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Chapter 32

  • I continued the labours of the village-school as actively and faithfully as _ould.  It was truly hard work at first.  Some time elapsed before, with al_y efforts, I could comprehend my scholars and their nature.  Wholly untaught, with faculties quite torpid, they seemed to me hopelessly dull; and, at firs_ight, all dull alike: but I soon found I was mistaken.  There was _ifference 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 showe_hemselves obliging, and amiable too; and I discovered amongst them not a fe_xamples of natural politeness, and innate self-respect, as well as o_xcellent capacity, that won both my goodwill and my admiration.  These soo_ook a pleasure in doing their work well, in keeping their persons neat, i_earning their tasks regularly, in acquiring quiet and orderly manners.  Th_apidity of their progress, in some instances, was even surprising; and a_onest and happy pride I took in it: besides, I began personally to like som_f the best girls; and they liked me.  I had amongst my scholars severa_armers’ 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 character_mongst them—characters desirous of information and disposed fo_mprovement—with whom I passed many a pleasant evening hour in their ow_omes.  Their parents then (the farmer and his wife) loaded me wit_ttentions.  There was an enjoyment in accepting their simple kindness, and i_epaying it by a consideration—a scrupulous regard to their feelings—to whic_hey were not, perhaps, at all times accustomed, and which both charmed an_enefited them; because, while it elevated them in their own eyes, it mad_hem emulous to merit the deferential treatment they received.
  • I felt I became a favourite in the neighbourhood.  Whenever I went out, _eard 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 an_loom under the ray.  At this period of my life, my heart far oftener swelle_ith 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 i_onourable exertion amongst my scholars, an evening spent in drawing o_eading contentedly alone—I used to rush into strange dreams at night: dream_any-coloured, agitated, full of the ideal, the stirring, the stormy—dream_here, amidst unusual scenes, charged with adventure, with agitating risk an_omantic chance, I still again and again met Mr. Rochester, always at som_xciting 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 b_im—the hope of passing a lifetime at his side, would be renewed, with all it_irst force and fire.  Then I awoke.  Then I recalled where I was, and ho_ituated.  Then I rose up on my curtainless bed, trembling and quivering; an_hen the still, dark night witnessed the convulsion of despair, and heard th_urst of passion.  By nine o’clock the next morning I was punctually openin_he 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 schoo_as generally made in the course of her morning ride.  She would canter up t_he door on her pony, followed by a mounted livery servant.  Anything mor_xquisite than her appearance, in her purple habit, with her Amazon’s cap o_lack velvet placed gracefully above the long curls that kissed her cheek an_loated to her shoulders, can scarcely be imagined: and it was thus she woul_nter the rustic building, and glide through the dazzled ranks of the villag_hildren.  She generally came at the hour when Mr. Rivers was engaged i_iving his daily catechising lesson.  Keenly, I fear, did the eye of th_isitress pierce the young pastor’s heart.  A sort of instinct seemed to war_im of her entrance, even when he did not see it; and when he was lookin_uite away from the door, if she appeared at it, his cheek would glow, and hi_arble-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 an_ddressed him, and smiled gaily, encouragingly, even fondly in his face, hi_and would tremble and his eye burn.  He seemed to say, with his sad an_esolute look, if he did not say it with his lips, “I love you, and I know yo_refer me.  It is not despair of success that keeps me dumb.  If I offered m_eart, I believe you would accept it.  But that heart is already laid on _acred altar: the fire is arranged round it.  It will soon be no more than _acrifice consumed.”
  • And then she would pout like a disappointed child; a pensive cloud woul_often her radiant vivacity; she would withdraw her hand hastily from his, an_urn 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 o_eaven, 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 hi_ature—the rover, the aspirant, the poet, the priest—in the limits of a singl_assion.  He could not—he would not—renounce his wild field of mission warfar_or the parlours and the peace of Vale Hall.  I learnt so much from himself i_n inroad I once, despite his reserve, had the daring to make on hi_onfidence.
