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among its strange inhabitants. I now flattered myself I was going to see something in the world: Mr. Murray’s residence was near a large town, and not in a manufacturing district, where the people had nothing to do but to make money; his rank from what I could gather, appeared to be higher than that of Mr. Bloomfield; and, doubtless, he was one of those genuine thoroughbred gentry my mother spoke of, who would treat his governess with due consideration as a respectable well-educated lady, the instructor and guide of his children, and not a mere upper servant. Then, my pupils being older, would be more rational, more teachable, and less troublesome than the last; they would be less confined to the schoolroom, and not require that constant labour and incessant watching; and, finally, bright visions mingled with my hopes, with which the care of children and the mere duties of a governess had little or nothing to do. Thus, the reader will see that I had no claim to be regarded as a martyr to filial piety, going forth to sacrifice peace and liberty for the sole purpose of laying up stores for the comfort and support of my parents: though certainly the comfort of my father, and the future support of my mother, had a large share in my calculations; and fifty pounds appeared to me no ordinary sum. I must have decent clothes becoming my station; I must, it seemed, put out my washing, and also pay for my four annual journeys between Horton Lodge and home; but with strict attention to economy, surely twenty pounds, or little more, would cover those expenses, and then there would be thirty for the bank, or little less: what a valuable addition to our stock! Oh, I must struggle to keep this situation, whatever it might be! both for my own honour among my friends and for the solid services I might render them by my continuance there.

CHAPTER VII–HORTON LODGE

The 31st of January was a wild, tempestuous day: there was a strong north wind, with a continual storm of snow drifting on the ground and whirling through the air. My friends would have had me delay my departure, but fearful of prejudicing my employers against me by such want of punctuality at the commencement of my undertaking, I persisted in keeping the appointment.

I will not inflict upon my readers an account of my leaving home on that dark winter morning: the fond farewells, the long, long journey to O—, the solitary waitings in inns for coaches or trains–for there were some railways then–and, finally, the meeting at O— with Mr. Murray’s servant, who had been sent with the phaeton to drive me from thence to Horton Lodge. I will just state that the heavy snow had thrown such impediments in the way of both horses and steam-engines, that it was dark some hours before I reached my journey’s end, and that a most bewildering storm came on at last, which made the few miles’ space between O— and Horton Lodge a long and formidable passage. I sat resigned, with the cold, sharp snow drifting through my veil and filling my lap, seeing nothing, and wondering how the unfortunate horse and driver could make their way even as well as they did; and indeed it was but a toilsome, creeping style of progression, to say the best of it. At length we paused; and, at the call of the driver, someone unlatched and rolled back upon their creaking hinges what appeared to be the park gates. Then we proceeded along a smoother road, whence, occasionally, I perceived some huge, hoary mass gleaming through the darkness, which I took to be a portion of a snow-clad tree. After a considerable time we paused again, before the stately portico of a large house with long windows descending to the ground.

I rose with some difficulty from under the superincumbent snowdrift, and alighted from the carriage, expecting that a kind and hospitable reception would indemnify me for the toils and hardships of the day. A gentleman person in black opened the door, and admitted me into a spacious hall, lighted by an amber-coloured lamp suspended from the ceiling; he led me through this, along a passage, and opening the door of a back room, told me that was the schoolroom. I entered, and found two young ladies and two young gentlemen–my future pupils, I supposed. After a formal greeting, the elder girl, who was trifling over a piece of canvas and a basket of German wools, asked if I should like to go upstairs. I replied in the affirmative, of course.

‘Matilda, take a candle, and show her her room,’ said she.

Miss Matilda, a strapping hoyden of about fourteen, with a short frock and trousers, shrugged her shoulders and made a slight grimace, but took a candle and proceeded before me up the back stairs (a long, steep, double flight), and through a long, narrow passage, to a small but tolerably comfortable room. She then asked me if I would take some tea or coffee. I was about to answer No; but remembering that I had taken nothing since seven o’clock that morning, and feeling faint in consequence, I said I would take a cup of tea. Saying she would tell ‘Brown,’ the young lady departed; and by the time I had divested myself of my heavy, wet cloak, shawl, bonnet, &c., a mincing damsel came to say the young ladies desired to know whether I would take my tea up there or in the schoolroom. Under the plea of fatigue I chose to take it there. She withdrew; and, after a while, returned again with a small tea-tray, and placed it on the chest of drawers, which served as a dressing-table. Having civilly thanked her, I asked at what time I should be expected to rise in the morning.

‘The young ladies and gentlemen breakfast at half-past eight, ma’am,’ said she; ‘they rise early; but, as they seldom do any lessons before breakfast, I should think it will do if you rise soon after seven.’

I desired her to be so kind as to call me at seven, and, promising to do so, she withdrew. Then, having broken my long fast on a cup of tea and a little thin bread and butter, I sat down beside the small, smouldering fire, and amused myself with a hearty fit of crying; after which, I said my prayers, and then, feeling considerably relieved, began to prepare for bed. Finding that none of my luggage was brought up, I instituted a search for the bell; and failing to discover any signs of such a convenience in any corner of the room, I took my candle and ventured through the long passage, and down the steep stairs, on a voyage of discovery. Meeting a well-dressed female on the way, I told her what I wanted; but not without considerable hesitation, as I was not quite sure whether it was one of the upper servants, or Mrs. Murray herself: it happened, however, to be the lady’s-maid. With the air of one conferring an unusual favour, she vouchsafed to undertake the sending up of my things; and when I had re-entered my room, and waited and wondered a long time (greatly fearing that she had forgotten or neglected to perform her promise, and doubting whether to keep waiting or go to bed, or go down again), my hopes, at length, were revived by the sound of voices and laughter, accompanied by the tramp of feet along the passage; and presently the luggage was brought in by a rough-looking maid and a man, neither of them very respectful in their demeanour to me. Having shut the door upon their retiring footsteps, and unpacked a few of my things, I betook myself to rest; gladly enough, for I was weary in body and mind.

It was with a strange feeling of desolation, mingled with a strong sense of the novelty of my situation, and a joyless kind of curiosity concerning what was yet unknown, that I awoke the next morning; feeling like one whirled away by enchantment, and suddenly dropped from the clouds into a remote and unknown land, widely and completely isolated from all he had ever seen or known before; or like a thistle-seed borne on the wind to some strange nook of uncongenial soil, where it must lie long enough before it can take root and germinate, extracting nourishment from what appears so alien to its nature: if, indeed, it ever can. But this gives no proper idea of my feelings at all; and no one that has not lived such a retired, stationary life as mine, can possibly imagine what they were: hardly even if he has known what it is to awake some morning, and find himself in Port Nelson, in New Zealand, with a world of waters between himself and all that knew him.

I shall not soon forget the peculiar feeling with which I raised my blind and looked out upon the unknown world: a wide, white wilderness was all that met my gaze; a waste of

Deserts tossed in snow,
And heavy laden groves.

I descended to the schoolroom with no remarkable eagerness to join my pupils, though not without some feeling of curiosity respecting what a further acquaintance would reveal. One thing, among others of more obvious importance, I determined with myself–I must begin with calling them Miss and Master. It seemed to me a chilling and unnatural piece of punctilio between the children of a family and their instructor and daily companion; especially where the former were in their early childhood, as at Wellwood House; but even there, my calling the little Bloomfields by their simple names had been regarded as an offensive liberty: as their parents had taken care to show me, by carefully designating them MASTER and MISS Bloomfield, &c., in speaking to me. I had been very slow to take the hint, because the whole affair struck me as so very absurd; but now I determined to be wiser, and begin at once with as much form and ceremony as any member of the family would be likely to require: and, indeed, the children being so much older, there would be less difficulty; though the little words Miss and Master seemed to have a surprising effect in repressing all familiar, open-hearted kindness, and extinguishing every gleam of cordiality that might arise between us.

As I cannot, like Dogberry, find it in my heart to bestow all my tediousness upon the reader, I will not go on to bore him with a minute detail of all the discoveries and proceedings of this and the following day. No doubt he will be amply satisfied with a slight sketch of the different members of the family, and a general view of the first year or two of my sojourn among them.

To begin with the head: Mr. Murray was, by all accounts, a blustering, roystering, country squire: a devoted fox-hunter, a skilful horse-jockey and farrier, an active, practical farmer, and a hearty bon vivant. By all accounts, I say; for, except on Sundays, when he went to church, I never saw him from month to month: unless, in crossing the hall or walking in the grounds, the figure of a tall, stout gentleman, with scarlet cheeks and crimson nose, happened to come across me; on which occasions, if he passed near enough to speak, an unceremonious nod, accompanied by a ‘Morning, Miss Grey,’ or some such brief salutation, was usually vouchsafed. Frequently, indeed, his loud laugh reached me from afar; and oftener still I heard him swearing and blaspheming against the footmen, groom, coachman, or some other hapless dependant.

Mrs. Murray was a handsome, dashing lady of forty, who certainly required neither rouge nor padding to add to her charms; and whose chief enjoyments were, or seemed to be, in giving or frequenting parties, and in dressing at the very top of the fashion. I did not see her till eleven o’clock on the morning after my arrival; when she honoured me with a visit, just as my mother might step into the kitchen to see a new servant-girl: yet not so, either, for my mother would have seen her immediately after her arrival, and not waited till the next day; and, moreover, she would have addressed her in a more kind and friendly manner, and given her some words of comfort as well as a plain exposition of her duties; but Mrs. Murray did neither the one nor the other. She just stepped into the schoolroom on her return from ordering dinner in the housekeeper’s room, bade me good-morning, stood for two minutes by the fire, said a few words about the weather and the ‘rather rough’ journey I must have had yesterday; petted her youngest child–a boy of ten–who had just been wiping his mouth and hands on her gown, after indulging in some savoury morsel from the housekeeper’s store; told me what a sweet, good boy he was; and then sailed out, with a self-complacent smile upon her face: thinking, no doubt, that she had done quite enough for the present, and had been delightfully condescending into the bargain. Her children evidently held the same opinion, and I alone thought otherwise.

After this she looked in upon me once or twice, during the absence of my pupils, to enlighten me concerning my duties towards them. For the girls she seemed anxious only to render them as superficially attractive and showily accomplished as they could possibly be made, without present trouble or discomfort to themselves; and I was to act accordingly–to study and strive to amuse and oblige, instruct, refine, and polish, with the least possible exertion on their part, and no exercise of authority on mine. With regard to the two boys, it was much the same; only instead of accomplishments, I was to get the greatest possible quantity of Latin grammar and Valpy’s Delectus into their heads, in order to fit them for school–the greatest possible quantity at least WITHOUT trouble to themselves. John might be a ‘little high- spirited,’ and Charles might be a little ‘nervous and tedious–‘

‘But at all events, Miss Grey,’ said she, ‘I hope YOU will keep your temper, and be mild and patient throughout; especially with the dear little Charles; he is so extremely nervous and susceptible, and so utterly unaccustomed to anything but the tenderest treatment. You will excuse my naming these things to you; for the fact is, I have hitherto found all the governesses, even the very best of them, faulty in this particular. They wanted that meek and quiet spirit, which St. Matthew, or some of them, says is better than the putting on of apparel–you will know the passage to which I allude, for you are a clergyman’s daughter. But I have no doubt you will give satisfaction in this respect as well as the rest. And remember, on all occasions, when any of the young people do anything improper, if persuasion and gentle remonstrance will not do, let one of the others come and tell me; for I can speak to them more plainly than it would be proper for you to do. And make them as happy as you can, Miss Grey, and I dare say you will do very well.’

