Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

out into the country, as that the friendly country liked to creep upon the town and see what its quiet neighbours were about. At Pitville (its real name was nearly as nasty) there were no real streets; but the long ranks of monstrous houses dashed out along a black road, or up a black hill, as if merely in the hopeless desire to get away from each other (the only sign of grace they had); there was nothing to tempt them further afield, for all they could reach was the same black land on which they themselves were built. There were no fields, no woods, no pleasant roads with trees in the green hedges -there were no hedges for them to grow in; only unfenced black tracts leading from pit to pit.

There was, indeed, an immense reservoir, and the uncouth foreign name was good enough for it. No escaped lunatic could think it was a lake. The only timber near it, or in sight, was that about the gaunt pit-heads. No ferns or plants grew on its asphalt banks; when the sun shone the waters would not kiss those black lips, with tender low murmurs; when the rain fell they only hissed rudely. To walk around its smoke-seared shores-shores, indeed!

was to bid Fernando be homesick for the lovely meres that lay among the woods and parky fields round Gracechurch.

How he loathed those walks-from nowhere to nowhere and back again!

Had he been free to make friends with the pitmen, or their loud-voiced, unfriendlylooking wives in the hideous cottages, it might have been better, more human. But he was now no longer a Gracechurch boy, only a private pupil, marched forth for air and exercise with three or four other private pupils, as dull and bored as himself, under the somewhat timorous wing of an usher duller and more bored than any of them. That poor usher! What a life his must have been. To rise in the bleak morning, and all day long teach four boys, who did not greatly care to learn, things that he as little cared to teach. I do not think they liked him much, and very likely he had no occasion to like them. They thought him a nuisance, and no doubt he found four nuisances worse than one could be. He was quite a gentleman, and was probably well-educated; but I doubt if he thought education very interesting, and he certainly did not fail to make it as unin

teresting as the crassest ignorance. The boys were not resolved to learn nothing, but no learning worth any trouble was offered them. Knowledge, we are told, is Power, but knowledge must have chiefly struck them as being rather baggy about the knees, particularly reticent in speech, and averse from the consideration of anything of human import.

Fernando had never cared for games; but at Pitville he would have been glad to play almost anything. Four marooned boys, in a rocky vicarage, which wasn't home, and wasn't school, could play at nothing. They dawdled out to walk, or dawdled indoors if it were too wet to stir abroad. That they got into no obscure mischief was, I do think, singularly to their credit.

At that time Fernando was deep in George Eliot, and he often envied Tom Tulliver at Mr. Stelling's for having that Reverend impostor's baby to nurse and wheel forth in a perambulator. As it was he read and read, not lesson-books, but George Eliot, and Emily Brontë, Dickens, and even Thackeray. "Even" because he had too much loved the loud optimism of Dickens to be quite sincerely in love with Thackeray's posed cynicism. Of Thackeray's great master

L

pieces he liked then The Virginians by far the best; it seemed homelier and kindlier than Vanity Fair, and, if the genius was less, it seemed also less aloof and pitiless.

Silas Marner, Adam Bede, and the Mill on the Floss he read almost as an exile dreams of home; their people were the sort he had known all his life, and they worked and sorrowed among the deep lanes and rich pastures that had formed the setting of his own brief experience.

He read and learned, at that time, far too much poetry, steeping himself in Tennyson, still caring for Longfellow, and feeling for much of Wordsworth almost an agony of admiration. Shakespeare he also read, but was not yet able to feel; he read chiefly the historical plays, unable of the others to appreciate truly any but King Lear. But for this reading he would have been idle and unhappy; as it was he was only externally unhappy-and only idle as to the "real business of school," lessons. One Lent he resolved to mortify the only pleasure he had, and, being incapable of living without reading, would read only "pious" books. books. As it happened this left him nothing to read but children's books, and for forty days he stuck

to Ministering Children, Robert and Frederick, The Fairchild Family, and such like. It was an odd penance, and, like most penances, less disagreeable than it sounds. But it sent him back at Easter, with hungry appetite, to Wuthering Heights, which he read, for the second time within three months, with a more furious zest of amazement then ever. It was like getting out of a parlour on to the passionate freedom of the moors. Born near those Yorkshire moors himself, there was always in his blood something that answered to their rainy light, their windy gleams of cold sunshine, their loneliness from the world, their uncouth attraction, and brooding, big, dolorous indifference. They have no date, and belong to no time or fashion; changing with every cloud and every hour, their identity stands huge and perdurable; empty they have no hunger, and melancholy they hold an impregnable content; without body, parts or passions they are bigger than us, and have no dependence on us or our likings.

The Heathcliffs and the Earnshaws did not seem to Fernando inhuman, but primeval; born of a genius that never mated, but wedded itself to the great wilderness of the

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »