Education of a Young Lady

Excerpt from “The English Orphans” 1855

By Mary Jane Holmes

     “Oh, what a forlorn-looking place!” exclaimed Rose Lincoln, as from the windows of the crowded vehicle in which they had come from the cars she first obtained a view of the not very handsome village of South Hadley.

     Rose was in the worst of humors, for by some mischance Mary was on the same seat with herself, and consequently she was very distressed and crowded. She, however, felt a little afraid of Aunt Martha, who she saw was inclined to favor the object of her wrath, so she restrained her fault-finding spirit until she arrived at South Hadley, where everything came in for a share of her displeasure.

     “That the seminary!” said she, contemptuously, as they drew up before the building. “Why, it isn’t half as large or handsome as I supposed. Oh, horror! I know I shan’t stay here long.”

     The furniture of the parlor was also very offensive to the young lady, and when Miss Lyon came in to meet them she, too, was secretly styled “A prim, fussy, slippery-tongued old maid.” Jenny, however, who always saw the bright side of everything, was completely charmed with the sweet smile and placid face, so well remembered by all who have seen and known the founder of Mount Holyoke Seminary. After some conversation between Miss Lyon and Aunt Martha it was decided that Rose and Jenny should room together as a matter of course, and that Mary should room with Ida. Rose had fully intended to room with Ida herself, and this decision made her very angry, but there was no hope for it, and she was obliged to submit.

     Our readers are probably aware that an examination in certain branches is necessary ere a pupil can be admitted into the school at Mount Holyoke, where the course of instruction embraces three years, and three classes, junior, middle and senior. Rose, who had been much flattered on account of her scholarship, confidently expected to enter the middle class. Jenny, too, had the same desire, though she confessed to some misgivings concerning her knowledge of a goodly number of the necessary branches. Ida was really an excellent scholar, and was prepared to enter the senior class, while Mary aspired to nothing higher than admission to the junior. She was therefore greatly surprised when Aunt Martha, after questioning her as to what she had studied, proposed that she should be examined for the middle class.

   “Oh, no,” said Mary, quickly, “I should fail, and I wouldn’t do that for the world.”

     “Have you ever studied Latin?” asked Aunt Martha.

     Before Mary could reply, Rose exclaimed, “She study Latin! How absurb! Why, she has never been to school in her life.”

     Aunt Martha silenced her with a peculiar look, while Mary answered that for more than two years she had been reading Latin under Mrs. Magon’s instruction.

     “And you could not have a better teacher,” said Aunt Martha “so try it, by all means.”

     “Yes, do try.” said Ida and Jenny, in the same breath, and after a time Mary rather reluctantly consented.

     “I’ll warrant she intends to sit by us, so we can tell her every other word.” muttered Rose to Jenny, but when the trial came she thought differently.

     It would be wearisome to give the examination in detail, so we will only say that at its close Rose Lincoln heard with shame and confusion that she could only be admitted to the junior class, her examination having proved very unsatisfactory one. Poor Jenny, too, who had stumbled over almost everything, shared the same fate, while Mary, expecting nothing, burst into tears when told that she had acquitted herself creditably in all the branches requisite for an admission into the middle class.

     “Mrs. Mason will be so glad, and Billy, too.” was her first thought, and then as she saw how disappointed Jenny looked, she seized the first opportunity to throw her arms around her neck, and whisper to her how sorry she was that she had-failed.

     Jenny, however, was of too happy a temperament to remain sad for a long time, and before night her loud, merry laugh had more than once rung out in the upper hall, causing even Miss Lyon to listen, it was so clear and joyous. That afternoon Aunt Martha, who was going to call upon Mrs. Mason, started for home, leaving the girls alone among strangers. It was a rainy, dreary day, and the moment her Aunt was gone Ida threw herself upon the bed and burst into tears. Jenny, who occupied the next room, was also low-spirited, for Rose was terribly cross, calling her a “ninny-hammer”, and various other dignified names. Among the four girls Mary was the only cheerful one, and after a time she succeeded in comforting Ida, while Jenny, catching something of her spirit, began to laugh loudly, as she told a group of girls how many ludicrous blunders she had made when they undertook to question her about Euclid, which she had never studied in her life!

