Read CHAPTER XIII - MR. ST. FOY’S AND THE MISSES STONE’S of A Houseful of Girls , free online book, by Sarah Tytler, on ReadCentral.com.

There was a second and large portion of Rose’s life which belonged to her art classes, and to the classes in which she was one of the teachers and not one of the taught. In the art classes Hester Jennings’s influence still dominated over Rose. In spite of Mr. St. Foy’s professional qualifications, for which Hester had vouched, he had not so potent a personality as that possessed by one of his favourite pupils. He was tall, thin, gentleman-like, and delicate-looking, with a habit of languidly winking his eyes every second or two, as if they were weary of the trying sights of this world. He was kind to Rose in his courteous way, but she would not have been certain either of his ability to judge her work or of his honest opinion of it, if it had not been for what Hester told her.

There were fifty pupils among whom she and Hester ranked. These occupied the desks, worked at the easels, copied from copies, from the round or height of promotion from well-known models attached to the institution. There was the old market woman who obligingly sat alike for wicked old hags and doting grandmothers. There was the athletic young porter, off duty, who was a brigand or a pilot as occasion served.

The pupils were of various styles, idle and chattering, picturesque and sentimental, industrious, commonplace, but the most of them were variations on that last accepted version of the lady artist the individual girl who aims at being independent and natural to the verge of harmless lawlessness and Philistinism strange reaction from aestheticism. There were many Hester Jennings’s though none so pronounced as Hester.

The Misses Stone’s select boarding-school carried Rose twice a week into another region, where the wind did not blow so freely and the air was a trifle stifling. Sometimes she wondered if the Misses Stone knew the tone of a large proportion of the young lady artists at Mr. St. Foy’s classes not that Rose herself could see anything absolutely wrong in it whether they would care to have an assistant drawing-mistress from those half-emancipated, more than half insubordinate ranks. However, Rose’s appointment was not in any great danger of being cancelled. She had involuntarily become doubly careful in her dress and demeanour lately, and she discovered that the Misses Stone were old and intimate friends of Mrs. Jennings, whom they pitied sincerely for having so troublesome a daughter.

At first Rose did not dislike the office of teacher, which brought her in a little income before she was out of her teens. The whole place reminded her pleasantly of Miss Burridge’s school which she had quitted but recently, only instead of having a metropolitan superiority in enlightenment and progress, strange to say, the Misses Stone’s establishment, as if drawing within itself and shrinking back from the constantly moving, restlessly advancing world around, was really older-fashioned, less in the van of public opinion than the school at Redcross. The Misses Stone, their teachers and pupils, were well-bred, and what might have been called in past days “prettily behaved,” though the behaviour was a little formal. Women and girls were elegantly accomplished, in place of being solidly informed or scientifically crammed, in accordance with the fashion of the nineteenth century. Above all, they declined with a gentle unconquerable doggedness to be turned from the even tenor of their ways. Italian was still largely taught in the school, while only a fraction of the pupils learnt German. Latin had no standing ground save in the derivation of words, Greek was unknown. The word mathematics was not mentioned. The voice of the drill-sergeant was not heard, but the dancing-master with his kit attended twice a week, like Rose, all the year round. The harp was played by the pupils instead of the violin. Withal there was much careful learning and repeating of Sunday Collects and the Church Catechism.

The school found ample support. What it attempted to do was in the main well done. Undoubtedly there was an attraction, half-graceful, half-quaint, in all connected with it, from the gentle manners of the elderly Misses Stone, who were only bitter against what was bold, impertinent, and eccentric, to the most dainty of their small pupils. Strictly conservative people felt that their daughters were safe in such an atmosphere, and patronized it accordingly. Undoubtedly they learnt a good deal which was worth learning.

Rose began by receiving nothing save the most considerate kindness and approval in that house. It was a libel on its forms and ceremonies to imagine that they contained anything tyrannical and harsh in their essence. The very law of their being was amiability, combined with mild steadfastness in withstanding the subversive attitude of the time. The most highly-born, richly-endowed girl within the precincts and the school was rather aristocratic would no more have ventured on being rude to Miss Rose Millar, the junior drawing-mistress, than the girl would have presumed to stamp her foot at one of the Misses Stone. If Rose had dropped her pencil in the course of her work, the highly-born pupil, by force of example, if for no other reason, would immediately have risen and picked it up, though she might not have made the speech about a Titian being worthy to be served by a Cæsar. In fact Rose was in danger of being killed with kindness. Soon she was conscious of something choking, crushing, dwarfing in this artificial system. This was made more conspicuous to her by the choice of art subjects for the girls’ study. There was no end of flower and fruit pieces. There were the stereotyped noble ruins, and cottages, either embowered in roses or half-buried in snow. There were the Dutch and Venetian boats which had never sailed on familiar waters. Stags abounded, and Rose ceased to ask why so many of them stood at bay. The sleeping baby, which might have been a dead baby or a stone baby, was there; so was the long-nosed, wooden-legged collie, watching the shepherd’s plaid. With what a lively hatred Rose grew to hate that collie!

