‘Ah, you really are unusual! You are a quiet, serious little person, but you can be almost rude.’
‘Sir, I’m sorry. I should have said that beauty doesn’t matter, or something like that.’
‘No, you shouldn’t! I see, you criticize my appearance, and then you stab me in the back! All right, tell me. What is wrong with my appearance?’
‘Mr. Rochester, I didn’t intend to criticize you.’
‘Well, now you can. Look at my head. Do you think I am intelligent?’ He pointed to his huge, square forehead.
‘I do, sir. Is it rude to ask if you are also good?’
‘Stabbing me again! Just because I said I didn’t like talking to old ladies and children! Well, young lady, I wanted to be good when I was younger, but life has been a struggle for me, and I’ve become as hard and tough as a rubber ball. I only have a little goodness left inside.’ He was speaking rather excitedly, and I thought perhaps he had been drinking. ‘Miss Eyre, you look puzzled. Tonight I want conversation. It’s your turn. Speak.’
I said nothing, but smiled coldly.
‘I’m sorry if I’m rude, Miss Eyre. But I’m twenty years older, and more experienced, than you. Don’t you think I have the right to command you?’
‘No, sir, not just because you’re older and more experienced than me. You would have the right only if you’d made good use of your experience of life.’
‘I don’t accept that, as I’ve made very bad use of my experience! But will you agree to obey my orders anyway?’
I thought, ‘He is peculiar, he’s forgotten that he’s paying me $30 a year to obey his orders,’ and I said, ‘Not many masters bother to ask if their servants are offended by their orders:
‘Of course! I’d forgotten that I pay you a salary! So will you agree because of the salary?’
‘No, sir, not because of that, but because you forgot about it, and because you care whether a servant of yours is comfortable or not, I gladly agree.’
‘You have honesty and feeling. There are not many girls like you. But perhaps I go too fast. Perhaps you have awful faults to counterbalance your few good points.’
‘And perhaps you have too,’ I thought.
He seemed to read my mind, and said quickly, ‘Yes, you’re right. I have plenty of faults. I went the wrong way when I was twenty-one, and have never found the right path again. I might have been very different. I might have been as good as you, and perhaps wiser. I am not a bad man, take my word for it, but I have done wrong. It wasn’t my character, but circumstances which were to blame. Why do I tell you all this? Because you’re the sort of person people tell their problems and secrets to, because you’re sympathetic and give them hope.’
‘Do you think so, sir?’
‘I do. You see, when life was difficult, I became desperate, and now all I have is regret.’
‘Asking forgiveness might cure it, sir.’
‘No, it won’t. What I really should do is change my character, and I still could but — it’s difficult. And if I can’t have happiness, I want pleasure, even if it’s wrong.’
‘Pleasure may taste bitter, sir.’
‘How do you know, a pure young thing like you? You have no experience of life and its problems. But I will try to lead a better life.’
I stood up. The conversation was becoming hard to follow.
‘I must put Adele to bed now,’ I said.
‘Don’t be afraid of me, Miss Eyre. You don’t relax or laugh very much, perhaps because of the effect Lowood school has had on you. But in time you will be more natural with me, and laugh, and speak freely. You’re like a restless bird in a cage. When you get out of the cage, you’ll fly very high. Good night.’