by Charlotte Bronte
This little book was written before either "Jane Eyre" or
"Shirley," and yet no indulgence can be solicited for it on the
plea of a first attempt. A first attempt it certainly was not,
as the pen which wrote it had been previously worn a good deal in
a practice of some years. I had not indeed published anything
before I commenced "The Professor," but in many a crude effort,
destroyed almost as soon as composed, I had got over any such
taste as I might once have had for ornamented and redundant
composition, and come to prefer what was plain and homely. At
the same time I had adopted a set of principles on the subject
of incident, &c., such as would be generally approved in theory,
but the result of which, when carried out into practice, often
procures for an author more surprise than pleasure.
I said to myself that my hero should work his way through life as
I had seen real living men work theirs--that he should never get
a shilling he had not earned--that no sudden turns should lift
him in a moment to wealth and high station; that whatever small
competency he might gain, should be won by the sweat of his brow;
that, before he could find so much as an arbour to sit down in,
he should master at least half the ascent of "the Hill of
Difficulty;" that he should not even marry a beautiful girl or a
lady of rank. As Adam's son he should share Adam's doom, and
drain throughout life a mixed and moderate cup of enjoyment.
In the sequel, however, I find that publishers in general
scarcely approved of this system, but would have liked something
more imaginative and poetical--something more consonant with a
highly wrought fancy, with a taste for pathos, with sentiments
more tender, elevated, unworldly. Indeed, until an author has
tried to dispose of a manuscript of this kind, he can never know
what stores of romance and sensibility lie hidden in breasts he
would not have suspected of casketing such treasures. Men in
business are usually thought to prefer the real; on trial the
idea will be often found fallacious: a passionate preference for
the wild, wonderful, and thrilling--the strange, startling, and
harrowing--agitates divers souls that show a calm and sober
Such being the case, the reader will comprehend that to have
reached him in the form of a printed book, this brief narrative
must have gone through some struggles--which indeed it has. And
after all, its worst struggle and strongest ordeal is yet to come
but it takes comfort--subdues fear--leans on the staff of a
moderate expectation--and mutters under its breath, while
lifting its eye to that of the public,
"He that is low need fear no fall."
The foregoing preface was written by my wife with a view to the
publication of "The Professor," shortly after the appearance of
"Shirley." Being dissuaded from her intention, the authoress
made some use of the materials in a subsequent work--"Villette,"
As, however, these two stories are in most respects unlike, it
has been represented to me that I ought not to withhold "The
Professor" from the public. I have therefore consented to its
A. B. NICHOLLS
September 22nd, 1856.
T H E P R O F E S S O R
CHAPTER I. INTRODUCTORY.
THE other day, in looking over my papers, I found in my desk the
following copy of a letter, sent by me a year since to an old
"I think when you and I were at Eton together, we were neither of
us what could be called popular characters: you were a
sarcastic, observant, shrewd, cold-blooded creature; my own
portrait I will not attempt to draw, but I cannot recollect that
it was a strikingly attractive one--can you? What animal
magnetism drew thee and me together I know not; certainly I never
experienced anything of the Pylades and Orestes sentiment for
you, and I have reason to believe that you, on your part, were
equally free from all romantic regard to me. Still, out of
school hours we walked and talked continually together; when the
theme of conversation was our companions or our masters we
understood each other, and when I recurred to some sentiment of
affection, some vague love of an excellent or beautiful object,
whether in animate or inanimate nature, your sardonic coldness
did not move me. I felt myself superior to that check THEN as I
"It is a long time since I wrote to you, and a still longer time
since I saw you. Chancing to take up a newspaper of your county
the other day, my eye fell upon your name. I began to think of
old times; to run over the events which have transpired since we
separated; and I sat down and commenced this letter. What you
have been doing I know not; but you shall hear, if you choose to
listen, how the world has wagged with me.
"First, after leaving Eton, I had an interview with my maternal
uncles, Lord Tynedale and the Hon. John Seacombe. They asked me
if I would enter the Church, and my uncle the nobleman offered me
the living of Seacombe, which is in his gift, if I would; then my
other uncle, Mr. Seacombe, hinted that when I became rector of
Seacombe-cum-Scaife, I might perhaps be allowed to take, as
mistress of my house and head of my parish, one of my six
cousins, his daughters, all of whom I greatly dislike.
"I declined both the Church and matrimony. A good clergyman is a
good thing, but I should have made a very bad one. As to the
wife--oh how like a night-mare is the thought of being bound for
life to one of my cousins! No doubt they are accomplished and
pretty; but not an accomplishment, not a charm of theirs,
touches a chord in my bosom. To think of passing the winter
evenings by the parlour fire-side of Seacombe Rectory alone with
one of them--for instance, the large and well-modelled statue,
Sarah--no; I should be a bad husband, under such circumstances,
as well as a bad clergyman.
"When I had declined my uncles' offers they asked me 'what I
intended to do?' I said I should reflect. They reminded me that
I had no fortune, and no expectation of any, and, after a
considerable pause, Lord Tynedale demanded sternly, 'Whether I
had thoughts of following my father's steps and engaging in
trade?' Now, I had had no thoughts of the sort. I do not think
that my turn of mind qualifies me to make a good tradesman; my
taste, my ambition does not lie in that way; but such was the
scorn expressed in Lord Tynedale's countenance as he pronounced
the word TRADE--such the contemptuous sarcasm of his tone--that I
was instantly decided. My father was but a name to me, yet that
name I did not like to hear mentioned with a sneer to my very
face. I answered then, with haste and warmth, 'I cannot do
better than follow in my father's steps; yes, I will be a
tradesman.' My uncles did not remonstrate; they and I parted
with mutual disgust. In reviewing this transaction, I find that
I was quite right to shake off the burden of Tynedale's
patronage, but a fool to offer my shoulders instantly for the
reception of another burden--one which might be more intolerable,
and which certainly was yet untried.
"I wrote instantly to Edward--you know Edward--my only brother,
ten years my senior, married to a rich mill-owner's daughter, and
now possessor of the mill and business which was my father's
before he failed. You are aware that my father-once reckoned a
Croesus of wealth--became bankrupt a short time previous to his
death, and that my mother lived in destitution for some six
months after him, unhelped by her aristocratical brothers, whom
she had mortally offended by her union with Crimsworth, the
----shire manufacturer. At the end of the six months she brought
me into the world, and then herself left it without, I should
think, much regret, as it contained little hope or comfort for
"My father's relations took charge of Edward, as they did of me,
till I was nine years old. At that period it chanced that the
representation of an important borough in our county fell vacant;
Mr. Seacombe stood for it. My uncle Crimsworth, an astute
mercantile man, took the opportunity of writing a fierce letter
to the candidate, stating that if he and Lord Tynedale did not
consent to do something towards the support of their sister's
orphan children, he would expose their relentless and malignant
conduct towards that sister, and do his best to turn the
circumstances against Mr. Seacombe's election. That gentleman
and Lord T. knew well enough that the Crimsworths were an
unscrupulous and determined race; they knew also that they had
influence in the borough of X----; and, making a virtue of
necessity, they consented to defray the expenses of my education.
I was sent to Eton, where I remained ten years, during which
space of time Edward and I never met. He, when he grew up,
entered into trade, and pursued his calling with such diligence,
ability, and success, that now, in his thirtieth year, he was
fast making a fortune. Of this I was apprised by the occasional
short letters I received from him, some three or four times a
year; which said letters never concluded without some expression
of determined enmity against the house of Seacombe, and some
reproach to me for living, as he said, on the bounty of that
house. At first, while still in boyhood, I could not understand
why, as I had no parents, I should not be indebted to my uncles
Tynedale and Seacombe for my education; but as I grew up, and
heard by degrees of the persevering hostility, the hatred till
death evinced by them against my father--of the sufferings of my
mother--of all the wrongs, in short, of our house--then did I
conceive shame of the dependence in which I lived, and form a
resolution no more to take bread from hands which had refused to
minister to the necessities of my dying mother. It was by these
feelings I was influenced when I refused the Rectory of
Seacombe, and the union with one of my patrician cousins.
"An irreparable breach thus being effected between my uncles and
myself, I wrote to Edward; told him what had occurred, and
informed him of my intention to follow his steps and be a
tradesman. I asked, moreover, if he could give me employment.
His answer expressed no approbation of my conduct, but he said I
might come down to ----shire, if I liked, and he would 'see what
could be done in the way of furnishing me with work.' I
repressed all--even mental comment on his note--packed my trunk
and carpet-bag, and started for the North directly.
"After two days' travelling (railroads were not then in
existence) I arrived, one wet October afternoon, in the town of
X----. I had always understood that Edward lived in this town,
but on inquiry I found that it was only Mr. Crimsworth's mill and
warehouse which were situated in the smoky atmosphere of Bigben
Close; his RESIDENCE lay four miles out, in the country.
"It was late in the evening when I alighted at the gates of the
habitation designated to me as my brother's. As I advanced up
the avenue, I could see through the shades of twilight, and the
dark gloomy mists which deepened those shades, that the house was
large, and the grounds surrounding it sufficiently spacious. I
paused a moment on the lawn in front, and leaning my back against
a tall tree which rose in the centre, I gazed with interest on
the exterior of Crimsworth Hall.
"Edward is rich," thought I to myself. 'I believed him to be
doing well--but I did not know he was master of a mansion like
this.' Cutting short all marvelling; speculation, conjecture,
&c., I advanced to the front door and rang. A man-servant opened
it--I announced myself--he relieved me of my wet cloak and
carpet-bag, and ushered me into a room furnished as a library,
where there was a bright fire and candles burning on the table;
he informed me that his master was not yet returned from X----
market, but that he would certainly be at home in the course of
half an hour.
"Being left to myself, I took the stuffed easy chair, covered
with red morocco, which stood by the fireside, and while my eyes
watched the flames dart from the glowing coals, and the cinders
fall at intervals on the hearth, my mind busied itself in
conjectures concerning the meeting about to take place. Amidst
much that was doubtful in the subject of these conjectures, there
was one thing tolerably certain--I was in no danger of
encountering severe disappointment; from this, the moderation of
my expectations guaranteed me. I anticipated no overflowings of
fraternal tenderness; Edward's letters had always been such as to
prevent the engendering or harbouring of delusions of this sort.
Still, as I sat awaiting his arrival, I felt eager--very eager--I
cannot tell you why; my hand, so utterly a stranger to the grasp
of a kindred hand, clenched itself to repress the tremor with
which impatience would fain have shaken it.
"I thought of my uncles; and as I was engaged in wondering
whether Edward's indifference would equal the cold disdain I had
always experienced from them, I heard the avenue gates open:
wheels approached the house; Mr. Crimsworth was arrived; and
after the lapse of some minutes, and a brief dialogue between
himself and his servant in the hall, his tread drew near the
library door--that tread alone announced the master of the house.
"I still retained some confused recollection of Edward as he was
ten years ago--a tall, wiry, raw youth; NOW, as I rose from my
seat and turned towards the library door, I saw a fine-looking
and powerful man, light-complexioned, well-made, and of athletic
proportions; the first glance made me aware of an air of
promptitude and sharpness, shown as well in his movements as in
his port, his eye, and the general expression of his face. He
greeted me with brevity, and, in the moment of shaking hands,
scanned me from head to foot; he took his seat in the morocco
covered arm-chair, and motioned me to another sent.
"'I expected you would have called at the counting-house in the
Close,' said he; and his voice, I noticed, had an abrupt accent,
probably habitual to him; he spoke also with a guttural northern
tone, which sounded harsh in my ears, accustomed to the silvery
utterance of the South.
"'The landlord of the inn, where the coach stopped, directed me
here,' said I. 'I doubted at first the accuracy of his
information, not being aware that you had such a residence as
"'Oh, it is all right!' he replied, 'only I was kept half an hour
behind time, waiting for you--that is all. I thought you must
be coming by the eight o'clock coach.'
"I expressed regret that he had had to wait; he made no answer,
but stirred the fire, as if to cover a movement of impatience;
then he scanned me again.
"I felt an inward satisfaction that I had not, in the first
moment of meeting, betrayed any warmth, any enthusiasm; that I
had saluted this man with a quiet and steady phlegm.
"'Have you quite broken with Tynedale and Seacombe?' he asked
"'I do not think I shall have any further communication with
them; my refusal of their proposals will, I fancy, operate as a
barrier against all future intercourse.'
"'Why,' said he, 'I may as well remind you at the very outset of
our connection, that "no man can serve two masters."
Acquaintance with Lord Tynedale will be incompatible with
assistance from me.' There was a kind of gratuitous menace in
his eye as he looked at me in finishing this observation.
"Feeling no disposition to reply to him, I contented myself with
an inward speculation on the differences which exist in the
constitution of men's minds. I do not know what inference Mr.
Crimsworth drew from my silence--whether he considered it a
symptom of contumacity or an evidence of my being cowed by his
peremptory manner. After a long and hard stare at me, he rose
sharply from his seat.
"'To-morrow,' said he, 'I shall call your attention to some
other points; but now it is supper time, and Mrs. Crimsworth is
probably waiting; will you come?'
"He strode from the room, and I followed. In crossing the hall,
I wondered what Mrs. Crimsworth might be. 'Is she,' thought I,
'as alien to what I like as Tynedale, Seacombe, the Misses
Seacombe--as the affectionate relative now striding before me? or
is she better than these? Shall I, in conversing with her, feel
free to show something of my real nature; or --' Further
conjectures were arrested by my entrance into the dining-room.
"A lamp, burning under a shade of ground-glass, showed a handsome
apartment, wainscoted with oak; supper was laid on the table; by
the fire-place, standing as if waiting our entrance, appeared a
lady; she was young, tall, and well shaped; her dress was
handsome and fashionable: so much my first glance sufficed to
ascertain. A gay salutation passed between her and Mr.
Crimsworth; she chid him, half playfully, half poutingly, for
being late; her voice (I always take voices into the account in
judging of character) was lively--it indicated, I thought, good
animal spirits. Mr. Crimsworth soon checked her animated
scolding with a kiss--a kiss that still told of the bridegroom
(they had not yet been married a year); she took her seat at the
supper-table in first-rate spirits. Perceiving me, she begged my
pardon for not noticing me before, and then shook hands with me,
as ladies do when a flow of good-humour disposes them to be
cheerful to all, even the most indifferent of their acquaintance.
It was now further obvious to me that she had a good complexion,
and features sufficiently marked but agreeable; her hair was red
--quite red. She and Edward talked much, always in a vein of
playful contention; she was vexed, or pretended to be vexed, that
he had that day driven a vicious horse in the gig, and he made
light of her fears. Sometimes she appealed to me.
"'Now, Mr. William, isn't it absurd in Edward to talk so? He says
he will drive Jack, and no other horse, and the brute has thrown
him twice already.
"She spoke with a kind of lisp, not disagreeable, but childish.
I soon saw also that there was more than girlish--a somewhat
infantine expression in her by no means small features; this lisp
and expression were, I have no doubt, a charm in Edward's eyes,
and would be so to those: of most men, but they were not to
mine. I sought her eye, desirous to read there the intelligence
which I could not discern in her face or hear in her
conversation; it was merry, rather small; by turns I saw
vivacity, vanity, coquetry, look out through its irid, but I
watched in vain for a glimpse of soul. I am no Oriental; white
necks, carmine lips and cheeks, clusters of bright curls, do not
suffice for me without that Promethean spark which will live
after the roses and lilies are faded, the burnished hair grown
grey. In sunshine, in prosperity, the flowers are very well; but
how many wet days are there in life--November seasons of
disaster, when a man's hearth and home would be cold indeed,
without the clear, cheering gleam of intellect.
"Having perused the fair page of Mrs. Crimsworth's face, a deep,
involuntary sigh announced my disappointment; she took it as a
homage to her beauty, and Edward, who was evidently proud of his
rich and handsome young wife, threw on me a glance--half
ridicule, half ire.
"I turned from them both, and gazing wearily round the room, I
saw two pictures set in the oak panelling--one on each side the
mantel-piece. Ceasing to take part in the bantering conversation
that flowed on between Mr. and Mrs. Crimsworth, I bent my
thoughts to the examination of these pictures. They were
portraits--a lady and a gentleman, both costumed in the fashion
of twenty years ago. The gentleman was in the shade. I could
not see him well. The lady had the benefit of a full beam from
the softly shaded lamp. I presently recognised her; I had seen
this picture before in childhood; it was my mother; that and the
companion picture being the only heir-looms saved out of the sale
of my father's property.
"The face, I remembered, had pleased me as a boy, but then I did
not understand it; now I knew how rare that class of face is in
the world, and I appreciated keenly its thoughtful, yet gentle
expression. The serious grey eye possessed for me a strong
charm, as did certain lines in the features indicative of most
true and tender feeling. I was sorry it was only a picture.
"I soon left Mr. and Mrs. Crimsworth to themselves; a servant
conducted me to my bed-room; in closing my chamber-door, I shut
out all intruders--you, Charles, as well as the rest.
"Good-bye for the present,
To this letter I never got an answer; before my old friend
received it, he had accepted a Government appointment in one of
the colonies, and was already on his way to the scene of his
official labours. What has become of him since, I know not.
The leisure time I have at command, and which I intended to
employ for his private benefit, I shall now dedicate to that of
the public at large. My narrative is not exciting, and above
all, not marvellous; but it may interest some individuals, who,
having toiled in the same vocation as myself, will find in my
experience frequent reflections of their own. The above letter
will serve as an introduction. I now proceed.
A FINE October morning succeeded to the foggy evening that had
witnessed my first introduction to Crimsworth Hall. I was early
up and walking in the large park-like meadow surrounding the
house. The autumn sun, rising over the ----shire hills,
disclosed a pleasant country; woods brown and mellow varied the
fields from which the harvest had been lately carried; a river,
gliding between the woods, caught on its surface the somewhat
cold gleam of the October sun and sky; at frequent intervals
along the banks of the river, tall, cylindrical chimneys, almost
like slender round towers, indicated the factories which the
trees half concealed; here and there mansions, similar to
Crimsworth Hall, occupied agreeable sites on the hill-side; the
country wore, on the whole, a cheerful, active, fertile look.
Steam, trade, machinery had long banished from it all romance and
seclusion. At a distance of five miles, a valley, opening
between the low hills, held in its cups the great town of X----.
A dense, permanent vapour brooded over this locality--there lay
I forced my eye to scrutinize this prospect, I forced my mind to
dwell on it for a time, and when I found that it communicated no
pleasurable emotion to my heart--that it stirred in me none of
the hopes a man ought to feel, when he sees laid before him the
scene of his life's career--I said to myself, "William, you are a
rebel against circumstances; you are a fool, and know not what
you want; you have chosen trade and you shall be a tradesman.
Look!" I continued mentally--"Look at the sooty smoke in that
hollow, and know that there is your post! There you cannot dream,
you cannot speculate and theorize--there you shall out and
Thus self-schooled, I returned to the house. My brother was in
the breakfast-room. I met him collectedly--I could not meet him
cheerfully; he was standing on the rug, his back to the fire--how
much did I read in the expression of his eye as my glance
encountered his, when I advanced to bid him good morning; how
much that was contradictory to my nature! He said "Good morning"
abruptly and nodded, and then he snatched, rather than took, a
newspaper from the table, and began to read it with the air of a
master who seizes a pretext to escape the bore of conversing with
an underling. It was well I had taken a resolution to endure for
a time, or his manner would have gone far to render insupportable
the disgust I had just been endeavouring to subdue. I looked at
him: I measured his robust frame and powerful proportions; I saw
my own reflection in the mirror over the mantel-piece; I amused
myself with comparing the two pictures. In face I resembled him,
though I was not so handsome; my features were less regular; I
had a darker eye, and a broader brow--in form I was greatly
inferior--thinner, slighter, not so tall. As an animal, Edward
excelled me far; should he prove as paramount in mind as in
person I must be a slave--for I must expect from him no
lion-like generosity to one weaker than himself; his cold,
avaricious eye, his stern, forbidding manner told me he would not
spare. Had I then force of mind to cope with him? I did not
know; I had never been tried.
Mrs. Crimsworth's entrance diverted my thoughts for a moment.
She looked well, dressed in white, her face and her attire
shining in morning and bridal freshness. I addressed her with
the degree of ease her last night's careless gaiety seemed to
warrant, but she replied with coolness and restraint: her
husband had tutored her; she was not to be too familiar with his
As soon as breakfast was over Mr. Crimsworth intimated to me that
they were bringing the gig round to the door, and that in five
minutes he should expect me to be ready to go down with him to
X----. I did not keep him waiting; we were soon dashing at a
rapid rate along the road. The horse he drove was the same
vicious animal about which Mrs. Crimsworth had expressed her
fears the night before. Once or twice Jack seemed disposed to
turn restive, but a vigorous and determined application of the
whip from the ruthless hand of his master soon compelled him to
submission, and Edward's dilated nostril expressed his triumph in
the result of the contest; he scarcely spoke to me during the
whole of the brief drive, only opening his lips at intervals to
damn his horse.
X---- was all stir and bustle when we entered it; we left the
clean streets where there were dwelling-houses and shops,
churches, and public buildings; we left all these, and turned
down to a region of mills and warehouses; thence we passed
through two massive gates into a great paved yard, and we were in
Bigben Close, and the mill was before us, vomiting soot from its
long chimney, and quivering through its thick brick walls with
the commotion of its iron bowels. Workpeople were passing to and
fro; a waggon was being laden with pieces. Mr. Crimsworth looked
from side to side, and seemed at one glance to comprehend all
that was going on; he alighted, and leaving his horse and gig to
the care of a man who hastened to take the reins from his hand,
he bid me follow him to the counting-house. We entered it; a
very different place from the parlours of Crimsworth Hall--a
place for business, with a bare, planked floor, a safe, two high
desks and stools, and some chairs. A person was seated at one of
the desks, who took off his square cap when Mr. Crimsworth
entered, and in an instant was again absorbed in his occupation
of writing or calculating--I know not which.
Mr, Crimsworth, having removed his mackintosh, sat down by the
fire. I remained standing near the hearth; he said presently--
"Steighton, you may leave the room; I have some business to
transact with this gentleman. Come back when you hear the bell."
The individual at the desk rose and departed, closing the door as
he went out. Mr. Crimsworth stirred the fire, then folded his
arms, and sat a moment thinking, his lips compressed, his brow
knit. I had nothing to do but to watch him--how well his
features were cut! what a handsome man he was! Whence, then, came
that air of contraction--that narrow and hard aspect on his
forehead, in all his lineaments?
Turning to me he began abruptly:-
"You are come down to ----shire to learn to be a tradesman?"
"Yes, I am."
"Have you made up your mind on the point? Let me know that at
"Well, I am not bound to help you, but I have a place here
vacant, if you are qualified for it. I will take you on trial.
What can you do? Do you know anything besides that useless trash
of college learning--Greek, Latin, and so forth?"
"I have studied mathematics."
"Stuff! I dare say you have."
"I can read and write French and German."
"Hum!" He reflected a moment, then opening a drawer in a desk
near him took out a letter, and gave it to me.
"Can you read that?" he asked.
It was a German commercial letter; I translated it; I could not
tell whether he was gratified or not--his countenance remained
"It is well;" he-said, after a pause, "that you are acquainted
with something useful, something that may enable you to earn your
board and lodging: since you know French and German, I will take
you as second clerk to manage the foreign correspondence of the
house. I shall give you a good salary--90l. a year--and now," he
continued, raising his voice, "hear once for all what I have to
say about our relationship, and all that sort of humbug! I must
have no nonsense on that point; it would never suit me. I shall
excuse you nothing on the plea of being my brother; if I find you
stupid, negligent, dissipated, idle, or possessed of any faults
detrimental to the interests of the house, I shall dismiss you as
I would any other clerk. Ninety pounds a year are good wages,
and I expect to have the full value of my money out of you;
remember, too, that things are on a practical footing in my
establishment--business-like habits, feelings, and ideas, suit
me best. Do you understand?"
"Partly," I replied. "I suppose you mean that I am to do my work
for my wages; not to expect favour from you, and not to depend on
you for any help but what I earn; that suits me exactly, and on
these terms I will consent to be your clerk."
I turned on my heel, and walked to the window; this time I did
not consult his face to learn his opinion: what it was I do not
know, nor did I then care. After a silence of some minutes he
"You perhaps expect to be accommodated with apartments at
Crimsworth Hall, and to go and come with me in the gig. I wish
you, however, to be aware that such an arrangement would be quite
inconvenient to me. I like to have the seat in my gig at liberty
for any gentleman whom for business reasons I may wish to take
down to the hall for a night or so. You will seek out lodgings
Quitting the window, I walked back to the hearth.
"Of course I shall seek out lodgings in X----," I answered. "It
would not suit me either to lodge at Crimsworth Hall."
My tone was quiet. I always speak quietly. Yet Mr. Crimsworth's
blue eye became incensed; he took his revenge rather oddly.
Turning to me he said bluntly--
"You are poor enough, I suppose; how do you expect to live till
your quarter's salary becomes due?"
"I shall get on," said I.
"How do you expect to live?" he repeated in a louder voice.
"As I can, Mr. Crimsworth."
"Get into debt at your peril! that's all," he answered. "For
aught I know you may have extravagant aristocratic habits: if
you have, drop them; I tolerate nothing of the sort here, and I
will never give you a shilling extra, whatever liabilities you
may incur--mind that."
"Yes, Mr. Crimsworth, you will find I have a good memory."
I said no more. I did not think the time was come for much
parley. I had an instinctive feeling that it would be folly to
let one's temper effervesce often with such a man as Edward. I
said to myself, "I will place my cup under this continual
dropping; it shall stand there still and steady; when full, it
will run over of itself--meantime patience. Two things are
certain. I am capable of performing the work Mr. Crimsworth has
set me; I can earn my wages conscientiously, and those wages are
sufficient to enable me to live. As to the fact of my brother
assuming towards me the bearing of a proud, harsh master, the
fault is his, not mine; and shall his injustice, his bad feeling,
turn me at once aside from the path I have chosen? No; at least,
ere I deviate, I will advance far enough to see whither my career
tends. As yet I am only pressing in at the entrance--a strait
gate enough; it ought to have a good terminus." While I thus
reasoned, Mr. Crimsworth rang a bell; his first clerk, the
individual dismissed previously to our conference,
"Mr. Steighton," said he, "show Mr. William the letters from
Voss, Brothers, and give him English copies of the answers; he
will translate them."
Mr. Steighton, a man of about thirty-five, with a face at once
sly and heavy, hastened to execute this order; he laid the
letters on the desk, and I was soon seated at it, and engaged in
rendering the English answers into German. A sentiment of keen
pleasure accompanied this first effort to earn my own living--a
sentiment neither poisoned nor weakened by the presence of the
taskmaster, who stood and watched me for some time as I wrote. I
thought he was trying to read my character, but I felt as secure
against his scrutiny as if I had had on a casque with the visor
down-or rather I showed him my countenance with the confidence
that one would show an unlearned man a letter written in Greek;
he might see lines, and trace characters, but he could make
nothing of them; my nature was not his nature, and its signs were
to him like the words of an unknown tongue. Ere long he turned
away abruptly, as if baffled, and left the counting-house; he
returned to it but twice in the course of that day; each time he
mixed and swallowed a glass of brandy-and-water, the materials
for making which he extracted from a cupboard on one side of the
fireplace; having glanced at my translations--he could read both
French and German--he went out again in silence.
I SERVED Edward as his second clerk faithfully, punctually,
diligently. What was given me to do I had the power and the
determination to do well. Mr. Crimsworth watched sharply for
defects, but found none; he set Timothy Steighton, his favourite
and head man, to watch also. Tim was baffled; I was as exact as
himself, and quicker. Mr. Crimsworth made inquiries as to how I
lived, whether I got into debt--no, my accounts with my landlady
were always straight. I had hired small lodgings, which I
contrived to pay for out of a slender fund--the accumulated
savings of my Eton pocket-money; for as it had ever been
abhorrent to my nature to ask pecuniary assistance, I had early
acquired habits of self-denying economy; husbanding my monthly
allowance with anxious care, in order to obviate the danger of
being forced, in some moment of future exigency, to beg
additional aid. I remember many called me miser at the time, and
I used to couple the reproach with this consolation--better to be
misunderstood now than repulsed hereafter. At this day I had my
reward; I had had it before, when on parting with my irritated
uncles one of them threw down on the table before me a 5l. note,
which I was able to leave there, saying that my travelling
expenses were already provided for. Mr. Crimsworth employed Tim
to find out whether my landlady had any complaint to make on the
score of my morals; she answered that she believed I was a very
religious man, and asked Tim, in her turn, if he thought I had
any intention of going into the Church some day; for, she said,
she had had young curates to lodge in her house who were nothing
equal to me for steadiness and quietness. Tim was "a religious
man" himself; indeed, he was "a joined Methodist," which did not
(be it understood) prevent him from being at the same time an
engrained rascal, and he came away much posed at hearing this
account of my piety. Having imparted it to Mr. Crimsworth, that
gentleman, who himself frequented no place of worship, and owned
no God but Mammon, turned the information into a weapon of attack
against the equability of my temper. He commenced a series of
covert sneers, of which I did not at first perceive the drift,
till my landlady happened to relate the conversation she had had
with Mr. Steighton; this enlightened me; afterwards I came to the
counting-house prepared, and managed to receive the millowner's
blasphemous sarcasms, when next levelled at me, on a buckler of
impenetrable indifference. Ere long he tired of wasting his
ammunition on a statue, but he did not throw away the shafts--he
only kept them quiet in his quiver.
Once during my clerkship I had an invitation to Crimsworth Hall;
it was on the occasion of a large party given in honour of the
master's birthday; he had always been accustomed to invite his
clerks on similar anniversaries, and could not well pass me over;
I was, however, kept strictly in the background. Mrs.
Crimsworth, elegantly dressed in satin and lace, blooming in
youth and health, vouchsafed me no more notice than was expressed
by a distant move; Crimsworth, of course, never spoke to me; I
was introduced to none of the band of young ladies, who,
enveloped in silvery clouds of white gauze and muslin, sat in
array against me on the opposite side of a long and large room;
in fact, I was fairly isolated, and could but contemplate the
shining ones from affar, and when weary of such a dazzling scene,
turn for a change to the consideration of the carpet pattern.
Mr. Crimsworth, standing on the rug, his elbow supported by the
marble mantelpiece, and about him a group of very pretty girls,
with whom he conversed gaily--Mr. Crimsworth, thus placed,
glanced at me; I looked weary, solitary, kept down like some
desolate tutor or governess; he was satisfied.
Dancing began; I should have liked well enough to be introduced
to some pleasing and intelligent girl, and to have freedom and
opportunity to show that I could both feel and communicate the
pleasure of social intercourse--that I was not, in short, a
block, or a piece of furniture, but an acting, thinking, sentient
man. Many smiling faces and graceful figures glided past me, but
the smiles were lavished on other eyes, the figures sustained by
other hands than mine. I turned away tantalized, left the
dancers, and wandered into the oak-panelled dining-room. No fibre
of sympathy united me to any living thing in this house; I looked
for and found my mother's picture. I took a wax taper from a
stand, and held it up. I gazed long, earnestly; my heart grew to
the image. My mother, I perceived, had bequeathed to me much of
her features and countenance--her forehead, her eyes, her
complexion. No regular beauty pleases egotistical human beings
so much as a softened and refined likeness of themselves; for
this reason, fathers regard with complacency the lineaments of
their daughters' faces, where frequently their own similitude is
found flatteringly associated with softness of hue and delicacy
of outline. I was just wondering how that picture, to me so
interesting, would strike an impartial spectator, when a voice
close behind me pronounced the words--
"Humph! there's some sense in that face."
I turned; at my elbow stood a tall man, young, though probably
five or six years older than I--in other respects of an
appearance the opposite to common place; though just now, as I am
not disposed to paint his portrait in detail, the reader must be
content with the silhouette I have just thrown off; it was all I
myself saw of him for the moment: I did not investigate the
colour of his eyebrows, nor of his eyes either; I saw his
stature, and the outline of his shape; I saw, too, his
fastidious-looking RETROUSSE nose; these observations, few in
number, and general in character (the last excepted), sufficed,
for they enabled me to recognize him.
"Good evening, Mr. Hunsden," muttered I with a bow, and then,
like a shy noodle as I was, I began moving away--and why?
Simply because Mr. Hunsden was a manufacturer and a millowner,
and I was only a clerk, and my instinct propelled me from my
superior. I had frequently seen Hunsden in Bigben Close, where
he came almost weekly to transact business with Mr. Crimsworth,
but I had never spoken to him, nor he to me, and I owed him a
sort of involuntary grudge, because he had more than once been
the tacit witness of insults offered by Edward to me. I had the
conviction that he could only regard me as a poor-spirited slave,
wherefore I now went about to shun his presence and eschew his
"Where are you going?" asked he, as I edged off sideways. I had
already noticed that Mr. Hunsden indulged in abrupt forms of
speech, and I perversely said to myself--
"He thinks he may speak as he likes to a poor clerk; but my mood
is not, perhaps, so supple as he deems it, and his rough freedom
pleases me not at all."
I made some slight reply, rather indifferent than courteous, and
continued to move away. He coolly planted himself in my path.
"Stay here awhile," said he: "it is so hot in the dancing-room;
besides, you don't dance; you have not had a partner to-night."
He was right, and as he spoke neither his look, tone, nor manner
displeased me; my AMOUR-PROPRE was propitiated; he had not
addressed me out of condescension, but because, having repaired
to the cool dining-room for refreshment, he now wanted some one
to talk to, by way of temporary amusement. I hate to be
condescended to, but I like well enough to oblige; I stayed.
"That is a good picture," he continued, recurring to the
"Do you consider the face pretty?" I asked.
"Pretty! no--how can it be pretty, with sunk eyes and hollow
cheeks? but it is peculiar; it seems to think. You could have a
talk with that woman, if she were alive, on other subjects than
dress, visiting, and compliments."
I agreed with him, but did not say so. He went on.
"Not that I admire a head of that sort; it wants character and
force; there's too much of the sen-si-tive (so he articulated it,
curling his lip at the same time) in that mouth; besides, there
is Aristocrat written on the brow and defined in the figure; I
hate your aristocrats."
"You think, then, Mr. Hunsden, that patrician descent may be read
in a distinctive cast of form and features?"
"Patrician descent be hanged! Who doubts that your lordlings may
have their 'distinctive cast of form and features' as much as we
----shire tradesmen have ours? But which is the best? Not theirs
assuredly. As to their women, it is a little different: they
cultivate beauty from childhood upwards, and may by care and
training attain to a certain degree of excellence in that point,
just like the oriental odalisques. Yet even this superiority is
doubtful. Compare the figure in that frame with Mrs. Edward
Crimsworth--which is the finer animal?"
I replied quietly: "Compare yourself and Mr. Edward Crimsworth,
"Oh, Crimsworth is better filled up than I am, I know besides he
has a straight nose, arched eyebrows, and all that; but these
advantages--if they are advantages--he did not inherit from his
mother, the patrician, but from his father, old Crimsworth, who,
MY father says, was as veritable a ----shire blue-dyer as ever
put indigo in a vat yet withal the handsomest man in the three
Ridings. It is you, William, who are the aristocrat of your
family, and you are not as fine a fellow as your plebeian brother
by long chalk."
There was something in Mr. Hunsden's point-blank mode of speech
which rather pleased me than otherwise because it set me at my
ease. I continued the conversation with a degree of interest.
"How do you happen to know that I am Mr. Crimsworth's brother? I
thought you and everybody else looked upon me only in the light
of a poor clerk."
"Well, and so we do; and what are you but a poor clerk? You do
Crimsworth's work, and he gives you wages--shabby wages they are,
I was silent. Hunsden's language now bordered on the
impertinent, still his manner did not offend me in the least--it
only piqued my curiosity; I wanted him to go on, which he did in
a little while.
"This world is an absurd one," said he.
"Why so, Mr. Hunsden?"
I wonder you should ask: you are yourself a strong proof of the
absurdity I allude to."
I was determined he should explain himself of his own accord,
without my pressing him so to do--so I resumed my silence.
"Is it your intention to become a tradesman?" he inquired
"It was my serious intention three months ago."
"Humph! the more fool you--you look like a tradesman! What a
practical business-like face you have!"
"My face is as the Lord made it, Mr. Hunsden."
"The Lord never made either year face or head for X---- What good
can your bumps of ideality, comparison, self-esteem,
conscientiousness, do you here? But if you like Bigben Close,
stay there; it's your own affair, not mine."
"Perhaps I have no choice."
"Well, I care nought about it--it will make little difference to
me what you do or where you go; but I'm cool now--I want to dance
again; and I see such a fine girl sitting in the corner of the
sofa there by her mamma; see if I don't get her for a partner in
a jiffy! There's Waddy--Sam Waddy making up to her; won't I cut
And Mr. Hunsden strode away. I watched him through the open
folding-doors; he outstripped Waddy, applied for the hand of the
fine girl, and led her off triumphant. She was a tall,
well-made, full-formed, dashingly-dressed young woman, much in
the style of Mrs. E. Crimsworth; Hunsden whirled her through the
waltz with spirit; he kept at her side during the remainder of
the evening, and I read in her animated and gratified countenance
that he succeeded in making himself perfectly agreeable. The
mamma too (a stout person in a turban--Mrs. Lupton by name)
looked well pleased; prophetic visions probably flattered her
inward eye. The Hunsdens were of an old stem; and scornful as
Yorke (such was my late interlocutor's name) professed to be of
the advantages of birth, in his secret heart he well knew and
fully appreciated the distinction his ancient, if not high
lineage conferred on him in a mushroom-place like X----,
concerning whose inhabitants it was proverbially said, that not
one in a thousand knew his own grandfather. Moreover the
Hunsdens, once rich, were still independent; and report affirmed
that Yorke bade fair, by his success in business, to restore to
pristine prosperity the partially decayed fortunes of his house.
These circumstances considered, Mrs. Lupton's broad face might
well wear a smile of complacency as she contemplated the heir of
Hunsden Wood occupied in paying assiduous court to her darling
Sarah Martha. I, however, whose observations being less anxious,
were likely to be more accurate, soon saw that the grounds for
maternal self-congratulation were slight indeed; the gentleman
appeared to me much more desirous of making, than susceptible of
receiving an impression. I know not what it was in Mr. Hunsden
that, as I watched him (I had nothing better to do), suggested to
me, every now and then, the idea of a foreigner. In form and
features he might be pronounced English, though even there one
caught a dash of something Gallic; but he had no English shyness:
he had learnt somewhere, somehow, the art of setting himself
quite at his ease, and of allowing no insular timidity to
intervene as a barrier between him and his convenience or
pleasure. Refinement he did not affect, yet vulgar he could not
be called; he was not odd--no quiz--yet he resembled no one else
I had ever seen before; his general bearing intimated complete,
sovereign satisfaction with himself; yet, at times, an
indescribable shade passed like an eclipse over his countenance,
and seemed to me like the sign of a sudden and strong inward
doubt of himself, his words and actions-an energetic discontent
at his life or his social position, his future prospects or his
mental attainments--I know not which; perhaps after all it might
only be a bilious caprice.
No man likes to acknowledge that he has made a mistake in the
choice of his profession, and every man, worthy of the name, will
row long against wind and tide before he allows himself to cry
out, "I am baffled!" and submits to be floated passively back to
land. From the first week of my residence in X---- I felt my
occupation irksome. The thing itself--the work of copying and
translating business-letters--was a dry and tedious task enough,
but had that been all, I should long have borne with the
nuisance; I am not of an impatient nature, and influenced by the
double desire of getting my living and justifying to myself and
others the resolution I had taken to become a tradesman, I should
have endured in silence the rust and cramp of my best faculties;
I should not have whispered, even inwardly, that I longed for
liberty; I should have pent in every sigh by which my heart might
have ventured to intimate its distress under the closeness,
smoke, monotony and joyless tumult of Bigben Close, and its
panting desire for freer and fresher scenes; I should have set up
the image of Duty, the fetish of Perseverance, in my small
bedroom at Mrs. King's lodgings, and they two should have been my
household gods, from which my darling, my cherished-in-secret,
Imagination, the tender and the mighty, should never, either by
softness or strength, have severed me. But this was not all; the
antipathy which had sprung up between myself and my employer
striking deeper root and spreading denser shade daily, excluded
me from every glimpse of the sunshine of life; and I began to
feel like a plant growing in humid darkness out of the slimy
walls of a well.
Antipathy is the only word which can express the feeling Edward
Crimsworth had for me--a feeling, in a great measure,
involuntary, and which was liable to be excited by every, the
most trifling movement, look, or word of mine. My southern
accent annoyed him; the degree of education evinced in my
language irritated him; my punctuality, industry, and accuracy,
fixed his dislike, and gave it the high flavour and poignant
relish of envy; he feared that I too should one day make a
successful tradesman. Had I been in anything inferior to him, he
would not have hated me so thoroughly, but I knew all that he
knew, and, what was worse, he suspected that I kept the padlock
of silence on mental wealth in which he was no sharer. If he
could have once placed me in a ridiculous or mortifying position,
he would have forgiven me much, but I was guarded by three
faculties--Caution, Tact, Observation; and prowling and prying as
was Edward's malignity, it could never baffle the lynx-eyes of
these, my natural sentinels. Day by day did his malice watch my
tact, hoping it would sleep, and prepared to steal snake-like on
its slumber; but tact, if it be genuine, never sleeps.
I had received my first quarter's wages, and was returning to my
lodgings, possessed heart and soul with the pleasant feeling that
the master who had paid me grudged every penny of that
hard-earned pittance--(I had long ceased to regard Mr. Crimsworth
as my brother--he was a hard, grinding master; he wished to be an
inexorable tyrant: that was all). Thoughts, not varied but
strong, occupied my mind; two voices spoke within me; again and
again they uttered the same monotonous phrases. One said:
"William, your life is intolerable." The other: "What can you
do to alter it?" I walked fast, for it was a cold, frosty night
in January; as I approached my lodgings, I turned from a general
view of my affairs to the particular speculation as to whether my
fire would be out; looking towards the window of my sitting-room,
I saw no cheering red gleam.
"That slut of a servant has neglected it as usual," said I, "and
I shall see nothing but pale ashes if I go in; it is a fine
starlight night--I will walk a little farther."
It WAS a fine night, and the streets were dry and even clean for
X----; there was a crescent curve of moonlight to be seen by the
parish church tower, and hundreds of stars shone keenly bright in
all quarters of the sky.
Unconsciously I steered my course towards the country; I had got
into Grove-street, and began to feel the pleasure of seeing dim
trees at the extremity, round a suburban house, when a person
leaning over the iron gate of one of the small gardens which
front the neat dwelling-houses in this street, addressed me as I
was hurrying with quick stride past.
"What the deuce is the hurry? Just so must Lot have left Sodom,
when he expected fire to pour down upon it, out of burning brass
I stopped short, and looked towards the speaker. I smelt the
fragrance, and saw the red spark of a cigar; the dusk outline of
a man, too, bent towards me over the wicket.
"You see I am meditating in the field at eventide," continued
this shade. "God knows it's cool work! especially as instead of
Rebecca on a camel's hump, with bracelets on her arms and a ring
in her nose, Fate sends me only a counting-house clerk, in a grey
tweed wrapper." The voice was familiar to me--its second
utterance enabled me to seize the speaker's identity.
"Mr. Hunsden! good evening."
"Good evening, indeed! yes, but you would have passed me without
recognition if I had not been so civil as to speak first."
"I did not know you."
"A famous excuse! You ought to have known me; I knew you, though
you were going ahead like a steam-engine. Are the police after
"It wouldn't be worth their while; I'm not of consequence enough
to attract them.
"Alas, poor shepherd! Alack and well-a-day! What a theme for
regret, and how down in the mouth you must be, judging from the
sound of your voice! But since you're not running from the
police, from whom are you running? the devil?"
"On the contrary, I am going post to him."
"That is well--you're just in luck: this is Tuesday evening;
there are scores of market gigs and carts returning to Dinneford
to-night; and he, or some of his, have a seat in all regularly;
so, if you'll step in and sit half-an-hour in my bachelor's
parlour, you may catch him as he passes without much trouble. I
think though you'd better let him alone to-night, he'll have so
many customers to serve; Tuesday is his busy day in X---- and
Dinneford; come in at all events."
He swung the wicket open as he spoke.
"Do you really wish me to go in?" I asked.
"As you please--I'm alone; your company for an hour or two would
be agreeable to me; but, if you don't choose to favour me so far,
I'll not press the point. I hate to bore any one."
It suited me to accept the invitation as it suited Hunsden to
give it. I passed through the gate, and followed him to the
front door, which he opened; thence we traversed a passage, and
entered his parlour; the door being shut, he pointed me to as
arm-chair by the hearth; I sat down, and glanced round me.
It was a comfortable room, at once snug and handsome; the bright
grate was filled with a genuine ----shire fire, red, clear, and
generous, no penurious South-of-England embers heaped in the
corner of a grate. On the table a shaded lamp diffused around a
soft, pleasant, and equal light; the furniture was almost
luxurious for a young bachelor, comprising a couch and two very
easy chairs; bookshelves filled the recesses on each side of the
mantelpiece; they were well-furnished, and arranged with perfect
order. The neatness of the room suited my taste; I hate
irregular and slovenly habits. From what I saw I concluded that
Hunsden's ideas on that point corresponded with my own. While he
removed from the centre-table to the side-board a few pamphlets
and periodicals, I ran my eye along the shelves of the book-case
nearest me. French and German works predominated, the old French
dramatists, sundry modern authors, Thiers, Villemain, Paul de
Kock, George Sand, Eugene Sue; in German--Goethe, Schiller,
Zschokke, Jean Paul Richter; in English there were works on
Political Economy. I examined no further, for Mr. Hunsden
himself recalled my attention.
"You shall have something," said he, "for you ought to feel
disposed for refreshment after walking nobody knows how far on
such a Canadian night as this; but it shall not be
brandy-and-water, and it shall not be a bottle of port, nor ditto
of sherry. I keep no such poison. I have Rhein-wein for my own
drinking, and you may choose between that and coffee."
Here again Hunsden suited me: if there was one generally
received practice I abhorred more than another, it was the
habitual imbibing of spirits and strong wines. I had, however,
no fancy for his acid German nectar, but I liked coffee, so I
"Give me some coffee, Mr. Hunsden."
I perceived my answer pleased him; he had doubtless expected to
see a chilling effect produced by his steady announcement that he
would give me neither wine nor spirits; he just shot one
searching glance at my face to ascertain whether my cordiality
was genuine or a mere feint of politeness. I smiled, because I
quite understood him; and, while I honoured his conscientious
firmness, I was amused at his mistrust; he seemed satisfied, rang
the bell, and ordered coffee, which was presently brought; for
himself, a bunch of grapes and half a pint of something sour
sufficed. My coffee was excellent; I told him so, and expressed
the shuddering pity with which his anchorite fare inspired me.
He did not answer, and I scarcely think heard my remark. At
that moment one of those momentary eclipses I before alluded to
had come over his face, extinguishing his smile, and replacing,
by an abstracted and alienated look, the customarily shrewd,
bantering glance of his eye. I employed the interval of silence
in a rapid scrutiny of his physiognomy. I had never observed him
closely before; and, as my sight is very short, I had gathered
only a vague, general idea of his appearance; I was surprised
now, on examination, to perceive how small, and even feminine,
were his lineaments; his tall figure, long and dark locks, his
voice and general bearing, had impressed me with the notion of
something powerful and massive; not at all:--my own features were
cast in a harsher and squarer mould than his. I discerned that
there would be contrasts between his inward and outward man;
contentions, too; for I suspected his soul had more of will and
ambition than his body had of fibre and muscle. Perhaps, in these
incompatibilities of the "physique" with the "morale," lay the
secret of that fitful gloom; he WOULD but COULD not, and the
athletic mind scowled scorn on its more fragile companion. As to
his good looks, I should have liked to have a woman's opinion on
that subject; it seemed to me that his face might produce the
same effect on a lady that a very piquant and interesting, though
scarcely pretty, female face would on a man. I have mentioned
his dark locks--they were brushed sideways above a white and
sufficiently expansive forehead; his cheek had a rather hectic
freshness; his features might have done well on canvas, but
indifferently in marble: they were plastic; character had set a
stamp upon each; expression re-cast them at her pleasure, and
strange metamorphoses she wrought, giving him now the mien of a
morose bull, and anon that of an arch and mischievous girl; more
frequently, the two semblances were blent, and a queer, composite
countenance they made.
Starting from his silent fit, he began:--
"William! what a fool you are to live in those dismal lodgings
of Mrs. King's, when you might take rooms here in Grove Street,
and have a garden like me!"
"I should be too far from the mill."
"What of that? It would do you good to walk there and back two
or three times a day; besides, are you such a fossil that you
never wish to see a flower or a green leaf?"
"I am no fossil."
What are you then? You sit at that desk in Crimsworth's
counting-house day by day and week by week, scraping with a pen
on paper, just like an automaton; you never get up; you never say
you are tired; you never ask for a holiday; you never take change
or relaxation; you give way to no excess of an evening; you
neither keep wild company, nor indulge in strong drink."
"Do you, Mr. Hunsden?"
"Don't think to pose me with short questions; your case and mine
are diametrically different, and it is nonsense attempting to
draw a parallel. I say, that when a man endures patiently what
ought to be unendurable, he is a fossil."
"Whence do you acquire the knowledge of my patience?"
"Why, man, do you suppose you are a mystery? The other night you
seemed surprised at my knowing to what family you belonged; now
you find subject for wonderment in my calling you patient. What
do you think I do with my eyes and ears? I've been in your
counting-house more than once when Crimsworth has treated you
like a dog; called for a book, for instance, and when you gave
him the wrong one, or what he chose to consider the wrong one,
flung it back almost in your face; desired you to shut or open
the door as if you had been his flunkey; to say nothing of your
position at the party about a month ago, where you had neither
place nor partner, but hovered about like a poor, shabby
hanger-on; and how patient you were under each and all of these
"Well, Mr. Hunsden, what then?"
"I can hardly tell you what then; the conclusion to be drawn as
to your character depends upon the nature of the motives which
guide your conduct; if you are patient because you expect to make
something eventually out of Crimsworth, notwithstanding his
tyranny, or perhaps by means of it, you are what the world calls
an interested and mercenary, but may be a very wise fellow; if
you are patient because you think it a duty to meet insult with
submission, you are an essential sap, and in no shape the man for
my money; if you are patient because your nature is phlegmatic,
flat, inexcitable, and that you cannot get up to the pitch of
resistance, why, God made you to be crushed; and lie down by all
means, and lie flat, and let Juggernaut ride well over you."
Mr. Hunsden's eloquence was not, it will be perceived, of the
smooth and oily order. As he spoke, he pleased me ill. I seem
to recognize in him one of those characters who, sensitive enough
themselves, are selfishly relentless towards the sensitiveness of
others. Moreover, though he was neither like Crimsworth nor Lord
Tynedale, yet he was acrid, and, I suspected, overbearing in his
way: there was a tone of despotism in the urgency of the very
reproaches by which, he aimed at goading the oppressed into
rebellion against the oppressor. Looking at him still more
fixedly than I had yet done, I saw written in his eye and mien a
resolution to arrogate to himself a freedom so unlimited that it
might often trench on the just liberty of his neighbours. I
rapidly ran over these thoughts, and then I laughed a low and
involuntary laugh, moved thereto by a slight inward revelation of
the inconsistency of man. It was as I thought: Hunsden had
expected me to take with calm his incorrect and offensive
surmises, his bitter and haughty taunts; and himself was chafed
by a laugh, scarce louder than a whisper.
His brow darkened, his thin nostril dilated a little.
