Part 4 out of 11
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,
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
"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-e-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
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
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
"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
"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
"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 --
Instead of speaking, I smiled; and not a very complacent or submissive
"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
I smiled: I thought to myself Mr. Rochester IS peculiar -- he
seems to forget that he pays me 30 pounds per annum for receiving
"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
"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
"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."
"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 -- 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
"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."
"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
"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 e 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
"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
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
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
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
"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 everyday
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
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
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 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
"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.
He listened very gravely; his face, as I went on, expressed more
concern than astonishment; he did not immediately speak when I had
"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
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
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
"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
"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
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.
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
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
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
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
"I am hot, Adele, with stooping!" She went on sketching; I went
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
"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
"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
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
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
"Listen, then, Jane Eyre, to your sentence: tomorrow, 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.
A week passed, and no news arrived of Mr. Rochester: ten days,
and still he did not come. Mrs. Fairfax said she should not be
surprised if he were to go straight from the Leas to London, and
thence to the Continent, and not show his face again at Thornfield
for a year to come; he had not unfrequently quitted it in a manner
quite as abrupt and unexpected. When I heard this, I was beginning
to feel a strange chill and failing at the heart. I was actually
permitting myself to experience a sickening sense of disappointment;
but rallying my wits, and recollecting my principles, I at once
called my sensations to order; and it was wonderful how I got over
the temporary blunder -- how I cleared up the mistake of supposing
Mr. Rochester's movements a matter in which I had any cause to take
a vital interest. Not that I humbled myself by a slavish
notion of inferiority: on the contrary, I just said -
"You have nothing to do with the master of Thornfield, further than
to receive the salary he gives you for teaching his protegee, and
to be grateful for such respectful and kind treatment as, if you do
your duty, you have a right to expect at his hands. Be sure that
is the only tie he seriously acknowledges between you and him; so
don't make him the object of your fine feelings, your raptures,
agonies, and so forth. He is not of your order: keep to your
caste, and be too self-respecting to lavish the love of the whole
heart, soul, and strength, where such a gift is not wanted and
would be despised."
I went on with my day's business tranquilly; but ever and anon
vague suggestions kept wandering across my brain of reasons why I
should quit Thornfield; and I kept involuntarily framing advertisements
and pondering conjectures about new situations: these thoughts I
did not think to check; they might germinate and bear fruit if they
Mr. Rochester had been absent upwards of a fortnight, when the post
brought Mrs. Fairfax a letter.
"It is from the master," said she, as she looked at the direction.
"Now I suppose we shall know whether we are to expect his return
And while she broke the seal and perused the document, I went on
taking my coffee (we were at breakfast): it was hot, and I attributed
to that circumstance a fiery glow which suddenly rose to my face.
Why my hand shook, and why I involuntarily spilt half the contents
of my cup into my saucer, I did not choose to consider.
"Well, I sometimes think we are too quiet; but we run a chance of
being busy enough now: for a little while at least," said Mrs.
Fairfax, still holding the note before her spectacles.
Ere I permitted myself to request an explanation, I tied the string
of Adele's pinafore, which happened to be loose: having helped her
also to another bun and refilled her mug with milk, I said, nonchalantly -
"Mr. Rochester is not likely to return soon, I suppose?"
"Indeed he is -- in three days, he says: that will be next Thursday;
and not alone either. I don't know how many of the fine people
at the Leas are coming with him: he sends directions for all the
best bedrooms to be prepared; and the library and drawing-rooms are
to be cleaned out; I am to get more kitchen hands from the George
Inn, at Millcote, and from wherever else I can; and the ladies will
bring their maids and the gentlemen their valets: so we shall have
a full house of it." And Mrs. Fairfax swallowed her breakfast and
hastened away to commence operations.
The three days were, as she had foretold, busy enough. I had thought
all the rooms at Thornfield beautifully clean and well arranged;
but it appears I was mistaken. Three women were got to help; and
such scrubbing, such brushing, such washing of paint and beating of
carpets, such taking down and putting up of pictures, such polishing
of mirrors and lustres, such lighting of fires in bedrooms, such
airing of sheets and feather-beds on hearths, I never beheld,
either before or since. Adele ran quite wild in the midst of it:
the preparations for company and the prospect of their arrival,
seemed to throw her into ecstasies. She would have Sophie to look
over all her "toilettes," as she called frocks; to furbish up any
that were "passees," and to air and arrange the new. For herself,
she did nothing but caper about in the front chambers, jump on and
off the bedsteads, and lie on the mattresses and piled-up bolsters
and pillows before the enormous fires roaring in the chimneys.
