her letters.  Everything in them was stately and grand like herself.
I have been looking them over (dear Miss Jenkyns, how I honoured her!)
and I will give an extract, more especially because it relates to our
friend Captain Brown:—

“The Honourable Mrs Jamieson has only just quitted me; and, in the course
of conversation, she communicated to me the intelligence that she had
yesterday received a call from her revered husband’s quondam friend, Lord
Mauleverer.  You will not easily conjecture what brought his lordship
within the precincts of our little town.  It was to see Captain Brown,
with whom, it appears, his lordship was acquainted in the ‘plumed wars,’
and who had the privilege of averting destruction from his lordship’s
head when some great peril was impending over it, off the misnomered Cape
of Good Hope.  You know our friend the Honourable Mrs Jamieson’s
deficiency in the spirit of innocent curiosity, and you will therefore
not be so much surprised when I tell you she was quite unable to disclose
to me the exact nature of the peril in question.  I was anxious, I
confess, to ascertain in what manner Captain Brown, with his limited
establishment, could receive so distinguished a guest; and I discovered
that his lordship retired to rest, and, let us hope, to refreshing
slumbers, at the Angel Hotel; but shared the Brunonian meals during the
two days that he honoured Cranford with his august presence.  Mrs
Johnson, our civil butcher’s wife, informs me that Miss Jessie purchased
a leg of lamb; but, besides this, I can hear of no preparation whatever
to give a suitable reception to so distinguished a visitor.  Perhaps they
entertained him with ‘the feast of reason and the flow of soul’; and to
us, who are acquainted with Captain Brown’s sad want of relish for ‘the
pure wells of English undefiled,’ it may be matter for congratulation
that he has had the opportunity of improving his taste by holding
converse with an elegant and refined member of the British aristocracy.
But from some mundane failings who is altogether free?”

Miss Pole and Miss Matty wrote to me by the same post.  Such a piece of
news as Lord Mauleverer’s visit was not to be lost on the Cranford
letter-writers: they made the most of it.  Miss Matty humbly apologised
for writing at the same time as her sister, who was so much more capable
than she to describe the honour done to Cranford; but in spite of a
little bad spelling, Miss Matty’s account gave me the best idea of the
commotion occasioned by his lordship’s visit, after it had occurred; for,
except the people at the Angel, the Browns, Mrs Jamieson, and a little
lad his lordship had sworn at for driving a dirty hoop against the
aristocratic legs, I could not hear of any one with whom his lordship had
held conversation.

My next visit to Cranford was in the summer.  There had been neither
births, deaths, nor marriages since I was there last.  Everybody lived in
the same house, and wore pretty nearly the same well-preserved,
old-fashioned clothes.  The greatest event was, that Miss Jenkyns had
purchased a new carpet for the drawing-room.  Oh, the busy work Miss
Matty and I had in chasing the sunbeams, as they fell in an afternoon
right down on this carpet through the blindless window!  We spread
newspapers over the places and sat down to our book or our work; and, lo!
in a quarter of an hour the sun had moved, and was blazing away on a
fresh spot; and down again we went on our knees to alter the position of
the newspapers.  We were very busy, too, one whole morning, before Miss
Jenkyns gave her party, in following her directions, and in cutting out
and stitching together pieces of newspaper so as to form little paths to
every chair set for the expected visitors, lest their shoes might dirty
or defile the purity of the carpet.  Do you make paper paths for every
guest to walk upon in London?

Captain Brown and Miss Jenkyns were not very cordial to each other.  The
literary dispute, of which I had seen the beginning, was a “raw,” the
slightest touch on which made them wince.  It was the only difference of
opinion they had ever had; but that difference was enough.  Miss Jenkyns
could not refrain from talking at Captain Brown; and, though he did not
reply, he drummed with his fingers, which action she felt and resented as
very disparaging to Dr Johnson.  He was rather ostentatious in his
preference of the writings of Mr Boz; would walk through the streets so
absorbed in them that he all but ran against Miss Jenkyns; and though his
apologies were earnest and sincere, and though he did not, in fact, do
more than startle her and himself, she owned to me she had rather he had
knocked her down, if he had only been reading a higher style of
literature.  The poor, brave Captain! he looked older, and more worn, and
his clothes were very threadbare.  But he seemed as bright and cheerful
as ever, unless he was asked about his daughter’s health.

“She suffers a great deal, and she must suffer more: we do what we can to
alleviate her pain;—God’s will be done!”  He took off his hat at these
last words.  I found, from Miss Matty, that everything had been done, in
fact.  A medical man, of high repute in that country neighbourhood, had
been sent for, and every injunction he had given was attended to,
regardless of expense.  Miss Matty was sure they denied themselves many
things in order to make the invalid comfortable; but they never spoke
about it; and as for Miss Jessie!—“I really think she’s an angel,” said
poor Miss Matty, quite overcome.  “To see her way of bearing with Miss
Brown’s crossness, and the bright face she puts on after she’s been
sitting up a whole night and scolded above half of it, is quite
beautiful.  Yet she looks as neat and as ready to welcome the Captain at
breakfast-time as if she had been asleep in the Queen’s bed all night.
My dear! you could never laugh at her prim little curls or her pink bows
again if you saw her as I have done.”  I could only feel very penitent,
and greet Miss Jessie with double respect when I met her next.  She
looked faded and pinched; and her lips began to quiver, as if she was
very weak, when she spoke of her sister.  But she brightened, and sent
back the tears that were glittering in her pretty eyes, as she said—

“But, to be sure, what a town Cranford is for kindness!  I don’t suppose
any one has a better dinner than usual cooked but the best part of all
comes in a little covered basin for my sister.  The poor people will
leave their earliest vegetables at our door for her.  They speak short
and gruff, as if they were ashamed of it: but I am sure it often goes to
my heart to see their thoughtfulness.”  The tears now came back and
overflowed; but after a minute or two she began to scold herself, and
ended by going away the same cheerful Miss Jessie as ever.

“But why does not this Lord Mauleverer do something for the man who saved
his life?” said I.

“Why, you see, unless Captain Brown has some reason for it, he never
speaks about being poor; and he walked along by his lordship looking as
happy and cheerful as a prince; and as they never called attention to
their dinner by apologies, and as Miss Brown was better that day, and all
seemed bright, I daresay his lordship never knew how much care there was
in the background.  He did send game in the winter pretty often, but now
he is gone abroad.”

I had often occasion to notice the use that was made of fragments and
small opportunities in Cranford; the rose-leaves that were gathered ere
they fell to make into a potpourri for someone who had no garden; the
little bundles of lavender flowers sent to strew the drawers of some
town-dweller, or to burn in the chamber of some invalid.  Things that
many would despise, and actions which it seemed scarcely worth while to
perform, were all attended to in Cranford.  Miss Jenkyns stuck an apple
full of cloves, to be heated and smell pleasantly in Miss Brown’s room;
and as she put in each clove she uttered a Johnsonian sentence.  Indeed,
she never could think of the Browns without talking Johnson; and, as they
were seldom absent from her thoughts just then, I heard many a rolling,
three-piled sentence.

Captain Brown called one day to thank Miss Jenkyns for many little
kindnesses, which I did not know until then that she had rendered.  He
had suddenly become like an old man; his deep bass voice had a quavering
in it, his eyes looked dim, and the lines on his face were deep.  He did
not—could not—speak cheerfully of his daughter’s state, but he talked
with manly, pious resignation, and not much.  Twice over he said, “What
Jessie has been to us, God only knows!” and after the second time, he got
up hastily, shook hands all round without speaking, and left the room.

That afternoon we perceived little groups in the street, all listening
with faces aghast to some tale or other.  Miss Jenkyns wondered what
could be the matter for some time before she took the undignified step of
sending Jenny out to inquire.

Jenny came back with a white face of terror.  “Oh, ma’am!  Oh, Miss
Jenkyns, ma’am!  Captain Brown is killed by them nasty cruel railroads!”
and she burst into tears.  She, along with many others, had experienced
the poor Captain’s kindness.

“How?—where—where?  Good God!  Jenny, don’t waste time in crying, but
tell us something.”  Miss Matty rushed out into the street at once, and
collared the man who was telling the tale.

 [Picture: She brought the affrighted carter . . . into the drawing-room]

“Come in—come to my sister at once, Miss Jenkyns, the rector’s daughter.
Oh, man, man! say it is not true,” she cried, as she brought the
affrighted carter, sleeking down his hair, into the drawing-room, where
he stood with his wet boots on the new carpet, and no one regarded it.

“Please, mum, it is true.  I seed it myself,” and he shuddered at the
recollection.  “The Captain was a-reading some new book as he was deep
in, a-waiting for the down train; and there was a little lass as wanted
to come to its mammy, and gave its sister the slip, and came toddling
across the line.  And he looked up sudden, at the sound of the train
coming, and seed the child, and he darted on the line and cotched it up,
and his foot slipped, and the train came over him in no time.  O Lord,
Lord!  Mum, it’s quite true, and they’ve come over to tell his daughters.
The child’s safe, though, with only a bang on its shoulder as he threw it
to its mammy.  Poor Captain would be glad of that, mum, wouldn’t he?  God
bless him!”  The great rough carter puckered up his manly face, and
turned away to hide his tears.  I turned to Miss Jenkyns.  She looked
very ill, as if she were going to faint, and signed to me to open the
window.

“Matilda, bring me my bonnet.  I must go to those girls.  God pardon me,
if ever I have spoken contemptuously to the Captain!”

Miss Jenkyns arrayed herself to go out, telling Miss Matilda to give the
man a glass of wine.  While she was away, Miss Matty and I huddled over
the fire, talking in a low and awe-struck voice.  I know we cried quietly
all the time.

Miss Jenkyns came home in a silent mood, and we durst not ask her many
questions.  She told us that Miss Jessie had fainted, and that she and
Miss Pole had had some difficulty in bringing her round; but that, as
soon as she recovered, she begged one of them to go and sit with her
sister.

“Mr Hoggins says she cannot live many days, and she shall be spared this
shock,” said Miss Jessie, shivering with feelings to which she dared not
give way.

“But how can you manage, my dear?” asked Miss Jenkyns; “you cannot bear
up, she must see your tears.”

“God will help me—I will not give way—she was asleep when the news came;
she may be asleep yet.  She would be so utterly miserable, not merely at
my father’s death, but to think of what would become of me; she is so
good to me.”  She looked up earnestly in their faces with her soft true
eyes, and Miss Pole told Miss Jenkyns afterwards she could hardly bear
it, knowing, as she did, how Miss Brown treated her sister.

However, it was settled according to Miss Jessie’s wish.  Miss Brown was
to be told her father had been summoned to take a short journey on
railway business.  They had managed it in some way—Miss Jenkyns could not
exactly say how.  Miss Pole was to stop with Miss Jessie.  Mrs Jamieson
had sent to inquire.  And this was all we heard that night; and a
sorrowful night it was.  The next day a full account of the fatal
accident was in the county paper which Miss Jenkyns took in.  Her eyes
were very weak, she said, and she asked me to read it.  When I came to
the “gallant gentleman was deeply engaged in the perusal of a number of
‘Pickwick,’ which he had just received,” Miss Jenkyns shook her head long
and solemnly, and then sighed out, “Poor, dear, infatuated man!”

The corpse was to be taken from the station to the parish church, there
to be interred.  Miss Jessie had set her heart on following it to the
grave; and no dissuasives could alter her resolve.  Her restraint upon
herself made her almost obstinate; she resisted all Miss Pole’s
entreaties and Miss Jenkyns’ advice.  At last Miss Jenkyns gave up the
point; and after a silence, which I feared portended some deep
displeasure against Miss Jessie, Miss Jenkyns said she should accompany
the latter to the funeral.

“It is not fit for you to go alone.  It would be against both propriety
and humanity were I to allow it.”

Miss Jessie seemed as if she did not half like this arrangement; but her
obstinacy, if she had any, had been exhausted in her determination to go
to the interment.  She longed, poor thing, I have no doubt, to cry alone
over the grave of the dear father to whom she had been all in all, and to
give way, for one little half-hour, uninterrupted by sympathy and
unobserved by friendship.  But it was not to be.  That afternoon Miss
Jenkyns sent out for a yard of black crape, and employed herself busily
in trimming the little black silk bonnet I have spoken about.  When it
was finished she put it on, and looked at us for approbation—admiration
she despised.  I was full of sorrow, but, by one of those whimsical
thoughts which come unbidden into our heads, in times of deepest grief, I
no sooner saw the bonnet than I was reminded of a helmet; and in that
hybrid bonnet, half helmet, half jockey-cap, did Miss Jenkyns attend
Captain Brown’s funeral, and, I believe, supported Miss Jessie with a
tender, indulgent firmness which was invaluable, allowing her to weep her
passionate fill before they left.

Miss Pole, Miss Matty, and I, meanwhile attended to Miss Brown: and hard
work we found it to relieve her querulous and never-ending complaints.
But if we were so weary and dispirited, what must Miss Jessie have been!
Yet she came back almost calm as if she had gained a new strength.  She
put off her mourning dress, and came in, looking pale and gentle,
thanking us each with a soft long pressure of the hand.  She could even
smile—a faint, sweet, wintry smile—as if to reassure us of her power to
endure; but her look made our eyes fill suddenly with tears, more than if
she had cried outright.

It was settled that Miss Pole was to remain with her all the watching
livelong night; and that Miss Matty and I were to return in the morning
to relieve them, and give Miss Jessie the opportunity for a few hours of
sleep.  But when the morning came, Miss Jenkyns appeared at the
breakfast-table, equipped in her helmet-bonnet, and ordered Miss Matty to
stay at home, as she meant to go and help to nurse.  She was evidently in
a state of great friendly excitement, which she showed by eating her
breakfast standing, and scolding the household all round.

No nursing—no energetic strong-minded woman could help Miss Brown now.
There was that in the room as we entered which was stronger than us all,
and made us shrink into solemn awestruck helplessness.  Miss Brown was
dying.  We hardly knew her voice, it was so devoid of the complaining
tone we had always associated with it.  Miss Jessie told me afterwards
that it, and her face too, were just what they had been formerly, when
her mother’s death left her the young anxious head of the family, of whom
only Miss Jessie survived.

She was conscious of her sister’s presence, though not, I think, of ours.
We stood a little behind the curtain: Miss Jessie knelt with her face
near her sister’s, in order to catch the last soft awful whispers.

“Oh, Jessie!  Jessie!  How selfish I have been!  God forgive me for
letting you sacrifice yourself for me as you did!  I have so loved
you—and yet I have thought only of myself.  God forgive me!”

“Hush, love! hush!” said Miss Jessie, sobbing.

“And my father, my dear, dear father!  I will not complain now, if God
will give me strength to be patient.  But, oh, Jessie! tell my father how
I longed and yearned to see him at last, and to ask his forgiveness.  He
can never know now how I loved him—oh! if I might but tell him, before I
die!  What a life of sorrow his has been, and I have done so little to
cheer him!”

A light came into Miss Jessie’s face.  “Would it comfort you, dearest, to
think that he does know?—would it comfort you, love, to know that his
cares, his sorrows”—Her voice quivered, but she steadied it into
calmness—“Mary! he has gone before you to the place where the weary are
at rest.  He knows now how you loved him.”

A strange look, which was not distress, came over Miss Brown’s face.  She
did not speak for come time, but then we saw her lips form the words,
rather than heard the sound—“Father, mother, Harry, Archy;”—then, as if
it were a new idea throwing a filmy shadow over her darkened mind—“But
you will be alone, Jessie!”

Miss Jessie had been feeling this all during the silence, I think; for
the tears rolled down her cheeks like rain, at these words, and she could
not answer at first.  Then she put her hands together tight, and lifted
them up, and said—but not to us—“Though He slay me, yet will I trust in
Him.”

In a few moments more Miss Brown lay calm and still—never to sorrow or
murmur more.

After this second funeral, Miss Jenkyns insisted that Miss Jessie should
come to stay with her rather than go back to the desolate house, which,
in fact, we learned from Miss Jessie, must now be given up, as she had
not wherewithal to maintain it.  She had something above twenty pounds a
year, besides the interest of the money for which the furniture would
sell; but she could not live upon that: and so we talked over her
qualifications for earning money.

“I can sew neatly,” said she, “and I like nursing.  I think, too, I could
manage a house, if any one would try me as housekeeper; or I would go
into a shop as saleswoman, if they would have patience with me at first.”

Miss Jenkyns declared, in an angry voice, that she should do no such
thing; and talked to herself about “some people having no idea of their
rank as a captain’s daughter,” nearly an hour afterwards, when she
brought Miss Jessie up a basin of delicately-made arrowroot, and stood
over her like a dragoon until the last spoonful was finished: then she
disappeared.  Miss Jessie began to tell me some more of the plans which
had suggested themselves to her, and insensibly fell into talking of the
days that were past and gone, and interested me so much I neither knew
nor heeded how time passed.  We were both startled when Miss Jenkyns
reappeared, and caught us crying.  I was afraid lest she would be
displeased, as she often said that crying hindered digestion, and I knew
she wanted Miss Jessie to get strong; but, instead, she looked queer and
excited, and fidgeted round us without saying anything.  At last she
spoke.

“I have been so much startled—no, I’ve not been at all startled—don’t
mind me, my dear Miss Jessie—I’ve been very much surprised—in fact, I’ve
had a caller, whom you knew once, my dear Miss Jessie”—

Miss Jessie went very white, then flushed scarlet, and looked eagerly at
Miss Jenkyns.

“A gentleman, my dear, who wants to know if you would see him.”

“Is it?—it is not”—stammered out Miss Jessie—and got no farther.

“This is his card,” said Miss Jenkyns, giving it to Miss Jessie; and
while her head was bent over it, Miss Jenkyns went through a series of
winks and odd faces to me, and formed her lips into a long sentence, of
which, of course, I could not understand a word.

“May he come up?” asked Miss Jenkyns at last.

“Oh, yes! certainly!” said Miss Jessie, as much as to say, this is your
house, you may show any visitor where you like.  She took up some
knitting of Miss Matty’s and began to be very busy, though I could see
how she trembled all over.

Miss Jenkyns rang the bell, and told the servant who answered it to show
Major Gordon upstairs; and, presently, in walked a tall, fine,
frank-looking man of forty or upwards.  He shook hands with Miss Jessie;
but he could not see her eyes, she kept them so fixed on the ground.
Miss Jenkyns asked me if I would come and help her to tie up the
preserves in the store-room; and though Miss Jessie plucked at my gown,
and even looked up at me with begging eye, I durst not refuse to go where
Miss Jenkyns asked.  Instead of tying up preserves in the store-room,
however, we went to talk in the dining-room; and there Miss Jenkyns told
me what Major Gordon had told her; how he had served in the same regiment
with Captain Brown, and had become acquainted with Miss Jessie, then a
sweet-looking, blooming girl of eighteen; how the acquaintance had grown
into love on his part, though it had been some years before he had
spoken; how, on becoming possessed, through the will of an uncle, of a
good estate in Scotland, he had offered and been refused, though with so
much agitation and evident distress that he was sure she was not
indifferent to him; and how he had discovered that the obstacle was the
fell disease which was, even then, too surely threatening her sister.
She had mentioned that the surgeons foretold intense suffering; and there
was no one but herself to nurse her poor Mary, or cheer and comfort her
father during the time of illness.  They had had long discussions; and on
her refusal to pledge herself to him as his wife when all should be over,
he had grown angry, and broken off entirely, and gone abroad, believing
that she was a cold-hearted person whom he would do well to forget.  He
had been travelling in the East, and was on his return home when, at
Rome, he saw the account of Captain Brown’s death in _Galignani_.

Just then Miss Matty, who had been out all the morning, and had only
lately returned to the house, burst in with a face of dismay and outraged
propriety.

“Oh, goodness me!” she said.  “Deborah, there’s a gentleman sitting in
the drawing-room with his arm round Miss Jessie’s waist!”  Miss Matty’s
eyes looked large with terror.

          [Picture: “With his arm around Miss Jessie’s waist!”]

Miss Jenkyns snubbed her down in an instant.

“The most proper place in the world for his arm to be in.  Go away,
Matilda, and mind your own business.”  This from her sister, who had
hitherto been a model of feminine decorum, was a blow for poor Miss
Matty, and with a double shock she left the room.

The last time I ever saw poor Miss Jenkyns was many years after this.
Mrs Gordon had kept up a warm and affectionate intercourse with all at
Cranford.  Miss Jenkyns, Miss Matty, and Miss Pole had all been to visit
her, and returned with wonderful accounts of her house, her husband, her
dress, and her looks.  For, with happiness, something of her early bloom
returned; she had been a year or two younger than we had taken her for.
Her eyes were always lovely, and, as Mrs Gordon, her dimples were not out
of place.  At the time to which I have referred, when I last saw Miss
Jenkyns, that lady was old and feeble, and had lost something of her
strong mind.  Little Flora Gordon was staying with the Misses Jenkyns,
and when I came in she was reading aloud to Miss Jenkyns, who lay feeble
and changed on the sofa.  Flora put down the _Rambler_ when I came in.

“Ah!” said Miss Jenkyns, “you find me changed, my dear.  I can’t see as I
used to do.  If Flora were not here to read to me, I hardly know how I
should get through the day.  Did you ever read the _Rambler_?  It’s a
wonderful book—wonderful! and the most improving reading for Flora”
(which I daresay it would have been, if she could have read half the
words without spelling, and could have understood the meaning of a
third), “better than that strange old book, with the queer name, poor
Captain Brown was killed for reading—that book by Mr Boz, you know—‘Old
Poz’; when I was a girl—but that’s a long time ago—I acted Lucy in ‘Old
Poz.’”  She babbled on long enough for Flora to get a good long spell at
the “Christmas Carol,” which Miss Matty had left on the table.



CHAPTER III—A LOVE AFFAIR OF LONG AGO


I THOUGHT that probably my connection with Cranford would cease after
Miss Jenkyns’s death; at least, that it would have to be kept up by
correspondence, which bears much the same relation to personal
intercourse that the books of dried plants I sometimes see (“Hortus
Siccus,” I think they call the thing) do to the living and fresh flowers
in the lines and meadows.  I was pleasantly surprised, therefore, by
receiving a letter from Miss Pole (who had always come in for a
supplementary week after my annual visit to Miss Jenkyns) proposing that
I should go and stay with her; and then, in a couple of days after my
acceptance, came a note from Miss Matty, in which, in a rather circuitous
and very humble manner, she told me how much pleasure I should confer if
I could spend a week or two with her, either before or after I had been
at Miss Pole’s; “for,” she said, “since my dear sister’s death I am well
aware I have no attractions to offer; it is only to the kindness of my
friends that I can owe their company.”

Of course I promised to come to dear Miss Matty as soon as I had ended my
visit to Miss Pole; and the day after my arrival at Cranford I went to
see her, much wondering what the house would be like without Miss
Jenkyns, and rather dreading the changed aspect of things.  Miss Matty
began to cry as soon as she saw me.  She was evidently nervous from
having anticipated my call.  I comforted her as well as I could; and I
found the best consolation I could give was the honest praise that came
from my heart as I spoke of the deceased.  Miss Matty slowly shook her
head over each virtue as it was named and attributed to her sister; and
at last she could not restrain the tears which had long been silently
flowing, but hid her face behind her handkerchief and sobbed aloud.

“Dear Miss Matty,” said I, taking her hand—for indeed I did not know in
what way to tell her how sorry I was for her, left deserted in the world.
She put down her handkerchief and said—

“My dear, I’d rather you did not call me Matty.  She did not like it; but
I did many a thing she did not like, I’m afraid—and now she’s gone!  If
you please, my love, will you call me Matilda?”

I promised faithfully, and began to practise the new name with Miss Pole
that very day; and, by degrees, Miss Matilda’s feeling on the subject was
known through Cranford, and we all tried to drop the more familiar name,
but with so little success that by-and-by we gave up the attempt.

My visit to Miss Pole was very quiet.  Miss Jenkyns had so long taken the
lead in Cranford that now she was gone, they hardly knew how to give a
party.  The Honourable Mrs Jamieson, to whom Miss Jenkyns herself had
always yielded the post of honour, was fat and inert, and very much at
the mercy of her old servants.  If they chose that she should give a
party, they reminded her of the necessity for so doing: if not, she let
it alone.  There was all the more time for me to hear old-world stories
from Miss Pole, while she sat knitting, and I making my father’s shirts.
I always took a quantity of plain sewing to Cranford; for, as we did not
read much, or walk much, I found it a capital time to get through my
work.  One of Miss Pole’s stories related to a shadow of a love affair
that was dimly perceived or suspected long years before.

Presently, the time arrived when I was to remove to Miss Matilda’s house.
I found her timid and anxious about the arrangements for my comfort.
Many a time, while I was unpacking, did she come backwards and forwards
to stir the fire which burned all the worse for being so frequently
poked.

“Have you drawers enough, dear?” asked she.  “I don’t know exactly how my
sister used to arrange them.  She had capital methods.  I am sure she
would have trained a servant in a week to make a better fire than this,
and Fanny has been with me four months.”

This subject of servants was a standing grievance, and I could not wonder
much at it; for if gentlemen were scarce, and almost unheard of in the
“genteel society” of Cranford, they or their counterparts—handsome young
men—abounded in the lower classes.  The pretty neat servant-maids had
their choice of desirable “followers”; and their mistresses, without
having the sort of mysterious dread of men and matrimony that Miss
Matilda had, might well feel a little anxious lest the heads of their
comely maids should be turned by the joiner, or the butcher, or the
gardener, who were obliged, by their callings, to come to the house, and
who, as ill-luck would have it, were generally handsome and unmarried.
Fanny’s lovers, if she had any—and Miss Matilda suspected her of so many
flirtations that, if she had not been very pretty, I should have doubted
her having one—were a constant anxiety to her mistress.  She was
forbidden, by the articles of her engagement, to have “followers”; and
though she had answered, innocently enough, doubling up the hem of her
apron as she spoke, “Please, ma’am, I never had more than one at a time,”
Miss Matty prohibited that one.  But a vision of a man seemed to haunt
the kitchen.  Fanny assured me that it was all fancy, or else I should
have said myself that I had seen a man’s coat-tails whisk into the
scullery once, when I went on an errand into the store-room at night; and
another evening, when, our watches having stopped, I went to look at the
clock, there was a very odd appearance, singularly like a young man
squeezed up between the clock and the back of the open kitchen-door: and
I thought Fanny snatched up the candle very hastily, so as to throw the
shadow on the clock face, while she very positively told me the time
half-an-hour too early, as we found out afterwards by the church clock.
But I did not add to Miss Matty’s anxieties by naming my suspicions,
especially as Fanny said to me, the next day, that it was such a queer
kitchen for having odd shadows about it, she really was almost afraid to
stay; “for you know, miss,” she added, “I don’t see a creature from six
o’clock tea, till Missus rings the bell for prayers at ten.”

However, it so fell out that Fanny had to leave and Miss Matilda begged
me to stay and “settle her” with the new maid; to which I consented,
after I had heard from my father that he did not want me at home.  The
new servant was a rough, honest-looking, country girl, who had only lived
in a farm place before; but I liked her looks when she came to be hired;
and I promised Miss Matilda to put her in the ways of the house.  The
said ways were religiously such as Miss Matilda thought her sister would
approve.  Many a domestic rule and regulation had been a subject of
plaintive whispered murmur to me during Miss Jenkyns’s life; but now that
she was gone, I do not think that even I, who was a favourite, durst have
suggested an alteration.  To give an instance: we constantly adhered to
the forms which were observed, at meal-times, in “my father, the rector’s
house.”  Accordingly, we had always wine and dessert; but the decanters
were only filled when there was a party, and what remained was seldom
touched, though we had two wine-glasses apiece every day after dinner,
until the next festive occasion arrived, when the state of the remainder
wine was examined into in a family council.  The dregs were often given
to the poor: but occasionally, when a good deal had been left at the last
party (five months ago, it might be), it was added to some of a fresh
bottle, brought up from the cellar.  I fancy poor Captain Brown did not
much like wine, for I noticed he never finished his first glass, and most
military men take several.  Then, as to our dessert, Miss Jenkyns used to
gather currants and gooseberries for it herself, which I sometimes
thought would have tasted better fresh from the trees; but then, as Miss
Jenkyns observed, there would have been nothing for dessert in
summer-time.  As it was, we felt very genteel with our two glasses
apiece, and a dish of gooseberries at the top, of currants and biscuits
at the sides, and two decanters at the bottom.  When oranges came in, a
curious proceeding was gone through.  Miss Jenkyns did not like to cut
the fruit; for, as she observed, the juice all ran out nobody knew where;
sucking (only I think she used some more recondite word) was in fact the
only way of enjoying oranges; but then there was the unpleasant
association with a ceremony frequently gone through by little babies; and
so, after dessert, in orange season, Miss Jenkyns and Miss Matty used to
rise up, possess themselves each of an orange in silence, and withdraw to
the privacy of their own rooms to indulge in sucking oranges.

I had once or twice tried, on such occasions, to prevail on Miss Matty to
stay, and had succeeded in her sister’s lifetime.  I held up a screen,
and did not look, and, as she said, she tried not to make the noise very
offensive; but now that she was left alone, she seemed quite horrified
when I begged her to remain with me in the warm dining-parlour, and enjoy
her orange as she liked best.  And so it was in everything.  Miss
Jenkyns’s rules were made more stringent than ever, because the framer of
them was gone where there could be no appeal.  In all things else Miss
Matilda was meek and undecided to a fault.  I have heard Fanny turn her
round twenty times in a morning about dinner, just as the little hussy
chose; and I sometimes fancied she worked on Miss Matilda’s weakness in
order to bewilder her, and to make her feel more in the power of her
clever servant.  I determined that I would not leave her till I had seen
what sort of a person Martha was; and, if I found her trustworthy, I
would tell her not to trouble her mistress with every little decision.

Martha was blunt and plain-spoken to a fault; otherwise she was a brisk,
well-meaning, but very ignorant girl.  She had not been with us a week
before Miss Matilda and I were astounded one morning by the receipt of a
letter from a cousin of hers, who had been twenty or thirty years in
India, and who had lately, as we had seen by the “Army List,” returned to
England, bringing with him an invalid wife who had never been introduced
to her English relations.  Major Jenkyns wrote to propose that he and his
wife should spend a night at Cranford, on his way to Scotland—at the inn,
if it did not suit Miss Matilda to receive them into her house; in which
case they should hope to be with her as much as possible during the day.
Of course it _must_ suit her, as she said; for all Cranford knew that she
had her sister’s bedroom at liberty; but I am sure she wished the Major
had stopped in India and forgotten his cousins out and out.

“Oh! how must I manage?” asked she helplessly.  “If Deborah had been
alive she would have known what to do with a gentleman-visitor.  Must I
put razors in his dressing-room?  Dear! dear! and I’ve got none.  Deborah
would have had them.  And slippers, and coat-brushes?”  I suggested that
probably he would bring all these things with him.  “And after dinner,
how am I to know when to get up and leave him to his wine?  Deborah would
have done it so well; she would have been quite in her element.  Will he
want coffee, do you think?”  I undertook the management of the coffee,
and told her I would instruct Martha in the art of waiting—in which it
must be owned she was terribly deficient—and that I had no doubt Major
and Mrs Jenkyns would understand the quiet mode in which a lady lived by
herself in a country town.  But she was sadly fluttered.  I made her
empty her decanters and bring up two fresh bottles of wine.  I wished I
could have prevented her from being present at my instructions to Martha,
for she frequently cut in with some fresh direction, muddling the poor
girl’s mind as she stood open-mouthed, listening to us both.

“Hand the vegetables round,” said I (foolishly, I see now—for it was
aiming at more than we could accomplish with quietness and simplicity);
and then, seeing her look bewildered, I added, “take the vegetables round
to people, and let them help themselves.”

“And mind you go first to the ladies,” put in Miss Matilda.  “Always go
to the ladies before gentlemen when you are waiting.”

“I’ll do it as you tell me, ma’am,” said Martha; “but I like lads best.”

We felt very uncomfortable and shocked at this speech of Martha’s, yet I
don’t think she meant any harm; and, on the whole, she attended very well
to our directions, except that she “nudged” the Major when he did not
help himself as soon as she expected to the potatoes, while she was
handing them round.

The major and his wife were quiet unpretending people enough when they
did come; languid, as all East Indians are, I suppose.  We were rather
dismayed at their bringing two servants with them, a Hindoo body-servant
for the Major, and a steady elderly maid for his wife; but they slept at
the inn, and took off a good deal of the responsibility by attending
carefully to their master’s and mistress’s comfort.  Martha, to be sure,
had never ended her staring at the East Indian’s white turban and brown
complexion, and I saw that Miss Matilda shrunk away from him a little as
he waited at dinner.  Indeed, she asked me, when they were gone, if he
did not remind me of Blue Beard?  On the whole, the visit was most
satisfactory, and is a subject of conversation even now with Miss
Matilda; at the time it greatly excited Cranford, and even stirred up the
apathetic and Honourable Mrs Jamieson to some expression of interest,
when I went to call and thank her for the kind answers she had vouchsafed
to Miss Matilda’s inquiries as to the arrangement of a gentleman’s
dressing-room—answers which I must confess she had given in the wearied
manner of the Scandinavian prophetess—

                       “Leave me, leave me to repose.”

And _now_ I come to the love affair.

It seems that Miss Pole had a cousin, once or twice removed, who had
offered to Miss Matty long ago.  Now this cousin lived four or five miles
from Cranford on his own estate; but his property was not large enough to
entitle him to rank higher than a yeoman; or rather, with something of
the “pride which apes humility,” he had refused to push himself on, as so
many of his class had done, into the ranks of the squires.  He would not
allow himself to be called Thomas Holbrook, _Esq._; he even sent back
letters with this address, telling the post-mistress at Cranford that his
name was _Mr_ Thomas Holbrook, yeoman.  He rejected all domestic
innovations; he would have the house door stand open in summer and shut
in winter, without knocker or bell to summon a servant.  The closed fist
or the knob of a stick did this office for him if he found the door
locked.  He despised every refinement which had not its root deep down in
humanity.  If people were not ill, he saw no necessity for moderating his
voice.  He spoke the dialect of the country in perfection, and constantly
used it in conversation; although Miss Pole (who gave me these
particulars) added, that he read aloud more beautifully and with more
feeling than any one she had ever heard, except the late rector.

“And how came Miss Matilda not to marry him?” asked I.

“Oh, I don’t know.  She was willing enough, I think; but you know Cousin
Thomas would not have been enough of a gentleman for the rector and Miss
Jenkyns.”

“Well! but they were not to marry him,” said I, impatiently.

“No; but they did not like Miss Matty to marry below her rank.  You know
she was the rector’s daughter, and somehow they are related to Sir Peter
Arley: Miss Jenkyns thought a deal of that.”

“Poor Miss Matty!” said I.

“Nay, now, I don’t know anything more than that he offered and was
refused.  Miss Matty might not like him—and Miss Jenkyns might never have
said a word—it is only a guess of mine.”

“Has she never seen him since?” I inquired.

“No, I think not.  You see Woodley, Cousin Thomas’s house, lies half-way
between Cranford and Misselton; and I know he made Misselton his
market-town very soon after he had offered to Miss Matty; and I don’t
think he has been into Cranford above once or twice since—once, when I
was walking with Miss Matty, in High Street, and suddenly she darted from
me, and went up Shire Lane.  A few minutes after I was startled by
meeting Cousin Thomas.”

“How old is he?” I asked, after a pause of castle-building.

“He must be about seventy, I think, my dear,” said Miss Pole, blowing up
my castle, as if by gun-powder, into small fragments.

Very soon after—at least during my long visit to Miss Matilda—I had the
opportunity of seeing Mr Holbrook; seeing, too, his first encounter with
his former love, after thirty or forty years’ separation.  I was helping
to decide whether any of the new assortment of coloured silks which they
had just received at the shop would do to match a grey and black
mousseline-delaine that wanted a new breadth, when a tall, thin, Don
Quixote-looking old man came into the shop for some woollen gloves.  I
had never seen the person (who was rather striking) before, and I watched
him rather attentively while Miss Matty listened to the shopman.  The
stranger wore a blue coat with brass buttons, drab breeches, and gaiters,
and drummed with his fingers on the counter until he was attended to.
When he answered the shop-boy’s question, “What can I have the pleasure
of showing you to-day, sir?” I saw Miss Matilda start, and then suddenly
sit down; and instantly I guessed who it was.  She had made some inquiry
which had to be carried round to the other shopman.

“Miss Jenkyns wants the black sarsenet two-and-twopence the yard”; and Mr
Holbrook had caught the name, and was across the shop in two strides.

“Matty—Miss Matilda—Miss Jenkyns!  God bless my soul!  I should not have
known you.  How are you? how are you?”  He kept shaking her hand in a way
which proved the warmth of his friendship; but he repeated so often, as
if to himself, “I should not have known you!” that any sentimental
romance which I might be inclined to build was quite done away with by
his manner.

However, he kept talking to us all the time we were in the shop; and then
waving the shopman with the unpurchased gloves on one side, with “Another
time, sir! another time!” he walked home with us.  I am happy to say my
client, Miss Matilda, also left the shop in an equally bewildered state,
not having purchased either green or red silk.  Mr Holbrook was evidently
full with honest loud-spoken joy at meeting his old love again; he
touched on the changes that had taken place; he even spoke of Miss
Jenkyns as “Your poor sister!  Well, well! we have all our faults”; and
bade us good-bye with many a hope that he should soon see Miss Matty
again.  She went straight to her room, and never came back till our early
tea-time, when I thought she looked as if she had been crying.

              [Picture: Mr Holbrook . . . bade us good-bye]



CHAPTER IV—A VISIT TO AN OLD BACHELOR


A FEW days after, a note came from Mr Holbrook, asking us—impartially
asking both of us—in a formal, old-fashioned style, to spend a day at his
house—a long June day—for it was June now.  He named that he had also
invited his cousin, Miss Pole; so that we might join in a fly, which
could be put up at his house.

