“Can I ask what you’re scared of, Miss?”
The two, Miss Jane and young Mister Jacob, were sitting near the fire in the dining room when he ventured the question. It was just after they had finished telling and being told the story of Gytrash, the demon spirit of the north. Jane told Jacob of how it tenants the carcasses of beasts, eyes burning red as coals as it lies in wait for travelers. In roaming the hills the phantom could take any form, Jane warned him, whether horse, wolf, or great dog. She ceased spinning, however, and lit the fire once she took notice of his fright. It was quite late in the evening, after all, and she did not want for him to be unable to sleep. In effort, she warmed milk for them both and offered playthings for distraction, yet his mind still had not abandoned the ghost. “Well, that would be nothing,” she answered, teasing. The child looked to Jane in wonder. After a moment of considering his expression, she smiled and clarified, “I am afraid of plenty.” The boy then went back to his puzzle.
“May I ask what it is you are afraid of, Jacob?”
He was settled on his stomach, swinging his legs absently before the hearth. “Not growing up to be smart maybe, or not being powerful. I want to be powerful when I’m old and larger.”
“How would you like to be powerful?”
“I want to have might. I will need it if I’m going to have my own Thornfield.”
“Do you not have might now?”
“Not like Mister Rochester’s.”
This was the second time Jacob had mentioned the name this week. Jane knew it to be natural for a ward to look to their benefactor, but found this particular fixation strange. She knew nothing of this man, as he had not yet made his advent since she was commissioned there, but held contempt already for his ideas and their effects. “Why is it your might needs to be anything like Mr. Rochester’s in order to secure a Thornfield?”
“I’m born soft, Miss Jane. Mister Rochester is generous, but he has guns and horses and dogs. Even if he is soft like me, he doesn’t let it show, and you can’t let it show if you want to protect against things like the Gytrash.”
Jane moved from her seat above him and joined the child on the rug in order to meet his eyes. They faltered under her gaze. “The Gytrash is a mere story. You can do just fine without weapons and sentinels. Soft people do just as well, I assure you.”
“Well I’ve never seen it done that way..”
“Do you think me strong, Jacob?”
He looked straightly at her then. “Yes, Miss Jane. I think you very strong.”
“And I am soft,” she said, swiping hold of his hand.
“We can have Thornfield, and all of our desires, even in our nature. Come.” She raised from the floor and bid him follow.
She lead him to the globe near the window and traced her finger about it. “England is a great power, Jacob. British ships set sail from here to the outer limits of our empire, navigating the five oceans and the four corners of our world – and I will be had and harvested alive by the Gytrash itself if not one of those men were half gentle.” She then turned him to that window, mullioned and crystallized by bright white stars. “Look there. How many stars there are, and all of them of a different quality. Some appear weak, because they are soft, but really, they are just of separate worlds, sundry mights. All are so effective, Jacob, and full of dreams and hopes.”
Glancing down, in the reflected glow of the fire, she witnessed Jacob’s bitty smile in the glass. In her pride and simper, however, there was one thing Jane Eyre failed to notice. It was Mister Rochester’s very ear, present just beyond the shadow of the doorway.
Jane was dedicated to setting the table for breakfast, and planned settings only for Missus Fairfax, Jacob, and herself, as routine. The lone trouble was that she had yet to see either of them that morning. When Missus Fairfax did finally enter the dining room, before Jane could give a “There you are!”, the elder woman did it herself. “I’ve been looking all over for you,” she started up, her breathing nervous. “Mister Rochester is positively incensed. Not a single soul was awake or aware last night for his arrival. After an arduous journey, for a man not to have a bit of port for his trouble, or a candle under his own roof – the shame! It’s a wonder we still have our backs.”
“Where is little Jacob?”
“Just dressing in his room now. You’ll do best to change, too, and take him for a round outside while we steady the house.”
