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west end of the great metropolis, kept by three sisters, Mrs. St. Leger, and the Misses Greatorex.
Mr. Watson, to whom this letter was addressed, did not mention it to Barbara till after the funeral, and the poor little girl was overwhelmed for a time by the information ; but she afterwards said to Mr. Watson, “I ought to be very glad, sir, ought I not ; that my dear, dear uncle never heard anything about this ?”
Were we to enter into anything like a full description of the many parting scenes with the nurse and Cæsar, and the farewells taken by little Barbara of the many places where she had often sat and talked with her beloved uncle, we might fill sheets of paper and be no nearer our end.
We must go on, then, to say that Mr. Watson after having most faithfully promised to take care of nurse and Cæsar, himself took her up to London : was kind to her by the way as the kindest of fathers, and made the journey last two days and a half; to give her more time to recover her spirits, after she had taken the last look at the groves of Barwell.
The old gentleman had tears in his eyes when he bade adieu to the little lady, in the smart vestibule of the establishment; and when the door was closed after him, she could restrain herself no longer, but burst into an agony of tears, notwithstanding the presence of more than one smart servant who was waiting to usher her to the school-room ; for it was evening, and there was company in the drawing-room, and the staircase and vestibule were already lighted up.
Poor little Barbara could never give any account of her first introduction into this new life, more distinctly, or even as much so, as a person could relate a dream, everything was so new, and everything seemed to glare so in the strong light of the lamps, and the staircase was so steep, and the room into which she was introduced, looked so wide and strange with its many forms and tables, and empty too; for all the scholars were with their master in the drawing-room, and there was only one lady in the room, who jumped up when the servant calling her“Ma'm'selle" introduced Miss Rokeby just arrived.
This lady ran up to her immediately, and whilst she examined her well, said many words to her, not one of which she under
stood : and how should she, these being the first French words she had ever heard? But before she could make out the cause of her being so puzzled, first one and then two more ladies came swimming into the room, coming up to her with great state. So entirely had Barbara hitherto lived out of the world, that the fashions (which did not travel into the country at the speed they now do), were quite new and strange to her; and so taken by surprise was she at the figures which gathered about her, that she was hardly able to answer when spoken to, even in English.
It may perchance gratify some of those who were not in existence till many years after the time of which this part of our narrative treats, to have some ideas given to them, respecting the sort of figures which were gathered round poor little Barbara. When first she looked upon her new instructresses, they all seemed very tall to her, being set on high heeled shoes, they all wore their hair highly powdered and pumatumed, frizzed out at the sides, and hanging in stiff curls about the ears and down the backs. Each one wore a cap of gauze or tiffany covered with ribbons, artificial flowers, and feathers; for it happened that this was one of the public nights of the establishment, when much company came to see the young ladies dance. They wore full and long dresses of figured and flowered muslins, which were open before, shewing richly adorned petticoats, and trailed behind along the floor, and they wore sashes of various bright colors, so high above their natural waists that they seemed to have none. Their cheeks looked too of so bright a carnation, that poor Barbara thought they must be particularly healthy.
Mrs. St. Leger was the first of the three sisters who spoke to the little one, and though she spoke somewhat haughtily, she spoke kindly also, sitting down to be more on a level with her, ordering tea to be brought for her, and whilst they were waiting for it, she asked her many questions about her journey, and other things of no great matter ; and then the youngest Miss Greatorex asked her if she would go down and see the ladies dance, for which she was immediately taken up by her eldest sister.
“Really Philippa," said Mrs. St. Leger, 'I wonder at you ! surely you would not produce the dear child, till we have set her in something like order. She is in deep mourning, I see; but only observe the length of that waist ! just what our grandmothers wore a hundred years ago, and bombazine is not a proper dress for any child in public. We must get her a black crape over a lutestring slip, and that horrid waist and that tight cuff must be exterminated.”
"Or what say you, sister St. Leger?” remarked Miss Greatorex, “to a white crape over a white lutestring for our public days;" and the Miss Lushingtons, the only girls in the school, who were not several years older than Barbara-were spoken of as having had such dresses when they were in mourning for their mamma.
This discussion was brought to a speedy termination by a loud sob and violent gush of tears from the little girl, in consequence of which, when some refreshment had been administered to her, she was put to bed by an inferior teacher, in a large room indeed, but in a single bed, of which there were as many as six in the room. If little Barbara wept herself to sleep that night, it was no more than many a child has done when first leaving home, the dulce, dulce domum of that little boy who, as the story has it, pined and died for grief at some public school, with longings for his home; though it is not unseldom that tears have been shed, on leaving that very place of education, which was first visited with so much sorrow.
