Middlemarch HTML version
My lady's tongue is like the meadow blades,
That cut you stroking them with idle hand.
Nice cutting is her function: she divides
With spiritual edge the millet-seed,
And makes intangible savings.
As Mr. Casaubon's carriage was passing out of the gateway, it arrested the
entrance of a pony phaeton driven by a lady with a servant seated behind. It was
doubtful whether the recognition had been mutual, for Mr. Casaubon was looking
absently before him; but the lady was quick-eyed, and threw a nod and a "How
do you do?" in the nick of time. In spite of her shabby bonnet and very old Indian
shawl, it was plain that the lodge-keeper regarded her as an important
personage, from the low curtsy which was dropped on the entrance of the small
"Well, Mrs. Fitchett, how are your fowls laying now?" said the high-colored, dark-
eyed lady, with the clearest chiselled utterance.
"Pretty well for laying, madam, but they've ta'en to eating their eggs: I've no
peace o' mind with 'em at all."
"Oh, the cannibals! Better sell them cheap at once. What will you sell them a
couple? One can't eat fowls of a bad character at a high price."
"Well, madam, half-a-crown: I couldn't let 'em go, not under."
"Half-a-crown, these times! Come now--for the Rector's chicken-broth on a
Sunday. He has consumed all ours that I can spare. You are half paid with the
sermon, Mrs. Fitchett, remember that. Take a pair of tumbler-pigeons for them--
little beauties. You must come and see them. You have no tumblers among your
"Well, madam, Master Fitchett shall go and see 'em after work. He's very hot on
new sorts; to oblige you."
"Oblige me! It will be the best bargain he ever made. A pair of church pigeons for
a couple of wicked Spanish fowls that eat their own eggs! Don't you and Fitchett
boast too much, that is all!"
The phaeton was driven onwards with the last words, leaving Mrs. Fitchett
laughing and shaking her head slowly, with an interjectional "SureLY, sureLY!"--
from which it might be inferred that she would have found the country-side
somewhat duller if the Rector's lady had been less free-spoken and less of a
skinflint. Indeed, both the farmers and laborers in the parishes of Freshitt and
Tipton would have felt a sad lack of conversation but for the stories about what
Mrs. Cadwallader said and did: a lady of immeasurably high birth, descended, as
it were, from unknown earls, dim as the crowd of heroic shades--who pleaded
poverty, pared down prices, and cut jokes in the most companionable manner,
though with a turn of tongue that let you know who she was. Such a lady gave a
neighborliness to both rank and religion, and mitigated the bitterness of
uncommuted tithe. A much more exemplary character with an infusion of sour