"And what is he?"
"He is a parson."
I remembered the answer of the old housekeeper at the parsonage, when I had asked to see the clergyman. "This, then, was his father's residence?"
"Aye; old Mr. Rivers lived here, and his father, and grandfather, and gurt (great) grandfather afore him."
"The name, then, of that gentleman, is Mr. St. John Rivers?"
"Aye; St. John is like his kirstened name."
"And his sisters are called Diana and Mary Rivers?"
"Their father is dead?"
"Dead three weeks sin' of a stroke."
"They have no mother?"
"The mistress has been dead this mony a year."
"Have you lived with the family long?"
"I've lived here thirty year. I nursed them all three."
"That proves you must have been an honest and faithful servant. I will say so much for you, though you have had the incivility to call me a beggar."
She again regarded me with a surprised stare. "I believe," she said, "I was quite mista'en in my thoughts of you: but there is so mony cheats goes about, you mun forgie me."
"And though," I continued, rather severely, "you wished to turn me from the door, on a night when you should not have shut out a dog."
"Well, it was hard: but what can a body do? I thought more o' th' childer nor of mysel: poor things! They've like nobody to tak' care on 'em but me. I'm like to look sharpish."
I maintained a grave silence for some minutes.
"You munnut think too hardly of me," she again remarked.
"But I do think hardly of you," I said; "and I'll tell you why — not so much because you refused to give me shelter, or regarded me as an impostor, as because you just now made it a species of reproach that I had no 'brass' and no house. Some of the best people that ever lived have been as destitute as I am; and if you are a Christian, you ought not to consider poverty a crime."
"No more I ought," said she: "Mr. St. John tells me so too; and I see I wor wrang — but I've clear a different notion on you now to what I had. You look a raight down dacent little crater."
"That will do — I forgive you now. Shake hands."
She put her floury and horny hand into mine; another and heartier smile illumined her rough face, and from that moment we were friends.
Hannah was evidently fond of talking. While I picked the fruit, and she made the paste for the pies, she proceeded to give me sundry details about her deceased master and mistress, and "the childer," as she called the young people.
Old Mr. Rivers, she said, was a plain man enough, but a gentleman, and of as ancient a family as could be found. Marsh End had belonged to the Rivers ever since it was a house: and it was, she affirmed, "aboon two hundred year old — for all it looked but a small, humble place, naught to compare wi' Mr. Oliver's grand hall down i' Morton Vale. But she could remember Bill Oliver's father a journeyman needlemaker; and th' Rivers wor gentry i' th' owd days o' th' Henrys, as onybody might see by looking into th' registers i' Morton Church vestry." Still, she allowed, "the owd maister was like other folk — naught mich out o' t' common way: stark mad o' shooting, and farming, and sich like." The mistress was different. She was a great reader, and studied a deal; and the "bairns" had taken after her. There was nothing like them in these parts, nor ever had been; they had liked learning, all three, almost from the time they could speak; and they had always been "of a mak' of their own." Mr. St. John, when he grew up, would go to college and be a parson; and the girls, as soon as they left school, would seek places as governesses: for they had told her their father had some years ago lost a great deal of money by a man he had trusted turning bankrupt; and as he was now not rich enough to give them fortunes, they must provide for themselves. They had lived very little at home for a long while, and were only come now to stay a few weeks on account of their father's death; but they did so like Marsh End and Morton, and all these moors and hills about. They had been in London, and many other grand towns; but they always said there was no place like home; and then they were so agreeable with each other — never fell out nor "threaped." She did not know where there was such a family for being united.
Having finished my task of gooseberry picking, I asked where the two ladies and their brother were now.
"Gone over to Morton for a walk; but they would be back in half-an-hour to tea."
They returned within the time Hannah had allotted them: they entered by the kitchen door. Mr. St. John, when he saw me, merely bowed and passed through; the two ladies stopped: Mary, in a few words, kindly and calmly expressed the pleasure she felt in seeing me well enough to be able to come down; Diana took my hand: she shook her head at me.
"You should have waited for my leave to descend," she said. "You still look very pale — and so thin! Poor child! — poor girl!"
Diana had a voice toned, to my ear, like the cooing of a dove. She possessed eyes whose gaze I delighted to encounter. Her whole face seemed to me full of charm. Mary's countenance was equally intelligent — her features equally pretty; but her expression was more reserved, and her manners, though gentle, more distant. Diana looked and spoke with a certain authority: she had a will, evidently. It was my nature to feel pleasure in yielding to an authority supported like hers, and to bend, where my conscience and self-respect permitted, to an active will.
"And what business have you here?" she continued. "It is not your place. Mary and I sit in the kitchen sometimes, because at home we like to be free, even to license — but you are a visitor, and must go into the parlour."
"I am very well here."
"Not at all, with Hannah bustling about and covering you with flour."
"Besides, the fire is too hot for you," interposed Mary.
"To be sure," added her sister. "Come, you must be obedient." And still holding my hand she made me rise, and led me into the inner room.