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November's night is dark and drear,
The dullest month of all the year.
AND yet the November evening now closing in round Mrs. Cameron's house was of a very cheerful nature. The seabreeze, for the house was at Brighton, howled over the roof, but only made the fire burn the brighter. A large and old fashioned mantel-shelf, divers ornaments a little the worse for the ware, but still in tolerable preservation; and the well filled grate below flung forward the huge shadow of the high fender that surrounded it. The school-room, for such was the apartment of which we speak, was a spacious apartment, the walls were hung round with maps, and deal tables and benches, and small upright chairs, were its principal furniture. To be sure there was Mrs. Cameron's small mahogany table and her arm-chair, and these were a variety from the plain boards. But it was human life to which the room owed its cheerfulness-;groups of young and happy faces were scattered around, the sound of childish voices rose pleasantly to the roof, and the echo of their laughter echoed gayly from the old walls. Mrs. Cameron's was a very select establishment, her systems were always of the newest and most approved order; it was a common remark that no one could mistake the dancing of one of her pupils, and their performance on the harp was equally celebrated. The following one was the most important of the year. The prizes were distributed, drawings were exhibited, songs and sonatas were applauded, and the evening concluded with a ball. The various groups were all busy in some preparation for the morrow. Here sandals were being sown on white satin shoes, there the bows were being fastened on a white satin sash, and one of the teachers had already begun curling the hair of some of the younger children. Near her were three of the elder girls, happily employed in doing nothing;-;talking over the events that were to happen on the morrow was very sufficient employment.
"I wish Fanny Beaumont were here, I want to ask her advice whether I shall tack on my blue or white trimmings."
"She is still with the signor," said the second; "Her singing is to be something wonderful to-morrow."
"And I want to see her dress," exclaimed a third.
"Talking of dress," interrupted the teacher, "I wish one of you would put a string in little Isabel's frock. I have my hands full, and shall never get done. By-the-by, that tiresome child has not yet said her French lesson. Miss Elphinstone, bring your book hither."
At these dreadful words, a little girl came from one of the farthest corners; she was very dark, thin and pale, her face swelled with crying, and the red circle round her eyes quite destroyed any beauty they might from their size or expression have possessed. She gave the volume with a trembling hand-;and began to repeat the intricate French verb. She was too anxious and too timid to say it, even if she knew it, and the grammar was returned with the encouraging exclamation of, "You grow stupider every day, and while you are poking over that old verb, who is to mend your frock, I should like to know?"
The child did not attempt an answer, but returned to her corner, and there indulged, if indulgence it could be called, in a fresh burst of sobs. At this moment a voice was heard in the passage, running over the notes of a popular Italian song-;the door opened, and in bounded, but with a vivacity full of grace, a tall handsome girl, with a profusion of bright hair falling in the softest ringlets, whom twenty different tones greeted with the same ejaculation:
"Fanny Beaumont, do come here."
No patriot, fresh from an harangue to the people, no general in the first flush of victory and its consequences, illuminations and public dinner; not even these have a popularity that comes more immediate and home to them than a popular school girl. Her circle is small, but its triumph is complete.
Fanny Beaumont was courted and flattered by every member of the little society of which she was the star. Her mistress was proud of the elegant and accomplished pupil who did her establishment such credit, nor was she insensible to the large bills duly paid, nor to the handsome presents which wound up every year in the most agreeable manner. With the teachers, she was an equal favourite, her liberality was unbounded, and her purse always well filled, but that was little compared with the kindly manner in which she conferred a favour: a lively temper, a constant readiness to afford assistance, made her equally beloved by her companions, and in Fanny Beaumont's case the old proverb had no truth, that a favourite has no friends. In her case, every possible advantage seemed realized. The darling of wealthy parents, neither pains nor cost were spared on her education, and she had those natural talents which reward cultivation, while she had, what was even more than talent, that kindness of heart, and that sweet and affectionate disposition, which even prosperity cannot spoil. As she past up the room, her step buoyant, and her beautiful face beaming with gaiety and health, she seemed like the very extreme contrast to the pale and sickly child who sate weeping in the corner, the only one who did not call her. But the poor little West Indian was not overlooked-;Frances' quick eye soon observed her trouble, and turning to her side, she said in a low and consoling whisper, "The signor kept me longer than I expected, but I have not forgotten my promise to help you with the French lesson. What, crying, my poor Emeline, fie, fie, dry up your tears while I am speaking to Miss Aiken, and I shall be back in a moment. You know how well we always get on together.
The child gave one deep sob, but it was the last, and Fanny went to the fireplace to settle the important question of blue or white trimming. "White, by all means, and when the children are gone, I will tack it on for you."
"O, Miss Beaumont," exclaimed the teacher, "she has nothing to do, and I was going to ask you to help me with Miss Elphinstone's frock; I am sure it is a shame to ask you to touch such an old thing."
"Never mind, I will come and make myself generally useful in five minutes."
"I must say," remarked the teacher, as she left the fireplace, "Miss Beaumont is an example to you all: she never minds her own trouble, and does remember that of other people."
The object of her eulogium in the mean time had sought out the poor little learner in the dark corner, who awaited her with tears already dried, and eyes beginning to brighten. Infinite were the pains she bestowed on a pupil who was rather timid than stupid, and whose success at last rewarded her exertions. "You can say it now. Take up your book, and if you repeat it well, I will ask leave to curl your hair myself." The child took up her lesson, fortified by the consciousness of knowing it properly. While she was saying it, a summons came for Miss Beaumont to the parlour, a box had arrived for her from London.
"Be sure you bring your dress in here to show us," was the universal exclamation. Fanny promised, and tripped lightly away. Her absence was, however, longer, than they expected; at last she returned, bringing with her a very elegant looking dress, which she good-naturedly held on high, for general inspection. One little step this time ventured to meet her, and a little face, bright with smiles, looked up, as Emeline Elphinstone whispered, "I have said my lesson."
"It is very beautiful," exclaimed Miss Aiken, "but it is white muslin; I thought that you said you would have white crape this half."
"I could not afford it," replied Fanny; "and white muslin is just as pretty. But look at the white riband trimming. I am sure I can put on yours just the same."
"And Miss Aiken, perhaps, will do Miss Elphinstone's frock."
"Leave that to me," exclaimed Fanny, "you know she is my child, and as she has said her lesson, will you let me curl her hair?"
"Yes, and thank you into the bargain," replied the teacher, glad to get rid of the job.
The little West Indian's lot was very different from that of her protector. She came to school straight from her native land, ignorant, spoilt, and with even more than a usual share of indolence belonging to a warmer climate. She had, however, more indulgences than the other children, her father seemed desirous of making up to her for the necessity of sending her from home. The allowance made on her account was more than liberal, it was extravagant; her pocket-money was quite unfit for a child of her age, so was her dress, and for the first year of her residence in England, she laboured under all the disadvantages of undue preference, and improper indulgence. Fortune, however, had a severe lesson in store. She had not been above some fifteen months at Mrs. Cameron's before the usual remittances failed.
It was war-time, and one vessel after another was intercepted;: a year had elapsed, and Mrs. Cameron's little "account," as she always called it, was still unsettled. She was too humane a woman to make any alteration in the treatment of her pupil; moreover, she did not dislike talking about "the interest she took in the unfortunate child, whose destitute situation was such as appeal to her feelings." But in the school, Miss Elphinstone's position was wholly changed, she had no longer any pocket-money, and, with that, disappeared all the considerations and indulgences it had procured. Obliged to go wearing her dresses, which she was daily outgrowing, their alteration and repairs were a perpetual source of discontent to the teachers, and of this discontent Emeline soon felt the effects. Her slow progress in her studies became matter of constant complaint, and even Mrs. Cameron became more sever, for she felt she could not justify to herself any neglect of an education that might hereafter be its possessor's sole resource. A miserable child was Emeline Elphinstone. She missed the petting, the niceties, and the excuses to which she had been hitherto accustomed. Too much was expected from her at first, she grew discouraged, and persuaded of her own inability, soon obtained the character of equal sulleness and stupidity. She was so often in disgrace, that she lost all hope of avoiding it.
Children are too often unkind to one another, and deny the allowance they so much need in their own case. emeline Elphinstone was not a pretty child, she was little for her age, thin and awkward, her dark complexion, unrelieved by any shade of colour, gave a heaviness to her countenance, which was not improved by a profusion of black hair never in very good order. Fanny Beaumont had been absent from school for half a year, and on her return, her quick and kind feeling were at once enlisted on the behalf of the poor pale little thing whom she saw constantly moping about, or crying in some corner or other. In spite of all that was said of her dulness and her obstinacy, she took her under her especial charge, and was more than repaid by the affection of the grateful child.
Her task was not an easy one. Timid and hopeless-;she had some difficulty in persuading Emeline that it was possible to learn at all. Her native indolence, too, was a great obstacle-;but the most unwearying patience was gradually successful, and it was allowed that "Miss Beaumont would make something of that stupid child at last."
