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The Professor, a novel by Charlotte Bronte


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_ In the course of another fortnight I had seen sufficient of
Frances Evans Henri, to enable me to form a more definite opinion
of her character. I found her possessed in a somewhat remarkable
degree of at least two good points, viz., perseverance and a
sense of duty; I found she was really capable of applying to
study, of contending with difficulties. At first I offered her
the same help which I had always found it necessary to confer on
the others; I began with unloosing for her each knotty point, but
I soon discovered that such help was regarded by my new pupil as
degrading; she recoiled from it with a certain proud impatience.
Hereupon I appointed her long lessons, and left her to solve
alone any perplexities they might present. She set to the task
with serious ardour, and having quickly accomplished one labour,
eagerly demanded more. So much for her perseverance; as to her
sense of duty, it evinced itself thus: she liked to learn, but
hated to teach; her progress as a pupil depended upon herself,
and I saw that on herself she could calculate with certainty; her
success as a teacher rested partly, perhaps chiefly, upon the
will of others; it cost her a most painful effort to enter into
conflict with this foreign will, to endeavour to bend it into
subjection to her own; for in what regarded people in general the
action of her will was impeded by many scruples; it was as
unembarrassed as strong where her own affairs were concerned, and
to it she could at any time subject her inclination, if that
inclination went counter to her convictions of right; yet when
called upon to wrestle with the propensities, the habits, the
faults of others, of children especially, who are deaf to reason,
and, for the most part, insensate to persuasion, her will
sometimes almost refused to act; then came in the sense of duty,
and forced the reluctant will into operation. A wasteful expense
of energy and labour was frequently the consequence; Frances
toiled for and with her pupils like a drudge, but it was long ere
her conscientious exertions were rewarded by anything like
docility on their part, because they saw that they had power over
her, inasmuch as by resisting her painful attempts to convince,
persuade, control--by forcing her to the employment of coercive
measures--they could inflict upon her exquisite suffering.
Human beings--human children especially--seldom deny themselves
the pleasure of exercising a power which they are conscious of
possessing, even though that power consist only in a capacity to
make others wretched; a pupil whose sensations are duller than
those of his instructor, while his nerves are tougher and his
bodily strength perhaps greater, has an immense advantage over
that instructor, and he will generally use it relentlessly,
because the very young, very healthy, very thoughtless, know
neither how to sympathize nor how to spare. Frances, I fear,
suffered much; a continual weight seemed to oppress her spirits;
I have said she did not live in the house, and whether in her own
abode, wherever that might be, she wore the same preoccupied,
unsmiling, sorrowfully resolved air that always shaded her
features under the roof of Mdlle. Reuter, I could not tell.

One day I gave, as a devoir, the trite little anecdote of Alfred
tending cakes in the herdsman's hut, to be related with
amplifications. A singular affair most of the pupils made of it;
brevity was what they had chiefly studied; the majority of the
narratives were perfectly unintelligible; those of Sylvie and
Leonie Ledru alone pretended to anything like sense and
connection. Eulalie, indeed, had hit, upon a clever expedient
for at once ensuring accuracy and saving trouble; she had
obtained access somehow to an abridged history of England, and
had copied the anecdote out fair. I wrote on the margin of her
production "Stupid and deceitful," and then tore it down the

Last in the pile of single-leaved devoirs, I found one of several
sheets, neatly written out and stitched together; I knew the
hand, and scarcely needed the evidence of the signature "Frances
Evans Henri" to confirm my conjecture as to the writer's

Night was my usual time for correcting devoirs, and my own room
the usual scene of such task--task most onerous hitherto; and it
seemed strange to me to feel rising within me an incipient sense
of interest, as I snuffed the candle and addressed myself to the
perusal of the poor teacher's manuscript.

"Now," thought I, "I shall see a glimpse of what she really is; I
shall get an idea of the nature and extent of her powers; not
that she can be expected to express herself well in a foreign
tongue, but still, if she has any mind, here will be a reflection
of it."

