Jane Eyre in Flash Fiction Chapter XIII
My First Conversation with Mr Rochester
I did not see Mr. Rochester that night. I discerned in the course of the following morning that Thornfield Hall was a changed place I liked better. The outer world was flowing through it with visitors and fresh voices, as Mr. Rochester attended estate business in the library, which we were asked to vacate. We carried our books to an apartment upstairs. Adele would not sit still or be quiet, imagining which present Mr Rochester had brought her from his travels. “Il y aura le dedans un cadeau pour moi,”
Mrs. Fairfax informed us that Mr. Rochester would be glad if we had tea with him in the drawing-room that evening at six o’clock.
“You had better change your frock,” she said. “I always dress for the evening when Mr. Rochester is here.”
So, I replaced my black stuff dress with one of black silk and a single little pearl ornament, which Miss Temple gave me as a parting keepsake.
When I entered the drawing room, Adele and Pilot sat by the fire, while Mr Rochester, who appeared not to notice our entrance, was half reclined on a couch with his foot supported by the cushion. I recognised my traveller’s jetty eyebrows, square forehead, and decisive nose, and grim expression. He was broad chested and thin, flanked, though neither tall nor graceful.
‘Here is Miss Eyre, sir,’ said Mrs. Fairfax.
‘Let Miss Eyre be seated,’ said he.
Shortly, he said, ‘Madam, I should like some tea,’ and when the tray came, we sat at the table and Mrs Fairfax poured the tea, but the master did not leave his couch.
‘Will you hand Mr. Rochester’s cup?’ said Mrs. Fairfax, and I did as requested.
Adele asked him in French if he had a present for me. “N’est-ce pas, monsieur, qu’il y a un cadeau pour Mademoiselle Eyre dans votre petit coffre?”
‘Are you fond of presents, Miss Eyre?” and he searched my face with eyes that I saw were dark, irate, and piercing.
‘I hardly know, sir; I have little experience of them: they are generally thought pleasant things.’
“I have examined Adele, and find you have taken great pains with her: she is not bright, she has no talents; yet in a short time she has made much improvement.’
‘Sir, you have now given me my ‘cadeau;’ I am obliged to you: it is the reward teachers most covet—praise of their pupils’ progress.’
‘You have been resident in my house three months?’
‘And you came from—?’
‘From Lowood school, in—shire.’
‘Ah! a charitable concern. How long were you there?’
‘Eight years! You must be tenacious of life. No wonder you have rather the look of another world. I marvelled at where you had got that sort of face. When you came on me in Hay Lane last night, I thought unaccountably of fairy tales, and had half a mind to demand whether you had bewitched my horse: I am not sure yet. Who are your parents?’
‘I have none.’
‘Do you remember them?’
‘Do you have any family?”
“None that I know of.”
‘Were you waiting for your people when you sat on that stile?’
‘For whom, sir?’
‘For the men in green: it was a proper moonlight evening for them. Did you spread that damned ice on the causeway?’
I shook my head. ‘The men in green all forsook England a hundred years ago.’
‘Who recommended you to come here?’
‘I advertised, and Mrs. Fairfax answered my advertisement.’
“Miss Eyre has been an invaluable companion to me, and a kind and careful teacher to Adele,” said Mrs Fairfax.
‘Don’t trouble yourself to give her a character,’ returned Mr. Rochester: ‘I shall judge for myself. She began by felling my horse. I have to thank her for this sprain.’ The widow looked bewildered.
‘Miss Eyre, have you ever lived in a town?’
‘Have you seen much society?’
‘None but the pupils and teachers of Lowood, and now the inmates of Thornfield.’
‘Have you read much?’
‘Only such books as came in my way; and they have not been numerous or very learned.’
‘You have lived the life of a nun: no doubt you are well drilled in religious forms. Brocklehurst, who I understand directs Lowood, is a parson, is he not?’
‘And you girls probably worshipped him.’
‘I disliked Mr. Brocklehurst; and I was not alone in the feeling. He is a harsh man; at once pompous and meddling; he cut off our hair, starved us.”
‘What age were you when you went to Lowood?’ ‘
‘And you stayed there eight years: you are now, then, eighteen?’
‘Can you play?’
‘Go into the library—I mean, if you please.—(Excuse my tone of command; I am used to saying, ‘Do this,’ and it is done: I cannot alter my customary habits for one new inmate.)—take a candle with you and play a tune.’
I departed, obeying his directions.
