He had been looking two minutes at the fire, and I had been looking the same length of time at him, when, turning suddenly, he caught my gaze fastened on his physiognomy. "You examine me, Miss Eyre," said he: "do you think me handsome?"
I should, if I had deliberated, have replied to this question by something conventionally vague and polite; but the answer somehow slipped from my tongue before I was aware—"No, sir." "Ah! By my word! there is something singular about you," said he: "you have the air of a little nonnette; quaint, quiet, grave, and simple, as you sit with your hands before you, and your eyes generally bent on the carpet (except, by-the-bye, when they are directed piercingly to my face; as just now, for instance); and when one asks you a question, or makes a remark to which you are obliged to reply, you rap out a round rejoinder, which, if not blunt, is at least brusque. What do you mean by it?"
"Sir, I was too plain; I beg your pardon. I ought to have replied that it was not easy to give an impromptu answer to a question about appearances; that tastes mostly differ; and that beauty is of little consequence, or something of that sort."
"You ought to have replied no such thing. Beauty of little consequence, indeed! And so, under pretence of softening the previous outrage, of stroking and soothing me into placidity, you stick a sly penknife under my ear! Go on: what fault do you find with me, pray? I suppose I have all my limbs and all my features like any other man?"
"Mr. Rochester, allow me to disown my first answer: I intended no pointed repartee: it was only a blunder."
"Just so: I think so: and you shall be answerable for it. Criticise me: does my forehead not please you?"
[…] It would please me now to draw you out—to learn more of you—therefore speak." Instead of speaking, I smiled; and not a very complacent or submissive smile either. "Speak," he urged.
"What about, sir?"
"Whatever you like. I leave both the choice of subject and the manner of treating it entirely to yourself."
Accordingly I sat and said nothing: "If he expects me to talk for the mere sake of talking and showing off, he will find he has addressed himself to the wrong person," I thought. "You are dumb, Miss Eyre."
I was dumb still. He bent his head a little towards me, and with a single hasty glance seemed to dive into my eyes.
"Stubborn?" he said, "and annoyed. Ah! it is consistent. I put my request in an absurd, almost insolent form. Miss Eyre, I beg your pardon. The fact is, once for all, I don't wish to treat you like an inferior: that is" (correcting himself), "I claim only such superiority as must result from twenty years' difference in age and a century's advance in experience. This is legitimate, et j'y tiens, as Adele would say; and it is by virtue of this superiority, and this alone, that I desire you to have the goodness to talk to me a little now, and divert my thoughts […]. 1
He had deigned an explanation, almost an apology, and I did not feel insensible to his condescension, and would not seem so.
"I am willing to amuse you, if I can, sir—quite willing; but I cannot introduce a topic, because how do I know what will interest you? Ask me questions, and I will do my best to answer them." Vocabulary
Physiognomy: features of somebody's face, used as indicators of that person's character. Nonnette: young nun.
Quaint: pleasantly strange.
By-the-bye: by the way; incidentally.
Impromptu: not prepared or planned in advance.
Placidity: calm in nature or appearance.
Disown: to refuse or no longer acknowledge a connection with somebody or something. Repartee: skill in making witty remarks or conversation.
J'y tiens: I am fond of it, I care about it, I like it, I am attached to it (French). Charlotte Brontë (1816-1855)-Married name Mrs. Arthur Bell Nicholls, pseudonym Currer Bell She is said to be the most dominant and ambitious of the Brontës; the third of six children,...