After some requests, I’ve continued on from where Across the Sea left off…
The night was clear, unusual enough for a November evening after weeks of heavy skies. From my opulent suite at the Claredon I looked out on to busy Bond Street. Though night had fallen more than an hour before, there was still plenty of activity as horses and carriages drove by, their lamps like fireflies in the night. On such a night one dreamed of the open countryside, not of grim London, but London was where I was – far away from the gardens, the river, and the fields of Thornfield – far away from any reminders of Jane Eyre.
Determined as I was to await the news of her safe arrival at Ardfry House, I stayed a month after Jane’s departure. But though I had little doubt that life without her would be difficult, little did I know how difficult it would be. There was no escaping her at Thornfield, not when a stroll by the riverside brought back memories of our intimate talks, not when Mrs. Fairfax’s praises reminded me of how much Jane was loved, not when the howl of the storm prompted the recollection of our final night together – how we had embraced beside the flickering fire, so entwined, so in love.
My memories were all that I had left of her, bittersweet remnants that in an instant could lift me to ecstatic heights only to drown me in its murky depths. But was this not better than living in perpetual guilt, better than incurring Jane’s eternal hate when she inevitably found out the truth?
You know it is, Rochester! So bear up and be a man for once! Live the life that she asked of you – one lived to the fullest!
I laughed bitterly, for I had made a poor effort thus far. As the days passed, I grew ever more morose, so much so that it cast a noticeable air of uneasiness among my household. This was particularly evident among my most valued staff – Leah no longer exchanged pleasantries but flew away as soon as she fulfilled her task, George kept a stern silence whenever I ordered another decanter of brandy – even Mrs. Fairfax cast a concerned motherly eye over me whenever she was in my presence. Only Grace improved, perhaps because her charge had miraculously changed overnight from an irrepressible tiger to a meek kitten.
She was the only one grateful for Jane’s departure; otherwise the household had assumed a state of bereavement for the bright, little governess, thus when a letter from Jane did arrive, one could almost hear the house itself breathe a sigh of relief. The letter confirmed that Jane was safely installed at her new home, but it brought more than just mere reassurances for me – the letter was also my deliverance from the bounds of Thornfield – and my chance to escape the pain that it wrought.
Three days later I was in London, but despite my haste to reach town, I made no further plans to venture beyond it. I dared not cross the Channel, afraid that once crossed, my chord of communion with Jane would snap once and for all, and my precious memories of her would seep away forever. Hence installing myself at the Claredon, my usual London residence, I assiduously devoted my days to remembering.
The Serpentine was a particularly favoured spot for my contemplations. My mornings were spent watching rabbles of nurses and their charges play by the waterside, and as I watched I would picture how our children would have looked among them – how our bright-eyed little girl would giggle as pigeons pecked breadcrumbs from her hand, how our ruddy boy would run through the grass, his dark curls a flutter. The afternoons were no better, for it was the time when young ladies appeared for their daily stroll, their beaus and chaperones in tow. I imagined my Jane among them, where she would inevitably outshine them all with her warmth, honesty and tenderness, so rare among these superficial blooms.
Such scenes lashed upon my soul, each lash cutting ever deeper into my heart, leaving it gaping, bleeding. The only relief came from the blessed bottle, a vice that I indulged in more and more often. Still, I had yet enough strength to not completely succumb, but as the days passed, I felt myself growing a little more careless, a little more dependent on the comfort it brought – for who in the world cared if I did succumb now that Jane was across the Irish Sea? Who in the world would help me now that I was once again alone?
The nights brought a change of venue for my meditations as I shifted from the park to the club. Travellers Club was a place for those who came from or had lived abroad. Consequently, it was a place where my acquaintances generally congregated, but once again I sought to avoid all company by secreting myself in the library – a place I had come to regard as my own.
However, I was in no hurry to reach the library this evening. Instead, I swirled the glass of brandy in my hand and took a generous gulp, feeling the fiery liquid settle in my belly. Then heading to the dresser, I took out a cravat, fixing it haphazardly in front of the mirror. That task was accomplished, I shrugged on my coat and stepped back, studying the reflection before me.
The man I saw was weary, undeniably middle-aged. Though his unruly hair and muscular body imparted an element of youthfulness, his eyes inevitably gave away his true age. Staring into those great orbs, I saw a man not only tired of life, but frightened of the future ahead – a future bleak and doomed by loneliness.
“Take care, Jane.” I had said to her one evening, “Don’t look too closely inside of me – you might not find anything within at all beautiful.”
Yet Jane, my courageous girl, saw beyond this coarse facade, recognised the wild beauty beneath, and had loved me for it.
“She loved me,” I murmured, “Truly loved me.”
I had never been so loved – really loved for love’s sake – and it crushed me to know that I might never be loved again. My eyes burned as I again recalled our final night together, recalled the glimpse I had of the life we would have led if circumstances were different – a life of immeasurable joy and love – a life with the twin of my soul.
Letting out a gasp, I turned away from the mirror, pacing back and forth until I had quelled my emotions. But no amount of pacing could ease the ache within me – an ache that seemed to have pervaded my entire being.
“Jane,” I cried, “How I miss you…”
I finished my brandy in one searing gulp, and after blowing out the lone candle that lit the room, I hurriedly exited my suite. Once outside, I ignored the concierge’s attempts to hail me a cab, preferring to take advantage of the clear night and walk to my destination. The sting of the cold air reinvigorated me, as did the exhilaration of dodging carts, carriages and all manner of obstacles that made its way down Bond Street at this evening hour. But the walk was not long, and soon the ivory buildings of Pall Mall, ever elegant even in the dim gaslight, appeared.
The Travellers Club was housed in one of its smaller buildings. I entered hastily and made my way directly to the library. Expecting it to be deserted at this early hour, I was thus surprised to see a familiar figure perusing its shelves.