Part 3 - Jane Eyre Audiobook by Charlotte Bronte (Chs 12-16)


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Transcript:
CHAPTER XII
The promise of a smooth career, which my first calm introduction to Thornfield Hall
seemed to pledge, was not belied on a longer acquaintance with the place and its
inmates.
Mrs. Fairfax turned out to be what she appeared, a placid-tempered, kind-natured
woman, of competent education and average intelligence.
My pupil was a lively child, who had been spoilt and indulged, and therefore was
sometimes wayward; but as she was committed entirely to my care, and no injudicious
interference from any quarter ever thwarted
my plans for her improvement, she soon forgot her little freaks, and became
obedient and teachable.
She had no great talents, no marked traits of character, no peculiar development of
feeling or taste which raised her one inch above the ordinary level of childhood; but
neither had she any deficiency or vice which sunk her below it.
She made reasonable progress, entertained for me a vivacious, though perhaps not very
profound, affection; and by her simplicity, gay prattle, and efforts to please,
inspired me, in return, with a degree of
attachment sufficient to make us both content in each other's society.
This, par parenthese, will be thought cool language by persons who entertain
solemn doctrines about the angelic nature of children, and the duty of those charged
with their education to conceive for them
an idolatrous devotion: but I am not writing to flatter parental egotism, to
echo cant, or prop up humbug; I am merely telling the truth.
I felt a conscientious solicitude for Adele's welfare and progress, and a quiet
liking for her little self: just as I cherished towards Mrs. Fairfax a
thankfulness for her kindness, and a
pleasure in her society proportionate to the tranquil regard she had for me, and the
moderation of her mind and character.
Anybody may blame me who likes, when I add further, that, now and then, when I took a
walk by myself in the grounds; when I went down to the gates and looked through them
along the road; or when, while Adele played
with her nurse, and Mrs. Fairfax made jellies in the storeroom, I climbed the
three staircases, raised the trap-door of the attic, and having reached the leads,
looked out afar over sequestered field and
hill, and along dim sky-line--that then I longed for a power of vision which might
overpass that limit; which might reach the busy world, towns, regions full of life I
had heard of but never seen--that then I
desired more of practical experience than I possessed; more of intercourse with my
kind, of acquaintance with variety of character, than was here within my reach.
I valued what was good in Mrs. Fairfax, and what was good in Adele; but I believed in
the existence of other and more vivid kinds of goodness, and what I believed in I
wished to behold.
Who blames me? Many, no doubt; and I shall be called
discontented.
I could not help it: the restlessness was in my nature; it agitated me to pain
sometimes.
Then my sole relief was to walk along the corridor of the third storey, backwards and
forwards, safe in the silence and solitude of the spot, and allow my mind's eye to
dwell on whatever bright visions rose
before it--and, certainly, they were many and glowing; to let my heart be heaved by
the exultant movement, which, while it swelled it in trouble, expanded it with
life; and, best of all, to open my inward
ear to a tale that was never ended--a tale my imagination created, and narrated
continuously; quickened with all of incident, life, fire, feeling, that I
desired and had not in my actual existence.
It is in vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquillity: they must
have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it.
Millions are condemned to a stiller doom than mine, and millions are in silent
revolt against their lot.
Nobody knows how many rebellions besides political rebellions ferment in the masses
of life which people earth.
Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel;
they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts, as much as their
brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a
restraint, too absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is
narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to
confine themselves to making puddings and
knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags.
It is thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at them, if they seek to do more or learn
more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex.
When thus alone, I not unfrequently heard Grace Poole's laugh: the same peal, the
same low, slow ha! ha! which, when first heard, had thrilled me: I heard, too, her
eccentric murmurs; stranger than her laugh.
There were days when she was quite silent; but there were others when I could not
account for the sounds she made.
Sometimes I saw her: she would come out of her room with a basin, or a plate, or a
tray in her hand, go down to the kitchen and shortly return, generally (oh, romantic
reader, forgive me for telling the plain truth!) bearing a pot of porter.
Her appearance always acted as a damper to the curiosity raised by her oral oddities:
hard-featured and staid, she had no point to which interest could attach.
I made some attempts to draw her into conversation, but she seemed a person of
few words: a monosyllabic reply usually cut short every effort of that sort.
The other members of the household, viz., John and his wife, Leah the housemaid, and
Sophie the French nurse, were decent people; but in no respect remarkable; with
Sophie I used to talk French, and sometimes
I asked her questions about her native country; but she was not of a descriptive
or narrative turn, and generally gave such vapid and confused answers as were
calculated rather to check than encourage inquiry.
October, November, December passed away.
One afternoon in January, Mrs. Fairfax had begged a holiday for Adele, because she had
a cold; and, as Adele seconded the request with an ardour that reminded me how
precious occasional holidays had been to me
in my own childhood, I accorded it, deeming that I did well in showing pliability on
the point.
It was a fine, calm day, though very cold; I was tired of sitting still in the library
through a whole long morning: Mrs. Fairfax had just written a letter which was waiting
to be posted, so I put on my bonnet and
cloak and volunteered to carry it to Hay; the distance, two miles, would be a
pleasant winter afternoon walk.
Having seen Adele comfortably seated in her little chair by Mrs. Fairfax's parlour
fireside, and given her her best wax doll (which I usually kept enveloped in silver
paper in a drawer) to play with, and a
story-book for change of amusement; and having replied to her "Revenez bientot, ma
bonne amie, ma chere Mdlle. Jeannette," with a kiss I set out.
The ground was hard, the air was still, my road was lonely; I walked fast till I got
warm, and then I walked slowly to enjoy and analyse the species of pleasure brooding
for me in the hour and situation.
It was three o'clock; the church bell tolled as I passed under the belfry: the
charm of the hour lay in its approaching dimness, in the low-gliding and pale-
beaming sun.
I was a mile from Thornfield, in a lane noted for wild roses in summer, for nuts
and blackberries in autumn, and even now possessing a few coral treasures in hips
and haws, but whose best winter delight lay in its utter solitude and leafless repose.
If a breath of air stirred, it made no sound here; for there was not a holly, not
an evergreen to rustle, and the stripped hawthorn and hazel bushes were as still as
the white, worn stones which causewayed the middle of the path.
Far and wide, on each side, there were only fields, where no cattle now browsed; and
the little brown birds, which stirred occasionally in the hedge, looked like
single russet leaves that had forgotten to drop.
This lane inclined up-hill all the way to Hay; having reached the middle, I sat down
on a stile which led thence into a field.
Gathering my mantle about me, and sheltering my hands in my muff, I did not
feel the cold, though it froze keenly; as was attested by a sheet of ice covering the
causeway, where a little brooklet, now
congealed, had overflowed after a rapid thaw some days since.
From my seat I could look down on Thornfield: the grey and battlemented hall
was the principal object in the vale below me; its woods and dark rookery rose against
the west.
I lingered till the sun went down amongst the trees, and sank crimson and clear
behind them. I then turned eastward.
On the hill-top above me sat the rising moon; pale yet as a cloud, but brightening
momentarily, she looked over Hay, which, half lost in trees, sent up a blue smoke
from its few chimneys: it was yet a mile
distant, but in the absolute hush I could hear plainly its thin murmurs of life.
My ear, too, felt the flow of currents; in what dales and depths I could not tell: but
there were many hills beyond Hay, and doubtless many becks threading their
passes.
That evening calm betrayed alike the tinkle of the nearest streams, the sough of the
most remote.
A rude noise broke on these fine ripplings and whisperings, at once so far away and so
clear: a positive tramp, tramp, a metallic clatter, which effaced the soft wave-
wanderings; as, in a picture, the solid
mass of a crag, or the rough boles of a great oak, drawn in dark and strong on the
foreground, efface the aerial distance of azure hill, sunny horizon, and blended
clouds where tint melts into tint.
The din was on the causeway: a horse was coming; the windings of the lane yet hid
it, but it approached.
I was just leaving the stile; yet, as the path was narrow, I sat still to let it go
by.
In those days I was young, and all sorts of fancies bright and dark tenanted my mind:
the memories of nursery stories were there amongst other rubbish; and when they
recurred, maturing youth added to them a
vigour and vividness beyond what childhood could give.
As this horse approached, and as I watched for it to appear through the dusk, I
remembered certain of Bessie's tales, wherein figured a North-of-England spirit
called a "Gytrash," which, in the form of
horse, mule, or large dog, haunted solitary ways, and sometimes came upon belated
travellers, as this horse was now coming upon me.
It was very near, but not yet in sight; when, in addition to the tramp, tramp, I
heard a rush under the hedge, and close down by the hazel stems glided a great dog,
whose black and white colour made him a distinct object against the trees.
It was exactly one form of Bessie's Gytrash--a lion-like creature with long
hair and a huge head: it passed me, however, quietly enough; not staying to
look up, with strange pretercanine eyes, in my face, as I half expected it would.
The horse followed,--a tall steed, and on its back a rider.
The man, the human being, broke the spell at once.
Nothing ever rode the Gytrash: it was always alone; and goblins, to my notions,
though they might tenant the dumb carcasses of beasts, could scarce covet shelter in
the commonplace human form.
No Gytrash was this,--only a traveller taking the short cut to Millcote.
He passed, and I went on; a few steps, and I turned: a sliding sound and an
exclamation of "What the deuce is to do now?" and a clattering tumble, arrested my
attention.
Man and horse were down; they had slipped on the sheet of ice which glazed the
causeway.
The dog came bounding back, and seeing his master in a predicament, and hearing the
horse groan, barked till the evening hills echoed the sound, which was deep in
proportion to his magnitude.
He snuffed round the prostrate group, and then he ran up to me; it was all he could
do,--there was no other help at hand to summon.
I obeyed him, and walked down to the traveller, by this time struggling himself
free of his steed.
His efforts were so vigorous, I thought he could not be much hurt; but I asked him the
question-- "Are you injured, sir?"
I think he was swearing, but am not certain; however, he was pronouncing some
formula which prevented him from replying to me directly.
"Can I do anything?"
I asked again. "You must just stand on one side," he
answered as he rose, first to his knees, and then to his feet.
I did; whereupon began a heaving, stamping, clattering process, accompanied by a
barking and baying which removed me effectually some yards' distance; but I
would not be driven quite away till I saw the event.
This was finally fortunate; the horse was re-established, and the dog was silenced
with a "Down, Pilot!"
The traveller now, stooping, felt his foot and leg, as if trying whether they were
sound; apparently something ailed them, for he halted to the stile whence I had just
risen, and sat down.
I was in the mood for being useful, or at least officious, I think, for I now drew
near him again.
"If you are hurt, and want help, sir, I can fetch some one either from Thornfield Hall
or from Hay."
"Thank you: I shall do: I have no broken bones,--only a sprain;" and again he stood
up and tried his foot, but the result extorted an involuntary "Ugh!"
Something of daylight still lingered, and the moon was waxing bright: I could see him
plainly.
His figure was enveloped in a riding cloak, fur collared and steel clasped; its details
were not apparent, but I traced the general points of middle height and considerable
breadth of chest.
He had a dark face, with stern features and a heavy brow; his eyes and gathered
eyebrows looked ireful and thwarted just now; he was past youth, but had not reached
middle-age; perhaps he might be thirty- five.
I felt no fear of him, and but little shyness.
Had he been a handsome, heroic- looking young gentleman, I should not have dared to
stand thus questioning him against his will, and offering my services unasked.
I had hardly ever seen a handsome youth; never in my life spoken to one.
I had a theoretical reverence and homage for beauty, elegance, gallantry,
fascination; but had I met those qualities incarnate in masculine shape, I should have
known instinctively that they neither had
nor could have sympathy with anything in me, and should have shunned them as one
would fire, lightning, or anything else that is bright but antipathetic.
If even this stranger had smiled and been good-humoured to me when I addressed him;
if he had put off my offer of assistance gaily and with thanks, I should have gone
on my way and not felt any vocation to
renew inquiries: but the frown, the roughness of the traveller, set me at my
ease: I retained my station when he waved to me to go, and announced--
"I cannot think of leaving you, sir, at so late an hour, in this solitary lane, till I
see you are fit to mount your horse."
He looked at me when I said this; he had hardly turned his eyes in my direction
before.
"I should think you ought to be at home yourself," said he, "if you have a home in
this neighbourhood: where do you come from?"
"From just below; and I am not at all afraid of being out late when it is
moonlight: I will run over to Hay for you with pleasure, if you wish it: indeed, I am
going there to post a letter."
"You live just below--do you mean at that house with the battlements?" pointing to
Thornfield Hall, on which the moon cast a hoary gleam, bringing it out distinct and
pale from the woods that, by contrast with
the western sky, now seemed one mass of shadow.
