THE MISSES PERKINS.
SOME years ago,
while staying at the sea-side, my parents renewed their acquaintance
with some ladies, whom we will call the Misses Perkins. They
were the daughters of a clergyman deceased, and had a slender
competence, on which they not only kept up a creditable appearance,
but were charitable and useful.
It happened that, shortly before returning home, my parents
remarked, in presence of these ladies, that they had intended to
leave me behind for a time, because my health was delicate, but that
some change of plan prevented the family with whom I was to have
been domesticated from receiving me.
Hereupon significant looks passed between the sisters, and
the next day a note arrived, which set forth, that though the Misses
Perkins were not in the habit of receiving boarders—far from it,—yet
on this occasion they should be happy to step out of their usual
path, and accommodate the daughter of their old friend.
Accordingly, I was sent to their house, and the ladies—that
is, some of them—took care that I should derive all the benefit that
care and kindness could secure to me.
The Misses Perkins covenanted to provide me with sea air,
and, besides that, they provided me with many speculations on human
life; on the Providence which throws certain characters together;
the changes they are intended to work on one another; the place each
is fitted to fill in this world; the reason why some are privileged
to be almost always helpers, while others are suffered to be
uniformly hinderers; and the cause why some, as it seems, are
compelled to exert themselves so much, while others, it is evident,
are determined to do so little.
But did the Misses Perkins intend to teach me all this?
Certainly not; they were by no means metaphysical in their turn of
mind and conversation. They were not given to abstract
speculation. They never talked of the object of life, or of
They had agreed that I should have sea air, and I had it.
And now I will just describe to you the Misses Perkins, their
characters and occupations; and you shall see whether it was not
natural that I should have cogitated on them a little.
The three elder were the daughters of a first marriage, and
appeared to be from forty to forty-five years of age; the two
younger were the children of a second marriage: the elder was
twenty-five, and the younger twenty-three years of age.
Miss Perkins was a tall, bony woman, very plain, but with a
pleasant cheerfulness and activity about her. She kept the
house; and half its comfort, and nearly all its superfluities,
certainly arose from this circumstance. Assuredly she was not
intellectual, but her love of order, economy, and regularity made
her a very useful person. And I saw that if she were to die,
her sisters, independently of their affection for her, would miss
her sorely from their household.
She was somewhat garrulous, and fond of describing her day's
occupations to me.
'You see, my dear,' she would begin, 'I always go out
directly after breakfast, because I cannot order dinner till I have
been to the fishmonger's and the butcher's. Things vary very
much in price, and it behoves me to buy what is both good and cheap.
It would never do to send Mary, who is no judge, and just say, "Buy
soles," or "Buy whiting because just that day those particular fish
might be both stale and dear, while cod was plentiful. No; I
just look about for myself; and if all is dear, why, I take none,
but go off to the butcher, and get a larger joint of meat, and
perhaps make up with a fruit pie. And there again, you know,
servants have no discretion. If I were to say, "Mary, go and
buy damsons for a pie," she would get them, though they were scarce
and stale, and never think to tell me that apples were plentiful.
No, my dear, depend on it, where the income is as limited as ours
is, a great deal depends on seeing after everything one's-self.
It takes up a good deal of time, but I like to have a good and
plentiful table. I don't like any stinting, or to have Amelia
complain of the butter or the fruit, or say the tradespeople cheat
'Certainly, that would not be pleasant,' I would remark.
'Not at all pleasant, my dear,' she would reply; so you see I
have plenty to do; for I always make the pie-crust myself, Mary not
being much of a cook. Indeed, we could not expect her to be,
at the wages we give her. Her crusts are heavy. Well,
all that pretty nearly takes up my morning; for, between ourselves,
I very often wash the tea-things, shell peas, and do little things
of that kind, so that all may go on quietly, and meals be ready at
the right time; for I like them to have everything comfortable.
And but for this kind of help, I assure you we should not be nearly
so comfortable as we are.'
I could easily believe this, and Miss Perkins said it as if
it was the most natural thing in the world that she should like
these various occupations, as they added to the happiness of others.
So much for the eldest Miss Perkins. She might perhaps
have been called a twaddler in society, but in her own sphere she
was useful and beloved; and moreover, by her economy and good
marketing, she saved enough to add greatly to the comfort of several
poor old women and sickly children, in whose behoof I often saw very
savoury-looking messes carried out, smoking hot, in little tin cans,
with slices of bread laid on the top, by way of lids. Her name
was Robina, and her youngest sister called her Bobby.'
The second sister, Miss Anne, was a particularly ladylike
woman. She had delicate health, and required to be very much
in the open air. She also, as I soon saw, had a decided line
of work. She undertook almost the entire management of the
It was really a very good-sized garden, and was quite as full
of scarlet geraniums, heliotropes, and all the gayer kinds of tender
plants, as the gardens of the wealthier neighbours.
Miss Anne, I understood, took great pains to nurse young
plants through the winter, keeping them in sunny windows and in a
dry store-room. And it was surprising to see how, every day,
she conscientiously went out, and worked among her flower-beds;
regularly setting herself a certain task, and doing it as a duty.
She had no help, excepting that a little boy came once a week to
weed the walks. And I observed that she by no means confined
herself to the care of the flowers, but cultivated beetroot,
lettuces, and all kinds of vegetables.
'You see, my dear,' Miss Robina remarked to me, 'we could not
afford to keep a man: it would not pay us, but all that Anne can
raise is pure gain; for we save seeds, and exchange cuttings with
our neighbours. The flower-garden costs nothing, and besides
being a pleasure to us all, it now looks creditable and cheerful;
and if Anne did not spend her mornings in it, it would run to waste,
for neither Sarah nor I have time to attend to it. And you
know it would be very disheartening to us to live in a wilderness;
it would affect our spirits. Now I say that Providence fits us
beautifully for our several spheres: for Anne is able to sit indoors
very little; but, by taking the garden under her care, she provides
herself with occupation, and prevents herself from thinking that she
is of no use. She keeps us always gay and neat, and besides,
without robbing the garden of more flowers than we can well spare,
she gives away many every season to a poor orphan girl who sells
them, and thus gains money enough to clothe herself. You must
have observed Anne's violet-bed, my dear?'
'Yes;' I said I had done so, and noticed how carefully they
were watered and weeded.
Miss Robina smiled. 'Annie calls them her charity
purse,' she replied. 'Those autumn violets are very much liked
by the visitors. Anne found it rather a burden to her, when
first we came here, to spend so much time in the garden, but she was
determined to go through with it, and now she likes it very much.
I don't know what we should do without her, I am sure; for I don't
know anything more melancholy than living in a garden full of weeds;
and Amelia, who is so subject to low spirits, often complains as it
is, when Anne goes out, or is ill, so that the place gets a little
So much for the second sister : let me now introduce you to
Of Miss Sarah Perkins it might certainly be affirmed, that
neither in person, voice, nor manner was she an attractive
individual. Excepting when she took her daily walk, she was
almost always seated near a window, at work. She certainly
would have thought it a great hardship to go shopping, or tend
flower-beds. She was never asked to do so: on the contrary, it
seemed to be an understood thing that the pleasantest corner of the
window belonged to her, and that there her little table and her
great work-basket were to stand. She was to begin to stitch,
and no one was to molest her.
I did not, at first, particularly like Miss Sarah. She
was blunt, and not so much of a gentlewoman as the other sisters;
and sometimes when I went out with Miss Perkins, to see her
favourite poor people, I used to be surprised at the fervour with
which they would inquire after her; and I really could not commend
their taste, for I thought her by no means interesting, and perhaps
a little snappish sometimes. But Miss Perkins one day put an
end to my wonder. 'You see, my dear,' she began, for every
speech of hers had this little exordium; 'you see, my dear, it is a
very fortunate thing for us that Sarah is willing to devote herself
to her needle as she does; for Anne and I have very little time, and
Amelia could never bear work, excepting fancy work. Now, fancy
work, such as crochet and lambs'-wool patterns, are pretty, no
doubt, but they are not of much use in a family like ours.
However, Amelia considers it not ladylike to sit turning gowns or
darning table-cloths in the drawing-room; and as she never sits
anywhere else, she does no work but what is fit for that room.
So, as I was saying, my dear,' she continued, 'it is a most
fortunate thing that Sarah is so willing to work for us all.
She does nearly all our plain work, and as to trimming bonnets,
making mantles, turning gowns and cloaks, and everything of that
kind, she so entirely undertakes it all, that a dressmaker's bill is
almost unknown to us. She has such an eye for a pattern, my
dear; and that, you know, is a great advantage. We should
often look very shabby, if it was not for her. And then, it is
surprising how she can cut down gowns and cloaks, and turn them, and
make them look decent and creditable for the poor, and with what a
little expense she can make warm quilts and wraps for our poor old
rheumatic neighbours. It would be a sad thing for us, and for
a good many beside us, if anything were to happen to Sarah.'
These were the ladies of the first family.
I now come to the character of her who caused me so many
doubts and speculations. My doubts were (among others) what
the mission of Miss Amelia Perkins could possibly be in this world,
and my speculations were (among others) as to who would be the worse
off if she were taken from it, and who would be the better.
Miss Amelia Perkins never did anything.
Let me not, however, be misunderstood. When I say that
she never did anything, I mean that she never did anything that she
designed to be for the comfort or assistance of others. There
were no duties that she habitually performed; there was no place
that she occupied; no one looked to her, or depended on her for
anything; no one seemed to be the better for her; she seemed to have
no more to do with the course of that stream of life on which she
floated than the least little piece of weed may have, that being
detached from its stem, goes sailing down its native brook towards
Miss Amelia Perkins was moderately good-looking, and to
strangers had rather a pleasing manner. She thought it
unladylike ever to bustle and be in a hurry, as her sisters
sometimes were: she often said people could do what they had to do
without that. Accordingly, she was never in a bustle; but
then, as I said before, she never had anything particular to do.
She felt that it was a painful thing to be in straitened
circumstances, and soon confided this pain to me. She said it
often weighed on her spirits, and her sisters, being less sensitive,
did not so much feel the trial of it. 'And it seems so hard,'
she said, 'to have so little to spend on one's clothes; the others,
not having much taste in dress, don't mind it. Besides, being
so much older, it matters less to them.'
