« EelmineJätka »
Mrs. Cicely, is not known; but she, suddenly appearing, produced a complete suit of infant's clothes lying across her arm, which habiliments she had drawn from some deep hoard or repository of her own, such as may generally be found in the possession of elderly housekeepers and ladies' maids; her other hand being armed with a formidable apparatus of combs and brushes, and other implements of the same description: while the housemaid followed her
with a tub filled with warm water, and a large piece of soap.
The little girl, though once kept neat by a tender mother, now too evidently bore the symptoms of long neglect, and Mrs. Cicely's plans of lustration were, therefore, the more needful. When, however, the good woman would have separated the child from Sophia, the little creature, now in total despair at this third change of companions, set up a roar which made every chamber and passage in the old hall ring and resound again. Sophia had no idea of carrying this contest to any purpose, and was about to take the child up again on her lap, when Mrs. Cicely, seizing the little rebel by main force, carried her off into that quarter of the offices in which she had purposed to carry on her operations, leaving her young mistress to meditate at her leisure on the events of the last twenty-four hours.
It was more than an hour before Mrs. Cicely again appeared. The good old servant's eyes on this occasion were beaming with delight and triumph. In her arms she carried the little orphan, whose infant charms now appeared in all the lustre of perfect cleanliness. Her pretty flaxen curls, newly combed and arranged, were parted on her forehead, and hung in ringlets over her delicate cheeks and fair neck. The tears, forgot as soon as shed, had given way to the sunshine of delight; for in her hand she carried a piece of breadand-butter, over which Mrs. Cicely had sprinkled a little sugar: and, as Mrs. Cicely set her down at the door, she ran up to Sophia, and, stroking down her clean frock, called on her young protectress to look at her nice dress.
Sophia was not now afraid of returning her infant caresses; and as she clasped her in her arms, she entered into discourse with Mrs. Cicely respecting all the ar
rangements which she intended should be made with regard to Annette.
And now, what a bustle was excited! for young people are pleased with a bustle: and much experience and regulation of the mind is necessary, before we can learn to practise this injunction of our blessed Saviour-Let not thy left-hand know what thy right-hand doeth. (Matt. vi. 3.) Through the advice and direction, however, of Mrs. Cicely, every thing was settled respecting Annette before the evening. Mrs. Doiley, an old servant of the family, who now resided in the lodge at the park-gate, was sent for, and engaged to take Annette at all such times when Sophia might find it impossible to attend to her. As Mrs. Doiley was a superior person, who had no children, and was exceedingly kind and attentive to the poor in the adjacent village, Sophia did not doubt that the little orphan would be bappy with her whenever she might be compelled to devolve this charge upon her, notwithstanding certain little symptoms of fretfulness which sometimes appeared in the old lady's face.
Mrs. Cicely had convinced Sophia, that Annette ought to be dressed plainly, and early accustomed to such little services as might keep alive in her mind ideas which were suitable with her real situation in life. Agreeably therefore with this plan, the materials which were to be procured for her clothes were to be quite plain, and one of the servants from the Hall was dispatched to the next market-town to make the purchases.
As Sophia expected her father and step-mother at the Hall in a few weeks, she yielded to Mrs. Cicely's advice, and sent the little girl every evening to sleep at Mrs. Doiley's, employing a decent labourer, who came from the village to the Hall at an early hour every morning and returned every evening, to carry her backwards and forwards.
These matters being duly arranged, and the little girl's clothes cut out, Sophia found great delight in her new charge; and had she not been guarded by a few hints now and then from Mrs. Cicely, she would undoubtedly have injured the child by allowing her to find herself of too much consequence with her.
Sophia had enquired the day and the hour of the poor widow's funeral, which was to take place in the parish
in which she had died. It was her intention that the little orphan should attend it; and as Mrs. Cicely wished to be also present, one of the men-servants undertook to carry Annette to the church of Fairfield while the old housekeeper walked by his side. The little girl was dressed in neat mourning: and when her new clothes were put on, and the man stood waiting to take her up in his arms, she came smiling to Sophia, full of glee at the idea of going out, and utterly unconscious of the purport of this excursion.
The little creature had now been four days with her new friends, from whom she had received so much kindness, and had found so much comfort, that she was now quite at ease, and the remembrance of former objects of affection, and of former afflictions, were passing away swift as the shadows of the morning.
