Deerbrook, by Harriet Martineau.
Harriet Martineau was the daughter of a Norwich textile manufacturer of Huguenot descent—hence the name and trade. In 1829 the bank in which she, her mother and her sisters, had placed their money, failed and she was forced to earn a living through writing, at which she was very talented, particularly on political issues, such as the poverty facing a family on the death of the wage-earner. In 1839, after her travels in America, she wrote two long novels, of which Deerbrook was one, and a book about Toussaint L'Ouverture the other.
This book, therefore gives great insight into the lives of upper middle class families of the mid nineteenth century. No one in families these days talks to the rest of the family in the polite, perhaps over-polite, terms used in this book. For this reason, though it was not meant to be taken as such, this book is a true social document.
DEERBROOK, BY HARRIET MARTINEAU.
Every town-bred person who travels in a rich country region, knows what it is to see a neat white house planted in a pretty situation,—in a shrubbery, or commanding a sunny common, or nestling between two hills,—and to say to himself, as the carriage sweeps past its gate, "I should like to live there,"—"I could be very happy in that pretty place." Transient visions pass before his mind's eye of dewy summer mornings, when the shadows are long on the grass, and of bright autumn afternoons, when it would be luxury to saunter in the neighbouring lanes; and of frosty winter days, when the sun shines in over the laurustinus at the window, while the fire burns with a different light from that which it gives in the dull parlours of a city.
Mr Grey's house had probably been the object of this kind of speculation to one or more persons, three times a week, ever since the stage-coach had begun to pass through Deerbrook. Deerbrook was a rather pretty village, dignified as it was with the woods of a fine park, which formed the background to its best points of view. Of this pretty village, Mr Grey's was the prettiest house, standing in a field, round which the road swept. There were trees enough about it to shade without darkening it, and the garden and shrubbery behind were evidently of no contemptible extent. The timber and coal yards, and granaries, which stretched down to the river side, were hidden by a nice management of the garden walls, and training of the shrubbery.
In the drawing-room of this tempting white house sat Mrs Grey and her eldest daughter, one spring evening. It was rather an unusual thing for them to be in the drawing-room. Sophia read history and practised her music every morning in the little blue parlour which looked towards the road; and her mother sat in the dining-room, which had the same aspect. The advantage of these rooms was, that they commanded the house of Mr Rowland, Mr Grey's partner in the corn, coal, and timber business, and also the dwelling of Mrs Enderby, Mrs Rowland's mother, who lived just opposite the Rowlands. The drawing-room looked merely into the garden. The only houses seen from it were the greenhouse and the summerhouse; the latter of which now served the purpose of a schoolroom for the children of both families, and stood on the boundary-line of the gardens of the two gentlemen of the firm. The drawing-room was so dull, that it was kept for company; that is, it was used about three times a-year, when the pictures were unveiled, the green baize removed, and the ground-windows, which opened upon the lawn, thrown wide, to afford to the rare guests of the family a welcome from birds and flowers.
The ground-windows were open now, and on one side sat Mrs Grey, working a rug, and on the other Sophia, working a collar. The ladies were evidently in a state of expectation—a state exceedingly trying to people who, living at ease in the country, have rarely anything to expect beyond the days of the week, the newspaper, and their dinners. Mrs Grey gave her needle a rest every few minutes, to listen! and rang the bell three times in a quarter of an hour, to make inquiries of her maid about the arrangements of the best bedroom. Sophia could not attend to her work, and presently gave information that Fanny and Mary were in the orchard. She was desired to call them, and presently Fanny and Mary appeared at the window,—twins of ten years old, and very pretty little girls.
"My dears," said Mrs Grey, "has Miss Young done with you for to-day?"
"Oh yes, mamma. It is just six o'clock. We have been out of school this hour almost."
"Then come in, and make yourselves neat, and sit down with us. I should not wonder if the Miss Ibbotsons should be here now before you are ready. But where is Sydney?"
"Oh, he is making a pond in his garden there. He dug it before school this morning, and he is filling it now."
"Yes," said the other; "and I don't know when he will have done, for as fast as he fills it, it empties again, and he says he cannot think how people keep their ponds filled."
"He must have done now, however," said his mother. "I suppose he is tearing his clothes to pieces with drawing the water-barrel, and wetting himself to the skin besides."
"And spoiling his garden," said Fanny. "He has dug up all his hepaticas and two rose-bushes to make his pond."
"Go to him, my dears, and tell him to come in directly, and dress himself for tea. Tell him I insist upon it. Do not run. Walk quietly. You will heat yourselves, and I do not like Mrs Rowland to see you running."
Mary informed her brother that he was to leave his pond and come in, and Fanny added that mamma insisted upon it. They had time to do this, to walk quietly, to have their hair made quite smooth, and to sit down with their two dolls on each side the common cradle, in a corner of the drawing-room, before the Miss Ibbotsons arrived.
The Miss Ibbotsons were daughters of a distant relation of Mr Grey's. Their mother had been dead many years; they had now just lost their father, and were left without any nearer relation than Mr Grey. He had invited them to visit his family while their father's affairs were in course of arrangement, and till it could be discovered what their means of living were likely to be. They had passed their lives in Birmingham, and had every inclination to return to it, when their visit to their Deerbrook relations should have been paid. Their old schoolfellows and friends all lived there: and they thought it would be easier and pleasanter to make the smallest income supply their wants in their native town, than to remove to any place where it might go further. They had taken leave of their friends as for a very short time, and when they entered Deerbrook, looked around them as upon a place in which they were to pass a summer.
All Deerbrook had been informed of their expected arrival—as it always was of everything which concerned the Greys. The little Rowlands were walking with their mother when the chaise came up the street; but being particularly desired not to look at it, they were not much benefited by the event. Their grandmamma, Mrs Enderby, was not at the moment under the same restriction; and her high cap might be seen above the green blind of her parlour as the chaise turned into Mr Grey's gate. The stationer, the parish clerk, and the milliner and her assistant, had obtained a passing view of sundry boxes, the face of an elderly woman, and the outline of two black bonnets,—all that they could boast of to repay them for the vigilance of a whole afternoon.
Sophia Grey might be pardoned for some anxiety about the reception of the young ladies. She was four years younger than the younger of them; and Hester, the elder, was one-and-twenty,—a venerable age to a girl of sixteen. Sophia began to think she had never been really afraid of anything before, though she remembered having cried bitterly when first left alone with her governess; and though she had always been remarkable for clinging to her mother's side on all social occasions, in the approaching trial her mother could give her little assistance. These cousins would be always with her. How she should read history, or practise music with them in the room, she could not imagine, nor what she should find to say to them all day long. If poor Elizabeth had but lived, what a comfort she would have been now; the elder one would have taken all the responsibility! And she heaved a sigh once more, as she thought, to the memory of poor Elizabeth.
Mr Grey was at a market some miles off; and Sydney was sent by his mother into the hall, to assist in the work of alighting, and causing the luggage to alight. As any other boy of thirteen would have done, he slunk behind the hall door, without venturing to speak to the strangers, and left the business to the guests and the maids. Mrs Grey and Sophia awaited them in the drawing-room, and were ready with information about how uneasy they had all been about the rain in the morning, till they remembered that it would lay the dust, and so make the journey pleasanter. The twins shouldered their dolls, and looked on from their stools, while Sydney stole in, and for want of some better way of covering his awkwardness, began rocking the cradle with his foot, till he tilted it over.
Sophia found the first half-hour not at all difficult to surmount. She and Margaret Ibbotson informed each other of the precise number of miles between Deerbrook and Birmingham. She ascertained fully to her satisfaction that her guests had dined. She assisted them in the observation that the grass of the lawn looked very green after the streets of Birmingham; and she had to tell them that her father was obliged to attend the market some miles off, and would not be home for an hour or two. Then the time came when bonnets were to be taken off, and she could offer to show the way to the spare-room. There she took Hester and Margaret to the window, and explained to them what they saw thence; and, as it was necessary to talk, she poured out what was most familiar to her mind, experiencing a sudden relief from all the unwonted shyness which had tormented her.
"That is Mr Rowland's house—papa's partner, you know. Isn't it an ugly place, with that ridiculous porch to it? But Mrs Rowland can never be satisfied without altering her house once a year. She has made Mr Rowland spend more money upon that place than would have built a new one of twice the size.—That house opposite is Mrs Enderby's, Mrs Rowland's mother's. So near as she lives to the Rowlands, it is shocking how they neglect her. There could be no difficulty in being properly attentive to her, so near as she is, could there? But when she is ill we are obliged to go and see her sometimes, when it is very inconvenient, because Mrs Rowland has never been near her all day. Is not it shocking?"
"I rather wonder she should complain of her family," observed Margaret.
"Oh, she is not remarkable for keeping her feelings to herself, poor soul! But really it is wonderful how little she says about it, except when her heart is quite full,—just to us. She tries to excuse Mrs Rowland all she can; and she makes out that Mrs Rowland is such an excellent mother, and so busy with her children, and all that. But you know that is no excuse for not taking care of her own mother."
