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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesAgnes Grey - Chapter III--A FEW MORE LESSONS
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Agnes Grey - Chapter III--A FEW MORE LESSONS Post by :dereka Category :Long Stories Author :Anne Bronte Date :February 2011 Read :1042

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Agnes Grey - Chapter III--A FEW MORE LESSONS

I rose next morning with a feeling of hopeful exhilaration, in
spite of the disappointments already experienced; but I found the
dressing of Mary Ann was no light matter, as her abundant hair was
to be smeared with pomade, plaited in three long tails, and tied
with bows of ribbon: a task my unaccustomed fingers found great
difficulty in performing. She told me her nurse could do it in
half the time, and, by keeping up a constant fidget of impatience,
contrived to render me still longer. When all was done, we went
into the schoolroom, where I met my other pupil, and chatted with
the two till it was time to go down to breakfast. That meal being
concluded, and a few civil words having been exchanged with Mrs.
Bloomfield, we repaired to the schoolroom again, and commenced the
business of the day. I found my pupils very backward, indeed; but
Tom, though averse to every species of mental exertion, was not
without abilities. Mary Ann could scarcely read a word, and was so
careless and inattentive that I could hardly get on with her at
all. However, by dint of great labour and patience, I managed to
get something done in the course of the morning, and then
accompanied my young charge out into the garden and adjacent
grounds, for a little recreation before dinner. There we got along
tolerably together, except that I found they had no notion of going
with me: I must go with them, wherever they chose to lead me. I
must run, walk, or stand, exactly as it suited their fancy. This,
I thought, was reversing the order of things; and I found it doubly
disagreeable, as on this as well as subsequent occasions, they
seemed to prefer the dirtiest places and the most dismal
occupations. But there was no remedy; either I must follow them,
or keep entirely apart from them, and thus appear neglectful of my
charge. To-day, they manifested a particular attachment to a well
at the bottom of the lawn, where they persisted in dabbling with
sticks and pebbles for above half an hour. I was in constant fear
that their mother would see them from the window, and blame me for
allowing them thus to draggle their clothes and wet their feet and
hands, instead of taking exercise; but no arguments, commands, or
entreaties could draw them away. If SHE did not see them, some one
else did--a gentleman on horseback had entered the gate and was
proceeding up the road; at the distance of a few paces from us he
paused, and calling to the children in a waspish penetrating tone,
bade them 'keep out of that water.' 'Miss Grey,' said he, '(I
suppose it IS Miss Grey), I am surprised that you should allow them
to dirty their clothes in that manner! Don't you see how Miss
Bloomfield has soiled her frock? and that Master Bloomfield's socks
are quite wet? and both of them without gloves? Dear, dear! Let
me REQUEST that in future you will keep them DECENT at least!' so
saying, he turned away, and continued his ride up to the house.
This was Mr. Bloomfield. I was surprised that he should nominate
his children Master and Miss Bloomfield; and still more so, that he
should speak so uncivilly to me, their governess, and a perfect
stranger to himself. Presently the bell rang to summon us in. I
dined with the children at one, while he and his lady took their
luncheon at the same table. His conduct there did not greatly
raise him in my estimation. He was a man of ordinary stature--
rather below than above--and rather thin than stout, apparently
between thirty and forty years of age: he had a large mouth, pale,
dingy complexion, milky blue eyes, and hair the colour of a hempen
cord. There was a roast leg of mutton before him: he helped Mrs.
Bloomfield, the children, and me, desiring me to cut up the
children's meat; then, after twisting about the mutton in various
directions, and eyeing it from different points, he pronounced it
not fit to be eaten, and called for the cold beef.

'What is the matter with the mutton, my dear?' asked his mate.

'It is quite overdone. Don't you taste, Mrs. Bloomfield, that all
the goodness is roasted out of it? And can't you see that all that
nice, red gravy is completely dried away?'

'Well, I think the BEEF will suit you.'

The beef was set before him, and he began to carve, but with the
most rueful expressions of discontent.

'What is the matter with the BEEF, Mr. Bloomfield? I'm sure I
thought it was very nice.'

'And so it WAS very nice. A nicer joint could not be; but it is
QUITE spoiled,' replied he, dolefully.

'How so?'

'How so! Why, don't you see how it is cut? Dear--dear! it is
quite shocking!'

'They must have cut it wrong in the kitchen, then, for I'm sure I
carved it quite properly here, yesterday.'

'No DOUBT they cut it wrong in the kitchen--the savages! Dear--
dear! Did ever any one see such a fine piece of beef so completely
ruined? But remember that, in future, when a decent dish leaves
this table, they shall not TOUCH it in the kitchen. Remember THAT,
Mrs. Bloomfield!'

Notwithstanding the ruinous state of the beef, the gentleman
managed to out himself some delicate slices, part of which he ate
in silence. When he next spoke, it was, in a less querulous tone,
to ask what there was for dinner.

'Turkey and grouse,' was the concise reply.

'And what besides?'

'Fish.'

'What kind of fish?'

'I don't know.'

'YOU DON'T KNOW?' cried he, looking solemnly up from his plate, and
suspending his knife and fork in astonishment.

'No. I told the cook to get some fish--I did not particularize
what.'

'Well, that beats everything! A lady professes to keep house, and
doesn't even know what fish is for dinner! professes to order fish,
and doesn't specify what!'

'Perhaps, Mr. Bloomfield, you will order dinner yourself in
future.'

Nothing more was said; and I was very glad to get out of the room
with my pupils; for I never felt so ashamed and uncomfortable in my
life for anything that was not my own fault.

In the afternoon we applied to lessons again: then went out again;
then had tea in the schoolroom; then I dressed Mary Ann for
dessert; and when she and her brother had gone down to the dining-
room, I took the opportunity of beginning a letter to my dear
friends at home: but the children came up before I had half
completed it. At seven I had to put Mary Ann to bed; then I played
with Tom till eight, when he, too, went; and I finished my letter
and unpacked my clothes, which I had hitherto found no opportunity
for doing, and, finally, went to bed myself.

But this is a very favourable specimen of a day's proceedings.

My task of instruction and surveillance, instead of becoming easier
as my charges and I got better accustomed to each other, became
more arduous as their characters unfolded. The name of governess,
I soon found, was a mere mockery as applied to me: my pupils had
no more notion of obedience than a wild, unbroken colt. The
habitual fear of their father's peevish temper, and the dread of
the punishments he was wont to inflict when irritated, kept them
generally within bounds in his immediate presence. The girls, too,
had some fear of their mother's anger; and the boy might
occasionally be bribed to do as she bid him by the hope of reward;
but I had no rewards to offer; and as for punishments, I was given
to understand, the parents reserved that privilege to themselves;
and yet they expected me to keep my pupils in order. Other
children might be guided by the fear of anger and the desire of
approbation; but neither the one nor the other had any effect upon
these.

Master Tom, not content with refusing to be ruled, must needs set
up as a ruler, and manifested a determination to keep, not only his
sisters, but his governess in order, by violent manual and pedal
applications; and, as he was a tall, strong boy of his years, this
occasioned no trifling inconvenience. A few sound boxes on the
ear, on such occasions, might have settled the matter easily
enough: but as, in that case, he might make up some story to his
mother which she would be sure to believe, as she had such unshaken
faith in his veracity--though I had already discovered it to be by
no means unimpeachable--I determined to refrain from striking him,
even in self-defence; and, in his most violent moods, my only
resource was to throw him on his back and hold his hands and feet
till the frenzy was somewhat abated. To the difficulty of
preventing him from doing what he ought not, was added that of
forcing him to do what he ought. Often he would positively refuse
to learn, or to repeat his lessons, or even to look at his book.
Here, again, a good birch rod might have been serviceable; but, as
my powers were so limited, I must make the best use of what I had.

As there were no settled hours for study and play, I resolved to
give my pupils a certain task, which, with moderate attention, they
could perform in a short time; and till this was done, however
weary I was, or however perverse they might be, nothing short of
parental interference should induce me to suffer them to leave the
schoolroom, even if I should sit with my chair against the door to
keep them in. Patience, Firmness, and Perseverance were my only
weapons; and these I resolved to use to the utmost. I determined
always strictly to fulfil the threats and promises I made; and, to
that end, I must be cautious to threaten and promise nothing that I
could not perform. Then, I would carefully refrain from all
useless irritability and indulgence of my own ill-temper: when
they behaved tolerably, I would be as kind and obliging as it was
in my power to be, in order to make the widest possible distinction
between good and bad conduct; I would reason with them, too, in the
simplest and most effective manner. When I reproved them, or
refused to gratify their wishes, after a glaring fault, it should
be more in sorrow than in anger: their little hymns and prayers I
would make plain and clear to their understanding; when they said
their prayers at night and asked pardon for their offences, I would
remind them of the sins of the past day, solemnly, but in perfect
kindness, to avoid raising a spirit of opposition; penitential
hymns should be said by the naughty, cheerful ones by the
comparatively good; and every kind of instruction I would convey to
them, as much as possible, by entertaining discourse--apparently
with no other object than their present amusement in view.

By these means I hoped in time both to benefit the children and to
gain the approbation of their parents; and also to convince my
friends at home that I was not so wanting in skill and prudence as
they supposed. I knew the difficulties I had to contend with were
great; but I knew (at least I believed) unremitting patience and
perseverance could overcome them; and night and morning I implored
Divine assistance to this end. But either the children were so
incorrigible, the parents so unreasonable, or myself so mistaken in
my views, or so unable to carry them out, that my best intentions
and most strenuous efforts seemed productive of no better result
than sport to the children, dissatisfaction to their parents, and
torment to myself.

The task of instruction was as arduous for the body as the mind. I
had to run after my pupils to catch them, to carry or drag them to
the table, and often forcibly to hold them there till the lesson
was done. Tom I frequently put into a corner, seating myself
before him in a chair, with a book which contained the little task
that must be said or read, before he was released, in my hand. He
was not strong enough to push both me and the chair away, so he
would stand twisting his body and face into the most grotesque and
singular contortions--laughable, no doubt, to an unconcerned
spectator, but not to me--and uttering loud yells and doleful
outcries, intended to represent weeping but wholly without the
accompaniment of tears. I knew this was done solely for the
purpose of annoying me; and, therefore, however I might inwardly
tremble with impatience and irritation, I manfully strove to
suppress all visible signs of molestation, and affected to sit with
calm indifference, waiting till it should please him to cease this
pastime, and prepare for a run in the garden, by casting his eye on
the book and reading or repeating the few words he was required to
say. Sometimes he was determined to do his writing badly; and I
had to hold his hand to prevent him from purposely blotting or
disfiguring the paper. Frequently I threatened that, if he did not
do better, he should have another line: then he would stubbornly
refuse to write this line; and I, to save my word, had finally to
resort to the expedient of holding his fingers upon the pen, and
forcibly drawing his hand up and down, till, in spite of his
resistance, the line was in some sort completed.

Yet Tom was by no means the most unmanageable of my pupils:
sometimes, to my great joy, he would have the sense to see that his
wisest policy was to finish his tasks, and go out and amuse himself
till I and his sisters came to join him; which frequently was not
at all, for Mary Ann seldom followed his example in this
particular: she apparently preferred rolling on the floor to any
other amusement: down she would drop like a leaden weight; and
when I, with great difficulty, had succeeded in rooting her thence,
I had still to hold her up with one arm, while with the other I
held the book from which she was to read or spell her lesson. As
the dead weight of the big girl of six became too heavy for one arm
to bear, I transferred it to the other; or, if both were weary of
the burden, I carried her into a corner, and told her she might
come out when she should find the use of her feet, and stand up:
but she generally preferred lying there like a log till dinner or
tea-time, when, as I could not deprive her of her meals, she must
be liberated, and would come crawling out with a grin of triumph on
her round, red face. Often she would stubbornly refuse to
pronounce some particular word in her lesson; and now I regret the
lost labour I have had in striving to conquer her obstinacy. If I
had passed it over as a matter of no consequence, it would have
been better for both parties, than vainly striving to overcome it
as I did; but I thought it my absolute duty to crush this vicious
tendency in the bud: and so it was, if I could have done it; and
had my powers been less limited, I might have enforced obedience;
but, as it was, it was a trial of strength between her and me, in
which she generally came off victorious; and every victory served
to encourage and strengthen her for a future contest. In vain I
argued, coaxed, entreated, threatened, scolded; in vain I kept her
in from play, or, if obliged to take her out, refused to play with
her, or to speak kindly or have anything to do with her; in vain I
tried to set before her the advantages of doing as she was bid, and
being loved, and kindly treated in consequence, and the
disadvantages of persisting in her absurd perversity. Sometimes,
when she would ask me to do something for her, I would answer,--
'Yes, I will, Mary Ann, if you will only say that word. Come!
you'd better say it at once, and have no more trouble about it.'

'No.'

'Then, of course, I can do nothing for you.'

With me, at her age, or under, neglect and disgrace were the most
dreadful of punishments; but on her they made no impression.
Sometimes, exasperated to the utmost pitch, I would shake her
violently by the shoulder, or pull her long hair, or put her in the
corner; for which she punished me with loud, shrill, piercing
screams, that went through my head like a knife. She knew I hated
this, and when she had shrieked her utmost, would look into my face
with an air of vindictive satisfaction, exclaiming,--'NOW, then!
THAT'S for you!' and then shriek again and again, till I was forced
to stop my ears. Often these dreadful cries would bring Mrs.
Bloomfield up to inquire what was the matter?

'Mary Ann is a naughty girl, ma'am.'

'But what are these shocking screams?'

'She is screaming in a passion.'

'I never heard such a dreadful noise! You might be killing her.
Why is she not out with her brother?'

'I cannot get her to finish her lessons.'

'But Mary Ann must be a GOOD girl, and finish her lessons.' This
was blandly spoken to the child. 'And I hope I shall NEVER hear
such terrible cries again!'

And fixing her cold, stony eyes upon me with a look that could not
be mistaken, she would shut the door, and walk away. Sometimes I
would try to take the little obstinate creature by surprise, and
casually ask her the word while she was thinking of something else;
frequently she would begin to say it, and then suddenly cheek
herself, with a provoking look that seemed to say, 'Ah! I'm too
sharp for you; you shan't trick it out of me, either.'

On another occasion, I pretended to forget the whole affair; and
talked and played with her as usual, till night, when I put her to
bed; then bending over her, while she lay all smiles and good
humour, just before departing, I said, as cheerfully and kindly as
before--'Now, Mary Ann, just tell me that word before I kiss you
good-night. You are a good girl now, and, of course, you will say
it.'

'No, I won't.'

'Then I can't kiss you.'

'Well, I don't care.'

In vain I expressed my sorrow; in vain I lingered for some symptom
of contrition; she really 'didn't care,' and I left her alone, and
in darkness, wondering most of all at this last proof of insensate
stubbornness. In MY childhood I could not imagine a more
afflictive punishment than for my mother to refuse to kiss me at
night: the very idea was terrible. More than the idea I never
felt, for, happily, I never committed a fault that was deemed
worthy of such penalty; but once I remember, for some transgression
of my sister's, our mother thought proper to inflict it upon her:
what SHE felt, I cannot tell; but my sympathetic tears and
suffering for her sake I shall not soon forget.

