“The School-Mistress,” by M. W. D. (from The Youth’s Companion, 13 September 1849; p. 77)
She was not young, not beautiful, yet there was something in the village schoolmistress, which was better than youth and beauty, something which made us all love her dearly, and look upon her as children look upon an elder sister, whom they respect and love. Miss Blake was poor also, that is, she had n[o]thing to depend upon but her own exertions, and her little school was all she had to support her. She had no means of purchasing the affection of her scholars by gifts, excepting, perchance, the gift of a violet or anemone, which she had plucked on her way to school, and numbers of which they might have gathered in the woods, had they chosen to look for them. Still I doubt whether Miss Blake would have appeared any more lovely in our eyes, had she possessed riches, youth and beauty. For the truth was, she had a heart which was worth more than all these combined. She loved us; and this was the secret of her wonderful influence over each one of her scholars; this was the reason she appeared so lovely in our eyes.
The teacher who had preceded our “dear Miss Blake,” (this was the name by which we called her,) was of a very different character, and all our feelings towards her were those of fear, not affection. Miss Russel was a stern, proud woman, and seemed to look upon a little child with feelings of perfect contempt. Perhaps we did her injustice, and she did not really feel what her manner expressed, but her look and tone seemed to say to us, “you poor little things! how I pity you! how ignorant you are, and how foolish! You will never learn anything, and it is a degradation for me to teach you.” With such a teacher, it can easily be imagined, that we did not learn very rapidly, and the little desire we had for improvement, was quenched by Miss Russel’s indifference.
How different was it when Miss Blake took charge of the school!
Little Annie Lee, who had scarcely ever been known to say more than “Yes, ma’am,” and “No, ma’am,” when Miss Russel spoke to her, poor little timid Annie, seemed suddenly to acquire a new life, and when Miss Blake spoke to her in gentle tones, the sweet child was so happy, that her blue eyes, which had so often filled with tears, shone with the light of joy and love. Oh! it was a beautiful thing to see how Annie’s mind unfolded, like the petals of a flower, under the warm influence of her teacher’s smile. She was no longer the “little dunce,” as Miss Russel had once called her, not thinking that it was her own severity which had dwarfed the child’s mind. She studied at first to please her teacher, and felt rewarded when Miss Blake said, “Well done, Annie;” but afterwards she studied, because she loved it, and it was not long before she equalled the best scholars in her recitations.
Sometimes of a Saturday afternoon, our teacher would propose to us, a walk in the woods, to gather wild flowers. At other times she would choose a walk by the river side, and then, in some beautiful spot, where the willow trees formed a natural bower, and the murmur of the river played a musical accompaniment, we would cluster around her and listen to a song or a story. Such was our teacher’s method of instilling into our hearts the love of God’s glorious works, and the hills, the woods, the fields and flowers, were all called to her assistance. Was it strange that these lessons sunk deeper into the hearts of her scholars than any which they had before learned? Is it strange that to this day, her teachings are remembered and treasured, as a precious legacy, by all who heard them?
There was one thing that puzzled us, and about which our youthful heads, at least some of the elder ones among them, were often wondering and guessing, as school girls will. This was why Miss Blake had never married. We were well contented that it should be so, but still we could not see why she, who was so very lovely and loveable, had always lived a single life. We would not suffer any one to call our beloved teacher an “old maid,” but still it was an undoubted fact, that she belonged to that class, according to the common acceptation of the term. If a little womanly wisdom could have existed in a school girl’s head, we might have thought of the simple explanation, that those who loved her were not such as she could love, and that she had never met with one who could satisfy such a heart as hers. But this did not occur to us, and one day we resolved to solve the mystery by plainly asking our teacher, on our next walk, the important question.
It was a lovely Saturday afternoon, when a party of school girls and their teacher, were slowly winding the way along the bank of the graceful Housatonic. The sun was just sufficiently clouded to throw a softened light on the hills, and at times, the clouds would separate, and the varying light and shade would throw an additional beauty over the scene. But this afternoon we were thinking less of the beauties of nature, than of character, less of the hills and the river than of our teacher.
For some time we walked in silence, enjoying the sweet breath of the new-mown hay, and thinking how we should introduce the subject which so much interested us. We soon came to our favorite resort among the willow trees, and here our teacher proposed that we should take our usual seats upon the tree trunks, and listen to the “bird and river music,” and enjoy the refreshing shade; and then she said she had “something to tell us, which would surprise us very much.”
“What can it be?” was whispered from one to another, and our curiosity made us quite forget that we too had something which we wished to say. All questions were forgotten in the thought that Miss Blake had some astounding secret, which she was about to communicate to us. As usual, Annie Lee had nestled close to her teacher’s side, and held one of her hands clasped in both her own. Nothing was heard, save the murmuring of the waters, and the gentle rustling of the leaves, as our teacher thus addressed us:
“I have long been waiting, my dear girls, for an opportunity of talking with you on a subject, which will, I fear, give you some pain. You know very well, how much I love you, and how much pleasure I have taken in teaching you, and watching your improvement. You are all very dear to me, and I shall always think of these hours spent with you as among the happiest of my life. And now that I must leave you for other cares, you will still love me, and remember what I have said.”
“Leave us, Miss Blake?” we all exclaimed. “Why must you leave us?” but we could say no more, for the thought itself was sufficient to force tears in our eyes, and choke our voices.
“Yes, my dear girls, at the end of this term I must leave my school to another teacher.” Here Annie buried her head in Miss Blake’s lap, and the poor child’s sobs broke forth unrestrained. The rest of us could only sit in sorrowful silence, while the tears in our teacher’s eye, showed that she too was affected, but in a voice which strove to be cheerful, she continued:
“Now, my children, you must not look so downcast, for if you do, I shall be obliged to weep with you, and then you will not hear the most surprising part of my story. So cheer up, and prepare to laugh heartily when I tell you that I am going to be married. Do not interrupt me,” she continued, smiling, “And you shall hear the whole. Yes, I am going to be married, and you must all come to my wedding, for your teacher is to be the wife of your dear minister, whom you love so much.”
“What, Mr. Williams! our Mr. Williams?” we exclaimed.
“Yes, yours and mine, for I cannot let you appropriate him all to yourself. Oh now you look brighter than you did! and you must all love me, and respect me very much, for I shall be your minister’s wife, and so you will not lose me after all.”
Our tears were now replaced by smiles, and we walked home scarcely knowing whether to be most glad or sorry. We looked into Miss Blake’s eyes, and saw so beautiful an expression of happiness there, that our grief at the idea of losing our teacher, gave place to joy, when we thought of her happiness, and remembered that she was to have our beloved minister for her husband. It was difficult to determine which was the most beloved, Mr. Williams, who we had always considered nearly perfect, or Miss Blake, in whom we had never discovered a fault. The matter was decided, however by Annie Lee, who said, “they were each just good enough for each other, and too good for any body else in the world.”
You may well imagine how amused our teacher was, when she heard of the question we had resolved to ask her, and we all concluded that she had answered it in the best possible manner. Nor was our dear Miss Blake less beloved and useful, as a minister’s wife, than when she gained our hearts as the humble village schoolteacher.