"Yes," he began, "I told you that you were an aristocrat, and who
but an aristocrat would laugh such a laugh as that, and look such
a look? A laugh frigidly jeering; a look lazily mutinous;
gentlemanlike irony, patrician resentment. What a nobleman you
would have made, William Crimsworth! You are cut out for one;
pity Fortune has baulked Nature! Look at the features, figure,
even to the hands--distinction all over--ugly distinction!
Now, if you'd only an estate and a mansion, and a park, and a
title, how you could play the exclusive, maintain the rights of
your class, train your tenantry in habits of respect to the
peerage, oppose at every step the advancing power of the people,
support your rotten order, and be ready for its sake to wade
knee-deep in churls' blood; as it is, you've no power; you can
do nothing; you're wrecked and stranded on the shores of
commerce; forced into collision with practical men, with whom
you cannot cope, for YOU'LL NEVER BE A TRADESMAN."
The first part of Hunsden's speech moved me not at all, or, if it
did, it was only to wonder at the perversion into which prejudice
had twisted his judgment of my character; the concluding
sentence, however, not only moved, but shook me; the blow it gave
was a severe one, because Truth wielded the weapon. If I smiled
now, it, was only in disdain of myself.
Hunsden saw his advantage; he followed it up.
"You'll make nothing by trade," continued he; "nothing more than
the crust of dry bread and the draught of fair water on which you
now live; your only chance of getting a competency lies in
marrying a rich widow, or running away with an heiress."
"I leave such shifts to be put in practice by those who devise
them," said I, rising.
"And even that is hopeless," he went on coolly. "What widow
would have you? Much less, what heiress? You're not bold and
venturesome enough for the one, nor handsome and fascinating
enough for the other. You think perhaps you look intelligent and
polished; carry your intellect and refinement to market, and tell
me in a private note what price is bid for them."
Mr. Hunsden had taken his tone for the night; the string he
struck was out of tune, he would finger no other. Averse to
discord, of which I had enough every day and all day long, I
concluded, at last, that silence and solitude were preferable to
jarring converse; I bade him good-night.
"What! Are you going, lad? Well, good-night: you'll find the
door." And he sat still in front of the fire, while I left the
room and the house. I had got a good way on my return to my
lodgings before I found out that I was walking very fast, and
breathing very hard, and that my nails were almost stuck into the
palms of my clenched hands, and that my teeth were set fast; on
making this discovery, I relaxed both my pace, fists, and jaws,
but I could not so soon cause the regrets rushing rapidly through
my mind to slacken their tide. Why did I make myself a
tradesman? Why did I enter Hunsden's house this evening? Why,
at dawn to-morrow, must I repair to Crimsworth's mill? All that
night did I ask myself these questions, and all that night
fiercely demanded of my soul an answer. I got no sleep; my head
burned, my feet froze; at last the factory bells rang, and I
sprang from my bed with other slaves.
THERE is a climax to everything, to every state of feeling as
well as to every position in life. I turned this truism over in
my mind as, in the frosty dawn of a January morning, I hurried
down the steep and now icy street which descended from Mrs.
King's to the Close. The factory workpeople had preceded me by
nearly an hour, and the mill was all lighted up and in full
operation when I reached it. I repaired to my post in the
counting-house as usual; the fire there, but just lit, as yet
only smoked; Steighton had not yet arrived. I shut the door and
sat down at the desk; my hands, recently washed in half-frozen
water, were still numb; I could not write till they had regained
vitality, so I went on thinking, and still the theme of my
thoughts was the "climax." Self-dissatisfaction troubled
exceedingly the current of my meditations.
"Come, William Crimsworth," said my conscience, or whatever it is
that within ourselves takes ourselves to task--"come, get a clear
notion of what you would have, or what you would not have. You
talk of a climax; pray has your endurance reached its climax? It
is not four months old. What a fine resolute fellow you imagined
yourself to be when you told Tynedale you would tread in your
father's steps, and a pretty treading you are likely to make of
it! How well you like X----! Just at this moment how redolent
of pleasant associations are its streets, its shops, its
warehouses, its factories! How the prospect of this day cheers
you! Letter-copying till noon, solitary dinner at your lodgings,
letter-copying till evening, solitude; for you neither find
pleasure in Brown's, nor Smith's, nor Nicholl's, nor Eccle's
company; and as to Hunsden, you fancied there was pleasure to be
derived from his society--he! he! how did you like the taste you
had of him last night? was it sweet? Yet he is a talented, an
original-minded man, and even he does not like you; your
self-respect defies you to like him; he has always seen you to
disadvantage; he always will see you to disadvantage; your
positions are unequal, and were they on the same level your minds
could not; assimilate; never hope, then, to gather the honey of
friendship out of that thorn-guarded plant. Hello, Crimsworth!
where are your thoughts tending? You leave the recollection of
Hunsden as a bee would a rock, as a bird a desert; and your
aspirations spread eager wings towards a land of visions where,
now in advancing daylight--in X---- daylight--you dare to dream
of congeniality, repose, union. Those three you will never meet
in this world; they are angels. The souls of just men made
perfect may encounter them in heaven, but your soul will never be
made perfect. Eight o'clock strikes! your hands are thawed, get
"Work? why should I work?" said I sullenly: "I cannot please
though I toil like a slave." "Work, work!" reiterated the inward
voice. "I may work, it will do no good," I growled; but
nevertheless I drew out a packet of letters and commenced my
task--task thankless and bitter as that of the Israelite crawling
over the sun-baked fields of Egypt in search of straw and stubble
wherewith to accomplish his tale of bricks.
About ten o'clock I heard Mr. Crimsworth's gig turn into the
yard, and in a minute or two he entered the counting-house. It
was his custom to glance his eye at Steighton and myself, to hang
up his mackintosh, stand a minute with his back to the fire, and
then walk out. Today he did not deviate from his usual habits;
the only difference was that when he looked at me, his brow,
instead of being merely hard, was surly; his eye, instead of
being cold, was fierce. He studied me a minute or two longer
than usual, but went out in silence.
Twelve o'clock arrived; the bell rang for a suspension of labour;
the workpeople went off to their dinners; Steighton, too,
departed, desiring me to lock the counting-house door, and take
the key with me. I was tying up a bundle of papers, and putting
them in their place, preparatory to closing my desk, when
Crimsworth reappeared at the door, and entering closed it behind
"You'll stay here a minute," said he, in a deep, brutal voice,
while his nostrils distended and his eye shot a spark of sinister
Alone with Edward I remembered our relationship, and remembering
that forgot the difference of position; I put away deference and
careful forms of speech; I answered with simple brevity.
"It is time to go home," I said, turning the key in my desk.
"You'll stay here!" he reiterated. "And take your hand off that
key! leave it in the lock!"
"Why?" asked I. "What cause is there for changing my usual
"Do as I order," was the answer, "and no questions! You are my
servant, obey me! What have you been about--?" He was going on
in the same breath, when an abrupt pause announced that rage had
for the moment got the better of articulation.
"You may look, if you wish to know," I replied. "There is the
open desk, there are the papers."
"Confound your insolence! What have you been about?"
"Your work, and have done it well."
"Hypocrite and twaddler! Smooth-faced, snivelling greasehorn!"
(this last term is, I believe, purely ---shire, and alludes to
the horn of black, rancid whale-oil, usually to be seen suspended
to cart-wheels, and employed for greasing the same.)
"Come, Edward Crimsworth, enough of this. It is time you and I
wound up accounts. I have now given your service three months'
trial, and I find it the most nauseous slavery under the sun.
Seek another clerk. I stay no longer."
"What I do you dare to give me notice? Stop at least for your
wages." He took down the heavy gig whip hanging beside his
I permitted myself to laugh with a degree of scorn I took no
pains to temper or hide. His fury boiled up, and when he had
sworn half-a-dozen vulgar, impious oaths, without, however,
venturing to lift the whip, he continued :-
"I've found you out and know you thoroughly, you mean, whining
lickspittle! What have you been saying all over X---- about me?
answer me that!"
"You? I have neither inclination nor temptation to talk about
"You lie! It is your practice to talk about me; it is your
constant habit to make public complaint of the treatment you
receive at my hands. You have gone and told it far and near that
I give you low wages and knock you about like a dog. I wish you
were a dog! I'd set-to this minute, and never stir from the spot
till I'd cut every strip of flesh from your bones with this whip.
He flourished his tool. The end of the lash just touched my
forehead. A warm excited thrill ran through my veins, my blood
seemed to give abound, and then raced fast and hot along its
channels. I got up nimbly, came round to where he stood, and
"Down with your whip!" said I, "and explain this instant what you
"Sirrah! to whom are you speaking?"
"To you. There is no one else present, I think. You say I have
been calumniating you--complaining of your low wages and bad
treatment. Give your grounds for these assertions."
Crimsworth had no dignity, and when I sternly demanded an
explanation, he gave one in a loud, scolding voice.
"Grounds I you shall have them; and turn to the light that I may
see your brazen face blush black, when you hear yourself proved
to be a liar and a hypocrite. At a public meeting in the
Town-hall yesterday, I had the pleasure of hearing myself
insulted by the speaker opposed to me in the question under
discussion, by allusions to my private affairs; by cant about
monsters without natural affection, family despots, and such
trash; and when I rose to answer, I was met by a shout from the
filthy mob, where the mention of your name enabled me at once to
detect the quarter in which this base attack had originated. When
I looked round, I saw that treacherous villain, Hunsden acting as
fugleman. I detected you in close conversation with Hunsden at
my house a month ago, and I know that you were at Hunsden's rooms
last night. Deny it if you dare."
"Oh, I shall not deny it! And if Hunsden hounded on the people
to hiss you, he did quite right. You deserve popular execration;
for a worse man, a harder master, a more brutal brother than you
are has seldom existed."
"Sirrah! sirrah!" reiterated Crimsworth; and to complete his
apostrophe, he cracked the whip straight over my head.
A minute sufficed to wrest it from him, break it in two pieces,
and throw it under the grate. He made a headlong rush at me,
which I evaded, and said--
"Touch me, and I'll have you up before the nearest magistrate."
Men like Crimsworth, if firmly and calmly resisted, always abate
something of their exorbitant insolence; he had no mind to be
brought before a magistrate, and I suppose he saw I meant what I
said. After an odd and long stare at me, at once bull-like and
amazed, he seemed to bethink himself that, after all, his money
gave him sufficient superiority over a beggar like me, and that
he had in his hands a surer and more dignified mode of revenge
than the somewhat hazardous one of personal chastisement.
"Take your hat," said he. "Take what belongs to you, and go out
at that door; get away to your parish, you pauper: beg, steal,
starve, get transported, do what you like; but at your peril
venture again into my sight! If ever I hear of your setting foot
on an inch of ground belonging to me, I'll hire a man to cane
"It is not likely you'll have the chance; once off your premises,
what temptation can I have to return to them? I leave a prison, I
leave a tyrant; I leave what is worse than the worst that can lie
before me, so no fear of my coming back."
"Go, or I'll make you!" exclaimed Crimsworth.
I walked deliberately to my desk, took out such of its contents
as were my own property, put them in my pocket, locked the desk,
and placed the key on the top.
"What are you abstracting from that desk?" demanded the
millowner. "Leave all behind in its place, or I'll send for a
policeman to search you."
"Look sharp about it, then," said I, and I took down my hat, drew
on my gloves, and walked leisurely out of the counting-house
--walked out of it to enter it no more.
I recollect that when the mill-bell rang the dinner hour, before
Mr. Crimsworth entered, and the scene above related took place, I
had had rather a sharp appetite, and had been waiting somewhat
impatiently to hear the signal of feeding time. I forgot it now,
however; the images of potatoes and roast mutton were effaced
from my mind by the stir and tumult which the transaction of the
last half-hour had there excited. I only thought of walking,
that the action of my muscles might harmonize with the action of
my nerves; and walk I did, fast and far. How could I do
otherwise? A load was lifted off my heart; I felt light and
liberated. I had got away from Bigben Close without a breach of
resolution; without injury to my self-respect. I had not forced
circumstances; circumstances had freed me. Life was again open
to me; no longer was its horizon limited by the high black wall
surrounding Crimsworth's mill. Two hours had elapsed before my
sensations had so far subsided as to leave me calm enough to
remark for what wider and clearer boundaries I had exchanged that
sooty girdle. When I did look up, lo! straight before me lay
Grovetown, a village of villas about five miles out of X----. The
short winter day, as I perceived from the far-declined sun, was
already approaching its close; a chill frost-mist was rising from
the river on which X---- stands, and along whose banks the road I
had taken lay; it dimmed the earth, but did not obscure the clear
icy blue of the January sky. There was a great stillness near
and far; the time of the day favoured tranquillity, as the people
were all employed within-doors, the hour of evening release from
the factories not being yet arrived; a sound of full-flowing
water alone pervaded the air, for the river was deep and
abundant, swelled by the melting of a late snow. I stood awhile,
leaning over a wall; and looking down at the current: I watched
the rapid rush of its waves. I desired memory to take a clear and
permanent impression of the scene, and treasure it for future
years. Grovetown church clock struck four; looking up, I beheld
the last of that day's sun, glinting red through the leafless
boughs of some very old oak trees surrounding the church--its
light coloured and characterized the picture as I wished. I
paused yet a moment, till the sweet, slow sound of the bell had
quite died out of the air; then ear, eye and feeling satisfied, I
quitted the wall and once more turned my face towards X----.
I RE-ENTERED the town a hungry man; the dinner I had forgotten
recurred seductively to my recollection; and it was with a quick
step and sharp appetite I ascended the narrow street leading to
my lodgings. It was dark when I opened the front door and walked
into the house. I wondered how my fire would be; the night was
cold, and I shuddered at the prospect of a grate full of
sparkless cinders. To my joyful surprise, I found, on entering
my sitting-room, a good fire and a clean hearth. I had hardly
noticed this phenomenon, when I became aware of another subject
for wonderment; the chair I usually occupied near the hearth was
already filled; a person sat there with his. arms folded on his
chest, and his legs stretched out on the rug. Short-sighted as I
am, doubtful as was the gleam of the firelight, a moment's
examination enabled me to recognize in this person my
acquaintance, Mr. Hunsden. I could not of course be much pleased
to see him, considering the manner in which I had parted from
him the night before, and as I walked to the hearth, stirred the
fire, and said coolly, "Good evening," my demeanour evinced as
little cordiality as I felt; yet I wondered in my own mind what
had brought him there; and I wondered, also, what motives had
induced him to interfere so actively between me and Edward; it
was to him, it appeared, that I owed my welcome dismissal; still
I could not bring myself to ask him questions, to show any
eagerness of curiosity; if he chose to explain, he might, but the
explanation should be a perfectly voluntary one on his part; I
thought he was entering upon it.
"You owe me a debt of gratitude," were his first words.
"Do I?" said I; "I hope it is not a large one, for I am much too
poor to charge myself with heavy liabilities of any kind."
"Then declare yourself bankrupt at once, for this liability is a
ton weight at least. When I came in I found your fire out, and I
had it lit again, and made that sulky drab of a servant stay and
blow at it with the bellows till it had burnt up properly; now,
say 'Thank you!'"
"Not till I have had something to eat; I can thank nobody while I
am so famished."
I rang the bell and ordered tea and some cold meat.
"Cold meat!" exclaimed Hunsden, as the servant closed the door,
"what a glutton you are; man! Meat with tea! you'll die of
eating too much."
"No, Mr. Hunsden, I shall not." I felt a necessity for
contradicting him; I was irritated with hunger, and irritated at
seeing him there, and irritated at the continued roughness of his
"It is over-eating that makes you so ill-tempered," said he.
"How do you know?" I demanded. "It is like you to give a
pragmatical opinion without being acquainted with any of the
circumstances of the case; I have had no dinner."
What I said was petulant and snappish enough, and Hunsden only
replied by looking in my face and laughing.
"Poor thing!" he whined, after a pause. "It has had no dinner,
has it? What! I suppose its master would not let it come home.
Did Crimsworth order you to fast by way of punishment, William!"
"No, Mr. Hunsden. Fortunately at this sulky juncture, tea, was
brought in, and I fell to upon some bread and butter and cold
beef directly. Having cleared a plateful, I became so far
humanized as to intimate to Mr. Hunsden "that he need not sit
there staring, but might come to the table and do as I did, if he
"But I don't like in the least," said he, and therewith he
summoned the servant by a fresh pull of the bell-rope, and
intimated a desire to have a glass of toast-and-water. "And some
more coal," he added; "Mr. Crimsworth shall keep a good fire
while I stay."
His orders being executed, he wheeled his chair round to the
table, so as to be opposite me.
"Well," he proceeded. "You are out of work, I suppose."
"Yes," said I; and not disposed to show the satisfaction I felt
on this point, I, yielding to the whim of the moment, took up the
subject as though I considered myself aggrieved rather than
benefited by what had been done. "Yes--thanks to you, I am.
Crimsworth turned me off at a minute's notice, owing to some
interference of yours at a public meeting, I understand."
"Ah! what! he mentioned that? He observed me signalling the
lads, did he? What had he to say about his friend Hunsden
"He called you a treacherous villain."
"Oh, he hardly knows me yet! I'm one of those shy people who
don't come out all at once, and he is only just beginning to make
my acquaintance, but he'll find I've some good qualities
--excellent ones! The Hunsdens were always unrivalled at
tracking a rascal; a downright, dishonourable villain is their
natural prey--they could not keep off him wherever they met him;
you used the word pragmatical just now--that word is the property
of our family; it has been applied to us from generation to
generation; we have fine noses for abuses; we scent a scoundrel a
mile off; we are reformers born, radical reformers; and it was
impossible for me to live in the same town with Crimsworth, to
come into weekly contact with him, to witness some of his conduct
to you (for whom personally I care nothing; I only consider the
brutal injustice with which he violated your natural claim to
equality)--I say it was impossible for me to be thus situated and
not feel the angel or the demon of my race at work within me. I
followed my instinct, opposed a tyrant, and broke a chain."
Now this speech interested me much, both because it brought out
Hunsden's character, and because it explained his motives; it
interested me so much that I forgot to reply to it, and sat
silent, pondering over a throng of ideas it had suggested.
"Are you grateful to me?" he asked, presently.
In fact I was grateful, or almost so, and I believe I half liked
him at the moment, notwithstanding his proviso that what he had
done was not out of regard for me. But human nature is perverse.
Impossible to answer his blunt question in the affirmative, so I
disclaimed all tendency to gratitude, and advised him if he
expected any reward for his championship, to look for it in a
better world, as he was not likely to meet with it here. In
reply he termed me "a dry-hearted aristocratic scamp," whereupon
I again charged him with having taken the bread out of my mouth.
"Your bread was dirty, man!" cried Hunsden--"dirty and
unwholesome! It came through the hands of a tyrant, for I tell
you Crimsworth is a tyrant,--a tyrant to his workpeople, a tyrant
to his clerks, and will some day be a tyrant to his wife."
"Nonsense! bread is bread, and a salary is a salary. I've lost
mine, and through your means."
"There's sense in what you say, after all," rejoined Hunsden. "I
must say I am rather agreeably surprised to hear you make so
practical an observation as that last. I had imagined now, from
my previous observation of your character, that the sentimental
delight you would have taken in your newly regained liberty
would, for a while at least, have effaced all ideas of
forethought and prudence. I think better of you for looking
steadily to the needful."
"Looking steadily to the needful! How can I do otherwise? I
must live, and to live I must have what you call 'the needful,'
which I can only get by working. I repeat it, you have taken my
work from me."
"What do you mean to do?" pursued Hunsden coolly. "You have
influential relations; I suppose they'll soon provide you with
"Influential relations? Who? I should like to know their
"Stuff! I have cut them,"
Hunsden looked at me incredulously.
"I have," said I, "and that definitively."
"You must mean they have cut you, William."
"As you please. They offered me their patronage on condition of
my entering the Church; I declined both the terms and the
recompence; I withdrew from my cold uncles, and preferred
throwing myself into my elder brother's arms, from whose
affectionate embrace I am now torn by the cruel intermeddling of
a stranger--of yourself, in short."
I could not repress a half-smile as I said this; a similar
demi-manifestation of feeling appeared at the same moment on
"Oh, I see!" said he, looking into my eyes, and it was evident he
did see right down into my heart. Having sat a minute or two
with his chin resting on his hand, diligently occupied in the
continued perusal of my countenance, he went on:-
"Seriously, have you then nothing to expect from the Seacombes?"
"Yes, rejection and repulsion. Why do you ask me twice? How can
hands stained with the ink of a counting-house, soiled with the
grease of a wool-warehouse, ever again be permitted to come into
contact with aristocratic palms?"
"There would be a difficulty, no doubt; still you are such a
complete Seacombe in appearance, feature, language, almost
manner, I wonder they should disown you."
"They have disowned me; so talk no more about it."
"Do you regret it, William?"
Why not, lad?"
"Because they are not people with whom I could ever have had any
"I say you are one of them."
"That merely proves that you know nothing at all about it; I am
my mother's son, but not my uncles' nephew."
"Still--one of your uncles is a lord, though rather an obscure
and not a very wealthy one, and the other a right honourable:
you should consider worldly interest."
"Nonsense, Mr. Hunsden. You know or may know that even had I
desired to be submissive to my uncles, I could not have stooped
with a good enough grace ever to have won their favour. I should
have sacrificed my own comfort and not have gained their
patronage in return."
"Very likely--so you calculated your wisest plan was to follow
your own devices at once?"
"Exactly. I must follow my own devices--I must, till the day of
my death; because I can neither comprehend, adopt, nor work out
those of other people."
Hunsden yawned. "Well," said he, "in all this, I see but one
thing clearly-that is, that the whole affair is no business of
mine. "He stretched himself and again yawned. "I wonder what
time it is," he went on: "I have an appointment for seven
"Three quarters past six by my watch."
"Well, then I'll go." He got up. "You'll not meddle with trade
again?" said he, leaning his elbow on the mantelpiece.
"No; I think not."
"You would be a fool if you did. Probably, after all, you'll
think better of your uncles' proposal and go into the Church."
"A singular regeneration must take place in my whole inner and
outer man before I do that. A good clergyman is one of the best
"Indeed! Do you think so?" interrupted Hunsden, scoffingly.
"I do, and no mistake. But I have not the peculiar points which
go to make a good clergyman; and rather than adopt a profession
for which I have no vocation, I would endure extremities of
hardship from poverty."
"You're a mighty difficult customer to suit. You won't be a
tradesman or a parson; you can't be a lawyer, or a doctor, or a
gentleman, because you've no money. I'd recommend you to
"What! without money?"
"You must travel in search of money, man. You can speak French-
-with a vile English accent, no doubt--still, you can speak it.
Go on to the Continent, and see what will turn up for you there."
"God knows I should like to go!" exclaimed I with involuntary
"Go: what the deuce hinders you? You may get to Brussels, for
instance, for five or six pounds, if you know how to manage with
"Necessity would teach me if I didn't."
"Go, then, and let your wits make a way for you when you get
there. I know Brussels almost as well as I know X----, and I am
sure it would suit such a one as you better than London."
"But occupation, Mr. Hunsden! I must go where occupation is to
be had; and how could I get recommendation, or introduction, or
employment at Brussels?"
"There speaks the organ of caution. You hate to advance a step
before you know every inch of the way. You haven't a sheet of
paper and a pen-and-ink?"
"I hope so," and I produced writing materials with alacrity; for
I guessed what he was going to do. He sat down, wrote a few
lines, folded, sealed, and addressed a letter, and held it out to
"There, Prudence, there's a pioneer to hew down the first rough
difficulties of your path. I know well enough, lad, you are not
one of those who will run their neck into a noose without seeing
how they are to get it out again, and you're right there. A
reckless man is my aversion, and nothing should ever persuade me
to meddle with the concerns of such a one. Those who are
reckless for themselves are generally ten times more so for their
"This is a letter of introduction, I suppose?" said I, taking the
"Yes. With that in your pocket you will run no risk of finding
yourself in a state of absolute destitution, which, I know, you
will regard as a degradation--so should I, for that matter. The
person to whom you will present it generally has two or three
respectable places depending upon his recommendation."
"That will just suit me," said I.
"Well, and where's your gratitude?" demanded Mr. Hunsden; "don't
you know how to say 'Thank you?'"
"I've fifteen pounds and a watch, which my godmother, whom I
never saw, gave me eighteen years ago," was my rather irrelevant
answer; and I further avowed myself a happy man, and professed
that I did not envy any being in Christendom.
"But your gratitude?"
"I shall be off presently, Mr. Hunsden--to-morrow, if all be
well: I'll not stay a day longer in X---- than I'm obliged."
"Very good--but it will be decent to make due acknowledgment for
the assistance you have received; be quick! It is just going to
strike seven: I'm waiting to be thanked."
"Just stand out of the way, will you, Mr. Hunsden: I want a key
there is on the corner of the mantelpiece. I'll pack my
portmanteau before I go to bed "
The house clock struck seven.
"The lad is a heathen," said Hunsden, and taking his hat from a
sideboard, he left the room, laughing to himself. I had half an
inclination to follow him: I really intended to leave X---- the
next morning, and should certainly not have another opportunity
of bidding him good-bye. The front door banged to.
"Let him go," said I, "we shall meet again some day."
READER, perhaps you were never in Belgium? Haply you don't know
the physiognomy of the country? You have not its lineaments
defined upon your memory, as I have them on mine?
Three--nay four--pictures line the four-walled cell where are
stored for me the records of the past. First, Eton. All in that
picture is in far perspective, receding, diminutive; but freshly
coloured, green, dewy, with a spring sky, piled with glittering
yet showery clouds; for my childhood was not all sunshine--it had
its overcast, its cold, its stormy hours. Second, X----, huge,
dingy; the canvas cracked and smoked; a yellow sky, sooty clouds;
no sun, no azure; the verdure of the suburbs blighted and
sullied--a very dreary scene.
Third, Belgium; and I will pause before this landscape. As to the
fourth, a curtain covers it, which I may hereafter withdraw, or
may not, as suits my convenience and capacity. At any rate, for
the present it must hang undisturbed. Belgium! name unromantic
and unpoetic, yet name that whenever uttered has in my ear a
sound, in my heart an echo, such as no other assemblage of
syllables, however sweet or classic, can produce. Belgium! I
repeat the word, now as I sit alone near midnight. It stirs my
world of the past like a summons to resurrection; the graves
unclose, the dead are raised; thoughts, feelings, memories that
slept, are seen by me ascending from the clods--haloed most of
them--but while I gaze on their vapoury forms, and strive to
ascertain definitely their outline, the sound which wakened them
dies, and they sink, each and all, like a light wreath of mist,
absorbed in the mould, recalled to urns, resealed in monuments.
Farewell, luminous phantoms!
This is Belgium, reader. Look! don't call the picture a flat or
a dull one--it was neither flat nor dull to me when I first
beheld it. When I left Ostend on a mild February morning, and
found myself on the road to Brussels, nothing could look vapid to
me. My sense of enjoyment possessed an edge whetted to the
finest, untouched, keen, exquisite. I was young; I had good
health; pleasure and I had never met; no indulgence of hers had
enervated or sated one faculty of my nature. Liberty I clasped in
my arms for the first time, and the influence of her smile and
embrace revived my life like the sun and the west wind. Yes, at
that epoch I felt like a morning traveller who doubts not that
from the hill he is ascending he shall behold a glorious sunrise;
what if the track be strait, steep, and stony? he sees it not;
his eyes are fixed on that summit, flushed already, flushed and
gilded, and having gained it he is certain of the scene beyond.
He knows that the sun will face him, that his chariot is even now
coming over the eastern horizon, and that the herald breeze he
feels on his cheek is opening for the god's career a clear, vast
path of azure, amidst clouds soft as pearl and warm as flame.
Difficulty and toil were to be my lot, but sustained by energy,
drawn on by hopes as bright as vague, I deemed such a lot no
hardship. I mounted now the hill in shade; there were pebbles,
inequalities, briars in my path, but my eyes were fixed on the
crimson peak above; my imagination was with the refulgent
firmament beyond, and I thought nothing of the stones turning
under my feet, or of the thorns scratching my face and hands.
I gazed often, and always with delight, from the window of the
diligence (these, be it remembered, were not the days of trains
and railroads). Well! and what did I see? I will tell you
faithfully. Green, reedy swamps; fields fertile but flat,
cultivated in patches that made them look like magnified
kitchen-gardens; belts of cut trees, formal as pollard willows,
skirting the horizon; narrow canals, gliding slow by the
road-side; painted Flemish farmhouses; some very dirty hovels; a
gray, dead sky; wet road, wet fields, wet house-tops: not a
beautiful, scarcely a picturesque object met my eye along the
whole route; yet to me, all was beautiful, all was more than
picturesque. It continued fair so long as daylight lasted,
though the moisture of many preceding damp days had sodden the
whole country; as it grew dark, however, the rain recommenced,
and it was through streaming and starless darkness my eye caught
the first gleam of the lights of Brussels. I saw little of the
city but its lights that night. Having alighted from the
diligence, a fiacre conveyed me to the Hotel de ----, where I had
been advised by a fellow-traveller to put up; having eaten a
traveller's supper, I retired to bed, and slept a traveller's
Next morning I awoke from prolonged and sound repose with the
impression that I was yet in X----, and perceiving it to be
broad daylight I started up, imagining that I had overslept
myself and should be behind time at the counting-house. The
momentary and painful sense of restraint vanished before the
revived and reviving consciousness of freedom, as, throwing back
the white curtains of my bed, I looked forth into a wide, lofty
foreign chamber; how different from the small and dingy, though
not uncomfortable, apartment I had occupied for a night or two at
a respectable inn in London while waiting for the sailing of the
packet! Yet far be it from me to profane the memory of that
little dingy room! It, too, is dear to my soul; for there, as I
lay in quiet and darkness, I first heard the great bell of St.
Paul's telling London it was midnight, and well do I recall the
deep, deliberate tones, so full charged with colossal phlegm and
force. From the small, narrow window of that room, I first saw
THE dome, looming through a London mist. I suppose the
sensations, stirred by those first sounds, first sights, are felt
but once; treasure them, Memory; seal them in urns, and keep them
in safe niches! Well--I rose. Travellers talk of the apartments
in foreign dwellings being bare and uncomfortable; I thought my
chamber looked stately and cheerful. It had such large windows
--CROISEES that opened like doors, with such broad, clear panes
of glass; such a great looking-glass stood on my dressing-table
--such a fine mirror glittered over the mantelpiece--the painted
floor looked so clean and glossy; when I had dressed and was
descending the stairs, the broad marble steps almost awed me, and
so did the lofty hall into which they conducted. On the first
landing I met a Flemish housemaid: she had wooden shoes, a short
red petticoat, a printed cotton bedgown, her face was broad, her
physiognomy eminently stupid; when I spoke to her in French, she
answered me in Flemish, with an air the reverse of civil; yet I
thought her charming; if she was not pretty or polite, she was, I
conceived, very picturesque; she reminded me of the female
figures in certain Dutch paintings I had seen in other years at
I repaired to the public room; that, too, was very large and very
lofty, and warmed by a stove; the floor was black, and the stove
was black, and most of the furniture was black: yet I never
experienced a freer sense of exhilaration than when I sat down at
a very long, black table (covered, however, in part by a white
cloth), and, having ordered breakfast, began to pour out my
coffee from a little black coffee-pot. The stove might be
dismal-looking to some eyes, not to mine, but it was indisputably
very warm, and there were two gentlemen seated by it talking in
French; impossible to follow their rapid utterance, or comprehend
much of the purport of what they said--yet French, in the mouths
of Frenchmen, or Belgians (I was not then sensible of the horrors
of the Belgian accent) was as music to my ears. One of these
gentlemen presently discerned me to be an Englishman--no doubt
from the fashion in which I addressed the waiter; for I would
persist in speaking French in my execrable South-of-England
style, though the man understood English. The gentleman, after
looking towards me once or twice, politely accosted me in very
good English; I remember I wished to God that I could speak
French as well; his fluency and correct pronunciation impressed
me for the first time with a due notion of the cosmopolitan
character of the capital I was in; it was my first experience of
that skill in living languages I afterwards found to be so
general in Brussels.
I lingered over my breakfast as long as I could; while it was
there on the table, and while that stranger continued talking to
me, I was a free, independent traveller; but at last the things
were removed, the two gentlemen left the room; suddenly the
illusion ceased, reality and business came back. I, a bondsman
just released from the yoke, freed for one week from twenty-one
years of constraint, must, of necessity, resume the fetters of
dependency. Hardly had I tasted the delight of being without a
master when duty issued her stern mandate: "Go forth and seek
another service." I never linger over a painful and necessary
task; I never take pleasure before business, it is not in my
nature to do so; impossible to enjoy a leisurely walk over the
city, though I perceived the morning was very fine, until I had
first presented Mr. Hunsden's letter of introduction, and got
fairly on to the track of a new situation. Wrenching my mind
from liberty and delight, I seized my hat, and forced my
reluctant body out of the Hotel de ---- into the foreign street.
It was a fine day, but I would not look at the blue sky or at the
stately houses round me; my mind was bent on one thing, finding
out "Mr. Brown, Numero --, Rue Royale," for so my letter was
addressed. By dint of inquiry I succeeded; I stood at last at
the desired door, knocked, asked for Mr. Brown, and was admitted.
Being shown into a small breakfast-room, I found myself in the
presence of an elderly gentleman--very grave, business-like, and
respectable-looking. I presented Mr. Hunsden's letter; he
received me very civilly. After a little desultory conversation
he asked me if there was anything in which his advice or
experience could be of use. I said, " Yes," and then proceeded to
tell him that I was not a gentleman of fortune, travelling for
pleasure, but an ex-counting-house clerk, who wanted employment
of some kind, and that immediately too. He replied that as a
friend of Mr. Hunsden's he would be willing to assist me as well
as he could. After some meditation he named a place in a
mercantile house at Liege, and another in a bookseller's shop at
"Clerk and shopman!" murmured I to myself. "No." I shook my
head. I had tried the high stool; I hated it; I believed there
were other occupations that would suit me better; besides I did
not wish to leave Brussels.
"I know of no place in Brussels," answered Mr. Brown, "unless
indeed you were disposed to turn your attention to teaching. I
am acquainted with the director of a large establishment who is
in want of a professor of English and Latin."
I thought two minutes, then I seized the idea eagerly.
"The very thing, sir!" said I.
"But," asked he, "do you understand French well enough to teach
Belgian boys English?"
Fortunately I could answer this question in the affirmative;
having studied French under a Frenchman, I could speak the
language intelligibly though not fluently. I could also read it
well, and write it decently.
"Then," pursued Mr. Brown, "I think I can promise you the place,
for Monsieur Pelet will not refuse a professor recommended by me;
but come here again at five o'clock this afternoon, and I will
introduce you to him."
The word "professor" struck me. "I am not a professor," said I.
"Oh," returned Mr. Brown, "professor, here in Belgium, means a
teacher, that is all."
My conscience thus quieted, I thanked Mr. Brown, and, for the
present, withdrew. This time I stepped out into the street with
a relieved heart; the task I had imposed on myself for that day
was executed. I might now take some hours of holiday. I felt
free to look up. For the first time I remarked the sparkling
clearness of the air, the deep blue of the sky, the gay clean
aspect of the white-washed or painted houses; I saw what a fine
street was the Rue Royale, and, walking leisurely along its broad
pavement, I continued to survey its stately hotels, till the
palisades, the gates, and trees of the park appearing in sight,
offered to my eye a new attraction. I remember, before entering
the park, I stood awhile to contemplate the statue of General
Belliard, and then I advanced to the top of the great staircase
just beyond, and I looked down into a narrow back street, which I
afterwards learnt was called the Rue d'Isabelle. I well
recollect that my eye rested on the green door of a rather large
house opposite, where, on a brass plate, was inscribed,
"Pensionnat de Demoiselles." Pensionnat! The word excited an
uneasy sensation in my mind; it seemed to speak of restraint.
Some of the demoiselles, externats no doubt, were at that moment
issuing from the door--I looked for a pretty face amongst them,
but their close, little French bonnets hid their features; in a
moment they were gone.
I had traversed a good deal of Brussels before five o'clock
arrived, but punctually as that hour struck I was again in the
Rue Royale. Re-admitted to Mr. Brown's breakfast-room, I found
him, as before, seated at the table, and he was not alone--a
gentleman stood by the hearth. Two words of introduction
designated him as my future master. "M. Pelet, Mr. Crimsworth;
Mr. Crimsworth, M. Pelet" a bow on each side finished the
ceremony. I don't know what sort of a bow I made; an ordinary
one, I suppose, for I was in a tranquil, commonplace frame of
mind; I felt none of the agitation which had troubled my first
interview with Edward Crimsworth. M. Pelet's bow was extremely
polite, yet not theatrical, scarcely French; he and I were
presently seated opposite to each other. In a pleasing voice,
low, and, out of consideration to my foreign ears, very distinct
and deliberate, M. Pelet intimated that he had just been
receiving from "le respectable M. Brown," an account of my
attainments and character, which relieved him from all scruple as
to the propriety of engaging me as professor of English and Latin
in his establishment; nevertheless, for form's sake, he would put
a few questions to test; my powers. He did, and expressed in
flattering terms his satisfaction at my answers. The subject of
salary next came on; it was fixed at one thousand francs per
annum, besides board and lodging. "And in addition," suggested M.
Pelet, "as there will be some hours in each day during which
your services will not be required in my establishment, you may,
in time, obtain employment in other seminaries, and thus turn
your vacant moments to profitable account."
I thought this very kind, and indeed I found afterwards that the
terms on which M. Pelet had engaged me were really liberal for
Brussels; instruction being extremely cheap there on account of
the number of teachers. It was further arranged that I should be
installed in my new post the very next day, after which M. Pelet
and I parted.
Well, and what was he like? and what were my impressions
concerning him? He was a man of about forty years of age, of
middle size, and rather emaciated figure; his face was pale, his
cheeks were sunk, and his eyes hollow; his features were pleasing
and regular, they had a French turn (for M. Pelet was no Fleming,
but a Frenchman both by birth and parentage), yet the degree of
harshness inseparable from Gallic lineaments was, in his case,
softened by a mild blue eye, and a melancholy, almost suffering,
expression of countenance; his physiognomy was "fine et
spirituelle." I use two French words because they define better
than any English terms the species of intelligence with which his
features were imbued. He was altogether an interesting and
prepossessing personage. I wondered only at the utter absence of
all the ordinary characteristics of his profession, and almost
feared he could not be stern and resolute enough for a
schoolmaster. Externally at least M. Pelet presented an absolute
contrast to my late master, Edward Crimsworth.
Influenced by the impression I had received of his gentleness, I
was a good deal surprised when, on arriving the next day at my
new employer's house, and being admitted to a first view of what
was to be the sphere of my future labours, namely the large,
lofty, and well lighted schoolrooms, I beheld a numerous
assemblage of pupils, boys of course, whose collective appearance
showed all the signs of a full, flourishing, and well-disciplined
seminary. As I traversed the classes in company with M. Pelet, a
profound silence reigned on all sides, and if by chance a murmur
or a whisper arose, one glance from the pensive eye of this most
gentle pedagogue stilled it instantly. It was astonishing, I
thought, how so mild a check could prove so effectual. When I
had perambulated the length and breadth of the classes, M. Pelet
turned and said to me--
"Would you object to taking the boys as they are, and testing
their proficiency in English?"
The proposal was unexpected. I had thought I should have been
allowed at least 3 days to prepare; but it is a bad omen to
commence any career by hesitation, so I just stepped to the
professor's desk near which we stood, and faced the circle of my
pupils. I took a moment to collect my thoughts, and likewise to
frame in French the sentence by which I proposed to open
business. I made it as short as possible:--
"Messieurs, prenez vos livres de lecture."
"Anglais ou Francais, monsieur?" demanded a thickset, moon-faced
young Flamand in a blouse. The answer was fortunately easy:--
I determined to give myself as little trouble as possible in this
lesson; it would not do yet to trust my unpractised tongue with
the delivery of explanations; my accent and idiom would be too
open to the criticisms of the young gentlemen before me, relative
to whom I felt already it would be necessary at once to take up
an advantageous position, and I proceeded to employ means
"Commencez!" cried I, when they had all produced their books.
The moon-faced youth (by name Jules Vanderkelkov, as I afterwards
learnt) took the first sentence. The "livre de lecture" was the
"Vicar of Wakefield," much used in foreign schools because it is
supposed to contain prime samples of conversational English; it
might, however, have been a Runic scroll for any resemblance the
words, as enunciated by Jules, bore to the language in ordinary
use amongst the natives of Great Britain. My God! how he did
snuffle, snort, and wheeze! All he said was said in his throat
and nose, for it is thus the Flamands speak, but I heard him to
the end of his paragraph without proffering a word of correction,
whereat he looked vastly self-complacent, convinced, no doubt,
that he had acquitted himself like a real born and bred
"Anglais." In the same unmoved silence I listened to a dozen in
rotation, and when the twelfth had concluded with splutter, hiss,
and mumble, I solemnly laid down the book.
"Arretez!" said I. There was a pause, during which I regarded
them all with a steady and somewhat stern gaze; a dog, if stared
at hard enough and long enough, will show symptoms of
embarrassment, and so at length did my bench of Belgians.
Perceiving that some of the faces before me were beginning to
look sullen, and others ashamed, I slowly joined my hands, and
ejaculated in a deep "voix de poitrine"--
"Comme c'est affreux!"
They looked at each other, pouted, coloured, swung their heels;
they were not pleased, I saw, but they were impressed, and in the
way I wished them to be. Having thus taken them down a peg in
their self-conceit, the next step was to raise myself in their
estimation; not a very easy thing, considering that I hardly
dared to speak for fear of betraying my own deficiencies.
"Ecoutez, messieurs!" said I, and I endeavoured to throw into my
accents the compassionate tone of a superior being, who, touched
by the extremity of the helplessness, which at first only excited
his scorn, deigns at length to bestow aid. I then began at the
very beginning of the "Vicar of Wakefield," and read, in a slow,
distinct voice, some twenty pages, they all the while sitting
mute and listening with fixed attention; by the time I had done
nearly an hour had elapsed. I then rose and said:--
"C'est assez pour aujourd'hui, messieurs; demain nous
recommencerons, et j'espere que tout ira bien."
With this oracular sentence I bowed, and in company with M. Pelet
quitted the school-room.
"C'est bien! c'est tres bien!" said my principal as we entered
his parlour. "Je vois que monsieur a de l'adresse; cela, me
plait, car, dans l'instruction, l'adresse fait tout autant que le
>From the parlour M. Pelet conducted me to my apartment, my
"chambre," as Monsieur said with a certain air of complacency.
It was a very small room, with an excessively small bed, but M.
Pelet gave me to understand that I was to occupy it quite alone,
which was of course a great comfort. Yet, though so limited in
dimensions, it had two windows. Light not being taxed in
Belgium, the people never grudge its admission into their houses;
just here, however, this observation is not very APROPOS, for one
of these windows was boarded up; the open windows looked into the
boys' playground. I glanced at the other, as wondering what
aspect it would present if disencumbered of the boards. M. Pelet
read, I suppose, the expression of my eye; he explained:--
"La fenetre fermee donne sur un jardin appartenant a un
pensionnat de demoiselles," said he, "et les convenances exigent
--enfin, vous comprenez--n'est-ce pas, monsieur?"
"Oui, oui," was my reply, and I looked of course quite satisfied;
but when M. Pelet had retired and closed the door after him, the
first thing I did was to scrutinize closely the nailed boards,
hoping to find some chink or crevice which I might enlarge, and
so get a peep at the consecrated ground. My researches were
vain, for the boards were well joined and strongly nailed. It is
astonishing how disappointed I felt. I thought it would have
been so pleasant to have looked out upon a garden planted with
flowers and trees, so amusing to have watched the demoiselles at
their play; to have studied female character in a variety of
phases, myself the while sheltered from view by a modest muslin
curtain, whereas, owing doubtless to the absurd scruples of some
old duenna of a directress, I had now only the option of looking
at a bare gravelled court, with an enormous "pas de geant" in the
middle, and the monotonous walls and windows of a boys'
school-house round. Not only then, but many a time after,
especially in moments of weariness and low spirits, did I look
with dissatisfied eyes on that most tantalizing board, longing to
tear it away and get a glimpse of the green region which I
imagined to lie beyond. I knew a tree grew close up to the
window, for though there were as yet no leaves to rustle, I often
heard at night the tapping of branches against the panes. In the
daytime, when I listened attentively, I could hear, even through
the boards, the voices of the demoiselles in their hours of
recreation, and, to speak the honest truth, my sentimental
reflections were occasionally a trifle disarranged by the not
quite silvery, in fact the too often brazen sounds, which, rising
from the unseen paradise below, penetrated clamorously into my
solitude. Not to mince matters, it really seemed to me a
doubtful case whether the lungs of Mdlle. Reuter's girls or those
of M. Pelet's boys were the strongest, and when it came to
shrieking the girls indisputably beat the boys hollow. I forgot
to say, by-the-by, that Reuter was the name of the old lady who
had had my window bearded up. I say old, for such I, of course,
concluded her to be, judging from her cautious, chaperon-like
proceedings; besides, nobody ever spoke of her as young. I
remember I was very much amused when I first heard her Christian
name; it was Zoraide--Mademoiselle Zoraide Reuter. But the
continental nations do allow themselves vagaries in the choice of
names, such as we sober English never run into. I think, indeed,
we have too limited a list to choose from.
Meantime my path was gradually growing smooth before me. I, in a
few weeks, conquered the teasing difficulties inseparable from
the commencement of almost every career. Ere long I had acquired
as much facility in speaking French as set me at my ease with my
pupils; and as I had encountered them on a right footing at the
very beginning, and continued tenaciously to retain the advantage
I had early gained, they never attempted mutiny, which
circumstance, all who are in any degree acquainted with the
ongoings of Belgian schools, and who know the relation in which
professors and pupils too frequently stand towards each other in
those establishments, will consider an important and uncommon
one. Before concluding this chapter I will say a word on the
system I pursued with regard to my classes: my experience may
possibly be of use to others.
It did not require very keen observation to detect the character
of the youth of Brabant, but it needed a certain degree of tact
to adopt one's measures to their capacity. Their intellectual
faculties were generally weak, their animal propensities strong;
thus there was at once an impotence and a kind of inert force in
their natures; they were dull, but they were also singularly
stubborn, heavy as lead and, like lead, most difficult to move.
Such being the case, it would have been truly absurd to exact
from them much in the way of mental exertion; having short
memories, dense intelligence, feeble reflective powers, they
recoiled with repugnance from any occupation that demanded close
study or deep thought. Had the abhorred effort been extorted
from them by injudicious and arbitrary measures on the part of
the Professor, they would have resisted as obstinately, as
clamorously, as desperate swine; and though not brave singly,
they were relentless acting EN MASSE.
I understood that before my arrival in M. Pelet's establishment,
the combined insubordination of the pupils had effected the
dismissal of more than one English master. It was necessary then
to exact only the most moderate application from natures so
little qualified to apply--to assist, in every practicable way,
understandings so opaque and contracted--to be ever gentle,
considerate, yielding even, to a certain point, with dispositions
so irrationally perverse; but, having reached that culminating
point of indulgence, you must fix your foot, plant it, root it in
rock--become immutable as the towers of Ste. Gudule; for a step
--but half a step farther, and you would plunge headlong into the
gulf of imbecility; there lodged, you would speedily receive
proofs of Flemish gratitude and magnanimity in showers of Brabant
saliva and handfuls of Low Country mud. You might smooth to the
utmost the path of learning, remove every pebble from the track;
but then you must finally insist with decision on the pupil
taking your arm and allowing himself to be led quietly along the
prepared road. When I had brought down my lesson to the lowest
level of my dullest pupil's capacity--when I had shown myself the
mildest, the most tolerant of masters--a word of impertinence, a
movement of disobedience, changed me at once into a despot. I
offered then but one alternative--submission and acknowledgment
of error, or ignominious expulsion. This system answered, and my
influence, by degrees, became established on a firm basis. "The
boy is father to the man," it is said; and so I often thought
when looked at my boys and remembered the political history of
their ancestors. Pelet's school was merely an epitome of the
AND Pelet himself? How did I continue to like him? Oh,
extremely well! Nothing could be more smooth, gentlemanlike,
and even friendly, than his demeanour to me. I had to endure
from him neither cold neglect, irritating interference, nor
pretentious assumption of superiority. I fear, however, two
poor, hard-worked Belgian ushers in the establishment could not
have said as much; to them the director's manner was invariably
dry, stern, and cool. I believe he perceived once or twice that
I was a little shocked at the difference he made between them and
me, and accounted for it by saying, with a quiet sarcastic
"Ce ne sont que des Flamands--allez!"
And then he took his cigar gently from his lips and spat on the
painted floor of the room in which we were sitting. Flamands
certainly they were, and both had the true Flamand physiognomy,
where intellectual inferiority is marked in lines none can
mistake; still they were men, and, in the main, honest men; and I
could not see why their being aboriginals of the flat, dull soil
should serve as a pretext for treating them with perpetual
severity and contempt. This idea, of injustice somewhat poisoned
the pleasure I might otherwise have derived from Pelet's soft
affable manner to myself. Certainly it was agreeable, when the
day's work was over, to find one's employer an intelligent and
cheerful companion; and if he was sometimes a little sarcastic
and sometimes a little too insinuating, and if I did discover
that his mildness was more a matter of appearance than of
reality--if I did occasionally suspect the existence of flint or
steel under an external covering of velvet--still we are none of
us perfect; and weary as I was of the atmosphere of brutality and
insolence in which I had constantly lived at X----, I had no
inclination now, on casting anchor in calmer regions, to
institute at once a prying search after defects that were
scrupulously withdrawn and carefully veiled from my view. I was
willing to take Pelet for what he seemed--to believe him
benevolent and friendly until some untoward event should prove
him otherwise. He was not married, and I soon perceived he had
all a Frenchman's, all a Parisian's notions about matrimony and
women. I suspected a degree of laxity in his code of morals,
there was something so cold and BLASE in his tone whenever he
alluded to what he called "le beau sexe;" but he was too
gentlemanlike to intrude topics I did not invite, and as he was
really intelligent and really fond of intellectual subjects of
discourse, he and I always found enough to talk about, without
seeking themes in the mire. I hated his fashion of mentioning
love; I abhorred, from my soul, mere licentiousness. He felt the
difference of our notions, and, by mutual consent, we kept off
Pelet's house was kept and his kitchen managed by his mother, a
real old Frenchwoman; she had been handsome--at least she told me
so, and I strove to believe her; she was now ugly, as only
continental old women can be; perhaps, though, her style of dress
made her look uglier than she really was. Indoors she would go
about without cap, her grey hair strangely dishevelled; then,
when at home, she seldom wore a gown--only a shabby cotton
camisole; shoes, too, were strangers to her feet, and in lieu of
them she sported roomy slippers, trodden down at the heels. On
the other hand, whenever it was her pleasure to appear abroad, as
on Sundays and fete-days, she would put on some very
brilliant-coloured dress, usually of thin texture, a silk bonnet
with a wreath of flowers, and a very fine shawl. She was not, in
the main, an ill-natured old woman, but an incessant and most
indiscreet talker; she kept chiefly in and about the kitchen, and
seemed rather to avoid her son's august presence; of him, indeed,
she evidently stood in awe. When he reproved her, his reproofs
were bitter and unsparing; but he seldom gave himself that
Madame Pelet had her own society, her own circle of chosen
visitors, whom, however, I seldom saw, as she generally
entertained them in what she called her "cabinet," a small den of
a place adjoining the kitchen, and descending into it by one or
two steps. On these steps, by-the-by, I have not unfrequently
seen Madame Pelet seated with a trencher on her knee, engaged in
the threefold employment of eating her dinner, gossiping with her
favourite servant, the housemaid, and scolding her antagonist,
the cook; she never dined, and seldom indeed took any meal with
her son; and as to showing her face at the boys' table, that was
quite out of the question. These details will sound very odd in
English ears, but Belgium is not England, and its ways are not
Madame Pelet's habits of life, then, being taken into
consideration, I was a good deal surprised when, one Thursday
evening (Thursday was always a half-holiday), as I was sitting
all alone in my apartment, correcting a huge pile of English and
Latin exercises, a servant tapped at the door, and, on its being
opened, presented Madame Pelet's compliments, and she would be
happy to see me to take my "gouter" (a meal which answers to our
English "tea") with her in the dining-room.
