Agnes Grey HTML version

7. Horton Lodge
THE 31st of January was a wild, tempestuous day: there was a strong north
wind, with a continual storm of snow drifting on the ground and whirling through
the air. My friends would have had me delay my departure, but fearful of
prejudicing my employers against me by such want of punctuality at the
commencement of my undertaking, I persisted in keeping the appointment.
I will not inflict upon my readers an account of my leaving home on that dark
winter morning: the fond farewells, the long, long journey to O-, the solitary
waitings in inns for coaches or trains - for there were some railways then - and,
finally, the meeting at O- with Mr. Murray's servant, who had been sent with the
phaeton to drive me from thence to Horton Lodge. I will just state that the heavy
snow had thrown such impediments in the way of both horses and steam-
engines, that it was dark some hours before I reached my journey's end, and that
a most bewildering storm came on at last, which made the few miles' space
between O- and Horton Lodge a long and formidable passage. I sat resigned,
with the cold, sharp snow drifting through my veil and filling my lap, seeing
nothing, and wondering how the unfortunate horse and driver could make their
way even as well as they did; and indeed it was but a toilsome, creeping style of
progression, to say the best of it. At length we paused; and, at the call of the
driver, someone unlatched and rolled back upon their creaking hinges what
appeared to be the park gates. Then we proceeded along a smoother road,
whence, occasionally, I perceived some huge, hoary mass gleaming through the
darkness, which I took to be a portion of a snow-clad tree. After a considerable
time we paused again, before the stately portico of a large house with long
windows descending to the ground.
I rose with some difficulty from under the superincumbent snowdrift, and alighted
from the carriage, expecting that a kind and hospitable reception would indemnify
me for the toils and hardships of the day. A gentleman person in black opened
the door, and admitted me into a spacious hall, lighted by an amber-coloured
lamp suspended from the ceiling; he led me through this, along a passage, and
opening the door of a back room, told me that was the schoolroom. I entered,
and found two young ladies and two young gentlemen - my future pupils, I
supposed. After a formal greeting, the elder girl, who was trifling over a piece of
canvas and a basket of German wools, asked if I should like to go upstairs. I
replied in the affirmative, of course.
'Matilda, take a candle, and show her her room,' said she.
Miss Matilda, a strapping hoyden of about fourteen, with a short frock and
trousers, shrugged her shoulders and made a slight grimace, but took a candle
and proceeded before me up the back stairs (a long, steep, double flight), and