"Those are the Verdon woods, are they not?" said Hester, leaning out of the window to survey the whole of the sunny prospect. "I suppose you spend half your days in those woods in summer."
"No; mamma goes out very little, and I seldom walk beyond the garden. But now you are come, we shall go everywhere. Ours is considered a very pretty village."
The sisters thought it so beautiful, that they gazed as if they feared it would melt away if they withdrew their eyes. The one discovered the bridge, lying in shadow; the other the pointed roof of the building which surmounted the spring in the park woods. Sophia was well pleased at their pleasure; and their questions, and her descriptions, went on improving in rapidity, till a knock at the door of the room cut short the catechism. It was Morris, the Miss Ibbotsons' maid; and her appearance gave Sophia a hint to leave her guests to refresh themselves. She glanced over the room, to see that nothing was wanting; pointed out the bell, intimated that the washstands were mahogany, which showed every splash, and explained that the green blinds were meant to be always down when the sun shone in, lest it should fade the carpet. She then withdrew, telling the young ladies that they would find tea ready when they came down.
"How very handsome Hester is!" was the exclamation of both mother and daughter, when Sophia had shut the drawing-room door behind her.
"I wonder," said Mrs Grey, "that nobody ever told us how handsome we should find Hester. I should like to see what fault Mrs Rowland can find in her face."
"It is rather odd that one sister should have all the beauty," said Sophia. "I do not see anything striking in Margaret."
"Mrs Rowland will say she is plain; but, in my opinion, Margaret is better looking than any of the Rowlands are ever likely to be. Margaret would not be thought plain away from her sister.—I hope they are not fine ladies. I am rather surprised at their bringing a maid. She looks a very respectable person; but I did not suppose they would keep a maid till they knew better what to look forward to. I do not know what Mr Grey will think of it."
When Hester and Margaret came down, Mrs Grey was ready with an account of the society of the place.
"We are as well off for society," said she, "as most places of the size. If you were to ask the bookseller at Blickley, who supplies our club, he would tell you that we are rather intellectual people: and I hope you will see, when our friends have called on you, that though we seem to be living out of the world, we are not without our pleasures. I think, Sophia, the Levitts will certainly call."
"Oh, yes, mamma, to-morrow, I have no doubt."
"Dr Levitt is our rector," observed Mrs Grey to her guests. "We are dissenters, as you know, and our neighbour, Mrs Rowland, is very much scandalised at it. If Mr Rowland would have allowed it, she would have made a difficulty on that ground about having her children educated with mine. But the Levitts' conduct might teach her better. They make no difference on account of our being dissenters. They always call on our friends the first day after they arrive,—or the second, at furthest. I have no doubt we shall see the Levitts to-morrow."
"And Mrs Enderby, I am sure," said Sophia, "if she is at all able to stir out."
"Oh, yes, Mrs Enderby knows what is right, if her daughter does not. If she does not call to-morrow, I shall think that Mrs Rowland prevented her. She can keep her mother within doors, as we know, when it suits her purposes."
"But Mr Philip is here, mamma, and Mrs Enderby can do as she likes when she has her son with her.—I assure you he is here, mamma. I saw the cobbler's boy carry home a pair of boots there this morning."
Sydney had better evidence still to produce. Mr Enderby had been talking with him about fishing this afternoon. He said he had come down for a fortnight's fishing. Fanny also declared that Matilda Rowland had told Miss Young to-day, that uncle Philip was coming to see the new schoolroom. Mrs Grey was always glad, on poor Mrs Enderby's account, when she had her son with her: but otherwise she owned she did not care for his coming. He was too like his sister to please her.
"He is very high, to be sure," observed Sophia.
"And really there is no occasion for that with us," resumed Mrs Grey. "We should never think of mixing him up with his sister's proceedings, if he did not do it himself. No one would suppose him answerable for her rudeness; at least, I am sure such a thing would never enter my head. But he forces it upon one's mind by carrying himself so high."
"I don't think he can help being so tall," observed Sydney.
"But he buttons up, and makes the most of it," replied Sophia. "He stalks in like a Polish count."
The sisters could not help smiling at this proof that the incursions of the Poles into this place were confined to the book club. They happened to be well acquainted with a Polish count, who was short of stature and did not stalk. They were spared all necessity of exerting themselves in conversation, for it went on very well without the aid of more than a word or two from them.
"Do you think, mamma, the Andersons will come?" asked Sophia.
"Not before Sunday, my dear. The Andersons live three miles off," she explained, "and are much confined by their school. They may possibly call on Saturday afternoon, as Saturday is a half-holiday; but Sunday after church is a more likely time.—We do not much approve of Sunday visits; and I dare say you feel the same: but this is a particular case,—people living three miles off, you know, and keeping a school. And being dissenters, we do not like to appear illiberal to those who are not of our own way of thinking: so the Andersons sometimes come in after church; and I am sure you will accept their call just as if it was made in any other way."
Hester and Margaret could only say that they should be happy to see Mr and Mrs Anderson in any mode which was most convenient to themselves. A laugh went through the family, and a general exclamation of "Mr and Mrs Anderson!" "The Andersons" happened to be two maiden sisters, who kept a young ladies' school. It was some time before Mrs Grey herself could so far command her countenance as to frown with becoming severity at Fanny, who continued to giggle for some time, with intervals of convulsive stillness, at the idea that "the Andersons" could mean Mr and Mrs Anderson. In the midst of the struggle, Mr Grey entered. He laid a hand on the head of each twin, observed that they seemed very merry, and asked whether his cousins had been kind enough to make them laugh already. To these cousins he offered a brief and hearty welcome, remarking that he supposed they had been told what had prevented his being on the spot on their arrival, and that he need not trouble them with the story over again.
Sydney had slipped out as his father entered, for the chance of riding his horse to the stable,—a ride of any length being in his opinion better than none. When he returned in a few minutes, he tried to whisper to Sophia, over the back of her chair, but could not for laughing. After repeated attempts, Sophia pushed him away.
"Come, my boy, out with it!" said his father. "What you can tell your sister you can tell us. What is the joke?"
Sydney looked as if he had rather not explain before the strangers; but he never dared to trifle with his father. He had just heard from little George Rowland, that Mrs Rowland had said at home, that the young ladies at Mr Grey's, who had been made so much fuss about, were not young ladies, after all: she had seen the face of one, as they passed her in the chaise, and she was sure the person could not be less than fifty.
"She saw Morris, no doubt," said Hester, amidst the general laugh.
"I hope she will come to-morrow, and see some people who are very little like fifty," said Mrs Grey. "She will be surprised, I think," she added, looking at Hester, with a very meaning manner of admiration. "I really hope, for her own sake, she will come, though you need not mind if she does not. You will have no great loss. Mr Grey, I suppose you think she will call?"
"No doubt, my dear. Mrs Rowland never omits calling on our friends; and why should she now?" And Mr Grey applied himself to conversation with his cousins, while the rest of the family enjoyed further merriment about Mrs Rowland having mistaken Morris for one of the Miss Ibbotsons.
Mr Grey showed a sympathy with the sisters, which made them more at home than they had felt since they entered the house. He knew some of their Birmingham friends, and could speak of the institutions and interests of the town. For a whole hour he engaged them in brisk conversation, without having once alluded to their private affairs or his own, or said one word about Deerbrook society. At the end of that time, just as Mary and Fanny had received orders to go to bed, and were putting their dolls into the cradle in preparation, the scrambling of a horse's feet was heard on the gravel before the front door, and the house-bell rang.
"Who can be coming at this time of night?" said Mrs Grey.
"It is Hope, I have no doubt," replied her husband. "As I passed his door, I asked him to go out to old Mr Smithson, who seems to me to be rather worse than better, and to let me know whether anything can be done for the old gentleman. Hope has come to report of him, no doubt."
"Oh, mamma, don't send us to bed if it is Mr Hope!" cried the little girls. "Let us sit up a little longer if it is Mr Hope."
"Mr Hope is a great favourite with the children,—with us all," observed Mrs Grey to the sisters. "We have the greatest confidence in him as our medical man; as indeed every one has who employs him. Mr Grey brought him here, and we consider him the greatest acquisition our society ever had."
The sisters could not be surprised, at this when they saw Mr Hope. The only wonder was, that, in the description of the intellectual society of Deerbrook, Mr Hope had not been mentioned first. He was not handsome; but there was a gaiety of countenance and manner in him, under which the very lamp seemed to burn brighter. He came, as Mr Grey had explained, on business; and, not having been aware of the arrival of the strangers, would have retreated when his errand was done; but, as opposition was made to this by both parents and children he sat down for a quarter of an hour, to be taken into consultation about how the Miss Ibbotsons were to be conducted through the process of seeing the sights of Deerbrook.