"Plait-il?" said I, for I thought I must have misunderstood, the
message and invitation were so unusual; the same words were
repeated. I accepted, of course, and as I descended the stairs,
I wondered what whim had entered the old lady's brain; her son
was out--gone to pass the evening at the Salle of the Grande
Harmonie or some other club of which he was a member. Just as I
laid my hand on the handle of the dining-room door, a queer idea
glanced across my mind.
"Surely she's not going to make love to me," said I. "I've heard
of old Frenchwomen doing odd things in that line; and the gouter?
They generally begin such affairs with eating and drinking, I
There was a fearful dismay in this suggestion of my excited
imagination, and if I had allowed myself time to dwell upon it, I
should no doubt have cut there and then, rushed back to my
chamber, and bolted myself in; but whenever a danger or a horror
is veiled with uncertainty, the primary wish of the mind is to
ascertain first the naked truth, reserving the expedient of
flight for the moment when its dread anticipation shall be
realized. I turned the door-handle, and in an instant had
crossed the fatal threshold, closed the door behind me, and stood
in the presence of Madame Pelet.
Gracious heavens! The first view of her seemed to confirm my
worst apprehensions. There she sat, dressed out in a light green
muslin gown, on her head a lace cap with flourishing red roses in
the frill; her table was carefully spread; there were fruit,
cakes, and coffee, with a bottle of something--I did not know
what. Already the cold sweat started on my brow, already I
glanced back over my shoulder at the closed door, when, to my
unspeakable relief, my eye, wandering mildly in the direction of
the stove, rested upon a second figure, seated in a large
fauteuil beside it. This was a woman, too, and, moreover, an old
woman, and as fat and as rubicund as Madame Pelet was meagre and
yellow; her attire was likewise very fine, and spring flowers of
different hues circled in a bright wreath the crown of her
violet-coloured velvet bonnet.
I had only time to make these general observations when Madame
Pelet, coming forward with what she intended should be a graceful
and elastic step, thus accosted me:-
"Monsieur is indeed most obliging to quit his books, his studies,
at the request of an insignificant person like me--will Monsieur
complete his kindness by allowing me to present him to my dear
friend Madame Reuter, who resides in the neighbouring house--the
young ladies' school."
"Ah!" thought I, "I knew she was old," and I bowed and took my
seat. Madame Reuter placed herself at the table opposite to me.
"How do you like Belgium, Monsieur?" asked she, in an accent of
the broadest Bruxellois. I could now well distinguish the
difference between the fine and pure Parisian utterance of M.
Pelet, for instance, and the guttural enunciation of the
Flamands. I answered politely, and then wondered how so coarse
and clumsy an old woman as the one before me should be at the
head of a ladies' seminary, which I had always heard spoken of in
terms of high commendation. In truth there was something to
wonder at. Madame Reuter looked more like a joyous, free-living
old Flemish fermiere, or even a maitresse d'auberge, than a
staid, grave, rigid directrice de pensionnat. In general the
continental, or at least the Belgian old women permit themselves
a licence of manners, speech, and aspect, such as our venerable
granddames would recoil from as absolutely disreputable, and
Madame Reuter's jolly face bore evidence that she was no
exception to the rule of her country; there was a twinkle and
leer in her left eye; her right she kept habitually half shut,
which I thought very odd indeed. After several vain attempts to
comprehend the motives of these two droll old creatures for
inviting me to join them at their gouter, I at last fairly gave
it up, and resigning myself to inevitable mystification, I sat
and looked first at one, then at the other, taking care meantime
to do justice to the confitures, cakes, and coffee, with which
they amply supplied me. They, too, ate, and that with no
delicate appetite, and having demolished a large portion of the
solids, they proposed a "petit verre." I declined. Not so
Mesdames Pelet and Reuter; each mixed herself what I thought
rather a stiff tumbler of punch, and placing it on a stand near
the stove, they drew up their chairs to that convenience, and
invited me to do the same. I obeyed; and being seated fairly
between them, I was thus addressed first by Madame Pelet, then by
"We will now speak of business," said Madame Pelet, and she went
on to make an elaborate speech, which, being interpreted, was to
the effect that she had asked for the pleasure of my company that
evening in order to give her friend Madame Reuter an opportunity
of broaching an important proposal, which might turn out greatly
to my advantage.
"Pourvu que vous soyez sage," said Madame Reuter, "et a vrai
dire, vous en avez bien l'air. Take one drop of the punch" (or
ponche, as she pronounced it); "it is an agreeable and wholesome
beverage after a full meal."
I bowed, but again declined it. She went on:-
"I feel," said she, after a solemn sip--"I feel profoundly the
importance of the commission with which my dear daughter has
entrusted me, for you are aware, Monsieur, that it is my daughter
who directs the establishment in the next house?"
"Ah! I thought it was yourself, madame." Though, indeed, at that
moment I recollected that it was called Mademoiselle, not Madame
"I! Oh, no! I manage the house and look after the servants, as
my friend Madame Pelet does for Monsieur her son--nothing more.
Ah! you thought I gave lessons in class--did you?"
And she laughed loud and long, as though the idea tickled her
"Madame is in the wrong to laugh," I observed; "if she does not
give lessons, I am sure it is not because she cannot;" and I
whipped out a white pocket-handkerchief and wafted it, with a
French grace, past my nose, bowing at the name time.
"Quel charmant jeune homme!" murmured Madame Pelet in a low
voice. Madame Reuter, being less sentimental, as she was Flamand
and not French, only laughed again.
"You are a dangerous person, I fear," said she; "if you can forge
compliments at that rate, Zoraide will positively be afraid of
you; but if you are good, I will keep your secret, and not tell
her how well you can flatter. Now, listen what sort of a
proposal she makes to you. She has heard that you are an
excellent professor, and as she wishes to get the very beet
masters for her school (car Zoraide fait tout comme une reine,
c'est une veritable maitresse-femme), she has commissioned me to
step over this afternoon, and sound Madame Pelet as to the
possibility of engaging you. Zoraide is a wary general; she never
advances without first examining well her ground I don't think
she would be pleased if she knew I had already disclosed her
intentions to you; she did not order me to go so far, but I
thought there would be no harm in letting you into the secret,
and Madame Pelet was of the same opinion. Take care, however,
you don't betray either of us to Zoraide--to my daughter, I mean;
she is so discreet and circumspect herself, she cannot understand
that one should find a pleasure in gossiping a little--"
"C'est absolument comme mon fils!" cried Madame Pelet.
"All the world is so changed since our girlhood!" rejoined the
other: "young people have such old heads now. But to return,
Monsieur. Madame Pelet will mention the subject of your giving
lessons in my daughter's establishment to her son, and he will
speak to you; and then to-morrow, you will step over to our
house, and ask to see my daughter, and you will introduce the
subject as if the first intimation of it had reached you from M.
Pelet himself, and be sure you never mention my name, for I would
not displease Zoraide on any account.
"Bien! bien!" interrupted I--for all this chatter and
circumlocution began to bore me very much; "I will consult M.
Pelet, and the thing shall be settled as you desire. Good
evening, mesdames--I am infinitely obliged to you."
"Comment! vous vous en allez deja?" exclaimed Madame Pelet.
"Prenez encore quelquechose, monsieur; une pomme cuite, des
biscuits, encore une tasse de cafe?"
"Merci, merci, madame--au revoir." And I backed at last out of
Having regained my own room, I set myself to turn over in my mind
the incident of the evening. It seemed a queer affair
altogether, and queerly managed; the two old women had made quite
a little intricate mess of it; still I found that the uppermost
feeling in my mind on the subject was one of satisfaction. In
the first place it would be a change to give lessons in another
seminary, and then to teach young ladies would be an occupation
so interesting--to be admitted at all into a ladies'
boarding-school would be an incident so new in my life. Besides,
thought I, as I glanced at the boarded window, "I shall now at
last see the mysterious garden: I shall gaze both on the angels
and their Eden."
M. PELET could not of course object to the proposal made by
Mdlle. Reuter; permission to accept such additional employment,
should it offer, having formed an article of the terms on which
he had engaged me. It was, therefore, arranged in the course of
next day that I should be at liberty to give lessons in Mdlle.
Reuter's establishment four afternoons in every week.
When evening came I prepared to step over in order to seek a
conference with Mademoiselle herself on the subject; I had not
had time to pay the visit before, having been all day closely
occupied in class. I remember very well that before quitting my
chamber, I held a brief debate with myself as to whether I should
change my ordinary attire for something smarter. At last I
concluded it would be a waste of labour. "Doubtless," thought I,
"she is some stiff old maid; for though the daughter of Madame
Reuter, she may well number upwards of forty winters; besides, if
it were otherwise, if she be both young and pretty, I am not
handsome, and no dressing can make me so, therefore I'll go as I
am." And off I started, cursorily glancing sideways as I passed
the toilet-table, surmounted by a looking-glass: a thin
irregular face I saw, with sunk, dark eyes under a large, square
forehead, complexion destitute of bloom or attraction; something
young, but not youthful, no object to win a lady's love, no butt
for the shafts of Cupid.
I was soon at the entrance of the pensionnat, in a moment I had
pulled the bell; in another moment the door was opened, and
within appeared a passage paved alternately with black and white
marble; the walls were painted in imitation of marble also; and
at the far end opened a glass door, through which I saw shrubs
and a grass-plat, looking pleasant in the sunshine of the mild
spring evening-for it was now the middle of April.
This, then, was my first glimpse of the garden; but I had not
time to look long, the portress, after having answered in the
affirmative my question as to whether her mistress was at home,
opened the folding-doors of a room to the left, and having
ushered me in, closed them behind me. I found myself in a salon
with a very well-painted, highly varnished floor; chairs and
sofas covered with white draperies, a green porcelain stove,
walls hung with pictures in gilt frames, a gilt pendule and other
ornaments on the mantelpiece, a large lustre pendent from the
centre of the ceiling, mirrors, consoles, muslin curtains, and a
handsome centre table completed the inventory of furniture. All
looked extremely clean and glittering, but the general effect
would have been somewhat chilling had not a second large pair of
folding-doors, standing wide open, and disclosing another and
smaller salon, more snugly furnished, offered some relief to the
eye. This room was carpeted, and therein was a piano, a couch,
a chiffonniere--above all, it contained a lofty window with a
crimson curtain, which, being undrawn, afforded another glimpse
of the garden, through the large, clear panes, round which some
leaves of ivy, some tendrils of vine were trained
"Monsieur Creemsvort, n'est ce pas?" said a voice behind me; and,
starting involuntarily, I turned. I had been so taken up with
the contemplation of the pretty little salon that I had not
noticed the entrance of a person into the larger room. It was,
however, Mdlle. Reuter who now addressed me, and stood close
beside me; and when I had bowed with instantaneously recovered
sang-froid--for I am not easily embarrassed--I commenced the
conversation by remarking on the pleasant aspect of her little
cabinet, and the advantage she had over M. Pelet in possessing a
"Yes," she said, "she often thought so;" and added, "it is my
garden, monsieur, which makes me retain this house, otherwise I
should probably have removed to larger and more commodious
premises long since; but you see I could not take my garden with
me, and I should scarcely find one so large and pleasant anywhere
else in town."
I approved her judgment.
"But you have not seen it yet," said she, rising; "come to the
window and take a better view." I followed her; she opened the
sash, and leaning out I saw in full the enclosed demesne which
had hitherto been to me an unknown region. It was a long, not
very broad strip of cultured ground, with an alley bordered by
enormous old fruit trees down the middle; there was a sort of
lawn, a parterre of rose-trees, some flower-borders, and, on the
far side, a thickly planted copse of lilacs, laburnums, and
acacias. It looked pleasant, to me--very pleasant, so long a
time had elapsed since I had seen a garden of any sort. But it
was not only on Mdlle. Reuter's garden that my eyes dwelt; when
I had taken a view of her well-trimmed beds and budding
shrubberies, I allowed my glance to come back to herself, nor did
I hastily withdraw it.
I had thought to see a tall, meagre, yellow, conventual image in
black, with a close white cap, bandaged under the chin like a
nun's head-gear; whereas, there stood by me a little and roundly
formed woman, who might indeed be older than I, but was still
young; she could not, I thought, be more than six or seven and
twenty; she was as fair as a fair Englishwoman; she had no cap;
her hair was nut-brown, and she wore it in curls; pretty her
features were not, nor very soft, nor very regular, but neither
were they in any degree plain, and I already saw cause to deem
them expressive. What was their predominant cast? Was it
sagacity?--sense? Yes, I thought so; but I could scarcely as yet
be sure. I discovered, however, that there was a certain
serenity of eye, and freshness of complexion, most pleasing to
behold. The colour on her cheek was like the bloom on a good
apple, which is as sound at the core as it is red on the rind.
Mdlle. Reuter and I entered upon business. She said she was not
absolutely certain of the wisdom of the step she was about to
take, because I was so young, and parents might possibly object
to a professor like me for their daughters: "But it is often
well to act on one's own judgment," said she, "and to lead
parents, rather than be led by them. The fitness of a professor
is not a matter of age; and, from what I have heard, and from
what I observe myself, I would much rather trust you than M.
Ledru, the music-master, who is a married man of near fifty."
I remarked that I hoped she would find me worthy of her good
opinion; that if I knew myself, I was incapable of betraying any
confidence reposed in me. "Du reste," said she, "the
surveillance will be strictly attended to." And then she
proceeded to discuss the subject of terms. She was very cautious,
quite on her guard; she did not absolutely bargain, but she
warily sounded me to find out what my expectations might be; and
when she could not get me to name a sum, she reasoned and
reasoned with a fluent yet quiet circumlocution of speech, and at
last nailed me down to five hundred francs per annum--not too
much, but I agreed. Before the negotiation was completed, it
began to grow a little dusk. I did not hasten it, for I liked
well enough to sit and hear her talk; I was amused with the sort
of business talent she displayed. Edward could not have shown
himself more practical, though he might have evinced more
coarseness and urgency; and then she had so many reasons, so many
explanations; and, after all, she succeeded in proving herself
quite disinterested and even liberal. At last she concluded, she
could say no more, because, as I acquiesced in all things, there
was no further ground for the exercise of her parts of speech. I
was obliged to rise. I would rather have sat a little longer;
what had I to return to but my small empty room? And my eyes had
a pleasure in looking at Mdlle. Reuter, especially now, when the
twilight softened her features a little, and, in the doubtful
dusk, I could fancy her forehead as open as it was really
elevated, her mouth touched with turns of sweetness as well as
defined in lines of sense. When I rose to go, I held out my hand,
on purpose, though I knew it was contrary to the etiquette of
foreign habits; she smiled, and said--
"Ah! c'est comme tous les Anglais," but gave me her hand very
"It is the privilege of my country, Mademoiselle," said I; "and,
remember, I shall always claim it."
She laughed a little, quite good-naturedly, and with the sort of
tranquillity obvious in all she did--a tranquillity which soothed
and suited me singularly, at least I thought so that evening.
Brussels seemed a very pleasant place to me when I got out again
into the street, and it appeared as if some cheerful, eventful,
upward-tending career were even then opening to me, on that
selfsame mild, still April night. So impressionable a being is
man, or at least such a man as I was in those days.
NEXT day the morning hours seemed to pass very slowly at M.
Pelet's; I wanted the afternoon to come that I might go again to
the neighbouring pensionnat and give my first lesson within its
pleasant precincts; for pleasant they appeared to me. At noon
the hour of recreation arrived; at one o'clock we had lunch; this
got on the time, and at last St. Gudule's deep bell, tolling
slowly two, marked the moment for which I had been waiting.
At the foot of the narrow back-stairs that descended from my
room, I met M. Pelet.
"Comme vous avez l'air rayonnant!" said he. "Je ne vous ai
jamais vu aussi gai. Que s'est-il donc passe?"
"Apparemment que j'aime les changements," replied I.
"Ah! je comprends--c'est cela-soyez sage seulement. Vous etes
bien jeune--trop jeune pour le role que vous allez jouer; il faut
"Mais quel danger y a-t-il?"
"Je n'en sais rien--ne vous laissez pas aller a de vives
I laughed: a sentiment of exquisite pleasure played over my
nerves at the thought that "vives impressions" were likely to be
created; it was the deadness, the sameness of life's daily
ongoings that had hitherto been my bane; my blouse-clad "eleves"
in the boys' seminary never stirred in me any "vives impressions"
except it might be occasionally some of anger. I broke from M.
Pelet, and as I strode down the passage he followed me with one
of his laughs--a very French, rakish, mocking sound.
Again I stood at the neighbouring door, and soon was re-admitted
into the cheerful passage with its clear dove-colour imitation
marble walls. I followed the portress, and descending a step,
and making a turn, I found myself in a sort of corridor; a
side-door opened, Mdlle. Reuter's little figure, as graceful as
it was plump, appeared. I could now see her dress in full
daylight; a neat, simple mousseline-laine gown fitted her compact
round shape to perfection--delicate little collar and manchettes
of lace, trim Parisian brodequins showed her neck, wrists, and
feet, to complete advantage; but how grave was her face as she
came suddenly upon me! Solicitude and business were in her eye
--on her forehead; she looked almost stern. Her "Bon jour,
monsieur," was quite polite, but so orderly, so commonplace, it
spread directly a cool, damp towel over my "vives impressions."
The servant turned back when her mistress appeared, and I walked
slowly along the corridor, side by side with Mdlle. Reuter.
"Monsieur will give a lesson in the first class to-day," said
she; "dictation or reading will perhaps be the best thing to
begin with, for those are the easiest forms of communicating
instruction in a foreign language; and, at the first, a master
naturally feels a little unsettled."
She was quite right, as I had found from experience; it only
remained for me to acquiesce. We proceeded now in silence. The
corridor terminated in a hall, large, lofty, and square; a glass
door on one side showed within a long narrow refectory, with
tables, an armoire, and two lamps; it was empty; large glass
doors, in front, opened on the playground and garden; a broad
staircase ascended spirally on the opposite side; the remaining
wall showed a pair of great folding-doors, now closed, and
admitting: doubtless, to the classes.
Mdlle. Reuter turned her eye laterally on me, to ascertain,
probably, whether I was collected enough to be ushered into her
sanctum sanctorum. I suppose she judged me to be in a tolerable
state of self-government, for she opened the door, and I followed
her through. A rustling sound of uprising greeted our entrance;
without looking to the right or left, I walked straight up the
lane between two sets of benches and desks, and took possession
of the empty chair and isolated desk raised on an estrade, of one
step high, so as to command one division; the other division
being under the surveillance of a maitresse similarly elevated.
At the back of the estrade, and attached to a moveable partition
dividing this schoolroom from another beyond, was a large tableau
of wood painted black and varnished; a thick crayon of white
chalk lay on my desk for the convenience of elucidating any
grammatical or verbal obscurity which might occur in my lessons
by writing it upon the tableau; a wet sponge appeared beside the
chalk, to enable me to efface the marks when they had served the
I carefully and deliberately made these observations before
allowing myself to take one glance at the benches before me;
having handled the crayon, looked back at the tableau, fingered
the sponge in order to ascertain that it was in a right state of
moisture, I found myself cool enough to admit of looking calmly
up and gazing deliberately round me.
And first I observed that Mdlle. Reuter had already glided away,
she was nowhere visible; a maitresse or teacher, the one who
occupied the corresponding estrade to my own, alone remained to
keep guard over me; she was a little in the shade, and, with my
short sight, I could only see that she was of a thin bony figure
and rather tallowy complexion, and that her attitude, as she sat,
partook equally of listlessness and affectation. More obvious,
more prominent, shone on by the full light of the large window,
were the occupants of the benches just before me, of whom some
were girls of fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, some young women from
eighteen (as it appeared to me) up to twenty; the most modest
attire, the simplest fashion of wearing the hair, were apparent
in all; and good features, ruddy, blooming complexions, large and
brilliant eyes, forms full, even to solidity, seemed to abound.
I did not bear the first view like a stoic; I was dazzled, my
eyes fell, and in a voice somewhat too low I murmured--
"Prenez vos cahiers de dictee, mesdemoiselles."
Not so had I bid the boys at Pelet's take their reading-books. A
rustle followed, and an opening of desks; behind the lifted lids
which momentarily screened the heads bent down to search for
exercise-books, I heard tittering and whispers.
"Eulalie, je suis prete a pamer de rire," observed one.
"Comme il a rougi en parlant!"
"Oui, c'est un veritable blanc-bec."
"Tais-toi, Hortense--il nous ecoute."
And now the lids sank and the heads reappeared; I had marked
three, the whisperers, and I did not scruple to take a very
steady look at them as they emerged from their temporary eclipse.
It is astonishing what ease and courage their little phrases of
flippancy had given me; the idea by which I had been awed was
that the youthful beings before me, with their dark nun-like
robes and softly braided hair, were a kind of half-angels. The
light titter, the giddy whisper, had already in some measure
relieved my mind of that fond and oppressive fancy.
The three I allude to were just in front, within half a yard of
my estrade, and were among the most womanly-looking present.
Their names I knew afterwards, and may as well mention now; they
were Eulalie, Hortense, Caroline. Eulalie was tall, and very
finely shaped: she was fair, and her features were those of a
Low Country Madonna; many a "figure de Vierge" have I seen in
Dutch pictures exactly resembling hers; there were no angles in
her shape or in her face, all was curve and roundness--neither
thought, sentiment, nor passion disturbed by line or flush the
equality of her pale, clear skin; her noble bust heaved with her
regular breathing, her eyes moved a little--by these evidences of
life alone could I have distinguished her from some large
handsome figure moulded in wax. Hortense was of middle size and
stout, her form was ungraceful, her face striking, more alive and
brilliant than Eulalie's, her hair was dark brown, her complexion
richly coloured; there were frolic and mischief in her eye:
consistency and good sense she might possess, but none of her
features betokened those qualities.
Caroline was little, though evidently full grown; raven-black
hair, very dark eyes, absolutely regular features, with a
colourless olive complexion, clear as to the face and sallow
about the neck, formed in her that assemblage of points whose
union many persons regard as the perfection of beauty. How, with
the tintless pallor of her skin and the classic straightness of
her lineaments, she managed to look sensual, I don't know. I
think her lips and eyes contrived the affair between them, and
the result left no uncertainty on the beholder's mind. She was
sensual now, and in ten years' time she would be coarse--promise
plain was written in her face of much future folly.
If I looked at these girls with little scruple, they looked at me
with still less. Eulalie raised her unmoved eye to mine, and
seemed to expect, passively but securely, an impromptu tribute to
her majestic charms. Hortense regarded me boldly, and giggled at
the same time, while she said, with an air of impudent freedom--
"Dictez-nous quelquechose de facile pour commencer, monsieur."
Caroline shook her loose ringlets of abundant but somewhat coarse
hair over her rolling black eyes; parting her lips, as full as
those of a hot-blooded Maroon, she showed her well-set teeth
sparkling between them, and treated me at the same time to a
smile "de sa facon." Beautiful as Pauline Borghese, she looked at
the moment scarcely purer than Lucrece de Borgia. Caroline was
of noble family. I heard her lady-mother's character afterwards,
and then I ceased to wonder at the precocious accomplishments of
the daughter. These three, I at once saw, deemed themselves the
queens of the school, and conceived that by their splendour they
threw all the rest into the shade. In less than five minutes
they had thus revealed to me their characters, and in less than
five minutes I had buckled on a breast-plate of steely
indifference, and let down a visor of impassible austerity.
"Take your pens and commence writing," said I, in as dry and
trite a voice as if I had been addressing only Jules Vanderkelkov
The dictee now commenced. My three belles interrupted me
perpetually with little silly questions and uncalled-for remarks,
to some of which I made no answer, and to others replied very
quietly and briefly. "Comment dit-on point et virgule en Anglais,
"Semi-collong? Ah, comme c'est drole!" (giggle.)
"J'ai une si mauvaise plume--impossible d'ecrire!"
"Mais, monsieur--je ne sais pas suivre--vous allez si vite."
"Je n'ai rien compris, moi!"
Here a general murmur arose, and the teacher, opening her lips
for the first time, ejaculated--
No silence followed--on the contrary, the three ladies in front
began to talk more loudly.
"C'est si difficile, l'Anglais!"
"Je deteste la dictee."
"Quel ennui d'ecrire quelquechose que l'on ne comprend pas!"
Some of those behind laughed: a degree of confusion began to
pervade the class; it was necessary to take prompt measures.
"Donnez-moi votre cahier," said I to Eulalie in an abrupt tone;
and bending over, I took it before she had time to give it.
"Et vous, mademoiselle-donnez-moi le votre," continued I, more
mildly, addressing a little pale, plain looking girl who sat in
the first row of the other division, and whom I had remarked as
being at once the ugliest and the most attentive in the room; she
rose up, walked over to me, and delivered her book with a grave,
modest curtsey. I glanced over the two dictations; Eulalie's was
slurred, blotted, and full of silly mistakes--Sylvie's (such was
the name of the ugly little girl) was clearly written, it
contained no error against sense, and but few faults of
orthography. I coolly read aloud both exercises, marking the
faults--then I looked at Eulalie:
"C'est honteux!" said I, and I deliberately tore her dictation
in four parts, and presented her with the fragments. I returned
Sylvie her book with a smile, saying--
"C'est bien--je suis content de vous."
Sylvie looked calmly pleased, Eulalie swelled like an incensed
turkey, but the mutiny was quelled: the conceited coquetry and
futile flirtation of the first bench were exchanged for a
taciturn sullenness, much more convenient to me, and the rest of
my lesson passed without interruption.
A bell clanging out in the yard announced the moment for the
cessation of school labours. I heard our own bell at the same
time, and that of a certain public college immediately after.
Order dissolved instantly; up started every pupil, I hastened to
seize my hat, bow to the maitresse, and quit the room before the
tide of externats should pour from the inner class, where I knew
near a hundred were prisoned, and whose rising tumult I already
I had scarcely crossed the hall and gained the corridor, when
Mdlle. Reuter came again upon me.
"Step in here a moment," said she, and she held open the door of
the side room from whence she had issued on my arrival; it was a
SALLE-A-MANGER, as appeared from the beaufet and the armoire
vitree, filled with glass and china, which formed part of its
furniture. Ere she had closed the door on me and herself, the
corridor was already filled with day-pupils, tearing down their
cloaks, bonnets, and cabas from the wooden pegs on which they
were suspended; the shrill voice of a maitresse was heard at
intervals vainly endeavouring to enforce some sort of order;
vainly, I say: discipline there was none in these rough ranks,
and yet this was considered one of the best-conducted schools in
"Well, you have given your first lesson," began Mdlle. Reuter in
the most calm, equable voice, as though quite unconscious of the
chaos from which we were separated only by a single wall.
"Were you satisfied with your pupils, or did any circumstance in
their conduct give you cause for complaint? Conceal nothing from
me, repose in me entire confidence."
Happily, I felt in myself complete power to manage my pupils
without aid; the enchantment, the golden haze which had dazzled
my perspicuity at first, had been a good deal dissipated. I
cannot say I was chagrined or downcast by the contrast which the
reality of a pensionnat de demoiselles presented to my vague
ideal of the same community; I was only enlightened and amused;
consequently, I felt in no disposition to complain to Mdlle.
Reuter, and I received her considerate invitation to confidence
with a smile.
"A thousand thanks, mademoiselle, all has gone very smoothly."
She looked more than doubtful.
"Et les trois demoiselles du premier banc?" said she.
"Ah! tout va au mieux!" was my answer, and Mdlle. Reuter ceased
to question me; but her eye--not large, not brilliant, not
melting, or kindling, but astute, penetrating, practical, showed
she was even with me; it let out a momentary gleam, which said
plainly, "Be as close as you like, I am not dependent on your
candour; what you would conceal I already know."
By a transition so quiet as to be scarcely perceptible, the
directress's manner changed; the anxious business-air passed from
her face, and she began chatting about the weather and the town,
and asking in neighbourly wise after M. and Madame Pelet. I
answered all her little questions; she prolonged her talk, I went
on following its many little windings; she sat so long, said so
much, varied so often the topics of discourse, that it was not
difficult to perceive she had a particular aim in thus detaining
me. Her mere words could have afforded no clue to this aim, but
her countenance aided; while her lips uttered only affable
commonplaces, her eyes reverted continually to my face. Her
glances were not given in full, but out of the corners, so
quietly, so stealthily, yet I think I lost not one. I watched
her as keenly as she watched me; I perceived soon that she was
feeling after my real character; she was searching for salient
points, and weak; points, and eccentric points; she was applying
now this test, now that, hoping in the end to find some chink,
some niche, where she could put in her little firm foot and stand
upon my neck--mistress of my nature, Do not mistake me, reader,
it was no amorous influence she wished to gain--at that time it
was only the power of the politician to which she aspired; I was
now installed as a professor in her establishment, and she wanted
to know where her mind was superior to mine--by what feeling or
opinion she could lead me.
I enjoyed the game much, and did not hasten its conclusion;
sometimes I gave her hopes, beginning a sentence rather weakly,
when her shrewd eye would light up--she thought she had me;
having led her a little way, I delighted to turn round and finish
with sound, hard sense, whereat her countenance would fall. At
last a servant entered to announce dinner; the conflict being
thus necessarily terminated, we parted without having gained any
advantage on either side: Mdlle. Reuter had not even given me an
opportunity of attacking her with feeling, and I had managed to
baffle her little schemes of craft. It was a regular drawn
battle. I again held out my hand when I left the room, she gave
me hers; it was a small and white hand, but how cool! I met her
eye too in full--obliging her to give me a straightforward look;
this last test went against me: it left her as it found her
--moderate, temperate, tranquil; me it disappointed.
"I am growing wiser," thought I, as I walked back to M. Pelet's.
"Look at this little woman; is she like the women of novelists
and romancers? To read of female character as depicted in Poetry
and Fiction, one would think it was made up of sentiment, either
for good or bad--here is a specimen, and a most sensible and
respectable specimen, too, whose staple ingredient is abstract
reason. No Talleyrand was ever more passionless than Zoraide
Reuter!" So I thought then; I found afterwards that blunt
susceptibilities are very consistent with strong propensities.
I HAD indeed had a very long talk with the crafty little
politician, and on regaining my quarters, I found that dinner was
half over. To be late at meals was against a standing rule of
the establishment, and had it been one of the Flemish ushers who
thus entered after the removal of the soup and the commencement
of the first course, M. Pelet would probably have greeted him
with a public rebuke, and would certainly have mulcted him both
of soup and fish; as it was, that polite though partial gentleman
only shook his head, and as I took my place, unrolled my napkin,
and said my heretical grace to myself, he civilly despatched a
servant to the kitchen, to bring me a plate of "puree aux
carottes" (for this was a maigre-day), and before sending away
the first course, reserved for me a portion of the stock-fish of
which it consisted. Dinner being over, the boys rushed out for
their evening play; Kint and Vandam (the two ushers) of course
followed them. Poor fellows! if they had not looked so very
heavy, so very soulless, so very indifferent to all things in
heaven above or in the earth beneath, I could have pitied them
greatly for the obligation they were under to trail after those
rough lads everywhere and at all times; even as it was, I felt
disposed to scout myself as a privileged prig when I turned to
ascend to my chamber, sure to find there, if not enjoyment, at
least liberty; but this evening (as had often happened before) I
was to be still farther distinguished.
"Eh bien, mauvais sujet!" said the voice of M. Pelet behind me,
as I set my foot on the first step of the stair, "ou allez-vous?
Venez a la salle-a-manger, que je vous gronde un peu."
"I beg pardon, monsieur," said I, as I followed him to his
private sitting-room, "for having returned so late--it was not
"That is just what I want to know," rejoined M. Pelet, as he
ushered me into the comfortable parlour with a good wood-fire
--for the stove had now been removed for the season. Having rung
the bell he ordered "Coffee for two," and presently he and I
were seated, almost in English comfort, one on each side of the
hearth, a little round table between us, with a coffee-pot, a
sugar-basin, and two large white china cups. While M. Pelet
employed himself in choosing a cigar from a box, my thoughts
reverted to the two outcast ushers, whose voices I could hear
even now crying hoarsely for order in the playground.
"C'est une grande responsabilite, que la surveillance," observed
"Plait-il?" dit M. Pelet.
I remarked that I thought Messieurs Vandam and Kint must
sometimes be a little fatigued with their labours.
"Des betes de somme,--des betes de somme," murmured scornfully
the director. Meantime I offered him his cup of coffee.
"Servez-vous mon garcon," said he blandly, when I had put a
couple of huge lumps of continental sugar into his cup. "And now
tell me why you stayed so long at Mdlle. Reuter's. I know that
lessons conclude, in her establishment as in mine, at four
o'clock, and when you returned it was past five."
"Mdlle. wished to speak with me, monsieur."
"Indeed! on what subject? if one may ask."
"Mademoiselle talked about nothing, monsieur."
"A fertile topic! and did she discourse thereon in the
schoolroom, before the pupils?"
"No; like you, monsieur, she asked me to walk into her parlour."
"And Madame Reuter--the old duenna--my mother's gossip, was
there, of course?"
"No, monsieur; I had the honour of being quite alone with
"C'est joli--cela," observed M. Pelet, and he smiled and looked
into the fire.
"Honi soit qui mal y pense," murmured I, significantly.
"Je connais un peu ma petite voisine--voyez-vous."
"In that case, monsieur will be able to aid me in finding out
what was mademoiselle's reason for making me sit before her sofa
one mortal hour, listening to the most copious and fluent
dissertation on the merest frivolities."
"She was sounding your character."
"I thought so, monsieur."
"Did she find out your weak point?"
"What is my weak point?"
"Why, the sentimental. Any woman sinking her shaft deep enough,
will at last reach a fathomless spring of sensibility in thy
I felt the blood stir about my heart and rise warm to my cheek.
"Some women might, monsieur."
"Is Mdlle. Reuter of the number? Come, speak frankly, mon fils;
elle est encore jeune, plus agee que toi peut-etre, mais juste
asset pour unir la tendresse d'une petite maman a l'amour d'une
epouse devouee; n'est-ce pas que cela t'irait superieurement?"
"No, monsieur; I should like my wife to be my wife, and not half
"She is then a little too old for you?"
"No, monsieur, not a day too old if she suited me in other
"In what does she not suit you, William? She is personally
agreeable, is she not?"
"Very; her hair and complexion are just what I admire; and her
turn of form, though quite Belgian, is full of grace."
"Bravo! and her face? her features? How do you like them?"
"A little harsh, especially her mouth."
"Ah, yes! her mouth," said M. Pelet, and he chuckled inwardly.
"There is character about her mouth--firmness--but she has a very
pleasant smile; don't you think so?"
"True, but that expression of craft is owing to her eyebrows;
have you remarked her eyebrows?"
I answered that I had not.
"You have not seen her looking down then?" said he.
"It is a treat, notwithstanding. Observe her when she has some
knitting, or some other woman's work in hand, and sits the image
of peace, calmly intent on her needles and her silk, some
discussion meantime going on around her, in the course of which
peculiarities of character are being developed, or important
interests canvassed; she takes no part in it; her humble,
feminine mind is wholly with her knitting; none of her features
move; she neither presumes to smile approval, nor frown
disapprobation; her little hands assiduously ply their
unpretending task; if she can only get this purse finished, or
this bonnet-grec completed, it is enough for her. If gentlemen
approach her chair, a deeper quiescence, a meeker modesty settles
on her features, and clothes her general mien; observe then her
eyebrows, et dites-moi s'il n'y a pas du chat dans l'un et du
renard dans l'autre."
"I will take careful notice the first opportunity," said I.
"And then," continued M. Pelet, "the eyelid will flicker, the
light-coloured lashes be lifted a second, and a blue eye,
glancing out from under the screen, will take its brief, sly,
searching survey, and retreat again."
I smiled, and so did Pelet, and after a few minutes' silence, I
"Will she ever marry, do you think?"
"Marry! Will birds pair? Of course it is both her intention and
resolution to marry when she finds a suitable match, and no one
is better aware than herself of the sort of impression she is
capable of producing; no one likes better to captivate in a quiet
way. I am mistaken if she will not yet leave the print of her
stealing steps on thy heart, Crimsworth."
"Of her steps? Confound it, no! My heart is not a plank to be
"But the soft touch of a patte de velours will do it no harm."
"She offers me no patte de velours; she is all form and reserve
"That to begin with; let respect be the foundation, affection the
first floor, love the superstructure; Mdlle. Reuter is a skilful
"And interest, M. Pelet--interest. Will not mademoiselle
consider that point ?"
"Yes, yes, no doubt; it will be the cement between every stone.
And now we have discussed the directress, what of the pupils?
N'y-a-t-il pas de belles etudes parmi ces jeunes tetes?"
"Studies of character? Yes; curious ones, at least, I imagine;
but one cannot divine much from a first interview."
"Ah, you affect discretion; but tell me now, were you not a
little abashed before these blooming young creatures?
"At first, yes; but I rallied and got through with all due
"I don't believe you."
"It is true, notwithstanding. At first I thought them angels,
but they did not leave me long under that delusion; three of the
eldest and handsomest undertook the task of setting me right, and
they managed so cleverly that in five minutes I knew them, at
least, for what they were--three arrant coquettes."
"Je les connais!" exclaimed M. Pelet. "Elles sont toujours au
premier rang a l'eglise et a la promenade; une blonde superbe,
une jolie espiegle, une belle brune."
"Lovely creatures all of them--heads for artists; what a group
they would make, taken together! Eulalie (I know their names),
with her smooth braided hair and calm ivory brow. Hortense, with
her rich chesnut locks so luxuriantly knotted, plaited, twisted,
as if she did not know how to dispose of all their abundance,
with her vermilion lips, damask cheek, and roguish laughing eye.
And Caroline de Blemont! Ah, there is beauty! beauty in
perfection. What a cloud of sable curls about the face of a
houri! What fascinating lips! What glorious black eyes! Your
Byron would have worshipped her, and you--you cold, frigid
islander!--you played the austere, the insensible in the presence
of an Aphrodite so exquisite?"
I might have laughed at the director's enthusiasm had I believed
it real, but there was something in his tone which indicated
got-up raptures. I felt he was only affecting fervour in order
to put me off my guard, to induce me to come out in return, so I
scarcely even smiled. He went on:-
"Confess, William, do not the mere good looks of Zoraide Reuter
appear dowdyish and commonplace compared with the splendid charms
of some of her pupils?"
The question discomposed me, but I now felt plainly that my
principal was endeavouring (for reasons best known to himself--at
that time I could not fathom them) to excite ideas and wishes in
my mind alien to what was right and honourable. The iniquity of
the instigation proved its antidote, and when he further added:--
"Each of those three beautiful girls will have a handsome
fortune; and with a little address, a gentlemanlike, intelligent
young fellow like you might make himself master of the hand,
heart, and purse of any one of the trio."
I replied by a look and an interrogative "Monsieur?" which
He laughed a forced laugh, affirmed that he had only been joking,
and demanded whether I could possibly have thought him in
earnest. Just then the bell rang; the play-hour was over; it was
an evening on which M. Pelet was accustomed to read passages from
the drama and the belles lettres to his pupils. He did not wait
for my answer, but rising, left the room, humming as he went some
gay strain of Beranger's.
DAILY, as I continued my attendance at the seminary of Mdlle.
Reuter, did I find fresh occasions to compare the ideal with the
real. What had I known of female character previously to my
arrival at Brussels? Precious little. And what was my notion of
it? Something vague, slight, gauzy, glittering; now when I came
in contact with it I found it to be a palpable substance enough;
very hard too sometimes, and often heavy; there was metal in it,
both lead and iron.
Let the idealists, the dreamers about earthly angel and human
flowers, just look here while I open my portfolio and show them a
sketch or two, pencilled after nature. I took these sketches in
the second-class schoolroom of Mdlle. Reuter's establishment,
where about a hundred specimens of the genus "jeune fille"
collected together, offered a fertile variety of subject. A
miscellaneous assortment they were, differing both in caste and
country; as I sat on my estrade and glanced over the long range
of desks, I had under my eye French, English, Belgians,
Austrians, and Prussians. The majority belonged to the class
bourgeois; but there were many countesses, there were the
daughters of two generals and of several colonels, captains, and
government EMPLOYES; these ladies sat side by side with young
females destined to be demoiselles de magasins, and with some
Flamandes, genuine aborigines of the country. In dress all were
nearly similar, and in manners there was small difference;
exceptions there were to the general rule, but the majority gave
the tone to the establishment, and that tone was rough,
boisterous, masked by a point-blank disregard of all forbearance
towards each other or their teachers; an eager pursuit by each
individual of her own interest and convenience; and a coarse
indifference to the interest and convenience of every one else.
Most of them could lie with audacity when it appeared
advantageous to do so. All understood the art of speaking fair
when a point was to be gained, and could with consummate skill
and at a moment's notice turn the cold shoulder the instant
civility ceased to be profitable. Very little open quarrelling
ever took place amongst them; but backbiting and talebearing were
universal. Close friendships were forbidden by the rules of the
school, and no one girl seemed to cultivate more regard for
another than was just necessary to secure a companion when
solitude would have been irksome. They were each and all
supposed to have been reared in utter unconsciousness of vice.
The precautions used to keep them ignorant, if not innocent, were
innumerable. How was it, then, that scarcely one of those girls
having attained the age of fourteen could look a man in the face
with modesty and propriety? An air of bold, impudent flirtation,
or a loose, silly leer, was sure to answer the most ordinary
glance from a masculine eye. I know nothing of the arcana of the
Roman Catholic religion, and I am not a bigot in matters of
theology, but I suspect the root of this precocious impurity, so
obvious, so general in Popish countries, is to be found in the
discipline, if not the doctrines of the Church of Rome. I record
what I have seen: these girls belonged to what are called the
respectable ranks of society; they had all been carefully brought
up, yet was the mass of them mentally depraved. So much for the
general view: now for one or two selected specimens.
The first picture is a full length of Aurelia Koslow, a German
fraulein, or rather a half-breed between German and Russian. She
is eighteen years of age, and has been sent to Brussels to finish
her education; she is of middle size, stiffly made, body long,
legs short, bust much developed but not compactly moulded, waist
disproportionately compressed by an inhumanly braced corset,
dress carefully arranged, large feet tortured into small
bottines, head small, hair smoothed, braided, oiled, and gummed
to perfection; very low forehead, very diminutive and vindictive
grey eyes, somewhat Tartar features, rather flat nose, rather
high-cheek bones, yet the ensemble not positively ugly; tolerably
good complexion. So much for person. As to mind, deplorably
ignorant and ill-informed: incapable of writing or speaking
correctly even German, her native tongue, a dunce in French, and
her attempts at learning English a mere farce, yet she has been
at school twelve years; but as she invariably gets her exercises,
of every description, done by a fellow pupil, and reads her
lessons off a book; concealed in her lap, it is not wonderful
that her progress has been so snail-like. I do not know what
Aurelia's daily habits of life are, because I have not the
opportunity of observing her at all times; but from what I see of
the state of her desk, books, and papers, I should say she is
slovenly and even dirty; her outward dress, as I have said, is
well attended to, but in passing behind her bench, I have
remarked that her neck is gray for want of washing, and her hair,
so glossy with gum and grease, is not such as one feels tempted
to pass the hand over, much less to run the fingers through.
Aurelia's conduct in class, at least when I am present, is
something extraordinary, considered as an index of girlish
innocence. The moment I enter the room, she nudges her next
neighbour and indulges in a half-suppressed laugh. As I take my
seat on the estrade, she fixes her eye on me; she seems resolved
to attract, and, if possible, monopolize my notice: to this end
she launches at me all sorts of looks, languishing, provoking,
leering, laughing. As I am found quite proof against this sort
of artillery--for we scorn what, unasked, is lavishly offered
--she has recourse to the expedient of making noises; sometimes
she sighs, sometimes groans, sometimes utters inarticulate
sounds, for which language has no name. If, in walking up the
schoolroom, I pass near her, she puts out her foot that it may
touch mine; if I do not happen to observe the manoeuvre, and my
boot comes in contact with her brodequin, she affects to fall
into convulsions of suppressed laughter; if I notice the snare
and avoid it, she expresses her mortification in sullen
muttering, where I hear myself abused in bad French, pronounced
with an intolerable Low German accent.
Not far from Mdlle. Koslow sits another young lady by name Adele
Dronsart: this is a Belgian, rather low of stature, in form
heavy, with broad waist, short neck and limbs, good red and white
complexion, features well chiselled and regular, well-cut eyes of
a clear brown colour, light brown hair, good teeth, age not much
above fifteen, but as full-grown as a stout young Englishwoman of
twenty. This portrait gives the idea of a somewhat dumpy but
good-looking damsel, does it not? Well, when I looked along the
row of young heads, my eye generally stopped at this of Adele's;
her gaze was ever waiting for mine, and it frequently succeeded
in arresting it. She was an unnatural-looking being--so young,
fresh, blooming, yet so Gorgon-like. Suspicion, sullen
ill-temper were on her forehead, vicious propensities in her eye,
envy and panther-like deceit about her mouth. In general she sat
very still; her massive shape looked as if it could not bend
much, nor did her large head--so broad at the base, so narrow
towards the top--seem made to turn readily on her short neck.
She had but two varieties of expression; the prevalent one a
forbidding, dissatisfied scowl, varied sometimes by a most
pernicious and perfidious smile. She was shunned by her
fellow-pupils, for, bad as many of them were, few were as bad as
Aurelia and Adele were in the first division of the second class;
the second division was headed by a pensionnaire named Juanna
Trista. This girl was of mixed Belgian and Spanish origin; her
Flemish mother was dead, her Catalonian father was a merchant
residing in the ---- Isles, where Juanna had been born and whence
she was sent to Europe to be educated. I wonder that any one,
looking at that girl's head and countenance, would have received
her under their roof. She had precisely the same shape of skull
as Pope Alexander the Sixth; her organs of benevolence,
veneration, conscientiousness, adhesiveness, were singularly
small, those of self-esteem, firmness, destructiveness,
combativeness, preposterously large; her head sloped up in the
penthouse shape, was contracted about the forehead, and prominent
behind; she had rather good, though large and marked features;
her temperament was fibrous and bilious, her complexion pale and
dark, hair and eyes black, form angular and rigid but
proportionate, age fifteen.
Juanna was not very thin, but she had a gaunt visage, and her
"regard" was fierce and hungry; narrow as was her brow, it
presented space enough for the legible graving of two words,
Mutiny and Hate; in some one of her other lineaments I think the
eye--cowardice had also its distinct cipher. Mdlle. Trista
thought fit to trouble my first lessons with a coarse work-day
sort of turbulence; she made noises with her mouth like a horse,
she ejected her saliva, she uttered brutal expressions; behind
and below her were seated a band of very vulgar, inferior-looking
Flamandes, including two or three examples of that deformity of
person and imbecility of intellect whose frequency in the Low
Countries would seem to furnish proof that the climate is such as
to induce degeneracy of the human mind and body; these, I soon
found, were completely under her influence, and with their aid
she got up and sustained a swinish tumult, which I was
constrained at last to quell by ordering her and two of her tools
to rise from their seats, and, having kept them standing five
minutes, turning them bodily out of the schoolroom: the
accomplices into a large place adjoining called the grands salle;
the principal into a cabinet, of which I closed the door and
pocketed the key. This judgment I executed in the presence of
Mdlle. Reuter, who looked much aghast at beholding so decided a
proceeding--the most severe that had ever been ventured on in her
establishment. Her look of affright I answered with one of
composure, and finally with a smile, which perhaps flattered, and
certainly soothed her. Juanna Trista remained in Europe long
enough to repay, by malevolence and ingratitude, all who had ever
done her a good turn; and she then went to join her father in the
---- Isles, exulting in the thought that she should there have
slaves, whom, as she said, she could kick and strike at will.
These three pictures are from the life. I possess others, as
marked and as little agreeable, but I will spare my reader the
exhibition of them.
Doubtless it will be thought that I ought now, by way of
contrast, to show something charming; some gentle virgin head,
circled with a halo, some sweet personification of innocence,
clasping the dove of peace to her bosom. No: I saw nothing of
the sort, and therefore cannot portray it. The pupil in the
school possessing the happiest disposition was a young girl from
the country, Louise Path; she was sufficiently benevolent and
obliging, but not well taught nor well mannered; moreover, the
plague-spot of dissimulation was in her also; honour and
principle were unknown to her, she had scarcely heard their
names. The least exceptionable pupil was the poor little Sylvie
I have mentioned once before. Sylvie was gentle in manners,
intelligent in mind; she was even sincere, as far as her religion
would permit her to be so, but her physical organization was
defective; weak health stunted her growth and chilled her
spirits, and then, destined as she was for the cloister, her
whole soul was warped to a conventual bias, and in the tame,
trained subjection of her manner, one read that she had already
prepared herself for her future course of life, by giving up her
independence of thought and action into the hands of some
despotic confessor. She permitted herself no original opinion,
no preference of companion or employment; in everything she was
guided by another. With a pale, passive, automaton air, she went
about all day long doing what she was bid; never what she liked,
or what, from innate conviction, she thought it right to do. The
poor little future religieuse had been early taught to make the
dictates of her own reason and conscience quite subordinate to
the will of her spiritual director. She was the model pupil of
Mdlle. Reuter's establishment; pale, blighted image, where life
lingered feebly, but whence the soul had been conjured by Romish
A few English pupils there were in this school, and these might
be divided into two classes. 1st. The continental English--the
daughters chiefly of broken adventurers, whom debt or dishonour
had driven from their own country. These poor girls had never
known the advantages of settled homes, decorous example, or
honest Protestant education; resident a few months now in one
Catholic school, now in another, as their parents wandered from
land to land--from France to Germany, from Germany to Belgium
--they had picked up some scanty instruction, many bad habits,
losing every notion even of the first elements of religion and
morals, and acquiring an imbecile indifference to every sentiment
that can elevate humanity; they were distinguishable by an
habitual look of sullen dejection, the result of crushed
self-respect and constant browbeating from their Popish
fellow-pupils, who hated them as English, and scorned them as
The second class were British English. Of these I did not
encounter half a dozen during the whole time of my attendance at
the seminary; their characteristics were clean but careless
dress, ill-arranged hair (compared with the tight and trim
foreigners), erect carriage, flexible figures, white and taper
hands, features more irregular, but also more intellectual than
those of the Belgians, grave and modest countenances, a general
air of native propriety and decency; by this last circumstance
alone I could at a glance distinguish the daughter of Albion and
nursling of Protestantism from the foster-child of Rome, the
PROTEGEE of Jesuistry: proud, too, was the aspect of these
British girls; at once envied and ridiculed by their continental
associates, they warded off insult with austere civility, and met
hate with mute disdain; they eschewed company-keeping, and in the
midst of numbers seemed to dwell isolated.
