It was near Christmas by the time all was settled: the season of general holiday approached. I now closed Morton school, taking care that the parting should not be barren on my side. Good fortune opens the hand as well as the heart wonderfully; and to give somewhat when we have largely received, is but to afford a vent to the unusual ebullition of the sensations. I had long felt with pleasure that many of my rustic scholars liked me, and when we parted, that consciousness was confirmed: they manifested their affection plainly and strongly. Deep was my gratification to find I had really a place in their unsophisticated hearts: I promised them that never a week should pass in future that I did not visit them, and give them an hour’s teaching in their school.
Mr. Rivers came up as, having seen the classes, now numbering sixty girls, file out before me, and locked the door, I stood with the key in my hand, exchanging a few words of special farewell with
some half-dozen of my best scholars: as decent, respectable, modest, and well-informed young women as could be found in the ranks of the British peasantry. And that is saying a great deal; for after all, the British peasantry are the best taught, best mannered, most self-respecting of any in Europe: since those days I have seen paysannes and Bäuerinnen; and the best of them seemed to me ignorant, coarse, and besotted, compared with my Morton girls.
“Do you consider you have got your reward for a season of exertion?” asked Mr. Rivers, when they were gone. “Does not the consciousness of having done some real good in your day and generation give pleasure?”
“And you have only toiled a few months! Would not a life devoted to the task of regenerating your race be well spent?”
“Yes,” I said; “but I could not go on for ever so: I want to enjoy my own faculties as well as to cultivate those of other people. I must enjoy them now; don’t recall either my mind or body to the school; I am out of it and disposed for full holiday.”
He looked grave. “What now? What sudden eagerness is this you evince? What are you going to do?”
“To be active: as active as I can. And first I must beg you to set Hannah at liberty, and get somebody else to wait on you.”
“Do you want her?”
“Yes, to go with me to Moor House. Diana and Mary will be at home in a week, and I want to have everything in order against their arrival.”
“I understand. I thought you were for flying off on some excursion. It is better so: Hannah shall go with you.”
“Tell her to be ready by to-morrow then; and here is the schoolroom key: I will give you the key of my cottage in the morning.”
He took it. “You give it up very gleefully,” said he; “I don’t quite understand your light-heartedness, because I cannot tell what employment you propose to yourself as a substitute for the one you are relinquishing. What aim, what purpose, what ambition in life have you now?”
“My first aim will be to clean down (do you comprehend the full force of the expression?