Your distracted thoughts taunt you the next day as you continue teaching Adéle. Both wishing and fearing to see Mr. Rochester, half your mind listens for his footsteps or his voice approaching the schoolroom door. No one comes. The evening approaches without incident. Well, Mr. Rochester has often called for you after seven or eight o’clock. Surely he will not disappoint you tonight when you want to again introduce the topic of Grace Poole and hear what he will answer.
Mrs. Fairfax calls you to have tea with her in her room and eagerly you join her, imagining it bringing you nearer to Mr. Rochester’s presence.
“You must want your tea, you ate so little at dinner,” the good lady says. “I am afraid you are not well today; you look flushed and feverish.”
“I am quite well.”
“Then you will prove it by evincing a good appetite. Will you fill the teapot? It is fair tonight,” she continues amiably, “I believe Mr. Rochester has had a favorable day for his journey.”
“Journey! Is Mr. Rochester gone anywhere? I did not know he was out.”
“Oh, he set off the moment he had breakfasted. He is gone to the Leas, Mr. Eshton’s place. I believe there is quite a party assembled there. And there is the attraction of Mr. Ingram’s daughter.” Mrs. Fairfax bends over her knitting, which gives you time to school your features.
“His daughter is very beautiful I suppose?”
“She is considered the belle of the county! It is a wonder she is not married yet, but I suppose she is holding out for a gentleman to match her beauty and accomplishments.”
“Mr. Rochester would be a worthy match.”
“Well, there is a considerable difference in age: Mr. Rochester is near forty; she is but twenty-five. But I am sure he must admire so graceful and noble a woman.”
When once more alone, you review the information you have received and examine your thoughts and feelings. There is no greater folly than falling in love with a man who does not love you. And what could you offer him? You have no money, no prospects, no life experience to draw in and fascinate him. A more fantastic idiot has never surfeited herself on sweet lies.
A week passes with no news, but then a letter arrives for Mrs. Fairfax. Mr. Rochester is bringing the party at the Leas to stay at Thornfield, and the house must be made ready for all the guests.
Three days commence of brushing and scrubbing, washing of paint and beating of carpets, the taking down and putting up of pictures, polishing, and airing of beds. With this attention Thornfield will be ready to receive a king!
Before the arrival of the guests however, another individual appears at Thornfield’s door. From the servants’ gossip, you find out that a Mr. Mason, from the West Indies, Jamaica, has arrived to see Mr. Rochester. He claims to be an old friend and installs himself until Rochester’s return. The slight flurry this causes is soon smoothed out as the main guests arrive the next day.
A joyous stir becomes audible in the hall on the morning of their arrival. Light steps ascend the stairs and then there is a tripping through the gallery; soft, cheerful laughs, and the opening and closing of doors.
Adéle, attentive to every sound, insists on peeking out the schoolroom door.
“For only a moment Adéle, but then we must finish this lesson.”
Adéle’s peep discloses the sound of two voices. One you recognize immediately as that of your master; the other is lighter and feminine. Could it be Blanche Ingram? Stepping over to the door you peer out with Adéle.
A beautiful lady with raven hair and an olive complexion is talking to Mr. Rochester. Her hand softly touches his arm; the act at once casual and coquettish.
“Now Blanche, I must show you to your room, you only have a few hours before dinner, and I know how ladies need time for their toilette.”
“After such a long drive, I will be glad of it. It is truly wonderful to see your home again after so many years, Edward. I am pleased you are hosting again.”
“The pleasure is in having this house adorned with beauty, which you will supply.”
Blanche’s tinkling laugh shows how delighted she is by the compliment.
You suddenly realize that if the pair turn towards the stairs to head up, they will very likely notice you and Adéle watching. Yet, you hesitate for a moment, keen to see more of Blanche and Mr. Rochester in an unguarded moment. This is the first time you have seen Mr. Rochester since the fire in his room and the feelings you have tried to suppress rise up. There is a joy in gazing on him, despite the keen pain of seeing him with someone better suited to him.
To gaze a moment longer, go to TWENTY-SIX
To close the door immediately, go to TWENTY-EIGHT