The mystery of Grace Poole
After this sleepless night I was eager to see Mr. Rochester in the morning, but there was no sign of him. He had obviously told the servants that he had accidentally set fire to his room by knocking over a lighted candle. As I passed his bedroom, I saw Grace Poole sitting inside, calmly mending the curtains. She certainly did not look desperate or mad enough to have tried to murder her master. But I decided to investigate.
‘Good morning, Grace,’ I said, entering the room. ‘Tell me, what happened last night? The servants are talking about it.’
‘Good morning, miss,’ she replied, looking up innocently. ‘Well, master was reading in bed and fell asleep, so he must have knocked the candle over. It set fire to the sheets, but luckily he managed to put the flames out with some water.’
‘How strange!’ I said quietly. ‘Didn’t anybody hear what was happening?’ At this, she seemed to examine me carefully.
‘Mrs. Fairfax and you sleep nearest this room, miss. Mrs. Fairfax is a heavy sleeper, like most old people, and didn’t hear anything. But you’re young, miss. Perhaps you heard a noise?’
‘I did,’ I whispered. ‘I’m sure I heard a strange laugh.’
She went on sewing calmly.
‘I don’t think master would have laughed, when he was in such danger,’ she said. ‘You must have been dreaming.’
‘No, I wasn’t dreaming,’ I replied sharply.
‘You didn’t think of opening your door and looking out into the corridor?’ she asked. I suddenly realized that if she suspected I knew of her guilt, she might attack me.
‘No, in fact I locked my door,’ I answered, ‘and I shall lock it every night from now on.’
‘That’s wise of you, miss. We might have burglars at Thornfield one day, you never know.’
I was amazed by her self-control, and could not understand why Mr. Rochester had not asked the police to arrest her, or at least dismissed her from his service. Why had he asked me to keep the attack a secret? How could such a proud gentleman be so much in the power of one of his servants that he could not even punish her for trying to kill him? Did she know a terrible secret from his past, which she had threatened to tell? Could he ever have been in love with her? ‘No,’ I thought, ‘he could never love anyone as plain and coarse as she is. But then, I’m not beautiful either, and I sometimes think he loves me. Last night — his words, his look, his voice!’ And my cheeks were red as I thought of those precious moments.
I was now even more impatient to see Mr. Rochester, but when I was having tea with Mrs. Fairfax in the afternoon, the first thing she said was, ‘It’s fine weather for the master’s journey.’
‘Journey!’ I cried. ‘I didn’t know he’d gone anywhere!’
‘Oh yes, he went off just after breakfast, to visit a family in a big house about sixteen miles away. I know they’ve invited a lot of guests, who’ll be staying in the house. Mr. Rochester is always very popular with the ladies at these parties, so he may not come back for a week or so.’
‘Who are the ladies at this house-party?’
‘Three sisters, very elegant young ladies, and their friends, Blanche and Mary Ingram. But Blanche is the most beautiful of all. I saw her when she came to a Christmas party at Thornfield, six or seven years ago.’
‘What does she look like?’
‘She was eighteen then, a lovely girl, with beautiful skin, long curling black hair, and fine black eyes which shone as brightly as her jewels. She looked like a queen. All the gentlemen admired her, not only for her beauty but also for her musical skills. When she and Mr. Rochester sang together, it was a delight to hear.’
‘Mr. Rochester? I didn’t know he could sing.’
‘Oh yes, he has a very fine voice. And then she played the piano later. The master said she played extremely well.’
‘And this beautiful lady isn’t married yet?’
‘No, I don’t think she or her sister has much money.’
‘But I’m surprised some rich gentleman hasn’t fallen in love with her. Mr. Rochester, for example. He’s rich, isn’t he?’
‘Oh yes. But you see, there’s a considerable difference in age. He’s nearly forty, and she’s only twenty-five.’
‘Well, marriages like that happen every day. Do you think -‘ But I was interrupted by Adele, who came to join us, and the subject was changed.
That night in my room I was stern with myself.
‘You, Jane Eyre,’ I accused my reflection in the mirror, ‘you are the biggest fool in the world! How could you imagine that a gentleman of family and wealth would love you, a plain little governess! Just look at yourself!’ And I decided that next day I would draw an honest sketch of myself, and then one of Blanche Ingram, painting the most lovely face I could imagine, according to Mrs. Fairfax’s description. In the future, if ever my old feelings about Mr. Rochester began to return, I would only have to glance at the two pictures to see the great difference between us, and in this way common sense would destroy my foolish dreams.