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The Professor - Chapter XX Post by :lucie101 Category :Long Stories Author :Charlotte Bronte Date :January 2011 Read :3285

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The Professor - Chapter XX

A COMPETENCY was what I wanted; a competency it was now my aim
and resolve to secure; but never had I been farther from the
mark. With August the school-year (l'annee scolaire) closed, the
examinations concluded, the prizes were adjudged, the schools
dispersed, the gates of all colleges, the doors of all
pensionnats shut, not to be reopened till the beginning or middle
of October. The last day of August was at hand, and what was my
position? Had I advanced a step since the commencement of the
past quarter? On the contrary, I had receded one. By renouncing
my engagement as English master in Mdlle. Reuter's establishment,
I had voluntarily cut off 20l. from my yearly income; I had
diminished my 60l. per annum to 40l., and even that sum I now
held by a very precarious tenure.

It is some time since I made any reference to M. Pelet. The
moonlight walk is, I think, the last incident recorded in this
narrative where that gentleman cuts any conspicuous figure: the
fact is, since that event, a change had come over the spirit of
our intercourse. He, indeed, ignorant that the still hour, a
cloudless moon, and an open lattice, had revealed to me the
secret of his selfish love and false friendship, would have
continued smooth and complaisant as ever; but I grew spiny as a
porcupine, and inflexible as a blackthorn cudgel; I never had a
smile for his raillery, never a moment for his society; his
invitations to take coffee with him in his parlour were
invariably rejected, and very stiffly and sternly rejected too;
his jesting allusions to the directress (which he still
continued) were heard with a grim calm very different from the
petulant pleasure they were formerly wont to excite. For a long
time Pelet bore with my frigid demeanour very patiently; he even
increased his attentions; but finding that even a cringing
politeness failed to thaw or move me, he at last altered too; in
his turn he cooled; his invitations ceased; his countenance
became suspicious and overcast, and I read in the perplexed yet
brooding aspect of his brow, a constant examination and
comparison of premises, and an anxious endeavour to draw thence
some explanatory inference. Ere long, I fancy, he succeeded, for
he was not without penetration; perhaps, too, Mdlle. Zoraide
might have aided him in the solution of the enigma; at any rate I
soon found that the uncertainty of doubt had vanished from his
manner; renouncing all pretence of friendship and cordiality, he
adopted a reserved, formal, but still scrupulously polite
deportment. This was the point to which I had wished to bring
him, and I was now again comparatively at my ease. I did not, it
is true, like my position in his house; but being freed from the
annoyance of false professions and double-dealing I could endure
it, especially as no heroic sentiment of hatred or jealousy of
the director distracted my philosophical soul; he had not, I
found, wounded me in a very tender point, the wound was so soon
and so radically healed, leaving only a sense of contempt for the
treacherous fashion in which it had been inflicted, and a lasting
mistrust of the hand which I had detected attempting to stab in
the dark.

This state of things continued till about the middle of July, and
then there was a little change; Pelet came home one night, an
hour after his usual time, in a state of unequivocal
intoxication, a thing anomalous with him; for if he had some of
the worst faults of his countrymen, he had also one at least of
their virtues, i.e. sobriety. So drunk, however, was he upon
this occasion, that after having roused the whole establishment
(except the pupils, whose dormitory being over the classes in a
building apart from the dwelling-house, was consequently out of
the reach of disturbance) by violently ringing the hall-bell and
ordering lunch to be brought in immediately, for he imagined it
was noon, whereas the city bells had just tolled midnight; after
having furiously rated the servants for their want of
punctuality, and gone near to chastise his poor old mother, who
advised him to go to bed, he began raving dreadfully about "le
maudit Anglais, Creemsvort." I had not yet retired; some German
books I had got hold of had kept me up late; I heard the uproar
below, and could distinguish the director's voice exalted in a
manner as appalling as it was unusual. Opening my door a little,
I became aware of a demand on his part for "Creemsvort" to be
brought down to him that he might cut his throat on the
hall-table and wash his honour, which he affirmed to be in a
dirty condition, in infernal British blood. "He is either mad or
drunk," thought I, "and in either case the old woman and the
servants will be the better of a man's assistance," so I
descended straight to the hall. I found him staggering about,
his eyes in a fine frenzy rolling--a pretty sight he was, a just
medium between the fool and the lunatic.

