I suppose the first and best thing for me to record in this little book is my thanks to my dear “twice-adopted” cousin, Diana Fitzjames, for this, her kind gift to me. She has very rightly pointed out that while I am now quite a finished and accomplished young lady with all the other skills and abilities necessary to my position in life, my penmanship when I write in the English language is rather halting. For this gift, as she pointed out not only of the book but of the implied future practice and study it will aide me in, I am very grateful, and I look forward to many pleasant hours spent in such labour.
My name is Adèle Varens, and I am nineteen years old. I have recently returned from school at Dovecraft, in --shire, to my guardian's home at Fearndean. My guardian is Mr. Edward Fairfax Rochester, who was generous enough to take me in some years ago now. He and his wife, who still allows me to call her “Miss Jane” as I did when I was a girl, and their son, little Henry, and their family, are all the family I have.
Cousin Diana and her sister, Mary, who just married Mr. Wharton a few years ago, are Miss Jane's cousins. Sadly they have just lost their brother, St. John Rivers, who was a missionary in India. I never had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Rivers, but from their stories and descriptions of him, he seems to have been an excellent man and a Christian. Diana's husband is a Captain of the British Navy, and Mr. Wharton is a clergyman.
We also still hear from the family of Mrs. Fairfax, who is a relation of my guardian's on his mother's side. When I was a child she kept house for him, when we were still at Thornfield. Ferndean is not large enough to require a housekeeper, and Miss Jane enjoys her domestic responsibilities, so Mr. Rochester sent her back to her family with a comfortable annuity several years ago. Her hands have a tremor in the winters now, so her son corresponds with us on her behalf. She was very kind to me from the first day I met her, even though we did not share a language in common at the time, and I am quite attached to her still.
I must prepare for dinner, and put this down for now. I hope I may see an improvement in my penmanship from this inspiration of my Cousin Diana's, it was kind of her to think of me.
There, it has taken me three days of steady negotiation, but I have secured my privacy! Miss Jane has promised that from now on, seeing as I am quite an adult lady now, she will ask permission before entering my bedchamber. And here I will keep this book- in the clever false bottom of my writing-desk which Trudy Conrad taught us how to make at Dovecraft. Since I have a few nice, polite, terribly English pages in the front, and will keep it carefully hidden away from now on, that means that now I finally have a place for my own thoughts!
Oh, Miss Jane had suggested a diary years ago, but she always insisted that little girls' diaries are for penmanship practice, and therefore she would have to peruse it regularly to correct me. And I certainly could not imagine writing nice, staid, polite pages like the ones at the front of this book (which sound so like the quaint little speeches that Miss Jane is forever coming out with- I do love her dearly, but really, the things she says!), day after day for years! Much better to copy books and Bible verses.
The idea of practicing my English writing is a good one, though, Cousin Diana was quite right. On those occasions I had to write at school, I always had to write a second draft for neatness, and my casual writing is still much sloppier than it should be. The mistresses at Dovecraft were so impressed with my native French they didn't encourage me in this area as they did the other girls.
The Whartons left us yesterday, and the Fitzjames go tomorrow. And then it will only be the Rochesters and I here again. Dear little Henri is such a sweet child, though he is forever getting into places he should not go, and he embraces so freely- though his hands leave sticky trails behind, no matter the time of day or place. Miss Jane smiles at me, and Mr. Rochester laughs quite outright, but I will continue to teach him true French, for while both of them speak it remarkably well for being British, mine is of course better. (Miss Jane's accent has gotten rather better in the years since her marriage- though when I tried to tell her that a few years ago I am afraid she did not take it well.)
I have had a letter from Trudy! She writes that the girls are all well, and the new drawing-master is rumored to have posed for life art classes in his younger years, and that Annabel's parents are very enthusiastic about one of her recent suitors, but Annabel herself won't speak of him a bit.
I am of course happy for the news, and always glad to hear anything interesting, but I have to say that of the entire letter, I am fondest of seeing Trudy's own hand, and knowing that it was she who wrote it. She has been my closest friend ever since I first went to Dovecraft, and though I've left it now, I can't imagine we will ever be other than the dearest friends. She understands me as few have, for though she is British, she spent several years of her childhood in Italy (I believe her father is attached to the Diplomatic Office somehow or other) and was treated quite nearly as a foreigner both there and when her family returned to England.
