soon as an opportunity offered for resuming her
story, Mrs Mason, at Mary's request, proceeded as
My Lord Longlands left the castle in a day or two for Merriton Hall; and on the day after his arrival there, he wrote to Miss Osburne, to inform her, that he had prevailed on his intended bride to take me into her service as a waiting-maid; and hoped Miss Osburne would prevail on his mother to part with me, to which the old dowager did not very readily consent. But though she made a great favour of it, it was at length happily settled ; and on the night that Lord and Lady Longlands arrived at the castle, after their marriage, I entered on my place. I found 7iy young mistress so amiable, so reasonable, and sweet-tempered, that pleasing her would have been an easy task, even to one less disposed to please her than I was. I was congratulated by all the servants on my promotion, and indeed thought myself the happiest creature in the world. But my happiness was soon overcast; for in the midst of all the bustle of this first and only gay season at the castle, your dear mother, my kind benefactress, was seized with a fever of a very malignant and dangerous nature. She was three days ill before the dowager-lady could be persuaded that anything ailed her but a cold ; but when the doctor was at last sent for, and explained the nature of her complaint, all communication was cut off between the tower and the other part of the house ; and, as I had already exposed myself to the infection, I was, at my earnest entreaty, permitted to remain with the dear sufferer, whom I nursed night and day for several weeks. Nor did I ever catch the infection, from which I was preserved, under Providence, by the attention I paid to the doctor's advice; for though the weather was then cold, I followed his directions in keeping the windows constantly up, so that a current of fresh air passed continually through the room, which was a great comfort to the patient, and I believe tended more to her recovery than all the medicines she swallowed.
At length, thank God, she did recover; and oh, how much did she then overrate the little service I had it in my power to perform; for what did I more than was my bounden duty? Never shall I forget the day she first was permitted to go down stairs. With what unfeigned piety did she return thanks to the Almighty for her preservation ! How earnestly did she pray, that the life He had preserved might be spent in His service, and in the service of her fellow-creatures ! And it was so spent; I am certain that it was, though I, alas ! had no longer the benefit of beholding her example; for, before she recovered, my lord and lady had set off for England, and had reached their seat in Yorkshire, to which I was ordered to follow them by the stage-coach.
I was much agitated at the thoughts of leaving the castle, though I expected to return to it with my lady in the following summer. But it had been my little world, and I was a stranger to all without its walls: and, where I was going, I should have no kind Miss Osburne to direct and counsel me 3 no one who cared for me as Jackson did3 or the old housekeeper, for whom I regularly knit a pair or two of lamb's-wool stockings every year as long as she lived. I went away loaded with keepsakes from her and from Jackson, and indeed from all the servants in the family, who vied with each other in showing their good will. I did not see the dowager-countess 3 but Jackson told me she was in such bad humour at my lord taking his son away to send to school, that she could not see any one with pleasure who was going to his house. Your poor mamma suffered more from this bad temper of the old lady than the servants did 3 but she neither complained of it herself, nor would suffer a complaint of it to be made before her. I durst not even drop a hint of it when we parted, which we did with many tears on both sides.
I was received very graciously by my amiable mistress, and had the comfort of finding a very well regulated family, where, though there was a number of servants, there was no confusion, every one's business being so well ordered and so distinctly defined. My lady, in arranging her household, was much indebted to the advice of an old aunt, Miss Maiden, a maiden lady who lived with her, and who had a great deal of good sense, and with a sober and religious turn of mind, was at the same time so lively and cheerful, that her company was liked by young and old.
The family soon went to London, where my lord and lady were obliged to go to great assemblies, and to places of public amusement, as other great people do; but Miss Maiden never went to any of these places, and when they were out, spent all her time in reading. As her eyes were weak, she was obliged to employ her maid to read for her, which the poor girl thought a grievous task. Upon her complaining of it to me, I told her how willingly I should relieve her, if she could prevail on her lady to accept my services. On the first evening that she happened to be alone, I was accordingly sent for. The book that she was then engaged in, was a history of the Old World before the coming of our Saviour. The subject was new to me, and the names were many of them very hard; but as I took pains, I soon got into the way of pronouncing them.
