retired with the honours of war

Many messages passed between the Rectory and the Cottage the next
morning on the subject of the visit to the Hall. How shall we go? Would
it be best to get the fly, as there is a prospect of rain? Would it do
to go in the pony-carriage, as the clouds were making a lift? Finally,
when the sun came out, would it be best to walk? Emmy and Florry Plowden
were running to and fro all the morning with notes and messages. Emmy
(who was going) was anxious and serious on this great subject. It would
be such a pity to get wet. ‘It is true it is nearly the end of the
winter, and our dresses are not in their first freshness; but it is so
disagreeable to go into a new house feeling mouldy and damp. First
impressions are of so much consequence. Don’t you think so, aunt? and
Mrs. Swinford is Parisian, and accustomed to everything in the last
fashion.’

‘You might as well go draggled as not,’ said Florence, ‘if that is what
you are thinking of: for she will see there is not much of the last
fashion about you.’

‘Aunt always looks as if she were the leader of the fashion wherever she
goes,’ said Emily proudly. She it was who was conscious of being the
only one who was like her aunt.

‘Thank you for such a pretty compliment,’ said Lady William; ‘but Florry
is right, I am sorry to say. We shall all be so much below her standard
at our best, that a little more or less doesn’t matter. Still, without
reference to Mrs. Swinford or her impressions, it is unpleasant to get
wet.’

‘Then you vote for the fly,’ said Emmy with satisfaction, ‘that is what
I always thought you would do. One does not get blown about, one comes
out fresh, without having one’s hair all wild and marks of mud upon
one’s shoes. Thanks, Aunt Emily, you always decide for what is best.’

In an hour, however, they returned, Florry, who was not going, leading
the way. ‘Mamma thinks as it’s so much brighter our own pony-chaise will
do. It’s much nicer being in the air than boxed up in a fly. And she
thinks it would make so much fuss, setting all the village talking, if
the fly was ordered, and it was known everywhere that she was going to
the Hall.’

‘I thought she wished it to be known.’

‘Oh, of course,’ said Emmy, who was the aggrieved party, ‘mamma wishes
everything to be known. She says a clergyman’s family should always live
in a glass house and all that sort of thing. And to have the pony-chaise
out, and everybody seeing where we are going, will be just the same
thing.’

‘At all events it’s your own private carriage, and not a nasty hired
fly,’ said Florence. ‘“Mrs. Plowden’s carriage at the door,” and you
needn’t explain it’s a shandrydan.’

And the unfeeling girl laughed, as was her way: for it was not she who
was going to have her fringe disarranged, and the locks at the back
blown about by driving in the pony-carriage in the whistling March
breeze.

‘Tell your mother I think the pony-chaise will do quite well if she
likes it; everybody knows what sort of a carriage a country clergyman
can afford to keep.’

‘But you are not a country clergyman, Aunt Emily.’

‘Heaven forbid!’ that lady said.

Next time it was Emily alone who ran ‘across,’ as they called it. ‘Mamma
thinks on the whole we might walk. The roads have dried up beautifully,
and it’s not far. And walking is always correct in the country, isn’t
it, aunt?’

‘It is always correct anywhere, Emmy, when you have no other way to go.’

‘Ah, but we have two other ways to go! There is the fly, which I should
prefer, as it protects one most, and there’s our own pony-chaise. It
cannot be supposed to be for the want of means of driving, Aunt Emily,
if we pleased.’

‘Of course not,’ said Lady William with great gravity. ‘And there is a
gipsy van somewhere about. I have always thought I should like to drive
about the country in a gipsy van.’

Emmy gave her aunt a look of reproach: but by this time her sister had
arrived with Mrs. Plowden’s ultimatum. ‘If the sun comes out mamma will
call for you at the door, if you will please to be ready by three; but
if it is overcast she will come in the fly. So that is all settled, I
hope.’