I am sorry to have lost her regular companionship, for I fear I will never have another dear friend such as her- but I cannot say I am sorry to have finished my time at Dovecraft. Miss Jane's pride (and even Mr. Rochester joined her congratulations at my finishing a term early) is quite gratifying, of course, and it is a good English school, and quite indulgent of the students on the English scale of these things. However, I am afraid the name is all too apt. The aim of the institution is to turn its students from bright, loving butterflies of little girls into quiet and tame doves of English gentlewomen. And I believe that the Headmistress and the rest of the staff, and I, all knew that I was never going to be that. Miss Jane retains her hope, of course, and I do try harder for her than for anyone, but as much as she may regret it, I will never be truly English. I cannot be, I am French, as my mother was French.
Miss Jane said that she has finished writing her memoirs- a project she has been working on for the past six months or more- and that she would like me to read them before she shows them to Mr. Rochester. I think she is anxious about how he would receive them, which, I must confess, makes me all the more interested in reading them. I agreed, and she will give me the manuscript tomorrow.
Usually Miss Jane has a perfectly legible and very pleasant hand- I cannot imagine why her manuscript is so close-written, and in such extraordinarily small script. I am having to take it very slow, only reading in the strongest light of midday- which, this being England in winter, is not always very strong. She had mentioned her school to me before, and some of the unpleasantness she had experienced there, but I had no idea it was so terrible. I see her in quite a new light- she must be stronger than I had ever suspected.
She had only ever mentioned the Reeds to me in the very vaguest of terms- she had an aunt who raised her when she was very young with her (other) cousins, and they did not get on- and that description has been similarly enlightening. However I really must say, I delight in the tantrums she had! Her most constant critique of my character for years was my “freedom of speech”- to discover her own was so much worse than mine is a revelation!
I have enjoyed this past month- spending time with Henri and my guardians, resting and getting used to the freedom of how to choose my days, but it is becoming clear to me that I need to make some decisions soon. I cannot stay here forever- Ferndean is lovely, but too quiet for me, and we are so far from the village that trips are rare. I should not like to live here forever.
And there are some things I would like to do. I would very much like to go back to France for a time- I fear my own French may have suffered in the past several years, and I miss my home. English food is terrible, and the weather is dreary. And no French school would be as impressed with my singing and recitation abilities as Dovecraft was- it is a national difference. (One that I am well aware Miss Jane looks down her nose at, but I have never seen any reason to be ashamed of my skills, just as she is not ashamed of her own drawing.)
And then, perhaps, Italy-
But I have no one to go to in France, as far as I am aware, and to go without someone to visit would be costly. If I cannot go to France, I would almost as dearly love to go to London for the season. Annabel's sister went (because, Annabel claims, she was too dull for school, but I believe that is Annabel's own jealousy speaking) and the stories are lovely. Though I do not know how society would receive me, as I have no fortune.
Or, at least, I don't believe I have. I suppose school and family concerns have kept me so busy (and my guardian is still so formidable) that I have never asked about my future situation. Perhaps Miss Jane would know. I should think about this most carefully.
It took me a few days to convince myself that I could, but I finally spoke to Miss Jane yesterday, about my fortune and my future. She said that for her part, she had never asked Mr. Rochester what his feelings were on the matter until just after my last visit home.
I know perfectly well that I remain a vexatious topic between them, as Miss Jane has always loved me as her own daughter, or nearly, and Mr. Rochester is cautious about any action that could be interpreted as claiming me as his own. I do understand he is trying to protect Henri's future, but really, sometimes his English caution reaches the ridiculous.
In any case, Mr. Rochester intends to leave me a small annuity for my life in his will, enough to ensure my safety and to provide in cases of emergency, but that he was resolute against providing more. When he first sent me off to school, I do remember he said that it was to make sure I “became a useful little person, like Miss Jane”-- but I must admit I never expected that he intended me to become a governess, or a school mistress! And I do not know how he expects me to gain a position, for though I flatter myself that my rhetoric and musical skills are quite above average (as well as my French, obviously), my arithmetic and sewing have only ever been strictly mediocre, and my English history is quite abysmal. (Why shouldn't it be, when French history is so much more interesting?)