The narrative commenced by a description of a Saxon peasant's
hut, situated within the confines of a great, leafless, winter
forest; it represented an evening in December; flakes of snow
were falling, and the herdsman foretold a heavy storm; he
summoned his wife to aid him in collecting their flock, roaming
far away on the pastoral banks of the Thone; he warns her that it
will be late ere they return. The good woman is reluctant to
quit her occupation of baking cakes for the evening meal; but
acknowledging the primary importance of securing the herds and
flocks, she puts on her sheep-skin mantle; and, addressing a
stranger who rests half reclined on a bed of rushes near the
hearth, bids him mind the bread till her return.

"Take care, young man," she continues, "that you fasten the door
well after us; and, above all, open to none in our absence;
whatever sound you hear, stir not, and look not out. The night
will soon fall; this forest is most wild and lonely; strange
noises are often heard therein after sunset; wolves haunt these
glades, and Danish warriors infest the country; worse things are
talked of; you might chance to hear, as it were, a child cry, and
on opening the door to afford it succour, a greet black bull, or
a shadowy goblin dog, might rush over the threshold; or, more
awful still, if something flapped, as with wings, against the
lattice, and then a raven or a white dove flew in and settled on
the hearth, such a visitor would be a sure sign of misfortune to
the house; therefore, heed my advice, and lift the latchet for

Her husband calls her away, both depart. The stranger, left
alone, listens awhile to the muffled snow-wind, the remote,
swollen sound of the river, and then he speaks.

"It is Christmas Eve," says he, "I mark the date; here I sit
alone on a rude couch of rushes, sheltered by the thatch of a
herdsman's hut; I, whose inheritance was a kingdom, owe my
night's harbourage to a poor serf; my throne is usurped, my crown
presses the brow of an invader; I have no friends; my troops
wander broken in the hills of Wales; reckless robbers spoil my
country; my subjects lie prostrate, their breasts crushed by the
heel of the brutal Dane. Fate! thou hast done thy worst, and now
thou standest before me resting thy hand on thy blunted blade.
Ay; I see thine eye confront mine and demand why I still live,
why I still hope. Pagan demon, I credit not thine omnipotence,
and so cannot succumb to thy power. My God, whose Son, as on
this night, took on Him the form of man, and for man vouchsafed
to suffer and bleed, controls thy hand, and without His behest
thou canst not strike a stroke. My God is sinless, eternal,
all-wise--in Him is my trust; and though stripped and crushed by
thee--though naked, desolate, void of resource--I do not
despair, I cannot despair: were the lance of Guthrum now wet
with my blood, I should not despair. I watch, I toil, I hope, I
pray; Jehovah, in his own time, will aid."

I need not continue the quotation; the whole devoir was in the
same strain. There were errors of orthography, there were
foreign idioms, there were some faults of construction, there
were verbs irregular transformed into verbs regular; it was
mostly made up, as the above example shows, of short and somewhat
rude sentences, and the style stood in great need of polish and
sustained dignity; yet such as it was, I had hitherto seen
nothing like it in the course of my professorial experience. The
girl's mind had conceived a picture of the hut, of the two
peasants, of the crownless king; she had imagined the wintry
forest, she had recalled the old Saxon ghost-legends, she had
appreciated Alfred's courage under calamity, she had remembered
his Christian education, and had shown him, with the rooted
confidence of those primitive days, relying on the scriptural
Jehovah for aid against the mythological Destiny. This she had
done without a hint from me: I had given the subject, but not
said a word about the manner of treating it.

"I will find, or make, an opportunity of speaking to her," I said
to myself as I rolled the devoir up; "I will learn what she has
of English in her besides the name of Frances Evans; she is no
novice in the language, that is evident, yet she told me she had
neither been in England, nor taken lessons in English, nor lived
in English families."

In the course of my next lesson, I made a report of the other
devoirs, dealing out praise and blame in very small retail
parcels, according to my custom, for there was no use in blaming
severely, and high encomiums were rarely merited. I said nothing
of Mdlle. Henri's exercise, and, spectacles on nose, I
endeavoured to decipher in her countenance her sentiments at the
omission. I wanted to find out whether in her existed a
consciousness of her own talents. "If she thinks she did a
clever thing in composing that devoir, she will now look
mortified," thought I. Grave as usual, almost sombre, was her
face; as usual, her eyes were fastened on the cahier open before
her; there was something, I thought, of expectation in her
attitude, as I concluded a brief review of the last devoir, and
when, casting it from me and rubbing my hands, I bade them take
their grammars, some slight change did pass over her air and
mien, as though she now relinquished a faint prospect of pleasant
excitement; she had been waiting for something to be discussed in
which she had a degree of interest; the discussion was not to
come on, so expectation sank back, shrunk and sad, but attention,
promptly filling up the void, repaired in a moment the transient
collapse of feature; still, I felt, rather than saw, during the
whole course of the lesson, that a hope had been wrenched from
her, and that if she did not show distress, it was because she
would not.

