Part 7 - Jane Eyre Audiobook by Charlotte Bronte (Chs 29-33)


Uploaded by CCProse on 21.09.2011

Transcript:
CHAPTER XXIX
The recollection of about three days and nights succeeding this is very dim in my
mind.
I can recall some sensations felt in that interval; but few thoughts framed, and no
actions performed. I knew I was in a small room and in a
narrow bed.
To that bed I seemed to have grown; I lay on it motionless as a stone; and to have
torn me from it would have been almost to kill me.
I took no note of the lapse of time--of the change from morning to noon, from noon to
evening.
I observed when any one entered or left the apartment: I could even tell who they were;
I could understand what was said when the speaker stood near to me; but I could not
answer; to open my lips or move my limbs was equally impossible.
Hannah, the servant, was my most frequent visitor.
Her coming disturbed me.
I had a feeling that she wished me away: that she did not understand me or my
circumstances; that she was prejudiced against me.
Diana and Mary appeared in the chamber once or twice a day.
They would whisper sentences of this sort at my bedside--
"It is very well we took her in."
"Yes; she would certainly have been found dead at the door in the morning had she
been left out all night. I wonder what she has gone through?"
"Strange hardships, I imagine--poor, emaciated, pallid wanderer?"
"She is not an uneducated person, I should think, by her manner of speaking; her
accent was quite pure; and the clothes she took off, though splashed and wet, were
little worn and fine."
"She has a peculiar face; fleshless and haggard as it is, I rather like it; and
when in good health and animated, I can fancy her physiognomy would be agreeable."
Never once in their dialogues did I hear a syllable of regret at the hospitality they
had extended to me, or of suspicion of, or aversion to, myself.
I was comforted.
Mr. St. John came but once: he looked at me, and said my state of lethargy was the
result of reaction from excessive and protracted fatigue.
He pronounced it needless to send for a doctor: nature, he was sure, would manage
best, left to herself.
He said every nerve had been overstrained in some way, and the whole system must
sleep torpid a while. There was no disease.
He imagined my recovery would be rapid enough when once commenced.
These opinions he delivered in a few words, in a quiet, low voice; and added, after a
pause, in the tone of a man little accustomed to expansive comment, "Rather an
unusual physiognomy; certainly, not indicative of vulgarity or degradation."
"Far otherwise," responded Diana. "To speak truth, St. John, my heart rather
warms to the poor little soul.
I wish we may be able to benefit her permanently."
"That is hardly likely," was the reply.
"You will find she is some young lady who has had a misunderstanding with her
friends, and has probably injudiciously left them.
We may, perhaps, succeed in restoring her to them, if she is not obstinate: but I
trace lines of force in her face which make me sceptical of her tractability."
He stood considering me some minutes; then added, "She looks sensible, but not at all
handsome." "She is so ill, St. John."
"Ill or well, she would always be plain.
The grace and harmony of beauty are quite wanting in those features."
On the third day I was better; on the fourth, I could speak, move, rise in bed,
and turn.
Hannah had brought me some gruel and dry toast, about, as I supposed, the dinner-
hour.
I had eaten with relish: the food was good- -void of the feverish flavour which had
hitherto poisoned what I had swallowed.
When she left me, I felt comparatively strong and revived: ere long satiety of
repose and desire for action stirred me. I wished to rise; but what could I put on?
Only my damp and bemired apparel; in which I had slept on the ground and fallen in the
marsh. I felt ashamed to appear before my
benefactors so clad.
I was spared the humiliation. On a chair by the bedside were all my own
things, clean and dry. My black silk frock hung against the wall.
The traces of the bog were removed from it; the creases left by the wet smoothed out:
it was quite decent. My very shoes and stockings were purified
and rendered presentable.
There were the means of washing in the room, and a comb and brush to smooth my
hair.
After a weary process, and resting every five minutes, I succeeded in dressing
myself.
My clothes hung loose on me; for I was much wasted, but I covered deficiencies with a
shawl, and once more, clean and respectable looking--no speck of the dirt, no trace of
the disorder I so hated, and which seemed
so to degrade me, left--I crept down a stone staircase with the aid of the
banisters, to a narrow low passage, and found my way presently to the kitchen.
It was full of the fragrance of new bread and the warmth of a generous fire.
Hannah was baking.
Prejudices, it is well known, are most difficult to eradicate from the heart whose
soil has never been loosened or fertilised by education: they grow there, firm as
weeds among stones.
Hannah had been cold and stiff, indeed, at the first: latterly she had begun to relent
a little; and when she saw me come in tidy and well-dressed, she even smiled.
"What, you have got up!" she said.
"You are better, then. You may sit you down in my chair on the
hearthstone, if you will." She pointed to the rocking-chair: I took
it.
She bustled about, examining me every now and then with the corner of her eye.
Turning to me, as she took some loaves from the oven, she asked bluntly--
"Did you ever go a-begging afore you came here?"
I was indignant for a moment; but remembering that anger was out of the
question, and that I had indeed appeared as a beggar to her, I answered quietly, but
still not without a certain marked firmness--
"You are mistaken in supposing me a beggar. I am no beggar; any more than yourself or
your young ladies."
After a pause she said, "I dunnut understand that: you've like no house, nor
no brass, I guess?"
"The want of house or brass (by which I suppose you mean money) does not make a
beggar in your sense of the word." "Are you book-learned?" she inquired
presently.
"Yes, very." "But you've never been to a boarding-
school?" "I was at a boarding-school eight years."
She opened her eyes wide.
"Whatever cannot ye keep yourself for, then?"
"I have kept myself; and, I trust, shall keep myself again.
What are you going to do with these gooseberries?"
I inquired, as she brought out a basket of the fruit.
"Mak' 'em into pies."
"Give them to me and I'll pick them." "Nay; I dunnut want ye to do nought."
"But I must do something. Let me have them."
She consented; and she even brought me a clean towel to spread over my dress,
"lest," as she said, "I should mucky it." "Ye've not been used to sarvant's wark, I
see by your hands," she remarked.
"Happen ye've been a dressmaker?" "No, you are wrong.
And now, never mind what I have been: don't trouble your head further about me; but
tell me the name of the house where we are."
"Some calls it Marsh End, and some calls it Moor House."
"And the gentleman who lives here is called Mr. St. John?"
"Nay; he doesn't live here: he is only staying a while.
When he is at home, he is in his own parish at Morton."
"That village a few miles off?
"Aye." "And what is he?"
"He is a parson."
I remembered the answer of the old housekeeper at the parsonage, when I had
asked to see the clergyman. "This, then, was his father's residence?"
"Aye; old Mr. Rivers lived here, and his father, and grandfather, and gurt (great)
grandfather afore him." "The name, then, of that gentleman, is Mr.
St. John Rivers?"
"Aye; St. John is like his kirstened name." "And his sisters are called Diana and Mary
Rivers?" "Yes."
"Their father is dead?"
"Dead three weeks sin' of a stroke." "They have no mother?"
"The mistress has been dead this mony a year."
"Have you lived with the family long?"
"I've lived here thirty year. I nursed them all three."
"That proves you must have been an honest and faithful servant.
I will say so much for you, though you have had the incivility to call me a beggar."
She again regarded me with a surprised stare.
"I believe," she said, "I was quite mista'en in my thoughts of you: but there
is so mony cheats goes about, you mun forgie me."
"And though," I continued, rather severely, "you wished to turn me from the door, on a
night when you should not have shut out a dog."
"Well, it was hard: but what can a body do?
I thought more o' th' childer nor of mysel: poor things!
They've like nobody to tak' care on 'em but me.
I'm like to look sharpish."
I maintained a grave silence for some minutes.
"You munnut think too hardly of me," she again remarked.
"But I do think hardly of you," I said; "and I'll tell you why--not so much because
you refused to give me shelter, or regarded me as an impostor, as because you just now
made it a species of reproach that I had no 'brass' and no house.
Some of the best people that ever lived have been as destitute as I am; and if you
are a Christian, you ought not to consider poverty a crime."
"No more I ought," said she: "Mr. St. John tells me so too; and I see I wor wrang--but
I've clear a different notion on you now to what I had.
You look a raight down dacent little crater."
"That will do--I forgive you now. Shake hands."
She put her floury and horny hand into mine; another and heartier smile illumined
her rough face, and from that moment we were friends.
Hannah was evidently fond of talking.
While I picked the fruit, and she made the paste for the pies, she proceeded to give
me sundry details about her deceased master and mistress, and "the childer," as she
called the young people.
Old Mr. Rivers, she said, was a plain man enough, but a gentleman, and of as ancient
a family as could be found.
Marsh End had belonged to the Rivers ever since it was a house: and it was, she
affirmed, "aboon two hundred year old--for all it looked but a small, humble place,
naught to compare wi' Mr. Oliver's grand hall down i' Morton Vale.
But she could remember Bill Oliver's father a journeyman needlemaker; and th' Rivers
wor gentry i' th' owd days o' th' Henrys, as onybody might see by looking into th'
registers i' Morton Church vestry."
Still, she allowed, "the owd maister was like other folk--naught mich out o' t'
common way: stark mad o' shooting, and farming, and sich like."
The mistress was different.
She was a great reader, and studied a deal; and the "bairns" had taken after her.
There was nothing like them in these parts, nor ever had been; they had liked learning,
all three, almost from the time they could speak; and they had always been "of a mak'
of their own."
Mr. St. John, when he grew up, would go to college and be a parson; and the girls, as
soon as they left school, would seek places as governesses: for they had told her their
father had some years ago lost a great deal
of money by a man he had trusted turning bankrupt; and as he was now not rich enough
to give them fortunes, they must provide for themselves.
They had lived very little at home for a long while, and were only come now to stay
a few weeks on account of their father's death; but they did so like Marsh End and
Morton, and all these moors and hills about.
They had been in London, and many other grand towns; but they always said there was
no place like home; and then they were so agreeable with each other--never fell out
nor "threaped."
She did not know where there was such a family for being united.
Having finished my task of gooseberry picking, I asked where the two ladies and
their brother were now.
"Gone over to Morton for a walk; but they would be back in half-an-hour to tea."
They returned within the time Hannah had allotted them: they entered by the kitchen
door.
Mr. St. John, when he saw me, merely bowed and passed through; the two ladies stopped:
Mary, in a few words, kindly and calmly expressed the pleasure she felt in seeing
me well enough to be able to come down;
Diana took my hand: she shook her head at me.
"You should have waited for my leave to descend," she said.
"You still look very pale--and so thin!
Poor child!--poor girl!" Diana had a voice toned, to my ear, like
the cooing of a dove. She possessed eyes whose gaze I delighted
to encounter.
Her whole face seemed to me full of charm. Mary's countenance was equally intelligent-
-her features equally pretty; but her expression was more reserved, and her
manners, though gentle, more distant.
Diana looked and spoke with a certain authority: she had a will, evidently.
It was my nature to feel pleasure in yielding to an authority supported like
hers, and to bend, where my conscience and self-respect permitted, to an active will.
"And what business have you here?" she continued.
"It is not your place.
Mary and I sit in the kitchen sometimes, because at home we like to be free, even to
license--but you are a visitor, and must go into the parlour."
"I am very well here."
"Not at all, with Hannah bustling about and covering you with flour."
"Besides, the fire is too hot for you," interposed Mary.
"To be sure," added her sister.
"Come, you must be obedient." And still holding my hand she made me rise,
and led me into the inner room.
"Sit there," she said, placing me on the sofa, "while we take our things off and get
the tea ready; it is another privilege we exercise in our little moorland home--to
prepare our own meals when we are so
inclined, or when Hannah is baking, brewing, washing, or ironing."
She closed the door, leaving me solus with Mr. St. John, who sat opposite, a book or
newspaper in his hand.
I examined first, the parlour, and then its occupant.
The parlour was rather a small room, very plainly furnished, yet comfortable, because
clean and neat.
The old-fashioned chairs were very bright, and the walnut-wood table was like a
looking-glass.
A few strange, antique portraits of the men and women of other days decorated the
stained walls; a cupboard with glass doors contained some books and an ancient set of
china.
There was no superfluous ornament in the room--not one modern piece of furniture,
save a brace of workboxes and a lady's desk in rosewood, which stood on a side-table:
everything--including the carpet and
curtains--looked at once well worn and well saved.
