Chapter 13 – The Primroses

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MISS MURRAY now always went twice to church, for she so loved
admiration that she could not bear to lose a single opportunity of
obtaining it; and she was so sure of it wherever she showed
herself, that, whether Harry Meltham and Mr. Green were there or
not, there was certain to be somebody present who would not be
insensible to her charms, besides the Rector, whose official
capacity generally obliged him to attend. Usually, also, if the
weather permitted, both she and her sister would walk home;
Matilda, because she hated the confinement of the carriage; she,
because she disliked the privacy of it, and enjoyed the company
that generally enlivened the first mile of the journey in walking
from the church to Mr. Green’s park-gates: near which commenced
the private road to Horton Lodge, which lay in the opposite
direction, while the highway conducted in a straightforward course
to the still more distant mansion of Sir Hugh Meltham. Thus there
was always a chance of being accompanied, so far, either by Harry
Meltham, with or without Miss Meltham, or Mr. Green, with perhaps
one or both of his sisters, and any gentlemen visitors they might
have.

Whether I walked with the young ladies or rode with their parents,
depended upon their own capricious will: if they chose to ‘take’
me, I went; if, for reasons best known to themselves, they chose to
go alone, I took my seat in the carriage. I liked walking better,
but a sense of reluctance to obtrude my presence on anyone who did
not desire it, always kept me passive on these and similar
occasions; and I never inquired into the causes of their varying
whims. Indeed, this was the best policy – for to submit and oblige
was the governess’s part, to consult their own pleasure was that of
the pupils. But when I did walk, the first half of journey was
generally a great nuisance to me. As none of the before-mentioned
ladies and gentlemen ever noticed me, it was disagreeable to walk
beside them, as if listening to what they said, or wishing to be
thought one of them, while they talked over me, or across; and if
their eyes, in speaking, chanced to fall on me, it seemed as if
they looked on vacancy – as if they either did not see me, or were
very desirous to make it appear so. It was disagreeable, too, to
walk behind, and thus appear to acknowledge my own inferiority;
for, in truth, I considered myself pretty nearly as good as the
best of them, and wished them to know that I did so, and not to
imagine that I looked upon myself as a mere domestic, who knew her
own place too well to walk beside such fine ladies and gentlemen as
they were – though her young ladies might choose to have her with
them, and even condescend to converse with her when no better
company were at hand. Thus – I am almost ashamed to confess it –
but indeed I gave myself no little trouble in my endeavours (if I
did keep up with them) to appear perfectly unconscious or
regardless of their presence, as if I were wholly absorbed in my
own reflections, or the contemplation of surrounding objects; or,
if I lingered behind, it was some bird or insect, some tree or
flower, that attracted my attention, and having duly examined that,
I would pursue my walk alone, at a leisurely pace, until my pupils
had bidden adieu to their companions and turned off into the quiet
private road.

One such occasion I particularly well remember; it was a lovely
afternoon about the close of March; Mr. Green and his sisters had
sent their carriage back empty, in order to enjoy the bright
sunshine and balmy air in a sociable walk home along with their
visitors, Captain Somebody and Lieutenant Somebody-else (a couple
of military fops), and the Misses Murray, who, of course, contrived
to join them. Such a party was highly agreeable to Rosalie; but
not finding it equally suitable to my taste, I presently fell back,
and began to botanise and entomologise along the green banks and
budding hedges, till the company was considerably in advance of me,
and I could hear the sweet song of the happy lark; then my spirit
of misanthropy began to melt away beneath the soft, pure air and
genial sunshine; but sad thoughts of early childhood, and yearnings
for departed joys, or for a brighter future lot, arose instead. As
my eyes wandered over the steep banks covered with young grass and
green-leaved plants, and surmounted by budding hedges, I longed
intensely for some familiar flower that might recall the woody
dales or green hill-sides of home: the brown moorlands, of course,
were out of the question. Such a discovery would make my eyes gush
out with water, no doubt; but that was one of my greatest
enjoyments now. At length I descried, high up between the twisted
roots of an oak, three lovely primroses, peeping so sweetly from
their hiding-place that the tears already started at the sight; but
they grew so high above me, that I tried in vain to gather one or
two, to dream over and to carry with me: I could not reach them
unless I climbed the bank, which I was deterred from doing by
hearing a footstep at that moment behind me, and was, therefore,
about to turn away, when I was startled by the words, ‘Allow me to
gather them for you, Miss Grey,’ spoken in the grave, low tones of
a well-known voice. Immediately the flowers were gathered, and in
my hand. It was Mr. Weston, of course – who else would trouble
himself to do so much for ME?

