Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell.

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that one glance made her think that the hours which had elapsed since she
saw him had not been serene to him any more than to her.

When he entered the parlor, his face was glad and bright. He went up in a
frank, rejoicing way to Mrs. Browne; who was evidently rather puzzled
how to receive him - whether as Maggie's betrothed, or as the son of the
greatest man of her acquaintance.

"I am sure, sir," said she, "we are all very much obliged to you for the
honor you have done our family!"

He looked rather perplexed as to the nature of the honor which he had
conferred without knowing it; but as the light dawned upon him, he made
answer in a frank, merry way, which was yet full of respect for his future

"And I am sure I am truly grateful for the honor one of your family has
done me."

When Nancy brought in tea she was dressed in her fine-weather Sunday gown;
the first time it had ever been worn out of church, and the walk to and

After tea, Frank asked Maggie if she would walk out with him; and
accordingly they climbed the Fell-Lane and went out upon the moors, which
seemed vast and boundless as their love.

"Have you told your father?" asked Maggie; a dim anxiety lurking in her

"Yes," said Frank. He did not go on; and she feared to ask, although she
longed to know, how Mr. Buxton had received the intelligence.

"What did he say?" at length she inquired.

"Oh! it was evidently a new idea to him that I was attached to you; and he
does not take up a new idea speedily. He has had some notion, it seems,
that Erminia and I were to make a match of it; but she and I agreed, when
we talked it over, that we should never have fallen in love with each other
if there had not been another human being in the world. Erminia is a little
sensible creature, and says she does not wonder at any man falling in love
with you. Nay, Maggie, don't hang your head so down; let me have a glimpse
of your face."

"I am sorry your father does not like it," said Maggie, sorrowfully.

"So am I. But we must give him time to get reconciled. Never fear but he
will like it in the long run; he has too much good taste and good feeling.
He must like you."

Frank did not choose to tell even Maggie how violently his father had set
himself against their engagement. He was surprised and annoyed at first to
find how decidedly his father was possessed with the idea that he was to
marry his cousin, and that she, at any rate, was attached to him, whatever
his feelings might be toward her; but after he had gone frankly to Erminia
and told her all, he found that she was as ignorant of her uncle's plans
for her as he had been; and almost as glad at any event which should
frustrate them.

Indeed she came to the moorland cottage on the following day, after Frank
had returned to Cambridge. She had left her horse in charge of the groom,
near the fir-trees on the heights, and came running down the slope in her
habit. Maggie went out to meet her, with just a little wonder at her heart
if what Frank had said could possibly be true; and that Erminia, living in
the house with him, could have remained indifferent to him. Erminia threw
her arms round her neck, and they sat down together on the court-steps.

"I durst not ride down that hill; and Jem is holding my horse, so I may not
stay very long; now begin, Maggie, at once, and go into a rhapsody about
Frank. Is not he a charming fellow? Oh! I am so glad. Now don't sit smiling
and blushing there to yourself; but tell me a great deal about it. I have
so wanted to know somebody that was in love, that I might hear what it was
like; and the minute I could, I came off here. Frank is only just gone. He
has had another long talk with my uncle, since he came back from you this
morning; but I am afraid he has not made much way yet."

Maggie sighed. "I don't wonder at his not thinking me good enough for

"No! the difficulty would be to find any one he did think fit for his
paragon of a son."

"He thought you were, dearest Erminia."

"So Frank has told you that, has he? I suppose we shall have no more family
secrets now," said Erminia, laughing. "But I can assure you I had a strong
rival in lady Adela Castlemayne, the Duke of Wight's daughter; she was the
most beautiful lady my uncle had ever seen (he only saw her in the Grand
Stand at Woodchester races, and never spoke a word to her in his life). And
if she would have had Frank, my uncle would still have been dissatisfied
as long as the Princess Victoria was unmarried; none would have been good
enough while a better remained. But Maggie," said she, smiling up into her
friend's face, "I think it would have made you laugh, for all you look as
if a kiss would shake the tears out of your eyes, if you could have seen my
uncle's manner to me all day. He will have it that I am suffering from an
unrequited attachment; so he watched me and watched me over breakfast; and
at last, when I had eaten a whole nest-full of eggs, and I don't know how
many pieces of toast, he rang the bell and asked for some potted charr. I
was quite unconscious that it was for me, and I did not want it when
it came; so he sighed in a most melancholy manner, and said, 'My poor
Erminia!' If Frank had not been there, and looking dreadfully miserable, I
am sure I should have laughed out."

