Paid subordinates! What! you are my paid subordinate,
are you? Oh yes, I had forgotten the salary! Well then, on that mercenary
ground, will you agree to let me hector a little? Most things free-born
will submit to anything for a salary; therefore, keep to yourself, and don't
venture on generalities of which you are intensely ignorant. However, I
mentally shake hands with you for your answer, despite its inaccuracy; and
as much for the manner in which it was said, as for the substance of the
speech; the manner was frank and sincere; one does not often see such a
manner. No, on the contrary, affectation, or coldness, or stupid, coarse-minded
misapprehension of one's meaning are the usual rewards of candour. Not three
in three thousand raw school-girl-governesses would have answered me as
you have just done. But I don't mean to flatter you: if you are cast in
a different mould to the majority, it is no merit of yours: Nature did it.
And then, after all, I go too fast in my conclusions: for what I yet know,
you may be no better than the rest; you may have intolerable defects to
counterbalance your few good points. I have plenty of faults of my own,
of course -- I know it, and I don't wish to palliate them, I assure you.
God wot I need not be too severe about others; I have a past existence,
a series of deeds, a colour of life to contemplate within my own breast,
which might well call my sneers and censures from my neighbours to myself.
I started, or rather (for like other defaulters, I like to lay half the
blame on ill fortune and adverse circumstances) was thrust on to a wrong
tack at the age of one-and-twenty, and have never recovered the right course
since: but I might have been very different; I might have been as good as
you -- wiser -- almost as stainless. I envy you your peace of mind, your
clean conscience, your unpolluted memory. Little girl, a memory without
blot or contamination must be an exquisite treasure -- an inexhaustible
source of pure refreshment: is it not? I was your equal at eighteen -- quite
your equal. Nature meant me to be, on the whole, a good man, Miss Eyre;
one of the better kind, and you see I am not so. You would say you don't
see it; at least I flatter myself I read as much in your eye (beware, by-the-bye,
what you express with that organ; I am quick at interpreting its language).
Then take my word for it, -- I am not a villain: you are not to suppose
that -- not to attribute to me any such bad eminence; but, owing, I verily
believe, rather to circumstances than to my natural bent, I am a trite commonplace
sinner, hackneyed in all the poor petty dissipations with which the rich
and worthless try to put on life. Do you wonder that I avow this to you?
Know, that in the course of your future life you will often find yourself
elected the involuntary confidant of your acquaintances' secrets: people
will instinctively find out, as I have done, that it is not your forte to
tell of yourself, but to listen while others talk of themselves; they will
feel, too, that you listen with no malevolent scorn of their indiscretion,
but with a kind of innate sympathy; not the less comforting and encouraging
because it is very unobtrusive in its manifestations. I know it well; therefore
I proceed almost as freely as if I were writing my thoughts in a diary.
You would say, I should have been superior to circumstances; so I should
-- so I should; but you see I was not. When fate wronged me, I had not the
wisdom to remain cool: I turned desperate; then I degenerated. Now, when
any vicious simpleton excites my disgust by his paltry ribaldry, I cannot
flatter myself that I am better than he: I am forced to confess that he
and I are on a level. I wish I had stood firm -- God knows I do! Dread remorse
when you are tempted to err, Miss Eyre; remorse is the poison of life.
Credits: Reprinted from Jane Eyre. Charlotte Brontë. London:
Smith, Elder & Co., 1847.
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