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p. 224p. 225Appendix: ‘EMMA’locked

p. 224p. 225Appendix: ‘EMMA’locked

  • Charlotte Brontë
  • Published in print: 10 July 2008
  • Published online: 16 December 2020
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This manuscript, a rough pencil draft of about 7,000 words, was Charlotte Brontë’s last attempt to begin a new work of fiction after Villette. In that novel she had used the major theme of the still unpublished The Professor— the master—pupil relationship; and in May and June of 1853, a few months after the publication of Villette, she tried to rework its secondary theme, that of the two brothers, in the three fragments known as Willie Ellin1 Abandoning this attempt, she turned in November 1853 to another Professor motif—the treatment of a motherless, isolated pupil in a girls’ school. As early as 1839 she had written of ‘Miss Percy’, a pupil at ‘Mrs Turner’s Seminary at Kensington’, whose ‘Father … seldom came to see her … but when he did come, his carriage, his fine horses, and his own very distinguished appearance, never failed to make a deep impression on Mrs Turner’s organ of Veneration’.2 A version of this story had been sent to Hartley Coleridge in 1840, and it was rewritten as a part of the second chapter of ‘Ashworth’, possibly in the same year or early in 1841. The heroine’s father, Alexander Percy, or Ashworth, was a direct descendant of the rogue and adventurer Northangerland in Charlotte’s Angrian tales, and the precursor of Mr Fitzgibbon in ‘Emma’.

This ‘last sketch’, as Thackeray called it, was written at a very unsettled period in Charlotte Brontë’s life, when she was secretly corresponding with Mr Nicholls; and she wrote only twenty much revised pages, leaving the second chapter unfinished. Some time after her marriage she showed the story to her husband, who described the occasion in a letter to George Smith of 11 October 1859 as follows: ‘One Evening at the close of 1854 as we sat by the fire listening to the howling of the wind around the house my poor wife suddenly said, “If you had not been with me I must have been writing now”—She then ran upstairs, brought down & read aloud the beginning of her New Tale—When she had finished I remarked, “The Critics will accuse you of repetition, as you have again introduced a school.” She replied, “O I shall alter that—I always begin two or three p. 226times before I can please myself”—But it was not to be—’3 ‘I shall alter’ sounds like a firm intention to go on writing; but, ‘very fully occupied’ in helping in her husband’s practical pursuits and with little time for thinking,4 it seems that she achieved no more. Mrs Gaskell wrote, in a letter of 17 March 1858, that Mr Nicholls ‘always groaned literally—when she talked of continuing’ ‘Emma’;5 but he always denied that he had discouraged his wife’s writing. Certainly his letters after her death show an affectionate pride in her work: on 11 November 1859 he thanked George Smith for returning the manuscript of ‘Emma’—‘I prize it much as being the last thing of the kind written by the Author.’6

In 1856, after Charlotte’s death, Nicholls had allowed Mrs Gaskell to see ‘Emma’ as well as The Professor. She found it ‘excessively interesting’,7 and recalled it two years later when she wished to add something to a proposed new edition of the Life ‘to make the book more attractive, & likely to sell’.8 ‘I don’t know how far it would answer your purpose,’ she wrote to George Smith, ‘—or how far you could obtain Mr Nicholls consent,—to add as an appendix—(that’s where I fear he would not give his consent,) to the life \ whh he does not like/, the fragment of a tale she left.’

In the event, ‘Emma’ was not published until April i860, when it was printed with a preliminary essay by Thackeray in The Cornhill Magazine, George Smith’s comparatively new venture into journalism, launched in January of that year. To this form of publication, at any rate, Mr Nicholls had given a cordial and courteous assent: ‘I willingly comply with your request to be allowed to print the fragment referred to in your letter,’ he wrote to Smith on 11 October 1859, adding that the manuscript was ‘in so small a hand as only to be deciphered by one well acquainted with the style of writing—I shall therefore transcribe it; & hope to be able to send you both the copy & the original in a few days— … I shall indeed be glad if Mr Thackeray will write an introduction, as I feel sure that he both can & will do justice to the character & genius of the writer—’

Nicholls had transcribed the manuscript by 14th October, when he sent off the copy he had made to George Smith, promising to forward the p. 227original subsequently: ‘The transcribing has been rather difficult, but I have done it faithfully.’ Three days later he sent the original, and commented, ‘You will perceive that the last page has been crossed out, I thought it better to retain it, as the fragment would be less complete without it—’ His suggestion was accepted, for the Cornhill text concludes with this deleted matter, describing Mr Ellin’s protection of the distressed child. Mr Nicholls was a conscientious but not an expert reader of his wife’s ‘small hand’; several minor misreadings in the Cornhill text, such as ‘proposed’ for ‘professed’, ‘anywhere’ for ‘everywhere’, presumably derive from his transcript. It is not clear whether he was also responsible for regularizing the inconsistent proper names of the draft, and (less justifiably) polishing away stylistic roughness by omitting phrases, changing a ‘caller’ into a ‘visitor’, ‘offered connections’ into ‘proffered connection’, and so on. Possibly Thackeray or Smith had a hand in such revisions: if they did, Nicholls would be unlikely to object: he approved of later ‘improvements’ in poems by Charlotte and Emily that he sent to the Cornhill, and had a great admiration for Thackeray.

Both Mr Nicholls and Mr Brontë appreciated Thackeray’s preliminary essay, ‘The Last Sketch’, in which Charlotte’s ‘noble English, burning love of truth’ and ‘passionate honour’ were warmly praised. Thackeray used Mr Nicholls’s account of the reading of the manuscript almost word for word, and completed his essay by recalling the fascination of Jane Eyre: ‘Hundreds of those who, like myself, recognized and admired that masterwork of a great genius, will look with a mournful interest and regard and curiosity upon this, the last fragmentary sketch from the noble hand which wrote Jane Eyre.’

‘Emma’ has usually been reprinted from the Cornhill. We have based our transcription on the original manuscript, now in the Taylor Collection at Princeton University, and our notes indicate some of the many revisions. These reveal, for example, that Charlotte at first intended her heroine to be an orphan, introduced by ‘Captain Selby’ as the daughter of a ‘deceased friend’, and that the girl was to be ‘exquisitely’ graceful— a suitable ‘decoy-bird’ to attract other pupils to the school. We retain the inconsistent proper names of the draft along with its peculiarities of grammar and spelling, but we have indented paragraphs where necessary.9

p. 228Novbr 27



We all seek an ideal in life: a pleasant fancy began to visit me in a certain year that perhaps the number of human beings is few who do not find their quest at some era of life for some space more or less brief. I had certainly not found mine in youth though the strong belief I held of its existence sufficed through all my brightest and freshest time to keep me hopeful. I had not found it in maturity. I was become resigned never to find it. I had lived certain dim years entirely tranquil and inexpectant—and now—I was not sure—but something was hovering round my hearth which pleased me wonderfully

Look at it reader. Come into my parlour and judge for yourself whether I do right to care for this thing. First you may scan me if you please. We shall go on better together after a satisfactory introduction and due apprehension of identity

My name is Mrs Chalfont. I am a widow. My house is good and my income such as need not check the impulse either of Charity or a moderate hospitality—I am not young, nor yet old There is no silver yet in my hair, but its yellow lustre is gone. In my face wrinkles are yet to come but I have almost forgotten the days when it wore any bloom. I married when I was very young. I lived for fifteen years a life which—whatever its trials—could not be called stagnant Then for five years I was alone—and having no children—desolate. Lately Fortune placed in my way an interest and a companion by a somewhat curious turn of her wheel

The neighbourhood where I live is pleasant enough—its scenery agreeable—and its society civilized though not numerous. About a mile from my house there is a lady’s school established but lately— not more than three years since—The conductress of this school was of my acquaintance—and though I cannot say that they occupied the very highest place in my opinion for they had brought back from some months residence abroad for finishing purposes a good deal that was fantastic affected and pretentious yet I awarded to them some portion of that respect which seems the fair due of all women who face Life bravely and try to make their own way by their own efforts

About a year after the Misses Featherheds opened their school when the number of their pupils was yet exceedingly limited and p. 229when no doubt they were looking out anxiously enough for augmentation—the entrance-gate to their little drive was one day thrown back to admit a carriage “a very handsome fashionable carriage” Miss Mabel Featherstone said in narrating the circumstance afterwards—and drawn by a pair of really splendid horses The sweep up the drive—The loud ring at the doorbell—the bustling entrance into house—the ceremonious admission to the drawing-room roused excitement enough in Fuchsia Lodge—Miss Featherhed repaired to the reception room in a pair of new gloves—carrying in her hand a handkerchief of French cambric

