Poems & Short Stories: 4,271
Forum Members: 70,634
Forum Posts: 1,033,546
And over 2 million unique readers monthly!
The Widow Dale of Allington
As Mrs Dale, of the Small House, was not a Dale by birth, there
can be no necessity for insisting on the fact that none of the
Dale peculiarities should be sought for in her character. These
peculiarities were not, perhaps, very conspicuous in her daughters,
who had taken more in that respect from their mother than from their
father; but a close observer might recognise the girls as Dales. They
were constant, perhaps obstinate, occasionally a little uncharitable
in their judgment, and prone to think that there was a great deal in
being a Dale, though not prone to say much about it. But they had
also a better pride than this, which had come to them as their
Mrs Dale was certainly a proud woman,--not that there was anything
appertaining to herself in which she took a pride. In birth she had
been much lower than her husband, seeing that her grandfather had
been almost nobody. Her fortune had been considerable for her rank
in life, and on its proceeds she now mainly depended; but it had not
been sufficient to give any of the pride of wealth. And she had been
a beauty; according to my taste, was still very lovely; but certainly
at this time of life, she, a widow of fifteen years' standing, with
two grown-up daughters, took no pride in her beauty. Nor had she any
conscious pride in the fact that she was a lady. That she was a lady,
inwards and outwards, from the crown of her head to the sole of her
feet, in head, in heart, and in mind, a lady by education and a
lady by nature, a lady also by birth in spite of that deficiency
respecting her grandfather, I hereby state as a fact--_meo periculo_.
And the squire, though he had no special love for her, had recognised
this, and in all respects treated her as his equal.
But her position was one which required that she should either be
very proud or else very humble. She was poor, and yet her daughters
moved in a position which belongs, as a rule, to the daughters of
rich men only. This they did as nieces of the childless squire of
Allington, and as his nieces she felt that they were entitled to
accept his countenance and kindness, without loss of self-respect
either to her or to them. She would have ill done her duty as a
mother to them had she allowed any pride of her own to come between
them and such advantage in the world as their uncle might be able to
give them. On their behalf she had accepted the loan of the house in
which she lived, and the use of many of the appurtenances belonging
to her brother-in-law; but on her own account she had accepted
nothing. Her marriage with Philip Dale had been disliked by his
brother the squire, and the squire, while Philip was still living,
had continued to show that his feelings in this respect were not
to be overcome. They never had been overcome; and now, though the
brother-in-law and sister-in-law had been close neighbours for years,
living as one may say almost in the same family, they had never
become friends. There had not been a word of quarrel between them.
They met constantly. The squire had unconsciously come to entertain a
profound respect for his brother's widow. The widow had acknowledged
to herself the truth of the affection shown by the uncle to her
daughters. But yet they had never come together as friends. Of her
own money matters Mrs Dale had never spoken a word to the squire. Of
his intention respecting the girls the squire had never spoken a word
to the mother. And in this way they had lived and were living at
The life which Mrs Dale led was not altogether an easy life,--was not
devoid of much painful effort on her part. The theory of her life
one may say was this--that she should bury herself in order that
her daughters might live well above ground. And in order to carry
out this theory, it was necessary that she should abstain from all
complaint or show of uneasiness before her girls. Their life above
ground would not be well if they understood that their mother, in
this underground life of hers, was enduring any sacrifice on their
behalf. It was needful that they should think that the picking of
peas in a sun-bonnet, or long readings by her own fire-side, and
solitary hours spent in thinking, were specially to her mind. "Mamma
doesn't like going out." "I don't think mamma is happy anywhere out
of her own drawing-room." I do not say that the girls were taught to
say such words, but they were taught to have thoughts which led to
such words, and in the early days of their going out into the world
used so to speak of their mother. But a time came to them before
long,--to one first and then to the other, in which they knew that
it was not so, and knew also all that their mother had suffered for
And in truth Mrs Dale could have been as young in heart as they
were. She, too, could have played croquet, and have coquetted with
a haymaker's rake, and have delighted in her pony, ay, and have
listened to little nothings from this and that Apollo, had she
