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" What wings are these ? Let us see them ! "

''They represent far finer ones, which are not yet un-

And thus significantly did she answer all their other
childlike, innocent inquiries. The little party having satis-
fied their curiosity, and the impression of the show begin-
ning to abate, we were for proceeding to undress the little
angel. This, however, she resisted : she took her cithern ;
she seated herself here, on this high writing-table, and sang
a little song with touching grace :

Such let me seem, till such I be ;

Take not my snow-white dress away ;
Soon from this dusk of earth I flee

Up to the glittering lands of day.

There first a little space I rest,
Then wake so glad, to scene so kind ;

In earthly robes no longer drest,
This band, this girdle left behind.

And those calm shining sons of morn,

They ask not who is maid or boy ;
No robes, no garments there are worn,

Our body pure from sin's alloy.

Through little life not much I toiled,
Yet anguish long this heart has wrung,

Untimely woe my blossom spoiled ;
Make me again forever young !



HAVE I told you anything about my friends at Cran*
ford since the year 1856? I think not.

You remember the Gordons, don't you ? She that was
Jessie Brown, who married her old love, Major Gordon :
and from being poor became quite a rich lady : but for all
that never forgot any of her old friends in Cranford.

Well ! the Gordons were travelling abroad, for they were
very fond of travelling ; people who have had to spend part
of their lives in a regiment always are, I think. They were
now at Paris, in May, 1856, and were going to stop there,
and in the neighborhood all summer, but Mr. Ludovic was
coming to England soon ; so Mrs. Gordon wrote me word.
I was glad she told me, for just then I was waiting to make
a little present to Miss Pole, with whom I was staying ; so
I wrote to Mrs. Gordon, and asked her to choose me out
something pretty and new and fashionable, that would be
acceptable to Miss Pole. Miss Pole had just been talking
a great deal about Mrs. Fitz Adam's caps being so unfash-
ionable, which I suppose made me put in that word fashion-
able ; but afterwards I wished I had sent to say my present
was not to be too fashionable ; for there is such a thing, I
can assure you ! The price of my present was not to be
more than twenty shillings, but that is a very handsome sum
if you put it in that way, though it may not sound no much
if you only call it a sovereign.


Mrs. Gordon wrote back to me, pleased, as she always
was, with doing anything for her old friends. She told nie
she had been out for a day's shopping before going into the
country, and had got a cage for herself of the newest and
most elegant description, and had thought that she could not
do better than get another like it as my present for Miss
Pole, as cages were so much better made in Paris than any-
where else. I was rather dismayed when I read this letter,
for however pretty a cage might be, it was something for
Miss Pole's own self, and not for her parrot, that I had in-
tended to get. Here had I been finding ever so many rea-
sons against her buying a new cap at Johnson's fashion-show,
because I thought that the present which Mrs. Gordon was
to choose for me in Paris might turn out to be an elegant
and fashionable head-dress ; a kind of cross between a tur-
ban and a cap, as I see those from Paris mostly are ; and
now I had to veer round, and advise her to go as fast as she
could, and secure Mr. Johnson's cap before any other pur-
chaser snatched it up. But Miss Pole was too sharp for me.

" Why, Mary," said she, " it was only yesterday you were
running down that cap like anything. You said, you know,
that lilac was too old a color for me ; and green too young ;
and that the mixture was very unbecoming."

" Yes, I know," said I ; " but I have thought better of it.
I thought about it a great deal last night, and I think I
thought they would neutralize each other; and the shad-
ows of any color are, you know something I know com-
plementary colors." I was not sure of my own meaning,
but I had an idea in my head, though I could not express it.
She took me up shortly.

" Child, you don't know what you are saying. And be-
sides, I don't want compliments at my time of life. I lay
awake, too, thinking of the cap. I only buy one ready-made
once a year, and of course it 's a matter for consideration ,
and I came to the conclusion that you were quite right."


"O dear Miss Pole! I was quite wrong; if you only
knew I did think it a very pretty cap only "

" Well ! do just finish what you 've got to say. You 're
almost as bad as Miss Matty in your way of talking, without
being half as good as she is in other ways ; though I 'ni very
fond of you, Mary, I don't mean I am not ; but you mus'. see
you 're very off and on, and very muddle-headed. It 's the
truth, so you will not mind my saying so."

It was just because it did seem like the truth at that time
that I did mind her saying so ; and, in despair, I thought I
would tell her all.

