« PreviousContinue »
The next time we visited Newton Grange we found its bright-eyed mistress, with her sleeves turned up, making an attempt at a pie. The only maid who still remained with her was prostrate with ague; and Mr. Sibthorpe himself had experienced a shake or two, and sat in the corner of the great kitchen fire-place, looking doleful to be sure. The account of things was now somewhat shaded: the bright tints which had been cast upon the manufacture of bread and butter were dimmed a little; Mrs. Sibthorpe had laid aside her rings, and left the papillotes in her ringlets; a dress, scarcely suited to woodland kitchening, was defended by an apron borrowed from the maid. This said maid, a devoted and excellent creature, had her little bed in a corner of the kitchen, with the double view of making the care of her chill days less laborious, and of aiding her mistress in the household duties, by suggestions, and hints, and cautions, which were delivered with most amusing apologies, and ceaseless regrets that such business should fall into such hands. "Oh, ma'am,
if you please, the kettle is boiling over!
! dear me if I could but lift it off myself! This hager is the hoddest thing! Yesterday
I was quite stout. Oh, please ma'am,— don't scald yourself! Oh, ma'am! I beg your pardon — but the nasty pig has come in at the door, and has got at master's gruel!"
Mrs. Sibthorpe's spirits were almost as good as ever, and she found amusement in all the vexatious crosses of her present lot. Her husband was far more disturbed: he could not bear to see the exertions and sacrifices made by his wife, while he, only half-sick, but quite useless, sat looking on, a sad and silent cypher."
And, all this time, no assistance to be procured in any department. Ague is very impartial in its visits, and often puts an entire neighbourhood down at once, so that it not unfrequently occurs that there are not able persons enough in a whole district to attend properly to the sick.
"Nor from this deep retirement banished was Th' amusing care of rural industry."
"Oh let not, then, waste luxury impair
Creep on the freeborn mind, and working there,
Of Liberty * * the swelling wish
AFTER this seasoning was at an end, and ague seemed to have worn off, or nearly so, our English friends began again to enjoy the real pleasures of a country life, and to gather round them such additional means of comfort and convenience as had been at first unprovided. The new part of the dwelling was finished, and a sweet low-browed many-sided cottage it was. Furniture came, and was placed in its appropriate positions - that is, appropriate according to Mrs. Sibthorpe's
views, though sadly out of order in the estimation of her neighbours. A fine pianoforte was drawn from its hiding-place in a neighbouring barn; books, in copious measure, filled every corner of the little nook called a library. A rustic arbour was constructed in the garden for Charlotte's especial use; and here her school-books and her "babythings" were bestowed, - the arbour having been carefully thatched to protect the treasures from the weather. A light open carriage, and a pair of ponies, were added to the establishment, and one would have thought there was little left for plain people to wish for.
But, alack for short-sighted humanity! Parlours and libraries and halls and verandas require to be swept and dusted. An air of slovenliness soon spreads itself over gardens and shrubberies that are not duly cared for. Horses exact the most odious regularity in feeding and currying; and carriages give very little comfort if we must use them muddy, or wash the mud off with our own hands. A late writer has advanced
the appalling doctrine that there is a degree of immorality in dismembering one family for the accommodation of another, that is, that each family, while in health, ought to have no greater amount of domestic business than can be performed by its own hands. Whether the speculations of this philosopher had not yet been communicated to the world, or whether Mr. and Mrs. Sibthorpe had not happened to meet with them, or whether, in spite of instruction, they still adhered to the old-fashioned notion of the advantages of a division of labour, I am not able to say. Certain it is that they found the want of good domestics a sad drawback on the comforts of their pleasant house and its accompaniments. The one faithful damsel still kept her place, and divided herself into as many parts as she could, but she had had ague enough to lessen her efficiency not a little; and besides, the more we enlarge our bounds and increase our conveniences, the more care and labour do we render necessary. Many and desperate efforts did Mr. Sibthorpe make to supply the deficiency.