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The Professor - Chapter XXIV Post by :kellymonaghan Category :Long Stories Author :Charlotte Bronte Date :January 2011 Read :2450

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The Professor - Chapter XXIV

ONE fine, frosty Sunday in November, Frances and I took a long
walk; we made the tour of the city by the Boulevards; and,
afterwards, Frances being a little tired, we sat down on one of
those wayside seats placed under the trees, at intervals, for the
accommodation of the weary. Frances was telling me about
Switzerland; the subject animated her; and I was just thinking
that her eyes spoke full as eloquently as her tongue, when she
stopped and remarked--

"Monsieur, there is a gentleman who knows you."

I looked up; three fashionably dressed men were just then
passing--Englishmen, I knew by their air and gait as well as by
their features; in the tallest of the trio I at once recognized
Mr. Hunsden; he was in the act of lifting his hat to Frances;
afterwards, he made a grimace at me, and passed on.

"Who is he?"

"A person I knew in England."

"Why did he bow to me? He does not know me."

"Yes, he does know you, in his way."

"How, monsieur?" (She still called me "monsieur"; I could not
persuade her to adopt any more familiar term.)

"Did you not read the expression of his eyes?"

"Of his eyes? No. What did they say?"

"To you they said, 'How do you do, Wilhelmina, Crimsworth?'
To me, 'So you have found your counterpart at last; there she
sits, the female of your kind!'"

"Monsieur, you could not read all that in his eyes; He was so
soon gone."

"I read that and more, Frances; I read that he will probably call
on me this evening, or on some future occasion shortly; and I
have no doubt he will insist on being introduced to you; shall I
bring him to your rooms?"

"If you please, monsieur--I have no objection; I think, indeed, I
should rather like to see him nearer; he looks so original."

As I had anticipated, Mr. Hunsden came that evening. The first
thing he said was:--

"You need not begin boasting, Monsieur le Professeur; I know
about your appointment to -- College, and all that; Brown has
told me." Then he intimated that he had returned from Germany
but a day or two since; afterwards, he abruptly demanded whether
that was Madame Pelet-Reuter with whom he had seen me on the
Boulevards. I was going to utter a rather emphatic negative,
but on second thoughts I checked myself, and, seeming to assent,
asked what he thought of her?

"As to her, I'll come to that directly; but first I've a word for
you. I see you are a scoundrel; you've no business to be
promenading about with another man's wife. I thought you had
sounder sense than to get mixed up in foreign hodge-podge of this

"But the lady?"

"She's too good for you evidently; she is like you, but something
better than you--no beauty, though; yet when she rose (for I
looked back to see you both walk away) I thought her figure and
carriage good. These foreigners understand grace. What the
devil has she done with Pelet? She has not been married to him
three months--he must be a spoon!"

I would not let the mistake go too far; I did not like it much.

"Pelet? How your head runs on Mons. and Madame Pelet! You are
always talking about them. I wish to the gods you had wed Mdlle.
Zoraide yourself!"

"Was that young gentlewoman not Mdlle. Zoraide?"

"No; nor Madame Zoraide either."

"Why did you tell a lie, then?"

"I told no lie; but you are is such a hurry. She is a pupil of
mine--a Swiss girl."

"And of course you are going to be married to her? Don't deny

"Married! I think I shall--if Fate spares us both ten weeks
longer. That is my little wild strawberry, Hunsden, whose
sweetness made me careless of your hothouse grapes."

"Stop! No boasting--no heroics; I won't hear them. What is she?
To what caste does she belong?"

I smiled. Hunsden unconsciously laid stress on the word caste,
and, in fact, republican, lordhater as he was, Hunsden was as
proud of his old ---shire blood, of his descent and family
standing, respectable and respected through long generations
back, as any peer in the realm of his Norman race and
Conquest-dated title. Hunsden would as little have thought of
taking a wife from a caste inferior to his own, as a Stanley
would think of mating with a Cobden. I enjoyed the surprise I
should give; I enjoyed the triumph of my practice over his
theory; and leaning over the table, and uttering the words slowly
but with repressed glee, I said concisely--

"She is a lace-mender."

