Early the next morning—directly after twelve—Miss Pole made her appearance at Miss Matty’s. Some very trifling piece of business was alleged as a reason for the call; but there was evidently something behind. At last out it came.
“By the way, you’ll think I’m strangely ignorant; but, do you really know, I am puzzled how we ought to address Lady Glenmire. Do you say, ‘Your Ladyship,’ where you would say ‘you’ to a common person? I have been puzzling all morning; and are we to say ’My Lady,’ instead of ‘Ma’am?’ Now you knew Lady Arley—will you kindly tell me the most correct way of speaking to the peerage?”
Poor Miss Matty! she took off her spectacles and she put them on again—but how Lady Arley was addressed, she could not remember.
“It is so long ago,” she said. “Dear! dear! how stupid I am! I don’t think I ever saw her more than twice. I know we used to call Sir Peter, ’Sir Peter’—but he came much oftener to see us than Lady Arley did. Deborah would have known in a minute. ’My lady’— ‘your ladyship.’ It sounds very strange, and as if it was not natural. I never thought of it before; but, now you have named it, I am all in a puzzle.”
It was very certain Miss Pole would obtain no wise decision from Miss Matty, who got more bewildered every moment, and more perplexed as to etiquettes of address.
“Well, I really think,” said Miss Pole, “I had better just go and tell Mrs Forrester about our little difficulty. One sometimes grows nervous; and yet one would not have Lady Glenmire think we were quite ignorant of the etiquettes of high life in Cranford.”
“And will you just step in here, dear Miss Pole, as you come back, please, and tell me what you decide upon? Whatever you and Mrs Forrester fix upon, will be quite right, I’m sure. ‘Lady Arley,’ ‘Sir Peter,’” said Miss Matty to herself, trying to recall the old forms of words.
“Who is Lady Glenmire?” asked I.
“Oh, she’s the widow of Mr Jamieson—that’s Mrs Jamieson’s late husband, you know—widow of his eldest brother. Mrs Jamieson was a Miss Walker, daughter of Governor Walker. ‘Your ladyship.’ My dear, if they fix on that way of speaking, you must just let me practice a little on you first, for I shall feel so foolish and hot saying it the first time to Lady Glenmire.”
It was really a relief to Miss Matty when Mrs Jamieson came on a very unpolite errand. I notice that apathetic people have more quiet impertinence than others; and Mrs Jamieson came now to insinuate pretty plainly that she did not particularly wish that the Cranford ladies should call upon her sister-in-law. I can hardly say how she made this clear; for I grew very indignant and warm, while with slow deliberation she was explaining her wishes to Miss Matty, who, a true lady herself, could hardly understand the feeling which made Mrs Jamieson wish to appear to her noble sister-in-law as if she only visited “county” families. Miss Matty remained puzzled and perplexed long after I had found out the object of Mrs Jamieson’s visit.