Gaiety ensues at Thornfield, although the joy never quite reaches you. You sit in the window seat of the drawing-room every evening (as requested by Mr. Rochester), idly knitting or supervising Adele. For the most part, no one takes notice of you, and that suits you just fine. It allows you to consider the incongruent personalities on display.
The party consists of the Ingrams, the Dents, and the Eshtons, with the addition of Mr. Rochester’s friend Mr. Mason. Colonel Dent and his wife are easily your favorite of the group. They seem kind and friendly, bestowing the occasional nod and smile when you chance to pass them in the hall. The Eshtons consist of Mrs. Eshton and her two daughters, Amy and Louisa. They are an insipid pair; slight and pretty of face, but they never join in on a conversation except to laugh and smile affectedly.
The Ingrams were by far the most distinguished. Dowager Lady Ingram might have been between forty and fifty, but her shape was still fine, her hair was still black, and her teeth were apparently perfect. Blanche and Mary Ingram were of equal stature, but Mary was too slim for her height, while Blanche was molded like a Diana. They were all noble of aspect, but like her mother, Blanche featured the same saturnine pride. Her habitual expression was of an arched and haughty lip.
Although it is hard to believe that Mr. Rochester could possibly be interested in marrying Blanche, you cannot find fault with his scheme. No doubt, the idea of marrying for interest and connections was instilled in him and Miss Ingram from a young age, and these principles must hold some benefit for people of their class. Though you could not fathom what it may be.
One night, you awaken with the moon shining fully on your face. You had forgotten to draw your curtain and let down your window blind. Half-rising, you reach for the blind when a sharp and shrill cry rents the silence in twain.
Rushing to your door, you hear the flurry of fabric as others open their own bedroom doors in alarm. You see the guests talking excitedly to each other, but you do not see Mr. Rochester.
“Where the devil is Rochester?” cries Colonel Dent. “I cannot find him in his bed.”
“Here! here!” was shouted in return. “Be composed, all of you: I’m coming.”
The door at the end of the gallery has opened and Mr. Rochester advances with a candle. Miss Ingram runs to him directly and seizes his arm.
“What awful event has taken place? Let us know the worst at once!”
Though Mr. Rochester’s eye glints dangerously, and he looks anything but calm, his voice soothes as he says, “It’s all right, a servant has had a nightmare, that is all. She is an excitable person and has construed a dream into an apparition. Please, I cannot see to her until the house is settled, return to your rooms.”
Silently, you do as you are told, but not to return to sleep. You feel sure something is not right, and in a vague moment of intuition you dress, in case you are wanted.
Half an hour passes as stillness returns to Thornfield Hall. A quiet tapping at your door rouses you from your reveries.
“Yes?” you say softly.
“You are up?” says a voice you expected to hear; namely Mr. Rochester’s. “Come out then quietly.”
His eyes, still grim, search yours for reassurance. “Let me have your hand, it will not do to risk a fainting fit.”
You put your fingers in his. “Warm and steady,” he says with a smile.
He leads you up the gallery, and up the stairs, to the low corridor of the third story. Stopping at one door, he takes out a key and unlocks it. The two of you approach the side of a large bed where a man lies still, his eyes closed. You recognize Mr. Mason and you see that the sleeve on his right arm is soaked in blood.
Mr. Rochester draws the linen pressed to his shoulder away, and takes the sponge soaking in the washbasin.
“Sponge the blood as I do when it returns and use these salts if he feels faint. I must go fetch the surgeon to look at him. Under no circumstances will you speak to him. And Richard?”
Mr. Mason opens his eyes to look dazedly at Rochester.
“You must not speak to her, say one word, agitate yourself, and I’ll not answer for the consequences.”
Mr. Rochester places the bloody sponge in your hand and watches you for a moment. “Remember, no conversation. I’ll return in an hour, perhaps two.”
A different sort of silence settles over Thornfield as you begin the long watch over Mr. Mason.
How had Mr. Mason become involved in this mystery at Thornfield? And why did Mr. Rochester enforce concealment?
“When will he come?” you cry to yourself inwardly, as your bleeding patient droops, moans, and sickens. You fear he is dying and yet you may not even speak to him.
As the candle, wasted at last, goes out, you perceive the gray streaks of dawn edging the window. Presently the grating of the lock greets your ears and the door opens. The surgeon enters with Mr. Rochester.
Go to THIRTY