Read CHAPTER I - OUR GOVERNESS of Miss Grantley's Girls And the Stories She Told Them , free online book, by Thomas Archer, on

There was nothing romantic in Miss Grantley’s appearance, and yet she was the sort of person that you could not help looking at again and again if you once saw her. She was not very young, nor was she middle-aged about thirty, perhaps. She was certainly not what is called a beauty, but she was not in the least plain. She was what some people would call “superior looking” or “rather remarkable,” and yet they would not be able to say why she attracted attention. She was very little taller than Marion Cooper, who was the tallest of the girls in our first class; but yet she gave one the impression of being rather above the middle height, because she walked so well and moved in that easy graceful manner which belongs to a person who, as the old housekeeper at the school used to say, “was born and bred a lady.” There is no way of describing her; though Annie Bowers, who could draw beautifully, made several pencil sketches that were wonderful likenesses. Her hair, fine, soft, and wavy, was dark chestnut, with that warm brown tinge that looks so well with a rather pale creamy complexion; her features were regular, her eyes of that strange gray that looks dark at night and steel-blue in the sunshine eyes that seemed to see into one’s thoughts, and would have been severe except for the smile that flitted about her clear well-cut mouth whenever anything humorous happened, or a pleasant thought was passing through her mind. She always looked well-dressed, though she wore silver-gray alpaca or dark brown merino in school, and rather plain black or gray silk when she went visiting. But there was mostly a rose or some other flower in her silver brooch, and the lace that she sometimes wore at her neck and wrists was so fine and elegant that Mrs. Durand, who was the widow of a general officer and had been educated at a convent, declared it was very valuable indeed, and never was made in England. Somebody, speaking once of Miss Grantley’s appearance, compared her to fine old china; and she had just that clear unsullied nice look that reminded you of an old china figure, though there was nothing particularly old-fashioned about her. She had some very pretty old-fashioned things, though quaint ivory carvings and porcelain bowls, and a delightful old tea-set, and some old plate of that dark-looking silver that always seems to have a deep shadow lying under its smooth shining surface. She was something like that silver, too; for though she was bright and pleasant and with a constant liking for fun, there was a great deal of gravity beneath her smile. No one could have treated her with familiar levity, though she was gentle and sweet-tempered; for no one who had seen her very rare expression of deep displeasure would care to provoke it. Of course I am chiefly speaking now of our girls, but I think other people grown-up and important people thought much the same as we did of Miss Grantley. The truth was, nobody thought of her except with kindly feelings, because everybody liked her. She had gone through much trouble. Her father, who had been a wealthy squire, lost all his money in buying shares in mines, or something of that sort, and died a poor man. His wife had been dead for years, so that Miss Grantley was left an orphan and with few relations except one brother, who had gone abroad to seek his fortune, but without finding it, I suppose, since Miss Grantley, after passing examinations and being a teacher in a great school in London, came down to Barton Vale to be our governess.

Barton Vale is a pretty, quiet, secluded place. It is not exactly a village, but is a suburb of a large town, only the town is nearly two miles away, so that the Barton Vale people heard very little of the factory people, and didn’t smell the smoke from the tanneries and the alkali works at Barton-on-the-Lees. In fact most of the principal people of the town had come to live about the vale. The vicar, and the principal manufacturers, the Jorrings, who were county people, and Mr. Belfort the banker, and Mrs. Durand, and the Selways, and old Dr. Speight, and the Norburys, had handsome houses and kept their carriages. Even the Barton doctor, Mr. Torridge, was more in the vale than in the town; and the solicitor had a pretty little villa next door to the old-fashioned house that Miss Grantley had taken to open a school in.

Most of these folks knew Miss Grantley; and many of them loved her as much as her girls did, for some of the girls belonged to the families I have mentioned. They came to her school as daily pupils instead of being sent to the cathedral town to live away from home; and that was one reason that she got on so well, for the dear old vicar and his wife had known her parents, and would have liked her to make the vicarage her home. The banker’s married daughter, Mrs. Norbury, had been a schoolfellow of Miss Grantley, and called her “dear Bessie” when they met, and wanted to take lessons of her in French and German; because Miss Grantley had studied abroad, and spoke both these languages very well.