I expected Miss Matty to jump at this invitation; but, no!  Miss Pole and
I had the greatest difficulty in persuading her to go.  She thought it
was improper; and was even half annoyed when we utterly ignored the idea
of any impropriety in her going with two other ladies to see her old
lover.  Then came a more serious difficulty.  She did not think Deborah
would have liked her to go.  This took us half a day’s good hard talking
to get over; but, at the first sentence of relenting, I seized the
opportunity, and wrote and despatched an acceptance in her name—fixing
day and hour, that all might be decided and done with.

The next morning she asked me if I would go down to the shop with her;
and there, after much hesitation, we chose out three caps to be sent home
and tried on, that the most becoming might be selected to take with us on
Thursday.

She was in a state of silent agitation all the way to Woodley.  She had
evidently never been there before; and, although she little dreamt I knew
anything of her early story, I could perceive she was in a tremor at the
thought of seeing the place which might have been her home, and round
which it is probable that many of her innocent girlish imaginations had
clustered.  It was a long drive there, through paved jolting lanes.  Miss
Matilda sat bolt upright, and looked wistfully out of the windows as we
drew near the end of our journey.  The aspect of the country was quiet
and pastoral.  Woodley stood among fields; and there was an old-fashioned
garden where roses and currant-bushes touched each other, and where the
feathery asparagus formed a pretty background to the pinks and
gilly-flowers; there was no drive up to the door.  We got out at a little
gate, and walked up a straight box-edged path.

“My cousin might make a drive, I think,” said Miss Pole, who was afraid
of ear-ache, and had only her cap on.

“I think it is very pretty,” said Miss Matty, with a soft plaintiveness
in her voice, and almost in a whisper, for just then Mr Holbrook appeared
at the door, rubbing his hands in very effervescence of hospitality.  He
looked more like my idea of Don Quixote than ever, and yet the likeness
was only external.  His respectable housekeeper stood modestly at the
door to bid us welcome; and, while she led the elder ladies upstairs to a
bedroom, I begged to look about the garden.  My request evidently pleased
the old gentleman, who took me all round the place and showed me his
six-and-twenty cows, named after the different letters of the alphabet.
As we went along, he surprised me occasionally by repeating apt and
beautiful quotations from the poets, ranging easily from Shakespeare and
George Herbert to those of our own day.  He did this as naturally as if
he were thinking aloud, and their true and beautiful words were the best
expression he could find for what he was thinking or feeling.  To be sure
he called Byron “my Lord Byrron,” and pronounced the name of Goethe
strictly in accordance with the English sound of the letters—“As Goethe
says, ‘Ye ever-verdant palaces,’” &c.  Altogether, I never met with a
man, before or since, who had spent so long a life in a secluded and not
impressive country, with ever-increasing delight in the daily and yearly
change of season and beauty.

When he and I went in, we found that dinner was nearly ready in the
kitchen—for so I suppose the room ought to be called, as there were oak
dressers and cupboards all round, all over by the side of the fireplace,
and only a small Turkey carpet in the middle of the flag-floor.  The room
might have been easily made into a handsome dark oak dining-parlour by
removing the oven and a few other appurtenances of a kitchen, which were
evidently never used, the real cooking-place being at some distance.  The
room in which we were expected to sit was a stiffly-furnished, ugly
apartment; but that in which we did sit was what Mr Holbrook called the
counting-house, where he paid his labourers their weekly wages at a great
desk near the door.  The rest of the pretty sitting-room—looking into the
orchard, and all covered over with dancing tree-shadows—was filled with
books.  They lay on the ground, they covered the walls, they strewed the
table.  He was evidently half ashamed and half proud of his extravagance
in this respect.  They were of all kinds—poetry and wild weird tales
prevailing.  He evidently chose his books in accordance with his own
tastes, not because such and such were classical or established
favourites.

“Ah!” he said, “we farmers ought not to have much time for reading; yet
somehow one can’t help it.”

“What a pretty room!” said Miss Matty, _sotto voce_.

“What a pleasant place!” said I, aloud, almost simultaneously.

“Nay! if you like it,” replied he; “but can you sit on these great, black
leather, three-cornered chairs?  I like it better than the best parlour;
but I thought ladies would take that for the smarter place.”

It was the smarter place, but, like most smart things, not at all pretty,
or pleasant, or home-like; so, while we were at dinner, the servant-girl
dusted and scrubbed the counting-house chairs, and we sat there all the
rest of the day.

We had pudding before meat; and I thought Mr Holbrook was going to make
some apology for his old-fashioned ways, for he began—

“I don’t know whether you like newfangled ways.”

“Oh, not at all!” said Miss Matty.

“No more do I,” said he.  “My house-keeper _will_ have these in her new
fashion; or else I tell her that, when I was a young man, we used to keep
strictly to my father’s rule, ‘No broth, no ball; no ball, no beef’; and
always began dinner with broth.  Then we had suet puddings, boiled in the
broth with the beef: and then the meat itself.  If we did not sup our
broth, we had no ball, which we liked a deal better; and the beef came
last of all, and only those had it who had done justice to the broth and
the ball.  Now folks begin with sweet things, and turn their dinners
topsy-turvy.”

When the ducks and green peas came, we looked at each other in dismay; we
had only two-pronged, black-handled forks.  It is true the steel was as
bright as silver; but what were we to do?  Miss Matty picked up her peas,
one by one, on the point of the prongs, much as Aminé ate her grains of
rice after her previous feast with the Ghoul.  Miss Pole sighed over her
delicate young peas as she left them on one side of her plate untasted,
for they _would_ drop between the prongs.  I looked at my host: the peas
were going wholesale into his capacious mouth, shovelled up by his large
round-ended knife.  I saw, I imitated, I survived!  My friends, in spite
of my precedent, could not muster up courage enough to do an ungenteel
thing; and, if Mr Holbrook had not been so heartily hungry, he would
probably have seen that the good peas went away almost untouched.

After dinner, a clay pipe was brought in, and a spittoon; and, asking us
to retire to another room, where he would soon join us, if we disliked
tobacco-smoke, he presented his pipe to Miss Matty, and requested her to
fill the bowl.  This was a compliment to a lady in his youth; but it was
rather inappropriate to propose it as an honour to Miss Matty, who had
been trained by her sister to hold smoking of every kind in utter
abhorrence.  But if it was a shock to her refinement, it was also a
gratification to her feelings to be thus selected; so she daintily
stuffed the strong tobacco into the pipe, and then we withdrew.

“It is very pleasant dining with a bachelor,” said Miss Matty softly, as
we settled ourselves in the counting-house.  “I only hope it is not
improper; so many pleasant things are!”

“What a number of books he has!” said Miss Pole, looking round the room.
“And how dusty they are!”

“I think it must be like one of the great Dr Johnson’s rooms,” said Miss
Matty.  “What a superior man your cousin must be!”

“Yes!” said Miss Pole, “he’s a great reader; but I am afraid he has got
into very uncouth habits with living alone.”

“Oh! uncouth is too hard a word.  I should call him eccentric; very
clever people always are!” replied Miss Matty.

            [Picture: Now, what colour are ash-buds in March]

When Mr Holbrook returned, he proposed a walk in the fields; but the two
elder ladies were afraid of damp, and dirt, and had only very unbecoming
calashes to put on over their caps; so they declined, and I was again his
companion in a turn which he said he was obliged to take to see after his
men.  He strode along, either wholly forgetting my existence, or soothed
into silence by his pipe—and yet it was not silence exactly.  He walked
before me with a stooping gait, his hands clasped behind him; and, as
some tree or cloud, or glimpse of distant upland pastures, struck him, he
quoted poetry to himself, saying it out loud in a grand sonorous voice,
with just the emphasis that true feeling and appreciation give.  We came
upon an old cedar tree, which stood at one end of the house—

    “The cedar spreads his dark-green layers of shade.”

“Capital term—‘layers!’  Wonderful man!”  I did not know whether he was
speaking to me or not; but I put in an assenting “wonderful,” although I
knew nothing about it, just because I was tired of being forgotten, and
of being consequently silent.

He turned sharp round.  “Ay! you may say ‘wonderful.’  Why, when I saw
the review of his poems in _Blackwood_, I set off within an hour, and
walked seven miles to Misselton (for the horses were not in the way) and
ordered them.  Now, what colour are ash-buds in March?”

Is the man going mad? thought I.  He is very like Don Quixote.

“What colour are they, I say?” repeated he vehemently.

“I am sure I don’t know, sir,” said I, with the meekness of ignorance.

“I knew you didn’t.  No more did I—an old fool that I am!—till this young
man comes and tells me.  Black as ash-buds in March.  And I’ve lived all
my life in the country; more shame for me not to know.  Black: they are
jet-black, madam.”  And he went off again, swinging along to the music of
some rhyme he had got hold of.

When we came back, nothing would serve him but he must read us the poems
he had been speaking of; and Miss Pole encouraged him in his proposal, I
thought, because she wished me to hear his beautiful reading, of which
she had boasted; but she afterwards said it was because she had got to a
difficult part of her crochet, and wanted to count her stitches without
having to talk.  Whatever he had proposed would have been right to Miss
Matty; although she did fall sound asleep within five minutes after he
had begun a long poem, called “Locksley Hall,” and had a comfortable nap,
unobserved, till he ended; when the cessation of his voice wakened her
up, and she said, feeling that something was expected, and that Miss Pole
was counting—

“What a pretty book!”

“Pretty, madam! it’s beautiful!  Pretty, indeed!”

“Oh yes!  I meant beautiful!” said she, fluttered at his disapproval of
her word.  “It is so like that beautiful poem of Dr Johnson’s my sister
used to read—I forget the name of it; what was it, my dear?” turning to
me.

“Which do you mean, ma’am?  What was it about?”

“I don’t remember what it was about, and I’ve quite forgotten what the
name of it was; but it was written by Dr Johnson, and was very beautiful,
and very like what Mr Holbrook has just been reading.”

“I don’t remember it,” said he reflectively.  “But I don’t know Dr
Johnson’s poems well.  I must read them.”

As we were getting into the fly to return, I heard Mr Holbrook say he
should call on the ladies soon, and inquire how they got home; and this
evidently pleased and fluttered Miss Matty at the time he said it; but
after we had lost sight of the old house among the trees her sentiments
towards the master of it were gradually absorbed into a distressing
wonder as to whether Martha had broken her word, and seized on the
opportunity of her mistress’s absence to have a “follower.”  Martha
looked good, and steady, and composed enough, as she came to help us out;
she was always careful of Miss Matty, and to-night she made use of this
unlucky speech—

“Eh! dear ma’am, to think of your going out in an evening in such a thin
shawl!  It’s no better than muslin.  At your age, ma’am, you should be
careful.”

“My age!” said Miss Matty, almost speaking crossly, for her, for she was
usually gentle—“My age!  Why, how old do you think I am, that you talk
about my age?”

“Well, ma’am, I should say you were not far short of sixty: but folks’
looks is often against them—and I’m sure I meant no harm.”

“Martha, I’m not yet fifty-two!” said Miss Matty, with grave emphasis;
for probably the remembrance of her youth had come very vividly before
her this day, and she was annoyed at finding that golden time so far away
in the past.

But she never spoke of any former and more intimate acquaintance with Mr
Holbrook.  She had probably met with so little sympathy in her early
love, that she had shut it up close in her heart; and it was only by a
sort of watching, which I could hardly avoid since Miss Pole’s
confidence, that I saw how faithful her poor heart had been in its sorrow
and its silence.

She gave me some good reason for wearing her best cap every day, and sat
near the window, in spite of her rheumatism, in order to see, without
being seen, down into the street.

He came.  He put his open palms upon his knees, which were far apart, as
he sat with his head bent down, whistling, after we had replied to his
inquiries about our safe return.  Suddenly he jumped up—

“Well, madam! have you any commands for Paris?  I am going there in a
week or two.”

“To Paris!” we both exclaimed.

“Yes, madam!  I’ve never been there, and always had a wish to go; and I
think if I don’t go soon, I mayn’t go at all; so as soon as the hay is
got in I shall go, before harvest time.”

We were so much astonished that we had no commissions.

Just as he was going out of the room, he turned back, with his favourite
exclamation—

“God bless my soul, madam! but I nearly forgot half my errand.  Here are
the poems for you you admired so much the other evening at my house.”  He
tugged away at a parcel in his coat-pocket.  “Good-bye, miss,” said he;
“good-bye, Matty! take care of yourself.”  And he was gone.  But he had
given her a book, and he had called her Matty, just as he used to do
thirty years to.

“I wish he would not go to Paris,” said Miss Matilda anxiously.  “I don’t
believe frogs will agree with him; he used to have to be very careful
what he ate, which was curious in so strong-looking a young man.”

Soon after this I took my leave, giving many an injunction to Martha to
look after her mistress, and to let me know if she thought that Miss
Matilda was not so well; in which case I would volunteer a visit to my
old friend, without noticing Martha’s intelligence to her.

Accordingly I received a line or two from Martha every now and then; and,
about November I had a note to say her mistress was “very low and sadly
off her food”; and the account made me so uneasy that, although Martha
did not decidedly summon me, I packed up my things and went.

I received a warm welcome, in spite of the little flurry produced by my
impromptu visit, for I had only been able to give a day’s notice.  Miss
Matilda looked miserably ill; and I prepared to comfort and cosset her.

I went down to have a private talk with Martha.

“How long has your mistress been so poorly?” I asked, as I stood by the
kitchen fire.

“Well!  I think it’s better than a fortnight; it is, I know; it was one
Tuesday, after Miss Pole had been, that she went into this moping way.  I
thought she was tired, and it would go off with a night’s rest; but no!
she has gone on and on ever since, till I thought it my duty to write to
you, ma’am.”

“You did quite right, Martha.  It is a comfort to think she has so
faithful a servant about her.  And I hope you find your place
comfortable?”

“Well, ma’am, missus is very kind, and there’s plenty to eat and drink,
and no more work but what I can do easily—but—” Martha hesitated.

“But what, Martha?”

“Why, it seems so hard of missus not to let me have any followers;
there’s such lots of young fellows in the town; and many a one has as
much as offered to keep company with me; and I may never be in such a
likely place again, and it’s like wasting an opportunity.  Many a girl as
I know would have ’em unbeknownst to missus; but I’ve given my word, and
I’ll stick to it; or else this is just the house for missus never to be
the wiser if they did come: and it’s such a capable kitchen—there’s such
dark corners in it—I’d be bound to hide any one.  I counted up last
Sunday night—for I’ll not deny I was crying because I had to shut the
door in Jem Hearn’s face, and he’s a steady young man, fit for any girl;
only I had given missus my word.”  Martha was all but crying again; and I
had little comfort to give her, for I knew, from old experience, of the
horror with which both the Miss Jenkynses looked upon “followers”; and in
Miss Matty’s present nervous state this dread was not likely to be
lessened.

I went to see Miss Pole the next day, and took her completely by
surprise, for she had not been to see Miss Matilda for two days.

“And now I must go back with you, my dear, for I promised to let her know
how Thomas Holbrook went on; and, I’m sorry to say, his housekeeper has
sent me word to-day that he hasn’t long to live.  Poor Thomas! that
journey to Paris was quite too much for him.  His housekeeper says he has
hardly ever been round his fields since, but just sits with his hands on
his knees in the counting-house, not reading or anything, but only saying
what a wonderful city Paris was!  Paris has much to answer for if it’s
killed my cousin Thomas, for a better man never lived.”

“Does Miss Matilda know of his illness?” asked I—a new light as to the
cause of her indisposition dawning upon me.

“Dear! to be sure, yes!  Has not she told you?  I let her know a
fortnight ago, or more, when first I heard of it.  How odd she shouldn’t
have told you!”

Not at all, I thought; but I did not say anything.  I felt almost guilty
of having spied too curiously into that tender heart, and I was not going
to speak of its secrets—hidden, Miss Matty believed, from all the world.
I ushered Miss Pole into Miss Matilda’s little drawing-room, and then
left them alone.  But I was not surprised when Martha came to my bedroom
door, to ask me to go down to dinner alone, for that missus had one of
her bad headaches.  She came into the drawing-room at tea-time, but it
was evidently an effort to her; and, as if to make up for some
reproachful feeling against her late sister, Miss Jenkyns, which had been
troubling her all the afternoon, and for which she now felt penitent, she
kept telling me how good and how clever Deborah was in her youth; how she
used to settle what gowns they were to wear at all the parties (faint,
ghostly ideas of grim parties, far away in the distance, when Miss Matty
and Miss Pole were young!); and how Deborah and her mother had started
the benefit society for the poor, and taught girls cooking and plain
sewing; and how Deborah had once danced with a lord; and how she used to
visit at Sir Peter Arley’s, and tried to remodel the quiet rectory
establishment on the plans of Arley Hall, where they kept thirty
servants; and how she had nursed Miss Matty through a long, long illness,
of which I had never heard before, but which I now dated in my own mind
as following the dismissal of the suit of Mr Holbrook.  So we talked
softly and quietly of old times through the long November evening.

The next day Miss Pole brought us word that Mr Holbrook was dead.  Miss
Matty heard the news in silence; in fact, from the account of the
previous day, it was only what we had to expect.  Miss Pole kept calling
upon us for some expression of regret, by asking if it was not sad that
he was gone, and saying—

“To think of that pleasant day last June, when he seemed so well!  And he
might have lived this dozen years if he had not gone to that wicked
Paris, where they are always having revolutions.”

She paused for some demonstration on our part.  I saw Miss Matty could
not speak, she was trembling so nervously; so I said what I really felt;
and after a call of some duration—all the time of which I have no doubt
Miss Pole thought Miss Matty received the news very calmly—our visitor
took her leave.

Miss Matty made a strong effort to conceal her feelings—a concealment she
practised even with me, for she has never alluded to Mr Holbrook again,
although the book he gave her lies with her Bible on the little table by
her bedside.  She did not think I heard her when she asked the little
milliner of Cranford to make her caps something like the Honourable Mrs
Jamieson’s, or that I noticed the reply—

“But she wears widows’ caps, ma’am?”

“Oh!  I only meant something in that style; not widows’, of course, but
rather like Mrs Jamieson’s.”

This effort at concealment was the beginning of the tremulous motion of
head and hands which I have seen ever since in Miss Matty.

The evening of the day on which we heard of Mr Holbrook’s death, Miss
Matilda was very silent and thoughtful; after prayers she called Martha
back and then she stood uncertain what to say.

“Martha!” she said, at last, “you are young”—and then she made so long a
pause that Martha, to remind her of her half-finished sentence, dropped a
curtsey, and said—

“Yes, please, ma’am; two-and-twenty last third of October, please,
ma’am.”

“And, perhaps, Martha, you may some time meet with a young man you like,
and who likes you.  I did say you were not to have followers; but if you
meet with such a young man, and tell me, and I find he is respectable, I
have no objection to his coming to see you once a week.  God forbid!”
said she in a low voice, “that I should grieve any young hearts.”  She
spoke as if she were providing for some distant contingency, and was
rather startled when Martha made her ready eager answer—

“Please, ma’am, there’s Jem Hearn, and he’s a joiner making
three-and-sixpence a-day, and six foot one in his stocking-feet, please,
ma’am; and if you’ll ask about him to-morrow morning, every one will give
him a character for steadiness; and he’ll be glad enough to come
to-morrow night, I’ll be bound.”

Though Miss Matty was startled, she submitted to Fate and Love.



CHAPTER V—OLD LETTERS


I HAVE often noticed that almost every one has his own individual small
economies—careful habits of saving fractions of pennies in some one
peculiar direction—any disturbance of which annoys him more than spending
shillings or pounds on some real extravagance.  An old gentleman of my
acquaintance, who took the intelligence of the failure of a Joint-Stock
Bank, in which some of his money was invested, with stoical mildness,
worried his family all through a long summer’s day because one of them
had torn (instead of cutting) out the written leaves of his now useless
bank-book; of course, the corresponding pages at the other end came out
as well, and this little unnecessary waste of paper (his private economy)
chafed him more than all the loss of his money.  Envelopes fretted his
soul terribly when they first came in; the only way in which he could
reconcile himself to such waste of his cherished article was by patiently
turning inside out all that were sent to him, and so making them serve
again.  Even now, though tamed by age, I see him casting wistful glances
at his daughters when they send a whole inside of a half-sheet of note
paper, with the three lines of acceptance to an invitation, written on
only one of the sides.  I am not above owning that I have this human
weakness myself.  String is my foible.  My pockets get full of little
hanks of it, picked up and twisted together, ready for uses that never
come.  I am seriously annoyed if any one cuts the string of a parcel
instead of patiently and faithfully undoing it fold by fold.  How people
can bring themselves to use india-rubber rings, which are a sort of
deification of string, as lightly as they do, I cannot imagine.  To me an
india-rubber ring is a precious treasure.  I have one which is not
new—one that I picked up off the floor nearly six years ago.  I have
really tried to use it, but my heart failed me, and I could not commit
the extravagance.

Small pieces of butter grieve others.  They cannot attend to conversation
because of the annoyance occasioned by the habit which some people have
of invariably taking more butter than they want.  Have you not seen the
anxious look (almost mesmeric) which such persons fix on the article?
They would feel it a relief if they might bury it out of their sight by
popping it into their own mouths and swallowing it down; and they are
really made happy if the person on whose plate it lies unused suddenly
breaks off a piece of toast (which he does not want at all) and eats up
his butter.  They think that this is not waste.

Now Miss Matty Jenkyns was chary of candles.  We had many devices to use
as few as possible.  In the winter afternoons she would sit knitting for
two or three hours—she could do this in the dark, or by firelight—and
when I asked if I might not ring for candles to finish stitching my
wristbands, she told me to “keep blind man’s holiday.”  They were usually
brought in with tea; but we only burnt one at a time.  As we lived in
constant preparation for a friend who might come in any evening (but who
never did), it required some contrivance to keep our two candles of the
same length, ready to be lighted, and to look as if we burnt two always.
The candles took it in turns; and, whatever we might be talking about or
doing, Miss Matty’s eyes were habitually fixed upon the candle, ready to
jump up and extinguish it and to light the other before they had become
too uneven in length to be restored to equality in the course of the
evening.

One night, I remember this candle economy particularly annoyed me.  I had
been very much tired of my compulsory “blind man’s holiday,” especially
as Miss Matty had fallen asleep, and I did not like to stir the fire and
run the risk of awakening her; so I could not even sit on the rug, and
scorch myself with sewing by firelight, according to my usual custom.  I
fancied Miss Matty must be dreaming of her early life; for she spoke one
or two words in her uneasy sleep bearing reference to persons who were
dead long before.  When Martha brought in the lighted candle and tea,
Miss Matty started into wakefulness, with a strange, bewildered look
around, as if we were not the people she expected to see about her.
There was a little sad expression that shadowed her face as she
recognised me; but immediately afterwards she tried to give me her usual
smile.  All through tea-time her talk ran upon the days of her childhood
and youth.  Perhaps this reminded her of the desirableness of looking
over all the old family letters, and destroying such as ought not to be
allowed to fall into the hands of strangers; for she had often spoken of
the necessity of this task, but had always shrunk from it, with a timid
dread of something painful.  To-night, however, she rose up after tea and
went for them—in the dark; for she piqued herself on the precise neatness
of all her chamber arrangements, and used to look uneasily at me when I
lighted a bed-candle to go to another room for anything.  When she
returned there was a faint, pleasant smell of Tonquin beans in the room.
I had always noticed this scent about any of the things which had
belonged to her mother; and many of the letters were addressed to
her—yellow bundles of love-letters, sixty or seventy years old.

Miss Matty undid the packet with a sigh; but she stifled it directly, as
if it were hardly right to regret the flight of time, or of life either.
We agreed to look them over separately, each taking a different letter
out of the same bundle and describing its contents to the other before
destroying it.  I never knew what sad work the reading of old-letters was
before that evening, though I could hardly tell why.  The letters were as
happy as letters could be—at least those early letters were.  There was
in them a vivid and intense sense of the present time, which seemed so
strong and full, as if it could never pass away, and as if the warm,
living hearts that so expressed themselves could never die, and be as
nothing to the sunny earth.  I should have felt less melancholy, I
believe, if the letters had been more so.  I saw the tears stealing down
the well-worn furrows of Miss Matty’s cheeks, and her spectacles often
wanted wiping.  I trusted at last that she would light the other candle,
for my own eyes were rather dim, and I wanted more light to see the pale,
faded ink; but no, even through her tears, she saw and remembered her
little economical ways.

The earliest set of letters were two bundles tied together, and ticketed
(in Miss Jenkyns’s handwriting) “Letters interchanged between my
ever-honoured father and my dearly-beloved mother, prior to their
marriage, in July 1774.”  I should guess that the rector of Cranford was
about twenty-seven years of age when he wrote those letters; and Miss
Matty told me that her mother was just eighteen at the time of her
wedding.  With my idea of the rector derived from a picture in the
dining-parlour, stiff and stately, in a huge full-bottomed wig, with
gown, cassock, and bands, and his hand upon a copy of the only sermon he
ever published—it was strange to read these letters.  They were full of
eager, passionate ardour; short homely sentences, right fresh from the
heart (very different from the grand Latinised, Johnsonian style of the
printed sermon preached before some judge at assize time).  His letters
were a curious contrast to those of his girl-bride.  She was evidently
rather annoyed at his demands upon her for expressions of love, and could
not quite understand what he meant by repeating the same thing over in so
many different ways; but what she was quite clear about was a longing for
a white “Paduasoy”—whatever that might be; and six or seven letters were
principally occupied in asking her lover to use his influence with her
parents (who evidently kept her in good order) to obtain this or that
article of dress, more especially the white “Paduasoy.”  He cared nothing
how she was dressed; she was always lovely enough for him, as he took
pains to assure her, when she begged him to express in his answers a
predilection for particular pieces of finery, in order that she might
show what he said to her parents.  But at length he seemed to find out
that she would not be married till she had a “trousseau” to her mind; and
then he sent her a letter, which had evidently accompanied a whole box
full of finery, and in which he requested that she might be dressed in
everything her heart desired.  This was the first letter, ticketed in a
frail, delicate hand, “From my dearest John.”  Shortly afterwards they
were married, I suppose, from the intermission in their correspondence.

“We must burn them, I think,” said Miss Matty, looking doubtfully at me.
“No one will care for them when I am gone.”  And one by one she dropped
them into the middle of the fire, watching each blaze up, die out, and
rise away, in faint, white, ghostly semblance, up the chimney, before she
gave another to the same fate.  The room was light enough now; but I,
like her, was fascinated into watching the destruction of those letters,
into which the honest warmth of a manly heart had been poured forth.

The next letter, likewise docketed by Miss Jenkyns, was endorsed, “Letter
of pious congratulation and exhortation from my venerable grandfather to
my beloved mother, on occasion of my own birth.  Also some practical
remarks on the desirability of keeping warm the extremities of infants,
from my excellent grandmother.”

The first part was, indeed, a severe and forcible picture of the
responsibilities of mothers, and a warning against the evils that were in
the world, and lying in ghastly wait for the little baby of two days old.
His wife did not write, said the old gentleman, because he had forbidden
it, she being indisposed with a sprained ankle, which (he said) quite
incapacitated her from holding a pen.  However, at the foot of the page
was a small “T.O.,” and on turning it over, sure enough, there was a
letter to “my dear, dearest Molly,” begging her, when she left her room,
whatever she did, to go _up_ stairs before going _down_: and telling her
to wrap her baby’s feet up in flannel, and keep it warm by the fire,
although it was summer, for babies were so tender.

It was pretty to see from the letters, which were evidently exchanged
with some frequency between the young mother and the grandmother, how the
girlish vanity was being weeded out of her heart by love for her baby.
The white “Paduasoy” figured again in the letters, with almost as much
vigour as before.  In one, it was being made into a christening cloak for
the baby.  It decked it when it went with its parents to spend a day or
two at Arley Hall.  It added to its charms, when it was “the prettiest
little baby that ever was seen.  Dear mother, I wish you could see her!
Without any pershality, I do think she will grow up a regular bewty!”  I
thought of Miss Jenkyns, grey, withered, and wrinkled, and I wondered if
her mother had known her in the courts of heaven: and then I knew that
she had, and that they stood there in angelic guise.

There was a great gap before any of the rector’s letters appeared.  And
then his wife had changed her mode of her endorsement.  It was no longer
from, “My dearest John;” it was from “My Honoured Husband.”  The letters
were written on occasion of the publication of the same sermon which was
represented in the picture.  The preaching before “My Lord Judge,” and
the “publishing by request,” was evidently the culminating point—the
event of his life.  It had been necessary for him to go up to London to
superintend it through the press.  Many friends had to be called upon and
consulted before he could decide on any printer fit for so onerous a
task; and at length it was arranged that J. and J. Rivingtons were to
have the honourable responsibility.  The worthy rector seemed to be
strung up by the occasion to a high literary pitch, for he could hardly
write a letter to his wife without cropping out into Latin.  I remember
the end of one of his letters ran thus: “I shall ever hold the virtuous
qualities of my Molly in remembrance, _dum memor ipse mei_, _dum spiritus
regit artus_,” which, considering that the English of his correspondent
was sometimes at fault in grammar, and often in spelling, might be taken
as a proof of how much he “idealised his Molly;” and, as Miss Jenkyns
used to say, “People talk a great deal about idealising now-a-days,
whatever that may mean.”  But this was nothing to a fit of writing
classical poetry which soon seized him, in which his Molly figured away
as “Maria.”  The letter containing the _carmen_ was endorsed by her,
“Hebrew verses sent me by my honoured husband.  I thowt to have had a
letter about killing the pig, but must wait.  Mem., to send the poetry to
Sir Peter Arley, as my husband desires.”  And in a post-scriptum note in
his handwriting it was stated that the Ode had appeared in the
_Gentleman’s Magazine_, December 1782.

Her letters back to her husband (treasured as fondly by him as if they
had been _M. T. Ciceronis Epistolæ_) were more satisfactory to an absent
husband and father than his could ever have been to her.  She told him
how Deborah sewed her seam very neatly every day, and read to her in the
books he had set her; how she was a very “forrard,” good child, but would
ask questions her mother could not answer, but how she did not let
herself down by saying she did not know, but took to stirring the fire,
or sending the “forrard” child on an errand.  Matty was now the mother’s
darling, and promised (like her sister at her age), to be a great beauty.
I was reading this aloud to Miss Matty, who smiled and sighed a little at
the hope, so fondly expressed, that “little Matty might not be vain, even
if she were a bewty.”

“I had very pretty hair, my dear,” said Miss Matilda; “and not a bad
mouth.”  And I saw her soon afterwards adjust her cap and draw herself
up.

But to return to Mrs Jenkyns’s letters.  She told her husband about the
poor in the parish; what homely domestic medicines she had administered;
what kitchen physic she had sent.  She had evidently held his displeasure
as a rod in pickle over the heads of all the ne’er-do-wells.  She asked
for his directions about the cows and pigs; and did not always obtain
them, as I have shown before.

The kind old grandmother was dead when a little boy was born, soon after
the publication of the sermon; but there was another letter of
exhortation from the grandfather, more stringent and admonitory than
ever, now that there was a boy to be guarded from the snares of the
world.  He described all the various sins into which men might fall,
until I wondered how any man ever came to a natural death.  The gallows
seemed as if it must have been the termination of the lives of most of
the grandfather’s friends and acquaintance; and I was not surprised at
the way in which he spoke of this life being “a vale of tears.”

It seemed curious that I should never have heard of this brother before;
but I concluded that he had died young, or else surely his name would
have been alluded to by his sisters.

By-and-by we came to packets of Miss Jenkyns’s letters.  These Miss Matty
did regret to burn.  She said all the others had been only interesting to
those who loved the writers, and that it seemed as if it would have hurt
her to allow them to fall into the hands of strangers, who had not known
her dear mother, and how good she was, although she did not always spell,
quite in the modern fashion; but Deborah’s letters were so very superior!
Any one might profit by reading them.  It was a long time since she had
read Mrs Chapone, but she knew she used to think that Deborah could have
said the same things quite as well; and as for Mrs Carter! people thought
a deal of her letters, just because she had written “Epictetus,” but she
was quite sure Deborah would never have made use of such a common
expression as “I canna be fashed!”

     [Picture: I made use of the time to think of many other things]

Miss Matty did grudge burning these letters, it was evident.  She would
not let them be carelessly passed over with any quiet reading, and
skipping, to myself.  She took them from me, and even lighted the second
candle in order to read them aloud with a proper emphasis, and without
stumbling over the big words.  Oh dear! how I wanted facts instead of
reflections, before those letters were concluded!  They lasted us two
nights; and I won’t deny that I made use of the time to think of many
other things, and yet I was always at my post at the end of each
sentence.

The rector’s letters, and those of his wife and mother-in-law, had all
been tolerably short and pithy, written in a straight hand, with the
lines very close together.  Sometimes the whole letter was contained on a
mere scrap of paper.  The paper was very yellow, and the ink very brown;
some of the sheets were (as Miss Matty made me observe) the old original
post, with the stamp in the corner representing a post-boy riding for
life and twanging his horn.  The letters of Mrs Jenkyns and her mother
were fastened with a great round red wafer; for it was before Miss
Edgeworth’s “patronage” had banished wafers from polite society.  It was
evident, from the tenor of what was said, that franks were in great
request, and were even used as a means of paying debts by needy members
of Parliament.  The rector sealed his epistles with an immense coat of
arms, and showed by the care with which he had performed this ceremony
that he expected they should be cut open, not broken by any thoughtless
or impatient hand.  Now, Miss Jenkyns’s letters were of a later date in
form and writing.  She wrote on the square sheet which we have learned to
call old-fashioned.  Her hand was admirably calculated, together with her
use of many-syllabled words, to fill up a sheet, and then came the pride
and delight of crossing.  Poor Miss Matty got sadly puzzled with this,
for the words gathered size like snowballs, and towards the end of her
letter Miss Jenkyns used to become quite sesquipedalian.  In one to her
father, slightly theological and controversial in its tone, she had
spoken of Herod, Tetrarch of Idumea.  Miss Matty read it “Herod Petrarch
of Etruria,” and was just as well pleased as if she had been right.

I can’t quite remember the date, but I think it was in 1805 that Miss
Jenkyns wrote the longest series of letters—on occasion of her absence on
a visit to some friends near Newcastle-upon-Tyne.  These friends were
intimate with the commandant of the garrison there, and heard from him of
all the preparations that were being made to repel the invasion of
Buonaparte, which some people imagined might take place at the mouth of
the Tyne.  Miss Jenkyns was evidently very much alarmed; and the first
part of her letters was often written in pretty intelligible English,
conveying particulars of the preparations which were made in the family
with whom she was residing against the dreaded event; the bundles of
clothes that were packed up ready for a flight to Alston Moor (a wild
hilly piece of ground between Northumberland and Cumberland); the signal
that was to be given for this flight, and for the simultaneous turning
out of the volunteers under arms—which said signal was to consist (if I
remember rightly) in ringing the church bells in a particular and ominous
manner.  One day, when Miss Jenkyns and her hosts were at a dinner-party
in Newcastle, this warning summons was actually given (not a very wise
proceeding, if there be any truth in the moral attached to the fable of
the Boy and the Wolf; but so it was), and Miss Jenkyns, hardly recovered
from her fright, wrote the next day to describe the sound, the breathless
shock, the hurry and alarm; and then, taking breath, she added, “How
trivial, my dear father, do all our apprehensions of the last evening
appear, at the present moment, to calm and enquiring minds!”  And here
Miss Matty broke in with—

“But, indeed, my dear, they were not at all trivial or trifling at the
time.  I know I used to wake up in the night many a time and think I
heard the tramp of the French entering Cranford.  Many people talked of
hiding themselves in the salt mines—and meat would have kept capitally
down there, only perhaps we should have been thirsty.  And my father
preached a whole set of sermons on the occasion; one set in the mornings,
all about David and Goliath, to spirit up the people to fighting with
spades or bricks, if need were; and the other set in the afternoons,
proving that Napoleon (that was another name for Bony, as we used to call
him) was all the same as an Apollyon and Abaddon.  I remember my father
rather thought he should be asked to print this last set; but the parish
had, perhaps, had enough of them with hearing.”

Peter Marmaduke Arley Jenkyns (“poor Peter!” as Miss Matty began to call
him) was at school at Shrewsbury by this time.  The rector took up his
pen, and rubbed up his Latin once more, to correspond with his boy.  It
was very clear that the lad’s were what are called show letters.  They
were of a highly mental description, giving an account of his studies,
and his intellectual hopes of various kinds, with an occasional quotation
from the classics; but, now and then, the animal nature broke out in such
a little sentence as this, evidently written in a trembling hurry, after
the letter had been inspected: “Mother dear, do send me a cake, and put
plenty of citron in.”  The “mother dear” probably answered her boy in the
form of cakes and “goody,” for there were none of her letters among this
set; but a whole collection of the rector’s, to whom the Latin in his
boy’s letters was like a trumpet to the old war-horse.  I do not know
much about Latin, certainly, and it is, perhaps, an ornamental language,
but not very useful, I think—at least to judge from the bits I remember
out of the rector’s letters.  One was, “You have not got that town in
your map of Ireland; but _Bonus Bernardus non videt omnia_, as the
Proverbia say.”  Presently it became very evident that “poor Peter” got
himself into many scrapes.  There were letters of stilted penitence to
his father, for some wrong-doing; and among them all was a badly-written,
badly-sealed, badly-directed, blotted note:—“My dear, dear, dear, dearest
mother, I will be a better boy; I will, indeed; but don’t, please, be ill
for me; I am not worth it; but I will be good, darling mother.”

Miss Matty could not speak for crying, after she had read this note.  She
gave it to me in silence, and then got up and took it to her sacred
recesses in her own room, for fear, by any chance, it might get burnt.
“Poor Peter!” she said; “he was always in scrapes; he was too easy.  They
led him wrong, and then left him in the lurch.  But he was too fond of
mischief.  He could never resist a joke.  Poor Peter!”



