PART TWO (CHAPTERS XIV-XXV)
- The following day was as fine as the preceding one. Soon after breakfast, Miss Matilda, having gallopped and blundered through a few unprofitable lessons, and vengeably thumped the piano for an hour, in a terrible humour with both me and it, because her mamma would not give her a holiday, had betaken herself to her favorite places of resort, the yards, the stables, and the dog-kennels: and Miss Murray, was gone forth to enjoy a quiet ramble with a new fashionable novel for her companion, leaving me in the school-room, hard at work upon a water-colour drawing I had promised to do for her, and which she insisted upon my finishing that day.
- At my feet lay a little rough terrier. It was the property of Miss Matilda; but she hated the animal, and intended to sell it, alleging that it was quite spoiled. It was really an excellent dog of its kind; but she affirmed it was fit for nothing, and had not even the sense to know its own mistress.
- The fact was, she had purchased it when but a small puppy, insisting, at first, that no one should touch it but herself; but, soon becoming tired of so helpless and troublesome a nursling, she had gladly yielded to my entreaties to be allowed to take charge of it; and I, by carefully nursing the little creature from infancy to adolescence, of course, had obtained its affections; a reward, I should have greatly valued and looked upon as far outweighing all the trouble I had had with it, had not poor Snap's grateful feelings exposed him to many a harsh word and many a spiteful kick and pinch from his owner, and were he not now in danger of being "put away," in consequence, or transferred to some rough, stony-hearted master. But how could I help it? I could not make the dog hate me by cruel treatment; and she would not propitiate him by kindness.
- However, while I thus sat, working away with my pencil, Mrs. Murray came, half sailing, half bustling, into the room.
- "Miss Grey," she began, - "dear! how can you sit at your drawing such a day as this?" (she thought I was doing it for my own pleasure.) "I wonder you don't put on your bonnet and go out with the young ladies."
- "I think, ma'am, Miss Murray is reading; and Miss Matilda is amusing herself with her dogs."
- "If you would try to amuse Miss Matilda yourself a little more, I think she would not be driven to seek amusement in the companionship of dogs and horses, and grooms, so much as she is; and if you would be a little more cheerful and conversable with Miss Murray, she would not so often go wandering in the fields with a book in her hand. However, I don't want to vex you," added she, seeing I suppose, that my cheeks burned and my hand trembled with some unamiable emotion. "Do, pray, try not to be so touchy! - there's no speaking to you else. And tell me if you know where Rosalie is gone: and why she likes to be so much alone?"
- "She says she likes to be alone when she has a new book to read."
- "But why can't she read it in the park or the garden; why should she go into the fields and lanes? and how is it that that Mr. Hatfield so often finds her out? She told me last week he'd walked his horse by her side all up Moss Lane; and now I'm sure it was he I saw from my dressing-room window, walking so briskly past the park gates, and on towards the field where she so frequently goes. I wish you would go and see if she is there; and just gently remind her that it is not proper for a young lady of her rank and prospects to be wandering about by herself in that manner, exposed to the attentions of any one that presumes to address her; like some poor neglected girl that has no park to walk in, and no friends to take care of her; and tell her that her papa would be extremely angry if he knew of her treating Mr. Hatfield in that familiar manner that I fear she does; and - oh! if you - if any governess had but half a mother's watchfulness - half a mother's anxious care, I should be saved this trouble; and you would see at once the necessity of keeping your eye upon her, and making your company agreeable to -- Well, go - go; there's no time to be lost," cried she, seeing that I had put away my drawing materials, and was waiting in the doorway for the conclusion of her address.
- According to her prognostications, I found Miss Murray in her favourite field just without the park; and, unfortunately, not alone; for the tall, stately figure of Mr. Hatfield was slowly sauntering by her side.
- Here was a poser for me. It was my duty to interrupt the tête-à-tête: but how was it to be done? Mr. Hatfield could not be driven away by so insignificant a person as I; and to go and place myself on the other side of Miss Murray, and intrude my unwelcome presence upon her without noticing her companion, was a piece of rudeness I could not be guilty of: neither had I the courage to cry aloud from the top of the field that she was wanted elsewhere. So I took the intermediate course of walking slowly, but steadily towards them, resolving, if my approach failed to scare away the beau, to pass by and tell Miss Murray her mamma wanted her.
- She certainly looked very charming as she strolled lingering along under the budding horse-chestnut trees that stretched their long arms over the park-palings, with her closed book in one hand, and in the other, a graceful sprig of myrtle which served her as a very pretty plaything; her bright ringlets escaping profusely from her little bonnet, and gently stirred by the breeze, her fair cheek flushed with gratified vanity, her smiling blue eyes, now slyly glancing towards her admirer, now gazing downward at her myrtle sprig. But Snap, running before me, interrupted her in the middle of some half pert, half playful repartee, by catching hold of her dress and vehemently tugging thereat; till Mr. Hatfield, with his cane administered a resounding thwack upon the animal's skull, and sent it yelping back to me, with a clamorous outcry that afforded the reverend gentleman great amusement; but seeing me so near, he thought, I suppose, he might as well be taking his departure; and as I stooped to caress the dog, with ostentatious pity to show my disapproval of his severity, I heard him say-- "when shall I see you again, Miss Murray?"
- "At church, I suppose," replied she, "unless your business chances to bring you here again, at the precise moment when I happen to be walking by."
- "I could always manage to have business here, if I knew precisely when and where to find you."
- "But if I would, I could not inform you, for I am so immethodical, I never can tell to-day what I shall do to-morrow."
- "Then give me that, meantime, to comfort me," said he, half jestingly and half in earnest, extending his hand for the sprig of myrtle.
- "No indeed, I shan't."
- "Do! pray do! I shall be the most miserable of men if you don't. You cannot be so cruel as to deny me a favour so easily granted, and yet so highly prized!" pleaded he as ardently as if his life depended on it.
- By this time I stood within a very few yards of them, impatiently waiting his departure.
- "There then! take it and go," said Rosalie.
- He joyfully received the gift, murmured something that made her blush and toss aside her head, but with a little laugh that showed her displeasure was entirely affected; and then with a courteous salutation withdrew.
- "Did you ever see such a man, Miss Grey?" said she turning to me, "I'm so glad you came! I thought I never should get rid of him; and I was so terribly afraid of papa seeing him."
- "Has he been with you long?"
- "No; not long, but he's so extremely impertinent: and he's always hanging about, pretending his business or his clerical duties require his attendance in these parts, and really watching for poor me, and pouncing upon me wherever he sees me."
- "Well, your mamma thinks you ought not to go beyond the park or garden without some discreet, matronly person like me to accompany you, and keep off all intruders. She descried Mr. Hatfield hurrying past the park-gates, and forthwith dispatched me with instructions to seek you up and to take care of you, and likewise to warn --"
- "Oh, mamma's so tiresome! As if I couldn't take care of myself! She bothered me before about Mr. Hatfield; and I told her she might trust me - I never should forget my rank and station for the most delightful man that ever breathed. I wish he would go down on his knees tomorrow, and implore me to be his wife; that I might just show her how mistaken she is in supposing that I could ever -- Oh! it provokes me so! To think that I could be such a fool as to fall in love! It is quite beneath the dignity of a woman to do such a thing. Love! I detest the word! as applied to one of our sex, I think it a perfect insult! A preference I might acknowledge; but never for one like poor Mr. Hatfield, who has not seven hundred a year to bless himself with. I like to talk to him, because he's so clever and amusing - I wish Sir Thomas Ashby were half as nice - besides, I must have somebody to flirt with, and no one else has the sense to come here; and when we go out, mamma won't let me flirt with anybody but Sir Thomas - if he's there, and if he's not there, I'm bound hand and foot, for fear somebody should go and make up some exaggerated story, and put it into his head that I'm engaged, or likely to be engaged to somebody else; or, what is more probable, for fear his nasty old mother should see, or hear of my ongoings, and conclude that I'm not a fit wife for her excellent son; as if the said son were not the greatest scamp in Christendom; and as if any woman of common decency were not a world too good for him."
- "Is it really so, Miss Murray? and does your mamma know it, and yet wish you to marry him?"
- "To be sure she does! She knows more against him than I do, I believe: she keeps it from me lest I should be discouraged; not knowing how little I care about such things. For it's no great matter, really: he'll be all right when he's married, as mamma says; and reformed rakes make the best husbands, everybody knows. I only wish he were not so ugly - that's all I think about - but then there's no choice here in the country, and papa will not let us go to London --"
- "But I should think Mr. Hatfield would be far better."
- "And so he would, if he were lord of Ashby Park - there's not a doubt of it; but the fact is, I must have Ashby Park, whoever shares it with me."
- "But Mr. Hatfield thinks you like him all this time; you don't consider how bitterly he will be disappointed when he finds himself mistaken."
- "No, indeed! It will be a proper punishment for his presumption - for ever daring to think I could like him. I should enjoy nothing so much as lifting the veil from his eyes."
- "The sooner you do it the better, then."
- "No; I tell you, I like to amuse myself with him. Besides, he doesn't really think I like him. I take good care of that; you don't know how cleverly I manage. He may presume to think he can induce me to like him, for which I shall punish him as he deserves."
- "Well, mind you don't give too much reason for such presumption - that's all," replied I.
- But all my exhortations were in vain: they only made her somewhat more solicitous to disguise her wishes and her thoughts from me. She talked no more to me about the rector; but I could see that her mind, if not her heart, was fixed upon him still, and that she was intent upon obtaining another interview; for though, in compliance with her mother's request, I was now constituted the companion of her rambles for a time, she still persisted in wandering in the fields and lanes that lay in the nearest proximity to the road; and, whether she talked to me, or read the book she carried in her hand, she kept continually pausing to look round her, or gaze up the road to see if any one was coming; and if a horseman trotted by, I could tell by her unqualified abuse of the poor equestrian whoever he might be, that she hated him because he was not Mr. Hatfield.
- "Surely," thought I, "she is not so indifferent to him as she believes herself to be, or would have others to believe her; and her mother's anxiety is not so wholly causeless as she affirms."
- Three days passed away, and he did not make his appearance. On the afternoon of the fourth, as we were walking beside the park palings in the memorable field, each furnished with a book (for I always took care to provide myself with something to be doing when she did not require me to talk), she suddenly interrupted my studies by exclaiming --
- "Oh, Miss Grey! do be so kind as to go and see Mark Wood, and take his wife half a crown from me - I should have given or sent it a week ago, but quite forgot. There!" said she, throwing me her purse, and speaking very fast- "Never mind getting it out now, but take the purse and give them what you like - I would go with you, but I want to finish this volume. I'll come and meet you when I've done it. Be quick, will you - and - oh, wait; Hadn't you better read to him a bit? Run to the house and get some sort of a good book. Anything will do."
- I did as I was desired; but, suspecting something from her hurried manner and the suddenness of the request, I just glanced back before I quitted the field, and there was Mr. Hatfield about to enter at the gate below. By sending me to the house for a book, she had just prevented my meeting him on the road.
- "Never mind!" thought I, "there'll be no great harm done. Poor Mark will be glad of the half-crown, and perhaps of the good book too; and if the rector does steal Miss Rosalie's heart, it will only humble her pride a little; and if they do get married at last, it will only save her from a worse fate; and she will be quite a good enough partner for him, and he for her."
- Mark Wood was the consumptive labourer whom I mentioned before. He was now rapidly wearing away. Miss Murray, by her liberality, obtained literally the blessing of him that was ready to perish; for though the half-crown could be of very little service to him, he was glad of it for the sake of his wife and children, so soon to be widowed and fatherless.
After I had sat a few minutes, and read a little for the comfort and edification of himself and his afflicted wife, I left them; but I had not proceeded fifty yards before I encountered Mr. Weston, apparently on his way to the same abode.
He greeted me in his usual quiet, unaffected way, stopped to inquire about the condition of the sick man and his family, and with a sort of unconscious, brotherly disregard to ceremony, took from my hand the book out of which I had been reading, turned over the pages, made a few brief, but very sensible remarks, and restored it; then told me about some poor sufferer he had just been visiting, talked a little about Nancy Brown, made a few observations upon my little rough friend the terrier, that was frisking at his feet, and finally upon the beauty of the weather, and departed.
- I have omitted to give a detail of his words, from a notion that they would not interest the reader as they did me, and not because I have forgotten them. No; I remember them well; for I thought them over and over again in the course of that day and many succeeding ones, I know not how often; and recalled every intonation of his deep, clear voice, every flash of his quick, brown eye, and every gleam of his pleasant, but too transient smile. Such a confession will look very absurd, I fear; but no matter; I have written it; and they that read it will not know the writer.
- While I was walking along, happy within, and pleased with all around, Miss Murray came hastening to meet me; her buoyant step, flushed cheek, and radiant smiles showing that she, too, was happy, in her own way. Running up to me, she put her arm through mine, and without waiting to recover breath, began -
"Now, Miss Grey, think yourself highly honoured, for I'm come to tell you my news before I've breathed a word of it to any one else."
- "Well, what is it?"
- "Oh, such news! In the first place, you must know that Mr. Hatfield came upon me just after you were gone. I was in such a way for fear papa or mamma should see him! - but you know I couldn't call you back again; and so I - Oh, dear! I can't tell you all about it now, for there's Matilda, I see, in the park, and I must go and open my budget to her. But however, Hatfield was most uncommonly audacious, unspeakably complimentary, and unprecedentedly tender - tried to be so, at least - he didn't succeed very well in that, because it's not his vein. I'll tell you all he said another time."
- "But what did you say - I'm more interested in that?"
- "I'll tell you that, too, at some future period. I happened to be in a very good humour just then; but, though I was complaisant and gracious enough, I took care not to compromise myself in any possible way. But, however, the conceited wretch chose to interpret my amiability of temper in his own way, and at length presumed upon my indulgence so far, that - what do you think? - he actually - made me an offer!"
- "And you --"
- "I proudly drew myself up, and with the greatest coolness expressed my astonishment at such an occurrence, and hoped he had seen nothing in my conduct to justify his expectations. You should have seen how his countenance fell! He went perfectly white in the face. I assured him that I esteemed him and all that, but could not possibly accede to his proposals; and if I did, papa and mamma could never be brought to give their consent."
- "'But if they could,' said he, 'would yours be wanting?'"
- "'Certainly, Mr. Hatfield," I replied with a cool decision which quelled all hope at once. Oh, if you had seen how dreadfully mortified he was - how crushed to the earth by his disappointment! really, I almost pitied him myself.
- "One more desperate attempt, however, he made. After a silence of considerable duration, during which he struggled to be calm, and I to be grave - for I felt a strong propensity to laugh - which would have ruined all - he said, with the ghost of a smile - 'But tell me plainly, Miss Murray; if I had the wealth of Sir Hugh Meltham, or the prospects of his eldest son, would you still refuse me? answer me truly, upon your honour.'"
- "'Certainly,' said I. 'That would make no difference whatever.'"
- "It was a great lie, but he looked so confident in his own attractions still, that I determined not to leave him one stone upon another. He looked me full in the face; but I kept my countenance so well that he could not imagine I was saying anything more than the actual truth.
- "'Then it's all over, I suppose,' he said, looking as if he could have died on the spot with vexation and the intensity of his despair. But he was angry as well as disappointed. There was he, suffering so unspeakably, and there was I, the pitiless cause of it all, so utterly impenetrable to all the artillery of his looks and words, so calmly cold and proud, he could not but feel some resentment; and with singular bitterness he began, - "'I certainly did not expect this, Miss Murray. I might say something about your past conduct, and the hopes you have led me to foster, but I forbear, on condition --'
- "'No conditions, Mr. Hatfield!' said I, now truly indignant at his insolence.