‘You play like any other English school-girl; perhaps rather better than some, but not well.’
When I returned, Mr. Rochester asked me about my sketches. “Adele showed me some sketches this morning, which she said were yours. Were they entirely of your doing, or did a master aid you?’
‘No, indeed!’ I interjected.
‘Fetch me your portfolio.”
He deliberately scrutinised each sketch and painting. ‘And when did you find time to do them? They have taken much time, and some thought.’
‘I did them in the last two vacations I spent at Lowood, when I had no other occupation.’
‘Where did you get your copies?’
‘Out of my head.’
They were watercolours. The first depicted clouds, rolling over a swollen sea with a half-submerged mast, on which sat a large, dark cormorant, below the bird and mast. A drowned corpse glanced through the green water, wearing a washed or torn bracelet.
The second picture contained the dim peak of a hill, and rising into the dark blue twilight sky was a woman’s shape to the bust, whose forehead was crowned with a star, the eyes shone dark and wild, and on her neck lay a pale reflection like moonlight and a vision of the Evening Star.
The third showed the pinnacle of an iceberg piercing a polar winter sky, with a muster of northern lights along the horizon. In the foreground, a colossal white head inclined towards the iceberg, with a hollow, despairing eye.
‘Were you happy when you painted these pictures?’ asked Mr. Rochester presently.
‘I was absorbed, sir: yes, and I was happy. To paint them was to enjoy one of the keenest pleasures I have ever known.’
‘That is not saying much. Your pleasures, by your own account, have been few. Did you sit at them long each day?’
‘It was the vacation, and I sat at them from morning till night.’
‘The drawings are, for a schoolgirl, peculiar.” He said, wondered on their meaning and told me to put them away and instructed me to take Adele to bed.
He endured Adele’s kiss and said, ‘I wish you all goodnight, now,’ making a movement of the hand towards the door, in token that he was tired of our company, and wished to dismiss us.
‘You said Mr. Rochester was not strikingly peculiar, Mrs. Fairfax,’ I observed.
‘Well, is he?’
‘I think so. He is very changeful and abrupt.’
‘True, but if he has peculiarities of temper, allowance should be made.’
‘Partly because it is his nature and partly because he has painful thoughts.’
‘Family troubles, for one thing.’
‘But he has no family.’
‘Not now, but he has had—or, at least, relatives. He lost his elder brother a few years since. The present Mr. Rochester has not been long in possession of the property; only about nine years.’
‘Was he so very fond of his brother as to be still inconsolable for his loss?’
‘I believe there were some misunderstandings between them. Mr. Rowland Rochester was not quite just to Mr. Edward; and perhaps he prejudiced his father against him. The old gentleman was fond of money, and anxious to keep the family estate together. He did not like to diminish the property by division, and yet he was anxious that Mr. Edward should have wealth, too, to keep up the consequence of the name; and, soon after he was of age, some steps were taken that were not quite fair, and made a great deal of mischief. He has ever been resident at Thornfield for a fortnight together. Perhaps he thinks it gloomy.’
I should have liked a clearer answer, but Mrs. Fairfax did not wish to elaborate.
This chapter, which takes place in the drawing room, is highly anticipated by the reader. Their first meeting was dramatic and unexpected, but this second one is their first regular conversation at Thornfield, and it does not disappoint. Mr Rochester and Jane are clearly attracted to and interested in each other. Jane is a naïve eighteen-year-old governess, but she does not shy away from their conversation, in fact she replies to all his questions with confidence and intelligence. In fact, if it were a contemporary novel, we would say that they engaged in ‘witty banter’.
Mr Rochester shows a keen interest in his employee, asking her personal questions about her family and experience in life. He praises her qualities as a teacher, and he takes an interest in her skills such as drawing and music.
Jane is also interested in her employer, as well as a detailed physical description. She considers his character is peculiar, unpredictable and moody, but she is more curious than displeased. She is eager to know more about him, but Mrs Fairfax shares little information.
We learn he was the younger brother, the second son, or the ‘spare’ of the older brother and heir to the estate. His father made other financial provisions for him when he was young, because his older brother would inherit the estate. We later learn that this consisted of an arranged marriage with a Jamaican heiress, who is currently locked in his attic.
He never intended to inherit or live at Thornfield Hall, but he had to do so when his father and older brother, Rowland, died. We know nothing of the circumstances of their deaths or his mother.
The plot thickens… Don’t miss out on next weeks’ chapter!
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 14.
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