She found a gentleman seated on her sofa—who as he rose up— appeared a tall fine-looking personage—at least she thought him so as he stood with his back to the light. He introduced himself as Mr Ormond—inquired if Miss Fetherhed had a vacancy and intimated that he brought her a pupil wished to intrust to her care a new pupil in the shape of his daughter. This was welcome news—for there was many a vacancy in Miss Fetherhed’s school-room—indeed her establishment was as yet limited to three to the very select number of 3— and she and her sisters were looking forward with anything but confidence to the balancing of accounts at the close of their first half-year—Few objects could have been more agreeable to her then than that to which by a wave of the hand Mr Fitzgibbon now directed her attention—the figure of a child standing near the drawing-room window††

p. 230Had Miss Fetherhed’s establishment boasted fuller ranks—had she indeed entered well on that course of prosperity—which in after years an undeviating attention to externals enabled her so triumphantly to realize—an early thought with her would have been to judge whether the acquisition now offered was likely to answer well as a shew-pupil—she would have instantly marked her look, dress &c. and inferred her value from these indicia. In these anxious commencing times however Miss Fetherhed could scarcely afford herself the luxury of such appreciation. A new pupil represented 40^ a year independently of masters’ terms—and £40 a year was a sum Miss F—— needed and was glad to secure—besides the fine carriage, the fine gentleman and the fine name—gave gratifying assurance enough and to spare of eligibility in the offered connections.

It was admitted then that there were vacancies in Chalfont Grove—that Miss Fitzgibbon could be received at once that she was to learn all that the school-prospectus professed to teach—to be liable to every extra—in short to be as expensive and consequently as profitable a pupil as any Directresse’s heart could wish. All this was arranged as upon velvet—smoothly and liberally—Mr Fitzgibbon shewed in the transaction none of the hardness of the bargainmaking man of business—and as little of the penurious anxiety of the straitened professional man Miss Fetherhed felt him to be “quite the gentleman”, everything disposed her to {be} partially inclined towards the little girl—whom he on taking leave formally committed to her guardianship—and as if no circumstance should be wanting to complete the happy impression the address left written on a card served to fill up the measure of Miss Fetherhed’s satisfaction

Conway Fitzgibbon Esqr. The Park. Midland County. That very day 3 decrees were passed in the new-comer’s favour.


That she was to be Miss Fetherhed’s bedfellow


to sit next her at table.


To walk out with her

p. 231In a very few days it became evident that A fourth secret clause had been added to these {?} viz. that Miss Fitzgibbon was to be favoured, petted and screened on all feasible occasions.

An ill-conditioned pupil who before coming to Chalfont had passed a year under the care of certain old-fashioned Misses Sterling of Hartwood and from them had picked up unpractical notions of justice—took it upon her to utter an opinion on this system of favouritism

“The Misses Sterling” she injudiciously said “never distinguished any girl because she was richer or better dressed than the rest—they would have scorned to do so. They always rewarded girls according as they behaved well to their school-fellows and minded their lessons— not according to the number of their silk dresses and fine laces and feathers.”

For it must not be forgotten that Miss Fitzgibbon’s trunks when opened disclosed a splendid wardrobe—so fine were the various articles of apparel indeed that instead of assigning for their accommodation the painted deal drawers of the school bedroom—Miss Fetherhed had them arranged in a mahogany bureau in her own room. With her own hands too she would on Sundays array the little favourite in her quilted silk pelisse—her hat and feathers her ermine boa and little French boots and gloves. And very self-complacent she was when she led the young heiress (a letter from Mr F—— received since his first visit had communicated the additional particulars that this daughter was his only child and would be the inheritrix of his estates including The Park—Midland County) when she led her—I say into the church and seated her stately by her side at the top of the gallery-pew—Unbiassed observers might indeed have wondered what there was to be proud of and puzzled their wits to detect the special merits of this little woman in her silk coat—for to speak truth Miss F was far from being the beauty of the school—there were two or three blooming little faces amongst her companions much lovelier than hers. Had she been a poor child—Miss Fetherhed herself would not have liked her physiognomy at all—rather indeed would it have repelled than attracted her and though Miss F—— hardly p. 232confessed the circumstance to herself—but on the contrary strove hard not to be conscious of it—there were moments when she became sensible of a certain strange weariness in continuing her system of partiality. It hardly came natural to her to shew this special distinction in this particular instance. An undefined wonder would smite her sometimes that she did not take more real satisfaction in flattering & caressing this embryo heiress—that she did not like better to have her always at her side, under her special charge On principle—Miss F—— continued the plan she had begun—on principle for she argued with herself—this is the most aristocratic and richest of my pupils—She brings me the most credit and the most profit— therefore I aught in justice to shew her a special indulgence—which she did—but with a gradually increasing peculiarity of feeling.

Certainly the undue favours showered on little Miss Fitzgibbon brought their object no real benefit—Unfitted for the character of playfellow by her position of favourite—her fellow-pupils rejected her company as decidedly as they dared—active rejection was not long necessary—it was soon seen that passive avoidance would suffice—the pet was not social. No—even Miss Fetherhed never thought her social. When she sent for her to shew her fine clothes in the drawing-room when there was company—and especially when she had her in to her parlour of an evening—to be her own companion—Miss Fetherhed used to feel curiously perplexed. She would try to talk affably to the young heiress to draw her out—to put her in spirits—to amuse her To herself the governess could render no reason why her efforts soon flagged—but this was invariably the case. However Miss F.—— was a woman of courage and be the protégé what she might intrinsically—she was at least extrinsically rich and the patroness did not fail to continue on principle her system of preference.