The gay delight of the little Annette met with no interruption during their walk; and she had much to say about the deer in the park: and as it was not needful for the party to pass the cottage in which the widow had died, the little orphan seemed not to connect any thing that was passing in the church-yard with the memory of her mother, until the people were about to lower the coffin into the grave; on which she suddenly shrieked, ran forwards, and endeavoured to clasp the coffin with her infant arms, calling on her mother in the most beseeching and moving accents. Every one was affected: and as the child could not easily be appeased, Mr. Sackville, as soon as the service was concluded, took her in his arms, and carried her to his house, having invited Mrs. Cicely and the man-servant to accompany her.
Mr. Sackville resided close by the church; in an oldfashioned and respectable parsonage-house standing in a garden abounding with fruit and flowers. He honour.ed Mrs. Cicely with an invitation into his parlour, and requested her to preside at his tea-table while he endeavoured to amuse the little child by such little devices as his own affectionate feelings suggested. After tea, he went into his garden, and brought from thence a nosegay of the choicest flowers, which he requested Mrs. Cicely to deliver to Miss Mortimer with his most respectful compliments.
When the party returned, the gay flowers were deli
vered to Miss Mortimer; and Mrs. Cicely, being much pleased by the polite manner in which she had been received, was induced to depart in some degree from her usual discretion in expressing her admiration of Mr. Sackville, to which opinions Sophia attended with a ready ear. And when Mrs. Cicely added that he was as well-looking as he was good and pleasing, Sophia asked her if she had ever particularly observed the picture which hung over the marble slab in the entrancehall, adding that she thought it bore a very striking resemblance to Mr. Sackville.
Now as Mrs. Cicely had often been employed in shewing the Hall to strangers, and had received many halfcrowns and five shillings on such occasions, it was not to be supposed but that she could tell the names and some little of the histories of the best portraits which ornamented the walls of Mortimer-Hall. She was therefore somewhat surprised to be asked by Sophia whether she had ever observed this picture, which was counted the finest in the house: and turning round therefore somewhat quickly, she said, “Why, dear Miss Mortimer, surely you can't suppose that I have forgotten the handsome Duke of Monmouth! Why, he was one of the finest looking men, I have been told, who ever wore a boot, or carried a sword. And, now you speak of it, Mr. Sackville is like him, only making allowance for the black coat.”
Nothing further was then said on this subject; and good Mrs. Cicely walked out into her own domain, utterly unconscious of the indiscretions of which she had been guilty: and as Sophia from that time seldom mentioned Mr. Sackville to Mrs Cicely, the good woman was not induced to make any observations which might lead her to think that she had contributed in the smallest degree to excite in the mind of the young lady (whom she loved with something like maternal tenderness) any feelings which might tend to render her unhappy.
And in this place I cannot refrain from paying my tribute of respect to that class of persons, one or more of whom may, I trust, be found in every long-established and worthy family of consequence in England, Scotland, and Ireland. I mean, that class of faithful servants who, having lived long in a family, and seen the births and
watched the infancy of children, are become, as it were, incorporated with the family itself, and have no interest more warm, more tender, and more sincere, than the well-being of those whom they serve. Sometimes, indeed, such persons may err in their judgment; and may, on some occasions, injure where they wish to benefit. But, notwithstanding the little flaws which are sometimes, found in such characters, it cannot be questioned that the children of a family owe something like filial duty to these old and faithful servants of their parents, and that the comfort of their declining years should be the object of their tenderest care.
From the day of the funeral for more than a fortnight Sophia was left in the undisturbed enjoyment of her little plaything. The child was pretty, and remarkably engaging, and soon made it appear that she had received from her mother ideas which proved that the poor woman had been accustomed to what is called better life. With what glee did the little prattler appear in the morning at the foot of Sophia's bed! and how sweet were her gentle salutations when summoned to return in the evening! “I am coming to-morrow," she would say, “very early. You will let me come to-morrow, lady, will you not?” This was constantly her question, till by experience she became more assured of her being allowed to come back the next day.
One evening, Sophia having been obliged to send Annette to Mrs. Doiley's rather earlier than usual, as the little girl was standing at the door of the lodge, Mr. Sackville happened to come by; and immediately recognizing her, he dismounted, for he was on horseback, when, entering the lodge, he discoursed awhile with the child, and, during the conversation, told her, that she was the happiest little girl he knew, for she had the loveliest and best mamma in the whole world.
It is not to be supposed that Annette remembered these words so as to convey them with any consistency to Sophia; but Mrs. Doiley made an errand to the Hall, the next morning, for the very purpose, and failed not when there to repeat them in a manner which by no means deducted from their force.
Simple and unimportant as this little circumstance may appear, it was not without its effect on the mind of