For the next several days I was much engaged in business. My ankle had sufficiently recovered to allow me to ride my horse to Millcote to dine with neighbouring families from amongst the gentry. Seeing that I was away from Thornfield during most days, and returning late in the evening, I saw little of the household with the exception of Mrs. Fairfax who apprised me everyday of household business and goings on.
Of Adèle and Miss Eyre I saw but little, mostly in the gallery or in the hallway or stairs. Sometimes I would pass them without saying a word, as I did not want to force an acquaintance with Miss Eyre, although I wondered if she ever thought about me at all. At times she sat on the window seat in the gallery looking down to the garden below, or seemed so absorbed in drawing or reading books taken from the library, that I thought I could silently glide past her and escape her notice; but suddenly her eyes, like those of a large, wise bird, lifted up and met mine, taking in every dimension of my physical being, watchful, instantly ascertaining whether I was gloomy or gregarious that day. Then, just as quickly she would respectfully lower her gaze as was proper with her dependent position and return to what she was doing as if I was not there anymore. She greeted me only if I first greeted her—revealing a quiet smile and the appearance of those aforementioned dimples. Indeed, for several days I did not see her, though I knew she was about, judging from the books she left on the window seat awaiting her perusal.
As promised, I invited some gentlemen from Millcote and Roger Hartstone to dine with me. Before setting out to Millcote with these gentlemen to attend a public meeting that evening, I requested that the cook prepare a special meal for the occasion. During my absence, I had sent her to London to be instructed by a French chef and was desirous to taste the fruits of her labours. The gentlemen were not disappointed. Even Hartstone, who preferred kidney pie to duck comfit pronounced it a capital meal.
Afterwards we retired to the drawingroom where I gave each of the gentlemen present Havana cigars for them to enjoy with their port before setting out to Millcote. The conversation turned, as it invariably did, to the subject of ladies, and most particularly to what they supposed were my old bachelor ways, and their determination that I quit them as soon as possible. To this I replied, "Well gentlemen, judging from the look on your red faces, I can see that the sacred noose is half-strangling you all. Seeing that misery loves company, I must beg off, happy as I am, unencumbered and free to go as I please—mind you, the only lady who has a say in my affairs is Mrs. Fairfax, and she is blind and deaf, a fine thing in a woman.''
"Hear! Hear!" the gentlemen cried. The wine had taken its effect and even the weakest jest was uproarious. Then, one of the gentlemen present added, "What you need, Rochester, is a tall beautiful woman to drive you into a fine madness."
The merest trace of a shadow came over my features, I am sure, but I managed to reply, "Perhaps you mean one of Hartstone's fair daughters." With mock innocence, I wanted to nettle Hartstone for his inquisition of me of the week before. Hartstone laughed the loudest and winked at me, though his eye read jesting is all good and well, Rochester, but I assure you that you will certainly not have any daughter of mine. We stared at each other but for a moment, but in that instant I knew what he thought of me. I winked back, letting him know that I quite agreed with him.
"What Rochester needs," remarked another gentlemen present, "is an accomplished lady. Rochester has seen much of the world. He cannot have a country lass—," to which Hartstone interjected a "blessed be The Almighty!" which made their bellies quake in their waistcoats.
"What of Miss Blanche Ingram?" asked the same gentleman continuing in his same reckless course. "I do believe that she would make a fine mistress for Thornfield Hall and is most eligible."
How could I forget the Honorable Blanche Ingram? Yes, she was tall, dark and beautiful, but she was the spoiled and indulged offspring of an indolent father and a pompous overbearing mother who was all too eager to promote their eldest daughter on the Marriage Market. No one but the highest bidder would do, and for some years I had been the designated blockhead with the largest purse who was most likely to succumb to her practised and stale charms. Little did they know that Miss Ingram bored me exceedingly.
I smiled but said nothing. This did not go unobserved by Hartstone who I knew was drawing his own conclusions about my feelings on the subject.This, however, brought another thought to his mind, so he asked, "Speaking of accomplished, how is that little governess of yours?"
Chapter 13: Weather Most Foul (Click here.)