« PreviousContinue »
ments—for she was a wild little pussy, always in some kind of scrape—and if I could have transferred to her all my own good marks and rewards, I would willingly have done so. For a few weeks I fancied my affection was fully returned; but at the quarter there was a new arrival, a certain Louisa Mortimer, who gradually insinuated herself into Nelly's good graces, while I was quietly and heartlessly discarded.
All the girls said “it was a shame !” and “if they were Milly Kendrick, they wouldn't care a straw about such a changeable, fickle, good-for-nothing little thing." But I did care, nevertheless; I sorrowed so much, that my studies were neglected, and I got into trouble; and for a little while my health suffered, and I felt sure I should never be happy any more.
Time, the consoler, however, laid his kindly hand on these early wounds, and they bled less and less, till they healed over, and I felt the anguish no. longer; but they did not close without a scar, that remained for many and many a day after I had resigned myself to be neglected and unloved by Nelly Leigh. Poor Nelly Leigh ! her dear friends at Agenoria House were countless, their names were legion ; and at last it became a rule to warn every new comer against the advances of that winning, coaxing, fickle Nelly Leigh. She grew up to be a coquette and a flirt; rumour blazoned about her conquests, for she was very lovely to look upon, and an heiress to boot, and she sang like a nightingale; and rumour declared that breaking hearts
was her pastime; but at last-I don't know howher own heart was broken, and she died in the flower of her age. I saw her grave the other day ; a poor, neglected, forlorn place it was, in a little churchyard on the southern coast, where she went as a last resource for lengthening out the weary days of a wasted, blighted life.
My next beloved friend was Jane Temple, the cleverest girl in the school. I loved her from the day of her arrival; she was so well-bred, so accomplished, and she knew so many things; and oh, unexampled honour and felicity! I was for a whole half-year her chosen and especial friend. We studied together, of course; we learned duetts together; we worked the same embroidery patterns; we were Hermia and Helena. And one thing I unquestionably owe to Jane Temple—and if she is living I hope she may read these pages, and know it; I have no idea where she is, but I believe she married and went to Australia—to her I owe my love of study, and habits of perseverance, which, till the period of my intimacy with her, were certainly undeveloped, if indeed they existed at all.
For one half-year I enjoyed without let or hindrance the friendship of Jane Temple. Then we separated for the holidays, and during the five weeks of our absence from Hammersmith, we corresponded as often as our finances and postal arrangements, unblest by Rowland Hill, would permit; I know that I counted the hours till we should meet again. For several reasons, which it is unnecessary to specify
here, I remained some days longer than the allotted term of vacation, and, when I went back to school, I found the larger portion of the young ladies assembled. I hastened to seek out Jane Temple, and I soon found her in the music-room, where the elder girls frequently sat, out of school hours.
Quick as true affection always is to discern the slightest change in the object of its regard, I felt, even before I saw it, an alteration in Jane's manner ; she was cordial, but not familiar ; kind, but not loving. My heart sank within me as I noted the symptoms of growing indifference and consequent alienation.
Jane had brought back with her a new pupil, a talented, showy girl of sixteen, who became a general favourite in the house, from the day of her arrival; and to her my friend transferred the attentions, the interest, and the demonstrations of affection which for the last six months had been exclusively my own. Once more I found myself forsaken-once more I experienced all the bitterness of slighted love.
This cruel disappointment happened when I was little more than fifteen, and Jane's desertion wellnigh broke my heart. It was not only that she had ceased to love me, but that I could no longer count her worthy of my first love. My queen was dethroned ; my idol fallen from her pedestal. Still, in this case, I rallied before I fretted myself out of health. Pride came to my aid, and I determined that the faithless Jane should never know what misery she had inflicted ; and in endeavouring to
seem of good cheer, I gradually became more resigned, if not actually content.
Henceforth I determined to eschew the affections altogether. I made up my mind that they were essentially detrimental to happiness, injurious to one's peace of mind ; so I concluded to try some new source of abiding pleasure I resolved to try ambition.
So I devoted myself to my studies I gave nothing else a thought-morning, noon, or night. I was always plunged in a sea of histories, grammars, dictionaries, and general literature. I asked and obtained leave to learn Latin, a very rare accomplishment in those days, when it was considered a proof of superior education to be able to translate “ Télémaque;" and finding out one day that Miss Lucretia Johnson was a Latin scholar, and had gone through the Greek grammar, I coaxed, and begged, and teased her, and gave her no peace, till she finally consented to indoctrinate me in the learned languages, on condition that I kept my classical studies a profound secret, as something altogether contraband, and out of keeping with femininity. She, on her part, declared that my Latin lessons should never go down in the bill. So I perfected myself in French literature, and affected the society of Mademoiselle, in order to improve my accent, and catch the idiom of the language. I set to work at Italian and Latin ; I took lessons in perspective, practised double hours, and underwent voluntary examinations in sundry grave tomes, that had not been taken out of the school library in the memory of any girl in the house. And as I believed that it was my hapless fate never to be truly and wholly loved, so I resolved to be happy without love; I would be admired, esteemed, respected; I would depend upon my own resources, and find within myself all that was essential to happiness.
“And I cannot be false to myself,” I said consolingly : “if I cannot find that which I seek in one direction, I will look for it in another; and I believe that knowledge, like Nature, never did betray the heart that loved her.' I will cultivate my intellect, and control my affections—I must, I will be happy.” And visions of authorship, and fame, and glory, flitted before my young, foolish imagination, and I looked back proudly and disdainfully on certain sentimental passages to which I have alluded.
And, for a time, I believed that I really had found the secret of happiness; I was quite independent of friends and allies ; I hugged my new-born content to my heart, and I wrapped myself in a delicious calmness, and rejoiced in the comfortable self-appreciation, that was, for the time being, as satisfactory as it was egotistical and delusive. - At length, however, though I would by no means admit it, even to myself, my studious pursuits began to pall upon my taste; I felt, at times, weary, disappointed, empty, and very nearly disgusted. By degrees these feelings grew upon me, and though I toiled on, it was with a kind of dreary, mechanical resolution, that gave me neither comfort nor pleasure.