One afternoon, you have a chance meeting with Mr. Rochester on the grounds while you are playing shuttlecock with Adèle. He asks you to walk with him down the long beech avenue within sight of your charge.
“I am sure you are curious about why I picked up such a little doll as Adèle and I wanted to tell you her story. She is the daughter of a French opera dancer, Cèline Varens, for whom I once cherished a grande passion. Cèline professed to return this passion and I believed her, besotted as I was. I installed her in a hotel and gave her a complete establishment of servants, a carriage, diamonds and cashmere. Happening to call one evening when Cèline did not expect me I heard her speaking to someone within her rooms. Curiosity got the better of me, and I listened.”
Here Mr. Rochester pauses, studying the expression on your face. “You’re still with me, young lady?”
“It turns out my charmer was keeping company with a cavalier and momentarily I seemed to hear a hiss from the green snake of jealousy. But I prepared my ambush, opened the door, and liberated Cèline from my protection. Disregarding her hysterics, I left. I thought I had done with the whole crew but months later the Varens turns up with little Adèle, affirming she was my daughter. I deny paternity, for I most assuredly am not her father, but I could not abandon her to the mud and slime of Paris. Now you know she is the illegitimate offspring of a French opera girl you will think differently of your post and protégée, eh?”
“No, Adèle is not answerable for her mother’s faults or yours. I have a regard for her, and now that I know she is forsaken by her mother and disowned by you I shall cling closer to her than before.”
“Oh, that is the light in which you view it!” He pauses. “Strange,” he says at last. “Passing strange that you should listen to my past indiscretions with such understanding. With your gravity, considerateness and caution, I might reveal all my secrets. Happily, I believe your mind will not take harm from me, but the more we converse, the more you may refresh me.”
Withdrawing to your chamber that night, you review the tale Mr. Rochester has told you. It is extraordinary that a man in his position would wish to reveal his past in this way. He seemed to enjoy opening your mind to glimpses and scenes unfamiliar to you. You do relish your talks with him. The ease of his manner frees you from painful restraint; his friendly frankness draws you to him. At times, he feels more like a relation than your employer, though he is imperious sometimes still. But this new interest in your life gives you a species of joy you have never yet experienced.
That night, you are awakened by a strange sound outside your door. Sometimes you hear creaks and groans from the house, or a servant passing in the hall, but this sounds different. It is a low, gurgling laugh that reminds you of that strange person Grace Poole. You hear steps retreating to the third story staircase and a door slam shut.
Something seems very wrong and you must go see Mrs. Fairfax. You hurriedly don your frock and a shawl and open the door. A candle is burning just outside on the floor and you perceive the air is quite dim with smoke. You see Mr. Rochester’s door ajar and smoke rushing from thence. Darting to his room, Mr. Rochester lays motionless in a deep sleep, while flames dart around the bed; the curtains are on fire.
“Wake! Wake!” you cry, grabbing his basin and ewer and heaving its contents over the bed and its occupant. Fortunately, the water extinguishes the flames and the splash has succeeded in rousing Mr. Rochester.
“Is there a flood?” he cries.
“No, sir, there has been a fire! Somebody has plotted something against you; you cannot too soon find out who and what it is.”
“Wait two minutes till I get into dry garments!”
“I shall bring a candle,” you murmur as you rush out to the hallway and fetch the lone candle on the floor.
“What is it? And who did it?” he asks when you return.
You tell him all you know, including the strange sounds outside your door and your suspicions about Grace Poole. Mr. Rochester’s features grow grimmer the more you speak.
“Are you warm? Here, take my shawl, and wait here. I must pay a visit to the third story. Don’t move.”
He went and left you in total darkness. A long time elapses and you grow weary. You are almost at the point of leaving when he reenters, pale and very gloomy. He stands beside you with his arms folded.
“I forget whether you said you saw anything when you opened your chamber door?”
“Only the candlestick on the ground.”
“Well, I am glad that you are the only one acquainted with the details of tonight. Say nothing to anyone, and I will deal with this situation. Return to your room.”
Your mind is brimming with questions, but you only say “Goodnight, then, sir.”
“Wait,” his hand reaches for your arm. “You will go? Without a word or two of acknowledgment? Why you have saved my life! At least shake hands.”
He holds out his hand, and you give him yours. He takes it in one, then in both of his own.
“You have saved my life; I have a pleasure in owing you so immense a debt. I cannot say more. I knew you would do me good in some way; I saw it in your eyes when I first beheld you. My cherished preserver, goodnight!”
There is a strange energy is in his voice and a strange fire in his look.
“I am glad I happened to be awake,” you say, moving to extricate your hand from his.
“You will go?”
“I am cold, sir.”
“Cold? Go, then Jane; go!” He relaxes his fingers and then you are gone.
Go to TWENTY-FIVE