The teachers presiding over this mixed multitude were three in
number, all French--their names Mdlles. Zephyrine, Pelagie, and
Suzette; the two last were commonplace personages enough; their
look was ordinary, their manner was ordinary, their temper was
ordinary, their thoughts, feelings, and views were all ordinary
--were I to write a chapter on the subject I could not elucidate
it further. Zephyrine was somewhat more distinguished in
appearance and deportment than Pelagie and Suzette, but in
character genuine Parisian coquette, perfidious, mercenary, and
dry-hearted. A fourth maitresse I sometimes saw who seemed to
come daily to teach needlework, or netting, or lace-mending, or
some such flimsy art; but of her I never had more than a passing
glimpse, as she sat in the CARRE, with her frames and some dozen
of the elder pupils about her, consequently I had no opportunity
of studying her character, or even of observing her person much;
the latter, I remarked, had a very English air for a maitresse,
otherwise it was not striking; of character I should think; she
possessed but little, as her pupils seemed constantly "en
revolte" against her authority. She did not reside in the house;
her name, I think, was Mdlle. Henri.
Amidst this assemblage of all that was insignificant and
defective, much that was vicious and repulsive (by that last
epithet many would have described the two or three stiff, silent,
decently behaved, ill-dressed British girls), the sensible,
sagacious, affable directress shone like a steady star over a
marsh full of Jack-o'-lanthorns; profoundly aware of her
superiority, she derived an inward bliss from that consciousness
which sustained her under all the care and responsibility
inseparable from her position; it kept her temper calm, her brow
smooth, her manner tranquil. She liked--as who would not?--on
entering the school-room, to feel that her sole presence sufficed
to diffuse that order and quiet which all the remonstrances, and
even commands, of her underlings frequently failed to enforce;
she liked to stand in comparison, or rather--contrast, with those
who surrounded her, and to know that in personal as well as
mental advantages, she bore away the undisputed palm of
preference--(the three teachers were all plain.) Her pupils she
managed with such indulgence and address, taking always on
herself the office of recompenser and eulogist, and abandoning to
her subalterns every invidious task of blame and punishment, that
they all regarded her with deference, if not with affection; her
teachers did not love her, but they submitted because they were
her inferiors in everything; the various masters who attended her
school were each and all in some way or other under her
influence; over one she had acquired power by her skilful
management of his bad temper; over another by little attentions
to his petty caprices; a third she had subdued by flattery; a
fourth--a timid man--she kept in awe by a sort of austere
decision of mien; me, she still watched, still tried by the most
ingenious tests--she roved round me, baffled, yet persevering; I
believe she thought I was like a smooth and bare precipice, which
offered neither jutting stone nor tree-root, nor tuft of grass to
aid the climber. Now she flattered with exquisite tact, now she
moralized, now she tried how far I was accessible to mercenary
motives, then she disported on the brink of affection--knowing
that some men are won by weakness--anon, she talked excellent
sense, aware that others have the folly to admire judgment. I
found it at once pleasant and easy to evade all these efforts; it
was sweet, when she thought me nearly won, to turn round and to
smile in her very eyes, half scornfully, and then to witness her
scarcely veiled, though mute mortification. Still she
persevered, and at last, I am bound to confess it, her finger,
essaying, proving every atom of the casket, touched its secret
spring, and for a moment the lid sprung open; she laid her hand
on the jewel within; whether she stole and broke it, or whether
the lid shut again with a snap on her fingers, read on, and you
It happened that I came one day to give a lesson when I was
indisposed; I had a bad cold and a cough; two hours' incessant
talking left me very hoarse and tired; as I quitted the
schoolroom, and was passing along the corridor, I met Mdlle.
Reuter; she remarked, with an anxious air, that I looked very
pale and tired. "Yes," I said, "I was fatigued;" and then, with
increased interest, she rejoined, "You shall not go away till you
have had some refreshment." She persuaded me to step into the
parlour, and was very kind and gentle while I stayed. The next
day she was kinder still; she came herself into the class to see
that the windows were closed, and that there was no draught; she
exhorted me with friendly earnestness not to over-exert myself;
when I went away, she gave me her hand unasked, and I could not
but mark, by a respectful and gentle pressure, that I was
sensible of the favour, and grateful for it. My modest
demonstration kindled a little merry smile on her countenance; I
thought her almost charming. During the remainder of the
evening, my mind was full of impatience for the afternoon of the
next day to arrive, that I might see her again.
I was not disappointed, for she sat in the class during the whole
of my subsequent lesson, and often looked at me almost with
affection. At four o'clock she accompanied me out of the
schoolroom, asking with solicitude after my health, then scolding
me sweetly because I spoke too loud and gave myself too much
trouble; I stopped at the glass-door which led into the garden,
to hear her lecture to the end; the door was open, it was a very
fine day, and while I listened to the soothing reprimand, I
looked at the sunshine and flowers, and felt very happy. The
day-scholars began to pour from the schoolrooms into the passage.
"Will you go into the garden a minute or two," asked she, "till
they are gone?"
I descended the steps without answering, but I looked back as
much as to say--
"You will come with me?"
In another minute I and the directress were walking side by side
down the alley bordered with fruit-trees, whose white blossoms
were then in full blow as well as their tender green leaves. The
sky was blue, the air still, the May afternoon was full of
brightness and fragrance. Released from the stifling class,
surrounded with flowers and foliage, with a pleasing, smiling,
affable woman at my side--how did I feel? Why, very enviably.
It seemed as if the romantic visions my imagination had suggested
of this garden, while it was yet hidden from me by the jealous
boards, were more than realized; and, when a turn in the alley
shut out the view of the house, and some tall shrubs excluded M.
Pelet's mansion, and screened us momentarily from the other
houses, rising amphitheatre-like round this green spot, I gave my
arm to Mdlle. Reuter, and led her to a garden-chair, nestled
under some lilacs near. She sat down; I took my place at her
side. She went on talking to me with that ease which
communicates ease, and, as I listened, a revelation dawned in my
mind that I was on the brink of falling in love. The dinner-bell
rang, both at her house and M. Pelet's; we were obliged to part;
I detained her a moment as she was moving away.
"I want something," said I.
"What?" asked Zoraide naively.
"Only a flower."
"Gather it then--or two, or twenty, if you like."
"No--one will do-but you must gather it, and give it to me."
"What a caprice!" she exclaimed, but she raised herself on her
tip-toes, and, plucking a beautiful branch of lilac, offered it
to me with grace. I took it, and went away, satisfied for the
present, and hopeful for the future.
Certainly that May day was a lovely one, and it closed in
moonlight night of summer warmth and serenity. I remember this
well; for, having sat up late that evening, correcting devoirs,
and feeling weary and a little oppressed with the closeness of my
small room, I opened the often-mentioned boarded window, whose
boards, however, I had persuaded old Madame Pelet to have removed
since I had filled the post of professor in the pensionnat de
demoiselles, as, from that time, it was no longer "inconvenient"
for me to overlook my own pupils at their sports. I sat down in
the window-seat, rested my arm on the sill, and leaned out:
above me was the clear-obscure of a cloudless night sky
--splendid moonlight subdued the tremulous sparkle of the stars
--below lay the garden, varied with silvery lustre and deep
shade, and all fresh with dew--a grateful perfume exhaled from
the closed blossoms of the fruit-trees--not a leaf stirred, the
night was breezeless. My window looked directly down upon a
certain walk of Mdlle. Reuter's garden, called "l'allee
defendue," so named because the pupils were forbidden to enter it
on account of its proximity to the boys' school. It was here
that the lilacs and laburnums grew especially thick; this was the
most sheltered nook in the enclosure, its shrubs screened the
garden-chair where that afternoon I had sat with the young
directress. I need not say that my thoughts were chiefly with her
as I leaned from the lattice, and let my; eye roam, now over the
walks and borders of the garden, now along the many-windowed
front of the house which rose white beyond the masses of foliage.
I wondered in what part of the building was situated her
apartment; and a single light, shining through the persiennes of
one croisee, seemed to direct me to it.
"She watches late," thought I, "for it must be now near midnight.
She is a fascinating little woman," I continued in voiceless
soliloquy; "her image forms a pleasant picture in memory; I know
she is not what the world calls pretty--no matter, there is
harmony in her aspect, and I like it; her brown hair, her blue
eye, the freshness of her cheek, the whiteness of her neck, all
suit my taste. Then I respect her talent; the idea of marrying a
doll or a fool was always abhorrent to me: I know that a pretty
doll, a fair fool, might do well enough for the honeymoon; but
when passion cooled, how dreadful to find a lump of wax and wood
laid in my bosom, a half idiot clasped in my arms, and to
remember that I had made of this my equal--nay, my idol--to know
that I must pass the rest of my dreary life with a creature
incapable of understanding what I said, of appreciating what I
thought, or of sympathizing with what I felt! "Now, Zoraide
Reuter," thought I, "has tact, CARACTERE, judgment, discretion;
has she heart? What a good, simple little smile played about her
lips when she gave me the branch of lilacs! I have thought her
crafty, dissembling, interested sometimes, it is true; but may
not much that looks like cunning and dissimulation in her conduct
be only the efforts made by a bland temper to traverse quietly
perplexing difficulties? And as to interest, she wishes to make
her way in the world, no doubt, and who can blame her? Even if
she be truly deficient in sound principle, is it not rather her
misfortune than her fault? She has been brought up a Catholic:
had she been born an Englishwoman, and reared a Protestant, might
she not have added straight integrity to all her other
excellences? Supposing she were to marry an English and
Protestant husband, would she not, rational, sensible as she is,
quickly acknowledge the superiority of right over expediency,
honesty over policy? It would be worth a man's while to try the
experiment; to-morrow I will renew my observations. She knows
that I watch her: how calm she is under scrutiny! it seems rather
to gratify than annoy her." Here a strain of music stole in upon
my monologue, and suspended it; it was a bugle, very skilfully
played, in the neighbourhood of the park, I thought, or on the
Place Royale. So sweet were the tones, so subduing their effect
at that hour, in the midst of silence and under the quiet reign
of moonlight, I ceased to think, that I might listen more
intently. The strain retreated, its sound waxed fainter and was
soon gone; my ear prepared to repose on the absolute hush of
midnight once more. No. What murmur was that which, low, and
yet near and approaching nearer, frustrated the expectation of
total silence? It was some one conversing--yes, evidently, an
audible, though subdued voice spoke in the garden immediately
below me. Another answered; the first voice was that of a man,
the second that of a woman; and a man and a woman I saw coming
slowly down the alley. Their forms were at first in shade, I
could but discern a dusk outline of each, but a ray of moonlight
met them at the termination of the walk, when they were under my
very nose, and revealed very plainly, very unequivocally, Mdlle.
Zoraide Reuter, arm-in-arm, or hand-in-hand (I forget which) with
my principal, confidant, and counsellor, M. Francois Pelet. And
M. Pelet was saying--
"A quand donc le jour des noces, ma bien-aimee?"
And Mdlle. Reuter answered--
"Mais, Francois, tu sais bien qu'il me serait impossible de me
marier avant les vacances."
"June, July, August, a whole quarter!" exclaimed the director.
"How can I wait so long?--I who am ready, even now, to expire at
your feet with impatience!"
"Ah! if you die, the whole affair will be settled without any
trouble about notaries and contracts; I shall only have to order
a slight mourning dress, which will be much sooner prepared than
the nuptial trousseau."
"Cruel Zoraide! you laugh at the distress of one who loves you so
devotedly as I do: my torment is your sport; you scruple not to
stretch my soul on the rack of jealousy; for, deny it as you
will, I am certain you have cast encouraging glances on that
school-boy, Crimsworth; he has presumed to fall in love, which he
dared not have done unless you had given him room to hope."
"What do you say, Francois? Do you say Crimsworth is in love
"Over head and ears."
"Has he told you so?"
"No--but I see it in his face: he blushes whenever your name is
mentioned." A little laugh of exulting coquetry announced Mdlle.
Reuter's gratification at this piece of intelligence (which was a
lie, by-the-by--I had never been so far gone as that, after all).
M. Pelet proceeded to ask what she intended to do with me,
intimating pretty plainly, and not very gallantly, that it was
nonsense for her to think of taking such a "blanc-bec" as a
husband, since she must be at least ten years older than I (was
she then thirty-two? I should not have thought it). I heard her
disclaim any intentions on the subject--the director, however,
still pressed her to give a definite answer.
"Francois," said she, "you are jealous," and still she laughed;
then, as if suddenly recollecting that this coquetry was not
consistent with the character for modest dignity she wished to
establish, she proceeded, in a demure voice: "Truly, my dear
Francois, I will not deny that this young Englishman may have
made some attempts to ingratiate himself with me; but, so far
from giving him any encouragement, I have always treated him
with as much reserve as it was possible to combine with civility;
affianced as I am to you, I would give no man false hopes;
believe me, dear friend." Still Pelet uttered murmurs of
distrust--so I judged, at least, from her reply.
"What folly! How could I prefer an unknown foreigner to you?
And then--not to flatter your vanity--Crimsworth could not bear
comparison with you either physically or mentally; he is not a
handsome man at all; some may call him gentleman-like and
intelligent-looking, but for my part--"
The rest of the sentence was lost in the distance, as the pair,
rising from the chair in which they had been seated, moved away.
I waited their return, but soon the opening and shutting of a
door informed me that they had re-entered the house; I listened
a little longer, all was perfectly still; I listened more than an
hour--at last I heard M. Pelet come in and ascend to his chamber.
Glancing once more towards the long front of the garden-house, I
perceived that its solitary light was at length extinguished; so,
for a time, was my faith is love and friendship. I went to bed,
but something feverish and fiery had got into my veins which
prevented me from sleeping much that night.
NEXT morning I rose with the dawn, and having dressed myself and
stood half-an-hour, my elbow leaning on the chest of drawers,
considering what means I should adopt to restore my spirits,
fagged with sleeplessness, to their ordinary tone--for I had no
intention of getting up a scene with M. Pelet, reproaching him
with perfidy, sending him a challenge, or performing other
gambadoes of the sort--I hit at last on the expedient of walking
out in the cool of the morning to a neighbouring establishment of
baths, and treating myself to a bracing plunge. The remedy
produced the desired effect. I came back at seven o'clock
steadied and invigorated, and was able to greet M. Pelet, when he
entered to breakfast, with an unchanged and tranquil countenance;
even a cordial offering of the hand and the flattering
appellation of "mon fils," pronounced in that caressing tone with
which Monsieur had, of late days especially, been accustomed to
address me, did not elicit any external sign of the feeling
which, though subdued, still glowed at my heart. Not that I
nursed vengeance--no; but the sense of insult and treachery lived
in me like a kindling, though as yet smothered coal. God knows I
am not by nature vindictive; I would not hurt a man because I can
no longer trust or like him; but neither my reason nor feelings
are of the vacillating order--they are not of that sand-like sort
where impressions, if soon made, are as soon effaced. Once
convinced that my friend's disposition is incompatible with my
own, once assured that he is indelibly stained with certain
defects obnoxious to my principles, and I dissolve the
connection. I did so with Edward. As to Pelet, the discovery
was yet new; should I act thus with him? It was the question I
placed before my mind as I stirred my cup of coffee with a
half-pistolet (we never had spoons), Pelet meantime being seated
opposite, his pallid face looking as knowing and more haggard
than usual, his blue eye turned, now sternly on his boys and
ushers, and now graciously on me.
"Circumstances must guide me," said I; and meeting Pelet's false
glance and insinuating smile, I thanked heaven that I had last
night opened my window and read by the light of a full moon the
true meaning of that guileful countenance. I felt half his
master, because the reality of his nature was now known to me;
smile and flatter as he would, I saw his soul lurk behind his
smile, and heard in every one of his smooth phrases a voice
interpreting their treacherous import.
But Zoraide Reuter? Of course her defection had cut me to the
quick? That stint; must have gone too deep for any consolations
of philosophy to be available in curing its smart? Not at all.
The night fever over, I looked about for balm to that wound also,
and found some nearer home than at Gilead. Reason was my
physician; she began by proving that the prize I had missed was
of little value: she admitted that, physically, Zoraide might
have suited me, but affirmed that our souls were not in harmony,
and that discord must have resulted from the union of her mind
with mine. She then insisted on the suppression of all repining,
and commanded me rather to rejoice that I had escaped a snare.
Her medicament did me good. I felt its strengthening effect when
I met the directress the next day; its stringent operation on the
nerves suffered no trembling, no faltering; it enabled me to face
her with firmness, to pass her with ease. She had held out her
hand to me--that I did not choose to see. She had greeted me
with a charming smile--it fell on my heart like light on stone.
I passed on to the estrade, she followed me; her eye, fastened on
my face, demanded of every feature the meaning of my changed and
careless manner. "I will give her an answer," thought I; and,
meeting her gaze full, arresting, fixing her glance, I shot into
her eyes, from my own, a look, where there was no respect, no
love, no tenderness, no gallantry; where the strictest analysis
could detect nothing but scorn, hardihood, irony. I made her
bear it, and feel it; her steady countenance did not change, but
her colour rose, and she approached me as if fascinated. She
stepped on to the estrade, and stood close by my side; she had
nothing to say. I would not relieve her embarrassment, and
negligently turned over the leaves of a book.
"I hope you feel quite recovered to-day," at last she said, in a
"And I, mademoiselle, hope that you took no cold last night in
consequence of your late walk in the garden."
Quick enough of comprehension, she understood me directly; her
face became a little blanched--a very little--but no muscle in
her rather marked features moved; and, calm and self-possessed,
she retired from the estrade, taking her seat quietly at a little
distance, and occupying herself with netting a purse. I
proceeded to give my lesson; it was a "Composition," i.e., I
dictated certain general questions, of which the pupils were to
compose the answers from memory, access to books being forbidden.
While Mdlle. Eulalie, Hortense, Caroline, &c., were pondering
over the string of rather abstruse grammatical interrogatories I
had propounded, I was at liberty to employ the vacant half hour
in further observing the directress herself. The green silk
purse was progressing fast in her hands; her eyes were bent upon
it; her attitude, as she sat netting within two yards of me, was
still yet guarded; in her whole person were expressed at once,
and with equal clearness, vigilance and repose--a rare union!
Looking at her, I was forced, as I had often been before, to
offer her good sense, her wondrous self-control, the tribute of
involuntary admiration. She had felt that I had withdrawn from
her my esteem; she had seen contempt and coldness in my eye, and
to her, who coveted the approbation of all around her, who
thirsted after universal good opinion, such discovery must have
been an acute wound. I had witnessed its effect in the momentary
pallor of her cheek-cheek unused to vary; yet how quickly, by
dint of self-control, had she recovered her composure! With what
quiet dignity she now sat, almost at my side, sustained by her
sound and vigorous sense; no trembling in her somewhat
lengthened, though shrewd upper lip, no coward shame on her
"There is metal there," I said, as I gazed. "Would that there
were fire also, living ardour to make the steel glow--then I
could love her."
Presently I discovered that she knew I was watching her, for she
stirred not, she lifted not her crafty eyelid; she had glanced
down from her netting to her small foot, peeping from the soft
folds of her purple merino gown; thence her eye reverted to her
hand, ivory white, with a bright garnet ring on the forefinger,
and a light frill of lace round the wrist; with a scarcely
perceptible movement she turned her head, causing her nut-brown
curls to wave gracefully. In these slight signs I read that the
wish of her heart, the design of her brain, was to lure back the
game she had scared. A little incident gave her the opportunity
of addressing me again.
While all was silence in the class--silence, but for the rustling
of copy-books and the travelling of pens over their pages--a leaf
of the large folding-door, opening from the hall, unclosed,
admitting a pupil who, after making a hasty obeisance, ensconced
herself with some appearance of trepidation, probably occasioned
by her entering so late, in a vacant seat at the desk nearest the
door. Being seated, she proceeded, still with an air of hurry
and embarrassment, to open her cabas, to take out her books; and,
while I was waiting for her to look up, in order to make out her
identity--for, shortsighted as I was, I had not recognized her at
her entrance--Mdlle. Reuter, leaving her chair, approached the
"Monsieur Creemsvort," said she, in a whisper: for when the
schoolrooms were silent, the directress always moved with velvet
tread, and spoke in the most subdued key, enforcing order and
stillness fully as much by example as precept: "Monsieur
Creemsvort, that young person, who has just entered, wishes to
have the advantage of taking lessons with you in English; she is
not a pupil of the house; she is, indeed, in one sense, a
teacher, for she gives instruction in lace-mending, and in little
varieties of ornamental needle-work. She very properly proposes
to qualify herself for a higher department of education, and has
asked permission to attend your lessons, in order to perfect her
knowledge of English, in which language she has, I believe,
already made some progress; of course it is my wish to aid her in
an effort so praiseworthy; you will permit her then to benefit by
your instruction--n'est ce pas, monsieur?" And Mdlle. Reuter's
eyes were raised to mine with a look at once naive, benign, and
I replied, "Of course," very laconically, almost abruptly.
"Another word," she said, with softness: "Mdlle. Henri has not
received a regular education; perhaps her natural talents are not
of the highest order: but I can assure you of the excellence of
her intentions, and even of the amiability of her disposition.
Monsieur will then, I am sure, have the goodness to be
considerate with her at first, and not expose her backwardness,
her inevitable deficiencies, before the young ladies, who, in a
sense, are her pupils. Will Monsieur Creemsvort favour me by
attending to this hint?" I nodded. She continued with subdued
"Pardon me, monsieur, if I venture to add that what I have just
said is of importance to the poor girl; she already experiences
great difficulty in impressing these giddy young things with a
due degree of deference for her authority, and should that
difficulty be increased by new discoveries of her incapacity, she
might find her position in my establishment too painful to be
retained; a circumstance I should much regret for her sake, as
she can ill afford to lose the profits of her occupation here."
Mdlle. Reuter possessed marvellous tact; but tact the most
exclusive, unsupported by sincerity, will sometimes fail of its
effect; thus, on this occasion, the longer she preached about the
necessity of being indulgent to the governess pupil, the more
impatient I felt as I listened. I discerned so clearly that
while her professed motive was a wish to aid the dull, though
well-meaning Mdlle. Henri, her real one was no other than a
design to impress me with an idea of her own exalted goodness and
tender considerateness; so having again hastily nodded assent to
her remarks, I obviated their renewal by suddenly demanding the
compositions, in a sharp accent, and stepping from the estrade, I
proceeded to collect them. As I passed the governess-pupil, I
said to her--
"You have come in too late to receive a lesson to-day; try to be
more punctual next time."
I was behind her, and could not read in her face the effect of my
not very civil speech. Probably I should not have troubled
myself to do so, had I been full in front; but I observed that
she immediately began to slip her books into her cabas again;
and, presently, after I had returned to the estrade, while I was
arranging the mass of compositions, I heard the folding-door
again open and close; and, on looking up, I perceived her place
vacant. I thought to myself, "She will consider her first attempt
at taking a lesson in English something of a failure;" and I
wondered whether she had departed in the sulks, or whether
stupidity had induced her to take my words too literally, or,
finally, whether my irritable tone had wounded her feelings. The
last notion I dismissed almost as soon as I had conceived it, for
not having seen any appearance of sensitiveness in any human face
since my arrival in Belgium, I had begun to regard it almost as a
fabulous quality. Whether her physiognomy announced it I could
not tell, for her speedy exit had allowed me no time to ascertain
the circumstance. I had, indeed, on two or three previous
occasions, caught a passing view of her (as I believe has been
mentioned before); but I had never stopped to scrutinize either
her face or person, and had but the most vague idea of her
general appearance. Just as I had finished rolling up the
compositions, the four o'clock bell rang; with my accustomed
alertness in obeying that signal, I grasped my hat and evacuated
IF I was punctual in quitting Mdlle. Reuter's domicile, I was at
least equally punctual in arriving there; I came the next day at
five minutes before two, and on reaching the schoolroom door,
before I opened it, I heard a rapid, gabbling sound, which warned
me that the "priere du midi" was not yet concluded. I waited the
termination thereof; it would have been impious to intrude my
heretical presence during its progress. How the repeater of the
prayer did cackle and splutter! I never before or since heard
language enounced with such steam-engine haste. "Notre Pere qui
etes au ciel" went off like a shot; then followed an address to
Marie "vierge celeste, reine des anges, maison d'or, tour
d'ivoire!" and then an invocation to the saint of the day; and
then down they all sat, and the solemn (?) rite was over; and I
entered, flinging the door wide and striding in fast, as it was
my wont to do now; for I had found that in entering with aplomb,
and mounting the estrade with emphasis, consisted the grand
secret of ensuring immediate silence. The folding-doors between
the two classes, opened for the prayer, were instantly closed; a
maitresse, work-box in hand, took her seat at her appropriate
desk; the pupils sat still with their pens and books before them;
my three beauties in the van, now well humbled by a demeanour of
consistent coolness, sat erect with their hands folded quietly on
their knees; they had given up giggling and whispering to each
other, and no longer ventured to utter pert speeches in my
presence; they now only talked to me occasionally with their
eyes, by means of which organs they could still, however, say
very audacious and coquettish things. Had affection, goodness,
modesty, real talent, ever employed those bright orbs as
interpreters, I do not think I could have refrained from giving a
kind and encouraging, perhaps an ardent reply now and then; but
as it was, I found pleasure in answering the glance of vanity
with the gaze of stoicism. Youthful, fair, brilliant, as were
many of my pupils, I can truly say that in me they never saw any
other bearing than such as an austere, though just guardian,
might have observed towards them. If any doubt the accuracy of
this assertion, as inferring more conscientious self-denial or
Scipio-like self-control than they feel disposed to give me
credit for, let them take into consideration the following
circumstances, which, while detracting from my merit, justify my
Know, O incredulous reader! that a master stands in a somewhat
different relation towards a pretty, light-headed, probably
ignorant girl, to that occupied by a partner at a ball, or a
gallant on the promenade. A professor does not meet his pupil to
see her dressed in satin and muslin, with hair perfumed and
curled, neck scarcely shaded by aerial lace, round white arms
circled with bracelets, feet dressed for the gliding dance. It
is not his business to whirl her through the waltz, to feed her
with compliments, to heighten her beauty by the flush of
gratified vanity. Neither does he encounter her on the
smooth-rolled, tree shaded Boulevard, in the green and sunny
park, whither she repairs clad in her becoming walking dress, her
scarf thrown with grace over her shoulders, her little bonnet
scarcely screening her curls, the red rose under its brim adding
a new tint to the softer rose on her cheek; her face and eyes,
too, illumined with smiles, perhaps as transient as the sunshine
of the gala-day, but also quite as brilliant; it is not his
office to walk by her side, to listen to her lively chat, to
carry her parasol, scarcely larger than a broad green leaf, to
lead in a ribbon her Blenheim spaniel or Italian greyhound. No:
he finds her in the schoolroom, plainly dressed, with books
before her. Owing to her education or her nature books are to
her a nuisance, and she opens them with aversion, yet her teacher
must instil into her mind the contents of these books; that mind
resists the admission of grave information, it recoils, it grows
restive, sullen tempers are shown, disfiguring frowns spoil the
symmetry of the face, sometimes coarse gestures banish grace from
the deportment, while muttered expressions, redolent of native
and ineradicable vulgarity, desecrate the sweetness of the voice.
Where the temperament is serene though the intellect be sluggish,
an unconquerable dullness opposes every effort to instruct.
Where there is cunning but not energy, dissimulation, falsehood,
a thousand schemes and tricks are put in play to evade the
necessity of application; in short, to the tutor, female youth,
female charms are like tapestry hangings, of which the wrong side
is continually turned towards him; and even when he sees the
smooth, neat external surface he so well knows what knots, long
stitches, and jagged ends are behind that he has scarce a
temptation to admire too fondly the seemly forms and bright
colours exposed to general view.
Our likings are regulated by our circumstances. The artist
prefers a hilly country because it is picturesque; the engineer a
flat one because it is convenient; the man of pleasure likes what
he calls "a fine woman"--she suits him; the fashionable young
gentleman admires the fashionable young lady--she is of his kind;
the toil-worn, fagged, probably irritable tutor, blind almost to
beauty, insensible to airs and graces, glories chiefly in certain
mental qualities: application, love of knowledge, natural
capacity, docility, truthfulness, gratefulness, are the charms
that attract his notice and win his regard. These he seeks, but
seldom meets; these, if by chance he finds, he would fain retain
for ever, and when separation deprives him of them he feels as if
some ruthless hand had snatched from him his only ewe-lamb. Such
being the case, and the ease it is, my readers will agree with me
that there was nothing either very meritorious or very marvellous
in the integrity and moderation of my conduct at Mdlle. Reuter's
pensionnat de demoiselles.
My first business this afternoon consisted in reading the list of
places for the month, determined by the relative correctness of
the compositions given the preceding day. The list was headed, as
usual, by the name of Sylvie, that plain, quiet little girl I
have described before as being at once the best and ugliest pupil
in the establishment; the second place had fallen to the lot of a
certain Leonie Ledru, a diminutive, sharp-featured, and
parchment-skinned creature of quick wits, frail conscience, and
indurated feelings; a lawyer-like thing, of whom I used to say
that, had she been a boy, she would have made a model of an
unprincipled, clever attorney. Then came Eulalie, the proud
beauty, the Juno of the school, whom six long years of drilling
in the simple grammar of the English language had compelled,
despite the stiff phlegm of her intellect, to acquire a
mechanical acquaintance with most of its rules. No smile, no
trace of pleasure or satisfaction appeared in Sylvie's nun-like
and passive face as she heard her name read first. I always felt
saddened by the sight of that poor girl's absolute quiescence on
all occasions, and it was my custom to look at her, to address
her, as seldom as possible; her extreme docility, her assiduous
perseverance, would have recommended her warmly to my good
opinion; her modesty, her intelligence, would have induced me to
feel most kindly--most affectionately towards her,
notwithstanding the almost ghastly plainness of her features, the
disproportion of her form, the corpse-like lack of animation in
her countenance, had I not been aware that every friendly word,
every kindly action, would be reported by her to her confessor,
and by him misinterpreted and poisoned. Once I laid my hand on
her head, in token of approbation; I thought Sylvie was going to
smile, her dim eye almost kindled; but, presently, she shrank
from me; I was a man and a heretic; she, poor child! a destined
nun and devoted Catholic: thus a four-fold wall of separation
divided her mind from mine. A pert smirk, and a hard glance of
triumph, was Leonie's method of testifying her gratification;
Eulalie looked sullen and envious--she had hoped to be first.
Hortense and Caroline exchanged a reckless grimace on hearing
their names read out somewhere near the bottom of the list; the
brand of mental inferiority was considered by them as no
disgrace, their hopes for the future being based solely on their
This affair arranged, the regular lesson followed. During a
brief interval, employed by the pupils in ruling their books, my
eye, ranging carelessly over the benches, observed, for the first
time, that the farthest seat in the farthest row--a seat usually
vacant--was again filled by the new scholar, the Mdlle. Henri so
ostentatiously recommended to me by the directress. To-day I had
on my spectacles; her appearance, therefore, was clear to me at
the first glance; I had not to puzzle over it. She looked young;
yet, had I been required to name her exact age, I should have
been somewhat nonplussed; the slightness of her figure might have
suited seventeen; a certain anxious and pre-occupied expression
of face seemed the indication of riper years. She was dressed,
like all the rest, in a dark stuff gown and a white collar; her
features were dissimilar to any there, not so rounded, more
defined, yet scarcely regular. The shape of her head too was
different, the superior part more developed, the base
considerably less. I felt assured, at first sight, that she was
not a Belgian; her complexion, her countenance, her lineaments,
her figure, were all distinct from theirs, and, evidently, the
type of another race--of a race less gifted with fullness of
flesh and plenitude of blood; less jocund, material, unthinking.
When I first cast my eyes on her, she sat looking fixedly down,
her chin resting on her hand, and she did not change her attitude
till I commenced the lesson. None of the Belgian girls would
have retained one position, and that a reflective one, for the
same length of time. Yet, having intimated that her appearance
was peculiar, as being unlike that of her Flemish companions, I
have little more to say respecting it; I can pronounce no
encomiums on her beauty, for she was not beautiful; nor offer
condolence on her plainness, for neither was she plain; a
careworn character of forehead, and a corresponding moulding of
the mouth, struck me with a sentiment resembling surprise, but
these traits would probably have passed unnoticed by any less
Now, reader, though I have spent more than a page in describing
Mdlle. Henri, I know well enough that I have left on your mind's
eye no distinct picture of her; I have not painted her
complexion, nor her eyes, nor her hair, nor even drawn the
outline of her shape. You cannot tell whether her nose was
aquiline or retrousse, whether her chin was long or short, her
face square or oval; nor could I the first day, and it is not my
intention to communicate to you at once a knowledge I myself
gained by little and little.
I gave a short exercise: which they all wrote down. I saw the
new pupil was puzzled at first with the novelty of the form and
language; once or twice she looked at me with a sort of painful
solicitude, as not comprehending: at all what I meant; then she
was not ready when the others were, she could not write her
phrases so fast as they did; I would not help her, I went on
relentless. She looked at me; her eye said most plainly, "I
cannot follow you." I disregarded the appeal, and, carelessly
leaning back in my chair, glancing from time to time with a
NONCHALANT air out of the window, I dictated a little faster. On
looking towards her again, I perceived her face clouded with
embarrassment, but she was still writing on most diligently; I
paused a few seconds; she employed the interval in hurriedly
re-perusing what she had written, and shame and discomfiture were
apparent in her countenance; she evidently found she had made
great nonsense of it. In ten minutes more the dictation was
complete, and, having allowed a brief space in which to correct
it, I took their books; it was with a reluctant hand Mdlle. Henri
gave up hers, but, having once yielded it to my possession, she
composed her anxious face, as if, for the present she had
resolved to dismiss regret, and had made up her mind to be
thought unprecedentedly stupid. Glancing over her exercise, I
found that several lines had been omitted, but what was written
contained very few faults; I instantly inscribed "Bon" at the
bottom of the page, and returned it to her; she smiled, at first
incredulously, then as if reassured, but did not lift her eyes;
she could look at me, it seemed, when perplexed and bewildered,
but not when gratified; I thought that scarcely fair.
SOME time elapsed before I again gave a lesson in the first
class; the holiday of Whitsuntide occupied three days, and on the
fourth it was the turn of the second division to receive my
instructions. As I made the transit of the CARRE, I observed, as
usual, the band of sewers surrounding Mdlle. Henri; there were
only about a dozen of them, but they made as much noise as might
have sufficed for fifty; they seemed very little under her
control; three or four at once assailed her with importunate
requirements; she looked harassed, she demanded silence, but in
vain. She saw me, and I read in her eye pain that a stranger
should witness the insubordination of her pupils; she seemed to
entreat order--her prayers were useless; then I remarked that she
compressed her lips and contracted her brow; and her countenance,
if I read it correctly, said--"I have done my best; I seem to
merit blame notwithstanding; blame me then who will." I passed
on; as I closed the school-room door, I heard her say, suddenly
and sharply, addressing one of the eldest and most turbulent of
"Amelie Mullenberg, ask me no question, and request of me no
assistance, for a week to come; during that space of time I will
neither speak to you nor help you."
The words were uttered with emphasis--nay, with vehemence--and a
comparative silence followed; whether the calm was permanent, I
know not; two doors now closed between me and the CARRE.
Next day was appropriated to the first class; on my arrival, I
found the directress seated, as usual, in a chair between the two
estrades, and before her was standing Mdlle. Henri, in an
attitude (as it seemed to me) of somewhat reluctant attention.
The directress was knitting and talking at the same time. Amidst
the hum of a large school-room, it was easy so to speak in the
ear of one person, as to be heard by that person alone, and it
was thus Mdlle. Reuter parleyed with her teacher. The face of
the latter was a little flushed, not a little troubled; there was
vexation in it, whence resulting I know not, for the directress
looked very placid indeed; she could not be scolding in such
gentle whispers, and with so equable a mien; no, it was presently
proved that her discourse had been of the most friendly tendency,
for I heard the closing words--
"C'est assez, ma bonne amie; a present je ne veux pas vous
Without reply, Mdlle. Henri turned away; dissatifaction was
plainly evinced in her face, and a smile, slight and brief, but
bitter, distrustful, and, I thought, scornful, curled her lip as
she took her place in the class; it was a secret, involuntary
smile, which lasted but a second; an air of depression succeeded,
chased away presently by one of attention and interest, when I
gave the word for all the pupils to take their reading-books. In
general I hated the reading-lesson, it was such a torture to the
ear to listen to their uncouth mouthing of my native tongue, and
no effort of example or precept on my part ever seemed to effect
the slightest improvement in their accent. To-day, each in her
appropriate key, lisped, stuttered, mumbled, and jabbered as
usual; about fifteen had racked me in turn, and my auricular
nerve was expecting with resignation the discords of the
sixteenth, when a full, though low voice, read out, in clear
"On his way to Perth, the king was met by a Highland woman,
calling herself a prophetess; she stood at the side of the ferry
by which he was about to travel to the north, and cried with a
loud voice, 'My lord the king, if you pass this water you will
never return again alive!'"--(VIDE the HISTORY OF SCOTLAND).
I looked up in amazement; the voice was a voice of Albion; the
accent was pure and silvery ; it only wanted firmness, and
assurance, to be the counterpart of what any well-educated lady
in Essex or Middlesex might have enounced, yet the speaker or
reader was no other than Mdlle. Henri, in whose grave, joyless
face I saw no mark of consciousness that she had performed any
extraordinary feat. No one else evinced surprise either. Mdlle.
Reuter knitted away assiduously; I was aware, however, that at
the conclusion of the paragraph, she had lifted her eyelid and
honoured me with a glance sideways; she did not know the full
excellency of the teacher's style of reading, but she perceived
that her accent was not that of the others, and wanted to
discover what I thought; I masked my visage with indifference,
and ordered the next girl to proceed.
When the lesson was over, I took advantage of the confusion
caused by breaking up, to approach Mdlle. Henri; she was standing
near the window and retired as I advanced; she thought I wanted
to look out, and did not imagine that I could have anything to
say to her. I took her exercise-book; out of her hand; as I
turned over the leaves I addressed her:--
"You have had lessons in English before?" I asked.
"No! you read it well; you have been in England?"
"Oh, no!" with some animation.
"You have been in English families?"
Still the answer was "No." Here my eye, resting on the flyleaf of
the book, saw written, "Frances Evan Henri."
"Your name?" I asked
My interrogations were cut short; I heard a little rustling
behind me, and close at my back was the directress, professing to
be examining the interior of a desk.
"Mademoiselle," said she, looking up and addressing the teacher,
"Will you have the goodness to go and stand in the corridor,
while the young ladies are putting on their things, and try to
keep some order?"
Mdlle. Henri obeyed.
"What splendid weather!" observed the directress cheerfully,
glancing at the same time from the window. I assented and was
withdrawing. "What of your new pupil, monsieur?" continued she,
following my retreating steps. "Is she likely to make progress
"Indeed I can hardly judge. She possesses a pretty good accent;
of her real knowledge of the language I have as yet had no
opportunity of forming an opinion."
"And her natural capacity, monsieur? I have had my fears about
that: can you relieve me by an assurance at least of its average
"I see no reason to doubt its average power, mademoiselle, but
really I scarcely know her, and have not had time to study the
calibre of her capacity. I wish you a very good afternoon."
She still pursued me. "You will observe, monsieur, and tell me
what you think; I could so much better rely on your opinion than
on my own; women cannot judge of these things as men can, and,
excuse my pertinacity, monsieur, but it is natural I should feel
interested about this poor little girl (pauvre petite); she has
scarcely any relations, her own efforts are all she has to look
to, her acquirements must be her sole fortune; her present
position has once been mine, or nearly so; it is then but natural
I should sympathize with her; and sometimes when I see the
difficulty she has in managing pupils, I reel quite chagrined. I
doubt not she does her best, her intentions are excellent; but,
monsieur, she wants tact and firmness. I have talked to her on
the subject, but I am not fluent, and probably did not express
myself with clearness; she never appears to comprehend me. Now,
would you occasionally, when you see an opportunity, slip in a
word of advice to her on the subject; men have so much more
influence than women have--they argue so much more logically than
we do; and you, monsieur, in particular, have so paramount a
power of making yourself obeyed; a word of advice from you could
not but do her good; even if she were sullen and headstrong
(which I hope she is not), she would scarcely refuse to listen to
you; for my own part, I can truly say that I never attend one of
your lessons without deriving benefit from witnessing your
management of the pupils. The other masters are a constant
source of anxiety to me; they cannot impress the young ladies
with sentiments of respect, nor restrain the levity natural to
youth: in you, monsieur, I feel the most absolute confidence;
try then to put this poor child into the way of controlling our
giddy, high-spirited Brabantoises. But, monsieur, I would add
one word more; don't alarm her AMOUR PROPRE; beware of inflicting
a wound there. I reluctantly admit that in that particular she
is blameably--some would say ridiculously--susceptible. I fear I
have touched this sore point inadvertently, and she cannot get
During the greater part of this harangue my hand was on the lock
of the outer door; I now turned it.
"Au revoir, mademoiselle," said I, and I escaped. I saw the
directress's stock of words was yet far from exhausted. She
looked after me, she would fain have detained me longer. Her
manner towards me had been altered ever since I had begun to
treat her with hardness and indifference: she almost cringed to
me on every occasion; she consulted my countenance incessantly,
and beset me with innumerable little officious attentions.
Servility creates despotism. This slavish homage, instead of
softening my heart, only pampered whatever was stern and exacting
in its mood. The very circumstance of her hovering round me like
a fascinated bird, seemed to transform me into a rigid pillar of
stone; her flatteries irritated my scorn, her blandishments
confirmed my reserve. At times I wondered what she meant by
giving herself such trouble to win me, when the more profitable
Pelet was already in her nets, and when, too, she was aware that
I possessed her secret, for I had not scrupled to tell her as
much: but the fact is that as it was her nature to doubt the
reality and under-value the worth of modesty, affection,
disinterestedness--to regard these qualities as foibles of
character--so it was equally her tendency to consider pride,
hardness, selfishness, as proofs of strength. She would trample
on the neck of humility, she would kneel at the feet of disdain;
she would meet tenderness with secret contempt, indifference she
would woo with ceaseless assiduities. Benevolence, devotedness,
enthusiasm, were her antipathies; for dissimulation and
self-interest she had a preference--they were real wisdom in her
eyes; moral and physical degradation, mental and bodily
inferiority, she regarded with indulgence; they were foils
capable of being turned to good account as set-offs for her own
endowments. To violence, injustice, tyranny, she succumbed--they
were her natural masters; she had no propensity to hate, no
impulse to resist them; the indignation their behests awake in
some hearts was unknown in hers. From all this it resulted that
the false and selfish called her wise, the vulgar and debased
termed her charitable, the insolent and unjust dubbed her
amiable, the conscientious and benevolent generally at first
accepted as valid her claim to be considered one of themselves;
but ere long the plating of pretension wore off, the real
material appeared below, and they laid her aside as a deception.
In the course of another fortnight I had seen sufficient of
Frances Evans Henri, to enable me to form a more definite opinion
of her character. I found her possessed in a somewhat remarkable
degree of at least two good points, viz., perseverance and a
sense of duty; I found she was really capable of applying to
study, of contending with difficulties. At first I offered her
the same help which I had always found it necessary to confer on
the others; I began with unloosing for her each knotty point, but
I soon discovered that such help was regarded by my new pupil as
degrading; she recoiled from it with a certain proud impatience.
Hereupon I appointed her long lessons, and left her to solve
alone any perplexities they might present. She set to the task
with serious ardour, and having quickly accomplished one labour,
eagerly demanded more. So much for her perseverance; as to her
sense of duty, it evinced itself thus: she liked to learn, but
hated to teach; her progress as a pupil depended upon herself,
and I saw that on herself she could calculate with certainty; her
success as a teacher rested partly, perhaps chiefly, upon the
will of others; it cost her a most painful effort to enter into
conflict with this foreign will, to endeavour to bend it into
subjection to her own; for in what regarded people in general the
action of her will was impeded by many scruples; it was as
unembarrassed as strong where her own affairs were concerned, and
to it she could at any time subject her inclination, if that
inclination went counter to her convictions of right; yet when
called upon to wrestle with the propensities, the habits, the
faults of others, of children especially, who are deaf to reason,
and, for the most part, insensate to persuasion, her will
sometimes almost refused to act; then came in the sense of duty,
and forced the reluctant will into operation. A wasteful expense
of energy and labour was frequently the consequence; Frances
toiled for and with her pupils like a drudge, but it was long ere
her conscientious exertions were rewarded by anything like
docility on their part, because they saw that they had power over
her, inasmuch as by resisting her painful attempts to convince,
persuade, control--by forcing her to the employment of coercive
measures--they could inflict upon her exquisite suffering.
Human beings--human children especially--seldom deny themselves
the pleasure of exercising a power which they are conscious of
possessing, even though that power consist only in a capacity to
make others wretched; a pupil whose sensations are duller than
those of his instructor, while his nerves are tougher and his
bodily strength perhaps greater, has an immense advantage over
that instructor, and he will generally use it relentlessly,
because the very young, very healthy, very thoughtless, know
neither how to sympathize nor how to spare. Frances, I fear,
suffered much; a continual weight seemed to oppress her spirits;
I have said she did not live in the house, and whether in her own
abode, wherever that might be, she wore the same preoccupied,
unsmiling, sorrowfully resolved air that always shaded her
features under the roof of Mdlle. Reuter, I could not tell.
One day I gave, as a devoir, the trite little anecdote of Alfred
tending cakes in the herdsman's hut, to be related with
amplifications. A singular affair most of the pupils made of it;
brevity was what they had chiefly studied; the majority of the
narratives were perfectly unintelligible; those of Sylvie and
Leonie Ledru alone pretended to anything like sense and
connection. Eulalie, indeed, had hit, upon a clever expedient
for at once ensuring accuracy and saving trouble; she had
obtained access somehow to an abridged history of England, and
had copied the anecdote out fair. I wrote on the margin of her
production "Stupid and deceitful," and then tore it down the
Last in the pile of single-leaved devoirs, I found one of several
sheets, neatly written out and stitched together; I knew the
hand, and scarcely needed the evidence of the signature "Frances
Evans Henri" to confirm my conjecture as to the writer's
Night was my usual time for correcting devoirs, and my own room
the usual scene of such task--task most onerous hitherto; and it
seemed strange to me to feel rising within me an incipient sense
of interest, as I snuffed the candle and addressed myself to the
perusal of the poor teacher's manuscript.
"Now," thought I, "I shall see a glimpse of what she really is; I
shall get an idea of the nature and extent of her powers; not
that she can be expected to express herself well in a foreign
tongue, but still, if she has any mind, here will be a reflection
The narrative commenced by a description of a Saxon peasant's
hut, situated within the confines of a great, leafless, winter
forest; it represented an evening in December; flakes of snow
were falling, and the herdsman foretold a heavy storm; he
summoned his wife to aid him in collecting their flock, roaming
far away on the pastoral banks of the Thone; he warns her that it
will be late ere they return. The good woman is reluctant to
quit her occupation of baking cakes for the evening meal; but
acknowledging the primary importance of securing the herds and
flocks, she puts on her sheep-skin mantle; and, addressing a
stranger who rests half reclined on a bed of rushes near the
hearth, bids him mind the bread till her return.
"Take care, young man," she continues, "that you fasten the door
well after us; and, above all, open to none in our absence;
whatever sound you hear, stir not, and look not out. The night
will soon fall; this forest is most wild and lonely; strange
noises are often heard therein after sunset; wolves haunt these
glades, and Danish warriors infest the country; worse things are
talked of; you might chance to hear, as it were, a child cry, and
on opening the door to afford it succour, a greet black bull, or
a shadowy goblin dog, might rush over the threshold; or, more
awful still, if something flapped, as with wings, against the
lattice, and then a raven or a white dove flew in and settled on
the hearth, such a visitor would be a sure sign of misfortune to
the house; therefore, heed my advice, and lift the latchet for
Her husband calls her away, both depart. The stranger, left
alone, listens awhile to the muffled snow-wind, the remote,
swollen sound of the river, and then he speaks.
"It is Christmas Eve," says he, "I mark the date; here I sit
alone on a rude couch of rushes, sheltered by the thatch of a
herdsman's hut; I, whose inheritance was a kingdom, owe my
night's harbourage to a poor serf; my throne is usurped, my crown
presses the brow of an invader; I have no friends; my troops
wander broken in the hills of Wales; reckless robbers spoil my
country; my subjects lie prostrate, their breasts crushed by the
heel of the brutal Dane. Fate! thou hast done thy worst, and now
thou standest before me resting thy hand on thy blunted blade.
Ay; I see thine eye confront mine and demand why I still live,
why I still hope. Pagan demon, I credit not thine omnipotence,
and so cannot succumb to thy power. My God, whose Son, as on
this night, took on Him the form of man, and for man vouchsafed
to suffer and bleed, controls thy hand, and without His behest
thou canst not strike a stroke. My God is sinless, eternal,
all-wise--in Him is my trust; and though stripped and crushed by
thee--though naked, desolate, void of resource--I do not
despair, I cannot despair: were the lance of Guthrum now wet
with my blood, I should not despair. I watch, I toil, I hope, I
pray; Jehovah, in his own time, will aid."
I need not continue the quotation; the whole devoir was in the
same strain. There were errors of orthography, there were
foreign idioms, there were some faults of construction, there
were verbs irregular transformed into verbs regular; it was
mostly made up, as the above example shows, of short and somewhat
rude sentences, and the style stood in great need of polish and
sustained dignity; yet such as it was, I had hitherto seen
nothing like it in the course of my professorial experience. The
girl's mind had conceived a picture of the hut, of the two
peasants, of the crownless king; she had imagined the wintry
forest, she had recalled the old Saxon ghost-legends, she had
appreciated Alfred's courage under calamity, she had remembered
his Christian education, and had shown him, with the rooted
confidence of those primitive days, relying on the scriptural
Jehovah for aid against the mythological Destiny. This she had
done without a hint from me: I had given the subject, but not
said a word about the manner of treating it.
"I will find, or make, an opportunity of speaking to her," I said
to myself as I rolled the devoir up; "I will learn what she has
of English in her besides the name of Frances Evans; she is no
novice in the language, that is evident, yet she told me she had
neither been in England, nor taken lessons in English, nor lived
in English families."
In the course of my next lesson, I made a report of the other
devoirs, dealing out praise and blame in very small retail
parcels, according to my custom, for there was no use in blaming
severely, and high encomiums were rarely merited. I said nothing
of Mdlle. Henri's exercise, and, spectacles on nose, I
endeavoured to decipher in her countenance her sentiments at the
omission. I wanted to find out whether in her existed a
consciousness of her own talents. "If she thinks she did a
clever thing in composing that devoir, she will now look
mortified," thought I. Grave as usual, almost sombre, was her
face; as usual, her eyes were fastened on the cahier open before
her; there was something, I thought, of expectation in her
attitude, as I concluded a brief review of the last devoir, and
when, casting it from me and rubbing my hands, I bade them take
their grammars, some slight change did pass over her air and
mien, as though she now relinquished a faint prospect of pleasant
excitement; she had been waiting for something to be discussed in
which she had a degree of interest; the discussion was not to
come on, so expectation sank back, shrunk and sad, but attention,
promptly filling up the void, repaired in a moment the transient
collapse of feature; still, I felt, rather than saw, during the
whole course of the lesson, that a hope had been wrenched from
her, and that if she did not show distress, it was because she
At four o'clock, when the bell rang and the room was in immediate
tumult, instead of taking my hat and starting from the estrade, I
sat still a moment. I looked at Frances, she was putting her
books into her cabas; having fastened the button, she raised her
head; encountering my eye, she made a quiet, respectful
obeisance, as bidding good afternoon, and was turning to
"Come here," said I, lifting my finger at the same time. She
hesitated; she could not hear the words amidst the uproar now
pervading both school-rooms; I repeated the sign; she approached;
again she paused within half a yard of the estrade, and looked
shy, and still doubtful whether she had mistaken my meaning.
