Getting to Know Mr. Rochester
Thornfield Hall became quite busy the next day, now that the master had returned. People kept coming to visit him on business. I enjoyed the new, cheerful atmosphere. But I could not make Adele concentrate on her lessons because she was constantly talking about the presents Mr. Rochester had promised to bring her. That evening we were invited to have tea with him. I immediately recognized the traveller I had helped, with his dark hair and skin, his square forehead and his stern look. His leg was supported on a chair, but he made no effort to greet me when I entered. In fact, he neither spoke nor moved.
‘Have you brought a present for Miss Eyre with you as well?’ Adele asked him.
‘A present? Who wants a present?’ he said angrily. ‘Did you expect a present, Miss Eyre? Do you like presents?’
‘I haven’t much experience of them, sir,’ I answered. ‘Anyway, I have no right to expect a present, as I haven’t done anything to deserve one.’
‘Don’t be so modest! I’ve been talking to Adele. She’s not very clever, but you’ve taught her well.’
‘Sir, that is my present. That’s what a teacher wants most, praise of her pupil’s progress.’
Mr. Rochester drank his tea in silence. After tea, he called me closer to the fire, while Adele played with Mrs. Fairfax.
‘Where were you before you came here?’ he asked.
‘I was at Lowood school, sir, for eight years.’
‘Ah, yes, a charity school! Eight years! I’m surprised you lasted so long in such a place. There is something like magic in your face. When I met you on the road to Hay last night, I almost thought you had put a spell on my horse! I still wonder if you did. What about your parents?’
‘They’re dead. I don’t remember them.’
‘And your relations?’
‘I have none.’
‘Who recommended you to come here?’
‘I advertised, and Mrs. Fairfax answered the advertisement.’
‘Yes,’ said the old housekeeper, ‘and I thank God she did. She’s a good teacher for Adele, and a kind friend to me.’
‘Don’t try to give her a good character, Mrs. Fairfax,’ said Mr. Rochester sternly. ‘She and her magic made my horse slip on the ice last night.’
Mrs. Fairfax looked puzzled and clearly did not understand. ‘Miss Eyre,’ continued Mr. Rochester, ‘how old were you when you started at Lowood?’
‘And you stayed there eight years, so you are now eighteen?’ I nodded. ‘I would never have been able to guess your age,’ he went on. ‘Now, what did you learn there? Can you play the piano? ‘A little.’
‘Of course, that’s what all young women say. Go and play a tune on the piano in the library.’ I did as he asked.
‘That’s enough!’ he called after a few minutes. ‘Yes, you do indeed play a little, just like any schoolgirl, better than some perhaps. Now, bring me your sketches.’ I fetched them from my room. Having looked carefully at them, he chose three.
‘These are interesting,’ he said. ‘You have only expressed the shadow of your ideas, because you aren’t good enough at drawing or painting, but the ideas, where did they come from? Who taught you to draw wind, and space, and feeling? But put them away now, Miss Eyre. Do you realize it’s nine o’clock? Adele should be in bed by now. Good night to you all.’ Mr. Rochester’s mood had suddenly changed, and he clearly wished to be alone.
Later that evening I talked to Mrs. Fairfax.
‘You said Mr. Rochester was a little peculiar,’ I said.
‘Well, what do you think, Miss Eyre?’
‘I think he is very peculiar, and quite rude.’
‘He may seem like that to a stranger. I’m so used to him that I never notice it. And he has had family troubles, you know.’
‘But he has no family,’ I answered.
‘Not now, that’s true, but he did have an older brother, who died nine years ago.’
‘Nine years is a long time. Surely he has recovered from losing his brother by now.’
‘Well, there was a lot of bad feeling in the family. The father was very fond of money, and wanted to keep the family property together, so the elder brother inherited most of it. I don’t know what happened, but I do know Mr. Edward (that’s the master) quarrelled with his family. That’s why he’s travelled so much. When his brother died, he inherited Thornfield, but I’m not surprised he doesn’t come here often.’
‘Why should he stay away?’ I asked, surprised.
‘Perhaps he thinks it’s a sad place. I really don’t know.’ It was clear that Mrs. Fairfax would not tell me any more.
One evening, a few days later, I was invited to talk to Mr. Rochester after dinner. At the far end of the room Adele was delightedly telling Mrs. Fairfax about the presents she had received. Mr. Rochester called me closer to the fire.
‘I don’t like the conversation of children or old ladies,’ he murmured to me. ‘But they are entertaining each other at the moment, so I can amuse myself.’ Tonight he did not look so stern, and there was a softness in his fine, dark eyes. As I was looking at him, he suddenly turned and caught my look.
‘Do you think I’m handsome, Miss Eyre?’ he asked.
Normally I would have taken time to think, and said something polite, but somehow I answered at once, ‘No, sir.’