previous next

The governess.

‘"You bear a gentle heart, and heavenly blessings, Follow such creatures."’

‘"I wonder why Isabel is out so late this evening; it is almost dark and snows very fast."’

The speaker was a pretty but delicate little girl, busily employed in arranging the simple evening meal, in a small apartment, whose scanty but well kept furniture spoke both of poverty and industry.

‘"Mrs. Gascoigne gives a large party to-night, and perhaps she may have detained Isabel to assist her in some of the arrangements,"’ replied her mother.

‘"I wish I could see a real grand party,"’ sighed the child, as she spread a coarse, but clean cloth upon the polished table.

‘"I am sorry to hear you express such a wish, my daughter,"’ said the prudent Mrs. Noryce.

‘"Mother, there surely can be no harm in desiring to behold what so many people are continually enjoying."’

‘"The indulgence of unattainable wishes is always wrong, Susie; we are apt to begin with idle wants, and to end by cherishing a feeling of discontent against the decrees of an all-wise Providence."’

‘"Oh, there comes Isabel, I hear her step on the stairs!"’ exclaimed Susan, as she bounded forward to open the door.

‘"And who is Isabel?"’ asks some impatient reader. She is neither a wit, a beauty, or an heiress, my young friend. She has no superlative attractions; nor is she a heroine of romantic distresses, or the victim of unforeseen reverses. Isabel Noryce is a governess; a daily governess: destined to that vocation from childhood, and fulfilling its arduous duties patiently, quietly, and with an endurance eminently womanly.

Imprinting a kiss on her sister's cheek, and kindly pressing her mother's extended hand, Isabel threw off her cloak, which was heavy with snow, and drawing her chair towards the fire, said, ‘"Will you give me a cup of tea, dear mother? I must return to Waverly place before nightfall."’

‘"Return, Isabel! it is twilight now. Why are you going there again?"’

‘"Mrs. Gascoigne wishes to exhibit her pretty children in some tableaux vivants, and I have promised to dress them, and arrange their change of position."’

‘"Can nobody do that excepting you, Isabel?"’ asked Susan quickly.

Isabel smiled. ‘"Mrs. Gascoigne has requested me to superintend the 'pictorial department,' and I have every wish to oblige her, together with very cogent reasons for not displeasing her."’

‘"What a slave you are to that woman, Isabel — I really believe she thinks she has bought you, body and soul, with her paltry salary."’

‘"Susan, you are too young and too thoughtless to know much of the difficulty of my position. Mrs. Gascoigne is rich and fashionable — I am poor and dependent on my own exertions. If any offence on my part should occasion my dismissal from her employ, her influence would be sufficient to injure me materially, and we cannot afford to risk the loss of the poor salary which you seem to despise."’

‘"I do not despise the reward of your labors, dear Bell — but I cannot bear to see you obliged to study the whims and caprices of people, only because they are more fortunate in life than ourselves. How I do hate such people!"’

‘"For shame! for shame! Susan — you would not hate them, if you did not envy them! "’

Susan blushed deeply as she felt the truth of her sister's rebuke. ‘"Why did not Mrs. Gascoigne invite you earlier, Isabel?"’ said she after a moment's pause; ‘"you might then have had time to prepare a dress for the party."’

Isabel langhed — a real merry laugh. ‘"Why, Susie, you don't think I am to be one of the company, do you?"’

‘"What, then?"’ exclaimed the little girl, reddening now with anger; ‘"you are not going to be one of the servants. I hope!"’

‘"No,"’ replied Isabel, with half a sigh, ‘"I am about as far removed from the one station as the other. Those whose only riches lie in their brains, a governess for instance, is, in society, like the poor flying fish among the finny tribes; its wings enable it to soar into the free air, but its necessities bring it back to the grosser element, where it finds subsistence. Mrs. Gascoigne's entertainment will commence with a series of 'tableaux,' and finish with a fancy ball. I shall probably never appear before the curtain which will veil the arrangements of the living pictures."’

