#JaneEyreFF Rereading Jane Eyre in #FlashFiction #Chapter16 #VictorianFiction #CharlotteBronte ‘Enter Blanche Ingram, Jane’s Rival for Mr Rochester’s affections.’

Jane Eyre in Flash Fiction Chapter XVI

How I realised I was no rival for Blanche Ingram, an accomplished lady of rank.

I both wished and feared to see Mr. Rochester on the day which followed this sleepless night. During the early part of the morning, I momentarily expected his coming; he did step into the schoolroom for a few minutes sometimes, but nothing interrupted the quiet course of Adele’s studies.

After breakfast I heard some bustle in Mr. Rochester’s chamber and the servants’ voices, discussing the fire, which they attributed ton a candle. ‘What a mercy master was not burnt in his bed!’

I saw through the open door that all was again restored to complete order. Leah stood was rubbing the panes of glass dimmed with smoke. Grace Poole sat on a chair by the bedside, staid and taciturn-looking, as usual, in her brown stuff gown, check apron, white handkerchief, and cap, intent on sewing rings to new curtains.

She said ‘Good morning, Miss,’ in her usual phlegmatic and brief manner. I did not see any evidence of a woman who had attempted to murder her employer, who had, as I believed, charged her with the crime. She looked up, while I gazed at her: no consciousness of guilt, or fear of detection.

‘Good morning, Grace,’ I said. ‘Has anything happened here?’

‘Master fell asleep with his candle lit, and the curtains got on fire; but, fortunately, he awoke before the bed-clothes or the wood-work caught, and contrived to quench the flames with the water in the ewer.’

‘Did Mr. Rochester wake nobody? Did no one hear him move?’

She seemed to examine me warily and answered. ‘Mrs. Fairfax’s room and yours are the nearest to master’s; but Mrs. Fairfax said she heard nothing. Perhaps you may have heard a noise?’

‘I heard a strange laugh.’

She spoke with perfect composure—‘It is hardly likely master would laugh when he was in such danger. You must have been dreaming.’

‘I was not dreaming,’ I said.

‘Have you told master that you heard a laugh?’ she inquired.

‘I have not had the opportunity of speaking to him this morning.’

‘You did not think of opening your door and looking out into the gallery?’ she further asked.

The idea struck me that if she discovered I knew or suspected her guilt, she would be playing of some of her malignant pranks on me; I thought it advisable to be on my guard.

‘On the contrary,’ said I, ‘I bolted my door.’

‘It will be wise so to do,’ was her answer.

I was dumfoundered at what appeared to me her miraculous self-possession and most inscrutable hypocrisy.

Cook told me Mrs. Fairfax was waiting for me: so I departed, puzzling my brains over the enigmatical character of Grace Poole, and wondering why she had not been given into custody or dismissed from her master’s service.

After classes, when Adele left me to play in the nursery with Sophie, I keenly listened for the bell to ring below with a message from Mr. Rochester which did not arrive. Still it was not late; he often sent for me at seven and eight o’clock, and it was yet but six. Surely I should not be wholly disappointed to- night, when I had so many things to ask him!

Leah made her appearance to intimate that tea was ready in Mrs. Fairfax’s room. Thither I repaired, glad at least to go downstairs; for that brought me, I imagined, nearer to Mr. Rochester’s presence.

‘You must want your tea,’ said the good lady, as I joined her; ‘you ate so little at dinner. Are you not well today? You look flushed and feverish.’

‘Oh, I never felt better.’

‘It is fair tonight, though not starlight. Mr. Rochester has, on the whole, had a favourable day for his journey.’

‘Is Mr. Rochester gone anywhere?’

‘He set of the moment he had breakfasted! He is gone to the Leas, Mr. Eshton’s place, ten miles on the other side Millcote. I believe there is quite a party assembled there; Lord Ingram, Sir George Lynn, Colonel Dent, and others.’

‘Do you expect him back to-night?’

‘No—nor tomorrow either; I should think he is very likely to stay a week or more: when these fine, fashionable people get together, they are so surrounded by elegance and gaiety, so well provided with all that can please and entertain, they are in no hurry to separate. Mr. Rochester is so talented and so lively in society, that I believe he is a general favourite: the ladies are very fond of him; I suppose his acquirements and abilities, perhaps his wealth and good blood, make amends for any little fault of look.’

