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   Chapter 6 No.6

The Moorland Cottage By Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell Characters: 19928

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05

It was true of Mr. Buxton, as well as of his son, that he had the seeds of

imperiousness in him. His life had not been such as to call them out into

view. With more wealth than he required; with a gentle wife, who if she

ruled him never showed it, or was conscious of the fact herself; looked up

to by his neighbors, a simple affectionate set of people, whose fathers

had lived near his father and grandfather in the same kindly relation,

receiving benefits cordially given, and requiting them with good will and

respectful attention: such had been the circumstances surrounding him; and

until his son grew out of childhood, there had not seemed a wish which he

had it not in his power to gratify as soon as formed. Again, when Frank was

at school and at college, all went on prosperously; he gained honors enough

to satisfy a far more ambitious father. Indeed, it was the honors he gained

that stimulated his father's ambition. He received letters from tutors,

and headmasters, prophesying that, if Frank chose, he might rise to the

"highest honors in church or state;" and the idea thus suggested, vague as

it was, remained, and filled Mr. Buxton's mind; and, for the first time in

his life, made him wish that his own career had been such as would have led

him to form connections among the great and powerful. But, as it was, his

shyness and gêne, from being unaccustomed to society, had made him

averse to Frank's occasional requests that he might bring such and such a

school-fellow, or college-chum, home on a visit. Now he regretted this, on

account of the want of those connections which might thus have been formed;

and, in his visions, he turned to marriage as the best way of remedying

this. Erminia was right in saying that her uncle had thought of Lady Adela

Castlemayne for an instant; though how the little witch had found it out I

cannot say, as the idea had been dismissed immediately from his mind.

He was wise enough to see its utter vanity, as long as his son remained

undistinguished. But his hope was this. If Frank married Erminia, their

united property (she being her father's heiress) would justify him in

standing for the shire; or if he could marry the daughter of some leading

personage in the county, it might lead to the same step; and thus at once

he would obtain a position in parliament, where his great talents would

have scope and verge enough. Of these two visions, the favorite one (for

his sister's sake) was that of marriage with Erminia.

And, in the midst of all this, fell, like a bombshell, the intelligence of

his engagement with Maggie Browne; a good sweet little girl enough, but

without fortune or connection--without, as far as Mr. Buxton knew, the

least power, or capability, or spirit, with which to help Frank on in his

career to eminence in the land! He resolved to consider if as a boyish

fancy, easily to be suppressed; and pooh-poohed it down, to Frank,

accordingly. He remarked his son's set lips, and quiet determined brow,

although he never spoke in a more respectful tone, than while thus steadily

opposing his father. If he had shown more violence of manner, he would have

irritated him less; but, as it was, if was the most miserable interview

that had ever taken place between the father and son.

Mr. Buxton tried to calm himself down with believing that Frank would

change his mind, if he saw more of the world; but, somehow, he had a

prophesying distrust of this idea internally. The worst was, there was

no fault to be found with Maggie herself, although she might want the

accomplishments he desired to see in his son's wife. Her connections, too,

were so perfectly respectable (though humble enough in comparison with Mr.

Buxton's soaring wishes), that there was nothing to be objected to on that

score; her position was the great offence. In proportion to his want of any

reason but this one, for disapproving of the engagement, was his annoyance

under it. He assumed a reserve toward Frank; which was so unusual a

restraint upon his open, genial disposition, that it seemed to make him

irritable toward all others in contact with him, excepting Erminia. He

found it difficult to behave rightly to Maggie. Like all habitually cordial

persons, he went into the opposite extreme, when he wanted to show a little

coolness. However angry he might be with the events of which she was the

cause, she was too innocent and meek to justify him in being more than

cool; but his awkwardness was so great, that many a man of the world has

met his greatest enemy, each knowing the other's hatred, with less freezing

distance of manner than Mr. Buxton's to Maggie. While she went simply on in

her own path, loving him the more through all, for old kindness' sake, and

because he was Frank's father, he shunned meeting her with such evident and

painful anxiety, that at last she tried to spare him the encounter, and

hurried out of church, or lingered behind all, in order to avoid the only

chance they now had of being forced to speak; for she no longer went to the

dear house in Combehurst, though Erminia came to see her more than ever.