Hunsden examined me. He did not SAY he was surprised, but
surprised he was; he had his own notions of good breeding. I saw
he suspected I was going to take some very rash step; but
repressing declamation or remonstrance, he only answered--

"Well, you are the best; judge of your own affairs. A
lace-mender may make a good wife as well as a lady; but of course
you have taken care to ascertain thoroughly that since she has
not education, fortune or station, she is well furnished with
such natural qualities as you think most likely to conduce to
your happiness. Has she many relations?"

"None in Brussels."

"That is better. Relations are often the real evil in such
cases. I cannot but think that a train of inferior connections
would have been a bore to you to your life's end."

After sitting in silence a little while longer, Hunsden rose, and
was quietly bidding me good evening; the polite, considerate
manner in which he offered me his hand (a thing he had never done
before), convinced me that he thought I had made a terrible fool
of myself; and that, ruined and thrown away as I was, it was no
time for sarcasm or cynicism, or indeed for anything but
indulgence and forbearance.

"Good night, William," he said, in a really soft voice, while his
face looked benevolently compassionate. "Good night, lad. I
wish you and your future wife much prosperity; and I hope she
will satisfy your fastidious soul."

I had much ado to refrain from laughing as I beheld the
magnanimous pity of his mien; maintaining, however, a grave air,
I said:--

"I thought you would have liked to have seen Mdlle. Henri?"

"Oh, that is the name! Yes--if it would be convenient, I should
like to see her--but----." He hesitated.


"I should on no account wish to intrude."

"Come, then," said I. We set out. Hunsden no doubt regarded me
as a rash, imprudent man, thus to show my poor little grisette
sweetheart, in her poor little unfurnished grenier; but he
prepared to act the real gentleman, having, in fact, the kernel
of that character, under the harsh husk it pleased him to wear by
way of mental mackintosh. He talked affably, and even gently, as
we went along the street; he had never been so civil to me in his
life. We reached the house, entered, ascended the stair; on
gaining the lobby, Hunsden turned to mount a narrower stair which
led to a higher story; I saw his mind was bent on the attics.

"Here, Mr. Hunsden," said I quietly, tapping at Frances' door.
He turned; in his genuine politeness he was a little disconcerted
at having made the mistake; his eye reverted to the green mat,
but he said nothing.

We walked in, and Frances rose from her seat near the table to
receive us; her mourning attire gave her a recluse, rather
conventual, but withal very distinguished look; its grave
simplicity added nothing to beauty, but much to dignity; the
finish of the white collar and manchettes sufficed for a relief
to the merino gown of solemn black; ornament was forsworn.
Frances curtsied with sedate grace, looking, as she always did,
when one first accosted her, more a woman to respect than to
love; I introduced Mr. Hunsden, and she expressed her happiness
at making his acquaintance in French. The pure and polished
accent, the low yet sweet and rather full voice, produced their
effect immediately; Hunsden spoke French in reply; I had not
heard him speak that language before; he managed it very well. I
retired to the window-seat; Mr. Hunsden, at his hostess's
invitation, occupied a chair near the hearth; from my position I
could see them both, and the room too, at a glance. The room was
so clean and bright, it looked like a little polished cabinet; a
glass filled with flowers in the centre of the table, a fresh
rose in each china cup on the mantelpiece gave it an air of FETE,
Frances was serious, and Mr. Hunsden subdued, but both mutually
polite; they got on at the French swimmingly: ordinary topics
were discussed with great state and decorum; I thought I had
never seen two such models of propriety, for Hunsden (thanks to
the constraint of the foreign tongue) was obliged to shape his
phrases, and measure his sentences, with a care that forbade any
eccentricity. At last England was mentioned, and Frances
proceeded to ask questions. Animated by degrees, she began to
change, just as a grave night-sky changes at the approach of
sunrise: first it seemed as if her forehead cleared, then her
eyes glittered, her features relaxed, and became quite mobile;
her subdued complexion grew warm and transparent; to me, she now
looked pretty; before, she had only looked ladylike.

