THE next visit I paid to Nancy
Brown was in the second week
in March: for, though I had many
spare minutes during the day,
I seldom could look upon an hour
as entirely my own; since, where
everything was left to the caprices
of Miss Matilda and her sister,
there could be no order or regularity.
Whatever occupation I chose,
when not actually busied about
them or their concerns, I had,
as it were, to keep my loins
girded, my shoes on my feet,
and my staff in my hand; for
not to be immediately forthcoming
when called for, was regarded
as a grave and inexcusable offence:
not only by my pupils and their
mother, but by the very servant,
who came in breathless haste
to call me, exclaiming, 'You're
to go to the schoolroom DIRECTLY,
mum, the young ladies is WAITING!!'
Climax of horror! actually waiting
for their governess!!!
But this time I was pretty
sure of an hour or two to myself;
for Matilda was preparing for
a long ride, and Rosalie was
dressing for a dinner-party at
Lady Ashby's: so I took the opportunity
of repairing to the widow's cottage,
where I found her in some anxiety
about her cat, which had been
absent all day. I comforted her
with as many anecdotes of that
animal's roving propensities
as I could recollect. 'I'm feared
o' th' gamekeepers,' said she:
'that's all 'at I think on. If
th' young gentlemen had been
at home, I should a' thought
they'd been setting their dogs
at her, an' worried her, poor
thing, as they did MANY a poor
thing's cat; but I haven't that
to be feared on now.' Nancy's
eyes were better, but still far
from well: she had been trying
to make a Sunday shirt for her
son, but told me she could only
bear to do a little bit at it
now and then, so that it progressed
but slowly, though the poor lad
wanted it sadly. So I proposed
to help her a little, after I
had read to her, for I had plenty
of time that evening, and need
not return till dusk. She thankfully
accepted the offer. 'An' you'll
be a bit o' company for me too,
Miss,' said she; 'I like as I
feel lonesome without my cat.'
But when I had finished reading,
and done the half of a seam,
with Nancy's capacious brass
thimble fitted on to my finger
by means of a roll of paper,
I was disturbed by the entrance
of Mr. Weston, with the identical
cat in his arms. I now saw that
he could smile, and very pleasantly
'I've done you a piece of good
service, Nancy,' he began: then
seeing me, he acknowledged my
presence by a slight bow. I should
have been invisible to Hatfield,
or any other gentleman of those
parts. 'I've delivered your cat,'
he continued, 'from the hands,
or rather the gun, of Mr. Murray's
'God bless you, sir!' cried
the grateful old woman, ready
to weep for joy as she received
her favourite from his arms.
'Take care of it,' said he,
'and don't let it go near the
rabbit- warren, for the gamekeeper
swears he'll shoot it if he sees
it there again: he would have
done so to-day, if I had not
been in time to stop him. I believe
it is raining, Miss Grey,' added
he, more quietly, observing that
I had put aside my work, and
was preparing to depart. 'Don't
let me disturb you - I shan't
stay two minutes.'
'You'll BOTH stay while this
shower gets owered,' said Nancy,
as she stirred the fire, and
placed another chair beside it;
'what! there's room for all.'
'I can see better here, thank
you, Nancy,' replied I, taking
my work to the window, where
she had the goodness to suffer
me to remain unmolested, while
she got a brush to remove the
cat's hairs from Mr. Weston's
coat, carefully wiped the rain
from his hat, and gave the cat
its supper, busily talking all
the time: now thanking her clerical
friend for what he had done;
now wondering how the cat had
found out the warren; and now
lamenting the probable consequences
of such a discovery. He listened
with a quiet, good- natured smile,
and at length took a seat in
compliance with her pressing
invitations, but repeated that
he did not mean to stay.
'I have another place to go
to,' said he, 'and I see' (glancing
at the book on the table) 'someone
else has been reading to you.'
'Yes, sir; Miss Grey has been
as kind as read me a chapter;
an' now she's helping me with
a shirt for our Bill - but I'm
feared she'll be cold there.
Won't you come to th' fire, Miss?'
'No, thank you, Nancy, I'm
quite warm. I must go as soon
as this shower is over.'
'Oh, Miss! You said you could
stop while dusk!' cried the provoking
old woman, and Mr. Weston seized
'Nay, sir,' exclaimed she,
'pray don't go now, while it
rains so fast.'
'But it strikes me I'm keeping
your visitor away from the fire.'
'No, you're not, Mr. Weston,'
replied I, hoping there was no
harm in a falsehood of that description.
'No, sure!' cried Nancy. 'What,
there's lots o' room!'
'Miss Grey,' said he, half-jestingly,
as if he felt it necessary to
change the present subject, whether
he had anything particular to
say or not, 'I wish you would
make my peace with the squire,
when you see him. He was by when
I rescued Nancy's cat, and did
not quite approve of the deed.
I told him I thought he might
better spare all his rabbits
than she her cat, for which audacious
assertion he treated me to some
rather ungentlemanly language;
and I fear I retorted a trifle
'Oh, lawful sir! I hope you
didn't fall out wi' th' maister
for sake o' my cat! he cannot
bide answering again - can th'
'Oh! it's no matter, Nancy:
I don't care about it, really;
I said nothing VERY uncivil;
and I suppose Mr. Murray is accustomed
to use rather strong language
when he's heated.'
'Ay, sir: it's a pity.'
'And now, I really must go.
I have to visit a place a mile
beyond this; and you would not
have me to return in the dark:
besides, it has nearly done raining
now - so good-evening, Nancy.
Good- evening, Miss Grey.'
'Good-evening, Mr. Weston;
but don't depend upon me for
making your peace with Mr. Murray,
for I never see him - to speak
'Don't you; it can't be helped
then,' replied he, in dolorous
resignation: then, with a peculiar
half-smile, he added, 'But never
mind; I imagine the squire has
more to apologise for than I;'
and left the cottage.
I went on with my sewing as
long as I could see, and then
bade Nancy good-evening; checking
her too lively gratitude by the
undeniable assurance that I had
only done for her what she would
have done for me, if she had
been in my place and I in hers.
I hastened back to Horton Lodge,
where, having entered the schoolroom,
I found the tea-table all in
confusion, the tray flooded with
slops, and Miss Matilda in a
most ferocious humour.
'Miss Grey, whatever have you
been about? I've had tea half
an hour ago, and had to make
it myself, and drink it all alone!
I wish you would come in sooner!'
'I've been to see Nancy Brown.
I thought you would not be back
from your ride.'
'How could I ride in the rain,
I should like to know. That damned
pelting shower was vexatious
enough - coming on when I was
just in full swing: and then
to come and find nobody in to
tea! and you know I can't make
the tea as I like it.'
'I didn't think of the shower,'
replied I (and, indeed, the thought
of its driving her home had never
entered my head).
'No, of course; you were under
shelter yourself, and you never
thought of other people.'
I bore her coarse reproaches
with astonishing equanimity,
even with cheerfulness; for I
was sensible that I had done
more good to Nancy Brown than
harm to her: and perhaps some
other thoughts assisted to keep
up my spirits, and impart a relish
to the cup of cold, overdrawn
tea, and a charm to the otherwise
unsightly table; and - I had
almost said - to Miss Matilda's
unamiable face. But she soon
betook herself to the stables,
and left me to the quiet enjoyment
of my solitary meal.