It was very pretty to see him with the old ladies, so gently attentive, without patronizing, and they, though evidently doting on him, laughing at him, and treating him like a spoilt child. He insisted on Mary’s seeing their ordinary sitting room, which nature had intended for a housekeeper’s room, but which ladylike inhabitants had rendered what he called the very ‘kernel of the House Beautiful.’ There were the stands of flowers in the window; the bullfinch scolding in his cage, the rare old shells and china on the old-fashioned cabinets that Mary so well remembered; and the silk patchwork sofa-cover, the old piano, and Miss Faithfull’s arm chair by the fire, her little table with her beautiful knitting, and often a flower or insect that she was copying; for she still drew nicely; and she smiled and consented, as Louis pulled out her portfolios, life-long collections of portraits of birds, flowers, or insects. Her knitting found a sale at the workshop, where the object was well known, and the proceeds were diffused by her sister, and whether she deserved her name might be guessed by the basket of poor people’s stores beside her chair.
Miss Mercy was well known in every dusky Northwold lane or alley, where she always found or made a welcome for herself. The kindly counsel and ready hand were more potent than far larger means without them.
Such neighbours were in themselves a host, and Mary and her mother both felt as if they had attained a region of unwonted tranquillity and repose, when they had agreed to rent No. 5, Dynevor Terrace, from the ensuing Lady-day, and to take possession when carpenters and upholsterers should have worked their will.
Louis was half-way home when he exclaimed, ’There! I have missed Tom Madison a second time. When shall I ever remember him at the right time?’
Little did Louis guess the effect his neglect was taking! Charlotte Arnold might have told, for Mrs. Martha had brought in stories of his unsteadiness and idle habits that confirmed her in her obedience to Jane. She never went out alone in his leisure hours; never looked for him in returning from church—alas! that was not the place to look for him now. And yet she could not believe him such a very bad boy as she was told he had become.