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Chapter 15


CHAPTER XV


Mr. Rochester did, on a future occasion, explain it.  It was one
afternoon, when he chanced to meet me and Adele in the grounds:  and
while she played with Pilot and her shuttlecock, he asked me to walk
up and down a long beech avenue within sight of her.

He then said that she was the daughter of a French opera-dancer,
Celine Varens, towards whom he had once cherished what he called a
"grande passion."  This passion Celine had professed to return with
even superior ardour.  He thought himself her idol, ugly as he was:
he believed, as he said, that she preferred his "taille d'athlete"
to the elegance of the Apollo Belvidere.

"And, Miss Eyre, so much was I flattered by this preference of the
Gallic sylph for her British gnome, that I installed her in an
hotel; gave her a complete establishment of servants, a carriage,
cashmeres, diamonds, dentelles, &c.  In short, I began the process
of ruining myself in the received style, like any other spoony.  I
had not, it seems, the originality to chalk out a new road to shame
and destruction, but trode the old track with stupid exactness not
to deviate an inch from the beaten centre.  I had--as I deserved to
have--the fate of all other spoonies.  Happening to call one evening
when Celine did not expect me, I found her out; but it was a warm
night, and I was tired with strolling through Paris, so I sat down
in her boudoir; happy to breathe the air consecrated so lately by
her presence.  No,--I exaggerate; I never thought there was any
consecrating virtue about her:  it was rather a sort of pastille
perfume she had left; a scent of musk and amber, than an odour of
sanctity.  I was just beginning to stifle with the fumes of
conservatory flowers and sprinkled essences, when I bethought myself
to open the window and step out on to the balcony.  It was moonlight
and gaslight besides, and very still and serene.  The balcony was
furnished with a chair or two; I sat down, and took out a cigar,--I
will take one now, if you will excuse me."

Here ensued a pause, filled up by the producing and lighting of a
cigar; having placed it to his lips and breathed a trail of Havannah
incense on the freezing and sunless air, he went on -

"I liked bonbons too in those days, Miss Eyre, and I was croquant--
(overlook the barbarism)--croquant chocolate comfits, and smoking
alternately, watching meantime the equipages that rolled along the
fashionable streets towards the neighbouring opera-house, when in an
elegant close carriage drawn by a beautiful pair of English horses,
and distinctly seen in the brilliant city-night, I recognised the
'voiture' I had given Celine.  She was returning:  of course my
heart thumped with impatience against the iron rails I leant upon.
The carriage stopped, as I had expected, at the hotel door; my flame
(that is the very word for an opera inamorata) alighted:  though
muffed in a cloak--an unnecessary encumbrance, by-the-bye, on so
warm a June evening--I knew her instantly by her little foot, seen
peeping from the skirt of her dress, as she skipped from the
carriage-step.  Bending over the balcony, I was about to murmur 'Mon
ange'--in a tone, of course, which should be audible to the ear of
love alone--when a figure jumped from the carriage after her;
cloaked also; but that was a spurred heel which had rung on the
pavement, and that was a hatted head which now passed under the
arched porte cochere of the hotel.

"You never felt jealousy, did you, Miss Eyre?  Of course not:  I
need not ask you; because you never felt love.  You have both
sentiments yet to experience:  your soul sleeps; the shock is yet to
be given which shall waken it.  You think all existence lapses in as
quiet a flow as that in which your youth has hitherto slid away.
Floating on with closed eyes and muffled ears, you neither see the
rocks bristling not far off in the bed of the flood, nor hear the
breakers boil at their base.  But I tell you--and you may mark my
words--you will come some day to a craggy pass in the channel, where
the whole of life's stream will be broken up into whirl and tumult,
foam and noise:  either you will be dashed to atoms on crag points,
or lifted up and borne on by some master-wave into a calmer current-
-as I am now.

"I like this day; I like that sky of steel; I like the sternness and
stillness of the world under this frost.  I like Thornfield, its
antiquity, its retirement, its old crow-trees and thorn-trees, its
grey facade, and lines of dark windows reflecting that metal welkin:
and yet how long have I abhorred the very thought of it, shunned it
like a great plague-house?  How I do still abhor -"

He ground his teeth and was silent:  he arrested his step and struck
his boot against the hard ground.  Some hated thought seemed to have
him in its grip, and to hold him so tightly that he could not
advance.

