Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre: Ch. 17

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Chapter XVII

A week passed, and no news arrived of Mr. Rochester: ten days, and still he did not come.  Mrs. Fairfax said she should not be surprised if he were to go straight from the Leas to London, and thence to the Continent, and not show his face again at Thornfield for a year to come; he had not unfrequently quitted it in a manner quite as abrupt and unexpected.  When I heard this, I was beginning to feel a strange chill and failing at the heart.  I was actually permitting myself to experience a sickening sense of disappointment; but rallying my wits, and recollecting my principles, I at once called my sensations to order; and it was wonderful how I got over the temporary blunder—how I cleared up the mistake of supposing Mr. Rochester’s movements a matter in which I had any cause to take a vital interest.  Not that I humbled myself by a slavish notion of inferiority: on the contrary, I just said—

“You have nothing to do with the master of Thornfield, further than to receive the salary he gives you for teaching his protégée, and to be grateful for such respectful and kind treatment as, if you do your duty, you have a right to expect at his hands.  Be sure that is the only tie he seriously acknowledges between you and him; so don’t make him the object of your fine feelings, your raptures, agonies, and so forth.  He is not of your order: keep to your caste,d and be too self-respecting to lavish the love of the whole heart, soul, and strength, where such a gift is not wanted and would be despised.”

I went on with my day’s business tranquilly; but ever and anon vague suggestions kept wandering across my brain of reasons why I should quit Thornfield; and I kept involuntarily framing advertisements and pondering conjectures about new situations: these thoughts I did not think to check; they might germinate and bear fruit if they could.

Mr. Rochester had been absent upwards of a fortnight, when the post brought Mrs. Fairfax a letter.

“It is from the master,” said she, as she looked at the direction.  “Now I suppose we shall know whether we are to expect his return or not.”

And while she broke the seal and perused the document, I went on taking my coffee (we were at breakfast): it was hot, and I attributed to that circumstance a fiery glow which suddenly rose to my face.  Why my hand shook, and why I involuntarily spilt half the contents of my cup into my saucer, I did not choose to consider.

“Well, I sometimes think we are too quiet; but we run a chance of being busy enough now: for a little while at least,” said Mrs. Fairfax, still holding the note before her spectacles.

Ere I permitted myself to request an explanation, I tied the string of Adèle’s pinafore, which happened to be loose: having helped her also to another bun and refilled her mug with milk, I said, nonchalantly—

“Mr. Rochester is not likely to return soon, I suppose?”

“Indeed he is—in three days, he says: that will be next Thursday; and not alone either.  I don’t know how many of the fine people at the Leasw are coming with him: he sends directions for all the best bedrooms to be prepared; and the library and drawing-rooms are to be cleaned out; I am to get more kitchen hands from the George Inn, at Millcote, and from wherever else I can; and the ladies will bring their maids and the gentlemen their valets: so we shall have a full house of it.”  And Mrs. Fairfax swallowed her breakfast and hastened away to commence operations.

X [d] caste,

Class

This is the second of four times that Jane will use this word instead of class. Caste is in her view rigid, class comparatively pliable.

Brontë is a citizen of the greatest imperial and colonial power on earth at the time, whose "crown jewel" is India. There "caste" means a stringently defined and segregated group of people who at that time had little significant contact with members of another caste, below or above. Class, however, in England is comparatively porous and fluid in the mid-19…

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X [w] the Leas

Places

The name of the estate; the word means meadowland, pasture, open ground. It's worth recalling that one model for Thornfield is North Lees.