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Better woman than Mrs. Moore—Farmer Moore's wife, of the Crow Trees—never lived; nobody had ever clearer views of what was right, or held by the right more stedfastly. There was not a farmer's wife in the whole country-side who knew so well how to manage either house, or poultry-yard, or dairy; they would have been clever mistresses who could equal her in the management of their servants; and as to the training of children, sons or daughters, nobody could come near her. But then you had to take her own word for all this. She never said it in so many words; but nobody could be long in her company without fully understanding that she believed and meant it all. There were two or three of her neighbours who looked up to her as an oracle; but there were others who, whilst they could not deny, as they said, that she was "0 cleverish sort of body," did not esteem her quite so highly.
To hear Mrs. Moore's opinion of her neighbours—and she was by no means chary of giving it—there were hardly any of them who came quite up to her mark. There were some decent, well-meaning people amongst them, no doubt; but there were others to whom she did not give even that scanty praise. In speaking of those with whom she was most intimate, and whom she liked best, she had a very expressive "but ." Indeed, in a quiet way, Mrs. Moore's
"buts" were a joke amongst some of her friends. Of course there always followed the " but" something which was not quite complimentary. It was wonderful how exactly Mrs. Moore could hit off the peculiarities and failings of those whom she discussed. Yet "exactly" is scarcely the right word; for very often there was a tone of exaggeration about her manner of speaking which made them far greater than they really were. She would not have told a lie, or uttered a slander, for the world; but now and then, to say the least, the colouring was rather strong.
It will be readily believed that Mrs. Moore was not by any means a universal favourite; on the contrary, there were a good many people who disliked her exceedingly. Even her friends were a little afraid of her; and whilst they could not help laughing at some of her racy utterances, they had often a sort of misgiving that their turn might come next.
"Ay, ay," said Mrs. Potts, of the Hollows, "I reckon we shall all get a rap in our turn." And so they did.
We have to tell how Mrs. Moore came to grief; but still better, how she was humbled and made wiser.
Nothing has yet been said about Mrs. Moore's husband. Gregory Moore was an easy, good-natured sort of man, who knew how to conduct his farm pretty well, but who had not many thoughts beyond. Some people used to say rather knowingly, when Gregory and his wife were mentioned, that "the grey mare was the better horse ." and they were not very far wrong. Gregory was fond of peace; and besides, he held his wife in high admiration. It was quite a study to see his eyes twinkle, and his sides shake with laughter, as she uttered her sharp sayings. On the whole, she " managed" him—to use an expression of her own—very well, provided only she took care to keep the management out of sight.
Mrs. Moore, however, was not always by the side of her husband to direct his driving; and on one memorable occasion when she tried to do so, she did it so injudiciously that Gregory only clung to the reins more firmly, and drove his own way—which was in its issue all but ruinous.
This is how it happened. Mrs. Moore had a strong and wholesome horror of " paper," by which she meant all bonds and securities, the signing of which involved liability to pay money for other people. She had seen, she said, what that kind of thing came to many a time. People signed papers and forgot all about it, and then some morning they had to be sold up, horse and cow, chair and bedstead, because they could not pay what they had set their hands to. She would not sign for anybody; no, not for her own father.
Before he was married, Gregory Moore had been fond of company; and, to say the truth, he had by no means lost his liking for it up to the time of which ive have to speak.
There was one of his companions—he had been an old schoolfellow—whom he still saw a good deal of. His name was Henry Bell, and he lived at Greystones, about three miles from Bolton Grange, where the Moores lived. He was a farmer, but he had engaged in a variety of speculations, every one of which he was quite sure would succeed, but most of which somehow or other failed. Of course he was in frequent need of money.
Henry Bell went often to Bolton Grange after Gregory Moore's marriage; but Mrs. Moore never liked him, and she made her dislike sufficiently plain to prevent the continuance of frequent visits from him. Still he did go; and Mrs. Moore was not a whit the better pleased that, on one pretence or other, he always contrived to get her husband into the stockyard or the fields—anywhere, in short, out of her sight.
