Gaskell Blog © Katherine C.
Maggie! you must sit as upright as ever you can; make your back flat, child, and don’t poke. If I cough, you must draw up. I shall cough whenever I see you do anything wrong, and I shall be looking at you all day; so remember.
Maggie interrupts Mrs. Browne with delight as the the beauty of the church spire framed against a contrasting dark cloud catches her eye. Her unromantic mother wonders what rubbish her child speaks and in offended dignity stops her instructions on good-breeding. The thoughtful Mr. Buxton sends his son, Frank, to meet them at the bridge with Erminia’s Shetland pony for Maggie to ride on; the journey would surely tire the little girl.
Now this was rather provoking to Mrs. Browne, as she chose to consider Maggie in disgrace. However, there was no help for it: all she could do was to spoil the enjoyment as far as possible, by looking and speaking in a cold manner, which often chilled Maggie’s little heart, and took all the zest out of the pleasure now.
Noticing she’s sad Frank tries to cheer her, making the pony trot and canter but she stays gloomy. Not understanding the reasons behind her gravity he finds her dull. When they arrive Frank takes her to Erminia.
Mr. Buxton’s sister married a man of bad character, he was against the match and cut her off. When she was left a widow everyone thought it a blessing. As she lay dying a few years later, asked her brother to raise little Erminia and never speak a word against the man she’d loved. Erminia has been sheltered from the truth and since Mr. Buxton reproached himself for cutting off his sister when she needed him most, she’s been coddled and spoiled.
In the beginning she finds Maggie, with her shabby gown and clumpy shoes, an unequal friend and thinks herself very kind and condescending to play with her. But her opinion changes the four children decide to go on the swing after dinner. Maggie has great fun, every the tyrant Edward tells her she’s been there long enough. Maggie gives up her seat:
“Don’t you like swinging?” asked Erminia.
“Yes! but Edward would like it now.” And Edward accordingly took her place. Frank turned away, and would not swing him. Maggie strove hard to do it, but he was heavy, and the swing bent unevenly. He scolded her for what she could not help, and at last jumped out so roughly, that the seat hit Maggie’s face, and knocked her down. When she got up, her lips quivered with pain, but she did not cry; she only looked anxiously at her frock. There was a great rent across the front breadth. Then she did shed tears–tears of fright. What would her mother say?
Erminia saw her crying.
“Are you hurt?” said she, kindly. “Oh, how your check is swelled! What a rude, cross boy your brother is!”
“I did not know he was going to jump out. I am not crying because I am hurt, but because of this great rent in my nice new frock. Mamma will be so displeased.”
…Erminia’s little heart was softened by such excessive poverty. A best frock made of shabby old silk! She put her arms round Maggie’s neck, and said:
“Come with me; we will go to my aunt’s [Mrs. Buxton’s] dressing-room, and Dawson will give me some silk, and I’ll help you to mend it.”
Maggie and Erminia form a friendship after the misfortune and Mrs. Buxton asks the two little ladies to stay for tea. In some respects Mrs. Buxton reminds me of Mrs. Hamley from Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters, which she would later write, and tragically not live to complete, fifteen years later. They both come from genteel families, Mrs. Buxton is the grand-daughter of Sir Henry Biddulph and they both have delicate health. They also take on a motherly role to the heroines.
It was the happiest part of the day to Maggie. Something in herself was so much in harmony with Mrs. Buxton’s sweet, resigned gentleness, that it answered like an echo, and the two understood each other strangely well.
Poor Maggie, if only Mrs. Browne and Edward understood the Buxton’s a fraction as well. Ned finds them all stuffed-up and Mrs. Browne is offended at not seeing Mrs. Buxton for more than an hour, thinking her ill health a fanciful excuse. The Buxton’s are no more impressed by the pair: Mrs. Browne is thought of as tiresome, and Ned, selfish and self-important.