Mab had maintained a great calm during all these searchings of heart.
She was not going, and had she been going it would have been a matter
of the greatest indifference to her, consciously a plain, and what is
still more dreadful to the imagination, a fat girl, whether her hair was
blown about or not, and what first impression Mrs. Swinford or even Leo
Swinford might form of her. As for Leo Swinford, indeed, in face of the
fact that he had called at the Cottage the night before, she felt for
him something of that familiarity which breeds contempt: and how it
could matter to anybody what he thought was to Mab’s youthful soul a
wonder not to be expressed.

‘What are you so anxious about, after all?’ she said. ‘If your hair is
untidy, what of that? Everybody in Watcham knows exactly how your hair
looks, Emmy, whether it is just newly done and tidy, or whether it is
hanging about your ears.’

‘I hope it never hangs about my ears,’ said Emmy primly, yet with
indignation. If there was one thing upon which she prided herself, it
was the tidiness in which she stood superior over all her peers.

‘Oh, I’ve seen it, after an afternoon at tennis, just as wild as other
people’s,’ said Mab, ‘and everybody in the village has seen it too.’

‘But then,’ said the other sister, ‘these are not people in the village;
they’re new people, and there’s a great deal in a first impression–at
least, so Emmy thinks.’

‘A first impression–upon whom?’ said Mab, with all the severity of her
age. Seventeen, being as yet scarcely in it, is a severe critic of the
ages over twenty which are in possession of the field.

There was a pause, which Florence broke by one of her disconcerting
laughs.

‘Mab, you are too much of a baby. Don’t you know the Swinfords are going
to entertain? Perhaps you don’t know what that means. They are going to
give all sorts of parties, and we’ll not be asked if–we don’t please.’

‘Whom?’ said Mab again.

And then there came another laugh from Florence, and an offended ‘What
can you mean, Mab? Mrs. Swinford, to be sure. It is only she who could
invite girls to make the house pleasant, and,’ said Emily, with a little
dignity, ‘it is as much for you as for me.’

‘Oh! I thought it might be Leo Swinford,’ said the audacious Mab, ‘who
wants a wife, mother says. But he says himself no, he doesn’t want
anything of the kind.’

‘Mab!’ said Lady William, in a warning tone from behind.

‘He didn’t say it in any secret,’ said Mab, ‘not the least. He didn’t
tell you “But this is between ourselves,” or “You won’t mention it,” or
anything of the kind, as people say when they confide in you. He said it
right out.’

‘Who said it right out?’ cried Emily. It was their turn to question now,
and they looked at each other after they had looked, in consternation,
at Mab–asking each other, with their eyes, awe-stricken, what could
this little minx mean, and how did she know?

‘As for Leo Swinford, I don’t think anything at all of him,’ said Mab.
‘He was got up in a fur coat yesterday, when it was not cold at all,
only blustering; and he had shiny shoes on and red socks showing, as if
he were got up for the evening–to walk about the Watcham roads.’

‘Do you mean to say,’ said Emily severely, crushing these pretensions in
the bud, ‘that _you_ have seen Mr. Swinford, Mab? And how did you know
it was Mr. Swinford–it might have been some excursionist or other down
here by a cheap train.’

‘A Marshall and Snelgrove young man,’ said Florence. ‘Absurd! red socks
and evening shoes and a fur coat.’

‘And we have always understood Mr. Swinford was a gentleman,’ Emily
said. ‘But it is not at all wonderful at Mab’s age to take up such a
foolish idea. For a new person in the village always looks as if there
was an adventure behind him, doesn’t he, aunt?–and Mab is such a child
still.’

‘However,’ said Lady William, ‘I don’t know how it came about, but it
was Leo Swinford, my dear. I knew him very well when he was a child, and
he sought me out because, I suppose, he didn’t know any one else here.’

There was another pause of consternation and disappointment: for to
think that Mab had seen this new personage before any of them, and that
he had seen Mab, was very disconcerting and disagreeable to these young
ladies. But then they reflected that Mab did not count–a little fat,
roundabout thing, looking even younger than her age, and that if it was
ordained that they should be forestalled by any one, better Mab than
another. The horrid little thing! But then it was a good sign for future
intimacy that he knew Aunt Emily, and had come in this way at once to
her house.

‘I am sure,’ said Emmy, ‘he might have come to the Rectory. Papa would
have been very glad to see him, and the clergyman is generally the first
person–unless when there is a squire. And of course he is the squire
himself. But then Aunt Emily is the highest in rank, everybody knows.’

‘My rank had not much to do with it. All that Leo knows of me was as
Emily Plowden, the Rector’s daughter, just as you are now, Emmy,’ said
Lady William, with a little laugh. She was going out of the room as she
spoke, and turned her head to give them one glance from the door. If it
occurred to Lady William that the second Emily Plowden was not precisely
like the first, she did not give vent to that opinion. But it was a
little ludicrous from her point of view to be told, as she was told so
often, that Emily was ‘her very image’–‘just what I remember you at her
age.’ It was with, perhaps, a little glance of satire in her eyes that
she flung this parting word at her niece. But the Emily Plowden of the
present generation understood no jest. She blushed a little with
conscious pleasure and pride, and threw up her head. Now, Lady William
had a throat like a swan, but Emily’s could be described no otherwise
than as a long neck, at the top of which her head jerked forward with a
motion not unlike the darting movement of a hen.

‘So you have really seen him, Mab? Think of having a man, a real man, a
young man in Watcham! Were you much excited? Had you presence of mind
enough to note any particulars as to eyes and hair and height, and so
forth–as well as the red socks and the shiny shoes?’

‘Oh, he’s fair, I think,’ said Mab indifferently, ‘a sort of no-coloured
hair like mine, and the rest to correspond. He was very talky and jokey
with mother, just as if she had been a young lady. But he said little to
me.’

‘It was not to be expected,’ said Emily, ‘that a gentleman and a man of
the world like Mr. Swinford would find much to say to you; and I wonder
that he should have remembered Aunt Emily. I have never heard that men
like that cared much for old ladies: but no doubt it was because he knew
nobody else, and just to pass the time.’

‘Mother is not an old lady,’ said Mab; ‘if I were a man I should like
her better than all of you girls put together. You are, on the whole,
rather silly things. You don’t talk out of your own heads, but watch
other people’s eyes to see what will please them. I don’t call that
talking! You never would have found out what would please that man if
you had looked into his eyes for a year. Now mother never minds–she
says what comes into her head: and if any one contradicts her she just
goes on saying the other thing.’

This somewhat vague description seemed to make a certain impression upon
the young ladies, who probably were able to fill up the outlines for
themselves. Emily gave a little sigh.

‘Conversation’s quite a gift,’ she said, ‘and it’s always difficult with
a new person till you know their tastes. I suppose Mr. Swinford knows
about pictures and that sort of thing, and unless you’ve somebody to
tell you when you go to the exhibitions it’s so hard to know which are
really the good ones. Then books–Mudie never sends us any of the best.
He puts all the common novels into the country parcels. At the Hall they
will get everything that comes out.’

‘He said nothing about books or pictures either,’ said Mab–‘Yes, by the
bye, he’s going to lend mother some–but they’re French ones—-’

‘French ones!’ said the cousins; and then there was a pause of
consternation. ‘Papa once said if he had his will no French novel should
ever come into the parish.’

‘Ah!’ said Mab, ‘but then I suppose Mr. Swinford didn’t write and ask
uncle what he should bring.’

Emily remained gazing out of the window with a troubled air.

‘We shall never know what to say if that is the sort of thing; and as
for going to their parties, if they are all made up of—- Mamma, too,
who never read a French book in her life. We had a little practice in
the schoolroom, when we had Fräulein, don’t you remember, Flo—- Who
was it we read? It was all long speeches, and one could never make out
what they were about.’

‘And they sounded exactly like German when Fräulein read them. I never
could tell which was which. But I know where the books are, and perhaps
if you learned one of the speeches and said it to Mr. Swinford, he might
like it, don’t you know.’

‘I was not, of course, thinking of Mr. Swinford, but of Mrs. Swinford,’
said Emily, frowning.

‘And you think you will get a chance of talking to her with mamma and
Aunt Emily there?’

‘Well,’ said Emily, ‘at least I can show her that I know my place, and
how an English girl behaves.’

