That evening I invited Mrs. Fairfax and Miss Eyre to take tea with me in the drawingroom. As on the previous evening, I was seated on a couch with my leg stretched out as I was still nursing my sprained ankle, and was feeling very glum indeed; the meeting with my agent and some of my tenants did not quite go as I had planned. There was some important business to attend to on the morrow, but I was already feeling the walls of Thornfield pressing down on me. My injury prevented me from calling on the inmate of the third storey, for, although I had no desire to apprise myself of learning whether she was dead or alive, I was impatient to get it done and over with.
When Miss Eyre and entered, I was lost in thought as I watched the light of the fire flicker on the forms of Adèle and Pilot who were seated on the floor by the fireplace. Mrs. Fairfax introduced Miss Eyre. I did not raise my head to look at them, but heard myself say, "Let Miss Eyre be seated," but that was all.
As they took their seats, I quickly glanced up to see if Miss Eyre was put out by my tone, but on the contrary, she seemed quite disembarrassed. Usually, when I met a lady, especially a handsome one, I was charming and gallant, paying her compliments to suit her vanity. However, I could see that Miss Eyre would never allow for that. By her demeanor, I saw that any politeness on my part might have confused or mortified her. This satisfied me, as I felt no obligation to be gracious or elegant with her; besides, I reminded myself that she was the governess after all and not a fine lady, so my usual gruff manner would do this evening.
For some minutes more, I gazed at the fire without uttering a word. Miss Eyre remained silent, for Mrs. Fairfax, in an effort to be amiable as no one was speaking, grew ever more loquacious as each minute passed. As always, her conversation was trite: my engaging in business all day despite my sprained ankle, etc. She meant well to condole with me, but I was unaccustomed to the prattle of elderly ladies, even if she was a Fairfax, so I stopped her in mid-sentence and requested, or rather demanded, my tea. When it arrived, it was not Fairfax who handed it to me, but the mute Miss Eyre. At that moment, Adèle, her mercenary little heart still set on a present, cunningly asked if I had a gift, or cadeau, for Miss Eyre. Confound that child! Her very presence was a source of irritation to me, and try as I might, I found it almost impossible to be amiable to her; her mere presence reminded me of past folly, one that I had rather forget.
"Who talks of cadeau?" I demanded impatiently. "Did you expect a present, Miss Eyre? Are you fond of presents?" I searched her face, and I saw that, though surprised my incivility, she was not suddenly nervous, but replied simply, "I hardly know, sir. I have little experience of them: they are generally thought pleasant things."
"Generally thought?" What kind of an answer was that? I sensed that there were more thoughts residing inside her brain, so I asked, "But what do you think?"
She quietly answered that Adèle was in the habit of receiving presents, but since she was a stranger, she had done nothing to entitle her to one. No woman I had ever known had ever had little experience of gifts; indeed, they felt quite entitled to receiving them, no matter how brief our acquaintance, or how few their merits. Her reply was puzzling, but then again, I had but little experience of humility.
"Oh, don't fall back on over-modesty!" said I. "I have examined Adèle, and find you have taken great pains with her. She is not bright, she has no talents, yet in a short time she has made much improvement."Sir, you have given me my "cadeau"; I am obliged to you: it is the mead teachers most covet—praise of their pupils progress," she said in a voice so soft that I had to strain to listen. Then she lifted a daring eye into my face and then looked away. All I could utter in response was "Humph!" Slightly nettled, I took my tea in silence for a minute or two. Now my curiosity was piqued, and thus began my conversation, or rather, my interrogation of, her.
Chapter 6: The Interrogation of Jane Eyre (Click here.)