I observed that while Mrs. Murray was so extremely solicitous for the comfort and happiness of her children, and continually talking about it, she never once mentioned mine; though they were at home, surrounded by friends, and I an alien among strangers; and I did not yet know enough of the world, not to be considerably surprised at this anomaly.

Miss Murray, otherwise Rosalie, was about sixteen when I came, and decidedly a very pretty girl; and in two years longer, as time more completely developed her form and added grace to her carriage and deportment, she became positively beautiful; and that in no common degree. She was tall and slender, yet not thin; perfectly formed, exquisitely fair, though not without a brilliant, healthy bloom; her hair, which she wore in a profusion of long ringlets, was of a very light brown inclining to yellow; her eyes were pale blue, but so clear and bright that few would wish them darker; the rest of her features were small, not quite regular, and not remarkably otherwise: but altogether you could not hesitate to pronounce her a very lovely girl. I wish I could say as much for mind and disposition as I can for her form and face.

Yet think not I have any dreadful disclosures to make: she was lively, light-hearted, and could be very agreeable, with those who did not cross her will. Towards me, when I first came, she was cold and haughty, then insolent and overbearing; but, on a further acquaintance, she gradually laid aside her airs, and in time became as deeply attached to me as it was possible for HER to be to one of my character and position: for she seldom lost sight, for above half an hour at a time, of the fact of my being a hireling and a poor curate’s daughter. And yet, upon the whole, I believe she respected me more than she herself was aware of; because I was the only person in the house who steadily professed good principles, habitually spoke the truth, and generally endeavoured to make inclination bow to duty; and this I say, not, of course, in commendation of myself, but to show the unfortunate state of the family to which my services were, for the present, devoted. There was no member of it in whom I regretted this sad want of principle so much as Miss Murray herself; not only because she had taken a fancy to me, but because there was so much of what was pleasant and prepossessing in herself, that, in spite of her failings, I really liked her–when she did not rouse my indignation, or ruffle my temper by TOO great a display of her faults. These, however, I would fain persuade myself were rather the effect of her education than her disposition: she had never been perfectly taught the distinction between right and wrong; she had, like her brothers and sisters, been suffered, from infancy, to tyrannize over nurses, governesses, and servants; she had not been taught to moderate her desires, to control her temper or bridle her will, or to sacrifice her own pleasure for the good of others. Her temper being naturally good, she was never violent or morose, but from constant indulgence, and habitual scorn of reason, she was often testy and capricious; her mind had never been cultivated: her intellect, at best, was somewhat shallow; she possessed considerable vivacity, some quickness of perception, and some talent for music and the acquisition of languages, but till fifteen she had troubled herself to acquire nothing;–then the love of display had roused her faculties, and induced her to apply herself, but only to the more showy accomplishments. And when I came it was the same: everything was neglected but French, German, music, singing, dancing, fancy-work, and a little drawing–such drawing as might produce the greatest show with the smallest labour, and the principal parts of which were generally done by me. For music and singing, besides my occasional instructions, she had the attendance of the best master the country afforded; and in these accomplishments, as well as in dancing, she certainly attained great proficiency. To music, indeed, she devoted too much of her time, as, governess though I was, I frequently told her; but her mother thought that if SHE liked it, she COULD not give too much time to the acquisition of so attractive an art. Of fancy-work I knew nothing but what I gathered from my pupil and my own observation; but no sooner was I initiated, than she made me useful in twenty different ways: all the tedious parts of her work were shifted on to my shoulders; such as stretching the frames, stitching in the canvas, sorting the wools and silks, putting in the grounds, counting the stitches, rectifying mistakes, and finishing the pieces she was tired of.

At sixteen, Miss Murray was something of a romp, yet not more so than is natural and allowable for a girl of that age, but at seventeen, that propensity, like all other things, began to give way to the ruling passion, and soon was swallowed up in the all- absorbing ambition to attract and dazzle the other sex. But enough of her: now let us turn to her sister.

Miss Matilda Murray was a veritable hoyden, of whom little need be said. She was about two years and a half younger than her sister; her features were larger, her complexion much darker. She might possibly make a handsome woman; but she was far too big-boned and awkward ever to be called a pretty girl, and at present she cared little about it. Rosalie knew all her charms, and thought them even greater than they were, and valued them more highly than she ought to have done, had they been three times as great; Matilda thought she was well enough, but cared little about the matter; still less did she care about the cultivation of her mind, and the acquisition of ornamental accomplishments. The manner in which she learnt her lessons and practised her music was calculated to drive any governess to despair. Short and easy as her tasks were, if done at all, they were slurred over, at any time and in any way; but generally at the least convenient times, and in the way least beneficial to herself, and least satisfactory to me: the short half-hour of practising was horribly strummed through; she, meantime, unsparingly abusing me, either for interrupting her with corrections, or for not rectifying her mistakes before they were made, or something equally unreasonable. Once or twice, I ventured to remonstrate with her seriously for such irrational conduct; but on each of those occasions, I received such reprehensive expostulations from her mother, as convinced me that, if I wished to keep the situation, I must even let Miss Matilda go on in her own way.

When her lessons were over, however, her ill-humour was generally over too: while riding her spirited pony, or romping with the dogs or her brothers and sister, but especially with her dear brother John, she was as happy as a lark. As an animal, Matilda was all right, full of life, vigour, and activity; as an intelligent being, she was barbarously ignorant, indocile, careless and irrational; and, consequently, very distressing to one who had the task of cultivating her understanding, reforming her manners, and aiding her to acquire those ornamental attainments which, unlike her sister, she despised as much as the rest. Her mother was partly aware of her deficiencies, and gave me many a lecture as to how I should try to form her tastes, and endeavour to rouse and cherish her dormant vanity; and, by insinuating, skilful flattery, to win her attention to the desired objects–which I would not do; and how I should prepare and smooth the path of learning till she could glide along it without the least exertion to herself: which I could not, for nothing can be taught to any purpose without some little exertion on the part of the learner.

As a moral agent, Matilda was reckless, headstrong, violent, and unamenable to reason. One proof of the deplorable state of her mind was, that from her father’s example she had learned to swear like a trooper. Her mother was greatly shocked at the ‘unlady-like trick,’ and wondered ‘how she had picked it up.’ ‘But you can soon break her of it, Miss Grey,’ said she: ‘it is only a habit; and if you will just gently remind her every time she does so, I am sure she will soon lay it aside.’ I not only ‘gently reminded’ her, I tried to impress upon her how wrong it was, and how distressing to the ears of decent people: but all in vain: I was only answered by a careless laugh, and, ‘Oh, Miss Grey, how shocked you are! I’m so glad!’ or, ‘Well! I can’t help it; papa shouldn’t have taught me: I learned it all from him; and maybe a bit from the coachman.’

Her brother John, alias Master Murray, was about eleven when I came: a fine, stout, healthy boy, frank and good-natured in the main, and might have been a decent lad had he been properly educated; but now he was as rough as a young bear, boisterous, unruly, unprincipled, untaught, unteachable–at least, for a governess under his mother’s eye. His masters at school might be able to manage him better–for to school he was sent, greatly to my relief, in the course of a year; in a state, it is true, of scandalous ignorance as to Latin, as well as the more useful though more neglected things: and this, doubtless, would all be laid to the account of his education having been entrusted to an ignorant female teacher, who had presumed to take in hand what she was wholly incompetent to perform. I was not delivered from his brother till full twelve months after, when he also was despatched in the same state of disgraceful ignorance as the former.

Master Charles was his mother’s peculiar darling. He was little more than a year younger than John, but much smaller, paler, and less active and robust; a pettish, cowardly, capricious, selfish little fellow, only active in doing mischief, and only clever in inventing falsehoods: not simply to hide his faults, but, in mere malicious wantonness, to bring odium upon others. In fact, Master Charles was a very great nuisance to me: it was a trial of patience to live with him peaceably; to watch over him was worse; and to teach him, or pretend to teach him, was inconceivable. At ten years old, he could not read correctly the easiest line in the simplest book; and as, according to his mother’s principle, he was to be told every word, before he had time to hesitate or examine its orthography, and never even to be informed, as a stimulant to exertion, that other boys were more forward than he, it is not surprising that he made but little progress during the two years I had charge of his education. His minute portions of Latin grammar, &c., were to be repeated over to him, till he chose to say he knew them, and then he was to be helped to say them; if he made mistakes in his little easy sums in arithmetic, they were to be shown him at once, and the sum done for him, instead of his being left to exercise his faculties in finding them out himself; so that, of course, he took no pains to avoid mistakes, but frequently set down his figures at random, without any calculation at all.

I did not invariably confine myself to these rules: it was against my conscience to do so; but I seldom could venture to deviate from them in the slightest degree, without incurring the wrath of my little pupil, and subsequently of his mamma; to whom he would relate my transgressions maliciously exaggerated, or adorned with embellishments of his own; and often, in consequence, was I on the point of losing or resigning my situation. But, for their sakes at home, I smothered my pride and suppressed my indignation, and managed to struggle on till my little tormentor was despatched to school; his father declaring that home education was ‘no go; for him, it was plain; his mother spoiled him outrageously, and his governess could make no hand of him at all.’

A few more observations about Horton Lodge and its ongoings, and I have done with dry description for the present. The house was a very respectable one; superior to Mr. Bloomfield’s, both in age, size, and magnificence: the garden was not so tastefully laid out; but instead of the smooth-shaven lawn, the young trees guarded by palings, the grove of upstart poplars, and the plantation of firs, there was a wide park, stocked with deer, and beautified by fine old trees. The surrounding country itself was pleasant, as far as fertile fields, flourishing trees, quiet green lanes, and smiling hedges with wild-flowers scattered along their banks, could make it; but it was depressingly flat to one born and nurtured among the rugged hills of -.

We were situated nearly two miles from the village church, and, consequently, the family carriage was put in requisition every Sunday morning, and sometimes oftener. Mr. and Mrs. Murray generally thought it sufficient to show themselves at church once in the course of the day; but frequently the children preferred going a second time to wandering about the grounds all the day with nothing to do. If some of my pupils chose to walk and take me with them, it was well for me; for otherwise my position in the carriage was to be crushed into the corner farthest from the open window, and with my back to the horses: a position which invariably made me sick; and if I were not actually obliged to leave the church in the middle of the service, my devotions were disturbed with a feeling of languor and sickliness, and the tormenting fear of its becoming worse: and a depressing headache was generally my companion throughout the day, which would otherwise have been one of welcome rest, and holy, calm enjoyment.