From school duties she was exonerated: Mrs. Fairfax had pressed
me into her service, and I was all day in the storeroom, helping
(or hindering) her and the cook; learning to make custards and
cheese-cakes and French pastry, to truss game and garnish desert-dishes.
The party were expected to arrive on Thursday afternoon, in time
for dinner at six. During the intervening period I had no time to
nurse chimeras; and I believe I was as active and gay as anybody
-- Adele excepted. Still, now and then, I received a damping check
to my cheerfulness; and was, in spite of myself, thrown back on
the region of doubts and portents, and dark conjectures. This was
when I chanced to see the third-storey staircase door (which of
late had always been kept locked) open slowly, and give passage to
the form of Grace Poole, in prim cap, white apron, and handkerchief; when
I watched her glide along the gallery, her quiet tread muffled in
a list slipper; when I saw her look into the bustling, topsy-turvy
bedrooms, -- just say a word, perhaps, to the charwoman about the
proper way to polish a grate, or clean a marble mantelpiece, or
take stains from papered walls, and then pass on. She would thus
descend to the kitchen once a day, eat her dinner, smoke a moderate
pipe on the hearth, and go back, carrying her pot of porter with
her, for her private solace, in her own gloomy, upper haunt. Only
one hour in the twenty-four did she pass with her fellow-servants
below; all the rest of her time was spent in some low-ceiled,
oaken chamber of the second storey: there she sat and sewed --
and probably laughed drearily to herself, -- as companionless as
a prisoner in his dungeon.
The strangest thing of all was, that not a soul in the house,
except me, noticed her habits, or seemed to marvel at them: no one
discussed her position or employment; no one pitied her solitude
or isolation. I once, indeed, overheard part of a dialogue between
Leah and one of the charwomen, of which Grace formed the subject.
Leah had been saying something I had not caught, and the
charwoman remarked -
"She gets good wages, I guess?"
"Yes," said Leah; "I wish I had as good; not that mine are to
complain of, -- there's no stinginess at Thornfield; but they're
not one fifth of the sum Mrs. Poole receives. And she is laying
by: she goes every quarter to the bank at Millcote. I should
not wonder but she has saved enough to keep her independent if she
liked to leave; but I suppose she's got used to the place; and then
she's not forty yet, and strong and able for anything. It is too
soon for her to give up business."
"She is a good hand, I daresay," said the charwoman.
"Ah! -- she understands what she has to do, -- nobody better,"
rejoined Leah significantly; "and it is not every one could fill
her shoes -- not for all the money she gets."
"That it is not!" was the reply. "I wonder whether the master -- "
The charwoman was going on; but here Leah turned and perceived me,
and she instantly gave her companion a nudge.
"Doesn't she know?" I heard the woman whisper.
Leah shook her head, and the conversation was of course dropped.
All I had gathered from it amounted to this, -- that there was a
mystery at Thornfield; and that from participation in that mystery
I was purposely excluded.
Thursday came: all work had been completed the previous evening;
carpets were laid down, bed-hangings festooned, radiant white
counterpanes spread, toilet tables arranged, furniture rubbed,
flowers piled in vases: both chambers and saloons looked as fresh
and bright as hands could make them. The hall, too, was scoured;
and the great carved clock, as well as the steps and banisters of
the staircase, were polished to the brightness of glass; in the
dining-room, the sideboard flashed resplendent with plate; in the
drawing-room and boudoir, vases of exotics bloomed on all sides.
Afternoon arrived: Mrs. Fairfax assumed her best black satin gown,
her gloves, and her gold watch; for it was her part to receive the
company, -- to conduct the ladies to their rooms, &c. Adele, too,
would be dressed: though I thought she had little chance of being
introduced to the party that day at least. However, to please her,
I allowed Sophie to apparel her in one of her short, full muslin
frocks. For myself, I had no need to make any change; I should not
be called upon to quit my sanctum of the schoolroom; for a sanctum
it was now become to me, -- "a very pleasant refuge in time of
It had been a mild, serene spring day -- one of those days which,
towards the end of March or the beginning of April, rise shining
over the earth as heralds of summer. It was drawing to an end now;
but the evening was even warm, and I sat at work in the schoolroom
with the window open.
"It gets late," said Mrs. Fairfax, entering in rustling state.
