فصل 02

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فصل 02

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CHAPTER TWO

The captain

It was impossible to live in Cranford for a month and not know everybody’s daily habits. So, long before my visit ended, I knew a lot about the Browns. They were indeed poor. And the captain was extraordinarily kind. One Sunday morning after church, he met a poor old woman who was fetching her dinner from the town bake house. The street was wet and she was rather shaky on her legs, so the captain carried her baked meat and potatoes home for her! Cranford people did not do this kind of thing, but the captain was not at all ashamed of himself.

Miss Jenkyns could not forgive Captain Brown for his unkind opinion of Dr Johnson, so I did not see much of the family until I went on to stay with Miss Pole. I learnt then that Miss Brown was seriously ill. And when I saw how difficult she was, and how endlessly kind her father and sister were to her, I understood a little better and forgave Miss Jessie for her childish way of dressing.

The captain tried hard to make peace with Miss Jenkyns, but she remained cool. No gentleman, surely, could prefer Mr Dickens to Dr Johnson!

That was the situation when I left Cranford to return to my father in Drumble. But several of the ladies sent me news of the dear little town. Miss Pole wrote, asking for some knitting-wool. Miss Matty Jenkyns (Miss Deborah’s younger sister) wrote nice, kind, disorganized letters, occasionally giving her own opinion but more often giving her elder sister’s. And Miss Deborah Jenkyns herself wrote - grand, slow-moving letters, using words like ‘Brunonian’ for ‘Brown’.

My next visit to Cranford was in the summer. No one had been born or married since I was last there, and no one had died. Everyone lived in the same house and wore the same unfashionable clothes. The greatest excitement was that the Misses Jenkyns had bought a new carpet. Oh, what busy work Miss Matty and I had in the afternoons, covering it with newspaper where the sun shone in!

Captain Brown and Miss Jenkyns were still not very friendly. Miss Jenkyns always talked at the captain and, though he did not reply, he made it quite clear that he preferred the writings of Mr Dickens to those of Dr Johnson. Indeed, he used to read Mr Dickens’s books while walking through the streets, and was so deeply interested in his reading that once he nearly knocked Miss Jenkyns down.

The poor, brave captain! His clothes looked very old and worn, but he seemed as bright as ever, unless he was asked about his elder daughter’s health. ‘She’s in great pain,’ he replied, ‘though we do what we can.’

Miss Matty told me that, in fact, he and his younger daughter had done everything possible to make the patient comfortable, whatever the cost. ‘And Miss Jessie’s a wonderful nurse. My dear, if you saw her as I have, you’d never laugh again at her childish pink ribbons.’

I felt ashamed and spoke to Miss Jessie with twice as much respect next time we met. She looked exhausted, but she pushed back the tears in her pretty eyes. ‘What a good town Cranford is!’ she said. ‘Everyone sends my sister presents.’

Captain Brown called one day to thank Miss Jenkyns for many little kindnesses I had not known about. He had suddenly become like an old man, and his deep voice trembled when he spoke about his elder daughter. ‘There is no hope,’ he said. ‘Thank God we have Jessie!’ Then he quickly shook everyone’s hand and left the room.

That afternoon, we saw little groups in the street, all listening with horror to some story. Miss Jenkyns sent out Jenny the maid, who came back in tears. ‘Oh, Miss Jenkyns! Captain Brown has been killed by that cruel railway!’

‘How? Where, where?’ Miss Matty ran out into the street and brought back the man who was telling the story. ‘Oh, say it’s not true!’ Miss Matty cried.

The man stood there with his wet boots on the new carpet and no one noticed. ‘It’s true, Miss.’ he said. ‘I saw it myself. The captain was reading some new book while he waited for the down-train. Then he looked up suddenly and saw a little girl on the railway line, just as the train was coming into the station. He ran forwards and caught her, but then he fell and the train went straight over him. The child’s safe, though. The poor captain would be glad of that. Miss, wouldn’t he?’