Susan looked very vexed, and even Mrs. Noryce sighed, as Isabel proceeded to take out her well preserved dress of deep mourning, bought with some difficulty some two years previous, when the death of her father demanded such a tribute of respect.

‘"It is a shame for you to be seen in such a dowdy old dress,"’ said Susan, ‘"the damp has taken all the curl out of your hair, too; and just now, when you ought to look prettiest — you will be a perfect fright! I hope nobody will see you."’

‘"I care very little about the matter,"’ said Isabel, smiling, ‘"for my own sake I wish to look neat; but no one will notice me."’ And with these words, she retired into her little bed-room to make her simple toilet. In a few minutes she returned, looking so lovely in her plain attire that her sister, who loved her dearly, was more than ever pained at the thought of her not appearing to advantage in a richer dress. Her fine hair braided smoothly across her white brow, displayed the perfect contour of her small head. Her usually pale cheek was tinged with a flush like that within the lip of the sea-shell, and her tall figure, even in that ‘"dowdy dress,"’ was a very model of grace.

‘"Dear Isabel, do take off that ugly collar, and dress your neck as they say other people do at parties! Why could you cover up your beautiful white shoulders?"’

‘"Susan, I mean to seem exactly what I am; and in my situation any attempt at display would only excite deserved rebuke, or ill-natured ridicule. And now good night, dear sister — I shall not be home until morning, when I hope to spend the whole day with you, for my little pupils will be too much fatigued to-night to take their lessons to-morrow." ’

‘"Are you going to walk such a distance at this hour, Isabel,"’ said her mother; ‘"surely Mrs. Gascoigne might have sent her carriage for you, if she wanted your services."’

‘"I suppose she did not think of it, and the servants are all very busy,"’ was the patient answer, and Isabel, with an affectionate kiss on her mother's brow, wrapped herself in her cloak and hurried away.

But, despite the cheerful tone she had assumed at home, Isabel Noryce was not insensible to her desolate condition, as she trudged on through the deepening twilight, impeded at every step by the snow drifts which were rapidly increasing in her path. Young, gifted and accomplished, and with a voice of exquisite melody, and a face not regularly beautiful, but very lovely in its delicacy of feature and gentleness of expression, how would she have been caressed and courted and flattered by the votaries of fashion, had she only possessed the magic talisman, wealth! But Isabel was ‘"only a governess,"’ and therefore her talents, her charms, her gentle virtues, were like.

‘ "Flowers in desert isles that perish,
Or treasures buried in the deep."

’ Therefore it was, that she was now threading alone the dark, wet thoroughfares of a city, trembling at the approach of every wayfarer, and fearing insult at every step.

Mrs. Gascoigne was not naturally unkind, but a long course of self-indulgence had made her totally forgetful of the comforts of others, and consequently she saw not the flushed cheek and chilled frame of the young governess, as she entered the luxurious dressing-room of her pupils, all was hurry and excitement — the mistress of the feast was anticipating the triumph of giving a brilliant entertainment, and fretting with anxiety lest any part should prove a failure, while the children, wild with delight at being admitted to the gay scene, were utterly ungovernable in their transports.

No one had time to think of Isabel, who, cold, wet and dispirited, began her ministry of vanity and frivolity. To arrange the fanciful dresses of the really beautiful children — to teach them the graceful attitudes in which they were to exhibit their beautiful forms, was the task which her good taste had brought upon her; and while she deprecated the folly which thus forced into premature growth the passions of the innocent little ones, she yet felt herself compelled to oppose no obstacle to the fancies of her patroness.

