Warning: Contains explicit content
A new chapter in a novel is something like a new scene in a play, and when I draw up the curtain this time, reader, you must fancy you see a room in the George Inn at Millcote, with such large figured papering on the walls as many inn rooms have, such a carpet, such furniture, such ornaments on the mantelpiece, such prints, including a portrait of George the Third, and another of the Prince of Wales, and a representation of the death of Wolfe.
All this is visible to you by the light of an oil lamp hanging from the ceiling, and by that of an excellent fire, near which I sit in my cloak and bonnet. My muff and umbrella lie on the table and I am warming away the numbness and chill contracted by sixteen hours’ exposure to the rawness of this October day. I left Lowton at four o’clock this morning and the Millcote town clock is now just striking eight.
Reader, though I look comfortably accommodated, I am not very tranquil in my mind. I thought when the coach stopped here there would be someone to meet me. I looked anxiously round as I descended the wooden steps, expecting to hear my name pronounced and to see a carriage waiting to convey me to Thornfield Hall.
Nothing of the sort was visible and when I asked a waiter if anyone had been to inquire after a Miss Eyre, I was answered in the negative. So I had no resource but to request to be shown into a private room. And here I am waiting, while all sorts of doubts and fears are troubling my thoughts.
It is a very strange sensation to inexperienced youth to feel itself quite alone in the world, cut adrift from every connection, uncertain whether the port to which it is bound can be reached, and prevented by many impediments from returning to that it has quitted. The charm of adventure sweetens that sensation, the glow of pride warms it, but then the throb of fear disturbs it.And fear with me became predomi nant when half an hour elapsed and still I was alone. I bethought myself to ring the bell.
‘Is there a place in this neighbourhood called Thornfield?’ I asked of the waiter who answered the summons.
‘Thornfield? I don’t know, ma’am. I’ll inquire at the bar.’ He vanished, but reappeared instantly.
‘Is your name Eyre, Miss?’
‘Person here waiting for you.’
I jumped up, took my muff and umbrella, and hastened into the inn-passage.A man was standing by the open door, and in the lamplit street I dimly saw a one-horse conveyance.
‘This will be your luggage, I suppose?’ said the man rather abruptly when he saw me, pointing to my trunk in the passage.
‘Yes.’ He hoisted it onto the vehicle, which was a sort of car, and then I got in. Before he shut me up, I asked him how far it was to Thornfield.
‘A matter of six miles.’
‘How long shall we be before we get there?’
‘Happen an hour and a half.’
He fastened the car door, climbed to his own seat outside, and we set off.
Our progress was leisurely, and gave me ample time to reflect. I was content to be at length so near the end of my journey, and as I leaned back in the comfortable though not elegant conveyance, I pulled the woollen blanket around me.
Before long, in a half doze, as the light faded, the gentle rhythm of the carriage awoke my senses and I found, having slipped downwards on the leather seat, that the underneath seam of my drawers was tugging at me in such a way that I latched onto the familiar sensation which so often had been a prelude to sleep in the dark dormitory at Lowood. In the privacy of the carriage, quite alone for the first time in as long as I could remember, and still on the very verge of sleep, my mind wandered back to the girls at the boarding school that I had just left and their soft embraces.
And as I reflected further, I remembered Bessie and how she had taught me her secret remedy to alleviate the disquiet of the mind, and how her swift fingers and thumb had massaged my young body into its first delight. I shifted beneath the blanket, half asleep and, arching my spine, braced myself against the narrow arm rests, pressing down against the hard leather ridge of the seat. Presently, as we entered a straight stretch of the road, the horse sped up and the carriage jiggled beneath me at such an agreeable speed that I was brought quickly to a pleasurable release.
Afterwards, feeling more relaxed and quite refreshed from this unexpected turn of events, I rearranged myself and meditated much at my ease.
‘I suppose,’ I thought, ‘judging from the plainness of the servant and carriage, Mrs Fairfax is not a very dashing person. So much the better, for I never lived amongst fine people but once, and I was very miserable with them. I wonder if she lives alone except for this little girl, and if so, whether she is in any degree amiable and I will be able to get on with her. I will do my best, although it is a pity that doing one’s best does not always answer. At Lowood, indeed, I took that resolution, kept it, and succeeded in pleasing those around me in all manner of ways, but with Mrs Reed, I remember my best was always spurned with scorn and spanking.
‘I pray God Mrs Fairfax may not turn out a second Mrs Reed, but if she does, I am not bound to stay with her. Let the worst come to the worst, I can advertise for the position of a governess again. How far are we on our road now, I wonder?’
I let down the window and looked out. Millcote was behind us, and judging by the number of its lights, it seemed a place of considerable magnitude, much larger than Lowton. We were now, as far as I could see, on a sort of common, but there were houses scattered all over the district. I felt we were in a different region to Lowood, more populous, less picturesque and certainly less romantic.
The roads were heavy, the night misty and when my conductor let his horse walk all the way, the hour and a half extended, I verily believe, to two hours. At last he turned in his seat and, knocking on the car, said, ‘You’re noan so far fro’ Thornfield now.’