Miss Beaumont was quite convinced of this herself. In one branch, she made great progress: one, too, which had as yet been unattempted, but Fanny, who observed her ear for music, resolved on beginning to teach her. The child made great progress, and it was useful in two ways. First, it showed Emeline that there was something she could learn, and learn well; and secondly, that very learning became the reward of her own exertions.
A bright sunny morning was the next day, only less cheerful than the eyes which it awakened: at an early hour the schoolroom was all gaiety and bustle. There were garlands to be suspended, green boughs to be placed, and flowers to be arranged-;in all this Fanny's taste was as conspicuous as her activity. The garlands were mostly of her making, the flowers most of her nursing, and all allowed that none could dispose them with half the effect that she could. The task was at length completed, the schoolrooms had truly put on their holiday look, and Mrs. Cameron was called in to approve and to admire. She was a ladylike person, a little stately, but that suited well with the authority of her station. She came in, and looked round, "I must say, young ladies, this is prettier than ever, your exertions leave me nothing to desire-;but you must not overtire yourselves. I want to have you all looking as well as possible."
She then walked through the rooms, admired them in detail, and said something pleasant to almost every one. "I believe now I have nothing more to say, you have all my directions. Ah, yes, one thing I had forgotten-;Miss Marshal, and Miss Elphinstone, come here. Why, my loves, you have at least fifty curl-papers in-;but I suppose to-day the ringlets are to be in extra order-;yes, it is just as I thought, they are exactly of a height-;they shall walk together in the march."
"I beg your pardon, madam," said one of the teachers following her to the door, "but you said yesterday-;Miss Marshall was to lead the march by herself. It is a very conspicuous place, and really Miss Elphinstone's dress is a disgrace."
"Never mind," replied Mrs. Cameron, "Miss Beaumont had undertaken her toilette, and I have great confidence in Fanny's taste. By the way, Fanny, I want to consult you about the flowers on the table in the saloon."
"Well, if that is not too bad," exclaimed Miss Marshal-;a little fair-haired, blue-eyed girl, who was the school pet and beauty. "And so, with my new dress, I am to walk with that shabby thing." No one else expressed this sentiment so loudly-;but many felt it, and it produced a general feeling of ill-will to the unlucky Emeline, to whom it soon showed itself in the shape of taunts and sneers. Pride checked the poor child's tears, but she retreated to a corner, where her utmost efforts could not prevent the long eyelashes from glittering. With a downcast head she heard the various groups disperse and go up-stairs to the agreeable duties of dressing. Suddenly she heard a light and well-known step-;and a glad sweet voice exclaimed, "Why is my little Emeline seated all alone, what is she thinking about?"
"I was thinking," said the child earnestly, for she was scarcely yet aroused from the train of thoughts in which she was engrossed, "how pleasant it was for Cinderella to have a godmother who was a fairy."
"And also thinking, I guess, that you would like such a godmother too."
"Ah, I wish that I had one, indeed."
"And what would be your first wish?"
"A new frock-;for Miss Marshal says mine is so shabby she will be ashamed to walk with me."
"It is very wrong of Miss Marhsal to say any such thing; but come up-stairs with me, and we will see whether we shall not do very well without fairy or godmother."
Fanny ran rapidly towards her own room, followed by her little companion. "Look there," exclaimed she. Emeline looked in the direction to which she pointed; and, laid out on the bed, was a little white muslin frock, trimmed with white satin riband. "Who do you think that is for?"
Emeline looked first at the frock, it was just the length of her own: then in the smiling face of her youthful friend-;she could not speak, a hope too delightful for expression had lighted up her large dark eyes.
"Yes, it is for you, my little Emeline must wear it for my sake." Emeline threw her arms round her neck, but it was some moments before she could speak her thanks. Her little eyes were full of tears, and gratitude for a while overpowered even pleasure.
Fanny kissed her, and then said, "We are late, and must make so much haste; besides I long to know if it will fit you."
She began to unfasten the numerous curl-papers which had cost her so much labour the night before. The hair was in firstrate curl, and by the time some half dozen ringlets were combed out, Emeline found voice to say, "I can never thank you enough, my dearest, kindest Miss Beaumont, but I am so happy."
Indeed her happiness was too great to allow of her standing still, only Fanny at last very judiciously turned her face towards the new dress, and the hair was soon finished. The frock fitted to perfection, and again thanking and kissing its kind donor, Emeline hurried to the schoolroom, where she was greeted with a universal exclamation of surprise. "It is Miss Beaumont's present," exclaimed the child, eager to proclaim the name of her benefactor.
"I now understand why Miss Beaumont could not afford white crape," remarked Miss Aiken.
"It is just like her," replied her teacher. Fanny's own toilette was hurried, all important as was the day, by the information that her cousin, Mr. Beaumont, was waiting to see her in the parlour. Fanny hastily smoothed back her beautiful ringlets, and, without even a last look at the glass to judge of the general effect, hurried down stairs. Mr. Beaumont was a lad of about nineteen, but his sailor's dress made him look still younger.
"How glad I am to see you," exclaimed she on entering the room, "you are come just in time to dance with me to-night. I shall see how well you remember my lessons."
"Nay," replied her cousin, "I should be very sorry to bring you to shame with my awkwardness, though I remember one part of your lessons very well, namely, your patience; but I am only come to bid you good-by."
"Good-by? where are you going?"
"I am going to Portsmouth, and this is a sort of a way to it. My ship is under sailing orders, but I could not leave England without a last look at my pretty cousin."
"I am so sorry," said Fanny in a melancholy tone, "I shall miss you so in the holiday."
"And I am sure I shall miss you, but I am glad to go to sea again; I hate staying at home doing nothing. Perhaps a day may come when I shall show my uncle and all of you that I do not forget your kindness."
"But are you really obliged to go to-day? Could you not stay just this one evening?"
"Quite impossible: but I see that I am come just in time, for, Fanny, you are as gay as a queen." So saying he turned her round to admire her dress, and, taking a little parcel from his pocket, undid several folds of paper, and finally produced a small god chain and a cornelian heart. "I have brought you a keepsake, and you must wear it to-day."
"How very pretty," exclaimed she, "how kind you are to think of me. I shall take such care of it for your sake."
"I will bring you a chain from Trinchinopoly when I come back, but you will have a long time to wait for it."
Fanny's eyes filled with tears, and George felt inclined to follow her example, but this the dignity of his uniform forbade, and bidding, "God bless you, dearest Fanny," in a broken voice, he hurried to the door, and was gone while she was yet standing in the middle of the room, with the chain in her hand; a step in the passage aroused her, and she ran into her own apartment, where she first cried her eyes red, and then exhausted her stock of rosewater in effacing the traces of tears. Time past on, and she heard her name called more than once before she obeyed the summons. Never had she felt so little inclined for exertion. Still, when she entered the room, it was not in the nature of a girl of sixteen to be insensible to the praises bestowed on her appearance. Mrs. Cameron's smile was a great stimulus, she felt that she was bound to do her kind instructress all the credit that could be given by the display of whatever accomplishments she might possess. The sight of Emeline, who turned towards her a face literally "covered all over with smiles," was very cheering. The company began to assemble, and Fanny entered, like the rest, into the pleasant anxiety and excitement of the hour. Many an admiring eye was cast upon her, and scarcely one there but asked, "Who was that very lovely girl?"
We have said before that Mrs. Cameron's manner was a little stately, the consequence perhaps of her tall and erect figure, but she united with it a graciousness, and a happiness of phrase, than an ambassadress might have envied. Every prize was given with a few kind and encouraging words that doubled its value; and the parents around were divided between admiration of the good fortune which had blessed them with such children, and of the governess who so well understood how to develope such excellent dispositions. But every human triumph must have its end, and even this eventful morning drew to a close. The visiters adjourned to the saloon to partake the light refreshment of an elegant looking luncheon, and the children gladly gathered round a table covered with good things of a more substantial order. After dinner was concluded, Mrs. Cameron, whose other visiters were by that time dispersed, came to do the honours of the dessert, which was this day plentifully allotted to the school girls; she helped them herself to wine and fruit, expressing her great satisfaction at the way in which every thing had gone off. "You must now, all of you, keep very quiet till the evening, that you may be able to enjoy yourselves. Dancing will begin at eight o'clock."
She rose from the table, but when she reached the door, turned round, and again thanked the young ladies for their exertions, "And it were injustice, Miss Beaumont, to pass you over without saying how much I was gratified by the universal approbation which rewarded your efforts-;you even surpassed my expectations." No wonder that Fanny's heart beat, and her cheek glowed with conscious pleasure.
FANNY was seated in the centre of a group who were discussing the events of the morning, and in the gaiety of youthful spirits, extracting mirth out of the merest trifle, when the door of the schoolroom opened suddenly, and "Miss Beaumont, you are wanted," broke up the little circle.
