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Chapter IX.: GREAT JOY AT BROOKE. - Harriet Martineau, Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 1 (Life in the Wilds, Hill and the Valley, Brooke and Brooke Farm) 
Illustrations of Political Economy (3rd ed) in 9 vols. (London: Charles Fox, 1832). Vol. 1.
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GREAT JOY AT BROOKE.
Sir H. Withers's eldest son had been travelling abroad for the last three years, and was at this time expected to return to his native village. What he was as a man, few people knew, as he had scarcely set foot in Brooke from the time he left school; but as a boy, he had been a great favourite among his father's tenants and dependants. He had been high-spirited, and at the same time good-natured; fond of the country and its sports, and yet as gentle in his manners and polite in his deportment as if he had lived in a court. So, at least, the old folks said who remembered him best; and the younger ones had also a strong impression of the freedom with which he used to join in their games, or see that there was fair play in their battles, or beg a pardon for them when they had offended at home, or trespassed in Sir Henry's grounds. There was now a general feeling of wonder as to what he would be like, after years spent in a foreign country, where he could neither hear the language nor meet the society of his childhood and youth.
His approach happened at a very good time for the neighbours who met under the elm. News had been scarce for some weeks. Parliament was not sitting; the member for M—was alive and well; nothing extraordinary was going on in the village. Nobody had died for some time: there was not a single courtship, except Gregson's, which had been so long a settled matter that nothing more could be said upon it till the furnishing should begin. Miss Black's spring fashions had ceased to be new amt striking, and Harper's pretty daughters had been admired or censured for their finery till the subject was worn out. In a happy hour, the steward was empowered to proclaim the arrival of Mr. Withers in England, and the expectation of his family that he would visit Brooke in a fortnight or three weeks. How many pipes were smoked, how much ale was drunk at the Arms that evening! Even Grav indulged himself for once. He put by his spade and enjoyed his draught and his neighbours' conversation under the elm. All were pleased;—some with the hope of profit, and others with the prospect of a general rejoicing; and some with both together. Carey remembered that every man in Brooke would require an extra shaving that week, and that most of the children would probably have their hair cut. The butcher had secret hopes that a bullock would be roasted whole; and the baker, who had lately made some experiments in confectionary, warned his wife to purchase her sugar and currants before the price should rise. Wickstead reserved his best tap for the important day, and Miss Black sent an order to M— for an extraordinary supply of ribbons on sale or return. These important affairs settled at home, each gossip was at liberty to enjoy himself at the Arms, and many a shout of merriment was heard that evening, even as far as our white gate.
There was one person in the village who said little on this occasion, but who perhaps felt more than anybody else. Nobody observed her but myself, because no one besides suspected what was in her heart. Our gardener's daughter, Maria, was a great favourite in our house. She was a young woman of twenty-two: a good daughter and sister,—industrious and humble, useful to everybody, liked by everybody, and never seeming to think about herself. She was not particularly pretty, nor particularly clever; and her manners were so quiet that no stranger would discover at a glance why she was so beloved. But those who saw how she kept her father's house in order, how she trained her younger sister, how she attached her little brothers to her, could easily understand why her father drew up when he spoke of his Maria, why my mother placed confidence in her, why the young men of Brooke looked up to her with respect, and their sisters regarded her with affection. When Mr. Withers went abroad, he took with him, as his servant, Joe Harper, the eldest son of the grocer. Joe Harper was a steady young man, in whom Sir Henry could perfectly trust. It was thought a great thing for Joe when the situation was offered him, and everybody was glad of it but one person, and that person was Maria. I found this out by accident, and therefore I never told any one,—not even my mother,—of the discovery I had made. It happened on the very morning that Mr. Withers, his tutor, and Joe were to depart, that I went down to the gardener's cottage to speak about some plants. I supposed that I should find him at breakfast; but breakfast was over, and he was gone to his work, As I drew near the cottage door, Joe ran out, leaped the gate. and hurried down the road, I saw Maria leaning over the table, her face hid in her apron, and apparently in an agony of grief. The cause could not be mistaken. I went back as softly as I could, and I believe she never knew that any one had witnessed her distress. There was never any other trace of it till the present time. She was always cheerful in her spirits and active about her business, and so sober in her manners, that no one set about guessing whom she would marry, and no reports of the kind were heard concerning her.