Mrs. Browne was perplexed and annoyed beyond measure. She upbraided Mr.

Buxton to every one but Maggie. To her she said--"Any one in their senses

might have foreseen what had happened, and would have thought well about

it, before they went and fell in love with a young man of such expectations

as Mr. Frank Buxton."

In the middle of all this dismay, Edward came over from Woodchester for a

day or two. He had been told of the engagement, in a letter from Maggie

herself; but if was too sacred a subject for her to enlarge upon to him;

and Mrs. Browne was no letter writer. So this was his first greeting to

Maggie; after kissing her:

"Well, Sancho, you've done famously for yourself. As soon as I got your

letter I said to Harry Bish--'Still waters run deep; here's my little

sister Maggie, as quiet a creature as ever lived, has managed to catch

young Buxton, who has five thousand a-year if he's a penny.' Don't go so

red, Maggie. Harry was sure to hear of if soon from some one, and I see no

use in keeping it secret, for it gives consequence to us all."

"Mr. Buxton is quite put out about it," said Mrs. Brown, querulously; "and

I'm sure he need not be, for he's enough of money, if that's what he wants;

and Maggie's father was a clergyman, and I've seen 'yeoman,' with my own

eyes, on old Mr. Buxton's (Mr. Lawrence's father's) carts; and a clergyman

is above a yeoman any day. But if Maggie had had any thought for other

people, she'd never have gone and engaged herself, when she might have been

sure it would give offence. We are never asked down to dinner now. I've

never broken bread there since last Christmas."

"Whew!" said Edward to this. It was a disappointed whistle; but he soon

cheered up. "I thought I could have lent a hand in screwing old Buxton up

about the settlements; but I see it's not come to that yet. Still I'll go

and see the old gentleman. I'm a bit of a favorite of his, and I doubt I

can turn him round."

"Pray, Edward, don't go," said Maggie. "Frank and I are content to wait;

and I'm sure we would rather not have any one speak to Mr. Buxton, upon a

subject which evidently gives him so much pain; please, Edward, don't!"

"Well, well. Only I must go about this property of his. Besides, I don't

mean to get into disgrace; so I shan't seem to know anything about it,

if it would make him angry. I want to keep on good terms, because of the

agency. So, perhaps, I shall shake my head, and think it great presumption

in you, Maggie, to have thought of becoming his daughter-in-law. If I can

do you no good, I may as well do myself some."

"I hope you won't mention me at all," she replied.

One comfort (and almost the only one arising from Edward's visit) was, that

she could now often be spared to go up to the thorn-tree, and calm down her

anxiety, and bring all discords into peace, under the sweet influences of

nature. Mrs. Buxton had tried to teach her the force of the lovely truth,

that the "melodies of the everlasting chime" may abide in the hearts of

those who ply their daily task in towns, and crowded populous places; and

that solitude is not needed by the faithful for them to feel the immediate

presence of God; nor utter stillness of human sound necessary, before they

can hear the music of His angels' footsteps; but, as yet, her soul was a

young disciple; and she felt it easier to speak to Him, and come to Him for

help, sitting lonely, with wild moors swelling and darkening around her,

and not a creature in sight but the white specks of distant sheep, and the

birds that shun the haunts of men, floating in the still mid-air.

She sometimes longed to go to Mr. Buxton and tell him how much she could

sympathize with him, if his dislike to her engagement arose from thinking

her unworthy of his son. Frank's character seemed to her grand in its

promise. With vehement impulses and natural gifts, craving worthy

employment, his will sat supreme over all, like a young emperor calmly

seated on his throne, whose fiery generals and wise counsellors stand alike

ready to obey him. But if marriage were to be made by due measurement and

balance of character, and if others, with their scales, were to be the

judges, what would become of all the beautiful services rendered by the

loyalty of true love? Where would be the raising up of the weak by the

strong? or the patient endurance? or the gracious trust of her:

"Whose faith is fixt and cannot move;

She darkly feels him great and wise,

She dwells on him with faith

ful eyes,

'I cannot understand: I love.'"

