Jane Eyre (Chapter 6 – XIII – XIV – XV)
Theo lệnh của bác sĩ , tối hôm đó ông chủ phải đi ngủ sớm, và sáng hôm sau, ông dậy trưa. Khi ông xuống nhà dưới, ông có khối việc phải làm. Người quản lý bất động sản cho ông đến gặp ông . Những người thuê đất của ông cũng đến chờ gặp ông
Adela và tôi phải đổi phòng học vì thư viện bây giờ dùng làm nơi làm việc cho ông chủ với các người được mời đến. Người ta nhóm cho tôi một lò sưởi ở trongphòng ở trên lầu. Tôi ôm hết sách vở lên đấy, bày biện ngăn nắp để chuẩn bị buổi học.
Không khí ở Thornfield Hall đã đổi hẳn. Nó không còn lặng yên như một nhà thờ nữa mà thỉnh thoảng lại vang lên tiếng gõ cửa , tiếng chuông reo, tiếng cười nói ồn ào , tiếng chân đi nhộn nhịp khắp nhà. Ngôi nhà đã có chủ. Về phần tôi, tôi rất thích không khí sinh động vui tươi này
Hôm ấy tôi rất khó dạy Adela. Bé cứ chạy ra cửa của phòng học mới , nhìn qua bao lơn của cầu thang để xem thử có thấy ông Rochester hay không. Rồi bé lại kiếm cớ chạy xuống thư viện mà tôi biết rằng chẳng ai muốn gặp bé. Rồi khi tôi tỏ ý phật lòng và buộc bé ngồi yên một chỗ thì bé lại luôn mồm nhắc đến “Ông Edward Fairfax de Rochester”, cái tên mà bé thường gọi ông chủ, rồi bé lại bắt đầu phân vân không hiểu ông chủ đã mang về cho bé qùa gì.
Đối với chúng tôi, ngày nào cũng như ngày nào. Chiếu hôm ấy trời có tuyết rơi, trông thật buồn, và khi tôi đến, tôi cho phép Adela nghỉ học, bé liền chạy xuống nhà. Tôi ngồi lại một mình, kéo màn để che ánh sáng nhàn nhạt của mùa đông bên ngoài, tôi ngồi bên lò sưởi cho đến khi bà Fairfax bước vào. Bà bảo tôi:
– Ông Rochester rất mong được uống trà cùng cô với Adela ở phòng khách. Cô nên thay quần áo đi.
Tôi hỏi bà có phải bắt buộc như vậy không thì bà nói:
– Phải. Tôi thường phải thay áo quần đẹp vào buổi tối mỗi khi có ông Rochester ở đây.
Tôi vào phòng , thay cái áo dài bằng nỉ đen bằng cái áo lụa màu đen- cái áo đẹp nhất và cũng là cái duy nhất của tôi- chỉ dành để mặc vào những dịp quan trọng nhất, không kể tôi còn cái áo khoác màu xám nhạt nhưng nó qúa rộng , mặc vào thật khó coi. Tôi không có đồ trang sức bằng vàng bạc đá qúy, ngoại trừ chiếc trâm bằng ngọc trai mà cô Temple đã biếu tôi khi chia tay ở Lowood.
Tôi đi theo bà Fairfax qua phòng ăn rồi bước qua cửa bán nguyệt để vào gian phòng lộng lẫy ở bên kia. Tôi cảm thấy hơi căng thẳng trong người một chút, vì lấy làm lạ vì sao mình lại bỗng nhiên vào thăm phòng khách.
Không khí ấm cúng dễ chịu bao quanh chúng tôi. Những ngọn đèn cầy chiếu sáng những chiếc bàn và cái bệ bao quanh lò sưởi. Con chó Pilot đang nằm thưởng thức ánh sáng và hơi ấm của lò sưởi, Adela đang qùy bên cạnh nó. Ông Rochester đang nằm nghỉ trên trường kỷ, bàn chân đau của ông gác trên một chiếc gối. Ông đang nhìn Adela và con chó. Hẳn là ông thừa biết chúng tôi đi vào, nhưng ông không chú ý đến bà Fairfax và tôi. Tôi liền nhận ra người khách nghiêm trang , với vầng trán rộng, với cái miệng nghiêm nghị và chiếc cằm ấy- đúng vậy, ông thật nghiêm nghị, chứ không có chút gì đáng chê trách hết.
Bà Fairfax hết sức bình tĩnh nói:
– Thưa ông , đây là cô Eyre
Ông vẫn không rời mắt khỏi em bé và con chó đang ngồi trong vùng ánh sáng của lò sưởi. Ông khẽ cúi chào xã giao rồi ông lơ đễnh nói:
– Mời cô Eyre ngồi.
Ông lại nhìn vào lò sưởi
Tôi ngồi xuống , lòng bối rối vô cùng . Ông qúa lịch sự khiến tôi đâm ra luống cuống, vì tôi ít duyên dáng, ít lịch lãm để ứng phó với tình huống này. Bà Fairfax bắt đầu nói về việc ông bận rộn suốt ngày, nói về việc ông bong gân khiến ông đau đớn, và việc ông hết sức kiên nhẫn để chịu những cơn đau ấy. Rồi bà chỉ nhận được độc nhất một câu trả lời của ông:
– Thưa bà, tôi muốn uống trà.
Bà vội vã rung chuông. Người ta liền bưng khay đến, bà sắp đặt ly tách để dùng trà, nhanh nhẹn và cẩn thận. Adela, tôi cùng bà ngồi vào bàn, nhưng ông Rochester vẫn không rời khỏi chiếc ghế trường kỷ bên lò sưởi. Bà Fairfax nói với tôi:
– Cô vui lòng bưng tách trà cho ông Rochester được không? Sợ Adela làm đổ mất
Khi ông nhận tách trà nơi tay tôi, Adela bỗng nói lớn bằng tiếng Pháp:
– Bác có qùa cho cô Eyre ở trong rương, phải không?
Ông hỏi lại bằng giọng khàn khàn:
– Ai bảo cháu có qùa? Cô Eyre , cô có mong có qùa không? Cô thích qùa không?
Ông ngước mắt nhìn tôi, đôi mắt đen châm chọc.
– Thưa ông , tôi cũng không biết nữa, tôi ít khi nhận được qùa.
– Cô Eyre này, cô thật khác xa Adela. Hễ mỗi lần gặp tôi là cháu lại đòi qùa, cô nên răn đe cháu đi.
– Dạ thưa ông, cháu đòi hỏi là vì ông quen cho cháu rồi. Còn tôi là một người xa lạ, tôi đâu dám đòi hỏi cái đặc ân ấy.
– Ôi, cô đừng qúa khiêm tốn như vậy. Tôi đã quan sát Adela rất kỹ, tôi thấy cô đã nhọc công dạy dỗ cháu rất nhiều. Trong một thời gian ngắn thôi, cháu đã tiến bộ rất nhiếu.
– Thưa ông, thế là ông đã tặng tôi món qùa qúy giá rồi đấy. Khen ngợi học sinh tiến bộ là đã dành cho thầy giáo phần thưởng xứng đáng nhất rồi!
Ông Rochester chỉ “hừ” một tiếng rồi tiếp tục ăn bánh uống trà. ông giữ im lặng cho đến khi ăn xong.
Khi khay thức uống đã mang đi, bà Fairfax ngồi vào một góc, chăm chú đan, tôi và Adela đến ngồi gần lò sưởi. Adela muốn ngồi lên chân tôi nhưng ông chủ bảo cháu chơi với con chó Pilot, rồi ông quay sang nói với tôi:
– Cô đã ở trong nhà tôi được ba tháng rồi nhỉ.
– Thưa vâng!
– Cô ở..?
– Dạ ở trường Lowood.
– A, một cơ quan từ thiện, cô ở đấy bao lâu?
– Dạ thưa tám năm.
– Tám năm! Cô qủa là một con người kiên định. tôi cứ nghĩ là chỉ phân nửa thời gian đó cũng đủ làm nhiều người tiêu ma rồi.Thảo nào cô giống như người từ thế giới nào ấy. Thật khó mà tả khuôn mặt của cô. Đêm qua khi cô đến bên tôi, tôi cứ ngỡ như là một nàng tiên đã mê hoặc con ngựa của tôi- mà biết đâu đấy! Cha mẹ cô là ai vậy
– Tôi không có cha mẹ
– Có lẽ phải có chứ. Cô không nhớ ra sao?
– Dạ không
– Thế sao! Có phải vì tôi đã bất kính với tiên khiến cô bực mình, phải cô đã lát băng trên đường tôi đi không?
Tôi lắc đầu đáp:
– Chuyện thần tiên đã hết trên đất Anh từ một trăm năm nay rồi. Ông sẽ không tìm ra vết tích nào của các câu chuyện ấy vào mùa hè hay mùa gặt nữa- sẽ không bao giờ còn cảnh tiên nữ múa hát vui chơi dưới ánh trăng mùa đông nữa đâu, thưa ông.
– Mà nếu cô không còn cha mẹ thì thế nào cô cũng còn một ít bà con chứ? Chú bác hay anh chị em?
– Tôi không có tuốt
Thế ai giới thiệu cô đến đây?
