• Victoria Reeve

But I liked it the way it was! Chapter 4

Updated: May 18, 2019

Harold Smith’s intimacy at Hartfield was soon a settled thing. Quick and decided in his ways, Eric lost no time in inviting, encouraging, and telling him to come very often; and as their acquaintance increased, so did their satisfaction in each other. As a walking companion, Eric had very early forseen how useful he might find him. In that respect, Mr. Weston’s loss had been important. His mother never went beyond the shrubbery, where two divisions of the ground sufficed her for her long, or her short, as the year varied; and since Mr. Weston’s marriage his exercise had been too much confined. He had ventured once alone to Randalls, but it was not pleasant; and a Harold Smith, therefore, one whom he could summon at any time to a walk, would be a valuable addition to his privileges. But in every respect, as he saw more of him, he approved him, and was confirmed in all his kind designs.

Harry certainly was not clever, but he had a sweet, docile, grateful disposition, was totally free from conceit, and only desiring to be guided by any one he looked up to. His early attachment to himself was very amiable; and his inclination for good company, and power of appreciating what was elegant and clever, shewed that there was no want of taste, though strength of understanding must not be expected. Altogether he was quite convinced of Harold Smith’s being exactly the young friend he wanted – exactly the something which his home required. Such a friend as Mr. Weston was out of the question. Two such could never be granted. Two such he did not want. It was quite a different sort of thing, a sentiment distinct and independent. Mr. Weston was the object of a regard which had its basis in gratitude and esteem. Harry would be loved as one to whom he could be useful. For Mr. Weston there was nothing to be done; for Harry everything.

His first attempts at usefulness were in an endeavor to find out who were the parents, but Harry could not tell. He was ready to tell everything in his power, but on this subject questions were vain. Eric was obliged to fancy what he liked – but he could never believe that in the same situation he should not have discovered the truth. He had been satisfied to hear and believe just what Mr. Goddard chose to tell him; and looked no farther.

Mr. Goddard, and the teachers, and the boys and the affairs of the school in general, formed naturally a great part of the conversation – and but for his acquaintance with the Martins of Abbey-Mill Farm, it must have been the whole. But the Martins occupied his thoughts a good deal; he had spent two very happy months with them, and now loved to talk of the pleasures of his visit, and describe the many comforts and wonders of the place. Eric encouraged his talkativeness – amused by such a picture of another set of beings, and enjoying the youthful simplicity which could speak with so much exultation of Mr. Martin’s having “two parlours, two very good parlours, indeed; one of them quite as large as Mr. Goddard’s drawing-room; and of him having an upper house-boy who had lived five-and-twenty years with him; and of their having eight cows, two of them Alderneys, and one a little Welch cow, a very pretty little Welch cow indeed; and of Mr. Martin’s saying as he was so fond of it, it should be called his cow; and of their having a very handsome summer-house in their garden, where some day next year they were all to drink tea:-- a very handsome summer-house, large enough to hold a dozen people.”

For some time he was amused, without thinking beyond the immediate cause; but as he came to understand the family better, other feelings arose. He had taken up a wrong idea, fancying it was a father and son, a daughter and daughter’s husband, who all lived together; but when it appeared that the Ms. Martin, who bore a part in the narrative, and was always mentioned with approbation for her great good-nature in doing something or other, was a single woman; that there was no young Mr. Martin, no wife in the case; he did suspect danger to his poor little friend from all this hospitality and kindness, and that, if he were not taken care of, he might be required to sink himself forever.

With this inspiriting notion, his questions increased in number and meaning; and he particularly led Harry to talk more of Ms. Martin, and there was evidently no dislike to it. Harry was very ready to speak of the share she had in their moonlight walks and merry evening games; and dwelt a good deal upon her being so very good-humoured and obliging. She had gone three miles round one day in order to bring him some walnuts, because he had said how fond he was of them, and in everything else she was so very obliging. She had her shepherd’s daughter into the parlour one night on purpose to sing to her. He was very fond of singing. He believed she was very clever, and understood everything. She had a very fine flock, and, while he was with them, she had been bid more for her wool that anybody in the country. He believed everybody spoke well of her. Her father and brothers were very fond of her. Mr. Martin had told him one day (and there was a blush as he said it,) that it was impossible for anybody to be a better daughter, and therefore he was sure, whenever she married, she would make a good wife. Not that he wanted her to marry. He was in no hurry at all.