Miss Maiden observing that I took pleasure in understanding what I read, was so kind as to take the trouble of explaining to me all the difficult passages. She said she was sensible, that to one like me, it could be of little consequence to know what had been done so many ages ago by great kings and warriors., but that there was no sort of knowledge without its use; that the observations I made upon the consequences of the pride, vain-glory, and ambition of those conspicuous characters of whom we read, would improve the powers of my understanding, and open my mind to perceive the value of those Christian principles which lead to peace here and happiness hereafter ; and would prove that it was not in the power of all the riches or all the glory of the world to give ^ content; for, that to fear God, and to keep His commandments, was the end of life.
I learned a great deal from the comments of this good lady upon what I read to her; and as all her instructions were given with a view to strengthen me in the performance of duty, I have reason to be thankful for such an opportunity of improvement During the five years that she lived, I continued to be her reader every winter; for it was only in winter that she was ever left alone by my lady, who, when in the country, lived a very domestic life. She had all this time but one drawback on her happiness— the want of children; but at length this blessing also was granted; and in the sixth year of her marriage she produced a daughter. The joy of this event was clouded by the death of her good aunt, who expired after a short illness, before Lady Harriet was six weeks old. Her death was the death of the righteous, full of faith, and hope, and joy. She saw that it would be a loss to my lady, whose only fault was an extreme indolence of temper. But she did what she could to counsel her against the consequences ; and, among other pieces of advice, recommended it to her to place the whole management of the nursery under my care. My lady told me this when she proposed it to me, and told me also the reasons she had given, which were too honourable for me to repeat.
I knew nothing of the management of children, but resolved to fulfil the trust to the best of my abilities, and spare no pains to learn the best modes of treating them in sickness and in health. As the family increased, my duties enlarged; but the only and the perpetual difficulty with which I had to struggle, arose from the obstinacy and self-sufficiency of the nurses. Knowing, however, that I had the authority of my lord and lady on my side, I generally prevailed, and, after two or three months, brought them into my ways; but I saw enough to convince me how sadly off the children of great families must be when they are left altogether to the management of such sort of people.
Finding it to be the great object with the nurses to save themselves trouble, I laboured to convince them, that by firmly adhering to my plan, they would most certainly attain their end, for that nothing could be so troublesome as children whose tempers were spoiled by mismanagement. Very little trouble, indeed, did these little darlings cost to any of them; and as to myself, the constant vigilance with which I watched over them, was a source of pleasure and delight. From being always kindly treated, and having their little humours checked in the bud, from a certainty that they would never obtain their object by crying, or by peevishness, they were the most docile and tractable little creatures in the world. They learned to be thankful for all that was done for them, and to treat others with respect, as they themselves were treated. As they were never out of my sight, I could answer for it, that they never saw or heard a thing that was improper, nor witnessed a single instance of falsehood or deceit. You may imagine how much I became attached to them, and yet it is impossible that you should; for none but a mother, and a fond mother, can knuw what my heart felt, and still feels towards them. My love for them made everything a pleasure; and, while a sense of being accountable to God for the manner in which I discharged my trust increased my diligence, I was full of gratitude for being appointed to the delightful task.
Some months after the birth of Master Edward, the fourth and last of her children, my Jady went with my lord to Scotland, to pay a visit to the countess-dowager, whom they had never seen since the year they were married, owing to some quarrel about an estate, which the old lady would not give up to my lord, though he had a right to it, and she had no other child but himself. But her heart was set upon the world, and when that is the case, it signifies little whether people be poor or rich, for they still think they can never have enough ; and though they have much more than they can use, they go on craving and craving for more, till they drop into the grave. So it was with the old lady, who grew fonder of money every year she lived; and though she would not part with the estate, she was brought to forgive my lord for claiming it, and expressed a wish to see him, which his lady urged him to comply with.
I should much have liked to have gone with them, but they resolved on leaving all the children under my care in Yorkshire, except Master Merriton, the elder of the two young gentlemen, who was to accompany them, attended by Mrs Dickens, the woman who had been his nurse.
The two young ladies, and the infant with his nurse, were left entirely to my care; and, thank God, all that I undertook to do for them prospered. In order to be able to instruct them, I was at pains to instruct myself. Lady Charlotte, though little more than five years old, could read very prettily; and, in reading, neither she nor any of the other children ever had another mistress; nor had I any trouble in teaching them ; for though I gave them very short lessons, I had got the way of making them attend to their book while they were engaged with it, and took care that they should never find it wearisome. When my lord and lady returned, they expressed the highest satisfaction with the progress that their children had made; and, to show their satisfaction, made me a handsome present, which was more precious to me, on account of its being a proof of approbation, than ten times its value. I was not, however, to get leave to enjoy it in peace; for I soon observed that it had stirred up the envy of Mrs Dickens, who, during the time they had been in Scotland, had insinuated herself into my lady's favour in an extraordinary manner, and conscious of her influence, she took every occasion of showing that she would not be directed by me.
The girl who kept Master Edward had been in a manner brought up to the business under my immediate eye ; she was a staid and sober person, of good principles, and very diligent in the discbarge of her duty: but she soon became an object of dislike to Mrs Dickens, who, as I afterwards found, told my lady in secret a thousand lies of the poor girl. All now went wrong. Contention followed contention. I gave up many things for the sake of peace : every thing indeed, except where the interests of the children were at stake; but there I thought it my duty to be firm.
I shall not trouble you with an account of all the arts which this wicked woman employed to effect her purpose, and she did effect it; for she had contrived to make my lady think that I set my judgment above hers, and boasted of having more authority in the nursery than her ladyship had, and that all the people in it were my servants. My lady was too indolent to make strict inquiry into the truth. Mrs Dickens had made herself agreeable by flattering her about the children, whom she praised as if they had been more than human creatures; while I, wishing my lady to throw her praise and blame into the proper scales, was at pains to point out their faults as well as their perfections. Still, however, my lady had too much regard for me to hurt my feelings.
In order to gratify Dickens, without appearing to blame me, she, on our going up to town, told me that my lord and she had resolved on making an alteration in the establishment; to place the two young ladies under my care, and the children in the nursery under the care of Dickens.
I had nothing to do but to obey. An apartment was fitted up fnr the young ladies and me, immediately under the nursery, which was at the very top of the house. It consisted of a sitting-room, in which was a settee-bed for me to sleep on, and opened with folding doors into a small room, in which were two field-beds for the young ladies. I had reason to rejoice in the change, for I once more lived in peace; but I was not without anxiety on account of the dear infants, as I by no means thought the woman, who had been taken on Mrs Dickens' recommendation to supply the place of Peggy, was at all equal to the charge. But as my opinion was not asked, I had no right to give it, nor indeed had I many opportunities of observation, as our establishments were quite distinct. We came to town in November, and it was now the end of March; the 28th was Master Merriton's birthday, who was then three years old. It was kept with great pomp and splendour; all the first company in London were invited to the great ball that was given on the occasion ; and as the housekeeper had a great deal to do, I, after the young ladies went to bed, gave her all the assistance in my power, which kept me up long beyond my usual time. I was very much fatigued, and consequently very much inclined to sleep; but sleepy as I was, the habit of watchfulness was so strong in me, that I awakened at every little noise that stirred. I thought I heard a sort of crackling in the nursery over my head, and sat up to listen; but it ceased, and I again returned to rest. In about half-an-hour I was again awakened. The room was full of smoke, and the smell of fire so strong,, that I had but a moment for recollection; but, thank God, my presence of mind did not forsake me. I flew to the beds of my little charge; and taking up Lady Harriet in my arms, and dragging Lady Charlotte half asleep after me, I hastened to the stairs: the smoke came from above, so that as we went down we breathed more freely. We reached my lady's room in an instant; the door was unbolted—it was no time for ceremony—I rushed in ; but mindful of my lady's situation, I spoke as calmly as in such circumstances was possible. I entreated them instantly to rise, but did not wait to say more; for, seeing the smoke increase, I hastened on with the children, crying out ' fire !' to alarm the servants above and below.