'Excepting your sister Bessie,' I observed.
'O yes, Bessie,' she replied; 'Bessie.'
'Well,' I remarked, 'is it not natural that Bessie should
like to be well dressed?'
'Oh, Bessie,' she repeated; 'why, Bessie is so very plain,
that it would be absurd in her to expect to be admired, even if she
were handsomely dressed.'
I replied that I had always heard it said, that the handsomer
people were, the less dependent they were on dress.
Miss Amelia did not appear to agree with my remark, and when
I went on to say that I thought Bessie a remarkably happy person,
and one who seemed particularly contented, she replied that she
supposed Bessie was satisfied with her lot: she saw no reason why
she should be otherwise; and then she said that all her sisters were
very fond of Bessie. 'In fact,' she continued, 'every one must
see what an unfair difference they make between us.'
I could not but open my eyes at this, and purposely
misunderstanding her, I said, 'You mean, perhaps, that they always
ask Bessie to do the errands, and write the letters, and read the
newspaper to Miss Sarah, while she is at work; things which they
never think of asking you to do. Yes, that does seem rather
Miss Amelia, on this, fixed her cold grey eyes on me, and not
being quite sure whether I spoke in earnest or in irony, sat down to
the piano, and never favoured me with any further confidence.
Notwithstanding which, we became so thoroughly aware, Miss Amelia
and myself, that we mutually disliked each other, that we shortly
made it evident to the other ladies of the family; in consequence of
which I received some hints from the excellent Miss Sarah, which I
thought it incumbent on me to attend to.
You must know that Miss Bessie Perkins had a great wish to
learn sketching, and I offered to teach her; but as she had a good
deal to do in helping her sisters, several days passed before she
could take a lesson. One very clear afternoon, Bessie
announced that she could go with me; and we were ready, and just
about to start, when she exclaimed, 'Oh, the letter! I quite
forgot it. How troublesome!'
'Must it be written today?' I inquired.
'O yes,' she replied; 'because it is a business letter to our
trustees, and Sarah is going to dictate it to me.'
'Then one person can write it as well as another,' said I,
mischievously; 'you had better ask Amelia to do it.'
'Amelia is just beginning to practise,' said Bessie; and in
truth I heard the old cracked piano sounding up-stairs.
'I will tell her you want to go out,' I exclaimed, and no
doubt she will write it, for she has been out.' So I ran
up-stairs, and delivered my message. Miss Amelia's brow
clouded: 'It really is a strange thing,' said she, that Bessie
cannot do her own business herself. I heard her myself, at
breakfast-time, offer to write that letter.'
'But she has been helping Miss Sarah all the morning,' said
I, 'and I did not know that the letter was more her business than
'Sarah should have released her sooner,' said Amelia, coldly.
Finding me bent on gaining my point, she at last said that
perhaps she might do it when she had done practising; but on my
reminding her that that would be too late for the post, she began
again at the piano, and as I could obtain no satisfactory answer as
to whether she would or would not do it, I was obliged to shut the
door, and come down stairs again in no very amiable humour, for I
was angry that my favourite Bessie was to be debarred of her walk,
and that Amelia should be allowed to enjoy the fruits of all her
sisters' labours without contributing anything to them. Bessie
had already taken off her bonnet, and was writing at Miss Sarah's
'Miss Sarah,' I began—'I understand, my dear,' she answered,
nodding; 'we shall find it less trouble by far to do it ourselves
than get it done for us.'
She did not speak bitterly, but as if it was a matter of
As the affair was no business of mine, it was a pity that I
interfered further in it, by saying, 'Miss Sarah, whose gown are you
She smiled, as if amused at my remark and my heat in the
matter, and replied that it was Amelia's. 'I know Amelia means
to go out again and see the steamer come in,' she said; 'and I don't
choose she should do it with her gown in this state.'
'But,' said I, 'if it were not mended, she could not go out,
and then she would have time to write the letter.'
'Yes, my dear, she could,' said Miss Sarah; 'and it would be
a discredit to us—I've been ashamed of it some time past—or she
could wear her best gown, and that we cannot afford.'
This explanation was unanswerable. 'Come, my dear,'
said Miss Sarah, who just then was in a very good humour, 'suppose
you help me a little.' So saying, she put a sleeve into my
hand, and I took it with a very good grace, for I was ashamed of
having interfered. And I sat down quietly, and proceeded to
trim it with fresh gimp.
When the letter was finished, I returned the sleeve, and Miss
Sarah asked me if I felt any cooler; she laughed, and I could not
forbear saying that there were some things which provoked my temper
'My dear,' she answered, and hesitated, but presently
proceeded, with a sigh, 'you would find this provocation quite
beyond your powers to set right.'
'I am sure if I were you,' I said, 'I should not be so
'Sarah,' said Bessie, laughing, 'Miss T. says she cannot
think what Amelia's mission is—I told her Amelia had no particular
'Did you, child?' said Miss Sarah. 'Well, if Miss T.
lived here long, she would find that Amelia had a very decided
'What may it be, Miss Sarah?' I inquired.
'To teach you forbearance and patience, my dear,' she
answered, 'and try your temper; for at present I think you are
ignorant what sort of a temper you happen to have. Ah! we none
of us know what we are, till we are tried.'
'But, Miss Sarah,' I replied, 'it seems shocking to think
that some people should be sent into the world to teach others
forbearance, only by being useless or unaccommodating.'
'My dear,' she answered, 'far be it from me to say that the
Almighty designed any of his creatures for such a purpose; I meant,
that if we do not perform the good part that we all have it in our
power to take upon us, God will make our evil subservient to the
good of others. God will turn our very faults into blessings,
for our neighbours. But, my dear, poor Amelia is young, and we
have no right to judge her; we hope she may improve, and I feel
sorry that I have been betrayed into speaking hastily of her.'
So saying, Miss Sarah rose, and folding up the dress, sent
Bessie up-stairs with it. After which, we went to sketch; and
for Miss Amelia's further doings, I must refer you to my next
MISS AMELIA'S HIGH CONNEXIONS.
WHEN an author
has no startling novelty in sentiment, no thrilling incident, no
forcible argument to present to a reader, is it of any use to inform
the reader of the fact, and occupy time in apologies for the same?
Or shall the reader be left to find it out for himself, as he
assuredly will do?
Much may be said on both sides.
In general I take the second course, for never having any
startling novelties of sentiment, or thrilling incidents, or
forcible arguments to present, I might always be apologizing.
But at the present moment I feel inclined to take the first
course. The history of a Cumberer, dear reader, or fair
reader, or gentle reader, or whatever else that is complimentary,
you expect to be called (according to the deceitful practice of
authors, who are too much in the habit of flattering you with ideas
of your superiority to themselves!) the history of a Cumberer can
only contain accounts of those duties which the said Cumberer did
not perform, those incidents in which she took no part, those
projects which she hindered, those hours which she wasted, those
talents which she did not improve, those acquaintances who wished
her away, and those relations who bore with her as with a cross
appointed for them. Such is this history, and I apologize; but
I will not again address you, my reader, by any endearing name, or
any name which takes for granted imaginary excellences, since for
anything I know you may be a Cumberer; and since, if I had not felt
morally certain that among my readers were some characters like Miss
Amelia Perkins, I never would have set my pen to these pages.
But what, after all, did Amelia Perkins do, and what did she
leave undone, that she is so severely spoken of? Let me answer
the question by an illustration. If you have a piano, one note
of which in the treble is mute, not one tune, even of the simplest
kind, can be played on it—no music worth having can be drawn from
it, without making this defect manifest; and yet the note is not
actively offensive it merely does not sound. But now suppose
your note not mute, but merely out of harmony with them others,
would it not spoil your music still?
Now, call the piano a family, and call the Cumberer a faulty
note, and you at once see the harm she does; she makes the tune
imperfect when it does not sound, and when it does sound, jars.
But to return to my story.
Bessie and I went out to sketch, and sitting on the warm
sea-beach we talked together about many things, and among those
things, about Amelia.
'It surprises me to see you all take this so coolly,' I said.
'How can we help it?' answered Bessie. 'Sometimes Bobby
says she thinks it was at school that Amelia learned to be ashamed
of making herself useful in the house.'
'But that does not apply to writing letters.'
'No; but there are many things that she thinks not proper for
a gentlewoman's occupation, and she does not do them.'
'She went to school, then?'
'Yes, to be sure. The elder ones thought we ought to
have a good education, for the property we live on is principally
theirs. It was their mother's, and does not come to us when
they die. Bobby blames herself for sending us to such a good
school, but then Anne says, if we had gone to an inferior one we
should not have learnt accomplishments so well, and as we may have
to live by teaching, if we survive our sisters, they thought
So, then, it was through the kindness and self-denial of her
sisters that Miss Amelia had learnt those accomplishments which gave
her now, as she thought, a right to despise them!
How many mothers there are who are in the same case!
How many parents have toiled to give their children advantages which
they principally use in finding out those parents' deficiencies!
I went on diligently with the sketching, and said nothing,
but, unlike the parrot in the fable, 'I thought the more.'
That night, after I was in bed, I heard a great deal of noise
in the street, but it did not hinder me from going to sleep, though
it filled my dreams with impressions of jangling bells, rumbling
carts, passing footsteps, and great confusion.
I woke later than usual, and, to my astonishment, was told
that scarcely a person in the town had slept but myself, for that a
village, not two miles off, was discovered at midnight to be on fire
in three places. The cottages were thatched and closely built,
and by sunrise were almost entirely burnt down.
There was great commotion in the town all that day; the
sufferers were lodged in the public library, a soup kitchen was
opened, committees were formed, and the ladies of the town set a
clothing fund on foot, and to make the money go further, agreed to
cut out and make all the garments themselves.
Now it happened that Amelia, during a visit, had made the
acquaintance of a certain Mrs. Blount—the Honourable Mrs. Blount, of
― and had contrived to please her very much. This lady
had just arrived at the place with her family, and Amelia was only
waiting till a certain etiquette, peculiar to the place, had been
complier with, to call upon her.
