MISS FFRENCH MAKES A CALL.
The following Sunday morning, the congregation of Broxton Chapel was thrown into a state of repressed excitement. Haworth's carriage, with a couple of servants, brought his mother to enjoy Brother Hixon's eloquence. To the presence of the carriage and servants Haworth had held firm. Upon the whole, he would have preferred that she should have presented herself at the door of Broxton Old Church, which was under the patronage of the county families and honored by their presence; but the little woman had exhibited such uneasiness at the unfolding of his plan of securing the largest and handsomest pew for her that he had yielded the point.
"I've always been a chapel-goin' woman, Jem," she had said, "an' I wouldn't like to change. An' I should feel freer where there's not so many gentlefolk."
The carriage and the attending servants she had submitted to with simple obedience. There were no rented pews in Broxton Chapel, and she took her seat among the rest, innocently unconscious of the sensation her appearance created. Every matron of the place had had time to learn who she was, and to be filled with curiosity concerning her.
Janey Briarley, by whose side she chanced to sit, knew more than all the rest, and took her under her protection at once.
"Tha'st getten th' wrong hymn-book," she whispered audibly, having glanced at the volume the servant handed to her. "We dunnot use Wesley aw th' toime. We use Mester Hixon's 'Songs o' Grace.' Tha can look on wi' me."
Her delicate attentions and experience quite won Dame Haworth's motherly heart.
"I never see a sharper little thing," she said, admiringly, afterward, "nor a old-fashioneder. There wasn't a tex' as she didn't find immediate, nor yet a hymn."
"Bless us!" said Mrs. Briarley, laboriously lugging the baby homeward. "An' to think o' her bein' th' mistress o' that big house, wi' aw them chaps i' livery at her beck an' call. Why, she's nowt but a common body, Jane Ann. She thanked thee as simple as ony other woman mought ha' done! She's noan quality. She'd getten a silk gown on, but it wur a black un, an' not so mich as a feather i' her bonnet. I'd ha' had a feather,if I'd ha' been her—a feather sets a body off. But that's allus th' road wi' folk as has brass—they nivver know how to spend it."
"Nay," said Janey, "she is na quality; but she's getten a noice way wi' her. Haworth is na quality hissen."
"She wur a noice-spoken owd body," commented Mrs. Briarley. "Seemt loike she took a fancy to thee."
Janey turned the matter over mentally, with serious thrift.
"I should na moind it if she did," she replied. "She'll ha' plenty to gi' away."
It was not long before they knew her well. She was a cheerful and neighborly little soul, and through the years of her prosperity had been given to busy and kindly charities.
In her steadfast and loving determination to please her son, she gave up her rustic habit of waiting upon herself, and wore her best gown every day, in spite of pangs of conscience. She rode instead of walked, and made courageous efforts to become accustomed to the size and magnificence of the big rooms, but, notwithstanding her faithfulness, she was a little restless.
"Not bein' used to it," she said, "I get a little lonesome or so—sometimes, though not often, my dear."
She had plenty of time to feel at a loss. Her leisure was not occupied by visitors. Broxton discussed her and smiled at her, rather good-naturedly than otherwise. It was not possible to suspect her of any ill, but it was scarcely to be anticipated that people would go to see her. One person came, however, facing public opinion with her usual calmness,—Rachel Ffrench, who presented herself one day and made her a rather long call.
On hearing the name announced, the little woman rose tremulously. She was tremulous because she was afraid that she could not play her part as mistress of her son's household to his honor. When Miss Ffrench advanced, holding out her gloved hand, she gave her a startled upward glance and dropped a little courtesy.
For a moment, she forgot to ask her to be seated. When she recollected herself, and they sat down opposite to each other, she could at first only look at her visitor in silence.
But Miss Ffrench was wholly at ease. She enjoyed the rapturous wonder she had excited with all her heart. She was very glad she had come.
"It must be very pleasant for Mr. Haworth to have you here," she said.
The woman started. A flush of joy rose upon her withered face. Her comprehension of her son's prosperity had been a limited one. Somehow she had never thought of this. Here was a beautiful, high-bred woman to whom he must be in a manner near, since she spoke of him in this way—as if he had been a gentleman born.
"Jem?" she faltered, innocently. "Yes, ma'am. I hope so. He's—he's told me so."