We were ascending the avenue when he thus paused; the hall was
before us.  Lifting his eye to its battlements, he cast over them a
glare such as I never saw before or since.  Pain, shame, ire,
impatience, disgust, detestation, seemed momentarily to hold a
quivering conflict in the large pupil dilating under his ebon
eyebrow.  Wild was the wrestle which should be paramount; but
another feeling rose and triumphed:  something hard and cynical:
self-willed and resolute:  it settled his passion and petrified his
countenance:  he went on -

"During the moment I was silent, Miss Eyre, I was arranging a point
with my destiny.  She stood there, by that beech-trunk--a hag like
one of those who appeared to Macbeth on the heath of Forres.  'You
like Thornfield?' she said, lifting her finger; and then she wrote
in the air a memento, which ran in lurid hieroglyphics all along the
house-front, between the upper and lower row of windows, 'Like it if
you can!  Like it if you dare!'

"'I will like it,' said I; 'I dare like it;' and" (he subjoined
moodily) "I will keep my word; I will break obstacles to happiness,
to goodness--yes, goodness.  I wish to be a better man than I have
been, than I am; as Job's leviathan broke the spear, the dart, and
the habergeon, hindrances which others count as iron and brass, I
will esteem but straw and rotten wood."

Adele here ran before him with her shuttlecock.  "Away!" he cried
harshly; "keep at a distance, child; or go in to Sophie!"
Continuing then to pursue his walk in silence, I ventured to recall
him to the point whence he had abruptly diverged -

"Did you leave the balcony, sir," I asked, "when Mdlle. Varens
entered?"

I almost expected a rebuff for this hardly well-timed question, but,
on the contrary, waking out of his scowling abstraction, he turned
his eyes towards me, and the shade seemed to clear off his brow.
"Oh, I had forgotten Celine!  Well, to resume.  When I saw my
charmer thus come in accompanied by a cavalier, I seemed to hear a
hiss, and the green snake of jealousy, rising on undulating coils
from the moonlit balcony, glided within my waistcoat, and ate its
way in two minutes to my heart's core.  Strange!" he exclaimed,
suddenly starting again from the point.  "Strange that I should
choose you for the confidant of all this, young lady; passing
strange that you should listen to me quietly, as if it were the most
usual thing in the world for a man like me to tell stories of his
opera-mistresses to a quaint, inexperienced girl like you!  But the
last singularity explains the first, as I intimated once before:
you, with your gravity, considerateness, and caution were made to be
the recipient of secrets.  Besides, I know what sort of a mind I
have placed in communication with my own:  I know it is one not
liable to take infection:  it is a peculiar mind:  it is a unique
one.  Happily I do not mean to harm it:  but, if I did, it would not
take harm from me.  The more you and I converse, the better; for
while I cannot blight you, you may refresh me."  After this
digression he proceeded -

"I remained in the balcony.  'They will come to her boudoir, no
doubt,' thought I:  'let me prepare an ambush.'  So putting my hand
in through the open window, I drew the curtain over it, leaving only
an opening through which I could take observations; then I closed
the casement, all but a chink just wide enough to furnish an outlet
to lovers' whispered vows:  then I stole back to my chair; and as I
resumed it the pair came in.  My eye was quickly at the aperture.
Celine's chamber-maid entered, lit a lamp, left it on the table, and
withdrew.  The couple were thus revealed to me clearly:  both
removed their cloaks, and there was 'the Varens,' shining in satin
and jewels,--my gifts of course,--and there was her companion in an
officer's uniform; and I knew him for a young roue of a vicomte--a
brainless and vicious youth whom I had sometimes met in society, and
had never thought of hating because I despised him so absolutely.
On recognising him, the fang of the snake Jealousy was instantly
broken; because at the same moment my love for Celine sank under an
extinguisher.  A woman who could betray me for such a rival was not
worth contending for; she deserved only scorn; less, however, than
I, who had been her dupe.

