Amelia Ann Blanford Edwards.

Barbara's history : a novel online

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CERVANTES," &c., &c.







I AM about to tell the storj of my life — that is, the story of my child-
hood and my youth ; for the romance of life is mostly lived out before we
reach middle age, and beyond that point the tale grows monotonous either
in its grief, or its gladness. Mine began and ended when I was young.

When I was young ! They are but four words ; and yet, at the very
commencement of what must prove a labour of many months, they have
power to arrest my pen, and blind my eyes with unaccustomed tears.
Tears partaking both of joy and sorrow ; such tears as those through which
we all look back to childhood and its half-forgotten story. Oh, happy
time! so islanded in the still waters of memory; so remote, and yet so
near; so strange, yet so familiar! Come back once more — come back,
though never so briefly, and light these my pages with the pale sunshine
of a faded spring.

I am answered. A pleasant calm steals upon me; and, as one might
step aside from the troubled streets, to linger awhile in the quiet sanctuary
of a wayside church, so I now turn from the eager present, tread the dim
aisles of the past, sigh over the inscriptions graven on one or two dusty
'tablets, and begin with the recollections of infancy this narrative of my life.





" On rajeunit aux souvenirs d'enfance
Comme on renait au souffle du printemps."


Sometimes, in the suburban districts of Lon-
don, we chance upon a quaint old house that
was, evidently, a country-house some hundred
years ago ; but which has been overtaken by
the town, and stands perplexed amid a neigh-
borhood of new streets, like a rustic at Charing
Cross. There are plenty such. We have seen
them in our walks, many a time and oft. They
look sad and strange. The shadows gather
round them more darkly than On their neigh-
bors. The sunlight seems to pass them by ;
and we fancy their very walls might speak, and
tell us tales. In just»such a house, and such a
suburb, I was born.

Overgrown for the most part with a mantle
of dark ivy, inclosed in a narrow garden that
sloped down to a canal at the back, and shut
sullenly away from the road by some three or
four dusky elm-trees and a low wall, our home
looked dreary and Solitary enough — all the more
dreary and solitary for the prim terraces and
squares by which it was on all sides surrounded.
Within, however, it was more cheerful ; or cus-
toni made it seem so. From the upper windows
we saw the Hampstead hills. In the summer our
garden was covered with grass, and the lilac
bushes blossomed where they leaned toward
the canal. Even the shapeless coal-barges that
labored slowly past all the day long had some-
thing picturesque and pleasant about them.
Besides, no place can be wholly dull where
children's feet patter incessantly up and down
the stairs, and children's voices ring merrily
along the upper floors.

It was a large old house — thrice too large for
any use of ours — and we had it all to ourselves.
Most of the top rooms were bare ; and I well
remember what famous play-grounds they made
by day, and how we dreaded to pass near them
after dark. Up there, even when my father
was at home, we might be as noisy as we
pleased. It was our especial territory ; and,
excepting once a year, when the great cleaning
campaign was in progress, no one disputed our
prerogative. We were left, indeed, only too
much to our own wayward impulses, and grew
wildly, like weeds by the wayside.

We were three — Hilda, Jessie, and Barbara.
I am Barbara ; and the day that gave me life
left us all motherless. Our father had not mar-

ried again. His wife was the one love of his
existence, and it seemed, when she was gone,
as if the very power of loving were taken from
him. Thus it happened that from our first in-
fancy we were left to the sole care of one faith- ■
ful woman-servant, who spoiled us to her heart's
content, and believed that we, like the king,
could do no wrong. We call her Goody ; but
her name M^as Sarah Beever. We tyrannized
over her, of course ; and she loved us the more
for our tyranny. After all, hers was the only
affection we had, and, judicious or injudicious,
we should have been poor indeed without it.

