PART ONE (CHAPTERS I-XIII)
- All true histories contain instruction; though, in some, the treasure may be hard to find, and when found, so trivial in quantity that the dry, shrivelled kernel scarcely compensates for the trouble of cracking the nut. Whether this be the case with my history or not, I am hardly competent to judge; I sometimes think it might prove useful to some, and entertaining to others, but the world may judge for itself: shielded by my own obscurity, and by the lapse of years, and a few fictitious names, I do not fear to venture, and will candidly lay before the public what I would not disclose to the most intimate friend.
- My father was a clergyman of the north of England, who was deservedly respected by all who knew him, and, in his younger days, lived pretty comfortably on the joint income of a small incumbency, and a snug little property of his own. My mother, who married him against the wishes of her friends, was a squire's daughter, and a woman of spirit. In vain it was represented to her that, if she became the poor parson's wife, she must relinquish her carriage and her lady's-maid, and all the luxuries and elegances of affluence, which to her were little less than the necessaries of life. A carriage and a lady's-maid were great conveniences; but, thank Heaven, she had feet to carry her, and hands to minister to her own necessities. An elegant house and spacious grounds were not to be despised, but she would rather live in a cottage with Richard Grey, than in a palace with any other man in the world.
- Finding arguments of no avail, her father, at length, told the lovers they might marry if they pleased, but, in so doing, his daughter would forfeit every fraction of her fortune. He expected this would cool the ardour of both; but he was mistaken. My father knew too well my mother's superior worth, not to be sensible that she was a valuable fortune in herself; and if she would but consent to embellish his humble hearth, he should be happy to take her on any terms; while she, on her part, would rather labour with her own hands than be divided from the man she loved, whose happiness it would be her joy to make, and who was already one with her in heart and soul. So her fortune went to swell the purse of a wiser sister, who had married a rich nabob, and she, to the wonder and compassionate regret of all who knew her, went to bury herself in the homely village parsonage among the hills of --. And yet, in spite of all this, and in spite of my mother's high spirit, and my father's whims, I believe you might search all England through, and fail to find a happier couple.
- Of six children, my sister Mary and myself were the only two that survived the perils of infancy and early childhood. I, being the younger by five or six years, was always regarded as the child, and the pet of the family: father, mother, and sister, all combined to spoil me - not by foolish indulgence to render me fractious and ungovernable, but by ceaseless kindness to make me too helpless and dependent - too unfit for buffeting with the cares and turmoils of life.
- Mary and I were brought up in the strictest seclusion. My mother, being at once highly accomplished, well informed, and fond of employment, took the whole charge of our education on herself, with the exception of Latin - which my father undertook to teach us - so that we never even went to school; and, as there was no society in the neighborhood, our only intercourse with the world consisted in a stately tea-party, now and then, with the principal farmers and trades people of the vicinity, just to avoid being stigmatised as too proud to consort with our neighbors, and an annual visit to our paternal grandfather's, where himself, our kind grandmamma, a maiden aunt, and two or three elderly ladies and gentlemen were the only persons we ever saw. Sometimes our mother would amuse us with stories and anecdotes of her younger days, which, while they entertained us amazingly, frequently awoke - in me, at least - a vague and secret wish to see a little more of the world.
- I thought she must have been very happy; but she never seemed to regret past times. My father, however, whose temper was neither tranquil nor cheerful by nature, often unduly vexed himself with thinking of the sacrifices his dear wife had made for him, and troubled his head with revolving endless schemes for the augmentation of his little fortune, for her sake, and ours. In vain my mother assured him she was quite satisfied, and if he would but lay by a little for the children, we should all have plenty, both for time present, and to come: but saving was not my father's forte: he would not run in debt, (at least, my mother took good care he should not,) but while he had money, he must spend it; he liked to see his house comfortable, and his wife and daughters well clothed, and well attended; and besides, he was charitably disposed, and liked to give to the poor, according to his means, or, as some might think, beyond them.
- At length, however, a kind friend suggested to him a means of doubling his private property at one stroke; and further increasing it, hereafter, to an untold amount. This friend was a merchant, a man of enterprising spirit, and undoubted talent; who was somewhat straitened in his mercantile pursuits for want of capital, but generously proposed to give my father a fair share of his profits, if he would only intrust him with what he could spare, and he thought he might safely promise that whatever sum the latter chose to put into his hands, it should bring him in cent. per cent. The small patrimony was speedily sold, and the whole of its price was deposited in the hands of the friendly merchant, who as promptly proceeded to ship his cargo, and prepare for his voyage.
- My father was delighted, so were we all, with our brightening prospects: for the present, it was true, we were reduced to the narrow income of the curacy; but my father seemed to think there was no necessity for scrupulously restricting our expenditure to that: so, with a standing bill at Mr. Jackson's, another at Smith's, and a third at Hobson's, we got along even more comfortably than before: though my mother affirmed we had better keep within bounds, for our prospects of wealth were but precarious after all; and if my father would only trust everything to her management, he should never feel himself stinted; but he, for once, was incorrigible.
- What happy hours Mary and I have past, while sitting at our work by the fire, or wandering on the heath-clad hills, or idling under the weeping birch, (the only considerable tree in the garden,) talking of future happiness to ourselves, and our parents, of what we would do, and see, and possess; with no firmer foundation, for our goodly superstructure, than the riches that were expected to flow in upon us from the success of the worthy merchant's speculations. Our father was nearly as bad as ourselves; only, that he affected not to be so much in earnest, expressing his bright hopes, and sanguine expectations, in jests and playful sallies, that always struck me as being exceedingly witty and pleasant. Our mother laughed with delight to see him so hopeful and happy; but still she feared he was setting his heart too much upon the matter; and once, I heard her whisper as she left the room,
"God grant he be not disappointed! I know not how he would bear it."
- Disappointed he was; and bitterly too. It came like a thunder-clap on us all that the vessel, which contained our fortune, had been wrecked, and gone to the bottom with all its stores, together with several of the crew, and the unfortunate merchant himself. I was grieved for him; I was grieved for the overthrow of all our air-built castles; but, with the elasticity of youth, I soon recovered the shock.
- Though riches had charms, poverty had no terrors for an inexperienced girl like me. Indeed, to say the truth, there was something exhilarating in the idea of being driven to straits, and thrown upon our own resources. I only wished papa, mamma, and Mary were all of the same mind as myself; and then, instead of lamenting past calamities, we might all cheerfully set to work to remedy them; and the greater the difficulties, the harder our present privations - the greater should be our cheerfulness to endure the latter, and our vigour to contend against the former.
- Mary did not lament, but she brooded continually over the misfortune, and sank into a state of dejection from which no effort of mine, could rouse her. I could not possibly bring her to regard the matter on its bright side as I did; and indeed I was so fearful of being charged with childish frivolity, or stupid insensibility, that I carefully kept most of my bright ideas, and cheering notions to myself, well knowing they could not be appreciated.
- My mother thought only of consoling my father, and paying our debts and retrenching our expenditure by every available means; but my father was completely overwhelmed by the calamity; health, strength, and spirits sunk beneath the blow; and he never wholly recovered them. In vain my mother strove to cheer him by appealing to his piety, to his courage, to his affection for herself and us. That very affection was his greatest torment: it was for our sakes he had so ardently longed to increase his fortune - it was our interest that had lent such brightness to his hopes, and that imparted such bitterness to his present distress. He now tormented himself with remorse at having neglected my mother's advice, which would at least, have saved him from the additional burden of debt - he vainly reproached himself for having brought her from the dignity, the ease, the luxury of her former station to toil with him through the cares and toils of poverty. It was gall and wormwood to his soul to see that splendid, highly accomplished woman, once so courted and admired, transformed into an active managing housewife, with hands and head continually occupied with household labours and household economy. The very willingness with which she performed these duties, the cheerfulness with which she bore her reverses, and the kindness which withheld her from imputing the smallest blame to him, were all perverted by this ingenious self-tormentor, into further aggravations of his sufferings. And thus the mind preyed upon the body, and disordered the system of the nerves, and they in turn, increased the troubles of the mind, till by action, and re-action, his health was seriously impaired; and not one of us could convince him that the aspect of our affairs was not half so gloomy, so utterly hopeless as his morbid imagination represented it to be.
- The useful pony phaeton was sold, together with the stout well-fed pony; the old favourite that we had fully determined should end its days in peace, and never pass from our hands; the little coach-house and stable were let, the servant boy, and the more efficient, (being the more expensive) of the two maidservants were dismissed. Our clothes were mended, turned, and darned to the utmost verge of decency; our food, always plain, was now simplified to an unprecedented degree - except my father's favourite dishes: our coals and candles were painsfully economised - the pair of candles reduced to one, and that most sparingly used; the coals carefully husbanded in the half empty grate, especially when my father was out on his parish duties, or confined to bed through illness - then we sat with our feet on the fender, scraping the perishing embers together from time to time, and occasionally adding a slight scattering of the dust and fragments of coal, just to keep them alive. As for our carpets, they in time, were worn threadbare, and patched and darned even to a greater extent than our garments. To save the expense of a gardener, Mary and I undertook to keep the garden in order; and all the cooking and household work that could not easily be managed by one servant girl, was done by my mother and sister, with a little occasional help from me - only a little, because, though a woman in my own estimation, I was still a child in theirs; and my mother like most active, managing women, was not gifted with very active daughters; for this reason - that being so clever and diligent herself, she was never tempted to trust her affairs to a deputy, but on the contrary, was willing to act and think for others as well as for number one; and whatever was the business in hand, she was apt to think that no one could do it so well as herself; so that whenever I offered to assist her, I received such an answer as - "No, love, you cannot indeed - there's nothing here you can do. Go and help your sister, or get her to take a walk with you - tell her she must not sit so much, and stay so constantly in the house as she does - she may well look thin and dejected."
- "Mary, mamma says I'm to help you; or get you to take a walk with me; she says you may well look thin and dejected, if you sit so constantly in the house."
- "Help me you cannot, Agnes; and I cannot go out with you - I have far too much to do."
- "Then let me help you."
- "You cannot, indeed, dear child. Go and practise your music, or play with the kitten."
- There was always plenty of sewing on hand; but I had not been taught to cut out a single garment; and except plain hemming and seaming, there was little I could do, even in that line; for they both asserted, that it was far easier to do the work themselves, than to prepare it for me; and besides they liked better to see me prosecuting my studies, or amusing myself - it was time enough for me to sit bending over my work, like a grave matron, when my favorite little pussy was become a steady old cat. Under such circumstances, although I was not many degrees more useful than the kitten, my idleness was not entirely without excuse.
- Through all our troubles, I never but once heard my mother complain of our want of money. As summer was coming on, she observed to Mary and me,
"What a desirable thing it would be for your papa to spend a few weeks at a watering-place. I am convinced the sea air, and the change of scene would be of incalculable service to him. But then you see there's no money," she added, with a sigh.
We both wished exceedingly that the thing might be done, and lamented greatly that it could not.
"Well, well!" said she, "it's no use complaining. Possibly something might be done to further the project after all. Mary, you are a beautiful drawer. What do you say to doing a few more pictures, in your best style, and getting them framed with the water-colour drawings you have already done, and trying to dispose of them to some liberal picture-dealer, who has the sense to discern their merits?"
- "Mamma, I should be delighted, if you think they could be sold; and for anything worth while."
- "It's worth while trying, however, my dear: do you procure the drawings, and I'll endeavour to find a purchaser."
- "I wish I could do something," said I.
- "You, Agnes! well, who knows? You draw pretty well too; if you choose some simple piece for your subject, I dare say you will be able to produce something we shall all be proud to exhibit."
- "But I have another scheme in my head, mamma, and have had long, only I did not like to mention it."
- "Indeed! pray tell us what it is."
- "I should like to be a governess."
- My mother uttered an exclamation of surprise, and laughed. My sister dropped her work in astonishment exclaiming, "You a governess, Agnes! What can you be dreaming of?"
- "Well! I don't see anything so very extraordinary in it. I do not pretend to be able to instruct great girls; but surely I could teach little ones: and I should like it so much: I am so fond of children. Do let me, mamma!"
- "But, my love, you have not learnt to take care of yourself yet; and young children require more judgment and experience to manage than elder ones."
- "But, mamma, I am above eighteen, and quite able to take care of myself, and others too. You do not know half the wisdom and prudence I possess, because I have never been tried."
- "Only think," said Mary, "what would you do in a house full of strangers, without me or mamma to speak and act for you - with a parcel of children, besides yourself, to attend to; and no one to look to for advice? You would not even know what clothes to put on."
- "You think, because I always do as you bid me, I have no judgment of my own: but only try me - that is all I ask - and you shall see what I can do."
- At that moment my father entered, and the subject of our discussion was explained to him.
- "What, my little Agnes, a governess!" cried he, and, in spite of his dejection, he laughed at the idea.
- "Yes, papa, don't you say anything against it; I should like it so much; and I'm sure I could manage delightfully."
- "But, my darling, we could not spare you." And a tear glistened in his eye as he added - "No, no! afflicted as we are, surely we are not brought to that pass yet."
- "Oh, no!" said my mother. "There is no necessity, whatever, for such a step; it is merely a whim of her own. So you must hold your tongue, you naughty girl, for though you are so ready to leave us, you know very well, we cannot part with you."
- I was silenced for that day, and for many succeeding ones; but still I did not wholly relinquish my darling scheme. Mary got her drawing materials, and steadily set to work. I got mine too; but while I drew, I thought of other things. How delightful it would be to be a governess! To go out into the world; to enter upon a new life; to act for myself; to exercise my unused faculties; to try my unknown powers; to earn my own maintenance, and something to comfort and help my father, mother, and sister, besides exonerating them from the provision of my food and clothing; to show papa what his little Agnes could do; to convince mamma and Mary that I was not quite the helpless, thoughtless being they supposed. And then, how charming to be entrusted with the care and education of children! Whatever others said, I felt I was fully competent to the task: the clear remembrance of my own thoughts and feelings in early childhood would be a surer guide than the instructions of the most mature adviser. I had but to turn from my little pupils to myself at their age, and I should know, at once, how to win their confidence and affections; how to waken the contrition of the erring; how to embolden the timid, and console the afflicted; how to make Virtue practicable, Instruction desirable, and Religion lovely and comprehensible.
To train the tender plants, and watch their buds unfolding day by day!
- - Delightful task!
- To teach the young idea how to shoot!
- Influenced by so many inducements, I determined still to persevere; though the fear of displeasing my mother, or distressing my father's feelings prevented me from resuming the subject for several days. At length, again, I mentioned it to my mother in private, and, with some difficulty, got her to promise to assist me with her endeavours. My father's reluctant consent was next obtained, and then, though Mary still sighed her disapproval, my dear, kind mother began to look for a situation for me. She wrote to my father's relations, and consulted the newspaper advertisements - her own relations she had long dropped all communication with - a formal interchange of occasional letters was all she had ever had since her marriage, and she would not, at any time, have applied to them in a case of this nature. But so long, and so entire had been my parents' seclusion from the world, that many weeks elapsed before a suitable situation could be procured. At last, to my great joy, it was decreed that I should take charge of the young family of a certain Mrs. Bloomfield, whom my kind, prim Aunt Grey had known in her youth, and asserted to be a very nice woman. Her husband was a retired tradesman, who had realised a very comfortable fortune, but could not be prevailed upon to give a greater salary than twenty-five pounds to the instructress of his children. I, however, was glad to accept this, rather than refuse the situation - which my parents were inclined to think the better plan.
- But some weeks more were yet to be devoted to preparation. How long, how tedious those weeks appeared to me! Yet they were happy ones in the main - full of bright hopes, and ardent expectations. With what peculiar pleasure I assisted at the making of my new clothes, and, subsequently, the packing of my trunks! But there was a feeling of bitterness mingling with the latter occupation too - and when it was done, when all was ready for my departure on the morrow, and the last night at home approached, a sudden anguish seemed to swell my heart. My dear friends looked so sad, and spoke so very kindly, that I could scarcely keep my eyes from overflowing; but I still affected to be gay. I had taken my last ramble with Mary on the moors, my last walk in the garden, and round the house; I had fed, with her, our pet pigeons for the last time - the pretty creatures that we had tamed to peck their food from our hands. I had given a farewell stroke to all their silky backs as they crowded in my lap. I had tenderly kissed my own peculiar favourites, the pair of snow-white fantails; I had played my last tune on the old familiar piano, and sung my last song to papa; not the last, I hoped, but the last for, what appeared to me, a very long time; and, perhaps, when I did these things again, it would be with different feelings; circumstances might be changed, and this house might never be my settled home again.
My dear little friend, the kitten, would certainly be changed; she was already growing a fine cat; and when I returned, even for a hasty visit at Christmas, would, most likely, have forgotten both her playmate, and her merry pranks. I had romped with her for the last time; and when I stroked her soft bright fur, while she lay purring herself to sleep in my lap, it was with a feeling of sadness I could not easily disguise. Then, at bed-time, when I retired with Mary to our quiet little chamber, where already my drawers were cleared out, and my share of the bookcase was empty; and where, hereafter, she would have to sleep alone, in dreary solitude, as she expressed it, my heart sunk more than ever: I felt as if I had been selfish and wrong to persist in leaving her; and when I knelt once more beside our little bed, I prayed for a blessing on her, and on my parents more fervently than ever I had done before. To conceal my emotion, I buried my face in my hands, and they were presently bathed in tears. I perceived, on rising, that she had been crying too; but neither of us spoke; and in silence we betook ourselves to our repose, creeping more closely together, from the consciousness that we were to part so soon.
- But the morning brought a renewal of hope and spirits. I was to depart early, that the conveyance which took me, (a gig, hired from Mr. Smith, the draper, grocer, and tea-dealer of the village) might return the same day. I rose, washed, dressed, swallowed a hasty breakfast, received the fond embraces of my father, mother, and sister, kissed the cat, to the great scandal of Sally, the maid, shook hands with her, mounted the gig, drew my veil over my face, and then, but not till then, burst into a flood of tears.
The gig rolled on - I looked back - my dear mother and sister were still standing at the door, looking after me, and waving their adieux: I returned their salute, and prayed God to bless them from my heart: we descended the hill, and I could see them no more.
- "It's a coldish mornin' for you, Miss Agnes," observed Smith; "and a darksome un too; but we's, happen, get to yon' spot afore there come much rain to signify."
- "Yes, I hope so," replied I, as calmly as I could.
- "It's comed a good sup last night too."
- "But this cold wind will, happen, keep it off."
- "Perhaps it will."
- Here ended our colloquy; we crossed the valley, and began to ascend the opposite hill. As we were toiling up, I looked back again: there was the village spire, and the old grey parsonage beyond it, basking in a slanting beam of sunshine - it was but a sickly ray, but the village and surrounding hills were all in sombre shade, and I hailed the wandering beam as a propitious omen to my home. With clasped hands, I fervently implored a blessing on its inhabitants, and hastily turned away; for I saw the sunshine was departing; and I carefully avoided another glance, lest I should see it in gloomy shadow like the rest of the landscape.
FIRST LESSONS IN THE ART OF INSTRUCTION
- As we drove along, my spirits revived again, and I turned, with pleasure, to the contemplation of the new life upon which I was entering; but, though it was not far past the middle of September, the heavy clouds, and strong north-easterly wind combined to render the day extremely cold and dreary, and the journey seemed a very long one, for, as Smith observed, the roads were "very heavy;" and, certainly, his horse was very heavy too; it crawled up the hills, and crept down them, and only condescended to shake its sides in a trot, where the road was at a dead level or a very gentle slope, which was rarely the case in those rugged regions: so that it was nearly one o'clock before we reached the place of our destination. Yet, after all, when we entered the lofty iron gateway, when we drove softly up the smooth, well-rolled carriage road, with the green lawn on each side, studded with young trees, and approached the new, but stately mansion of Wellwood, rising above its mushroom poplar groves, my heart failed me, and I wished it were a mile or two farther off: for the first time in my life, I must stand alone - there was no retreating now - I must enter that house, and introduce myself among its strange inhabitants - but how was it to be done? True, I was near nineteen, but, thanks to my retired life, and the protecting care of my mother and sister, I well knew, that many a girl of fifteen, or under, was gifted with a more womanly address, and greater ease and self-possession, than I was. Yet, if Mrs. Bloomfield were a kind, motherly woman, I might do very well after all; and the children, of course, I should soon be at ease with them - and Mr. Bloomfield, I hoped, I should have but little to do with.
- "Be calm, be calm, whatever happens," I said within myself, and truly I kept this resolution so well, and was so fully occupied in steadying my nerves, and stilling the rebellious flutter of my heart, that when I was admitted into the hall, and ushered into the presence of Mrs. Bloomfield, I almost forgot to answer her polite salutation; and it afterwards struck me, that the little, I did say, was spoken in the tone of one half dead, or half-asleep. The lady too was somewhat chilly in her manner, as I discovered when I had time to reflect. She was a tall, spare, stately woman, with thick black hair, cold grey eyes, and extremely sallow complexion.
