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Cranford by Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell

Part 3 out of 4

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account to open the door till she (Miss Matty) had reconnoitred
through the window; and she armed herself with a footstool to drop
down on the head of the visitor, in case he should show a face
covered with black crape, as he looked up in answer to her inquiry
of who was there. But it was nobody but Miss Pole and Betty. The
former came upstairs, carrying a little hand-basket, and she was
evidently in a state of great agitation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Not robbed!" exclaimed the chorus.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"And you reached Calcutta safely at last?"

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

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

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

"Jenkyns!" said I.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

"What do you think, Miss Matty? What DO you think? Lady Glenmire
is to marry--is to be married, I mean--Lady Glenmire--Mr Hoggins--
Mr Hoggins is going to marry Lady Glenmire!"

"Marry!" said we. "Marry! Madness!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Bah!" said Miss Pole, with a toss of her head. "Don't you
remember poor dear Captain Brown's song 'Tibbie Fowler,' and the
line -

'Set her on the Tintock tap,
The wind will blaw a man till her.'"

"That was because 'Tibbie Fowler' was rich, I think."

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

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

"Oh! I don't know. Mr Hoggins is rich, and very pleasant-
looking," said Miss Matty, "and very good-tempered and kind-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Town and County Bank."

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

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

"I don't understand it," said Miss Matty to me in a low voice.
"That is our bank, is it not?--the Town and County Bank?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"No hope of that, my friend," said the shopman.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

"Don't, 'but Martha' me," she replied to my deprecatory tone.

"Listen to reason" -

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

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

"Well"--said I at last.

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

"I know you would be a great loss to Miss Matty, Martha" -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Marriage is a very solemn thing, Martha."

"It is indeed, ma'am," quoth Jem. "Not that I've no objections to

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Miss Smith," she continued, addressing me (familiarly known as
"Mary" to all the company assembled, but this was a state
occasion), "I have conversed in private--I made it my business to
do so yesterday afternoon--with these ladies on the misfortune
which has happened to our friend, and one and all of us have agreed
that while we have a superfluity, it is not only a duty, but a
pleasure--a true pleasure, Mary!"--her voice was rather choked just
here, and she had to wipe her spectacles before she could go on--
"to give what we can to assist her--Miss Matilda Jenkyns. Only in
consideration of the feelings of delicate independence existing in
the mind of every refined female"--I was sure she had got back to
the card now--"we wish to contribute our mites in a secret and
concealed manner, so as not to hurt the feelings I have referred
to. And our object in requesting you to meet us this morning is

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