The ball passed off as such things usually do. There was the same amount of flirtation and fooling — of vanity and ill nature — of dancing and discontent. The ‘"tableaux"’ were pronounced beautiful — the decorations of the room superb — the supper exquisite. Everybody tried to look happy with all their might, and uttered the most pleasant flatteries in the most dulcet tones to the gratified hostess, who was little aware of the sarcastic ‘"asides"’ which commented upon her extravagance and love of notoriety. But all things, even balls, must have an end. The children, weary and exhausted, were carried to bed, and towards morning the lingering guests, who had danced away the fairy-footed hours, vanished from the empty halls. The moment the door closed upon the last of them, Mrs. Gascoigne hastened to her apartment, and, completely overcome with fatigue, summoned her maid to disencumber her of her rich attire, without bestowing a thought upon the tired servants, to whom she left the task of guarding her furniture from midnight robbery.

Isabel Noryce had been the presiding genius of the festival; though invisible, her delicate taste had shed a charm over everything that came within its influence. She had not shamed the brilliant scene by appearing in her robe of sadness, but when the curtain rose to display the lovely groups of children, it was her skillful hand which touched the strings of the harp and added the witchery of music to the beauty of the animated picture. It was she who fixed each group of breathing statues.--It was she who played the guitar which the olive brown Spanish girl seemed to touch; and it was she who breathed the exquisite song of Castile, which seemed to issue from the lips of the boy cavalier. But the feast was over, the guests had departed, the hostess was seeking her rest in her bed of down, and amid the dull light of expiring torches, and the sickening perfume of withered flowers, Isabel stood alone, uncared for, forgotten. No provision had been made for her repose; the numerous chambers of the stately mansion were filled with guests, but no one had remembered her; and even Mrs. Gascoigne, who had been indebted to her for so much of the beauty of her fete, had never thought of appropriating an apartment to the humble governess.

It was with a sad and desolate feeling that Isabel looked around the discomforts of the disordered saloons. Her heart swelled at the thought of the neglect which she had endured, and tears rose to her eyes as she remembered that all, even the humblest domestic, could retire to the repose they so much needed, while she was left like an outcast, forlorn and solitary.

It was yet the early dawn of a wintry day, when Frank Gascoigne entered the desolate rooms, which only a few hours previous had been the scene of so much brilliancy and beauty. A close and severe student, devoted to the holy profession which he had adopted, he had appeared but for a moment at his sister's ball, and then in the retirement of his own apartment had spent his evening as calmly among his books as if the sound of pipe and tabor had fallen on a deafened ear. The gayety of the occasion, the loveliness of fair women and the charms of brilliant conversation, had been powerless to attract the young ascetic. He had retired to rest at his wonted hour, and now had arisen to take his usual early walk.

A vague feeling of curiosity led him to enter the saloon, and he smiled in derision, as the faint light, struggling through the half open windows, revealed the melancholy, dilapidated look, which is always worn by a ‘"banquet hall deserted."’ But what was his surprise, when, extended on a couch, he observed the figure of the young and lovely Isabel. She had fallen in a deep but uneasy slumber; her cheek was flushed with fever; her dark hair had escaped from the comb, and hung in rich masses over her neck and bosom, while ever and anon she opened her large eyes and murmured some inarticulate sounds, as if in a dream.

Frank Gascoigne stood like one entranced. Hitherto, he had been a mere bookworm — a student from his boyhood; and if he had ever thought of woman, he had pictured her as some fair creature, dressed in the latest Paris fashion, and of wearing a mask of pleasant looks. But of woman in unadorned loveliness — woman armed only with her own gentle helplessness — woman, the object of tender care and cherishing, he had never before dreamed, and he gazed as if spell-bound on the unconscious girl. He knew her not, for although she had long been the daily governess of his brother's children, yet he had never met her; and as he looked upon her mourning dress, and the delicate beauty of her countenance, he was utterly at a loss to imagine why she should be there.