‘I wish you would not wrangle,’ said Mab; ‘it was rather fun listening
to mother and him: they said no speeches out of books–I believe after
all what they said was chiefly chaff. Mother is a wonderful hand at
chaff. She looks so quiet all the time, and goes on till you are nearly
jumping. But he liked it, and laughed, and gave her as good. There was
one thing he said,’ added Mab demurely, ‘which wasn’t chaff, and which
you might like to hear. He said at once he didn’t want—-’

‘What! I’m sure I don’t care what he wants or doesn’t want–a gardener
perhaps? and papa has just heard of one he wanted to recommend.’

‘A wife!’ cried Mab, her blue eyes quickening a little with mischief.
‘Mother asked if he did, and he said he didn’t. Perhaps she had some one
she wanted to recommend.’

‘Perhaps,’ said Florence, coming to her sister’s aid; ‘that is the way
in France, the parents arrange it all. I shouldn’t mind at all–that. I
give my consent. It would be nice to be the bride’s relations and always
about the house. If you’ll promise to ask nice people and always us to
meet them–and be kind about sending the carriage for us, and that sort
of thing, for papa hates a bill for flys–I shall give my consent.’

‘Me!’ cried Mab, indignant, ‘I would not marry Leo Swinford, not if—-
I’d rather marry the silliest of the curates. I’d rather—-’ She
stopped short breathless, unable to find a stronger alternative.

‘Then what a good thing for you,’ said Florry, ‘that he doesn’t want a
wife!’

‘If you think it is nice,’ said Emily, ‘for young girls to talk about
gentlemen, and whether they want wives or not, as if wives were sold at
the shop at so much a pound–I am not of that kind of mind: and Aunt
Emily would not like it any more than mamma. Good-bye, you two. I have
got to go home and get ready, whatever you may have to do.’

And thus Emily retired with the honours of war. If there was any one who
had formed plans on the subject of Leo Swinford it was she; not plans,
indeed, which are dreadful foreign things, but just a floating idea such
as an English girl might entertain, that if a young man and a young
woman are thrown much together, why, then certain consequences might
follow. One never could tell what might happen, as Mrs. Plowden herself,
who was the very essence of propriety, did not hesitate to say.

The road was a little muddy, but not much; and it was quite possible by
taking a little trouble in walking to keep your boots quite clean. Under
the trees in the avenue this was not so easy, for it was more sheltered,
and the wind could not get in to sweep through and through every
opening. There is a pond, or lake, in the grounds, as everybody knows,
which had been the delight of the neighbourhood for the skating in
winter, all the long time the Swinfords had been absent.

‘I wonder if they will still let us skate now they are at home,’ said
Emily, as they walked round the bank over the crisped and extremely
living water, which did not look under the breeze as if it had ever been
bound by chains of frost.

‘Winter is a long way off,’ said Mrs. Plowden, who was a little blown by
her walk. She desired her companions to pause a little and look at the
view. ‘I don’t want,’ she said, panting, ‘to go in out of breath. These
sort of people have quite advantage enough over one in their fine houses
without going in panting like a washer-woman.’ She added, ‘Winter’s a
long way off, and, as we never knew whether they gave permission at all,
or if it was only Howell at the gate, I wouldn’t say anything about it,
Emmy, if I were you.’

Mrs. Plowden’s loss of breath partly proceeded from the fact that she
had been talking all the way. She had no want of subjects: the past
history of Mrs. Swinford, whom they were going to visit, which she did
not know; but that made little difference; and the character of her son,
which nobody in Watcham knew; and the precautions to be taken in
arranging their intercourse with the family so as to get all that might
be advantageous out of that intercourse without in any way compromising
themselves in respect to that which might be unsatisfactory. ‘If there
should be any matrimonial entanglement,’ said Mrs. Plowden, ‘or that
sort of thing, of course it would be for the girl’s family to make
every inquiry. But I daresay as he’s half a Frenchman, and not at all
one of our sort, nothing of that kind will happen: and it is time enough
to take it into consideration when it does.’

‘Quite time enough,’ said Lady William, very decidedly, ‘especially as
nothing can be more unlikely.’