- "'Then let me beg it as a favour,' he replied, lowering his voice at once, and taking a humbler tone; 'let me entreat that you will not mention this affair to any one whatever. If you will keep silence about it, there need be no unpleasantness on either side - nothing, I mean beyond what is quite unavoidable, for my own feelings, I will endeavour to keep to myself, if I cannot annihilate; I will try to forgive, if I cannot forget the cause of my sufferings. I will not suppose, Miss Murray, that you know how deeply you have injured me. I would not have you aware of it; but if, in addition to the injury you have already done me - pardon me; but whether innocently or not, you have done it - and if you add to it by giving publicity to this unfortunate affair, or naming it at all, you will find that I too can speak; and though you scorned my love, you will hardly scorn my --'
- "He stopped, but he bit his bloodless lip, and looked so terribly fierce that I was quite frightened. However, my pride upheld me still, and I answered disdainfully, - "'I do not know what motive you suppose I could have for naming it to any one, Mr. Hatfield; but if I were disposed to do so, you would not deter me by threats; and it is scarcely the part of a gentleman to attempt it."
- "'Pardon me, Miss Murray,' said he, 'I have loved you so intensely - I do still adore you so deeply, that I would not willingly offend you; but though I never have loved, and never can love any woman as I have loved you, it is equally certain that I never was so ill-treated by any. On the contrary, I have always found your sex the kindest, and most tender and obliging of God's creation, till now.' (Think of the conceited fellow saying that!) 'And the novelty and harshness of the lesson you have taught me to-day, and the bitterness of being disappointed in the only quarter on which the happiness of my life depended, must excuse any appearance of asperity. If my presence is disagreeable to you, Miss Murray,' he said (for I was looking about me to show how little I cared for him, so he thought I was tired of him, I suppose,) 'if my presence is disagreeable to you, Miss Murray, you have only to promise me the favour I named, and I will relieve you at once. There are many ladies- some even in this parish - who would be delighted to accept what you have so scornfully trampled under your feet. They would be naturally inclined to hate one whose surpassing loveliness has so completely estranged my heart from them and blinded me to their attractions; and a single hint of the truth from me to one of these, would be sufficient to raise such a talk against you as would seriously injure your prospects, and diminish your chance of success with any other gentleman you, or your mamma might design to entangle.'
- "'What do you mean, sir?' said I, ready to stamp with passion.
- "'I mean that this affair from beginning to end appears to me like a case of arrant flirtation, to say the least of it- such a case as you would find it rather inconvenient to have blazoned through the world; especially with the additions and exaggerations of your female rivals, who would be too glad to publish the matter, if I only gave them a handle to it. But I promise you, on the faith of a gentleman, that no word or syllable that could tend to your prejudice shall ever escape my lips, provided you will --"
- "'Well, well, I won't mention it,' said I, 'You may rely upon my silence, if that can afford you any consolation.'
- "'You promise it?"
- "'Yes!' I answered, for I wanted to get rid of him now.
- "'Farewell, then!' said he, in a most doleful heart-sick tone; and with a look where pride vainly struggled against despair, he turned and went away, longing, no doubt, to get home, that he might shut himself up in his study and cry - if he doesn't burst into tears before he gets there."
- "But you have broken your promise already," said I, truly horrified at her perfidy.
- "Oh! it's only to you - I know you won't repeat it."
- "Certainly, I shall not; but you say you were going to tell your sister; and she will tell your brothers when they come home, and Brown immediately, if you do not tell her yourself, and Brown will blazon it, or be the means of blazoning it, throughout the country."
- "No, indeed, she won't! We shall not tell her at all, unless it be under the promise of the strictest secrecy."
- "But how can you expect her to keep her promises better than her more enlightened mistress?"
- "Well, well, she shan't hear it then," said Miss Murray, somewhat snappishly.
- "But you will tell your mamma, of course," pursued I; "and she will tell your papa."
- "Of course, I shall tell mamma, that is the very thing that pleases me so much. I shall now be able to convince her how mistaken she was in her fears about me."
- "Oh, that's it, is it? I was wondering what it was that delighted you so much."
- "Yes; and another thing is, that I've humbled Mr. Hatfield so charmingly; and another - why, you must allow me some share of female vanity; I don't pretend to be without that most essential attribute of our sex - and if you had seen poor Hatfield's intense eagerness of making his ardent declaration and his flattering proposal, and his agony of mind, that no effort of pride could conceal, on being refused, you would have allowed I had some cause to be gratified."
- "The greater his agony, I should think, the less your cause for gratification."
- "Oh, nonsense!" cried the young lady, shaking herself with vexation. "You either can't understand me or you won't. If I had not confidence in your magnanimity, I should think you envied me. But you will perhaps comprehend this cause of pleasure - which is as great as any - namely, that I am delighted with myself for my prudence, my self-command, my heartlessness, if you please; I was not a bit taken by surprise, not a bit confused, or awkward, or foolish; I just acted and spoke as I ought to have done, and was completely my own mistress throughout. And here was a man, decidedly good-looking - Jane and Susan Green call him bewitchingly handsome - I suppose they're two of the ladies he pretends would be so glad to have him - but, however, he was certainly a very clever, witty, agreeable companion - not what you call clever, but just enough to make him entertaining; and a man one needn't be ashamed of anywhere, and would not soon grow tired of; and to confess the truth, I rather liked him - better even, of late, than Harry Meltham - and he evidently idolised me; and yet, though he came upon me all alone and unprepared, I had the wisdom, and the pride, and the strength to refuse him - and so scornfully and coolly as I did: I have good reason to be proud of that!"
- "And are you equally proud of having told him that his having the wealth of Sir Hugh Meltham would make no difference to you when that was not the case; and of having promised to tell no one of his misadventure, apparently without the slightest intention of keeping your promise?"
- "Of course! what else could I do? You would not have had me - but I see, Miss Grey, you're not in a good temper. Here's Matilda; I'll see what she and mamma have to say about it."
- She left me, offended at my want of sympathy, and thinking, no doubt, that I envied her. I did not- at least, I firmly believe I did not. I was sorry for her; I was amazed, disgusted at her heartless vanity; I wondered why so much beauty should be given to those who made so bad a use of it, and denied to some who would make it a benefit to both themselves and others.
- But, God knows best, I concluded. There are, I suppose, some men as vain, as selfish, and as heartless as she is, and perhaps such women may be useful to punish them.
- "O dear! I wish Hatfield had not been so precipitate!" said Rosalie next day at four p.m., as, with a portentous yawn, she laid down her worsted-work and looked listlessly towards the window.
"There's no inducement to go out now; and nothing to look forward to. The days will be so long and dull when there are no parties to enliven them; and there are none this week, or next either, that I know of."
- "Pity you were so cross to him," observed Matilda, to whom: this lamentation was addressed. "He'll never come again; and I suspect you liked him after all. I hoped you would have taken him for your beau, and left dear Harry to me."
- "Humph! my beau must be an Adonis, indeed, Matilda, the admired of all beholders, if I am to be contented with him alone. I'm sorry to lose Hatfield, I confess; but the first decent man, or number of men that come to supply his place will be more than welcome. It's Sunday to-morrow - I do wonder how he'll look, and whether he'll be able to go through the service. Most likely he'll pretend he's got a cold and make Mr. Weston do it all."
- "Not he!" exclaimed Matilda, somewhat contemptuously. "Fool as he is, he's not so soft as that comes to."
- Her sister was slightly offended; but the event proved Matilda. was right. The disappointed lover performed his pastoral duties as usual. Rosalie, indeed, affirmed he looked very pale and dejected: he might be a little paler, but the difference, if any, was scarcely perceptible. As for his dejection, I certainly did not hear his laugh ringing from the vestry as usual, nor his voice loud in hilarious discourse, though I did hear it uplifted in rating the sexton in a manner that made the congregation stare; and in his transits to and from the pulpit and the communion-table, there was more of solemn pomp, and less of that irreverent, self-confident, or rather self-delighted imperiousness with which he usually swept along - that air that seemed to say, "You all reverence and adore me I know; but if any one does not, I defy him to the teeth!"
But the most remarkable change was that he never once suffered his eyes to wander in the direction of Mr. Murray's pew, and did not leave the church till we were gone.
- Mr. Hatfield had doubtless received a very severe blow; but his pride impelled him to use every effort to conceal the effects of it. He had been disappointed in his certain hope of obtaining not only a beautiful and, to him, highly attractive wife, but one whose rank and fortune might give brilliance to far inferior charms: he was likewise, no doubt, intensely mortified by his repulse, and deeply offended at the conduct of Miss Murray throughout.
It would have given him no little consolation to have known how disappointed she was to find him apparently so little moved, and to see that he was able to refrain from casting a single glance at her throughout both the services, though, she declared, it showed he was thinking of her all the time, or his eyes would have fallen upon her, if it were only by chance; but if they had so chanced to fall, she would have affirmed it was because they could not resist the attraction. It might have pleased him too, in some degree, to have seen how dull and dissatisfied she was throughout that week, (the greater part of it, at least,) for lack of her usual source of excitement; and how often she regretted having "used him up so soon," like a child that, having devoured its plumcake too hastily, sits sucking its fingers, and vainly lamenting its greediness.
- At length, I was called upon, one fine morning, to accompany her in a walk to the village. Ostensibly she went to get some shades of Berlin wool at a tolerably respectable shop that was chiefly supported by the ladies of the vicinity: really - I trust there is no breach of charity in supposing, that she went with the idea of meeting with either the rector himself, or some other admirer by the way; for as we went along, she kept wondering "what Hatfield would do or say, if we met him," &c., &c.; as we passed Mr. Green's park-gates, she "wondered whether he was at home - great stupid blockhead;" as Lady Meltham's carriage passed us, she "wondered what Mr. Harry was doing this fine day;" and then began to abuse his elder brother for being "such a fool as to get married and go and live in London."
- "Why," said I, "I thought you wanted to live in London yourself."
- "Yes, because it's so dull here; but then he makes it still duller by taking himself off; and if he were not married I might have him instead of that odious Sir Thomas."
- Then, observing the prints of a horse's feet on the somewhat miry road, she "wondered whether it was a gentleman's horse," and finally concluded it was, for the impressions were too small to have been made by a "great, clumsy cart-horse;" and then she "wondered who the rider could be," and whether we should meet him coming back, for she was sure he had only passed that morning; and lastly, when we entered the village and saw only a few of its humble inhabitants moving about, she "wondered why the stupid people couldn't keep in their houses; she was sure she didn't want to see their ugly faces, and dirty, vulgar clothes - it wasn't for that she came to Horton!"
- Amid all this, I confess, I wondered too, in secret, whether we should meet, or catch a glimpse of somebody else; and as we passed his lodgings, I even went so far as to wonder whether he was at the window.
On entering the shop, Miss Murray desired me to stand in the doorway while she transacted her business, and tell her if anyone passed. But alas! there was no one visible besides the villagers, except Jane and Susan Green coming down the single street, apparently returning from a walk.
- "Stupid things!" muttered she, as she came out after having concluded her bargain. "Why couldn't they have their dolt of a brother with them? Even he would be better than nothing."
- She greeted them, however, with a cheerful smile, and protestations of pleasure at the happy meeting equal to their own. They placed themselves one on each side of her; and all three walked away chatting and laughing as young ladies do when they get together, if they be but on tolerably intimate terms. But I, feeling myself to be one too many, left them to their merriment and lagged behind, as usual on such occasions: I had no relish for walking beside Miss Green or Miss Susan like one deaf and dumb, who could neither speak nor be spoken to.
- But this time I was not long alone. It struck me, at first, as very odd, that just as I was thinking about Mr. Weston he should come up and accost me; but afterwards, on due reflection, I thought there was nothing odd about it, unless it were the fact of his speaking to me, for, on such a morning, and so near his own abode, it was natural enough that he should be about; and as for my thinking of him, I had been doing that, with little intermission, ever since we set out on our journey; so there was nothing remarkable in that.
- "You are alone again, Miss Grey?" said he.
- "What kind of people are those ladies - the Misses Green?"
- "I really don't know."
- "That's strange - when you live so near and see them so often!"
- "Well, I suppose they are lively, good-tempered girls; but I imagine you must know them better than I do, yourself, for I never exchanged a word with either of them."
- "Indeed! They don't strike me as being particularly reserved."
- "Very likely they are not so to people of their own class; but they consider themselves as moving in quite a different sphere from me!"
- He made no reply to this; but after a short pause, he said, - "I suppose it's these things, Miss Grey, that make you think you could not live without a home?"
- "Not exactly. The fact is I am too socially disposed to be able to live contentedly without a friend, and as the only friends I have, or am likely to have, are at home, if it - or rather, if they were gone - I will not say I could not live - but I would rather not live in such a desolate world."
- "But why do you say the only friends you are likely to have? Are you so unsociable that you cannot make friends?"
- "No, but I never made one yet; and in my present position there is no possibility of doing so, or even of forming a common acquaintance. The fault may be partly in myself, but I hope not altogether."
- "The fault is partly in society, and partly, I should think, in your immediate neighbours, and partly, too, in yourself; for many ladies, in your position, would make themselves be noticed and accounted of. But your pupils should be companions for you in some degree; they cannot be many years younger than yourself."
- "Oh yes, they are good company sometimes; but I cannot call them friends, nor would they think of bestowing such a name on me - they have other companions better suited to their tastes."
- "Perhaps you are too wise for them. How do you amuse yourself when alone - do you read much?"
- "Reading is my favourite occupation when I have leisure for it, and books to read."
- From speaking of books in general, he passed to different books in particular, and proceeded by rapid transitions from topic to topic, till several matters, both of taste and opinion, had been discussed considerably within the space of half an hour, but without the embellishment of many observations from himself; he being evidently less bent upon communicating his own thoughts and predilections, than on discovering mine. He had not the tact or the art to effect such a purpose by skilfully drawing out my sentiments or ideas through the real or apparent statement of his own, or leading the conversation by imperceptible gradations to such topics as he wished to advert to. But such gentle abruptness, and such single-minded straightforwardness could not possibly offend me.
- "And why should he interest himself at all in my moral and intellectual capacities: what is it to him what I think or feel?" I asked myself.
And my heart throbbed in answer to the question.
- But Jane and Susan Green soon reached their home. As they stood parleying at the park-gates, attempting to persuade Miss Murray to come in, I wished Mr. Weston would go, that she might not see him with me when she turned round; but, unfortunately, his business, which was to pay one more visit to poor Mark Wood, led him to pursue the same path as we did, till nearly the close of our journey.
When, however, he saw that Rosalie had taken leave of her friends, and I was about to join her, he would have left me and passed on at a quicker pace; but, as he civilly lifted his hat in passing her, to my surprise, instead of returning the salute with a stiff, ungracious bow, she accosted him with one of her sweetest smiles, and, walking by his side, began to talk to him with all imaginable cheerfulness and affability; and so we proceeded all three together.
- After a short pause in the conversation, Mr. Weston made some remark addressed particularly to me, as referring to something we had been talking of before; but, before I could answer, Miss Murray replied to the observation and enlarged upon it: he rejoined; and, from thence to the close of the interview, she engrossed him entirely to herself.
It might be partly owing to my own stupidity, my want of tact and assurance; but I felt myself wronged; I trembled with apprehension; and I listened with envy to her easy, rapid flow of utterance, and saw with anxiety the bright smile with which she looked into his face from time to time: for she was walking a little in advance for the purpose (as I judged) of being seen as well as heard.
If her conversation was light and trivial, it was amusing, and she was never at a loss for something to say, or for suitable words to express it in. There was nothing pert or flippant in her manner now, as when she walked with Mr. Hatfield; there was only a gentle, playful kind of vivacity, which I thought must be peculiarly pleasing to a man of Mr. Weston's disposition and temperament.
- When he was gone she began to laugh, and muttered to herself.
"I thought I could do it!"
- "Do what?" I asked.
- "Fix that man."
- "What in the world do you mean?"
- "I mean that he will go home and dream of me. I have shot him through the heart!"
- "How do you know?"
- "By many infallible proofs: more especially the look he gave me when he went away. It was not an impudent look - I exonerate him from that - it was a look of reverential, tender adoration. Ha, ha! he's not quite such a stupid blockhead as I thought him!"
- I made no answer, for my heart was in my throat, or something like it, and I could not trust myself to speak.
"Oh, God, avert it!" I cried internally - "for his sake, not for mine!"
- Miss Murray made several trivial observations as we passed up the park, to which, (in spite of my reluctance to let one glimpse of my feelings appear,) I could only answer by monosyllables.