While he stood motionless before her, a slight shudder ran through the frame of the sleeping girl, and with a deep sigh, she awoke. Her start of surprise and terror reminded Frank of the singularity of his position, and he hastened to apologize for his intrusion; but Isabel, bewildered with the fever which was burning in her veins, scarcely heeded his words. Alarmed and mortified, she strove to rise — but the effort was too great for her, and overcome by faintness she fell back upon the sofa. She was ill, seriously ill, her exposure to the weather on the previous night, and the short slumber which she had snatched in the cold, comfortless drawing-room, had struck a chill through her fragile frame, that she could with difficulty move her aching limbs. In the language of heartfelt kindness, Frank Gascoigne informed her of his name and calling, and proffered his assistance. Isabel knew his character for nobleness and virtue, and recovering her self-possession, she no longer hesitated to accept his aid. A carriage was procured, and long before the household had awakened from their heavy slumbers, Isabel was resting in the quiet of her humble home. But something more then rest was now required. A violent cold was the consequence of the night of exposure, and ere sunset the skill of a physician had been deemed requisite.

Shy and diffident in his nature, Frank Gascoigne spoke to none of this early interview with the governess; he did not even venture to continue the acquaintance so singularly commenced, but returned to his books, with the vain idea that she would be to him but a passing thought. But day after day that delicate figure, lying in all the graceful abandonment of sleep, appeared before his mental vision; night after night did that sweet face look out upon him from the huge folios where he ought only to have seen the severe features of philosophy. He was soon awakened to a more active interest in the subject of his vague dreams.

As he was descending from his quiet study one morning, his steps were arrested on the stairs by the accents of a childish voice in conversation with his sister below.

‘"Are you sure your sister is too ill to give any more lessons?"’ asked Mrs. Gascoigne.

‘"Yes, madam,"’ said the child, in a tone of deep sadness; ‘"the doctor says she may get well, but he will not allow her to go out of the house this winter, and she must neither talk nor sing."’

‘"If that is the case, I suppose there is no use in waiting for her; I shall be obliged to find another governess, but it is excessively provoking to lose Miss Noryce just when the children are beginning to improve so fast.--How long has she been sick?"’

‘"Ever since the night of your party, madam."’

For a moment the woman of fashion was silenced, and she hesitated as she inquired, ‘"Has she a good physician?"’

‘"Yes, madam; but he says she requires good nursing, rather than medicine."’

‘"Well, that is fortunate, since your mother can give her all proper attention of that kind."’

‘"My mother does all she can,"’ said Susan, proudly; "but Isabel needs some of the comforts which only money can procure. If you would be so good, madam, as to pay my sister the money due for the unfinished quarter, we should be very glad.

‘"Money, why I don't owe your sister any money. I engaged her by the year, and paid her quarterly; of course, if she gives up her engagement in the middle of the term, she is not entitled to any compensation."’

‘"I don't know anything about engagements; my sister said you owed her fifty dollars, and we are very much in need of it,"’ was the impatient reply of the high-spirited Susan.

Mrs. Gascoigne was excessively vexed. She had only the day before spent three times that sum for a new shawl, and she actually had not the money.

‘"It is a pity your sister could not teach you politeness, or else find a better messenger,"’ said she; ‘"here are twenty dollars--all I have in my purse, and more than Miss Noryce has any right to expect; take it, and let me hear no more dunning on the subject!"’

‘"You will probably hear of her death, and you will then, perhaps, remember where she contracted her disease!"’ exclaimed the passionate child, bursting into tears, as she indignantly flung down the proffered bills and hurried from the door.

‘"Insolent creature!"’ exclaimed Mrs. Gascoigne, as she entered the drawing-room and took up a new novel; ‘"it seems to me that the poor are becoming more exacting every day; this comes of charitable associations and societies — it is the utter destruction of humility, and a proper sense of their condition! I have never subscribed to one of them, and I never will!"’

Frank Gascoigne had heard the whole conversation, and his heart was filled with just indignation; but he knew enough of the character of his brother's wife to be well aware of the uselessness of expostulation. Susan had scarce had time to return home and tell her story, when a blank cover enclosing a fifty dollar bill was left at the door, with Mrs. Gascoigne's compliments.