Fanny hurried away, amid the exclamations of the girls, "We hope you will soon be back again."
To her great surprise she met Mrs. Cameron in the passage, who, looking pale and agitated, caught Fanny's hand, and led her into the parlour where her mother's maid was standing, looking even yet more pale. "What is the matter, my father, my mother!" exclaimed Fanny, fearing she knew not what.
"Compose yourself, my dearest girl," said Mrs. Cameron, "your mother has sent for you home, I grieve to say your father-;-;" the unfinished sentence died on her lips.
"He is ill, for God's sake, do not let us lose a moment, I shall be ready in an instant." She flew out of the room, and with a trembling hand Mrs. Cameron rang the bell, and desired one of the teachers to go and render Miss Beaumont all possible assistance. Then pouring out a glass of wine which she made the servant drink, she gathered from her a more distinct account of the circumstances which led to this sudden summons. Mrs. Beaumont was no more. He had been found in his library, before a table covered with papers, among which he had seemed busily engaged. The butler, who went to call him to breakfast, found his master dead. Mrs. Beaumont was in a state of distraction. Her only intelligible words were those which asked for her daughter Fanny, and the woman had of her own accord, or rather after a consultation with her fellow-servants, set off to fetch the unfortunate girl. Hastily cautioning her against telling the melancholy intelligence till her young mistress was in the carriage, and there to communicate it as gently as possible, Mrs. Cameron broke off her discourse, for in less time than had seemed possible, Fanny came down equipped for her journey. A hasty embrace, a few broken words, and a faltering "God bless you, my poor dear child," from her governess, and Fanny found herself driving off with a rapidity that added to the confusion of her ideas.
"Can they not drive faster?" exclaimed she in an agony of fear.
"Lord, Miss, it is of no use now," said the servant. Fanny sprang from her seat, she looked almost doubtfully in the face of her attendant: it confirmed her worst terror, and she sank back insensible. It were needlessly painful to enter into the detail of that miserably journey, but all that Fanny had previously endured seemed as nothing when she drove into the street where they lived, and saw the house shut up; they stopped, and the door was opened by a stranger, though their own servant stood in the passage.
"How is my mother?" asked she, in a voice scarcely audible. The old man only shook his head, he could not find words to answer. Fanny had hardly power to reach her mother's apartment, she leant for a moment against the wall, before she entered. Bewildered as she was by the shock with which death and sorrow had come upon her, she could not but notice another strange man passing along the passage. The desire of avoiding him gave her courage to enter the room. Dark as it was, she could see her mother laid on the sofa, and her little sister seated on a stool beside. On her entrance, the child looked up with a frightened air, but, instantly recognising her, ran and clasped her round the neck, and Fanny felt her face wet with tears: alas! the poor little creature had not other means of expression, for she was deaf and dumb. Fanny took her up in her arms, and approached the couch on tiptoe, where Mrs. Beaumont was extended in the wornout sleep of exhaustion. Knowing her mother's habits, she was surprised to find her without an attendant, but fearing to disturb her, she sat down quietly, with Edith on her knee, and gave way to a subdues, but agonizing burst of tears. Suddenly the door of the apartment opened, and in rushed the companion of her journey, too agitated to have the least self-control. "Oh Miss," exclaimed she, sobbing hysterically, "this is too dreadful, there is an execution in the house." The noise roused Mrs. Beaumont, who started up from her slumber, she looked wildly round, and almost shrieked, "Can I not be quiet one moment?"
"Mother, dearest mother," whispered Fanny, springing forward, and, in another instant, she was clasped in her mother's arms, whose violent weeping at last exhausted itself: and she remained, her head resting on her daughter's shoulder, in a state of complete stupefaction. It was night before Fanny could steal away, she could not rest, without having performed the last solemn duty-;She went to look on her father's beloved face, now pale and set in the cold rigidity of death-;She knelt down there quite alone, no one watched beside the deserted coffin, but the lonely and heart-stricken orphan, who passed the night in prayer. The next day brought neither comfort nor hope-;her poor little afflicted sister followed her about the darkened house, like her shadow, looking ill and pale, but lacking the power to express her sympathy, or lessen either fear, or sorrow, by the kindly intercourse of words.
Her mother's state was deplorable, she sank beneath the pressure of misfortune, without an effort at self-control, or exertion-;to lie on the sofa, and cry herself to sleep was all of which she was as yet capable. She was only roused into something like anger, by her favourite maid leaving her, as she had an offer from a lady who was about to travel, and had always so much admired her style of doing Mrs. Beaumont's hair.
Every order, indeed every thing, devolved upon Fanny, and the difficulties around her might well have appalled one far older, and far wiser, than an inexperienced school girl. Mrs. Beaumont's commercial undertakings had been of a wide an speculative order, and their failure had been total. One loss had followed upon another, and the failure of a bank, with which he was connected, was the last and heaviest misfortune of all. The shock had doubtless hastened his death, and it was impossible for any situation to be more utterly destitute than that in which he had left his family. In his prosperity, hard, arrogant and grasping, he had made no friends-;and his children were equally without support, assistance, or advice.
Mrs. Beaumont, a vain, pretty, and silly woman, was utterly unable to bear up against the torrent of misfortune which assailed her. To lament, and wonder, was all of which Mrs. Beaumont was capable. Twenty times a day she would say, "But your papa was so rich, he must have left something for us. It is very cruel of those odious creditors:" all sorrow for her husband's memory was swallowed up in reproach. Fanny used every effort to console, and she could not soothe, at least she listened patiently.
Mrs. Beaumont's jewels were of course taken, but Fanny's manner had so much interested one of the creditors, who had a daughter about her age, that he exerted himself in the cause of the bereaved family.
They were allowed to retain their personal effects-;and these he also aided Fanny to dispose of, for she saw at once their uselessness in what was likely to be their future situation. Her mother would exhaust herself in useless complaints, find fault with every inevitable arrangement, and end by leaving the almost broken-hearted girl to manage as she could. At last, her discontent took the form of an earnest longing to leave London: it was the best possible shape it could have taken, for had the proposal originated in any one but herself, it would have been impossible to obtain her consent. The only servant who remained with them was the housemaid, who was Fanny's chief attendant. Her strong attachment to her young mistress induced her to linger with them to the last. She often spoke of her native village, and of her aunt, who lived there, and the idea struck Fanny that it might afford them a home, as quiet and as cheap as their circumstances required. She soon obtained all the requisite information, and, finding that the said aunt had two rooms which she was glad to let-;wrote to say that her mother would take them, and that they might be expected at the end of the week. Mrs. Beaumont complained bitterly of the haste in which the arrangement was made, but the absolute necessity of leaving their own house silenced, if it did not satisfy, her. Mary went with them to the coach, and the tears of the affectionate girl were the only ones shed at the departure of those who had so recently been the centre of so gay and brilliant a circle.
But Mr. and Mrs. Beaumont had abused their prosperity. They had attached no one by the ties of kindness and gratitude. They had aimed only at worldly success, and at that time of trouble it was truly a reed that pierced those who leant on it for support.
POOR little Edith was the only one to whom the journey gave any pleasure. But to one whose chief source of enjoyment was in what she saw, the coaches, the moving fields and hedges, the various towns through which they passed, were constant amusement.
The smile with which, at every new object, she sought her sister's eye, was Fanny's only consolation. She was thankful, too, that there was no one but themselves in the coach, so that Mrs. Beaumont's complainings reached no ear but her own.
The high road did not pass within some three miles of the secluded village, which was henceforth to be their home, but the housemaid had given them sufficient directions, and the coach stopped at the corner of a shadowy lane, which led to Sherban-;a man and a cart were there stationed waiting their arrival.
It was a relief to the whole party to alight, weary alike of the perpetual motion and the confinement of the stage. The lane was green and shadowy, and the hedges filled with the sweetness of the late violets. A soft uncertain wind shook the branches, the only sound that disturbed the deep tranquility of the scene. There were large clouds floating on the sky, but as yet the sunshine rested in all its brightness on the little open space that bordered the highway with its two old elms.
Mrs. Beaumont took the hand of the little Edith and sauntered a few paces along the turf, leaving Fanny to make all the necessary arrangements.
Poor child, for she was but a child in years, though the bitter cares of the world had come upon her thus early-;she had acquired the experience of life in a few weeks.
Brought up only to the exercise of graceful accomplishment, accustomed to attendance and indulgence, she had suddenly found the necessity of exertion. She had learnt not only to do every thing for herself-;but much for others. While the desertion of so many former friends had given her a harsh lesson of self-dependance, she had yet met so unexpected kindness-;and hope is so easily encouraged in youth. Her shyness, for that she found impossible to conquer, seemed only natural, in one so young and lovely, and the sweetness inseparable from her temper secured universal civility.
Their small store of luggage was soon placed in the cart, and a comfortable seat, as she hoped, formed for her mother-;but here an unexpected difficulty arose. Mrs. Beaumont turned angrily away, declaring "that it was quite impossible for her to ride in a cart."
