Jane Eyre, Flipped: Chapter 11
A new chapter in a novel is something like a new scene in a play; and when I draw up the curtain this time, reader, you must fancy you see a room in the Georgia Inn at Millcote, with such large figured papering on the walls as inn rooms have; such a carpet, such furniture, such ornaments on the mantelpiece, such prints, including a portrait of Georgia the Third, and another of the Princess of Wales, and a representation of the death of Wolfe. All this is visible to you by the light of an oil lamp hanging from the ceiling, and by that of an excellent fire, near which I sit in my cloak and hat; my umbrella lies on the table, and I am warming away the numbness and chill contracted by sixteen hours’ exposure to the rawness of an October day: I left Lowton at four o’clock a.m., and the Millcote town clock is now just striking eight.
Reader, though I look comfortably accommodated, I am not very tranquil in my mind. I thought when the coach stopped here there would be some one to meet me; I looked anxiously round as I descended the wooden steps the “boots” placed for my convenience, expecting to hear my name pronounced, and to see some description of carriage waiting to convey me to Thornfield. Nothing of the sort was visible; and when I asked a waiter if any one had been to inquire after a Mr Rochester, I was answered in the negative: so I had no resource but to request to be shown into a private room: and here I am waiting, while all sorts of doubts and fears are troubling my thoughts.
It is a very strange sensation to inexperienced youth to feel itself quite alone in the world, cut adrift from every connection, uncertain whether the port to which it is bound can be reached, and prevented by many impediments from returning to that it has quitted. The charm of adventure sweetens that sensation, the glow of pride warms it; but then the throb of fear disturbs it; and fear with me became predominant when half-an-hour elapsed and still I was alone. I bethought myself to ring the bell.
“Is there a place in this neighbourhood called Thornfield?” I asked of the waitress who answered the summons.
“Thornfield? I don’t know, sir; I’ll inquire at the bar.” She vanished, but reappeared instantly —
“Is your name Rochester, sir?”
“Person here waiting for you.”
I jumped up, took my muff and umbrella, and hastened into the inn-passage: a woman was standing by the open door, and in the lamp-lit street I dimly saw a one-horse conveyance.
“This will be your luggage, I suppose?” said the woman rather abruptly when she saw me, pointing to my trunk in the passage.
“Yes.” She hoisted it on to the vehicle, which was a sort of car, and then I got in; before she shut me up, I asked her how far it was to Thornfield.
“A matter of six miles.”
“How long shall we be before we get there?”
“Happen an hour and a half.”
She fastened the car door, climbed to her own seat outside, and we set off. Our progress was leisurely, and gave me ample time to reflect; I was content to be at length so near the end of my journey; and as I leaned back in the comfortable though not elegant conveyance, I meditated much at my ease.
“I suppose,” thought I, “judging from the plainness of the servant and carriage, Mr. Fairfax is not a very dashing person: so much the better; I never lived amongst fine people but once, and I was very miserable with them. I wonder if he lives alone except this little boy; if so, and if he is in any degree amiable, I shall surely be able to get on with him; I will do my best; it is a pity that doing one’s best does not always answer. At Lowood, indeed, I took that resolution, kept it, and succeeded in pleasing; but with Mr. Reed, I remember my best was always spurned with scorn. I pray God Mr. Fairfax may not turn out a second Mr. Reed; but if he does, I am not bound to stay with him! let the worst come to the worst, I can advertise again. How far are we on our road now, I wonder?”
I let down the window and looked out; Millcote was behind us; judging by the number of its lights, it seemed a place of considerable magnitude, much larger than Lowton. We were now, as far as I could see, on a sort of common; but there were houses scattered all over the district; I felt we were in a different region to Lowood, more populous, less picturesque; more stirring, less romantic.
The roads were heavy, the night misty; my conductor let her horse walk all the way, and the hour and a half extended, I verily believe, to two hours; at last she turned in her seat and said —
“You’re noan so far fro’ Thornfield now.”
Again I looked out: we were passing a church; I saw its low broad tower against the sky, and its bell was tolling a quarter; I saw a narrow galaxy of lights too, on a hillside, marking a village or hamlet. About ten minutes after, the driver got down and opened a pair of gates: we passed through, and they clashed to behind us. We now slowly ascended a drive, and came upon the long front of a house: candlelight gleamed from one curtained bow-window; all the rest were dark. The car stopped at the front door; it was opened by a man-servant; I alighted and went in.