- With due politeness however, she showed me my bedroom, and left me there to take a little refreshment. I was somewhat dismayed at my appearance on looking in the glass: the cold wind had swelled and reddened my hands, uncurled and entangled my hair, and dyed my face of a pale purple; add to this my collar was horribly crumpled, my frock splashed with mud, my feet clad in stout new boots, and as the trunks were not brought up, there was no remedy: so having smoothed my hair as well as I could, and repeatedly twitched my obdurate collar, I proceeded to clomp down the two flights of stairs, philosophising as I went, and with some difficulty, found my way into the room where Mrs. Bloomfield awaited me.
- She led me into the dining-room where the family luncheon had been laid out. Some beefsteaks and half cold potatoes were set before me; and while I dined upon these, she sat opposite, watching me (as I thought) and endeavouring to sustain something like a conversation - consisting chiefly, of a succession of common-place remarks, expressed with frigid formality: but this might be more my fault than hers, for I really could not converse. In fact, my attention was almost wholly absorbed in my dinner; not from ravenous appetite, but from distress at the toughness of the beefsteaks, and the numbness of my hands, almost palsied by their five hours' exposure to the bitter wind. I would gladly have eaten the potatoes and let the meat alone, but having got a large piece of the latter on to my plate, I could not be so impolite as to leave it; so, after many awkward and unsuccessful attempts to cut it with the knife, or tear it with the fork, or pull it asunder between them, sensible that the awful lady was a spectator to the whole transaction, I at last desperately grasped the knife and fork in my fists, like a child of two years old, and fell to work with all the little strength I possessed. But this needed some apology; with a feeble attempt at a laugh, I said, "My hands are so benumbed with the cold that I can scarcely handle my knife and fork."
- "I dare say you would find it cold," replied she with a cool, immutable gravity that did not serve to re-assure me.
- When the ceremony was concluded, she led me into the sitting-room again, where she rung and sent for the children.
- "You will find them not very far advanced in their attainments," she said, "for I have had so little time to attend to their education myself, and we have thought them too young for a governess till now; but I think they are clever children, and very apt to learn, especially the little boy; he is I think, the flower of the flock; a generous, noble-spirited boy, one to be led, but not driven, and remarkable for always speaking the truth. He seems to scorn deception," (this was good news.) "His sister, Mary Ann will require watching," continued she, "but she is a very good girl upon the whole: though I wish her to be kept out of the nursery, as much as possible, as she is now almost six years old, and might acquire bad habits from the nurses. I have ordered her crib to be placed in your room, and if you will be so kind as to overlook her washing and dressing, and take charge of her clothes, she need have nothing further to do with the nursery-maid."
- I replied I was quite willing to do so; and at that moment, my young pupils entered the apartment with their two younger sisters. Master Tom Bloomfield was a well-grown boy of seven, with a somewhat wiry frame, flaxen hair, blue eyes, small turned up nose, and fair complexion. Mary Ann was a tall girl too, somewhat dark like her mother, but with a round full face, and a high colour in her cheeks. The second sister was Fanny, a very pretty little girl; Mrs. Bloomfield assured me she was a remarkably gentle child, and required encouragement: she had not learnt anything yet; but in a few days, she would be four years old, and then she might take her first lesson in the alphabet, and be promoted to the school-room. The remaining one was Harriet, a little broad, fat, merry, playful thing of scarcely two, that I coveted more than all the rest - but with her I had nothing to do.
- I talked to my little pupils as well as I could, and tried to render myself agreeable; but with little success I fear, for their mother's presence kept me under an unpleasant restraint. They, however, were remarkably free from shyness. They seemed bold, lively children, and I hoped I should soon be on friendly terms with them - the little boy especially, of whom I had heard such a favourable character from his mamma. In Mary Ann there was a certain affected simper, and a craving for notice, that I was sorry to observe. But her brother claimed all my attention to himself: he stood bolt upright between me and the fire, with his hands behind his back, talking away like an orator, occasionally interrupting his discourse with a sharp reproof to his sisters when they made too much noise.
- "O Tom, what a darling you are!" exclaimed his mother. "Come and kiss dear mamma - and then won't you show Miss Grey your school-room - and your nice new books?"
- "I won't kiss you, mamma; but I will show Miss Grey my school-room, and my new books."
- "And my school-room, and my new books, Tom," said Mary Ann, "They're mine too."
- "They're mine," replied he decisively. "Come along, Miss Grey - I'll escort you."
- When the room and books had been shown, with some bickerings between the brother and sister that I did my utmost to appease or mitigate, Mary Ann brought me her doll, and began to be very loquacious on the subject of its fine clothes, its bed, its chest of drawers, and other appurtenances; but Tom told her to hold her clamour, that Miss Grey might see his rocking-horse, which with a most important bustle, he dragged forth, from its corner, into the middle of the room, loudly calling on me to attend to it. Then, ordering his sister to hold the reins, he mounted, and made me stand for ten minutes, watching how manfully he used his whip and spurs. Meantime however, I admired Mary Ann's pretty doll, and all its possessions; and then told Master Tom he was a capital rider, but I hoped he would not use his whip and spurs so much when he rode a real pony.
- "Oh, yes, I will!" said he, laying on with redoubled ardour. "I'll cut into him like smoke! Eeh! my word! but he shall sweat for it. "
- This was very shocking, but I hoped in time to be able to work a reformation.
- "Now you must put on your bonnet and shawl," said the little hero, "and I'll show you my garden."
- "And mine," said Mary Ann.
- Tom lifted his fist with a menacing gesture; she uttered a loud, shrill scream, ran to the other side of me, and made a face at him.
- "Surely, Tom, you would not strike your sister! I hope I shall never see you do that."
- "You will sometimes, I'm obliged to do it now and then to keep her in order."
- "But it is not your business to keep her in order, you know - that is for --"
- "Well, now go and put on your bonnet."
- "I don't know - it is so very cloudy and cold, it seems likely to rain; - and you know I have had a long drive."
- "No matter; you must come; I shall allow of no excuses," replied the consequential little gentleman. And as it was the first day of our acquaintance, I thought I might as well indulge him. It was too cold for Mary Ann to venture out, so she stayed with her mamma, to the great relief of her brother, who liked to have me all to himself.
- The garden was a large one, and tastefully laid out; besides several splendid dahlias, there were some other fine flowers still in bloom; but my companion would not give me time to examine them: I must go with him, across the wet grass, to a remote, sequestered corner, the most important place in the grounds - because, it contained his garden. There were two round beds, stocked with a variety of plants. In one, there was a pretty little rose tree. I paused to admire its lovely blossoms.
- "Oh, never mind that!" said he contemptuously. "That's only Mary Ann's garden, look, THIS is mine."
- After I had observed every flower, and listened to a disquisition on every plant, I was permitted to depart; but first, with great pomp, he plucked a polyanthus and presented it to me, as one conferring a prodigious favour. I observed, on the grass about his garden, certain apparatus of sticks and cord, and asked what they were.
- "Traps for birds."
- "Why do you catch them?"
- "Papa says they do harm."
- "And what do you do with them, when you catch them?"
- "Different things. Sometimes I give them to the cat; sometimes I cut them in pieces with my penknife; but the next, I mean to roast alive."
- "And why do you mean to do such a horrible thing?"
- "For two reasons; first, to see how long it will live - and then, to see what it will taste like."
- "But don't you know it is extremely wicked to do such things? Remember, the birds can feel as well as you, and think, how would you like it yourself?"
- "Oh, that's nothing! I'm not a bird, and I can't feel what I do to them."
- "But you will have to feel it some time, Tom - you have heard where wicked people go to when they die; and if you don't leave off torturing innocent birds, remember, you will have to go there, and suffer just what you have made them suffer "
- "Oh; pooh! I shan't. Papa knows how I treat them, and he never blames me for it; he says it's just what he used to do when he was a boy. Last Summer he gave me a nest full of young sparrows, and he saw me pulling off their legs and wings, and heads, and never said anything, except that they were nasty things, and I must not let them soil my trousers; and Uncle Robson was there too, and he laughed, and said I was a fine boy."
- "But what would your mamma say?"
- "Oh! she doesn't care - she says it's a pity to kill the pretty singing birds, but the naughty sparrows, and mice and rats, I may do what I like with. So now, Miss Grey, you see it is not wicked."
- "I still think it is, Tom; and perhaps your papa and mamma would think so too, if they thought much about it. "However," I internally added, "they may say what they please, but I am determined you shall do nothing of the kind, as long as I have power to prevent it."
- He next took me across the lawn to see his mole-traps, and then into the stack-yard to see his weasel-traps, one of which, to his great joy, contained a dead weasel; and then into the stable to see, not the fine carriage horses, but a little rough colt, which he informed me had been bred on purpose for him, and he was to ride it as soon as it was properly trained.
I tried to amuse the little fellow, and listened to all his chatter as complacently as I could; for I thought if he had any affections at all, I would endeavour to win them; and then, in time, I might be able to show him the error of his ways; but I looked in vain for that generous, noble spirit, his mother talked of; though I could see he was not without a certain degree of quickness and penetration, when he chose to exert it.
- When we re-entered the house it was nearly tea-time. Master Tom told me that, as papa was from home, he, and I, and Mary Ann were to have tea with mamma, for a treat; for, on such occasions, she always dined at luncheon time with them, instead of at six o'clock. Soon after tea, Mary Ann went to bed, but Tom favoured us with his company and conversation till eight. After he was gone, Mrs. Bloomfield further enlightened me on the subject of her children's dispositions and acquirements, and on what they were to learn, and how they were to be managed, and cautioned me to mention their defects to no one but herself. My mother had warned me before to mention them as little as possible to her, for people did not like to be told of their children's faults, and so I concluded I was to keep silence on them altogether. About half-past nine, Mrs. Bloomfield invited me to partake of a frugal supper of cold meat and bread. I was glad when that was over, and she took her bed-room candle-stick and retired to rest, for though I wished to be pleased with her, her company was extremely irksome to me; and I could not help feeling that she was cold, grave, and forbidding - the very opposite of the kind, warm-hearted matron my hopes had depicted her to be.
A FEW MORE LESSONS
- I rose next morning with a feeling of hopeful exhilaration, in spite of the disappointments already experienced; but I found the dressing of Mary Ann was no light matter, as her abundant hair was to be smeared with pomade, plaited in three long tails, and tied with bows of ribbon, a task my unaccustomed fingers found great difficulty in performing. She told me her nurse could do it in half the time, and, by keeping up a constant fidget of impatience, contrived to render me still longer. When all was done, we went into the school-room, where I met my other pupil, and chatted with the two till it was time to go down to breakfast. That meal being concluded, and a few civil words having been exchanged with Mrs. Bloomfield, we repaired to the school-room again, and commenced the business of the day. I found my pupils very backward indeed; but Tom, though averse to every species of mental exertion, was not without abilities. Mary Ann could scarcely read a word, and was so careless and inattentive, that I could hardly get on with her at all. However, by dint of great labour and patience, I managed to get something done in the course of the morning, and then accompanied my young charge out into the garden and adjacent grounds, for a little recreation before dinner. There we got along tolerably together, except that I found they had no notion of going with me; I must go with them wherever they chose to lead me. I must run, walk, or stand exactly as it suited their fancy. This, I thought, was reversing the order of things; and I found doubly disagreeable, as on this as well as subsequent occasions, they seemed to prefer the dirtiest places, and the most dismal occupations. But there was no remedy; either I must follow them, or keep entirely apart from them, and thus appear neglectful of my charge. To-day, they manifested a particular attachment to a well at the bottom of the lawn, where they persisted in dabbling with sticks and pebbles, for above half an hour. I was in constant fear that their mother would see them from the window, and blame me for allowing them thus to draggle their clothes, and wet their feet and hands, instead of taking exercise; but no arguments, commands, or intreaties could draw them away. If she did not see them some one else did - a gentleman on horseback had entered the gate, and was proceeding up the road; at the distance of a few paces from us he paused, and calling to the children in a waspish penetrating tone, bade them "keep out of that water." "Miss Grey," said he, "(I suppose it is Miss Grey) I am surprised that you should allow them to dirty their clothes, in that manner - Don't you see how Miss Bloomfield has soiled her frock? - and that Master Bloomfield's socks are quite wet? - and both of them without gloves! Dear, dear! Let me request that in future, you will keep them decent at least!" so saying he turned away, and continued his ride up to the house. This was Mr. Bloomfield. I was surprised that he should nominate his children Master and Miss Bloomfield, and still more so, that he should speak so uncivilly to me - their governess, and a perfect stranger to himself. Presently the bell rang to summon us in. I dined with the children at one, while he and his lady took their luncheon at the same table. His conduct there did not greatly raise him in my estimation. He was a man of ordinary stature - rather below than above, and rather thin than stout, apparently between thirty and forty years of age: he had a large mouth, pale, dingy complexion, milky blue eyes, and hair the colour of a hempen cord. There was a roast leg of mutton before him: he helped Mrs. Bloomfield, the children, and me, desiring me to cut up the children's meat, then after twisting about the mutton in various directions, and eyeing it from different points, he pronounced it not fit to be eaten, and called for the cold beef.
- "What is the matter with the mutton, my dear?" asked his mate.
- "It is quite overdone. Don't you taste, Mrs. Bloomfield, that all the goodness is roasted out of it? And can't you see that all that nice, red gravy is completely dried away?"
- "Well, I think the beef will suit you."
- The beef was set before him, and he began to carve, but with the most rueful expressions of discontent.
- "What is the matter with the beef, Mr. Bloomfield? I'm sure I thought it was very nice."
- "And so it was very nice. A nicer joint could not be; but it is quite spoiled," replied he, dolefully.
- "How so?"
- "How so? Why, don't you see how it is cut? Dear - dear! it is quite shocking!"
- "They must have cut it wrong in the kitchen then, for I'm sure I carved it quite properly here, yesterday."
- "No doubt they cut it wrong in the kitchen - the savages! Dear - dear! Did ever any one see such a fine piece of beef so completely ruined? But remember that, in future, when a decent dish leaves this table, they shall not touch it in the kitchen. Remember that, Mrs. Bloomfield!"
- Notwithstanding the ruinous state of the beef, the gentleman managed to cut himself some delicate slices, part of which he ate in silence. When he next spoke it was, in a less querulous tone, to ask what there was for dinner.
- "Turkey and grouse," was the concise reply.
- "And what besides?"
- "Fish . "
- "What kind of fish?"
- "I don't know."
- "You don't know?" cried he, looking solemnly up from his plate, and suspending his knife and fork in astonishment.
- "No. I told the cook to get some fish - I did not particularise what."
- "Well, that beats everything! A lady professes to keep house, and doesn't even know that fish is for dinner! professes to order fish, and doesn't specify what!"
- "Perhaps, Mr. Bloomfield, you will order dinner yourself in future. "
- Nothing more was said; and I was very glad to get out of the room with my pupils; for I never felt so ashamed and uncomfortable in my life, for anything that was not my own fault.
- In the afternoon we applied to lessons again; then went out again; then had tea in the school-room; then I dressed Mary Ann for dessert; and when she and her brother were gone down to the dining-room, I took the opportunity of beginning a letter to my dear friends at home; but the children came up before I had half completed it.
At seven, I had to put Mary Ann to bed; then I played with Tom till eight, when he too went; and I finished my letter, and unpacked my clothes, which I had hitherto found no opportunity for doing, and, finally, went to bed myself.
- But this is a very favourable specimen of a day's proceedings.
- My task of instruction and surveillance, instead of becoming easier as my charges and I got better accustomed to each other, became more arduous as their characters unfolded. The name of governess, I soon found, was a mere mockery as applied to me; my pupils had no more notion of obedience than a wild, unbroken colt. The habitual fear of their father's peevish temper, and the dread of the punishments he was wont to inflict when irritated, kept them generally within bounds in his immediate presence. The girls, too, had some fear of their mother's anger; and the boy might occasionally be bribed to do as she bid him by the hope of reward: but I had no rewards to offer, and as for punishments, I was given to understand, the parents reserved that privilege to themselves; and yet they expected me to keep my pupils in order. Other children might be guided by the fear of anger, and the desire of approbation; but neither the one nor the other had any effect upon these.
- Master Tom, not content with refusing to be ruled, must needs set up as a ruler, and manifested a determination to keep, not only his sisters, but his governess in order, by violent manual and pedal applications; and, as he was a tall, strong boy of his years, this occasioned no trifling inconvenience. A few sound boxes in the ear, on such occasions, might have settled the matter easily enough: but as, in that case, he might make up some story to his mother, which she would be sure to believe, as she had such unshaken faith in his veracity - though I had already discovered it to be by no means unimpeachable, I determined to refrain from striking him even in self-defence; and, in his most violent moods, my only resource was to throw him on his back, and hold his hands and feet till the frenzy was somewhat abated. To the difficulty of preventing him from doing what he ought not, was added that of forcing him to do what he ought. Often he would positively refuse to learn, or to repeat his lessons, or even to look at his book. Here again, a good birch rod might have been serviceable; but, as my powers were so limited, I must make the best use of what I had.
- As there were no settled hours for study and play, I resolved to give my pupils a certain task, which, with moderate attention, they could perform in a short time; and till this was done, however weary I was, or however perverse they might be, nothing short of parental interference should induce me to suffer them to leave the school-room; even if I should sit with my chair against the door to keep them in. Patience, Firmness, and Perseverance were my only weapons; and these I resolved to use to the utmost.
I determined always strictly to fulfil the threats and promises I made; and to that end, I must be cautious to threaten and promise nothing that I could not perform. Then, I would carefully refrain from all useless irritability and indulgence of my own ill temper: when they behaved tolerably, I would be as kind and obliging as it was in my power to be, in order to make the widest possible distinction between good and bad conduct; I would reason with them too in the simplest and most effective manner. When I reproved them, or refused to gratify their wishes, after a glaring fault, it should be more in sorrow than in anger: their little hymns and prayers I would make plain and clear to their understanding; when they said their prayers at night, and asked pardon for their offences, I would remind them of the sins of the past day, solemnly, but in perfect kindness, to avoid raising a spirit of opposition; penitential hymns should be said by the naughty; cheerful ones by the comparatively good; and every kind of instruction, I would convey to them, as much as possible, by entertaining discourse - apparently with no other object than their present amusement in view.
- By these means I hoped, in time, both to benefit the children, and to gain the approbation of their parents; and, also, to convince my friends at home that I was not so wanting in skill and prudence as they supposed. I knew the difficulties I had to contend with were great; but I knew, (at least, I believed,) unremitting patience and perseverance could overcome them, and night and morning I implored Divine assistance to this end. But either the children were so incorrigible, the parents so unreasonable, or myself so mistaken in my views, or so unable to carry them out, that my best intentions and most strenuous efforts seemed productive of no better result than sport to the children, dissatisfaction to their parents, and torment to myself.
- The task of instruction was as arduous for the body as the mind. I had to run after my pupils, to catch them, to carry, or drag them to the table, and often forcibly to hold them there, till the lesson was done. Tom, I frequently put into a corner, seating myself before him in a chair, with the book which contained the little task that must be said, or read, before he was released in my hand. He was not strong enough to push both me and the chair away; so he would stand twisting his body and face into the most grotesque and singular contortions - laughable, no doubt, to an unconcerned spectator, but not to me- and uttering loud yells and doleful outcries, intended to represent weeping, but wholly without the accompaniment of tears. I knew this was done solely for the purpose of annoying me; and, therefore, however I might inwardly tremble with impatience and irritation, I manfully strove to suppress all visible signs of molestation, and affected to sit, with calm indifference, waiting till it should please him to cease this pastime, and prepare for a run in the garden, by casting his eye on the book, and reading or repeating the few words he was required to say.
Sometimes he would determine to do his writing badly; and I had to hold his hand to prevent him from purposely blotting or disfiguring the paper. Frequently, I threatened that, if he did not do better, he should have another line: then, he would stubbornly refuse to write this line; and I, to save my word, had finally to resort to the expedient of holding his fingers upon the pen, and forcibly drawing his hand up and down till, in spite of his resistance, the line was in some sort completed.
- Yet Tom was by no means the most unmanageable of my pupils: sometimes, to my great joy, he would have the sense to see that his wisest policy was to finish his tasks, and go out and amuse himself till I and his sisters came to join him, which, frequently, was not at all, for Mary Ann seldom followed his example in this particular. She apparently preferred rolling on the floor to any other amusement. Down she would drop like a leaden weight; and when I, with great difficulty, had succeeded in rooting her thence, I had still to hold her up with one arm, while, with the other, I held the book from which she was to read or spell her lesson. As the dead weight of the big girl of six became too heavy for one arm to bear, I transferred it to the other; or, if both were weary of the burden, I carried her into a corner, and told her she might come out when she should find the use of her feet, and stand up; but she generally preferred lying there like a log till dinner or tea time, when, as I could not deprive her of her meals, she must be liberated, and would come crawling out with a grin of triumph on her round, red face.
Often she would stubbornly refuse to pronounce some particular word in her lesson; and now I regret the lost labour I have had in striving to conquer her obstinacy. If I had passed it over as matter of no consequence, it would have been better for both parties, than vainly striving to overcome it, as I did; but I thought it my absolute duty to crush this vicious tendency in the bud; and so it was, if I could have done it, and, had my powers been less limited, I might have enforced obedience; but as it was, it was a trial of strength between her and me, in which she generally came off victorious; and every victory served to encourage and strengthen her for a future contest.