"Did Frank look miserable?" said Maggie, anxiously.

"There now! you don't care for anything but the mention of his name."

"But did he look unhappy?" persisted Maggie.

"I can't say he looked happy, dear Mousey; but it was quite different when
he came back from seeing you. You know you always had the art of stilling
any person's trouble. You and my aunt Buxton are the only two I ever knew
with that gift."

"I am so sorry he has any trouble to be stilled," said Maggie.

"And I think it will do him a world of good. Think how successful his life
has been! the honors he got at Eton! his picture taken, and I don't
know what! and at Cambridge just the same way of going on. He would be
insufferably imperious in a few years, if he did not meet with a few

"Imperious! - oh Erminia, how can you say so?"

"Because it's the truth. He happens to have very good dispositions; and
therefore his strong will is not either disagreeable, or offensive; but
once let him become possessed by a wrong wish, and you would then see how
vehement and imperious he would be. Depend upon it, my uncle's resistance
is a capital thing for him. As dear sweet Aunt Buxton would have said,
'There is a holy purpose in it;' and as Aunt Buxton would not have said,
but as I, a 'fool, rush in where angels fear to tread,' I decide that the
purpose is to teach Master Frank patience and submission."

"Erminia - how could you help" - and there Maggie stopped.

"I know what you mean; how could I help falling in love with him? I think
he has not mystery and reserve enough for me. I should like a man with some
deep, impenetrable darkness around him; something one could always keep
wondering about. Besides, think what clashing of wills there would have
been! My uncle was very short-sighted in his plan; but I don't think he
thought so much about the fitness of our characters and ways, as the
fitness of our fortunes!"

"For shame, Erminia! No one cares less for money than Mr. Buxton!"

"There's a good little daughter-in-law elect! But seriously, I do think
he is beginning to care for money; not in the least for himself, but as a
means of aggrandizement for Frank. I have observed, since I came home at
Christmas, a growing anxiety to make the most of his property; a thing he
never cared about before. I don't think he is aware of it himself, but from
one or two little things I have noticed, I should not wonder if he ends in
being avaricious in his old age." Erminia sighed.

Maggie had almost a sympathy with the father, who sought what he imagined
to be for the good of his son, and that son, Frank. Although she was
as convinced as Erminia, that money could not really help any one to
happiness, she could not at the instant resist saying:

"Oh! how I wish I had a fortune! I should so like to give it all to him."

"Now Maggie! don't be silly! I never heard you wish for anything different
from what _was_ before, so I shall take this opportunity of lecturing you
on your folly. No! I won't either, for you look sadly tired with all your
agitation; and besides I must go, or Jem will be wondering what has become
of me. Dearest cousin-in-law, I shall come very often to see you; and
perhaps I shall give you my lecture yet."


It was true of Mr. Buxton, as well as of his son, that he had the seeds of
imperiousness in him. His life had not been such as to call them out into
view. With more wealth than he required; with a gentle wife, who if she
ruled him never showed it, or was conscious of the fact herself; looked up
to by his neighbors, a simple affectionate set of people, whose fathers
had lived near his father and grandfather in the same kindly relation,
receiving benefits cordially given, and requiting them with good will and
respectful attention: such had been the circumstances surrounding him; and
until his son grew out of childhood, there had not seemed a wish which he
had it not in his power to gratify as soon as formed. Again, when Frank was
at school and at college, all went on prosperously; he gained honors enough
to satisfy a far more ambitious father. Indeed, it was the honors he gained
that stimulated his father's ambition. He received letters from tutors,
and headmasters, prophesying that, if Frank chose, he might rise to the
"highest honors in church or state;" and the idea thus suggested, vague as
it was, remained, and filled Mr. Buxton's mind; and, for the first time in
his life, made him wish that his own career had been such as would have led
him to form connections among the great and powerful. But, as it was, his
shyness and _gêne_, from being unaccustomed to society, had made him
averse to Frank's occasional requests that he might bring such and such a
school-fellow, or college-chum, home on a visit. Now he regretted this, on
account of the want of those connections which might thus have been formed;
and, in his visions, he turned to marriage as the best way of remedying
this. Erminia was right in saying that her uncle had thought of Lady Adela
Castlemayne for an instant; though how the little witch had found it out I
cannot say, as the idea had been dismissed immediately from his mind.