"I am none so fond of his company," she said to herself; "but he is up to something, and it will be safer for me, if I can, to keep them in the house."
She thought she had succeeded; but one day she saw Gregory and Bell, together with another person whom she did not know, in close talk outside, and then she saw them enter the house.
"I'll see what that means," she said to herself; so, leaving the work in which she was engaged, she entered the room where they were seated.
There were some suspicious-looking papers on the table, at which she looked inquiringly, and then she said, "What's all this about, Gregory?"
"Oh, nothing," replied her husband; "that is, nothing of any consequence."
"It is merely a matter of business," said the stranger, who turned out to be an attorney, "between my friend Mr. Bell
and Mr. Moore."
"Business! ay, but what business?" exclaimed Mrs. Moore. "My husband will have nothing to do with it."
There was dead silence for a minute or two. At length the stranger, who had a good idea of the parties with whom he had to do, said, " Excuse me, ma'am, but Mr. Moore has fully considered this matter, and I take for granted that he is quite competent to manage his own affairs."
"I don't know that," she replied, hastily. "Anyhow, my husband is not going to sign that paper."
The attorney and Henry Bell exchanged glances, and then looked inquiringly and significantly at Mr. Moore, as much as to say, "Are you master here, and are you going to submit to this?"
So Gregory interpreted their looks; and, after a little pause, he said, "Come, wife, I know what I am doing; and besides, I have given my word."
He had a lurking consciousness that his wife was right; but he must show his independence.
"Give me the pen," he said; and in her very presence he signed the paper. The attorney appended his signature as witness, and then the three men put on their hats and went out. Gregory did not return for some hours; and when he went back he was in no condition to be reasoned with.
By-and-by he confessed that the paper he had signed was a joint security with another party, on behalf of Bell, for a thousand pounds. "But it's all right," he said; "Bell's quite safe. We shall never be asked for a penny."
"I wish it may be so," said his wife; and there, for the present—but only for the present—the matter ended.
We have already seen that Mrs. Moore prided herself on her management of her family. There were some of her neighbours whose children had not turned out very well; and nobody could tell better how it had happened, and nobody gave her opinion more freely than Mrs. Moore. Some of them, who had heard what she had said, and who had smarted under her criticisms, said to one another: "Well, well; let us see what she will make of her own."
Gregory Moore and his wife had a family of seven children. The eldest two were sons, and the next was a daughter, and their ages ranged from about one-and-twenty to eighteen. There was a long interval between these and the rest of the family, several having died.
The eldest three, at the time of which we are speaking, were the cause of a good deal of disappointment and anxiety. Children trained in the best way sometimes disappoint their parents; but Mrs. Moore's children had not been so trained. Their mother toiled hard for them, and impressed on them continually the necessity of work; they had all the benefit—. if it were a benefit, which is very doubtful—of her sharp criticisms on other people; and they had learnt in that respect to be almost as keen as she was. But the training had been altogether worldly, and there had been no Christian nurture. Mrs. Moore, indeed, made a point of going to church every Sunday morning; and when her children were young she took them with her; but her husband often stayed at home, and as the children grew up they felt themselves quite at liberty to follow his example. There was no family prayer in the house; no religious instruction; and neither father nor mother was ever seen to open a Bible from the beginning of the week to its close. Indeed Mrs. Moore said they had no time for that kind of thing; and, for her part, she did not see that people who made a great fuss about it were any better than others—if so good.
It will not be deemed surprising that they had great trouble with a family so brought up. The eldest had been trained for a farmer; and they had hoped he would be a great help to them; but they had been glad to send him to Australia, in the hope that he would do better than he had done at home. The next was a clerk in a neighbouring city; and he had formed associates and contracted habits which had led him into great expense. To crown all, their daughter had formed a foolish attachment, and, young as she was, she had left home unknown to her parents, and got married.