Mr. Gage’s farm was unhappily at no great distance from a dissenting chapel and school, in the adjoining parish of Stoney Bridge, and thither the farmer and blacksmith betook themselves, with many of the cottagers of Broom Hill.
One alone of the family of Tom Naylor refused to join him in his dissent, and that was his sister, Mrs. Eden, a widow, with one little girl about seven years old, who, though in great measure dependent upon him for subsistence, knew her duty too well to desert the church, or to take her child from school, and continued her even course, toiling hard for bread, and uncomplaining, though often munch distressed. All the rest of the parish who were not immediately under Mr. Mohun’s influence were in a sad state of confusion.
Jane was grieved at heart, but would not confess it, and Lilias was so restless and unhappy, that Emily was quite weary of her lamentations. Her best comforter was Miss Weston, who patiently listened to her, sighed with her over the evident sorrow of the Rector, and the mischief in the parish, and proved herself a true friend, by never attempting to extenuate her fault.
’Maidens should be mild and meek,
Swift to hear, and slow to speak.’
Miss Weston had been much interested by what she heard respecting Mrs. Eden, and gladly discovered that she was just the person who could assist in some needlework which was required at Broom Hill. She asked Lilias to tell her where to find her cottage, and Lily replied by an offer to show her the way; Miss Weston hesitated, thinking that perhaps in the present state of things Lily had rather not see her; but her doubts were quickly removed by this speech, ’I want to see her particularly. I have been there three times without finding her. I think I can set this terrible matter right by speaking to her.’
Accordingly, Lilias and Phyllis set out with Alethea and Marianne one afternoon to Mrs. Eden’s cottage, which stood at the edge of a long field at the top of the hill. Very fast did Lily talk all the way, but she grew more silent as she came to the cottage, and knocked at the door; it was opened by Mrs. Eden herself, a pale, but rather pretty young woman, with a remarkable gentle and pleasing face, and a manner which was almost ladylike, although her hands were freshly taken out of the wash-tub. She curtsied low, and coloured at the sight of Lilias, set chairs for the visitors, and then returned to her work.
‘Oh! Mrs. Eden,’ Lily began, intending to make her explanation, but feeling confused, thought it better to wait till her friend’s business was settled, and altered her speech into ’Miss Weston is come to speak to you about some work.’