With all sincerity, the sisters declared that the woods of the park would fully satisfy them,—that they had been accustomed to a life so quiet, that excursions were not at all necessary to their enjoyment. Mr Grey was determined that they should visit every place worth seeing in the neighbourhood, while it was in its summer beauty. Mr Hope was exactly the right person to consult, as there was no nook, no hamlet, to which his tastes or his profession had not led him. Sophia put paper before him, on which he was to note distances, according to his and Mr Grey's computations. Now, it was one peculiarity of Mr Hope that he could never see a piece of paper before him without drawing upon it. Sophia's music-books, and any sheet of blotting-paper which might ever have come in his way, bore tokens of this: and now his fingers were as busy as usual while he was talking and computing and arranging. When, as he said, enough had been planned to occupy a month, he threw down his pencil, and took leave till the morning, when he intended to make a call which should be less involuntary.
The moment he was gone, the little girls laid hands on the sheet of paper, on which he had been employed. As they expected, it was covered with scraps of sketches; and they exclaimed with delight, "Look here! Here is the spring. How fond Mr Hope is of drawing the spring! And here is the foot-bridge at Dingleford! And what is this? Here is a place we don't know, papa."
"I do not know how you should, my dears. It is the Abbey ruin down the river, which I rather think you have never seen."
"No, but we should like to see it. Are there no faces this time, Fanny? None anywhere? No funny faces this time! I like them the best of Mr Hope's drawings. Sophia, do let us show some of the faces that are on your music-books."
"If you will be sure and put them away again. But you know if Mr Hope is ever reminded of them, he will be sure to rub them out."
"He did old Owen fishing so that he can't rub it out if he would," said Sydney. "He did it in ink for me; and that is better than any of your sketches, that will rub out in a minute."
"Come, children," said their father, "it is an hour past your bedtime."
When the children were gone, and Sophia was attending the sisters to their apartment, Mrs Grey looked at her husband over her spectacles. "Well, my dear!" said she.
"Well, my dear!" responded Mr Grey.
"Do not you think Hester very handsome?"
"There is no doubt of it, my dear. She is very handsome."
"Do not you think Mr Hope thinks so too?"
It is a fact which few but the despisers of their race like to acknowledge, and which those despisers of their race are therefore apt to interpret wrongly, and are enabled to make too much of—that it is perfectly natural,—so natural as to appear necessary,—that when young people first meet, the possibility of their falling in love should occur to all the minds present. We have no doubt that it always is so; though we are perfectly aware that the idea speedily goes out again, as naturally as it came in: and in no case so speedily and naturally as in the minds of the parties most nearly concerned, from the moment that the concern becomes very near indeed. We have no doubt that the minds in Mr Grey's drawing-room underwent the common succession of ideas,— slight and transient imaginations, which pass into nothingness when unexpressed. Probably the sisters wondered whether Mr Hope was married, whether he was engaged, whether he was meant for Sophia, in the prospect of her growing old enough. Probably each speculated for half a moment, unconsciously, for her sister, and Sophia for both. Probably Mr Grey might reflect that when young people are in the way of meeting frequently in country excursions, a love affair is no very unnatural result. But Mrs Grey was the only one who fixed the idea in her own mind and another's by speaking of it.
"Do not you think Mr Hope thinks Hester very handsome, Mr Grey?"
"I really know nothing about it, my dear. He did not speak on the subject as he mounted his horse; and that is the only opportunity he has had of saying anything about the young ladies."
"It would have been strange if he had then, before Sydney and the servants."
"Very strange indeed."
"But do you not think he must have been struck with her? I should like very well to have her settled here; and the corner-house of Mr Rowland's might do nicely for them. I do not know what Mrs Rowland would think of Mr Hope's marrying into our connection so decidedly."
"My dear," said her husband, smiling, "just consider! For anything we know, these young ladies may both be attached and engaged. Hope may be attached elsewhere—."
"No; that I will answer for it he is not. I—"
"Well, you may have your reasons for being sure on that head. But he may not like the girls; they may not like him:—in short, the only thing that has happened is, that they have seen each other for one quarter of an hour."
"Well! there is no saying what may come of it."
"Very true: let us wait and see."
"But there is no harm in my telling you whatever comes into my head!"
"None in the world, unless you get it so fixed there that somebody else happens to know it too. Be careful, my dear. Let no one of these young people get a glimpse of your speculation. Think of the consequence to them and to yourself."
"Dear me, Mr Grey! you need not be afraid. What a serious matter you make of a word or two!"
"Because a good many ideas belong to that word or two, my dear."
MOONLIGHT TO TOWNSFOLK.
The moment the door closed behind Sophia, as she left the sisters in their apartment, Hester crossed the room with a step very like a dance, and threw up the window.
"I had rather look out than sleep," said she. "I shall be ashamed to close my eyes on such a prospect. Morris, if you are waiting for us, you may go. I shall sit up a long while yet."
Morris thought she had not seen Hester in such spirits since her father's death. She was unwilling to check them, but said something about the fatigues of the journey, and being fresh for the next day.
"No fear for to-morrow, Morris. We are in the country, you know, and I cannot fancy being tired in the fields, and in such a park as that. Good-night, Morris."
When she too was gone, Hester called Margaret to her, put her arm round her waist, and kissed her again and again.
"You seem happy to-night, Hester," said Margaret's gentle voice.
"Yes," sighed Hester; "more like being happy than for a long time past. How little we know what we shall feel! Here have I been dreading and dreading this evening, and shrinking from the idea of meeting the Greys, and wanting to write at the last moment to say that we would not come;— and it turns out—Oh, so differently! Think of day after day, week after week of pure country life! When they were planning for us to-night, and talking of the brook, and lanes, and meadows, it made my very heart dance."
"Thank God!" said Margaret. "When your heart dances, there is nothing left to wish."
"But did not yours? Had you ever such a prospect before,—such a prospect of delicious pleasure for weeks together,—except perhaps when we caught our first sight of the sea?"
"Nothing can ever equal that," replied Margaret. "Do not you hear now the shout we gave when we saw the sparkles on the horizon,—heaving sparkles,—when we were a mile off, and mamma held me up that I might see it better; and baby,—dear baby,—clapped his little hands? Does it not seem like yesterday?"
"Like yesterday: and yet, if baby had lived, he would now have been our companion, taking the place of all other friends to us. I thought of him when I saw Sydney Grey; but he would have been very unlike Sydney Grey. He would have been five years older, but still different from what Sydney will be at eighteen—graver, more manly."
"How strange is the idea of having a brother!" said Margaret. "I never see girls with their brothers but I watch them, and long to feel what it is, just for one hour. I wonder what difference it would have made between you and me, if we had had a brother."
"You and he would have been close friends—always together, and I should have been left alone," said Hester, with a sigh. "Oh, yes," she continued, interrupting Margaret's protest, "it would have been so. There can never be the same friendship between three as between two."
"And why should you have been the one left out?" asked Margaret. "But this is all nonsense—all a dream," she added. "The reality is that baby died—still a baby—and we know no more of what he would have been, than of what he is. The real truth is, that you and I are alone, to be each other's only friend."
"It makes me tremble to think of it, Margaret. It is not so long since our home seemed full. How we used all to sit round the fire, and laugh and play with papa, as if we were not to separate till we had all grown old: and now, young as we are, here we are alone! How do we know that we shall be left to each other?"
"There is only one thing we can do, Hester," said Margaret, resting her head on her sister's shoulder. "We must make the most of being together while we can. There must not be the shadow of a cloud between us for a moment. Our confidence must be as full and free, our whole minds as absolutely open, as—as I have read and heard that two minds can never be."
"Those who say so do not know what may be," exclaimed Hester. "I am sure there is not a thought, a feeling in me, that I could not tell you, though I know I never could to any one else."
"If I were to lose you, Hester, there are many, many things that would be shut up in me for ever. There will never be any one on earth to whom I could say the things that I can tell to you. Do you believe this, Hester?"
"I do. I know it."
"Then you will never again doubt me, as you certainly have done sometimes. You cannot imagine how my heart sinks when I see you are fancying that I care for somebody else more than for you; when you think that I am feeling differently from you. Oh, Hester, I know every change of your thoughts by your face; and indeed your thoughts have been mistaken sometimes."
"They have been wicked, often," said Hester, in a low voice. "I have sometimes thought that I must be hopelessly bad, when I have found that the strongest affection I have in the world has made me unjust and cruel to the pet son I love best. I have a jealous temper, Margaret; and a jealous temper is a wicked temper."
"Now you are unkind to yourself, Hester. I do believe you will never doubt me again."
"I never will. And if I find a thought of the kind rising in me, I will tell you the moment I am aware of it."
"Do, and I will tell you the moment I see a trace of such a thought in your face. So we shall be safe. We can never misunderstand each other for more than a moment."
By the gentle leave of Heaven, all human beings have visions. Not the lowest and dullest but has the coarseness of his life relieved at moments by some scenery of hope rising through the brooding fogs of his intellect and his heart. Such visitations of mercy are the privilege of the innocent, and the support of the infirm. Here were the lonely sisters sustained in bereavement and self-rebuke, by the vision of a friendship which should be unearthly in its depth and freedom; they were so happy for the hour, that nothing could disturb them.
