"I hardly know. I cannot be bothered by the goings on of a school girl governess, surely. Why do you ask?" Up until now, Miss Eyre occupied only my private thoughts, so I hid my surprise at the mention of her.
Hartstone eyed me with what I thought was a little suspicion but continued.
"I was wondering if she would be agreeable to giving my daughters drawing lessons. How old is she anyway?"
"Well, it confounds me; she looks no more than a child. My Mariah is sixteen and is, as you observed before these gentlemen (he eyed me with a father's protective sternness), much taller. That governess of yours roves the countryside with stars in her eyes, content, is seems, with her own company. Last November I was riding through Hay Lane, and as I passed by, I saw her little figure sitting on a rock drawing something on a pad of paper, so absorbed in her endeavour that she did not notice me at all. I stopped and told her that she'd catch her death from the cold sitting there all alone. She looked up at me with those big eyes of hers and replied as tartly as could be, 'I am very well, thank you,' and went back to her drawing, forgetting that I was even there."
"I can picture her saying so, " said I, chuckling to myself, recalling my own encounter with her in Hay Lane and her fairy-like ways.
"She sounds like a bluestocking to me," sniffed one of the gentlemen, wanting to join in on the conversation.
Ignoring his comment, I addressed Hartstone. "Perhaps you would like to view examples of her work, and judge for yourself if you would like to engage Miss Eyre to tutor your daughters. I think that you will find her paintings quite peculiar."
Hartstone agreed, so I sent a footman to fetch Miss Eyre's portfolio. When I revealed its contents, all present were quite bewildered by what they saw. Some pronounced them singular and not one whit to their liking.
"Why ever not?" I asked.
The same gentlemen who had previously suggested that I take Miss Ingram to my bosom remarked that most young ladies drew pretty landscapes and flowers, not icebergs or drowned corpses.
'What you like, my dear fellow, are the simple-minded renderings of silly young ladies who expect us to flatter their feeble talents by telling them how so very clever they are."
"Surely, Rochester, you cannot say that any good family would permit their daughters to draw such morbid and strange scenes."
"Quite right. However, Miss Eyre is free to draw whatever she chooses without arousing the censure of friends or family, for she has neither."
All the while Hartstone remained silent, holding one of the drawings in his hand examining it closely. He looked up at me and asked, "So Miss Eyre is an orphan, then?"
I briefly related to the party her history at Lowood Institution and what transpired during her residence there.
"Miss Eyre may be but eighteen years of age," said Hartstone, "but, based on what you told us of her and the strangeness of these pictures, she is wise beyond her years. It appears that her suffering has created these paintings."
"Will you ask her to be drawing mistress to your daughters, do you think?"
"I do not know. I shall have to think about it. I'm afraid that Emily and Mariah are fine girls, but they can be terribly silly. Miss Eyre, however, is not."
With that he put down the painting and said no more.
A short time later, the weather turned suddenly and it began to rain heavily, so all of the gentlemen, including Hartstone, decided to leave straightaway. I, on the other hand, decided not to attend the meeting after all, not wanting to ride back to Thornfield in such foul weather, especially at night. I saw them to their carriage, and asked Hartstone if he could stay a little while longer, seeing that his farm was not so far away. He begged off stating that he did not want his missus to worry, so what promised to be an evening spent with pleasant company ended all too abruptly.Returning to the house quite disappointed, I stared at the chandelier, brightly lit, in the now empty diningroom. Still, I did not want to be alone that evening. I yearned for company and good conversation, but with whom? Adèle? Dame Fairfax? The fiend upstairs? The mere thought was unsupportable. How could the bastard child of a French opera dancer or a simple old lady, or worse yet, a lunatic, entertain me? I could not very well keep company with the servants. But wait, Miss Eyre, yes, she would do quite well, I dare say. I wanted to find out if she was a dull and priggish spinster or an enchanting elf-maiden. I needed to be amused, so I sent for her and Adèle. I knew what I had forsworn regarding her, but I reasoned that since we lived under the same roof, no contact or conversation would be impossible.
Back to Chapter 1: I Must Away to Thornfield (Click here.)