‘That is just what I say. Of course when young people are thrown
together one never knows what may happen: and it is to be hoped that Mr.
Swinford may see how much better it would be to settle down with a nice
English wife than to bring over a French mademoiselle, who never would
understand English ways. But it will be time enough, don’t you think so,
Emily? for I always acknowledge you know better than me when it is
anything French that is in question–with your languages, you know, and
all that.’

‘My languages won’t help me much with Leo Swinford, who is just as
English as I am–nor with his mother, who is cosmopolitan, and of no
country at all.’

‘That’s just one of your sayings, Emily, for how could a woman be of no
country at all? What I’m most concerned for is whether they will come to
church: and I can see it’s much on James’s mind, though he never says
anything; for a great house like that, almost the only great house in
the parish, sets such a dreadful example if they don’t go to church. One
hears of it all through the place. If the people at the Hall don’t go,
why should we? I tell them it’s quite different–that the people at the
Hall have many opportunities, and are deeply interested all the same,
and all that; whereas if poor people don’t pay attention to their
religious duties, what is to become of them? But often they don’t seem
to see it.’

‘I shouldn’t see it if I was in their place. I thought that in
Christianity there was no respect of persons.’

‘Oh! my dear Emily, you ought to know better than to bring up that
common argument against us, and your brother the Rector of the parish.
Of course there’s no respect of persons! But if Mrs. Swinford comes to
church she will be shown into the Hall pew, and old Mrs. Lloyd will just
find a place for herself, if she is early enough, in the free seats. How
could anybody do otherwise? We must be practical. Old Mary Lloyd would
be very uncomfortable if she were to sit down with you or me. She is
much more at home in the free seats. And with the poor people it is only
their individual selves that are in question, whereas the great lady
sets such an example: and there are all the servants and the servants’
families, and one doesn’t know how many—-’

‘I think you may set your mind at ease, Jane. Mrs. Swinford will come to
church.’

‘You take a load off my mind, Emily; but it is many, many years since
you have seen her, and people change a great deal. I sometimes feel even
myself, you know, an inclination to stay in bed on Sunday mornings. It
is a thing to be crushed in the bud. If you give in to a headache once,
there is no telling where it may land you in the end.’

‘But, mamma dear,’ said the sympathetic Emmy, ‘your headaches are so
bad!’

‘Hum!’ said Mrs. Plowden doubtfully. ‘Yes, my headaches are bad
sometimes: but it is a thing that one should set one’s face against. It
ought to be crushed in the bud–on Sundays, I mean; it does not matter
so much on other days. And Mr. Swinford, Emily. I hear that you have
seen him already. Now, I wonder what made him go to see you—-’

‘Why shouldn’t he?’ said Lady William, with a laugh.

‘Oh, well, you know! I should have thought a gentleman would have looked
up the Rector, or the Archdeacon, or the General, instead of a lady just
living in a small way by herself, like you.’

‘Mamma, you forget Aunt Emily’s rank,’ Emmy said in dismay.

‘Oh, I never forget her rank!’ cried Mrs. Plowden, with a little
irritation. ‘I hear enough of it, I am sure.’

‘The Rector and the Archdeacon and the General are all very important
persons. The only thing is that Leo Swinford did not know them, and he
knew me.’

‘I have always observed that people in that sort of position know
everybody,’ said Mrs. Plowden, ‘and, my dear Emily, I don’t want to seem
censorious, but do you think it is quite _nice_ to talk of a young man
like that by his Christian name? _I_ don’t even know his Christian name.
It may be Leonard or it may be Lionel, or it may be—-’

‘Oh! Leopold, mamma!’

‘I don’t see what you have got to do with it, Emmy. If your aunt knows
him so well as that, _you_ don’t know him–and perhaps never will if he
is that kind of man!’

‘Don’t you think,’ said Lady William, with that perfect composure of
which she was mistress, ‘that we might stop for a moment again and look
at the view—-’

‘Oh, if you feel the hill, Emily–it is a little steep–I don’t mind
sitting down for a moment, if you feel you want it. It is very pretty
here,’ said Mrs. Plowden, panting; ‘the water–through the trees–and
the lodge–in the distance–with the wisteria just beginning to shoot.’

