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Cranford by Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell

Part 4 out of 4

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that, believing you are the daughter--that your father is, in fact,
her confidential adviser, in all pecuniary matters, we imagined
that, by consulting with him, you might devise some mode in which
our contribution could be made to appear the legal due which Miss
Matilda Jenkyns ought to receive from-- Probably your father,
knowing her investments, can fill up the blank."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Yes!" said I.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

"But, Mr Peter, shooting a cherubim--don't you think--I am afraid
that was sacrilege!"

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

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

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

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