Miss Jane said that her feelings mirrored my own on that subject, as well as that she did not believe I was constitutionally suited to be a governess- which I must agree with her on- and therefore she had a plan of her own for me. Not long before she married Mr. Rochester, she inherited a sum of five thousand pounds. (This was her share of a sum she shared with the siblings Rivers- Diana and Mary are still using theirs, and their late brother spent all of his on his missions and other charities before he died.) Through careful prudence and investment, she says that sum has grown considerably, and she would like to give me a share of it. First she insists on teaching me all that she has learned about account management and investment, and similar topics, so that I will not lose this money but instead be able to grow it to a respectable size.
I do not mind learning again from Miss Jane- indeed, she remains my favorite teacher to this day. Also I do understand her prudence and reasons for wanting me to learn all I can on these subjects- though I admit I doubt that they will come naturally to me. And her generosity is quite stunning, of course- I know her wealth is rather considerably less than Mr. Rochester's own, though they manage their own accounts. (Miss Jane does the bookkeeping for both, of course, but Mr. Rochester makes his own decisions about the estate. I have heard them arguing long into the night about this- and other things- many times over the years.)
But I confess I had hoped better from my guardian, though Miss Jane would hate to hear me say such a thing. I could not bring myself to ask about France or London after such a conversation. I have lessons in bookkeeping and investment to look forward to, instead of a season or a tour of the world's greatest museums, and I feel the loss keenly.
Perhaps continuing to read Miss Jane's manuscript will help me. I do, at least, know it has a happy ending. Also, I need to contact Father Draper about the Lenten services this year, and see who can provide me transportation. It will be nice to be home for all of Lent and Easter for once, instead of having to go from Father Lawley's groans and moans throughout the service, to Father Draper's endless sentences without a pause for breath at Easter here at home. All this will require my annual “but why not join us for services, Adèle dear” conversation with Miss Jane a bit early, but it's best to settle that now. I've been content to worship with Mr. Cale thus far since returning from Dovecraft, but really, I do prefer my own congregation, especially for Lent and Easter.
Miss Jane's manuscript is carefully hidden in the furthest reaches of my wardrobe for the moment, and there it may stay for some time. I- really, could she not have warned me about how she would describe our meeting, and myself as a child? I sound like a fool and a flibbertigibbet! And my “French defects”? She has never spoken to me that way, not once, in our long and, I thought, dear friendship! Could she really have thought of those passages when handing me the manuscript to read?
And then there are the passages about my dear Maman. It is not as though I have never heard the rumors and the mean gossip of the servant halls, in my schools, and friends' homes, and this very house. Miss Jane sat me down quite kindly (I'm sure she thought) before I went off to the school she sent me to after she and my guardian married, and explained things to me so that I would not be surprised by rumors. (And indeed, I had heard them at the first school. Servants and schoolgirls are much alike.)
Really though, how can Miss Jane imagine that I had come to be in Mr. Rochester's care? Does she believe that I went to sleep one evening secure in my Maman's arms, and woke the next morning to Mr. Rochester's frowning face? Fie! Maman told me quite clearly before she left, that though she loved me, she had to leave me, for her new patron would not continue to support her if he learned of my existence. And so she arranged for Mr. Rochester to discover that she had “abandoned” me, and did so cleverly enough that he took me in. And just so, she told me- and told me several times, as she could not write it down for fear of discovery and dared not contact me afterward- that the English were a strict and unforgiving people, and that I must pretend to believe that she was dead, or they would think me a wicked and wanton little girl, and would abandon me to starve.
While I have come to love and care for my guardians, Mr. Rochester and Miss Jane both, I cannot believe that their own opinion of me would have been as it was if I had let on that I knew. And while I hope, of course, that Mr. Rochester would not have abandoned me outright as Maman worried, I do not believe he would have been as kind and generous had I not pretended to be the innocent and thoughtless child he chose to see.
And certainly Maman is with the Blessed Virgin, as I have said all these years when I have been asked. She watches over all of us, and so she is with Maman, as she is with me.
And I believe she understands the lengths a mother will go to for her child.
I could not bring myself to speak to Miss Jane about the manuscript, but she did notice that I was cooler to her than my usual, over the course of the last several days, and despite my best efforts cornered me in the library this morning with neither Henri nor Mr. Rochester with whom I could distract her. And when she met my objections with, “but Adèle, was anything that I said untrue?” I looked at her calm English face and wanted to tear at her calm English hair until I drew her calm English blood.