"I do not see," observed Hester, "that it will be possible to enjoy any intimate intercourse with this family. Unless they are of a different order from what they seem, we cannot have much in common; but I am sure they mean to be kind, and they will let us be happy in our own way. Oh, what mornings you and I will have together in those woods! Did you ever see anything so soft as they look—in this light?"
"And the bend of the river glittering there! Here, a little more this way, and you will see it as I do. The moon is not at the full yet; the river will be like this for some nights to come."
"And these rides and drives,—I hope nothing will prevent our going through the whole list of them. What is the matter, Margaret? Why are you so cool about them?"
"I think all the pleasure depends upon the companionship, and I have some doubts about that. I had rather sit at work in a drawing-room all day, than go among mountains with people—"
"Like the Mansons; Oh, that spreading of shawls, and bustle about the sandwiches, before they could give a look at the waterfall! I am afraid we may find something of the same drawback here."
"I am afraid so."
"Well, only let us get out into the woods and lanes, and we will manage to enjoy ourselves there. We can contrive to digress here and there together without being missed. But I think we are judging rather hastily from what we saw this evening even about this family; and we have no right to suppose that all their acquaintance are like them."
"No, indeed; and I am sure Mr Hope, for one, is of a different order. He dropped one thing, one little saying, which proved this to my mind."
"I know what you mean—about the old man that is to be our guide over that heath they were talking of—about why that heath is a different and more beautiful place to him than to us, or to his former self. Is it not true, what he said?"
"I am sure it is true. I have little to say of my own experience, or wisdom, or goodness, whichever it was that he particularly meant as giving a new power of sight to the old man; but I know that no tree waves to my eye as it did ten years ago, and the music of running water is richer to my ear as every summer comes round."
"Yes; I almost wonder sometimes whether all things are not made at the moment by the mind that sees them, so wonderfully do they change with one's mood, and according to the store of thoughts they lay open in one's mind. If I lived in a desert island (supposing one's intellect could go on to grow there), I should feel sure of this."
"But not here, where it is quite clear that the village sot (if there be one), and Mr Hope, and the children, and we ourselves all see the same objects in sunlight and moonlight, and acknowledge them to be the same, though we cannot measure feelings upon them. I wish Mr Hope may say something more which may lead to the old man on the heath again. He is coming to-morrow morning."
"Yes; we shall see him again to-morrow."
The sisters were not so fatigued with their journey but that they were early in the open air the next morning. In the shrubbery they met the twins, walking hand in hand, each with a doll on the disengaged arm.
"You are giving your dolls an airing before breakfast," said Hester, stopping them as they would have passed on.
"Yes; we carry out our dolls now because we must not run before breakfast. We have made arbours in our own gardens for our dolls, where they may sit when we are swinging."
"I should like to see your arbours and your gardens," said Margaret, looking round her. "Will you take me to them?"
"Not now," answered they; "we should have to cross the grass, and we must not go upon the grass before breakfast."
"Where is your swing? I am very fond of swinging."
"Oh! it is in the orchard there, under that large tree. But you cannot—"
"I see; we cannot get to it now, because we should have to cross the grass." And Margaret began to look round for any place where they might go beyond the gravel-walk, on which they stood. She moved towards the greenhouse, but found it was never unlocked before breakfast. The summerhouse remained, and a most unexceptionable path led to it. The sisters turned that way.
"You cannot go there," cried the children; "Miss Young always has the schoolroom before breakfast."
"We are going to see Miss Young," explained Hester, smiling at the amazed faces with which the children stared from the end of the path. They were suddenly seen to turn, and walk as fast as they could, without its being called running, towards the house. They were gone to their mother's dressing-room door, to tell her that the Miss Ibbotsons were gone to see Miss Young before breakfast.
The path led for some little way under the hedge which separated Mr Grey's from Mr Rowland's garden. There were voices on the other side, and what was said was perfectly audible. Uneasy at hearing what was not meant for them, Hester and Margaret gave tokens of their presence. The conversation on the other side of the hedge proceeded; and in a very short time the sisters were persuaded that they had been mistaken in supposing that what was said was not meant for them.
"My own Matilda," said a voice, which evidently came from under a lady's bonnet which moved parallel with Hester's and Margaret's; "My own Matilda, I would not be so harsh as to prevent your playing where you please before breakfast. Run where you like, my love. I am sorry for little girls who are not allowed to do as they please in the cool of the morning. My children shall never suffer such restriction."
"Mother," cried a rough little person, "I'm going fishing with Uncle Philip to-day. Sydney Grey and I are going, I don't know how far up the river."
"On no account, my dear boy. You must not think of such a thing. I should not have a moment's peace while you are away. You would not be back till evening, perhaps; and I should be fancying all day that you were in the river. It is out of the question, my own George."
"But I must go, mother. Uncle Philip said I might; and Sydney Grey is going."
"That is only another reason, my dear boy. Your uncle will yield to my wishes, I am sure, as he always does. And if Mrs Grey allows her son to run such risks, I am sure I should not feel myself justified. You will stay with me, love, won't you? You will stay with your mother, my own boy."
George ran roaring away, screaming for Uncle Philip; who was not at hand, however, to plead his cause.
"My Matilda," resumed the fond mother, "you are making yourself a sad figure. You will not be fit to show yourself at breakfast. Do you suppose your papa ever saw such a frock as that? There! look—dripping wet! Pritchard, take Miss Matilda, and change all her clothes directly. So much for my allowing her to run on the grass while the dew is on! Lose no time, Pritchard, lest the child should catch cold. Leave Miss Anna with me. Walk beside me, my Anna. Ah! there is papa. Papa, we must find some amusement for George today, as I cannot think of letting him go out fishing. Suppose we take the children to spend the morning with their cousins at Dingleford?"
"To-morrow would suit me better, my love," replied the husband. "Indeed I don't see how I can go to-day, or you either." And Mr Rowland lowered his voice, so as to show that he was aware of his liability to be overheard.
"Oh, as to that, there is no hurry," replied the lady, aloud. "If I had nothing else to do, I should not make that call to-day. Any day will do as well."
As Hester and Margaret looked at each other, they heard the gentleman softly say "Hush!" But Mrs Rowland went on as audibly as ever.
"There is no reason why I should be in any hurry to call on Mrs Grey's friends, whoever and whatever they may be. Any day will do for that, my dear."
Not having been yet forbidden to run before breakfast, Hester and Margaret fled to the summer-house, to avoid hearing any more of the domestic dialogues of the Rowland family.
"What shall we do when that woman calls?" said Hester. "How will it be possible to speak to her?"
"As we should speak to any other indifferent person," replied Margaret. "Her rudeness is meant for Mrs Grey, not for us; for she knows nothing about us: and Mrs Grey will never hear from us what has passed.—Shall we knock?"
In answer to the knock, they were requested to enter. Miss Young rose in some confusion when she found her visitors were other than her pupils: but she was so lame that Hester made her sit down again, while they drew seats for themselves. They apologised for breaking in upon her with so little ceremony, but explained that they were come to be inmates at Mr Grey's for some months, and that they wished to lose no time in making themselves acquainted with every resort of the family, of which they considered themselves a part. Miss Young was evidently pleased to see them. She closed her volume, and assured them they were welcome to her apartment; "For," said she, "everybody calls it my apartment, and why should not I?"
"Do you spend all your time here?" asked Hester.
"Almost the whole day. I have a lodging in the village; but I leave it early these fine mornings, and stay here till dark. I am so lame as to make it inconvenient to pass over the ground oftener than is necessary; and I find it pleasanter to see trees and grass through every window here, than to look out into the farrier's yard,—the only prospect from my lodging. The furnace and sparks are pretty enough on a winter's evening, especially when one is too ill or too dismal to do anything but watch them; but at this season one grows tired of old horse-shoes and cinders; and so I sit here."
To the sisters there seemed a world of desolation in these words. They were always mourning for having no brother. Here was one who appeared to be entirely alone. From not knowing exactly what to say, Margaret opened the book Miss Young had laid aside. It was German—Schiller's Thirty Years' War. Every one has something to say about German literature; those who do not understand it asking whether it is not very mystical, and wild, and obscure; and those who do understand it saying that it is not so at all. It would be a welcome novelty if the two parties were to set about finding out what it is to be mystical,—a point which, for aught that is known to the generality, is not yet ascertained. Miss Young and her visitors did not enter upon precise definitions this morning. These were left for a future occasion. Meantime it was ascertained that Miss Young had learned the German language by the aid of dictionary and grammar alone, and also that if she should happen to meet with any one who wished to enjoy what she was enjoying, she should be glad to afford any aid in her power. Hester was satisfied with thanking her. She was old enough to know that learning a new language is a serious undertaking. Margaret was somewhat younger, and ready for any enterprise. She thought she saw before her hours of long mornings, when she should be glad to escape from the work-table to Miss Young's companionship and to study. The bright field of German literature seemed to open before her to be explored. She warmly thanked Miss Young, and accepted her offered assistance.