‘I thanked him; whether warmly or coldly, I cannot tell: but
certain I am that I did not express half the gratitude I felt. It
was foolish, perhaps, to feel any gratitude at all; but it seemed
to me, at that moment, as if this were a remarkable instance of his
good-nature: an act of kindness, which I could not repay, but
never should forget: so utterly unaccustomed was I to receive such
civilities, so little prepared to expect them from anyone within
fifty miles of Horton Lodge. Yet this did not prevent me from
feeling a little uncomfortable in his presence; and I proceeded to
follow my pupils at a much quicker pace than before; though,
perhaps, if Mr. Weston had taken the hint, and let me pass without
another word, I might have repeated it an hour after: but he did
not. A somewhat rapid walk for me was but an ordinary pace for
him.

‘Your young ladies have left you alone,’ said he.

‘Yes, they are occupied with more agreeable company.’

‘Then don’t trouble yourself to overtake them.’ I slackened my
pace; but next moment regretted having done so: my companion did
not speak; and I had nothing in the world to say, and feared he
might be in the same predicament. At length, however, he broke the
pause by asking, with a certain quiet abruptness peculiar to
himself, if I liked flowers.

‘Yes; very much,’ I answered, ‘wild-flowers especially.’

‘I like wild-flowers,’ said he; ‘others I don’t care about, because
I have no particular associations connected with them – except one
or two. What are your favourite flowers?’

‘Primroses, blue-bells, and heath-blossoms.’

‘Not violets?’

‘No; because, as you say, I have no particular associations
connected with them; for there are no sweet violets among the hills
and valleys round my home.’

‘It must be a great consolation to you to have a home, Miss Grey,’
observed my companion after a short pause: ‘however remote, or
however seldom visited, still it is something to look to.’

‘It is so much that I think I could not live without it,’ replied
I, with an enthusiasm of which I immediately repented; for I
thought it must have sounded essentially silly.

‘Oh, yes, you could,’ said he, with a thoughtful smile. ‘The ties
that bind us to life are tougher than you imagine, or than anyone
can who has not felt how roughly they may be pulled without
breaking. You might be miserable without a home, but even YOU
could live; and not so miserably as you suppose. The human heart
is like india-rubber; a little swells it, but a great deal will not
burst it. If “little more than nothing will disturb it, little
less than all things will suffice” to break it. As in the outer
members of our frame, there is a vital power inherent in itself
that strengthens it against external violence. Every blow that
shakes it will serve to harden it against a future stroke; as
constant labour thickens the skin of the hand, and strengthens its
muscles instead of wasting them away: so that a day of arduous
toil, that might excoriate a lady’s palm, would make no sensible
impression on that of a hardy ploughman.

‘I speak from experience – partly my own. There was a time when I
thought as you do – at least, I was fully persuaded that home and
its affections were the only things that made life tolerable:
that, if deprived of these, existence would become a burden hard to
be endured; but now I have no home – unless you would dignify my
two hired rooms at Horton by such a name; – and not twelve months
ago I lost the last and dearest of my early friends; and yet, not
only I live, but I am not wholly destitute of hope and comfort,
even for this life: though I must acknowledge that I can seldom
enter even an humble cottage at the close of day, and see its
inhabitants peaceably gathered around their cheerful hearth,
without a feeling ALMOST of envy at their domestic enjoyment.’

‘You don’t know what happiness lies before you yet,’ said I: ‘you
are now only in the commencement of your journey.’

‘The best of happiness,’ replied he, ‘is mine already – the power
and the will to be useful.’