Being charitable and influential, this lady was chosen to
canvass a portion of the town for the clothing fund, and when Amelia
heard it she became extremely anxious that everything in their house
and garden should appear to the best advantage during Mrs. Blount's
call. She dressed early in her best, and was seated in the
drawing-room occupied with some elegant piece of fancy work, when
Mrs. Blount was announced, with Captain White, her brother.
They sat a few minutes with Amelia, and then the sisters
entered, bringing me with them to contribute my mite.
Mrs. Blount unfolded her errand, and Miss Anne said that they
heartily approved of the cause, and gave most willingly, though they
could give but little.
Mrs. Blount politely remarked, that if all families gave a
little, the sufferers would have no reason to complain.
Miss Bobby then produced the purse, and laid some money on
the table. I saw Amelia colour and look annoyed as her eye
dropped on the money.
Mrs. Blount received it graciously. 'And will you help
us to make up some of the clothing?' said she, persuasively.
'With pleasure,' cried Bobby.
'With all my heart,' said Miss Ann.
'I shall be very happy,' said Miss Sarah. They all
spoke at once, and Bessie and I expressed our wish to join.
'There is nearly a week to do it in,' said Mrs. Blount.
'On Saturday evening it is to be returned finished: how much may I
'You are reckoning on my assistance of course, dear Mrs.
Blount,' said Amelia.
'O yes,' said Mrs. Blount, smiling, and laying her hand on
Amelia's arm, 'that, of course, but don't over-fatigue
yourself, my dear. Miss Perkins, I hope you don't allow Amelia
to do too much.'
There was an awkward silence for an instant, then Miss Anne
came to the rescue of Bobby. 'My dear sister is so careful of
our comfort,' she said kindly, 'that no one is overworked here when
it depends upon her.'
Miss Sarah then named a certain number of garments, of
different kinds. 'We can do so much,' she said, 'and return
'Is that all?' said Amelia. And to do her justice she
spoke in ignorance, for she knew very little about plain work.
'Oh, my dear,' said Mrs. Blount, in a low voice, 'you must
not measure every one's zeal by your own;' then added aloud, 'I am
sure your sister's offer is most liberal.'
'It is not a question of how much we are willing to do,' said
Miss Sarah, 'but how much we can do in the time. And
the case being urgent, I think if we all help, so much can be done
in the time, and no more.'
I thought it seemed rather a pity, when Amelia was so anxious
to help, that more was not undertaken.
As soon as Mrs. Blount had retired, Amelia gave her opinion
very freely. 'Such a beggarly subscription!' she exclaimed.
'I'm sure Mrs. Blount will think us so mean. Why can't Robina
give a little more for once, instead of lowering us in the eyes of
such fashionable people?'
'We can but give what we have got,' said Anne, calmly.
Amelia turned away muttering, 'Then why can't we take more of
the work? I'm sure I could do twice as much and I would,
rather than Mrs. Blount should think we care nothing for what she is
so zealous about; it looks so mean.'
'What I have taken I shall divide into seven shares,' said
Miss Sarah, 'two for myself, and one for each of you, and if we do
that we shall all do well. I hope Miss T., my dear, you
remembered that it would entail some trouble on you when you offered
'O yes, Miss Sarah; I shall not go out so much till my share
'Excuse me, my dear; you are here on purpose to be out in the
'How shall I do the work, then, Miss Sarah?'
'Why, my dear, you spend a good deal of time indoors in
reading, and singing, and drying sea-weeds (and very pretty
occupations those are for your age, I am sure); I advise you to give
up all that for this week, or else there is still time to tell Mrs.
Blount not to send so much work.'
But no, I did not choose to give in; and as Miss Sarah had
spoken to me rather as to a child, I was the more resolved to show
that I was quite equal to womanly responsibilities. So I said,
rather more decidedly than the occasion called for, that indoors I
would touch nothing but a needle till my share was done.
The work then arrived, and Miss Sarah divided it, taking a
double quantity to herself.
She had just finished the division when Amelia came in, and
considering how anxious she had been that more should be taken, it
was surprising how she grumbled at the size of the bundles.
She inspected them all, and said they were very unfairly divided,
some were far harder than others.
'I don't think so,' said Miss Sarah; 'but if it is so, the
advantage is yours, my dear, you have the first choice.'
After tumbling them over for some minutes, Amelia chose a
bundle for herself, and then one was given to me.
It certainly was large, and perhaps my face betrayed a little
dismay, for Miss Sarah presently put a shirt which she had already
fixed into my hand, and said, 'There, go on with that, child, while
I fix some of yours for you.'
Right glad was I of this help; she put as much work in train
for me as I could possibly do in one day, and then took back her
I set to work cheerfully: she had removed all my
difficulties; but she had no sooner resumed her own needle, than
Amelia remarked on the unfairness of her proceedings.
'There is Miss T. with a much easier bundle than mine, and
yet you fix, and fit, and set for her, and expect me to get mine
done in the same time. Why, the fixing is more than half the
'I wonder you are not ashamed to compare yourself to that
child,' whispered Miss Sarah, once more throwing down her own
work; 'here, give your piece to me.'
It makes me smile now to remember the mingled indignation and
shame with which I heard the words 'that child.'
Had I finished my education, and was I a head taller than
Miss Sarah, and should I be called a child? I had taken to my
heart the comfortable doctrine that a person could but be grown-up,
consequently I was as much grown-up as a woman of fifty. Yet
the world would persist in making all sorts of allowances for me
that I did not thank them for, because of my years; how very hard!
I mention this, as in fairness bound, because it urged me on
to redoubled diligence; and no dressmaker working for her bread ever
gave her mind more entirely to her work than I did mine for that
One by one the sisters dropped in, and we were all hard at
work and cheerful, excepting Amelia, who occupied a good deal of
time in grumbling about her bundle, and arguing with Bessie as to
the comparative hardness of linen and calico.
At length she settled down, worked for an hour, and then
declared that she had a pain under her left shoulder.
'That is very common,' said Miss Sarah, 'with people who are
not accustomed to sit at the needle.'
But Amelia declared she was accustomed to it; and began to
argue about that, till she made herself quite cross; and then she
said that as things did not seem to go on comfortably, perhaps she
had better read aloud, for there was nothing but arguing.
The sisters agreed. I suppose they thought it was a
good change, for she was doing very little work, and annoying them
by her temper. So Amelia got a book, but it appeared that she
had read the first two chapters, and when they said they had not,
she opened her cold, grey eyes, and asked if they expected her to
'No,' said Bobby, 'go on where you are.'
So Amelia went on; but the book contained a story, and she
read a page or two with several interruptions, such as—'Who is Mrs.
Duncan?' 'Why, I told you she was the heroine's mother.' 'Ay,
so you did; pass the cotton, Bobby.' 'And who is this paternal
friend?' 'Oh, I told you before I began, that she lived with
an old uncle.' 'Ah, that's him then; just tell Mary to tell
the baker we don't want any cottage bread, Bessie; I see him coming
up to the door. Well, go on, Amelia.'
'Oh, if you take so little interest, I might as well spare
myself the trouble,' said Amelia, in her most morose tones; 'it's
very disheartening to go on and nobody attending.'
'I thought you were reading for us, not yourself,' said Miss
'So I am,' answered Amelia, with asperity.
'Then we must stop you when it doesn't suit us to listen,'
'We can attend now,' said Miss Anne, and the reading went on;
evidently teasing the good ladies very much, for the baker sent in a
message, and a whispered answer had to be returned by Mary, and
there were halfpence wanted to make up the change for his bill; this
had to be made known by grimaces to the sisters, and one and another
produced pence from her pocket, till the amount was sufficient, and
then an odd penny rolled under the table, and Bessie stooped to pick
it up, while a whisper went round that the black cotton reel was
missing, and Bessie diving once more, bumped her head, upon which
they all cried out, 'Bless me!' This was too much; Amelia shut
the book with a sudden jerk, and exclaimed, 'If you're determined
not to hear, I may as well read to myself.'
'Do,' said Miss Sarah; accordingly she did, and so ended the
first evening much more pleasantly, I must say, than it had begun.
Not to make a short story long, on Tuesday evening Amelia was
very much behind-hand. On Wednesday, when walking time came,
she asked me to go and call with her on the Blounts. I could
have no objection, and she came up with me to my room, chose what
she wished me to wear, and dressed me herself with great attention;
then she arrayed herself in her best, and we paid our call.
I was surprised, and felt rather ashamed of the way in which
she spoke of her sisters to Mrs. Blount. I was sure it would
give her friend the impression that they were purposely eccentric,
dressed shabbily from mere love of singularity, and for the same
reason made their own dresses and cakes themselves.
It flashed into my mind that she had superintended my toilet
and taken me with her because I was better dressed than her
excellent sisters would have been. I was ashamed of myself for
suspecting her motive, when I found she was leading me to mention
some people of rank in our neighbourhood, with whom I happened to
have been staying. She did it so cleverly that I was a mere
tool in her hands, and I thought she wished to exalt her companion
by way of raising herself.
But when we had left the house, it seemed to me that I must
have fancied all this, till she took me to pay another call, and
there tried to do the same thing; but though I was afraid of her, I
had sense enough to thwart her.
'Bless me, my dear, what a pretty dress!' said the
simple-hearted Miss Bobby, when I came in.
Miss Sarah asked me to approach her, that she might see how
the skirt was trimmed; I obeyed, and while displaying it, Amelia
went up-stairs, and I discovered to my surprise that the sisters did
not know she meant to pay her call that day, and when she did, had
fully intended to accompany her.
That evening I again took my walk, and the other ladies being
busy at work, Amelia went with me, stipulating that as she was
obliged to go, some one should work at her bundle in the
meantime. I knew as well as her sisters did that she wished to
go, though she thus made a merit of it, but neither they nor I
supposed that she would remain out till it was dark, that more of
her work might be done.