Whether she intended to torment me, or merely to amuse herself, I could not tell - and did not much care; but I thought of the poor man and his one lamb, and the rich man with his thousand flocks; and I dreaded I knew not what for Mr. Weston, independently of my own blighted hopes.
- Right glad was I to get into the house, and find myself alone once more in my own room. My first impulse was to sink into the chair beside the bed, and laying my head on the pillow, to seek relief in a passionate burst of tears: there was an imperative craving for such an indulgence; but alas! I must restrain and swallow back my feelings still: there was the bell - the odious bell for the school-room dinner; and I must go down with a calm face, and smile, and laugh, and talk nonsense - yes, and eat, too, if possible, as if all was right, and I was just returned from a pleasant walk.
- Next Sunday was one of the gloomiest of April days, a day of thick, dark clouds, and heavy showers. None of the Murrays were disposed to attend church in the afternoon, excepting Rosalie: she was bent upon going as usual; so she ordered the carriage, and I went with her, nothing loth of course, for at church I might look without fear of scorn or censure upon a form and face more pleasing to me than the most beautiful of God's creations; I might listen without disturbance to a voice more charming than the sweetest music to my ears; I might seem to hold communion with that soul in which I felt so deeply interested, and imbibe its purest thoughts and holiest aspirations, with no alloy to such felicity, except the secret reproaches of my conscience which would too often whisper that I was deceiving my own self, and mocking God with the service of a heart more bent upon the creature than the creator.
- Sometimes, such thoughts would give me trouble enough; but sometimes I could quiet them with thinking, it is not the man, it is his goodness that I love.
"Whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are honest and of good report, think on these things."
We do well to worship God in his works; and I know none of them in which so many of his attributes - so much of his own spirit shines, as in this his faithful servant, whom to know and not to appreciate, were obtuse insensibility in me, who have so little else to occupy my heart.
- Almost immediately after the conclusion of the service, Miss Murray left the church. We had to stand in the porch; for it was raining, and the carriage was not yet come. I wondered at her coming forth so hastily, for neither young Meltham nor Squire Green was there; but I soon found it was to secure an interview with Mr. Weston as he came out, which he presently did, and, having saluted us both, would have passed on, but she detained him; first with observations upon the disagreeable weather, and then with asking if he would be so kind as to come some time to-morrow to see the granddaughter of the old woman who kept the porter's lodge, for the girl was ill of a fever, and wished to see him. He promised to do so.
- "And at what time will you be most likely to come, Mr. Weston? The old woman will like to know when to expect you - you know such people think more about having their cottages in order when decent people come to see them than we are apt to suppose."
- Here was a wonderful instance of consideration from the thoughtless Miss Murray.
Mr. Weston named an hour in the morning at which he would endeavour to be there. By this time the carriage was ready, and the footman was waiting, with an open umbrella, to escort Miss Murray through the churchyard. I was about to follow; but Mr. Weston had an umbrella too, and offered me the benefit of its shelter, for it was raining heavily.
- "No, thank you, I don't mind the rain," I said.
I always lacked common sense when taken by surprise.
- "But you don't like it, I suppose? - an umbrella will do you no harm at any rate," he replied, with a smile that showed he was not offended, as a man of worse temper or less penetration would have been at such a refusal of his aid.
I could not deny the truth of his assertion, and so went with him to the carriage; he even offered me his hand on getting in, an unnecessary piece of civility, but I accepted that too for fear of giving offence. One glance he gave, one little smile at parting - it was but for a moment, but therein I read, or thought I read a meaning that kindled in my heart a brighter flame of hope than had ever yet arisen.
- "I would have sent the footman back for you, Miss Grey, if you'd waited a moment - you needn't to have taken Mr. Weston's umbrella," observed Rosalie, with a very unamiable cloud upon her pretty face.
- "I would have come without an umbrella, but Mr. Weston offered me the benefit of his and I could not have refused it, more than I did, without offending him," replied I, smiling placidly, for my inward happiness made that amusing, which would have wounded me at another time.
- The carriage was now in motion. Miss Murray bent forwards, and looked out of the window as we were passing Mr. Weston. He was pacing homewards along the causeway, and did not turn his head.
- "Stupid ass!" cried she, throwing herself back again in the seat. "You don't know what you've lost by not looking this way!"
- "What has he lost?"
- "A bow from me, that would have raised him to the seventh heaven!"
- I made no answer. I saw she was out of humour, and I derived a secret gratification from the fact; not that she was vexed, but that she thought she had reason to be so. It made me think my hopes were not entirely the offspring of my wishes and imaginations.
- "I mean to take up Mr. Weston instead of Mr. Hatfield," said my companion after a short pause, resuming something of her usual cheerfulness. "The ball at Ashby Park takes place on Tuesday you know; and mamma thinks it very likely that Sir Thomas will propose to me then: such things are often done in the privacy of the ball-room, when gentlemen are most easily ensnared, and ladies most enchanting. But if I am to be married so soon, I must make the best of the present time: I am determined Hatfield shall not be the only man who shall lay his heart at my feet, and implore me to accept the worthless gift in vain."
- "If you mean Mr. Weston to be one of your victims," said I, with affected indifference, "you will have to make such overtures yourself, that you will find it difficult to draw back when he asks you to fulfil the expectations you have raised."
- "I don't suppose he will ask me to marry him - nor should I desire it: that would be rather too much presumption! but I intend him to feel my power - he has felt it already, indeed - but he shall acknowledge it too; and what visionary hopes he may have, he must keep to himself, and only amuse me with the result of them - for a time."
- "Oh! that some kind spirit would whisper those words in his ear!" I inwardly exclaimed. I was far too indignant to hazard a reply to her observation aloud; and nothing more was said about Mr. Weston that day, by me or in my hearing. But next morning, soon after breakfast, Miss Murray came into the schoolroom where her sister was employed with me at her studies, or rather her lessons, for studies they were not, and said, "Matilda, I want you to take a walk with me about eleven o'clock."
- "Oh, I can't, Rosalie! I have to give orders about my new bridle and saddle-cloth, and speak to the rat-catcher about his dogs: Miss Grey must go with you."
- "No, I want you," said Rosalie; and calling her sister to the window, she whispered an explanation in her ear, upon which the latter consented to go.
- I remembered that eleven was the hour at which Mr. Weston proposed to come to the porter's lodge; and remembering that, I beheld the whole contrivance.
Accordingly, at dinner, I was entertained with a long account of how Mr. Weston had overtaken them as they were walking along the road; and how they had had a long walk and talk with him, and really found him quite an agreeable companion; and how he must have been, and evidently was, delighted with them and their amazing condescension, &c., &c.
- As I am in the way of confessions, I may as well acknowledge that, about this time, I paid more attention to dress than ever I had done before. This is not saying much, for hitherto I had been a little neglectful in that particular: but now, also, it was no uncommon thing to spend as much as two minutes in the contemplation of my own image in the glass; though I never could derive any consolation from such a study: I could discover no beauty in those marked features, that pale hollow cheek, and ordinary dark brown hair; there might be intellect in the forehead, there might be expression in the dark grey eyes, but what of that? - a low Grecian brow and large black eyes devoid of sentiment would be esteemed far preferable.
It is foolish to wish for beauty. Sensible people never either desire it for themselves or care about it in others. If the mind be but well cultivated, and the heart well disposed, no one ever cares for the exterior.
So said the teachers of our childhood; and so say we to the children of the present day. All very judicious and proper no doubt; but are such assertions supported by actual experience?
- We are naturally disposed to love what gives us pleasure, and what more pleasing than a beautiful face - when we know no harm of the possessor at least? A little girl loves her bird - Why? Because it lives and feels, because it is helpless and harmless. A toad, likewise, lives and feels, and is equally helpless and harmless; but though she would not hurt a toad, she cannot love it like the bird with its graceful form, soft feathers, and bright, speaking eyes. If a woman is fair and amiable, she is praised for both qualities, but especially the former, by the bulk of mankind: if, on the other hand, she is disagreeable in person and character, her plainness is commonly inveighed against as her greatest crime, because to common observers, it gives the greatest offence; while, if she is plain and good, provided she is a person of retired manners and secluded life, no one ever knows of her goodness, except her immediate connections; others, on the contrary, are disposed to form unfavourable opinions of her mind and disposition, if it be but to excuse themselves for their instinctive dislike of one so unfavoured by nature; and vice versa with her whose angel form conceals a vicious heart, or sheds a false, deceitful charm over defects and foibles that would not be tolerated in another.
They that have beauty, let them be thankful for it, and make a good use of it, like any other talent: they that have it not, let them console themselves, and do the best they can without it; certainly, though liable to be over-estimated, it is a gift of God, and not to be despised. Many will feel this, who have felt that they could love, and whose hearts tell them that they are worthy to be loved again, while yet they are debarred, by the lack of this, or some such seeming trifle from giving and receiving that happiness they seem almost made to feel and to impart. As well might the humble glowworm despise that power of giving light, without which, the roving fly might pass her and repass her a thousand times, and never light beside her: she might hear her winged darling buzzing over and around her; he vainly seeking her, she longing to be found, but with no power to make her presence known, no voice to call him, no wings to follow his flight; - the fly must seek another mate, the worm must live and die alone.
- Such were some of my reflections about this period. I might go on prosing more and more, I might dive much deeper, and disclose other thoughts, propose questions the reader might be puzzled to answer, and deduce arguments that might startle his prejudices, or perhaps provoke his ridicule, because he could not comprehend them; but I forbear.
- Now, therefore, let us return to Miss Murray. She accompanied her mamma to the ball on Tuesday; of course, splendidly attired, and delighted with her prospects and her charms. As Ashby Park was nearly ten miles distant from Horton Lodge, they had to set out pretty early, and I intended to have spent the evening with Nancy Brown, whom I had not seen for a long time; but my kind pupil took care I should spend it neither there nor anywhere else beyond the limits of the school-room by giving me a piece of music to copy, which kept me closely occupied till bed-time.
About eleven next morning, as soon as she had left her room, she came to tell me her news. Sir Thomas had indeed proposed to her at the ball, an event which reflected great credit on her mamma's sagacity, if not upon her skill in contrivance; I rather incline to the belief that she had first laid her plans, and then predicted their success.
The offer had been accepted of course, and the bridegroom elect was coming that day to settle matters with Mr. Murray.
- Rosalie was pleased with the thoughts of becoming mistress of Ashby Park; she was elated with the prospect of the bridal ceremony and its attendant splendour and éclat, the honeymoon spent abroad, and the subsequent gaieties she expected to enjoy in London and elsewhere; she appeared pretty well pleased too, for the time being, with Sir Thomas himself, because she had so lately seen him, danced with him, and been flattered by him; but, after all, she seemed to shrink from the idea of being so soon united: she wished the ceremony to be delayed some months, at least; and I wished it too. It seemed a horrible thing to hurry on the inauspicious match, and not to give the poor creature time to think and reason on the irrevocable step she was about to take. I made no pretension to "a mother's watchful, anxious care," but I was amazed and horrified at Mrs. Murray's heartlessness, or want of thought for the real good of her child; and, by my unheeded warnings and exhortations, I vainly strove to remedy the evil. Miss Murray only laughed at what I said; and I soon found that her reluctance to an immediate union arose chiefly from a desire to do what execution she could among the young gentlemen of her acquaintance before she was incapacitated from further mischief of the kind. It was for this cause that, before confiding to me the secret of her engagement, she had extracted a promise that I would not mention a word on the subject to any one. And when I saw this, and when I beheld her plunge more recklessly than ever into the depths of heartless coquetry, I had no more pity for her.
"Come what will," I thought, "she deserves it. Sir Thomas cannot be too bad for her; and the sooner she is incapacitated from deceiving and injuring others the better."
- The wedding was fixed for the first of June. Between that and the critical ball was little more than six weeks; but, with Rosalie's accomplished skill and resolute exertion, much might be done, even within that period, especially as Sir Thomas spent most of the interim in London, whither he went up, it was said, to settle affairs with his lawyer, and make other preparations for the approaching nuptials.
He endeavoured to supply the want of his presence by a pretty constant fire of billets-doux; but these did not attract the neighbours' attention, and open their eyes as personal visits would have done; and old Lady Ashby's haughty, sour spirit of reserve withheld her from spreading the news, while her indifferent health prevented her coming to visit her future daughter-in-law; so that, altogether, this affair was kept far closer than such things usually are.
- Rosalie would sometimes show her lover's epistles to me to convince me what a kind, devoted husband he would make. She showed me the letters of another individual too, the unfortunate Mr. Green, who had not the courage, or, as she expressed it, the "spunk" to plead his cause in person, but whom one denial would not satisfy; he must write again and again.
He would not have done so if he could have seen the grimaces his fair idol made over his moving appeals to her feelings, and heard her scornful laughter, and the opprobrious epithets she heaped upon him for his perseverance.
- "Why don't you tell him, at once, that you are engaged?" I asked.
- "Oh, I don't want him to know that!" replied she. "If he knew it, his sisters and everybody would know it, and then there would be an end of my - ahem! And besides, if I told him that, he would think my engagement was the only obstacle, and that I would have him if I were free, which I could not bear that any man should think, and he, of all others, at least. Besides, I don't care for his letters," she added, contemptuously; "he may write as often as he pleases, and look as great a calf as he likes when I meet him; it only amuses me."
- Meantime, young Meltham was pretty frequent in his visits to the house or transits past it; and, judging by Matilda's execrations and reproaches, her sister paid more attention to him than civility required - in other words she carried on as animated a flirtation as the presence of her parents would admit.
She made some attempts to bring Mr. Hatfield once more to her feet; but finding them unsuccessful, she repaid his haughty indifference with still loftier scorn, and spoke of him with as much disdain and detestation as she had formerly done of his curate.
But, amid all this, she never for a moment lost sight of Mr. Weston. She embraced every opportunity of meeting him, tried every art to fascinate him, and pursued him with as much perseverance as if she really loved him and no other, and the happiness of her life depended upon eliciting a return of affection. Such conduct was completely beyond my comprehension. Had I seen it depicted in a novel I should have thought it unnatural; had I heard it described by others, I should have deemed it a mistake or an exaggeration; but when I saw it with my own eyes, and suffered from it too, I could only conclude that excessive vanity, like drunkenness, hardens the heart, enslaves the faculties, and perverts the feelings, and that dogs are not the only creatures which, when gorged to the throat, will yet gloat over what they cannot devour, and grudge the smallest morsel to a starving brother.
- She now became extremely beneficent to the poor cottagers. Her acquaintance among them was more widely extended, her visits to their humble dwellings were more frequent and excursive than they had ever been before. Hereby she earned among them the reputation of a condescending and very charitable young lady; and their encomiums were sure to be repeated to Mr. Weston, whom also, she had, thus, a daily chance of meeting in one or other of their abodes, or in her transits to and fro; and often, likewise, she could gather, through their gossip, to what places he was likely to go at such and such a time, whether to baptise a child, or to visit the aged, the sick, the sad, or the dying; and most skilfully she laid her plans accordingly.
In these excursions she would sometimes go with her sister, whom, by some means, she had persuaded or bribed to enter into her schemes, sometimes alone, never, now, with me; so that I was debarred the pleasure of seeing Mr. Weston, or hearing his voice, even in conversation with another, which would certainly have been a very great pleasure, however hurtful or however fraught with pain.
I could not even see him at church, for Miss Murray, under some trivial pretext, chose to take possession of that corner in the family pew, which had been mine ever since I came; and, unless I had the presumption to station myself between Mr. and Mrs. Murray, I must sit with my back to the pulpit, which I accordingly did.
- Now, also, I never walked home with my pupils: they said their mamma thought it did not look well to see three people out of the family walking, and only two going in the carriage; and, as they greatly preferred walking in fine weather, I should be honoured by going with the seniors.
"And, besides," said they, "you can't walk as fast as we do; you know you're always lagging behind."
I knew these were false excuses, but I made no objections, and never contradicted such assertions, well knowing the motives which dictated them.
And in the afternoons, during those six memorable weeks, I never went to church at all. If I had a cold, or any slight indisposition, they took advantage of that to make me stay at home; and often they would tell me they were not going again that day, themselves, and then pretend to change their minds, and set off without telling me, so managing their departure that I never discovered the change of purpose till too late.
Upon their return home, on one of these occasions, they entertained me with an animated account of a conversation they had had with Mr. Weston as they came along.
"And he asked if you were ill, Miss Grey," said Matilda; "but we told him you were quite well, only you didn't want to come to church - so he'll think you're turned wicked."
- All chance meetings on week-days were likewise carefully prevented; for, lest I should go to see poor Nancy Brown or any other person, Miss Murray took good care to provide sufficient employment for all my leisure hours. There was always some drawing to finish, some music to copy, or some work to do, sufficient to incapacitate me from indulging in anything beyond a short walk about the grounds, however she or her sister might be occupied.
- One morning, having sought and waylaid Mr. Weston, they returned in high glee to give me an account of their interview.
"And he asked after you again," said Matilda, in spite of her sister's silent, but imperative intimation that she should hold her tongue. "He wondered why you were never with us, and thought you must have delicate health as you came out so seldom."
- "He didn't, Matilda - what nonsense you're talking!"
- "Oh, Rosalie, what a lie! He did, you know; and you said - Don't Rosalie - hang it! - I won't be pinched so! And, Miss Grey, Rosalie told him you were quite well, but you were always so buried in your books that you had no pleasure in anything else."
- "What an idea he must have of me!" I thought.
- "And," I asked, "does old Nancy ever inquire about me?"
- "Yes, and we tell her you are so fond of reading and drawing that you can do nothing else."
- "That is not the case though; if you had told her I was so busy I could not come to see her, it would have been nearer the truth."
- "I don't think it would," replied Miss Murray, suddenly kindling up; "I'm sure you've plenty of time to yourself now, when you have so little teaching to do."
- It was no use beginning to dispute with such indulged, unreasoning creatures; so l held my peace. I was accustomed, now, to keeping silence when things distasteful to my ear were uttered; and now, too, I was used to wearing a placid smiling countenance when my heart was bitter within me. Only those who have felt the like can imagine my feelings, as I sat with an assumption of smiling indifference, listening to the accounts of those meetings and interviews with Mr. Weston, which they seemed to find such pleasure in describing to me, and hearing things asserted of him which, from the character of the man, I knew to be exaggerations and perversions of the truth, if not entirely false; things derogatory to him and flattering to them - especially to Miss Murray - which I burned to contradict, or, at least, to show my doubts about, but dared not, lest, in expressing my disbelief, I should display my interest too.
Other things I heard, which I felt or feared were indeed too true; but I must still conceal my anxiety respecting him, in indignation against them beneath a careless aspect; others again, mere hints of something said or done, which I longed to hear more of but could not venture to inquire.
So passed the weary time. I could not even comfort myself with saying, "She will soon be married; and then there may be hope."
- Soon after her marriage the holidays would come; and when I returned from home, most likely, Mr. Weston would be gone, for, I was told that he and the rector could not agree, (the rector's fault, of course,) and he was about to remove to another place.
- No - besides my hope in God, my only consolation was in thinking that, though he knew it not, I was more worthy of his love than Rosalie Murray, charming and engaging as she was; for I could appreciate his excellence, which she could not; I would devote my life to the promotion of his happiness; she would destroy his happiness for the momentary gratification of her own vanity.
"Oh, if he could but know the difference!" I would earnestly exclaim. "But no! I would not have him see my heart: yet, if he could but know her hollowness, her worthless, heartless frivolity - he would then be safe, and I should be - almost happy, though I might never see him more!"
- I fear, by this time, the reader is well nigh disgusted with the folly and weakness I have so freely laid before him. I never disclosed it then, and would not have done so had my own sister or my mother been with me in the house.
I was a close and resolute dissembler - in this one case at least. My prayers, my tears, my wishes, fears, and lamentations were witnessed by myself and Heaven alone.
- When we are harassed by sorrows or anxieties, or long oppressed by any powerful feelings which we must keep to ourselves, for which we can obtain and seek no sympathy from any living creature, and which, yet, we cannot, or will not wholly crush, we often, naturally, seek relief in poetry - and often find it too - whether in the effusions of others, which seem to harmonise with our existing case, or in our own attempts to give utterance to those thoughts and feelings in strains less musical, perchance, but more appropriate, and, therefore more penetrating and sympathetic, and, for the time, more soothing, or more powerful to rouse and to unburden the oppressed and swollen heart.
Before this time, at Wellwood House and here, when suffering from home-sick melancholy, I had sought relief twice or thrice at this secret source of consolation; and now I flew to it again, with greater avidity than ever, because I seemed to need it more. I still preserve those relics of past sufferings and experience, like pillars of witness set up, in travelling through the vale of life, to mark particular occurrences.
The footsteps are obliterated now; the face of the country may be changed, but the pillar is still there to remind me how all things were when it was reared.
Lest the reader should be curious to see any of these effusions, I will favour him with one short specimen: cold and languid as the lines may seem, it was almost a passion of grief to which they owed their being.
- O, they have robbed me of the hope
- My spirit held so dear;
- They will not let me hear that voice
- My soul delights to hear.
- They will not let me see that face
- I so delight to see;
- And they have taken all thy smiles,
- And all thy love from me.
- Well, let them seize on all they can; -
- One treasure still is mine, -
- A heart that loves to think on thee,
- And feels the worth of thine.
- Yes, at least, they could not deprive me of that; I could think of him day and night; and I could feel that he was worthy to be thought of. Nobody knew him as I did; nobody could appreciate him as I did; nobody could love him as I could, if I might; but there was the evil. What business had I to think so much of one that never thought of me? Was it not foolish? was it not wrong?
Yet, if I found such deep delight in thinking of him, and if I kept those thoughts to myself, and troubled no one else with them, where was the harm of it? I would ask myself.
And such reasoning prevented me from making any sufficient effort to shake off my fetters.
- But, if those thoughts brought delight, it was a painful, troubled pleasure, too near akin to anguish; and one that did me more injury than I was aware of. It was an indulgence that a person of more wisdom or more experience would doubtless have denied herself. And yet, how dreary to turn my eyes from the contemplation of that bright object, and force them to dwell on the dull, grey, desolate prospect around, the joyless, hopeless, solitary path that lay before me. It was wrong to be so joyless, so desponding; I should have made God my friend, and to do His will the pleasure and the business of my life; but Faith was weak, and Passion was too strong.
- In this time of trouble I had two other causes of affliction. The first may seem a trifle, but it cost me many a tear: Snap, my little dumb, rough-visaged, but bright-eyed, warmhearted companion, the only thing I had to love me, was taken away, and delivered over to the tender mercies of the village rat-catcher, a man notorious for his brutal treatment of his canine slaves.
The other was serious enough: my letters from home gave intimation that my father's health was worse. No boding fears were expressed, but I was grown timid and despondent, and could not help fearing that some dreadful calamity awaited us there. I seemed to see the black clouds gathering round my native hills, and to hear the angry muttering of a storm that was about to burst, and desolate our hearth.
MIRTH AND MOURNING
- The first of June arrived at last; and Rosalie Murray was transmuted into Lady Ashby. Most splendidly beautiful she looked in her bridal costume.
Upon her return from church after the ceremony, she came flying into the school-room, flushed with excitement, and laughing, half in mirth, and half in reckless desperation, as it seemed to me.
- "Now, Miss Grey, I'm Lady Ashby!" she exclaimed. "It's done, my fate is sealed: there's no drawing back now! I'm come to receive your congratulations, and bid you good-bye; and then I'm off for Paris, Rome, Naples, Switzerland, London - oh, dear! what a deal I shall see and hear before I come back again! But don't forget me; I shan't forget you, though I've been a naughty girl. Come! why don't you congratulate me?"
- "I cannot congratulate you," I replied, "till I know whether this change is really for the better; but I sincerely hope it is; and I wish you true happiness and the best of blessings."
- "Well, good-bye - the carriage is waiting, and they're calling me."
- She gave me a hasty kiss, and was hurrying away, but, suddenly returning, embraced me with more affection than I thought her capable of evincing, and departed with tears in her eyes.
Poor girl! I really loved her then; and forgave her from my heart, all the injury she had done me - and others also; she had not half known it, I was sure; and I prayed God to pardon her too.
- During the remainder of that day of festal sadness, I was left to my own devices. Being too much unhinged for any steady occupation, I wandered about with a book in my hand for several hours - more thinking than reading, for I had many things to think about; and in the evening I made use of my liberty to go and see my old friend Nancy once again; to apologise for my long absence, which must have seemed so neglectful and unkind, by telling her how busy I had been, and to talk, or read, or work for her, whichever might be most acceptable; and also of course, to tell her the news of this important day, and perhaps to obtain a little information from her in return, respecting Mr. Weston's expected departure. But of this, she seemed to know nothing, and I hoped, as she did, that it was all a false report.
She was very glad to see me; but, happily, her eyes were now so nearly well that she was almost independent of my services. She was deeply interested in the wedding; but while I amused her with the details of the festive day, the splendours of the bridal party and of the bride herself, she often sighed and shook her head, and wished good might come of it: she seemed like me to regard it rather as a theme for sorrow than rejoicing. I sat a long time talking to her about that and other things; but no one came.
- Shall I confess that I sometimes looked towards the door with a half expectant wish to see it open and give entrance to Mr. Weston, as had happened once before? and that, returning through the lanes and fields, I often paused to look round me, and walked more slowly than was at all necessary - for, though a fine evening, it was not a hot one - and, finally, felt a sense of emptiness and disappointment at having reached the house without meeting or even catching a distant glimpse of any one, except a few labourers returning from their work?
- Sunday however was approaching: I should see him then; for now that Miss Murray was gone, I could have my old corner again, I should see him, and by look, speech, and manner, I might judge whether the circumstance of her marriage had very much afflicted him.
Happily I could perceive no shadow of a difference: he wore the same aspect as he had worn two months ago - voice, look, manner - all alike unchanged: there was the same keen-sighted, unclouded truthfulness in his discourse, the same forcible clearness in his style, the same earnest simplicity in all he said and did, that made itself, not marked by the eye and ear, but felt upon the hearts of his audience.
- I walked home with Miss Matilda; but he did not join us. Matilda was now sadly at a loss for amusement, and woefully in want of a companion. Her brothers at school, her sister married and gone, she too young to be admitted into society; for which, from Rosalie's example, she was in some degree beginning to acquire a taste - a taste at least for the company of certain classes of gentlemen, at this dull time of year - no hunting going on, no shooting even - for, though she might not join in that, it was something to see her father or the gamekeeper go out with the dogs, and to talk with them, on their return, about the different birds they had bagged. Now also she was denied the solace which the companionship of the coachman, grooms, horses, greyhounds and pointers might have afforded; for her mother, having notwithstanding the disadvantages of a country life so satisfactorily disposed of her elder daughter, the pride of her heart, had begun seriously to turn her attention to the younger, and being truly alarmed at the roughness of her manners, and thinking it high time to work a reform, had been roused at length to exert her authority, and prohibited entirely, the yards, stables, kennels, and coach-house. Of course, she was not implicitly obeyed; but indulgent as she had hitherto been, when once her spirit was roused, her temper was not so gentle as she required that of her governesses to be, and her will was not to be thwarted with impunity; and after many a scene of contention between mother and daughter, many a violent outbreak which I was ashamed to witness, in which the father's authority was often called in to confirm, with oaths and threats, the mother's slighted prohibitions - for even he could see that "Tilly, though she would have made a fine lad, was not quite what a young lady ought to be" - Matilda at length found that her easiest plan was to keep clear of the forbidden regions, unless she could now and then steal a visit without her watchful mother's knowledge.
- Amid all this, let it not be imagined that I escaped without many a reprimand, and many an implied reproach that lost none of its sting from not being openly worded, but rather wounded the more deeply, because from that very reason, it seemed to preclude self-defence. Frequently, I was told to amuse Miss Matilda with other things, and to remind her of her mother's precepts and prohibitions. I did so to the best of my power; but she could not be amused against her will and could not against her taste, and though I went beyond mere reminding, such gentle remonstrances as I could use were utterly ineffectual.
- "Dear Miss Grey! it is the strangest thing. I suppose you can't help it, if it's not in your nature - but I wonder you can't win the confidence of that girl, and make your society at least as agreeable to her as that of Robert or Joseph!"
- "They can talk the best about the things in which she is most interested," I replied.
- "Well! that is a strange confession, however, to come from her governess! Who is to form a young lady's tastes, I wonder, if the governess doesn't do it? I have known governesses who have so completely identified themselves with the reputation of their young ladies for elegance and propriety in mind and manners, that they would blush to speak a word against them; and to hear the slightest blame imputed to their pupils was worse than to be censured in their own persons, and I really think it very natural for my part."
- "Do you, ma'am?"
- "Yes, of course, the young lady's proficiency and elegance is of more consequence to the governess than her own, as well as to the world. If she wishes to prosper in her vocation she must devote all her energies to her business; all her ideas and all her ambition will tend to the accomplishment of that one object. When we wish to decide upon the merits of a governess, we naturally look at the young ladies she professes to have educated, and judge accordingly. The judicious governess knows this: she knows that, while she lives in obscurity herself, her pupil's virtues and defects will be open to every eye, and, that unless she loses sight of herself in their cultivation, she need not hope for success. You see, Miss Grey, it is just the same as any other trade or profession; they that wish to prosper must devote themselves body and soul to their calling, and if they begin to yield to indolence or self-indulgence they are speedily distanced by wiser competitors: there is little to choose between a person that ruins her pupils by neglect, and one that corrupts them by her example. You will excuse my dropping these little hints: you know it is all for your own good. Many ladies would speak to you much more strongly; and many would not trouble themselves to speak at all, but quietly look out for a substitute. That, of course would be the easiest plan; but I know the advantages of a place like this to a person in your situation; and I have no desire to part with you, as I am sure you would do very well if you will only think of these things and try to exert yourself a little more; and then, I am convinced, you would soon acquire that delicate tact which alone is wanting to give you a proper influence over the mind of your pupil."
- I was about to give the lady some idea of the fallacy of her expectations; but she sailed away as soon as she had concluded her speech. Having said what she wished, it was no part of her plan to wait my answer: it was my business to hear, and not to speak.
- However, as I have said, Matilda at length yielded, in some degree, to her mother's authority (pity it had not been exerted before), and being thus deprived of almost every source of amusement, there was nothing for it but to take long rides with the groom and long walks with the governess, and to visit the cottages and farm-houses on her father's estate, to kill time in chatting with the old men and women that inhabited them.
In one of these walks, it was our chance to meet Mr. Weston. This was what I had long desired; but now, for a moment, I wished either he or I were away: I felt my heart throb so violently that I dreaded lest some outward signs of emotion should appear; but I think he hardly glanced at me, and I was soon calm enough. After a brief salutation to both, he asked Matilda if she had lately heard from her sister.
- "Yes," replied she. "She was at Paris when she wrote, and very well, and very happy."
- She spoke the last word emphatically, and with a glance impertinently sly. He did not seem to notice it, but replied, with equal emphasis, and very seriously, --
- "I hope she will continue to be so."
- "Do you think it likely?" I ventured to inquire, for Matilda had started off in pursuit of her dog that was chasing a leveret.
- "I cannot tell," replied he. "Sir Thomas may be a better man than I may suppose, but, from all I have heard and seen, it seems a pity that one so young, and gay, and - and interesting, to express many things by one word - whose greatest, if not her only fault, appears to be thoughtlessness - no trifling fault to be sure, since it renders the possessor liable to almost every other, and exposes him to so many temptations; but it seems a pity that she should be thrown away on such a man. It was her mother's wish, I suppose?"
- "Yes; and her own too, I think, for she always laughed at my attempts to dissuade her from the step."
- "You did attempt it? Then, at least, you will have the satisfaction of knowing that it is no fault of yours, if any harm should come of it; as for Mrs. Murray, I don't know how she can justify her conduct; if I had sufficient acquaintance with her I'd ask her."
- "It seems unnatural; but some people think rank and wealth the chief good; and, if they can secure that to their children, they think they have done their duty."