"I am glad I ordered dinner an hour after the time Mr. Rochester
mentioned; for it is past six now. I have sent John down to the
gates to see if there is anything on the road: one can see a long
way from thence in the direction of Millcote." She went to the
window. "Here he is!" said she. "Well, John" (leaning out), "any
"They're coming, ma'am," was the answer. "They'll be here in ten
Adele flew to the window. I followed, taking care to stand on one
side, so that, screened by the curtain, I could see without being
The ten minutes John had given seemed very long, but at last wheels
were heard; four equestrians galloped up the drive, and after them
came two open carriages. Fluttering veils and waving plumes filled
the vehicles; two of the cavaliers were young, dashing-looking
gentlemen; the third was Mr. Rochester, on his black horse, Mesrour,
Pilot bounding before him; at his side rode a lady, and he and she
were the first of the party. Her purple riding-habit almost swept
the ground, her veil streamed long on the breeze; mingling with
its transparent folds, and gleaming through them, shone rich raven
"Miss Ingram!" exclaimed Mrs. Fairfax, and away she hurried to
her post below.
The cavalcade, following the sweep of the drive, quickly turned the
angle of the house, and I lost sight of it. Adele now petitioned
to go down; but I took her on my knee, and gave her to understand
that she must not on any account think of venturing in sight of
the ladies, either now or at any other time, unless expressly sent
for: that Mr. Rochester would be very angry, &c. "Some natural
tears she shed" on being told this; but as I began to look very
grave, she consented at last to wipe them.
A joyous stir was now audible in the hall: gentlemen's deep
tones and ladies' silvery accents blent harmoniously together, and
distinguishable above all, though not loud, was the sonorous voice
of the master of Thornfield Hall, welcoming his fair and gallant
guests under its roof. Then light steps ascended the stairs; and
there was a tripping through the gallery, and soft cheerful laughs,
and opening and closing doors, and, for a time, a hush.
"Elles changent de toilettes," said Adele; who, listening attentively,
had followed every movement; and she sighed.
"Chez maman," said she, "quand il y avait du monde, je le suivais
partout, au salon et e leurs chambres; souvent je regardais les
femmes de chambre coiffer et habiller les dames, et c'etait si
amusant: comme cela on apprend."
"Don't you feel hungry, Adele?"
"Mais oui, mademoiselle: voile cinq ou six heures que nous n'avons
"Well now, while the ladies are in their rooms, I will venture down
and get you something to eat."
And issuing from my asylum with precaution, I sought a back-stairs
which conducted directly to the kitchen. All in that region was
fire and commotion; the soup and fish were in the last stage of
projection, and the cook hung over her crucibles in a frame of mind
and body threatening spontaneous combustion. In the servants' hall
two coachmen and three gentlemen's gentlemen stood or sat round the
fire; the abigails, I suppose, were upstairs with their mistresses;
the new servants, that had been hired from Millcote, were bustling
about everywhere. Threading this chaos, I at last reached the
larder; there I took possession of a cold chicken, a roll of bread,
some tarts, a plate or two and a knife and fork: with this booty
I made a hasty retreat. I had regained the gallery, and was just
shutting the back-door behind me, when an accelerated hum warned me
that the ladies were about to issue from their chambers. I could
not proceed to the schoolroom without passing some of their doors,
and running the risk of being surprised with my cargo of victualage;
so I stood still at this end, which, being windowless, was dark:
quite dark now, for the sun was set and twilight gathering.
Presently the chambers gave up their fair tenants one after another:
each came out gaily and airily, with dress that gleamed lustrous
through the dusk. For a moment they stood grouped together at
the other extremity of the gallery, conversing in a key of sweet
subdued vivacity: they then descended the staircase almost as
noiselessly as a bright mist rolls down a hill. Their collective
appearance had left on me an impression of high-born elegance, such
as I had never before received.
I found Adele peeping through the schoolroom door, which she held
ajar. "What beautiful ladies!" cried she in English. "Oh, I wish
I might go to them! Do you think Mr. Rochester will send for us
by-and-bye, after dinner?"
"No, indeed, I don't; Mr. Rochester has something else to think
about. Never mind the ladies to-night; perhaps you will see them
to-morrow: here is your dinner."