A favourite has no friends—and the observation of a gentleman who about this time called at the Lodge and chanced to see Miss Fitzgibbon was “That child looks consummately unhappy” He was watching Miss Fitz—— as she walked by herself fine and solitary— while her schoolfellows were merrily playing—

“Who is the miserable little wight?” he asked.

He was told her name and dignity

“Wretched little soul!” he repeated—and he watched her pace down the walk and back again—marching upright—her hands in her ermine muff—her fine pelisse shewing a gay sheen to the p. 233winter-sun—her large Leghorn hat shading such a face as fortunately had not its parallel on the premises

“Wretched little soul!” reiterated this gentleman—He opened the drawing-room window watched the bearer of the muff, till he caught her eye then summoned with his finger She came He stooped his head down to her—she lifted her face up to him

“Don’t you play little girl?” “No Sir.”

“No! why not—do you think yourself better than other children

No answer

“Is it because people tell you you are rich you won’t play?

The young lady was gone—he stretched his hand to arrest her but she wheeled beyond his reach—and ran quickly out of sight—.

“An only child” pleaded Miss Fetherhed—“possibly rather spoilt by papa you know—one must excuse a little pettishness.

“Hump! I am afraid there is not a little to excuse

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Chap. 2nd

Mr Ellin—the gentleman mentioned in the last chapter—was a man who went where he liked, and being a gossiping leisurely person—he liked to go almost everywhere—He could not be rich—he lived so quietly—and yet he must have had some money—for without apparent profession he contrived to keep a house and a servant—He always spoke of himself as having once been a worker—but if so— that could not have been very long since—for he still looked far from old—Sometimes of an evening—under a little social conversational excitement he would look quite young—but he was changeable in mood and complexion and expression—and had chameleon eyes sometimes blue and merry—sometimes grey & dark—& anon green and gleaming. On the whole—he might be called a fair man—of average height rather thin and rather wiry. He had not resided more than two years in the present neighbourhood; his antecedents were unknown then—but as the Rector a man of good family and standing and of undoubted scrupulousness in the choice of acquaintance had introduced him he found everywhere a prompt reception of which nothing in his conduct had yet seemed to prove him unworthy. Some people indeed dubbed him “a character” and fancied him “eccentric” but others could not see the appropriateness of the epithets— p. 234he always seemed to them very harmless and quiet not always perhaps so perfectly unreserved and comprehensible as might be wished—he had a discomposing expression in his eye—and sometimes—in conversation—an ambiguous diction—but still, they believed, he meant no harm.

Mr Ellin often called on the Misses Fetherhed; he sometimes took tea with them—he appeared to like tea and muffins—and not to dislike the kind of conversation which usually accompanies that refreshment—he was said to be a good shot—a good angler—he proved himself an excellent gossip—he liked gossip well. On the whole he liked women’s society and did not seem to be particular in requiring difficult accomplishments or rare endowments in his female acquaintance, the Misses Fetherhed for instance were not much less shallow than the china saucer which held their tea-cups— yet Mr Ellin got on perfectly well with them and had apparently great pleasure in hearing them discuss all the details of their school.

He knew the names of all their young ladies too—and would shake hands with them if he met them walking out—he knew their examination days and gala days—and more than once accompanied Mr Cecil the curate—when he went to examine in ecclesiastical history.

This ceremony took place weekly on Wednesday afternoons— after which Mr Cecil sometimes stayed to tea—and usually found two or three lady-parishioners invited to meet him—Mr Ellin was also pretty sure to be there. Rumour gave one of the Misses Fetherhed to the curate in anticipated wedlock and furnished his friend with a second in the same tender relation—so that {it} is to be conjectured they made a social pleasant party under such interesting circumstances. These evenings rarely passed without Miss Fitzgib-bon being introduced—all worked muslin, and streaming sash and elaborated ringlets—others of the pupils would also be called in perhaps to sing to shew off a little at the piano—or sometimes to repeat poetry—Miss Fetherhead conscientiously cultivated display in her young ladies—thinking she thus fulfilled a duty to herself and them—at once spreading her own fame and giving the children self-possessed manners. It was curious to note how on these occasions good genuine natural qualities still vindicated their superiority to counterfeit artificial advantages—while “dear Miss Fitzgibbon” dressed up and flattered as she was could only sidle round the circle with the crest-fallen air which seemed natural to {her} —just giving p. 235her hand to the guests—then almost snatching it away—and sneaking in unmannerly haste to the place allotted to her at Miss Fether-hed’s side—which place she filled like a piece of furniture—neither smiling nor speaking the evening through—while such was her deportment—certain of her companions—as May Franks—Jessy Newton &c. handsome open-countenanced little damsels—fearless because harmless—would enter with a smile of salutation and a blush of pleasure make their pretty reverence at the drawing-room door stretch a friendly little hand to such visitors as they knew—and sit down to the piano to play their well-practised duet with an innocent obliging readiness which won them all hearts