– Tôi đăng báo , rồi bà Fairfax trả lời cho tôi
Bà Fairfax nói chen vào:
– Dạ đúng thế, tôi thật mừng vì đã làm được công việc này .
Bây giờ thì bà nắm được câu chuyện chúng tôi đang nói:
– Cô Eyre qủa là người cộng tác qúy giá của tôi, một cô giáo cần mẫn giỏi giang của Adela.
Ông Rochester trả lời:
– Xin bà đừng bận tâm đánh giá cô ấy. Tự tôi , tôi làm được mà.Cô ấy đã làm cho ngựa tôi ngã mà! Này cô Eyre, cô có tiếp xúc rộng rãi với mọi người không?
– Tôi không quen ai hết, ngoài các bạn học sinh và giáo viên ở trường lowood, và bây giờ với những người đang ở đây.
– Cô đọc sách nhiều không?
– Dạ chỉ đọc những cuốn tôi có được.
– Cô đã sống như một kẻ tu hành. Khi cô đến Lowood lần đầu, cô được bao nhiêu tuổi?
– Dạ khoảng mười tuổi.
– Cô đã ở đấy tám năm, vậy bây giờ cô mười tám ?
Tôi gật đầu, ông lại nói tiếp:
– Cô thấy không? toán học rất cần. Nếu không nhờ nó, tôi khó mà đoán nổi tuổi cô. Cô biết chơi dương cầm chứ?
– Dạ một ít
– Trả lời thật khiêm tốn. Bây giờ xin cô vào thư viện- nếu cô bằng lòng nhé- cô tha lỗi cho cái giọng ra lệnh của tôi, vì tôi chưa bỏ được thói quen này. Xin cô vào thư viện. Cứ để cửa mở như thế, và ngồi đàn cho tôi nghe một bản đi
Tôi vâng lời ông ta, vào thư viện đánh đàn. It’ phút sau ông nói lớn:
– Thôi, đủ rồi! Cô chơi đàn như bao nữ sinh nước Anh, có lẽ hay hơn một số đấy, nhưng chưa hay lắm.
Tôi đóng nắp đàn và trở lại phòng khách. Ông Rochester lại nói tiếp
– Sáng nay, Adela có đưa cho tôi xem mấy bức phác hoạ, nó bảo là của cô. Có lẽ là một giaó sư hội họa nào đó đã hướng dẫn cho cô phải không?
Tôi nói lớn:
– Dạ , hoàn toàn không có
Ông bảo tôi:
– A , vậy thì cô phải tự hào rồi.
– Thôi, đi lấy tập tranh cho chúng tôi xem đi.
Khi tôi đem đến, bà Fairfax và Adela cũng đến xem
Ông Rochester nói:
– Đừng chen lấn, để tôi xem xong rồi hai người lấy mà xem
Rồi ông lại quay qua nói chuyện với tôi:
– Công việc hội họa đòi hỏi khá nhiều thời giờ và suy tư. Cô lấy đề tài ở đâu?
– Tôi nghĩ ra
Ông lại hỏi tôi
Cô tự suy nghĩ ra nhiều đề tài thế cơ à?
Dạ, chịu khó suy nghĩ thì phải có chứ. Tôi hy vọng… sẽ tìm được nhiếu đề tài hay hơn.
Ông Rochester lại ngắm ba bức ông để riêng ra, và thưa độc giả, trong lúc ông ấy đang say sưa ngắm nghía, tôi xin tả một bức cho qúy vị xem.
Đề tài của bức tranh này đã hình thành trong óc tôi rất rõ, nhưng bàn tay vụng về của tôi đã không thể hiện hết được những suy tư của mình. tôi dùng màu nước để vẽ: những đám mây đen xuống thấp phủ lấy mặt biển đang bị cơn bão hoành hành. Xa xa là bầu trời mờ mịt tối tăm, gần hơn là những cơn sóng cũng chìm trong bóng tối, chỉ có một tia sáng rọi lên nửa cột buồm của một con tàu. Chính cái tia sáng này đã làm cho bức tranh có một sinh khí, một ý nghĩa, vì trên cột buồm có một con cò biển lớn lông đen đang đậu trên đó, hai cánh bị bọt sóng văng lên làm ướt mèm. Mỏ của con chim đang ngậm một chiếc vòng đeo tay bằng vàng có gắn đá qúy. Tôi đã dụng công rất nhiều để vẽ nên phần này, nhằm làm nổi bật chủ đề của bức tranh. Bên dưới cột ồm với con chum, bập bềnh một thây ma trong nước biển xanh lơ, một cánh tay xinh đẹp nổi rõ trên mặt nước, cánh tay đeo chiếc vòng đã bị sóng biển cuốn đi.
Xem xong, ông Rochester lại hỏi tôi:
– Khi vẽ những bức tranh này, cô có thấy sung sướng không?
– Tôi đã vẽ say sưa, tất là tôi phải sung sướng chứ. Vẽ đã đem lại cho tôi niềm khoái lạc thanh cao nhất trong mọi thứ.
– Tranh cô không nói lên đấy đủ điểi đó. Tôi thấy cô không được mấy hạnh phúc, thoải mái như cô nói. Tranh cô vẽ thật khác xa với một nữ sinh còn nhỏ. Cô có những tư tưởng thoát tục.Và ai dạy cho cô vẽ được gió? Một trận cuồng phong trong bầu trời kia. Đấy, cô hãy để những bức tranh ra xa.
Rồi bỗng ông nhìn đồng hồ:
– Chín giờ rồi. Này cô Eyre, nhớ đừng để Adela thức khuya nhé! Thôi cô cho cháu đi ngủ đi.
Adela đến hôn ông để đi ngủ. Ông vuốt ve âu yếm nó, nhưng ông tỏ ra ít thích thú hơn đối với Pilot, ít hơn nhiều. Ông bảo:
– Bác chúc cháu ngủ ngon.
Ông đưa tay về phía cửa để chào tiễn bé.Bà Fairfax thu dọn đồ đan, tôi thì xếp lại các bức tranh vào cặp, và chúng tôi bước ra khỏi phòng.
Mấy ngày sau, gặp lại bà Fairfax trong phòng bà, tôi nhận xét với bà:
– Bà bảo rằng ông Rochester hơi đặc biệt, nhưng tôi thì cho rằng ông ấy tính tình bất định và thiếu tế nhị.
Bà cũng đồng ý với tôi, rồi bà nói:
– Với người lạ, ông ấy thường như vậy. Tôi thì đã quen với tính khí của ông ấy cho nên tôi không lưu tâm đến . Mà thôi, nếu tính khí ông ta có bất thường thì mình cũng nên bỏ qua đi thôi.
– Tại sao thế?
– Một phần vì bản tính của ông ấy thế, một phần vì ông ấy rất khổ tâm, ta không nên quấy rầy ông làm gì.
-Ông khổ tâm về việc gì?
– Lủng củng trong gia đình, một việc ấy thôi.
Tôi lại nói:
– Nhưng ông ấy không có gia đình cơ mà?
– Hiện thời thì không , nhưng trước đây thì ông ấy đã có chứ- mà ít ra, thì cũng có bà con chứ. Ông anh cả ông ấy đã mất.
– Anh cả ông ta à?
– Vâng . Khi ông anh mất, ông ấy đã thừa hưởng gia tài, mới có chín năm nay thôi.
– Chín năm là lâu rồi. Chắc ôn gthương anh lắm cho nên ông mới khó nguôi như thế?
– Có lẽ không phải thế đâu. Tôi tin là có sự hiểu lầm nhau.ông bố muốn Edward cũng giàu có như anh là Rowland, vì vậy khi ông đến tuổi trưởng thành, ông bị đưa vào một tình huống khó xử để chia các gia tài. Chuyện gì xảy ra thì tôi không bao giờ biết chính xác, nhưng tôi chỉ biết là ông ta đau đaớn vì chuyện này vô cùng. Ông không bao giờ tha thứ cho việc đã xảy ra và ông đã xích mích với gia đình, khiến ông sống bất ổn trong nhiều năm rồi. Không bao giờ ông ở lâu tại Thornfield kể từ ngày ông anh mất. Vả lại, ông không mấy thích sống ở đây.
Tôi lại hỏi:
– Mà tại sao ông ta lại không thích sống ở đây nhỉ?
– Có lẽ ông cho là ở đây buồn.
Câu trả lời có vẻ cho qua chuyện, như muốn che giấu một cái gì mà bà Fairfax không thể, hay không muốn nói ra cho tôi biết, nhất là về nỗi khổ tâm của ông Rochester. Bà ấy bảo có chuyện bí mật trong đời của ông chủ, và chuyện bà biết thì mọi người cũng biết rồi. Rõ ràng là bà muốn tôi bỏ qua chuyện ấy, và tôi đành phải vậy chứ biết sao.
CÁ TÍNH CON NGƯỜI
Nhiều khi tôi ít gặp ông Rochester. Buổi sáng, ông thường bận, buổi chiều, nhiều ông khác mời đi và thường thì họ đến ở lại dùng cơm với ông. Khi bàn chân của ông đã khá hơn, ông lại cưỡi ngựa thật nhiều và thường về nhà khi trời đã tối đen.