Fanny did not endeavour to convince, she only endeavoured to persuade.
Fortunately a dark cloud came to her assistance, and the fear of rain did more than all her entreaties-;they took their seats, and Mrs. Beaumont's sullen silence gradually yielded to her daughter's influence-;who would not be discouraged from conversation. She drew little Edith, to the loveliness of the country around; and at last Mrs. Beaumont passed her arm round her neck, and said, "You are a dear girl, and that is the truth of it, Fanny." Tears swelled in the eyes of the affectionate child-;those few kind words more than repaid her.
The shadows had lengthened around, and only a few of the further cottage windows on the hill retained the crimson radiance of the setting sun, when they arrived at Sarah Wilmot's. Fanny had induced her mother to get out before they came to the house. She had learned, while walking up one of the hills, from the man who drove them, that there was a path through the field which led to back gate in the garden, at the style therefore they alighted-;all were glad to be in motion, the heaviness on the air had passed away, leaving only a refreshing coolness behind.
the hedge, by whose side the footpath wound, was covered with that rich growth of leaf and bloom which marks the delicious season when spring is deepening into summer.
At every step Edit stopped, to gather some new treasure, till her little arms were filled with flowers, while her large dark eyes turned to her companions with such as eloquent expression of delight, that the silence of her mouth was forgotten. The whole party felt the influence of the cheerful scene, and when they reached the small parlour, where the tea was prepared, it was with a sensation of rest and hope to which they had long been strangers. Edith was quite ready to enjoy her bread and honey, and Mrs. Beaumont was pleased with the respectful civility of the neat old woman who received them. The room was small but delicately clean, and the honeysuckle that peeped in at the lattice was now at its sweetest, with the evening dew exhaling from its fragrant tendrils.
They had been accustomed to so much wretchedness of late, to confusion, to civility, and to noise, that only the pleasant side of the contrast in their present situation was what struck them. The next day, however, Mrs. Beaumont discovered that their two rooms were wretchedly small, that she had no French rolls for breakfast, and that she could not see herself in the small square glass which hung beside the window, serving as the mirror. these were but small vexations become great ones when perpetually dwelt upon. From the first, Fanny began the habit of early rising. At first, Mrs. Beaumont complained bitterly of being herself disturbed, but when she found Fanny never undrew the curtains, and asked it as a favour, she became reconciled, and it may be doubted whether, after a few mornings, she even heard the light step that was so carefully subdued. It was for her sake that her daughter was so anxious to get up. She soon found that the girl, employed by Sarah Wilmot, had more to do than she could get through, and was both awkward and stupid in getting through with it. Fanny resolved to take all the preparations for breakfast on herself. She soon found her way to the kitchen, at first to old Sarah's great dismay, and not a little to her own embarrassment, but, after two or three failures, she succeeded to admiration. Henceforth her sister's bread and mild, and her mother's coffee, were made by herself.
With my poor little Edith she had at first the greatest difficulty-;she had been sadly spoilt. Her cruel misfortune had made it seem almost harsh ever to restrain her. The natural weakness of Mr. Beaumont's temper had given way to every possible bad habit, rather than be at the trouble of correction, and of late the unfortunate child had been neglected in every way. Edith did not choose to get up, and Fanny neither liked to disturb her mother by any noise of contention, nor to make her sister rise merely by compulsion. But Edith, though violent in temper, had an affectionate heart, and where that exists it may always be worked upon to good. Very quick in her apprehensions, she soon saw that her sister was always actively employed, and the desire arose to assist her. Fanny exhausted her ingenuity in contriving a thousand ways of wanting her services.
The pride of usefulness led, as it ever does, to the most beneficial results, and Edith became anxious to get up in the morning, that she might help her sister. An errand was next found to employ her. Hitherto the girl had fetched the milk of a morning: after going with her once, herself, to see that there was no danger that she could incur, Fanny in future sent her sister for it. The child was delighted with the office, she had a pleasant walk across the field, and the farmer's wife, a thoroughly good-hearted woman, thought that she could never make enough of the beautiful and afflicted child. Edith brought home the mild with due care, but she had almost always to run back again for some fruit, flowers, honey, or cake, which her new friends had offered her.
Edith's health and temper became equally improved, and, even in the very heat of anger, a word or a look from her sister would soften her at once. But it was over Mrs. Beaumont that Fanny's interest was the most remarkable and advantageous. Her mother could not devolve every difficulty upon her, as she did, without an unconscious respect for the strength of mind displayed by one so young; yet, thanks to Fanny's sweetness, this was attended by none of that bitterness which too often attends such a change in the natural position of child and parent. But Mrs. Beaumont could not but see that her ease and her amusement were every thing to her affectionate daughter; while Fanny had never loved her mother so well as now that she was her chief object, and her renewed cheerfulness the great reward of her constant exertions. Mrs. Beaumont had always been fond of work, it was now a great resource; and it soon became an amusement to teach Edith, whose quickness of apprehension was surprising.
They had been some time resident in the village, when Fanny one evening was in the kitchen engaged in washing the tea-things, a task she had taken upon herself, when she observed that her hostess, instead of seizing with her usual delight the opportunity for a little chat, remained in what seemed a very disconsolate silence. Fanny saw that more than once the tears rose to the old woman's eyes. She could not see this without an attempt at consolation; she took her hand, and asked her kindly what was the matter. The poor old creature was ready enough to talk of her troubles, she said that her son had been offered a situation as shopman in the next market town.
"It is a great thing for him, miss, but-;"
"You do not like to part with him. But the distance is not great, and it is for his good."
"That is what I say to myself, and to him too, but he won't let me talk about it."
She then went on to explain that her son, for she herself could neither write nor read, had been in the habit of keeping the accounts of her little business, and that, without his assistance, it was impossible for her to get on at all.
The thought instantly darted into Fanny's head could she not supply his place? She had felt for some time that what her mother paid was a very inadequate return for the trouble which, in spite of her personal efforts, they gave, and for the comfort which they enjoyed. Here was an opportunity of amply acquitting the obligation; she was a good accountant at school; for, by reason of the necessity of order in their own arrangement, she had of late rather improved than otherwise. Mrs. Wilmot's shop was nominally to sell grocery, but it sold almost every thing else; the old woman, whose activity and obligingness were proverbial, attended to her customers herself, and of an evening her son regulated the accounts of the day. The profits were sufficient to enable her to live in great comfort, and the decent education which she had contrived to afford her son had been already repaid by his dutiful affection, and assistance. But it was time now for him to be doing something more; he was growing up to manhood, and the present situation was one beyond his hopes. The last tea-cup was washed, and Fanny had taken her resolution; she drew a stool close to the arm-chair, and communicated her project. "I can cast up accounts very well, and your son can put me in the way of doing yours."
The old woman was at first silent from excess of astonishment.
"A young lady like yourself!" was her almost inarticulate reply; but at length she began to comprehend the possibility,a nd her surprise was next equalled by her gratitude.
That very evening Fanny took her lesson. The matter had even more difficulty than she expected, for Sarah's own memorandums were hieroglyphics in chalk, that required practice indeed to decipher them. By dint of the most persevering attention she conquered all the difficulties, and not one of the least was her mother's objection, who saw in the employ a degradation. Fanny would only let her think of its utility and its kindness.
We have alluded to Edith's morning walk, to fetch milk; it led to far more important consequences. The farmer had the care of the only large house in the neighbourhood. It had the history belonging to so many. Its proprietors were living in a foreign land, too embarrassed to return to their own, yet unable or unwilling to part with the noble old place which had been their so long. Edith first, and Fanny afterward, accompanied the farmer's wife on her periodical visits for airing the deserted rooms. There was a large library and from its dusty shelves they soon obtained permission to take what they pleased, on condition that one set of books were returned to their places, before others were brought away.
Here was indeed a treasure of delight and information. Fanny, who, like all active minds, had still many hours of the day unemployed, found here an invaluable and constant resource. She had often secretly regretted how all the advantages of her earlier education were being thrown away, but here was an opportunity for the cultivation of her mental powers. Without suffering her new found enjoyment to interfere with her more active duties, she read a great deal, and one book, with a passion of hope and pleasure: it was the Abbé Siéye's work on the instruction of the deaf and dumb. It opened a field of expectation, on which she had before scarcely allowed herself to think. A little practice soon brought experience to her aid, and in a few months she was astonished at her sister's progress.
Edith had a natural talent for drawing, and it was extraordinary how much this facilitated her progress: gradually she learnt to read; then to write, and she acquired an extraordinary facility in sketching any object on the minute. A small slate which she carried constantly about with her, became an easy means of communication with all, while to her mother and sister she could talk on her fingers with the greatest rapidity. All this, however, was the work of time, for nearly five years had passed since they first sought the distant and quiet village.