There was a girl called Diana—the girl alluded to before as having once been Miss Sterling’s pupil—a dashing, brave girl—much-loved and a little feared by her comrades—she had good faculties both physical and mental—was clever—honest and dauntless. In the school-room she set her young brow like a rock against Miss Fitz-gibbon’s pretensions—she found also heart and spirit to withstand them in the drawing-room. One evening when the curate had been summoned away by some piece of duty directly after tea—and there was no stranger present but Mr Ellin—Diana had been called in to play a long difficult piece of music which she could execute like a master. She was still in the midst of her performance—when Mr Ellin having for the first time perhaps recognized the existence of the heiress by asking if she was cold—Miss Fetherhed took the opportunity of launching into a strain of commendation on Miss Fitzgibbon’s inanimate behaviour—terming it ladylike modest, & exemplary—whether Miss Fetherhed’s constrained tone betrayed how far she was from really feeling the approbation she expressed— how entirely she spoke from a sense of duty—and not because she felt it possible to be in any degree really charmed by the personage she praised—or whether Diana who was by nature hasty had a sudden fit of irritability is not quite certain—but she turned on her music-stool.

“Ma’am” said she to Miss Fetherhed, “that girl does not deserve so much praise. Her behaviour is not at all exemplary. In the schoolroom she is insolently distant. For my part—I denounce her airs— there is not one of us but is as good or better than she—though we may not be as rich.”

And Diana shut up the piano—took her music-book under her arm—curtsied and vanished.

p. 236Strange to relate—Miss Fetherhed said not a word at the time— nor was Diana subsequently reprimanded for this outbreak. Miss Fitzgibbon had now been 3 months in the school—and probably the governess had had leisure to wear out her early raptures of partiality

Indeed As time advanced this evil often seemed likely to right itself—again and again it seemed that Miss Fitzgibbon was about to fall to her proper level—but then somewhat provokingly to the lovers of reason and justice—some little incident would occur to invest her insignificance with artificial interest—Once it was the arrival of a great basket of hothouse fruit—melons—grapes and pines—as a present to Miss Fetherhed in Miss Fitzgibbon’s name—whether it was that a share of these luscious productions was imparted too freely to the nominal donor—or whether she had had a surfeit of cake on the occasion of Miss Mabel Fetherhed’s birth-day—It so befel that in some disturbed state of the digestive organs—Miss Fitzgibbon took to sleep-walking—She one night terrified the school into a panic—by passing through the bedrooms—all white in her night-dress— moaning and holding out her hands as she went.

Dr Cecil was then sent for—his medicine probably did not suit the case—for within a fortnight after the somnambulistic feat—Miss Fetherhed—going up stairs in the dark—trode on something which she thought was the cat—and on calling for a light—found her darling Matilda Fitzgibbon curled round on the landing—blue, cold and stiff—without any light in her half-open eyes—or any colour on her lips, or any movement in her limbs. She was not soon roused from this fit—her senses seemed half-scattered—and Miss Fetherhed had now an undeniable excuse for keeping her all day on the drawing-room sofa—and making more of her than ever.

There comes a day of reckoning both for petted heiresses and partial governesses.

One clear winter morning as Mr Ellin was seated at breakfast enjoying his bachelor’s easy chair and damp fresh London newspaper—a note was brought to him marked “private” and “in haste” The last injunction was vain—for William Ellin did nothing in haste—he had no haste in him—he wondered anybody should be so foolish as to hurry—life was short enough without it—he looked at the little note—three-cornered, scented and feminine—he knew the handwriting; it came from the very lady Rumour had so often assigned him as his own. The bachelor took out a morocco case— p. 237selected from a variety of little instruments a pair of tiny scissors, cut round the seal—and read “Miss Fetherhed’s compts—to Mr Ellin and she should be truly glad to see him for a few minutes if at leisure. Miss F requires a little advice she will reserve explanations till she sees Mr E.”

