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The Professor, a novel by Charlotte Bronte


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_ THERE is a climax to everything, to every state of feeling as
well as to every position in life. I turned this truism over in
my mind as, in the frosty dawn of a January morning, I hurried
down the steep and now icy street which descended from Mrs.
King's to the Close. The factory workpeople had preceded me by
nearly an hour, and the mill was all lighted up and in full
operation when I reached it. I repaired to my post in the
counting-house as usual; the fire there, but just lit, as yet
only smoked; Steighton had not yet arrived. I shut the door and
sat down at the desk; my hands, recently washed in half-frozen
water, were still numb; I could not write till they had regained
vitality, so I went on thinking, and still the theme of my
thoughts was the "climax." Self-dissatisfaction troubled
exceedingly the current of my meditations.

"Come, William Crimsworth," said my conscience, or whatever it is
that within ourselves takes ourselves to task--"come, get a clear
notion of what you would have, or what you would not have. You
talk of a climax; pray has your endurance reached its climax? It
is not four months old. What a fine resolute fellow you imagined
yourself to be when you told Tynedale you would tread in your
father's steps, and a pretty treading you are likely to make of
it! How well you like X----! Just at this moment how redolent
of pleasant associations are its streets, its shops, its
warehouses, its factories! How the prospect of this day cheers
you! Letter-copying till noon, solitary dinner at your lodgings,
letter-copying till evening, solitude; for you neither find
pleasure in Brown's, nor Smith's, nor Nicholl's, nor Eccle's
company; and as to Hunsden, you fancied there was pleasure to be
derived from his society--he! he! how did you like the taste you
had of him last night? was it sweet? Yet he is a talented, an
original-minded man, and even he does not like you; your
self-respect defies you to like him; he has always seen you to
disadvantage; he always will see you to disadvantage; your
positions are unequal, and were they on the same level your minds
could not; assimilate; never hope, then, to gather the honey of
friendship out of that thorn-guarded plant. Hello, Crimsworth!
where are your thoughts tending? You leave the recollection of
Hunsden as a bee would a rock, as a bird a desert; and your
aspirations spread eager wings towards a land of visions where,
now in advancing daylight--in X---- daylight--you dare to dream
of congeniality, repose, union. Those three you will never meet
in this world; they are angels. The souls of just men made
perfect may encounter them in heaven, but your soul will never be
made perfect. Eight o'clock strikes! your hands are thawed, get
to work!"

"Work? why should I work?" said I sullenly: "I cannot please
though I toil like a slave." "Work, work!" reiterated the inward
voice. "I may work, it will do no good," I growled; but
nevertheless I drew out a packet of letters and commenced my
task--task thankless and bitter as that of the Israelite crawling
over the sun-baked fields of Egypt in search of straw and stubble
wherewith to accomplish his tale of bricks.

About ten o'clock I heard Mr. Crimsworth's gig turn into the
yard, and in a minute or two he entered the counting-house. It
was his custom to glance his eye at Steighton and myself, to hang
up his mackintosh, stand a minute with his back to the fire, and
then walk out. Today he did not deviate from his usual habits;
the only difference was that when he looked at me, his brow,
instead of being merely hard, was surly; his eye, instead of
being cold, was fierce. He studied me a minute or two longer
than usual, but went out in silence.

Twelve o'clock arrived; the bell rang for a suspension of labour;
the workpeople went off to their dinners; Steighton, too,
departed, desiring me to lock the counting-house door, and take
the key with me. I was tying up a bundle of papers, and putting
them in their place, preparatory to closing my desk, when
Crimsworth reappeared at the door, and entering closed it behind

"You'll stay here a minute," said he, in a deep, brutal voice,
while his nostrils distended and his eye shot a spark of sinister

Alone with Edward I remembered our relationship, and remembering
that forgot the difference of position; I put away deference and
careful forms of speech; I answered with simple brevity.

"It is time to go home," I said, turning the key in my desk.

"You'll stay here!" he reiterated. "And take your hand off that
key! leave it in the lock!"

"Why?" asked I. "What cause is there for changing my usual

"Do as I order," was the answer, "and no questions! You are my
servant, obey me! What have you been about--?" He was going on
in the same breath, when an abrupt pause announced that rage had
for the moment got the better of articulation.

"You may look, if you wish to know," I replied. "There is the
open desk, there are the papers."

"Confound your insolence! What have you been about?"

"Your work, and have done it well."

"Hypocrite and twaddler! Smooth-faced, snivelling greasehorn!"
(this last term is, I believe, purely ---shire, and alludes to
the horn of black, rancid whale-oil, usually to be seen suspended
to cart-wheels, and employed for greasing the same.)

"Come, Edward Crimsworth, enough of this. It is time you and I
wound up accounts. I have now given your service three months'
trial, and I find it the most nauseous slavery under the sun.
Seek another clerk. I stay no longer."

"What I do you dare to give me notice? Stop at least for your
wages." He took down the heavy gig whip hanging beside his

I permitted myself to laugh with a degree of scorn I took no
pains to temper or hide. His fury boiled up, and when he had
sworn half-a-dozen vulgar, impious oaths, without, however,
venturing to lift the whip, he continued :-

"I've found you out and know you thoroughly, you mean, whining
lickspittle! What have you been saying all over X---- about me?
answer me that!"

