in the village or out of it
Posted on November 20, 2015
April 29th.— The new people — or I suppose I ought to say the old people — reached the Grange yesterday, and I was called in today to the lady’s-maid — Wilkins. My lady I don’t like; Sir Geoffry I do. He is a good-looking, slight young man of middle height, with a fair refined face and honest eyes, blue as they tell me Sir Peter’s used to be. An honourable, well-intentioned young fellow I am sure; affable and considerate as his mother is haughty. Poor Layne used to cry her up; he thought great things of her. I do not. It may be that power has made her selfish, and foreign travel imperious; but she’s both selfish and imperious now. She is nice-looking still; and though she wants but a year of forty, and her son is only one-and-twenty, they are almost like brother and sister. Or would be, but for Sir Geoffry’s exceeding consideration for his mother; his love and deference for her are a pattern to the young men of the present day. She has trained him to be obedient, that’s certain, and to love her too: and so I suppose she has done her duty by him well. He came down the broad walk with me from the hall-door, talking of his mother: I had happened to say that the place must seem quite strange to Lady Chavasse. “Yes, it must,” he answered. “She has exiled herself from it for my sake. Mr. Duffham,” he continued warmly, “you cannot imagine what an admirable mother mine has been! She resigned ease, rest, society, to devote herself to me. She gave me a home-tutor, that she might herself watch over and train me; she went to and fro between England and foreign places with me everlastingly; even when I was at Oxford, she took a house a mile or two out, that we might not be quite separated. I pray Heaven constantly that I may never cross her in thought, word, or deed: but live only to repay her love.” Rather Utopian this: but I honour the young fellow for it. I’ve only seen him for an hour at most, and am already wishing there were more like him in the world. If his mother has faults, he does not see them; he will never honour any other woman as he honours her. A contrast, this, to the contempt, ingratitude, and disrespect that some sons think it manly to show their best and truest earthly parent.
My lady is vexed, I can see, at this inopportune illness of her maid’s; for the Grange is all upside down with the preparations for the grand fête to be held on the 20th of next month, when Sir Geoffry will come of age. Wilkins has been in the family for many years: she was originally the boy’s nurse: and is quite the right hand of Lady Chavasse, so far as household management goes. Her illness just now is inopportune.
Nothing was talked of, but the grand doings that were to usher in the majority of Sir Geoffry. As to Lady Chavasse, few people had seen her. Her maid’s illness, as was supposed, kept her indoors; and some of the guests were already arriving at the Grange.
One morning, when it wanted about a week to the 20th, Mrs. Layne, making a pillow-case at her parlour window, in her widow’s cap and spectacles, with the Venetian blind open to get all the light she could, was startled by seeing Lady Chavasse’s barouche draw up to her door, and Lady Chavasse preparing to descend from it. Mrs. Layne instinctively rose, as to a superior, and took her glasses off: it has been said she was of a humble turn: and upon Lady Chavasse fixing her eyes upon her in what seemed some surprise, dropped a curtsy, and thought to herself how fortunate it was she happened to have put a clean new cap on. With that, Lady Chavasse said something to the footman, who banged the carriage-door to, and ordered the coachman across the road. Mrs. Layne understood it at once: she had come to the house in mistake for Duffham’s. Of course, with that grand carriage to look at opposite, and the gorgeous servants, and my lady, in a violet velvet mantle trimmed with ermine, alighting and stepping in to Duffham’s, Mrs. Layne let fall her pillow-case, and did no more of it. But she was not prepared, when Lady Chavasse came out again with Mr. Duffham, to see him escort her over the road to her gate. Mrs. Layne had just time to open her parlour-door, and say to the servant, “In the other room: show her ladyship into the other room,” before she went off into complete bewilderment, and ran away with the pillow-case.