They had been five years of content and employment. Mrs. Beaumont's health, though never strong, was better than it had ever been before, and her two children were pictures of youth and loveliness. But even the lowliest degree of content has its changes, and the smaller, even as the greater, portion in life has its trouble. The trifling sum which they had so husbanded was gradually drawing to a close: a new shop, opened at the other extremity of the village, had drawn away much of old Sarah's custom, who was daily more desirous of going to reside with her son. His success in life had been the fitting reward of his industry and good conduct. It was fortunate for Mrs. Beaumont that, accustomed to depend wholly on Fanny, she took every thing for granted. When once used to their present mode of life, she supposed, as she had done of their former prosperity, that it would go on so always. She had no foresight. But Fanny's anxiety increased every hour. For the first time she felt utterly depressed; she saw no possible means of earning even the most miserable pittance. She envied the labourers she saw working in the fields. Night after night, she buried her face in her sleepless pillow, lest her sister should perceive her tears.
One day Edith had been to the old manor house, and was returning slowly up the steep hill which led to their village, when she was overtaken by a gentleman, who had for some minutes past been calling to her to learn his way. The light touch on her shoulder drew her attention in a minute. She startled, and while a beautiful colour came into her face, fixed her dark eyes on his face, and perceived by the movement of his lips that he was speaking. She raised her graceful hands, but saw at once that he did not understand the rapid motion of her fingers. Then taking her slate, which hung on her arm, she wrote on it, "I am deaf and dumb, but I can read what you write." With a sweet smile she gave her touching confession to the stranger. The emotion with which he let the slate fall from his hand was beyond mere pity. With an expression of the tenderest interest he gazed on the lovely countenance that, animated and intelligent, met his own. "And is this sweet child so afflicted also?" exclaimed he in a broken voice.
He could not command himself enough to write the question he meant to ask, and Edith's quick eye noted the changes of his face, and was naturally struck with the idea of indisposition; she happy in the cheerful affection of her mother and sister, knew not all the sympathy that she inspired. Again she took up her slate and wrote, "Are you ill, our house is very near, if you will rest there?" Mr. Bennett, for such was the stranger's name, had now composed himself, but his curiosity and a deeper feeling were alike excited by his companion; he therefore wrote down his thanks, saying "that he had lost his way, and would be glad to follow his present guide."
The horse, whose bridle was thrown over his arm, now attracted Edith's attention, and a conversation was soon commenced, and carried on, by the medium of the slate. They arrived at the little cottage, and Edith ran in to announce their unexpected visiter. A boy was soon found to hold Mr. Bennett's horse, while he accepted Mrs. Beaumont's offer of rest and refreshment. The conversation was interesting to both parties. It was so long since Mrs. Beaumont had had a visiter of any kind, that she could not help enjoying the novelty, and Mr. Bennett was equally struck with her ladylike manner, and Fanny's singular loveliness. He asked many questions about Edith. "You will pardon," said he, "my dwelling on this painful subject, but I have two children afflicted in a similar manner."
This was too strong a bond of sympathy not to draw even strangers closely together, and when, after a visit of considerable length, he expressed his intention of taking whatever accommodation the little village inn could afford, Mrs. Beaumont begged him to renew his visit-;and it wa at last settled that he should take an early breakfast with them.
It was late, very late, that night before Fanny closed her eyes; her head was full of a project that had suggested itself, but which cost her many a bitter pang to even attempt executing. She resolved every possible, we might say, impossible, chance of alleviating their situation, and she could find but one, and that was to go out as governess. It was a dreary prospect, for it must separate her from a mother and sister whom she loved, as we love those to whom we are every thing in the world.
How would Mrs. Beaumont bear up when separated from the daughter who was her resource and support in every thing? How would poor Edith bear her loss? And yet on that poor afflicted child was her chief dependance. She had taught her to read, write, and draw, and Edith could now get on by herself; not as she would have done with her sister always by her side, but still enough for instruction and employment. Moreover, there would always be a companion for her mother, one who, if she could not amuse her like Fanny, would yet always be at hand to do those little offices which were to Mrs. Beaumont quite indispensable.
The first red light of morning was stealing through the lattice, and Fanny raised herself on her arm to gaze on her sleeping sister. The long dark lash rested on the pale cheek which looked so placid and composed, while the warm light played round it, like a blessing.
In moments of great anxiety there is a sort of natural superstition about the heart, which the reason rejects in cooler moments.
Fanny, for an instant, watched that cheerful ray as if it were a good omen. She thought with increased confidence of Edith's docility and intelligence, and hope grew strong within her than heaven would protect a creature so innocent and so helpless.
Fanny started from a short, but deep, slumber, as the sunshine came full on the window, and hurried up, to make the needful preparations. The room was prepared, and breakfast ready before their guest arrived, but even then, as Fanny had anticipated, her mother was not come down, and this gave her an opportunity for the conversation she had planned with Mr. Bennett. He took a seat by the window, and entered at once into conversation. But the thoughts of his young hostess, after the first civilities had passed, were too busy to enable her to sustain her part, and her visiter at last became silent, evidently a little vexed at the failure of all his efforts to encourage her. Suddenly, making a strong resolve to subdue her feelings, Fanny rose from the table where she had been seated, and, approaching Mr. Bennett, said, in a faltering voice, "Sir, I am going to ask a favour; it will not be very much trouble, and I have not a friend in the world, unless I can make one of a stranger: you seem very kind-;" but here her utterance failed, and the tears came so fast to her eyes that she could no longer check them. She was soon reassured by the extreme kindness of Mr. Bennett's manner, and in a few words explained their unfortunate circumstances, and her own wish to obtain a situation as governess.
"We have lost sight," continued she, "of all our former friends, but a little inquiry will satisfy you of the truth of my story; and the lady who educated me at Brighton would, I am sure, speak kindly of me."
"That you can obtain such a situation," replied Mr. Bennett, "there is no doubt, and as my own circle is large, I feel sure that I can serve you."
"God bless you," exclaimed the grateful girl, when, hearing the door open of Mrs. Beaumont's room, she hastily added, "Say nothing of my plan to my mother. It will be hard enough to bear when it succeeds, let me spare her all unhappiness beforehand."
Mr. Bennett had only time to look a reply, when Mrs. Beaumont entered the little parlour. During breakfast, Mrs. Bennett had ample time to admire the self-control which Fanny had so early learnt to practise. Her young heart was swelling with anxiety, and even then she was anticipating all the bitterness of parting; yet she suppressed all outward sign of what she felt: she was even more attentive than usual to the courtesies of the breakfast table; and, if a little silent, she nevertheless answered the questions addressed to her by Mr. Bennett with equal intelligence and grace. The meal was soon despatched, for their guest was in haste, and both Fanny and Edith accompanied him till actually in the direct line of his route.
During the walk Mr. Bennett put many questions, and ended by assuring Fanny that she should soon hear from him, and he hoped satisfactorily. Fanny listened to the sound of his horse's feet, as he galloped down the green lane, with mingled pain and pleasure: it seemed as if they were the first notes of separation between herself and all she loved in the world; yet the idea of the aid she might thereby give supported her, and the small domestic troubles which daily increased distracted her attention: she had not courage to mention her plan to her mother, but, aware how much in future must depend on her sister, she resolved on telling her. Child as she was Edith proved worthy of the care that had been bestowed upon her, and the confidence now reposed.
They were taking their favourite walk in a small oak coppice near, when Fanny called her attention from the wild flowers which she was gathering, and told her of their future plans. At first it was too much for Edith's philosophy, she listened in pale dismay, and then, dashing herself down on the grass, gave way to a passionate burst of crying; all Fanny could do was to raise her head, and cry too.
"I am setting you a bad example," at last exclaimed the elder sister, and Edith, seeing that her lips moved, remained with her eyes fixed on her face, and unclasping her hands, traced a few words hastily on the slate that hung at her wrist: "My sister, I shall die, and so will mamma, if you leave us." Fanny clasped the little affectionate creature in her arms, and, taking her hand, walked towards the open fields. The fresh air, the glad open sunshine, revived her, she relied on the care of heaven, which spread so brightly over all around, she then explained to her sister the necessity of the situation, the absolute necessity of some support, and perhaps expressed a little more hope than she really felt of every thing turning out for the best. "You must," said she, "take my place with my mother, you must dress her, and be housekeeper, and every thing, I know I can trust my little Edith."
The child swallowed down her tears, and turned to her sister with a steadfast, earnest look, "Let me dress mamma to-morrow," asked she, and the slight fingers were tolerably steady while asking.
The next morning Mrs. Beaumont was down a rather earlier than usual, and found Fanny, as had been settled, very busy over her work. "I shall dismiss you from my service," said she smiling, "for Edith is so handy, and I know how much there is to do."