‘It’s very odd, Miss Grey, that the carriage should always make you sick: it never makes ME,’ remarked Miss Matilda,

‘Nor me either,’ said her sister; ‘but I dare say it would, if I sat where she does–such a nasty, horrid place, Miss Grey; I wonder how you can bear it!’

‘I am obliged to bear it, since no choice is left me,’–I might have answered; but in tenderness for their feelings I only replied,–‘Oh! it is but a short way, and if I am not sick in church, I don’t mind it.’

If I were called upon to give a description of the usual divisions and arrangements of the day, I should find it a very difficult matter. I had all my meals in the schoolroom with my pupils, at such times as suited their fancy: sometimes they would ring for dinner before it was half cooked; sometimes they would keep it waiting on the table for above an hour, and then be out of humour because the potatoes were cold, and the gravy covered with cakes of solid fat; sometimes they would have tea at four; frequently, they would storm at the servants because it was not in precisely at five; and when these orders were obeyed, by way of encouragement to punctuality, they would keep it on the table till seven or eight.

Their hours of study were managed in much the same way; my judgment or convenience was never once consulted. Sometimes Matilda and John would determine ‘to get all the plaguy business over before breakfast,’ and send the maid to call me up at half-past five, without any scruple or apology; sometimes, I was told to be ready precisely at six, and, having dressed in a hurry, came down to an empty room, and after waiting a long time in suspense, discovered that they had changed their minds, and were still in bed; or, perhaps, if it were a fine summer morning, Brown would come to tell me that the young ladies and gentlemen had taken a holiday, and were gone out; and then I was kept waiting for breakfast till I was almost ready to faint: they having fortified themselves with something before they went.

Often they would do their lessons in the open air; which I had nothing to say against: except that I frequently caught cold by sitting on the damp grass, or from exposure to the evening dew, or some insidious draught, which seemed to have no injurious effect on them. It was quite right that they should be hardy; yet, surely, they might have been taught some consideration for others who were less so. But I must not blame them for what was, perhaps, my own fault; for I never made any particular objections to sitting where they pleased; foolishly choosing to risk the consequences, rather than trouble them for my convenience. Their indecorous manner of doing their lessons was quite as remarkable as the caprice displayed in their choice of time and place. While receiving my instructions, or repeating what they had learned, they would lounge upon the sofa, lie on the rug, stretch, yawn, talk to each other, or look out of the window; whereas, I could not so much as stir the fire, or pick up the handkerchief I had dropped, without being rebuked for inattention by one of my pupils, or told that ‘mamma would not like me to be so careless.’

The servants, seeing in what little estimation the governess was held by both parents and children, regulated their behaviour by the same standard. I have frequently stood up for them, at the risk of some injury to myself, against the tyranny and injustice of their young masters and mistresses; and I always endeavoured to give them as little trouble as possible: but they entirely neglected my comfort, despised my requests, and slighted my directions. All servants, I am convinced, would not have done so; but domestics in general, being ignorant and little accustomed to reason and reflection, are too easily corrupted by the carelessness and bad example of those above them; and these, I think, were not of the best order to begin with.

I sometimes felt myself degraded by the life I led, and ashamed of submitting to so many indignities; and sometimes I thought myself a fool for caring so much about them, and feared I must be sadly wanting in Christian humility, or that charity which ‘suffereth long and is kind, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, beareth all things, endureth all things.’

But, with time and patience, matters began to be slightly ameliorated: slowly, it is true, and almost imperceptibly; but I got rid of my male pupils (that was no trifling advantage), and the girls, as I intimated before concerning one of them, became a little less insolent, and began to show some symptoms of esteem. ‘Miss Grey was a queer creature: she never flattered, and did not praise them half enough; but whenever she did speak favourably of them, or anything belonging to them, they could be quite sure her approbation was sincere. She was very obliging, quiet, and peaceable in the main, but there were some things that put her out of temper: they did not much care for that, to be sure, but still it was better to keep her in tune; as when she was in a good humour she would talk to them, and be very agreeable and amusing sometimes, in her way; which was quite different to mamma’s, but still very well for a change. She had her own opinions on every subject, and kept steadily to them–very tiresome opinions they often were; as she was always thinking of what was right and what was wrong, and had a strange reverence for matters connected with religion, and an unaccountable liking to good people.’

CHAPTER VIII–THE ‘COMING OUT’

At eighteen, Miss Murray was to emerge from the quiet obscurity of the schoolroom into the full blaze of the fashionable world–as much of it, at least, as could be had out of London; for her papa could not be persuaded to leave his rural pleasures and pursuits, even for a few weeks’ residence in town. She was to make her debut on the third of January, at a magnificent ball, which her mamma proposed to give to all the nobility and choice gentry of O— and its neighbourhood for twenty miles round. Of course, she looked forward to it with the wildest impatience, and the most extravagant anticipations of delight.

‘Miss Grey,’ said she, one evening, a month before the all- important day, as I was perusing a long and extremely interesting letter of my sister’s–which I had just glanced at in the morning to see that it contained no very bad news, and kept till now, unable before to find a quiet moment for reading it,–‘Miss Grey, do put away that dull, stupid letter, and listen to me! I’m sure my talk must be far more amusing than that.’

She seated herself on the low stool at my feet; and I, suppressing a sigh of vexation, began to fold up the epistle.

‘You should tell the good people at home not to bore you with such long letters,’ said she; ‘and, above all, do bid them write on proper note-paper, and not on those great vulgar sheets. You should see the charming little lady-like notes mamma writes to her friends.’

‘The good people at home,’ replied I, ‘know very well that the longer their letters are, the better I like them. I should be very sorry to receive a charming little lady-like note from any of them; and I thought you were too much of a lady yourself, Miss Murray, to talk about the “vulgarity” of writing on a large sheet of paper.’

‘Well, I only said it to tease you. But now I want to talk about the ball; and to tell you that you positively must put off your holidays till it is over.’

‘Why so?–I shall not be present at the ball.’

‘No, but you will see the rooms decked out before it begins, and hear the music, and, above all, see me in my splendid new dress. I shall be so charming, you’ll be ready to worship me–you really must stay.’

‘I should like to see you very much; but I shall have many opportunities of seeing you equally charming, on the occasion of some of the numberless balls and parties that are to be, and I cannot disappoint my friends by postponing my return so long.’

‘Oh, never mind your friends! Tell them we won’t let you go.’

‘But, to say the truth, it would be a disappointment to myself: I long to see them as much as they to see me–perhaps more.’

‘Well, but it is such a short time.’

‘Nearly a fortnight by my computation; and, besides, I cannot bear the thoughts of a Christmas spent from home: and, moreover, my sister is going to be married.’

‘Is she–when?’

‘Not till next month; but I want to be there to assist her in making preparations, and to make the best of her company while we have her.’

‘Why didn’t you tell me before?’

‘I’ve only got the news in this letter, which you stigmatize as dull and stupid, and won’t let me read.’

‘To whom is she to be married?’

‘To Mr. Richardson, the vicar of a neighbouring parish.’

‘Is he rich?’

‘No; only comfortable.’

‘Is he handsome?’

‘No; only decent.’

‘Young?’

‘No; only middling.’

‘Oh, mercy! what a wretch! What sort of a house is it?’

‘A quiet little vicarage, with an ivy-clad porch, an old-fashioned garden, and–‘

‘Oh, stop!–you’ll make me sick. How CAN she bear it?’

‘I expect she’ll not only be able to bear it, but to be very happy. You did not ask me if Mr. Richardson were a good, wise, or amiable man; I could have answered Yes, to all these questions–at least so Mary thinks, and I hope she will not find herself mistaken.’

‘But–miserable creature! how can she think of spending her life there, cooped up with that nasty old man; and no hope of change?’

‘He is not old: he’s only six or seven and thirty; and she herself is twenty-eight, and as sober as if she were fifty.’

‘Oh! that’s better then–they’re well matched; but do they call him the “worthy vicar”?’

‘I don’t know; but if they do, I believe he merits the epithet.’

‘Mercy, how shocking! and will she wear a white apron and make pies and puddings?’

‘I don’t know about the white apron, but I dare say she will make pies and puddings now and then; but that will be no great hardship, as she has done it before.’

‘And will she go about in a plain shawl, and a large straw bonnet, carrying tracts and bone soup to her husband’s poor parishioners?’

‘I’m not clear about that; but I dare say she will do her best to make them comfortable in body and mind, in accordance with our mother’s example.’

CHAPTER IX–THE BALL

‘Now, Miss Grey,’ exclaimed Miss Murray, immediately I entered the schoolroom, after having taken off my outdoor garments, upon returning from my four weeks’ recreation, ‘Now–shut the door, and sit down, and I’ll tell you all about the ball.’

‘No–damn it, no!’ shouted Miss Matilda. ‘Hold your tongue, can’t ye? and let me tell her about my new mare–SUCH a splendour, Miss Grey! a fine blood mare–‘

‘Do be quiet, Matilda; and let me tell my news first.’

‘No, no, Rosalie; you’ll be such a damned long time over it–she shall hear me first–I’ll be hanged if she doesn’t!’

‘I’m sorry to hear, Miss Matilda, that you’ve not got rid of that shocking habit yet.’

‘Well, I can’t help it: but I’ll never say a wicked word again, if you’ll only listen to me, and tell Rosalie to hold her confounded tongue.’

Rosalie remonstrated, and I thought I should have been torn in pieces between them; but Miss Matilda having the loudest voice, her sister at length gave in, and suffered her to tell her story first: so I was doomed to hear a long account of her splendid mare, its breeding and pedigree, its paces, its action, its spirit, &c., and of her own amazing skill and courage in riding it; concluding with an assertion that she could clear a five-barred gate ‘like winking,’ that papa said she might hunt the next time the hounds met, and mamma had ordered a bright scarlet hunting-habit for her.

‘Oh, Matilda! what stories you are telling!’ exclaimed her sister.

‘Well,’ answered she, no whit abashed, ‘I know I COULD clear a five-barred gate, if I tried, and papa WILL say I may hunt, and mamma WILL order the habit when I ask it.’

‘Well, now get along,’ replied Miss Murray; ‘and do, dear Matilda, try to be a little more lady-like. Miss Grey, I wish you would tell her not to use such shocking words; she will call her horse a mare: it is so inconceivably shocking! and then she uses such dreadful expressions in describing it: she must have learned it from the grooms. It nearly puts me into fits when she begins.’