‘"It is well she repented of her injustice,"’ said Susie, ‘"a woman of her wealth should at least possess common honesty!"’

‘"Susan, you are too unguarded in your speech,"’ murmured Isabel. ‘"Alas! how will your impatient spirit entangle you amid the thorns and briars of your future life, if it be not brought into subjection?"’

‘"I wish I had a portion of your gentle and quiet temper, dear Bell; but when I see you suffering, dying it may be, through that woman's selfishness, I could find it in my heart to hate her!"’

But Susan became far better reconciled to Mrs. Gascoigne, when she found that her brother was daily commissioned by her to inquire after the wants of the gentle invalid. Not a morning passed but the tall figure of the young clergyman was seen standing at the door of Mrs. Noryce's house; and Susan almost felt she loved him for the kind and respectful manner in which he always addressed her anxious mother.

As Isabel gradually recovered, so as to be able to leave her bed of pain, Mr. Gascoigne was admitted into the little parlor, where sat the pale and beautiful girl. His visits as a minister of the Gospel were peculiarly acceptable to the family; and laying aside the pardonable pretext of his sister's name, he now made no secret of his voluntary visits. There was something so new and delightful to Isabel in this communion with a refined and cultivated mind — something so hallowed in the intercourse between the sick maiden and the young preacher of holiness — something so unworldly in the character of a friendship made on the bed of sickness, it might be of death, that she allowed herslf to indulge, without restraint, the gratification it afforded her. She sought not to analyze the feelings which had sprung up in her heart; she only knew him as a true and tender friend who sat beside her in the hour of weakness, comforting her with his sympathy, and disarming death of its terrors by the promises of the Book of Truth.

‘"What is the matter with Susan this morning?"’ said Frank Gascoigne, as he entered the invalid's room one bright autumnal day; ‘"she seems quite oppressed with grief."’

‘"I suppose she is distressed about me,"’ said Isabel, sadly; ‘"do you know that my doom is fixed, and that I have nothing now to look forward to but a lingering death?"’

‘"Isabel! Miss Noryce, what do you mean?"’ exclaimed Frank.

‘"Does it surprise you, my friend, to learn that an illness of nearly a year's duration should end in consumption?"’

‘"But it will not, Isabel; you are young, and may yet regain your health."’

‘"Doctor — thinks nothing but an entire change of country and climate can save me from it; and is not such an opinion equal to a death warrant?"’

Frank was thunderstruck. He had never looked into his own heart; he had never fathomed the depth of his feelings, and he hurried from the presence of the gentle girl, whose soft eyes were fixed in strange surprise on his agitated face. But little reflection was necessary to decide such a character as his. As soon as he was convinced of the nature of his own emotions — as soon as he had examined the feelings which filled his noble heart, he decided upon his future course. He was rich and independent; he had studied for the ministry, and was already in orders; and where could he find so fitting a helpmeet as the patient and self-denying Isabel? * * * * * *

‘"What on earth has possessed you, my most eccentric brother, to decide so suddenly upon a visit to Italy?"’ said Mrs. Gascoigne to the young clergyman a few days afterwards.

‘"[Suppose I give a lady's reason, and say it is my whim?"’ answered Frank.

‘"Well, it is certainly a strange whim. You have just completed your studies, and now, instead of looking about for some eligible situation, you are off in a tangent to Europe." ’

‘"A year, more or less, will make very little difference in my choice of a situation, but may be all important as regards my prospects of future happiness."’

‘"What do you mean by that, Frank? are you following some lady-love?"’

‘"No, I shall take a lady-love with me. You look surprised, sister."’

‘"I am surprised — I did not think you could ever summon courage to address a lady, and certainly did not suppose you had acquired sufficient boldness to offer your hand."’

‘"I am more courageous than you think, Margaretta — I have wooed and won as fair a bride as ever shone in the galaxy of fashion!"’