"Step up," I said, speaking with decision. It is the only way of
dealing with diffident, easily embarrassed characters, and with
some slight manual aid I presently got her placed just where
wanted her to be, that is, between my desk and the window, where
she was screened from the rush of the second division, and where
no one could sneak behind her to listen.
"Take a seat," I said, placing a tabouret; and I made her sit
down. I knew what I was doing would be considered a very strange
thing, and, what was more, I did not care. Frances knew it also,
and, I fear, by an appearance of agitation and trembling, that
she cared much. I drew from my pocket the rolled-up devoir.
"This it, yours, I suppose?" said I, addressing her in English,
for I now felt sure she could speak English.
"Yes," she answered distinctly; and as I unrolled it and laid it
out flat on the desk before her with my hand upon it, and a
pencil in that hand, I saw her moved, and, as it were, kindled;
her depression beamed as a cloud might behind which the sun is
"This devoir has numerous faults," said I. "It will take you
some years of careful study before you are in a condition to
write English with absolute correctness. Attend: I will point
out some principal defects." And I went through it carefully,
noting every error, and demonstrating why they were errors, and
how the words or phrases ought to have been written. In the
course of this sobering process she became calm. I now went on:-
"As to the substance of your devoir, Mdlle. Henri, it has
surprised me; I perused it with pleasure, because I saw in it
some proofs of taste and fancy. Taste and fancy are not the
highest gifts of the human mind, but such as they are you possess
them--not probably in a paramount degree, but in a degree beyond
what the majority can boast. You may then take courage;
cultivate the faculties that God and nature have bestowed on you,
and do not fear in any crisis of suffering, under any pressure of
injustice, to derive free and full consolation from the
consciousness of their strength and rarity."
"Strength and rarity!" I repeated to myself; "ay, the words are
probably true," for on looking up, I saw the sun had dissevered
its screening cloud, her countenance was transfigured, a smile
shone in her eyes--a smile almost triumphant; it seemed to say--
"I am glad you have been forced to discover so much of my nature;
you need not so carefully moderate your language. Do you think I
am myself a stranger to myself? What you tell me in terms so
qualified, I have known fully from a child."
She did say this as plainly as a frank and flashing glance could,
but in a moment the glow of her complexion, the radiance of her
aspect, had subsided; if strongly conscious of her talents, she
was equally conscious of her harassing defects, and the
remembrance of these obliterated for a single second, now
reviving with sudden force, at once subdued the too vivid
characters in which her sense of her powers had been expressed.
So quick was the revulsion of feeling, I had not time to cheek
her triumph by reproof; ere I could contract my brows to a frown
she had become serious and almost mournful-looking.
"Thank you, sir," said she, rising. There was gratitude both in
her voice and in the look with which she accompanied it. It was
time, indeed, for our conference to terminate; for, when I
glanced around, behold all the boarders (the day-scholars had
departed) were congregated within a yard or two of my desk, and
stood staring with eyes and mouths wide open; the three
maitresses formed a whispering knot in one corner, and, close at
my elbow, was the directress, sitting on a low chair, calmly
clipping the tassels of her finished purse.
AFTER all I had profited but imperfectly by the opportunity I had
so boldly achieved of speaking to Mdlle. Henri; it was my
intention to ask her how she came to be possessed of two English
baptismal names, Frances and Evans, in addition to her French
surname, also whence she derived her good accent. I had
forgotten both points, or, rather, our colloquy had been so brief
that I had not had time to bring them forward; moreover, I had
not half tested her powers of speaking English; all I had drawn
from her in that language were the words "Yes," and "Thank you,
sir." "No matter," I reflected. "What has been left incomplete
now, shall be finished another day." Nor did I fail to keep the
promise thus made to myself. It was difficult to get even a few
words of particular conversation with one pupil among so many;
but, according to the old proverb, "Where there is a will, there
is a way;" and again and again I managed to find an opportunity
for exchanging a few words with Mdlle. Henri, regardless that
envy stared and detraction whispered whenever I approached her.
"Your book an instant." Such was the mode in which I often began
these brief dialogues; the time was always just at the conclusion
of the lesson; and motioning to her to rise, I installed myself
in her place, allowing her to stand deferentially at my side; for
I esteemed it wise and right in her case to enforce strictly all
forms ordinarily in use between master and pupil; the rather
because I perceived that in proportion as my manner grew austere
and magisterial, hers became easy and self-possessed--an odd
contradiction, doubtless, to the ordinary effect in such cases;
but so it was.
"A pencil," said I, holding out my hand without looking at her.
(I am now about to sketch a brief report of the first of these
conferences.) She gave me one, and while I underlined some errors
in a grammatical exercise she had written, I observed--
"You are not a native of Belgium?"
"Nor of France?"
"Where, then, is your birthplace?"
"I was born at Geneva."
"You don't call Frances and Evans Swiss names, I presume?"
"No, sir; they are English names."
"Just so; and is it the custom of the Genevese to give their
children English appellatives?"
"Non, Monsieur; mais--"
"Speak English, if you please."
"But" (slowly and with embarrassment) "my parents were not all
the two Genevese."
"Say BOTH, instead of 'all the two,' mademoiselle."
"Not BOTH Swiss: my mother was English."
"Ah! and of English extraction?"
"Yes--her ancestors were all English."
"And your father?"
"He was Swiss."
"What besides? What was his profession?"
"Ecclesiastic--pastor--he had a church."
"Since your mother is an Englishwoman, why do you not speak
English with more facility?"
"Maman est morte, il y a dix ans."
"And you do homage to her memory by forgetting her language.
Have the goodness to put French out of your mind so long as I
converse with you--keep to English."
"C'est si difficile, monsieur, quand on n'en a plus l'habitude."
"You had the habitude formerly, I suppose? Now answer me in your
"Yes, sir, I spoke the English more than the French when I was a
"Why do you not speak it now?"
"Because I have no English friends."
"You live with your father, I suppose?"
"My father is dead."
"You have brothers and sisters?"
"Do you live alone?"
"No--I have an aunt--ma tante Julienne."
"Your father's sister?"
"Is that English?"
"No--but I forget--"
"For which, mademoiselle, if you were a child I should certainly
devise some slight punishment; at your age--you must be two or
three and twenty, I should think?"
"Pas encore, monsieur--en un mois j'aurai dix-neuf ans."
"Well, nineteen is a mature age, and, having attained it, you
ought to be so solicitous for your own improvement, that it
should not be needful for a master to remind you twice of the
expediency of your speaking English whenever practicable."
To this wise speech I received no answer; and, when I looked up,
my pupil was smiling to herself a much-meaning, though not very
gay smile; it seemed to say, "He talks of he knows not what:" it
said this so plainly, that I determined to request information on
the point concerning which my ignorance seemed to be thus tacitly
"Are you solicitous for your own improvement?"
"How do you prove it, mademoiselle?"
An odd question, and bluntly put; it excited a second smile.
"Why, monsieur, I am not inattentive--am I? I learn my lessons
"Oh, a child can do that! and what more do you do?"
"What more can I do?"
"Oh, certainly, not much; but you are a teacher, are you not, as
well as a pupil?"
"You teach lace-mending?"
"A dull, stupid occupation; do you like it?"
"No--it is tedious."
"Why do you pursue it? Why do you not rather teach history,
geography, grammar, even arithmetic?"
"Is monsieur certain that I am myself thoroughly acquainted with
"I don't know; you ought to be at your age."
"But I never was at school, monsieur--"
"Indeed! What then were your friends--what was your aunt about?
She is very much to blame."
"No monsieur, no--my aunt is good--she is not to blame--she does
what she can; she lodges and nourishes me" (I report Mdlle.
Henri's phrases literally, and it was thus she translated from
the French). "She is not rich; she has only an annuity of twelve
hundred francs, and it would be impossible for her to send me to
"Rather," thought I to myself on hearing this, but I continued,
in the dogmatical tone I had adopted:--
"It is sad, however, that you should be brought up in ignorance
of the most ordinary branches of education; had you known
something of history and grammar you might, by degrees, have
relinquished your lace-mending drudgery, and risen in the world."
"It is what I mean to do."
"How? By a knowledge of English alone? That will not suffice;
no respectable family will receive a governess whose whole stock
of knowledge consists in a familiarity with one foreign
"Monsieur, I know other things."
"Yes, yes, you can work with Berlin wools, and embroider
handkerchiefs and collars--that will do little for you."
Mdlle. Henri's lips were unclosed to answer, but she checked
herself, as thinking the discussion had been sufficiently
pursued, and remained silent.
"Speak," I continued, impatiently; "I never like the appearance
of acquiescence when the reality is not there; and you had a
contradiction at your tongue's end."
"Monsieur, I have had many lessons both in grammar, history,
geography, and arithmetic. I have gone through a course of each
"Bravo! but how did you manage it, since your aunt could not
afford lo send you to school?"
"By lace-mending; by the thing monsieur despises so much."
"Truly! And now, mademoiselle, it will be a good exercise for
you to explain to me in English how such a result was produced by
"Monsieur, I begged my aunt to have me taught lace-mending soon
after we came to Brussels, because I knew it was a METIER, a
trade which was easily learnt, and by which I could earn some
money very soon. I learnt it in a few days, and I quickly got
work, for all the Brussels ladies have old lace--very precious
--which must be mended all the times it is washed. I earned
money a little, and this money I grave for lessons in the studies
I have mentioned; some of it I spent in buying books, English
books especially; soon I shall try to find a place of governess,
or school-teacher, when I can write and speak English well; but
it will be difficult, because those who know I have been a
lace-mender will despise me, as the pupils here despise me.
Pourtant j'ai mon projet," she added in a lower tone.
"What is it?"
"I will go and live in England; I will teach French there."
The words were pronounced emphatically. She said "England" as
you might suppose an Israelite of Moses' days would have said
"Have you a wish to see England?"
"Yes, and an intention."
And here a voice, the voice of the directress, interposed:-
"Mademoiselle Henri, je crois qu'il va pleuvoir; vous feriez
bien, ma bonne amie, de retourner chez vous tout de suite."
In silence, without a word of thanks for this officious warning,
Mdlle. Henri collected her books; she moved to me respectfully,
endeavoured to move to her superior, though the endeavour was
almost a failure, for her head seemed as if it would not bend,
and thus departed.
Where there is one grain of perseverance or wilfulness in the
composition, trifling obstacles are ever known rather to
stimulate than discourage. Mdlle. Reuter might as well have
spared herself the trouble of giving that intimation about the
weather (by-the-by her prediction was falsified by the event--it
did not rain that evening). At the close of the next lesson I
was again at Mdlle. Henri's desk. Thus did I accost her:--
"What is your idea of England, mademoiselle? Why do you wish to
Accustomed by this time to the calculated abruptness of my
manner, it no longer discomposed or surprised her, and she
answered with only so much of hesitation as was rendered
inevitable by the difficulty she experienced in improvising the
translation of her thoughts from French to English.
"England is something unique, as I have heard and read; my idea
of it is vague, and I want to go there to render my idea clear,
"Hum! How much of England do you suppose you could see if you
went there in the capacity of a teacher? A strange notion you
must have of getting a clear and definite idea of a country!
All you could see of Great Britain would be the interior of a
school, or at most of one or two private dwellings."
"It would be an English school; they would be English dwellings."
"Indisputably; but what then? What would be the value of
observations made on a scale so narrow?"
"Monsieur, might not one learn something by analogy?
An-echantillon--a--a sample often serves to give an idea of the
whole; besides, narrow and wide are words comparative, are they
not? All my life would perhaps seem narrow in your eyes--all the
life of a--that little animal subterranean--une taupe--comment
"Yes--a mole, which lives underground would seem narrow even to
"Well, mademoiselle--what then? Proceed."
"Mais, monsieur, vous me comprenez."
"Not in the least; have the goodness to explain."
"Why, monsieur, it is just so. In Switzerland I have done but
little, learnt but little, and seen but little; my life there was
in a circle; I walked the same round every day; I could not get
out of it; had I rested--remained there even till my death, I
should never have enlarged it, because I am poor and not skilful,
I have not great acquirements; when I was quite tired of this
round, I begged my aunt to go to Brussels; my existence is no
larger here, because I am no richer or higher; I walk in as
narrow a limit, but the scene is changed; it would change again
if I went to England. I knew something of the bourgeois of
Geneva, now I know something of the bourgeois of Brussels; if I
went to London, I would know something of the bourgeois of
London. Can you make any sense out of what I say, monsieur, or
is it all obscure?"
"I see, I see--now let us advert to another subject; you propose
to devote your life to teaching, and you are a most unsuccessful
teacher; you cannot keep your pupils in order."
A flush of painful confusion was the result of this harsh remark;
she bent her head to the desk, but soon raising it replied--
"Monsieur, I am not a skilful teacher, it is true, but practice
improves; besides, I work under difficulties; here I only teach
sewing, I can show no power in sewing, no superiority--it is a
subordinate art; then I have no associates in this house, I am
isolated; I am too a heretic, which deprives me of influence."
"And in England you would be a foreigner; that too would deprive
you of influence, and would effectually separate you from all
round you; in England you would have as few connections, as
little importance as you have here."
"But I should be learning something; for the rest, there are
probably difficulties for such as I everywhere, and if I must
contend, and perhaps: be conquered, I would rather submit to
English pride than to Flemish coarseness; besides, monsieur--"
She stopped--not evidently from any difficulty in finding words
to express herself, but because discretion seemed to say, "You
have said enough."
"Finish your phrase," I urged.
"Besides, monsieur, I long to live once more among Protestants;
they are more honest than Catholics; a Romish school is a
building with porous walls, a hollow floor, a false ceiling;
every room in this house, monsieur, has eyeholes and ear-holes,
and what the house is, the inhabitants are, very treacherous;
they all think it lawful to tell lies; they all call it
politeness to profess friendship where they feel hatred."
"All?" said I; "you mean the pupils--the mere children
--inexperienced, giddy things, who have not learnt to distinguish
the difference between right and wrong?"
"On the contrary, monsieur--the children are the most sincere;
they have not yet had time to become accomplished in duplicity;
they will tell lies, but they do it inartificially, and you know
they are lying; but the grown-up people are very false; they
deceive strangers, they deceive each other--"
A servant here entered:--
"Mdlle. Henri--Mdlle. Reuter vous prie de vouloir bien conduire
la petite de Dorlodot chez elle, elle vous attend dans le cabinet
de Rosalie la portiere--c'est que sa bonne n'est pas venue la
"Eh bien! est-ce que je suis sa bonne--moi?" demanded Mdlle.
Henri; then smiling, with that same bitter, derisive smile I had
seen on her lips once before, she hastily rose and made her exit.
THE young Anglo-Swiss evidently derived both pleasure and profit
from the study of her mother-tongue. In teaching her I did not,
of course, confine myself to the ordinary school routine; I made
instruction in English a channel for instruction in literature.
I prescribed to her a course of reading; she had a little
selection of English classics, a few of which had been left her
by her mother, and the others she had purchased with her own
penny-fee. I lent her some more modern works; all these she read
with avidity, giving me, in writing, a clear summary of each work
when she had perused it. Composition, too, she delighted in.
Such occupation seemed the very breath of her nostrils, and soon
her improved productions wrung from me the avowal that those
qualities in her I had termed taste and fancy ought rather to
have been denominated judgment and imagination. When I intimated
so much, which I did as usual in dry and stinted phrase, I looked
for the radiant and exulting smile my one word of eulogy had
elicited before; but Frances coloured. If she did smile, it was
very softly and shyly; and instead of looking up to me with a
conquering glance, her eyes rested on my hand, which, stretched
over her shoulder, was writing some directions with a pencil on
the margin of her book.
"Well, are you pleased that I am satisfied with your progress?" I
"Yes," said she slowly, gently, the blush that had half subsided
"But I do not say enough, I suppose?" I continued. "My praises
are too cool?"
She made no answer, and, I thought, looked a little sad. I
divined her thoughts, and should much have liked to have
responded to them, had it been expedient so to do. She was not
now very ambitious of my admiration--not eagerly desirous of
dazzling me; a little affection--ever so little--pleased her
better than all the panegyrics in the world. Feeling this, I
stood a good while behind her, writing on the margin of her book.
I could hardly quit my station or relinquish my occupation;
something retained me bending there, my head very near hers, and
my hand near hers too; but the margin of a copy-book is not an
illimitable space--so, doubtless, the directress thought; and she
took occasion to walk past in order to ascertain by what art I
prolonged so disproportionately the period necessary for filling
it. I was obliged to go. Distasteful effort--to leave what we
Frances did not become pale or feeble in consequence of her
sedentary employment; perhaps the stimulus it communicated to her
mind counterbalanced the inaction it imposed on her body. She
changed, indeed, changed obviously and rapidly; but it was for
the better. When I first saw her, her countenance was sunless,
her complexion colourless; she looked like one who had no source
of enjoyment, no store of bliss anywhere in the world; now the
cloud had passed from her mien, leaving space for the dawn of
hope and interest, and those feelings rose like a clear morning,
animating what had been depressed, tinting what had been pale.
Her eyes, whose colour I had not at first known, so dim were they
with repressed tears, so shadowed with ceaseless dejection, now,
lit by a ray of the sunshine that cheered her heart, revealed
irids of bright hazel--irids large and full, screened with long
lashes; and pupils instinct with fire. That look of wan
emaciation which anxiety or low spirits often communicates to a
thoughtful, thin face, rather long than round, having vanished
from hers; a clearness of skin almost bloom, and a plumpness
almost embonpoint, softened the decided lines of her features.
Her figure shared in this beneficial change; it became rounder,
and as the harmony of her form was complete and her stature of
the graceful middle height, one did not regret (or at least I did
not regret) the absence of confirmed fulness, in contours, still
slight, though compact, elegant, flexible--the exquisite turning
of waist, wrist, hand, foot, and ankle satisfied completely my
notions of symmetry, and allowed a lightness and freedom of
movement which corresponded with my ideas of grace.
Thus improved, thus wakened to life, Mdlle. Henri began to take a
new footing in the school; her mental power, manifested gradually
but steadily, ere long extorted recognition even from the
envious; and when the young and healthy saw that she could smile
brightly, converse gaily, move with vivacity and alertness, they
acknowledged in her a sisterhood of youth and health, and
tolerated her as of their kind accordingly.
To speak truth, I watched this change much as a gardener watches
the growth of a precious plant, and I contributed to it too, even
as the said gardener contributes to the development of his
favourite. To me it was not difficult to discover how I could
best foster my pupil, cherish her starved feelings, and induce
the outward manifestation of that inward vigour which sunless
drought and blighting blast had hitherto forbidden to expand.
Constancy of attention--a kindness as mute as watchful, always
standing by her, cloaked in the rough garb of austerity, and
making its real nature known only by a rare glance of interest,
or a cordial and gentle word; real respect masked with seeming
imperiousness, directing, urging her actions, yet helping her
too, and that with devoted care: these were the means I used,
for these means best suited Frances' feelings, as susceptible as
deep vibrating--her nature at once proud and shy.
The benefits of my system became apparent also in her altered
demeanour as a teacher; she now took her place amongst her pupils
with an air of spirit and firmness which assured them at once
that she meant to be obeyed--and obeyed she was. They felt they
had lost their power over her. If any girl had rebelled, she
would no longer have taken her rebellion to heart; she possessed
a source of comfort they could not drain, a pillar of support
they could not overthrow: formerly, when insulted, she wept;
now, she smiled.
The public reading of one of her devoirs achieved the revelation
of her talents to all and sundry; I remember the subject--it was
an emigrant's letter to his friends at home. It opened with
simplicity; some natural and graphic touches disclosed to the
reader the scene of virgin forest and great, New-World river
--barren of sail and flag--amidst which the epistle was supposed
to be indited. The difficulties and dangers that attend a
settler's life, were hinted at; and in the few words said on that
subject, Mdlle. Henri failed not to render audible the voice of
resolve, patience, endeavour. The disasters which had driven him
from his native country were alluded to; stainless honour,
inflexible independence, indestructible self-respect there took
the word. Past days were spoken of; the grief of parting, the
regrets of absence, were touched upon; feeling, forcible and
fine, breathed eloquent in every period. At the close,
consolation was suggested; religious faith became there the
speaker, and she spoke well.
The devoir was powerfully written in language at once chaste and
choice, in a style nerved with vigour and graced with harmony.
Mdlle. Reuter was quite sufficiently acquainted with English to
understand it when read or spoken in her presence, though she
could neither speak nor write it herself. During the perusal of
this devoir, she sat placidly busy, her eyes and fingers occupied
with the formation of a "riviere" or open-work hem round a
cambric handkerchief; she said nothing, and her face and
forehead, clothed with a mask of purely negative expression, were
as blank of comment as her lips. As neither surprise, pleasure,
approbation, nor interest were evinced in her countenance, so no
more were disdain, envy, annoyance, weariness; if that
inscrutable mien said anything, it was simply this--
"The matter is too trite to excite an emotion, or call forth an
As soon as I had done, a hum rose; several of the pupils,
pressing round Mdlle. Henri, began to beset her with compliments;
the composed voice of the directress was now heard:--
"Young ladies, such of you as have cloaks and umbrellas will
hasten to return home before the shower becomes heavier" (it was
raining a little), "the remainder will wait till their respective
servants arrive to fetch them." And the school dispersed, for it
was four o'clock.
"Monsieur, a word," said Mdlle. Reuter, stepping on to the
estrade, and signifying, by a movement of the hand, that she
wished me to relinquish, for an instant, the castor I had
"Mademoiselle, I am at your service."
"Monsieur, it is of course an excellent plan to encourage effort
in young people by making conspicuous the progress of any
particularly industrious pupil; but do you not think that in the
present instance, Mdlle. Henri can hardly be considered as a
concurrent with the other pupils? She is older than most of them,
and has had advantages of an exclusive nature for acquiring a
knowledge of English; on the other hand, her sphere of life is
somewhat beneath theirs; under these circumstances, a public
distinction, conferred upon Mdlle. Henri, may be the means of
suggesting comparisons, and exciting feelings such as would be
far from advantageous to the individual forming their object.
The interest I take in Mdlle. Henri's real welfare makes me
desirous of screening her from annoyances of this sort; besides,
monsieur, as I have before hinted to you, the sentiment of
AMOUR-PROPRE has a somewhat marked preponderance in her
character; celebrity has a tendency to foster this sentiment, and
in her it should be rather repressed--she rather needs keeping
down than bringing forward; and then I think, monsieur--it
appears to me that ambition, LITERARY ambition especially, is not
a feeling to be cherished in the mind of a woman: would not
Mdlle. Henri be much safer and happier if taught to believe that
in the quiet discharge of social duties consists her real
vocation, than if stimulated to aspire after applause and
publicity? She may never marry; scanty as are her resources,
obscure as are her connections, uncertain as is her health (for I
think her consumptive, her mother died of that complaint), it is
more than probable she never will. I do not see how she can rise
to a position, whence such a step would be possible; but even in
celibacy it would be better for her to retain the character and
habits of a respectable decorous female."
"Indisputably, mademoiselle," was my answer. "Your opinion
admits of no doubt;" and, fearful of the harangue being renewed,
I retreated under cover of that cordial sentence of assent.
At the date of a fortnight after the little incident noted above,
I find it recorded in my diary that a hiatus occurred in Mdlle.
Henri's usually regular attendance in class. The first day or
two I wondered at her absence, but did not like to ask an
explanation of it; I thought indeed some chance word might be
dropped which would afford me the information I wished to obtain,
without my running the risk of exciting silly smiles and
gossiping whispers by demanding it. But when a week passed and
the seat at the desk near the door still remained vacant, and
when no allusion was made to the circumstance by any individual
of the class--when, on the contrary, I found that all observed a
marked silence on the point--I determined, COUTE QUI COUTE, to
break the ice of this silly reserve. I selected Sylvie as my
informant, because from her I knew that I should at least get a
sensible answer, unaccompanied by wriggle, titter, or other
flourish of folly.
"Ou donc est Mdlle. Henri?" I said one day as I returned an
exercise-book I had been examining.
"Elle est partie, monsieur."
"Partie? et pour combien de temps? Quand reviendra-t-elle?"
"Elle est partie pour toujours, monsieur; elle ne reviendra
"Ah!" was my involuntary exclamation; then after a pause:--
"En etes-vous bien sure, Sylvie?"
"Oui, oui, monsieur, mademoiselle la directrice nous l'a dit
elle-meme il y a deux ou trois jours."
And I could pursue my inquiries no further; time, place, and
circumstances forbade my adding another word. I could neither
comment on what had been said, nor demand further particulars. A
question as to the reason of the teacher's departure, as to
whether it had been voluntary or otherwise, was indeed on my
lips, but I suppressed it--there were listeners all round. An
hour after, in passing Sylvie in the corridor as she was putting
on her bonnet, I stopped short and asked:--
"Sylvie, do you know Mdlle. Henri's address? I have some books
of hers," I added carelessly, "and I should wish to send them to
"No, monsieur," replied Sylvie; "but perhaps Rosalie, the
portress, will be able to give it you."
Rosalie's cabinet was just at hand; I stepped in and repeated the
inquiry. Rosalie--a smart French grisette--looked up from her
work with a knowing smile, precisely the sort of smile I had been
so desirous to avoid exciting. Her answer was prepared; she knew
nothing whatever of Mdlle. Henri's address--had never known it.
Turning from her with impatience--for I believed she lied and was
hired to lie--I almost knocked down some one who had been
standing at my back; it was the directress. My abrupt movement
made her recoil two or three steps. I was obliged to apologize,
which I did more concisely than politely. No man likes to be
dogged, and in the very irritable mood in which I then was the
sight of Mdlle. Reuter thoroughly incensed me. At the moment I
turned her countenance looked hard, dark, and inquisitive; her
eyes were bent upon me with an expression of almost hungry
curiosity. I had scarcely caught this phase of physiognomy ere
it had vanished; a bland smile played on her features; my harsh
apology was received with good-humoured facility.
"Oh, don't mention it, monsieur; you only touched my hair with
your elbow; it is no worse, only a little dishevelled." She
shook it back, and passing her fingers through her curls,
loosened them into more numerous and flowing ringlets. Then she
went on with vivacity :-
Rosalie, I was coming to tell you to go instantly and close the
windows of the salon; the wind is rising, and the muslin curtains
will be covered with dust."
Rosalie departed. "Now," thought I, "this will not do; Mdlle.
Reuter thinks her meanness in eaves-dropping is screened by her
art in devising a pretext, whereas the muslin curtains she speaks
of are not more transparent than this same pretext." An impulse
came over me to thrust the flimsy screen aside, and confront her
craft boldly with a word or two of plain truth. "The rough-shod
foot treads most firmly on slippery ground," thought I; so I
"Mademoiselle Henri has left your establishment--been dismissed,
"Ah, I wished to have a little conversation with you, monsieur,"
replied the directress with the most natural and affable air in
the world; "but we cannot talk quietly here; will Monsieur step
into the garden a minute?" And she preceded me, stepping out
through the glass-door I have before mentioned.
"There," said she, when we had reached the centre of the middle
alley, and when the foliage of shrubs and trees, now in their
summer pride, closing behind end around us, shut out the view of
the house, and thus imparted a sense of seclusion even to this
little plot of ground in the very core of a capital.
"There, one feels quiet and free when there are only pear-trees
and rose-bushes about one; I dare say you, like me, monsieur, are
sometimes tired of being eternally in the midst of life; of
having human faces always round you, human eyes always upon you,
human voices always in your ear. I am sure I often wish
intensely for liberty to spend a whole month in the country at
some little farm-house, bien gentille, bien propre, tout entouree
de champs et de bois; quelle vie charmante que la vie champetre!
N'est-ce pas, monsieur?"
"Cela depend, mademoiselle."
"Que le vent est bon et frais!" continued the directress; and
she was right there, for it was a south wind, soft and sweet. I
carried my hat in my hand, and this gentle breeze, passing
through my hair, soothed my temples like balm. Its refreshing
effect, however, penetrated no deeper than the mere surface of
the frame; for as I walked by the side of Mdlle. Reuter, my heart
was still hot within me, and while I was musing the fire burned;
then spake I with my tongue:--
"I understand Mdlle. Henri is gone from hence, and will not
"Ah, true! I meant to have named the subject to you some days
ago, but my time is so completely taken up, I cannot do half the
things I wish: have you never experienced what it is, monsieur,
to find the day too short by twelve hours for your numerous
"Not often. Mdlle. Henri's departure was not voluntary, I
presume? If it had been, she would certainly have given me some
intimation of it, being my pupil."
"Oh, did she not tell you? that was strange; for my part, I
never thought of adverting to the subject; when one has so many
things to attend to, one is apt to forget little incidents that
are not of primary importance."
"You consider Mdlle. Henri's dismission, then, as a very
"Dismission? Ah! she was not dismissed; I can say with truth,
monsieur, that since I became the head of this establishment no
master or teacher has ever been dismissed from it."
"Yet some have left it, mademoiselle?"
"Many; I have found it necessary to change frequently--a change
of instructors is often beneficial to the interests of a school;
it gives life and variety to the proceedings; it amuses the
pupils, and suggests to the parents the idea of exertion and
"Yet when you are tired of a professor or maitresse, you scruple
to dismiss them?"
"No need to have recourse to such extreme measures, I assure you.
Allons, monsieur le professeur--asseyons-nous; je vais vous
donner une petite lecon dans votre etat d'instituteur." (I wish I
might write all she said to me in French--it loses sadly by being
translated into English.) We had now reached THE garden-chair;
the directress sat down, and signed to me to sit by her, but I
only rested my knee on the seat, and stood leaning my head and
arm against the embowering branch of a huge laburnum, whose
golden flowers, blent with the dusky green leaves of a
lilac-bush, formed a mixed arch of shade and sunshine over the
retreat. Mdlle. Reuter sat silent a moment; some novel movements
were evidently working in her mind, and they showed their nature
on her astute brow; she was meditating some CHEF D'OEUVRE of
policy. Convinced by several months' experience that the
affectation of virtues she did not possess was unavailing to
ensnare me--aware that I had read her real nature, and would
believe nothing of the character she gave out as being hers--she
had determined, at last, to try a new key, and see if the lock of
my heart would yield to that; a little audacity, a word of truth,
a glimpse of the real. "Yes, I will try," was her inward
resolve; and then her blue eye glittered upon me--it did not
flash--nothing of flame ever kindled in its temperate gleam.
"Monsieur fears to sit by me?" she inquired playfully.
"I have no wish to usurp Pelet's place," I answered, for I had
got the habit of speaking to her bluntly--a habit begun in anger,
but continued because I saw that, instead of offending, it
fascinated her. She cast down her eyes, and drooped her eyelids;
she sighed uneasily; she turned with an anxious gesture, as if
she would give me the idea of a bird that flutters in its cage,
and would fain fly from its jail and jailer, and seek its natural
mate and pleasant nest.
"Well--and your lesson?" I demanded briefly.
"Ah!" she exclaimed, recovering herself, "you are so young, so
frank and fearless, so talented, so impatient of imbecility, so
disdainful of vulgarity, you need a lesson; here it is then: far
more is to be done in this world by dexterity than by strength;
but, perhaps, you knew that before, for there is delicacy as well
as power in your character--policy, as well as pride?"
"Go on." said I; and I could hardly help smiling, the flattery
was so piquant, so finely seasoned. She caught the prohibited
smile, though I passed my hand over my month to conceal it; and
again she made room for me to sit beside her. I shook my head,
though temptation penetrated to my senses at the moment, and once
more I told her to go on.
"Well, then, if ever you are at the head of a large
establishment, dismiss nobody. To speak truth, monsieur (and to
you I will speak truth), I despise people who are always making
rows, blustering, sending off one to the right, and another to
the left, urging and hurrying circumstances. I'll tell you what
I like best to do, monsieur, shall I?" She looked up again; she
had compounded her glance well this time--much archness, more
deference, a spicy dash of coquetry, an unveiled consciousness of
capacity. I nodded; she treated me like the great Mogul; so I
became the great Mogul as far as she was concerned.
"I like, monsieur, to take my knitting in my hands, and to sit
quietly down in my chair; circumstances defile past me; I watch
their march; so long as they follow the course I wish, I say
nothing, and do nothing; I don't clap my hands, and cry out
'Bravo! How lucky I am!' to attract the attention and envy of my
neighbours--I am merely passive; but when events fall out ill
--when circumstances become adverse--I watch very vigilantly; I
knit on still, and still I hold my tongue; but every now and
then, monsieur, I just put my toe out--so--and give the
rebellious circumstance a little secret push, without noise,
which sends it the way I wish, and I am successful after all, and
nobody has seen my expedient. So, when teachers or masters
become troublesome and inefficient--when, in short, the interests
of the school would suffer from their retaining their places--I
mind my knitting, events progress, circumstances glide past; I
see one which, if pushed ever so little awry, will render
untenable the post I wish to have vacated--the deed is done--the
stumbling-block removed--and no one saw me: I have not made an
enemy, I am rid of an incumbrance."
A moment since, and I thought her alluring; this speech
concluded, I looked on her with distaste. "Just like you," was
my cold answer. "And in this way you have ousted Mdlle. Henri?
You wanted her office, therefore you rendered it intolerable to
"Not at all, monsieur, I was merely anxious about Mdlle. Henri's
health; no, your moral sight is clear and piercing, but there you
have failed to discover the truth. I took--I have always taken a
real interest in Mdlle. Henri's welfare; I did not like her going
out in all weathers; I thought it would be more advantageous for
her to obtain a permanent situation; besides, I considered her
now qualified to do something more than teach sewing. I reasoned
with her; left the decision to herself; she saw the correctness
of my views, and adopted them."
"Excellent! and now, mademoiselle, you will have the goodness to
give me her address."
"Her address!" and a sombre and stony change came over the mien
of the directress. "Her address? Ah?--well--I wish I could
oblige you, monsieur, but I cannot, and I will tell you why;
whenever I myself asked her for her address, she always evaded
the inquiry. I thought--I may be wrong--but I THOUGHT her motive
for doing so, was a natural, though mistaken reluctance to
introduce me to some, probably, very poor abode; her means were
narrow, her origin obscure; she lives somewhere, doubtless, in
the 'basse ville.'"
"I'll not lose sight of my best pupil yet," said I, "though she
were born of beggars and lodged in a cellar; for the rest, it is
absurd to make a bugbear of her origin to me--I happen to know
that she was a Swiss pastor's daughter, neither more nor less;
and, as to her narrow means, I care nothing for the poverty of
her purse so long as her heart overflows with affluence."
"Your sentiments are perfectly noble, monsieur," said the
directress, affecting to suppress a yawn; her sprightliness was
now extinct, her temporary candour shut up; the little,
red-coloured, piratical-looking pennon of audacity she had
allowed to float a minute in the air, was furled, and the broad,
sober-hued flag of dissimulation again hung low over the citadel.
I did not like her thus, so I cut short the TETE-A-TETE and
NOVELISTS should never allow themselves to weary of the study of
real life. If they observed this duty conscientiously, they
would give us fewer pictures chequered with vivid contrasts of
light and shade; they would seldom elevate their heroes and
heroines to the heights of rapture--still seldomer sink them to
the depths of despair; for if we rarely taste the fulness of joy
in this life, we yet more rarely savour the acrid bitterness of
hopeless anguish; unless, indeed, we have plunged like beasts
into sensual indulgence, abused, strained, stimulated, again
overstrained, and, at last, destroyed our faculties for
enjoyment; then, truly, we may find ourselves without support,
robbed of hope. Our agony is great, and how can it end? We have
broken the spring of our powers; life must be all suffering--too
feeble to conceive faith--death must be darkness--God, spirits,
religion can have no place in our collapsed minds, where linger
only hideous and polluting recollections of vice; and time brings
us on to the brink of the grave, and dissolution flings us in--a
rag eaten through and through with disease, wrung together with
pain, stamped into the churchyard sod by the inexorable heel of
But the man of regular life and rational mind never despairs. He
loses his property--it is a blow--he staggers a moment; then, his
energies, roused by the smart, are at work to seek a remedy;
activity soon mitigates regret. Sickness affects him; he takes
patience--endures what he cannot cure. Acute pain racks him; his
writhing limbs know not where to find rest; he leans on Hope's
anchors. Death takes from him what he loves; roots up, and tears
violently away the stem round which his affections were twined--a
dark, dismal time, a frightful wrench--but some morning Religion
looks into his desolate house with sunrise, and says, that in
another world, another life, he shall meet his kindred again.
She speaks of that world as a place unsullied by sin--of that
life, as an era unembittered by suffering; she mightily
strengthens her consolation by connecting with it two ideas
--which mortals cannot comprehend, but on which they love to
repose--Eternity, Immortality; and the mind of the mourner, being
filled with an image, faint yet glorious, of heavenly hills all
light and peace--of a spirit resting there in bliss--of a day
when his spirit shall also alight there, free and disembodied--of
a reunion perfected by love, purified from fear--he takes
courage--goes out to encounter the necessities and discharge the
duties of life; and, though sadness may never lift her burden
from his mind, Hope will enable him to support it.
Well--and what suggested all this? and what is the inference to
be drawn therefrom? What suggested it, is the circumstance of my
best pupil--my treasure--being snatched from my hands, and put
away out of my reach; the inference to be drawn from it is--that,
being a steady, reasonable man, I did not allow the resentment,
disappointment, and grief, engendered in my mind by this evil
chance, to grow there to any monstrous size; nor did I allow them
to monopolize the whole space of my heart; I pent them, on the
contrary, in one strait and secret nook. In the daytime, too,
when I was about my duties, I put them on the silent system; and
it was only after I had closed the door of my chamber at night
that I somewhat relaxed my severity towards these morose
nurslings, and allowed vent to their language of murmurs; then,
in revenge, they sat on my pillow, haunted my bed, and kept me
awake with their long, midnight cry.
A week passed. I had said nothing more to Mdlle. Reuter. I had
been calm in my demeanour to her, though stony cold and hard.
When I looked at her, it was with the glance fitting to be
bestowed on one who I knew had consulted jealousy as an adviser,
and employed treachery as an instrument--the glance of quiet
disdain and rooted distrust. On Saturday evening, ere I left the
house, I stept into the SALLE-A-MANGER, where she was sitting
alone, and, placing myself before her, I asked, with the same
tranquil tone and manner that I should have used had I put the
question for the first time--
"Mademoiselle, will you have the goodness to give me the address
of Frances Evans Henri?"
A little surprised, but not disconcerted, she smilingly
disclaimed any knowledge of that address, adding, "Monsieur has
perhaps forgotten that I explained all about that circumstance
before--a week ago?"
"Mademoiselle," I continued, "you would greatly oblige me by
directing me to that young person's abode."
She seemed somewhat puzzled; and, at last, looking up with an
admirably counterfeited air of naivete, she demanded, "Does
Monsieur think I am telling an untruth?"
Still avoiding to give her a direct answer, I said, "It is not
then your intention, mademoiselle, to oblige me in this
"But, monsieur, how can I tell you what I do not know?"
"Very well; I understand you perfectly, mademoiselle, and now I
have only two or three words to say. This is the last week in
July; in another month the vacation will commence I have the
goodness to avail yourself of the leisure it will afford you to
look out for another English master--at the close of August, I
shall be under the necessity of resigning my post in your
I did not wait for her comments on this announcement, but bowed
and immediately withdrew.
That same evening, soon after dinner, a servant brought me a
small packet; it was directed in a hand I knew, but had not hoped
so soon to see again; being in my own apartment and alone, there
was nothing to prevent my immediately opening it; it contained
four five-franc pieces, and a note in English.
"I came to Mdlle. Reuter's house yesterday, at the time when I
knew you would be just about finishing your lesson, and I asked
if I might go into the schoolroom and speak to you. Mdlle.
Reuter came out and said you were already gone; it had not yet
struck four, so I thought she must be mistaken, but concluded it
would be vain to call another day on the same errand. In one
sense a note will do as well--it will wrap up the 20 francs, the
price of the lessons I have received from you; and if it will not
fully express the thanks I owe you in addition--if it will not
bid you good-bye as I could wish to have done--if it will not
tell you, as I long to do, how sorry I am that I shall probably
never see you more--why, spoken words would hardly be more
adequate to the task. Had I seen you, I should probably have
stammered out something feeble and unsatisfactory--something
belying my feelings rather than explaining them; so it is perhaps
as well that I was denied admission to your presence. You often
remarked, monsieur, that my devoirs dwelt a great deal on
fortitude in bearing grief--you said I introduced that theme too
often: I find indeed that it is much easier to write about a
severe duty than to perform it, for I am oppressed when I see and
feel to what a reverse fate has condemned me; you were kind to
me, monsieur--very kind; I am afflicted--I am heart-broken to be
quite separated from you; soon I shall have no friend on earth.
But it is useless troubling you with my distresses. What claim
have I on your sympathy? None; I will then say no more.
"F. E. HENRI."
I put up the note in my pocket-book. I slipped the five-franc
pieces into my purse--then I took a turn through my narrow
"Mdlle. Reuter talked about her poverty," said I, "and she is
poor; yet she pays her debts and more. I have not yet given her
a quarter's lessons, and she has sent me a quarter's due. I
wonder of what she deprived herself to scrape together the twenty
francs--I wonder what sort of a place she has to live in, and
what sort of a woman her aunt is, and whether she is likely to
get employment to supply the place she has lost. No doubt she
will have to trudge about long enough from school to school, to
inquire here, and apply there--be rejected in this place,
disappointed in that. Many an evening she'll go to her bed tired
and unsuccessful. And the directress would not let her in to bid
me good-bye? I might not have the chance of standing with her
for a few minutes at a window in the schoolroom and exchanging
some half-dozen of sentences--getting to know where she lived
--putting matters in train for having all things arranged to my
mind? No address on the note"--I continued, drawing it again
from the pocket-book and examining it on each side of the two
leaves: "women are women, that is certain, and always do
business like women; men mechanically put a date and address to
their communications. And these five-franc pieces?"--(I hauled
them forth from my purse)--"if she had offered me them herself
instead of tying them up with a thread of green silk in a kind of
Lilliputian packet, I could have thrust them back into her little
hand, and shut up the small, taper fingers over them--so--and
compelled her shame, her pride, her shyness, all to yield to a
little bit of determined Will--now where is she? How can I get
Opening my chamber door I walked down into the kitchen.
"Who brought the packet ?" I asked of the servant who had
delivered it to me.
"Un petit commissionaire, monsieur."
"Did he say anything?"
And I wended my way up the back-stairs, wondrously the wiser for
"No matter," said I to myself, as I again closed the door. "No
matter--I'll seek her through Brussels."
And I did. I sought her day by day whenever I had a moment's
leisure, for four weeks; I sought her on Sundays all day long; I
sought her on the Boulevards, in the Allee Verte, in the Park; I
sought her in Ste. Gudule and St. Jacques; I sought her in the
two Protestant chapels; I attended these latter at the German,
French, and English services, not doubting that I should meet her
at one of them. All my researches were absolutely fruitless; my
security on the last point was proved by the event to be equally
groundless with my other calculations. I stood at the door of
each chapel after the service, and waited till every individual
had come out, scrutinizing every gown draping a slender form,
peering under every bonnet covering a young head. In vain; I saw
girlish figures pass me, drawing their black scarfs over their
sloping shoulders, but none of them had the exact turn and air of
Mdlle. Henri's; I saw pale and thoughtful faces "encadrees" in
bands of brown hair, but I never found her forehead, her eyes,
her eyebrows. All the features of all the faces I met seemed
frittered away, because my eye failed to recognize the
peculiarities it was bent upon; an ample space of brow and a
large, dark, and serious eye, with a fine but decided line of
eyebrow traced above.
"She has probably left Brussels--perhaps is gone to England, as
she said she would," muttered I inwardly, as on the afternoon of
the fourth Sunday, I turned from the door of the chapel-royal
which the door-keeper had just closed and locked, and followed in
the wake of the last of the congregation, now dispersed and
dispersing over the square. I had soon outwalked the couples of
English gentlemen and ladies. (Gracious goodness! why don't they
dress better? My eye is yet filled with visions of the
high-flounced, slovenly, and tumbled dresses in costly silk and
satin, of the large unbecoming collars in expensive lace; of the
ill-cut coats and strangely fashioned pantaloons which every
Sunday, at the English service, filled the choirs of the
chapel-royal, and after it, issuing forth into the square, came
into disadvantageous contrast with freshly and trimly attired
foreign figures, hastening to attend salut at the church of
Coburg.) I had passed these pairs of Britons, and the groups of
pretty British children, and the British footmen and
waiting-maids; I had crossed the Place Royale, and got into the
Rue Royale, thence I had diverged into the Rue de Louvain--an old
and quiet street. I remember that, feeling a little hungry, and
not desiring to go back and take my share of the "gouter," now on
the refectory-table at Pelet's--to wit, pistolets and water--I
stepped into a baker's and refreshed myself on a COUC(?)--it is
a Flemish word, I don't know how to spell it--A CORINTHE-ANGLICE,
a currant bun--and a cup of coffee; and then I strolled on
towards the Porte de Louvain. Very soon I was out of the city,
and slowly mounting the hill, which ascends from the gate, I took
my time; for the afternoon, though cloudy, was very sultry, and
not a breeze stirred to refresh the atmosphere. No inhabitant of
Brussels need wander far to search for solitude; let him but move
half a league from his own city and he will find her brooding
still and blank over the wide fields, so drear though so fertile,
spread out treeless and trackless round the capital of Brabant.
Having gained the summit of the hill, and having stood and looked
long over the cultured but lifeless campaign, I felt a wish to
quit the high road, which I had hitherto followed, and get in
among those tilled grounds--fertile as the beds of a
Brobdignagian kitchen-garden--spreading far and wide even to the
boundaries of the horizon, where, from a dusk green, distance
changed them to a sullen blue, and confused their tints with
those of the livid and thunderous-looking sky. Accordingly I
turned up a by-path to the right; I had not followed it far ere
it brought me, as I expected, into the fields, amidst which, just
before me, stretched a long and lofty white wall enclosing, as it
seemed from the foliage showing above, some thickly planted
nursery of yew and cypress, for of that species were the branches
resting on the pale parapets, and crowding gloomily about a
massive cross, planted doubtless on a central eminence and
extending its arms, which seemed of black marble, over the
summits of those sinister trees. I approached, wondering to what
house this well-protected garden appertained; I turned the angle
of the wall, thinking to see some stately residence; I was close
upon great iron gates; there was a hut serving for a lodge near,
but I had no occasion to apply for the key--the gates were open;
I pushed one leaf back--rain had rusted its hinges, for it
groaned dolefully as they revolved. Thick planting embowered the
entrance. Passing up the avenue, I saw objects on each hand
which, in their own mute language. of inscription and sign,
explained clearly to what abode I had made my way. This was the
house appointed for all living; crosses, monuments, and garlands
of everlastings announced, "The Protestant Cemetery, outside the
gate of Louvain."
The place was large enough to afford half an hour's strolling
without the monotony of treading continually the same path; and,
for those who love to peruse the annals of graveyards, here was
variety of inscription enough to occupy the attention for double
or treble that space of time. Hither people of many kindreds,
tongues, and nations, had brought their dead for interment; and
here, on pages of stone, of marble, and of brass, were written
names, dates, last tributes of pomp or love, in English, in
French, in German, and Latin. Here the Englishman had erected a
marble monument over the remains of his Mary Smith or Jane Brown,
and inscribed it only with her name. There the French widower had
shaded the grave: of his Elmire or Celestine with a brilliant
thicket of roses, amidst which a little tablet rising, bore an
equally bright testimony to her countless virtues. Every nation,
tribe, and kindred, mourned after its own fashion; and how
soundless was the mourning of all! My own tread, though slow and
upon smooth-rolled paths, seemed to startle, because it formed
the sole break to a silence otherwise total. Not only the winds,
but the very fitful, wandering airs, were that afternoon, as by
common consent, all fallen asleep in their various quarters; the
north was hushed, the south silent, the east sobbed not, nor did
the west whisper. The clouds in heaven were condensed and dull,
but apparently quite motionless. Under the trees of this
cemetery nestled a warm breathless gloom, out of which the
cypresses stood up straight and mute, above which the willows
hung low and still; where the flowers, as languid as fair, waited
listless for night dew or thunder-shower; where the tombs, and
those they hid, lay impassible to sun or shadow, to rain or
Importuned by the sound of my own footsteps, I turned off upon
the turf, and slowly advanced to a grove of yews; I saw something
stir among the stems; I thought it might be a broken branch
swinging, my short-sighted vision had caught no form, only a
sense of motion; but the dusky shade passed on, appearing and
disappearing at the openings in the avenue. I soon discerned it
was a living thing, and a human thing; and, drawing nearer, I
perceived it was a woman, pacing slowly to and fro, and evidently
deeming herself alone as I had deemed myself alone, and
meditating as I had been meditating. Ere long she returned to a
seat which I fancy she had but just quitted, or I should have
caught sight of her before. It was in a nook, screened by a
clump of trees; there was the white wall before her, and a little
stone set up against the wall, and, at the foot of the stone, was
an allotment of turf freshly turned up, a new-made grave. I put
on my spectacles, and passed softly close behind her; glancing at
the inscription on the stone, I read," Julienne Henri, died at
Brussels, aged sixty. August 10th, 18--." Having perused the
inscription, I looked down at the form sitting bent and
thoughtful just under my eyes, unconscious of the vicinity of any
living thing; it was a slim, youthful figure in mourning apparel
of the plainest black stuff, with a little simple, black crape
bonnet; I felt, as well as saw, who it was; and, moving neither
hand nor foot, I stood some moments enjoying the security of
conviction. I had sought her for a month, and had never
discovered one of her traces--never met a hope, or seized a
chance of encountering her anywhere. I had been forced to loosen
my grasp on expectation; and, but an hour ago, had sunk slackly
under the discouraging thought that the current of life, and the
impulse of destiny, had swept her for ever from my reach; and,
behold, while bending suddenly earthward beneath the pressure of
despondency--while following with my eyes the track of sorrow on
the turf of a graveyard--here was my lost jewel dropped on the
tear-fed herbage, nestling in the messy and mouldy roots of
Frances sat very quiet, her elbow on her knee, and her head on
her hand. I knew she could retain a thinking attitude a long
time without change; at last, a tear fell; she had been looking
at the name on the stone before her, and her heart had no doubt
endured one of those constrictions with which the desolate
living, regretting the dead, are, at times, so sorely oppressed.
Many tears rolled down, which she wiped away, again and again,
with her handkerchief; some distressed sobs escaped her, and
then, the paroxysm over, she sat quiet as before. I put my hand
gently on her shoulder; no need further to prepare her, for she
was neither hysterical nor liable to fainting-fits; a sudden
push, indeed, might have startled her, but the contact of my
quiet touch merely woke attention as I wished; and, though she
turned quickly, yet so lightning-swift is thought--in some minds
especially--I believe the wonder of what--the consciousness of
who it was that thus stole unawares on her solitude, had passed
through her brain, and flashed into her heart, even before she
had effected that hasty movement; at least, Amazement had hardly
opened her eyes and raised them to mine, ere Recognition informed
their irids with most speaking brightness. Nervous surprise had
hardly discomposed her features ere a sentiment of most vivid joy
shone clear and warm on her whole countenance. I had hardly time
to observe that she was wasted and pale, ere called to feel a
responsive inward pleasure by the sense of most full and
exquisite pleasure glowing in the animated flush, and shining in
the expansive light, now diffused over my pupil's face. It was
the summer sun flashing out after the heavy summer shower; and
what fertilizes more rapidly than that beam, burning almost like
fire in its ardour?
