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The Professor, a novel by Charlotte Bronte


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_ NEXT morning I rose with the dawn, and having dressed myself and
stood half-an-hour, my elbow leaning on the chest of drawers,
considering what means I should adopt to restore my spirits,
fagged with sleeplessness, to their ordinary tone--for I had no
intention of getting up a scene with M. Pelet, reproaching him
with perfidy, sending him a challenge, or performing other
gambadoes of the sort--I hit at last on the expedient of walking
out in the cool of the morning to a neighbouring establishment of
baths, and treating myself to a bracing plunge. The remedy
produced the desired effect. I came back at seven o'clock
steadied and invigorated, and was able to greet M. Pelet, when he
entered to breakfast, with an unchanged and tranquil countenance;
even a cordial offering of the hand and the flattering
appellation of "mon fils," pronounced in that caressing tone with
which Monsieur had, of late days especially, been accustomed to
address me, did not elicit any external sign of the feeling
which, though subdued, still glowed at my heart. Not that I
nursed vengeance--no; but the sense of insult and treachery lived
in me like a kindling, though as yet smothered coal. God knows I
am not by nature vindictive; I would not hurt a man because I can
no longer trust or like him; but neither my reason nor feelings
are of the vacillating order--they are not of that sand-like sort
where impressions, if soon made, are as soon effaced. Once
convinced that my friend's disposition is incompatible with my
own, once assured that he is indelibly stained with certain
defects obnoxious to my principles, and I dissolve the
connection. I did so with Edward. As to Pelet, the discovery
was yet new; should I act thus with him? It was the question I
placed before my mind as I stirred my cup of coffee with a
half-pistolet (we never had spoons), Pelet meantime being seated
opposite, his pallid face looking as knowing and more haggard
than usual, his blue eye turned, now sternly on his boys and
ushers, and now graciously on me.

"Circumstances must guide me," said I; and meeting Pelet's false
glance and insinuating smile, I thanked heaven that I had last
night opened my window and read by the light of a full moon the
true meaning of that guileful countenance. I felt half his
master, because the reality of his nature was now known to me;
smile and flatter as he would, I saw his soul lurk behind his
smile, and heard in every one of his smooth phrases a voice
interpreting their treacherous import.

But Zoraide Reuter? Of course her defection had cut me to the
quick? That stint; must have gone too deep for any consolations
of philosophy to be available in curing its smart? Not at all.
The night fever over, I looked about for balm to that wound also,
and found some nearer home than at Gilead. Reason was my
physician; she began by proving that the prize I had missed was
of little value: she admitted that, physically, Zoraide might
have suited me, but affirmed that our souls were not in harmony,
and that discord must have resulted from the union of her mind
with mine. She then insisted on the suppression of all repining,
and commanded me rather to rejoice that I had escaped a snare.
Her medicament did me good. I felt its strengthening effect when
I met the directress the next day; its stringent operation on the
nerves suffered no trembling, no faltering; it enabled me to face
her with firmness, to pass her with ease. She had held out her
hand to me--that I did not choose to see. She had greeted me
with a charming smile--it fell on my heart like light on stone.
I passed on to the estrade, she followed me; her eye, fastened on
my face, demanded of every feature the meaning of my changed and
careless manner. "I will give her an answer," thought I; and,
meeting her gaze full, arresting, fixing her glance, I shot into
her eyes, from my own, a look, where there was no respect, no
love, no tenderness, no gallantry; where the strictest analysis
could detect nothing but scorn, hardihood, irony. I made her
bear it, and feel it; her steady countenance did not change, but
her colour rose, and she approached me as if fascinated. She
stepped on to the estrade, and stood close by my side; she had
nothing to say. I would not relieve her embarrassment, and
negligently turned over the leaves of a book.

"I hope you feel quite recovered to-day," at last she said, in a
low tone.

"And I, mademoiselle, hope that you took no cold last night in
consequence of your late walk in the garden."

Quick enough of comprehension, she understood me directly; her
face became a little blanched--a very little--but no muscle in
her rather marked features moved; and, calm and self-possessed,
she retired from the estrade, taking her seat quietly at a little
distance, and occupying herself with netting a purse. I
proceeded to give my lesson; it was a "Composition," i.e., I
dictated certain general questions, of which the pupils were to
compose the answers from memory, access to books being forbidden.
While Mdlle. Eulalie, Hortense, Caroline, &c.;, were pondering
over the string of rather abstruse grammatical interrogatories I
had propounded, I was at liberty to employ the vacant half hour
in further observing the directress herself. The green silk
purse was progressing fast in her hands; her eyes were bent upon
it; her attitude, as she sat netting within two yards of me, was
still yet guarded; in her whole person were expressed at once,
and with equal clearness, vigilance and repose--a rare union!
Looking at her, I was forced, as I had often been before, to
offer her good sense, her wondrous self-control, the tribute of
involuntary admiration. She had felt that I had withdrawn from
her my esteem; she had seen contempt and coldness in my eye, and
to her, who coveted the approbation of all around her, who
thirsted after universal good opinion, such discovery must have
been an acute wound. I had witnessed its effect in the momentary
pallor of her cheek-cheek unused to vary; yet how quickly, by
dint of self-control, had she recovered her composure! With what
quiet dignity she now sat, almost at my side, sustained by her
sound and vigorous sense; no trembling in her somewhat
lengthened, though shrewd upper lip, no coward shame on her
austere forehead!