Waved from the table, Jane forgot breakfast and retrieved Jacob from his quarters. His eyes were tired when she found him, and his clothing half-hearted, so she went to fixing it for him. Then she asked, “Was it the Gytrash still that kept you awake?”
He quit rubbing his eyes. “How did you know that I was kept awake?”
“A lucky guess, I suppose.”
They went to the yard together, but did not care to cross the bridge. Jacob voiced that he knew Mister Rochester had come and he knew that he was angry because Missus Fairfax had told him. The boy considered it best to remain close to grounds, just in case they were summoned. Jane advised that he not worry for the man’s mood, but adhered to Jacob's preference anyway. Playing games and lining the grounds, the pair had plenty to discuss besides the oppressor. The boy was back on the topic of softness while he admired flowers growing through cracks in stone walls and clement mist on the distant moors. “I’m not embarrassed about being too frightened of the Gytrash to sleep,” he said. “My softness makes me strong. Since I could not sleep, I would be awake to face the demon.”
“A mere story, Jacob, remember.” Jane petted petals and looked out beyond the land, too. “But a very good observation.”
“You agree with me about the Gytrash and I?”
“Yes, I do. I believe in the abilities of vigilance rather than assumptions of violence.”
“Thank you, Miss.”
“Thank you, Jacob.”
He was silent for a moment. “You teach me many things.”
“I am your governess.” She grinned.
“Did you have a governess of your own to teach you about these things?”
“I had many teachers.”
“What about friends? Or siblings?”
“Yes, I had a few of each.”
“What if I don’t have any of my own?”
“Well, you have me, and Missus Fairfax, and all of Thornfield. A world all around you.” She leaned and picked a fallen flower from its place in the grass. She shifted to Jacob and positioned it behind his ear. “There is no way to be alone - ”
He interjected in protest. “No, Miss Jane. Boys mustn’t wear flowers.”
“It isn’t something boys do.”
“No, I don’t.”
He worked to remove it from himself, but it became tangled in his hair. She watched silently his frustrations. “Tell me about one boy who wore flowers and amounted to anything,” he broke.
“The very first one was made a great legend, in fact, and all the while being incredibly soft.”
“He owned all the hills, as far as could be seen from his throne. He was a great master. He provided for his family and was esteemed by his servants; all over the world, they knew his name. The flowers he wore were big, shining, and yellow like the sun, and so much so that everyone saw him coming. They were sat right on his head, and they sang beautifully with the wind. He knew all there was to know about God’s great gifts, and was never reserved in his gratitude.”
“Who was he?”
“A dear friend.”
Smoke blew over the hedges from behind and lifted into the sky before them. Jane turned, looking over the leaves, and saw it bellowing from the chimney. While she was distracted, Jacob found the flower and returned it to its place behind his ear. Jane thought it to be time, what with Mr. Rochester now most certainly awake and Missus Fairfax evidently overwhelmed. “I’ll tell you more of him later, we will go inside now. Surely you are hungry having missed breakfast.”
Jacob nodded, their hands linked, and started for their walk back.
The house was quiet once they were inside, and help not to be found. Paying it no mind, Jane prepared sandwiches for Jacob and sat across from him while he ate. Between mouthfuls, he asked if he could play a song for her on his violin after he was finished. He had learned from his mother before she died, and so the practice was very special to him. Knowing this, once she reminded him not to speak with a full mouth, Jane assured him that she’d listen. He inquired of her talents next, and she responded by offering a portraiture of him. At this, he was restless. “Sit nicely and finish first. Accomplishments can wait.”
“Oh please, Miss Jane! Draw me a picture of me, please. I really want to see it.”
Surrendering, she employed coals and a napkin from nearby. “Do sit still now. You have to if you wish to look nice in the illustration.”
A number of napkins were made depictions of the young sir before the charcoal was down to its nub, but even still, Jacob was not satisfied. “Another, another! Draw me with the big yellow flowers this time.”
Jane peered over to his plate. “You have still hardly finished your food and it will be time for study soon. Not a picture more until work is done.”
