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Chapter 24 – The Sands

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

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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 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 semicircular 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 them 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 sea-weed
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
some time, 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 anyone 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 discomfiture, 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 of 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 require it, 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 begun 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.

 

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