Dissertation on dress.—Antiquated precepts.— History of Mrs Mason's childhood.
MR STEWART being called away on business, left it in charge with his daughter Mary to prevent the departure of their guest during his absence : a commission which she gladly undertook to execute, saying, that she should watch for the moment of her awakening in the adjoining room. In going to it she passed the door of her sister's apartment, which stood ajar, as was indeed its usual state; for she had, among her other accomplishments, acquired such a habit of slapping it after her, that the spring of the lock was always broken.
Mary hearing herself called on, entered, and asked if she could render her any assistance in dressing. 'O yes,' cried Bell, ' if you will only come and help me to find my things; I don't know, I am sure, where they are all gone to. I have looked all these drawers through, and I cannot find a single pair of stockings fit to put on. What shall I do? I have nothing fit to wear. O me ! what shall I do?'
'What! nothing fit to wear, among all these heaps of clothes?' said Mary; 'I believe few girls in the country have such a well-stored wardrobe. We, at any rate, have no reason to complain, as we always find my father'.
'My father!' interrupted Bell, 'I am sure my father would never let us wear any thing in the fashion, if he could. But what should he know about dress at Gowan Brae?—I wonder you have not more spirit than to fall in with his old-fashioned notions.'
'My father wishes us always to be dressed according to our station and our fortune,' returned Mary; ' and I think it a pity such notions should ever be out of fashion.'
'But they are,' said Bell,' and that's enough. Who thinks of being so mean as to confess that they cannot afford anything expensive ? I wish you saw how the young ladies in Edinburgh dress ! I don't mean those who have fortunes, for there is nothing in that; but those who have not a shilling to depend on. Yet they are all so fine, that one is ashamed to be seen beside them ! Look there, and see whether I have one decent thing to put on.'
'Indeed, your things are very good,' returned Mary, ' if you would be persuaded to keep them properly. I wonder you would not do it for the sake of having a comfortable room; for it is always so strewed with litter, that one never can find a chair to sit down on; and think how your things must be spoiled by the dust.
'But who can be at the trouble of fold-folding their things as you do?' cried Bell; 'and, besides, it is so like an old maid. Well, now that you have put that gown in order, I think it will do; and now, if you would let me have your new cap, I should be quite smart.'
'And why not wear your own? It is surely the same, if not better than mine is.'
'O no,' returned Miss Bell,' it is all torn to pieces.'
'Why, I forgot to put it in the box; and so it met with a misfortune—How could I help it? I am sure I never saw such a thing in my life; nor any one else. These vile little terrier puppies! I never knew the like of them; but they are just kept about the house to plague me. I had only lain down upon my bed to read a novel I got from Mrs Flinders, when I heard the nasty things come into the room : but I could not be at the trouble to put them out, I was so interested in the book. Little did I think it was my cap they were tearing to pieces, all the while they went bouncing and jumping about the room. Whurt, whurt! cried one; Wouf, wouf! cried the other; but I still read on, till I was so much affected by the story, that I was obliged to get up to look for my pocket-handkerchief—when, lo ! the first thing I beheld was the fragments of my poor cap ! not one morsel of it together. The lace torn into perfect scraps, and the ribbon quite useless ! Do now let me have your cap like a good creature, and I promise to take care of it.'
Mary, who was indeed a good creature, could refuse her sister nothing when she spoke to her with temper. She brought her the cap, and assisted her in dressing her hair for it; but could not avoid taking the opportunity of giving her a few cautionary hints, with regard to forming hasty intimacies with the strangers she met at Mount Flinders. Bell was instantly in arms in defence of her friend's associates, who were all excessively genteel; but happily the carriage was at the door, and the coachman so impatient, that she had no time for a further discussion. She was no sooner gone than Mary went to inquire foi her guest; and as the cordial invitation she carried her was given with evident good will, it was accepted of in the spirit of gratitude.
Mr Stewart did not return till the evening of the following day; but in the interim the time passed cheerfully. The conversation often turned upon a topic that was ever interesting to the heart of Mary— the virtues of her mother, on which she delighted to expatiate; she likewise spoke of her brothers, who had been recommended by her mother to her particular care. ' I deeply feel/ said Mary, ' the importance of the trust; and I daily pray to God for strength to execute it. What, alas ! can I do for my brothers, but give them the best advice I can, when they are at home with me, and write to them when they are at school ? They are indeed very good boys, and never refuse to attend to what I say, unless in regard to the respect I wish them to pay my sister. But she is constantly finding fault with some of them; and is, I fear, so jealous of their attachment to me, that she will never love them as she ought, which often makes me very unhappy; for I have been used to hear my mother say, that young men generally turned out well, who had a peaceful happy home; and, besides, what can be so delightful as a family of love !'
