BOOK II. OLD AND YOUNG.
17. CHAPTER XVII.
"The clerkly person smiled and said
Promise was a pretty maid,
But being poor she died unwed."
The Rev. Camden Farebrother, whom Lydgate went to see the
next evening, lived in an old parsonage, built of stone,
venerable enough to match the church which it looked out upon.
All the furniture too in the house was old, but with another
grade of age--that of Mr. Farebrother's father and grandfather.
There were painted white chairs, with gilding and wreaths on them,
and some lingering red silk damask with slits in it. There were
engraved portraits of Lord Chancellors and other celebrated lawyers
of the last century; and there were old pier-glasses to reflect them,
as well as the little satin-wood tables and the sofas resembling
a prolongation of uneasy chairs, all standing in relief against
the dark wainscot This was the physiognomy of the drawing-room into
which Lydgate was shown; and there were three ladies to receive him,
who were also old-fashioned, and of a faded but genuine respectability:
Mrs. Farebrother, the Vicar's white-haired mother, befrilled and
kerchiefed with dainty cleanliness, up right, quick-eyed, and
still under seventy; Miss Noble, her sister, a tiny old lady
of meeker aspect, with frills and kerchief decidedly more worn
and mended; and Miss Winifred Farebrother, the Vicar's elder sister,
well-looking like himself, but nipped and subdued as single women
are apt to be who spend their lives in uninterrupted subjection
to their elders. Lydgate had not expected to see so quaint a group:
knowing simply that Mr. Farebrother was a bachelor, he had thought
of being ushered into a snuggery where the chief furniture would
probably be books and collections of natural objects. The Vicar
himself seemed to wear rather a changed aspect, as most men do
when acquaintances made elsewhere see them for the first time
in their own homes; some indeed showing like an actor of genial
parts disadvantageously cast for the curmudgeon in a new piece.
This was not the case with Mr. Farebrother: he seemed a trifle milder
and more silent, the chief talker being his mother, while he only put
in a good-humored moderating remark here and there. The old lady
was evidently accustomed to tell her company what they ought to think,
and to regard no subject as quite safe without her steering.
She was afforded leisure for this function by having all her little
wants attended to by Miss Winifred. Meanwhile tiny Miss Noble
carried on her arm a small basket, into which she diverted a bit
of sugar, which she had first dropped in her saucer as if by mistake;
looking round furtively afterwards, and reverting to her teacup
with a small innocent noise as of a tiny timid quadruped.
Pray think no ill of Miss Noble. That basket held small savings
from her more portable food, destined for the children of her poor
friends among whom she trotted on fine mornings; fostering and
petting all needy creatures being so spontaneous a delight to her,
that she regarded it much as if it had been a pleasant vice that she
was addicted to. Perhaps she was conscious of being tempted to steal
from those who had much that she might give to those who had nothing,
and carried in her conscience the guilt of that repressed desire.
One must be poor to know the luxury of giving!