I knew that it was not customary for two young ladies to be
walking about in the dusk among crowds of fine folks, but Amelia
took me out so far that I was sure it would be very late when we
reached home. At last she turned, and we began to walk back
quickly, but just in the most public part of the beach she heard a
voice that she knew, and ashamed of being seen, she seized my hand
and hurried me to an empty bathing machine; in an instant she had
dragged me up the steps. 'Come in here,' she whispered, 'Mrs.
Blount is coming, and I wouldn't have her see me out here at night
for a good deal so very unfashionable!'
I felt heartily ashamed as she pushed me into a corner.
The voices and footsteps approached; unfortunately Mrs. Blount and
her companion took it into their heads to sit down on the steps, and
we were obliged to overhear their conversation.
There was nothing but canvas between us, and the voices were
quite distinct. 'Her father is Mr. T――
the author of ―― they are a
'Poor and proud, no doubt, like the rest of the clan,' said
Something followed that I did not hear; my cheeks were
tingling with shame at this enforced listening, and Mrs. Blount's
voice went on still speaking of me. 'Yes, a tall slip of a
girl, very insipid, and no companion for her, but a lady, and
'Ah!' rejoined the manly voice, 'I pity that sweet Amelia,
condemned to live with those second-rate old quizzes.'
Mrs. Blount sighed, 'Poor Amelia; I must have her a good deal
with me while I'm here;' and then they got up and walked on, saying
how late it was, and we sneaked out of the machine and went home;
Amelia in a state of the highest elation, and I of the deepest
indignation and shame.
There were the second-rate sisters hard at work, and
Amelia, when asked why she was so late, condescended to scarcely any
answer, and took up her candle with an air of easy superiority.
The next day at breakfast a note arrived from Mrs. Blount,
asking Amelia to join a yachting party at ten o'clock, and bring her
young friend with her.
'Oh, of course we shall go,' cried Amelia.
'Let Miss T. speak for herself,' said Bobby.
As Amelia was to be of the party, it was no self-denial to me
to decline, which I did, saying, that if I went I could not finish
my share of work.
But Amelia was determined; it was cruel, she declared, to
deprive her of almost the only friend she cared about, the only
person that was congenial to her, or sympathized with her, so little
society as she had, so little to vary her existence in that dull
At last her sisters were worked upon so far as to ask me to
go as a favour to themselves; but the conversation in the
bathing-machine was fresh in my mind, and I held back. And
none of themselves could go, for unluckily Mrs. Blount had put in a
'P.S.—If your young friend cannot come, we shall hope to see you
both some other day;' thus taking care to exclude those whom she
had ignorantly called second-rate people.
Now I knew the work was almost more than we could do, and
besides (potent reason!) I had been called a child; I knew the
housekeeping and gardening and exercise had to be set aside for it,
and had heard discussions as to how late on Saturday it could with
propriety be sent in, so I still said I wished to do my work, and
proposed to Amelia that we should wait and both go another time.
But she was much my senior, and had made me a little afraid
of her: she was determined to go, and after a very disagreeable
scene, in which she accused her sisters of persuading a delicate
young girl to sit indoors sewing to the injury of her health, moping
and toiling, which she was sure her parents never intended, she so
far prevailed as to make all the family bent upon my accepting the
invitation. I saw they had been touched on a tender point, and
were much pained. I declared that I had taken the work to
please myself, but was so sorry to see their flushed faces that I
gave way, and went upstairs to dress, but in such an ill-humour, and
so indignant, that I took care to let Amelia know that I was only
going to please her sisters, and not to please her.
I will not attempt to describe the events of that miserable
day. Nicely dressed, and rendered a little more good-tempered
by our walk in the fresh air, Amelia and I presented ourselves at
the appointed place. We were received with smiling cordiality,
and we embarked.
The sun sparkled on the water, but the wind began to freshen,
and our cheeks began to fade, till shortly, with two other miserable
girls of the party, we were led down stairs, and shut up in the
little cabin, and there we dragged out a wretched existence till it
was quite dark night. The rest of the company, not being ill,
enjoyed themselves ; they had music and a splendid collation, and
they made a great noise.
It was ten o'clock when the yacht made the pier, and we
crawled out, finding Miss Perkins and Sarah waiting for us in some
anxiety, for they thought some accident must have happened to make
us so late.
But I must defer the remainder of my recollections for a
AMELIA OFFERS HER SERVICES.
IT was quite
dark, when, exhausted and faint, Amelia and I were led home by Miss
Perkins and Sarah. They put us to bed, and gave us dry toast
and hot wine and water. Sarah attended to Amelia, and I fell
to Miss Bobby's share. I heard the motherly creature lamenting
over me; wishing she had let me stay at home, and declaring that
anxiety had made her quite wretched about us both, for she had
thought how it would be when the wind began to rise, and
(kind-hearted woman!) had been wishing all day that she had been
there instead of us, for she couldn't bear young people to be
disappointed when they went out expecting to enjoy themselves.
Miss Robina was still sitting by my bed, consoling and
petting, when I fell into a sound sleep, and happily forgot my
It is curious how sometimes a little sound heard in sleep
will influence and change the current of our dreams. It was
natural that I should dream of the yacht, but odd that I should
mingle with this the idea of stitching. I dreamed that it was
dark night, and that, seated on the deck, Bobby and Sarah were hard
at work, mending the torn sail of the yacht. The wind had
sunk; it was a dead calm, and the water so still that I could see
the reflection of the stars on its black surface; some candles were
burning beside us, but hard as the sisters worked, the rent seemed
to grow under their hands. I was trying to help, and had a
miserable certainty that till this sail could be put up, we never
could reach the land, therefore I was frightened to find fresh holes
every moment, and to hear Bobby say, 'How ever this is to be done, I
don't know.' I thought how shocking it would be if we never
could reach the land again; but in another instant Sarah said, in
such a distinct voice, 'Pass the cotton-reel,' that I sprang up
half-awake, exclaiming that I could not find it.
I saw a candle in my room; Sarah and Robina were sitting hard
at work by my table. I heard the sound of their needles, just
as before in my dream, but it was not a sail they were working on,
it was one of those bundles of clothes. Miss Bobby was at my
side in an instant. I exclaimed against this sitting up, said
I was quite well, and did not require anything. She replied,
that I was very feverish, and she could not have slept even if she
had gone to bed. 'Besides, my dear, I thought you would like a
cup of tea; the teapot is kept hot for you, and Amelia has just had
I could not decline this tempting offer. Miss Perkins
presently brought me some tea; and when I expressed my regret at
giving this trouble, she declared that she and Sarah had decided to
sit up till four o'clock, to get on with the work, for they knew
that Amelia and I would be fit for very little the next day.
'And you see, my dear, when we were up, it was no trouble just to
steal down and keep up the kitchen fire. And neither of you
was well enough to be left the first part of the night, so it was
fortunate that we had this work to do, wasn't it? it was something
to keep us awake.'
Kind, good creature!
She and Miss Sarah shortly retired to bed, leaving me, as I
thought, quite well; but on coming down the next morning I found I
could do very little, and that Amelia was lying on the sofa in a
very feverish state of mind, sure that if she could have some
beef-tea she should be better, and then, when Bobby had made her
some (Mary not being a good hand at it), discovering that if she
could have had it earlier in the day it would have done her good,
but now she didn't like it. In short, Amelia was very cross;
and but for seeing how unpleasant she was when she gave way to her
temper, very likely I should have been cross too.
The sisters sat all the morning hard at work. Amelia's
bundle was scarcely begun, mine was one whole day behind-hand, yet
the work was promised for Saturday, and must not be late, because
the poor families were to appear at the different places of worship
on Sunday, when some further collections were to be made for them.
Yet though Amelia knew this, she made several demands upon
her sisters' time, and never said a word which seemed to intimate
that she was sorry she had been the cause of all this extra work,
hurry, and fatigue, or that she was sorry she had been so bent upon
the yachting party. As for me, I believe I could have worked
if I had been allowed to do so; but being under their care, these
generous women could not bear that there should be the least shadow
of cause for Amelia's accusation that I was shut up indoors and
induced to work by them; they therefore took advantage of their
authority and my youth, to forbid my working at all that day.
In the afternoon Mrs. Blount called to inquire how we were,
and took Amelia and myself for a drive in her pony carriage. I
sat behind, Amelia in front, and I scarcely heard any of the
conversation, excepting once when we stopped at a gardener's ground,
that Mrs. Blount might buy some fine calceolarias. While we
were waiting for them, I heard her say carelessly, as if referring
to a matter of no consequence, 'I suppose you were obliged to give
some of the work you took to your servants.' I did not hear
Amelia's answer; but Mrs. Blount's remark was not without its
effect, for when Amelia came in and found her sisters hard at work
in the hot parlour, she remarked on the folly of their giving
themselves all the trouble, and asked why they did not give some of
the work to Fanny the housemaid.
'She has not time for more work than I always expect of her,'
said Miss Perkins.
'She might do this instead, for once,' proceeded Amelia.
'Then I should have to do herbs,' said Miss Bobby, 'and what
would be the good of that?'
But Amelia was not convinced. 'Other people's servants
contrive to find time,' she said. 'Mrs. Blount tells me that
her maid and the nurse have done a great deal of that work this
'Humph,' said Sarah.
'And then there's Mary,' continued Amelia; 'really I don't
know what she finds to do.'
'You know very little about a cook's work,' said Anne,
calmly; 'your saying so is a proof of it.'
Her dispassionate manner seemed to communicate itself to Miss
Perkins, who said, more good-humouredly than before, 'Mary has a
good deal to do this week that I generally undertake myself.'
'But there's the evening, at any rate,' persisted Amelia, who
could not bear to be always proved in the wrong. 'When she has
washed the dishes, what can she have to do more?'
'Why, if you really want to know,' said Bessie, with some
heat, 'she has to pluck the fowls that we are going to have for
dinner to-morrow, and she has an errand to do.'
'Moreover,' said Bobby, 'she is a very poor hand with her
needle, and I should be sorry to trust her with the work, even if
she had time.'
Amelia said it was a very strange thing; and on my remarking,
as we walked up-stairs to take off our bonnets, that her sisters all
looked flushed and tired, she said, 'Nobody shall ever make me
believe that our servants cannot work like other people's.'
