One afternoon, Mrs. Fairfax asks if you can deliver a letter to Hay. The distance of two miles would be a welcome winter walk, after spending so much time indoors. Leaving Adele with her best wax doll and a storybook for amusement, you set off.
You walk fast until you warm up and then walk slowly to analyze the species of pleasure you feel in the pale-beaming sun and the utter solitude and leafless repose. The ground is hard, the air is still, and the road is lonely.
The lane inclines up-hill all the way to Hay, and having reached the middle, you stop by the stile and sit down to rest. Though it is exceedingly cold - as evidenced by the sheet of ice covering the causeway - you feel relatively warm with your mantle about you, and your hands sheltering in a muff.
A rude noise breaks in on the evening calm. The din is on the causeway; a horse is coming, yet the windings of the lane hide its approach. The tall steed with a rider on it back soon appears, and as the rider passes, his horse slips on the icy road. An exclamation of “What the deuce is to do now?” and a clattering tumble arrest your attention. Man and horse are down, but from the man’s struggle, it seems he is not too injured. You approach him.
“Can I help you, sir?”
“You must stand to one side,” he answers as he rises, first to his knees, then to his feet.
“If you are hurt, and want help, 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;” and again he stands up to try his foot, but the result extorts an involuntary “Ugh!”
With the moon waxing bright, you can see the man plainly. Although his figure is enveloped in a riding cloak, you trace the general points of middle height and considerable breadth of chest. He has a dark face with stern features and a heavy brow. He might be perhaps thirty-five.
His ill mood somehow sets you at your ease. Retaining your station when he waves you to go, you say “I cannot think of leaving you, sir, till I see you are fit to mount your horse.”
“I should think you ought to be at home yourself. Where do you come from?”
“From Thornfield Hall, sir.” Seeing the momentary confusion on his face, you add, “I am the new governess there.”
“Ah, the governess. Whose house is Thornfield?”
“It belongs to Mr. Rochester.”
“And do you know Mr. Rochester?”
What a strange question. If you are a governess there, surely he would assume you do… but the truth is you do not. “I have not met him yet.”
“Can you tell me where he is?”
The stranger smiles at you. “Then allow me to introduce myself. I am Mr. Rochester, Miss Governess.”
With some effort, you school your features to not betray your shock. “Indeed?” you reply, your voice only a tiny bit higher than your usual register. “I am pleased to make your acquaintance, sir.”
“Formalities will come later I’m sure. Where are you off to at this late hour?”
“I am going to post a letter in Hay. I will return as soon as possible. Unless you require my assistance?”
“Just help me to my horse, if you would be so kind. Necessity compels me to make you useful.”
Laying a heavy hand on your shoulder, and leaning on you with some stress, you make your way to his rather spirited animal. Once he masters the horse’s reins, he springs up in his seat, grimacing grimly with the effort.
“Make haste to post your letter and return. Who knows who you may meet on this lonely road, Miss Governess?”
With that, he spurs his horse and bounds away.
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