Summary: Jane realizes that even though they grew up under very different circumstances, she and Adele have a lot in common.
Confession: Okay, I've never read all of Jane Eyre, only parts of it. But I have seen most of the films, and in some of them, the grown-ups are pretty harsh towards Adele. (Remember that scene in the 2011 movie where Fassbender yells at her? What a sexy jerk.) Even in the book, Jane admitted that she wasn't really fond of Adele. I always thought the girl went through more than she got credit for, hence this fanfic.
Author's Note: By coincidence, this story was published on Mother's Day. It isn't about mothers, but it does have a maternal feel to it, so that works out well. :)
Jane never had a doll when she was a little girl, of course. But Eliza and Georgiana both had beautiful dolls with delicate, snow-white china faces and long, silken hair. Jane used to watch her cousins play with them from her hiding place behind the curtains, her heart burning with jealousy. The dolls' eyes – complete with curled eyelashes – opened and closed when they were rocked back and forth, and they wore miniature silk dresses much nicer than Jane's own, with shiny black buttons made from real ebony.
Years later, when Jane arrived at Thornfield Manor and saw Adele for the first time, she remembered those dolls. Adele could have been one of them come to life. She had the same dark, silky hair and smooth, creamy skin – like china. Adele, at first glance, seemed to have everything.
Jane sits sketching in her room, late one bitterly cold evening, when a soft, hesitant knock comes at her door. She almost doesn't hear it above the flames crackling merrily in the fireplace, and the harsh winds blowing outside. Jane sets down her sketch pad and crosses the floor, vaguely wondering who could be coming to call on her at this hour.
She pulls open the door, and her gaze drops and her eyebrows raise when she sees Adele. The girl has on the same dark blue dress that she wore to her lessons today, but she's taken out her elaborate French braids and silk hair ribbons. Jane is struck by how much younger she looks with her hair loose.
"Pardonnez-moi, Mademoiselle," she says, before Jane can ask her anything, "mais Sophie est malade, et elle m'a dit à vous demander – "
But Jane shakes her head before Adele can go on. "Speak English, Adele," she tells her firmly. A few days ago, Jane had risked making her pupil hate her by pushing her to speak strictly English. Adele still struggles with the language, but Jane knew that clinging to her native French would only make it harder for her to transition into her new life. The sooner she learned English, the easier things would be for her.
Adele's face falls at Jane's words, but she sighs and sets her jaw. "Sophie is ill," she begins again, speaking very slowly. Jane notices that in English, she skips the formalities and goes straight to the point, as if to speak as few words of the language as possible. "I have need to take a..." She hesitates. The TH sound is very difficult for her. "...a bat, but I do not know to make z-ze water 'ot, and..."
She hesitates again and looks at the floor. Jane thinks that she must be searching for the right words, but then she sees Adele's cheeks blush pink, despite the chill in the drafty hallway, and realizes that the girl is embarrassed to be asking for help to draw a bath. Perhaps she had even expected Jane to speak sharply to her, like so many of the staff at Thornfield do.
But Jane softens, takes Adele's small hand in her own, and leads her down the hall to the second-floor bathroom. She too had had difficulties, when she first arrived at Thornfield, learning how to draw a hot bath. At Lowood School, the pupils had taken only cold-water baths in galvanized tin tubs so small that it was impossible to ever get properly clean. Jane had become so used to it that the luxurious bathtub here – even larger than the one she had bathed in as a child at Gateshead Hall – still feels like a lake to her.
Adele tried to pump water – the faucet was directly over the tub – but the handle was too heavy for her. So Jane pumps the tub half-full. The water is cold, of course, but Jane fills a old copper kettle, kept in the bathroom for this purpose, and heats it in the small grated fireplace in the wall. When the water reaches a rolling boil, she stirs it into the tub with the wooden paddle that hangs on a hook beside the lavatory. When the water is warm throughout, she hangs the paddle back up and turns to Adele, expecting to find her naked, or nearly so, but the girl has barely started undressing.
Jane opens her mouth to scold her, but the words die on her tongue when she sees how Adele is struggling to take off her dress. In that moment, Jane realizes, for the first time, that growing up wealthy comes with its own set of difficulties.
When Jane was a little girl, her dresses were drab and always too big for her. Often she didn't even need to undo the buttons to pull them over her head. But Adele's dresses are neatly fitted above the waist, with full, flouncy skirts. Jane has seen the long, neat rows of tiny buttons down the back, of course, but until she watches Adele straining to reach around behind her, she never realized how impossible they would be for a little girl to undo by herself.