She was really hungry, so the chicken and tarts served to divert
her attention for a time. It was well I secured this forage, or
both she, I, and Sophie, to whom I conveyed a share of our repast,
would have run a chance of getting no dinner at all: every one
downstairs was too much engaged to think of us. The dessert was not
carried out till after nine and at ten footmen were still running
to and fro with trays and coffee-cups. I allowed Adele to sit up
much later than usual; for she declared she could not possibly go
to sleep while the doors kept opening and shutting below, and people
bustling about. Besides, she added, a message might possibly come
from Mr. Rochester when she was undressed; "et alors quel dommage!"
I told her stories as long as she would listen to them; and then
for a change I took her out into the gallery. The hall lamp was
now lit, and it amused her to look over the balustrade and watch
the servants passing backwards and forwards. When the evening
was far advanced, a sound of music issued from the drawing-room,
whither the piano had been removed; Adele and I sat down on the
top step of the stairs to listen. Presently a voice blent with
the rich tones of the instrument; it was a lady who sang, and very
sweet her notes were. The solo over, a duet followed, and then a
glee: a joyous conversational murmur filled up the intervals. I
listened long: suddenly I discovered that my ear was wholly intent
on analysing the mingled sounds, and trying to discriminate amidst
the confusion of accents those of Mr. Rochester; and when it caught
them, which it soon did, it found a further task in framing the
tones, rendered by distance inarticulate, into words.
The clock struck eleven. I looked at Adele, whose head leant
against my shoulder; her eyes were waxing heavy, so I took her up
in my arms and carried her off to bed. It was near one before the
gentlemen and ladies sought their chambers.
The next day was as fine as its predecessor: it was devoted by
the party to an excursion to some site in the neighbourhood. They
set out early in the forenoon, some on horseback, the rest in
carriages; I witnessed both the departure and the return. Miss
Ingram, as before, was the only lady equestrian; and, as before,
Mr. Rochester galloped at her side; the two rode a little apart from
the rest. I pointed out this circumstance to Mrs. Fairfax,
who was standing at the window with me -
"You said it was not likely they should think of being married,"
said I, "but you see Mr. Rochester evidently prefers her to any of
the other ladies."
"Yes, I daresay: no doubt he admires her."
"And she him," I added; "look how she leans her head towards him
as if she were conversing confidentially; I wish I could see her
face; I have never had a glimpse of it yet."
"You will see her this evening," answered Mrs. Fairfax. "I happened
to remark to Mr. Rochester how much Adele wished to be introduced
to the ladies, and he said: 'Oh! let her come into the drawing-room
after dinner; and request Miss Eyre to accompany her.'"
"Yes; he said that from mere politeness: I need not go, I am sure,"
"Well, I observed to him that as you were unused to company, I did
not think you would like appearing before so gay a party -- all
strangers; and he replied, in his quick way -- 'Nonsense! If she
objects, tell her it is my particular wish; and if she resists,
say I shall come and fetch her in case of contumacy.'"
"I will not give him that trouble," I answered. "I will go, if
no better may be; but I don't like it. Shall you be there, Mrs.
"No; I pleaded off, and he admitted my plea. I'll tell you how to
manage so as to avoid the embarrassment of making a formal entrance,
which is the most disagreeable part of the business. You must go
into the drawing-room while it is empty, before the ladies leave
the dinner-table; choose your seat in any quiet nook you like; you
need not stay long after the gentlemen come in, unless you please:
just let Mr. Rochester see you are there and then slip away --
nobody will notice you."
"Will these people remain long, do you think?"
"Perhaps two or three weeks, certainly not more. After the
Easter recess, Sir George Lynn, who was lately elected member for
Millcote, will have to go up to town and take his seat; I daresay
Mr. Rochester will accompany him: it surprises me that he has
already made so protracted a stay at Thornfield."
It was with some trepidation that I perceived the hour approach
when I was to repair with my charge to the drawing-room. Adele
had been in a state of ecstasy all day, after hearing she was to be
presented to the ladies in the evening; and it was not till Sophie
commenced the operation of dressing her that she sobered down. Then
the importance of the process quickly steadied her, and by the time
she had her curls arranged in well-smoothed, drooping clusters, her
pink satin frock put on, her long sash tied, and her lace mittens
adjusted, she looked as grave as any judge. No need to warn her not
to disarrange her attire: when she was dressed, she sat demurely
down in her little chair, taking care previously to lift up the
satin skirt for fear she should crease it, and assured me she would
not stir thence till I was ready. This I quickly was: my best
dress (the silver-grey one, purchased for Miss Temple's wedding,
and never worn since) was soon put on; my hair was soon smoothed;
my sole ornament, the pearl brooch, soon assumed. We descended.
