Jane Eyre in Flash Fiction Chapter XVII Part One
My First glimpse of Blanche Ingram and Mr Rochester’s Elegant Guests
Ten days passed, and Mr Rochester had still not returned. When Mrs. Fairfax said he had frequently quitted in an abrupt and unexpected manner to travel to London and thence to the continent, I felt a sickening sense of disappointment. But rallying my wits, and recollecting my principles, I at once called my sensations to order, saying to myself, ‘You have nothing to do with the master of Thornfield., further than to receive the salary he gives you for teaching his protégé. Don’t make him the object of your fine feelings. He is not of your order; be too self-respecting to lavish your love where such a gift is not wanted.’
I went on with my day’s business tranquilly. Vague suggestions wandered across my brain of reasons why I should quit Thornfield.
Mr. Rochester had been absent upwards of a fortnight when Mrs Fairfax received a letter from the master.
‘Mr. Rochester is not likely to return soon, I suppose?’ I asked nonchalantly.
‘Indeed, he is—in three days, next Thursday, on time for dinner at six. He sends directions for all the best bedrooms to be prepared; and the library and drawing-rooms are to be cleaned out; I am to get more kitchen hands from the George Inn, at Millcote, and from wherever else I can; and the ladies will bring their maids and the gentlemen their valets: so we shall have a full house of it.’
The three days were, as she had foretold, busy enough. Three women were got to help; and such scrubbing, such brushing, such washing of paint and beating of carpets, such taking down and putting up of pictures, such polishing of mirrors and lustres, such lighting of fires in bedrooms, such airing of sheets and featherbeds on hearths, I never beheld, either before or since.
Adele ran quite wild in the midst of it: the preparations for company and the prospect of their arrival seemed to throw her into ecstasies. From school duties she was exonerated: Mrs. Fairfax had pressed me into her service, and I was all day in the storeroom, helping her and the cook; learning to make custards and cheesecakes and French pastry, to truss game and garnish desert-dishes.
During the intervening period I had no time to nurse chimeras; and I believe I was as active and gay as anybody.
Still, now and then, I received a damping check to my cheerfulness; and was, in spite of myself, thrown back on the region of doubts and portents and dark conjectures.
This was when I chanced to see the third-storey staircase door (which of late had always been kept locked) open slowly and give passage to the form of Grace Poole. She would descend to the kitchen once a day, only for an hour, eat her dinner, smoke a moderate pipe on the hearth, and go back, carrying her pot of porter with her, for her private solace, in her own gloomy, upper haunt, as companionless as a prisoner in his dungeon. The strangest thing of all was that not a soul in the house discussed her employment or pitied her isolation. I once overheard part of a dialogue between Leah and one of the charwomen.
‘She gets good wages, I guess?’
‘Yes,’ said Leah; ‘I wish I had as good; not that mine are to complain of,—there’s no stinginess at Thornfield; but they’re not one fifth of the sum Mrs. Poole receives. I should not wonder but she has saved enough to keep her independent if she liked to leave; but I suppose she’s got used to the place; and then she’s not forty yet, and strong and able for anything. It is too soon for her to give up business.’
‘She is a good hand, I daresay,’ said the charwoman. ‘Ah!—she understands what she has to do,—nobody better,’ replied Leah significantly; ‘and it is not everyone could fill her shoes—not for all the money she gets.’
‘That it is not!’ was the reply. ‘I wonder whether the master—’
Here Leah turned and perceived me, and she instantly gave her companion a nudge.
‘Doesn’t she know?’ I heard the woman whisper.
Leah shook her head, and the conversation was, of course, dropped. I gathered from their conversation that there was a mystery at Thornfield; and that from participation in that mystery, I was purposely excluded.
Thursday afternoon arrived; it was drawing to an end now; but the evening was even warm, and I sat at work in the schoolroom with the window open. It had been one of those spring days which, towards the end of March or the beginning of April, rise shining over the earth as heralds of summer.
‘It gets late,’ said Mrs. Fairfax, who had assumed her best black satin gown, her gloves, and her gold watch; for it was her part to receive the company. I had allowed Sophie to apparel Adele in one of her short, full muslin frocks. For myself, I had no need to make any change; I should not be called upon to quit my schoolroom, which had become a pleasant refuge in time of trouble.’
‘They’ll be here in ten minutes,’ said John.
Adele flew to the window. I followed, taking care to stand on one side, so that, screened by the curtain, I could see without being seen.
At last wheels were heard; four equestrians galloped up the drive, and after them came two open carriages. Fluttering veils and waving plumes filled the vehicles; two of the cavaliers were young, dashing-looking gentlemen; the third was Mr. Rochester, on his black horse, Mesrour, Pilot bounding before him; at his side rode a lady, and he and she were the first of the party. Her purple riding-habit almost swept the ground, her veil streamed long on the breeze; mingling with its transparent folds, and gleaming through them, shone rich raven ringlets.
‘Miss Ingram!’ exclaimed Mrs. Fairfax, and away she hurried to her post below.
Adele petitioned to go down; but I must not on any account think of venturing in sight of the ladies, either now or at any other time, unless expressly sent for.