"They began to talk; their conversation eased me completely:
frivolous, mercenary, heartless, and senseless, it was rather
calculated to weary than enrage a listener.  A card of mine lay on
the table; this being perceived, brought my name under discussion.
Neither of them possessed energy or wit to belabour me soundly, but
they insulted me as coarsely as they could in their little way:
especially Celine, who even waxed rather brilliant on my personal
defects--deformities she termed them.  Now it had been her custom to
launch out into fervent admiration of what she called my 'beaute
male:' wherein she differed diametrically from you, who told me
point-blank, at the second interview, that you did not think me
handsome.  The contrast struck me at the time and--"

Adele here came running up again.

"Monsieur, John has just been to say that your agent has called and
wishes to see you."

"Ah! in that case I must abridge.  Opening the window, I walked in
upon them; liberated Celine from my protection; gave her notice to
vacate her hotel; offered her a purse for immediate exigencies;
disregarded screams, hysterics, prayers, protestations, convulsions;
made an appointment with the vicomte for a meeting at the Bois de
Boulogne.  Next morning I had the pleasure of encountering him; left
a bullet in one of his poor etiolated arms, feeble as the wing of a
chicken in the pip, and then thought I had done with the whole crew.
But unluckily the Varens, six months before, had given me this
filette Adele, who, she affirmed, was my daughter; and perhaps she
may be, though I see no proofs of such grim paternity written in her
countenance:  Pilot is more like me than she.  Some years after I
had broken with the mother, she abandoned her child, and ran away to
Italy with a musician or singer.  I acknowledged no natural claim on
Adele's part to be supported by me, nor do I now acknowledge any,
for I am not her father; but hearing that she was quite destitute, I
e'en took the poor thing out of the slime and mud of Paris, and
transplanted it here, to grow up clean in the wholesome soil of an
English country garden.  Mrs. Fairfax found you to train it; but now
you know that it is the illegitimate offspring of a French opera-
girl, you will perhaps think differently of your post and protegee:
you will be coming to me some day with notice that you have found
another place--that you beg me to look out for a new governess, &c.-
-Eh?"

"No:  Adele is not answerable for either her mother's faults or
yours:  I have a regard for her; and now that I know she is, in a
sense, parentless--forsaken by her mother and disowned by you, sir--
I shall cling closer to her than before.  How could I possibly
prefer the spoilt pet of a wealthy family, who would hate her
governess as a nuisance, to a lonely little orphan, who leans
towards her as a friend?"

"Oh, that is the light in which you view it!  Well, I must go in
now; and you too:  it darkens."

But I stayed out a few minutes longer with Adele and Pilot--ran a
race with her, and played a game of battledore and shuttlecock.
When we went in, and I had removed her bonnet and coat, I took her
on my knee; kept her there an hour, allowing her to prattle as she
liked:  not rebuking even some little freedoms and trivialities into
which she was apt to stray when much noticed, and which betrayed in
her a superficiality of character, inherited probably from her
mother, hardly congenial to an English mind.  Still she had her
merits; and I was disposed to appreciate all that was good in her to
the utmost.  I sought in her countenance and features a likeness to
Mr. Rochester, but found none:  no trait, no turn of expression
announced relationship.  It was a pity:  if she could but have been
proved to resemble him, he would have thought more of her.

It was not till after I had withdrawn to my own chamber for the
night, that I steadily reviewed the tale Mr. Rochester had told me.
As he had said, there was probably nothing at all extraordinary in
the substance of the narrative itself:  a wealthy Englishman's
passion for a French dancer, and her treachery to him, were every-
day matters enough, no doubt, in society; but there was something
decidedly strange in the paroxysm of emotion which had suddenly
seized him when he was in the act of expressing the present
contentment of his mood, and his newly revived pleasure in the old
hall and its environs.  I meditated wonderingly on this incident;
but gradually quitting it, as I found it for the present
inexplicable, I turned to the consideration of my master's manner to
myself.  The confidence he had thought fit to repose in me seemed a
tribute to my discretion:  I regarded and accepted it as such.  His
deportment had now for some weeks been more uniform towards me than
at the first.  I never seemed in his way; he did not take fits of
chilling hauteur:  when he met me unexpectedly, the encounter seemed
welcome; he had always a word and sometimes a smile for me:  when
summoned by formal invitation to his presence, I was honoured by a
cordiality of reception that made me feel I really possessed the
power to amuse him, and that these evening conferences were sought
as much for his pleasure as for my benefit.

