Chapter 4 – The Grandmamma

Anne Bronte2016年07月20日'Command+D' Bookmark this page

Light off Small Medium Large

I SPARE my readers the account of my delight on coming home, my
happiness while there – enjoying a brief space of rest and liberty
in that dear, familiar place, among the loving and the loved – and
my sorrow on being obliged to bid them, once more, a long adieu.

I returned, however, with unabated vigour to my work – a more
arduous task than anyone can imagine, who has not felt something
like the misery of being charged with the care and direction of a
set of mischievous, turbulent rebels, whom his utmost exertions
cannot bind to their duty; while, at the same time, he is
responsible for their conduct to a higher power, who exacts from
him what cannot be achieved without the aid of the superior’s more
potent authority; which, either from indolence, or the fear of
becoming unpopular with the said rebellious gang, the latter
refuses to give. I can conceive few situations more harassing than
that wherein, however you may long for success, however you may
labour to fulfil your duty, your efforts are baffled and set at
nought by those beneath you, and unjustly censured and misjudged by
those above.

I have not enumerated half the vexatious propensities of my pupils,
or half the troubles resulting from my heavy responsibilities, for
fear of trespassing too much upon the reader’s patience; as,
perhaps, I have already done; but my design in writing the few last
pages was not to amuse, but to benefit those whom it might concern;
he that has no interest in such matters will doubtless have skipped
them over with a cursory glance, and, perhaps, a malediction
against the prolixity of the writer; but if a parent has,
therefrom, gathered any useful hint, or an unfortunate governess
received thereby the slightest benefit, I am well rewarded for my

To avoid trouble and confusion, I have taken my pupils one by one,
and discussed their various qualities; but this can give no
adequate idea of being worried by the whole three together; when,
as was often the case, all were determined to ‘be naughty, and to
tease Miss Grey, and put her in a passion.’

Sometimes, on such occasions, the thought has suddenly occurred to
me – ‘If they could see me now!’ meaning, of course, my friends at
home; and the idea of how they would pity me has made me pity
myself – so greatly that I have had the utmost difficulty to
restrain my tears: but I have restrained them, till my little
tormentors were gone to dessert, or cleared off to bed (my only
prospects of deliverance), and then, in all the bliss of solitude,
I have given myself up to the luxury of an unrestricted burst of
weeping. But this was a weakness I did not often indulge: my
employments were too numerous, my leisure moments too precious, to
admit of much time being given to fruitless lamentations.

I particularly remember one wild, snowy afternoon, soon after my
return in January: the children had all come up from dinner,
loudly declaring that they meant ‘to be naughty;’ and they had well
kept their resolution, though I had talked myself hoarse, and
wearied every muscle in my throat, in the vain attempt to reason
them out of it. I had got Tom pinned up in a corner, whence, I
told him, he should not escape till he had done his appointed task.
Meantime, Fanny had possessed herself of my work-bag, and was
rifling its contents – and spitting into it besides. I told her to
let it alone, but to no purpose, of course. ‘Burn it, Fanny!’
cried Tom: and THIS command she hastened to obey. I sprang to
snatch it from the fire, and Tom darted to the door. ‘Mary Ann,
throw her desk out of the window!’ cried he: and my precious desk,
containing my letters and papers, my small amount of cash, and all
my valuables, was about to be precipitated from the three-storey
window. I flew to rescue it. Meanwhile Tom had left the room, and
was rushing down the stairs, followed by Fanny. Having secured my
desk, I ran to catch them, and Mary Ann came scampering after. All
three escaped me, and ran out of the house into the garden, where
they plunged about in the snow, shouting and screaming in exultant

What must I do? If I followed them, I should probably be unable to
capture one, and only drive them farther away; if I did not, how
was I to get them in? And what would their parents think of me, if
they saw or heard the children rioting, hatless, bonnetless,
gloveless, and bootless, in the deep soft snow? While I stood in
this perplexity, just without the door, trying, by grim looks and
angry words, to awe them into subjection, I heard a voice behind
me, in harshly piercing tones, exclaiming, –

‘Miss Grey! Is it possible? What, in the devil’s name, can you be
thinking about?’