Mr. St. John--sitting as still as one of the dusty pictures on the walls, keeping
his eyes fixed on the page he perused, and his lips mutely sealed--was easy enough to
examine.
Had he been a statue instead of a man, he could not have been easier.
He was young--perhaps from twenty- eight to thirty--tall, slender; his face riveted the
eye; it was like a Greek face, very pure in outline: quite a straight, classic nose;
quite an Athenian mouth and chin.
It is seldom, indeed, an English face comes so near the antique models as did his.
He might well be a little shocked at the irregularity of my lineaments, his own
being so harmonious.
His eyes were large and blue, with brown lashes; his high forehead, colourless as
ivory, was partially streaked over by careless locks of fair hair.
This is a gentle delineation, is it not, reader?
Yet he whom it describes scarcely impressed one with the idea of a gentle, a yielding,
an impressible, or even of a placid nature.
Quiescent as he now sat, there was something about his nostril, his mouth, his
brow, which, to my perceptions, indicated elements within either restless, or hard,
or eager.
He did not speak to me one word, nor even direct to me one glance, till his sisters
returned.
Diana, as she passed in and out, in the course of preparing tea, brought me a
little cake, baked on the top of the oven. "Eat that now," she said: "you must be
hungry.
Hannah says you have had nothing but some gruel since breakfast."
I did not refuse it, for my appetite was awakened and keen.
Mr. Rivers now closed his book, approached the table, and, as he took a seat, fixed
his blue pictorial-looking eyes full on me.
There was an unceremonious directness, a searching, decided steadfastness in his
gaze now, which told that intention, and not diffidence, had hitherto kept it
averted from the stranger.
"You are very hungry," he said. "I am, sir."
It is my way--it always was my way, by instinct--ever to meet the brief with
brevity, the direct with plainness.
"It is well for you that a low fever has forced you to abstain for the last three
days: there would have been danger in yielding to the cravings of your appetite
at first.
Now you may eat, though still not immoderately."
"I trust I shall not eat long at your expense, sir," was my very clumsily-
contrived, unpolished answer.
"No," he said coolly: "when you have indicated to us the residence of your
friends, we can write to them, and you may be restored to home."
"That, I must plainly tell you, is out of my power to do; being absolutely without
home and friends."
The three looked at me, but not distrustfully; I felt there was no
suspicion in their glances: there was more of curiosity.
I speak particularly of the young ladies.
St. John's eyes, though clear enough in a literal sense, in a figurative one were
difficult to fathom.
He seemed to use them rather as instruments to search other people's thoughts, than as
agents to reveal his own: the which combination of keenness and reserve was
considerably more calculated to embarrass than to encourage.
"Do you mean to say," he asked, "that you are completely isolated from every
connection?"
"I do. Not a tie links me to any living thing: not
a claim do I possess to admittance under any roof in England."
"A most singular position at your age!"
Here I saw his glance directed to my hands, which were folded on the table before me.
I wondered what he sought there: his words soon explained the quest.
"You have never been married?
You are a spinster?" Diana laughed.
"Why, she can't be above seventeen or eighteen years old, St. John," said she.
"I am near nineteen: but I am not married.
No." I felt a burning glow mount to my face; for
bitter and agitating recollections were awakened by the allusion to marriage.
They all saw the embarrassment and the emotion.
Diana and Mary relieved me by turning their eyes elsewhere than to my crimsoned visage;
but the colder and sterner brother continued to gaze, till the trouble he had
excited forced out tears as well as colour.
"Where did you last reside?" he now asked. "You are too inquisitive, St. John,"
murmured Mary in a low voice; but he leaned over the table and required an answer by a
second firm and piercing look.
"The name of the place where, and of the person with whom I lived, is my secret," I
replied concisely.
"Which, if you like, you have, in my opinion, a right to keep, both from St.
John and every other questioner," remarked Diana.
"Yet if I know nothing about you or your history, I cannot help you," he said.
"And you need help, do you not?"
"I need it, and I seek it so far, sir, that some true philanthropist will put me in the
way of getting work which I can do, and the remuneration for which will keep me, if but
in the barest necessaries of life."
"I know not whether I am a true philanthropist; yet I am willing to aid you
to the utmost of my power in a purpose so honest.
First, then, tell me what you have been accustomed to do, and what you can do."
I had now swallowed my tea.
I was mightily refreshed by the beverage; as much so as a giant with wine: it gave
new tone to my unstrung nerves, and enabled me to address this penetrating young judge
steadily.
"Mr. Rivers," I said, turning to him, and looking at him, as he looked at me, openly
and without diffidence, "you and your sisters have done me a great service--the
greatest man can do his fellow-being; you
have rescued me, by your noble hospitality, from death.
This benefit conferred gives you an unlimited claim on my gratitude, and a
claim, to a certain extent, on my confidence.
I will tell you as much of the history of the wanderer you have harboured, as I can
tell without compromising my own peace of mind--my own security, moral and physical,
and that of others.
"I am an orphan, the daughter of a clergyman.
My parents died before I could know them. I was brought up a dependant; educated in a
charitable institution.
I will even tell you the name of the establishment, where I passed six years as
a pupil, and two as a teacher--Lowood Orphan Asylum, ---shire: you will have
heard of it, Mr. Rivers?--the Rev. Robert Brocklehurst is the treasurer."
"I have heard of Mr. Brocklehurst, and I have seen the school."
"I left Lowood nearly a year since to become a private governess.
I obtained a good situation, and was happy. This place I was obliged to leave four days
before I came here.
The reason of my departure I cannot and ought not to explain: it would be useless,
dangerous, and would sound incredible. No blame attached to me: I am as free from
culpability as any one of you three.
Miserable I am, and must be for a time; for the catastrophe which drove me from a house
I had found a paradise was of a strange and direful nature.
I observed but two points in planning my departure--speed, secrecy: to secure these,
I had to leave behind me everything I possessed except a small parcel; which, in
my hurry and trouble of mind, I forgot to
take out of the coach that brought me to Whitcross.
To this neighbourhood, then, I came, quite destitute.
I slept two nights in the open air, and wandered about two days without crossing a
threshold: but twice in that space of time did I taste food; and it was when brought
by hunger, exhaustion, and despair almost
to the last gasp, that you, Mr. Rivers, forbade me to perish of want at your door,
and took me under the shelter of your roof.
I know all your sisters have done for me since--for I have not been insensible
during my seeming torpor--and I owe to their spontaneous, genuine, genial
compassion as large a debt as to your evangelical charity."
"Don't make her talk any more now, St. John," said Diana, as I paused; "she is
evidently not yet fit for excitement.
Come to the sofa and sit down now, Miss Elliott."
I gave an involuntary half start at hearing the alias: I had forgotten my new name.
Mr. Rivers, whom nothing seemed to escape, noticed it at once.
"You said your name was Jane Elliott?" he observed.
"I did say so; and it is the name by which I think it expedient to be called at
present, but it is not my real name, and when I hear it, it sounds strange to me."
"Your real name you will not give?"
"No: I fear discovery above all things; and whatever disclosure would lead to it, I
avoid." "You are quite right, I am sure," said
Diana.
"Now do, brother, let her be at peace a while."
But when St. John had mused a few moments he recommenced as imperturbably and with as
much acumen as ever.
"You would not like to be long dependent on our hospitality--you would wish, I see, to
dispense as soon as may be with my sisters' compassion, and, above all, with my
charity (I am quite sensible of the
distinction drawn, nor do I resent it--it is just): you desire to be independent of
us?" "I do: I have already said so.
Show me how to work, or how to seek work: that is all I now ask; then let me go, if
it be but to the meanest cottage; but till then, allow me to stay here: I dread
another essay of the horrors of homeless destitution."
"Indeed you shall stay here," said Diana, putting her white hand on my head.
"You shall," repeated Mary, in the tone of undemonstrative sincerity which seemed
natural to her.
"My sisters, you see, have a pleasure in keeping you," said Mr. St. John, "as they
would have a pleasure in keeping and cherishing a half-frozen bird, some wintry
wind might have driven through their casement.
I feel more inclination to put you in the way of keeping yourself, and shall
endeavour to do so; but observe, my sphere is narrow.
I am but the incumbent of a poor country parish: my aid must be of the humblest
sort.
And if you are inclined to despise the day of small things, seek some more efficient
succour than such as I can offer."
"She has already said that she is willing to do anything honest she can do," answered
Diana for me; "and you know, St. John, she has no choice of helpers: she is forced to
put up with such crusty people as you."
"I will be a dressmaker; I will be a plain- workwoman; I will be a servant, a nurse-
girl, if I can be no better," I answered. "Right," said Mr. St. John, quite coolly.
"If such is your spirit, I promise to aid you, in my own time and way."
He now resumed the book with which he had been occupied before tea.
I soon withdrew, for I had talked as much, and sat up as long, as my present strength
would permit.
>
CHAPTER XXX
The more I knew of the inmates of Moor House, the better I liked them.
In a few days I had so far recovered my health that I could sit up all day, and
walk out sometimes.
I could join with Diana and Mary in all their occupations; converse with them as
much as they wished, and aid them when and where they would allow me.
There was a reviving pleasure in this intercourse, of a kind now tasted by me for
the first time--the pleasure arising from perfect congeniality of tastes, sentiments,
and principles.
I liked to read what they liked to read: what they enjoyed, delighted me; what they
approved, I reverenced. They loved their sequestered home.
I, too, in the grey, small, antique structure, with its low roof, its latticed
casements, its mouldering walls, its avenue of aged firs--all grown aslant under the
stress of mountain winds; its garden, dark
with yew and holly--and where no flowers but of the hardiest species would bloom--
found a charm both potent and permanent.
They clung to the purple moors behind and around their dwelling--to the hollow vale
into which the pebbly bridle-path leading from their gate descended, and which wound
between fern-banks first, and then amongst
a few of the wildest little pasture-fields that ever bordered a wilderness of heath,
or gave sustenance to a flock of grey moorland sheep, with their little mossy-
faced lambs:--they clung to this scene, I
say, with a perfect enthusiasm of attachment.
I could comprehend the feeling, and share both its strength and truth.
I saw the fascination of the locality.
I felt the consecration of its loneliness: my eye feasted on the outline of swell and
sweep--on the wild colouring communicated to ridge and dell by moss, by heath-bell,
by flower-sprinkled turf, by brilliant bracken, and mellow granite crag.
These details were just to me what they were to them--so many pure and sweet
sources of pleasure.
The strong blast and the soft breeze; the rough and the halcyon day; the hours of
sunrise and sunset; the moonlight and the clouded night, developed for me, in these
regions, the same attraction as for them--
wound round my faculties the same spell that entranced theirs.
Indoors we agreed equally well.
They were both more accomplished and better read than I was; but with eagerness I
followed in the path of knowledge they had trodden before me.
I devoured the books they lent me: then it was full satisfaction to discuss with them
in the evening what I had perused during the day.
Thought fitted thought; opinion met opinion: we coincided, in short, perfectly.
If in our trio there was a superior and a leader, it was Diana.
Physically, she far excelled me: she was handsome; she was vigorous.
In her animal spirits there was an affluence of life and certainty of flow,
such as excited my wonder, while it baffled my comprehension.
I could talk a while when the evening commenced, but the first gush of vivacity
and fluency gone, I was fain to sit on a stool at Diana's feet, to rest my head on
her knee, and listen alternately to her and
Mary, while they sounded thoroughly the topic on which I had but touched.
Diana offered to teach me German.
I liked to learn of her: I saw the part of instructress pleased and suited her; that
of scholar pleased and suited me no less. Our natures dovetailed: mutual affection--
of the strongest kind--was the result.
They discovered I could draw: their pencils and colour-boxes were immediately at my
service. My skill, greater in this one point than
theirs, surprised and charmed them.
Mary would sit and watch me by the hour together: then she would take lessons; and
a docile, intelligent, assiduous pupil she made.
Thus occupied, and mutually entertained, days passed like hours, and weeks like
days.
As to Mr. St John, the intimacy which had arisen so naturally and rapidly between me
and his sisters did not extend to him.
One reason of the distance yet observed between us was, that he was comparatively
seldom at home: a large proportion of his time appeared devoted to visiting the sick
and poor among the scattered population of his parish.