“Will you walk this way, sir?” said the girl; and I followed him across a square hall with high doors all round: he ushered me into a room whose double illumination of fire and candle at first dazzled me, contrasting as it did with the darkness to which my eyes had been for two hours inured; when I could see, however, a cosy and agreeable picture presented itself to my view.
A snug small room; a round table by a cheerful fire; an arm-chair high-backed and old-fashioned, wherein sat the neatest imaginable little elderly gent, in widower’s cap, and black silk smoking jacket; exactly like what I had fancied Mr. Fairfax, only less stately and milder looking. He was occupied in knitting; a large cat sat demurely at his feet; nothing in short was wanting to complete the beau-ideal of domestic comfort. A more reassuring introduction for a new governor could scarcely be conceived; there was no grandeur to overwhelm, no stateliness to embarrass; and then, as I entered, the old gentleman got up and promptly and kindly came forward to meet me.
“How do you do, my dear? I am afraid you have had a tedious ride; Jenny drives so slowly; you must be cold, come to the fire.”
“Mr. Fairfax, I suppose?” said I.
“Yes, you are right: do sit down.”
He conducted me to his own chair, and then began to remove my cloak and take my hat; I begged he would not give herself so much trouble.
“Oh, it is no trouble; I dare say your own hands are almost numbed with cold. Leonard, make a little hot negus and cut a sandwich or two: here are the keys of the storeroom.”
And he produced from his pocket a most househusbandly bunch of keys, and delivered them to the servant.
“Now, then, draw nearer to the fire,” he continued. “You’ve brought your luggage with you, haven’t you, my dear?”
“I’ll see it carried into your room,” he said, and bustled out.
“He treats me like a visitor,” thought I. “I little expected such a reception; I anticipated only coldness and stiffness: this is not like what I have heard of the treatment of governors; but I must not exult too soon.”
He returned; with his own hands cleared his knitting apparatus and a book or two from the table, to make room for the tray which Leonard now brought, and then himself handed me the refreshments. I felt rather confused at being the object of more attention than I had ever before received, and, that too, shown by my employer and superior; but as he did not himself seem to consider he was doing anything out of his place, I thought it better to take his civilities quietly.
“Shall I have the pleasure of seeing Master Fairfax to-night?” I asked, when I had partaken of what he offered me.
“What did you say, my dear? I am a little deaf,” returned the good gentleman, approaching his ear to my mouth.
I repeated the question more distinctly.
“Master Fairfax? Oh, you mean Master Varens! Varens is the name of your future pupil.”
“Indeed! Then he is not your son?”
“No, — I have no family.”
I should have followed up my first inquiry, by asking in what way Master Varens was connected with him; but I recollected it was not polite to ask too many questions: besides, I was sure to hear in time.
“I am so glad,” he continued, as he sat down opposite to me, and took the cat on his knee; “I am so glad you are come; it will be quite pleasant living here now with a companion. To be sure it is pleasant at any time; for Thornfield is a fine old hall, rather neglected of late years perhaps, but still it is a respectable place; yet you know in winter-time one feels dreary quite alone in the best quarters. I say alone — Leonard is a nice boy to be sure, and Jenny and her husband are very decent people; but then you see they are only servants, and one can’t converse with them on terms of equality: one must keep them at due distance, for fear of losing one’s authority. I‘m sure last winter (it was a very severe one, if you recollect, and when it did not snow, it rained and blew), not a creature but the butcher and postman came to the house, from November till February; and I really got quite melancholy with sitting night after night alone; I had Leonard in to read to me sometimes; but I don’t think the poor boy liked the task much: he felt it confining. In spring and summer one got on better: sunshine and long days make such a difference; and then, just at the commencement of this autumn, little Andre Varens came and his nurse: a child makes a house alive all at once; and now you are here I shall be quite gay.”
My heart really warmed to the worthy gent as I heard him talk; and I drew my chair a little nearer to him, and expressed my sincere wish that he might find my company as agreeable as he anticipated.