thought that things had been conformable thereto. Women at forty do
not become ancient misanthropes, or stern Rhadamanthine moralists,
indifferent to the world's pleasures--no, not even though they be
widows. There are those who think that such should be the phase of
their minds. I profess that I do not so think. I would have women,
and men also, young as long as they can be young. It is not that a
woman should call herself in years younger than her father's family
Bible will have her to be. Let her who is forty call herself forty;
but if she can be young in spirit at forty, let her show that she is
I think that Mrs Dale was wrong. She would have joined that party on
the croquet ground, instead of remaining among the pea-sticks in her
sun-bonnet, had she done as I would have counselled her. Not a word
was spoken among the four that she did not hear. Those pea-sticks
were only removed from the lawn by a low wall and a few shrubs. She
listened, not as one suspecting, but simply as one loving. The voices
of her girls were very dear to her, and the silver ringing tones of
Lily's tongue were as sweet to her ears as the music of the gods. She
heard all that about Lady Hartletop, and shuddered at Lily's bold
sarcasm. And she heard Lily say that mamma would stay at home and
eat the peas, and said to herself sadly that that was now her lot in
"Dear darling girl--and so it should be!"
It was thus her thoughts ran. And then, when her ear had traced them,
as they passed across the little bridge into the other grounds, she
returned across the lawn to the house with her burden on her arm,
and sat herself down on the step of the drawing-room window, looking
out on the sweet summer flowers and the smooth surface of the grass
Had not God done well for her to place her where she was? Had not her
lines been set for her in pleasant places? Was she not happy in her
girls,--her sweet, loving, trusting, trusty children? As it was to be
that her lord, that best half of herself, was to be taken from her in
early life, and that the springs of all the lighter pleasures were to
be thus stopped for her, had it not been well that in her bereavement
so much had been done to soften her lot in life and give it grace and
beauty? 'Twas so, she argued with herself, and yet she acknowledged
to herself that she was not happy. She had resolved, as she herself
had said often, to put away childish things, and now she pined for
those things which she so put from her. As she sat she could still
hear Lily's voice as they went through the shrubbery,--hear it when
none but a mother's ears would have distinguished the sound. Now that
those young men were at the Great House it was natural that her girls
should be there too. The squire would not have had young men to
stay with him had there been no ladies to grace his table. But for
her,--she knew that no one would want her there. Now and again she
must go, as otherwise her very existence, without going, would be a
thing disagreeably noticeable. But there was no other reason why she
should join the party; nor in joining it would she either give or
receive pleasure. Let her daughters eat from her brother's table and
drink of his cup. They were made welcome to do so from the heart. For
her there was no such welcome as that at the Great House,--nor at any
other house, or any other table!
"Mamma will stay at home to eat the peas."
And then she repeated to herself the words which Lily had spoken,
sitting there, leaning with her elbow on her knee, and her head upon
"Please, ma'am, cook says, can we have the peas to shell?" and then
her reverie was broken.
Whereupon Mrs Dale got up and gave over her basket. "Cook knows that
the young ladies are going to dine at the Great House?"
"She needn't mind getting dinner for me. I will have tea early." And
so, after all, Mrs Dale did not perform that special duty appointed
But she soon set herself to work upon another duty. When a family of
three persons has to live upon an income of three hundred a year,
and, nevertheless, makes some pretence of going into society, it has
to be very mindful of small details, even though that family may
consist only of ladies. Of this Mrs Dale was well aware, and as it
pleased her that her daughters should be nice and fresh, and pretty
in their attire, many a long hour was given up to that care. The
squire would send them shawls in winter, and had given them riding
habits, and had sent them down brown silk dresses from London,--so
limited in quantity that the due manufacture of two dresses out of
the material had been found to be beyond the art of woman, and the
brown silk garments had been a difficulty from that day to this--the
squire having a good memory in such matters, and being anxious to see
the fruits of his liberality. All this was doubtless of assistance,
but had the squire given the amount which he so expended in money to
his nieces, the benefit would have been greater. As it was, the girls
were always nice and fresh and pretty, they themselves not being
idle in that matter; but their tire-woman in chief was their mother.