She had many things to say to the Englishman just fresh from his
island-country, and she urged him with an enthusiasm of
curiosity, which ere long thawed Hunsden's reserve as fire thaws
a congealed viper. I use this not very flattering comparison
because he vividly reminded me of a snake waking from torpor, as
he erected his tall form, reared his head, before a little
declined, and putting back his hair from his broad Saxon
forehead, showed unshaded the gleam of almost savage satire which
his interlocutor's tone of eagerness and look of ardour had
sufficed at once to kindle in his soul and elicit from his eyes:
he was himself; as Frances was herself, and in none but his own
language would he now address her.

"You understand English?" was the prefatory question.

"A little."

"Well, then, you shall have plenty of it; and first, I see you've
not much more sense than some others of my acquaintance"
(indicating me with his thumb), "or else you'd never turn rabid
about that dirty little country called England; for rabid, I see
you are; I read Anglophobia in your looks, and hear it in your
words. Why, mademoiselle, is it possible that anybody with a
grain of rationality should feel enthusiasm about a mere name,
and that name England? I thought you were a lady-abbess five
minutes ago, and respected you accordingly; and now I see you are
a sort of Swiss sibyl, with high Tory and high Church

"England is your country?" asked Frances.


"And you don't like it?"

"I'd be sorry to like it! A little corrupt, venal,
lord-and-king-cursed nation, full or mucky pride (as they say in
---shire), and helpless pauperism; rotten with abuses, worm-eaten
with prejudices!"

"You might say so of almost every state; there are abuses and
prejudices everywhere, and I thought fewer in England than in
other countries."

"Come to England and see. Come to Birmingham and Manchester;
come to St. Giles' in London, and get a practical notion of how
our system works. Examine the footprints of our august
aristocracy; see how they walk in blood, crushing hearts as they
go. Just put your head in at English cottage doors; get a
glimpse of Famine crouched torpid on black hearthstones; of
Disease lying bare on beds without coverlets, of Infamy wantoning
viciously with Ignorance, though indeed Luxury is her favourite
paramour, and princely halls are dearer to her than thatched

"I was not thinking of the wretchedness and vice in England; I
was thinking of the good side--of what is elevated in your
character as a nation."

"There is no good side--none at least of which you can have any
knowledge; for you cannot appreciate the efforts of industry, the
achievements of enterprise, or the discoveries of science:
narrowness of education and obscurity of position quite
incapacitate you from understanding these points; and as to
historical and poetical associations, I will not insult you,
mademoiselle, by supposing that you alluded to such humbug."

"But I did partly."

Hunsden laughed--his laugh of unmitigated scorn.

"I did, Mr. Hunsden. Are you of the number of those to whom such
associations give no pleasure?"

"Mademoiselle, what is an association? I never saw one. What is
its length, breadth, weight, value--ay, VALUE? What price will
it bring in the market?"

"Your portrait, to any one who loved you, would, for the sake of
association, be without price."

That inscrutable Hunsden heard this remark and felt it rather
acutely, too, somewhere; for he coloured--a thing not unusual
with him, when hit unawares on a tender point. A sort of trouble
momentarily darkened his eye, and I believe he filled up the
transient pause succeeding his antagonist's home-thrust, by a
wish that some one did love him as he would like to be loved
--some one whose love he could unreservedly return.

The lady pursued her temporary advantage.

"If your world is a world without associations, Mr. Hunsden, I no
longer wonder that you hate England so. I don't clearly know
what Paradise is, and what angels are; yet taking it to be the
most glorious region I can conceive, and angels the most elevated
existences--if one of them--if Abdiel the Faithful himself" (she
was thinking of Milton) "were suddenly stripped of the faculty of
association, I think he would soon rush forth from 'the
ever-during gates,' leave heaven, and seek what he had lost in
hell. Yes, in the very hell from which he turned 'with retorted

