Presentiments are strange things! and so are sympathies; and so are signs; and the three combined make one mystery to which humanity has not yet found the key. I never laughed at presentiments in my life, because I have had strange ones of my own. Sympathies, I believe, exist (for instance, between far-distant, long-absent, wholly estranged relatives asserting, notwithstanding their alienation, the unity of the source to which each traces his origin) whose workings baffle mortal comprehension. And signs, for aught we know, may be but the sympathies of Nature with man.
When I was a little girl, only six years old, I one night heard Bessie Leaven say to Martha Abbot that she had been dreaming about a little child; and that to dream of children was a sure sign of trouble, either to one’s self or one’s kin. The saying might have worn out of my memory, had not a circumstance immediately followed which served indelibly to fix it there. The next day Bessie was sent for home to the deathbed of her little sister.
Of late I had often recalled this saying and this incident; for during the past week scarcely a night had gone over my couch that had not brought with it a dream of an infant, which I sometimes hushed in my arms, sometimes dandled on my knee, sometimes watched playing with daisies on a lawn, or again, dabbling its hands in running water. It was a wailing child this night, and a laughing one the next: now it nestled close to me, and now it ran from me; but whatever mood the apparition evinced, whatever aspect it wore, it failed not for seven successive nights to meet me the moment I entered the land of slumber.
I did not like this iteration of one idea—this strange recurrence of one image, and I grew nervous as bedtime approached and the hour of the vision drew near. It was from companionship with this baby-phantom I had been roused on that moonlight night when I heard the cry; and it was on the afternoon of the day following I was summoned downstairs by a message that some one wanted me in Mrs. Fairfax’s room. On repairing thither, I found a man waiting for me, having the appearance of a gentleman’s servant: he was dressed in deep mourning, and the hat he held in his hand was surrounded with a crape band.
“I daresay you hardly remember me, Miss,” he said, rising as I entered; “but my name is Leaven: I lived coachman with Mrs. Reed when you were at Gateshead, eight or nine years since, and I live there still.”
“Oh, Robert! how do you do? I remember you very well: you used to give me a ride sometimes on Miss Georgiana’s bay pony. And how is Bessie? You are married to Bessie?”
“Yes, Miss: my wife is very hearty, thank you; she brought me another little one about two months since—we have three now—and both mother and child are thriving.”
“And are the family well at the house, Robert?”
“I am sorry I can’t give you better news of them, Miss: they are very badly at present—in great trouble.”
“I hope no one is dead,” I said, glancing at his black dress. He too looked down at the crape round his hat and replied—
“Mr. John died yesterday was a week, at his chambers in London.”
“And how does his mother bear it?”
“Why, you see, Miss Eyre, it is not a common mishap: his life has been very wild: these last three years he gave himself up to strange ways, and his death was shocking.”
“I heard from Bessie he was not doing well.”
“Doing well! He could not do worse: he ruined his health and his estate amongst the worst men and the worst women. He got into debt and into jail: his mother helped him out twice, but as soon as he was free he returned to his old companions and habits. His head was not strong: the knaves he lived amongst fooled him beyond anything I ever heard. He came down to Gateshead about three weeks ago and wanted missis to give up all to him. Missis refused: her means have long been much reduced by his extravagance; so he went back again, and the next news was that he was dead. How he died, God knows!—they say he killed himself.”
I was silent: the tidings were frightful. Robert Leaven resumed—
“Missis had been out of health herself for some time: she had got very stout, but was not strong with it; and the loss of money and fear of poverty were quite breaking her down. The information about Mr. John’s death and the manner of it came too suddenly: it brought on a stroke. She was three days without speaking; but last Tuesday she seemed rather better: she appeared as if she wanted to say something, and kept making signs to my wife and mumbling. It was only yesterday morning, however, that Bessie understood she was pronouncing your name; and at last she made out the words, ‘Bring Jane—fetch Jane Eyre: I want to speak to her.’ Bessie is not sure whether she is in her right mind, or means anything by the words; but she told Miss Reed and Miss Georgiana, and advised them to send for you. The young ladies put it off at first; but their mother grew so restless, and said, ‘Jane, Jane,’ so many times, that at last they consented. I left Gateshead yesterday: and if you can get ready, Miss, I should like to take you back with me early to-morrow morning.”
“Yes, Robert, I shall be ready: it seems to me that I ought to go.”
“I think so too, Miss. Bessie said she was sure you would not refuse: but I suppose you will have to ask leave before you can get off?”
“Yes; and I will do it now;” and having directed him to the servants’ hall, and recommended him to the care of John’s wife, and the attentions of John himself, I went in search of Mr. Rochester.
He was not in any of the lower rooms; he was not in the yard, the stables, or the grounds. I asked Mrs. Fairfax if she had seen him;—yes: she believed he was playing billiards with Miss Ingram. To the billiard-room I hastened: the click of balls and the hum of voices resounded thence; Mr. Rochester, Miss Ingram, the two Misses Eshton, and their admirers, were all busied in the game. It required some courage to disturb so interesting a party; my errand, however, was one I could not defer, so I approached the master where he stood at Miss Ingram’s side. She turned as I drew near, and looked at me haughtily: her eyes seemed to demand, “What can the creeping creature want now?” and when I said, in a low voice, “Mr. Rochester,” she made a movement as if tempted to order me away. I remember her appearance at the moment—it was very graceful and very striking: she wore a morning robe of sky-blue crape; a gauzy azure scarf was twisted in her hair. She had been all animation with the game, and irritated pride did not lower the expression of her haughty lineaments.
“Does that person want you?” she inquired of Mr. Rochester; and Mr. Rochester turned to see who the “person” was. He made a curious grimace—one of his strange and equivocal demonstrations—threw down his cue and followed me from the room.
“Well, Jane?” he said, as he rested his back against the schoolroom door, which he had shut.
“If you please, sir, I want leave of absence for a week or two.”
“What to do?—where to go?”
“To see a sick lady who has sent for me.”
“What sick lady?—where does she live?”
“At Gateshead; in ——shire.”
“-shire? That is a hundred miles off! Who may she be that sends for people to see her that distance?”
“Her name is Reed, sir—Mrs. Reed.”
“Reed of Gateshead? There was a Reed of Gateshead, a magistrate.”
“It is his widow, sir.”
“And what have you to do with her? How do you know her?”
“Mr. Reed was my uncle—my mother’s brother.”
“The deuce he was! You never told me that before: you always said you had no relations.”
“None that would own me, sir. Mr. Reed is dead, and his wife cast me off.”
“Because I was poor, and burdensome, and she disliked me.”
“But Reed left children?—you must have cousins? Sir George Lynn was talking of a Reed of Gateshead yesterday, who, he said, was one of the veriest rascals on town; and Ingram was mentioning a Georgiana Reed of the same place, who was much admired for her beauty a season or two ago in London.”
“John Reed is dead, too, sir: he ruined himself and half-ruined his family, and is supposed to have committed suicide. The news so shocked his mother that it brought on an apoplectic attack.”
“And what good can you do her? Nonsense, Jane! I would never think of running a hundred miles to see an old lady who will, perhaps, be dead before you reach her: besides, you say she cast you off.”
“Yes, sir, but that is long ago; and when her circumstances were very different: I could not be easy to neglect her wishes now.”
“How long will you stay?”
“As short a time as possible, sir.”
“Promise me only to stay a week—”
“I had better not pass my word: I might be obliged to break it.”
“At all events you will come back: you will not be induced under any pretext to take up a permanent residence with her?”
“Oh, no! I shall certainly return if all be well.”
“And who goes with you? You don’t travel a hundred miles alone.”
“No, sir, she has sent her coachman.”
“A person to be trusted?”
“Yes, sir, he has lived ten years in the family.”
Mr. Rochester meditated. “When do you wish to go?”
“Early to-morrow morning, sir.”
“Well, you must have some money; you can’t travel without money, and I daresay you have not much: I have given you no salary yet. How much have you in the world, Jane?” he asked, smiling.
I drew out my purse; a meagre thing it was. “Five shillings, sir.” He took the purse, poured the hoard into his palm, and chuckled over it as if its scantiness amused him. Soon he produced his pocket-book: “Here,” said he, offering me a note; it was fifty pounds, and he owed me but fifteen. I told him I had no change.
“I don’t want change; you know that. Take your wages.”
I declined accepting more than was my due. He scowled at first; then, as if recollecting something, he said—
“Right, right! Better not give you all now: you would, perhaps, stay away three months if you had fifty pounds. There are ten; is it not plenty?”
“Yes, sir, but now you owe me five.”
“Come back for it, then; I am your banker for forty pounds.”
“Mr. Rochester, I may as well mention another matter of business to you while I have the opportunity.”
“Matter of business? I am curious to hear it.”
“You have as good as informed me, sir, that you are going shortly to be married?”
“Yes; what then?”
“In that case, sir, Adèle ought to go to school: I am sure you will perceive the necessity of it.”
“To get her out of my bride’s way, who might otherwise walk over her rather too emphatically? There’s sense in the suggestion; not a doubt of it. Adèle, as you say, must go to school; and you, of course, must march straight to—the devil?”
“I hope not, sir; but I must seek another situation somewhere.”
“In course!” he exclaimed, with a twang of voice and a distortion of features equally fantastic and ludicrous. He looked at me some minutes.
“And old Madam Reed, or the Misses, her daughters, will be solicited by you to seek a place, I suppose?”
“No, sir; I am not on such terms with my relatives as would justify me in asking favours of them—but I shall advertise.”
“You shall walk up the pyramids of Egypt!” he growled. “At your peril you advertise! I wish I had only offered you a sovereign instead of ten pounds. Give me back nine pounds, Jane; I’ve a use for it.”
“And so have I, sir,” I returned, putting my hands and my purse behind me. “I could not spare the money on any account.”
“Little niggard!” said he, “refusing me a pecuniary request! Give me five pounds, Jane.”
“Not five shillings, sir; nor five pence.”
“Just let me look at the cash.”
“No, sir; you are not to be trusted.”
“Promise me one thing.”
“I’ll promise you anything, sir, that I think I am likely to perform.”
“Not to advertise: and to trust this quest of a situation to me. I’ll find you one in time.”
“I shall be glad so to do, sir, if you, in your turn, will promise that I and Adèle shall be both safe out of the house before your bride enters it.”
“Very well! very well! I’ll pledge my word on it. You go to-morrow, then?”
“Yes, sir; early.”
“Shall you come down to the drawing-room after dinner?”
“No, sir, I must prepare for the journey.”
“Then you and I must bid good-bye for a little while?”
“I suppose so, sir.”
“And how do people perform that ceremony of parting, Jane? Teach me; I’m not quite up to it.”
“They say, Farewell, or any other form they prefer.”
“Then say it.”
“Farewell, Mr. Rochester, for the present.”
“What must I say?”
“The same, if you like, sir.”
“Farewell, Miss Eyre, for the present; is that all?”
“It seems stingy, to my notions, and dry, and unfriendly. I should like something else: a little addition to the rite. If one shook hands, for instance; but no—that would not content me either. So you’ll do no more than say Farewell, Jane?”
“It is enough, sir: as much good-will may be conveyed in one hearty word as in many.”
“Very likely; but it is blank and cool—‘Farewell.’”
“How long is he going to stand with his back against that door?” I asked myself; “I want to commence my packing.” The dinner-bell rang, and suddenly away he bolted, without another syllable: I saw him no more during the day, and was off before he had risen in the morning.
I reached the lodge at Gateshead about five o’clock in the afternoon of the first of May: I stepped in there before going up to the hall. It was very clean and neat: the ornamental windows were hung with little white curtains; the floor was spotless; the grate and fire-irons were burnished bright, and the fire burnt clear. Bessie sat on the hearth, nursing her last-born, and Robert and his sister played quietly in a corner.
“Bless you!—I knew you would come!” exclaimed Mrs. Leaven, as I entered.
“Yes, Bessie,” said I, after I had kissed her; “and I trust I am not too late. How is Mrs. Reed?—Alive still, I hope.”
“Yes, she is alive; and more sensible and collected than she was. The doctor says she may linger a week or two yet; but he hardly thinks she will finally recover.”
“Has she mentioned me lately?”
“She was talking of you only this morning, and wishing you would come, but she is sleeping now, or was ten minutes ago, when I was up at the house. She generally lies in a kind of lethargy all the afternoon, and wakes up about six or seven. Will you rest yourself here an hour, Miss, and then I will go up with you?”
Robert here entered, and Bessie laid her sleeping child in the cradle and went to welcome him: afterwards she insisted on my taking off my bonnet and having some tea; for she said I looked pale and tired. I was glad to accept her hospitality; and I submitted to be relieved of my travelling garb just as passively as I used to let her undress me when a child.