The housekeeper was the first to hear me : to her I left the children, and again flew upstairs. I met my lord carrying my lady in his arms, calling out for help; but I did not stop, for I knew they were in safety.
I was soon at the foot of the nursery stairs, but oh ! what smoke had I then to pass through ! How I got through God only knows ; for it was His Almighty arm that supported me. On opening the nursery door, the flames burst out upon me; but I had a thought how it would be, and had wrapped myself in a blanket, which I knew the flames would not lay hold of, as they would upon my cotton nightgown. I could not speak for suffocation; but getting to the first of the two beds, I dragged off the clothes from Mrs Dickens, which was all I could do to awaken her. I then seized the child, who slept in a little bed beside her, and was making my way out, when the little infant set up a scream. He slept with his maid in a detached bed, to which the flames had not yet reached, but all between was in a blaze. I made a spring, and reached the place; but no maid was there, only the child alone. I snatched him up beneath my arm, and, again passing by her, made an effort to call out to poor Dickens. She started up, and, as I thought, followed me; but this effort to save her had nearly cost me dear; for I thought I should have expired instantly. Providence restored my strength, and darting through the flames, I got to the top of the stairs, where, I believe, I fainted, for I fell down the whole of the flight altogether senseless; nor do I remember anything further, till I found myself in a strange bed, with strange faces round me.
I called out to ask if the children were safe? 'They are ; they are safe !' returned a voice which I knew to be my lord's. He advanced to my bed-side. ' You are my preserver, Mason,' said he; ' thank God you are restored to life. We shall never forget that you have saved us and ours from destruction. Think, in the meantime, of nothing but of taking care of yourself.'
Pain now reminded me of the escape I had made. The pain I suffered was indeed excessive; nor could it be otherwise, for I had broken my thigh bone in the fall, and dislocated the joint immediately above; so that I soon knew that lameness for life would be my portion. But the thoughts of having been instrumental in saving the lives of the family was a cordial which kept up my heart. Still, however, I was very anxious to learn all the particulars of the sad disaster. The nurse who took care of me would tell me nothing. It was of no use to ask the surgeons; for they only desired me to keep myself quiet, and to give myself no anxiety.
In a few days the housekeeper came to see me, and though she resolved to be extremely cautious, she could not resist the temptation of being the first to tell me all.
'I was scarcely in my senses with the fright,' said she, ' but flew, as you desired me, to awaken the servants. And men and women were all up in a minute, some flying one way, and some another, till my lord brought them all to order by his commanding voice. He sent one to alarm the neighbours; one for the fire-engines; and one over the way to the colonel's, to ask for shelter for the family; and, placing my lady in a chair by the parlour-door, he ran up stairs again in distraction, thinking his sons were lost. The smoke was so thick he did not see you, but he heard your fall, and received his children from your arms, though you knew nothing of it. Two of the men were at his back, and he made them lift you, and carry you over with the rest; for my lady was by this time carried over likewise, and all the children. In the midst of this bustle some one called out for James; but no one had seen him. I went to his door, but it was locked. At last he answered. " Don't you know that the house is on fire?" cried I. He first swore, and then blessed himself, but out he came sure enough, and who came with him, do you think, but Sally, the saucy minx, crying and screaming, that she was ruined ! she was ruined !
'"Ruined!" cried I, "who cares for your being ruined? but what will you say to setting my lord's house on fire, and burning all the family in their beds !" No more time was there for speaking; the staircase was all in a blaze; the flames came with such speed that little could be saved, even out of my lord's room, except papers, and such like. We were all obliged to fly with what we had on, and all were safe except poor Mrs Dickens.'
