"Is Mr. Rochester living at Thornfield Hall now?"
I asked, knowing, of course, what the answer would be, but yet desirous of deferring the direct question as to where he really was.
"No, ma'am -- oh, no! No one is living there.
I suppose you are a stranger in these parts, or you would have heard what happened last autumn, --
Thornfield Hall is quite a ruin: it was burnt down just about harvest-time.
A dreadful calamity!
such an immense quantity of valuable property destroyed: hardly any of the furniture could be saved.
The fire broke out at dead of night, and before the engines arrived from Millcote, the building was one mass of flame.
It was a terrible spectacle: I witnessed it myself."
"At dead of night!" I muttered.
Yes, that was ever the hour of fatality at Thornfield.
"Was it known how it originated?" I demanded.
"They guessed, ma'am: they guessed.
Indeed, I should say it was ascertained beyond a doubt.
You are not perhaps aware," he continued, edging his chair a little nearer the table, and speaking low,
"that there was a lady -- a -- a lunatic, kept in the house?"
"I have heard something of it."
"She was kept in very close confinement, ma'am: people even for some years was not absolutely certain of her existence.
No one saw her: they only knew by rumour that such a person was at the Hall;
and who or what she was it was difficult to conjecture.
They said Mr. Edward had brought her from abroad, and some believed she had been his mistress.
But a queer thing happened a year since -- a very queer thing."