On your return to Thornfield, you find out that Mr. Rochester went to bed early that night, by the surgeon’s orders. He did not rise early the next day and when he did, he had business to attend to with his agent and some of his tenants.
In the afternoon, Mrs. Fairfax announces that “Mr. Rochester has requested you visit him in the drawing-room after dinner. You had better change your frock, I always dress for the evening when Mr. Rochester is here.”
Trading out your serviceable black stuff dress for your finer one of black silk, you let Mrs. Fairfax precede you into the drawing-room, that evening.
Mr. Rochester appears half-reclined on an immense easy chair by the fireside, nursing his sprained ankle. The fire shines full on his face and you take in the broad and jetty eyebrows, the square forehead, and the decisive nose, more remarkable for character than beauty. His shape, now divested of cloak, harmonized with the squareness of his physiognomy.
Without ceremony, Mr. Rochester gestures towards you. “Be seated.” His gesture also includes the chair almost directly across from him.
His lack of politeness puts you at your ease. His harsh caprice lays you under no obligation and you are interested in seeing how he will go on. You take your seat as requested and remain quiet.
At last, he breaks the silence. “You have been resident in my house for a week?”
“And you came from --?”
“Ah! A charitable concern. How long were you there?”
“Eight years! You must be tenacious of life. I thought half the time in such a place would have done up any constitution. No wonder you have rather the look of another world. I marveled where you had got that face when you came on me in Hay Lane last night. I had half a mind to demand whether you had bewitched my horse; I am not sure yet.”
“It was the ice on the road that caused your horse to slip. I apologize for not using my witchery to aid your eyesight.” How strange. You would have never dared to say something so flippant to anyone before him.
Mr. Rochester’s eyebrows raise in surprise. “Well, have you any kinsfolk around here?”
“No, none that would own me.”
“Who recommended you to come here?”
“I advertised, and Mrs. Fairfax answered my advertisement.”
“Ah. What did you learn at Lowood? As I understand, Brocklehurst directs Lowood and he is a parson; are you well drilled in religious forms?”
“Enough for any student, I’m sure. I am versed in everything needed for a good English education. Together with French, Music, and Drawing.”
“How old are you?”
“Accomplished enough for any English school-girl, I see. Do you have a portfolio? May I see your work?”
With a nod, you go to your room to fetch some of your art. Only after passing him your work do you think that perhaps you should have taken out some of the ones that showcased your more peculiar ideas. Naturally, those are the sketches Mr. Rochester lays aside to scrutinize.
The three pictures are all watercolors. One depicts clouds over a swelling sea, with a cormorant perched on a half-submerged mast. Its beak holds a gold bracelet which it obtained from a drowned corpse glimpsed through the waters. The second contains the peak of a dim hill with the shape of a woman spread across the expanse of the sky, her forehead crowned with a star. The third shows a pinnacle of an iceberg piercing a wintry sky; throwing these into the distance is a colossal head, inclined toward an iceberg crowned in a ring of white flames and tinged sparkles.
You feel slightly apprehensive as you watch Mr. Rochester’s eyes rove over your work. You take in the grim set of his mouth, and the slight raising of his eyebrows. What can he think of you?
“Where you happy when you painted these pictures?” asks Mr. Rochester, presently.
“I was absorbed. To paint them was to enjoy one of the keenest pleasures I have ever known.”
“That is not saying much. Your pleasures appear to have been very few. But I dare say you did exist in a kind of artist’s dreamland. You have not quite the artist’s skill and science to give these full being; yet the drawings are, for a schoolgirl, peculiar.”
His dark eyes regard you with curiosity. He does have great, dark eyes; you cannot help but admire them. They have a certain change in their depths, which, if it was not softness, reminded you, at least, of that feeling. That change seemed to foretell a shift in Rochester’s mood. With an inquisitive look, he asks you a surprising question:
“You examine me, do you find me handsome?”
To answer “No, Sir” – go to TWENTY-TWO
To answer “Yes, Sir” – go to TWENTY-THREE