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was almost unfurnished, for it had not been judged right to open the boxes of household goods, which were stored at some distance, until the dirt and confusion which accompany building anywhere, and in this country above all, should be out of the way.
The lady, a handsome woman of perhaps thirty or more, was seated on a rough bench, such as is sometimes used in farmers' kitchens, giving a lesson in geography to a pretty little girl, Mr. Sibthorpe's daughter by a former marriage. A small-sized globe stood on the bench between them. Sibthorpe's eyes, shaded by a wilderness of ebon curls, were black, and quick, and piercing, and her speech was correspondingly rapid and decided. She spoke with a strong English accent (which does not mean cockneyism, whatever some of us may think), and her conversation evinced at once the woman of the world and the romantic enthusiast, —a rare combination certainly, but, when it occurs, delightful. Her manners were those of refined and fashionable society; her sentiments fresh and artless enough for a
Swiss mountain girl, or a native of our own bright West.
She received us with frank cordiality, and with scarcely a reference to the scene of confusion in which we found her, though the bench on which she was sitting formed a tolerably fair specimen of the whole temporary arrangement. A small writing-table, with implements of bronze and silver, stood in a corner, and a handsome arm-chair was wheeled round for me, contrasting oddly enough with the bare floor and the papershaded windows. But the lady did not need the appliances which are all in all to the mere fashionable. She was one in whose company we forget chairs and tables. She was not so unwise, however, as to disdain the aid of dress, and, though surrounded by coarse objects, she herself was critically nice and lady-like in her appointments; and she seemed, with her bright smiles and her animated manner, to irradiate that rude cottage parlour.
Her table, too, I dwell on these things
partly because Mrs. Sibthorpe belonged to a
much calumniated class of women, who, because they wear blue stockings occasionally, are supposed not to know how to wear any other, and partly because I do love to talk about Mrs. Sibthorpe,-the table was laid with English precision; and although the fare was plain enough, it was perfectly well served. Indeed, if I ever envied anybody an earthly possession, I certainly envied the Sibthorpes the three or four English servants, who moved like clockwork through their several duties, in spite of the discouraging aspect of things around them. Something that looked very much like a carpenter's bench served as a side-table, but it was covered with delicate damask, and the sober-looking attendant used it as gravely as if it had been mahogany or marble.
The lady herself had evidently never yet known any of the solicitudes of an American housekeeper in the country. Her whole heart was in the conversation, and the conversation was as far as possible from all reference to those common-place affairs which fill the souls of so many of us. This was,
perhaps, the more noticeable and enviable to me, because I am, habitually, if not naturally, one whom cares devour, and who finds in the minute attention required by the impossibility of being well served in the woods, a dead weight always counterbalancing the pleasure to be derived from the most interesting or brilliant conversation. This is a weakness, I know; but it finds some apology in the weakness of others. Who cannot recollect among his friends or visiters some one who is made utterly uncomfortable by the least deficiency in the ménage? Such people abound in the United States as well as elsewhere; people in whom "a taste for physical well-being," as De Tocqueville defines the foible, has almost supplanted every other. To entertain such people in this country, with only home-bred domestics, is a very trying pleasure indeed. Small philosophy becomes very necessary on both sides.
When Mr. and Mrs. Sibthorpe returned our visit, they had experienced some difficulties, in consequence of the marriage of
one of the maids with an excellent manservant, who had been Mr. Sibthorpe's factotum, and who now bought land with his wages, and assumed the position of country neighbour, instead of that of faithful domestic. However, as the newly-married couple were living quite near them, they still had the benefit of their occasional services, and were, in the meantime, making diligent inquiry after others, who might, at least, be trained to fill their places. Mrs. Sibthorpe was in fine spirits, boasting that she had learned to make bread, and was even taking lessons in making butter; and declaring that she really believed the best thing that could happen to her would be the desertion of all her servants in time, in order that the domestic employments, which she felt to be so rational and so healthful, might become compulsory; at least, long enough to oblige her to obtain an insight into their mysteries. It was delightful to see her taking her inoculation thus kindly, and we found her gaiety and good-humour more charming than ever.