Edward's manners and conduct caused her more real anxiety than anything

else. Indeed, no other thoughtfulness could be called anxiety compared to

this. His faults, she could not but perceive, were strengthening with his

strength, and growing with his growth. She could not help wondering whence

he obtained the money to pay for his dress, which she thought was of a

very expensive kind. She heard him also incidentally allude to "runs up

to town," of which, at the time, neither she nor her mother had been made

aware. He seemed confused when she questioned him about these, although he

tried to laugh it off; and asked her how she, a country girl, cooped up

among one set of people, could have any idea of the life it was necessary

for a man to lead who "had any hope of getting on in the world." He must

have acquaintances and connections, and see something of life, and make an

appearance. She was silenced, but not satisfied. Nor was she at ease with

regard to his health. He looked ill, and worn; and, when he was not

rattling and laughing, his face fell into a shape of anxiety and

uneasiness, which was new to her in it. He reminded her painfully of an

old German engraving she had seen in Mrs. Buxton's portfolio, called,

"Pleasure digging a Grave;" Pleasure being represented by a ghastly figure

of a young man, eagerly industrious over his dismal work.

A few days after he went away, Nancy came to her in her bed-room.

"Miss Maggie," said she, "may I just speak a word?" But when the permission

was given, she hesitated.

"It's none of my business, to be sure," said she at last: "only, you see,

I've lived with your mother ever since she was married; and I care a deal

for both you and Master Edward. And I think he drains Missus of her money;

and it makes me not easy in my mind. You did not know of it, but he had his

father's old watch when he was over last time but one; I thought he was of

an age to have a watch, and that it was all natural. But, I reckon he's

sold it, and got that gimcrack one instead. That's perhaps natural too.

Young folks like young fashions. But, this time, I think he has taken away

your mother's watch; at least, I've never seen it since he went. And this

morning she spoke to me about my wages. I'm sure I've never asked for them,

nor troubled her; but I'll own it's now near on to twelve months since she

paid me; and she was as regular as clock-work till then. Now, Miss Maggie

don't look so sorry, or I shall wish I had never spoken. Poor Missus seemed

sadly put about, and said something as I did not try to hear; for I was so

vexed she should think I needed apologies, and them sort of things. I'd

rather live with you without wages than have her look so shame-faced as she

did this morning. I don't want a bit for money, my dear; I've a deal in the

Bank. But I'm afeard Master Edward is spending too much, and pinching


Maggie was very sorry indeed. Her mother had never told her anything of all

this, so it was evidently a painful subject to her; and Maggie determined

(after lying awake half the night) that she would write to Edward, and

remonstrate with him; and that in every personal and household expense, she

would be, more than ever, rigidly economical.

The full, free, natural intercourse between her lover and herself, could

not fail to be checked by Mr. Buxton's aversion to the engagement. Frank

came over for some time in the early autumn. He had left Cambridge, and

intended to enter himself at the Temple as soon as the vacation was ended.

He had not been very long at home before Maggie was made aware, partly

through Erminia, who had no notion of discreet silence on any point, and

partly by her own observation, of the increasing estrangement between

father and son. Mr. Buxton was reserved with Frank for the first time in

his life; and Frank was depressed and annoyed at his father's obstinate

repetition of the same sentence, in answer to all his arguments in favor of

his engagement--arguments which were overwhelming to himself and which it

required an effort of patience on his part to go over and recapitulate, so

obvious was the conclusion; and then to have the same answer forever, the

same words even:

"Frank! it's no use talking. I don't approve of the engagement; and never


He would snatch up his hat, and hurry off to Maggie to be soothed. His

father knew where he was gone without being told; and was jealous of her

influence over the son who had long been his first and paramount object in


He needed not have been jealous. However angry and indignant Frank was when

he went up to the moorland cottage, Maggie almost persuaded him, before

half an hour had elapsed, that his father was but unreasonable from his

extreme affection. Still she saw that such frequent differences would

weaken the bond between father and son; and, accordingly, she urged Frank

to accept an invitation into Scotland.

