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with two oaken settles, often sits the mistress of the place to sew, knit, or darn stockings, as the case may be.
Mrs. Moss, of the Home Farm, likes this porch in the summer time, because under its shelter she catches the scent of the flowers, and hears the songs of the birds. And only a few yards from the door is a fine horse-chestnut tree, which forms a delightful shade for the little retreat. Then the good housewife, as she sits there, can hear the cackling of her hens and calculate how many eggs she may expect, when, in the evening time, Tim, the farmer's boy, comes lumbering in with them.
Mrs. Moss has hair as white as silver and as soft as satin-just the kind of hair that some of us who have, or have had, sweet, venerable grandmothers love to smooth down gently and reverently with the hand. And the face beneath that beautiful hair is charming. Somehow it has an attraction for troubled wives, burthened mothers, and anxious people generally. To such there is comfort and blessing in it. To its owner they carry their manifold cares; and from her side they oftentimes go happier, wiser, perhaps truer, nobler women.
Mrs. Moss is supposed to know of an antidote for
every evil, from an obstinately smoking chimney to an obstreperously screaming baby; from a
whitlow on the finger to a wearing pain at the heart; her great power of sympathy seems to have made her, more or less, conversant with every trouble under the sun; but no one can feel more deeply than she does that “to every cloud there is a silver lining.”
Though Mrs. Moss is an elderly woman, she does not in the least resemble the untutored, oldfashioned wives of farmers. By persons who like raciness of character and quickness of tongue, she will appear, when compared with such, only as “moonlight is to sunlight,” or as “water is to wine.” However, variety of character will assert itself in every condition of life. So we present her as she is, a gentle, retiring, fairly-educated woman of the present day, and not of the ancient tenant-farmer class at all; a native of the south of England, with no marked provincialism in her speech, nor roughness in her manners, and with a clear perception and hearty appreciation of the beautiful and true in human nature.
Mr. John Moss, the owner of the farm, is the son of Scotch parents, born in Scotland, but educated and brought up on this side the border; and the dialect, or, at least, many of its words and phrases, which he learnt at his mother's knee, still clings to him as persistently as he clings to his nationality. John Moss is loyal to his native
land, and rigid in that land's best uprightness, though, happily, nothing like rigidity is to be found in the region of the heart.
Having introduced the farmer and his wife, let us begin our narrative with a little scene in the old porch.
On one of the oaken settles is seated Mrs. Moss. Near her, on a low chair, is a girl, about nineteen or twenty, a bright-eyed, sunny-haired lassie, wearing a soft, grey dress with pretty lace collar and cuffs—" the bonnie Jeannie," John Moss often calls her, feeling that he has the right to bestow a pet name, for he is her adoptive father, and Mrs. Moss is the only mother she has ever known. But “thereby hangs a tale," which shall be told presently.
Janet is not just now living at the Home Farm, where she has been brought up, but at “The Oaks," a mile away, with Robert Moss, the eldest son of the family, and his cheery wife, Bessie, the busy bee who can generally manage her maids, and always her milk-tins, to say nothing of the butter and cheese, yet cannot quite control her son, Rob, that active young gentleman of nine years, who is always in “hot water when he is not in cold—that is to say, in the duck-pond, or manufacturing mud pies in the flower-beds, exactly where some choice seeds have
recently been sown. Rob's hair is yellow, crisp, and curly; his eyes, a sort of dark sugar-candy colour, clear, bright, and twinkling with fun, when they are not filled with tears.
The tears, however, seldom come, except as a sequel to some dreadful fall, from the hay-loft or the apple-tree, as the case may be, or as an introduction to lessons. Rob does not like lessons, and, for some reason, the village schoolmaster does not like Rob. There had been a few storms in the scholastic atmosphere, the descent of a cane upon the little fellow's palm; and Robert Moss, the elder, had decided to try allurements to knowledge instead of coercion on his only son. Home teaching, he thought, would do better than a cane. And as his foster sister, Janet, was in every way competent to undertake the task, her services were enlisted for the tuition of Robbie, the ready-to-halt in lessons. Not only 80; Janet proved to be a valuable sisterly “help,” in a general way, to the oft-cumbered housewife, Bessie.
On this account, then, she had, for the present, taken up her abode at The Oaks. And in addition to her lessons in English, a little French was imparted by Mr. Arthur Frost, the Harley postmaster, who was said to have a gift for learning and teaching languages. At any rate, he was a fluent talker, and between his persuasive
tongue and his rumoured talent, he gained a few pupils for French and German lessons, the fees for whom became a welcome supplement to the postmaster's small income.
So Mr. Frost was invited to pay a weekly visit . to Robbie's home; and as that home had two warm-hearted, hospitable heads, the tutor was frequently asked to supplement the lesson by supper and social chat.
And as it never once occurred to the larger of these two worthy heads that any love passages could spring out of the French lessons and their contingencies, this arrangement was continued for some time.
The teacher displayed marked anxiety about his pupil's progress. So anxious was he, indeed, that he often came on the wrong night as well as the right, "just to help Robbie through some little difficulty.” At this, Bessie, woman-like, laughed in her sleeve, and said to herself, “Ah! the postmaster comes a-wooing! but not to my son Rob.” However, she said nothing aloud, for she entertained a tolerably good opinion of Mr. Frost; and sensible as Mrs. Robert Moss was, she had a weakness. That weakness was a love of match-making. Bessie, with her beloved little ones in her arms and on her knee, had an impression that the world was a vast howling wilderness to any and every unmarried woman. And in