Our father's name was Edmund Churchill.
He came of a good family ; had received a col-
legiate education ; and, it was said, had squan-
dered a considerable fortune in his youth. When
nearly arrived at middle life, he married. My
mother was not rich — I never even heard that
she was beautiful ; but he loved her, and, while
she lived, endeavored, after his own fashion, to
make her happy. Too far advanced in years to
apply himself to a profession, had even the in-
clination for work not been \vanting, he found
himself a hopeless and aimless man. He could
not even console himself, like some fathers, in
the society and education of his children, for he
was not naturally fond of children ; and now all
the domestic virtues were gone out of him.
Wrecked, stupefied, careless alike of the pres-
ent and the future, he moped away a few dull
months, and then, as was natural, returned to
the world. He fell in with some of his former
friends, now, like himself, grown staid with
years ; entered a club ; took to dinner-parties,
politics, and whist ; became somewhat of a bon-
vivant ; and, at forty-four, adopted all the
small and selfish vices of age. At the time
of which I write, he was still handsome, though
somewhat stout and florid for his years. He
dressed with scrupulous neatness ; was particu-
larly careful of his health ; and prided himself
upon the symmetry of his hands and feet.

His manners, in general, were courteous and
cold ; yet, in society, he was popular. He pos-
sessed, in an eminent degree, the art of pleas-
ing ; and I do not remember the day on which
he dined at home. Yet, for all this, he was a
proud man at heart, and dearly cherished every
circumstance that bore upon his name and line-
age. An observer might have detected this by
only glancing round the walls of our dusky din-
ing-room, and inspecting the contents of the
great old carved bookcase between the windows.
Here might be seen a " History of ye Noble and
Ancient Houses of Devon," with that page



turned down wherein it treated of the Church-
ills of Ash. Here a copy of that scarce and
dreary folio entitled " Divi Britannici," written
and published by Sir Winston Churchill in 1675.
Several works on the wars of Queen Anne ; five
or six different lives of John Churchill, Duke of
Marlborough ; the Duchess of Marlborough's
" Private Correspondence ;" Chesterfield's Let-
ters ; Mrs. Manley's " Atalantis ;" the " Me-
moirs of the Count de Grammont;" various
old editions of PhiUps's " Blenheim," and Ad-
dison's " Campaign ;" the poetical works of
Charles Churchill of Westminster ; and twenty
volumes of the " London Gazette," (said to be of
considerable value, and dating from the year
1*700 to 1715,) filled all the upper shelves, and
furnished my father with the only reading in
which he ever indulged at home. Nor was this
all. A portrait of the brilliant hero, when Lord
Churchill, and some fine old engravings of the
battles of Ramillies, Oudenarde, and Malplaquet,
were suspended over the chimney-piece and
side-board. A large colored print of Blenheim
House hung outside in the hall.

But far more impressive than any of these —
far more dignified and awful in our childish
eyes, was a painting which occupied the place
of honor in our best parlor. This work of art
purported to be the portrait of a second cousin
of my father's, one Agamemnon Churchill by
name, a high authority upon all matters con-
nected with the noble science of heraldry, a
Knight of the Bath, and one of his Majesty's
most honorable heralds. Depicted here in all
the glory of his official costume, and looking
as like the knave of clubs as if he had just been
shuffled out of a gigantic pack of cards, Sir
Agamemnon Churchill beamed upon us from
the environmentr of his gilded frame, and filled
our little hearts with wonder and admiration.
We humbly looked forward to the possibility of
some day beholding our illustrious kinsman.
We fancied that his rank could be only second
to that of King William himself We even
encouraged a secret belief that he might succeed
to the throne at some remote time or other ;
and agreed among ourselves that his first ex-
ercise of the royal prerogative would be to
create our father Duke of Marlborough ; or, at
the least. Commander in Chief and Lord Mayor
of London.

It was but seldom, however, that we were
allowed to contemplate the splendor of Sir
Agamemnon and his glittering tabard ; for the
best parlor had been a closed room ever since
my mother's death, and was only thrown open
now and then for cleaning purposes. But this
very restriction ; this air of mourning and
solitude ; the darkened windows ; the sheeted
furniture ; the thick white dust that crept in
month by month ; and, above all, the sense of
a mysterious loss which we were all too young
to comprehend, only served to invest the room
and the picture with a still deeper interest. I
well remember how often we interrupted our
garden-games to peep, with suspended breath,
through the chinks of the closed shutters, and
how our voices sunk to a whisper when we
passed the door.

I have said that we were three ; but I have
not yet explained how nearly we were of one
age, or how, being the youngest, I was only re-

moved by three years from my eldest sister,
Hilda, and by fourteen months from my second
sister, Jessie. My father's httle girls had, in-
deed, sprung up quickly around him, and our
mother was taken from us at the very time when
we most needed her.