"You told me," said she, "that Mr. Buxton will have it, it is but a boy's

attachment; and that when you have seen other people, you will change your

mind; now do try how far you can stand the effects of absence." She said it

playfully, but he was in a humor to be vexed.

"What nonsense, Maggie! You don't care for all this delay yourself; and you

take up my father's bad reasons as if you believed them."

"I don't believe them; but still they may be true."

"How should you like it, Maggie, if I urged you to go about and see

something of society, and try if you could not find some one you liked

better? It is more probable in your case than in mine; for you have never

been from home, and I have been half over Europe."

"You are very much afraid, are not you, Frank?" said she, her face bright

with blushes, and her gray eyes smiling up at him. "I have a great idea

that if I could see that Harry Bish that Edward is always talking about, I

should be charmed. He must wear such beautiful waistcoats! Don't you think

I had better see him before our engagement is quite, quite final?"

But Frank would not smile. In fact, like all angry persons, he found fresh

matter for offence in every sentence. She did not consider the engagement

as quite final: thus he chose to understand her playful speech. He would

not answer. She spoke again:

"Dear Frank, you are not angry with me, are you? It is nonsense to think

that we are to go about the world, picking and choosing men and women as

if they were fruit and we were to gather the best; as if there was not

something in our own hearts which, if we listen to it conscientiously, will

tell us at once when we have met the one of all others. There now, am I

sensible? I suppose I am, for your grim features are relaxing into a smile.

That's right. But now listen to this. I think your father would come round

sooner, if he were not irritated every day by the knowledge of your visits

to me. If you went away, he would know that we should write to each other

yet he would forget the exact time when; but now he knows as well as I do

where you are when you are up here; and I fancy, from what Erminia says, it

makes him angry the whole time you are away."

Frank was silent. At last he said: "It is rather provoking to be obliged to

acknowledge that there is some truth in what you say. But even if I would,

I am not sure that I could go. My father does not speak to me about his

affairs, as he used to do; so I was rather surprised yesterday to hear him

say to Erminia (though I'm sure he meant the information for me), that he

had engaged an agent."

"Then there will be the less occasion for you to be at home. He won't want

your help in his accounts."

"I've given him little enough of that. I have long wanted him to have

somebody to look after his affairs. They are very complicated and he is

very careless. But I believe my signature will be wanted for some new

leases; at least he told me so."

"That need not take you long," said Maggie.

"Not the mere signing. But I want to know something more about the

property, and the proposed tenants. I believe this Mr. Henry that my father

has engaged, is a very hard sort of man. He is what is called scrupulously

honest and honorable; but I fear a little too much inclined to drive hard

bargains for his client. Now I want to be convinced to the contrary, if I

can, before I leave my father in his hands. So you cruel judge, you won't

transport me yet, will you?"

"No" said Maggie, overjoyed at her own decision, and blushing her delight

that her reason was convinced it was right for Frank to stay a little


The next day's post brought her a letter from Edward. There was not a word

in it about her inquiry or remonstrance; it might never have been written,

or never received; but a few hurried anxious lines, asking her to write by

return of post, and say if it was really true that Mr. Buxton had engaged

an agent. "It's a confounded shabby trick if he has, after what he said to

me long ago. I cannot tell you how much I depend on your complying with my

request. Once more, write directly. If Nancy cannot take the letter to

the post, run down to Combehurst with it yourself. I must have an answer

to-morrow, and every particular as to who--when to be appointed, &c. But I

can't believe the report to be true."

Maggie asked Frank if she might name what he had told her the day before to

her brother. He said:

"Oh, yes, certainly, if he cares to know. Of course, you will not say

anything about my own opinion of Mr. Henry. He is coming to-morrow, and I

shall be able to judge how far I am right."

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