A joyous stir was now audible in the hall: gentlemen’s deep tones and ladies’ silvery accents blent harmoniously together, and distinguishable above all, though not loud, was the sonorous voice of the master of Thornfield Hall, welcoming his fair and gallant guests under its roof. Then light steps ascended the stairs; and there was a tripping through the gallery, and soft cheerful laughs, and opening and closing doors, and, for a time, a hush.
‘Don’t you feel hungry, Adele?’
‘Mais oui, mademoiselle: voile cinq ou six heures que nous n’avons pas mange.’
‘Well now, while the ladies are in their rooms, I will venture down and get you something to eat.’
And issuing from my asylum with precaution, I sought a backstair which conducted directly to the kitchen. All in that region was fire and commotion, with servants bustling about everywhere. Threading this chaos, I at last reached the larder; there I took possession of a cold chicken, a roll of bread, some tarts, a plate or two and a knife and fork: with this booty I made a hasty retreat.
I had regained the gallery, which, being windowless, was dark: quite dark now, for the sun was set and twilight gathering. The guests stood grouped together at the other extremity of the gallery, conversing in a key of sweet, subdued vivacity before descending the staircase. Their collective appearance had left on me an impression of high-born elegance, such as I had never received.
Adele peeped through the schoolroom door, which she held ajar. ‘What beautiful ladies!’ cried she in English. ‘Oh, I wish I might go to them! Do you think Mr. Rochester will send for us by- and-bye, after dinner?’
‘No, indeed, I don’t; Mr. Rochester has something else to think about. Never mind the ladies to-night; perhaps you will see them to-morrow: here is your dinner.’
I allowed Adele to sit up much later than usual; for she declared she could not possibly go to sleep while the doors kept opening and shutting below, and people bustling about.
When the evening was far advanced, a sound of music issued from the drawing-room. A lady who sang to the piano, a duet followed, and then a glee and joyous conversational murmur filled up the intervals. At eleven I carried Adele off to bed. It was near one before the gentlemen and ladies sought their chambers.
The next day was as fine as its predecessor and the party set off to an excursion early in the forenoon, some on horseback, the rest in carriages; I witnessed both the departure and the return. Miss Ingram, as before, was the only lady equestrian; and, as before, Mr. Rochester galloped at her side; the two rode a little apart from the rest. I pointed out this circumstance to Mrs. Fairfax.
‘You said it was not likely they should think of being married,’ said I, ‘but you see Mr. Rochester evidently prefers her to any of the other ladies.’
‘Yes, I daresay: no doubt he admires her.’
‘And she him,’ I added; ‘look how she leans her head towards him as if she were conversing confidentially; I wish I could see her face; I have never had a glimpse of it yet.’
‘You will see her this evening,’ answered Mrs. Fairfax. ‘I remarked to Mr. Rochester how much Adele wished to be introduced to the ladies, and he said: ‘Oh! let her come into the drawing-room after dinner; and request Miss Eyre to accompany her.’’
‘Yes; he said that from mere politeness: I need not go, I am sure,’ I answered.
‘Well, I observed to him that as you were unused to company, I did not think you would like appearing before so gay a party—all strangers; and he replied, in his quick way—‘Nonsense! If she objects, tell her it is my wish; and if she resists, say I shall come and fetch her in case of contumacy.’’
‘I will not give him that trouble,’ I answered. ‘I will go, if no better may be; but I don’t like it. Shall you be there, Mrs. Fairfax?’
‘No; I pleaded off, and he admitted my plea. I’ll tell you how to avoid the embarrassment of making a formal entrance, which is the most disagreeable part of the business. You must go into the drawing-room while it is empty, before the ladies leave the dinner-table; choose your seat in any quiet nook you like; you need not stay long after the gentlemen come in, unless you please: just let Mr. Rochester see you are there and then slip away—nobody will notice you.’
‘Will these people remain long, do you think?’
‘Perhaps two or three weeks, certainly not more.”
It was with some trepidation that I perceived the hour approach when I was to repair with my charge to the drawing-room.
This chapter starts with Jane’s angst because Mr Rochester left without a word, and according to Mrs Fairfax, he may not return for another year, as has happened on other occasions.
Jane is still curious about Mrs Poole, who Jane observes spends one hour a day downstairs and 23 in her room on the third storey. She also finds out there is a secret related to Mrs Poole and Thornfield by overhearing the end of a conversation between Leah and one of the new maids brought in for the guests.
‘Leah shook her head, and the conversation was, of course, dropped. I gathered from their conversation that there was a mystery at Thornfield; and that from participation in that mystery, I was purposely excluded.’
However, Jane investigates no further and soon receives news of Mr Rochester’s imminent return with a host of wealthy and distinguished guests. Jane observes them in awe from the schoolroom and a hidden corder in the corridor. She hides in the staircase with Adele to listen to their merry-making in the drawing-room in the evening. Once again Jane is as excluded from any type of enjoyment as she was at Gateshead with her aunt and cousins.
Jane also observes that Mr Rochester is spending is spending a lot of time with Blanche Ingram, whom he obviously favours over the other eligible young ladies.
Jane is unpleasantly surprised when Mrs Fairfax tells her that Mr Rochester insists Jane and Adele should be present in the drawing-room that evening.
Jane will come face to face with Blanche and all the other affluent visitors. How will she feel and react? Why does Mr Rochester want her to interact with his guests? Is it a test? Does he wish to humiliate her?
The plot thickens! See you next week for chapter XVII Part 2.
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 part two of chapter 17.
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