Another troublesome trait in Mary Ann was her incorrigible
propensity to keep running into the nursery, to play with her
little sisters and the nurse. This was natural enough, but, as it
was against her mother's express desire, I, of course, forbade her
to do so, and did my utmost to keep her with me; but that only
increased her relish for the nursery, and the more I strove to keep
her out of it, the oftener she went, and the longer she stayed, to
the great dissatisfaction of Mrs. Bloomfield, who, I well knew,
would impute all the blame of the matter to me. Another of my
trials was the dressing in the morning: at one time she would not
be washed; at another she would not be dressed, unless she might
wear some particular frock, that I knew her mother would not like
her to have; at another she would scream and run away if I
attempted to touch her hair. So that, frequently, when, after much
trouble and toil, I had, at length, succeeded in bringing her down,
the breakfast was nearly half over; and black looks from 'mamma,'
and testy observations from 'papa,' spoken at me, if not to me,
were sure to be my meed: for few things irritated the latter so
much as want of punctuality at meal times. Then, among the minor
annoyances, was my inability to satisfy Mrs. Bloomfield with her
daughter's dress; and the child's hair 'was never fit to be seen.'
Sometimes, as a powerful reproach to me, she would perform the
office of tire woman herself, and then complain bitterly of the
trouble it gave her.

When little Fanny came into the schoolroom, I hoped she would be
mild and inoffensive, at least; but a few days, if not a few hours,
sufficed to destroy the illusion: I found her a mischievous,
intractable little creature, given up to falsehood and deception,
young as she was, and alarmingly fond of exercising her two
favourite weapons of offence and defence: that of spitting in the
faces of those who incurred her displeasure, and bellowing like a
bull when her unreasonable desires were not gratified. As she,
generally, was pretty quiet in her parents' presence, and they were
impressed with the notion of her being a remarkably gentle child,
her falsehoods were readily believed, and her loud uproars led them
to suspect harsh and injudicious treatment on my part; and when, at
length, her bad disposition became manifest even to their
prejudiced eyes, I felt that the whole was attributed to me.

'What a naughty girl Fanny is getting!' Mrs. Bloomfield would say
to her spouse. 'Don't you observe, my dear, how she is altered
since she entered the schoolroom? She will soon be as bad as the
other two; and, I am sorry to say, they have quite deteriorated of
late.'

'You may say that,' was the answer. 'I've been thinking that same
myself. I thought when we got them a governess they'd improve;
but, instead of that, they get worse and worse: I don't know how
it is with their learning, but their habits, I know, make no sort
of improvement; they get rougher, and dirtier, and more unseemly
every day.'

I knew this was all pointed at me; and these, and all similar
innuendoes, affected me far more deeply than any open accusations
would have done; for against the latter I should have been roused
to speak in my own defence: now I judged it my wisest plan to
subdue every resentful impulse, suppress every sensitive shrinking,
and go on perseveringly, doing my best; for, irksome as my
situation was, I earnestly wished to retain it. I thought, if I
could struggle on with unremitting firmness and integrity, the
children would in time become more humanized: every month would
contribute to make them some little wiser, and, consequently, more
manageable; for a child of nine or ten as frantic and ungovernable
as these at six and seven would be a maniac.

I flattered myself I was benefiting my parents and sister by my
continuance here; for small as the salary was, I still was earning
something, and with strict economy I could easily manage to have
something to spare for them, if they would favour me by taking it.
Then it was by my own will that I had got the place: I had brought
all this tribulation on myself, and I was determined to bear it;
nay, more than that, I did not even regret the step I had taken. I
longed to show my friends that, even now, I was competent to
undertake the charge, and able to acquit myself honourably to the
end; and if ever I felt it degrading to submit so quietly, or
intolerable to toil so constantly, I would turn towards my home,
and say within myself -


They may crush, but they shall not subdue me!
'Tis of thee that I think, not of them.


About Christmas I was allowed to visit home; but my holiday was
only of a fortnight's duration: 'For,' said Mrs. Bloomfield, 'I
thought, as you had seen your friends so lately, you would not care
for a longer stay.' I left her to think so still: but she little
knew how long, how wearisome those fourteen weeks of absence had
been to me; how intensely I had longed for my holidays, how greatly
I was disappointed at their curtailment. Yet she was not to blame
in this. I had never told her my feelings, and she could not be
expected to divine them; I had not been with her a full term, and
she was justified in not allowing me a full vacation.

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