Một buổi tối ẩm ướt có mấy người bạn đến dùng cơm với ông, ông cho gọi tôi mang tập tranh vẽ của tôi đến cho ông, để ông cho họ xem. Khi họ cáo từ về sớm để dự một cuộc họp mặt ở Millcote, thì ông Rochester không đi với họ. Có tin báo ông muốn gặp Adela và tôi.
Tôi chải tóc cho Adela thật gọn ghẽ – còn phần tôi thì bao giờ cũng bện tóc để khỏi lòa xoà xuống – rồi chúng tôi xuống lầu.
Adela được cho qùa liền, mặc dù đã trễ mấy hôm. Bé lập tức ngồi xuống mở cái hộp lớn ra, tấm tắc khen. Bà Fairfax cũng được mời đến để chia vui, qùa đủ thứ, nào là tơ lụa, nào là ngà voi và các vật dụng ở trong hộp.
Ông Rochester quay sang tôi:
– Cô Eyre này, cô vừa làm cho khách khứa của tôi rất hài lòng qua những bức tranh của cô. Bây giờ thì đến lượt tôi, tôi cũng phải được thỏa mãn chứ. Xin cô xích ghế lại gần chút nữa, ở đây tôi không thấy cô rõ.
Ông Rochester trông có vẻ khang khác-không nghiêm trang mà cũng không phiền muộn. Chắc ông sảng khóai vì mới ăn xong. Tôi làm theo ý của ông mặc dù tôi thích ngồi trong bóng tối hơn. Ông Rochester đã có cái lối ra lệnh như thế, và tốt hơn là nên tuân lời ông ngay.
Ông vẫn đưa mắt nhìn lò sưởi hồi lâu, ánh sáng trong lò làm nổi bật các đường nét rắn rỏi của ông- đôi mắt dịu hiền. Bỗng ông đột ngột quay lại và thấy tôi đang nhìn ông
– Cô Eyre, tôi trông không đẹp trai phải không?
Có lẽ tôi nên nói lấy lòng ông ta thì hơn, đằng này , không hiểu sao tôi lại nói:
– Tốt, cô trả lời không suy nghĩ thế là tốt. Cô ngồi đấy yên lặng , trang nghiêm, giản dị, hai bàn tay vòng lại ở trước, và khi tôi hỏi, cô trả lời nhanh như cắt! Cô muốn nói gì thế?
– Thưa ông, tôi thật tình mà thôi. Tôi xin lỗi ông. Đáng lý ra tôi phải nói khác với cảm nghĩ của tôi, hay là tôi phải nói sắc đẹp không quan trọng , hay là cái gì đại loại như thế
-Thật vậy, sắc đẹp không quan trọng. Nhưng cần quái gì, tôi như một qủa bóng cao su thô ráp xù xì. Vào tuổi cô, tôi cũng có những tình cảm tế nhị hơn, nhưng công danh sự nghiệp đã làm cho tôi cằn cỗi. Có lẽ cũng còn một nơi nhạy cảm đấy, đâu đó ở trong tim tôi, nhưng không dễ gì tìm thấy.
Ông đứng dậy, bước đến đứng trước lò sưởi, tựa cánh tay lên bệ đá thạch anh, dáng thư thái. Ông nói:
– Đêm nay tôi cảm thấy muốn nói chuyện, vì vậy tôi cho mời cô đến để nói cho vui. Ngọn lửa trong lò và con chó Pilot chỉ là bạn bình thường. Bà Fairfax và Adela có khá hơn đôi chút. Tôi muốn biết hơn về cô, hãy chọn đề tài để nói đi.
Tôi ngồi yên và không nói lời nào. Tôi nghĩ:”Nếu ông ta chọn mình để tâm sự , nếu ông mong đợi mình nói năng hay ho, thì chắc là ông đã chọn nhầm người rồi”.
Ông ta nghiêng đầu về phía tôi và nhìn thẳng vào mặt tôi, ông nói:
– Cô câm à, Cô Eyre? Cô cứng đầu ư? Đúng đấy, lại còn lo âu nữa. Cô Eyre , tôi xin lỗi nhé. Đúng ra là tôi không muốn cư xử với cô như kẻ bề dưới của mình. Giữa cô và tôi có khoảng cách 20 năm tuổi tác và vô số kinh nghiệm của cuộc đời, thế nhưng tôi lại tha thiết yêu cầu cô bỏ chút thời giờ để chuyện trò với tôi, để tôi có thể xua đuổi đi những tư tưởng phiền muộn đang dày vò tôi.
Ông đứng thẳng người , rồi lại nói tiếp:
– Cô Eyre à, vào tuổi cô, tôi cũng giống cô lắm. Bản chất của tôi là tốt, nhưng hoàn cảnh ngoài đời đã biến tôi thành kẻ tội lỗi.
Thế rồi chúng tôi nói chuyện với nhau theo cách mà trước đây chưa bao giờ hiểu nổi, ông ta thì khó hiểu, cứ cố kể cho tôi nghe qúa khứ đã làm cho ông khốn đốn, mặc dù tôi chẳng thấy có dấu hiệu nào cụ thể cả. Còn tôi, thì tôi lại lấy cái đạo lý giản dị hơn của nếp sống bình lặng của tôi để khuyên giải ông, hầu làm ông nhẹ bớt nỗi sầu
Cuối cùng thì ông bảo tôi:
– Cô Eyre này, số phận đã xử tệ với tôi, tôi không đủ khôn ngoan để giữ mình bình tĩnh. Tôi trở nên thất vọng, tôi buông xuôi, sa đọa. Tôi cầu Chúa cho tôi đủ sức mạnh. Ăn năn là thuốc độc của đời người, cô Eyre à. Khi đã có ý đồ phạm tội thì ăn năn xũng chẳng có ích gì
– Nhưng ăn năn hối cải cũng được xem là phương cách để sửa chữa tội lỗi mà, thưa ông!
– Không được đâu, cô Eyre à. Chỉ có sửa đổi cuộc sống mới cứu vãn được. Tôi đủ nghị lực để làm việc đó, nhưng nghĩ ra thì nào có ích gì, tôi đang bị nguyền rủa và cả một gánh nặng đang đè lên người tôi. Vả lại, vì tôi không được hạnh phúc, cho nên tôi có quyền vui chơi chứ, cho dù tôi phải trả gía thật đắt.
Tôi chỉ trả lời:
– Như vậy thì ông sẽ bị sa đọa thêm nữa
Mặc dù câu chuyện đã làm tôi bực bội cả người, tôi cũng không tài nào không nói thêm với ông rằng:
– Ông đã bảo vì hoàn cảnh cho nên ông không trở thành người tốt được, ông lại luyến tiếc ân hận cho những sai sót của mình, việc này thì ai ai cũng gặp hết. Tôi thì chắc rằng, nếu ông cố gắng hết mình tương lai sẽ tươi sáng thôi, và ông sẽ có những tư tưởng, nhữnghành động đẹp đẽ hơn và ông sẽ hạnh phúc hơn
– Cô nói đúng qúa, cô Eyre à. Ngay bây giờ tôi đang vạch ra những quyết định đúng đắn đây, và tôi tin những quyết định này sẽ trường tồn. Cô đi đâu đấy?
– Tôi cho Adela đi ngủ, đã qúa giờ rồi.
– Cô sợ tôi vì tôi nói toàn chuyện bí ẩn cả , phải không?
– Lời lẽ ông khó hiểu qúa , thưa ông, nó gây cho tôi nhiều bối rối, nhưng qủa thật tôi không sợ. Tôi chỉ mong ông đừng nói chuyện vô nghĩa nữa thôi.
Ông ta nói :
– Nếu cô đã mong muốn như vậy thì thôi, tôi sẽ trang nghiêm, im lặng để khỏi lầm lẫn, để khỏi nói lên những câu vô nghiã nữa. Mà tuồng như chưa bao giờ cô cười cả, phải không cô Eyre? Luật lệ khắc khe của Lowood vẫn còn đeo đẳng theo cô. tôi hy vọng kể từ nay cô phải học cách sống tự nhiên với tôi, đừng nghi thức kiểu cách như tôi. thỉnh thoảng tôi lại có cảm tưởng như cô như một con chim trong nhà và nếu được thả ra nó sẽ tung cánh bay cao đến tận mấy tầng mây. Cô đi chưa?
– Thưa ông , đã chín giờ rồi
Không cần, cô hãy đợi một chút nữa. Adela đi tìm Sophie để thử cái áo choàng mới màu hồng rồi. Thế nào cháu cũng trở lại đây trong chốc lát thôi.Thế nào rồi tôi cũng thấy lại hình ảnh của Celine Varens như khi nàng xuất hiện trên sân khấu. Tôi lại bị xúc động rồi. Cô hãy nán lại đợi Adela về.
Tiếng chân của Adela vang lên, bé nhảy nhót qua phòng khách. Rồi cháu vào phòng, người thay đổi hẳn, như ông đã đoán trước.
Chiếc áo khiêu vũ nhỏ bằng lụa hồng, rất đẹp và rất ngắn, đã thay cho chiếc áo màu nâu cháu mặc trước đó. Một vòng nụ hoa hồng trên đầu, chân thì mang tất lụa dài, giày sa tanh nho nhỏ. Xòa áo ra, cháu đang nhẹ nhàng nhảy qua phòng, tiến đến chỗ ông Rochester đang đứng, rồi cháu quay vòng trên đầu nhón chân trước mặt ông và qùy một chân ngồi thụp xuống.