Then she added, in some hurry:
"Not that I can be much comp'ny to him—it isn't that; if he hadn't been what he is, and had the friends he has, I couldn't be much comp'ny for him. An' as it is, it's not likely he can need a old woman as much as his goodness makes him say he does."
Rachel Ffrench regarded her with interest.
"He is very good," she remarked, "and has a great many friends, I dare say. My father admires him greatly."
"Thank you, ma'am," brightly, "though there's no one could help it. His goodness to me is more than I can tell, an', it's no wonder that others sees it in him an,' is fond of him accordin'."
"No, it's no wonder," in a tone of gentle encouragement.
The flush upon the withered cheek deepened, and the old eyes lit up.
"He's thirty-two year old, Miss," said the loving creature, "an' the time's to come yet when he's done a wrong or said a harsh word. He was honest an' good as a child, an' he's honest an' good as a man. His old mother can say it from the bottom of her full heart."
"It's a very pleasant thing to be able to say," remarked her visitor.
"It's the grateful pride of my life that I can say it," with fresh tenderness. "An' to think that prosperity goes with it too. I've said to myself that I wasn't worthy of it, because I couldn't never be grateful enough. He might have been prosperous, and not what he is. Many a better woman than me has had that grief to bear, an' I've been spared it."
When Miss Ffrench returned to her carriage she wore a reflective look. When she had seated herself comfortably, she spoke aloud:
"No, there are ten chances to one that she will never see the other side at all. There is not a man or woman in Broxton who would dare to tell her. I would not do it myself."
When Haworth returned at night he heard the particulars of the visit, as he had known he should when Ffrench told him that it was his daughter's intention to call that day.
"The beautifulest young lady my old eyes ever saw, my dear," his mother said again and again. "An' to think of her comin' to see me, as if I'd been a lady like herself."
Haworth spoke but little. He seldom said much in these days. He sat at the table drinking his after-dinner wine, and putting a question now and then.
"What did she say?" he asked.
She stopped to think.
"P'raps it was me that said most," she answered, "though I didn't think so then. She asked a question or so an' seemed to like to listen. I was tellin' her what a son you'd been to me, an' how happy I was an' how thankful I was."
"She's not one that says much," he said, without looking up from the glass on which his eyes had been fixed. "That's her way."
She replied with a question, put timidly.
"You've knowed her a good bit, I dare say, my dear?"
"No," uneasily. "A six-month or so, that's all."
"But it's been long enough for her to find out that what I said to her was true. I didn't tell her what was new to her, my dear. I see that by her smile, an' the kind way she listened. She's got a beautiful smile, Jem, an' a beautiful sweet face."
When they parted for the night, he drew from his pocket a bank-note and handed it to her.
"I've been thinking," he said, awkwardly, "that it would be in your line to give summat now and then to some o' the poor lot that's so thick here. There's plenty on 'em, an' p'r'aps it wouldn't be, a bad thing. There's not many that's fond of givin'. Let's set the gentry a fashion."
"Jem!" she said. "My dear! there isn't nothin' that would make me no happier—nothin' in the world."
"It won't do overmuch good, may be," he returned. "More than half on 'em don't deserve it, but give it to 'em if you've a fancy for it. I don't grudge it."
There were tears of joy in her eyes. She took his hand and held it, fondling it.
"I might have knowed it," she said, "an' I don't deserve it for holdin' back an' feel in' a bit timid, as I have done. I've thought of it again and again, when I've been a trifle lonesome with you away. There's many a poor woman as is hard-worked that I might help, and children too, may be, me bein' so fond of 'em."
She drew nearer still and laid her hand on his arm.
"I always was fond of 'em," she said, "always—an' I've thought that, sometimes, my dear, there might be little things here as I might help to care for, an' as would be fond of me.
"If there was children," she went on, "I should get used to it quick. They'd take away the—the bigness, an' make me forget it."
But he did not answer nor look at her, though she felt his arm tremble.
"I think they'd be fond of me," she said, "them an'—an' her too, whomsoever she might be. She'd be a lady, Jem, but she wouldn't mind my ways, I dare say, an' I'd do my best with all my heart. I'd welcome her, an' give up my place here to her, joyful. It's a place fitter for a lady such as she would be—God bless her!—than for me." And she patted his sleeve and bent her face that she might kiss his hand.