Frances' tone in saying this was as marked as her language, and
it was when the word "hell" twanged off from her lips, with a
somewhat startling emphasis, that Hunsden deigned to bestow one
slight glance of admiration. He liked something strong, whether
in man or woman; he liked whatever dared to clear conventional
limits. He had never before heard a lady say "hell" with that
uncompromising sort of accent, and the sound pleased him from a
lady's lips; he would fain have had Frances to strike the string
again, but it was not in her way. The display of eccentric
vigour never gave her pleasure, and it only sounded in her voice
or flashed in her countenance when extraordinary circumstances
--and those generally painful--forced it out of the depths where
it burned latent. To me, once or twice, she had in intimate
conversation, uttered venturous thoughts in nervous language; but
when the hour of such manifestation was past, I could not recall
it; it came of itself and of itself departed. Hunsden's
excitations she put by soon with a smile, and recurring to the
theme of disputation, said--

"Since England is nothing, why do the continental nations respect
her so?"

"I should have thought no child would have asked that question,"
replied Hunsden, who never at any time gave information without
reproving for stupidity those who asked it of him. "If you had
been my pupil, as I suppose you once had the misfortune to be
that of a deplorable character not a hundred miles off, I would
have put you in the corner for such a confession of ignorance.
Why, mademoiselle, can't you see that it is our GOLD which buys
us French politeness, German good-will, and Swiss servility?"
And he sneered diabolically.

"Swiss?" said Frances, catching the word "servility." "Do you
call my countrymen servile?" and she started up. I could not
suppress a low laugh; there was ire in her glance and defiance in
her attitude. "Do you abuse Switzerland to me, Mr. Hunsden? Do
you think I have no associations? Do you calculate that I am
prepared to dwell only on what vice and degradation may be found
in Alpine villages, and to leave quite out of my heart the social
greatness of my countrymen, and our blood-earned freedom, and the
natural glories of our mountains? You're mistaken--you're

"Social greatness? Call it what you will, your countrymen are
sensible fellows; they make a marketable article of what to you
is an abstract idea; they have, ere this, sold their social
greatness and also their blood-earned freedom to be the servants
of foreign kings."

"You never were in Switzerland?"

"Yes--I have been there twice."

"You know nothing of it."

"I do."

"And you say the Swiss are mercenary, as a parrot says 'Poor
Poll,' or as the Belgians here say the English are not brave, or
as the French accuse them of being perfidious: there is no
justice in your dictums."

"There is truth."

"I tell you, Mr. Hunsden, you are a more unpractical man than I
am an unpractical woman, for you don't acknowledge what really
exists; you want to annihilate individual patriotism and national
greatness as an atheist would annihilate God and his own soul, by
denying their existence."

"Where are you flying to? You are off at a tangent--I thought we
were talking about the mercenary nature of the Swiss."

"We were--and if you proved to me that the Swiss are mercenary
to-morrow (which you cannot do) I should love Switzerland still."

"You would be mad, then--mad as a March hare--to indulge in a
passion for millions of shiploads of soil, timber, snow, and

"Not so mad as you who love nothing."

"There's a method in my madness; there's none in yours."

"Your method is to squeeze the sap out of creation and make
manure of the refuse, by way of turning it to what you call use."

"You cannot reason at all," said Hunsden; "there is no logic in

"Better to be without logic than without feeling," retorted
Frances, who was now passing backwards and forwards from her
cupboard to the table, intent, if not on hospitable thoughts, at
least on hospitable deeds, for she was laying the cloth, and
putting plates, knives and forks thereon.

"Is that a hit at me, mademoiselle? Do you suppose I am without
feeling ?"

"I suppose you are always interfering with your own feelings,and
those of other people, and dogmatizing about the irrationality of
this, that, and the other sentiment, and then ordering it to be
suppressed because you imagine it to be inconsistent with logic."

"I do right."

Frances had stepped out of sight into a sort of little pantry;
she soon reappeared.

"You do right? Indeed, no! You are much mistaken if you think
so. Just be so good as to let me get to the fire, Mr. Hunsden; I
have something to cook." (An interval occupied in settling a
casserole on the fire; then, while she stirred its contents:)
"Right! as if it were right to crush any pleasurable sentiment
that God has given to man, especially any sentiment that, like
patriotism, spreads man's selfishness in wider circles" (fire
stirred, dish put down before it).

"Were you born in Switzerland?"

"I should think so, or else why should I call it my country?"

