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The Professor, a novel by Charlotte Bronte


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_ A FINE October morning succeeded to the foggy evening that had
witnessed my first introduction to Crimsworth Hall. I was early
up and walking in the large park-like meadow surrounding the
house. The autumn sun, rising over the ----shire hills,
disclosed a pleasant country; woods brown and mellow varied the
fields from which the harvest had been lately carried; a river,
gliding between the woods, caught on its surface the somewhat
cold gleam of the October sun and sky; at frequent intervals
along the banks of the river, tall, cylindrical chimneys, almost
like slender round towers, indicated the factories which the
trees half concealed; here and there mansions, similar to
Crimsworth Hall, occupied agreeable sites on the hill-side; the
country wore, on the whole, a cheerful, active, fertile look.
Steam, trade, machinery had long banished from it all romance and
seclusion. At a distance of five miles, a valley, opening
between the low hills, held in its cups the great town of X----.
A dense, permanent vapour brooded over this locality--there lay
Edward's "Concern."

I forced my eye to scrutinize this prospect, I forced my mind to
dwell on it for a time, and when I found that it communicated no
pleasurable emotion to my heart--that it stirred in me none of
the hopes a man ought to feel, when he sees laid before him the
scene of his life's career--I said to myself, "William, you are a
rebel against circumstances; you are a fool, and know not what
you want; you have chosen trade and you shall be a tradesman.
Look!" I continued mentally--"Look at the sooty smoke in that
hollow, and know that there is your post! There you cannot dream,
you cannot speculate and theorize--there you shall out and

Thus self-schooled, I returned to the house. My brother was in
the breakfast-room. I met him collectedly--I could not meet him
cheerfully; he was standing on the rug, his back to the fire--how
much did I read in the expression of his eye as my glance
encountered his, when I advanced to bid him good morning; how
much that was contradictory to my nature! He said "Good morning"
abruptly and nodded, and then he snatched, rather than took, a
newspaper from the table, and began to read it with the air of a
master who seizes a pretext to escape the bore of conversing with
an underling. It was well I had taken a resolution to endure for
a time, or his manner would have gone far to render insupportable
the disgust I had just been endeavouring to subdue. I looked at
him: I measured his robust frame and powerful proportions; I saw
my own reflection in the mirror over the mantel-piece; I amused
myself with comparing the two pictures. In face I resembled him,
though I was not so handsome; my features were less regular; I
had a darker eye, and a broader brow--in form I was greatly
inferior--thinner, slighter, not so tall. As an animal, Edward
excelled me far; should he prove as paramount in mind as in
person I must be a slave--for I must expect from him no
lion-like generosity to one weaker than himself; his cold,
avaricious eye, his stern, forbidding manner told me he would not
spare. Had I then force of mind to cope with him? I did not
know; I had never been tried.

Mrs. Crimsworth's entrance diverted my thoughts for a moment.
She looked well, dressed in white, her face and her attire
shining in morning and bridal freshness. I addressed her with
the degree of ease her last night's careless gaiety seemed to
warrant, but she replied with coolness and restraint: her
husband had tutored her; she was not to be too familiar with his

As soon as breakfast was over Mr. Crimsworth intimated to me that
they were bringing the gig round to the door, and that in five
minutes he should expect me to be ready to go down with him to
X----. I did not keep him waiting; we were soon dashing at a
rapid rate along the road. The horse he drove was the same
vicious animal about which Mrs. Crimsworth had expressed her
fears the night before. Once or twice Jack seemed disposed to
turn restive, but a vigorous and determined application of the
whip from the ruthless hand of his master soon compelled him to
submission, and Edward's dilated nostril expressed his triumph in
the result of the contest; he scarcely spoke to me during the
whole of the brief drive, only opening his lips at intervals to
damn his horse.

X---- was all stir and bustle when we entered it; we left the
clean streets where there were dwelling-houses and shops,
churches, and public buildings; we left all these, and turned
down to a region of mills and warehouses; thence we passed
through two massive gates into a great paved yard, and we were in
Bigben Close, and the mill was before us, vomiting soot from its
long chimney, and quivering through its thick brick walls with
the commotion of its iron bowels. Workpeople were passing to and
fro; a waggon was being laden with pieces. Mr. Crimsworth looked
from side to side, and seemed at one glance to comprehend all
that was going on; he alighted, and leaving his horse and gig to
the care of a man who hastened to take the reins from his hand,
he bid me follow him to the counting-house. We entered it; a
very different place from the parlours of Crimsworth Hall--a
place for business, with a bare, planked floor, a safe, two high
desks and stools, and some chairs. A person was seated at one of
the desks, who took off his square cap when Mr. Crimsworth
entered, and in an instant was again absorbed in his occupation
of writing or calculating--I know not which.

Mr, Crimsworth, having removed his mackintosh, sat down by the
fire. I remained standing near the hearth; he said presently--

"Steighton, you may leave the room; I have some business to
transact with this gentleman. Come back when you hear the bell."

The individual at the desk rose and departed, closing the door as
he went out. Mr. Crimsworth stirred the fire, then folded his
arms, and sat a moment thinking, his lips compressed, his brow
knit. I had nothing to do but to watch him--how well his
features were cut! what a handsome man he was! Whence, then, came
that air of contraction--that narrow and hard aspect on his
forehead, in all his lineaments?