Jessie vras fair, and somewhat pretty; but
Hilda was the beauty of the family, and our
father's favorite. She was like him, but darker
of complexion, and more delicately featured.
She inherited the same pride ; was willful and
imperious ; and exercised, withal, after her
precocious fashion, the same power of ready
fascination. Besides, she was very clever —
much cleverer than Jessie or I — and learned
with surprising facility. My sister Jessie was
in many respects less forward than myself. She
had neither Hilda's talent nor my steadiness, and
was altogether deficient in ambition. To our
eldest sister she was entirely devoted, submitting
to all her caprices, and accepting all her opinions
with a blind faith worthy of a better cause.
This alliance was not favorable to my happiness.
Hilda and Jessie were all in all to each other,
and I found myself excluded from the confi-
dence of both. Forgetting, or seeming to for-
get, how little our ages differed, they ti-eated
me as a mere baby ; called me " little Barbara,"
and affected to undervalue whatever I said or
did. When I tacitly rejected this mortifying
patronage, and with it, a companionship which
was only offered to me during a game of blind-
man's-buff, or puss-in-the corner, I was reproach-
ed for my indifference, or set aside as simply
dull and tiresome.

To be just, I do not believe that my sisters
had any idea of how they made me suffer. I
was too proud to let them see it, and my grief
may at times have worn a sullen aspect. Often
and often have I stolen away to one of the great
upper rooms, sobbing and lamenting,and wishing
that my heart might break and put an end to my
sorrows — and yet I kept my secret so bravely
that it was not even suspected by the dear old
servant whom I loved and trusted above all the

The grievances of inf^ancy lie mostly on the
surface. Time heals them, and they jeave no
scar. But this was not my case. I was more
sensitive than the generality of children, and,
I believe, more affectionate. I could have
loved my sisters with my whole heart ; but they
rejected me, and so the estrangement, which at
first might have been healed by a word, Avidened
with years and became at last almost irreparable.
By the time that I had reached the age of nine or
ten, I was no longer a child. My freshness of
feeling was gone — my heart was chilled — my
first impulses were checked and driven back.
The solitude which was once my refuge became
my habit; and, grown indifferent to opinion, I
heard myself called " strange and unsociable"
without emotion. I appropriated one of the
garrets to my special use, and, being left in un-
disturbed possession, lived there among occu-
pations and amusements of my own creation.
Thus it happened that, unless during the hours
of meals or tuition, I lived almost entirely
alone. My father knew nothing of this ; for
he was always out, and troubled himself very
little about our domestic managements. Goody
knew and wondered, but loved me too well to


interfere with any thing I chose to do ; and my
sisters, after teasing and laughing at me to their
hearts' content, at last grew weary, and aban-
doned me to my own solitary ways.

It was a sad life for a child, and might have
led to many evils, but for a circumstance which
I must ever regard as something more than
mere good fortune.

Having wandered up-stairs one day with noth-
ing to read and nothing to think of, and being,
moreover, very listless and weary, I bethought
myself of a pile of old boxes which lay stored
together in a certain dark closet close at hand,
and so set to work to turn out their contents.
Most of them were empty, or contained only
coils of rotten rope, pieces of faded stuffs and
damasks, and bundles of accounts. But in one,
the smallest and least promising of all, I found
a dusty treasure. This treasure counted of
• some three or four dozen worm-eaten, faded vol-
umes, tied up in lots of four or six, and over-
laid with blotches of white mold. A motley
company ! Fox's " Martyrs ;" the Works of
Dr. Donne ; Sir Thomas Browne on " Urn Buri-
al ;" a Translation of Pliny, with Blustrations ;
Defoe's "History of the Plague;" Riccoboni
on the Theaters of Europe; "Hudibras ;" Wal-
ler's Poems ; Bolingbroke's " Letters on English
History ;" the Tatler, Guardian, and Specta-
tor ; Drelincourt on Death, with the History of
Mrs. Veal ; an odd volume or two of the Gen-
tleman's Magazine, and some few others, chiefly
farming books and sermons. It was a quaint
library for so young a reader, but a most wel-
come one. I necessarily met with much that I
could not understand, and yet contrived to reap
pleasure and profit from ail. I had boundless
faith to begin with, and believed, like the
Arabs, that every thing printed must be true. I
was puzzled by Sir Hudibras, but never doubted
either his courage or identity. I was interested
by the letters in the Tatler, and only wondered
that so many ladies and gentlemen should have
ventured to trouble that nice good-natured Mr.
Bickerstaff with their unimportant private affairs.
As for Edmund Waller, Esquire, I was quite sor-
ry for his distresses ; and could not conceive how
the beautiful Sacharissa could bear to be told
that she had " a wild and cruel soul" with-
out relenting immediately. To me, happy in
my credulity, the Phoenix and Mrs. Veal were
alike genuine phenomena; and had Sir Aga-
memnon Churchill himself attempted to con-
vince me that the History of the Plague was
written by any other than " a citizen who lived
the whole time in London," I should have made
bold to reserve my own opinion on the subject.

Other books I had as well — books better
suited to my age and capacity ; but these, being
common property, were kept in the school-room,
and consisted for the most part in moral tales
and travels, which, read more than once, grow
stale and wearisome.

Fortunate was it that I found this second
life in my books ; for I was a very lonely little
girl, with a heart full of unbostowed affection,
and a nature quickly swayed to smiles or tears.
The personages of my fictitious world became
as real to me as those by whom I was surround-
ed in my daily life. They linked me with hu-
manity. They were my friends, my instructors,
my companions. I loved some, and hated

others, as cordially as if they could love or hate
me in return ; and, in the intensity of my sym-
pathy with their airy sorrows and perplexities,
learned to forget my own.

But I had still another happiness — a half-de-
veloped taste, which, fed by such scant nutri-
ment as fell now and then in my way, ripened,
year after year, to a deep and earnest passion,
and influenced beyond all calculation the des-
tinies of my later life. Art — art called the
Divine, but known to me under its meanest and
most barren form — fed the dreams of my
childhood, and invested with an undeserved in-
terest the few wretched prints scattered here
and there through the pages of Fox's Martyrs.
Goldsmith's Geography, and other works of the
same " mark and likelihood." Sometimes, af-
ter my own imperfect fashion, I strove to repro-
duce them in pencil or charcoal. Sometimes,
even, I attempted to illustrate the adventures of
my favorite heroes, or the landscapes described
in books of travel. The whitewashed walls of
my garret, the covers and margins of my copy-
books, and all the spare scraps of paper that I
could find, were scrawled over with designs in
which the love of beauty might, perhaps, have
been discernible ; but- in which every rule of
anatomy, perspective, and probability was hope-
lessly set at naught. But of this, more here-

Happy art thou, little child, to whom is
granted the guidance of loving parents ! Happy,
thrice happy, in the fond encouragements, the
gentle reproofs, the tender confidences and con-
solations lavished on thy first uncertain years !
I lost one of mine before my lips had ever been
hallowed by her kisses ; and by the other I was,
if not wholly unloved, at least too much ne-
glected. How I yearned and wearied for those
affections that I now could never have ; how I
used to steal to dear old Goody's knees in the
dim twilight, and beseech her to tell me some-
thing of my mother ; how I listened with tears
that I was ashamed to show, and stole away
to hide them ; how, thinking over all these
things, I sometimes gave way to fits of bitterness
and anger, and sometimes sobbed myself to
sleep, with my head resting on a book, matters
little now, and except as it may throw a light on
certain passages of my inner life, is scarcely de-
serving of mention. Alas ! I have yet much
more to tell. The long story of my workings and
wanderings lies all before me like a summer land-
scape, with its lights and shadows, its toilsome
plains, and its places of green rest, mapped out,
and fading away together in the blue distance.

Here, at all events, let me end my first day's
record ; for I am weary, and these pictures of
the past lie heavily at my heart.



My father's bell rang sharply.

It was about eleven o'clock on a brilliant May
morning. Miss Whymper, who attcnded'to our
education between the hours of nine and twelve
daily, presided at the head of the table, correct-
ing French exercises. We, respectfully with-
drawn to the foot of the same, bent busily over
our books and slates, and preserved a decorous



silence. We all heard our father close his bed-
room door and go down-stairs ; but it was his
habit to rise and breakfast late, and we took no
notice of it. We also heard him ring ; but we
took no notice of that either. Scarcely, however,
had the echo of the first bell died away, when it
was succeeded by a second, and the second was
still pealing when he opened the parlor door,
and called aloud.

" Beever 1" said he, impatiently. " Beever !
am I to ring for an hour ?"