‘Are there ladies at the Leas?’

‘There are Mrs. Eshton and her three daughters—very elegant young ladies indeed; and there are the Honourable Blanche and Mary Ingram, most beautiful women. Blanche came here to a Christmas ball and party Mr. Rochester gave six years ago. You should have seen the dining-room that day—how richly it was decorated, how brilliantly lit up! I should think there were fifty ladies and gentlemen present—all of the first county families; and Miss Ingram was considered the belle of the evening.’

‘What was she like?’

“Miss Ingram was certainly the queen. Tall, fine bust, sloping shoulders; long, graceful neck: olive complexion, dark and clear; noble features; eyes rather like Mr. Rochester’s: large and black, and as brilliant as her jewels. And then she had such a fine head of hair; raven- black and so becomingly arranged: a crown of thick plaits behind, and in front the longest, the glossiest curls I ever saw. She was dressed in pure white; an amber-coloured scarf was passed over her shoulder and across her breast, tied at the side, and descending in long, fringed ends below her knee.’

‘She was greatly admired, of course?’

‘Yes, indeed: and not only for her beauty, but for her accomplishments. She and Mr. Rochester sang a duet.’

‘Mr. Rochester? I was not aware he could sing.’

‘Oh! he has a fine bass voice, and an excellent taste for music.’

‘And Miss Ingram: what sort of a voice had she?’

‘A very rich and powerful one. Mr. Rochester said her execution was remarkably good.’

‘And this beautiful and accomplished lady, she is not yet married?’

‘It appears not: I fancy neither she nor her sister have very large fortunes. Old Lord Ingram’s estates were chiefly entailed, and the eldest son came in for everything almost.’

‘But I wonder no wealthy nobleman or gentleman has taken a fancy to her: Mr. Rochester, for instance. He is rich, is he not?’

‘Oh! yes. But you see there is a considerable difference in age: Mr. Rochester is nearly forty; she is but twenty-five.’

‘What of that? More unequal matches are made every day.’

‘True: yet I should scarcely fancy Mr. Rochester would entertain an idea of the sort. But you eat nothing: you have scarcely tasted since you began tea.’

‘No: I am too thirsty to eat.’

When once more alone, I reviewed the information I had got; looked into my heart, examined its thoughts and feelings, and endeavoured to bring back with a strict hand into the safe fold of common sense.

That a greater fool than Jane Eyre had never breathed the breath of life; that a more fantastic idiot had never surfeited herself on sweet lies, and swallowed poison as if it were nectar.

‘YOU,’ I said, ‘a favourite with Mr. Rochester? YOU gifted with the power of pleasing him? YOU of importance to him in any way? Go! your folly sickens me. Poor stupid dupe!

Cover your face and be ashamed! He said something in praise of your eyes, did he? Blind puppy! Open their bleared lids! It does good to no woman to be flattered by her superior, who cannot possibly intend to marry her; and it is madness in all women to let a secret love kindle within them, which, if unreturned and unknown, must devour the life that feeds it.

‘Listen, Jane Eyre, you are no match for the beautiful Blanche Ingram, an accomplished lady of rank. You are a governess, disconnected, poor, and plain.’

I had reason to congratulate myself on the course of wholesome discipline to which I had thus forced my feelings to submit. Thanks to it, I was able to meet subsequent occurrences with a decent calm, which, had they found me unprepared.

****

In the first part of this chapter, Jane is astonished that Mr Rochester has informed the staff that he provoked the fire by falling asleep with a lighted candle in the room, and subsequently put it out with his ewer. Grace Poole has not been reprimanded or dismissed, and implicitly denies any hand in the event. There is another allusion to Bertha’s presence in this chapter as she tells Grace Poole that she heard strange laughter. Grace suggests that Jane bolt her room at night.