Cháu nói rất ngọt ngào và ngây thơ:
– Thưa bác, cháu xin cám ơn lòng tốt của bác ngàn lần.
Cháu đứng dậy , hỏi ông:
– Thưa bác, như vậy có giống má thường làm không?
Ông Rochester trả lời:
– Giống , giống lắm. Và cũng giống khi mẹ cháu biết cách moi vàng trong túi một người Anh
Rồi trong khi Adela nhảy nhót về phòng ngủ thì ông lại quay sang tôi:
– Trong qúa khứ, tôi cũng đơn giản lắm , cô Eyre ạ! Giống như cô, tuổi trẻ của tôi trong trắng vô cùng. Nhưng rồi đứa bé người Pháp đã đến với tôi , mặc dù tôi có muốn hay không. Tôi giữ nuôi nó như là một hành vi chuộc tội, như là một việc thiện. Hôm nào tôi sẽ giải thích cho cô rõ. Bây giờ thì xin chúc cô ngủ ngon.
Ông Rochester đã giải thích cho tôi rõ thật. Nhưng mãi cho đến mấy ngày sau, khi tình cờ ông gặp tôi và Adela ngoài sân đất. Trong lúc Adela đang chơi với con chó Pilot và qủa bóng thì ông mời tôi đi dạo một vòng dưới hàng cây trong sân.
Ông bắt đầu kể cho tôi nghe rằng Adela là con gái của một vũ nữ người Pháp, tên là Céline Varens, người ông yêu mến. Ông cũng tưởng là cô ta yêu ông, cô ta đã tiếp nhận các qùa tặng của ông hết sức ưu ái và tỏ ra mến phục ông, mặc dù ông xấu trai.
Ông nói tiếp với tôi:
– Cô Eyre à, tôi tưởng mình được yêu, tôi bèn cho cô ả nào kim cương, áo quần, tôi tớ và cả một chiếc xe- thực ra tôi bắt đầu phá sản như đa số những người khác trước đó- và cũng như họ, tôi gánh lấy số phận của một kẻ cuồng si. Một buổi tối tôi đến khách sạn nàng ở thì Céline đã đi khỏi. Thời giờ trôi qua, tôi bước ra bao lơn, đốt điếu thuốc xì gà, y như bây giờ đây.
Ông ngừng lại một lát , phà một ngụm khói thuốc vào không khí mát lạnh. Ông nói tiếp:
– Khi tôi đứng đấy, tôi chợt nghe tiếng vó ngựa, tôi nhìn ra , tôi thấy chiếc xe mà tôi cho nàng đang dừng lại. Tôi thấy bàn chân nhỏ nhắn của Céline bước ra khỏi xe, đằng sau nàng một người khác bước ra rồi cả hai đi vào khách sạn.
Ông im lặng đi một lát rồi nói tiếp:
– Cô thì không bao giờ thấy ghen, phải không cô Eyre? Dĩ nhiên là không vì có bao giờ cô yêu đâu. Nhưng tôi báo cho cô biết rằng, một ngày nào đó cô cũng phải xông xáo vào đời, nếm đủ mùi đời. Hoặc là cô gặp phải cảnh gian nan khổ cực, hoặc là cô được che chở , may mắn, được hưởng một cuộc sống thanh bình – như tôi bây giờ đây.
Tôi hỏi ông:
– Thế ông vẫn đứng ở bao lơn khi họ vào phòng ư?
Ông Rochester đáp:
– Thoạt tiên thì tôi định trốn đâu đó để nghe họ nói gì. Thật là lạ lùng , làm sao tôi lại có thể kể những việc này cho cộ nghe và cũng thật lạ là tại sao cô lại nghe một cách bình tĩnh như vậy, như là một chuyện bình thường nhất trần đời. Đúng thế, họ vào phòng. Cô nàng thì quần áo sa tanh bóng loáng, nữ trang lộng lẫy – dĩ nhiên là qùa tôi tặng – còn anh chàng thì đóng bộ đồng phục sĩ quan. Tôi biết hắn rất rõ, và vì tôi qúa khinh bỉ hắn cho nên tôi không thèm ghen. Tình yêu của tôi đối với Céline chấm dứt ngay từ lúc ấy – nàng không xứng đáng với tình yêi của tôi nữa. Tôi bước vào phòng giáp mặt họ, vạch cho họ thấy tính chất bỉ ổi của họ, rồi thách đấu với hắn. Sáng hôm sau, tôi làm cho hắn bị thương khi giao đấu – tôi nghĩ mình làm thế vì danh dự mà thôi.
Ông im lặng một lát rồi nói tiếp:
– Mấy năm sau, Céline bỏ con, chạy sang Ý với một người khác, một ca sĩ. Cô ta bảo tôi là cha của Adela, nhưng sự thật không phải thế. Tuy nhiên, tôi vẫn nhận đứa bé xấu số và đem về nhà nuôi, hy vọng rằng đóa hoa Pháp bé nhỏ có thể đơm hoa thơm trong vườn nước Anh.Bà Fairfax đã tìm thấy cô để dạy cháu – nhưng bây giờ thì cô đã rõ Adela là con ngoại hôn của một vũ nữ nhạc kịch , thì chắc cô thấy nhiệm vụ của mình có khác?
– Dạ không đâu, chắc chắn là không. Bây giờ biết cháu không có cha mẹ- mẹ bỏ đi, ông thì không phải là cha cháu – tôi lại càng gắn bó với cháu hơn. Cháu không đáng trách vì lỗi lầm của mẹ cháu, hay của ông. Tôi sẽ xem cháu như một kẻ mồ côi cô độc, và tiếp tục là một người bạn của cháu.
Sau khi ông Rochester đã vào nhà, tôi ở lại ngoài vườn lâu hơn với Adela và với Pilot, sung sướng khi nghe tiếng cười ngây thơ của bé trong lúc bé chơi ván cuối cùng trước khi vào nhà dùng trà.
by Charlotte Bronte
Mr. Rochester, it seems, by the surgeon’s orders, went to bed early that night; nor did he rise soon next morning. When he did come down, it was to attend to business: his agent and some of his tenants were arrived, and waiting to speak with him.
Adele and I had now to vacate the library: it would be in daily requisition as a reception-room for callers. A fire was lit in an apartment upstairs, and there I carried our books, and arranged it for the future schoolroom. I discerned in the course of the morning that Thornfield Hall was a changed place: no longer silent as a church, it echoed every hour or two to a knock at the door, or a clang of the bell; steps, too, often traversed the hall, and new voices spoke in different keys below; a rill from the outer world was flowing through it; it had a master: for my part, I liked it better.
Adele was not easy to teach that day; she could not apply: she kept running to the door and looking over the banisters to see if she could get a glimpse of Mr. Rochester; then she coined pretexts to go downstairs, in order, as I shrewdly suspected, to visit the library, where I knew she was not wanted; then, when I got a little angry, and made her sit still, she continued to talk incessantly of her “ami, Monsieur Edouard Fairfax de Rochester,” as she dubbed him (I had not before heard his prenomens), and to conjecture what presents he had brought her: for it appears he had intimated the night before, that when his luggage came from Millcote, there would be found amongst it a little box in whose contents she had an interest.
“Et cela doit signifier,” said she, “qu’il y aura le dedans un cadeau pour moi, et peut-etre pour vous aussi, mademoiselle. Monsieur a parle de vous: il m’a demande le nom de ma gouvernante, et si elle n’etait pas une petite personne, assez mince et un peu pale. J’ai dit qu’oui: car c’est vrai, n’est-ce pas, mademoiselle?”
I and my pupil dined as usual in Mrs. Fairfax’s parlour; the afternoon was wild and snowy, and we passed it in the schoolroom. At dark I allowed Adele to put away books and work, and to run downstairs; for, from the comparative silence below, and from the cessation of appeals to the door-bell, I conjectured that Mr. Rochester was now at liberty. Left alone, I walked to the window; but nothing was to be seen thence: twilight and snowflakes together thickened the air, and hid the very shrubs on the lawn. I let down the curtain and went back to the fireside.
In the clear embers I was tracing a view, not unlike a picture I remembered to have seen of the castle of Heidelberg, on the Rhine, when Mrs. Fairfax came in, breaking up by her entrance the fiery mosaic I had been piercing together, and scattering too some heavy unwelcome thoughts that were beginning to throng on my solitude.
“Mr. Rochester would be glad if you and your pupil would take tea with him in the drawing-room this evening,” said she: “he has been so much engaged all day that he could not ask to see you before.”
“When is his tea-time?” I inquired.
“Oh, at six o’clock: he keeps early hours in the country. You had better change your frock now; I will go with you and fasten it. Here is a candle.”
“Is it necessary to change my frock?”
“Yes, you had better: I always dress for the evening when Mr. Rochester is here.”
This additional ceremony seemed somewhat stately; however, I repaired to my room, and, with Mrs. Fairfax’s aid, replaced my black stuff dress by one of black silk; the best and the only additional one I had, except one of light grey, which, in my Lowood notions of the toilette, I thought too fine to be worn, except on first-rate occasions.