The reply was inaudible ; but he spoke again,
almost without waiting to hear it.

" When did this letter arrive ? Was it here
last night when I came home, or was it deliver-
ed only this morning ? Why didn't you bring
' it up to me with the shaving water ? Where is
Barbara?" "

Startled at the sound of my own name, I rose
in my place, and waited with suspended breath.
My sisters, with their heads still bent low,
glanced first at me and then at each other.

" Be so good, Miss Barbara, as to concentrate
your attention upon your studies," said Miss
Whymper, without even raising her eyes from
the exercises.

"I — I — that is, papa — I heard "

" Be so good as to hear nothing duinng the
hours of education," interposed Miss Whymper,
still frostily intent upon the page before her.

" But papa calls me, and "

" In that case you will be sent for. We will
proceed, if you please, young ladies, to the
analyzation of the Idiom."

We pushed our slates away, took each our
French grammar, and prepared to listen.

"The Idiom," said Miss Whymper, sitting
stiffly upright, and, as was her wont, cadencing
her voice to one low monotonous level, " is a
familiar and arbitrary turn of words, which,
without being in strict accordance with the re-
ceived laws of "

" Barbara ! Barbara, come here. Tell Miss
Whymper I want you !"

I started up again, and Miss Whymper, inter-
rupted in her discourse, frowned, inclined her
head the very least in the world, and said :

" You have my permission, Miss Barbara, to

I was always nervous in my father's presence ;
but the suddenness and strangeness of the sum-
mons made me this morning more than usually
timid. I ran down, however, and presented
myself, tremblingly, at the door of the breakfast-
parlor. He was pacing to and fro, between the
table and the window. His coffee stood untasted
in the cup. In his hand he crushed an open
letter. Seeing me at the door, he stopped, flung
himself into his easy chair, and beckoned me to
co*e nearer.

" Stand there, Barbara," said he, pointing to
a particular square in the pattern of the car-

Shaking from head to foot, I came forward
and stood there, waiting, like a criminal for his

" Humph ! Can't you look up ?"

I looked up ; looked down again ; turned red
and white alternately ; and felt as if the ground
were slipping from under my feet.

My father uttered an exclamation of impa-

" Good heavens !" said he, pettishly. " What
gaucherie I Are you taught to hold yourself no
better than that ? Are your arms pump-handles ?
What stranger would imagine — well, well, it
can't be helped now 1 Tell me — did you ever .
hear of your great-aunt, who lives in Suffolk?"

" Heard of Mrs. Sandyshaft !" exclaimed
Goody, who had been standing by the door,
twirling her apron with both hands all the time.
" I should think so indeed ! Often and often ;
and of Stoneycroft Hall, too — haven't vou, mv
lamb?" ^ ' ^

Too confused to speak, I nodded; and my
father went on,

" I have had a letter from your great-aunt this
morning,' Barbara, Here it is. She asks me to
send you down to Suffolk ; and, as it may be
greatly for your good, I shall allow you to go.
Though at a great inconvenience to myself,
remember. At a great inconvenience to myself." '

Uncertain what to reply, I looked down, and
stammered :

" Yes, papa."

" I have not seen Mrs. Sandyshaft for many
years," continued my father. " In fact, we — we
have not been friends. But she may take a
liking for you, Barbara— and she is rich. You
must try to please her. You will go this day
week, if -Beever can get you ready in tlie time.
What do you say, Beever ?"

" Less than a week will do for me, sir," said
Goody, promptly.

" No, no ; a week is soon enough. And, Bee-
ver, you are not to spare for a pound or two.
I must have her look like a gentleman's child,
anyhow. Not but that it is excessively incon-
venient to me, just now. Excessively incon-
venient !"

He paused, musingly, and then, leaning his
chin upon his hand, looked at me again, and
sighed. The sight, I suppose, was unsatisfactory
enough ; for the longer he looked, the more his
countenance darkened. Suddenly he rose, pushed
his chair away, and planted himself in the middle
of the heartR-rug with his back to the fire.

" My compliments to Miss Whymper, Beever,
and I request the favor of a moment's conver-

Beever departed on her errand. After a few
seconds of uneasy silence, during which I never
ventured to stir from that particular square upon

Online LibraryAmelia Ann Blanford EdwardsBarbara's history : a novel → online text (page 1 of 46)