'True,' replied Mrs Mason, ' it is one of the characteristics of heaven. But in this life, my dear Miss Mary, every one must have their trials; and were it not for the contrariety of dispositions and tempers, how few trials should we have to encounter in domestic life ! To yield to those who in their turn yield to us, is an easy task, and would neither exercise our patience, nor forbearance, nor fortitude; and are not these most precious virtues?'
*How like that is to my good mother!' cried Maiy. ' Oh, Mrs Mason, if I had always such a friend as you beside me, to put me in mind of my duty, and to support me in performing it, I think I should never sink under it, as I sometimes do.'
'And have you not a friend, a guide, and a supporter, in Him who called you to these trials of your virtue? Consider, my dear young lady, it is your heavenly Father who has set the task—perform it as unto Him, and when you have to encounter opposition, or injustice, you will no longer find them intolerable.'
'Thank you, thank you,' replied Mary; ' I fear I do not always reflect so much on this as I ought. I shall, however, endeavour to keep it more in mind for the future. But tell me, Mrs Mason, how it is that you come to think so justly—so like my dear mother? You must, like her, have had the advantage of an excellent education. And yet, pardon me, for I suppose I have been misinformed, but I understood that you were not, when young, in a situation in which you could be supposed to receive the benefit of much instruction. I now see you have had greater advantages than I imagined.'
'Yes,' replied Mrs Mason, smiling, ' my advantages indeed were great. I had a good mother, who, when I was a little child, taught me to subdue my own proud spirit, and to be tractable and obedient. Many poor people think that their children will learn this time enough, when they go into the world; and that, as they will meet with hardships when they grow up, it would be a pity to make them suffer by contradicting them when they are little. But what does a child suffer from the correction of a judicious parent, in comparison of what grown people suffer from their passions ? my mother taught me the only true road to obedience, in the love and fear of God. I learned from her to read, but she read ill herself, and could not instruct me in a proper method; nor could she afford to send me to school, for she was reduced to extreme poverty. She died when I was ten years old, and I thank God for enabling me to add to the comforts of the last year of her life by my industry.'
'Why, what could you do for her at that tender age?' said Mary, ' you were but a little child.'
'I was so, Miss,' replied Mrs Mason,' but I could knit stockings, though I wore none ; and having knit a pair for the gardener's wife at Hill Castle, I was recommended by her to the housekeeper, who had the gout in her feet, and wanted a pair knit of lamb's wool, to wear in the winter. I happened to please her; and when she paid me, she not only gave me twopence over and above the price, but a bit of sweet-cake, which I immediately put in my pocket, saying, I would take it to my mother. This brought on some questions, the result of which was an order to come, to the castle daily for my mother's dinner. Never, never shall I forget the joy of heart with which I went home with these glad tidings; nor the pious gratitude with which my mother returned her thanks to God for this unlooked-for mercy! She hoped that I would gain the favour of benefactors by my diligence and industry, and she was not disappointed. The housekeeper spoke of me to her lady, who desired that when I next came I might be taken up to her room, that she might see me. Her orders were obeyed next day, and with trembling limbs and a beating heart did I approach her. She asked me several questions, and was so well satisfied with my answers, that she said she was sure I was a good girl, and that she would give me education to make me a good servant, and that I should live at the castle under the care of Jack son. Seeing me hesitate, she looked angry, and asked me if I was too proud to be a servant under Jackson? ' O no,' I cried, ' I would be happy to do anything for Mrs Jackson, but I cannot leave my mother. She is not able to leave her bed, and I do everything for her; she has no one but me to help her.'
'It is very true, my lady,' said the housekeeper, and she then gave such an account of all I did for my mother, as seemed to astonish the old lady, who, in a gentler tone, said that I was a good girl, a very good girl; and should come to live with her when my mother died, which could be at no great distance. The possibility of my mother's death had never before occurred to me; and when my lady put half-a-crown into my hand, which she said was to serve for earnest, I looked at it with horror, considering it as making a sort of bargain for my mother's life. With tears running down my cheeks, I begged her to take back the money, for that I should be ready to serve her by night or by day for what she pleased to give me; but she refused, and telling me I was a little fool, bade me take the silver to my mother, and say, that she should have as much every week. ' Your ladyship will not be long troubled with the pensioner/ said the housekeeper; 'for I am much mistaken if she has many weeks to live.' I was so struck at hearing this sad sentence, that I went home with a heavy heart, and complained to my mother of her having concealed from me that she was so very ill. She said she knew how much I had to do, that my exertions were beyond my strength; and therefore she had not had the heart to afflict me with speaking of her situation. But she saw that her trust in Providence had not been in vain.
The Lord, who had through life so graciously supplied her wants, had heard her prayers in behalf of her child. ' Yes,' repeated she, ' my prayers have been answered in peace. I know that my Redeemer liveth; continue to serve Him, my dear bairn, and though we now part, we shall hereafter meet in joy.' She continued some time apparently engaged in fervent prayer. At length her lips ceased to move, and I thought she had fallen asleep. I made up our little fire, and having said my prayers, gently crept to bed. She was then gone, but I did not know that her soul had fled. Cold as she was, I did not think it was the coldness of death ! But when I awoke in the morning, and found that she no longer breathed, and saw that her face was altered, though it still looked mild and pleasing, I was seized with inexpressible terror: this did not, however, last. I recollected that God was still present with me; and, casting myself on my knees before Him, I held up my little hands to implore His protection, engaging, in the language of simplicity, that I would be evermore His obedient child.
'This action inspired me with courage. I deliberately dressed myself, and went over to the farmer's to tell of my sad loss, which was indeed proclaimed by my tears rather than my words. Nothing could exceed the kindness of all our neighbours upon this occasion. They clubbed among them the expenses of my mother's funeral, and resolved that all she had should be kept for me. They made a sort of a rude inventory of her little effects; and on searching her pockets, discovered the half-crown piece which had been the prelude to all my sorrows. At sight of it, my tears flowed afresh, and I cried out that I would not have that big shilling—I would never touch it, for it was it that had brought on my mother's death. I then, as well as I could, told all that my lady had said to me when she gave it, and was greatly surprised to find, that, instead of j lining in my aversion to the half-crown, my good neighbours considered it as an auspicious omen of my future fortune. Nor have I had any reason to view it in a contrary light; for though my life (the rest of which has been spent in Lord Longland's family) has not been free from troubles, it has been sweetened by many mercies. But I must have tired you with talking of myself,' continued Mrs Mason; ' for what interest can you take in the story of my childhood?'
'But I do indeed, Mrs Mason, I take a great interest in it,' cried Mary; ' and I have learned from it more of the consequences of early education than from many of the books I have read upon the subject. Pray, tell me how you went on at Hill Castle? and tell me how soon it was that you saw my mother, and what she was then like?'
'She was then exactly what you are now, my dear young lady. The same height, the same soft voice, the same fair complexion, and the same mild expression in her eyes. I could almost think it her that now stands before me.'
'Well, but you must go on from the time you went home. Did the old lady receive you kindly?'
'She meant to do so,' returned Mrs Mason; ' but she had a stern manner, and exacted such minute and punctual obedience, as rendered it difficult to please her. Indeed she was never pleased except by those who flattered her grossly; and it was, as I soon saw, by flattery, that her own woman, Mrs Jackson, had made herself such a favourite. But though I could not approve the means, I must say this for
Mrs Jackson, that she did not make a bad use of her favour, at least with regard to me, or to those she thought she had in her power; but she was so jealous of any one obtaining my lady's ear except herself, that it made her often guilty of endeavouring to create a prejudice against those whose influence she had any dread of. I was warned of this by my first friend, the old housekeeper, who, on the day after I went home, called me into her little parlour, and said, that as she had been the means of bringing me to the house, she would always be my friend as long as I was good and obedient; but that, as she wished me well, she would not have me speak of her kindness ; for that, said she, would not please Mrs Jackson, for she likes to think that people owe everything to her—aye, even before my lady herself. For though my lady may be angry, she will forget and forgive; but if you once show Jackson that you wish to please anybody before her, she will neither forget nor forgive it to you as long as you live; and while you look to her as all in all, she will be very kind to you, and make my lady kind to you too; for she does with my lady what she pleases.'
'I dropped my little curtsey, and "Thank you, ma'am," at the end of her discourse; but I suppose I did not seem satisfied, for she asked me if I was thinking of what she had been saying to me? ' Yes, ma'am," said I, "but"—"But what?" said she. It was in vain she asked; I could not express myself—for I could not point out where the error lay, though I felt that the conduct she recommended was somewhat opposite to that uprightness and sincerity which my mother had so strictly enforced. I resolved, however, to exert myself to gain Mrs Jackson's good will, by diligence and attention; and thought, in spite of all the housekeeper said, that she must love me the better for being grateful to whoever was kind to me.
'As our progress in everything depends upon our diligence, and as even in childhood we soon learn what we resolve to learn, Mrs Jackson had little trouble in the task of teaching me. I soon worked at my needle as well as was possible for a child of my age; and she did not spare me, for she was wont to boast to my lady at night of what I had performed in the day. I never had a minute's time to play; but though such close confinement was not good for my health, it was good for giving me a habit of application, the most essential of all habits for those who are to earn their bread.