He was wise enough to see its utter vanity, as long as his son remained
undistinguished. But his hope was this. If Frank married Erminia, their
united property (she being her father's heiress) would justify him in
standing for the shire; or if he could marry the daughter of some leading
personage in the county, it might lead to the same step; and thus at once
he would obtain a position in parliament, where his great talents would
have scope and verge enough. Of these two visions, the favorite one (for
his sister's sake) was that of marriage with Erminia.

And, in the midst of all this, fell, like a bombshell, the intelligence of
his engagement with Maggie Browne; a good sweet little girl enough, but
without fortune or connection - without, as far as Mr. Buxton knew, the
least power, or capability, or spirit, with which to help Frank on in his
career to eminence in the land! He resolved to consider if as a boyish
fancy, easily to be suppressed; and pooh-poohed it down, to Frank,
accordingly. He remarked his son's set lips, and quiet determined brow,
although he never spoke in a more respectful tone, than while thus steadily
opposing his father. If he had shown more violence of manner, he would have
irritated him less; but, as it was, if was the most miserable interview
that had ever taken place between the father and son.

Mr. Buxton tried to calm himself down with believing that Frank would
change his mind, if he saw more of the world; but, somehow, he had a
prophesying distrust of this idea internally. The worst was, there was
no fault to be found with Maggie herself, although she might want the
accomplishments he desired to see in his son's wife. Her connections, too,
were so perfectly respectable (though humble enough in comparison with Mr.
Buxton's soaring wishes), that there was nothing to be objected to on that
score; her position was the great offence. In proportion to his want of any
reason but this one, for disapproving of the engagement, was his annoyance
under it. He assumed a reserve toward Frank; which was so unusual a
restraint upon his open, genial disposition, that it seemed to make him
irritable toward all others in contact with him, excepting Erminia. He
found it difficult to behave rightly to Maggie. Like all habitually cordial
persons, he went into the opposite extreme, when he wanted to show a little
coolness. However angry he might be with the events of which she was the
cause, she was too innocent and meek to justify him in being more than
cool; but his awkwardness was so great, that many a man of the world has
met his greatest enemy, each knowing the other's hatred, with less freezing
distance of manner than Mr. Buxton's to Maggie. While she went simply on in
her own path, loving him the more through all, for old kindness' sake, and
because he was Frank's father, he shunned meeting her with such evident and
painful anxiety, that at last she tried to spare him the encounter, and
hurried out of church, or lingered behind all, in order to avoid the only
chance they now had of being forced to speak; for she no longer went to the
dear house in Combehurst, though Erminia came to see her more than ever.

Mrs. Browne was perplexed and annoyed beyond measure. She upbraided Mr.
Buxton to every one but Maggie. To her she said - "Any one in their senses
might have foreseen what had happened, and would have thought well about
it, before they went and fell in love with a young man of such expectations
as Mr. Frank Buxton."

In the middle of all this dismay, Edward came over from Woodchester for a
day or two. He had been told of the engagement, in a letter from Maggie
herself; but if was too sacred a subject for her to enlarge upon to him;
and Mrs. Browne was no letter writer. So this was his first greeting to
Maggie; after kissing her:

"Well, Sancho, you've done famously for yourself. As soon as I got your
letter I said to Harry Bish - 'Still waters run deep; here's my little
sister Maggie, as quiet a creature as ever lived, has managed to catch
young Buxton, who has five thousand a-year if he's a penny.' Don't go so
red, Maggie. Harry was sure to hear of if soon from some one, and I see no
use in keeping it secret, for it gives consequence to us all."