"Yes, sir." "Whose house is it?"
"Mr. Rochester's."
"Do you know Mr. Rochester?" "No, I have never seen him."
"He is not resident, then?" "No."
"Can you tell me where he is?"
"I cannot." "You are not a servant at the hall, of
course.
You are--" He stopped, ran his eye over my dress, which, as usual, was quite simple: a
black merino cloak, a black beaver bonnet; neither of them half fine enough for a
lady's-maid.
He seemed puzzled to decide what I was; I helped him.
"I am the governess." "Ah, the governess!" he repeated; "deuce
take me, if I had not forgotten!
The governess!" and again my raiment underwent scrutiny.
In two minutes he rose from the stile: his face expressed pain when he tried to move.
"I cannot commission you to fetch help," he said; "but you may help me a little
yourself, if you will be so kind." "Yes, sir."
"You have not an umbrella that I can use as a stick?"
"No." "Try to get hold of my horse's bridle and
lead him to me: you are not afraid?"
I should have been afraid to touch a horse when alone, but when told to do it, I was
disposed to obey.
I put down my muff on the stile, and went up to the tall steed; I endeavoured to
catch the bridle, but it was a spirited thing, and would not let me come near its
head; I made effort on effort, though in
vain: meantime, I was mortally afraid of its trampling fore-feet.
The traveller waited and watched for some time, and at last he laughed.
{I was mortally afraid of its trampling forefeet: p107.jpg}
"I see," he said, "the mountain will never be brought to Mahomet, so all you can do is
to aid Mahomet to go to the mountain; I must beg of you to come here."
I came.
"Excuse me," he continued: "necessity compels me to make you useful."
He laid a heavy hand on my shoulder, and leaning on me with some stress, limped to
his horse.
Having once caught the bridle, he mastered it directly and sprang to his saddle;
grimacing grimly as he made the effort, for it wrenched his sprain.
"Now," said he, releasing his under lip from a hard bite, "just hand me my whip; it
lies there under the hedge." I sought it and found it.
"Thank you; now make haste with the letter to Hay, and return as fast as you can."
A touch of a spurred heel made his horse first start and rear, and then bound away;
the dog rushed in his traces; all three vanished,
"Like heath that, in the wilderness, The wild wind whirls away."
I took up my muff and walked on.
The incident had occurred and was gone for me: it was an incident of no moment, no
romance, no interest in a sense; yet it marked with change one single hour of a
monotonous life.
My help had been needed and claimed; I had given it: I was pleased to have done
something; trivial, transitory though the deed was, it was yet an active thing, and I
was weary of an existence all passive.
The new face, too, was like a new picture introduced to the gallery of memory; and it
was dissimilar to all the others hanging there: firstly, because it was masculine;
and, secondly, because it was dark, strong, and stern.
I had it still before me when I entered Hay, and slipped the letter into the post-
office; I saw it as I walked fast down-hill all the way home.
When I came to the stile, I stopped a minute, looked round and listened, with an
idea that a horse's hoofs might ring on the causeway again, and that a rider in a
cloak, and a Gytrash-like Newfoundland dog,
might be again apparent: I saw only the hedge and a pollard willow before me,
rising up still and straight to meet the moonbeams; I heard only the faintest waft
of wind roaming fitful among the trees
round Thornfield, a mile distant; and when I glanced down in the direction of the
murmur, my eye, traversing the hall-front, caught a light kindling in a window: it
reminded me that I was late, and I hurried on.
I did not like re-entering Thornfield.
To pass its threshold was to return to stagnation; to cross the silent hall, to
ascend the darksome staircase, to seek my own lonely little room, and then to meet
tranquil Mrs. Fairfax, and spend the long
winter evening with her, and her only, was to quell wholly the faint excitement
wakened by my walk,--to slip again over my faculties the viewless fetters of an
uniform and too still existence; of an
existence whose very privileges of security and ease I was becoming incapable of
appreciating.
What good it would have done me at that time to have been tossed in the storms of
an uncertain struggling life, and to have been taught by rough and bitter experience
to long for the calm amidst which I now repined!
Yes, just as much good as it would do a man tired of sitting still in a "too easy
chair" to take a long walk: and just as natural was the wish to stir, under my
circumstances, as it would be under his.
I lingered at the gates; I lingered on the lawn; I paced backwards and forwards on the
pavement; the shutters of the glass door were closed; I could not see into the
interior; and both my eyes and spirit
seemed drawn from the gloomy house--from the grey-hollow filled with rayless cells,
as it appeared to me--to that sky expanded before me,--a blue sea absolved from taint
of cloud; the moon ascending it in solemn
march; her orb seeming to look up as she left the hill-tops, from behind which she
had come, far and farther below her, and aspired to the zenith, midnight dark in its
fathomless depth and measureless distance;
and for those trembling stars that followed her course; they made my heart tremble, my
veins glow when I viewed them.
Little things recall us to earth; the clock struck in the hall; that sufficed; I turned
from moon and stars, opened a side- door, and went in.
The hall was not dark, nor yet was it lit, only by the high-hung bronze lamp; a warm
glow suffused both it and the lower steps of the oak staircase.
This ruddy shine issued from the great dining-room, whose two- leaved door stood
open, and showed a genial fire in the grate, glancing on marble hearth and brass
fire-irons, and revealing purple draperies
and polished furniture, in the most pleasant radiance.
It revealed, too, a group near the mantelpiece: I had scarcely caught it, and
scarcely become aware of a cheerful mingling of voices, amongst which I seemed
to distinguish the tones of Adele, when the door closed.
I hastened to Mrs. Fairfax's room; there was a fire there too, but no candle, and no
Mrs. Fairfax.
Instead, all alone, sitting upright on the rug, and gazing with gravity at the blaze,
I beheld a great black and white long- haired dog, just like the Gytrash of the
lane.
It was so like it that I went forward and said--"Pilot" and the thing got up and came
to me and snuffed me.
I caressed him, and he wagged his great tail; but he looked an eerie creature to be
alone with, and I could not tell whence he had come.
I rang the bell, for I wanted a candle; and I wanted, too, to get an account of this
visitant. Leah entered.
"What dog is this?"
"He came with master." "With whom?"
"With master--Mr. Rochester--he is just arrived."
"Indeed! and is Mrs. Fairfax with him?"
"Yes, and Miss Adele; they are in the dining-room, and John is gone for a
surgeon; for master has had an accident; his horse fell and his ankle is sprained."
"Did the horse fall in Hay Lane?"
"Yes, coming down-hill; it slipped on some ice."
"Ah! Bring me a candle will you Leah?"
Leah brought it; she entered, followed by Mrs. Fairfax, who repeated the news; adding
that Mr. Carter the surgeon was come, and was now with Mr. Rochester: then she
hurried out to give orders about tea, and I went upstairs to take off my things.
>
CHAPTER XIII
Mr. Rochester, it seems, by the surgeon's orders, went to bed early that night; nor
did he rise soon next morning.
When he did come down, it was to attend to business: his agent and some of his tenants
were arrived, and waiting to speak with him.
Adele and I had now to vacate the library: it would be in daily requisition as a
reception-room for callers.
A fire was lit in an apartment upstairs, and there I carried our books, and arranged
it for the future schoolroom.
I discerned in the course of the morning that Thornfield Hall was a changed place:
no longer silent as a church, it echoed every hour or two to a knock at the door,
or a clang of the bell; steps, too, often
traversed the hall, and new voices spoke in different keys below; a rill from the outer
world was flowing through it; it had a master: for my part, I liked it better.
Adele was not easy to teach that day; she could not apply: she kept running to the
door and looking over the banisters to see if she could get a glimpse of Mr.
Rochester; then she coined pretexts to go
downstairs, in order, as I shrewdly suspected, to visit the library, where I
knew she was not wanted; then, when I got a little angry, and made her sit still, she
continued to talk incessantly of her "ami,
Monsieur Edouard Fairfax de Rochester," as she dubbed him (I had not before heard
his prenomens), and to conjecture what presents he had brought her: for it appears
he had intimated the night before, that
when his luggage came from Millcote, there would be found amongst it a little box in
whose contents she had an interest.
"Et cela doit signifier," said she, "qu'il y aura la dedans un cadeau pour moi, et
peut-etre pour vous aussi, mademoiselle.
Monsieur a parle de vous: il m'a demande le nom de ma gouvernante, et si elle n'etait
pas une petite personne, assez mince et un peu pale.
J'ai dit qu'oui: car c'est vrai, n'est-ce pas, mademoiselle?"
I and my pupil dined as usual in Mrs. Fairfax's parlour; the afternoon was wild
and snowy, and we passed it in the schoolroom.
At dark I allowed Adele to put away books and work, and to run downstairs; for, from
the comparative silence below, and from the cessation of appeals to the door-bell, I
conjectured that Mr. Rochester was now at liberty.
Left alone, I walked to the window; but nothing was to be seen thence: twilight and
snowflakes together thickened the air, and hid the very shrubs on the lawn.
I let down the curtain and went back to the fireside.
In the clear embers I was tracing a view, not unlike a picture I remembered to have
seen of the castle of Heidelberg, on the Rhine, when Mrs. Fairfax came in, breaking
up by her entrance the fiery mosaic I had
been piercing together, and scattering too some heavy unwelcome thoughts that were
beginning to throng on my solitude.
"Mr. Rochester would be glad if you and your pupil would take tea with him in the
drawing-room this evening," said she: "he has been so much engaged all day that he
could not ask to see you before."
"When is his tea-time?" I inquired.
"Oh, at six o'clock: he keeps early hours in the country.
You had better change your frock now; I will go with you and fasten it.
Here is a candle." "Is it necessary to change my frock?"
"Yes, you had better: I always dress for the evening when Mr. Rochester is here."
This additional ceremony seemed somewhat stately; however, I repaired to my room,
and, with Mrs. Fairfax's aid, replaced my black stuff dress by one of black silk; the
best and the only additional one I had,
except one of light grey, which, in my Lowood notions of the toilette, I thought
too fine to be worn, except on first-rate occasions.
"You want a brooch," said Mrs. Fairfax.
I had a single little pearl ornament which Miss Temple gave me as a parting keepsake:
I put it on, and then we went downstairs.
Unused as I was to strangers, it was rather a trial to appear thus formally summoned in
Mr. Rochester's presence.
I let Mrs. Fairfax precede me into the dining-room, and kept in her shade as we
crossed that apartment; and, passing the arch, whose curtain was now dropped,
entered the elegant recess beyond.
Two wax candles stood lighted on the table, and two on the mantelpiece; basking in the
light and heat of a superb fire, lay Pilot- -Adele knelt near him.
Half reclined on a couch appeared Mr. Rochester, his foot supported by the
cushion; he was looking at Adele and the dog: the fire shone full on his face.
I knew my traveller with his broad and jetty eyebrows; his square forehead, made
squarer by the horizontal sweep of his black hair.
I recognised his decisive nose, more remarkable for character than beauty; his
full nostrils, denoting, I thought, choler; his grim mouth, chin, and jaw--yes, all
three were very grim, and no mistake.
His shape, now divested of cloak, I perceived harmonised in squareness with his
physiognomy: I suppose it was a good figure in the athletic sense of the term--broad
chested and thin flanked, though neither tall nor graceful.
Mr. Rochester must have been aware of the entrance of Mrs. Fairfax and myself; but it
appeared he was not in the mood to notice us, for he never lifted his head as we
approached.
"Here is Miss Eyre, sir," said Mrs. Fairfax, in her quiet way.
He bowed, still not taking his eyes from the group of the dog and child.
"Let Miss Eyre be seated," said he: and there was something in the forced stiff
bow, in the impatient yet formal tone, which seemed further to express, "What the
deuce is it to me whether Miss Eyre be there or not?
At this moment I am not disposed to accost her."
I sat down quite disembarrassed.
A reception of finished politeness would probably have confused me: I could not have
returned or repaid it by answering grace and elegance on my part; but harsh caprice
laid me under no obligation; on the
contrary, a decent quiescence, under the freak of manner, gave me the advantage.
Besides, the eccentricity of the proceeding was piquant: I felt interested to see how
he would go on.
He went on as a statue would, that is, he neither spoke nor moved.
Mrs. Fairfax seemed to think it necessary that some one should be amiable, and she
began to talk.
Kindly, as usual--and, as usual, rather trite--she condoled with him on the
pressure of business he had had all day; on the annoyance it must have been to him with
that painful sprain: then she commended his
patience and perseverance in going through with it.
"Madam, I should like some tea," was the sole rejoinder she got.
She hastened to ring the bell; and when the tray came, she proceeded to arrange the
cups, spoons, &c., with assiduous celerity. I and Adele went to the table; but the
master did not leave his couch.