"I shall grow jealous," replied Fanny, forcing a laugh, and from that time Edith took her place. This was a great point gained, for Mrs. Beaumont required many little personal services, which Fanny had feared her sister, with her infirmity, would be incapable of rendering. A fortnight of anxious expectation past by: the fortnight became three weeks, and Fanny found herself at the end of their carefully hoarded pittance, and Mrs. Beaumont had, from finding Sarah crying in the garden, and questioning her, learnt the old woman's wish to give up the shop and cottage. She hurried to the parlour, where she had left Fanny at work, and found the poor girl, wornout both in mind and body, crying bitterly. This was too much for Mrs. Beaumont, and Fanny was roused from her own painful indulgence, by seeing her mother in strong hysterics. Caresses and entreaties at length restored her, and Fanny took the opportunity of telling her what her own hopes were. This seemed only making matters worse:-;"if you leave, what will become of us?" said her mother, wringing her hands.
"If I stay, we shall starve; my obtaining a situation as a governess is our only resource against absolute want," replied Fanny gently, but firmly. "Dearest mother, do not deny me the happiness of working for you. I hope our separation will not be long,a nd Edith will always be with you."
"O, my child, how I shall miss you," and again Mrs. Beaumont gave way to her tears. Gradually she became more composed, and Fanny, thenceforth, made her approaching departure the constant subject of discourse. When once Mrs. Beaumont considered it as inevitable, she grew even anxious about it, and, for the next three days, she harassed both Fanny and herself with misgivings as to Mr. Bennett's forgetfulness. The fourth evening came, and still no letter; when, just as Mr. Beaumont was saying "Ah, Fanny, it is of no use hoping, nobody cares for us now," a parcel was brought in addressed to her. It was opened with trembling eagerness, and, among other things, Fanny saw a letter inscribed to herself. The contents ran thus:
"MY DEAR YOUNG FRIEND-;
"My long silence occasioned by severe illness, has, I fear, led you to suppose that I had forgotten the interest that I had expressed in your situation: as soon as you mentioned what your wishes for the future were, a plan occurred to me which I trusted might be mutually agreeable. Mrs. Bennett agrees with myself in thinking our little girls will be most fortunate if placed under your care. She has herself written to you. Will you permit me to enclose the accompanying trifle for the expenses of your journey"
"With every expression of esteem and respect,
"I remain your sincere friend,
The bank note for twenty pounds, and the letter, dropped from her hand in an agony of mute thankfulness it was far beyond her hopes, and she felt as if regret would be ingratitude to Providence.
Edith had watched every turn of her face, while Mrs. Beaumont was employed in examining the contents of the parcel.
She caught up the letter, read it, and grew deadly pale, the tears rose in her eyes, but she did not shed them, she only drew close to Fanny, and kissed her, as much as to say, "You see you may trust me." Fanny commanded her voice sufficiently to read the letter aloud, and in the relief from the fear of destitution, Mrs. Beaumont bore the idea of parting with her daughter better than could have been expected. The parcel itself, too, distracted her attention.
Its arrival was an event in a life so monotonous as theirs.-;It contained a handsome shawl for herself, brown merino dresses for the two girls, some various silks and worsteds, which showed that the kind donor had noted Mrs. Beaumont's own employ, a variety of books, a box of colours, pencils, and a kind note to Edith.
The kindness was felt even more than the service. There was also another note addressed to Miss Beaumont, is a lady's hand. She broke the pale lilac seal, and read the contents.
"Mrs. Bennett informs Miss Beaumont, that, in consequence of Mrs. Cameron's recommendation, she is willing to give her a trial, though she thinks Miss B. very young.
"Mrs. Bennett begs no time may be lost, as she is going to Brighton, and wants the children settled first. She will give Miss B. the same salary as her predecessor, a hundred guineas, though she must say it is a large sum for such a young person: but Mrs. Cameron says that Miss Beaumont is highly accomplished, hopes that they have not been lost in the country. Will Miss Beaumont write to fix what day she will arrive, as the housekeeper is to meet her."
It was not the utter want of elegance in this even unladylike note, but it was its want of any thing like encouragement. At that moment, Fanny felt the full bitterness of the task she had undertaken. She would not think of this, she turned at once to the blessing of being able to support her mother, and just read enough of the note to fix attention on the amount of the salary, and the necessity of her immediate departure. Her plan had been for some time arranged in her own mind, and no obstacles intervened.
It was agreed that Mrs. Beaumont and Edith were to live at the farmhouse we had before mentioned, and Fanny had the satisfaction of seeing them comfortably settled.
"I know," said Edith, (we use the expression say, to avoid perpetual recurrence to her methods of expression, which were either by talking on her fingers, or writing on her slate,) "that you are afraid mamma will miss you, and so she must, but it shall not be for want of care. Dearest sister, I will do just as if you were here with me, and as Mr. Bennett says I may always write under cover to him, I will tell you every thing I do." Fanny at that moment had less resolution than even her little sister, and the child went on:
"I will keep a journal and send you every week. My darling Fanny, I now how good you have been: God will bless us both for your sake."
With what lingering steps that evening did they wander round "the old familiar places!" The old hedge, now filled with honeysuckle, the bank beneath the ash tree, where a few late violets yet lingered, the clear and dancing brook, leak they had so often gathered watercresses; every object had now that charm which invests even the commonest thing when seen for the last time.
The next day, it was fortunate that all was hurry and confusion: there was only just time for Fanny to get her few packages ready, and to be at the end of the green lane just as the coach was sweeping down the hill in the distance. Such a long journey, and by herself, too, was an awful thing to any girl, especially to one who had lived in such complete seclusion, and fear mixed with the sorrow that made Fanny's voice at parting quite inarticulate. Neither Mrs. Beaumont nor Edith could restrain their tears, and even the farmer's wife who accompanied them cried for sympathy. Slowly they returned home, to miss Fanny at every turn.
The room did not seem the same, her place was vacant. The next morning Edith was up with the lark, and stole from the bed as softly as the bird from its nest, so fearful was she of disturbing her mother, and of not having every thing nicely prepared.
"Lord love the poor little thing," said their new hostess, as she watched her bring in the flowers and water-cresses with which she laid out the breakfast table, and then make the coffee with a skill which many a London drawing-room might have envied.
"What a handy child it is, but we must help all we can, and without seeming to do it."
But a letter from Edith to her sister will give exact description of how they passed their time.
"It is but a week, for I have counted every day, since I saw the coach take you away, my dearest Fanny, but it has been a very long week. Every thing makes us miss you. Yesterday we walked past old Sarah's shop-;it is shut up, and the sight made mamma cry so, that she went to bed quite ill. I shall take care not to walk that way again except by myself.
"I will tell you just how a day passes. I get up at seven, go as usual to see the cows milked, and drink my own little cupful. I then go home, get the breakfast ready for mamma, and read till she comes, and then we sit down together; after the breakfast things are washed and put away, we go and walk for an hour before the sun is on the lane. Then mamma and I work in the window, and she reads, till it is time to lay the cloth for dinner. After that she lies down, and I go into the arbour in the garden, where there is now a wooden table. For the next hour I am trying to teach Hannah and Mary to write and count, but they don't learn very fast. To be sure, you will say that they have not had time. Mary too is teaching me to plait straw, and I like doing it very much.
"Then I get the tea ready, and mamma and I take another walk, but I walk more than she does.
"Then I read till bedtime, or talk to mamma, but I am afraid she misses your reading aloud to her.
"Ah, dear Fanny, I wish we were as rich as we have been! But there are many poor children starving; and, if I could see you, I should be quite happy. Mamma says I may give her love, but she is going to write the last page herself. Good-by, dear, dear Fanny.
"Your affectionate sister,
In the mean time, Fanny proceeded on her long and cheerless journey, without, however, meeting the slightest adventure.
Her own sweet and gentle manner every where won her civility, and, after two very fatiguing days, she arrived safely in London, where the housekeeper was waiting to meet her. She was a quiet, civil person, very careful of her young charge, and a coach, which was soon procured, conveyed them to Mr. Bennett's house in Harley street. She was shown at once to her own room, but had scarcely time for either rest or refreshment, before she was summoned to tea.
With a beating heart and a faltering step, she entered the magnificent drawing-room, where every thing swam before her eyes. She was a little reassured by Mr. Bennett coming kindly forward, and taking her hand: he led her to a lady who was thrown back in a large arm-chair. "This, my dear, is Miss Beaumont, of whom I have had so much pleasure in talking to you."
Mrs. Bennett rather stared than looked at the new comer: apparently the survey was any thing but satisfactory, for, in a very peevish tone, she exclaimed-;rather to her husband than to Fanny-;
"Why do you keep her standing-;there, Miss-;Miss-;what is your name?-;is a chair close by.
Well for Fanny was it that the chair did stand close by, for she almost sank upon it, appalled at her reception.
A dead silence prevailed for some minutes, broken by Mrs. Bennett's asking her husband some trifling question, to which he made no reply. Silence again prevailed, and to Miss Beaumont's great relief, Mrs. Bennett addressed her very civilly, as to whether she had not found her journey fatiguing. "You will not see your pupils till to-morrow; they are in bed, and glad enough everybody is when they are there."