Jane is looking forward to asking Mr Rochester about this strange turn of events, but Mrs Fairfax informs her that he has left to visit his friends, the Eshton’s, where he will stay for some weeks, at a party for fine, fashionable people. The reader, like Jane wonders what’s going on in the third story. The staff, and especially Grace Poole are hiding something or someone, who could be dangerous.

The second part of the chapter is devastating for Jane. Poor Jane feels that her employer has made a fool of her by pretending to enjoy her company. She learns that he is popular with the ladies, which is something he had already told her, but she naively thought it was in his past. She also learns she has a specific rival for his affections in the beautiful and accomplished Blanche Ingram, who is looking for a rich husband, as her brother will inherit her father’s entailed estate.

We learn that Jane had hoped to marry Mr Rochester. ‘It does good to no woman to be flattered by her superior, who cannot possibly intend to marry her;’, but she realises she is no match for Blanche Ingram. She chastises herself for believing a poor governess could aspire to marry her wealthy employer. The first-time reader will think she is probably right, or perhaps not? But why has Mr Rochester taken French leave? Has he been toying with Jane? When will he come back? Is he looking for a bride?

After a brief period of happiness, our young heroine is dejected once more. Where will Jane go from here? Will she stay and watch him marry another woman, or will she leave? And what about the strange laughter on the third floor?

The plot thickens! See you next week for chapter XVII.

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 16. 

Images from Pixabay

#JaneEyreFF Rereading Jane Eyre in #FlashFiction #Chapter15 Part II #VictorianFiction #CharlotteBronte ‘Who Set Mr Rochester’s room on fire?’

Jane Eyre in Flash Fiction Chapter XV Part II

The Night I Saved Mr Rochester’s Life

When Mr Rochester met me unexpectedly, the encounter seemed welcome. He had always a word and sometimes a smile for me and when summoned by formal invitation to his presence; I was honoured by a cordiality of reception that made me feel I really possessed the power to amuse him, and that these evening conferences were sought as much for his pleasure as for my benefit.

I talked comparatively little, but I heard him talk with relish. I had a keen delight in receiving the new ideas he offered. I felt at times as if he were my relation rather than my master: yet he was imperious sometimes still; but I did not mind that; I saw it was his way. Yet I had not forgotten his faults; indeed, I could not, for he brought them frequently before me. He was proud, sardonic and moody. Sometimes when I read to him, found him sitting in his library alone, with his head bent on his folded arms; and, when he looked up, a morose, almost a malignant, scowl blackened his features. I cannot deny that I grieved for his grief, whatever that was, and would have given much to assuage it.

I asked myself what alienated him from the house and if he would leave again soon. Mrs. Fairfax said he seldom stayed here longer than a fortnight at a time; and he has now been resident eight weeks. If he left how joyless sunshine and fine days will seem!

That night I was startled wide awake on hearing a peculiar and lugubrious murmur, just above me. The night was drearily dark. I rose and sat up in bed, listening. The sound was hushed. My heart beat anxiously: my inward tranquillity was broken. The clock, far down in the hall, struck two. Just then it seemed as if fingers had swept the panels of my chamber door in groping along the dark gallery outside.

I said, ‘Who is there?’ chilled with fear. I wondered if it might be Pilot, who not unfrequently found his way up to Mr. Rochester’s chamber.

I began to feel the return of slumber. But it was not fated that I should sleep that night. A demoniac laugh uttered, as it seemed, at the very keyhole of my chamber door and later at my bedside. I rose, looked round, and could see nothing. Something gurgled and moaned. Steps retreated up the gallery towards the third-storey staircase. A door opened and closed, and all was still.

I thought it might be Grace Poole. Returning to my chamber, I perceived the air quite dim, as if filled with smoke, and became aware of a strong smell of burning. Mr. Rochester’s door was ajar, and the smoke rushed in a cloud from thence. I flew into the chamber. Tongues of flame darted round the bed. The curtains were on fire and Mr. Rochester lay motionless in deep sleep.

‘Wake! wake!’ I cried, but the smoke had stupefied him. I rushed to his basin and ewer filled with water and deluged the bed and its occupant.

‘Is there a flood?’ cried Mr Rochester.

‘There has been a fire: get up, do.”