No weather seemed to hinder him in these pastoral excursions: rain or fair, he
would, when his hours of morning study were over, take his hat, and, followed by his
father's old pointer, Carlo, go out on his
mission of love or duty--I scarcely know in which light he regarded it.
Sometimes, when the day was very unfavourable, his sisters would
expostulate.
He would then say, with a peculiar smile, more solemn than cheerful--
"And if I let a gust of wind or a sprinkling of rain turn me aside from these
easy tasks, what preparation would such sloth be for the future I propose to
myself?"
Diana and Mary's general answer to this question was a sigh, and some minutes of
apparently mournful meditation.
But besides his frequent absences, there was another barrier to friendship with him:
he seemed of a reserved, an abstracted, and even of a brooding nature.
Zealous in his ministerial labours, blameless in his life and habits, he yet
did not appear to enjoy that mental serenity, that inward content, which should
be the reward of every sincere Christian and practical philanthropist.
Often, of an evening, when he sat at the window, his desk and papers before him, he
would cease reading or writing, rest his chin on his hand, and deliver himself up to
I know not what course of thought; but that
it was perturbed and exciting might be seen in the frequent flash and changeful
dilation of his eye.
I think, moreover, that Nature was not to him that treasury of delight it was to his
sisters.
He expressed once, and but once in my hearing, a strong sense of the rugged charm
of the hills, and an inborn affection for the dark roof and hoary walls he called his
home; but there was more of gloom than
pleasure in the tone and words in which the sentiment was manifested; and never did he
seem to roam the moors for the sake of their soothing silence--never seek out or
dwell upon the thousand peaceful delights they could yield.
Incommunicative as he was, some time elapsed before I had an opportunity of
gauging his mind.
I first got an idea of its calibre when I heard him preach in his own church at
Morton. I wish I could describe that sermon: but it
is past my power.
I cannot even render faithfully the effect it produced on me.
It began calm--and indeed, as far as delivery and pitch of voice went, it was
calm to the end: an earnestly felt, yet strictly restrained zeal breathed soon in
the distinct accents, and prompted the nervous language.
This grew to force--compressed, condensed, controlled.
The heart was thrilled, the mind astonished, by the power of the preacher:
neither were softened.
Throughout there was a strange bitterness; an absence of consolatory gentleness; stern
allusions to Calvinistic doctrines-- election, predestination, reprobation--were
frequent; and each reference to these
points sounded like a sentence pronounced for doom.
When he had done, instead of feeling better, calmer, more enlightened by his
discourse, I experienced an inexpressible sadness; for it seemed to me--I know not
whether equally so to others--that the
eloquence to which I had been listening had sprung from a depth where lay turbid dregs
of disappointment--where moved troubling impulses of insatiate yearnings and
disquieting aspirations.
I was sure St. John Rivers--pure-lived, conscientious, zealous as he was--had not
yet found that peace of God which passeth all understanding: he had no more found it,
I thought, than had I with my concealed and
racking regrets for my broken idol and lost elysium--regrets to which I have latterly
avoided referring, but which possessed me and tyrannised over me ruthlessly.
Meantime a month was gone.
Diana and Mary were soon to leave Moor House, and return to the far different life
and scene which awaited them, as governesses in a large, fashionable, south-
of-England city, where each held a
situation in families by whose wealthy and haughty members they were regarded only as
humble dependants, and who neither knew nor sought out their innate excellences, and
appreciated only their acquired
accomplishments as they appreciated the skill of their cook or the taste of their
waiting-woman.
Mr. St. John had said nothing to me yet about the employment he had promised to
obtain for me; yet it became urgent that I should have a vocation of some kind.
One morning, being left alone with him a few minutes in the parlour, I ventured to
approach the window-recess--which his table, chair, and desk consecrated as a
kind of study--and I was going to speak,
though not very well knowing in what words to frame my inquiry--for it is at all times
difficult to break the ice of reserve glassing over such natures as his--when he
saved me the trouble by being the first to commence a dialogue.
Looking up as I drew near--"You have a question to ask of me?" he said.
"Yes; I wish to know whether you have heard of any service I can offer myself to
undertake?"
"I found or devised something for you three weeks ago; but as you seemed both useful
and happy here--as my sisters had evidently become attached to you, and your society
gave them unusual pleasure--I deemed it
inexpedient to break in on your mutual comfort till their approaching departure
from Marsh End should render yours necessary."
"And they will go in three days now?"
I said. "Yes; and when they go, I shall return to
the parsonage at Morton: Hannah will accompany me; and this old house will be
shut up."
I waited a few moments, expecting he would go on with the subject first broached: but
he seemed to have entered another train of reflection: his look denoted abstraction
from me and my business.
I was obliged to recall him to a theme which was of necessity one of close and
anxious interest to me. "What is the employment you had in view,
Mr. Rivers?
I hope this delay will not have increased the difficulty of securing it."
"Oh, no; since it is an employment which depends only on me to give, and you to
accept."
He again paused: there seemed a reluctance to continue.
I grew impatient: a restless movement or two, and an eager and exacting glance
fastened on his face, conveyed the feeling to him as effectually as words could have
done, and with less trouble.
"You need be in no hurry to hear," he said: "let me frankly tell you, I have nothing
eligible or profitable to suggest.
Before I explain, recall, if you please, my notice, clearly given, that if I helped
you, it must be as the blind man would help the lame.
I am poor; for I find that, when I have paid my father's debts, all the patrimony
remaining to me will be this crumbling grange, the row of scathed firs behind, and
the patch of moorish soil, with the yew- trees and holly-bushes in front.
I am obscure: Rivers is an old name; but of the three sole descendants of the race, two
earn the dependant's crust among strangers, and the third considers himself an alien
from his native country--not only for life, but in death.
Yes, and deems, and is bound to deem, himself honoured by the lot, and aspires
but after the day when the cross of separation from fleshly ties shall be laid
on his shoulders, and when the Head of that
church-militant of whose humblest members he is one, shall give the word, 'Rise,
follow Me!'" St. John said these words as he pronounced his sermons, with a quiet,
deep voice; with an unflushed cheek, and a coruscating radiance of glance.
He resumed--
"And since I am myself poor and obscure, I can offer you but a service of poverty and
obscurity.
You may even think it degrading--for I see now your habits have been what the
world calls refined: your tastes lean to the ideal, and your society has at least
been amongst the educated; but I consider
that no service degrades which can better our race.
I hold that the more arid and unreclaimed the soil where the Christian labourer's
task of tillage is appointed him--the scantier the meed his toil brings--the
higher the honour.
His, under such circumstances, is the destiny of the pioneer; and the first
pioneers of the Gospel were the Apostles-- their captain was Jesus, the Redeemer,
Himself."
"Well?" I said, as he again paused--"proceed."
He looked at me before he proceeded: indeed, he seemed leisurely to read my
face, as if its features and lines were characters on a page.
The conclusions drawn from this scrutiny he partially expressed in his succeeding
observations.
"I believe you will accept the post I offer you," said he, "and hold it for a while:
not permanently, though: any more than I could permanently keep the narrow and
narrowing--the tranquil, hidden office of
English country incumbent; for in your nature is an alloy as detrimental to repose
as that in mine, though of a different kind."
"Do explain," I urged, when he halted once more.
"I will; and you shall hear how poor the proposal is,--how trivial--how cramping.
I shall not stay long at Morton, now that my father is dead, and that I am my own
master.
I shall leave the place probably in the course of a twelve-month; but while I do
stay, I will exert myself to the utmost for its improvement.
Morton, when I came to it two years ago, had no school: the children of the poor
were excluded from every hope of progress. I established one for boys: I mean now to
open a second school for girls.
I have hired a building for the purpose, with a cottage of two rooms attached to it
for the mistress's house.
Her salary will be thirty pounds a year: her house is already furnished, very
simply, but sufficiently, by the kindness of a lady, Miss Oliver; the only daughter
of the sole rich man in my parish--Mr.
Oliver, the proprietor of a needle- factory and iron-foundry in the valley.
The same lady pays for the education and clothing of an orphan from the workhouse,
on condition that she shall aid the mistress in such menial offices connected
with her own house and the school as her
occupation of teaching will prevent her having time to discharge in person.
Will you be this mistress?"
He put the question rather hurriedly; he seemed half to expect an indignant, or at
least a disdainful rejection of the offer: not knowing all my thoughts and feelings,
though guessing some, he could not tell in what light the lot would appear to me.
In truth it was humble--but then it was sheltered, and I wanted a safe asylum: it
was plodding--but then, compared with that of a governess in a rich house, it was
independent; and the fear of servitude with
strangers entered my soul like iron: it was not ignoble--not unworthy--not mentally
degrading, I made my decision. "I thank you for the proposal, Mr. Rivers,
and I accept it with all my heart."
"But you comprehend me?" he said. "It is a village school: your scholars will
be only poor girls--cottagers' children--at the best, farmers' daughters.
Knitting, sewing, reading, writing, ciphering, will be all you will have to
teach. What will you do with your accomplishments?
What, with the largest portion of your mind--sentiments--tastes?"
"Save them till they are wanted. They will keep."
"You know what you undertake, then?"
"I do." He now smiled: and not a bitter or a sad
smile, but one well pleased and deeply gratified.
"And when will you commence the exercise of your function?"
"I will go to my house to-morrow, and open the school, if you like, next week."
"Very well: so be it."
He rose and walked through the room. Standing still, he again looked at me.
He shook his head. "What do you disapprove of, Mr. Rivers?"
I asked.
"You will not stay at Morton long: no, no!" "Why? What is your reason for saying so?"
"I read it in your eye; it is not of that description which promises the maintenance
of an even tenor in life."
"I am not ambitious." He started at the word "ambitious."
He repeated, "No. What made you think of ambition?
Who is ambitious?
I know I am: but how did you find it out?" "I was speaking of myself."
"Well, if you are not ambitious, you are--" He paused.
"What?"
"I was going to say, impassioned: but perhaps you would have misunderstood the
word, and been displeased.
I mean, that human affections and sympathies have a most powerful hold on
you.
I am sure you cannot long be content to pass your leisure in solitude, and to
devote your working hours to a monotonous labour wholly void of stimulus: any more
than I can be content," he added, with
emphasis, "to live here buried in morass, pent in with mountains--my nature, that God
gave me, contravened; my faculties, heaven- bestowed, paralysed--made useless.
You hear now how I contradict myself.
I, who preached contentment with a humble lot, and justified the vocation even of
hewers of wood and drawers of water in God's service--I, His ordained minister,
almost rave in my restlessness.
Well, propensities and principles must be reconciled by some means."
He left the room.
In this brief hour I had learnt more of him than in the whole previous month: yet still
he puzzled me.
Diana and Mary Rivers became more sad and silent as the day approached for leaving
their brother and their home.
They both tried to appear as usual; but the sorrow they had to struggle against was one
that could not be entirely conquered or concealed.
Diana intimated that this would be a different parting from any they had ever
yet known.
It would probably, as far as St. John was concerned, be a parting for years: it might
be a parting for life.
"He will sacrifice all to his long-framed resolves," she said: "natural affection and
feelings more potent still. St. John looks quiet, Jane; but he hides a
fever in his vitals.
You would think him gentle, yet in some things he is inexorable as death; and the
worst of it is, my conscience will hardly permit me to dissuade him from his severe
decision: certainly, I cannot for a moment blame him for it.
It is right, noble, Christian: yet it breaks my heart!"
And the tears gushed to her fine eyes.
Mary bent her head low over her work. "We are now without father: we shall soon
be without home and brother," she murmured.
At that moment a little accident supervened, which seemed decreed by fate
purposely to prove the truth of the adage, that "misfortunes never come singly," and
to add to their distresses the vexing one of the slip between the cup and the lip.
St. John passed the window reading a letter.
He entered.
"Our uncle John is dead," said he. Both the sisters seemed struck: not shocked
or appalled; the tidings appeared in their eyes rather momentous than afflicting.
"Dead?" repeated Diana.
"Yes." She riveted a searching gaze on her
brother's face. "And what then?" she demanded, in a low
voice.
"What then, Die?" he replied, maintaining a marble immobility of feature.
"What then? Why--nothing.
Read."
He threw the letter into her lap. She glanced over it, and handed it to Mary.
Mary perused it in silence, and returned it to her brother.
All three looked at each other, and all three smiled--a dreary, pensive smile
enough. "Amen!
