FictionForest

Chapter 23 – The Park

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

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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 eyelids, plain features, and a general appearance of
languor and flatness, relieved by a sinister expression in 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. Yet 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! Oh,
I would give ten thousand worlds to be Mss 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 daresay, and if I were some twenty years older, I might fructify
by it: but people must enjoy themselves when they are 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
arms’ 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. 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 entreaties
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 hour of prosperity,
and whose presence would be rather a nuisance than a pleasure, if
she could but have half her heart’s desire.

 

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