At four o'clock, when the bell rang and the room was in immediate
tumult, instead of taking my hat and starting from the estrade, I
sat still a moment. I looked at Frances, she was putting her
books into her cabas; having fastened the button, she raised her
head; encountering my eye, she made a quiet, respectful
obeisance, as bidding good afternoon, and was turning to

"Come here," said I, lifting my finger at the same time. She
hesitated; she could not hear the words amidst the uproar now
pervading both school-rooms; I repeated the sign; she approached;
again she paused within half a yard of the estrade, and looked
shy, and still doubtful whether she had mistaken my meaning.

"Step up," I said, speaking with decision. It is the only way of
dealing with diffident, easily embarrassed characters, and with
some slight manual aid I presently got her placed just where
wanted her to be, that is, between my desk and the window, where
she was screened from the rush of the second division, and where
no one could sneak behind her to listen.

"Take a seat," I said, placing a tabouret; and I made her sit
down. I knew what I was doing would be considered a very strange
thing, and, what was more, I did not care. Frances knew it also,
and, I fear, by an appearance of agitation and trembling, that
she cared much. I drew from my pocket the rolled-up devoir.

"This it, yours, I suppose?" said I, addressing her in English,
for I now felt sure she could speak English.

"Yes," she answered distinctly; and as I unrolled it and laid it
out flat on the desk before her with my hand upon it, and a
pencil in that hand, I saw her moved, and, as it were, kindled;
her depression beamed as a cloud might behind which the sun is

"This devoir has numerous faults," said I. "It will take you
some years of careful study before you are in a condition to
write English with absolute correctness. Attend: I will point
out some principal defects." And I went through it carefully,
noting every error, and demonstrating why they were errors, and
how the words or phrases ought to have been written. In the
course of this sobering process she became calm. I now went on:-

"As to the substance of your devoir, Mdlle. Henri, it has
surprised me; I perused it with pleasure, because I saw in it
some proofs of taste and fancy. Taste and fancy are not the
highest gifts of the human mind, but such as they are you possess
them--not probably in a paramount degree, but in a degree beyond
what the majority can boast. You may then take courage;
cultivate the faculties that God and nature have bestowed on you,
and do not fear in any crisis of suffering, under any pressure of
injustice, to derive free and full consolation from the
consciousness of their strength and rarity."

"Strength and rarity!" I repeated to myself; "ay, the words are
probably true," for on looking up, I saw the sun had dissevered
its screening cloud, her countenance was transfigured, a smile
shone in her eyes--a smile almost triumphant; it seemed to say--

"I am glad you have been forced to discover so much of my nature;
you need not so carefully moderate your language. Do you think I
am myself a stranger to myself? What you tell me in terms so
qualified, I have known fully from a child."

She did say this as plainly as a frank and flashing glance could,
but in a moment the glow of her complexion, the radiance of her
aspect, had subsided; if strongly conscious of her talents, she
was equally conscious of her harassing defects, and the
remembrance of these obliterated for a single second, now
reviving with sudden force, at once subdued the too vivid
characters in which her sense of her powers had been expressed.
So quick was the revulsion of feeling, I had not time to cheek
her triumph by reproof; ere I could contract my brows to a frown
she had become serious and almost mournful-looking.

"Thank you, sir," said she, rising. There was gratitude both in
her voice and in the look with which she accompanied it. It was
time, indeed, for our conference to terminate; for, when I
glanced around, behold all the boarders (the day-scholars had
departed) were congregated within a yard or two of my desk, and
stood staring with eyes and mouths wide open; the three
maitresses formed a whispering knot in one corner, and, close at
my elbow, was the directress, sitting on a low chair, calmly
clipping the tassels of her finished purse. _


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