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THE TWO SISTERS.
A VILLAGE STORY. BY MISS MITFORD.
The pretty square Farm-house, standing at the corner where Kibes Lane crosses the brook, or the brook crosses Kibes Lane, (for the first phrase, although giving by far the closest picture of the place, does, it must be confessed, look rather Irish,) and where the aforesaid brook winds away by the side of another lane, until it spreads into a river-like dignity, as it meanders through the sunny plain of Hartly Common, and finally disappears amidst the green recesses of Perge Wood—that pretty square Farm-house, half hidden by the tall elms in the flower court before it, which, with the spacious garden and orchard behind, and the extensive barn, yards, and outbuildings, so completely occupies one of the angles formed by the crossing of the land and the stream,—that pretty Farm-house contains one of the happiest and most prosperous families in Aberleigh, the large and thriving family of Farmer Evans.
Whether from skill or from good fortune, or, as is most probable, from a lucky mixture of both, every thing goes right in his great farm. His crops are the best in the parish: his hay is never spoiled; his cattle never die; his servants never thieve: his children are never ill. He buys cheap, and sells dear: money gathers about him like a snow-ball; and yet, in spite of all this provoking and intolerable prosperity, every body loves Farmer Evans. He is so hospitable, so good-natured, so generous,—so homely! There, after all, lies the charm. Riches have not only not spoilt the man, but they have not altered him. He is just the same in look, and word, and way, that he was thirty years ago, when he and his wife, with two sorry horses, one cow, and three pigs, began the world at Dean-Gate, a little bargain of twenty acres, two miles off:—aye, and his wife is the same woman!—the same frugal, tidy, industrious, good-natured Mrs Evans, so noted for her activity of tongue and limb, her good looks, and her plain dressing: as frugal, as good-natured, as active, and as plain-dressing Mrs Evans atforty-fiveas she was at nineteen, and, in a different way, almost as good-looking.
Their children—six "boys," as Farmer Evans promiscuously calls them, whose ages vary from eight to eight and twenty—and three girls, two grown up, and one, the youngest of the family, are just what might be expected from parents so simple and so good. The young men, intelligent and well conducted-, the boys docila and promising; and the little girl as pretty a curly-headed, rosycheeked poppet, as ever was the pet and plaything of a large family. It is, however, with the eldest daughters that we have to do.
Jane and Patty Evans were as much alike as hath often befallen any two sisters not born at one time'—for, in the matter of twin children, there has been a series of puzzles ever since the days of Dromios. Nearly of an age, (I believe that at this moment both are turned of nineteen, and neither have reached twenty), exactly of a stature, (so high that Frederick would have coveted them for wives for his tall regiment)—with hazel eyes, large mouths, full lips, white teeth, brown hair, clear healthy complexions, and that sort of nose which is neither Grecian nor Roman, nor aquiline, nor /[•/,,•;/: nez retrousse that some persons prefer to them all; but a nose which, moderately prominent, and sufficiently well-shaped, is yet, as far as I know, anonymous, although it be perhaps as common and as welllooking a feature as is to be seen on an English face.
Altogether, they were a pair of tall and comely maidens, and, being constantly attired in garments of the same colour and fashion, looked, at all times so much alike, that no stranger ever dreamed of knowing them apart; and even their acquaintances were rather accustomed to think and speak of them generally as "the Evans's," than as the separate individuals, Jane and Patty. Even those who did pretend to distinguish the one from the other, were not exempt from mistakes, which the sisters, Patty especially, who delighted in the fun so often produced by the unusual resemblance, were apt to favour by changing places ina walk, orslipping from one side to the other at a country tea party, or playing a hundred innocent tricks to occasion at once a grave blunder, and a merry laugh.
Old Dinah Goodwin, for instance, who, being rather purblind, was
r jealous of being suspected of seeing less clearly than her neighbours, and had defied even the Evans's to puzzle her discernment—seeking in vain on Patty's hand the cut finger which she had dressed on Jane's,
. ascribed the incredible cure to the merits of her own incomparable salve, and could hardly be undeceived, even by the pulling off of Jane's glove, and the exhibition of the lacerated digital sewed round by her own bandage.
Young George Bailey too, the greatest beau in the Parish, having betted at a Christmas party that he would dance with every pretty girl in the room, lost his wager (which Patty had overheard) by that saucy damsel's slipping into her sister's place, and persuading her to join her own unconscious partner; so that George danced twice with Patty, and not at all with Jane. A flattering piece of malice, which proved, as the young gentleman (a rustic exquisite of the first water) was pleased to assert, that Miss Patty, was not displeased with her partner. How little does a vain man know of womankind! If she had liked him, she would not have played the trick for the mines of Golconda.
In short, from their school-days, when Jane was chidden for Patty's bad work, and Patty slapped for Jane's bad spinning, down to this their prime of womanhood, there had been no end to the confusion produced by this remarkable instance of family likeness.
And yet Nature, who sets some mark of individuality upon her meanest productions, making some unnoted difference between the lambs dropped from one ewe, the robins bred in one nest, the flowers growing on one stalk, and the leaves hanging from one tree, had not left these young maidens without one great and permanent distinction—a natural and striking dissimilarity of temper. Equally industrious, affectionate, happy, and kind; each was kind, happy, affectionate, and industrious in a different way. Jane was grave: Patty was gay. If you heard a laugh or a song, be sure it was Patty: she who smiled, for certain was Patty: she who jumped the style, when her sister opened the gate, was Patty: she who chased the pigs from the garden as merrily as if she were running a race, so that the pigs did not mind her, was Patty.
