My home, then, when I at last find a home,—is a cottage; a little room wit_hitewashed walls and a sanded floor, containing four painted chairs and _able, a clock, a cupboard, with two or three plates and dishes, and a set o_ea-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 fille_ith my scanty wardrobe: though the kindness of my gentle and generous friend_as 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 orpha_ho 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 numbe_an read: none write or cipher. Several knit, and a few sew a little. The_peak with the broadest accent of the district. At present, they and I have _ifficulty in understanding each other’s language. Some of them ar_nmannered, rough, intractable, as well as ignorant; but others are docile, have a wish to learn, and evince a disposition that pleases me. I must no_orget that these coarsely-clad little peasants are of flesh and blood as goo_s the scions of gentlest genealogy; and that the germs of native excellence, refinement, intelligence, kind feeling, are as likely to exist in their heart_s in those of the best-born. My duty will be to develop these germs: surel_ shall find some happiness in discharging that office. Much enjoyment I d_ot expect in the life opening before me: yet it will, doubtless, if _egulate my mind, and exert my powers as I ought, yield me enough to live o_rom day to day.
Was I very gleeful, settled, content, during the hours I passed in yonde_are, humble schoolroom this morning and afternoon? Not to deceive myself, _ust reply—No: I felt desolate to a degree. I felt—yes, idiot that I am—_elt degraded. I doubted I had taken a step which sank instead of raising m_n the scale of social existence. I was weakly dismayed at the ignorance, th_overty, the coarseness of all I heard and saw round me. But let me not hat_nd despise myself too much for these feelings; I know them to be wrong—tha_s 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, the_ill be quite subdued. In a few months, it is possible, the happiness o_eeing progress, and a change for the better in my scholars may substitut_ratification for disgust.
Meantime, let me ask myself one question—Which is better?—To have surrendere_o temptation; listened to passion; made no painful effort—no struggle;—but t_ave 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 hav_een now living in France, Mr. Rochester’s mistress; delirious with his lov_alf 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 kno_he sweet homage given to beauty, youth, and grace—for never to any one els_hall I seem to possess these charms. He was fond and proud of me—it is wha_o 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 _ool’s paradise at Marseilles—fevered with delusive bliss one hour—suffocatin_ith 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 health_eart of England?
Yes; I feel now that I was right when I adhered to principle and law, an_corned and crushed the insane promptings of a frenzied moment. God directe_e 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, an_ooked at the sunset of the harvest-day, and at the quiet fields before m_ottage, 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 er_ong weeping—and why? For the doom which had reft me from adhesion to m_aster: for him I was no more to see; for the desperate grief and fata_ury—consequences of my departure—which might now, perhaps, be dragging hi_rom 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 lonel_ale of Morton—I say _lonely_ , for in that bend of it visible to me there wa_o 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. Olive_nd his daughter lived. I hid my eyes, and leant my head against the ston_rame of my door; but soon a slight noise near the wicket which shut in m_iny 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, an_t. 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 lef_or 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, _hought, with austerity, as I came near: the traces of tears were doubtles_ery 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 scholar_ery well.”
“But perhaps your accommodations—your cottage—your furniture—have disappointe_our expectations? They are, in truth, scanty enough; but—” I interrupted—
“My cottage is clean and weather-proof; my furniture sufficient an_ommodious. All I see has made me thankful, not despondent. I am no_bsolutely such a fool and sensualist as to regret the absence of a carpet, _ofa, and silver plate; besides, five weeks ago I had nothing—I was a_utcast, a beggar, a vagrant; now I have acquaintance, a home, a business. _onder at the goodness of God; the generosity of my friends; the bounty of m_ot. I do not repine.”
“But you feel solitude an oppression? The little house there behind you i_ark and empty.”
“I have hardly had time yet to enjoy a sense of tranquillity, much less t_row impatient under one of loneliness.”
“Very well; I hope you feel the content you express: at any rate, your goo_ense will tell you that it is too soon yet to yield to the vacillating fear_f 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 t_ook 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 o_ature; but that it may be done, I know from experience. God has given us, i_ measure, the power to make our own fate; and when our energies seem t_emand a sustenance they cannot get—when our will strains after a path we ma_ot 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 th_orbidden food it longed to taste—and perhaps purer; and to hew out for th_dventurous foot a road as direct and broad as the one Fortune has blocked u_gainst us, if rougher than it.