“You want a brooch,” said Mrs. Fairfax. I had a single little pearl ornament which Miss Temple gave me as a parting keepsake: I put it on, and then we went downstairs. Unused as I was to strangers, it was rather a trial to appear thus formally summoned in Mr. Rochester’s presence. I let Mrs. Fairfax precede me into the dining-room, and kept in her shade as we crossed that apartment; and, passing the arch, whose curtain was now dropped, entered the elegant recess beyond.
Two wax candles stood lighted on the table, and two on the mantelpiece; basking in the light and heat of a superb fire, lay Pilot–Adele knelt near him. Half reclined on a couch appeared Mr. Rochester, his foot supported by the cushion; he was looking at Adele and the dog: the fire shone full on his face. I knew my traveller with his broad and jetty eyebrows; his square forehead, made squarer by the horizontal sweep of his black hair. I recognised his decisive nose, more remarkable for character than beauty; his full nostrils, denoting, I thought, choler; his grim mouth, chin, and jaw–yes, all three were very grim, and no mistake. His shape, now divested of cloak, I perceived harmonised in squareness with his physiognomy: I suppose it was a good figure in the athletic sense of the term–broad chested and thin flanked, though neither tall nor graceful.
Mr. Rochester must have been aware of the entrance of Mrs. Fairfax and myself; but it appeared he was not in the mood to notice us, for he never lifted his head as we approached.
“Here is Miss Eyre, sir,” said Mrs. Fairfax, in her quiet way. He bowed, still not taking his eyes from the group of the dog and child.
“Let Miss Eyre be seated,” said he: and there was something in the forced stiff bow, in the impatient yet formal tone, which seemed further to express, “What the deuce is it to me whether Miss Eyre be there or not? At this moment I am not disposed to accost her.”
I sat down quite disembarrassed. A reception of finished politeness would probably have confused me: I could not have returned or repaid it by answering grace and elegance on my part; but harsh caprice laid me under no obligation; on the contrary, a decent quiescence, under the freak of manner, gave me the advantage. Besides, the eccentricity of the proceeding was piquant: I felt interested to see how he would go on.
He went on as a statue would, that is, he neither spoke nor moved. Mrs. Fairfax seemed to think it necessary that some one should be amiable, and she began to talk. Kindly, as usual–and, as usual, rather trite–she condoled with him on the pressure of business he had had all day; on the annoyance it must have been to him with that painful sprain: then she commended his patience and perseverance in going through with it.
“Madam, I should like some tea,” was the sole rejoinder she got. She hastened to ring the bell; and when the tray came, she proceeded to arrange the cups, spoons, &c., with assiduous celerity. I and Adele went to the table; but the master did not leave his couch.
“Will you hand Mr. Rochester’s cup?” said Mrs. Fairfax to me; “Adele might perhaps spill it.”
I did as requested. As he took the cup from my hand, Adele, thinking the moment propitious for making a request in my favour, cried out –
“N’est-ce pas, monsieur, qu’il y a un cadeau pour Mademoiselle Eyre dans votre petit coffre?”
“Who talks of cadeaux?” said he gruffly. “Did you expect a present, Miss Eyre? Are you fond of presents?” and he searched my face with eyes that I saw were dark, irate, and piercing.
“I hardly know, sir; I have little experience of them: they are generally thought pleasant things.”
“Generally thought? But what do you think?”
“I should be obliged to take time, sir, before I could give you an answer worthy of your acceptance: a present has many faces to it, has it not? and one should consider all, before pronouncing an opinion as to its nature.”
“Miss Eyre, you are not so unsophisticated as Adele: she demands a ‘cadeau,’ clamorously, the moment she sees me: you beat about the bush.”
“Because I have less confidence in my deserts than Adele has: she can prefer the claim of old acquaintance, and the right too of custom; for she says you have always been in the habit of giving her playthings; but if I had to make out a case I should be puzzled, since I am a stranger, and have done nothing to entitle me to an acknowledgment.”
“Oh, don’t fall back on over-modesty! I have examined Adele, and find you have taken great pains with her: she is not bright, she has no talents; yet in a short time she has made much improvement.”
“Sir, you have now given me my ‘cadeau;’ I am obliged to you: it is the meed teachers most covet–praise of their pupils’ progress.”
“Humph!” said Mr. Rochester, and he took his tea in silence.
“Come to the fire,” said the master, when the tray was taken away, and Mrs. Fairfax had settled into a corner with her knitting; while Adele was leading me by the hand round the room, showing me the beautiful books and ornaments on the consoles and chiffonnieres. We obeyed, as in duty bound; Adele wanted to take a seat on my knee, but she was ordered to amuse herself with Pilot.
“You have been resident in my house three months?”
“And you came from–?”
“From Lowood school, in -shire.”
“Ah! a charitable concern. How long were you there?”
“Eight years! you must be tenacious of life. I thought half the time in such a place would have done up any constitution! No wonder you have rather the look of another world. I marvelled where you had got that sort of face. When you came on me in Hay Lane last night, I thought unaccountably of fairy tales, and had half a mind to demand whether you had bewitched my horse: I am not sure yet. Who are your parents?”
“I have none.”
“Nor ever had, I suppose: do you remember them?”
“I thought not. And so you were waiting for your people when you sat on that stile?”
“For whom, sir?”
“For the men in green: it was a proper moonlight evening for them. Did I break through one of your rings, that you spread that damned ice on the causeway?”
I shook my head. “The men in green all forsook England a hundred years ago,” said I, speaking as seriously as he had done. “And not even in Hay Lane, or the fields about it, could you find a trace of them. I don’t think either summer or harvest, or winter moon, will ever shine on their revels more.”
Mrs. Fairfax had dropped her knitting, and, with raised eyebrows, seemed wondering what sort of talk this was.
“Well,” resumed Mr. Rochester, “if you disown parents, you must have some sort of kinsfolk: uncles and aunts?”
“No; none that I ever saw.”
“And your home?”
“I have none.”
“Where do your brothers and sisters live?”
“I have no brothers or sisters.”
“Who recommended you to come here?”
“I advertised, and Mrs. Fairfax answered my advertisement.”
“Yes,” said the good lady, who now knew what ground we were upon, “and I am daily thankful for the choice Providence led me to make. Miss Eyre has been an invaluable companion to me, and a kind and careful teacher to Adele.”
“Don’t trouble yourself to give her a character,” returned Mr. Rochester: “eulogiums will not bias me; I shall judge for myself. She began by felling my horse.”
“Sir?” said Mrs. Fairfax.
“I have to thank her for this sprain.”
The widow looked bewildered.
“Miss Eyre, have you ever lived in a town?”
“Have you seen much society?”
“None but the pupils and teachers of Lowood, and now the inmates of Thornfield.”
“Have you read much?”
“Only such books as came in my way; and they have not been numerous or very learned.”
“You have lived the life of a nun: no doubt you are well drilled in religious forms;–Brocklehurst, who I understand directs Lowood, is a parson, is he not?”
“And you girls probably worshipped him, as a convent full of religieuses would worship their director.”
“You are very cool! No! What! a novice not worship her priest! That sounds blasphemous.”
“I disliked Mr. Brocklehurst; and I was not alone in the feeling. He is a harsh man; at once pompous and meddling; he cut off our hair; and for economy’s sake bought us bad needles and thread, with which we could hardly sew.”
“That was very false economy,” remarked Mrs. Fairfax, who now again caught the drift of the dialogue.
“And was that the head and front of his offending?” demanded Mr. Rochester.
“He starved us when he had the sole superintendence of the provision department, before the committee was appointed; and he bored us with long lectures once a week, and with evening readings from books of his own inditing, about sudden deaths and judgments, which made us afraid to go to bed.”
“What age were you when you went to Lowood?”
“And you stayed there eight years: you are now, then, eighteen?”
“Arithmetic, you see, is useful; without its aid, I should hardly have been able to guess your age. It is a point difficult to fix where the features and countenance are so much at variance as in your case. And now what did you learn at Lowood? Can you play?”
“Of course: that is the established answer. Go into the library–I mean, if you please.–(Excuse my tone of command; I am used to say, ‘Do this,’ and it is done: I cannot alter my customary habits for one new inmate.)–Go, then, into the library; take a candle with you; leave the door open; sit down to the piano, and play a tune.”
I departed, obeying his directions.
“Enough!” he called out in a few minutes. “You play a little, I see; like any other English school-girl; perhaps rather better than some, but not well.”
I closed the piano and returned. Mr. Rochester continued–“Adele showed me some sketches this morning, which she said were yours. I don’t know whether they were entirely of your doing; probably a master aided you?”
“No, indeed!” I interjected.
“Ah! that pricks pride. Well, fetch me your portfolio, if you can vouch for its contents being original; but don’t pass your word unless you are certain: I can recognise patchwork.”
“Then I will say nothing, and you shall judge for yourself, sir.”
I brought the portfolio from the library.
“Approach the table,” said he; and I wheeled it to his couch. Adele and Mrs. Fairfax drew near to see the pictures.
“No crowding,” said Mr. Rochester: “take the drawings from my hand as I finish with them; but don’t push your faces up to mine.”
He deliberately scrutinised each sketch and painting. Three he laid aside; the others, when he had examined them, he swept from him.
“Take them off to the other table, Mrs. Fairfax,” said he, and look at them with Adele;–you” (glancing at me) “resume your seat, and answer my questions. I perceive those pictures were done by one hand: was that hand yours?”
“And when did you find time to do them? They have taken much time, and some thought.”
“I did them in the last two vacations I spent at Lowood, when I had no other occupation.”
“Where did you get your copies?”
“Out of my head.”
“That head I see now on your shoulders?”
“Has it other furniture of the same kind within?”
“I should think it may have: I should hope–better.”
He spread the pictures before him, and again surveyed them alternately.
While he is so occupied, I will tell you, reader, what they are: and first, I must premise that they are nothing wonderful. The subjects had, indeed, risen vividly on my mind. As I saw them with the spiritual eye, before I attempted to embody them, they were striking; but my hand would not second my fancy, and in each case it had wrought out but a pale portrait of the thing I had conceived.
These pictures were in water-colours. The first represented clouds low and livid, rolling over a swollen sea: all the distance was in eclipse; so, too, was the foreground; or rather, the nearest billows, for there was no land. One gleam of light lifted into relief a half-submerged mast, on which sat a cormorant, dark and large, with wings flecked with foam; its beak held a gold bracelet set with gems, that I had touched with as brilliant tints as my palette could yield, and as glittering distinctness as my pencil could impart. Sinking below the bird and mast, a drowned corpse glanced through the green water; a fair arm was the only limb clearly visible, whence the bracelet had been washed or torn.
The second picture contained for foreground only the dim peak of a hill, with grass and some leaves slanting as if by a breeze. Beyond and above spread an expanse of sky, dark blue as at twilight: rising into the sky was a woman’s shape to the bust, portrayed in tints as dusk and soft as I could combine. The dim forehead was crowned with a star; the lineaments below were seen as through the suffusion of vapour; the eyes shone dark and wild; the hair streamed shadowy, like a beamless cloud torn by storm or by electric travail. On the neck lay a pale reflection like moonlight; the same faint lustre touched the train of thin clouds from which rose and bowed this vision of the Evening Star.
The third showed the pinnacle of an iceberg piercing a polar winter sky: a muster of northern lights reared their dim lances, close serried, along the horizon. Throwing these into distance, rose, in the foreground, a head,–a colossal head, inclined towards the iceberg, and resting against it. Two thin hands, joined under the forehead, and supporting it, drew up before the lower features a sable veil, a brow quite bloodless, white as bone, and an eye hollow and fixed, blank of meaning but for the glassiness of despair, alone were visible. Above the temples, amidst wreathed turban folds of black drapery, vague in its character and consistency as cloud, gleamed a ring of white flame, gemmed with sparkles of a more lurid tinge. This pale crescent was “the likeness of a kingly crown;” what it diademed was “the shape which shape had none.”
“Were you happy when you painted these pictures?” asked Mr. Rochester presently.
“I was absorbed, sir: yes, and I was happy. To paint them, in short, was to enjoy one of the keenest pleasures I have ever known.”
“That is not saying much. Your pleasures, by your own account, have been few; but I daresay you did exist in a kind of artist’s dreamland while you blent and arranged these strange tints. Did you sit at them long each day?”
“I had nothing else to do, because it was the vacation, and I sat at them from morning till noon, and from noon till night: the length of the midsummer days favoured my inclination to apply.”
“And you felt self-satisfied with the result of your ardent labours?”
“Far from it. I was tormented by the contrast between my idea and my handiwork: in each case I had imagined something which I was quite powerless to realise.”
“Not quite: you have secured the shadow of your thought; but no more, probably. You had not enough of the artist’s skill and science to give it full being: yet the drawings are, for a school- girl, peculiar. As to the thoughts, they are elfish. These eyes in the Evening Star you must have seen in a dream. How could you make them look so clear, and yet not at all brilliant? for the planet above quells their rays. And what meaning is that in their solemn depth? And who taught you to paint wind. There is a high gale in that sky, and on this hill-top. Where did you see Latmos? For that is Latmos. There! put the drawings away!”
I had scarce tied the strings of the portfolio, when, looking at his watch, he said abruptly –
“It is nine o’clock: what are you about, Miss Eyre, to let Adele sit up so long? Take her to bed.”
Adele went to kiss him before quitting the room: he endured the caress, but scarcely seemed to relish it more than Pilot would have done, nor so much.
“I wish you all good-night, now,” said he, making a movement of the hand towards the door, in token that he was tired of our company, and wished to dismiss us. Mrs. Fairfax folded up her knitting: I took my portfolio: we curtseyed to him, received a frigid bow in return, and so withdrew.
“You said Mr. Rochester was not strikingly peculiar, Mrs. Fairfax,” I observed, when I rejoined her in her room, after putting Adele to bed.
“Well, is he?”
“I think so: he is very changeful and abrupt.”
“True: no doubt he may appear so to a stranger, but I am so accustomed to his manner, I never think of it; and then, if he has peculiarities of temper, allowance should be made.”
“Partly because it is his nature–and we can none of us help our nature; and partly because he has painful thoughts, no doubt, to harass him, and make his spirits unequal.”
“Family troubles, for one thing.”
“But he has no family.”
“Not now, but he has had–or, at least, relatives. He lost his elder brother a few years since.”
“His elder brother?”
“Yes. The present Mr. Rochester has not been very long in possession of the property; only about nine years.”
“Nine years is a tolerable time. Was he so very fond of his brother as to be still inconsolable for his loss?”
“Why, no–perhaps not. I believe there were some misunderstandings between them. Mr. Rowland Rochester was not quite just to Mr. Edward; and perhaps he prejudiced his father against him. The old gentleman was fond of money, and anxious to keep the family estate together. He did not like to diminish the property by division, and yet he was anxious that Mr. Edward should have wealth, too, to keep up the consequence of the name; and, soon after he was of age, some steps were taken that were not quite fair, and made a great deal of mischief. Old Mr. Rochester and Mr. Rowland combined to bring Mr. Edward into what he considered a painful position, for the sake of making his fortune: what the precise nature of that position was I never clearly knew, but his spirit could not brook what he had to suffer in it. He is not very forgiving: he broke with his family, and now for many years he has led an unsettled kind of life. I don’t think he has ever been resident at Thornfield for a fortnight together, since the death of his brother without a will left him master of the estate; and, indeed, no wonder he shuns the old place.”
“Why should he shun it?”
“Perhaps he thinks it gloomy.”
The answer was evasive. I should have liked something clearer; but Mrs. Fairfax either could not, or would not, give me more explicit information of the origin and nature of Mr. Rochester’s trials. She averred they were a mystery to herself, and that what she knew was chiefly from conjecture. It was evident, indeed, that she wished me to drop the subject, which I did accordingly.
by Charlotte Bronte
For several subsequent days I saw little of Mr. Rochester. In the mornings he seemed much engaged with business, and, in the afternoon, gentlemen from Millcote or the neighbourhood called, and sometimes stayed to dine with him. When his sprain was well enough to admit of horse exercise, he rode out a good deal; probably to return these visits, as he generally did not come back till late at night.
During this interval, even Adele was seldom sent for to his presence, and all my acquaintance with him was confined to an occasional rencontre in the hall, on the stairs, or in the gallery, when he would sometimes pass me haughtily and coldly, just acknowledging my presence by a distant nod or a cool glance, and sometimes bow and smile with gentlemanlike affability. His changes of mood did not offend me, because I saw that I had nothing to do with their alternation; the ebb and flow depended on causes quite disconnected with me.
One day he had had company to dinner, and had sent for my portfolio; in order, doubtless, to exhibit its contents: the gentlemen went away early, to attend a public meeting at Millcote, as Mrs. Fairfax informed me; but the night being wet and inclement, Mr. Rochester did not accompany them. Soon after they were gone he rang the bell: a message came that I and Adele were to go downstairs. I brushed Adele’s hair and made her neat, and having ascertained that I was myself in my usual Quaker trim, where there was nothing to retouch– all being too close and plain, braided locks included, to admit of disarrangement–we descended, Adele wondering whether the petit coffre was at length come; for, owing to some mistake, its arrival had hitherto been delayed. She was gratified: there it stood, a little carton, on the table when we entered the dining-room. She appeared to know it by instinct.
“Ma boite! ma boite!” exclaimed she, running towards it.
“Yes, there is your ‘boite’ at last: take it into a corner, you genuine daughter of Paris, and amuse yourself with disembowelling it,” said the deep and rather sarcastic voice of Mr. Rochester, proceeding from the depths of an immense easy-chair at the fireside. “And mind,” he continued, “don’t bother me with any details of the anatomical process, or any notice of the condition of the entrails: let your operation be conducted in silence: tiens-toi tranquille, enfant; comprends-tu?”
Adele seemed scarcely to need the warning–she had already retired to a sofa with her treasure, and was busy untying the cord which secured the lid. Having removed this impediment, and lifted certain silvery envelopes of tissue paper, she merely exclaimed –
“Oh ciel! Que c’est beau!” and then remained absorbed in ecstatic contemplation.
“Is Miss Eyre there?” now demanded the master, half rising from his seat to look round to the door, near which I still stood.
“Ah! well, come forward; be seated here.” He drew a chair near his own. “I am not fond of the prattle of children,” he continued; “for, old bachelor as I am, I have no pleasant associations connected with their lisp. It would be intolerable to me to pass a whole evening tete-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 than water.”
