"How do you do, my dear?" she greeted politely.
"Are you Mrs Fairfax?" Rose asked, a wave of shyness hitting her.
"Indeed I am," Mrs Fairfax replied as she stood before her. "What a tedious journey you must have had. How long have you been travelling?"
"All day," Rose admitted ruefully, attempting to untie her bonnet.
"Oh, your hands must be frozen," Mrs Fairfax exclaimed, "Here, let me." She began to remove Rose's cloak and untie her bonnet-strings; Rose felt embarrassed.
"Please don't trouble yourself," she begged.
"Oh, it's no trouble my dear; your hands are like ice," the older woman replied, with a pooh-pooh gesture. "Leah, would you fetch a little hot port and cut a sandwich or two? Here are the keys of the storeroom." And she produced from her pocket an enormous bunch of keys, and handed them to the waiting girl. "Now, come warm yourself by the fire. John is taking your trunk up to your room."
What looked like a half-knitted shawl lay abandoned on Mrs Fairfax's chair. She moved it and gestured for Rose to sit opposite while she cleared a few books from the table to make room for the tray Leah now carried into the room and handed Rose her refreshments herself. Rose felt confused at being the object of such considerate attention, and by her employer and (she still couldn't get used to it) superior; but as the older woman didn't think she was doing anything out of her place, Rose shut up and enjoyed the mothering quietly. As she supped, her eyes saw that every surface was covered in lace, embroidery, or crochet. The whole room was an advertisement for Mrs Fairfax's skill with a needle - or, she thought sombrely, to the hours she'd spent alone.
"I've put you at the back of the house; I hope you don't mind," Mrs Fairfax said after Rose had eaten her fill. "The rooms at the front have much finer furniture but they are so gloomy and solitary I think." Rose smiled encouragingly as the cat rubbed itself up against her ankles. "I'm so glad you are come; it will be quite pleasant living here now with a companion. To be sure, this is a fine old house but I must confess that in winter one can feel a little...dreary and alone. Leah is a very nice girl and John and Martha are good people too, but they are servants - and one cannot talk to them on terms of equality; one must keep them at due distance, for fear of losing one's authority."
And there's the Victorian snob system I hate, Rose thought with a hint of disgust. She really couldn't blame Mrs Fairfax; it was what she'd been brought up to believe was fair and true. Rose was so thankful she'd been brought up in the twenty-first century. Time to change the subject.
"Shall I have the pleasure of seeing Miss Fairfax to-night?" she asked.
"Who?" Mrs Fairfax blinked, confused.
"Miss Fairfax," Rose repeated. "My pupil."
"Oh, you mean Miss Varens, Mr Rochester's ward; she's to be your pupil."
"Who's Mr Rochester?" Rose asked in bewilderment.
"Why, the owner of Thornfield!" Mrs Fairfax exclaimed. "Mr Edward Fairfax Rochester."
"I thought...I thought Thornfield belonged to you," Rose confessed, feeling foolish as Mrs Fairfax laughed.
"Oh, bless you child! What an idea!" she positively giggled. Rose clenched her hands in annoyance before releasing them. "Me? I'm only the housekeeper!"
"I see," she managed. "I apologise."
"Oh, it's quite all right dear," Mrs Fairfax soothed. "But I'll not keep you sitting up late tonight. It's near midnight now, and you've been travelling all day: you must be tired. If you have got your feet well warmed, I'll show you your bedroom."
Wiping her hands together, Rose stood and accepted the candle Mrs Fairfax handed to her before following her down the dark corridors. As they walked, Mrs Fairfax chattered about the weather, last winter, and her knitting. Rose listened with half an ear as she looked as best she could at the paintings on the wall. Most of them were landscapes, but there were a few portraits nestled in amongst them. Near the end of the long gallery, almost hidden by the dark heavy drapes, another portrait lurked. A dark, voluptuous woman sat in an 18th Century gown, her lips the colour of blood, with one full breast exposed. Her face heating, Rose looked away just as Mrs Fairfax stopped in front of a door.
"Here we are, my dear," she fussed, "John's lit the fire for you, so it should be nice and warm."
She opened the door to a small, beautiful room. A small fire was burning in the grate, a lamp lit by the bed, a soft pearly green quilt, matching chintz curtains.
"Is this my room?" Rose whispered, awe-struck. Mrs Fairfax looked at her, a tad worried.
"Yes," she replied uncertainly. "Is something wrong?"
Rose shook her head, a lump forming in her throat. "I can't help feeling that this is a dream, and I'm going to wake up any minute."
The older woman smiled and patted Rose's shoulder.
"We are quite real. Goodnight my dear."
"Goodnight Mrs Fairfax."
When Rose had fastened the door, she gazed round. It was so different, she thought, from her own bedroom from before, but much more preferable then her old room at Lowwood, or that damned hospital room. Exhausted, she changed into her nightdress and crawled into bed, falling asleep almost immediately.
Her bedroom looked so warm and welcoming to Rose's eyes as she woke the next morning, the sun shining in between the window curtains, showing cream walls and a carpeted floor, so unlike the bare planks and dull plaster of Lowwood. She climbed out of bed and dressed herself with care, until she felt ready to appear before Mrs. Fairfax, and that her pupil would not recoil from her. She tidied up after herself quickly before leaving her room.
Walking briskly down the gallery, Rose descended the staircase; then entered the hall. She paused for a minute to look at the pictures on the walls once more before moving on. The hall-door stood open and she stepped over the threshold. It was a lovely morning; the early sun shone serenely on the slowly awakening Spring. Stopping in the middle of the lawn, Rose looked up and properly looked at her new home. It was three storeys high, and quite wide, with battlements round the top. The grey front stood out well from the background of a rookery, whose cawing tenants were absent. Farther off were hills; not so lofty as those round Lowwood, not like barriers of separation from the living world; but yet quiet and lonely hills enough, and they seemed to embrace Thornfield with a seclusion Rose had not expected to find existent so near the stirring locality of Millcote. The artistic eye that Rose seemed to have gained when she became Jane Eyre was enjoying the sights before her and absently sketching the landscape in her head when Mrs Fairfax appeared at the hall door.
"What! Up already?" she called. "I see you are an early riser."
Rose over to her, and received (to her surprise) with a kiss on the cheek and shake of the hand.
"How do you like Thornfield, my dear?" she asked.
"Very much, Mrs Fairfax," Rose replied truthfully.
"Yes," she allowed, "it is a pretty place; but I fear it will be getting out of order, unless Mr. Rochester should take it into his head to come and reside here permanently; or, at least, visit it rather oftener: great houses and fine grounds require the presence of the proprietor."
"And what is his relation to my pupil?" Rose asked.
"She is Mr. Rochester's ward; he ordered me to find a governess for her. She is waiting for you in the nursery with her bonne, as she calls her nurse. If you'll follow me, my dear."