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Chapter 22 – The Visit

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

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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 schoolmistress, 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 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 daresay, 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 I, ‘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 purchased in Geneva; and then she took me round the room to
point out sundry articles of VERTU she had brought from Italy: an
elegant little timepiece, 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. 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 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; though 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 dress: 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 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, it 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. 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 colonized 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 posession 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. Ere long, 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 to-morrow. 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.’

 

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