CHAPTER VI—POOR PETER


POOR Peter’s career lay before him rather pleasantly mapped out by kind
friends, but _Bonus Bernardus non videt omnia_, in this map too.  He was
to win honours at the Shrewsbury School, and carry them thick to
Cambridge, and after that, a living awaited him, the gift of his
godfather, Sir Peter Arley.  Poor Peter! his lot in life was very
different to what his friends had hoped and planned.  Miss Matty told me
all about it, and I think it was a relief when she had done so.

He was the darling of his mother, who seemed to dote on all her children,
though she was, perhaps, a little afraid of Deborah’s superior
acquirements.  Deborah was the favourite of her father, and when Peter
disappointed him, she became his pride.  The sole honour Peter brought
away from Shrewsbury was the reputation of being the best good fellow
that ever was, and of being the captain of the school in the art of
practical joking.  His father was disappointed, but set about remedying
the matter in a manly way.  He could not afford to send Peter to read
with any tutor, but he could read with him himself; and Miss Matty told
me much of the awful preparations in the way of dictionaries and lexicons
that were made in her father’s study the morning Peter began.

“My poor mother!” said she.  “I remember how she used to stand in the
hall, just near enough the study-door, to catch the tone of my father’s
voice.  I could tell in a moment if all was going right, by her face.
And it did go right for a long time.”

“What went wrong at last?” said I.  “That tiresome Latin, I dare say.”

“No! it was not the Latin.  Peter was in high favour with my father, for
he worked up well for him.  But he seemed to think that the Cranford
people might be joked about, and made fun of, and they did not like it;
nobody does.  He was always hoaxing them; ‘hoaxing’ is not a pretty word,
my dear, and I hope you won’t tell your father I used it, for I should
not like him to think that I was not choice in my language, after living
with such a woman as Deborah.  And be sure you never use it yourself.  I
don’t know how it slipped out of my mouth, except it was that I was
thinking of poor Peter and it was always his expression.  But he was a
very gentlemanly boy in many things.  He was like dear Captain Brown in
always being ready to help any old person or a child.  Still, he did like
joking and making fun; and he seemed to think the old ladies in Cranford
would believe anything.  There were many old ladies living here then; we
are principally ladies now, I know, but we are not so old as the ladies
used to be when I was a girl.  I could laugh to think of some of Peter’s
jokes.  No, my dear, I won’t tell you of them, because they might not
shock you as they ought to do, and they were very shocking.  He even took
in my father once, by dressing himself up as a lady that was passing
through the town and wished to see the Rector of Cranford, ‘who had
published that admirable Assize Sermon.’  Peter said he was awfully
frightened himself when he saw how my father took it all in, and even
offered to copy out all his Napoleon Buonaparte sermons for her—him, I
mean—no, her, for Peter was a lady then.  He told me he was more
terrified than he ever was before, all the time my father was speaking.
He did not think my father would have believed him; and yet if he had
not, it would have been a sad thing for Peter.  As it was, he was none so
glad of it, for my father kept him hard at work copying out all those
twelve Buonaparte sermons for the lady—that was for Peter himself, you
know.  He was the lady.  And once when he wanted to go fishing, Peter
said, ‘Confound the woman!’—very bad language, my dear, but Peter was not
always so guarded as he should have been; my father was so angry with
him, it nearly frightened me out of my wits: and yet I could hardly keep
from laughing at the little curtseys Peter kept making, quite slyly,
whenever my father spoke of the lady’s excellent taste and sound
discrimination.”

                      [Picture: Confound the woman]

“Did Miss Jenkyns know of these tricks?” said I.

“Oh, no!  Deborah would have been too much shocked.  No, no one knew but
me.  I wish I had always known of Peter’s plans; but sometimes he did not
tell me.  He used to say the old ladies in the town wanted something to
talk about; but I don’t think they did.  They had the _St James’s
Chronicle_ three times a week, just as we have now, and we have plenty to
say; and I remember the clacking noise there always was when some of the
ladies got together.  But, probably, schoolboys talk more than ladies.
At last there was a terrible, sad thing happened.”  Miss Matty got up,
went to the door, and opened it; no one was there.  She rang the bell for
Martha, and when Martha came, her mistress told her to go for eggs to a
farm at the other end of the town.

“I will lock the door after you, Martha.  You are not afraid to go, are
you?”

“No, ma’am, not at all; Jem Hearn will be only too proud to go with me.”

Miss Matty drew herself up, and as soon as we were alone, she wished that
Martha had more maidenly reserve.

“We’ll put out the candle, my dear.  We can talk just as well by
firelight, you know.  There!  Well, you see, Deborah had gone from home
for a fortnight or so; it was a very still, quiet day, I remember,
overhead; and the lilacs were all in flower, so I suppose it was spring.
My father had gone out to see some sick people in the parish; I recollect
seeing him leave the house with his wig and shovel-hat and cane.  What
possessed our poor Peter I don’t know; he had the sweetest temper, and
yet he always seemed to like to plague Deborah.  She never laughed at his
jokes, and thought him ungenteel, and not careful enough about improving
his mind; and that vexed him.

“Well! he went to her room, it seems, and dressed himself in her old
gown, and shawl, and bonnet; just the things she used to wear in
Cranford, and was known by everywhere; and he made the pillow into a
little—you are sure you locked the door, my dear, for I should not like
anyone to hear—into—into a little baby, with white long clothes.  It was
only, as he told me afterwards, to make something to talk about in the
town; he never thought of it as affecting Deborah.  And he went and
walked up and down in the Filbert walk—just half-hidden by the rails, and
half-seen; and he cuddled his pillow, just like a baby, and talked to it
all the nonsense people do.  Oh dear! and my father came stepping stately
up the street, as he always did; and what should he see but a little
black crowd of people—I daresay as many as twenty—all peeping through his
garden rails.  So he thought, at first, they were only looking at a new
rhododendron that was in full bloom, and that he was very proud of; and
he walked slower, that they might have more time to admire.  And he
wondered if he could make out a sermon from the occasion, and thought,
perhaps, there was some relation between the rhododendrons and the lilies
of the field.  My poor father!  When he came nearer, he began to wonder
that they did not see him; but their heads were all so close together,
peeping and peeping!  My father was amongst them, meaning, he said, to
ask them to walk into the garden with him, and admire the beautiful
vegetable production, when—oh, my dear, I tremble to think of it—he
looked through the rails himself, and saw—I don’t know what he thought he
saw, but old Clare told me his face went quite grey-white with anger, and
his eyes blazed out under his frowning black brows; and he spoke out—oh,
so terribly!—and bade them all stop where they were—not one of them to
go, not one of them to stir a step; and, swift as light, he was in at the
garden door, and down the Filbert walk, and seized hold of poor Peter,
and tore his clothes off his back—bonnet, shawl, gown, and all—and threw
the pillow among the people over the railings: and then he was very, very
angry indeed, and before all the people he lifted up his cane and flogged
Peter!

“My dear, that boy’s trick, on that sunny day, when all seemed going
straight and well, broke my mother’s heart, and changed my father for
life.  It did, indeed.  Old Clare said, Peter looked as white as my
father; and stood as still as a statue to be flogged; and my father
struck hard!  When my father stopped to take breath, Peter said, ‘Have
you done enough, sir?’ quite hoarsely, and still standing quite quiet.  I
don’t know what my father said—or if he said anything.  But old Clare
said, Peter turned to where the people outside the railing were, and made
them a low bow, as grand and as grave as any gentleman; and then walked
slowly into the house.  I was in the store-room helping my mother to make
cowslip wine.  I cannot abide the wine now, nor the scent of the flowers;
they turn me sick and faint, as they did that day, when Peter came in,
looking as haughty as any man—indeed, looking like a man, not like a boy.
‘Mother!’ he said, ‘I am come to say, God bless you for ever.’  I saw his
lips quiver as he spoke; and I think he durst not say anything more
loving, for the purpose that was in his heart.  She looked at him rather
frightened, and wondering, and asked him what was to do.  He did not
smile or speak, but put his arms round her and kissed her as if he did
not know how to leave off; and before she could speak again, he was gone.
We talked it over, and could not understand it, and she bade me go and
seek my father, and ask what it was all about.  I found him walking up
and down, looking very highly displeased.

“‘Tell your mother I have flogged Peter, and that he richly deserved it.’

“I durst not ask any more questions.  When I told my mother, she sat
down, quite faint, for a minute.  I remember, a few days after, I saw the
poor, withered cowslip flowers thrown out to the leaf heap, to decay and
die there.  There was no making of cowslip wine that year at the
rectory—nor, indeed, ever after.

“Presently my mother went to my father.  I know I thought of Queen Esther
and King Ahasuerus; for my mother was very pretty and delicate-looking,
and my father looked as terrible as King Ahasuerus.  Some time after they
came out together; and then my mother told me what had happened, and that
she was going up to Peter’s room at my father’s desire—though she was not
to tell Peter this—to talk the matter over with him.  But no Peter was
there.  We looked over the house; no Peter was there!  Even my father,
who had not liked to join in the search at first, helped us before long.
The rectory was a very old house—steps up into a room, steps down into a
room, all through.  At first, my mother went calling low and soft, as if
to reassure the poor boy, ‘Peter!  Peter, dear! it’s only me;’ but,
by-and-by, as the servants came back from the errands my father had sent
them, in different directions, to find where Peter was—as we found he was
not in the garden, nor the hayloft, nor anywhere about—my mother’s cry
grew louder and wilder, Peter!  Peter, my darling! where are you?’ for
then she felt and understood that that long kiss meant some sad kind of
‘good-bye.’  The afternoon went on—my mother never resting, but seeking
again and again in every possible place that had been looked into twenty
times before, nay, that she had looked into over and over again herself.
My father sat with his head in his hands, not speaking except when his
messengers came in, bringing no tidings; then he lifted up his face, so
strong and sad, and told them to go again in some new direction.  My
mother kept passing from room to room, in and out of the house, moving
noiselessly, but never ceasing.  Neither she nor my father durst leave
the house, which was the meeting-place for all the messengers.  At last
(and it was nearly dark), my father rose up.  He took hold of my mother’s
arm as she came with wild, sad pace through one door, and quickly towards
another.  She started at the touch of his hand, for she had forgotten all
in the world but Peter.

“‘Molly!’ said he, ‘I did not think all this would happen.’  He looked
into her face for comfort—her poor face all wild and white; for neither
she nor my father had dared to acknowledge—much less act upon—the terror
that was in their hearts, lest Peter should have made away with himself.
My father saw no conscious look in his wife’s hot, dreary eyes, and he
missed the sympathy that she had always been ready to give him—strong man
as he was, and at the dumb despair in her face his tears began to flow.
But when she saw this, a gentle sorrow came over her countenance, and she
said, ‘Dearest John! don’t cry; come with me, and we’ll find him,’ almost
as cheerfully as if she knew where he was.  And she took my father’s
great hand in her little soft one, and led him along, the tears dropping
as he walked on that same unceasing, weary walk, from room to room,
through house and garden.

“Oh, how I wished for Deborah!  I had no time for crying, for now all
seemed to depend on me.  I wrote for Deborah to come home.  I sent a
message privately to that same Mr Holbrook’s house—poor Mr Holbrook;—you
know who I mean.  I don’t mean I sent a message to him, but I sent one
that I could trust to know if Peter was at his house.  For at one time Mr
Holbrook was an occasional visitor at the rectory—you know he was Miss
Pole’s cousin—and he had been very kind to Peter, and taught him how to
fish—he was very kind to everybody, and I thought Peter might have gone
off there.  But Mr Holbrook was from home, and Peter had never been seen.
It was night now; but the doors were all wide open, and my father and
mother walked on and on; it was more than an hour since he had joined
her, and I don’t believe they had ever spoken all that time.  I was
getting the parlour fire lighted, and one of the servants was preparing
tea, for I wanted them to have something to eat and drink and warm them,
when old Clare asked to speak to me.

“‘I have borrowed the nets from the weir, Miss Matty.  Shall we drag the
ponds to-night, or wait for the morning?’

“I remember staring in his face to gather his meaning; and when I did, I
laughed out loud.  The horror of that new thought—our bright, darling
Peter, cold, and stark, and dead!  I remember the ring of my own laugh
now.

“The next day Deborah was at home before I was myself again.  She would
not have been so weak as to give way as I had done; but my screams (my
horrible laughter had ended in crying) had roused my sweet dear mother,
whose poor wandering wits were called back and collected as soon as a
child needed her care.  She and Deborah sat by my bedside; I knew by the
looks of each that there had been no news of Peter—no awful, ghastly
news, which was what I most had dreaded in my dull state between sleeping
and waking.

“The same result of all the searching had brought something of the same
relief to my mother, to whom, I am sure, the thought that Peter might
even then be hanging dead in some of the familiar home places had caused
that never-ending walk of yesterday.  Her soft eyes never were the same
again after that; they had always a restless, craving look, as if seeking
for what they could not find.  Oh! it was an awful time; coming down like
a thunder-bolt on the still sunny day when the lilacs were all in bloom.”

“Where was Mr Peter?” said I.

“He had made his way to Liverpool; and there was war then; and some of
the king’s ships lay off the mouth of the Mersey; and they were only too
glad to have a fine likely boy such as him (five foot nine he was), come
to offer himself.  The captain wrote to my father, and Peter wrote to my
mother.  Stay! those letters will be somewhere here.”

We lighted the candle, and found the captain’s letter and Peter’s too.
And we also found a little simple begging letter from Mrs Jenkyns to
Peter, addressed to him at the house of an old schoolfellow whither she
fancied he might have gone.  They had returned it unopened; and unopened
it had remained ever since, having been inadvertently put by among the
other letters of that time.  This is it:—

    “MY DEAREST PETER,—You did not think we should be so sorry as we are,
    I know, or you would never have gone away.  You are too good.  Your
    father sits and sighs till my heart aches to hear him.  He cannot
    hold up his head for grief; and yet he only did what he thought was
    right.  Perhaps he has been too severe, and perhaps I have not been
    kind enough; but God knows how we love you, my dear only boy.  Don
    looks so sorry you are gone.  Come back, and make us happy, who love
    you so much.  I know you will come back.”

But Peter did not come back.  That spring day was the last time he ever
saw his mother’s face.  The writer of the letter—the last—the only person
who had ever seen what was written in it, was dead long ago; and I, a
stranger, not born at the time when this occurrence took place, was the
one to open it.

The captain’s letter summoned the father and mother to Liverpool
instantly, if they wished to see their boy; and, by some of the wild
chances of life, the captain’s letter had been detained somewhere,
somehow.

Miss Matty went on, “And it was racetime, and all the post-horses at
Cranford were gone to the races; but my father and mother set off in our
own gig—and oh! my dear, they were too late—the ship was gone!  And now
read Peter’s letter to my mother!”

It was full of love, and sorrow, and pride in his new profession, and a
sore sense of his disgrace in the eyes of the people at Cranford; but
ending with a passionate entreaty that she would come and see him before
he left the Mersey: “Mother; we may go into battle.  I hope we shall, and
lick those French: but I must see you again before that time.”

“And she was too late,” said Miss Matty; “too late!”

We sat in silence, pondering on the full meaning of those sad, sad words.
At length I asked Miss Matty to tell me how her mother bore it.

“Oh!” she said, “she was patience itself.  She had never been strong, and
this weakened her terribly.  My father used to sit looking at her: far
more sad than she was.  He seemed as if he could look at nothing else
when she was by; and he was so humble—so very gentle now.  He would,
perhaps, speak in his old way—laying down the law, as it were—and then,
in a minute or two, he would come round and put his hand on our
shoulders, and ask us in a low voice, if he had said anything to hurt us.
I did not wonder at his speaking so to Deborah, for she was so clever;
but I could not bear to hear him talking so to me.

“But, you see, he saw what we did not—that it was killing my mother.
Yes! killing her (put out the candle, my dear; I can talk better in the
dark), for she was but a frail woman, and ill-fitted to stand the fright
and shock she had gone through; and she would smile at him and comfort
him, not in words, but in her looks and tones, which were always cheerful
when he was there.  And she would speak of how she thought Peter stood a
good chance of being admiral very soon—he was so brave and clever; and
how she thought of seeing him in his navy uniform, and what sort of hats
admirals wore; and how much more fit he was to be a sailor than a
clergyman; and all in that way, just to make my father think she was
quite glad of what came of that unlucky morning’s work, and the flogging
which was always in his mind, as we all knew.  But oh, my dear! the
bitter, bitter crying she had when she was alone; and at last, as she
grew weaker, she could not keep her tears in when Deborah or me was by,
and would give us message after message for Peter (his ship had gone to
the Mediterranean, or somewhere down there, and then he was ordered off
to India, and there was no overland route then); but she still said that
no one knew where their death lay in wait, and that we were not to think
hers was near.  We did not think it, but we knew it, as we saw her fading
away.

“Well, my dear, it’s very foolish of me, I know, when in all likelihood I
am so near seeing her again.

“And only think, love! the very day after her death—for she did not live
quite a twelvemonth after Peter went away—the very day after—came a
parcel for her from India—from her poor boy.  It was a large, soft, white
Indian shawl, with just a little narrow border all round; just what my
mother would have liked.

“We thought it might rouse my father, for he had sat with her hand in his
all night long; so Deborah took it in to him, and Peter’s letter to her,
and all.  At first, he took no notice; and we tried to make a kind of
light careless talk about the shawl, opening it out and admiring it.
Then, suddenly, he got up, and spoke: ‘She shall be buried in it,’ he
said; ‘Peter shall have that comfort; and she would have liked it.’

“Well, perhaps it was not reasonable, but what could we do or say?  One
gives people in grief their own way.  He took it up and felt it: ‘It is
just such a shawl as she wished for when she was married, and her mother
did not give it her.  I did not know of it till after, or she should have
had it—she should; but she shall have it now.’

“My mother looked so lovely in her death!  She was always pretty, and now
she looked fair, and waxen, and young—younger than Deborah, as she stood
trembling and shivering by her.  We decked her in the long soft folds;
she lay smiling, as if pleased; and people came—all Cranford came—to beg
to see her, for they had loved her dearly, as well they might; and the
countrywomen brought posies; old Clare’s wife brought some white violets
and begged they might lie on her breast.

“Deborah said to me, the day of my mother’s funeral, that if she had a
hundred offers she never would marry and leave my father.  It was not
very likely she would have so many—I don’t know that she had one; but it
was not less to her credit to say so.  She was such a daughter to my
father as I think there never was before or since.  His eyes failed him,
and she read book after book, and wrote, and copied, and was always at
his service in any parish business.  She could do many more things than
my poor mother could; she even once wrote a letter to the bishop for my
father.  But he missed my mother sorely; the whole parish noticed it.
Not that he was less active; I think he was more so, and more patient in
helping every one.  I did all I could to set Deborah at liberty to be
with him; for I knew I was good for little, and that my best work in the
world was to do odd jobs quietly, and set others at liberty.  But my
father was a changed man.”

“Did Mr Peter ever come home?”

“Yes, once.  He came home a lieutenant; he did not get to be admiral.
And he and my father were such friends!  My father took him into every
house in the parish, he was so proud of him.  He never walked out without
Peter’s arm to lean upon.  Deborah used to smile (I don’t think we ever
laughed again after my mother’s death), and say she was quite put in a
corner.  Not but what my father always wanted her when there was
letter-writing or reading to be done, or anything to be settled.”

“And then?” said I, after a pause.

“Then Peter went to sea again; and, by-and-by, my father died, blessing
us both, and thanking Deborah for all she had been to him; and, of
course, our circumstances were changed; and, instead of living at the
rectory, and keeping three maids and a man, we had to come to this small
house, and be content with a servant-of-all-work; but, as Deborah used to
say, we have always lived genteelly, even if circumstances have compelled
us to simplicity.  Poor Deborah!”

“And Mr Peter?” asked I.

“Oh, there was some great war in India—I forget what they call it—and we
have never heard of Peter since then.  I believe he is dead myself; and
it sometimes fidgets me that we have never put on mourning for him.  And
then again, when I sit by myself, and all the house is still, I think I
hear his step coming up the street, and my heart begins to flutter and
beat; but the sound always goes past—and Peter never comes.

“That’s Martha back?  No!  _I’ll_ go, my dear; I can always find my way
in the dark, you know.  And a blow of fresh air at the door will do my
head good, and it’s rather got a trick of aching.”

So she pattered off.  I had lighted the candle, to give the room a
cheerful appearance against her return.

“Was it Martha?” asked I.

“Yes.  And I am rather uncomfortable, for I heard such a strange noise,
just as I was opening the door.”

“Where?’ I asked, for her eyes were round with affright.

“In the street—just outside—it sounded like”—

“Talking?” I put in, as she hesitated a little.

“No! kissing”—



CHAPTER VII—VISITING


ONE morning, as Miss Matty and I sat at our work—it was before twelve
o’clock, and Miss Matty had not changed the cap with yellow ribbons that
had been Miss Jenkyns’s best, and which Miss Matty was now wearing out in
private, putting on the one made in imitation of Mrs Jamieson’s at all
times when she expected to be seen—Martha came up, and asked if Miss
Betty Barker might speak to her mistress.  Miss Matty assented, and
quickly disappeared to change the yellow ribbons, while Miss Barker came
upstairs; but, as she had forgotten her spectacles, and was rather
flurried by the unusual time of the visit, I was not surprised to see her
return with one cap on the top of the other.  She was quite unconscious
of it herself, and looked at us, with bland satisfaction.  Nor do I think
Miss Barker perceived it; for, putting aside the little circumstance that
she was not so young as she had been, she was very much absorbed in her
errand, which she delivered herself of with an oppressive modesty that
found vent in endless apologies.

Miss Betty Barker was the daughter of the old clerk at Cranford who had
officiated in Mr Jenkyns’s time.  She and her sister had had pretty good
situations as ladies’ maids, and had saved money enough to set up a
milliner’s shop, which had been patronised by the ladies in the
neighbourhood.  Lady Arley, for instance, would occasionally give Miss
Barkers the pattern of an old cap of hers, which they immediately copied
and circulated among the _élite_ of Cranford.  I say the _élite_, for
Miss Barkers had caught the trick of the place, and piqued themselves
upon their “aristocratic connection.”  They would not sell their caps and
ribbons to anyone without a pedigree.  Many a farmer’s wife or daughter
turned away huffed from Miss Barkers’ select millinery, and went rather
to the universal shop, where the profits of brown soap and moist sugar
enabled the proprietor to go straight to (Paris, he said, until he found
his customers too patriotic and John Bullish to wear what the Mounseers
wore) London, where, as he often told his customers, Queen Adelaide had
appeared, only the very week before, in a cap exactly like the one he
showed them, trimmed with yellow and blue ribbons, and had been
complimented by King William on the becoming nature of her head-dress.

Miss Barkers, who confined themselves to truth, and did not approve of
miscellaneous customers, throve notwithstanding.  They were self-denying,
good people.  Many a time have I seen the eldest of them (she that had
been maid to Mrs Jamieson) carrying out some delicate mess to a poor
person.  They only aped their betters in having “nothing to do” with the
class immediately below theirs.  And when Miss Barker died, their profits
and income were found to be such that Miss Betty was justified in
shutting up shop and retiring from business.  She also (as I think I have
before said) set up her cow; a mark of respectability in Cranford almost
as decided as setting up a gig is among some people.  She dressed finer
than any lady in Cranford; and we did not wonder at it; for it was
understood that she was wearing out all the bonnets and caps and
outrageous ribbons which had once formed her stock-in-trade.  It was five
or six years since she had given up shop, so in any other place than
Cranford her dress might have been considered _passée_.

And now Miss Betty Barker had called to invite Miss Matty to tea at her
house on the following Tuesday.  She gave me also an impromptu
invitation, as I happened to be a visitor—though I could see she had a
little fear lest, since my father had gone to live in Drumble, he might
have engaged in that “horrid cotton trade,” and so dragged his family
down out of “aristocratic society.”  She prefaced this invitation with so
many apologies that she quite excited my curiosity.  “Her presumption”
was to be excused.  What had she been doing?  She seemed so over-powered
by it I could only think that she had been writing to Queen Adelaide to
ask for a receipt for washing lace; but the act which she so
characterised was only an invitation she had carried to her sister’s
former mistress, Mrs Jamieson.  “Her former occupation considered, could
Miss Matty excuse the liberty?”  Ah! thought I, she has found out that
double cap, and is going to rectify Miss Matty’s head-dress.  No! it was
simply to extend her invitation to Miss Matty and to me.  Miss Matty
bowed acceptance; and I wondered that, in the graceful action, she did
not feel the unusual weight and extraordinary height of her head-dress.
But I do not think she did, for she recovered her balance, and went on
talking to Miss Betty in a kind, condescending manner, very different
from the fidgety way she would have had if she had suspected how singular
her appearance was.  “Mrs Jamieson is coming, I think you said?” asked
Miss Matty.

“Yes.  Mrs Jamieson most kindly and condescendingly said she would be
happy to come.  One little stipulation she made, that she should bring
Carlo.  I told her that if I had a weakness, it was for dogs.”

“And Miss Pole?” questioned Miss Matty, who was thinking of her pool at
Preference, in which Carlo would not be available as a partner.

“I am going to ask Miss Pole.  Of course, I could not think of asking her
until I had asked you, madam—the rector’s daughter, madam.  Believe me, I
do not forget the situation my father held under yours.”

“And Mrs Forrester, of course?”

“And Mrs Forrester.  I thought, in fact, of going to her before I went to
Miss Pole.  Although her circumstances are changed, madam, she was born
at Tyrrell, and we can never forget her alliance to the Bigges, of
Bigelow Hall.”

Miss Matty cared much more for the little circumstance of her being a
very good card-player.

“Mrs Fitz-Adam—I suppose”—

“No, madam.  I must draw a line somewhere.  Mrs Jamieson would not, I
think, like to meet Mrs Fitz-Adam.  I have the greatest respect for Mrs
Fitz-Adam—but I cannot think her fit society for such ladies as Mrs
Jamieson and Miss Matilda Jenkyns.”

Miss Betty Barker bowed low to Miss Matty, and pursed up her mouth.  She
looked at me with sidelong dignity, as much as to say, although a retired
milliner, she was no democrat, and understood the difference of ranks.

“May I beg you to come as near half-past six to my little dwelling, as
possible, Miss Matilda?  Mrs Jamieson dines at five, but has kindly
promised not to delay her visit beyond that time—half-past six.”  And
with a swimming curtsey Miss Betty Barker took her leave.

My prophetic soul foretold a visit that afternoon from Miss Pole, who
usually came to call on Miss Matilda after any event—or indeed in sight
of any event—to talk it over with her.

“Miss Betty told me it was to be a choice and select few,” said Miss
Pole, as she and Miss Matty compared notes.

“Yes, so she said.  Not even Mrs Fitz-Adam.”

Now Mrs Fitz-Adam was the widowed sister of the Cranford surgeon, whom I
have named before.  Their parents were respectable farmers, content with
their station.  The name of these good people was Hoggins.  Mr Hoggins
was the Cranford doctor now; we disliked the name and considered it
coarse; but, as Miss Jenkyns said, if he changed it to Piggins it would
not be much better.  We had hoped to discover a relationship between him
and that Marchioness of Exeter whose name was Molly Hoggins; but the man,
careless of his own interests, utterly ignored and denied any such
relationship, although, as dear Miss Jenkyns had said, he had a sister
called Mary, and the same Christian names were very apt to run in
families.

Soon after Miss Mary Hoggins married Mr Fitz-Adam, she disappeared from
the neighbourhood for many years.  She did not move in a sphere in
Cranford society sufficiently high to make any of us care to know what Mr
Fitz-Adam was.  He died and was gathered to his fathers without our ever
having thought about him at all.  And then Mrs Fitz-Adam reappeared in
Cranford (“as bold as a lion,” Miss Pole said), a well-to-do widow,
dressed in rustling black silk, so soon after her husband’s death that
poor Miss Jenkyns was justified in the remark she made, that “bombazine
would have shown a deeper sense of her loss.”

I remember the convocation of ladies who assembled to decide whether or
not Mrs Fitz-Adam should be called upon by the old blue-blooded
inhabitants of Cranford.  She had taken a large rambling house, which had
been usually considered to confer a patent of gentility upon its tenant,
because, once upon a time, seventy or eighty years before, the spinster
daughter of an earl had resided in it.  I am not sure if the inhabiting
this house was not also believed to convey some unusual power of
intellect; for the earl’s daughter, Lady Jane, had a sister, Lady Anne,
who had married a general officer in the time of the American war, and
this general officer had written one or two comedies, which were still
acted on the London boards, and which, when we saw them advertised, made
us all draw up, and feel that Drury Lane was paying a very pretty
compliment to Cranford.  Still, it was not at all a settled thing that
Mrs Fitz-Adam was to be visited, when dear Miss Jenkyns died; and, with
her, something of the clear knowledge of the strict code of gentility
went out too.  As Miss Pole observed, “As most of the ladies of good
family in Cranford were elderly spinsters, or widows without children, if
we did not relax a little, and become less exclusive, by-and-by we should
have no society at all.”

Mrs Forrester continued on the same side.

“She had always understood that Fitz meant something aristocratic; there
was Fitz-Roy—she thought that some of the King’s children had been called
Fitz-Roy; and there was Fitz-Clarence, now—they were the children of dear
good King William the Fourth.  Fitz-Adam!—it was a pretty name, and she
thought it very probably meant ‘Child of Adam.’  No one, who had not some
good blood in their veins, would dare to be called Fitz; there was a deal
in a name—she had had a cousin who spelt his name with two little
ffs—ffoulkes—and he always looked down upon capital letters and said they
belonged to lately-invented families.  She had been afraid he would die a
bachelor, he was so very choice.  When he met with a Mrs ffarringdon, at
a watering-place, he took to her immediately; and a very pretty genteel
woman she was—a widow, with a very good fortune; and ‘my cousin,’ Mr
ffoulkes, married her; and it was all owing to her two little ffs.”

Mrs Fitz-Adam did not stand a chance of meeting with a Mr Fitz-anything
in Cranford, so that could not have been her motive for settling there.
Miss Matty thought it might have been the hope of being admitted into the
society of the place, which would certainly be a very agreeable rise for
_ci-devant_ Miss Hoggins; and if this had been her hope it would be cruel
to disappoint her.

So everybody called upon Mrs Fitz-Adam—everybody but Mrs Jamieson, who
used to show how honourable she was by never seeing Mrs Fitz-Adam when
they met at the Cranford parties.  There would be only eight or ten
ladies in the room, and Mrs Fitz-Adam was the largest of all, and she
invariably used to stand up when Mrs Jamieson came in, and curtsey very
low to her whenever she turned in her direction—so low, in fact, that I
think Mrs Jamieson must have looked at the wall above her, for she never
moved a muscle of her face, no more than if she had not seen her.  Still
Mrs Fitz-Adam persevered.

The spring evenings were getting bright and long when three or four
ladies in calashes met at Miss Barker’s door.  Do you know what a calash
is?  It is a covering worn over caps, not unlike the heads fastened on
old-fashioned gigs; but sometimes it is not quite so large.  This kind of
head-gear always made an awful impression on the children in Cranford;
and now two or three left off their play in the quiet sunny little
street, and gathered in wondering silence round Miss Pole, Miss Matty,
and myself.  We were silent too, so that we could hear loud, suppressed
whispers inside Miss Barker’s house: “Wait, Peggy! wait till I’ve run
upstairs and washed my hands.  When I cough, open the door; I’ll not be a
minute.”

And, true enough it was not a minute before we heard a noise, between a
sneeze and a crow; on which the door flew open.  Behind it stood a
round-eyed maiden, all aghast at the honourable company of calashes, who
marched in without a word.  She recovered presence of mind enough to
usher us into a small room, which had been the shop, but was now
converted into a temporary dressing-room.  There we unpinned and shook
ourselves, and arranged our features before the glass into a sweet and
gracious company-face; and then, bowing backwards with “After you,
ma’am,” we allowed Mrs Forrester to take precedence up the narrow
staircase that led to Miss Barker’s drawing-room.  There she sat, as
stately and composed as though we had never heard that odd-sounding
cough, from which her throat must have been even then sore and rough.
Kind, gentle, shabbily-dressed Mrs Forrester was immediately conducted to
the second place of honour—a seat arranged something like Prince Albert’s
near the Queen’s—good, but not so good.  The place of pre-eminence was,
of course, reserved for the Honourable Mrs Jamieson, who presently came
panting up the stairs—Carlo rushing round her on her progress, as if he
meant to trip her up.

And now Miss Betty Barker was a proud and happy woman!  She stirred the
fire, and shut the door, and sat as near to it as she could, quite on the
edge of her chair.  When Peggy came in, tottering under the weight of the
tea-tray, I noticed that Miss Barker was sadly afraid lest Peggy should
not keep her distance sufficiently.  She and her mistress were on very
familiar terms in their every-day intercourse, and Peggy wanted now to
make several little confidences to her, which Miss Barker was on thorns
to hear, but which she thought it her duty, as a lady, to repress.  So
she turned away from all Peggy’s asides and signs; but she made one or
two very malapropos answers to what was said; and at last, seized with a
bright idea, she exclaimed, “Poor, sweet Carlo!  I’m forgetting him.
Come downstairs with me, poor ittie doggie, and it shall have its tea, it
shall!”

In a few minutes she returned, bland and benignant as before; but I
thought she had forgotten to give the “poor ittie doggie” anything to
eat, judging by the avidity with which he swallowed down chance pieces of
cake.  The tea-tray was abundantly loaded—I was pleased to see it, I was
so hungry; but I was afraid the ladies present might think it vulgarly
heaped up.  I know they would have done at their own houses; but somehow
the heaps disappeared here.  I saw Mrs Jamieson eating seed-cake, slowly
and considerately, as she did everything; and I was rather surprised, for
I knew she had told us, on the occasion of her last party, that she never
had it in her house, it reminded her so much of scented soap.  She always
gave us Savoy biscuits.  However, Mrs Jamieson was kindly indulgent to
Miss Barker’s want of knowledge of the customs of high life; and, to
spare her feelings, ate three large pieces of seed-cake, with a placid,
ruminating expression of countenance, not unlike a cow’s.

After tea there was some little demur and difficulty.  We were six in
number; four could play at Preference, and for the other two there was
Cribbage.  But all, except myself (I was rather afraid of the Cranford
ladies at cards, for it was the most earnest and serious business they
ever engaged in), were anxious to be of the “pool.”  Even Miss Barker,
while declaring she did not know Spadille from Manille, was evidently
hankering to take a hand.  The dilemma was soon put an end to by a
singular kind of noise.  If a baron’s daughter-in-law could ever be
supposed to snore, I should have said Mrs Jamieson did so then; for,
overcome by the heat of the room, and inclined to doze by nature, the
temptation of that very comfortable arm-chair had been too much for her,
and Mrs Jamieson was nodding.  Once or twice she opened her eyes with an
effort, and calmly but unconsciously smiled upon us; but by-and-by, even
her benevolence was not equal to this exertion, and she was sound asleep.

 [Picture: The temptation of the comfortable arm-chair had been too much
                                 for her]

“It is very gratifying to me,” whispered Miss Barker at the card-table to
her three opponents, whom, notwithstanding her ignorance of the game, she
was “basting” most unmercifully—“very gratifying indeed, to see how
completely Mrs Jamieson feels at home in my poor little dwelling; she
could not have paid me a greater compliment.”

Miss Barker provided me with some literature in the shape of three or
four handsomely-bound fashion-books ten or twelve years old, observing,
as she put a little table and a candle for my especial benefit, that she
knew young people liked to look at pictures.  Carlo lay and snorted, and
started at his mistress’s feet.  He, too, was quite at home.

The card-table was an animated scene to watch; four ladies’ heads, with
niddle-noddling caps, all nearly meeting over the middle of the table in
their eagerness to whisper quick enough and loud enough: and every now
and then came Miss Barker’s “Hush, ladies! if you please, hush!  Mrs
Jamieson is asleep.”

It was very difficult to steer clear between Mrs Forrester’s deafness and
Mrs Jamieson’s sleepiness.  But Miss Barker managed her arduous task
well.  She repeated the whisper to Mrs Forrester, distorting her face
considerably, in order to show, by the motions of her lips, what was
said; and then she smiled kindly all round at us, and murmured to
herself, “Very gratifying, indeed; I wish my poor sister had been alive
to see this day.”

Presently the door was thrown wide open; Carlo started to his feet, with
a loud snapping bark, and Mrs Jamieson awoke: or, perhaps, she had not
been asleep—as she said almost directly, the room had been so light she
had been glad to keep her eyes shut, but had been listening with great
interest to all our amusing and agreeable conversation.  Peggy came in
once more, red with importance.  Another tray!  “Oh, gentility!” thought
I, “can yon endure this last shock?”  For Miss Barker had ordered (nay, I
doubt not, prepared, although she did say, “Why, Peggy, what have you
brought us?” and looked pleasantly surprised at the unexpected pleasure)
all sorts of good things for supper—scalloped oysters, potted lobsters,
jelly, a dish called “little Cupids” (which was in great favour with the
Cranford ladies, although too expensive to be given, except on solemn and
state occasions—macaroons sopped in brandy, I should have called it, if I
had not known its more refined and classical name).  In short, we were
evidently to be feasted with all that was sweetest and best; and we
thought it better to submit graciously, even at the cost of our
gentility—which never ate suppers in general, but which, like most
non-supper-eaters, was particularly hungry on all special occasions.

Miss Barker, in her former sphere, had, I daresay, been made acquainted
with the beverage they call cherry-brandy.  We none of us had ever seen
such a thing, and rather shrank back when she proffered it us—“just a
little, leetle glass, ladies; after the oysters and lobsters, you know.
Shell-fish are sometimes thought not very wholesome.”  We all shook our
heads like female mandarins; but, at last, Mrs Jamieson suffered herself
to be persuaded, and we followed her lead.  It was not exactly
unpalatable, though so hot and so strong that we thought ourselves bound
to give evidence that we were not accustomed to such things by coughing
terribly—almost as strangely as Miss Barker had done, before we were
admitted by Peggy.

“It’s very strong,” said Miss Pole, as she put down her empty glass; “I
do believe there’s spirit in it.”