Mr E. very quietly finished his breakfast—then as it was a very fine December day—hoar and crisp but serene and not bitter—he carefully prepared himself for the cold—took his cane and set out— He liked the walk—the air was still—the sun not wholly ineffectual, the path firm and but lightly powdered with snow He made his journey as long as he could by going round through many fields— and through winding unfrequented lanes When there was a tree in the way conveniently placed for support—he would sometimes stop—lean his back against the trunk—fold his arms and muse. If Rumour could have seen him—she would have affirmed that he was thinking about Miss F——; perhaps when he arrives at the Lodge his demeanour will inform us whether such an idea be warranted.

At last he stands at the door and rings the bell—he is admitted and shewn into the parlour—a smaller and more private room than the drawing-room—Miss Wilcox occupies it—she is seated at her writing-table—she rises not without an air and a grace — to receive her caller—This air and grace she learnt in France—for she was in a Parisian school for six months—and learnt there a little French and a stock of gestures and courtesies. No—it is certainly not impossible that Mr Ellin may admire Miss Wilcox—she is not without prettiness—any more than are her sisters—and she and they are one and all smart and shewy—Bright stone-blue is a colour they like in dress—a crimson bow rarely fails to be pinned on somewhere to give contrast—positive colours generally grass-greens—red violets— deep yellows are in favour with them greys and fawns—all harmonies are at a discount. Many people would think Miss Wilcox—standing there in her blue merino dress and pomegranate ribbon a very agreeable woman. She has regular features—the nose a little sharp—the lips a little thin good complexion, light red hair. She is very business-like, very practical; she never in her life knew a refinement of feeling or of thought—she is entirely limited respectable &—self-satisfied—She has a cool eye prominent—sharp and shallow pupil unshrinking and inexpansive pale irid—light eyelashes, light brow. Miss Wilcox is a very proper and decorous p. 238person—but she could not be delicate or modest because she is naturally destitute of sensitiveness. Her voice when she speaks—has no vibration—her face has no expression, her manner no emotion. Blush or tremor—she never knew.

“What can I do for you Miss Wilcox?” says Mr Ellin— approaching the writing-table and taking a chair beside it

“Perhaps you can advise me” was the answer—“or perhaps you can give me some information. I feel so thoroughly puzzled—and really fear all is not right.”

“Where and how.”

“I will have redress if it be possible” pursued the lady “but how to set about obtaining it—? draw to the fire—Mr Ellin—it is a cold day”

They both drew to the fire. She continued:

“You know the Christmas holidays are near?”

He nodded.

“Well about a fortnight since—I wrote—as is customary to the friends of my pupils—notifying the day when we break up and requesting that if it was desired any girl should stay the vacation— intimation should be sent accordingly. Satisfactory and prompt answers came to all the notes except one—that addressed to Conway Fitzgibbon Esqr May Park, Midland County—Matilda Fitzgibbon’s father you know.”

“What—won’t he let her go home?”

“Let her go home—my dear Sir! You shall hear. Two weeks elapsed during which I daily expected an answer, none came—I felt annoyed at the delay as I had particularly requested a speedy reply. This very morning I had made up my mind to write again—when— what do you think the post brought me?”

“I should like to know.”

“My own letter—actually my own—returned from the Post-Office—with an intimation—such an intimation—but read for yourself-”

She handed to Mr Ellin an envelope—he took from it the returned note and a paper—the paper bore a hastily scrawled line or two; it said in brief terms—that there was no such place in Midland County as May Park—and that no such person had ever been heard of there as Conway Fitzgibbon Esqr

On reading this Mr Ellin slightly opened his eyes—

p. 239“I hardly thought it was so bad as that—” said he

“What—you did think it was bad then? You suspected something was wrong?”

“Really I scarcely know what I thought or suspected. How very odd—no such place as May Park! The grand mansion the grounds— the oaks—the deer vanished clean away and then Fitzgibbon himself!—but you saw Fitzgibbon—he came in his carriage—?”

“In his carriage—” echoed Miss Wilcox “a most stylish equipage—and himself a most distinguished person—do you think after all there is some mistake.

“Certainly a mistake—but when it is rectified—I don’t think Fitzgibbon or May Park will be forthcoming—Shall I run down to Midland County and look after these two precious objects.?

“Oh would you be so good Mr Ellin? I knew you would be so kind—personal inquiry—you know—there’s nothing like it.”

“Nothing at all. Meantime what shall you do with the child—the pseudo-heiress—if pseudo she be—shall you correct her—let her know her place?”

