فصل 09

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فصل 09

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CHAPTER NINE

A happy return

Mrs Jamieson, when she returned, considered Miss Matty’s situation for two or three days. Then she kindly gave her approval and allowed Miss Matty to sell tea and still remain in Cranford society, although she would be in trade. I think she was trying to annoy Lady Glenmire, by showing that a married woman comes down to her husband’s level in society. An unmarried woman like Miss Matty, however, could keep the level that her father had. So Cranford was allowed to visit Miss Matty; and, whether allowed or not, it was going to visit Lady Glenmire.

But then we learnt that ‘Mr and Mrs Hoggins’ were going to return the following week. ‘Mrs Hoggins’, not ‘Lady Glenmire’! Mrs Jamieson was pleased. ‘That woman’ never had any taste, she said. But ‘that woman’ and her new husband looked very happy on Sunday at church - and we did not turn our faces away from them as Mrs Jamieson did.

Miss Matty sold a lot of her furniture, though an ‘unknown friend’ (Mrs Fitz-Adam. I suspected) bought some favourite pieces back for her. The rector, too, bought the late Mr Jenkyns’s library and then offered some of the books back to Miss Matty, saying he had not enough shelves for them all.

The downstairs room was changed into a shop, as agreed, and we put a very small notice above the new door: ‘Matilda Jenkyns, seller of tea’. Inside, the walls were white, and two great boxes of tea stood on the bare wooden floor. I spent my small savings on sweets for the children Miss Matty loved so much, and now her shop was ready to open.

Well, not quite. Miss Matty was worried because Mr Johnson also sold tea and she did not want to take business away from him. So she went down the street to talk to him about it. He was very kind to her, and I know that he sent her some of his own customers, by telling them that Miss Jenkyns’s teas were better than the ones he sold. My businessman father shook his head. ‘All very well in Cranford perhaps. You could not do business like that in Drumble!’

But I was delighted. Everyone suddenly seemed to need tea. Indeed, Miss Matty sold so much of it on the first two days that I felt able to leave her and go home to Crumble.

I returned every three months to check the shop and help Miss Matty with her business letters. This reminded me, of course, that no reply had ever come from India. I began to be ashamed of my letter to the Aga Jenkyns, and was glad I had told nobody about it.

About a year after Miss Matty opened her shop, Martha begged me to come back to Cranford. I went immediately in case Miss Matty was ill. She was not. When I looked quietly into the shop, there she was behind the table, happily knitting. The only problem was that Martha was expecting her first baby very soon, and Miss Matty did not realize it.

‘I’m so afraid she won’t approve!’ cried Martha to me in the kitchen. ‘Will you tell her?’

I decided I would not. But a week later, I went in to see Miss Matty with a baby in my arms. She asked for her glasses, looked at it in surprise and was very silent all day. Then she went up to see Martha and they both cried with happiness. Shy, proud Jem shook my hand so hard that I still remember the pain.

While Martha was in bed, I was busy in the house. But sometimes I helped Miss Matty in the shop and was amused to watch her. She would never make a success of selling sweets! She gave away too many to every child who came in. But she had made more than 20 pounds from selling tea in her first year, I discovered. She liked her new life, too, now that she was used to it. She met the country people, and they brought so many little presents of fruit and eggs for ‘the old rector’s daughter’ that her table was sometimes quite full.

Cranford itself went on as usual. Mr and Mrs Hoggins were very happy together, though Mrs Jamieson still did not speak to them and even her man Mulliner avoided them in the street. It was now June. Martha was up again, and I was sitting in the shop one afternoon with Miss Matty when I saw a gentleman walk slowly past the window. He stood at the door, searching for a name. Then he came in. His hair was white, but his face was deep brown from the sun. It was the Aga Jenkyns, I knew it!

He stood opposite Miss Matty, just looking at her. Then he turned sharply to me. ‘Is your name Mary Smith?’

‘Yes!’ I said.

