My mind then turned to less agreeable, truly odious thoughts. As much as I hated doing so, I knew that I would have to summon Mrs. Poole, as was my custom upon arriving from my travels. So later that afternoon, after having attended to business all day, I called for her. She entered the library closing the door behind her.
"How are you, Mrs. Poole?"
Mrs. Poole did not immediately respond, but beheld me, standing there quite stolidly with her hands clasped behind her back. Presently she said in that flat voice of hers, "Never better, thank you, sir. I did hear of your arrival. I hope that all is well with you, sir." Though she looked straight at my face, her colourless eyes did not meet mine.
My temper flared, but my voice remained relatively calm as I replied, "Mrs. Poole, if you are reproaching me for not coming to see your charge immediately upon my arrival, you are very much in error, for as you see, I cannot very well hobble up to the third storey with this sprain to my ankle." She briefly looked down to view it but said nothing, confirming the ever so slight edge of reproach I detected in her. There was an uncomfortable silence for a minute or two during which we did not look at each other.
"And your charge?" My voice trailed off. Mrs. Pool had not notified me of anything untoward concerning her patient's state while I was abroad, so I did not suppose that anything was wrong, but I dreaded hearing any report about her, whether good or bad. I only wished to hear that my burden had been lifted off my shoulders, that she was no more.
"Tolerable, sir." Her visage revealed nothing.
My eyes finally meeting hers, I declared sternly, "I do not take delight in half phrases. Please explain to me now exactly the true state of affairs concerning your patient." It appeared that Mrs. Poole took delight in vexing me by speaking as little as possible, but sensing that she had passed the boundaries of my forbearance, she turned to gaze upon a painting on the wall, and in a firm but distant tone told me, "By 'tolerable', sir, I meant that I can yet manage her, but . . . . " She stopped for a moment, her face still. My impatience was rising by the second-- I wanted this interview to end quickly. I could not endure her start and stop manner of speech.
"She is becoming ever harder to control, sir. I cannot stop her constant laughter, shrieking, rants, scratching and pacing about, and especially her violent outbreaks; surely, I have no doubt that some have heard her. I can hardly restrain her now that she's grown ever so more corpulent these past months. How cunning she's become, for she tries to hide knives and other sharp objects in her bedclothes or any other dark spot." For the first time since I knew her, she let out an uncharacteristic sigh.
"Mrs. Poole," I declared, "I cannot risk exposure of any kind—that is quite impossible; I pay you well enough I daresay. Do anything that you can think of, short of harming her." I could not say more—I had spoken in a low whisper. I trembled, my teeth set on edge, my hands clenched into tight fists. I saw nothing, though my eyes were open. My whole organism longed to escape that very instant, to flee to some other world.
Then, within seconds, I regained mastery over myself. I looked to find Grace Poole's cool stone eyes fixed upon me again. Since our acquaintance I knew that this impassive woman with the common pock-marked face had power over me, to destroy all hope of happiness forever. Though I knew that she was not a bad sort, I could not risk the tragic blunder of offending her. I paid her well, God knows, better that any of my dependents, save for my agent, but I surmised that Mrs. Poole's travails were mounting, and that not even one hundred pounds per annum could compensate her for her trouble.
"Mr. Rochester, sir, when do you think that you will come up to see her?" She dared not use the customary familial term to describe hr charge's relationship to me.
"Soon," was all I said, but in a tone so resentful and severe, that she dared not ask any more questions."Thank you, you may go," I did not look at her but fixed my eyes on the globe positioned adjacent to my desk. To be anywhere but here, even if it were at the bottom of the ocean, was my greatest wish. I knew not how long I spent in my anguished reverie, but when I looked up she was gone. I could not remain, but where to go? I had to do something to keep me from thinking of my abominable situation. I paced the room for some minutes when it occurred to me: to Hay I would go, to enjoy a pint of ale, perhaps a bit of Shepard's pie and a taste of cheese. I had not had this simple repast for many months; after eating rich French food, I wanted simple fare. Perchance I would meet up with old friends to divert my thoughts. So I immediately notified Mrs. Fairfax that I would not be dining at the Hall. There was a look of consternation on her otherwise kindly face. Perhaps the cook had already prepared supper for me, but no matter—I could not remain another instant. I called for my carriage, and we rode off as soon as the horses were harnessed.
Chapter 9: Broad of Chest and Long of Limb (Click here.)