The Pearl Necklace
The wedding was less than a week away, but life at Thornfield continued as it always had. Each day I gave Adele her lessons. At the end of the day I had supper with Mrs. Fairfax. In the evening Mr. Rochester would send for me. I would see him at no other time. Even when we were together, I kept him at a distance. Indulging my sentiments and passions seemed unwise.
Reader, you might feel that this is odd behavior for a bride-to-be, but I had my reasons for resisting Mr. Rochester's affections. I had always been his dependent, but at least I was his employee. What I received at his hands I earned. If he were to have his way, I would stop working and he would soon be showering me with his gifts and favors as well as his love, and I would be powerless to stop him. Already I refused many of his gifts. The fine silks he bought me in Millcote had yet to be made into dresses. I had stopped him from retrieving the Thornfield heirlooms from his banker. I hadn't worn any of the jewelry he had bought me. I could not let him shower me with his wealth when I had not earned it. Even as his wife I knew I would worry about how our unequal positions in fortune would give him control over me. I could not allow him such liberties before we were married.
I had my hopes that once we were married, things would change as I had written to my uncle John in Madeira to let him know I was alive. Perhaps whatever fortunes might come my way through our relationship might ensure that even as Mrs. Rochester, I would still be my own mistress. Mr. Rochester would never feel altogether superior to me.
I had yet another reason why I could never allow myself to indulge my affections for Mr. Rochester. He and I were under intense scrutiny from the moment we announced our engagement. No one could really believe that Mr. Rochester would marry his governess for love. I knew the servants whispered behind my back. I sometimes caught them sneaking furtive glances in my direction, their eyes lingering on my waistline looking for sings of change. Even Mrs. Fairfax was not exempt from such behaviors. The gossip was spreading beyond the confines of Thornfield. While running an errand in Hay the week before, I walked into a shop and heard two women talking. I heard the words, "Mr. Rochester," "Married," and "In the family way for sure," before they saw me. I silently bore these insults, knowing better than to risk telling Mr. Rochester and having him vent his wrath. I simply did my best to make sure they never witnessed anything to give them reason to talk.
Although I had initially not been excited about our honeymoon voyages, I was beginning to look forward to leaving England and Thornfield for a while. I knew that the inmates of Thornfield and residents of Hay would continue watching me until nine months had passed. Leaving Thorfield meant escaping those prying eyes. Besides, once the honeymoon had ended, I might hear from my uncle, which would solve some of my concerns about married life.
Adele and I had had a pleasant day together that day. With so little time remaining I relaxed our lessons and spent more time playing games or allowing her to sing and dance while accompanying her on the piano. I wanted her to enjoy her last few weeks at Thornfield before she had to face the rigid discipline of school life. I often surprised myself at how fond I had grown of her and these days were bittersweet as I knew our parting would be difficult for both of us. As we concluded our lessons for the day, I allowed her to dine with Mrs. Fairfax and me. Then I sent her off with Sophie and waited for Mr. Rochester to summon me to his presence.
When I arrived in the library, Mr. Rochester stood there with a slightly mischievous smile on his face. "Good evening Jane," he said.
I greeted him as coolly as possible. "Good evening Mr. Rochester." Although I knew it pleased him when I addressed him by his given name, I rarely did so. It semed right to keep a level of formality between us.
He approached me then, keeping his hands behind his back. His smile was almost nervous. "I hope you don't mind, Jane, that I have a gift for you tonight."
I was horrified. "No, Mr. Rochester. Please not another gift. You have given me more than I will ever need. I only ask for your regard."
With one hand still behind his back he came even closer to me, taking my hand – something he had not done in weeks. "Jane," he said. "I know you feel that I am overstepping boundaries when I give you gifts, or that I'm trying to buy your love and devotion when you have assured me many times I have both. I can assure you that is not the truth tonight. I just want to give you the world Jane. Sometimes I just can't help giving you things I think are beautiful."
"Mr. Rochester," I protested. "I don't want the world. I am more than happy to have your love."
He squeezed my hand gently. "Jane, you have my love. Please give me yours and indulge me the pleasure of giving you something tonight."
I barely had time to say, "Very well, sir," when he pressed a box into my hands. It was a velvet jewel casket. I became irritated again. "Mr. Rochester, you know how I feel about jewels. You know I feel ridiculous wearing such things."
