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11. Fieldhead
Yet Caroline refused tamely to succumb: she had native strength in her girl's
heart, and she used it. Men and women never struggle so hard as when they
struggle alone, without witness, counsellor, or confidant; unencouraged,
unadvised, and unpitied.
Miss Helstone was in this position. Her sufferings were her only spur; and being
very real and sharp, they roused her spirit keenly. Bent on victory over a mortal
pain, she did her best to quell it. Never had she been seen so busy, so studious,
and, above all, so active. She took walks in all weathers - long walks in solitary
directions. Day by day she came back in the evening, pale and wearied-looking,
yet seemingly not fatigued; for still, as soon as she had thrown off her bonnet and
shawl, she would, instead of resting, begin to pace her apartment: sometimes
she would not sit down till she was literally faint. She said she did this to tire
herself well, that she might sleep soundly at night. But if that was her aim it was
unattained, for at night, when others slumbered, she was tossing on her pillow, or
sitting at the foot of her couch in the darkness, forgetful, apparently, of the
necessity of seeking repose. Often, unhappy girl! she was crying - crying in a sort
of intolerable despair; which, when it rushed over her, smote down her strength,
and reduced her to childlike helplessness.
When thus prostrate, temptations besieged her: weak suggestions whispered in
her weary heart to write to Robert, and say that she was unhappy because she
was forbidden to see him and Hortense, and that she feared he would withdraw
his friendship (not love) from her, and forget her entirely, and begging him to
remember her, and sometimes to write to her. One or two such letters she
actually indited, but she never sent them: shame and good sense forbade.
At last the life she led reached the point when it seemed she could bear it no
longer; that she must seek and find a change somehow, or her heart and head
would fail under the pressure which strained them. She longed to leave Briarfield,
to go to some very distant place. She longed for something else: the deep,
secret, anxious yearning to discover and know her mother strengthened daily;
but with the desire was coupled a doubt, a dread - if she knew her, could she
love her? There was cause for hesitation, for apprehension on this point: never in
her life had she heard that mother praised: whoever mentioned her, mentioned
her coolly. Her uncle seemed to regard his sister-in-law with a sort of tacit
antipathy; an old servant, who had lived with Mrs. James Helstone for a short
time after her marriage, whenever she referred to her former mistress, spoke with
chilling reserve: sometimes she called her 'queer,' sometimes she said she did
not understand her. These expressions were ice to the daughter's heart; they
suggested the conclusions that it was perhaps better never to know her parent,
than to know her and not like her.
But one project could she frame whose execution seemed likely to bring her a
hope of relief; it was to take a situation, to be a governess - she could do nothing
else. A little incident brought her to the point when she found courage to break
her design to her uncle.