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Agnes Grey

The Cottagers
AS I had now only one regular pupil - though she contrived to give me as much
trouble as three or four ordinary ones, and though her sister still took lessons in
German and drawing - I had considerably more time at my own disposal than I
had ever been blessed with before, since I had taken upon me the governess's
yoke; which time I devoted partly to correspondence with my friends, partly to
reading, study, and the practice of music, singing, &c., partly to wandering in the
grounds or adjacent fields, with my pupils if they wanted me, alone if they did not.
Often, when they had no more agreeable occupation at hand, the Misses Murray
would amuse themselves with visiting the poor cottagers on their father's estate,
to receive their flattering homage, or to hear the old stories or gossiping news of
the garrulous old women; or, perhaps, to enjoy the purer pleasure of making the
poor people happy with their cheering presence and their occasional gifts, so
easily bestowed, so thankfully received. Sometimes, I was called upon to
accompany one or both of the sisters in these visits; and sometimes I was
desired to go alone, to fulfil some promise which they had been more ready to
make than to perform; to carry some small donation, or read to one who was sick
or seriously disposed: and thus I made a few acquaintances among the
cottagers; and, occasionally, I went to see them on my own account.
I generally had more satisfaction in going alone than with either of the young
ladies; for they, chiefly owing to their defective education, comported themselves
towards their inferiors in a manner that was highly disagreeable for me to
witness. They never, in thought, exchanged places with them; and, consequently,
had no consideration for their feelings, regarding them as an order of beings
entirely different from themselves. They would watch the poor creatures at their
meals, making uncivil remarks about their food, and their manner of eating; they
would laugh at their simple notions and provincial expressions, till some of them
scarcely durst venture to speak; they would call the grave elderly men and
women old fools and silly old blockheads to their faces: and all this without
meaning to offend. I could see that the people were often hurt and annoyed by
such conduct, though their fear of the 'grand ladies' prevented them from
testifying any resentment; but they never perceived it. They thought that, as
these cottagers were poor and untaught, they must be stupid and brutish; and as
long as they, their superiors, condescended to talk to them, and to give them
shillings and half-crowns, or articles of clothing, they had a right to amuse
themselves, even at their expense; and the people must adore them as angels of
light, condescending to minister to their necessities, and enlighten their humble
I made many and various attempts to deliver my pupils from these delusive
notions without alarming their pride - which was easily offended, and not soon