"So you spend all your days alone here," said she, looking round upon the rather bare walls, the matted floor, the children's desks, and the single shelf which held Miss Young's books.
"Not exactly all the day alone," replied Miss Young; "the children are with me five hours a day, and a set of pupils from the village comes to me besides, for a spare hour of the afternoon. In this way I see a good many little faces every day."
"And some others too, I should hope; some besides little faces?"
Miss Young was silent. Margaret hastened on—
"I suppose most people would say here what is said everywhere else about the nobleness and privilege of the task of teaching children. But I do not envy those who have it to do. I am as fond of children as any one; but then it is having them out to play on the grass, or romping with them in the nursery, that I like. When it becomes a matter of desks and school-books, I had far rather study than teach."
"I believe everybody, except perhaps mothers, would agree with you," said Miss Young, who was now, without apology, plying her needle.
"Indeed! then I am very sorry for you."
"Thank you; but there's no need to be sorry for me. Do you suppose that one's comfort lies in having a choice of employments? My experience leads me to think the contrary."
"I do not think I could be happy," said Hester, "to be tied down to an employment I did not like."
"Not to a positively disgusting one. But I am disposed to think that the greatest number of happy people may be found busy in employments that they have not chosen for themselves, and never would have chosen."
"I am afraid these very happy people are haunted by longings to be doing something else."
"Yes: there is their great trouble. They think, till experience makes them wiser, that if they were only in another set of circumstances, if they only had a choice what they would do, a chance for the exercise of the powers they are conscious of, they would do such things as should be the wonder and the terror of the earth. But their powers may be doubted, if they do not appear in the conquest of circumstances."
"So you conquer these giddy children, when you had rather be conquering German metaphysicians, or —-, or —-, what else?"
"There is little to conquer in these children," said Miss Young; "they are very good with me. I assure you I have much more to conquer in myself, with regard to them. It is but little that I can do for them; and that little I am apt to despise, in the vain desire to do more."
"If I had them in a house by myself, to spend their whole time with me, so that I could educate, instead of merely teaching them. But here I am doing just what we were talking of just now,—laying out a pretty-looking field of duty, in which there would probably be as many thorns as in any other. Teaching has its pleasures,—its great occasional, and small daily pleasures, though they are not to be compared to the sublime delights of education."
"You must have some of these sublime delights mixed in with the humbler. You are, in some degree, educating these children while teaching them."
"Yes: but it is more a negative than a positive function, a very humble one. Governesses to children at home can do little more than stand between children and the faults of the people about them. I speak quite generally."
"Is such an occupation one in which anybody can be happy?"
"Why not, as well as in making pins' heads, or in nursing sick people, or in cutting square blocks out of a chalk pit for thirty years together, or in any other occupation which may be ordained to prove to us that happiness lies in the temper, and not in the object of a pursuit? Are there not free and happy pin-makers, and sick-nurses, and chalk-cutters?"
"Yes: but they know how much to expect. They have no idea of pin-making in itself being great happiness."
"Just so. Well: let a governess learn what to expect; set her free from a hankering after happiness in her work, and you have a happy governess."
"I thought such a thing was out of the order of nature."
"Not quite. There have been such, though there are strong influences against it. The expectations of all parties are unreasonable; and those who are too humble, or too amiable, to be dissatisfied with others, are discontented with themselves, when the inevitable disappointment comes. There is a great deal said about the evils of the position of a governess—between the family and the servants—a great deal said that is very true, and always will be true, while governesses have proud hearts, like other people: but these are slight evils in comparison with the grand one of the common failure of the relation.—There! do you hear that bell?"
"What is it? The breakfast bell?"
"Yes. You must go. I would not be understood as inviting you here; for it is not, except upon sufferance, my room; and I have no inducement to offer. But I may just say, that you will always be welcome."
"Always?" said Margaret. "In and out of school hours?"
"In and out of school hours, unless your presence should chance to turn my pupils' heads. In that case, you will not be offended if I ask you to go away."
Mary and Fanny had just reported in the breakfast-parlour, that the Miss Ibbotsons had been "such a time with Miss Young!" when Hester and Margaret entered. The testimony there was all in favour of Miss Young. Mr Grey called her a most estimable young woman; and Mrs Grey declared that, though she could not agree with her on all points, and decidedly thought that she overrated Matilda Rowland's talents, she was convinced that her children enjoyed great advantages under her care. Sophia added, that she was very superior,—quite learned. Mrs Grey further explained that, though now so much at ease on the subject of her daughters' education, no one could have an idea of the trouble she had had in getting the plan arranged. It had seemed a pity that the Rowlands and her children should not learn together: it was such an advantage for children to learn together! But Mrs Rowland had made a thousand difficulties. After breakfast, she would show her young friends the room which she had proposed should be the schoolroom,—as airy and advantageous in every way as could be imagined: but Mrs Rowland had objected that she could not have Matilda and George come out in all weathers,—as if they would have had to walk a mile, instead of just the sweep of the gravel-walk! Mrs Rowland had proposed that her back-parlour should be the schoolroom: but really it was not to be thought of—so small and close, and such a dull room for Miss Young! The gentlemen had been obliged to take it up at last. Nobody could ever find out which of them it was that had thought of the summerhouse, though she was satisfied in her own mind that Mr Rowland was not in the habit of having such clever ideas; but, however, it was soon settled. The summer-house was so exactly on the boundary-line between the two gardens, that really no objection had been left for Mrs Rowland to make. She came as near to it as she could, however; for she had had the walk covered in at great expense from her garden door to the summer-house, when everybody knew she did not mind her children getting wet at other times on the grass before the dew was off.
"And the covered way is quite an eyesore from the drawing-room windows," added Sophia.
"Quite," said Mrs Grey; "and it can be seen from ours, as I dare say you observed last night. But I have no doubt that entered into her calculations when she had it made."
Mr Grey inquired about the arrangements for the morning, and whether he could be of any service. It happened to be a leisure morning with him, and he did not know when he might have another at command. Sophia reminded her father that it would be impossible for the ladies of the family to go out, when they were expecting the neighbours to call: and this brought on another speculation as to who would call,—and especially when the Rowlands might be looked for. Hester and Margaret believed they could have settled this matter; but they forbore to speak of what they had overheard. They began to wonder whether the subject of Mrs Rowland was to be served up with every meal, for a continuance; and Hester found her anticipations of delight in a country life somewhat damped, by the idea of the frowning ghost of the obnoxious lady being for ever present.
The little girls had been dismissed to the schoolroom before Mr Grey had finally pushed away his tea-cup. Not being wanted by the ladies, he walked off to his timber-yard, and his wife followed to ask him some question not intended for the general ear. Sophia was struck with a sudden panic at being left alone with the strangers, and escaped by another door into the store-room. As the last traces of the breakfast things vanished, Hester exclaimed—
"So we may please ourselves, it seems, as to what we are to do with our morning!"
"I hope so," said Margaret. "Do let us get down to the meadow we see from our window—the meadow that looks so flat and green! We may very well take two hours' grace before we need sit down here in form and order."
Hester was willing, and the bonnets were soon on. As Margaret was passing down stairs again, she saw Mrs Grey and Sophia whispering in a room, the door of which stood open. She heard it shut instantly, and the result of the consultation soon appeared. Just as the sisters were turning out of the house, Sophia ran after them to say that mamma wished they would be so good as to defer their walk; mamma was afraid that if they were seen abroad in the village, it would be supposed that they did not wish to receive visitors: mamma would rather that they should stay within this morning. There was nothing for it but to turn back; and Hester threw down her bonnet with no very good grace, as she observed to her sister that, to all appearance, a town life was more free than a country one, after all.
"Let us do our duty fully this first morning," said Margaret. "Look, I am going to carry down my work-bag; and you shall see me sit on the same chair from this hour till dinner-time, unless I receive directions to the contrary."
The restraint did not amount to this. Hester's chair was placed opposite to Mrs Grey, who seemed to have pleasure in gazing at her, and in indulging in audible hints and visible winks and nods about her beauty, to every lady visitor who eat near her. Margaret might place herself where she pleased. In the intervals of the visits of the morning, she was treated with a diversity of entertainments by Sophia, who occasionally summoned her to the window to see how Matilda Rowland was allowed to run across the road to her grandmamma's, without so much as a hat upon her head,—to see Jim Bird, the oldest man in the parish (believed to be near a hundred), who was resting himself on the bank of the hedge,—to see the peacock which had been sent as a present from Sir William Hunter to Mr James, the lawyer, and which was a great nuisance from its screaming,—to say whether the two little Reeves, dropping their curtseys as they went home from school, were not little beauties,—and, in short, to witness all the village spectacles which present themselves before the windows of an acute observer on a fine spring morning. The young ladies had to return to their seats as often as wheels were heard, or the approach of parasols was discerned.