In vain I argued, coaxed, entreated, threatened, scolded; in vain I kept her in from play, or, if obliged to take her out, refused to play with her, or to speak kindly, or have anything to do with her; in vain I tried to set before her the advantages of doing as she was bid, and being loved, and kindly treated in consequence, and the disadvantages of persisting in her absurd perversity. Sometimes, when she asked me to do something for her, I would answer -
"Yes, I will, Mary Ann, if you will only say that word. Come! you'd better say it at once, and have no more trouble about it."
- "Then, of course, I can do nothing for you!"
- With me, at her age, or under, neglect and disgrace were the most dreadful of punishments; but on her they made no impression.
Sometimes, exasperated to the utmost pitch, I would shake her violently by the shoulders, or pull her long hair, or put her in the corner, - for which she punished me with loud, shrill, piercing screams, that went through my head like a knife. She knew I hated this, and when she had shrieked her utmost, would look into my face with an air of vindictive satisfaction, exclaiming - "Now, then! that's for you!" And then shriek again and again, till I was forced to stop my ears. Often these dreadful cries would bring Mrs. Bloomfield up to inquire what was the matter?
- "Mary Ann is a naughty girl, ma'am."
- "But what are these shocking screams?"
- "She is screaming in a passion."
- "I never heard such a dreadful noise! You might be killing her. Why is she not out with her brother?"
- "I cannot get her to finish her lessons."
- "But Mary Ann must be a good girl, and finish her lessons." This was blandly spoken to the child. "And I hope I shall never hear such terrible cries again!"
- And fixing her cold, stony eyes upon me with a look that could not be mistaken, she would shut the door, and walk away.
Sometimes I would try to take the little obstinate creature by surprise, and casually ask her the word while she was thinking of something else: frequently she would begin to say it, and then suddenly check herself, with a provoking look that seemed to say, "Ah! I'm too sharp for you; you shan't trick it out of me, either."
- On another occasion, I pretended to forget the whole affair; and talked and played with her as usual, till night, when I put her to bed; then bending over her, while she lay all smiles and good humour, just before departing, I said, as cheerfully and kindly as before - "Now, Mary Ann, just tell me that word before I kiss you good-night: you are a good girl now, and, of course, you will say it."
- "No, I won't."
- "Then I can't kiss you."
- "Well, I don't care."
- In vain I expressed my sorrow; in vain I lingered for some symptom of contrition; she really "didn't care," and I left her alone, and in darkness, wondering most of all at this last proof of insensate stubbornness. In my childhood I could not imagine a more afflictive punishment, than for my mother to refuse to kiss me at night: the very idea was terrible; more than the idea I never felt, for, happily, I never committed a crime that was deemed worthy of such a penalty; but once, I remember, for some transgression of my sister's, our mother thought proper to inflict it upon her; what she felt, I cannot tell; but my sympathetic tears and suffering for her sake, I shall not soon forget.
- Another troublesome trait in Mary Ann, was her incorrigible propensity to keep running into the nursery to play with her little sisters, and the nurse. This was natural enough, but, as it was against her mother's express desire, I, of course, forbade her to do so, and did my utmost to keep her with me, but that only increased her relish for the nursery; and the more I strove to keep her out of it, the oftener she went, and the longer she stayed; to the great dissatisfaction of Mrs. Bloomfield, who, I well knew, would impute all the blame of the matter to me.
Another of my trials was the dressing in the morning: at one time she would not be washed; at another she would not be dressed, unless she might wear some particular frock that, I knew, her mother would not like her to have; at another she would scream, and run away if I attempted to touch her hair. So that, frequently, when, after much trouble and toil, I had, at length, succeeded in bringing her down, the breakfast was nearly half over; and black looks from "mamma," and testy observations from "papa," spoken at me, if not to me, were sure to be my meed: for few things irritated the latter so much as want of punctuality at meal-times.
Then, among the minor annoyances, was my inability to satisfy Mrs. Bloomfield with her daughter's dress; and the child's hair "was never fit to be seen." Sometimes, as a powerful reproach to me, she would perform the office of tire-woman herself, and then complain bitterly of the trouble it gave her.
- When little Fanny came into the school-room, I hoped she would be mild and inoffensive at least; but a few days, if not a few hours, sufficed to destroy the illusion: I found her a mischievous, intractable little creature, given up to falsehood and deception, young as she was, and alarmingly fond of exercising her two favourite weapons of offence and defence: that of spitting in the faces of those who incurred her displeasure, and bellowing like a bull when her unreasonable desires were not gratified. As she, generally, was pretty quiet in her parents' presence, and they were impressed with the notion of her being a remarkably gentle child, her falsehoods were readily believed, and her loud uproars led them to suspect harsh and injudicious treatment on my part; and when, at length, her bad disposition became manifest, even to their prejudiced eyes, I felt that the whole was attributed to me.
- "What a naughty girl Fanny is getting," Mrs. Bloomfield would say to her spouse. "Don't you observe, my dear, how she is altered since she entered the school-room? She will soon be as bad as the other two; and, I am sorry to say, they have quite deteriorated of late."
- "You may say that," was the answer. "I've been thinking that same myself. I thought when we got them a governess they'd improve; but, instead of that, they get worse and worse: I don't know how it is with their learning; but their habits, I know, make no sort of improvement; they get rougher, and dirtier, and more unseemly, every day."
- I knew this was all pointed at me; and these, and all similar innuendoes, affected me far more deeply than any open accusations would have done; for, against the latter, I should have been roused to speak in my own defence: now, I judged it my wisest plan to subdue every resentful impulse, suppress every sensitive shrinking, and go on perseveringly doing my best; for, irksome as my situation was, I earnestly wished to retain it. I thought, if I could struggle on with unremitting firmness and integrity, the children would, in time, become more humanised: every month would contribute to make them some little wiser, and, consequently, more manageable; for a child of nine or ten, as frantic and ungovernable as these at six and seven would be a maniac.
- I flattered myself I was benefiting my parents and sister by my continuance here; for, small as the salary was, I still was earning something, and with strict economy, I could easily manage to have something to spare for them, if they would favour me by taking it. Then, it was by my own will that I had got the place, I had brought all this tribulation on myself, and I was determined to bear it; nay, more than that, I did not even regret the step I had taken, and I longed to show my friends that, even now, I was competent to undertake the charge, and able to acquit myself honourably to the end; and, if ever I felt it degrading to submit so quietly, or intolerable to toil so constantly, I would turn towards my home, and say within myself -
- They may crush, but they shall not subdue me!
- 'Tis of thee that I think, not of them.
- About Christmas I was allowed a visit home, but only of a fortnight's duration.
"For," said Mrs. Bloomfield, "I thought, as you had seen your friends so lately, you would not care for a longer stay."
I left her to think so still; but she little knew how long, how wearisome those fourteen weeks of absence had been to me, how intensely I had longed for my holidays, how greatly I was disappointed at their curtailment. Yet she was not to blame in this; I had never told her my feelings, and she could not be expected to divine them; I had not been with her a full term, and she was justified in not allowing me a full vacation.
- I spare my readers the account of my delight on coming home, my happiness while there - enjoying a brief space of rest and liberty in that dear, familiar place, among the loving and the loved, and my sorrow on being obliged to bid them, once more, a long adieu.
- I returned, however, with unabated vigour to my work - a more arduous task than any one can imagine, who has not felt something like the misery of being charged with the care and direction of a set of mischievous turbulent rebels, whom his utmost exertions cannot bind to their duty; while, at the same time, he is responsible for their conduct to a higher power, who exacts from him what cannot be achieved without the aid of the superior's more potent authority, which, either from indolence, or the fear of becoming unpopular with the said rebellious gang, the latter refuses to give. I can conceive few situations more harassing than that wherein, however you may long for success, however you may labour to fulfil your duty, your efforts are baffled and set at naught by those beneath you, and unjustly censured and misjudged by those above.
- I have not enumerated half the vexatious propensities of my pupils, or half the troubles resulting from my heavy responsibilities, for fear of trespassing too much upon the reader's patience, as, perhaps, I have already done; but my design, in writing the last few pages, was not to amuse, but to benefit those whom it might concern: he that has no interest in such matters will doubtless have skipped them over with a cursory glance, and, perhaps, a malediction against the prolixity of the writer; but if a parent has, there-from, gathered any useful hint, or an unfortunate governess received thereby the slightest benefit, I am well rewarded for my pains.
- To avoid trouble and confusion, I have taken my pupils one by one, and discussed their various qualities; but this can give no adequate idea of being worried by the whole three together, when, as was often the case, all were determined to "be naughty, and to tease Miss Grey, and put her in a passion."
- Sometimes, on such occasions, the thought has suddenly occurred to me - "If they could see me now!" meaning, of course, my friends at home, and the idea of how they would pity me, has made me pity myself - so greatly that I have had the utmost difficulty to restrain my tears; but I have restrained them, till my little tormentors were gone to dessert, or cleared off to bed, (my only prospects of deliverance,) and then, in all the bliss of solitude, I have given myself up to the luxury of an unrestricted burst of weeping. But this was a weakness I did not often indulge: my employments were too numerous, my leisure moments were too precious to admit of much time being given to fruitless lamentations.
- I particularly remember one wild, snowy afternoon, soon after my return in January - the children had all come up from dinner, loudly declaring that they meant "to be naughty;" and they had well kept their resolution, though I had talked myself hoarse, and wearied every muscle in my throat, in the vain attempt to reason them out of it. I had got Tom pinned up in a corner, whence, I told him, he should not escape till he had done his appointed task. Meantime, Fanny had possessed herself of my work bag, and was rifling its contents; and spitting into it besides. I told her to let it alone, but to no purpose, of course. "Burn it, Fanny!" cried Tom; and this command she hastened to obey. I sprang to snatch it from the fire, and Tom darted to the door.
"Mary Ann, throw her desk out of the window!" cried he, and my precious desk, containing my letters and papers, my small amount of cash, and all my valuables, was about to be precipitated from the three-story window. I flew to rescue it. Meanwhile Tom had left the room, and was rushing down the stairs, followed by Fanny. Having secured my desk, I ran to catch them, and Mary Ann came scampering after. All three escaped me, and ran out of the house into the garden, where they plunged about in the snow, shouting and screaming in exultant glee.
- What must I do? If I followed them, I should probably be unable to capture one, and only drive them farther away; if I did not, how was I to get them in? And what would their parents think of me, if they saw, or heard, the children rioting, hatless, bonnetless, gloveless, and bootless, in the deep, soft snow?
While I stood in this perplexity, just without the door, trying, by grim looks and angry words, to awe them into subjection, I heard a voice behind me, in harshly piercing tones exclaiming,
- "Miss Grey! Is it possible! What, in the d--l's name, can you be thinking about?"
- "I can't get them in, sir," said I turning round, and beholding Mr. Bloomfield, with his hair on end and his pale blue eyes bolting from their sockets.
- "But I INSIST upon their being got in!" cried he, approaching nearer, and looking perfectly ferocious.
- "Then, sir, you must call them yourself if you please, for they won't listen to me," I replied stepping back.
- "Come in with you, you filthy brats; or I'll horsewhip you every one!" roared he; and the children instantly obeyed. "There, you see! they come at the first word!"
- "Yes, when you speak."
- "And it's very strange, that, when you've the care of 'em, you've no better control over 'em than that! - Now, there they are - gone upstairs with their nasty snowy feet! Do go after 'em and see them made decent, for Heaven's sake!"
- That gentleman's mother was then staying in the house; and, as I ascended the stairs, and passed the drawing-room door, I had the satisfaction of hearing the old lady declaiming aloud to her daughter-in-law to this effect (for I could only distinguish the most emphatic words),
- "Gracious heavens! -- never in all my life --! -- get their death as sure as --! Do you think, my dear, she's a proper person? Take my word for it --"
- I heard no more; but that sufficed.
- The senior Mrs. Bloomfield had been very attentive and civil to me; and till now, I had thought her a nice, kind-hearted, chatty old body. She would often come to me and talk in a confidential strain, nodding, and shaking her head, and gesticulating with hands and eyes, as a certain class of old ladies are wont to do: though I never knew one that carried the peculiarity to so great an extent: she would even sympathise with me for the trouble I had with the children, and express at times, by half sentences, interspersed with nods and knowing winks, her sense of the injudicious conduct of their mamma in so restricting my power, and neglecting to support me with her authority. Such a mode of testifying disapprobation was not much to my taste; and I generally refused to take it in, or understand anything more than was openly spoken; at least, I never went farther than an implied acknowledgment that, if matters were otherwise ordered, my task would be a less difficult one, and I should be better able to guide and instruct my charge; but now I must be doubly cautious. Hitherto, though I saw the old lady had her defects, (of which one was a proneness to proclaim her perfections,) I had always been wishful to excuse them, and to give her credit for all the virtues she professed, and even imagine others yet untold. Kindness, which had been the food of my life through so many years, had lately been so entirely denied me, that I welcomed with grateful joy the slightest semblance of it. No wonder then that my heart warmed to the old lady, and always gladdened at her approach, and regretted her departure.
- But now, the few words, luckily, or unluckily, heard in passing, had wholly revolutionised my ideas respecting her; now I looked upon her as hypocritical and insincere, a flatterer, and a spy upon my words and deeds. Doubtless it would have been my interest still to meet her with the same cheerful smile, and tone of respectful cordiality as before; but I could not, if I would; my manner altered with my feelings, and became so cold and shy that she could not fail to notice it. She soon did notice it, and her manner altered too: the familiar nod was changed to a stiff bow, the gracious smile gave place to a glare of gorgon ferocity, her vivacious loquacity was entirely transferred from me to the "darling boys and girls," whom she flattered and indulged more absurdly than ever their mother had done.
- I confess, I was somewhat troubled at this change: I feared the consequences of her displeasure, and even made some efforts to recover the ground I had lost - and with better apparent success than I could have anticipated. At one time, I, merely in common civility, asked after her cough - immediately her long visage relaxed into a smile, and she favoured me with a particular history of that and her other infirmities, followed by an account of her pious resignation, delivered in the usual emphatic, declamatory style, which no writing could portray.
- "But there's one remedy for all, my dear, and that's resignation," (a toss of the head) "resignation to the will of Heaven!" (an uplifting of hands and eyes.) "It has always supported me through all my trials, and always will do," (a succession of nods.) "But then, it isn't everybody that can say that;" (a shake of the head), "but I'm one of the pious ones, Miss Grey!" (a very significant nod and toss). "And, thank Heaven, I always was," (another nod) "and I glory in it!" (an emphatic clasping of the hands and shaking of the head) and with several texts of scripture, misquoted, or misapplied, and religious exclamations, so redolent of the ludicrous in the style of delivery, and manner of bringing in, if not in the expressions themselves, that I decline repeating them, she withdrew, tossing her large head in high good-humour - with herself at least - and left me hoping that, after all, she was rather weak than wicked.
- At her next visit to Wellwood House, I went so far as to say I was glad to see her looking so well. The effect of this was magical: the words, intended as a mark of civility, were received as a flattering compliment; her countenance brightened up, and from that moment she became as gracious and benign as heart could wish - in outward semblance at least; and from what I now saw of her, and what I heard from the children, I knew that in order to gain her cordial friendship, I had but to utter a word of flattery at each convenient opportunity; but this was against my principles; and for lack of this, the capricious old dame soon deprived me of her favour again, and I believe did me much secret injury.
- She could not greatly influence her daughter-in-law against me, because between that lady and herself, there was a mutual dislike chiefly shewn by her, in secret detractions and calumniations, by the other, in an excess of frigid formality in her demeanour; and no fawning flattery of the elder could thaw away the wall of ice which the younger interposed between them. But with her son the old lady had better success: he would listen to all she had to say, provided she could soothe his fretful temper, and refrain from irritating him by her own asperities; and I have reason to believe, that she considerably strengthened his prejudice against me. She would tell him that I shamefully neglected the children, and even his wife did not attend to them as she ought; and that he must look after them himself or they would all go to ruin.
- Thus urged, he would frequently give himself the trouble of watching them from the windows during their play; at times, he would follow them through the grounds, and too often came suddenly upon them while they were dabbling in the forbidden well, talking to the coachman in the stables, or revelling in the filth of the farmyard - and I meanwhile, stupidly standing by, having previously exhausted my energy in vain attempts to get them away; often too he would unexpectedly pop his head into the school-room while the young people were at meals and find them spilling their milk over the table and themselves, plunging their fingers into their own, or each others' mugs, or quarrelling over their victuals like a set of tiger's cubs. If I were quiet at the moment, I was conniving at their disorderly conduct; if, (as was frequently the case,) I happened to be exalting my voice to enforce order, I was using undue violence, and setting the girls a bad example by such ungentleness of tone and language.
- I remember one afternoon in Spring, when, owing to the rain, they could not go out; but, by some amazing good fortune, they had all finished their lessons, and yet abstained from running down to tease their parents - a trick that annoyed me greatly, but which, on rainy days, I seldom could prevent their doing; because, below, they found novelty and amusement - especially when visitors were in the house, and their mother, though she bid me keep them in the school-room, would never chide them for leaving it, or trouble herself to send them back; but to-day they appeared satisfied with their present abode, and what is more wonderful still, seemed disposed to play together without depending on me for amusement, and without quarrelling with each other. Their occupation was a somewhat puzzling one: they were all squatted together on the floor by the window, over a heap of broken toys, and a quantity of birds' eggs, or rather egg-shells, for the contents had luckily been abstracted; these shells, they had broken up, and were pounding into small fragments, to what end I could not imagine; but, so long as they were quiet, and not in positive mischief, I did not care; and, with a feeling of unusual repose, I sat by the fire, putting the finishing stitches to a frock for Mary Ann's doll; intending, when that was done, to begin a letter to my mother. But, suddenly, the door opened, and the dingy head of Mr. Bloomfield looked in.
- "All very quiet here! What are you doing?" said he.
"No harm to-day, at least," thought I.
But he was of a different opinion. Advancing to the window, and seeing the children's occupation, he testily exclaimed - "What in the world are you about?"
- "We're grinding egg-shells, papa!" cried Tom.
- "How dare you make such a mess, you little devils? Don't you see what confounded work you're making of the carpet?" (the carpet was a plain brown drugget.) "Miss Grey, did you know what they were doing?"
- "Yes, sir."
- "You knew it?"
- "You knew it! and you actually sat there, and permitted them to go on, without a word of reproof!"
- "I didn't think they were doing any harm."
- "Any harm! Why, look there! Just look at that carpet, and see - was there ever anything like it in a Christian house before? No wonder your room is not fit for a pigsty - no wonder your pupils are worse than a litter of pigs! - no wonder - Oh! I declare, it puts me quite past my patience!" and he departed, shutting the door after him with a bang that made the children laugh.
- "It puts me quite past. my patience too!" muttered I, getting up; and, seizing the poker, I dashed it repeatedly into the cinders, and stirred them up with unwonted energy; thus easing my irritation, under pretence of mending the fire.
- After this, Mr. Bloomfield was continually looking in to see if the school-room was in order; and, as the children were continually littering the floor with fragments of toys, sticks, stones, stubble, leaves, and other rubbish which I could not prevent their bringing, or oblige them to gather up, and which the servants refused to "clean after them," I had to spend a considerable portion of my valuable leisure moments, on my knees upon the floor, in painsfully reducing things to order. Once, I told them that they should not taste their supper till they had picked up everything from the carpet; Fanny might have hers when she had taken up a certain quantity, Mary Ann when she had gathered twice as much, and Tom was to clear away the rest.
Wonderful to state, the girls did their part; but Tom was in such a fury that he flew upon the table, scattered the bread and milk about the floor, struck his sisters, kicked the coals out of the coal-pan, attempted to overthrow the table and chairs, and seemed inclined to make a Douglas-larder of the whole contents of the room; but I seized upon him, and, sending Mary Ann to call her mamma, held him in spite of kicks, blows, yells, and execrations, till Mrs. Bloomfield made her appearance.
- "What is the matter with my boy?" said she.
- And when the matter was explained to her, all she did was to send for the nursery-maid to put the room in order, and bring Master Bloomfield his supper.
- "There now," cried Tom triumphantly, looking up from his viands with his mouth almost too full for speech. "There now, Miss Grey! you see I have got my supper in spite of you: and I haven't picked up a single thing!"
- The only person in the house who had any real sympathy for me was the nurse; for she had suffered like afflictions though in a smaller degree, as she had not the task of teaching, nor was she so responsible for the conduct of her charge.
- "Oh, Miss Grey!" she would say, "you have some trouble with them childer!"
- "I have indeed, Betty; and I dare say you know what it is."
- "Ay, I do so! But I don't vex myself o'er 'em as you do. And then, you see, I hit 'em a slap sometimes; and them little uns - I give 'em a good whipping now and then - there's nothing else will do for 'em, as what they say. Howsoever, I've lost my place for it."
- "Have you, Betty? I heard you were going to leave."