Old times crowded fast back on me as I watched her bustling about—setting out the tea-tray with her best china, cutting bread and butter, toasting a tea-cake, and, between whiles, giving little Robert or Jane an occasional tap or push, just as she used to give me in former days. Bessie had retained her quick temper as well as her light foot and good looks.
Tea ready, I was going to approach the table; but she desired me to sit still, quite in her old peremptory tones. I must be served at the fireside, she said; and she placed before me a little round stand with my cup and a plate of toast, absolutely as she used to accommodate me with some privately purloined dainty on a nursery chair: and I smiled and obeyed her as in bygone days.
She wanted to know if I was happy at Thornfield Hall, and what sort of a person the mistress was; and when I told her there was only a master, whether he was a nice gentleman, and if I liked him. I told her he was rather an ugly man, but quite a gentleman; and that he treated me kindly, and I was content. Then I went on to describe to her the gay company that had lately been staying at the house; and to these details Bessie listened with interest: they were precisely of the kind she relished.
In such conversation an hour was soon gone: Bessie restored to me my bonnet, &c., and, accompanied by her, I quitted the lodge for the hall. It was also accompanied by her that I had, nearly nine years ago, walked down the path I was now ascending. On a dark, misty, raw morning in January, I had left a hostile roof with a desperate and embittered heart—a sense of outlawry and almost of reprobation—to seek the chilly harbourage of Lowood: that bourne so far away and unexplored. The same hostile roof now again rose before me: my prospects were doubtful yet; and I had yet an aching heart. I still felt as a wanderer on the face of the earth; but I experienced firmer trust in myself and my own powers, and less withering dread of oppression. The gaping wound of my wrongs, too, was now quite healed; and the flame of resentment extinguished.
“You shall go into the breakfast-room first,” said Bessie, as she preceded me through the hall; “the young ladies will be there.”
In another moment I was within that apartment. There was every article of furniture looking just as it did on the morning I was first introduced to Mr. Brocklehurst: the very rug he had stood upon still covered the hearth. Glancing at the bookcases, I thought I could distinguish the two volumes of Bewick’s British Birds occupying their old place on the third shelf, and Gulliver’s Travels and the Arabian Nights ranged just above. The inanimate objects were not changed; but the living things had altered past recognition.
Two young ladies appeared before me; one very tall, almost as tall as Miss Ingram—very thin too, with a sallow face and severe mien. There was something ascetic in her look, which was augmented by the extreme plainness of a straight-skirted, black, stuff dress, a starched linen collar, hair combed away from the temples, and the nun-like ornament of a string of ebony beads and a crucifix. This I felt sure was Eliza, though I could trace little resemblance to her former self in that elongated and colourless visage.
The other was as certainly Georgiana: but not the Georgiana I remembered—the slim and fairy-like girl of eleven. This was a full-blown, very plump damsel, fair as waxwork, with handsome and regular features, languishing blue eyes, and ringleted yellow hair. The hue of her dress was black too; but its fashion was so different from her sister’s—so much more flowing and becoming—it looked as stylish as the other’s looked puritanical.
In each of the sisters there was one trait of the mother—and only one; the thin and pallid elder daughter had her parent’s Cairngorm eye: the blooming and luxuriant younger girl had her contour of jaw and chin—perhaps a little softened, but still imparting an indescribable hardness to the countenance otherwise so voluptuous and buxom.
Both ladies, as I advanced, rose to welcome me, and both addressed me by the name of “Miss Eyre.” Eliza’s greeting was delivered in a short, abrupt voice, without a smile; and then she sat down again, fixed her eyes on the fire, and seemed to forget me. Georgiana added to her “How d’ye do?” several commonplaces about my journey, the weather, and so on, uttered in rather a drawling tone: and accompanied by sundry side-glances that measured me from head to foot—now traversing the folds of my drab merino pelisse, and now lingering on the plain trimming of my cottage bonnet. Young ladies have a remarkable way of letting you know that they think you a “quiz” without actually saying the words. A certain superciliousness of look, coolness of manner, nonchalance of tone, express fully their sentiments on the point, without committing them by any positive rudeness in word or deed.
A sneer, however, whether covert or open, had now no longer that power over me it once possessed: as I sat between my cousins, I was surprised to find how easy I felt under the total neglect of the one and the semi-sarcastic attentions of the other—Eliza did not mortify, nor Georgiana ruffle me. The fact was, I had other things to think about; within the last few months feelings had been stirred in me so much more potent than any they could raise—pains and pleasures so much more acute and exquisite had been excited than any it was in their power to inflict or bestow—that their airs gave me no concern either for good or bad.
“How is Mrs. Reed?” I asked soon, looking calmly at Georgiana, who thought fit to bridle at the direct address, as if it were an unexpected liberty.
“Mrs. Reed? Ah! mama, you mean; she is extremely poorly: I doubt if you can see her to-night.”
“If,” said I, “you would just step upstairs and tell her I am come, I should be much obliged to you.”
Georgiana almost started, and she opened her blue eyes wild and wide. “I know she had a particular wish to see me,” I added, “and I would not defer attending to her desire longer than is absolutely necessary.”
“Mama dislikes being disturbed in an evening,” remarked Eliza. I soon rose, quietly took off my bonnet and gloves, uninvited, and said I would just step out to Bessie—who was, I dared say, in the kitchen—and ask her to ascertain whether Mrs. Reed was disposed to receive me or not to-night. I went, and having found Bessie and despatched her on my errand, I proceeded to take further measures. It had heretofore been my habit always to shrink from arrogance: received as I had been to-day, I should, a year ago, have resolved to quit Gateshead the very next morning; now, it was disclosed to me all at once that that would be a foolish plan. I had taken a journey of a hundred miles to see my aunt, and I must stay with her till she was better—or dead: as to her daughters’ pride or folly, I must put it on one side, make myself independent of it. So I addressed the housekeeper; asked her to show me a room, told her I should probably be a visitor here for a week or two, had my trunk conveyed to my chamber, and followed it thither myself: I met Bessie on the landing.
“Missis is awake,” said she; “I have told her you are here: come and let us see if she will know you.”
I did not need to be guided to the well-known room, to which I had so often been summoned for chastisement or reprimand in former days. I hastened before Bessie; I softly opened the door: a shaded light stood on the table, for it was now getting dark. There was the great four-post bed with amber hangings as of old; there the toilet-table, the armchair, and the footstool, at which I had a hundred times been sentenced to kneel, to ask pardon for offences by me uncommitted. I looked into a certain corner near, half-expecting to see the slim outline of a once dreaded switch which used to lurk there, waiting to leap out imp-like and lace my quivering palm or shrinking neck. I approached the bed; I opened the curtains and leant over the high-piled pillows.
Well did I remember Mrs. Reed’s face, and I eagerly sought the familiar image. It is a happy thing that time quells the longings of vengeance and hushes the promptings of rage and aversion. I had left this woman in bitterness and hate, and I came back to her now with no other emotion than a sort of ruth for her great sufferings, and a strong yearning to forget and forgive all injuries—to be reconciled and clasp hands in amity.
The well-known face was there: stern, relentless as ever—there was that peculiar eye which nothing could melt, and the somewhat raised, imperious, despotic eyebrow. How often had it lowered on me menace and hate! and how the recollection of childhood’s terrors and sorrows revived as I traced its harsh line now! And yet I stooped down and kissed her: she looked at me.
“Is this Jane Eyre?” she said.
“Yes, Aunt Reed. How are you, dear aunt?”
I had once vowed that I would never call her aunt again: I thought it no sin to forget and break that vow now. My fingers had fastened on her hand which lay outside the sheet: had she pressed mine kindly, I should at that moment have experienced true pleasure. But unimpressionable natures are not so soon softened, nor are natural antipathies so readily eradicated. Mrs. Reed took her hand away, and, turning her face rather from me, she remarked that the night was warm. Again she regarded me so icily, I felt at once that her opinion of me—her feeling towards me—was unchanged and unchangeable. I knew by her stony eye—opaque to tenderness, indissoluble to tears—that she was resolved to consider me bad to the last; because to believe me good would give her no generous pleasure: only a sense of mortification.
I felt pain, and then I felt ire; and then I felt a determination to subdue her—to be her mistress in spite both of her nature and her will. My tears had risen, just as in childhood: I ordered them back to their source. I brought a chair to the bed-head: I sat down and leaned over the pillow.
“You sent for me,” I said, “and I am here; and it is my intention to stay till I see how you get on.”
“Oh, of course! You have seen my daughters?”
“Well, you may tell them I wish you to stay till I can talk some things over with you I have on my mind: to-night it is too late, and I have a difficulty in recalling them. But there was something I wished to say—let me see—”
The wandering look and changed utterance told what wreck had taken place in her once vigorous frame. Turning restlessly, she drew the bedclothes round her; my elbow, resting on a corner of the quilt, fixed it down: she was at once irritated.
“Sit up!” said she; “don’t annoy me with holding the clothes fast. Are you Jane Eyre?”
“I am Jane Eyre.”
“I have had more trouble with that child than any one would believe. Such a burden to be left on my hands—and so much annoyance as she caused me, daily and hourly, with her incomprehensible disposition, and her sudden starts of temper, and her continual, unnatural watchings of one’s movements! I declare she talked to me once like something mad, or like a fiend—no child ever spoke or looked as she did; I was glad to get her away from the house. What did they do with her at Lowood? The fever broke out there, and many of the pupils died. She, however, did not die: but I said she did—I wish she had died!”
“A strange wish, Mrs. Reed; why do you hate her so?”
“I had a dislike to her mother always; for she was my husband’s only sister, and a great favourite with him: he opposed the family’s disowning her when she made her low marriage; and when news came of her death, he wept like a simpleton. He would send for the baby; though I entreated him rather to put it out to nurse and pay for its maintenance. I hated it the first time I set my eyes on it—a sickly, whining, pining thing! It would wail in its cradle all night long—not screaming heartily like any other child, but whimpering and moaning. Reed pitied it; and he used to nurse it and notice it as if it had been his own: more, indeed, than he ever noticed his own at that age. He would try to make my children friendly to the little beggar: the darlings could not bear it, and he was angry with them when they showed their dislike. In his last illness, he had it brought continually to his bedside; and but an hour before he died, he bound me by vow to keep the creature. I would as soon have been charged with a pauper brat out of a workhouse: but he was weak, naturally weak. John does not at all resemble his father, and I am glad of it: John is like me and like my brothers—he is quite a Gibson. Oh, I wish he would cease tormenting me with letters for money! I have no more money to give him: we are getting poor. I must send away half the servants and shut up part of the house; or let it off. I can never submit to do that—yet how are we to get on? Two-thirds of my income goes in paying the interest of mortgages. John gambles dreadfully, and always loses—poor boy! He is beset by sharpers: John is sunk and degraded—his look is frightful—I feel ashamed for him when I see him.”
She was getting much excited. “I think I had better leave her now,” said I to Bessie, who stood on the other side of the bed.
“Perhaps you had, Miss: but she often talks in this way towards night—in the morning she is calmer.”
I rose. “Stop!” exclaimed Mrs. Reed, “there is another thing I wished to say. He threatens me—he continually threatens me with his own death, or mine: and I dream sometimes that I see him laid out with a great wound in his throat, or with a swollen and blackened face. I am come to a strange pass: I have heavy troubles. What is to be done? How is the money to be had?”
Bessie now endeavoured to persuade her to take a sedative draught: she succeeded with difficulty. Soon after, Mrs. Reed grew more composed, and sank into a dozing state. I then left her.
More than ten days elapsed before I had again any conversation with her. She continued either delirious or lethargic; and the doctor forbade everything which could painfully excite her. Meantime, I got on as well as I could with Georgiana and Eliza. They were very cold, indeed, at first. Eliza would sit half the day sewing, reading, or writing, and scarcely utter a word either to me or her sister. Georgiana would chatter nonsense to her canary bird by the hour, and take no notice of me. But I was determined not to seem at a loss for occupation or amusement: I had brought my drawing materials with me, and they served me for both.
Provided with a case of pencils, and some sheets of paper, I used to take a seat apart from them, near the window, and busy myself in sketching fancy vignettes, representing any scene that happened momentarily to shape itself in the ever-shifting kaleidoscope of imagination: a glimpse of sea between two rocks; the rising moon, and a ship crossing its disk; a group of reeds and water-flags, and a naiad’s head, crowned with lotus-flowers, rising out of them; an elf sitting in a hedge-sparrow’s nest, under a wreath of hawthorn-bloom.