She softens and smiles a bit at how Adele screws up her mouth as her fingers fumble with the buttons. "Turn around," she says gently, "I'll unbutton you." Adele's arms slump with relief, and she gives Jane a shy, grateful smile and obediently turns around. Her dress slips off easily after the buttons are undone, but Jane can't quite hide her surprise when she sees much clothing the girl still has on.
When Jane was a child, she wore only plain pantalets under her dress. But Adele, beneath her skirts, has on lace pantalets, stockings, layer upon layer of ruffled petticoats, and, because it's wintertime, long underwear. Even Jane's quick, slender fingers have trouble with so many underthings. She wonders if all wealthy little girls have to wear such a burdensome excess of clothes – and almost considers herself lucky that she grew up poor enough to wear only pantalets. Perhaps it had contributed to her independent spirit. Jane had learned to dress herself at a young age, but Adele still needs help at eight-years-old.
She stays and sits on the rim of the tub while Adele takes her bath. Adele says nothing, but she looks grateful when Jane doesn't leave. Sitting in the water – her face wet, her hair loose and unbrushed, sleepiness making her eyelids droop – Jane would barely recognize her as the bright, energetic little girl who recites her multiplication tables at her morning lessons and plays shuttlecock on the lawn in the afternoons.
She's a very fortunate little girl. She ought to be more grateful. The words replay in Jane's mind; she can almost hear them over the gentle lap of the water. The staff at Thornfield has said them often enough, whenever Adele acted spoiled or petulant, made too much noise, or got in their way. Similar words had rung in Jane's ears throughout her childhood, until she grew so weary of them that she felt ready to fly into a passion and scream at the next person who uttered them.
"You know, you're a very fortunate child, Jane," Bessie told her once. "Most children who've lost their parents would be sent to an orphan asylum."
But people are wrong about Adele, just as they had been wrong about Jane. Perhaps the staff only sees a spoiled girl with expensive toys and dresses, a private nurse and tutor – but Adele isn't so fortunate. She isn't so lucky.
How could she possibly be lucky, when her own mother had abandoned her to live on the streets of Paris? Ever since that day when Mr. Rochester told her Adele's history – "But hearing that she was quite destitute, I took the thing out of the slime and mud of Paris, and transplanted her here" – Jane's mind had been haunted by the image of Adele begging for centimes on a windy corner outside the Gare du Nord. Her thin, bony hand stretched out pitifully to tourists. Her dark eyes huge and desperate in her hungry face. She had looked so vulnerable, so uncertain, when she knocked on Jane's door, asking for help to draw a bath – a far cry from her usual confident self. That must have been how she looked after her mother deserted her.
Yes, Mr. Rochester lifted her out of that poverty... but at what a frightful cost. On a terrifying journey, on a cramped ship that made her ill, the little girl had been ripped away from everything familiar to her and brought to a new country full of strangers. She had to adjust to a different language, a different diet, and a different climate, all in a dark, gloomy place like Thornfield Hall, where there were no other children to play with and a staff that constantly scolded her for getting underfoot. Her whole world had been altered. It was as if a shelf had been overturned, all its pieces scattered upside-down, and Jane recognizes now that some of Adele's actions, like still speaking French, were her vain attempts to pick up the broken pieces.
On top of that, she was expected to be grateful for it, to be thankful for what she had gone through, for how much she'd lost.
Adele is sleepy and shivering a bit – the water has grown cool – when Jane helps her out of the tub, wraps her in a towel, and makes sure she stands in front of the fire as she dresses in her nightclothes. She feels a new tenderness in her heart towards the girl. Adele might be growing up under very different circumstances than Jane, but they still have much in common.
Jane feels an angry heat bloom in her chest as she returns to her room – that old, familiar passion rising in her again. The long, hard years at Lowood School taught her to suppress that part of her, to control it, but after this evening with Adele, it's been reborn, like a phoenix rising from the ashes. She isn't going to fly into a passion and scream, like she once wanted to, but she will correct the next person she hears call Adele a very fortunate little girl. The prejudices that grow in the human heart will never be tamped down without education.
PS: This fic was partially inspired by a post at the excellent adoption blog, Our Little Tongginator. Many parents of adopted children have the same reaction as Jane when their kids are called lucky or fortunate.