" I did not mean what I said ; I don't think lilac too old
or green too young : and I think the mixture very becoming
to you ; and I think you will never get such a pretty cap
again, at least in Cranford." It was fully out, so far, at

" Then, Mary Smith, will you tell me what you did mean,
by speaking as you did, and convincing me against my will,
and giving me a bad night ? "

" I meant O Miss Pole, I meant to surprise you with
a present from Paris ; and I thought it would be a cap.
Mrs. Gordon was to choose it, and Mr. Ludovic to bring it.
I dare say it is in England now ; only it's not a cap. And
I did not want you to buy Johnson's cap, when I thought I
was getting another for you."

Miss Pole found this speech " muddle-headed," I have no
doubt, though she did not say so, only making an odd noise
of perplexity. I went on : "I wrote to Mrs. Gordon, and
asked her to get you a present something new and pretty.
I meant it to be a dress, but I suppose I did not say so ; I
thought it would be a cap, for Paris is so famous for caps,
and it is "

" You 're a good girl, Mary," (I was past thirty, but did
not object to being called a girl ; and, indeed, I generally
felt like a girl at Cranford, where everybody was so much


older than I was,) " but when you want a thing, say what
you want ; it is the best way in general. And now I sup-
pose Mrs. Gordon has bought something quite different ?
a pair of shoes, I dare say, for people talk a deal of Paris
shoes. Anyhow, I 'm just as much obliged to you, Mary,
my dear. Only you should not go and spend your money
on me."

" It was not much money ; and it was not a pair of shoes.
You '11 let me go and get the cap, won't you ? It was so
pretty somebody will be sure to snatch it up."

" I don't like getting a cap that 's sure to be unbecoming."

" But it is not ; it was not. I never saw you look so well
in anything," said I.

" Mary, Mary, remember who is the father of lies ! "

" But he 's not my father," exclaimed I, in a hurry, for I
saw Mrs. Fitz Adam go down the street in the direction of
Johnson's shop. " I '11 eat my words ; they were all false :
only just let me run down and buy you that cap that
pretty cap."

" Well ! run off, child. I liked it myself till you put me
out of taste with it."

I brought it back in triumph from under Mrs. FitzAdam's
very nose, as she was hanging in meditation over it ; and
the more we saw of it, the more we felt pleased with our
purchase. We turned it on this side, and we turned it on
that ; and though we hurried it away into Miss Pole's bed-
room at the sound of a double knock at the door, when we
found it was only Miss Matty and Mr. Peter, Miss Pole
could not resist the opportunity of displaying it, and said in
a solemn way to Miss Matty : " Can I speak to you for a
few minutes in private ? " And I knew feminine delicacy
too well to explain what this grave prelude was to lead to ;
aware how immediately Miss Matty's anxious tremor would
be allayed by the sight of the cap. I had to go on talk-
ing to Mr. Peter, however, when I would far rather have


been in the bedroom, and heard the observations and com-

We talked of the new cap all day ; what gowns it would
suit ; whether a certain bow was not rather too coquettish
for a woman of Miss Pole's age. " No longer young," as
she called herself, after a little struggle with the words,
though at sixty-five she need not have blushed as if she
were telling a falsehood. But at last the cap was put away,
and with a wrench we turned our thoughts from the subject
We had been silent for a little while, each at our work with
a candle between us, when Miss Pole began :

" It was very kind of you, Mary, to think of giving me a
present from Paris."

" Oh, I was only too glad to be able to get you some-
thing! I hope you will like it, though it is not what I

" I am sure I shall like it. And a surprise is always so

" Yes ; but I think Mrs. Gordon has made a very odd

" I wonder what it is. I don't like to ask, but there 's a
great deal in anticipation ; I remember hearing dear Miss
Jenkyns say that ' anticipation was the soul of enjoyment/
or something like that. Now there is no anticipation in a
surprise ; that 's the worst of it."

" Shall I tell you what it is ? "

" Just as you like, my dear. If it is any pleasure to you,
I am quite willing to hear."

"Perhaps I had better not. It is something quite dif-
ferent to what I expected, and meant to have got ; and I 'm
not sure if I like it as well."

" Relieve your mind, if you like, Mary. In all dis-
appointments sympathy is a great balm."

" Well, then, it 's something not for you; it's for Polly.
It 's a cage. Mrs. Gordon says they make such pretty ones
in Paris."