'But only consider,' said I, 'Mrs. Blount's maid has nothing
to do but to wait on her personally; and as for the nurse, there is
only that one little girl to attend. She can sit at work for
hours on the beach, while the child plays at her side.'
'A great deal you know about these matters, on doubt,'
said Amelia, in a taunting voice. However, if Robina and all
of them CHOOSE to do the work themselves, I
have spoken my mind about it, and it is no concern of mine.
The servants can do it if they will tell them, and if they won't, it
cannot be helped.'
To this speech, not having learned much forbearance from the
example of the ladies down-stairs, I returned an answer more than
sufficiently warm, reminding Amelia that the hurry and trouble we
had seen below was solely and exclusively our doing, for we had each
lost two days, and if we had done our part, there would have been
plenty of time, and taking part with the sisters for their indulgent
It was not to be supposed that the matter would rest there;
Amelia answered, and we wrangled and quarrelled for fully half an
hour with much ironical civility of speech, but considerable
bitterness of feeling, the ground of dispute being shortly
forgotten, till in the midst of the contest, and when we were both
so much excited that there was danger lest our temper should show
itself in heightened voices, as it did already in heightened colour,
I heard a step on the stairs, and running to my own room, shut and
locked myself in, and refreshed myself with a fit of crying, partly
caused by vexation, partly by humiliation. It did me a great
deal of good, and on reflection I felt heartily ashamed of myself,
for I knew that it was not my business to interfere with Amelia, and
I knew that I had not done so with the most distant hope of
reforming her, but only for the sake of speaking my mind. And
all this while I might have done essential good if I had been
working down-stairs instead of quarrelling up-stairs, but now my
eyes were so red that I was ashamed to go down, and I had to spend
another half-hour in cooling my face with my fan, and walking up and
down my room with the window open.
I went down at last, and gave a little help; but when I
retired at night, I felt a secret conviction that unless somebody
sat up to do it, the work would not be finished in time.
I lay awake thinking of this till I heard Amelia come
up-stairs, and Miss Perkins and Sarah follow at their usual time;
but the room over mine remained empty, and I lay listening to the
striking of the quarters till it only wanted a quarter to three, and
then I heard footsteps. It was as I had thought, Anne and
Bessie were stealing up to their room, and treading so carefully
that the stairs creaked, as they perversely do on those occasions,
ten times more than under less guarded feet.
The end of this was that the work was finished, and by three
o'clock on Saturday sent in. No one blamed Sarah for having
named too large a quantity, though she herself took it as much to
heart as if she had miscalculated their powers on purpose. No
one cared either to find fault with Amelia; they seemed rather to
think that they ought to have known better than to depend on her;
and as for me, they made the most indulgent allowance for my
deficiencies, which was always their habit while I stayed with them.
On Monday the other sisters were as brisk as usual, but Anne
was evidently unwell, and spent the morning on the sofa, unable to
go into her garden. Mrs. Blount called and told Amelia and me
(who with Anne were in the drawing-room) how all the committee had
remarked on the quantity of work that had come from the Misses
Perkins. 'It shows,' said Mrs. Blount, 'how much can be done
by combined effort.' No one spoke. Amelia did not say
anything, and I could not. She continued, 'It is so pleasant
and cheerful when such a large circle is at work at once, and they
do it with no trouble to themselves. I often think of that
true proverb, "Many hands make light work." No doubt it cost
you less trouble than the small pieces taken by single people cost
I glanced at Amelia when this was said, and while explaining
to Mrs. Blount that I had not done nearly the whole of my share,
having missed two entire days, and that Miss Perkins and Sarah had
sat up to do it for me, I saw such a vivid colour rise in Amelia's
cheeks, that I knew she was ashamed to appropriate Mrs. Blount's
compliments to herself, though she had not the honesty to disavow
'And now, my dears, as you are both still looking a little
the worse for that wretched yachting affair, suppose you take a
drive with me this afternoon?'
We were perfectly well, but I suppose she required some
reason for excluding the rest of the family, and I thought she might
have noticed how pale Miss Anne looked after the confinement and
fatigue of the past week.
Amelia assented with a gentle sweetness of manner, which she
never exhibited but to strangers. She said she often felt
languid in hot weather, and was always glad of air.
I declined; and at the same time, as Mrs. Blount was really
very good-natured, I ventured to glance at her and then at Miss
Anne. It seemed to strike her at once that she had not been
civil, and she said with a very good grace, 'Perhaps you are
not too much engaged to-day to go with us, Miss Perkins,'
putting such an emphasis on the word to-day, as seemed to
say, 'I should have asked you before if I had not known that you
Anne looked up surprised, but not displeased; she admitted
that she should like a drive, and the two sisters withdrew together
to dress, leaving me alone with Mrs. Blount.
I was extremely glad when they shut the door, for I saw she
could scarcely refrain from laughing, and the moment they were out
of earshot, she exclaimed, 'Now you unconscionable little puss, why
have you hampered me with that faded spinster? Don't you know
that she must sit in front in virtue of her seniority, and Amelia
'Yes, but she is very interesting, Mrs. Blount.'
'When my daughter is seventeen, I shall not expect her to
dictate to seven-and-thirty.'
'But, Mrs. Blount—' I began.
'Pooh, nonsense! I tell you I am not angry, I am
I thought if Miss Anne found out how and why she had been
invited to take this drive, it would do her no good, so I continued
to tell all I could think of in her favour. She seemed
interested, and called me a female Quixote, and when Anne and Amelia
came in, said, to my great confusion, 'Well, good-by, Mentoria,
remember you are to drive with me tomorrow.'
Her affectionate manner, and, perhaps, her taking Anne out,
made Amelia tremble for her exclusive possession of this fashionable
friend, and she gave me a very black look, which, unfortunately,
Mrs. Blount saw, and was thus put into possession of the fact that
Amelia would rather her sister had not been invited.
They were out a long time, and when they returned, Anne
seemed little refreshed, and Amelia was out of humour. Mrs.
Blount had scarcely spoken to her all the time. 'In fact,' she
said, just as Anne was about to leave the room, 'it must have been
equally dull for us both.'
'Remember that I did not ask her to take me,' said Anne,
looking back before she shut the door.
'No,' muttered Amelia, 'I have to thank somebody else for
I dreaded lest Anne should hear, and when Amelia went on with
sarcastic politeness to say how much she was indebted to me for
interfering between her and her friend, I had not a word to answer,
and was obliged to be very civil all the evening to avert her
The next morning Anne was too ill to come down, and Bessie
told me that she never could sit indoors for long together without
suffering for it afterwards.
This was said before Amelia, who fired up instantly, and said
Anne need not have worked unless she had chosen. 'I told
Robina at the time, that it could be done easily enough if she would
give it to the servants as other people did.'
Bessie made no answer. She was pouring out tea for the
invalid's breakfast, and she presently carried it up-stairs.
Many times during the day I saw one and another of the sisters
running up stairs with the various little things that were wanted
for Anne's comfort; but Amelia was never one of them. In the
evening the medical man was called in, and his report evidently made
Sarah uneasy. Miss Perkins was more cheerful, but I noticed
that she sat up with Anne that night, and the next day was tired and
I was quite struck then with the position occupied by a
Cumberer. Nothing went on well in the household affairs,
because the ladies were withdrawn from their usual occupations, and
Amelia did not attempt to throw herself into the vacant place.
She evidently had no idea how to assist her sisters, even if she had
wished; and it seemed to be a maxim firmly fixed in her mind that
people were not overtasked, not anxious, not in want of help, not
glad to be helped, unless they said so. She remarked to
me during the day, that knowing how to nurse and wait on sick people
was a gift, not a thing to be learned, and that her elder sisters
had it. In truth, I did not wonder that they did not appeal to
her to help them, for I think nothing is so miserable to a sick
person as to feel that she has an unwilling nurse, and to be afraid
of asking for what she wants.
Yet Amelia did not wish to appear inactive, for when Sarah
came down in a hurry wanting some arrow-root, though Amelia did not
know how to make it, she said, 'It's a strange thing when I am
anxious to help, that you do not choose to let me.'
'Well,' said Sarah, as she left the room, there are the
letters to post. I shall be glad if you'll do that.'
'Post the letters!' said Amelia, in an injured tone, when
Sarah was gone; 'why, any servant can do that; it must be evident to
the most prejudiced person that they don't choose to let me help.'
Just then Mary came in. 'Have you anything particular
to do just now?' asked Amelia.
The maid said, 'No, not now, that Miss Sarah had gone up with
the arrow-root.' 'Then post these letters,' said Amelia; and
she took them, Amelia saying, that willing as she was to help, she
did not choose to be turned into an errand-girl to please Sarah's
Mary had been gone a long time, when I suddenly fancied that
a bell, which had been rung several times, had not been answered,
and I ran up to Miss Anne's room to ask about it.
'No, my dear,' said Miss Bobby, 'I did not ring.'
I came down; again the bell rang. I now found it was
the door-bell, and answered it myself.
There stood both the servants, Mary and Fanny. 'Dear
Miss,' said Mary, 'I never gave it a thought that Fanny was out,
when I said I had nothing to do. I did not know it, I'm sure,
and I thought she would be down directly.'
'No,' said Fanny, 'Missis sent me out for some sal-volatile,
and I went in a hurry.'
They proceeded to the kitchen, and there was exclaiming and
lifting up of hands; the fire was out. 'Deary me!' cried Mary,
ready to cry, 'and Miss Anne's pudding spoilt in the oven; I know
it'll be as heavy as lead.'
While they were scratching out the cinders and lighting the
fire, I ran up stairs with the sal-volatile. 'My dear,' said
Miss Perkins, 'would you kindly ask whether the pudding is ready?
Anne fancies she could eat some.' I was obliged to tell her
that I knew it was not ready; and when at length it came up, Sarah
said it looked strange, and the invalid scarcely touched it, and
evidently did not relish it at all.
