Incommunicative as he was, some time elapsed before I had an opportunity of gauging his mind. I first got an idea of its calibre when I heard him preach in his own church at Morton. I wish I could describe that sermon: but it is past my power. I cannot even render faithfully the effect it produced on me.
It began calm - and indeed, as far as delivery and pitch of voice went, it was calm to the end: an earnestly felt, yet strictly restrained zeal breathed soon in the distinct accents, and prompted the nervous language. This grew to force - compressed, condensed, controlled. The heart was thrilled, the mind astonished, by the power of the preacher: neither were softened. Throughout there was a strange bitterness; an absence of consolatory gentleness; stern allusions to Calvinistic doctrines - election, predestination, reprobation - were frequent; and each reference to these points sounded like a sentence pronounced for doom. When he had done, instead of feeling better, calmer, more enlightened by his discourse, I experienced an inexpressible sadness; for it seemed to me - I know not whether equally so to others - that the eloquence to which I had been listening had sprung from a depth where lay turbid dregs of disappointment - where moved troubling impulses of insatiate yearnings and disquieting aspirations. I was sure St. John Rivers - pure-lived, conscientious, zealous as he was - had not yet found that peace of God which passeth all understanding: he had no more found it, I thought, than had I with my concealed and racking regrets for my broken idol and lost elysium - regrets to which I have latterly avoided referring, but which possessed me and tyrannised over me ruthlessly.
Meantime a month was gone. Diana and Mary were soon to leave Moor House, and return to the far different life and scene which awaited them, as governesses in a large, fashionable, south-of-England city, where each held a situation in families by whose wealthy and haughty members they were regarded only as humble dependants, and who neither knew nor sought out their innate excellences, and appreciated only their acquired accomplishments as they appreciated the skill of their cook or the taste of their waiting-woman. Mr. St. John had said nothing to me yet about the employment he had promised to obtain for me; yet it became urgent that I should have a vocation of some kind. One morning, being left alone with him a few minutes in the parlour, I ventured to approach the window-recess - which his table, chair, and desk consecrated as a kind of study - and I was going to speak, though not very well knowing in what words to frame my inquiry - for it is at all times difficult to break the ice of reserve glassing over such natures as his - when he saved me the trouble by being the first to commence a dialogue.
Looking up as I drew near - "You have a question to ask of me?" he said.
"Yes; I wish to know whether you have heard of any service I can offer myself to undertake?"
"I found or devised something for you three weeks ago; but as you seemed both useful and happy here - as my sisters had evidently become attached to you, and your society gave them unusual pleasure - I deemed it inexpedient to break in on your mutual comfort till their approaching departure from Marsh End should render yours necessary."
"And they will go in three days now?" I said.
"Yes; and when they go, I shall return to the parsonage at Morton: Hannah will accompany me; and this old house will be shut up."
I waited a few moments, expecting he would go on with the subject first broached: but he seemed to have entered another train of reflection: his look denoted abstraction from me and my business. I was obliged to recall him to a theme which was of necessity one of close and anxious interest to me.
"What is the employment you had in view, Mr. Rivers? I hope this delay will not have increased the difficulty of securing it."
"Oh, no; since it is an employment which depends only on me to give, and you to accept."
He again paused: there seemed a reluctance to continue. I grew impatient: a restless movement or two, and an eager and exacting glance fastened on his face, conveyed the feeling to him as effectually as words could have done, and with less trouble.
"You need be in no hurry to hear," he said: "let me frankly tell you, I have nothing eligible or profitable to suggest. Before I explain, recall, if you please, my notice, clearly given, that if I helped you, it must be as the blind man would help the lame. I am poor; for I find that, when I have paid my father's debts, all the patrimony remaining to me will be this crumbling grange, the row of scathed firs behind, and the patch of moorish soil, with the yew-trees and holly-bushes in front. I am obscure: Rivers is an old name; but of the three sole descendants of the race, two earn the dependant's crust among strangers, and the third considers himself an alien from his native country - not only for life, but in death. Yes, and deems, and is bound to deem, himself honoured by the lot, and aspires but after the day when the cross of separation from fleshly ties shall be laid on his shoulders, and when the Head of that church-militant of whose humblest members he is one, shall give the word, 'Rise, follow Me!'"
St. John said these words as he pronounced his sermons, with a quiet, deep voice; with an unflushed cheek, and a coruscating radiance of glance. He resumed -
"And since I am myself poor and obscure, I can offer you but a service of poverty and obscurity. Youmay even think it degrading - for I see now your habits have been what the world calls refined: your tastes lean to the ideal, and your society has at least been amongst the educated; butIconsider that no service degrades which can better our race. I hold that the more arid and unreclaimed the soil where the Christian labourer's task of tillage is appointed him - the scantier the meed his toil brings - the higher the honour. His, under such circumstances, is the destiny of the pioneer; and the first pioneers of the Gospel were the Apostles - their captain was Jesus, the Redeemer, Himself."