He rang, and despatched an invitation to Mrs. Fairfax, who soon arrived, knitting-basket in hand.
“Good evening, madam; I sent to you for a charitable purpose. I have forbidden Adele to talk to me about her presents, and she is bursting with repletion: have the goodness to serve her as auditress and interlocutrice; it will be one of the most benevolent acts you ever performed.”
Adele, indeed, no sooner saw Mrs. Fairfax, than she summoned her to her sofa, and there quickly filled her lap with the porcelain, the ivory, the waxen contents of her “boite;” pouring out, meantime, explanations and raptures in such broken English as she was mistress of.
“Now I have performed the part of a good host,” pursued Mr. Rochester, “put my guests into the way of amusing each other, I ought to be at liberty to attend to my own pleasure. Miss Eyre, draw your chair still a little farther forward: you are yet too far back; I cannot see you without disturbing my position in this comfortable chair, which I have no mind to do.”
I did as I was bid, though I would much rather have remained somewhat in the shade; but Mr. Rochester had such a direct way of giving orders, it seemed a matter of course to obey him promptly.
We were, as I have said, in the dining-room: the lustre, which had been lit for dinner, filled the room with a festal breadth of light; the large fire was all red and clear; the purple curtains hung rich and ample before the lofty window and loftier arch; everything was still, save the subdued chat of Adele (she dared not speak loud), and, filling up each pause, the beating of winter rain against the panes.
Mr. Rochester, as he sat in his damask-covered chair, looked different to what I had seen him look before; not quite so stern– much less gloomy. There was a smile on his lips, and his eyes sparkled, whether with wine or not, I am not sure; but I think it very probable. He was, in short, in his after-dinner mood; more expanded and genial, and also more self-indulgent than the frigid and rigid temper of the morning; still he looked preciously grim, cushioning his massive head against the swelling back of his chair, and receiving the light of the fire on his granite-hewn features, and in his great, dark eyes; for he had great, dark eyes, and very fine eyes, too–not without a certain change in their depths sometimes, which, if it was not softness, reminded you, at least, of that feeling.
He had been looking two minutes at the fire, and I had been looking the same length of time at him, when, turning suddenly, he caught my gaze fastened on his physiognomy.
“You examine me, Miss Eyre,” said he: “do you think me handsome?”
I should, if I had deliberated, have replied to this question by something conventionally vague and polite; but the answer somehow slipped from my tongue before I was aware–“No, sir.”
“Ah! By my word! there is something singular about you,” said he: “you have the air of a little nonnette; quaint, quiet, grave, and simple, as you sit with your hands before you, and your eyes generally bent on the carpet (except, by-the-bye, when they are directed piercingly to my face; as just now, for instance); and when one asks you a question, or makes a remark to which you are obliged to reply, you rap out a round rejoinder, which, if not blunt, is at least brusque. What do you mean by it?”
“Sir, I was too plain; I beg your pardon. I ought to have replied that it was not easy to give an impromptu answer to a question about appearances; that tastes mostly differ; and that beauty is of little consequence, or something of that sort.”
“You ought to have replied no such thing. Beauty of little consequence, indeed! And so, under pretence of softening the previous outrage, of stroking and soothing me into placidity, you stick a sly penknife under my ear! Go on: what fault do you find with me, pray? I suppose I have all my limbs and all my features like any other man?”
“Mr. Rochester, allow me to disown my first answer: I intended no pointed repartee: it was only a blunder.”
“Just so: I think so: and you shall be answerable for it. Criticise me: does my forehead not please you?”
He lifted up the sable waves of hair which lay horizontally over his brow, and showed a solid enough mass of intellectual organs, but an abrupt deficiency where the suave sign of benevolence should have risen.
“Now, ma’am, am I a fool?”
“Far from it, sir. You would, perhaps, think me rude if I inquired in return whether you are a philanthropist?”
“There again! Another stick of the penknife, when she pretended to pat my head: and that is because I said I did not like the society of children and old women (low be it spoken!). No, young lady, I am not a general philanthropist; but I bear a conscience;” and he pointed to the prominences which are said to indicate that faculty, and which, fortunately for him, were sufficiently conspicuous; giving, indeed, a marked breadth to the upper part of his head: “and, besides, I once had a kind of rude tenderness of heart. When I was as old as you, I was a feeling fellow enough, partial to the unfledged, unfostered, and unlucky; but Fortune has knocked me about since: she has even kneaded me with her knuckles, and now I flatter myself I am hard and tough as an India-rubber ball; pervious, though, through a chink or two still, and with one sentient point in the middle of the lump. Yes: does that leave hope for me?”
“Hope of what, sir?”
“Of my final re-transformation from India-rubber back to flesh?”
“Decidedly he has had too much wine,” I thought; and I did not know what answer to make to his queer question: how could I tell whether he was capable of being re-transformed?
“You looked very much puzzled, Miss Eyre; and though you are not pretty any more than I am handsome, yet a puzzled air becomes you; besides, it is convenient, for it keeps those searching eyes of yours away from my physiognomy, and busies them with the worsted flowers of the rug; so puzzle on. Young lady, I am disposed to be gregarious and communicative to-night.”
With this announcement he rose from his chair, and stood, leaning his arm on the marble mantelpiece: in that attitude his shape was seen plainly as well as his face; his unusual breadth of chest, disproportionate almost to his length of limb. I am sure most people would have thought him an ugly man; yet there was so much unconscious pride in his port; so much ease in his demeanour; such a look of complete indifference to his own external appearance; so haughty a reliance on the power of other qualities, intrinsic or adventitious, to atone for the lack of mere personal attractiveness, that, in looking at him, one inevitably shared the indifference, and, even in a blind, imperfect sense, put faith in the confidence.
“I am disposed to be gregarious and communicative to-night,” he repeated, “and that is why I sent for you: the fire and the chandelier were not sufficient company for me; nor would Pilot have been, for none of these can talk. Adele is a degree better, but still far below the mark; Mrs. Fairfax ditto; you, I am persuaded, can suit me if you will: you puzzled me the first evening I invited you down here. I have almost forgotten you since: other ideas have driven yours from my head; but to-night I am resolved to be at ease; to dismiss what importunes, and recall what pleases. It would please me now to draw you out–to learn more of you–therefore speak.”
Instead of speaking, I smiled; and not a very complacent or submissive smile either.
“Speak,” he urged.
“What about, sir?”
“Whatever you like. I leave both the choice of subject and the manner of treating it entirely to yourself.”
Accordingly I sat and said nothing: “If he expects me to talk for the mere sake of talking and showing off, he will find he has addressed himself to the wrong person,” I thought.
“You are dumb, Miss Eyre.”
I was dumb still. He bent his head a little towards me, and with a single hasty glance seemed to dive into my eyes.
“Stubborn?” he said, “and annoyed. Ah! it is consistent. I put my request in an absurd, almost insolent form. Miss Eyre, I beg your pardon. The fact is, once for all, I don’t wish to treat you like an inferior: that is” (correcting himself), “I claim only such superiority as must result from twenty years’ difference in age and a century’s advance in experience. This is legitimate, et j’y tiens, as Adele would say; and it is by virtue of this superiority, and this alone, that I desire you to have the goodness to talk to me a little now, and divert my thoughts, which are galled with dwelling on one point–cankering as a rusty nail.”
He had deigned an explanation, almost an apology, and I did not feel insensible to his condescension, and would not seem so.
“I am willing to amuse you, if I can, sir–quite willing; but I cannot introduce a topic, because how do I know what will interest you? Ask me questions, and I will do my best to answer them.”
“Then, in the first place, do you agree with me that I have a right to be a little masterful, abrupt, perhaps exacting, sometimes, on the grounds I stated, namely, that I am old enough to be your father, and that I have battled through a varied experience with many men of many nations, and roamed over half the globe, while you have lived quietly with one set of people in one house?”
“Do as you please, sir.”
“That is no answer; or rather it is a very irritating, because a very evasive one. Reply clearly.”
“I don’t think, sir, you have a right to command me, merely because you are older than I, or because you have seen more of the world than I have; your claim to superiority depends on the use you have made of your time and experience.”
“Humph! Promptly spoken. But I won’t allow that, seeing that it would never suit my case, as I have made an indifferent, not to say a bad, use of both advantages. Leaving superiority out of the question, then, you must still agree to receive my orders now and then, without being piqued or hurt by the tone of command. Will you?”
I smiled: I thought to myself Mr. Rochester is peculiar–he seems to forget that he pays me 30 pounds per annum for receiving his orders.
“The smile is very well,” said he, catching instantly the passing expression; “but speak too.”
“I was thinking, sir, that very few masters would trouble themselves to inquire whether or not their paid subordinates were piqued and hurt by their orders.”
“Paid subordinates! What! you are my paid subordinate, are you? Oh yes, I had forgotten the salary! Well then, on that mercenary ground, will you agree to let me hector a little?”
“No, sir, not on that ground; but, on the ground that you did forget it, and that you care whether or not a dependent is comfortable in his dependency, I agree heartily.”
“And will you consent to dispense with a great many conventional forms and phrases, without thinking that the omission arises from insolence?”
“I am sure, sir, I should never mistake informality for insolence: one I rather like, the other nothing free-born would submit to, even for a salary.”