One morning I fell to sketching a face: what sort of a face it was to be, I did not care or know. I took a soft black pencil, gave it a broad point, and worked away. Soon I had traced on the paper a broad and prominent forehead and a square lower outline of visage: that contour gave me pleasure; my fingers proceeded actively to fill it with features. Strongly-marked horizontal eyebrows must be traced under that brow; then followed, naturally, a well-defined nose, with a straight ridge and full nostrils; then a flexible-looking mouth, by no means narrow; then a firm chin, with a decided cleft down the middle of it: of course, some black whiskers were wanted, and some jetty hair, tufted on the temples, and waved above the forehead. Now for the eyes: I had left them to the last, because they required the most careful working. I drew them large; I shaped them well: the eyelashes I traced long and sombre; the irids lustrous and large. “Good! but not quite the thing,” I thought, as I surveyed the effect: “they want more force and spirit;” and I wrought the shades blacker, that the lights might flash more brilliantly—a happy touch or two secured success. There, I had a friend’s face under my gaze; and what did it signify that those young ladies turned their backs on me? I looked at it; I smiled at the speaking likeness: I was absorbed and content.
“Is that a portrait of some one you know?” asked Eliza, who had approached me unnoticed. I responded that it was merely a fancy head, and hurried it beneath the other sheets. Of course, I lied: it was, in fact, a very faithful representation of Mr. Rochester. But what was that to her, or to any one but myself? Georgiana also advanced to look. The other drawings pleased her much, but she called that “an ugly man.” They both seemed surprised at my skill. I offered to sketch their portraits; and each, in turn, sat for a pencil outline. Then Georgiana produced her album. I promised to contribute a water-colour drawing: this put her at once into good humour. She proposed a walk in the grounds. Before we had been out two hours, we were deep in a confidential conversation: she had favoured me with a description of the brilliant winter she had spent in London two seasons ago—of the admiration she had there excited—the attention she had received; and I even got hints of the titled conquest she had made. In the course of the afternoon and evening these hints were enlarged on: various soft conversations were reported, and sentimental scenes represented; and, in short, a volume of a novel of fashionable life was that day improvised by her for my benefit. The communications were renewed from day to day: they always ran on the same theme—herself, her loves, and woes. It was strange she never once adverted either to her mother’s illness, or her brother’s death, or the present gloomy state of the family prospects. Her mind seemed wholly taken up with reminiscences of past gaiety, and aspirations after dissipations to come. She passed about five minutes each day in her mother’s sick-room, and no more.
Eliza still spoke little: she had evidently no time to talk. I never saw a busier person than she seemed to be; yet it was difficult to say what she did: or rather, to discover any result of her diligence. She had an alarm to call her up early. I know not how she occupied herself before breakfast, but after that meal she divided her time into regular portions, and each hour had its allotted task. Three times a day she studied a little book, which I found, on inspection, was a Common Prayer Book. I asked her once what was the great attraction of that volume, and she said, “the Rubric.” Three hours she gave to stitching, with gold thread, the border of a square crimson cloth, almost large enough for a carpet. In answer to my inquiries after the use of this article, she informed me it was a covering for the altar of a new church lately erected near Gateshead. Two hours she devoted to her diary; two to working by herself in the kitchen-garden; and one to the regulation of her accounts. She seemed to want no company; no conversation. I believe she was happy in her way: this routine sufficed for her; and nothing annoyed her so much as the occurrence of any incident which forced her to vary its clockwork regularity.
She told me one evening, when more disposed to be communicative than usual, that John’s conduct, and the threatened ruin of the family, had been a source of profound affliction to her: but she had now, she said, settled her mind, and formed her resolution. Her own fortune she had taken care to secure; and when her mother died—and it was wholly improbable, she tranquilly remarked, that she should either recover or linger long—she would execute a long-cherished project: seek a retirement where punctual habits would be permanently secured from disturbance, and place safe barriers between herself and a frivolous world. I asked if Georgiana would accompany her.
“Of course not. Georgiana and she had nothing in common: they never had had. She would not be burdened with her society for any consideration. Georgiana should take her own course; and she, Eliza, would take hers.”
Georgiana, when not unburdening her heart to me, spent most of her time in lying on the sofa, fretting about the dulness of the house, and wishing over and over again that her aunt Gibson would send her an invitation up to town. “It would be so much better,” she said, “if she could only get out of the way for a month or two, till all was over.” I did not ask what she meant by “all being over,” but I suppose she referred to the expected decease of her mother and the gloomy sequel of funeral rites. Eliza generally took no more notice of her sister’s indolence and complaints than if no such murmuring, lounging object had been before her. One day, however, as she put away her account-book and unfolded her embroidery, she suddenly took her up thus—
“Georgiana, a more vain and absurd animal than you was certainly never allowed to cumber the earth. You had no right to be born, for you make no use of life. Instead of living for, in, and with yourself, as a reasonable being ought, you seek only to fasten your feebleness on some other person’s strength: if no one can be found willing to burden her or himself with such a fat, weak, puffy, useless thing, you cry out that you are ill-treated, neglected, miserable. Then, too, existence for you must be a scene of continual change and excitement, or else the world is a dungeon: you must be admired, you must be courted, you must be flattered—you must have music, dancing, and society—or you languish, you die away. Have you no sense to devise a system which will make you independent of all efforts, and all wills, but your own? Take one day; share it into sections; to each section apportion its task: leave no stray unemployed quarters of an hour, ten minutes, five minutes—include all; do each piece of business in its turn with method, with rigid regularity. The day will close almost before you are aware it has begun; and you are indebted to no one for helping you to get rid of one vacant moment: you have had to seek no one’s company, conversation, sympathy, forbearance; you have lived, in short, as an independent being ought to do. Take this advice: the first and last I shall offer you; then you will not want me or any one else, happen what may. Neglect it—go on as heretofore, craving, whining, and idling—and suffer the results of your idiocy, however bad and insufferable they may be. I tell you this plainly; and listen: for though I shall no more repeat what I am now about to say, I shall steadily act on it. After my mother’s death, I wash my hands of you: from the day her coffin is carried to the vault in Gateshead Church, you and I will be as separate as if we had never known each other. You need not think that because we chanced to be born of the same parents, I shall suffer you to fasten me down by even the feeblest claim: I can tell you this—if the whole human race, ourselves excepted, were swept away, and we two stood alone on the earth, I would leave you in the old world, and betake myself to the new.”
She closed her lips.
“You might have spared yourself the trouble of delivering that tirade,” answered Georgiana. “Everybody knows you are the most selfish, heartless creature in existence: and I know your spiteful hatred towards me: I have had a specimen of it before in the trick you played me about Lord Edwin Vere: you could not bear me to be raised above you, to have a title, to be received into circles where you dare not show your face, and so you acted the spy and informer, and ruined my prospects for ever.” Georgiana took out her handkerchief and blew her nose for an hour afterwards; Eliza sat cold, impassable, and assiduously industrious.
True, generous feeling is made small account of by some, but here were two natures rendered, the one intolerably acrid, the other despicably savourless for the want of it. Feeling without judgment is a washy draught indeed; but judgment untempered by feeling is too bitter and husky a morsel for human deglutition.
It was a wet and windy afternoon: Georgiana had fallen asleep on the sofa over the perusal of a novel; Eliza was gone to attend a saint’s-day service at the new church—for in matters of religion she was a rigid formalist: no weather ever prevented the punctual discharge of what she considered her devotional duties; fair or foul, she went to church thrice every Sunday, and as often on week-days as there were prayers.
I bethought myself to go upstairs and see how the dying woman sped, who lay there almost unheeded: the very servants paid her but a remittent attention: the hired nurse, being little looked after, would slip out of the room whenever she could. Bessie was faithful; but she had her own family to mind, and could only come occasionally to the hall. I found the sick-room unwatched, as I had expected: no nurse was there; the patient lay still, and seemingly lethargic; her livid face sunk in the pillows: the fire was dying in the grate. I renewed the fuel, re-arranged the bedclothes, gazed awhile on her who could not now gaze on me, and then I moved away to the window.
The rain beat strongly against the panes, the wind blew tempestuously: “One lies there,” I thought, “who will soon be beyond the war of earthly elements. Whither will that spirit—now struggling to quit its material tenement—flit when at length released?”
In pondering the great mystery, I thought of Helen Burns, recalled her dying words—her faith—her doctrine of the equality of disembodied souls. I was still listening in thought to her well-remembered tones—still picturing her pale and spiritual aspect, her wasted face and sublime gaze, as she lay on her placid deathbed, and whispered her longing to be restored to her divine Father’s bosom—when a feeble voice murmured from the couch behind: “Who is that?”
I knew Mrs. Reed had not spoken for days: was she reviving? I went up to her.
“It is I, Aunt Reed.”
“Who—I?” was her answer. “Who are you?” looking at me with surprise and a sort of alarm, but still not wildly. “You are quite a stranger to me—where is Bessie?”
“She is at the lodge, aunt.”
“Aunt,” she repeated. “Who calls me aunt? You are not one of the Gibsons; and yet I know you—that face, and the eyes and forehead, are quiet familiar to me: you are like—why, you are like Jane Eyre!”
I said nothing: I was afraid of occasioning some shock by declaring my identity.
“Yet,” said she, “I am afraid it is a mistake: my thoughts deceive me. I wished to see Jane Eyre, and I fancy a likeness where none exists: besides, in eight years she must be so changed.” I now gently assured her that I was the person she supposed and desired me to be: and seeing that I was understood, and that her senses were quite collected, I explained how Bessie had sent her husband to fetch me from Thornfield.
“I am very ill, I know,” she said ere long. “I was trying to turn myself a few minutes since, and find I cannot move a limb. It is as well I should ease my mind before I die: what we think little of in health, burdens us at such an hour as the present is to me. Is the nurse here? or is there no one in the room but you?”
I assured her we were alone.
“Well, I have twice done you a wrong which I regret now. One was in breaking the promise which I gave my husband to bring you up as my own child; the other—” she stopped. “After all, it is of no great importance, perhaps,” she murmured to herself: “and then I may get better; and to humble myself so to her is painful.”
She made an effort to alter her position, but failed: her face changed; she seemed to experience some inward sensation—the precursor, perhaps, of the last pang.
“Well, I must get it over. Eternity is before me: I had better tell her.—Go to my dressing-case, open it, and take out a letter you will see there.”
I obeyed her directions. “Read the letter,” she said.
It was short, and thus conceived:—
“MADAM,— “Will you have the goodness to send me the address of my niece, Jane Eyre, and to tell me how she is? It is my intention to write shortly and desire her to come to me at Madeira. Providence has blessed my endeavours to secure a competency; and as I am unmarried and childless, I wish to adopt her during my life, and bequeath her at my death whatever I may have to leave.
I am, Madam, &c., &c., “JOHN EYRE, Madeira.”
It was dated three years back.
“Why did I never hear of this?” I asked.
“Because I disliked you too fixedly and thoroughly ever to lend a hand in lifting you to prosperity. I could not forget your conduct to me, Jane—the fury with which you once turned on me; the tone in which you declared you abhorred me the worst of anybody in the world; the unchildlike look and voice with which you affirmed that the very thought of me made you sick, and asserted that I had treated you with miserable cruelty. I could not forget my own sensations when you thus started up and poured out the venom of your mind: I felt fear as if an animal that I had struck or pushed had looked up at me with human eyes and cursed me in a man’s voice.—Bring me some water! Oh, make haste!”
“Dear Mrs. Reed,” said I, as I offered her the draught she required, “think no more of all this, let it pass away from your mind. Forgive me for my passionate language: I was a child then; eight, nine years have passed since that day.”
She heeded nothing of what I said; but when she had tasted the water and drawn breath, she went on thus—
“I tell you I could not forget it; and I took my revenge: for you to be adopted by your uncle, and placed in a state of ease and comfort, was what I could not endure. I wrote to him; I said I was sorry for his disappointment, but Jane Eyre was dead: she had died of typhus fever at Lowood. Now act as you please: write and contradict my assertion—expose my falsehood as soon as you like. You were born, I think, to be my torment: my last hour is racked by the recollection of a deed which, but for you, I should never have been tempted to commit.”
“If you could but be persuaded to think no more of it, aunt, and to regard me with kindness and forgiveness——”
“You have a very bad disposition,” said she, “and one to this day I feel it impossible to understand: how for nine years you could be patient and quiescent under any treatment, and in the tenth break out all fire and violence, I can never comprehend.”
“My disposition is not so bad as you think: I am passionate, but not vindictive. Many a time, as a little child, I should have been glad to love you if you would have let me; and I long earnestly to be reconciled to you now: kiss me, aunt.”
I approached my cheek to her lips: she would not touch it. She said I oppressed her by leaning over the bed, and again demanded water. As I laid her down—for I raised her and supported her on my arm while she drank—I covered her ice-cold and clammy hand with mine: the feeble fingers shrank from my touch—the glazing eyes shunned my gaze.
“Love me, then, or hate me, as you will,” I said at last, “you have my full and free forgiveness: ask now for God’s, and be at peace.”
Poor, suffering woman! it was too late for her to make now the effort to change her habitual frame of mind: living, she had ever hated me—dying, she must hate me still.
