12. Shirley and Caroline
Shirley showed she had been sincere in saying she should be glad of Caroline's
society, by frequently seeking it: and, indeed, if she had not sought it, she would
not have had it; for Miss Helstone was slow to make fresh acquaintance. She
was always held back by the idea that people could not want her, - that she could
not amuse them; and a brilliant, happy, youthful creature, like the heiress of
Fieldhead, seemed to her too completely independent of society so uninteresting
as hers, ever to find it really welcome.
Shirley might be brilliant, and probably happy likewise, but no one is independent
of genial society; and though in about a month she had made the acquaintance
of most of the families round, and was on quite free and easy terms with all the
Misses Sykes, and all the Misses Pearson, and the two superlative Misses
Wynne of Walden Hall; yet, it appeared, she found none amongst them very
genial: she fraternised with none of them, to use her own words. If she had had
the bliss to be really Shirley Keeldar, Esq., Lord of the Manor of Briarfield, there
was not a single fair one in this and the two neighbouring parishes, whom she
should have felt disposed to request to become Mrs. Keeldar, lady of the manor.
This declaration she made to Mrs. Pryor, who received it very quietly, as she did
most of her pupil's off-hand speeches, responding - 'My dear, do not allow that
habit of alluding to yourself as a gentleman to be confirmed: it is a strange one.
Those who do not know you, hearing you speak thus, would think you affected
Shirley never laughed at her former governess: even the little formalities and
harmless peculiarities of that lady were respectable in her eyes: had it been
otherwise, she would have proved herself a weak character at once: for it is only
the weak who make a butt of quiet worth; therefore she took her remonstrance in
silence. She stood quietly near the window, looking at the grand cedar on her
lawn, watching a bird on one of its lower boughs. Presently she began to chirrup
to the bird: soon her chirrup grew clearer; erelong she was whistling; the whistle
struck into a tune, and very sweetly and deftly it was executed.
'My dear!' expostulated Mrs. Pryor.
'Was I whistling?' said Shirley; 'I forgot. I beg your pardon, ma'am. I had resolved
to take care not to whistle before you.'
'But, Miss Keeldar, where did you learn to whistle? You must have got the habit
since you came down into Yorkshire. I never knew you guilty of it before.'
'Oh! I learned to whistle a long while ago.'
'Who taught you?'
'No one: I took it up by listening, and I had laid it down again; but lately,
yesterday evening, as I was coming up our lane, I heard a gentleman whistling
that very tune in the field on the other side of the hedge, and that reminded me.'
'What gentleman was it?'
'We have only one gentleman in this region, ma'am, and that is Mr. Moore: at
least he is the only gentleman who is not grey-haired: my two venerable