‘I learned it from papa, you ass! and his jolly friends,’ said the young lady, vigorously cracking a hunting-whip, which she habitually carried in her hand. ‘I’m as good judge of horseflesh as the best of ‘m.’

‘Well, now get along, you shocking girl! I really shall take a fit if you go on in such a way. And now, Miss Grey, attend to me; I’m going to tell you about the ball. You must be dying to hear about it, I know. Oh, SUCH a ball! You never saw or heard, or read, or dreamt of anything like it in all your life. The decorations, the entertainment, the supper, the music were indescribable! and then the guests! There were two noblemen, three baronets, and five titled ladies, and other ladies and gentlemen innumerable. The ladies, of course, were of no consequence to me, except to put me in a good humour with myself, by showing how ugly and awkward most of them were; and the best, mamma told me,–the most transcendent beauties among them, were nothing to me. As for me, Miss Grey–I’m so SORRY you didn’t see me! I was CHARMING–wasn’t I, Matilda?’

‘Middling.’

‘No, but I really was–at least so mamma said–and Brown and Williamson. Brown said she was sure no gentleman could set eyes on me without falling in love that minute; and so I may be allowed to be a little vain. I know you think me a shocking, conceited, frivolous girl; but then, you know, I don’t attribute it ALL to my personal attractions: I give some praise to the hairdresser, and some to my exquisitely lovely dress–you must see it to-morrow– white gauze over pink satin–and so SWEETLY made! and a necklace and bracelet of beautiful, large pearls!’

‘I have no doubt you looked very charming: but should that delight you so very much?’

‘Oh, no!–not that alone: but, then, I was so much admired; and I made so MANY conquests in that one night–you’d be astonished to hear–‘

‘But what good will they do you?’

‘What good! Think of any woman asking that!’

‘Well, I should think one conquest would be enough; and too much, unless the subjugation were mutual.’

‘Oh, but you know I never agree with you on those points. Now, wait a bit, and I’ll tell you my principal admirers–those who made themselves very conspicuous that night and after: for I’ve been to two parties since. Unfortunately the two noblemen, Lord G— and Lord F—, were married, or I might have condescended to be particularly gracious to THEM; as it was, I did not: though Lord F—, who hates his wife, was evidently much struck with me. He asked me to dance with him twice–he is a charming dancer, by-the- by, and so am I: you can’t think how well I did–I was astonished at myself. My lord was very complimentary too–rather too much so in fact–and I thought proper to be a little haughty and repellent; but I had the pleasure of seeing his nasty, cross wife ready to perish with spite and vexation–‘

‘Oh, Miss Murray! you don’t mean to say that such a thing could really give you pleasure? However cross or–‘

‘Well, I know it’s very wrong;–but never mind! I mean to be good some time–only don’t preach now, there’s a good creature. I haven’t told you half yet. Let me see. Oh! I was going to tell you how many unmistakeable admirers I had:- Sir Thomas Ashby was one,–Sir Hugh Meltham and Sir Broadley Wilson are old codgers, only fit companions for papa and mamma. Sir Thomas is young, rich, and gay; but an ugly beast, nevertheless: however, mamma says I should not mind that after a few months’ acquaintance. Then, there was Henry Meltham, Sir Hugh’s younger son; rather good-looking, and a pleasant fellow to flirt with: but BEING a younger son, that is all he is good for; then there was young Mr. Green, rich enough, but of no family, and a great stupid fellow, a mere country booby! and then, our good rector, Mr. Hatfield: an HUMBLE admirer he ought to consider himself; but I fear he has forgotten to number humility among his stock of Christian virtues.’

‘Was Mr. Hatfield at the ball?’

‘Yes, to be sure. Did you think he was too good to go?’

‘I thought be might consider it unclerical.’

‘By no means. He did not profane his cloth by dancing; but it was with difficulty he could refrain, poor man: he looked as if he were dying to ask my hand just for ONE set; and–oh! by-the-by– he’s got a new curate: that seedy old fellow Mr. Bligh has got his long-wished-for living at last, and is gone.’

‘And what is the new one like?’

‘Oh, SUCH a beast! Weston his name is. I can give you his description in three words–an insensate, ugly, stupid blockhead. That’s four, but no matter–enough of HIM now.’

Then she returned to the ball, and gave me a further account of her deportment there, and at the several parties she had since attended; and further particulars respecting Sir Thomas Ashby and Messrs. Meltham, Green, and Hatfield, and the ineffaceable impression she had wrought upon each of them.

‘Well, which of the four do you like best?’ said I, suppressing my third or fourth yawn.

‘I detest them all!’ replied she, shaking her bright ringlets in vivacious scorn.

‘That means, I suppose, “I like them all”–but which most?’

‘No, I really detest them all; but Harry Meltham is the handsomest and most amusing, and Mr. Hatfield the cleverest, Sir Thomas the wickedest, and Mr. Green the most stupid. But the one I’m to have, I suppose, if I’m doomed to have any of them, is Sir Thomas Ashby.’

‘Surely not, if he’s so wicked, and if you dislike him?’

‘Oh, I don’t mind his being wicked: he’s all the better for that; and as for disliking him–I shouldn’t greatly object to being Lady Ashby of Ashby Park, if I must marry. But if I could be always young, I would be always single. I should like to enjoy myself thoroughly, and coquet with all the world, till I am on the verge of being called an old maid; and then, to escape the infamy of that, after having made ten thousand conquests, to break all their hearts save one, by marrying some high-born, rich, indulgent husband, whom, on the other hand, fifty ladies were dying to have.’

‘Well, as long as you entertain these views, keep single by all means, and never marry at all: not even to escape the infamy of old-maidenhood.’

CHAPTER X–THE CHURCH

‘Well, Miss Grey, what do you think of the new curate?’ asked Miss Murray, on our return from church the Sunday after the recommencement of our duties.

‘I can scarcely tell,’ was my reply: ‘I have not even heard him preach.’

‘Well, but you saw him, didn’t you?’

‘Yes, but I cannot pretend to judge of a man’s character by a single cursory glance at his face.’

‘But isn’t he ugly?’

‘He did not strike me as being particularly so; I don’t dislike that cast of countenance: but the only thing I particularly noticed about him was his style of reading; which appeared to me good–infinitely better, at least, than Mr. Hatfield’s. He read the Lessons as if he were bent on giving full effect to every passage; it seemed as if the most careless person could not have helped attending, nor the most ignorant have failed to understand; and the prayers he read as if he were not reading at all, but praying earnestly and sincerely from his own heart.’

‘Oh, yes, that’s all he is good for: he can plod through the service well enough; but he has not a single idea beyond it.’

‘How do you know?’

‘Oh! I know perfectly well; I am an excellent judge in such matters. Did you see how he went out of church? stumping along–as if there were nobody there but himself–never looking to the right hand or the left, and evidently thinking of nothing but just getting out of the church, and, perhaps, home to his dinner: his great stupid head could contain no other idea.’

‘I suppose you would have had him cast a glance into the squire’s pew,’ said I, laughing at the vehemence of her hostility.

‘Indeed! I should have been highly indignant if he had dared to do such a thing!’ replied she, haughtily tossing her head; then, after a moment’s reflection, she added–‘Well, well! I suppose he’s good enough for his place: but I’m glad I’m not dependent on HIM for amusement–that’s all. Did you see how Mr. Hatfield hurried out to get a bow from me, and be in time to put us into the carriage?’

‘Yes,’ answered I; internally adding, ‘and I thought it somewhat derogatory to his dignity as a clergyman to come flying from the pulpit in such eager haste to shake hands with the squire, and hand his wife and daughters into their carriage: and, moreover, I owe him a grudge for nearly shutting me out of it’; for, in fact, though I was standing before his face, close beside the carriage steps, waiting to get in, he would persist in putting them up and closing the door, till one of the family stopped him by calling out that the governess was not in yet; then, without a word of apology, he departed, wishing them good-morning, and leaving the footman to finish the business.

Nota bene.–Mr. Hatfield never spoke to me, neither did Sir Hugh or Lady Meltham, nor Mr. Harry or Miss Meltham, nor Mr. Green or his sisters, nor any other lady or gentleman who frequented that church: nor, in fact, any one that visited at Horton Lodge.

Miss Murray ordered the carriage again, in the afternoon, for herself and her sister: she said it was too cold for them to enjoy themselves in the garden; and besides, she believed Harry Meltham would be at church. ‘For,’ said she, smiling slyly at her own fair image in the glass, ‘he has been a most exemplary attendant at church these last few Sundays: you would think he was quite a good Christian. And you may go with us, Miss Grey: I want you to see him; he is so greatly improved since he returned from abroad–you can’t think! And besides, then you will have an opportunity of seeing the beautiful Mr. Weston again, and of hearing him preach.’

I did hear him preach, and was decidedly pleased with the evangelical truth of his doctrine, as well as the earnest simplicity of his manner, and the clearness and force of his style. It was truly refreshing to hear such a sermon, after being so long accustomed to the dry, prosy discourses of the former curate, and the still less edifying harangues of the rector. Mr. Hatfield would come sailing up the aisle, or rather sweeping along like a whirlwind, with his rich silk gown flying behind him and rustling against the pew doors, mount the pulpit like a conqueror ascending his triumphal car; then, sinking on the velvet cushion in an attitude of studied grace, remain in silent prostration for a certain time; then mutter over a Collect, and gabble through the Lord’s Prayer, rise, draw off one bright lavender glove, to give the congregation the benefit of his sparkling rings, lightly pass his fingers through his well-curled hair, flourish a cambric handkerchief, recite a very short passage, or, perhaps, a mere phrase of Scripture, as a head-piece to his discourse, and, finally, deliver a composition which, as a composition, might be considered good, though far too studied and too artificial to be pleasing to me: the propositions were well laid down, the arguments logically conducted; and yet, it was sometimes hard to listen quietly throughout, without some slight demonstrations of disapproval or impatience.

His favourite subjects were church discipline, rites and ceremonies, apostolical succession, the duty of reverence and obedience to the clergy, the atrocious criminality of dissent, the absolute necessity of observing all the forms of godliness, the reprehensible presumption of individuals who attempted to think for themselves in matters connected with religion, or to be guided by their own interpretations of Scripture, and, occasionally (to please his wealthy parishioners) the necessity of deferential obedience from the poor to the rich–supporting his maxims and exhortations throughout with quotations from the Fathers: with whom he appeared to be far better acquainted than with the Apostles and Evangelists, and whose importance he seemed to consider at least equal to theirs. But now and then he gave us a sermon of a different order–what some would call a very good one; but sunless and severe: representing the Deity as a terrible taskmaster rather than a benevolent father. Yet, as I listened, I felt inclined to think the man was sincere in all he said: he must have changed his views, and become decidedly religious, gloomy and austere, yet still devout. But such illusions were usually dissipated, on coming out of church, by hearing his voice in jocund colloquy with some of the Melthams or Greens, or, perhaps, the Murrays themselves; probably laughing at his own sermon, and hoping that he had given the rascally people something to think about; perchance, exulting in the thought that old Betty Holmes would now lay aside the sinful indulgence of her pipe, which had been her daily solace for upwards of thirty years: that George Higgins would be frightened out of his Sabbath evening walks, and Thomas Jackson would be sorely troubled in his conscience, and shaken in his sure and certain hope of a joyful resurrection at the last day.