I hate boldness--that boldness which is of the brassy brow and
insensate nerves; but I love the courage of the strong heart, the
fervour of the generous blood; I loved with passion the light of
Frances Evans' clear hazel eye when it did not fear to look
straight into mine; I loved the tones with which she uttered the
"Mon maitre! mon maitre!"
I loved the movement with which she confided her hand to my hand;
I loved her as she stood there, penniless and parentless; for a
sensualist charmless, for me a treasure--my best object of
sympathy on earth, thinking such thoughts as I thought, feeling
such feelings as I felt; my ideal of the shrine in which to seal
my stores of love; personification of discretion and forethought,
of diligence and perseverance, of self-denial and self-control
--those guardians, those trusty keepers of the gift I longed to
confer on her--the gift of all my affections; model of truth and
honour, of independence and conscientiousness--those refiners and
sustainers of an honest life; silent possessor of a well of
tenderness, of a flame, as genial as still, as pure as
quenchless, of natural feeling, natural passion--those sources of
refreshment and comfort to the sanctuary of home. I knew how
quietly and how deeply the well bubbled in her heart; I knew how
the more dangerous flame burned safely under the eye of reason; I
had seen when the fire shot up a moment high and vivid, when the
accelerated heat troubled life's current in its channels; I had
seen reason reduce the rebel, and humble its blaze to embers. I
had confidence in Frances Evans; I had respect for her, and as I
drew her arm through mine, and led her out of the cemetery, I
felt I had another sentiment, as strong as confidence, as firm as
respect, more fervid than either--that of love.
"Well, my pupil," said I, as the ominous sounding gate swung to
behind us--"Well, I have found you again: a month's search has
seemed long, and I little thought to have discovered my lost
sheep straying amongst graves."
Never had I addressed her but as " Mademoiselle" before, and to
speak thus was to take up a tone new to both her and me. Her
answer suprised me that this language ruffled none of her
feelings, woke no discord in her heart:-
"Mon maitre," she said, "have you troubled yourself to seek me?
I little imagined you would think much of my absence, but I
grieved bitterly to be taken away from you. I was sorry for that
circumstance when heavier troubles ought to have made me forget
"Your aunt is dead?"
"Yes, a fortnight since, and she died full of regret, which I
could not chase from her mind; she kept repeating, even during
the last night of her existence, 'Frances, you will be so lonely
when I am gone, so friendless:' she wished too that she could
have been buried in Switzerland, and it was I who persuaded her
in her old age to leave the banks of Lake Leman, and to come,
only as it seems to die, in this flat region of Flanders.
Willingly would I have observed her last wish, and taken her
remains back to our own country, but that was impossible; I was
forced to lay her here."
"She was ill but a short time, I presume?"
"But three weeks. When she began to sink I asked Mdlle. Reuter's
leave to stay with her and wait on her; I readily got leave."
"Do you return to the pensionnat!" I demanded hastily.
"Monsieur, when I had been at home a week Mdlle. Reuter called
one evening, just after I had got my aunt to bed; she went into
her room to speak to her, and was extremely civil and affable, as
she always is; afterwards she came and sat with me a long time,
and just as she rose to go away, she said: "Mademoiselle, I
shall not soon cease to regret your departure from my
establishment, though indeed it is true that you have taught your
class of pupils so well that they are all quite accomplished in
the little works you manage so skilfully, and have not the
slightest need of further instruction; my second teacher must in
future supply your place, with regard to the younger pupils, as
well as she can, though she is indeed an inferior artiste to you,
and doubtless it will be your part now to assume a higher
position in your calling; I am sure you will everywhere find
schools and families willing to profit by your talents.' And then
she paid me my last quarter's salary. I asked, as mademoiselle
would no doubt think, very bluntly, if she designed to discharge
me from the establishment. She smiled at my inelegance of
speech, and answered that 'our connection as employer and
employed was certainly dissolved, but that she hoped still to
retain the pleasure of my acquaintance; she should always be
happy to see me as a friend;' and then she said something about
the excellent condition of the streets, and the long continuance
of fine weather, and went away quite cheerful."
I laughed inwardly; all this was so like the directress--so like
what I had expected and guessed of her conduct; and then the
exposure and proof of her lie, unconsciously afforded by
Frances:--"She had frequently applied for Mdlle. Henri's
address," forsooth; "Mdlle. Henri had always evaded giving it,"
&c., &c., and here I found her a visitor at the very house of
whose locality she had professed absolute ignorance!
Any comments I might have intended to make on my pupil's
communication, were checked by the plashing of large rain-drops
on our faces and on the path, and by the muttering of a distant
but coming storm. The warning obvious in stagnant air and leaden
sky had already induced me to take the road leading back to
Brussels, and now I hastened my own steps and those of my
companion, and, as our way lay downhill, we got on rapidly.
There was an interval after the fall of the first broad drops
before heavy rain came on; in the meantime we had passed through
the Porte de Louvain, and were again in the city.
"Where do you live?" I asked; "I will see you safe home,"
"Rue Notre Dame aux Neiges," answered Frances.
It was not far from the Rue de Louvain, and we stood on the
doorsteps of the house we sought ere the clouds, severing with
loud peal and shattered cataract of lightning, emptied their
livid folds in a torrent, heavy, prone, and broad.
"Come in! come in!" said Frances, as, after putting her into the
house, I paused ere I followed: the word decided me; I stepped
across the threshold, shut the door on the rushing, flashing,
whitening storm, and followed her upstairs to her apartments.
Neither she nor I were wet; a projection over the door had warded
off the straight-descending flood; none but the first, large
drops had touched our garments; one minute more and we should not
have had a dry thread on us.
Stepping over a little mat of green wool, I found myself in a
small room with a painted floor and a square of green carpet in
the middle; the articles of furniture were few, but all bright
and exquisitely clean; order reigned through its narrow limits
--such order as it soothed my punctilious soul to behold. And I
had hesitated to enter the abode, because I apprehended after all
that Mdlle. Reuter's hint about its extreme poverty might be too
well-founded, and I feared to embarrass the lace-mender by
entering her lodgings unawares! Poor the place might be; poor
truly it was; but its neatness was better than elegance, and had
but a bright little fire shone on that clean hearth, I should
have deemed it more attractive than a palace. No fire was there,
however, and no fuel laid ready to light; the lace-mender was
unable to allow herself that indulgence, especially now when,
deprived by death of her sole relative, she had only her own
unaided exertions to rely on. Frances went into an inner room to
take off her bonnet, and she came out a model of frugal neatness,
with her well-fitting black stuff dress, so accurately defining
her elegant bust and taper waist, with her spotless white collar
turned back from a fair and shapely neck, with her plenteous
brown hair arranged in smooth bands on her temples, and in a
large Grecian plait behind: ornaments she had none--neither
brooch, ring, nor ribbon; she did well enough without them
--perfection of fit, proportion of form, grace of carriage,
agreeably supplied their place. Her eye, as she re-entered the
small sitting-room, instantly sought mine, which was just then
lingering on the hearth; I knew she read at once the sort of
inward ruth and pitying pain which the chill vacancy of that
hearth stirred in my soul: quick to penetrate, quick to
determine, and quicker to put in practice, she had in a moment
tied a holland apron round her waist; then she disappeared, and
reappeared with a basket; it had a cover; she opened it, and
produced wood and coal; deftly and compactly she arranged them in
"It is her whole stock, and she will exhaust it out of
hospitality," thought I.
"What are you going to do?" I asked: "not surely to light a fire
this hot evening? I shall be smothered."
"Indeed, monsieur, I feel it very chilly since the rain began;
besides, I must boil the water for my tea, for I take tea on
Sundays; you will be obliged to try and bear the heat."
She had struck a light; the wood was already in a blaze; and
truly, when contrasted with the darkness, the wild tumult of the
tempest without, that peaceful glow which began to beam on the
now animated hearth, seemed very cheering. A low, purring sound,
from some quarter, announced that another being, besides myself,
was pleased with the change; a black cat, roused by the light
from its sleep on a little cushioned foot-stool, came and rubbed
its head against Frances' gown as she knelt; she caressed it,
saying it had been a favourite with her "pauvre tante Julienne."
The fire being lit, the hearth swept, and a small kettle of a
very antique pattern, such as I thought I remembered to have seen
in old farmhouses in England, placed over the now ruddy flame,
Frances' hands were washed, and her apron removed in an instant
then she opened a cupboard, and took out a tea-tray, on which she
had soon arranged a china tea-equipage, whose pattern, shape, and
size, denoted a remote antiquity; a little, old-fashioned silver
spoon was deposited in each saucer; and a pair of silver tongs,
equally old-fashioned, were laid on the sugar-basin; from the
cupboard, too, was produced a tidy silver cream-ewer, not larger
then an egg-shell. While making these preparations, she chanced
to look up, and, reading curiosity in my eyes, she smiled and
"Is this like England, monsieur?"
"Like the England of a hundred years ago," I replied.
"Is it truly? Well, everything on this tray is at least a
hundred years old: these cups, these spoons, this ewer, are all
heirlooms; my great-grandmother left them to my grandmother, she
to my mother, and my mother brought them with her from England to
Switzerland, and left them to me; and, ever since I was a little
girl, I have thought I should like to carry them back to England,
whence they came."
She put some pistolets on the table; she made the tea, as
foreigners do make tea--i.e., at the rate of a teaspoonful to
half-a-dozen cups; she placed me a chair, and, as I took it, she
asked, with a sort of exaltation--
"Will it make you think yourself at home for a moment?"
"If I had a home in England, I believe it would recall it," I
answered; and, in truth, there was a sort of illusion in seeing
the fair-complexioned English-looking girl presiding at the
English meal, and speaking in the English language.
"You have then no home?" was her remark.
"None, nor ever have had. If ever I possess a home, it must be
of my own making, and the task is yet to begin." And, as I
spoke, a pang, new to me, shot across my heart: it was a pang of
mortification at the humility of my position, and the inadequacy
of my means; while with that pang was born a strong desire to do
more, earn more, be more, possess more; and in the increased
possessions, my roused and eager spirit panted to include the
home I had never had, the wife I inwardly vowed to win.
Frances' tea was little better than hot water, sugar, and milk;
and her pistolets, with which she could not offer me butter, were
sweet to my palate as manna.
The repast over, and the treasured plate and porcelain being
washed and put by, the bright table rubbed still brighter, "le
chat de ma tante Julienne" also being fed with provisions brought
forth on a plate for its special use, a few stray cinders, and a
scattering of ashes too, being swept from the hearth, Frances at
last sat down; and then, as she took a chair opposite to me, she
betrayed, for the first time, a little embarrassment; and no
wonder, for indeed I had unconsciously watched her rather too
closely, followed all her steps and all her movements a little
too perseveringly with my eyes, for she mesmerized me by the
grace and alertness of her action--by the deft, cleanly, and even
decorative effect resulting from each touch of her slight and
fine fingers; and when, at last, she subsided to stillness, the
intelligence of her face seemed beauty to me, and I dwelt on it
accordingly. Her colour, however, rising, rather than settling
with repose, and her eyes remaining downcast, though I kept
waiting for the lids to be raised that I might drink a ray of the
light I loved--a light where fire dissolved in softness, where
affection tempered penetration, where, just now at least,
pleasure played with thought--this expectation not being
gratified, I began at last to suspect that I had probably myself
to blame for the disappointment; I must cease gazing, and begin
talking, if I wished to break the spell under which she now sat
motionless; so recollecting the composing effect which an
authoritative tone and manner had ever been wont to produce on
her, I said--
"Get one of your English books, mademoiselle, for the rain yet
falls heavily, and will probably detain me half an hour longer.
Released, and set at ease, up she rose, got her book, and
accepted at once the chair I placed for her at my side. She had
selected "Paradise Lost" from her shelf of classics, thinking, I
suppose, the religious character of the book best adapted it to
Sunday; I told her to begin at the beginning, and while she read
Milton's invocation to that heavenly muse, who on the "secret top
of Oreb or Sinai" had taught the Hebrew shepherd how in the womb
of chaos, the conception of a world had originated and ripened, I
enjoyed, undisturbed, the treble pleasure of having her near me,
hearing the sound of her voice--a sound sweet and satisfying in
my ear--and looking, by intervals, at her face: of this last
privilege, I chiefly availed myself when I found fault with an
intonation, a pause, or an emphasis; as long as I dogmatized, I
might also gaze, without exciting too warm a flush.
"Enough," said I, when she had gone through some half dozen pages
(a work of time with her, for she read slowly and paused often to
ask and receive information)--"enough; and now the rain is
ceasing, and I must soon go." For indeed, at that moment,
looking towards the window, I saw it all blue; the thunder-clouds
were broken and scattered, and the setting August sun sent a
gleam like the reflection of rubies through the lattice. I got
up; I drew on my gloves.
"You have not yet found another situation to supply the place of
that from which you were dismissed by Mdlle. Reuter?"
"No, monsieur; I have made inquiries everywhere, but they all ask
me for references; and to speak truth, I do not like to apply to
the directress, because I consider she acted neither justly nor
honourably towards me; she used underhand means to set my pupils
against me, and thereby render me unhappy while I held my place
in her establishment, and she eventually deprived me of it by a
masked and hypocritical manoeuvre, pretending that she was acting
for my good, but really snatching from me my chief means of
subsistence, at a crisis when not only my own life, but that of
another, depended on my exertions: of her I will never more ask
"How, then, do you propose to get on? How do you live now?"
"I have still my lace-mending trade; with care it will keep me
from starvation, and I doubt not by dint of exertion to get
better employment yet; it is only a fortnight since I began to
try; my courage or hopes are by no means worn out yet."
"And if you get what you wish, what then? what are? your ultimate
"To save enough to cross the Channel: I always look to England
as my Canaan."
"Well, well--ere long I shall pay you another visit; good evening
now," and I left her rather abruptly; I had much ado to resist a
strong inward impulse, urging me to take a warmer, more
expressive leave: what so natural as to fold her for a moment in
a close embrace, to imprint one kiss on her cheek or forehead? I
was not unreasonable--that was all I wanted; satisfied in that
point, I could go away content; and Reason denied me even this;
she ordered me to turn my eyes from her face, and my steps from
her apartment--to quit her as dryly and coldly as I would have
quitted old Madame Pelet. I obeyed, but I swore rancorously to
be avenged one day. "I'll earn a right to do as I please in this
matter, or I'll die in the contest. I have one object before me
now--to get that Genevese girl for my wife; and my wife she shall
be--that is, provided she has as much, or half as much regard for
her master as he has for her. And would she be so docile, so
smiling, so happy under my instructions if she had not? would she
sit at my side when I dictate or correct, with such a still,
contented, halcyon mien?" for I had ever remarked, that however
sad or harassed her countenance might be when I entered a room,
yet after I had been near her, spoken to her a few words, given
her some directions, uttered perhaps some reproofs, she would,
all at once, nestle into a nook of happiness, and look up serene
and revived. The reproofs suited her best of all: while I
scolded she would chip away with her pen-knife at a pencil or a
pen; fidgetting a little, pouting a little, defending herself by
monosyllables, and when I deprived her of the pen or pencil,
fearing it would be all cut away, and when I interdicted even the
monosyllabic defence, for the purpose of working up the subdued
excitement a little higher, she would at last raise her eyes and
give me a certain glance, sweetened with gaiety, and pointed with
defiance, which, to speak truth, thrilled me as nothing had ever
done, and made me, in a fashion (though happily she did not know
it), her subject, if not her slave. After such little scenes her
spirits would maintain their flow, often for some hours, and, as
I remarked before, her health therefrom took a sustenance and
vigour which, previously to the event of her aunt's death and her
dismissal, had almost recreated her whole frame.
It has taken me several minutes to write these last sentences;
but I had thought all their purport during the brief interval of
descending the stairs from Frances' room. Just as I was opening
the outer door, I remembered the twenty francs which I had not
restored; I paused: impossible to carry them away with me;
difficult to force them back on their original owner; I had now
seen her in her own humble abode, witnessed the dignity of her
poverty, the pride of order, the fastidious care of conservatism,
obvious in the arrangement and economy of her little home; I was
sure she would not suffer herself to be excused paying her debts;
I was certain the favour of indemnity would be accepted from no
hand, perhaps least of all from mine: yet these four five-franc
pieces were a burden to my self-respect, and I must get rid of
them. An expedient--a clumsy one no doubt, but the best I could
devise-suggested itself to me. I darted up the stairs, knocked,
re-entered the room as if in haste:--
"Mademoiselle, I have forgotten one of my gloves; I must have
left it here."
She instantly rose to seek it; as she turned her back, I--being
now at the hearth--noiselessly lifted a little vase, one of a set
of china ornaments, as old-fashioned as the tea-cups--slipped the
money under it, then saying--"Oh here is my glove! I had dropped
it within the fender; good evening, mademoiselle," I made my
Brief as my impromptu return had been, it had afforded me time
to pick up a heart-ache; I remarked that Frances had already
removed the red embers of her cheerful little fire from the
grate: forced to calculate every item, to save in every detail,
she had instantly on my departure retrenched a luxury too
expensive to be enjoyed alone.
"I am glad it is not yet winter," thought I; "but in two months
more come the winds and rains of November; would to God that
before then I could earn the right, and the power, to shovel
coals into that grate AD LIBITUM!"
Already the pavement was drying; a balmy and fresh breeze stirred
the air, purified by lightning; I felt the West behind me, where
spread a sky like opal; azure immingled with crimson: the
enlarged sun, glorious in Tyrian tints, dipped his brim already;
stepping, as I was, eastward, I faced a vast bank of clouds, but
also I had before me the arch of an evening rainbow; a perfect
rainbow--high, wide, vivid. I looked long; my eye drank in the
scene, and I suppose my brain must have absorbed it; for that
night, after lying awake in pleasant fever a long time, watching
the silent sheet-lightning, which still played among the
retreating clouds, and flashed silvery over the stars, I at last
fell asleep; and then in a dream were reproduced the setting sun,
the bank of clouds, the mighty rainbow. I stood, methought, on a
terrace; I leaned over a parapeted wall; there was space below
me, depth I could not fathom, but hearing an endless dash of
waves, I believed it to be the sea; sea spread to the horizon;
sea of changeful green and intense blue: all was soft in the
distance; all vapour-veiled. A spark of gold glistened on the
line between water and air, floated up, approached, enlarged,
changed; the object hung midway between heaven and earth, under
the arch of the rainbow; the soft but dusk clouds diffused
behind. It hovered as on wings; pearly, fleecy, gleaming air
streamed like raiment round it; light, tinted with carnation,
coloured what seemed face and limbs; A large star shone with
still lustre on an angel's forehead; an upraised arm and hand,
glancing like a ray, pointed to the bow overhead, and a voice in
my heart whispered--
"Hope smiles on Effort!"
A COMPETENCY was what I wanted; a competency it was now my aim
and resolve to secure; but never had I been farther from the
mark. With August the school-year (l'annee scolaire) closed, the
examinations concluded, the prizes were adjudged, the schools
dispersed, the gates of all colleges, the doors of all
pensionnats shut, not to be reopened till the beginning or middle
of October. The last day of August was at hand, and what was my
position? Had I advanced a step since the commencement of the
past quarter? On the contrary, I had receded one. By renouncing
my engagement as English master in Mdlle. Reuter's establishment,
I had voluntarily cut off 20l. from my yearly income; I had
diminished my 60l. per annum to 40l., and even that sum I now
held by a very precarious tenure.
It is some time since I made any reference to M. Pelet. The
moonlight walk is, I think, the last incident recorded in this
narrative where that gentleman cuts any conspicuous figure: the
fact is, since that event, a change had come over the spirit of
our intercourse. He, indeed, ignorant that the still hour, a
cloudless moon, and an open lattice, had revealed to me the
secret of his selfish love and false friendship, would have
continued smooth and complaisant as ever; but I grew spiny as a
porcupine, and inflexible as a blackthorn cudgel; I never had a
smile for his raillery, never a moment for his society; his
invitations to take coffee with him in his parlour were
invariably rejected, and very stiffly and sternly rejected too;
his jesting allusions to the directress (which he still
continued) were heard with a grim calm very different from the
petulant pleasure they were formerly wont to excite. For a long
time Pelet bore with my frigid demeanour very patiently; he even
increased his attentions; but finding that even a cringing
politeness failed to thaw or move me, he at last altered too; in
his turn he cooled; his invitations ceased; his countenance
became suspicious and overcast, and I read in the perplexed yet
brooding aspect of his brow, a constant examination and
comparison of premises, and an anxious endeavour to draw thence
some explanatory inference. Ere long, I fancy, he succeeded, for
he was not without penetration; perhaps, too, Mdlle. Zoraide
might have aided him in the solution of the enigma; at any rate I
soon found that the uncertainty of doubt had vanished from his
manner; renouncing all pretence of friendship and cordiality, he
adopted a reserved, formal, but still scrupulously polite
deportment. This was the point to which I had wished to bring
him, and I was now again comparatively at my ease. I did not, it
is true, like my position in his house; but being freed from the
annoyance of false professions and double-dealing I could endure
it, especially as no heroic sentiment of hatred or jealousy of
the director distracted my philosophical soul; he had not, I
found, wounded me in a very tender point, the wound was so soon
and so radically healed, leaving only a sense of contempt for the
treacherous fashion in which it had been inflicted, and a lasting
mistrust of the hand which I had detected attempting to stab in
This state of things continued till about the middle of July, and
then there was a little change; Pelet came home one night, an
hour after his usual time, in a state of unequivocal
intoxication, a thing anomalous with him; for if he had some of
the worst faults of his countrymen, he had also one at least of
their virtues, i.e. sobriety. So drunk, however, was he upon
this occasion, that after having roused the whole establishment
(except the pupils, whose dormitory being over the classes in a
building apart from the dwelling-house, was consequently out of
the reach of disturbance) by violently ringing the hall-bell and
ordering lunch to be brought in immediately, for he imagined it
was noon, whereas the city bells had just tolled midnight; after
having furiously rated the servants for their want of
punctuality, and gone near to chastise his poor old mother, who
advised him to go to bed, he began raving dreadfully about "le
maudit Anglais, Creemsvort." I had not yet retired; some German
books I had got hold of had kept me up late; I heard the uproar
below, and could distinguish the director's voice exalted in a
manner as appalling as it was unusual. Opening my door a little,
I became aware of a demand on his part for "Creemsvort" to be
brought down to him that he might cut his throat on the
hall-table and wash his honour, which he affirmed to be in a
dirty condition, in infernal British blood. "He is either mad or
drunk," thought I, "and in either case the old woman and the
servants will be the better of a man's assistance," so I
descended straight to the hall. I found him staggering about,
his eyes in a fine frenzy rolling--a pretty sight he was, a just
medium between the fool and the lunatic.
"Come, M. Pelet," said I, "you had better go to bed," and I took
hold of his arm. His excitement, of course, increased greatly at
sight and touch of the individual for whose blood he had been
making application: he struggled and struck with fury--but a
drunken man is no match for a sober one; and, even in his normal
state, Pelet's worn out frame could not have stood against my
sound one. I got him up-stairs, and, in process of time, to bed.
During the operation he did not fail to utter comminations which,
though broken, had a sense in them; while stigmatizing me as the
treacherous spawn of a perfidious country, he, in the same
breath, anathematized Zoraide Reuter; he termed her "femme sotte
et vicieuse," who, in a fit of lewd caprice, had thrown herself
away on an unprincipled adventurer; directing the point of the
last appellation by a furious blow, obliquely aimed at me. I
left him in the act of bounding elastically out of the bed into
which I had tucked him; but, as I took the precaution of turning
the key in the door behind me, I retired to my own room, assured
of his safe custody till the morning, and free to draw
undisturbed conclusions from the scene I had just witnessed.
Now, it was precisely about this time that the directress, stung
by my coldness, bewitched by my scorn,and excited by the
preference she suspected me of cherishing for another, had fallen
into a snare of her own laying--was herself caught in the meshes
of the very passion with which she wished to entangle me.
Conscious of the state of things in that quarter, I gathered,
from the condition in which I saw my employer, that his lady-love
had betrayed the alienation of her affections--inclinations,
rather, I would say; affection is a word at once too warm and too
pure for the subject--had let him see that the cavity of her
hollow heart, emptied of his image, was now occupied by that of
his usher. It was not without some surprise that I found myself
obliged to entertain this view of the case; Pelet, with his old
-established school, was so convenient, so profitable a match
--Zoraide was so calculating, so interested a woman--I wondered
mere personal preference could, in her mind, have prevailed for a
moment over worldly advantage: yet, it was evident, from what
Pelet said, that, not only had she repulsed him, but had even let
slip expressions of partiality for me. One of his drunken
exclamations was, "And the jade doats on your youth, you raw
blockhead! and talks of your noble deportment, as she calls your
accursed English formality--and your pure morals, forsooth! des
moeurs de Caton a-t-elle dit--sotte!" Hers, I thought, must be a
curious soul, where in spite of a strong, natural tendency to
estimate unduly advantages of wealth and station, the sardonic
disdain of a fortuneless subordinate had wrought a deeper
impression than could be imprinted by the most flattering
assiduities of a prosperous CHEF D'INSTITUTION. I smiled
inwardly; and strange to say, though my AMOUR PROPRE was excited
not disagreeably by the conquest, my better feelings remained
untouched. Next day, when I saw the directress, and when she
made an excuse to meet me in the corridor, and besought my notice
by a demeanour and look subdued to Helot humility, I could not
love, I could scarcely pity her. To answer briefly and dryly some
interesting inquiry about my health--to pass her by with a stern
bow--was all I could; her presence and manner had then, and for
some time previously and consequently, a singular effect upon me:
they sealed up all that was good elicited all that was noxious in
my nature; sometimes they enervated my senses, but they always
hardened my heart. I was aware of the detriment done, and
quarrelled with myself for the change. I had ever hated a
tyrant; and, behold, the possession of a slave, self-given, went
near to transform me into what I abhorred! There was at once a
sort of low gratification in receiving this luscious incense from
an attractive and still young worshipper; and an irritating sense
of degradation in the very experience of the pleasure. When she
stole about me with the soft step of a slave, I felt at once
barbarous and sensual as a pasha. I endured her homage
sometimes; sometimes I rebuked it. My indifference or harshness
served equally to increase the evil I desired to check.
"Que le dedain lui sied bien!" I once overheard her say to her
mother: "il est beau comme Apollon quand il sourit de son air
And the jolly old dame laughed, and said she thought her daughter
was bewitched, for I had no point of a handsome man about me,
except being straight and without deformity. "Pour moi," she
continued, "il me fait tout l'effet d'un chat-huant, avec ses
Worthy old girl! I could have gone and kissed her had she not
been a little too old, too fat, and too red-faced; her sensible,
truthful words seemed so wholesome, contrasted with the morbid
illusions of her daughter.
When Pelet awoke on the morning after his frenzy fit, he retained
no recollection of what had happened the previous night, and his
mother fortunately had the discretion to refrain from informing
him that I had been a witness of his degradation. He did not
again have recourse to wine for curing his griefs, but even in
his sober mood he soon showed that the iron of jealousy had
entered into his soul. A thorough Frenchman, the national
characteristic of ferocity had not been omitted by nature in
compounding the ingredients of his character; it had appeared
first in his access of drunken wrath, when some of his
demonstrations of hatred to my person were of a truly fiendish
character, and now it was more covertly betrayed by momentary
contractions of the features, and flashes of fierceness in his
light blue eyes, when their glance chanced to encounter mine. He
absolutely avoided speaking to me; I was now spared even the
falsehood of his politeness. In this state of our mutual
relations, my soul rebelled. sometimes almost ungovernably,
against living in the house and discharging the service of such a
man; but who is free from the constraint of circumstances? At
that time, I was not: I used to rise each morning eager to shake
off his yoke, and go out with my portmanteau under my arm, if a
beggar, at least a freeman; and in the evening, when I came back
from the pensionnat de demoiselles, a certain pleasant voice in
my ear; a certain face, so intelligent, yet so docile, so
reflective, yet so soft, in my eyes; a certain cast of character,
at once proud and pliant, sensitive and sagacious, serious and
ardent, in my head; a certain tone of feeling, fervid and modest,
refined and practical, pure and powerful, delighting and
troubling my memory--visions of new ties I longed to contract, of
new duties I longed to undertake, had taken the rover and the
rebel out of me, and had shown endurance of my hated lot in the
light of a Spartan virtue.
But Pelet's fury subsided; a fortnight sufficed for its rise,
progress, and extinction: in that space of time the dismissal of
the obnoxious teacher had been effected in the neighbouring
house, and in the same interval I had declared my resolution to
follow and find out my pupil, and upon my application for her
address being refused, I had summarily resigned my own post.
This last act seemed at once to restore Mdlle. Reuter to her
senses; her sagacity, her judgment, so long misled by a
fascinating delusion, struck again into the right track the
moment that delusion vanished. By the right track, I do not mean
the steep and difficult path of principle--in that path she never
trod; but the plain highway of common sense, from which she had
of late widely diverged. When there she carefully sought, and
having found, industriously pursued the trail of her old suitor,
M. Pelet. She soon overtook him. What arts she employed to
soothe and blind him I know not, but she succeeded both in
allaying his wrath, and hoodwinking his discernment, as was soon
proved by the alteration in his mien and manner; she must have
managed to convince him that I neither was, nor ever had been, a
rival of his, for the fortnight of fury against me terminated in
a fit of exceeding graciousness and amenity, not unmixed with a
dash of exulting self-complacency, more ludicrous than
irritating. Pelet's bachelor's life had been passed in proper
French style with due disregard to moral restraint, and I thought
his married life promised to be very French also. He often
boasted to me what a terror he had been to certain husbands of
his acquaintance; I perceived it would not now be difficult to
pay him back in his own coin.
The crisis drew on. No sooner had the holidays commenced than
note of preparation for some momentous event sounded all through
the premises of Pelet: painters, polishers, and upholsterers
were immediately set to work, and there was talk of "la chambre
de Madame," "le salon de Madame." Not deeming it probable that
the old duenna at present graced with that title in our house,
had inspired her son with such enthusiasm of filial piety, as to
induce him to fit up apartments expressly for her use, I
concluded, in common with the cook, the two housemaids, and the
kitchen-scullion, that a new and more juvenile Madame was
destined to be the tenant of these gay chambers.
Presently official announcement of the coming event was put
forth. In another week's time M. Francois Pelet, directeur, and
Mdlle. Zoraide Reuter, directrice, were to be joined together in
the bands of matrimony. Monsieur, in person, heralded the fact
to me; terminating his communication by an obliging expression of
his desire that I should continue, as heretofore, his ablest
assistant and most trusted friend; and a proposition to raise my
salary by an additional two hundred francs per annum. I thanked
him, gave no conclusive answer at the time, and, when he had left
me, threw off my blouse, put on my coat, and set out on a long
walk outside the Porte de Flandre, in order, as I thought, to
cool my blood, calm my nerves, and shake my disarranged ideas
into some order. In fact, I had just received what was virtually
my dismissal. I could not conceal, I did not desire to conceal
from myself the conviction that, being now certain that Mdlle.
Reuter was destined to become Madame Pelet it would not do for me
to remain a dependent dweller in the house which was soon to be
hers. Her present demeanour towards me was deficient neither in
dignity nor propriety; but I knew her former feeling was
unchanged. Decorum now repressed, and Policy masked it, but
Opportunity would be too strong for either of these--Temptation
would shiver their restraints.
I was no pope--I could not boast infallibility: in short, if I
stayed, the probability was that, in three months' time, a
practical modern French novel would be in full process of
concoction under the roof of the unsuspecting Pelet. Now, modern
French novels are not to my taste, either practically or
theoretically. Limited as had yet been my experience of life, I
had once had the opportunity of contemplating, near at hand, an
example of the results produced by a course of interesting and
romantic domestic treachery. No golden halo of fiction was about
this example, I saw it bare and real, and it was very loathsome.
I saw a mind degraded by the practice of mean subterfuge, by the
habit of perfidious deception, and a body depraved by the
infectious influence of the vice-polluted soul. I had suffered
much from the forced and prolonged view of this spectacle; those
sufferings I did not now regret, for their simple recollection
acted as a most wholesome antidote to temptation. They had
inscribed on my reason the conviction that unlawful pleasure,
trenching on another's rights, is delusive and envenomed
pleasure--its hollowness disappoints at the time, its poison
cruelly tortures afterwards, its effects deprave for ever.
>From all this resulted the conclusion that I must leave Pelet's,
and that instantly; "but," said Prudence, "you know not where to
go, nor how to live;" and then the dream of true love came over
me: Frances Henri seemed to stand at my side; her slender waist
to invite my arm; her hand to court my hand; I felt it was made
to nestle in mine; I could not relinquish my right to it, nor
could I withdraw my eyes for ever from hers, where I saw so much
happiness, such a correspondence of heart with heart; over whose
expression I had such influence; where I could kindle bliss,
infuse awe, stir deep delight, rouse sparkling spirit, and
sometimes waken pleasurable dread. My hopes to will and possess,
my resolutions to merit and rise, rose in array against me; and
here I was about to plunge into the gulf of absolute destitution;
"and all this," suggested an inward voice, "because you fear an
evil which may never happen!" "It will happen; you KNOW it
will," answered that stubborn monitor, Conscience. "Do what you
feel is right; obey me, and even in the sloughs of want I will
plant for you firm footing." And then, as I walked fast along
the road, there rose upon me a strange, inly-felt idea of some
Great Being, unseen, but all present, who in His beneficence
desired only my welfare, and now watched the struggle of good sad
evil in my heart, and waited to see whether I should obey His
voice, heard in the whispers of my conscience, or lend an ear to
the sophisms by which His enemy and mine--the Spirit of Evil
--sought to lead me astray. Rough and steep was the path
indicated by divine suggestion; mossy and declining the green way
along which Temptation strewed flowers; but whereas, methought,
the Deity of Love, the Friend of all that exists, would smile
well-pleased were I to gird up my loins and address myself to the
rude ascent; so, on the other hand, each inclination to the
velvet declivity seemed to kindle a gleam of triumph on the brow
of the man-hating, God-defying demon. Sharp and short I turned
round; fast I retraced my steps; in half an hour I was again at
M. Pelet's: I sought him in his study; brief parley, concise
explanation sufficed; my manner proved that I was resolved; he,
perhaps, at heart approved my decision. After twenty minutes'
conversation, I re-entered my own room, self-deprived of the
means of living, self-sentenced to leave my present home, with
the short notice of a week in which to provide another.
DIRECTLY as I closed the door, I saw laid on the table two
letters; my thought was, that they were notes of invitation from
the friends of some of my pupils; I had received such marks of
attention occasionally, and with me, who had no friends,
correspondence of more interest was out of the question; the
postman's arrival had never yet been an event of interest to me
since I came to Brussels. I laid my hand carelessly on the
documents, and coldly and slowly glancing at them, I prepared to
break the seals; my eye was arrested and my hand too; I saw what
excited me, as if I had found a vivid picture where I expected
only to discover a blank page: on one cover was an English
postmark; on the other, a lady's clear, fine autograph; the last
I opened first:--
"I FOUND out what you had done the very morning after your visit
to me; you might be sure I should dust the china, every day; and,
as no one but you had been in my room for a week, and as
fairy-money is not current in Brussels, I could not doubt who
left the twenty francs on the chimney-piece. I thought I heard
you stir the vase when I was stooping to look for your glove
under the table, and I wondered you should imagine it had got
into such a little cup. Now, monsieur, the money is not mine,
and I shall not keep it; I will not send it in this note because
it might be lost--besides, it is heavy; but I will restore it to
you the first time I see you, and you must make no difficulties
about taking it; because, in the first place, I am sure,
monsieur, you can understand that one likes to pay one's debts;
that it is satisfactory to owe no man anything; and, in the
second place, I can now very well afford to be honest, as I am
provided with a situation. This last circumstance is, indeed,
the reason of my writing to you, for it is pleasant to
communicate good news; and, in these days, I have only my master
to whom I can tell anything.
"A week ago, monsieur, I was sent for by a Mrs. Wharton, an
English lady; her eldest daughter was going to be married, and
some rich relation having made her a present of a veil and dress
in costly old lace, as precious, they said, almost as jewels, but
a little damaged by time, I was commissioned to put them in
repair. I had to do it at the house; they gave me, besides, some
embroidery to complete, and nearly a week elapsed before I had
finished everything. While I worked, Miss Wharton often came
into the room and sat with me, and so did Mrs. Wharton; they made
me talk English; asked how I had learned to speak it so well;
then they inquired what I knew besides--what books I had read;
soon they seemed to make a sort of wonder of me, considering me
no doubt as a learned grisette. One afternoon, Mrs. Wharton
brought in a Parisian lady to test the accuracy of my knowledge
of French; the result of it: was that, owing probably in a great
degree to the mother's and daughter's good humour about the
marriage, which inclined them to do beneficent deeds, and partly,
I think, because they are naturally benevolent people, they
decided that the wish I had expressed to do something more than
mend lace was a very legitimate one; and the same day they took
me in their carriage to Mrs. D.'s, who is the directress of the
first English school at Brussels. It seems she happened to be in
want of a French lady to give lessons in geography, history,
grammar, and composition, in the French language. Mrs. Wharton
recommended me very warmly; and, as two of her younger daughters
are pupils in the house, her patronage availed to get me the
place. It was settled that I am to attend six hours daily (for,
happily, it was not required that I should live in the house; I
should have been sorry to leave my lodgings), and, for this, Mrs.
D. will give me twelve hundred francs per annum.
"You see, therefore, monsieur, that I am now rich; richer almost
than I ever hoped to be: I feel thankful for it, especially as
my sight was beginning to be injured by constant working at fine
lace; and I was getting, too, very weary of sitting up late at
nights, and yet not being able to find time for reading or study.
I began to fear that I should fall ill, and be unable to pay my
way; this fear is now, in a great measure, removed; and, in
truth, monsieur, I am very grateful to God for the relief; and I
feel it necessary, almost, to speak of my happiness to some one
who is kind-hearted enough to derive joy from seeing others
joyful. I could not, therefore, resist the temptation of writing
to you; I argued with myself it is very pleasant for me to write,
and it will not be exactly painful, though it may be tiresome to
monsieur to read. Do not be too angry with my circumlocution and
inelegancies of expression, and, believe me
"Your attached pupil,
"F. E. HENRI."
Having read this letter, I mused on its contents for a few
moments--whether with sentiments pleasurable or otherwise I will
hereafter note--and then took up the other. It was directed in a
hand to me unknown--small, and rather neat; neither masculine nor
exactly feminine; the seal bore a coat of arms, concerning which
I could only decipher that it was not that of the Seacombe
family, consequently the epistle could be from none of my almost
forgotten, and certainly quite forgetting patrician relations.
>From whom, then, was it? I removed the envelope; the note folded
within ran as follows :-
"I have no doubt in the world that you are doing well in that
greasy Flanders; living probably on the fat of the unctuous land;
sitting like a black-haired, tawny-skinned, long-nosed Israelite
by the flesh-pots of Egypt; or like a rascally son of Levi near
the brass cauldrons of the sanctuary, and every now and then
plunging in a consecrated hook, and drawing out of the sea, of
broth the fattest of heave-shoulders and the fleshiest of
wave-breasts. I know this, because you never write to any one in
England. Thankless dog that you are! I, by the sovereign
efficacy of my recommendation, got you the place where you are
now living in clover, and yet not a word of gratitude, or even
acknowledgment, have you ever offered in return; but I am coming
to see you, and small conception can you, with your addled
aristocratic brains, form of the sort of moral kicking I have,
ready packed in my carpet-bag, destined to be presented to you
immediately on my arrival.
"Meantime I know all about your affairs, and have just got
information, by Brown's last letter, that you are said to be on
the point of forming an advantageous match with a pursy, little
Belgian schoolmistress--a Mdlle. Zenobie, or some such name.
Won't I have a look at her when I come over! And this you may
rely on: if she pleases my taste, or if I think it worth while
in a pecuniary point of view, I'll pounce on your prize and bear
her away triumphant in spite of your teeth. Yet I don't like
dumpies either, and Brown says she is little and stout--the
better fitted for a wiry, starved-looking chap like you.
"Be on the look-out, for you know neither the day nor hour when
your ---- (I don't wish to blaspheme, so I'll leave a blank)
"HUNSDEN YORKE HUNSDEN."
"Humph!" said I; and ere I laid the letter down, I again glanced
at the small, neat handwriting, not a bit like that of a
mercantile man, nor, indeed, of any man except Hunsden himself.
They talk of affinities between the autograph and the character:
what affinity was there here? I recalled the writer's peculiar
face and certain traits I suspected, rather than knew, to
appertain to his nature, and I answered, "A great deal."
Hunsden, then, was coming to Brussels, and coming I knew not
when; coming charged with the expectation of finding me on the
summit of prosperity, about to be married, to step into a warm
nest, to lie comfortably down by the side of a snug, well-fed
"I wish him joy of the fidelity of the picture he has painted,"
thought I. "What will he say when, instead of a pair of plump
turtle doves, billing and cooing in a bower of roses, he finds a
single lean cormorant, standing mateless and shelterless on
poverty's bleak cliff? Oh, confound him! Let him come, and let
him laugh at the contrast between rumour and fact. Were he the
devil himself, instead of being merely very like him, I'd not
condescend to get out of his way, or to forge a smile or a
cheerful word wherewith to avert his sarcasm."
Then I recurred to the other letter: that struck a chord whose
sound I could not deaden by thrusting my fingers into my ears,
for it vibrated within; and though its swell might be exquisite
music, its cadence was a groan.
That Frances was relieved from the pressure of want, that the
curse of excessive labour was taken off her, filled me with
happiness; that her first thought in prosperity should be to
augment her joy by sharing it with me, met and satisfied the wish
of my heart. Two results of her letter were then pleasant, sweet
as two draughts of nectar; but applying my lips for the third
time to the cup, and they were excoriated as with vinegar and
Two persons whose desires are moderate may live well enough in
Brussels on an income which would scarcely afford a respectable
maintenance for one in London: and that, not because the
necessaries of life are so much dearer in the latter capital, or
taxes so much higher than in the former, but because the English
surpass in folly all the nations on God's earth, and are more
abject slaves to custom, to opinion, to the desire to keep up a
certain appearance, than the Italians are to priestcraft, the
French to vain-glory, the Russians to their Czar, or the Germans
to black beer. I have seen a degree of sense in the modest
arrangement of one homely Belgian household, that might put to
shame the elegance, the superfluities, the luxuries, the strained
refinements of a hundred genteel English mansions. In Belgium,
provided you can make money, you may save it; this is scarcely
possible in England; ostentation there lavishes in a month what
industry has earned in a year. More shame to all classes in that
most bountiful and beggarly country for their servile following
of Fashion; I could write a chapter or two on this subject, but
must forbear, at least for the present. Had I retained my 60l.
per annum I could, now that Frances was in possession of 50l.,
have gone straight to her this very evening, and spoken out the
words which, repressed, kept fretting my heart with fever; our
united income would, as we should have managed it, have sufficed
well for our mutual support; since we lived in a country where
economy was not confounded with meanness, where frugality in
dress, food, and furniture, was not synonymous with vulgarity in
these various points. But the placeless usher, bare of resource,
and unsupported by connections, must not think of this; such a
sentiment as love, such a word as marriage, were misplaced in his
heart, and on his lips. Now for the first time did I truly feel
what it was to be poor; now did the sacrifice I had made in
casting from me the means of living put on a new aspect; instead
of a correct, just, honourable act, it seemed a deed at once
light and fanatical; I took several turns in my room, under the
goading influence of most poignant remorse; I walked a quarter of
an hour from the wall to the window; and at the window,
self-reproach seemed to face me; at the wall, self-disdain: all
at once out spoke Conscience:--
"Down, stupid tormenters!" cried she; "the man has done his
duty; you shall not bait him thus by thoughts of what might have
been; he relinquished a temporary and contingent good to avoid a
permanent and certain evil he did well. Let him reflect now, and
when your blinding dust and deafening hum subside, he will
discover a path."
I sat down; I propped my forehead on both my hands; I thought and
thought an hour-two hours; vainly. I seemed like one sealed in a
subterranean vault, who gazes at utter blackness; at blackness
ensured by yard-thick stone walls around, and by piles of
building above, expecting light to penetrate through granite, and
through cement firm as granite. But there are chinks, or there
may be chinks, in the best adjusted masonry; there was a chink in
my cavernous cell; for, eventually, I saw, or seemed to see, a
ray--pallid, indeed, and cold, and doubtful, but still a ray, for
it showed that narrow path which conscience had promised after
two, three hours' torturing research in brain and memory, I
disinterred certain remains of circumstances, and conceived a
hope that by putting them together an expedient might be framed,
and a resource discovered. The circumstances were briefly these
Some three months ago M. Pelet had, on the occasion of his fete,
given the boys a treat, which treat consisted in a party of
pleasure to a certain place of public resort in the outskirts of
Brussels, of which I do not at this moment remember the name, but
near it were several of those lakelets called etangs; and there
was one etang, larger than the rest, where on holidays people
were accustomed to amuse themselves by rowing round it in little
boats. The boys having eaten an unlimited quantity of "gaufres,"
and drank several bottles of Louvain beer, amid the shades of a
garden made and provided for such crams, petitioned the director
for leave to take a row on the etang. Half a dozen of the eldest
succeeded in obtaining leave, and I was commissioned to accompany
them as surveillant. Among the half dozen happened to be a
certain Jean Baptiste Vandenhuten, a most ponderous young
Flamand, not tall, but even now, at the early age of sixteen,
possessing a breadth and depth of personal development truly
national. It chanced that Jean was the first lad to step into the
boat; he stumbled, rolled to one side, the boat revolted at his
weight and capsized. Vandenhuten sank like lead, rose, sank
again. My coat and waistcoat were off in an instant; I had not
been brought up at Eton and boated and bathed and swam there ten
long years for nothing; it was a natural and easy act for me to
leap to the rescue. The lads and the boatmen yelled; they
thought there would be two deaths by drowning instead of one; but
as Jean rose the third time, I clutched him by one leg and the
collar, and in three minutes more both he and I were safe landed.
To speak heaven's truth, my merit in the action was small indeed,
for I had run no risk, and subsequently did not even catch cold
from the wetting; but when M. and Madame Vandenhuten, of whom
Jean Baptiste was the sole hope, came to hear of the exploit,
they seemed to think I had evinced a bravery and devotion which
no thanks could sufficiently repay. Madame, in particular, was
"certain I must have dearly loved their sweet son, or I would not
thus have hazarded my own life to save his." Monsieur, an
honest-looking, though phlegmatic man, said very little, but he
would not suffer me to leave the room, till I had promised that
in case I ever stood in need of help I would, by applying to him,
give him a chance of discharging the obligation under which he
affirmed I had laid him. These words, then, were my glimmer of
light; it was here I found my sole outlet; and in truth, though
the cold light roused, it did not cheer me; nor did the outlet
seem such as I should like to pass through. Right I had none to
M. Vandenhuten's good offices; it was not on the ground of merit
I could apply to him; no, I must stand on that of necessity: I
had no work; I wanted work; my best chance of obtaining it lay in
securing his recommendation. This I knew could be had by asking
for it; not to ask, because the request revolted my pride and
contradicted my habits, would, I felt, be an indulgence of false
and indolent fastidiousness. I might repent the omission all my
life; I would not then be guilty of it.
That evening I went to M. Vandenhuten's; but I had bent the bow
and adjusted the shaft in vain; the string broke. I rang the
bell at the great door (it was a large, handsome house in an
expensive part of the town); a manservant opened; I asked for M.
Vandenhuten; M. Vandenhuten and family were all out of town
--gone to Ostend--did not know when they would be back. I left
my card, and retraced my steps.
A WEEK is gone; LE JOUR DES NOCES arrived; the marriage was
solemnized at St. Jacques; Mdlle. Zoraide became Madame Pelet,
NEE Reuter; and, in about an hour after this transformation, "the
happy pair," as newspapers phrase it, were on their way to Paris;
where, according to previous arrangement, the honeymoon was to be
spent. The next day I quitted the pensionnat. Myself and my
chattels (some books and clothes) were soon transferred to a
modest lodging I had hired in a street not far off. In half an
hour my clothes were arranged in a commode, my books on a shelf,
and the "flitting" was effected. I should not have been unhappy
that day had not one pang tortured me--a longing to go to the Rue
Notre Dame aux Neiges, resisted, yet irritated by an inward
resolve to avoid that street till such time as the mist of doubt
should clear from my prospects.
It was a sweet September evening--very mild, very still; I had
nothing to do; at that hour I knew Frances would be equally
released from occupation; I thought she might possibly be wishing
for her master, I knew I wished for my pupil. Imagination began
with her low whispers, infusing into my soul the soft tale of
pleasures that might be.
"You will find her reading or writing," said she; "you can take
your seat at her side; you need not startle her peace by undue
excitement; you need not embarrass her manner by unusual action
or language. Be as you always are; look over what she has
written; listen while she reads; chide her, or quietly approve;
you know the effect of either system; you know her smile when
pleased, you you know the play of her looks when roused; you have
the secret of awakening that expression you will, and you can
choose amongst that pleasant variety. With you she will sit
silent as long as it suits you to talk alone; you can hold her
under a potent spell: intelligent as she is, eloquent as she can
be, you can seal her lips, and veil her bright countenance with
diffidence; yet, you know, she is not all monotonous mildness;
you have seen, with a sort of strange pleasure, revolt, scorn,
austerity, bitterness, lay energetic claim to a place in her
feelings and physiognomy; you know that few could rule her as you
do; you know she might break, but never bend under the hand of
Tyranny and Injustice, but Reason and Affection can guide her by
a sign. Try their influence now. Go--they are not passions;
you may handle them safely."
"I will NOT go was my answer to the sweet temptress. "A man is
master of himself to a certain point, but not beyond it. Could I
seek Frances to-night, could I sit with her alone in a quiet
room, and address her only in the language of Reason and
"No," was the brief, fervent reply of that Love which had
conquered and now controlled me.
Time seemed to stagnate; the sun would not go down; my watch
ticked, but I thought the hands were paralyzed.
"What a hot evening!" I cried, throwing open the lattice; for,
indeed, I had seldom felt so feverish. Hearing a step ascending
the common stair, I wondered whether the "locataire," now
mounting to his apartments, were as unsettled in mind and
condition as I was, or whether he lived in the calm of certain
resources, and in the freedom of unfettered feelings. What! was
he coming in person to solve the problem hardly proposed in
inaudible thought? He had actually knocked at the door--at MY
door; a smart, prompt rap; and, almost before I could invite him
in, he was over the threshold, and had closed the door behind
"And how are you?" asked an indifferent, quiet voice, in the
English language; while my visitor, without any sort of bustle or
introduction, put his hat on the table, and his gloves into his
hat, and drawing the only armchair the room afforded a little
forward, seated himself tranquilly therein.
"Can't you speak?" he inquired in a few moments, in a tone whose
nonchalance seemed to intimate that it was much the same thing
whether I answered or not. The fact is, I found it desirable to
have recourse to my good friends "les besicles;" not exactly to
ascertain the identity of my visitor--for I already knew him,
confound his impudence! but to see how he looked--to get a clear
notion of his mien and countenance. I wiped the glasses very
deliberately, and put them on quite as deliberately; adjusting
them so as not to hurt the bridge of my nose or get entangled in
my short tufts of dun hair. I was sitting in the window-seat,
with my back to the light, and I had him VIS-A-VIS; a position he
would much rather have had reversed; for, at any time, he
preferred scrutinizing to being scrutinized. Yes, it was HE, and
no mistake, with his six feet of length arranged in a sitting
attitude; with his dark travelling surtout with its velvet
collar, his gray pantaloons, his black stock, and his face, the
most original one Nature ever modelled, yet the least obtrusively
so; not one feature that could be termed marked or odd, yet the
effect of the whole unique. There is no use in attempting to
describe what is indescribable. Being in no hurry to address
him, I sat and stared at my ease.