- "True: but is it not strange that persons of experience who have been married themselves should judge so falsely?"
- Matilda now came panting back, with the lacerated body of the young hare in her hand.
- "Was it your intention to kill that hare, or to save it, Miss Murray?" asked Mr. Weston, apparently puzzled at her gleeful countenance.
- "I pretended to want to save it," she answered, honestly enough, "as it was so glaringly out of season; but I was better pleased to see it killed. However, you can both witness that I couldn't help it; Prince was determined to have her; and he clutched her by the back, and killed her in a minute! Wasn't it a noble chase?"
- "Very! for a young lady after a leveret."
- There was a quiet sarcasm in the tone of his reply which was not lost upon her; she shrugged her shoulders, and, turning away with a significant "Humph!" asked me how I had enjoyed the fun.
I replied that I saw no fun in the matter; but admitted that I had not observed the transaction very narrowly.
- "Didn't you see how it doubled - just like an old hare? and didn't you hear it scream?"
- "I'm happy to say I did not."
- "It cried out just like a child."
- "Poor little thing! What will you do with it?"
- "Come along - I shall leave it in the first house we come to - I don't want to take it home, for fear papa should scold me for letting the dog kill it."
- Mr. Weston was now gone, and we too went on our way; but as we returned, after having deposited the hare in a farmhouse, and demolished some spice cake and currant wine in exchange, we met him returning also from the execution of his mission, whatever it might be. He carried in his hand a cluster of beautiful bluebells which he offered to me, observing, with a smile, that though he had seen so little of me for the last two months, he had not forgotten that bluebells were numbered among my favourite flowers.
It was done as a simple act of good will, without compliment, or remarkable courtesy, or any look that could be construed into "reverential, tender adoration" (vide Rosalie Murray); but still, it was something to find my unimportant saying so well remembered; it was something that he had noticed so accurately the time I had ceased to be visible.
- "I was told," said he, "that you were a perfect bookworm, Miss Grey, so completely absorbed in your studies that you were lost to every other pleasure."
- "Yes, and it's quite true!" cried Matilda.
- "No, Mr. Weston; don't believe it; it's a scandalous libel. These young ladies are too fond of making random assertions at the expense of their friends; and you ought to be careful how you listen to them."
- "I hope this assertion is groundless, at any rate."
- "Why? Do you particularly object to ladies studying?"
- "No; but I object to any one so devoting himself or herself to study as to lose sight of everything else. Except under peculiar circumstances, I consider very close and constant study as a waste of time, and an injury to the mind as well as the body."
- "Well, I have neither the time nor the inclination for such transgressions."
- We parted again.
- Well! what is there remarkable in all this? Why have I recorded it? Because, reader, it was important enough to give me a cheerful evening, a night of pleasing dreams, and a morning of felicitous hopes. Shallow-brained cheerfulness - foolish dreams - unfounded hopes - you would say; and I will not venture to deny it: suspicion to that effect arose too frequently in my own mind; but our wishes are like tinder: the flint and steel of circumstances are continually striking out sparks, which vanish immediately, unless they chance to fall upon the tinder of our wishes; then they instantly ignite, and the flame of hope is kindled in a moment.
- But alas! that very morning, my flickering flame of hope was dismally quenched by a letter from my mother, which spoke so seriously of my father's increasing illness, that I feared there was little or no chance of his recovery; and, close at hand as the holidays were, I almost trembled lest they should come too late for me to meet him in this world. Two days after, a letter from Mary told me his life was despaired of, and his end seemed fast approaching.
Then, immediately, I sought permission to anticipate the vacation, and go without delay.
Mrs. Murray stared, and wondered at the unwonted energy and boldness with which I urged the request, and thought there was no occasion to hurry; but finally gave me leave, stating, however, that there was "no need to be in such agitation about the matter - it might prove a false alarm after all; and if not - why, it was only in the common course of nature; we must all die some time; and I was not to suppose myself the only afflicted person in the world;" and concluded with saying I might have the phaeton to take me to O --. "And instead of repining, Miss Grey, be thankful for the privileges you enjoy. There's many a poor clergyman whose family would be plunged into ruin by the event of his death; but you, you see, have influential friends ready to continue their patronage, and to show you every consideration."
- I thanked her for her "consideration," and flew to my room to make some hurried preparations for my departure. My bonnet and shawl being on, and a few things hastily crammed into my largest trunk, I descended. But I might have done the work more leisurely, for no one else was in a hurry; and I had still a considerable time to wait for the phaeton.
At length it came to the door, and I was off; but oh, what a dreary journey was that! how utterly different from my former passages homewards!
Being too late for the last coach to --, I had to hire a cab for ten miles, and then a car to take me over the rugged hills. It was half-past ten before I reached home. They were not in bed.
- My mother and sister both met me in the passage - sad - silent - pale! I was so much shocked and terror-stricken that I could not speak to ask the information I so much longed yet dreaded to obtain.
- "Agnes!" said my mother, struggling to repress some strong emotion.
- "Oh, Agnes!" cried Mary, and burst into tears.
- "How is he?" I asked, gasping for the answer.
- It was the reply I had anticipated; but the shock seemed none the less tremendous.
- My father's mortal remains had been consigned to the tomb; and we, with sad faces and sombre garments, sat lingering over the frugal breakfast-table, revolving plans for our future life.
My mother's strong mind had not given way beneath even this affliction: her spirit, though crushed, was not broken. Mary's wish was that I should go back to Horton Lodge, and that our mother should come and live with her and Mr. Richardson at the vicarage: she affirmed that he wished it no less than herself, and that such an arrangement could not fail to benefit all parties, for my mother's society and experience would be of inestimable value to them, and they would do all they could to make her happy. But no arguments or entreaties could prevail: my mother was determined not to go; not that she questioned, for a moment, the kind wishes and intentions of her daughter; but she affirmed that so long as God spared her health and strength, she would make use of them to earn her own livelihood, and be chargeable to no one, whether her dependence would be felt as a burden or not. If she could afford to reside as a lodger in -- vicarage, she would choose that house before all others as the place of her abode; but, not being so circumstanced, she would never come under its roof, except as an occasional visitor, unless sickness or calamity should render her assistance really needful, or until age or infirmity made her incapable of maintaining herself.
- "No, Mary," said she, "if Richardson and you have anything to spare, you must lay it aside for your family; and Agnes and I must gather honey for ourselves. Thanks to my having had daughters to educate, I have not forgotten my accomplishments. God willing I will check this vain repining," she said, while the tears coursed one another down her cheeks in spite of her efforts; but she wiped them away, and resolutely shaking back her head, continued, "I will exert myself and look out for a small house commodiously situated in some populous but healthy district, where we will take a few young ladies to board and educate - if we can get them - and as many day-pupils as will come, or as we can manage to instruct. Your father's relations and old friends will be able to send us some pupils or to assist us with their recommendations no doubt: I shall not apply to my own. What say you to it, Agnes? will you be willing to leave your present situation and try?"
- "Quite willing, mamma; and the money I have saved will do to furnish the house. It shall be taken from the bank directly."
- "When it is wanted; we must get the house, and settle on preliminaries first."
- Mary offered to lend the little she possessed; but my mother declined it, saying that we must begin on an economical plan, and she hoped that the whole or part of mine added to what we could get by the sale of the furniture, and what little our dear papa had contrived to lay aside for her since the debts were paid, would be sufficient to last us till Christmas, when it was hoped, something would accrue from our united labours.
It was finally settled that this should be our plan; and that inquiries and preparations should immediately be set on foot; and while my mother busied herself with these, I should return to Horton Lodge at the close of my four weeks' vacation, and give notice for my final departure when things were in train for the speedy commencement of our school.
- We were discussing these affairs on the morning I have mentioned, about a fortnight after my father's death, when a letter was brought in for my mother, on beholding which the colour mounted to her face - lately pale enough with anxious watchings and excessive sorrow.
"From my father!" murmured she, as she hastily tore off the cover.
It was many years since she had heard from any of her own relations before. Naturally wondering what the letter might contain, I watched her countenance while she read it, and was somewhat surprised to see her bite her lip and knit her brows as if in anger. When she had done, she somewhat irreverently, cast it on the table, saying with a scornful smile,
"Your grandpapa has been so kind as to write to me. He says he has no doubt I have long repented of my 'unfortunate marriage,' and if I will only acknowledge this, and confess I was wrong in neglecting his advice, and that I have justly suffered for it, he will make a lady of me once again - if that be possible after my long degradation - and remember my girls in his will. Get my desk, Agnes - and send these things away - I will answer the letter directly - but first as I may be depriving you both of a legacy, it is just that I should tell you what I mean to say.
"I shall say that he is mistaken in supposing that I can regret the birth of my daughters, (who have been the pride of my life, and are likely to be the comfort of my old age), or the thirty years I have passed in the company of my best and dearest friend; - that, had our misfortunes been three times as great as they were, (unless they had been of my bringing on,) I should still the more rejoice to have shared them with your father, and administered what consolation I was able; and, had his sufferings in illness been ten times what they were, I could not regret having watched over and laboured to relieve them - that, if he had married a richer wife, misfortunes and trials would no doubt have come upon him still, while - I am egotist enough to imagine that no other woman could have cheered him through them so well - not that I am superior to the rest, but I was made for him, and he for me; and I can no more repent the hours - days - years of happiness we have spent together, and which neither could have had without the other, than I can the privilege of having been his nurse in sickness, and his comfort in affliction.
- "Will this do, children? - or shall I say we are all very sorry for what has happened during the last thirty years; and my daughters wish they had never been born; but since they have had that misfortune, they will be thankful for any trifle their grandpapa will be kind enough to bestow?"
- Of course, we both applauded our mother's resolution; Mary cleared away the breakfast things; I brought the desk; the letter was quickly written and despatched; and, from that day, we heard no more of our grandfather till we saw his death announced in the newspaper a considerable time after - all his worldly possessions, of course, being left to our wealthy, unknown cousins.
- A house in A --, the fashionable watering-place, was hired for our seminary; and a promise of two or three pupils was obtained to commence with. I returned to Horton Lodge about the middle of July, leaving my mother to conclude the bargain for the house, to obtain more pupils, to sell off the furniture of our old abode, and to fit out the new one. .
- We often pity the poor, because they have no leisure to mourn their departed relatives, and necessity obliges them to labour through their severest afflictions; but is not active employment the best remedy for overwhelming sorrow - the surest antidote for despair? It may be a rough comforter: it may seem hard to be harassed with the cares of life when we have no relish for its enjoyments, to be goaded to labour when the heart is ready to break, and the vexed spirit implores for rest only to weep in silence; but is not labour better than the rest we covet? and are not those petty, tormenting cares less hurtful than a continual brooding over the great affliction that oppresses us? Besides, we cannot have cares, and anxieties, and toil, without hope - if it be but the hope of fulfilling our joyless task, accomplishing some needful project, or escaping some further annoyance.
At any rate, I was glad my mother had so much employment for every faculty of her action-loving frame. Our kind neighbours lamented that she, once so exalted in wealth and station, should be reduced to such extremity in her time of sorrow; but I am persuaded that she would have suffered thrice as much had she been left in affluence, with liberty to remain in that house, the scene of her early happiness and late affliction, and no stern necessity to prevent her from incessantly brooding over, and lamenting her bereavement.
- I will not dilate upon the feelings with which I left the old house, the well-known garden, the little village church - then doubly dear to me, because my father, who for thirty years had taught and prayed within its walls lay slumbering now beneath its flags - and the old bare hills, delightful in their very desolation, with the narrow vales between, smiling in green wood and sparkling water - the house where I was born, the scene of all my early associations, the place where, throughout life, my earthly affections had been centred; and left them to return no more! True, I was going back to Horton Lodge where, amid many evils, one source of pleasure yet remained; but it was pleasure mingled with excessive pain, and my stay, alas! was limited to six weeks.
And even of that precious time, day after day slipped by and I did not see him: except at church, I never saw him for a fortnight after my return. It seemed a long time to me: and, as I was often out with my rambling pupil, of course hopes would keep rising, and disappointments would ensue; and then I would say to my own heart, "Here is a convincing proof - if you would but have the sense to see it, or the candour to acknowledge it - that he does not care for you. If he only thought half as much about you, as you do about him, he would have contrived to meet you many times ere this - you must know that by consulting your own feelings. Therefore have done with this nonsense; you have no ground for hope; dismiss, at once, these hurtful thoughts and foolish wishes from your mind and turn to your own duty and the dull, blank life that lies before you. You might have known such happiness was not for you."
- But I saw him at last. He came suddenly upon me as I was crossing a field in returning from a visit to Nancy Brown, which I had taken the opportunity of paying while Matilda Murray was riding her matchless mare.
He must have heard of the heavy loss I had sustained; he expressed no sympathy, offered no condolence, but almost the first words he uttered were, "How is your mother?" And this was no matter of course question, for I never told him that I had a mother: he must have learnt the fact from others, if he knew it at all; and besides, there was sincere goodwill, and even deep, touching, unobtrusive sympathy in the tone and manner of the inquiry.
I thanked him with due civility, and told him she was as well as could be expected.
"What will she do?" was the next question. Many would have deemed it an impertinent one, and given an evasive reply; but such an idea never entered my head, and I gave a brief, but plain statement of mother's plans and prospects.
- "Then you will leave this place shortly?" said he.
- "Yes, in a month."
- He paused a minute, as if in thought. When he spoke again I hoped it would be to express his concern at my departure; but it was only to say, "I should think you will be willing enough to go?"
- "Yes - for some things," I replied.
- "For some things only - I wonder what should make you regret it!"
- I was annoyed at this, in some degree because it embarrassed me; I had only one reason for regretting it; and that was a profound secret, which he had no business to trouble me about.
- "Why," said I - "why should you suppose that I dislike the place?"
- "You told me so yourself," was the decisive reply. "You said, at least, that you could not live contentedly without a friend; and that you had no friend here, and no possibility of making one - and besides, I know you must dislike it."
- "But, if you remember rightly, I said, or meant to say, I could not live contentedly without a friend in the world: I was not so unreasonable as to require one always near me. I think I could be happy in a house full of enemies, - if" but no; that sentence must not be continued - I paused, and hastily added, "And besides, we cannot well leave a place where we have lived for two or three years, without some feeling of regret."
- "Will you regret to part with Miss Murray, your sole remaining pupil and companion?"
- "I dare say I shall in some degree - it was not without sorrow I parted with her sister."
- "I can imagine that."
- "Well, Miss Matilda is quite as good - better in one respect."
- "What is that?"
- "She's honest."
- "And the other is not?"
- "I should not call her dishonest; but it must be confessed, she's a little artful."
- "Artful is she? - I saw she was giddy and vain - and now," he added, after a pause, "I can well believe she was artful too, but so excessively so as to assume an aspect of extreme simplicity and unguarded openness. Yes," continued he musingly, "that accounts for some little things that puzzled me a trifle before."
- After that, he turned the conversation to more general subjects. He did not leave me till we had nearly reached the park-gates: he had certainly stepped a little out of his way to accompany me so far, for he now went back and disappeared down Moss-lane, the entrance of which we had passed some time before. Assuredly, I did not regret this circumstance: if sorrow had any place in my heart, it was that he was gone at last - that he was no longer walking by my side, and that that short interval of delightful intercourse was at an end. He had not breathed a word of love, or dropped one hint of tenderness or affection, and yet I had been supremely happy. To be near him, to hear him talk; as he did talk; and to feel that he thought me worthy to be so spoken to - capable of understanding and duly appreciating such discourse - was enough.
- "Yes, Edward Weston, I could indeed be happy in a house full of enemies, if I had but one friend, who truly, deeply, and faithfully loved me, and if that friend were you - though we might be far apart - seldom to hear from each other, still more seldom to meet - though toil, and trouble, and vexation might surround me, still - it would be too much happiness for me to dream of! Yet who can tell," said I within myself, as I proceeded up the park. "who can tell what this one month may bring forth? I have lived nearly three and twenty years, and I have suffered much, and tasted little pleasure yet: is it likely my life all through will be so clouded? Is it not possible that God may hear my prayers, disperse these gloomy shadows, and grant me some beams of heaven's sunshine yet? Will He entirely deny to me those blessings which are so freely given to others, who neither ask them nor acknowledge them when received? May I not still hope and trust?"