"Will you hand Mr. Rochester's cup?" said Mrs. Fairfax to me; "Adele might perhaps
spill it." I did as requested.
As he took the cup from my hand, Adele, thinking the moment propitious for making a
request in my favour, cried out--
"N'est-ce pas, monsieur, qu'il y a un cadeau pour Mademoiselle Eyre dans votre
petit coffre?" "Who talks of cadeaux?" said he gruffly.
"Did you expect a present, Miss Eyre?
Are you fond of presents?" and he searched my face with eyes that I saw were dark,
irate, and piercing.
"I hardly know, sir; I have little experience of them: they are generally
thought pleasant things." "Generally thought?
But what do you think?"
"I should be obliged to take time, sir, before I could give you an answer worthy of
your acceptance: a present has many faces to it, has it not? and one should consider
all, before pronouncing an opinion as to its nature."
"Miss Eyre, you are not so unsophisticated as Adele: she demands a 'cadeau,'
clamorously, the moment she sees me: you beat about the bush."
"Because I have less confidence in my deserts than Adele has: she can prefer the
claim of old acquaintance, and the right too of custom; for she says you have always
been in the habit of giving her playthings;
but if I had to make out a case I should be puzzled, since I am a stranger, and have
done nothing to entitle me to an acknowledgment."
"Oh, don't fall back on over-modesty!
I have examined Adele, and find you have taken great pains with her: she is not
bright, she has no talents; yet in a short time she has made much improvement."
"Sir, you have now given me my 'cadeau;' I am obliged to you: it is the meed teachers
most covet--praise of their pupils' progress."
"Humph!" said Mr. Rochester, and he took his tea in silence.
"Come to the fire," said the master, when the tray was taken away, and Mrs. Fairfax
had settled into a corner with her knitting; while Adele was leading me by the
hand round the room, showing me the
beautiful books and ornaments on the consoles and chiffonnieres.
We obeyed, as in duty bound; Adele wanted to take a seat on my knee, but she was
ordered to amuse herself with Pilot.
"You have been resident in my house three months?"
"Yes, sir." "And you came from--?"
"From Lowood school, in ---shire."
"Ah! a charitable concern. How long were you there?"
"Eight years." "Eight years! you must be tenacious of
life.
I thought half the time in such a place would have done up any constitution!
No wonder you have rather the look of another world.
I marvelled where you had got that sort of face.
When you came on me in Hay Lane last night, I thought unaccountably of fairy tales, and
had half a mind to demand whether you had bewitched my horse: I am not sure yet.
Who are your parents?"
"I have none." "Nor ever had, I suppose: do you remember
them?" "No."
"I thought not.
And so you were waiting for your people when you sat on that stile?"
"For whom, sir?" "For the men in green: it was a proper
moonlight evening for them.
Did I break through one of your rings, that you spread that damned ice on the
causeway?" I shook my head.
"The men in green all forsook England a hundred years ago," said I, speaking as
seriously as he had done. "And not even in Hay Lane, or the fields
about it, could you find a trace of them.
I don't think either summer or harvest, or winter moon, will ever shine on their
revels more."
Mrs. Fairfax had dropped her knitting, and, with raised eyebrows, seemed wondering what
sort of talk this was.
"Well," resumed Mr. Rochester, "if you disown parents, you must have some sort of
kinsfolk: uncles and aunts?" "No; none that I ever saw."
"And your home?"
"I have none." "Where do your brothers and sisters live?"
"I have no brothers or sisters." "Who recommended you to come here?"
"I advertised, and Mrs. Fairfax answered my advertisement."
"Yes," said the good lady, who now knew what ground we were upon, "and I am daily
thankful for the choice Providence led me to make.
Miss Eyre has been an invaluable companion to me, and a kind and careful teacher to
Adele."
"Don't trouble yourself to give her a character," returned Mr. Rochester:
"eulogiums will not bias me; I shall judge for myself.
She began by felling my horse."
"Sir?" said Mrs. Fairfax. "I have to thank her for this sprain."
The widow looked bewildered. "Miss Eyre, have you ever lived in a town?"
"No, sir."
"Have you seen much society?" "None but the pupils and teachers of
Lowood, and now the inmates of Thornfield." "Have you read much?"
"Only such books as came in my way; and they have not been numerous or very
learned."
"You have lived the life of a nun: no doubt you are well drilled in religious forms;--
Brocklehurst, who I understand directs Lowood, is a parson, is he not?"
"Yes, sir."
"And you girls probably worshipped him, as a convent full of religieuses would worship
their director." "Oh, no."
"You are very cool! No! What! a novice not worship her priest!
That sounds blasphemous." "I disliked Mr. Brocklehurst; and I was not
alone in the feeling.
He is a harsh man; at once pompous and meddling; he cut off our hair; and for
economy's sake bought us bad needles and thread, with which we could hardly sew."
"That was very false economy," remarked Mrs. Fairfax, who now again caught the
drift of the dialogue. "And was that the head and front of his
offending?" demanded Mr. Rochester.
"He starved us when he had the sole superintendence of the provision
department, before the committee was appointed; and he bored us with long
lectures once a week, and with evening
readings from books of his own inditing, about sudden deaths and judgments, which
made us afraid to go to bed." "What age were you when you went to
Lowood?"
"About ten." "And you stayed there eight years: you are
now, then, eighteen?" I assented.
"Arithmetic, you see, is useful; without its aid, I should hardly have been able to
guess your age.
It is a point difficult to fix where the features and countenance are so much at
variance as in your case. And now what did you learn at Lowood?
Can you play?"
"A little." "Of course: that is the established answer.
Go into the library--I mean, if you please.--(Excuse my tone of command; I am
used to say, 'Do this,' and it is done: I cannot alter my customary habits for one
new inmate.)--Go, then, into the library;
take a candle with you; leave the door open; sit down to the piano, and play a
tune." I departed, obeying his directions.
"Enough!" he called out in a few minutes.
"You play a little, I see; like any other English school-girl; perhaps rather better
than some, but not well." I closed the piano and returned.
Mr. Rochester continued--"Adele showed me some sketches this morning, which she said
were yours. I don't know whether they were entirely of
your doing; probably a master aided you?"
"No, indeed!" I interjected.
"Ah! that pricks pride.
Well, fetch me your portfolio, if you can vouch for its contents being original; but
don't pass your word unless you are certain: I can recognise patchwork."
"Then I will say nothing, and you shall judge for yourself, sir."
I brought the portfolio from the library. "Approach the table," said he; and I
wheeled it to his couch.
Adele and Mrs. Fairfax drew near to see the pictures.
"No crowding," said Mr. Rochester: "take the drawings from my hand as I finish with
them; but don't push your faces up to mine."
He deliberately scrutinised each sketch and painting.
Three he laid aside; the others, when he had examined them, he swept from him.
"Take them off to the other table, Mrs. Fairfax," said he, "and look at them with
Adele;--you" (glancing at me) "resume your seat, and answer my questions.
I perceive those pictures were done by one hand: was that hand yours?"
"Yes." "And when did you find time to do them?
They have taken much time, and some thought."
"I did them in the last two vacations I spent at Lowood, when I had no other
occupation."
"Where did you get your copies?" "Out of my head."
"That head I see now on your shoulders?" "Yes, sir."
"Has it other furniture of the same kind within?"
"I should think it may have: I should hope- -better."
He spread the pictures before him, and again surveyed them alternately.
While he is so occupied, I will tell you, reader, what they are: and first, I must
premise that they are nothing wonderful.
The subjects had, indeed, risen vividly on my mind.
As I saw them with the spiritual eye, before I attempted to embody them, they
were striking; but my hand would not second my fancy, and in each case it had wrought
out but a pale portrait of the thing I had conceived.
These pictures were in water-colours.
The first represented clouds low and livid, rolling over a swollen sea: all the
distance was in eclipse; so, too, was the foreground; or rather, the nearest billows,
for there was no land.
One gleam of light lifted into relief a half-submerged mast, on which sat a
cormorant, dark and large, with wings flecked with foam; its beak held a gold
bracelet set with gems, that I had touched
with as brilliant tints as my palette could yield, and as glittering distinctness as my
pencil could impart.
Sinking below the bird and mast, a drowned corpse glanced through the green water; a
fair arm was the only limb clearly visible, whence the bracelet had been washed or
torn.
The second picture contained for foreground only the dim peak of a hill, with grass and
some leaves slanting as if by a breeze.
Beyond and above spread an expanse of sky, dark blue as at twilight: rising into the
sky was a woman's shape to the bust, portrayed in tints as dusk and soft as I
could combine.
The dim forehead was crowned with a star; the lineaments below were seen as through
the suffusion of vapour; the eyes shone dark and wild; the hair streamed shadowy,
like a beamless cloud torn by storm or by electric travail.
On the neck lay a pale reflection like moonlight; the same faint lustre touched
the train of thin clouds from which rose and bowed this vision of the Evening Star.
The third showed the pinnacle of an iceberg piercing a polar winter sky: a muster of
northern lights reared their dim lances, close serried, along the horizon.
Throwing these into distance, rose, in the foreground, a head,--a colossal head,
inclined towards the iceberg, and resting against it.
Two thin hands, joined under the forehead, and supporting it, drew up before the lower
features a sable veil, a brow quite bloodless, white as bone, and an eye hollow
and fixed, blank of meaning but for the glassiness of despair, alone were visible.
Above the temples, amidst wreathed turban folds of black drapery, vague in its
character and consistency as cloud, gleamed a ring of white flame, gemmed with sparkles
of a more lurid tinge.
This pale crescent was "the likeness of a kingly crown;" what it diademed was "the
shape which shape had none." "Were you happy when you painted these
pictures?" asked Mr. Rochester presently.
"I was absorbed, sir: yes, and I was happy. To paint them, in short, was to enjoy one
of the keenest pleasures I have ever known."
"That is not saying much.
Your pleasures, by your own account, have been few; but I daresay you did exist in a
kind of artist's dreamland while you blent and arranged these strange tints.
Did you sit at them long each day?"
"I had nothing else to do, because it was the vacation, and I sat at them from
morning till noon, and from noon till night: the length of the midsummer days
favoured my inclination to apply."
"And you felt self-satisfied with the result of your ardent labours?"
"Far from it.
I was tormented by the contrast between my idea and my handiwork: in each case I had
imagined something which I was quite powerless to realise."
"Not quite: you have secured the shadow of your thought; but no more, probably.
You had not enough of the artist's skill and science to give it full being: yet the
drawings are, for a school-girl, peculiar.
As to the thoughts, they are elfish. These eyes in the Evening Star you must
have seen in a dream.
How could you make them look so clear, and yet not at all brilliant? for the planet
above quells their rays. And what meaning is that in their solemn
depth?
And who taught you to paint wind? There is a high gale in that sky, and on
this hill-top. Where did you see Latmos?
For that is Latmos.
There! put the drawings away!" I had scarce tied the strings of the
portfolio, when, looking at his watch, he said abruptly--
"It is nine o'clock: what are you about, Miss Eyre, to let Adele sit up so long?
Take her to bed."
Adele went to kiss him before quitting the room: he endured the caress, but scarcely
seemed to relish it more than Pilot would have done, nor so much.
"I wish you all good-night, now," said he, making a movement of the hand towards the
door, in token that he was tired of our company, and wished to dismiss us.
Mrs. Fairfax folded up her knitting: I took my portfolio: we curtseyed to him, received
a frigid bow in return, and so withdrew.
"You said Mr. Rochester was not strikingly peculiar, Mrs. Fairfax," I observed, when I
rejoined her in her room, after putting Adele to bed.
"Well, is he?"
"I think so: he is very changeful and abrupt."
"True: no doubt he may appear so to a stranger, but I am so accustomed to his
manner, I never think of it; and then, if he has peculiarities of temper, allowance
should be made."
"Why?"
"Partly because it is his nature--and we can none of us help our nature; and partly
because he has painful thoughts, no doubt, to harass him, and make his spirits
unequal."
"What about?" "Family troubles, for one thing."
"But he has no family." "Not now, but he has had--or, at least,
relatives.
He lost his elder brother a few years since."
"His elder brother?"
"Yes. The present Mr. Rochester has not been very long in possession of the
property; only about nine years." "Nine years is a tolerable time.
Was he so very fond of his brother as to be still inconsolable for his loss?"
"Why, no--perhaps not. I believe there were some misunderstandings
between them.
Mr. Rowland Rochester was not quite just to Mr. Edward; and perhaps he prejudiced his
father against him. The old gentleman was fond of money, and
anxious to keep the family estate together.
He did not like to diminish the property by division, and yet he was anxious that Mr.