The carriage was announced, but while putting on her cloak, Mrs. Bennett begged that Fanny would ring for any thing she wanted.
"Indeed, my dear, you must make yourself quite at home."
Mr. Bennett wished her a cordial good night, and Fanny heard the street door close before she had recovered her surprise at the change in the lady's manner.
It was a new and weary lesson that Fanny had to learn in the experience of Mrs. Bennett's temper. A vain, weak, and selfish woman, every fault had increased with an uninterrupted course of worldly prosperity, and she had no kindliness, no natural generosity to counteract her violent and overbearing disposition.
It required all her husband's calm, and even severe, good sense to obtain any influence; but she feared him, she knew that it was in his power to curtail her enjoyments, and if selfishness gave way to petulance at first, the same selfishness soon controlled it.
She saw that her husband was justly displeased at her reception of the friendless and interesting girl, whose situation would have called forth kindness from almost any one else; she felt no pity for Fanny, but she thought that Mr. Bennett might decline fulfilling their evening engagement, and, having vented her spleen at seeing her so very lovely, thought that some show of politeness was necessary to propitiate her husband.
It was with a heavy heart that Fanny rose the next morning. The dull parapet, the gloomy roofs of the houses, was any thing but a cheering spectacle. She missed the glad sunshine, the buoyant morning air that was wont to come in from the open casement of their little cottage. The noise, to which she had been so long unaccustomed, quite bewildered her, and the gloom seemed infectious. She soon dressed, and a servant came to conduct her to the schoolroom, where so much of her future life was to be passed. It was a large dull room, the bars before the window giving it almost the look of a prison, and a large iron fender destroying even the cheerfulness of the fire. By that fire the two children were seated, who slowly turned round their dull and sullen faces. Fanny went up to them, and tried to take a hand of each. They started back, making an inarticulate and frightful sound; the one pushed against the other, who immediately struck her sister, and a complete battle ensued. The servant parted them, and, turning to Miss Beaumont, said, "They are little furies, miss, I shall be glad enough to have done with them."
Breakfast was now brought, and the two children began to eat ravenously, and without the least regard even to decency. Fanny vainly endeavoured to make them imitate her movements; the least interference only produced the same discordant mutter, and attempts at blows: after the meal was over, they appeared to have no idea of either employment or amusement, excepting scrambling amid a profusion of broken toys, or climbing up to look out of the window. At last, however, Fanny began to draw figures on a sheet of paper; this attracted their attention, the one pushed the other, but Matilda, the eldest, obtained the mastery, and Susan was elbowed from the table. Fanny seized the opportunity of giving her first lesson in obedience. She showed the figures to Susan, and, after a little while, let her show them to Matilda. She next made them come to the table quietly together, and finished by dividing the drawings between them. At one o'clock they were summoned to Mrs. Bennett's dressing-room, who received the unfortunate children with ill-disguised disgust, and Miss Beaumont with coldness.
"I suppose," aid she, half yawning, "you won't want much in the schoolroom; indeed I don't know what you are to teach; you can give me a list of any thing you want: and I suppose Mr. Bennett will choose you to have it." After this ungracious interview they went out for their walk, a service of no small difficulty, as the children were not under the least control. They then returned, and the afternoon passed in much the same way as the morning.
Fanny was indeed thankful when eight o'clock came, and the children went to bed. Sad, wearied out both in body and mind, she sat down by the fire, and was startled from her gloomy revery by the servant bringing in the tray with her supper. It was the first solitary meal she had ever taken, and now it departed untouched. Such for the two succeeding years was the daily journal of Fanny Beaumont's life. Now and then Mr. Bennett would send to ask her to join their circle, but Mrs. Bennett's ill humour was so visible and so sure to lead to petty annoyance the following day, that Fanny almost always excused herself. Such for two years was the dull and lonely life of a girl singularly lovely and accomplished; she had the comfort of supporting her mother, but that comfort was her only one. The children who were confided to her care were perfectly untractable, the commonest domestic, who was kind, and honest would have done all that she could do, she felt that her energies and talents were alike wasted, she had none of the pleasures of youth, and but little hope for the future.
One morning, while making the daily visit to Mrs. Bennett's dressing-room, that lady said in a tone of more than usual civility, "I should be much obliged, Miss Beaumont, by your giving up your room next week. The heiress, Miss Elphinstone, is coming to stay with us, and her maid must have a room with a fireplace." Fanny of course assented, but it was with a bitter feeling of comparison.
The name of Elphinstone called up her school days, and she could not but contrast her present and former situation. Then she was loved, caressed, the favourite of her own happy little circle-;now she was dependent and lonely and forgotten.
The arrival of Miss Elphinstone was obviously an event in the Harley street household.
All sorts of preparations were made, and Fanny was surprised one morning by a request from Mrs. Bennett to come to her in the dressing-room. She found that it was to write out the cards of an invitation for a splendid ball to be given in honour of the visiter. The important day of the heiress's arrival at last came, the whole house in a commotion, for Mrs. Bennett, like all vulgar minded people, delighted in bustle.
Fanny soon heard enough from the maid who attended the children to be nearly sure that the visiter was the little Emeline who had been her pet at school, and heart warmed at the thought of seeing a friend. But the hope was vain, for Miss Elphinstone never came near her. A week passed, and it was now the night of the ball, and the courted and flattered heiress had never found a single moment to bestow on her former kind friend. Fanny felt the neglect bitterly, a single affectionate word would have been such a happiness to one so lonely.
It was late, and she sat down by the heavy iron fender in the schoolroom. All around her was life and gaiety, she could hear the perpetual rattle of the carriages, and the prolonged knocks at the door, while nearer still came the sound of music. She could distinguish a favourite waltz, it was the last that she had ever danced,she had seen little Emeline Elphinstone dance it that very day which had ended so unfortunately to herself.
"I should have come to see her," thought Fanny; and she felt the neglect of her former protegé more keenly than all the privations which she was now enduring.
Yet it was a hard trial for any young girl, to sit by herself in that gloomy schoolroom, hearing the gaiety so near! poor Fanny could not help conjuring up the scene to herself, the light, the flowers, and the dancers.
With the over sensitiveness of a singularly affectionate heart, it seemed as if the natural regret were selfish. She would not repine at any sacrifice made for the sake of her mother and sister. How long it was since they had met! "Ah," exclaimed Fanny, "if we could but have lived on in our little cottage, how happy we should have been. My own little Edith, when shall I see you again!" The tears that had been swallowed down with affectionate shame, now rose into her eyes, and Fanny scarcely heard the carriages or the music, while the image of her darling sister rose before her: she was roused from her revery by the schoolroom door, and to her astonishment saw a young lady enter bearing a light in her hand. She was drest in white satin which showed to advantage her tall and elegant figure, while a wreath of scarlet flowers contrasted the rich folds of her thick black hair. A chain of gold was round her neck, from which hung a diamond cross, and there was something so brilliant about her whole appearance that Fanny, though she rose, remained silent. She almost expected the bright apparition to vanish.
"I beg your pardon for this intrusion," said the unexpected visiter, "but I wanted my wreath altered, for it hurts my head. I could make no one hear in my own room, and set off in search of my main: I lost my was and, seeing a light, ventured to come in."
"Can I be of any use?" said Fanny.
"Why, to own the truth, I shall be thankful for any assistance," and as she went to sit down, she placed her candle on the table, so that the light fell full on Fanny's face: the stranger started from her seat. "No, impossible, yes, it is Fanny, Fanny Beaumont, O, I know it is herself," and, forgetting wreath and every thing else, she flung her arms round her neck, and almost sobbed out incoherent expressions of joy and surprise.
Fanny was too amazed for words, and her companion was the first to recover herself. "Do you not recollect me," asked the half-crying, half-laughing, "Emeline Elphinstone?"
"Emeline, my little Emeline," exclaimed Fanny: she could not, in the tall, graceful, and very handsome girl who stood before her, find a single trace of the little girl whom she had once petted.
"Why I am taller than you now," said the other, enjoying her surprise. "O, how I have tried to find you out, since I came from France, but I never could discover any thing about you: only think of that odious Mrs. Bennett never naming you. What does she keep you shut up here for?"
"You did not know then that I was governess to the children."
"Governess!" cried Miss Elphinstone; "do you think that I should have been here a week without seeing you if I had had the most remote idea of it. I heard that there were two children heavily afflicted, and of course avoided any inquiry. Ah, I see how it is, you are too pretty."
Fanny blushed, and added, "But I must not keep you here, you will be missed."
"Very true," replied the other, "and, as my father's friend, I would not affront Mr. Bennett: but I have so much to say to you! Do you mind sitting up? Come with me to my room, I must leave you there; I shall say good night as soon as I can, down-stairs, and you, in the meantime, take a nap on the sofa."
"But Mrs. Bennett will be angry."
"I do not care for the unreasonable anger of any one. Besides she won't be angry with me, so come; it is only reversing old times. I used to mind you, and now you must mind me."
