"Rochester! Back from your travels I see."
"Hartstone, there's a good fellow! How are you? Come sit and have a pint with me." Immediately he sat across me, and ordered a pint of ale.
"How long has it been, Rochester? I haven't seen you in these parts in quite a while."
"It's been over a year," I replied somewhat curtly, not desiring to continue on the subject of my frequent absences from Thornfield.
"So, tell me," I enquired as I stared at his massive arms, "How are the Missus and that fine family of yours?"
"They are all hearty, thank you. 'Twas grand to have you for supper that evening. The family speaks of it still. We have often wondered where you have roamed to now, you and your gypsy ways. I am rather surprised to see you in these parts. They say you are never here during the wintertime."
He cast an appraising eye over me, and said, "Aye, still as gloomy looking as ever I see. I know what will take those thunderclouds off of that face."
Surprisingly, I heard myself laughing quite heartily at his remark, for I could see that he had not changed a whit; Hartstone rarely measured his words, but spoke his mind forthrightly, never considering if he offended or not, which was hardly the case, for he made it a point to speak thus to those he liked. Ordinarily, he never bothered with people he hated, so I was not insensible to the compliment.
"Rochester, for a chap who's traveled the world, you have never brought back the best thing a man can possess."
"And pray what is that," I asked with a marked lack of enthusiasm.
"A wife, dear man, a wife."
"So says you. No, I have not found a wife, how can I? When you have taken the best of the lot." I hoped to draw attention away from a subject I did not want broached.
He smiled broadly at my compliment, revealing a set of unusually strong teeth. "My Mary will be most pleased to hear you say so, but frankly, Rochester, I cannot understand this fascination for foreigners. If you want my opinion, English maidens are best." I saw that I had not succeeded, and I quickly looked at him; perhaps he had heard certain rumours about me, but I saw that he was merely expressing an opinion.
He continued. "The problem with all of you great men is that you want nothing more than fine ladies without once considering if the object of your esteem has anything fine therein."
"Let me assure you, my good man, I am wealthy enough and I do not need to buy a fine lady or a purse to display as a trophy or to enlarge my fortune. I will only take to my bosom one who will have true affection for me, ugly and gloomy as I am."
"I am glad to hear it. Of course, no doubt you will have to marry a lady, because a farmer's daughter would never have you," he laughed at his own joke, a little startled by his impertinence, then took a long draft of ale. He continued along the same thread.
"I strongly advise you, Rochester, that whatever lady you choose, that she be a great lady, not just an expensive one."
"'Strongly advise?'" Yes, Farmer Hartstone, you are quite right. I will first call upon you to examine the lady's teeth and see if she suits me, for I have heard that you are an excellent judge of horse flesh." At this Hartstone put down his ale and chuckled. Slapping my shoulder in a brotherly fashion, he remonstrated. "Come now, Rochester, I can only imagine your taste in ladies: buxom, dark and heroic like yourself, but that would be most tiresome. What you need is a foil, not someone to match you, would you not agree?"
"Proceed by all means, since you are all knowing in these matters, and take such interest in my affairs. Whom do you suggest, pray? Nabel's Abigail, or even someone like my mother, perhaps?" I thought that now he was on the verge of talking nonsense.
For once, Hartstone looked at me most earnestly, and in a quiet tone replied, "Yes, someone like your dear mother may her soul rest, since you yourself have mentioned her."
I was annoyed at myself for having mentioned her, for I saw that Hartstone used it to his advantage. "A foil you say, yes I can see that. My mother was a saint and you are inferring that I am a sinner—that a little religious persuasion will set me to right, eh?"
"Precisely," he smiled, looking at me boldly, his thick brows raised. Then suddenly, his voice changed to one of seriousness. "A lady such as your mother could make a human out of you. Mrs. Rochester was never above her company, even if she was mistress of Thornfield Hall. Perhaps you were not aware, Rochester, but she was a great friend to my own dear mother, and would invite to take tea, and never failed to pay her compliments whenever she'd ride by our farm in her carriage. I heard that she was kind and generous to the poor, distributing provisions during wintertime. A woman as good as she would set you to right, I daresay."
It had been many years since I had heard any mention of her at all, much less such words spoken concerning her, so his kind remarks touched my heart, even if he informed me that I was somehow less than human.
"Well said, Hartstone, you have proved your point, but I doubt that any truly great lady will take an interest in me, and if a lady does take an interest, it will only be for the sake of my purse." I had spoken unguardedly.
"No, my dear fellow, you are quite wrong. I am sure that you will indeed find this great lady of yours—of that I have no doubt."I could see that Hartstone felt genuine compassion for me, but to assuage my pride, he now changed the subject, for we now talked of mundane matters: the bounty of the last harvest, his son's betrothal, and the improvements he planned to make to his farm. Finishing his ale, he stood up to full height, shook my hand, and told me how glad he was to have taken a pint with me. I asked him to give my regards to his wife and family, and invited him to dine with me at Thornfield in a week's time together with some gentlemen from Millcote. He most happily consented to my invitation, and with no further ado bid me goodbye. On his way out, I observed that some of the patrons, including Mr. Haddock, greeted him with the kind of respect usually reserved for a mayor, or some other important personage. It then occurred to me that while I had the riches, he had the consequence. Other than my wealth and the name of Rochester, I was nothing more than an absentee landlord, and though generous, was not present long enough a time to earn any real respect from my tenants and neighbours. My wretched state had not only robbed me of happiness with a loving mate and children to inherit my earthly possessions, but had also took away the regard and esteem from the world at large, something no amount of gold could truly ever purchase. Hartstone, in his blunt, yet friendly manner, had reminded me that I was remiss in my duties as master of Thornfield, that I had obligations toward others, not just myself. Therefore, despite my old name and property, in my deepest heart I knew that I had failed utterably, that I was not the great man Hartstone had hoped that I would be.
Chapter 11: Anne Fairfax Rochester (Click here.)