I did not. But, oh, how I wanted to. Really, this climate is not meant for those of us from the Romance countries-- the winters here have leeched the fire from these people. Instead I did as she is always bidding me to do and initiated a calm, English conversation on the topic. And when she laughed at my pride, as she put it, for disliking the way she described me as a child, I did not allow myself to be distracted, and asked her what type of an audience she expected for this manuscript. Would it be published? Would she perhaps send a copy to her cousin Georgiana, whose husband can afford quite a good law firm? Would all the neighborhood finally be settled on the question of my parentage, or would it simply be made clear that even we are as confused as they are on the subject? Does she really wish to expose her husband in such a way?
At this, her blood was finally raised, and she admitted that she did not intend for anyone but ourselves, and Mr. Rochester, and perhaps Henri (once he is quite grown up) to read it. And this calmed us down both tremendously, and she did not quite apologise, but came very near to doing so. So I have once again picked up the manuscript and begun to read. Miss Ingram is quite as unpleasant as I remember her being, I must admit. But I had no idea about Mr. Rochester dressing up as a Gypsy fortuneteller! What an idea!
Another letter from Trudy- the drawing master is flirting with the students when he catches them alone, and the Headmistress is coming rather close to sacking him. Annabel's suitor has been revealed to be forty, with a ridiculous little pointed beard, but he does at least seem to speak to her decently and treat her well. She still refuses to discuss him at all. Trudy has also invited me to join her family when she goes home for the Easter holiday, and I will have to ask Mr. Rochester about it. It would be lovely to go, I do miss her terribly.
It was quite unseasonably warm today, so I took Henri out into the gardens for a bit this afternoon. He has reached the age when a child asks truly distracting questions. This morning he was quite stuck on theology, and certainly I'm not the one who should be answering those questions for him. I tried to explain that really his mother would be better suited, and when I tried to explain that she was Anglican and I was not, the child had no idea what I was talking about. Oh, he knew Catholics existed, but had no idea I am one. And when I pointed out that I did not always attend church with the family, he said that Miss Jane had told him I had “gone to sit with some other friends” and had no idea that I was in another building, let alone in another faith!
So of course, being a thoughtful child, he started to ask about the differences between the two- and just as I was in the midst of trying to explain why I pray to the Blessed Virgin, of course John walks by with his rakes. Really, I quite like John and Mary, and they have been very kind to me from my earliest girlhood here-- but they both have some rather antiquated ideas about “papists” as they insist on referring to me, and John mentioned some years ago that his father was quite against the Catholic Emancipation Act.
It would not have bothered me- I am certainly used to such people, and these, at least, have never used our differences as reasons to treat me ill- but that he said it in Miss Jane's hearing. And she made no response at all. I have never asked her for her views on the matter, I am, I confess, quite afraid to. But aside from her continual invitations to join the family at church, she has never made any other comment, and I am certainly content to leave it at that.
In any case, he does not seem to have mentioned it to Miss Jane or Mr. Rochester, though I fancy I will. Really, Henri is certainly old enough to grasp the concept. I may be imagining it, but I do wonder if I saw John giving me some rather careful looks over dinner.
I am continuing with the manuscript-- I am almost to the point where Miss Jane left Thornfield to go join her cousins. She has told me of her time with them quite a lot over the years, and all the fun they had together. I'm quite looking forward to it.
Miss Jane is quite involved with the village's plans for the Easter celebrations this year, and I enjoy more time with Henri as a result. His accent is becoming quite natural, rather astonishing for such a young English boy. I have been continuing with her manuscript during his naps- really, I had no idea she had such a trial finding safety, indeed, she never even told me there was a time when she and the Rivers did not realise they were cousins, it is all quite frightening to consider.
Trudy included a postscript in her letter which I just now realised I have not recorded here. She mentioned that her family is planning, after she finishes the term, to go back to Italy on holiday for a time. She writes, very generously, that she would need a companion for the trip, as her brothers are not likely to spend more time with her than strictly necessary, and her mother will likely not want to be very active when they get there. And so she has asked her parents if she can bring a friend with her, and they have agreed! And she has asked me.
