VilletteCharlotte Bronte / Romance & Love
Produced by Delphine Lettau, Charles Franks and Distributed Proofreaders
I. BRETTON II. PAULINA III. THE PLAYMATES IV. MISS MARCHMONT V. TURNING A NEW LEAF VI. LONDON VII. VILLETTE VIII. MADAME BECK IX. ISIDORE X. DR. JOHN XI. THE PORTRESS'S CABINET XII. THE CASKET XIII. A SNEEZE OUT OF SEASON XIV. THE FETE XV. THE LONG VACATION XVI. AULD LANG SYNE XVII. LA TERRASSE XVIII. WE QUARREL XIX. THE CLEOPATRA XX. THE CONCERT XXI. REACTION XXII. THE LETTER XXIII. VASHTI XXIV. M. DE BASSOMPIERRE XXV. THE LITTLE COUNTESS XXVI. A BURIAL XXVII. THE HOTEL CRECY XXVIII. THE WATCHGUARD XXIX. MONSIEUR'S FETE XXX. M. PAUL XXXI. THE DRYAD XXXII. THE FIRST LETTER XXXIII. M. PAUL KEEPS HIS PROMISE XXXIV. MALEVOLA XXXV. FRATERNITY XXXVI. THE APPLE OF DISCORD XXXVII. SUNSHINE XXXVIII. CLOUD XXXIX. OLD AND NEW ACQUAINTANCE XL. THE HAPPY PAIR XLI. FAUBOURG CLOTILDE XLII. FINIS
My godmother lived in a handsome house in the clean and ancient town ofBretton. Her husband's family had been residents there for generations,and bore, indeed, the name of their birthplace--Bretton of Bretton:whether by coincidence, or because some remote ancestor had been apersonage of sufficient importance to leave his name to hisneighbourhood, I know not.
When I was a girl I went to Bretton about twice a year, and well Iliked the visit. The house and its inmates specially suited me. Thelarge peaceful rooms, the well-arranged furniture, the clear widewindows, the balcony outside, looking down on a fine antique street,where Sundays and holidays seemed always to abide--so quiet was itsatmosphere, so clean its pavement--these things pleased me well.
One child in a household of grown people is usually made very much of,and in a quiet way I was a good deal taken notice of by Mrs. Bretton,who had been left a widow, with one son, before I knew her; herhusband, a physician, having died while she was yet a young andhandsome woman.
She was not young, as I remember her, but she was still handsome, tall,well-made, and though dark for an Englishwoman, yet wearing always theclearness of health in her brunette cheek, and its vivacity in a pairof fine, cheerful black eyes. People esteemed it a grievous pity thatshe had not conferred her complexion on her son, whose eyes wereblue--though, even in boyhood, very piercing--and the colour of hislong hair such as friends did not venture to specify, except as the sunshone on it, when they called it golden. He inherited the lines of hismother's features, however; also her good teeth, her stature (or thepromise of her stature, for he was not yet full-grown), and, what wasbetter, her health without flaw, and her spirits of that tone andequality which are better than a fortune to the possessor.
In the autumn of the year ---- I was staying at Bretton; my godmotherhaving come in person to claim me of the kinsfolk with whom was at thattime fixed my permanent residence. I believe she then plainly sawevents coming, whose very shadow I scarce guessed; yet of which thefaint suspicion sufficed to impart unsettled sadness, and made me gladto change scene and society.
Time always flowed smoothly for me at my godmother's side; not withtumultuous swiftness, but blandly, like the gliding of a full riverthrough a plain. My visits to her resembled the sojourn of Christianand Hopeful beside a certain pleasant stream, with green trees on eachbank, and meadows beautified with lilies all the year round. The charmof variety there was not, nor the excitement of incident; but I likedpeace so well, and sought stimulus so little, that when the latter cameI almost felt it a disturbance, and wished rather it had still heldaloof.
One day a letter was received of which the contents evidently causedMrs. Bretton surprise and some concern. I thought at first it was fromhome, and trembled, expecting I know not what disastrous communication:to me, however, no reference was made, and the cloud seemed to pass.
The next day, on my return from a long walk, I found, as I entered mybedroom, an unexpected change. In, addition to my own French bed in itsshady recess, appeared in a corner a small crib, draped with white; andin addition to my mahogany chest of drawers, I saw a tiny rosewoodchest. I stood still, gazed, and considered.
Of what are these things the signs and tokens? I asked. The answerwas obvious. A second guest is coming: Mrs. Bretton expects othervisitors.