     And now, in a few days, life at Mount Holyoke commenced in earnest. Although perfectly healthy, Mary looked rather delicate, and it was for this reason, perhaps, that the sweeping and dusting for several rooms was assigned to her, as her portion of the labor. Ida and Rose fared much worse and were greatly shocked when told that they both belonged to the wash circle!

     “I declare,” said Rose, “it’s too bad. I’ll walk home before I’ll do it.” and she glanced at her white hands, to make sure they were not already discolored by the dreaded soapsuds!

     Jenny was delighted with her allotment, which was dishwashing.

     “I’m glad I took that lesson at the poorhouse years ago.” said she one day to Rose, who snappishly replied:

     “lid shut up about the poorhouse, or they’ll think you the pauper instead of madam Howard.”

     “Pauper? Who’s a pauper?” asked Lucy Downs, eager to hear so desirable a piece of news.

     Ida Sheldon’s large black eyes rested reprovingly upon Rose, who nodded toward Mary, and forthwith Miss Downs departed with the information, which was not long in reaching Mary’s ears.

     “Why, Mary, what’s the matter?” asked Ida, when toward the close of the day she found her companion weeping in her room. Without lifting her head Mary replied, “It’s foolish in me to cry, I know, but why need I always be reproached with having been a pauper? I couldn’t help it. I promised mother I would take care of little Allie as long as she lived, and if she went to the poorhouse, I had to go, too.”

     “And who was little Allie?” asked Ida, taking Mary’s hot hands between her own.

     In a few words Mary related her history, omitting her acquaintance with George Morland, and commencing at the night when her mother died. Ida was warm-hearted and affectionate, and cared but little whether one were rich or poor if she liked them. From the first she had been interested in Mary, and now winding her arms about her-neck, and kissing away her tears, she promised to love her, and to be to her as true and faithful a friend as Jenny. This promise, which was never broken, was of great benefit to Mary, drawing to her side many of the best girls in the school, who soon learned to love her for herself, and not because the wealthy Miss Sheldon seemed so fond of her.

     Neither Ida nor Rose were as happy in school as Mary and Jenny. Both of them fretted about the rules which they were obliged to observe, and both of them disliked and dreaded their portion of the work. Ida, however, was happier than Rose, for she was fonder of study, and one day, when particularly interested in her lessons, she said to Mary that she believed she should be tolerably contented, were it not for the everlasting washing.

     Looking up after a moment, she saw Mary had disappeared. But she soon returned exclaiming, “I’ve fixed it. It’s all right. I told her I was a great deal stronger than you, that I was used to washing, and you are not, and that it made your side ache, so she consented to have us exchange, and after this you are to dust for me, and I am to wash for you.”

     Ida disliked washing so much that she raised no very strong objections to Mary’s plan, and then when she found how great a kindness had really been shown her, she tried hard to think of some way in which to repay it. At last George Morland, to whom she had written upon the subject, suggested something which met her views exactly. Both Ida and her aunt had told George about Mary, and without hinting that he knew her, he immediately commenced making minute inquiries concerning her of Ida, who communicated them to Mary, wondering why she always blushed so deeply, and tried to change the conversation. In reply to the letter in which Ida had told him of Mary’s kindness, George wrote, “You say Miss Howard is very fond of music, and that there is no teacher connected with the institution. Now why not give her lessons yourself? You can do it as well as not, and it will be a good way of showing your gratitude.”

     Without waiting to read further, Ida ran in quest of Mary, to whom she told what George had written. “You don’t know,” said she, “how much George asks about you. I never saw him so much interested in any one before, and half the girls in Boston are after him, too.”

     “Poor fellow, I pity him.” said Mary, and Ida continued:

     “Perhaps it seems foolish in me to say so much about him, but if you only knew him you wouldn’t wonder, he’s the handsomest young man I ever saw, and then he’s so good, so different from the other young men, especially Henry Lincoln.”

     Here the tea-bell rang, and the conversation was discontinued.