I, indeed, talked comparatively little, but I heard him talk with
relish.  It was his nature to be communicative; he liked to open to
a mind unacquainted with the world glimpses of its scenes and ways
(I do not mean its corrupt scenes and wicked ways, but such as
derived their interest from the great scale on which they were
acted, the strange novelty by which they were characterised); and I
had a keen delight in receiving the new ideas he offered, in
imagining the new pictures he portrayed, and following him in
thought through the new regions he disclosed, never startled or
troubled by one noxious allusion.

The ease of his manner freed me from painful restraint:  the
friendly frankness, as correct as cordial, with which he treated me,
drew me to him.  I felt at times as if he were my relation rather
than my master:  yet he was imperious sometimes still; but I did not
mind that; I saw it was his way.  So happy, so gratified did I
become with this new interest added to life, that I ceased to pine
after kindred:  my thin crescent-destiny seemed to enlarge; the
blanks of existence were filled up; my bodily health improved; I
gathered flesh and strength.

And was Mr. Rochester now ugly in my eyes?  No, reader:  gratitude,
and many associations, all pleasurable and genial, made his face the
object I best liked to see; his presence in a room was more cheering
than the brightest fire.  Yet I had not forgotten his faults;
indeed, I could not, for he brought them frequently before me.  He
was proud, sardonic, harsh to inferiority of every description:  in
my secret soul I knew that his great kindness to me was balanced by
unjust severity to many others.  He was moody, too; unaccountably
so; I more than once, when sent for to read to him, found him
sitting in his library alone, with his head bent on his folded arms;
and, when he looked up, a morose, almost a malignant, scowl
blackened his features.  But I believed that his moodiness, his
harshness, and his former faults of morality (I say FORMER, for now
he seemed corrected of them) had their source in some cruel cross of
fate.  I believed he was naturally a man of better tendencies,
higher principles, and purer tastes than such as circumstances had
developed, education instilled, or destiny encouraged.  I thought
there were excellent materials in him; though for the present they
hung together somewhat spoiled and tangled.  I cannot deny that I
grieved for his grief, whatever that was, and would have given much
to assuage it.

Though I had now extinguished my candle and was laid down in bed, I
could not sleep for thinking of his look when he paused in the
avenue, and told how his destiny had risen up before him, and dared
him to be happy at Thornfield.

"Why not?" I asked myself.  "What alienates him from the house?
Will he leave it again soon?  Mrs. Fairfax said he seldom stayed
here longer than a fortnight at a time; and he has now been resident
eight weeks.  If he does go, the change will be doleful.  Suppose he
should be absent spring, summer, and autumn:  how joyless sunshine
and fine days will seem!"

I hardly know whether I had slept or not after this musing; at any
rate, I started wide awake on hearing a vague murmur, peculiar and
lugubrious, which sounded, I thought, just above me.  I wished I had
kept my candle burning:  the night was drearily dark; my spirits
were depressed.  I rose and sat up in bed, listening.  The sound was
hushed.

I tried again to sleep; but my heart beat anxiously:  my inward
tranquillity was broken.  The clock, far down in the hall, struck
two.  Just then it seemed my chamber-door was touched; as if fingers
had swept the panels in groping a way along the dark gallery
outside.  I said, "Who is there?"  Nothing answered.  I was chilled
with fear.

All at once I remembered that it might be Pilot, who, when the
kitchen-door chanced to be left open, not unfrequently found his way
up to the threshold of Mr. Rochester's chamber:  I had seen him
lying there myself in the mornings.  The idea calmed me somewhat:  I
lay down.  Silence composes the nerves; and as an unbroken hush now
reigned again through the whole house, I began to feel the return of
slumber.  But it was not fated that I should sleep that night.  A
dream had scarcely approached my ear, when it fled affrighted,
scared by a marrow-freezing incident enough.

