The juggernaut that is Cranford rolled on through its penultimate episode last night with as much social force as the incipient coming of the railway and, like the railway, which is a matter of some regret for many in the sleepy backwater, the theme for the night seemed very much to be regret and disappointment.
Still, for those of you of a nervous disposition I should say right away that at least no-one died this week, although there were so many hearts broken by the end of the episode that I shouldn’t be at all surprised to find someone passes away next week. With the untimely death of Mr Holbrook, we opened with news that there was to be an auction of his belongings, to which Miss Pole referred as an unseemly affair only to be found rifling through the linen and the forks a moment later…
She redeemed herself by acquiring a likeness of Mr Holbrook for Miss Matty for only 1/6. (That’s 1 shilling and sixpence for you youngsters) She insisted she didn’t want any “renumeration” (meaning remuneration of course, unless she was planning to renumber something).
Later, in a nostalgic mood brought on by the events of the day, Matty confides in Mary about how her chances with Mr Holbrook were dashed by a trick played by her younger brother, Peter, who as a result ran away in disgrace to India and has not been seen since. Matty also touchingly recounts how she still dreams of a young child – not quite two years old – the child she would have loved to have had.
Mention of India prompts Mary to write to Major Gordon. On the surface this is simply to tell him how much Jessie regrets her hasty decision, and has since discovered that her father is too busy with the railway to have any need of her. The subtext of the letter is plain and dangles the faint hope of at least one happy ending in next week’s final episode.
Dr Harrison has bid on, and secured, a small table from the Holbrook auction, but on arrival home he discovers it to be a sewing table. Ever the generous lodger, he suggests to Mrs Rose that she might like to use it. Thus begins one of two easily avoidable misconceptions about the good Doctor’s intentions, since to Miss Pole and Mrs Forrester this is tantamount to a proposal.
They determine to make Mrs Rose an even more attractive prospect (she is, after all, “markedly grey beneath her cap”) and Mrs Rose, unexpectedly flattered by the Doctor’s supposed intentions, which had gone completely unremarked by her as well they might, being nonexistent, allows the pair to administer indigo to dye the grey out of her hair.
Meanwhile, Dr Harrison is on the trail of his real intentions, visiting the Rectory to ask the Reverend Hutton formally for permission to court Sophy. He promises his intentions are honourable and that he will propose as soon as he is able to provide a home for her.
Unfortunately the deluded Caroline is also becoming tired of waiting for the best catch in the town to declare his love, and Miss Tomkinson decides to draw him out on the matter. In a world where euphemism is king and plain speaking is seen as discourteous, it’s frighteningly easy to give the wrong impression, and where meaning is wrapped up in flowers, objects and the particular date you choose to do something, it appears that a gentleman really has no chance of avoiding an accidental promise of matrimony to anyone who might happen by.
Finally, with the preparations for May Day complete, the whole town gathers on the Heath. Dr Harrison is expecting this to be the first he will be able to court Sophy openly, and is entirely perplexed as the three groups with an interest converge upon him. It’s all too easy to laugh at the unfortunate misinterpretations and misconceptions, but the seriousness of the situation for the poor Doctor soon becomes apparent as, despite all his innocent protestations, the Revered Hutton refuses to allow him to see Sophy again.
In other news, the Lady Ludlow is off on a rant again regarding the schooling of young Harry Gregson, and forces him to work in the cowsheds since her provision of an alternative clerk was not sufficient to make Mr Carter mend his ways.
Jem Hearne comes into some money and attends the fabric shop intent on buying a shawl for Martha (wherein the ladies are engaged in choosing their fabrics for the May Day celebrations and at least one of them has settled on stripes – “very diminishing for the robust figure”). He’s crestfallen to find that his banknote, drawn on the Town and County bank, is not good in the shop since the owner has had wind of the bank’s incipient failure. Matty, being a shareholder in the bank and also aware of Jem’s position, offers to reimburse him, and hands over five gold sovereigns in the note’s stead. It seemed so anachronistic to hear sovereigns referred to as “cash” whereas the banknote was not, but 1843 notes were not underwritten by the Bank of England and so subject to the vagaries of business.
The very next day the bank breaks and Matty is left with no investments and only some small savings to live on. She has to let Martha go, even though she offers to work for nothing. Mary takes Martha aside to explain that Matty is now so poor she won’t be able to feed Martha – she can hardly afford to feed herself. Later at the May Day celebrations Martha believes she has the solution and tells everyone her and Jem are to be wed and that Matty may come to lodge with them. Her generous offer touches Matty deeply (not to mention us in the audience) but it’s all news to Jem and so Matty won’t hear of it.
The plans for the railway continue apace, with a deep cut being blown through Lady Ludlow’s land. She confides in Mr Carter that Septimus has once again called on her generosity – this time he “needs” a new villa building – and this time it will cost her one-third of the estate. Since one-third of her estate is more than the other Cranfordians will earn in a lifetime it’s hard to have any sympathy for her, but Mr Carter manages it somehow.Join TVScoop on Facebook for exclusive competitions and gossip