He looked at me with gentle, pleading eyes. "Please Jane. Just open this and see. It would please me greatly." His dark eyes were earnest and sincere, lacking the sardonic pride that he usually displayed. I relented.
I sighed and said, "If you insist, sir." I opened the box. It contained a pearl necklace. It was lovely, but like so many of Mr. Rochester's other gifts, was unfitting for the plain and poor Jane Eyre. I said nothing.
"Do you like them, Jane?" Mr. Rochester prodded.
"Sir, you know how I feel about jewelry. I couldn't possibly wear this."
He took the box from my hand and removed the strand from it. "Every married woman needs a pearl necklace," he said, opening the clasp. "You are as deserving as any bride."
"I'm not a married woman yet," I reminded him. Could he truly be so stubborn that he would continue to buy my affections this way?
He walked around to the back of me. "You will be married soon," he said. "I have trouble waiting for that day to come." He reached around the front of me with the necklace and then fastened it around my neck. He put his hands on my shoulders and spoke in my ear. "It suits you Jane. Truly it does. Come have a look." He took my hand and led me to a gilt-edge mirror that hung on the wall near one of the windows.
I stared at my reflection. I was surprised at what I saw. Previously Mr. Rochester had purchased for me gaudy gemstones and glittering gold. The pearls were different. They were simple and elegant. They did not look terribly out of place against my plain black dress as I feared they would. The fading twilight that came through the window was reflected in the luminous beads giving them a glow like moonlight. It seemed enhanced, rather than detracted by, my pale skin. Perhaps Mr. Rochester hadn't been wrong to buy me this gift for truly this time it did suit me.
Mr. Rochester came up and stood behind me once more and again placed his hands on my shoulders. "Do you not agree with me that they suit you?"
The tenderness in his voice was impossible to resist. I could not lie to him. "Yes," I said. "They are lovely. Thank you Edward."
I turned to face him and he enfolded me his his arms. Passion, once quelled, now rose up with full fervor as I allowed him to kiss me as he hadn't done since the night he asked me to marry him.
After a few moments I came to my senses. I could not allow this to go further. There was a risk of a passing servant. I had to remain above reproach. I gently pulled away.
"I must bid you goodnight sir," I said.
He seemed to understand my concerns. "Very well Jane. I consent. Have a very good night."
"Thank you again," I said, and quickly left the room.
As I undressed and prepared myself for bed, I enjoyed the memory of our evening and pleasure of Mr. Rochester's kiss. Despite my fears, I was growing impatient for my wedding day. I may have feared Mr. Rochester's pride and control, but I still loved him beyond reason.
I removed the necklace just before getting into bed. Once I had taken it off, the spell was broken. I held it in my hand and stared at with disgust. I was angry with myself for being so foolish as to let myself be seduced by jewelry. Would Mr. Rochester believe now that I could become pliant to his will as long as he purchased the right gift?
Then I remembered Mr. Rochester's declaration of love and his desire to find me something I might love instead of reject. However misguided he was, he had purchased the necklace out of his love for me. Perhaps I shouldn't judge him too harshly.
He had said that a married woman should have a pearl necklace. So be it. I made the decision that I would not wear the necklace again until I was married. I would wear it and be able to respect myself once I was Mr. Rochester's wife.
As for the immediate future, I went back to teasing and taunting Mr. Rochester during our evenings together, keeping my distance, and letting him know that my love could not be won with gifts alone.
I needed to leave Thornfield before any of its inhabitants were awake. The sun was beginning to rise, so I knew I needed to move quickly. I had very little money as much of my salary had been spent on wedding expenses. All I needed was some linen and something else I could use for money. I quickly went through my jewelry. I chose a locket and a ring. These were not the most valuable things Mr. Rochester had given me, but having them on my person would not seem suspicious, nor would they attract the attention of thieves as much as some of the more ostentacious gems. Whatever money they could fetch me would hold me over until I had regular employment.
While searching through these items I came across the pearl necklace. It would fetch a high price if I needed money. I remembered the night Mr. Rochester had given it to me. Could I bear to sell it? Could I bear to take it with me when all it did was remind me of what I was losing?
Mr. Rochester had said it was a necklace for a married woman. I had been determined not to wear it until I was a married woman. The necklace was never meant for me. I was not going to be Mrs. Rochester.
I put the necklace back in its case, grabbed my parcel, and quietly slipped out of my room and into the great unknown that was to be the rest of my life.
My life without Edward.