Rose felt herself “cribbed, cabined, and confined” when she came from the comparative open air and robust life of Mr. St. Foy’s classes. Yet even these were not the world of art. She got nervous in the fear of unworthily committing solecisms against the silken softness and steely rigidity of the Misses Stone’s shrine. She thought if she caught up and reproduced any of Hester’s vagabond notes the Misses Stone were necessarily slightly acquainted with Hester, of whom, however, they never spoke it would be like throwing a bombshell among these quiet, unalterable proprieties. She came to have a morbid, feverish craving to do it, or to see some other person do it. For instance, if young Lady Maud Devereux would but bid Rose tie her shoe, or even if she would contradict Miss Stone, or Miss Lucilla, or Miss Charlotte, without prefacing the contradiction by “I beg your pardon!”

At last these two days a week of giving lessons at the Misses Stone’s, from being merely the agreeable lucrative variety in her life which they had promised to be, became gray days of penance to Rose Millar, when she felt she was under a spell, and did her duty badly. She ceased to refer to them in her letters home.

Rose arrived one morning at the Misses Stone’s in a peculiarly excitable and yet depressed frame of mind. She had not been to Mr. St. Foy’s classes that day; but Hester Jennings had known, the afternoon before, a piece of unwelcome news which she thought fit to communicate to Rose in the course of their morning walk, that ran so far in the same direction. A group of peasants, with which Rose Millar had been taking a great deal of pains, had been summarily condemned and dismissed by the master. Rose waxed hot and restive under the sentence, and began to dispute it vehemently, Hester defending it with equal vehemence, in what she considered justice to Mr. St. Foy, on the ground of a lack of dignity and repose in the central peasant. Hester was at that moment tearing along a thoroughfare, and showing so little dignity and repose not only in her gait, but in her “loud,” ill-assorted garments, that, as frequently happened, to Rose’s vexation, several people among the passers-by turned and looked after them. Hester to talk of a want of dignity and repose! It was like Satan reproving sin.

At the same time, while it is hard to admit the justness of a criticism unaffected by the inconsistency of the person who utters it and of the circumstances under which it is uttered, Rose was perfectly well aware that Hester Jennings was as excellent a judge of dignity and repose, apart from her personal proceedings, as any artist could be.

Rose did not retaliate, save in self-defence. Hester was her senior in art-knowledge still more than in years. She was not her sister to be treated without ceremony, and pretty deep down in Rose’s girlish heart there was a respectful tolerance, an approach to tender reverence, for the turbulent-minded, chaotic, gifted creature beside her. Still Rose’s equanimity was considerably disturbed.

The unruffled serenity of the Misses Stone’s domain, far from restoring Rose’s composure, seemed to smite her by contrast with an intolerable sense of personal reproach, and to goad her into rebellion. Rose was conscious of her variable spirits the heritage of her years getting more and more uncertain, and of being wrought up to a perilously high-strung pitch. She felt as if she were panting for liberty to breathe, to express her discordant mood in some unconventional manner.

As it happened, the principal drawing-mistress, a highly decorous, self-controlled young woman, ten years Rose’s senior, was absent, and her assistant was alone at her post, with the whole class in and on her hands. Rose had already taken off her hat and gloves, and she tried to compose her ruffled feelings before she began her round of the drawing-boards, as Mr. St. Foy inspected his easels. The analogy with its disproportion struck her, and moved her to silent, unsteady laughter, which she could not restrain, so that it broke out into a ringing peal at the first enormity in drawing which she came across.

Nobody laughed like that at the Misses Stone’s certainly no low-voiced, quietly conducted teacher. Rose was further aggrieved and tormented by the astonished heads privily raised, and the wondering eyes covertly looking at her. She laughed no more. She went on examining, commending, correcting, till she was tired out. Surely the morning hours were endless that day. She was exhausted, not merely by the “smart walk” from Welby Square, which, taken at Hester Jennings’s pace, was always tiring, as Rose knew to her cost, but also by the turmoil of spirit she had been in. All the toils, disappointments, and drudgery of the life which lay before her seemed suddenly to press upon her and overwhelm her, and before she knew what she was doing she was sobbing behind her handkerchief. She had one grain of sense left, she turned her back; but her heaving shoulders and the muffled sound of a “good cry” were not hidden from the electrified class.

Nobody cried like that at the Misses Stone’s, unless it might be to somebody’s pillow in the darkness of the night. For any teacher to cry in her class was unheard of. Rose conquered herself in less time than it has taken to recount her weakness, and resumed the lesson with moist eyes, a reddened nose, and her whole girlish body tingling and smarting with girlish mortification. All the rest of the morning she seemed to hear two startling statements repeated alternately and without pause.

