Charlotte's next undertaking was, to be sure, a rapid descent from the last in the scale of dignity. She now thought, that, by working very hard during the remainder of the time, she should be able to accomplish a patchwork counterpane, large enough for her own little tent bed; and the case of this employment formed a most agreeable contrast in her mind with the extreme difficulty of the last.
Accordingly, as if commissioned with a search warrant, she ransacked all her mother's drawers, bags, and bundles in quest of new pieces; and these spoils proving very insufficient, she set off to tax all her friends, and to tease all the linen drapers in the town for their odds and ends, urging that she wanted some particularly. As she was posting along the street on this business, she espied at a distance a person whom she had no wish to encounter, namely, old Mr. Henderson. To avoid the meeting she crossed over. But this manoeuvre did not succeed; for no sooner had they come opposite to each other, than, to her great confusion, he called out across the street, in his loud and tremulous voice, and shaking his stick at her, “How d'ye do, Miss Shorthand? I thought how it would be! Oh, fie! Oh, fie!”
Charlotte hurried on; and her thoughts soon returned to the idea of the splendid radiating star which she designed for the centrepeice of her counterpane. While she was arranging the different patterns, and forming the alterations of light and shade, her interest continued nearly unabated; but when she came to the practical part of sewing piece to piece with unvarying sameness, it began, as usual, to flag. She sighed several times, and cast many disconsolate looks at the endless hexagons and octagons, before she indulged any distinct idea of relinquishing her task. At length, however, it did forcibly occur to her that, after all, she was not obliged to go on with it; and that, really, patchwork was a thing that was better done by degrees, when one happens to want a job, than to be finished all at once. So, with this thought (which would have been a very good one if it had occurred to her in proper time), she suddenly drew out her needle, thrust all her pieces, arranged and unarranged, into a drawer, and began to meditate a new project.
Fortunately, just at this juncture some young ladies of their acquaintance called upon Charlotte and Caroline. They were attempting to establish a society amongst their friends for working for the poor, and came to request their assistance. Caroline cheerfully entered into the design; but as for Charlotte, nothing could exceed the forwardness of her zeal. She took it up so warmly that Caroline's appeared, in comparison, only lukewarm. It was proposed that each member of the society should have her equal proportion of the work to do at her own house; but when the articles came to be distributed, Charlotte, in the heat of her benevolence, desired that a double portion might be allotted to her. Some of the younger ones admired her industrious intentions, but the better judging advised her not to undertake too much at once. However, she would not be satisfied till her request was complied with. When the parcels of work arrived, Charlotte with exultation seized the larger one, and without a minute's delay commenced her charitable labors. The following morning she rose at four o'clock, to resume the employment; and not a little self-complacency did she feel, when, after nearly two hours' hard work, she still heard Caroline breathing in a sound sleep. But, alas! Charlotte soon found that work is work, of whatever nature, or for whatever purpose.
She now inwardly regretted that she had asked for more than her share; and the cowardly thought that after all she was not obliged to do it next occurred to her. For the present, therefore, she squeezed all the things, done and undone, into what she called her “Dorcas bag;” and to banish unpleasant thoughts, she opened the first book that happened to lie within reach. It proved to be “An Introduction to Botany.” Of this she had not read more than a page and a half before she determined to collect some specimens herself; and having found a blank copy book she hastened into the garden, where, gathering a few common flowers, she proceeded to dissect them, not, it is to be feared, with much scientific nicety. Perhaps as many as three pages of this copy book were bespread with her specimens before she discovered that botany was a dry study.
It would be too tedious to enumerate all the subsequent ephemeral undertakings which filled up the remainder of the six weeks. At the expiration of that time Mrs. Dawson returned. On the next morning after her arrival she reminded her daughters of the account she expected of their employments during her absence, and desired them to set out on two tables in the schoolroom everything they had done that could be exhibited, together with the books they had been reading. Charlotte would gladly have been excused from her part of the exhibition; but this was not permitted; and she reluctantly followed her sister to make the preparation.