I know it’s been absolutely ages since I posted last on this, but be assured that I’m still writing. Just to refresh your memories, Rochester has just received some urgent news. What could it be?
Now we’ll let Jane tell her story.
I gasped with shock as soon as the icy wind hit my skin. It must have been close to freezing, and my thin shawl was wholly inadequate to fend off the chill. Wrapping the flimsy material about me, I hastened through the darkness toward the servant’s entrance on the other side of the house, but the wind was so cold that I had not made it half way before I began to shiver.
When I finally got to the entrance, I was faced with another problem – a pair of visiting valets stood guard at the door, smoking and talking. It would not do to attract their attention so I hid behind a bush and waited. By the time they returned inside my teeth were chattering, but fortunately I was able to dash inside and return to my chamber unseen.
As soon as I bolted my door, I wrapped myself in a thick, woollen shawl and stood in front of the fire until the shivering subsided. Then replacing my dress with my nightgown, I climbed underneath the covers. Still, the feeling of cold did not entirely abate – my feet remained ice-cold and the rest of me could not seem to get warm. Closing my eyes, my thoughts immediately drifted to Edward – his yearning, passionate kisses, the feel of his hands upon me – the feeling that what we did was so very right.
Jane Eyre, you forget yourself! Such things can never be right!
But how can it be wrong to be so loved?
When it is wrong in the eyes of the law and in the eyes of God, you silly fool!
Somehow I managed to drift into a restless sleep where I dreamed of the jewel-like eyes of my lover – his husky voice sending shivers of delight down my spine, his kisses as blistering as fiery embers, his deft fingers caressing me from head to foot. My dream lover pulled me into his hard chest, and as he did I felt my skin dissolve into his, merging us into one physical body. The feel of him in me and me in him was akin to ecstasy, and the sensation of his heart beating within my breast suspended all fears so that we floated in a cocoon of happiness.
But as we revelled in bliss, a wild-haired demon bounded in, destroying our cocoon in one fell swoop, and we were agonisingly ripped apart, atom-by-atom. Separated once more we shrivelled until we were merely skin and bone, devoid as we were of happiness, of love, of hope.
I awoke to an aching head, a sweaty brow, and a heart was heavy with desolation. If my dream was a sign of what was to come, then would Edward forget me once he left Ardfry? Was I destined to live alone, mourning the loss of my soul friend for the rest of my life?
A knock. “Miss Eyre? Are you there?”
It was Máire. Looking at my pocket watch, I saw that I had slept so long that I would be late for the children’s lessons if I did not hurry. I struggled out of bed and opened the door.
“Miss, you look a fright! I got worried when you did not come to breakfast, but now I see that you are not well.”
“I am very well!” I protested, “I only need to eat a little.”
“If you say so, miss.” Máire said reluctantly. “The children shall be ready in half-an-hour.”
“Don’t worry, I shall be there.”
My body felt sluggish and a little feverish as I washed and dressed. By the time I entered the servant’s dining room, the sideboard was bare and the room deserted. Since most were undoubtedly going about their duties in the breakfast parlour I went into the kitchen where the cook was laying out toast. She gave me an annoyed glance when I asked if she could set some aside for me, but nevertheless handed me a few slices and a cup of tea. I took my breakfast back to the empty dining room and ate it there, but just as I was consuming my last morsel of toast, I saw Mrs. Kirwan enter.
“You are late. Where were you at breakfast, Miss Eyre?”
“I am sorry, Mrs. Kirwan. I’m afraid that I overslept this morning.”
She looked at her watch and said, “And late for the children’s lessons too, I see. The mistress will not be pleased.”
She studied me grimly. “You are very pale, Miss Eyre, as if you are feverish. What on earth were you doing last night?”
I replied, “I put the children to bed and then retired to my room. I had not a very restful sleep because the storm kept me awake, but otherwise I am fine.”
“So you did not come downstairs again? Because Mr. Rochester found the nursery candle in the drawing room.”
The candle – I had forgotten about the candle!
“No,” I lied, “I went straight to bed.”
She was not entirely convinced but thankfully let the subject pass. “Well, with winter here these storms will be as regular as clockwork. I suppose you don’t get such fierce weather where you’re from but you must get used to it here. I cannot have you poorly and expose the children to illness when they are such delicate creatures.”
“I shall take care, Mrs. Kirwan. Now you must excuse me or I will really be late for the children’s lessons.”