We can yet live," said Diana at last.
"At any rate, it makes us no worse off than we were before," remarked Mary.
"Only it forces rather strongly on the mind the picture of what might have been,"
said Mr. Rivers, "and contrasts it somewhat too vividly with what is."
He folded the letter, locked it in his desk, and again went out.
For some minutes no one spoke. Diana then turned to me.
"Jane, you will wonder at us and our mysteries," she said, "and think us hard-
hearted beings not to be more moved at the death of so near a relation as an uncle;
but we have never seen him or known him.
He was my mother's brother. My father and he quarrelled long ago.
It was by his advice that my father risked most of his property in the speculation
that ruined him.
Mutual recrimination passed between them: they parted in anger, and were never
reconciled.
My uncle engaged afterwards in more prosperous undertakings: it appears he
realised a fortune of twenty thousand pounds.
He was never married, and had no near kindred but ourselves and one other person,
not more closely related than we.
My father always cherished the idea that he would atone for his error by leaving his
possessions to us; that letter informs us that he has bequeathed every penny to the
other relation, with the exception of
thirty guineas, to be divided between St. John, Diana, and Mary Rivers, for the
purchase of three mourning rings.
He had a right, of course, to do as he pleased: and yet a momentary damp is cast
on the spirits by the receipt of such news.
Mary and I would have esteemed ourselves rich with a thousand pounds each; and to
St. John such a sum would have been valuable, for the good it would have
enabled him to do."
This explanation given, the subject was dropped, and no further reference made to
it by either Mr. Rivers or his sisters. The next day I left Marsh End for Morton.
The day after, Diana and Mary quitted it for distant B-.
In a week, Mr. Rivers and Hannah repaired to the parsonage: and so the old grange was
abandoned.
>
CHAPTER XXXI
My home, then, when I at last find a home,- -is a cottage; a little room with
whitewashed walls and a sanded floor, containing four painted chairs and a table,
a clock, a cupboard, with two or three
plates and dishes, and a set of tea-things in delf.
Above, a chamber of the same dimensions as the kitchen, with a deal bedstead and chest
of drawers; small, yet too large to be filled with my scanty wardrobe: though the
kindness of my gentle and generous friends
has increased that, by a modest stock of such things as are necessary.
It is evening.
I have dismissed, with the fee of an orange, the little orphan who serves me as
a handmaid. I am sitting alone on the hearth.
This morning, the village school opened.
I had twenty scholars. But three of the number can read: none
write or cipher. Several knit, and a few sew a little.
They speak with the broadest accent of the district.
At present, they and I have a difficulty in understanding each other's language.
Some of them are unmannered, rough, intractable, as well as ignorant; but
others are docile, have a wish to learn, and evince a disposition that pleases me.
I must not forget that these coarsely-clad little peasants are of flesh and blood as
good as the scions of gentlest genealogy; and that the germs of native excellence,
refinement, intelligence, kind feeling, are
as likely to exist in their hearts as in those of the best-born.
My duty will be to develop these germs: surely I shall find some happiness in
discharging that office.
Much enjoyment I do not expect in the life opening before me: yet it will, doubtless,
if I regulate my mind, and exert my powers as I ought, yield me enough to live on from
day to day.
Was I very gleeful, settled, content, during the hours I passed in yonder bare,
humble schoolroom this morning and afternoon?
Not to deceive myself, I must reply--No: I felt desolate to a degree.
I felt--yes, idiot that I am--I felt degraded.
I doubted I had taken a step which sank instead of raising me in the scale of
social existence.
I was weakly dismayed at the ignorance, the poverty, the coarseness of all I heard and
saw round me.
But let me not hate and despise myself too much for these feelings; I know them to be
wrong--that is a great step gained; I shall strive to overcome them.
To-morrow, I trust, I shall get the better of them partially; and in a few weeks,
perhaps, they will be quite subdued.
In a few months, it is possible, the happiness of seeing progress, and a change
for the better in my scholars may substitute gratification for disgust.
Meantime, let me ask myself one question-- Which is better?--To have surrendered to
temptation; listened to passion; made no painful effort--no struggle;--but to have
sunk down in the silken snare; fallen
asleep on the flowers covering it; wakened in a southern clime, amongst the luxuries
of a pleasure villa: to have been now living in France, Mr. Rochester's mistress;
delirious with his love half my time--for
he would--oh, yes, he would have loved me well for a while.
He did love me--no one will ever love me so again.
I shall never more know the sweet homage given to beauty, youth, and grace--for
never to any one else shall I seem to possess these charms.
He was fond and proud of me--it is what no man besides will ever be.--But where am I
wandering, and what am I saying, and above all, feeling?
Whether is it better, I ask, to be a slave in a fool's paradise at Marseilles--fevered
with delusive bliss one hour--suffocating with the bitterest tears of remorse and
shame the next--or to be a village-
schoolmistress, free and honest, in a breezy mountain nook in the healthy heart
of England?
Yes; I feel now that I was right when I adhered to principle and law, and scorned
and crushed the insane promptings of a frenzied moment.
God directed me to a correct choice: I thank His providence for the guidance!
Having brought my eventide musings to this point, I rose, went to my door, and looked
at the sunset of the harvest-day, and at the quiet fields before my cottage, which,
with the school, was distant half a mile from the village.
The birds were singing their last strains-- "The air was mild, the dew was balm."
While I looked, I thought myself happy, and was surprised to find myself ere long
weeping--and why?
For the doom which had reft me from adhesion to my master: for him I was no
more to see; for the desperate grief and fatal fury--consequences of my departure--
which might now, perhaps, be dragging him
from the path of right, too far to leave hope of ultimate restoration thither.
At this thought, I turned my face aside from the lovely sky of eve and lonely vale
of Morton--I say lonely, for in that bend of it visible to me there was no building
apparent save the church and the parsonage,
half-hid in trees, and, quite at the extremity, the roof of Vale Hall, where the
rich Mr. Oliver and his daughter lived.
I hid my eyes, and leant my head against the stone frame of my door; but soon a
slight noise near the wicket which shut in my tiny garden from the meadow beyond it
made me look up.
A dog--old Carlo, Mr. Rivers' pointer, as I saw in a moment--was pushing the gate with
his nose, and St. John himself leant upon it with folded arms; his brow knit, his
gaze, grave almost to displeasure, fixed on me.
I asked him to come in. "No, I cannot stay; I have only brought you
a little parcel my sisters left for you.
I think it contains a colour-box, pencils, and paper."
I approached to take it: a welcome gift it was.
He examined my face, I thought, with austerity, as I came near: the traces of
tears were doubtless very visible upon it. "Have you found your first day's work
harder than you expected?" he asked.
"Oh, no! On the contrary, I think in time I shall
get on with my scholars very well."
"But perhaps your accommodations--your cottage--your furniture--have disappointed
your expectations? They are, in truth, scanty enough; but--"
I interrupted--
"My cottage is clean and weather-proof; my furniture sufficient and commodious.
All I see has made me thankful, not despondent.
I am not absolutely such a fool and sensualist as to regret the absence of a
carpet, a sofa, and silver plate; besides, five weeks ago I had nothing--I was an
outcast, a beggar, a vagrant; now I have acquaintance, a home, a business.
I wonder at the goodness of God; the generosity of my friends; the bounty of my
lot.
I do not repine." "But you feel solitude an oppression?
The little house there behind you is dark and empty."
"I have hardly had time yet to enjoy a sense of tranquillity, much less to grow
impatient under one of loneliness."
"Very well; I hope you feel the content you express: at any rate, your good sense will
tell you that it is too soon yet to yield to the vacillating fears of Lot's wife.
What you had left before I saw you, of course I do not know; but I counsel you to
resist firmly every temptation which would incline you to look back: pursue your
present career steadily, for some months at least."
"It is what I mean to do," I answered. St. John continued--
"It is hard work to control the workings of inclination and turn the bent of nature;
but that it may be done, I know from experience.
God has given us, in a measure, the power to make our own fate; and when our energies
seem to demand a sustenance they cannot get--when our will strains after a path we
may not follow--we need neither starve from
inanition, nor stand still in despair: we have but to seek another nourishment for
the mind, as strong as the forbidden food it longed to taste--and perhaps purer; and
to hew out for the adventurous foot a road
as direct and broad as the one Fortune has blocked up against us, if rougher than it.
"A year ago I was myself intensely miserable, because I thought I had made a
mistake in entering the ministry: its uniform duties wearied me to death.
I burnt for the more active life of the world--for the more exciting toils of a
literary career--for the destiny of an artist, author, orator; anything rather
than that of a priest: yes, the heart of a
politician, of a soldier, of a votary of glory, a lover of renown, a luster after
power, beat under my curate's surplice. I considered; my life was so wretched, it
must be changed, or I must die.
After a season of darkness and struggling, light broke and relief fell: my cramped
existence all at once spread out to a plain without bounds--my powers heard a call from
heaven to rise, gather their full strength, spread their wings, and mount beyond ken.
God had an errand for me; to bear which afar, to deliver it well, skill and
strength, courage and eloquence, the best qualifications of soldier, statesman, and
orator, were all needed: for these all centre in the good missionary.
"A missionary I resolved to be.
From that moment my state of mind changed; the fetters dissolved and dropped from
every faculty, leaving nothing of bondage but its galling soreness--which time only
can heal.
My father, indeed, imposed the determination, but since his death, I have
not a legitimate obstacle to contend with; some affairs settled, a successor for
Morton provided, an entanglement or two of
the feelings broken through or cut asunder- -a last conflict with human weakness, in
which I know I shall overcome, because I have vowed that I will overcome--and I
leave Europe for the East."
He said this, in his peculiar, subdued, yet emphatic voice; looking, when he had ceased
speaking, not at me, but at the setting sun, at which I looked too.
Both he and I had our backs towards the path leading up the field to the wicket.
We had heard no step on that grass-grown track; the water running in the vale was
the one lulling sound of the hour and scene; we might well then start when a gay
voice, sweet as a silver bell, exclaimed--
"Good evening, Mr. Rivers. And good evening, old Carlo.
Your dog is quicker to recognise his friends than you are, sir; he pricked his
ears and wagged his tail when I was at the bottom of the field, and you have your back
towards me now."
It was true.
Though Mr. Rivers had started at the first of those musical accents, as if a
thunderbolt had split a cloud over his head, he stood yet, at the close of the
sentence, in the same attitude in which the
speaker had surprised him--his arm resting on the gate, his face directed towards the
west. He turned at last, with measured
deliberation.
A vision, as it seemed to me, had risen at his side.
There appeared, within three feet of him, a form clad in pure white--a youthful,
graceful form: full, yet fine in contour; and when, after bending to caress Carlo, it
lifted up its head, and threw back a long
veil, there bloomed under his glance a face of perfect beauty.
Perfect beauty is a strong expression; but I do not retrace or qualify it: as sweet
features as ever the temperate clime of Albion moulded; as pure hues of rose and
lily as ever her humid gales and vapoury
skies generated and screened, justified, in this instance, the term.
No charm was wanting, no defect was perceptible; the young girl had regular and
delicate lineaments; eyes shaped and coloured as we see them in lovely pictures,
large, and dark, and full; the long and
shadowy eyelash which encircles a fine eye with so soft a fascination; the pencilled
brow which gives such clearness; the white smooth forehead, which adds such repose to
the livelier beauties of tint and ray; the
cheek oval, fresh, and smooth; the lips, fresh too, ruddy, healthy, sweetly formed;
the even and gleaming teeth without flaw; the small dimpled chin; the ornament of
rich, plenteous tresses--all advantages, in
short, which, combined, realise the ideal of beauty, were fully hers.
I wondered, as I looked at this fair creature: I admired her with my whole
heart.
Nature had surely formed her in a partial mood; and, forgetting her usual stinted
step-mother dole of gifts, had endowed this, her darling, with a grand-dame's
bounty.
What did St. John Rivers think of this earthly angel?
I naturally asked myself that question as I saw him turn to her and look at her; and,
as naturally, I sought the answer to the inquiry in his countenance.
He had already withdrawn his eye from the Peri, and was looking at a humble tuft of
daisies which grew by the wicket.
"A lovely evening, but late for you to be out alone," he said, as he crushed the
snowy heads of the closed flowers with his foot.