"And where did you get your English features and figure?"

"I am English, too; half the blood in my veins is English; thus I
have a right to a double power of patriotism, possessing an
interest in two noble, free, and fortunate countries."

"You had an English mother?"

"Yes, yes; and you, I suppose, had a mother from the moon or from
Utopia, since not a nation in Europe has a claim on your

"On the contrary, I'm a universal patriot, if you could
understand me rightly: my country is the world."

"Sympathies so widely diffused must be very shallow: will you
have the goodness to come to table. Monsieur" (to me who
appeared to be now absorbed in reading by moonlight)--"Monsieur,
supper is served."

This was said in quite a different voice to that in which she had
been bandying phrases with Mr. Hunsden--not so short, graver and

"Frances, what do you mean by preparing, supper? we had no
intention of staying."

"Ah, monsieur, but you have stayed, and supper is prepared; you
have only the alternative of eating it."

The meal was a foreign one, of course; it consisted in two small
but tasty dishes of meat prepared with skill and served with
nicety; a salad and "fromage francais," completed it. The
business of eating interposed a brief truce between the
belligerents, but no sooner was supper disposed of than they were
at it again. The fresh subject of dispute ran on the spirit of
religious intolerance which Mr. Hunsden affirmed to exist
strongly in Switzerland, notwithstanding the professed attachment
of the Swiss to freedom. Here Frances had greatly the worst of
it, not only because she was unskilled to argue, but because her
own real opinions on the point in question happened to coincide
pretty nearly with Mr. Hunsden's, and she only contradicted him
out of opposition. At last she gave in, confessing that she
thought as he thought, but bidding him take notice that she did
not consider herself beaten.

"No more did the French at Waterloo," said Hunsden.

"There is no comparison between the cases," rejoined Frances; "
mine was a sham fight."

"Sham or real, it's up with you."

"No; though I have neither logic nor wealth of words, yet in a
case where my opinion really differed from yours, I would adhere
to it when I had not another word to say in its defence; you
should be baffled by dumb determination. You speak of Waterloo;
your Wellington ought to have been conquered there, according to
Napoleon; but he persevered in spite of the laws of war, and was
victorious in defiance of military tactics. I would do as he

"I'll be bound for it you would; probably you have some of the
same sort of stubborn stuff in you.

"I should be sorry if I had not; he and Tell were brothers, and
I'd scorn the Swiss, man or woman, who had none of the
much-enduring nature of our heroic William in his soul."

"If Tell was like Wellington, he was an ass."

"Does not ASS mean BAUDET?" asked Frances, turning to me.

"No, no," replied I, "it means an ESPRIT-FORT; and now," I
continued, as I saw that fresh occasion of strife was brewing
between these two, "it is high time to go."

Hunsden rose. "Good bye," said he to Frances; "I shall be off
for this glorious England to-morrow, and it may be twelve months
or more before I come to Brussels again; whenever I do come I'll
seek you out, and you shall see if I don't find means to make you
fiercer than a dragon. You've done pretty well this evening, but
next interview you shall challenge me outright. Meantime you're
doomed to become Mrs. William Crimsworth, I suppose; poor young
lady? but you have a spark of spirit; cherish it, and give the
Professor the full benefit thereof."

"Are you married. Mr. Hunsden?" asked Frances, suddenly.

"No. I should have thought you might have guessed I was a
Benedict by my look."

"Well, whenever you marry don't take a wife out of Switzerland;
for if you begin blaspheming Helvetia, and cursing the cantons
--above all, if you mention the word ASS in the same breath with
the name Tell (for ass IS baudet, I know; though Monsieur is
pleased to translate it ESPRIT-FORT) your mountain maid will some
night smother her Breton-bretonnant, even as your own
Shakspeare's Othello smothered Desdemona."

"I am warned," said Hunsden; "and so are you, lad," (nodding to
me). "I hope yet to hear of a travesty of the Moor and his
gentle lady, in which the parts shall be reversed according to
the plan just sketched--you, however, being in my nightcap.
Farewell, mademoiselle!" He bowed on her hand, absolutely like
Sir Charles Grandison on that of Harriet Byron; adding--"Death
from such fingers would not be without charms."

