فصل 08

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فصل 08

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CHAPTER EIGHT

True friends

While Miss Matty went downstairs to tell Martha, I quietly picked up my letter and went to Signor Brunoni’s lodgings. The signor was now well enough to leave Cranford and, before he disappeared, I needed an exact address for the Aga Jenkyns in Chunderabaddad.

I then posted my letter to India, and hurried back home. Martha, in tears now herself, pulled me into the kitchen.

‘I’ll never leave her! I won’t. “You may not know when you’ve got a good servant,” I told her, “but I know when I’ve got a good mistress!” I’ve money in the Savings Bank, and I’m not going to leave Miss Matty.’

What should I say? Miss Matty needed this kind woman. ‘But, Martha, I don’t think Miss Matty will even have enough money to buy your food.’

‘Not enough for food?!’ Martha sat down on the nearest chair and cried aloud.

Upstairs, Miss Matty was very quiet and sad. We decided to ask my father to come and advise her. So I wrote another letter, and then we tried to make plans.

Miss Matty just wanted to sell most of her things, rent a single room somewhere and live quietly on the money that remained.

I wanted something better for her. She needed money and I wondered how she, a lady, could earn some. By teaching? She loved children, but she could not sing or draw or sew. Perhaps she could teach reading? No. When she read aloud, she had to cough before each long word. Writing? Her spelling was terrible! No. There was nothing she could teach the children of Cranford, I decided, except quiet goodness.

Dinner was announced by Martha, still crying. Dear, rough Martha! She now spoke to 58-year-old Miss Matty as kindly as to a child, and she had gone out and bought eggs and butter with her own money to cook her something special.

We did not talk much that afternoon, but when Martha brought our tea. I had an idea. Miss Matty could sell tea! Tea was not dirty, or heavy. And no shop-window would be necessary, only a small sign. The one thing against my plan was the buying and selling involved. Miss Matty would be in trade. Would she ever agree to that?

Suddenly, we heard a noise on the stairs and some whispering. Then Martha came in, pulling a great tall young man who was red with shyness.

‘Please, madam, he’s only Jem Hearn,’ said Martha, breathing hard. ‘And please, madam, he wants to marry me immediately. And we want to rent a house and have just one quiet lodger, to help us with the money. And, dear Miss Matty, will you be that lodger and stay with us? Jem wants it as much as I do.’ She turned to him. ‘You stupid great thing! Why don’t you speak?… He wants the same as I do, but he’s shy in front of ladies,’ she explained.

‘It’s not that,’ said Jem. ‘It’s just that, well, I didn’t expect to marry so soon. Martha moves so fast when she has an idea in her head…’

Martha pushed him with her elbow. ‘Please, madam, don’t listen to him. He asked me only last night to marry him, but I said I couldn’t yet, so now he’s just surprised at the suddenness of it. But you know, Jem, you want a lodger as much as I do.’ Another great push.

‘Yes!’ he said. ‘And I don’t mind marrying Martha, madam.’

‘You’ve never stopped asking me,’ cried Martha, ‘and now you’re making me look silly in front of my mistress!’

‘Now, now, Martha.’ said Jem, trying to hold her hand. ‘It’s just that a man needs time!’ He turned to Miss Matty. ‘I always expected Martha to be my wife - one day,’ he said. ‘I’ve great respect for everyone who’s been kind to her, madam, and she’s often said you’re the kindest lady in the world. If you’d lodge with us, we’d try to make you comfortable…’

Miss Matty had been very busy with taking off her glasses, wiping them, and putting them on again. All she could say was. ‘You mustn’t hurry into marriage just because of me. Marriage is a very serious thing…’

‘But Miss Matty will think about your plan.’ I said quickly, ‘and she can never forget your kindness.’

‘I’m very willing, madam, though I don’t explain myself well,’ Jem replied. ‘So, Martha, my girl,’ he whispered, ‘why do you go on crying and pushing me?’

Martha, annoyed, ran out of the room and was followed by her lover. Miss Matty then sat down and cried. The idea of Martha marrying so soon was such a surprise, she said. She would never forgive herself if the poor girl hurried into marriage because of her. I think I was more sorry for Jem of the two…

The next morning, very early, I received a mysterious note from Miss Pole, commanding me to come secretly to her house at eleven o’clock.