- "Eh, bless you, yes! Missis gave me warning a three wik sin'. She told me afore Christmas how it mud be, if I hit 'em again; but I couldn't hold my hand off 'em at nothing - I know not how you do, for Miss Mary Ann's worse by the half nor her sisters!"
- Besides the old lady, there was another relative of the family, whose visits were a great annoyance to me - this was "uncle Robson," Mrs. Bloomfield's brother, a tall, self-sufficient fellow, with dark hair and sallow complexion like his sister, a nose that seemed to disdain the earth, and little grey eyes, frequently half closed, with a mixture of real stupidity and affected contempt of all surrounding objects. He was a thick-set, strongly-built man, but he had found some means of compressing his waist into a remarkably small compass, and that, together with the unnatural stiffness of his form, showed that the lofty-minded, manly Mr. Robson, the scorner of the female sex, was not above the foppery of stays.
He seldom deigned to notice me; and, when he did, it was with a certain supercilious insolence of tone and manner, that convinced me he was no gentleman, though it was intended to have a contrary effect. But it was not for that I disliked his coming, so much as for the harm he did the children - encouraging all their evil propensities, and undoing, in a few minutes, the little good it had taken me months of labour to achieve.
- Fanny and little Harriet, he seldom condescended to notice; but Mary Ann was something of a favourite. He was continually encouraging her tendency to affectation, (which I had done my utmost to crush,) talking about her pretty face, and filling her head with all manner of conceited notions concerning her personal appearance, (which I had instructed her to regard as dust in the balance compared with the cultivation of her mind and manners): and I never saw a child so susceptible of flattery as she was. Whatever was wrong, in either her or her brother, he would encourage by laughing at, if not by actually praising; people little know the injury they do to children by laughing at their faults, and making a pleasant jest of what their true friends have endeavoured to teach them to hold in grave abhorrence.
- Though not a positive drunkard, Mr. Robson habitually swallowed great quantities of wine, and took with relish an occasional glass of brandy and water. He taught his nephew to imitate him in this to the utmost of his ability, and to believe that the more wine and spirits he could take, and the better he liked them, the more he manifested his bold and manly spirit, and rose superior to his sisters. Mr. Bloomfield had not much to say against it, for his favourite beverage was gin and water, of which he took a considerable portion every day, by dint of constant sipping - and to that I chiefly attributed his dingy complexion and waspish temper.
- Mr. Robson likewise encouraged Tom's propensity to persecute the lower creation, both by precept and example. As he frequently came to course or shoot over his brother-in-law's grounds, he would bring his favourite dogs with him, and he treated them so brutally that, poor as I was, I would have given a sovereign any day to see one of them bite him, provided the animal could have done it with impunity. Sometimes, when in a very complacent mood, he would go a-bird-nesting with the children, a thing that irritated and annoyed me exceedingly, as, by frequent and persevering attempts, I flattered myself I had partly shown them the evil of this pastime, and hoped, in time, to bring them to some general sense of justice and humanity; but ten minutes' bird-nesting with uncle Robson, or even a laugh from him at some relation of their former barbarities was sufficient, at once, to destroy the effect of my whole elaborate course of reasoning and persuasion. Happily, however, during that Spring, they never, but once, got anything but empty nests, or eggs - being too impatient to leave them till the birds were hatched; that once, Tom, who had been with his uncle into the neighbouring plantation, came running in high glee into the garden, with a brood of little callow nestlings in his hands.
Mary Ann and Fanny, whom I was just bringing out, ran to admire his spoils, and to beg each a bird for themselves.
"No, not one!" cried Tom. "They're all mine: uncle Robson gave them to me - one, two, three, four, five - you shan't touch one of them! no, not one, for your lives!" continued he, exultantly, laying the nest on the ground, and standing over it, with his legs wide apart, his hands thrust into his breeches-pockets, his body bent forward, and his face twisted into all manner of contortions in the ecstasy of his delight.
- "But you shall see me fettle 'em off. My word, but I will wallop 'em! See if I don't now! By gum! but there's rare sport for me in that nest. "
- "But, Tom," said I, "I shall not allow you to torture those birds. They must either be killed at once, or carried back to the place you took them from, that the old birds may continue to feed them."
- "But you don't know where that is, madam. It's only me and uncle Robson that knows that."
- "But if you don't tell me, I shall kill them myself - much as I hate it."
- "You daren't. You daren't touch them for your life! because you know papa and mamma, and uncle Robson would be angry. Ha, ha! I've caught you there, Miss!"
- "I shall do what I think is right in a case of this sort, without consulting any one. If your papa and mamma don't happen to approve of it, I shall be sorry to offend them, but your uncle Robson's opinions, of course, are nothing to me."
- So saying - urged by a sense of duty - at the risk of both making myself sick, and incurring the wrath of my employers - I got a large stone, that had been reared up for a mouse-trap by the gardener, then, having once more vainly endeavoured to persuade the little tyrant to let the birds be carried back, I asked what he intended to do with them. With fiendish glee he commenced a list of torments, and while he was busied in the relation, I dropped the stone upon his intended victims, and crushed them flat beneath it.
Loud were the outcries, terrible the execrations, consequent upon this daring outrage; uncle Robson had been coming up the walk with his gun, and was, just then, pausing to kick his dog. Tom flew towards him, vowing he would make him kick me instead of Juno. Mr. Robson leant upon his gun, and laughed excessively at the violence of his nephew's passion, and the bitter maledictions and opprobrious epithets he heaped upon me. "Well, you are a good 'un!" exclaimed he, at length, taking up his weapon and proceeding towards the house. "Damme, but the lad has some spunk in him, too! Curse me, if ever I saw a nobler little scoundrel than that! He's beyond petticoat government already: by God! he defies mother, granny, governess, and all! Ha, ha, ha! Never mind, Tom, I'll get you another brood to-morrow."
- "If you do, Mr. Robson, I shall kill them too," said I.
- "Humph!" replied he, and having honoured me with a broad stare, which, contrary to his expectations, I sustained without flinching, he turned away with an air of supreme contempt, and stalked into the house.
Tom next went to tell his mamma. It was not her way to say much on any subject; but, when she next saw me, her aspect and demeanour were doubly dark and chill.
After some casual remark about the weather, she observed -
"I am sorry, Miss Grey, you should think it necessary to interfere with Master Bloomfield's amusements; he was very much distressed about your destroying the birds."
- "When Master Bloomfield's amusements consist in injuring sentient creatures," I answered, "I think it my duty to interfere."
- "You seem to have forgotten," said she, calmly, "that the creatures were all created for our convenience."
- I thought that doctrine admitted some doubt, but merely replied -
"If they were, we have no right to torment them for our amusement."
- "I think," said she, "a child's amusement is scarcely to be weighed against the welfare of a soulless brute."
- "But, for the child's own sake, it ought not to be encouraged to have such amusements," answered I, as meekly as I could, to make up for such unusual pertinacity. "'Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.'"
- "Oh! of course! but that refers to our conduct towards each other."
- "'The merciful man shows mercy to his beast,'" I ventured to add.
- "I think you have not shewn much mercy," replied she, with a short, bitter laugh; "killing the poor birds by wholesale, in that shocking manner, and putting the dear boy to such misery, for a mere whim!"
- I judged it prudent to say no more.
This was the nearest approach to a quarrel I ever had with Mrs. Bloomfield, as well as the greatest number of words I ever exchanged with her at one time, since the day of my first arrival.
- But Mr. Robson and old Mrs. Bloomfield were not the only guests whose coming to Wellwood House annoyed me; every visitor disturbed me, more or less; not so much because they neglected me, (though I did feel their conduct strange and disagreeable in that respect) as because I found it impossible to keep my pupils away from them, as I was repeatedly desired to do: Tom must talk to them, and Mary Ann must be noticed by them. Neither the one nor the other knew what it was to feel any degree of shame-facedness, or even common modesty. They would indecently and clamorously interrupt the conversation of their elders, tease them with the most impertinent questions, roughly collar the gentlemen, climb their knees uninvited, hang about their shoulders, or rifle their pockets, pull the ladies' gowns, disorder their hair, tumble their collars, and importunately beg for their trinkets.
- Mrs. Bloomfield had the sense to be shocked and annoyed at all this, but she had not sense to prevent it. She expected me to prevent it; - and how could I - when the guests, with their fine clothes and new faces, continually flattered and indulged them out of complaisance to their parents - how could I with my homely garments, every-day face, and honest words, draw them away? I strained every nerve to do so; - by striving to amuse them, I endeavoured to attract them to my side, by the exertion of such authority as I possessed, and by such severity as I dared to use, I tried to deter them from tormenting the guests; and by reproaching their unmannerly conduct, to make them ashamed to repeat it. But they knew no shame - they scorned authority which had no terrors to back it, and as for kindness and affection, either they had no hearts, or such as they had were so strongly guarded, and so well concealed, that I, with all my efforts had not yet discovered how to reach them.
- But soon my trials in this quarter came to a close - sooner than I either expected or desired; for one sweet evening towards the close of May, as I was rejoicing in the near approach of the holidays, and congratulating myself upon having made some progress with my pupils - as far as their learning went at least, for I had instilled something into their heads, and I had at length, brought them to be a little - a very little - more rational about getting their lessons done in time to leave some space for recreation, instead of tormenting themselves and me all day long to no purpose, Mrs. Bloomfield sent for me, and calmly told me that after Midsummer my services would be no longer required. She assured me that my character and general conduct were unexceptionable, but the children had made so little improvement since my arrival, that Mr. Bloomfield and she felt it their duty to seek some other mode of instruction. Though superior to most children of their years in abilities, they were decidedly behind them in attainments, their manners were uncultivated, and their tempers unruly. And this she attributed to a want of sufficient firmness, and diligent, persevering care on my part.
- Unshaken firmness, devoted diligence, unwearied perseverance, unceasing care, were the very qualifications on which I had secretly prided myself, and by which I had hoped in time, to overcome all difficulties, and obtain success at last. I wished to say something in my own justification, but in attempting to speak, I felt my voice falter, and rather than testify any emotion, or suffer the tears to overflow, that were already gathering in my eyes, I chose to keep silence, and bear all, like a self-convicted culprit.
- Thus was I dismissed, and thus I sought my home. Alas! what would they think of me? Unable, after all my boasting to keep my place, even for a single year, as governess to three small children, whose mother was asserted by my own aunt to be a "very nice woman." Having thus been weighed in the balance, and found wanting, I need not hope they would be willing to try me again. And this was an unwelcome thought; for vexed, harassed, disappointed as I had been, and greatly as I had learnt to love and value my home, I was not yet weary of adventure, nor willing to relax my efforts. I knew all parents were not like Mr. and Mrs. Bloomfield, and I was certain all children were not like theirs. The next family must be different, and any change must be for the better. I had been seasoned by adversity, and tutored by experience, and I longed to redeem my lost honour in the eyes of those whose opinion was more than that of all the world to me.
THE PARSONAGE AGAIN
- For a few months I remained peaceably at home, in the quiet enjoyment of liberty and rest, and genuine friendship, from all of which I had fasted so long, and in the earnest prosecution of my studies to recover what I had lost during my stay at Wellwood House, and to lay in new stores for future use.
My father's health was still very infirm, but not materially worse than when I last saw him, and I was glad I had it in my power to cheer him by my return, and to amuse him with singing his favourite songs.
- No one triumphed over my failure, or said I had better have taken his or her advice, and quietly stayed at home. All were glad to have me back again, and lavished more kindness than ever upon me, to make up for the sufferings I had undergone; but not one would touch a shilling of what I had so cheerfully earned and so carefully saved, in the hope of sharing it with them. By dint of pinching here, and scraping there, our debts, already were nearly paid. Mary had had good success with her drawings, but our father had insisted upon her likewise keeping all the produce of her industry to herself. All we could spare from the supply of our humble wardrobe, and our little casual expenses, he directed us to put into the savings' bank, saying we knew not how soon we might be dependent on that alone for support, for he felt he had not long to be with us, and what would become of our mother and us when he was gone, God only knew!
- Dear papa! if he had troubled himself less about the afflictions that threatened us in case of his death, I am convinced that dreaded event would not have taken place so soon. My mother would never suffer him to ponder the subject if she could help it.
- "Oh, Richard!" exclaimed she, on one occasion, "if you would but dismiss such gloomy thoughts from your mind, you would live as long as any of us - at least you would live to see the girls married, and yourself a happy grandfather with a canty old dame for your companion."
- My mother laughed, and so did my father; but his laugh soon perished in a dreary sigh.
- "They married - poor penniless things!" said he, "who will take them, I wonder!"
- "Why, nobody shall, that isn't thankful for them - Wasn't I penniless when you took me? and you pretended, at least, to be vastly pleased with your acquisition. - But it's no matter whether they get married or not; we can devise a thousand honest ways of making a livelihood; and I wonder, Richard, you can think of bothering your head about our poverty in case of your death, as if that would be anything compared with the calamity of losing you - an affliction that, you well know, would swallow up all others, and which you ought to do your utmost to preserve us from; and there is nothing like a cheerful mind for keeping the body in health. "
- "I know, Alice, it's wrong to keep repining as I do, but I cannot help it; you must bear with me. "
- "I won't bear with you, if I can alter you!" replied my mother: but the harshness of her words was undone by the earnest affection of her tone and pleasant smile that made my father smile again, less sadly, and less transiently than was his wont.
- "Mamma," said I, as soon as I could find an opportunity of speaking with her alone, "my money is but little, and cannot last long; if I could increase it, it would lessen papa's anxiety on one subject at least. I cannot draw like Mary, and so the best thing I could do would be to look out for another situation."
- "And so you would actually try again, Agnes?"
- "Decidedly, I would."
- "Why, my dear, I should have thought you had had enough of it. "
- "I know," said I, "everybody is not like Mr. and Mrs. Bloomfield --"
- "Some are worse," interrupted my mother.
- "But not many I think," replied I, "and I'm sure all children are not like theirs; for I and Mary were not: we always did as you bid us, didn't we?"
- "Generally: but then, I did not spoil you; and you were not perfect angels after all: Mary had a fund of quiet obstinacy, and you were somewhat faulty in regard to temper; but you were very good children on the whole. "
- "I know I was sulky sometimes, and I should have been glad to see those children sulky sometimes too; for then I could have understood them; but they never were; for they could not be offended, nor hurt, nor ashamed: they could not be unhappy in any way, except when they were in a passion. "
- "Well, if they could not, it was not their fault; you cannot expect stone to be as pliable as clay."
- "No, but still it is very unpleasant to live with such unimpressionable, incomprehensible creatures. You cannot love them; and if you could, your love would be utterly thrown away; they could neither return it, nor value, nor understand it. - But however, even if I should stumble on such a family again, which is quite unlikely, I have all this experience to begin with, and I should manage better another time; and the end and aim of this preamble is, let me try again."
- "Well, my girl, you are not easily discouraged, I see: I am glad of that. But, let me tell you, you are a good deal paler and thinner than when you first left home, and we cannot have you undermining your health to hoard up money either for yourself or others."
- "Mary tells me I am changed too; and I don't much wonder at it, for I was in a constant state of agitation and anxiety all day long; but next time I am determined to take things coolly."
- After some further discussion, my mother promised once more to assist me, provided I would wait and be patient; and I left her to broach the matter to my father, when, and how, she deemed it most advisable, never doubting her ability to obtain his consent.
Meantime, I searched, with great interest, the advertising columns of the newspapers, and wrote answers to every "Wanted a Governess," that appeared at all eligible; but all my letters, as well as the replies, when I got any, were dutifully shewn to my mother; and she, to my chagrin, made me reject the situations one after another - These were low people, these were too exacting in their demands, and these too niggardly in their remuneration.
- "Your talents are not such as every poor clergyman's daughter possesses, Agnes," she would say, "and you must not throw them away. Remember, you promised to be patient - there is no need of hurry - you have plenty of time before you, and may have many chances yet."
- At length, she advised me to put an advertisement, myself, in the paper, stating my qualifications, &c.
- "Music, singing, drawing, French, Latin, and German," said she, "are no mean assemblage; many will be glad to have so much in one instructor; and this time, you shall try your fortune in a somewhat higher family - in that of some genuine, thorough-bred gentleman, for such are far more likely to treat you with proper respect and consideration, than those purse-proud trades-people and arrogant upstarts. I have known several among the higher ranks, who treated their governesses quite as one of the family; though some, I allow, are as insolent and exacting as any one else can be: for there are bad and good in all classes."
- The advertisement was quickly written and despatched. Of the two parties who answered it, but one would consent to give me fifty pounds, the sum my mother bade me name as the salary I should require; and here, I hesitated about engaging myself, as I feared the children would be too old, and their parents would require some one more showy, or more experienced, if not more accomplished than I; but my mother dissuaded me from declining it on that account: I should do vastly well, she said, if I would only throw aside my diffidence, and acquire a little more confidence in myself. I was just to give a plain, true statement of my acquirements and qualifications, and name what stipulations I chose to make, and then await the result.
The only stipulation I ventured to propose, was that I might be allowed two months holidays during the year to visit my friends, at Midsummer and Christmas. The unknown lady, in her reply, made no objection to this, and stated that, as to my acquirements, she had no doubt I should be able to give satisfaction; but in the engagement of governesses, she considered those things as but subordinate points, as, being situated in the neighbourhood of O --, she could get masters to supply any deficiencies in that respect, but, in her opinion, next to unimpeachable morality, a mild and cheerful temper, and obliging disposition were the most essential requisites.
- My mother did not relish this at all, and now made many objections to my accepting the situation, in which my sister warmly supported her, but, unwilling to be baulked again, I overruled them all; and, having first obtained the consent of my father, who had, a short time previously, been apprised of these transactions, I wrote a most obliging epistle to my unknown correspondent, and, finally, the bargain was concluded.
- It was decreed that, on the last day of January, I was to enter upon my new office, as governess in the family of Mr. Murray, of Horton Lodge, near O --, about seventy miles from our village - a formidable distance to me, as I had never been above twenty miles from home in all the course of my twenty years sojourn on earth, and as, moreover, every individual, in that family and in the neighbourhood, was utterly unknown to myself and all my acquaintances. But this rendered it only the more piquant to me: I had now, in some measure, got rid of the mauvaise honte that had formerly oppressed me so much; there was a pleasing excitement in the idea of entering these unknown regions, and making my way alone among its strange inhabitants; I now flattered myself I was going to see something of the world; Mr. Murray's residence was near a large town, and not in a manufacturing district, where the people had nothing to do but make money; his rank, from what I could gather, appeared to be higher than that of Mr. Bloomfield, and, doubtless, he was one of those thorough-bred gentry my mother spoke of, who would treat his governess with due consideration as a respectable well educated lady, the instructor and guide of his children, and not a mere upper servant. Then, my pupils, being older, would be more rational, more teachable, and less troublesome than the last, they would be less confined to the school-room, and not require that constant labour and incessant watching, and, finally - bright visions mingled with my hopes, with which, the care of children, and the mere duties of a governess had little or nothing to do; so that the reader will see that I had no claim to be regarded as a martyr to filial piety, going forth to sacrifice peace and liberty for the sole purpose of laying up stores for the comfort and support of my parents, though, certainly, the comfort of my father, and the future support of my mother had a large share in my calculations, and fifty pounds appeared to me no ordinary sum. I must have decent clothes becoming my station; I must, it seemed, put out my washing, and also pay for my four annual journeys between Horton Lodge and home; but, with strict attention to economy, surely twenty pounds, or little more, would cover those expenses, and then there would be thirty for the bank, or little less; what a valuable addition to our stock! Oh! I must struggle to keep this situation, whatever it might be! both for my own honour among my friends and for the solid services I might render them by my continuance there.
- The 31st of January was a wild, tempestuous day; there was a strong north wind, with a continual storm of snow drifting on the ground, and whirling through the air. My friends would have had me delay my departure, but fearful of prejudicing my employers against me by such want of punctuality at the commencement of my undertaking, I persisted in keeping the appointment.
- I will not inflict upon my readers an account of my leaving home on that dark winter morning, the fond farewells, the long - long journey to O --, the solitary waitings in inns for coaches or trains - for there were some railways then - and, finally, the meeting at O -- with Mr. Murray's servant, who had been sent, with the phaeton, to drive me from thence to Horton Lodge.
I will just state that the heavy snow had thrown such impediments in the way of both horses and steam-engines, that it was dark some hours before I reached my journey's end, and that a most bewildering storm came on at last, which made the few miles' space between O -- and Horton Lodge a long and formidable passage. I sat resigned, with the cold, sharp snow drifting through my veil, and filling my lap, seeing nothing, and wondering how the unfortunate horse and driver could make their way even as well as they did, and indeed it was but a toilsome, creeping style of progression to say the best of it.
At length we paused; and, at the call of the driver, some one unlatched and rolled back upon their creaking hinges what appeared to be the park gates. Then we proceeded along a smoother road, whence, occasionally, I perceived some huge, hoary mass gleaming through the darkness, which I took to be a portion of a snow-clad tree.
After a considerable time, we paused again, before the stately portico of a large house with long windows descending to the ground.