“Miss Rose Millar laughed loudly in the middle of her teaching;” and oh! shame of shames, for the womanly dignity of the last year of Rose’s teens “Miss Rose Millar cried before the whole class.”

Rose had once joined in a girls’ play, full of girlish cleverness and girlish points and hits. No less a personage than Queen Elizabeth was introduced into it. In the course of the plot great stress was laid on the fact that the Queen had laughed at Lord Essex’s expense, behind his back. This was done in order to pique the proud, spoilt young courtier to resent the laughter, and, in homely parlance, to give Her Majesty more to laugh at. The phrase “and the Queen laughed,” had been emphatically repeated again and again in Lord Essex’s hearing, with much malicious meaning and effect.

That mocking quotation was resounding in Rose’s ears with a characteristic variation. It was no longer “and the Queen laughed,” it was “and Miss Rose Millar laughed,” then alas! alas! as a fit pendant, “and Miss Rose Millar cried.”

What a big baby she had shown herself, without the decent reticence of a gentlewoman’s good breeding, or the proper pride of a girl who respected herself. How these school-girls must despise her! What was she to do? Wait for the girls to whisper and chatter as all girls will, however trained? Or go at once to the Miss Stone with whom she had most to do, tell her the solecism of which she, Rose, had been guilty in the best behaved of schools, and abide by Miss Stone’s decision, though it should be that she and her sisters would in future dispense with the services of Miss Rose Millar as assistant drawing-mistress.

Rose had the courage and honesty to adopt the latter course, and she tried to think that the fresh affront it brought her, was part of the penalty which she was bound to pay for her disgraceful childishness.

Miss Lucilla Stone listened with a little personal discomfiture, for she was, like Mrs. Jennings, so thoroughly mistress of herself and the situation, that any gaucherie or boisterous indiscretion was positive pain to her. Besides, the bad example to the girls for whom Miss Lucilla and her sisters were responsible, made a matter which people who did not understand might wrongly consider a trifle, really a serious affair. “No doubt,” acquiesced Miss Lucilla, “something had put you out, as you tell me,” in low-voiced rebuke, which yet sunk Rose in the dust, deeper than she had been, when she was making her impulsive confession. “You were tired with your walk, of course, but, my dear Miss Rose Millar, it is necessary to learn to practise self-control, especially in the presence of young people. They are so quick to notice and to encroach on their elders and those placed in authority over them, when the necessary distance of perfect self-control on the one side if possible on both sides is not preserved between them. Perhaps,” added Miss Lucilla meditatively, and beginning to brighten a little, for she hated to give the lecture well-nigh as much as Rose hated to receive it, “if you had swallowed just a teaspoonful of sel-volatile or something of that kind, when you came in, the little scene would have been avoided. I shall speak to my sister Charlotte, who has the key of our medicine chest, and get her to administer a tiny dose to you every drawing day; you will step into the study the first thing, and it will be ready for you.”

“Oh, no, thank you, Miss Lucilla,” exclaimed Rose hastily, “I never took sel-volatile in my life. Father says not one of us is hysterical, or is likely to faint on an emergency, not even Dora or May. He is quite proud of Annie my sister Annie for her nerve, and she needs it all, since she is in training for a nurse.”

Miss Lucilla shook her head dubiously, whether at the modern institution of lady nurses, or at the superiority in nerve of any family to which Miss Rose Millar belonged.

“You may not have been hysterical before,” said Miss Lucilla with mild obstinacy; “but that is no reason why you should not be so now. If you dislike sel-volatile, you ought to try red lavender drops. I know they have gone out of fashion, but my dear mother still used them and found much benefit from them till she was seventy-seven years of age.”

Rose longed to say that there was a great gulf between seventy-seven and nineteen and two months. She was stopped by the quiet determination and self-satisfaction visible in Miss Lucilla’s face and manner, as she rose and graciously but summarily dismissed the trespasser on her valuable time.

“Yes, I hope this will meet the case. You have been overdoing yourself that explains itself to everybody. Dear Mrs. Jennings must forbid you tea and coffee and limit you to cocoa in the meantime; indeed, my sisters and I take that precaution before any mischief appears. Don’t forget Miss Stone’s study the first thing on drawing mornings. I trust a little sedative and stimulant in one will prepare you nicely for the drawing lessons.”

To Rose’s disgust she was compelled to make wry faces and choke over so many doses of sel-volatile and red lavender to the end of the term. She made secret unfulfilled threats to write to her father and get him to say that he would not permit her constitution to be tampered with, he would himself order her what she required, if she needed to be quieted like an incipient mad woman or a weak emotional fool.