‘I can’t get them in, sir,’ said I, turning round, and beholding
Mr. Bloomfield, with his hair on end, and his pale blue eyes
bolting from their sockets.

‘But I INSIST upon their being got in!’ cried he, approaching
nearer, and looking perfectly ferocious.

‘Then, sir, you must call them yourself, if you please, for they
won’t listen to me,’ I replied, stepping back.

‘Come in with you, you filthy brats; or I’ll horsewhip you every
one!’ roared he; and the children instantly obeyed. ‘There, you
see! – they come at the first word!’

‘Yes, when YOU speak.’

‘And it’s very strange, that when you’ve the care of ’em you’ve no
better control over ’em than that! – Now, there they are – gone up-
stairs with their nasty snowy feet! Do go after ’em and see them
made decent, for heaven’s sake!’

That gentleman’s mother was then staying in the house; and, as I
ascended the stairs and passed the drawing-room door, I had the
satisfaction of hearing the old lady declaiming aloud to her
daughter-in-law to this effect (for I could only distinguish the
most emphatic words) –

‘Gracious heavens! – never in all my life – ! – get their death as
sure as – ! Do you think, my dear, she’s a PROPER PERSON? Take my
word for it – ‘

I heard no more; but that sufficed.

The senior Mrs. Bloomfield had been very attentive and civil to me;
and till now I had thought her a nice, kind-hearted, chatty old
body. She would often come to me and talk in a confidential
strain; nodding and shaking her head, and gesticulating with hands
and eyes, as a certain class of old ladies are won’t to do; though
I never knew one that carried the peculiarity to so great an
extent. She would even sympathise with me for the trouble I had
with the children, and express at times, by half sentences,
interspersed with nods and knowing winks, her sense of the
injudicious conduct of their mamma in so restricting my power, and
neglecting to support me with her authority. Such a mode of
testifying disapprobation was not much to my taste; and I generally
refused to take it in, or understand anything more than was openly
spoken; at least, I never went farther than an implied
acknowledgment that, if matters were otherwise ordered my task
would be a less difficult one, and I should be better able to guide
and instruct my charge; but now I must be doubly cautious.
Hitherto, though I saw the old lady had her defects (of which one
was a proneness to proclaim her perfections), I had always been
wishful to excuse them, and to give her credit for all the virtues
she professed, and even imagine others yet untold. Kindness, which
had been the food of my life through so many years, had lately been
so entirely denied me, that I welcomed with grateful joy the
slightest semblance of it. No wonder, then, that my heart warmed
to the old lady, and always gladdened at her approach and regretted
her departure.

But now, the few words luckily or unluckily heard in passing had
wholly revolutionized my ideas respecting her: now I looked upon
her as hypocritical and insincere, a flatterer, and a spy upon my
words and deeds. Doubtless it would have been my interest still to
meet her with the same cheerful smile and tone of respectful
cordiality as before; but I could not, if I would: my manner
altered with my feelings, and became so cold and shy that she could
not fail to notice it. She soon did notice it, and HER manner
altered too: the familiar nod was changed to a stiff bow, the
gracious smile gave place to a glare of Gorgon ferocity; her
vivacious loquacity was entirely transferred from me to ‘the
darling boy and girls,’ whom she flattered and indulged more
absurdly than ever their mother had done.

I confess I was somewhat troubled at this change: I feared the
consequences of her displeasure, and even made some efforts to
recover the ground I had lost – and with better apparent success
than I could have anticipated. At one time, I, merely in common
civility, asked after her cough; immediately her long visage
relaxed into a smile, and she favoured me with a particular history
of that and her other infirmities, followed by an account of her
pious resignation, delivered in the usual emphatic, declamatory
style, which no writing can portray.

‘But there’s one remedy for all, my dear, and that’s resignation’
(a toss of the head), ‘resignation to the will of heaven!’ (an
uplifting of the hands and eyes). ‘It has always supported me
through all my trials, and always will do’ (a succession of nods).
‘But then, it isn’t everybody that can say that’ (a shake of the
head); ‘but I’m one of the pious ones, Miss Grey!’ (a very
significant nod and toss). ‘And, thank heaven, I always was’
(another nod), ‘and I glory in it!’ (an emphatic clasping of the
hands and shaking of the head). And with several texts of
Scripture, misquoted or misapplied, and religious exclamations so
redolent of the ludicrous in the style of delivery and manner of
bringing in, if not in the expressions themselves, that I decline
repeating them, she withdrew; tossing her large head in high good-
humour – with herself at least – and left me hoping that, after
all, she was rather weak than wicked.

At her next visit to Wellwood House, I went so far as to say I was
glad to see her looking so well. The effect of this was magical:
the words, intended as a mark of civility, were received as a
flattering compliment; her countenance brightened up, and from that
moment she became as gracious and benign as heart could wish – in
outward semblance at least. From what I now saw of her, and what I
heard from the children, I know that, in order to gain her cordial
friendship, I had but to utter a word of flattery at each
convenient opportunity: but this was against my principles; and
for lack of this, the capricious old dame soon deprived me of her
favour again, and I believe did me much secret injury.

She could not greatly influence her daughter-in-law against me,
because, between that lady and herself there was a mutual dislike –
chiefly shown by her in secret detractions and calumniations; by
the other, in an excess of frigid formality in her demeanour; and
no fawning flattery of the elder could thaw away the wall of ice
which the younger interposed between them. But with her son, the
old lady had better success: he would listen to all she had to
say, provided she could soothe his fretful temper, and refrain from
irritating him by her own asperities; and I have reason to believe
that she considerably strengthened his prejudice against me. She
would tell him that I shamefully neglected the children, and even
his wife did not attend to them as she ought; and that he must look
after them himself, or they would all go to ruin.

Thus urged, he would frequently give himself the trouble of
watching them from the windows during their play; at times, he
would follow them through the grounds, and too often came suddenly
upon them while they were dabbling in the forbidden well, talking
to the coachman in the stables, or revelling in the filth of the
farm-yard – and I, meanwhile, wearily standing, by, having
previously exhausted my energy in vain attempts to get them away.
Often, too, he would unexpectedly pop his head into the schoolroom
while the young people were at meals, and find them spilling their
milk over the table and themselves, plunging their fingers into
their own or each other’s mugs, or quarrelling over their victuals
like a set of tiger’s cubs. If I were quiet at the moment, I was
conniving at their disorderly conduct; if (as was frequently the
case) I happened to be exalting my voice to enforce order, I was
using undue violence, and setting the girls a bad example by such
ungentleness of tone and language.

I remember one afternoon in spring, when, owing to the rain, they
could not go out; but, by some amazing good fortune, they had all
finished their lessons, and yet abstained from running down to
tease their parents – a trick that annoyed me greatly, but which,
on rainy days, I seldom could prevent their doing; because, below,
they found novelty and amusement – especially when visitors were in
the house; and their mother, though she bid me keep them in the
schoolroom, would never chide them for leaving it, or trouble
herself to send them back. But this day they appeared satisfied
with, their present abode, and what is more wonderful still, seemed
disposed to play together without depending on me for amusement,
and without quarrelling with each other. Their occupation was a
somewhat puzzling one: they were all squatted together on the
floor by the window, over a heap of broken toys and a quantity of
birds’ eggs – or rather egg-shells, for the contents had luckily
been abstracted. These shells they had broken up and were pounding
into small fragments, to what end I could not imagine; but so long
as they were quiet and not in positive mischief, I did not care;
and, with a feeling of unusual repose, I sat by the fire, putting
the finishing stitches to a frock for Mary Ann’s doll; intending,
when that was done, to begin a letter to my mother. Suddenly the
door opened, and the dingy head of Mr. Bloomfield looked in.

‘All very quiet here! What are you doing?’ said he. ‘No harm TO-
DAY, at least,’ thought I. But he was of a different opinion.
Advancing to the window, and seeing the children’s occupations, he
testily exclaimed – ‘What in the world are you about?’

‘We’re grinding egg-shells, papa!’ cried Tom.

‘How DARE you make such a mess, you little devils? Don’t you see
what confounded work you’re making of the carpet?’ (the carpet was
a plain brown drugget). ‘Miss Grey, did you know what they were

‘Yes, sir.’

‘You knew it?’


‘You knew it! and you actually sat there and permitted them to go
on without a word of reproof!’

‘I didn’t think they were doing any harm.’

‘Any harm! Why, look there! Just look at that carpet, and see –
was there ever anything like it in a Christian house before? No
wonder your room is not fit for a pigsty – no wonder your pupils
are worse than a litter of pigs! – no wonder – oh! I declare, it
puts me quite past my patience’ and he departed, shutting the door
after him with a bang that made the children laugh.

‘It puts me quite past my patience too!’ muttered I, getting up;
and, seizing the poker, I dashed it repeatedly into the cinders,
and stirred them up with unwonted energy; thus easing my irritation
under pretence of mending the fire.

After this, Mr. Bloomfield was continually looking in to see if the
schoolroom was in order; and, as the children were continually
littering the floor with fragments of toys, sticks, stones,
stubble, leaves, and other rubbish, which I could not prevent their
bringing, or oblige them to gather up, and which the servants
refused to ‘clean after them,’ I had to spend a considerable
portion of my valuable leisure moments on my knees upon the floor,
in painsfully reducing things to order. Once I told them that they
should not taste their supper till they had picked up everything
from the carpet; Fanny might have hers when she had taken up a
certain quantity, Mary Ann when she had gathered twice as many, and
Tom was to clear away the rest. Wonderful to state, the girls did
their part; but Tom was in such a fury that he flew upon the table,
scattered the bread and milk about the floor, struck his sisters,
kicked the coals out of the coal-pan, attempted to overthrow the
table and chairs, and seemed inclined to make a Douglas-larder of
the whole contents of the room: but I seized upon him, and,
sending Mary Ann to call her mamma, held him, in spite of kicks,
blows, yells, and execrations, till Mrs. Bloomfield made her

‘What is the matter with my boy?’ said she.

And when the matter was explained to her, all she did was to send
for the nursery-maid to put the room in order, and bring Master
Bloomfield his supper.

‘There now,’ cried Tom, triumphantly, looking up from his viands
with his mouth almost too full for speech. ‘There now, Miss Grey!
you see I’ve got my supper in spite of you: and I haven’t picked
up a single thing!’

The only person in the house who had any real sympathy for me was
the nurse; for she had suffered like afflictions, though in a
smaller degree; as she had not the task of teaching, nor was she so
responsible for the conduct of her charge.

‘Oh, Miss Grey!’ she would say, ‘you have some trouble with them

‘I have, indeed, Betty; and I daresay you know what it is.’

‘Ay, I do so! But I don’t vex myself o’er ’em as you do. And
then, you see, I hit ’em a slap sometimes: and them little ‘uns –
I gives ’em a good whipping now and then: there’s nothing else
will do for ’em, as what they say. Howsoever, I’ve lost my place
for it.’

‘Have you, Betty? I heard you were going to leave.’

‘Eh, bless you, yes! Missis gave me warning a three wik sin’. She
told me afore Christmas how it mud be, if I hit ’em again; but I
couldn’t hold my hand off ’em at nothing. I know not how YOU do,
for Miss Mary Ann’s worse by the half nor her sisters!’


Leave a Review