We now approached a stile communicating with a footpath that
conducted to a farm-house, where, I suppose, Mr. Weston purposed to
make himself ‘useful;’ for he presently took leave of me, crossed
the stile, and traversed the path with his usual firm, elastic
tread, leaving me to ponder his words as I continued my course
alone. I had heard before that he had lost his mother not many
months before he came. She then was the last and dearest of his
early friends; and he had NO HOME. I pitied him from my heart: I
almost wept for sympathy. And this, I thought, accounted for the
shade of premature thoughtfulness that so frequently clouded his
brow, and obtained for him the reputation of a morose and sullen
disposition with the charitable Miss Murray and all her kin.
‘But,’ thought I, ‘he is not so miserable as I should be under such
a deprivation: he leads an active life; and a wide field for
useful exertion lies before him. He can MAKE friends; and he can
make a home too, if he pleases; and, doubtless, he will please some
time. God grant the partner of that home may be worthy of his
choice, and make it a happy one – such a home as he deserves to
have! And how delightful it would be to – ‘ But no matter what I
thought.

I began this book with the intention of concealing nothing; that
those who liked might have the benefit of perusing a fellow-
creature’s heart: but we have some thoughts that all the angels in
heaven are welcome to behold, but not our brother-men – not even
the best and kindest amongst them.

By this time the Greens had taken themselves to their own abode,
and the Murrays had turned down the private road, whither I
hastened to follow them. I found the two girls warm in an animated
discussion on the respective merits of the two young officers; but
on seeing me Rosalie broke off in the middle of a sentence to
exclaim, with malicious glee –

‘Oh-ho, Miss Grey! you’re come at last, are you? No WONDER you
lingered so long behind; and no WONDER you always stand up so
vigorously for Mr. Weston when I abuse him. Ah-ha! I see it all
now!’

‘Now, come, Miss Murray, don’t be foolish,’ said I, attempting a
good-natured laugh; ‘you know such nonsense can make no impression
on me.’

But she still went on talking such intolerable stuff – her sister
helping her with appropriate fiction coined for the occasion – that
I thought it necessary to say something in my own justification.

‘What folly all this is!’ I exclaimed. ‘If Mr. Weston’s road
happened to be the same as mine for a few yards, and if he chose to
exchange a word or two in passing, what is there so remarkable in
that? I assure you, I never spoke to him before: except once.’

‘Where? where? and when?’ cried they eagerly.

‘In Nancy’s cottage.’

‘Ah-ha! you’ve met him there, have you?’ exclaimed Rosalie, with
exultant laughter. ‘Ah! now, Matilda, I’ve found out why she’s so
fond of going to Nancy Brown’s! She goes there to flirt with Mr.
Weston.’

‘Really, that is not worth contradicting – I only saw him there
once, I tell you – and how could I know he was coming?’

Irritated as I was at their foolish mirth and vexatious
imputations, the uneasiness did not continue long: when they had
had their laugh out, they returned again to the captain and
lieutenant; and, while they disputed and commented upon them, my
indignation rapidly cooled; the cause of it was quickly forgotten,
and I turned my thoughts into a pleasanter channel. Thus we
proceeded up the park, and entered the hall; and as I ascended the
stairs to my own chamber, I had but one thought within me: my
heart was filled to overflowing with one single earnest wish.
Having entered the room, and shut the door, I fell upon my knees
and offered up a fervent but not impetuous prayer: ‘Thy will be
done,’ I strove to say throughout; but, ‘Father, all things are
possible with Thee, and may it be Thy will,’ was sure to follow.
That wish – that prayer – both men and women would have scorned me
for – ‘But, Father, THOU wilt NOT despise!’ I said, and felt that
it was true. It seemed to me that another’s welfare was at least
as ardently implored for as my own; nay, even THAT was the
principal object of my heart’s desire. I might have been deceiving
myself; but that idea gave me confidence to ask, and power to hope
I did not ask in vain. As for the primroses, I kept two of them in
a glass in my room until they were completely withered, and the
housemaid threw them out; and the petals of the other I pressed
between the leaves of my Bible – I have them still, and mean to
keep them always.

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