On descending to dinner, explanations ensued. A little girl, I wastold, would shortly be my companion: the daughter of a friend anddistant relation of the late Dr. Bretton's. This little girl, it wasadded, had recently lost her mother; though, indeed, Mrs. Bretton erelong subjoined, the loss was not so great as might at first appear.Mrs. Home (Home it seems was the name) had been a very pretty, but agiddy, careless woman, who had neglected her child, and disappointedand disheartened her husband. So far from congenial had the unionproved, that separation at last ensued--separation by mutual consent,not after any legal process. Soon after this event, the lady havingover-exerted herself at a ball, caught cold, took a fever, and diedafter a very brief illness. Her husband, naturally a man of verysensitive feelings, and shocked inexpressibly by too suddencommunication of the news, could hardly, it seems, now be persuaded butthat some over-severity on his part--some deficiency in patience andindulgence--had contributed to hasten her end. He had brooded over thisidea till his spirits were seriously affected; the medical men insistedon travelling being tried as a remedy, and meanwhile Mrs. Bretton hadoffered to take charge of his little girl. And I hope, added mygodmother in conclusion, the child will not be like her mamma; assilly and frivolous a little flirt as ever sensible man was weak enoughto marry. For, said she, Mr. Home _is_ a sensible man in his way,though not very practical: he is fond of science, and lives half hislife in a laboratory trying experiments--a thing his butterfly wifecould neither comprehend nor endure; and indeed confessed mygodmother, I should not have liked it myself.
In answer to a question of mine, she further informed me that her latehusband used to say, Mr. Home had derived this scientific turn from amaternal uncle, a French savant; for he came, it seems; of mixed Frenchand Scottish origin, and had connections now living in France, of whommore than one wrote _de_ before his name, and called himself noble.
That same evening at nine o'clock, a servant was despatched to meet thecoach by which our little visitor was expected. Mrs. Bretton and I satalone in the drawing-room waiting her coming; John Graham Bretton beingabsent on a visit to one of his schoolfellows who lived in the country.My godmother read the evening paper while she waited; I sewed. It was awet night; the rain lashed the panes, and the wind sounded angry andrestless.
Poor child! said Mrs. Bretton from time to time. What weather forher journey! I wish she were safe here.
A little before ten the door-bell announced Warren's return. No soonerwas the door opened than I ran down into the hall; there lay a trunkand some band-boxes, beside them stood a person like a nurse-girl, andat the foot of the staircase was Warren with a shawled bundle in hisarms.
Is that the child? I asked.
I would have opened the shawl, and tried to get a peep at the face, butit was hastily turned from me to Warren's shoulder.
Put me down, please, said a small voice when Warren opened thedrawing-room door, and take off this shawl, continued the speaker,extracting with its minute hand the pin, and with a sort of fastidioushaste doffing the clumsy wrapping. The creature which now appeared madea deft attempt to fold the shawl; but the drapery was much too heavyand large to be sustained or wielded by those hands and arms. Give itto Harriet, please, was then the direction, and she can put it away.This said, it turned and fixed its eyes on Mrs. Bretton.
Come here, little dear, said that lady. Come and let me see if youare cold and damp: come and let me warm you at the fire.
The child advanced promptly. Relieved of her wrapping, she appearedexceedingly tiny; but was a neat, completely-fashioned little figure,light, slight, and straight. Seated on my godmother's ample lap, shelooked a mere doll; her neck, delicate as wax, her head of silky curls,increased, I thought, the resemblance.
Mrs. Bretton talked in little fond phrases as she chafed the child'shands, arms, and feet; first she was considered with a wistful gaze,but soon a smile answered her. Mrs. Bretton was not generally acaressing woman: even with her deeply-cherished son, her manner wasrarely sentimental, often the reverse; but when the small strangersmiled at her, she kissed it, asking, What is my little one's name?
But besides Missy?
Polly, papa calls her.
Will Polly be content to live with me?
Not _always_; but till papa comes home. Papa is gone away. She shookher head expressively.
He will return to Polly, or send for her.
Will he, ma'am? Do you know he will?
I think so.
But Harriet thinks not: at least not for a long while. He is ill.
Her eyes filled. She drew her hand from Mrs. Bretton's and made amovement to leave her lap; it was at first resisted, but shesaid--Please, I wish to go: I can sit on a stool.
