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That is the working title for the next Jane Rochester Mystery – assuming it ever gets written. This has proved to be a busy year for me and writing has moved to the back burner, but I do have a nice mystery planned out, with some characters I look forward to spending time with.
For this story I decided to bring Jane back to Moor House, where she lived for several months with her cousins before reuniting with Mr. Rochester. I am a small town girl myself, and I’ve enjoyed plotting out a mystery that relies on the intricacies of village life.
And then there is the moor, the vast, empty country that Bronte and her sisters spent so much time roaming over. For some time I’ve had a scene written in which Jane introduces Mr. Rochester to the moor country that she (and her creator) loved. Here it is. Hope you enjoy it.
Excerpt from a forthcoming Jane Rochester mystery:
“Edward, I have your greatcoat.”
“Greatcoat? Whatever for, Jane?”
“There is still a heavy frost on the ground, but the sun will carry it away soon. Come, I want to show you something.”
He obediently held out his arms while I wrapped the coat around him, then laced up his boots for him. A servant might have done it for me, but I was in no mood for officious interference. I wanted to be on the moor.
The path was as I thought it would be, wrought in shades of silver by the frosty night, glimmering in the strong light of day. We traveled over rock and under branch, until we came to the open vale. Before us lay a fairy land – every blade and twig glittered like adamantine. The grass lay dead and bowed to the earth, but the sound of our boots crunching over it gladdened my heart like music. We climbed the long hill with care and emerged on the empty moor. I told Mr. Rochester of everything in view – the soft, shimmering hills, the limitless sky of azure, laced with trailing wisps of cloud, and every faded blossom of heather frosted with white. We stood side by side, his knee touching mine, his arm around my waist – we breathed deep of the keen air, invigorating in its cool clarity.
A bird, perched on a long stalk of grass that swayed in the stillness, sang blythely to the morning, its call filling our ears, the very air replete with sudden joy. Mr. Rochester raised his good hand and caressed my face, his fingers tracing my lips. I asked him what he was thinking of.
“I wanted to know that smile, for I could hear it in your voice, and feel it my soul. I remembered how sad you once were; my little girl alone in the world.”
“I am not alone anymore, Edward.”
“No indeed! Jane departed her fairy home in search of one she could bless and tend, for one in need of her vivacious mind and loving heart. But now it seems we have found out your home, my bonny wanderer. Your kingdom lies round about here somewhere, I think. And now that you have brought me thither, you must grant me a boon, must you not?”
“A boon? Must I? I was not aware of such an obligation.”
“A hardly like to ask, ennobled as you are, revealed in the glory of your own country.”
I turned my eye from the brilliant scene before me to examine his face.
“And what would you request?”
“I would ask to pass all my mortal days by your side, as your husband.”
“But I have all ready granted that wish, when I married you.”
“So you did. Well then, let me think.” He rubbed his chin in contemplation. “Ah, I have it! The very thing – a kiss.”
“Edward, you would not ask for kisses on a morning like this?”
“Grant me just one, Jane. Surely these silvered fields have felt the breath of an angel, a kiss divine as it is passing swiftly. Let me feel the solid warmth of your lips, and know you will not forsake me for your home in yonder fairyland.”
I kissed him as he bid; he demanded more; the bird sang on, its music heralded by the empty moor alone.
“My feet are cold,” I said. “We must move. You do not dislike it, that I brought you out here?”
“Dislike it? Your pleasure is mine, and your happiness my treasure. God bless you, my dear, for your reverence of all that is bright and high. It renews me every day.”
(Spoiler alert! If you’ve never actually read Jane Eyre, this gives away big swathes of the plot. Your best course of action is to go read Jane Eyre as soon as possible, because it’s such a good book. It’s free online and probably at your library.)
Every fictional hero has his flaws. Without them, he would not resemble the complexities of a real human being – he would not feel so true to life. But Mr. Rochester’s flaws have almost seemed to eclipse him as a character, to the point where he has become a sort of standing joke. He is now the guy who kept his wife in the attic.
Of course that is not his only sin: he treated Jane unworthily from the start of their acquaintance, acting capriciously and then taking her into his confidence as an equal, which was not the case society-wise, then deceiving her into accepting his marriage proposal he could not decently offer. To many modern readers, Jane is far too quick to forgive such a catalogue of wrong-doing.
Personally, I think Rochester gets a bad rap these days. I’m biased of course, because I love Bronte’s novel to pieces, and have always liked Rochester from the first time I read the book. I wanted his redemption from the beginning of the novel, and am perhaps a little too inclined to give him grace. While I would never hope to justify all of his deeds to anyone, and in fact spend some time in The Hour of Fatality dwelling on his repentance of his past, (probably to the detriment of my mystery), I still think his critics are too harsh on him. Mostly, on account of the wife in the attic.
Rochester’s wife, locked in the attic room with a nurse for several years, is perhaps to be a pitied a little. But compared to the usual treatment of lunatics in those days, she doesn’t make out too badly. A typical asylum would have seen patients chained to the wall, and possibly whipped when their behavior was too outrageous. Bertha, by contrast, had a private room and a personal attendant. It would be a dreary life, for sure, but then, what might be the consequences if she had been allowed more freedom? Today, with the benefit of psychiatric drugs, we have a certain degree of control over the greater aberrations of mental illness. Many mental problems are diagnosed and controlled by medication. As far as treatment, there was opium – and not much else. Essentially, her condition was untreatable. For the sake of safety, locking Bertha up would have been regarded as a necessity. And as subsequent events in the novel show, she was certainly a dangerous individual, (perhaps perpetuating an ungenerous stereotype. But its within the realm of possibility that a woman with extreme mental illness might be dangerous, and at unpredictable times.)
Mr. Rochester’s most grievous sin, in the eyes of Bronte’s audience, would have been attempting polygamy. This seems largely ignored by many critics today, as marriage has come down somewhat in the world’s estimation. This is the only illegal act he is guilty of. Certainly his infidelity to his marriage vows are a pretty big blot as well. But I think its worth considering that he was in an essentially impossible position.
We only get Mr. Rochester’s view of his first marriage, but judging from that, his wife was most definitely unfaithful to her vows first. I have sometimes wondered why Rochester didn’t divorce his wife immediately, (he claims to have lived with her for four years, knowing full well what her behavior was), on the grounds of infidelity. Of course it wouldn’t have suited the story so well if he had done so, but after thinking about it, I remembered what a black mark it was at that time to get a divorce. It would have followed him all of his life – a divorced man. Even aside from the doctor’s diagnosis of his wife’s madness, making it impossible for him to obtain a divorce, he would have resisted such an option.
He was at that time in his early twenties, with all of his life ahead of him, and after four years of it, however, he had enough.
“In the eyes of the world, I was doubtless covered with grimy dishonour; but I resolved to be clean in my own sight—and to the last I repudiated the contamination of her crimes, and wrenched myself from connection with her mental defects. Still, society associated my name and person with hers; I yet saw her and heard her daily…”
He tried to live apart from her, but being free from the pretense of marriage, he would then have been forced to accept loneliness as his lot. Of course he explains in detail to Jane what choices he made as a result: a dissolute, immoral life that brought him no lasting rest.
Like the Prodigal Son, Rochester finds his way home, but not in the way he expects to. He attempts his own restoration by attempting to claim Jane’s innocence for himself, and by the end of the novel, he learns what Jane herself tried to teach him.
“Dread remorse when you are tempted to err, Miss Eyre; remorse is the poison of life.”
To which Jane wisely responded, “Repentance is said to be its cure.”
The Hour of Fatality: A Jane Rochester Mystery is officially for sale as an e-book and paperback. It’s been a long, occasionally aggravating, but mostly enjoyable journey. It makes me happy that the book is finally available. I hope it makes readers happy too.
I’ve been working off and on with a short story idea, in which Jane Rochester solves her first mystery immediately after her marriage. The tale revolves around Ferndean Manor, the setting of the final scene of Jane Eyre. I guess it’s sort of a prequel to The Hour of Fatality, which I’m currently proofreading, but it’s a standalone mystery. Here’s the very beginning. If it sounds intriguing, let me know. Or you can sign up for my mailing list, and I’ll let you know when it’s completed and available.
For lack of anything more mysterious, it’s tentatively titled:
I entered the study with a keen and lively step. I had only gone as far as the kitchen, no great sojourn at Ferndean Manor, but on one’s wedding day, even a trifling separation is an excuse for a pleasant reunion. Mr. Rochester reached out his arm, and I stepped into his embrace.
“We have passed through fire, trial, and the pain of separation, to a safe harbor and sheltered bourn. I never thought to find any happiness at Ferndean.” He stood behind me, his arms holding me to him. The sun cast brilliant beams through the window; it seemed the very smile of Providence to warm us. “You do not regret having no the bridal journey? No fine gown and rich jewels? I have not disappointed your expectations?”
“Do you know, Mr. Rochester, that there is a bloom of woodland flowers just outside this window?” I replied, not altogether to the purpose.
“Then you shall have Eglantine as a bit of lace, and Honeysuckle as a veil? What shall you take for jewels, my fairy? A bead of dew to adorn your neck, and a filament of ivy to cover your wrist. Is that all that you desire?”
“I am crowned with my husband’s love. No other adornment could satisfy me so well.”
“You are a woman of rare taste, Jane. But I’ll not complain of my good fortune. If this is the fate Heaven offers me, I shall call Paradise premature in its arrival.”
I touched the scar on his forehead, where the fiery tragedy of the past had left its mark. I passed my fingers over his blinded eyes. If I could bring my husband nectar and ambrosia in his condition, I would be well rewarded by the kindness of his love. A departure from sentiment, however, was not unwelcome, even on the dawning day of one’s marriage.
“I find I am rather thirsty for paradise. With your approval, I will summon Mary to bring us tea.” He tweaked my finger and allowed me to pass. Mary brought the tea tray at once.
“Is there no milk?” I inquired.
“No milk? You cannot offer Mrs. Rochester tea without milk,” my husband proclaimed.
“The milkman hasn’t come yet, sir. He’s usually here by this time,” Mary said.
I glanced out the window unconsciously, as if I might catch sight of the young farmer atop his cart. I saw something there that I did not expect, however, and replied, “The milkman? Or the milkman’s horse?”
Out the window of the parlour I could see a tall roan busy with a mouthful of carrot tops. The steed stood at the edge of the kitchen garden and bent his head to devour more of the plentiful greens flourishing there. Hitched to his chest were the traces of a wagon, and by leaning forward, I could see what was most certainly a milkman’s wagon precariously perched over the edge of the lane that led to the back regions of the house.
An exclamation fled from Mary’s lips and she dashed from the room. I briefly described the scene to Mr. Rochester, and to my gratification, he laughed. His mirth was short lived however.
“John is at the top of the hill mending a broken fence, and Mary is occupied saving her lettuces. Leave me for a little while, Jane, and have a look around for the fellow. Perhaps you can discover what has separated him from his cart.”
I acted on his instructions and went out the door, my eyes searching for the tall farmer and his straw hat that I had seen once before. I hoped no disaster had befallen him.
I’ve been working out his cover for a looooong time. It may still change, I don’t know, but here it is, in all its pixel glory. In case anyone’s wondering, that’s a painting by John Atkinson Grimshaw embellishing the bottom of the cover. My plan is for this book to be available next month – stay tuned!
My freshman year of college, I was assigned to read Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte, in an English class. We had a brief lecture on it – the professor obviously didn’t like the book, and as I had not gotten my hands on a copy yet and there were not going to be any assignments, I didn’t read it. I gathered there was a scene about a ‘red room’ that was supposed to be scary. That was all I knew.
Fast forward a few years, when I was well out of college and no longer cramming down long reading lists of material, had seen a mediocre film version, and had learned to love Pride and Prejudice, I actually read the book.
It was a transformative experience.
(Spell check is telling me transformative is not a word, but I already looked it up, and Oxford Dictionary says it is, and means what I mean. Spell check loses this round.)
Oh, how I relished that book. I read it over, and over, and over again. I was carrying my first child, (and after that, nursing him), and camped out on the couch a lot. I thought I was done reading it; I could read something else. But the bookcase was next to the couch, and the book was conveniently stored right there – and picking it up again was always so inviting.
The language! The dialogue! The emotion! It just kept working for me.
I moved on to other 19th century British classics – things like Middlemarch and Dr. Thorne and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, and I love so many of them – they are like old friends now. I can’t imagine my life without these books.
But to be honest, I used to feel a little silly about this obsession with 19th century England. Why spend so much time on these books? There’s real life happening out there, and I’m just reading this old, wordy tome that I’ve read dozens of times before. I recall looking up a graduate studies program in 19th century British literature – because I felt obscurely that I ought to do something with this passionate love for Bronte and her contemporaries. But does one really need another critical essay on Bronte? I think there are probably enough of them already.
It wasn’t until I actually started writing a real novel that I began to understand what I had been doing. I had been soaking – in language, in plot, in style, in detail. I wrote a contemporary novel. Sometimes my characters started talking like they were in Austenland, and I had to get them back out again. But I had to start with a familiar world, and reading and re-reading some of the most enduring plots in English literature gave me the tools to actually shape a story.
I wrote two more novels, (Two of these are self-published – the third is still hanging out on Google Docs, in need of some love to get it out into the world.) I had also been reading Father Brown and Lord Peter Wimsey and some of Alexander McCall Smith’s books. And then I read P. D. James book, Death Comes to Pemberley, a mystery based on Pride and Prejudice.
Then I had an idea.
I knew Jane Eyre. I loved Jane Eyre. I had been drinking in the diction and style of the time period for years, for the pure joy of it all. I had loved mysteries ever since I devoured a watered down Reader’s Digest version of Sherlock Holmes in high school. (One must start somewhere.) I needed a change in my writing life, so I tried my hand at a first chapter and shared it with my husband. He said it was good. (And he never really likes my stuff. He’d rather be reading about wizards or frigates. Bless him.) I wrote about four chapters – and fizzled. I was tired; I have a lot of kids; it was hard to concentrate. But I felt I had something, so I posted what I had on fanfiction.net. https://www.fanfiction.net/s/12303773/1/Mrs-Rochester-Mystery-Hour-of-Fatality I got a handful of positive comments! I was getting page views! It was enough to keep me writing.
It’s been a busy couple of years. I’m finding it tricky to keep track of the sequence of events at this point, but I’m fairly certain our family has grown by two more children since I started this book. Finding the mental space to develop 1) a novel, 2) a historical novel, and 3) a mystery novel, (really, what was I thinking?) has been a challenge. But this week, I finished writing the last chapter. (If you are looking for it on fanfiction, I haven’t posted it yet. It’s not quite typed up. But it’s on paper, which is kind of the big thing on my end.)
I was so excited to be finally, FINALLY, done with the rough draft of this book! There were so many times when I thought I would never get here!
And now I’m kind of sad about it.
But if nothing else, I am glad, that the many, many hours I have spent living and re-living Jane’s fictional life, actually led me to something. And it was something that I could share with other people, and they could enjoy it too. I hope to publish this book someday, somehow. I hope lots and lots of people read it. But I was thinking the other day – suppose I do publish it, and a handful of sweet, kind-hearted readers leave some middling reviews, and nothing much else happens. Am I still glad I wrote it? That I made the vision for this book into a reality?
Yes, yes I am. As Charlotte Bronte herself wrote,
“I have a rosy sky and a green flower Eden in my brain; but without, I am perfectly aware, lies at my feet a rough track to travel.”
I’m grateful to have both her flowery Eden, and my own. It makes the rough track a little easier.
There was a time, over a decade ago now, when I disliked love stories, and regarded romantic scenes and in particular, kisses, with cynical scorn. To be honest I still feel a little funny about them, even if I do sometimes like them. But since it is Valentine’s day, that routine bathos of giddy romance, here are what I think are the very best kiss scenes from Charlotte Bronte’s novels.
From Shirley, Robert Moore To Caroline Helstone:
She mutely offered a kiss—an offer taken unfair advantage of, to the extortion of about a hundred kisses.
From The Professor, William Crimsworth and Frances Henri:
“You speak God’s truth,” said I at last, “and you shall have your own way, for it is the best way. Now, as a reward for such ready consent, give me a voluntary kiss.”
After some hesitation, natural to a novice in the art of kissing, she brought her lips into very shy and gentle contact with my forehead; I took the small gift as a loan, and repaid it promptly, and with generous interest.
I don’t think Villette actually contains any kissing, so I went with the closest equivalent, when Lucy Snowe learns that Paul Emmanuel does, in fact, like the way she looks.
“Ah! I am not pleasant to look at——?”
I could not help saying this; the words came unbidden: I never remember the time when I had not a haunting dread of what might be the degree of my outward deficiency; this dread pressed me at the moment with special force.
He stopped, and gave me a short, strong answer; an answer which silenced, subdued, yet profoundly satisfied. Ever after that I knew what I was for him; and what I might be for the rest of the world, I ceased painfully to care.
And, of course, from Jane Eyre
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!”
Happy Valentine’s Day.
“At dead of night!” I muttered. Yes, that was ever the hour of fatality at Thornfield.
– Jane Eyre
I came to Thornfield Hall at the hour of twilight. I followed the road on foot as it wended among hay field and hawthorn, and when a bend in the road blocked my view of the house, I even ran in my haste. The noble building loomed high above me at the end of the road. The battlements on the roof looked black against the glimmering west. If I could touch them, the blackness would rub off on my skin like soot, and cling to me; such is the strange presentiment of dreams.
I had run from this house once, with misery and fear as my companions, nay, my pursuers. With swift steps, I sought Mr. Rochester here once more; the man who had offered marriage to such a one as I. Poor and plain as I was, he had begged me to marry him. I had worked as a hireling in his house, as the governess; a mere shadow in a great man’s household! And I had been chosen by him, whose company and conversation I held more precious than life. Had I ever known a day’s true happiness until that moment? When Edward Fairfax Rochester deigned to call me his future bride? My joys had been little more than the hard crusts and stray crumbs of happiness; dull, cold morsels to solace a drear and lonely dependence. Behind these blind walls, beneath these mute window panes, I had been loved, wholly and completely, by one I had adored.
And he had deceived me.
I reached the pavement near the door. It, too was black, and I stepped cautiously, fearing the sound of my own tread in spite of the silence that enshrined the dark hall. I mounted the steps, their stone faces worn smooth in well-remembered grooves. The vaulted hall within was deep in shadow, but a blaze of light shone from the dining room, majestic and warm. Was I welcome there? Mr. Rochester entertained fine company in that room, gentlemen and ladies endowed with wealth and grace. No, I had no place in the dining room. I would see where else he might be found. I went to the library, but the grate was cold, the chair tenantless. I searched the long gallery; every door yielded to my hand, but the rooms were vacant shells to me. Where was Mr. Rochester?
(Is it not singular, Reader, that I would search for one who had trespassed on confidence? who had violated trust? Mr. Rochester had wrought such an impression on my life, had so captivated my senses, enlightened my mind, filled me with with such assurance of his love that I could feel myself so deeply bound to no one else. I loved him, entirely, and could have no rest in this life without some assurance of his well-being.)
I sought him in the passageways and on the stairs. The nursery was no haunt of his, yet I searched there too. With a reluctant step, I approached the dining room once more. A laugh: low, lugubrious, familiar in its stirring antipathy, came from the room. What a strange foreboding inhabited me! It wrapped round me like a smoke that no breeze could dispel. But I would stifle fear for his sake; I would find him out, though my soul shudder and my heart sink beneath the discovery.
A wisp of smoke flowed from the dining room door like a mist creeping along the ceiling. I felt an urgency to be within the room, yet trembling arrested my step. Down timidity! Revelations must be made. I suppressed the shaking in my limbs and crept to the door – a wreath of flames embroiled the room and heated my face. The brocaded curtains, purple cloth, rich damask, all writhed together in fire.
A shadowy form seemed to inhabit the chair, senseless and still.
“Mr. Rochester!” I called. “Mr. Rochester! Wake up!” But a different form approached me from the fiery furnace, hauntingly familiar in its ghastly shape.
The flame did not touch her, yet her dark hair moved and lifted in the heat. Bertha Mason, black and menacing against the crimson light, barred the way. Her eyes burned, too, with a blue flame in their depths. It was her, Mr. Rochester’s wife, whom he had hid from my knowledge. In her madness, she raved and flung herself upon me, keeping me from my master…
“I am here, Jane, I am here.”
His voice dispelled the flames; his hand cooled my burning forehead. It was dark in the room, with the bright face of a full moon a-glow in the window. The smell of camphor and burnt vinegar pervaded the air; so familiar to me, but I could not determine why it should be so. I struggled against the sheets; they confined me.
“Mr. Rochester,” I called, but feebly. I felt such a weakness in my limbs that I could scarcely move. Someone brought water to my feverish lips, and bathed my brow in cool water. Mr. Rochester chafed my hand in his. I longed to speak and reassure him. But the effort of speech proved elusive; it was beyond my ability.
“Sir, shan’t you go to bed?” asked a voice. It was the servant, Mary, I thought. I had not seen Mary since I left Thornfield, a disappointed bride. No, that was not right. She had met me at the door; at Ferndean Manor, where I had found my master again.
“No,” Mr. Rochester replied. “Not this night.”
I tried to piece together recent events, but my mind refused to form an orderly sequence. Unaccountable images flashed before my mind’s eye. Past and present were equally shrouded in darkness, while the strange fever dreams hovered close.
Mr. Rochester lay down beside me on the bed; his hand gripped mine.
“Dear God in heaven, spare her. Be merciful – I have only just found her again – my darling Jane…”
The moonlit room vanished from my sight. Perhaps, it, too, had been a dream. I would fain have retained it, but I had no control of my restless, roving mind. I arrived at yet another present, yet another Thornfield. The cold moonlight left stark shadows beneath the leaves; the primroses opened wan faces to the growing starlight. I was in the garden, walking the well-remembered path to the orchard, but this garden was not as I had left it. The once neat hedges of box were overgrown into fantastical shapes. The roses sprawled haphazardly from their beds, and rank weeds towered among the fragile blooms. Dark vines of ivy overreached everything in sight, gathering wild and domestic alike in their gnarled creepers.
I knew the sweet fragrance of this garden, but when I breathed deep, I was reminded instead of Lowood, the school that had been my childhood home for eight long years. With sudden clarity, I remembered that scent; it was the dank, heavy air of the dell, dismal and disease-ridden. I remembered again the camphor in my nostrils, and the fever ward lined with blighted, childish faces. All around me, the pale flower blooms along the path melted into the pallid faces of children, wasted by their suffering. They lifted from their beds and slipped away; lanterns burning in their hands.
A heavy mist came creeping over the ground, obscuring sky and earth alike. It even drowned the moon. I no longer followed the path; I was rooted in place as the fog engulfed me. All directions were equally bewildering. I watched in helpless immobility as the first light appeared. It moved in the dark fog like a beacon, but it gave me no comfort. The lights waxed and waned around me. They brought no warmth to me; rather, an icy fear stole over me, inhabiting my very bones. Alone in that dark, formless and desolate world, I could not take my eyes from their luminescent gleam.
A light shone near me. With trepidation in every step, I began to follow it; it was farther off than I thought. I followed one, then another, down winding, unfamiliar ways. Some of them began to fade; I would not be left alone in this gloomy, sightless world; I followed as well as I could.
The ignis-fatuus led me on; I knew not where. My hands were chilled, my skin too; the cold seemed to penetrate my heart, yet my temples throbbed. I too, was ill; perhaps I was also dying. I dared not guess what shadowy paths the strange lights would lead me to, but I could only stumble on into the gloom, left to the fate that lay ahead of me –
“Wake up. Wake up, Jane.”
A woman’s voice, it’s accent gentle, familiar, but firm, assailed my ear. It was soothing to hear. I tried to listen.
“It is morning. Come, dear, wake up.”
I opened my eyes. It was a summer morning; sunshine fell on the sash of the window, and on the coverlet stretched over me. A smiling face bent toward me.
My cousin, Diana Rivers, sat in the chair by my bed. “How are you feeling?”
I considered before answering. “I am glad to be awake. I feel so weak.”
“You have been very ill, but the crisis is passed I think.”
I closed my eyes.
“Does the light distress you? Shall I draw the curtain?”
“No.” I opened them to look at her and at the glow of morning light, that I might impress them on my mind. “No, I like to see the sun. But I have had such strange dreams.”
“I don’t doubt it.”
She took my hand where it lay on the coverlet. In my sojourn from Thornfield, by the mysterious hand of providence, I had found Diana, Mary and their brother St. John, and had learned that they were my family, the children of my mother’s brother. I had no knowledge of my relations as a child, and had been united with them only months ago.
Diana’s presence was truly comforting. Her ardent, cheerful nature was a real support to me. I leaned my throbbing head on her shoulder. It was still an effort to draw breath or to speak, but my questions must have shown on my face.
“I promised to make you a visit after your marriage, and thought I would give you a pleasant surprise. But it seems the power of suspense was in your hands instead of mine. I arrived to find you bed-ridden with typhus. It is not an illness I have been acquainted with before, and I admit I would not like to become more familiar with it.”
She squeezed my fingers, and with a faint smile touching her features, she added, “As soon as I could persuade him, I convinced your Mr. Rochester to go to bed.”
My Mr. Rochester; my heart thrilled at the words. I had come to Ferndean Manor at dusk, I knew not how many weeks ago, and found my master again. He was bereft of his stately mansion, he had lost both his left hand, and the power of vision. His first wife had ended her own life in the final flames of Thornfield Hall. But he was my beloved master still. No obstacles remaining to our union, we had wed at once.
“He was up late last night, waiting for the doctor. They gave you a sleeping draught at midnight. You were so very restless.” Diana held her hand to my forehead. “This house is a dreadful place for a lamb like you. The doctor agrees with me.”
“Edward spoke of it once as an insalubrious spot.”
“It is an absolute breeding ground for fever. But there is strength in you yet, Jane. Will you have anything to eat? Mary has made a lovely broth for you.”
I could not sit up for long, but I was nourished by the broth, and lay back on my pillow feeling content. “You will not leave, Diana, will you?”
“I will be here. And as soon as Mr. Rochester is awake, he will be here as well. He will be angry that I didn’t wake him to see you, but he is worn to a shadow from trying to look after you himself. He is truly devoted to you, Jane.”
I smiled; it took effort, but I could hardly help it.
“Rest now. I can see you are tired.”
I turned my face to the window, my eye feasting on soft spring greenery and summer sunshine. I could not move or speak for long, but I found I could think. I could force my mind to make an inventory of days passed. I wondered how long I had lain ill.
How many days had passed since I sat by my Edward’s chair in the parlor? I had hardly regarded the presentiment of illness then. The sun had been shining there, too, but little of the morning light penetrated my husband’s blinded eyes.
“Jane, where are you?”
I look away from the parlor window, and the elderberry bush that flourishes there. My husband leans his head against the massive, wing-backed chair, a faint look of melancholy on his dark and chiseled features. I dare to drop a kiss on his ebon brow. As one long exiled from her homeland rejoices at each well-remembered view, I watch my master’s face, so longed for in my absence.
A smile effaces the grim lines of sadness. “Your voice is a banquet to a famished soul, Jane. Come, sit with me a while.” I take my preferred place, on a little stool at my husband’s feet. He keeps his mutilated hand tucked in his coat, but the other covers my own. “I need you to be my eyes, as you shall ever be in our married life. Prompted by your generous pity and magnanimous heart, you have pledged your life to a blind man, helpless and dependent on you even for such sordid and sundry tasks as letters of business. John has brought the mail this morning. Are you prepared to enter on your new duties?”
“Here is the first then.”
He passed me a letter sealed with plain wax. I read aloud:
“Dear Mr. Rochester,
For many years I have had the management of your estate, and I have always done my best to look after your interests while you were away. But now, sir, I must beg leave to give you notice of my departure. You have been a just and liberal master, and I am sorry to take leave of you when your fortunes have turned against you. I’ve done my best to take over every concern since your mishap, to spare you any trouble over the estate.
But I can no longer put off my departure. My brother’s farm in the south has prospered, and he asks me to assist him. I can no longer put off this obligation. The truth be told, I am not sorry to leave Thornfield Hall. There is not much of the hall left, of course, but there is something uncanny about the old place. I go to my brother on the fifth. Signed Malcolm Hinkley.”
I looked at Mr. Rochester, to see how he would take the news of the sudden departure of his land agent. He rubbed his chin thoughtfully and said at last,
“Peculiar letter, isn’t it?”
“What could he mean? What could be uncanny about Thornfield?”
“Pre-cise-ly. That’s what I would like to know. But we won’t get it out of him. Gone on the fifth, eh? That was yesterday. He didn’t want to be interrogated, and made good his retreat beforehand. Peculiar. Well, here is another. Do you recognize the seal?”
I studied the elaborate imprint in the red wax, but it was unfamiliar to me.
“It has a very distinct pattern to it. I could feel it with my thumb. You may recognize the sender, for you met him once. Read on.”
“My Dear Rochester,
I have just heard the news of your marriage from Reverend Davenport himself. My best congratulations to you and Mrs. Rochester. I have long had it in mind to invite you to stay with us at Ingram Park, only I feared to obtrude any importunate invitation.
But should you be disposed, you and your bride are welcome to come stay with us. Indeed, the west wing might be practically your own. My mother and my eldest sister are in London, to prepare for Blanche’s wedding, so it will only be myself and my younger sister Mary to keep you company. Of course, the whole party will join us in a few weeks’ time, including Mr. Harrison, Blanche’s fiance. Feel free to choose the day of your arrival. Signed, Lord Ingram.”
“Well, how about it, Jane?”
My husband’s face was a curious blend of sarcasm and severity. I knew him in this mood, but I didn’t know just what was in his mind.
“It seems a well-intentioned letter. He shows more delicacy than I would have expected of him.”
“Oh yes, Ingram is the very type of gentleman. I’ve gotten several of these sorts of invitations. The whole county has felt sorry for me at one time or other. I refused them all. I have been in no mood to be plagued and coddled by the pity of my neighbors. And now that I have you, my fairy, what need do we have for anyone else? ”
The only time I had been in company with the Ingrams was when they had made a protracted stay at Thornfield. At that time, Mr. Rochester and the elegant Blanche Ingram had pursued a course of flirtation with one another that had left me little peace of mind. Miss Ingram, it seemed, had courted him only for his wealth. Mr. Rochester’s motives, while even less admirable, were nonetheless admitted on the plea that he sought to engage my affection by inspiring my jealousy. He might have saved his efforts, for he had won me over long before. The circumstances, such as they were, did not make Ingram Park a place that I would wish to pass my time. I had no taste for the scornful disdain of Miss Ingram, which I was sure would not be absolved by my position as her former suitor’s wife.
I would have said as much, but an uncomfortable ache made itself felt within me. I waited in silence for it to pass. When my attention returned to my husband, I could see that he had once more become absorbed in his own curious train of thought.
“But perhaps you are weary of our isolation? Besides, you might like to be a guest in a noble’s house. How would you like to be a fine lady waited on by a host of servants, surfeited with elaborate dinners, honored as the new bride by those who once dismissed you as a nonentity? It is no less than you deserve.” He gripped my hand tightly, as if I were going to hurry away to pack my trunk. “Would you be pleased by the look on Blanche Ingram’s face when you are announced on the arm of the man she sought to marry?” He chuckled to himself. A sardonic smile flashed across his face.
“You are sneering, sir. It is not her fault that you flattered her so.”
“The mortification of her pride would certainly change her hauteur, would it not? She might meditate on her own deficiencies when she is presented with what a woman ought to be; when she sees what a good, guileless, clever, wise and noble woman actually is. When she acknowledges your superiority – ”
“Now you are flattering me. It is foolish to speak so. There is no call for comparison between Blanche Ingram and myself.”
“No, thank God. Now I have secured you, I care for no other woman’s opinion. But what might you feel, Janet?” He sank back into his chair. All the levity was gone from his visage, leaving only a deep furrow across his forehead. “To enter the home of such fine beings on the arm of a blind and crippled man, ruined and blighted, who cannot walk but where you lead him? Would it be mortifying to enter company on such terms?”
“Of course not. I am always glad to be by your side; to lead you anywhere I can. Fine company can whisper whatever it pleases. I care for no one’s good opinion but yours.”
I looked with concern at the grim melancholy settled once more on his face.
“They would shake their heads in sorrow when they saw me. I would be ‘poor Rochester’, a miserable worm among them. How they would grieve for my misfortunes in my presence, and rejoice in spite when my back was turned!”
He was fretting himself into unhappiness. Desperate measures were called for.
“It is a kind invitation,” I said, rising to my feet.
“Yes, yes, a bit of salve for a pricked conscience. Now he has done his duty and can think no more of me. Where are you going, Jane? Why do you leave my side?”
“I am going to call John, to ready the horses and carriage.”
“What the deuce for?”
“We are going to pay a visit to Thornfield Hall. If there is anything uncanny among the ruins, I, for one, would like to know what it is.”
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