It was cold outside, but I felt better as soon as I sat back on the cushions of the carriage, silent, allowing the rhythmic trotting of the horses to lull me into something like calmness. The beauty from the morning was undiminished. The sky was still cloudless but had now turned a deep blue, the snow was soft, radiant, glowing in the early evening as the sun almost finished its final descent, just as the moon was making its appearance at the other end of the starry firmament. Except for the horses, all was still and silent. I heard no bird, no wind, no rustling of trees.
Hay was only a mile off, and we soon arrived at the Rochester Arms. Due to my constant travelling, I was seldom seen in the village, so I was welcomed quite as the Prodigal Son who had finally returned home, with a hearty greeting from Mr. and Mrs. Haddock, the proprietor and his stout and merry wife. They sat me at a table beside the fire, and before I knew it, a pint of most excellent ale was placed by my elbow, my food served by a fleet-footed little serving wench. I rewarded her with a pretty coin, and she rewarded me with a bonny smile, which made me temporarily forget my woes. For now, I was happy to be back in my own country with my neighbours. They were simple folk without pretense—a better and honest people could not found, as good as any in England.
As I drank my ale, I noticed a man staring at me across the way. He wore farmer's garb, with blond hair and a weather beaten face. He seemed vaguely familiar until he removed his hat and smiled at me, and then I recognised him instantly. His name was Roger Hartstone, who owned a large tidy farm not far from Hay. He was a man of open countenance and of a friendly demeanor, long of limb and broad of chest, extraordinarily strong. I heard that he once saved a man who was pinned under a wagon by lifting it up almost singlehandedly. Most of the neighbouring gentry took no notice of him, thinking that he was all brawn and small brains, but having known him since we were boys, I knew him to be a shrewd sensible man, and though sent by his father to be educated, never did relinquish the life or habits of a farmer. Not given to standing on ceremony with anyone, he never referred to me as "sir", not even as "Mr. Edward", but simply as Rochester. I might have been irritated by his irreverence, but I saw the he meant no disrespect, it was just his way. I suppose that he did not feel the necessity, his being fully aware of other powers, which not even his lack of rank could diminish.
The last time we met was when he invited me to his home for supper when I was last at Thornfield. There I met Mrs. Hartstone, his amiable wife and their six handsome children, four boys and two girls. The boys were almost as tall as their father was, and were bound to follow in his steps. Their daughters, though young yet, were also tall, strong maidens, pretty as their mother, with yellow hair and bright blue eyes.
I enjoyed the simple but tasty meal that had been prepared in my honor. The family, especially the younger Hartstones, were eager to learn of my travels, the strange people I had met with, the exotic locales whose weather and landscapes were so different to England's; the ladies wanted to hear of Paris and Rome, the men of Constantinople and of the Holy Land. It was a pleasure to recount my adventures to a group so enthralled, hanging, it seemed, on my every word. They had not the blasé expressions I had observed among the well traveled of my own class, who, like me, had lost their wonder at experiencing new sights and situations.
After supper, Mariah, the younger of the two daughters, played the harp as prettily as I ever heard played. Then, to their surprise and delight, I played a reel on their piano whilst the rest of the party danced, including Hartstone and his wife. Later the ladies excused themselves for the evening, followed by Andrew, the eldest son, who remarked that he had to wake up early to attend to a mare that was about to foal, leaving Hartstone and myself free to enjoy a glass of his fine port. After an hour or so spent in private conversation, I called for my horse and rode home to my stone prison.On the way back, I occurred to me that I had passed the most agreeable evening that I had spent in many a while. All was peace, tranquility, and good will in that household. I could not but help but remark on the distinction between our classes. Among the farmers there was no ostentation, only simplicity and genuine hospitality, which was in sharp contrast to the members of my own class, who, for the most part, delighted in the sport of one-upmanship, each trying to outdo the other, whether it be the men who bragged about their fortunes or fine houses, or the women who showed off their fine frocks or jewels. Hartstone did not possess one quarter of my fortune, yet I truly envied him and his happy situation. However, I understood that his way of life was no accident, for he had made the right choices, whereas I had strayed onto the wrong path and had degenerated as a result. He paid me a great honor by inviting me to his home, although I was undeserving of such attention. I knew that my own way of life was unnatural and empty. So there and then, riding Mesrour with only the moonlight as my guide, I decided that I could not remain as I was; I either had to change my life and my situation or I would die, at least inwardly. Hartstone did not realise what he had set off in me, for I later left England for the Continent determined to clean house as it were, to accomplish something which I should have done long ago. Upon my arrival, I promptly disengaged myself from my mistress and severed ties to all parasitic hangers-on and other inferiors. Consequently, I was alone in my villa, with only the housekeeper and Pilot for companions. Finally, I felt free, as only a man in my situation could, but I was weary, for I did not feel even the remotest chance of happiness was within my reach.
Chapter 10: A Wife, Dear Man, A Wife (Click here.)