AFTER dinner, Mrs Mason, at Miss Mary's request, resumed the account of her life, which we shall give as nearly as possible in her own words, without taking notice of the observations that were made by her young friend; or of interruptions that occurred to break the thread of her story:— Jackson, who had now got over her fears of my lady's taking a fancy to me, began to wish for my assistance in the work she was about; and got my lady prevailed upon to put me once more under her direction. She took care that I had full employment, and I thank her for it, though it was not to show her goodwill that she did it, but the contrary; for she still retained a grudge at me, for the affection I had expressed for Molly; and it was in this spirit that she laid out my work. As you have been at Hill Castle, you must remember the old tower, and that there are four rooms in it, one over the other to the top. The lowest of these rooms, that on the ground-floor, with the iron-barred windows, was Jackson's own apartment, and where I likewise slept in a little press-bed. There could not, to be sure, be a more dismal looking place; and indeed they said it had, in the old times, been used as a prison, and was said by all the servants to be haunted. But I had no leisure for thinking of such things; for, besides the quantity of needle-work which Mrs Jackson exacted from me, I had all the apartments of the tower, from top to bottom, committed to my care, and had to sweep and dust them, and to rub the furniture every day; so that in the day I was too busy, and by the time I went to bed too sleepy, to think about the ghost.
Ever since I had been at the Castle, the tower rooms had only been occasionally in use, when the house was full of company; but now the upper one was, we heard, to be occupied by a cousin of my lady's, who was spoken of by Jackson with the contempt which servants are too apt to feel towards the humble friends or poor relations of the families they live with. I thought, I confess it with some vexation, of the additional trouble which this new guest was to occasion me; and, on the evening of her arrival, went to make up her room with no great cheerfulness. On opening the door, I saw the young lady sitting at the window, and would have gone back, but she desired me to come in, in a voice so sweet, and yet so sorrowful, that it seemed to go to my very heart. I saw she had been weeping, but she dried her tears, and condescended to enter into conversation with me, asking me how long I had been at service, and other kindly questions.
'Four years at service, and not yet fifteen!' said she; 'poor girl! your parents must have been in great distress to part with you so soon.' ' I have no parents, ma'am,' said I; ' my father was carried off in a fever before I was born, and my mother died ten years after; and then my lady was so good as to let me come here to learn to be a servant.'
'And you were thankful for getting leave to come to learn to be a servant?' said Miss Osburne; 'what a lesson for me!' She seemed for some moments buried in thought; and then, speaking to me again, ' You are right to be thankful, Betty ; God Almighty, who is the Father of the fatherless, will never forsake us while we trust in Him ; and we ought to submit ourselves to all His dispensations, and even to be thankful for those that appear the darkest.'
When I looked at her lovely face, as it was again bathed in tears, which fell fast as she spoke to me, I thought her an angel! so superior did she seem to any human being that I had ever seen. The meekness with which she bore her afflictions, increased my respect; but that one in the rank of a lady could have her heart thus touched by grief, appeared to me incomprehensible for I was then so ignorant as to think that the sorrows of life were only tasted in their bitterness by those of lowly station.
You, my dear Miss Mary, have doubtless heard enough of the history of your mother's family, to know the sad change of circumstances which she experienced on the death of her parents, an event that had then lately taken place. I was unable to form in my mind any notion of how this change affected her; for to me she appeared still placed in a situation so high above all want, as to be most enviable. She had no hard work to do, no task to perform, and which, sick or well, must be accomplished; but servants to attend her, and fine rooms to sit in, and plenty of fine clothes to wear, and the niceties of a plentiful table to eat. Alas ! I soon learned, from closer observation, how little these things tend to happiness; and that peace of mind, the only happiness to be had on earth, is distributed by Providence with an equal hand among all the various classes in society.
The kind manner in which Miss Osburne spoke to me, made me take such pleasure in serving her, as made all my work seem light. My attention did not escape her notice, and O how richly did she repay it! Finding that I read indifferently, and not so as to understand what I read, she proposed giving me a daily lesson, which I thankfully accepted; and, that it might not interfere with my work, I got up an hour earlier every morning, which I employed so diligently, that even Mrs Jackson was fully satisfied.