Thus, I could not but conclude that Mr. Hatfield was one of those who ‘bind heavy burdens, and grievous to be borne, and lay them upon men’s shoulders, while they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers’; and who ‘make the word of God of none effect by their traditions, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.’ I was well pleased to observe that the new curate resembled him, as far as I could see, in none of these particulars.

‘Well, Miss Grey, what do you think of him now?’ said Miss Murray, as we took our places in the carriage after service.

‘No harm still,’ replied I.

‘No harm!’ repeated she in amazement. ‘What do you mean?’

‘I mean, I think no worse of him than I did before.’

‘No worse! I should think not indeed–quite the contrary! Is he not greatly improved?’

‘Oh, yes; very much indeed,’ replied I; for I had now discovered that it was Harry Meltham she meant, not Mr. Weston. That gentleman had eagerly come forward to speak to the young ladies: a thing he would hardly have ventured to do had their mother been present; he had likewise politely handed them into the carriage. He had not attempted to shut me out, like Mr. Hatfield; neither, of course, had he offered me his assistance (I should not have accepted it, if he had), but as long as the door remained open he had stood smirking and chatting with them, and then lifted his hat and departed to his own abode: but I had scarcely noticed him all the time. My companions, however, had been more observant; and, as we rolled along, they discussed between them not only his looks, words, and actions, but every feature of his face, and every article of his apparel.

‘You shan’t have him all to yourself, Rosalie,’ said Miss Matilda at the close of this discussion; ‘I like him: I know he’d make a nice, jolly companion for me.’

‘Well, you’re quite welcome to him, Matilda,’ replied her sister, in a tone of affected indifference.

‘And I’m sure,’ continued the other, ‘he admires me quite as much as he does you; doesn’t he, Miss Grey?’

‘I don’t know; I’m not acquainted with his sentiments.’

‘Well, but he DOES though.’

‘My DEAR Matilda! nobody will ever admire you till you get rid of your rough, awkward manners.’

‘Oh, stuff! Harry Meltham likes such manners; and so do papa’s friends.’

‘Well, you MAY captivate old men, and younger sons; but nobody else, I am sure, will ever take a fancy to you.’

‘I don’t care: I’m not always grabbing after money, like you and mamma. If my husband is able to keep a few good horses and dogs, I shall be quite satisfied; and all the rest may go to the devil!’

‘Well, if you use such shocking expressions, I’m sure no real gentleman will ever venture to come near you. Really, Miss Grey, you should not let her do so.’

‘I can’t possibly prevent it, Miss Murray.’

‘And you’re quite mistaken, Matilda, in supposing that Harry Meltham admires you: I assure you he does nothing of the kind.’

Matilda was beginning an angry reply; but, happily, our journey was now at an end; and the contention was cut short by the footman opening the carriage-door, and letting down the steps for our descent.

CHAPTER XI–THE COTTAGERS

As I had now only one regular pupil–though she contrived to give me as much trouble as three or four ordinary ones, and though her sister still took lessons in German and drawing–I had considerably more time at my own disposal than I had ever been blessed with before, since I had taken upon me the governess’s yoke; which time I devoted partly to correspondence with my friends, partly to reading, study, and the practice of music, singing, &c., partly to wandering in the grounds or adjacent fields, with my pupils if they wanted me, alone if they did not.

Often, when they had no more agreeable occupation at hand, the Misses Murray would amuse themselves with visiting the poor cottagers on their father’s estate, to receive their flattering homage, or to hear the old stories or gossiping news of the garrulous old women; or, perhaps, to enjoy the purer pleasure of making the poor people happy with their cheering presence and their occasional gifts, so easily bestowed, so thankfully received. Sometimes, I was called upon to accompany one or both of the sisters in these visits; and sometimes I was desired to go alone, to fulfil some promise which they had been more ready to make than to perform; to carry some small donation, or read to one who was sick or seriously disposed: and thus I made a few acquaintances among the cottagers; and, occasionally, I went to see them on my own account.

I generally had more satisfaction in going alone than with either of the young ladies; for they, chiefly owing to their defective education, comported themselves towards their inferiors in a manner that was highly disagreeable for me to witness. They never, in thought, exchanged places with them; and, consequently, had no consideration for their feelings, regarding them as an order of beings entirely different from themselves. They would watch the poor creatures at their meals, making uncivil remarks about their food, and their manner of eating; they would laugh at their simple notions and provincial expressions, till some of them scarcely durst venture to speak; they would call the grave elderly men and women old fools and silly old blockheads to their faces: and all this without meaning to offend. I could see that the people were often hurt and annoyed by such conduct, though their fear of the ‘grand ladies’ prevented them from testifying any resentment; but THEY never perceived it. They thought that, as these cottagers were poor and untaught, they must be stupid and brutish; and as long as they, their superiors, condescended to talk to them, and to give them shillings and half-crowns, or articles of clothing, they had a right to amuse themselves, even at their expense; and the people must adore them as angels of light, condescending to minister to their necessities, and enlighten their humble dwellings.

I made many and various attempts to deliver my pupils from these delusive notions without alarming their pride–which was easily offended, and not soon appeased–but with little apparent result; and I know not which was the more reprehensible of the two: Matilda was more rude and boisterous; but from Rosalie’s womanly age and lady-like exterior better things were expected: yet she was as provokingly careless and inconsiderate as a giddy child of twelve.

One bright day in the last week of February, I was walking in the park, enjoying the threefold luxury of solitude, a book, and pleasant weather; for Miss Matilda had set out on her daily ride, and Miss Murray was gone in the carriage with her mamma to pay some morning calls. But it struck me that I ought to leave these selfish pleasures, and the park with its glorious canopy of bright blue sky, the west wind sounding through its yet leafless branches, the snow-wreaths still lingering in its hollows, but melting fast beneath the sun, and the graceful deer browsing on its moist herbage already assuming the freshness and verdure of spring–and go to the cottage of one Nancy Brown, a widow, whose son was at work all day in the fields, and who was afflicted with an inflammation in the eyes; which had for some time incapacitated her from reading: to her own great grief, for she was a woman of a serious, thoughtful turn of mind. I accordingly went, and found her alone, as usual, in her little, close, dark cottage, redolent of smoke and confined air, but as tidy and clean as she could make it. She was seated beside her little fire (consisting of a few red cinders and a bit of stick), busily knitting, with a small sackcloth cushion at her feet, placed for the accommodation of her gentle friend the cat, who was seated thereon, with her long tail half encircling her velvet paws, and her half-closed eyes dreamily gazing on the low, crooked fender.

‘Well, Nancy, how are you to-day?’

‘Why, middling, Miss, i’ myseln–my eyes is no better, but I’m a deal easier i’ my mind nor I have been,’ replied she, rising to welcome me with a contented smile; which I was glad to see, for Nancy had been somewhat afflicted with religious melancholy. I congratulated her upon the change. She agreed that it was a great blessing, and expressed herself ‘right down thankful for it’; adding, ‘If it please God to spare my sight, and make me so as I can read my Bible again, I think I shall be as happy as a queen.’

‘I hope He will, Nancy,’ replied I; ‘and, meantime, I’ll come and read to you now and then, when I have a little time to spare.’

With expressions of grateful pleasure, the poor woman moved to get me a chair; but, as I saved her the trouble, she busied herself with stirring the fire, and adding a few more sticks to the decaying embers; and then, taking her well-used Bible from the shelf, dusted it carefully, and gave it me. On my asking if there was any particular part she should like me to read, she answered –

‘Well, Miss Grey, if it’s all the same to you, I should like to hear that chapter in the First Epistle of St. John, that says, “God is love, and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.”‘

With a little searching, I found these words in the fourth chapter. When I came to the seventh verse she interrupted me, and, with needless apologies for such a liberty, desired me to read it very slowly, that she might take it all in, and dwell on every word; hoping I would excuse her, as she was but a ‘simple body.’

‘The wisest person,’ I replied, ‘might think over each of these verses for an hour, and be all the better for it; and I would rather read them slowly than not.’

Accordingly, I finished the chapter as slowly as need be, and at the same time as impressively as I could; my auditor listened most attentively all the while, and sincerely thanked me when I had done. I sat still about half a minute to give her time to reflect upon it; when, somewhat to my surprise, she broke the pause by asking me how I liked Mr. Weston?

‘I don’t know,’ I replied, a little startled by the suddenness of the question; ‘I think he preaches very well.’

‘Ay, he does so; and talks well too.’

‘Does he?’

‘He does. Maybe, you haven’t seen him–not to talk to him much, yet?’

‘No, I never see any one to talk to–except the young ladies of the Hall.’

‘Ah; they’re nice, kind young ladies; but they can’t talk as he does.’

‘Then he comes to see you, Nancy?’

‘He does, Miss; and I’se thankful for it. He comes to see all us poor bodies a deal ofter nor Maister Bligh, or th’ Rector ever did; an’ it’s well he does, for he’s always welcome: we can’t say as much for th’ Rector–there is ‘at says they’re fair feared on him. When he comes into a house, they say he’s sure to find summut wrong, and begin a-calling ’em as soon as he crosses th’ doorstuns: but maybe he thinks it his duty like to tell ’em what’s wrong. And very oft he comes o’ purpose to reprove folk for not coming to church, or not kneeling an’ standing when other folk does, or going to the Methody chapel, or summut o’ that sort: but I can’t say ‘at he ever fund much fault wi’ me. He came to see me once or twice, afore Maister Weston come, when I was so ill troubled in my mind; and as I had only very poor health besides, I made bold to send for him–and he came right enough. I was sore distressed, Miss Grey– thank God, it’s owered now–but when I took my Bible, I could get no comfort of it at all. That very chapter ‘at you’ve just been reading troubled me as much as aught–“He that loveth not, knoweth not God.” It seemed fearsome to me; for I felt that I loved neither God nor man as I should do, and could not, if I tried ever so. And th’ chapter afore, where it says,–“He that is born of God cannot commit sin.” And another place where it says,–“Love is the fulfilling of the Law.” And many, many others, Miss: I should fair weary you out, if I was to tell them all. But all seemed to condemn me, and to show me ‘at I was not in the right way; and as I knew not how to get into it, I sent our Bill to beg Maister Hatfield to be as kind as look in on me some day and when he came, I telled him all my troubles.’

‘And what did he say, Nancy?’