The nurse now entered, and Bessie followed. I yet lingered half-an-hour longer, hoping to see some sign of amity: but she gave none. She was fast relapsing into stupor; nor did her mind again rally: at twelve o’clock that night she died. I was not present to close her eyes, nor were either of her daughters. They came to tell us the next morning that all was over. She was by that time laid out. Eliza and I went to look at her: Georgiana, who had burst out into loud weeping, said she dared not go. There was stretched Sarah Reed’s once robust and active frame, rigid and still: her eye of flint was covered with its cold lid; her brow and strong traits wore yet the impress of her inexorable soul. A strange and solemn object was that corpse to me. I gazed on it with gloom and pain: nothing soft, nothing sweet, nothing pitying, or hopeful, or subduing did it inspire; only a grating anguish for her woes—not my loss—and a sombre tearless dismay at the fearfulness of death in such a form.
Eliza surveyed her parent calmly. After a silence of some minutes she observed—
“With her constitution she should have lived to a good old age: her life was shortened by trouble.” And then a spasm constricted her mouth for an instant: as it passed away she turned and left the room, and so did I. Neither of us had dropt a tear.
Mr. Rochester had given me but one week’s leave of absence: yet a month elapsed before I quitted Gateshead. I wished to leave immediately after the funeral, but Georgiana entreated me to stay till she could get off to London, whither she was now at last invited by her uncle, Mr. Gibson, who had come down to direct his sister’s interment and settle the family affairs. Georgiana said she dreaded being left alone with Eliza; from her she got neither sympathy in her dejection, support in her fears, nor aid in her preparations; so I bore with her feeble-minded wailings and selfish lamentations as well as I could, and did my best in sewing for her and packing her dresses. It is true, that while I worked, she would idle; and I thought to myself, “If you and I were destined to live always together, cousin, we would commence matters on a different footing. I should not settle tamely down into being the forbearing party; I should assign you your share of labour, and compel you to accomplish it, or else it should be left undone: I should insist, also, on your keeping some of those drawling, half-insincere complaints hushed in your own breast. It is only because our connection happens to be very transitory, and comes at a peculiarly mournful season, that I consent thus to render it so patient and compliant on my part.”
At last I saw Georgiana off; but now it was Eliza’s turn to request me to stay another week. Her plans required all her time and attention, she said; she was about to depart for some unknown bourne; and all day long she stayed in her own room, her door bolted within, filling trunks, emptying drawers, burning papers, and holding no communication with any one. She wished me to look after the house, to see callers, and answer notes of condolence.
One morning she told me I was at liberty. “And,” she added, “I am obliged to you for your valuable services and discreet conduct! There is some difference between living with such an one as you and with Georgiana: you perform your own part in life and burden no one. To-morrow,” she continued, “I set out for the Continent. I shall take up my abode in a religious house near Lisle—a nunnery you would call it; there I shall be quiet and unmolested. I shall devote myself for a time to the examination of the Roman Catholic dogmas, and to a careful study of the workings of their system: if I find it to be, as I half suspect it is, the one best calculated to ensure the doing of all things decently and in order, I shall embrace the tenets of Rome and probably take the veil.”
I neither expressed surprise at this resolution nor attempted to dissuade her from it. “The vocation will fit you to a hair,” I thought: “much good may it do you!”
When we parted, she said: “Good-bye, cousin Jane Eyre; I wish you well: you have some sense.”
I then returned: “You are not without sense, cousin Eliza; but what you have, I suppose, in another year will be walled up alive in a French convent. However, it is not my business, and so it suits you, I don’t much care.”
“You are in the right,” said she; and with these words we each went our separate way. As I shall not have occasion to refer either to her or her sister again, I may as well mention here, that Georgiana made an advantageous match with a wealthy worn-out man of fashion, and that Eliza actually took the veil, and is at this day superior of the convent where she passed the period of her novitiate, and which she endowed with her fortune.
How people feel when they are returning home from an absence, long or short, I did not know: I had never experienced the sensation. I had known what it was to come back to Gateshead when a child after a long walk, to be scolded for looking cold or gloomy; and later, what it was to come back from church to Lowood, to long for a plenteous meal and a good fire, and to be unable to get either. Neither of these returnings was very pleasant or desirable: no magnet drew me to a given point, increasing in its strength of attraction the nearer I came. The return to Thornfield was yet to be tried.
My journey seemed tedious—very tedious: fifty miles one day, a night spent at an inn; fifty miles the next day. During the first twelve hours I thought of Mrs. Reed in her last moments; I saw her disfigured and discoloured face, and heard her strangely altered voice. I mused on the funeral day, the coffin, the hearse, the black train of tenants and servants—few was the number of relatives—the gaping vault, the silent church, the solemn service. Then I thought of Eliza and Georgiana; I beheld one the cynosure of a ball-room, the other the inmate of a convent cell; and I dwelt on and analysed their separate peculiarities of person and character. The evening arrival at the great town of —— scattered these thoughts; night gave them quite another turn: laid down on my traveller’s bed, I left reminiscence for anticipation.
I was going back to Thornfield: but how long was I to stay there? Not long; of that I was sure. I had heard from Mrs. Fairfax in the interim of my absence: the party at the hall was dispersed; Mr. Rochester had left for London three weeks ago, but he was then expected to return in a fortnight. Mrs. Fairfax surmised that he was gone to make arrangements for his wedding, as he had talked of purchasing a new carriage: she said the idea of his marrying Miss Ingram still seemed strange to her; but from what everybody said, and from what she had herself seen, she could no longer doubt that the event would shortly take place. “You would be strangely incredulous if you did doubt it,” was my mental comment. “I don’t doubt it.”
The question followed, “Where was I to go?” I dreamt of Miss Ingram all the night: in a vivid morning dream I saw her closing the gates of Thornfield against me and pointing me out another road; and Mr. Rochester looked on with his arms folded—smiling sardonically, as it seemed, at both her and me.
I had not notified to Mrs. Fairfax the exact day of my return; for I did not wish either car or carriage to meet me at Millcote. I proposed to walk the distance quietly by myself; and very quietly, after leaving my box in the ostler’s care, did I slip away from the George Inn, about six o’clock of a June evening, and take the old road to Thornfield: a road which lay chiefly through fields, and was now little frequented.
It was not a bright or splendid summer evening, though fair and soft: the haymakers were at work all along the road; and the sky, though far from cloudless, was such as promised well for the future: its blue—where blue was visible—was mild and settled, and its cloud strata high and thin. The west, too, was warm: no watery gleam chilled it—it seemed as if there was a fire lit, an altar burning behind its screen of marbled vapour, and out of apertures shone a golden redness.
I felt glad as the road shortened before me: so glad that I stopped once to ask myself what that joy meant: and to remind reason that it was not to my home I was going, or to a permanent resting-place, or to a place where fond friends looked out for me and waited my arrival. “Mrs. Fairfax will smile you a calm welcome, to be sure,” said I; “and little Adèle will clap her hands and jump to see you: but you know very well you are thinking of another than they, and that he is not thinking of you.”
But what is so headstrong as youth? What so blind as inexperience? These affirmed that it was pleasure enough to have the privilege of again looking on Mr. Rochester, whether he looked on me or not; and they added—“Hasten! hasten! be with him while you may: but a few more days or weeks, at most, and you are parted from him for ever!” And then I strangled a new-born agony—a deformed thing which I could not persuade myself to own and rear—and ran on.
They are making hay, too, in Thornfield meadows: or rather, the labourers are just quitting their work, and returning home with their rakes on their shoulders, now, at the hour I arrive. I have but a field or two to traverse, and then I shall cross the road and reach the gates. How full the hedges are of roses! But I have no time to gather any; I want to be at the house. I passed a tall briar, shooting leafy and flowery branches across the path; I see the narrow stile with stone steps; and I see—Mr. Rochester sitting there, a book and a pencil in his hand; he is writing.
Well, he is not a ghost; yet every nerve I have is unstrung: for a moment I am beyond my own mastery. What does it mean? I did not think I should tremble in this way when I saw him, or lose my voice or the power of motion in his presence. I will go back as soon as I can stir: I need not make an absolute fool of myself. I know another way to the house. It does not signify if I knew twenty ways; for he has seen me.
“Hillo!” he cries; and he puts up his book and his pencil. “There you are! Come on, if you please.”
I suppose I do come on; though in what fashion I know not; being scarcely cognisant of my movements, and solicitous only to appear calm; and, above all, to control the working muscles of my face—which I feel rebel insolently against my will, and struggle to express what I had resolved to conceal. But I have a veil—it is down: I may make shift yet to behave with decent composure.
“And this is Jane Eyre? Are you coming from Millcote, and on foot? Yes—just one of your tricks: not to send for a carriage, and come clattering over street and road like a common mortal, but to steal into the vicinage of your home along with twilight, just as if you were a dream or a shade. What the deuce have you done with yourself this last month?”
“I have been with my aunt, sir, who is dead.”
“A true Janian reply! Good angels be my guard! She comes from the other world—from the abode of people who are dead; and tells me so when she meets me alone here in the gloaming! If I dared, I’d touch you, to see if you are substance or shadow, you elf!—but I’d as soon offer to take hold of a blue ignis fatuus light in a marsh. Truant! truant!” he added, when he had paused an instant. “Absent from me a whole month, and forgetting me quite, I’ll be sworn!”
I knew there would be pleasure in meeting my master again, even though broken by the fear that he was so soon to cease to be my master, and by the knowledge that I was nothing to him: but there was ever in Mr. Rochester (so at least I thought) such a wealth of the power of communicating happiness, that to taste but of the crumbs he scattered to stray and stranger birds like me, was to feast genially. His last words were balm: they seemed to imply that it imported something to him whether I forgot him or not. And he had spoken of Thornfield as my home—would that it were my home!
He did not leave the stile, and I hardly liked to ask to go by. I inquired soon if he had not been to London.
“Yes; I suppose you found that out by second-sight.”
“Mrs. Fairfax told me in a letter.”
“And did she inform you what I went to do?”
“Oh, yes, sir! Everybody knew your errand.”
“You must see the carriage, Jane, and tell me if you don’t think it will suit Mrs. Rochester exactly; and whether she won’t look like Queen Boadicea, leaning back against those purple cushions. I wish, Jane, I were a trifle better adapted to match with her externally. Tell me now, fairy as you are—can’t you give me a charm, or a philter, or something of that sort, to make me a handsome man?”
“It would be past the power of magic, sir;” and, in thought, I added, “A loving eye is all the charm needed: to such you are handsome enough; or rather your sternness has a power beyond beauty.”
Mr. Rochester had sometimes read my unspoken thoughts with an acumen to me incomprehensible: in the present instance he took no notice of my abrupt vocal response; but he smiled at me with a certain smile he had of his own, and which he used but on rare occasions. He seemed to think it too good for common purposes: it was the real sunshine of feeling—he shed it over me now.
“Pass, Janet,” said he, making room for me to cross the stile: “go up home, and stay your weary little wandering feet at a friend’s threshold.”
All I had now to do was to obey him in silence: no need for me to colloquise further. I got over the stile without a word, and meant to leave him calmly. An impulse held me fast—a force turned me round. I said—or something in me said for me, and in spite of me—
“Thank you, Mr. Rochester, for your great kindness. I am strangely glad to get back again to you: and wherever you are is my home—my only home.”
I walked on so fast that even he could hardly have overtaken me had he tried. Little Adèle was half wild with delight when she saw me. Mrs. Fairfax received me with her usual plain friendliness. Leah smiled, and even Sophie bid me “bon soir” with glee. This was very pleasant; there is no happiness like that of being loved by your fellow-creatures, and feeling that your presence is an addition to their comfort.
I that evening shut my eyes resolutely against the future: I stopped my ears against the voice that kept warning me of near separation and coming grief. When tea was over and Mrs. Fairfax had taken her knitting, and I had assumed a low seat near her, and Adèle, kneeling on the carpet, had nestled close up to me, and a sense of mutual affection seemed to surround us with a ring of golden peace, I uttered a silent prayer that we might not be parted far or soon; but when, as we thus sat, Mr. Rochester entered, unannounced, and looking at us, seemed to take pleasure in the spectacle of a group so amicable—when he said he supposed the old lady was all right now that she had got her adopted daughter back again, and added that he saw Adèle was “prête à croquer sa petite maman Anglaise”—I half ventured to hope that he would, even after his marriage, keep us together somewhere under the shelter of his protection, and not quite exiled from the sunshine of his presence.
A fortnight of dubious calm succeeded my return to Thornfield Hall. Nothing was said of the master’s marriage, and I saw no preparation going on for such an event. Almost every day I asked Mrs. Fairfax if she had yet heard anything decided: her answer was always in the negative. Once she said she had actually put the question to Mr. Rochester as to when he was going to bring his bride home; but he had answered her only by a joke and one of his queer looks, and she could not tell what to make of him.
