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.