“Only a little drop—just necessary to make it keep,” said Miss Barker.
“You know we put brandy-pepper over our preserves to make them keep.  I
often feel tipsy myself from eating damson tart.”

I question whether damson tart would have opened Mrs Jamieson’s heart as
the cherry-brandy did; but she told us of a coming event, respecting
which she had been quite silent till that moment.

“My sister-in-law, Lady Glenmire, is coming to stay with me.”

There was a chorus of “Indeed!” and then a pause.  Each one rapidly
reviewed her wardrobe, as to its fitness to appear in the presence of a
baron’s widow; for, of course, a series of small festivals were always
held in Cranford on the arrival of a visitor at any of our friends’
houses.  We felt very pleasantly excited on the present occasion.

Not long after this the maids and the lanterns were announced.  Mrs
Jamieson had the sedan-chair, which had squeezed itself into Miss
Barker’s narrow lobby with some difficulty, and most literally “stopped
the way.”  It required some skilful manoeuvring on the part of the old
chairmen (shoemakers by day, but when summoned to carry the sedan dressed
up in a strange old livery—long great-coats, with small capes, coeval
with the sedan, and similar to the dress of the class in Hogarth’s
pictures) to edge, and back, and try at it again, and finally to succeed
in carrying their burden out of Miss Barker’s front door.  Then we heard
their quick pit-a-pat along the quiet little street as we put on our
calashes and pinned up our gowns; Miss Barker hovering about us with
offers of help, which, if she had not remembered her former occupation,
and wished us to forget it, would have been much more pressing.



CHAPTER VIII—“YOUR LADYSHIP”


EARLY the next morning—directly after twelve—Miss Pole made her
appearance at Miss Matty’s.  Some very trifling piece of business was
alleged as a reason for the call; but there was evidently something
behind.  At last out it came.

“By the way, you’ll think I’m strangely ignorant; but, do you really
know, I am puzzled how we ought to address Lady Glenmire.  Do you say,
‘Your Ladyship,’ where you would say ‘you’ to a common person?  I have
been puzzling all morning; and are we to say ‘My Lady,’ instead of
‘Ma’am?’  Now you knew Lady Arley—will you kindly tell me the most
correct way of speaking to the peerage?”

Poor Miss Matty! she took off her spectacles and she put them on
again—but how Lady Arley was addressed, she could not remember.

“It is so long ago,” she said.  “Dear! dear! how stupid I am!  I don’t
think I ever saw her more than twice.  I know we used to call Sir Peter,
‘Sir Peter’—but he came much oftener to see us than Lady Arley did.
Deborah would have known in a minute.  ‘My lady’—‘your ladyship.’  It
sounds very strange, and as if it was not natural.  I never thought of it
before; but, now you have named it, I am all in a puzzle.”

It was very certain Miss Pole would obtain no wise decision from Miss
Matty, who got more bewildered every moment, and more perplexed as to
etiquettes of address.

“Well, I really think,” said Miss Pole, “I had better just go and tell
Mrs Forrester about our little difficulty.  One sometimes grows nervous;
and yet one would not have Lady Glenmire think we were quite ignorant of
the etiquettes of high life in Cranford.”

“And will you just step in here, dear Miss Pole, as you come back,
please, and tell me what you decide upon?  Whatever you and Mrs Forrester
fix upon, will be quite right, I’m sure.  ‘Lady Arley,’ ‘Sir Peter,’”
said Miss Matty to herself, trying to recall the old forms of words.

“Who is Lady Glenmire?” asked I.

“Oh, she’s the widow of Mr Jamieson—that’s Mrs Jamieson’s late husband,
you know—widow of his eldest brother.  Mrs Jamieson was a Miss Walker,
daughter of Governor Walker.  ‘Your ladyship.’  My dear, if they fix on
that way of speaking, you must just let me practice a little on you
first, for I shall feel so foolish and hot saying it the first time to
Lady Glenmire.”

It was really a relief to Miss Matty when Mrs Jamieson came on a very
unpolite errand.  I notice that apathetic people have more quiet
impertinence than others; and Mrs Jamieson came now to insinuate pretty
plainly that she did not particularly wish that the Cranford ladies
should call upon her sister-in-law.  I can hardly say how she made this
clear; for I grew very indignant and warm, while with slow deliberation
she was explaining her wishes to Miss Matty, who, a true lady herself,
could hardly understand the feeling which made Mrs Jamieson wish to
appear to her noble sister-in-law as if she only visited “county”
families.  Miss Matty remained puzzled and perplexed long after I had
found out the object of Mrs Jamieson’s visit.

When she did understand the drift of the honourable lady’s call, it was
pretty to see with what quiet dignity she received the intimation thus
uncourteously given.  She was not in the least hurt—she was of too gentle
a spirit for that; nor was she exactly conscious of disapproving of Mrs
Jamieson’s conduct; but there was something of this feeling in her mind,
I am sure, which made her pass from the subject to others in a less
flurried and more composed manner than usual.  Mrs Jamieson was, indeed,
the more flurried of the two, and I could see she was glad to take her
leave.

A little while afterwards Miss Pole returned, red and indignant.  “Well!
to be sure!  You’ve had Mrs Jamieson here, I find from Martha; and we are
not to call on Lady Glenmire.  Yes!  I met Mrs Jamieson, half-way between
here and Mrs Forrester’s, and she told me; she took me so by surprise, I
had nothing to say.  I wish I had thought of something very sharp and
sarcastic; I dare say I shall to-night.  And Lady Glenmire is but the
widow of a Scotch baron after all!  I went on to look at Mrs Forrester’s
Peerage, to see who this lady was, that is to be kept under a glass case:
widow of a Scotch peer—never sat in the House of Lords—and as poor as
Job, I dare say; and she—fifth daughter of some Mr Campbell or other.
You are the daughter of a rector, at any rate, and related to the Arleys;
and Sir Peter might have been Viscount Arley, every one says.”

Miss Matty tried to soothe Miss Pole, but in vain.  That lady, usually so
kind and good-humoured, was now in a full flow of anger.

“And I went and ordered a cap this morning, to be quite ready,” said she
at last, letting out the secret which gave sting to Mrs Jamieson’s
intimation.  “Mrs Jamieson shall see if it is so easy to get me to make
fourth at a pool when she has none of her fine Scotch relations with
her!”

In coming out of church, the first Sunday on which Lady Glenmire appeared
in Cranford, we sedulously talked together, and turned our backs on Mrs
Jamieson and her guest.  If we might not call on her, we would not even
look at her, though we were dying with curiosity to know what she was
like.  We had the comfort of questioning Martha in the afternoon.  Martha
did not belong to a sphere of society whose observation could be an
implied compliment to Lady Glenmire, and Martha had made good use of her
eyes.

“Well, ma’am! is it the little lady with Mrs Jamieson, you mean?  I
thought you would like more to know how young Mrs Smith was dressed; her
being a bride.”  (Mrs Smith was the butcher’s wife).

Miss Pole said, “Good gracious me! as if we cared about a Mrs Smith;” but
was silent as Martha resumed her speech.

“The little lady in Mrs Jamieson’s pew had on, ma’am, rather an old black
silk, and a shepherd’s plaid cloak, ma’am, and very bright black eyes she
had, ma’am, and a pleasant, sharp face; not over young, ma’am, but yet, I
should guess, younger than Mrs Jamieson herself.  She looked up and down
the church, like a bird, and nipped up her petticoats, when she came out,
as quick and sharp as ever I see.  I’ll tell you what, ma’am, she’s more
like Mrs Deacon, at the ‘Coach and Horses,’ nor any one.”

“Hush, Martha!” said Miss Matty, “that’s not respectful.”

“Isn’t it, ma’am?  I beg pardon, I’m sure; but Jem Hearn said so as well.
He said, she was just such a sharp, stirring sort of a body”—

“Lady,” said Miss Pole.

“Lady—as Mrs Deacon.”

Another Sunday passed away, and we still averted our eyes from Mrs
Jamieson and her guest, and made remarks to ourselves that we thought
were very severe—almost too much so.  Miss Matty was evidently uneasy at
our sarcastic manner of speaking.

Perhaps by this time Lady Glenmire had found out that Mrs Jamieson’s was
not the gayest, liveliest house in the world; perhaps Mrs Jamieson had
found out that most of the county families were in London, and that those
who remained in the country were not so alive as they might have been to
the circumstance of Lady Glenmire being in their neighbourhood.  Great
events spring out of small causes; so I will not pretend to say what
induced Mrs Jamieson to alter her determination of excluding the Cranford
ladies, and send notes of invitation all round for a small party on the
following Tuesday.  Mr Mulliner himself brought them round.  He _would_
always ignore the fact of there being a back-door to any house, and gave
a louder rat-tat than his mistress, Mrs Jamieson.  He had three little
notes, which he carried in a large basket, in order to impress his
mistress with an idea of their great weight, though they might easily
have gone into his waistcoat pocket.

Miss Matty and I quietly decided that we would have a previous engagement
at home: it was the evening on which Miss Matty usually made
candle-lighters of all the notes and letters of the week; for on Mondays
her accounts were always made straight—not a penny owing from the week
before; so, by a natural arrangement, making candle-lighters fell upon a
Tuesday evening, and gave us a legitimate excuse for declining Mrs
Jamieson’s invitation.  But before our answer was written, in came Miss
Pole, with an open note in her hand.

“So!” she said.  “Ah!  I see you have got your note, too.  Better late
than never.  I could have told my Lady Glenmire she would be glad enough
of our society before a fortnight was over.”

“Yes,” said Miss Matty, “we’re asked for Tuesday evening.  And perhaps
you would just kindly bring your work across and drink tea with us that
night.  It is my usual regular time for looking over the last week’s
bills, and notes, and letters, and making candle-lighters of them; but
that does not seem quite reason enough for saying I have a previous
engagement at home, though I meant to make it do.  Now, if you would
come, my conscience would be quite at ease, and luckily the note is not
written yet.”

I saw Miss Pole’s countenance change while Miss Matty was speaking.

“Don’t you mean to go then?” asked she.

“Oh, no!” said, Miss Matty quietly.  “You don’t either, I suppose?”

“I don’t know,” replied Miss Pole.  “Yes, I think I do,” said she, rather
briskly; and on seeing Miss Matty look surprised, she added, “You see,
one would not like Mrs Jamieson to think that anything she could do, or
say, was of consequence enough to give offence; it would be a kind of
letting down of ourselves, that I, for one, should not like.  It would be
too flattering to Mrs Jamieson if we allowed her to suppose that what she
had said affected us a week, nay ten days afterwards.”

“Well!  I suppose it is wrong to be hurt and annoyed so long about
anything; and, perhaps, after all, she did not mean to vex us.  But I
must say, I could not have brought myself to say the things Mrs Jamieson
did about our not calling.  I really don’t think I shall go.”

“Oh, come!  Miss Matty, you must go; you know our friend Mrs Jamieson is
much more phlegmatic than most people, and does not enter into the little
delicacies of feeling which you possess in so remarkable a degree.”

“I thought you possessed them, too, that day Mrs Jamieson called to tell
us not to go,” said Miss Matty innocently.

But Miss Pole, in addition to her delicacies of feeling, possessed a very
smart cap, which she was anxious to show to an admiring world; and so she
seemed to forget all her angry words uttered not a fortnight before, and
to be ready to act on what she called the great Christian principle of
“Forgive and forget”; and she lectured dear Miss Matty so long on this
head that she absolutely ended by assuring her it was her duty, as a
deceased rector’s daughter, to buy a new cap and go to the party at Mrs
Jamieson’s.  So “we were most happy to accept,” instead of “regretting
that we were obliged to decline.”

                          [Picture: Mr Mulliner]

The expenditure on dress in Cranford was principally in that one article
referred to.  If the heads were buried in smart new caps, the ladies were
like ostriches, and cared not what became of their bodies.  Old gowns,
white and venerable collars, any number of brooches, up and down and
everywhere (some with dogs’ eyes painted in them; some that were like
small picture-frames with mausoleums and weeping-willows neatly executed
in hair inside; some, again, with miniatures of ladies and gentlemen
sweetly smiling out of a nest of stiff muslin), old brooches for a
permanent ornament, and new caps to suit the fashion of the day—the
ladies of Cranford always dressed with chaste elegance and propriety, as
Miss Barker once prettily expressed it.

And with three new caps, and a greater array of brooches than had ever
been seen together at one time since Cranford was a town, did Mrs
Forrester, and Miss Matty, and Miss Pole appear on that memorable Tuesday
evening.  I counted seven brooches myself on Miss Pole’s dress.  Two were
fixed negligently in her cap (one was a butterfly made of Scotch pebbles,
which a vivid imagination might believe to be the real insect); one
fastened her net neckerchief; one her collar; one ornamented the front of
her gown, midway between her throat and waist; and another adorned the
point of her stomacher.  Where the seventh was I have forgotten, but it
was somewhere about her, I am sure.

But I am getting on too fast, in describing the dresses of the company.
I should first relate the gathering on the way to Mrs Jamieson’s.  That
lady lived in a large house just outside the town.  A road which had
known what it was to be a street ran right before the house, which opened
out upon it without any intervening garden or court.  Whatever the sun
was about, he never shone on the front of that house.  To be sure, the
living-rooms were at the back, looking on to a pleasant garden; the front
windows only belonged to kitchens and housekeepers’ rooms, and pantries,
and in one of them Mr Mulliner was reported to sit.  Indeed, looking
askance, we often saw the back of a head covered with hair powder, which
also extended itself over his coat-collar down to his very waist; and
this imposing back was always engaged in reading the _St James’s
Chronicle_, opened wide, which, in some degree, accounted for the length
of time the said newspaper was in reaching us—equal subscribers with Mrs
Jamieson, though, in right of her honourableness, she always had the
reading of it first.  This very Tuesday, the delay in forwarding the last
number had been particularly aggravating; just when both Miss Pole and
Miss Matty, the former more especially, had been wanting to see it, in
order to coach up the Court news ready for the evening’s interview with
aristocracy.  Miss Pole told us she had absolutely taken time by the
forelock, and been dressed by five o’clock, in order to be ready if the
_St James’s Chronicle_ should come in at the last moment—the very _St
James’s Chronicle_ which the powdered head was tranquilly and composedly
reading as we passed the accustomed window this evening.

“The impudence of the man!” said Miss Pole, in a low indignant whisper.
“I should like to ask him whether his mistress pays her quarter-share for
his exclusive use.”

We looked at her in admiration of the courage of her thought; for Mr
Mulliner was an object of great awe to all of us.  He seemed never to
have forgotten his condescension in coming to live at Cranford.  Miss
Jenkyns, at times, had stood forth as the undaunted champion of her sex,
and spoken to him on terms of equality; but even Miss Jenkyns could get
no higher.  In his pleasantest and most gracious moods he looked like a
sulky cockatoo.  He did not speak except in gruff monosyllables.  He
would wait in the hall when we begged him not to wait, and then look
deeply offended because we had kept him there, while, with trembling,
hasty hands we prepared ourselves for appearing in company.

Miss Pole ventured on a small joke as we went upstairs, intended, though
addressed to us, to afford Mr Mulliner some slight amusement.  We all
smiled, in order to seem as if we felt at our ease, and timidly looked
for Mr Mulliner’s sympathy.  Not a muscle of that wooden face had
relaxed; and we were grave in an instant.

Mrs Jamieson’s drawing-room was cheerful; the evening sun came streaming
into it, and the large square window was clustered round with flowers.
The furniture was white and gold; not the later style, Louis Quatorze, I
think they call it, all shells and twirls; no, Mrs Jamieson’s chairs and
tables had not a curve or bend about them.  The chair and table legs
diminished as they neared the ground, and were straight and square in all
their corners.  The chairs were all a-row against the walls, with the
exception of four or five which stood in a circle round the fire.  They
were railed with white bars across the back and knobbed with gold;
neither the railings nor the knobs invited to ease.  There was a japanned
table devoted to literature, on which lay a Bible, a Peerage, and a
Prayer-Book.  There was another square Pembroke table dedicated to the
Fine Arts, on which were a kaleidoscope, conversation-cards, puzzle-cards
(tied together to an interminable length with faded pink satin ribbon),
and a box painted in fond imitation of the drawings which decorate
tea-chests.  Carlo lay on the worsted-worked rug, and ungraciously barked
at us as we entered.  Mrs Jamieson stood up, giving us each a torpid
smile of welcome, and looking helplessly beyond us at Mr Mulliner, as if
she hoped he would place us in chairs, for, if he did not, she never
could.  I suppose he thought we could find our way to the circle round
the fire, which reminded me of Stonehenge, I don’t know why.  Lady
Glenmire came to the rescue of our hostess, and, somehow or other, we
found ourselves for the first time placed agreeably, and not formally, in
Mrs Jamieson’s house.  Lady Glenmire, now we had time to look at her,
proved to be a bright little woman of middle age, who had been very
pretty in the days of her youth, and who was even yet very
pleasant-looking.  I saw Miss Pole appraising her dress in the first five
minutes, and I take her word when she said the next day—

“My dear! ten pounds would have purchased every stitch she had on—lace
and all.”

It was pleasant to suspect that a peeress could be poor, and partly
reconciled us to the fact that her husband had never sat in the House of
Lords; which, when we first heard of it, seemed a kind of swindling us
out of our prospects on false pretences; a sort of “A Lord and No Lord”
business.

We were all very silent at first.  We were thinking what we could talk
about, that should be high enough to interest My Lady.  There had been a
rise in the price of sugar, which, as preserving-time was near, was a
piece of intelligence to all our house-keeping hearts, and would have
been the natural topic if Lady Glenmire had not been by.  But we were not
sure if the peerage ate preserves—much less knew how they were made.  At
last, Miss Pole, who had always a great deal of courage and _savoir
faire_, spoke to Lady Glenmire, who on her part had seemed just as much
puzzled to know how to break the silence as we were.

“Has your ladyship been to Court lately?” asked she; and then gave a
little glance round at us, half timid and half triumphant, as much as to
say, “See how judiciously I have chosen a subject befitting the rank of
the stranger.”

“I never was there in my life,” said Lady Glenmire, with a broad Scotch
accent, but in a very sweet voice.  And then, as if she had been too
abrupt, she added: “We very seldom went to London—only twice, in fact,
during all my married life; and before I was married my father had far
too large a family” (fifth daughter of Mr Campbell was in all our minds,
I am sure) “to take us often from our home, even to Edinburgh.  Ye’ll
have been in Edinburgh, maybe?” said she, suddenly brightening up with
the hope of a common interest.  We had none of us been there; but Miss
Pole had an uncle who once had passed a night there, which was very
pleasant.

Mrs Jamieson, meanwhile, was absorbed in wonder why Mr Mulliner did not
bring the tea; and at length the wonder oozed out of her mouth.

“I had better ring the bell, my dear, had not I?” said Lady Glenmire
briskly.

“No—I think not—Mulliner does not like to be hurried.”

We should have liked our tea, for we dined at an earlier hour than Mrs
Jamieson.  I suspect Mr Mulliner had to finish the _St James’s Chronicle_
before he chose to trouble himself about tea.  His mistress fidgeted and
fidgeted, and kept saying, “I can’t think why Mulliner does not bring
tea.  I can’t think what he can be about.”  And Lady Glenmire at last
grew quite impatient, but it was a pretty kind of impatience after all;
and she rang the bell rather sharply, on receiving a half-permission from
her sister-in-law to do so.  Mr Mulliner appeared in dignified surprise.
“Oh!” said Mrs Jamieson, “Lady Glenmire rang the bell; I believe it was
for tea.”

In a few minutes tea was brought.  Very delicate was the china, very old
the plate, very thin the bread and butter, and very small the lumps of
sugar.  Sugar was evidently Mrs Jamieson’s favourite economy.  I question
if the little filigree sugar-tongs, made something like scissors, could
have opened themselves wide enough to take up an honest, vulgar
good-sized piece; and when I tried to seize two little minnikin pieces at
once, so as not to be detected in too many returns to the sugar-basin,
they absolutely dropped one, with a little sharp clatter, quite in a
malicious and unnatural manner.  But before this happened we had had a
slight disappointment.  In the little silver jug was cream, in the larger
one was milk.  As soon as Mr Mulliner came in, Carlo began to beg, which
was a thing our manners forebade us to do, though I am sure we were just
as hungry; and Mrs Jamieson said she was certain we would excuse her if
she gave her poor dumb Carlo his tea first.  She accordingly mixed a
saucerful for him, and put it down for him to lap; and then she told us
how intelligent and sensible the dear little fellow was; he knew cream
quite well, and constantly refused tea with only milk in it: so the milk
was left for us; but we silently thought we were quite as intelligent and
sensible as Carlo, and felt as if insult were added to injury when we
were called upon to admire the gratitude evinced by his wagging his tail
for the cream which should have been ours.

After tea we thawed down into common-life subjects.  We were thankful to
Lady Glenmire for having proposed some more bread and butter, and this
mutual want made us better acquainted with her than we should ever have
been with talking about the Court, though Miss Pole did say she had hoped
to know how the dear Queen was from some one who had seen her.

The friendship begun over bread and butter extended on to cards.  Lady
Glenmire played Preference to admiration, and was a complete authority as
to Ombre and Quadrille.  Even Miss Pole quite forgot to say “my lady,”
and “your ladyship,” and said “Basto! ma’am”; “you have Spadille, I
believe,” just as quietly as if we had never held the great Cranford
Parliament on the subject of the proper mode of addressing a peeress.

As a proof of how thoroughly we had forgotten that we were in the
presence of one who might have sat down to tea with a coronet, instead of
a cap, on her head, Mrs Forrester related a curious little fact to Lady
Glenmire—an anecdote known to the circle of her intimate friends, but of
which even Mrs Jamieson was not aware.  It related to some fine old lace,
the sole relic of better days, which Lady Glenmire was admiring on Mrs
Forrester’s collar.

“Yes,” said that lady, “such lace cannot be got now for either love or
money; made by the nuns abroad, they tell me.  They say that they can’t
make it now even there.  But perhaps they can, now they’ve passed the
Catholic Emancipation Bill.  I should not wonder.  But, in the meantime,
I treasure up my lace very much.  I daren’t even trust the washing of it
to my maid” (the little charity school-girl I have named before, but who
sounded well as “my maid”).  “I always wash it myself.  And once it had a
narrow escape.  Of course, your ladyship knows that such lace must never
be starched or ironed.  Some people wash it in sugar and water, and some
in coffee, to make it the right yellow colour; but I myself have a very
good receipt for washing it in milk, which stiffens it enough, and gives
it a very good creamy colour.  Well, ma’am, I had tacked it together (and
the beauty of this fine lace is that, when it is wet, it goes into a very
little space), and put it to soak in milk, when, unfortunately, I left
the room; on my return, I found pussy on the table, looking very like a
thief, but gulping very uncomfortably, as if she was half-chocked with
something she wanted to swallow and could not.  And, would you believe
it?  At first I pitied her, and said ‘Poor pussy! poor pussy!’ till, all
at once, I looked and saw the cup of milk empty—cleaned out!  ‘You
naughty cat!’ said I, and I believe I was provoked enough to give her a
slap, which did no good, but only helped the lace down—just as one slaps
a choking child on the back.  I could have cried, I was so vexed; but I
determined I would not give the lace up without a struggle for it.  I
hoped the lace might disagree with her, at any rate; but it would have
been too much for Job, if he had seen, as I did, that cat come in, quite
placid and purring, not a quarter of an hour after, and almost expecting
to be stroked.  ‘No, pussy!’ said I, ‘if you have any conscience you
ought not to expect that!’  And then a thought struck me; and I rang the
bell for my maid, and sent her to Mr Hoggins, with my compliments, and
would he be kind enough to lend me one of his top-boots for an hour?  I
did not think there was anything odd in the message; but Jenny said the
young men in the surgery laughed as if they would be ill at my wanting a
top-boot.  When it came, Jenny and I put pussy in, with her forefeet
straight down, so that they were fastened, and could not scratch, and we
gave her a teaspoonful of current-jelly in which (your ladyship must
excuse me) I had mixed some tartar emetic.  I shall never forget how
anxious I was for the next half-hour.  I took pussy to my own room, and
spread a clean towel on the floor.  I could have kissed her when she
returned the lace to sight, very much as it had gone down.  Jenny had
boiling water ready, and we soaked it and soaked it, and spread it on a
lavender-bush in the sun before I could touch it again, even to put it in
milk.  But now your ladyship would never guess that it had been in
pussy’s inside.”

          [Picture: We gave her a teaspoonful of current-jelly]

We found out, in the course of the evening, that Lady Glenmire was going
to pay Mrs Jamieson a long visit, as she had given up her apartments in
Edinburgh, and had no ties to take her back there in a hurry.  On the
whole, we were rather glad to hear this, for she had made a pleasant
impression upon us; and it was also very comfortable to find, from things
which dropped out in the course of conversation, that, in addition to
many other genteel qualities, she was far removed from the “vulgarity of
wealth.”

“Don’t you find it very unpleasant walking?” asked Mrs Jamieson, as our
respective servants were announced.  It was a pretty regular question
from Mrs Jamieson, who had her own carriage in the coach-house, and
always went out in a sedan-chair to the very shortest distances.  The
answers were nearly as much a matter of course.

“Oh dear, no! it is so pleasant and still at night!”  “Such a refreshment
after the excitement of a party!”  “The stars are so beautiful!”  This
last was from Miss Matty.

“Are you fond of astronomy?” Lady Glenmire asked.

“Not very,” replied Miss Matty, rather confused at the moment to remember
which was astronomy and which was astrology—but the answer was true under
either circumstance, for she read, and was slightly alarmed at Francis
Moore’s astrological predictions; and, as to astronomy, in a private and
confidential conversation, she had told me she never could believe that
the earth was moving constantly, and that she would not believe it if she
could, it made her feel so tired and dizzy whenever she thought about it.

In our pattens we picked our way home with extra care that night, so
refined and delicate were our perceptions after drinking tea with “my
lady.”



CHAPTER IX—SIGNOR BRUNONI


SOON after the events of which I gave an account in my last paper, I was
summoned home by my father’s illness; and for a time I forgot, in anxiety
about him, to wonder how my dear friends at Cranford were getting on, or
how Lady Glenmire could reconcile herself to the dulness of the long
visit which she was still paying to her sister-in-law, Mrs Jamieson.
When my father grew a little stronger I accompanied him to the seaside,
so that altogether I seemed banished from Cranford, and was deprived of
the opportunity of hearing any chance intelligence of the dear little
town for the greater part of that year.

Late in November—when we had returned home again, and my father was once
more in good health—I received a letter from Miss Matty; and a very
mysterious letter it was.  She began many sentences without ending them,
running them one into another, in much the same confused sort of way in
which written words run together on blotting-paper.  All I could make out
was that, if my father was better (which she hoped he was), and would
take warning and wear a great-coat from Michaelmas to Lady-day, if
turbans were in fashion, could I tell her?  Such a piece of gaiety was
going to happen as had not been seen or known of since Wombwell’s lions
came, when one of them ate a little child’s arm; and she was, perhaps,
too old to care about dress, but a new cap she must have; and, having
heard that turbans were worn, and some of the county families likely to
come, she would like to look tidy, if I would bring her a cap from the
milliner I employed; and oh, dear! how careless of her to forget that she
wrote to beg I would come and pay her a visit next Tuesday; when she
hoped to have something to offer me in the way of amusement, which she
would not now more particularly describe, only sea-green was her
favourite colour.  So she ended her letter; but in a P.S. she added, she
thought she might as well tell me what was the peculiar attraction to
Cranford just now; Signor Brunoni was going to exhibit his wonderful
magic in the Cranford Assembly Rooms on Wednesday and Friday evening in
the following week.

I was very glad to accept the invitation from my dear Miss Matty,
independently of the conjuror, and most particularly anxious to prevent
her from disfiguring her small, gentle, mousey face with a great
Saracen’s head turban; and accordingly, I bought her a pretty, neat,
middle-aged cap, which, however, was rather a disappointment to her when,
on my arrival, she followed me into my bedroom, ostensibly to poke the
fire, but in reality, I do believe, to see if the sea-green turban was
not inside the cap-box with which I had travelled.  It was in vain that I
twirled the cap round on my hand to exhibit back and side fronts: her
heart had been set upon a turban, and all she could do was to say, with
resignation in her look and voice—

“I am sure you did your best, my dear.  It is just like the caps all the
ladies in Cranford are wearing, and they have had theirs for a year, I
dare say.  I should have liked something newer, I confess—something more
like the turbans Miss Betty Barker tells me Queen Adelaide wears; but it
is very pretty, my dear.  And I dare say lavender will wear better than
sea-green.  Well, after all, what is dress, that we should care anything
about it?  You’ll tell me if you want anything, my dear.  Here is the
bell.  I suppose turbans have not got down to Drumble yet?”

So saying, the dear old lady gently bemoaned herself out of the room,
leaving me to dress for the evening, when, as she informed me, she
expected Miss Pole and Mrs Forrester, and she hoped I should not feel
myself too much tired to join the party.  Of course I should not; and I
made some haste to unpack and arrange my dress; but, with all my speed, I
heard the arrivals and the buzz of conversation in the next room before I
was ready.  Just as I opened the door, I caught the words, “I was foolish
to expect anything very genteel out of the Drumble shops; poor girl! she
did her best, I’ve no doubt.”  But, for all that, I had rather that she
blamed Drumble and me than disfigured herself with a turban.

Miss Pole was always the person, in the trio of Cranford ladies now
assembled, to have had adventures.  She was in the habit of spending the
morning in rambling from shop to shop, not to purchase anything (except
an occasional reel of cotton or a piece of tape), but to see the new
articles and report upon them, and to collect all the stray pieces of
intelligence in the town.  She had a way, too, of demurely popping hither
and thither into all sorts of places to gratify her curiosity on any
point—a way which, if she had not looked so very genteel and prim, might
have been considered impertinent.  And now, by the expressive way in
which she cleared her throat, and waited for all minor subjects (such as
caps and turbans) to be cleared off the course, we knew she had something
very particular to relate, when the due pause came—and I defy any people
possessed of common modesty to keep up a conversation long, where one
among them sits up aloft in silence, looking down upon all the things
they chance to say as trivial and contemptible compared to what they
could disclose, if properly entreated.  Miss Pole began—

“As I was stepping out of Gordon’s shop to-day, I chanced to go into the
‘George’ (my Betty has a second-cousin who is chambermaid there, and I
thought Betty would like to hear how she was), and, not seeing anyone
about, I strolled up the staircase, and found myself in the passage
leading to the Assembly Room (you and I remember the Assembly Room, I am
sure, Miss Matty! and the minuets de la cour!); so I went on, not
thinking of what I was about, when, all at once, I perceived that I was
in the middle of the preparations for to-morrow night—the room being
divided with great clothes-maids, over which Crosby’s men were tacking
red flannel; very dark and odd it seemed; it quite bewildered me, and I
was going on behind the screens, in my absence of mind, when a gentleman
(quite the gentleman, I can assure you) stepped forwards and asked if I
had any business he could arrange for me.  He spoke such pretty broken
English, I could not help thinking of Thaddeus of Warsaw, and the
Hungarian Brothers, and Santo Sebastiani; and while I was busy picturing
his past life to myself, he had bowed me out of the room.  But wait a
minute!  You have not heard half my story yet!  I was going downstairs,
when who should I meet but Betty’s second-cousin.  So, of course, I
stopped to speak to her for Betty’s sake; and she told me that I had
really seen the conjuror—the gentleman who spoke broken English was
Signor Brunoni himself.  Just at this moment he passed us on the stairs,
making such a graceful bow! in reply to which I dropped a curtsey—all
foreigners have such polite manners, one catches something of it.  But
when he had gone downstairs, I bethought me that I had dropped my glove
in the Assembly Room (it was safe in my muff all the time, but I never
found it till afterwards); so I went back, and, just as I was creeping up
the passage left on one side of the great screen that goes nearly across
the room, who should I see but the very same gentleman that had met me
before, and passed me on the stairs, coming now forwards from the inner
part of the room, to which there is no entrance—you remember, Miss
Matty—and just repeating, in his pretty broken English, the inquiry if I
had any business there—I don’t mean that he put it quite so bluntly, but
he seemed very determined that I should not pass the screen—so, of
course, I explained about my glove, which, curiously enough, I found at
that very moment.”

Miss Pole, then, had seen the conjuror—the real, live conjuror! and
numerous were the questions we all asked her.  “Had he a beard?”  “Was he
young, or old?”  “Fair, or dark?”  “Did he look”—(unable to shape my
question prudently, I put it in another form)—“How did he look?”  In
short, Miss Pole was the heroine of the evening, owing to her morning’s
encounter.  If she was not the rose (that is to say the conjuror) she had
been near it.

Conjuration, sleight of hand, magic, witchcraft, were the subjects of the
evening.  Miss Pole was slightly sceptical, and inclined to think there
might be a scientific solution found for even the proceedings of the
Witch of Endor.  Mrs Forrester believed everything, from ghosts to
death-watches.  Miss Matty ranged between the two—always convinced by the
last speaker.  I think she was naturally more inclined to Mrs Forrester’s
side, but a desire of proving herself a worthy sister to Miss Jenkyns
kept her equally balanced—Miss Jenkyns, who would never allow a servant
to call the little rolls of tallow that formed themselves round candles
“winding-sheets,” but insisted on their being spoken of as
“roley-poleys!”  A sister of hers to be superstitious!  It would never
do.

After tea, I was despatched downstairs into the dining-parlour for that
volume of the old Encyclopædia which contained the nouns beginning with
C, in order that Miss Pole might prime herself with scientific
explanations for the tricks of the following evening.  It spoilt the pool
at Preference which Miss Matty and Mrs Forrester had been looking forward
to, for Miss Pole became so much absorbed in her subject, and the plates
by which it was illustrated, that we felt it would be cruel to disturb
her otherwise than by one or two well-timed yawns, which I threw in now
and then, for I was really touched by the meek way in which the two
ladies were bearing their disappointment.  But Miss Pole only read the
more zealously, imparting to us no more information than this—

“Ah! I see; I comprehend perfectly.  A represents the ball.  Put A
between B and D—no! between C and F, and turn the second joint of the
third finger of your left hand over the wrist of your right H.  Very
clear indeed!  My dear Mrs Forrester, conjuring and witchcraft is a mere
affair of the alphabet.  Do let me read you this one passage?”

Mrs Forrester implored Miss Pole to spare her, saying, from a child
upwards, she never could understand being read aloud to; and I dropped
the pack of cards, which I had been shuffling very audibly, and by this
discreet movement I obliged Miss Pole to perceive that Preference was to
have been the order of the evening, and to propose, rather unwillingly,
that the pool should commence.  The pleasant brightness that stole over
the other two ladies’ faces on this!  Miss Matty had one or two twinges
of self-reproach for having interrupted Miss Pole in her studies: and did
not remember her cards well, or give her full attention to the game,
until she had soothed her conscience by offering to lend the volume of
the Encyclopædia to Miss Pole, who accepted it thankfully, and said Betty
should take it home when she came with the lantern.

The next evening we were all in a little gentle flutter at the idea of
the gaiety before us.  Miss Matty went up to dress betimes, and hurried
me until I was ready, when we found we had an hour-and-a-half to wait
before the “doors opened at seven precisely.”  And we had only twenty
yards to go!  However, as Miss Matty said, it would not do to get too
much absorbed in anything, and forget the time; so she thought we had
better sit quietly, without lighting the candles, till five minutes to
seven.  So Miss Matty dozed, and I knitted.

At length we set off; and at the door under the carriage-way at the
“George,” we met Mrs Forrester and Miss Pole: the latter was discussing
the subject of the evening with more vehemence than ever, and throwing
X’s and B’s at our heads like hailstones.  She had even copied one or two
of the “receipts”—as she called them—for the different tricks, on backs
of letters, ready to explain and to detect Signor Brunoni’s arts.

We went into the cloak-room adjoining the Assembly Room; Miss Matty gave
a sigh or two to her departed youth, and the remembrance of the last time
she had been there, as she adjusted her pretty new cap before the
strange, quaint old mirror in the cloak-room.  The Assembly Room had been
added to the inn, about a hundred years before, by the different county
families, who met together there once a month during the winter to dance
and play at cards.  Many a county beauty had first swung through the
minuet that she afterwards danced before Queen Charlotte in this very
room.  It was said that one of the Gunnings had graced the apartment with
her beauty; it was certain that a rich and beautiful widow, Lady
Williams, had here been smitten with the noble figure of a young artist,
who was staying with some family in the neighbourhood for professional
purposes, and accompanied his patrons to the Cranford Assembly.  And a
pretty bargain poor Lady Williams had of her handsome husband, if all
tales were true.  Now, no beauty blushed and dimpled along the sides of
the Cranford Assembly Room; no handsome artist won hearts by his bow,
_chapeau bras_ in hand; the old room was dingy; the salmon-coloured paint
had faded into a drab; great pieces of plaster had chipped off from the
fine wreaths and festoons on its walls; but still a mouldy odour of
aristocracy lingered about the place, and a dusty recollection of the
days that were gone made Miss Matty and Mrs Forrester bridle up as they
entered, and walk mincingly up the room, as if there were a number of
genteel observers, instead of two little boys with a stick of toffee
between them with which to beguile the time.

We stopped short at the second front row; I could hardly understand why,
until I heard Miss Pole ask a stray waiter if any of the county families
were expected; and when he shook his head, and believed not, Mrs
Forrester and Miss Matty moved forwards, and our party represented a
conversational square.  The front row was soon augmented and enriched by
Lady Glenmire and Mrs Jamieson.  We six occupied the two front rows, and
our aristocratic seclusion was respected by the groups of shop-keepers
who strayed in from time to time and huddled together on the back
benches.  At least I conjectured so, from the noise they made, and the
sonorous bumps they gave in sitting down; but when, in weariness of the
obstinate green curtain that would not draw up, but would stare at me
with two odd eyes, seen through holes, as in the old tapestry story, I
would fain have looked round at the merry chattering people behind me,
Miss Pole clutched my arm, and begged me not to turn, for “it was not the
thing.”  What “the thing” was, I never could find out, but it must have
been something eminently dull and tiresome.  However, we all sat eyes
right, square front, gazing at the tantalising curtain, and hardly
speaking intelligibly, we were so afraid of being caught in the vulgarity
of making any noise in a place of public amusement.  Mrs Jamieson was the
most fortunate, for she fell asleep.