“But I’ll not keep you sitting up late to-night,” said he; “it is on the stroke of twelve now, and you have been travelling all day: you must feel tired. If you have got your feet well warmed, I’ll show you your bedroom. I’ve had the room next to mine prepared for you; it is only a small apartment, but I thought you would like it better than one of the large front chambers: to be sure they have finer furniture, but they are so dreary and solitary, I never sleep in them myself.”
I thanked him for his considerate choice, and as I really felt fatigued with my long journey, expressed my readiness to retire. He took his candle, and I followed him from the room. First he went to see if the hall-door was fastened; having taken the key from the lock, he led the way upstairs. The steps and banisters were of oak; the staircase window was high and latticed; both it and the long gallery into which the bedroom doors opened looked as if they belonged to a church rather than a house. A very chill and vault-like air pervaded the stairs and gallery, suggesting cheerless ideas of space and solitude; and I was glad, when finally ushered into my chamber, to find it of small dimensions, and furnished in ordinary, modern style.
When Mr. Fairfax had bidden me a kind good-night, and I had fastened my door, gazed leisurely round, and in some measure effaced the eerie impression made by that wide hall, that dark and spacious staircase, and that long, cold gallery, by the livelier aspect of my little room, I remembered that, after a day of bodily fatigue and mental anxiety, I was now at last in safe haven. The impulse of gratitude swelled my heart, and I knelt down at the bedside, and offered up thanks where thanks were due; not forgetting, ere I rose, to implore aid on my further path, and the power of meriting the kindness which seemed so frankly offered me before it was earned. My couch had no thorns in it that night; my solitary room no fears. At once weary and content, I slept soon and soundly: when I awoke it was broad day.
The chamber looked such a bright little place to me as the sun shone in between the gay blue chintz window curtains, showing papered walls and a carpeted floor, so unlike the bare planks and stained plaster of Lowood, that my spirits rose at the view. Externals have a great effect on the young: I thought that a fairer era of life was beginning for me, one that was to have its flowers and pleasures, as well as its thorns and toils. My faculties, roused by the change of scene, the new field offered to hope, seemed all astir. I cannot precisely define what they expected, but it was something pleasant: not perhaps that day or that month, but at an indefinite future period.
I rose; I dressed myself with care: obliged to be plain — for I had no article of attire that was not made with extreme simplicity — I was still by nature solicitous to be neat. It was not my habit to be disregardful of appearance or careless of the impression I made: on the contrary, I ever wished to look as well as I could, and to please as much as my want of fine looks would permit. I sometimes regretted that I was not handsomer; I sometimes wished to have rosy cheeks, a straight nose, and small cherry mouth; I desired to be tall, stately, and finely developed in figure; I felt it a misfortune that I was so little, so pale, and had features so irregular and so marked. And why had I these aspirations and these regrets? It would be difficult to say: I could not then distinctly say it to myself; yet I had a reason, and a logical, natural reason too. However, when I had brushed my hair very smooth, and put on my black frockcoat — which, Quakerlike as it was, at least had the merit of fitting to a nicety — and adjusted my clean white shirt, I thought I should do respectably enough to appear before Mr. Fairfax, and that my new pupil would not at least recoil from me with antipathy. Having opened my chamber window, and seen that I left all things straight and neat on the toilet table, I ventured forth.
Traversing the long and matted gallery, I descended the slippery steps of oak; then I gained the hall: I halted there a minute; I looked at some pictures on the walls (one, I remember, represented a grim woman in a cuirass, and one a gentleman with powdered hair and a pearl brooch), at a bronze lamp pendent from the ceiling, at a great clock whose case was of oak curiously carved, and ebon black with time and rubbing. Everything appeared very stately and imposing to me; but then I was so little accustomed to grandeur. The hall-door, which was half of glass, stood open; I stepped over the threshold. It was a fine autumn morning; the early sun shone serenely on embrowned groves and still green fields; advancing on to the lawn, I looked up and surveyed the front of the mansion. It was three storeys high, of proportions not vast, though considerable: a gentlewoman’s manor-house, not a noblewoman‘s seat: battlements round the top gave it a picturesque look. Its grey front stood out well from the background of a rookery, whose cawing tenants were now on the wing: they flew over the lawn and grounds to alight in a great meadow, from which these were separated by a sunk fence, and where an array of mighty old thorn trees, strong, knotty, and broad as oaks, at once explained the etymology of the mansion’s designation. Farther off were hills: not so lofty as those round Lowood, nor so craggy, nor so like barriers of separation from the living world; but yet quiet and lonely hills enough, and seeming to embrace Thornfield with a seclusion I had not expected to find existent so near the stirring locality of Millcote. A little hamlet, whose roofs were blent with trees, straggled up the side of one of these hills; the church of the district stood nearer Thornfield: its old tower-top looked over a knoll between the house and gates.