I had now acquired sense enough to know what an inestimable benefit was conferred upon me by my dear Miss Osburne's kind instructions. To her goodness I am indeed indebted for all I know. From her I not only learned to read with propriety, to write a tolerable hand, and to cast accounts; but, what was more valuable than all these, from her I learned to think. She opened to me the book of Providence, and taught me to adore the wisdom, the justice, and the mercy of my God, in all His dealings with the human race. She taught me to explore my own heart; to be sensible of its errors and its weaknesses; and to be tender of the faults of others, in proportion as I was severe upon my own. My mother had endeavoured to lay in me the foundation of Christian principles when I was a child; but it was not until I had learned from this dear young lady to search the Scriptures for instruction, instead of running them over as a task, that Christian principles were rooted in my heart.
What could I do for her in return? If I could have laid down my life, it would have been too little, and if, in any instance, I proved of service, or of comfort to her, I consider it a happiness for which I am most truly thankful.
Her situation at Hill Castle was indeed a thorny one. She was there encompassed with many evils; and, in one instance, beset with snares, which it required no common prudence to escape. But her prudence was never put to sleep, as in other young people it often is, by vanity ; and with all the meekness and gentleness of a saint, she had all the wisdom and the firmness of a noble and enlightened mind. My lady and Jackson were the only persons that ever saw Miss Osburne without loving her. But my lady, though she sometimes took fancies to particular people, which lasted for a little while, never loved any one for their good qualities; and had a spite at Miss Osburne for being so much better informed, and so much wiser than she was herself; and it was enough to prevent Jackson from loving her, that she was so loved by me.
But, notwithstanding all my lady's crossness to her, Miss Osburne endeavoured to make her happy, by labouring to bring about a reconciliation between her and her son; and she so far succeeded, as to prevail on him to come to the castle on the death of his lady, and to leave his little boy (the present lord) under his mother's care. I never thought my lady loved the child; but, as the heir of the family, she was proud of him, and indulged his humour in everything, so that his temper was quite spoiled. He took a fancy to play in Jackson's room, in preference to the nursery, and was attended by his maid, a very aitful woman, who had contrived to make the child fond of her, by giving him in secret quantities of sweet-cake, which, on account of his stomach, he was forbid to eat.
When he could not be bribed into doing what she pleased, she had nothing for it but to frighten him ; and, in order to do so effectually, used to tell him stories of hobgoblins, and to make a noise as of some spirit coming to take him away; on hearing which, the little creaturc would run panting and terrified, to hide his head in her lap. You can have no notion how his nerves were shaken by this. I believe he feels it to the present day, and am sure that much of his oddity, and his bad temper, of which the world talks so much, might all be traced to the bad management of Jenny Thomson.
'It one day happened, that while I was busied in getting up a suit of lace for my lady, the little lord came into our room, as usual, to play. Two pieces of the lace which I had ironed were hung on the screen by the fire, and while I was smoothing out another for the iron, he snatched one of the pieces from the screen, and twisted it round his neck. I flew to rescue it, and called Jenny to desire him to give it up, which she did in a wheedling tone, promising at the same time that she would give him a piece of plum-cake.
'I know that you have none to give me,' cried he; ' I have eat all up, so I don't mind you.' ' And don't you mind me?' cried I, 'what mischief are you doing me ! Your grand-mamma will be so angry with me, that I must tell her the truth, and then she will be angry with you too.' ' I don't care,' cried Lord Lin-top, twisting the lace firmer round his neck. Seeing that no other means would do, I took hold of him to take it from him by force. He immediately set up a scream of passion, but I persisted, and disengaged the lace as gently as I could from his grasp; but no sooner had I succeeded, than he snatched up the other piece, and, in a transport of rage, threw it on the fire, driving the screen down at the same time with great violence.
The fire was strong, and the lace dry, so that its destruction was the work of a moment. At the expense of burning my hand and arm, I saved a fragment, but it could be of no use, and I really became sick with terror and vexation.
Jenny desired me not to vex myself, for that it was easy to say that the screen fell by accident, and that my lord would be a good boy, and say that he saw it fall, and that the lace which hung on it fell into the fire; ' and then what can my lady say, you know?' cried she, perfectly satisfied with the arrangement.