There was another night of sitting up and anxiety, and in the
morning Bessie did nothing but cry and sob all breakfast-time, and
Amelia looked grave. But when the doctor came and spoke
cheerfully, though I observed without giving any opinion as to the
termination of the illness, Amelia blamed Bessie for being so
nervous, and said she wondered at her weakness.
'You have not been with her as I have,' sobbed Bessie.
'Robina called me up to help her in the night, and Anne—Anne—talked
'Called you up! Oh, that accounts for your crying; you
are tired, that's all. I have perfect confidence in Dr. W.
Anne is only feverish.'
Notwithstanding this philosophical view of the matter, Bessie
continued to sob hysterically, till at last I persuaded her to go
and lie down, while I went and sat on the stairs to take down
messages for Miss Sarah, Robina being gone to bed.
I could not be of much use; but when I urged Sarah to employ
me, she said decidedly, 'My dear, I would not do you such an
unkindness as to let you be useless and idle if I can help it; we
don't know, my dear, how soon such habits may grow. You may
take this prescription to the chemist's to be made up.'
So I did that, and then took up my station again on the
stairs, and was seldom wanted, though Sarah kindly said she liked to
know that some one was there in case she did want anything.
This was indeed but a slight service, but I have since
thought that Miss Sarah accepted it more for my good than for her
own; and I have felt grateful for a consideration that would not
repulse the most inefficiency assistance.
THE FLOWER-GIRL LOSES A FRIEND.
ANNE continued very
unwell, and I was told that her fever increased. About nine
o'clock, Miss Perkins returned to the sick-room, and Sarah went to
bed. She was very tired, and let me help her to undress; then,
hearing a ring at the door-bell, she asked me to go and see if it
was Anne's medicine. I ran down with an almost childish wish
to be important and useful, which no doubt she saw, though I did not
It was not the medicine that had arrived, but a note from
Mrs. Blount to Amelia, asking her to join a picnic party the next
day, and, as usual, to bring me with her.
Amelia, to do her justice, had seen so little of Anne during
her illness, that it was no wonder she underrated its importance,
and I was too ignorant to undeceive her. Mrs. Blount knew
nothing of it, and the invitation had thrown Amelia into a state of
great perplexity; she wished to go, and yet she did not wish to be
thought unfeeling. She therefore accepted, but said that if
Anne were worse the following day, Mrs. Blount must excuse her.
I did not know whether my absence for the day might not be a
relief to the sisters, and I went up to Miss Sarah to ascertain what
she really wished me to do.
She seemed to understand that I truly wished to do what was
most agreeable to them, and after a moment's thought, said that the
last party had turned out so badly, that she and Miss Perkins would
be anxious about me, as I was delicate and under their care; for
that Mrs. Blount, though kind, would not be prudent or careful as
regarded our health; and then she kindly added, that perhaps I might
be of use to her, and therefore, on the whole, she did not hesitate
to say that she wished me to stay at home.
Bessie was kept up that night to help Miss Perkins, and the
next morning, when Amelia and I met her on the stairs, she said she
did not think Anne was any worse. Amelia, however, thought she
had better not go till he had heard her eldest sister's report, and
she lingered on the stairs some little time, but Miss Perkins did
not come out, and at last she said, 'Well, as Dr. W. had not
arrived, and Bessie said Anne was certainly no worse, she supposed
she ought to go; at any rate she had better go up and dress.'
So she did, and then Mrs. Blount came and said how strange it would
be of Amelia to stay at home because one of her sisters was a little
poorly and lying in bed; were there not three at home to take care
'Anne is really ill,' began Amelia.
'Oh, well, my dear, do as you like; but I thought from your
note, it was most likely a feverish cold, and I quite expected to
find her on the sofa to-day.'
Now, either Amelia must have felt secretly convinced that
Anne was much worse than she had said, or she had better feelings
than we had given her credit for, and felt deeply ashamed to leave
her sisters to another day of toil; certainly she had a severe
struggle with herself, before she could decide to leave the better
part and go out on a party of pleasure. It was not till Mrs.
Blount remarked what a united family they were, and how sweetly they
sympathized with one another, that Amelia yielded herself to go with
a friend whose society and flattery were so delightful to her, and
who, I fully believe, had no idea of the extent of Anne's illness.
So Amelia set off, and I sat alone till Sarah came down, and
had her breakfast; Miss Perkins joining her, and telling me that she
should be very glad if I would order the dinner for her, and cast up
the slate. I was also to pay one or two bills. These
little things being new to me, occupied my mind during the greater
part of the morning; and when I had written to my parents, I was
surprised to find that it was two o'clock, the usual dinner-hour.
I heard that Dr. W. had paid his visit almost directly after Amelia
went away, and as the house was very quiet all the morning, I hoped
Anne was asleep. As I had taken some pains in ordering the
dinner, I was a good deal disappointed when a message was sent to
me, asking me to sit down alone, and the ladies would come when they
were able. So I dined, and then waited till everything was
cold, and till Fanny proposed that the dishes should be taken to the
kitchen-fire till the ladies came down.
I felt very desolate, and did not know what to do with
myself. Bessie was gone to bed, and Miss Sarah had requested
me not to sit on the stairs. At last I took up an amusing book
that Amelia had borrowed, and was deep in the story, when I heard a
man's step coming down stairs, and Dr. W. came in. I was
surprised, and asked him if he had been up to see Miss Anne again.
He answered, 'Ma'am, I have,' and then he sat down and looked
at me attentively, till I felt rather confused, more especially as
he suddenly broke the silence by saying, sententiously, 'Ha! bottled
'I am afraid there is none in the house,' said I rising, 'but
'Pooh!' said the doctor, 'sit down. Yes—bottled
I then understood that he intended to recommend this beverage
'What's the matter with you?' he next said.
'Nothing,' I replied, 'but that I have been growing very
'Ah! well: have you any friends here, ma'am?' said the old
I answered in the negative.
'Any acquaintances, ma'am?'
'Only one, very recently made—Mrs. Blount.
'Mrs. Blount. I know her: all right. Suppose you go and
spend a day or two with her.'
Seeing me look up amazed, he said, 'Well, then, suppose you
'My parents are travelling in France.'
'What of that, ma'am? They have not taken the house
with them, I suppose?'
I could scarcely help laughing, while I answered, No, but
that the house was being painted.
'Painted! people are always painting. Never was
anything known like the luxury of the present day—never. Well,
ma'am, young people are always in the way at these times, and never
of any use.'
I was so surprised and perplexed at this speech, that I did
not know what to answer.
'Well, ma'am,' he continued, after waiting for me to speak,
'I'm sorry you don't see the thing in the light I could have wished,
and here's my carriage quite at your service to take you to Mrs.
Blount. You would really be better away, for I shall be
surprised if that poor thing lives through the night.'
My astonishment and terror at hearing these words took away
my breath, a film rose before my eyes, and I do not know what I
should have done if the old gentleman had not suddenly exclaimed,
'Heyday, ma'am, what's the meaning of this? We can't have any
fainting; come and sit by the window directly.'
He gave me his hand, and threw up the sash, and though
confusion and sorrow kept me silent, I felt no more faintness:
Amelia's absence, the necessity of my immediately leaving my
hostess, the uncertainty where I ought to go, and pity for the poor
invalid, crowded on my mind, till when the old gentleman had given
me long enough, as he thought, for consideration, he said, 'Well,
ma'am, here's my carriage. In my opinion, a carpet-bag would
take all you require, but ladies'—spreading out his arms, as if to
enclose a whole army of boxes—'have such notions of the luggage they
must take about with them, for their hats and their flounces, and
their pomatums, and their things, that I'm sure I don't know whether
you can find room enough―but
there's the rumble!'
I replied that a carpet-bag would content me, and I stole up
the back-stairs, taking Fanny with me, who was weeping, for she had
been informed of Miss Anne's danger.
I was anxious not to keep Dr. W. waiting, for I thought
myself very much obliged to him for the considerate way in which he
was treating me. There was no one I could go to but Mrs.
Blount; but it would have been much more awkward to go of my own
accord than to be taken by him.
He was pleased at my prompt return, and as he handed me into
his carriage with elaborate care, I saw the open-mouthed
astonishment of his footman; and though I was in tears, I could not
but speculate as to whether any female foot had ever stepped into it
As we went, I told him that Mrs. Blount had gone out for the
day, and that Amelia was with her; I then ventured, with a beating
heart, to ask whether he thought Miss Anne's illness was owing to
her having sat too much indoors lately.
She had long been in a very critical state, he replied, and,
perhaps, if she had been a fine lady, might have led a life of less
pain, though no circumstance could have prolonged it.
It was something, then, to think that a useful life had not
been shortened by the wilfulness and inefficiency of some so much
inferior to her; but oh, how bitterly did I regret that the last
week of her life, before this short illness, had been clouded with
anxiety, hurry, and toil, instead of being peacefully spent in those
quiet pursuits that she took so much delight in.
But I had no time to indulge in these reflections and the
tears they gave rise to; we were at Mrs. Blount's door, and the
doctor had to explain to the surprised footman that he wanted to see
Mrs. Blount's maid. That elegantly dressed personage presently
made her appearance, and, evidently in a fright, asked if any
accident had happened to her lady.
'No, ma'am,' replied the old gentleman, addressing her, and
bowing to her exactly as he had done to me, 'but a patient of mine
in the house where this young lady was staying, or lodging, or
something of that sort, is dying, and you'll be so good as to take
care of this young lady (I haven't the pleasure of knowing her name)
till your lady comes home, when the matter will be explained to
The maid, charmed at his ceremonious manner, made a gratified
curtsey, and replied that she would take care of the young lady.
The old gentleman, then, walking round me and inspecting me,
as if to see that I was delivered over to the keeping of another in
a satisfactory state, said slowly, 'All right!' and taking me in one
hand and my carpet-bag in the other, led me up to the maid, and,
bowing, left me, with a look which plainly said to her, 'You have
received these valuable and perishable articles in good
preservation, and you will be expected to give them up, on demand,
in the same state.'