Edward should have wealth, too, to keep up the consequence of the name; and, soon
after he was of age, some steps were taken
that were not quite fair, and made a great deal of mischief.
Old Mr. Rochester and Mr. Rowland combined to bring Mr. Edward into what he considered
a painful position, for the sake of making his fortune: what the precise nature of
that position was I never clearly knew, but
his spirit could not brook what he had to suffer in it.
He is not very forgiving: he broke with his family, and now for many years he has led
an unsettled kind of life.
I don't think he has ever been resident at Thornfield for a fortnight together, since
the death of his brother without a will left him master of the estate; and, indeed,
no wonder he shuns the old place."
"Why should he shun it?" "Perhaps he thinks it gloomy."
The answer was evasive.
I should have liked something clearer; but Mrs. Fairfax either could not, or would
not, give me more explicit information of the origin and nature of Mr. Rochester's
trials.
She averred they were a mystery to herself, and that what she knew was chiefly from
conjecture.
It was evident, indeed, that she wished me to drop the subject, which I did
accordingly.
>
CHAPTER XIV
For several subsequent days I saw little of Mr. Rochester.
In the mornings he seemed much engaged with business, and, in the afternoon, gentlemen
from Millcote or the neighbourhood called, and sometimes stayed to dine with him.
When his sprain was well enough to admit of horse exercise, he rode out a good deal;
probably to return these visits, as he generally did not come back till late at
night.
During this interval, even Adele was seldom sent for to his presence, and all my
acquaintance with him was confined to an occasional rencontre in the hall, on the
stairs, or in the gallery, when he would
sometimes pass me haughtily and coldly, just acknowledging my presence by a distant
nod or a cool glance, and sometimes bow and smile with gentlemanlike affability.
His changes of mood did not offend me, because I saw that I had nothing to do with
their alternation; the ebb and flow depended on causes quite disconnected with
me.
One day he had had company to dinner, and had sent for my portfolio; in order,
doubtless, to exhibit its contents: the gentlemen went away early, to attend a
public meeting at Millcote, as Mrs. Fairfax
informed me; but the night being wet and inclement, Mr. Rochester did not accompany
them.
Soon after they were gone he rang the bell: a message came that I and Adele were to go
downstairs.
I brushed Adele's hair and made her neat, and having ascertained that I was myself in
my usual Quaker trim, where there was nothing to retouch--all being too close and
plain, braided locks included, to admit of
disarrangement--we descended, Adele wondering whether the petit coffre was at
length come; for, owing to some mistake, its arrival had hitherto been delayed.
She was gratified: there it stood, a little carton, on the table when we entered the
dining-room. She appeared to know it by instinct.
"Ma boite! ma boite!" exclaimed she, running towards it.
"Yes, there is your 'boite' at last: take it into a corner, you genuine daughter of
Paris, and amuse yourself with disembowelling it," said the deep and
rather sarcastic voice of Mr. Rochester,
proceeding from the depths of an immense easy-chair at the fireside.
"And mind," he continued, "don't bother me with any details of the anatomical process,
or any notice of the condition of the entrails: let your operation be conducted
in silence: tiens-toi tranquille, enfant; comprends-tu?"
Adele seemed scarcely to need the warning-- she had already retired to a sofa with her
treasure, and was busy untying the cord which secured the lid.
Having removed this impediment, and lifted certain silvery envelopes of tissue paper,
she merely exclaimed-- "Oh ciel!
Que c'est beau!" and then remained absorbed in ecstatic contemplation.
"Is Miss Eyre there?" now demanded the master, half rising from his seat to look
round to the door, near which I still stood.
"Ah! well, come forward; be seated here."
He drew a chair near his own. "I am not fond of the prattle of children,"
he continued; "for, old bachelor as I am, I have no pleasant associations connected
with their lisp.
It would be intolerable to me to pass a whole evening tete-a-tete with a brat.
Don't draw that chair farther off, Miss Eyre; sit down exactly where I placed it--
if you please, that is.
Confound these civilities! I continually forget them.
Nor do I particularly affect simple-minded old ladies.
By-the-bye, I must have mine in mind; it won't do to neglect her; she is a Fairfax,
or wed to one; and blood is said to be thicker than water."
He rang, and despatched an invitation to Mrs. Fairfax, who soon arrived, knitting-
basket in hand. "Good evening, madam; I sent to you for a
charitable purpose.
I have forbidden Adele to talk to me about her presents, and she is bursting with
repletion: have the goodness to serve her as auditress and interlocutrice; it will be
one of the most benevolent acts you ever performed."
Adele, indeed, no sooner saw Mrs. Fairfax, than she summoned her to her sofa, and
there quickly filled her lap with the porcelain, the ivory, the waxen contents of
her "boite;" pouring out, meantime,
explanations and raptures in such broken English as she was mistress of.
"Now I have performed the part of a good host," pursued Mr. Rochester, "put my
guests into the way of amusing each other, I ought to be at liberty to attend to my
own pleasure.
Miss Eyre, draw your chair still a little farther forward: you are yet too far back;
I cannot see you without disturbing my position in this comfortable chair, which I
have no mind to do."
I did as I was bid, though I would much rather have remained somewhat in the shade;
but Mr. Rochester had such a direct way of giving orders, it seemed a matter of course
to obey him promptly.
We were, as I have said, in the dining- room: the lustre, which had been lit for
dinner, filled the room with a festal breadth of light; the large fire was all
red and clear; the purple curtains hung
rich and ample before the lofty window and loftier arch; everything was still, save
the subdued chat of Adele (she dared not speak loud), and, filling up each pause,
the beating of winter rain against the panes.
Mr. Rochester, as he sat in his damask- covered chair, looked different to what I
had seen him look before; not quite so stern--much less gloomy.
There was a smile on his lips, and his eyes sparkled, whether with wine or not, I am
not sure; but I think it very probable.
He was, in short, in his after-dinner mood; more expanded and genial, and also more
self- indulgent than the frigid and rigid temper of the morning; still he looked
preciously grim, cushioning his massive
head against the swelling back of his chair, and receiving the light of the fire
on his granite- hewn features, and in his great, dark eyes; for he had great, dark
eyes, and very fine eyes, too--not without
a certain change in their depths sometimes, which, if it was not softness, reminded
you, at least, of that feeling.
He had been looking two minutes at the fire, and I had been looking the same
length of time at him, when, turning suddenly, he caught my gaze fastened on his
physiognomy.
"You examine me, Miss Eyre," said he: "do you think me handsome?"
I should, if I had deliberated, have replied to this question by something
conventionally vague and polite; but the answer somehow slipped from my tongue
before I was aware--"No, sir."
"Ah! By my word! there is something singular about you," said he: "you have the
air of a little nonnette; quaint, quiet, grave, and simple, as you sit with your
hands before you, and your eyes generally
bent on the carpet (except, by-the-bye, when they are directed piercingly to my
face; as just now, for instance); and when one asks you a question, or makes a remark
to which you are obliged to reply, you rap
out a round rejoinder, which, if not blunt, is at least brusque.
What do you mean by it?" "Sir, I was too plain; I beg your pardon.
I ought to have replied that it was not easy to give an impromptu answer to a
question about appearances; that tastes mostly differ; and that beauty is of little
consequence, or something of that sort."
"You ought to have replied no such thing. Beauty of little consequence, indeed!
And so, under pretence of softening the previous outrage, of stroking and soothing
me into placidity, you stick a sly penknife under my ear!
Go on: what fault do you find with me, pray?
I suppose I have all my limbs and all my features like any other man?"
"Mr. Rochester, allow me to disown my first answer: I intended no pointed repartee: it
was only a blunder." "Just so: I think so: and you shall be
answerable for it.
Criticise me: does my forehead not please you?"
He lifted up the sable waves of hair which lay horizontally over his brow, and showed
a solid enough mass of intellectual organs, but an abrupt deficiency where the suave
sign of benevolence should have risen.
"Now, ma'am, am I a fool?" "Far from it, sir.
You would, perhaps, think me rude if I inquired in return whether you are a
philanthropist?"
"There again!
Another stick of the penknife, when she pretended to pat my head: and that is
because I said I did not like the society of children and old women (low be it
spoken!).
No, young lady, I am not a general philanthropist; but I bear a conscience;"
and he pointed to the prominences which are said to indicate that faculty, and which,
fortunately for him, were sufficiently
conspicuous; giving, indeed, a marked breadth to the upper part of his head:
"and, besides, I once had a kind of rude tenderness of heart.
When I was as old as you, I was a feeling fellow enough, partial to the unfledged,
unfostered, and unlucky; but Fortune has knocked me about since: she has even
kneaded me with her knuckles, and now I
flatter myself I am hard and tough as an India-rubber ball; pervious, though,
through a chink or two still, and with one sentient point in the middle of the lump.
Yes: does that leave hope for me?"
"Hope of what, sir?" "Of my final re-transformation from India-
rubber back to flesh?"
"Decidedly he has had too much wine," I thought; and I did not know what answer to
make to his queer question: how could I tell whether he was capable of being re-
transformed?
"You looked very much puzzled, Miss Eyre; and though you are not pretty any more than
I am handsome, yet a puzzled air becomes you; besides, it is convenient, for it
keeps those searching eyes of yours away
from my physiognomy, and busies them with the worsted flowers of the rug; so puzzle
on. Young lady, I am disposed to be gregarious
and communicative to-night."
With this announcement he rose from his chair, and stood, leaning his arm on the
marble mantelpiece: in that attitude his shape was seen plainly as well as his face;
his unusual breadth of chest,
disproportionate almost to his length of limb.
I am sure most people would have thought him an ugly man; yet there was so much
unconscious pride in his port; so much ease in his demeanour; such a look of complete
indifference to his own external
appearance; so haughty a reliance on the power of other qualities, intrinsic or
adventitious, to atone for the lack of mere personal attractiveness, that, in looking
at him, one inevitably shared the
indifference, and, even in a blind, imperfect sense, put faith in the
confidence.
"I am disposed to be gregarious and communicative to-night," he repeated, "and
that is why I sent for you: the fire and the chandelier were not sufficient company
for me; nor would Pilot have been, for none of these can talk.
Adele is a degree better, but still far below the mark; Mrs. Fairfax ditto; you, I
am persuaded, can suit me if you will: you puzzled me the first evening I invited you
down here.
I have almost forgotten you since: other ideas have driven yours from my head; but
to-night I am resolved to be at ease; to dismiss what importunes, and recall what
pleases.
It would please me now to draw you out--to learn more of you--therefore speak."
Instead of speaking, I smiled; and not a very complacent or submissive smile either.
"Speak," he urged.
"What about, sir?" "Whatever you like.
I leave both the choice of subject and the manner of treating it entirely to
yourself."
Accordingly I sat and said nothing: "If he expects me to talk for the mere sake of
talking and showing off, he will find he has addressed himself to the wrong person,"
I thought.
"You are dumb, Miss Eyre." I was dumb still.
He bent his head a little towards me, and with a single hasty glance seemed to dive
into my eyes.
"Stubborn?" he said, "and annoyed. Ah! it is consistent.
I put my request in an absurd, almost insolent form.
Miss Eyre, I beg your pardon.
The fact is, once for all, I don't wish to treat you like an inferior: that is"
(correcting himself), "I claim only such superiority as must result from twenty
years' difference in age and a century's advance in experience.
This is legitimate, et j'y tiens, as Adele would say; and it is by virtue of
this superiority, and this alone, that I desire you to have the goodness to talk to
me a little now, and divert my thoughts,
which are galled with dwelling on one point--cankering as a rusty nail."
He had deigned an explanation, almost an apology, and I did not feel insensible to
his condescension, and would not seem so.
"I am willing to amuse you, if I can, sir-- quite willing; but I cannot introduce a
topic, because how do I know what will interest you?
Ask me questions, and I will do my best to answer them."
"Then, in the first place, do you agree with me that I have a right to be a little
masterful, abrupt, perhaps exacting, sometimes, on the grounds I stated, namely,
that I am old enough to be your father, and
that I have battled through a varied experience with many men of many nations,
and roamed over half the globe, while you have lived quietly with one set of people
in one house?"
"Do as you please, sir." "That is no answer; or rather it is a very
irritating, because a very evasive one. Reply clearly."
"I don't think, sir, you have a right to command me, merely because you are older
than I, or because you have seen more of the world than I have; your claim to
superiority depends on the use you have made of your time and experience."
"Humph! Promptly spoken.
But I won't allow that, seeing that it would never suit my case, as I have made an
indifferent, not to say a bad, use of both advantages.
Leaving superiority out of the question, then, you must still agree to receive my
orders now and then, without being piqued or hurt by the tone of command.
Will you?"
I smiled: I thought to myself Mr. Rochester is peculiar--he seems to forget that he
pays me 30 pounds per annum for receiving his orders.