"Mon Dieu!" murmured Frances, opening her large eyes and lifting
her distinctly arched brows; "c'est qu'il fait des compliments!
je ne m'y suis pas attendu." She smiled, half in ire, half in
mirth, curtsied with foreign grace, and so they parted.

No sooner had we got into the street than Hunsden collared me.

"And that is your lace-mender?" said he; "and you reckon you have
done a fine, magnanimous thing in offering to marry her? You, a
scion of Seacombe, have proved your disdain of social
distinctions by taking up with an ouvriere! And I pitied the
fellow, thinking his feelings had misled him, and that he had
hurt himself by contracting a low match!"

"Just let go my collar, Hunsden."

"On the contrary, he swayed me to and fro; so I grappled him
round the waist. It was dark; the street lonely and lampless.
We had then a tug for it; and after we had both rolled on the
pavement, and with difficulty picked ourselves up, we agreed to
walk on more soberly.

"Yes, that's my lace-mender," said I; "and she is to be mine for
life--God willing."

"God is not willing--you can't suppose it; what business have you
to be suited so well with a partner? And she treats you with a
sort of respect, too, and says, 'Monsieur' and modulates her tone
in addressing you, actually, as if you were something superior!
She could not evince more deference to such a one as I, were she
favoured by fortune to the supreme extent of being my choice
instead of yours."

"Hunsden, you're a puppy. But you've only seen the title-page of
my happiness; you don't know the tale that follows; you cannot
conceive the interest and sweet variety and thrilling excitement
of the narrative."

Hunsden--speaking low and deep, for we had now entered a busier
street--desired me to hold my peace, threatening to do something
dreadful if I stimulated his wrath further by boasting. I
laughed till my sides ached. We soon reached his hotel; before he
entered it, he said--

"Don't be vainglorious. Your lace-mender is too good for you,
but not good enough for me; neither physically nor morally does
she come up to my ideal of a woman. No; I dream of something far
beyond that pale-faced, excitable little Helvetian (by-the-by she
has infinitely more of the nervous, mobile Parisienne in her than
of the the robust 'jungfrau'). Your Mdlle. Henri is in person
"chetive", in mind "sans caractere", compared with the queen of
my visions. You, indeed, may put up with that "minois chiffone";
but when I marry I must have straighter and more harmonious
features, to say nothing of a nobler and better developed shape
than that perverse, ill-thriven child can boast."

"Bribe a seraph to fetch you a coal of fire from heaven, if you
will," said I, "and with it kindle life in the tallest, fattest,
most boneless, fullest-blooded of Ruben's painted women--leave me
only my Alpine peri, and I'll not envy you."

With a simultaneous movement, each turned his back on the other.
Neither said " God bless you;" yet on the morrow the sea was to
roll between us.

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The Professor - Chapter XXV The Professor - Chapter XXV

The Professor - Chapter XXV
IN two months more Frances had fulfilled the time of mourning forher aunt. One January morning--the first of the new yearholidays--I went in a fiacre, accompanied only by M. Vandenhuten,to the Rue Notre Dame aux Neiges, and having alighted alone andwalked upstairs, I found Frances apparently waiting for me,dressed in a style scarcely appropriate to that cold, bright,frosty day. Never till now had I seen her attired in any otherthan black or sad-coloured stuff; and there she stood by thewindow, clad all in white, and white of a most diaphanoustexture; her array was very simple, to be sure, but

The Professor - Chapter XXIII The Professor - Chapter XXIII

The Professor - Chapter XXIII
IT was two o'clock when I returned to my lodgings; my dinner,just brought in from a neighbouring hotel, smoked on the table; Isat down thinking to eat--had the plate been heaped withpotsherds and broken glass, instead of boiled beef and haricots,I could not have made a more signal failure: appetite hadforsaken me. Impatient of seeing food which I could not taste, Iput it all aside into a cupboard, and then demanded, "What shallI do till evening?" for before six P.M. it would be vain to seekthe Rue Notre Dame aux Neiges; its inhabitant (for me it had butone) was