Fortunately there was another entrance to the drawing-room than
that through the saloon where they were all seated at dinner. We
found the apartment vacant; a large fire burning silently on the
marble hearth, and wax candles shining in bright solitude, amid the
exquisite flowers with which the tables were adorned. The crimson
curtain hung before the arch: slight as was the separation
this drapery formed from the party in the adjoining saloon, they
spoke in so low a key that nothing of their conversation could be
distinguished beyond a soothing murmur.
Adele, who appeared to be still under the influence of a most
solemnising impression, sat down, without a word, on the footstool I
pointed out to her. I retired to a window-seat, and taking a book
from a table near, endeavoured to read. Adele brought her stool
to my feet; ere long she touched my knee.
"What is it, Adele?"
"Est-ce que je ne puis pas prendrie une seule de ces fleurs
magnifiques, mademoiselle? Seulement pour completer ma toilette."
"You think too much of your 'toilette,' Adele: but you may have
a flower." And I took a rose from a vase and fastened it in her
sash. She sighed a sigh of ineffable satisfaction, as if her cup
of happiness were now full. I turned my face away to conceal a
smile I could not suppress: there was something ludicrous as well
as painful in the little Parisienne's earnest and innate devotion
to matters of dress.
A soft sound of rising now became audible; the curtain was swept
back from the arch; through it appeared the dining-room, with its
lit lustre pouring down light on the silver and glass of a magnificent
dessert-service covering a long table; a band of ladies stood in
the opening; they entered, and the curtain fell behind them.
There were but eight; yet, somehow, as they flocked in, they gave
the impression of a much larger number. Some of them were very
tall; many were dressed in white; and all had a sweeping amplitude
of array that seemed to magnify their persons as a mist magnifies
the moon. I rose and curtseyed to them: one or two bent their
heads in return, the others only stared at me.
They dispersed about the room, reminding me, by the lightness and
buoyancy of their movements, of a flock of white plumy birds. Some
of them threw themselves in half-reclining positions on the sofas
and ottomans: some bent over the tables and examined the flowers
and books: the rest gathered in a group round the fire: all
talked in a low but clear tone which seemed habitual to them. I
knew their names afterwards, and may as well mention them now.
First, there was Mrs. Eshton and two of her daughters. She had
evidently been a handsome woman, and was well preserved still.
Of her daughters, the eldest, Amy, was rather little: naive,
and child-like in face and manner, and piquant in form; her white
muslin dress and blue sash became her well. The second, Louisa,
was taller and more elegant in figure; with a very pretty face,
of that order the French term minois chiffone: both sisters were
fair as lilies.
Lady Lynn was a large and stout personage of about forty, very erect,
very haughty-looking, richly dressed in a satin robe of changeful
sheen: her dark hair shone glossily under the shade of an azure
plume, and within the circlet of a band of gems.
Mrs. Colonel Dent was less showy; but, I thought, more lady-like.
She had a slight figure, a pale, gentle face, and fair hair. Her
black satin dress, her scarf of rich foreign lace, and her pearl
ornaments, pleased me better than the rainbow radiance of the titled
But the three most distinguished -- partly, perhaps, because the
tallest figures of the band -- were the Dowager Lady Ingram and her
daughters, Blanche and Mary. They were all three of the loftiest
stature of women. The Dowager might be between forty and fifty:
her shape was still fine; her hair (by candle-light at least) still
black; her teeth, too, were still apparently perfect. Most people
would have termed her a splendid woman of her age: and so she was,
no doubt, physically speaking; but then there was an expression of
almost insupportable haughtiness in her bearing and countenance.
She had Roman features and a double chin, disappearing into a throat
like a pillar: these features appeared to me not only inflated and
darkened, but even furrowed with pride; and the chin was sustained
by the same principle, in a position of almost preternatural
erectness. She had, likewise, a fierce and a hard eye: it reminded
me of Mrs. Reed's; she mouthed her words in speaking; her voice
was deep, its inflections very pompous, very dogmatical, -- very
intolerable, in short. A crimson velvet robe, and a shawl turban
of some gold-wrought Indian fabric, invested her (I suppose she
thought) with a truly imperial dignity.
Blanche and Mary were of equal stature, -- straight and tall as
poplars. Mary was too slim for her height, but Blanche was moulded
like a Dian. I regarded her, of course, with special interest.
First, I wished to see whether her appearance accorded with
Mrs. Fairfax's description; secondly, whether it at all resembled
the fancy miniature I had painted of her; and thirdly -- it will