He then hobbled down the steps to his carriage, and the maid
asked me if I would come up-stairs to her lady's dressing-room and
have some tea. I could not but observe that the old
gentleman's ultra care had impressed her greatly with the idea of
the responsibility she had undertaken, for she seemed to regard me
in the light of a thing that was sure to come to some harm, or
receive some injury, if it could possibly find an opportunity.
When I had taken some tea, I lay on a sofa, feeling very
unhappy, wondering whether Anne was sensible, and whether her
sisters were apprised of her danger.
At length, when it was quite dusk, I heard the sound of
carriage-wheels crushing the gravel before the house, and when they
stopped, Amelia's voice, in its merriest tones, talking to little
I heard Mrs. Blount ask Amelia to come in, and, dreading that
they would both come up to the room where I was, and Amelia find out
the truth too suddenly, I sent down the maid to draw Amelia aside on
some pretence, that I might first speak to her friend.
Mrs. Blount came in, started at the sight of me, but I was so
agitated that I could not speak. She soon contrived to calm
me, and draw from me all that it was needful for her to know.
'Let her come here at once,' she exclaimed; 'the mere sight
of you will be a preparation.'
Amelia came in almost on the instant; in fact, the maid had
not been able to detain her long on pretence of brushing her dress.
She was in very high spirits, and so far from taking alarm at the
sight of me, thought I was come to see her home. She supposed
I was quite tired of being moped in that dull house, and appealed to
Mrs. Blount whether it was not rather a pity that her sisters should
turn the house upside down for every little illness.
Mrs. Blount said not a word; she evidently shrank from the
task she had to do; and I ventured, by way of opening, to say, 'I
fear, Amelia, we can hardly call this a little illness, for you know
Miss Anne has had two of your sisters to sit up with her for three
Mrs. Blount, thrown off her guard, exclaimed, 'Is it
possible?' and I instantly felt, that by thus betraying Amelia's
neglect to her friend, I had given her great pain, which I would not
have done for the world at such a time. I had only intended to
bring her mind to dwell on her sister's illness.
She looked astonished at my speech, and deeply annoyed, then
walked up to the window, where I was standing, and began to draw up
the blind, at the same time whispering a few words to me which
showed high irritation.
I was so shocked at the mistake I had made, that full of pity
for her, I burst into tears, and at the same moment Mrs. Blount,
taking her hand, said gravely, 'My dear Amelia.' This action,
and the sight of our faces, on which she had thrown light (the room
being previously dusk), instantly opened her mind, and she cried out
that she was sure Anne was dying. We did not contradict her,
but led her down to the carriage, and Mrs. Blount went with her to
rejoin her afflicted family.
She was away more than an hour, and when she returned, told
me that Amelia went into hysterics directly she entered the house.
'I was sorry,' she continued, 'that she could not command herself,
for the sisters ran down instantly, and entreated her to be calm,
and not to let Anne hear the noise, for her life hung on a thread,
and the first shock would kill her. It made a great
confusion,' said Mrs. Blount, 'and I felt very sorry that I had been
the cause of Amelia's being from home at such a time; but I assured
her sisters I had not the slightest idea there was anything more the
matter than a feverish cold, or I should never have thought of
taking her away, even if she had wished it. They presently
went upstairs again. Poor things! how sad and worn-out they
looked. I sat with Amelia as she lay on the sofa, and she
showed a degree of shrinking from seeing her sister that surprised
me very much. I should have thought affection would have
overpowered any weak terrors at being present during painful
scenes.' She then said she had told the youngest of the
sisters that I had come under her care; and altogether the sight of
sorrow I found had brought out all the real kindness of her nature,
and made her receive me, an almost stranger, with such a welcoming
hospitality, that I felt quite comfortable and easy with her, and
could even tell her how miserable I had felt under the idea of being
palmed off upon her in such a way as almost to oblige her to receive
She laughed, and said, 'My dear, you don't understand my
nature. I love all young things, and like to have them
depending on me, and, in fact, I do want something to do; something
to occupy me. If I had had a large family, I should have been
a different creature.'
I could not but feel surprised; and wondered that this
elegant and high-born woman should talk thus to a girl like me.
Perhaps she perceived this, but instead of checking herself, she
explained her meaning further, telling me that her one child was her
late husband's heiress, and that he had left so many directions, so
many guardians, trustees, etc., that she found herself left with
very little power over her child. 'And then, between the
governess and the nurse,' she added, in a plaintive tone, 'there
never seems to be anything for me to do for my darling, but to play
with her.' I thought I would send away the governess if I were
in the mother's place, but of course I did not say so, but went to
bed very much relieved to find that Mrs. Blount was delighted to
have me under her patronage, and very much pleased with Dr. W. for
having placed me there.
After breakfast the next morning, we went to inquire for Miss
Anne. The shutters were not closed, and a servant told us that
she still lived, that Dr. W. had seen her again, and had expressed
surprise that she had lasted so long.
Its was affecting to see the orphan girl whom Anne had
befriended sitting crying on the steps, and bemoaning her
benefactress. 'I ha'nt time to see after flowers,' said Mary,
who looked pale and tired; 'it's not to be expected.'
'No,' said Mrs. Blount, 'but as the garden is at the back of
the house, and not overlooked from the sick-room, I think there
would be no harm in our passing through the kitchen and gathering
The servant assented respectfully; and I could not but admire
the kindness of Mrs. Blount; she could easily have given the orphan
girl the shilling lot which she would have sold these violets, but
by this better plan she provided that the dying woman's charity
should extend to the last hour of her life.
We found the leaves of these plants already drooping, and the
violets hanging their heads, for they require much care and regular
watering; but we gathered all, and made them up under the trees; we
then came softly back to the house, and we were met by Fanny, who
said Miss Amelia would like to see us. We found her languid
and miserable, her face disfigured by crying. 'They have
promised to call me if there is the slightest change,' she said;
'and my feelings are so acute, that I cannot stand by and see her
suffer as they can. I am sure she suffers greatly. One
of them is always fanning her, and another holding up her head.'
I am sure Amelia was not at all aware that there was any
selfishness in this speech; and when Mrs. Blount said gently, 'Don't
you think, dear, you could fan your sister for a while, it
may be a pleasure to you afterwards to think you have done something
for her?' she said, 'You don't know what it is; she—gasps so, poor
thing—that it perfectly overcomes me;' and then she covered her face
with her hands, and began to weep afresh.
Mrs. Blount did not say a word; and I inquired how her
sisters were. 'They look ready to drop, ma'am,' said Fanny,
who just then came in with a note of inquiry, 'but they won't leave
the room; they've eaten nothing since last night at supper-time, and
then Mary and I carried them up some sandwiches, and begged of them
to eat them, and they came out one by one, and ate them on the
'Surely such great exertion and fatigue cannot be needful,'
said Mrs. Blount, quite shocked.
'Poor ladies, they'll soon have rest,' whispered Fanny, 'and
poor Miss Anne needs a wonderful deal of waiting on.'
Hearing a step on the stairs, we then hastily withdrew, and
as we went home no comment whatever was made by either, on the
things we had witnessed; but Mrs. Blount induced me to tell her all
I knew of Miss Anne's charities, and said that when she was gone the
poor orphan should not want a friend.
In the afternoon we again went to look at the house.
The sun was shining full upon it, but not within it, for the
shutters were closed.
THE STRANGE CLERGYMAN'S SERMON.
NOW as this is
the history of a Cumberer, I shall not stay to dilate on the
kindness shown to me by Mrs. Blount, the events that took place, or
the cogitation I indulged in, excepting when they had reference to
my heroine; I pass on therefore to say that the day after Miss
Anne's funeral, at which more mourners attended than those of her
own family, Miss Perkins sent a message to Mrs. Blount, requesting
her to come and see her.
She complied immediately, and on her return I felt naturally
anxious to know what had been decided about me.
Mrs. Blount did not at first satisfy me, but sitting on an
ottoman before the window, continued to look out at the ships
passing through the stripes of sunny and shady water, for the sky
was streaked with clouds. I saw that she was vexed, and felt
relieved when she at last exclaimed, 'Well, my dear, Miss Perkins
wishes you to return this day week.'
'So soon?' I replied; 'surely I shall be in their way; may I
not now go home?—the house must be ready.'
'My dear, your parents are not here, to be consulted, and as
far as I am concerned, I should not like to return you to any hands
but those from which I received you; besides, the agreement for you
was made for three months; and when you hear that your going back is
of some consequence to Miss Perkins, I believe you will be ready to
'Of consequence,' I exclaimed, 'dear Mrs. Blount, of what use
can I be to them?'
'I have discovered,' she replied, 'that the sum paid for you
will be of great consequence—that good, good woman (I wish I were as
good, she has no pride about her, not an atom, and no
affectation)—told me she looked on it as a providence that you
should have been placed with them, for thus they could cover the
expenses of their dear sister's illness and funeral.
'Are they so poor?' I answered.
'I had no idea of it,' she replied; 'in fact I have been
deceived and led into a great many mistakes: it seems that now this
poor lady is dead, one-third of the property they lived upon is
withdrawn, and four people have to live on one-third less than five
I remembered what Bessie had told me, and answered that I
knew it was so.
'Then why didn't you tell me?' she answered suddenly and
almost sharply, but instantly she seemed to remember that it was not
my business to tell her things that had come to my knowledge in
another person's house, for she added more softly, 'I have been
completely and intentionally deceived, and no one has tried to set
me right; Amelia made me believe that there was plenty of property
in their family, but that her sisters had a natural liking for
living in that pokey way, and for having no footman.'
Poor Amelia, she has lost her friend, and if she finds that
out, it will be punishment enough, I thought, but I did not say
Mrs. Blount presently went on, 'Of course the elder sister
must naturally feel this death far more than the younger; yet that
kind woman, Miss Sarah, sat at her work with a sort of patient
sadness about her that interested me very much, while Amelia was
idling away her time in the drawing-room, looking more discontented
than sorrowful: and being alone with her for a few minutes, she told
me what a misfortune it was this property being withdrawn, for now
her sisters would be more penurious than ever. When Miss
Perkins told me afterwards what they all had to live on, I was quite
amazed; I squander almost as much on dress and gewgaws as they
maintain their respectable appearance on.'
