Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 17


CHAPTER XVII


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 check; they might germinate and bear fruit if they could.

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 or
not."

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
trouble."

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
news?"

"They're coming, ma'am," was the answer.  "They'll be here in ten
minutes."

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
seen.

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
ringlets.

"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
pas mange."

"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,"
I answered.

"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.
Fairfax?"

"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
dame.

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 out!--
whether it were such as I should fancy likely to suit Mr.
Rochester's taste.

As far as person went, she answered point for point, both to my
picture and Mrs. Fairfax's description.  The noble bust, the sloping
shoulders, the graceful neck, the dark eyes and black ringlets were
all there;--but her face?  Her face was like her mother's; a
youthful unfurrowed likeness:  the same low brow, the same high
features, the same pride.  It was not, however, so saturnine a
pride! she laughed continually; her laugh was satirical, and so was
the habitual expression of her arched and haughty lip.

Genius is said to be self-conscious.  I cannot tell whether Miss
Ingram was a genius, but she was self-conscious--remarkably self-
conscious indeed.  She entered into a discourse on botany with the
gentle Mrs. Dent.  It seemed Mrs. Dent had not studied that science:
though, as she said, she liked flowers, "especially wild ones;" Miss
Ingram had, and she ran over its vocabulary with an air.  I
presently perceived she was (what is vernacularly termed) TRAILING
Mrs. Dent; that is, playing on her ignorance--her TRAIL might be
clever, but it was decidedly not good-natured.  She played:  her
execution was brilliant; she sang:  her voice was fine; she talked
French apart to her mamma; and she talked it well, with fluency and
with a good accent.

Mary had a milder and more open countenance than Blanche; softer
features too, and a skin some shades fairer (Miss Ingram was dark as
a Spaniard)--but Mary was deficient in life:  her face lacked
expression, her eye lustre; she had nothing to say, and having once
taken her seat, remained fixed like a statue in its niche.  The
sisters were both attired in spotless white.

And did I now think Miss Ingram such a choice as Mr. Rochester would
be likely to make?  I could not tell--I did not know his taste in
female beauty.  If he liked the majestic, she was the very type of
majesty:  then she was accomplished, sprightly.  Most gentlemen
would admire her, I thought; and that he DID admire her, I already
seemed to have obtained proof:  to remove the last shade of doubt,
it remained but to see them together.

You are not to suppose, reader, that Adele has all this time been
sitting motionless on the stool at my feet:  no; when the ladies
entered, she rose, advanced to meet them, made a stately reverence,
and said with gravity -

"Bon jour, mesdames."

And Miss Ingram had looked down at her with a mocking air, and
exclaimed, "Oh, what a little puppet!"

Lady Lynn had remarked, "It is Mr. Rochester's ward, I suppose--the
little French girl he was speaking of."

Mrs. Dent had kindly taken her hand, and given her a kiss.

Amy and Louisa Eshton had cried out simultaneously--"What a love of
a child!"

And then they had called her to a sofa, where she now sat, ensconced
between them, chattering alternately in French and broken English;
absorbing not only the young ladies' attention, but that of Mrs.
Eshton and Lady Lynn, and getting spoilt to her heart's content.

At last coffee is brought in, and the gentlemen are summoned.  I sit
in the shade--if any shade there be in this brilliantly-lit
apartment; the window-curtain half hides me.  Again the arch yawns;
they come.  The collective appearance of the gentlemen, like that of
the ladies, is very imposing:  they are all costumed in black; most
of them are tall, some young.  Henry and Frederick Lynn are very
dashing sparks indeed; and Colonel Dent is a fine soldierly man.
Mr. Eshton, the magistrate of the district, is gentleman-like:  his
hair is quite white, his eyebrows and whiskers still dark, which
gives him something of the appearance of a "pere noble de theatre."
Lord Ingram, like his sisters, is very tall; like them, also, he is
handsome; but he shares Mary's apathetic and listless look:  he
seems to have more length of limb than vivacity of blood or vigour
of brain.

And where is Mr. Rochester?

He comes in last:  I am not looking at the arch, yet I see him
enter.  I try to concentrate my attention on those netting-needles,
on the meshes of the purse I am forming--I wish to think only of the
work I have in my hands, to see only the silver beads and silk
threads that lie in my lap; whereas, I distinctly behold his figure,
and I inevitably recall the moment when I last saw it; just after I
had rendered him, what he deemed, an essential service, and he,
holding my hand, and looking down on my face, surveyed me with eyes
that revealed a heart full and eager to overflow; in whose emotions
I had a part.  How near had I approached him at that moment!  What
had occurred since, calculated to change his and my relative
positions?  Yet now, how distant, how far estranged we were!  So far
estranged, that I did not expect him to come and speak to me.  I did
not wonder, when, without looking at me, he took a seat at the other
side of the room, and began conversing with some of the ladies.