"Come, M. Pelet," said I, "you had better go to bed," and I took
hold of his arm. His excitement, of course, increased greatly at
sight and touch of the individual for whose blood he had been
making application: he struggled and struck with fury--but a
drunken man is no match for a sober one; and, even in his normal
state, Pelet's worn out frame could not have stood against my
sound one. I got him up-stairs, and, in process of time, to bed.
During the operation he did not fail to utter comminations which,
though broken, had a sense in them; while stigmatizing me as the
treacherous spawn of a perfidious country, he, in the same
breath, anathematized Zoraide Reuter; he termed her "femme sotte
et vicieuse," who, in a fit of lewd caprice, had thrown herself
away on an unprincipled adventurer; directing the point of the
last appellation by a furious blow, obliquely aimed at me. I
left him in the act of bounding elastically out of the bed into
which I had tucked him; but, as I took the precaution of turning
the key in the door behind me, I retired to my own room, assured
of his safe custody till the morning, and free to draw
undisturbed conclusions from the scene I had just witnessed.

Now, it was precisely about this time that the directress, stung
by my coldness, bewitched by my scorn,and excited by the
preference she suspected me of cherishing for another, had fallen
into a snare of her own laying--was herself caught in the meshes
of the very passion with which she wished to entangle me.
Conscious of the state of things in that quarter, I gathered,
from the condition in which I saw my employer, that his lady-love
had betrayed the alienation of her affections--inclinations,
rather, I would say; affection is a word at once too warm and too
pure for the subject--had let him see that the cavity of her
hollow heart, emptied of his image, was now occupied by that of
his usher. It was not without some surprise that I found myself
obliged to entertain this view of the case; Pelet, with his old
-established school, was so convenient, so profitable a match
--Zoraide was so calculating, so interested a woman--I wondered
mere personal preference could, in her mind, have prevailed for a
moment over worldly advantage: yet, it was evident, from what
Pelet said, that, not only had she repulsed him, but had even let
slip expressions of partiality for me. One of his drunken
exclamations was, "And the jade doats on your youth, you raw
blockhead! and talks of your noble deportment, as she calls your
accursed English formality--and your pure morals, forsooth! des
moeurs de Caton a-t-elle dit--sotte!" Hers, I thought, must be a
curious soul, where in spite of a strong, natural tendency to
estimate unduly advantages of wealth and station, the sardonic
disdain of a fortuneless subordinate had wrought a deeper
impression than could be imprinted by the most flattering
assiduities of a prosperous CHEF D'INSTITUTION. I smiled
inwardly; and strange to say, though my AMOUR PROPRE was excited
not disagreeably by the conquest, my better feelings remained
untouched. Next day, when I saw the directress, and when she
made an excuse to meet me in the corridor, and besought my notice
by a demeanour and look subdued to Helot humility, I could not
love, I could scarcely pity her. To answer briefly and dryly some
interesting inquiry about my health--to pass her by with a stern
bow--was all I could; her presence and manner had then, and for
some time previously and consequently, a singular effect upon me:
they sealed up all that was good elicited all that was noxious in
my nature; sometimes they enervated my senses, but they always
hardened my heart. I was aware of the detriment done, and
quarrelled with myself for the change. I had ever hated a
tyrant; and, behold, the possession of a slave, self-given, went
near to transform me into what I abhorred! There was at once a
sort of low gratification in receiving this luscious incense from
an attractive and still young worshipper; and an irritating sense
of degradation in the very experience of the pleasure. When she
stole about me with the soft step of a slave, I felt at once
barbarous and sensual as a pasha. I endured her homage
sometimes; sometimes I rebuked it. My indifference or harshness
served equally to increase the evil I desired to check.

"Que le dedain lui sied bien!" I once overheard her say to her
mother: "il est beau comme Apollon quand il sourit de son air
hautain."

And the jolly old dame laughed, and said she thought her daughter
was bewitched, for I had no point of a handsome man about me,
except being straight and without deformity. "Pour moi," she
continued, "il me fait tout l'effet d'un chat-huant, avec ses
besicles."

Worthy old girl! I could have gone and kissed her had she not
been a little too old, too fat, and too red-faced; her sensible,
truthful words seemed so wholesome, contrasted with the morbid
illusions of her daughter.