I could see that Miss Pole's first emotion was disappoint-
ment. But she was very fond of her cockatoo, and the
thought of his smartness in his new habitation made her bo
reconciled in a moment ; besides that she was really grate-
ful to me for having planned a present for her.

" Polly ! Well, yes ; his old cage is very shabby ; he is
so continually pecking at it with his sharp bill. I dare say
Mrs. Gordon noticed it when she called here last October.
I shall always think of you, Mary, when I see him in it.
Now we can have him in the drawing-room, for I dare say
a French cage will be quite an ornament to the room."

And so she talked on, till we worked ourselves up into
high delight at the idea of Polly in his new abode, present-
able in it even to the Honorable Mrs. Jamieson. The next
morning Miss Pole said she had been dreaming of Polly
with her new cap on his head, while she herself sat on a
perch in the new cage and admired him. Then, as if
ashamed of having revealed the fact of imagining "such
arrant nonsense " in her sleep, she passed on rapidly to the
philosophy of dreams, quoting some book she had lately
been reading, which was either too deep in itself, or too
confused in her repetition for me to understand it. After
breakfast, we had the cap out again ; and that in its differ-
ent aspects occupied us for an hour or so ; and then, as it
was a fine day, we turned into the garden, where Polly was
hung on a nail outside the kitchen window. He clamored
and screamed at the sight of his mistress, who went to look
for an almond for him. I examined his cage meanwhile,
old discolored wicker-work, clumsily made by a Cranford
basket-maker. I took out Mrs. Gordon's letter ; it was
dated the loth, and this was the 20th, for I had kept it
secret for two days in my pocket. Mr. Ludovic was on
the point of setting out for England when she wrote.

" Poor Polly ! " said I, as Miss Pole, returning, fed him
with the almond.


" All ! Polly .does not know what a pretty cage he la
going to have," said she, talking to him as she would have
done to a child ; and then turning to me, she asked when I
thought it would come ? "We reckoned up dates, and made
out that it might arrive that very day. So she called to her
little stupid servant-maiden Fanny, and bade her go out and
buy a great brass-headed nail, very strong, strong enough to
bear PcUy and the new cage, and we all three weighed the
cage in our hands, and on her return she was to come up
into the drawing-room with the nail and a hammer.

Fanny was a long time, as she always was, over her er-
rands ; but as soon as she came back, we knocked the nail,
with solemn earnestness, into the house- wall, just outside the
drawing-room window ; for, as Miss Pole observed, when I
was not there she had no one to talk to, and as in summer-
iime she generally sat with the window open, she could com-
bine two purposes, the giving air and sun to Polly-Cock-
atoo, and the having his agreeable companionship in her
solitary hours.

" When it rains, my dear, or even in a very hot sun, I
shall take the cage in. I would not have your pretty pres-
ent spoilt for the world. It was very kind of you to think
of it ; I am quite come round to liking it better than any
present of mere dress ; and dear Mrs. Gordon has shown
all her usual pretty observation in remembering my Polly-

" Polly-Cockatoo " was his grand name ; I had only once
or twice heard him spoken of by Miss Pole in this formal
manner, except when she was speaking to the seivants;
then she always gave him his full designation, just as most
people call their daughters Miss, in speaking of them to
strangers or servants. But since Polly was to have a new
cage, and all the way from Paris too, Miss Pole evidently
thought it necessary to treat him with unusual respect.

We were obliged to go out to pay some calls ; but we left


strict orders with Fanny what to do if the cage arrived in
our absence, as (we had calculated) it might. Miss Pole
stood ready bonneted and shawled at the kitchen door, I
behind her, and cook behind Fanny, each of us listening to
the conversation of the other two.

" And Fanny, mind if it comes you coax Polly- Cockatoo
nicely into it. He is very particular, and may be attached
(o his old cage, though it is so shabby. Remember, birds
have their feelings as much as we have ! Don't hurry him
in making up his mind."

"Please, ma'am, I think an almond would help him to
get over his feelings," said Fanny, dropping a curtsey at
evejy speech, as she had been taught to do at her charity

" A very good idea, very. If I have my keys in my
pocket I will give you an almond for him. I think he is
sure to like the view up the street from the window; he
likes seeing people, I think."

" It 's but a dull look-out into the garden ; nowt but
dumb flowers," said cook, touched by this allusion to the
cheerfulness of the street, as contrasted with the view from
her own kitchen window.

