“For I would lonely stand
Uplifting my white hand,
On a mission, on a mission,
To declare the coming vision.”
Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
“Well, Grace, all things considered, perhaps I had better walk down with you to Mackarel Lane, and then I can form a judgment on these Williamses without committing Fanny.”
“Then you do not intend to go on teaching?”
“Not while Conrade continues to brave me, and is backed up by poor Fanny.”
“I might speak to Miss Williams after church, and bring her in to Myrtlewood for Fanny to see.”
“Yes, that might do in time; but I shall make up my mind first. Poor Fanny is so easily led that we must take care what influences fall in her way.”
“I always wished you would call.”
“Yes, and I would not by way of patronage to please Mr. Touchett, but this is for a purpose; and I hope we shall find both sisters at home.”
Mackarel Lane was at right angles to the shore, running up the valley of the Avon; but it soon ceased to be fishy, and became agricultural, owning a few cottages of very humble gentility, which were wont to hang out boards to attract lodgers of small means. At one of these Grace rang, and obtained admittance to a parlour with crazy French windows opening on a little strip of garden. In a large wheeled chair, between the fire and the window, surrounded by numerous little appliances for comfort and occupation, sat the invalid Miss Williams, holding out her hand in welcome to the guests.
“A fine countenance! what one calls a fine countenance!” thought Rachel. “Is it a delusion of insipidity as usual? The brow is good, massive, too much for the features, but perhaps they were fuller once; eyes bright and vigorous, hazel, the colour for thought; complexion meant to be brilliant brunette, a pleasant glow still; hair with threads of grey. I hope she does not affect youth; she can’t be less than one or two and thirty! Many people set up for beauties with far less claim. What is the matter with her? It is not the countenance of deformity—accident, I should say. Yes, it is all favourable except the dress. What a material; what a pattern! Did she get it second-hand from a lady’s-maid? Will there be an incongruity in her conversation to match? Let us see. Grace making inquiries—Quite at my best—Ah! she is not one of the morbid sort, never thinking themselves better.”
“I was afraid, I had not seen you out for some time.”
“No; going out is a troublesome business, and sitting in the garden answers the same purpose.”
“Of air, perhaps, but hardly of change or of view.”
“Oh! I assure you there is a wonderful variety,” she answered, with an eager and brilliant smile.
“Clouds and sunsets?” asked Rachel, beginning to be interested.