"There is metal there," I said, as I gazed. "Would that there
were fire also, living ardour to make the steel glow--then I
could love her."

Presently I discovered that she knew I was watching her, for she
stirred not, she lifted not her crafty eyelid; she had glanced
down from her netting to her small foot, peeping from the soft
folds of her purple merino gown; thence her eye reverted to her
hand, ivory white, with a bright garnet ring on the forefinger,
and a light frill of lace round the wrist; with a scarcely
perceptible movement she turned her head, causing her nut-brown
curls to wave gracefully. In these slight signs I read that the
wish of her heart, the design of her brain, was to lure back the
game she had scared. A little incident gave her the opportunity
of addressing me again.

While all was silence in the class--silence, but for the rustling
of copy-books and the travelling of pens over their pages--a leaf
of the large folding-door, opening from the hall, unclosed,
admitting a pupil who, after making a hasty obeisance, ensconced
herself with some appearance of trepidation, probably occasioned
by her entering so late, in a vacant seat at the desk nearest the
door. Being seated, she proceeded, still with an air of hurry
and embarrassment, to open her cabas, to take out her books; and,
while I was waiting for her to look up, in order to make out her
identity--for, shortsighted as I was, I had not recognized her at
her entrance--Mdlle. Reuter, leaving her chair, approached the

"Monsieur Creemsvort," said she, in a whisper: for when the
schoolrooms were silent, the directress always moved with velvet
tread, and spoke in the most subdued key, enforcing order and
stillness fully as much by example as precept: "Monsieur
Creemsvort, that young person, who has just entered, wishes to
have the advantage of taking lessons with you in English; she is
not a pupil of the house; she is, indeed, in one sense, a
teacher, for she gives instruction in lace-mending, and in little
varieties of ornamental needle-work. She very properly proposes
to qualify herself for a higher department of education, and has
asked permission to attend your lessons, in order to perfect her
knowledge of English, in which language she has, I believe,
already made some progress; of course it is my wish to aid her in
an effort so praiseworthy; you will permit her then to benefit by
your instruction--n'est ce pas, monsieur?" And Mdlle. Reuter's
eyes were raised to mine with a look at once naive, benign, and

I replied, "Of course," very laconically, almost abruptly.

"Another word," she said, with softness: "Mdlle. Henri has not
received a regular education; perhaps her natural talents are not
of the highest order: but I can assure you of the excellence of
her intentions, and even of the amiability of her disposition.
Monsieur will then, I am sure, have the goodness to be
considerate with her at first, and not expose her backwardness,
her inevitable deficiencies, before the young ladies, who, in a
sense, are her pupils. Will Monsieur Creemsvort favour me by
attending to this hint?" I nodded. She continued with subdued

"Pardon me, monsieur, if I venture to add that what I have just
said is of importance to the poor girl; she already experiences
great difficulty in impressing these giddy young things with a
due degree of deference for her authority, and should that
difficulty be increased by new discoveries of her incapacity, she
might find her position in my establishment too painful to be
retained; a circumstance I should much regret for her sake, as
she can ill afford to lose the profits of her occupation here."

Mdlle. Reuter possessed marvellous tact; but tact the most
exclusive, unsupported by sincerity, will sometimes fail of its
effect; thus, on this occasion, the longer she preached about the
necessity of being indulgent to the governess pupil, the more
impatient I felt as I listened. I discerned so clearly that
while her professed motive was a wish to aid the dull, though
well-meaning Mdlle. Henri, her real one was no other than a
design to impress me with an idea of her own exalted goodness and
tender considerateness; so having again hastily nodded assent to
her remarks, I obviated their renewal by suddenly demanding the
compositions, in a sharp accent, and stepping from the estrade, I
proceeded to collect them. As I passed the governess-pupil, I
said to her--

"You have come in too late to receive a lesson to-day; try to be
more punctual next time."

I was behind her, and could not read in her face the effect of my
not very civil speech. Probably I should not have troubled
myself to do so, had I been full in front; but I observed that
she immediately began to slip her books into her cabas again;
and, presently, after I had returned to the estrade, while I was
arranging the mass of compositions, I heard the folding-door
again open and close; and, on looking up, I perceived her place
vacant. I thought to myself, "She will consider her first attempt
at taking a lesson in English something of a failure;" and I
wondered whether she had departed in the sulks, or whether
stupidity had induced her to take my words too literally, or,
finally, whether my irritable tone had wounded her feelings. The
last notion I dismissed almost as soon as I had conceived it, for
not having seen any appearance of sensitiveness in any human face
since my arrival in Belgium, I had begun to regard it almost as a
fabulous quality. Whether her physiognomy announced it I could
not tell, for her speedy exit had allowed me no time to ascertain
the circumstance. I had, indeed, on two or three previous
occasions, caught a passing view of her (as I believe has been
mentioned before); but I had never stopped to scrutinize either
her face or person, and had but the most vague idea of her
general appearance. Just as I had finished rolling up the
compositions, the four o'clock bell rang; with my accustomed
alertness in obeying that signal, I grasped my hat and evacuated
the premises. _

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