'Her story might do very well,' I said, ' provided there was none to witness against us.'
'And who can witness against us?' said she, ' has not the door been shut all the time? Who then can witness against us?'
'O Jenny,' returned I, ' there are witnesses whom no door can shut out,—God and our own consciences. If these witness against us, what does it signify whether my lady be pleased or no? I hope I shall never be so wicked as to tell a wilful falsehood.'
'Wicked, indeed!' repeated Jenny, very angrily. ' Where have you lived all your days, I wonder, that you can talk such nonsense ! as if servants must not always do such things, if they would keep their place? I know more of the world than you do, Mrs Wisdom, and can tell you that you will not find many masters or mistresses that do not like better to be imposed upon than to know the truth, when it does not happen to be agreeable. How long, think you, should I keep my place, were I to tell all the truths about everything that Lord Lintop does? but I know better ; I always think with myself, before I go up, of what they would like to hear; and in all the places I have been in, I have found it turn to my advantage. Take my advice, and tell the story as I have made it out, or depend upon it you will get yourself brought into a pretty scrape.'
She was called to go up to my lady with her little charge, and I was left alone in a very disconsolate state. The temptation to follow her advice was strong, but, thank God, my principles were stronger; and the consequences of beginning a course of sin by departing from truth, were so deeply imprinted on my mind, that I was preserved from the snare.
On telling Jackson what had happened, she was at first thrown into a mighty passion, and would have cast the blame on me if it had been possible; but, though always unreasonable while her anger lasted, she was too good a woman not to be shocked at the thoughts of making up a deliberate and wicked lie, in order to deceive her mistress. We were still in consultation, when my lady rang her bell for Jackson, who returned in' a moment, to tell me that I must immediately go up and answer for myself; but that as my friend Miss Osburne was there, I need not be afraid, for she would certainly take my part.
I went up, as you may believe, with a beating heart. As soon as I opened the door, my lady, in a sharp voice, asked me what I had done with her fine lace? adding, that I had better tell the truth at once, than make any evasion. ' I will indeed tell the truth, my lady,' said I; ' and though I am very sorry for the loss, your ladyship will be convinced that I could not help it, and am not to blame.' I then told the story simply as it had happened; but, while telling it, plainly saw that what I said made no impression.
When I had finished, my lady looked me full in the face, her eyes quite wild with rage and indignation, and, bursting into a sort of scornful laugh, ' A pretty story truly you have made out indeed!' cried she. ' This is all the good of your reading the Bible forsooth ! first to destroy my lace through carelessness, and then to lay the blame upon the poor child! the heir of the family ! one whom such a creature as you ought to have thought yourself honoured in being permitted to wipe the dirt from his shoes? And yet you dare to lay your faults to his door; to complain of him, and to complain of him to me? What assurance ! But I am happy to have detected you; you are a vile hypocrite, and shall no longer be harboured in this house. I give you warning to provide yourself in another place.'
'I am sorry to have offended your ladyship,' said I, very humbly; ' but indeed I have told the truth, and I am sure Jenny cannot be so wicked as not to confirm every word I have said.'
'Pardon me for interfering,' said Mix Osburne, ' but I have such good reason for having a high opinion of Betty's principles, that I am convinced she is incapable of being guilty of what you attribute to her. I could stake my life on her sincerity. Do, my dear madam, take a little time for inquiry before you condemn.'
This reasonable advice seemed like throwing oil on the fire of my lady's pride, and she became more angry than ever. She, however, desired Jenny to be immediately called. As soon as she entered, she was desired to tell without fear, in what manner the accident had happened. ' I am sure, my lady,' said the artful girl, ' it was, as your ladyship says, an accident; for I am sure Mrs Mason had no intention whatever to drive down the screen, nor do I believe she saw when she did it, for it was in turning round that she pushed it over, and the lace just fell into the fire, and was burned in a moment.'
'And where was Lord Lintop at the time?' asked Miss Osburne.