When Pelet awoke on the morning after his frenzy fit, he retained
no recollection of what had happened the previous night, and his
mother fortunately had the discretion to refrain from informing
him that I had been a witness of his degradation. He did not
again have recourse to wine for curing his griefs, but even in
his sober mood he soon showed that the iron of jealousy had
entered into his soul. A thorough Frenchman, the national
characteristic of ferocity had not been omitted by nature in
compounding the ingredients of his character; it had appeared
first in his access of drunken wrath, when some of his
demonstrations of hatred to my person were of a truly fiendish
character, and now it was more covertly betrayed by momentary
contractions of the features, and flashes of fierceness in his
light blue eyes, when their glance chanced to encounter mine. He
absolutely avoided speaking to me; I was now spared even the
falsehood of his politeness. In this state of our mutual
relations, my soul rebelled. sometimes almost ungovernably,
against living in the house and discharging the service of such a
man; but who is free from the constraint of circumstances? At
that time, I was not: I used to rise each morning eager to shake
off his yoke, and go out with my portmanteau under my arm, if a
beggar, at least a freeman; and in the evening, when I came back
from the pensionnat de demoiselles, a certain pleasant voice in
my ear; a certain face, so intelligent, yet so docile, so
reflective, yet so soft, in my eyes; a certain cast of character,
at once proud and pliant, sensitive and sagacious, serious and
ardent, in my head; a certain tone of feeling, fervid and modest,
refined and practical, pure and powerful, delighting and
troubling my memory--visions of new ties I longed to contract, of
new duties I longed to undertake, had taken the rover and the
rebel out of me, and had shown endurance of my hated lot in the
light of a Spartan virtue.

But Pelet's fury subsided; a fortnight sufficed for its rise,
progress, and extinction: in that space of time the dismissal of
the obnoxious teacher had been effected in the neighbouring
house, and in the same interval I had declared my resolution to
follow and find out my pupil, and upon my application for her
address being refused, I had summarily resigned my own post.
This last act seemed at once to restore Mdlle. Reuter to her
senses; her sagacity, her judgment, so long misled by a
fascinating delusion, struck again into the right track the
moment that delusion vanished. By the right track, I do not mean
the steep and difficult path of principle--in that path she never
trod; but the plain highway of common sense, from which she had
of late widely diverged. When there she carefully sought, and
having found, industriously pursued the trail of her old suitor,
M. Pelet. She soon overtook him. What arts she employed to
soothe and blind him I know not, but she succeeded both in
allaying his wrath, and hoodwinking his discernment, as was soon
proved by the alteration in his mien and manner; she must have
managed to convince him that I neither was, nor ever had been, a
rival of his, for the fortnight of fury against me terminated in
a fit of exceeding graciousness and amenity, not unmixed with a
dash of exulting self-complacency, more ludicrous than
irritating. Pelet's bachelor's life had been passed in proper
French style with due disregard to moral restraint, and I thought
his married life promised to be very French also. He often
boasted to me what a terror he had been to certain husbands of
his acquaintance; I perceived it would not now be difficult to
pay him back in his own coin.

The crisis drew on. No sooner had the holidays commenced than
note of preparation for some momentous event sounded all through
the premises of Pelet: painters, polishers, and upholsterers
were immediately set to work, and there was talk of "la chambre
de Madame," "le salon de Madame." Not deeming it probable that
the old duenna at present graced with that title in our house,
had inspired her son with such enthusiasm of filial piety, as to
induce him to fit up apartments expressly for her use, I
concluded, in common with the cook, the two housemaids, and the
kitchen-scullion, that a new and more juvenile Madame was
destined to be the tenant of these gay chambers.

Presently official announcement of the coming event was put
forth. In another week's time M. Francois Pelet, directeur, and
Mdlle. Zoraide Reuter, directrice, were to be joined together in
the bands of matrimony. Monsieur, in person, heralded the fact
to me; terminating his communication by an obliging expression of
his desire that I should continue, as heretofore, his ablest
assistant and most trusted friend; and a proposition to raise my
salary by an additional two hundred francs per annum. I thanked
him, gave no conclusive answer at the time, and, when he had left
me, threw off my blouse, put on my coat, and set out on a long
walk outside the Porte de Flandre, in order, as I thought, to
cool my blood, calm my nerves, and shake my disarranged ideas
into some order. In fact, I had just received what was virtually
my dismissal. I could not conceal, I did not desire to conceal
from myself the conviction that, being now certain that Mdlle.
Reuter was destined to become Madame Pelet it would not do for me
to remain a dependent dweller in the house which was soon to be
hers. Her present demeanour towards me was deficient neither in
dignity nor propriety; but I knew her former feeling was
unchanged. Decorum now repressed, and Policy masked it, but
Opportunity would be too strong for either of these--Temptation
would shiver their restraints.