It was because so many people there and in the town and in London, knew her, that she was able to take the old house which was once the maltster’s, and have it done up nicely, and the great long room that had been the front office and sample-room turned into a school-room, and the pretty little parlour fitted with French windows, that it might open to the garden full of rose-bushes and standard apple-trees, and with its red brick walls covered with plums and jessamine. She began with nine young girls whom she brought with her as boarders, and five more soon came, so that she had fourteen in the house, and three more little ones as day-boarders (two Selways and one Jorring), and eight of us seniors, who went for lessons from ten to one, an hour for lunch, and then home at four to late dinner.

It was of course a good thing for Miss Grantley that she had her own old nurse there for cook and housekeeper, with a strong girl to do the housework, and a woman from one of the cottages at Vale Farm to help twice a week. The solicitor’s villa had a large garden, and the gardener and his wife lived in the cottage which had once belonged to the maltster’s foreman at the end of the orchard and close to the old kiln, so they were always ready to help too; and our governess had very little to pay for gardening except a few shillings for a labourer now and then. You may very well believe, then, that Lindley House School was a very pleasant place. Miss Grantley called it Lindley House because, she said, old-fashioned people always connected the idea of education with Lindley Murray’s Grammar not that she taught grammar from Lindley Murray’s book, for she declared the way of teaching was quite different now, and that there were a good many queer rules in the old grammar which could only be accounted for by the fact that the old gentleman who wrote it lived for many years chiefly on boiled mutton and turnips!

When Miss Grantley said things of this kind Mrs. Parmigan used to cry out, “My dear pray, now do consider.” And Miss Grantley used to smile at her, and then the old lady would laugh till she shook the room. That was the way with our governess; she seemed able to make some people laugh by only smiling at them; and she could make people cry too by looking at them with quite a different sort of grave smile and the strange light in her earnest gray eyes.

Oh! I have forgotten about Mrs. Parmigan! She was a dear old thing; had actually been nursery governess to Miss Grantley; and, having married and been left a widow, had heard of her former pupil and young mistress being left fatherless and motherless, and now brought her small annuity to Barton Vale, and helped to teach in the school and to be a sort of mother to Miss Grantley, without wanting any wages, and only just her board and lodging, beside which she could afford to pay for a good many things towards the housekeeping.

She used to teach the juniors, and taught them well too, though some of them were occasionally spoiled; and as it was very often somebody’s birthday, seed-cake and gingerbread and lemon toffee were more common than they are in most schools. Even the senior girls came in for some of the goodies, and used to say that, as they lived in a world where somebody was born every minute, it would be hard if they couldn’t keep a birthday once a week.

But this saying reminds me that we might go on gossiping about our governess for the hour together, and yet not get to the stories that she used to tell us. It was one of her delightful plans to devote an afternoon in each week to fancy needlework; and we used to take our work with us on that day, and instead of going home to dinner we had luncheon and stayed as her guests to tea, with cake or home-made bread and butter, jam, or in summer, ripe plums and apples from the garden, or plates of strawberries and cream from Ivory Farm.

It was then that we read in turns from some of the best books of fiction; for Miss Grantley said, “Girls are sure to read novels, and the imagination needs to be cultivated as well as the intellect and the memory.” So we read stories, and sometimes poems by Tennyson and Browning and other modern writers, as well as Shakspeare, Dante, Schiller, and Goethe. Our governess would explain the passages to us, and we used to talk about them afterwards; but very often the conversation took a good deal more time than the reading, for it was then we found out that Miss Grantley had travelled in Germany, France, and Italy, and that she had been a student not only of subjects that she might have to teach, but of people and their ways.

We found out too that she could tell stories of her own; and now and then we used to persuade her to “spin a yarn,” as Bella Dornton, whose father had been a naval officer, used to say.

One summer there were to be great doings at Barton-on-the-Lees. A grand fancy fair was to be held in the town-hall for the benefit of the infirmary, and we had all promised to work for it; so that nobody was offended when Miss Grantley made known that she intended to give a half-holiday every day for a week, that we seniors might be her guests from two o’clock to eight, and all work together in the garden parlour, or out in the orchard beneath the apple-trees.

It was then that we made a compact with her, after a great deal of trouble, that she should tell or read a story every day after tea, and in return we each promised to make some specially pretty article for her stall for our governess had been persuaded to take a stall by some of the people who subscribed to the infirmary, and her old school-fellow Mrs. Norbury was to share it with her.

