For a little while, Jane doesn’t see Rochester much; he has a lot of business and goes out riding frequently. Sometimes he is haughty or cold, but she can tell that he’s just moody, and that his attitude doesn’t really have anything to do with her.
One evening, Rochester sends for Jane and Adèle after dinner. A box of presents that Rochester has bought for Adèle has arrived, and he parks her in the corner with it, exactly the way some parents might park a kid in the corner with the TV to keep them busy.
He calls in Mrs. Fairfax, so that Adèle can talk to her about the presents while he talks to Jane.
Rochester keeps insisting that Jane bring her chair closer to him instead of moving back into the shadows so that he can’t see her face. He seems to be in a better mood than usual, but he’s still not very good at being polite; he tends to order her around.
Suddenly, because she is staring at him, Rochester asks Jane if she thinks he’s handsome. Without thinking, she gives an honest answer: no.
Jane’s immediately sorry that she didn’t say something more socially acceptable, like "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder," but Rochester doesn’t seem to mind—in fact, he seems glad that she’s honest.
He asks her to criticize him, and she examines his skull and face. (This is more weird nineteenth-century pseudo-science: it was a common belief in the Victorian period that you could determine someone’s character from the shape of their skull. The technical name for this is "phrenology.")
Based on the shape of Rochester’s skull, Jane suggests that he might not be very charitable—and, from his reaction, she’s absolutely right.
Rochester explains a little bit about himself, suggesting that, when he was younger, he used to give people the benefit of the doubt, but these days he’s pretty jaded. He asks Jane if she thinks he can turn back into "flesh" (i.e., into his old self), but she doesn’t know enough about his past to make the call.
He’s glad, however, that he confused her, because it keeps her from staring piercingly at his face. This is really heating up! Too bad he’s almost twice her age (remember that she’s 18 and he’s 35).
Jane continues to think about Rochester’s appearance; she thinks that a lot of people might find him ugly, but something about the way he carries himself makes him imposing.
Rochester tells her that he’s feeling chatty tonight, and orders Jane to chat with him about something. He’s really not very good at this small-talk stuff. Jane doesn’t know what he likes to talk about, so she doesn’t say anything.
Rochester tries to explain his attitude toward Jane a little; even though he’s kind of abrupt and tends to order her to do things instead of asking, he doesn’t want to treat her as an inferior.
At least, he explains, he only considers himself her superior because he’s so much older and more experienced than she is. And so he will sometimes order her around and be "masterful," he says, but she’ll have to forgive him.
Jane contradicts him: just because he’s older and has done more doesn’t mean he’s wiser, she tells him. It depends on what he’s done with those seventeen years he has on her; maybe he hasn’t learned anything. He has to admit that she’s right, but he still wants to be able to order her around sometimes, and tries to think of an excuse.
Jane smiles at this—after all, he’s paying her to take his orders, which he seems to have forgotten. She reminds him, and he leaps on this: will she agree to let him order her around a bit because she’s getting paid?
No, Jane says, getting paid isn’t enough, but she will let him order her around simply because he was worried about her feelings and wanted her to be comfortable with how he treated her.
Rochester presses the point: is it okay if he drops a lot of the polite nonsense? She won’t just think he’s being rude?
Jane’s a bit careful on this point; she’s okay with him being informal, but not with him actually being a jerk. No salary would make up, she says, for actually being treated badly.
Rochester thinks that a lot of people don’t have Jane’s principles and would let themselves get mistreated for money, but he’s impressed with her answers, her tendency to stand up for herself, and her strong personality.
Then Rochester changes his mind a little: Jane is unusual, he says, but maybe she has flaws that make up for her good points. Jane doesn’t say anything, but it’s clear that she’s thinking the same thing about him.
Rochester admits that he has a checkered past, but a lot of it he blames on the circumstances. Again, Jane doesn’t know—and we don’t yet know—exactly what he’s talking about, but it sounds pretty sordid… and really interesting.
Next Rochester tells Jane that one of her major roles in life is to listen. Did you ever have that one friend who somehow gets to hear everybody’s personal problems? Like, they don’t really ask, but something makes everyone tell that particular person everything?
Rochester thinks Jane is going to be one of those people, but maybe he’s just making excuses for having told her so much already.
Rochester talks about remorse and regretting his past mistakes, whatever those are. Jane advises him to repent, and Rochester says that reform is better than repentance, but that there’s something standing in the way of his reform.
Jane says he’ll just get worse and worse if he keeps grabbing for pleasure without changing, and that eventually his pleasures will sour anyway. He doesn’t like being preached to and objects to this, but Jane holds her ground.
Now Rochester tries to claim that the "temptation" he is feeling is actually an "inspiration," that it’s an angel and not a devil. We’re going crazy to know what the heck it is he’s tempted to do. Jane tells him that it’s still a temptation, no matter what he says, and he should resist.
Rochester gets a bit over-excited here and dramatically mimes taking the "angel" or "demon" or whatever this idea is into himself. Jane’s really confused at this point, but insists that, if Rochester feels like he’s not a good person, that he should make a genuine effort to change.
Rochester tells Jane that he is going to change, and that, if what he’s doing is immoral, then he’ll declare a new moral law to make it right. Jane claims that anything that needs morals to change in order to be okay is obviously immoral.
They argue about ethics for a bit, and Jane keeps getting the better of him. Basically, Rochester really wants to do something, we don’t know what, and Jane can tell from how he talks about it that it’s wrong, even though she doesn’t know what it is or why.
Jane ends the conversation by getting up and going to put Adèle to bed. Rochester is worried that he drove her away by saying such weird things, but she assures him that she’s not afraid of him, even though she is a little confused.
Rochester discerns that Jane isn’t naturally so stern and repressed—it’s the effect of Lowood, he says, and it will wear off. He describes her as a caged bird that wants to be free. She doesn’t really say anything to this, but it seems a lot like how she described herself at the beginning of the last chapter.
While Jane and Rochester have been talking, Adèle has run out to try on one of the dresses that were among her new presents from Rochester. When she comes back and frolics around in the dress, she looks just like her mother.
Rochester hints at his involvement with Adèle’s mother—Céline Varens. It’s not clear yet what Rochester’s actual relationship to Adèle is, but if he was "involved" with her mother, then we can guess that maybe he’s her pops.