"The smile is very well," said he, catching instantly the passing expression; "but
speak too."
"I was thinking, sir, that very few masters would trouble themselves to inquire whether
or not their paid subordinates were piqued and hurt by their orders."
"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?"
"No, sir, not on that ground; but, on the ground that you did forget it, and that you
care whether or not a dependent is comfortable in his dependency, I agree
heartily."
"And will you consent to dispense with a great many conventional forms and phrases,
without thinking that the omission arises from insolence?"
"I am sure, sir, I should never mistake informality for insolence: one I rather
like, the other nothing free-born would submit to, even for a salary."
"Humbug!
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."
"And so may you," I thought. My eye met his as the idea crossed my mind:
he seemed to read the glance, answering as if its import had been spoken as well as
imagined--
"Yes, yes, you are right," said he; "I have plenty of faults of my own: 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?"
"How was your memory when you were eighteen, sir?"
"All right then; limpid, salubrious: no gush of bilge water had turned it to fetid
puddle.
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." "How do you know?--how can you guess all
this, sir?"
"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." "Repentance is said to be its cure, sir."
"It is not its cure.
Reformation may be its cure; and I could reform--I have strength yet for that--if--
but where is the use of thinking of it, hampered, burdened, cursed as I am?
Besides, since happiness is irrevocably denied me, I have a right to get pleasure
out of life: and I will get it, cost what it may."
"Then you will degenerate still more, sir."
"Possibly: yet why should I, if I can get sweet, fresh pleasure?
And I may get it as sweet and fresh as the wild honey the bee gathers on the moor."
"It will sting--it will taste bitter, sir."
"How do you know?--you never tried it. How very serious--how very solemn you look:
and you are as ignorant of the matter as this cameo head" (taking one from the
mantelpiece).
"You have no right to preach to me, you neophyte, that have not passed the porch of
life, and are absolutely unacquainted with its mysteries."
"I only remind you of your own words, sir: you said error brought remorse, and you
pronounced remorse the poison of existence."
"And who talks of error now?
I scarcely think the notion that flittered across my brain was an error.
I believe it was an inspiration rather than a temptation: it was very genial, very
soothing--I know that.
Here it comes again! It is no devil, I assure you; or if it be,
it has put on the robes of an angel of light.
I think I must admit so fair a guest when it asks entrance to my heart."
"Distrust it, sir; it is not a true angel." "Once more, how do you know?
By what instinct do you pretend to distinguish between a fallen seraph of the
abyss and a messenger from the eternal throne--between a guide and a seducer?"
"I judged by your countenance, sir, which was troubled when you said the suggestion
had returned upon you. I feel sure it will work you more misery if
you listen to it."
"Not at all--it bears the most gracious message in the world: for the rest, you are
not my conscience-keeper, so don't make yourself uneasy.
Here, come in, bonny wanderer!"
He said this as if he spoke to a vision, viewless to any eye but his own; then,
folding his arms, which he had half extended, on his chest, he seemed to
enclose in their embrace the invisible being.
"Now," he continued, again addressing me, "I have received the pilgrim--a disguised
deity, as I verily believe.
Already it has done me good: my heart was a sort of charnel; it will now be a shrine."
"To speak truth, sir, I don't understand you at all: I cannot keep up the
conversation, because it has got out of my depth.
Only one thing, I know: you said you were not as good as you should like to be, and
that you regretted your own imperfection;-- one thing I can comprehend: you intimated
that to have a sullied memory was a perpetual bane.
It seems to me, that if you tried hard, you would in time find it possible to become
what you yourself would approve; and that if from this day you began with resolution
to correct your thoughts and actions, you
would in a few years have laid up a new and stainless store of recollections, to which
you might revert with pleasure."
"Justly thought; rightly said, Miss Eyre; and, at this moment, I am paving hell with
energy." "Sir?"
"I am laying down good intentions, which I believe durable as flint.
Certainly, my associates and pursuits shall be other than they have been."
"And better?"
"And better--so much better as pure ore is than foul dross.
You seem to doubt me; I don't doubt myself: I know what my aim is, what my motives are;
and at this moment I pass a law, unalterable as that of the Medes and
Persians, that both are right."
"They cannot be, sir, if they require a new statute to legalise them."
"They are, Miss Eyre, though they absolutely require a new statute: unheard-
of combinations of circumstances demand unheard-of rules."
"That sounds a dangerous maxim, sir; because one can see at once that it is
liable to abuse." "Sententious sage! so it is: but I swear by
my household gods not to abuse it."
"You are human and fallible." "I am: so are you--what then?"
"The human and fallible should not arrogate a power with which the divine and perfect
alone can be safely intrusted."
"What power?" "That of saying of any strange,
unsanctioned line of action,--'Let it be right.'"
"'Let it be right'--the very words: you have pronounced them."
"May it be right then," I said, as I rose, deeming it useless to continue a
discourse which was all darkness to me; and, besides, sensible that the character
of my interlocutor was beyond my
penetration; at least, beyond its present reach; and feeling the uncertainty, the
vague sense of insecurity, which accompanies a conviction of ignorance.
"Where are you going?"
"To put Adele to bed: it is past her bedtime."
"You are afraid of me, because I talk like a Sphynx."
"Your language is enigmatical, sir: but though I am bewildered, I am certainly not
afraid." "You are afraid--your self-love dreads a
blunder."
"In that sense I do feel apprehensive--I have no wish to talk nonsense."
"If you did, it would be in such a grave, quiet manner, I should mistake it for
sense.
Do you never laugh, Miss Eyre?
Don't trouble yourself to answer--I see you laugh rarely; but you can laugh very
merrily: believe me, you are not naturally austere, any more than I am naturally
vicious.
The Lowood constraint still clings to you somewhat; controlling your features,
muffling your voice, and restricting your limbs; and you fear in the presence of a
man and a brother--or father, or master, or
what you will--to smile too gaily, speak too freely, or move too quickly: but, in
time, I think you will learn to be natural with me, as I find it impossible to be
conventional with you; and then your looks
and movements will have more vivacity and variety than they dare offer now.
I see at intervals the glance of a curious sort of bird through the close-set bars of
a cage: a vivid, restless, resolute captive is there; were it but free, it would soar
cloud-high.
You are still bent on going?" "It has struck nine, sir."
"Never mind,--wait a minute: Adele is not ready to go to bed yet.
My position, Miss Eyre, with my back to the fire, and my face to the room, favours
observation.
While talking to you, I have also occasionally watched Adele (I have my own
reasons for thinking her a curious study,-- reasons that I may, nay, that I shall,
impart to you some day).
She pulled out of her box, about ten minutes ago, a little pink silk frock;
rapture lit her face as she unfolded it; coquetry runs in her blood, blends with her
brains, and seasons the marrow of her bones.
'Il faut que je l'essaie!' cried she, 'et a l'instant meme!' and she rushed out of the
room.
She is now with Sophie, undergoing a robing process: in a few minutes she will re-
enter; and I know what I shall see,--a miniature of Celine Varens, as she used to
appear on the boards at the rising of--But never mind that.
However, my tenderest feelings are about to receive a shock: such is my presentiment;
stay now, to see whether it will be realised."
Ere long, Adele's little foot was heard tripping across the hall.
She entered, transformed as her guardian had predicted.
A dress of rose-coloured satin, very short, and as full in the skirt as it could be
gathered, replaced the brown frock she had previously worn; a wreath of rosebuds
circled her forehead; her feet were dressed
in silk stockings and small white satin sandals.
"Est-ce que ma robe va bien?" cried she, bounding forwards; "et mes souliers? et mes
bas?
Tenez, je crois que je vais danser!"
And spreading out her dress, she chasseed across the room till, having reached Mr.
Rochester, she wheeled lightly round before him on tip-toe, then dropped on one knee at
his feet, exclaiming--
"Monsieur, je vous remercie mille fois de votre bonte;" then rising, she added,
"C'est comme cela que maman faisait, n'est- ce pas, monsieur?"
"Pre-cise-ly!" was the answer; "and, 'comme cela,' she charmed my English gold out of
my British breeches' pocket.
I have been green, too, Miss Eyre,--ay, grass green: not a more vernal tint
freshens you now than once freshened me.
My Spring is gone, however, but it has left me that French floweret on my hands, which,
in some moods, I would fain be rid of.
Not valuing now the root whence it sprang; having found that it was of a sort which
nothing but gold dust could manure, I have but half a liking to the blossom,
especially when it looks so artificial as just now.
I keep it and rear it rather on the Roman Catholic principle of expiating numerous
sins, great or small, by one good work.
I'll explain all this some day. Good-night."
>
CHAPTER XV
Mr. Rochester did, on a future occasion, explain it.
It was one afternoon, when he chanced to meet me and Adele in the grounds: and while
she played with Pilot and her shuttlecock, he asked me to walk up and down a long
beech avenue within sight of her.
He then said that she was the daughter of a French opera-dancer, Celine Varens, towards
whom he had once cherished what he called a "grande passion."
This passion Celine had professed to return with even superior ardour.
He thought himself her idol, ugly as he was: he believed, as he said, that she
preferred his "taille d'athlete" to the elegance of the Apollo Belvidere.
"And, Miss Eyre, so much was I flattered by this preference of the Gallic sylph for her
British gnome, that I installed her in an hotel; gave her a complete establishment of
servants, a carriage, cashmeres, diamonds, dentelles, &c.
In short, I began the process of ruining myself in the received style, like any
other spoony.
I had not, it seems, the originality to chalk out a new road to shame and
destruction, but trode the old track with stupid exactness not to deviate an inch
from the beaten centre.
I had--as I deserved to have--the fate of all other spoonies.
Happening to call one evening when Celine did not expect me, I found her out; but it
was a warm night, and I was tired with strolling through Paris, so I sat down in
her boudoir; happy to breathe the air consecrated so lately by her presence.
No,--I exaggerate; I never thought there was any consecrating virtue about her: it
was rather a sort of pastille perfume she had left; a scent of musk and amber, than
an odour of sanctity.
I was just beginning to stifle with the fumes of conservatory flowers and sprinkled
essences, when I bethought myself to open the window and step out on to the balcony.
It was moonlight and gaslight besides, and very still and serene.
The balcony was furnished with a chair or two; I sat down, and took out a cigar,--I
will take one now, if you will excuse me."
Here ensued a pause, filled up by the producing and lighting of a cigar; having
placed it to his lips and breathed a trail of Havannah incense on the freezing and
sunless air, he went on--
"I liked bonbons too in those days, Miss Eyre, and I was croquant--(overlook the
barbarism)--croquant chocolate comfits, and smoking alternately, watching meantime
the equipages that rolled along the
fashionable streets towards the neighbouring opera-house, when in an
elegant close carriage drawn by a beautiful pair of English horses, and distinctly seen
in the brilliant city-night, I recognised the 'voiture' I had given Celine.
She was returning: of course my heart thumped with impatience against the iron
rails I leant upon.
The carriage stopped, as I had expected, at the hotel door; my flame (that is the very
word for an opera inamorata) alighted: though muffed in a cloak--an unnecessary
encumbrance, by-the-bye, on so warm a June
evening--I knew her instantly by her little foot, seen peeping from the skirt of her
dress, as she skipped from the carriage- step.
Bending over the balcony, I was about to murmur 'Mon ange'--in a tone, of course,
which should be audible to the ear of love alone--when a figure jumped from the
carriage after her; cloaked also; but that
was a spurred heel which had rung on the pavement, and that was a hatted head which
now passed under the arched porte cochere of the hotel.
"You never felt jealousy, did you, Miss Eyre?
Of course not: I need not ask you; because you never felt love.
You have both sentiments yet to experience: your soul sleeps; the shock is yet to be
given which shall waken it.
You think all existence lapses in as quiet a flow as that in which your youth has
hitherto slid away.
Floating on with closed eyes and muffled ears, you neither see the rocks bristling
not far off in the bed of the flood, nor hear the breakers boil at their base.
But I tell you--and you may mark my words-- you will come some day to a craggy pass in
the channel, where the whole of life's stream will be broken up into whirl and
tumult, foam and noise: either you will be
dashed to atoms on crag points, or lifted up and borne on by some master-wave into a
calmer current--as I am now.
"I like this day; I like that sky of steel; I like the sternness and stillness of the
world under this frost.
I like Thornfield, its antiquity, its retirement, its old crow-trees and thorn-
trees, its grey facade, and lines of dark windows reflecting that metal welkin: and
yet how long have I abhorred the very
thought of it, shunned it like a great plague-house?
How I do still abhor--"
He ground his teeth and was silent: he arrested his step and struck his boot
against the hard ground.