She was allowed to slip down from the knee, and taking a footstool, shecarried it to a corner where the shade was deep, and there seatedherself. Mrs. Bretton, though a commanding, and in grave matters even aperemptory woman, was often passive in trifles: she allowed the childher way. She said to me, Take no notice at present. But I did takenotice: I watched Polly rest her small elbow on her small knee, herhead on her hand; I observed her draw a square inch or two ofpocket-handkerchief from the doll-pocket of her doll-skirt, and then Iheard her weep. Other children in grief or pain cry aloud, withoutshame or restraint; but this being wept: the tiniest occasional snifftestified to her emotion. Mrs. Bretton did not hear it: which was quiteas well. Ere long, a voice, issuing from the corner, demanded--May thebell be rung for Harriet!
I rang; the nurse was summoned and came.
Harriet, I must be put to bed, said her little mistress. You mustask where my bed is.
Harriet signified that she had already made that inquiry.
Ask if you sleep with me, Harriet.
No, Missy, said the nurse: you are to share this young lady's room,designating me.
Missy did not leave her seat, but I saw her eyes seek me. After someminutes' silent scrutiny, she emerged from her corner.
I wish you, ma'am, good night, said she to Mrs. Bretton; but shepassed me mute.
Good-night, Polly, I said.
No need to say good-night, since we sleep in the same chamber, wasthe reply, with which she vanished from the drawing-room. We heardHarriet propose to carry her up-stairs. No need, was again heranswer--no need, no need: and her small step toiled wearily up thestaircase.
On going to bed an hour afterwards, I found her still wide awake. Shehad arranged her pillows so as to support her little person in asitting posture: her hands, placed one within the other, rested quietlyon the sheet, with an old-fashioned calm most unchildlike. I abstainedfrom speaking to her for some time, but just before extinguishing thelight, I recommended her to lie down.
By and by, was the answer.
But you will take cold, Missy.
She took some tiny article of raiment from the chair at her crib side,and with it covered her shoulders. I suffered her to do as she pleased.Listening awhile in the darkness, I was aware that she stillwept,--wept under restraint, quietly and cautiously.
On awaking with daylight, a trickling of water caught my ear. Behold!there she was risen and mounted on a stool near the washstand, withpains and difficulty inclining the ewer (which she could not lift) soas to pour its contents into the basin. It was curious to watch her asshe washed and dressed, so small, busy, and noiseless. Evidently shewas little accustomed to perform her own toilet; and the buttons,strings, hooks and eyes, offered difficulties which she encounteredwith a perseverance good to witness. She folded her night-dress, shesmoothed the drapery of her couch quite neatly; withdrawing into acorner, where the sweep of the white curtain concealed her, she becamestill. I half rose, and advanced my, head to see how she was occupied.On her knees, with her forehead bent on her hands, I perceived that shewas praying.
Her nurse tapped at the door. She started up.
I am dressed, Harriet, said she; I have dressed myself, but I do notfeel neat. Make me neat!
Why did you dress yourself, Missy?
Hush! speak low, Harriet, for fear of waking _the girl_ (meaning me,who now lay with my eyes shut). I dressed myself to learn, against thetime you leave me.
Do you want me to go?
When you are cross, I have many a time wanted you to go, but not now.Tie my sash straight; make my hair smooth, please.
Your sash is straight enough. What a particular little body you are!
It must be tied again. Please to tie it.
There, then. When I am gone you must get that young lady to dress you.
On no account.
Why? She is a very nice young lady. I hope you mean to behave prettilyto her, Missy, and not show your airs.
She shall dress me on no account.
Comical little thing!
You are not passing the comb straight through my hair, Harriet; theline will be crooked.
Ay, you are ill to please. Does that suit?
Pretty well. Where should I go now that I am dressed?
I will take you into the breakfast-room.
They proceeded to the door. She stopped.
Oh! Harriet, I wish this was papa's house! I don't know these people.
Be a good child, Missy.
I am good, but I ache here; putting her hand to her heart, andmoaning while she reiterated, Papa! papa!
I roused myself and started up, to check this scene while it was yetwithin bounds.
Say good-morning to the young lady, dictated Harriet. She said,Good-morning, and then followed her nurse from the room. Harriettemporarily left that same day, to go to her own friends, who lived inthe neighbourhood.
On descending, I found Paulina (the child called herself Polly, but herfull name was Paulina Mary) seated at the breakfast-table, by Mrs.Bretton's side; a mug of milk stood before her, a morsel of breadfilled her hand, which lay passive on the table-cloth: she was noteating.
How we shall conciliate this little creature, said Mrs. Bretton tome, I don't know: she tastes nothing, and by her looks, she has notslept.
I expressed my confidence in the effects of time and kindness.
If she were to take a fancy to anybody in the house, she would soonsettle; but not till then, replied Mrs. Bretton.