But if Mrs. Gresley was pained by Hester’s predilection for the society of what she called “swells” (the word, though quite extinct in civilized parts, can occasionally be found in country districts), she was still more pained by the friendships Hester formed with persons whom her sister-in-law considered “not quite.”
Mrs. Gresley was always perfectly civil, and the Pratts imperfectly so, to Miss Brown, the doctor’s invalid sister. But Hester made friends with her, in spite of the warnings of Mrs. Gresley that kindness was one thing and intimacy another.
“The truth is,” Mrs. Gresley would say, “Hester loves adulation, and as she can’t get it from the Pratts and us, she has to go to those below her in the social scale, like Miss Brown, who will give it to her. Miss Brown may be very cultivated. I dare say she is, but she makes up to Hester.”
Sybell Loftus, who lived close at hand at Wilderleigh, across the Prone, was one of the very few besides Miss Brown among her new acquaintances who hailed Hester at once as a kindred spirit, to the unconcealed surprise of the Pratts and the Gresleys. Sybell adored Hester’s book, which the Gresleys and Pratts considered rather peculiar “as emanating from the pen of a clergyman’s sister.” She enthusiastically suggested to Hester several improvements which might easily be made in it, which would have changed its character altogether. She even intrenched on the sacred precinct of a married woman’s time to write out the openings of several romances, which she was sure Hester, with her wonderful talent, could build up into magnificent works of art. She was always running over to the Vicarage to confide to Hester the unique thoughts which had been vouchsafed to her while contemplating a rose, or her child, or her husband, or all three together.
Hester was half amused, half fascinated, and ruefully lost many of the mornings still left her by the Pratts and Gresleys in listening to the outpourings of this butterfly soul, which imagined every flower it involuntarily alighted on and drew honey from to be its own special production.
But Hester’s greatest friend in Middleshire was the Bishop of Southminster, with whom Rachel was staying, and whom she was expecting this afternoon.
The depth and dream
of my desire,
The bitter paths wherein I stray,
Thou knowest Who hast made the Fire,
Thou knowest Who hast made the clay!
The unbalanced joys and sorrows of emotional natures are apt to arouse the pity of the narrow-hearted and the mild contempt of the obtuse of their fellow-creatures.
But perhaps it is a mistake to feel compassion for persons like Hester, for if they have many evil days and weeks in their usually short lives, they have also moments of sheer bliss, hours of awed contemplation and of exquisite rapture which, possibly, in the long run, equal the more solid joys of a good income and a good digestion, nay, even the perennial glow of that happiest of happy temperaments which limits the nature of others by its own, which sees no uncomfortable difference between a moral and a legal right, and believes it can measure life with the same admirable accuracy with which it measures its drawing-room curtains.