This was a demoniac laugh--low, suppressed, and deep--uttered, as it
seemed, at the very keyhole of my chamber door.  The head of my bed
was near the door, and I thought at first the goblin-laugher stood
at my bedside--or rather, crouched by my pillow:  but I rose, looked
round, and could see nothing; while, as I still gazed, the unnatural
sound was reiterated:  and I knew it came from behind the panels.
My first impulse was to rise and fasten the bolt; my next, again to
cry out, "Who is there?"

Something gurgled and moaned.  Ere long, steps retreated up the
gallery towards the third-storey staircase:  a door had lately been
made to shut in that staircase; I heard it open and close, and all
was still.

"Was that Grace Poole? and is she possessed with a devil?" thought
I.  Impossible now to remain longer by myself:  I must go to Mrs.
Fairfax.  I hurried on my frock and a shawl; I withdrew the bolt and
opened the door with a trembling hand.  There was a candle burning
just outside, and on the matting in the gallery.  I was surprised at
this circumstance:  but still more was I amazed to perceive the air
quite dim, as if filled with smoke; and, while looking to the right
hand and left, to find whence these blue wreaths issued, I became
further aware of a strong smell of burning.

Something creaked:  it was a door ajar; and that door was Mr.
Rochester's, and the smoke rushed in a cloud from thence.  I thought
no more of Mrs. Fairfax; I thought no more of Grace Poole, or the
laugh:  in an instant, I was within the chamber.  Tongues of flame
darted round the bed:  the curtains were on fire.  In the midst of
blaze and vapour, Mr. Rochester lay stretched motionless, in deep
sleep.

"Wake! wake!" I cried.  I shook him, but he only murmured and
turned:  the smoke had stupefied him.  Not a moment could be lost:
the very sheets were kindling, I rushed to his basin and ewer;
fortunately, one was wide and the other deep, and both were filled
with water.  I heaved them up, deluged the bed and its occupant,
flew back to my own room, brought my own water-jug, baptized the
couch afresh, and, by God's aid, succeeded in extinguishing the
flames which were devouring it.

The hiss of the quenched element, the breakage of a pitcher which I
flung from my hand when I had emptied it, and, above all, the splash
of the shower-bath I had liberally bestowed, roused Mr. Rochester at
last.  Though it was now dark, I knew he was awake; because I heard
him fulminating strange anathemas at finding himself lying in a pool
of water.

"Is there a flood?" he cried.

"No, sir," I answered; "but there has been a fire:  get up, do; you
are quenched now; I will fetch you a candle."

"In the name of all the elves in Christendom, is that Jane Eyre?" he
demanded.  "What have you done with me, witch, sorceress?  Who is in
the room besides you?  Have you plotted to drown me?"

"I will fetch you a candle, sir; and, in Heaven's name, get up.
Somebody has plotted something:  you cannot too soon find out who
and what it is."

"There!  I am up now; but at your peril you fetch a candle yet:
wait two minutes till I get into some dry garments, if any dry there
be--yes, here is my dressing-gown.  Now run!"

I did run; I brought the candle which still remained in the gallery.
He took it from my hand, held it up, and surveyed the bed, all
blackened and scorched, the sheets drenched, the carpet round
swimming in water.

"What is it? and who did it?" he asked.  I briefly related to him
what had transpired:  the strange laugh I had heard in the gallery:
the step ascending to the third storey; the smoke,--the smell of
fire which had conducted me to his room; in what state I had found
matters there, and how I had deluged him with all the water I could
lay hands on.

He listened very gravely; his face, as I went on, expressed more
concern than astonishment; he did not immediately speak when I had
concluded.

"Shall I call Mrs. Fairfax?" I asked.

"Mrs. Fairfax?  No; what the deuce would you call her for?  What can
she do?  Let her sleep unmolested."

"Then I will fetch Leah, and wake John and his wife."

"Not at all:  just be still.  You have a shawl on.  If you are not
warm enough, you may take my cloak yonder; wrap it about you, and
sit down in the arm-chair:  there,--I will put it on.  Now place
your feet on the stool, to keep them out of the wet.  I am going to
leave you a few minutes.  I shall take the candle.  Remain where you
are till I return; be as still as a mouse.  I must pay a visit to
the second storey.  Don't move, remember, or call any one."