"Oh, I only came home from S-" (she mentioned the name of a large town some
twenty miles distant) "this afternoon.
Papa told me you had opened your school, and that the new mistress was come; and so
I put on my bonnet after tea, and ran up the valley to see her: this is she?"
pointing to me.
"It is," said St. John. "Do you think you shall like Morton?" she
asked of me, with a direct and naive simplicity of tone and manner, pleasing, if
child-like.
"I hope I shall. I have many inducements to do so."
"Did you find your scholars as attentive as you expected?"
"Quite."
"Do you like your house?" "Very much."
"Have I furnished it nicely?" "Very nicely, indeed."
"And made a good choice of an attendant for you in Alice Wood?"
"You have indeed. She is teachable and handy."
(This then, I thought, is Miss Oliver, the heiress; favoured, it seems, in the gifts
of fortune, as well as in those of nature! What happy combination of the planets
presided over her birth, I wonder?)
"I shall come up and help you to teach sometimes," she added.
"It will be a change for me to visit you now and then; and I like a change.
Mr. Rivers, I have been so gay during my stay at S-.
Last night, or rather this morning, I was dancing till two o'clock.
The ---th regiment are stationed there since the riots; and the officers are the
most agreeable men in the world: they put all our young knife-grinders and scissor
merchants to shame."
It seemed to me that Mr. St. John's under lip protruded, and his upper lip curled a
moment.
His mouth certainly looked a good deal compressed, and the lower part of his face
unusually stern and square, as the laughing girl gave him this information.
He lifted his gaze, too, from the daisies, and turned it on her.
An unsmiling, a searching, a meaning gaze it was.
She answered it with a second laugh, and laughter well became her youth, her roses,
her dimples, her bright eyes. As he stood, mute and grave, she again fell
to caressing Carlo.
"Poor Carlo loves me," said she. "He is not stern and distant to his
friends; and if he could speak, he would not be silent."
As she patted the dog's head, bending with native grace before his young and austere
master, I saw a glow rise to that master's face.
I saw his solemn eye melt with sudden fire, and flicker with resistless emotion.
Flushed and kindled thus, he looked nearly as beautiful for a man as she for a woman.
His chest heaved once, as if his large heart, weary of despotic constriction, had
expanded, despite the will, and made a vigorous bound for the attainment of
liberty.
But he curbed it, I think, as a resolute rider would curb a rearing steed.
He responded neither by word nor movement to the gentle advances made him.
"Papa says you never come to see us now," continued Miss Oliver, looking up.
"You are quite a stranger at Vale Hall.
He is alone this evening, and not very well: will you return with me and visit
him?" "It is not a seasonable hour to intrude on
Mr. Oliver," answered St. John.
"Not a seasonable hour! But I declare it is.
It is just the hour when papa most wants company: when the works are closed and he
has no business to occupy him.
Now, Mr. Rivers, do come. Why are you so very shy, and so very
sombre?" She filled up the hiatus his silence left
by a reply of her own.
"I forgot!" she exclaimed, shaking her beautiful curled head, as if shocked at
herself. "I am so giddy and thoughtless!
Do excuse me.
It had slipped my memory that you have good reasons to be indisposed for joining in my
chatter. Diana and Mary have left you, and Moor
House is shut up, and you are so lonely.
I am sure I pity you. Do come and see papa."
"Not to-night, Miss Rosamond, not to- night."
Mr. St. John spoke almost like an automaton: himself only knew the effort it
cost him thus to refuse.
"Well, if you are so obstinate, I will leave you; for I dare not stay any longer:
the dew begins to fall. Good evening!"
She held out her hand.
He just touched it. "Good evening!" he repeated, in a voice low
and hollow as an echo. She turned, but in a moment returned.
"Are you well?" she asked.
Well might she put the question: his face was blanched as her gown.
"Quite well," he enunciated; and, with a bow, he left the gate.
She went one way; he another.
She turned twice to gaze after him as she tripped fairy-like down the field; he, as
he strode firmly across, never turned at all.
This spectacle of another's suffering and sacrifice rapt my thoughts from exclusive
meditation on my own. Diana Rivers had designated her brother
"inexorable as death."
She had not exaggerated.
>
CHAPTER XXXII
I continued the labours of the village- school as actively and faithfully as I
could. It was truly hard work at first.
Some time elapsed before, with all my efforts, I could comprehend my scholars and
their nature.
Wholly untaught, with faculties quite torpid, they seemed to me hopelessly dull;
and, at first sight, all dull alike: but I soon found I was mistaken.
There was a difference amongst them as amongst the educated; and when I got to
know them, and they me, this difference rapidly developed itself.
Their amazement at me, my language, my rules, and ways, once subsided, I found
some of these heavy-looking, gaping rustics wake up into sharp-witted girls enough.
Many showed themselves obliging, and amiable too; and I discovered amongst them
not a few examples of natural politeness, and innate self-respect, as well as of
excellent capacity, that won both my goodwill and my admiration.
These soon took a pleasure in doing their work well, in keeping their persons neat,
in learning their tasks regularly, in acquiring quiet and orderly manners.
The rapidity of their progress, in some instances, was even surprising; and an
honest and happy pride I took in it: besides, I began personally to like some of
the best girls; and they liked me.
I had amongst my scholars several farmers' daughters: young women grown, almost.
These could already read, write, and sew; and to them I taught the elements of
grammar, geography, history, and the finer kinds of needlework.
I found estimable characters amongst them-- characters desirous of information and
disposed for improvement--with whom I passed many a pleasant evening hour in
their own homes.
Their parents then (the farmer and his wife) loaded me with attentions.
There was an enjoyment in accepting their simple kindness, and in repaying it by a
consideration--a scrupulous regard to their feelings--to which they were not, perhaps,
at all times accustomed, and which both
charmed and benefited them; because, while it elevated them in their own eyes, it made
them emulous to merit the deferential treatment they received.
I felt I became a favourite in the neighbourhood.
Whenever I went out, I heard on all sides cordial salutations, and was welcomed with
friendly smiles.
To live amidst general regard, though it be but the regard of working people, is like
"sitting in sunshine, calm and sweet;" serene inward feelings bud and bloom under
the ray.
At this period of my life, my heart far oftener swelled with thankfulness than sank
with dejection: and yet, reader, to tell you all, in the midst of this calm, this
useful existence--after a day passed in
honourable exertion amongst my scholars, an evening spent in drawing or reading
contentedly alone--I used to rush into strange dreams at night: dreams many-
coloured, agitated, full of the ideal, the
stirring, the stormy--dreams where, amidst unusual scenes, charged with adventure,
with agitating risk and romantic chance, I still again and again met Mr. Rochester,
always at some exciting crisis; and then
the sense of being in his arms, hearing his voice, meeting his eye, touching his hand
and cheek, loving him, being loved by him-- the hope of passing a lifetime at his side,
would be renewed, with all its first force and fire.
Then I awoke. Then I recalled where I was, and how
situated.
Then I rose up on my curtainless bed, trembling and quivering; and then the
still, dark night witnessed the convulsion of despair, and heard the burst of passion.
By nine o'clock the next morning I was punctually opening the school; tranquil,
settled, prepared for the steady duties of the day.
Rosamond Oliver kept her word in coming to visit me.
Her call at the school was generally made in the course of her morning ride.
She would canter up to the door on her pony, followed by a mounted livery servant.
Anything more exquisite than her appearance, in her purple habit, with her
Amazon's cap of black velvet placed gracefully above the long curls that kissed
her cheek and floated to her shoulders, can
scarcely be imagined: and it was thus she would enter the rustic building, and glide
through the dazzled ranks of the village children.
She generally came at the hour when Mr. Rivers was engaged in giving his daily
catechising lesson. Keenly, I fear, did the eye of the
visitress pierce the young pastor's heart.
A sort of instinct seemed to warn him of her entrance, even when he did not see it;
and when he was looking quite away from the door, if she appeared at it, his cheek
would glow, and his marble-seeming
features, though they refused to relax, changed indescribably, and in their very
quiescence became expressive of a repressed fervour, stronger than working muscle or
darting glance could indicate.
Of course, she knew her power: indeed, he did not, because he could not, conceal it
from her.
In spite of his Christian stoicism, when she went up and addressed him, and smiled
gaily, encouragingly, even fondly in his face, his hand would tremble and his eye
burn.
He seemed to say, with his sad and resolute look, if he did not say it with his lips,
"I love you, and I know you prefer me. It is not despair of success that keeps me
dumb.
If I offered my heart, I believe you would accept it.
But that heart is already laid on a sacred altar: the fire is arranged round it.
It will soon be no more than a sacrifice consumed."
And then she would pout like a disappointed child; a pensive cloud would soften her
radiant vivacity; she would withdraw her hand hastily from his, and turn in
transient petulance from his aspect, at once so heroic and so martyr-like.
St. John, no doubt, would have given the world to follow, recall, retain her, when
she thus left him; but he would not give one chance of heaven, nor relinquish, for
the elysium of her love, one hope of the true, eternal Paradise.
Besides, he could not bind all that he had in his nature--the rover, the aspirant, the
poet, the priest--in the limits of a single passion.
He could not--he would not--renounce his wild field of mission warfare for the
parlours and the peace of Vale Hall.
I learnt so much from himself in an inroad I once, despite his reserve, had the daring
to make on his confidence. Miss Oliver already honoured me with
frequent visits to my cottage.
I had learnt her whole character, which was without mystery or disguise: she was
coquettish but not heartless; exacting, but not worthlessly selfish.
She had been indulged from her birth, but was not absolutely spoilt.
She was hasty, but good-humoured; vain (she could not help it, when every glance in the
glass showed her such a flush of loveliness), but not affected; liberal-
handed; innocent of the pride of wealth;
ingenuous; sufficiently intelligent; gay, lively, and unthinking: she was very
charming, in short, even to a cool observer of her own sex like me; but she was not
profoundly interesting or thoroughly impressive.
A very different sort of mind was hers from that, for instance, of the sisters of St.
John.
Still, I liked her almost as I liked my pupil Adele; except that, for a child whom
we have watched over and taught, a closer affection is engendered than we can give an
equally attractive adult acquaintance.
She had taken an amiable caprice to me. She said I was like Mr. Rivers, only,
certainly, she allowed, "not one-tenth so handsome, though I was a nice neat little
soul enough, but he was an angel."
I was, however, good, clever, composed, and firm, like him.
I was a lusus naturae, she affirmed, as a village schoolmistress: she was sure my
previous history, if known, would make a delightful romance.
One evening, while, with her usual child- like activity, and thoughtless yet not
offensive inquisitiveness, she was rummaging the cupboard and the table-drawer
of my little kitchen, she discovered first
two French books, a volume of Schiller, a German grammar and dictionary, and then my
drawing-materials and some sketches, including a pencil-head of a pretty little
cherub-like girl, one of my scholars, and
sundry views from nature, taken in the Vale of Morton and on the surrounding moors.
She was first transfixed with surprise, and then electrified with delight.
"Had I done these pictures?
Did I know French and German? What a love--what a miracle I was!
I drew better than her master in the first school in S-.
Would I sketch a portrait of her, to show to papa?"
"With pleasure," I replied; and I felt a thrill of artist-delight at the idea of
copying from so perfect and radiant a model.
She had then on a dark-blue silk dress; her arms and her neck were bare; her only
ornament was her chestnut tresses, which waved over her shoulders with all the wild
grace of natural curls.
I took a sheet of fine card-board, and drew a careful outline.
I promised myself the pleasure of colouring it; and, as it was getting late then, I
told her she must come and sit another day.
She made such a report of me to her father, that Mr. Oliver himself accompanied her
next evening--a tall, massive-featured, middle-aged, and grey-headed man, at whose
side his lovely daughter looked like a bright flower near a hoary turret.
He appeared a taciturn, and perhaps a proud personage; but he was very kind to me.
The sketch of Rosamond's portrait pleased him highly: he said I must make a finished
picture of it. He insisted, too, on my coming the next day
to spend the evening at Vale Hall.
I went. I found it a large, handsome residence,
showing abundant evidences of wealth in the proprietor.
Rosamond was full of glee and pleasure all the time I stayed.
Her father was affable; and when he entered into conversation with me after tea, he
expressed in strong terms his approbation of what I had done in Morton school, and
said he only feared, from what he saw and
heard, I was too good for the place, and would soon quit it for one more suitable.
