Jane Eyre in Flash Fiction Chapter 12
How I Met Mr Rochester
My pupil was a lively child, who had been spoilt but became obedient, teachable and made reasonable progress. We were both content in each other’s society. Mrs Fairfax, John and his wife, Leah the housemaid, and Sophie the French nurse, were decent people; but in no respect remarkable and I grew restless at Thornfield.
I would climb the three staircases, raised the trap-door of the attic, and looked out afar over sequestered field and hill, and longed to reach the busy world, towns, regions full of life I and acquaintance with variety of character, than was here within my reach.
Women feel the need to exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts, just as men do and it is narrow-minded to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags. It is thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex.
Some days I heard Grace Poole’s strange laugh and eccentric murmurs, others she would come out of her room with a tray go down to the kitchen and return bearing a pot of porter. I made some attempts to draw her into conversation, but she replied with monosyllables.
October, November, December passed and one fine, calm afternoon in January, tired of sitting still in the library I put on my bonnet and cloak and volunteered to take Mrs. Fairfax’s letter to be posted in Hay which was two miles away.
I walked in utter solitude and leafless repose, under the low-gliding and pale-beaming sun. If a breath of air stirred, it made no sound for there was not a leaf to rustle. I sat down on a stile in the middle of the causeway, which was covered by a sheet of ice, where a little brooklet, now congealed, had overflowed after a rapid thaw some days since.
A loud metallic clatter on the causeway meant a horse was approaching. I sat still to let it go by. In those days I was young, and all sorts of fancies tenanted my mind. As dusk fell and the horse approached, I remembered Bessie’s tale of a ‘Gytrash,’ which, in the form of horse, mule, or large dog, haunted solitary ways, and sometimes came upon belated travellers.
The horse was very near, but not yet in sight; when, a great black and white dog which looked like Bessie’s Gytrash, passed me, and the horse followed,—a tall steed, and on its back a rider. He passed, I went on and a sliding sound and a clattering tumble, arrested my attention. Man and horse were down; they had slipped on the sheet of ice which glazed the causeway. The dog came bounding back, and seeing his master in a predicament, and hearing the horse groan, barked till the evening hills echoed the sound, and then he ran up to me, as there was no other help at hand.
I walked down to the traveller. ‘Are you injured, sir? Can I do anything?’
‘You must just stand on one side,’ he answered, rose, stooped to feel his foot and leg, apparently something ailed them, for he halted to the stile whence I had just risen, and sat down.
I was in the mood for being useful, for I now drew near him again.
‘If you are hurt, sir, I can fetch someone either from Thornfield Hall or from Hay.’
‘Thank you: I shall do. I have no broken bones, only a sprain;’ but as he tried his foot, he extorted an involuntary ‘Ugh!’
Something of daylight still lingered, and the moon was waxing bright: I could see him plainly. His figure was enveloped in a riding cloak, fur collared and steel clasped. I traced the general points of middle height and considerable breadth of chest. He had a dark face, with stern features and a heavy brow; his eyes and gathered eyebrows looked ireful and thwarted just now; he was past youth, but had not reached middle-age; perhaps he might be thirty-five. I felt no fear of him, and but little shyness. Had he been a handsome, heroic-looking young gentleman, I should not have dared to stand thus questioning him against his will, and offering my services unasked.
I had hardly ever seen a handsome youth; never in my life spoken to one. If even this stranger had smiled and been good-humoured, I should have gone on my way, but the frown and roughness of the traveller, set me at my ease.
‘I cannot think of leaving you, sir, at so late an hour, in this solitary lane, till I see you are fit to mount your horse.’
He looked at me when I said this; he had hardly turned his eyes in my direction before.
‘I should think you ought to be at home yourself,’ said he, ‘Where do you come from?’
‘From just below; and I am not at all afraid of being out late when it is moonlight.”
‘Do you mean at that house with the battlements?’ he said, pointing to Thornfield Hall.
‘Whose house is it?’
‘Do you know Mr. Rochester?’
‘No, I have never seen him.’
‘He is not resident, then?’
‘Can you tell me where he is?’
‘You are not a servant at the hall, of course. You are—‘ He stopped, ran his eye over my simple dress, black merino cloak, and black beaver bonnet. He seemed puzzled to decide what I was; I helped him.
‘I am the governess.’
‘Ah, the governess!’ he repeated; ‘deuce take me, if I had not forgotten! The governess!’ and again my raiment underwent scrutiny.
He rose from the stile, his face expressing pain when he tried to move. ‘I cannot commission you to fetch help,’ he said; ‘but you may help me a little yourself, if you will be so kind.’
‘You have not an umbrella that I can use as a stick?’
“I must beg of you to come here. Excuse me,’ he continued: ‘necessity compels me to make you useful.’ He laid a heavy hand on my shoulder, and leaning on me with some stress, limped to his horse and sprang to his saddle, grimacing.
‘Thank you; now make haste with the letter to Hay, and return as fast as you can,’ he said and bound away.
I walked on. The incident was of no romance, or interest, yet it marked a change in my monotonous life. I was weary of a passive existence and the new face was dissimilar to all the others because it was masculine, dark, strong, and stern. I had it still before me when I entered Hay, and I saw it as I walked all the way home.
I lingered at the gates of the gloomy house and became aware of a cheerful mingling of voices. I hastened to Mrs. Fairfax’s room but only found a great black dog, just like the Gytrash of the lane.
‘What dog is this?’ I asked Leah.
‘He came with the master, Mr. Rochester. Mrs Fairfax and Miss Adele are in the dining-room, and John is gone for Dr Carter, the surgeon; for master has had an accident; his horse fell and his ankle is sprained.’
I went upstairs to take off my things.
The chapter begins with a mundane exposition of the three months which have passed, since her arrival in October. It is January and she is bored and restless at Thornfield. Jane is obviously an ambitious young girl who longs for excitement. There is an interesting feminist reflection on how women were viewed at her time, and how she views herself, as a person with a voice, an opinion and the desire to express it, in spite of identifying the gender roles which oppress women.
It is also noteworthy that she hears the laugh of the person she believes to be Grace Poole, although she has her doubts (sorry for the spoiler, but I think we all know it’s Mr Rochester’s mad wife, who is confined in the attic). In retrospect, she would have realised she suspected there was someone in the attic, other than Grace, all along, but at the time she believed what she was told. The servants must know, but Jane, Adele and Sophie are unaware of the presence of another woman in the attic. Charlotte Bronte, builds suspense, as neither reader nor protagonist know what’s going on, although they suspect that it’s something ‘spooky’ or strange.
This second part of the chapter is the most exciting so far. Jane tells us how she met Mr Rochester, when his horse slipped on the ice on the causeway on his way to Thornfield Hall. It is not romantic, as she herself says, but it is the most romantic thing that has ever happened to her. She admits that her experience of men is limited, but the traveller obviously left an impression on her, as she couldn’t get him out of her mind, until she returned to Thornfield and discovered he was Mr Rochester.
The chapter ends rather flatly, ‘I went upstairs to take off my things’, after discovering the mysterious stranger was the owner of Thornfield, and therefore her boss, and we know nothing about her surprise or how she felt about his behaviour.
It is Mr Rochester’s first lie, by omission, on this occasion. He refuses to disclose his identity, presumably for his amusement, as there is no other reason to do so. In his first encounter, he is already toying with Jane. There is obviously going to be a romance, but we fear he is going to use his age and position to control the information she receives. I’d call that manipulation from their first meeting. But love is blind. The question is, will she be able to tame the Byronic hero/rake? More next week!
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 13.
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