No sooner did I see that his attention was riveted on them, and that
I might gaze without being observed, than my eyes were drawn
involuntarily to his face; I could not keep their lids under
control:  they would rise, and the irids would fix on him.  I
looked, and had an acute pleasure in looking,--a precious yet
poignant pleasure; pure gold, with a steely point of agony:  a
pleasure like what the thirst-perishing man might feel who knows the
well to which he has crept is poisoned, yet stoops and drinks divine
draughts nevertheless.

Most true is it that "beauty is in the eye of the gazer."  My
master's colourless, olive face, square, massive brow, broad and
jetty eyebrows, deep eyes, strong features, firm, grim mouth,--all
energy, decision, will,--were not beautiful, according to rule; but
they were more than beautiful to me; they were full of an interest,
an influence that quite mastered me,--that took my feelings from my
own power and fettered them in his.  I had not intended to love him;
the reader knows I had wrought hard to extirpate from my soul the
germs of love there detected; and now, at the first renewed view of
him, they spontaneously arrived, green and strong!  He made me love
him without looking at me.

I compared him with his guests.  What was the gallant grace of the
Lynns, the languid elegance of Lord Ingram,--even the military
distinction of Colonel Dent, contrasted with his look of native pith
and genuine power?  I had no sympathy in their appearance, their
expression:  yet I could imagine that most observers would call them
attractive, handsome, imposing; while they would pronounce Mr.
Rochester at once harsh-featured and melancholy-looking.  I saw them
smile, laugh--it was nothing; the light of the candles had as much
soul in it as their smile; the tinkle of the bell as much
significance as their laugh.  I saw Mr. Rochester smile:- his stern
features softened; his eye grew both brilliant and gentle, its ray
both searching and sweet.  He was talking, at the moment, to Louisa
and Amy Eshton.  I wondered to see them receive with calm that look
which seemed to me so penetrating:  I expected their eyes to fall,
their colour to rise under it; yet I was glad when I found they were
in no sense moved.  "He is not to them what he is to me," I thought:
"he is not of their kind.  I believe he is of mine;--I am sure he
is--I feel akin to him--I understand the language of his countenance
and movements:  though rank and wealth sever us widely, I have
something in my brain and heart, in my blood and nerves, that
assimilates me mentally to him.  Did I say, a few days since, that I
had nothing to do with him but to receive my salary at his hands?
Did I forbid myself to think of him in any other light than as a
paymaster?  Blasphemy against nature!  Every good, true, vigorous
feeling I have gathers impulsively round him.  I know I must conceal
my sentiments:  I must smother hope; I must remember that he cannot
care much for me.  For when I say that I am of his kind, I do not
mean that I have his force to influence, and his spell to attract; I
mean only that I have certain tastes and feelings in common with
him.  I must, then, repeat continually that we are for ever
sundered:- and yet, while I breathe and think, I must love him."

Coffee is handed.  The ladies, since the gentlemen entered, have
become lively as larks; conversation waxes brisk and merry.  Colonel
Dent and Mr. Eshton argue on politics; their wives listen.  The two
proud dowagers, Lady Lynn and Lady Ingram, confabulate together.
Sir George--whom, by-the-bye, I have forgotten to describe,--a very
big, and very fresh-looking country gentleman, stands before their
sofa, coffee-cup in hand, and occasionally puts in a word.  Mr.
Frederick Lynn has taken a seat beside Mary Ingram, and is showing
her the engravings of a splendid volume:  she looks, smiles now and
then, but apparently says little.  The tall and phlegmatic Lord
Ingram leans with folded arms on the chair-back of the little and
lively Amy Eshton; she glances up at him, and chatters like a wren:
she likes him better than she does Mr. Rochester.  Henry Lynn has
taken possession of an ottoman at the feet of Louisa:  Adele shares
it with him:  he is trying to talk French with her, and Louisa
laughs at his blunders.  With whom will Blanche Ingram pair?  She is
standing alone at the table, bending gracefully over an album.  She
seems waiting to be sought; but she will not wait too long:  she
herself selects a mate.

Mr. Rochester, having quitted the Eshtons, stands on the hearth as
solitary as she stands by the table:  she confronts him, taking her
station on the opposite side of the mantelpiece.

"Mr. Rochester, I thought you were not fond of children?"

"Nor am I."

"Then, what induced you to take charge of such a little doll as
that?" (pointing to Adele).  "Where did you pick her up?"

"I did not pick her up; she was left on my hands."

"You should have sent her to school."

"I could not afford it:  schools are so dear."

"Why, I suppose you have a governess for her:  I saw a person with
her just now--is she gone?  Oh, no! there she is still, behind the
window-curtain.  You pay her, of course; I should think it quite as
expensive,--more so; for you have them both to keep in addition."

