This, dear readers, is a one-shot that's been nudging at my brain for awhile - I finally decided to let it out. Enjoy!
Elegy In A Churchyard
I still don't understand the compulsion which drove me back to Thornfield within a few weeks of when I had fled—quitting it, as I thought then—forever. I had found shelter and a welcome at Morton, a village some hundred miles away, and yet my heart was uneasy and my mind unsettled. I found myself unable to forget the man I had loved, yes loved almost to the point of betraying all my principles, just so that we could stay together. It would have been an end to all I had known and valued—an unchancy voyage into unknown waters filled with dangers I only half understood.
I had rejected his offer—rejected him—my beloved, my broken idol. I had run away before the dawning—throwing myself upon the mercy of God when my money ran out, and I was lying half-dead upon a stranger's doorstep. My hope was gone, but not my faith, I prayed for His support in that desolate hour when I could feel Death creeping ever closer to myself. And my prayer was heard and answered—the strangers took me into their home, they fed me, cared for me, restored me to Life. They were good to me, who had no claim upon their generosity, save that we were fellow Christians, and thus bound to help one another, even as our Lord and Master had commanded us to do.
I should have been satisfied with my new beginning—there had even been some talk of a need for a Schoolmistress in the village—the post would soon have been offered me, this I knew. It was a great opportunity, a thing I could do, and do well, with a thankful heart. But when I tried to sleep at night—that mundane world was gone and I was back with the person I longed for—both body and soul. I would waken, calling out, I know not what—his name, perhaps, or maybe just a cry of frustration that what I perceived so clearly was not real, was instead, something beyond my reach or ken. It was terrible, I felt as though I were being split apart!
Finally, I could bear it no longer, and with some words of apology to my kind friends, I decided to return to Thornfield, the scene of both shame and sorrow, as well as transcendent joy. It seemed to me as though I had left something behind, something not done, unfinished; I must go back and complete my task, whatever it might prove to be.
The previous night had found me in Millcote, and there I had slept as well as I could. The next morning found me up at an early hour, in a hired rig, on the way to Hay and ...Thornfield. The morning was misty and chill with vapors rising from the fields. My heart was beating hard at the thought that soon I would be at Thornfield once more. I little expected what I was to find there. As we approached Hay, I could hear the church bell tolling, there was a strange odor in the air of burning. The smell was stronger the closer we came to the little hamlet, but it did not seem to originate there. The rig went on; the nearer we came to the Church the stronger the stench was. There was a burial going on in the Churchyard. I bade the driver stop, I had to know who it was that was being buried. There were faces in the little group that I recognized—fellow servants from Thornfield. I stared in the direction of the Hall, suddenly realizing that it lay in ruins—ruins that were still smoking.
Oh dear God! Please don't let him be dead! Please don't have that be him in his coffin, about to be buried, and I away with no chance to see him one last time, to touch him, even to leave a kiss on his cold, dead cheek. I searched the familiar faces, but his was not among the group at the graveside.
I approached slowly, hesitating, not wishing to hear the words of doom that would undoubtedly be the answer to my query of...who? Heads turned at my approach, there were tentative smiles, looks of surprise and welcome, but he was not standing there amidst that little gathering. I was sick at heart—this was what my insistence on moral principles had led to—a loss that could not be redeemed. I could feel the chilly morning breeze as it met the tears running down my face.
Leah tentatively put her arm about me, "Hush, Miss, 'tis glad to see you we are—don't take on so, you must be strong for his sake."
I gestured weakly at the coffin, "But what does it matter, if he..." I could not go on.
"Ah Miss, yon's never him, that's her, and good riddance say I!She were never nothing but a misery to him when she was living and even more so now that she's gone!"
"Oh Leah, it's not kind to speak ill of those that are gone."
"Much you know about it, begging your pardon all the same, Miss—who do you think set the fire?"
"Yes, I can understand her doing that; but then, where is Mr. Rochester? I don't see him here—shouldn't he be present? Was he away when this happened?"
"It might have been better if he had been elsewhere, Miss, but no—he was at home when the fire was discovered, he was upstairs and downstairs, all over the house—trying to get everyone out and safe. At last, he had us all in the courtyard when it was realized that she was still inside the house somewhere. John saw her at last, she was up on the roof, and what must Master do but try to get her down. The whole place was ablaze by then, but he never stopped to think about it—he just ran back inside. We saw him up on the roof, he was arguing with her, trying to get her to take his hand and come down from there. She would not do it—she just stood there and jeered at him—and then she ran to the edge of the roof—spread her arms as though she would fly—and jumped off. That was the end of her of course—and nearly the end for the Master as well!
He, of course, tried to go back the way he had come, but the stairway collapsed as he was coming down it, and he was trapped! It was morning before he could be found and gotten out, his dog was a great help, kept howling and digging at the place where he was, until finally they were able to shift some of the wreckage and there he lay—badly hurt, but still living."
"Still living!" I repeated.
"Mr. Carter says that he's likely to be blind, he's lost an eye—and that his hand is so badly crushed that it will have to go as well. Still and all, it's thought he's likely to live a good while longer."
"Please, where is he? Where have they taken him?"
"They thought it best not to move him too much, he's at the Parsonage in Hay, Miss—if you were to go there, it might be a help to getting him well again. When you were gone, it was all that he could talk about, 'where could you be, how were you, were you safe?' He went on and on about it, all the time. I tell you, it was a blessed relief to me when I saw you today."
The burial was over—Leah and I left the graveyard together—I offered her a ride in my hired rig which she was glad to accept. It seems that she was tired from being up two nights in a row—first for the fire, and the next to help nurse her Master. I told her that I was willing to help with that also.
I left that place with a sad thought for Bertha Rochester's fate. To die so far away from home and family! Truly though, there are those of us who seem fated to wander always far from our origins, never to return to the familiar scenes of our childhood and youth. Even should we do so, we find unanticipated changes in the world as we remembered it. Two pictures laid one atop the other that don't quite match.
Now, I was about to attempt a return to my recent Past; already I had been warned of the changes that had taken place in my absence. I summoned my courage to meet the challenges waiting ahead. I felt certain of my final victory over the obstacles which I would soon encounter—obstacles which included a certain proud and stubborn man whom I could not stop loving, in spite of myself and in spite of his past transgressions. However, if God can forgive us in all our imperfections—can we, being his creation, do no less?
I gave Leah a hug as the rig stopped at the Parsonage door, "Wish me luck." I said.
"Oh Miss, I wish you happy!" cried she.
We all know how the story ends - so I see no need to say more on the subject. Soon there will another chapter in my crossover, but my brain is still cogitating over it. Seeya!