‘Why, Miss, he seemed to scorn me. I might be mista’en–but he like gave a sort of a whistle, and I saw a bit of a smile on his face; and he said, “Oh, it’s all stuff! You’ve been among the Methodists, my good woman.” But I telled him I’d never been near the Methodies. And then he said,–“Well,” says he, “you must come to church, where you’ll hear the Scriptures properly explained, instead of sitting poring over your Bible at home.”

‘But I telled him I always used coming to church when I had my health; but this very cold winter weather I hardly durst venture so far–and me so bad wi’ th’ rheumatic and all.

‘But he says, “It’ll do your rheumatiz good to hobble to church: there’s nothing like exercise for the rheumatiz. You can walk about the house well enough; why can’t you walk to church? The fact is,” says he, “you’re getting too fond of your ease. It’s always easy to find excuses for shirking one’s duty.”

‘But then, you know, Miss Grey, it wasn’t so. However, I telled him I’d try. “But please, sir,” says I, “if I do go to church, what the better shall I be? I want to have my sins blotted out, and to feel that they are remembered no more against me, and that the love of God is shed abroad in my heart; and if I can get no good by reading my Bible an’ saying my prayers at home, what good shall I get by going to church?”‘

‘”The church,” says he, “is the place appointed by God for His worship. It’s your duty to go there as often as you can. If you want comfort, you must seek it in the path of duty,”–an’ a deal more he said, but I cannot remember all his fine words. However, it all came to this, that I was to come to church as oft as ever I could, and bring my prayer-book with me, an’ read up all the sponsers after the clerk, an’ stand, an’ kneel, an’ sit, an’ do all as I should, and take the Lord’s Supper at every opportunity, an’ hearken his sermons, and Maister Bligh’s, an’ it ‘ud be all right: if I went on doing my duty, I should get a blessing at last.

‘”But if you get no comfort that way,” says he, “it’s all up.”

‘”Then, sir,” says I, “should you think I’m a reprobate?”

‘”Why,” says he–he says, “if you do your best to get to heaven and can’t manage it, you must be one of those that seek to enter in at the strait gate and shall not be able.”

‘An’ then he asked me if I’d seen any of the ladies o’ th’ Hall about that mornin’; so I telled him where I had seen the young misses go on th’ Moss Lane;–an’ he kicked my poor cat right across th’ floor, an’ went after ’em as gay as a lark: but I was very sad. That last word o’ his fair sunk into my heart, an’ lay there like a lump o’ lead, till I was weary to bear it.

‘Howsever, I follered his advice: I thought he meant it all for th’ best, though he HAD a queer way with him. But you know, Miss, he’s rich an’ young, and such like cannot right understand the thoughts of a poor old woman such as me. But, howsever, I did my best to do all as he bade me–but maybe I’m plaguing you, Miss, wi’ my chatter.’

‘Oh, no, Nancy! Go on, and tell me all.’

‘Well, my rheumatiz got better–I know not whether wi’ going to church or not, but one frosty Sunday I got this cold i’ my eyes. Th’ inflammation didn’t come on all at once like, but bit by bit– but I wasn’t going to tell you about my eyes, I was talking about my trouble o’ mind;–and to tell the truth, Miss Grey, I don’t think it was anyways eased by coming to church–nought to speak on, at least: I like got my health better; but that didn’t mend my soul. I hearkened and hearkened the ministers, and read an’ read at my prayer-book; but it was all like sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal: the sermons I couldn’t understand, an’ th’ prayer-book only served to show me how wicked I was, that I could read such good words an’ never be no better for it, and oftens feel it a sore labour an’ a heavy task beside, instead of a blessing and a privilege as all good Christians does. It seemed like as all were barren an’ dark to me. And then, them dreadful words, “Many shall seek to enter in, and shall not be able.” They like as they fair dried up my sperrit.

‘But one Sunday, when Maister Hatfield gave out about the sacrament, I noticed where he said, “If there be any of you that cannot quiet his own conscience, but requireth further comfort or counsel, let him come to me, or some other discreet and learned minister of God’s word, and open his grief!” So next Sunday morning, afore service, I just looked into the vestry, an’ began a- talking to th’ Rector again. I hardly could fashion to take such a liberty, but I thought when my soul was at stake I shouldn’t stick at a trifle. But he said he hadn’t time to attend to me then.

‘”And, indeed,” says he, “I’ve nothing to say to you but what I’ve said before. Take the sacrament, of course, and go on doing your duty; and if that won’t serve you, nothing will. So don’t bother me any more.”

‘So then, I went away. But I heard Maister Weston–Maister Weston was there, Miss–this was his first Sunday at Horton, you know, an’ he was i’ th’ vestry in his surplice, helping th’ Rector on with his gown–‘

‘Yes, Nancy.’

‘And I heard him ask Maister Hatfield who I was, an’ he says, “Oh, she’s a canting old fool.”

‘And I was very ill grieved, Miss Grey; but I went to my seat, and I tried to do my duty as aforetime: but I like got no peace. An’ I even took the sacrament; but I felt as though I were eating and drinking to my own damnation all th’ time. So I went home, sorely troubled.

‘But next day, afore I’d gotten fettled up–for indeed, Miss, I’d no heart to sweeping an’ fettling, an’ washing pots; so I sat me down i’ th’ muck–who should come in but Maister Weston! I started siding stuff then, an’ sweeping an’ doing; and I expected he’d begin a-calling me for my idle ways, as Maister Hatfield would a’ done; but I was mista’en: he only bid me good-mornin’ like, in a quiet dacent way. So I dusted him a chair, an’ fettled up th’ fireplace a bit; but I hadn’t forgotten th’ Rector’s words, so says I, “I wonder, sir, you should give yourself that trouble, to come so far to see a ‘canting old fool,’ such as me.”

‘He seemed taken aback at that; but he would fain persuade me ‘at the Rector was only in jest; and when that wouldn’t do, he says, “Well, Nancy, you shouldn’t think so much about it: Mr. Hatfield was a little out of humour just then: you know we’re none of us perfect–even Moses spoke unadvisedly with his lips. But now sit down a minute, if you can spare the time, and tell me all your doubts and fears; and I’ll try to remove them.”

‘So I sat me down anent him. He was quite a stranger, you know, Miss Grey, and even YOUNGER nor Maister Hatfield, I believe; and I had thought him not so pleasant-looking as him, and rather a bit crossish, at first, to look at; but he spake so civil like–and when th’ cat, poor thing, jumped on to his knee, he only stroked her, and gave a bit of a smile: so I thought that was a good sign; for once, when she did so to th’ Rector, he knocked her off, like as it might be in scorn and anger, poor thing. But you can’t expect a cat to know manners like a Christian, you know, Miss Grey.’

‘No; of course not, Nancy. But what did Mr. Weston say then?’

‘He said nought; but he listened to me as steady an’ patient as could be, an’ never a bit o’ scorn about him; so I went on, an’ telled him all, just as I’ve telled you–an’ more too.

‘”Well,” says he, “Mr. Hatfield was quite right in telling you to persevere in doing your duty; but in advising you to go to church and attend to the service, and so on, he didn’t mean that was the whole of a Christian’s duty: he only thought you might there learn what more was to be done, and be led to take delight in those exercises, instead of finding them a task and a burden. And if you had asked him to explain those words that trouble you so much, I think he would have told you, that if many shall seek to enter in at the strait gate and shall not be able, it is their own sins that hinder them; just as a man with a large sack on his back might wish to pass through a narrow doorway, and find it impossible to do so unless he would leave his sack behind him. But you, Nancy, I dare say, have no sins that you would not gladly throw aside, if you knew how?”

‘”Indeed, sir, you speak truth,” said I.

‘”Well,” says he, “you know the first and great commandment–and the second, which is like unto it–on which two commandments hang all the law and the prophets? You say you cannot love God; but it strikes me that if you rightly consider who and what He is, you cannot help it. He is your father, your best friend: every blessing, everything good, pleasant, or useful, comes from Him; and everything evil, everything you have reason to hate, to shun, or to fear, comes from Satan–HIS enemy as well as ours. And for THIS cause was God manifest in the flesh, that He might destroy the works of the Devil: in one word, God is LOVE; and the more of love we have within us, the nearer we are to Him and the more of His spirit we possess.”

‘”Well, sir,” I said, “if I can always think on these things, I think I might well love God: but how can I love my neighbours, when they vex me, and be so contrary and sinful as some on ’em is?”

‘”It may seem a hard matter,” says he, “to love our neighbours, who have so much of what is evil about them, and whose faults so often awaken the evil that lingers within ourselves; but remember that HE made them, and HE loves them; and whosoever loveth him that begat, loveth him that is begotten also. And if God so loveth us, that He gave His only begotten Son to die for us, we ought also to love one another. But if you cannot feel positive affection for those who do not care for you, you can at least try to do to them as you would they should do unto you: you can endeavour to pity their failings and excuse their offences, and to do all the good you can to those about you. And if you accustom yourself to this, Nancy, the very effort itself will make you love them in some degree–to say nothing of the goodwill your kindness would beget in them, though they might have little else that is good about them. If we love God and wish to serve Him, let us try to be like Him, to do His work, to labour for His glory–which is the good of man–to hasten the coming of His kingdom, which is the peace and happiness of all the world: however powerless we may seem to be, in doing all the good we can through life, the humblest of us may do much towards it: and let us dwell in love, that He may dwell in us and we in Him. The more happiness we bestow, the more we shall receive, even here; and the greater will be our reward in heaven when we rest from our labours.” I believe, Miss, them is his very words, for I’ve thought ’em ower many a time. An’ then he took that Bible, an’ read bits here and there, an’ explained ’em as clear as the day: and it seemed like as a new light broke in on my soul; an’ I felt fair aglow about my heart, an’ only wished poor Bill an’ all the world could ha’ been there, an’ heard it all, and rejoiced wi’ me.

‘After he was gone, Hannah Rogers, one o’ th’ neighbours, came in and wanted me to help her to wash. I telled her I couldn’t just then, for I hadn’t set on th’ potaties for th’ dinner, nor washed up th’ breakfast stuff yet. So then she began a-calling me for my nasty idle ways. I was a little bit vexed at first, but I never said nothing wrong to her: I only telled her like all in a quiet way, ‘at I’d had th’ new parson to see me; but I’d get done as quick as ever I could, an’ then come an’ help her. So then she softened down; and my heart like as it warmed towards her, an’ in a bit we was very good friends. An’ so it is, Miss Grey, “a soft answer turneth away wrath; but grievous words stir up anger.” It isn’t only in them you speak to, but in yourself.’

‘Very true, Nancy, if we could always remember it.’

‘Ay, if we could!’

‘And did Mr. Weston ever come to see you again?’

