“Ah! By my word, there is something singular about you. You have a quaint, quiet and grave air about you but when one asks you a question or makes a remark to which you are obliged to reply, you rap out a round rejoinder, which, if not blunt, is at least brusque. What do you mean by it?”
“I was too plain; I beg your pardon. I ought to have replied that tastes differ, that beauty is of little consequence or something of that sort.”
You ought to have replied no such thing. Beauty of little consequence, indeed! And so, under the pretense of softening the previous outrage, you stick a sly penknife under my ear!”
“Mr. Rochester allow me to disown my first answer. I intended no pointed repartee; it was only a blunder.”
“Just so, and you shall be answerable for it. Criticize me; does my forehead not please you?”
He lifts up the sable waves of hair which lay horizontally over his brow, revealing a solid enough mass of intellectual organs, but an abrupt deficiency where the suave sign of benevolence should have risen.
“You would perhaps think me rude if I inquired whether you are a philanthropist?”
“There again! Another stick of the penknife! No, young lady, I am not a general philanthropist, but I bear a conscience. Besides, I once had a kind of rude tenderness of heart. When I was as old as you, I was a feeling fellow; but fortune has knocked me about and now I am hard and tough as an India-rubber ball. Pervious, though, through a chink or two still, with one sentient point in the middle. Does that leave hope for me?”
“Hope of what?”
“Of my final retransformation from India-rubber back to flesh?”
“He must have had too much wine,” you think. You cannot understand how your conversation has gotten to these metaphorical territories.
“You look very much puzzled, young lady. I am disposed to be gregarious and communicative tonight and I have decided that you will suit me for entertainment. There are some galling thoughts I would wish for you to chase from my mind.”
“I am willing to amuse you if I can, but I am unsure of what will interest you? Ask me questions and I will do my best to answer them.”
“Little girl, a memory without blot or contamination must be an exquisite treasure - an inexhaustible source of pure refreshment, is it not?”
“How was your memory when you were eighteen, sir?”
“All right then - I was your equal at eighteen. Nature meant me on the whole to be a good man, but you see that I am not. I flatter myself that you would say that you don’t see it but verily, owing to circumstances contrary to my natural bent, I am a trite, common-place sinner, hackneyed in all the poor, petty dissipations, with which the rich and worthless try to put on life.”
Indeed. This conversation has gotten out of your depth.
“I have always believed repentance to be a God-given gift,” is your makeshift response.
“Reformation may be my hope. I have the strength yet to reform, but where is the use of thinking of it, hampered, burdened, cursed as I am? Besides, since happiness is denied me, I have a right to get pleasure out of life; and I will get it, cost what it may.”
“Then you will degenerate still more, sir.”
“How do you know? How very solemn you look, and you are as ignorant of the matter as this teacup. You have no right to preach to me, you neophyte, that has not passed the porch of life.”
“I am judging from your countenance, sir, which is troubled. I feel you will work yourself more misery if you do not reform now. Yet to speak truth, I don’t understand you at all. I’m afraid I am talking nonsense.”
“Do not fear, your words have been justly thought and rightly said, though you speak in such a grave, quiet manner, I should mistake everything you say for sense. Do you never laugh, Miss Governess? Don’t trouble yourself to answer - I see you laugh rarely; but you can laugh very merrily. I don’t believe you are naturally austere any more than I am naturally vicious. Do you wonder that I speak this way to you? Know, that in the course of your life you will often find yourself elected to be the involuntary confidant of someone’s secrets. People will instinctively find that it is not your forte to talk of yourself but to listen with a kind of innate sympathy.”
You are sympathetic towards Mr. Rochester’s unknown troubles, but you are self-conscious about his assessment of you. Looking at the clock on the mantle you say, “It is nine o’clock sir. I should take Adele to bed.”
Rochester nods curtly. “Goodnight, Miss Governess.”
Go to TWENTY-FOUR