The pause made here was a few minutes in duration, for Mrs. Plowden had
heated herself much by her argument and by clambering up the
ascent–which was, indeed, only a very gentle ascent. At last, however,
the party reached the door. As they came up sounds were audible inside,
which disclosed themselves, when the door was hastily opened, as
produced by a game of billiards, played by Mr. Leo Swinford, and–oh!
terrible sight–his butler: though for the first moment Mrs. Plowden’s
eager intelligence had not taken in this fact. She said, politely, that
she was afraid they had driven the gentleman away—-

‘Oh!’ said Leo with a laugh, ‘it’s only Morris–let me fulfil his
functions and take you to my mother.’ He offered the Rector’s wife his
arm, but she drew modestly back.

‘My sister-in-law, Mr. Swinford. Oh, I hope I know what is
_comme-il-faut_. I could not go before Lady William.’ Mrs. Plowden had a
flash of exultation in thinking of that word–_comme-il-faut_. It was
something like an inspiration that brought it to her lips in the very
nick of time.

The drawing-room at the Hall was a large room in three divisions,
divided with pillars of sham marble with gilded capitals. It was too
bright, notwithstanding the heaviness of the decorations. Large windows
almost from the roof to the floor poured in floods of afternoon light,
and shone pitiless upon the lady who rose languidly to meet her
visitors, keeping her back to the light. She was a tall woman,
exceedingly worn and thin, but with a great deal of grace in her
movements, though she was old. Her age was the first thing which the
eager rural visitors noted, for it was a sort of age which had never
come under their observation before. She was dressed picturesquely in
dark velvet with such folds and cunning lines as they had never dreamed
of, and which plunged them into anxious questioning whether that might
be the latest fashion. If so, it was unlike anything that Miss Singer
had in her books and papers, or even Madame Mantz, who was Miss Singer’s
great example in town; and her hair, which had not a white thread in it,
was uncovered. No cap on her head! and approaching seventy, Mrs. Plowden
thought, making a rapid calculation upon the facts she knew. Mrs.
Swinford stepped forward a little with a faint cry of ‘Emily’ when Lady
William appeared, and took her, with every appearance of cordiality,
into her arms, and they kissed, or at least Mrs. Swinford touched Lady
William’s cheeks one after the other, while the Plowdens made a
respectful circle round and looked on. ‘This is indeed kind,’ Mrs.
Swinford said. The ladies were so bent upon the aspect of the mistress
of the Hall that they did not observe how pale Lady William was, or how
little part she took in the embrace. ‘And though, of course, she could
not take us into her arms,’ Mrs. Plowden said after, ‘never having set
eyes on us before, she was quite as cordial, and hoped she would see a
great deal of us, and that it was so nice to feel that one was coming
among people who felt like old friends.’ ‘I have heard so much of you
through Emily,’ was what Mrs. Swinford really did say; to which Emily
was so disagreeable as to make no reply. And then they all sat down, and
Mrs. Plowden began to make conversation, as in duty bound.

‘We are so glad to see you in your own house, Mrs. Swinford. The Rector
has always said it was so cold like to feel that there was no one in the
Hall. A squire’s house makes such a difference. The poor people think so
much of it, and the middle people are always looking out for an example;
and of course the higher class, it is yourself–so you being here is, if
I may say so, of the greatest consequence to everybody, and I do hope it
will be agreeable to you.’

‘You are very good,’ said Mrs. Swinford, with a motion of her head. ‘It
never occurred to me that it could be of any importance except to
ourselves.’