Turning to me he began abruptly:-

"You are come down to ----shire to learn to be a tradesman?"

"Yes, I am."

"Have you made up your mind on the point? Let me know that at


"Well, I am not bound to help you, but I have a place here
vacant, if you are qualified for it. I will take you on trial.
What can you do? Do you know anything besides that useless trash
of college learning--Greek, Latin, and so forth?"

"I have studied mathematics."

"Stuff! I dare say you have."

"I can read and write French and German."

"Hum!" He reflected a moment, then opening a drawer in a desk
near him took out a letter, and gave it to me.

"Can you read that?" he asked.

It was a German commercial letter; I translated it; I could not
tell whether he was gratified or not--his countenance remained

"It is well;" he-said, after a pause, "that you are acquainted
with something useful, something that may enable you to earn your
board and lodging: since you know French and German, I will take
you as second clerk to manage the foreign correspondence of the
house. I shall give you a good salary--90l. a year--and now," he
continued, raising his voice, "hear once for all what I have to
say about our relationship, and all that sort of humbug! I must
have no nonsense on that point; it would never suit me. I shall
excuse you nothing on the plea of being my brother; if I find you
stupid, negligent, dissipated, idle, or possessed of any faults
detrimental to the interests of the house, I shall dismiss you as
I would any other clerk. Ninety pounds a year are good wages,
and I expect to have the full value of my money out of you;
remember, too, that things are on a practical footing in my
establishment--business-like habits, feelings, and ideas, suit
me best. Do you understand?"

"Partly," I replied. "I suppose you mean that I am to do my work
for my wages; not to expect favour from you, and not to depend on
you for any help but what I earn; that suits me exactly, and on
these terms I will consent to be your clerk."

I turned on my heel, and walked to the window; this time I did
not consult his face to learn his opinion: what it was I do not
know, nor did I then care. After a silence of some minutes he

"You perhaps expect to be accommodated with apartments at
Crimsworth Hall, and to go and come with me in the gig. I wish
you, however, to be aware that such an arrangement would be quite
inconvenient to me. I like to have the seat in my gig at liberty
for any gentleman whom for business reasons I may wish to take
down to the hall for a night or so. You will seek out lodgings
in X----."

Quitting the window, I walked back to the hearth.

"Of course I shall seek out lodgings in X----," I answered. "It
would not suit me either to lodge at Crimsworth Hall."

My tone was quiet. I always speak quietly. Yet Mr. Crimsworth's
blue eye became incensed; he took his revenge rather oddly.
Turning to me he said bluntly--

"You are poor enough, I suppose; how do you expect to live till
your quarter's salary becomes due?"

"I shall get on," said I.

"How do you expect to live?" he repeated in a louder voice.

"As I can, Mr. Crimsworth."

"Get into debt at your peril! that's all," he answered. "For
aught I know you may have extravagant aristocratic habits: if
you have, drop them; I tolerate nothing of the sort here, and I
will never give you a shilling extra, whatever liabilities you
may incur--mind that."

"Yes, Mr. Crimsworth, you will find I have a good memory."

I said no more. I did not think the time was come for much
parley. I had an instinctive feeling that it would be folly to
let one's temper effervesce often with such a man as Edward. I
said to myself, "I will place my cup under this continual
dropping; it shall stand there still and steady; when full, it
will run over of itself--meantime patience. Two things are
certain. I am capable of performing the work Mr. Crimsworth has
set me; I can earn my wages conscientiously, and those wages are
sufficient to enable me to live. As to the fact of my brother
assuming towards me the bearing of a proud, harsh master, the
fault is his, not mine; and shall his injustice, his bad feeling,
turn me at once aside from the path I have chosen? No; at least,
ere I deviate, I will advance far enough to see whither my career
tends. As yet I am only pressing in at the entrance--a strait
gate enough; it ought to have a good terminus." While I thus
reasoned, Mr. Crimsworth rang a bell; his first clerk, the
individual dismissed previously to our conference,

"Mr. Steighton," said he, "show Mr. William the letters from
Voss, Brothers, and give him English copies of the answers; he
will translate them."

Mr. Steighton, a man of about thirty-five, with a face at once
sly and heavy, hastened to execute this order; he laid the
letters on the desk, and I was soon seated at it, and engaged in
rendering the English answers into German. A sentiment of keen
pleasure accompanied this first effort to earn my own living--a
sentiment neither poisoned nor weakened by the presence of the
taskmaster, who stood and watched me for some time as I wrote. I
thought he was trying to read my character, but I felt as secure
against his scrutiny as if I had had on a casque with the visor
down-or rather I showed him my countenance with the confidence
that one would show an unlearned man a letter written in Greek;
he might see lines, and trace characters, but he could make
nothing of them; my nature was not his nature, and its signs were
to him like the words of an unknown tongue. Ere long he turned
away abruptly, as if baffled, and left the counting-house; he
returned to it but twice in the course of that day; each time he
mixed and swallowed a glass of brandy-and-water, the materials
for making which he extracted from a cupboard on one side of the
fireplace; having glanced at my translations--he could read both
French and German--he went out again in silence. _

Read next: CHAPTER III

Read previous: CHAPTER I

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