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4. Miss Marchmont
On quitting Bretton, which I did a few weeks after Paulina's departure - little thinking
then I was never again to visit it: never more to tread its calm old streets - I betook myself
home, having been absent six months. It will be conjectured that I was of course glad to
return to the bosom of my kindred. Well! the amiable conjecture does no harm, and may
therefore be safely left uncontradicted. Far from saying nay, indeed, I will permit the
reader to picture me, for the next eight years, as a bark slumbering through halcyon
weather, in a harbour still as glass - the steersman stretched on the little deck, his face up
to heaven, his eyes closed: buried, if you will, in a long prayer. A great many women and
girls are supposed to pass their lives something in that fashion; why not I with the rest?
Picture me then idle, basking, plump, and happy, stretched on a cushioned deck, warmed
with constant sunshine, rocked by breezes indolently soft. However, it cannot be
concealed that, in that case, I must somehow have fallen over-board, or that there must
have been wreck at last. I too well remember a time - a long time, of cold, of danger, of
contention. To this hour, when I have the nightmare, it repeats the rush and saltness of
briny waves in my throat, and their icy pressure on my lungs. I even know there was a
storm, and that not of one hour nor one day. For many days and nights neither sun nor
stars appeared; we cast with our own hands the tackling out of the ship; a heavy tempest
lay on us; all hope that we should be saved was taken away. In fine, the ship was lost, the
crew perished.
As far as I recollect, I complained to no one about these troubles. Indeed, to whom could
I complain? Of Mrs. Bretton I had long lost sight. Impediments, raised by others, had,
years ago, come in the way of our intercourse, and cut it off. Besides, time had brought
changes for her too: the handsome property of which she was left guardian for her son,
and which had been chiefly invested in some joint-stock undertaking, had melted, it was
said, to a fraction of its original amount. Graham, I learned from incidental rumours, had
adopted a profession; both he and his mother were gone from Bretton, and were
understood to be now in London. Thus, there remained no possibility of dependence on
others; to myself alone could I look. I know not that I was of a self-reliant or active
nature; but self-reliance and exertion were forced upon me by circumstances, as they are
upon thousands besides; and when Miss Marchmont, a maiden lady of our
neighbourhood, sent for me, I obeyed her behest, in the hope that she might assign me
some task I could undertake.
Miss Marchmont was a woman of fortune, and lived in a handsome residence; but she
was a rheumatic cripple, impotent, foot and hand, and had been so for twenty years. She
always sat upstairs: her drawing-room adjoined her bedroom. I had often heard of Miss
Marchmont, and of her peculiarities (she had the character of being very eccentric), but
till now had never seen her. I found her a furrowed, grey-haired woman, grave with
solitude, stern with long affliction, irritable also, and perhaps exacting. It seemed that a
maid, or rather companion, who had waited on her for some years, was about to be
married; and she, hearing of my bereaved lot, had sent for me, with the idea that I might