Suddenly, there was a voice from beyond her vision. “And you, do you not eat?”
Jacob cleared his throat, eye caught on the form as it emerged from behind Jane. He bowed his head in estimation. “Mister Rochester.”
Her mouth went dry.
Critical eyes scanned the drawings littered across the table as heavy feet paced. She did not see him, but his presence was to be felt. She recognized when he was tired of her work by the eyes moving to burn the back of her neck instead. “Give it here.”
It was the first she saw of him, his hand outstretched at her side in order to receive. With haste, she decided on the drawing she had done of Jacob as a king, and settled it coolly in Mister Rochester’s palm. Both drawing and hand disappeared as Jane assumed he elevated it to face for an improved view. There was silence until Missus Fairfax and Leah came to bother audibly with tea. Jane questioned whether they had always been in the room, and if she were so distracted that she had only noticed them now. She remained centered on them, frozen in wait, seeing them pour and stir and hurry. They asked, “Tea, sir?”
He ignored the favor. “You drew this?”
“And you tell the child fables as supplement to your fantasies on paper.”
“My memory serves to inform me otherwise.”
“You have bewitched my ward, entranced him with stories of the devil, such as the Gytrash. You convince him that he can captain ships, that he can reach stars.”
“I’ve done nothing of the sort. I only answer questions straightly and assure him of his own presently very real capabilities.”
“Well, Miss Eyre, here is to hope that my evaluation of the child will express progress in your doing just that.”
With her dismissal, Jane set what was left of the coal between her fingers on the table’s cloth and raised from her seat. “Come, Jacob.”
Once to safety, or out of earshot and eyesight, Jacob was allowed to admire Jane’s depictions at length. He begged for her to permit him to keep them, and so she did.
Jane, with the house's new presence and its anxieties, was hard to sleep and so thought to roam. There was a painting in the hall, hung immediately outside of her door. Featured at the center was a rotund woman sprawled on her back, arms wide. She was entirely exposed this way, and yet her sense of comfort sustained in pudgy cheeks and squinted eyes. Even in the company of the male counterpart, holding a lantern to her form, the subject was free of the weight of self consciousness. Jane was inspired. She recognized in the woman's skin something of her own physical stature, empathized with its beauty, but could not capture the presented state of being. Jane knew courage, but was never unafraid. And as if privy to the precise moment in which he would discover her at her most vulnerable, Mister Rochester happened by. Undetected, though not far, he floated there for a moment. He stared, just as still as Jane was. He figured her contemplations, noted how her arm shook to support the candle lighting her artistic observation. Before she might have sensed and spun swiftly to catch him, he had disappeared.
“Excuse me, sir, but Missus Fairfax told me that you requested to see me.”
The morning following their first meeting, Jane was called to the drawing room which, upon subtle inspection, was anything short of welcoming. It smelled of the master’s vices, and beyond that was almost entirely plain. She was apprehensive to enter, but he was quicker to beckon her sit. “Miss Eyre,” Rochester nodded, motioning to an armchair opposite him. “Please.”
As soon as she sat, he began, “I spoke with the child.”
“Much to my surprise, I learned from our conversation.”
“What was it you learned?”
“To begin, I was reminded of how fervently I despise children.”
“Of course, sir.”
“And, at the same time, how fortunate both the imp and myself are to have you here.”
Jane shrank, dropping her look to her feet. “And I have found myself incredibly fortunate being here as well.”
He batted away her response. “But most importantly, I gained extensive knowledge of your impressive many talents. The boy spoke very highly of you.”
“A pleasure to hear, sir.”
“I’m sure.” At pause, he flicked ash from the cigar at his fingertips. “In most high regard, however, was your inclination for the human portrait, as I previewed myself yesterday.” He pressed it to his lips and drew an inhale. On exhale, he continued, “Upon thinking of it, a curious idea prevails.”
“What idea would that be, sir?”
“The one in which you consent to my being next drawn.”