Gaskell Blog © Katherine C.
In her anxiety about her father’s illness, for a time, Mary Smith, who has gone back home, forgets to wonder how things are in Cranford. But in late November when he’s in good health again she receives a mysterious letter from Miss Matty; full of confused sentences without endings and questions about Turbans. Are they fashionable? She’d love one in sea-green. For something exciting is happening– Oh! There hasn’t been anything as exciting since Wombwell’s lions came! Putting the mystery to rest in her postscript she says a conjurer is coming: Signor Brunoni.
It’s too much temptation for Mary not to go — not because the conjurer but to see her dear friends and share their excitement. Poor Miss Matty! A turban wouldn’t suit her mousy face so Mary gets her a very pretty middle-aged cap in lavender which will wear better than sea-green anyway. As they settle for the evening gathering it’s clear that Miss Pole has a story just boiling to be told.
I defy any people, possessed of common modesty, to keep up a conversation long, where one among them sits up aloft in silence, looking down upon all the things they chance to say as trivial and contemptible compared to what they could disclose, if properly entreated.
She is the adventurous lady of Cranford traipsing about the shops ready to report on the recent arrivals and learning every piece of news she can muster. An image of a Cranford Amazon, perhaps?
Back to the story.
She noses her way up the staircase to the Assembly Room at the George, not thinking what she was about, of course. People are busily preparing for the next evening’s conjuring and screens of cloth hang around the room. Rather bewildered she runs into a man with broken English who, as she imagines Thaddeus of Warsaw and such romantic foreigners, bows her out of the room. Well, who do you think it was? Signor Brunoni himself! She sees him pass by and realizes she’s missing one of her gloves, which ended up being in her muff the entire time, goes back into the room. Wait! But there is Signor Brunoni… again, how did he get there? For there’s only one way into the room and it’s the way she came.
Conjuration, sleight of hand, magic, witchcraft were the subjects of the evening. Miss Pole was slightly sceptical, and inclined to think there might be a scientific solution found for even the proceedings of the Witch of Endor. Mrs. Forrester believed everything from ghosts to death-watches. Miss Matty ranged between the two — always convinced by the last speaker. I think she was naturally more inclined to Mrs. Forrester’s side, but a desire of proving herself a worthy sister to Miss Jenkyns kept her equally balanced
Mary Smith goes to fetch the encyclopedia for Miss Pole so she can prime herself on the tricks of Signor Brunoni but she become so absorbed Mrs. Forrester and Miss Matty meekly wait, hoping to play a round of preference as she explains:
“Ah! I see; I comprehend perfectly. ‘A’ represents the ball. Put ‘A’ between ‘B’ and ‘D’ — no ‘I’ between ‘C’ and ‘F,’ and turn the second joint of the third finger of your left hand over the wrist of your right H. Very clear indeed! My dear Mrs. Forrester, conjuring and witchcraft is a mere affair of the alphabet. Do let me read you this one passage?”
Happily, Mary drops a deck of cards, which makes Miss Pole realize they need her to play the fourth and, for the time being, the alphabet can rest. The next day Miss Matty is so eager to go to the event she starts getting ready rather early and rushes Mary to do the same, they end up waiting and sitting quietly at home until it’s time to head out. The Cranford assembly room has had it’s share of romantic tales but now it’s dingy and faded. After ascertaining that the county families won’t be attending the ladies sit in the first two rows. The performance begins and The Grand Turk is rather annoyed with Miss Pole’s not so quiet remarks. She is convinced they were cheated and had not seen the real Signor Brunoni, he didn’t have that beard before! Awestruck and entertained the rest of the ladies aren’t quite sure what to think.