“I think—” responded Miss Wilcox reflectively—“I think not exactly as yet—my plan is to do nothing in a hurry we will inquire first—if after all—she should turn out to be connected as was at first supposed—one had better not do anything which one might afterwards regret—no—I shall make no difference with her till I hear from you again

“Very good. As you please” said Mr Ellin with that coolness which made him so convenient a counsellor in Miss Wilcox’ opinion. In his dry laconism she found the response suited to her outer worldliness. She thought he said enough if he did not oppose her. The comment he stinted so avariciously — she did not want

Mr Ellin “ran down” as he said to Midland County—It was an errand that seemed to suit him—for he had curious predilections as well as peculiar methods of his own. Any secret quest was to his taste; perhaps there was something of the amateur detective in him. He could conduct an inquiry and draw no attention His quiet face never looked inquisitive nor did his sleepless eye betray vigilance.

He was absent about a week. The day after his return he appeared in Miss Wilcox presence as cool as if he had seen her but yesterday— Confronting her with that fathomless face he liked to shew her—he first told her {he} had done nothing.

p. 240Let Mr Ellin be as enigmatical as he would—he never puzzled Miss Wilcox. She never saw enigma in the man. Some people feared because they did not understand him—to her it had not yet occurred to begin to spell his nature or analyze his character. If she had an impression about him—it was that he was an idle but obliging man—not aggressive—of few words—but often convenient. Whether he were clever & deep or deficient and shall {ow}—close or open—odd or ordinary—she saw no practical end to be answered by inquiring and therefore did not inquire

“Why had he done nothing?” she now asked.

“Chiefly because there was nothing to do.”

“Then he could give her no information?”

“Not much—only this indeed, Conway Fitzgibbon was a man of straw, May Park a house of cards—There was no vestige—of such man or mansion in Midland-County or in any other shire in England. Tradition herself had nothing to say about either the name or the place. The oracle of old deeds and registers when consulted had not responded.

“Who can he be then that came here and who is this child? “That’s just what I can’t tell you. An incapacity which makes me say I have done nothing.”

“And how am I to get paid.?”

“—can’t tell you that either

“A quarter’s board & education owing and masters terms besides pursued Miss Wilcox “How infamous! I can’t afford the loss”

“And if we were only in the good old times” said Mr Ellin “where we ought to be—you might just send Miss Matilda out to the Plantations in Virginia—sell her for what she’s worth and pay yourself—

“Matilda indeed and Fitzgibbon! a little impostor! I wonder what her real name is—?

“Betty Hodge? Poll Smith? Hannah Jones?” suggested Mr Ellin “Now” cried Miss Wilcox “give me credit for sagacity! It’s very odd—but try as I would—and I made every effort—I never could really like that child. She has had every indulgence in this house— and I am sure I made the greatest sacrifice of feeling to principle in shewing her such attention—for I could not make anyone believe the degree of antipathy I have all along felt towards her.”

“Yes—I can believe it—I saw it.”

“Did you? Well—It proves that my discernment is rarely at fault. p. 241Her game is up now however—and time it was I have said nothing to her yet—but now—”

“Have her in whilst I am here—” said Mr Ellin “Has she known of this business? Is she in the secret? Is she herself an accomplice or a mere tool? Have her in.”

Miss Wilcox rung the bell, demanded Matilda Fitzgibbon and the false heiress soon appeared. She came in her ringlets—her sash, her furbelowed dress—adornments alas! no longer acceptable

“Stand there!” said Miss Wilcox sternly, checking her as she approached the hearth. “Stand there on the further side of the table. I have a few questions to put to you—and your business will be to answer them. And mind—let us have nothing but the truth. We will not endure lies.

Ever since Miss Fitzgibbon had been found in the fit—her face had retained a peculiar paleness—and her eyes a dark orbit. When thus addressed she began to shake and blanch like conscious guilt personified

“Who are you?” demanded Miss Wilcox “What do you know about yourself?”

A sort of half interjection escaped the girl’s lips—it was a sound expressing partly fear—and partly the shock the nerves feel when an evil very long expected—at last and suddenly arrives.

“Keep yourself still and reply if you please” said Miss Wilcox— whom nobody should blame for lacking pity—because Nature had not made her compassionate. “What is your name—we know you have no right to that of Matilda Fitzgibbon

She gave no answer.

“I do insist upon a reply. Speak you shall—sooner or later So you had better do it at once.”

This inquisition had evidently a very strong effect upon the subject of it—she stood as if palsied—trying to speak—but apparently not competent to articulate.

Miss Wilcox did not fly into a passion—but she grew very stern and urgent spoke a little loud—and there was a dry clamour in her raised voice which seemed to beat upon the ear and bewilder the brain. Her interest had been injured—her pocket wounded—she was vindicating her rights—and she had no eye to see and no nerve to feel but for the point in hand Mr Ellin appeared to consider himself strictly a looker-on—he stood on the hearth very quiet. As p. 242to the soi-disant Matilda Fitzgibbon—speech still seemed for her out of the question, never such a pale face was seen at a legal bar— never such a quivering frame stood in a dock.


