“Miss Governess! I did not think I would see you skulking about Thornfield at this late hour!”
Mr. Rochester turns up the lantern you had lit in the kitchen. It is a very late hour, the clock in the hall struck midnight as you hurried past it. Your meeting with Miss Ingram soured you on seeing any more of her, and foolishly perhaps, you skipped dinner, telling Mrs. Fairfax you did not feel well and that you would retire early that night. You had not counted on hunger pangs waking you and urging you to find something to eat in the kitchen. You also had not counted on Mr. Rochester’s sudden appearance, just after you had raided the larder.
Mortified, you drop a piece of bread on the table. “Sir, please excuse me…”
“Oh, don’t apologize! I am here for the same reason as you. I did not have a good appetite at dinner tonight. Something disagreed with me.” Rummaging the larder, Mr. Rochester brings out his own portion of bread and cheese. “And a little something to help me sleep,” he chuckles, showing the wine bottle also procured.
You nod with a smile, the first fright of Mr. Rochester finding you in his kitchen wearing off, as you consider your situation. It cannot be proper to be seen with the master of the house at this late hour. You make your excuses to leave.
Mr. Rochester intervenes. “Remember, Miss Governess, I can read the thoughts on your face very well and you are thinking of how to extricate yourself from this meeting. I will allow you to leave after you have done two things. Finish the food you have furtively secured and answer some questions I have.”
“I’m sure I have done nothing furtively, sir. However, I must own I made a mistake in not requesting something to be brought to my room before I retired for the evening.”
“Ah yes, I heard from Mrs. Fairfax that you did not feel well, are you feeling better?”
“No doubt, not seeing my guests this evening aided your recovery?”
“I would hazard my absence only added to their enjoyment of this evening.”
Mr. Rochester examines you closely. “Do you believe that true for everyone in this house?”
“Mrs. Fairfax enjoys my company I believe. And Adele when she is inclined to listen to me.”
“No one else?”
“I cannot speak for anyone else.”
Slowly sipping a glass of wine, Mr. Rochester nods. “What do you think of Miss Ingram? She is a very refined and accomplished young woman.”
“That is not quite the answer I was looking for.”
“What would you like me to say?”
“Do you think someone like Blanche Ingram would make me happy?”
The lateness of the hour and the amount of wine Mr. Rochester had consumed must explain his strange mood. Yet, how can you answer this impossible question?
“I did not know you were unhappy, sir.”
“You have a singular mind, young lady. Your ability to answer me while saying nothing is a true gift. But I am unhappy. Most unhappy. It would take more than a late evening conversation to tell you why. Although I am curious if you know how close I am to complete happiness. I believe it is very near; I just have to reach out my hand and take it up.”
With a sinking heart, you realize Mr. Rochester is truly planning to marry Blanche Ingram. You would have never considered her the type to suit him; she is showy, but she is not genuine. The sensations of sympathy and tenderness are far from her heart. Yet, Mr. Rochester admires her beauty, and perhaps that is all that is necessary.
“You have answered enough questions and I think you are finished with your food; you may leave me to my reveries, little girl.”
Words rise to your lips, but you hold them back. You cannot burden Mr. Rochester with your fine feelings. It is best if you leave him.
Go to TWENTY-NINE