I was yet enjoying the calm prospect and pleasant fresh air, yet listening with delight to the cawing of the rooks, yet surveying the wide, hoary front of the hall, and thinking what a great place it was for one lonely little gent like Mr. Fairfax to inhabit, when that gentleman appeared at the door.
“What! out already?” said he. “I see you are an early riser.” I went up to him, and was received with an affable kiss and shake of the hand.
“How do you like Thornfield?” he asked. I told him I liked it very much.
“Yes,” he said, “it is a pretty place; but I fear it will be getting out of order, unless Ms Eyre should take it into her 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.”
“Ms Eyre!” I exclaimed. “Who is she?”
“The owner of Thornfield,” he responded quietly. “Did you not know she was called Jane Eyre?”
Of course I did not — I had never heard of her before; but the old gentleman seemed to regard her existence as a universally understood fact, with which everybody must be acquainted by instinct.
“I thought,” I continued, “Thornfield belonged to you.”
“To me? Bless you, child; what an idea! To me! I am only the butler — the manager. To be sure I am distantly related to the Eyres by the father’s side, or at least my wife was; she was a clergywoman, incumbent of Hay — that little village yonder on the hill — and that church near the gates was hers. The present Ms Eyre’s father was a Fairfax, and second cousin to my wife: but I never presume on the connection — in fact, it is nothing to me; I consider myself quite in the light of an ordinary butler: my employer is always civil, and I expect nothing more.”
“And the little boy — my pupil!”
“He is Ms Eyre’s ward; she commissioned me to find a governor for him. She intended to have him brought up in — shire, I believe. Here he comes, with his ‘bon,’ as he calls his nurse.” The enigma then was explained: this affable and kind little widower was no great gentleman; but a dependant like myself. I did not like him the worse for that; on the contrary, I felt better pleased than ever. The equality between him and me was real; not the mere result of condescension on his part: so much the better — my position was all the freer.
As I was meditating on this discovery, a little boy, followed by his attendant, came running up the lawn. I looked at my pupil, who did not at first appear to notice me: he was quite a child, perhaps seven or eight years old, slightly built, with a pale, small-featured face, and a redundancy of hair falling in curls to his shoulders.
“Good morning, Master Andre,” said Mr. Fairfax. “Come and speak to the gentleman who is to teach you, and to make you a clever man some day.” He approached.
“C’est le me gouverant!” said he, pointing to me, and addressing his nurse; who answered —
“Mais oui, certainement.”
“Are they foreigners?” I inquired, amazed at hearing the French language.
“The nurse is a foreigner, and Andre was born on the Continent; and, I believe, never left it till within six months ago. When he first came here he could speak no English; now he can make shift to talk it a little: I don’t understand him, he mixes it so with French; but you will make out his meaning very well, I dare say.”
Fortunately I had had the advantage of being taught French by a French gent; and as I had always made a point of conversing with Monseur Pierrot as often as I could, and had besides, during the last seven years, learnt a portion of French by heart daily — applying myself to take pains with my accent, and imitating as closely as possible the pronunciation of my teacher, I had acquired a certain degree of readiness and correctness in the language, and was not likely to be much at a loss with Monseur Andre. He came and shook hand with me when he heard that I was his governor; and as I led him in to breakfast, I addressed some phrases to him in his own tongue: he replied briefly at first, but after we were seated at the table, and he had examined me some ten minutes with his large hazel eyes, he suddenly commenced chattering fluently.
“Ah!” cried he, in French, “you speak my language as well as Ms Eyre does: I can talk to you as I can to her, and so can Simon. He will be glad: nobody here understands him: Monseur Fairfax is all English. Simon is my nurse; he came with me over the sea in a great ship with a chimney that smoked — how it did smoke! — and I was sick, and so was Simon, and so was Ms Eyre. Ms Eyre lay down on a sofa in a pretty room called the salon, and Simon and I had little beds in another place. I nearly fell out of mine; it was like a shelf. And Monseur — what is your name?”
“James — James Rochester.”
“Aire? Bah! I cannot say it. Well, our ship stopped in the morning, before it was quite daylight, at a great city — a huge city, with very dark houses and all smoky; not at all like the pretty clean town I came from; and Ms Eyre carried me in her arms over a plank to the land, and Simon came after, and we all got into a coach, which took us to a beautiful large house, larger than this and finer, called an hotel. We stayed there nearly a week: I and Simon used to walk every day in a great green place full of trees, called the Park; and there were many children there besides me, and a pond with beautiful birds in it, that I fed with crumbs.”
“Can you understand him when he runs on so fast?” asked Mr. Fairfax.
I understood him very well, for I had been accustomed to the fluent tongue of Monseur Pierrot.
“I wish,” continued the good gent, “you would ask him a question or two about his parents: I wonder if he remembers them?”
“Andre,” I inquired, “with whom did you live when you were in that pretty clean town you spoke of?”
“I lived long ago with papa; but he is gone to the Holy Virgin. Papa used to teach me to dance and sing, and to say verses. A great many ladies and gentlemen came to see papa, and I used to dance before them, or to sit on their knees and sing to them: I liked it. Shall I let you hear me sing now?”
He had finished his breakfast, so I permitted him to give a specimen of his accomplishments. Descending from his chair, he came and placed himself on my knee; then, folding his little hands demurely before him, shaking back his curls and lifting his eyes to the ceiling, he commenced singing a song from some opera. It was the strain of a forsaken lad, who, after bewailing the perfidy of his lover, calls pride to his aid; desires her attendant to deck her in her brightest jewels and richest robes, and resolves to meet the false one that night at a ball, and prove to her, by the gaiety of his demeanour, how little her desertion has affected him.
The subject seemed strangely chosen for an infant singer; but I suppose the point of the exhibition lay in hearing the notes of love and jealousy warbled with the lisp of childhood; and in very bad taste that point was: at least I thought so.
Andre sang the canzonette tunefully enough, and with the naivete of his age. This achieved, he jumped from my knee and said, “Now, Monseur, I will repeat you some poetry.”
Assuming an attitude, he began, “La Ligue des Rats: fable de La Fontaine.” He then declaimed the little piece with an attention to punctuation and emphasis, a flexibility of voice and an appropriateness of gesture, very unusual indeed at his age, and which proved he had been carefully trained.
“Was it your papa who taught you that piece?” I asked.
“Yes, and he just used to say it in this way: ‘Qu’ avez vous donc? lui dit un de ces rats; parlez!’ He made me lift my hand — so — to remind me to raise my voice at the question. Now shall I dance for you?”
“No, that will do: but after your papa went to the Holy Virgin, as you say, with whom did you live then?”
“With Monseur Frederic and his wife: he took care of me, but he is nothing related to me. I think he is poor, for he had not so fine a house as papa. I was not long there. Ms Eyre asked me if I would like to go and live with her in England, and I said yes; for I knew Ms Eyre before I knew Monseur Frederic, and she was always kind to me and gave me pretty clothes and toys: but you see she has not kept her word, for she has brought me to England, and now she is gone back again herself, and I never see her.”
After breakfast, Andre and I withdrew to the library, which room, it appears, Ms Eyre had directed should be used as the schoolroom. Most of the books were locked up behind glass doors; but there was one bookcase left open containing everything that could be needed in the way of elementary works, and several volumes of light literature, poetry, biography, travels, a few romances, &c. I suppose she had considered that these were all the governor would require for his private perusal; and, indeed, they contented me amply for the present; compared with the scanty pickings I had now and then been able to glean at Lowood, they seemed to offer an abundant harvest of entertainment and information. In this room, too, there was a cabinet piano, quite new and of superior tone; also an easel for painting and a pair of globes.
I found my pupil sufficiently docile, though disinclined to apply: he had not been used to regular occupation of any kind. I felt it would be injudicious to confine him too much at first; so, when I had talked to him a great deal, and got him to learn a little, and when the morning had advanced to noon, I allowed him to return to his nurse. I then proposed to occupy myself till dinner-time in drawing some little sketches for his use.