‘"Then, you are really going to be married?"’

‘"I am — and if you will be in St. Paul's Church, on Sunday next, you shall witness the ceremony."’

‘"On Sunday, Frank! and you sail for Europe the next day?"’

‘"Exactly so. I shall be married after morning service."’

‘"And, pray, who is the lady? I think you might have informed us of it sooner."’

‘"I have only been engaged ten days, and it was scarcely worth while to set the world talking about us sooner than we need."’

‘"Won't you tell me her name?"’

‘"Yes, but you will not be very well pleased to hear it. Do you remember Isabel Noryce? "’

‘"What! my children's pretty governess who died some months ago?"’

‘"She was very sick, Margaretta — but through the mercy of God, she still lives; and I trust will long be preserved to be the joy and comfort of my life."’

‘"You are not going to degrade yourself by marrying a governess, Frank?"’

‘"I am going to ennoble myself by a union with beauty, virtue and piety, in the person of Isabel Noryce."’

‘"Well, you are your own master, but you only confirm the truth of the old saying, 'there is no fool like a learned fool;' you were always different from other people. "’

‘"I always mean to be different from some people."’

‘"You must excuse my presence at your marriage, Frank, I hate romantic scenes and feel little disposed to figure in the nine days wonder which your choice will excite."’

‘"Just as you please, sister, we can be married without you; and by the time we return from Europe, you will be ready to receive us as distinguished travellers."’

Frank Gascoigne kept his word. He read prayers on the following Sunday; and at the close of the service he retired to the vestry room, and divesting himself of his surplice, reappeared, with a pale and fragile looking creature leaning on his arm. A little group was soon formed around the altar, and in a few moments the solemn ceremony which binds two hearts together for joy or sorrow had united the youthful pair. Many a foreboding look was cast at the delicate bride, whose lip and cheek were as white as her snowy robe; and even those who would have reproved such an unworldly choice, were stayed by compassion for his doom of speedy bereavement. Feeble as a child, the newly-wedded Isabel was borne to the carriage, almost in her husband's arms; and when on the following day the newspapers announced their departure for Europe, few ever expected to see them both return. But Frank knew the value of the prize he had gained, and he spared no effort to win back health to the gentle Isabel. A quiet retreat in the warm valleys of southern France, and a pleasant sojourn in sunny Italy, soon diminished the most alarming symptoms of disease. The care of her tender mother and the attractions of the happy Susan, (both of whom were companions of their wanderings,) together with the watchful tenderness of her husband, were not without their reward. The smile of patient endurance on the lip of the invalid was at length exchanged for the joyous expression of positive pleasure. A delicate tint, like that within the heart of the white rose, once more brightened her cheek, and the soft velvet of her lip regained its wonted coral hue.

Happiness is a better medicament than all the simples in the herbal of Hippocrates. When Frank Gascoigne returned to his native land, bringing with him his beautiful wife, and a rosy-cheeked babe, the plague and pet of the joyous Susan —— few would have recognized the drooping form of the young woman who soon became the delight of that ‘"inner circle,"’ that best portion of society — the educated, the refined, and the intellectual. Nor has the young clergyman — now the faithful pastor of a numerous flock, ever found cause to regret the seemingly fortuitous circumstances which led him to woo and win his gentle bride. Susan has lived to see the wish of her youth fulfilled; she has seen many a ‘"real, grand party."’ Indeed, nothing but Isabel's noble influence and example and the domestic happiness which she beholds in that dear sister's home, has preserved her from becoming that most frivolous of creatures, a ball-room belle.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Sort places alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a place to search for it in this document.
St. Paul's church (United Kingdom) (1)
France (France) (1)
Castile, N. Y. (New York, United States) (1)
hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
Isabel (35)
Frank Gascoigne (25)
Isabel Noryce (11)
Bell (2)
Paris (1)
Hippocrates (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: