jane eyre chapter 17


The gipsy woman

No sooner had Mr. Mason joined the group of guests than a servant entered to announce the arrival of an old gipsy woman, who was supposed to be a skilled fortune-teller. The ladies were very excited and decided to ask her to tell their fortunes. Miss Ingram, as usual, was first, and spent fifteen minutes alone with the old woman in the library. She came back looking cross.

‘It’s just childish nonsense! How can you all believe in that sort of thing!’ she said, picking up a book and pretending to read it. But as she frowned more and more, and did not turn a page, I assumed that the gipsy’s words were more important to her than she wanted us to think. Next, three young ladies went in together, and came back full of praise for the gipsy’s skill. ‘She’s old, and dirty, and ugly!’ they cried, shocked, ‘but she knows everything about us, everything!’

While the gentlemen were calming them down, the servant entered the room again.

‘Excuse me, miss,’ he said to me. The gipsy says there’s another young single lady in the room. She refuses to leave the house until she has seen all the young ladies. It must be you.’

‘Oh, I’ll go,’ I said gladly. I was curious to see the gipsy.

She was sitting in an armchair in the library, murmuring words over a little black book. Her large black hat covered most of her face, but when she lifted her head, I saw her dark eyes.

‘So you want me to tell your fortune?’ she asked.

‘Well, I must warn you, I don’t believe in your skill.’

‘I expected that. Why don’t you tremble?’

‘I’m not cold.’

‘Why don’t you turn pale?’

‘I’m not ill.’

‘Why don’t you ask me to tell your fortune?’

‘I’m not a fool.’

The old woman laughed and started smoking a short black pipe.

‘I can prove that you’re cold, and ill, and a fool,’ she said. ‘Listen. You’re cold, because you’re alone. You’re ill, because you lack love. And you’re a fool, because love is near you, and you won’t take one step to reach it.’

‘That’s true of many people,’ I said, interested.

‘Yes, but especially true of you. I can see that happiness is waiting for you, if you really want it. Tell me, in that room of fine people, isn’t there one face you look at, one person you’re interested in?’

‘I hardly know the ladies and gentlemen here,’ I answered.

‘Well, you surely know the master of the house? What do you think of his relationship with his guests, and with one particular guest?’ asked the gipsy, smiling wickedly.

‘They’re all very friendly with each other,’ I replied cautiously. The gipsy seemed to know a lot about Thornfield.

‘Friendly! I’d say more than that, in fact I’d go so far as to mention the name of Blanche Ingram and the word, marriage. They will obviously be an extremely happy couple, although I told Miss Ingram something about the Rochester property which made her look quite depressed. If a wealthier gentleman comes along, Mr. Rochester might lose his beautiful bride…’

‘But I came to hear about my future, not Mr. Rochester’s!’

‘It depends on whether you’re going to stretch out your hand for happiness. Let me look at your face. Your eyes and your mouth show me that feelings are important to you, but your forehead shows me that common sense is your main guide in life. You will never do anything wrong or shameful. Well, I respect that. I don’t want sacrifice or sorrow in my life. I want — but that will do. I’d like to stay here looking at you for ever, but I must stop acting now.’

Was I dreaming? What was happening? The old woman’s voice had changed and become as familiar to me as my own.

‘Well, Jane, do you know me?’ asked the familiar voice. And, struggling with the old clothes, Mr. Rochester stepped out of his disguise.

‘Sir, you’ve been talking nonsense to make me talk nonsense. It’s hardly fair.’

‘Do you forgive me, Jane?’

‘I shall try to, sir. But you shouldn’t have done it.’

‘What are my guests doing, Jane?’

‘Discussing the gipsy, I imagine. Oh, and did you know that a stranger has arrived to see you?’

‘A stranger! I wasn’t expecting anyone. Who can it be?’

‘His name’s Mason, sir, and he comes from the West Indies.’

The smile froze on Mr. Rochester’s lips, and his face went white.

‘Mason! The West Indies!’ he repeated three times.

‘Do you feel ill, sir?’ I asked, worried.

‘Jane, help me,’ he murmured, almost falling. I helped him to sit down, and sat with him. He took my hand and rubbed it gently, ‘I wish I were on an island with you and nobody else, with no trouble or danger or terrible memories to make me suffer.’

‘How can I help you, sir? I’d give my life to help you.’

‘Jane, if I need help, I’ll ask you, I promise. Get me a glass of wine now.’ I fetched one from the dining-room, and gave it to him. He looked less pale, but very stern.

‘Jane, if all those fine guests of mine came and spat at me, what would you do?’ he asked.

‘Turn them out of the house, sir, if I could.’

‘But if they only looked at me coldly, and whispered behind their hands about me, and then left me one by one?’

‘I’d stay with you, sir, to comfort you.’

‘And if the whole world disapproved of me, would you still stay with me?’

‘If you deserved my friendship, as I’m sure you do, I wouldn’t care about other people’s disapproval.’

‘Thank you, Jane. Now go and ask Mr. Mason to come and see me.’ So I did, and, leaving the two men in the library, went to bed. Much later I heard him showing Mr. Mason to his bedroom, and was glad that Mr. Rochester sounded so cheerful.


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