"But you comprehend me?" he said. "It is a village school: your scholars will be only poor girls — cottagers' children — at the best, farmers' daughters. Knitting, sewing, reading, writing, ciphering, will be all you will have to teach. What will you do with your accomplishments? What, with the largest portion of your mind — sentiments — tastes?"
"Save them till they are wanted. They will keep."
"You know what you undertake, then?"
He now smiled: and not a bitter or a sad smile, but one well pleased and deeply gratified.
"And when will you commence the exercise of your function?"
"I will go to my house to-morrow, and open the school, if you like, next week."
"Very well: so be it."
He rose and walked through the room. Standing still, he again looked at me. He shook his head.
"What do you disapprove of, Mr. Rivers?" I asked.
"You will not stay at Morton long: no, no!"
"Why? What is your reason for saying so?"
"I read it in your eye; it is not of that description which promises the maintenance of an even tenor in life."
"I am not ambitious."
He started at the word "ambitious." He repeated, "No. What made you think of ambition? Who is ambitious? I know I am: but how did you find it out?"
"I was speaking of myself."
"Well, if you are not ambitious, you are — " He paused.
"I was going to say, impassioned: but perhaps you would have misunderstood the word, and been displeased. I mean, that human affections and sympathies have a most powerful hold on you. I am sure you cannot long be content to pass your leisure in solitude, and to devote your working hours to a monotonous labour wholly void of stimulus: any more than I can be content," he added, with emphasis, "to live here buried in morass, pent in with mountains — my nature, that God gave me, contravened; my faculties, heaven-bestowed, paralysed — made useless. You hear now how I contradict myself. I, who preached contentment with a humble lot, and justified the vocation even of hewers of wood and drawers of water in God's service — I, His ordained minister, almost rave in my restlessness. Well, propensities and principles must be reconciled by some means."
He left the room. In this brief hour I had learnt more of him than in the whole previous month: yet still he puzzled me.
Diana and Mary Rivers became more sad and silent as the day approached for leaving their brother and their home. They both tried to appear as usual; but the sorrow they had to struggle against was one that could not be entirely conquered or concealed. Diana intimated that this would be a different parting from any they had ever yet known. It would probably, as far as St. John was concerned, be a parting for years: it might be a parting for life.
"He will sacrifice all to his long-framed resolves," she said: "natural affection and feelings more potent still. St. John looks quiet, Jane; but he hides a fever in his vitals. You would think him gentle, yet in some things he is inexorable as death; and the worst of it is, my conscience will hardly permit me to dissuade him from his severe decision: certainly, I cannot for a moment blame him for it. It is right, noble, Christian: yet it breaks my heart!" And the tears gushed to her fine eyes. Mary bent her head low over her work.
"We are now without father: we shall soon be without home and brother," she murmured.
At that moment a little accident supervened, which seemed decreed by fate purposely to prove the truth of the adage, that "misfortunes never come singly," and to add to their distresses the vexing one of the slip between the cup and the lip. St. John passed the window reading a letter. He entered.
"Our uncle John is dead," said he.
Both the sisters seemed struck: not shocked or appalled; the tidings appeared in their eyes rather momentous than afflicting.
"Dead?" repeated Diana.
She riveted a searching gaze on her brother's face. "And what then?" she demanded, in a low voice.
"What then, Die?" he replied, maintaining a marble immobility of feature. "What then? Why — nothing. Read."
He threw the letter into her lap. She glanced over it, and handed it to Mary. Mary perused it in silence, and returned it to her brother. All three looked at each other, and all three smiled — a dreary, pensive smile enough.
"Amen! We can yet live," said Diana at last.
"At any rate, it makes us no worse off than we were before," remarked Mary.
"Only it forces rather strongly on the mind the picture of what might have been," said Mr. Rivers, "and contrasts it somewhat too vividly with what is."
He folded the letter, locked it in his desk, and again went out.
For some minutes no one spoke. Diana then turned to me.
"Jane, you will wonder at us and our mysteries," she said, "and think us hard-hearted beings not to be more moved at the death of so near a relation as an uncle; but we have never seen him or known him. He was my mother's brother. My father and he quarrelled long ago. It was by his advice that my father risked most of his property in the speculation that ruined him. Mutual recrimination passed between them: they parted in anger, and were never reconciled. My uncle engaged afterwards in more prosperous undertakings: it appears he realised a fortune of twenty thousand pounds. He was never married, and had no near kindred but ourselves and one other person, not more closely related than we. My father always cherished the idea that he would atone for his error by leaving his possessions to us; that letter informs us that he has bequeathed every penny to the other relation, with the exception of thirty guineas, to be divided between St. John, Diana, and Mary Rivers, for the purchase of three mourning rings. He had a right, of course, to do as he pleased: and yet a momentary damp is cast on the spirits by the receipt of such news. Mary and I would have esteemed ourselves rich with a thousand pounds each; and to St. John such a sum would have been valuable, for the good it would have enabled him to do."
This explanation given, the subject was dropped, and no further reference made to it by either Mr. Rivers or his sisters. The next day I left Marsh End for Morton. The day after, Diana and Mary quitted it for distant B-. In a week, Mr. Rivers and Hannah repaired to the parsonage: and so the old grange was abandoned.