I was no pope--I could not boast infallibility: in short, if I
stayed, the probability was that, in three months' time, a
practical modern French novel would be in full process of
concoction under the roof of the unsuspecting Pelet. Now, modern
French novels are not to my taste, either practically or
theoretically. Limited as had yet been my experience of life, I
had once had the opportunity of contemplating, near at hand, an
example of the results produced by a course of interesting and
romantic domestic treachery. No golden halo of fiction was about
this example, I saw it bare and real, and it was very loathsome.
I saw a mind degraded by the practice of mean subterfuge, by the
habit of perfidious deception, and a body depraved by the
infectious influence of the vice-polluted soul. I had suffered
much from the forced and prolonged view of this spectacle; those
sufferings I did not now regret, for their simple recollection
acted as a most wholesome antidote to temptation. They had
inscribed on my reason the conviction that unlawful pleasure,
trenching on another's rights, is delusive and envenomed
pleasure--its hollowness disappoints at the time, its poison
cruelly tortures afterwards, its effects deprave for ever.

>From all this resulted the conclusion that I must leave Pelet's,
and that instantly; "but," said Prudence, "you know not where to
go, nor how to live;" and then the dream of true love came over
me: Frances Henri seemed to stand at my side; her slender waist
to invite my arm; her hand to court my hand; I felt it was made
to nestle in mine; I could not relinquish my right to it, nor
could I withdraw my eyes for ever from hers, where I saw so much
happiness, such a correspondence of heart with heart; over whose
expression I had such influence; where I could kindle bliss,
infuse awe, stir deep delight, rouse sparkling spirit, and
sometimes waken pleasurable dread. My hopes to will and possess,
my resolutions to merit and rise, rose in array against me; and
here I was about to plunge into the gulf of absolute destitution;
"and all this," suggested an inward voice, "because you fear an
evil which may never happen!" "It will happen; you KNOW it
will," answered that stubborn monitor, Conscience. "Do what you
feel is right; obey me, and even in the sloughs of want I will
plant for you firm footing." And then, as I walked fast along
the road, there rose upon me a strange, inly-felt idea of some
Great Being, unseen, but all present, who in His beneficence
desired only my welfare, and now watched the struggle of good sad
evil in my heart, and waited to see whether I should obey His
voice, heard in the whispers of my conscience, or lend an ear to
the sophisms by which His enemy and mine--the Spirit of Evil
--sought to lead me astray. Rough and steep was the path
indicated by divine suggestion; mossy and declining the green way
along which Temptation strewed flowers; but whereas, methought,
the Deity of Love, the Friend of all that exists, would smile
well-pleased were I to gird up my loins and address myself to the
rude ascent; so, on the other hand, each inclination to the
velvet declivity seemed to kindle a gleam of triumph on the brow
of the man-hating, God-defying demon. Sharp and short I turned
round; fast I retraced my steps; in half an hour I was again at
M. Pelet's: I sought him in his study; brief parley, concise
explanation sufficed; my manner proved that I was resolved; he,
perhaps, at heart approved my decision. After twenty minutes'
conversation, I re-entered my own room, self-deprived of the
means of living, self-sentenced to leave my present home, with
the short notice of a week in which to provide another.

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DIRECTLY as I closed the door, I saw laid on the table twoletters; my thought was, that they were notes of invitation fromthe friends of some of my pupils; I had received such marks ofattention occasionally, and with me, who had no friends,correspondence of more interest was out of the question; thepostman's arrival had never yet been an event of interest to mesince I came to Brussels. I laid my hand carelessly on thedocuments, and coldly and slowly glancing at them, I prepared tobreak the seals; my eye was arrested and my hand too; I saw whatexcited me, as if
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NOVELISTS should never allow themselves to weary of the study ofreal life. If they observed this duty conscientiously, theywould give us fewer pictures chequered with vivid contrasts oflight and shade; they would seldom elevate their heroes andheroines to the heights of rapture--still seldomer sink them tothe depths of despair; for if we rarely taste the fulness of joyin this life, we yet more rarely savour the acrid bitterness ofhopeless anguish; unless, indeed, we have plunged like beastsinto sensual indulgence, abused, strained, stimulated, againoverstrained, and, at last, destroyed our faculties forenjoyment; then, truly, we may find ourselves without support,robbed of hope.
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