Part 1 out of 4
Transcribed from the 1907 J. M. Dent edition by David Price, email
firstname.lastname@example.org. Extra proofing by Margaret Price.
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.
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,
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?
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
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 (a 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
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
"Have you seen any numbers of 'The Pickwick Papers'?" said he.
(They we're 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,
"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
"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.
"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
"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
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
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,
Captain Brown called one day to thank Mist 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.
"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
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
"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
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
"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
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
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
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.
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. If can't
see as I used to do. I 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
"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
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
"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
"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.
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
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 Amine 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
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.
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
"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
"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
"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
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 its 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
"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
"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
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,
"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
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
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