Some hated thought seemed to have him in its grip, and to hold him so tightly that
he could not advance. We were ascending the avenue when he thus
paused; the hall was before us.
Lifting his eye to its battlements, he cast over them a glare such as I never saw
before or since.
Pain, shame, ire, impatience, disgust, detestation, seemed momentarily to hold a
quivering conflict in the large pupil dilating under his ebon eyebrow.
Wild was the wrestle which should be paramount; but another feeling rose and
triumphed: something hard and cynical: self-willed and resolute: it settled his
passion and petrified his countenance: he went on--
"During the moment I was silent, Miss Eyre, I was arranging a point with my destiny.
She stood there, by that beech-trunk--a hag like one of those who appeared to Macbeth
on the heath of Forres.
'You like Thornfield?' she said, lifting her finger; and then she wrote in the air a
memento, which ran in lurid hieroglyphics all along the house-front, between the
upper and lower row of windows, 'Like it if you can!
Like it if you dare!'
"'I will like it,' said I; 'I dare like it;' and" (he subjoined moodily) "I will
keep my word; I will break obstacles to happiness, to goodness--yes, goodness.
I wish to be a better man than I have been, than I am; as Job's leviathan broke the
spear, the dart, and the habergeon, hindrances which others count as iron and
brass, I will esteem but straw and rotten wood."
Adele here ran before him with her shuttlecock.
"Away!" he cried harshly; "keep at a distance, child; or go in to Sophie!"
Continuing then to pursue his walk in silence, I ventured to recall him to the
point whence he had abruptly diverged--
"Did you leave the balcony, sir," I asked, "when Mdlle.
Varens entered?"
I almost expected a rebuff for this hardly well-timed question, but, on the contrary,
waking out of his scowling abstraction, he turned his eyes towards me, and the shade
seemed to clear off his brow.
"Oh, I had forgotten Celine! Well, to resume.
When I saw my charmer thus come in accompanied by a cavalier, I seemed to hear
a hiss, and the green snake of jealousy, rising on undulating coils from the moonlit
balcony, glided within my waistcoat, and
ate its way in two minutes to my heart's core.
Strange!" he exclaimed, suddenly starting again from the point.
"Strange that I should choose you for the confidant of all this, young lady; passing
strange that you should listen to me quietly, as if it were the most usual thing
in the world for a man like me to tell
stories of his opera-mistresses to a quaint, inexperienced girl like you!
But the last singularity explains the first, as I intimated once before: you,
with your gravity, considerateness, and caution were made to be the recipient of
secrets.
Besides, I know what sort of a mind I have placed in communication with my own: I know
it is one not liable to take infection: it is a peculiar mind: it is a unique one.
Happily I do not mean to harm it: but, if I did, it would not take harm from me.
The more you and I converse, the better; for while I cannot blight you, you may
refresh me."
After this digression he proceeded-- "I remained in the balcony.
'They will come to her boudoir, no doubt,' thought I: 'let me prepare an ambush.'
So putting my hand in through the open window, I drew the curtain over it, leaving
only an opening through which I could take observations; then I closed the casement,
all but a chink just wide enough to furnish
an outlet to lovers' whispered vows: then I stole back to my chair; and as I resumed it
the pair came in. My eye was quickly at the aperture.
Celine's chamber-maid entered, lit a lamp, left it on the table, and withdrew.
The couple were thus revealed to me clearly: both removed their cloaks, and
there was 'the Varens,' shining in satin and jewels,--my gifts of course,--and there
was her companion in an officer's uniform;
and I knew him for a young roue of a vicomte--a brainless and vicious youth whom
I had sometimes met in society, and had never thought of hating because I despised
him so absolutely.
On recognising him, the fang of the snake Jealousy was instantly broken; because at
the same moment my love for Celine sank under an extinguisher.
A woman who could betray me for such a rival was not worth contending for; she
deserved only scorn; less, however, than I, who had been her dupe.
"They began to talk; their conversation eased me completely: frivolous, mercenary,
heartless, and senseless, it was rather calculated to weary than enrage a listener.
A card of mine lay on the table; this being perceived, brought my name under
discussion.
Neither of them possessed energy or wit to belabour me soundly, but they insulted me
as coarsely as they could in their little way: especially Celine, who even waxed
rather brilliant on my personal defects-- deformities she termed them.
Now it had been her custom to launch out into fervent admiration of what she called
my 'beaute male:' wherein she differed diametrically from you, who told me point-
blank, at the second interview, that you did not think me handsome.
The contrast struck me at the time and--" Adele here came running up again.
"Monsieur, John has just been to say that your agent has called and wishes to see
you." "Ah! in that case I must abridge.
Opening the window, I walked in upon them; liberated Celine from my protection; gave
her notice to vacate her hotel; offered her a purse for immediate exigencies;
disregarded screams, hysterics, prayers,
protestations, convulsions; made an appointment with the vicomte for a meeting
at the Bois de Boulogne.
Next morning I had the pleasure of encountering him; left a bullet in one of
his poor etiolated arms, feeble as the wing of a chicken in the pip, and then thought I
had done with the whole crew.
But unluckily the Varens, six months before, had given me this filette Adele,
who, she affirmed, was my daughter; and perhaps she may be, though I see no proofs
of such grim paternity written in her
countenance: Pilot is more like me than she.
Some years after I had broken with the mother, she abandoned her child, and ran
away to Italy with a musician or singer.
I acknowledged no natural claim on Adele's part to be supported by me, nor do I now
acknowledge any, for I am not her father; but hearing that she was quite destitute, I
e'en took the poor thing out of the slime
and mud of Paris, and transplanted it here, to grow up clean in the wholesome soil of
an English country garden.
Mrs. Fairfax found you to train it; but now you know that it is the illegitimate
offspring of a French opera-girl, you will perhaps think differently of your post and
protegee: you will be coming to me some day
with notice that you have found another place--that you beg me to look out for a
new governess, &c.--Eh?"
"No: Adele is not answerable for either her mother's faults or yours: I have a regard
for her; and now that I know she is, in a sense, parentless--forsaken by her mother
and disowned by you, sir--I shall cling closer to her than before.
How could I possibly prefer the spoilt pet of a wealthy family, who would hate her
governess as a nuisance, to a lonely little orphan, who leans towards her as a friend?"
"Oh, that is the light in which you view it!
Well, I must go in now; and you too: it darkens."
But I stayed out a few minutes longer with Adele and Pilot--ran a race with her, and
played a game of battledore and shuttlecock.
When we went in, and I had removed her bonnet and coat, I took her on my knee;
kept her there an hour, allowing her to prattle as she liked: not rebuking even
some little freedoms and trivialities into
which she was apt to stray when much noticed, and which betrayed in her a
superficiality of character, inherited probably from her mother, hardly congenial
to an English mind.
Still she had her merits; and I was disposed to appreciate all that was good in
her to the utmost.
I sought in her countenance and features a likeness to Mr. Rochester, but found none:
no trait, no turn of expression announced relationship.
It was a pity: if she could but have been proved to resemble him, he would have
thought more of her.
It was not till after I had withdrawn to my own chamber for the night, that I steadily
reviewed the tale Mr. Rochester had told me.
As he had said, there was probably nothing at all extraordinary in the substance of
the narrative itself: a wealthy Englishman's passion for a French dancer,
and her treachery to him, were every-day
matters enough, no doubt, in society; but there was something decidedly strange in
the paroxysm of emotion which had suddenly seized him when he was in the act of
expressing the present contentment of his
mood, and his newly revived pleasure in the old hall and its environs.
I meditated wonderingly on this incident; but gradually quitting it, as I found it
for the present inexplicable, I turned to the consideration of my master's manner to
myself.
The confidence he had thought fit to repose in me seemed a tribute to my discretion: I
regarded and accepted it as such. His deportment had now for some weeks been
more uniform towards me than at the first.
I never seemed in his way; he did not take fits of chilling hauteur: when he met me
unexpectedly, the encounter seemed welcome; he had always a word and sometimes a smile
for me: when summoned by formal invitation
to his presence, I was honoured by a cordiality of reception that made me feel I
really possessed the power to amuse him, and that these evening conferences were
sought as much for his pleasure as for my benefit.
I, indeed, talked comparatively little, but I heard him talk with relish.
It was his nature to be communicative; he liked to open to a mind unacquainted with
the world glimpses of its scenes and ways (I do not mean its corrupt scenes and
wicked ways, but such as derived their
interest from the great scale on which they were acted, the strange novelty by which
they were characterised); and I had a keen delight in receiving the new ideas he
offered, in imagining the new pictures he
portrayed, and following him in thought through the new regions he disclosed, never
startled or troubled by one noxious allusion.
The ease of his manner freed me from painful restraint: the friendly frankness,
as correct as cordial, with which he treated me, drew me to him.
I felt at times as if he were my relation rather than my master: yet he was imperious
sometimes still; but I did not mind that; I saw it was his way.
So happy, so gratified did I become with this new interest added to life, that I
ceased to pine after kindred: my thin crescent-destiny seemed to enlarge; the
blanks of existence were filled up; my
bodily health improved; I gathered flesh and strength.
And was Mr. Rochester now ugly in my eyes?
No, reader: gratitude, and many associations, all pleasurable and genial,
made his face the object I best liked to see; his presence in a room was more
cheering than the brightest fire.
Yet I had not forgotten his faults; indeed, I could not, for he brought them frequently
before me.
He was proud, sardonic, harsh to inferiority of every description: in my
secret soul I knew that his great kindness to me was balanced by unjust severity to
many others.
He was moody, too; unaccountably so; I more than once, when sent for to read to him,
found him sitting in his library alone, with his head bent on his folded arms; and,
when he looked up, a morose, almost a malignant, scowl blackened his features.
But I believed that his moodiness, his harshness, and his former faults of
morality (I say former, for now he seemed corrected of them) had their source in some
cruel cross of fate.
I believed he was naturally a man of better tendencies, higher principles, and purer
tastes than such as circumstances had developed, education instilled, or destiny
encouraged.
I thought there were excellent materials in him; though for the present they hung
together somewhat spoiled and tangled.
I cannot deny that I grieved for his grief, whatever that was, and would have given
much to assuage it.
Though I had now extinguished my candle and was laid down in bed, I could not sleep for
thinking of his look when he paused in the avenue, and told how his destiny had risen
up before him, and dared him to be happy at Thornfield.
"Why not?" I asked myself.
"What alienates him from the house?
Will he leave it again soon? Mrs. Fairfax said he seldom stayed here
longer than a fortnight at a time; and he has now been resident eight weeks.
If he does go, the change will be doleful.
Suppose he should be absent spring, summer, and autumn: how joyless sunshine and fine
days will seem!"
I hardly know whether I had slept or not after this musing; at any rate, I started
wide awake on hearing a vague murmur, peculiar and lugubrious, which sounded, I
thought, just above me.
I wished I had kept my candle burning: the night was drearily dark; my spirits were
depressed. I rose and sat up in bed, listening.
The sound was hushed.
I tried again to sleep; but my heart beat anxiously: my inward tranquillity was
broken. The clock, far down in the hall, struck
two.
Just then it seemed my chamber-door was touched; as if fingers had swept the panels
in groping a way along the dark gallery outside.
I said, "Who is there?"
Nothing answered. I was chilled with fear.
All at once I remembered that it might be Pilot, who, when the kitchen- door chanced
to be left open, not unfrequently found his way up to the threshold of Mr. Rochester's
chamber: I had seen him lying there myself in the mornings.
The idea calmed me somewhat: I lay down.
Silence composes the nerves; and as an unbroken hush now reigned again through the
whole house, I began to feel the return of slumber.
But it was not fated that I should sleep that night.
A dream had scarcely approached my ear, when it fled affrighted, scared by a
marrow-freezing incident enough.
This was a demoniac laugh--low, suppressed, and deep--uttered, as it seemed, at the
very keyhole of my chamber door.
The head of my bed was near the door, and I thought at first the goblin-laugher stood
at my bedside--or rather, crouched by my pillow: but I rose, looked round, and could
see nothing; while, as I still gazed, the
unnatural sound was reiterated: and I knew it came from behind the panels.
My first impulse was to rise and fasten the bolt; my next, again to cry out, "Who is
there?"
Something gurgled and moaned.
Ere long, steps retreated up the gallery towards the third-storey staircase: a door
had lately been made to shut in that staircase; I heard it open and close, and
all was still.
"Was that Grace Poole? and is she possessed with a devil?" thought I.
Impossible now to remain longer by myself: I must go to Mrs. Fairfax.
I hurried on my frock and a shawl; I withdrew the bolt and opened the door with
a trembling hand. There was a candle burning just outside,
and on the matting in the gallery.