About ten minutes after, the driver got down and opened a pair of gates. We passed through, and they clashed to behind us.We now slowly ascended a drive, and came upon the long front of a house. Candlelight gleamed from one curtained bow window, but all the rest were dark. The car stopped at the front door. It was opened by a maidservant. I alighted and went in.
‘Will you walk this way, ma’am?’ said the girl and I followed her across a square hall with high doors all round. She ushered me into a room whose double illumination of fire and candle at first dazzled me, contrasting as it did with the darkness to which my eyes had been for two hours inured. When I could see, however, a cosy and agreeable picture presented itself to my view.
A snug small room, a round table by a cheerful fire and an armchair, wherein sat the neatest imaginable little elderly lady, in widow’s cap, black silk gown and snowy muslin apron. Exactly like I had fancied Mrs Fairfax, only less stately and milder looking. She was occupied in knitting, whilst a large cat purred loudly at her feet. Nothing in short was wanting to complete the idyll of domestic comfort. A more reassuring introduction for a new governess could scarcely be conceived. There was no grandeur to overwhelm, no stateliness to embarrass. As I entered, the old lady got up and promptly and kindly came forward to meet me.
‘How do you do, my dear? I am afraid you have had a tedious ride. John drives so slowly. You must be cold. Come over to the fire.’
‘Not at all. Mrs Fairfax, I suppose?’ I said.
‘Yes, you are right. Do sit down.’
She conducted me to her own chair, and then began to remove my shawl and untie my bonnet strings. I begged she would not give herself so much trouble.
‘Oh, it is no trouble. I daresay your own hands are almost numbed with cold. Leah, make a little hot drink and cut a sandwich or two. Here are the keys of the storeroom.’
And she produced from her pocket a most housewifely bunch of keys, and delivered them to the servant.
‘She treats me like a visitor,’ I thought. ‘I little expected such a reception. I anticipated only coldness and stiffness. This is not at all how I have heard governesses are usually addressed.’
She returned and with her own hands cleared her knitting apparatus and a book or two from the table, to make room for the tray which Leah now brought, and then herself handed me the refreshments.
‘Shall I have the pleasure of seeing Miss Fairfax tonight?’ I asked, when I had partaken of what she offered me.
‘What did you say, my dear? I am a little deaf,’ returned the good lady, approaching her ear to my mouth.
I repeated the question more distinctly.
‘Miss Fairfax? Oh, you mean Miss Varens! Varens is the name of your future pupil.’
‘Indeed! Then she is not your daughter?’
‘No, no. I have no family.’
I should have followed up my first inquiry, by asking in what way Miss Varens was connected with her, but I recollected it was not polite to ask too many questions. Besides, I was sure to hear in time.
‘I am so glad,’ she continued, as she sat down opposite to me, and took the cat on her knee, ‘I am so glad you have come. It will be quite pleasant living here now with a companion.To be sure it is pleasant at any time, for Thornfield is a fine old hall, rather neglected of late years perhaps, but still it is a respectable place. Yet you know, in wintertime one feels dreary quite alone in the best quarters. I say alone – Leah is a nice girl to be sure, and John and his wife are very decent people, but then you see they are only servants, and one can’t converse with them on terms of equality. One must keep them at due distance, for fear of losing one’s authority. It was only at the commencement of this autumn that little Adèle Varens came with her nurse. A child makes a house alive all at once, and now you are here I shall be quite gay.’
My heart really warmed to the worthy lady as I heard her talk. I drew my chair a little nearer to her, and expressed my sincere wish that she might find my company as agreeable as she anticipated.
‘But I’ll not keep you sitting up late tonight. It is on the stroke of twelve now, and you have been travelling all day. You must feel tired. If you have got your feet well warmed, I’ll show you your bedroom. I’ve had the room next to mine prepared for you. It is only a small apartment, but I thought you would like it better than one of the large front chambers. To be sure they have finer furniture, but they are so dreary and solitary, I never sleep in them myself.’
I thanked her for her considerate choice, and as I really felt fatigued with my long journey, expressed my readiness to retire.
She took her candle, and I followed her from the room. First she went to see if the hall door was fastened. Having taken the key from the lock, she led the way upstairs. The steps and banisters were of oak and the staircase window was high and latticed. Both it and the long gallery into which the bedroom doors opened looked as if they belonged to a church rather than a house. A very chill and vault-like air pervaded the stairs and gallery, suggesting cheerless ideas of space and solitude. I was glad, when finally ushered into my chamber, to find it of small dimensions, and furnished in ordinary, modern style.
When Mrs Fairfax had bidden me a kind goodnight, and I had fastened my door, I gazed upon the cheerful aspect of my little room and I remembered that, after a day of bodily fatigue and mental anxiety, I was now at last in safe haven.
The impulse of gratitude swelled my heart and I knelt down at the bedside, and offered up thanks where thanks were due, not forgetting, ere I rose, to implore aid on my further path, and the power of meriting the kindness which seemed so frankly offered me before it was earned. At once weary and content, I slept soon and soundly.