- I rose with some difficulty from under the superincumbent snowdrift, and alighted from the carriage, expecting a kind and hospitable reception would indemnify me for the toils and hardships of the day. A gentlemanly person in black opened the door, and admitted me into a spacious hall lighted by an amber-coloured lamp suspended from the ceiling; he led me through this, along a passage, and, opening the door of a back room, told me that was the school-room. I entered, and found two young ladies and two young gentlemen, my future pupils, I supposed. After a formal greeting, the elder girl, who was trifling over a piece of canvass and a basket of German wools, asked if I should like to go upstairs.
I replied in the affirmative, of course.
- "Matilda, take a candle, and show her her room," said she.
- Miss Matilda, a strapping hoyden, of about fourteen, with a short frock and trousers, shrugged her shoulders, and made a slight grimace, but took a candle and proceeded before me, up the back stairs, a long, steep, double flight, and through a long, narrow passage, to a small, but tolerably comfortable room. She then asked me if I would take some tea or coffee. I was about to answer no, but, remembering that I had taken nothing since seven o'clock that morning, and feeling faint in consequence, I said I would take a cup of tea. Saying she would tell "Brown," the young lady departed; and by the time I had divested myself of my heavy, wet cloak, shawl, bonnet, &c., a mincing damsel came to say, the young ladies desired to know whether I would take my tea up there or in the school-room. Under the plea of fatigue, I chose to take it there. She withdrew; and, after a while, returned again with a small tea-tray, and placed it on the chest of drawers which served as a dressing-table. Having civilly thanked her, I asked at what time I should be expected to rise in the morning.
- "The young ladies and gentlemen breakfast at half-past eight ma'am," said she; "they rise early; but, as they seldom do any lessons before breakfast, I should think it will do if you rise soon after seven."
- I desired her to be so kind as to call me at seven; and, promising to do so she withdrew. Then, having broken my long fast on a cup of tea, and a little thin bread and butter, I sat down beside the small, smouldering fire, and amused myself with a hearty fit of crying; after which, I said my prayers, and then, feeling considerably relieved, began to prepare for bed; but, finding that none of my luggage was brought up, I instituted a search for the bell; and failing to discover any signs of such a convenience in any corner of the room, I took my candle, and ventured through the long passage, and down the steep stairs, on a voyage of discovery. Meeting a well dressed female on the way, I told her what I wanted, but not without considerable hesitation, as I was not quite sure whether it was one of the upper servants, or Mrs. Murray herself. It happened, however, to be the lady's- maid.
With the air of one conferring an unusual favour, she vouchsafed to undertake the sending up of my things; and when I had re-entered my room, and waited and wondered a long time, greatly fearing that she had forgotten, or neglected to perform her promise, and doubting whether to keep waiting, or go to bed, or go down again, my hopes, at length, were revived by the sound of voices and laughter, accompanied by the tramp of feet along the passage, and presently, the luggage was brought in by a rough-looking maid and a man, neither of them very respectful in their demeanour to me.
Having shut the door upon their retiring footsteps, and unpacked a few of my things, I, at length, betook myself to rest, gladly enough, for I was weary in body and mind.
- It was with a strange feeling of desolation mingled with a strong sense of the novelty of my situation, and a joyless kind of curiosity concerning what was yet unknown, that I awoke the next morning feeling like one whirled away by enchantment, and suddenly dropped from the clouds into a remote and unknown land, widely and completely isolated from all he had ever seen or known before; or like a thistle-seed borne on the wind to some strange nook of uncongenial soil, where it must lie long enough before it can take root and germinate, extracting nourishment from what appears so alien to its nature, if indeed, it ever can; but this gives no proper idea of my feelings at all; and no one, that has not lived such a retired, stationary life as mine, can possibly imagine what they were - hardly even if he has known what it is to awake some morning and find himself in Port Nelson in New Zealand, with a world of waters between himself and all that knew him.
- I shall not soon forget the peculiar feeling with which I raised my blind and looked out upon the unknown world - a wide, white wilderness was all that met my gaze, a waste of -
- Deserts tossed in snow,
- And heavy-laden groves.
- I descended to the school-room with no remarkable eagerness to join my pupils, though not without some feeling of curiosity respecting what a further acquaintance would reveal. One thing, among others of more obvious importance, I determined with myself; I must begin with calling them Miss and Master. It seemed to me, a chilling and unnatural piece of punctilio between the children of a family and their instructor and daily companion, especially where the former were in their early childhood, as at Wellwood House; but even there, my calling the little Bloomfields by their simple names had been regarded as an offensive liberty, as their parents had taken care to show me, by carefully designating them Master and Miss Bloomfield, &c., in speaking to me. I had been very slow to take the hint, because the whole affair struck me as so very absurd; but now, I determined to be wiser, and begin at once with as much form and ceremony as any member of the family would be likely to require; and indeed, the children being so much older, there would be less difficulty; though the little words Miss and Master seemed to have a surprising effect in repressing all familiar, open-hearted kindness, and extinguishing every gleam of cordiality that might arise between us.
- As I cannot, like Dogberry, find it in my heart to bestow all my tediousness upon the reader, I will not go on to bore him with a minute detail of all the discoveries and proceedings of this and the following day. No doubt he will be amply satisfied with a slight sketch of the different members of the family, and a general view of the first year or two of my sojourn among them.
- To begin with the head: Mr. Murray was, by all accounts, a blustering, roystering country squire, a devoted fox-hunter, a skilful horse-jockey and farrier, an active, practical farmer, and a hearty bon-vivant - by all accounts, I say, for, except on Sundays when he went to church, I never saw him from month to month, unless, in crossing the hall or walking in the grounds, the figure of a tall, stout gentleman, with scarlet cheeks and crimson nose, happened to come across me; on which occasions, if he passed near enough to speak, an unceremonious nod, accompanied by a "Morning, Miss Grey," or some such brief salutation was usually vouchsafed. Frequently indeed, his loud laugh reached me from afar, and oftener still, I heard him swearing and blaspheming against the footmen, groom, coachman, or some other hapless dependent.
- Mrs. Murray was a handsome, dashing lady of forty, who certainly required neither rouge nor padding to add to her charms, and whose chief enjoyments were, or seemed to be, in giving or frequenting parties, and in dressing at the very top of the fashion.
I did not see her till eleven o'clock on the morning after my arrival, when she honoured me with a visit, just as my mother might step into the kitchen to see a new servant girl - yet not so, either, for my mother would have seen her immediately after her arrival, and not waited till next day; and, moreover, she would have addressed her in a more kind and friendly manner, and given her some words of comfort as well as a plain exposition of her duties; but Mrs. Murray did neither the one nor the other. She just stepped into the school-room, on her return from ordering dinner in the housekeeper's room, bid me good-morning, stood for two minutes by the fire, said a few words about the weather and the "rather rough" journey I must have had yesterday; petted her youngest child - a boy of ten, who had just been wiping his mouth and hands on her gown, after indulging in some savoury morsel from the housekeeper's stores - told me what a sweet, good boy he was, and then sailed out, with a self-complacent smile upon her face, thinking, no doubt, that she had done quite enough for the present, and had been delightfully condescending into the bargain. Her children evidently held the same opinion, and I alone thought otherwise.
- After this she looked in upon me once or twice, during the absence of my pupils, to enlighten me concerning my duties towards them. For the girls she seemed anxious only to render them as superficially attractive, and showily accomplished, as they could possibly be made without present trouble or discomfort to themselves; and I was to act accordingly - to study and strive to amuse and oblige, instruct, refine, and polish, with the least possible exertion on their part, and no exercise of authority on mine. With regard to the two boys it was much the same, only instead of accomplishments, I was to get the greatest possible quantity of Latin grammar and Valpy's Delectus into their heads, in order to fit them for school - the greatest possible quantity at least, without trouble to themselves. John might be a "little high-spirited," and Charles might be a "little nervous and tedious --"
- "But at all events, Miss Grey," said she, "I hope you will keep your temper, and be mild and patient throughout; especially with the dear little Charles, he is so extremely nervous and susceptible, and so utterly unaccustomed to anything but the tenderest treatment. You will excuse my naming these things to you; for the fact is, I have hitherto found all the governesses, even the very best of them, faulty in this particular. They wanted that meek and quiet spirit, which St. Matthew, or some of them, says is better than the putting on of apparel - you will know the passage to which I allude, for you are a clergyman's daughter; but I have no doubt you will give satisfaction in this respect as well as the rest. And remember, on all occasions, when any of the young people do anything very improper, if persuasion and gentle remonstrance will not do, let one of the others come and tell me; for I can speak to them more plainly than it would be proper for you to do. And make them as happy as you can, Miss Grey, and I dare say you will do very well."
- I observed that while Mrs. Murray was so extremely solicitous for the comfort and happiness of her children, and continually talking about it, she never once mentioned mine, though they were at home surrounded by friends, and I an alien among strangers; and I did not yet know enough of the world not to be considerably surprised at this anomaly.
- Miss Murray, otherwise Rosalie, was about sixteen when I came, and decidedly a very pretty girl; and in two years longer, as time more completely developed her form, and added grace to her carriage and deportment, she was positively beautiful; and that in no common degree. She was tall and slender, but not thin, perfectly formed, exquisitely fair, though not without a brilliant, healthy bloom; her hair which she wore in a profusion of long ringlets, was of a very light brown, strongly inclining to yellow; her eyes were pale blue, but so clear and bright, that few would wish them darker; the rest of her features were small, not quite regular, and not remarkably otherwise, but altogether you could not hesitate to pronounce her, a very lovely girl. I wish I could say as much for mind and disposition as I can her form and face.
- Yet think not I have any dreadful disclosures to make; she was lively, light-hearted, and could be very agreeable, with those who did not cross her will. Towards me, when I first came she was cold and haughty, then, insolent and overbearing; but on a further acquaintance, she gradually laid aside her airs, and in time, became as deeply attached to me as it was possible for her to be to one of my character and position; for she seldom lost sight, for above half-an-hour at a time, of the fact of my being a hireling, and a poor curate's daughter; and yet, upon the whole, I believe she respected me more than she herself was aware of, because I was the only person in the house, who steadily professed good principles, habitually spoke the truth, and generally endeavoured to make inclination bow to duty; and this I say, not of course in commendation of myself, but to show the unfortunate state of the family to which my services were, for the present devoted. There was no member of it in whom I regretted this sad want of principle so much as Miss Murray herself; not only because she had taken a fancy to me, but because there was so much of what was pleasant and prepossessing in herself, that, in spite of her failings, I really liked her - when she did not rouse my indignation, or ruffle my temper by too great a display of her faults, which however, I would fain persuade myself were rather the effect of her education than her disposition; she had never been perfectly taught the distinction between right and wrong; she had, like her brothers and sisters, been suffered from infancy, to tyrannise over nurses, governesses, and servants; she had not been taught to moderate her desires, to control her temper or bridle her will, or to sacrifice her own pleasure for the good of others; her temper being naturally good, she was never violent or morose, but from constant indulgence and habitual scorn of reason, she was often testy and capricious; her mind had never been cultivated: her intellect at best was somewhat shallow; she possessed considerable vivacity, some quickness of perception, and some talent for music and the acquisition of languages, but till fifteen, she had troubled herself to acquire nothing; - then the love of display had roused her faculties, and induced her to apply herself, but only to the more showy accomplishments; and when I came, it was the same - everything was neglected but French, German, music, singing, dancing, fancy-work, and a little drawing - such drawing as might produce the greatest show with the smallest labour, and the principal parts of which were generally done by me. For music and singing, besides my occasional instructions, she had the attendance of the best master the country afforded; and in them, as well as in dancing, she certainly attained great proficiency. To music, indeed, she devoted too much of her time, as, governess though I was I frequently told her: but her mother thought that if she liked it, she could not give too much time to the acquisition of so attractive an accomplishment.
Of fancy-work I knew nothing but what I gathered from my pupil and my own observation; but no sooner was I initiated, than she made me useful in twenty different ways: all the tedious parts of her work were shifted onto my shoulders; such as, stretching the frames, stitching in the canvass, sorting the wools and silks, putting in the grounds, counting the stitches, rectifying mistakes, and finishing the pieces she was tired of.
- At sixteen, Miss Murray was something of a romp, yet not more so than is natural and allowable for a girl of that age; but at seventeen, that propensity, like all other things, began to give way to the ruling passion, and soon was swallowed up in the all absorbing ambition, to attract and dazzle the other sex. But enough of her: now let us turn to her sister.
- Miss Matilda Murray was a veritable hoyden, of whom little need be said. She was about two years and a half younger than her sister; her features were larger, her complexion much darker. She might possibly make a handsome woman, but she was far too big-boned and awkward ever to be called a pretty girl, and at present, she cared little about it. Rosalie knew all her charms, and thought them even greater than they were, and valued them more highly than she ought to have done, had they been three times as great; Matilda thought she was well enough, but cared little about the matter; still less did she care about the cultivation of her mind, and the acquisition of ornamental accomplishments. The manner in which she learnt her lessons and practised her music was calculated to drive any governess to despair. Short and easy as her tasks were, if done at all, they were slurred over at any time, and in any way, but generally at the least convenient times, and in the way least beneficial to herself, and least satisfactory to me; and the short half-hour of practising was horribly strummed through; she, meantime, unsparingly abusing me, either for interrupting her with corrections, or for not rectifying her mistakes before they were made, or something equally unreasonable.
Once or twice, I ventured to remonstrate with her seriously for such irrational conduct; but, on each of those occasions, I received such reprehensive expostulations from her mother, as convinced me that, if I wished to keep the situation, I must even let Miss Matilda go on in her own way.
- When her lessons were over, however, her ill-humour was generally over too; while riding her spirited pony, or romping with the dogs, or her brothers and sister, but specially with her dear brother John, she was as happy as a lark.
- As an animal, Matilda was all right, full of life, vigour, and activity; as an intelligent being, she was barbarously ignorant, indocile, careless, and irrational; and consequently, very distressing to one who had the task of cultivating her understanding, reforming her manners, and aiding her to acquire those ornamental attainments which, unlike her sister, she despised as much as the rest: her mother was partly aware of her deficiencies, and gave me many a lecture as to how I should try to form her tastes, and endeavour to rouse and cherish her dormant vanity, and, by insinuating, skilful flattery, to win her attention to the desired objects - which I would not do - and how I should prepare and smooth the path of learning till she could glide along it without the least exertion to herself, which I could not, for nothing can be taught to any purpose without some little exertion on the part of the learner.
- As a moral agent, she was reckless, headstrong, violent, and unamenable to reason. One proof of the deplorable state of her mind, was that from her father's example, she had learned to swear like a trooper. Her mother was greatly shocked at the "unlady-like trick," and wondered "how she had picked it up." "But you can soon break her of it, Miss Grey," said she; "it is only a habit; and if you will just gently remind her every time she does so, I am sure she will soon lay it aside." I not only "gently reminded" her, but I tried to impress upon her how wrong it was, and how distressing to the ears of decent people; but all in vain, I was only answered by a careless laugh, and, "Oh, Miss Grey, how shocked you are! I'm so glad!" Or, "Well! I can't help it; papa shouldn't have taught me: I learnt it all from him; and maybe a bit from the coachman."
- Her brother John, alias Master Murray, was about eleven when I came; a fine, stout, healthy boy, frank, and good-natured in the main, and might have been a decent lad, had he been properly educated, but now, he was as rough as a young bear, boisterous, unruly, unprincipled, untaught, unteachable - at least, for a governess under his mother's eye; his masters at school might be able to manage him better - for to school he was sent, greatly to my relief, in the course of a year; in a state, it is true, of scandalous ignorance, as to Latin, as well as the more useful, though more neglected things; and this, doubtless, would all be laid to the account of his education having been entrusted to an ignorant female teacher, who had presumed to take in hand what she was wholly incompetent to perform. I was not delivered from his brother till full twelve months after, when he also was despatched in the same state of disgraceful ignorance as the former.
- Master Charles was his mother's peculiar darling. He was a little more than a year younger than John, but much smaller, paler, and less active and robust; a pettish, cowardly, capricious, selfish little fellow, only active in doing mischief, and only clever in inventing falsehoods, not simply to hide his faults, but, in mere malicious wantonness, to bring odium upon others; in fact, Master Charles was a very great nuisance to me: it was a trial of patience to live with him peaceably; to watch over him was worse; and to teach him, or pretend to teach him, was inconceivable.
At ten years old, he could not read, correctly, the easiest line in the simplest book; and as, according to his mother's principle, he was to be told every word, before he had time to hesitate, or examine its orthography, and never even to be informed, as a stimulant to exertion, that other boys were more forward than he, it is not surprising that he made but little progress during the two years I had charge of his education.
His minute portions of Latin grammar, &c., were to be repeated over to him, till he chose to say he knew them; and then, he was to be helped to say them: if he made mistakes in his little easy sums in arithmetic, they were to be shewn him at once, and the sum done for him, instead of his being left to exercise his faculties in finding them out himself; so that, of course, he took no pains to avoid mistakes, but frequently set down his figures at random without any calculation at all.
- I did not invariably confine myself to these rules; it was against my conscience to do so; but I seldom could venture to deviate from them, in the slightest degree, without incurring the wrath of my little pupil, and subsequently of his mamma, to whom he would relate my transgressions, maliciously exaggerated, or adorned with embellishments of his own; and often, in consequence, was I on the point of losing, or resigning my situation; but, for their sakes at home, I smothered my pride and suppressed my indignation, and managed to struggle on till my little tormentor was despatched to school, his father declaring that home education was "no go for him, it was plain; his mother spoiled him outrageously, and his governess could make no hand of him at all."
- A few more observations about Horton Lodge and its ongoings, and I have done with dry description for the present.
The house was a very respectable one, superior to Mr. Bloomfield's both in age, size, and magnificence: the garden was not so tastefully laid out; but instead of smooth-shaven lawn, the young trees guarded by palings, the grove of upstart poplars, and the plantation of firs, there was a wide park, stocked with deer, and beautified by fine old trees. The surrounding country itself was pleasant, as far as fertile fields, flourishing trees, quiet green lanes, and smiling hedges, with wild flowers scattered along their banks, could make it; but, it was depressingly flat to one born and nurtured among the rugged hills of - .
- We were situated nearly two miles from the village church, and, consequently, the family carriage was put in requisition every Sunday morning, and sometimes oftener.
Mr. and Mrs. Murray generally thought it sufficient to show themselves at church once in the course of the day; but frequently the children preferred going a second time to wandering about the grounds all the day with nothing to do.
If some of my pupils chose to walk and take me with them, it was well for me; for otherwise, my position in the carriage was, to be crushed into the corner farthest from the open window, and with my back to the horses, a position which invariably made me sick; and if I were not actually obliged to leave the church in the middle of the service, my devotions were disturbed with a feeling of langour and sickliness, and the tormenting fear of its becoming worse; and a depressing head-ache was generally my companion throughout the day, which would otherwise have been one of welcome rest, and holy, calm enjoyment.
- "It's very odd, Miss Grey, that the carriage should always make you sick; it never makes me," remarked Miss Matilda.
- "Nor me either," said her sister; "but I dare say it would, if I sat where she does - such a nasty, horrid place, Miss Grey; I wonder how you can bear it!"
- I am obliged to bear it, since no choice is left me, - I might have answered; but in tenderness for their feelings I only replied -
"Oh! it is but a short way, and if I am not sick in church, I don't mind it."
- If I were called upon to give a description of the usual divisions and arrangements of the day, I should find it a very difficult matter. I had all my meals in the schoolroom with my pupils, at such times as suited their fancy: sometimes they would ring for dinner before it was half-cooked; sometimes they would keep it waiting on the table for above an hour, and then be out of humour because the potatoes were cold, and the gravy covered with cakes of solid fat; sometimes they would have tea at four; frequently, they would storm at the servants because it was not in precisely at five; and when these orders were obeyed, by way of encouragement to punctuality, they would keep it on the table till seven or eight.
- Their hours of study were managed in much the same way: my judgment or convenience was never once consulted. Sometimes Matilda and John would determine "to get all the plaguy business over before breakfast," and send the maid to call me up at half-past five, without any scruple or apology; sometimes, I was told to be ready precisely at six, and, having dressed in a hurry, came down to an empty room, and after waiting a long time in suspense, discovered that they had changed their minds, and were still in bed; or, perhaps, if it were a fine summer morning, Brown would come to tell me that the young ladies and gentlemen had taken a holiday, and were gone out; and then, I was kept waiting for breakfast, till I was almost ready to faint; they having fortified themselves with something before they went.
- Often they would do their lessons in the open air, which I had nothing to say against, except that I frequently caught cold by sitting on the damp grass, or from exposure to the evening dew, or some insidious draught, which seemed to have no injurious effect on them. It was quite right that they should be hardy; yet, surely, they might have been taught some consideration for others who were less so. But I must not blame them for what was, perhaps, my own fault; for I never made any particular objections to sitting where they pleased; foolishly choosing to risk the consequences, rather than trouble them for my convenience.