I did hope and trust for a while; but alas, alas! the time ebbed away; one week followed another, and, excepting one distant glimpse, and two transient meetings - during which scarcely anything was said - while I was walking with Miss Matilda, I saw nothing of him: except, of course, at church.
- And now, the last Sunday was come, and the last service. I was often on the point of melting into tears during the sermon - the last I was to hear from him: the best I should hear from any one, I was well assured. It was over - the congregation were departing; and I must follow. I had then seen him and heard his voice, too probably for the last time.
In the church-yard, Matilda was pounced upon by the two Misses Green. They had many inquiries to make about her sister, and I know not what besides. I only wished they would have done, that we might hasten back to Horton Lodge: I longed to seek the retirement of my own room, or some sequestered nook in the grounds, that I might deliver myself up to my feelings to weep my last farewell, and lament my false hopes and vain delusions. Only this once, and then adieu to fruitless dreaming - thenceforth, only sober, solid, sad reality should occupy my mind; but while I thus resolved, a low voice close beside me said - "I suppose you are going this week, Miss Grey?"
"Yes," I replied. I was very much startled; and had I been at all hysterically inclined, I certainly should have committed myself in some way then. Thank God I was not.
- "Well," said Mr. Weston, "I want to bid you good-bye - it is not likely I shall see you again before you go."
- "Good-bye, Mr. Weston," I said. Oh, how I struggled to say it calmly! I gave him my hand. He retained it a few seconds in his.
- "It is possible we may meet again," said he, "will it be of any consequence to you whether we do or not?"
- "Yes, I should be very glad to see you again."
- I could say no less. He kindly pressed my hand, and went. Now, I was happy again - though more inclined to burst into tears than ever. If I had been forced to speak at that moment, a succession of sobs would have inevitably ensued; and as it was, I could not keep the water out of my eyes. I walked along with Miss Murray, turning aside my face and neglecting to notice several successive remarks, till she bawled out that I was either deaf or stupid, and then (having recovered my self-possession) as one awakened from a fit of abstraction, I suddenly looked up and asked what she had been saying.
- I left Horton Lodge, and went to join my mother in our new abode at A --. I found her well in health, resigned in spirit, and even cheerful, though subdued and sober, in her general demeanour. We had only three boarders and half-a-dozen day-pupils to commence with; but by due care and diligence we hoped ere long to increase the number of both.
- I set myself with befitting energy to discharge the duties of this new mode of life. I call it new, for there was, indeed, a considerable difference between working with my mother in a school of our own, and working as a hireling among strangers, despised and trampled upon by old and young; and for the first few weeks I was by no means unhappy. "It is possible we may meet again," and "Will it be of any consequence to you whether we do or not?" - Those words still rang in my ear and rested on my heart; they were my secret solace and support.
"I shall see him again. - He will come; or he will write." No promise, in fact, was too bright or too extravagant for hope to whisper in my ear. I did not believe half of what she told me; I pretended to laugh at it all; but I was far more credulous than I myself supposed: otherwise, why did my heart leap up when a knock was heard at the front door, and the maid, who opened it, came to tell my mother a gentleman wished to see her? and why was I out of humour for the rest of the day, because it proved to be a music-master come to offer his services to our school? and what stopped my breath for a moment, when the postman having brought a couple of letters, my mother said, "Here, Agnes, this is for you," and threw one of them to me? and what made the hot blood rush into my face when I saw it was directed in a gentleman's hand? and why? - oh! why did that cold, sickening sense of disappointment fall upon me, when I had torn open the cover and found it was only a letter from Mary, which, for some reason or other, her husband had directed for her?
- Was it then come to this - that I should be disappointed to receive a letter from my only sister; and because, it was not written by a comparative stranger? Dear Mary! and she had written it so kindly - and thinking I should be so pleased to have it! - I was not worthy to read it!
And I believe, in my indignation against myself, I should have put it aside till I had schooled myself into a better frame of mind, and was become more deserving of the honour and privilege of its perusal; but there was my mother looking on, and wishful to know what news it contained; so I read it and delivered it to her, and then went into the school-room to attend to the pupils; but amidst the cares of copies and sums - in the intervals of correcting errors here, and reproving derelictions of duty there, I was inwardly taking myself to task with far sterner severity.
"What a fool you must be," said my head to my heart, or my sterner to my softer self; - "how could you ever dream that he would write to you? What grounds have you for such a hope - or that he will see you, or give himself any trouble about you - or even think of you again?"
"What grounds?" - and then Hope set before me that last, short interview, and repeated the words I had so faithfully treasured in my memory.
"Well, and what was there in that? - Who ever hung his hopes upon so frail a twig? What was there in those words that any common acquaintance might not say to another? Of course, it was possible you might meet again; he might have said so if you had been going to New Zealand; but that did not imply any intention of seeing you - and then, as to the question that followed, any one might ask that; and how did you answer? - Merely with a stupid, commonplace reply, such as you would have given to Master Murray, or any one else you had been on tolerably civil terms with."
"But then," persisted Hope, "the tone and manner in which he spoke."
"Oh, that is nonsense! he always speaks impressively; and at that moment there were the Greens and Miss Matilda Murray just before, and other people passing by, and he was obliged to stand close beside you, and to speak very low, unless he wished everybody to hear what he said, which - though it was nothing at all particular - of course, he would rather not."
But then, above all, that emphatic, yet gentle pressure of the hand, which seemed to say, "Trust me;" and many other things besides - too delightful, almost too flattering, to be repeated, even to oneself.
"Egregious folly - too absurd to require contradiction - mere inventions of the imagination, which you ought to be ashamed of. If you would but consider your own unattractive exterior, your unamiable reserve, your foolish diffidence, which must make you appear cold, dull, awkward, and perhaps ill-tempered too; - if you had but rightly considered these from the beginning, you would never have harboured such presumptuous thoughts; and now that you have been so foolish, pray repent and amend, and let us have no more of it!"
- I cannot say that I implicitly obeyed my own injunctions; but such reasoning as this became more and more effective as time wore on and nothing was seen or heard of Mr. Weston; until at last, I gave up hoping, for even my heart acknowledged it was all in vain. But still, I would think of him; I would cherish his image in my mind; and treasure every word, look, and gesture that my memory could retain; and brood over his excellences, and his peculiarities, and, in fact, all I had seen, heard, or imagined respecting him.
- "Agnes, this sea air and change of scene do you no good, I think: I never saw you look so wretched. It must be that you sit too much, and allow the cares of the school-room to worry you. You must learn to take things easy, and to be more active and cheerful; you must take exercise whenever you can get it, and leave the most tiresome duties to me: they will only serve to exercise my patience, and, perhaps, try my temper a little."
- So said my mother, as we sat at work one morning during the Easter holidays. I assured her that my employments were not at all oppressive, that I was well, or if there was anything amiss, it would be gone as soon as the trying months of Spring were over; when Summer came I should be as strong and hearty as she could wish to see me; but inwardly her observation startled me. I knew my strength was declining, my appetite had failed, and I was grown listless and desponding; - and if indeed, he could never care for me, and I could never see him more - if I was forbidden to minister to his happiness, forbidden, for ever, to taste the joys of love, to bless and to be blessed, then, life must be a burden, and if my Heavenly Father would call me away, I should be glad to rest; but it would not do to die and leave my mother - Selfish, unworthy daughter, to forget her for a moment! Was not her happiness committed in a great measure to my charge - and the welfare of our young pupils too? Should I shrink from the work that God had set before me, because it was not fitted to my taste? Did not He know best what I should do, and where I ought to labour? and should I long to quit His service before I had finished my task, and expect to enter into His rest without having laboured to earn it? "No; by His help I will arise and address myself diligently to my appointed duty. If happiness in this world is not for me, I will endeavour to promote the welfare of those around me, and my reward shall be hereafter."
So said I in my heart, and from that hour I only permitted my thoughts to wander to Edward Weston - or at least to dwell upon him now and then - as a treat for rare occasions; and whether it was really the approach of Summer, or the effect of these good resolutions, or the lapse of time, or all together, tranquillity of mind was soon restored, and bodily health and vigour began likewise, slowly, but surely, to return.
- Early in June I received a letter from Lady Ashby, late Miss Murray. She had written to me twice or thrice before, from the different stages of her bridal tour, always in good spirits, and professing to be very happy. I wondered every time that she had not forgotten me in the midst of so much gaiety and variety of scene. At length however, there was a pause; and it seemed she had forgotten me, for upwards of seven months passed away, and no letter. Of course, I did not break my heart about that, though I often wondered how she was getting on; and when this last epistle so unexpectedly arrived, I was glad enough to receive it.
It was dated from Ashby Park where she was come to settle down at last, having previously divided her time between the Continent and the Metropolis. She made many apologies for having neglected me so long, assured me she had not forgotten me, and had often intended to write, etc. etc., but always been prevented by something. She acknowledged that she had been living a very dissipated life, and I should think her very wicked and very thoughtless, but notwithstanding that, she thought a great deal, and among other things, that she should vastly like to see me.
"We have been several days here already," wrote she. "We have not a single friend with us, and are likely to be very dull. You know I never had a fancy for living with my husband like two turtles in a nest, were he the most delightful creature that ever wore a coat, so do take pity upon me and come. I suppose your Midsummer holidays commence in June, the same as other people's, therefore you cannot plead want of time, and you must and shall come - in fact I shall die if you don't. I want you to visit me as a friend, and stay a long time. There is nobody with me, as I told you before, but Sir Thomas and old Lady Ashby; but you needn't mind them - they'll trouble us but little with their company; and you shall have a room to yourself, whenever you like to retire to it, and plenty of books to read when my company is not sufficiently amusing. I forget whether you like babies; if you do, you may have the pleasure of seeing mine - the most charming child in the world, no doubt; and all the more so, that I am not troubled with nursing it - I was determined I wouldn't be bothered with that. Unfortunately it is a girl, and Sir Thomas has never forgiven me; but however, if you will only come, I promise you shall be its governess as soon as it can speak, and you shall bring it up in the way it should go, and make a better woman of it than its mamma. And you shall see my poodle too, a splendid little charmer imported from Paris, and two fine Italian paintings of great value - I forget the artist. Doubtless you will be able to discover prodigious beauties in them, which you must point out to me, as I only admire by hearsay; and many elegant curiosities besides, which I purchased at Rome and elsewhere; and, finally you shall see my new home - the splendid house and grounds I used to covet so greatly. Alas! how far the promise of anticipation exceeds the pleasure of possession! There's a fine sentiment! I assure you I am become quite a grave old matron: pray come, if it be only to witness the wonderful change. Write by return of post, and tell me when your vacation commences, and say that you will come the day after, and stay till the day before it closes - in mercy to
- I showed this strange epistle to my mother, and consulted her on what I ought to do. She advised me to go; and I went - willing enough to see Lady Ashby, and her baby too, and to do anything I could to benefit her by consolation or advice, for I imagined she must be unhappy, or she would not have applied to me thus - but feeling, as may readily be conceived, that, in accepting the invitation, I made a great sacrifice for her, and did violence to my feelings in many ways, instead of being delighted with the honourable distinction of being entreated by the baronet's lady to visit her as a friend.
- However, I determined my visit should be only for a few days at most; and I will not deny, that I derived some consolation from the idea that as Ashby Park was not very far from Horton, I might possibly see Mr. Weston, or, at least, hear something about him.
- Ashby Park was certainly a very delightful residence. The mansion was stately without, commodious and elegant within, the park was spacious and beautiful - chiefly, on account of its magnificent old trees, its stately herds of deer, its broad sheet of water, and the ancient woods that stretched beyond it, for there was no broken ground to give variety to the landscape, and but very little of that undulating swell which adds so greatly to the charm of park scenery.
And so - this was the place Rosalie Murray had so longed to call her own, that she must have a share of it on whatever terms it might be offered, whatever price was to be paid for the title of mistress, and whoever was to be her partner in the honour and bliss of such a possession! Well, I am not disposed to censure her now.
- She received me very kindly; and, though I was a poor clergyman's daughter, a governess, and a school-mistress, she welcomed me with unaffected pleasure to her home; and - what surprised me rather - took some pains to make my visit agreeable. I could see, it is true, that she expected me to be greatly struck with the magnificence that surrounded her; and, I confess, I was rather annoyed at her evident efforts to reassure me, and prevent me from being overwhelmed by so much grandeur; too much awed at the idea of encountering her husband and mother-in-law, or too much ashamed of my own humble appearance. I was not ashamed of it at all; for, though plain, I had taken good care not to be shabby or mean, and should have been pretty considerably at my ease, if my condescending hostess had not taken such manifest pains to make me so; and, as for the magnificence that surrounded her, nothing that met my eyes struck me, or affected me half so much as her own altered appearance.
Whether from the influence of fashionable dissipation, or some other evil, a space of little more than twelve months, had had the effect that might be expected from as many years, in reducing the plumpness of her form, the freshness of her complexion, the vivacity of her movements, and the exuberance of her spirits.
- I wished to know if she was unhappy; but I felt it was not my province to inquire; I might endeavour to win her confidence; but, if she chose to conceal her matrimonial cares from me, I would trouble her with no obtrusive questions.
I, therefore, at first, confined myself to a few general inquiries about her health and welfare, and a few commendations on the beauty of the park, and of the little girl that should have been a boy, a small delicate infant of seven or eight weeks old, whom its mother seemed to regard with no remarkable degree of interest or affection, though full as much as I expected her to show.
- Shortly after my arrival, she commissioned her maid to conduct me to my room and see that I had everything I wanted: it was a small, unpretending, but sufficiently comfortable apartment.
When I descended thence - having divested myself of all travelling encumbrances, and arranged my toilet with due consideration for the feelings of my lady hostess, she conducted me herself to the room I was to occupy when I chose to be alone, or when she was engaged with visitors, or obliged to be with her mother-in-law, or otherwise prevented, as she said, from enjoying the pleasure of my society. It was a quiet, tidy little sitting-room, and I was not sorry to be provided with such a harbour of refuge.
- "And some time," said she, "I will show you the library; I never examined its shelves, but, I dare say, it is full of wise books, and you may go and burrow among them whenever you please; and now you shall have some tea - it will soon be dinner time, but, I thought, as you were accustomed to dine at one, you would perhaps like better to have a cup of tea about this time, and to dine when we lunch; and then, you know, you can have your tea in this room, and that will save you from having to dine with Lady Ashby and Sir Thomas, which would be rather awkward - at least, not awkward, but rather - a - you know what I mean - I thought you mightn't like it so well - especially as we may have other ladies and gentlemen to dine with us occasionally."
- "Certainly," said 1, "I would much rather have it as you say; and, if you have no objection, I should prefer having all my meals in this room."
- "Why so?"
- "Because, I imagine, it would be more agreeable to Lady Ashby and Sir Thomas."
- "Nothing of the kind!"
- "At any rate it would be more agreeable to me."
- She made some faint objections, but soon conceded; and I could see that the proposal was a considerable relief to her.
- "Now, come into the drawing-room," said she. "There's the dressing-bell; but I won't go yet; it's no use dressing when there's no one to see you; and I want to have a little discourse."
- The drawing-room was certainly an imposing apartment, and very elegantly furnished; but I saw its young mistress glance towards me as we entered, as if to notice how I was impressed by the spectacle, and accordingly, I determined to preserve an aspect of stony indifference, as if I saw nothing at all remarkable - but this was only for a moment: immediately conscience whispered, "Why should I disappoint her to save my pride? No - rather let me sacrifice my pride to give her a little innocent gratification." And I honestly looked round, and told her it was a noble room, and very tastefully furnished. She said little, but I saw she was pleased.
