Part 1 out of 4
Transcribed from the 1910 John Murray edition by David Price, email
CHAPTER I--THE PARSONAGE
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 elegancies 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
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 neighbourhood, our only intercourse with the world consisted in
a stately tea-party, now and then, with the principal farmers and
tradespeople of the vicinity (just to avoid being stigmatized as
too proud to consort with our neighbours), 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
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 entrust 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 is 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 passed 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 shook.
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
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 sank 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 reaction 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 maid-servants, 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 painfully economized--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
favourite 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-coloured 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 daresay 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 learned 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
'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 am 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 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
- Delightful task!
To teach the young idea how to shoot!
To train the tender plants, and watch their buds unfolding day by
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 out 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 realized
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
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 sank 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.
CHAPTER II--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
'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 stifling 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 horridly 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, philosophizing 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 commonplace
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
'I daresay you would find it cold,' replied she with a cool,
immutable gravity that did not serve to reassure me.
When the ceremony was concluded, she led me into the sitting-room
again, where she rang and sent for the children.
'You will find them not very far advanced in their attainments,'
said she, '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 learned 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
schoolroom. 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.
'Oh, Tom, what a darling you are!' exclaimed his mother. 'Come and
kiss dear mamma; and then won't you show Miss Grey your schoolroom,
and your nice new books?'
'I won't kiss YOU, mamma; but I WILL show Miss Grey my schoolroom,
and my new books.'
'And MY schoolroom, 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
'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
'But it is not your business to keep her in order, you know--that
'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, so she stayed with her mamma, to
the great relief of her brother, who liked to have me all to
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 corn, and asked what they
'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
'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
'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 is 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: end 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
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 bedroom
candlestick 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
CHAPTER III--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 schoolroom, 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 schoolroom 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 it 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
entreaties 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! Why, don't you see how it is cut? Dear--dear! it is
'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,
Notwithstanding the ruinous state of the beef, the gentleman
managed to out 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?'
'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 particularize
'Well, that beats everything! A lady professes to keep house, and
doesn't even know what fish is for dinner! professes to order fish,
and doesn't specify what!'
'Perhaps, Mr. Bloomfield, you will order dinner yourself in
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 schoolroom; then I dressed Mary Ann for
dessert; and when she and her brother had 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
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 on 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
schoolroom, 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 a 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 was determined 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 a 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 would ask 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 shoulder, 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 cheek
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
'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 fault that was deemed
worthy of such 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 schoolroom, 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 schoolroom? She will soon be as bad as the
other two; and, I am sorry to say, they have quite deteriorated of
'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
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 humanized: 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. 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 to visit home; but my holiday was
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.
CHAPTER IV--THE GRANDMAMMA
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 anyone 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
nought by those beneath you, and unjustly censured and misjudged by
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 few last
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,
therefrom, gathered any useful hint, or an unfortunate governess
received thereby the slightest benefit, I am well rewarded for my
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 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-storey
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
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 devil's name, can you be
'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 won't 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
But now, the few words luckily or unluckily heard in passing had
wholly revolutionized 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 boy 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 can 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 the 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. From what I now saw of her, and what I
heard from the children, I know 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 shown 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
farm-yard--and I, meanwhile, wearily standing, by, having
previously exhausted my energy in vain attempts to get them away.
Often, too, he would unexpectedly pop his head into the schoolroom
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 other's 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
schoolroom, would never chide them for leaving it, or trouble
herself to send them back. But this 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. 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 occupations, 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
'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
schoolroom 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 many, 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
'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've 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
'I have, indeed, Betty; and I daresay 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
gives '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
'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!'
CHAPTER V--THE UNCLE
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 stillness 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
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-birds'-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' birds'-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, exultingly; 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
'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
'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
'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 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
flat 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 chilled. 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
'When Master Bloomfield's amusements consist in injuring sentient
creatures,' I answered, 'I think it my duty to interfere.'
'You seemed 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 shown 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 shamefacedness, 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. But 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
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 been thus 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 learned to love and value my home, I was not
yet weary of adventure, nor willing to relax my efforts. I knew
that 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.
CHAPTER VI--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 were already 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 on the subject if she could help it.
'Oh, Richard!' exclaimed she, on one occasion, 'if you would but
dismiss such gloomy subjects 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
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
'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 is 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
these 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
unimpressible, 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
'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 shown 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
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, thoroughbred gentleman; for
such are far more likely to treat you with proper respect and
consideration than those purse-proud tradespeople 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 requisities.
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 balked 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