He went:  I watched  the light withdraw.  He passed up the gallery
very softly, unclosed the staircase door with as little noise as
possible, shut it after him, and the last ray vanished.  I was left
in total darkness.  I listened for some noise, but heard nothing.  A
very long time elapsed.  I grew weary:  it was cold, in spite of the
cloak; and then I did not see the use of staying, as I was not to
rouse the house.  I was on the point of risking Mr. Rochester's
displeasure by disobeying his orders, when the light once more
gleamed dimly on the gallery wall, and I heard his unshod feet tread
the matting.  "I hope it is he," thought I, "and not something
worse."

He re-entered, pale and very gloomy.  "I have found it all out,"
said he, setting his candle down on the washstand; "it is as I
thought."

"How, sir?"

He made no reply, but stood with his arms folded, looking on the
ground.  At the end of a few minutes he inquired in rather a
peculiar tone -

"I forget whether you said you saw anything when you opened your
chamber door."

"No, sir, only the candlestick on the ground."

"But you heard an odd laugh?  You have heard that laugh before, I
should think, or something like it?"

"Yes, sir:  there is a woman who sews here, called Grace Poole,--she
laughs in that way.  She is a singular person."

"Just so.  Grace Poole--you have guessed it.  She is, as you say,
singular--very.  Well, I shall reflect on the subject.  Meantime, I
am glad that you are the only person, besides myself, acquainted
with the precise details of to-night's incident.  You are no talking
fool:  say nothing about it.  I will account for this state of
affairs" (pointing to the bed):  "and now return to your own room.
I shall do very well on the sofa in the library for the rest of the
night.  It is near four:- in two hours the servants will be up."

"Good-night, then, sir," said I, departing.

He seemed surprised--very inconsistently so, as he had just told me
to go.

"What!" he exclaimed, "are you quitting me already, and in that
way?"

"You said I might go, sir."

"But not without taking leave; not without a word or two of
acknowledgment and good-will:  not, in short,  in that brief, dry
fashion.  Why, you have saved my life!--snatched me from a horrible
and excruciating death! and you walk past me as if we were mutual
strangers!  At least shake hands."

He held out his hand; I gave him mine:  he took it first in one,
them in both his own.

"You have saved my life:  I have a pleasure in owing you so immense
a debt.  I cannot say more.  Nothing else that has being would have
been tolerable to me in the character of creditor for such an
obligation:  but you:  it is different;--I feel your benefits no
burden, Jane."

He paused; gazed at me:  words almost visible trembled on his lips,-
-but his voice was checked.

"Good-night again, sir.  There is no debt, benefit, burden,
obligation, in the case."

"I knew," he continued, "you would do me good in some way, at some
time;--I saw it in your eyes when I first beheld you:  their
expression and smile did not"--(again he stopped)--"did not" (he
proceeded hastily) "strike delight to my very inmost heart so for
nothing.  People talk of natural sympathies; I have heard of good
genii:  there are grains of truth in the wildest fable.  My
cherished preserver, goodnight!"

Strange energy was in his voice, strange fire in his look.

"I am glad I happened to be awake," I said:  and then I was going.

"What! you WILL go?"

"I am cold, sir."

"Cold?  Yes,--and standing in a pool!  Go, then, Jane; go!"  But he
still retained my hand, and I could not free it.  I bethought myself
of an expedient.

"I think I hear Mrs. Fairfax move, sir," said I.

"Well, leave me:" he relaxed his fingers, and I was gone.

I regained my couch, but never thought of sleep.  Till morning
dawned I was tossed on a buoyant but unquiet sea, where billows of
trouble rolled under surges of joy.  I thought sometimes I saw
beyond its wild waters a shore, sweet as the hills of Beulah; and
now and then a freshening gale, wakened by hope, bore my spirit
triumphantly towards the bourne:  but I could not reach it, even in
fancy--a counteracting breeze blew off land, and continually drove
me back.  Sense would resist delirium:  judgment would warn passion.
Too feverish to rest, I rose as soon as day dawned.


Charlotte Bronte