When I awoke it was broad day. The chamber looked such a bright little place to me as the sun shone in between the gay blue chintz window curtains, showing papered walls and a carpeted floor, so unlike the bare planks and stained plaster of Lowood, that my spirits rose at the view.
Externals have a great effect on the young and I thought that a fairer era of life was beginning for me. One that was to have its flowers and pleasures, as well as its thorns and toils and faculties. Roused by the change of scene, my senses seemed all astir.
I stretched, feeling a new delight awaken in my body. So long accustomed to sleeping in the company of others, the soft silence of the room, the trill of birdsong faint beyond the window, made my excitement mount.
I threw back the counterpane, letting the sunlight fall on the thin muslin cloth of my nightgown, and I spread my limbs, sunbathing like a cat. As the steady warmth increased, I felt my hand falling to the soft pillow of my inner thigh.
Unlike yesterday in the carriage, I knew this morning that I had time at my disposal, and with this in mind, I closed my eyes, and found myself remembering Emma Wilby. After my dearest friend, Helen Burns, had died, it had been Emma with whom I had formed a deep attachment and I now reflected on how Emma would have loved this room, this space and solitude. Yet, at the same time I couldn’t help remembering how our exploration of one another had only been heightened by the illicitness of our encounters in the public spaces of Lowood.
Now I heard a gentle moan escape unbidden from my lips, as I remembered that first far distant day in the library, Emma’s face still etched in my mind, as she’d looked up at me from between my legs, her eyes glittering as they’d dared me to command her to stop. I’d sat on the edge of that hard teacher’s desk, my skirt hitched up around me, naked above my stocking tops, Emma’s long red hair tickling my thighs, hardly daring to breathe, knowing how close we were to being caught, but unable to move away. How I had trembled against her like a fluttering bird, but she’d only assured me not to be afraid.
I felt my hand languidly lifting my gown and straying to the place Emma had caressed so often, my fingers feeling my silken wet crevasse, remembering that first flicker of her tongue against my bud. I felt my sex warm in the sunlight through the window, opening like a flower, and my memory pulled me back to Emma and how I had braced against the desk, terrified and yet delighted in the shimmering dart of pleasure that she had ignited within me. How she’d spread me with her fingertips, holding back my damp, coiled pubic hair and lapped at me, and how the sound of my juices against her mouth had excited me beyond all measure, until I had implored her and, grabbing my hips, she’d pressed her mouth against me, sucking me harder, pulling me into her.
In the sunlight now, I pushed my finger inside my sex, feeling the warm, wet opening yielding, then pulling it out again to rub my engorged bud. Bucking up, my thighs tensing, I gasped, as with the memory of Emma’s flickering tongue, my head seemed to explode like a shattered mirror, shards of pleasure spinning with light.
Sated, I rose, my sex still throbbing in the aftermath of my pleasure. I dressed myself with care, although I was obliged to be plain, for I had no article of attire that was not made with extreme simplicity. Even so, I was still by nature solicitous to be neat.
It was not my habit to be disregardful of appearance or careless of the impression I made. On the contrary, I wished to look as well as I could, and to please as much as my want of beauty would permit. I sometimes regretted that I was not handsomer and I sometimes wished to have rosy cheeks, a straight nose and small cherry mouth. I desired to be tall, stately and finely developed in figure, with the kind of buxom full breasts that Emma had so proudly possessed. I felt it a misfortune that I was so little, so pale, and had features so irregular and so marked, although the pertness of my nipples and my buttocks had been held in high regard at Lowood by the other girls.
Why had I these aspirations and these regrets about my womanly faculties? It would be difficult to say. I could not then distinctly say it to myself, yet I had a reason, and a logical, natural reason too. My experience at Lowood was over. Helen, Emma, all the others had gone and I would never be in the company of those girls who had comforted me. I wondered how long I could sustain myself on their memory, for already they seemed to be slipping away like ghosts, leaving me with a new kind of yearning, but for what, I knew not. Cast out into this new adventure, with no experience other than those pale-limbed innocents, I felt unsure of the future and of this adult world to which I now belonged.
I felt confused, too.The bodily pleasures in which we girls had all delighted in the dormitory had been so commonplace as to indicate normalcy, yet in the two moments I alone had enjoyed since my departure from Lowood, the solitary secretiveness of my self-pleasure appeared, in retrospect, more shameful than I expected, and a creeping and unfamiliar sense of wrongdoing came upon me.
However, when I had brushed my hair, and smoothed the black frock over my slim waist – which, Quakerlike as it was, at least had the merit of fitting to a nicety – and adjusted my clean white tucker, I thought I should do respectably enough to appear before Mrs Fairfax, and that neither she nor my new pupil would ever guess my secret, or recoil from me with antipathy. Having opened my chamber window, and seen that I left all things straight and neat on the toilet table, I ventured forth.
Excerpted from Jane Eyre Laid Bare by Eve Sinclair. Copyright © 2012 by Eve Sinclair.
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