“A year ago I was myself intensely miserable, because I thought I had made _istake in entering the ministry: its uniform duties wearied me to death. _urnt for the more active life of the world—for the more exciting toils of _iterary career—for the destiny of an artist, author, orator; anything rathe_han that of a priest: yes, the heart of a politician, of a soldier, of _otary of glory, a lover of renown, a luster after power, beat under m_urate’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 an_elief fell: my cramped existence all at once spread out to a plain withou_ounds—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 bea_hich afar, to deliver it well, skill and strength, courage and eloquence, th_est qualifications of soldier, statesman, and orator, were all needed: fo_hese 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 o_ondage but its galling soreness—which time only can heal. My father, indeed, imposed the determination, but since his death, I have not a legitimat_bstacle to contend with; some affairs settled, a successor for Morto_rovided, an entanglement or two of the feelings broken through or cu_sunder—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 h_ad 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 th_icket. We had heard no step on that grass-grown track; the water running i_he vale was the one lulling sound of the hour and scene; we might well the_tart when a gay voice, sweet as a silver bell, exclaimed—
“Good evening, Mr. Rivers. And good evening, old Carlo. Your dog is quicke_o recognise his friends than you are, sir; he pricked his ears and wagged hi_ail when I was at the bottom of the field, and you have your back towards m_ow.”
It was true. Though Mr. Rivers had started at the first of those musica_ccents, as if a thunderbolt had split a cloud over his head, he stood yet, a_he close of the sentence, in the same attitude in which the speaker ha_urprised 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 cla_n 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 lon_eil, there bloomed under his glance a face of perfect beauty. Perfect beaut_s a strong expression; but I do not retrace or qualify it: as sweet feature_s ever the temperate clime of Albion moulded; as pure hues of rose and lil_s 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 coloure_s we see them in lovely pictures, large, and dark, and full; the long an_hadowy eyelash which encircles a fine eye with so soft a fascination; th_encilled brow which gives such clearness; the white smooth forehead, whic_dds such repose to the livelier beauties of tint and ray; the cheek oval, fresh, and smooth; the lips, fresh too, ruddy, healthy, sweetly formed; th_ven and gleaming teeth without flaw; the small dimpled chin; the ornament o_ich, plenteous tresses—all advantages, in short, which, combined, realise th_deal of beauty, were fully hers. I wondered, as I looked at this fai_reature: I admired her with my whole heart. Nature had surely formed her i_ 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 aske_yself that question as I saw him turn to her and look at her; and, a_aturally, I sought the answer to the inquiry in his countenance. He ha_lready withdrawn his eye from the Peri, and was looking at a humble tuft o_aisies which grew by the wicket.
“A lovely evening, but late for you to be out alone,” he said, as he crushe_he snowy heads of the closed flowers with his foot.
“Oh, I only came home from S-” (she mentioned the name of a large town som_wenty miles distant) “this afternoon. Papa told me you had opened you_chool, and that the new mistress was come; and so I put on my bonnet afte_ea, 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 naiv_implicity 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?”
“Do you like your house?”
“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, i_iss Oliver, the heiress; favoured, it seems, in the gifts of fortune, as wel_s in those of nature! What happy combination of the planets presided ove_er birth, I wonder?)
“I shall come up and help you to teach sometimes,” she added. “It will be _hange for me to visit you now and then; and I like a change. Mr. Rivers, _ave 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 sinc_he riots; and the officers are the most agreeable men in the world: they pu_ll our young knife-grinders and scissor merchants to shame.”
It seemed to me that Mr. St. John’s under lip protruded, and his upper li_urled a moment. His mouth certainly looked a good deal compressed, and th_ower part of his face unusually stern and square, as the laughing girl gav_im this information. He lifted his gaze, too, from the daisies, and turne_t on her. An unsmiling, a searching, a meaning gaze it was. She answered i_ith a second laugh, and laughter well became her youth, her roses, he_imples, her bright eyes.
As he stood, mute and grave, she again fell to caressing Carlo. “Poor Carl_oves me,” said she. “ _He_ is not stern and distant to his friends; and i_e could speak, he would not be silent.”
As she patted the dog’s head, bending with native grace before his young an_ustere master, I saw a glow rise to that master’s face. I saw his solemn ey_elt with sudden fire, and flicker with resistless emotion. Flushed an_indled thus, he looked nearly as beautiful for a man as she for a woman. Hi_hest heaved once, as if his large heart, weary of despotic constriction, ha_xpanded, despite the will, and made a vigorous bound for the attainment o_iberty. But he curbed it, I think, as a resolute rider would curb a rearin_teed. He responded neither by word nor movement to the gentle advances mad_im.
“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 no_ery 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 pap_ost wants company: when the works are closed and he has no business to occup_im. Now, Mr. Rivers, _do_ come. Why are you so very shy, and so ver_ombre?” 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 a_erself. “I am so giddy and thoughtless! _Do_ excuse me. It had slipped m_emory 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 s_onely. 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 i_ost him thus to refuse.
“Well, if you are so obstinate, I will leave you; for I dare not stay an_onger: the dew begins to fall. Good evening!”
She held out her hand. He just touched it. “Good evening!” he repeated, in _oice 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 wa_lanched as her gown.
“Quite well,” he enunciated; and, with a bow, he left the gate. She went on_ay; he another. She turned twice to gaze after him as she tripped fairy-lik_own the field; he, as he strode firmly across, never turned at all.
This spectacle of another’s suffering and sacrifice rapt my thoughts fro_xclusive meditation on my own. Diana Rivers had designated her brother “inexorable as death.” She had not exaggerated.