I feared--or should I say, hoped?--the allusion to me would make Mr.
Rochester glance my way; and I involuntarily shrank farther into the
shade:  but he never turned his eyes.

"I have not considered the subject," said he indifferently, looking
straight before him.

"No, you men never do consider economy and common sense.  You should
hear mama on the chapter of governesses:  Mary and I have had, I
should think, a dozen at least in our day; half of them detestable
and the rest ridiculous, and all incubi--were they not, mama?"

"Did you speak, my own?"

The young lady thus claimed as the dowager's special property,
reiterated her question with an explanation.

"My dearest, don't mention governesses; the word makes me nervous.
I have suffered a martyrdom from their incompetency and caprice.  I
thank Heaven I have now done with them!"

Mrs. Dent here bent over to the pious lady and whispered something
in her ear; I suppose, from the answer elicited, it was a reminder
that one of the anathematised race was present.

"Tant pis!" said her Ladyship, "I hope it may do her good!"  Then,
in a lower tone, but still loud enough for me to hear, "I noticed
her; I am a judge of physiognomy, and in hers I see all the faults
of her class."

"What are they, madam?" inquired Mr. Rochester aloud.

"I will tell you in your private ear," replied she, wagging her
turban three times with portentous significancy.

"But my curiosity will be past its appetite; it craves food now."

"Ask Blanche; she is nearer you than I."

"Oh, don't refer him to me, mama!  I have just one word to say of
the whole tribe; they are a nuisance.  Not that I ever suffered much
from them; I took care to turn the tables.  What tricks Theodore and
I used to play on our Miss Wilsons, and Mrs. Greys, and Madame
Jouberts!  Mary was always too sleepy to join in a plot with spirit.
The best fun was with Madame Joubert:  Miss Wilson was a poor sickly
thing, lachrymose and low-spirited, not worth the trouble of
vanquishing, in short; and Mrs. Grey was coarse and insensible; no
blow took effect on her.  But poor Madame Joubert!  I see her yet in
her raging passions, when we had driven her to extremities--spilt
our tea, crumbled our bread and butter, tossed our books up to the
ceiling, and played a charivari with the ruler and desk, the fender
and fire-irons.  Theodore, do you remember those merry days?"

"Yaas, to be sure I do," drawled Lord Ingram; "and the poor old
stick used to cry out 'Oh you villains childs!'--and then we
sermonised her on the presumption of attempting to teach such clever
blades as we were, when she was herself so ignorant."

"We did; and, Tedo, you know, I helped you in prosecuting (or
persecuting) your tutor, whey-faced Mr. Vining--the parson in the
pip, as we used to call him.  He and Miss Wilson took the liberty of
falling in love with each other--at least Tedo and I thought so; we
surprised sundry tender glances and sighs which we interpreted as
tokens of 'la belle passion,' and I promise you the public soon had
the benefit of our discovery; we employed it as a sort of lever to
hoist our dead-weights from the house.  Dear mama, there, as soon as
she got an inkling of the business, found out that it was of an
immoral tendency.  Did you not, my lady-mother?"

"Certainly, my best.  And I was quite right:  depend on that:  there
are a thousand reasons why liaisons between governesses and tutors
should never be tolerated a moment in any well-regulated house;
firstly--"

"Oh, gracious, mama!  Spare us the enumeration!  Au reste, we all
know them:  danger of bad example to innocence of childhood;
distractions and consequent neglect of duty on the part of the
attached--mutual alliance and reliance; confidence thence resulting-
-insolence accompanying--mutiny and general blow-up.  Am I right,
Baroness Ingram, of Ingram Park?"

"My lily-flower, you are right now, as always."

"Then no more need be said:  change the subject."

Amy Eshton, not hearing or not heeding this dictum, joined in with
her soft, infantine tone:  "Louisa and I used to quiz our governess
too; but she was such a good creature, she would bear anything:
nothing put her out.  She was never cross with us; was she, Louisa?"

"No, never:  we might do what we pleased; ransack her desk and her
workbox, and turn her drawers inside out; and she was so good-
natured, she would give as anything we asked for."

"I suppose, now," said Miss Ingram, curling her lip sarcastically,
"we shall have an abstract of the memoirs of all the governesses
extant:  in order to avert such a visitation, I again move the
introduction of a new topic.  Mr. Rochester, do you second my
motion?"

"Madam, I support you on this point, as on every other."

"Then on me be the onus of bringing it forward.  Signior Eduardo,
are you in voice to-night?"

"Donna Bianca, if you command it, I will be."

"Then, signior, I lay on you my sovereign behest to furbish up your
lungs and other vocal organs, as they will be wanted on my royal
service."

"Who would not be the Rizzio of so divine a Mary?"