'And did she perish !' cried I, in great agony. ' O yes, poor soul,' returned the housekeeper, ' she did indeed perish! Never was there anything so horrid, or so shocking ! God in His mercy preserve us all from such a dreadful end !'
Here poor Mrs Nelson perceiving how much I was agitated, and recollecting that she had been warned against telling me the woful tale, stopped short to comfort me, and entreated that I would deny having heard anything of the matter from her.
'O no,' said I, 'I Mrs Nelson; let us never allow ourselves to depart from truth; it is the beginning ot all iniquity. But 0 that unhappy woman! hurried into eternity with all her sins upon her head ! without a moment, a single moment, to pray for mercy on her soul. And yet, perhaps, she might, perhaps—
'No, no,' cried Mrs Nelson, ' she was in no state to pray; for she was in a state of intoxication, utterly deprived of her senses. Sally has confessed all. You never heard such plans of wickedness. Sally, it seems, had been her emissary and confidant, when they lived together at Sir William Blendon's. And it was with a view to get her to be under her that she fell out with Peggy, and got her turned out, and got all the management of the nursery to herself. They then went on at full career, no one to control them, going out, one or other of them, night after night, to the feasts and junkettings which in this wicked town go on among servants all the winter. And for the men-servants, there may, to be sure, be some excuse, for you know, poor fellows, they never get leave to go to bed till morning, and it cannot be expected that they should sit and mope alone; but then, when they carouse together, they entice the maids to meet them, by giving them balls, and treats, and such like, of which no good can come; nor, to be sure, would any woman, who regards her character, go to be seen at such places, though they were to be made, as Sally was, queen of the ball. For it seems she was greatly taken out, and had more lovers than any of them among the footmen. Mrs Dickens did not go to meet lovers, but to get drink; and when she stayed at home, Sally brought her enough to please her; but she never ventured on a great dose till near bed-time, when she was pretty sure of being safe. One night, indeed, my lady came up to the nursery, when she was conscious of being in no condition to speak to her, and what do you think the wicked woman did ? It makes one's hair stand on end to think of it; why she fell down on her knees, and pretended to be saying her prayers! and as my lady would not disturb her devotions by speaking, she thought she had a fine escape. O poor woman ! little did she think how soon she should be called to answer for this hypocrisy, without a moment's time to pray for mercy on her soul!
'It seems that on the night of the fire, Sally, having an assignation with James, pressed her to take even more than her usual quantity; and as she was very far gone, she was obliged to help her in taking off her clothes, and in getting into bed, that bed from which she was no more to rise ! Sally, after having watched till all was quiet, put out her candle, as she thought; but she confessed she only turned it down, for she never would use an extinguisher, and as the candlesticks have wide sockets, a long piece of small candle can scarcely be put down in them without the chance of turning over; but she did not wait to see whether it did or no; nor is she certain whether she might not have let a spark fall into the linen-press, where she had just been with the candle ; for she says she never had any fear of fire in all her life, and whenever she went into a press, always thrust the candle before her, without dread or care.'
'It was,' I said, ' from the linen-press that the flames issued, when I entered the room.'
'That might be,' said Mrs Nelson; 'but the chair with the candle was just beside it, so there is no saying which took fire first.'
'And was there no attempt made to save Mrs Dickens?' cried I; ' did she never wake?'
'Yes, yes,' said Mrs Nelson, ' she awoke, and got to the windows; the people in the street saw her, and heard her screams; for she screamed most terribly! and they got a ladder, and put it up, and thought to have brought her down on it, but before any one could make the top, the floor fell in, and she disappeared.'
Here Mrs Mason was obliged to pause, so much was she agitated with the recollection of this dreaded scene. When she had a little recovered, she proceeded, as will be found in the next chapter.
soon as an opportunity offered for resuming her
story, Mrs Mason, at Mary's request, proceeded as