" It 's a very good look-out for busy people," said Miss
Pole, severely. And then, feeling she was likely to get
the worst of it in an encounter with her old servant, she
withdrew with meek dignity, being deaf to some sharp re-
ply ; and of course I, being bound to keep order, was deaf
too. If the truth must be told, we rather hastened oui
steps, until we had banged the street door behind us.

We called on Miss Matty, of course ; and then on Mrs.
Hoggins. It seemed as if ill-luck would have it that we
went to the only two households of Cranford where there
was the encumbrance of a man, and in both places the man
was where he ought not to have been namely, in his own
house, and in the way. Miss Pole out of civility to me,


and because she really was full of the new cage for Polly
and because we all in Cranford relied on the sympathy of
our neighbors in the veriest trifle that interested us told
Miss Matty, and Mr. Peter, and Mr. and Mrs. Hoggins ; he
was standing in the drawing-room, booted and spurred, and
eating his hunk of bread and cheese in the very presence
of his aristocratic wife, my lady that was. As Miss Pole
said afterwards, if refinement was not to be found in Cran-
ford, blessed as it was with so many scions of county
families, she did not know where to meet with it. Bread
and cheese in a drawing-room ! Onions next.

But for all Mr. Hoggins's vulgarity, Miss Pole told him
of the present she was about to receive.

" Only think ! a new cage for Polly Polly Polly-
Cockatoo, you know, Mr. Hoggins. You remember him,
and the bite he gave me once because he wanted to be put
back in his cage, pretty bird ? "

" I only hope the new cage will be strong as well as

pretty, for I must say a " He caught a look from his

wife, I think, for he stopped short. "Well, we're old
friends, Polly and I, and he put some practice in my way
once. I shall be up the street this afternoon, and perhaps
I shall step in and see this smart Parisian cage."

" Do ! " said Miss Pole, eagerly. " Or, if you are in a
hurry, look up at my drawing-room window; if the cage
is come, it will be hanging out there, and Polly in it."

We had passed the omnibus that met the train from
London some time ago, so we were not surprised as we re-
turned home to see Fanny half out of the window, and
cook evidently either helping or hindering her. Then they
both took their heads in ; but there was no cage hanging
up. We hastened up the steps.

Both Fanny and the cook met us in the passage.

" Please, ma'am," said Fanny, " there 's no bottom to the
cage, and Polly would fly away."


" A nd there 's no top," exclaimed cook. " He might get
out at the top quite easy."

' Let me see," said Miss Pole, brushing past, thinking
no doubt that her superior intelligence was all that was
needed to set things to rights. On the ground lay a bun^
die, or a circle of hoops, neatly covered over with calico, no
more like a cage for Polly-Cockatoo than I am like a cage.
Cook took something up between her finger and thumb, and
lifted the unsightly present from Paris. How I wish it had
stayed there ! but foolish ambition has brought people to
ruin before now; and my twenty shillings are gone, sure
enough, and there must be some use or some ornament in-
tended by the maker of the thing before us.

"Don't you think it's a mousetrap, ma'am?" asked
Fanny, dropping her little curtsey.

For reply, the cook lifted up the machine, and showed
how easily mice might run out ,' and Fanny shrank back
abashed. Cook was evidently set against the new inven-
tion, and muttered about its being all of a piece with
French things French cooks, French plums, (nasty dried-
up things,) French rolls (as had no substance in 'em.)

Miss Pole's good manners, and desire of making the best
of things in my presence, induced her to try and drown
cook's mutterings.

" Indeed, I think it will make a very nice cage for Polly-
Cockatoo. How pleased he will be to go from one hoop to
another, just like a ladder, and with a board or two at the
bottom, and nicely tied up at the top "

Fanny was struck with a new idea.

" Please, ma'am, my sister-in-law has got an aunt as lives
lady's-maid with Sir John's daughter Miss Arley. And
they did say as she wore iron petticoats all made of
hoops "

" Nonsense, Fanny ! " we all cried ; for such a thing had
not been heard of in all Drumble, let alone Cranford, and I
7 j


was rather looked upon in the light of a fast young woman
by all the laundresses of Cranford, because I had two corded

" Go mind thy business, wench," said cook, with the ut-
most contempt ; " I '11 warrant we '11 manage th' cage without
thy help."

" It is near dinner-time, Fanny, and the cloth not laid,"
said Miss Pole, hoping the remark might cut two ways ;
but cook had no notion of going. She stood on the bottom
step of the stairs, holding the Paris perplexity aloft in the

" It might do for a meat-safe," said she. " Cover it o'er
wi' canvas, to keep th' flies out. It is a good framework, I
reckon, anyhow ! " She held her head on one side, like a
connoisseur in meat-safes, as she was.