At length the eyes disappeared—the curtain quivered—one side went up
before the other, which stuck fast; it was dropped again, and, with a
fresh effort, and a vigorous pull from some unseen hand, it flew up,
revealing to our sight a magnificent gentleman in the Turkish costume,
seated before a little table, gazing at us (I should have said with the
same eyes that I had last seen through the hole in the curtain) with calm
and condescending dignity, “like a being of another sphere,” as I heard a
sentimental voice ejaculate behind me.

“That’s not Signor Brunoni!” said Miss Pole decidedly; and so audibly
that I am sure he heard, for he glanced down over his flowing beard at
our party with an air of mute reproach.  “Signor Brunoni had no beard—but
perhaps he’ll come soon.”  So she lulled herself into patience.
Meanwhile, Miss Matty had reconnoitred through her eye-glass, wiped it,
and looked again.  Then she turned round, and said to me, in a kind,
mild, sorrowful tone—

“You see, my dear, turbans _are_ worn.”

But we had no time for more conversation.  The Grand Turk, as Miss Pole
chose to call him, arose and announced himself as Signor Brunoni.

“I don’t believe him!” exclaimed Miss Pole, in a defiant manner.  He
looked at her again, with the same dignified upbraiding in his
countenance.  “I don’t!” she repeated more positively than ever.  “Signor
Brunoni had not got that muffy sort of thing about his chin, but looked
like a close-shaved Christian gentleman.”

Miss Pole’s energetic speeches had the good effect of wakening up Mrs
Jamieson, who opened her eyes wide, in sign of the deepest attention—a
proceeding which silenced Miss Pole and encouraged the Grand Turk to
proceed, which he did in very broken English—so broken that there was no
cohesion between the parts of his sentences; a fact which he himself
perceived at last, and so left off speaking and proceeded to action.

Now we _were_ astonished.  How he did his tricks I could not imagine; no,
not even when Miss Pole pulled out her pieces of paper and began reading
aloud—or at least in a very audible whisper—the separate “receipts” for
the most common of his tricks.  If ever I saw a man frown and look
enraged, I saw the Grand Turk frown at Miss Pole; but, as she said, what
could be expected but unchristian looks from a Mussulman?  If Miss Pole
were sceptical, and more engrossed with her receipts and diagrams than
with his tricks, Miss Matty and Mrs Forrester were mystified and
perplexed to the highest degree.  Mrs Jamieson kept taking her spectacles
off and wiping them, as if she thought it was something defective in them
which made the legerdemain; and Lady Glenmire, who had seen many curious
sights in Edinburgh, was very much struck with the tricks, and would not
at all agree with Miss Pole, who declared that anybody could do them with
a little practice, and that she would, herself, undertake to do all he
did, with two hours given to study the Encyclopædia and make her third
finger flexible.

At last Miss Matty and Mrs Forrester became perfectly awestricken.  They
whispered together.  I sat just behind them, so I could not help hearing
what they were saying.  Miss Matty asked Mrs Forrester “if she thought it
was quite right to have come to see such things?  She could not help
fearing they were lending encouragement to something that was not quite”—
A little shake of the head filled up the blank.  Mrs Forrester replied,
that the same thought had crossed her mind; she too was feeling very
uncomfortable, it was so very strange.  She was quite certain that it was
her pocket-handkerchief which was in that loaf just now; and it had been
in her own hand not five minutes before.  She wondered who had furnished
the bread?  She was sure it could not be Dakin, because he was the
churchwarden.  Suddenly Miss Matty half-turned towards me—

“Will you look, my dear—you are a stranger in the town, and it won’t give
rise to unpleasant reports—will you just look round and see if the rector
is here?  If he is, I think we may conclude that this wonderful man is
sanctioned by the Church, and that will be a great relief to my mind.”

I looked, and I saw the tall, thin, dry, dusty rector, sitting surrounded
by National School boys, guarded by troops of his own sex from any
approach of the many Cranford spinsters.  His kind face was all agape
with broad smiles, and the boys around him were in chinks of laughing.  I
told Miss Matty that the Church was smiling approval, which set her mind
at ease.

                 [Picture: Afraid of matrimonial reports]

I have never named Mr Hayter, the rector, because I, as a well-to-do and
happy young woman, never came in contact with him.  He was an old
bachelor, but as afraid of matrimonial reports getting abroad about him
as any girl of eighteen: and he would rush into a shop or dive down an
entry, sooner than encounter any of the Cranford ladies in the street;
and, as for the Preference parties, I did not wonder at his not accepting
invitations to them.  To tell the truth, I always suspected Miss Pole of
having given very vigorous chase to Mr Hayter when he first came to
Cranford; and not the less, because now she appeared to share so vividly
in his dread lest her name should ever be coupled with his.  He found all
his interests among the poor and helpless; he had treated the National
School boys this very night to the performance; and virtue was for once
its own reward, for they guarded him right and left, and clung round him
as if he had been the queen-bee and they the swarm.  He felt so safe in
their environment that he could even afford to give our party a bow as we
filed out.  Miss Pole ignored his presence, and pretended to be absorbed
in convincing us that we had been cheated, and had not seen Signor
Brunoni after all.



CHAPTER X—THE PANIC


I THINK a series of circumstances dated from Signor Brunoni’s visit to
Cranford, which seemed at the time connected in our minds with him,
though I don’t know that he had anything really to do with them.  All at
once all sorts of uncomfortable rumours got afloat in the town.  There
were one or two robberies—real _bonâ fide_ robberies; men had up before
the magistrates and committed for trial—and that seemed to make us all
afraid of being robbed; and for a long time, at Miss Matty’s, I know, we
used to make a regular expedition all round the kitchens and cellars
every night, Miss Matty leading the way, armed with the poker, I
following with the hearth-brush, and Martha carrying the shovel and
fire-irons with which to sound the alarm; and by the accidental hitting
together of them she often frightened us so much that we bolted ourselves
up, all three together, in the back-kitchen, or store-room, or wherever
we happened to be, till, when our affright was over, we recollected
ourselves and set out afresh with double valiance.  By day we heard
strange stories from the shopkeepers and cottagers, of carts that went
about in the dead of night, drawn by horses shod with felt, and guarded
by men in dark clothes, going round the town, no doubt in search of some
unwatched house or some unfastened door.

Miss Pole, who affected great bravery herself, was the principal person
to collect and arrange these reports so as to make them assume their most
fearful aspect.  But we discovered that she had begged one of Mr
Hoggins’s worn-out hats to hang up in her lobby, and we (at least I) had
doubts as to whether she really would enjoy the little adventure of
having her house broken into, as she protested she should.  Miss Matty
made no secret of being an arrant coward, but she went regularly through
her housekeeper’s duty of inspection—only the hour for this became
earlier and earlier, till at last we went the rounds at half-past six,
and Miss Matty adjourned to bed soon after seven, “in order to get the
night over the sooner.”

Cranford had so long piqued itself on being an honest and moral town that
it had grown to fancy itself too genteel and well-bred to be otherwise,
and felt the stain upon its character at this time doubly.  But we
comforted ourselves with the assurance which we gave to each other that
the robberies could never have been committed by any Cranford person; it
must have been a stranger or strangers who brought this disgrace upon the
town, and occasioned as many precautions as if we were living among the
Red Indians or the French.

This last comparison of our nightly state of defence and fortification
was made by Mrs Forrester, whose father had served under General Burgoyne
in the American war, and whose husband had fought the French in Spain.
She indeed inclined to the idea that, in some way, the French were
connected with the small thefts, which were ascertained facts, and the
burglaries and highway robberies, which were rumours.  She had been
deeply impressed with the idea of French spies at some time in her life;
and the notion could never be fairly eradicated, but sprang up again from
time to time.  And now her theory was this:—The Cranford people respected
themselves too much, and were too grateful to the aristocracy who were so
kind as to live near the town, ever to disgrace their bringing up by
being dishonest or immoral; therefore, we must believe that the robbers
were strangers—if strangers, why not foreigners?—if foreigners, who so
likely as the French?  Signor Brunoni spoke broken English like a
Frenchman; and, though he wore a turban like a Turk, Mrs Forrester had
seen a print of Madame de Staël with a turban on, and another of Mr Denon
in just such a dress as that in which the conjuror had made his
appearance, showing clearly that the French, as well as the Turks, wore
turbans.  There could be no doubt Signor Brunoni was a Frenchman—a French
spy come to discover the weak and undefended places of England, and
doubtless he had his accomplices.  For her part, she, Mrs Forrester, had
always had her own opinion of Miss Pole’s adventure at the “George
Inn”—seeing two men where only one was believed to be.  French people had
ways and means which, she was thankful to say, the English knew nothing
about; and she had never felt quite easy in her mind about going to see
that conjuror—it was rather too much like a forbidden thing, though the
rector was there.  In short, Mrs Forrester grew more excited than we had
ever known her before, and, being an officer’s daughter and widow, we
looked up to her opinion, of course.

Really I do not know how much was true or false in the reports which flew
about like wildfire just at this time; but it seemed to me then that
there was every reason to believe that at Mardon (a small town about
eight miles from Cranford) houses and shops were entered by holes made in
the walls, the bricks being silently carried away in the dead of the
night, and all done so quietly that no sound was heard either in or out
of the house.  Miss Matty gave it up in despair when she heard of this.
“What was the use,” said she, “of locks and bolts, and bells to the
windows, and going round the house every night?  That last trick was fit
for a conjuror.  Now she did believe that Signor Brunoni was at the
bottom of it.”

One afternoon, about five o’clock, we were startled by a hasty knock at
the door.  Miss Matty bade me run and tell Martha on no account to open
the door till she (Miss Matty) had reconnoitred through the window; and
she armed herself with a footstool to drop down on the head of the
visitor, in case he should show a face covered with black crape, as he
looked up in answer to her inquiry of who was there.  But it was nobody
but Miss Pole and Betty.  The former came upstairs, carrying a little
hand-basket, and she was evidently in a state of great agitation.

“Take care of that!” said she to me, as I offered to relieve her of her
basket.  “It’s my plate.  I am sure there is a plan to rob my house
to-night.  I am come to throw myself on your hospitality, Miss Matty.
Betty is going to sleep with her cousin at the ‘George.’  I can sit up
here all night if you will allow me; but my house is so far from any
neighbours, and I don’t believe we could be heard if we screamed ever
so!”

“But,” said Miss Matty, “what has alarmed you so much?  Have you seen any
men lurking about the house?”

“Oh, yes!” answered Miss Pole.  “Two very bad-looking men have gone three
times past the house, very slowly; and an Irish beggar-woman came not
half-an-hour ago, and all but forced herself in past Betty, saying her
children were starving, and she must speak to the mistress.  You see, she
said ‘mistress,’ though there was a hat hanging up in the hall, and it
would have been more natural to have said ‘master.’  But Betty shut the
door in her face, and came up to me, and we got the spoons together, and
sat in the parlour-window watching till we saw Thomas Jones going from
his work, when we called to him and asked him to take care of us into the
town.”

We might have triumphed over Miss Pole, who had professed such bravery
until she was frightened; but we were too glad to perceive that she
shared in the weaknesses of humanity to exult over her; and I gave up my
room to her very willingly, and shared Miss Matty’s bed for the night.
But before we retired, the two ladies rummaged up, out of the recesses of
their memory, such horrid stories of robbery and murder that I quite
quaked in my shoes.  Miss Pole was evidently anxious to prove that such
terrible events had occurred within her experience that she was justified
in her sudden panic; and Miss Matty did not like to be outdone, and
capped every story with one yet more horrible, till it reminded me oddly
enough, of an old story I had read somewhere, of a nightingale and a
musician, who strove one against the other which could produce the most
admirable music, till poor Philomel dropped down dead.

One of the stories that haunted me for a long time afterwards was of a
girl who was left in charge of a great house in Cumberland on some
particular fair-day, when the other servants all went off to the
gaieties.  The family were away in London, and a pedlar came by, and
asked to leave his large and heavy pack in the kitchen, saying he would
call for it again at night; and the girl (a gamekeeper’s daughter),
roaming about in search of amusement, chanced to hit upon a gun hanging
up in the hall, and took it down to look at the chasing; and it went off
through the open kitchen door, hit the pack, and a slow dark thread of
blood came oozing out. (How Miss Pole enjoyed this part of the story,
dwelling on each word as if she loved it!)  She rather hurried over the
further account of the girl’s bravery, and I have but a confused idea
that, somehow, she baffled the robbers with Italian irons, heated
red-hot, and then restored to blackness by being dipped in grease.

We parted for the night with an awe-stricken wonder as to what we should
hear of in the morning—and, on my part, with a vehement desire for the
night to be over and gone: I was so afraid lest the robbers should have
seen, from some dark lurking-place, that Miss Pole had carried off her
plate, and thus have a double motive for attacking our house.

                 [Picture: Asked him to take care of us]

But until Lady Glenmire came to call next day we heard of nothing
unusual.  The kitchen fire-irons were in exactly the same position
against the back door as when Martha and I had skilfully piled them up,
like spillikins, ready to fall with an awful clatter if only a cat had
touched the outside panels.  I had wondered what we should all do if thus
awakened and alarmed, and had proposed to Miss Matty that we should cover
up our faces under the bedclothes so that there should be no danger of
the robbers thinking that we could identify them; but Miss Matty, who was
trembling very much, scouted this idea, and said we owed it to society to
apprehend them, and that she should certainly do her best to lay hold of
them and lock them up in the garret till morning.

When Lady Glenmire came, we almost felt jealous of her.  Mrs Jamieson’s
house had really been attacked; at least there were men’s footsteps to be
seen on the flower borders, underneath the kitchen windows, “where nae
men should be;” and Carlo had barked all through the night as if
strangers were abroad.  Mrs Jamieson had been awakened by Lady Glenmire,
and they had rung the bell which communicated with Mr Mulliner’s room in
the third storey, and when his night-capped head had appeared over the
bannisters, in answer to the summons, they had told him of their alarm,
and the reasons for it; whereupon he retreated into his bedroom, and
locked the door (for fear of draughts, as he informed them in the
morning), and opened the window, and called out valiantly to say, if the
supposed robbers would come to him he would fight them; but, as Lady
Glenmire observed, that was but poor comfort, since they would have to
pass by Mrs Jamieson’s room and her own before they could reach him, and
must be of a very pugnacious disposition indeed if they neglected the
opportunities of robbery presented by the unguarded lower storeys, to go
up to a garret, and there force a door in order to get at the champion of
the house.  Lady Glenmire, after waiting and listening for some time in
the drawing-room, had proposed to Mrs Jamieson that they should go to
bed; but that lady said she should not feel comfortable unless she sat up
and watched; and, accordingly, she packed herself warmly up on the sofa,
where she was found by the housemaid, when she came into the room at six
o’clock, fast asleep; but Lady Glenmire went to bed, and kept awake all
night.

When Miss Pole heard of this, she nodded her head in great satisfaction.
She had been sure we should hear of something happening in Cranford that
night; and we had heard.  It was clear enough they had first proposed to
attack her house; but when they saw that she and Betty were on their
guard, and had carried off the plate, they had changed their tactics and
gone to Mrs Jamieson’s, and no one knew what might have happened if Carlo
had not barked, like a good dog as he was!

Poor Carlo! his barking days were nearly over.  Whether the gang who
infested the neighbourhood were afraid of him, or whether they were
revengeful enough, for the way in which he had baffled them on the night
in question, to poison him; or whether, as some among the more uneducated
people thought, he died of apoplexy, brought on by too much feeding and
too little exercise; at any rate, it is certain that, two days after this
eventful night, Carlo was found dead, with his poor legs stretched out
stiff in the attitude of running, as if by such unusual exertion he could
escape the sure pursuer, Death.

We were all sorry for Carlo, the old familiar friend who had snapped at
us for so many years; and the mysterious mode of his death made us very
uncomfortable.  Could Signor Brunoni be at the bottom of this?  He had
apparently killed a canary with only a word of command; his will seemed
of deadly force; who knew but what he might yet be lingering in the
neighbourhood willing all sorts of awful things!

We whispered these fancies among ourselves in the evenings; but in the
mornings our courage came back with the daylight, and in a week’s time we
had got over the shock of Carlo’s death; all but Mrs Jamieson.  She, poor
thing, felt it as she had felt no event since her husband’s death;
indeed, Miss Pole said, that as the Honourable Mr Jamieson drank a good
deal, and occasioned her much uneasiness, it was possible that Carlo’s
death might be the greater affliction.  But there was always a tinge of
cynicism in Miss Pole’s remarks.  However, one thing was clear and
certain—it was necessary for Mrs Jamieson to have some change of scene;
and Mr Mulliner was very impressive on this point, shaking his head
whenever we inquired after his mistress, and speaking of her loss of
appetite and bad nights very ominously; and with justice too, for if she
had two characteristics in her natural state of health they were a
facility of eating and sleeping.  If she could neither eat nor sleep, she
must be indeed out of spirits and out of health.

Lady Glenmire (who had evidently taken very kindly to Cranford) did not
like the idea of Mrs Jamieson’s going to Cheltenham, and more than once
insinuated pretty plainly that it was Mr Mulliner’s doing, who had been
much alarmed on the occasion of the house being attacked, and since had
said, more than once, that he felt it a very responsible charge to have
to defend so many women.  Be that as it might, Mrs Jamieson went to
Cheltenham, escorted by Mr Mulliner; and Lady Glenmire remained in
possession of the house, her ostensible office being to take care that
the maid-servants did not pick up followers.  She made a very
pleasant-looking dragon; and, as soon as it was arranged for her stay in
Cranford, she found out that Mrs Jamieson’s visit to Cheltenham was just
the best thing in the world.  She had let her house in Edinburgh, and was
for the time house-less, so the charge of her sister-in-law’s comfortable
abode was very convenient and acceptable.

Miss Pole was very much inclined to instal herself as a heroine, because
of the decided steps she had taken in flying from the two men and one
woman, whom she entitled “that murderous gang.”  She described their
appearance in glowing colours, and I noticed that every time she went
over the story some fresh trait of villainy was added to their
appearance.  One was tall—he grew to be gigantic in height before we had
done with him; he of course had black hair—and by-and-by it hung in
elf-locks over his forehead and down his back.  The other was short and
broad—and a hump sprouted out on his shoulder before we heard the last of
him; he had red hair—which deepened into carroty; and she was almost sure
he had a cast in the eye—a decided squint.  As for the woman, her eyes
glared, and she was masculine-looking—a perfect virago; most probably a
man dressed in woman’s clothes; afterwards, we heard of a beard on her
chin, and a manly voice and a stride.

If Miss Pole was delighted to recount the events of that afternoon to all
inquirers, others were not so proud of their adventures in the robbery
line.  Mr Hoggins, the surgeon, had been attacked at his own door by two
ruffians, who were concealed in the shadow of the porch, and so
effectually silenced him that he was robbed in the interval between
ringing his bell and the servant’s answering it.  Miss Pole was sure it
would turn out that this robbery had been committed by “her men,” and
went the very day she heard the report to have her teeth examined, and to
question Mr Hoggins.  She came to us afterwards; so we heard what she had
heard, straight and direct from the source, while we were yet in the
excitement and flutter of the agitation caused by the first intelligence;
for the event had only occurred the night before.

“Well!” said Miss Pole, sitting down with the decision of a person who
has made up her mind as to the nature of life and the world (and such
people never tread lightly, or seat themselves without a bump), “well,
Miss Matty! men will be men.  Every mother’s son of them wishes to be
considered Samson and Solomon rolled into one—too strong ever to be
beaten or discomfited—too wise ever to be outwitted.  If you will notice,
they have always foreseen events, though they never tell one for one’s
warning before the events happen.  My father was a man, and I know the
sex pretty well.”

She had talked herself out of breath, and we should have been very glad
to fill up the necessary pause as chorus, but we did not exactly know
what to say, or which man had suggested this diatribe against the sex; so
we only joined in generally, with a grave shake of the head, and a soft
murmur of “They are very incomprehensible, certainly!”

“Now, only think,” said she.  “There, I have undergone the risk of having
one of my remaining teeth drawn (for one is terribly at the mercy of any
surgeon-dentist; and I, for one, always speak them fair till I have got
my mouth out of their clutches), and, after all, Mr Hoggins is too much
of a man to own that he was robbed last night.”

“Not robbed!” exclaimed the chorus.

“Don’t tell me!” Miss Pole exclaimed, angry that we could be for a moment
imposed upon.  “I believe he was robbed, just as Betty told me, and he is
ashamed to own it; and, to be sure, it was very silly of him to be robbed
just at his own door; I daresay he feels that such a thing won’t raise
him in the eyes of Cranford society, and is anxious to conceal it—but he
need not have tried to impose upon me, by saying I must have heard an
exaggerated account of some petty theft of a neck of mutton, which, it
seems, was stolen out of the safe in his yard last week; he had the
impertinence to add, he believed that that was taken by the cat.  I have
no doubt, if I could get at the bottom of it, it was that Irishman
dressed up in woman’s clothes, who came spying about my house, with the
story about the starving children.”

After we had duly condemned the want of candour which Mr Hoggins had
evinced, and abused men in general, taking him for the representative and
type, we got round to the subject about which we had been talking when
Miss Pole came in; namely, how far, in the present disturbed state of the
country, we could venture to accept an invitation which Miss Matty had
just received from Mrs Forrester, to come as usual and keep the
anniversary of her wedding-day by drinking tea with her at five o’clock,
and playing a quiet pool afterwards.  Mrs Forrester had said that she
asked us with some diffidence, because the roads were, she feared, very
unsafe.  But she suggested that perhaps one of us would not object to
take the sedan, and that the others, by walking briskly, might keep up
with the long trot of the chairmen, and so we might all arrive safely at
Over Place, a suburb of the town.  (No; that is too large an expression:
a small cluster of houses separated from Cranford by about two hundred
yards of a dark and lonely lane.)  There was no doubt but that a similar
note was awaiting Miss Pole at home; so her call was a very fortunate
affair, as it enabled us to consult together.  We would all much rather
have declined this invitation; but we felt that it would not be quite
kind to Mrs Forrester, who would otherwise be left to a solitary
retrospect of her not very happy or fortunate life.  Miss Matty and Miss
Pole had been visitors on this occasion for many years, and now they
gallantly determined to nail their colours to the mast, and to go through
Darkness Lane rather than fail in loyalty to their friend.

But when the evening came, Miss Matty (for it was she who was voted into
the chair, as she had a cold), before being shut down in the sedan, like
jack-in-a-box, implored the chairmen, whatever might befall, not to run
away and leave her fastened up there, to be murdered; and even after they
had promised, I saw her tighten her features into the stern determination
of a martyr, and she gave me a melancholy and ominous shake of the head
through the glass.  However, we got there safely, only rather out of
breath, for it was who could trot hardest through Darkness Lane, and I am
afraid poor Miss Matty was sadly jolted.

Mrs Forrester had made extra preparations, in acknowledgment of our
exertion in coming to see her through such dangers.  The usual forms of
genteel ignorance as to what her servants might send up were all gone
through; and harmony and Preference seemed likely to be the order of the
evening, but for an interesting conversation that began I don’t know how,
but which had relation, of course, to the robbers who infested the
neighbourhood of Cranford.

Having braved the dangers of Darkness Lane, and thus having a little
stock of reputation for courage to fall back upon; and also, I daresay,
desirous of proving ourselves superior to men (_videlicet_ Mr Hoggins) in
the article of candour, we began to relate our individual fears, and the
private precautions we each of us took.  I owned that my pet apprehension
was eyes—eyes looking at me, and watching me, glittering out from some
dull, flat, wooden surface; and that if I dared to go up to my
looking-glass when I was panic-stricken, I should certainly turn it
round, with its back towards me, for fear of seeing eyes behind me
looking out of the darkness.  I saw Miss Matty nerving herself up for a
confession; and at last out it came.  She owned that, ever since she had
been a girl, she had dreaded being caught by her last leg, just as she
was getting into bed, by some one concealed under it.  She said, when she
was younger and more active, she used to take a flying leap from a
distance, and so bring both her legs up safely into bed at once; but that
this had always annoyed Deborah, who piqued herself upon getting into bed
gracefully, and she had given it up in consequence.  But now the old
terror would often come over her, especially since Miss Pole’s house had
been attacked (we had got quite to believe in the fact of the attack
having taken place), and yet it was very unpleasant to think of looking
under a bed, and seeing a man concealed, with a great, fierce face
staring out at you; so she had bethought herself of something—perhaps I
had noticed that she had told Martha to buy her a penny ball, such as
children play with—and now she rolled this ball under the bed every
night: if it came out on the other side, well and good; if not she always
took care to have her hand on the bell-rope, and meant to call out John
and Harry, just as if she expected men-servants to answer her ring.

We all applauded this ingenious contrivance, and Miss Matty sank back
into satisfied silence, with a look at Mrs Forrester as if to ask for
_her_ private weakness.

Mrs Forrester looked askance at Miss Pole, and tried to change the
subject a little by telling us that she had borrowed a boy from one of
the neighbouring cottages and promised his parents a hundredweight of
coals at Christmas, and his supper every evening, for the loan of him at
nights.  She had instructed him in his possible duties when he first
came; and, finding him sensible, she had given him the Major’s sword (the
Major was her late husband), and desired him to put it very carefully
behind his pillow at night, turning the edge towards the head of the
pillow.  He was a sharp lad, she was sure; for, spying out the Major’s
cocked hat, he had said, if he might have that to wear, he was sure he
could frighten two Englishmen, or four Frenchmen any day.  But she had
impressed upon him anew that he was to lose no time in putting on hats or
anything else; but, if he heard any noise, he was to run at it with his
drawn sword.  On my suggesting that some accident might occur from such
slaughterous and indiscriminate directions, and that he might rush on
Jenny getting up to wash, and have spitted her before he had discovered
that she was not a Frenchman, Mrs Forrester said she did not think that
that was likely, for he was a very sound sleeper, and generally had to be
well shaken or cold-pigged in a morning before they could rouse him.  She
sometimes thought such dead sleep must be owing to the hearty suppers the
poor lad ate, for he was half-starved at home, and she told Jenny to see
that he got a good meal at night.

          [Picture: Slaughterous and indiscriminate directions]

Still this was no confession of Mrs Forrester’s peculiar timidity, and we
urged her to tell us what she thought would frighten her more than
anything.  She paused, and stirred the fire, and snuffed the candles, and
then she said, in a sounding whisper—

“Ghosts!”

She looked at Miss Pole, as much as to say, she had declared it, and
would stand by it.  Such a look was a challenge in itself.  Miss Pole
came down upon her with indigestion, spectral illusions, optical
delusions, and a great deal out of Dr Ferrier and Dr Hibbert besides.
Miss Matty had rather a leaning to ghosts, as I have mentioned before,
and what little she did say was all on Mrs Forrester’s side, who,
emboldened by sympathy, protested that ghosts were a part of her
religion; that surely she, the widow of a major in the army, knew what to
be frightened at, and what not; in short, I never saw Mrs Forrester so
warm either before or since, for she was a gentle, meek, enduring old
lady in most things.  Not all the elder-wine that ever was mulled could
this night wash out the remembrance of this difference between Miss Pole
and her hostess.  Indeed, when the elder-wine was brought in, it gave
rise to a new burst of discussion; for Jenny, the little maiden who
staggered under the tray, had to give evidence of having seen a ghost
with her own eyes, not so many nights ago, in Darkness Lane, the very
lane we were to go through on our way home.

In spite of the uncomfortable feeling which this last consideration gave
me, I could not help being amused at Jenny’s position, which was
exceedingly like that of a witness being examined and cross-examined by
two counsel who are not at all scrupulous about asking leading questions.
The conclusion I arrived at was, that Jenny had certainly seen something
beyond what a fit of indigestion would have caused.  A lady all in white,
and without her head, was what she deposed and adhered to, supported by a
consciousness of the secret sympathy of her mistress under the withering
scorn with which Miss Pole regarded her.  And not only she, but many
others, had seen this headless lady, who sat by the roadside wringing her
hands as in deep grief.  Mrs Forrester looked at us from time to time
with an air of conscious triumph; but then she had not to pass through
Darkness Lane before she could bury herself beneath her own familiar
bed-clothes.

We preserved a discreet silence as to the headless lady while we were
putting on our things to go home, for there was no knowing how near the
ghostly head and ears might be, or what spiritual connection they might
be keeping up with the unhappy body in Darkness Lane; and, therefore,
even Miss Pole felt that it was as well not to speak lightly on such
subjects, for fear of vexing or insulting that woebegone trunk.  At
least, so I conjecture; for, instead of the busy clatter usual in the
operation, we tied on our cloaks as sadly as mutes at a funeral.  Miss
Matty drew the curtains round the windows of the chair to shut out
disagreeable sights, and the men (either because they were in spirits
that their labours were so nearly ended, or because they were going down
hill), set off at such a round and merry pace, that it was all Miss Pole
and I could do to keep up with them.  She had breath for nothing beyond
an imploring “Don’t leave me!” uttered as she clutched my arm so tightly
that I could not have quitted her, ghost or no ghost.  What a relief it
was when the men, weary of their burden and their quick trot, stopped
just where Headingley Causeway branches off from Darkness Lane!  Miss
Pole unloosed me and caught at one of the men—

“Could not you—could not you take Miss Matty round by Headingley
Causeway?—the pavement in Darkness Lane jolts so, and she is not very
strong.”

A smothered voice was heard from the inside of the chair—

“Oh! pray go on!  What is the matter?  What is the matter?  I will give
you sixpence more to go on very fast; pray don’t stop here.”

“And I’ll give you a shilling,” said Miss Pole, with tremulous dignity,
“if you’ll go by Headingley Causeway.”

The two men grunted acquiescence and took up the chair, and went along
the causeway, which certainly answered Miss Pole’s kind purpose of saving
Miss Matty’s bones; for it was covered with soft, thick mud, and even a
fall there would have been easy till the getting-up came, when there
might have been some difficulty in extrication.



CHAPTER XI—SAMUEL BROWN


THE next morning I met Lady Glenmire and Miss Pole setting out on a long
walk to find some old woman who was famous in the neighbourhood for her
skill in knitting woollen stockings.  Miss Pole said to me, with a smile
half-kindly and half-contemptuous upon her countenance, “I have been just
telling Lady Glenmire of our poor friend Mrs Forrester, and her terror of
ghosts.  It comes from living so much alone, and listening to the
bug-a-boo stories of that Jenny of hers.”  She was so calm and so much
above superstitious fears herself that I was almost ashamed to say how
glad I had been of her Headingley Causeway proposition the night before,
and turned off the conversation to something else.

In the afternoon Miss Pole called on Miss Matty to tell her of the
adventure—the real adventure they had met with on their morning’s walk.
They had been perplexed about the exact path which they were to take
across the fields in order to find the knitting old woman, and had
stopped to inquire at a little wayside public-house, standing on the high
road to London, about three miles from Cranford.  The good woman had
asked them to sit down and rest themselves while she fetched her husband,
who could direct them better than she could; and, while they were sitting
in the sanded parlour, a little girl came in.  They thought that she
belonged to the landlady, and began some trifling conversation with her;
but, on Mrs Roberts’s return, she told them that the little thing was the
only child of a couple who were staying in the house.  And then she began
a long story, out of which Lady Glenmire and Miss Pole could only gather
one or two decided facts, which were that, about six weeks ago, a light
spring-cart had broken down just before their door, in which there were
two men, one woman, and this child.  One of the men was seriously hurt—no
bones broken, only “shaken,” the landlady called it; but he had probably
sustained some severe internal injury, for he had languished in their
house ever since, attended by his wife, the mother of this little girl.
Miss Pole had asked what he was, what he looked like.  And Mrs Roberts
had made answer that he was not like a gentleman, nor yet like a common
person; if it had not been that he and his wife were such decent, quiet
people, she could almost have thought he was a mountebank, or something
of that kind, for they had a great box in the cart, full of she did not
know what.  She had helped to unpack it, and take out their linen and
clothes, when the other man—his twin-brother, she believed he was—had
gone off with the horse and cart.

Miss Pole had begun to have her suspicions at this point, and expressed
her idea that it was rather strange that the box and cart and horse and
all should have disappeared; but good Mrs Roberts seemed to have become
quite indignant at Miss Pole’s implied suggestion; in fact, Miss Pole
said she was as angry as if Miss Pole had told her that she herself was a
swindler.  As the best way of convincing the ladies, she bethought her of
begging them to see the wife; and, as Miss Pole said, there was no
doubting the honest, worn, bronzed face of the woman, who at the first
tender word from Lady Glenmire, burst into tears, which she was too weak
to check until some word from the landlady made her swallow down her
sobs, in order that she might testify to the Christian kindness shown by
Mr and Mrs Roberts.  Miss Pole came round with a swing to as vehement a
belief in the sorrowful tale as she had been sceptical before; and, as a
proof of this, her energy in the poor sufferer’s behalf was nothing
daunted when she found out that he, and no other, was our Signor Brunoni,
to whom all Cranford had been attributing all manner of evil this six
weeks past!  Yes! his wife said his proper name was Samuel Brown—“Sam,”
she called him—but to the last we preferred calling him “the Signor”; it
sounded so much better.

The end of their conversation with the Signora Brunoni was that it was
agreed that he should be placed under medical advice, and for any expense
incurred in procuring this Lady Glenmire promised to hold herself
responsible, and had accordingly gone to Mr Hoggins to beg him to ride
over to the “Rising Sun” that very afternoon, and examine into the
signor’s real state; and, as Miss Pole said, if it was desirable to
remove him to Cranford to be more immediately under Mr Hoggins’s eye, she
would undertake to see for lodgings and arrange about the rent.  Mrs
Roberts had been as kind as could be all throughout, but it was evident
that their long residence there had been a slight inconvenience.

Before Miss Pole left us, Miss Matty and I were as full of the morning’s
adventure as she was.  We talked about it all the evening, turning it in
every possible light, and we went to bed anxious for the morning, when we
should surely hear from someone what Mr Hoggins thought and recommended;
for, as Miss Matty observed, though Mr Hoggins did say “Jack’s up,” “a
fig for his heels,” and called Preference “Pref.” she believed he was a
very worthy man and a very clever surgeon.  Indeed, we were rather proud
of our doctor at Cranford, as a doctor.  We often wished, when we heard
of Queen Adelaide or the Duke of Wellington being ill, that they would
send for Mr Hoggins; but, on consideration, we were rather glad they did
not, for, if we were ailing, what should we do if Mr Hoggins had been
appointed physician-in-ordinary to the Royal Family?  As a surgeon we
were proud of him; but as a man—or rather, I should say, as a
gentleman—we could only shake our heads over his name and himself, and
wished that he had read Lord Chesterfield’s Letters in the days when his
manners were susceptible of improvement.  Nevertheless, we all regarded
his dictum in the signor’s case as infallible, and when he said that with
care and attention he might rally, we had no more fear for him.

But, although we had no more fear, everybody did as much as if there was
great cause for anxiety—as indeed there was until Mr Hoggins took charge
of him.  Miss Pole looked out clean and comfortable, if homely, lodgings;
Miss Matty sent the sedan-chair for him, and Martha and I aired it well
before it left Cranford by holding a warming-pan full of red-hot coals in
it, and then shutting it up close, smoke and all, until the time when he
should get into it at the “Rising Sun.”  Lady Glenmire undertook the
medical department under Mr Hoggins’s directions, and rummaged up all Mrs
Jamieson’s medicine glasses, and spoons, and bed-tables, in a
free-and-easy way, that made Miss Matty feel a little anxious as to what
that lady and Mr Mulliner might say, if they knew.  Mrs Forrester made
some of the bread-jelly, for which she was so famous, to have ready as a
refreshment in the lodgings when he should arrive.  A present of this
bread-jelly was the highest mark of favour dear Mrs Forrester could
confer.  Miss Pole had once asked her for the receipt, but she had met
with a very decided rebuff; that lady told her that she could not part
with it to any one during her life, and that after her death it was
bequeathed, as her executors would find, to Miss Matty.  What Miss Matty,
or, as Mrs Forrester called her (remembering the clause in her will and
the dignity of the occasion), Miss Matilda Jenkyns—might choose to do
with the receipt when it came into her possession—whether to make it
public, or to hand it down as an heirloom—she did not know, nor would she
dictate.  And a mould of this admirable, digestible, unique bread-jelly
was sent by Mrs Forrester to our poor sick conjuror.  Who says that the
aristocracy are proud?  Here was a lady by birth a Tyrrell, and descended
from the great Sir Walter that shot King Rufus, and in whose veins ran
the blood of him who murdered the little princes in the Tower, going
every day to see what dainty dishes she could prepare for Samuel Brown, a
mountebank!  But, indeed, it was wonderful to see what kind feelings were
called out by this poor man’s coming amongst us.  And also wonderful to
see how the great Cranford panic, which had been occasioned by his first
coming in his Turkish dress, melted away into thin air on his second
coming—pale and feeble, and with his heavy, filmy eyes, that only
brightened a very little when they fell upon the countenance of his
faithful wife, or their pale and sorrowful little girl.

Somehow we all forgot to be afraid.  I daresay it was that finding out
that he, who had first excited our love of the marvellous by his
unprecedented arts, had not sufficient every-day gifts to manage a shying
horse, made us feel as if we were ourselves again.  Miss Pole came with
her little basket at all hours of the evening, as if her lonely house and
the unfrequented road to it had never been infested by that “murderous
gang”; Mrs Forrester said she thought that neither Jenny nor she need
mind the headless lady who wept and wailed in Darkness Lane, for surely
the power was never given to such beings to harm those who went about to
try to do what little good was in their power, to which Jenny tremblingly
assented; but the mistress’s theory had little effect on the maid’s
practice until she had sewn two pieces of red flannel in the shape of a
cross on her inner garment.