Miss Jenkyns’s face was very white. ‘Matilda, bring me my bonnet,’ she commanded Miss Matty. ‘I must go to those girls… God forgive me if I ever spoke sharply to the captain!’

When she came back, she did not want to talk much. Mr Hoggins, the Cranford doctor, had said that Miss Brown would not live for many more days. Miss Jessie did not want her sister to hear the terrible news of her father’s death, so Miss Brown was told that her father had been called away on railway business.

Next day, the newspaper had the full story of the accident. ‘The brave gentleman.’ it said, ‘was reading this month’s Pickwick Papers.’

‘Poor, dear, silly man!’ Miss Jenkyns shook her head, and busily sewed some black ribbon on her bonnet for the funeral.

She went with Miss Jessie to the funeral, while Miss Pole. Miss Matty and I sat with Miss Brown.

Next day when we returned, we could see that Miss Brown was dying.

‘Oh, Jessie!’ she whispered. ‘How selfish I’ve been! God forgive me!’

‘Sssh, love, sssh!’ said Miss Jessie in tears.

‘And my dear, dear father! He can never know now how I loved him.’

‘He does know, dearest. He… he has gone before you to his resting-place. He knows now how you loved him.’ The tears ran like rain down Miss Jessie’s face. A few moments later her sister lay calm and quiet.

After this second funeral. Miss Jenkyns made Miss Jessie stay with us. Miss Jessie had only about 20 pounds a year to live on, and one day she and I began to discuss how she could earn some money.

‘I can sew,’ said Jessie, ‘and I like nursing…’

Suddenly Miss Jenkyns entered the room in unusual excitement. ‘My dear Miss Jessie! Such a surprise! There is a gentleman downstairs whom you once knew -‘

Miss Jessie went white, then red.

‘-a gentleman, my dear, who wants to know if you will see him.’

‘Is it…? It isn’t…?’ Miss Jessie could not finish.

‘This is his visiting-card.’ said Miss Jenkyns. She gave the card to Miss Jessie and made a strange face at me over her head. ‘May he come up?’

‘Oh, oh yes!’ said Miss Jessie. She picked up some of Miss Matty’s knitting and began to be very busy.

Miss Jenkyns rang the bell. Bring Captain Gordon upstairs, ‘she told the maid.

A tall, fine, sincere-looking man of about forty walked in. He shook hands with Miss Jessie, who looked down at the floor.

Miss Jenkyns asked me to come downstairs and help her prepare some fruit. Although Miss Jessie tried to make me stay, I could not refuse to help Miss Jenkyns. Instead of preparing fruit, however, Miss Jenkyns told me what Captain Gordon had told her. He had been in the army with Captain Brown and had fallen in love with Jessie when she was only eighteen. When he had inherited an estate in Scotland, he had asked her to marry him - and she had refused in order to nurse her sister. Gordon had then gone angrily abroad. He was in Rome when he saw the report of Captain Brown’s death.

Just then Miss Matty, who had been out all the morning, happened to come home. ‘Deborah!’ she cried. ‘There’s a gentleman upstairs with his arm round Miss Jessie’s waist!’ Miss Matty’s eyes were large with horror.

Miss Jenkyns’s reply surprised her sister greatly.

‘The best place in the world for his arm to be in. Go away. Matilda, and mind your own business.’


The last time I ever saw Miss Jenkyns was years after this. She and Miss Matty and Miss Pole had all visited Miss Jessie (now Mrs Gordon) in Scotland and returned with wonderful stories of her home, her husband and her pretty dimples. Now, at the time I am speaking of. Miss Jenkyns had grown old. Miss Jessie’s daughter, little Flora Gordon, had come down to Cranford on a visit. When I came in. Miss Jenkyns was lying on the sofa and Flora was reading aloud to her.

‘Ah, my dear!’ Miss Jenkyns said to me. ‘I cannot see as well as I used to. Did you ever read Rasselas? It’s a wonderful book - wonderful! And so good for Flora. Much better than that strange book by Mr Dickens that killed poor Captain Brown…’

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