I don’t suppose that any of us will ever forget Miss Grantley’s pretty parlour. It was a pattern of neatness and freshness, with its green silk curtains just shading the French window which was opened to the soft July air bearing the scent of the roses and jessamine; its low easy-chairs, of various patterns, its oval table with a cover of white and gold, its neat cabinet piano, the pretty dainty chimney ornaments, the few cool light sketches in water-colour that adorned the walls, the small book-case with a few charmingly bound volumes which filled up one recess by the fireplace, and the china closet that occupied the other. The contents of this china closet were always interesting to us, for they consisted of some rare specimens of porcelain, old Chelsea, and other exquisite ware, including the delicate tea-service which was brought out on high days and holidays, and was in daily use during the memorable week that we had devoted to the fancy fair.

One might go on gossiping about some of the “belongings” of this room, and the old china and the quaint handsome tea equipage, but that this is only a kind of introduction to our governess, or rather to the stories she told us out of school during that working holiday. It was on the Monday evening, after we had come in from the orchard and had finished tea, one toothsome accompaniment to which was some delectable apricot jam upon crisp toast, that Annie Bowers, who had been so quiet that she might have been asleep, said in her usual deliberate way: “Miss Grantley, that lovely silver cup (or shall I call it a vase?) fascinates me more every time I look at it, and I shall never be contented till you let me make a sketch of it; but the worst of it is there is no way of making a drawing that will show all the gleam and shadow that plays upon old silver.”

“Dear me, how very poetical we are!” said Sarah Jorring interrupting.

“Not at all,” said Annie in the same sleepy voice. “Anybody with an eye can see how beautiful that is. There is something regal in the ornament of it. The slender stem seems to grow as it expands into the bowl, the chasing is so simple and yet so firm and grand, the handles are like curves of the lip of the cup itself, as though they were a part of the whole design, and not as though they were stuck on as they would be in modern works. I could fancy it the wine-cup of a king or an emperor.”

We had none of us seen this handsome goblet before, as it was usually locked up with other silver in a chest that stood in a wardrobe closet in Miss Grantley’s bed-room. The fact is, we were all looking at it with some curiosity, for it had been brought down with the tea-spoons and sugar-tongs, and now stood on the table filled with pounded sugar for the strawberries that were to be eaten by and by.

“Is it an heirloom, Miss Grantley?” asked Marian Cooper. “Has it always belonged to you, and did some ancestor leave you the history of it?”

“Well, it has been in our family in my mother’s family for perhaps two centuries,” replied our governess with her grave gentle smile.

“You know that my mother, or at all events my great grandmother, belonged to the Huguenots, those French Protestants, many of whom escaped from the persecutions in France and came to England, where they worked at many trades. A number of these emigres, as they were called, settled in a neighbourhood close to the city of London; a place called Saint Mary Spital. The part that they lived in was named the Spital Fields, and there they set up in business as weavers of silk. This cup came to my dear mother as a part of the old property that belonged to her grandmother, and it had been brought from the south of France, from the district where the persecution was carried on longest till the French revolution changed everything. The ‘Reign of Terror,’ as it was called, brought a terrible punishment to those who had themselves shown no mercy; and another kind of persecution to those who, rather than deny their religion, had endured the cruelties of a fierce soldiery. They had seen houses burned, even women and children tortured and killed, property destroyed, and existence made so hard and sorrowful that they ceased to fear death, and fought on with desperate courage, or abandoned the country that their tyrants had turned into a desert, and carried their arts and manufactures to other lands where they might meet and pray in peace.”

“Miss Grantley,” said Sarah Jorring when tea was over, and our governess had “washed up” the dainty cups and saucers, “we don’t want you to read to us to-night, I think. You are to tell us a story instead, you know, and it seems that there ought to be a history belonging to the Silver Goblet.”

“Yes, yes,” we all cried out, “surely you know ever so much about it, and if it’s not a family secret, or if you don’t wish to tell us”

“Well,” replied our governess laughing, as we all hurried to our work-baskets and drew round the table which had been moved nearer to the window, “as I can work and recite at the same time I may try to tell you the only story I ever heard about this Huguenot Goblet; but mind it isn’t very romantic, and it isn’t very cheerful. There is a love story in it, though, and as girls are always supposed to prefer something of that kind though I have always found that girls are more interested in the stories provided for their brothers than in their own books I will say on as well as I can.”