Among the earliest visitors were Mrs Enderby and her redoubtable son, Mr Philip. Mrs Enderby was a bright-eyed, brisk, little old lady, who was rather apt to talk herself quite out of breath, but who had evidently a stronger tendency still; and that was, to look on the bright side of everything and everybody. She smiled smiles full of meaning and assent in return for Mrs Grey's winks about Hester's beauty; and really cheered Hester with accounts of how good everybody was at Deerbrook. She was thankful that her maid Phoebe was better; she knew that Mrs Grey would not fail to inquire; really Phoebe was very much better; the influenza had left sad effects, but they were dispersing. It would be a pity the girl should not quite recover, for she was a most invaluable servant—such a servant as is very rarely to be met with. The credit of restoring her belonged to Mr Hope, who indeed had done everything. She supposed the ladies would soon be seeing Mr Hope. He was extremely busy, as everybody knew—had very large practice now; but he always contrived to find time for everything. It was exceedingly difficult to find time for everything. There was her dear daughter, Priscilla (Mrs Rowland, whose husband was Mr Grey's partner); Priscilla devoted her life to her children (and dear children they were); and no one who knew what she did for her children would expect anything more from her; but, indeed, those who knew best, she herself, for instance, were fully satisfied that her dear Priscilla did wonders. The apology for Mrs Rowland, in case she should not call, was made not without ingenuity. Hester fully understood it; and Mrs Grey showed by her bridling that it was not lost upon her either.
Mr Enderby, meanwhile, was behaving civilly to Margaret and Sophia; that is to say, he was somewhat more than merely civil to Margaret, and somewhat less to Sophia. It was obviously not without reason that Sophia had complained of his hauteur. He could not, as Sydney had pleaded, help being tall; but he might have helped the excessive frigidity with which he stood upright till invited to sit down. The fact was, that he had reason to believe that the ladies of Mr Grey's family made very free with his sister's name and affairs; and though he would have been sorry to have been obliged to defend all she said and did, he felt some very natural emotions of dislike towards those who were always putting the worst construction upon the whole of her conduct. He believed that Mr Grey's influence was exerted on behalf of peace and good understanding, and he thought he perceived that Sydney, with the shrewdness which some boys show very early, was more or less sensible of the absurdity of the feud between the partners' wives and daughters; and towards these members of the Grey family, Mr Enderby felt nothing but good-will; he talked politics with Mr Grey in the shrubbery after church on Sunday, executed commissions for him in London, and sent him game: and Sydney was under obligations to him for many a morning of sport, and many a service such as gentlemen who are not above five-and-twenty and its freaks can render to boys entering their teens. Whatever might be his opinion of women generally, from the particular specimens which had come in his way, he had too much sense and gentlemanly feeling to include Mrs Grey's guests in the dislike he felt towards herself, or to suppose that they must necessarily share her disposition towards his relations. Perhaps he felt, unknown to himself some inclination to prepossess them in favour of his connections; to stretch his complaisance a little, as a precaution against the prejudices with which he knew Mrs Grey would attempt to occupy their minds. However this might be, he was as amicable with Margaret as his mother was with her sister.
He soon found out that the strangers were more interested about the natural features of Deerbrook than about its gossip. He was amused at the earnestness of Margaret's inquiries about the scenery of the neighbourhood, and he laughingly promised that she should see every nook within twenty miles.
"People always care least about what they have just at hand," said he. "I dare say, if I were to ask you, you have never seen a glass-bottle blown, or a tea-tray painted?"
"If I have," said Margaret, "I know many ladies in Birmingham who have not."
"You will not be surprised, then, if you find some ladies in Deerbrook who do not ride, and who can tell you no more of the pretty places near than if they had been brought up in Whitechapel. They keep their best sights for strangers, and not for common use. I am, in reality, only a visitor at Deerbrook. I do not live here, and never did; yet I am better able to be your guide than almost any resident. The ladies, especially, are extremely domestic: they are far too busy to have ever looked about them. But I will speak to Mr Grey, and—"
"Oh, pray, do not trouble Mr Grey! He has too much business on his hands already; and he is so kind, he will be putting himself out of his way for us; and all we want is to be in the open air in the fields."
"'All you want!' very like starlings in a cage;" and he looked as if he was smiling at the well-known speech of the starling; but he did not quote it. "My mother is now saying that Mr Hope finds time for everything: and she is right. He will help us. You must see Hope, and you must like him. He is the great boast of the place, next to the new sign."
"Is the sign remarkable, or only new?"
"Very remarkable for ingenuity, if not for beauty. It is 'The Bonnet so Blue:'—a lady's bonnet of blue satin, with brown bows, or whatever you may call the trimming when you see it; and we are favoured besides with a portrait of the milliner, holding the bonnet so blue. We talk nearly as much of this sign as of Mr Hope; but you must see them both, and tell us which you like best."
"We have seen Mr Hope. He was here yesterday evening."
"Well, then, you must see him again; and you must not think the worse of him for his being praised by everybody you meet. It is no ordinary case of a village apothecary."
Margaret laughed; so little did Mr Hope look like the village apothecary of her imagination.
"Ah, I see you know something of the predilection of villagers for their apothecary,—how the young people wonder that he always cures everybody; and how the old people could not live without him; and how the poor folks take him for a sort of magician; and how he obtains more knowledge of human affairs than any other kind of man. But Hope is, though a very happy man, not this sort of privileged person. His friends are so attached to him that they confide to him all their own affairs; but they respect him too much to gossip at large to him of other people's. I see you do not know how to credit this; but I assure you, though the inhabitants of Deerbrook are as accomplished in the arts of gossip as any villagers in England, Hope knows little more than you do at this moment about who are upon terms and who are not."
"My sister and I must learn his art of ignorance," said Margaret. "If it be really true that the place is full of quarrels, we shall be afraid to stay, unless we can contrive to know nothing about them."
"Oh, do not suppose we are worse than others who live in villages. Since our present rector came, we have risen somewhat above the rural average of peace and quiet."
"And the country has always been identical with the idea of peace and quiet to us town-bred people!" said Margaret.
"And very properly, in one sense. But if you leave behind the din of streets for the sake of stepping forth from your work-table upon a soft lawn, or of looking out upon the old church steeple among the trees, while you hear nothing but bleating and chirping, you must expect some set-off against such advantages: and that set-off is the being among a small number of people, who are always busy looking into one another's small concerns."
"But this is not a necessary evil," said Margaret. "From what you were saying just now, it appears that it may be avoided."
"From what I was saying about Hope. Yes; such an one as Hope may get all the good out of every situation, without its evils; but—"
"But nobody else," said Margaret, smiling. "Well, Hester and I must try whether we cannot have to do with lawns and sheep for a few months, without quarrelling or having to do with quarrels."
"And what if you are made the subject of quarrels?" asked Mr Enderby. "How are you to help yourselves, in that case?"
"How does Mr Hope help himself in that case?"
"It remains to be seen. As far as I know, the whole place is agreed about him at present. Every one will tell you that never was society so blessed in a medical man before;—from the rector and my mother, who never quarrel with anybody, down to the village scold. I am not going to prepossess you against even our village scold, by telling her name. You will know it in time, though your first acquaintance will probably be with her voice."
"So we are to hear something besides bleating and chirping?"
A tremendous knock at the door occurred, as if in answer to this. All the conversation in the room suddenly stopped, and Mr and Mrs Rowland walked in.
"This is my sister, Mrs Rowland," observed Mr Enderby to Margaret.
"This is my daughter Priscilla, Mrs Rowland," said Mrs Enderby to Hester.
Both sisters were annoyed at feeling timid and nervous on being introduced to the lady. There is something imposing in hearing a mere name very often, in the proof that the person it belongs to fills a large space in people's minds: and when the person is thus frequently named with fear and dislike, an idea is originated of a command over powers of evil which makes the actual presence absolutely awful. This seemed now to be felt by all. Sophia had nothing to say: Mrs Grey's head twitched nervously, while she turned from one to another with slight remarks: Mrs Enderby ran on about their having all happened to call at once, and its being quite a family party in Mrs Grey's parlour; and Mr Philip's flow of conversation had stopped. Margaret thought he was trying to help laughing.
The call could not be an agreeable one. The partners' ladies quoted their own children's sayings about school and Miss Young, and Miss Young's praise of the children; and each vied with the other in eulogium on Miss Young, evidently on the ground of her hopes of Fanny and Mary on the one hand, and of Matilda, George, and Anna, on the other. Mrs Enderby interposed praises of all the children, while Mr Rowland engaged Hester's attention, calling off her observation and his own from the sparring of the rival mothers. Philip informed Margaret at length, that George was a fine little fellow, who would make a good sportsman. There was some pleasure in taking such a boy out fishing. But Mr Philip had lighted on a dangerous topic, as he soon found. His sister heard what he was saying, and began an earnest protest against little boys fishing, on account of the danger, and against any idea that she would allow her George to run any such risks. Of course, this made Mrs Grey fire up, as at an imputation upon her care of her son Sydney; and before the rest of the company could talk down the dispute, it bore too much of the appearance of a recrimination about the discharge of maternal duties. Margaret thought that, but for the relationship, Mrs Rowland might fairly be concluded to be the village scold alluded to by Mr Enderby. It was impossible that he could have been speaking of his sister; but Deerbrook was an unfortunate place if it contained a more unamiable person than she appeared at this moment. The faces of the two ladies were still flushed with excitement when Mr Hope came in. The sisters thought he appeared like a good genius, so amiable did the party grow on his entrance. It seemed as if he was as great a favourite with the Rowlands as with the other family; so friendly was the gentleman, and so gracious the lady; while Mr Hope was, to all appearance, unconscious of the existence of any unpleasant feelings among his neighbours. The talk flowed on about the concerns of personages of the village, about the aspect of public affairs, about the poets of the age, and what kind of poetry was most read in Deerbrook, and how the Book Society went on, till all had grown cordial, and some began to propose to be hospitable. Mrs Rowland hoped for the honour of seeing the Miss Ibbotsons one day the next week, when Mr Rowland should have returned from a little excursion of business. Mrs Enderby wondered whether she could prevail on all her young friends to spend an evening with her before her son left Deerbrook; and Mrs Grey gave notice that she should shortly issue her invitations to those with whom she wished her young cousins to become better acquainted.