Barbara slept so long and so heavily in the morning, that she did not wake till all her companions were gone down, and her breakfast was indulgently brought up to her. As soon as she was dressed, a teacher came to summon her to Mrs. St. Leger, who required her presence in her dressing room, where she generally gave some instruction to a select few, whilst her maid was dressing her hair. The highly ornamented toilette table, the many bottles, and various mirrors, the trinket boxes, and gay dresses scattered about, presented a scene so new to Barbara, that she was unusually ill-prepared for the examination, of what Mrs. St. Leger called her savoir faire,–in plain English, the state of her acquirements, which was there and then to be enacted, no persons being present but her maid and the two little Miss Lushingtons, one of whom was older by a year than Barbara, and another as much younger.
This examination was concluded with so much address by the experienced mistress, that Barbara, had she possessed much more worldly prudence than she really could boast of, would have been
thoroughly thrown off her guard, and would have given the measure of her foot, to use a homely phrase, much more readily than she might have desired. Perchance the shortest and most lively way of explaining the result of the examination will be to give the report of it from the mouths of the Misses Lushington, as they delivered it in the full assembly of the school room, into which they had run from the dressing room whilst Barbara was called another way, to be present at the unpacking of her trunks.
"Well, to be sure !” began the elder of these young ladies, "we shall all be thrown into the shade-we must never talk again of our acquirements and our accomplishments. What think you of a young lady, who has been taught to read and write by a village school mistress, and to hem and to sew, and to do peacocks and parrots in marking stitch; and knows the tune of the hundredth psalm !”.
"And-and”-added the younger sister, “knows half the Bible by rote, though she did not let that out, till Mrs. St. Leger, cross-examined her, as we all know how she can do when she sets to."
“But she told all the rest,” subjoined the elder sister, “without suspecting in the least how we were all quizzing her.” The word “quiz” had only just then come into general use in superior circles.
"Of course,” remarked some one, “the child must want common sense ?"
“I should think so," replied Miss Lushington ; "it runs in the family-the want of common sense, I mean—the uncle, this prodigy is in sables for, was a-a”-and she looked round with a satirical laugh.
" Un simple”-said Mademoiselle—“thank me for helping you to a word.”
"And the niece,” added Miss Lushington, “wears the same cap and bells as this said uncle did.” Mrs. St. Leger said, she hoped I would patronise, and try to improve the poor untaught rustic, but I promise our lady that if she cannot find a patroness elsewhere for the girl, she need not look for one in me, nor in my sister."
From that crisis, little Barbara was set down in the seminary, as not only ignorant but incapable of acquiring any accomplish
ment valued in the house; and the consequence was, that she was almost entirely disregarded by her schoolfellows, and if noticed at all by the elders, generally addressed in that ironical, half satirical style, which causes every feeling mind to shrink into itself; and though the little girl performed every task which was set her, with much correctness, yet as none of these interested her affections, she obtained no merit for them in the eyes of her teachers and masters, and even Mrs. St. Leger and the Misses Greatorex almost began to fear that they should make nothing of the child, though they could not perceive any actual deficiency of intellect in her.
And what, it may be asked, was the actual state of the little girl's mind, during the period in which this process of heartless treatment was going on : a period which continued with small interruption, for two years and rather more, for she was not allowed to spend the vacations at Barwell-court, though continually invited so to do by Mr. Watson?
Her young affections never being drawn out by any sympathy towards those about her, were left to feed entirely on the memories of the past, and O! if those memories had only known natural delights to dwell upon ; had they not been connected with such glorious things as human eye hath never seen, and human imagination hath never conceived-one of two things must have happened to her : she must have become either irrecoverably dull and inert, or she must have been drawn into that vortex of frivolity in which all her companions were involved. The former was the most probable, for although no one saw it, and no one suspected it, her health had begun to decline from the very day in which she had been condemned to the close air of a crowded city, and could run no more on her breezy hills, and was condemned to a never-ceasing torture of frivolous labors, whilst her free and graceful limbs were forced out of their natural form by bandages and bracers, and her very powers of utterance cramped by the necessity during the greater portion of the day, of trying to use a language which she did not know; for it was the pride of that seminary, that French was there the language in common use. Furthermore, it must be added that though the family attended a genteel chapel in the square, yet even Sunday brought with it no relief, no relaxation from weary, worldly services.