And now she went up to their room and got out their muslin frocks,
and--but, perhaps, I should not tell such tales!-- She, however, felt
no shame in her work, as she sent for a hot iron, and with her own
hands smoothed out the creases, and gave the proper set to the crimp
flounces, and fixed a new ribbon where it was wanted, and saw that
all was as it should be. Men think but little how much of this kind
is endured that their eyes may be pleased, even though it be but for
"Oh! mamma, how good you are," said Bell, as the two girls came in,
only just in time to make themselves ready for returning to dinner.
"Mamma is always good," said Lily. "I wish, mamma, I could do the
same for you oftener," and then she kissed her mother. But the squire
was exact about dinner, so they dressed themselves in haste, and went
off again through the garden, their mother accompanying them to the
"Your uncle did not seem vexed at my not coming?" said Mrs Dale.
"We have not seen him, mamma," said Lily. "We have been ever so far
down the fields, and forgot altogether what o'clock it was."
"I don't think Uncle Christopher was about the place, or we should
have met him," said Bell.
"But I am vexed with you, mamma. Are not you, Bell? It is very bad of
you to stay here all alone, and not come."
"I suppose mamma likes being at home better than up at the Great
House," said Bell, very gently; and as she spoke she was holding her
"Well; good-bye, dears. I shall expect you between ten and eleven.
But don't hurry yourselves if anything is going on." And so they
went, and the widow was again alone. The path from the bridge ran
straight up towards the back of the Great House, so that for a moment
or two she could see them as they tripped on almost in a run. And
then she saw their dresses flutter as they turned sharp round, up the
terrace steps. She would not go beyond the nook among the laurels by
which she was surrounded, lest any one should see her as she looked
after her girls. But when the last flutter of the pink muslin had
been whisked away from her sight, she felt it hard that she might not
follow them. She stood there, however, without advancing a step. She
would not have Hopkins telling how she watched her daughters as they
went from her own home to that of her brother-in-law. It was not
within the capacity of Hopkins to understand why she watched them.
"Well, girls, you're not much too soon. I think your mother might
have come with you," said Uncle Christopher. And this was the manner
of the man. Had he known his own wishes he must have acknowledged to
himself that he was better pleased that Mrs Dale should stay away. He
felt himself more absolutely master and more comfortably at home at
his own table without her company than with it. And yet he frequently
made a grievance of her not corning, and himself believed in that
"I think mamma was tired," said Bell.
"Hem. It's not so very far across from one house to the other. If I
were to shut myself up whenever I'm tired-- But never mind. Let's
go to dinner. Mr Crosbie, will you take my niece Lilian." And then,
offering his own arm to Bell, he walked off to the dining-room.
"If he scolds mamma any more, I'll go away," said Lily to her
companion; by which it may be seen that they had all become very
intimate during the long day that they had passed together.
Mrs Dale, after remaining for a moment on the bridge, went in to her
tea. What succedaneum of mutton chop or broiled ham she had for the
roast duck and green peas which were to have been provided for the
family dinner we will not particularly inquire. We may, however,
imagine that she did not devote herself to her evening repast with
any peculiar energy of appetite. She took a book with her as she
sat herself down,--some novel, probably, for Mrs Dale was not above
novels,--and read a page or two as she sipped her tea. But the book
was soon laid on one side, and the tray on which the warm plate had
become cold was neglected, and she threw herself back in her own
familiar chair, thinking of herself, and of her girls, and thinking
also what might have been her lot in life had he lived who had loved
her truly during the few years that they had been together.