All went right for the rest of the morning. When the Enderbys and Rowlands went away, the Levitts came. When Dr Levitt inquired about the schools of Birmingham, it could not but come out that Hester and Margaret were dissenters. Yet, as they were desired to observe, he did not seem in the least shocked, and his manner was just as kind to them after this disclosure as before. He was pronounced a very liberal man. Mr Hope was asked to stay to dinner, and Mrs Grey complacently related the events of the morning to her husband as he took his place at table. Deerbrook had done its duty to Hester and Margaret pretty well for the first day. Everybody of consequence had called but the Andersons, and they would no doubt come on Sunday.
The afternoon was the time when Miss Young's pupils practised the mysteries of the needle. Little girls are not usually fond of sewing. Till they become clever enough to have devices of their own, to cut out a doll's petticoat, or contrive a pin-cushion to surprise mamma, sewing is a mere galling of the fingers and strain upon the patience. Every wry stitch shows, and is pretty sure to be remarked upon: the seam or hem seems longer the oftener it is measured, till the little work-woman becomes capable of the enterprise of despatching a whole one at a sitting; after which the glory is found to ameliorate the toil, and there is a chance that the girl may become fond of sewing.
Miss Young's pupils had not arrived at this stage. It was a mystery to them that Miss Young could sit sewing, as fast as her needle could fly, for the whole afternoon, and during the intervals of their lessons in the morning. It was in vain that she told them that some of her pleasantest hours were those which she passed in this employment: and that she thought they would perhaps grow as fond of work as their sister Sophia before they were as old as she. With languid steps did the twins return to the house this afternoon for another pair of shirt-sleeves, and to show mamma the work they had finished. Hand in hand, as usual, and carrying up for judgment their last performance, they entered the house. In a very different mood did they return. Running, skipping, and jumping, they burst again into the summer-house.
"Miss Young, oh, Miss Young, we are to have a holiday!"
"Mamma sends her compliments to you, Miss Young, and she hopes you will give us a holiday. It is a fine afternoon, she thinks, and my cousins have never gathered cowslips; and we are all going into the meadow for a cowslip-gathering; and Mr Hope will come to us there. He has to go somewhere now, but he will come to us before we have half done."
Matilda Rowland looked fall of dismay till she was told that Mrs Grey hoped she would be of the party, and begged that she would, go directly and ask her mamma's leave.
"What a quantity of cowslips we shall get!" observed Mary, as she took down Fanny's basket from the nail on which it hung, and then her own. "We are each to have a basket, mamma says, that we may not quarrel. What shall we do with such a quantity of cowslips?"
"Make tea of them, to be sure," replied Fanny. "We may dry them in this window, may not we, Miss Young? And we will give you some of our cowslip-tea."
Miss Young smiled and thanked them. She did not promise to drink any of the promised tea. She had a vivid remembrance of the cowslip-drying of her young days, when the picked flowers lay in a window till they were laced all over with cobwebs; and when they were at length popped into the teapot with all speed, to hide the fact that they were mouldy. She remembered the good-natured attempts of her father and mother to swallow a doll's cupful of her cowslip-tea, rather than discourage the spirit of enterprise which, now that she had lost those whom she loved, was all that she had to trust to.
"Fanny," said Mary, with eyes wide open, "cannot we have a feast here for my cousins, when we make our cowslip-tea?"
"A feast! Oh, that would be grand!" replied Fanny. "I have a shilling, and so have you; and we could buy a good many nice things for that: and Matilda Rowland will lend us her doll's dishes to put with ours. Miss Young, will you let us have our feast here, one afternoon? We will ask my cousins, without telling them anything; and they will be so surprised!"
Miss Young promised everything, engaged not to tell, smoothed their hair, tied their bonnets, and sent them away quite happy with their secret.
Such a holiday as this was one of Miss Young's few pleasures. There were several occasions in the year when she could make sure beforehand of some hours to herself. Her Sundays were much occupied with the Sunday-school, and with intercourse with poor neighbours whom she could not meet on any other day: but Christmas-day, the day of the annual fair of Deerbrook, and two or three more, were her own. These were, however, so appropriated, long before, to some object, that they lost much of their character of holidays. Her true holidays were such as the afternoon of this day,—hours suddenly set free, little gifts of leisure to be spent according to the fancy of the moment. Let none pretend to understand the value of such whose lives are all leisure; who take up a book to pass the time; who saunter in gardens because there are no morning visits to make; who exaggerate the writing of a family letter into important business. Such have their own enjoyments: but they know nothing of the paroxysm of pleasure of a really hardworking person on hearing the door shut which excludes the business of life, and leaves the delight of free thoughts and hands. The worst part of it is the having to decide how to make the most of liberty. Miss Young was not long in settling this point. She just glanced up at her shelf of books, and down upon her drawing-board, and abroad through the south window, and made up her mind. The acacia with its fresh bunches of blossoms was waving above the window, casting in flickering shadows upon the floor: the evergreens of the shrubbery twinkled in the sun, as the light breeze swept over them: the birds were chirruping all about, and a yellow butterfly alighted and trembled on the window-sill at the moment. It was one of the softest and gayest days of spring; and the best thing was to do nothing but enjoy it. She moved to the south window with her work, and sewed or let the wind blow upon her face as she looked out.
The landscape was a wide one. Far beyond, and somewhat below the garden and shrubberies in which the summerhouse stood, flat meadows stretched to the brink of the river, on the other side of which were the park woods. All was bathed in the afternoon sunshine, except where a tree here and there cast a flake of shadow upon the grass of the meadows.
"It is a luxury," thought the gazer, "for one who cannot move about to sit here and look abroad. I wonder whether I should have been with the party if I had not been lame. I dare say something would have taken off from the pleasure if I had. But how well I can remember what the pleasure is! the jumping stiles—the feel of the turf underfoot,—the running after every flower,—the going wherever one has a fancy to go,— how well I remember it all! And yet it gives me a sort of surprise to see the activity of these children, and how little they are aware of what their privilege is. I fancy, however, the pleasure is more in the recollection of all such natural enjoyments than at the moment. It is so with me, and I believe with everybody. This very landscape is more beautiful to me in the dark night when I cannot sleep, than at this very moment, when it looks its best and brightest: and surely this is the great difference between that sort of pleasures and those which come altogether from within. The delight of a happy mood of mind is beyond everything at the time; it sets one above all that can happen; it steeps one in heaven itself; but one cannot recall it: one can only remember that it was so. The delight of being in such a place as those woods is generally more or less spoiled at the time by trifles which are forgotten afterwards;—one is hungry, or tired, or a little vexed with somebody, or doubtful whether somebody else is not vexed; but then the remembrance is purely delicious,—brighter in sunshine, softer in shade,—wholly tempered to what is genial. The imagination is a better medium than the eye. This is surely the reason why Byron could not write poetry on Lake Leman, but found he must wait till he got within four walls. This is the reason why we are all more moved by the slightest glimpses of good descriptions in books than by the amplitude of the same objects before our eyes. I used to wonder how that was, when, as a child, I read the openings of scenes and books in 'Paradise Lost.' I saw plenty of summer sunrises; but none of them gave me a feeling like the two lines:—
"'Now morn, her rosy steps in the eastern clime Advancing, sowed the earth with orient pearl.'
