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Chapter 29


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 fill 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 he 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.


Charlotte Bronte