I was surprised at this circumstance: but still more was I amazed to perceive the air
quite dim, as if filled with smoke; and, while looking to the right hand and left,
to find whence these blue wreaths issued, I
became further aware of a strong smell of burning.
Something creaked: it was a door ajar; and that door was Mr. Rochester's, and the
smoke rushed in a cloud from thence.
I thought no more of Mrs. Fairfax; I thought no more of Grace Poole, or the
laugh: in an instant, I was within the chamber.
Tongues of flame darted round the bed: the curtains were on fire.
In the midst of blaze and vapour, Mr. Rochester lay stretched motionless, in deep
sleep.
"Wake! wake!" I cried.
I shook him, but he only murmured and turned: the smoke had stupefied him.
Not a moment could be lost: the very sheets were kindling, I rushed to his basin and
ewer; fortunately, one was wide and the other deep, and both were filled with
water.
I heaved them up, deluged the bed and its occupant, flew back to my own room, brought
my own water-jug, baptized the couch afresh, and, by God's aid, succeeded in
extinguishing the flames which were devouring it.
The hiss of the quenched element, the breakage of a pitcher which I flung from my
hand when I had emptied it, and, above all, the splash of the shower-bath I had
liberally bestowed, roused Mr. Rochester at last.
Though it was now dark, I knew he was awake; because I heard him fulminating
strange anathemas at finding himself lying in a pool of water.
"Is there a flood?" he cried.
"No, sir," I answered; "but there has been a fire: get up, do; you are quenched now; I
will fetch you a candle."
"In the name of all the elves in Christendom, is that Jane Eyre?" he
demanded. "What have you done with me, witch,
sorceress?
Who is in the room besides you? Have you plotted to drown me?"
"I will fetch you a candle, sir; and, in Heaven's name, get up.
Somebody has plotted something: you cannot too soon find out who and what it is."
"There!
I am up now; but at your peril you fetch a candle yet: wait two minutes till I get
into some dry garments, if any dry there be--yes, here is my dressing-gown.
Now run!"
I did run; I brought the candle which still remained in the gallery.
He took it from my hand, held it up, and surveyed the bed, all blackened and
scorched, the sheets drenched, the carpet round swimming in water.
"What is it? and who did it?" he asked.
I briefly related to him what had transpired: the strange laugh I had heard
in the gallery: the step ascending to the third storey; the smoke,--the smell of fire
which had conducted me to his room; in what
state I had found matters there, and how I had deluged him with all the water I could
lay hands on. {"What is it and who did it?" he asked:
p140.jpg}
He listened very gravely; his face, as I went on, expressed more concern than
astonishment; he did not immediately speak when I had concluded.
"Shall I call Mrs. Fairfax?"
I asked. "Mrs. Fairfax?
No; what the deuce would you call her for? What can she do?
Let her sleep unmolested."
"Then I will fetch Leah, and wake John and his wife."
"Not at all: just be still. You have a shawl on.
If you are not warm enough, you may take my cloak yonder; wrap it about you, and sit
down in the arm-chair: there,--I will put it on.
Now place your feet on the stool, to keep them out of the wet.
I am going to leave you a few minutes. I shall take the candle.
Remain where you are till I return; be as still as a mouse.
I must pay a visit to the second storey. Don't move, remember, or call any one."
He went: I watched the light withdraw.
He passed up the gallery very softly, unclosed the staircase door with as little
noise as possible, shut it after him, and the last ray vanished.
I was left in total darkness.
I listened for some noise, but heard nothing.
A very long time elapsed.
I grew weary: it was cold, in spite of the cloak; and then I did not see the use of
staying, as I was not to rouse the house.
I was on the point of risking Mr. Rochester's displeasure by disobeying his
orders, when the light once more gleamed dimly on the gallery wall, and I heard his
unshod feet tread the matting.
"I hope it is he," thought I, "and not something worse."
He re-entered, pale and very gloomy.
"I have found it all out," said he, setting his candle down on the washstand; "it is as
I thought." "How, sir?"
He made no reply, but stood with his arms folded, looking on the ground.
At the end of a few minutes he inquired in rather a peculiar tone--
"I forget whether you said you saw anything when you opened your chamber door."
"No, sir, only the candlestick on the ground."
"But you heard an odd laugh?
You have heard that laugh before, I should think, or something like it?"
"Yes, sir: there is a woman who sews here, called Grace Poole,--she laughs in that
way.
She is a singular person." "Just so.
Grace Poole--you have guessed it. She is, as you say, singular--very.
Well, I shall reflect on the subject.
Meantime, I am glad that you are the only person, besides myself, acquainted with the
precise details of to-night's incident. You are no talking fool: say nothing about
it.
I will account for this state of affairs" (pointing to the bed): "and now return to
your own room. I shall do very well on the sofa in the
library for the rest of the night.
It is near four:--in two hours the servants will be up."
"Good-night, then, sir," said I, departing. He seemed surprised--very inconsistently
so, as he had just told me to go.
"What!" he exclaimed, "are you quitting me already, and in that way?"
"You said I might go, sir."
"But not without taking leave; not without a word or two of acknowledgment and good-
will: not, in short, in that brief, dry fashion.
Why, you have saved my life!--snatched me from a horrible and excruciating death! and
you walk past me as if we were mutual strangers!
At least shake hands."
He held out his hand; I gave him mine: he took it first in one, them in both his own.
"You have saved my life: I have a pleasure in owing you so immense a debt.
I cannot say more.
Nothing else that has being would have been tolerable to me in the character of
creditor for such an obligation: but you: it is different;--I feel your benefits no
burden, Jane."
He paused; gazed at me: words almost visible trembled on his lips,--but his
voice was checked. "Good-night again, sir.
There is no debt, benefit, burden, obligation, in the case."
"I knew," he continued, "you would do me good in some way, at some time;--I saw it
in your eyes when I first beheld you: their expression and smile did not"--(again he
stopped)--"did not" (he proceeded hastily)
"strike delight to my very inmost heart so for nothing.
People talk of natural sympathies; I have heard of good genii: there are grains of
truth in the wildest fable.
My cherished preserver, goodnight!" Strange energy was in his voice, strange
fire in his look. "I am glad I happened to be awake," I said:
and then I was going.
"What! you will go?" "I am cold, sir."
"Cold? Yes,--and standing in a pool!
Go, then, Jane; go!"
But he still retained my hand, and I could not free it.
I bethought myself of an expedient. "I think I hear Mrs. Fairfax move, sir,"
said I.
"Well, leave me:" he relaxed his fingers, and I was gone.
I regained my couch, but never thought of sleep.
Till morning dawned I was tossed on a buoyant but unquiet sea, where billows of
trouble rolled under surges of joy.
I thought sometimes I saw beyond its wild waters a shore, sweet as the hills of
Beulah; and now and then a freshening gale, wakened by hope, bore my spirit
triumphantly towards the bourne: but I
could not reach it, even in fancy--a counteracting breeze blew off land, and
continually drove me back. Sense would resist delirium: judgment would
warn passion.
Too feverish to rest, I rose as soon as day dawned.
>
CHAPTER XVI
I both wished and feared to see Mr. Rochester on the day which followed this
sleepless night: I wanted to hear his voice again, yet feared to meet his eye.
During the early part of the morning, I momentarily expected his coming; he was not
in the frequent habit of entering the schoolroom, but he did step in for a few
minutes sometimes, and I had the impression that he was sure to visit it that day.
But the morning passed just as usual: nothing happened to interrupt the quiet
course of Adele's studies; only soon after breakfast, I heard some bustle in the
neighbourhood of Mr. Rochester's chamber,
Mrs. Fairfax's voice, and Leah's, and the cook's--that is, John's wife--and even
John's own gruff tones. There were exclamations of "What a mercy
master was not burnt in his bed!"
"It is always dangerous to keep a candle lit at night."
"How providential that he had presence of mind to think of the water-jug!"
"I wonder he waked nobody!"
"It is to be hoped he will not take cold with sleeping on the library sofa," &c.
To much confabulation succeeded a sound of scrubbing and setting to rights; and when I
passed the room, in going downstairs to dinner, I saw through the open door that
all was again restored to complete order; only the bed was stripped of its hangings.
Leah stood up in the window-seat, rubbing the panes of glass dimmed with smoke.
I was about to address her, for I wished to know what account had been given of the
affair: but, on advancing, I saw a second person in the chamber--a woman sitting on a
chair by the bedside, and sewing rings to new curtains.
That woman was no other than Grace Poole.
There she sat, staid and taciturn-looking, as usual, in her brown stuff gown, her
check apron, white handkerchief, and cap.
She was intent on her work, in which her whole thoughts seemed absorbed: on her hard
forehead, and in her commonplace features, was nothing either of the paleness or
desperation one would have expected to see
marking the countenance of a woman who had attempted murder, and whose intended victim
had followed her last night to her lair, and (as I believed), charged her with the
crime she wished to perpetrate.
I was amazed--confounded. She looked up, while I still gazed at her:
no start, no increase or failure of colour betrayed emotion, consciousness of guilt,
or fear of detection.
She said "Good morning, Miss," in her usual phlegmatic and brief manner; and taking up
another ring and more tape, went on with her sewing.
"I will put her to some test," thought I: "such absolute impenetrability is past
comprehension." "Good morning, Grace," I said.
"Has anything happened here?
I thought I heard the servants all talking together a while ago."
"Only master had been reading in his bed last night; he fell asleep with his candle
lit, and the curtains got on fire; but, fortunately, he awoke before the bed-
clothes or the wood-work caught, and
contrived to quench the flames with the water in the ewer."
"A strange affair!"
I said, in a low voice: then, looking at her fixedly--"Did Mr. Rochester wake
nobody? Did no one hear him move?"
She again raised her eyes to me, and this time there was something of consciousness
in their expression. She seemed to examine me warily; then she
answered--
"The servants sleep so far off, you know, Miss, they would not be likely to hear.
Mrs. Fairfax's room and yours are the nearest to master's; but Mrs. Fairfax said
she heard nothing: when people get elderly, they often sleep heavy."
She paused, and then added, with a sort of assumed indifference, but still in a marked
and significant tone--"But you are young, Miss; and I should say a light sleeper:
perhaps you may have heard a noise?"
"I did," said I, dropping my voice, so that Leah, who was still polishing the panes,
could not hear me, "and at first I thought it was Pilot: but Pilot cannot laugh; and I
am certain I heard a laugh, and a strange one."
She took a new needleful of thread, waxed it carefully, threaded her needle with a
steady hand, and then observed, with perfect composure--
"It is hardly likely master would laugh, I should think, Miss, when he was in such
danger: You must have been dreaming."
"I was not dreaming," I said, with some warmth, for her brazen coolness provoked
me. Again she looked at me; and with the same
scrutinising and conscious eye.
"Have you told master that you heard a laugh?" she inquired.
"I have not had the opportunity of speaking to him this morning."
"You did not think of opening your door and looking out into the gallery?" she further
asked.
She appeared to be cross-questioning me, attempting to draw from me information
unawares.
The idea struck me that if she discovered I knew or suspected her guilt, she would be
playing of some of her malignant pranks on me; I thought it advisable to be on my
guard.
"On the contrary," said I, "I bolted my door."
"Then you are not in the habit of bolting your door every night before you get into
bed?"
"Fiend! she wants to know my habits, that she may lay her plans accordingly!"
Indignation again prevailed over prudence: I replied sharply, "Hitherto I have often
omitted to fasten the bolt: I did not think it necessary.
I was not aware any danger or annoyance was to be dreaded at Thornfield Hall: but in
future" (and I laid marked stress on the words) "I shall take good care to make all
secure before I venture to lie down."
"It will be wise so to do," was her answer: "this neighbourhood is as quiet as any I
know, and I never heard of the hall being attempted by robbers since it was a house;
though there are hundreds of pounds' worth
of plate in the plate-closet, as is well known.
And you see, for such a large house, there are very few servants, because master has
never lived here much; and when he does come, being a bachelor, he needs little
waiting on: but I always think it best to
err on the safe side; a door is soon fastened, and it is as well to have a drawn
bolt between one and any mischief that may be about.
A deal of people, Miss, are for trusting all to Providence; but I say Providence
will not dispense with the means, though He often blesses them when they are used
discreetly."
And here she closed her harangue: a long one for her, and uttered with the
demureness of a Quakeress.
I still stood absolutely dumfoundered at what appeared to me her miraculous self-
possession and most inscrutable hypocrisy, when the cook entered.
"Mrs. Poole," said she, addressing Grace, "the servants' dinner will soon be ready:
will you come down?"
"No; just put my pint of porter and bit of pudding on a tray, and I'll carry it
upstairs." "You'll have some meat?"
"Just a morsel, and a taste of cheese, that's all."
"And the sago?"
