BOOK III. WAITING FOR DEATH.
24. CHAPTER XXIV.
Mr. Garth was not at the office, and Fred rode on to his house,
which was a little way outside the town--a homely place with an orchard
in front of it, a rambling, old-fashioned, half-timbered building,
which before the town had spread had been a farm-house, but was
now surrounded with the private gardens of the townsmen. We get
the fonder of our houses if they have a physiognomy of their own,
as our friends have. The Garth family, which was rather a large one,
for Mary had four brothers and one sister, were very fond of their
old house, from which all the best furniture had long been sold.
Fred liked it too, knowing it by heart even to the attic which smelt
deliciously of apples and quinces, and until to-day he had never come
to it without pleasant expectations; but his heart beat uneasily now
with the sense that he should probably have to make his confession before
Mrs. Garth, of whom he was rather more in awe than of her husband.
Not that she was inclined to sarcasm and to impulsive sallies,
as Mary was. In her present matronly age at least, Mrs. Garth
never committed herself by over-hasty speech; having, as she said,
borne the yoke in her youth, and learned self-control. She had that
rare sense which discerns what is unalterable, and submits to it
without murmuring. Adoring her husband's virtues, she had very early
made up her mind to his incapacity of minding his own interests,
and had met the consequences cheerfully. She had been magnanimous
enough to renounce all pride in teapots or children's frilling,
and had never poured any pathetic confidences into the ears
of her feminine neighbors concerning Mr. Garth's want of prudence
and the sums he might have had if he had been like other men.
Hence these fair neighbors thought her either proud or eccentric,
and sometimes spoke of her to their husbands as "your fine Mrs. Garth."
She was not without her criticism of them in return, being more
accurately instructed than most matrons in Middlemarch, and--where is
the blameless woman?--apt to be a little severe towards her own sex,
which in her opinion was framed to be entirely subordinate.
On the other hand, she was disproportionately indulgent towards
the failings of men, and was often heard to say that these
were natural. Also, it must be admitted that Mrs. Garth was a trifle
too emphatic in her resistance to what she held to be follies:
the passage from governess into housewife had wrought itself a
little too strongly into her consciousness, and she rarely forgot
that while her grammar and accent were above the town standard,
she wore a plain cap, cooked the family dinner, and darned all
the stockings. She had sometimes taken pupils in a peripatetic fashion,
making them follow her about in the kitchen with their book or slate.
She thought it good for them to see that she could make an excellent
lather while she corrected their blunders "without looking,"--
that a woman with her sleeves tucked up above her elbows might know
all about the Subjunctive Mood or the Torrid Zone--that, in short,
she might possess "education" and other good things ending in
"tion," and worthy to be pronounced emphatically, without being
a useless doll. When she made remarks to this edifying effect,
she had a firm little frown on her brow, which yet did not hinder
her face from looking benevolent, and her words which came forth
like a procession were uttered in a fervid agreeable contralto.
Certainly, the exemplary Mrs. Garth had her droll aspects, but her
character sustained her oddities, as a very fine wine sustains
a flavor of skin.