“Humbug! Most things free-born will submit to anything for a salary; therefore, keep to yourself, and don’t venture on generalities of which you are intensely ignorant. However, I mentally shake hands with you for your answer, despite its inaccuracy; and as much for the manner in which it was said, as for the substance of the speech; the manner was frank and sincere; one does not often see such a manner: no, on the contrary, affectation, or coldness, or stupid, coarse-minded misapprehension of one’s meaning are the usual rewards of candour. Not three in three thousand raw school-girl-governesses would have answered me as you have just done. But I don’t mean to flatter you: if you are cast in a different mould to the majority, it is no merit of yours: Nature did it. And then, after all, I go too fast in my conclusions: for what I yet know, you may be no better than the rest; you may have intolerable defects to counterbalance your few good points.”
“And so may you,” I thought. My eye met his as the idea crossed my mind: he seemed to read the glance, answering as if its import had been spoken as well as imagined –
“Yes, yes, you are right,” said he; “I have plenty of faults of my own: I know it, and I don’t wish to palliate them, I assure you. God wot I need not be too severe about others; I have a past existence, a series of deeds, a colour of life to contemplate within my own breast, which might well call my sneers and censures from my neighbours to myself. I started, or rather (for like other defaulters, I like to lay half the blame on ill fortune and adverse circumstances) was thrust on to a wrong tack at the age of one-and- twenty, and have never recovered the right course since: but I might have been very different; I might have been as good as you– wiser–almost as stainless. I envy you your peace of mind, your clean conscience, your unpolluted memory. Little girl, a memory without blot or contamination must be an exquisite treasure–an inexhaustible source of pure refreshment: is it not?”
“How was your memory when you were eighteen, sir?”
“All right then; limpid, salubrious: no gush of bilge water had turned it to fetid puddle. I was your equal at eighteen–quite your equal. Nature meant me to be, on the whole, a good man, Miss Eyre; one of the better kind, and you see I am not so. You would say you don’t see it; at least I flatter myself I read as much in your eye (beware, by-the-bye, what you express with that organ; I am quick at interpreting its language). Then take my word for it,–I am not a villain: you are not to suppose that–not to attribute to me any such bad eminence; but, owing, I verily believe, rather to circumstances than to my natural bent, I am a trite commonplace sinner, hackneyed in all the poor petty dissipations with which the rich and worthless try to put on life. Do you wonder that I avow this to you? Know, that in the course of your future life you will often find yourself elected the involuntary confidant of your acquaintances’ secrets: people will instinctively find out, as I have done, that it is not your forte to tell of yourself, but to listen while others talk of themselves; they will feel, too, that you listen with no malevolent scorn of their indiscretion, but with a kind of innate sympathy; not the less comforting and encouraging because it is very unobtrusive in its manifestations.”
“How do you know?–how can you guess all this, sir?”
“I know it well; therefore I proceed almost as freely as if I were writing my thoughts in a diary. You would say, I should have been superior to circumstances; so I should–so I should; but you see I was not. When fate wronged me, I had not the wisdom to remain cool: I turned desperate; then I degenerated. Now, when any vicious simpleton excites my disgust by his paltry ribaldry, I cannot flatter myself that I am better than he: I am forced to confess that he and I are on a level. I wish I had stood firm–God knows I do! Dread remorse when you are tempted to err, Miss Eyre; remorse is the poison of life.”
“Repentance is said to be its cure, sir.”
“It is not its cure. Reformation may be its cure; and I could reform–I have strength yet for that–if–but where is the use of thinking of it, hampered, burdened, cursed as I am? Besides, since happiness is irrevocably denied me, I have a right to get pleasure out of life: and I will get it, cost what it may.”
“Then you will degenerate still more, sir.”
“Possibly: yet why should I, if I can get sweet, fresh pleasure? And I may get it as sweet and fresh as the wild honey the bee gathers on the moor.”
“It will sting–it will taste bitter, sir.”
“How do you know?–you never tried it. How very serious–how very solemn you look: and you are as ignorant of the matter as this cameo head” (taking one from the mantelpiece). “You have no right to preach to me, you neophyte, that have not passed the porch of life, and are absolutely unacquainted with its mysteries.”
“I only remind you of your own words, sir: you said error brought remorse, and you pronounced remorse the poison of existence.”
“And who talks of error now? I scarcely think the notion that flittered across my brain was an error. I believe it was an inspiration rather than a temptation: it was very genial, very soothing–I know that. Here it comes again! It is no devil, I assure you; or if it be, it has put on the robes of an angel of light. I think I must admit so fair a guest when it asks entrance to my heart.”
“Distrust it, sir; it is not a true angel.”
“Once more, how do you know? By what instinct do you pretend to distinguish between a fallen seraph of the abyss and a messenger from the eternal throne–between a guide and a seducer?”
“I judged by your countenance, sir, which was troubled when you said the suggestion had returned upon you. I feel sure it will work you more misery if you listen to it.”
“Not at all–it bears the most gracious message in the world: for the rest, you are not my conscience-keeper, so don’t make yourself uneasy. Here, come in, bonny wanderer!”
He said this as if he spoke to a vision, viewless to any eye but his own; then, folding his arms, which he had half extended, on his chest, he seemed to enclose in their embrace the invisible being.
“Now,” he continued, again addressing me, “I have received the pilgrim–a disguised deity, as I verify believe. Already it has done me good: my heart was a sort of charnel; it will now be a shrine.”
“To speak truth, sir, I don’t understand you at all: I cannot keep up the conversation, because it has got out of my depth. Only one thing, I know: you said you were not as good as you should like to be, and that you regretted your own imperfection;–one thing I can comprehend: you intimated that to have a sullied memory was a perpetual bane. It seems to me, that if you tried hard, you would in time find it possible to become what you yourself would approve; and that if from this day you began with resolution to correct your thoughts and actions, you would in a few years have laid up a new and stainless store of recollections, to which you might revert with pleasure.”
“Justly thought; rightly said, Miss Eyre; and, at this moment, I am paving hell with energy.”
“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 them.”
“They are, Miss Eyre, though they absolutely require a new statute: unheard-of combinations of circumstances demand unheard-of rules.”
“That sounds a dangerous maxim, sir; because one can see at once that it is liable to abuse.”
“Sententious sage! so it is: but I swear by my household gods not to abuse it.”
“You are human and fallible.”
“I am: so are you–what then?”
“The human and fallible should not arrogate a power with which the divine and perfect alone can be safely intrusted.”
“That of saying of any strange, unsanctioned line of action,–‘Let it be right.'”
“‘Let it be right’–the very words: you have pronounced them.”
“May it be right then,” I said, as I rose, deeming it useless to continue a discourse which was all darkness to me; and, besides, sensible that the character of my interlocutor was beyond my penetration; at least, beyond its present reach; and feeling the uncertainty, the vague sense of insecurity, which accompanies a conviction of ignorance.
“Where are you going?”
“To put Adele to bed: it is past her bedtime.”
“You are afraid of me, because I talk like a Sphynx.”
“Your language is enigmatical, sir: but though I am bewildered, I am certainly not afraid.”
“You are afraid–your self-love dreads a blunder.”
“In that sense I do feel apprehensive–I have no wish to talk nonsense.”
“If you did, it would be in such a grave, quiet manner, I should mistake it for sense. Do you never laugh, Miss Eyre? Don’t trouble yourself to answer–I see you laugh rarely; but you can laugh very merrily: believe me, you are not naturally austere, any more than I am naturally vicious. The Lowood constraint still clings to you somewhat; controlling your features, muffling your voice, and restricting your limbs; and you fear in the presence of a man and a brother–or father, or master, or what you will–to smile too gaily, speak too freely, or move too quickly: but, in time, I think you will learn to be natural with me, as I find it impossible to be conventional with you; and then your looks and movements will have more vivacity and variety than they dare offer now. I see at intervals the glance of a curious sort of bird through the close-set bars of a cage: a vivid, restless, resolute captive is there; were it but free, it would soar cloud-high. You are still bent on going?”
“It has struck nine, sir.”
“Never mind,–wait a minute: Adele is not ready to go to bed yet. My position, Miss Eyre, with my back to the fire, and my face to the room, favours observation. While talking to you, I have also occasionally watched Adele (I have my own reasons for thinking her a curious study,–reasons that I may, nay, that I shall, impart to you some day). She pulled out of her box, about ten minutes ago, a little pink silk frock; rapture lit her face as she unfolded it; coquetry runs in her blood, blends with her brains, and seasons the marrow of her bones. ‘Il faut que je l’essaie!’ cried she, ‘et 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 pas, monsieur?”
“Pre-cise-ly!” was the answer; “and, ‘comme cela,’ she charmed my English gold out of my British breeches’ pocket. I have been green, too, Miss Eyre,–ay, grass green: not a more vernal tint freshens you now than once freshened me. My Spring is gone, however, but it has left me that French floweret on my hands, which, in some moods, I would fain be rid of. Not valuing now the root whence it sprang; having found that it was of a sort which nothing but gold dust could manure, I have but half a liking to the blossom, especially when it looks so artificial as just now. I keep it and rear it rather on the Roman Catholic principle of expiating numerous sins, great or small, by one good work. I’ll explain all this some day. Good- night.”
by Charlotte Bronte
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.”
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.