"Never mind it at present: I shall be coming down before teatime: I'll make it
myself."
The cook here turned to me, saying that Mrs. Fairfax was waiting for me: so I
departed.
I hardly heard Mrs. Fairfax's account of the curtain conflagration during dinner, so
much was I occupied in puzzling my brains over the enigmatical character of Grace
Poole, and still more in pondering the
problem of her position at Thornfield and questioning why she had not been given into
custody that morning, or, at the very least, dismissed from her master's service.
He had almost as much as declared his conviction of her criminality last night:
what mysterious cause withheld him from accusing her?
Why had he enjoined me, too, to secrecy?
It was strange: a bold, vindictive, and haughty gentleman seemed somehow in the
power of one of the meanest of his dependants; so much in her power, that even
when she lifted her hand against his life,
he dared not openly charge her with the attempt, much less punish her for it.
Had Grace been young and handsome, I should have been tempted to think that tenderer
feelings than prudence or fear influenced Mr. Rochester in her behalf; but, hard-
favoured and matronly as she was, the idea could not be admitted.
"Yet," I reflected, "she has been young once; her youth would be contemporary with
her master's: Mrs. Fairfax told me once, she had lived here many years.
I don't think she can ever have been pretty; but, for aught I know, she may
possess originality and strength of character to compensate for the want of
personal advantages.
Mr. Rochester is an amateur of the decided and eccentric: Grace is eccentric at least.
What if a former caprice (a freak very possible to a nature so sudden and
headstrong as his) has delivered him into her power, and she now exercises over his
actions a secret influence, the result of
his own indiscretion, which he cannot shake off, and dare not disregard?"
But, having reached this point of conjecture, Mrs. Poole's square, flat
figure, and uncomely, dry, even coarse face, recurred so distinctly to my mind's
eye, that I thought, "No; impossible! my supposition cannot be correct.
Yet," suggested the secret voice which talks to us in our own hearts, "you are not
beautiful either, and perhaps Mr. Rochester approves you: at any rate, you have often
felt as if he did; and last night--remember
his words; remember his look; remember his voice!"
I well remembered all; language, glance, and tone seemed at the moment vividly
renewed.
I was now in the schoolroom; Adele was drawing; I bent over her and directed her
pencil. She looked up with a sort of start.
"Qu' avez-vous, mademoiselle?" said she.
"Vos doigts tremblent comme la feuille, et vos joues sont rouges: mais, rouges comme
des cerises!" "I am hot, Adele, with stooping!"
She went on sketching; I went on thinking.
I hastened to drive from my mind the hateful notion I had been conceiving
respecting Grace Poole; it disgusted me. I compared myself with her, and found we
were different.
Bessie Leaven had said I was quite a lady; and she spoke truth--I was a lady.
And now I looked much better than I did when Bessie saw me; I had more colour and
more flesh, more life, more vivacity, because I had brighter hopes and keener
enjoyments.
"Evening approaches," said I, as I looked towards the window.
"I have never heard Mr. Rochester's voice or step in the house to-day; but surely I
shall see him before night: I feared the meeting in the morning; now I desire it,
because expectation has been so long baffled that it is grown impatient."
When dusk actually closed, and when Adele left me to go and play in the nursery with
Sophie, I did most keenly desire it.
I listened for the bell to ring below; I listened for Leah coming up with a message;
I fancied sometimes I heard Mr. Rochester's own tread, and I turned to the door,
expecting it to open and admit him.
The door remained shut; darkness only came in through the window.
Still it was not late; he often sent for me at seven and eight o'clock, and it was yet
but six.
Surely I should not be wholly disappointed to-night, when I had so many things to say
to him!
I wanted again to introduce the subject of Grace Poole, and to hear what he would
answer; I wanted to ask him plainly if he really believed it was she who had made
last night's hideous attempt; and if so, why he kept her wickedness a secret.
It little mattered whether my curiosity irritated him; I knew the pleasure of
vexing and soothing him by turns; it was one I chiefly delighted in, and a sure
instinct always prevented me from going too
far; beyond the verge of provocation I never ventured; on the extreme brink I
liked well to try my skill.
Retaining every minute form of respect, every propriety of my station, I could
still meet him in argument without fear or uneasy restraint; this suited both him and
me.
A tread creaked on the stairs at last. Leah made her appearance; but it was only
to intimate that tea was ready in Mrs. Fairfax's room.
Thither I repaired, glad at least to go downstairs; for that brought me, I
imagined, nearer to Mr. Rochester's presence.
"You must want your tea," said the good lady, as I joined her; "you ate so little
at dinner.
I am afraid," she continued, "you are not well to- day: you look flushed and
feverish." "Oh, quite well!
I never felt better."
"Then you must prove it by evincing a good appetite; will you fill the teapot while I
knit off this needle?"
Having completed her task, she rose to draw down the blind, which she had hitherto kept
up, by way, I suppose, of making the most of daylight, though dusk was now fast
deepening into total obscurity.
"It is fair to-night," said she, as she looked through the panes, "though not
starlight; Mr. Rochester has, on the whole, had a favourable day for his journey."
"Journey!--Is Mr. Rochester gone anywhere?
I did not know he was out." "Oh, he set off the moment he had
breakfasted! He is gone to the Leas, Mr. Eshton's place,
ten miles on the other side Millcote.
I believe there is quite a party assembled there; Lord Ingram, Sir George Lynn,
Colonel Dent, and others." "Do you expect him back to-night?"
"No--nor to-morrow either; I should think he is very likely to stay a week or more:
when these fine, fashionable people get together, they are so surrounded by
elegance and gaiety, so well provided with
all that can please and entertain, they are in no hurry to separate.
Gentlemen especially are often in request on such occasions; and Mr. Rochester is so
talented and so lively in society, that I believe he is a general favourite: the
ladies are very fond of him; though you
would not think his appearance calculated to recommend him particularly in their
eyes: but I suppose his acquirements and abilities, perhaps his wealth and good
blood, make amends for any little fault of look."
"Are there ladies at the Leas?"
"There are Mrs. Eshton and her three daughters--very elegant young ladies
indeed; and there are the Honourable Blanche and Mary Ingram, most beautiful
women, I suppose: indeed I have seen
Blanche, six or seven years since, when she was a girl of eighteen.
She came here to a Christmas ball and party Mr. Rochester gave.
You should have seen the dining-room that day--how richly it was decorated, how
brilliantly lit up!
I should think there were fifty ladies and gentlemen present--all of the first county
families; and Miss Ingram was considered the belle of the evening."
"You saw her, you say, Mrs. Fairfax: what was she like?"
"Yes, I saw her.
The dining-room doors were thrown open; and, as it was Christmas-time, the servants
were allowed to assemble in the hall, to hear some of the ladies sing and play.
Mr. Rochester would have me to come in, and I sat down in a quiet corner and watched
them.
I never saw a more splendid scene: the ladies were magnificently dressed; most of
them--at least most of the younger ones-- looked handsome; but Miss Ingram was
certainly the queen."
"And what was she like?"
"Tall, fine bust, sloping shoulders; long, graceful neck: olive complexion, dark and
clear; noble features; eyes rather like Mr. Rochester's: large and black, and as
brilliant as her jewels.
And then she had such a fine head of hair; raven-black and so becomingly arranged: a
crown of thick plaits behind, and in front the longest, the glossiest curls I ever
saw.
She was dressed in pure white; an amber- coloured scarf was passed over her shoulder
and across her breast, tied at the side, and descending in long, fringed ends below
her knee.
She wore an amber-coloured flower, too, in her hair: it contrasted well with the jetty
mass of her curls." "She was greatly admired, of course?"
"Yes, indeed: and not only for her beauty, but for her accomplishments.
She was one of the ladies who sang: a gentleman accompanied her on the piano.
She and Mr. Rochester sang a duet."
"Mr. Rochester? I was not aware he could sing."
"Oh! he has a fine bass voice, and an excellent taste for music."
"And Miss Ingram: what sort of a voice had she?"
"A very rich and powerful one: she sang delightfully; it was a treat to listen to
her;--and she played afterwards.
I am no judge of music, but Mr. Rochester is; and I heard him say her execution was
remarkably good." "And this beautiful and accomplished lady,
she is not yet married?"
"It appears not: I fancy neither she nor her sister have very large fortunes.
Old Lord Ingram's estates were chiefly entailed, and the eldest son came in for
everything almost."
"But I wonder no wealthy nobleman or gentleman has taken a fancy to her: Mr.
Rochester, for instance. He is rich, is he not?"
"Oh! yes.
But you see there is a considerable difference in age: Mr. Rochester is nearly
forty; she is but twenty-five." "What of that?
More unequal matches are made every day."
"True: yet I should scarcely fancy Mr. Rochester would entertain an idea of the
sort. But you eat nothing: you have scarcely
tasted since you began tea."
"No: I am too thirsty to eat. Will you let me have another cup?"
I was about again to revert to the probability of a union between Mr.
Rochester and the beautiful Blanche; but Adele came in, and the conversation was
turned into another channel.
When once more alone, I reviewed the information I had got; looked into my
heart, examined its thoughts and feelings, and endeavoured to bring back with a strict
hand such as had been straying through
imagination's boundless and trackless waste, into the safe fold of common sense.
Arraigned at my own bar, Memory having given her evidence of the hopes, wishes,
sentiments I had been cherishing since last night--of the general state of mind in
which I had indulged for nearly a fortnight
past; Reason having come forward and told, in her own quiet way a plain, unvarnished
tale, showing how I had rejected the real, and rabidly devoured the ideal;--I
pronounced judgment to this effect:--
That a greater fool than Jane Eyre had never breathed the breath of life; that a
more fantastic idiot had never surfeited herself on sweet lies, and swallowed poison
as if it were nectar.
"You," I said, "a favourite with Mr. Rochester?
You gifted with the power of pleasing him?
You of importance to him in any way?
Go! your folly sickens me.
And you have derived pleasure from occasional tokens of preference--equivocal
tokens shown by a gentleman of family and a man of the world to a dependent and a
novice.
How dared you? Poor stupid dupe!--Could not even self-
interest make you wiser?
You repeated to yourself this morning the brief scene of last night?--Cover your face
and be ashamed! He said something in praise of your eyes,
did he?
Blind puppy! Open their bleared lids and look on your
own accursed senselessness!
It does good to no woman to be flattered by her superior, who cannot possibly intend to
marry her; and it is madness in all women to let a secret love kindle within them,
which, if unreturned and unknown, must
devour the life that feeds it; and, if discovered and responded to, must lead,
ignis-fatus-like, into miry wilds whence there is no extrication.
"Listen, then, Jane Eyre, to your sentence: to-morrow, place the glass before you, and
draw in chalk your own picture, faithfully, without softening one defect; omit no harsh
line, smooth away no displeasing
irregularity; write under it, 'Portrait of a Governess, disconnected, poor, and
plain.'
"Afterwards, take a piece of smooth ivory-- you have one prepared in your drawing-box:
take your palette, mix your freshest, finest, clearest tints; choose your most
delicate camel-hair pencils; delineate
carefully the loveliest face you can imagine; paint it in your softest shades
and sweetest lines, according to the description given by Mrs. Fairfax of
Blanche Ingram; remember the raven
ringlets, the oriental eye;--What! you revert to Mr. Rochester as a model!
Order! No snivel!--no sentiment!--no regret!
I will endure only sense and resolution.
Recall the august yet harmonious lineaments, the Grecian neck and bust; let
the round and dazzling arm be visible, and the delicate hand; omit neither diamond
ring nor gold bracelet; portray faithfully
the attire, aerial lace and glistening satin, graceful scarf and golden rose; call
it 'Blanche, an accomplished lady of rank.'
"Whenever, in future, you should chance to fancy Mr. Rochester thinks well of you,
take out these two pictures and compare them: say, 'Mr. Rochester might probably
win that noble lady's love, if he chose to
strive for it; is it likely he would waste a serious thought on this indigent and
insignificant plebeian?'"
"I'll do it," I resolved: and having framed this determination, I grew calm, and fell
asleep. I kept my word.
An hour or two sufficed to sketch my own portrait in crayons; and in less than a
fortnight I had completed an ivory miniature of an imaginary Blanche Ingram.
It looked a lovely face enough, and when compared with the real head in chalk, the
contrast was as great as self- control could desire.
I derived benefit from the task: it had kept my head and hands employed, and had
given force and fixedness to the new impressions I wished to stamp indelibly on
my heart.
Ere long, I had reason to congratulate myself on the course of wholesome
discipline to which I had thus forced my feelings to submit.
Thanks to it, I was able to meet subsequent occurrences with a decent calm, which, had
they found me unprepared, I should probably have been unequal to maintain, even
externally.
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