« PreviousContinue »
“I don't know, ma'am,” grumbled Annie ; " I don't know much about it. Joan and Judith give me the stockings to darn, and I hate that.”
“Not know much about it !” exclaimed Mrs. Henniker. “ Can you make a shirt, child?”?
“Goodness, ma'am!—no. Judith was mending one the other day, and she gave me the tails to hem: I did one of them."
“Perhaps you read and write a good deal, Annie?” proceeded Mrs. Henniker, who, being a starched and stately lady, always dressed out in rich black silk, was regarded by Annie with more awe than affection: “your mamma was fond of both."
“ I don't like writing, ma’am, and I never get any pretty books to read,” was Annie's reply.
“ Pretty books !” cried Mrs. Henniker; “who was talking about pretty books ? I was not, my dear. Are you fond of studying history, and grammar, and geography ?”
“ That's school learning, ma'am,” exclaimed Annie, opening her large blue eyes widely at the question. “I had a book one day that told about the stars, and of the earth moving round and round the sun, but my sister Joan said I was a little fool for reading such a parcel of stories as that.”
“ Are you clever at arithmetic?" asked Mrs. Henniker, with a dash of impatience in her tone.
66 At summing, ma'am ?” hesitated Annie. “I know part of the multiplication table pretty perfectly : the twos—and the threes-and the fives—and the tens--and the elevens."
“ The child is an utter dunce !” ejaculated Mrs. Henniker, in dismay. “ Fourteen years of age, and to be ignorant of the common branches of study, not to speak of more polite accomplishments! What in the world is to be done? If her poor mamma could look down and witness this neglect !”
That something should be done Mrs. Henniker was determined, and after weighing the matter in her own mind, she called a council with the farmer, and it was resolved to place Annie out at a good school.
She went ; and remained there two years. Upon her return home, she was wonderfully improved in person and manners, and, the schoolmistress assured her family, had amply made up for her former deficiencies in education. Her sisters had long anticipated the time of her return. Sundry light jobs, such as feeding the poultry, washing up the breakfastthings, making the puddings and pies, skimming the milk, sorting the eggs, rubbing the furniture, getting up the fine linen, aiding to make the beds on a busy day, filling the bottles at hay-making time, doing all the sewing, and writing all the letters, had been confidently set aside in their own minds as the pastimes of Annie, all to be turned over to her from the moment of her arrival. And great was their exasperation when she declared she was more averse to such work than ever, and would not touch it.
And she did not. But would pass her time roaming about the garden, or figuring off before the glass, or would be found reading in all sorts of holes and corners. She was fond of music : it was known she had an ear for it as a child, and during these two years Mrs. Henniker had caused her to be taught, the farmer himself having rather objected to it.
There was an old square piano in the best parlour, which had belonged to the second Mrs. Lee, and there she would sit for hours, as Miss Joan expressed it, “strumming their ears out."
is What dost thee think is to become of thee, child ?” demanded the farmer, upon hearing the oft-repeated complaints of his elder daughters; “ dost think thee'st going to live like a lady?”
“ The work was all done before I came home," answered Annie," and it can be done now. Or if Joan and Judith have too much to do, why don't they keep two maid-servants instead of one? I never did make any hand at this sort of work, and I never shall. They say my dear mamma did not; perhaps I am like her.”
The farmer looked at his child, and thought of his late wife. Annie was like her; at least, like what she must have been in her youth. “ But,” he reasoned with himself, “if she cannot take to farm-house work, she must take to something. It would be a stain upon our family amongst the neighbours, to have one of its members brought up to idleness.”
“ But what else is there that Annie can do ?” questioned Miss Joan, one day upon hearing her father's suggestion that Annie had better try “ something else.”
“I do not know what there is,” replied the farmer; “but I don't like this scolding and crying in the house from morning till night. Annie has now been at home some months, and I think you have scarcely passed a day without it.”
“But there is nothing else that we can put her to do,” persisted Miss Joan, crossly.
“Perhaps the dressmaking ?” hesitated Miss Judith.
6 The dressmaking—ay !" cried the farmer; “ that's a capital thought. I never 'lighted upon that. Shouldst like it, Annie, lass ?”
Annie had turned round full upon them in dismayed astonishment, her eyes sparkling, and her cheeks flushing crimson.
6 You are not serious ?” she uttered to them.
“ It would be a good thing, I fancy, Annie,” said her father, surprised out of his familiar way of speaking, “even if you only made your own gowns and your sisters'.”