"Mr. Buxton is quite put out about it," said Mrs. Brown, querulously; "and
I'm sure he need not be, for he's enough of money, if that's what he wants;
and Maggie's father was a clergyman, and I've seen 'yeoman,' with my own
eyes, on old Mr. Buxton's (Mr. Lawrence's father's) carts; and a clergyman
is above a yeoman any day. But if Maggie had had any thought for other
people, she'd never have gone and engaged herself, when she might have been
sure it would give offence. We are never asked down to dinner now. I've
never broken bread there since last Christmas."

"Whew!" said Edward to this. It was a disappointed whistle; but he soon
cheered up. "I thought I could have lent a hand in screwing old Buxton up
about the settlements; but I see it's not come to that yet. Still I'll go
and see the old gentleman. I'm a bit of a favorite of his, and I doubt I
can turn him round."

"Pray, Edward, don't go," said Maggie. "Frank and I are content to wait;
and I'm sure we would rather not have any one speak to Mr. Buxton, upon a
subject which evidently gives him so much pain; please, Edward, don't!"

"Well, well. Only I must go about this property of his. Besides, I don't
mean to get into disgrace; so I shan't seem to know anything about it,
if it would make him angry. I want to keep on good terms, because of the
agency. So, perhaps, I shall shake my head, and think it great presumption
in you, Maggie, to have thought of becoming his daughter-in-law. If I can
do you no good, I may as well do myself some."

"I hope you won't mention me at all," she replied.

One comfort (and almost the only one arising from Edward's visit) was, that
she could now often be spared to go up to the thorn-tree, and calm down her
anxiety, and bring all discords into peace, under the sweet influences of
nature. Mrs. Buxton had tried to teach her the force of the lovely truth,
that the "melodies of the everlasting chime" may abide in the hearts of
those who ply their daily task in towns, and crowded populous places; and
that solitude is not needed by the faithful for them to feel the immediate
presence of God; nor utter stillness of human sound necessary, before they
can hear the music of His angels' footsteps; but, as yet, her soul was a
young disciple; and she felt it easier to speak to Him, and come to Him for
help, sitting lonely, with wild moors swelling and darkening around her,
and not a creature in sight but the white specks of distant sheep, and the
birds that shun the haunts of men, floating in the still mid-air.

She sometimes longed to go to Mr. Buxton and tell him how much she could
sympathize with him, if his dislike to her engagement arose from thinking
her unworthy of his son. Frank's character seemed to her grand in its
promise. With vehement impulses and natural gifts, craving worthy
employment, his will sat supreme over all, like a young emperor calmly
seated on his throne, whose fiery generals and wise counsellors stand alike
ready to obey him. But if marriage were to be made by due measurement and
balance of character, and if others, with their scales, were to be the
judges, what would become of all the beautiful services rendered by the
loyalty of true love? Where would be the raising up of the weak by the
strong? or the patient endurance? or the gracious trust of her:

"Whose faith is fixt and cannot move;
She darkly feels him great and wise,
She dwells on him with faithful eyes,
'I cannot understand: I love.'"

Edward's manners and conduct caused her more real anxiety than anything
else. Indeed, no other thoughtfulness could be called anxiety compared to
this. His faults, she could not but perceive, were strengthening with his
strength, and growing with his growth. She could not help wondering whence
he obtained the money to pay for his dress, which she thought was of a
very expensive kind. She heard him also incidentally allude to "runs up
to town," of which, at the time, neither she nor her mother had been made
aware. He seemed confused when she questioned him about these, although he
tried to laugh it off; and asked her how she, a country girl, cooped up
among one set of people, could have any idea of the life it was necessary
for a man to lead who "had any hope of getting on in the world." He must
have acquaintances and connections, and see something of life, and make an
appearance. She was silenced, but not satisfied. Nor was she at ease with
regard to his health. He looked ill, and worn; and, when he was not
rattling and laughing, his face fell into a shape of anxiety and
uneasiness, which was new to her in it. He reminded her painfully of an
old German engraving she had seen in Mrs. Buxton's portfolio, called,
"Pleasure digging a Grave;" Pleasure being represented by a ghastly figure
of a young man, eagerly industrious over his dismal work.

A few days after he went away, Nancy came to her in her bed-room.

