فصل 05

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فصل 05

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CHAPTER FIVE

‘Your ladyship’

One morning, before twelve o’clock, Martha came up and said that Miss Betty Barker would like to speak to her mistress. Miss Matty disappeared to change her cap and Miss Barker came upstairs, apologizing again and again for her visit.

Miss Betty Barker was the daughter of the late Mr Jenkyns’s clerk. She and her elder sister (who had worked for Mrs Jamieson) had been ladies’ maids. Later, they had had a hat-shop, with Lady Arley as a customer. When the sister died, Miss Betty shut the shop and became the most wonderfully dressed lady in Cranford - wearing all the bonnets and caps and ribbons that were left on her shelves.

And now Miss Betty Barker had called to invite Miss Matty to tea on the following Tuesday. She had already invited the Honourable Mrs Jamieson, she said. She invited me too - though she was clearly worried that, as my father had gone to live in Drumble, he was now in ‘that awful cotton trade’. Miss Barker’s own days in ‘trade’ had finished several years ago, and she now liked to think of herself as one of the ladies of Cranford - though she was always very respectful towards the ‘best’ families. ‘Mrs Jamieson is coming?’ asked Miss Matty.

‘Yes. It’s most kind of ladies such as Mrs Jamieson and yourself to call on someone like myself…’ Miss Barker began to apologize again.

She was now going, she told Miss Matty, to see Mrs Forrester and Miss Pole. ‘Of course, I invited you first, madam, as a rector’s daughter. But we must not forget that Mrs Forrester is related to the Bigges of Bigelow Hall. So I shall invite her before I invite Miss Pole.’

‘And Mrs Fitz-Adam?’ asked Miss Matty.

‘No, madam. I have great respect for Mrs Fitz-Adam but Mrs Jamieson would not like to meet her, I think.’ Miss Barker rose. ‘Will you come to my little house at half past six. Miss Matilda? That’s when Mrs Jamieson has promised to come. ‘Miss Betty Barker curtsied and left.

Mrs Fitz-Adam was the sister of Mr Hoggins, the Cranford doctor. Their parents were respectable farmers, but they did not belong to Cranford ‘society’. When Miss Mary Hoggins married Mr Fitz-Adam (whoever he was), she left the town. Then, after his death, she reappeared as a widow in black silk, and rented a large old house.

I remember that the ladies of Cranford met to discuss whether they should visit her. The matter had still not been decided when Miss Jenkyns died.

‘However, as most of us are either unmarried or widows without children.’ Miss Pole had said, ‘we’ll soon have no society at all if we don’t change our rules a little.’

So everybody called on Mrs Fitz-Adam - everybody except Mrs Jamieson, who was related, of course, to the family of a lord. She used to show how important she was by never seeing or speaking to Mrs Fitz-Adam when they met at the Cranford parties. Mrs Fitz-Adam was large and when Mrs Jamieson came in, she always stood up and curtsied very low. But Mrs Jamieson still did not see her.


It was a bright spring evening when the four of us - Miss Matty, Mrs Forrester, Miss Pole and myself - met outside Miss Barker’s house. We heard loud whispers inside. ‘Wait, Peggy! Wait until I’ve run upstairs! Then, when I cough, open the door.’

The cough came. Immediately, a maid opened the door and showed us into a small room that had been the shop. We uncovered our caps and shook our skirts. Then we walked up the narrow stairs to Miss Barker’s drawing room. Kind, gentle Mrs Forrester was given the second place of honour. The first place, of course, was for the Honourable Mrs Jamieson, who soon came heavily up the stairs.

And now Miss Betty Barker was a proud, happy woman! Peggy the maid came in with a generous tray full of cake. Did the ladies think this vulgar, I wondered? Clearly, they did not. All the cake disappeared. I saw Mrs Jamieson eat three pieces, slowly, with an expression not unlike a cow’s.

After tea, the ladies played cards - all except myself (I was rather afraid of the Cranford ladies at cards) and Mrs Jimieson, who fell asleep in her armchair. I enjoyed watching the four ladies’ caps at the card-table, and hearing Miss Barker’s ‘Sssh, ladies, please! Mrs Jamieson is asleep!’

Then the door opened. Mrs Jamieson woke up, and Peggy came in with another tray full of good things! We did not usually eat supper, but politely (and hungrily) we gave in. We even accepted a little drink…

Suddenly, Mrs Jamieson gave us some news. ‘My sister-in-law, Lady Glenmire, is coming to stay with me.’

‘Indeed!’ said everyone. Then there was a pause. Did we have the right dresses in which to appear before Lady Glenmire? We felt very excited and unsure.

Not long after this, the little party came to an end. Mrs Jamieson got into her carriage, and the rest of us walked home along the quiet little street.

At twelve next day, Miss Pole appeared at Miss Matty’s. ‘What should we call Lady Glenmire?’ she asked anxiously. ‘Must we say “your ladyship” instead of just “you”? And “my lady” instead of “madam”? You knew Lady Arley, Miss Matty. What did you call her?’