I am certainly quite stunned and grateful for the offer, it is very kind, both of her and her parents. But if I cannot even ask Mr. Rochester for a trip to London, how can I ask him this? I did mention wanting to go to Trudy's family for the Easter holidays, and he asked quite a lot of questions about her family and their situation and connections before he would even consider it. Indeed, I have mentioned Trudy and her family to him many times before this, but he has never paid the least attention, I am quite certain.
I would quite love to go. And not only for Italy's sake, though that is quite wonderful enough. I have never been able to make inquires, of course, but I do know the name of the man who was my mother's patron, those years ago, and I know they went to Italy. Perhaps there is a chance I could find her.
But before there is any hope of that, I must ask Mr. Rochester.
I am quite nearing the end of Miss Jane's manuscript- she has just learned of the burning of Thornfield (oh, to this day I am still grateful I was not there that night!) and Mr. Rochester's injuries. Which is why I became rather distracted that Henri chose yesterday to ask me why his father did not have two hands like other men, and could not see as well as Miss Jane or himself.
I realised rather unexpectedly that I did not know whether Miss Jane had ever mentioned the story to Henri at all, and it took me a few moments to compose an answer. I told him that his injuries were inflicted when Mr. Rochester tried to rescue a woman from a burning house, which is true enough. I did not mention Thornfield (which of course Henri has no memory of, and has never visited) or the identity of that woman- as that is certainly not my story to tell. It did give me rather a turn, I admit.
We had a letter from Mrs. Fairfax's son today, her hand tremors are not as bad, but she is not quite up to writing herself yet. The family is doing well, and she is quite enjoying her grandchildren. She does not, however, approve of their new rector, who is rather more Low Church than they are used to, I understand.
I must speak to Mr. Rochester very soon about traveling with Trudy's family- they need an answer rather quickly, as if she is not taking me, she must select another friend. (Annabel alone is out of the question, as she will likely be married rather quickly after the end of term. Her suitor has finally given her an engagement ring, Trudy says, and though Annabel still will not speak about him, she does rub it in a rather fond manner now and then.) I will speak to him soon, I must. If only he was not so stern about such things.
I am going to Italy! I cannot believe it at all, what a wonderful turn of events. I admit I did not expect this at all, I was so certain that he would not allow me to go. Indeed, he did not seem inclined to the idea at all, making rather disparaging comments about Rome and the like, when I first asked.
Indeed, my victory is quite thanks to Miss Jane, who argued very spiritedly and cheerfully on my behalf (as I have never had the courage to do). She answered each of Mr. Rochester's objections with reason and sense, and he could not help but allow her to carry the day.
Henri is quite worried about it, asking about why I must go from him again now that I am done with school, and why we cannot travel together. Indeed, he seems rather anxious about my leaving for Easter as well, and has been asking me each day about when I will leave and when I am to return. Finally I wrote out a little calendar for the child, which seems to have calmed him a bit.
I must finish the manuscript before I leave- I certainly cannot take it with me, and I would not want to leave Miss Jane without giving her my reaction to it. There is so much to do! The packing alone- I must hurry!
I leave tomorrow to join Trudy's family, as I am to spend a full week with them. Now that I think about it, it is quite a reasonable idea, as this way I will be well acquainted with her family when we go to Italy. (Italy! Just think of it! Rome, and Florence, and if I am very careful- for I cannot mention it to anyone, certainly not Trudy and her family- perhaps Maman !)
I finished Miss Jane's manuscript yesterday, and we had a long conversation about it while closed up in the library, where neither Mr. Rochester, nor Henri, nor the servants could hear us. For good reason, as she did not appreciate my reaction to her hope of turning me into an English dove like herself a bit, I am afraid. Really, her comments about me in the manuscript were rather insulting, and while I imagine Mr. Rochester may take what she says to him with good humor, he may have a similar reaction to a few things she says. I tried most kindly and carefully to warn her, but she did not take it very well, and again asked me if anything she had said was untrue- such a ridiculous question.
Still, at the end I insisted that we not let this come between us, especially as I am to leave for a time. I asked for her hand in friendship, and we embraced, quite at peace.
And now I sit here in my chamber, with my trunk packed, and the label- “Miss Adèle Varens, Conrad Lodge, ---shire” sits beneath the window. All I must do in the morning is eat a quick breakfast and put on my cloak, and I will be off to meet the family my dear friend has told me so much about. And then it will be just a short time until we journey to Italy.
Reader, as Miss Jane would say, my adventures are only just begun!