  • 1 Printed in BST (1936), 3–22.

  • 2 Pierpont Morgan Library manuscript MA 2696; printed in Ashworth, edited by Melodie Monahan (Studies in Philology lxxx, no. 4, 1983), 97.

  • 3 Letter from Nicholls to George Smith, 11 Oct. 1859. We gratefully acknowledge our indebtedness to John Murray for access to these and other unpublished letters in the archives of the firm.

  • 4 C. Brontë to E. Nussey, 7 Sept. 1854, and to Margaret Wooler, 19 Sept. 1854: LL, iv. 150, 152–3.

  • 5 E. C. Gaskell to G. Smith, 17 Mar. 1858: CP 496.

  • 6 Letter in Murray Archives; later quotations from Nicholls’s letters are from the same source.

  • 7 E. C. Gaskell to E. Shaen, 7 and 8 Sept. 1856: CP 409.

  • 8 E. C. Gaskell to G. Smith, 17 Mar. 1858: ibid., pp. 495, 496.

  • 9 We thank Princeton University Libraries for allowing us to transcribe the manuscript of‘Emma’ in the Robert H. Taylor Collection.

  • pair of new gloves—carrying in her hand] pair of new gloves—(and curtsied deeply to a person whom in the first glow of the incident she used to describe as “most aristocratic looking”—but whom subsequently when events had taken an unexpected turn—she acknowledged to be pursy, to breathe hard and asthmatically and to have red watery eyes. This personage announced himself as Captain Selby and proceeded to introduce a pale scared looking but elegant little girl whom he held by the hand. Miss Richmond” he said daughter of a friend of his deceased and who had left him guardian of his orphan) carrying in her hand

  • †† the drawing-room window] the drawing-room window(—resting her elbow on its sill—Indeed the child had attractions for the principal of a more flourishing establishment than Fuchsia Lodge—though very young—she promised to possess all the points of a shew-pupil—a decoy-bird—As she stood her face and eyes looked very serious— but in her air—her dress—her very attitude there was a curious impress of the stylish little lady. None could appreciate appearances more fully than the Misses Featherhed— in fact they cared for very little else—and it was their consistent unremitting unflagging attention to outside varnish which afterwards brought them into such vogue and from obscure beginnings made theirs in due time the most fashionable and flourishing school for twenty miles round. It was that which enabled them afterwards quite to throw into the shade the Misses Sterling’s school where the girls were compelled to learn grammar and to study history to mend or make garments—and where besides there existed a general impolitic system of treating pupils according to their intrinsic merits without the slightest reference to the wealth and status of their connections—the credit to be obtained by their own appearance—or the profit accuring from the terms on which they were received. Miss Fetherhed then looked with inexpressible complacency towards little Miss Fitzgibbon. The child had a graceful and flexible figure her short skirts shewed limbs exquisitely turned—never owned sylph or fairy finer ankles and feet. From under her large hat fell the most luxuriant hair richly {?} waved either by nature or art—her little face was fair and delicate and her eyes were very soft—well-cut {?} and dark.)

  • very quiet. As to the soi-disant… never such a pale face was seen at a legal bar—] very quiet. As to the soi-disant Matilda Fitzgibbon speech still seemed for her out of the question. (At last the culprit spoke—a low voice escaped her lips

    “Oh my head!” she cried lifting her hand to her forehead She staggered but caught the door and did not fall.

    Some accusers might have been startled by such a cry—even silenced—no{t} so Miss Wilcox, she was neither cruel nor violent but she was coarse because insensible— having just drawn breath she went on, harsh as ever.

    Mr Ellin leaving the hearth deliberately paced up the room as if he were tired of standing still and would walk a little for a change—In returning & passing near the door and the criminal—a faint breath seemed to seek his ear whispering his name

    “Oh Mr Ellin!”

    The child dropped as she spoke. A curious voice—not like Mr Ellin’s — though it came from his bps—asked Miss Wilcox to cease speaking and say no more. He gathered from the floor what had fallen on it. She seemed overcome but not unconscious. Resting beside Mr Ellin in a few minutes she again drew breath. She raised her eyes to him.

    “Come my little one—have no fear” said he Reposing her head against him—she gradually became reassured—it did not cost him another word to bring her round— even that strong trembling was calmed by the mere effect of his protection. He told Miss Wilcox with remarkable tranquillity but still with a certain decision that the little girl must be put to bed—He carried her upstairs—and saw her laid there himself. Returning to Miss Wilcox, he said.

    “Say no more to her—Beware or you will do more mischief than you think or wish. That kind of nature is very different from yours—It is not possible that you should like it—but let it alone—We will talk more on the subject to-morrow Let me question her—) never such a pale face was seen at a legal bar—