"Oh, that's your game--is it?" said he at last. "Well, we'll see
which is soonest tired." And he slowly drew out a fine
cigar-case, picked one to his taste, lit it, took a book from the
shelf convenient to his hand, then leaning back, proceeded to
smoke and read as tranquilly as if he had been in his own room,
in Grove-street, X---shire, England. I knew he was capable of
continuing in that attitude till midnight, if he conceived the
whim, so I rose, and taking the book from his hand, I said,--
"You did not ask for it, and you shall not have it."
"It is silly and dull," he observed, "so I have not lost much;"
then the spell being broken, he went on. "I thought you lived at
Pelet's; I went there this afternoon. expecting to be starved to
death by sitting in a boarding-school drawing-room, and they told
me you were gone, had departed this morning; you had left your
address behind you though, which I wondered at; it was a more
practical and sensible precaution than I should have imagined you
capable of. Why did you leave?"
"Because M. Pelet has just married the lady whom you and Mr.
Brown assigned to me as my wife."
"Oh, indeed!" replied Hunsden with a short laugh; "so you've lost
both your wife and your place?"
I saw him give a quick, covert glance all round my room; he
marked its narrow limits, its scanty furniture: in an instant he
had comprehended the state of matters--had absolved me from the
crime of prosperity. A curious effect this discovery wrought in
his strange mind; I am morally certain that if he had found me
installed in a handsome parlour, lounging on a soft couch, with a
pretty, wealthy wife at my side, he would have hated me; a brief,
cold, haughty visit, would in such a case have been the extreme
limit of his civilities, and never would he have come near me
more, so long as the tide of fortune bore me smoothly on its
surface; but the painted furniture, the bare walls, the cheerless
solitude of my room relaxed his rigid pride, and I know not what
softening change had taken place both in his voice and look ere
he spoke again.
"You have got another place?"
"You are in the way of getting one?"
"That is bad; have you applied to Brown?"
"You had better; he often has it in his power to give useful
information in such matters."
"He served me once very well; I have no claim on him, and am not
in the humour to bother him again."
"Oh, if you're bashful, and dread being intrusive, you need only
commission me. I shall see him to-night; I can put in a word."
"I beg you will not, Mr. Hunsden; I am in your debt already; you
did me an important service when I was at X----; got me out of a
den where I was dying: that service I have never repaid, and at
present I decline positively adding another item to the account."
"If the wind sits that way, I'm satisfied. I thought my
unexampled generosity in turning you out of that accursed
counting-house would be duly appreciated some day: 'Cast your
bread on the waters, and it shall be found after many days,' say
the Scriptures. Yes, that's right, lad--make much of me--I'm a
nonpareil: there's nothing like me in the common herd. In the
meantime, to put all humbug aside and talk sense for a few
moments, you would be greatly the better of a situation, and what
is more, you are a fool if you refuse to take one from any hand
that offers it."
"Very well, Mr. Hunsden; now you have settled that point, talk of
something else. What news from X----?"
"I have not settled that point, or at least there is another to
settle before we get to X----. Is this Miss Zenobie" (Zoraide,
interposed I)--"well, Zoraide--is she really married to Pelet?"
"I tell you yes--and if you don't believe me, go and ask the cure
of St. Jacques."
"And your heart is broken?"
"I am not aware that it is; it feels all right--beats as usual."
"Then your feelings are less superfine than I took them to be;
you must be a coarse, callous character, to bear such a thwack
without staggering under it."
"Staggering under it? What the deuce is there to stagger under
in the circumstance of a Belgian schoolmistress marrying a
French schoolmaster? The progeny will doubtless be a strange
hybrid race; but that's their Look out--not mine."
"He indulges in scurrilous jests, and the bride was his affianced
"Who said so?"
I'll tell you what, Hunsden--Brown is an old gossip."
"He is; but in the meantime, if his gossip be founded on less
than fact--if you took no particular interest in Miss Zoraide
--why, O youthful pedagogue! did you leave your place in
consequence of her becoming Madame Pelet?"
"Because--" I felt my face grow a little hot; "because--in
short, Mr. Hunsden, I decline answering any more questions," and
I plunged my hands deep in my breeches pocket.
Hunsden triumphed: his eyes--his laugh announced victory.
"What the deuce are you laughing at, Mr. Hunsden?"
"At your exemplary composure. Well, lad, I'll not bore you; I
see how it is: Zoraide has jilted you--married some one richer,
as any sensible woman would have done if she had had the chance."
I made no reply--I let him think so, not feeling inclined to
enter into an explanation of the real state of things, and as
little to forge a false account; but it was not easy to blind
Hunsden; my very silence, instead of convincing him that he had
hit the truth, seemed to render him doubtful about it; he went
"I suppose the affair has been conducted as such affairs always
are amongst rational people: you offered her your youth and your
talents-such as they are--in exchange for her position and money:
I don't suppose you took appearance, or what is called LOVE, into
the account--for I understand she is older than you, and Brown
says, rather sensible-looking than beautiful. She, having then
no chance of making a better bargain, was at first inclined to
come to terms with you, but Pelet--the head or a flourishing
school--stepped in with a higher bid; she accepted, and he has
got her: a correct transaction--perfectly so--business-like and
legitimate. And now we'll talk of something else."
"Do," said I, very glad to dismiss the topic, and especially glad
to have baffled the sagacity of my cross-questioner--if, indeed,
I had baffled it; for though his words now led away from the
dangerous point, his eyes, keen and watchful, seemed still
preoccupied with the former idea.
"You want to hear news from X----? And what interest can you
have in X----? You left no friends there, for you made none.
Nobody ever asks after you--neither man nor woman; and if I
mention your name in company, the men look as if I had spoken of
Prester John; and the women sneer covertly. Our X---- belles
must have disliked you. How did you excite their displeasure?"
"I don't know. I seldom spoke to them--they were nothing to me.
I considered them only as something to be glanced at from a
distance; their dresses and faces were often pleasing enough to
the eye: but I could not understand their conversation, nor even
read their countenances. When I caught snatches of what they
said, I could never make much of it; and the play of their lips
and eyes did not help me at all."
"That was your fault, not theirs. There are sensible, as well as
handsome women in X----; women it is worth any man's while to
talk to, and with whom I can talk with pleasure: but you had and
have no pleasant address; there is nothing in you to induce a
woman to be affable. I have remarked you sitting near the door
in a room full of company, bent on hearing, not on speaking; on
observing, not on entertaining; looking frigidly shy at the
commencement of a party, confusingly vigilant about the middle,
and insultingly weary towards the end. Is that the way, do you
think, ever to communicate pleasure or excite interest? No; and
if you are generally unpopular, it is because you deserve to be
"Content!" I ejaculated.
"No, you are not content; you see beauty always turning its back
on you; you are mortified and then you sneer. I verily believe
all that is desirable on earth--wealth, reputation, love--will
for ever to you be the ripe grapes on the high trellis: you'll
look up at them; they will tantalize in you the lust of the eye;
but they are out of reach: you have not the address to fetch a
ladder, and you'll go away calling them sour."
Cutting as these words might have been under some circumstances,
they drew no blood now. My life was changed; my experience had
been varied since I left X----, but Hunsden could not know this;
he had seen me only in the character of Mr. Crimsworth's clerk--a
dependant amongst wealthy strangers, meeting disdain with a hard
front, conscious of an unsocial and unattractive exterior,
refusing to sue for notice which I was sure would be withheld,
declining to evince an admiration which I knew would be scorned
as worthless. He could not be aware that since then youth and
loveliness had been to me everyday objects; that I had studied
them at leisure and closely, and had seen the plain texture of
truth under the embroidery of appearance; nor could he,
keen-sighted as he was, penetrate into my heart, search my
brain, and read my peculiar sympathies and antipathies; he had
not known me long enough, or well enough, to perceive how low my
feelings would ebb under some influences, powerful over most
minds; how high, how fast they would flow under other influences,
that perhaps acted with the more intense force on me, because
they acted on me alone. Neither could he suspect for an instant
the history of my communications with Mdlle. Reuter; secret to
him and to all others was the tale of her strange infatuation;
her blandishments, her wiles had been seen but by me, and to me
only were they known; but they had changed me, for they had
proved that I COULD impress. A sweeter secret nestled deeper in
my heart; one full of tenderness and as full of strength: it
took the sting out of Hunsden's sarcasm; it kept me unbent by
shame, and unstirred by wrath. But of all this I could say
nothing--nothing decisive at least; uncertainty sealed my lips,
and during the interval of silence by which alone I replied to
Mr. Hunsden, I made up my mind to be for the present wholly
misjudged by him, and misjudged I was; he thought he had been
rather too hard upon me, and that I was crushed by the weight of
his upbraidings; so to re-assure me he said, doubtless I should
mend some day; I was only at the beginning of life yet; and since
happily I was not quite without sense, every false step I made
would be a good lesson.
Just then I turned my face a little to the light; the approach of
twilight, and my position in the window-seat, had, for the last
ten minutes, prevented him from studying my countenance; as I
moved, however, he caught an expression which he thus
"Confound it! How doggedly self-approving the lad looks! I
thought he was fit to die with shame, and there he sits grinning
smiles, as good as to say, 'Let the world wag as it will, I've
the philosopher's stone in my waist-coat pocket, and the elixir
of life in my cupboard; I'm independent of both Fate and
"Hunsden--you spoke of grapes; I was thinking of a fruit I like
better than your X---- hot-house grapes--an unique fruit, growing
wild, which I have marked as my own, and hope one day to gather
and taste. It is of no use your offering me the draught of
bitterness, or threatening me with death by thirst: I have the
anticipation of sweetness on my palate; the hope of freshness on
my lips; I can reject the unsavoury, and endure the exhausting."
"For how long?"
"Till the next opportunity for effort; and as the prize of
success will be a treasure after my own heart, I'll bring a
bull's strength to the struggle."
"Bad luck crushes bulls as easily as bullaces; and, I believe,
the fury dogs you: you were born with a wooden spoon in your
mouth, depend on it."
"I believe you; sad I mean to make my wooden spoon do the work of
some people's silver ladles: grasped firmly, and handled nimbly,
even a wooden spoon will shovel up broth."
Hunsden rose: "I see," said he; "I suppose you're one of those
who develop best unwatched, and act best unaided-work your own
way. Now, I'll go." And, without another word, he was going; at
the door he turned:--
"Crimsworth Hall is sold," said he.
"Sold!" was my echo.
"Yes; you know, of course, that your brother failed three months
"What! Edward Crimsworth?"
"Precisely; and his wife went home to her fathers; when affairs
went awry, his temper sympathized with them; he used her ill; I
told you he would be a tyrant to her some day; as to him--"
"Ay, as to him--what is become of him?"
"Nothing extraordinary--don't be alarmed; he put himself under
the protection of the court, compounded with his creditors
--tenpence in the pound; in six weeks set up again, coaxed back
his wife, and is flourishing like a green bay-tree."
"And Crimsworth Hall--was the furniture sold too?"
"Everything--from the grand piano down to the rolling-pin."
"And the contents of the oak dining-room--were they sold?"
"Of course; why should the sofas and chairs of that room be held
more sacred than those of any other?"
"And the pictures?"
"What pictures? Crimsworth had no special collection that I know
of--he did not profess to be an amateur."
"There were two portraits, one on each side the mantelpiece; you
cannot have forgotten them, Mr. Hunsden; you once noticed that of
"Oh, I know! the thin-faced gentlewoman with a shawl put on like
drapery.--Why, as a matter of course, it would be sold among the
other things. If you had been rich, you might have bought it,
for I remember you said it represented your mother: you see what
it is to be without a sou."
I did. "But surely," I thought to myself, "I shall not always be
so poverty-stricken; I may one day buy it back yet.--Who
purchased it? do you know?" I asked.
"How is it likely? I never inquired who purchased anything;
there spoke the unpractical man--to imagine all the world is
interested in what interests himself! Now, good night--I'm off
for Germany to-morrow morning; I shall be back here in six weeks,
and possibly I may call and see you again; I wonder whether
you'll be still out of place!" he laughed, as mockingly, as
heartlessly as Mephistopheles, and so laughing, vanished.
Some people, however indifferent they may become after a
considerable space of absence, always contrive to leave a
pleasant impression just at parting; not so Hunsden, a conference
with him affected one like a draught of Peruvian bark; it seemed
a concentration of the specially harsh, stringent, bitter;
whether, like bark, it invigorated, I scarcely knew.
A ruffled mind makes a restless pillow; I slept little on the
night after this interview; towards morning I began to doze, but
hardly had my slumber become sleep, when I was roused from it by
hearing a noise in my sitting room, to which my bed-room
adjoined--a step, and a shoving of furniture; the movement lasted
barely two minutes; with the closing of the door it ceased. I
listened; not a mouse stirred; perhaps I had dreamt it; perhaps a
locataire had made a mistake, and entered my apartment instead of
his own. It was yet but five o'clock; neither I nor the day were
wide awake; I turned, and was soon unconscious. When I did rise,
about two hours later, I had forgotten the circumstance; the
first thing I saw, however, on quitting my chamber, recalled it;
just pushed in at the door of my sitting-room, and still standing
on end, was a wooden packing-case--a rough deal affair, wide but
shallow; a porter had doubtless shoved it forward, but seeing no
occupant of the room, had left it at the entrance.
"That is none of mine," thought I, approaching; "it must be meant
for somebody else." I stooped to examine the address:--
"Wm. Crimsworth, Esq., No --, -- St., Brussels."
I was puzzled, but concluding that the best way to obtain
information was to ask within, I cut the cords and opened the
case. Green baize enveloped its contents, sewn carefully at the
sides; I ripped the pack-thread with my pen-knife, and still, as
the seam gave way, glimpses of gilding appeared through the
widening interstices. Boards and baize being at length removed,
I lifted from the case a large picture, in a magnificent frame;
leaning it against a chair, in a position where the light from
the window fell favourably upon it, I stepped back--already I had
mounted my spectacles. A portrait-painter's sky (the most sombre
and threatening of welkins), and distant trees of a conventional
depth of hue, raised in full relief a pale, pensive-looking
female face, shadowed with soft dark hair, almost blending with
the equally dark clouds; large, solemn eyes looked reflectively
into mine; a thin cheek rested on a delicate little hand; a
shawl, artistically draped, half hid, half showed a slight
figure. A listener (had there been one) might have heard me,
after ten minutes' silent gazing, utter the word "Mother!" I
might have said more--but with me, the first word uttered aloud
in soliloquy rouses consciousness; it reminds me that only crazy
people talk to themselves, and then I think out my monologue,
instead of speaking it. I had thought a long while, and a long
while had contemplated the intelligence, the sweetness, and
--alas! the sadness also of those fine, grey eyes, the mental
power of that forehead, and the rare sensibility of that serious
mouth, when my glance, travelling downwards, fell on a narrow
billet, stuck in the corner of the picture, between the frame and
the canvas. Then I first asked, "Who sent this picture? Who
thought of me, saved it out of the wreck of Crimsworth Hall, and
now commits it to the care of its natural keeper?" I took the
note from its niche; thus it spoke:--
"There is a sort of stupid pleasure in giving a child sweets, a
fool his bells, a dog a bone. You are repaid by seeing the child
besmear his face with sugar; by witnessing how the fool's ecstasy
makes a greater fool of him than ever; by watching the dog's
nature come out over his bone. In giving William Crimsworth his
mother's picture, I give him sweets, bells, and bone all in one;
what grieves me is, that I cannot behold the result; I would have
added five shillings more to my bid if the, auctioneer could only
have promised me that pleasure.
"H. Y. H.
"P.S.--You said last night you positively declined adding another
item to your account with me; don't you think I've saved you that
I muffled the picture in its green baize covering, restored it to
the case, and having transported the whole concern to my
bed-room, put it out of sight under my bed. My pleasure was now
poisoned by pungent pain; I determined to look no more till I
could look at my ease. If Hunsden had come in at that moment, I
should have said to him, "I owe you nothing, Hunsden--not a
fraction of a farthing: you have paid yourself in taunts!"
Too anxious to remain any longer quiescent, I had no sooner
breakfasted, than I repaired once more to M. Vandenhuten's,
scarcely hoping to find him at home; for a week had barely
elapsed since my first call: but fancying I might be able to
glean information as to the time when his return was expected.
A better result awaited me than I had anticipated, for though
the family were yet at Ostend, M. Vandenhuten had come over to
Brussels on business for the day. He received me with the quiet
kindness of a sincere though not excitable man. I had not sat
five minutes alone with him in his bureau, before I became aware
of a sense of ease in his presence, such as I rarely experienced
with strangers. I was surprised at my own composure, for, after
all, I had come on business to me exceedingly painful--that of
soliciting a favour. I asked on what basis the calm rested--I
feared it might be deceptive. Ere long I caught a glimpse of the
ground, and at once I felt assured of its solidity; I knew where
M.Vandenhuten was rich, respected, and influential; I, poor,
despised and powerless; so we stood to the world at large as
members of the world's society; but to each other, as a pair of
human beings, our positions were reversed. The Dutchman (he was
not Flamand, but pure Hollandais) was slow, cool, of rather dense
intelligence, though sound and accurate judgment; the Englishman
far more nervous, active, quicker both to plan and to practise,
to conceive and to realize. The Dutchman was benevolent, the
Englishman susceptible; in short our characters dovetailed, but
my mind having more fire and action than his, instinctively
assumed and kept the predominance.
This point settled, and my position well ascertained, I addressed
him on the subject of my affairs with that genuine frankness
which full confidence can alone inspire. It was a pleasure to him
to be so appealed to; he thanked me for giving him this
opportunity of using a little exertion in my behalf. I went on
to explain to him that my wish was not so much to be helped, as
to be put into the way of helping myself; of him I did not want
exertion--that was to be my part--but only information and
recommendation. Soon after I rose to go. He held out his hand
at parting--an action of greater significance with foreigners
than with Englishmen. As I exchanged a smile with him, I thought
the benevolence of his truthful face was better than the
intelligence of my own. Characters of my order experience a
balm-like solace in the contact of such souls as animated the
honest breast of Victor Vandenhuten.
The next fortnight was a period of many alternations; my
existence during its lapse resembled a sky of one of those
autumnal nights which are specially haunted by meteors and
falling stars. Hopes and fears, expectations and
disappointments, descended in glancing showers from zenith to
horizon; but all were transient, and darkness followed swift each
vanishing apparition. M. Vandenhuten aided me faithfully; he set
me on the track of several places, and himself made efforts to
secure them for me; but for a long time solicitation and
recommendation were vain--the door either shut in my face when I
was about to walk in, or another candidate, entering before me,
rendered my further advance useless. Feverish and roused, no
disappointment arrested me; defeat following fast on defeat
served as stimulants to will. I forgot fastidiousness, conquered
reserve, thrust pride from me: I asked, I persevered, I
remonstrated, I dunned. It is so that openings are forced into
the guarded circle where Fortune sits dealing favours round. My
perseverance made me known; my importunity made me remarked. I
was inquired about; my former pupils' parents, gathering the
reports of their children, heard me spoken of as talented, and
they echoed the word: the sound, bandied about at random, came
at last to ears which, but for its universality, it might never
have reached; and at the very crisis when I had tried my last
effort and knew not what to do, Fortune looked in at me one
morning, as I sat in drear and almost desperate deliberation on
my bedstead, nodded with the familiarity of an old acquaintance
--though God knows I had never met her before--and threw a prize
into my lap.
In the second week of October, 18--, I got the appointment of
English professor to all the classes of ---- College, Brussels,
with a salary of three thousand francs per annum; and the
certainty of being able, by dint of the reputation and publicity
accompanying the position, to make as much more by private means.
The official notice, which communicated this information,
mentioned also that it was the strong recommendation of M.
Vandenhuten, negociant, which had turned the scale of choice in
No sooner had I read the announcement than I hurried to M.
Vandenhuten's bureau, pushed the document under his nose, and
when he had perused it, took both his hands, and thanked him with
unrestrained vivacity. My vivid words and emphatic gesture moved
his Dutch calm to unwonted sensation. He said he was happy--glad
to have served me; but he had done nothing meriting such thanks.
He had not laid out a centime--only scratched a few words on a
sheet of paper.
Again I repeated to him--
"You have made me quite happy, and in a way that suits me; I do
not feel an obligation irksome, conferred by your kind hand; I do
not feel disposed to shun you because you have done me a favour;
from this day you must consent to admit me to your intimate
acquaintance, for I shall hereafter recur again and again to the
pleasure of your society."
"Ainsi soit-il," was the reply, accompanied by a smile of
benignant content. I went away with its sunshine in my heart.
IT was two o'clock when I returned to my lodgings; my dinner,
just brought in from a neighbouring hotel, smoked on the table; I
sat down thinking to eat--had the plate been heaped with
potsherds and broken glass, instead of boiled beef and haricots,
I could not have made a more signal failure: appetite had
forsaken me. Impatient of seeing food which I could not taste, I
put it all aside into a cupboard, and then demanded, "What shall
I do till evening?" for before six P.M. it would be vain to seek
the Rue Notre Dame aux Neiges; its inhabitant (for me it had but
one) was detained by her vocation elsewhere. I walked in the
streets of Brussels, and I walked in my own room from two o'clock
till six; never once in that space of time did I sit down. I was
in my chamber when the last-named hour struck; I had just bathed
my face and feverish hands, and was standing near the glass; my
cheek was crimson, my eye was flame, still all my features looked
quite settled and calm. Descending swiftly the stair and
stepping out, I was glad to see Twilight drawing on in clouds;
such shade was to me like a grateful screen, and the chill of
latter Autumn, breathing in a fitful wind from the north-west,
met me as a refreshing coolness. Still I saw it was cold to
others, for the women I passed were wrapped in shawls, and the
men had their coats buttoned close.
When are we quite happy? Was I so then? No; an urgent and
growing dread worried my nerves, and had worried them since the
first moment good tidings had reached me. How was Frances? It
was ten weeks since I had seen her, six since I had heard from
her, or of her. I had answered her letter by a brief note,
friendly but calm, in which no mention of continued
correspondence or further visits was made. At that hour my bark
hung on the topmost curl of a wave of fate, and I knew not on
what shoal the onward rush of the billow might hurl it; I would
not then attach her destiny to mine by the slightest thread; if
doomed to split on the rock, or run a aground on the sand-bank, I
was resolved no other vessel should share my disaster: but six
weeks was a long time; and could it be that she was still well
and doing well? Were not all sages agreed in declaring that
happiness finds no climax on earth? Dared I think that but half
a street now divided me from the full cup of contentment--the
draught drawn from waters said to flow only in heaven?
I was at the door; I entered the quiet house; I mounted the
stairs; the lobby was void and still, all the doors closed; I
looked for the neat green mat; it lay duly in its place.
"Signal of hope!" I said, and advanced. "But I will be a little
calmer; I am not going to rush in, and get up a scene directly."
Forcibly staying my eager step, I paused on the mat.
"What an absolute hush! Is she in? Is anybody in?" I demanded
to myself. A little tinkle, as of cinders falling from a grate,
replied; a movement--a fire was gently stirred; and the slight
rustle of life continuing, a step paced equably backwards and
forwards, backwards and forwards, in the apartment. Fascinated,
I stood, more fixedly fascinated when a voice rewarded the
attention of my strained ear--so low, so self-addressed, I never
fancied the speaker otherwise than alone; solitude might speak
thus in a desert, or in the hall of a forsaken house.
"'And ne'er but once, my son,' he said,
'Was yon dark cavern trod;
In persecution's iron days,
When the land was left by God.
From Bewley's bog, with slaughter red,
A wanderer hither drew;
And oft he stopp'd and turn'd his head,
As by fits the night-winds blew.
For trampling round by Cheviot-edge
Were heard the troopers keen;
And frequent from the Whitelaw ridge
The death-shot flash'd between,'" &c. &c.
The old Scotch ballad was partly recited, then dropt; a pause
ensued; then another strain followed, in French, of which the
purport, translated, ran as follows:--
I gave, at first, attention close;
Then interest warm ensued;
From interest, as improvement rose,
Obedience was no effort soon,
And labour was no pain;
If tired, a word, a glance alone
Would give me strength again.
From others of the studious band,
Ere long he singled me;
But only by more close demand,
And sterner urgency.
The task he from another took,
From me he did reject;
He would no slight omission brook,
And suffer no defect.
If my companions went astray,
He scarce their wanderings blam'd;
If I but falter'd in the way,
His anger fiercely flam'd.
Something stirred in an adjoining chamber; it would not do to be
surprised eaves-dropping; I tapped hastily, And as hastily
entered. Frances was just before me; she had been walking slowly
in her room, and her step was checked by my advent: Twilight
only was with her, and tranquil, ruddy Firelight; to these
sisters, the Bright and the Dark, she had been speaking, ere I
entered, in poetry. Sir Walter Scott's voice, to her a foreign,
far-off sound, a mountain echo, had uttered itself in the first
stanzas; the second, I thought, from the style and the substance,
was the language of her own heart. Her face was grave, its
expression concentrated; she bent on me an unsmiling eye--an eye
just returning from abstraction, just awaking from dreams:
well-arranged was her simple attire, smooth her dark hair,
orderly her tranquil room; but what--with her thoughtful look,
her serious self-reliance, her bent to meditation and haply
inspiration--what had she to do with love? "Nothing," was the
answer of her own sad, though gentle countenance; it seemed to
say, "I must cultivate fortitude and cling to poetry; one is to
be my support and the other my solace through life. Human
affections do not bloom, nor do human passions glow for me."
Other women have such thoughts. Frances, had she been as
desolate as she deemed, would not have been worse off than
thousands of her sex. Look at the rigid and formal race of old
maids--the race whom all despise; they have fed themselves, from
youth upwards, on maxims of resignation and endurance. Many of
them get ossified with the dry diet; self-control is so
continually their thought, so perpetually their object, that at
last it absorbs the softer and more agreeable qualities of their
nature; and they die mere models of austerity, fashioned out of a
little parchment and much bone. Anatomists will tell you that
there is a heart in the withered old maid's carcase--the same as
in that of any cherished wife or proud mother in the land. Can
this be so? I really don't know; but feel inclined to doubt it.
I came forward, bade Frances "good evening," and took my seat.
The chair I had chosen was one she had probably just left; it
stood by a little table where were her open desk and papers. I
know not whether she had fully recognized me at first, but she
did so now; and in a voice, soft but quiet, she returned my
greeting. I had shown no eagerness; she took her cue from me,
and evinced no surprise. We met as me had always met, as master
and pupil--nothing more. I proceeded to handle the papers;
Frances, observant and serviceable, stepped into an inner room,
brought a candle, lit it, placed it by me; then drew the curtain
over the lattice, and having added a little fresh fuel to the
already bright fire, she drew a second chair to the table and sat
down at my right hand, a little removed. The paper on the top
was a translation of some grave French author into English, but
underneath lay a sheet with stanzas; on this I laid hands.
Frances half rose, made a movement to recover the captured spoil,
saying, that was nothing--a mere copy of verses. I put by
resistance with the decision I knew she never long opposed; but
on this occasion her fingers had fastened on the paper. I had
quietly to unloose them; their hold dissolved to my touch; her
hand shrunk away; my own would fain have followed it, but for the
present I forbade such impulse. The first page of the sheet was
occupied with the lines I had overheard; the sequel was not
exactly the writer's own experience, but a composition by
portions of that experience suggested. Thus while egotism was
avoided, the fancy was exercised, and the heart satisfied. I
translate as before, and my translation is nearly literal; it
When sickness stay'd awhile my course,
He seem'd impatient still,
Because his pupil's flagging force
Could not obey his will.
One day when summoned to the bed
Where pain and I did strive,
I heard him, as he bent his head,
Say, "God, she must revive!"
I felt his hand, with gentle stress,
A moment laid on mine,
And wished to mark my consciousness
By some responsive sign.
But pow'rless then to speak or move,
I only felt, within,
The sense of Hope, the strength of Love,
Their healing work begin.
And as he from the room withdrew,
My heart his steps pursued;
I long'd to prove, by efforts new;
My speechless gratitude.
When once again I took my place,
Long vacant, in the class,
Th' unfrequent smile across his face
Did for one moment pass.
The lessons done; the signal made
Of glad release and play,
He, as he passed, an instant stay'd,
One kindly word to say.
"Jane, till to-morrow you are free
From tedious task and rule;
This afternoon I must not see
That yet pale face in school.
"Seek in the garden-shades a seat,
Far from the play-ground din;
The sun is warm, the air is sweet:
Stay till I call you in."
A long and pleasant afternoon
I passed in those green bowers;
All silent, tranquil, and alone
With birds, and bees, and flowers.
Yet, when my master's voice I heard
Call, from the window, "Jane!"
I entered, joyful, at the word,
The busy house again.
He, in the hall, paced up and down;
He paused as I passed by;
His forehead stern relaxed its frown:
He raised his deep-set eye.
"Not quite so pale," he murmured low.
Now Jane, go rest awhile."
And as I smiled, his smoothened brow
Returned as glad a smile.
My perfect health restored, he took
His mien austere again;
And, as before, he would not brook
The slightest fault from Jane.
The longest task, the hardest theme
Fell to my share as erst,
And still I toiled to place my name
In every study first.
He yet begrudged and stinted praise,
But I had learnt to read
The secret meaning of his face,
And that was my best meed.
Even when his hasty temper spoke
In tones that sorrow stirred,
My grief was lulled as soon as woke
By some relenting word.
And when he lent some precious book,
Or gave some fragrant flower,
I did not quail to Envy's look,
Upheld by Pleasure's power.
At last our school ranks took their ground,
The hard-fought field I won;
The prize, a laurel-wreath, was bound
My throbbing forehead on.
Low at my master's knee I bent,
The offered crown to meet;
Its green leaves through my temples sent
A thrill as wild as sweet.
The strong pulse of Ambition struck
In every vein I owned;
At the same instant, bleeding broke
A secret, inward wound.
The hour of triumph was to me
The hour of sorrow sore;
A day hence I must cross the sea,
Ne'er to recross it more.
An hour hence, in my master's room
I with him sat alone,
And told him what a dreary gloom
O'er joy had parting thrown.
He little said; the time was brief,
The ship was soon to sail,
And while I sobbed in bitter grief,
My master but looked pale.
They called in haste; he bade me go,
Then snatched me back again;
He held me fast and murmured low,
"Why will they part us, Jane?"
"Were you not happy in my care?
Did I not faithful prove?
Will others to my darling bear
As true, as deep a love?
"O God, watch o'er my foster child!
O guard her gentle head!
When minds are high and tempests wild
Protection round her spread!
"They call again; leave then my breast;
Quit thy true shelter, Jane;
But when deceived, repulsed, opprest,
Come home to me again! "
I read--then dreamily made marks on the margin with my pencil;
thinking all the while of other things; thinking that "Jane" was
now at my side; no child, but a girl of nineteen; and she might
be mine, so my heart affirmed; Poverty's curse was taken off me;
Envy and Jealousy were far away, and unapprized of this our quiet
meeting; the frost of the Master's manner might melt; I felt the
thaw coming fast, whether I would or not; no further need for the
eye to practise a hard look, for the brow to compress its expense
into a stern fold: it was now permitted to suffer the outward
revelation of the inward glow--to seek, demand, elicit an
answering ardour. While musing thus, I thought that the grass on
Hermon never drank the fresh dews of sunset more gratefully than
my feelings drank the bliss of this hour.
Frances rose, as if restless; she passed before me to stir the
fire, which did not want stirring; she lifted and put down the
little ornaments on the mantelpiece; her dress waved within a
yard of me; slight, straight, and elegant;, she stood erect on
There are impulses we can control; but there are others which
control us, because they attain us with a tiger-leap, and are our
masters ere we have seen them. Perhaps, though, such impulses
are seldom altogether bad; perhaps Reason, by a process as brief
as quiet, a process that is finished ere felt, has ascertained
the sanity of the deed Instinct meditates, and feels justified in
remaining passive while it is performed. I know I did not
reason, I did not plan or intend, yet, whereas one moment I was
sitting solus on the chair near the table, the next, I held
Frances on my knee, placed there with sharpness and decision, and
retained with exceeding tenacity.
"Monsieur!" cried Frances, and was still: not another word
escaped her lips; sorely confounded she seemed during the lapse
of the first few moments; but the amazement soon subsided; terror
did not succeed, nor fury: after all, she was only a little
nearer than she had ever been before, to one she habitually
respected and trusted; embarrassment might have impelled her to
contend, but self-respect checked resistance where resistance was
"Frances, how much regard have you for me?" was my demand. No
answer; the situation was yet too new and surprising to permit
speech. On this consideration, I compelled myself for some
seconds to tolerate her silence, though impatient of it:
presently, I repeated the same question--probably, not in the
calmest of tones; she looked at me; my face, doubtless, was no
model of composure, my eyes no still wells of tranquillity.
"Do speak," I urged; and a very low, hurried, yet still arch
"Monsieur, vous me faites mal; de grace lachez un peu ma main
In truth I became aware that I was holding the said "main droite"
in a somewhat ruthless grasp: I did as desired; and, for the
third time, asked more gently--
"Frances, how much regard have you for me?"
"Mon maitre, j'en ai beaucoup," was the truthful rejoinder.
"Frances, have you enough to give yourself to me as my wife?--to
accept me as your husband?"
I felt the agitation of the heart, I saw "the purple light of
love" cast its glowing reflection on cheeks, temples, neck; I
desired to consult the eye, but sheltering lash and lid forbade.
"Monsieur," said the soft voice at last,--"Monsieur desire savoir
si je consens--si--enfin, si je veux me marier avec lui?"
"Monsieur sera-t-il aussi bon mari qu'il a ete bon maitre?"
"I will try, Frances."
A pause; then with a new, yet still subdued inflexion of the
voice--an inflexion which provoked while it pleased me
--accompanied, too, by a "sourire a la fois fin et timide" in
perfect harmony with the tone:--
"C'est a dire, monsieur sera toujours un peu entete exigeant,
"Have I been so, Frances?"
"Mais oui; vous le savez bien."
"Have I been nothing else?"
"Mais oui; vons avez ete mon meilleur ami."
"And what, Frances, are you to me?"
"Votre devouee eleve, qui vous aime de tout son coeur."
"Will my pupil consent to pass her life with me? Speak English
Some moments were taken for reflection; the answer, pronounced
slowly, ran thus:--
"You have always made me happy; I like to hear you speak; I like
to see you; I like to be near you; I believe you are very good,
and very superior; I know you are stern to those who are careless
and idle, but you are kind, very kind to the attentive and
industrious, even if they are not clever. Master, I should be
GLAD to live with you always;" and she made a sort of movement,
as if she would have clung to me, but restraining herself she
only added with earnest emphasis--"Master, I consent to pass my
life with you."
"Very well, Frances."
I drew her a little nearer to my heart; I took a first kiss from
her lips, thereby sealing the compact, now framed between us;
afterwards she and I were silent, nor was our silence brief.
Frances' thoughts, during this interval, I know not, nor did I
attempt to guess them; I was not occupied in searching her
countenance, nor in otherwise troubling her composure. The peace
I felt, I wished her to feel; my arm, it is true, still detained
her; but with a restraint that was gentle enough, so long as no
opposition tightened it. My gaze was on the red fire; my heart
was measuring its own content; it sounded and sounded, and found
the depth fathomless.
"Monsieur," at last said my quiet companion, as stirless in her
happiness as a mouse in its terror. Even now in speaking she
scarcely lifted her head.
"Well, Frances?" I like unexaggerated intercourse; it is not my
way to overpower with amorous epithets, any more than to worry
with selfishly importunate caresses.
"Monsieur est raisonnable, n'eut-ce pas?"
"Yes; especially when I am requested to be so in English: but
why do you ask me? You see nothing vehement or obtrusive in my
manner; am I not tranquil enough?"
"Ce n'est pas cela--" began Frances.
"English!" I reminded her.
"Well, monsieur, I wished merely to say, that I should like, of
course, to retain my employment of teaching. You will teach
still, I suppose, monsieur?"
"Oh, yes! It is all I have to depend on."
"Bon!--I mean good. Thus we shall have both the same profession.
I like that; and my efforts to get on will be as unrestrained as
yours--will they not, monsieur?"
"You are laying plans to be independent of me," said I.
"Yes, monsieur; I must be no incumbrance to you--no burden in any
"But, Frances, I have not yet told you what my prospects are. I
have left M. Pelet's; and after nearly a month's seeking, I have
got another place, with a salary of three thousand francs a year,
which I can easily double by a little additional exertion. Thus
you see it would be useless for you to fag yourself by going out
to give lessons; on six thousand francs you and I can live, and
Frances seemed to consider. There is something flattering to
man's strength, something consonant to his honourable pride, in
the idea of becoming the providence of what he loves--feeding and
clothing it, as God does the lilies of the field. So, to decide
her resolution, I went on:--
"Life has been painful and laborious enough to you so far,
Frances; you require complete rest; your twelve hundred francs
would not form a very important addition to our income, and what
sacrifice of comfort to earn it! Relinquish your labours: you
must be weary, and let me have the happiness of giving you rest."
I am not sure whether Frances had accorded due attention to my
harangue; instead of answering me with her usual respectful
promptitude, she only sighed and said,--
"How rich you are, monsieur!" and then she stirred uneasy in my
arms. "Three thousand francs!" she murmured, "While I get only
twelve hundred!" She went on faster. "However, it must be so for
the present; and, monsieur, were you not saying something about
my giving up my place? Oh no! I shall hold it fast;" and her
little fingers emphatically tightened on mine.
"Think of my marrying you to be kept by you, monsieur! I could
not do it; and how dull my days would be! You would be away
teaching in close, noisy school-rooms, from morning till evening,
and I should be lingering at home, unemployed and solitary; I
should get depressed and sullen, and you would soon tire of me."
"Frances, you could read and study--two things you
like so well."
"Monsieur, I could not; I like a contemplative life, but I like
an active life better; I must act in some way, and act with you.
I have taken notice, monsieur, that people who are only in each
other's company for amusement, never really like each other so
well, or esteem each other so highly, as those who work together,
and perhaps suffer together."
"You speak God's truth," said I at last, "and you shall have your
own way, for it is the best way. Now, as a reward for such ready
consent, give me a voluntary kiss."
After some hesitation, natural to a novice in the art of kissing,
she brought her lips into very shy and gentle contact with my
forehead; I took the small gift as a loan, and repaid it
promptly, and with generous interest.
I know not whether Frances was really much altered since the time
I first saw her; but, as I looked at her now, I felt that she was
singularly changed for me; the sad eye, the pale cheek, the
dejected and joyless countenance I remembered as her early
attributes, were quite gone, and now I saw a face dressed in
graces; smile, dimple, and rosy tint, rounded its contours and
brightened its hues. I had been accustomed to nurse a flattering
idea that my strong attachment to her proved some particular
perspicacity in my nature; she was not handsome, she was not
rich, she was not even accomplished, yet was she my life's
treasure; I must then be a man of peculiar discernment. To-night
my eyes opened on the mistake I had made; I began to suspect that
it was only my tastes which were unique, not my power of
discovering and appreciating the superiority of moral worth over
physical charms. For me Frances had physical charms: in her
there was no deformity to get over; none of those prominent
defects of eyes, teeth, complexion, shape, which hold at bay the
admiration of the boldest male champions of intellect (for women
can love a downright ugly man if he be but talented); had she
been either "edentee, myope, rugueuse, ou bossue," my feelings
towards her might still have been kindly, but they could never
have been impassioned; I had affection for the poor little
misshapen Sylvie, but for her I could never have had love. It is
true Frances' mental points had been the first to interest me,
and they still retained the strongest hold on my preference; but
I liked the graces of her person too. I derived a pleasure,
purely material, from contemplating the clearness of her brown
eyes, the fairness of her fine skin, the purity of her well-set
teeth, the proportion of her delicate form; and that pleasure I
could ill have dispensed with. It appeared, then, that I too was
a sensualist, in my temperate and fastidious way.
Now, reader, during the last two pages I have been giving you
honey fresh from flowers, but you must not live entirely on food
so luscious; taste then a little gall--just a drop, by way of
At a somewhat late hour I returned to my lodgings: having
temporarily forgotten that man had any such coarse cares as those
of eating and drinking, I went to bed fasting. I had been excited
and in action all day, and had tasted no food since eight that
morning; besides, for a fortnight past, I had known no rest
either of body or mind; the last few hours had been a sweet
delirium, it would not subside now, and till long after midnight,
broke with troubled ecstacy the rest I so much needed. At last I
dozed, but not for long; it was yet quite dark when I awoke, and
my waking was like that of Job when a spirit passed before his
face, and like him, "the hair of my flesh stood up." I might
continue the parallel, for in truth, though I saw nothing, yet "a
thing was secretly brought unto me, and mine ear received a
little thereof; there was silence, and I heard a voice," saying
--"In the midst of life we are in death."
That sound, and the sensation of chill anguish accompanying it,
many would have regarded as supernatural; but I recognized it at
once as the effect of reaction. Man is ever clogged with his
mortality, and it was my mortal nature which now faltered and
plained; my nerves, which jarred and gave a false sound, because
the soul, of late rushing headlong to an aim, had overstrained
the body's comparative weakness. A horror of great darkness fell
upon me; I felt my chamber invaded by one I had known formerly,
but had thought for ever departed. I was temporarily a prey to
She had been my acquaintance, nay, my guest, once before in
boyhood; I had entertained her at bed and board for a year; for
that space of time I had her to myself in secret; she lay with
me, she ate with me, she walked out with me, showing me nooks in
woods, hollows in hills, where we could sit together, and where
she could drop her drear veil over me, and so hide sky and sun,
grass and green tree; taking me entirely to her death-cold bosom,
and holding me with arms of bone. What tales she would tell me
at such hours! What songs she would recite in my ears! How she
would discourse to me of her own country--the grave--and again
and again promise to conduct me there ere long; and, drawing me
to the very brink of a black, sullen river, show me, on the other
side, shores unequal with mound, monument, and tablet, standing
up in a glimmer more hoary than moonlight. "Necropolis!" she
would whisper, pointing to the pale piles, and add, "It contains
a mansion prepared for you."
But my boyhood was lonely, parentless; uncheered by brother or
sister; and there was no marvel that, just as I rose to youth, a
sorceress, finding me lost in vague mental wanderings, with many
affections and few objects, glowing aspirations and gloomy
prospects, strong desires and slender hopes, should lift up her
illusive lamp to me in the distance, and lure me to her vaulted
home of horrors. No wonder her spells THEN had power; but NOW,
when my course was widening, my prospect brightening; when my
affections had found a rest; when my desires, folding wings,
weary with long flight, had just alighted on the very lap of
fruition, and nestled there warm, content, under the caress of a
soft hand--why did hypochondria accost me now?
I repulsed her as one would a dreaded and ghastly concubine
coming to embitter a husband's heart toward his young bride; in
vain; she kept her sway over me for that night and the next day,
and eight succeeding days. Afterwards, my spirits began slowly to
recover their tone; my appetite returned, and in a fortnight I
was well. I had gone about as usual all the time, and had said
nothing to anybody of what I felt; but I was glad when the evil
spirit departed from me, and I could again seek Frances, and sit
at her side, freed from the dreadful tyranny of my demon.
ONE fine, frosty Sunday in November, Frances and I took a long
walk; we made the tour of the city by the Boulevards; and,
afterwards, Frances being a little tired, we sat down on one of
those wayside seats placed under the trees, at intervals, for the
accommodation of the weary. Frances was telling me about
Switzerland; the subject animated her; and I was just thinking
that her eyes spoke full as eloquently as her tongue, when she
stopped and remarked--
"Monsieur, there is a gentleman who knows you."
I looked up; three fashionably dressed men were just then
passing--Englishmen, I knew by their air and gait as well as by
their features; in the tallest of the trio I at once recognized
Mr. Hunsden; he was in the act of lifting his hat to Frances;
afterwards, he made a grimace at me, and passed on.
"Who is he?"
"A person I knew in England."
"Why did he bow to me? He does not know me."
"Yes, he does know you, in his way."
"How, monsieur?" (She still called me "monsieur"; I could not
persuade her to adopt any more familiar term.)
"Did you not read the expression of his eyes?"
"Of his eyes? No. What did they say?"
"To you they said, 'How do you do, Wilhelmina, Crimsworth?'
To me, 'So you have found your counterpart at last; there she
sits, the female of your kind!'"
"Monsieur, you could not read all that in his eyes; He was so
"I read that and more, Frances; I read that he will probably call
on me this evening, or on some future occasion shortly; and I
have no doubt he will insist on being introduced to you; shall I
bring him to your rooms?"
"If you please, monsieur--I have no objection; I think, indeed, I
should rather like to see him nearer; he looks so original."
As I had anticipated, Mr. Hunsden came that evening. The first
thing he said was:--
"You need not begin boasting, Monsieur le Professeur; I know
about your appointment to -- College, and all that; Brown has
told me." Then he intimated that he had returned from Germany
but a day or two since; afterwards, he abruptly demanded whether
that was Madame Pelet-Reuter with whom he had seen me on the
Boulevards. I was going to utter a rather emphatic negative,
but on second thoughts I checked myself, and, seeming to assent,
asked what he thought of her?
"As to her, I'll come to that directly; but first I've a word for
you. I see you are a scoundrel; you've no business to be
promenading about with another man's wife. I thought you had
sounder sense than to get mixed up in foreign hodge-podge of this
"But the lady?"
"She's too good for you evidently; she is like you, but something
better than you--no beauty, though; yet when she rose (for I
looked back to see you both walk away) I thought her figure and
carriage good. These foreigners understand grace. What the
devil has she done with Pelet? She has not been married to him
three months--he must be a spoon!"
I would not let the mistake go too far; I did not like it much.
"Pelet? How your head runs on Mons. and Madame Pelet! You are
always talking about them. I wish to the gods you had wed Mdlle.
"Was that young gentlewoman not Mdlle. Zoraide?"
"No; nor Madame Zoraide either."
"Why did you tell a lie, then?"
"I told no lie; but you are is such a hurry. She is a pupil of
mine--a Swiss girl."
"And of course you are going to be married to her? Don't deny
"Married! I think I shall--if Fate spares us both ten weeks
longer. That is my little wild strawberry, Hunsden, whose
sweetness made me careless of your hothouse grapes."
"Stop! No boasting--no heroics; I won't hear them. What is she?
To what caste does she belong?"
I smiled. Hunsden unconsciously laid stress on the word caste,
and, in fact, republican, lordhater as he was, Hunsden was as
proud of his old ---shire blood, of his descent and family
standing, respectable and respected through long generations
back, as any peer in the realm of his Norman race and
Conquest-dated title. Hunsden would as little have thought of
taking a wife from a caste inferior to his own, as a Stanley
would think of mating with a Cobden. I enjoyed the surprise I
should give; I enjoyed the triumph of my practice over his
theory; and leaning over the table, and uttering the words slowly
but with repressed glee, I said concisely--
"She is a lace-mender."
Hunsden examined me. He did not SAY he was surprised, but
surprised he was; he had his own notions of good breeding. I saw
he suspected I was going to take some very rash step; but
repressing declamation or remonstrance, he only answered--
"Well, you are the best; judge of your own affairs. A
lace-mender may make a good wife as well as a lady; but of course
you have taken care to ascertain thoroughly that since she has
not education, fortune or station, she is well furnished with
such natural qualities as you think most likely to conduce to
your happiness. Has she many relations?"
"None in Brussels."
"That is better. Relations are often the real evil in such
cases. I cannot but think that a train of inferior connections
would have been a bore to you to your life's end."
After sitting in silence a little while longer, Hunsden rose, and
was quietly bidding me good evening; the polite, considerate
manner in which he offered me his hand (a thing he had never done
before), convinced me that he thought I had made a terrible fool
of myself; and that, ruined and thrown away as I was, it was no
time for sarcasm or cynicism, or indeed for anything but
indulgence and forbearance.
"Good night, William," he said, in a really soft voice, while his
face looked benevolently compassionate. "Good night, lad. I
wish you and your future wife much prosperity; and I hope she
will satisfy your fastidious soul."
I had much ado to refrain from laughing as I beheld the
magnanimous pity of his mien; maintaining, however, a grave air,
"I thought you would have liked to have seen Mdlle. Henri?"
"Oh, that is the name! Yes--if it would be convenient, I should
like to see her--but----." He hesitated.
"I should on no account wish to intrude."
"Come, then," said I. We set out. Hunsden no doubt regarded me
as a rash, imprudent man, thus to show my poor little grisette
sweetheart, in her poor little unfurnished grenier; but he
prepared to act the real gentleman, having, in fact, the kernel
of that character, under the harsh husk it pleased him to wear by
way of mental mackintosh. He talked affably, and even gently, as
we went along the street; he had never been so civil to me in his
life. We reached the house, entered, ascended the stair; on
gaining the lobby, Hunsden turned to mount a narrower stair which
led to a higher story; I saw his mind was bent on the attics.
"Here, Mr. Hunsden," said I quietly, tapping at Frances' door.
He turned; in his genuine politeness he was a little disconcerted
at having made the mistake; his eye reverted to the green mat,
but he said nothing.
We walked in, and Frances rose from her seat near the table to
receive us; her mourning attire gave her a recluse, rather
conventual, but withal very distinguished look; its grave
simplicity added nothing to beauty, but much to dignity; the
finish of the white collar and manchettes sufficed for a relief
to the merino gown of solemn black; ornament was forsworn.
Frances curtsied with sedate grace, looking, as she always did,
when one first accosted her, more a woman to respect than to
love; I introduced Mr. Hunsden, and she expressed her happiness
at making his acquaintance in French. The pure and polished
accent, the low yet sweet and rather full voice, produced their
effect immediately; Hunsden spoke French in reply; I had not
heard him speak that language before; he managed it very well. I
retired to the window-seat; Mr. Hunsden, at his hostess's
invitation, occupied a chair near the hearth; from my position I
could see them both, and the room too, at a glance. The room was
so clean and bright, it looked like a little polished cabinet; a
glass filled with flowers in the centre of the table, a fresh
rose in each china cup on the mantelpiece gave it an air of FETE,
Frances was serious, and Mr. Hunsden subdued, but both mutually
polite; they got on at the French swimmingly: ordinary topics
were discussed with great state and decorum; I thought I had
never seen two such models of propriety, for Hunsden (thanks to
the constraint of the foreign tongue) was obliged to shape his
phrases, and measure his sentences, with a care that forbade any
eccentricity. At last England was mentioned, and Frances
proceeded to ask questions. Animated by degrees, she began to
change, just as a grave night-sky changes at the approach of
sunrise: first it seemed as if her forehead cleared, then her
eyes glittered, her features relaxed, and became quite mobile;
her subdued complexion grew warm and transparent; to me, she now
looked pretty; before, she had only looked ladylike.
She had many things to say to the Englishman just fresh from his
island-country, and she urged him with an enthusiasm of
curiosity, which ere long thawed Hunsden's reserve as fire thaws
a congealed viper. I use this not very flattering comparison
because he vividly reminded me of a snake waking from torpor, as
he erected his tall form, reared his head, before a little
declined, and putting back his hair from his broad Saxon
forehead, showed unshaded the gleam of almost savage satire which
his interlocutor's tone of eagerness and look of ardour had
sufficed at once to kindle in his soul and elicit from his eyes:
he was himself; as Frances was herself, and in none but his own
language would he now address her.
"You understand English?" was the prefatory question.
