If 'twas not quite a truth universally acknowledged that when Lady Bexbury set her hand to contriving some matter, 'twould in due course come about, sure, thought Hannah, as the carriage took them from the railway station to Yeomans, it should be.
Oh, indeed, had taken a while before she and Flora might go live there. There had been the necessary work upon the house to complete: for although it had been in the finest modern style when General Yeomans had had it built, since then there had been yet further domestic improvements that one might desire.
There had been her parents to persuade, though that had been less of a difficulty than Hannah had anticipated. There had even been made over to her a nice little allowance from the proceeds of the jam factory.
But indeed, Flora’s beloved Tiger had been beforehand of any objections: had seen what straits Mrs Veriker was like to be reduced to upon her husband’s death, had taken the thought that an older and entire respectable lady in the establishment would do a deal to silence any hints of scandal in two such young ladies setting up a household, and there they were provided with a lady that would provide any necessary chaperonage, and had experience of domestic management. Julius, indeed, was quite envious that a lady of such extensive botanical knowledge would be living with them.
The gardens, said Lady Bexbury, looking out of the window, were very fine indeed when the Ulrichs were here: Mrs Ulrichs had most exceeding fine notions in gardening. But I daresay, once you are settled, you might desire advice of Julius.
Might we obtain it afore he goes to Nitherholme, said Hannah.
Indeed, said Flora, all we should require is a little advice upon how we might go on. But she looked a little – troubled? Yet after all, this was embarking upon a new enterprize for them, even Flora might well be somewhat daunted at what they went about.
But the house itself was entirely furbished and ready to inhabit, although there were still boxes of books to be unpacked in the fine room they had had made ready for a library, a task to which Hannah found herself greatly looking forward.
Is this not entirely charming a drawing-room? remarked Mrs Veriker, pouring tea. Such a splendid view of the gardens and the fountain. Sure I am sorry that we never met General Yeomans, for he seems a fellow that had excellent taste.
He was quite the finest of old fellows, said Lady Bexbury with a wistful expression. Sure one may still hear Sir Barton Wallace tell tales of the excellent bachelor parties he used to hold here; 'twould have been long ago, afore he married dear Susannah. Had two Hindoo servants that were entire devoted to him.
Was’t not, said Hannah, one of 'em, that was the cook, that taught Mama all her fine Hindoo receipts?
'Twas so – is’t not an age since any gave a tiffin party? – and after the General’s death went open an eating house about the docks.
Flora laughed and said that sure while they were on the Grand Tour there might have been daily tiffin parties and they would not have known.
Indeed, said Hannah, His Lordship gave several, and there were a couple at least at Offgrange House.
Sure I am a foolish Clorinda! She looked around the room again. Well, my dears, I hope that you will be happy here. I confide that 'twould be prudent for you to go sit in the Yeomans pew of a Sunday, to look well with the village. While the parson is by no means so learned a fellow as Mr Lucas, that had the living before he was preferred to that fine rectory by Tony Offgrange, is give out a good conscientious shepherd to his flock, has a wife that runs a Sunday-school and does good works among the poor, a thriving family – I daresay he will call and so will she.
We should wish, said Flora, to do all that was proper and not create scandal; but I hope we will not get caught up in working-parties and mothers’ meetings and so on.
Hannah looked at her and wondered whether Flora, that ever loved to be up and doing, would entirely avoid such affairs. Was there a school? A dispensary? A reading-room? improvements to the water-supply? plans on hand for almshouses or model cottages? Flora was a Ferraby, and was there a need for any of these, Hannah was in no doubt she would turn her hand to it.
By the time it came round Sunday, and they went to church, they were already settling into a pleasing round of activity. Mrs Veriker was editing various essays of her late husband’s for publication – Lord Offgrange had promised a preface, so very kind. Hannah had begun on the rational arrangement of the library, distracted from time to time by books that she wished to put by for perusal as soon as might be. Flora had embarked upon an ambitious plan of study, that required a deal of letters being sent to ask for recommendations of what she should read and orders to booksellers. They took healthful exercize walking in the gardens and the parkland.
The Vicar had come to call and so had his wife, and cards had been left by several ladies of the locality.
Dearest Flora, 'twould look particular and cause gossip, did we not go and return calls in proper fashion. Is’t not so, Verrie?
Mrs Veriker looked up from the household books. Oh, indeed we must, country places like this. Have I not heard dear Martha Samuels complain upon the necessity a thousand times?
I wonder might we keep hens, mused Flora, for when I read her little book upon her chickens I quite longed to do so.
She sure makes them sound a deal more fascinating than one supposes, said Hannah, but I am like to think that in a place like this, might be taken ill did we not buy our eggs from the local farms.
I daresay 'tis the diplomatic course.
The post was brought in. Hannah opened her letter from Julius and said, O, 'tis entire settled that they go to Nitherholme very shortly: but he asks may he come visit, along with Lord Sallington?
Flora looked up, a little colour coming to her cheeks. Why, she said, that would be quite entire agreeable, could not be the slightest objection to a visit from your brother and his friend, could there?
Indeed that would be pleasant, said Mrs Veriker, should greatly enjoy some converse with the younger Mr Roberts.
And, went on Flora, we might ask him about the gardens – I do not think we would wish to go into any ambitious schemes, but I should like to keep 'em up. And my letter, she added, is from Josh, that considers that he has learnt all he may of veterinary science from studying at the colleges in London and Edinburgh, and purposes go to make somewhat of a Grand Tour of the continental schools, and would wish pay us a visit afore he goes. But will go about the family and come here, I surmize, at the end of those rounds.
That will be delightful, said Hannah, feeling herself blush a little. Sure, she was not in love with anyone at all, but she had ever had a fondness for Josh, that had been so exceeding kindly a boy towards the nursery-set. And more recently she had observed him with his menagerie, and the cats of the household, and indeed stray dogs in the street, and seen how gentle his touch, how soothing to fractious or nervous creatures, and wondered how those hands might feel upon her.