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Aunt Deborah
by [?]

A crosser old woman than Mrs. Deborah Thornby was certainly not to be found in the whole village of Hilton. Worth, in country phrase, a power of money, and living (to borrow another rustic expression) upon her means, the exercise of her extraordinary faculty for grumbling and scolding seemed the sole occupation of her existence, her only pursuit, solace, and amusement; and really it would have been a great pity to have deprived the poor woman of a pastime so consolatory to herself, and which did harm to nobody: her family consisting only of an old labourer, to guard the house, take care of her horse, her cow, and her chaise and cart, and work in the garden, who was happily, for his comfort, stone deaf, and could not hear her vituperation, and of a parish girl of twelve, to do the indoor work, who had been so used to be scolded all her life, that she minded the noise no more than a miller minds the clack of his mill, or than people who live in a churchyard mind the sound of the church bells, and would probably, from long habit, have felt some miss of the sound had it ceased, of which, by the way, there was small danger, so long as Mrs. Deborah continued in this life. Her crossness was so far innocent that it hurt nobody except herself. But she was also cross-grained, and that evil quality is unluckily apt to injure other people; and did so very materially in the present instance.

Mrs. Deborah was the only daughter of old Simon Thornby, of Chalcott great farm; she had had one brother, who having married the rosy-cheeked daughter of the parish clerk, a girl with no portion except her modesty, her good-nature, and her prettiness, had been discarded by his father, and after trying various ways to gain a living, and failing in all, had finally died broken-hearted, leaving the unfortunate clerk’s daughter, rosy-cheeked no longer, and one little boy, to the tender mercy of his family. Old Simon showed none. He drove his son’s widow from the door as he had before driven off his son; and when he also died, an event which occurred within a year or two, bequeathed all his property to his daughter Deborah.

This bequest was exceedingly agreeable to Mrs. Deborah, (for she was already of an age to assume that title,) who valued money, not certainly for the comforts and luxuries which it may be the means of procuring, nor even for its own sake, as the phrase goes, but for that which, to a woman of her temper, was perhaps the highest that she was capable of enjoying, the power which wealth confers over all who are connected with or dependent on its possessor.

The principal subjects of her despotic dominion were the young widow and her boy, whom she placed in a cottage near her own house, and with whose comfort and happiness she dallied pretty much as a cat plays with the mouse which she has got into her clutches, and lets go only to catch again, or an angler with the trout which he has fairly hooked, and merely suffers to struggle in the stream until it is sufficiently exhausted to bring to land. She did not mean to be cruel, but she could not help it; so her poor mice were mocked with the semblance of liberty, although surrounded by restraints; and the awful paw seemingly sheathed in velvet, whilst they were in reality never out of reach of the horrors of the pat.

It sometimes, however, happens that the little mouse makes her escape from madam pussy at the very moment when she seems to have the unlucky trembler actually within her claws; and so it occurred in the present instance.

The dwelling to which Mrs. Deborah retired after the death of her father, was exceedingly romantic and beautiful in point of situation. It was a small but picturesque farm-house, on the very banks of the Loddon, a small branch of which, diverging from the parent stream, and crossed by a pretty footbridge, swept round the homestead, the orchard and garden, and went winding along the water meadows in a thousand glittering meanders, until it was lost in the rich woodlands which formed the back-ground of the picture. In the month of May, when the orchard was full of its rosy and pearly blossoms, a forest of lovely bloom, the meadows yellow with cowslips, and the clear brimming river, bordered by the golden tufts of the water ranunculus, and garlanded by the snowy flowers of the hawthorn and the wild cherry, the thin wreath of smoke curling from the tall, old-fashioned chimneys of the pretty irregular building, with its porch, and its baywindows, and gable-ends full of light and shadow,–in that month of beauty it would be difficult to imagine a more beautiful or a more English landscape.