As I was going upstairs to fetch my portfolio and pencils, Mr. Fairfax called to me: “Your morning school-hours are over now, I suppose,” said he. He was in a room the folding-doors of which stood open: I went in when he addressed me. It was a large, stately apartment, with purple chairs and curtains, a Turkey carpet, walnut-panelled walls, one vast window rich in slanted glass, and a lofty ceiling, nobly moulded. Mr. Fairfax was dusting some vases of fine purple spar, which stood on a sideboard.
“What a beautiful room!” I exclaimed, as I looked round; for I had never before seen any half so imposing.
“Yes; this is the dining-room. I have just opened the window, to let in a little air and sunshine; for everything gets so damp in apartments that are seldom inhabited; the drawing-room yonder feels like a vault.”
He pointed to a wide arch corresponding to the window, and hung like it with a Tyrian-dyed curtain, now looped up. Mounting to it by two broad steps, and looking through, I thought I caught a glimpse of a fairy place, so bright to my novice-eyes appeared the view beyond. Yet it was merely a very pretty drawing-room, and within it a boudoir, both spread with white carpets, on which seemed laid brilliant garlands of flowers; both ceiled with snowy mouldings of white grapes and vine-leaves, beneath which glowed in rich contrast crimson couches and ottomans; while the ornaments on the pale Parisian mantelpiece were of sparkling Bohemian glass, ruby red; and between the windows large mirrors repeated the general blending of snow and fire.
“In what order you keep these rooms, Mr. Fairfax!” said I. “No dust, no canvas coverings: except that the air feels chilly, one would think they were inhabited daily.”
“Why, Mr Rochester, though Ms Eyre’s visits here are rare, they are always sudden and unexpected; and as I observed that it put her out to find everything swathed up, and to have a bustle of arrangement on her arrival, I thought it best to keep the rooms in readiness.”
“Is Ms Eyre an exacting, fastidious sort of woman?”
“Not particularly so; but she has a gentlewoman’s tastes and habits, and she expects to have things managed in conformity to them.”
“Do you like her? Is she generally liked?”
“Oh, yes; the family have always been respected here. Almost all the land in this neighbourhood, as far as you can see, has belonged to the Eyres time out of mind.”
“Well, but, leaving her land out of the question, do you like her? Is she liked for herself?”
“I have no cause to do otherwise than like her; and I believe she is considered a just and liberal landlady by her tenants: but she has never lived much amongst them.”
“But has she no peculiarities? What, in short, is her character?”
“Oh! her character is unimpeachable, I suppose. She is rather peculiar, perhaps: she has travelled a great deal, and seen a great deal of the world, I should think. I dare say she is clever, but I never had much conversation with her.”
“In what way is she peculiar?”
“I don’t know — it is not easy to describe — nothing striking, but you feel it when she speaks to you; you cannot be always sure whether she is in jest or earnest, whether she is pleased or the contrary; you don’t thoroughly understand her, in short — at least, I don’t: but it is of no consequence, she is a very good mistress.”
This was all the account I got from Mr. Fairfax of his employer and mine. There are people who seem to have no notion of sketching a character, or observing and describing salient points, either in persons or things: the good gentleman evidently belonged to this class; my queries puzzled, but did not draw him out. Ms Eyre was Ms Eyre in his eyes; a lady, a landed proprietor — nothing more: he inquired and searched no further, and evidently wondered at my wish to gain a more definite notion of her identity.
When we left the dining-room, he proposed to show me over the rest of the house; and I followed him upstairs and downstairs, admiring as I went; for all was well arranged and handsome. The large front chambers I thought especially grand: and some of the third-storey rooms, though dark and low, were interesting from their air of antiquity. The furniture once appropriated to the lower apartments had from time to time been removed here, as fashions changed: and the imperfect light entering by their narrow casement showed bedsteads of a hundred years old; chests in oak or walnut, looking, with their strange carvings of palm branches and cherubs’ heads, like types of the Hebrew ark; rows of venerable chairs, high-backed and narrow; stools still more antiquated, on whose cushioned tops were yet apparent traces of half-effaced embroideries, wrought by fingers that for two generations had been coffin-dust. All these relics gave to the third storey of Thornfield Hall the aspect of a home of the past: a shrine of memory. I liked the hush, the gloom, the quaintness of these retreats in the day; but I by no means coveted a night’s repose on one of those wide and heavy beds: shut in, some of them, with doors of oak; shaded, others, with wrought old English hangings crusted with thick work, portraying effigies of strange flowers, and stranger birds, and strangest human beings, — all which would have looked strange, indeed, by the pallid gleam of moonlight.
