We alight at Brocklebank Fells.
“Sure, there is room within our hearts good store;
For we can lodge transgressions by the score:
Thousands of toys dwell there, yet out of door
We leave Thee.”
“Girls!” said my Aunt Kezia, looking round at us, “I should just like to know what is to come of the whole four of you!”
My Aunt Kezia has an awful way of looking round at us. She begins with Sophy—she is our eldest—then she goes to Fanny, then to Hatty, and ends up with me. As I am the youngest, I have to be ended up with. She generally lays down her work to do it, too; and sometimes she settles her spectacles first, and that makes it feel more awful than ever. However, when she has gone round, she always takes them off—spectacles, I mean—and wipes them, and gives little solemn shakes of her head while she is doing it, as if she thought we were all four going to ruin together, and had got very near the bottom.
This afternoon, when she said that, instead of sitting quiet, as we generally do, Hatty—she is the pert one amongst us—actually spoke up.
“I should think we shall be married, Aunt Kezia, one of these days—shan’t we?”
“My dear, if you are,” was my Aunt Kezia’s reply, more solemn than ever, “the only wedding present that I shall be conscientiously able to give to those four misguided men will be a rope a-piece to hang themselves with.”
“Oh dear! I do wish she would not!” said Fanny in a plaintive whisper behind me.
“Considering who brought us up, Aunt Kezia,” replied impertinent Hatty, “I should have thought they would have had better bargains than that.”
“Hester, you forget yourself,” said my aunt severely. Then, though she had only just finished wiping her spectacles, she took them off, and wiped them again, with more little shakes of her head. “And I did not bring you all up, neither.”
My cheeks grew hot, for I knew that meant me. My Aunt Kezia did not bring me up, as she did the rest. I was thought sickly in my youth, and as Brocklebank Fells is but a bleak place, I was packed off to Carlisle, where Grandmamma lived, and there I have been with her until six weeks back, when she went to live with Uncle Charles down in the South, and I came home to Brocklebank, being thought to have now outgrown my sickliness. My Aunt Kezia is Father’s sister, and has kept house for him since Mamma died, so of course she is no kin to Grandmamma at all. I know it sounds queer to say “Father and Mamma,” instead of “Father and Mother,” but I cannot help it. Grandmamma would never let me say “Mother;” she said it was old-fashioned and vulgar: and now, when I come back, Father will not hear of my calling him “Papa,” which he says is new-fangled finnicking nonsense. I did not get used, either, to saying “Papa,” as I did “Mamma,” for Grandmamma never seemed to care to hear about him; I don’t believe she liked him. She never seemed to want to hear about anything at Brocklebank. I don’t think she ever took even to the girls, except Fanny. They all came to see me in turns, but Grandmamma said Sophy was only fit to be a country parson’s wife; she knew nothing except things about the house and sewing and mending: she said fine breeding would be thrown away upon her. She might do very well, Grandmamma said, with her snuff-box elegantly held in her left hand, and taking a pinch out of it with the mittened fingers of her right—that is, Grandmamma, not Sophy—she said Sophy might do very well for a country squire’s eldest daughter and some parson’s wife, to cut out clothes and roll pills and make dumplings, but that was all she was good for. Then Hatty’s pert speeches she could not bear one bit. Grandmamma said it was perfectly dreadful, and that her great glazed red cheeks—that is what she called them—were insufferably vulgar; she wouldn’t like anybody to hear that such a creature was her grand-daughter. She wanted Hatty to take a lot of castor oil or some such horrid stuff, to bring down her red cheeks and make her slender and ladylike; she was ever so much too fat, Grandmamma said, and she thought it so vulgar to be fat. She wanted to pinch her in with stays, too, but it was all of no use. Hatty would not be pinched, and she would not take castor oil, and she would eat and drink—like a plough-boy, Grandmamma said—so at last she gave her up as a bad job. Then Fanny came, and she is more like Grandmamma in her ways, and she did not mind the castor oil, but swallowed bottles of it; and she did not mind the stays, but let Grandmamma pinch her anyhow she pleased, so I think she rather liked Fanny. I was pale and thin enough without castor oil, so she did not give me any, for which I am thankful, for I could not have swallowed it as meekly as Fanny.
It looked very queer to me, after Grandmamma’s houseful of servants, to come home and find only four at Brocklebank, and but three of those in the house, and my Aunt Kezia doing half the work herself, and expecting us girls to help her. Grandmamma would hardly let me pick up my kerchief, if I dropped it; I had to call Willet, her woman, to give it to me. And here, my Aunt Kezia looks as if she thought I ought to want no telling how to dust a table or make an apple pie. She has only cook-maid and chambermaid,—Maria and Bessy, their names are,—and Sam the serving-man. There is the old shepherd, Will, but he only comes into the house by nows and thens. Grandmamma had a black man who waited on us. She said it gave the place an air, and that there were gentlewomen in Carlisle who would scarce have come to see her if she had not had a black man to look genteel. I don’t fancy I should care much for people who would not come to see me unless I had a black servant. I should think they came to visit him, not me. But Grandmamma said that my old Lady Mary Garsington, in the Close, never came to see anybody who had less than a thousand a year, and did not keep a black. She was the grandest person Grandmamma knew at Carlisle, for most of her friends live in the South.
I do not know exactly where the South is, nor what it is like. Of course London is in the South; I know that. But Grandmamma used to talk about the South as if she thought it so fine; and my Uncle Charles once said nobody could be a gentleman who had not lived in the South. They were all clodhoppers up here, he said, and you could only get any proper polish in the South. Fanny was there then, and she was quite hurt with it. She did not like to think Father a clodhopper; and I am sure he is not. Besides, our ancestors did come from the South. Our grandfather, William Courtenay, who bought the land and built Brocklebank, belonged (Note 1.) Wiltshire, and his father was a Devonshire man, and a Courtenay of Powderham, whatever that may mean: Father knows more about it than I do, and so, I think, does Fanny. Grandmamma once told me she would never have thought of allowing Mamma to marry Father, if he had not been a Courtenay and a man of substance. She said all his other relations were so very mean and low, she could not have condescended so far as to connect herself with them. Why, I believe one of them was only a farmer’s daughter: and I think, from what I have heard Grandmamma and my Uncle Charles say, that another of them had something to do with those low people called Dissenters. I don’t suppose she really was one—that would be too shocking; but Grandmamma always went into the clouds when she mentioned these vulgar ancestors of mine, so I never heard more than “that poor wretched mother of your grandfather’s, my dear,” or “that dreadful