'By the time I was twelve years old, Mrs Jackson found me so useful an assistant, that I should probably have been fit for nothing but needle-work all my life long, had not my lady been so pleased with my performance, as to resolve to employ me in assisting her in the embroidering of a set of chair covers, which were to be done in a fancy way of her own contrivance. I now sat all the day in her dressing-room, and had nothing to complain of except hunger; but of my being hungry my lady never thought, though she must have known that I often fasted nine, and sometimes ten hours at a time; for I never durst rise from my work until she went down to dinner; but, though thoughtless of my wants, she was in other respects very kind to me, and gave me every encouragement by praising my work. The more satisfaction she expressed in me, the less gracious did Mrs Jackson become. She would on some days scarcely speak to me; and though I begged to know if I had offended her, would make me no other answer than that I was now too fine a lady to mind anything she could say.
This made me very unhappy, so that I often cried sadly when I was sitting at my work alone ; and was one day observed by my lady, who, though my back was towards her, had seen my face in the glass as she entered the room. She asked what was the matter with me in a tone so peremptory, that I dared not refuse to answer; and with many tears I confessed, that Mrs Jackson was displeased with me, and I knew not for what.
'"But I shall know," said my lady, pulling the bell with violence—"Jackson cannot be angry without a cause." Jackson appeared; and without hesitation denied the charge. " Me angry with the poor child !" said she; how could she think me angry with her ? Am not I her best friend? But it is evident what the matter is, my lady; the poor young creature is broken-hearted from confinement; and besides, she is getting uppish notions, from sitting up like a lady from morning to night. But your ladyship pleases to have her beside you, to be sure, or you would not have her, and so I say nothing; but if I were to presume to speak, I should say that it would do the poor thing more good to let her do a little stirring work under the housemaid now and then; for I don't like to see young creatures spoiled till they are good for nothing; but if your ladyship thinks that she can work the chair-covers better than I can, your ladyship knows best."
'Whether my lady saw through the motives of this advice or no, I cannot tell, but she complied with it, and I was immediately consigned to Molly the housemaid, who was one of the most active and clever servants I have ever known.
'I had been so cramped by constant sitting, that I found it very difficult to go about my new occupation with the activity which Molly required, and of which she set me the example. But I soon acquired it; and Molly confessed she never had to tell me the same thing twice. This made her take pains with me; and I have often since found the advantage of having learned from her the best way of doing all sorts of household work. She was of a hasty temper, but very good-natured upon the whole; and if she scolded me heartily for any little error in the way of doing my work, she praised me as cordially for taking pains to rectify it. As there were many polished grates to scour, and a vast number of rooms to keep clean, we had a great deal to do; but it was made easy by regularity and method ; so that in winter we had time to sit down to our needles in the evening, and in summer generally contrived to get a walk as far as the dairy.
'I was a year and a-half under Molly, and thought it a happy time; for though I worked hard, I got health and spirits, and was as gay as a lark. When Molly was going to be married, she desired the housekeeper to ask my lady to permit me to be her bride-maid. We were both called into my lady's room, when she repeated the request; and taking me by the hand, " It is but justice," says she, " to tell your ladyship how this lassie has behaved. I thought when she began she never would have made a servant, because she never had been used to it; but I soon found that she had a willing mind, and that was everything. She has been greater help to me than some that were twice her age; and in the eighteen months she has been with me, she has never disappointed me by any neglect, nor ever told me an untruth, or given me a saucy answer. And she has been so civil and discreet, I wish to put what respect on her is in my power; and if your ladyship pleases to let her be my bridemaid, I shall take it as a great favour to myself." My lady looked at Jackson, who was dressing out her toilet, and had stopped to listen to Molly's speech. "Do you think she can be spared, Jackson?" said my lady. "Indeed," replied Jackson, "if you ask me, my lady, I certainly do not think she can."
'"If you please, my lady," said Molly, "the new housemaid says she will think nothing of doing all the work to give a ploy to poor Betty: the dairy-maid too will help her; there is not a servant in the house that would not, she is so obliging and so good-natured a lassie."
'"Oh if you are to dictate to my lady, that's another thing," cried Jackson; " I supposed my lady was to do as she pleased."
"And so I will," said my lady, peevishly; " go down stairs now (to me), and I will think of it." In a short time Jackson came down exultingly, and bid me go to my work, for that my lady did not choose that I should have my head turned, and be made good for nothing by going about to weddings.
'I made no answer, but I could not help being much vexed; for it was the first time I had the prospect of any pleasure; and the idea of seeing a dance, and enjoying all the merriment of such a happy day, had quite elated my spirits, which were now as suddenly depressed. I endeavoured to hide my tears; but Jackson, who was put out of temper by the consciousness of having treated me harshly, was glad to throw the blame from herself, and therefore accused Molly of having spoiled and misled me, by filling my head with folly; an accusation that vexed me even more than my disappointment.'