When Rose heard that Mary was taking music lessons, she exclaimed to a group of the girls with whom she was talking, “Well, I declare, beggars taking music lessons! I wonder what’ll come next? Why, you’ve no idea how dreadfully poor she is. Our summer residence is near the Alms house, and when she was there I saw a good deal of her. She had scarcely anything fit to wear, and I gave her one of my old bonnets, which I do believe she wore for three or four years.”

     “Why, Rose Lincoln!” said Jenny, who had overheard all, and now came up to her sister, “How can you tell what you know is not true?”

     “Not true?” angrily retorted Rose. “Pray, didn’t she have my old bonnet?”

     “Yes,” answered Jenny, “but I bought it of you and paid you for it with a bracelet Billy Bender gave me -- -you know I did.”

     Rose was cornered, and as she saw no way of extricating herself she turned on her heel and walked away, muttering about the meanness of doing a charitable deed and then boasting of it!

     The next day Jenny chanced to go for a moment to Mary’s room, as she entered it Mary looked up, saying, ”You are just the one I want to see. I’ve been writing about you to Billy Bender. You can read it if you choose.”

     When Jenny had finished reading the passage referred to, she said, “Oh, Mary, I didn’t suppose you overheard Rose’s unkind remarks about that bonnet.”

     “But I did,” answered Mary, “and I am glad, too, for I had always ‘supposed myself indebted to her instead of to you. Billy thought so, too, and as you see, I have undeceived him. Did I tell you that he had left Mr. Seldon’s employment, and gone into a law office?”

     “Oh, good, good, I’m so glad,” exclaimed Jenny, dancing about the room, “do you know whose office he is in?”

     “Mr. Worthington’s.” answered Mary, and Jenny continued;

     “Why, Henry is studying there, Isn’t that funny? But Billy will beat him, I know he will -- he’s so smart. How I wish he’d write to me! Wouldn’t I feel grand to have a gentleman correspondent?”

     “Suppose you write to him,” said Mary laughingly. “here’s just room enough,” pointing to a vacant spot upon the paper. “he’s always asking about you, and you can answer his questions yourself.”

     “I’ll do it.” said Jenny, and seizing the pen, she thoughtlessly scribbled off a ludicrous account of her failure, and of the blunders she was constantly committing while she spoke of Mary as a pattern for the whole school both in scholarship and behavior.

     “There!” said she, wiping her gold pen upon her silk apron (For Jenny still retained some of the habits of her childhood), “I guess he’ll think I’m crazy, but I hope he will answer it, anyway.”

     Mary hoped so, too, and when at last Billy’s letter came, containing a neat-written note for Jenny, it was difficult telling which of the two girls was the happier.

     Soon after Mary went to Mount Holyoke she had received a letter from Billy, in which he expressed his pleasure that she was at school, but added that the fact of her being there interfered greatly with his plan of educating her himself- “Mother’s ill health,” said he, “prevented me from doing anything until now, and just as I am in a fair way to accomplish my object, someone else has stepped in before me. But it is all right, and as you do not seem to need my services at present, I shall next week leave Mr. Selden’s employment, and go into Mr. Worthington’s law office as clerk, hoping that when the proper time arrives, I shall not be defeated in another plan which was formed in my boyhood, and which has become the great object of my life.”

     Mary felt perplexed and troubled. Billy’s letters of late had been more like those of a lover than a brother, and she could not help guessing the nature of “The plan formed in boyhood.” She knew she should never love him except with a sister’s love, and though she could not tell him so, her next letter lacked the tone of affection with which she was accustomed to write, and was on the whole a rather formal affair. Billy, who readily perceived the change, attributed it to the right cause, and from that time his letters became far less cheerful than usual.

     Mary usually cried over them, wishing more than once that Billy would transfer his affection from herself to Jenny, and it was for this reason, perhaps, that without stopping to consider the propriety of the matter, she first asked Jenny to write to him, and then encouraged her in answering his notes, which (as her own letters grew shorter) became gradually longer and longer, until at last his letters were addressed to Jenny, while the notes they contained were directed to Mary!

     Rapidly the days passed on at Mount Holyoke. Autumn faded into winter whose icy breath floated for a time over the mountain tops, and then melted away at the approach of spring, which, with its swelling buds and early flowers, gave way in its turn to the long bright days of summer. And now only a few weeks remained ere the annual examination at which Ida was to be graduated.

     Neither Rose nor Jenny were to return the next year, and nothing but Mr. Lincoln’s firmess and good sense had prevented their being sent for when their mother first heard that they had failed to enter the middle class. Mrs. Lincoln’s mortification was undoubtedly greatly increased from the fact that the despised Mary had entered in advance of her daughters. “Things are coming to a pretty pass,” said she. “yes, a pretty pass, but I might have known better than to send my children to such a school.”

     Mr. Lincoln could not forbear asking her in a laughing way, “If the schools which she attended were of a higher order than Mount Holyoke.”

     Bursting into tears, Mrs. Lincoln replied that, “She didn’t think she ought to be twitted of her poverty.”

     “Neither do I,” returned her husband. “you were no more to be blamed for working in a factory than Mary is for having been a pauper!”

     Mrs. Lincoln was silent, for she did not particularly care to hear about her early days, when she had been an operative in the cotton mills of Southbridge. She had possessed just enough beauty to captivate the son of the proprietor, who was fresh from college, and after a few weeks acquaintance, they were married. Fortunately her husband was a man of good sense, and restrained her from the commission or many foolish acts. Thus when she insisted upon sending for Rose and Jenny, he promptly replied that they “Should not come home.” Still, as Rose seemed discontented, complaining that so much exercise made her side and shoulder ache, and as Jenny did not wish to remain another year unless Mary did, he consented that they should leave school at the close of the term, on the condition that they went somewhere else.

     “I shall never make anything of Henry,” said he, “but my daughters shall receive every advantage, and perhaps one or the other of them will comfort my old age.”

     He spoke truly with regard to Henry, who was studying, or pretending to study law in the same office with Billy Bender. But his father heard no favorable account of him, and from time to time large bills were presented for the payment of carriage hire, wine and “drunken sprees“, generally, so it has no wonder the disappointed father sighed, and turned to his daughters for the comfort his only son refused to give.

     But we have wandered from the examination at Mount Holyoke, for high great preparations were being made. Rose, knowing she was not to return, seemed to think further effort on her part unnecessary, and numerous were the reprimands, to say nothing of black marks, which she received. Jenny, on the contrary, said she wished to retrieve her reputation for laziness, and leave behind a good impression. So, never before in her whole life had she behaved so well, or studied as hard as she did during the last few weeks of her stay at Mount Holyoke. Ida, who was expecting her father, aunt and cousin to be present at the anniversary, was so engrossed with her studies that she did not observe how sad and low-spirited Mary seemed. She had tasted of knowledge and now thirsted for more, but it was not to be, the funds were exhausted and she must leave school, never, perhaps, to return again.

     “How much I shall miss my music, and how much I shall miss you.” she said one day to Ida, who was giving her a lesson.

     “It’s too bad you haven’t a piano,” returned Ida, "you are so fond of it, and improve so fast!” Then after a moment, she added, “I have a plan to propose, and may as well do it now as any time. Next winter you must spend with me in Boston, Aunt Martha and I arranged it the last time I was at home, and we even selected your room, which is next to mine, and opposite to Aunt Martha’s. Now, what does your ladyship say to it?”

     “She says she can’t go.” answered Mary.

     “Can’t go!” repeated Ida, “Why not? Jenny will be in the city, and you are always happy where she is, besides, you will have a rare chance for taking music lessons of our best teachers, and then, too, you will be in the same house with George, and that alone is worth going to Boston for, I think.”

     Ida little suspected that her last argument was the strongest objection to Mary’s going, for as much as she wished to meet George again, she felt that she would not on any account go to his home, lest he should think she came on purpose to see him. There were other reasons, too, why she did not wish to go. Henry and Rose Lincoln would-both be in the city, and she knew that neither of them would scruple to do or say anything which they thought would annoy her. Mrs. Mason, too, missed her, and longed to have her at home, so she resisted all Ida’s entreaties, and the next letter which went to Aunt Martha carried her refusal.