It is especially the nature of a Dale to be constant in his likings
and his dislikings. Her husband's affection for her had been
unswerving,--so much so that he had quarrelled with his brother
because his brother would not express himself in brotherly terms
about his wife; but, nevertheless, the two brothers had loved each
other always. Many years had now gone by since these things had
occurred, but still the same feelings remained. When she had first
come down to Allington she had resolved to win the squire's regard,
but she had now long known that any such winning was out of the
question; indeed, there was no longer a wish for it. Mrs Dale was
not one of those soft-hearted women who sometimes thank God that
they can love any one. She could once have felt affection for her
brother-in-law,--affection, and close, careful, sisterly friendship;
but she could not do so now. He had been cold to her, and had with
perseverance rejected her advances. That was now seven years since;
and during those years Mrs Dale had been, at any rate, as cold to him
as he had been to her.
But all this was very hard to bear. That her daughters should love
their uncle was not only reasonable, but in every way desirable. He
was not cold to them. To them he was generous and affectionate. If
she were only out of the way, he would have taken them to his house
as his own, and they would in all respects have stood before the
world as his adopted children. Would it not be better if she were out
of the way?
It was only in her most dismal moods that this question would get
itself asked within her mind, and then she would recover herself, and
answer it stoutly with an indignant protest against her own morbid
weakness. It would not be well that she should be away from her
girls,--not though their uncle should have been twice a better uncle;
not though, by her absence, they might become heiresses of all
Allington. Was it not above everything to them that they should
have a mother near them? And as she asked of herself that morbid
question,--wickedly asked it, as she declared to herself,--did she
not know that they loved her better than all the world beside, and
would prefer her caresses and her care to the guardianship of any
uncle, let his house be ever so great? As yet they loved her better
than all the world beside. Of other love, should it come, she would
not be jealous. And if it should come, and should be happy, might
there not yet be a bright evening of life for herself? If they should
marry, and if their lords would accept her love, her friendship, and
her homage, she might yet escape from the deathlike coldness of that
Great House, and be happy in some tiny cottage, from which she might
go forth at times among those who would really welcome her. A certain
doctor there was, living not very far from Allington, at Guestwick,
as to whom she had once thought that he might fill that place of
son-in-law,--to be well-beloved. Her quiet, beautiful Bell had seemed
to like the man; and he had certainly done more than seem to like
her. But now, for some weeks past, this hope, or rather this idea,
had faded away. Mrs Dale had never questioned her daughter on the
matter; she was not a woman prone to put such questions. But during
the month or two last past, she had seen with regret that Bell looked
almost coldly on the man whom her mother favoured.
In thinking of all this the long evening passed away, and at eleven
o'clock she heard the coming steps across the garden. The young men
had, of course, accompanied the girls home; and as she stepped out
from the still open window of her own drawing-room, she saw them all
on the centre of the lawn before her.
"There's mamma," said Lily. "Mamma, Mr Crosbie wants to play croquet
"I don't think there is light enough for that," said Mrs Dale.
"There is light enough for him," said Lily, "for he plays quite
independently of the hoops; don't you, Mr Crosbie?"
"There's very pretty croquet light, I should say," said Mr Crosbie,
looking up at the bright moon; "and then it is so stupid going to
"Yes, it is stupid going to bed," said Lily; "but people in the
country are stupid, you know. Billiards, that you can play all night
by gas, is much better, isn't it?"
"Your arrows fall terribly astray there, Miss Dale, for I never touch
a cue; you should talk to your cousin about billiards."
"Is Bernard a great billiard player?" asked Bell.
"Well, I do play now and again; about as well as Crosbie does
croquet. Come, Crosbie, we'll go home and smoke a cigar."
"Yes," said Lily; "and then, you know, we stupid people can go to
bed. Mamma, I wish you had a little smoking-room here for us. I don't
like being considered stupid." And then they parted,--the ladies
going into the house, and the two men returning across the lawn.
"Lily, my love," said Mrs Dale, when they were all together in her
bedroom, "it seems to me that you are very hard upon Mr Crosbie."
"She has been going on like that all the evening," said Bell.
"I'm sure we are very good friends," said Lily.
"Oh, very!" said Bell.
