Shirley and Caroline

Shirley showed she had been sincere in saying she should be glad of Caroline’s society by frequently seeking it; and, indeed, if she had not sought it, she would not have had it, for Miss Helstone was slow to make fresh acquaintance. She was always held back by the idea that people could not want her, that she could not amuse them; and a brilliant, happy, youthful creature like the heiress of Fieldhead seemed to her too completely independent of society so uninteresting as hers ever to find it really welcome.

Shirley might be brilliant, and probably happy likewise, but no one is independent of genial society; and though in about a month she had made the acquaintance of most of the families round, and was on quite free-and-easy terms with all the Misses Sykes, and all the Misses Pearson, and the two superlative Misses Wynne of Walden Hall, yet, it appeared, she found none amongst them very genial; she fraternized with none of them, to use her own words. If she had had the bliss to be really Shirley Keeldar, Esq., lord of the manor of Briarfield, there was not a single fair one in this and the two neighbouring parishes whom she should have felt disposed to request to become Mrs. Keeldar, lady of the manor. This declaration she made to Mrs. Pryor, who received it very quietly, as she did most of her pupil’s off-hand speeches, responding:

‘My dear, do not allow that habit of alluding to yourself as a gentleman to be confirmed: it is a strange one. Those who do not know you, hearing you speak thus, would think you affected masculine manners.’

Shirley never laughed at her former governess; even the little formalities and harmless peculiarities of that lady were respectable in her eyes. Had it been otherwise, she would have proved herself a weak character at once, for it is only the weak who make a butt of quiet worth; therefore she took her remonstrance in silence. She stood quietly near the window, looking at the grand cedar on her lawn, watching a bird on one of its lower boughs. Presently she began to chirrup to the bird; soon her chirrup grew clearer; ere long she was whistling; the whistle struck into a tune, and very sweetly and deftly it was executed.

‘My dear!’ expostulated Mrs. Pryor.

‘Was I whistling?’ said Shirley. ‘I forgot. I beg your pardon, ma’am. I had resolved to take care not to whistle before you.’

‘But, Miss Keeldar, where did you learn to whistle? You must have got the habit since you came down into Yorkshire. I never knew you guilty of it before.’

‘Oh, I learned to whistle a long while ago.’

‘Who taught you?’

‘No one; I took it up by listening, and I had laid it down again: but lately, yesterday evening, as I was coming up our lane, I heard a gentleman whistling that very tune in the field on the other side of the hedge, and that reminded me.’

‘What gentleman was it?’

‘We have only one gentleman in this region, ma’am, and that is Mr. Moore—at least, he is the only gentleman who is not gray-haired. My two venerable favourites, Mr. Helstone and Mr. Yorke, it is true, are fine old beaux, infinitely better than any of the stupid young ones.’

Mrs. Pryor was silent.

‘You do not like Mr. Helstone, ma’am?’

‘My dear, Mr. Helstone’s office secures him from criticism.’

‘You generally contrive to leave the room when he is announced.’

  By PanEris using Melati.

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