"Miss Maggie," said she, "may I just speak a word?" But when the permission
was given, she hesitated.

"It's none of my business, to be sure," said she at last: "only, you see,
I've lived with your mother ever since she was married; and I care a deal
for both you and Master Edward. And I think he drains Missus of her money;
and it makes me not easy in my mind. You did not know of it, but he had his
father's old watch when he was over last time but one; I thought he was of
an age to have a watch, and that it was all natural. But, I reckon he's
sold it, and got that gimcrack one instead. That's perhaps natural too.
Young folks like young fashions. But, this time, I think he has taken away
your mother's watch; at least, I've never seen it since he went. And this
morning she spoke to me about my wages. I'm sure I've never asked for them,
nor troubled her; but I'll own it's now near on to twelve months since she
paid me; and she was as regular as clock-work till then. Now, Miss Maggie
don't look so sorry, or I shall wish I had never spoken. Poor Missus seemed
sadly put about, and said something as I did not try to hear; for I was so
vexed she should think I needed apologies, and them sort of things. I'd
rather live with you without wages than have her look so shame-faced as she
did this morning. I don't want a bit for money, my dear; I've a deal in the
Bank. But I'm afeard Master Edward is spending too much, and pinching

Maggie was very sorry indeed. Her mother had never told her anything of all
this, so it was evidently a painful subject to her; and Maggie determined
(after lying awake half the night) that she would write to Edward, and
remonstrate with him; and that in every personal and household expense, she
would be, more than ever, rigidly economical.

The full, free, natural intercourse between her lover and herself, could
not fail to be checked by Mr. Buxton's aversion to the engagement. Frank
came over for some time in the early autumn. He had left Cambridge, and
intended to enter himself at the Temple as soon as the vacation was ended.
He had not been very long at home before Maggie was made aware, partly
through Erminia, who had no notion of discreet silence on any point, and
partly by her own observation, of the increasing estrangement between
father and son. Mr. Buxton was reserved with Frank for the first time in
his life; and Frank was depressed and annoyed at his father's obstinate
repetition of the same sentence, in answer to all his arguments in favor of
his engagement - arguments which were overwhelming to himself and which it
required an effort of patience on his part to go over and recapitulate, so
obvious was the conclusion; and then to have the same answer forever, the
same words even:

"Frank! it's no use talking. I don't approve of the engagement; and never

He would snatch up his hat, and hurry off to Maggie to be soothed. His
father knew where he was gone without being told; and was jealous of her
influence over the son who had long been his first and paramount object in

He needed not have been jealous. However angry and indignant Frank was when
he went up to the moorland cottage, Maggie almost persuaded him, before
half an hour had elapsed, that his father was but unreasonable from his
extreme affection. Still she saw that such frequent differences would
weaken the bond between father and son; and, accordingly, she urged Frank
to accept an invitation into Scotland.

"You told me," said she, "that Mr. Buxton will have it, it is but a boy's
attachment; and that when you have seen other people, you will change your
mind; now do try how far you can stand the effects of absence." She said it
playfully, but he was in a humor to be vexed.

"What nonsense, Maggie! You don't care for all this delay yourself; and you
take up my father's bad reasons as if you believed them."

"I don't believe them; but still they may be true."

"How should you like it, Maggie, if I urged you to go about and see
something of society, and try if you could not find some one you liked
better? It is more probable in your case than in mine; for you have never
been from home, and I have been half over Europe."

"You are very much afraid, are not you, Frank?" said she, her face bright
with blushes, and her gray eyes smiling up at him. "I have a great idea
that if I could see that Harry Bish that Edward is always talking about, I
should be charmed. He must wear such beautiful waistcoats! Don't you think
I had better see him before our engagement is quite, quite final?"

But Frank would not smile. In fact, like all angry persons, he found fresh
matter for offence in every sentence. She did not consider the engagement
as quite final: thus he chose to understand her playful speech. He would
not answer. She spoke again:

"Dear Frank, you are not angry with me, are you? It is nonsense to think
that we are to go about the world, picking and choosing men and women as

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Online LibraryElizabeth Cleghorn GaskellThe Moorland Cottage → online text (page 5 of 10)