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Chapter 31


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.


Charlotte Bronte