Poor Miss Matty! She took off her glasses and she put them on again, but she could not remember. ‘It was so long ago,’ she said, ‘and I only ever saw her twice. Oh dear, how stupid I am!’

‘Then I’d better go and ask Mrs Forrester.’ said Miss Pole. ‘We don’t want Lady Glenmire to think we know nothing about polite society here in Cranford.’

‘Who is Lady Glenmire exactly?’ I asked when Miss Pole had gone.

‘My dear, she’s the widow of Lord Glenmire, and he was Mr Jamieson’s elder brother. But I wonder what we should call her…’

Miss Matty’s worrying was unnecessary. Mrs Jamieson was the next person who arrived - and Mrs Jamieson, most impolitely, made it clear that she did not wish the Cranford ladies to visit her sister-in-law.

‘Well!’ said Miss Pole, who returned soon afterwards, very red and annoyed. ‘So we must not call on Lady Glenmire! Only the best county families are acceptable visitors, and Cranford society is not good enough, it seems! Yes, I met Mrs Jamieson on her way from here to Mrs Forrester’s, and she told me. I wish I’d said something sharp. Who is this Lady Glenmire anyway? Only the widow of a Scottish lord, and the fifth daughter of some Mr Campbell.’ Miss Pole, usually so kind and calm, was really annoyed. ‘And I ordered a new cap this morning, in order to be quite ready!’

When we came out of church on Lady Glenmire’s first Sunday in Cranford, we carefully turned our backs on Mrs Jamieson and her sister-in-law. We did not even look at Lady Glenmire, though we very much wanted to know what she was like.

Afterwards we questioned Martha, however, and Martha had used her eyes well. ‘The little lady with Mrs Jamieson, you mean? She was wearing a rather old black silk dress and she had bright black eyes. She looked up and down the church, like a bird, and lifted her skirts when she came out, very quick and sharp. She’s more like the landlady at the George Inn than a real lady!’

‘Sssh, Martha!’ said Miss Matty, ‘That’s not respectful.’

Another Sunday passed, and we still turned away from the two widows. By this time, Lady Glenmire was perhaps getting a little bored at Mrs Jamieson’s. Whatever the reason, Mrs Jamieson suddenly sent us invitations to a small party. Her man Mulliner brought them himself, coming as usual to the front door instead of to the back like other servants.

Miss Matty and I quietly decided not to accept ours. But before we had replied, Miss Pole arrived.

‘The invitation is for Tuesday.’ Miss Matty told her. ‘If you bring your knitting and drink tea with us that evening, I’ll have a good reason to refuse.’

I saw Miss Pole’s expression change. ‘You’re not going? Oh, Miss Matty, you must go! We can’t let Mrs Jamieson think we care about anything she says. I’m ready to “forgive and forget”. As a rector’s daughter, you should do the same…’

The fact was that Miss Pole had a new cap and wanted to wear it. So in the end Miss Matty bought a new cap too, and so did Mrs Forrester, and we all went to Mrs Jamieson’s party.

Mrs Jamieson’s drawing-room was not a comfortable room. Neither she nor Mulliner - of whom she seemed a little afraid - did anything to make us feel welcome. Lady Glenmire arranged the chairs agreeably for us, however. Now that we could look at her, we saw that she was a bright little woman of middle age, who had been very pretty when she was young.

We were all silent at first, unsure what to say to ‘my lady’. At last Miss Pole spoke. ‘Has your ladyship seen the dear Queen lately?’ she asked, and looked proudly round at us.

‘I’ve never seen her in my life.’ said Lady Glenmire in a sweet Scottish voice. ‘In fact, I’ve only been to London twice. Have you been to Edinburgh?’ she asked hopefully.

None of us had, but Miss Pole had an uncle who once passed a night there. So that was very pleasant.

Mrs Jamieson meanwhile began to wonder aloud why Mulliner did not bring in the tea, but she did not want to trouble Mulliner by ringing the bell. In the end, Lady Glenmire grew quite impatient, and rang the bell herself. Mulliner appeared, looking surprised.

‘Lady Glenmire rang.’ said Mrs Jamieson. ‘I believe it was for tea.’

Tea came at last. The plates were very thin and fine. So was the bread-and-butter. We were grateful to Lady Glenmire for ordering more of it, and a comfortable conversation developed. Soon the ladies were playing cards happily together and even Miss Pole quite forgot to say ‘my lady’ and ‘your ladyship’.

We learnt during the evening that Lady Glenmire had no plans to return quickly to Edinburgh. We were rather glad. We liked her.

‘Isn’t walking very unpleasant?’ asked Mrs Jamieson as we prepared to leave. (This was a regular question from her as she had a carriage and never walked anywhere.)

‘Oh no, not at night!’ said Miss Pole.

‘Such peace after the excitement of a party!’ said Mrs Forrester.

‘The stars are so beautiful!’ said Miss Matty.

So we walked home under the stars, feeling very grand, after drinking tea with ‘my lady’.

‘My dears,’ said Miss Pole next day, very pleased. ‘Did you notice her dress? So inexpensive!’

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