[Manchester—Thursday, 28 July 1870]

July 28. The excessive heat is at length mitigated but no rain has come. We have been here nearly 4 weeks and not one really rainy day in that time. The roads are very dry like the farmers hearts and throats and hopes. Geraniums are in bloom, wild roses are almost gone only the sly lingerers to be found. The days pass almost without incident. I try to sit with Mrs Bartol on the rocks overlooking the pastures and distant sea, in the afternoon, or else in her room where we read Hawthorne’s English Note book. Today I have not been absolutely well and so the day has passed with less excitement than usual, my pleasure always consisting in very solitary morning rambles. Those are delightful enough to counterbalance every thing else, which sometimes may seem dull or terrible in our present life, and even “brings a tender healing” to my anxieties for my beloved. Nature can do that for those of us who fling ourselves without reserve into her arms.

I have been reading Sala’s book about dear Dickens all the morning, and sitting for my two little artists who always end in making such queer deathly charcoal travesties of my face. But it appears to amuse them and as they destroy the worst of their scratches I do not care much as they are sweet girls and are jolly and talkative while they draw & do not make me sit still as stone. Poor Lissie used to grow profoundly unhappy if I did not keep motionless and as for Rouse, he not only needed time and stillness but measured my face and behaved much as if I had been a block altogether. The village street was so quiet all the morning that I could pose there without being perceived, until the last part of the time, when just as I had promised not to move again for five minutes a man went by, who astonished at my appearance, and observing no cause for it gazed in at his will and pleasure. Dickens’s letters, those to Lady Blessington, Irving & Jerrold, the only ones Sala has given (and how he obtained these is a wonder), are most perfect. It is like talking with him in his happiest mood to re-read them—and in reading his speeches his public voice and manner with his public but always a private personal meaning in it came gently back to me. When my own dear boy awaked this morning he said, “I have been dreaming of Dickens tonight!” Afterward he told me all the little scenes he had been through with him; nothing worth repeating but the flash of feeling was intense. My darling went away to town feeling less well than usual but I have had a cheerful morning, thank God! For I wish to do His will, and not weep always, as his children should.

Jamie and I have had a thought of buying a bit of land here, hoping if everything else should go to have a pied a terre here by the shore we love so much. It is all a fancy I suppose but we had a delightful excursion with that thought in our minds toward Norman’s Woe.

Going as far as a point called Kettle Cove we stopped by an old house delightfully sheltered under trees but looking utterly deserted. I jumped out to hunt up any living being, if such there were, and came at last, in the vegetable garden upon an old crone of 80 years who was gathering peas for her dinner. She had no bonnet or hat on, nothing but a forlorn lace cap. She could not understand what I said to her from the garden fence but coming forward quite briskly she led the way to her front parlor, going round through the back door to unlock the entrance and showing herself eagerly hospitable. Such a parlor as it was to be sure! It was more like one corner of Père la Chaise than anything I can think of just now. Wreaths of mouldering flowers hung upon the time stained walls, ten candlesticks painted in bright colors with candles which had stood so long unlighted as to become thin & discolored with the weight of years, were standing on various small tables which served as tombstones, while the floor was covered with soft lumpy mats of her own manfacture, a huge pile of which stood also at one side of the room and these answered particularly well to the mounds. But it was amusing enough to hear the old woman talk of these same mats which are the pride of her life as they have been the chief fruits of her industry; she has been able it appears to make one in a week and sufficiently remarkable indeed it seemed that anything so difficult & so useless could have held any mind and fingers during the wide space of a precious week to its fulfillment. They were all laid upside down, (those on the floor) and she spoke of them as an artist does of his pictures or a farmer of his stock. “That’s my cockerel, a fine feller, she remarked only you see him upside down; and there’s the hen with her chickens; and there’s my black horse! I did have another horse but I parted with him.” The ruling passion of this old woman’s life we discovered was what Tennyson in his wonderful ballad calls “Propperty.” She owned vast tracts of land about her which she and her children hold with hands which only Death can unclasp. “I don’t want do sell nothin’” she said. “Why, I bought a tract up here only last week o’ my son. I paid him two hundred dollars for it and I’ll show you the deed, which she produced accordingly. She lives quite alone in this old home although rich enough to support half the East London Hospital. A most sad and warning sight. Yet she is cheerful enough. O dear yes! She doesn’t guess what she might have, for she is a kind enough old soul after all! But “propperty, propperty” occupies her waking and her sleeping thoughts. Oddly enough we found we were living in this village with her own nieces for whom she seems to have a strong regard. Propperty carries the day however. We intend going to see this old woman again. She shelled her peas while she talked with us that no time might be lost and was really quite as busy an old body as could be found. I felt as if I were taking the precious time of some one from whom I had no right to accept the gift even while we sat talking with her. Such a voice! As if the works had worn out and nothing but total re-vamping would ever make them go again until she gets to Swedenborg’s heaven.


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