  • Miss Oliver already honoured me with frequent visits to my cottage.  I ha_earnt her whole character, which was without mystery or disguise: she wa_oquettish but not heartless; exacting, but not worthlessly selfish.  She ha_een 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 glas_howed 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 coo_bserver of her own sex like me; but she was not profoundly interesting o_horoughly impressive.  A very different sort of mind was hers from that, fo_nstance, of the sisters of St. John.  Still, I liked her almost as I liked m_upil Adèle; except that, for a child whom we have watched over and taught, _loser affection is engendered than we can give an equally attractive adul_cquaintance.
  • 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 nea_ittle soul enough, but he was an angel.”  I was, however, good, clever, composed, and firm, like him.  I was a _lusus naturæ_ , she affirmed, as _illage schoolmistress: she was sure my previous history, if known, would mak_ delightful romance.
  • One evening, while, with her usual child-like activity, and thoughtless ye_ot offensive inquisitiveness, she was rummaging the cupboard and the table- drawer of my little kitchen, she discovered first two French books, a volum_f Schiller, a German grammar and dictionary, and then my drawing-material_nd some sketches, including a pencil-head of a pretty little cherub-lik_irl, one of my scholars, and sundry views from nature, taken in the Vale o_orton 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 _iracle 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 ide_f copying from so perfect and radiant a model.  She had then on a dark-blu_ilk dress; her arms and her neck were bare; her only ornament was he_hestnut tresses, which waved over her shoulders with all the wild grace o_atural 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 lat_hen, I told her she must come and sit another day.
  • She made such a report of me to her father, that Mr. Oliver himsel_ccompanied her next evening—a tall, massive-featured, middle-aged, and grey- headed man, at whose side his lovely daughter looked like a bright flower nea_ hoary turret.  He appeared a taciturn, and perhaps a proud personage; but h_as very kind to me.  The sketch of Rosamond’s portrait pleased him highly: h_aid I must make a finished picture of it.  He insisted, too, on my coming th_ext day to spend the evening at Vale Hall.
  • I went.  I found it a large, handsome residence, showing abundant evidences o_ealth in the proprietor.  Rosamond was full of glee and pleasure all the tim_ stayed.  Her father was affable; and when he entered into conversation wit_e after tea, he expressed in strong terms his approbation of what I had don_n Morton school, and said he only feared, from what he saw and heard, I wa_oo 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 hig_amily, papa.”
  • I thought I would far rather be where I am than in any high family in th_and.  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 o_he house were wealthy; that all Morton had once belonged to them; that eve_ow he considered the representative of that house might, if he liked, make a_lliance with the best.  He accounted it a pity that so fine and talented _oung man should have formed the design of going out as a missionary; it wa_uite throwing a valuable life away.  It appeared, then, that her father woul_hrow no obstacle in the way of Rosamond’s union with St. John.  Mr. Olive_vidently regarded the young clergyman’s good birth, old name, and sacre_rofession as sufficient compensation for the want of fortune.
  • It was the 5th of November, and a holiday.  My little servant, after helpin_e to clean my house, was gone, well satisfied with the fee of a penny for he_id.  All about me was spotless and bright—scoured floor, polished grate, an_ell-rubbed chairs.  I had also made myself neat, and had now the afternoo_efore me to spend as I would.
  • The translation of a few pages of German occupied an hour; then I got m_alette 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 o_armine, too, to add to the ripe lips—a soft curl here and there to th_resses—a deeper tinge to the shadow of the lash under the azured eyelid.  _as absorbed in the execution of these nice details, when, after one rapi_ap, 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.  Yo_ee, I mistrust you still, though you have borne up wonderfully so far.  _ave brought you a book for evening solace,” and he laid on the table a ne_ublication—a poem: one of those genuine productions so often vouchsafed t_he 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 paus_ither to accuse or repine.  I know poetry is not dead, nor genius lost; no_as Mammon gained power over either, to bind or slay: they will both asser_heir existence, their presence, their liberty and strength again one day.
  • Powerful angels, safe in heaven! they smile when sordid souls triumph, an_eeble ones weep over their destruction.  Poetry destroyed?  Genius banished?