- She showed me her fat French poodle that lay curled up on a silk cushion, and the two fine Italian paintings, which, however, she would not give me time to examine, but, saying I must look at them some other day, insisted upon my admiring the little jewelled watch she had brought from Geneva, and then took me round the room to point out sundry other articles of vertu she had imported from Italy, an elegant little time-piece, and several busts, small, graceful figures, and vases, all beautifully carved in white marble. She spoke of these with animation, and heard my admiring comments with a smile of pleasure, that soon, however, vanished, and was followed by a melancholy sigh, as if in consideration of the insufficiency of all such baubles to the happiness of the human heart, and their woeful inability to supply its insatiate demands.
- Then, stretching herself upon a couch, she motioned me to a capacious easy chair that stood opposite - not before the fire, but before a wide open window - for it was Summer, be it remembered - a sweet, warm evening in the latter half of June; and I sat for a moment in silence, enjoying the still, pure air, and the delightful prospect of the park, that lay before me, rich in verdure and foliage, and basking in yellow sunshine relieved by the long shadows of declining day. But I must take advantage of this pause: I had inquiries to make, and, like the substance of a lady's postscript, the most important must come last.
So I began with asking after Mr. and Mrs. Murray, and Miss Matilda and the young gentlemen.
- I was told that papa had the gout which made him very ferocious; and that he would not give up his choice wines, and his substantial dinners and suppers, and had quarrelled with his physician, because the latter had dared to say, that no medicine could cure him while he lived so freely; that mamma and the rest were well: Matilda was still wild and reckless, but she had got a fashionable governess, and was considerably improved in her manners, and soon to be introduced to the world; and that John and Charles, (now at home for the holidays,) were, by all accounts, "fine, bold, unruly, mischievous boys."
- "And how are the other people getting on?" said I - "the Greens, for instance?"
- "Ah! Mr. Green is heart-broken, you know," replied she, with a languid smile; "he hasn't got over his disappointment yet, and never will, I suppose. He's doomed to be an old bachelor; and his sisters are doing their best to get married."
- "And the Melthams?"
- "Oh, they're jogging on as usual, I suppose; but I know very little about any of them - except Harry," said she, blushing slightly, and smiling again; "I saw a great deal of him while we were in London; for, as soon as he heard we were there, he came up under pretence of visiting his brother, and either followed me, like a shadow, wherever I went, or met me, like a reflection, at every turn. You needn't look so shocked, Miss Grey; I was very discreet, I assure you; but, you know, one can't help being admired. Poor fellow! He was not my only worshipper, but he was certainly the most conspicuous, and, I think, the most devoted among them all. And that detestable - ahem - and Sir Thomas chose to take offence at him - or my profuse expenditure, or something - I don't exactly know what- and hurried me down to the country, at a moment's notice, where I'm to play the hermit, I suppose, for life."
- And she bit her lip, and frowned vindictively upon the fair domain she had once so coveted to call her own.
- "And Mr. Hatfield," said I, "what is become of him?"
- Again, she brightened up, and answered gaily -
- "Oh! he made up to an elderly spinster, and married her, not long since, weighing her heavy purse against her faded charms, and expecting to find that solace in gold which was denied him in love, ha, ha!"
- "Well, and I think that's all - except Mr. Weston - what is he doing?"
- "I don't know I'm sure. He's gone from Horton."
- "How long since; and where is he gone to?"
- "I know nothing about him," replied she, yawning - "except that he went about a month ago - I never asked where," (I would have asked whether it was to a living or merely another curacy, but thought it better not,) "and the people made a great rout about his leaving," continued she, "much to Mr. Hatfield's displeasure, for Hatfield didn't like him, because he had too much influence with the common people, and because he was not sufficiently tractable and submissive to him - and for some other unpardonable sins, I don't know what. But now I positively must go and rest; the second bell will ring directly, and if I come to dinner in this guise, I shall never hear the end of it from Lady Ashby. It's a strange thing one can't be mistress in one's own house! Just ring the bell, and I'll send for my maid, and tell them to get you some tea. Only think of that intolerable woman --"
- "Who - your maid?"
- "No; - my mother-in-law - and my unfortunate mistake! Instead of letting her take herself off to some other house, as she offered to do when I married, I was fool enough to ask her to live here still, and direct the affairs of the house for me; because, in the first place, I hoped we should spend the greater part of the year in Town, and in the second place, being so young and inexperienced, I was frightened at the idea of having a houseful of servants to manage, and dinners to order, and parties to entertain, and all the rest of it, and I thought she might assist me with her experience; never dreaming that she would prove a usurper, a tyrant, an incubus, a spy, and everything else that's detestable. I wish she was dead!"
- She then turned to give her orders to the footman who had been standing bolt upright within the door for the last half minute, and had heard the latter part of her animadversions, and, of course, made his own reflections upon them, notwithstanding the inflexible, wooden countenance he thought proper to preserve in the drawing-room. On my remarking afterwards that he must have heard her, she replied --
- "Oh, no matter! I never care about the footmen; they're mere automatons - it's nothing to them what their superiors say or do; they won't dare to repeat it; and as to what they think - if they presume to think at all - of course, nobody cares for that. It would be a pretty thing indeed if we were to be tongue-tied by our servants!"
- So saying, she ran off to make her hasty toilet, leaving me to pilot my way back to my sitting-room, where, in due time, I was served with a cup of tea; and, after that, I sat musing on Lady Ashby's past and present condition; and on what little information I had obtained respecting Mr. Weston, and the small chance there was of ever seeing or hearing anything more of him throughout my quiet, drab-colour life, which, henceforth, seemed to offer no alternative between positive rainy days and days of dull, grey clouds without downfall.
At length, however, I began to weary of my thoughts, and to wish I knew where to find the library my hostess had spoken of, and to wonder whether I was to remain there, doing nothing till bedtime.
- As I was not rich enough to possess a watch, I could not tell how time was passing, except by observing the slowly lengthening shadows from the window, which presented a side view, including a corner of the park, a clump of trees, whose topmost branches had been colonised by an innumerable company of noisy rooks, and a high wall with a massive wooden gate, no doubt, communicating with the stable yard, as a broad carriage-road swept up to it from the park. The shadow of this wall soon took possession of the whole of the ground as far as I could see, forcing the golden sunlight to retreat inch by inch, and at last take refuge in the very tops of the trees. At last, even they were left in shadow - the shadow of the distant hills, or of the earth itself; and, in sympathy for the busy citizens of the rookery, I regretted to see their habitation, so lately bathed in glorious light, reduced to the sombre, work-a-day hue of the lower world, or of my own world within. For a moment, such birds as soared above the rest might still receive the lustre on their wings, which imparted to their sable plumage the hue and brilliance of deep red gold; at last, that too departed. Twilight came stealing on - the rooks became more quiet - I became more weary, and wished I were going home tomorrow.
At length it grew dark; and I was thinking of ringing for a candle, and betaking myself to bed, when my hostess appeared, with many apologies for having neglected me so long, and laying all the blame upon that "nasty old woman," as she called her mother-in-law.
- "If I didn't sit with her in the drawing-room while Sir Thomas is taking his wine," said she, "she would never forgive me; and then, if I leave the room the instant he comes - as I have done once or twice - it is an unpardonable offence against her dear Thomas. She never showed such disrespect to her husband - and as for affection, wives never think of that now-a-days, she supposes; but things were different in her time - As if there was any good to be done, by staying in the room, when he does nothing but grumble and scold when he's in a bad humour, talk disgusting nonsense when he's in a good one, and go to sleep on the sofa when he's too stupid for either, which is most frequently the case, now when he has nothing to do but to sot over his wine."
- "But could you not try to occupy his mind with something better; and engage him to give up such habits? I'm sure you have powers of persuasion, and qualifications for amusing a gentleman, which many ladies would be glad to possess."
- "And so you think I would lay myself out for his amusement! No; that's not my idea of a wife. It's the husband's part to please the wife, not hers to please him; and if he isn't satisfied with her as she is - and thankful to possess her too, he isn't worthy of her - that's all. And as for persuasion, I assure you I shan't trouble myself with that: I've enough to do to bear with him as he is, without attempting to work a reform. But I'm sorry I left you so long alone, Miss Grey. How have you passed the time?"
- "Chiefly in watching the rooks."
- "Mercy, how dull you must have been! I really must show you the library; and you must ring for everything you want, just as you would in an inn, and make yourself comfortable. I have selfish reasons for wishing to make you happy, because I want you to stay with me, and not fulfil your horrid threat of running away in a day or two."
- "Well, don't let me keep you out of the drawing-room any longer to-night, for at present I am tired, and wish to go to bed."
- I came down a little before eight, next morning, as I knew by the striking of a distant clock. There was no appearance of breakfast. I waited above an hour before it came, still vainly longing for access to the library; and, after that lonely repast was concluded, I waited again about an hour and a half in great suspense and discomfort, uncertain what to do.
At length Lady Ashby came to bid me good morning. She informed me she had only just breakfasted, and now wanted me to take an early walk with her in the park. She asked how long I had been up, and on receiving my answer, expressed the deepest regret, and again promised to show me the library.
I suggested she had better do so at once, and then there would be no further trouble either with remembering or forgetting. She complied, on condition that I would not think of reading, or bothering with the books now, for she wanted to show me the gardens, and take a walk in the park with me, before it became too hot for enjoyment, which, indeed, was nearly the case already. Of course, I readily assented; and we took our walk accordingly.
- As we were strolling in the park, talking of what my companion had seen and heard during her travelling experience, a gentleman on horseback rode up and passed us. As he turned, in passing, and stared me full in the face, I had a good opportunity of seeing what he was like. He was tall, thin, and wasted, with a slight stoop in the shoulders, a pale face, but somewhat blotchy, and disagreeably red about the eye-lids, plain features, and a general appearance of langour and flatness, relieved by a sinister expression about the mouth and the dull, soulless eyes.
- "I detest that man," whispered Lady Ashby with bitter emphasis, as he slowly trotted by.
- "Who is it?" I asked, unwilling to suppose that she should so speak of her husband.
- "Sir Thomas Ashby," she replied with dreary composure.
- "And do you detest him, Miss Murray?" said I, for I was too much shocked to remember her name at the moment.
- "Yes, I do, Miss Grey, and despise him too! and if you knew him, you would not blame me."
- "But you knew what he was before you married him."
- "No; I only thought so; I did not half know him really. I know you warned me against it; and I wish I had listened to you - but it's too late to regret that now - and besides, mamma ought to have known better than either of us; and she never said anything against it - quite the contrary - and then I thought he adored me, and would let me have my own way - he did pretend to do so at first; but now he does not care a bit about me. But I should not care for that; he might do as he pleased, if I might only be free to amuse myself and to stay in London, or have a few friends down here: but he will do as he pleases - and I must be a prisoner and a slave. The moment he saw I could enjoy myself without him, and that others knew my value better than himself, the selfish wretch began to accuse me of coquetry and extravagance; and to abuse Harry Meltham, whose shoes he was not worthy to clean; - and then, he must needs have me down in the country, to lead the life of a nun, lest I should dishonour him or bring him to ruin, as if he had not been ten times worse every way - with his betting book, and his gaming table, and his opera girls, and his Lady this and Mrs. that - yes, and his bottles of wine, and glasses of brandy and water too - filthy beast! Oh, I would give ten thousand worlds to be Miss Murray again! It is too bad to feel life, health, and beauty wasting away, unfelt and unenjoyed, for such a brute as that!" exclaimed she, fairly bursting into tears in the bitterness of her vexation.
- Of course, I pitied her exceedingly, as well for her false idea of happiness and disregard of duty, as for the wretched partner with whom her fate was linked.
I said what I could to comfort her, and offered such counsels as I thought she most required, advising her, first, by gentle reasoning, by kindness, example, and persuasion to try to ameliorate her husband; and then, when she had done all she could, if she still found him incorrigible, to endeavour to abstract herself from him - to wrap herself up in her own integrity, and trouble herself as little about him as possible. I exhorted her to seek consolation in doing her duty to God and man, to put her trust in Heaven, and solace herself with the care and nurture of her little daughter, assuring her she would be amply rewarded by witnessing its progress in strength and wisdom, and receiving its genuine affection.
- "But I can't devote myself entirely to a child," said she, "it may die - which is not at all improbable."
- "But, with care, many a delicate infant has become a strong man or woman."
- "But it may grow so intolerably like its father that I shall hate it."
- "That is not likely; it is a little girl, and strongly resembles its mother."
- "No matter - I should like it better if it were a boy - only that its father will leave it no inheritance that he can possibly squander away. What pleasure can I have in seeing a girl grow up to eclipse me, and enjoy those pleasures that I am for ever debarred from? But supposing I could be so generous as to take delight in this, still it is only a child; and I can't centre all my hopes in a child; that is only one degree better than devoting oneself to a dog. And as for all the wisdom and goodness you have been trying to instil into me - that is all very right and proper I dare say; and if I were some twenty years older, I might fructify by it; but people must enjoy themselves when they're young - and if others won't let them - why, they must hate them for it!"
- "The best way to enjoy yourself is to do what is right, and hate nobody. The end of Religion is not to teach us how to die, but how to live; and the earlier you become wise and good, the more of happiness you secure. And now, Lady Ashby, I have one more piece of advice to offer you, which is that you will not make an enemy of your mother-in-law. Don't get into the way of holding her at arm's length, and regarding her with jealous distrust. I never saw her, but I have heard good as well as evil respecting her, and I imagine that, though cold and haughty in her general demeanour, and even exacting in her requirements, she has strong affections for those who can reach them; and, though so blindly attached to her son, she is not without good principles, or incapable of hearing reason; and if you would but conciliate her a little, and adopt a friendly, open manner - and even confide your grievances to her - real grievances, such as you have a right to complain of - it is my firm belief that she would, in time, become your faithful friend, and a comfort and support to you, instead of the incubus you describe her."
- But I fear my advice had little effect upon the unfortunate young lady; and, finding I could render myself so little serviceable, my residence at Ashby Park became doubly painful. But still, I must stay out that day and the following one, as I had promised to do so; though, resisting all intreaties and inducements to prolong my visit further, I insisted upon departing the next morning, affirming that my mother would be lonely without me, and that she impatiently expected my return.
Nevertheless, it was with a heavy heart that I bade adieu to poor Lady Ashby and left her in her princely home. It was no slight additional proof of her unhappiness, that she should so cling to the consolation of my presence, and earnestly desire the company of one whose general tastes and ideas were so little congenial to her own, whom she had completely forgotten in her hours of prosperity, and whose presence would be rather a nuisance than a pleasure, if she could but have half her heart's desire.
- Our school was not situated in the heart of the town: on entering A -- from the north-west there is a row of respectable looking houses, on each side of the broad, white road, with narrow slips of garden ground before them, Venetian blinds to the windows, and a flight of steps leading to each trim, brass-handled door. In one of the largest of these habitations dwelt my mother and I, with such young ladies as our friends and the public chose to commit to our charge. Consequently, we were a considerable distance from the sea, and divided from it by a labyrinth of streets and houses. But the sea was my delight; and I would often gladly pierce the town to obtain the pleasure of a walk beside it, whether with the pupils, or alone with my mother during the vacations. It was delightful to me at all times and seasons, but especially in the wild commotion of a rough sea-breeze, and in the brilliant freshness of a Summer morning.
- I awoke early on the third morning after my return from Ashby Park - the sun was shining through the blind, and I thought how pleasant it would be to pass through the quiet town and take a solitary ramble on the sands while half the world was in bed. I was not long in forming the resolution, nor slow to act upon it. Of course I would not disturb my mother, so I stole noiselessly downstairs, and quietly unfastened the door. I was dressed, down, and out when the church clock struck a quarter to six.
There was a feeling of freshness and vigour in the very streets; and when I got free of the town, when my foot was on the sands and my face towards the broad, bright bay, no language can describe the effect of the deep, clear azure of the sky and ocean, the bright morning sunshine on the semi-circular barrier of craggy cliffs surmounted by green swelling hills, and on the smooth, wide sands, and the low rocks out at sea - looking, with their clothing of weeds and moss, like little grass grown islands - and above all, on the brilliant, sparkling waves. And then, the unspeakable purity and freshness of the air! there was just enough heat to enhance the value of the breeze, and just enough wind to keep the whole sea in motion, to make the waves come bounding to the shore, foaming and sparkling, as if wild with glee. Nothing else was stirring - no living creature was visible besides myself. My footsteps were the first to press the firm, unbroken sands; nothing before had trampled them since last night's flowing tide had obliterated the deepest marks of yesterday, and left it fair and even, except where the subsiding water had left behind it the traces of dimpled pools, and little running streams.
