Your deliverer is named St. John Rivers and he was returning home to the cottage where you collapsed. He lives there with his two sisters, Diana and Mary, and a house servant Hannah. St. John is a clergyman which explains his charitable action of taking you in, but it is Diana and Mary who truly care for you.
After your wandering and lack of sustenance, you are feverish and completely worn out. Recollecting those first days in their home is difficult, your memory is very dim, but you were aware of one or both of the sisters checking on you periodically, of Hannah delivering gruel or dry toast for when you could eat, and of the doctor who said your every nerve was overstrained and you needed rest.
Three days you sleep in the narrow bed of a small room. On the fourth day you manage to rise and notice that your black silk frock has been cleaned, and your shoes and stockings made presentable. Slowly you make your way downstairs.
The sisters are surprised to see you up, but usher you to the fire before leaving again to prepare the tea. You find Mr. Rivers sitting and reading in their plainly furnished, but comfortable parlor. He is silent upon your arrival, so you do your best to settle yourself and not take note of his behavior. While he is so absorbed in his book, you do examine him. He is perhaps twenty-eight to thirty, tall, slender with a face that rivets the eye. It is quite classical with large blue eyes and a high forehead partially streaked by careless locks of fair hair.
Diana passes in again, this time with a little cake for you.
Mr. Rivers now turns his keen blue gaze on you. “You are very hungry,” he remarks.
“I am, sir.” It has always been your way to meet the brief with brevity, the direct with plainness.
“It is well for you that a low fever has forced you to abstain for a few days; there would have been a danger in eating immoderately too soon.”
“I trust that I shall not eat long at your expense, sir.”
“No,” he says coolly; “when you have indicated to us the residence of your friends, we can write to them, and you may be restored to home.”
“That, I must plainly tell you, is impossible as I am absolutely without home and friends.”
Mr. Rivers and Diana both look at you with curiosity.
“Do you mean to say you are completely without connection?” Mr. Rivers asks.
“I do, I cannot claim admittance under any roof in England.”
“A singular position at your age! You have never been married? You are a spinster?”
Diana laughs. “Why she can’t be above seventeen or eighteen, St. John,” says she.
“I am near nineteen, but I am not married.” A burning glow mounts to your face at the bitter and agitating recollections awakened. They all see your embarrassment and emotion. Diana turns her eyes elsewhere but her colder and sterner brother continues to gaze in curiosity.
“If I cannot help you seek your relatives, how can I help you? You do need help, do you not?” he finally asks.
“I do need it and seek only aid in securing some work which I can do. I only require something to keep me in the barest necessaries of life.”
“Then tell me what you have been accustomed to do or what you can do, and I will aid you to the utmost of my powers.”
Refreshed by the tea, and by the earnest offer of assistance, you carefully frame your life story to this family. “You and your sisters have done me a great service. The benefit gives you an unlimited claim on my gratitude and to a certain extent to my confidence. I will tell you as much as I can without compromising my own peace of mind.
“I am an orphan, the daughter of a clergyman. I was brought up a dependent and educated at a charitable institution. I was a teacher at that institution for two years before I left a year ago to become a private governess. I was happy there but obliged to leave four days before I came here. The reason for my departure I cannot explain but no blame is attached to me; I am free from culpability. However, I was desperate to keep my whereabouts secret and in my hasty departure, I left behind my possessions in the coach that brought me here. I slept in the open air and wandered without crossing a threshold until hunger, exhaustion, and despair brought me to your door. I owe a large debt to your evangelical charity, Mr. Rivers, and the genial compassion of your sisters.”
Diana smiles at your pause and says, “You are quite right to keep your secrets, I am sure. Now, do, brother, let her be at peace for a while.”
But Mr. Rivers muses a few moments before recommencing. “You would not like to be long dependent on our hospitality, I see. I have heard of a post which I believe could suit you. It is a poor proposal, but our town of Morton opened a school for boys two years ago and I mean to open a second one for girls. The school will come with a cottage of two rooms attached as a home for the mistress and a salary of thirty pounds a year. Will you be this mistress?”
He put the question rather hurriedly, seeming to expect a disdainful rejection of the offer, but he could not guess in what light this offer appeals to you. It is humble, but then it is also sheltered and independent, compared to that of a governess in a rich house. You dreaded the possibility of entering into another servitude with strangers.
“I thank you for the proposal, Mr. Rivers; and I accept it with all my heart.”
Go to FORTY-THREE