“But think of the degradation, sir!" retorted Annie. 66 The what ?" asked the farmer.
“The degradation of learning a trade! Oh, father, you surely never will think of it!”
“ Highty-tighty !” exclaimed Miss Joan, dropping an egg on the floor in her anger, “so you have picked up fine notions at school, Miss Annie !"
“Father,” continued Annie, earnestly, “ do not put me to learn the dressmaking. Think how mamma would have disliked it : you never could have thought of doing it had she lived."
“Why should I not have done it? How do you know your mamma would have disliked it ?” reiterated the farmer.
6. Because mamma was a lady," answered Annie, with tears in her eyes ; “every lady here says so, and I can remember that she was. My Aunt Henniker is a lady too, and I know she would disapprove of it. Real ladies do not think of placing their children with a dressmaker."
“ Your poor mother was a woman of sound sense, Annie,” observed Mr. Lee ; " and if you think she nursed a pack of fine, foolish notions within her, you are mistaken. Any proposition for your benefit she would have fallen in with.”
“For my benefit, yes,” answered Annie ; “but this would not be for my benefit."
" Annie," interrupted the farmer, speaking more seriously than usual, “ I do not wish to push you on to an occupation you would dislike; but I will have no lazy person in my house. If you are willing to help your sisters in their duties, let it be so, and then you can stop at home.”
“It is of no use promising it,” said Annie," for I know if I promised I never should perform. You might as well put me to plough and to reap as to do the things that Joan and Judith do."
The subject dropped for the time, and soon afterwards the farmer departed for London, upon business connected with his farm. He remained absent about ten days, and on his return brought news for Annie.
It was night when he arrived, nearly nine, and the family were thinking of retiring to rest. They did not particularly expect him on that evening. The fire was getting low in the every-day sitting-room, and they were gathered round it. Miss Joan was making up her cheese and butter accounts for the month, and Judith was putting her fine and abundant black hair into “ curling leads,” paper being found scarcely strong enough for its exuberance: for to-morrow would be market morning, and Miss Judith had no objection to appear to advantage before the numerous farming blades collected on that day in the county town. Annie had been told five or six times to go to bed, but she chose to sit on, doing nothing, as usual.
They were surprised when their father entered. Joan and Judith rose and bustled about, laying out for him substantial refreshments, and directing Annie to do this, and to do the other. But Annie did nothing, save stir the fire into a blaze, and chat with her father. He told her then that it was all settled, and that she was to go to London at once to learn the dressmaking.
She did not believe it at first; but when the conviction came upon her that it was really true, she shivered as if an ague had taken her, and, drawing into the furthest corner of the room, gave way to tears.
She probably was no believer in presentiments, but that shiver-- was it a forewarning of what was to come ?
She sat sullenly by whilst the farmer gave her sisters the particulars of his journey; but when he came to speak of the splendid home which awaited her, she gradually dried her tears and listened. Mr. Lee had been furnished with an introduction to Madame ,a “court-dressmaker,” they styled her, living at the West-end of London. The farmer thought this home might suit, for madame was a Catholic, and Annie,
it should be observed, had been reared in her mother's faith. But when - he continued to descant upon the perfect palace--for so the house of the Frenchwoman had really appeared to the farmer--that was to be Annie's home; the wide, gay street in which it was situated, crowded constantly with beautiful equipages, beside which the lord of the manor's would look no better than a "po-chay;" madame's own carriage that he saw at the door ; the footman, covered in lace, who had opened the door to him, and bowed him in ; the carpets he had been ashamed to walk upon ; the elegant furniture, all crimson velvet, and gold and china vases, and costly mirrors, amidst which he could not find a place plain enough to sit on, or to place his hat; the fascinating manners of madame, who had gently pushed him down on one of those costly sofas, as if it had been of no more moment than a haycock ; the delicious cake and wine handed to him on a silver waiter, such wine that he had rarely tasted, and the cake as rich as that they had at neighbour Bumford's wedding ; and the glimpse he had of two handsome girls dressed out in silk attire, who madame said were two of her young ladies-all this perfectly aroused Annie ; and after asking once and again if this enchanting place was really to be her home in London, she began now to tremble lest any untoward accident should prevent her departure.
