فصل 11

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فصل 11

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CHAPTER ELEVEN

The Thornfield house-party

Two disappointing weeks passed before we heard from Mr. Rochester again. During this time I tried hard to forget my feeling for him. I reminded myself that he paid me to teach Adele, nothing more, and that no other relationship could exist between us. When his letter finally came, Mrs. Fairfax announced with great excitement that he was planning a house-party at Thornfield. He was going to return in three days’ time, and had invited a large number of ladies and gentlemen to stay for several days. We all worked extremely hard in the next few days, cleaning all the rooms and preparing the food.

The only person in the house who did not appear excited was Grace Poole, who stayed in her room upstairs, coming down once a day for food and drink. None of the servants seemed at all curious about her, but I once heard two of the maids talking, and I listened when I caught her name.

‘Does Grace Poole earn a lot, then?’ asked one.

‘Oh yes, five times what you and I earn!’ answered the other.

‘But she’s good at the work, I expect,’ said the first.

‘Ah! She understands what she has to do, that’s true,’ answered the second, ‘and not everyone would want to do her job, not even for all that money!’

‘Quite right! I wonder whether the master-‘ Suddenly they saw me and broke off their conversation.

‘Doesn’t she know?’ I heard one of them whisper,

‘No,’ said the other, and they were silent. So I realized there was a secret at Thornfield, which nobody wanted to tell me.

At last the great day came. Everything was ready for the master and his guests. Adele and I watched from an upstairs window as the carriages arrived. In front rode Mr. Rochester on his black horse, and with him rode a beautiful lady, her black curls streaming in the wind. ‘Blanche Ingram!’ I thought. We listened to the laughing and talking in the hall, as the guests were welcomed by their host and his housekeeper. From a dark corner of the stairs we admired the ladies as they went up to their rooms, and then again as they descended to dinner in their elegant evening dresses. Adele was hoping Mr. Rochester would call her down to meet the guests, but in the end she was so tired with all the excitement that she and I both went to bed early.

Next morning after breakfast the whole group went out for the day. Again I saw Mr. Rochester and Blanche Ingram riding together. I pointed this out to Mrs. Fairfax.

‘You see, Mr. Rochester clearly prefers her to any of the other ladies.’

‘Yes, he does seem to admire her,’ admitted the housekeeper.

‘And she admires him. Notice how she looks at him! But I haven’t really seen her face yet. I’d like to.’

‘You’ll see her tonight,’ answered Mrs. Fairfax. ‘I mentioned to the master that Adele wanted to be introduced to the ladies, and he asked you to bring her down to meet them this evening.’

‘Well, I’ll go if he wants me to, but I don’t like meeting strangers. I’m not used to it.’

‘I understand how you feel,’ said the old lady kindly, ‘but the guests won’t notice you much, and you can easily escape after a short time.’

So Adele and I, dressed in our best, were waiting as the ladies came into the sitting-room after dinner. I was most impressed by the beauty and elegance of all of them, but was especially fascinated by the Ingram family. Lady Ingram, although between forty and fifty, was still a fine woman. Her hair still looked black, by candle light at least, and her teeth still seemed perfect. But she had fierce, proud eyes, that reminded me of aunt Reed’s, and a hard, powerful voice. Her daughter Mary was rather quiet, but her other daughter Blanche was very different. As soon as the gentlemen came into the room and coffee was served, she became the centre of attention. She played the piano excellently, she sang sweetly, she discussed intelligently, and all the time her flashing eyes, rich black curls and fine figure attracted glances from every gentleman in the room.

But I was looking for someone else. The last time I had seen him, on the night of the fire, he had held my hands, told me I had saved his life, and looked at me as if he loved me. How close we had been then! But now, he entered the room without even looking at me, and took a seat with the ladies. I could not stop looking at him, rather like a thirsty man who knows the water is poisoned but cannot resist drinking. I had never intended to love him. I had tried hard to destroy all feelings of love for him, but now that I saw him again, I could not stop myself loving him. I compared him to the other gentlemen present. They were all fine, handsome men, but they did not have his power, his character, his strength, or indeed his deep laugh or his gentle smile. I felt that he and I were the same sort of person, that there was something in my brain and heart, in my blood and bone, that connected me to him for ever. And although I knew I must hide my feelings, must never allow myself to hope, I also knew that while there was breath in my body, I would always love him.

Just then I heard Blanche Ingram say to him,

‘Mr. Rochester, you should have sent that little girl - Adele, is that her name? - to school, but I see you have a governess for her. I saw a strange little person with her just now. Has she gone? Oh no, there she is on the window-seat. It’s very foolish of you, you know. Governesses aren’t worth their salary, are they, Mamma?’

‘My dear, don’t mention governesses to me!’ cried Lady Ingram, holding a white hand to her forehead. ‘How I have suffered with them!’ One of the older ladies whispered to her, pointing in my direction.

‘Oh, I don’t care if she hears me!’ said Lady Ingram. ‘All governesses are useless. They never teach children anything.’

‘What fun we used to have, playing tricks on them, didn’t we, Mary?’ laughed Blanche. ‘But governesses are boring. Let’s change the subject. Mr. Rochester, will you sing with me?’

‘With pleasure,’ he answered, bowing, and the group moved towards the piano. This was the moment for me to escape, but I had only just left the sitting-room and reached the hall, when Mr. Rochester appeared through another door.

‘Come back, you’re leaving too early,’ he said to me.

‘I’m tired, sir.’ He looked at me for a minute.

‘And a little depressed. Why? Tell me.’

‘Nothing - it’s nothing, sir. I’m not depressed.’

‘But I think you are. You’re almost crying. But I haven’t got time now to discover the reason. Well, tonight you may leave early, but I want to see you with my guests every evening. Good night, my-‘ He stopped, bit his lip, and turned quickly away.

Those were cheerful, busy days at Thornfield. The old house had never seen so much life and activity. When it was fine the host and his guests went riding, visited places of interest, and walked in the gardens, and when it was wet they played games indoors. Mr. Rochester and Blanche Ingram were always together. Observing them closely, I felt very sure that he would soon marry this fine lady. But I did not feel jealous, because I knew he did not love her. She had made every effort to attract him, but he had not given her his heart. I saw her faults very clearly. She was intelligent but had no opinions of her own. She was beautiful but not good. She spoke of feelings but she knew nothing of sympathy or pity. And above all she had her mother’s pride and hardness. Other eyes apart from mine saw all these faults. Mr. Rochester himself knew she was not perfect, but he was clearly preparing to marry her, perhaps because she was of good family, perhaps for some other reason.

One day when Mr. Rochester was out alone on business, a stranger arrived in a carriage, and introduced himself as an old friend of the master’s. His name was Mason, and he had just returned from the West Indies, where Mr. Rochester had once lived.

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