One thing specially surprised me, and that was, there were no journeyings backward and forward, no visits to Ingram Park: to be sure it was twenty miles off, on the borders of another county; but what was that distance to an ardent lover? To so practised and indefatigable a horseman as Mr. Rochester, it would be but a morning’s ride. I began to cherish hopes I had no right to conceive: that the match was broken off; that rumour had been mistaken; that one or both parties had changed their minds. I used to look at my master’s face to see if it were sad or fierce; but I could not remember the time when it had been so uniformly clear of clouds or evil feelings. If, in the moments I and my pupil spent with him, I lacked spirits and sank into inevitable dejection, he became even gay. Never had he called me more frequently to his presence; never been kinder to me when there—and, alas! never had I loved him so well.
A splendid Midsummer shone over England: skies so pure, suns so radiant as were then seen in long succession, seldom favour even singly, our wave-girt land. It was as if a band of Italian days had come from the South, like a flock of glorious passenger birds, and lighted to rest them on the cliffs of Albion. The hay was all got in; the fields round Thornfield were green and shorn; the roads white and baked; the trees were in their dark prime; hedge and wood, full-leaved and deeply tinted, contrasted well with the sunny hue of the cleared meadows between.
On Midsummer-eve, Adèle, weary with gathering wild strawberries in Hay Lane half the day, had gone to bed with the sun. I watched her drop asleep, and when I left her, I sought the garden.
It was now the sweetest hour of the twenty-four:—“Day its fervid fires had wasted,” and dew fell cool on panting plain and scorched summit. Where the sun had gone down in simple state—pure of the pomp of clouds—spread a solemn purple, burning with the light of red jewel and furnace flame at one point, on one hill-peak, and extending high and wide, soft and still softer, over half heaven. The east had its own charm or fine deep blue, and its own modest gem, a rising and solitary star: soon it would boast the moon; but she was yet beneath the horizon.
I walked a while on the pavement; but a subtle, well-known scent—that of a cigar—stole from some window; I saw the library casement open a handbreadth; I knew I might be watched thence; so I went apart into the orchard. No nook in the grounds more sheltered and more Eden-like; it was full of trees, it bloomed with flowers: a very high wall shut it out from the court, on one side; on the other, a beech avenue screened it from the lawn. At the bottom was a sunk fence; its sole separation from lonely fields: a winding walk, bordered with laurels and terminating in a giant horse-chestnut, circled at the base by a seat, led down to the fence. Here one could wander unseen. While such honey-dew fell, such silence reigned, such gloaming gathered, I felt as if I could haunt such shade for ever; but in threading the flower and fruit parterres at the upper part of the enclosure, enticed there by the light the now rising moon cast on this more open quarter, my step is stayed—not by sound, not by sight, but once more by a warning fragrance.
Sweet-briar and southernwood, jasmine, pink, and rose have long been yielding their evening sacrifice of incense: this new scent is neither of shrub nor flower; it is—I know it well—it is Mr. Rochester’s cigar. I look round and I listen. I see trees laden with ripening fruit. I hear a nightingale warbling in a wood half a mile off; no moving form is visible, no coming step audible; but that perfume increases: I must flee. I make for the wicket leading to the shrubbery, and I see Mr. Rochester entering. I step aside into the ivy recess; he will not stay long: he will soon return whence he came, and if I sit still he will never see me.
But no—eventide is as pleasant to him as to me, and this antique garden as attractive; and he strolls on, now lifting the gooseberry-tree branches to look at the fruit, large as plums, with which they are laden; now taking a ripe cherry from the wall; now stooping towards a knot of flowers, either to inhale their fragrance or to admire the dew-beads on their petals. A great moth goes humming by me; it alights on a plant at Mr. Rochester’s foot: he sees it, and bends to examine it.
“Now, he has his back towards me,” thought I, “and he is occupied too; perhaps, if I walk softly, I can slip away unnoticed.”
I trode on an edging of turf that the crackle of the pebbly gravel might not betray me: he was standing among the beds at a yard or two distant from where I had to pass; the moth apparently engaged him. “I shall get by very well,” I meditated. As I crossed his shadow, thrown long over the garden by the moon, not yet risen high, he said quietly, without turning—
“Jane, come and look at this fellow.”
I had made no noise: he had not eyes behind—could his shadow feel? I started at first, and then I approached him.
“Look at his wings,” said he, “he reminds me rather of a West Indian insect; one does not often see so large and gay a night-rover in England; there! he is flown.”
The moth roamed away. I was sheepishly retreating also; but Mr. Rochester followed me, and when we reached the wicket, he said—
“Turn back: on so lovely a night it is a shame to sit in the house; and surely no one can wish to go to bed while sunset is thus at meeting with moonrise.”
It is one of my faults, that though my tongue is sometimes prompt enough at an answer, there are times when it sadly fails me in framing an excuse; and always the lapse occurs at some crisis, when a facile word or plausible pretext is specially wanted to get me out of painful embarrassment. I did not like to walk at this hour alone with Mr. Rochester in the shadowy orchard; but I could not find a reason to allege for leaving him. I followed with lagging step, and thoughts busily bent on discovering a means of extrication; but he himself looked so composed and so grave also, I became ashamed of feeling any confusion: the evil—if evil existent or prospective there was—seemed to lie with me only; his mind was unconscious and quiet.
“Jane,” he recommenced, as we entered the laurel walk, and slowly strayed down in the direction of the sunk fence and the horse-chestnut, “Thornfield is a pleasant place in summer, is it not?”
“You must have become in some degree attached to the house,—you, who have an eye for natural beauties, and a good deal of the organ of Adhesiveness?”
“I am attached to it, indeed.”
“And though I don’t comprehend how it is, I perceive you have acquired a degree of regard for that foolish little child Adèle, too; and even for simple dame Fairfax?”
“Yes, sir; in different ways, I have an affection for both.”
“And would be sorry to part with them?”
“Pity!” he said, and sighed and paused. “It is always the way of events in this life,” he continued presently: “no sooner have you got settled in a pleasant resting-place, than a voice calls out to you to rise and move on, for the hour of repose is expired.”
“Must I move on, sir?” I asked. “Must I leave Thornfield?”
“I believe you must, Jane. I am sorry, Janet, but I believe indeed you must.”
This was a blow: but I did not let it prostrate me.
“Well, sir, I shall be ready when the order to march comes.”
“It is come now—I must give it to-night.”
“Then you are going to be married, sir?”
“Ex-act-ly—pre-cise-ly: with your usual acuteness, you have hit the nail straight on the head.”
“Very soon, my—that is, Miss Eyre: and you’ll remember, Jane, the first time I, or Rumour, plainly intimated to you that it was my intention to put my old bachelor’s neck into the sacred noose, to enter into the holy estate of matrimony—to take Miss Ingram to my bosom, in short (she’s an extensive armful: but that’s not to the point—one can’t have too much of such a very excellent thing as my beautiful Blanche): well, as I was saying—listen to me, Jane! You’re not turning your head to look after more moths, are you? That was only a lady-clock, child, ‘flying away home.’ I wish to remind you that it was you who first said to me, with that discretion I respect in you—with that foresight, prudence, and humility which befit your responsible and dependent position—that in case I married Miss Ingram, both you and little Adèle had better trot forthwith. I pass over the sort of slur conveyed in this suggestion on the character of my beloved; indeed, when you are far away, Janet, I’ll try to forget it: I shall notice only its wisdom; which is such that I have made it my law of action. Adèle must go to school; and you, Miss Eyre, must get a new situation.”
“Yes, sir, I will advertise immediately: and meantime, I suppose—” I was going to say, “I suppose I may stay here, till I find another shelter to betake myself to:” but I stopped, feeling it would not do to risk a long sentence, for my voice was not quite under command.
“In about a month I hope to be a bridegroom,” continued Mr. Rochester; “and in the interim, I shall myself look out for employment and an asylum for you.”
“Thank you, sir; I am sorry to give—”
“Oh, no need to apologise! I consider that when a dependent does her duty as well as you have done yours, she has a sort of claim upon her employer for any little assistance he can conveniently render her; indeed I have already, through my future mother-in-law, heard of a place that I think will suit: it is to undertake the education of the five daughters of Mrs. Dionysius O’Gall of Bitternutt Lodge, Connaught, Ireland. You’ll like Ireland, I think: they’re such warm-hearted people there, they say.”
“It is a long way off, sir.”
“No matter—a girl of your sense will not object to the voyage or the distance.”
“Not the voyage, but the distance: and then the sea is a barrier—”
“From what, Jane?”
“From England and from Thornfield: and—”
“From you, sir.”
I said this almost involuntarily, and, with as little sanction of free will, my tears gushed out. I did not cry so as to be heard, however; I avoided sobbing. The thought of Mrs. O’Gall and Bitternutt Lodge struck cold to my heart; and colder the thought of all the brine and foam, destined, as it seemed, to rush between me and the master at whose side I now walked, and coldest the remembrance of the wider ocean—wealth, caste, custom intervened between me and what I naturally and inevitably loved.
“It is a long way,” I again said.
“It is, to be sure; and when you get to Bitternutt Lodge, Connaught, Ireland, I shall never see you again, Jane: that’s morally certain. I never go over to Ireland, not having myself much of a fancy for the country. We have been good friends, Jane; have we not?”
“And when friends are on the eve of separation, they like to spend the little time that remains to them close to each other. Come! we’ll talk over the voyage and the parting quietly half-an-hour or so, while the stars enter into their shining life up in heaven yonder: here is the chestnut tree: here is the bench at its old roots. Come, we will sit there in peace to-night, though we should never more be destined to sit there together.” He seated me and himself.
“It is a long way to Ireland, Janet, and I am sorry to send my little friend on such weary travels: but if I can’t do better, how is it to be helped? Are you anything akin to me, do you think, Jane?”
I could risk no sort of answer by this time: my heart was still.
“Because,” he said, “I sometimes have a queer feeling with regard to you—especially when you are near me, as now: it is as if I had a string somewhere under my left ribs, tightly and inextricably knotted to a similar string situated in the corresponding quarter of your little frame. And if that boisterous Channel, and two hundred miles or so of land come broad between us, I am afraid that cord of communion will be snapt; and then I’ve a nervous notion I should take to bleeding inwardly. As for you,—you’d forget me.”
“That I never should, sir: you know—” Impossible to proceed.
“Jane, do you hear that nightingale singing in the wood? Listen!”
In listening, I sobbed convulsively; for I could repress what I endured no longer; I was obliged to yield, and I was shaken from head to foot with acute distress. When I did speak, it was only to express an impetuous wish that I had never been born, or never come to Thornfield.
“Because you are sorry to leave it?”
The vehemence of emotion, stirred by grief and love within me, was claiming mastery, and struggling for full sway, and asserting a right to predominate, to overcome, to live, rise, and reign at last: yes,—and to speak.
“I grieve to leave Thornfield: I love Thornfield:—I love it, because I have lived in it a full and delightful life,—momentarily at least. I have not been trampled on. I have not been petrified. I have not been buried with inferior minds, and excluded from every glimpse of communion with what is bright and energetic and high. I have talked, face to face, with what I reverence, with what I delight in,—with an original, a vigorous, an expanded mind. I have known you, Mr. Rochester; and it strikes me with terror and anguish to feel I absolutely must be torn from you for ever. I see the necessity of departure; and it is like looking on the necessity of death.”
“Where do you see the necessity?” he asked suddenly.
“Where? You, sir, have placed it before me.”
“In what shape?”
“In the shape of Miss Ingram; a noble and beautiful woman,—your bride.”
“My bride! What bride? I have no bride!”
“But you will have.”
“Yes;—I will!—I will!” He set his teeth.
“Then I must go:—you have said it yourself.”
“No: you must stay! I swear it—and the oath shall be kept.”
“I tell you I must go!” I retorted, roused to something like passion. “Do you think I can stay to become nothing to you? Do you think I am an automaton?—a machine without feelings? and can bear to have my morsel of bread snatched from my lips, and my drop of living water dashed from my cup? Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong!—I have as much soul as you,—and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you. I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even of mortal flesh;—it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God’s feet, equal,—as we are!”
“As we are!” repeated Mr. Rochester—“so,” he added, enclosing me in his arms, gathering me to his breast, pressing his lips on my lips: “so, Jane!”
“Yes, so, sir,” I rejoined: “and yet not so; for you are a married man—or as good as a married man, and wed to one inferior to you—to one with whom you have no sympathy—whom I do not believe you truly love; for I have seen and heard you sneer at her. I would scorn such a union: therefore I am better than you—let me go!”
“Where, Jane? To Ireland?”
“Yes—to Ireland. I have spoken my mind, and can go anywhere now.”
“Jane, be still; don’t struggle so, like a wild frantic bird that is rending its own plumage in its desperation.”
“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being with an independent will, which I now exert to leave you.”
Another effort set me at liberty, and I stood erect before him.
“And your will shall decide your destiny,” he said: “I offer you my hand, my heart, and a share of all my possessions.”
