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The Professor, a novel by Charlotte Bronte


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_ THE other day, in looking over my papers, I found in my desk the
following copy of a letter, sent by me a year since to an old
school acquaintance:--

"I think when you and I were at Eton together, we were neither of
us what could be called popular characters: you were a
sarcastic, observant, shrewd, cold-blooded creature; my own
portrait I will not attempt to draw, but I cannot recollect that
it was a strikingly attractive one--can you? What animal
magnetism drew thee and me together I know not; certainly I never
experienced anything of the Pylades and Orestes sentiment for
you, and I have reason to believe that you, on your part, were
equally free from all romantic regard to me. Still, out of
school hours we walked and talked continually together; when the
theme of conversation was our companions or our masters we
understood each other, and when I recurred to some sentiment of
affection, some vague love of an excellent or beautiful object,
whether in animate or inanimate nature, your sardonic coldness
did not move me. I felt myself superior to that check THEN as I
do NOW.

"It is a long time since I wrote to you, and a still longer time
since I saw you. Chancing to take up a newspaper of your county
the other day, my eye fell upon your name. I began to think of
old times; to run over the events which have transpired since we
separated; and I sat down and commenced this letter. What you
have been doing I know not; but you shall hear, if you choose to
listen, how the world has wagged with me.

"First, after leaving Eton, I had an interview with my maternal
uncles, Lord Tynedale and the Hon. John Seacombe. They asked me
if I would enter the Church, and my uncle the nobleman offered me
the living of Seacombe, which is in his gift, if I would; then my
other uncle, Mr. Seacombe, hinted that when I became rector of
Seacombe-cum-Scaife, I might perhaps be allowed to take, as
mistress of my house and head of my parish, one of my six
cousins, his daughters, all of whom I greatly dislike.

"I declined both the Church and matrimony. A good clergyman is a
good thing, but I should have made a very bad one. As to the
wife--oh how like a night-mare is the thought of being bound for
life to one of my cousins! No doubt they are accomplished and
pretty; but not an accomplishment, not a charm of theirs,
touches a chord in my bosom. To think of passing the winter
evenings by the parlour fire-side of Seacombe Rectory alone with
one of them--for instance, the large and well-modelled statue,
Sarah--no; I should be a bad husband, under such circumstances,
as well as a bad clergyman.

"When I had declined my uncles' offers they asked me 'what I
intended to do?' I said I should reflect. They reminded me that
I had no fortune, and no expectation of any, and, after a
considerable pause, Lord Tynedale demanded sternly, 'Whether I
had thoughts of following my father's steps and engaging in
trade?' Now, I had had no thoughts of the sort. I do not think
that my turn of mind qualifies me to make a good tradesman; my
taste, my ambition does not lie in that way; but such was the
scorn expressed in Lord Tynedale's countenance as he pronounced
the word TRADE--such the contemptuous sarcasm of his tone--that I
was instantly decided. My father was but a name to me, yet that
name I did not like to hear mentioned with a sneer to my very
face. I answered then, with haste and warmth, 'I cannot do
better than follow in my father's steps; yes, I will be a
tradesman.' My uncles did not remonstrate; they and I parted
with mutual disgust. In reviewing this transaction, I find that
I was quite right to shake off the burden of Tynedale's
patronage, but a fool to offer my shoulders instantly for the
reception of another burden--one which might be more intolerable,
and which certainly was yet untried.

"I wrote instantly to Edward--you know Edward--my only brother,
ten years my senior, married to a rich mill-owner's daughter, and
now possessor of the mill and business which was my father's
before he failed. You are aware that my father-once reckoned a
Croesus of wealth--became bankrupt a short time previous to his
death, and that my mother lived in destitution for some six
months after him, unhelped by her aristocratical brothers, whom
she had mortally offended by her union with Crimsworth, the
----shire manufacturer. At the end of the six months she brought
me into the world, and then herself left it without, I should
think, much regret, as it contained little hope or comfort for

"My father's relations took charge of Edward, as they did of me,
till I was nine years old. At that period it chanced that the
representation of an important borough in our county fell vacant;
Mr. Seacombe stood for it. My uncle Crimsworth, an astute
mercantile man, took the opportunity of writing a fierce letter
to the candidate, stating that if he and Lord Tynedale did not
consent to do something towards the support of their sister's
orphan children, he would expose their relentless and malignant
conduct towards that sister, and do his best to turn the
circumstances against Mr. Seacombe's election. That gentleman
and Lord T. knew well enough that the Crimsworths were an
unscrupulous and determined race; they knew also that they had
influence in the borough of X----; and, making a virtue of
necessity, they consented to defray the expenses of my education.
I was sent to Eton, where I remained ten years, during which
space of time Edward and I never met. He, when he grew up,
entered into trade, and pursued his calling with such diligence,
ability, and success, that now, in his thirtieth year, he was
fast making a fortune. Of this I was apprised by the occasional
short letters I received from him, some three or four times a
year; which said letters never concluded without some expression
of determined enmity against the house of Seacombe, and some
reproach to me for living, as he said, on the bounty of that
house. At first, while still in boyhood, I could not understand
why, as I had no parents, I should not be indebted to my uncles
Tynedale and Seacombe for my education; but as I grew up, and
heard by degrees of the persevering hostility, the hatred till
death evinced by them against my father--of the sufferings of my
mother--of all the wrongs, in short, of our house--then did I
conceive shame of the dependence in which I lived, and form a
resolution no more to take bread from hands which had refused to
minister to the necessities of my dying mother. It was by these
feelings I was influenced when I refused the Rectory of
Seacombe, and the union with one of my patrician cousins.