"Indeed," cried Rosamond, "she is clever enough to be a governess in a high family,
papa."
I thought I would far rather be where I am than in any high family in the land.
Mr. Oliver spoke of Mr. Rivers--of the Rivers family--with great respect.
He said it was a very old name in that neighbourhood; that the ancestors of the
house were wealthy; that all Morton had once belonged to them; that even now he
considered the representative of that house
might, if he liked, make an alliance with the best.
He accounted it a pity that so fine and talented a young man should have formed the
design of going out as a missionary; it was quite throwing a valuable life away.
It appeared, then, that her father would throw no obstacle in the way of Rosamond's
union with St. John.
Mr. Oliver evidently regarded the young clergyman's good birth, old name, and
sacred profession as sufficient compensation for the want of fortune.
It was the 5th of November, and a holiday.
My little servant, after helping me to clean my house, was gone, well satisfied
with the fee of a penny for her aid.
All about me was spotless and bright-- scoured floor, polished grate, and well-
rubbed chairs.
I had also made myself neat, and had now the afternoon before me to spend as I
would.
The translation of a few pages of German occupied an hour; then I got my palette and
pencils, and fell to the more soothing, because easier occupation, of completing
Rosamond Oliver's miniature.
The head was finished already: there was but the background to tint and the drapery
to shade off; a touch of carmine, too, to add to the ripe lips--a soft curl here and
there to the tresses--a deeper tinge to the shadow of the lash under the azured eyelid.
I was absorbed in the execution of these nice details, when, after one rapid tap, my
door unclosed, admitting St. John Rivers.
"I am come to see how you are spending your holiday," he said.
"Not, I hope, in thought? No, that is well: while you draw you will
not feel lonely.
You see, I mistrust you still, though you have borne up wonderfully so far.
I have brought you a book for evening solace," and he laid on the table a new
publication--a poem: one of those genuine productions so often vouchsafed to the
fortunate public of those days--the golden age of modern literature.
Alas! the readers of our era are less favoured.
But courage!
I will not pause either to accuse or repine.
I know poetry is not dead, nor genius lost; nor has Mammon gained power over either, to
bind or slay: they will both assert their existence, their presence, their liberty
and strength again one day.
Powerful angels, safe in heaven! they smile when sordid souls triumph, and feeble ones
weep over their destruction. Poetry destroyed?
Genius banished?
No! Mediocrity, no: do not let envy prompt you to the thought.
No; they not only live, but reign and redeem: and without their divine influence
spread everywhere, you would be in hell-- the hell of your own meanness.
While I was eagerly glancing at the bright pages of "Marmion" (for "Marmion" it was),
St. John stooped to examine my drawing. His tall figure sprang erect again with a
start: he said nothing.
I looked up at him: he shunned my eye.
I knew his thoughts well, and could read his heart plainly; at the moment I felt
calmer and cooler than he: I had then temporarily the advantage of him, and I
conceived an inclination to do him some good, if I could.
"With all his firmness and self-control," thought I, "he tasks himself too far: locks
every feeling and pang within--expresses, confesses, imparts nothing.
I am sure it would benefit him to talk a little about this sweet Rosamond, whom he
thinks he ought not to marry: I will make him talk."
I said first, "Take a chair, Mr. Rivers."
But he answered, as he always did, that he could not stay.
"Very well," I responded, mentally, "stand if you like; but you shall not go just yet,
I am determined: solitude is at least as bad for you as it is for me.
I'll try if I cannot discover the secret spring of your confidence, and find an
aperture in that marble breast through which I can shed one drop of the balm of
sympathy."
"Is this portrait like?" I asked bluntly.
"Like! Like whom?
I did not observe it closely."
"You did, Mr. Rivers." He almost started at my sudden and strange
abruptness: he looked at me astonished. "Oh, that is nothing yet," I muttered
within.
"I don't mean to be baffled by a little stiffness on your part; I'm prepared to go
to considerable lengths."
I continued, "You observed it closely and distinctly; but I have no objection to your
looking at it again," and I rose and placed it in his hand.
"A well-executed picture," he said; "very soft, clear colouring; very graceful and
correct drawing." "Yes, yes; I know all that.
But what of the resemblance?
Who is it like?" Mastering some hesitation, he answered,
"Miss Oliver, I presume." "Of course.
And now, sir, to reward you for the accurate guess, I will promise to paint you
a careful and faithful duplicate of this very picture, provided you admit that the
gift would be acceptable to you.
I don't wish to throw away my time and trouble on an offering you would deem
worthless."
He continued to gaze at the picture: the longer he looked, the firmer he held it,
the more he seemed to covet it.
"It is like!" he murmured; "the eye is well managed: the colour, light, expression, are
perfect. It smiles!"
"Would it comfort, or would it wound you to have a similar painting?
Tell me that.
When you are at Madagascar, or at the Cape, or in India, would it be a consolation to
have that memento in your possession? or would the sight of it bring recollections
calculated to enervate and distress?"
He now furtively raised his eyes: he glanced at me, irresolute, disturbed: he
again surveyed the picture.
"That I should like to have it is certain: whether it would be judicious or wise is
another question."
Since I had ascertained that Rosamond really preferred him, and that her father
was not likely to oppose the match, I--less exalted in my views than St. John--had been
strongly disposed in my own heart to advocate their union.
It seemed to me that, should he become the possessor of Mr. Oliver's large fortune, he
might do as much good with it as if he went and laid his genius out to wither, and his
strength to waste, under a tropical sun.
With this persuasion I now answered-- "As far as I can see, it would be wiser and
more judicious if you were to take to yourself the original at once."
By this time he had sat down: he had laid the picture on the table before him, and
with his brow supported on both hands, hung fondly over it.
I discerned he was now neither angry nor shocked at my audacity.
I saw even that to be thus frankly addressed on a subject he had deemed
unapproachable--to hear it thus freely handled--was beginning to be felt by him as
a new pleasure--an unhoped-for relief.
Reserved people often really need the frank discussion of their sentiments and griefs
more than the expansive.
The sternest-seeming stoic is human after all; and to "burst" with boldness and good-
will into "the silent sea" of their souls is often to confer on them the first of
obligations.
"She likes you, I am sure," said I, as I stood behind his chair, "and her father
respects you.
Moreover, she is a sweet girl--rather thoughtless; but you would have sufficient
thought for both yourself and her. You ought to marry her."
"Does she like me?" he asked.
"Certainly; better than she likes any one else.
She talks of you continually: there is no subject she enjoys so much or touches upon
so often."
"It is very pleasant to hear this," he said--"very: go on for another quarter of
an hour." And he actually took out his watch and laid
it upon the table to measure the time.
"But where is the use of going on," I asked, "when you are probably preparing
some iron blow of contradiction, or forging a fresh chain to fetter your heart?"
"Don't imagine such hard things.
Fancy me yielding and melting, as I am doing: human love rising like a freshly
opened fountain in my mind and overflowing with sweet inundation all the field I have
so carefully and with such labour prepared-
-so assiduously sown with the seeds of good intentions, of self-denying plans.
And now it is deluged with a nectarous flood--the young germs swamped--delicious
poison cankering them: now I see myself stretched on an ottoman in the drawing-room
at Vale Hall at my bride Rosamond Oliver's
feet: she is talking to me with her sweet voice--gazing down on me with those eyes
your skilful hand has copied so well-- smiling at me with these coral lips.
She is mine--I am hers--this present life and passing world suffice to me.
Hush! say nothing--my heart is full of delight--my senses are entranced--let the
time I marked pass in peace."
I humoured him: the watch ticked on: he breathed fast and low: I stood silent.
Amidst this hush the quartet sped; he replaced the watch, laid the picture down,
rose, and stood on the hearth.
"Now," said he, "that little space was given to delirium and delusion.
I rested my temples on the breast of temptation, and put my neck voluntarily
under her yoke of flowers.
I tasted her cup. The pillow was burning: there is an asp in
the garland: the wine has a bitter taste: her promises are hollow--her offers false:
I see and know all this."
I gazed at him in wonder.
"It is strange," pursued he, "that while I love Rosamond Oliver so wildly--with all
the intensity, indeed, of a first passion, the object of which is exquisitely
beautiful, graceful, fascinating--I
experience at the same time a calm, unwarped consciousness that she would not
make me a good wife; that she is not the partner suited to me; that I should
discover this within a year after marriage;
and that to twelve months' rapture would succeed a lifetime of regret.
This I know." "Strange indeed!"
I could not help ejaculating.
"While something in me," he went on, "is acutely sensible to her charms, something
else is as deeply impressed with her defects: they are such that she could
sympathise in nothing I aspired to--co- operate in nothing I undertook.
Rosamond a sufferer, a labourer, a female apostle?
Rosamond a missionary's wife?
No!" "But you need not be a missionary.
You might relinquish that scheme." "Relinquish!
What! my vocation?
My great work? My foundation laid on earth for a mansion
in heaven?
My hopes of being numbered in the band who have merged all ambitions in the glorious
one of bettering their race--of carrying knowledge into the realms of ignorance--of
substituting peace for war--freedom for
bondage--religion for superstition--the hope of heaven for the fear of hell?
Must I relinquish that? It is dearer than the blood in my veins.
It is what I have to look forward to, and to live for."
After a considerable pause, I said--"And Miss Oliver?
Are her disappointment and sorrow of no interest to you?"
"Miss Oliver is ever surrounded by suitors and flatterers: in less than a month, my
image will be effaced from her heart.
She will forget me; and will marry, probably, some one who will make her far
happier than I should do." "You speak coolly enough; but you suffer in
the conflict.
You are wasting away." "No. If I get a little thin, it is with
anxiety about my prospects, yet unsettled-- my departure, continually procrastinated.
Only this morning, I received intelligence that the successor, whose arrival I have
been so long expecting, cannot be ready to replace me for three months to come yet;
and perhaps the three months may extend to six."
"You tremble and become flushed whenever Miss Oliver enters the schoolroom."
Again the surprised expression crossed his face.
He had not imagined that a woman would dare to speak so to a man.
For me, I felt at home in this sort of discourse.
I could never rest in communication with strong, discreet, and refined minds,
whether male or female, till I had passed the outworks of conventional reserve, and
crossed the threshold of confidence, and
won a place by their heart's very hearthstone.
"You are original," said he, "and not timid.
There is something brave in your spirit, as well as penetrating in your eye; but allow
me to assure you that you partially misinterpret my emotions.
You think them more profound and potent than they are.
You give me a larger allowance of sympathy than I have a just claim to.
When I colour, and when I shade before Miss Oliver, I do not pity myself.
I scorn the weakness.
I know it is ignoble: a mere fever of the flesh: not, I declare, the convulsion of
the soul. That is just as fixed as a rock, firm set
in the depths of a restless sea.
Know me to be what I am--a cold hard man." I smiled incredulously.
"You have taken my confidence by storm," he continued, "and now it is much at your
service.
I am simply, in my original state--stripped of that blood-bleached robe with which
Christianity covers human deformity--a cold, hard, ambitious man.
Natural affection only, of all the sentiments, has permanent power over me.
Reason, and not feeling, is my guide; my ambition is unlimited: my desire to rise
higher, to do more than others, insatiable.
I honour endurance, perseverance, industry, talent; because these are the means by
which men achieve great ends and mount to lofty eminence.
I watch your career with interest, because I consider you a specimen of a diligent,
orderly, energetic woman: not because I deeply compassionate what you have gone
through, or what you still suffer."
"You would describe yourself as a mere pagan philosopher," I said.
"No. There is this difference between me and deistic philosophers: I believe; and I
believe the Gospel.
You missed your epithet. I am not a pagan, but a Christian
philosopher--a follower of the sect of Jesus.
As His disciple I adopt His pure, His merciful, His benignant doctrines.
I advocate them: I am sworn to spread them.
Won in youth to religion, she has cultivated my original qualities thus:--
From the minute germ, natural affection, she has developed the overshadowing tree,
philanthropy.
From the wild stringy root of human uprightness, she has reared a due sense of
the Divine justice.
Of the ambition to win power and renown for my wretched self, she has formed the
ambition to spread my Master's kingdom; to achieve victories for the standard of the
cross.
So much has religion done for me; turning the original materials to the best account;
pruning and training nature.