“You play a farce, which I merely laugh at.”
“I ask you to pass through life at my side—to be my second self, and best earthly companion.”
“For that fate you have already made your choice, and must abide by it.”
“Jane, be still a few moments: you are over-excited: I will be still too.”
A waft of wind came sweeping down the laurel-walk, and trembled through the boughs of the chestnut: it wandered away—away—to an indefinite distance—it died. The nightingale’s song was then the only voice of the hour: in listening to it, I again wept. Mr. Rochester sat quiet, looking at me gently and seriously. Some time passed before he spoke; he at last said—
“Come to my side, Jane, and let us explain and understand one another.”
“I will never again come to your side: I am torn away now, and cannot return.”
“But, Jane, I summon you as my wife: it is you only I intend to marry.”
I was silent: I thought he mocked me.
“Come, Jane—come hither.”
“Your bride stands between us.”
He rose, and with a stride reached me.
“My bride is here,” he said, again drawing me to him, “because my equal is here, and my likeness. Jane, will you marry me?”
Still I did not answer, and still I writhed myself from his grasp: for I was still incredulous.
“Do you doubt me, Jane?”
“You have no faith in me?”
“Not a whit.”
“Am I a liar in your eyes?” he asked passionately. “Little sceptic, you shall be convinced. What love have I for Miss Ingram? None: and that you know. What love has she for me? None: as I have taken pains to prove: I caused a rumour to reach her that my fortune was not a third of what was supposed, and after that I presented myself to see the result; it was coldness both from her and her mother. I would not—I could not—marry Miss Ingram. You—you strange, you almost unearthly thing!—I love as my own flesh. You—poor and obscure, and small and plain as you are—I entreat to accept me as a husband.”
“What, me!” I ejaculated, beginning in his earnestness—and especially in his incivility—to credit his sincerity: “me who have not a friend in the world but you—if you are my friend: not a shilling but what you have given me?”
“You, Jane, I must have you for my own—entirely my own. Will you be mine? Say yes, quickly.”
“Mr. Rochester, let me look at your face: turn to the moonlight.”
“Because I want to read your countenance—turn!”
“There! you will find it scarcely more legible than a crumpled, scratched page. Read on: only make haste, for I suffer.”
His face was very much agitated and very much flushed, and there were strong workings in the features, and strange gleams in the eyes.
“Oh, Jane, you torture me!” he exclaimed. “With that searching and yet faithful and generous look, you torture me!”
“How can I do that? If you are true, and your offer real, my only feelings to you must be gratitude and devotion—they cannot torture.”
“Gratitude!” he ejaculated; and added wildly—“Jane accept me quickly. Say, Edward—give me my name—Edward—I will marry you.”
“Are you in earnest? Do you truly love me? Do you sincerely wish me to be your wife?”
“I do; and if an oath is necessary to satisfy you, I swear it.”
“Then, sir, I will marry you.”
“Edward—my little wife!”
“Come to me—come to me entirely now,” said he; and added, in his deepest tone, speaking in my ear as his cheek was laid on mine, “Make my happiness—I will make yours.”
“God pardon me!” he subjoined ere long; “and man meddle not with me: I have her, and will hold her.”
“There is no one to meddle, sir. I have no kindred to interfere.”
“No—that is the best of it,” he said. And if I had loved him less I should have thought his accent and look of exultation savage; but, sitting by him, roused from the nightmare of parting—called to the paradise of union—I thought only of the bliss given me to drink in so abundant a flow. Again and again he said, “Are you happy, Jane?” And again and again I answered, “Yes.” After which he murmured, “It will atone—it will atone. Have I not found her friendless, and cold, and comfortless? Will I not guard, and cherish, and solace her? Is there not love in my heart, and constancy in my resolves? It will expiate at God’s tribunal. I know my Maker sanctions what I do. For the world’s judgment—I wash my hands thereof. For man’s opinion—I defy it.”
But what had befallen the night? The moon was not yet set, and we were all in shadow: I could scarcely see my master’s face, near as I was. And what ailed the chestnut tree? it writhed and groaned; while wind roared in the laurel walk, and came sweeping over us.
“We must go in,” said Mr. Rochester: “the weather changes. I could have sat with thee till morning, Jane.”
“And so,” thought I, “could I with you.” I should have said so, perhaps, but a livid, vivid spark leapt out of a cloud at which I was looking, and there was a crack, a crash, and a close rattling peal; and I thought only of hiding my dazzled eyes against Mr. Rochester’s shoulder.
The rain rushed down. He hurried me up the walk, through the grounds, and into the house; but we were quite wet before we could pass the threshold. He was taking off my shawl in the hall, and shaking the water out of my loosened hair, when Mrs. Fairfax emerged from her room. I did not observe her at first, nor did Mr. Rochester. The lamp was lit. The clock was on the stroke of twelve.
“Hasten to take off your wet things,” said he; “and before you go, good-night—good-night, my darling!”
He kissed me repeatedly. When I looked up, on leaving his arms, there stood the widow, pale, grave, and amazed. I only smiled at her, and ran upstairs. “Explanation will do for another time,” thought I. Still, when I reached my chamber, I felt a pang at the idea she should even temporarily misconstrue what she had seen. But joy soon effaced every other feeling; and loud as the wind blew, near and deep as the thunder crashed, fierce and frequent as the lightning gleamed, cataract-like as the rain fell during a storm of two hours’ duration, I experienced no fear and little awe. Mr. Rochester came thrice to my door in the course of it, to ask if I was safe and tranquil: and that was comfort, that was strength for anything.
Before I left my bed in the morning, little Adèle came running in to tell me that the great horse-chestnut at the bottom of the orchard had been struck by lightning in the night, and half of it split away.
As I rose and dressed, I thought over what had happened, and wondered if it were a dream. I could not be certain of the reality till I had seen Mr. Rochester again, and heard him renew his words of love and promise.
While arranging my hair, I looked at my face in the glass, and felt it was no longer plain: there was hope in its aspect and life in its colour; and my eyes seemed as if they had beheld the fount of fruition, and borrowed beams from the lustrous ripple. I had often been unwilling to look at my master, because I feared he could not be pleased at my look; but I was sure I might lift my face to his now, and not cool his affection by its expression. I took a plain but clean and light summer dress from my drawer and put it on: it seemed no attire had ever so well become me, because none had I ever worn in so blissful a mood.
I was not surprised, when I ran down into the hall, to see that a brilliant June morning had succeeded to the tempest of the night; and to feel, through the open glass door, the breathing of a fresh and fragrant breeze. Nature must be gladsome when I was so happy. A beggar-woman and her little boy—pale, ragged objects both—were coming up the walk, and I ran down and gave them all the money I happened to have in my purse—some three or four shillings: good or bad, they must partake of my jubilee. The rooks cawed, and blither birds sang; but nothing was so merry or so musical as my own rejoicing heart.
Mrs. Fairfax surprised me by looking out of the window with a sad countenance, and saying gravely—“Miss Eyre, will you come to breakfast?” During the meal she was quiet and cool: but I could not undeceive her then. I must wait for my master to give explanations; and so must she. I ate what I could, and then I hastened upstairs. I met Adèle leaving the schoolroom.
“Where are you going? It is time for lessons.”
“Mr. Rochester has sent me away to the nursery.”
“Where is he?”
“In there,” pointing to the apartment she had left; and I went in, and there he stood.
“Come and bid me good-morning,” said he. I gladly advanced; and it was not merely a cold word now, or even a shake of the hand that I received, but an embrace and a kiss. It seemed natural: it seemed genial to be so well loved, so caressed by him.
“Jane, you look blooming, and smiling, and pretty,” said he: “truly pretty this morning. Is this my pale, little elf? Is this my mustard-seed? This little sunny-faced girl with the dimpled cheek and rosy lips; the satin-smooth hazel hair, and the radiant hazel eyes?” (I had green eyes, reader; but you must excuse the mistake: for him they were new-dyed, I suppose.)
“It is Jane Eyre, sir.”
“Soon to be Jane Rochester,” he added: “in four weeks, Janet; not a day more. Do you hear that?”
I did, and I could not quite comprehend it: it made me giddy. The feeling, the announcement sent through me, was something stronger than was consistent with joy—something that smote and stunned: it was, I think almost fear.
“You blushed, and now you are white, Jane: what is that for?”
“Because you gave me a new name—Jane Rochester; and it seems so strange.”
“Yes, Mrs. Rochester,” said he; “young Mrs. Rochester—Fairfax Rochester’s girl-bride.”
“It can never be, sir; it does not sound likely. Human beings never enjoy complete happiness in this world. I was not born for a different destiny to the rest of my species: to imagine such a lot befalling me is a fairy tale—a day-dream.”
“Which I can and will realise. I shall begin to-day. This morning I wrote to my banker in London to send me certain jewels he has in his keeping,—heirlooms for the ladies of Thornfield. In a day or two I hope to pour them into your lap: for every privilege, every attention shall be yours that I would accord a peer’s daughter, if about to marry her.”
“Oh, sir!—never rain jewels! I don’t like to hear them spoken of. Jewels for Jane Eyre sounds unnatural and strange: I would rather not have them.”
“I will myself put the diamond chain round your neck, and the circlet on your forehead,—which it will become: for nature, at least, has stamped her patent of nobility on this brow, Jane; and I will clasp the bracelets on these fine wrists, and load these fairy-like fingers with rings.”
“No, no, sir! think of other subjects, and speak of other things, and in another strain. Don’t address me as if I were a beauty; I am your plain, Quakerish governess.”
“You are a beauty in my eyes, and a beauty just after the desire of my heart,—delicate and aërial.”
“Puny and insignificant, you mean. You are dreaming, sir,—or you are sneering. For God’s sake, don’t be ironical!”
“I will make the world acknowledge you a beauty, too,” he went on, while I really became uneasy at the strain he had adopted, because I felt he was either deluding himself or trying to delude me. “I will attire my Jane in satin and lace, and she shall have roses in her hair; and I will cover the head I love best with a priceless veil.”
“And then you won’t know me, sir; and I shall not be your Jane Eyre any longer, but an ape in a harlequin’s jacket—a jay in borrowed plumes. I would as soon see you, Mr. Rochester, tricked out in stage-trappings, as myself clad in a court-lady’s robe; and I don’t call you handsome, sir, though I love you most dearly: far too dearly to flatter you. Don’t flatter me.”
He pursued his theme, however, without noticing my deprecation. “This very day I shall take you in the carriage to Millcote, and you must choose some dresses for yourself. I told you we shall be married in four weeks. The wedding is to take place quietly, in the church down below yonder; and then I shall waft you away at once to town. After a brief stay there, I shall bear my treasure to regions nearer the sun: to French vineyards and Italian plains; and she shall see whatever is famous in old story and in modern record: she shall taste, too, of the life of cities; and she shall learn to value herself by just comparison with others.”
“Shall I travel?—and with you, sir?”
“You shall sojourn at Paris, Rome, and Naples: at Florence, Venice, and Vienna: all the ground I have wandered over shall be re-trodden by you: wherever I stamped my hoof, your sylph’s foot shall step also. Ten years since, I flew through Europe half mad; with disgust, hate, and rage as my companions: now I shall revisit it healed and cleansed, with a very angel as my comforter.”
I laughed at him as he said this. “I am not an angel,” I asserted; “and I will not be one till I die: I will be myself. Mr. Rochester, you must neither expect nor exact anything celestial of me—for you will not get it, any more than I shall get it of you: which I do not at all anticipate.”
“What do you anticipate of me?”
“For a little while you will perhaps be as you are now,—a very little while; and then you will turn cool; and then you will be capricious; and then you will be stern, and I shall have much ado to please you: but when you get well used to me, you will perhaps like me again,—like me, I say, not love me. I suppose your love will effervesce in six months, or less. I have observed in books written by men, that period assigned as the farthest to which a husband’s ardour extends. Yet, after all, as a friend and companion, I hope never to become quite distasteful to my dear master.”
“Distasteful! and like you again! I think I shall like you again, and yet again: and I will make you confess I do not only like, but love you—with truth, fervour, constancy.”
“Yet are you not capricious, sir?”
“To women who please me only by their faces, I am the very devil when I find out they have neither souls nor hearts—when they open to me a perspective of flatness, triviality, and perhaps imbecility, coarseness, and ill-temper: but to the clear eye and eloquent tongue, to the soul made of fire, and the character that bends but does not break—at once supple and stable, tractable and consistent—I am ever tender and true.”
“Had you ever experience of such a character, sir? Did you ever love such an one?”
“I love it now.”
“But before me: if I, indeed, in any respect come up to your difficult standard?”
“I never met your likeness. Jane, you please me, and you master me—you seem to submit, and I like the sense of pliancy you impart; and while I am twining the soft, silken skein round my finger, it sends a thrill up my arm to my heart. I am influenced—conquered; and the influence is sweeter than I can express; and the conquest I undergo has a witchery beyond any triumph I can win. Why do you smile, Jane? What does that inexplicable, that uncanny turn of countenance mean?”