  • No!  Mediocrity, no: do not let envy prompt you to the thought.  No; they no_nly live, but reign and redeem: and without their divine influence sprea_verywhere, 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 erec_gain 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 _elt 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 to_ar: locks every feeling and pang within—expresses, confesses, impart_othing.  I am sure it would benefit him to talk a little about this swee_osamond, 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 yo_ike; but you shall not go just yet, I am determined: solitude is at least a_ad for you as it is for me.  I’ll try if I cannot discover the secret sprin_f your confidence, and find an aperture in that marble breast through which _an 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 m_stonished.  “Oh, that is nothing yet,” I muttered within.  “I don’t mean t_e baffled by a little stiffness on your part; I’m prepared to go t_onsiderable 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 i_n his hand.
  • “A well-executed picture,” he said; “very soft, clear colouring; very gracefu_nd 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 wil_romise 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 t_hrow 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 hel_t, the more he seemed to covet it.  “It is like!” he murmured; “the eye i_ell managed: the colour, light, expression, are perfect.  It smiles!”
  • “Would it comfort, or would it wound you to have a similar painting?  Tell m_hat.  When you are at Madagascar, or at the Cape, or in India, would it be _onsolation to have that memento in your possession? or would the sight of i_ring recollections calculated to enervate and distress?”
  • He now furtively raised his eyes: he glanced at me, irresolute, disturbed: h_gain surveyed the picture.
  • “That I should like to have it is certain: whether it would be judicious o_ise is another question.”
  • Since I had ascertained that Rosamond really preferred him, and that he_ather 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.  I_eemed to me that, should he become the possessor of Mr. Oliver’s larg_ortune, he might do as much good with it as if he went and laid his geniu_ut to wither, and his strength to waste, under a tropical sun.  With thi_ersuasion I now answered—
  • “As far as I can see, it would be wiser and more judicious if you were to tak_o 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 discerne_e was now neither angry nor shocked at my audacity.  I saw even that to b_hus frankly addressed on a subject he had deemed unapproachable—to hear i_hus freely handled—was beginning to be felt by him as a new pleasure—a_nhoped-for relief.  Reserved people often really need the frank discussion o_heir sentiments and griefs more than the expansive.  The sternest-seemin_toic is human after all; and to “burst” with boldness and good-will into “th_ilent sea” of their souls is often to confer on them the first o_bligations.
  • “She likes you, I am sure,” said I, as I stood behind his chair, “and he_ather respects you.  Moreover, she is a sweet girl—rather thoughtless; bu_ou would have sufficient thought for both yourself and her.  You ought t_arry 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 quarte_f an hour.”  And he actually took out his watch and laid it upon the table t_easure the time.
  • “But where is the use of going on,” I asked, “when you are probably preparin_ome iron blow of contradiction, or forging a fresh chain to fetter you_eart?”
  • “Don’t imagine such hard things.  Fancy me yielding and melting, as I a_oing: human love rising like a freshly opened fountain in my mind an_verflowing with sweet inundation all the field I have so carefully and wit_uch labour prepared—so assiduously sown with the seeds of good intentions, o_elf-denying plans.  And now it is deluged with a nectarous flood—the youn_erms swamped—delicious poison cankering them: now I see myself stretched o_n ottoman in the drawing-room at Vale Hall at my bride Rosamond Oliver’_eet: she is talking to me with her sweet voice—gazing down on me with thos_yes 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 th_ime 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 pictur_own, rose, and stood on the hearth.
  • “Now,” said he, “that little space was given to delirium and delusion.  _ested my temples on the breast of temptation, and put my neck voluntaril_nder her yoke of flowers.  I tasted her cup.  The pillow was burning: ther_s an asp in the garland: the wine has a bitter taste: her promises ar_ollow—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—wit_ll the intensity, indeed, of a first passion, the object of which i_xquisitely beautiful, graceful, fascinating—I experience at the same time _alm, unwarped consciousness that she would not make me a good wife; that sh_s not the partner suited to me; that I should discover this within a yea_fter marriage; and that to twelve months’ rapture would succeed a lifetime o_egret.  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 sh_ould sympathise in nothing I aspired to—co-operate in nothing I undertook.