I made my way back upstairs and met Miss Joyce coming out of the breakfast parlour. She invited me to have tea with her – an invitation I readily accepted. After agreeing to meet with her in the afternoon, I was finally able to rush upstairs to the school room. Mercifully, the children were in a good mood after their triumphant performances last night. I would have had little patience to deal with their misdemeanours, for my body weakened as the morning wore on. I was glad when luncheon came around for I needed the rest. A little nap would have done nicely, but as I made my way to my chamber, I saw Edward approach. He had a look of infinite grimness that I often saw in the days when he first returned to Thornfield – a look that alarmed me.
I forgot my infirmity and immediately asked, “Is there anything wrong?”
He gave me a half-smile. “When is anything ever right, Jane?”
Edward looked so defeated that I knew that something terrible had happened – but what?
But instead of continuing, he asked me, “Are you well, Jane? You are so pale. Did you catch a chill when I forced you outside last night?”
“No, I am well, just a little tired.”
“Are you sure?”
“Don’t worry about me. What about you?”
He looked down the long corridor, before suggesting, “Shall we walk to the end there?”
I nodded. We walked slowly to the large windows at the end of the corridor, and then looked out on the stormy landscape – the fierce wind that threatened to snap trees in two, the whipping rain that lashed horizontally across the fields.
When he did not speak I put my hand gently on his arm. “Tell me, what is the matter?”
He dropped his head, and whispered, “I must go.”
A knot tightened in my stomach. “So soon?”
He nodded. “I just received a letter from Mrs. Fairfax. Grace has been wounded. She had a little too much to drink, as is her wont of late, but this time Bertha took full advantage of her indiscretion.”
I shivered. The wild-haired demon in my dream – it was Bertha!
The horrors that she caused at Thornfield instantly came to me – the attempted burning of her husband, the biting and the stabbing of her brother. What has she done now?
“Is Mrs. Poole much injured?”
He nodded. “She was stabbed in the stomach. Luckily Carter got to her quick enough to prevent her from bleeding to death.”
I clutched his arm, drawing him close. “Poor Mrs. Poole…”
“She is under his care now, but not likely to recover for some weeks, perhaps months. In the meantime, Bertha is without a carer. The servants have looked after her so far, but none of them are fit to do it permanently – that task falls to me.”
He laughed bitterly. “Poor Grace. She does not deserve such a fate since the fault is mine to begin with. That is what happens when one neglects one’s wife – one’s life literally falls apart around you! But this time I shall attend to my duties – I shall never escape from Thornfield again!”
There was such pain in his voice, in his look, that I was ready to do anything to ease it. “You cannot do this alone, Edward. Let me help you – let me help you take care of Bertha.”
He gave me a forlorn smile. Then lifting a hand to my cheek, he stroked it softly with his thumb, and said, “You don’t know what you are asking, my little firebird. Your selflessness, loving heart might think that you are doing me a good turn, but I shall not let you condemn yourself. Opportunities await you – you have an uncle in Madeira, and newfound relatives and friends that will certainly change your life for the better. Let me go to hell alone, as I deserve.”
“No!” I cried. “How many times do I have to tell you that you are a good man and deserve better? I shall not let you go alone, for I cannot abandon any friend of mine.”
“You talk of friends, Jane, but can you see us remaining just friends if you do come with me?”
He stared piercingly at me, and there was no hiding the fact that as much as I loved him, I also desired him with all my being.
“You and I know that we are not the platonic sort, Jane, as last night’s encounter testified, and if I cannot marry you then it is better that I not have you at all.”
His eyes were flint-like, full of bitter acceptance at his fate. No longer able to hide my anxiety, I wept – not for the prospect of a life without him, but for the kind of life he had been condemned to – spending day after day in that cold, damp tower – risking life and limb to attend to his wife. He would be worn down in a matter of weeks, and shrivel up to nothing as he had in my dream.
When he saw my tears, his hard countenance crumbled. Without a word we threw our arms around each, grasping each other as if our lives depended upon it.
“Jane…” he whispered, “I don’t know what I will do without you.”
“Then don’t do without me – let me share your burden. Write to me – about anything you like, no matter how trivial – I want to hear all of it.”
To my surprise, I heard him chuckle. “Do you? Even about Pilot’s latest misdemeanour?”
“Especially about Pilot’s misdemeanours. Please Edward, promise me that you will write.”
“I promise!” he rasped.
“Good.” I replied, smiling into his chest. “For though I may be five hundred miles away, I am still yours – whether you like it or not.”
Catch up on previous sections…
4: An Irish Air
3: Soul Friends