Miss Elphinstone waited no further denial, but hurried her prize off to her own apartment. It was a little pretty room fitted up with every possible luxury, trinkets, toys, books and flowers were scattered in every direction.
She drew an arm-chair to the fire, threw a large Indian shawl round Fanny, placed a table near: "You used to like reading," said she, pointing to the volumes upon it. "Now, be a good child, and wait patiently till I return, which shall be as soon as possible. Really I must now hurry off, Mrs. Bennett, else, will insist that I have run away."
"But your wreath, let me alter it," said Fanny.
"I had forgotten all about it," replied the other, and stooping down, she had it loosened. "It is not the first time that you have dressed me," said Emeline, with a grateful and affectionate look. The door closed after her, and Fanny looked round the small luxurious apartment with a feeling of bewilderment. The last half-hour seemed like a dream. She had again heard kind words, again been treated with affection. It was not much, but her heart bounded with enjoyment.
Two hours passed rapidly away, and soon after Miss Elphinstone appeared, accompanied by her maid bringing in a tray of refreshments.
"You see, I have taken care you shall not be starved: Now, take a sandwich and some jelly, while Fanchette undresses me with all possible rapidity."
The two friends were soon seated over the fire, and each began their mutual history. Miss Elphinstone's had been one unbroken course of prosperity. Her father had come to Europe to recover his health, she had joined him within six months of Fanny's leaving school in the south of France. There and at Paris she had remained till the last twelve-month. "Ever since we came to England, I can safely say, you have never been out of my head a day. I have asked in every quarter I could discover. Little did I think when I came so reluctantly on this visit, that here I was to find you." It was now so late that they were obliged to separate, but as Fanny rose to go, Miss Elphinstone said,
"You had better think of packing up, for I tell you fairly, I leave here to-morrow, and you must accompany me. Now, do not even look hesitation. Remember, I am such a spoiled child now that I will have my own way. Henceforth you are my sister,: and, with a little gentle violence, she half-pushed Fanny out of the room to prevent an answer.
Miss Elphinstone soon fell asleep, full of pity and wonder at all her former friend had gone through, and equally full of resolutions to make her in future as happy and comfortable as possible.
Fanny's meditations were of a less satisfactory order. She was not only older in years, but far older in experience, than her friend; she felt as if to accept her offer would be to take advantage of the romance of youthful generosity. Moreover, Miss Elphinstone had a parent to consult, and he might not approve of her incurring the expense. "I have no right to be dependent, while by my own exertions I can support myself."
The next morning had finished the little instruction she could give the children, when Miss Elphinstone entered the schoolroom.
"You see, I have found my way again," said she. "Mrs. Bennett is now dressing, and I have sent a note to beg that you may breakfast with me."
The children now attracted her attention, and for a moment she paused with the shock: their melancholy and idiotic look and incoherent murmurs, had with her the full force of novelty. Recovering herself, she tried to notice them, but it was in vain, and in a few minutes the servant returned to say, "That Miss Elphinstone was to do as she pleased about breakfasting in her dressing-room, but that Miss Beaumont could not possibly leave the children."
"Then I will breakfast here," cried Emeline. "My poor Fanny, and is it in the power of such a woman, and with such children, that you have past the last two years?"
They now began talking of their future plans, and Fanny was scarcely prepared for the excessive disappointment which her refusal excited. Emeline had been so accustomed to have her wishes the study of all around that she could scarcely comprehend Fanny's supposing that there could be an objection raised to their gratification.
"I tell you what you may do for me," said Fanny, at last. "I feel I can do no more here than a servant could do; I will ask you to aid me in procuring another situation. Could I benefit these children, I own Mr. Bennett's kindness would give him a paramount claim upon my exertions, but I cannot; they are incapable of even attachment.
"Say no more," interrupted Miss Elphinstone, "your accomplishments will secure any situation. Just let me go home, and we will see what can be done."
Again the servant entered, to say that Mrs. Bennett had been waiting in the drawing-room above an hour for Miss Elphinstone. The friends affectionately embraced, and parted hastily; while Fanny sat down, and began to think over the events of the morning. She felt that she had done rightly, and, while her heart warmed at the thought of Emeline's kindness, she could not endure the idea of dependence on her generosity-;a generosity, too, unsanctioned by her father. Still, a person of Mr. Elphinstone's position in society might serve her in many ways. She was justified in desiring to change her situation; her health, her spirits were rapidly giving way. Surely, she might obtain a situation where she would be treated with something like kindness, and where the children might do some credit to her care. Her first step was to acquaint Mr. Bennett with her intentions, indeed, she thought it but due to him to ask his consent; and she at once sat down and asked an interview before he went out the following morning. The next day she received a message to say he was waiting in the library. In as few words as possible, she stated her intentions, adding that even now she should consider it a duty to consider his wishes, if he, under the circumstances, wished her to remain.
Mr. Bennett remained silent for a few moments, he was grieved that his children should lose one so kind and so trust-worthy, but he had long felt for the isolated and melancholy situation of a young creature shut up in such dreary seclusion. He saw clearly that his wife would enter into none of his kindly plans for Fanny's advantage, and that to attempt them might only expose her to annoyance: and he was too just a man to throw an obstacle in the way of whatever might be for her benefit. He therefore contented himself with expressing his gratitude for her devotion to his children, his perfect satisfaction with her endeavours, and that if ever she wanted a friend, she had a firm one in himself. Fanny could not thank him, and when she at length attempted to falter out a few grateful words, he interrupted her, "You have nothing to thank me for, I wish I had had more in my power."
The only comment Mrs. Bennett made was "that she supposed Miss Beaumont was going to turn toadeater to the heiress, but that, of course, she could not go till some one else was found to take care of the children."
About this she was not long in suspense, for during the course of the week, Mr. Bennett found a motherly and very respectable woman, whom he himself introduced to Miss Beaumont, asking her to instruct the newcomer in the best method of managing the children. Fanny soon saw that they were in excellent hands; the new attendant was kind, steady, and had known trouble enough to make her sympathize with misfortune in any shape.
But a new subject of uneasiness arose for Fanny: day after day past by, and she heard nothing of Miss Elphinstone. Was it possible that all she had said was but the hasty impulse of the moment-;could she have forgotten her?
A fortnight had elapsed, a fortnight of constant suffering.
Suspense was too painful to her, and Fanny,
hand trembled to such a degree that she could scarcely open it; at length she read as follows:-;
"DEAREST FANNY,-;You never can forgive me-;the enclosed letter ought to have been sent the very day after I left Harley street. I found it in my desk when I arrived from a journey into the country which we have been taking. What you have thought, I cannot bear to fancy. I come for you to-morrow at one o'clock. I am sure all our plans will be arranged to our mutual satisfaction.
"Your gratefully affectionate
A letter in a gentleman's handwriting was enclosed, and Fanny read, though with tearful eyes, the contents:
"MY DEAR YOUNG FRIEND,-;My spoilt Emeline has repeated her conversation with you yesterday; she is quite surprised that any body can refuse her any thing, and so am I. Come to us you must. It would be unkindness, and not independence, to refuse that affection which you yourself lavished on a little friendless girl. We give you a week to make what arrangements you think proper with Mr. and Mrs. Bennett, and then we come to claim you.
"Your affectionate and obliged,
With what fervent gratitude to heaven Fanny went to sleep that night! The next day Miss Elphinstone was even before her time. Her father accompanied her, one of those kind and warm-hearted people, whose frank and yet polished manner sets you at ease at once.
With a cold farewell from Mrs. Bennett, whose temper could scarcely restrain itself, and a most kind one from Mr. Bennett, Fanny left their house full of hope and thankfulness. Miss Elphinstone, who was in the gayest spirits, laughed and talked nearly the whole way to Richmond, and Fanny's gaiety rose too under their influence. The drive too was delightful, it was one of those bright sunny days of an early spring, which impart their own genial softness. The carriage turned into a sheltered lane, whose hedges were already beginning to put forth that pure yellow green which promises so much, and the starry clusters of the primroses were smiling on either side.
They stopped at a very pretty little cottage, and Miss Elphinstone scarcely waited for the door to open before she led Fanny in. "I forgot to tell you that you were coming home," said her companion, for the next moment she was kneeling at her mother's feet, and Edith's arms were about her neck! Tears, caresses, and blessings, filled up the first quarter of an hour; when a young man, who had
Beaumont. He had discovered his relations that very morning, through a chance interview on business with Mr. Elphinstone.
The cottage where Mr. Beaumont now lived had been Mrs. Elphinstone's birthday present to his daughter; and the object of their journey out of town had been to fetch Edith and her mother; a happier party never assembled than dined that day in the cottage parlour, for there Emeline had insisted on dining. Edith could not satisfy herself with looking at her sister, she would not leave her side, and from that day she never did. Fanny soon after married her cousin George Beaumont, and a life of well-deserved happiness amply repaid the trials of her youth.