The next day Miss Pole brought us word that Mr Holbrook was dead. Miss Matty heard the news in silence; in fact, from the account of the previous day, it was only what we had to expect. Miss Pole kept calling upon us for some expression of regret, by asking if it was not sad that he was gone, and saying —
“To think of that pleasant day last June, when he seemed so well! And he might have lived this dozen years if he had not gone to that wicked Paris, where they are always having revolutions.”
She paused for some demonstration on our part. I saw Miss Matty could not speak, she was trembling so nervously; so I said what I really felt; and after a call of some duration—all the time of which I have no doubt Miss Pole thought Miss Matty received the news very calmly—our visitor took her leave.
Miss Matty made a strong effort to conceal her feelings—a concealment she practised even with me, for she has never alluded to Mr Holbrook again, although the book he gave her lies with her Bible on the little table by her bedside. She did not think I heard her when she asked the little milliner of Cranford to make her caps something like the Honourable Mrs Jamieson’s, or that I noticed the reply —
“But she wears widows’ caps, ma’am?”
“Oh! I only meant something in that style; not widows’, of course, but rather like Mrs Jamieson’s.”
This effort at concealment was the beginning of the tremulous motion of head and hands which I have seen ever since in Miss Matty.
The evening of the day on which we heard of Mr Holbrook’s death, Miss Matilda was very silent and thoughtful; after prayers she called Martha back and then she stood uncertain what to say.
“Martha!” she said, at last, “you are young”—and then she made so long a pause that Martha, to remind her of her half-finished sentence, dropped a curtsey, and said —
“Yes, please, ma’am; two-and-twenty last third of October, please, ma’am.”
“And, perhaps, Martha, you may some time meet with a young man you like, and who likes you. I did say you were not to have followers; but if you meet with such a young man, and tell me, and I find he is respectable, I have no objection to his coming to see you once a week. God forbid!” said she in a low voice, “that I should grieve any young hearts.” She spoke as if she were providing for some distant contingency, and was rather startled when Martha made her ready eager answer —
“Please, ma’am, there’s Jem Hearn, and he’s a joiner making three-and-sixpence a-day, and six foot one in his stocking-feet, please, ma’am; and if you’ll ask about him to-morrow morning, every one will give him a character for steadiness; and he’ll be glad enough to come to-morrow night, I’ll be bound.”
Though Miss Matty was startled, she submitted to Fate and Love.