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11 The Thornfield house-party

 

  T wo 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 Adèle,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,live 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 house-keeper 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.Adèle 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 Adèle 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 Adèle 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-Adèle,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 in 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.l'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.

 

11 特恩费得家庭晚会

 

  令人失望的两星期过去了,我们终于得到罗切斯特先生的消息。这期间我努力忘掉自己对他的情感。我提醒自己他付钱雇我是计我教阿黛拉,我们之间不可能再有别的其他关系。他的信终于到了,费尔法斯太太激动地宣布他打算在特恩费得举办家庭晚会。他三天后回来,邀请了许多女士先生在这里小住几日,以后几天里,大家打扫房间,准备食物,干得非常卖力。

  家里唯一不显得激动的人就是格丽丝·普尔。她待在楼上的房间里,每天下来一次取吃的喝的。似乎没有一个仆人对她表示好奇,但有一次我听到两个女仆说话,提到她的名字,便听了起来。

  “那格丽丝·普尔挣得多吗?”一个问。

  “噢,当然,是你我挣的五倍。”另一个回答说。

  “不过我想她干得不错。”第一个又说。

  “啊,她明白自己该干什么,这没错儿的,”第二个答道,“而且不是每个人都愿于她那份差事,给那么多钱也不会干。”

  “没错儿。我不知道主人是否……”突然她们看见我,中止了对话。

  “她不知道吗?”我听见其中一个悄悄说。

  “不知道。”另一个说,而且两人都不说话了。因此我意识到特思费得有一个秘密,谁都不想告诉我。

  重大的日子终于来临,为宾主准备的东西已一切就绪。我和阿黛拉透过楼上的窗户看到马车驶来。前面是骑着黑马的罗切斯特,在他身边同行的是一位漂亮的女士,黑色的鬈发随风飘舞。“布朗蒂·英格姆。”我心想。我们听到大厅里充满欢声笑语,主人和管家正忙着迎接客人。我们躲在楼梯的暗处,羡慕着那些上楼走进各自房间的女士们,又在她们穿着优雅的晚装重新下楼用晚餐时欣赏着她们。阿黛拉希望罗切斯特先生会叫她下去见客人,但最后她兴奋得累了,我们俩都早早睡下了。

  第二天一早吃过早饭后,所有人都外出了。我又一次看到罗切斯特和英格姆并驾齐驱。我跟费尔法斯太太提到了这点。

  “你瞧,罗切斯特先生显然更喜欢她,而不是其他女士。”

  “是的,他的确似乎很仰慕她。”管家赞同道。

  “也仰慕。你瞧她是怎么看着他的!可我还没看清她的脸。我真想看看。”

  “你今晚能见到她。”费尔法斯太太说,“我跟主人说阿黛拉想见见那些女士们,他让你今晚带她下楼来见她们。”

  “好吧,如果他让我去我就去。不过我不喜欢见生人,我不习惯。”

  “我了解你的感受。”老太太和善地说,“不过客人们不会太注意你,你过一会儿就可以很容易地溜走。”

  于是我和阿黛拉穿上最好的衣服,静等女士们晚饭后到客厅来。我被她们所有人的美丽和优雅打动,更被英格姆一家打动。英格姆夫人尽管已经四五十岁,仍然保持着风采。她的头发看上去依然是黑的,至少在烛光下如此,她的牙齿似乎仍是那么光洁。但她的目光严厉而傲慢,让我想起里德舅妈的那种目光,说起话来声音又硬又有力。她的女儿玛丽非常文静,但另一个千金布朗蒂就完全不一样了。先生们刚进门,咖啡刚端上,她就成了大家注意的中心。她弹得一手好钢琴,歌喉甜美,谈吐机智,眨动着的大眼睛、浓密的黑色鬈发和纤巧的身躯一直吸引着屋里每个男人的目光。

  可是,我在找另一个人。我最后一次见到他时,是在那个起火的晚上,他曾握着我的双手,告诉我我救了他的命,而且看着我,好像他爱我一样。那时我们离得多近啊!但是现在他走进来甚至没看我一眼,就坐到了女士们中间。我不能不看着他,就像一个口干舌燥的人明知水有毒但还是要喝。我从没想过要爱他,也尽力毁掉自己对他的爱慕之情。然而现在我又见到了他,我不能让自己不爱他。我把他和在场的其他先生进行比较。他们都很优雅、英俊,但缺少他的威力、个性和力量,也没有深沉的大笑和温柔的微笑。我觉得他和我是一类人,在我的脑中、心中,在我的血中、骨中,已经有什么东西把我和他永远联系在一起了。尽管我知道我必须掩盖自己的情感,永远不允许自己有所希冀,但我也清楚只要我的身体中一息尚存,我就会永远爱他。

  这时,我听到布朗蒂·英格姆对他说:

  “罗切斯特先生,你应该已把这个小女孩——阿黛拉是她的名字吧?——送进学校,可我看到你却为她请了一位家庭教师。刚才我见到一个小怪人和她在一起。她走了吗?噢,没有,她就坐在窗户那儿。你知道,你很傻。家庭教师根本不值那么多工资,妈妈,是不是?”

  “亲爱的,别跟我提家庭教师。”英格姆夫人叫道,用白净的手抚住了额头。“我受尽了她们的罪。”一位上年纪的女士指着我的方向悄声对她说着什么。

  “噢,我才不管她是否能听见我呢!”英格姆夫人说。“所有的家庭教师都没用,她们从来不教什么给孩子。”

  “我们拿她们开心,真是高兴,玛丽,是不是?”布朗蒂笑道,“不过家庭教师乏味得很,我们换个话题吧!罗切斯特先生,你和我一起唱歌吧。”

  “乐意从命。”他躬身答道,大家都来到钢琴边。是我溜走的时候了。可我刚刚走出客厅来到大厅,罗切斯特先生就从另一扇门中走了出来。

  “回来,你走得太早了。”他对我说。

  “先生,我累了。”他看了我一会儿。

  “还有点儿不高兴。为什么?告诉我。”

  “没什么,没有什么,先生。我没不高兴。”

  “可我觉得是,你都快哭了。现在我没时间搞清原因。好吧,今晚你可以早走一会儿,但我希望每晚都看到你和我的客人在一起。晚安,我的——”他停住了,咬着嘴唇,迅速转身走了。

  这几天特恩费得欢欢闹闹的。老房子从来没有像现在这样充满活力和生机。天好时,宾主一起骑马,停停看看,漫步花园;下雨时,他们就在室内玩游戏。罗切斯特先生和布朗蒂·英格姆小姐总是在一起。我仔细观察着他们,感到他很快就会娶这位漂亮的女士。但我并不嫉妒,因为我知道他不爱她。她使出浑身解数吸引他,但他没有把心交给她。我对她的缺点看得一清二楚。她聪明却毫无主见,她美丽却不善良,她奢谈感情却不懂得什么是同情和怜悯。最重要的是,她继承了母亲的强硬和傲慢。除我以外,其他人的眼睛也看到了这些缺点。罗切斯特先生自己也知道她不是完美的,但他显然准备娶她,也许是因为她有个好家庭,也许出于其他原因。

  一天,罗切斯特先生有事独自外出。一个陌生人乘马车来到这里,称自己是主人的老朋友。他的名字叫梅森,刚从西印度群岛归来,罗切斯特先生曾在那里住过。