"An irreparable breach thus being effected between my uncles and
myself, I wrote to Edward; told him what had occurred, and
informed him of my intention to follow his steps and be a
tradesman. I asked, moreover, if he could give me employment.
His answer expressed no approbation of my conduct, but he said I
might come down to ----shire, if I liked, and he would 'see what
could be done in the way of furnishing me with work.' I
repressed all--even mental comment on his note--packed my trunk
and carpet-bag, and started for the North directly.

"After two days' travelling (railroads were not then in
existence) I arrived, one wet October afternoon, in the town of
X----. I had always understood that Edward lived in this town,
but on inquiry I found that it was only Mr. Crimsworth's mill and
warehouse which were situated in the smoky atmosphere of Bigben
Close; his RESIDENCE lay four miles out, in the country.

"It was late in the evening when I alighted at the gates of the
habitation designated to me as my brother's. As I advanced up
the avenue, I could see through the shades of twilight, and the
dark gloomy mists which deepened those shades, that the house was
large, and the grounds surrounding it sufficiently spacious. I
paused a moment on the lawn in front, and leaning my back against
a tall tree which rose in the centre, I gazed with interest on
the exterior of Crimsworth Hall.

"Edward is rich," thought I to myself. 'I believed him to be
doing well--but I did not know he was master of a mansion like
this.' Cutting short all marvelling; speculation, conjecture,
&c.;, I advanced to the front door and rang. A man-servant opened
it--I announced myself--he relieved me of my wet cloak and
carpet-bag, and ushered me into a room furnished as a library,
where there was a bright fire and candles burning on the table;
he informed me that his master was not yet returned from X----
market, but that he would certainly be at home in the course of
half an hour.

"Being left to myself, I took the stuffed easy chair, covered
with red morocco, which stood by the fireside, and while my eyes
watched the flames dart from the glowing coals, and the cinders
fall at intervals on the hearth, my mind busied itself in
conjectures concerning the meeting about to take place. Amidst
much that was doubtful in the subject of these conjectures, there
was one thing tolerably certain--I was in no danger of
encountering severe disappointment; from this, the moderation of
my expectations guaranteed me. I anticipated no overflowings of
fraternal tenderness; Edward's letters had always been such as to
prevent the engendering or harbouring of delusions of this sort.
Still, as I sat awaiting his arrival, I felt eager--very eager--I
cannot tell you why; my hand, so utterly a stranger to the grasp
of a kindred hand, clenched itself to repress the tremor with
which impatience would fain have shaken it.

"I thought of my uncles; and as I was engaged in wondering
whether Edward's indifference would equal the cold disdain I had
always experienced from them, I heard the avenue gates open:
wheels approached the house; Mr. Crimsworth was arrived; and
after the lapse of some minutes, and a brief dialogue between
himself and his servant in the hall, his tread drew near the
library door--that tread alone announced the master of the house.

"I still retained some confused recollection of Edward as he was
ten years ago--a tall, wiry, raw youth; NOW, as I rose from my
seat and turned towards the library door, I saw a fine-looking
and powerful man, light-complexioned, well-made, and of athletic
proportions; the first glance made me aware of an air of
promptitude and sharpness, shown as well in his movements as in
his port, his eye, and the general expression of his face. He
greeted me with brevity, and, in the moment of shaking hands,
scanned me from head to foot; he took his seat in the morocco
covered arm-chair, and motioned me to another sent.

"'I expected you would have called at the counting-house in the
Close,' said he; and his voice, I noticed, had an abrupt accent,
probably habitual to him; he spoke also with a guttural northern
tone, which sounded harsh in my ears, accustomed to the silvery
utterance of the South.

"'The landlord of the inn, where the coach stopped, directed me
here,' said I. 'I doubted at first the accuracy of his
information, not being aware that you had such a residence as

"'Oh, it is all right!' he replied, 'only I was kept half an hour
behind time, waiting for you--that is all. I thought you must
be coming by the eight o'clock coach.'

"I expressed regret that he had had to wait; he made no answer,
but stirred the fire, as if to cover a movement of impatience;
then he scanned me again.

"I felt an inward satisfaction that I had not, in the first
moment of meeting, betrayed any warmth, any enthusiasm; that I
had saluted this man with a quiet and steady phlegm.

"'Have you quite broken with Tynedale and Seacombe?' he asked

"'I do not think I shall have any further communication with
them; my refusal of their proposals will, I fancy, operate as a
barrier against all future intercourse.'

"'Why,' said he, 'I may as well remind you at the very outset of
our connection, that "no man can serve two masters."
Acquaintance with Lord Tynedale will be incompatible with
assistance from me.' There was a kind of gratuitous menace in
his eye as he looked at me in finishing this observation.