But she could not eradicate nature: nor will it be eradicated 'till this mortal
shall put on immortality.'" Having said this, he took his hat, which
lay on the table beside my palette.
Once more he looked at the portrait. "She is lovely," he murmured.
"She is well named the Rose of the World, indeed!"
"And may I not paint one like it for you?"
"Cui bono? No." He drew over the picture the sheet of thin
paper on which I was accustomed to rest my hand in painting, to prevent the cardboard
from being sullied.
What he suddenly saw on this blank paper, it was impossible for me to tell; but
something had caught his eye.
He took it up with a snatch; he looked at the edge; then shot a glance at me,
inexpressibly peculiar, and quite incomprehensible: a glance that seemed to
take and make note of every point in my
shape, face, and dress; for it traversed all, quick, keen as lightning.
His lips parted, as if to speak: but he checked the coming sentence, whatever it
was.
"What is the matter?" I asked.
"Nothing in the world," was the reply; and, replacing the paper, I saw him dexterously
tear a narrow slip from the margin.
It disappeared in his glove; and, with one hasty nod and "good-afternoon," he
vanished. "Well!"
I exclaimed, using an expression of the district, "that caps the globe, however!"
I, in my turn, scrutinised the paper; but saw nothing on it save a few dingy stains
of paint where I had tried the tint in my pencil.
I pondered the mystery a minute or two; but finding it insolvable, and being certain it
could not be of much moment, I dismissed, and soon forgot it.
>
CHAPTER XXXIII
When Mr. St. John went, it was beginning to snow; the whirling storm continued all
night.
The next day a keen wind brought fresh and blinding falls; by twilight the valley was
drifted up and almost impassable.
I had closed my shutter, laid a mat to the door to prevent the snow from blowing in
under it, trimmed my fire, and after sitting nearly an hour on the hearth
listening to the muffled fury of the
tempest, I lit a candle, took down "Marmion," and beginning--
"Day set on Norham's castled steep, And Tweed's fair river broad and deep,
And Cheviot's mountains lone;
The massive towers, the donjon keep, The flanking walls that round them sweep,
In yellow lustre shone"--
I soon forgot storm in music. I heard a noise: the wind, I thought, shook
the door.
No; it was St. John Rivers, who, lifting the latch, came in out of the frozen
hurricane--the howling darkness--and stood before me: the cloak that covered his tall
figure all white as a glacier.
I was almost in consternation, so little had I expected any guest from the blocked-
up vale that night. "Any ill news?"
I demanded.
"Has anything happened?"
"No. How very easily alarmed you are!" he answered, removing his cloak and hanging it
up against the door, towards which he again coolly pushed the mat which his entrance
had deranged.
He stamped the snow from his boots. "I shall sully the purity of your floor,"
said he, "but you must excuse me for once." Then he approached the fire.
"I have had hard work to get here, I assure you," he observed, as he warmed his hands
over the flame. "One drift took me up to the waist; happily
the snow is quite soft yet."
"But why are you come?" I could not forbear saying.
"Rather an inhospitable question to put to a visitor; but since you ask it, I answer
simply to have a little talk with you; I got tired of my mute books and empty rooms.
Besides, since yesterday I have experienced the excitement of a person to whom a tale
has been half-told, and who is impatient to hear the sequel."
He sat down.
I recalled his singular conduct of yesterday, and really I began to fear his
wits were touched.
If he were insane, however, his was a very cool and collected insanity: I had never
seen that handsome-featured face of his look more like chiselled marble than it did
just now, as he put aside his snow-wet hair
from his forehead and let the firelight shine free on his pale brow and cheek as
pale, where it grieved me to discover the hollow trace of care or sorrow now so
plainly graved.
I waited, expecting he would say something I could at least comprehend; but his hand
was now at his chin, his finger on his lip: he was thinking.
It struck me that his hand looked wasted like his face.
A perhaps uncalled-for gush of pity came over my heart: I was moved to say--
"I wish Diana or Mary would come and live with you: it is too bad that you should be
quite alone; and you are recklessly rash about your own health."
"Not at all," said he: "I care for myself when necessary.
I am well now. What do you see amiss in me?"
This was said with a careless, abstracted indifference, which showed that my
solicitude was, at least in his opinion, wholly superfluous.
I was silenced.
He still slowly moved his finger over his upper lip, and still his eye dwelt dreamily
on the glowing grate; thinking it urgent to say something, I asked him presently if he
felt any cold draught from the door, which was behind him.
"No, no!" he responded shortly and somewhat testily.
"Well," I reflected, "if you won't talk, you may be still; I'll let you alone now,
and return to my book." So I snuffed the candle and resumed the
perusal of "Marmion."
He soon stirred; my eye was instantly drawn to his movements; he only took out a
morocco pocket-book, thence produced a letter, which he read in silence, folded
it, put it back, relapsed into meditation.
It was vain to try to read with such an inscrutable fixture before me; nor could I,
in impatience, consent to be dumb; he might rebuff me if he liked, but talk I would.
"Have you heard from Diana and Mary lately?"
"Not since the letter I showed you a week ago."
"There has not been any change made about your own arrangements?
You will not be summoned to leave England sooner than you expected?"
"I fear not, indeed: such chance is too good to befall me."
Baffled so far, I changed my ground. I bethought myself to talk about the school
and my scholars.
"Mary Garrett's mother is better, and Mary came back to the school this morning, and I
shall have four new girls next week from the Foundry Close--they would have come to-
day but for the snow."
"Indeed!" "Mr. Oliver pays for two."
"Does he?" "He means to give the whole school a treat
at Christmas."
"I know." "Was it your suggestion?"
"No." "Whose, then?"
"His daughter's, I think."
"It is like her: she is so good-natured." "Yes."
Again came the blank of a pause: the clock struck eight strokes.
It aroused him; he uncrossed his legs, sat erect, turned to me.
"Leave your book a moment, and come a little nearer the fire," he said.
Wondering, and of my wonder finding no end, I complied.
"Half-an-hour ago," he pursued, "I spoke of my impatience to hear the sequel of a tale:
on reflection, I find the matter will be better managed by my assuming the
narrator's part, and converting you into a listener.
Before commencing, it is but fair to warn you that the story will sound somewhat
hackneyed in your ears; but stale details often regain a degree of freshness when
they pass through new lips.
For the rest, whether trite or novel, it is short.
"Twenty years ago, a poor curate--never mind his name at this moment--fell in love
with a rich man's daughter; she fell in love with him, and married him, against the
advice of all her friends, who consequently disowned her immediately after the wedding.
Before two years passed, the rash pair were both dead, and laid quietly side by side
under one slab.
(I have seen their grave; it formed part of the pavement of a huge churchyard
surrounding the grim, soot-black old cathedral of an overgrown manufacturing
town in ---shire.)
They left a daughter, which, at its very birth, Charity received in her lap--cold as
that of the snow-drift I almost stuck fast in to-night.
Charity carried the friendless thing to the house of its rich maternal relations; it
was reared by an aunt-in- law, called (I come to names now) Mrs. Reed of Gateshead.
You start--did you hear a noise?
I daresay it is only a rat scrambling along the rafters of the adjoining schoolroom: it
was a barn before I had it repaired and altered, and barns are generally haunted by
rats.--To proceed.
Mrs. Reed kept the orphan ten years: whether it was happy or not with her, I
cannot say, never having been told; but at the end of that time she transferred it to
a place you know--being no other than
Lowood School, where you so long resided yourself.
It seems her career there was very honourable: from a pupil, she became a
teacher, like yourself--really it strikes me there are parallel points in her history
and yours--she left it to be a governess:
there, again, your fates were analogous; she undertook the education of the ward of
a certain Mr. Rochester." "Mr. Rivers!"
I interrupted.
"I can guess your feelings," he said, "but restrain them for a while: I have nearly
finished; hear me to the end.
Of Mr. Rochester's character I know nothing, but the one fact that he professed
to offer honourable marriage to this young girl, and that at the very altar she
discovered he had a wife yet alive, though a lunatic.
What his subsequent conduct and proposals were is a matter of pure conjecture; but
when an event transpired which rendered inquiry after the governess necessary, it
was discovered she was gone--no one could tell when, where, or how.
She had left Thornfield Hall in the night; every research after her course had been
vain: the country had been scoured far and wide; no vestige of information could be
gathered respecting her.
Yet that she should be found is become a matter of serious urgency: advertisements
have been put in all the papers; I myself have received a letter from one Mr. Briggs,
a solicitor, communicating the details I have just imparted.
Is it not an odd tale?"
"Just tell me this," said I, "and since you know so much, you surely can tell it me--
what of Mr. Rochester? How and where is he?
What is he doing?
Is he well?" "I am ignorant of all concerning Mr.
Rochester: the letter never mentions him but to narrate the fraudulent and illegal
attempt I have adverted to.
You should rather ask the name of the governess--the nature of the event which
requires her appearance." "Did no one go to Thornfield Hall, then?
Did no one see Mr. Rochester?"
"I suppose not." "But they wrote to him?"
"Of course." "And what did he say?
Who has his letters?"
"Mr. Briggs intimates that the answer to his application was not from Mr. Rochester,
but from a lady: it is signed 'Alice Fairfax.'"
I felt cold and dismayed: my worst fears then were probably true: he had in all
probability left England and rushed in reckless desperation to some former haunt
on the Continent.
And what opiate for his severe sufferings-- what object for his strong passions--had he
sought there? I dared not answer the question.
Oh, my poor master--once almost my husband- -whom I had often called "my dear Edward!"
"He must have been a bad man," observed Mr. Rivers.
"You don't know him--don't pronounce an opinion upon him," I said, with warmth.
"Very well," he answered quietly: "and indeed my head is otherwise occupied than
with him: I have my tale to finish.
Since you won't ask the governess's name, I must tell it of my own accord.
Stay!
I have it here--it is always more satisfactory to see important points
written down, fairly committed to black and white."
And the pocket-book was again deliberately produced, opened, sought through; from one
of its compartments was extracted a shabby slip of paper, hastily torn off: I
recognised in its texture and its stains of
ultra-marine, and lake, and vermillion, the ravished margin of the portrait-cover.
He got up, held it close to my eyes: and I read, traced in Indian ink, in my own
handwriting, the words "JANE EYRE"--the work doubtless of some moment of
abstraction.
"Briggs wrote to me of a Jane Eyre:" he said, "the advertisements demanded a Jane
Eyre: I knew a Jane Elliott.--I confess I had my suspicions, but it was only
yesterday afternoon they were at once resolved into certainty.
You own the name and renounce the alias?" "Yes--yes; but where is Mr. Briggs?
He perhaps knows more of Mr. Rochester than you do."
"Briggs is in London.
I should doubt his knowing anything at all about Mr. Rochester; it is not in Mr.
Rochester he is interested.
Meantime, you forget essential points in pursuing trifles: you do not inquire why
Mr. Briggs sought after you--what he wanted with you."
"Well, what did he want?"
"Merely to tell you that your uncle, Mr. Eyre of Madeira, is dead; that he has left
you all his property, and that you are now rich--merely that--nothing more."
"I!--rich?"
"Yes, you, rich--quite an heiress." Silence succeeded.
"You must prove your identity of course," resumed St. John presently: "a step which
will offer no difficulties; you can then enter on immediate possession.
Your fortune is vested in the English funds; Briggs has the will and the
necessary documents." Here was a new card turned up!
It is a fine thing, reader, to be lifted in a moment from indigence to wealth--a very
fine thing; but not a matter one can comprehend, or consequently enjoy, all at
once.
And then there are other chances in life far more thrilling and rapture-giving:
this is solid, an affair of the actual world, nothing ideal about it: all its
associations are solid and sober, and its manifestations are the same.
One does not jump, and spring, and shout hurrah! at hearing one has got a fortune;
one begins to consider responsibilities, and to ponder business; on a base of steady
satisfaction rise certain grave cares, and
we contain ourselves, and brood over our bliss with a solemn brow.
Besides, the words Legacy, Bequest, go side by side with the words, Death, Funeral.
My uncle I had heard was dead--my only relative; ever since being made aware of
his existence, I had cherished the hope of one day seeing him: now, I never should.
And then this money came only to me: not to me and a rejoicing family, but to my
isolated self.