‘Oh, I assure you it is of the greatest consequence. What we want in
England is the higher classes to set a good example, to keep back those
horrid democratic ways, and show us how we ought to behave. We are very
loyal to a good example in England, Mrs. Swinford. You have been so long
away, perhaps you may not remember how in a well-ordered parish the
people are taught to look up to those who are above them—-’

‘But suppose we do not set a good example?’ said the lady, with a
languid smile. She was looking at Lady William, who sat by, saying
little, and who was in the full flood of the light, which she was quite
able to bear. The elder woman, who was not, bestowed an interested
attention upon the friend whom she had greeted so warmly–not even a
look or movement, nor even a fold of the very plain black dress, which
showed how little means of adornment the other possessed, yet how little
it mattered to her whether she was adorned or not, escaped her. Mrs.
Swinford was very deeply learned in all these arts, in all that tended
to preserve beauty and enhance it. She had been a beauty herself in her
day, and was very reluctant to part with it. She looked at her old
friend with an eager, yet veiled attention, observing all that was in
her favour, and the few things against her. Poorly dressed, but looking
none the worse, the black being in its way a kind of veil even of its
own imperfections: the charm of the face enhanced by sorrow and trouble
and many experiences, the outlines uninjured, the cheek almost as purely
oval as in youth, the eyes as sweet, the hair–it had a touch of gray,
perhaps, but that is no harm to such a woman, a woman not standing upon
her appearance, perhaps not thinking much of it–at least, giving
herself the air of not thinking of it at all. Mrs. Swinford did not
believe that any woman was ever indifferent to her appearance, or not
thinking of it. It did not matter much to herself at the present moment,
when there was no one she cared to affect or charm, no one worth the
lifting of a finger; and yet she was not indifferent to her own aspect,
and why should Lady William be? Lady William? A strange smile crossed
the elder lady’s face as she remembered what was now Emily Plowden’s
name. She said to her in the middle of Mrs. Plowden’s speech, to which
she paid no attention, with a way that women of the world have, ‘How
strange it is to think of you, Emily, by that name!’

The entire company pricked up its ears. Mrs. Plowden stopped short, much
discomfited, in her explanation of what was the Rector’s opinion, in
which Mrs. Swinford had interrupted her with such absolute indifference
as to what she was saying. And Emmy raised her long neck, remembering
always keenly that it was she who was now Emily Plowden; and even young
Mr. Swinford, who had been talking to Lady William, raised his head with
sudden attention, glancing from her to his mother. Lady William herself
coloured suddenly, and with an unusual air asked, ‘What name?’

‘What but your married name, my dear?’ Mrs. Swinford said, and laughed
low, but very distinctly, with her eyes fixed upon her guest.

‘Ah, yes,’ said Lady William, returning the look, ‘you are more used to
my husband’s name than mine.’

Nobody had the least idea what this passage of arms meant–not even Mr.
Swinford, who kept looking from his mother to Lady William with a
questioning look. As for the other ladies, they stared severely, and did
not attempt to understand. Mrs. Swinford was a little rude, and so was
Lady William. They did not show the fine manners which ought to belong
to fine ladies. On the whole, Mrs. Plowden thought it might have been
better for her to make her first call alone. Mrs. Swinford had talked to
her quite sweetly, she said afterwards, but Emily and she did not seem
to be on such good terms. It is always a mistake, Mrs. Plowden thought,
to depend upon any one else in the way of introduction. The Rector’s
wife in her own parish is the equal of any one. And as for French, in
which Emily was believed to be so superior, French was no more wanted,
she reported to the Rector, ‘than between you and me.’

‘I daresay,’ she said, when this little sensation was over, ‘that you
find our poor Emily much changed. Such a difference for her to come from
the society in which she was, and everybody so superior, to our little
village again: but, of course, all these things are little to the loss
of a dear husband, which is the greatest a woman can have to bear—-’

‘You speak most eloquently, Mrs. Plowden,’ said Mrs. Swinford, ‘the very
greatest a woman can be called upon to bear.’

‘It is very kind of you,’ said Lady William, ‘to feel so much for me.’

‘Yes, yes, the very greatest: and she has taken it so well. But
naturally it makes a great difference. My daughter Emmy is considered by
everybody to be extremely like her aunt,’ said Mrs. Plowden, directing
with a look the attention of the party to Emmy, who bridled and drew up
her long neck with that little forward movement which was like a peck,
but did not at all mean anything of the kind.

