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24 September 2014

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Grace Poole
By Pam Ferris

Grace Poole (Pam Ferris)

Discover the history of Jane Eyre character Grace Poole

Part 2

The first time I saw Mrs Rochester she was in a deep sleep. She'd been given some calming drugs by the apothecary and I saw with her for twelve hours straight till she woke up. I had plenty of time to study her in those hours. Her skin was the colour of a smooth brown egg - black hair - and her eyes, when they opened, were black too - velvet-black not shiny-black. She was no trouble, just confused, and she spoke some words in a language I didn't understand. The next few visits were much the same, except I found she could speak English. Once when she woke up she was upset because there was a tear in her dress so I found her sewing basket and did an invisible mend for her. She seemed very pleased.

I didn't see her for a while, but then one day Dr Munro asked if I would consider becoming her personal keeper at the family home up north. When he said how much they were willing to pay I nearly fell over. Five times what I was getting! And only one woman to look after! The Doctor said he would miss me, but urged me to think about it. It wasn't a hard decision. That night I talked to Mary and Alice and though they were sad to lose me, they knew it was a chance I couldn't miss. I accepted the position and set off the following week.

Blimey! I couldn't believe how long the coach journey was! Once we left London there was nothing but empty fields - miles of them. I sat squashed in between two businessmen with my one small bag, a present from Lady G, on my lap. The most precious things in it were two brown bottles - about six months supply of the calming drops, and instructions on how to use them. Finally I was dumped at the coaching inn at Millcote and waited there under the sign of the Three Magpies until dark, when a small carriage drew up. "Grace Poole?" said a man's voice. "Yes Sir," I said, and gave him my letter of introduction. In it Dr Munro had recommended my abilities, and explained that I had been working at the Retreat at Grimsby. I knew this was a lie, but the Doctor said people were frightened of the word 'Bedlam', and warned me never to mention it. He said the Retreat sounded a lot more respectable. I tried to get a look at Mr Rochester's face as he was reading, but his head was down and his collar was up.

We travelled in silence to Thornfield Hall, went in by a side door and climbed to a small but comfortable room in the tower. My mistress was there, awake but very still. I greeted her but she never stirred. An outer chamber with a truckle bed was to be my new home, and that was where Mr Rochester gave me my special instructions. I was to call his wife 'Madam' and encourage her to think of me as her maid, not as her keeper. He didn't want the rest of the household to know about her, and if I gossiped I would lose my job. He sighed often as he talked, and looked out at the floor, but never at me. A few days later he went off on his travels again, and I started to settle into my new life. The rule about not telling anyone about my Mistress was hard. I found it better to avoid talking at all.

After a while I began to notice that Madam's fits went in circles. Sometimes she was sweet and kind, but then over the weeks she'd speed up till she could talk non-stop all night, and if I couldn't get her to take her drops she'd get violent. After a while she'd slow down again and become more melancholic til she was completely still. She wouldn't eat or move for days. Then one day she'd say something, and the circle would start again.

Most of the time I managed her well enough. The only serious trouble was when the drops ran out. Every six months Dr Munro would send two big bottles on the coach, and to keep the secret, I would collect them from the inn at Millcote, on my day off. Sometimes they were late and if she was violent it could be dangerous. I knew all the ways to control lunatics, but she was strong in her ravings and knocked me cold more than once. The few times she got away from me she would destroy paintings and furniture in the house and sometimes set fires before I could stop her.

It was hard to hide what was going on and even harder not to ask for help. I wanted to sit and talk with the others at the end of the day and maybe smoke a pipe or two, like we did at Bethlehem, but they'd decided early-on that I was odd, and anyway I couldn't understand what they were saying half the time. Madam got worse- and my temper got shorter. There were days I'd have to tie her up and get a bit of peace and I could see in those deep black eyes that she'd tear mine out if she could. I'd stare back at her and wonder which one of us was the mad one.

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