I found Miss Matty covering her penny ball—the ball that she used to roll
under her bed—with gay-coloured worsted in rainbow stripes.

“My dear,” said she, “my heart is sad for that little careworn child.
Although her father is a conjuror, she looks as if she had never had a
good game of play in her life.  I used to make very pretty balls in this
way when I was a girl, and I thought I would try if I could not make this
one smart and take it to Phoebe this afternoon.  I think ‘the gang’ must
have left the neighbourhood, for one does not hear any more of their
violence and robbery now.”

We were all of us far too full of the signor’s precarious state to talk
either about robbers or ghosts.  Indeed, Lady Glenmire said she never had
heard of any actual robberies, except that two little boys had stolen
some apples from Farmer Benson’s orchard, and that some eggs had been
missed on a market-day off Widow Hayward’s stall.  But that was expecting
too much of us; we could not acknowledge that we had only had this small
foundation for all our panic.  Miss Pole drew herself up at this remark
of Lady Glenmire’s, and said “that she wished she could agree with her as
to the very small reason we had had for alarm, but with the recollection
of a man disguised as a woman who had endeavoured to force himself into
her house while his confederates waited outside; with the knowledge
gained from Lady Glenmire herself, of the footprints seen on Mrs
Jamieson’s flower borders; with the fact before her of the audacious
robbery committed on Mr Hoggins at his own door”—But here Lady Glenmire
broke in with a very strong expression of doubt as to whether this last
story was not an entire fabrication founded upon the theft of a cat; she
grew so red while she was saying all this that I was not surprised at
Miss Pole’s manner of bridling up, and I am certain, if Lady Glenmire had
not been “her ladyship,” we should have had a more emphatic contradiction
than the “Well, to be sure!” and similar fragmentary ejaculations, which
were all that she ventured upon in my lady’s presence.  But when she was
gone Miss Pole began a long congratulation to Miss Matty that so far they
had escaped marriage, which she noticed always made people credulous to
the last degree; indeed, she thought it argued great natural credulity in
a woman if she could not keep herself from being married; and in what
Lady Glenmire had said about Mr Hoggins’s robbery we had a specimen of
what people came to if they gave way to such a weakness; evidently Lady
Glenmire would swallow anything if she could believe the poor vamped-up
story about a neck of mutton and a pussy with which he had tried to
impose on Miss Pole, only she had always been on her guard against
believing too much of what men said.

We were thankful, as Miss Pole desired us to be, that we had never been
married; but I think, of the two, we were even more thankful that the
robbers had left Cranford; at least I judge so from a speech of Miss
Matty’s that evening, as we sat over the fire, in which she evidently
looked upon a husband as a great protector against thieves, burglars, and
ghosts; and said that she did not think that she should dare to be always
warning young people against matrimony, as Miss Pole did continually; to
be sure, marriage was a risk, as she saw, now she had had some
experience; but she remembered the time when she had looked forward to
being married as much as any one.

“Not to any particular person, my dear,” said she, hastily checking
herself up, as if she were afraid of having admitted too much; “only the
old story, you know, of ladies always saying, ‘_When_ I marry,’ and
gentlemen, ‘_If_ I marry.’”  It was a joke spoken in rather a sad tone,
and I doubt if either of us smiled; but I could not see Miss Matty’s face
by the flickering fire-light.  In a little while she continued—

“But, after all, I have not told you the truth.  It is so long ago, and
no one ever knew how much I thought of it at the time, unless, indeed, my
dear mother guessed; but I may say that there was a time when I did not
think I should have been only Miss Matty Jenkyns all my life; for even if
I did meet with any one who wished to marry me now (and, as Miss Pole
says, one is never too safe), I could not take him—I hope he would not
take it too much to heart, but I could _not_ take him—or any one but the
person I once thought I should be married to; and he is dead and gone,
and he never knew how it all came about that I said ‘No,’ when I had
thought many and many a time—Well, it’s no matter what I thought.  God
ordains it all, and I am very happy, my dear.  No one has such kind
friends as I,” continued she, taking my hand and holding it in hers.

If I had never known of Mr Holbrook, I could have said something in this
pause, but as I had, I could not think of anything that would come in
naturally, and so we both kept silence for a little time.

“My father once made us,” she began, “keep a diary, in two columns; on
one side we were to put down in the morning what we thought would be the
course and events of the coming day, and at night we were to put down on
the other side what really had happened.  It would be to some people
rather a sad way of telling their lives,” (a tear dropped upon my hand at
these words)—“I don’t mean that mine has been sad, only so very different
to what I expected.  I remember, one winter’s evening, sitting over our
bedroom fire with Deborah—I remember it as if it were yesterday—and we
were planning our future lives, both of us were planning, though only she
talked about it.  She said she should like to marry an archdeacon, and
write his charges; and you know, my dear, she never was married, and, for
aught I know, she never spoke to an unmarried archdeacon in her life.  I
never was ambitious, nor could I have written charges, but I thought I
could manage a house (my mother used to call me her right hand), and I
was always so fond of little children—the shyest babies would stretch out
their little arms to come to me; when I was a girl, I was half my leisure
time nursing in the neighbouring cottages; but I don’t know how it was,
when I grew sad and grave—which I did a year or two after this time—the
little things drew back from me, and I am afraid I lost the knack, though
I am just as fond of children as ever, and have a strange yearning at my
heart whenever I see a mother with her baby in her arms.  Nay, my dear”
(and by a sudden blaze which sprang up from a fall of the unstirred
coals, I saw that her eyes were full of tears—gazing intently on some
vision of what might have been), “do you know I dream sometimes that I
have a little child—always the same—a little girl of about two years old;
she never grows older, though I have dreamt about her for many years.  I
don’t think I ever dream of any words or sound she makes; she is very
noiseless and still, but she comes to me when she is very sorry or very
glad, and I have wakened with the clasp of her dear little arms round my
neck.  Only last night—perhaps because I had gone to sleep thinking of
this ball for Phoebe—my little darling came in my dream, and put up her
mouth to be kissed, just as I have seen real babies do to real mothers
before going to bed.  But all this is nonsense, dear! only don’t be
frightened by Miss Pole from being married.  I can fancy it may be a very
happy state, and a little credulity helps one on through life very
smoothly—better than always doubting and doubting and seeing difficulties
and disagreeables in everything.”

              [Picture: Would stretch out their little arms]

If I had been inclined to be daunted from matrimony, it would not have
been Miss Pole to do it; it would have been the lot of poor Signor
Brunoni and his wife.  And yet again, it was an encouragement to see how,
through all their cares and sorrows, they thought of each other and not
of themselves; and how keen were their joys, if they only passed through
each other, or through the little Phoebe.

The signora told me, one day, a good deal about their lives up to this
period.  It began by my asking her whether Miss Pole’s story of the
twin-brothers were true; it sounded so wonderful a likeness, that I
should have had my doubts, if Miss Pole had not been unmarried.  But the
signora, or (as we found out she preferred to be called) Mrs Brown, said
it was quite true; that her brother-in-law was by many taken for her
husband, which was of great assistance to them in their profession;
“though,” she continued, “how people can mistake Thomas for the real
Signor Brunoni, I can’t conceive; but he says they do; so I suppose I
must believe him.  Not but what he is a very good man; I am sure I don’t
know how we should have paid our bill at the ‘Rising Sun’ but for the
money he sends; but people must know very little about art if they can
take him for my husband.  Why, Miss, in the ball trick, where my husband
spreads his fingers wide, and throws out his little finger with quite an
air and a grace, Thomas just clumps up his hand like a fist, and might
have ever so many balls hidden in it.  Besides, he has never been in
India, and knows nothing of the proper sit of a turban.”

“Have you been in India?” said I, rather astonished.

“Oh, yes! many a year, ma’am.  Sam was a sergeant in the 31st; and when
the regiment was ordered to India, I drew a lot to go, and I was more
thankful than I can tell; for it seemed as if it would only be a slow
death to me to part from my husband.  But, indeed, ma’am, if I had known
all, I don’t know whether I would not rather have died there and then
than gone through what I have done since.  To be sure, I’ve been able to
comfort Sam, and to be with him; but, ma’am, I’ve lost six children,”
said she, looking up at me with those strange eyes that I’ve never
noticed but in mothers of dead children—with a kind of wild look in them,
as if seeking for what they never more might find.  “Yes!  Six children
died off, like little buds nipped untimely, in that cruel India.  I
thought, as each died, I never could—I never would—love a child again;
and when the next came, it had not only its own love, but the deeper love
that came from the thoughts of its little dead brothers and sisters.  And
when Phoebe was coming, I said to my husband, ‘Sam, when the child is
born, and I am strong, I shall leave you; it will cut my heart cruel; but
if this baby dies too, I shall go mad; the madness is in me now; but if
you let me go down to Calcutta, carrying my baby step by step, it will,
maybe, work itself off; and I will save, and I will hoard, and I will
beg—and I will die, to get a passage home to England, where our baby may
live?’  God bless him! he said I might go; and he saved up his pay, and I
saved every pice I could get for washing or any way; and when Phoebe
came, and I grew strong again, I set off.  It was very lonely; through
the thick forests, dark again with their heavy trees—along by the river’s
side (but I had been brought up near the Avon in Warwickshire, so that
flowing noise sounded like home)—from station to station, from Indian
village to village, I went along, carrying my child.  I had seen one of
the officer’s ladies with a little picture, ma’am—done by a Catholic
foreigner, ma’am—of the Virgin and the little Saviour, ma’am.  She had
him on her arm, and her form was softly curled round him, and their
cheeks touched.  Well, when I went to bid good-bye to this lady, for whom
I had washed, she cried sadly; for she, too, had lost her children, but
she had not another to save, like me; and I was bold enough to ask her
would she give me that print.  And she cried the more, and said her
children were with that little blessed Jesus; and gave it me, and told me
that she had heard it had been painted on the bottom of a cask, which
made it have that round shape.  And when my body was very weary, and my
heart was sick (for there were times when I misdoubted if I could ever
reach my home, and there were times when I thought of my husband, and one
time when I thought my baby was dying), I took out that picture and
looked at it, till I could have thought the mother spoke to me, and
comforted me.  And the natives were very kind.  We could not understand
one another; but they saw my baby on my breast, and they came out to me,
and brought me rice and milk, and sometimes flowers—I have got some of
the flowers dried.  Then, the next morning, I was so tired; and they
wanted me to stay with them—I could tell that—and tried to frighten me
from going into the deep woods, which, indeed, looked very strange and
dark; but it seemed to me as if Death was following me to take my baby
away from me; and as if I must go on, and on—and I thought how God had
cared for mothers ever since the world was made, and would care for me;
so I bade them good-bye, and set off afresh.  And once when my baby was
ill, and both she and I needed rest, He led me to a place where I found a
kind Englishman lived, right in the midst of the natives.”

“And you reached Calcutta safely at last?”

“Yes, safely!  Oh! when I knew I had only two days’ journey more before
me, I could not help it, ma’am—it might be idolatry, I cannot tell—but I
was near one of the native temples, and I went into it with my baby to
thank God for His great mercy; for it seemed to me that where others had
prayed before to their God, in their joy or in their agony, was of itself
a sacred place.  And I got as servant to an invalid lady, who grew quite
fond of my baby aboard-ship; and, in two years’ time, Sam earned his
discharge, and came home to me, and to our child.  Then he had to fix on
a trade; but he knew of none; and once, once upon a time, he had learnt
some tricks from an Indian juggler; so he set up conjuring, and it
answered so well that he took Thomas to help him—as his man, you know,
not as another conjuror, though Thomas has set it up now on his own hook.
But it has been a great help to us that likeness between the twins, and
made a good many tricks go off well that they made up together.  And
Thomas is a good brother, only he has not the fine carriage of my
husband, so that I can’t think how he can be taken for Signor Brunoni
himself, as he says he is.”

“Poor little Phoebe!” said I, my thoughts going back to the baby she
carried all those hundred miles.

“Ah! you may say so!  I never thought I should have reared her, though,
when she fell ill at Chunderabaddad; but that good, kind Aga Jenkyns took
us in, which I believe was the very saving of her.”

“Jenkyns!” said I.

“Yes, Jenkyns.  I shall think all people of that name are kind; for here
is that nice old lady who comes every day to take Phoebe a walk!”

But an idea had flashed through my head; could the Aga Jenkyns be the
lost Peter?  True he was reported by many to be dead.  But, equally true,
some had said that he had arrived at the dignity of Great Lama of Thibet.
Miss Matty thought he was alive.  I would make further inquiry.



CHAPTER XII—ENGAGED TO BE MARRIED


WAS the “poor Peter” of Cranford the Aga Jenkyns of Chunderabaddad, or
was he not?  As somebody says, that was the question.

In my own home, whenever people had nothing else to do, they blamed me
for want of discretion.  Indiscretion was my bug-bear fault.  Everybody
has a bug-bear fault, a sort of standing characteristic—a _pièce de
résistance_ for their friends to cut at; and in general they cut and come
again.  I was tired of being called indiscreet and incautious; and I
determined for once to prove myself a model of prudence and wisdom.  I
would not even hint my suspicions respecting the Aga.  I would collect
evidence and carry it home to lay before my father, as the family friend
of the two Miss Jenkynses.

In my search after facts, I was often reminded of a description my father
had once given of a ladies’ committee that he had had to preside over.
He said he could not help thinking of a passage in Dickens, which spoke
of a chorus in which every man took the tune he knew best, and sang it to
his own satisfaction.  So, at this charitable committee, every lady took
the subject uppermost in her mind, and talked about it to her own great
contentment, but not much to the advancement of the subject they had met
to discuss.  But even that committee could have been nothing to the
Cranford ladies when I attempted to gain some clear and definite
information as to poor Peter’s height, appearance, and when and where he
was seen and heard of last.  For instance, I remember asking Miss Pole
(and I thought the question was very opportune, for I put it when I met
her at a call at Mrs Forrester’s, and both the ladies had known Peter,
and I imagined that they might refresh each other’s memories)—I asked
Miss Pole what was the very last thing they had ever heard about him; and
then she named the absurd report to which I have alluded, about his
having been elected Great Lama of Thibet; and this was a signal for each
lady to go off on her separate idea.  Mrs Forrester’s start was made on
the veiled prophet in Lalla Rookh—whether I thought he was meant for the
Great Lama, though Peter was not so ugly, indeed rather handsome, if he
had not been freckled.  I was thankful to see her double upon Peter; but,
in a moment, the delusive lady was off upon Rowland’s Kalydor, and the
merits of cosmetics and hair oils in general, and holding forth so
fluently that I turned to listen to Miss Pole, who (through the llamas,
the beasts of burden) had got to Peruvian bonds, and the share market,
and her poor opinion of joint-stock banks in general, and of that one in
particular in which Miss Matty’s money was invested.  In vain I put in
“When was it—in what year was it that you heard that Mr Peter was the
Great Lama?”  They only joined issue to dispute whether llamas were
carnivorous animals or not; in which dispute they were not quite on fair
grounds, as Mrs Forrester (after they had grown warm and cool again)
acknowledged that she always confused carnivorous and graminivorous
together, just as she did horizontal and perpendicular; but then she
apologised for it very prettily, by saying that in her day the only use
people made of four-syllabled words was to teach how they should be
spelt.

The only fact I gained from this conversation was that certainly Peter
had last been heard of in India, “or that neighbourhood”; and that this
scanty intelligence of his whereabouts had reached Cranford in the year
when Miss Pole had brought her Indian muslin gown, long since worn out
(we washed it and mended it, and traced its decline and fall into a
window-blind before we could go on); and in a year when Wombwell came to
Cranford, because Miss Matty had wanted to see an elephant in order that
she might the better imagine Peter riding on one; and had seen a
boa-constrictor too, which was more than she wished to imagine in her
fancy-pictures of Peter’s locality; and in a year when Miss Jenkyns had
learnt some piece of poetry off by heart, and used to say, at all the
Cranford parties, how Peter was “surveying mankind from China to Peru,”
which everybody had thought very grand, and rather appropriate, because
India was between China and Peru, if you took care to turn the globe to
the left instead of the right.

I suppose all these inquiries of mine, and the consequent curiosity
excited in the minds of my friends, made us blind and deaf to what was
going on around us.  It seemed to me as if the sun rose and shone, and as
if the rain rained on Cranford, just as usual, and I did not notice any
sign of the times that could be considered as a prognostic of any
uncommon event; and, to the best of my belief, not only Miss Matty and
Mrs Forrester, but even Miss Pole herself, whom we looked upon as a kind
of prophetess, from the knack she had of foreseeing things before they
came to pass—although she did not like to disturb her friends by telling
them her foreknowledge—even Miss Pole herself was breathless with
astonishment when she came to tell us of the astounding piece of news.
But I must recover myself; the contemplation of it, even at this distance
of time, has taken away my breath and my grammar, and unless I subdue my
emotion, my spelling will go too.

We were sitting—Miss Matty and I—much as usual, she in the blue chintz
easy-chair, with her back to the light, and her knitting in her hand, I
reading aloud the _St James’s Chronicle_.  A few minutes more, and we
should have gone to make the little alterations in dress usual before
calling-time (twelve o’clock) in Cranford.  I remember the scene and the
date well.  We had been talking of the signor’s rapid recovery since the
warmer weather had set in, and praising Mr Hoggins’s skill, and lamenting
his want of refinement and manner (it seems a curious coincidence that
this should have been our subject, but so it was), when a knock was
heard—a caller’s knock—three distinct taps—and we were flying (that is to
say, Miss Matty could not walk very fast, having had a touch of
rheumatism) to our rooms, to change cap and collars, when Miss Pole
arrested us by calling out, as she came up the stairs, “Don’t go—I can’t
wait—it is not twelve, I know—but never mind your dress—I must speak to
you.”  We did our best to look as if it was not we who had made the
hurried movement, the sound of which she had heard; for, of course, we
did not like to have it supposed that we had any old clothes that it was
convenient to wear out in the “sanctuary of home,” as Miss Jenkyns once
prettily called the back parlour, where she was tying up preserves.  So
we threw our gentility with double force into our manners, and very
genteel we were for two minutes while Miss Pole recovered breath, and
excited our curiosity strongly by lifting up her hands in amazement, and
bringing them down in silence, as if what she had to say was too big for
words, and could only be expressed by pantomime.

“What do you think, Miss Matty?  What _do_ you think?  Lady Glenmire is
to marry—is to be married, I mean—Lady Glenmire—Mr Hoggins—Mr Hoggins is
going to marry Lady Glenmire!”

“Marry!” said we.  “Marry!  Madness!”

                 [Picture: What do you think, Miss Matty]

“Marry!” said Miss Pole, with the decision that belonged to her
character.  “_I_ said marry! as you do; and I also said, ‘What a fool my
lady is going to make of herself!’  I could have said ‘Madness!’ but I
controlled myself, for it was in a public shop that I heard of it.  Where
feminine delicacy is gone to, I don’t know!  You and I, Miss Matty, would
have been ashamed to have known that our marriage was spoken of in a
grocer’s shop, in the hearing of shopmen!”

“But,” said Miss Matty, sighing as one recovering from a blow, “perhaps
it is not true.  Perhaps we are doing her injustice.”

“No,” said Miss Pole.  “I have taken care to ascertain that.  I went
straight to Mrs Fitz-Adam, to borrow a cookery-book which I knew she had;
and I introduced my congratulations _à propos_ of the difficulty
gentlemen must have in house-keeping; and Mrs Fitz-Adam bridled up, and
said that she believed it was true, though how and where I could have
heard it she did not know.  She said her brother and Lady Glenmire had
come to an understanding at last.  ‘Understanding!’ such a coarse word!
But my lady will have to come down to many a want of refinement.  I have
reason to believe Mr Hoggins sups on bread-and-cheese and beer every
night.

“Marry!” said Miss Matty once again.  “Well!  I never thought of it.  Two
people that we know going to be married.  It’s coming very near!”

“So near that my heart stopped beating when I heard of it, while you
might have counted twelve,” said Miss Pole.

“One does not know whose turn may come next.  Here, in Cranford, poor
Lady Glenmire might have thought herself safe,” said Miss Matty, with a
gentle pity in her tones.

“Bah!” said Miss Pole, with a toss of her head.  “Don’t you remember poor
dear Captain Brown’s song ‘Tibbie Fowler,’ and the line—

    ‘Set her on the Tintock tap,
    The wind will blaw a man till her.’”

“That was because ‘Tibbie Fowler’ was rich, I think.”

“Well! there was a kind of attraction about Lady Glenmire that I, for
one, should be ashamed to have.”

I put in my wonder.  “But how can she have fancied Mr Hoggins?  I am not
surprised that Mr Hoggins has liked her.”

“Oh!  I don’t know.  Mr Hoggins is rich, and very pleasant-looking,” said
Miss Matty, “and very good-tempered and kind-hearted.”

“She has married for an establishment, that’s it.  I suppose she takes
the surgery with it,” said Miss Pole, with a little dry laugh at her own
joke.  But, like many people who think they have made a severe and
sarcastic speech, which yet is clever of its kind, she began to relax in
her grimness from the moment when she made this allusion to the surgery;
and we turned to speculate on the way in which Mrs Jamieson would receive
the news.  The person whom she had left in charge of her house to keep
off followers from her maids to set up a follower of her own!  And that
follower a man whom Mrs Jamieson had tabooed as vulgar, and inadmissible
to Cranford society, not merely on account of his name, but because of
his voice, his complexion, his boots, smelling of the stable, and
himself, smelling of drugs.  Had he ever been to see Lady Glenmire at Mrs
Jamieson’s?  Chloride of lime would not purify the house in its owner’s
estimation if he had.  Or had their interviews been confined to the
occasional meetings in the chamber of the poor sick conjuror, to whom,
with all our sense of the _mésalliance_, we could not help allowing that
they had both been exceedingly kind?  And now it turned out that a
servant of Mrs Jamieson’s had been ill, and Mr Hoggins had been attending
her for some weeks.  So the wolf had got into the fold, and now he was
carrying off the shepherdess.  What would Mrs Jamieson say?  We looked
into the darkness of futurity as a child gazes after a rocket up in the
cloudy sky, full of wondering expectation of the rattle, the discharge,
and the brilliant shower of sparks and light.  Then we brought ourselves
down to earth and the present time by questioning each other (being all
equally ignorant, and all equally without the slightest data to build any
conclusions upon) as to when IT would take place?  Where?  How much a
year Mr Hoggins had?  Whether she would drop her title?  And how Martha
and the other correct servants in Cranford would ever be brought to
announce a married couple as Lady Glenmire and Mr Hoggins?  But would
they be visited?  Would Mrs Jamieson let us?  Or must we choose between
the Honourable Mrs Jamieson and the degraded Lady Glenmire?  We all liked
Lady Glenmire the best.  She was bright, and kind, and sociable, and
agreeable; and Mrs Jamieson was dull, and inert, and pompous, and
tiresome.  But we had acknowledged the sway of the latter so long, that
it seemed like a kind of disloyalty now even to meditate disobedience to
the prohibition we anticipated.

Mrs Forrester surprised us in our darned caps and patched collars; and we
forgot all about them in our eagerness to see how she would bear the
information, which we honourably left to Miss Pole, to impart, although,
if we had been inclined to take unfair advantage, we might have rushed in
ourselves, for she had a most out-of-place fit of coughing for five
minutes after Mrs Forrester entered the room.  I shall never forget the
imploring expression of her eyes, as she looked at us over her
pocket-handkerchief.  They said, as plain as words could speak, “Don’t
let Nature deprive me of the treasure which is mine, although for a time
I can make no use of it.”  And we did not.

Mrs Forrester’s surprise was equal to ours; and her sense of injury
rather greater, because she had to feel for her Order, and saw more fully
than we could do how such conduct brought stains on the aristocracy.

When she and Miss Pole left us we endeavoured to subside into calmness;
but Miss Matty was really upset by the intelligence she had heard.  She
reckoned it up, and it was more than fifteen years since she had heard of
any of her acquaintance going to be married, with the one exception of
Miss Jessie Brown; and, as she said, it gave her quite a shock, and made
her feel as if she could not think what would happen next.

I don’t know whether it is a fancy of mine, or a real fact, but I have
noticed that, just after the announcement of an engagement in any set,
the unmarried ladies in that set flutter out in an unusual gaiety and
newness of dress, as much as to say, in a tacit and unconscious manner,
“We also are spinsters.”  Miss Matty and Miss Pole talked and thought
more about bonnets, gowns, caps, and shawls, during the fortnight that
succeeded this call, than I had known them do for years before.  But it
might be the spring weather, for it was a warm and pleasant March; and
merinoes and beavers, and woollen materials of all sorts were but
ungracious receptacles of the bright sun’s glancing rays.  It had not
been Lady Glenmire’s dress that had won Mr Hoggins’s heart, for she went
about on her errands of kindness more shabby than ever.  Although in the
hurried glimpses I caught of her at church or elsewhere she appeared
rather to shun meeting any of her friends, her face seemed to have almost
something of the flush of youth in it; her lips looked redder and more
trembling full than in their old compressed state, and her eyes dwelt on
all things with a lingering light, as if she was learning to love
Cranford and its belongings.  Mr Hoggins looked broad and radiant, and
creaked up the middle aisle at church in a brand-new pair of top-boots—an
audible, as well as visible, sign of his purposed change of state; for
the tradition went, that the boots he had worn till now were the
identical pair in which he first set out on his rounds in Cranford
twenty-five years ago; only they had been new-pieced, high and low, top
and bottom, heel and sole, black leather and brown leather, more times
than any one could tell.

None of the ladies in Cranford chose to sanction the marriage by
congratulating either of the parties.  We wished to ignore the whole
affair until our liege lady, Mrs Jamieson, returned.  Till she came back
to give us our cue, we felt that it would be better to consider the
engagement in the same light as the Queen of Spain’s legs—facts which
certainly existed, but the less said about the better.  This restraint
upon our tongues—for you see if we did not speak about it to any of the
parties concerned, how could we get answers to the questions that we
longed to ask?—was beginning to be irksome, and our idea of the dignity
of silence was paling before our curiosity, when another direction was
given to our thoughts, by an announcement on the part of the principal
shopkeeper of Cranford, who ranged the trades from grocer and
cheesemonger to man-milliner, as occasion required, that the spring
fashions were arrived, and would be exhibited on the following Tuesday at
his rooms in High Street.  Now Miss Matty had been only waiting for this
before buying herself a new silk gown.  I had offered, it is true, to
send to Drumble for patterns, but she had rejected my proposal, gently
implying that she had not forgotten her disappointment about the
sea-green turban.  I was thankful that I was on the spot now, to
counteract the dazzling fascination of any yellow or scarlet silk.

I must say a word or two here about myself.  I have spoken of my father’s
old friendship for the Jenkyns family; indeed, I am not sure if there was
not some distant relationship.  He had willingly allowed me to remain all
the winter at Cranford, in consideration of a letter which Miss Matty had
written to him about the time of the panic, in which I suspect she had
exaggerated my powers and my bravery as a defender of the house.  But now
that the days were longer and more cheerful, he was beginning to urge the
necessity of my return; and I only delayed in a sort of odd forlorn hope
that if I could obtain any clear information, I might make the account
given by the signora of the Aga Jenkyns tally with that of “poor Peter,”
his appearance and disappearance, which I had winnowed out of the
conversation of Miss Pole and Mrs Forrester.



CHAPTER XIII—STOPPED PAYMENT


THE very Tuesday morning on which Mr Johnson was going to show the
fashions, the post-woman brought two letters to the house.  I say the
post-woman, but I should say the postman’s wife.  He was a lame
shoemaker, a very clean, honest man, much respected in the town; but he
never brought the letters round except on unusual occasions, such as
Christmas Day or Good Friday; and on those days the letters, which should
have been delivered at eight in the morning, did not make their
appearance until two or three in the afternoon, for every one liked poor
Thomas, and gave him a welcome on these festive occasions.  He used to
say, “He was welly stawed wi’ eating, for there were three or four houses
where nowt would serve ’em but he must share in their breakfast;” and by
the time he had done his last breakfast, he came to some other friend who
was beginning dinner; but come what might in the way of temptation, Tom
was always sober, civil, and smiling; and, as Miss Jenkyns used to say,
it was a lesson in patience, that she doubted not would call out that
precious quality in some minds, where, but for Thomas, it might have lain
dormant and undiscovered.  Patience was certainly very dormant in Miss
Jenkyns’s mind.  She was always expecting letters, and always drumming on
the table till the post-woman had called or gone past.  On Christmas Day
and Good Friday she drummed from breakfast till church, from church-time
till two o’clock—unless when the fire wanted stirring, when she
invariably knocked down the fire-irons, and scolded Miss Matty for it.
But equally certain was the hearty welcome and the good dinner for
Thomas; Miss Jenkyns standing over him like a bold dragoon, questioning
him as to his children—what they were doing—what school they went to;
upbraiding him if another was likely to make its appearance, but sending
even the little babies the shilling and the mince-pie which was her gift
to all the children, with half-a-crown in addition for both father and
mother.  The post was not half of so much consequence to dear Miss Matty;
but not for the world would she have diminished Thomas’s welcome and his
dole, though I could see that she felt rather shy over the ceremony,
which had been regarded by Miss Jenkyns as a glorious opportunity for
giving advice and benefiting her fellow-creatures.  Miss Matty would
steal the money all in a lump into his hand, as if she were ashamed of
herself.  Miss Jenkyns gave him each individual coin separate, with a
“There! that’s for yourself; that’s for Jenny,” etc.  Miss Matty would
even beckon Martha out of the kitchen while he ate his food: and once, to
my knowledge, winked at its rapid disappearance into a blue cotton
pocket-handkerchief.  Miss Jenkyns almost scolded him if he did not leave
a clean plate, however heaped it might have been, and gave an injunction
with every mouthful.

             [Picture: Standing over him like a bold dragoon]

I have wandered a long way from the two letters that awaited us on the
breakfast-table that Tuesday morning.  Mine was from my father.  Miss
Matty’s was printed.  My father’s was just a man’s letter; I mean it was
very dull, and gave no information beyond that he was well, that they had
had a good deal of rain, that trade was very stagnant, and there were
many disagreeable rumours afloat.  He then asked me if I knew whether
Miss Matty still retained her shares in the Town and County Bank, as
there were very unpleasant reports about it; though nothing more than he
had always foreseen, and had prophesied to Miss Jenkyns years ago, when
she would invest their little property in it—the only unwise step that
clever woman had ever taken, to his knowledge (the only time she ever
acted against his advice, I knew).  However, if anything had gone wrong,
of course I was not to think of leaving Miss Matty while I could be of
any use, etc.

“Who is your letter from, my dear?  Mine is a very civil invitation,
signed ‘Edwin Wilson,’ asking me to attend an important meeting of the
shareholders of the Town and County Bank, to be held in Drumble, on
Thursday the twenty-first.  I am sure, it is very attentive of them to
remember me.”

I did not like to hear of this “important meeting,” for, though I did not
know much about business, I feared it confirmed what my father said:
however, I thought, ill news always came fast enough, so I resolved to
say nothing about my alarm, and merely told her that my father was well,
and sent his kind regards to her.  She kept turning over and admiring her
letter.  At last she spoke—

“I remember their sending one to Deborah just like this; but that I did
not wonder at, for everybody knew she was so clear-headed.  I am afraid I
could not help them much; indeed, if they came to accounts, I should be
quite in the way, for I never could do sums in my head.  Deborah, I know,
rather wished to go, and went so far as to order a new bonnet for the
occasion: but when the time came she had a bad cold; so they sent her a
very polite account of what they had done.  Chosen a director, I think it
was.  Do you think they want me to help them to choose a director?  I am
sure I should choose your father at once!’

“My father has no shares in the bank,” said I.

“Oh, no!  I remember.  He objected very much to Deborah’s buying any, I
believe.  But she was quite the woman of business, and always judged for
herself; and here, you see, they have paid eight per cent. all these
years.”

It was a very uncomfortable subject to me, with my half-knowledge; so I
thought I would change the conversation, and I asked at what time she
thought we had better go and see the fashions.  “Well, my dear,” she
said, “the thing is this: it is not etiquette to go till after twelve;
but then, you see, all Cranford will be there, and one does not like to
be too curious about dress and trimmings and caps with all the world
looking on.  It is never genteel to be over-curious on these occasions.
Deborah had the knack of always looking as if the latest fashion was
nothing new to her; a manner she had caught from Lady Arley, who did see
all the new modes in London, you know.  So I thought we would just slip
down—for I do want this morning, soon after breakfast half-a-pound of
tea—and then we could go up and examine the things at our leisure, and
see exactly how my new silk gown must be made; and then, after twelve, we
could go with our minds disengaged, and free from thoughts of dress.”

We began to talk of Miss Matty’s new silk gown.  I discovered that it
would be really the first time in her life that she had had to choose
anything of consequence for herself: for Miss Jenkyns had always been the
more decided character, whatever her taste might have been; and it is
astonishing how such people carry the world before them by the mere force
of will.  Miss Matty anticipated the sight of the glossy folds with as
much delight as if the five sovereigns, set apart for the purchase, could
buy all the silks in the shop; and (remembering my own loss of two hours
in a toyshop before I could tell on what wonder to spend a silver
threepence) I was very glad that we were going early, that dear Miss
Matty might have leisure for the delights of perplexity.

If a happy sea-green could be met with, the gown was to be sea-green: if
not, she inclined to maize, and I to silver gray; and we discussed the
requisite number of breadths until we arrived at the shop-door.  We were
to buy the tea, select the silk, and then clamber up the iron corkscrew
stairs that led into what was once a loft, though now a fashion
show-room.

The young men at Mr Johnson’s had on their best looks; and their best
cravats, and pivoted themselves over the counter with surprising
activity.  They wanted to show us upstairs at once; but on the principle
of business first and pleasure afterwards, we stayed to purchase the tea.
Here Miss Matty’s absence of mind betrayed itself.  If she was made aware
that she had been drinking green tea at any time, she always thought it
her duty to lie awake half through the night afterward (I have known her
take it in ignorance many a time without such effects), and consequently
green tea was prohibited the house; yet to-day she herself asked for the
obnoxious article, under the impression that she was talking about the
silk.  However, the mistake was soon rectified; and then the silks were
unrolled in good truth.  By this time the shop was pretty well filled,
for it was Cranford market-day, and many of the farmers and country
people from the neighbourhood round came in, sleeking down their hair,
and glancing shyly about, from under their eyelids, as anxious to take
back some notion of the unusual gaiety to the mistress or the lasses at
home, and yet feeling that they were out of place among the smart shopmen
and gay shawls and summer prints.  One honest-looking man, however, made
his way up to the counter at which we stood, and boldly asked to look at
a shawl or two.  The other country folk confined themselves to the
grocery side; but our neighbour was evidently too full of some kind
intention towards mistress, wife or daughter, to be shy; and it soon
became a question with me, whether he or Miss Matty would keep their
shopmen the longest time.  He thought each shawl more beautiful than the
last; and, as for Miss Matty, she smiled and sighed over each fresh bale
that was brought out; one colour set off another, and the heap together
would, as she said, make even the rainbow look poor.

“I am afraid,” said she, hesitating, “Whichever I choose I shall wish I
had taken another.  Look at this lovely crimson! it would be so warm in
winter.  But spring is coming on, you know.  I wish I could have a gown
for every season,” said she, dropping her voice—as we all did in Cranford
whenever we talked of anything we wished for but could not afford.
“However,” she continued in a louder and more cheerful tone, “it would
give me a great deal of trouble to take care of them if I had them; so, I
think, I’ll only take one.  But which must it be, my dear?”

And now she hovered over a lilac with yellow spots, while I pulled out a
quiet sage-green that had faded into insignificance under the more
brilliant colours, but which was nevertheless a good silk in its humble
way.  Our attention was called off to our neighbour.  He had chosen a
shawl of about thirty shillings’ value; and his face looked broadly
happy, under the anticipation, no doubt, of the pleasant surprise he
would give to some Molly or Jenny at home; he had tugged a leathern purse
out of his breeches-pocket, and had offered a five-pound note in payment
for the shawl, and for some parcels which had been brought round to him
from the grocery counter; and it was just at this point that he attracted
our notice.  The shopman was examining the note with a puzzled, doubtful
air.

“Town and County Bank!  I am not sure, sir, but I believe we have
received a warning against notes issued by this bank only this morning.
I will just step and ask Mr Johnson, sir; but I’m afraid I must trouble
you for payment in cash, or in a note of a different bank.”

I never saw a man’s countenance fall so suddenly into dismay and
bewilderment.  It was almost piteous to see the rapid change.

“Dang it!” said he, striking his fist down on the table, as if to try
which was the harder, “the chap talks as if notes and gold were to be had
for the picking up.”

Miss Matty had forgotten her silk gown in her interest for the man.  I
don’t think she had caught the name of the bank, and in my nervous
cowardice I was anxious that she should not; and so I began admiring the
yellow-spotted lilac gown that I had been utterly condemning only a
minute before.  But it was of no use.

“What bank was it?  I mean, what bank did your note belong to?”

“Town and County Bank.”

“Let me see it,” said she quietly to the shopman, gently taking it out of
his hand, as he brought it back to return it to the farmer.

Mr Johnson was very sorry, but, from information he had received, the
notes issued by that bank were little better than waste paper.

“I don’t understand it,” said Miss Matty to me in a low voice.  “That is
our bank, is it not?—the Town and County Bank?”

“Yes,” said I.  “This lilac silk will just match the ribbons in your new
cap, I believe,” I continued, holding up the folds so as to catch the
light, and wishing that the man would make haste and be gone, and yet
having a new wonder, that had only just sprung up, how far it was wise or
right in me to allow Miss Matty to make this expensive purchase, if the
affairs of the bank were really so bad as the refusal of the note
implied.

But Miss Matty put on the soft dignified manner, peculiar to her, rarely
used, and yet which became her so well, and laying her hand gently on
mine, she said—

“Never mind the silks for a few minutes, dear.  I don’t understand you,
sir,” turning now to the shopman, who had been attending to the farmer.
“Is this a forged note?”