Mrs. Swinford gave poor Emmy a look–one of those full, undisguised
looks which again women of the world alone permit themselves; but she
made no remark–which was very eloquent, more so than many remarks. She
said, after a time, with the air of a person who has been puzzling her
brains to keep up a conversation:

‘You have other daughters?’ adding to her question a smile of great
sweetness, as if there was nothing in the world she was more interested
in.

‘One,’ said Mrs. Plowden, much gratified, ‘Florence, named after another
aunt, and more like my side of the house. And I have a son, who we hoped
would have gone into the Church; but he is like so many young men of the
present day, he has religious difficulties. And the Rector thinks it is
not right to force his inclinations, especially into a sacred
profession. I have great confidence in my husband’s judgment, but I
don’t quite agree with him on this point; for I think if you only use a
little pressure upon them when they are young, they are often most truly
grateful to you afterwards, when they begin to understand the claims of
life. I wonder,’ said Mrs. Plowden, with a glance at Leo, who was once
more leaning over Lady William’s chair, ‘whether you agree with me? I
should like to have the support of your opinion, for you must have
experience in dealing with the young.’

Mrs. Swinford had delicately intimated her entire indifference to the
homily of the clergyman’s wife for some time past, but she was recalled
by this appeal, which amused her.

‘Yes,’ she said, ‘I have a son; but I do not think I have attempted to
force his inclinations,’ she added, after a pause.

‘Ah, then you would agree with James! I am sorry, for it would have been
a great support to me; but we must all judge for ourselves in these
matters–and in such a question as entering a sacred profession—-’

‘Leo,’ said Mrs. Swinford, ‘we are forgetting: our habits are not yet
quite English. Offer Lady William some tea.’

‘Oh,’ said Mrs. Plowden, with a start, ‘let me pour it out! Or Emily
will do so, I am sure, with pleasure, if you will permit. It is so
awkward for a gentleman—-’

‘Pray do not trouble yourself. Leo can manage it very well, or he can
ring for some one if he wants help. And you, Emily, have a daughter,
too?’

‘Yes, I have a daughter.’

‘Quite young? She can scarcely be grown up. I do not remember many
dates, but there are two or three—- Eighteen perhaps, or a little
less, or more?’

‘She will not be eighteen for some months.’

‘And pretty? Like you? Do you see anything of the family? Do they take
any notice of the child?’

‘To tell the truth,’ said Lady William, ‘my child and I have been very
happy in our cottage, and we have not thought much of any family–save
our own very small family of two.’

She had flushed with suppressed anger, but with an evident desire to
keep her feelings concealed, answered the questions very deliberately
and in a tone of studied calm.

‘Ah, I recognise you in that! always proud: but not prudent. One must
not despise a family, especially when it has a fine title. You ought to
consider, my dear Emily, how important it may be for the child; your
excellent sister-in-law,’ said Mrs. Swinford, turning with her wonted
smile to Mrs. Plowden, ‘thoroughly recognises that.’

Mrs. Plowden, thus unexpectedly referred to, was taken in an undignified
moment, when she had just begun to sip her first mouthful of very hot
tea. She had felt that a second interruption in the very midst of what
she had been saying was too much to be forgiven; but on being appealed
to in this marked manner she changed her mind, and perceived that it was
only Mrs. Swinford’s way. She swallowed the hot tea hastily, to her
great discomfort, in her haste to respond.

‘Indeed I do,’ she said fervently, coughing a little. ‘Indeed I do—- I
tell Emily often I would put my pride in my pocket, and insist on having
Mab invited to make acquaintance with her father’s family. And she’s
such a Pakenham, more like the Marquis than any daughter he has.’

‘Oh, she’s such a Pakenham!’ said Mrs. Swinford, with a faint laugh.

‘I think, Jane,’ said Lady William, ‘that you are forgetting we walked
here, and that it is time we were going back.’

‘Oh, please, let these dear ladies finish their tea. Leo, Miss Plowden
will take some cake. I am more interested than I can tell to hear that
your child does not take after you, but is like the Pakenhams.’ The
laugh was very soft, quite low, most ladylike, and, indeed, what is
called poetically, silver in tone. ‘What an ill-advised little mortal!’
she said.