"Feeling no disposition to reply to him, I contented myself with
an inward speculation on the differences which exist in the
constitution of men's minds. I do not know what inference Mr.
Crimsworth drew from my silence--whether he considered it a
symptom of contumacity or an evidence of my being cowed by his
peremptory manner. After a long and hard stare at me, he rose
sharply from his seat.

"'To-morrow,' said he, 'I shall call your attention to some
other points; but now it is supper time, and Mrs. Crimsworth is
probably waiting; will you come?'

"He strode from the room, and I followed. In crossing the hall,
I wondered what Mrs. Crimsworth might be. 'Is she,' thought I,
'as alien to what I like as Tynedale, Seacombe, the Misses
Seacombe--as the affectionate relative now striding before me? or
is she better than these? Shall I, in conversing with her, feel
free to show something of my real nature; or --' Further
conjectures were arrested by my entrance into the dining-room.

"A lamp, burning under a shade of ground-glass, showed a handsome
apartment, wainscoted with oak; supper was laid on the table; by
the fire-place, standing as if waiting our entrance, appeared a
lady; she was young, tall, and well shaped; her dress was
handsome and fashionable: so much my first glance sufficed to
ascertain. A gay salutation passed between her and Mr.
Crimsworth; she chid him, half playfully, half poutingly, for
being late; her voice (I always take voices into the account in
judging of character) was lively--it indicated, I thought, good
animal spirits. Mr. Crimsworth soon checked her animated
scolding with a kiss--a kiss that still told of the bridegroom
(they had not yet been married a year); she took her seat at the
supper-table in first-rate spirits. Perceiving me, she begged my
pardon for not noticing me before, and then shook hands with me,
as ladies do when a flow of good-humour disposes them to be
cheerful to all, even the most indifferent of their acquaintance.
It was now further obvious to me that she had a good complexion,
and features sufficiently marked but agreeable; her hair was red
--quite red. She and Edward talked much, always in a vein of
playful contention; she was vexed, or pretended to be vexed, that
he had that day driven a vicious horse in the gig, and he made
light of her fears. Sometimes she appealed to me.

"'Now, Mr. William, isn't it absurd in Edward to talk so? He says
he will drive Jack, and no other horse, and the brute has thrown
him twice already.

"She spoke with a kind of lisp, not disagreeable, but childish.
I soon saw also that there was more than girlish--a somewhat
infantine expression in her by no means small features; this lisp
and expression were, I have no doubt, a charm in Edward's eyes,
and would be so to those: of most men, but they were not to
mine. I sought her eye, desirous to read there the intelligence
which I could not discern in her face or hear in her
conversation; it was merry, rather small; by turns I saw
vivacity, vanity, coquetry, look out through its irid, but I
watched in vain for a glimpse of soul. I am no Oriental; white
necks, carmine lips and cheeks, clusters of bright curls, do not
suffice for me without that Promethean spark which will live
after the roses and lilies are faded, the burnished hair grown
grey. In sunshine, in prosperity, the flowers are very well; but
how many wet days are there in life--November seasons of
disaster, when a man's hearth and home would be cold indeed,
without the clear, cheering gleam of intellect.

"Having perused the fair page of Mrs. Crimsworth's face, a deep,
involuntary sigh announced my disappointment; she took it as a
homage to her beauty, and Edward, who was evidently proud of his
rich and handsome young wife, threw on me a glance--half
ridicule, half ire.

"I turned from them both, and gazing wearily round the room, I
saw two pictures set in the oak panelling--one on each side the
mantel-piece. Ceasing to take part in the bantering conversation
that flowed on between Mr. and Mrs. Crimsworth, I bent my
thoughts to the examination of these pictures. They were
portraits--a lady and a gentleman, both costumed in the fashion
of twenty years ago. The gentleman was in the shade. I could
not see him well. The lady had the benefit of a full beam from
the softly shaded lamp. I presently recognised her; I had seen
this picture before in childhood; it was my mother; that and the
companion picture being the only heir-looms saved out of the sale
of my father's property.

"The face, I remembered, had pleased me as a boy, but then I did
not understand it; now I knew how rare that class of face is in
the world, and I appreciated keenly its thoughtful, yet gentle
expression. The serious grey eye possessed for me a strong
charm, as did certain lines in the features indicative of most
true and tender feeling. I was sorry it was only a picture.

"I soon left Mr. and Mrs. Crimsworth to themselves; a servant
conducted me to my bed-room; in closing my chamber-door, I shut
out all intruders--you, Charles, as well as the rest.

"Good-bye for the present,

To this letter I never got an answer; before my old friend
received it, he had accepted a Government appointment in one of
the colonies, and was already on his way to the scene of his
official labours. What has become of him since, I know not.

The leisure time I have at command, and which I intended to
employ for his private benefit, I shall now dedicate to that of
the public at large. My narrative is not exciting, and above
all, not marvellous; but it may interest some individuals, who,
having toiled in the same vocation as myself, will find in my
experience frequent reflections of their own. The above letter
will serve as an introduction. I now proceed. _

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