     In a day or two Mary received two letters, one from Billy and one from Mrs. Mason, the latter of which contained money for the payment of her bills but on offering it to the principal, how surprised she was to learn that her bills had not only been regularly paid and receipted, but that ample funds were provided for the defraying of her expenses during the coming year. A faint sickness stole over Mary, for she instantly thought of Billy Bender, and the obligation she would now be under to him forever. Then it occurred to her how impossible it was that he should have earned so much in so short a time, and as soon as she could trust her voice to speak, she asked who it was that had thus befriended her.

     Miss ----- was not at liberty to tell, and with a secret suspicion of Aunt Martha, who had seemed much interested in her welfare, Mary returned to her room to read the other letter, which was still unopened. It was some time since Billy had written to her, alone, and with more than her usual curiosity, she broke the seal, but her head grew dizzy, and her spirits faint as she read the passionate outpouring of a heart which had cherished her image for years, and which, though fearful of rejection, would still tell her how much she was beloved. “It is no sudden fancy,” said he, “but was conceived years ago, on that dreary afternoon when in your little room at the poorhouse you laid your head in my lap and wept, as you told me how lonely you were. Do you remember it, Mary? I do, and never now does your image come before me, but I think of you as you were then, when the wild wish that you should one day be mine first entered my heart. Morning, noon, and night have I thought of you, and no plan for the future have I ever formed which had not a direct reference to you. Once, Mary, I believed my affection for you returned, but now you have changed, greatly changed. Your letters are brief and cold, and when I look around for the cause I am led to fear that I was deceived in thinking you ever loved me as I thought you did. If I am mistaken, tell me so, but if I am not, if you can never be my wife, I will school myself to think of you as a brother would think of an only and darling sister.”

     This letter produced a strange affect on Mary, she thought how much she was indebted to one who had stood so faithfully by her when all the world was-dark and dreary. She thought, too, of his kindness to the dead, and that appealed more strongly to her sympathy than aught else he had ever done for her. There was no one to advise her, and acting upon the impulse of the moment, she sat down and commenced a letter, the nature of which she did not understand herself, and which, if sent would have given a different coloring to the whole of her after life. She had written but one page, when the study bell rang, and she was obliged to put her letter by till the morrow. For several days she had not been well, and the excitement produced by Billy’s letter tended to increase her illness, so that on the following morning when she attempted to rise, she found herself seriously ill. During the hours in which she was alone that day she had ample time for reflection, and before night she wrote another letter to Billy, in which she told him how impossible it was for her to be the wife of one whom she had always loved as an own and dear brother. This letter caused Mary so much effort, and so many bitter tears, that for several days she continued worse, and at last gave up all hope of being present at the examination.

     “Oh, it is too bad,” said Ida, “for I do want you to see Cousin George, and I know he’ll be disappointed, too, for I never saw anything like the interest he seems to take in you.”

     A few days later as Mary was lying alone, thinking of Billy, and wondering if she had done right in writing to him as she did, Jenny came rushing in, wild with delight.

     Her father was downstairs, together with Ida’s father, George, and Aunt Martha. “Most the first thing I did” said she, “was to inquire after Billy Bender! I guess Aunt Martha was shocked, for she looked so queer. George laughed, and Mr. Selden said he was doing well, and was one of the finest young men in Boston. But why don’t you ask about George? I heard him talking about you, to Rose, just as I left the parlor.”

     Mary felt sure that any information of her which Rose might give would not be very complimentary, and she thought right, for when Rose was questioned concerning “Miss Howard” she at first affected her ignorance of such a person and then when George explained himself more definitely, she said, “Oh, that girl! I’m sure I don’t know much about her, except that she’s a charity scholar, or something of that kind.”

     At the words “charity scholar”, there was a peculiar smile on George’s face, but he continued talking, saying, “If that were the case she ought to be very studious, and he presumed she was.”

