FictionForest

Chapter 21 – The School

Anne BronteJul 20, 2016'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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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 schoolroom 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, anyone might ask that: and how did you
answer? – Merely with a stupid, commonplace reply, such as you
would have given to Master Murray, or anyone 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 one’s self. ‘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 schoolroom 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, &c. &c., but had always been prevented by something. She
acknowledged that she had been leading 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

‘Yours affectionately,

‘ROSALIE ASHBY.’

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.

 

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