Their indecorous manner of doing their lessons was quite as remarkable as the caprice displayed in their choice of time and place. While receiving my instruction, or repeating what they had learnt, they would lounge upon the sofa, lie on the rug, stretch, yawn, talk to each other or look out of the window; whereas, I could not so much as stir the fire, or pick up the handkerchief I had dropped, without being rebuked for inattention by one of my pupils, or told that "mamma would not like me to be so careless."
- The servants, seeing in what little estimation the governess was held by both parents and children, regulated their behaviour by the same standard.
I frequently stood up for them, at the risk of some injury to myself, against the tyranny and injustice of their young masters and mistresses; and I always endeavoured to give them as little trouble as possible; but they entirely neglected my comfort, despised my requests, and slighted my directions. All servants, I am convinced, would not have done so; but domestics in general, being ignorant and little accustomed to reason and reflection, are too easily corrupted by the carelessness and bad example of those above them; and these, I think, were not of the best order to begin with.
- I sometimes felt myself degraded by the life I led, and ashamed of submitting to so many indignities; and sometimes, I thought myself a precious fool for caring so much about them, and feared I must be sadly wanting in Christian humility, or that charity which "suffereth long and is kind, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, beareth all things, endureth all things."
But, with time and patience, matters began to be slightly ameliorated, slowly, it is true, and almost imperceptibly; but I got rid of my male pupils, (that was no trifling advantage,) and the girls, as I intimated before concerning one of them, became a little less insolent, and began to show some symptoms of esteem.
"Miss Grey was a queer creature; she never flattered, and did not praise them half enough, but whenever she did speak favourably of them, or anything belonging to them, they could be quite sure her approbation was sincere.
"She was very obliging, quiet, and peaceable in the main, but there were some things that put her out of temper; they did not much care for that, to be sure, but still, it was better to keep her in tune, as when she was in a good humour, she would talk to them, and be very agreeable and amusing sometimes, in her way, which was quite different to mamma's, but still very well for a change. She had her own opinions on every subject, and kept steadily to them - very tiresome opinions they often were, as she was always thinking of what was right and what was wrong, and had a strange reverence for matters connected with Religion, and an unaccountable liking to good people."
- At eighteen, Miss Murray was to emerge from the quiet obscurity of the schoolroom into the full blaze of the fashionable world - as much of it, at least, as could be had out of London; for her papa could not be persuaded to leave his rural pleasures and pursuits, even for a few weeks' residence in town.
She was to make her début on the third of January, at a magnificent ball, which her mamma proposed to give to all nobility and choice gentry of O -- and its neighbourhood for twenty miles round. Of course, she looked forward to it with the wildest impatience, and the most extravagant anticipations of delight.
- "Miss Grey," said she, one evening, a month before the all important day, as I was perusing a long and extremely interesting letter of my sister's which I had just glanced, at in the morning, to see that it contained no very bad news, and kept till now, unable before to find a quiet moment for reading it; "Miss Grey, do put away that dull, stupid letter, and listen to me! I'm sure my talk must be far more amusing than that."
- She seated herself on the low stool at my feet; and I, suppressing a sigh of vexation, began to fold up the epistle.
- "You should tell the good people at home not to bore you with such long letters," said she; "and above all, do bid them write on proper note-paper, and not on those great vulgar sheets! You should see the charming little lady-like notes mamma writes to her friends."
- "The good people at home," replied I, "know very well that the longer their letters are, the better I like them. I should be very sorry to receive a charming little lady-like note from any of them; and I thought you were too much of a lady yourself, Miss Murray, to talk about the 'vulgarity' of writing on a large sheet of paper."
- "Well, I only said it to tease you. But now I want to talk about the ball; and to tell you that you positively must put off your holidays till it is over."
- "Why so? - I shall not be present at the ball."
- "No, but you will see the rooms decked out before it begins, and hear the music, and, above all, see me in my splendid new dress! I shall be so charming, you'll be ready to worship me - you really must stay."
- "I should like to see you very much; but I shall have many opportunities of seeing you equally charming on the occasion of some of the numberless balls and parties that are to be, and I cannot disappoint my friends by postponing my return so long."
- "Oh, never mind your friends! Tell them we won't let you go."
- "But, to say the truth, it would be a disappointment to myself: I long to see them as much as they to see me - perhaps more."
- "Well, but it is such a short time."
- "Nearly a fortnight by my computation; and, besides, I cannot bear the thoughts of a Christmas spent from home; and, moreover, my sister is going to be married."
- "Is she - when?"
- "Not till next month; but I want to be there to assist her in making preparations, and to make the best of her company while we have her."
- "Why didn't you tell me before?"
- "I've only got the news in this letter, which you stigmatise as dull and stupid, and won't let me read."
- "Who is she to be married to?"
- "To Mr. Richardson, the vicar of a neighbouring parish."
- "Is he rich?"
- "No, - only comfortable."
- "Is he handsome?"
- "No, only decent."
- "No, only middling."
- "O mercy! what a wretch! What sort of a house is it?"
- "A quiet little vicarage, with an ivy-clad porch, an old-fashioned garden, and --"
- "Oh stop! - you'll make me sick. How can she bear it?"
- "I expect she'll not only be able to bear it, but to be very happy. You did not ask me if Mr. Richardson were a good, wise, or amiable man; I could have answered yes, to all these questions - at least so Mary thinks, and I hope she will not find herself mistaken."
- "But - miserable creature! how can she think of spending her life there, cooped up with that nasty old man; and no hope of change?"
- "He is not old: he's only six or seven and thirty; and she herself is twenty-eight, and as sober as if she were fifty. "
- "Oh! that's better then - they're well matched; but do they call him the 'worthy vicar'?"
- "I don't know; but if they do, I believe he merits the epithet. "
- "Mercy, how shocking! and will she wear a white apron, and make pies and puddings?"
- "I don't know about the white apron, but I dare say, she will make pies and puddings, now and then; but that will be no great hardship as she had done it before."
- "And will she go about in a plain shawl, and a large straw bonnet, carrying tracts and bone soup to her husband's poor parishioners?"
- "I'm not clear about that, but I dare say she will do her best to make them comfortable in body and mind, in accordance with our mother's example."
- "Now Miss Grey," exclaimed Miss Murray, immediately as I entered the school-room, after having taken off my outdoor garments, upon returning from my four weeks' recreation, "Now shut the door, and sit down, and I'll tell you all about the ball."
- 'No, - damn it no!" shouted Miss Matilda. "Hold your tongue, can't ye? and let me tell her about my new mare - such a splendour, Miss Grey! a fine blood mare --"
- "Do be quiet, Matilda! and let me tell my news first. "
- 'No, no, Rosalie! you'll be such a damned long time over it - she shall hear me first - I'll be hanged if she doesn't!"
- "I'm sorry to hear, Miss Matilda, that you've not got rid of that shocking habit yet."
- "Well, I can't help it; but I'll never say a wicked word again, if you'll only listen to me, and tell Rosalie to hold her confounded tongue. "
- Rosalie remonstrated, and I thought I should have been torn in pieces between them; but, Miss Matilda having the loudest voice, her sister at length, gave in, and suffered her to tell her story first: so I was doomed to hear a long account of her splendid mare, its breeding and pedigree, its paces, its action, its spirits, &c., and of her own amazing skill and courage in riding it, concluding with an assertion that she could clear a five-barred gate "like winking," that papa said she might hunt the next time the hounds met, and mamma had ordered a bright scarlet hunting-habit for her.
- "Oh, Matilda! what stories you are telling!" exclaimed her sister.
- "Well," answered she, no whit abashed, "I know I could clear a five-barred gate, if I tried, and papa will say I may hunt, and mamma will order the habit when I ask them."
- "Well, now get along," replied Miss Murray; "and do, dear Matilda, try to be a little more lady-like. Miss Grey, I wish you would tell her not to use such shocking words; she will call her horse a mare; it is so inconceivably shocking! and then she uses such dreadful expressions in describing it: she must have learnt it from the grooms. It nearly puts me into fits when she begins."
- "I learnt it from papa, you ass! and his jolly friends," said the young lady, vigorously cracking a hunting-whip, which she habitually carried in her hand. "I'm as good a judge of horseflesh as the best of 'em."
- "Well, now get along, you shocking girl: I really shall take a fit if you go on in such a way. And now, Miss Grey, attend to me; I'm going to tell you about the ball. You must be dying to hear about it, I know. Oh, such a ball! You never saw or heard, or read, or dreamt of anything like it in all your life! The decorations, the entertainment, the supper, the music were indescribable! and then the guests; There were two noblemen, three baronets, and five titled ladies! - and other ladies and gentlemen innumerable. The ladies, of course, were of no consequence to me, except to put me, in a good humour with myself, by showing how ugly and awkward most of them were; and the best, mamma told me, - the most transcendent beauties among them, were nothing to me. As for me, Miss Grey - I'm so sorry you didn't see me! I was charming - wasn't I, Matilda?"
- "No, but I really was - at least so mamma said - and Brown and Williamson. Brown said she was sure no gentleman could set eyes on me without falling in love that minute; and so I may be allowed to be a little vain. I know you think me a shocking, conceited, frivolous girl, but then you know, I don't attribute it all to my personal attractions: I give some praise to the hairdresser, and some to my exquisitely lovely dress - you must see it to-morrow - white gauze over pink satin - and so sweetly made! and a necklace and bracelet of beautiful, large pearls!"
- "I have no doubt you looked very charming; but should that delight you so very much?"
- "Oh, no! - not that alone: but then, I was so much admired; and I made so many conquests in that one night - you'd be astonished to hear --"
- "But what good will they do you?"
- "What good! Think of any woman asking that!"
- "Well, I should think one conquest would be enough, and too much, unless the subjugation were mutual."
- "Oh, but you know I never agree with you on those points. Now wait a bit, and I'll tell you my principal admirers - those who made themselves very conspicuous that night and after, for I've been to two parties since. Unfortunately the two noblemen, Lord G - and Lord F - , were married or I might have condescended to be particularly gracious to them; as it was, I did not, though Lord F - who hates his wife, was evidently much struck with me. He asked me to dance with him twice - he is a charming dancer, by the by, and so am I: you can't think how well I did - I was astonished at myself. My lord was very complimentary too - rather too much so in fact, and I thought proper to be a little haughty and repellent; but I had the pleasure of seeing his nasty, cross wife ready to perish with spite and vexation --"
- "Oh, Miss Murray! you don't mean to say that such a thing could really give you pleasure! However cross or --"
- "Well, I know it's very wrong; - but never mind! I mean to be good sometime - only don't preach now, there's a good creature; I haven't told you half yet. Let me see. Oh! I was going to tell you how many unmistakable admirers I had: Sir Thomas Ashby was one, Sir Hugh Meltham and Sir Broadley Wilson are old codgers, only fit companions for papa and mamma. Sir Thomas is young, rich, and gay, but an ugly beast nevertheless: however, mamma says I should not mind that after a few months' acquaintance. Then, there was Henry Meltham, Sir Hugh's younger son, rather good-looking, and a pleasant fellow to flirt with; but being a younger son, that is all he is good for: then there was young Mr. Green, rich enough, but of no family, and a great stupid fellow, a mere country booby; and then, our good rector Mr. Hatfield, an humble admirer, he ought to consider himself; but I fear he has forgotten to number humility among his stock of Christian virtues."
- "Was Mr. Hatfield at the ball?"
- "Yes, to be sure. Did you think he was too good to go?"
- "I thought he might consider it unclerical."
- "By no means. He did not profane his cloth by dancing; but it was with difficulty he could refrain, poor man: he looked as if he were dying to ask my hand just for one set; and - Oh! by the by - he's got a new curate: that seedy old fellow Mr. Bligh has got his long-wished-for living at last, and gone."
- "And what is the new one like?"
- "Oh, such a beast! Weston his name is. I can give you his description in three words - an insensate, ugly, stupid blockhead. That's four, but no matter - enough of him now."
- Then she returned to the ball, and gave me a further account of her deportment there, and at the several parties she had since attended, and further particulars respecting Sir Thomas Ashby and Messrs. Meltham, Green, and Hatfield, and the ineffaceable impression she had wrought upon each of them.
- "Well, which of the four do you like best?" said I, suppressing my third or fourth yawn.
- "I detest them all!" replied she, shaking her bright ringlets in vivacious scorn.
- "That means, I suppose, I like them all - but which most?"
- "No, I really detest them all; but Harry Meltham is the handsomest and most amusing, and Mr. Hatfield the cleverest, Sir Thomas the wickedest, and Mr. Green the most stupid. But the one I'm to have, I suppose, if I'm doomed to have any of them, is Sir Thomas Ashby."
- "Surely not, if he's so wicked, and if you dislike him?"
- "Oh, I don't mind his being wicked; he's all the better for that; and as for disliking him - I shouldn't greatly object to being Lady Ashby of Ashby Park, if I must marry; but if I could be always young, I would be always single. I should like to enjoy myself thoroughly, and coquet with all the world, till I am on the verge of being called an old maid; and then, to escape the infamy of that, after having made ten thousand conquests, to break all their hearts save one, by marrying some high-born, rich, indulgent husband, whom, on the other hand, fifty ladies were dying to have."
- "Well, as long as you entertain those views, keep single by all means, and never marry at all, not even to escape the infamy of old-maidenhood."
- "Well, Miss Grey, what do you think of the new curate?" asked Miss Murray, on our return from church the Sunday after the re-commencement of my duties.
- "I can scarcely tell," was my reply: "I have not even heard him preach."
- "Well, but you saw him, didn't you?"
- "Yes, but I cannot pretend to judge of a man's character by a single, cursory glance at his face."
- "But, isn't he ugly?"
- "He did not strike me as being particularly so; I don't dislike that cast of countenance: but the only thing I particularly noticed about him was his style of reading, which appeared, to me, good - infinitely better, at least, than Mr. Hatfield's. He read the lessons as if he were bent on giving full effect to every passage: it seemed as if the most careless person could not have helped attending, nor the most ignorant have failed to understand; and the prayers, he read as if he were not reading at all, but praying, earnestly and sincerely from his own heart."
- "Oh, yes! that's all he is good for: he can plod through the service well enough; but he has not a single idea beyond it."
- "How do you know?"
- "Oh! I know perfectly well; I am an excellent judge in such matters. Did you see how he went out of church? stumping along, as if there was nobody there but himself - never looking to the right hand or the left, and evidently thinking of nothing but just getting out of the church, and, perhaps, home to his dinner - his great stupid head could contain no other idea."
- "I suppose you would have had him cast a glance into the squire's pew," said I, laughing at the vehemence of her hostility.
- "Indeed! I should have been highly indignant if he had dared to do such a thing!" replied she, haughtily tossing her head; then, after a moment's reflection, she added - "Well, well! I suppose he's good enough for his place; but I'm glad I'm not dependent on him for amusement - that's all. Did you see how Mr. Hatfield hurried out to get a bow from me, and be in time to put us into the carriage?"
- "Yes," answered I, internally adding, "and I thought it somewhat derogatory to his dignity as a clergyman to come flying from the pulpit in such eager haste to shake hands with the squire, and hand his wife and daughters into their carriage; and, moreover, I owe him a grudge for nearly shutting me out of it;" for, in fact, though I was standing before his face, close beside the carriage steps, waiting to get in, he would persist in putting them up, and closing the door, till one of the family stopped him by calling out that the governess was not in yet: then, without a word of apology, he departed, wishing them good morning, and leaving the footman to finish the business.
- Nota bene. - Mr. Hatfield never spoke to me, neither did Sir Hugh or Lady Meltham, nor Mr. Harry or Miss Meltham, nor Mr. Green or his sisters, nor any other lady or gentleman who frequented that church, nor, in fact, any one that visited at Horton Lodge.
- Miss Murray ordered the carriage again, in the afternoon, for herself and her sister: she said it was too cold for them to enjoy themselves in the garden; and, besides, she believed Harry Meltham would be at church.
"For," said she, smiling slyly at her own fair image in the glass, "he has been a most exemplary attendant at church these last few Sundays. You would think he was quite a good Christian. And you may go with us, Miss Grey, I want you to see him; he is so greatly improved since he returned from abroad - you can't think! And besides, then you will have an opportunity of seeing the beautiful Mr. Weston again, and of hearing him preach."
- I did hear him preach, and was decidedly pleased with the evangelical truth of his doctrine, as well as the earnest simplicity of his manner, and the clearness and force of his style.
It was truly refreshing to hear such a sermon, after being so long accustomed to the dry, prosy discourses of the former curate, and the still less edifying harangues of the rector, who would come sailing up the aisle, or rather sweeping along like a whirlwind, with his rich silk gown flying behind him and rustling against the pew doors, mount the pulpit like a conqueror ascending his triumphal car; then sinking on the velvet cushion in an attitude of studied grace, remain in silent prostration for a certain time; then, mutter over a Collect, and gabble through the Lord's Prayer, rise, draw off one bright lavender glove to give the congregation the benefit of his sparkling rings, lightly pass his fingers through his well-curled hair, flourish a cambric handkerchief, recite a very short passage, or, perhaps, a mere phrase of Scripture, as a head-piece to his discourse, and, finally, deliver a composition which, as a composition, might be considered good, though far too studied and too artificial to be pleasing to me; the propositions were well laid down, the arguments logically conducted; and yet, it was sometimes hard to listen quietly throughout, without some slight demonstrations of disapproval or impatience.
- His favourite subjects were church discipline, rites and ceremonies, apostolical succession, the duty of reverence and obedience to the clergy, the atrocious criminality of dissent, the absolute necessity of observing all the forms of godliness, the reprehensible presumption of individuals who attempted to think for themselves in matters connected with religion, or to be guided by their own interpretations of Scripture, and, occasionally, (to please his wealthy parishioners,) the necessity of deferential obedience from the poor to the rich - supporting his maxims and exhortations throughout with quotations from the Fathers, with whom he appeared to be far better acquainted than with the Apostles and Evangelists, and whose importance he seemed to consider, at least, equal to theirs.
But now and then he gave us a sermon of a different order - what some would call a very good one, but sunless and severe, representing the Deity as a terrible task-master, rather than a benevolent father. Yet, as I listened, I felt inclined to think the man was sincere in all he said; he must have changed his views, and become decidedly religious, gloomy and austere, yet still devout; but such illusions were usually dissipated, on coming out of church, by hearing his voice in jocund colloquy with some of the Melthams or Greens, or, perhaps, the Murrays themselves, probably laughing at his own sermon, and hoping that he had given the rascally people something to think about; perchance, exulting in the thought that old Betty Holmes would now lay aside the sinful indulgence of her pipe which had been her daily solace for upwards of thirty years, that George Higgins would be frightened out of his Sabbath evening walks, and Thomas Jackson would be sorely troubled in his conscience, and shaken in his sure and certain hope of a joyful resurrection at the last day.
- Thus, I could not but conclude that Mr. Hatfield was one of those who "bind heavy burdens, and grievous to be borne, and lay them upon men's shoulders, while they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers," and that "make the word of God of none effect by their traditions, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men." I was well pleased to observe that the new curate resembled him, as far as I could see, in none of these particulars.
- "Well, Miss Grey! What do you think of him now?" said Miss Murray, as we took our places in the carriage after service.
- "No harm still," replied I.
- "No harm!" repeated she in amazement. "What do you mean?"
- "I mean, I think no worse of him than I did before."
- "No worse! I should think not indeed - quite the contrary! Is he not greatly improved?"
- "Oh, yes! very much indeed," replied I; for I had now discovered it was Harry Meltham she meant, not Mr. Weston. That gentleman had eagerly come forward to speak to the young ladies, a thing he would hardly have ventured to do had their mother been present; he had likewise politely handed them into the carriage - he had not attempted to shut me out, like Mr. Hatfield; neither, of course, had he offered me his assistance, (I should not have accepted it if he had,) but as long as the door remained open he had stood smirking and chatting with them, and then lifted his hat and departed to his own abode: - but I had scarcely noticed him all the time. My companions, however, had been more observant; and, as we rolled along, they discussed between them not only his looks, words, and actions, but every feature of his face, and every article of his apparel.
- "You shan't have him all to yourself, Rosalie," said Miss Matilda at the close of this discussion; "I like him: I know he'd make a nice, jolly companion for me."
- "Well, you're quite welcome to him, Matilda," replied her sister, in a tone of affected indifference.
- "And I'm sure," continued the other, "he admires me quite as much as he does you - doesn't he, Miss Grey?"
- "I don't know; I'm not acquainted with his sentiments."
- "Well, but he does though!"
- "My dear Matilda! nobody will ever admire you till you get rid of your rough, awkward manners."
- "Oh, stuff! Harry Meltham likes such manners; and so do papa's friends."
- "Well, you may captivate old men, and younger sons; but nobody else, I'm sure, will ever take a fancy to you."
- "I don't care: I'm not always grubbing after money, like you and mamma. If my husband is able to keep a few good horses and dogs, I shall be quite satisfied; and all the rest may go to the devil!"
- "Well, if you use such shocking expressions, I'm sure no real gentleman will ever venture to come near you - really, Miss Grey, you should not let her do so!"
- "I can't possibly prevent it, Miss Murray."
- "And you're quite mistaken, Matilda, in supposing that Harry Meltham admires you: I assure you he does nothing of the kind."
- Matilda was beginning an angry reply; but, happily, our journey was now at an end; and the contention was cut short by the footman opening the carriage door, and letting down the steps for our descent.
- As I had now only one regular pupil - though she contrived to give me as much trouble as three or four ordinary ones, and though her sister still took lessons in German and drawing - I had considerably more time at my own disposal than I had ever been blessed with before, since I had taken upon me the governess's yoke; which time, I devoted, partly to correspondence with my friends, partly to reading, study, and the practice of music, singing, &c., partly to wandering in the grounds or adjacent fields, with my pupils, if they wanted me, alone if they did not.
- Often, when they had no more agreeable occupation at hand, the Misses Murray would amuse themselves with visiting the poor cottagers on their father's estate to receive their flattering homage, or to hear the old stories, or gossiping news of the garrulous old women; or, perhaps, to enjoy the purer pleasure of making the poor people happy with their cheering presence and their occasional gifts, so easily bestowed, so thankfully received. Sometimes, I was called upon to accompany one or both of the sisters in these visits; and sometimes, I was desired to go alone to fulfil some promise, which they had been more ready to make than to perform, to carry some small donation, or read to one who was sick, or seriously disposed: and thus I made a few acquaintances among the cottagers; and, occasionally, I went to see them on my own account.
- I generally had more satisfaction in going alone than with either of the young ladies, for they, chiefly owing to their defective education, comported themselves towards their inferiors in a manner that was highly disagreeable for me to witness. They never in thought exchanged places with them; and, consequently, had no consideration for their feelings, regarding them as an order of beings entirely different from themselves.
They would watch the poor creatures at their meals, making uncivil remarks about their food, and their manner of eating; they would laugh at their simple notions and provincial expressions, till some of them scarcely durst venture to speak; they would call the grave, elderly men and women old fools, and silly old blockheads to their faces; and all this without meaning to offend.
I could see that the people were often hurt and annoyed by such conduct, though their fear of the "grand ladies" prevented them from testifying any resentment; but they never perceived it. They thought that, as these cottagers were poor and untaught, they must be stupid and brutish; and as long as they, their superiors, condescended to talk to them, and to give them shillings and half-crowns, or articles of clothing, they had a right to amuse themselves, even at their expense; and the people must adore them as angels of light, condescending to minister to their necessities, and enlighten their humble dwellings.
- I made many and various attempts to deliver my pupils from these delusive notions without alarming their pride, which was easily offended, and not soon appeased, but with little apparent result; and I know not which was the more reprehensible of the two; Matilda was more rude and boisterous; but from Rosalie's womanly age and lady-like exterior better things were expected: yet she was as provokingly careless and inconsiderate as a giddy child of twelve.
- One bright day in the last week of February, I was walking in the park, enjoying the threefold luxury of solitude, a book, and pleasant weather, for Miss Matilda had set out on her daily ride, and Miss Murray was gone in the carriage with her mamma to pay some morning calls. But it struck me that I ought to leave these selfish pleasures, and the park with its glorious canopy of bright blue sky, the west wind sounding through its yet leafless branches, the snow-wreaths still lingering in its hollows, but melting fast beneath the sun, and the graceful deer browsing on its moist herbage already assuming the freshness and verdure of spring - and go to the cottage of one Nancy Brown, a widow, whose son was at work all day in the fields, and who was afflicted with an inflammation in the eyes which had, for some time, incapacitated her from reading, to her own great grief, for she was a woman of a serious, thoughtful turn of mind. I accordingly went, and found her alone, as usual, in her little close, dark cottage, redolent of smoke and confined air, but as tidy and clean as she could make it. She was seated beside her little fire (consisting of a few red cinders and a bit of stick), busily knitting, with a small sackcloth cushion at her feet, placed for the accommodation of her gentle friend the cat who was seated thereon, with her long tail half encircling her velvet paws, and her half-closed eyes dreamily gazing on the low, crooked fender.
- "Well, Nancy, how are you to-day?"
- "Why, middling, miss, i' myseln - my eyes is no better, but I'm a deal easier i' my mind nor I have been," replied she, rising to welcome me with a contented smile which I was glad to see, for Nancy had been somewhat afflicted with religious melancholy.
I congratulated her upon the change. She agreed that it was a great blessing, and expressed herself "right down thankful for it;" adding, "If it please God to spare my sight, and make me so as I can read my Bible again, I think I shall be as happy as a queen."
- "I hope he will, Nancy," replied l; "and, meantime, I'll come and read to you now and then, when I have a little time to spare."
- With expressions of grateful pleasure, the poor woman moved to get me a chair; but, as I saved her the trouble, she busied herself with stirring the fire, and adding a few more sticks to the decaying embers; and then, taking her well-used Bible from the shelf, dusted it carefully, and gave it me. On my asking if there was any particular part she should like me to read, she answered -
"Well, Miss Grey, if it's all the same to you, I'd like to hear that chapter in the First Epistle of St. John, that says, 'God is love, and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.'"
- With a little searching I found these words in the fourth chapter. When I came to the seventh verse she interrupted me, .and, with needless apologies for such a liberty, desired me to read it very slowly, that she might take it all in, and dwell on every word; hoping I would excuse her, as she was but a "simple body."
- "The wisest person," I replied, "might think over each of these verses for an hour, and be all the better for it; and I would rather read them slowly than not."
- Accordingly, I finished the chapter as slowly as need be, and at the same time as impressively as I could. My auditor listened most attentively all the while, and sincerely thanked me when I had done. I sat still about half a minute to give her time to reflect upon it; when, somewhat to my surprise, she broke the pause by asking me how I liked Mr. Weston?
- "I don't know," I replied, a little startled by the suddenness of the question; "I think he preaches very well."
- "Ay, he does so; and talks well too!"
- "Does he?"
- "He does. Maybe you haven't seen him - not to talk to much, yet?"
- "No, I never see any one to talk to - except the young ladies of the hall."
- "Ah; they're nice, kind young ladies; but they can't talk as he does!"
- "Then he comes to see you, Nancy?"
- "He does, Miss; and I'se thankful for it. He comes to see all us poor bodies a deal ofter nor Maister Bligh, or th' Rector ever did; and it's well he does, for he's always welcome and we can't say as much for th' Rector - there is 'at says they're fair feared on him. When he comes into a house, they say he's sure to find summut wrong, and begin a calling 'em as soon as he crossed th' doorstuns: but maybe he thinks it his duty-like to tell 'em what's wrong; and very oft, he comes o' purpose to reprove folk for not coming to church, or not kneeling an' standing when other folk does, or going to th' Methody chapel, or summut o' that sort; but I can't say 'at he ever fund much fault wi' me. He came to see me once or twice, afore Maister Weston come, when I was so ill troubled in my mind; and as I had only very poor health besides, I made bold to send for him - and he came right enough. I was sore distressed, Miss Grey - thank God, it's owered now - but when I took my bible, I could get no comfort of it at all. That very chapter 'at you've just been reading troubled me as much as aught - 'He that loveth not, knoweth not God.' It seemed fearsome to me; for I felt that I loved neither God nor man as I should do, and could not, if I tried ever so. And th' chapter afore, where it says - 'He that is born of God cannot commit sin.' And another place where it says - 'Love is the fulfilling of the Law.' And many - many others, Miss; I should fair weary you out, if I was to tell them all. But all seemed to condemn me, and to show me 'at I was not in the right way; and as I knew not how to get into it, I sent our Bill to beg Maister Hatfield to be as kind as look in on me some day; and when he came, I telled him all my troubles."
- "And what did he say, Nancy?"
- "Why, Miss, he liked seemed to scorn me. I might be mista'en - but he like gave a sort of a whistle, and I saw a bit of a smile on his face; and he said, 'Oh, it's all stuff! You've been among the Methodists, my good woman.' But I telled him I'd never been near the Methodies. And then he said - "Well," says he, "you must come to church, where you'll hear the scriptures properly explained, instead of sitting poring over your bible at home."
- "But I telled him, I always used coming to church when I had my health; but this very cold winter weather I hardly durst venture so far - and me so bad wi' th' rheumatiz an' all.
- "But he says, 'It'll do your rheumatiz good to hobble to church; there's nothing like exercise for the rheumatiz. You can walk about the house well enough; why can't you walk to church? The fact is,' says he, 'you're getting too fond of your ease. It's always easy to find excuses for shirking one's duty.'"
- "But then, you know, Miss Grey, it wasn't so. However I telled him I'd try. 'But please, sir,' says I, 'If I do go to church, what the better shall I be? I want to have my sins blotted out, and to feel that they are remembered no more against me, and that the love of God is shed abroad in my heart; and if I can get no good by reading my bible, an' saying my prayers at home, what good shall I get by going to church?'"
- "'The church,' says he, 'is the place appointed by God for his worship. It's your duty to go there as often as you can. If you want comfort, you must seek it in the path of duty' - an' a deal more he said, but I cannot remember all his fine words. However, it all came to this, that I was to come to church as oft as ever I could, and bring my prayer-book with me, an' read up all the sponsers after th' clerk, an' stand, an' kneel, an' sit, an' do - all as I should, an' take the Lord's supper at every opportunity, an' hearken his sermons, an' Maister Bligh's, an' it 'ud be all right: if I went on doing my duty, I should get a blessing at last.
- "'But if you get no comfort that way,' says he, 'it's all up.'
- "'Then, sir,' says I, 'should you think I'm a reprobate?'
- "'Why,' says he - he says, 'if you do your best to get to Heaven and can't manage it, you must be one of those that seek to enter in at the strait gate and shall not be able.'
- "An' then he asked me if I'd seen any of the ladies o' th' Hall about that mornin'; so I telled him where I'd seen the young Misses go on th' Moss-lane; - an' he kicked my poor cat right across th' floor, an' went off after 'em as gay as a lark; but I was very sad. That last word o' his, fair sunk into my heart, an' lay there like a lump o' lead, till I was weary to bear it.
- "Howsoever, I follered his advice: I thought he meant it all for th' best though he had a queer way with him. But you know, Miss, he's rich an' young, and such like cannot right understand the thoughts of a poor old woman such as me. But howsever, I did my best to do all as he bade me - but may-be I'm plaguing you, miss, wi' my chatter."
- "Oh, no, Nancy! Go on, and tell me all."
- "Well, my rheumatiz got better - I know not whether wi' going to church or not, but one frosty Sunday I got this cold i' my eyes. Th' inflammation didn't come on all at once like, but bit by bit - but I wasn't going to tell you about my eyes, I was talking about my trouble o' mind; - and to tell the truth, Miss Grey, I don't think it was any-ways eased by coming to church - nought to speak on at least: I like got my health better; but that didn't mend my soul. I hearkened and hearkened the ministers, and read an' read at my prayer-book, but it was all like sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal: the sermons I couldn't understand, an' th' prayer-book only served to shew me how wicked I was, that I could read such good words an' never be no better for it, and oftens feel it a sore labour an' a heavy task beside, instead of a blessing and a privilege as all good Christians does. It seemed like as all were barren an' dark to me. And then, them dreadful words, 'Many shall seek to enter in, and shall not be able.' They like as they fair dried up my sperrit.
- "But one Sunday, when Maister Hatfield gave out about the sacrament, I noticed where he said, 'If there be any of you that cannot quiet his own conscience, but requireth further comfort or counsel, let him come to me, or some other discreet and learned minister of God's word, and open his grief!' So next Sunday morning, afore service, I just looked in to th' vestry, an' began a talking to th' rector again. I hardly could fashion to take such a liberty, but I thought when my soul was at stake, I shouldn't stick at a trifle. But he said he hadn't time to attend to me then."
- "'And, indeed,' says he, 'I've nothing to say to you, but what I've said before. Take the sacrament of course, and go on doing your duty; if that won't serve you, nothing will. So don't bother me anymore.'
- "So then, I went away. But I heard Maister Weston - Maister Weston was there, Miss - this was his first Sunday at Horton, you know, an' he was i' th' vestry in his surplice helping th' rector on with his gown."
- "Yes, Nancy."
- "And I heard him ask Maister Hatfield who I was; an' he said, 'Oh! she's a canting old fool.'
- "And I was very ill grieved, Miss Grey; but I went to my seat, and I tried to do my duty as afore time; but I like got no peace. An' I even took the sacrament; but I felt as though I were eating an' drinking to my own damnation all th' time. So I went home, sorely troubled.
- "But next day, afore I'd gotten fettled up - for indeed, Miss, I'd no heart to sweeping an' fettling, an' washing pots; so I sat me down i' th' muck - who should come in but Maister Weston! I started siding stuff then, an' sweeping an' doing; and I expected he'd begin a calling me for my idle ways as Maister Hatfield would a' done; but I was mista'en: he only bid me good mornin' like, in a quiet dacent way. So I dusted him a chair, an' fettled up th' fire place a bit; but I hadn't forgotten th' rector's words, so says I,
"'I wonder sir, you should give yourself that trouble, to come so far to see a 'canting old fool,' such as me.
- "He seemed taken aback at that; but he would fain persuade me 'at the rector was only in jest; and when that wouldn't do, he says,
- "'Well, Nancy, you shouldn't think so much about it: Mr. Hatfield was a little out of humour just then; you know we're none of us perfect - even Moses spoke unadvisedly with his lips. But now sit down a minute, if you can spare the time, and tell me all your doubts and fears; and I'll try to remove them.'
"So I sat me down anent him. He was quite a stranger you know Miss Grey, and even younger nor Maister Hatfield, I believe; an' I had thought him not so pleasant looking as him, and rather a bit crossish, at first, to look at; but he spake so civil like - and when th' cat, poor thing, jumped on to his knee, he only stroked her, and gave a bit of a smile: so I thought that was a good sign; for once, when she did so to th' rector, he knocked her off, like as it might be in scorn and anger, poor thing. But you can't expect a cat to know manners like a Christian, you know, Miss Grey."
- "No; of course not, Nancy. But what did Mr. Weston say then?"
- "He said naught; but he listened to me as steady an' patient as could be, an' never a bit o' scorn about him; so I went on, an' telled him all, just as I've telled you - an' more too.
- "'Well,' says he, 'Mr. Hatfield was quite right in telling you to persevere in doing your duty; but in advising you to go to church and attend to the service, and so on, he didn't mean that was the whole of a Christian's duty; he only thought you might there learn what more was to be done, and be led to take delight in those exercises, instead of finding them a task and a burden. And if you had asked him to explain those words that trouble you so much, I think he would have told you that, if many shall seek to enter in at the strait gate and shall not be able, it is their own sins that hinder them; just as a man with a large sack on his back might wish to pass through a narrow doorway, and find it impossible to do so, unless, he would leave his sack behind him. But you, Nancy, I dare say, have no sins that you would not gladly throw aside, if you knew how?'
- "'Indeed, sir, you speak truth,' says I.
- "'Well,' says he, 'you know the first, and greatest commandment - and the second which is like unto it- on which two commandments hang all the law and the prophets? You say you cannot love God; but it strikes me, that if you rightly consider who and what He is, you cannot help it. He is your father, your best friend; every blessing, everything good, pleasant, or useful comes from him; and everything evil, everything you have reason to hate, to shun, or to fear comes from Satan - His enemy as well as ours; and for this cause was God manifest in the flesh, that he might destroy the works of the devil: in one word, God IS LOVE; and the more of love we have within us, the nearer we are to him, and the more of his spirit we possess.'
- "'Well, sir,' I said, 'if I can always think on these things, I think I might well love God; but how can I love my neighbours - when they vex me, and be so contrairy and sinful as some on 'em is?"
- "'It may seem a hard matter,' says he, 'to love our neighbours, who have so much of what is evil about them, and whose faults so often awaken the evil that lingers within ourselves, but remember that He made them, and He loves them; and whosoever loveth him that begat, loveth him that is begotten also. And if God so loveth us that He gave His only begotten Son to die for us, we ought also to love one another. But if you cannot feel positive affection for those who do not care for you, you can at least, try to do to them as you would they should do unto you; you can endeavour to pity their failings and excuse their offences, and to do all the good you can to those about you. And if you accustom yourself to this, Nancy, the very effort itself will make you love them in some degree - to say nothing of the goodwill your kindness would beget in them, though they might have little else that is good about them. If we love God and wish to serve him, let us try to be like Him, to do His work, to labour for His glory, which is the good of man, to hasten the coming of His kingdom, which is the peace and happiness of all the world - however powerless we may seem to be, in doing all the good we can through life, the humblest of us may do much towards it; and let us dwell in love, that He may dwell in us, and we in Him. The more happiness we bestow, the more we shall receive, even here, and the greater will be our reward in heaven when we rest from our labours.' I believe, Miss, them is his very words, for I've thought 'em ower many a time. An' then he took that Bible, an' read bits here and there, an' explained 'em as clear as the day: and it seemed like as a new light broke in on my soul; an' I felt a fair glow about my heart, an' only wished poor Bill an' all the world could ha' been there an' heard it all, an' rejoiced wi' me.
- "After he was gone, Hannah Rogers, one o' th' neighbours came in and wanted me to help her to wash. I telled her I couldn't just then, for I hadn't set on th' potaties for th' dinner, nor washed up th' breakfast stuff yet. So then she began a calling me for my nasty idle ways. I was a little bit vexed at first; but I never said nothing wrong to her: I only telled her, like all in a quiet way, 'at I'd had th' new parson to see me; but I'd get done as quick as ever I could, an' then come an' help her. So then she softened down; and my heart like as it warmed towards her, an' in a bit we was very good friends.
"An' so it is, Miss Grey, 'a soft answer turneth away wrath; but grievous words stir up anger.' It isn't only in them you speak to, but in yourself."
- "Very true, Nancy, if we could always remember it."
- "Ay, if we could!"
- "And did Mr. Weston ever come to see you again?"
- "Yes, many a time; and since my eyes has been so bad, he's sat an' read to me by the half hour together; but you know, Miss, he has other folks to see, and other things to do - God bless him! An' that next Sunday he preached such a sermon! His text was, 'Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,' and them two blessed verses that follows. You wasn't there, Miss, you was with your friends then - but it made me so happy! And I am happy now, thank God! an' I take a pleasure, now, in doing little bits o' jobs for my neighbours - such as a poor old body at's half blind can do; and they take it kindly of me, just as he said. You see, Miss, I'm knitting a pair o' stockings now: - they're for Thomas Jackson: he's a queerish old body, an' we've had many a bout at threaping one anent t' other; an' at times we've differed sorely. So I thought I couldn't do better nor knit him a pair o' warm stockings; an' I've felt to like him a deal better, poor old man, sin' I began. It's turned out just as Maister Weston said."
- "Well, I'm very glad to see you so happy, Nancy, and so wise: but I must go now; I shall be wanted at the Hall," said I; and bidding her good bye, I departed, promising to come again when I had time, and feeling nearly as happy as herself.
- At another time, I went to read to a poor labourer who was in the last stage of a consumption. The young ladies had been to see him, and somehow, a promise of reading had been extracted from them; but it was too much trouble, so they begged me to do it instead. I went, willingly enough, and there too I was gratified with the praises of Mr. Weston, both from the sick man and his wife. The former told me that he derived great comfort and benefit, from the visits of the new parson, who frequently came to see him, and was "another guess sort of man" to Mr. Hatfield; who before the other's arrival at Horton, had now and then paid him a visit; on which occasions, he would always insist upon having the cottage door kept open to admit the fresh air for his own convenience, without considering how it might injure the sufferer: and having opened his prayer-book, and hastily read over a part of the service for the sick, would hurry away again, if he did not stay to administer some harsh rebuke to the afflicted wife, or to make some thoughtless, not to say heartless, observation rather calculated to increase than diminish the troubles of the suffering pair.
- "Whereas," said the man, "Maister Weston 'ull pray with me quite in a different fashion, an' talk to me as kind as owt; an' oft read to me too, an' sit beside me just like a brother."
- "Just for all the world!" exclaimed his wife; "an' about three wik sin', when he seed how poor Jem shivered wi' cold, an' what pitiful fires we kept, he axed if wer stock of coals was nearly done. I telled him it was, an' we was ill set to get more - but you know mum I didn't think o' him helping us - but howsever, he sent us a sack o' coals next day; an' we've had good fires ever sin'; an' a great blessing it is, this winter time. But that's his way, Miss Grey - when he comes into a poor body's house a seein' sick folk, he like notices what they most stand i' need on; an' if he thinks they can't readily get it therseln, he never says nowt about it, but just gets it for 'em: - an' it isn't everybody 'at 'ud do that, 'at has as little as he has; for you know mum, he's nowt at all to live on, but what he gets fra' th' rector; an' that's little enough they say."
- I remembered then, with a species of exultation, that he had frequently been styled a vulgar brute by the amiable Miss Murray, because he sported a silver watch, and clothes not quite so bright and fresh as Mr. Hatfield's.
- In returning to the lodge, I felt very happy, and thanked God that I had now something to think about, something to dwell on as a relief from the weary monotony, the lonely drudgery of my present life - for I was lonely - never, from month to month, from year to year, except during my brief intervals of rest at home, did I see one creature to whom I could open my heart, or freely speak my thoughts with any hope of sympathy, or even comprehension; never one, unless it were poor Nancy Brown, with whom I could enjoy a single moment of real social intercourse, or whose conversation was calculated to render me better, wiser, or happier than before; or who, as far as I could see, could be greatly benefited by mine. My only companions had been unamiable children, and ignorant, wrong-headed girls, from whose fatiguing folly, unbroken solitude was often a relief most earnestly desired, and dearly prized. But to be restricted to such associates was a serious evil, both in its immediate effects, and the consequences that were likely to ensue.
Never a new idea or a stirring thought came to me from without; and such as rose within me were, for the most part, miserably crushed at once, or doomed to sicken and fade away, because they could not see the light.
- Habitual associates are known to exercise a great influence over each other's minds and manners. Those whose actions are for ever before our eyes, whose words are ever in our ears, will naturally lead us, albeit against our will, slowly, gradually, imperceptibly, perhaps, to act and speak as they do. I will not presume to say how far this irresistible power of assimilation extends; but if one civilised man were doomed to pass a dozen years amid a race of intractable savages, unless he had power to improve them, I greatly question whether, at the close of that period, he would not have become, at least, a barbarian himself. And I, as I could not make my young companions better, feared exceedingly that they would make me worse - would gradually bring my feelings, habits, capacities, to the level of their own; without, however, imparting to me their light-heartedness and cheerful vivacity.
- Already, I seemed to feel my intellect deteriorating, my heart petrifying, my soul contracting, and I trembled lest my very moral perceptions should become deadened, my distinctions of right and wrong confounded, and all my better faculties be sunk at last, beneath the baleful influence of such a mode of life. The gross vapours of earth were gathering around me, and closing in upon my inward heaven; and thus it was that Mr. Weston rose, at length, upon me, appearing, like the morning star in my horizon, to save me from the fear of utter darkness; and I rejoiced that I had now a subject for contemplation, that was above me, not beneath. I was glad to see that all the world was not made up of Bloomfields, Murrays, Hatfields, Ashbys, &c.; and that human excellence was not a mere dream of the imagination. When we hear a little good and no harm of a person, it is easy and pleasant to imagine more, in short, it is needless to analyze all my thoughts, but Sunday was now become a day of peculiar delight to me, (I was now almost broken in to the back corner in the carriage,) for I liked to hear him - and I liked to see him too, though I knew he was not handsome, or even, what is called, agreeable, in outward aspect, but, certainly, he was not ugly.
- In stature he was a little, a very little above the middle size: perfectly symmetrical in figure, deep chested, and strongly built; the outline of his face would be pronounced too square for beauty, but, to me, it announced decision of character; his dark brown hair was not carefully curled like Mr. Hatfield's, but simply brushed aside over a broad white forehead; the eyebrows, I suppose, were too projecting, but from under those dark brows, there gleamed an eye of singular power, brown in colour, not large, and somewhat deep-set, but strikingly brilliant, and full of expression; there was character, too, in the mouth, something that bespoke a man of firm purpose, and an habitual thinker, and when he smiled - but I will not speak of that yet, for, at the time I mention, I had never seen him smile; and, indeed, his general appearance did not impress me with the idea of a man given to such a relaxation, nor of such an individual as the cottagers described him. I had early formed my opinion of him, and, in spite of Miss Murray's objurgations, was fully convinced that he was a man of strong sense, firm faith, and ardent piety, but thoughtful and stern: and when I found that, to his other good qualities, was added that of true benevolence, and gentle, considerate kindness, the discovery, perhaps, delighted me the more, as I had not been prepared to expect it.
- The next visit I paid to Nancy Brown, was in the second week in March, for, though I had many spare minutes during the day, I seldom could look upon an hour as entirely my own, since, where everything was left to the caprices of Miss Matilda and her sister, there could be no order or regularity, and whatever occupation I chose, when not actually busied about them, or their concerns, I had, as it were, to keep my loins girded, my shoes on my feet, and my staff in my hand; for, not to be immediately forthcoming when called for, was regarded as a grave and inexcusable offence, not only by my pupils and their mother, but by the very servant who came in breathless haste to call me, exclaiming, "You're to go to the school-room directly, mum - the young ladies is WAITING!!"
Climax of horror! actually waiting for their governess!!!
- But this time, I was pretty sure of an hour or two to myself, for Matilda was preparing for a long ride, and Rosalie was dressing for a dinner party at Lady Ashby's: so I took the opportunity of repairing to the widow's cottage, where I found her in some anxiety about her cat, which had been absent all day. I comforted her with as many anecdotes of that animal's roving propensities as I could recollect. "I'm feared o' th' gamekeepers," said she, "that's all 'at I think on. If th' young gentlemen had been at home, I should a' thought they'd been setting their dogs at her, an' worried her, poor thing, as they did many a poor thing's cat; but I haven't that to be feared on now."
Nancy's eyes were better, but still far from well: she had been trying to make a Sunday shirt for her son, but told me she could only bear to do a little bit at it now and then; so that it progressed but slowly, though the poor lad wanted it sadly. So I proposed to help her a little, after I had read to her, for I had plenty of time that evening, and need not return till dusk. She thankfully accepted the offer.
"An' you'll be a bit o' company for me too, Miss," said she; "I like as I feel lonesome without my cat."
But when I had finished reading, and done the half of a seam, with Nancy's capacious brass thimble fitted on to my finger by means of a roll of paper, I was disturbed by the entrance of Mr. Weston with the identical cat in his arms. I now saw that he could smile, and very pleasantly too.
- "I've done you a piece of good service, Nancy," he began; then seeing me, he acknowledged my presence by a slight bow. I should have been invisible to Hatfield, or any other gentleman of those parts. "I've delivered your cat," he continued, "from the hands, or rather the gun of Mr. Murray's gamekeeper."
- "God bless you, sir!" cried the grateful old woman, ready to weep for joy as she received her favourite from his arms.
- "Take care of it," said he, "and don't let it go near the rabbit warren, for the gamekeeper swears he'll shoot it if he sees it there again. He would have done so to-day, if I had not been in time to stop him. I believe it is raining, Miss Grey," added he, more quietly, observing that I had put aside my work and was preparing to depart. "Don't let me disturb you - I shan't stay two minutes."
- "You'll both stay while this shower gets owered," said Nancy, as she stirred the fire, and placed another chair beside it; "what! there's room for all."
- "I can see better here, thank you, Nancy," replied I, taking my work to the window, where she had the goodness to suffer me to remain unmolested, while she got a brush to remove the cat's hairs from Mr. Weston's coat, carefully wiped the rain from his hat, and gave the cat its supper, busily talking all the time; now thanking her clerical friend for what he had done; now wondering how the cat had found out the warren; and now lamenting the probable consequences of such a discovery. He listened with a quiet, good-natured smile, and at length took a seat in compliance with her pressing invitations, but repeated that he did not mean to stay.
- "I have another place to go to," said he, "and I see" (glancing at the book on the table) "some one else has been reading to you."
- "Yes, sir; Miss Grey has been as kind as read me a chapter; an' now she's helping me with a shirt for our Bill - but I'm feared she'll be cold there. Won't you come to th' fire, Miss?"
- "No, thank you, Nancy, I'm quite warm. I must go as soon as this shower is over."
- "Oh, Miss! You said you could stop while dusk!' cried the provoking old woman, and Mr. Weston seized his hat.
- "Nay, sir," exclaimed she, "pray don't go now, while it rains so fast."
- "But it strikes me I'm keeping your visitor away from the fire."
- "No, you're not, Mr. Weston," replied I, hoping there was no harm in a falsehood of that description.
- "No, sure!" cried Nancy. "What, there's lots o' room!"
- "Miss Grey," said he, half jestingly, as if he felt it necessary to change the present subject, whether he had anything particular to say or not, "I wish you would make my peace with the squire, when you see him. He was by when I rescued Nancy's cat, and did not quite approve of the deed. I told him I thought he might better spare all his rabbits than she her cat, for which audacious assertion, he treated me to some rather ungentlemanly language, and, I fear, I retorted a trifle too warmly."
- "Oh lawful sir! I hope you didn't fall out wi' th' maister for sake o' my cat! he cannot bide answering again - can th' maister. "
- "Oh! it's no matter, Nancy: I don't care about it, really: I said nothing very uncivil; and I suppose Mr. Murray is accustomed to use rather strong language when he's heated."
- "Aye, sir, it's a pity!"
- "And now, I really must go. I have to visit a place a mile beyond this; and you would not have me return in the dark: besides, It has nearly done raining now - so good evening, Nancy. - Good evening, Miss Grey."
- "Good evening, Mr. Weston; but don't depend upon me for making your peace with Mr. Murray, for I never see him - to speak to."
- "Don't you? It can't be helped then!" replied he in dolorous resignation: then, with a peculiar half smile, he added, "But never mind; I imagine the squire has more to apologise for than I," and left the cottage.
- I went on with my sewing as long as I could see, and then bid Nancy good-evening, checking her too lively gratitude by the undeniable assurance, that I had only done for her, what she would have done for me, if she had been in my place, and I in hers. I hastened back to Horton Lodge; where, having entered the school-room, I found the tea-table all in confusion, the tray flooded with slops, and Miss Matilda in a most ferocious humour.
- "Miss Grey, whatever have you been about? I've had tea half an hour ago, and had to make it myself, and drink it all alone! I wish you would come in sooner!"
- "I've been to see Nancy Brown. I thought you would not be back from your ride."
- "How could I ride in the rain, I should like to know? That d----d pelting shower was vexatious enough - coming on when I was just in full swing; and then to come and find nobody in to tea! - and you know I can't make the tea as I like it."
- "I didn't think of the shower," replied I, (and, indeed, the thought of its driving her home had never entered my head.)
- "No, of course, you were under shelter yourself, and you never thought of other people."
- I bore her coarse reproaches with astonishing equanimity, even with cheerfulness; for I was sensible that I had done more good to Nancy Brown than harm to her; and perhaps some other thoughts assisted to keep up my spirits, and impart a relish to the cup of cold, overdrawn tea, and a charm to the otherwise unsightly table, and - I had almost said - to Miss Matilda's unamiable face. But she soon betook herself to the stables, and left me to the quiet enjoyment of my solitary meal.
- Miss Murray now always went twice to church, for she so loved admiration that she could not bear to lose a single opportunity of obtaining it; and she was so sure of it, wherever she showed herself, that whether Harry Meltham and Mr. Green were there or not, there was certain to be somebody present who would not be insensible to her charms, besides the rector, whose official capacity generally obliged him to attend.
Usually, also, if the weather permitted, both she and her sister would walk home; Matilda, because she hated the confinement of the carriage; she, because she disliked the privacy of it, and enjoyed the company that generally enlivened the first mile of the journey in walking from the church to Mr. Green's park-gates, near which, commenced the private road to Horton Lodge, which lay in the opposite direction; while the highway conducted, in a straight- forward course to the still more distant mansion of Sir Hugh Meltham. Thus, there was always a chance of being accompanied, so far, either by Harry Meltham with or without Miss Meltham, or Mr. Green, with perhaps one or both of his sisters, and any gentlemen visitors they might have.
- Whether I walked with the young ladies or rode with their parents, depended upon their own capricious will: if they chose to "take" me, I went; if, for reasons best known to themselves, they chose to go alone, I took my seat in the carriage: I liked walking better, but a sense of reluctance to obtrude my presence on any one who did not desire it, always kept me passive on these and similar occasions; and I never inquired into the causes of their varying whims. And indeed, this was the best policy - for to submit and oblige was the governess's part, to consult their own pleasure was that of the pupils. But when I did walk, the first half of the journey was generally a great nuisance to me. As none of the before-mentioned ladies and gentlemen ever noticed me, it was disagreeable to walk beside them, as if listening to what they said, or wishing to be thought one of them, while they talked over me or across; and if their eyes, in speaking, chanced to fall on me, it seemed as if they looked on vacancy - as if they either did not see me, or were very desirous to make it appear so.
It was disagreeable, too, to walk behind, and thus appear to acknowledge my own inferiority; for in truth, I considered myself pretty nearly as good as the best of them, and wished them to know that I did so, and not to imagine that I looked upon myself as a mere domestic, who knew her own place too well to walk beside such fine ladies and gentlemen as they were - though her young ladies might choose to have her with them, and even condescend to converse with her, when no better company were at hand. Thus - I am almost ashamed to confess it - but indeed I gave myself no little trouble in my endeavours (if I did keep up with them) to appear perfectly unconscious or regardless of their presence, as if I were wholly absorbed in my own reflections or the contemplation of surrounding objects; or if I lingered behind, it was some bird or insect, some tree or flower, that attracted my attention, and having duly examined that, I would pursue my walk alone, at a leisurely pace, until my pupils had bidden adieu to their companions, and turned off into the quiet, private road.
- One such occasion I particularly well remember, it was a lovely afternoon about the close of March; Mr. Green and his sisters had sent their carriage back empty, in order to enjoy the bright sunshine and balmy air in a sociable walk home along with their visitors, Captain Somebody and Lieutenant Somebody else (a couple of military fops,) and the Misses Murray, who of course, contrived to join them.
Such a party was highly agreeable to Rosalie; but not finding it equally suitable to my taste, I presently fell back, and began to botanise and entomologise along the green banks and budding hedges, till the company was considerably in advance of me, and I could hear the sweet song of the happy lark: then my spirit of misanthropy began to melt away beneath the soft, pure air and genial sunshine; but sad thoughts of early childhood, and yearnings for departed joys, or for a brighter future lot, arose instead.
As my eyes wandered over the steep banks covered with young grass and green-leaved plants, and surmounted by budding hedges, I longed intensely for some familiar flower that might recall the woody dales or green hillsides of home: the brown moorlands, of course, were out of the question. Such a discovery would make my eyes gush out with water, no doubt; but that was one of my greatest enjoyments now.
At length, I descried, high up between the twisted roots of an oak, three lovely primroses, peeping so sweetly from their hiding-place that the tears already started at the sight, but they grew so high above me, that I tried in vain to gather one or two to dream over and to carry with me; I could not reach them, unless I climbed the bank, which I was deterred from doing by hearing a footstep, at that moment behind me, and was therefore, about to turn away, when I was startled by the words, "Allow me to gather them for you, Miss Grey," spoken in the grave, low tones of a well-known voice.
Immediately the flowers were gathered, and in my hand. It was Mr. Weston, of course - who else would trouble himself to do so much for me?
- I thanked him; whether warmly or coldly, I cannot tell: but certain I am, that I did not express half the gratitude I felt. It was foolish perhaps, to feel any gratitude at all, but it seemed to me, at that moment, as if this were a remarkable instance of his good nature, an act of kindness which I could not repay, but never should forget: so utterly unaccustomed was I to receive such civilities, so little prepared to expect them - from anyone within fifty miles of Horton Lodge.
Yet this did not prevent me from feeling a little uncomfortable in his presence; and I proceeded to follow my pupils at a much quicker pace than before; though perhaps, if Mr. Weston had taken the hint, and let me pass without another word, I might have repented it an hour after: but he did not. A somewhat rapid walk for me, was but an ordinary pace for him.
- "Your young ladies have left you alone," said he.
- "Yes; they are occupied with more agreeable company."
- "Then don't trouble yourself to overtake them."
- I slackened my pace; but next moment regretted having done so; my companion did not speak: and I had nothing in the world to say, and feared he might be in the same predicament. At length, however, he broke the pause by asking, with a certain quiet abruptness peculiar to himself if I liked flowers.
- "Yes, very much," I answered, "wild flowers especially."
- "I like wild flowers," said he; "others I don't care about, because I have no particular associations connected with them - except one or two. What are your favourite flowers?"
- "Primroses, blue-bells, and heath-blossoms."
- "Not violets?"
- "No, because, as you say, I have no particular associations connected with them; for there are no sweet violets among the hills and valleys round my home."
- "It must be a great consolation to you to have a home, Miss Grey," observed my companion after a short pause: "however remote, or however seldom visited, still it is something to look to."
- "It is so much, that I think I could not live without it," replied I, with an enthusiasm of which I immediately repented, for I thought it must have sounded essentially silly.
- "Oh yes, you could!" said he with a thoughtful smile. "The ties that bind us to life are tougher than you imagine, or than any one can, who has not felt how roughly they may be pulled without breaking. You might be miserable without a home, but even you could live, and not so miserably as you suppose. The human heart is like india-rubber, a little swells it, but great deal will not burst it. If 'little more than nothing' will disturb it, 'little less than all things will suffice,' to break it. As in the outer members of our frame, there is a vital power inherent in itself, that strengthens it against external violence. Every blow that shakes it, will serve to harden it against a future stroke; as constant labour thickens the skin of the hand, and strengthens its muscles instead of wasting them away: so that a day of arduous toil that might excoriate a lady's palm, would make no sensible impression on that of a hardy ploughman.
- "I speak from experience - partly my own. There was a time when I thought as you do - at least, I was fully persuaded that home and its affections were the only things that made life tolerable: that if deprived of these, existence would become a burden hard to be endured; but now, I have no home - unless you would dignify my two hired rooms at Horton by such a name; - and not twelve months ago, I lost the last and dearest of my early friends: and yet, not only I live, but I am not wholly destitute of hope and comfort, even for this life; though I must acknowledge that I can seldom enter even an humble cottage, at the close of day, and see its inhabitants peaceably gathered around their cheerful hearth, without a feeling almost of envy at their domestic enjoyment."
- "You don't know what happiness lies before you yet," said I, "you are now only in the commencement of your journey."
- "The best of happiness," replied he, "is mine already - the power and the will to be useful."
- We now approached a stile communicating with a footpath that conducted to a farm-house, where I suppose, Mr. Weston purposed to make himself "useful," for he presently took leave of me, crossed the stile, and traversed the path with his usual firm, elastic tread, leaving me to ponder his words as I continued my course alone.
I had heard before that he had lost his mother not many months before he came. She then, was the last and dearest of his early friends; and he had no home. I pitied him from my heart; I almost wept for sympathy. And this, I thought, accounted for the shade of premature thoughtfulness that so frequently clouded his brow, and obtained for him the reputation of a morose and sullen disposition with the charitable Miss Murray and all her kin. "But," thought I, "he is not so miserable as I should be under such a deprivation: he leads an active life; and a wide field for useful exertion lies before him. He can make friends - and he can make a home too, if he pleases, and doubtless he will please some time; and God grant the partner of that home may be worthy of his choice, and make it a happy one - such a home as he deserves to have! And how delightful it would be to --" But no matter what I thought.
- I began this book with the intention of concealing nothing, that those who liked might have the benefit of perusing a fellow creature's heart: but we have some thoughts that all the angels in heaven are welcome to behold - but not our brother-men - not even the best and kindest amongst them.
- By this time the Greens had taken themselves to their own abode, and the Murrays had turned down the private road, whither I hastened to follow them. I found the two girls lost in an animated discussion on the respective merits of the two young officers; but on seeing me Rosalie broke off in the middle of a sentence to exclaim, with malicious glee,
- "Oh ho, Miss Grey! you're come at last, are you? No wonder you lingered so long behind! and no wonder you always stand up so vigorously for Mr. Weston when I abuse him - Ah, ha! I see it all now!"
- "Now come, Miss Murray, don't be foolish," said I attempting a good-natured laugh, "you know such nonsense can make no impression on me."
- But she still went on talking such intolerable stuff - her sister helping her with appropriate fiction coined for the occasion - that I thought it necessary to say something in my own justification.
- "What humbug all this is!" I exclaimed. "If Mr. Weston's road happened to be the same as mine for a few yards, and if he chose to exchange a word or two in passing, what is there so remarkable in that? I assure you I never spoke to him before; except once."
- "Where? where? and when?" cried they eagerly.
- "In Nancy's cottage."
- "Ah ha! you've met him there have you?" exclaimed Rosalie, with exultant laughter. "Ah! now Matilda, I've found out why she's so fond of going to Nancy Brown's! She goes there to flirt with Mr. Weston."
- "Really that is not worth contradicting! - I only saw him there once, I tell you - and how could I know he was coming?"
- Irritated as I was at their foolish mirth and vexatious imputations, the uneasiness did not continue long: when they had had their laugh out, they returned again to the Captain and Lieutenant; and, while they disputed and commented upon them, my indignation rapidly cooled; the cause of it was quickly forgotten, and I turned my thoughts into a pleasanter channel. Thus we proceeded up the park, and entered the hall; and as I ascended the stairs to my own chamber, I had but one thought within me, my heart was filled to overflowing with one single earnest wish. Having entered the room, and shut the door, I fell upon my knees and offered up a fervent but not impetuous prayer: "Thy will be done," I strove to say throughout; but, "Father, all things are possible with Thee, and may it be thy will," was sure to follow. That wish - that prayer both men and women would have scorned me for - "But Father, Thou wilt not despise!" I said - and felt that it was true. It seemed to me, that another's welfare was at least as ardently implored as my own - nay, even that was the principal object of my heart's desire. I might have been deceiving myself; but that idea gave me confidence to ask, and power to hope I did not ask in vain. As for the primroses, I kept two of them in a glass in my room until they were completely withered, and the housemaid threw them out, and the petals of the other, I pressed between the leaves of my bible - I have them still, and mean to keep them always.
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