     “As nearly as I can judge of her,” returned Rose, “she is not remarkable for brilliant talents, but,” she added, as she met Ida’s eyes, “she has a certain way of showing off, and perhaps I am mistaken with regard to her.”

     Very different from this was the description given of her by Ida, who now came to her cousin’s side, extolling Mary highly, and lamenting the illness which would prevent George from seeing her. Aunt Martha also spoke word in Mary’s favor, at the same time endeavoring to stop the unkind remarks of Rose, whom she thoroughly disliked and who she feared was becoming too much of a favorite with George. Rose was not only very handsome but she also possessed a peculiar faculty of making herself agreeable whenever she chose, and in Boston she was quite a favorite with a certain class of young men. It was for George Moreland, however, that her prettiest and most coquettish airs were practiced. He was the object which she would secure, and when she heard Mary Howard so highly commended in his presence, she could not forbear expressing her contempt, fancying that he, with his high English notions, would feel just as she did with regard to poverty and low origin. As for George, it was difficult telling whom he did prefer, though the last time Rose was in Boston rumor had said that he was particularly attentive to her, and Mrs. Lincoln who was very sanguine once hinted to Ida the probability that a relationship would sooner or later exist between the two families.

     Rose, too, though careful not to hint at such a thing in Ida’s presence, was quite willing that others of her companions at Mount Holyoke should fancy there was an intimacy if not an engagement between herself and Mr. Moreland. Consequently he had not been in South Hadley twenty-four hours ere he was pointed out by some of the villagers as being the future husband of the elder Miss Lincoln, whose haughty, disagreeable manners had become a subject of general remark. During the whole of George’s stay at Mount Holyoke Rose managed to keep him at her side, entertaining him occasionally with unkind remarks concerning Mary, who, she said, was undoubtedly feigning her sickness so as not to appear in her classes where she knew she could do herself no credit. “But,” she said, “as soon as the examination is over she will get well fast enough and bother us with her company at Chicopee.”

     In this Rose was mistaken, for when the exercises closed Mary was still too ill to ride and it was decided that she should remain a few days until Mrs. Mason could come for her. With many tears Ida and Jenny bade their young friend good-bye, but Rose, when asked to go up and see her, turned away disdainfully, amusing herself during their absence by talking and laughing with George Moreland.

     The room in which Mary lay commanded a view of the yard and gateway, and after Aunt Martha, Ida and Jenny had left, she arose, and stealing to the window, looked out upon the company as they departed. She could readily divine which was George Moreland, for Rose Lincoln’s shawl and satchel were thrown over his arm. While Rose herself walked close to his elbow, apparently engrossing his whole attention. Once he turned around, but fearful of being herself observed, Mary drew back behind the window curtain, and thus lost a view of his face. He, however, caught a glimpse of her, and asked if that was the room in which Miss Howard was sick.

     Rose affected not to hear him, and continued enumerating the many trials which she had endured at school, and congratulating herself upon her escape from the “Horrid Place.” But for once George was not an attentive listener; notwithstanding his apparent indifference he was greatly disappointed in not seeing Mary. It was for this he had gone to Mount Holyoke and in spite of Rose’s endeavors to make him talk, he was unusually silent all the way, and when they at last reached Chicopee, he highly offended the young lady by assisting Jenny to alight instead of herself.

     “I should like to know what you are thinking about.” she said, rather pettishly, as she took his offered hand to say good-bye.

     With a roguish look in his eye, George replied, “I’ve been thinking of a young lady. Shall I tell you her name?”

   Rose blushed, and was looking interestingly embarrassed, answered, that of course ‘twas no one she knew.

     “Yes, ‘tis.” returned George, still holding her hand, and as Aunt Martha, who was jealously watching his movements from the window, just then called out to him “To jump in, or he’d be left.” he put his face under Rose’s bonnet, and whispered, “Mary Howard!”

     “Kissed her, upon my word!” said Aunt Martha, with a groan, which was tendered inaudible to Ida by the louder noise of the engine.


"The Scribbling Women"
Copyright ~ Estate of Andre Norton
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 Digitized and edited by Jay Watts aka: “Lots-a-watts” ~ May 2015

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