Progress is slowly happening on Jane Rochester’s next mystery.
Here’s a little of what’s to come.
The high distant moor, burnished with the tawny hues of the end of summer, reached to the horizon’s edge. Six-and-thirty hours in the carriage had brought us here, to a quiet down overlooking the village of Morton. Twice we had stopped for the night at an inn, but Adele was not so hardened a traveller as to persevere gladly within the confines of a carriage for hours on end, and I thought it best to spend the last of the daylight out in the open.
“What is this place?” My husband inquired.
“A priory, long since fallen into decay. It is only stones and rubble now.”
“A romantic ruin.”
“I attempted to paint it once, but the weather turned ill and I abandoned the effort. Perhaps I will try again one day.”
Adele was our ward, a young girl of nine or so, an orphan. She ran through the grass with delight, while Mr. Rochester stood beside me, one hand resting on his new cane while his arm wrapped round my shoulder. This was a lonely spot, reader, untenanted by anyone but rabbits in the afternoon light. I remembered, however, that we were not so far from a cottage or two, perched on the edge of the moor, and cottagers sometimes set snares for the presently unseen rabbits.
“Adele,” I called. “Don’t stray too far. Adele?” She could not hear me, for she was singing to herself in a boisterous voice. She had already traversed much of the slope.
“Go after her, Janet. I’ll come to no harm.” I kissed my husband’s cheek and made my way down the hillside, while he remained behind. I stopped my descent once to look back at him. He had left his hat in the carriage and his raven hair tossed in the wind. The light of the sinking sun touched his face and bronzed his cheek. The set of his features appeared chiseled from stone. I could not tell if he were contentedly enjoying the evening air, or stoically enduring the enforced passivity of his blindness. For a brief moment, I nearly turned back to him, but remembering my purpose, I continued down the hill. I would later come to regret that I did not go back.
Mr. Rochester sighed only once after Jane left him. It was so dull waiting for others and he had never supported dullness well. He had certainly learned to accept it, but could not always do so without the bitter taint of regret. In the failing light he discerned little, but his acute hearing detected the sound of the horses grazing and the mild breeze swaying the heather about. He gradually became aware of another sound, a curious murmur, like that of an injured animal. He thought of a mother bird trying to lead away its predator by pretending its wing was broken, calling out mournfully as it dragged its wing in the dirt.
But there was something about this sound that was not quite that of a mere creature, as if…as if there were words mixed up in its complaint. He turned, and the sound increased in volume. By feeling the ground with his cane he was able to move up the hill. He might have called the coach driver, or simply waited for Jane. But there was something in the evening air, in the fresh wind from the open moor that enlivened him, and made him long for the independence of movement he had once taken for granted.
It was easy enough at first, for a path of sorts led him in the right direction. There were stones mixed up in the beaten path that crunched beneath his boots, otherwise his slow creep up the hillside was silent, but for the murmuring noise. The sound of it increased and he became more convinced that it was human in origin. A child, perhaps, or a woman. The wind blew stronger, bearing the earthy scent of heather, informing him that he must be near the summit of the hill. His boot knocked against a stone on the right. He pivoted to the left, and the sudden movement sent a spray of stones ahead of him. The result was a curious pittery plunk that made him pause. There was water alongside him, but this could be no puddle at ground level. He kicked deliberately and the noise recurred once more. The stones were falling off an edge of some kind. The hollowness that only comes from an enclosed space sounded almost simultaneously. Not very deep then, but below ground level, and undoubtedly damp within.
He was distracted from this discovery by a long wail from nearby. He lifted his chin and called out, “Who’s there?”
The wailing stopped instantly, and the throaty voice of a man answered, “Who are you? What do you want here?”
“I want to know who’s crying like that.”
“It’s none o’ your damned business, I’ll have you know.”
“Keep a civil tongue, man.”
“Oh? And you’ll make me, will you?”
“I am not come to address myself to you. I want to know who’s crying out, like Hagar in the wilderness. What’s happening here?”
“There’s nothing happening here.”
“Let me hear the girl say so for herself.”
He waited. The man repeated his words. Mr. Rochester had long since borne witness to the many shades of the human heart in his travels. He knew perfectly well there was no use reasoning with this belligerent fellow. But if the girl could summon the courage to help herself…he might be of some use to her.
“Come now, if you are in trouble, come at once. I have a carriage and driver at the bottom of the hill. I’ll have you out of this for good and all. Come at once, I say, and you’ll never suffer this creature near you again if you so choose.”
A pause, and then the sound of movement, followed by a heavy blow, a swift cry, and a man’s angry oath.
“Who do you think you are, you blackguard, talking rot to my wife? You’ve got no business coming here and I’ll make sure you don’t forget it.”
Another cry from the woman. “Let him alone!” but the heavy footsteps of a man’s approach spoke plainly that whatever wickedness the stranger contemplated, there was no one there to stop him. Mr. Rochester could neither see his enemy, nor run away from him. He planted his cane firmly against the ground, and waited.
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