  • Rosamond a sufferer, a labourer, a female apostle?  Rosamond a missionary’_ife?  No!”
  • “But you need not be a missionary.  You might relinquish that scheme.”
  • “Relinquish!  What! my vocation?  My great work?  My foundation laid on eart_or a mansion in heaven?  My hopes of being numbered in the band who hav_erged all ambitions in the glorious one of bettering their race—of carryin_nowledge into the realms of ignorance—of substituting peace for war—freedo_or 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 wha_ have to look forward to, and to live for.”
  • After a considerable pause, I said—“And Miss Oliver?  Are her disappointmen_nd sorrow of no interest to you?”
  • “Miss Oliver is ever surrounded by suitors and flatterers: in less than _onth, my image will be effaced from her heart.  She will forget me; and wil_arry, 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 wastin_way.”
  • “No.  If I get a little thin, it is with anxiety about my prospects, ye_nsettled—my departure, continually procrastinated.  Only this morning, _eceived intelligence that the successor, whose arrival I have been so lon_xpecting, cannot be ready to replace me for three months to come yet; an_erhaps 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 _oman would dare to speak so to a man.  For me, I felt at home in this sort o_iscourse.  I could never rest in communication with strong, discreet, an_efined minds, whether male or female, till I had passed the outworks o_onventional reserve, and crossed the threshold of confidence, and won a plac_y their heart’s very hearthstone.
  • “You are original,” said he, “and not timid.  There is something brave in you_pirit, as well as penetrating in your eye; but allow me to assure you tha_ou partially misinterpret my emotions.  You think them more profound an_otent than they are.  You give me a larger allowance of sympathy than I hav_ just claim to.  When I colour, and when I shade before Miss Oliver, I do no_ity myself.  I scorn the weakness.  I know it is ignoble: a mere fever of th_lesh: not, I declare, the convulsion of the soul.  _That_ is just as fixed a_ rock, firm set in the depths of a restless sea.  Know me to be what I am—_old hard man.”
  • I smiled incredulously.
  • “You have taken my confidence by storm,” he continued, “and now it is much a_our 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 permanen_ower over me.  Reason, and not feeling, is my guide; my ambition i_nlimited: my desire to rise higher, to do more than others, insatiable.  _onour endurance, perseverance, industry, talent; because these are the mean_y which men achieve great ends and mount to lofty eminence.  I watch you_areer with interest, because I consider you a specimen of a diligent, orderly, energetic woman: not because I deeply compassionate what you hav_one 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 _hristian philosopher—a follower of the sect of Jesus.  As His disciple _dopt His pure, His merciful, His benignant doctrines.  I advocate them: I a_worn to spread them.  Won in youth to religion, she has cultivated m_riginal qualities thus:—From the minute germ, natural affection, she ha_eveloped the overshadowing tree, philanthropy.  From the wild stringy root o_uman uprightness, she has reared a due sense of the Divine justice.  Of th_mbition to win power and renown for my wretched self, she has formed th_mbition to spread my Master’s kingdom; to achieve victories for the standar_f the cross.  So much has religion done for me; turning the origina_aterials to the best account; pruning and training nature.  But she could no_radicate nature: nor will it be eradicated ‘till this mortal shall put o_mmortality.’”
  • 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 t_est my hand in painting, to prevent the cardboard from being sullied.  Wha_e suddenly saw on this blank paper, it was impossible for me to tell; bu_omething had caught his eye.  He took it up with a snatch; he looked at th_dge; then shot a glance at me, inexpressibly peculiar, and quit_ncomprehensible: a glance that seemed to take and make note of every point i_y 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, whateve_t was.
  • “What is the matter?” I asked.
  • “Nothing in the world,” was the reply; and, replacing the paper, I saw hi_exterously 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 th_lobe, however!”
  • I, in my turn, scrutinised the paper; but saw nothing on it save a few ding_tains of paint where I had tried the tint in my pencil.  I pondered th_ystery a minute or two; but finding it insolvable, and being certain it coul_ot be of much moment, I dismissed, and soon forgot it.