Then looking up and seeing me look grave, she smiled and
said, 'What are you thinking of, Mentoria?' for she always called me
by this name; perhaps because it amused her as being remarkably
I replied that I was thinking of what she had said, that she
had been deceived, and no one had tried to set her right.
She laughed (for she was never grave for many minutes
together), and said, 'You are too tall to be petted, Mentoria, or I
might do without Amelia, and take you; sit down by me and give me a
kiss. Now, tell me whether I have done my duty by you; have
you been happy with me?'
'Very happy indeed.'
'I really think you have. Well, you like me, and I
think you cannot like Amelia. Why then did you let her deceive
'I thought it would be very wrong in me to deprive her of a
friend, and besides, you might not have believed me.'
'Just answer me one question, it can do her no harm; are they
aware at home of her real character?'
'Yes, I cannot but be sure that they are.'
'Well, Mentoria, I would have been her friend, for I really
liked her; but now I have seen her as she is. Keep my secret;
do not tell her that I have ceased to care for her, and to respect
her. I wish she may ever be worthy of those excellent women,
whom she affects almost to despise.'
So ended this conversation. At the appointed day I
returned to my hostesses, who received me very kindly and calmly.
I saw that Miss Anne was a great loss to her affectionate
sisters, and tried to prevent their feeling my presence an
intrusion, keeping as much apart as possible, and still walking out
with Mrs. Blount, who kindly came for me daily.
After the first day Amelia accompanied us, and seemed to be
trying hard to regain her ascendancy over her friend by that gentle
flattery and attention to all she said which had won it for her at
first. She perceived that something was amiss, though far from
attributing the change to its right cause; she thought her friend
capricious, and fancied she could not please her because she was
interested in me.
Amelia lived for herself, therefore it was not strange that
she was neither useful nor happy. I did not think that when at
home she seemed much to feel the death of her sister, yet when
walking with Mrs. Blount she spoke affectingly of the sorrow she
suffered; and I am not at all sure that she was wilfully deceitful,
for it is really easier to deceive one's-self than other people.
Bessie took charge of the garden, and went out daily just as
her sister had done, and again the violet bed bloomed as before, and
the orphan girl sat on the steps waiting for the flowers.
I felt sure that this constant following of her late sister's
footsteps was a trial to her feelings, yet when I sat down by her
and said, 'Dear Bessie, I am sure this is too much for you,' she
answered hurriedly, 'I shall soon be cheerful in the garden, my
dear, and mind you do not let Bobby think I do too much, it would
make her uneasy.'
I replied, 'I should not think of such a thing; but I am
coming out soon to help.'
'You will be horridly tanned if you do,' said Amelia; 'the
sun tans more than the sea. I was obliged to come in yesterday
when I went out to help in the garden; by tea-time I should have
been burnt quite red.' Amelia had just come in from a walk.
'It is no worse for us than for Bessie,' I could not help
'You are quite mistaken,' replied Amelia; 'fair skins like
yours and mine tan directly, but nothing hurts that kind of thick
complexion that Bessie has.'
'But in spite of being tanned,' she proceeded, 'I should
certainly have thought it right to help in the garden, if Bessie had
not particularly given out that she intended to undertake it
herself; and as it was not too much for dear Anne, delicate as she
was, I suppose Bessie can easily do it.'
'I undertook the garden,' said Bessie, 'because Sarah was
unhappy about it, and said it would make her miserable to see it get
into disorder, when our dear sister had been so fond of it.'
'Well,' said Amelia, 'but you undertook it of your own
accord, quite vehemently, and declared that you should feel it a
pleasure. If you are tired of it, you had better say so.'
'I am not tired of it,' said Bessie.
'Then I am sure I don't know what the discussion is about,'
rejoined Amelia, nor why you put on that injured air.
Since Miss T. came here, she is always putting it into your head
that you are a martyr. You did not consult me when you chose
to undertake the garden; what fault of mine is it then that you are
tired and tanned?' At this moment, happily for us all, there
was a knock at the door, and we withdrew to our rooms before it was
answered. Perhaps on reflection Amelia felt that she had not
behaved amiably to her sister, for as soon as the sun was low, we
saw her go into the garden and begin very diligently to weed a
little flower-bed. She seemed so much in earnest that I saw
Robina looking at her with pleasure, and Sarah declared that it
looked as if Amelia meant to turn over a new leaf.
Just as the bed was weeded, and all the stones, weeds, and
rubbish were raked on to the walk, Fanny came to call her in to tea,
and she entered, remarking that she should go out again when the
meal was over to finish her work. But a book was brought in
from the club, and Amelia opened it, was interested, and read on
till it was too late for any more gardening. The next day was
hot, and the day after that was damp, so the weeds were left till
Bessie, who gardened in spite of heat and damp, raked them away, and
there, as far as I know, ended Amelia's weeding.
The day after these weeds were raked away was Sunday. A
strange clergyman preached, and his sermon was so striking that I
remember parts of it to this time. This sermon was from the
parable of the barren fig-tree, and the text was, 'Cut it down, why
cumbereth it the ground?'
We listened to it with unusual seriousness, and talked of it
a good deal during the rest of the day, but no one remembered or
discussed it so much as Amelia. She remarked that she had felt
particularly edified by it, and that she sincerely hoped it would be
a warning to her if ever she should be in danger of becoming a
The next morning Mrs. Blount walked out with Miss Sarah,
Amelia, and myself, and, seated under the shadow of a great cliff,
we reverted to the sermon.
'It was very striking,' said Mrs. Blount; 'but the concluding
remarks gave me a thrill that I have hardly recovered to this hour.'
The preacher in concluding had said, 'But why do I so
earnestly entreat you to consider the sin and peril of thus
cumbering the Lord's vineyard? Alas! though there should be
but five persons present who are guilty of this sin, and it should
be known to me that they alone stood in need of applying these words
to themselves, I should feel that though all the rest of my hearers
might seriously examine themselves as to their state, and consider
whether the lot of the cumberer might not be theirs, yet those five,
those fruitless five, easy and unconscious, would pass the warning
by, and be the last to think it needed.'
When these words were referred to I repeated them, adding a
striking remark, to the effect that though the tree is represented
as blamable for being fruitless, yet being covered with the leaves
of a fair profession, it might be thought that those leaves covered
and hid even from itself the barrenness of the boughs; it is
only the husbandman who acknowledges and bewails its state, and
tenderly entreats for it a patience that it does not think it needs.
Nothing but the grace of God, the preacher had said, can open the
eyes of those that cumber the ground.
'There,' said Mrs. Blount, 'that will do, my dear; I should
not like to have a memory like yours; if I could recall great pieces
of that sermon at will, I should never have any peace.'
'Still it is a blessing to have a good memory,' observed Miss
Sarah; 'and I hope you will never try to forget things because they
make you uncomfortable.'
I answered somewhat childishly, for it made all my hearers
laugh, that I was sure I should never forget that sermon, for that
the clergyman had looked at me several times so pointedly that I
could not but think he considered me likely to be a cumberer; and
that I had been afraid ever since that I must be one of those
Amelia laughed with the others, and said quite
good-humouredly, 'You felt rather guilty, perhaps, and that was why
you fancied he looked at you.'
Sarah answered very kindly, 'Well, my dear, fears about
ourselves are never out of place; as for me, I must own that I felt
much humbled, for what fruit is there in my life?—what return have I
ever made to the labours of that gracious Husbandman, as an evidence
of my gratitude for his care?'
To my confusion Mrs. Blount then said to Amelia, 'It seems we
all applied it to ourselves. What did you think of it, Amelia?
we shall be glad of your confession to add to our own.'
I wondered to hear her speak lightly, yet I observed that she
felt considerable curiosity as to what would be the answer; but
nothing could exceed Amelia's unconsciousness, for when I ventured
to glance at her, I saw that she was quietly playing with the soft
dry sand, and passing her white fingers through it in search of
'Why,' she said, 'there seems to me a kind of absurdity and
false humility in applying things to one's-self that really are not
applicable. If the man had said, "My brethren, I hope those of
you are penitent who have committed theft, and those who have
committed murder," I should not have felt that perhaps I had
committed theft or murder, because I know I have not. Well,
it's just the same in this case; I am willing enough to acknowledge
faults that I commit, but not to be morbid and to distress myself
about faults that I do not commit. In fact, you know a member
of a large family has no power to be useless, even if she wishes
'Very true,' said Mrs. Blount; 'but certainly some of us are
more useful than others.'
'No doubt,' replied Amelia complacently.
'Then do you think it was morbid in us to apply it to
'I cannot pretend to say,' replied Amelia after a pause; 'I
should not have thought it necessary.'
Here I was so afraid lest Miss Sarah should find out what
Mrs. Blount was about in thus drawing out Amelia, that I pinched her
hand, and entreated her with my eyes to desist; but she only laughed
and said, 'I thought yesterday that in one particular that clergyman
was wrong, but now I have come to the conclusion that he was right
'What was that one point ?' asked Amelia.
'Mentoria knows,' she answered.
'I cannot think why you call her Mentoria,' exclaimed Amelia;
'but I have noticed that she has looked rather guilty for some time,
blushing up to the eyes, I declare. What fearful act of
inefficiency, or what remarkable proof of your uselessness, did you
give Mrs. Blount during your stay with her, Miss T., that you look
'How do you know that she is blushing for herself?' asked
Mrs. Blount suddenly; 'perhaps it is for me?'
I do not justify this remark, but only record it. It
seemed to interest Amelia, for she said, with that peculiar
gentleness of manner which she often assumed with Mrs. Blount, 'I
suppose some persons would think me jealous, and I cannot altogether
conceal that I have that proof of affection in my feelings towards
you; for I do feel a little pain at finding that Miss T. is so much
more in your counsels than I am. You do not care for me as I
do for you.'
Such a remark a short time ago would have brought a warm
denial and a shower of kisses. Now it produced no reply; and
after an awkward silence, during which Mrs. Blount was rather out of
countenance, she took advantage of a passing cloud to say she
thought there was going to be a shower, and that we had better go
home; which we accordingly did, all feeling more or less