‘Yes, many a time; and since my eyes has been so bad, he’s sat an’ read to me by the half-hour together: but you know, Miss, he has other folks to see, and other things to do–God bless him! An’ that next Sunday he preached SUCH a sermon! His text was, “Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” and them two blessed verses that follows. You wasn’t there, Miss, you was with your friends then–but it made me SO happy! And I AM happy now, thank God! an’ I take a pleasure, now, in doing little bits o’ jobs for my neighbours–such as a poor old body ‘at’s half blind can do; and they take it kindly of me, just as he said. You see, Miss, I’m knitting a pair o’ stockings now;– they’re for Thomas Jackson: he’s a queerish old body, an’ we’ve had many a bout at threaping, one anent t’other; an’ at times we’ve differed sorely. So I thought I couldn’t do better nor knit him a pair o’ warm stockings; an’ I’ve felt to like him a deal better, poor old man, sin’ I began. It’s turned out just as Maister Weston said.’

‘Well, I’m very glad to see you so happy, Nancy, and so wise: but I must go now; I shall be wanted at the Hall,’ said I; and bidding her good-bye, I departed, promising to come again when I had time, and feeling nearly as happy as herself.

At another time I went to read to a poor labourer who was in the last stage of consumption. The young ladies had been to see him, and somehow a promise of reading had been extracted from them; but it was too much trouble, so they begged me to do it instead. I went, willingly enough; and there too I was gratified with the praises of Mr. Weston, both from the sick man and his wife. The former told me that he derived great comfort and benefit from the visits of the new parson, who frequently came to see him, and was ‘another guess sort of man’ to Mr. Hatfield; who, before the other’s arrival at Horton, had now and then paid him a visit; on which occasions he would always insist upon having the cottage-door kept open, to admit the fresh air for his own convenience, without considering how it might injure the sufferer; and having opened his prayer-book and hastily read over a part of the Service for the Sick, would hurry away again: if he did not stay to administer some harsh rebuke to the afflicted wife, or to make some thoughtless, not to say heartless, observation, rather calculated to increase than diminish the troubles of the suffering pair.

‘Whereas,’ said the man, ‘Maister Weston ‘ull pray with me quite in a different fashion, an’ talk to me as kind as owt; an’ oft read to me too, an’ sit beside me just like a brother.’

‘Just for all the world!’ exclaimed his wife; ‘an’ about a three wik sin’, when he seed how poor Jem shivered wi’ cold, an’ what pitiful fires we kept, he axed if wer stock of coals was nearly done. I telled him it was, an’ we was ill set to get more: but you know, mum, I didn’t think o’ him helping us; but, howsever, he sent us a sack o’ coals next day; an’ we’ve had good fires ever sin’: and a great blessing it is, this winter time. But that’s his way, Miss Grey: when he comes into a poor body’s house a- seein’ sick folk, he like notices what they most stand i’ need on; an’ if he thinks they can’t readily get it therseln, he never says nowt about it, but just gets it for ’em. An’ it isn’t everybody ‘at ‘ud do that, ‘at has as little as he has: for you know, mum, he’s nowt at all to live on but what he gets fra’ th’ Rector, an’ that’s little enough they say.’

I remembered then, with a species of exultation, that he had frequently been styled a vulgar brute by the amiable Miss Murray, because he wore a silver watch, and clothes not quite so bright and fresh as Mr. Hatfield’s.

In returning to the Lodge I felt very happy, and thanked God that I had now something to think about; something to dwell on as a relief from the weary monotony, the lonely drudgery, of my present life: for I WAS lonely. Never, from month to month, from year to year, except during my brief intervals of rest at home, did I see one creature to whom I could open my heart, or freely speak my thoughts with any hope of sympathy, or even comprehension: never one, unless it were poor Nancy Brown, with whom I could enjoy a single moment of real social intercourse, or whose conversation was calculated to render me better, wiser, or happier than before; or who, as far as I could see, could be greatly benefited by mine. My only companions had been unamiable children, and ignorant, wrong- headed girls; from whose fatiguing folly, unbroken solitude was often a relief most earnestly desired and dearly prized. But to be restricted to such associates was a serious evil, both in its immediate effects and the consequences that were likely to ensue. Never a new idea or stirring thought came to me from without; and such as rose within me were, for the most part, miserably crushed at once, or doomed to sicken or fade away, because they could not see the light.

Habitual associates are known to exercise a great influence over each other’s minds and manners. Those whose actions are for ever before our eyes, whose words are ever in our ears, will naturally lead us, albeit against our will, slowly, gradually, imperceptibly, perhaps, to act and speak as they do. I will not presume to say how far this irresistible power of assimilation extends; but if one civilised man were doomed to pass a dozen years amid a race of intractable savages, unless he had power to improve them, I greatly question whether, at the close of that period, he would not have become, at least, a barbarian himself. And I, as I could not make my young companions better, feared exceedingly that they would make me worse–would gradually bring my feelings, habits, capacities, to the level of their own; without, however, imparting to me their lightheartedness and cheerful vivacity.

Already, I seemed to feel my intellect deteriorating, my heart petrifying, my soul contracting; and I trembled lest my very moral perceptions should become deadened, my distinctions of right and wrong confounded, and all my better faculties be sunk, at last, beneath the baneful influence of such a mode of life. The gross vapours of earth were gathering around me, and closing in upon my inward heaven; and thus it was that Mr. Weston rose at length upon me, appearing like the morning star in my horizon, to save me from the fear of utter darkness; and I rejoiced that I had now a subject for contemplation that was above me, not beneath. I was glad to see that all the world was not made up of Bloomfields, Murrays, Hatfields, Ashbys, &c.; and that human excellence was not a mere dream of the imagination. When we hear a little good and no harm of a person, it is easy and pleasant to imagine more: in short, it is needless to analyse all my thoughts; but Sunday was now become a day of peculiar delight to me (I was now almost broken-in to the back corner in the carriage), for I liked to hear him–and I liked to see him, too; though I knew he was not handsome, or even what is called agreeable, in outward aspect; but, certainly, he was not ugly.

In stature he was a little, a very little, above the middle size; the outline of his face would be pronounced too square for beauty, but to me it announced decision of character; his dark brown hair was not carefully curled, like Mr. Hatfield’s, but simply brushed aside over a broad white forehead; the eyebrows, I suppose, were too projecting, but from under those dark brows there gleamed an eye of singular power, brown in colour, not large, and somewhat deep-set, but strikingly brilliant, and full of expression; there was character, too, in the mouth, something that bespoke a man of firm purpose and an habitual thinker; and when he smiled–but I will not speak of that yet, for, at the time I mention, I had never seen him smile: and, indeed, his general appearance did not impress me with the idea of a man given to such a relaxation, nor of such an individual as the cottagers described him. I had early formed my opinion of him; and, in spite of Miss Murray’s objurgations: was fully convinced that he was a man of strong sense, firm faith, and ardent piety, but thoughtful and stern: and when I found that, to his other good qualities, was added that of true benevolence and gentle, considerate kindness, the discovery, perhaps, delighted me the more, as I had not been prepared to expect it.

CHAPTER XII–THE SHOWER

The next visit I paid to Nancy Brown was in the second week in March: for, though I had many spare minutes during the day, I seldom could look upon an hour as entirely my own; since, where everything was left to the caprices of Miss Matilda and her sister, there could be no order or regularity. Whatever occupation I chose, when not actually busied about them or their concerns, I had, as it were, to keep my loins girded, my shoes on my feet, and my staff in my hand; for not to be immediately forthcoming when called for, was regarded as a grave and inexcusable offence: not only by my pupils and their mother, but by the very servant, who came in breathless haste to call me, exclaiming, ‘You’re to go to the schoolroom DIRECTLY, mum, the young ladies is WAITING!!’ Climax of horror! actually waiting for their governess!!!

But this time I was pretty sure of an hour or two to myself; for Matilda was preparing for a long ride, and Rosalie was dressing for a dinner-party at Lady Ashby’s: so I took the opportunity of repairing to the widow’s cottage, where I found her in some anxiety about her cat, which had been absent all day. I comforted her with as many anecdotes of that animal’s roving propensities as I could recollect. ‘I’m feared o’ th’ gamekeepers,’ said she: ‘that’s all ‘at I think on. If th’ young gentlemen had been at home, I should a’ thought they’d been setting their dogs at her, an’ worried her, poor thing, as they did MANY a poor thing’s cat; but I haven’t that to be feared on now.’ Nancy’s eyes were better, but still far from well: she had been trying to make a Sunday shirt for her son, but told me she could only bear to do a little bit at it now and then, so that it progressed but slowly, though the poor lad wanted it sadly. So I proposed to help her a little, after I had read to her, for I had plenty of time that evening, and need not return till dusk. She thankfully accepted the offer. ‘An’ you’ll be a bit o’ company for me too, Miss,’ said she; ‘I like as I feel lonesome without my cat.’ But when I had finished reading, and done the half of a seam, with Nancy’s capacious brass thimble fitted on to my finger by means of a roll of paper, I was disturbed by the entrance of Mr. Weston, with the identical cat in his arms. I now saw that he could smile, and very pleasantly too.

‘I’ve done you a piece of good service, Nancy,’ he began: then seeing me, he acknowledged my presence by a slight bow. I should have been invisible to Hatfield, or any other gentleman of those parts. ‘I’ve delivered your cat,’ he continued, ‘from the hands, or rather the gun, of Mr. Murray’s gamekeeper.’

‘God bless you, sir!’ cried the grateful old woman, ready to weep for joy as she received her favourite from his arms.

‘Take care of it,’ said he, ‘and don’t let it go near the rabbit- warren, for the gamekeeper swears he’ll shoot it if he sees it there again: he would have done so to-day, if I had not been in time to stop him. I believe it is raining, Miss Grey,’ added he, more quietly, observing that I had put aside my work, and was preparing to depart. ‘Don’t let me disturb you–I shan’t stay two minutes.’

‘You’ll BOTH stay while this shower gets owered,’ said Nancy, as she stirred the fire, and placed another chair beside it; ‘what! there’s room for all.’

‘I can see better here, thank you, Nancy,’ replied I, taking my work to the window, where she had the goodness to suffer me to remain unmolested, while she got a brush to remove the cat’s hairs from Mr. Weston’s coat, carefully wiped the rain from his hat, and gave the cat its supper, busily talking all the time: now thanking her clerical friend for what he had done; now wondering how the cat had found out the warren; and now lamenting the probable consequences of such a discovery. He listened with a quiet, good- natured smile, and at length took a seat in compliance with her pressing invitations, but repeated that he did not mean to stay.

‘I have another place to go to,’ said he, ‘and I see’ (glancing at the book on the table) ‘someone else has been reading to you.’

‘Yes, sir; Miss Grey has been as kind as read me a chapter; an’ now she’s helping me with a shirt for our Bill–but I’m feared she’ll be cold there. Won’t you come to th’ fire, Miss?’

‘No, thank you, Nancy, I’m quite warm. I must go as soon as this shower is over.’

‘Oh, Miss! You said you could stop while dusk!’ cried the provoking old woman, and Mr. Weston seized his hat.