On the other hand, she that so carefully was making, with its own ravelled threads, an invisible darn in her mother's handkerchief, and hearing her little sister read the while; she that so patiently was feeding, one by one, two broods of young turkeys; she that so pensively was watering her own bed of delicate and somewhat rare flowers,—the pale hues of the Alpine pink, or the alabaster blossoms of the white evening primrose, whose modest flowers, djing offinto a blush, resemble her own character, was Jane.
Some of the gossips of Aberleigh used to assert, that Jane's sighing over the flowers, as well as the early steadiness of her character, arose from an engagement to my lord's head gardener, an intelligent, sedate, and sober young Scotsman. Of this I know nothing. Certain it is, that the prettiest and newest plants were always to be _ found in Jane's little flower border, and if Mr Archibald Maclane did sometimes come to look after them, I do not see that it was any business of anybody's.
In the meantime, a visitor of a different description arrived at the farm. A cousin of Mrs Evans's had been as successful in trade as her husband had been in agriculture, and he had now sent his only son to become acquainted with his relations, and to spend some weeks in their family.
Charles Foster was a fine young man, whose father was neither more nor less than a rich linen-draper in a great town; but whose manners, education, mind, and character might have done honour to a far higher station. He was, in a word, one of nature's gentlemen; and in nothing did he more thoroughly show his own taste and good breeding, than by entering entirely into the homely ways and old-fashioned habits of his country cousins. He was delighted with the simplicity, frugality, and industry, which blended well with the sterling goodness, and genuine abundance of the great English farmhouse. The young women especially pleased him much. They formed a strong contrast with anything that he had met with before. No finery I no coquetry! no French! no Piano! It is impossible to describe the sensation of relief and comfort with which Charles Foster, sick of musical Misses, ascertained that the whole dwelling did not contain a single instrument, except the bassoon on which George Evans was wont, every Sunday at church, to excruciate the ears of the whole congregation. He liked both sisters. Jane's softness and considerateness engaged his full esteem; but Patty's innocent playfulness suited best with his own high spirits, and animated conversation. He had known them apart, from the first; and indeed denied that the likeness was at all puzzling, or more than is usual between sisters, and secretly thought Patty as much prettier than her sister, as she was avowedly merrier. In doors and out, he was constantly at her side; and before he had been a month in the house, all its inmates had given Charles Foster, as a lover, to his young cousin; and she, when rallied on the subject, cried fie! and pish! and pshaw! and wondered how people could talk such nonsense, and liked to have such nonsense talked to her, better than anything in the world.
Atlairs were in this state, when one night Jane appeared even graver and more thoughtful than usual, and far, far, sadder. She sighed deeply; and Patty, for the two sisters shared the same little room, inquired tenderly, " What ailed her?" The inquiry seemed to make Jane worse. She burst into tears, whilst Patty hung over her and soothed her. At length, she roused herself by a strong effort; and turning away from her affectionate comforter, said in a low tone: "I have had a great vexation to-night, Patty; Charles Foster has asked me to marry him."
"Charles Foster! Did you say Charles Foster?" asked poor Patty trembling, unwilling even to trust her own senses against the evidence of her heart; "Charles Foster?""Yes, our cousin, Charles Foster."
"And you have accepted him?'' inquired Patty in a hoarse voice.
"Oh no! no! no! Do you think I have forgotten poor Archibald? Besides I am not the person whom he ought to have asked to marry him; false and heartless as he is. I would not be his wife; cruel, unfeeling, unmanly as his conduct has been! No! not if he would make me Queen of England!" "You refused him then?"
"No, my father met us suddenly, just as I was recovering from the surprise and indignation, that at first struck me dumb. But I shall refuse him most certainly;—the false, deceitful, ungrateful villain!"
"Poor father! He will be disappointed. So will mother." "They will be disappointed and both angry—but not at my refusal. Oh, how they will despise him!'' added Jane; and poor Patty, melted by her sister's sympathy, and touched by an indignation most unusual in that mild and gentle girl, could no longer command her feelings, but flung herself on the bed in that agony of passion and grief, which the first great sorrow seldom fails to excite in a young heart.
After awhile she resumed the conversation. "We must not blame him too severely. Perhaps my vanity made me think his attentions meant more than they really did, and you had all taken up the notion. But you must not speak of him so unkindly. He has done nothing but what is natural. You are so much wiser, and better than I am, my own dear Jane! He laughed and talked with me: but he felt your goodness,—and he was right I was never worthy of him, and you are; and if it were not for Archibald, I should rejoice from the bottom of my heart," continued Patty, sobbing, " if you would accept"—but unable to finish her generous wish, she burst into a fresh flow of tears; and the sisters, mutually and strongly affected, wept in each others' arms, and were comforted.
That night, Patty cried herself to sleep: but such sleep is not of long duration. Before dawn she was up, and pacing, with restless irritability, the dewy grass-walks of the garden and orchard. In less than half an hour, a light elastic step (she knew the sound well!) came rapidly behind her; a hand, (oh, how often had she thrilled at the touch of that hand!) tried to draw hers under his own; whilst a well-known voice addressed her in the softest, and tenderest accents; "Patty, my own sweet Patty! have you thought of what I said to you last night?""To me .'" replied Patty with bitterness.
"Aye, to be sure, to your dear self! Do you not remember the question I asked you, when your good father, for the first time unwelcome, joined us so suddenly that you had not time to say Yes; And will you not say Yes now?"
"Mr Foster!" replied Patty, with some spirit, "you are under a mistake here. Itwasto Jane that you made a proposal yesterday evening; and you are taking me for her at this moment.'"