"A fig for Rizzio!" cried she, tossing her head with all its curls,
as she moved to the piano.  "It is my opinion the fiddler David must
have been an insipid sort of fellow; I like black Bothwell better:
to my mind a man is nothing without a spice of the devil in him; and
history may say what it will of James Hepburn, but I have a notion,
he was just the sort of wild, fierce, bandit hero whom I could have
consented to gift with my hand."

"Gentlemen, you hear!  Now which of you most resembles Bothwell?"
cried Mr. Rochester.

"I should say the preference lies with you," responded Colonel Dent.

"On my honour, I am much obliged to you," was the reply.

Miss Ingram, who had now seated herself with proud grace at the
piano, spreading out her snowy robes in queenly amplitude, commenced
a brilliant prelude; talking meantime.  She appeared to be on her
high horse to-night; both her words and her air seemed intended to
excite not only the admiration, but the amazement of her auditors:
she was evidently bent on striking them as something very dashing
and daring indeed.

"Oh, I am so sick of the young men of the present day!" exclaimed
she, rattling away at the instrument.  "Poor, puny things, not fit
to stir a step beyond papa's park gates:  nor to go even so far
without mama's permission and guardianship!  Creatures so absorbed
in care about their pretty faces, and their white hands, and their
small feet; as if a man had anything to do with beauty!  As if
loveliness were not the special prerogative of woman--her legitimate
appanage and heritage!  I grant an ugly WOMAN is a blot on the fair
face of creation; but as to the GENTLEMEN, let them be solicitous to
possess only strength and valour:  let their motto be:- Hunt, shoot,
and fight:  the rest is not worth a fillip.  Such should be my
device, were I a man."

"Whenever I marry," she continued after a pause which none
interrupted, "I am resolved my husband shall not be a rival, but a
foil to me.  I will suffer no competitor near the throne; I shall
exact an undivided homage:  his devotions shall not be shared
between me and the shape he sees in his mirror.  Mr. Rochester, now
sing, and I will play for you."

"I am all obedience," was the response.

"Here then is a Corsair-song.  Know that I doat on Corsairs; and for
that reason, sing it con spirito."

"Commands from Miss Ingram's lips would put spirit into a mug of
milk and water."

"Take care, then:  if you don't please me, I will shame you by
showing how such things SHOULD be done."

"That is offering a premium on incapacity:  I shall now endeavour to
fail."

"Gardez-vous en bien!  If you err wilfully, I shall devise a
proportionate punishment."

"Miss Ingram ought to be clement, for she has it in her power to
inflict a chastisement beyond mortal endurance."

"Ha! explain!" commanded the lady.

"Pardon me, madam:  no need of explanation; your own fine sense must
inform you that one of your frowns would be a sufficient substitute
for capital punishment."

"Sing!" said she, and again touching the piano, she commenced an
accompaniment in spirited style.

"Now is my time to slip away," thought I:  but the tones that then
severed the air arrested me.  Mrs. Fairfax had said Mr. Rochester
possessed a fine voice:  he did--a mellow, powerful bass, into which
he threw his own feeling, his own force; finding a way through the
ear to the heart, and there waking sensation strangely.  I waited
till the last deep and full vibration had expired--till the tide of
talk, checked an instant, had resumed its flow; I then quitted my
sheltered corner and made my exit by the side-door, which was
fortunately near.  Thence a narrow passage led into the hall:  in
crossing it, I perceived my sandal was loose; I stopped to tie it,
kneeling down for that purpose on the mat at the foot of the
staircase.  I heard the dining-room door unclose; a gentleman came
out; rising hastily, I stood face to face with him:  it was Mr.
Rochester.

"How do you do?" he asked.

"I am very well, sir."

"Why did you not come and speak to me in the room?"

I thought I might have retorted the question on him who put it:  but
I would not take that freedom.  I answered -

"I did not wish to disturb you, as you seemed engaged, sir."

"What have you been doing during my absence?"

"Nothing particular; teaching Adele as usual."

"And getting a good deal paler than you were--as I saw at first
sight.  What is the matter?"

"Nothing at all, sir."

"Did you take any cold that night you half drowned me?"

"Not she least."

"Return to the drawing-room:  you are deserting too early."

"I am tired, sir."

He looked at me for a minute.

"And a little depressed," he said.  "What about?  Tell me."

"Nothing--nothing, sir.  I am not depressed."

"But I affirm that you are:  so much depressed that a few more words
would bring tears to your eyes--indeed, they are there now, shining
and swimming; and a bead has slipped from the lash and fallen on to
the flag.  If I had time, and was not in mortal dread of some
prating prig of a servant passing, I would know what all this means.
Well, to-night I excuse you; but understand that so long as my
visitors stay, I expect you to appear in the drawing-room every
evening; it is my wish; don't neglect it.  Now go, and send Sophie
for Adele.  Good-night, my--"  He stopped, bit his lip, and abruptly
left me.


Charlotte Bronte