‘Nay, sir,’ exclaimed she, ‘pray don’t go now, while it rains so fast.’

‘But it strikes me I’m keeping your visitor away from the fire.’

‘No, you’re not, Mr. Weston,’ replied I, hoping there was no harm in a falsehood of that description.

‘No, sure!’ cried Nancy. ‘What, there’s lots o’ room!’

‘Miss Grey,’ said he, half-jestingly, as if he felt it necessary to change the present subject, whether he had anything particular to say or not, ‘I wish you would make my peace with the squire, when you see him. He was by when I rescued Nancy’s cat, and did not quite approve of the deed. I told him I thought he might better spare all his rabbits than she her cat, for which audacious assertion he treated me to some rather ungentlemanly language; and I fear I retorted a trifle too warmly.’

‘Oh, lawful sir! I hope you didn’t fall out wi’ th’ maister for sake o’ my cat! he cannot bide answering again–can th’ maister.’

‘Oh! it’s no matter, Nancy: I don’t care about it, really; I said nothing VERY uncivil; and I suppose Mr. Murray is accustomed to use rather strong language when he’s heated.’

‘Ay, sir: it’s a pity.’

‘And now, I really must go. I have to visit a place a mile beyond this; and you would not have me to return in the dark: besides, it has nearly done raining now–so good-evening, Nancy. Good-evening, Miss Grey.’

‘Good-evening, Mr. Weston; but don’t depend upon me for making your peace with Mr. Murray, for I never see him–to speak to.’

‘Don’t you; it can’t be helped then,’ replied he, in dolorous resignation: then, with a peculiar half-smile, he added, ‘But never mind; I imagine the squire has more to apologise for than I;’ and left the cottage.

I went on with my sewing as long as I could see, and then bade Nancy good-evening; checking her too lively gratitude by the undeniable assurance that I had only done for her what she would have done for me, if she had been in my place and I in hers. I hastened back to Horton Lodge, where, having entered the schoolroom, I found the tea-table all in confusion, the tray flooded with slops, and Miss Matilda in a most ferocious humour.

‘Miss Grey, whatever have you been about? I’ve had tea half an hour ago, and had to make it myself, and drink it all alone! I wish you would come in sooner!’

‘I’ve been to see Nancy Brown. I thought you would not be back from your ride.’

‘How could I ride in the rain, I should like to know. That damned pelting shower was vexatious enough–coming on when I was just in full swing: and then to come and find nobody in to tea! and you know I can’t make the tea as I like it.’

‘I didn’t think of the shower,’ replied I (and, indeed, the thought of its driving her home had never entered my head).

‘No, of course; you were under shelter yourself, and you never thought of other people.’

I bore her coarse reproaches with astonishing equanimity, even with cheerfulness; for I was sensible that I had done more good to Nancy Brown than harm to her: and perhaps some other thoughts assisted to keep up my spirits, and impart a relish to the cup of cold, overdrawn tea, and a charm to the otherwise unsightly table; and–I had almost said–to Miss Matilda’s unamiable face. But she soon betook herself to the stables, and left me to the quiet enjoyment of my solitary meal.

CHAPTER XIII–THE PRIMROSES

Miss Murray now always went twice to church, for she so loved admiration that she could not bear to lose a single opportunity of obtaining it; and she was so sure of it wherever she showed herself, that, whether Harry Meltham and Mr. Green were there or not, there was certain to be somebody present who would not be insensible to her charms, besides the Rector, whose official capacity generally obliged him to attend. Usually, also, if the weather permitted, both she and her sister would walk home; Matilda, because she hated the confinement of the carriage; she, because she disliked the privacy of it, and enjoyed the company that generally enlivened the first mile of the journey in walking from the church to Mr. Green’s park-gates: near which commenced the private road to Horton Lodge, which lay in the opposite direction, while the highway conducted in a straightforward course to the still more distant mansion of Sir Hugh Meltham. Thus there was always a chance of being accompanied, so far, either by Harry Meltham, with or without Miss Meltham, or Mr. Green, with perhaps one or both of his sisters, and any gentlemen visitors they might have.

Whether I walked with the young ladies or rode with their parents, depended upon their own capricious will: if they chose to ‘take’ me, I went; if, for reasons best known to themselves, they chose to go alone, I took my seat in the carriage. I liked walking better, but a sense of reluctance to obtrude my presence on anyone who did not desire it, always kept me passive on these and similar occasions; and I never inquired into the causes of their varying whims. Indeed, this was the best policy–for to submit and oblige was the governess’s part, to consult their own pleasure was that of the pupils. But when I did walk, the first half of journey was generally a great nuisance to me. As none of the before-mentioned ladies and gentlemen ever noticed me, it was disagreeable to walk beside them, as if listening to what they said, or wishing to be thought one of them, while they talked over me, or across; and if their eyes, in speaking, chanced to fall on me, it seemed as if they looked on vacancy–as if they either did not see me, or were very desirous to make it appear so. It was disagreeable, too, to walk behind, and thus appear to acknowledge my own inferiority; for, in truth, I considered myself pretty nearly as good as the best of them, and wished them to know that I did so, and not to imagine that I looked upon myself as a mere domestic, who knew her own place too well to walk beside such fine ladies and gentlemen as they were–though her young ladies might choose to have her with them, and even condescend to converse with her when no better company were at hand. Thus–I am almost ashamed to confess it–but indeed I gave myself no little trouble in my endeavours (if I did keep up with them) to appear perfectly unconscious or regardless of their presence, as if I were wholly absorbed in my own reflections, or the contemplation of surrounding objects; or, if I lingered behind, it was some bird or insect, some tree or flower, that attracted my attention, and having duly examined that, I would pursue my walk alone, at a leisurely pace, until my pupils had bidden adieu to their companions and turned off into the quiet private road.

One such occasion I particularly well remember; it was a lovely afternoon about the close of March; Mr. Green and his sisters had sent their carriage back empty, in order to enjoy the bright sunshine and balmy air in a sociable walk home along with their visitors, Captain Somebody and Lieutenant Somebody-else (a couple of military fops), and the Misses Murray, who, of course, contrived to join them. Such a party was highly agreeable to Rosalie; but not finding it equally suitable to my taste, I presently fell back, and began to botanise and entomologise along the green banks and budding hedges, till the company was considerably in advance of me, and I could hear the sweet song of the happy lark; then my spirit of misanthropy began to melt away beneath the soft, pure air and genial sunshine; but sad thoughts of early childhood, and yearnings for departed joys, or for a brighter future lot, arose instead. As my eyes wandered over the steep banks covered with young grass and green-leaved plants, and surmounted by budding hedges, I longed intensely for some familiar flower that might recall the woody dales or green hill-sides of home: the brown moorlands, of course, were out of the question. Such a discovery would make my eyes gush out with water, no doubt; but that was one of my greatest enjoyments now. At length I descried, high up between the twisted roots of an oak, three lovely primroses, peeping so sweetly from their hiding-place that the tears already started at the sight; but they grew so high above me, that I tried in vain to gather one or two, to dream over and to carry with me: I could not reach them unless I climbed the bank, which I was deterred from doing by hearing a footstep at that moment behind me, and was, therefore, about to turn away, when I was startled by the words, ‘Allow me to gather them for you, Miss Grey,’ spoken in the grave, low tones of a well-known voice. Immediately the flowers were gathered, and in my hand. It was Mr. Weston, of course–who else would trouble himself to do so much for ME?

‘I thanked him; whether warmly or coldly, I cannot tell: but certain I am that I did not express half the gratitude I felt. It was foolish, perhaps, to feel any gratitude at all; but it seemed to me, at that moment, as if this were a remarkable instance of his good-nature: an act of kindness, which I could not repay, but never should forget: so utterly unaccustomed was I to receive such civilities, so little prepared to expect them from anyone within fifty miles of Horton Lodge. Yet this did not prevent me from feeling a little uncomfortable in his presence; and I proceeded to follow my pupils at a much quicker pace than before; though, perhaps, if Mr. Weston had taken the hint, and let me pass without another word, I might have repeated it an hour after: but he did not. A somewhat rapid walk for me was but an ordinary pace for him.

‘Your young ladies have left you alone,’ said he.

‘Yes, they are occupied with more agreeable company.’

‘Then don’t trouble yourself to overtake them.’ I slackened my pace; but next moment regretted having done so: my companion did not speak; and I had nothing in the world to say, and feared he might be in the same predicament. At length, however, he broke the pause by asking, with a certain quiet abruptness peculiar to himself, if I liked flowers.

‘Yes; very much,’ I answered, ‘wild-flowers especially.’

‘_I_ like wild-flowers,’ said he; ‘others I don’t care about, because I have no particular associations connected with them– except one or two. What are your favourite flowers?’

‘Primroses, bluebells, and heath-blossoms.’

‘Not violets?’

‘No; because, as you say, I have no particular associations connected with them; for there are no sweet violets among the hills and valleys round my home.’

‘It must be a great consolation to you to have a home, Miss Grey,’ observed my companion after a short pause: ‘however remote, or however seldom visited, still it is something to look to.’

‘It is so much that I think I could not live without it,’ replied I, with an enthusiasm of which I immediately repented; for I thought it must have sounded essentially silly.

‘Oh, yes, you could,’ said he, with a thoughtful smile. ‘The ties that bind us to life are tougher than you imagine, or than anyone can who has not felt how roughly they may be pulled without breaking. You might be miserable without a home, but even YOU could live; and not so miserably as you suppose. The human heart is like india-rubber; a little swells it, but a great deal will not burst it. If “little more than nothing will disturb it, little less than all things will suffice” to break it. As in the outer members of our frame, there is a vital power inherent in itself that strengthens it against external violence. Every blow that shakes it will serve to harden it against a future stroke; as constant labour thickens the skin of the hand, and strengthens its muscles instead of wasting them away: so that a day of arduous toil, that might excoriate a lady’s palm, would make no sensible impression on that of a hardy ploughman.

‘I speak from experience–partly my own. There was a time when I thought as you do–at least, I was fully persuaded that home and its affections were the only things that made life tolerable: that, if deprived of these, existence would become a burden hard to be endured; but now I have no home–unless you would dignify my two hired rooms at Horton by such a name;–and not twelve months ago I lost the last and dearest of my early friends; and yet, not only I live, but I am not wholly destitute of hope and comfort, even for this life: though I must acknowledge that I can seldom enter even an humble cottage at the close of day, and see its inhabitants peaceably gathered around their cheerful hearth, without a feeling ALMOST of envy at their domestic enjoyment.’

‘You don’t know what happiness lies before you yet,’ said I: ‘you are now only in the commencement of your journey.’

‘The best of happiness,’ replied he, ‘is mine already–the power and the will to be useful.’

We now approached a stile communicating with a footpath that conducted to a farm-house, where, I suppose, Mr. Weston purposed to make himself ‘useful;’ for he presently took leave of me, crossed