Rose was not sure that Annie ought not to have come to her help. The younger sister did not see what advantage there was to the family in the elder sister’s being a nurse if she was not to interfere on occasions of this kind. But Annie had the bad taste to take the story as a good joke against Rose; and as for Hester Jennings, it was an instance of “the Queen laughed” with a vengeance. However, Hester stepped in so far. She would not let the soothing regimen, on which Rose was put, go the length of depriving her of her tea and coffee in Welby Square.

Within the next few weeks Hester did Rose a still better turn. She (Hester) came to her friend with an order for decorative designs in scroll-work, which had reached the elder girl from a decorator of some repute.

“I think you could do it, Rose,” said Hester. “It would not take much time, and if your work satisfied the great tradesman who has given such an impetus to this kind of art, it might be a perfect windfall to art students wishing to keep themselves. You need not despise it in the light of house-painting. If you read your Ruskin, you will find him as good as calling Titian and Veronese house-painters, though to be sure frescoes are rather an extension of scroll-work.”

“Indeed, I should never dream of despising it. I should be only too thankful for any kind of copying or pattern-drawing, or designing for Christmas-cards like poor Fanny Russell if it were the beginning of the least little bit of an order,” said Rose meekly, with a stifled sigh given to her and May’s old magnificent ideas of commissions. “But why don’t you keep the work for yourself, Hester?” the young girl inquired. “You could do it so well and so easily, and it would be no pain to you; it would be a pleasure, for it is graceful and true work so far as it goes not like these cruel illustrations.”

But Hester waived aside the undertaking. “You have been more accustomed to this kind of thing than I have. No, I mean to stick to my illustrations, cruel or kind. There is a new man in the publisher’s office who is giving me more of my own way, and I feel it would not be fair to leave him in the lurch. Who knows that we may not, between us, lead the way to a revolution in the style of the cheapest original English wood-cut. Besides, I do not want any more diversions from my main business. I am already on four different committees for women’s trade unions, the female franchise, and all the rest of it. I must crib a little more time for my hand and foot. Don’t you know? Drawing my own hand and foot from their reflection in a looking-glass till I can put them in any position, and foreshorten them to my mind.”

Rose competed for the scroll-work order, and did it so well that she got the order, and along with it a note of commendation, a tolerably large extension of the commission, and the first instalment of a liberal payment for the kind of work. Her elation knew no bounds

“Oh! Hester, I should never, never even have heard of this delightful job but for you. What can I ever do for you?”

“Don’t hug me,” said Hester, retreating in veritable terror, for she had a peculiar genuine aversion to caresses, still more than to thanks. “Don’t knock off my hat, for I cannot spare another minute to put it straight again.”

The next thing Hester heard was a half-impetuous, half-shamefaced admission from Rose that she had resigned her post as assistant drawing-mistress at the Misses Stone’s school.

Hester looked grave on the instant. “What did you do that for?” she demanded gruffly. “Did you mention it to your sister? Have you told them at home?”

“No,” Rose was forced to own at least not till the deed was done. She had acted on her own responsibility. “But indeed, Hester, it is the best plan,” she argued volubly. “Annie and all of them will say so when they know how I mean to cultivate this scroll-work, which is paying me twice as well already. I put it to you if I could do two things at once, and if it would be wise to sacrifice the more profitable for the less remunerative. Why it would be quite shortsighted and cowardly.”

“Humph,” said Hester, without the smallest disguise, “much experience you have had of it! Do you know, Rose Millar, these decorators’ fads are constantly changing? Perhaps in three months they will all be for mosaic, or tiles, or peacocks’ feathers again. If I had thought you were such a rash idiotic little goose, I should never have breathed a word to you of this man and his scroll-work.”

“Oh! but, Hester,” pled Rose, determined not to be offended, “I was only relieving the poor Misses Stone of a painful necessity. I am sure they have never put any dependence on me since the day I broke down I grant you idiotically. I cannot stand the repression suppression whatever you like to call it. Now that there is a way out of it, I have felt like a wild beast in the school the girls are so very tame so much tamer than we were at Miss Burridge’s where I was not a black sheep May will tell you if you care to ask her,” protested Rose with wounded feeling. “But I am so tired of the rosy and snowy cottages and the ruins, and of that long-nosed collie. Sometimes I feel as if I would give the world for him to wag his tail one day, just to give me an excuse for crying out and flinging my india-rubber at him. I wish May saw him; it might stop her ecstasies over her new acquisition the brute at home. I feel that this other brute, and the rest of the Misses Stone’s copies and models, are injuring my drawing I know they are making it cramped; while the scrolls help my freedom of touch like Hogarth’s line of beauty or Giotto’s O. And it is such humbug, and so horrid to have to swallow these doses of sel-volatile a great healthy girl like me!”

“Humph!” said Hester again, “I hope you may not repent what you have done if so, you need not blame me.”