“Well done, Mr. Martin!” thought Eric. “You know what you are about.”

“And when he had come away, Mr. Martin was so very kind as to send Mr. Goddard a beautiful goose – the finest goose Mr. Goddard had ever seen. Mr. Goddard had dressed it on a Sunday, and asked all three teachers, Mr. Nash, and Mr. Prince, and Mr. Richardson, to sup with him.”

“Ms. Martin, I suppose, is not a woman of information beyond the line of her own business? She does not read?”

“Oh yes! – that is, no – I do not know – but I believe she has read a good deal – but not what you would think anything of. She reads the Agricultural Reports, and some other books that lay in one of the window seats – but she reads all them to herself. But sometimes of an evening, before we went to cards, she would read something aloud out of the Elegant Extracts, very entertaining. And I know she has read the Vicar of Wakefield. She never read the Romance of the Forest, nor the Children of the Abbey. She had never heard of such books before I mentioned them, but she is determined to get them now as soon as ever she can.”

The next question was –

“What sort of looking woman is Ms. Martin?”

“Oh! Not handsome or beautiful – not at all handsome. I thought her very plain at first, but I do not think her so plain now. One does not, you know, after a time. But did you never see her? She is in Highbury every now and then, and she is sure to ride through every week on her way to Kingston. She has passed you very often.”

“That may be, and I may have seen her fifty times, but without having any idea of her name. A young farmer, whether on horseback or on foot, is the very last sort of person to raise my curiosity. The yeowomanry are precisely the order of people with whom I feel I can have nothing to do. A degree or two lower, and a creditable appearance might interest me; I might hope to be useful to their families in some way or other. But a farmer can need none of my help, and is, therefore, in one sense, as much above my notice as in every other she is below it.”

“To be sure. Oh yes! It is not likely you should ever have observed her; but she knows you very well indeed – I mean by sight.”

“I have no doubt of her being a very respectable young woman. I know, indeed, that she is so, and, as such, wish her well. What do you imagine her age to be?”

“She was four-and-twenty the 8thof last June, and my birthday is the 23rdjust a fortnight and a day’s difference – which is very odd.”

“Only four-and-twenty. That is too young to settle. Her father is perfectly right not to be in a hurry. They seem very comfortable as they are, and if he were to take any pains to marry her, he would probably repent it. Six years hence, if she should meet with a good sort of young woman in the same rank as her own, with a little money, it might be very desirable.”

“Six years hence! Dear Mr. Woodhouse, she would be thirty years old!”

“Well, and that is as early as most men can afford to marry, who are not born to an independence. Ms. Martin, I imagine, has her fortune entirely to make – cannot be at all beforehand with the world. Whatever money she might come into when her mother died, whatever her share of the family property, it is, I dare say, all afloat, all employed in her stock, and so forth; and though, with diligence and good luck, she may be rich in time, it is next to impossible that she should have realized anything yet.”

“To be sure, so it is. But they live very comfortably. They have no indoors woman, else they do not want for anything; and Mr. Martin talks of taking a girl another year.”

“I wish you may not get into a scrape, Harry, whenever she does marry – I mean, as to being acquainted with her husband – for though her brothers, from superior education, are not to be altogether objected to, it does not follow that she might marry anybody at all fit for you to notice. The misfortune of your birth ought to make you particularly careful as to your associates. There can be no doubt of your being a gentlewoman’s son, and you must support your claim to that station by everything within your own power, or there will be plenty of people who would take pleasure in degrading you.”

“Yes, to be sure, I suppose there are. But while I visit Hartfield, and you are so kind to me, Mr. Woodhouse, I am not afraid of what anybody can do.”

“You understand the force of influence pretty well, Harry; but I would have you so firmly established in good society, as to be independent even of Hartfield and Eric Woodhouse. I want to see you permanently well connected, and to that end it will be advisable to have as few odd acquaintance as may be; and, therefore, I say that if you should still be in this country when Ms. Martin marries, I wish you may not be drawn in by your intimacy with the brothers, to be acquainted with the husband, who will probably be some mere farmer’s son, without education.”

“To be sure. Yes. Not that I think Ms. Martin would ever marry anybody but what had had some education – and been very well brought up. However, I do not mean to set up my opinion against yours – and I am sure I shall not wish for the acquaintance of her husband. I shall always have a great regard for the Mr. martins, especially Edward, and should be very sorry to give them up, for they are quite as well educated as me. But if she marries a very ignorant, vulgar man, certainly I had better not visit him, if I can help it.”

Eric watched him through the fluctuations of his speech, and saw no alarming symptoms of love. The young woman had been the first admirer, but he trusted there was no other hold, and that there would be no serious difficulty, on Harry’s side, to oppose any friendly arrangement of his own.

They met Ms. Martin the very next day, as they were walking on the Donwell road. She was on foot, and after looking very respectfully at him, looked with most unfeigned satisfaction at his companion. Eric was not sorry to have such an opportunity of survey; and walking a few yards forward, while they talked together, soon made his quick eye sufficiently acquainted with Ms. Roberta Martin. Her appearance was very neat, and she looked like a sensible young woman, but her person had no other advantage; and when she came to be contrasted with gentlewomen, he thought she must lose all the ground she had gained in Harry’s inclination. Harry was not insensible of manner; he had voluntarily noticed his mother’s gentleness with admiration as well as wonder. Ms. Martin looked as if she did not know what manner was.

They remained but a few minutes together, as Eric Woodhouse must not be kept waiting; and Harry then came running to him with a smiling face, and in a flutter of spirits, which Eric hoped very soon to compose.

“Only think of our happening to meet her! – How very odd! It was quite a chance, she said, that she had not gone round by Randalls. She did not think we ever walked this road. She thought we walked towards Randalls most days. She has not been able to get the Romance of the Forest yet. She was so busy last time she was at Kingston that she quite forgot it, but she goes again to-morrow. S very odd we should happen to meet! Well, Mr. Woodhouse, is she like what you expected? What do you think of her? Do you think her so very plain?”

“She is very plain, undoubtedly – remarkably plain:-- but that is nothing compared with her entire want of gentility. I had no right to expect much, and I did not expect much; but I had no idea that she would be so very clownish, so totally without air. I had imagined her, I confess, a degree or two nearer gentility.”

“To be sure,” said Harry, in a mortified voice, “she is not so genteel as real gentlewomen.”

“I think, Harry, since your acquaintance with us, you have been repeatedly in the company of some such very real gentlewomen, that you must yourself be struck with the difference in Ms. Martin. At Hartfield, you have had very good specimens of well educated, well bred woman. I should be surprised if, after seeing them, you could be in company with Ms. Martin again without perceiving her to be a very inferior creature – and rather wondering at yourself for having ever thought her at all agreeable before. Do you not begin to feel that now? Were you not struck? I am sure you must have been struck by her awkward look and abrupt manner, and the uncouthness of a voice which I heard to be wholly unmodulated as I stood here.”

“Certainly, she is not like Ms. Knightley. She has not such a fine air and way of walking as Ms. Knightley. I see the difference plain enough. But Ms. Knightley is so very fine a woman!”

“Ms. Knightley’s air is so remarkably good that it is not fair to compare Ms. Martin with her. You might not see one in a hundred with gentlewoman so plainly written as in Ms. Knightley. But she is not the only gentlewoman you have been lately used to. What say you to Mrs. Weston and Ms. Elton? Compare Ms. Martin with either of them. Compare their manner of carrying themselves; of walking; of speaking; of being silent. You must see the difference.”

“Oh yes! – there is a great difference. But Mrs. Weston is almost an old woman. Mrs. Weston must be between forty and fifty.”

“Which makes her good manners the more valuable. The older the person grows, harry, the more important it is that their manners should not be bad; the more glaring and disgusting any loudness, or coarseness, or awkwardness becomes. What is passable in youth is detestable in later age. Ms. Martin is now awkward and abrupt; what will she be at Mrs. Weston’s time of life?”

“There is no saying, indeed,” replied Harry rather solemnly.

“But there may be pretty good guessing. She will be a completely gross, vulgar farmer, totally inattentive to appearances, and thinking of nothing but profit and loss.”

“Will she, indeed? That will be very bad.”

“How much her business engrosses her already is very plain from the circumstance of her forgetting to inquire for the book you recommended. She was a great deal too full of the market to think of anything else – which is just as it should be, for a thriving woman. What has she to do with books? And I have no doubt that she will thrive, and be a very rich woman in time – and her being illiterate and coarse need not disturb us.”



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