“I was thinking, sir (you will excuse the idea; it was involuntary), I was thinking of Hercules and Samson with their charmers—”
“You were, you little elfish—”
“Hush, sir! You don’t talk very wisely just now; any more than those gentlemen acted very wisely. However, had they been married, they would no doubt by their severity as husbands have made up for their softness as suitors; and so will you, I fear. I wonder how you will answer me a year hence, should I ask a favour it does not suit your convenience or pleasure to grant.”
“Ask me something now, Janet,—the least thing: I desire to be entreated—”
“Indeed I will, sir; I have my petition all ready.”
“Speak! But if you look up and smile with that countenance, I shall swear concession before I know to what, and that will make a fool of me.”
“Not at all, sir; I ask only this: don’t send for the jewels, and don’t crown me with roses: you might as well put a border of gold lace round that plain pocket handkerchief you have there.”
“I might as well ‘gild refined gold.’ I know it: your request is granted then—for the time. I will remand the order I despatched to my banker. But you have not yet asked for anything; you have prayed a gift to be withdrawn: try again.”
“Well then, sir, have the goodness to gratify my curiosity, which is much piqued on one point.”
He looked disturbed. “What? what?” he said hastily. “Curiosity is a dangerous petition: it is well I have not taken a vow to accord every request—”
“But there can be no danger in complying with this, sir.”
“Utter it, Jane: but I wish that instead of a mere inquiry into, perhaps, a secret, it was a wish for half my estate.”
“Now, King Ahasuerus! What do I want with half your estate? Do you think I am a Jew-usurer, seeking good investment in land? I would much rather have all your confidence. You will not exclude me from your confidence if you admit me to your heart?”
“You are welcome to all my confidence that is worth having, Jane; but for God’s sake, don’t desire a useless burden! Don’t long for poison—don’t turn out a downright Eve on my hands!”
“Why not, sir? You have just been telling me how much you liked to be conquered, and how pleasant over-persuasion is to you. Don’t you think I had better take advantage of the confession, and begin and coax and entreat—even cry and be sulky if necessary—for the sake of a mere essay of my power?”
“I dare you to any such experiment. Encroach, presume, and the game is up.”
“Is it, sir? You soon give in. How stern you look now! Your eyebrows have become as thick as my finger, and your forehead resembles what, in some very astonishing poetry, I once saw styled, ‘a blue-piled thunderloft.’ That will be your married look, sir, I suppose?”
“If that will be your married look, I, as a Christian, will soon give up the notion of consorting with a mere sprite or salamander. But what had you to ask, thing,—out with it?”
“There, you are less than civil now; and I like rudeness a great deal better than flattery. I had rather be a thing than an angel. This is what I have to ask,—Why did you take such pains to make me believe you wished to marry Miss Ingram?”
“Is that all? Thank God it is no worse!” And now he unknit his black brows; looked down, smiling at me, and stroked my hair, as if well pleased at seeing a danger averted. “I think I may confess,” he continued, “even although I should make you a little indignant, Jane—and I have seen what a fire-spirit you can be when you are indignant. You glowed in the cool moonlight last night, when you mutinied against fate, and claimed your rank as my equal. Janet, by-the-bye, it was you who made me the offer.”
“Of course I did. But to the point if you please, sir—Miss Ingram?”
“Well, I feigned courtship of Miss Ingram, because I wished to render you as madly in love with me as I was with you; and I knew jealousy would be the best ally I could call in for the furtherance of that end.”
“Excellent! Now you are small—not one whit bigger than the end of my little finger. It was a burning shame and a scandalous disgrace to act in that way. Did you think nothing of Miss Ingram’s feelings, sir?”
“Her feelings are concentrated in one—pride; and that needs humbling. Were you jealous, Jane?”
“Never mind, Mr. Rochester: it is in no way interesting to you to know that. Answer me truly once more. Do you think Miss Ingram will not suffer from your dishonest coquetry? Won’t she feel forsaken and deserted?”
“Impossible!—when I told you how she, on the contrary, deserted me: the idea of my insolvency cooled, or rather extinguished, her flame in a moment.”
“You have a curious, designing mind, Mr. Rochester. I am afraid your principles on some points are eccentric.”
“My principles were never trained, Jane: they may have grown a little awry for want of attention.”
“Once again, seriously; may I enjoy the great good that has been vouchsafed to me, without fearing that any one else is suffering the bitter pain I myself felt a while ago?”
“That you may, my good little girl: there is not another being in the world has the same pure love for me as yourself—for I lay that pleasant unction to my soul, Jane, a belief in your affection.”
I turned my lips to the hand that lay on my shoulder. I loved him very much—more than I could trust myself to say—more than words had power to express.
“Ask something more,” he said presently; “it is my delight to be entreated, and to yield.”
I was again ready with my request. “Communicate your intentions to Mrs. Fairfax, sir: she saw me with you last night in the hall, and she was shocked. Give her some explanation before I see her again. It pains me to be misjudged by so good a woman.”
“Go to your room, and put on your bonnet,” he replied. “I mean you to accompany me to Millcote this morning; and while you prepare for the drive, I will enlighten the old lady’s understanding. Did she think, Janet, you had given the world for love, and considered it well lost?”
“I believe she thought I had forgotten my station, and yours, sir.”
“Station! station!—your station is in my heart, and on the necks of those who would insult you, now or hereafter.—Go.”
I was soon dressed; and when I heard Mr. Rochester quit Mrs. Fairfax’s parlour, I hurried down to it. The old lady had been reading her morning portion of Scripture—the Lesson for the day; her Bible lay open before her, and her spectacles were upon it. Her occupation, suspended by Mr. Rochester’s announcement, seemed now forgotten: her eyes, fixed on the blank wall opposite, expressed the surprise of a quiet mind stirred by unwonted tidings. Seeing me, she roused herself: she made a sort of effort to smile, and framed a few words of congratulation; but the smile expired, and the sentence was abandoned unfinished. She put up her spectacles, shut the Bible, and pushed her chair back from the table.
“I feel so astonished,” she began, “I hardly know what to say to you, Miss Eyre. I have surely not been dreaming, have I? Sometimes I half fall asleep when I am sitting alone and fancy things that have never happened. It has seemed to me more than once when I have been in a doze, that my dear husband, who died fifteen years since, has come in and sat down beside me; and that I have even heard him call me by my name, Alice, as he used to do. Now, can you tell me whether it is actually true that Mr. Rochester has asked you to marry him? Don’t laugh at me. But I really thought he came in here five minutes ago, and said that in a month you would be his wife.”
“He has said the same thing to me,” I replied.
“He has! Do you believe him? Have you accepted him?”
She looked at me bewildered.
“I could never have thought it. He is a proud man: all the Rochesters were proud: and his father, at least, liked money. He, too, has always been called careful. He means to marry you?”
“He tells me so.”
She surveyed my whole person: in her eyes I read that they had there found no charm powerful enough to solve the enigma.
“It passes me!” she continued; “but no doubt it is true since you say so. How it will answer, I cannot tell: I really don’t know. Equality of position and fortune is often advisable in such cases; and there are twenty years of difference in your ages. He might almost be your father.”
“No, indeed, Mrs. Fairfax!” exclaimed I, nettled; “he is nothing like my father! No one, who saw us together, would suppose it for an instant. Mr. Rochester looks as young, and is as young, as some men at five-and-twenty.”
“Is it really for love he is going to marry you?” she asked.
I was so hurt by her coldness and scepticism, that the tears rose to my eyes.
“I am sorry to grieve you,” pursued the widow; “but you are so young, and so little acquainted with men, I wished to put you on your guard. It is an old saying that ‘all is not gold that glitters;’ and in this case I do fear there will be something found to be different to what either you or I expect.”
“Why?—am I a monster?” I said: “is it impossible that Mr. Rochester should have a sincere affection for me?”
“No: you are very well; and much improved of late; and Mr. Rochester, I daresay, is fond of you. I have always noticed that you were a sort of pet of his. There are times when, for your sake, I have been a little uneasy at his marked preference, and have wished to put you on your guard: but I did not like to suggest even the possibility of wrong. I knew such an idea would shock, perhaps offend you; and you were so discreet, and so thoroughly modest and sensible, I hoped you might be trusted to protect yourself. Last night I cannot tell you what I suffered when I sought all over the house, and could find you nowhere, nor the master either; and then, at twelve o’clock, saw you come in with him.”
“Well, never mind that now,” I interrupted impatiently; “it is enough that all was right.”
“I hope all will be right in the end,” she said: “but believe me, you cannot be too careful. Try and keep Mr. Rochester at a distance: distrust yourself as well as him. Gentlemen in his station are not accustomed to marry their governesses.”
I was growing truly irritated: happily, Adèle ran in.
“Let me go,—let me go to Millcote too!” she cried. “Mr. Rochester won’t: though there is so much room in the new carriage. Beg him to let me go, mademoiselle.”
“That I will, Adèle;” and I hastened away with her, glad to quit my gloomy monitress. The carriage was ready: they were bringing it round to the front, and my master was pacing the pavement, Pilot following him backwards and forwards.
“Adèle may accompany us, may she not, sir?”
“I told her no. I’ll have no brats!—I’ll have only you.”
“Do let her go, Mr. Rochester, if you please: it would be better.”
“Not it: she will be a restraint.”
He was quite peremptory, both in look and voice. The chill of Mrs. Fairfax’s warnings, and the damp of her doubts were upon me: something of unsubstantiality and uncertainty had beset my hopes. I half lost the sense of power over him. I was about mechanically to obey him, without further remonstrance; but as he helped me into the carriage, he looked at my face.
“What is the matter?” he asked; “all the sunshine is gone. Do you really wish the bairn to go? Will it annoy you if she is left behind?”
“I would far rather she went, sir.”
“Then off for your bonnet, and back like a flash of lightning!” cried he to Adèle.
She obeyed him with what speed she might.
“After all, a single morning’s interruption will not matter much,” said he, “when I mean shortly to claim you—your thoughts, conversation, and company—for life.”
Adèle, when lifted in, commenced kissing me, by way of expressing her gratitude for my intercession: she was instantly stowed away into a corner on the other side of him. She then peeped round to where I sat; so stern a neighbour was too restrictive: to him, in his present fractious mood, she dared whisper no observations, nor ask of him any information.
“Let her come to me,” I entreated: “she will, perhaps, trouble you, sir: there is plenty of room on this side.”
He handed her over as if she had been a lapdog. “I’ll send her to school yet,” he said, but now he was smiling.
Adèle heard him, and asked if she was to go to school “sans mademoiselle?”
“Yes,” he replied, “absolutely sans mademoiselle; for I am to take mademoiselle to the moon, and there I shall seek a cave in one of the white valleys among the volcano-tops, and mademoiselle shall live with me there, and only me.”
“She will have nothing to eat: you will starve her,” observed Adèle.
“I shall gather manna for her morning and night: the plains and hillsides in the moon are bleached with manna, Adèle.”
“She will want to warm herself: what will she do for a fire?”
“Fire rises out of the lunar mountains: when she is cold, I’ll carry her up to a peak, and lay her down on the edge of a crater.”
“Oh, qu’elle y sera mal—peu comfortable! And her clothes, they will wear out: how can she get new ones?”
Mr. Rochester professed to be puzzled. “Hem!” said he. “What would you do, Adèle? Cudgel your brains for an expedient. How would a white or a pink cloud answer for a gown, do you think? And one could cut a pretty enough scarf out of a rainbow.”
“She is far better as she is,” concluded Adèle, after musing some time: “besides, she would get tired of living with only you in the moon. If I were mademoiselle, I would never consent to go with you.”
“She has consented: she has pledged her word.”
“But you can’t get her there; there is no road to the moon: it is all air; and neither you nor she can fly.”
“Adèle, look at that field.” We were now outside Thornfield gates, and bowling lightly along the smooth road to Millcote, where the dust was well laid by the thunderstorm, and, where the low hedges and lofty timber trees on each side glistened green and rain-refreshed.
“In that field, Adèle, I was walking late one evening about a fortnight since—the evening of the day you helped me to make hay in the orchard meadows; and, as I was tired with raking swaths, I sat down to rest me on a stile; and there I took out a little book and a pencil, and began to write about a misfortune that befell me long ago, and a wish I had for happy days to come: I was writing away very fast, though daylight was fading from the leaf, when something came up the path and stopped two yards off me. I looked at it. It was a little thing with a veil of gossamer on its head. I beckoned it to come near me; it stood soon at my knee. I never spoke to it, and it never spoke to me, in words; but I read its eyes, and it read mine; and our speechless colloquy was to this effect—
“It was a fairy, and come from Elf-land, it said; and its errand was to make me happy: I must go with it out of the common world to a lonely place—such as the moon, for instance—and it nodded its head towards her horn, rising over Hay-hill: it told me of the alabaster cave and silver vale where we might live. I said I should like to go; but reminded it, as you did me, that I had no wings to fly.