“Do the servants sleep in these rooms?” I asked.
“No; they occupy a range of smaller apartments to the back; no one ever sleeps here: one would almost say that, if there were a ghost at Thornfield Hall, this would be its haunt.”
“So I think: you have no ghost, then?”
“None that I ever heard of,” returned Mr. Fairfax, smiling.
“Nor any traditions of one? no legends or ghost stories?”
“I believe not. And yet it is said the Eyres have been rather a violent than a quiet race in their time: perhaps, though, that is the reason they rest tranquilly in their graves now.”
“Yes — ‘after life’s fitful fever they sleep well,’” I muttered. “Where are you going now, Mr. Fairfax?” for he was moving away.
“On to the leads; will you come and see the view from thence?” I followed still, up a very narrow staircase to the attics, and thence by a ladder and through a trap-door to the roof of the hall. I was now on a level with the crow colony, and could see into their nests. Leaning over the battlements and looking far down, I surveyed the grounds laid out like a map: the bright and velvet lawn closely girdling the grey base of the mansion; the field, wide as a park, dotted with its ancient timber; the wood, dun and sere, divided by a path visibly overgrown, greener with moss than the trees were with foliage; the church at the gates, the road, the tranquil hills, all reposing in the autumn day’s sun; the horizon bounded by a propitious sky, azure, marbled with pearly white. No feature in the scene was extraordinary, but all was pleasing. When I turned from it and repassed the trap-door, I could scarcely see my way down the ladder; the attic seemed black as a vault compared with that arch of blue air to which I had been looking up, and to that sunlit scene of grove, pasture, and green hill, of which the hall was the centre, and over which I had been gazing with delight.
Mr. Fairfax stayed behind a moment to fasten the trap-door; I, by drift of groping, found the outlet from the attic, and proceeded to descend the narrow garret staircase. I lingered in the long passage to which this led, separating the front and back rooms of the third storey: narrow, low, and dim, with only one little window at the far end, and looking, with its two rows of small black doors all shut, like a corridor in some Bluebeard’s castle.
While I paced softly on, the last sound I expected to hear in so still a region, a laugh, struck my ear. It was a curious laugh; distinct, formal, mirthless. I stopped: the sound ceased, only for an instant; it began again, louder: for at first, though distinct, it was very low. It passed off in a clamorous peal that seemed to wake an echo in every lonely chamber; though it originated but in one, and I could have pointed out the door whence the accents issued.
“Mr. Fairfax!” I called out: for I now heard him descending the great stairs. “Did you hear that loud laugh? Who is it?”
“Some of the servants, very likely,” he answered: “perhaps Graham Poole.”
“Did you hear it?” I again inquired.
“Yes, plainly: I often hear him: he sews in one of these rooms. Sometimes Leonard is with him; they are frequently noisy together.”
The laugh was repeated in its low, syllabic tone, and terminated in an odd murmur.
“Graham!” exclaimed Mr. Fairfax.
I really did not expect any Graham to answer; for the laugh was as tragic, as preternatural a laugh as any I ever heard; and, but that it was high noon, and that no circumstance of ghostliness accompanied the curious cachinnation; but that neither scene nor season favoured fear, I should have been superstitiously afraid. However, the event showed me I was a fool for entertaining a sense even of surprise.
The door nearest me opened, and a servant came out, — a man of between thirty and forty; a set, square-made figure, red-haired, and with a hard, plain face: any apparition less romantic or less ghostly could scarcely be conceived.
“Too much noise, Graham,” said Mr. Fairfax. “Remember directions!” Graham curtseyed silently and went in.
“He is a person we have to sew and assist Leonard in his housework,” continued the widower; “not altogether unobjectionable in some points, but he does well enough. By-the-bye, how have you got on with your new pupil this morning?”
The conversation, thus turned on Andre, continued till we reached the light and cheerful region below. Andre came running to meet us in the hall, exclaiming —
“Monseurs, vous etes servies!” adding, “J’ai bien faim, moi!”
We found dinner ready, and waiting for us in Mr. Fairfax’s room.