“Oh, no, ma’am.  It is a true note of its kind; but you see, ma’am, it is
a joint-stock bank, and there are reports out that it is likely to break.
Mr Johnson is only doing his duty, ma’am, as I am sure Mr Dobson knows.”

But Mr Dobson could not respond to the appealing bow by any answering
smile.  He was turning the note absently over in his fingers, looking
gloomily enough at the parcel containing the lately-chosen shawl.

“It’s hard upon a poor man,” said he, “as earns every farthing with the
sweat of his brow.  However, there’s no help for it.  You must take back
your shawl, my man; Lizzle must go on with her cloak for a while.  And
yon figs for the little ones—I promised them to ’em—I’ll take them; but
the ’bacco, and the other things”—

“I will give you five sovereigns for your note, my good man,” said Miss
Matty.  “I think there is some great mistake about it, for I am one of
the shareholders, and I’m sure they would have told me if things had not
been going on right.”

The shopman whispered a word or two across the table to Miss Matty.  She
looked at him with a dubious air.

“Perhaps so,” said she.  “But I don’t pretend to understand business; I
only know that if it is going to fail, and if honest people are to lose
their money because they have taken our notes—I can’t explain myself,”
said she, suddenly becoming aware that she had got into a long sentence
with four people for audience; “only I would rather exchange my gold for
the note, if you please,” turning to the farmer, “and then you can take
your wife the shawl.  It is only going without my gown a few days
longer,” she continued, speaking to me.  “Then, I have no doubt,
everything will be cleared up.”

“But if it is cleared up the wrong way?” said I.

“Why, then it will only have been common honesty in me, as a shareholder,
to have given this good man the money.  I am quite clear about it in my
own mind; but, you know, I can never speak quite as comprehensibly as
others can, only you must give me your note, Mr Dobson, if you please,
and go on with your purchases with these sovereigns.”

     [Picture: You must give me your note, Mr Dobson, if you please]

The man looked at her with silent gratitude—too awkward to put his thanks
into words; but he hung back for a minute or two, fumbling with his note.

“I’m loth to make another one lose instead of me, if it is a loss; but,
you see, five pounds is a deal of money to a man with a family; and, as
you say, ten to one in a day or two the note will be as good as gold
again.”

“No hope of that, my friend,” said the shopman.

“The more reason why I should take it,” said Miss Matty quietly.  She
pushed her sovereigns towards the man, who slowly laid his note down in
exchange.  “Thank you.  I will wait a day or two before I purchase any of
these silks; perhaps you will then have a greater choice.  My dear, will
you come upstairs?”

We inspected the fashions with as minute and curious an interest as if
the gown to be made after them had been bought.  I could not see that the
little event in the shop below had in the least damped Miss Matty’s
curiosity as to the make of sleeves or the sit of skirts.  She once or
twice exchanged congratulations with me on our private and leisurely view
of the bonnets and shawls; but I was, all the time, not so sure that our
examination was so utterly private, for I caught glimpses of a figure
dodging behind the cloaks and mantles; and, by a dexterous move, I came
face to face with Miss Pole, also in morning costume (the principal
feature of which was her being without teeth, and wearing a veil to
conceal the deficiency), come on the same errand as ourselves.  But she
quickly took her departure, because, as she said, she had a bad headache,
and did not feel herself up to conversation.

As we came down through the shop, the civil Mr Johnson was awaiting us;
he had been informed of the exchange of the note for gold, and with much
good feeling and real kindness, but with a little want of tact, he wished
to condole with Miss Matty, and impress upon her the true state of the
case.  I could only hope that he had heard an exaggerated rumour for he
said that her shares were worse than nothing, and that the bank could not
pay a shilling in the pound.  I was glad that Miss Matty seemed still a
little incredulous; but I could not tell how much of this was real or
assumed, with that self-control which seemed habitual to ladies of Miss
Matty’s standing in Cranford, who would have thought their dignity
compromised by the slightest expression of surprise, dismay, or any
similar feeling to an inferior in station, or in a public shop.  However,
we walked home very silently.  I am ashamed to say, I believe I was
rather vexed and annoyed at Miss Matty’s conduct in taking the note to
herself so decidedly.  I had so set my heart upon her having a new silk
gown, which she wanted sadly; in general she was so undecided anybody
might turn her round; in this case I had felt that it was no use
attempting it, but I was not the less put out at the result.

Somehow, after twelve o’clock, we both acknowledged to a sated curiosity
about the fashions, and to a certain fatigue of body (which was, in fact,
depression of mind) that indisposed us to go out again.  But still we
never spoke of the note; till, all at once, something possessed me to ask
Miss Matty if she would think it her duty to offer sovereigns for all the
notes of the Town and County Bank she met with?  I could have bitten my
tongue out the minute I had said it.  She looked up rather sadly, and as
if I had thrown a new perplexity into her already distressed mind; and
for a minute or two she did not speak.  Then she said—my own dear Miss
Matty—without a shade of reproach in her voice—

“My dear, I never feel as if my mind was what people call very strong;
and it’s often hard enough work for me to settle what I ought to do with
the case right before me.  I was very thankful to—I was very thankful,
that I saw my duty this morning, with the poor man standing by me; but
its rather a strain upon me to keep thinking and thinking what I should
do if such and such a thing happened; and, I believe, I had rather wait
and see what really does come; and I don’t doubt I shall be helped then
if I don’t fidget myself, and get too anxious beforehand.  You know,
love, I’m not like Deborah.  If Deborah had lived, I’ve no doubt she
would have seen after them, before they had got themselves into this
state.”

We had neither of us much appetite for dinner, though we tried to talk
cheerfully about indifferent things.  When we returned into the
drawing-room, Miss Matty unlocked her desk and began to look over her
account-books.  I was so penitent for what I had said in the morning,
that I did not choose to take upon myself the presumption to suppose that
I could assist her; I rather left her alone, as, with puzzled brow, her
eye followed her pen up and down the ruled page.  By-and-by she shut the
book, locked the desk, and came and drew a chair to mine, where I sat in
moody sorrow over the fire.  I stole my hand into hers; she clasped it,
but did not speak a word.  At last she said, with forced composure in her
voice, “If that bank goes wrong, I shall lose one hundred and forty-nine
pounds thirteen shillings and fourpence a year; I shall only have
thirteen pounds a year left.”  I squeezed her hand hard and tight.  I did
not know what to say.  Presently (it was too dark to see her face) I felt
her fingers work convulsively in my grasp; and I knew she was going to
speak again.  I heard the sobs in her voice as she said, “I hope it’s not
wrong—not wicked—but, oh!  I am so glad poor Deborah is spared this.  She
could not have borne to come down in the world—she had such a noble,
lofty spirit.”

This was all she said about the sister who had insisted upon investing
their little property in that unlucky bank.  We were later in lighting
the candle than usual that night, and until that light shamed us into
speaking, we sat together very silently and sadly.

However, we took to our work after tea with a kind of forced cheerfulness
(which soon became real as far as it went), talking of that never-ending
wonder, Lady Glenmire’s engagement.  Miss Matty was almost coming round
to think it a good thing.

“I don’t mean to deny that men are troublesome in a house.  I don’t judge
from my own experience, for my father was neatness itself, and wiped his
shoes on coming in as carefully as any woman; but still a man has a sort
of knowledge of what should be done in difficulties, that it is very
pleasant to have one at hand ready to lean upon.  Now, Lady Glenmire,
instead of being tossed about, and wondering where she is to settle, will
be certain of a home among pleasant and kind people, such as our good
Miss Pole and Mrs Forrester.  And Mr Hoggins is really a very personable
man; and as for his manners, why, if they are not very polished, I have
known people with very good hearts and very clever minds too, who were
not what some people reckoned refined, but who were both true and
tender.”

She fell off into a soft reverie about Mr Holbrook, and I did not
interrupt her, I was so busy maturing a plan I had had in my mind for
some days, but which this threatened failure of the bank had brought to a
crisis.  That night, after Miss Matty went to bed, I treacherously
lighted the candle again, and sat down in the drawing-room to compose a
letter to the Aga Jenkyns, a letter which should affect him if he were
Peter, and yet seem a mere statement of dry facts if he were a stranger.
The church clock pealed out two before I had done.

The next morning news came, both official and otherwise, that the Town
and County Bank had stopped payment.  Miss Matty was ruined.

She tried to speak quietly to me; but when she came to the actual fact
that she would have but about five shillings a week to live upon, she
could not restrain a few tears.

“I am not crying for myself, dear,” said she, wiping them away; “I
believe I am crying for the very silly thought of how my mother would
grieve if she could know; she always cared for us so much more than for
herself.  But many a poor person has less, and I am not very extravagant,
and, thank God, when the neck of mutton, and Martha’s wages, and the rent
are paid, I have not a farthing owing.  Poor Martha!  I think she’ll be
sorry to leave me.”

Miss Matty smiled at me through her tears, and she would fain have had me
see only the smile, not the tears.



CHAPTER XIV—FRIENDS IN NEED


IT was an example to me, and I fancy it might be to many others, to see
how immediately Miss Matty set about the retrenchment which she knew to
be right under her altered circumstances.  While she went down to speak
to Martha, and break the intelligence to her, I stole out with my letter
to the Aga Jenkyns, and went to the signor’s lodgings to obtain the exact
address.  I bound the signora to secrecy; and indeed her military manners
had a degree of shortness and reserve in them which made her always say
as little as possible, except when under the pressure of strong
excitement.  Moreover (which made my secret doubly sure), the signor was
now so far recovered as to be looking forward to travelling and conjuring
again in the space of a few days, when he, his wife, and little Phoebe
would leave Cranford.  Indeed, I found him looking over a great black and
red placard, in which the Signor Brunoni’s accomplishments were set
forth, and to which only the name of the town where he would next display
them was wanting.  He and his wife were so much absorbed in deciding
where the red letters would come in with most effect (it might have been
the Rubric for that matter), that it was some time before I could get my
question asked privately, and not before I had given several decisions,
the which I questioned afterwards with equal wisdom of sincerity as soon
as the signor threw in his doubts and reasons on the important subject.
At last I got the address, spelt by sound, and very queer it looked.  I
dropped it in the post on my way home, and then for a minute I stood
looking at the wooden pane with a gaping slit which divided me from the
letter but a moment ago in my hand.  It was gone from me like life, never
to be recalled.  It would get tossed about on the sea, and stained with
sea-waves perhaps, and be carried among palm-trees, and scented with all
tropical fragrance; the little piece of paper, but an hour ago so
familiar and commonplace, had set out on its race to the strange wild
countries beyond the Ganges!  But I could not afford to lose much time on
this speculation.  I hastened home, that Miss Matty might not miss me.
Martha opened the door to me, her face swollen with crying.  As soon as
she saw me she burst out afresh, and taking hold of my arm she pulled me
in, and banged the door to, in order to ask me if indeed it was all true
that Miss Matty had been saying.

“I’ll never leave her!  No; I won’t.  I telled her so, and said I could
not think how she could find in her heart to give me warning.  I could
not have had the face to do it, if I’d been her.  I might ha’ been just
as good for nothing as Mrs Fitz-Adam’s Rosy, who struck for wages after
living seven years and a half in one place.  I said I was not one to go
and serve Mammon at that rate; that I knew when I’d got a good missus, if
she didn’t know when she’d got a good servant”—

“But, Martha,” said I, cutting in while she wiped her eyes.

“Don’t, ‘but Martha’ me,” she replied to my deprecatory tone.

“Listen to reason”—

“I’ll not listen to reason,” she said, now in full possession of her
voice, which had been rather choked with sobbing.  “Reason always means
what someone else has got to say.  Now I think what I’ve got to say is
good enough reason; but reason or not, I’ll say it, and I’ll stick to it.
I’ve money in the Savings Bank, and I’ve a good stock of clothes, and I’m
not going to leave Miss Matty.  No, not if she gives me warning every
hour in the day!”

She put her arms akimbo, as much as to say she defied me; and, indeed, I
could hardly tell how to begin to remonstrate with her, so much did I
feel that Miss Matty, in her increasing infirmity, needed the attendance
of this kind and faithful woman.

“Well”—said I at last.

“I’m thankful you begin with ‘well!’  If you’d have begun with ‘but,’ as
you did afore, I’d not ha’ listened to you.  Now you may go on.”

“I know you would be a great loss to Miss Matty, Martha”—

“I telled her so.  A loss she’d never cease to be sorry for,” broke in
Martha triumphantly.

“Still, she will have so little—so very little—to live upon, that I don’t
see just now how she could find you food—she will even be pressed for her
own.  I tell you this, Martha, because I feel you are like a friend to
dear Miss Matty, but you know she might not like to have it spoken
about.”

Apparently this was even a blacker view of the subject than Miss Matty
had presented to her, for Martha just sat down on the first chair that
came to hand, and cried out loud (we had been standing in the kitchen).

At last she put her apron down, and looking me earnestly in the face,
asked, “Was that the reason Miss Matty wouldn’t order a pudding to-day?
She said she had no great fancy for sweet things, and you and she would
just have a mutton chop.  But I’ll be up to her.  Never you tell, but
I’ll make her a pudding, and a pudding she’ll like, too, and I’ll pay for
it myself; so mind you see she eats it.  Many a one has been comforted in
their sorrow by seeing a good dish come upon the table.”

I was rather glad that Martha’s energy had taken the immediate and
practical direction of pudding-making, for it staved off the quarrelsome
discussion as to whether she should or should not leave Miss Matty’s
service.  She began to tie on a clean apron, and otherwise prepare
herself for going to the shop for the butter, eggs, and what else she
might require.  She would not use a scrap of the articles already in the
house for her cookery, but went to an old tea-pot in which her private
store of money was deposited, and took out what she wanted.

I found Miss Matty very quiet, and not a little sad; but by-and-by she
tried to smile for my sake.  It was settled that I was to write to my
father, and ask him to come over and hold a consultation, and as soon as
this letter was despatched we began to talk over future plans.  Miss
Matty’s idea was to take a single room, and retain as much of her
furniture as would be necessary to fit up this, and sell the rest, and
there to quietly exist upon what would remain after paying the rent.  For
my part, I was more ambitious and less contented.  I thought of all the
things by which a woman, past middle age, and with the education common
to ladies fifty years ago, could earn or add to a living without
materially losing caste; but at length I put even this last clause on one
side, and wondered what in the world Miss Matty could do.

Teaching was, of course, the first thing that suggested itself.  If Miss
Matty could teach children anything, it would throw her among the little
elves in whom her soul delighted.  I ran over her accomplishments.  Once
upon a time I had heard her say she could play “Ah! vous dirai-je,
maman?” on the piano, but that was long, long ago; that faint shadow of
musical acquirement had died out years before.  She had also once been
able to trace out patterns very nicely for muslin embroidery, by dint of
placing a piece of silver paper over the design to be copied, and holding
both against the window-pane while she marked the scollop and
eyelet-holes.  But that was her nearest approach to the accomplishment of
drawing, and I did not think it would go very far.  Then again, as to the
branches of a solid English education—fancy work and the use of the
globes—such as the mistress of the Ladies’ Seminary, to which all the
tradespeople in Cranford sent their daughters, professed to teach.  Miss
Matty’s eyes were failing her, and I doubted if she could discover the
number of threads in a worsted-work pattern, or rightly appreciate the
different shades required for Queen Adelaide’s face in the loyal
wool-work now fashionable in Cranford.  As for the use of the globes, I
had never been able to find it out myself, so perhaps I was not a good
judge of Miss Matty’s capability of instructing in this branch of
education; but it struck me that equators and tropics, and such mystical
circles, were very imaginary lines indeed to her, and that she looked
upon the signs of the Zodiac as so many remnants of the Black Art.

What she piqued herself upon, as arts in which she excelled, was making
candle-lighters, or “spills” (as she preferred calling them), of coloured
paper, cut so as to resemble feathers, and knitting garters in a variety
of dainty stitches.  I had once said, on receiving a present of an
elaborate pair, that I should feel quite tempted to drop one of them in
the street, in order to have it admired; but I found this little joke
(and it was a very little one) was such a distress to her sense of
propriety, and was taken with such anxious, earnest alarm, lest the
temptation might some day prove too strong for me, that I quite regretted
having ventured upon it.  A present of these delicately-wrought garters,
a bunch of gay “spills,” or a set of cards on which sewing-silk was wound
in a mystical manner, were the well-known tokens of Miss Matty’s favour.
But would any one pay to have their children taught these arts? or,
indeed, would Miss Matty sell, for filthy lucre, the knack and the skill
with which she made trifles of value to those who loved her?

I had to come down to reading, writing, and arithmetic; and, in reading
the chapter every morning, she always coughed before coming to long
words.  I doubted her power of getting through a genealogical chapter,
with any number of coughs.  Writing she did well and delicately—but
spelling!  She seemed to think that the more out-of-the-way this was, and
the more trouble it cost her, the greater the compliment she paid to her
correspondent; and words that she would spell quite correctly in her
letters to me became perfect enigmas when she wrote to my father.

No! there was nothing she could teach to the rising generation of
Cranford, unless they had been quick learners and ready imitators of her
patience, her humility, her sweetness, her quiet contentment with all
that she could not do.  I pondered and pondered until dinner was
announced by Martha, with a face all blubbered and swollen with crying.

Miss Matty had a few little peculiarities which Martha was apt to regard
as whims below her attention, and appeared to consider as childish
fancies of which an old lady of fifty-eight should try and cure herself.
But to-day everything was attended to with the most careful regard.  The
bread was cut to the imaginary pattern of excellence that existed in Miss
Matty’s mind, as being the way which her mother had preferred, the
curtain was drawn so as to exclude the dead brick wall of a neighbour’s
stable, and yet left so as to show every tender leaf of the poplar which
was bursting into spring beauty.  Martha’s tone to Miss Matty was just
such as that good, rough-spoken servant usually kept sacred for little
children, and which I had never heard her use to any grown-up person.

I had forgotten to tell Miss Matty about the pudding, and I was afraid
she might not do justice to it, for she had evidently very little
appetite this day; so I seized the opportunity of letting her into the
secret while Martha took away the meat.  Miss Matty’s eyes filled with
tears, and she could not speak, either to express surprise or delight,
when Martha returned bearing it aloft, made in the most wonderful
representation of a lion _couchant_ that ever was moulded.  Martha’s face
gleamed with triumph as she set it down before Miss Matty with an
exultant “There!”  Miss Matty wanted to speak her thanks, but could not;
so she took Martha’s hand and shook it warmly, which set Martha off
crying, and I myself could hardly keep up the necessary composure.
Martha burst out of the room, and Miss Matty had to clear her voice once
or twice before she could speak.  At last she said, “I should like to
keep this pudding under a glass shade, my dear!” and the notion of the
lion _couchant_, with his currant eyes, being hoisted up to the place of
honour on a mantelpiece, tickled my hysterical fancy, and I began to
laugh, which rather surprised Miss Matty.

“I am sure, dear, I have seen uglier things under a glass shade before
now,” said she.

So had I, many a time and oft, and I accordingly composed my countenance
(and now I could hardly keep from crying), and we both fell to upon the
pudding, which was indeed excellent—only every morsel seemed to choke us,
our hearts were so full.

We had too much to think about to talk much that afternoon.  It passed
over very tranquilly.  But when the tea-urn was brought in a new thought
came into my head.  Why should not Miss Matty sell tea—be an agent to the
East India Tea Company which then existed?  I could see no objections to
this plan, while the advantages were many—always supposing that Miss
Matty could get over the degradation of condescending to anything like
trade.  Tea was neither greasy nor sticky—grease and stickiness being two
of the qualities which Miss Matty could not endure.  No shop-window would
be required.  A small, genteel notification of her being licensed to sell
tea would, it is true, be necessary, but I hoped that it could be placed
where no one would see it.  Neither was tea a heavy article, so as to tax
Miss Matty’s fragile strength.  The only thing against my plan was the
buying and selling involved.

While I was giving but absent answers to the questions Miss Matty was
putting—almost as absently—we heard a clumping sound on the stairs, and a
whispering outside the door, which indeed once opened and shut as if by
some invisible agency.  After a little while Martha came in, dragging
after her a great tall young man, all crimson with shyness, and finding
his only relief in perpetually sleeking down his hair.

“Please, ma’am, he’s only Jem Hearn,” said Martha, by way of an
introduction; and so out of breath was she that I imagine she had had
some bodily struggle before she could overcome his reluctance to be
presented on the courtly scene of Miss Matilda Jenkyns’s drawing-room.

“And please, ma’am, he wants to marry me off-hand.  And please, ma’am, we
want to take a lodger—just one quiet lodger, to make our two ends meet;
and we’d take any house conformable; and, oh dear Miss Matty, if I may be
so bold, would you have any objections to lodging with us?  Jem wants it
as much as I do.”  [To Jem ]—“You great oaf! why can’t you back me!—But
he does want it all the same, very bad—don’t you, Jem?—only, you see,
he’s dazed at being called on to speak before quality.”

         [Picture: Please, ma’am, he wants to marry me off-hand]

“It’s not that,” broke in Jem.  “It’s that you’ve taken me all on a
sudden, and I didn’t think for to get married so soon—and such quick
words does flabbergast a man.  It’s not that I’m against it, ma’am”
(addressing Miss Matty), “only Martha has such quick ways with her when
once she takes a thing into her head; and marriage, ma’am—marriage nails
a man, as one may say.  I dare say I shan’t mind it after it’s once
over.”

“Please, ma’am,” said Martha—who had plucked at his sleeve, and nudged
him with her elbow, and otherwise tried to interrupt him all the time he
had been speaking—“don’t mind him, he’ll come to; ’twas only last night
he was an-axing me, and an-axing me, and all the more because I said I
could not think of it for years to come, and now he’s only taken aback
with the suddenness of the joy; but you know, Jem, you are just as full
as me about wanting a lodger.”  (Another great nudge.)

“Ay! if Miss Matty would lodge with us—otherwise I’ve no mind to be
cumbered with strange folk in the house,” said Jem, with a want of tact
which I could see enraged Martha, who was trying to represent a lodger as
the great object they wished to obtain, and that, in fact, Miss Matty
would be smoothing their path and conferring a favour, if she would only
come and live with them.

Miss Matty herself was bewildered by the pair; their, or rather Martha’s
sudden resolution in favour of matrimony staggered her, and stood between
her and the contemplation of the plan which Martha had at heart.  Miss
Matty began—

“Marriage is a very solemn thing, Martha.”

“It is indeed, ma’am,” quoth Jem.  “Not that I’ve no objections to
Martha.”

“You’ve never let me a-be for asking me for to fix when I would be
married,” said Martha—her face all a-fire, and ready to cry with
vexation—“and now you’re shaming me before my missus and all.”

“Nay, now!  Martha don’t ee! don’t ee! only a man likes to have
breathing-time,” said Jem, trying to possess himself of her hand, but in
vain.  Then seeing that she was more seriously hurt than he had imagined,
he seemed to try to rally his scattered faculties, and with more
straightforward dignity than, ten minutes before, I should have thought
it possible for him to assume, he turned to Miss Matty, and said, “I
hope, ma’am, you know that I am bound to respect every one who has been
kind to Martha.  I always looked on her as to be my wife—some time; and
she has often and often spoken of you as the kindest lady that ever was;
and though the plain truth is, I would not like to be troubled with
lodgers of the common run, yet if, ma’am, you’d honour us by living with
us, I’m sure Martha would do her best to make you comfortable; and I’d
keep out of your way as much as I could, which I reckon would be the best
kindness such an awkward chap as me could do.”

Miss Matty had been very busy with taking off her spectacles, wiping
them, and replacing them; but all she could say was, “Don’t let any
thought of me hurry you into marriage: pray don’t.  Marriage is such a
very solemn thing!”

“But Miss Matilda will think of your plan, Martha,” said I, struck with
the advantages that it offered, and unwilling to lose the opportunity of
considering about it.  “And I’m sure neither she nor I can ever forget
your kindness; nor your’s either, Jem.”

“Why, yes, ma’am!  I’m sure I mean kindly, though I’m a bit fluttered by
being pushed straight ahead into matrimony, as it were, and mayn’t
express myself conformable.  But I’m sure I’m willing enough, and give me
time to get accustomed; so, Martha, wench, what’s the use of crying so,
and slapping me if I come near?”

This last was _sotto voce_, and had the effect of making Martha bounce
out of the room, to be followed and soothed by her lover.  Whereupon Miss
Matty sat down and cried very heartily, and accounted for it by saying
that the thought of Martha being married so soon gave her quite a shock,
and that she should never forgive herself if she thought she was hurrying
the poor creature.  I think my pity was more for Jem, of the two; but
both Miss Matty and I appreciated to the full the kindness of the honest
couple, although we said little about this, and a good deal about the
chances and dangers of matrimony.

The next morning, very early, I received a note from Miss Pole, so
mysteriously wrapped up, and with so many seals on it to secure secrecy,
that I had to tear the paper before I could unfold it.  And when I came
to the writing I could hardly understand the meaning, it was so involved
and oracular.  I made out, however, that I was to go to Miss Pole’s at
eleven o’clock; the number _eleven_ being written in full length as well
as in numerals, and _A.M._ twice dashed under, as if I were very likely
to come at eleven at night, when all Cranford was usually a-bed and
asleep by ten.  There was no signature except Miss Pole’s initials
reversed, P.E.; but as Martha had given me the note, “with Miss Pole’s
kind regards,” it needed no wizard to find out who sent it; and if the
writer’s name was to be kept secret, it was very well that I was alone
when Martha delivered it.

I went as requested to Miss Pole’s.  The door was opened to me by her
little maid Lizzy in Sunday trim, as if some grand event was impending
over this work-day.  And the drawing-room upstairs was arranged in
accordance with this idea.  The table was set out with the best green
card-cloth, and writing materials upon it.  On the little chiffonier was
a tray with a newly-decanted bottle of cowslip wine, and some
ladies’-finger biscuits.  Miss Pole herself was in solemn array, as if to
receive visitors, although it was only eleven o’clock.  Mrs Forrester was
there, crying quietly and sadly, and my arrival seemed only to call forth
fresh tears.  Before we had finished our greetings, performed with
lugubrious mystery of demeanour, there was another rat-tat-tat, and Mrs
Fitz-Adam appeared, crimson with walking and excitement.  It seemed as if
this was all the company expected; for now Miss Pole made several
demonstrations of being about to open the business of the meeting, by
stirring the fire, opening and shutting the door, and coughing and
blowing her nose.  Then she arranged us all round the table, taking care
to place me opposite to her; and last of all, she inquired of me if the
sad report was true, as she feared it was, that Miss Matty had lost all
her fortune?

Of course, I had but one answer to make; and I never saw more unaffected
sorrow depicted on any countenances than I did there on the three before
me.

“I wish Mrs Jamieson was here!” said Mrs Forrester at last; but to judge
from Mrs Fitz-Adam’s face, she could not second the wish.

“But without Mrs Jamieson,” said Miss Pole, with just a sound of offended
merit in her voice, “we, the ladies of Cranford, in my drawing-room
assembled, can resolve upon something.  I imagine we are none of us what
may be called rich, though we all possess a genteel competency,
sufficient for tastes that are elegant and refined, and would not, if
they could, be vulgarly ostentatious.”  (Here I observed Miss Pole refer
to a small card concealed in her hand, on which I imagine she had put
down a few notes.)

“Miss Smith,” she continued, addressing me (familiarly known as “Mary” to
all the company assembled, but this was a state occasion), “I have
conversed in private—I made it my business to do so yesterday
afternoon—with these ladies on the misfortune which has happened to our
friend, and one and all of us have agreed that while we have a
superfluity, it is not only a duty, but a pleasure—a true pleasure,
Mary!”—her voice was rather choked just here, and she had to wipe her
spectacles before she could go on—“to give what we can to assist her—Miss
Matilda Jenkyns.  Only in consideration of the feelings of delicate
independence existing in the mind of every refined female”—I was sure she
had got back to the card now—“we wish to contribute our mites in a secret
and concealed manner, so as not to hurt the feelings I have referred to.
And our object in requesting you to meet us this morning is that,
believing you are the daughter—that your father is, in fact, her
confidential adviser, in all pecuniary matters, we imagined that, by
consulting with him, you might devise some mode in which our contribution
could be made to appear the legal due which Miss Matilda Jenkyns ought to
receive from—  Probably your father, knowing her investments, can fill up
the blank.”

Miss Pole concluded her address, and looked round for approval and
agreement.

“I have expressed your meaning, ladies, have I not?  And while Miss Smith
considers what reply to make, allow me to offer you some little
refreshment.”

I had no great reply to make: I had more thankfulness at my heart for
their kind thoughts than I cared to put into words; and so I only mumbled
out something to the effect “that I would name what Miss Pole had said to
my father, and that if anything could be arranged for dear Miss
Matty,”—and here I broke down utterly, and had to be refreshed with a
glass of cowslip wine before I could check the crying which had been
repressed for the last two or three days.  The worst was, all the ladies
cried in concert.  Even Miss Pole cried, who had said a hundred times
that to betray emotion before any one was a sign of weakness and want of
self-control.  She recovered herself into a slight degree of impatient
anger, directed against me, as having set them all off; and, moreover, I
think she was vexed that I could not make a speech back in return for
hers; and if I had known beforehand what was to be said, and had a card
on which to express the probable feelings that would rise in my heart, I
would have tried to gratify her.  As it was, Mrs Forrester was the person
to speak when we had recovered our composure.

“I don’t mind, among friends, stating that I—no!  I’m not poor exactly,
but I don’t think I’m what you may call rich; I wish I were, for dear
Miss Matty’s sake—but, if you please, I’ll write down in a sealed paper
what I can give.  I only wish it was more; my dear Mary, I do indeed.”

Now I saw why paper, pens, and ink were provided.  Every lady wrote down
the sum she could give annually, signed the paper, and sealed it
mysteriously.  If their proposal was acceded to, my father was to be
allowed to open the papers, under pledge of secrecy.  If not, they were
to be returned to their writers.

When the ceremony had been gone through, I rose to depart; but each lady
seemed to wish to have a private conference with me.  Miss Pole kept me
in the drawing-room to explain why, in Mrs Jamieson’s absence, she had
taken the lead in this “movement,” as she was pleased to call it, and
also to inform me that she had heard from good sources that Mrs Jamieson
was coming home directly in a state of high displeasure against her
sister-in-law, who was forthwith to leave her house, and was, she
believed, to return to Edinburgh that very afternoon.  Of course this
piece of intelligence could not be communicated before Mrs Fitz-Adam,
more especially as Miss Pole was inclined to think that Lady Glenmire’s
engagement to Mr Hoggins could not possibly hold against the blaze of Mrs
Jamieson’s displeasure.  A few hearty inquiries after Miss Matty’s health
concluded my interview with Miss Pole.

On coming downstairs I found Mrs Forrester waiting for me at the entrance
to the dining-parlour; she drew me in, and when the door was shut, she
tried two or three times to begin on some subject, which was so
unapproachable apparently, that I began to despair of our ever getting to
a clear understanding.  At last out it came; the poor old lady trembling
all the time as if it were a great crime which she was exposing to
daylight, in telling me how very, very little she had to live upon; a
confession which she was brought to make from a dread lest we should
think that the small contribution named in her paper bore any proportion
to her love and regard for Miss Matty.  And yet that sum which she so
eagerly relinquished was, in truth, more than a twentieth part of what
she had to live upon, and keep house, and a little serving-maid, all as
became one born a Tyrrell.  And when the whole income does not nearly
amount to a hundred pounds, to give up a twentieth of it will necessitate
many careful economies, and many pieces of self-denial, small and
insignificant in the world’s account, but bearing a different value in
another account-book that I have heard of.  She did so wish she was rich,
she said, and this wish she kept repeating, with no thought of herself in
it, only with a longing, yearning desire to be able to heap up Miss
Matty’s measure of comforts.

It was some time before I could console her enough to leave her; and
then, on quitting the house, I was waylaid by Mrs Fitz-Adam, who had also
her confidence to make of pretty nearly the opposite description.  She
had not liked to put down all that she could afford and was ready to
give.  She told me she thought she never could look Miss Matty in the
face again if she presumed to be giving her so much as she should like to
do.  “Miss Matty!” continued she, “that I thought was such a fine young
lady when I was nothing but a country girl, coming to market with eggs
and butter and such like things.  For my father, though well-to-do, would
always make me go on as my mother had done before me, and I had to come
into Cranford every Saturday, and see after sales, and prices, and what
not.  And one day, I remember, I met Miss Matty in the lane that leads to
Combehurst; she was walking on the footpath, which, you know, is raised a
good way above the road, and a gentleman rode beside her, and was talking
to her, and she was looking down at some primroses she had gathered, and
pulling them all to pieces, and I do believe she was crying.  But after
she had passed, she turned round and ran after me to ask—oh, so
kindly—about my poor mother, who lay on her death-bed; and when I cried
she took hold of my hand to comfort me—and the gentleman waiting for her
all the time—and her poor heart very full of something, I am sure; and I
thought it such an honour to be spoken to in that pretty way by the
rector’s daughter, who visited at Arley Hall.  I have loved her ever
since, though perhaps I’d no right to do it; but if you can think of any
way in which I might be allowed to give a little more without any one
knowing it, I should be so much obliged to you, my dear.  And my brother
would be delighted to doctor her for nothing—medicines, leeches, and all.
I know that he and her ladyship (my dear, I little thought in the days I
was telling you of that I should ever come to be sister-in-law to a
ladyship!) would do anything for her.  We all would.”

I told her I was quite sure of it, and promised all sorts of things in my
anxiety to get home to Miss Matty, who might well be wondering what had
become of me—absent from her two hours without being able to account for
it.  She had taken very little note of time, however, as she had been
occupied in numberless little arrangements preparatory to the great step
of giving up her house.  It was evidently a relief to her to be doing
something in the way of retrenchment, for, as she said, whenever she
paused to think, the recollection of the poor fellow with his bad
five-pound note came over her, and she felt quite dishonest; only if it
made her so uncomfortable, what must it not be doing to the directors of
the bank, who must know so much more of the misery consequent upon this
failure?  She almost made me angry by dividing her sympathy between these
directors (whom she imagined overwhelmed by self-reproach for the
mismanagement of other people’s affairs) and those who were suffering
like her.  Indeed, of the two, she seemed to think poverty a lighter
burden than self-reproach; but I privately doubted if the directors would
agree with her.

Old hoards were taken out and examined as to their money value which
luckily was small, or else I don’t know how Miss Matty would have
prevailed upon herself to part with such things as her mother’s
wedding-ring, the strange, uncouth brooch with which her father had
disfigured his shirt-frill, &c.  However, we arranged things a little in
order as to their pecuniary estimation, and were all ready for my father
when he came the next morning.

I am not going to weary you with the details of all the business we went
through; and one reason for not telling about them is, that I did not
understand what we were doing at the time, and cannot recollect it now.
Miss Matty and I sat assenting to accounts, and schemes, and reports, and
documents, of which I do not believe we either of us understood a word;
for my father was clear-headed and decisive, and a capital man of
business, and if we made the slightest inquiry, or expressed the
slightest want of comprehension, he had a sharp way of saying, “Eh? eh?
it’s as clear as daylight.  What’s your objection?”  And as we had not
comprehended anything of what he had proposed, we found it rather
difficult to shape our objections; in fact, we never were sure if we had
any.  So presently Miss Matty got into a nervously acquiescent state, and
said “Yes,” and “Certainly,” at every pause, whether required or not; but
when I once joined in as chorus to a “Decidedly,” pronounced by Miss
Matty in a tremblingly dubious tone, my father fired round at me and
asked me “What there was to decide?”  And I am sure to this day I have
never known.  But, in justice to him, I must say he had come over from
Drumble to help Miss Matty when he could ill spare the time, and when his
own affairs were in a very anxious state.

          [Picture: Miss Matty and I sat assenting to accounts]

While Miss Matty was out of the room giving orders for luncheon—and sadly
perplexed between her desire of honouring my father by a delicate, dainty
meal, and her conviction that she had no right, now that all her money
was gone, to indulge this desire—I told him of the meeting of the
Cranford ladies at Miss Pole’s the day before.  He kept brushing his hand
before his eyes as I spoke—and when I went back to Martha’s offer the
evening before, of receiving Miss Matty as a lodger, he fairly walked
away from me to the window, and began drumming with his fingers upon it.
Then he turned abruptly round, and said, “See, Mary, how a good, innocent
life makes friends all around.  Confound it!  I could make a good lesson
out of it if I were a parson; but, as it is, I can’t get a tail to my
sentences—only I’m sure you feel what I want to say.  You and I will have
a walk after lunch and talk a bit more about these plans.”

The lunch—a hot savoury mutton-chop, and a little of the cold loin sliced
and fried—was now brought in.  Every morsel of this last dish was
finished, to Martha’s great gratification.  Then my father bluntly told
Miss Matty he wanted to talk to me alone, and that he would stroll out
and see some of the old places, and then I could tell her what plan we
thought desirable.  Just before we went out, she called me back and said,
“Remember, dear, I’m the only one left—I mean, there’s no one to be hurt
by what I do.  I’m willing to do anything that’s right and honest; and I
don’t think, if Deborah knows where she is, she’ll care so very much if
I’m not genteel; because, you see, she’ll know all, dear.  Only let me
see what I can do, and pay the poor people as far as I’m able.”

I gave her a hearty kiss, and ran after my father.  The result of our
conversation was this.  If all parties were agreeable, Martha and Jem
were to be married with as little delay as possible, and they were to
live on in Miss Matty’s present abode; the sum which the Cranford ladies
had agreed to contribute annually being sufficient to meet the greater
part of the rent, and leaving Martha free to appropriate what Miss Matty
should pay for her lodgings to any little extra comforts required.  About
the sale, my father was dubious at first.  He said the old rectory
furniture, however carefully used and reverently treated, would fetch
very little; and that little would be but as a drop in the sea of the
debts of the Town and County Bank.  But when I represented how Miss
Matty’s tender conscience would be soothed by feeling that she had done
what she could, he gave way; especially after I had told him the
five-pound note adventure, and he had scolded me well for allowing it.  I
then alluded to my idea that she might add to her small income by selling
tea; and, to my surprise (for I had nearly given up the plan), my father
grasped at it with all the energy of a tradesman.  I think he reckoned
his chickens before they were hatched, for he immediately ran up the
profits of the sales that she could effect in Cranford to more than
twenty pounds a year.  The small dining-parlour was to be converted into
a shop, without any of its degrading characteristics; a table was to be
the counter; one window was to be retained unaltered, and the other
changed into a glass door.  I evidently rose in his estimation for having
made this bright suggestion.  I only hoped we should not both fall in
Miss Matty’s.