'I believe he was standing at the table,' returned Jenny, hesitatingly. ' O, now I recollect, he was playing with his little coach, the coach which her ladyship gave him, and which he is so fond of, that he would never let it be out of his hand; but, indeed, he loves everything that his grand-mamma gives him; I never saw so dear a tractable creature in all my life.'
'Are you sure that he was then playing with the coach?' asked Miss Osburne. ' O very sure and certain,' returned Jenny; ' I remember it particularly, because I had just put a string to it, as we went into Mrs Jackson's room.'
'I shall refresh your memory, however,' said Miss Osburne, rising, and opening the door of a closet, from whence she returned with the coach in her hand, ' This toy has been in that closet since yesterday evening, that I took it from the child when he was going to bed. In this instance, therefore, you have not been correct.'
'That is of no consequence,' said my lady; ' the child might have been playing with some other toy; all I ask is, did he touch the lace?'
'He! poor innocent darling!' cried Jenny; no, as I hope to be saved, he was not even near it.'
'O Jenny, what a sin are you committing !' I exclaimed. But her ladyship commanded me to be silent, and to leave the room.'
I went, grieved and astonished at her injustice, but rejoicing in my innocence. Jackson was very kind to me, and assured me that my lady would, when left to herself, come round, but that there would be no good in speaking to her at present. There was indeed no good in it; for all that Miss Osburne said in my defence, only made her more positive in asserting the truth of Jenny's story; and when my amiable friend would have questioned the child, she helped him to all his answers; and it is surprising how soon children can observe who is on their side, and how soon they can learn to practise the little arts of cunning and deceit.
My leaving the castle was now a thing fixed and certain ; and the only consolation I could receive in the view of it, was from a knowledge of carrying with me the good-will of all that knew me. I was shocked at the thoughts of being thrown into the world without a friend; but I was reminded by dear Miss Osburne, that the friendship of man is but a bending reed, in comparison of the protection of Him, who is, to all that put their trust in Him, a tower of strength.
I was now to go in three days, and was not yet provided for; but Miss Osburne had written about me to a friend of hers, and I hoped her application would be successful. In the meantime Lord Long-lands arrived at the castle, to prepare his mother for the reception of his intended bride, the heiress of Merriton, whose great fortune made her a more acceptable daughter-in-law to the old lady than my lord's first wife had been; and Jackson, seeing my lady in such high good humour, thought it a favourable time to soften her in my behalf. She began by telling her how sorry I was to leave the castle, and then ventured to say many things in my praise ; taking care, at the same time, to contrast all she said in my favour, with the idleness and self-conceit of Jenny, whose word, she said, would never be taken before mine by any one who knew us both, as she did. Poor Jackson had reason to repent her zeal; for she found my lady so prepossessed in favour of my adversary, that all she said against her was attributed to spite. And she now saw, that by having accustomed her lady to flattery, she had exposed her to the arts of a more cunning flatterer than herself. In fact, Jenny looked to Jackson's place, and would have succeeded in her designs, had it not been for a very extraordinary accident, which brought all her character to light.
On the morning that I was to leave the castle, Miss Osburne told Lord Longlands that his mother was that day to part with the most attached and faithful creature in the world, on account of her having thrown the blame of burning a piece of lace on little Charles. My lord inquired into the particulars, and resolved to have the matter investigated fairly before I went, and on my lady's coming in told her his design. Both Jenny and I were summoned to appear; and my lord, having first requested that no one should speak but the person he called on for an answer, first desired me to tell my story; and when I had finished, called on Jenny for hers. She began much in the same way she had done before; but, in concluding, added what she had not then said, that I had immediately entreated her not to tell how it happened, birS to join me in saying it was Lord Lintop who threw down the screen, for that my lady would not be angry if she thought he did it. She was then beginning a long harangue upon her good will to me, and the hardships she lay under in being looked down upon by all the servants in the house, because she would not join me in making up a story against her dear innocent child, to save me from my lady's anger. Lord Longlands desired her to stop; and then asked me what I had done with the lace, which the child had twisted up, and which I said was torn. I had, I said, given it to Mrs Jackson. She was called on, and the lace was produced in the state I had described it. On examining it, my lord called for his son, and taking him on his knee, asked him if he remembered the story he had told him of the little boy who always spoke the truth? ' Yes, papa,' said the child. 4 Will you be a good boy like him,' said my lord, ' that I may love you?' 'Yes, papa.' 'Well then, tell me truly what you did with the piece of lace you tore from this ?' holding up the fragment. The child coloured as red as scarlet; and my lord kissing him, very mildly, and in a cheerful encouraging voice, repeated the question. ' I—I believe I hid it, papa,' said he.