"Now, Bell, you're jealous; you know you are." And then, seeing that
her sister was in some slight degree vexed, she went up to her and
kissed her. "She shan't be called jealous; shall she, mamma?"
"I don't think she deserves it," said Mrs Dale.
"Now, you don't mean to say that you think I meant anything?" said
Lily. "As if I cared a buttercup about Mr Crosbie."
"Or I either, Lily."
"Of course you don't. But I do care for him very much, mamma. He is
such a duck of an Apollo. I shall always call him Apollo; Phoebus
Apollo! And when I draw his picture he shall have a mallet in his
hand instead of a bow. Upon my word I am very much obliged to Bernard
for bringing him down here; and I do wish he was not going away the
day after to-morrow."
"The day after to-morrow!" said Mrs Dale. "It was hardly worth coming
for two days."
"No, it wasn't,--disturbing us all in our quiet little ways just for
such a spell as that,--not giving one time even to count his rays."
"But he says he shall perhaps come again," said Bell.
"There is that hope for us," said Lily. "Uncle Christopher asked him
to come down when he gets his long leave of absence. This is only a
short sort of leave. He is better off than poor Johnny Eames. Johnny
Eames only has a month, but Mr Crosbie has two months just whenever
he likes it; and seems to be pretty much his own master all the year
"And Uncle Christopher asked him to come down for the shooting in
September," said Bell.
"And though he didn't say he'd come I think he meant it," said Lily.
"There is that hope for us, mamma."
"Then you'll have to draw Apollo with a gun instead of a mallet."
"That is the worst of it, mamma. We shan't see much of him or of
Bernard either. They wouldn't let us go out into the woods as
beaters, would they?"
"You'd make too much noise to be of any use."
"Should I? I thought the beaters had to shout at the birds. I should
get very tired of shouting at birds, so I think I'll stay at home and
look after my clothes."
"I hope he will come, because Uncle Christopher seems to like him so
much," said Bell.
"I wonder whether a certain gentleman at Guestwick will like his
coming," said Lily. And then, as soon as she had spoken the words,
she looked at her sister, and saw that she had grieved her.
"Lily, you let your tongue run too fast," said Mrs Dale.
"I didn't mean anything, Bell," said Lily. "I beg your pardon."
"It doesn't signify," said Bell. "Only Lily says things without
thinking." And then that conversation came to an end, and nothing
more was said among them beyond what appertained to their toilet,
and a few last words at parting. But the two girls occupied the same
room, and when their own door was closed upon them, Bell did allude
to what had passed with some spirit.
"Lily, you promised me," she said, "that you would not say anything
more to me about Dr Crofts."
"I know I did, and I was very wrong. I beg your pardon, Bell; and I
won't do it again,--not if I can help it."
"Not help it, Lily!"
"But I'm sure I don't know why I shouldn't speak of him,--only not in
the way of laughing at you. Of all the men I ever saw in my life I
like him best. And only that I love you better than I love myself I
could find it in my heart to grudge you his--"
"Lily, what did you promise just now?"
"Well; after to-night. And I don't know why you should turn against
"I have never turned against him or for him."
"There's no turning about him. He'd give his left hand if you'd only
smile on him. Or his right either,--and that's what I should like to
see; so now you've heard it."
"You know you are talking nonsense."
"So I should like to see it. And so would mamma too, I'm sure; though
I never heard her say a word about him. In my mind he's the finest
fellow I ever saw. What's Mr Apollo Crosbie to him? And now, as it
makes you unhappy, I'll never say another word about him."
As Bell wished her sister good-night with perhaps more than her usual
affection, it was evident that Lily's words and eager tone had in
some way pleased her, in spite of their opposition to the request
which she had made. And Lily was aware that it was so.
|Art of Worldly Wisdom Daily|
In the 1600s, Balthasar Gracian, a jesuit priest wrote 300 aphorisms on living life called "The Art of Worldly Wisdom." Join our newsletter below and read them all, one at a time.
Shakespeare wrote over 150 sonnets! Join our Sonnet-A-Day Newsletter and read them all, one at a time.