Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre: Ch. 16

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Chapter XVI

I both wished and feared to see Mr. Rochester on the day which followed this sleepless night: I wanted to hear his voice again, yet feared to meet his eye.  During the early part of the morning, I momentarily expected his coming; he was not in the frequent habit of entering the schoolroom, but he did step in for a few minutes sometimes, and I had the impression that he was sure to visit it that day.

But the morning passed just as usual: nothing happened to interrupt the quiet course of Adèle’s studies; only soon after breakfast, I heard some bustle in the neighbourhood of Mr. Rochester’s chamber, Mrs. Fairfax’s voice, and Leah’s, and the cook’s—that is, John’s wife—and even John’s own gruff tones.  There were exclamations of “What a mercy master was not burnt in his bed!”  “It is always dangerous to keep a candle lit at night.”  “How providential that he had presence of mind to think of the water-jug!”  “I wonder he waked nobody!”  “It is to be hoped he will not take cold with sleeping on the library sofa,” &c.

To much confabulation succeeded a sound of scrubbing and setting to rights; and when I passed the room, in going downstairs to dinner, I saw through the open door that all was again restored to complete order; only the bed was stripped of its hangings.  Leah stood up in the window-seat, rubbing the panes of glass dimmed with smoke.  I was about to address her, for I wished to know what account had been given of the affair: but, on advancing, I saw a second person in the chamber—a woman sitting on a chair by the bedside, and sewing rings to new curtains.  That woman was no other than Grace Poole.

There she sat, staid and taciturn-looking,w as usual, in her brown stuff gown, her check apron, white handkerchief, and cap.  She was intent on her work, in which her whole thoughts seemed absorbed: on her hard forehead, and in her commonplace features, was nothing either of the paleness or desperation one would have expected to see marking the countenance of a woman who had attempted murder, and whose intended victim had followed her last night to her lair, and (as I believed), charged her with the crime she wished to perpetrate.  I was amazed—confounded.  She looked up, while I still gazed at her: no start, no increase or failure of colour betrayed emotion, consciousness of guilt, or fear of detection.  She said “Good morning, Miss,” in her usual phlegmaticw and briefw manner; and taking up another ring and more tape, went on with her sewing.

“I will put her to some test,” thought I: “such absolute impenetrability is past comprehension.”

“Good morning, Grace,” I said.  “Has anything happened here?  I thought I heard the servants all talking together a while ago.”

“Only master had been reading in his bed last night; he fell asleep with his candle lit, and the curtains got on fire; but, fortunately, he awoke before the bed-clothes or the wood-work caught, and contrived to quench the flames with the water in the ewer.”w

“A strange affair!” I said, in a low voice: then, looking at her fixedly—“Did Mr. Rochester wake nobody?  Did no one hear him move?”

She again raised her eyes to me, and this time there was something of consciousness in their expression.  She seemed to examine me warily; then she answered—

“The servants sleep so far off, you know, Miss, they would not be likely to hear.  Mrs. Fairfax’s room and yours are the nearest to master’s; but Mrs. Fairfax said she heard nothing: when people get elderly, they often sleep heavy.”  She paused, and then added, with a sort of assumed indifference, but still in a marked and significant tone—“But you are young, Miss; and I should say a light sleeper: perhaps you may have heard a noise?”

X [w] staid and taciturn-looking,

Fixed and silent, uncommunicative.

X [w] phlegmatic

Sluggish, slow in response; imperturbable. Phlegm is one of the four humours. (Search).

X [w] brief

Of few words, laconic.

X [w] ewer.”

Things

Pitcher with a large mouth for pouring into a wash-basin.