He clearly did not know how to announce himself to Miss Matty, who was always shy when a man entered the shop. ‘Give me a pound of those things,’ he said, waving at some sweets.

‘A pound!’ Now Miss Matty looked up at him. ‘Oh, sir! Can you be Peter?’ she said, and trembled from head to foot.

In a moment, he was round the table and holding her in his arms. She was so white that I told Mr Peter to take her up to the drawing-room and put her on the sofa. ‘I’ve been too sudden for you, my little Matty,’ he said. She held her brother’s hand tightly and allowed him to carry her up. I left them to talk alone while I went down to tell a delighted Martha, and then back to the shop.

We had tea early that day. Miss Matty sat in the armchair opposite her brother, eating nothing, just looking at him. ‘You were a boy when you left Cranford,’ she said fondly, ‘and now you have white hair!’

‘And I forgot how time passes, Matty! I’ve brought you a pretty little dress from India! I remembered your taste. It was so like my dear mother’s.’

At that time, the brother and sister held each other’s hand even more tightly, and I got up to leave them together again. But Peter rose too. ‘I must arrange for a room at the “George” he said. ‘My bag is there too.’

‘No!’ cried Miss Matty. ‘Please, dear Peter, don’t go! Mary, don’t allow it!’

So I gave Mr Peter my room and moved in with Miss Matty. Poor Peter, she told me that night, had fought at Rangoon and been taken prisoner by the Burmese. Afterwards, his letters to England were returned with the word ‘Dead’ across them. So he had decided to stay out in the East as a planter. Then my letter arrived…

I do not think Peter came home from India a rich man, but a day or two later the shop was closed. The sweets were given to children, the tea was given to old people. The pretty dress was kept for Flora Gordon and, at about this time, many nice presents arrived for Miss Pole and Mrs Forrester. Mrs Fitz-Adam and Mrs Jamieson. I myself received handsome copies of Dr Johnson’s books. Miss Matty begged me, with tears in her eyes, to consider them a present from her sister as well as herself.

Peter became a great favourite with the ladies of Cranford. He told ‘wonderful stories’ (though these stories were less wonderful, I noticed, when the rector was present). He had ‘wonderful foreign ways’ - he even sat on the floor at one of Miss Pole’s parties. When Mrs Jamieson smiled her approval, I remembered she had once called Mr Hoggins ‘vulgar’ just because he crossed his legs as he sat on his chair.

So I returned to Drumble, leaving Miss Matty and Mr Peter very happy together. Martha and Jem remained willingly in the house, with baby Matilda. The only sadness was that Mrs Jamieson and the Hogginses were still not friends.

But then, one October morning, I received letters from Miss Pole and Miss Matty, asking me to come to Cranford. The dear Gordons were arriving on the fourteenth, they wrote, and had invited everyone to a lunch at the George Inn - even Miss Betty Barker, even Mr Hoggins and his wife, whom Major Gordon had met in Scotland.

Would Mrs Jamieson go to the lunch? When I arrived in Cranford, no one yet knew. Mr Peter, however, said she should and would go. ‘Leave Mrs Jamieson to me.’ he announced. The next thing we heard, from Miss Pole, was that Mrs Jamieson was indeed going.

Clever Mr Peter had arranged for ‘Signor Brunoni, Conjurer to the King of Delhi’ to return to Cranford Assembly Room ‘in honour of the Honourable Mrs Jamieson’. Mrs Jamieson’s name was written large on the notice. Mr Peter was sending everyone free tickets. And when was Signor Brunoni going to show his magic? On the evening of the Gordons’ lunch…

So Mrs Jamieson came to the lunch, all smiles at Mr Peter’s fantastic stories of his travels - and he entered the Assembly Room that evening with the Honourable Mrs Jamieson on one side and my lady, Mrs Hoggins, on the other.

Since that day, the old friendliness has returned to Cranford. I am pleased about this. My dear Miss Matty loves peace and kindness, and I think we are all better people when she is near.

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