‘In the name of all the elves in Christendom, is that Jane Eyre?’ he demanded. ‘What have you done with me, witch, sorceress? Who is in the room besides you? Have you plotted to drown me?’

‘In heaven’s name, get up. Somebody has plotted something: you cannot too soon find out who and what it is.’

I brought a candle, and he surveyed the bed, all blackened and scorched, the sheets drenched, the carpet round swimming in water.

‘What is it? And who did it?’ he asked. I briefly related to him the strange laugh I had heard in the step ascending to the third storey.

He listened very gravely; his face, as I went on, expressed more concern than astonishment; he did not immediately speak when I had concluded.

“Shall I call someone?”

‘Not at all: just be still. I will wrap you with my cloak. I am going to leave you a few minutes. Remain where you are till I return. I must pay a visit to the second storey. Remember, don’t call anyone.’

I was left in total darkness and silence until he re-entered, pale and very gloomy.

‘I have found it all out. It is as I thought.’

‘How, sir?’

‘Did you see anything when you opened your chamber door.’

‘No, sir, only the candlestick on the ground.’

‘But you heard an odd laugh? You have heard that laugh before, I should think, or something like it?’

‘Yes, sir. Grace Poole laughs in that way.’

‘Just so. Grace Poole—you have guessed it. You are no talking fool: say nothing about it. and now return to your own room. I shall do very well on the sofa in the library for the rest of the night. It is near four:- in two hours the servants will be up.’

‘Good-night, then, sir,’ said I, departing.

‘What!’ he exclaimed. ‘Are you quitting me already, and in that way?’

‘You said I might go, sir.’

‘But you have saved my life!—snatched me from a horrible and excruciating death! and you walk past me as if we were mutual strangers! At least shake hands.’

He held out his hand; I gave him mine: he took it first in one, them in both his own.

‘I have a pleasure in owing you so immense a debt.”

He paused, gazing at me in silence.

‘Goodnight again, sir. There is no debt, benefit, burden, obligation, in the case.’

‘I knew you would do me good in some way, at some time;—I saw it in your eyes when I first be- held you. My cherished preserver, goodnight!’ He spoke with a strange fire in his look.

‘I am glad I was awake,’ I said, and turned to leave.

“What! you will go?’

‘I am cold, sir.’

‘Cold? Go, then, Jane; go!’ But he still retained my hand, and I could not free it.

‘I think I hear Mrs. Fairfax move, sir,’ said I.

He relaxed his fingers, and I was gone.

I regained my couch, but never thought of sleep. Till morning dawned, I was tossed on a buoyant but unquiet sea. Too feverish to rest, I rose as soon as day dawned.

****

Chapter XV is very long. It includes several important scenes, so I have divided it into two parts. This is part two, in which Jane saves Mr Rochester’s life by putting out a fire in his room the middle of the night.

Jane starts this part of the chapter by telling us how Mr Rochester is now kind and courteous towards her, frequently summoning her company in the evenings. She is obviously impressed by his conversation, which must stroke his ego enormously.

He has been at Thornfield for eight weeks, and as he claims to dislike the building, Jane dreads the moment he will leave. She has obviously developed a crush on her employer and he is also taken by her.

I love the gothic elements in the chapter. Jane experiences the eerie atmosphere in the darkened house at night, the strange laughter and scraping in the corridor, and the spooky third story door closing.

Shortly after the peculiar events, Jane investigates and finds Mr Rochester’s bed is on fire. This event marks a major turning point in their relationship. They share a secret (he is adamant no-one should know what happened, although the servants will undoubtedly see the evidence the following day). He realises he is indebted to Jane and confirms his attraction to her by his physical contact (he won’t let go of her hand) and grateful words and gestures.

Mr Rochester also tells Jane a major lie, which is understandable, but it will have devastating consequences in their future relationship. He can’t bring himself to admit his ‘mad’ wife is locked in his attic, so he lets Jane believe the fire was Grace Poole’s doing.

Where do we they go from here? Will he leave and forget her, or will he seduce her?

On the other hand, will she succumb, will she reject him, or will she find out what is happening in the attic, right above her room?

Surprising events are in store. Find out next week in chapter XVI!

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 16. 

Images from Pixabay