I went. The door was opened by Miss Pole’s little maid in her Sunday clothes. Upstairs in the drawing-room, the table was covered with the best green card-cloth, and there were writing materials on it. Miss Pole was dressed for visitors. Mrs Forrester was already there, and then Mrs Fitz-Adam appeared, red with walking and excitement.

Miss Pole coughed. She arranged all of us at the table, with me opposite her. Then she asked me if it was true that Miss Matty had lost all her money.

‘Yes, it’s true.’ I said, and I never saw sadder faces than the three around me.

‘I wish Mrs Jamieson was here!’ said Mrs Forrester.

Mrs Fitz-Adam clearly did not agree, and Miss Pole was not pleased. ‘Even without Mrs Jamieson,’ she said, ‘we, the ladies of Cranford, can do something.’

She turned to me. ‘Miss Smith,’ she continued (I was usually known as Mary). ‘I talked privately yesterday afternoon to these ladies about what has happened to our friend. None of us is vulgarly rich, but we shall all be pleased - truly pleased. Mary! - to give what we can to help Miss Matilda Jenkyns.’ Here Miss Pole had to wipe her glasses.

‘We wish, however, to give our little bits of money secretly, in order not to hurt any feelings. This is why we asked you to meet us. Your father, we believe, is Miss Jenkyns’s adviser. We would like him to arrange for her to receive the money without knowing that it comes from us.’ Miss Pole looked round at the little assembly. ‘And now, ladies, while Miss Smith considers how to reply, allow me to offer you some bread-and-butter.’

I did not reply very grandly. I just said that I would tell my father, and began to cry. The ladies cried too. Even Miss Pole.

Mrs Forrester was the first to speak again. ‘I’ll write down what money I can give. I wish it was more, my dear Mary. Indeed I do!’

Now I saw why paper and pens had been put on the table. Every lady privately wrote down what she could give each year, signed her paper and passed it to me. If the plan was accepted, my father would open the papers. If not, he would return them to their writers.

I got up to leave, but each lady wanted to speak to me by herself. Miss Pole kept me in the drawing-room, to say she had heard that Mrs Jamieson was coming home - very displeased with her sister-in-law, who was returning to Edinburgh that same afternoon. Of course, she could not say this in front of Mrs Fitz-Adam, who, as Mr Hoggins’s sister, would not like to hear of anybody being angry about her brother’s marriage.

Downstairs, Mrs Forrester was waiting. The poor old lady was trembling. She herself had less than 100 pounds a year, she whispered, so she had only been able to promise Miss Matty 5 pounds on her paper. She wished she was rich. She wished she could help dear Miss Matty more…

And then Mrs Fitz-Adam stopped me outside the house - to say almost the opposite. She had not liked to write down all she could afford and was ready to give.

‘Miss Matty was such a fine young lady, ‘she explained, ‘when I was just a country girl coming to Cranford market. One day, I remember, I met her just outside the town. She was walking, and a gentleman rode beside her and was talking to her. She was looking down at some flowers she had picked, and I think she was crying. But she turned and ran after me to ask - oh, so kindly - about my poor mother, who was dying. Miss Matty was the rector’s daughter, and it was such an honour that she spoke to me in that pretty way.

‘So do please think how I can give her a little more without anyone knowing, my dear. And my brother will be her doctor for nothing. He and her ladyship are ready to do anything for her. We all are.’

I was so anxious to get home to Miss Matty that I made all kinds of promises. But Miss Matty had not missed me. She was busy preparing to leave her house, and I think she was pleased to be doing something. Whenever she thought about Mr Dobson with his five-pound note, she said, she felt so dishonest! She was sure the bankers themselves must feel terrible…

My father arrived next morning, and when we were alone, I told him about Martha’s plan and my meeting with the Cranford ladies.

My father brushed his hand across his eyes. ‘See, Mary,’ he said, ‘how a good life makes friends all round. I could write a sermon about it if I was the rector!’

He and I decided that, if everyone agreed, Martha and Jem would marry as soon as possible and rent Miss Matty’s house with the money given by the Cranford ladies. Then Martha could use whatever Miss Matty paid for her lodgings to make her comfortable.

I told my father my idea that Miss Matty could sell tea, and he liked it. One of the rooms downstairs could become a shop, he said enthusiastically. It could have a glass door and Miss Matty could sit behind a table…

Miss Matty patiently accepted all we arranged. She even agreed to sell tea. ‘Though I doubt that I’ll do it very well.’ she said. ‘I’d so much rather sell sweets to children!’

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