Despairing beside a clear stream
A shepherd forsaken was laid.
The next morning, after a comfortable breakfast, the doctor set out on his walk home. His young friend accompanied him part of the way, and did not part with him till he had obtained a promise of another and longer visit.
The doctor, as usual, soliloquised as he walked. ‘No doubt these are Vestals. The purity of the establishment is past question. This young gentleman has every requisite which her dearest friends would desire in a husband for Miss Gryll.
And she is in every way suited to him. But these seven damsels interpose themselves, like the sevenfold shield of Ajax. There is something very attractive in these damsels:
Faciès non omnibus una,
Nec diversa tamen: qualem decet esse sororum.1
If I had such an establishment, I should be loath to break it up. It is original, in these days of monotony. It is satisfactory, in these days of uncongenial relations between master and servant It is effective, in the admirable arrangements of the household. It is graceful, in the personal beauty and tasteful apparel of the maidens. It is agreeable, in their manners, in their accomplishments, in their musical skill. It is like an enchanted palace. Mr. Gryll, who talks so much of Circe, would find himself at home; he might fancy himself waited on by her handmaids, the daughters of fountains, groves, and rivers. Miss Gryll might fancy herself in the dwelling of her namesake, Morgana. But I fear she would be for dealing with it as Orlando did with Morgana, breaking the talisman and dissolving the enchantment This would be a pity; but it would also be a pity that these two young persons should not come together. But why should I trouble myself with matchmaking? It is always a thankless office. If it turns out well, your good service is forgotten. If it turns out ill, you are abused by both parties.’
The doctor’s soliloquy was cut short by a sound of lamentation, which, as he went on, came to him in louder and louder bursts. He was attracted to the spot whence the sounds proceeded, and had some difficulty in discovering a doleful swain, who was ensconced in a mass of fern, taller than himself if he had been upright; and but that, by rolling over and over in the turbulence of his grief, he had flattened a large space down to the edge of the forest brook near which he reclined, he would have remained invisible in his lair. The tears in his eyes, and the passionate utterances of his voice, contrasted strangely with a round russetin face, which seemed fortified by beef and ale against all possible furrows of care; but against love, even beef and ale, mighty talismans as they are, are feeble barriers. Cupid’s arrows had pierced through the os triplex of treble X, and the stricken deer lay mourning by the stream.
The doctor approaching kindly inquired, ‘What is the matter?’ but was answered only by a redoubled burst of sorrow, and an emphatic rejection of all sympathy.
‘You can’t do me any good.’
‘You do not know that,’ said the doctor. ‘No man knows what good another can do him till he communicates his trouble.’
For some time the doctor could obtain no other answer than the repetition of ‘You can’t do me any good.’ But at length the patience and kind face of the inquirer had their effect on the sad shepherd, and he brought out with a desperate effort and a more clamorous explosion of grief —
‘She won’t have me!’
‘Who won’t have you?’
‘Well, if you must know,’ said the swain, ‘you must. It’s one of the young ladies up at the Folly.’
‘Young ladies?’ said the doctor.
‘Servants they call themselves,’ said the other; ‘but they are more like ladies, and hold their heads high enough, when one of them won’t have me. Father’s is one of the best farms for miles round, and it’s all his own. He’s a true old yeoman, father is. And there’s nobody but him and me. And if I had a nice wife, that would be a good housekeeper for him, and play and sing to him of an evening — for she can do anything, she can — read, write, and keep accounts, and play and sing — I’ve heard her — and make a plum-pudding — I’ve seen her — we should be as happy as three crickets — four, perhaps, at the year’s end: and she won’t have me!’
‘You have put the question?’ said the doctor.
‘Plump,’ said the other. ‘And she looked at first as if she was going to laugh. She didn’t, though. Then she looked serious, and said she was sorry for me. She said she saw I was in earnest She knew I was a good son, and deserved a good wife; but she couldn’t have me. Miss, said I, do you like anybody better? No, she said very heartily.’
‘That is one comfort,’ said the doctor.
‘What comfort,’ said the other, ‘when she won’t have me?’
‘She may alter her mind,’ said the doctor, ‘if she does not prefer any one else. Besides, she only says she can’t.’
‘Can’t,’ said the other, ‘is civil for won’t. That’s all.’
‘Does she say why she can’t?’ said the doctor.
‘Yes,’ said the other. ‘She says she and her sisters won’t part with each other and their young master.’
‘Now,’ said the doctor, ‘you have not told me which of the seven sisters is the one in question.’
‘It’s the third,’ said the other. ‘What they call the second cook. There’s a housekeeper and two cooks, and two housemaids and two waiting maids. But they only manage for the young master. There are others that wait on them.
‘And what is her name?’ said the doctor.
‘Dorothy,’ said the other; ‘her name is Dorothy. Their names follow, like ABC, only that A comes last. Betsey, Catherine, Dorothy, Eleanor, Fanny, Grace, Anna. But they told me it was not the alphabet they were christened from; it was the key of A minor, if you know what that means.’
‘I think I do,’ said the doctor, laughing. ‘They were christened from the Greek diatonic scale, and make up two conjunct tetrachords, if you know what that means.’
‘I can’t say I do,’ said the other, looking bewildered.
‘And so,’ said the doctor, ‘the young gentleman, whose name is Algernon, is the Proslambanomenos, or key-note, and makes up the octave. His parents must have designed it as a foretelling that he and his seven foster-sisters were to live in harmony all their lives. But how did you become acquainted?’
‘Why,’ said the other, ‘I take a great many things to the house from our farm, and it’s generally she that takes them in.’
‘I know the house well,’ said the doctor, ‘and the master, and the maids. Perhaps he may marry, and they may follow the example. Live in hope. Tell me your name.’
‘Hedgerow,’ said the other; ‘Harry Hedgerow. And if you know her, ain’t she a beauty?’
‘Why, yes,’ said the doctor; ‘they are all good-looking.’
‘And she won’t have me,’ cried the other, but with a more subdued expression. The doctor had consoled him, and given him a ray of hope. And they went on their several ways.
The doctor resumed his soliloquy.
‘Here is the semblance of something towards a solution of the difficulty. If one of the damsels should marry, it would break the combination. One will not by herself. But what if seven apple-faced Hedgerows should propose simultaneously, seven notes in the key of A minor, an octave below? Stranger things have happened. I have read of six brothers who had the civility to break their necks in succession, that the seventh, who was the hero of the story, might inherit an estate. But, again and again, why should I trouble myself with matchmaking? I had better leave things to take their own course.’
Still in his interior speculum the doctor could not help seeing a dim reflection of himself pronouncing the nuptial benediction on his two young friends.
1 Though various features did the sisters grace,
A sister’s likeness was in every face.
Addison: Ovid. Met. 1. ii.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:59