- Refreshed, delighted, invigorated, I walked along, forgetting all my cares, feeling as if I had wings to my feet, and could go at least forty miles without fatigue, and experiencing a sense of exhilaration to which I had been an entire stranger since the days of early youth. About half past six however, the grooms began to come down to air their masters' horses - first one, and then another, till there were some dozen horses and five or six riders; but that need not trouble me, for they would not come as far as the low rocks which I was now approaching. When I had reached these, and walked over the moist, slippery sea-weed, (at the risk of floundering into one of the numerous pools of clear, salt water that lay between them,) to a little mossy promontory with the sea splashing round it, I looked back again to see who next was stirring. Still, there were only the early grooms with their horses, and one gentleman with a little dark speck of a dog running before him, and one water-cart coming out of the town to get water for the baths. In another minute or two, the distant bathing machines would begin to move: and then the elderly gentlemen, of regular habits, and sober quaker ladies would be coming to take their salutary morning walks. But however interesting such a scene might be, I could not wait to witness it, for the sun and the sea so dazzled my eyes in that direction, that I could but afford one glance; and then I turned again to delight myself with the sight and the sound of the sea dashing against my promontory - with no prodigious force, for the swell was broken by the tangled seaweed and the unseen rocks beneath; otherwise I should soon have been deluged with spray.
But the tide was coming in; the water was rising; the gulfs and lakes were filling; the straits were widening: it was time to seek some safer footing; so I walked, skipped, and stumbled back to the smooth, wide sands, and resolved to proceed to a certain bold projection in the cliffs, and then return.
- Presently, I heard a snuffling sound behind me, and then a dog came frisking and wriggling to my feet. It was my own Snap - the little dark, wire-haired terrier! When I spoke his name, he leapt up in my face, and yelled for joy.
Almost as much delighted as himself, I caught the little creature in my arms, and kissed him repeatedly. But how came he to be there? He could not have dropped from the sky, or come all that way alone: it must be either his master, the rat-catcher, or somebody else that had brought him; so, repressing my extravagant caresses, and endeavouring to repress his likewise, I looked round, and beheld - Mr. Weston!
- "Your dog remembers you well, Miss Grey," said he, warmly grasping the hand I offered him without clearly knowing what I was about.
"You rise early."
- "Not often so early as this," I replied, with amazing composure, considering all the circumstances of the case.
- "How far do you purpose to extend your walk?"
- "I was thinking of returning - it must be almost time, I think."
- He consulted his watch - a gold one now - and told me it was only five minutes past seven.
- "But doubtless, you have had a long enough walk," said he, turning towards the town, to which I now proceeded leisurely to retrace my steps; and he walked beside me.
- "In what part of the town do you live?" asked he. "I never could discover."
- Never could discover? Had he endeavoured to do so, then? I told him the place of our abode.
He asked how we prospered in our affairs; I told him we were doing very well, - that we had had a considerable addition to our pupils after the Christmas vacation, and expected a still further increase at the close of this.
- "You must be an accomplished instructor," he observed.
- "No, it is my mother," I replied; "she manages things so well, and is so active, and clever, and kind."
- "I should like to know your mother. Will you introduce me to her sometime if I call?"
- "Yes, willingly."
- "And will you allow me the privilege of an old friend, of looking in upon you now and then?"
- "Yes, if - I suppose so."
- This was a very foolish answer, but the truth was, I considered that I had no right to invite any one to my mother's house without her knowledge; and if I had said, "yes, if my mother does not object," it would appear as if, by his question, I understood more than was expected, so, supposing she would not, I added, "I suppose so," but of course I should have said something more sensible and more polite if I had had my wits about me. We continued our walk for a minute in silence, which, however, was shortly relieved, (no small relief to me,) by Mr. Weston commenting upon the brightness of the morning, and the beauty of the bay, and then, upon the advantages A -- possessed over many other fashionable places of resort.
- "You don't ask what brings me to A --," said he. "You can't suppose I'm rich enough to come for my own pleasure."
- "I heard you had left Horton."
- "You didn't hear then, that I had got the living of F --?"
- F -- was a village about two miles distant from A --.
- "No," said I; "we live so completely out of the world, even here, that news seldom reaches me through any quarter - except through the medium of the -- Gazette. But I hope you like your new parish; and that I may congratulate you on the acquisition?"
- "I expect to like my parish better a year or two hence, when I have worked certain reforms I have set my heart upon - or, at least, progressed some steps towards such an achievement; but you may congratulate me, now, for I find it very agreeable to have a parish all to myself with nobody to interfere with me - to thwart my plans or cripple my exertions; and besides, I have a respectable house in a rather pleasant neighbourhood, and three hundred pounds a year; and in fact, I have nothing but solitude to complain of; and nothing but a companion to wish for."
- He looked at me as he concluded; and the flash of his dark eyes seemed to set my face on fire, greatly to my own disconcertion, for to evince confusion at such a juncture was intolerable.
I made an effort, therefore, to remedy the evil, and disclaim all personal application of the remark, by a hasty, ill-expressed reply to the effect that, if he waited till he was well known in the neighbourhood, he might have numerous opportunities for supplying his want among the residents of F --, and its vicinity, or the visitors to A --, if he required so ample a choice; not considering the compliment implied by such an assertion, till his answer made me aware of it.
- "I am not so presumptuous as to believe that," said he, "though you tell it me; but if it were so, I am rather particular in my notions of a companion for life, and perhaps I might not find one to suit me among the ladies you mention."
- "If you require perfection, you never will."
- "I do not - I have no right to, as being so far from perfect myself."
- Here the conversation was interrupted by a water-cart lumbering past us, for we were now come to the busy part of the sands; and, for the next eight or ten minutes, between carts and horses, and asses, and men, there was little room for social intercourse, till we had turned our backs upon the sea, and began to ascend the precipitous road leading into the town. Here my companion offered me his arm, which I accepted, though not with the intention of using it as a support.
- "You don't often come on to the sands, I think," said he, "for I have walked there many times, both morning and evening, since I came, and never seen you till now; and several times, in passing through the town, too, I have looked about for your school - but I did not think of the -- Road; and once or twice I made inquiries, but without obtaining the requisite information."
- When we had surmounted the acclivity, I was about to withdraw my arm from his, but by a slight tightening of the elbow was tacitly informed that such was not his will, and accordingly desisted.
Discoursing on different subjects, we entered the town, and passed through several streets; I saw that he was going out of his way to accompany me, notwithstanding the long walk that was yet before him; and, fearing that he might be inconveniencing himself from motives of politeness, I observed -
- "I fear I am taking you out of your way, Mr. Weston - I believe the road to F -- lies quite in another direction."
- "I'll leave you at the end of the next street," said he.
- "And when will you come to see mamma?"
- "To-morrow - God willing."
- The end of the next street was nearly the conclusion of my journey. He stopped there, however, bid me good morning, and called Snap who seemed a little doubtful whether to follow his old mistress or his new master, but trotted away upon being summoned by the latter.
- "I won't offer to restore him to you, Miss Grey," said Mr. Weston, smiling, "because I like him."
- "Oh, I don't want him," replied I; "now that he has a good master, I'm quite satisfied."
- "You take it for granted that I am a good one then?"
- The man and the dog departed, and I returned home, full of gratitude to Heaven for so much bliss, and praying that my hopes might not again be crushed.
- "Well, Agnes, you must not take such long walks again before breakfast," said my mother, observing that I drank an extra cup of coffee and ate nothing - pleading the heat of the weather, and the fatigue of my long walk as an excuse.
I certainly did feel feverish and tired too.
- "You always do things by extremes: now, if you had taken a short walk every morning, and would continue to do so, it would do you good."
- "Well, mamma, I will."
- "But this is worse than lying in bed, or bending over your books; you have quite put yourself into a fever."
- "I won't do it again," said I.
- I was racking my brains with thinking how to tell her about Mr. Weston, for she must know he was coming to-morrow. However, I waited till the breakfast things were removed, and I was more calm and cool; and then, having sat down to my drawing, I began -
- "I met an old friend on the sands to-day, mamma."
- "An old friend! Who could it be?"
- "Two old friends indeed. One was a dog," and then I reminded her of Snap whose history I had recounted before, and related the incident of his sudden appearance and remarkable recognition, "and the other," continued I, "was Mr. Weston, the curate of Horton."
- "Mr. Weston! I never heard of him before."
- "Yes, you have: I've mentioned him several times, I believe: but you don't remember."
- "I've heard you speak of Mr. Hatfield."
- "Mr. Hatfield was the rector, and Mr. Weston the curate; I used to mention him sometimes in contradistinction to Mr. Hatfield, as being a more efficient clergyman. However, he was on the sands this morning with the dog - he had bought it, I suppose, from the rat-catcher; and he knew me as well as it did - probably through its means; and I had a little conversation with him, in the course of which, as he asked about our school, I was led to say something about you and your good management; and he said he should like to know you, and asked if I would introduce him to you, if he should take the liberty of calling to-morrow, so I said I would. Was I right?"
- "Of course. What kind of a man is he?"
- "A very respectable man, I think; but you will see him tomorrow. He is the new vicar of F --, and as he has only been there a few weeks, I suppose he has made no friends yet, and wants a little society."
- The morrow came. What a fever of anxiety and expectation I was in from breakfast till noon - at which time he made his appearance.
Having introduced him to my mother, I took my work to the window, and sat down to await the result of the interview.
They got on extremely well together, greatly to my satisfaction, for I had felt very anxious about what my mother would think of him. He did not stay long that time; but when he rose to take leave, she said she should be happy to see him, whenever he might find it convenient to call again; and when he was gone, I was gratified by hearing her say, -
- "Well! I think he is a very sensible man. But why did you sit back there, Agnes," she added, "and talk so little?"
- "Because you talked so well, mamma, I thought you required no assistance from me; and, besides, he was your visitor, not mine."
- After that, he often called upon us - several times in the course of a week. He generally addressed most of his conversation to my mother; and no wonder, for she could converse. I almost envied the unfettered, vigorous fluency of her discourse, and the strong sense evinced by everything she said - and yet, I did not, for though I occasionally regretted my own deficiencies for his sake, it gave me very great pleasure to sit and hear the two beings I loved and honoured above every one else in the world, discoursing together so amicably, so wisely, and so well.
I was not always silent, however; nor was I at all neglected. I was quite as much noticed as I would wish to be: there was no lack of kind words and kinder looks, no end of delicate attentions, too fine and subtle to be grasped by words, and, therefore, indescribable but deeply felt at heart.
- Ceremony was quickly dropped between us, Mr. Weston came as an expected guest, welcome at all times, and never deranging the economy of our household affairs. He even called me "Agnes;" the name had been timidly spoken at first, but, finding it gave no offence in any quarter, he seemed greatly to prefer that appellation to "Miss Grey," and so did I.
How tedious and gloomy were those days in which he did not come! And yet not miserable, for I had still the remembrance of the last visit and the hope of the next to cheer me. But when two or three days passed without my seeing him, I certainly felt very anxious - absurdly, unreasonably so, for, of course, he had his own business and the affairs of his parish to attend to: and I dreaded the close of the holidays, when my business also would begin, and I should be sometimes unable to see him, and sometimes - when my mother was in the school-room - obliged to be with him alone, a position I did not at all desire, in the house, though to meet him out of doors, and walk beside him had proved by no means disagreeable.
- One evening, however, in the last week of the vacation, he arrived - unexpectedly, for a heavy and protracted thunder shower during the afternoon had almost destroyed my hopes of seeing him that day; but now the storm was over, and the sun was shining brightly.
- "A beautiful evening, Mrs. Grey!" said he, as he entered. "Agnes, I want you to take a walk with me to --" (he named a certain part of the coast - a bold hill on the land side, and towards the sea, a steep precipice, from the summit of which a glorious view is to be had.) "The rain has laid the dust, and cooled and cleared the air, and the prospect will be magnificent. Will you come?"
- "Can I go, mamma?"
- "Yes; to be sure."
- I went to get ready, and was down again in a few minutes, though, of course, I took a little more pains with my attire than if I had merely been going out on some shopping expedition alone.
The thunder-shower had certainly had a most beneficial effect upon the weather, and the evening was most delightful. Mr. Weston would have me to take his arm: he said little during our passage through the crowded streets, but walked very fast, and appeared grave and abstracted.
I wondered what was the matter, and felt an indefinite dread that something unpleasant was on his mind; and vague surmises, concerning what it might be, troubled me not a little, and made me grave and silent enough. But these fantasies vanished upon reaching the quiet outskirts of the town, for as soon as we came within sight of the venerable old church, and the -- hill, with the deep blue sea beyond it, I found my companion was cheerful enough.
- "I'm afraid I've been walking too fast for you, Agnes," said he; "in my impatience to get rid of the town, I forgot to consult your convenience; but now, we'll walk as slowly as you please: I see, by those light clouds in the west, there will be a brilliant sunset, and we shall be in time to witness its effect upon the sea, at the most moderate rate of progression."
- When we had got about half way up the hill, we fell into silence again, which, as usual, he was the first to break.
- "My house is desolate yet, Miss Grey," he smilingly observed, "and I am acquainted now with all the ladies in my parish, and several in this town too; and many others I know by sight and by report; but not one of them will suit me for a companion: in fact, there is only one person in the world that will; and that is yourself; and I want to know your decision?"
- "Are you in earnest, Mr. Weston?"
- "In earnest! How could you think I should jest on such a subject?"
- He laid his hand on mine that rested on his arm: he must have felt it tremble - but it was no great matter now.
- "I hope I have not been too precipitate," he said, in a serious tone. "You must have known that it was not my way to flatter and talk soft nonsense, or even to speak the admiration that I felt; and that a single word or glance of mine meant more than the honied phrases and fervent protestations of most other men."
- I said something about not liking to leave my mother, and doing nothing without her consent.
- "I settled everything with Mrs. Grey while you were putting on your bonnet," replied he. "She said I might have her consent if I could obtain yours; and I asked her, in case I should be so happy, to come and live with us - for I was sure you would like it better; but she refused, saying she could now afford to employ an assistant, and would continue the school till she could purchase an annuity sufficient to maintain her in comfortable lodgings; and meantime she would spend her vacations alternately with us and your sister, and should be quite contented if you were happy. And so now I have overruled your objections on her account. Have you any other?"
- "No - none."
- "You love me then?" said he, fervently pressing my hand.
- Here I pause. My diary, from which I compiled these pages, goes but little farther. I could go on for years; but I will content myself with adding, that I shall never forget that glorious Summer evening, and always remember with delight that steep hill, and the edge of the precipice where we stood together watching the splendid sunset mirrored on the restless world of waters at our feet - with hearts filled with gratitude to Heaven, and happiness, and love - almost too full for speech.
- A few weeks after that, when my mother had supplied herself with an assistant, I became the wife of Edward Weston, and never have found cause to repent it, and am certain that I never shall. We have had trials, and we know that we must have them again; but we bear them well together, and endeavour to fortify ourselves and each other against the final separation - that greatest of all afflictions to the survivor; but, if we keep in mind the glorious heaven beyond, where both may meet again, and sin and sorrow are unknown, surely that too may be borne; and, meantime, we endeavour to live to the glory of Him who has scattered so many blessings in our path.
- Edward, by his strenuous exertions, has worked surprising reforms in his parish, and is esteemed and loved by its inhabitants - as he deserves - for whatever his faults may be as a man, (and no one is entirely without,) I defy anybody to blame him as a pastor, a husband, or a father.
- Our children, Edward, Agnes, and little Mary, promise well; their education, for the time being, is chiefly committed to me; and they shall want no good thing that a mother's care can give.
Our modest income is amply sufficient for our requirements; and by practising the economy we learnt in harder times, and never attempting to imitate our richer neighbours, we manage not only to enjoy comfort and contentment ourselves, but to have every year something to lay by for our children, and something to give to those who need it.
- And now I think I have said sufficient.
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