"Well, then, you shall have plenty of it; and first, I see you've
not much more sense than some others of my acquaintance"
(indicating me with his thumb), "or else you'd never turn rabid
about that dirty little country called England; for rabid, I see
you are; I read Anglophobia in your looks, and hear it in your
words. Why, mademoiselle, is it possible that anybody with a
grain of rationality should feel enthusiasm about a mere name,
and that name England? I thought you were a lady-abbess five
minutes ago, and respected you accordingly; and now I see you are
a sort of Swiss sibyl, with high Tory and high Church
"England is your country?" asked Frances.
"And you don't like it?"
"I'd be sorry to like it! A little corrupt, venal,
lord-and-king-cursed nation, full or mucky pride (as they say in
---shire), and helpless pauperism; rotten with abuses, worm-eaten
"You might say so of almost every state; there are abuses and
prejudices everywhere, and I thought fewer in England than in
"Come to England and see. Come to Birmingham and Manchester;
come to St. Giles' in London, and get a practical notion of how
our system works. Examine the footprints of our august
aristocracy; see how they walk in blood, crushing hearts as they
go. Just put your head in at English cottage doors; get a
glimpse of Famine crouched torpid on black hearthstones; of
Disease lying bare on beds without coverlets, of Infamy wantoning
viciously with Ignorance, though indeed Luxury is her favourite
paramour, and princely halls are dearer to her than thatched
"I was not thinking of the wretchedness and vice in England; I
was thinking of the good side--of what is elevated in your
character as a nation."
"There is no good side--none at least of which you can have any
knowledge; for you cannot appreciate the efforts of industry, the
achievements of enterprise, or the discoveries of science:
narrowness of education and obscurity of position quite
incapacitate you from understanding these points; and as to
historical and poetical associations, I will not insult you,
mademoiselle, by supposing that you alluded to such humbug."
"But I did partly."
Hunsden laughed--his laugh of unmitigated scorn.
"I did, Mr. Hunsden. Are you of the number of those to whom such
associations give no pleasure?"
"Mademoiselle, what is an association? I never saw one. What is
its length, breadth, weight, value--ay, VALUE? What price will
it bring in the market?"
"Your portrait, to any one who loved you, would, for the sake of
association, be without price."
That inscrutable Hunsden heard this remark and felt it rather
acutely, too, somewhere; for he coloured--a thing not unusual
with him, when hit unawares on a tender point. A sort of trouble
momentarily darkened his eye, and I believe he filled up the
transient pause succeeding his antagonist's home-thrust, by a
wish that some one did love him as he would like to be loved
--some one whose love he could unreservedly return.
The lady pursued her temporary advantage.
"If your world is a world without associations, Mr. Hunsden, I no
longer wonder that you hate England so. I don't clearly know
what Paradise is, and what angels are; yet taking it to be the
most glorious region I can conceive, and angels the most elevated
existences--if one of them--if Abdiel the Faithful himself" (she
was thinking of Milton) "were suddenly stripped of the faculty of
association, I think he would soon rush forth from 'the
ever-during gates,' leave heaven, and seek what he had lost in
hell. Yes, in the very hell from which he turned 'with retorted
Frances' tone in saying this was as marked as her language, and
it was when the word "hell" twanged off from her lips, with a
somewhat startling emphasis, that Hunsden deigned to bestow one
slight glance of admiration. He liked something strong, whether
in man or woman; he liked whatever dared to clear conventional
limits. He had never before heard a lady say "hell" with that
uncompromising sort of accent, and the sound pleased him from a
lady's lips; he would fain have had Frances to strike the string
again, but it was not in her way. The display of eccentric
vigour never gave her pleasure, and it only sounded in her voice
or flashed in her countenance when extraordinary circumstances
--and those generally painful--forced it out of the depths where
it burned latent. To me, once or twice, she had in intimate
conversation, uttered venturous thoughts in nervous language; but
when the hour of such manifestation was past, I could not recall
it; it came of itself and of itself departed. Hunsden's
excitations she put by soon with a smile, and recurring to the
theme of disputation, said--
"Since England is nothing, why do the continental nations respect
"I should have thought no child would have asked that question,"
replied Hunsden, who never at any time gave information without
reproving for stupidity those who asked it of him. "If you had
been my pupil, as I suppose you once had the misfortune to be
that of a deplorable character not a hundred miles off, I would
have put you in the corner for such a confession of ignorance.
Why, mademoiselle, can't you see that it is our GOLD which buys
us French politeness, German good-will, and Swiss servility?"
And he sneered diabolically.
"Swiss?" said Frances, catching the word "servility." "Do you
call my countrymen servile?" and she started up. I could not
suppress a low laugh; there was ire in her glance and defiance in
her attitude. "Do you abuse Switzerland to me, Mr. Hunsden? Do
you think I have no associations? Do you calculate that I am
prepared to dwell only on what vice and degradation may be found
in Alpine villages, and to leave quite out of my heart the social
greatness of my countrymen, and our blood-earned freedom, and the
natural glories of our mountains? You're mistaken--you're
"Social greatness? Call it what you will, your countrymen are
sensible fellows; they make a marketable article of what to you
is an abstract idea; they have, ere this, sold their social
greatness and also their blood-earned freedom to be the servants
of foreign kings."
"You never were in Switzerland?"
"Yes--I have been there twice."
"You know nothing of it."
"And you say the Swiss are mercenary, as a parrot says 'Poor
Poll,' or as the Belgians here say the English are not brave, or
as the French accuse them of being perfidious: there is no
justice in your dictums."
"There is truth."
"I tell you, Mr. Hunsden, you are a more unpractical man than I
am an unpractical woman, for you don't acknowledge what really
exists; you want to annihilate individual patriotism and national
greatness as an atheist would annihilate God and his own soul, by
denying their existence."
"Where are you flying to? You are off at a tangent--I thought we
were talking about the mercenary nature of the Swiss."
"We were--and if you proved to me that the Swiss are mercenary
to-morrow (which you cannot do) I should love Switzerland still."
"You would be mad, then--mad as a March hare--to indulge in a
passion for millions of shiploads of soil, timber, snow, and
"Not so mad as you who love nothing."
"There's a method in my madness; there's none in yours."
"Your method is to squeeze the sap out of creation and make
manure of the refuse, by way of turning it to what you call use."
"You cannot reason at all," said Hunsden; "there is no logic in
"Better to be without logic than without feeling," retorted
Frances, who was now passing backwards and forwards from her
cupboard to the table, intent, if not on hospitable thoughts, at
least on hospitable deeds, for she was laying the cloth, and
putting plates, knives and forks thereon.
"Is that a hit at me, mademoiselle? Do you suppose I am without
"I suppose you are always interfering with your own feelings,and
those of other people, and dogmatizing about the irrationality of
this, that, and the other sentiment, and then ordering it to be
suppressed because you imagine it to be inconsistent with logic."
"I do right."
Frances had stepped out of sight into a sort of little pantry;
she soon reappeared.
"You do right? Indeed, no! You are much mistaken if you think
so. Just be so good as to let me get to the fire, Mr. Hunsden; I
have something to cook." (An interval occupied in settling a
casserole on the fire; then, while she stirred its contents:)
"Right! as if it were right to crush any pleasurable sentiment
that God has given to man, especially any sentiment that, like
patriotism, spreads man's selfishness in wider circles" (fire
stirred, dish put down before it).
"Were you born in Switzerland?"
"I should think so, or else why should I call it my country?"
"And where did you get your English features and figure?"
"I am English, too; half the blood in my veins is English; thus I
have a right to a double power of patriotism, possessing an
interest in two noble, free, and fortunate countries."
"You had an English mother?"
"Yes, yes; and you, I suppose, had a mother from the moon or from
Utopia, since not a nation in Europe has a claim on your
"On the contrary, I'm a universal patriot, if you could
understand me rightly: my country is the world."
"Sympathies so widely diffused must be very shallow: will you
have the goodness to come to table. Monsieur" (to me who
appeared to be now absorbed in reading by moonlight)--"Monsieur,
supper is served."
This was said in quite a different voice to that in which she had
been bandying phrases with Mr. Hunsden--not so short, graver and
"Frances, what do you mean by preparing, supper? we had no
intention of staying."
"Ah, monsieur, but you have stayed, and supper is prepared; you
have only the alternative of eating it."
The meal was a foreign one, of course; it consisted in two small
but tasty dishes of meat prepared with skill and served with
nicety; a salad and "fromage francais," completed it. The
business of eating interposed a brief truce between the
belligerents, but no sooner was supper disposed of than they were
at it again. The fresh subject of dispute ran on the spirit of
religious intolerance which Mr. Hunsden affirmed to exist
strongly in Switzerland, notwithstanding the professed attachment
of the Swiss to freedom. Here Frances had greatly the worst of
it, not only because she was unskilled to argue, but because her
own real opinions on the point in question happened to coincide
pretty nearly with Mr. Hunsden's, and she only contradicted him
out of opposition. At last she gave in, confessing that she
thought as he thought, but bidding him take notice that she did
not consider herself beaten.
"No more did the French at Waterloo," said Hunsden.
"There is no comparison between the cases," rejoined Frances; "
mine was a sham fight."
"Sham or real, it's up with you."
"No; though I have neither logic nor wealth of words, yet in a
case where my opinion really differed from yours, I would adhere
to it when I had not another word to say in its defence; you
should be baffled by dumb determination. You speak of Waterloo;
your Wellington ought to have been conquered there, according to
Napoleon; but he persevered in spite of the laws of war, and was
victorious in defiance of military tactics. I would do as he
"I'll be bound for it you would; probably you have some of the
same sort of stubborn stuff in you.
"I should be sorry if I had not; he and Tell were brothers, and
I'd scorn the Swiss, man or woman, who had none of the
much-enduring nature of our heroic William in his soul."
"If Tell was like Wellington, he was an ass."
"Does not ASS mean BAUDET?" asked Frances, turning to me.
"No, no," replied I, "it means an ESPRIT-FORT; and now," I
continued, as I saw that fresh occasion of strife was brewing
between these two, "it is high time to go."
Hunsden rose. "Good bye," said he to Frances; "I shall be off
for this glorious England to-morrow, and it may be twelve months
or more before I come to Brussels again; whenever I do come I'll
seek you out, and you shall see if I don't find means to make you
fiercer than a dragon. You've done pretty well this evening, but
next interview you shall challenge me outright. Meantime you're
doomed to become Mrs. William Crimsworth, I suppose; poor young
lady? but you have a spark of spirit; cherish it, and give the
Professor the full benefit thereof."
"Are you married. Mr. Hunsden?" asked Frances, suddenly.
"No. I should have thought you might have guessed I was a
Benedict by my look."
"Well, whenever you marry don't take a wife out of Switzerland;
for if you begin blaspheming Helvetia, and cursing the cantons
--above all, if you mention the word ASS in the same breath with
the name Tell (for ass IS baudet, I know; though Monsieur is
pleased to translate it ESPRIT-FORT) your mountain maid will some
night smother her Breton-bretonnant, even as your own
Shakspeare's Othello smothered Desdemona."
"I am warned," said Hunsden; "and so are you, lad," (nodding to
me). "I hope yet to hear of a travesty of the Moor and his
gentle lady, in which the parts shall be reversed according to
the plan just sketched--you, however, being in my nightcap.
Farewell, mademoiselle!" He bowed on her hand, absolutely like
Sir Charles Grandison on that of Harriet Byron; adding--"Death
from such fingers would not be without charms."
"Mon Dieu!" murmured Frances, opening her large eyes and lifting
her distinctly arched brows; "c'est qu'il fait des compliments!
je ne m'y suis pas attendu." She smiled, half in ire, half in
mirth, curtsied with foreign grace, and so they parted.
No sooner had we got into the street than Hunsden collared me.
"And that is your lace-mender?" said he; "and you reckon you have
done a fine, magnanimous thing in offering to marry her? You, a
scion of Seacombe, have proved your disdain of social
distinctions by taking up with an ouvriere! And I pitied the
fellow, thinking his feelings had misled him, and that he had
hurt himself by contracting a low match!"
"Just let go my collar, Hunsden."
"On the contrary, he swayed me to and fro; so I grappled him
round the waist. It was dark; the street lonely and lampless.
We had then a tug for it; and after we had both rolled on the
pavement, and with difficulty picked ourselves up, we agreed to
walk on more soberly.
"Yes, that's my lace-mender," said I; "and she is to be mine for
"God is not willing--you can't suppose it; what business have you
to be suited so well with a partner? And she treats you with a
sort of respect, too, and says, 'Monsieur' and modulates her tone
in addressing you, actually, as if you were something superior!
She could not evince more deference to such a one as I, were she
favoured by fortune to the supreme extent of being my choice
instead of yours."
"Hunsden, you're a puppy. But you've only seen the title-page of
my happiness; you don't know the tale that follows; you cannot
conceive the interest and sweet variety and thrilling excitement
of the narrative."
Hunsden--speaking low and deep, for we had now entered a busier
street--desired me to hold my peace, threatening to do something
dreadful if I stimulated his wrath further by boasting. I
laughed till my sides ached. We soon reached his hotel; before he
entered it, he said--
"Don't be vainglorious. Your lace-mender is too good for you,
but not good enough for me; neither physically nor morally does
she come up to my ideal of a woman. No; I dream of something far
beyond that pale-faced, excitable little Helvetian (by-the-by she
has infinitely more of the nervous, mobile Parisienne in her than
of the the robust 'jungfrau'). Your Mdlle. Henri is in person
"chetive", in mind "sans caractere", compared with the queen of
my visions. You, indeed, may put up with that "minois chiffone";
but when I marry I must have straighter and more harmonious
features, to say nothing of a nobler and better developed shape
than that perverse, ill-thriven child can boast."
"Bribe a seraph to fetch you a coal of fire from heaven, if you
will," said I, "and with it kindle life in the tallest, fattest,
most boneless, fullest-blooded of Ruben's painted women--leave me
only my Alpine peri, and I'll not envy you."
With a simultaneous movement, each turned his back on the other.
Neither said " God bless you;" yet on the morrow the sea was to
roll between us.
IN two months more Frances had fulfilled the time of mourning for
her aunt. One January morning--the first of the new year
holidays--I went in a fiacre, accompanied only by M. Vandenhuten,
to the Rue Notre Dame aux Neiges, and having alighted alone and
walked upstairs, I found Frances apparently waiting for me,
dressed in a style scarcely appropriate to that cold, bright,
frosty day. Never till now had I seen her attired in any other
than black or sad-coloured stuff; and there she stood by the
window, clad all in white, and white of a most diaphanous
texture; her array was very simple, to be sure, but it looked
imposing and festal because it was so clear, full, and floating;
a veil shadowed her head, and hung below her knee; a little
wreath of pink flowers fastened it to her thickly tressed Grecian
plait, and thence it fell softly on each side of her face.
Singular to state, she was, or had been crying; when I asked her
if she were ready, she said "Yes, monsieur," with something very
like a checked sob; and when I took a shawl, which lay on the
table, and folded it round her, not only did tear after tear
course unbidden down her cheek, but she shook to my ministration
like a reed. I said I was sorry to see her in such low spirits,
and requested to be allowed an insight into the origin thereof.
She only said, "It was impossible to help it," and then
voluntarily, though hurriedly, putting her hand into mine,
accompanied me out of the room, and ran downstairs with a quick,
uncertain step, like one who was eager to get some formidable
piece of business over. I put her into the fiacre. M.
Vandenhuten received her, and seated her beside himself; we drove
all together to the Protestant chapel, went through a certain
service in the Common Prayer Book, and she and I came out
married. M. Vandenhuten had given the bride away.
We took no bridal trip; our modesty, screened by the peaceful
obscurity of our station, and the pleasant isolation of our
circumstances, did not exact that additional precaution. We
repaired at once to a small house I had taken in the faubourg
nearest to that part of the city where the scene of our
Three or four hours after the wedding ceremony, Frances, divested
of her bridal snow, and attired in a pretty lilac gown of warmer
materials, a piquant black silk apron, and a lace collar with
some finishing decoration of lilac ribbon, was kneeling on the
carpet of a neatly furnished though not spacious parlour,
arranging on the shelves of a chiffoniere some books, which I
handed to her from the table. It was snowing fast out of doors;
the afternoon had turned out wild and cold; the leaden sky seemed
full of drifts, and the street was already ankle-deep in the
white downfall. Our fire burned bright, our new habitation
looked brilliantly clean and fresh, the furniture was all
arranged, and there were but some articles of glass, china,
books, &c., to put in order. Frances found in this business
occupation till tea-time, and then, after I had distinctly
instructed her how to make a cup of tea in rational English
style, and after she had got over the dismay occasioned by seeing
such an extravagant amount of material put into the pot, she
administered to me a proper British repast, at which there wanted
neither candies nor urn, fire-light nor comfort.
Our week's holiday glided by, and we readdressed ourselves to
labour. Both my wife and I began in good earnest with the notion
that we were working people, destined to earn our bread by
exertion, and that of the most assiduous kind. Our days were
thoroughly occupied; me used to part every morning at eight
o'clock, and not meet again till five P.M.; but into what sweet
rest did the turmoil of each busy day decline! Looking down the
vista, of memory, I see the evenings passed in that little
parlour like a long string of rubies circling the dusk brow of
the past. Unvaried were they as each cut gem, and like each gem
brilliant and burning.
A year and a half passed. One morning (it was a FETE, and we had
the day to ourselves) Frances said to me, with a suddenness
peculiar to her when she had been thinking long on a subject, and
at last, having come to a conclusion, wished to test its
soundness by the touchstone of my judgment:--
"I don't work enough."
"What now ?" demanded I, looking up from my coffee, which I had
been deliberately stirring while enjoying, in anticipation, a
walk I proposed to take with Frances, that fine summer day (it
was June), to a certain farmhouse in the country, where we were
to dine. "What now?" and I saw at once, in the serious ardour of
her face, a project of vital importance.
"I am not satisfied" returned she: "you are now earning eight
thousand francs a year" (it was true; my efforts, punctuality,
the fame of my pupils' progress, the publicity of my station, had
so far helped me on), "while I am still at my miserable twelve
hundred francs. I CAN do better, and I WILL."
"You work as long and as diligently as I do, Frances."
"Yes, monsieur, but I am not working in the right way, and I am
convinced of it."
"You wish to change--you have a plan for progress in your mind;
go and put on your bonnet; and, while we take our walk, you shall
tell me of it."
She went--as docile as a well-trained child; she was a curious
mixture of tractability and firmness: I sat thinking about her,
and wondering what her plan could be, when she re-entered.
"Monsieur, I have given Minnie" (our bonne) "leave to go out too,
as it is so very fine; so will you be kind enough to lock the
door, and take the key with you?"
"Kiss me, Mrs. Crimsworth," was my not very apposite reply; but
she looked so engaging in her light summer dress and little
cottage bonnet, and her manner in speaking to me was then, as
always, so unaffectedly and suavely respectful, that my heart
expanded at the sight of her, and a kiss seemed necessary to
content its importunity.
"Why do you always call me 'Monsieur?' Say, 'William.'"
"I cannot pronounce your W; besides, 'Monsieur' belongs to you; I
like it best."
Minnie having departed in clean cap and smart shawl, we, too, set
out, leaving the house solitary and silent--silent, at least, but
for the ticking of the clock. We were soon clear of Brussels;
the fields received us, and then the lanes, remote from carriage-
resounding CHAUSSEES. Ere long we came upon a nook, so rural,
green, and secluded, it might have been a spot in some pastoral
English province; a bank of short and mossy grass, under a
hawthorn, offered a seat too tempting to be declined; we took it,
and when we had admired and examined some English-looking
wild-flowers growing at our feet, I recalled Frances' attention
and my own to the topic touched on at breakfast.
"What was her plan?" A natural one--the next step to be mounted
by us, or, at least, by her, if she wanted to rise in her
profession. She proposed to begin a school. We already had the
means for commencing on a careful scale, having lived greatly
within our income. We possessed, too, by this time, an extensive
and eligible connection, in the sense advantageous to our
business; for, though our circle of visiting acquaintance
continued as limited as ever, we were now widely known in schools
and families as teachers. When Frances had developed her plan,
she intimated, in some closing sentences, her hopes for the
future. If we only had good health and tolerable success, me
might, she was sure, in time realize an independency; and that,
perhaps, before we were too old to enjoy it; then both she and I
would rest; and what was to hinder us from going to live in
England? England was still her Promised Land.
I put no obstacle in her way; raised no objection; I knew she was
not one who could live quiescent and inactive, or even
comparatively inactive. Duties she must have to fulfil, and
important duties; work to do--and exciting, absorbing, profitable
work; strong faculties stirred in her frame, and they demanded
full nourishment, free exercise: mine was not the hand ever to
starve or cramp them; no, I delighted in offering them
sustenance, and in clearing them wider space for action.
"You have conceived a plan, Frances," said I, "and a good plan;
execute it; you have my free consent, and wherever and whenever
my assistance is wanted, ask and you shall have."
Frances' eyes thanked me almost with tears; just a sparkle or
two, soon brushed away; she possessed herself of my hand too, and
held it for some time very close clasped in both her own, but she
said no more than "Thank you, monsieur."
We passed a divine day, and came home late, lighted by a full
Ten years rushed now upon me with dusty, vibrating, unresting
wings; years of bustle, action, unslacked endeavour; years in
which I and my wife, having launched ourselves in the full career
of progress, as progress whirls on in European capitals, scarcely
knew repose, were strangers to amusement, never thought of
indulgence, and yet, as our course ran side by side, as we
marched hand in hand, we neither murmured, repented, nor
faltered. Hope indeed cheered us; health kept us up; harmony of
thought and deed smoothed many difficulties, and finally, success
bestowed every now and then encouraging reward on diligence. Our
school became one of the most popular in Brussels, and as by
degrees we raised our terms and elevated our system of education,
our choice of pupils grew more select, and at length included the
children of the best families in Belgium. We had too an
excellent connection in England, first opened by the unsolicited
recommendation of Mr. Hunsden, who having been over, and having
abused me for my prosperity in set terms, went back, and soon
after sent a leash of young ---shire heiresses--his cousins; as
he said "to be polished off by Mrs. Crimsworth."
As to this same Mrs. Crimsworth, in one sense she was become
another woman, though in another she remained unchanged. So
different was she under different circumstances. I seemed to
possess two wives. The faculties of her nature, already
disclosed when I married her, remained fresh and fair; but other
faculties shot up strong, branched out broad, and quite altered
the external character of the plant. Firmness, activity, and
enterprise, covered with grave foliage, poetic feeling and
fervour; but these flowers were still there, preserved pure and
dewy under the umbrage of later growth and hardier nature:
perhaps I only in the world knew the secret of their existence,
but to me they were ever ready to yield an exquisite fragrance
and present a beauty as chaste as radiant.
In the daytime my house and establishment were conducted by
Madame the directress, a stately and elegant woman, bearing much
anxious thought on her large brow; much calculated dignity in her
serious mien: immediately after breakfast I used to part with
this lady; I went to my college, she to her schoolroom; returning
for an hour in the course of the day, I found her always in
class, intently occupied; silence, industry, observance,
attending on her presence. When not actually teaching, she was
overlooking and guiding by eye and gesture; she then appeared
vigilant and solicitous. When communicating instruction, her
aspect was more animated; she seemed to feel a certain enjoyment
in the occupation. The language in which she addressed her
pupils, though simple and unpretending, was never trite or dry;
she did not speak from routine formulas--she made her own phrases
as she went on, and very nervous and impressive phrases they
frequently were; often, when elucidating favourite points of
history, or geography, she would wax genuinely eloquent in her
earnestness. Her pupils, or at least the elder and more
intelligent amongst them, recognized well the language of a
superior mind; they felt too, and some of them received the
impression of elevated sentiments; there was little fondling
between mistress and girls, but some of Frances' pupils in time
learnt to love her sincerely, all of them beheld her with
respect; her general demeanour towards them was serious;
sometimes benignant when they pleased her with their progress and
attention, always scrupulously refined and considerate. In cases
where reproof or punishment was called for she was usually
forbearing enough; but if any took advantage of that forbearance,
which sometimes happened, a sharp, sudden and lightning-like
severity taught the culprit the extent of the mistake committed.
Sometimes a gleam of tenderness softened her eyes and manner, but
this was rare; only when a pupil was sick, or when it pined after
home, or in the case of some little motherless child, or of one
much poorer than its companions, whose scanty wardrobe and mean
appointments brought on it the contempt of the jewelled young
countesses and silk-clad misses. Over such feeble fledglings the
directress spread a wing of kindliest protection: it was to
their bedside she came at night to tuck them warmly in; it was
after them she looked in winter to see that they always had a
comfortable seat by the stove; it was they who by turns were
summoned to the salon to receive some little dole of cake or
fruit--to sit on a footstool at the fireside--to enjoy home
comforts, and almost home liberty, for an evening together--to be
spoken to gently and softly, comforted, encouraged, cherished
--and when bedtime came, dismissed with a kiss of true
tenderness. As to Julia and Georgiana G ---, daughters of an
English baronet, as to Mdlle. Mathilde de ----, heiress of a
Belgian count, and sundry other children of patrician race, the
directress was careful of them as of the others, anxious for
their progress, as for that of the rest--but it never seemed to
enter her head to distinguish then by a mark of preference; one
girl of noble blood she loved dearly--a young Irish baroness
--lady Catherine ---; but it was for her enthusiastic heart and
clever head, for her generosity and her genius, the title and
rank went for nothing.
My afternoons were spent also in college, with the exception of
an hour that my wife daily exacted of me for her establishment,
and with which she would not dispense. She said that I must spend
that time amongst her pupils to learn their characters, to be AU
COURANT with everything that was passing in the house, to become
interested in what interested her, to be able to give her my
opinion on knotty points when she required it, and this she did
constantly, never allowing my interest in the pupils to fall
asleep, and never making any change of importance without my
cognizance and consent. She delighted to sit by me when I gave
my lessons (lessons in literature), her hands folded on her knee,
the most fixedly attentive of any present. She rarely addressed
me in class; when she did it was with an air of marked deference;
it was her pleasure, her joy to make me still the master in all
At six o'clock P.M. my daily labours ceased. I then came home,
for my home was my heaven; ever at that hour, as I entered our
private sitting-room, the lady-directress vanished from before my
eyes, and Frances Henri, my own little lace-mender, was magically
restored to my arms; much disappointed she would have been if her
master had not been as constant to the tryste as herself, and if
his truthfull kiss had not been prompt to answer her soft, "Bon
Talk French to me she would, and many a punishment she has had
for her wilfulness. I fear the choice of chastisement must have
been injudicious, for instead of correcting the fault, it seemed
to encourage its renewal. Our evenings were our own; that
recreation was necessary to refresh our strength for the due
discharge of our duties; sometimes we spent them all in
conversation, and my young Genevese, now that she was thoroughly
accustomed to her English professor, now that she loved him too
absolutely to fear him much, reposed in him a confidence so
unlimited that topics of conversation could no more be wanting
with him than subjects for communion with her own heart. In
those moments, happy as a bird with its mate, she would show me
what she had of vivacity, of mirth, of originality in her
well-dowered nature. She would show, too, some stores of
raillery, of "malice," and would vex, tease, pique me sometimes
about what she called my "bizarreries anglaises," my "caprices
insulaires," with a wild and witty wickedness that made a perfect
white demon of her while it lasted. This was rare, however, and
the elfish freak was always short: sometimes when driven a
little hard in the war of words--for her tongue did ample justice
to the pith, the point, the delicacy of her native French, in
which language she always attacked me--I used to turn upon her
with my old decision, and arrest bodily the sprite that teased
me. Vain idea! no sooner had I grasped hand or arm than the elf
was gone; the provocative smile quenched in the expressive brown
eyes, and a ray of gentle homage shone under the lids in its
place. I had seized a mere vexing fairy, and found a submissive
and supplicating little mortal woman in my arms. Then I made her
get a book, and read English to me for an hour by way of penance.
I frequently dosed her with Wordsworth in this way, and
Wordsworth steadied her soon; she had a difficulty in
comprehending his deep, serene, and sober mind; his language,
too, was not facile to her; she had to ask questions, to sue for
explanations, to be like a child and a novice, and to acknowledge
me as her senior and director. Her instinct instantly penetrated
and possessed the meaning of more ardent and imaginative writers.
Byron excited her; Scott she loved; Wordsworth only she puzzled
at, wondered over, and hesitated to pronounce an opinion upon.
But whether she read to me, or talked with me; whether she teased
me in French, or entreated me in English; whether she jested with
wit, or inquired with deference; narrated with interest, or
listened with attention; whether she smiled at me or on me,
always at nine o'clock I was left abandoned. She would extricate
herself from my arms, quit my side, take her lamp, and be gone.
Her mission was upstairs; I have followed her sometimes and
watched her. First she opened the door of the dortoir (the
pupils' chamber), noiselessly she glided up the long room between
the two rows of white beds, surveyed all the sleepers; if any
were wakeful, especially if any were sad, spoke to them and
soothed them; stood some minutes to ascertain that all was safe
and tranquil; trimmed the watch-light which burned in the
apartment all night, then withdrew, closing the door behind her
without sound. Thence she glided to our own chamber; it had a
little cabinet within; this she sought; there, too, appeared a
bed, but one, and that a very small one; her face (the night I
followed and observed her) changed as she approached this tiny
couch; from grave it warmed to earnest; she shaded with one hand
the lamp she held in the other; she bent above the pillow and
hung over a child asleep; its slumber (that evening at least, and
usually, I believe) was sound and calm; no tear wet its dark
eyelashes; no fever heated its round cheek; no ill dream
discomposed its budding features. Frances gazed, she did not
smile, and yet the deepest delight filled, flushed her face;
feeling pleasurable, powerful, worked in her whole frame, which
still was motionless. I saw, indeed, her heart heave, her lips
were a little apart, her breathing grew somewhat hurried; the
child smiled; then at last the mother smiled too, and said in low
soliloquy, "God bless my little son!" She stooped closer over
him, breathed the softest of kisses on his brow, covered his
minute hand with hers, and at last started up and came away. I
regained the parlour before her. Entering it two minutes later
she said quietly as she put down her extinguished lamp--
"Victor rests well: he smiled in his sleep; he has your smile,
The said Victor was of course her own boy, born in the third year
of our marriage: his Christian name had been given him in honour
of M. Vandenhuten, who continued always our trusty and
Frances was then a good and dear wife to me, because I was to her
a good, just, and faithful husband. What she would have been had
she married a harsh, envious, careless man--a profligate, a
prodigal, a drunkard, or a tyrant--is another question, and one
which I once propounded to her. Her answer, given after some
"I should have tried to endure the evil or cure it for awhile;
and when I found it intolerable and incurable, I should have left
my torturer suddenly and silently."
"And if law or might had forced you back again?"
"What, to a drunkard, a profligate, a selfish spendthrift, an
"I would have gone back; again assured myself whether or not his
vice and my misery were capable of remedy; and if not, have left
"And if again forced to return, and compelled to abide?"
"I don't know," she said, hastily. "Why do you ask me,
I would have an answer, because I saw a strange kind of spirit in
her eye, whose voice I determined to waken.
"Monsieur, if a wife's nature loathes that of the man she is
wedded to, marriage must be slavery. Against slavery all right
thinkers revolt, and though torture be the price of resistance,
torture must be dared: though the only road to freedom lie
through the gates of death, those gates must be passed; for
freedom is indispensable. Then, monsieur, I would resist as far
as my strength permitted; when that strength failed I should be
sure of a refuge. Death would certainly screen me both from bad
laws and their consequences."
"Voluntary death, Frances?"
"No, monsieur. I'd have courage to live out every throe of
anguish fate assigned me, and principle to contend for justice
and liberty to the last."
"I see you would have made no patient Grizzle. And now,
supposing fate had merely assigned you the lot of an old maid,
what then? How would you have liked celibacy?"
"Not much, certainly. An old maid's life must doubtless be void
and vapid--her heart strained and empty. Had I been an old maid I
should have spent existence in efforts to fill the void and ease
the aching. I should have probably failed, and died weary and
disappointed, despised and of no account, like other single
women. But I'm not an old maid," she added quickly. "I should
have been, though, but for my master. I should never have suited
any man but Professor Crimsworth--no other gentleman, French,
English, or Belgian, would have thought me amiable or handsome;
and I doubt whether I should have cared for the approbation of
many others, if I could have obtained it. Now, I have been
Professor Crimsworth's wife eight years, and what is he in my
eyes? Is he honourable, beloved---?" She stopped, her voice was
cut off, her eyes suddenly suffused. She and I were standing
side by side; she threw her arms round me, and strained me to her
heart with passionate earnestness: the energy of her whole being
glowed in her dark and then dilated eye, and crimsoned her
animated cheek; her look and movement were like inspiration; in
one there was such a flash, in the other such a power. Half an
hour afterwards, when she had become calm, I asked where all that
wild vigour was gone which had transformed her ere-while and made
her glance so thrilling and ardent--her action so rapid and
strong. She looked down, smiling softly and passively:--
"I cannot tell where it is gone, monsieur," said she, "but I know
that, whenever it is wanted, it will come back again."
Behold us now at the close of the ten years, and we have realized
an independency. The rapidity with which we attained this end
had its origin in three reasons:-- Firstly, we worked so hard for
it; secondly, we had no incumbrances to delay success; thirdly,
as soon as we had capital to invest, two well-skilled
counsellors, one in Belgium, one in England, viz. Vandenhuten
and Hunsden, gave us each a word of advice as to the sort of
investment to be chosen. The suggestion made was judicious; and,
being promptly acted on, the result proved gainful--I need not
say how gainful; I communicated details to Messrs. Vandenhuten
and Hunsden; nobody else can be interested in hearing them.
Accounts being wound up, and our professional connection disposed
of, we both agreed that, as mammon was not our master, nor his
service that in which we desired to spend our lives; as our
desires were temperate, and our habits unostentatious, we had now
abundance to live on--abundance to leave our boy; and should
besides always have a balance on hand, which, properly managed by
right sympathy and unselfish activity, might help philanthropy in
her enterprises, and put solace into the hand of charity.
To England we now resolved to take wing; we arrived there safely;
Frances realized the dream of her lifetime. me spent a whole
summer and autumn in travelling from end to end of the British
islands, and afterwards passed a winter in London. Then we
thought it high time to fix our residence. My heart yearned
towards my native county of ----shire; and it is in ----shire I
now live; it is in the library of my own home I am now writing.
That home lies amid a sequestered and rather hilly region, thirty
miles removed from X----; a region whose verdure the smoke of
mills has not yet sullied, whose waters still run pure, whose
swells of moorland preserve in some ferny glens that lie between
them the very primal wildness of nature, her moss, her bracken,
her blue-bells, her scents of reed and heather, her free and
fresh breezes. My house is a picturesque and not too spacious
dwelling, with low and long windows, a trellised and leaf-veiled
porch over the front door, just now, on this summer evening,
looking like an arch of roses and ivy. The garden is chiefly
laid out in lawn, formed of the sod of the hills, with herbage
short and soft as moss, full of its own peculiar flowers, tiny
and starlike, imbedded in the minute embroidery of their fine
foliage. At the bottom of the sloping garden there is a wicket,
which opens upon a lane as green as the lawn, very long, shady,
and little frequented; on the turf of this lane generally appear
the first daisies of spring--whence its name--Daisy Lane; serving
also as a distinction to the house.
It terminates (the lane I mean) in a valley full of wood; which
wood--chiefly oak and beech--spreads shadowy about the vicinage
of a very old mansion, one of the Elizabethan structures, much
larger, as well as more antique than Daisy Lane, the property and
residence of an individual familiar both to me and to the reader.
Yes, in Hunsden Wood--for so are those glades and that grey
building, with many gables and more chimneys, named--abides Yorke
Hunsden, still unmarried; never, I suppose, having yet found his
ideal, though I know at least a score of young ladies within a
circuit of forty miles, who would be willing to assist him in the
The estate fell to him by the death of his father, five years
since; he has given up trade, after having made by it sufficient
to pay off some incumbrances by which the family heritage was
burdened. I say he abides here, but I do not think he is
resident above five months out of the twelve; he wanders from
land to land, and spends some part of each winter in town: he
frequently brings visitors with him when he comes to ---shire,
and these visitors are often foreigners; sometimes he has a
German metaphysician, sometimes a French savant; he had once a
dissatisfied and savage-looking Italian, who neither sang nor
played, and of whom Frances affirmed that he had "tout l'air d'un
What English guests Hunsden invites, are all either men of
Birmingham or Manchester--hard men, seemingly knit up in one
thought, whose talk is of free trade. The foreign visitors, too,
are politicians; they take a wider theme--European progress--the
spread of liberal sentiments over the Continent; on their mental
tablets, the names of Russia, Austria, and the Pope, are
inscribed in red ink. I have heard some of them talk vigorous
sense--yea, I have been present at polyglot discussions in the
old, oak-lined dining-room at Hunsden Wood, where a singular
insight was given of the sentiments entertained by resolute minds
respecting old northern despotisms, and old southern
superstitions: also, I have heard much twaddle, enounced chiefly
in French and Deutsch, but let that pass. Hunsden himself
tolerated the drivelling theorists; with the practical men he
seemed leagued hand and heart.
When Hunsden is staying alone at the Wood (which seldom happens)
he generally finds his way two or three times a week to Daisy
Lane. He has a philanthropic motive for coming to smoke his
cigar in our porch on summer evenings; he says he does it to kill
the earwigs amongst the roses, with which insects, but for his
benevolent fumigations, he intimates we should certainly be
overrun. On wet days, too, we are almost sure to see him;
according to him, it gets on time to work me into lunacy by
treading on my mental corns, or to force from Mrs. Crimsworth
revelations of the dragon within her, by insulting the memory of
Hofer and Tell.
We also go frequently to Hunsden Wood, and both I and Frances
relish a visit there highly. If there are other guests, their
characters are an interesting study; their conversation is
exciting and strange; the absence of all local narrowness both in
the host and his chosen society gives a metropolitan, almost a
cosmopolitan freedom and largeness to the talk. Hunsden himself
is a polite man in his own house: he has, when he chooses to
employ it, an inexhaustible power of entertaining guests; his
very mansion too is interesting, the rooms look storied, the
passages legendary, the low-ceiled chambers, with their long rows
of diamond-paned lattices, have an old-world, haunted air: in
his travels he hall collected stores of articles of VERTU, which
are well and tastefully disposed in his panelled or tapestried
rooms: I have seen there one or two pictures, and one or two
pieces of statuary which many an aristocratic connoisseur might
When I and Frances have dined and spent an evening with Hunsden,
he often walks home with us. His wood is large, and some of the
timber is old and of huge growth. There are winding ways in it
which, pursued through glade and brake, make the walk back to
Daisy Lane a somewhat long one. Many a time, when we have had
the benefit of a full moon, and when the night has been mild and
balmy, when, moreover, a certain nightingale has been singing,
and a certain stream, hid in alders, has lent the song a soft
accompaniment, the remote church-bell of the one hamlet in a
district of ten miles, has tolled midnight ere the lord of the
wood left us at our porch. Free-flowing was his talk at such
hours, and far more quiet and gentle than in the day-time and
before numbers. He would then forget politics and discussion,
and would dwell on the past times of his house, on his family
history, on himself and his own feelings--subjects each and all
invested with a peculiar zest, for they were each and all unique.
One glorious night in June, after I had been taunting him about
his ideal bride and asking him when she would come and graft her
foreign beauty on the old Hunsden oak, he answered suddenly--
"You call her ideal; but see, here is her shadow; and there
cannot be a shadow without a substance."
He had led us from the depth of the "winding way" into a glade
from whence the beeches withdrew, leaving it open to the sky; an
unclouded moon poured her light into this glade, and Hunsden held
out under her beam an ivory miniature.
Frances, with eagerness, examined it first; then she gave it to
me--still, however, pushing her little face close to mine, and
seeking in my eyes what I thought of the portrait. I thought it
represented a very handsome and very individual-looking female
face, with, as he had once said, "straight and harmonious
features." It was dark; the hair, raven-black, swept not only
from the brow, but from the temples--seemed thrust away
carelessly, as if such beauty dispensed with, nay, despised
arrangement. The Italian eye looked straight into you, and an
independent, determined eye it was; the mouth was as firm as
fine; the chin ditto. On the back of the miniature was gilded
"That is a real head," was my conclusion.
"I think so," he replied. "All was real in Lucia."
"And she was somebody you would have liked to marry--but could
"I should certainly have liked to marry her, and that I HAVE not
done so is a proof that I COULD not."
He repossessed himself of the miniature, now again in Frances'
hand, and put it away.
"What do YOU think of it?" he asked of my wife, as he buttoned
his coat over it.
"I am sure Lucia once wore chains and broke them," was the
strange answer. "I do not mean matrimonial chains," she added,
correcting herself, as if she feared mis-interpretation, "but
social chains of some sort. The face is that of one who has made
an effort, and a successful and triumphant effort, to wrest some
vigorous and valued faculty from insupportable constraint; and
when Lucia's faculty got free, I am certain it spread wide
pinions and carried her higher than--" she hesitated.
"Than what?" demanded Hunsden.
"Than 'les convenances' permitted you to follow."
"I think you grow spiteful--impertinent."
"Lucia has trodden the stage," continued Frances. "You never
seriously thought of marrying her; you admired her originality,
her fearlessness, her energy of body and mind; you delighted in
her talent, whatever that was, whether song, dance, or dramatic
representation; you worshipped her beauty, which was of the sort
after your own heart: but I am sure she filled a sphere from
whence you would never have thought of taking a wife."
"Ingenious," remarked Hunsden; "whether true or not is another
question. Meantime, don't you feel your little lamp of a spirit
wax very pale, beside such a girandole as Lucia's?"
"Candid, at least; and the Professor will soon be dissatisfied
with the dim light you give?"
"Will you, monsieur?"
"My sight was always too weak to endure a blaze, Frances," and we
had now reached the wicket.
I said, a few pages back, that this is a sweet summer evening; it
is--there has been a series of lovely days, and this is the
loveliest; the hay is just carried from my fields, its perfume
still lingers in the air. Frances proposed to me, an hour or two
since, to take tea out on the lawn; I see the round table, loaded
with china, placed under a certain beech; Hunsden is expected
--nay, I hear he is come--there is his voice, laying down the law
on some point with authority; that of Frances replies; she
opposes him of course. They are disputing about Victor, of whom
Hunsden affirms that his mother is making a milksop. Mrs.
"Better a thousand times he should be a milksop than what he,
Hunsden, calls 'a fine lad;' and moreover she says that if
Hunsden were to become a fixture in the neighbourhood, and were
not a mere comet, coming and going, no one knows how, when,
where, or why, she should be quite uneasy till she had got Victor
away to a school at least a hundred miles off; for that with his
mutinous maxims and unpractical dogmas, he would ruin a score of
I have a word to say of Victor ere I shut this manuscript in my
desk--but it must be a brief one, for I hear the tinkle of silver
Victor is as little of a pretty child as I am of a handsome man,
or his mother of a fine woman; he is pale and spare, with large
eyes, as dark as those of Frances, and as deeply set as mine.
His shape is symmetrical enough, but slight; his health is good.
I never saw a child smile less than he does, nor one who knits
such a formidable brow when sitting over a book that interests
him, or while listening to tales of adventure, peril, or wonder,
narrated by his mother, Hunsden, or myself. But though still, he
is not unhappy--though serious, not morose; he has a
susceptibility to pleasurable sensations almost too keen, for it
amounts to enthusiasm. He learned to read in the old-fashioned
way out of a spelling-book at his mother's knee, and as he got on
without driving by that method, she thought it unnecessary to buy
him ivory letters, or to try any of the other inducements to
learning now deemed indispensable. When he could read, he became
a glutton of books, and is so still. His toys have been few, and
he has never wanted more. For those he possesses, he seems to
have contracted a partiality amounting to affection; this
feeling, directed towards one or two living animals of the house,
strengthens almost to a passion.
Mr. Hunsden gave him a mastiff cub, which he called Yorke, after
the donor; it grew to a superb dog, whose fierceness, however,
was much modified by the companionship and caresses of its young
master. He would go nowhere, do nothing without Yorke; Yorke
lay at his feet while he learned his lessons, played with him in
the garden, walked with him in the lane and wood, sat near his
chair at meals, was fed always by his own hand, was the first
thing he sought in the morning, the last he left at night. Yorke
accompanied Mr. Hunsden one day to X----, and was bitten in the
street by a dog in a rabid state. As soon as Hunsden had brought
him home, and had informed me of the circumstance, I went into
the yard and shot him where he lay licking his wound: he was
dead in an instant; he had not seen me level the gun; I stood
behind him. I had scarcely been ten minutes in the house, when
my ear was struck with sounds of anguish: I repaired to the yard
once more, for they proceeded thence. Victor was kneeling beside
his dead mastiff, bent over it, embracing its bull-like neck, and
lost in a passion of the wildest woe: he saw me.
"Oh, papa, I'll never forgive you! I'll never forgive you!" was
his exclamation. "You shot Yorke--I saw it from the window. I
never believed you could be so cruel--I can love you no more!"
I had much ado to explain to him, with a steady voice, the stern
necessity of the deed; he still, with that inconsolable and
bitter accent which I cannot render, but which pierced my heart,
"He might have been cured--you should have tried--you should have
burnt the wound with a hot iron, or covered it with caustic. You
gave no time; and now it is too late--he is dead!"
He sank fairly down on the senseless carcase; I waited patiently
a long while, till his grief had somewhat exhausted him; and then
I lifted him in my arms and carried him to his mother, sure that
she would comfort him best. She had witnessed the whole scene
from a window; she would not come out for fear of increasing my
difficulties by her emotion, but she was ready now to receive
him. She took him to her kind heart, and on to her gentle lap;
consoled him but with her lips, her eyes, her soft embrace, for
some time; and then, when his sobs diminished, told him that
Yorke had felt no pain in dying, and that if he had been left to
expire naturally, his end would have been most horrible; above
all, she told him that I was not cruel (for that idea seemed to
give exquisite pain to poor Victor), that it was my affection for
Yorke and him which had made me act so, and that I was now almost
heart-broken to see him weep thus bitterly.
Victor would have been no true son of his father, had these
considerations, these reasons, breathed in so low, so sweet a
tone--married to caresses so benign, so tender--to looks so
inspired with pitying sympathy--produced no effect on him. They
did produce an effect: he grew calmer, rested his face on her
shoulder, and lay still in her arms. Looking up, shortly, he
asked his mother to tell him over again what she had said about
Yorke having suffered no pain, and my not being cruel; the balmy
words being repeated, he again pillowed his cheek on her breast,
and was again tranquil.
Some hours after, he came to me in my library, asked if I forgave
him, and desired to be reconciled. I drew the lad to my side,
and there I kept him a good while, and had much talk with him,
in the course of which he disclosed many points of feeling and
thought I appoved of in my son. I found, it is true, few
elements of the "good fellow" or the "fine fellow" in him; scant
sparkles of the spirit which loves to flash over the wine cup, or
which kindles the passions to a destroying fire; but I saw in the
soil of his heart healthy and swelling germs of compassion,
affection, fidelity. I discovered in the garden of his intellect
a rich growth of wholesome principles--reason, justice, moral
courage, promised, if not blighted, a fertile bearing. So I
bestowed on his large forehead, and on his cheek--still pale with
tears--a proud and contented kiss, and sent him away comforted.
Yet I saw him the next day laid on the mound under which Yorke
had been buried, his face covered with his hands; he was
melancholy for some weeks, and more than a year elapsed before he
would listen to any proposal of having another dog.
Victor learns fast. He must soon go to Eton, where, I suspect,
his first year or two will be utter wretchedness: to leave me,
his mother, and his home, will give his heart an agonized wrench;
then, the fagging will not suit him--but emulation, thirst after
knowledge, the glory of success, will stir and reward him in
time. Meantime, I feel in myself a strong repugnance to fix the
hour which will uproot my sole olive branch, and transplant it
far from me; and, when I speak to Frances on the subject, I am
heard with a kind of patient pain, as though I alluded to some
fearful operation, at which her nature shudders, but from which
her fortitude will not permit her to recoil. The step must,
however, be taken, and it shall be; for, though Frances will not
make a milksop of her son, she will accustom him to a style of
treatment, a forbearance, a congenial tenderness, he will meet
with from none else. She sees, as I also see, a something in
Victor's temper--a kind of electrical ardour and power--which
emits, now and then, ominous sparks; Hunsden calls it his spirit,
and says it should not be curbed. I call it the leaven of the
offending Adam, and consider that it should be, if not WHIPPED
out of him, at least soundly disciplined; and that he will be
cheap of any amount of either bodily or mental suffering which
will ground him radically in the art of self-control. Frances
gives this something in her son's marked character no name; but
when it appears in the grinding of his teeth, in the glittering
of his eye, in the fierce revolt of feeling against
disappointment, mischance, sudden sorrow, or supposed injustice,
she folds him to her breast, or takes him to walk with her alone
in the wood; then she reasons with him like any philosopher, and
to reason Victor is ever accessible; then she looks at him with
eyes of love, and by love Victor can be infallibly subjugated;
but will reason or love be the weapons with which in future the
world will meet his violence? Oh, no! for that flash in his
black eye--for that cloud on his bony brow--for that compression
of his statuesque lips, the lad will some day get blows instead
of blandishments--kicks instead of kisses; then for the fit of
mute fury which will sicken his body and madden his soul; then
for the ordeal of merited and salutary suffering, out of which he
will come (I trust) a wiser and a better man.
I see him now; he stands by Hunsden, who is seated on the lawn
under the beech; Hunsden's hand rests on the boy's collar, and he
is instilling God knows what principles into his ear. Victor
looks well just now, for he listens with a sort of smiling
interest; he never looks so like his mother as when he smiles
--pity the sunshine breaks out so rarely! Victor has a
preference for Hunsden, full as strong as I deem desirable, being
considerably more potent decided, and indiscriminating, than any
I ever entertained for that personage myself. Frances, too,
regards it with a sort of unexpressed anxiety; while her son
leans on Hunsden's knee, or rests against his shoulder, she roves
with restless movement round, like a dove guarding its young from
a hovering hawk; she says she wishes Hunsden had children of his
own, for then he would better know the danger of inciting their
pride end indulging their foibles.
Frances approaches my library window; puts aside the honeysuckle
which half covers it, and tells me tea is ready; seeing that I
continue busy she enters the room, comes near me quietly, and
puts her hand on my shoulder.
"Monsieur est trop applique."
"I shall soon have done."
She draws a chair near, and sits down to wait till I have
finished; her presence is as pleasant to my mind as the perfume
of the fresh hay and spicy flowers, as the glow of the westering
sun, as the repose of the midsummer eve are to my senses.
But Hunsden comes; I hear his step, and there he is, bending
through the lattice, from which he has thrust away the woodbine
with unsparing hand, disturbing two bees and a butterfly.
"Crimsworth! I say, Crimsworth! take that pen out of his hand,
mistress, and make him lift up his head.
"Well, Hunsden ? I hear you--"
"I was at X---- yesterday! your brother Ned is getting richer
than Croesus by railway speculations; they call him in the Piece
Hall a stag of ten; and I have heard from Brown. M. and Madame
Vandenhuten and Jean Baptiste talk of coming to see you next
month. He mentions the Pelets too; he says their domestic
harmony is not the finest in the world, but in business they are
doing 'on ne peut mieux,' which circumstance he concludes will be
a sufficient consolation to both for any little crosses in the
affections. Why don't you invite the Pelets to ----shire,
Crimsworth? I should so like to see your first flame, Zoraide.
Mistress, don't be jealous, but he loved that lady to
distraction; I know it for a fact. Brown says she weighs twelve
stones now; you see what you've lost, Mr. Professor. Now,
Monsieur and Madame, if you don't come to tea, Victor and I will
begin without you."