'Where did you hide it, my dear ? tell me truly, and you shall have a ride upon the little horse this very evening.' The boy looked round for Jenny, as fearing to displease her: but her face was hid from him by the back of the chair; and his papa seeing how it was, asked if Jenny had helped him to hide it? ' No, no.' ' Where then had he put it?' ' He had put it,' he said,' in the back of his coat.' This seemed very unintelligible; but, as he persisted in it, my lord begged of Miss Osburne to desire one of the maids to bring all the child's clothes into the room. Jenny would have gone for them, but was not permitted to leave the room. As soon as they were brought in, Lord Lintop pointed to the little green coat, which I well remembered him to have worn, and turning it over, showed a rip in the seam, just by the pocket hole, which Miss Osburne enlarged with her scissors, and in a moment produced the lace. ' You are a good boy, indeed,' exclaimed my lord, again caressing the child. 'Now tell me, Charles, whether the piece of lace that you threw into the fire was completely burned or not ?' 4 I don't know, indeed, papa : for I was very naughty; but I won't be naughty again if you forgive me. I did not intend to tear the lace, but was only just making a rope of it about my neck ; and so Betty Mason tiew to take it from me, and I did not like to have it taken; and held it, and we struggled a great while—and—and'—And you were angry, and threw the other piece into the fire, to vex Betty Mason did you not?'
'You are an excellent evidence,' cried my lord, 'and shall have the ride I promised you: but now, mark the consequence of being naughty. Look at that woman there (turning to Jenny); see how she is overwhelmed by shame and disgrace for having wickedly persevered in telling a wicked lie, which she probably thought would never be detected. But liars never escape detection; sooner or later they fall into their own snares.' Jenny, loudly sobbing, now fell down upon her knees to ask forgiveness; but my lord, waving his hand, bade her instantly leave the room, and deliver up to his mother's maid all that she had in her charge. 4 Nor dare, upon your life,' cried he, 'to approach this boy, or to speak one single word to him while you live. Go, vile woman,—had I known your character I should sooner have seen him in his grave than placed him under your care !'
I was really sorry for the poor girl, and was bold enough to intercede for her, but to no purpose. My lord was inflexible; for a liar, he said, could have no good principle. 4 His lordship acts wisely and nobly,' cried Miss Osburne; 4 and now, that no doubt can rest upon the integrity of poor Mason, I hope, Madam, you will not part with her?'
'I have no wish to part with her,' said my lady. 'That is not sufficient,' rejoined Lord Longlands; 'she has been injured, and the injury must be repaired.' Then ringing the bell, he desired the housekeeper and Jackson, with all the other servants who were at hand, to attend. They quickly obeyed the summons; very anxious to know what was going forward.
As soon as they were all assembled, my lord addressed them in a speech which I shall never forget. ' I sent for you,' said he, ' in order to inform you, that the woman who has left the room, is discarded from my service on account of her having been guilty of telling a wicked and malicious lie, in order to throw the blame of a trifling accident upon an innocent person. It likewise has been proved to our satisfaction, that the conduct of this young woman, whom she would have injured, has not only been blameless, but highly meritorious; for she has shown that she feared God, by speaking the truth before Him, with an upright heart. For what you have suffered, Betty Mason,' added he, 'both my mother and I are heartily sorry; and my son, who was the first occasion of it, is ready to make you all the reparation in his power, by asking your pardon.—Go, child, and ask Betty Mason to forgive you.'
I would have prevented his having the mortification, but my lord insisted that he should; and then taking from his purse this large gold piece, he presented it to me, desiring me to keep it as a memorial of the happy consequences that result from a faithful adherence to truth and sincerity.
Here Mrs Mason showed the gold coin to Miss Mary Stewart. And as speaking of its history led to a digression which it is unnecessary to follow, we shall close the chapter.