Miss Pole said, " Are you sure Mrs. Gordon called it a
cage, Mary? Because she is a woman of her word, and
would not have called it so if it was not."

" Look here ; I have the letter in my pocket."

" ' I have wondered how I could best fulfil your commis-
sion for me to purchase something to the value of um,
um, never mind 'fashionable and pretty for dear Miss
Pole, and at length I have decided upon one of the new
kind of " cages " ' (look here, Miss Pole ; here is the word,
CAGE),' which are made so much lighter and more ele-
gant in Paris than in England. Indeed, I am not sure if
they have ever reached you, for it is not a month since I
saw the first of the kind in Paris.' "

"Does she say anything about Polly-Cockatoo?" asked
Miss Pole. " That would settle the matter at once, as
showing that she had him in her mind."

" No nothing."

Just then Fanny came along the passage with the tray
full of dinner things in her hands. When she had put
them down, she stood at the door of the dining-room taking


a distant view of the article. " Please, ma'am, it looks like
a petticoat without any stuff in it ; indeed it does, if I 'm to
be whipped for saying it."

But she only drew down upon herself a fresh objurgation
from the cook ; and sorry and annoyed, I seized the oppor-
tunity of taking the thing out of cook's hand, and carrying
it up stairs, for it was full time to get ready for dinner. But
we had very little appetite for our meal, and kept constantly
making suggestions, one to the other, as to the nature and
purpose of this Paris " cage," but as constantly snubbing
poor little Fanny's reiteration of " Please, ma'am, I do be-
lieve it's a kind of petticoat indeed I do." At length
Miss Pole turned upon her with almost as much vehemence
as cook had done, only in choicer language.

* Don't be so silly, Fanny. Do you think ladies are like
children, and must be put in go-carts ; or need wire-guards
like fires to surround them ; or can get warmth out of bits of
whalebone and steel; a likely thing indeed! Don't keep
talking about what you don't understand."

So our maiden was mute for the rest of the meal. After
dinner we had Polly brought up stairs in her old cage, and I
held out the new one, and we turned it about in every way.
At length Miss Pole said :

" Put Polly- Cockatoo back, and shut him up in his cage.
You hold this French thing up," (alas ! that my present
should be called a " thing,") " and I '11 sew a bottom on to
it. I'll lay a good deal, they've forgotten to sew in the
bottom before sending it off." So I held and she sewed ;
and then she held, and 1 sewed, till it was all done. Just
as we had put Polly- Cockatoo in, and were closing up the
top with a pretty piece of old yellow ribbon and, indeed,
it was not a bad-looking cage after all our trouble Mr.
Hoggins came up stairs, having been seen by Fanny before
he had time to knock at the door.

u Hallo ! " :*aid he, almost tumbling over us, as we were
sitting on the floor at our work. "What 's this ? "


" It 's this pretty present for Polly- Cockatoo," said MLsa
Pole, raising herself up with as much dignity as she could,
" that Mary has had sent from Paris for me." Miss Pole
was in great spirits now we had got Polly in ; I can 't say
that I was.

Mr. Hoggins began to laugh in his boisterous vulgar way.

" For Polly ha ! ha ! It 's meant for you, Miss Pole
ha ! ha ! It 's a new invention to hold your gowns out
ha! ha!"

" Mr. Hoggins ! you may be a surgeon, and a very clever
one, but nothing not even your profession gives you a
right to be indecent."

Miss Pole was thoroughly roused, and I trembled in my
shoes. But Mr. Hoggins only laughed the more. Polly
screamed in concert, but Miss Pole stood in stiff rigid pro-
priety, very red in the face.

" I beg your pardon, Miss Pole, I am sure. But I am
pretty certain I am right. It's no indecency that I can
see ; my wife and Mrs. Fitz Adam take in a Paris fashion-
book between 'em, and I can't help seeing the plates of
fashions sometimes ha! ha! ha! Look, Polly has got
out of his queer prison ha ! ha ! ha ! "

Just then Mr. Peter came in ; Miss Matty was so curious
to know if the expected present had arrived. Mr. Hoggins
took him by the arm, and pointed to the poor thing lying
on the ground, but could not explain for laughing. Miss

Online Libraryi00bostFavorite authors in prose and poetry → online text (page 53 of 66)