Busy IdlenessMrs. Dawson being obliged to leave home for six weeks, her daughters, Charlotte and Caroline, received permission to employ the time of her absence as they pleased; that is, she did not require of them the usual strict attention to particular hours and particular studies, but allowed them to chose their own employments, – only recommending them to make a good use of the license, and apprising them, that, on her return, she should require and exact account of the manner in which the interval had been employed.
The carriage that conveyed their mother away was scarcely out of hearing, when Charlotte, delighted with her freedom, hastened upstairs to the schoolroom, where she looked around on books, globes, maps, drawings, to select some new employment for the morning. Long before she had decided upon any, her sister had quietly seated herself at her accustomed station, thinking that she could do nothing better than finish the French exercise she had begun the day before. Charlotte, however, declined attending to French that day, and after much indecision, and saying “I have a great mind to” several times without finishing the sentence, she at last took down a volume of Cowper, and read in different parts for about half an hour. Then throwing it aside, she said she had a great mind to put the bookshelves in order, – a business which she commenced with great spirit. But in the course of her laudable undertaking, she met with a manuscript in shorthand; whereupon she exclaimed to her sister, “Caroline, don't you remember that old Mr. Henderson once promised he would teach us shorthand? How much I should like to learn! Only, mamma thought we had not time. But now, this would be such a good opportunity. I am sure I could learn it well in six weeks; how convenient it would be! One could take down sermons, or anything; and I could make Rachel learn, and then how very pleasant it would be to write to each other in shorthand! Indeed, it would be convenient in a hundred ways.” So saying, she ran upstairs, without any further delay, and putting on her hat and spencer, set off to old Mr. Henderson's.
Mr. Henderson happened to be at dinner. Nevertheless, Charlotte obtained admittance on the plea of urgent business; but she entered his apartment so much out of breath, and in such apparent agitation, that the old gentleman, rising hastily from the table, and looking anxiously at her over his spectacles, inquired in a tremulous tone what was the matter. When, therefore, Charlotte explained her business, he appeared a little disconcerted; but having gently reproved her for her undue eagerness, he composedly resumed his knife and fork, though his hand shook much more than usual during the remainder of his meal. However, being very good-natured, as soon as he had dined he cheerfully gave Charlotte her first lesson in shorthand, promising to repeat it regularly every morning.
Charlotte returned home in high glee. She at this juncture considered shorthand as one of the most useful, and decidedly the most interesting of acquirements; and she continued to exercise herself in it all the rest of the day. She was exceedingly pleased at being able already to write two or three words which neither her sister nor even her father could decipher. For three successive mornings Charlotte punctually kept her appointment with Mr. Henderson; but on the fourth morning she sent a shabby excuse to her kind master; and, if the truth must be told, he from that time saw no more of his scholar.
Now the cause of this desertion was twofold: first, and principally, her zeal for shorthand, which for the last eight-and-forty hours had been sensibly declining in its temperature, was, on the above morning, within half a degree of freezing point; and, second, a new and far more arduous and important undertaking had by this time suggested itself to her mind. Like many young persons of desultory inclinations, Charlotte often amused herself with writing verses; and it now occurred to her that an abridged history of England in verse was still a desideratum in literature. She commenced this task with her usual diligence; but was somewhat discouraged in the outset by the difficulty of finding a rhyme to Saxon, whom she indulged the unpatriotic wish that the Danes had laid a tax on. But, though she got over this obstacle by a new construction of the line, she found these difficulties occur so continually that she soon felt a more thorough disgust at this employment than at the preceding one. So the epic stopped short, some hundred years before the Norman conquest. Difficulty, which quickens the ardor of industry, always damps, and generally extinguishes, the false zeal of caprice and versatility.