"If all this be so, our lot is more equalised than is commonly thought. Once having received pictures into our minds, and possessing a clear eye in the mind to see them with, the going about to obtain more is not of very great consequence. This comforts one for prisoners suffering carcere duro, and for townspeople who cannot often get out of the streets; and for lame people like me, who see others tripping over commons and through fields where we cannot go. I wish there was as much comfort the other way,—about such as suffer from unhappy moods of mind, and know little of the joy of the highest. It would be a small gain to them to fly like birds,—to see like the eagle itself.—Oh, there are the children! So that is their cowslip meadow! How like children they all look together, down on the grass!—gathering cowslips, I suppose. The two in black are more eager about it than Sophia. She sits on the stile while they are busy. The children are holding forth to their cousins,—teaching them something, evidently. How I love to overlook people,—to watch them acting unconsciously, and speculate for them! It is the most tempting thing in the world to contrast the little affairs one sees them busy about, with the very serious ones which await them,— which await every one. There are those two strangers busy gathering cowslips, and perhaps thinking of nothing beyond the fresh pleasure of the air and the grass, and the scent of their flowers,—their minds quite filled with the spirit of the spring, when who knows what may be awaiting them! Love may be just at hand. The tempest of passion may be brewing under this soft sunshine. They think themselves now as full of happiness as possible; and a little while hence, upon a few words spoken, a glance exchanged, they may be in such a heaven of bliss that they will smile at their own ignorance in being so well pleased to-day. Or—but I pray they may escape the other chance. Neither of them knows anything of that misery yet, I am confident. They both look too young, too open, too free to have really suffered.—I wonder whether it is foolish to fancy already that one of them may be settled here. It can hardly be foolish, when the thought occurs so naturally: and these great affairs of life lie distinctly under the eye of such as are themselves cut off from them. I am out of the game, and why should not I look upon its chances? I am quite alone; and why should I not watch for others? Every situation has its privileges and its obligations.—What is it to be alone, and to be let alone, as I am? It is to be put into a post of observation on others: but the knowledge so gained is anything but a good if it stops at mere knowledge,—if it does not make me feel and act. Women who have what I am not to have, a home, an intimate, a perpetual call out of themselves, may go on more safely, perhaps, without any thought for themselves, than I with all my best consideration: but I, with the blessing of a peremptory vocation, which is to stand me instead of sympathy, ties and spontaneous action,—I may find out that it is my proper business to keep an intent eye upon the possible events of other people's lives, that I may use slight occasions of action which might otherwise pass me by. If one were thoroughly wise and good, this would be a sort of divine lot. Without being at all wiser or better than others,—being even as weak in judgment and in faith as I am,—something may be made of it. Without daring to meddle, one may stand clear-sighted, ready to help.—How the children are flying over the meadow towards that gentleman who is fastening his horse to the gate! Mr Hope, no doubt. He is the oldest cowslip gatherer of them all, I fancy. If one could overhear the talk in every house along the village, I dare say some of it is about Mr Hope winning one of these young ladies. If so, it is only what I am thinking about myself. Every one wishes to see Mr Hope married,—every one, even to the servants here, who are always disputing whether he will not have Miss Sophia, or whether Miss Sophia is not to make a grander match. Sophia will not do for him; but it is very possible that one of these girls may. And the other—but I will not think about that to-day.—How yellow the glow is upon those woods! What heavenly hues hang about the world we live in! but how strange is the lot of some in it! One would wonder why, when all are so plainly made to feel and act together, there should be any one completely solitary. There must be a reason: I would fain know it; but I can wait till we may know all."
Such were some of Maria Young's natural and unchecked thoughts. There was not much of common holiday spirit in them: but to Maria, liberty and peace were holiday, and her mind was not otherwise than peaceful. She was serious, but not sad. Any one who could at the moment have seen her face, would have pronounced her cheerful at heart; and so she was. She had been so long and so far banished from ordinary happiness, that her own quiet speculations were material enough for cheerfulness. The subject on which she would not think to-day, was the possibility of one of the sisters attaching Mr Enderby. Maria Young had not always been solitary, and lame, and poor. Her father had not been very long dead; and while he lived, no one supposed that his only child would be poor. Her youth passed gaily, and her adversity came suddenly. Her father was wont to drive her out in his gig, almost every summer day. One evening, the horse took fright, and upset the gig on a heap of stones by the road-side. Mr Young was taken up dead, and Maria was lamed for life. She had always known the Enderbys very well; and there had been some gossip among their mutual acquaintance, about the probability that Philip would prove to be Maria's lover, when he should be old enough to think of marrying. It never went further than this,—except in Maria's own heart. She had, indeed, hoped—even supposed—that in Philip's mind the affair had at least been entertained thus far. She could never settle to her own satisfaction whether she had been weak and mistaken, or whether she had really been in any degree wronged. There had been words, there had been looks,—but words and looks are so easily misinterpreted! The probability was that she had no one to blame but herself—if fault there was. Perhaps there was no fault anywhere: but there was misery, intense and long. During her illness, no tidings came of Philip. He was in another part of the country when the accident happened; and it was not till long after it had been made known that Mr Young had died insolvent,—not till after Maria had recovered, as far as recovery was possible,—not till she had fallen into the habit of earning her bread, that Philip reappeared, and shook hands with her, and told her with how much concern he had heard of her sufferings. This interview gave her entire possession of herself:—so she believed. She got through it calmly, and it left her with one subject at least of intense thankfulness,—that her mind was known only to herself. Whatever might be her solitary struggles, she might look without shame into the face of every human being. She could bear being pitied for her poverty, for her lameness, for her change of prospects, when the recollection of this came across any of her acquaintance. If it had been necessary, she could probably have borne to be pitied for having loved without return; but she could not be too thankful that it was not necessary.
Maria was right in her supposition that the village was speculating upon the newly-arrived young ladies. The parish clerk had for some years, indeed ever since the death of the late stationer and dispenser of letters, carried on a flirtation with the widow, notwithstanding the rumours which were current, as to the cause to which her late husband owed his death. It was believed that poor Harry Plumstead died of exhaustion from his wife's voice; for she was no other than the village scold, of whose existence Margaret had been warned by Mr Enderby. Some thought that Owen was acting a politic part in protracting this flirtation,—keeping her temper in check by his hold upon her expectations; and such had little doubt that the affair would linger on to the end, without any other result than Owen's exemption meanwhile from the inflictions of her tongue, to which, in the discharge of his office, he might otherwise become frequently liable. Others wished to see them married, believing that in Owen, a Welshman sufficiently irascible, Mrs Plumstead would at last meet her match. This afternoon, an observer would have thought the affair was proceeding to this point. Mrs Plumstead, looking particularly comely and gracious, was putting up an unclaimed letter at the window for display, when Owen stopped to ask if she had seen the pretty young ladies who had come to Deerbrook. He remarked that, to be sure, they might have gone to some place where they were more wanted, for Deerbrook was not without pretty faces of its own before: and, as he said so, he smiled hard in the widow's face. He should not wonder if some work for the rector should rise up before long, for, where there were pretty faces, weddings might be looked for. He even asked Mrs Plumstead if she did not think so: and added something so ambiguous about his own share in the work for the rector which was to arise, that the widow could not make out whether he spoke as her admirer or as parish clerk. In the milliner's workroom there was a spirited conversation between Miss Nares and her assistant, on the past wedding dresses of Deerbrook, arising out of the topic of the day,—the Miss Ibbotsons. Mrs Howell, who, with her shopwoman, Miss Miskin, dispensed the haberdashery of the place, smiled winningly at every customer who entered her shop, and talked of delightful acquisitions, and what must be felt about Mr Hope, in the midst of such charming society, and what it must be hoped would be felt; and how gay the place was likely to be with riding parties, and boating parties, and some said, dances on the green at Mrs Enderby's; and how partners in a dance have been known to become partners for life, as she had been jocosely told when her poor dear Howell prevailed on her to stand up with him,—the first time for twenty years,—at his niece's wedding. Hester's beauty, and what Mrs Grey had said about it to her maid, were discussed, just at the moment when Hester, passing the shop, was entreated by Sophia to look at a new pattern of embroidery which had lately arrived from London, and was suspended at the window. Mrs Howell and her gossips caught a glimpse of the face of the young lady, through the drapery of prints and muslins, and the festoons of ribbons; and when the party proceeded down the street, there was a rush to the door, in order to obtain a view of her figure. She was pronounced beautiful; and it was hoped that some gentleman in the village would find her irresistible. It was only rather strange that no gentleman was in attendance on her now.
If the gossips could have followed the party with their eyes into the meadow, they would soon have been satisfied; for it was not long before Mr Hope joined them there. On leaving Mr Grey's table, he was as little disposed to go and visit his patient, as medical men are when they are called away from the merriest company, or at the most interesting moment of a conversation. The liability to this kind of interruption is one of the great drawbacks of the profession, to which Mr Hope belonged; another is, the impossibility of travelling,—the being fixed to one place for life, without any but the shortest intervals of journeying. Mr Hope had been settled for five years at Deerbrook; and, during that time, he had scarcely been out of sight of its steeple. His own active and gladsome mind had kept him happy among his occupations. There was no one in the place with whom he could hold equal converse; but, while he had it not, he did not feel the pressing want of it. He loved his profession, and it kept him busy. His kind heart was ever full of interest for his poorer patients. Seeing the best side of everybody, he could be entertained, though sometimes vexed, by his intercourse with the Greys and Rowlands. Then there was the kindly-tempered and gentlemanly rector; and Philip Enderby often came down for a few weeks; and Mr Hope had the chief management of the Book Society, and could thus see the best new books; and his professional rides lay through a remarkably pretty country.