It was a grand boon doubtless; and independence would be glorious--yes, I felt
that--that thought swelled my heart. "You unbend your forehead at last," said
Mr. Rivers.
"I thought Medusa had looked at you, and that you were turning to stone.
Perhaps now you will ask how much you are worth?"
"How much am I worth?"
"Oh, a trifle! Nothing of course to speak of--twenty
thousand pounds, I think they say--but what is that?"
"Twenty thousand pounds?"
Here was a new stunner--I had been calculating on four or five thousand.
This news actually took my breath for a moment: Mr. St. John, whom I had never
heard laugh before, laughed now.
"Well," said he, "if you had committed a murder, and I had told you your crime was
discovered, you could scarcely look more aghast."
"It is a large sum--don't you think there is a mistake?"
"No mistake at all." "Perhaps you have read the figures wrong--
it may be two thousand!"
"It is written in letters, not figures,-- twenty thousand."
I again felt rather like an individual of but average gastronomical powers sitting
down to feast alone at a table spread with provisions for a hundred.
Mr. Rivers rose now and put his cloak on.
"If it were not such a very wild night," he said, "I would send Hannah down to keep you
company: you look too desperately miserable to be left alone.
But Hannah, poor woman! could not stride the drifts so well as I: her legs are not
quite so long: so I must e'en leave you to your sorrows.
Good-night."
He was lifting the latch: a sudden thought occurred to me.
"Stop one minute!" I cried.
"Well?"
"It puzzles me to know why Mr. Briggs wrote to you about me; or how he knew you, or
could fancy that you, living in such an out-of-the-way place, had the power to aid
in my discovery."
"Oh! I am a clergyman," he said; "and the clergy are often appealed to about odd
matters." Again the latch rattled.
"No; that does not satisfy me!"
I exclaimed: and indeed there was something in the hasty and unexplanatory reply which,
instead of allaying, piqued my curiosity more than ever.
"It is a very strange piece of business," I added; "I must know more about it."
"Another time."
"No; to-night!--to-night!" and as he turned from the door, I placed myself between it
and him. He looked rather embarrassed.
"You certainly shall not go till you have told me all," I said.
"I would rather not just now." "You shall!--you must!"
"I would rather Diana or Mary informed you."
Of course these objections wrought my eagerness to a climax: gratified it must
be, and that without delay; and I told him so.
"But I apprised you that I was a hard man," said he, "difficult to persuade."
"And I am a hard woman,--impossible to put off."
{And I am a hard woman,--impossible to put off: p369.jpg}
"And then," he pursued, "I am cold: no fervour infects me."
"Whereas I am hot, and fire dissolves ice.
The blaze there has thawed all the snow from your cloak; by the same token, it has
streamed on to my floor, and made it like a trampled street.
As you hope ever to be forgiven, Mr. Rivers, the high crime and misdemeanour of
spoiling a sanded kitchen, tell me what I wish to know."
"Well, then," he said, "I yield; if not to your earnestness, to your perseverance: as
stone is worn by continual dropping. Besides, you must know some day,--as well
now as later.
Your name is Jane Eyre?" "Of course: that was all settled before."
"You are not, perhaps, aware that I am your namesake?--that I was christened St. John
Eyre Rivers?"
"No, indeed! I remember now seeing the letter E.
comprised in your initials written in books you have at different times lent me; but I
never asked for what name it stood.
But what then? Surely--"
I stopped: I could not trust myself to entertain, much less to express, the
thought that rushed upon me--that embodied itself,--that, in a second, stood out a
strong, solid probability.
Circumstances knit themselves, fitted themselves, shot into order: the chain that
had been lying hitherto a formless lump of links was drawn out straight,--every ring
was perfect, the connection complete.
I knew, by instinct, how the matter stood, before St. John had said another word; but
I cannot expect the reader to have the same intuitive perception, so I must repeat his
explanation.
"My mother's name was Eyre; she had two brothers; one a clergyman, who married Miss
Jane Reed, of Gateshead; the other, John Eyre, Esq., merchant, late of Funchal,
Madeira.
Mr. Briggs, being Mr. Eyre's solicitor, wrote to us last August to inform us of our
uncle's death, and to say that he had left his property to his brother the clergyman's
orphan daughter, overlooking us, in
consequence of a quarrel, never forgiven, between him and my father.
He wrote again a few weeks since, to intimate that the heiress was lost, and
asking if we knew anything of her.
A name casually written on a slip of paper has enabled me to find her out.
You know the rest." Again he was going, but I set my back
against the door.
"Do let me speak," I said; "let me have one moment to draw breath and reflect."
I paused--he stood before me, hat in hand, looking composed enough.
I resumed--
"Your mother was my father's sister?" "Yes."
"My aunt, consequently?" He bowed.
"My uncle John was your uncle John?
You, Diana, and Mary are his sister's children, as I am his brother's child?"
"Undeniably."
"You three, then, are my cousins; half our blood on each side flows from the same
source?" "We are cousins; yes."
I surveyed him.
It seemed I had found a brother: one I could be proud of,--one I could love; and
two sisters, whose qualities were such, that, when I knew them but as mere
strangers, they had inspired me with genuine affection and admiration.
The two girls, on whom, kneeling down on the wet ground, and looking through the
low, latticed window of Moor House kitchen, I had gazed with so bitter a mixture of
interest and despair, were my near
kinswomen; and the young and stately gentleman who had found me almost dying at
his threshold was my blood relation. Glorious discovery to a lonely wretch!
This was wealth indeed!--wealth to the heart!--a mine of pure, genial affections.
This was a blessing, bright, vivid, and exhilarating;--not like the ponderous gift
of gold: rich and welcome enough in its way, but sobering from its weight.
I now clapped my hands in sudden joy--my pulse bounded, my veins thrilled.
"Oh, I am glad!--I am glad!" I exclaimed.
St. John smiled.
"Did I not say you neglected essential points to pursue trifles?" he asked.
"You were serious when I told you you had got a fortune; and now, for a matter of no
moment, you are excited."
"What can you mean?
It may be of no moment to you; you have sisters and don't care for a cousin; but I
had nobody; and now three relations,--or two, if you don't choose to be counted,--
are born into my world full-grown.
I say again, I am glad!"
I walked fast through the room: I stopped, half suffocated with the thoughts that rose
faster than I could receive, comprehend, settle them:--thoughts of what might,
could, would, and should be, and that ere long.
I looked at the blank wall: it seemed a sky thick with ascending stars,--every one lit
me to a purpose or delight.
Those who had saved my life, whom, till this hour, I had loved barrenly, I could
now benefit.
They were under a yoke,--I could free them: they were scattered,--I could reunite them:
the independence, the affluence which was mine, might be theirs too.
Were we not four?
Twenty thousand pounds shared equally would be five thousand each, justice--enough and
to spare: justice would be done,--mutual happiness secured.
Now the wealth did not weigh on me: now it was not a mere bequest of coin,--it was a
legacy of life, hope, enjoyment.
How I looked while these ideas were taking my spirit by storm, I cannot tell; but I
perceived soon that Mr. Rivers had placed a chair behind me, and was gently attempting
to make me sit down on it.
He also advised me to be composed; I scorned the insinuation of helplessness and
distraction, shook off his hand, and began to walk about again.
"Write to Diana and Mary to-morrow," I said, "and tell them to come home directly.
Diana said they would both consider themselves rich with a thousand pounds, so
with five thousand they will do very well."
"Tell me where I can get you a glass of water," said St. John; "you must really
make an effort to tranquillise your feelings."
"Nonsense! and what sort of an effect will the bequest have on you?
Will it keep you in England, induce you to marry Miss Oliver, and settle down like an
ordinary mortal?"
"You wander: your head becomes confused. I have been too abrupt in communicating the
news; it has excited you beyond your strength."
"Mr. Rivers! you quite put me out of patience: I am rational enough; it is you
who misunderstand, or rather who affect to misunderstand."
"Perhaps, if you explained yourself a little more fully, I should comprehend
better." "Explain!
What is there to explain?
You cannot fail to see that twenty thousand pounds, the sum in question, divided
equally between the nephew and three nieces of our uncle, will give five thousand to
each?
What I want is, that you should write to your sisters and tell them of the fortune
that has accrued to them." "To you, you mean."
"I have intimated my view of the case: I am incapable of taking any other.
I am not brutally selfish, blindly unjust, or fiendishly ungrateful.
Besides, I am resolved I will have a home and connections.
I like Moor House, and I will live at Moor House; I like Diana and Mary, and I will
attach myself for life to Diana and Mary.
It would please and benefit me to have five thousand pounds; it would torment and
oppress me to have twenty thousand; which, moreover, could never be mine in justice,
though it might in law.
I abandon to you, then, what is absolutely superfluous to me.
Let there be no opposition, and no discussion about it; let us agree amongst
each other, and decide the point at once."
"This is acting on first impulses; you must take days to consider such a matter, ere
your word can be regarded as valid." "Oh! if all you doubt is my sincerity, I am
easy: you see the justice of the case?"
"I do see a certain justice; but it is contrary to all custom.
Besides, the entire fortune is your right: my uncle gained it by his own efforts; he
was free to leave it to whom he would: he left it to you.
After all, justice permits you to keep it: you may, with a clear conscience, consider
it absolutely your own."
"With me," said I, "it is fully as much a matter of feeling as of conscience: I must
indulge my feelings; I so seldom have had an opportunity of doing so.
Were you to argue, object, and annoy me for a year, I could not forego the delicious
pleasure of which I have caught a glimpse-- that of repaying, in part, a mighty
obligation, and winning to myself lifelong friends."
"You think so now," rejoined St. John, "because you do not know what it is to
possess, nor consequently to enjoy wealth: you cannot form a notion of the importance
twenty thousand pounds would give you; of
the place it would enable you to take in society; of the prospects it would open to
you: you cannot--"
"And you," I interrupted, "cannot at all imagine the craving I have for fraternal
and sisterly love.
I never had a home, I never had brothers or sisters; I must and will have them now: you
are not reluctant to admit me and own me, are you?"
"Jane, I will be your brother--my sisters will be your sisters--without stipulating
for this sacrifice of your just rights." "Brother?
Yes; at the distance of a thousand leagues!
Sisters? Yes; slaving amongst strangers!
I, wealthy--gorged with gold I never earned and do not merit!
You, penniless!
Famous equality and fraternisation! Close union!
Intimate attachment!"
"But, Jane, your aspirations after family ties and domestic happiness may be realised
otherwise than by the means you contemplate: you may marry."
"Nonsense, again!
Marry! I don't want to marry, and never shall
marry."
"That is saying too much: such hazardous affirmations are a proof of the excitement
under which you labour."
"It is not saying too much: I know what I feel, and how averse are my inclinations to
the bare thought of marriage.
No one would take me for love; and I will not be regarded in the light of a mere
money speculation.
And I do not want a stranger-- unsympathising, alien, different from me;
I want my kindred: those with whom I have full fellow- feeling.
Say again you will be my brother: when you uttered the words I was satisfied, happy;
repeat them, if you can, repeat them sincerely."
"I think I can.
I know I have always loved my own sisters; and I know on what my affection for them is
grounded,--respect for their worth and admiration of their talents.
You too have principle and mind: your tastes and habits resemble Diana's and
Mary's; your presence is always agreeable to me; in your conversation I have already
for some time found a salutary solace.
I feel I can easily and naturally make room in my heart for you, as my third and
youngest sister." "Thank you: that contents me for to-night.
Now you had better go; for if you stay longer, you will perhaps irritate me afresh
by some mistrustful scruple." "And the school, Miss Eyre?
It must now be shut up, I suppose?"
"No. I will retain my post of mistress till you get a substitute."
He smiled approbation: we shook hands, and he took leave.
I need not narrate in detail the further struggles I had, and arguments I used, to
get matters regarding the legacy settled as I wished.
My task was a very hard one; but, as I was absolutely resolved--as my cousins saw at
length that my mind was really and immutably fixed on making a just division
of the property--as they must in their own
hearts have felt the equity of the intention; and must, besides, have been
innately conscious that in my place they would have done precisely what I wished to
do--they yielded at length so far as to consent to put the affair to arbitration.
The judges chosen were Mr. Oliver and an able lawyer: both coincided in my opinion:
I carried my point.
The instruments of transfer were drawn out: St. John, Diana, Mary, and I, each became
possessed of a competency.
>