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Chapter 17
"The clerkly person smiled and said
Promise was a pretty maid,
But being poor she died unwed."
The Rev. Camden Farebrother, whom Lydgate went to see the next evening,
lived in an old parsonage, built of stone, venerable enough to match the church
which it looked out upon. All the furniture too in the house was old, but with
another grade of age--that of Mr. Farebrother's father and grandfather. There
were painted white chairs, with gilding and wreaths on them, and some lingering
red silk damask with slits in it. There were engraved portraits of Lord Chancellors
and other celebrated lawyers of the last century; and there were old pier-glasses
to reflect them, as well as the little satin-wood tables and the sofas resembling a
prolongation of uneasy chairs, all standing in relief against the dark wainscot This
was the physiognomy of the drawing-room into which Lydgate was shown; and
there were three ladies to receive him, who were also old-fashioned, and of a
faded but genuine respectability: Mrs. Farebrother, the Vicar's white-haired
mother, befrilled and kerchiefed with dainty cleanliness, up right, quick-eyed, and
still under seventy; Miss Noble, her sister, a tiny old lady of meeker aspect, with
frills and kerchief decidedly more worn and mended; and Miss Winifred
Farebrother, the Vicar's elder sister, well-looking like himself, but nipped and
subdued as single women are apt to be who spend their lives in uninterrupted
subjection to their elders. Lydgate had not expected to see so quaint a group:
knowing simply that Mr. Farebrother was a bachelor, he had thought of being
ushered into a snuggery where the chief furniture would probably be books and
collections of natural objects. The Vicar himself seemed to wear rather a
changed aspect, as most men do when acquaintances made elsewhere see
them for the first time in their own homes; some indeed showing like an actor of
genial parts disadvantageously cast for the curmudgeon in a new piece. This was
not the case with Mr. Farebrother: he seemed a trifle milder and more silent, the
chief talker being his mother, while he only put in a good-humored moderating
remark here and there. The old lady was evidently accustomed to tell her
company what they ought to think, and to regard no subject as quite safe without
her steering. She was afforded leisure for this function by having all her little
wants attended to by Miss Winifred. Meanwhile tiny Miss Noble carried on her
arm a small basket, into which she diverted a bit of sugar, which she had first
dropped in her saucer as if by mistake; looking round furtively afterwards, and
reverting to her teacup with a small innocent noise as of a tiny timid quadruped.
Pray think no ill of Miss Noble. That basket held small savings from her more
portable food, destined for the children of her poor friends among whom she
trotted on fine mornings; fostering and petting all needy creatures being so
spontaneous a delight to her, that she regarded it much as if it had been a
pleasant vice that she was addicted to. Perhaps she was conscious of being
tempted to steal from those who had much that she might give to those who had