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I stepped into the business; and now, I'll venture to say, there is'nt a better conducted school in all England, Ireland, and Scotland, or Berwick-upon-Tweed."
Whereupon, to my infinite amazement, I beheld my brother Cuthbert elevate himself to an angle of forty-five, and say, in the sweetest imaginable tone,
"To that I think I can myself bear testimony. Ha!"
This announcement evidently startled Wells as much as it had surprised me. However, it encouraged the lady to a fuller confession, which, to me and the Rector, was extremely amusing.
"Now," said she, " you see me as I am; and I have told you all my history, but I should never have opened my lips as I have done this evening if the girls had been here."
I knew by the expression of Wells's countenance that he was dying to ask her whether, when she talked of opening her lips in the manner she had done this evening, she meant for the purposes of oratory or imbibition.
"Everybody is obliged," said she, "to play a part in this world, that's what I mean to say; —what's a judge off the bench, wig and gown aside?—just like other men, to be sure; but while he is in his court, he must act judge, and nothing else,—the same with me:—why, if I was to be natural, as folks call it, and say my say as I like to say it, I should be thought no more of than one of my own housemaids,—recollect the story of the King and the Schoolmaster ?—to be sure you do. Well, I make the girls believe their governess the very pink of perfection,—never hear me talk what I call plain kitchen English, no, no."
"Well," said I, "for my part, I prefer the simplest language that can be used; and I am sure you will forgive me for saying that I have never enjoyed any evening since your arrival here so much as this."
"That's it," said the joyous matron, "I know that—now, at home, when the girls are gone to bed—early hours are healthy, not one of 'em up at half-past eight—I see no harm in having in a neighbour or two and enjoying a quiet rubber of whist or a pool at loo—limited, you know. Well, as I say, there's no immorality in playing cards; yet I should not like my girls to catch me at it. Then, after our cards, we have a bit of supper, seldom anything hot, for the girls could smell that; and, as I always tell them that suppers are unwholesome, and never allow them a morsel at night, I should not like them to know that I eat supper myself. Well, and then, as I say, what's the harm of a glass of something warm after one's snack?"
"Why," said I, " Kitty told us your principle upon that subject, and even referred to your practice."
"Ah!" said the the lady, " my Kitty is an exception to the general rule,—she is the favourite."
"Thank you, thank you, a thousand times, Mrs. Brandyball," said Cuthbert, nodding his head approvingly like a china mandarin, " I'm sure of that."
"I call her one of my pattern-girls, Sir," said the lady.
"I trust," said Cuthbert, "my dear Mrs. B., you do not over-fatigue them?"
"You know, my dear Sir," said the lady, " I do not. I'll tell you my course. Up at eight, —prayers, always read by Miss Julietta Timmins, whose grandmother was aunt to the curate of Cripplesdon,—fine voice, sweet delivery, and as slow as a slug,—breakfast at nine,—no nonsense about nerves,—never let them touch tea, —pure milk-and-water,—the cow and the pump, —out for an hour,—relaxation in the shrubbery, —at ten in school,—everything parcelled out,— method is the only mode of managing the mind, —seven minutes and a half for geography,— ditto for knotting hearthrugs,—a quarter of an hour for French,—ten minutes for astronomy,— ditto for the use of the globes,—a quarter of an hour for Italian,—and twenty minutes for mathematics. Then to learn lessons,—dinner at two."
"Very pretty proceedings," said Cuthbert. "A little of everything, and not too much of anything."
"Exactly so," said Mrs. Brandyball. "Then, till half-past three, the play-ground,—in again, —fifteen minutes for music,—six minutes for algebra,—nine minutes for drawing,—a quarter of an hour for English history,—six minutes for hydraulics, under the inspection of Doctor O., and nine minutes and a half for ethics and moral philosophy,—guitar twenty minutes (for those who learn it),—Newton's Principia and dancing an hour and a half, — the play-ground again."
"But," said Wells, "do you never parade them?"
"Do what?" said Mrs. Brandyball.
"Take them out to walk?" said the Rector.
"Never," exclaimed the agreeable hedgehog, "except to church," bowing complacently, in order to evince her high respect for the Establishment. "No, no, Mr. Wells. I keep my charges all snug within brick walls tipped with broken bottles. There are but two windows that overlook my garden, and that only in the winter,— planted them out,—no peeping into Montpelier."