“‘Oh,’ returned the fairy, ‘that does not signify! Here is a talisman will remove all difficulties;’ and she held out a pretty gold ring. ‘Put it,’ she said, ‘on the fourth finger of my left hand, and I am yours, and you are mine; and we shall leave earth, and make our own heaven yonder.’ She nodded again at the moon. The ring, Adèle, is in my breeches-pocket, under the disguise of a sovereign: but I mean soon to change it to a ring again.”
“But what has mademoiselle to do with it? I don’t care for the fairy: you said it was mademoiselle you would take to the moon?”
“Mademoiselle is a fairy,” he said, whispering mysteriously. Whereupon I told her not to mind his badinage; and she, on her part, evinced a fund of genuine French scepticism: denominating Mr. Rochester “un vrai menteur,” and assuring him that she made no account whatever of his “contes de fée,” and that “du reste, il n’y avait pas de fées, et quand même il y en avait:” she was sure they would never appear to him, nor ever give him rings, or offer to live with him in the moon.
The hour spent at Millcote was a somewhat harassing one to me. Mr. Rochester obliged me to go to a certain silk warehouse: there I was ordered to choose half-a-dozen dresses. I hated the business, I begged leave to defer it: no—it should be gone through with now. By dint of entreaties expressed in energetic whispers, I reduced the half-dozen to two: these however, he vowed he would select himself. With anxiety I watched his eye rove over the gay stores: he fixed on a rich silk of the most brilliant amethyst dye, and a superb pink satin. I told him in a new series of whispers, that he might as well buy me a gold gown and a silver bonnet at once: I should certainly never venture to wear his choice. With infinite difficulty, for he was stubborn as a stone, I persuaded him to make an exchange in favour of a sober black satin and pearl-grey silk. “It might pass for the present,” he said; “but he would yet see me glittering like a parterre.”
Glad was I to get him out of the silk warehouse, and then out of a jeweller’s shop: the more he bought me, the more my cheek burned with a sense of annoyance and degradation. As we re-entered the carriage, and I sat back feverish and fagged, I remembered what, in the hurry of events, dark and bright, I had wholly forgotten—the letter of my uncle, John Eyre, to Mrs. Reed: his intention to adopt me and make me his legatee. “It would, indeed, be a relief,” I thought, “if I had ever so small an independency; I never can bear being dressed like a doll by Mr. Rochester, or sitting like a second Danae with the golden shower falling daily round me. I will write to Madeira the moment I get home, and tell my uncle John I am going to be married, and to whom: if I had but a prospect of one day bringing Mr. Rochester an accession of fortune, I could better endure to be kept by him now.” And somewhat relieved by this idea (which I failed not to execute that day), I ventured once more to meet my master’s and lover’s eye, which most pertinaciously sought mine, though I averted both face and gaze. He smiled; and I thought his smile was such as a sultan might, in a blissful and fond moment, bestow on a slave his gold and gems had enriched: I crushed his hand, which was ever hunting mine, vigorously, and thrust it back to him red with the passionate pressure.
“You need not look in that way,” I said; “if you do, I’ll wear nothing but my old Lowood frocks to the end of the chapter. I’ll be married in this lilac gingham: you may make a dressing-gown for yourself out of the pearl-grey silk, and an infinite series of waistcoats out of the black satin.”
He chuckled; he rubbed his hands. “Oh, it is rich to see and hear her!” he exclaimed. “Is she original? Is she piquant? I would not exchange this one little English girl for the Grand Turk’s whole seraglio, gazelle-eyes, houri forms, and all!”
The Eastern allusion bit me again. “I’ll not stand you an inch in the stead of a seraglio,” I said; “so don’t consider me an equivalent for one. If you have a fancy for anything in that line, away with you, sir, to the bazaars of Stamboul without delay, and lay out in extensive slave-purchases some of that spare cash you seem at a loss to spend satisfactorily here.”
“And what will you do, Janet, while I am bargaining for so many tons of flesh and such an assortment of black eyes?”
“I’ll be preparing myself to go out as a missionary to preach liberty to them that are enslaved—your harem inmates amongst the rest. I’ll get admitted there, and I’ll stir up mutiny; and you, three-tailed bashaw as you are, sir, shall in a trice find yourself fettered amongst our hands: nor will I, for one, consent to cut your bonds till you have signed a charter, the most liberal that despot ever yet conferred.”
“I would consent to be at your mercy, Jane.”
“I would have no mercy, Mr. Rochester, if you supplicated for it with an eye like that. While you looked so, I should be certain that whatever charter you might grant under coercion, your first act, when released, would be to violate its conditions.”
“Why, Jane, what would you have? I fear you will compel me to go through a private marriage ceremony, besides that performed at the altar. You will stipulate, I see, for peculiar terms—what will they be?”
“I only want an easy mind, sir; not crushed by crowded obligations. Do you remember what you said of Céline Varens?—of the diamonds, the cashmeres you gave her? I will not be your English Céline Varens. I shall continue to act as Adèle’s governess; by that I shall earn my board and lodging, and thirty pounds a year besides. I’ll furnish my own wardrobe out of that money, and you shall give me nothing but—”
“Well, but what?”
“Your regard; and if I give you mine in return, that debt will be quit.”
“Well, for cool native impudence and pure innate pride, you haven’t your equal,” said he. We were now approaching Thornfield. “Will it please you to dine with me to-day?” he asked, as we re-entered the gates.
“No, thank you, sir.”
“And what for, ‘no, thank you?’ if one may inquire.”
“I never have dined with you, sir: and I see no reason why I should now: till—”
“Till what? You delight in half-phrases.”
“Till I can’t help it.”
“Do you suppose I eat like an ogre or a ghoul, that you dread being the companion of my repast?”
“I have formed no supposition on the subject, sir; but I want to go on as usual for another month.”
“You will give up your governessing slavery at once.”
“Indeed, begging your pardon, sir, I shall not. I shall just go on with it as usual. I shall keep out of your way all day, as I have been accustomed to do: you may send for me in the evening, when you feel disposed to see me, and I’ll come then; but at no other time.”
“I want a smoke, Jane, or a pinch of snuff, to comfort me under all this, ‘pour me donner une contenance,’ as Adèle would say; and unfortunately I have neither my cigar-case, nor my snuff-box. But listen—whisper. It is your time now, little tyrant, but it will be mine presently; and when once I have fairly seized you, to have and to hold, I’ll just—figuratively speaking—attach you to a chain like this” (touching his watch-guard). “Yes, bonny wee thing, I’ll wear you in my bosom, lest my jewel I should tyne.”
He said this as he helped me to alight from the carriage, and while he afterwards lifted out Adèle, I entered the house, and made good my retreat upstairs.
He duly summoned me to his presence in the evening. I had prepared an occupation for him; for I was determined not to spend the whole time in a tête-à-tête conversation. I remembered his fine voice; I knew he liked to sing—good singers generally do. I was no vocalist myself, and, in his fastidious judgment, no musician, either; but I delighted in listening when the performance was good. No sooner had twilight, that hour of romance, began to lower her blue and starry banner over the lattice, than I rose, opened the piano, and entreated him, for the love of heaven, to give me a song. He said I was a capricious witch, and that he would rather sing another time; but I averred that no time was like the present.
“Did I like his voice?” he asked.
“Very much.” I was not fond of pampering that susceptible vanity of his; but for once, and from motives of expediency, I would e’en soothe and stimulate it.
“Then, Jane, you must play the accompaniment.”
“Very well, sir, I will try.”
I did try, but was presently swept off the stool and denominated “a little bungler.” Being pushed unceremoniously to one side—which was precisely what I wished—he usurped my place, and proceeded to accompany himself: for he could play as well as sing. I hied me to the window-recess. And while I sat there and looked out on the still trees and dim lawn, to a sweet air was sung in mellow tones the following strain:—
“The truest love that ever heart Felt at its kindled core, Did through each vein, in quickened start, The tide of being pour. Her coming was my hope each day, Her parting was my pain; The chance that did her steps delay Was ice in every vein. I dreamed it would be nameless bliss, As I loved, loved to be; And to this object did I press As blind as eagerly. But wide as pathless was the space That lay our lives between, And dangerous as the foamy race Of ocean-surges green. And haunted as a robber-path Through wilderness or wood; For Might and Right, and Woe and Wrath, Between our spirits stood. I dangers dared; I hindrance scorned; I omens did defy: Whatever menaced, harassed, warned, I passed impetuous by. On sped my rainbow, fast as light; I flew as in a dream; For glorious rose upon my sight That child of Shower and Gleam. Still bright on clouds of suffering dim Shines that soft, solemn joy; Nor care I now, how dense and grim Disasters gather nigh. I care not in this moment sweet, Though all I have rushed o’er Should come on pinion, strong and fleet, Proclaiming vengeance sore: Though haughty Hate should strike me down, Right, bar approach to me, And grinding Might, with furious frown, Swear endless enmity. My love has placed her little hand With noble faith in mine, And vowed that wedlock’s sacred band Our nature shall entwine. My love has sworn, with sealing kiss, With me to live—to die; I have at last my nameless bliss. As I love—loved am I!”
He rose and came towards me, and I saw his face all kindled, and his full falcon-eye flashing, and tenderness and passion in every lineament. I quailed momentarily—then I rallied. Soft scene, daring demonstration, I would not have; and I stood in peril of both: a weapon of defence must be prepared—I whetted my tongue: as he reached me, I asked with asperity, “whom he was going to marry now?”
“That was a strange question to be put by his darling Jane.”
“Indeed! I considered it a very natural and necessary one: he had talked of his future wife dying with him. What did he mean by such a pagan idea? I had no intention of dying with him—he might depend on that.”
“Oh, all he longed, all he prayed for, was that I might live with him! Death was not for such as I.”
“Indeed it was: I had as good a right to die when my time came as he had: but I should bide that time, and not be hurried away in a suttee.”
“Would I forgive him for the selfish idea, and prove my pardon by a reconciling kiss?”
“No: I would rather be excused.”
Here I heard myself apostrophised as a “hard little thing;” and it was added, “any other woman would have been melted to marrow at hearing such stanzas crooned in her praise.”
I assured him I was naturally hard—very flinty, and that he would often find me so; and that, moreover, I was determined to show him divers rugged points in my character before the ensuing four weeks elapsed: he should know fully what sort of a bargain he had made, while there was yet time to rescind it.
“Would I be quiet and talk rationally?”
“I would be quiet if he liked, and as to talking rationally, I flattered myself I was doing that now.”
He fretted, pished, and pshawed. “Very good,” I thought; “you may fume and fidget as you please: but this is the best plan to pursue with you, I am certain. I like you more than I can say; but I’ll not sink into a bathos of sentiment: and with this needle of repartee I’ll keep you from the edge of the gulf too; and, moreover, maintain by its pungent aid that distance between you and myself most conducive to our real mutual advantage.”
From less to more, I worked him up to considerable irritation; then, after he had retired, in dudgeon, quite to the other end of the room, I got up, and saying, “I wish you good-night, sir,” in my natural and wonted respectful manner, I slipped out by the side-door and got away.
The system thus entered on, I pursued during the whole season of probation; and with the best success. He was kept, to be sure, rather cross and crusty; but on the whole I could see he was excellently entertained, and that a lamb-like submission and turtle-dove sensibility, while fostering his despotism more, would have pleased his judgment, satisfied his common-sense, and even suited his taste less.
In other people’s presence I was, as formerly, deferential and quiet; any other line of conduct being uncalled for: it was only in the evening conferences I thus thwarted and afflicted him. He continued to send for me punctually the moment the clock struck seven; though when I appeared before him now, he had no such honeyed terms as “love” and “darling” on his lips: the best words at my service were “provoking puppet,” “malicious elf,” “sprite,” “changeling,” &c. For caresses, too, I now got grimaces; for a pressure of the hand, a pinch on the arm; for a kiss on the cheek, a severe tweak of the ear. It was all right: at present I decidedly preferred these fierce favours to anything more tender. Mrs. Fairfax, I saw, approved me: her anxiety on my account vanished; therefore I was certain I did well. Meantime, Mr. Rochester affirmed I was wearing him to skin and bone, and threatened awful vengeance for my present conduct at some period fast coming. I laughed in my sleeve at his menaces. “I can keep you in reasonable check now,” I reflected; “and I don’t doubt to be able to do it hereafter: if one expedient loses its virtue, another must be devised.”
Yet after all my task was not an easy one; often I would rather have pleased than teased him. My future husband was becoming to me my whole world; and more than the world: almost my hope of heaven. He stood between me and every thought of religion, as an eclipse intervenes between man and the broad sun. I could not, in those days, see God for His creature: of whom I had made an idol.