Joan and Judith for once in their lives sat idle as they listened in astonishment to the tale, and almost envying Annie. An indistinct vision passed before their eyes—one which had already visited the farmer -of Annie's return to her native place, an accomplished milliner and dressmaker, and setting up in business in the county town, drawing all the first-rate custom into her hands, and showers of gold pouring into her lap.
“For how long is Annie to be there?" inquired Judith. “ Three years," answered the farmer.
“But won't this cost a power of money ?” asked Miss Joan, in a tone of disapprobation.
“A prettyish sum,” rejoined Mr. Lee. “But if Annie is attentive, I guess it will be money well laid out."
“ Then all there is to do now,” said Judith, “is to let Mrs. Henniker know, and to get Annie ready.”
“And to pay over the money,” added Joan, sharply.
“ To pay over the money," assented the farmer, “when Annie goes. But Annie, child,” he continued, drawing her towards him, “I said I would not force you against your inclination, and you shall decide still. Will you go or not?”
“Oh, father,” she returned, her eyes filling with the tears of delight, “if you do not let me go to this beautiful place I shall never be happy again.”
Opposition, however, arose from a quarter least expected. No sooner was Mrs. Henniker made acquainted with the intended change, than she started, post haste, from her own residence for the farmer's, bitterly protesting against the measure. Her first argument was that which had once been used by Annie—that if her poor sister, Annie's mother, were living, she would never suffer it to take place.
Mrs. Henniker found she could make but little impression. Her stepnieces did not so much care, they observed, that Annie should go there, but she would do nothing at home, and where was the profit to her, or to them, in keeping her in idleness?
“Do you know," cried Mrs. Henniker, sharply, to the farmer, “that girls in those fine London establishments are worked into consumptions? How would you like to see your bright Annie laid in a London grave ?”
The farmer thought and hoped his sister-in-law was mistaken. He said she could have no conception what a splendid house it was, or of the kindness of madame. . “How can you answer for what associates Annie will meet with ?" pursued Mrs, Henniker. “She may be drawn, for all we can tell, into some dreadful thing or other that never can be redeemed. Sending her there without a protector!”
“ Madame would be her protector," answered the farmer, “She assured him that her young ladies were taken as much care of as they could possibly be at home.”
" Set phrases !-set phrases !" ejaculated Mrs. Henniker. “I know how these establishments are conducted. The superior has neither time nor inclination to overlook the moral conduct of her pupils. They are not without opportunities of going out they are not kept shut up for ever, as in a prison. And you little know the deceitful vice and wickedness prevailing in London, or the numerous temptations that beset a handsome girl placed in the position Annie will be.”
The farmer drew his hand over his perplexed brow, and looked at Annie—at her graceful form and lovely features. There was a confiding, innocent look about her, telling of nought but girlish purity. “A blight fall upon her!” he exclaimed to himself. “Mrs. Henniker must judge harshly of the world. I should trust,” he added, aloud, “that Annie will always regulate her conduct by the remembrance of her sainted • mother : she will need no other safeguard.”
“ Annie,” interposed Mrs. Henniker, “ I came this long, hasty journey, determined to make you one proposal, in case I failed to set aside your London scheme by other means. Will you come home with me, and be unto me as a daughter? You shall enjoy a good and peaceful home-and it is probable that what I die possessed of will, in that case, be left to you. Yet understand me: I do not promise this. It may be many years yet before death shall overtake me; and to give a solemn promise of this nature so long beforehand is what I cannot and ought not to do. Neither is it much that I shall have to leave: your father knows that the greater portion of what I enjoy is only mine by a life interest. But I do promise you a happy home-one where you will be indulged and cherished, and in which you will have a fairer opportunity of exercising the offices of your religion than you have had in this.”
That Mrs. Henniker's proposition was considerate and generous could not be denied; nevertheless, Annie heard it with dismay. She had paid a visit to Mrs. Henniker, of some months' standing, immediately after her mother's death, when she was between seven and eight years of age, and she remembered to this day how dull and dismal she had found the house. A formal visit to the Catholic chapel most mornings—for Mrs. Henniker was strict in the observances of her religion—then lessons till dinner-time, and sewing afterwards, varied by a quiet country walk when it was fine, during which, it seemed to Annie's recollection, they never met a soul. For amusement, there was an occasional tea-visit to some old dowager, where Annie regularly nodded asleep in a corner, while the general company took a hand at whist. The old servant too, she recollected perfectly, precise and respectable as her mistress; and Mrs. Henniker had her still. Compare this sober home with the glowing description