Jane Eyre in Flash Fiction Chapter 11
How I Arrived at Thornfield Hall
I arrived at the George Inn at Millcote at eight o’clock in the evening, after a sixteen hour coach ride from Lowton, where a man with a one-horse conveyance took me the final six more miles to Thornfield Hall.
I alighted and a maid-servant showed me in to a cosy room with a cheerful fire. An elderly lady, I fancied was Mrs Fairfax, sat a in widow’s cap and black silk gown sat in a high-backed, old-fashioned armchair, with a large cat sat at her feet.
As I entered, the old lady got up and promptly and kindly came forward to meet me. She conducted me to her own chair, removed my shawl and bonnet-strings, and told Leah, the maid, to bring me some hot negus and a sandwich. I was surprised to receive more attention than I ever had before. My heart warmed to the worthy lady who was so pleased to see me.
I learned that Leah, John and his wife were the rest of the staff, and that my pupil was Miss Varens, who had a nurse, Sophie.
She showed me upstairs to my small apartment, next to hers. A very chill and vault-like air pervaded the stairs and gallery, suggesting cheerless ideas of space and solitude, but I was glad to find a small, modern bedroom, with gay blue chintz window curtains, showing papered walls and a carpeted floor, so unlike the bare planks and stained plaster of Lowood, that my spirits.
I was now at last in safe haven, and the impulse of gratitude swelled my heart. I knelt down at the bedside and offered up thanks. My couch had no thorns in it that night; my solitary room, no fears. At once weary and content, I slept soon and soundly.
The following day I wore a Quaker like plain, black frock and clean white tucker. I sometimes regretted that I was not handsomer. I felt it a misfortune that I was so little, so pale, and had features so irregular and so marked.
Everything appeared very stately and imposing to me, as I was so little accustomed to grandeur. I stepped over the threshold and onto the lawn and surveyed the front of the three-storey mansion, of proportions not vast, though considerable: a gentleman’s manor-house, not a nobleman’s seat: battlements round the top gave it a picturesque look. Its grey front stood out well from the background of a rookery.
Mrs Fairfax greeted me with an affable kiss and shake of the hand. ‘How do you like Thornfield?’ she asked. I told her I liked it very much.
‘Yes,’ she said, ‘it is a pretty place; but I fear it will be getting out of order, unless Mr. Rochester should take it into his head to come and reside here permanently; or, at least, visit it rather oftener: great houses and fine grounds require the presence of the proprietor.’
‘Mr. Rochester!’ I exclaimed. ‘Who is he?’
‘The owner of Thornfield,’ she responded quietly. ‘Did you not know he was called Rochester?’
‘I thought,’ I continued, ‘Thornfield belonged to you.’ ‘I am only the housekeeper—the manager. My husband, who was a clergyman at Hay church, was a second cousin to Mr Rochester on his mother’s side.’
‘And the little girl—my pupil!’
‘She is Mr. Rochester’s ward; he commissioned me to find a governess for her.’
My pupil was perhaps seven or eight years old, slightly built, with a pale, small-featured face, and a redundancy of hair falling in curls to her waist.
‘Good morning, Miss Adela,’ said Mrs. Fairfax. ‘Come and speak to the lady who is to teach you, and to make you a clever woman some day.’ She approached, speaking French to her nurse.
‘Are they foreigners?’ I inquired, amazed at hearing the French language.
‘The nurse is a foreigner, and Adela was born on the Continent. She arrived here six months ago. She spoke no English. Now she talks it a little: I don’t understand her, she mixes it so with French; but you will make out her meaning very well, I dare say.’
I had had the advantage of being taught French by a French lady, and I had acquired a certain degree of readiness and correctness in the language.
‘Ah!’ cried she, in French, ‘you speak my language as well as Mr. Rochester does: I can talk to you as I can to him, and so can Sophie. She will be glad nobody here understands her.
Mrs Fairfax asked me to inquire about her parents.
“I lived long ago with mama; but she is gone to the Holy Virgin. Mama used to teach me to dance and sing, and to say verses. A great many gentlemen and ladies came to see mama, and I used to dance before them, or to sit on their knees and sing to them: I liked it. Shall I let you hear me sing now?’
She sang a song from some opera and recited ‘La Ligue des Rats: fable de La Fontaine.’
‘After your mama went to the Holy Virgin, as you say, with whom did you live?’
‘With Madame Frederic and her husband: she took care of me, but she is nothing related to me. I was not long there. Mr. Rochester asked me if I would like to go and live with him in England, and I said yes because he was always kind to me and gave me pretty dresses and toys.’
After breakfast, Adele and I withdrew to the library, which room, it appears, Mr. Rochester had directed should be used as the schoolroom. I found my pupil sufficiently docile, though disinclined to apply: she had not been used to regular occupation of any kind. I felt it would be injudicious to confine her too much at first; so, when I had got her to learn a little, and when the morning had advanced to noon, I allowed her to return to her nurse.
Mrs Fairfax showed me the imposing dining-room and a pretty drawing room and within it a boudoir, both spread with white carpets, crimson couches and ottomans. All of which she kept in readiness for Mr. Rochester’s rare and unexpected visits.
When I asked her about the owner she replied, ‘The family have always been respected here. Almost all the land in this neighbourhood, as far as you can see, has belonged to the Rochesters time out of mind. I believe he is considered a just and liberal landlord by his tenants. His character is unimpeachable, although he is rather peculiar, perhaps. He has travelled a great deal, and I dare say he is clever, but I never had much conversation with him. He is a very good master.’
Then she showed me the rest of the grand house and some of the third-storey rooms, with its eerie relics gave to the third storey of Thornfield Hall the aspect of a home of the past: a shrine of memory.
‘Do the servants sleep in these rooms?’ I asked.
‘No; they occupy a range of smaller apartments to the back; no one ever sleeps here: one would almost say that, if there were a ghost at Thornfield Hall, this would be its haunt.’
‘Are there any legends or ghost stories?’
‘None that I ever heard of,’ returned Mrs. Fairfax.
I followed up a very narrow staircase to the attics, and thence by a ladder and through a trap-door to the roof of the hall. I was now on a level with the crow colony, and could see into their nests. Leaning over the battlements, I surveyed the grounds. On my way down, I lingered in the long passage and the two rows of small black doors and a laugh struck my ear. I stopped: the sound ceased, only for an instant; it began again, louder.
‘Mrs. Fairfax!’ I called out. ‘Did you hear that loud laugh? Who is it?’
‘Some of the servants, very likely,’ she answered: ‘perhaps Grace Poole, a person we have to sew and assist Leah in her housemaid’s work. Sometimes Leah is with her; they are frequently noisy together.’
The door nearest me opened, and a middle-aged servant with a set square figure and red hair came out.
‘Too much noise, Grace,’ said Mrs. Fairfax. ‘Remember directions!’ Grace curtseyed silently and went in.
Jane arrives at Thornfield Hall and is well received by Mrs Fairfield and her pupil. Adele Varens. She feels safe and valued in a comfortable room and a grand house.
It’s a long chapter with a great deal of information about Mr Rochester, the absent owner, Adele’s background and the all about the house and the servants.
The contemporary reader and everyone at Thornfield Hall knows who was really laughing in the spooky third storey.
The chapter ends on a warning omen; all is not as pleasant as it would seem.
The background chapters are over and we now come to the suspenseful part of the novel, and reader is eager to find out about the mysterious owner and the origin of the strange laughter. How exciting!
The summary is based on the free ebook by planet books which you can find here.
I’ll be posting a chapter of Jane Eyre in flash fiction every Friday. If you’re wondering why, read all about it here.
If you’d you’d like to Reread Jane Eyre with me, visit my blog every Friday for #JaneEyreFF posts.
See you next week for chapter 12.
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