But she was patient and content with all our arrangements.  She knew, she
said, that we should do the best we could for her; and she only hoped,
only stipulated, that she should pay every farthing that she could be
said to owe, for her father’s sake, who had been so respected in
Cranford.  My father and I had agreed to say as little as possible about
the bank, indeed never to mention it again, if it could be helped.  Some
of the plans were evidently a little perplexing to her; but she had seen
me sufficiently snubbed in the morning for want of comprehension to
venture on too many inquiries now; and all passed over well with a hope
on her part that no one would be hurried into marriage on her account.
When we came to the proposal that she should sell tea, I could see it was
rather a shock to her; not on account of any personal loss of gentility
involved, but only because she distrusted her own powers of action in a
new line of life, and would timidly have preferred a little more
privation to any exertion for which she feared she was unfitted.
However, when she saw my father was bent upon it, she sighed, and said
she would try; and if she did not do well, of course she might give it
up.  One good thing about it was, she did not think men ever bought tea;
and it was of men particularly she was afraid.  They had such sharp loud
ways with them; and did up accounts, and counted their change so quickly!
Now, if she might only sell comfits to children, she was sure she could
please them!



CHAPTER XV—A HAPPY RETURN


BEFORE I left Miss Matty at Cranford everything had been comfortably
arranged for her.  Even Mrs Jamieson’s approval of her selling tea had
been gained.  That oracle had taken a few days to consider whether by so
doing Miss Matty would forfeit her right to the privileges of society in
Cranford.  I think she had some little idea of mortifying Lady Glenmire
by the decision she gave at last; which was to this effect: that whereas
a married woman takes her husband’s rank by the strict laws of
precedence, an unmarried woman retains the station her father occupied.
So Cranford was allowed to visit Miss Matty; and, whether allowed or not,
it intended to visit Lady Glenmire.

But what was our surprise—our dismay—when we learnt that Mr and _Mrs
Hoggins_ were returning on the following Tuesday!  Mrs Hoggins!  Had she
absolutely dropped her title, and so, in a spirit of bravado, cut the
aristocracy to become a Hoggins!  She, who might have been called Lady
Glenmire to her dying day!  Mrs Jamieson was pleased.  She said it only
convinced her of what she had known from the first, that the creature had
a low taste.  But “the creature” looked very happy on Sunday at church;
nor did we see it necessary to keep our veils down on that side of our
bonnets on which Mr and Mrs Hoggins sat, as Mrs Jamieson did; thereby
missing all the smiling glory of his face, and all the becoming blushes
of hers.  I am not sure if Martha and Jem looked more radiant in the
afternoon, when they, too, made their first appearance.  Mrs Jamieson
soothed the turbulence of her soul by having the blinds of her windows
drawn down, as if for a funeral, on the day when Mr and Mrs Hoggins
received callers; and it was with some difficulty that she was prevailed
upon to continue the _St James’s Chronicle_, so indignant was she with
its having inserted the announcement of the marriage.

           [Picture: Smiling glory . . . and becoming blushes]

Miss Matty’s sale went off famously.  She retained the furniture of her
sitting-room and bedroom; the former of which she was to occupy till
Martha could meet with a lodger who might wish to take it; and into this
sitting-room and bedroom she had to cram all sorts of things, which were
(the auctioneer assured her) bought in for her at the sale by an unknown
friend.  I always suspected Mrs Fitz-Adam of this; but she must have had
an accessory, who knew what articles were particularly regarded by Miss
Matty on account of their associations with her early days.  The rest of
the house looked rather bare, to be sure; all except one tiny bedroom, of
which my father allowed me to purchase the furniture for my occasional
use in case of Miss Matty’s illness.

I had expended my own small store in buying all manner of comfits and
lozenges, in order to tempt the little people whom Miss Matty loved so
much to come about her.  Tea in bright green canisters, and comfits in
tumblers—Miss Matty and I felt quite proud as we looked round us on the
evening before the shop was to be opened.  Martha had scoured the boarded
floor to a white cleanness, and it was adorned with a brilliant piece of
oil-cloth, on which customers were to stand before the table-counter.
The wholesome smell of plaster and whitewash pervaded the apartment.  A
very small “Matilda Jenkyns, licensed to sell tea,” was hidden under the
lintel of the new door, and two boxes of tea, with cabalistic
inscriptions all over them, stood ready to disgorge their contents into
the canisters.

Miss Matty, as I ought to have mentioned before, had had some scruples of
conscience at selling tea when there was already Mr Johnson in the town,
who included it among his numerous commodities; and, before she could
quite reconcile herself to the adoption of her new business, she had
trotted down to his shop, unknown to me, to tell him of the project that
was entertained, and to inquire if it was likely to injure his business.
My father called this idea of hers “great nonsense,” and “wondered how
tradespeople were to get on if there was to be a continual consulting of
each other’s interests, which would put a stop to all competition
directly.”  And, perhaps, it would not have done in Drumble, but in
Cranford it answered very well; for not only did Mr Johnson kindly put at
rest all Miss Matty’s scruples and fear of injuring his business, but I
have reason to know he repeatedly sent customers to her, saying that the
teas he kept were of a common kind, but that Miss Jenkyns had all the
choice sorts.  And expensive tea is a very favourite luxury with
well-to-do tradespeople and rich farmers’ wives, who turn up their noses
at the Congou and Souchong prevalent at many tables of gentility, and
will have nothing else than Gunpowder and Pekoe for themselves.

But to return to Miss Matty.  It was really very pleasant to see how her
unselfishness and simple sense of justice called out the same good
qualities in others.  She never seemed to think any one would impose upon
her, because she should be so grieved to do it to them.  I have heard her
put a stop to the asseverations of the man who brought her coals by
quietly saying, “I am sure you would be sorry to bring me wrong weight;”
and if the coals were short measure that time, I don’t believe they ever
were again.  People would have felt as much ashamed of presuming on her
good faith as they would have done on that of a child.  But my father
says “such simplicity might be very well in Cranford, but would never do
in the world.”  And I fancy the world must be very bad, for with all my
father’s suspicion of every one with whom he has dealings, and in spite
of all his many precautions, he lost upwards of a thousand pounds by
roguery only last year.

I just stayed long enough to establish Miss Matty in her new mode of
life, and to pack up the library, which the rector had purchased.  He had
written a very kind letter to Miss Matty, saying “how glad he should be
to take a library, so well selected as he knew that the late Mr Jenkyns’s
must have been, at any valuation put upon them.”  And when she agreed to
this, with a touch of sorrowful gladness that they would go back to the
rectory and be arranged on the accustomed walls once more, he sent word
that he feared that he had not room for them all, and perhaps Miss Matty
would kindly allow him to leave some volumes on her shelves.  But Miss
Matty said that she had her Bible and “Johnson’s Dictionary,” and should
not have much time for reading, she was afraid; still, I retained a few
books out of consideration for the rector’s kindness.

The money which he had paid, and that produced by the sale, was partly
expended in the stock of tea, and part of it was invested against a rainy
day—_i.e._ old age or illness.  It was but a small sum, it is true; and
it occasioned a few evasions of truth and white lies (all of which I
think very wrong indeed—in theory—and would rather not put them in
practice), for we knew Miss Matty would be perplexed as to her duty if
she were aware of any little reserve-fund being made for her while the
debts of the bank remained unpaid.  Moreover, she had never been told of
the way in which her friends were contributing to pay the rent.  I should
have liked to tell her this, but the mystery of the affair gave a
piquancy to their deed of kindness which the ladies were unwilling to
give up; and at first Martha had to shirk many a perplexed question as to
her ways and means of living in such a house, but by-and-by Miss Matty’s
prudent uneasiness sank down into acquiescence with the existing
arrangement.

I left Miss Matty with a good heart.  Her sales of tea during the first
two days had surpassed my most sanguine expectations.  The whole country
round seemed to be all out of tea at once.  The only alteration I could
have desired in Miss Matty’s way of doing business was, that she should
not have so plaintively entreated some of her customers not to buy green
tea—running it down as a slow poison, sure to destroy the nerves, and
produce all manner of evil.  Their pertinacity in taking it, in spite of
all her warnings, distressed her so much that I really thought she would
relinquish the sale of it, and so lose half her custom; and I was driven
to my wits’ end for instances of longevity entirely attributable to a
persevering use of green tea.  But the final argument, which settled the
question, was a happy reference of mine to the train-oil and tallow
candles which the Esquimaux not only enjoy but digest.  After that she
acknowledged that “one man’s meat might be another man’s poison,” and
contented herself thence-forward with an occasional remonstrance when she
thought the purchaser was too young and innocent to be acquainted with
the evil effects green tea produced on some constitutions, and an
habitual sigh when people old enough to choose more wisely would prefer
it.

I went over from Drumble once a quarter at least to settle the accounts,
and see after the necessary business letters.  And, speaking of letters,
I began to be very much ashamed of remembering my letter to the Aga
Jenkyns, and very glad I had never named my writing to any one.  I only
hoped the letter was lost.  No answer came.  No sign was made.

About a year after Miss Matty set up shop, I received one of Martha’s
hieroglyphics, begging me to come to Cranford very soon.  I was afraid
that Miss Matty was ill, and went off that very afternoon, and took
Martha by surprise when she saw me on opening the door.  We went into the
kitchen as usual, to have our confidential conference, and then Martha
told me she was expecting her confinement very soon—in a week or two; and
she did not think Miss Matty was aware of it, and she wanted me to break
the news to her, “for indeed, miss,” continued Martha, crying
hysterically, “I’m afraid she won’t approve of it, and I’m sure I don’t
know who is to take care of her as she should be taken care of when I am
laid up.”

I comforted Martha by telling her I would remain till she was about
again, and only wished she had told me her reason for this sudden
summons, as then I would have brought the requisite stock of clothes.
But Martha was so tearful and tender-spirited, and unlike her usual self,
that I said as little as possible about myself, and endeavoured rather to
comfort Martha under all the probable and possible misfortunes which came
crowding upon her imagination.

I then stole out of the house-door, and made my appearance as if I were a
customer in the shop, just to take Miss Matty by surprise, and gain an
idea of how she looked in her new situation.  It was warm May weather, so
only the little half-door was closed; and Miss Matty sat behind the
counter, knitting an elaborate pair of garters; elaborate they seemed to
me, but the difficult stitch was no weight upon her mind, for she was
singing in a low voice to herself as her needles went rapidly in and out.
I call it singing, but I dare say a musician would not use that word to
the tuneless yet sweet humming of the low worn voice.  I found out from
the words, far more than from the attempt at the tune, that it was the
Old Hundredth she was crooning to herself; but the quiet continuous sound
told of content, and gave me a pleasant feeling, as I stood in the street
just outside the door, quite in harmony with that soft May morning.  I
went in.  At first she did not catch who it was, and stood up as if to
serve me; but in another minute watchful pussy had clutched her knitting,
which was dropped in eager joy at seeing me.  I found, after we had had a
little conversation, that it was as Martha said, and that Miss Matty had
no idea of the approaching household event.  So I thought I would let
things take their course, secure that when I went to her with the baby in
my arms, I should obtain that forgiveness for Martha which she was
needlessly frightening herself into believing that Miss Matty would
withhold, under some notion that the new claimant would require
attentions from its mother that it would be faithless treason to Miss
Matty to render.

But I was right.  I think that must be an hereditary quality, for my
father says he is scarcely ever wrong.  One morning, within a week after
I arrived, I went to call Miss Matty, with a little bundle of flannel in
my arms.  She was very much awe-struck when I showed her what it was, and
asked for her spectacles off the dressing-table, and looked at it
curiously, with a sort of tender wonder at its small perfection of parts.
She could not banish the thought of the surprise all day, but went about
on tiptoe, and was very silent.  But she stole up to see Martha and they
both cried with joy, and she got into a complimentary speech to Jem, and
did not know how to get out of it again, and was only extricated from her
dilemma by the sound of the shop-bell, which was an equal relief to the
shy, proud, honest Jem, who shook my hand so vigorously when I
congratulated him, that I think I feel the pain of it yet.

                   [Picture: I went to call Miss Matty]

I had a busy life while Martha was laid up.  I attended on Miss Matty,
and prepared her meals; I cast up her accounts, and examined into the
state of her canisters and tumblers.  I helped her, too, occasionally, in
the shop; and it gave me no small amusement, and sometimes a little
uneasiness, to watch her ways there.  If a little child came in to ask
for an ounce of almond-comfits (and four of the large kind which Miss
Matty sold weighed that much), she always added one more by “way of
make-weight,” as she called it, although the scale was handsomely turned
before; and when I remonstrated against this, her reply was, “The little
things like it so much!”  There was no use in telling her that the fifth
comfit weighed a quarter of an ounce, and made every sale into a loss to
her pocket.  So I remembered the green tea, and winged my shaft with a
feather out of her own plumage.  I told her how unwholesome
almond-comfits were, and how ill excess in them might make the little
children.  This argument produced some effect; for, henceforward, instead
of the fifth comfit, she always told them to hold out their tiny palms,
into which she shook either peppermint or ginger lozenges, as a
preventive to the dangers that might arise from the previous sale.
Altogether the lozenge trade, conducted on these principles, did not
promise to be remunerative; but I was happy to find she had made more
than twenty pounds during the last year by her sales of tea; and,
moreover, that now she was accustomed to it, she did not dislike the
employment, which brought her into kindly intercourse with many of the
people round about.  If she gave them good weight, they, in their turn,
brought many a little country present to the “old rector’s daughter”; a
cream cheese, a few new-laid eggs, a little fresh ripe fruit, a bunch of
flowers.  The counter was quite loaded with these offerings sometimes, as
she told me.

As for Cranford in general, it was going on much as usual.  The Jamieson
and Hoggins feud still raged, if a feud it could be called, when only one
side cared much about it.  Mr and Mrs Hoggins were very happy together,
and, like most very happy people, quite ready to be friendly; indeed, Mrs
Hoggins was really desirous to be restored to Mrs Jamieson’s good graces,
because of the former intimacy.  But Mrs Jamieson considered their very
happiness an insult to the Glenmire family, to which she had still the
honour to belong, and she doggedly refused and rejected every advance.
Mr Mulliner, like a faithful clansman, espoused his mistress’ side with
ardour.  If he saw either Mr or Mrs Hoggins, he would cross the street,
and appear absorbed in the contemplation of life in general, and his own
path in particular, until he had passed them by.  Miss Pole used to amuse
herself with wondering what in the world Mrs Jamieson would do, if either
she, or Mr Mulliner, or any other member of her household was taken ill;
she could hardly have the face to call in Mr Hoggins after the way she
had behaved to them.  Miss Pole grew quite impatient for some
indisposition or accident to befall Mrs Jamieson or her dependents, in
order that Cranford might see how she would act under the perplexing
circumstances.

Martha was beginning to go about again, and I had already fixed a limit,
not very far distant, to my visit, when one afternoon, as I was sitting
in the shop-parlour with Miss Matty—I remember the weather was colder now
than it had been in May, three weeks before, and we had a fire and kept
the door fully closed—we saw a gentleman go slowly past the window, and
then stand opposite to the door, as if looking out for the name which we
had so carefully hidden.  He took out a double eyeglass and peered about
for some time before he could discover it.  Then he came in.  And, all on
a sudden, it flashed across me that it was the Aga himself!  For his
clothes had an out-of-the-way foreign cut about them, and his face was
deep brown, as if tanned and re-tanned by the sun.  His complexion
contrasted oddly with his plentiful snow-white hair, his eyes were dark
and piercing, and he had an odd way of contracting them and puckering up
his cheeks into innumerable wrinkles when he looked earnestly at objects.
He did so to Miss Matty when he first came in.  His glance had first
caught and lingered a little upon me, but then turned, with the peculiar
searching look I have described, to Miss Matty.  She was a little
fluttered and nervous, but no more so than she always was when any man
came into her shop.  She thought that he would probably have a note, or a
sovereign at least, for which she would have to give change, which was an
operation she very much disliked to perform.  But the present customer
stood opposite to her, without asking for anything, only looking fixedly
at her as he drummed upon the table with his fingers, just for all the
world as Miss Jenkyns used to do.  Miss Matty was on the point of asking
him what he wanted (as she told me afterwards), when he turned sharp to
me: “Is your name Mary Smith?”

“Yes!” said I.

All my doubts as to his identity were set at rest, and I only wondered
what he would say or do next, and how Miss Matty would stand the joyful
shock of what he had to reveal.  Apparently he was at a loss how to
announce himself, for he looked round at last in search of something to
buy, so as to gain time, and, as it happened, his eye caught on the
almond-comfits, and he boldly asked for a pound of “those things.”  I
doubt if Miss Matty had a whole pound in the shop, and, besides the
unusual magnitude of the order, she was distressed with the idea of the
indigestion they would produce, taken in such unlimited quantities.  She
looked up to remonstrate.  Something of tender relaxation in his face
struck home to her heart.  She said, “It is—oh, sir! can you be Peter?”
and trembled from head to foot.  In a moment he was round the table and
had her in his arms, sobbing the tearless cries of old age.  I brought
her a glass of wine, for indeed her colour had changed so as to alarm me
and Mr Peter too.  He kept saying, “I have been too sudden for you,
Matty—I have, my little girl.”

I proposed that she should go at once up into the drawing-room and lie
down on the sofa there.  She looked wistfully at her brother, whose hand
she had held tight, even when nearly fainting; but on his assuring her
that he would not leave her, she allowed him to carry her upstairs.

I thought that the best I could do was to run and put the kettle on the
fire for early tea, and then to attend to the shop, leaving the brother
and sister to exchange some of the many thousand things they must have to
say.  I had also to break the news to Martha, who received it with a
burst of tears which nearly infected me.  She kept recovering herself to
ask if I was sure it was indeed Miss Matty’s brother, for I had mentioned
that he had grey hair, and she had always heard that he was a very
handsome young man.  Something of the same kind perplexed Miss Matty at
tea-time, when she was installed in the great easy-chair opposite to Mr
Jenkyns in order to gaze her fill.  She could hardly drink for looking at
him, and as for eating, that was out of the question.

“I suppose hot climates age people very quickly,” said she, almost to
herself.  “When you left Cranford you had not a grey hair in your head.”

“But how many years ago is that?” said Mr Peter, smiling.

“Ah, true! yes, I suppose you and I are getting old.  But still I did not
think we were so very old!  But white hair is very becoming to you,
Peter,” she continued—a little afraid lest she had hurt him by revealing
how his appearance had impressed her.

“I suppose I forgot dates too, Matty, for what do you think I have
brought for you from India?  I have an Indian muslin gown and a pearl
necklace for you somewhere in my chest at Portsmouth.”  He smiled as if
amused at the idea of the incongruity of his presents with the appearance
of his sister; but this did not strike her all at once, while the
elegance of the articles did.  I could see that for a moment her
imagination dwelt complacently on the idea of herself thus attired; and
instinctively she put her hand up to her throat—that little delicate
throat which (as Miss Pole had told me) had been one of her youthful
charms; but the hand met the touch of folds of soft muslin in which she
was always swathed up to her chin, and the sensation recalled a sense of
the unsuitableness of a pearl necklace to her age.  She said, “I’m afraid
I’m too old; but it was very kind of you to think of it.  They are just
what I should have liked years ago—when I was young.”

“So I thought, my little Matty.  I remembered your tastes; they were so
like my dear mother’s.”  At the mention of that name the brother and
sister clasped each other’s hands yet more fondly, and, although they
were perfectly silent, I fancied they might have something to say if they
were unchecked by my presence, and I got up to arrange my room for Mr
Peter’s occupation that night, intending myself to share Miss Matty’s
bed.  But at my movement, he started up.  “I must go and settle about a
room at the ‘George.’  My carpet-bag is there too.”

“No!” said Miss Matty, in great distress—“you must not go; please, dear
Peter—pray, Mary—oh! you must not go!”

She was so much agitated that we both promised everything she wished.
Peter sat down again and gave her his hand, which for better security she
held in both of hers, and I left the room to accomplish my arrangements.

Long, long into the night, far, far into the morning, did Miss Matty and
I talk.  She had much to tell me of her brother’s life and adventures,
which he had communicated to her as they had sat alone.  She said all was
thoroughly clear to her; but I never quite understood the whole story;
and when in after days I lost my awe of Mr Peter enough to question him
myself, he laughed at my curiosity, and told me stories that sounded so
very much like Baron Munchausen’s, that I was sure he was making fun of
me.  What I heard from Miss Matty was that he had been a volunteer at the
siege of Rangoon; had been taken prisoner by the Burmese; and somehow
obtained favour and eventual freedom from knowing how to bleed the chief
of the small tribe in some case of dangerous illness; that on his release
from years of captivity he had had his letters returned from England with
the ominous word “Dead” marked upon them; and, believing himself to be
the last of his race, he had settled down as an indigo planter, and had
proposed to spend the remainder of his life in the country to whose
inhabitants and modes of life he had become habituated, when my letter
had reached him; and, with the odd vehemence which characterised him in
age as it had done in youth, he had sold his land and all his possessions
to the first purchaser, and come home to the poor old sister, who was
more glad and rich than any princess when she looked at him.  She talked
me to sleep at last, and then I was awakened by a slight sound at the
door, for which she begged my pardon as she crept penitently into bed;
but it seems that when I could no longer confirm her belief that the
long-lost was really here—under the same roof—she had begun to fear lest
it was only a waking dream of hers; that there never had been a Peter
sitting by her all that blessed evening—but that the real Peter lay dead
far away beneath some wild sea-wave, or under some strange eastern tree.
And so strong had this nervous feeling of hers become, that she was fain
to get up and go and convince herself that he was really there by
listening through the door to his even, regular breathing—I don’t like to
call it snoring, but I heard it myself through two closed doors—and
by-and-by it soothed Miss Matty to sleep.

I don’t believe Mr Peter came home from India as rich as a nabob; he even
considered himself poor, but neither he nor Miss Matty cared much about
that.  At any rate, he had enough to live upon “very genteelly” at
Cranford; he and Miss Matty together.  And a day or two after his
arrival, the shop was closed, while troops of little urchins gleefully
awaited the shower of comfits and lozenges that came from time to time
down upon their faces as they stood up-gazing at Miss Matty’s
drawing-room windows.  Occasionally Miss Matty would say to them
(half-hidden behind the curtains), “My dear children, don’t make
yourselves ill;” but a strong arm pulled her back, and a more rattling
shower than ever succeeded.  A part of the tea was sent in presents to
the Cranford ladies; and some of it was distributed among the old people
who remembered Mr Peter in the days of his frolicsome youth.  The Indian
muslin gown was reserved for darling Flora Gordon (Miss Jessie Brown’s
daughter).  The Gordons had been on the Continent for the last few years,
but were now expected to return very soon; and Miss Matty, in her
sisterly pride, anticipated great delight in the joy of showing them Mr
Peter.  The pearl necklace disappeared; and about that time many handsome
and useful presents made their appearance in the households of Miss Pole
and Mrs Forrester; and some rare and delicate Indian ornaments graced the
drawing-rooms of Mrs Jamieson and Mrs Fitz-Adam.  I myself was not
forgotten.  Among other things, I had the handsomest-bound and best
edition of Dr Johnson’s works that could be procured; and dear Miss
Matty, with tears in her eyes, begged me to consider it as a present from
her sister as well as herself.  In short, no one was forgotten; and, what
was more, every one, however insignificant, who had shown kindness to
Miss Matty at any time, was sure of Mr Peter’s cordial regard.



CHAPTER XVI—PEACE TO CRANFORD


IT was not surprising that Mr Peter became such a favourite at Cranford.
The ladies vied with each other who should admire him most; and no
wonder, for their quiet lives were astonishingly stirred up by the
arrival from India—especially as the person arrived told more wonderful
stories than Sindbad the Sailor; and, as Miss Pole said, was quite as
good as an Arabian Night any evening.  For my own part, I had vibrated
all my life between Drumble and Cranford, and I thought it was quite
possible that all Mr Peter’s stories might be true, although wonderful;
but when I found that, if we swallowed an anecdote of tolerable magnitude
one week, we had the dose considerably increased the next, I began to
have my doubts; especially as I noticed that when his sister was present
the accounts of Indian life were comparatively tame; not that she knew
more than we did, perhaps less.  I noticed also that when the rector came
to call, Mr Peter talked in a different way about the countries he had
been in.  But I don’t think the ladies in Cranford would have considered
him such a wonderful traveller if they had only heard him talk in the
quiet way he did to him.  They liked him the better, indeed, for being
what they called “so very Oriental.”

One day, at a select party in his honour, which Miss Pole gave, and from
which, as Mrs Jamieson honoured it with her presence, and had even
offered to send Mr Mulliner to wait, Mr and Mrs Hoggins and Mrs Fitz-Adam
were necessarily excluded—one day at Miss Pole’s, Mr Peter said he was
tired of sitting upright against the hard-backed uneasy chairs, and asked
if he might not indulge himself in sitting cross-legged.  Miss Pole’s
consent was eagerly given, and down he went with the utmost gravity.  But
when Miss Pole asked me, in an audible whisper, “if he did not remind me
of the Father of the Faithful?” I could not help thinking of poor Simon
Jones, the lame tailor, and while Mrs Jamieson slowly commented on the
elegance and convenience of the attitude, I remembered how we had all
followed that lady’s lead in condemning Mr Hoggins for vulgarity because
he simply crossed his legs as he sat still on his chair.  Many of Mr
Peter’s ways of eating were a little strange amongst such ladies as Miss
Pole, and Miss Matty, and Mrs Jamieson, especially when I recollected the
untasted green peas and two-pronged forks at poor Mr Holbrook’s dinner.

The mention of that gentleman’s name recalls to my mind a conversation
between Mr Peter and Miss Matty one evening in the summer after he
returned to Cranford.  The day had been very hot, and Miss Matty had been
much oppressed by the weather, in the heat of which her brother revelled.
I remember that she had been unable to nurse Martha’s baby, which had
become her favourite employment of late, and which was as much at home in
her arms as in its mother’s, as long as it remained a light-weight,
portable by one so fragile as Miss Matty.  This day to which I refer,
Miss Matty had seemed more than usually feeble and languid, and only
revived when the sun went down, and her sofa was wheeled to the open
window, through which, although it looked into the principal street of
Cranford, the fragrant smell of the neighbouring hayfields came in every
now and then, borne by the soft breezes that stirred the dull air of the
summer twilight, and then died away.  The silence of the sultry
atmosphere was lost in the murmuring noises which came in from many an
open window and door; even the children were abroad in the street, late
as it was (between ten and eleven), enjoying the game of play for which
they had not had spirits during the heat of the day.  It was a source of
satisfaction to Miss Matty to see how few candles were lighted, even in
the apartments of those houses from which issued the greatest signs of
life.  Mr Peter, Miss Matty, and I had all been quiet, each with a
separate reverie, for some little time, when Mr Peter broke in—

“Do you know, little Matty, I could have sworn you were on the high road
to matrimony when I left England that last time!  If anybody had told me
you would have lived and died an old maid then, I should have laughed in
their faces.”

Miss Matty made no reply, and I tried in vain to think of some subject
which should effectually turn the conversation; but I was very stupid;
and before I spoke he went on—

“It was Holbrook, that fine manly fellow who lived at Woodley, that I
used to think would carry off my little Matty.  You would not think it
now, I dare say, Mary; but this sister of mine was once a very pretty
girl—at least, I thought so, and so I’ve a notion did poor Holbrook.
What business had he to die before I came home to thank him for all his
kindness to a good-for-nothing cub as I was?  It was that that made me
first think he cared for you; for in all our fishing expeditions it was
Matty, Matty, we talked about.  Poor Deborah!  What a lecture she read me
on having asked him home to lunch one day, when she had seen the Arley
carriage in the town, and thought that my lady might call.  Well, that’s
long years ago; more than half a life-time, and yet it seems like
yesterday!  I don’t know a fellow I should have liked better as a
brother-in-law.  You must have played your cards badly, my little Matty,
somehow or another—wanted your brother to be a good go-between, eh,
little one?” said he, putting out his hand to take hold of hers as she
lay on the sofa.  “Why, what’s this? you’re shivering and shaking, Matty,
with that confounded open window.  Shut it, Mary, this minute!”

I did so, and then stooped down to kiss Miss Matty, and see if she really
were chilled.  She caught at my hand, and gave it a hard squeeze—but
unconsciously, I think—for in a minute or two she spoke to us quite in
her usual voice, and smiled our uneasiness away, although she patiently
submitted to the prescriptions we enforced of a warm bed and a glass of
weak negus.  I was to leave Cranford the next day, and before I went I
saw that all the effects of the open window had quite vanished.  I had
superintended most of the alterations necessary in the house and
household during the latter weeks of my stay.  The shop was once more a
parlour: the empty resounding rooms again furnished up to the very
garrets.

There had been some talk of establishing Martha and Jem in another house,
but Miss Matty would not hear of this.  Indeed, I never saw her so much
roused as when Miss Pole had assumed it to be the most desirable
arrangement.  As long as Martha would remain with Miss Matty, Miss Matty
was only too thankful to have her about her; yes, and Jem too, who was a
very pleasant man to have in the house, for she never saw him from week’s
end to week’s end.  And as for the probable children, if they would all
turn out such little darlings as her god-daughter, Matilda, she should
not mind the number, if Martha didn’t.  Besides, the next was to be
called Deborah—a point which Miss Matty had reluctantly yielded to
Martha’s stubborn determination that her first-born was to be Matilda.
So Miss Pole had to lower her colours, and even her voice, as she said to
me that, as Mr and Mrs Hearn were still to go on living in the same house
with Miss Matty, we had certainly done a wise thing in hiring Martha’s
niece as an auxiliary.

I left Miss Matty and Mr Peter most comfortable and contented; the only
subject for regret to the tender heart of the one, and the social
friendly nature of the other, being the unfortunate quarrel between Mrs
Jamieson and the plebeian Hogginses and their following.  In joke, I
prophesied one day that this would only last until Mrs Jamieson or Mr
Mulliner were ill, in which case they would only be too glad to be
friends with Mr Hoggins; but Miss Matty did not like my looking forward
to anything like illness in so light a manner, and before the year was
out all had come round in a far more satisfactory way.

I received two Cranford letters on one auspicious October morning.  Both
Miss Pole and Miss Matty wrote to ask me to come over and meet the
Gordons, who had returned to England alive and well with their two
children, now almost grown up.  Dear Jessie Brown had kept her old kind
nature, although she had changed her name and station; and she wrote to
say that she and Major Gordon expected to be in Cranford on the
fourteenth, and she hoped and begged to be remembered to Mrs Jamieson
(named first, as became her honourable station), Miss Pole and Miss
Matty—could she ever forget their kindness to her poor father and
sister?—Mrs Forrester, Mr Hoggins (and here again came in an allusion to
kindness shown to the dead long ago), his new wife, who as such must
allow Mrs Gordon to desire to make her acquaintance, and who was,
moreover, an old Scotch friend of her husband’s.  In short, every one was
named, from the rector—who had been appointed to Cranford in the interim
between Captain Brown’s death and Miss Jessie’s marriage, and was now
associated with the latter event—down to Miss Betty Barker.  All were
asked to the luncheon; all except Mrs Fitz-Adam, who had come to live in
Cranford since Miss Jessie Brown’s days, and whom I found rather moping
on account of the omission.  People wondered at Miss Betty Barker’s being
included in the honourable list; but, then, as Miss Pole said, we must
remember the disregard of the genteel proprieties of life in which the
poor captain had educated his girls, and for his sake we swallowed our
pride.  Indeed, Mrs Jamieson rather took it as a compliment, as putting
Miss Betty (formerly _her_ maid) on a level with “those Hogginses.”

But when I arrived in Cranford, nothing was as yet ascertained of Mrs
Jamieson’s own intentions; would the honourable lady go, or would she
not?  Mr Peter declared that she should and she would; Miss Pole shook
her head and desponded.  But Mr Peter was a man of resources.  In the
first place, he persuaded Miss Matty to write to Mrs Gordon, and to tell
her of Mrs Fitz-Adam’s existence, and to beg that one so kind, and
cordial, and generous, might be included in the pleasant invitation.  An
answer came back by return of post, with a pretty little note for Mrs
Fitz-Adam, and a request that Miss Matty would deliver it herself and
explain the previous omission.  Mrs Fitz-Adam was as pleased as could be,
and thanked Miss Matty over and over again.  Mr Peter had said, “Leave
Mrs Jamieson to me;” so we did; especially as we knew nothing that we
could do to alter her determination if once formed.

I did not know, nor did Miss Matty, how things were going on, until Miss
Pole asked me, just the day before Mrs Gordon came, if I thought there
was anything between Mr Peter and Mrs Jamieson in the matrimonial line,
for that Mrs Jamieson was really going to the lunch at the “George.”  She
had sent Mr Mulliner down to desire that there might be a footstool put
to the warmest seat in the room, as she meant to come, and knew that
their chairs were very high.  Miss Pole had picked this piece of news up,
and from it she conjectured all sorts of things, and bemoaned yet more.
“If Peter should marry, what would become of poor dear Miss Matty?  And
Mrs Jamieson, of all people!”  Miss Pole seemed to think there were other
ladies in Cranford who would have done more credit to his choice, and I
think she must have had someone who was unmarried in her head, for she
kept saying, “It was so wanting in delicacy in a widow to think of such a
thing.”

When I got back to Miss Matty’s I really did begin to think that Mr Peter
might be thinking of Mrs Jamieson for a wife, and I was as unhappy as
Miss Pole about it.  He had the proof sheet of a great placard in his
hand.  “Signor Brunoni, Magician to the King of Delhi, the Rajah of Oude,
and the great Lama of Thibet,” &c. &c., was going to “perform in Cranford
for one night only,” the very next night; and Miss Matty, exultant,
showed me a letter from the Gordons, promising to remain over this
gaiety, which Miss Matty said was entirely Peter’s doing.  He had written
to ask the signor to come, and was to be at all the expenses of the
affair.  Tickets were to be sent gratis to as many as the room would
hold.  In short, Miss Matty was charmed with the plan, and said that
to-morrow Cranford would remind her of the Preston Guild, to which she
had been in her youth—a luncheon at the “George,” with the dear Gordons,
and the signor in the Assembly Room in the evening.  But I—I looked only
at the fatal words:—

    “_Under the Patronage of the_ HONOURABLE MRS JAMIESON.”

She, then, was chosen to preside over this entertainment of Mr Peter’s;
she was perhaps going to displace my dear Miss Matty in his heart, and
make her life lonely once more!  I could not look forward to the morrow
with any pleasure; and every innocent anticipation of Miss Matty’s only
served to add to my annoyance.

So, angry and irritated, and exaggerating every little incident which
could add to my irritation, I went on till we were all assembled in the
great parlour at the “George.”  Major and Mrs Gordon and pretty Flora and
Mr Ludovic were all as bright and handsome and friendly as could be; but
I could hardly attend to them for watching Mr Peter, and I saw that Miss
Pole was equally busy.  I had never seen Mrs Jamieson so roused and
animated before; her face looked full of interest in what Mr Peter was
saying.  I drew near to listen.  My relief was great when I caught that
his words were not words of love, but that, for all his grave face, he
was at his old tricks.  He was telling her of his travels in India, and
describing the wonderful height of the Himalaya mountains: one touch
after another added to their size, and each exceeded the former in
absurdity; but Mrs Jamieson really enjoyed all in perfect good faith.  I
suppose she required strong stimulants to excite her to come out of her
apathy.  Mr Peter wound up his account by saying that, of course, at that
altitude there were none of the animals to be found that existed in the
lower regions; the game,—everything was different.  Firing one day at
some flying creature, he was very much dismayed when it fell, to find
that he had shot a cherubim!  Mr Peter caught my eye at this moment, and
gave me such a funny twinkle, that I felt sure he had no thoughts of Mrs
Jamieson as a wife from that time.  She looked uncomfortably amazed—

“But, Mr Peter, shooting a cherubim—don’t you think—I am afraid that was
sacrilege!”

Mr Peter composed his countenance in a moment, and appeared shocked at
the idea, which, as he said truly enough, was now presented to him for
the first time; but then Mrs Jamieson must remember that he had been
living for a long time among savages—all of whom were heathens—some of
them, he was afraid, were downright Dissenters.  Then, seeing Miss Matty
draw near, he hastily changed the conversation, and after a little while,
turning to me, he said, “Don’t be shocked, prim little Mary, at all my
wonderful stories.  I consider Mrs Jamieson fair game, and besides I am
bent on propitiating her, and the first step towards it is keeping her
well awake.  I bribed her here by asking her to let me have her name as
patroness for my poor conjuror this evening; and I don’t want to give her
time enough to get up her rancour against the Hogginses, who are just
coming in.  I want everybody to be friends, for it harasses Matty so much
to hear of these quarrels.  I shall go at it again by-and-by, so you need
not look shocked.  I intend to enter the Assembly Room to-night with Mrs
Jamieson on one side, and my lady, Mrs Hoggins, on the other.  You see if
I don’t.”

Somehow or another he did; and fairly got them into conversation
together.  Major and Mrs Gordon helped at the good work with their
perfect ignorance of any existing coolness between any of the inhabitants
of Cranford.

Ever since that day there has been the old friendly sociability in
Cranford society; which I am thankful for, because of my dear Miss
Matty’s love of peace and kindliness.  We all love Miss Matty, and I
somehow think we are all of us better when she is near us.

                                * * * * *

                                PRINTED BY
                           TURNBULL AND SPEARS,
                                EDINBURGH





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