"You? I have neither inclination nor temptation to talk about

"You lie! It is your practice to talk about me; it is your
constant habit to make public complaint of the treatment you
receive at my hands. You have gone and told it far and near that
I give you low wages and knock you about like a dog. I wish you
were a dog! I'd set-to this minute, and never stir from the spot
till I'd cut every strip of flesh from your bones with this whip.

He flourished his tool. The end of the lash just touched my
forehead. A warm excited thrill ran through my veins, my blood
seemed to give abound, and then raced fast and hot along its
channels. I got up nimbly, came round to where he stood, and
faced him.

"Down with your whip!" said I, "and explain this instant what you

"Sirrah! to whom are you speaking?"

"To you. There is no one else present, I think. You say I have
been calumniating you--complaining of your low wages and bad
treatment. Give your grounds for these assertions."

Crimsworth had no dignity, and when I sternly demanded an
explanation, he gave one in a loud, scolding voice.

"Grounds I you shall have them; and turn to the light that I may
see your brazen face blush black, when you hear yourself proved
to be a liar and a hypocrite. At a public meeting in the
Town-hall yesterday, I had the pleasure of hearing myself
insulted by the speaker opposed to me in the question under
discussion, by allusions to my private affairs; by cant about
monsters without natural affection, family despots, and such
trash; and when I rose to answer, I was met by a shout from the
filthy mob, where the mention of your name enabled me at once to
detect the quarter in which this base attack had originated. When
I looked round, I saw that treacherous villain, Hunsden acting as
fugleman. I detected you in close conversation with Hunsden at
my house a month ago, and I know that you were at Hunsden's rooms
last night. Deny it if you dare."

"Oh, I shall not deny it! And if Hunsden hounded on the people
to hiss you, he did quite right. You deserve popular execration;
for a worse man, a harder master, a more brutal brother than you
are has seldom existed."

"Sirrah! sirrah!" reiterated Crimsworth; and to complete his
apostrophe, he cracked the whip straight over my head.

A minute sufficed to wrest it from him, break it in two pieces,
and throw it under the grate. He made a headlong rush at me,
which I evaded, and said--

"Touch me, and I'll have you up before the nearest magistrate."

Men like Crimsworth, if firmly and calmly resisted, always abate
something of their exorbitant insolence; he had no mind to be
brought before a magistrate, and I suppose he saw I meant what I
said. After an odd and long stare at me, at once bull-like and
amazed, he seemed to bethink himself that, after all, his money
gave him sufficient superiority over a beggar like me, and that
he had in his hands a surer and more dignified mode of revenge
than the somewhat hazardous one of personal chastisement.

"Take your hat," said he. "Take what belongs to you, and go out
at that door; get away to your parish, you pauper: beg, steal,
starve, get transported, do what you like; but at your peril
venture again into my sight! If ever I hear of your setting foot
on an inch of ground belonging to me, I'll hire a man to cane

"It is not likely you'll have the chance; once off your premises,
what temptation can I have to return to them? I leave a prison, I
leave a tyrant; I leave what is worse than the worst that can lie
before me, so no fear of my coming back."

"Go, or I'll make you!" exclaimed Crimsworth.

I walked deliberately to my desk, took out such of its contents
as were my own property, put them in my pocket, locked the desk,
and placed the key on the top.

"What are you abstracting from that desk?" demanded the
millowner. "Leave all behind in its place, or I'll send for a
policeman to search you."

"Look sharp about it, then," said I, and I took down my hat, drew
on my gloves, and walked leisurely out of the counting-house
--walked out of it to enter it no more.

I recollect that when the mill-bell rang the dinner hour, before
Mr. Crimsworth entered, and the scene above related took place, I
had had rather a sharp appetite, and had been waiting somewhat
impatiently to hear the signal of feeding time. I forgot it now,
however; the images of potatoes and roast mutton were effaced
from my mind by the stir and tumult which the transaction of the
last half-hour had there excited. I only thought of walking,
that the action of my muscles might harmonize with the action of
my nerves; and walk I did, fast and far. How could I do
otherwise? A load was lifted off my heart; I felt light and
liberated. I had got away from Bigben Close without a breach of
resolution; without injury to my self-respect. I had not forced
circumstances; circumstances had freed me. Life was again open
to me; no longer was its horizon limited by the high black wall
surrounding Crimsworth's mill. Two hours had elapsed before my
sensations had so far subsided as to leave me calm enough to
remark for what wider and clearer boundaries I had exchanged that
sooty girdle. When I did look up, lo! straight before me lay
Grovetown, a village of villas about five miles out of X----. The
short winter day, as I perceived from the far-declined sun, was
already approaching its close; a chill frost-mist was rising from
the river on which X---- stands, and along whose banks the road I
had taken lay; it dimmed the earth, but did not obscure the clear
icy blue of the January sky. There was a great stillness near
and far; the time of the day favoured tranquillity, as the people
were all employed within-doors, the hour of evening release from
the factories not being yet arrived; a sound of full-flowing
water alone pervaded the air, for the river was deep and
abundant, swelled by the melting of a late snow. I stood awhile,
leaning over a wall; and looking down at the current: I watched
the rapid rush of its waves. I desired memory to take a clear and
permanent impression of the scene, and treasure it for future
years. Grovetown church clock struck four; looking up, I beheld
the last of that day's sun, glinting red through the leafless
boughs of some very old oak trees surrounding the church--its
light coloured and characterized the picture as I wished. I
paused yet a moment, till the sweet, slow sound of the bell had
quite died out of the air; then ear, eye and feeling satisfied, I
quitted the wall and once more turned my face towards X----. _

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