I could not help watching how she would receive the tidings of Mr. Withers's approach. I saw her the first evening with a cheek somewhat flushed, and a manner a little hurried, standing at the white gate, waiting for one of her brothers whom she had sent after the steward to make particular inquiries. For some days she was not quite herself. She forgot two messages which my mother left for her father, at two separate times: and some trifles went wrong ill the cottage in the course of the week which made my mother go so far as to inquire of Maria whether she was quite well. Before the end of the three weeks, however, she had recovered her self-possession, though I could trace an anxiety in her countenance which made me suppose that the matter was not quite settled between Joe and herself.
Sir Henry Withers and his family generally spent the spring months in London, and returned to their country seat in May. This year their absence had been prolonged, that Mr. Withers might join them in town, and the whole family arrive together. Monday, the 3d of June, was the happy day.
Early on that morning the church-bells clanged in the steeple, and the triumphal arch spanned the road, decked with pictures, garlands, and gay hangings of all sorts. The hand of music which was to animate the dancers in the evening had already arrived from M—, and was stationed under the elm ready to strike up, as soon as the approach of the carriage should he announced. The children were dressed in their holiday clothes, and the fathers and mothers in their smartest and best. The bullock was prepared for the roasting, and the bonfire for being kindled as soon as night should come. Never was such gaiety seen at Brooke, since the occasion of Sir Henry's marriage.
The Maltons called for us soon after breakfast, that we might walk through the village together. Maria was at work beside her open window, where she could hear the hum from the street, and where, I suspected, she was listening for the music.
“At home, Maria, on such a morning as this!” exclaimed my mother, as Maria ran to open the gate for us. “Why are you not in the village, like everybody else?”
“I am going by and by, ma'am; but nay father is gone with the children, and so I thought I would stay behind for an hour or two.”
“Twelve is the time, remember,” said my mother. “You must not miss the sight, for I do not know when you will see such a rejoicing again.”
I observed a tear in Maria's eye as she turned into the cottage, and I thought to myself, “She will not be there.” Nor was she.
When the carriages drew near, Joe Harper was not to be seen. He was not on the first— nor the second. His anxious father made bold to inquire. He was on horseback behind, safe and well, was the reply. His father, his sisters, looked and looked ill vain, while the carriages slowly proceeded past the church and along the street. The music, the shouts, the ding-dong bell, the waving of hats, and shaking of hands, were all lost on the Harpers, who were watching for their long-absent son and brother. At length he came, at full gallop, not along the high-road, but from a lane which led in a circuit from our house.
“Why, he forgets the way!” exclaimed his sisters.—I knew better, for I understood where he had been; and I said to myself, “Now Maria is happy.”
The villagers dined under the trees in the park; and a beautiful sight it was. We joined Sir Henry's family in their walk round the tables, and helped to ascertain that all were served and all were happy. Joe Harper presided at one of the tables by his master's desire; and very attentive he was to all near him. Maria was seated far off at another table with her father.—When the roast beef and plum-puddings had been dispatched, the healths of the family drunk, the few speeches made, and “God save the King” sung in full chorus, a signal was given for clearing the tables that the dancing might begin. The old men seated themselves with their pipes under the trees; the elderly women chatted and kept the children in order, while the young folks tripped it away on the grass. Everybody danced at first who could not plead age and rheumatism in excuse. Mr. Withers himself, my brothers and I, and everybody, danced: but afterwards people were left free to do as they liked; and then I observed that Joe had disappeared, and that Maria was nowhere to be found. Joe's master inquired; Maria's father looked about, but nobody could wonder what had become of them in such a crowd; and so it did not matter. I could have told; for I saw two people stealing away into a shady walk just before sunset, and leaving the bustle and merriment behind them;—to enjoy something better, no doubt.
The village rang with the praises of Mr. Henry. He was so hearty, so kind, so much like what he used to be in all the better parts of his character, though so many years older in looks and manners. It was difficult to believe that he had been absent for so many years, for he had forgotten no person, place, or circumstance. He inquired after the old magpie, took down his angling rod with pleasure, and told his former playfellows about what he had seen since he left England. What was better, he went to visit old nurse Pitman, who was bedridden, and could not therefore pay her respects to him; and early one morning he was seen on the dewy grass of the churchyard, reading the tombstones which had been put up during the last five years.
I admired all this as much as my neighbours; but I liked Joe's constancy quite as well; and I thought it equally to the credit of master and man that, having passed through many changes of country and society, they had brought home warm and faithful hearts.